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Archive for March, 2011

Now that’s a headline I’d like to read, if the next line was “over the chaos that is public education, read government schools“.

With the unrest and demand for democracy in the Middle East it seems to me that parents in the US should be clamoring for their own “say” – a say in how their children are being educated.  Parents pay the tax dollars that fun the schools they send their children to.  Parents who send their children to independent/private schools are paying twice for their children’s education.  Why is it that no one is storming the capitol buildings?!  Why are we so passive, so accepting?

Conventional education has made so many promises about reform and “now we’ve got it figured out” and they fail to deliver over and over again.  Einstein was right, wasn’t he, when he said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” – isn’t that us?  Isn’t that the legacy of public/conventional education?

It’s time to walk up those stairs and DEMAND something better for our children.  Demand that the schools stop being “schools” in any conventional sense.  Demand that education set as its goal the preparation of people to go off and live their lives, that it be set up to follow natural patterns of development, that it take children on a powerful journey of self-discovery.  Why can’t we have this?  Why aren’t we demanding it?  Since when are Americans willing to put up with something mediocre or worse, and not take matters into their own hands with a little ingenuity and simply come up with a better way? Since when?  What’s happened that the revolution is happening elsewhere and we sit back placidly watching it?

Has freedom lulled us into complacency?

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This is what needs to replace “schools”.

Think about it.  What we need is to develop the talent of each person: those skills, interests and abilities that define each individual person.  That’s what we should be offering each child, each student.  Imagine a world of people who are motivated about their lives, motivated by what they do all day long… so that it will be the very, unfortunate, few who still think that it’s the thing of dreams, or the fortunate few, who can say in the last years of their life “I never worked a day in my life” (because they PLAYED all day long, doing work that they loved).  That’s a world I want a part of.

Think about the perspective-shift that “talent development centers” connotes, as opposed to “school”.  The latter is laden with a lack of interest, a place and experience that we longed to escape and which generated little actual learning.  The former would be environments where you were free to excel at what you excel at and are passionate about; where you develop the very thing that will be your “gift” or contribution to the world.

There are programs out there today that use the language of “talent development centers”, but they end up being “talented and gifted” programs which require “acceptance” into or craft-type programs that are conventional in style- that is, they are not paradigm or perspective shifting.

Breaking down the idea of “school” is the challenge.  Change is difficult enough, changing something that is part of a cultural landscape is much more difficult.  Yet, nothing less will suffice.

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So I’ve spoken quite a bit in this space about how testing doesn’t lead to, or reveal, learning.  I’ve argued that a test will not tell you what a student has learned, only what they’ve remembered.  Recently I’ve also mentioned how the Chinese are turning their backs on standardization and testing because they are realizing that they can produce “grade-A” test takers, but that these same people are no good at “life”.  “Ultimate Prep” – remember?

Since I don’t make this stuff up, really, here’s some interesting information.

In 2008 the National Science Foundation conducted research which was reported in their “Science and Engineering Indicators” which measures science literacy – i.e., one’s understanding of science and engineering. One of their questions asked “Is the center of the earth very hot?”  88% of Americans answered correctly (“yes”), while only 39% of Chinese said “yes”.  One summary of the report, presented in the style of the Olympic games with medals awarded, showed the US at the top of the many countries involved, with 8 total medals, while China had 1 and India had 2.

This phenomenon of “high scores and low ability” is beginning to get some attention. Testing well is not worth very much, in the end.  What matters is what you “know”, and what you know is what you understand.  It is understanding that leads to thinking about a subject and to being able to be creative and innovative within it.

There is more support for this finding.  The 2007 book Collateral Damage reveals how high-stakes testing destroys ingenuity and education.  A survey of multinational corporations showed that  Chinese workers lacked ability as well as commitment to and passion for their work.  This held true even for engineers who had graduated from the best engineering schools.

The Chinese are reevaluating their schools because they are witnessing a growing creativity gap between their students and US students.  Our system leaves much to be desired, but chasing the Asian model should not be part of our “fix”.  (Will someone please tell the authorities – we need to repeal NCLB.)

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