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Posts Tagged ‘whole child’

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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Oh yes, you read that correctly.  It’s time to stop talking about dyslexia as a problem or learning disability… as something to be “fixed”.

It turns out it’s not a dis-ability but an actual ability, just not one most of us know about.  Research reveals that dyslexics are better at seeing patterns and what is called “visual gist”.  Dyslexics are also found in significantly high percentages in creative and scientific fields.  Like educational psychologist Jane Healy encourages us to do, we need to think of dyslexics as “different”, not “disabled”.  That is, there isn’t something wrong with them, they just learn and function differently.

So much of what passes for “something to be fixed” in children has to do with a mythical image of some “learner” that has ONE profile.  Fall outside of that box and you’re out of the club and in need or remediation and fixing.  The move to identify these people is swift and passionate, almost with a “round ’em up” attitude.  Yes, there are children who need assistance and it is right to find them and help them.  But there are many who learn differently who don’t need helping or fixing.  What they need is a better school system one that understands that school isn’t a one-size-fits-all operation.

If we fix all the different learners who fell outside the box, we’ll lose a lot of “outside the box” thinking.  Where will that leave us?  Innovation does not live in a box.

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Yes, true education reform remains the hot topic.

Education needs to be reconceptualized as “that which a human being requires to develop from birth to maturity”. That is such a different focus from the conventional conception of education as the transmission of data/facts.

All we can do, in this new understanding, is “to  assist life”.  What does this mean? : what does life “want” and how can we assist it?  What does it mean to ask  this question or to even think this way?

Life, all life, not just human life, wants to thrive.  A basic element of biology  is this: living things want to thrive.  We see this everywhere in nature: the wildflower growing out of a rock face or through dried leaves in early spring; the instinct of animals that serve to protect or propagate.  It would be wise to learn from nature – being a part of it.  The secret is there for us to see, if only we’d turn our gaze to it.

Children are born ready to learn, to thrive.  Our task is to clear  the way and provide safety and security for this life to unfold.  Nature knows what to do.  We’ve learned about the nature-nurture dance, about the value of  enriched environments.  Let’s do that: prepare the environment that nature requires, then stand aside and let it work its magic.

This is what it means to “assist life”.  It’s easier than we think.  Nature is a lovely, beautiful, integrated and powerful  system –  let’s unleash it, respect it, honor it.  Instead, conventional  education has blindly and misguidedly tried to invent something that doesn’t need inventing.  Education is a natural process if you conceive of  it as life merely unfolding.

This is a different way to conceive of education and if there’s a chance for education, for children and for our world, we need more people  to begin to come to this understanding.  Montessori schools get this.

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An adult was heard to say “my dad didn’t teach me what to do, he just lived and let me watch”.

That’s rich.  How many parents spend a great deal of time “telling’ their children what to do, how to do it, how to be “polite”, “kind”, etc.  Is this the best way?  The adult above clearly valued a different approach: modelling and let it be.

People learn best through self-discovery and exploration.  “Telling” rarely communicates what is important because it is disconnected from your own experience- it amounts to accepting received wisdom, so to speak.  Parents who live their lives well, don’t tell their children to do as I say not as I do”, teach them what is important and teach them in the best way possible.

The other thing at work here is not micromanaging a child’s development or future. Sure, as parents we all want what’s best for our children, we all want them to succeed in their endeavors.  There is a difference between providing opportunities and support and what some parents do, which amounts to controlling their children’s lives and not allowing for self-expression and self-awareness.  Letting your child discover what moves them, what contributions they can make to the world, is the best way to help them become both whole and happy.

 

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Educators can learn a lot from the parenting author Wendy Mogel. She’s a clinical psychologist who took what she learned from listening to parents and their children and has written two books that basically tell parents to “chillax”.

On the heels of the Race to Nowhere phenomenon, stories of helicopter parents, long lines to get children into the “best” preschool, parents vying for the preferred second grade teacher like it will matter for the rest of their 7 year old’s life, and so on…. Mogel tells it like it is: none of this matters.  She understands that the problems created by all this stressing out, for parents and their children, is just that: problems created, manufactured.  All could have been just fine if left alone.

Schools, teachers, educators of all sorts are complicit in this game, this destructive culture.  How often do teachers tell parents that it doesn’t matter  which  teacher they get?  Or that it’s okay if their child doesn’t get straight As?  Educators need to begin to deflate this myth.  We need to help parents appreciate that their children are not, as Mogel puts it, “your masterpieces”, nor are they a reflection of you.  Mistakes are what we learn from, where wisdom comes from; and our present culture of perfection and one-upmanship to get into the “few” good college spots is harming our children as well as presenting a picture of the world that is not real.

Mogel echoes the spirit of Ken Robinson when she tells parents that your children will be what they will be and that if your daughter or son is meant to be a baker it’s a waste of your time to try to make a doctor out of them.  More than just a waste: you’ll make both of you miserable in the process, turn them into unhappy adults who will, what?, make the world around them unhappy (because that’s what unhappy people do) and contribute more misery to the world.  Yes, there are a lot of dominoes that will fall if you try to make a doctor out of  baker.

Educators need to step  up with this message.  Let each child discover their own passions and skills and let them bring that best self to the world.  What follows then is amazing – isn’t that the world we all want to live in?

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The relatively new field of neuroeducation has made it clear that emotion plays a role in learning. Getting more specific, the field has shown that stress plays a role, a destructive role.

It turns out that stress prevents the human brain from developing optimally.  It does this by preventing neurogenesis from taking place.  Neurogenesis is our brain’s ability to create new neurons- brain cells.  If you grow up in a healthy and stable environment your brain is able to generate new neurons, which help you to learn.  Provide an enriched environment and you’re off to the races.  Stress takes you in the opposite direction of an enriched environment.

How does this inform the education paradigm-shift position?

Conventional environments create stress in students.  Whether it’s from the fear of failure and mistake making or the upcoming quiz, there are daily stressors for most students in a conventional environment.

The New Education Paradigm removes these stressors.  By placing the learner in greater control of her activities, by encouraging mistakes (in the spirit of risk-taking that is necessary to look for new questions and answers), by shifting to alternate modes of assessment, amongst other things, the new paradigm creates a rich environment that minimizes stress in the student/learner.  The result is a student who is not only motivated to participate and apply themselves fully, but a brain that is there to support them by creating the new neurons that they can then use to learn.

Now, if only we can get the prime movers in “industrial education” (new term) to catch up to  the science of the day, maybe we can begin to help more students sooner.  In the meantime, check out Montessori schools – they’ve understood this implicitly for decades.

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And now, a re-post from a brilliant education scholar who understands what matters in education and what needs to be changed.  Yong Zhao recently moved to Oregon to become the Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, Eugene.

You can read his recent post here.

His recent book Catching Up is also a gem.

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