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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.


The Gene Pool of Education

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment

The gene pool for our present “modern” educational system originated in the 18th century with the onset of the industrial revolution. The effort began with the big bosses wanting to have a literate factory worker who could follow directions, do what they were told to do, and manage assembly line components.

The creation of the public education system began with the same idea as assembly line worker skills: group children by age, place them in manageable class sizes, give each student a book of information on the subject they were to study, put the authoritarian, “educator”, in front of the room, provide a chalkboard and eraser, and have each student sit obediently quiet while taking notes and memorizing what they were taught so they could pass a standardized test on the subject.

Today’s (2011) public education system puts children in separate classes for each subject where they cannot see how connections of knowledge happen; it educates them in batches according to their age, like an assembly line, and when they are ready to graduate we date stamp them with their year of completion, “Class of 2011”.

“Real” education does not commence in the production line mentality. It begins with the creativity and innovation our children experience all the moments they are not in our assembly line schools. It seems these days they learn more outside the classroom on their own than they do in class. I am sure you all know a high school student or younger, for that matter, who knows more about how to manipulate the internet and their computer than most educators do!

That was the 18th century. This is 2011 and not much has changed as far as the public education gene pool.

Consider this, in the 18th century we did not have television, internet, desk tops, laptops, iPods, iPhones, gaming, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, real time knowledge, space travel, and a multitude of other momentous inventions and events. BUT, the public education system, teachers and unions, continue to resist movement that would change this 18th century model that deadens our children with BOREDOM. Go sit in a class your children are attending. See what you think? Are you bored by the presentation? How do these kids stay awake?

This 21st century is about innovation, creativity, strategic intelligence, communication, technology, and personal exploration and group interaction. It is NOT about learning how to put this gidget with that gadget. This is the most exciting and challenging time in our history. It is about collaboration, learning in groups, sharing knowledge, creating many solutions to one problem. It is about engaging and exciting our youth; it is about challenging them to find the best that is within them; it is about setting them on fire with enthusiasm and knowledge that is directly related to their world, which is filled with amazing visual, audio, and informational experiences every minute of every hour!

Children come to school with heightened sensory perceptions. They can’t sit still because the world outside their classroom is technologically bombarded and in constant motion. Yet, the educational gene pool insists they sit quietly, take notes, listen, and pass standardized tests, all of which attempts to homogenize our society. They must all be the same. Have you ever wondered what the explosion in ADHD drugs is all about? Is it about a real phenomenon or is it about misunderstanding a generation of children whose senses, intellect, and behavior are heightened to levels that parents and teachers have never experienced because they come from a generation that listened all in a row, took notes, memorized, and passed standardized tests.

My son, whose early education was in our home school, sent me a video to watch called, Changing Education Paradigms. It was a joy to see Ken Robinson’s thoughts as they positively reaffirmed what I have followed all the years with my own children. It is worth the 10 minutes you will take to see it. It is enlightening and entertaining. Ken talks about divergent thinking. They tested 1500 children when they were in kindergarten by asking how many uses they could find for a paper clip. They then repeated the divergent thinking test when these same children were 8 to 10 and 13 to 15. When they were in kindergarten 98% of them were divergent thinkers. As they were processed through the educational gene pool they drastically lost this ability to a point where the researchers discovered this ability to think divergently in these children mostly deteriorated.

How hilarious is it when we tell our students there is one answer to the question; it is in the back of the book; don’t look, don’t copy because that’s cheating! We should be waking our children up to what is inside themselves, to all the possibilities that exist in their world. They are already exploring all of this outside the classroom; it’s called COLLABORATION!

Anthropologists say it takes millions of years of evolution for stimulus to change or cleanse the gene pool. If parents, teachers, and the gene pool system don’t wake up to the real world of our children, they will have created Zombies. They will be unable to compete in their world, whose technology is doubling at immeasurable rates.

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act”
George Orwell

America’s Educational Competitive Edge; Category 5

January 8, 2011 3 comments

Let’s talk about America’s mythological “Competitive Edge”.  Back in 2005 the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine wrote the influential 2005 report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future”. A new report was requested by the presidents of these distinguished academies in 2010, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Approaching Category 5”. The authors of the 2010 report concluded that the nation’s competitive outlook has worsened since the original Gathering Storm issued its call to strengthen K-12 education and double the federal basic-research budget.

