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Posts Tagged ‘change’

February 2, 2013

AN OPEN LETTER TO BILL GATES

Dear Bill,

Stop. Pause at least. In the name of all that you hold dear.  In order to truly and fully realize that which you have spent so much time, energy and money to achieve and advance in the world of education, hear me out.  In order to serve the children of the globe that you some much want to serve, hear me out.

You are a man of great vision.  You see integrated systems for what they are.  You understand and appreciate the integration of disparate elements, the connections that bind these systems together.  Gladwell was wrong, as I’ve told many people: it is NOT the case that any other person who happened to be in your shoes would have made the choices, taken the risks and achieved what you achieved had they just been in your shoes.  You, only you, did what you did.  Gladwell is a jealous hater of people who achieve.  Decades ago you saw and described what the world still does not have but is slowly moving towards: the technologically integrated home.  A home where HVAC systems, refrigerators, stereos, etc all operate with an integrated technology controllable remotely via technology and also operated “smartly” by internal technological monitoring. But one example.

In the sphere of education, of child development, you have given millions of dollars.  Around the world you have helped countless children with medical support.  How you have dedicated your time since stepping down from leading Microsoft to raise the bar for children everywhere, in many ways, is remarkable, praiseworthy, bold and honorable.

But you are misguided, I respectfully submit.  That you seek what best serves children and the world I do not doubt.  That you have missed some essential things, though, boggles my mind.  It’s not possible that you are not aware of them. It’s not possible that the evidence in support of what truly serves children has not been available to you.

The newspaper I read the other day had a story in it about how “Bill Gates says we need to grade teachers”.  Really?  This is the solution to the problems in education?  Even if only a small part of your education reform platform, it’s so far off the mark, so irrelevant to the meaningful first things that need attention that it is misguided.  It’s like saying that the PC of 1985 had some issues and that the first thing to turn our attention to was the design of the mouse.

I am not here coming to the support of school teachers.  I do not write from the perspective of teachers’ unions. To paraphrase Seuss’s The Lorax, “I speak for the children”.

Education needs repair.  That’s an understatement and fails to capture the reality of the situation. It needs overhaul, reform, transformation and evolution.  Education, traditionally defined and understood since the 1850s, got off on the wrong foot. And there it remains, hobbled and failing.  Poorly defined, it has stumbled along, trying to reinvent itself every decade or so, and continuing to underserve children of all ages. As a result it has underserved society as a whole.

We have big problems. We need big solutions.

Education, properly understood, is nothing more than the process of a human being “becoming itself” -from birth to maturity.  It is not about transmitting data or knowledge to the next generation.  It is about guiding a child according to the natural laws of human development.

Airplanes fly because the laws of physics became sufficiently understood to allow a massive hunk of metal (yes, I know that the first planes and flying machines were not made of hunks of metal) to achieve “lift”.  It amazes me that planes fly.  I love them, but it amazes me every time I see a plane in flight that such a thing is possible, yet it most assuredly is.  Planes don’t fly because someone wanted a plane to fly, they fly because they adhere to the laws of physics- which are immutable, unwavering and universal.  The principles which allowed the first plane to fly are the same principles which allow planes to fly today.

Human development also follows principles of growth and development. The best that we can offer all children is to identify and adhere to those principles.  Only then will we be able to serve children in a manner that will meet their needs, and by extension, the needs of society – of humanity.

Mr. Gates, you have it within your power to transform the world.  Do you wish to save children from starvation and war?  Do you wish to stop the killing of youth in the streets of Chicago? Do you wish to support the elevation of children in the villages of Kenya? Do you long for a world where children everywhere have the ability to “become themselves”?  To find that intersection of their talents and their passions, so that they could then offer their personal gifts to the world, contributing those glorious things to the world in which they live?  Of course you do. You are a good man.

The universal laws of child development are not a mystery.  It is not that we lack the insight and tools to discover that which guides life from birth to maturity.  Developmental psychologists, neuroscientists and legions of educators have provided the information that was lacking in 1850.  Today the principles have been identified and codified.  It is called Montessori.

Montessori is not the name of a cult. It is not the name of a theory.  Montessori is simply the name of the woman who turned her eye to identifying what the natural laws of human development are.

Not more did Newton create the law of gravity than did Montessori create the laws of human development.  Both merely looked at nature and wrote down their observations and helped the rest of us understand how something in the world operates.  Gravity isn’t going away and how children develop isn’t about to change any time soon either.

