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Education; The Disenthrallment of the Quiet Past

February 9, 2011 3 comments

I was reading an article on manufacturing in America in the Wall Street Journal by Matt Ridley. It discussed the idea of “Disenthrallment”. In Abraham Lincoln’s 1862 message to Congress he speaks of disenthralling ourselves of “the dogmas of the quiet past” in order to “think anew.”

This idea of “Disenthralling”, great word, ourselves to think anew is exactly what drives me in these posts on family, parenting, and education. The first of these enthralled bad habits, Vertical or Linear thinking, must be disenthralled if we are to move forward and pull ahead into the new future think, which is Here! Now! This “dogma of the quiet past” is destroying creativity in our schools all over the country. Sir Ken Robinson believes, “Creativity is the process of having original ideas that have value.” The development of creative thinkers who contribute creative ideas to our society should be the mantra in our schools.

We are in transition in our educational systems and, like present day Egypt, transitions are painful and tumultuous. They are filled with uncertainty and unknowns. Because we are enthralled to a world that is passing we are threatened and cling to our certainties. Our schools teach to avoid uncertainty. We teach to memorize the answers to the questions, and if the grades are high enough on the tests we get to go the next level of memorizing. Then if we are successful in mastering these educational hurdles, we get to have a job and live happily ever after. This is an Industrial Age fairy tale!

The reality is that we are always on a path, never at a turning point, to use one of Ridley’s expressions. There is no resting place; no place to retire. We live in a dynamic, ever changing world where information flows at rates that are incomprehensible and there is no slowing down information exchange. Our schools and teachers need to disenthrall themselves from the ‘dogma of the quiet past’ and free their students from Rote memorization and challenge their creative thinking.  “Nothing endures but change”.

Hierarchies are on the way out; networks are Here Now. We must escape from top down thinking. We are in the midst of vibrant radical innovation, except in our schools, where all remains the same as before. We have done what we always do and now we are where we have always been.

People all over the world are online sharing, swapping, building, innovating and moving forward. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SCVNGR, and Foursquare, to name a few, are burgeoning with creativity and vastly different from the days of Carnegie’s US Steel. Today’s New Age Internet Corporations need far less capital and fewer employees. The World is their marketplace and everyone who tunes in online has the ability to make valuable contributions.

In the future, corporations will begin to turn themselves into internet sites where collaboration replaces the board room. They will/are becoming fast changing networks of temporary collaboration which replaces the central authority of fixed plans. The New American worker is becoming as fluid as the information that surrounds him/her. These new workers will be changing jobs often. Since they accept there is no such thing as “security” they will not care to participate in the old Industrial Age promises of Social Security, Medicare, Pensions, Health Insurance, and other political traps. This hip generation already knows these political programs are illusions and will not function in their futures. It’s like chasing rainbows.

If we don’t change the educational system to run with this savvy generation, they will go it alone. Many are already leaving the “System”. It does not fulfill their needs and many students see it as a propaganda dead end. Why would they believe or accept something that they know leads to NOWhere? Many extremely successful entrepreneurs have dropped out of Ivy League schools, i.e. Harvard’s Bill Gates of Microsoft, Princeton’s Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR, Harvard’s Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, to name a few. Now, ask yourself, “Why did these guys and others opt out of our prestigious university system?” when so many would kill to get into them. I think it’s because the system is losing relevance in the age of dynamic information flow and exchange and where technology and its manipulation is the future. These men had an idea and the educational system could not accommodate it. They left.

We have a serious drop out problem in this country, which is crippling industry because unskilled workers are what we graduate. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe writes, “Americans make more ‘stuff’ than any other nation on earth, and by a wide margin. According to the United Nations’ comprehensive database of international economic data, America’s manufacturing output in 2009 (expressed in constant 2005 dollars) was $2.15 trillion. That surpassed China’s output of $1.48 trillion by nearly 46 percent. China’s industries may be booming, but the United States still accounted for 20 percent of the world’s manufacturing output in 2009 — only a hair below its 1990 share of 21 percent.”

How is this possible? It’s because we don’t make ‘stuff’ any more, the ‘stuff’ that you see in Wal-Mart, Target, or other big box stores. We manufacture fighter jets and sophisticated medical equipment, automobiles and pharmaceuticals, industrial lathes and semiconductors, not easily found on your weekly shopping list. This shift in manufacturing requires technological skills because most of it is robotic. Our future workers need to know how to operate complicated machinery that has a brain of sorts. They need to be able to think, diagnose, and solve problems. They need to be Lateral thinkers and technologically skilled. They do not need to be numbed down by Rote, Vertical, Linear thinking of the ‘quiet past’.

