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Education and the Teacher Cheaters

July 17, 2011 1 comment

The New York Times July 16, 2011 editorial states, “A cheating scandal in which scores of teachers and principals in Atlanta’s public schools falsified student test results has thrown the system into chaos and made its name synonymous with fraud. This shameful episode has destroyed trust in the schools and made it impossible to determine how much students are learning and whether the system is doing its job.”

At least 178 teachers, principals, and administrators in the Atlanta public schools cheated to raise student scores on standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. These teachers and administrators helped Atlanta’s minority children cheat for money, which included teacher bonuses for raising a child’s academic level, to teacher evaluations, and federal money for performance. This is being referred to as an “ethical lapse”. I call it Criminal!

Now Washington DC and Los Angeles, and maybe other school systems, have been implicated in this horrible crime against innocent and mostly minority children. The Council of the Great City Schools recently released a study that says, “By fourth grade only 12 percent of black male students read at or above grade level, while 38 percent of white males do. By eighth grade it falls to just 9 percent for black males, 33 percent for whites. Black male students are almost twice as likely as white males to drop out of school. And in some big American cities the dropout rate is around 50 percent.”

Cheating teachers, principals, and school administrators aid and facilitate these children ending up in poverty and crime. Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools says, “The overall academic achievement of African American males was appallingly low (in this study), not only in cities, but nationwide.”

According to a November, 2010 report by Bill Whitaker, who wrote an article for the CBS News’ series on education: Reading, Writing and Reform, “Dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs like food stamps. It costs on average $25,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year and only about $14,000 a year of community college.”

What should alarm us is that these “professionals”, and I use this term with disgust in referring to these cheating teachers and staff, felt that their students could not even pass basic competency tests, despite targeted school improvement plans, proven reforms, and state-of-the-art teacher training. This massive fraud against minority children, those who need education the most, is a reflection of these “professionals” who are so ordinary and incompetent that they need children to cheat on tests so they, teachers and administrators, can receive their bonuses and rewards.

While they spend their bonus money and bask in the glow of their rewards they condemn their students, without a trial and jury, to a life of irreversible poverty, ignorance, and maybe crime. How terribly heartless of these so called “professionals”. I wonder what the Teacher Unions have to say about  these people? Who will they defend the teachers or the children?

How terribly disheartening for the minority parents and their sons and daughters, who they entrusted into the public educational system. They thought their children would have opportunities they never had by getting a proper education. What they have in Atlanta, Washington DC, Los Angeles and maybe other cities across the country, are their children who cannot read, write and do mathematics at grade levels. One step forward two steps back! If it were my sons I would be storming the gates of the educational bastion with fire in my eyes and a sword in my hands.

What a mess!

Education; Critical Thinking vs Rote Memory in American Education

January 28, 2011 6 comments

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." Albert Einstein

We have an American educational system that languishes under the premise that if a student repeats something many times he will learn it. He may not understand it, but he will learn how to repeat it so he sounds knowledgeable. Our primary classroom teaching methods use Rote Learning, defined as, “…a learning technique which avoids understanding of a subject and instead focuses on memorization. The major practice involved in rote learning is learning by repetition. The idea is that one will be able to quickly recall the meaning of the material the more one repeats it.” Wikipedia

This is how teachers continue to process your children in grades K–12 and our students in colleges and universities throughout America in the 2011 Global Knowledge Economy, which is driven by information and technology. This is a time and age when students have to be able to deal with changes quickly and effectively. This new economy places increasing demands on flexible intellectual skills, and the ability to analyze information and integrate diverse sources of knowledge in solving problems. NO ONE will advance in this new information age with rote memory skills. Those are the skills of mindless workers who put this gidget with that gadget for eight hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 30 years. That age is over in America. It left for China and India more than10 years ago.

Why do our teachers and educators continue to use a mode of education that consigns our children to a life of irrelevancy? Why do they resist change, flexibility, and new thinking techniques?

I believe it is because it threatens their lifelong Rote learning habits. Technology threatens them; teachers are artifacts from a time where they were taught they had to know all the answers. They believe in authoritarianism in an age when large groups are sharing information every day in a world without Ethernet boundaries; this is how teachers were taught to teach. They see technology as a threat rather than a challenge. Their students know more than they do in this Knowledge Economy and so they avoid the embarrassment of having to admit they are fallible by demanding safe Rote answers to safe standardized  test questions.

Educators have forgotten that one of the most exciting teaching moments is when the student teaches the teacher. Information exchange between teachers and students allows everyone to participate in the exciting adventure of Critical and Creative thinking. The teacher becomes the guide who helps channel student energy, creativity, intellect, and critical thinking into new solutions that awaken enormous possibilities for all. Teachers do not have to have all the answers; they need to ask the right questions! Their students will find the answers.