The 2010 report notes indications where the United States’ competitive capacity is slipping, some of which includes the following:

•    In 2009, 51 percent of U.S. patents were awarded to non-U.S. companies.
•    China has replaced the U.S. as the world’s number one high-technology exporter and is now second in the world in publication of biomedical research articles.
•    Between 1996 and 1999, 157 new drugs were approved in the United States.  In a corresponding period 10 years later, the number dropped to 74.
•    Almost one-third of U.S. manufacturing companies responding to a recent survey say they are suffering from some level of skills shortage. (My emphasis)

In addition, the nation’s education system has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in math and science. According to the ACT College Readiness Report, 78 percent of U.S. high school graduates in 2008 did not meet readiness benchmark levels for one or more entry-level college courses in mathematics, science, reading, and English. The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 48th in the quality of its math and science education.  FORTY-EIGHTH! (Copies of Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited; Category 5 are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu.)

The only way America will meet future challenges is to change the way we parent and educate our people. Charter Schools, which are publicly funded, are yet another popular way to change traditional education, which was originally designed to produce literate factory workers for the industrial age of Ford, Rockefeller, and the like. Up until this industrial push most immigrants in our country verged on being or were illiterate. The chalk board, 30 wooden desks, teacher lecturing, and students taking notes for tests hasn’t changed much since that mandate for public education for all children.

The Charter innovation is described in the documentary “Waiting for Superman” and focuses on the lottery that determines its students. The lottery is conducted in public, and the film illustrates the high drama of the proceedings: The families of the winners are euphoric, the losers despondent. It depicts how desperate parents are to find any alternative to the inner-city schools millions of minority children attend.

According to a 2006 article in U.S. News & World Report one-third of our schools are dysfunctional. They are located in drug-infested, crime-ridden urban neighborhoods to which whites rarely venture. Most of the brightest and most talented teachers are attracted elsewhere. Columnist George Will described the neighborhoods where millions of minority children live and attend schools as “concentrations of the poor, the poorly educated, the unemployed and unemployable.” They also have been portrayed as “prisons without walls.”

Far too many of these students and preschoolers are dealing with hunger, homelessness, abuse and/or neglect. More than 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock. Typically, an impoverished, overwhelmed mother or grandmother is the only adult at home. Students leave dysfunctional homes to attend dysfunctional schools. They’re learning, but the lessons are concentrated on how to survive.

Considering the above, are charter schools the answer? Or does meaningful improvement in education lie elsewhere?

Early childhood is where it is at; this is the decisive moment!

Schools inherit reading problems, which are actually language problems. Learning begins at birth, ideally with two parents providing loving care, cultivating curiosity and offering constant exposure to spoken and written language. These well loved children have been attending “school” since birth.

Schools should extend their expertise to parents of preschoolers and to future parents. They should elaborate on the universal message: Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers, and learning happens outside the classroom as well as in it. Incoming students who are better-prepared should result in better-performing schools. We need to develop parenting programs for those who are not yet parents as well as for those who are and we need to take these programs into the communities and schools. We need to begin at the beginning.

We’ve been looking in all the wrong places for far too long. We can’t solve a problem by avoiding the cause; it’s rooted in the home. Parents are the key. We need to convince them of their importance and provide ways for them to be effective teachers.

Watch what happens to education in America when we get Parents involved with parenting their sons and daughters for a future that leaves behind their dysfunctional history!

Apple Pie Parenting; A Dose of This and a Dash of That

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I have been asked by so many, “What is good parenting?” Even though I consider the answer to be a matter of common sense and honest, selfless decisions I have come to realize that common sense is not in abundance and selfless decisions are held hostage to ego needs and immediate gratification. So I have concluded that the best answer is another question.

How is good parenting like baking an apple pie?

Let’s take my simple apple crumble pie recipe that I bake for one son. Its ingredients are: a 9” deep dish pie crust, 5 cups apples – peeled, cored and thinly sliced, ½ cup white sugar, ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/3 white sugar again, ¾ cup all purpose flour, 6 tablespoons butter. The oven must be preheated to 400 degrees where I bake the assembled pie for 35 to 40 minutes. Of course all the ingredients must be assembled in just the right way to get tasty results AND the pie must be baked just right to get that crispy top with soft apples under it.

Now what if I left out, because I was busy or distracted with my own needs, one third of the sugar, or the butter. Maybe I only used half the apples. Maybe I forgot the cinnamon; after all it is only ¾ teaspoon and that shouldn’t matter. Maybe I only baked it for 25 minutes. Who would know?

These appear to be such small compromises for my pie that I am serving to my family. Granted, it won’t be the best pie I could bake for them and maybe it won’t taste just right but it will get us through dessert and I could probably camouflage it with a heavy dose of vanilla ice cream.

On the other hand this could have been a superior pie that I would be enthusiastic to serve if I took the time and care in the preparation. There would be no excuses to suffer through and no camouflage tactics to cover up my personal failure to take pride in my creation. Excuses are so complex. It’s so much simpler to do it the right way.