Young savvy men and women are dropping out of schools because the schools are irrelevant.

“Genius means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.”

William James

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Education; Teacher as Facilitator, Students as Collaborators

February 3, 2011 1 comment

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Shunryu Suzuki

Creativity in children begins at birth. Children come to us innocent, trusting, and ready for life. At the beginning of their life it is the responsibility of their parents, both of them, to develop and encourage the creative directions of each child’s curiosity. It is the Parents who prepare their children in their early years for education that takes place in the K through 12 grades. A teacher is merely a facilitator for children once they arrive in the classroom.

Each child is a masterpiece when they arrive, whether they are rich, poor, black, tan, white, yellow, or red. They all have their own precious experiences to share. The classroom is their place of curiosity exploration and creativity and knowledge expansion, whatever condition they are in when they arrive. The teacher and the classroom should be the place where the best qualities in children are honed.

Teachers know that we can’t just teach facts anymore. Facts/Information are fluid and changing daily. Eric Schmidt, who shares responsibility for Google’s day-to-day operations sates, “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003; that’s something like five Exabytes of data. Let me repeat that: we create as much information in two days now as we did from the dawn of man through 2003.”

Another life experience for this generation we must put into perspective is that today’s students will have 10 to 14 jobs by their 38th birthday, as the U.S. Department of Labor estimates. As a parent and former teacher I find this information astonishing!

It is no longer an option as to whether we educate for Industrial Problem Solving or Creativity in the Global Knowledge Economy. Industrial problem solving is no longer relevant to this generation of students. Problem Solving is a repair activity and inherent in this concept is the removal of an obstacle or difficulty. This was fine in the Industrial Age when people were told what to do and then did it. On the other hand, Creativity is not about fixing things that are broken but about bringing new things into being. Problem-solving asks the question, “What is broken?” Problem Solvers believe there is a right answer, and it’s in the teacher’s edition of the textbook. Creativity asks the question, “What is possible?” Creative Thinkers presume there are not one but an infinite number of possible solutions. It focuses on creative and critical thinking skills, collaboration, social skills, and embraces the search for multiple solutions to complex problems.

Industrial Age work aims to transform raw materials into products which improve our lives. Its focus is on making things, and its primary method is production efficiency. To be successful, industrial work requires specialization where the boss divides work into tasks, which can be learned more easily and done more efficiently by a lower-skilled worker. It involves mechanization of tasks, where machines automate the specialized function making it easier. It involves centralized control, which coordinates work flow. As a result work becomes centered on the machine. Without highly-skilled work, pride in craft is lost. Eventually, more and more tasks become automated, and the workforce becomes not only disillusioned but obsolete. It happened in the United States and it will eventually happen in the third world countries where our corporations moved all their factories. I guess the global corporations will go to Mars next for their unskilled workers.

Information work transforms raw data into information which improves our lives. Its focus is not on things but on what they mean. In peace and in war, in work and in life, better information leads to more opportunities, better decisions, and better results. The primary method of information work is not efficiency of production, but rather, proficiency of induction; the ability to find patterns and imagine possibilities. A valuable information worker is one who can find or create meaning that was previously unseen. Successful information work requires generalization, which finds opportunities from examining information from across a wide range of sources and disciplines. It requires humanization, which involves seeing the world in new ways and making connections that we didn’t think of before. This requires human imagination, creativity, and intuition. It requires decentralization. Cross-disciplinary, creative work gains strength from greater diversity and more points of view. To manage this kind of activity requires collaboration rather than control. Someone who is trained by our system to be a good industrial worker will only be confused and disoriented by an information-oriented workplace.

Transforming education to meet this revolution in information and technology is not an easy task when one admits how hard it is for people/teachers/parents to transform how they have lived and worked their many years. Habits are difficult to change when people are in their comfort zones. The answers to the many challenges we face, not only in the education of our children, but also in the world in which they will live, are far from clear. Some pioneers are already out there leading the charge, and if the U.S. is to remain globally competitive, change in how we educate our population is not an option, it is an imperative!

“I never came upon any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”

Albert Einstein

 


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.


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