Since the first child appeared on the face of the Earth children have continued to develop according to the same laws of development. That is why they are the laws of development.  The firing of synapses, the process of myelination, the emergence of spoken language, the first smile, the formation of self-esteem, and so on, all happen the same way today, around the globe, as they did 5000 years ago, around the globe.

What Dr. Montessori did for 45 years (1907-1952, the years of her work in education) was to look at the evidence.  In her own words, “I did not invent a method of education, I merely followed the child”.  Spoken like the scientist she was, she served no ulterior motives.  She was not chasing grant money.  She was not answering to corporate or institutional interests.  She was pursuing the truth of how children grow and develop.  She sought one thing: to identify what NATURE has set in motion as to how children universally develop.  And that she did.

No one has written a book, published research or found contrary evidence to show that she was mistaken.

Quite the contrary has occurred.  All of the science of child development has come to support every claim that Dr. Montessori made.  All of her principles of human development have been supported by cognitive and developmental science.  The reason why Montessori has not yet toppled the conventional approach to education is the same as the reason why Copernicus’s ideas took so long to be accepted: they were counter-cultural and touched too many vested interests.  But universal natural truths have a way of abiding.  They do not relent.

The resources exist to find out for yourself.

Mr. Gates, in the name of all that you value, please stop your current focus on changing education.  I appreciate your interests and passion, but you have been misinformed.

The best money you can spend to change education and transform the world, and that is not hyperbole, is to spend it on the first 6 years of life.  Look into the research of the Nobel economist James Heckman at the University of Chicago (http://heckman.uchicago.edu/    and  http://jenni.uchicago.edu/human-inequality/papers/Heckman_final_all_wp_2007-03-22c_jsb.pdf)

Look into the research on self-regulation and executive functions: http://www.devcogneuro.com/AdeleDiamond.html   and  http://www.devcogneuro.com/Publications/Activities_and_Programs_That_Improve_Childrens_Executive_Functions.pdf  and    http://www.goodatdoingthings.com  and   http://youtu.be/faYco1b-IJI  and www.aidtolife.org

Of course, Montessori principles extend beyond the first 6 years of life and have been developed and implemented through the high school level to tremendous success.  I know you know this: your foundation gave money to a Milwaukee public Montessori high school – the most successful of all the high schools you’ve given money to.  Curious?

Thank you for your time.

Mark Berger

mb2424@gmail.com

www.ultimateprep.wordpress.com

 

 

 

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The crisis is still with us.  Grads look for jobs and don’t find them.  People call for a rescue to save them and others.  There’s despair and longing and a sense of hopelessness.  But not everywhere.  For some there’s a better way.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  The ones you will see rise up today are the ones who can tap into what made this country what it is: intrinsic motivation, perseverance, inventiveness, confidence, curiosity, boldness, independence and courage.

Watch  this music video and what do  you see?  I see two young people ” just doing what needs to be done”.  They put themselves out there.  They are making something of value because they can, and maybe they have to.  Hand-outs are not ever an answer.  Hand-outs train people to wait for help.  It trains them to “rely on” and become DEpendent.    That’s no future.  Maybe it’s just me but the passion and confidence I see in these two is what will carry them.  Never mind the particular song if you don’t care for it – see the souls of these two, their spirit.  I’m not worried about them.

The world is spinning out and we need young people to understand what will get them ahead.  The ones who are capable of rising themselves up will be the ones to make the future, to carry the world forward.  We need education to play a role in nurturing these young people, to show them that this is possible. We don’t need schools that  train them to sit and wait, to follow the rules, to be lead and to just  do what they are told.  Maybe too many generations of that is taking its toll today.

Education needs a reality check today.  It needs to be able to show all students  (i) that they have something inside themselves that they can contribute, (ii) that they can develop the skills to make that contribution.  But that skill development is not what’s on offer in most schools today.  There’s no path there for the innovators and creators.  Half of them are “tamed” with medication to help them “focus” and be calm and controlled.  That’s a shame because the taming also suppresses that which actually makes them tick, that which would unlock their contribution.

So, “cheers” to those who are striking out on their own, who have discovered their contribution.

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Education talk is so frustrating.  Especially those who wear the self-appointed label of “reformer”.  The frustration comes from their having misnamed themselves- they are no more calling for meaningful reform than would be the case if “Oreo reform” was a call for red cookies on the outside instead of black.

