Posts Tagged ‘“Steve Hughes”’

February 2, 2013


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







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San Francisco, again! This time it’s the “Where’s the Outrage?” conference on school choice, where top education policy experts and reformers will give updates on what is happening in their states and discuss how to maximize their efforts for change.

The conference theme is “LIGHTING A FIRE UNDER THE SCHOOL CHOICE MOVEMENT“. Now that’s something we an all get behind, right?  Who would be AGAINST choice?  That’s like being against freedom.  The website (http://outrageconference.com) goes on to say “Our goal is to ignite our country’s DEMAND for school choice.”
It’s great to see this development, but sad that it should be necessary.

In January 2011 this group will organize the National School Choice Week, because “the alternative to the current unsustainable, underperforming system [of traditional education] is parental choice.”

Watch their space.  Talk it up.  If we can make “choice” available to all parents, then we can get somewhere with the education REvolution.  Parents will choose those schools where children do best, measured by their whole “becoming” and not simply test scores.

There’s a lot at stake here and it’s easy to loose sight of it.  But the reality is that far too many children are being lost and ill-served by the traditional schools they attend every day.  I think that Dr. Steve Hughes (www.goodatdoingthings.com)  said it so eloquently and passionately when he said ““Can we afford to waste this much humanity? Can we afford to squander a third or more of our young people? Who among us thinks that if we keep it up, push traditional education harder and harder, if we put more pressure on teachers and schools to improve academic test scores, to do better, to teach more, who, at this point, thinks that we’ll get 50% improvement? Nobody thinks this. Probably nobody really thinks we have 20% more to gain. I really wonder if anyone, anywhere really thinks we could realistically get 10% more by squeezing traditional education harder.”

Let’s get going.  Enough already – yes?!

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If you look up “education” on Wikipedia, you get this:

“…education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another.

Etymologically, the word education is derived from educare (Latin) “bring up”, which is related to educere “bring out”, “bring forth what is within”, “bring out potential” and ducere, “to lead”.

So, it starts off poorly insofar as our culture definitely views education as being about “delivering content – accumulated knowledge”.  This is why I’ve come to call the model of traditional education/school a “content delivery system”.  That’s what it is: put kids in a class segregated by age, a teacher at the front telling them stuff, expecting them to tell the stuff back (checking to see if they remember), and if they do “success!”.  Pretty sad, really.  As if remembering stuff says anything about understanding, integration of knowledge or thought.

But.. read on the the origins of the word and we get to the root of what education could be.  If we really concern ourselves with the idea of “bringing forth” the person that is within, the potential of every person, then we’ll have something worth doing.  That would be an appropriate thing to change the conversation to.

This takes us back to psychology, as reported by Dr. Steven Hughes: “In 1925, Charles Spearman, one of the fathers of modern psychology, wrote ‘Every normal man, woman, and child is … a genius at something … It remains to discover at what… This must be a most difficult matter. It certainly  cannot be detected by any of the testing procedures at present in current usage’ “.  Wow.  This is the very message that creativity guru Ken Robinson has been arguing in recent years: find what you’re good at, passionate about and do that.  This is the job of education.

Let’s go.

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As we look to construct the best learning environments for children, let’s be sure to tap into the wealth of knowledge that has developed in the fields of psychology and neuroscience over the past 20 years.   They have much to contribute.

Following up on yesterday’s post, Dr. Steven Hughes offers: “How much does general ability predict lifetime success? Does it predict 5-10% of success? Does it predict 20-30%? Or how about 50-60%?  How many of you say 60% or more? Well, the answer is somewhere between 5 and 10%. Not that much. General ability predicts occupational attainment, but not success within one’s occupation, and not satisfaction with one’s life, or one’s general wellbeing.”

This is a HUGE statement, especially in a culture that is tripping over itself trying to raise test scores in the belief that THIS is what will “take care of children’s futures”.

Hughes has looked at the state of education very carefully, he’s noted the massive drop-out rates, the student pressures and suicides, and he comes to ask, “Can we afford to waste this much humanity? Can we afford to squander a third or more of our young people? Who among us thinks that if we keep it up, push traditional education harder and harder, if we put more pressure on teachers and schools to improve academic test scores, to do better, to teach more, who, at this point, thinks that we’ll get 50% improvement? Nobody thinks this. Probably nobody really thinks we have 20% more to gain. I really wonder if anyone, anywhere really thinks we could realistically get 10% more by squeezing traditional education harder.

Myself, I think education is right up against the wall: it has no more to give and we may, in fact, be moving into diminishing returns at this point.”

What more do we need to know or hear?  The responsibility falls to each one of us to call for significant (see my “innovate fundamentally” post) change in education – let’s start by changing the education conversation today.

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A good friend has been ruminating on this idea recently.  Steve Hughes, pediatric neuropsychologist, has raised the question: will the 21st century see a fundamental change in what “schools” are and what “education” is?

He relates that only in recent years has the telephone made a move to phone 2.0.  Ever since Mr. Bell came up with the first model, it has remained in essence the same, and Mr. Bell would have recognized as phones the ones in use in our homes until the turn of the millennium.  But, would he recognize as a “phone” these tiny devices strapped to our waists and buried in our purses and pockets, that  we need not even hold in our hand to use as we make use of our bluetooth earpiece?

Aren’t we ready for a similar quantum leap with our schools?  Hughes argues that:

“Children now in school will face adult life as independent agents to a degree never before seen in our history. They will not be tied to a single job, employer, or even industry, and will experience career paths that were unimaginable as little as 20 years ago. This is occurring even as the trend toward rigid control, high-stakes academic testing, and limited school curricula has robbed them of the opportunities necessary to develop the broad-based problem-solving skills necessary for happy, productive, interesting lives.”

He goes on to suggest something radical and likely to be controversial:

“The educational methods, materials, and developmental culture identified by Dr. Montessori 100 years ago have never been more relevant [and] Dr. Montessori’s work in 1907 anticipated—by 100 years—the need for a method of education that supports success, happiness, leadership, and progress in the world of the 21st century.”

This is worthy of consideration if our concern is WHAT IS BEST FOR CHILDREN, LEARNERS, STUDENTS.

For more information about Dr. Hughes visit: http://www.goodatdoingthings.com

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“It’s dawning on people that education should be about the development of the person and not about knowing things – specific, discreet facts”.  Dr. Steven Hughes, pediatric neuropsychologist, Univ. Of MN.

Wow. Maybe we’ll get there.

What’s this?  Education is about “the development of the person”?  This is rad man.  This guy better be careful, he’s going to upset some folks. The same one’s I’m going to upset.

What IS education?  Let us never lose sight of that.  Define your mission and don’t forget it.  It is the guide.  So when schools set out, traditional schools, they are doing what they intend to do.  Let’s be fair. Traditional schools are NOT about innovation, creative thought, moving the walls, or shaking things up.  They are about doing what is done, learning how to fit in, conform – “this is how we do it around here” mentality.

This is why the conversation needs changing.  We need to tap our glasses, get the attention of our audience and shift the conversation to human flourishing.  Who’s against that?  This is what Dr. Hughes is suggesting: developing each and every person’s talents and gifts.  We all have them. An education should be about helping us discover what ours our, not telling us how to be.

I hope it’s “dawning” on more people.

See Dr. Hughes full 4+ minute piece here:

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