Now let’s take a simple recipe for parenting. Its ingredients are: thoughtful nutrition and healthy balance during the uterine environment, careful physical and emotional maintenance during infancy with many tablespoons of hugs, big arms, and soft talk, a huge bucket full of reading out loud and play time, hundreds of hours of decision making and direction pointing, large and small doses of discipline, many cups of creative thinking, a dash or two of self esteem building, gallons of intellectual curiosity, and a dash of this and a dash of that. Baking time is at least 18 years.

What if we left out some of the dashes, doses, gallons, or buckets? Who would know? The most sorrowful parent is the one who left out some ingredients only to find that 18 years later it was too late to add them back. Like the pie both were baked. You cannot unring a bell. It’s so much simpler to add all the ingredients and do it the right way.

I was reading the “Future Buzz” blog by Adam Singer today. Even though this is a blog about digital marketing he says it all, “Complexity is standard and expected, simplicity is elegant and surprising because it is daring. It requires confidence – you’re taking a chance that what you’re putting out there is good enough to stand on its own.”

Food preparation is an art. Child rearing is an art. It is simple and surprising but when done with confidence it is good enough to stand on its own, no excuses.

Apple Pie & ParentingAPPLE PIE & PARENTING – SAME THING

The Family; The Brain Boost!

November 16, 2010 2 comments

So far we have looked at The Family from several aspects; the Smallest School, the Beginning of the Beginning, a Serious Decision, the Uterine Environment and the Moment of Birth, and Postpartum Dads. In thinking about all of this I looked at my own story and how I came to understand the serious nature of birth and childhood. It is an important decision to bring another human life in the world. But the most important parental duty of all is to ensure that the new life in your family has a chance for reaching its full potential.

It doesn’t take a PhD to raise a child in a responsible, loving, family environment. It takes careful thought, selfless action, and parental bonding. Unfortunately for the newborn child, many parents have little understanding of the most crucial and yet often neglected aspect of a newborn life, Brain Development. It is not necessary to understand all of the intricate scientific brain stuff. It is only necessary to have an understanding of the family experiences parents can present which will boost brain growth. Then a common sense, practical approach to early childhood rearing provides the proficiencies that develop Brain Growth in a way that allows your infant to leap forward into their promise.

Let me explore with you some of the research and insights regarding newborn Brain Development, from the blog Early Childhood Brain Insights. These clearly illuminate the parental care and commitment each child must be given in order to reach their promise and full potential:

Did You Know This Mom & Dad?

• Most people do not yet know that 90% of children’s brains are developed in the first 5 years, and 85% in the first 3 years. The brain adapts and grows primarily based on the experiences a child has in     these years before they enter school!

• A developing brain will adapt to whatever happens repeatedly in the environment. For a brain to develop optimally, a child needs to have fun, interesting, loving experiences throughout the day.

• Environments that are chaotic, disorderly or have high levels of stress have a direct influence on how optimally a child’s emotional and thinking areas of the brain develops.

• The easiest time for the brain to learn a second language is during the pre-school years. Research indicates there may be additional benefits when learning multiple languages. Children can develop   better overall verbal skills, a better vocabulary, and sequencing abilities.

• The brain is ready to learn basic math skills in the pre-school years. It doesn’t occur from saying the numbers in order. It learns through doing comparisons of size and shape, and few and many. Connections will be made in the brain when this is done with real objects.

• Research demonstrates that nature helps the brain relax and restore itself after experiencing stress or negative emotions.

• The quality and quantity of exposure to nature directly affects the physical health of the brain.

• Even though the brain is making trillions of connections as an infant and toddler, it takes years throughout childhood and adolescence to organize it into a mature adult brain.

• The quality of the relationship an infant has with his or her parents has a direct impact on the physical development of the brain. This impacts the nature and extent of a child’s perceptions and capabilities.

• Loving interaction with people and exploration of objects is as necessary to a child’s brain development as food.

• By the time a baby is 6 months old the brain may have developed 1,000 trillion brain connections through experiences in their environment.

• A child has already developed a perception of self and their environment by 12 -18 months based on the relationship they have with their parents.

• Brain connections for language are developed through direct interaction with parents NOT through television and videos.

• Aggression, impulsiveness, and lack of empathy can result when a brain experiences repeated neglect, chaos, or violence.

• The brain does not like chaos. It feels more comfortable when it knows what to expect.

• The absence of consistent and quality experiences leads to a loss in brain potential.

• Physical play stimulates the emotion regulating areas in the brain.

• Once the brain is developed it takes much more repetition, time, and consistency to change what has already been hard wired.

• The brain is always changing and making new connections. However, it is more difficult to modify after it has been originally wired in the newborn.

None of the above is out of reach for any parent. Early Brain Development is NOT complicated and it makes an impact that affects every one of us, especially our children. It only takes time, love, and creative thought. Each child deserves a Brain Boost in their first years, without it they are destined for a life of mediocrity and boredom.

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