Now what’s being discussed is the collective reference to the “school reformer movement” that has groups (Stand for Children, Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst) pushing against the status quo and teachers unions.  It’s supposed to be about these groups wanting something better, etc.  BUT all they call for is “value added” assessment of teachers’ performance, measured by test scores.  really??  We think we can assess teachers by how much stuff their students “retain” (let’s not bother calling it “learning” – see elsewhere on this site for that discussion).

Why is it so hard to get the point across? Is this going to  reform anything of substance?  If you keep standardized tests and add measuring teachers by the progress made on them, don’t we see the writing on the wall: motivation to cheat, to be easy graders, teaching EVEN more to the test and other forms of dysfunction and mismanagement?  Do we really think that teachers will “teach more or better”?  And with what methods? The same old ones that have failed for generations, focused on the wrong things, etc.  THIS is where the reform is needed- why is this so hard to see?  What are we looking for? “the king is dead, long live the king”? new paradigm same as old paradigm?

When will the meaningful talk of TRUE reform come to the forefront?  What will that take?

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Do schools make us smart? smarter? What is more important: intelligence or ingenuity?  If you had to choose, which would you?

Steve Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson, recently wrote that Jobs was more ingenious than he was conventionally intelligent.   He argues that Bill Gates – that other guy – had more raw intelligence but that Jobs, like Einstein and others before him, stood at the intersection of the humanities and science.  Ingenuity here means “practical creativity”, it means seeing the relationship between disparate things that others don’t see, the connections.

It’s not that ingenuity is better than intelligence, they are just different.  The world needs all kinds.

What is an educational experience to do with these?  How can the experience in schools support both styles?  There’s no secret today that there are many kinds of learners.  Jobs’ insight is said to come from “experiential wisdom” – that’s learning which comes from doing, from acting in the world, learning from errors, trial and error- like all the great inventors did.

Of course, Jobs dropped out of college.  School was a limitation for him.  It didn’t allow for him to function, dare we say “excel”, the way he he was born to.  The reality is that we are all “born this way” – the way we are.  We need schools that recognize this, that allow each student to be themself, to learn as they need to, to think, create, invent, explore and solve problems.  Some may not even need school the way it is typically conceived of today.

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A recent NY Times book review (of Steven Brill’s Class Warfare) discusses the author’s claim that “truly effective teaching… can overcome student indifference, parental disengagement and poverty” – because these things have been shown to act against student achievement in conventional schools.  Making the case that “good teachers” can overcome these would be a good argument for having more of these quality teachers as well as pointing to a possible solution other than the more complicated solution of fixing those things in our culture that leads to these kinds of things in the first place.

All very interesting, but completely beside the point.  What the author, Brill, is looking at is test scores as a measure of student achievement and how “effective teaching” can overcome some of the very obstacles that many teachers argue stand in their way of making progress.  What Brill is missing is the fact that (i) it’s not effective teaching that will solve these problems, it’s a NEW APPROACH to education, and (ii) test scores don’t measure “learning”.

Simply getting better test results in a “content delivery system” model is a low goal, and one that truly lacks an understanding of what an education is supposed to do for a person.  A new approach, a new paradigm, that fully recasts what education is and how it takes place is what can address ALL of the kinds of issues that Brill raises.  The results are in and it’s demonstrable  that a better fundamental approach can correct for all of the factors that Brill identifies.  AND, it doesn’t require parents to become super-parents.

Have a look at the results that have been logged at the East Dallas Community School.  They adopted a new education paradigm – not some window dressing new reading program, not longer school days, not more technology – they  simply  sis one thing: throw away the conventional content delivery model and adopt one that actually works on all levels… they became a Montessori school.

 

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A case has been made that universities need to shift from the present top-down and insular style to a more “learner”-based style.  It is argued that if we look at the end-users (students) and see how they already modify the system to met their needs, we can create a better system that relies on the self-organization of people: people taking ownership and control of their lives (learning) and making it fit.

While the point being argued for has merit, the premise that it relies on is weak: that college is getting too expensive and courses too often don’t relate to the problems faced in the real world. A stronger argument would be based on the premise that this style/model of learning simply makes more sense if you look at how people learn and are motivated.  Further, the model can and should be applied beyond the college level: younger students would also benefit from a more learner-centered approach, engaging them in problem-solving such that their learning will be the result of the efforts, mistakes and experimentation that they will themselves conceive of.

Actual learning occurs like the scientific method: conjecture and test –  try something and see what happens, repeat, learn.

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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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