There is a serious relationship between Critical thinking and Creative thinking. They are like a hand in a glove. Creative solutions to problems involve not just having new ideas. New creative ideas must also be useful and relevant to the task at hand. Critical thinking plays a crucial role in evaluating new ideas, selecting the best ones, and modifying them if necessary.

Now what is Critical Thinking? The list of core critical thinking skills includes observation, interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, and explanation. There is a reasonable level of consensus among experts that an individual or group engaged in strong critical thinking gives due consideration to:

•    Evidence through observation
•    Context of judgment
•    Relevant criteria for making the judgment well
•    Applicable methods or techniques for forming the judgment
•    Applicable theoretical constructs for understanding the problem and the question at hand

Critical thinking employs not only logic, but also broad intellectual criteria such as clarity, credibility, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, significance, and fairness. A teacher or student disposed toward critical thinking includes a courageous desire to follow reason and evidence wherever it may lead. They are open-minded, display attention to the possible consequences of choices, have a systematic approach to problem solving, inquisitiveness, fair-mindedness and maturity of judgment, and a confidence in reasoning.

To be fair, the real question is, do our educators possess this kind of thinking? Are they able to develop critical thinking in their teaching methods so their students have a future in the fast moving, ever changing world of the Global Knowledge Economy? If our educators cannot make this transition between Rote Memory and Critical Thinking then our student population is doomed to languishing in Industrial Age thinking while the rest of the world, i.e., China, India, and others leap forward, above, through, and beyond them.

It is NOT about money. Socrates taught under a tree.

It is about questioning old assumptions, creating group think in classrooms, exciting students and challenging them to question everything they are told, and requiring them to develop their own solutions to problems, which may or may not agree with ours. It is about trust and belief in our ability to learn along with our students as they learn along with us.

Finally, the student must be taught not how to know the answer, but how to ask the question. Teachers and students must first embrace what they do not know and Critical thinking is a primary tool in approaching this. Spend some time with any 3, 4, 5 or 6 year old and count how many times they ask you, “Why?” Watch them play and watch how they solve problems and disputes. They have it! Then we turn them over to government schools that Drill and Kill it out of them.


Education; Vertical Thinking – Lateral Thinking

January 23, 2011 1 comment

“You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”

Edward DeBono

In the last post “Race to NOwhere – NOWhere” our students are falling asleep in their one dimensional learning rooms. What the chalkboards and rows of desks lack is creativity and excitement in thinking and problem solving. We are a nation whose public school system is churning out vertical thinkers in an age of 21 year old internet multi-millionaires, who are thinking laterally, way ‘outside the box’. These lateral thinkers are changing the millennium. Some have dropped out of prestigious Ivy League schools and their rows of desks and chalkboards  to create and implement their extraordinary ideas and solutions to problems, i.e., Facebook, SCVNGR, Microsoft, and others.

Vertical thinking, which is the primary thinking method practiced in the American public school system, is a method of the Industrial Age, not the High Tech Age. It destroys creativity in children by forcing them to seek the one “correct” solution to a problem while working within defined boundaries. Lateral thinkers use techniques for changing concepts and perceptions, and generating new ones. They explore multiple possibilities and approaches instead of pursuing a single approach. Lateral thinking was developed by a major force in British creative thinking, Edward DeBono, who has doctorates from both Oxford and Cambridge and is most famous for this term in his 1967 book, ‘The Use of Lateral Thinking’.

A way of understanding lateral thinking is through its opposite, vertical thinking. A vertical thinker is analytical, careful and precise, taking the data around a problem and analyzing it with defined methodologies to find logical solutions. A lateral thinker understands vertical thinking, but chooses to deliberately look outside of this bounded thought process. It requires digging in many other places because creativity is like a joke; you don’t get it until the punch-line at the end. It is not an easy concept to teach in a vertical thinking society and a good way to learn is through examples. A good example of lateral thinking is:

You are driving down the road in your car on a wild, stormy night, when you pass by a bus stop and you see three people waiting for the bus; An old lady who looks as if she is about to die; An old friend who once saved your life; The perfect partner you have been dreaming about.

Knowing that there can only be one passenger in your car, whom would you choose?
Click here for The Solution.

