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No Child Left Behind – The Basketball Version

September 6, 2012 2 comments

My friend Rob, who is a retired special education teacher, knows my passion for educating children to be skilled and knowledgeable participants in the emerging highly competitive global economy. He handed me an envelope. I read the contents. What follows is a summary of …

No Child Left Behind – The Basketball Version:

  1. All teams must advance to the Sweet 16, and all will win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable.
  2. All kids will be expected to have the same basketball skills at the same time and in the same conditions.
  3. No exceptions will be made for interest in basketball, a desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities, or disabilities.

All Kids Will Play Basketball at a Proficient Level:

  1. Talented players will be asked to practice on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with athletes who aren’t interested in basketball, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don’t like basketball.
  2. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th and 11th games.
  3. This will create a New Age of sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimal goals.
  4. If no child gets ahead, then no child will be left behind. They will be issued vouchers for moving closer to the successful team’s area.
  5. Any children who do not show immediate promise, or who show serious basketball visual-motor deficiencies in early grades will be given the “Dribbles Test of Early Basketball Behavior”, even if the child has one leg  or came from a country that has never played or supported basketball.
  6. Even if there is plenty of evidence supplied by sports psychologists that there are hundreds of other conditions that can cause bad dribbling, the child will play successfully.
  7. The administration may consider not requiring them to dribble since it actually is not required in order to be successful at basketball, but it sure helps.
  8. A reasonable accommodation for students under a 504 plan would be to allow them extra distance when being guarded so they can pass the ball more proficiently.
  9. Elevator shoes should also be allowed for students of below average height and any players over 6’2″ may have to have jump restrictions to make this fair to those who are vertically challenged.
  10. The parents of the tall students might also be required to pay extra for the coaching of the short students since they obviously come from a genetically-advantaged background for basketball.

Is this humorous parody, yes it is. I did laugh for about a second.

More importantly, is this how government asserts their vast store of knowledge and insight into how our teachers should be educating their students? It seems the more the government interferes in the classroom the lower the standards become. Government does not understand that this isn’t about money; it’s about teacher talent and passion.

The United States is now experiencing dismal world wide rankings against 34 countries in spite of billions of dollars spent in government programs. The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

We can safely assume that not one child was left behind, but that all were left behind!

What is Classical Education?

I was preparing to write a post on Classical Education when I went back and looked at “The Well Trained Mind”, published first edition in 1999. I then went to the Word Press blog called “The Well Trained Mind“, and read a piece by Susan Wise Bauer. I have copied it in its entirety for my readers as it is the most thought provoking discussion available on the subject of What is Classical Education?

This will alter the way you perceive education in our American public school systems. It will stop you in your tracks, make you turn and reflect upon your education and that of your children. It will bring an understanding of where we went wrong and why American schools are failing to produce literate, articulate, creative, lateral thinkers in this highly competitive global economy.

BEHOLD THIS ENLIGHTENING SUMMARY BY SUSAN WISE BAUER:
Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.

The first years of schooling are called the “grammar stage” — not because you spend four years doing English, but because these are the years in which the building blocks for all other learning are laid, just as grammar is the foundation for language. In the elementary school years — what we commonly think of as grades one through four — the mind is ready to absorb information. Children at this age actually find memorization fun. So during this period, education involves not self-expression and self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts. Rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics — the list goes on. This information makes up the “grammar,” or the basic building blocks, for the second stage of education.

By fifth grade, a child’s mind begins to think more analytically. Middle-school students are less interested in finding out facts than in asking “Why?” The second phase of the classical education, the “Logic Stage,” is a time when the child begins to pay attention to cause and effect, to the relationships between different fields of knowledge relate, to the way facts fit together into a logical framework.

A student is ready for the Logic Stage when the capacity for abstract thought begins to mature. During these years, the student begins algebra and the study of logic, and begins to apply logic to all academic subjects. The logic of writing, for example, includes paragraph construction and learning to support a thesis; the logic of reading involves the criticism and analysis of texts, not simple absorption of information; the logic of history demands that the student find out why the War of 1812 was fought, rather than simply reading its story; the logic of science requires that the child learn the scientific method.

The final phase of a classical education, the “Rhetoric Stage,” builds on the first two. At this point, the high school student learns to write and speak with force and originality. The student of rhetoric applies the rules of logic learned in middle school to the foundational information learned in the early grades and expresses his conclusions in clear, forceful, elegant language. Students also begin to specialize in whatever branch of knowledge attracts them; these are the years for art camps, college courses, foreign travel, apprenticeships, and other forms of specialized training.

A classical education is more than simply a pattern of learning, though. Classical education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television).

Why is this important? Language-learning and image-learning require very different habits of thought. Language requires the mind to work harder; in reading, the brain is forced to translate a symbol (words on the page) into a concept. Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive. In front of a video screen, the brain can “sit back” and relax; faced with the written page, the mind is required to roll its sleeves up and get back to work.

