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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; Race to NOwhere – NOWhere; Destroying Creativity in Children

January 19, 2011 1 comment

“I am afraid that our children are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods!” A parent

“I would spend 6 hours a night doing my homework.” A student

“In America if you don’t earn a lot of money, something went wrong.” A student

“How do you expect us to do well when you can’t even make mistakes?” A student

“There have been 6 suicides in our school district.” A student

“Our students are pressured to perform; they’re not necessarily pressured to learn deeply and conceptually.” A teacher

“Things that actually get our students to think are pushed aside.” A teacher

“These kids come to the table with this creativity and love of learning; let’s not just take it out of them!” A teacher

“The United States needs to rethink how we do our schooling; the economic future of our country depends on our addressing this.” A Teacher

“We need to redefine success for our kids; it’s got to be something we do together; all of us as a society; it needs to be a movement.” A teacher

“Jobs need you to be a critical thinker; they need you to be a problem solver.” A teacher

“We need to think; what does it take to be a happy motivated creative human being.”

All of the above statements are burnished in the “Race to Nowhere”, a documentary film. Today’s educational system and parents expect students to have good grades which they achieve by memorizing facts and passing standardized tests. They are not expected to become problem solvers or to be creative thinkers. Children come to our schools filled with excitement and wonder ready to take on the challenges of their world. By the time they reach the 4th grade our educational practices have beaten spontaneity, excitement, and creativity out of them. They are not expected to interact with each other or their teachers. They are expected to sit still, memorize, and pass tests. We are putting them to sleep.

Doesn't she look excited about her education?

In order to get into the “best” schools they also have the additional expectations of having to participate in sports, music, community service, the arts, and any other activity they can place on a college application that makes them stand out. Our children are so over-scheduled and tired. They find themselves always looking at the future and not enjoying their present childhood. They worry about high school when they are in middle school; they worry about college when they are in high school. They are pressured from the colleges, the parents, the government, and the schools to excel in their grades. But who speaks and is an advocate for their exploration of themselves, for their exploration of the world in which they live, and for the development of their interests? Why do we think in this 21st century, 2011, that memorization and “A” grades on tests are what really counts.

We now have a generation of college educated young people who cannot find jobs. They are filtering back into graduate schools thinking things will get better if they have an advanced degree. It won’t. Public education worked in the world of the 20th century where all you had to do was what you were told. You would advance up the corporate ladder, get a promotion, make a decent living, have a retirement pension, and spend what remained of your life playing golf or some other such thing.

2011 is a different time and place. Technology, computers, and the internet RULE. The memorization game has changed and no longer has relevance. It is the STRATEGIC THINKER and the LATERAL THINKER who is on the rise with talents that were unknown until this new age arrived. The student who can think of 100 ways to use a paper clip is the one who will survive. Those whose energy, excitement, and creativity have been beaten out of them by our boring and mundane educational system, will be  relics living in an age for which their skills are not applicable. When success is defined by high grades, trophies, and test scores we end up with unprepared, disengaged, exhausted, and unhealthy kids. We need to redefine success for our children.

Unprepared, Disengaged, Exhausted...

Listen to the valedictorian speech of graduating senior Erica, which was given in August, 2010. Observe her teachers who are sitting behind her. They are squirming in their seats because they are very uncomfortable with her analysis of her education in the American Public School System. This is how many of our children feel about their school experience. It isn’t working for them in school and certainly not working for them when they get out. There are no jobs left for high school graduates. They will not be able to make a living. To make matters worse, jobs for college grads are also getting scarce.

The Industrial Age is over; HELLO DETROIT. The Technological Age arrived while teachers were writing numbers on their chalkboards. Our students are connected in their world. The American Public Educational System is not.

The excitement of traditional education!

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

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