Lateral thinking is thus very much about standing back, looking at the big picture and understanding concepts. It also requires that you focus in on the parts that have perhaps been overlooked, challenging assumptions, and seeking alternatives. To be more simplistic:

•    vertical thinkers – CHOOSE
•    lateral thinkers – CHANGE
•    vertical – LOOKS FOR WHAT IS RIGHT
•    lateral – LOOKS FOR WHAT IS DIFFERENT
•    vertical – ONE THING MUST FOLLOW DIRECTLY FROM ANOTHER
•    lateral – MAKES DELIBERATE JUMPS
•    vertical – CONCENTRATES ON RELEVANCE
•    lateral – WELCOMES CHANCE INTRUSIONS
•    vertical – MOVES IN MOST LIKELY DIRECTIONS
•    lateral – EXPLORES LEAST LIKELY DIRECTIONS

Vertical thinking is mostly an individual process, solitary. Lateral thinking involves not only individual thinking, but also group thinking. Many large corporations use group lateral thinking to solve difficult problems by creating new solutions through brainstorming and close collaboration.

We desperately need to reorganize our classroom structure so that children may explore, share, and brainstorm for new ideas and new solutions outside the vertical path. There was a time in American education of the one room school. The teacher taught all grade levels, oftentimes with the help of her older students who looked after and help teach the youngest. The group dynamics of that generation, who had the opportunity to explore the best and most compelling ideas and solutions, led us into the Industrial Revolution.

The Volkswagen Company sponsored an initiative called  Thefuntheory. They invited people to invent a new structure for a mundane, already existent idea. Their challenge was to make this mundane, every day experience FUN for people to experience. They believe that “Fun can change people for the better!” The initiative produced the most extraordinary results and was held in Odenplan, Stockholm. One of the most intriguing ideas dealt with changing people’s behavior in taking either an escalator or the stairs. This is an amazing video of lateral, individual and group thinking! You will smile…

What would happen to our American educational system and our students if we unleashed this kind of fun, exploration, creativity, excitement, and learning in our classrooms? I suspect that every building, every classroom would be a beehive of energy and engaged participation. I would love to try this out somewhere! It’s not about not enough money. It’s not about better buildings. It’s about teachers letting go of their preconceived notions of education they bring into our classrooms from the Industrial Age. It’s about teachers challenging their students to come up with more than one solution to a problem. It is their obligation as professionals to explode the creative energy within their students, not destroy or inhibit it.

Learning to read together, all ages in creative Group Learning.

Education in Crisis; An Incidental Conversation in a Bedouin Tent, Part 6

March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I was traveling in the 70’s with my husband. He was consulting in the Middle East and I was his sidekick. He was involved in desert irrigation. I was involved in photography. We were guests of the desert Bedouin as he studied ways to bring water into these arid places. One evening as we sat in a large tent drinking tea with our translator, the Sheik joined us. He was interested in America, and we discussed many topics that long, memorable night. His curiosity was insatiable.

He was particularly captivated with our conversation on American families and education. When he completed his questions we stood to say goodbye. He looked straight at me and with a smile in his intense dark eyes, he said, “Uneducated mothers do not raise educated children.”

Setting aside the misunderstandings many Americans have regarding this part of the world, this comment stayed with me as it foreshadowed the insight of his words. I had no children then, when he changed my life and my perception. I am sure you have had an incidental conversation with someone passing through your life. They came and went, and left you with an altered perception. Somehow, nothing was the same after their incidental remark. Growth had occurred.

Let me fast forward 25 years to an article written in the Washington Post by George Will, March 21, 2010. He is writing about Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s vow to unleash upon the public schools, “legions of lawyers wielding Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act…to rectify what he considers violations, such as too many white students in high school Advanced Placement classes. He says his rights enforcers, 600 of them, with a $103 million budget, will remedy discrimination…”

Will goes on to say, “Plainly put, the best indicator of a school’s performance is family performance (emphasis mine)—qualities of the family from which the students come.”

Family is the crucial element in a child’s life. Family means 2 parents. It means both parents living together in full support of their children while fostering emotional security and safety, which encourages the ability of the children to explore their creative and natural curiosities. Parents, who are intensely involved with their children, offer environments and upbringing where AP courses and high SAT scores are often the result of educated parents, with a family income, who live in the same home with their children.

I was surprised at George Will’s statistics. Would it surprise you, as it did me, that 71.6% of African American children and 51.3% of Latino children are born to unmarried mothers? Could these single parent families, with low incomes, no fathers, and sparse discipline be a reason why AP classes are filled with “white students” as Arne Duncan claims? The government cannot hide behind “rights” when the real reason for “disparity” in AP classes is due to the lack of family structures within the minority communities. The government camouflages the breakdown of family structures within these communities as a “civil rights issue” when it is a family structure issue.

Family, 2 parents in the same home, is the blood that fills the veins of the children. Mothers are the child’s first influence. It is she who teaches values, compassion, and respect. It is she who puts their little feet on the road to education and fulfillment. It is the father who brings balance.

“Uneducated mothers do not raise educated children.”

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