A classical education, then, has two important aspects. It is language-focused. And it follows a specific three-part pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of facts, and finally equipped to express conclusions.

But that isn’t all. To the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. Astronomy (for example) isn’t studied in isolation; it’s learned along with the history of scientific discovery, which leads into the church’s relationship to science and from there to the intricacies of medieval church history. The reading of the Odyssey leads the student into the consideration of Greek history, the nature of heroism, the development of the epic, and man’s understanding of the divine.

This is easier said than done. The world is full of knowledge, and finding the links between fields of study can be a mind-twisting task. A classical education meets this challenge by taking history as its organizing outline — beginning with the ancients and progressing forward to the moderns in history, science, literature, art and music.

We suggest that the twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern Times. The child studies these four time periods at varying levels — simple for grades 1-4, more difficult in grades 5-8 (when the student begins to read original sources), and taking an even more complex approach in grades 9-12, when the student works through these time periods using original sources (from Homer to Hitler) and also has the opportunity to pursue a particular interest (music, dance, technology, medicine, biology, creative writing) in depth.

The other subject areas of the curriculum are linked to history studies. The student who is working on ancient history will read Greek and Roman mythology, the tales of the Iliad and Odyssey, early medieval writings, Chinese and Japanese fairy tales, and (for the older student) the classical texts of Plato, Herodotus, Virgil, Aristotle. She’ll read Beowulf, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare the following year, when she’s studying medieval and early Renaissance history. When the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are studied, she starts with Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) and ends with Dickens; finally, she reads modern literature as she is studying modern history.

The sciences are studied in a four-year pattern that roughly corresponds to the periods of scientific discovery: biology, classification and the human body (subjects known to the ancients); earth science and basic astronomy (which flowered during the early Renaissance); chemistry (which came into its own during the early modern period); and then basic physics and computer science (very modern subjects).

This pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science, and literature — subjects that are too often fragmented and confusing. The pattern widens and deepens as the student progresses in maturity and learning. For example, a first grader listens to you read the story of the Iliad from one of the picture book versions available at any public library. Four years later, the fifth grader reads one of the popular middle-grade adaptations — Olivia Coolidge’s The Trojan War, or Roger Lancelyn Greene’s Tales of Troy. Four more years go by, and the ninth grader — faced with the Iliad itself — plunges right in, undaunted.

The classical education is, above all, systematic — in direct contrast to the scattered, unorganized nature of so much secondary education. This systematic, rigorous study has two purposes.

Rigorous study develops virtue in the student. Aristotle defined virtue as the ability to act in accordance to what one knows to be right. The virtuous man (or woman) can force himself to do what he knows to be right, even when it runs against his inclinations. The classical education continually asks a student to work against his baser inclinations (laziness, or the desire to watch another half hour of TV) in order to reach a goal — mastery of a subject.

Systematic study also allows the student to join what Mortimer Adler calls the “Great Conversation” — the ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages. Much modern education is so eclectic that the student has little opportunity to make connections between past events and the flood of current information. “The beauty of the classical curriculum,” writes classical schoolmaster David Hicks, “is that it dwells on one problem, one author, or one epoch long enough to allow even the youngest student a chance to exercise his mind in a scholarly way: to make connections and to trace developments, lines of reasoning, patterns of action, recurring symbolism, plots, and motifs.”

Brilliant, thought provoking analysis! I could never had said it better!

And, if you have not seen “Akeelah and the Bee” please rent it for its amazing discourse on the power of language, its origins, and structure.

Education as Our National Currency

July 4, 2012 2 comments

What do Taiwan, South Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Israel and Japan have in common with each other?

They have no oil, diamonds, gold, or other valuable natural resources. As the Bible tells us Moses led his people through the desert for 40 years to bring them to the only piece of real estate in the Middle East that has no oil.  The foreign countries with the most companies listed on the NASDAQ are Israel, China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, South Korea and Singapore, none of which can live off natural resources.

Now what does this have to do with education?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published an interesting study which maps the correlation between performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam. Every two years PISA tests math, science and reading comprehension skills of 15-year-olds in 65 countries and at the same time they correlate the total earnings on natural resources as a percentage of G.D.P. for each participating country.  How well do your high school kids do in science compared with how much oil you pump or how many diamonds you dig?

The results indicated there is “a significant negative relationship between the money countries extract from national resources and the knowledge and skills of their high school population,” said Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA exams for the O.E.C.D. “This is a global pattern that holds across 65 countries that took part in the latest PISA assessment.” Oil, diamonds, gold and student success and achievement don’t mix.

The latest PISA results reveal that students in Singapore, Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan stand out as having high PISA scores and few natural resources. Qatar and Kazakhstan stand out as having the highest oil rents and the lowest PISA scores. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Algeria, Bahrain, Iran and Syria stood out the same way in a similar 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Students from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, which are Middle East states with few natural resources, scored better. Also lagging in recent PISA scores were students in many of the resource-rich countries of Latin America; Brazil, Mexico and Argentina. Africa was not tested.

What these numbers say is that if you really want to know how a country is going to do in the 21st century, don’t count its oil reserves or gold mines, count its highly effective teachers, involved parents and committed students. Schleicher states, “Today’s learning outcomes at school are a powerful predictor for the wealth and social outcomes that countries will reap in the long run.” Societies addicted to their natural resources seem to develop parents and young people who lose their important  basic instincts, habits and incentives for academic success.

Schleicher further concludes, “in countries with little in the way of natural resources — Finland, Singapore or Japan — education has strong outcomes and a high status, at least in part because the public at large has understood that the country must live by its knowledge and skills and that these depend on the quality of education. … Every parent and child in these countries knows that skills will decide the life chances of the child and nothing else is going to rescue them, so they build a whole culture and education system around it.” Teachers are held in high regard and are not unionized, parents are very involved and participate in their local schools, and children are expected to excel, no excuses accepted.

Knowledge and skills have become the global currency in this century. It is currency we can’t print. It begins with parents in the home who are determined their children will have every opportunity they can avail themselves to in order to succeed. This knowledge currency is propagated by highly effective teachers who are turned loose to innovate in their classrooms, free from administrators, unions, and regulations. It carries on with committed students who developed habits and a strong desire to learn aided by the guidance of their parents and teachers.

This is the only currency, an educated, competitive population, that will renew itself when all the oil wells, diamond mines and gold are gone from the ground.

Education; The Kahn Academy – Educating the World

How about this for a concept – have the students do their class work at home and their homework in the classroom!

WOW, that’s an amazing idea and it is what Sal Khan dreamed up when he was tutoring his cousins. Up until Sal came along educational institutions invested heavily in computers. However, this huge technological investment was mostly relegated to computer labs run by teachers who weren’t provided the right tools to properly integrate computer technology into their day-to-day instruction. As a result we didn’t teach kids with the computer, we taught them how to use the computer. These lessons are foolishly taught to a generation of students who are teaching their parents computer skills. Computer labs were a side show, expensive investments largely squandered due to a lack of good content or purpose.

Sal Khan states, “What’s so different about our approach?  For one, we are leveraging the computer for what it does best and leveraging the teachers for what they do best.  We are ensuring students can truly work at their own pace on their own time. We are making sure students actually master concepts before they move on. We are empowering teachers with the real-time data they so badly need.  We are allowing teachers to make much better use of classroom time, with more peer tutoring, project-based learning, and one-on-one coaching.  Most importantly, we are making learning fun.”

Sal gave a presentation to TED 2011 on March 2011. It is entertaining to watch and Sal is a most amazing thinker and humble human. Like so many remarkable concepts and start-ups that have sprung forth from his generation, Khan Academy is free to anyone on the globe who wants to learn, to any teacher who wants to teach those who need it the most, to any parent who wants to help their child overcome intellectual obstacles, and to any administrator who wants their school, teachers, and students to succeed and prosper. It is FREE. All of his courses are FREE to ANYONE on planet earth!

Why is this of value?

We live in a world that teeters on the brink of chaos and destruction. Billions of people live in poverty and ignorance, without hope. They live this way primarily because they are illiterate or barely educated. Their lack of literacy enables those who are literate and shrewd to seduce them into ideologies that intelligent, confident humans would shun. They become slaves to the slave makers.

We all know an educated society is one that flourishes and grows. It is one that offers opportunity and rewards literacy, intellectual skills, and creative lateral thinkers. All things are possible through the educated mind. Khan knows this and dedicates his Khan Academy to the world. He wants to educate the world.

I’m for that. It is a noble enterprise and it is FREE.

I started out with nothing
and I still have most of it left.

Education, Lateral Thinking and the Google Ngram Viewer

June 23, 2011 1 comment

How many books are there in the world?

The answer: 129,864,880 books, more or less.

Google is, of course, in the process of digitizing many of the world’s books. Since 2004, Google has digitized more than 15 million books worldwide. The datasets they are making available today to further humanities research, for example, are based on a subset of that corpus, weighing in at 500 billion words from 5.2 million books in Chinese, English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish. The datasets contain phrases of up to five words with counts of how often they occurred in each year.

The Ngram Viewer lets you graph and compare phrases from these datasets over time, showing how their usage has waxed and waned over the years. One of the advantages of having data online is that it lowers the barrier to chance: you can stumble across something in these 500 billion words and be the first person ever to make that discovery.

I went to the Ngram to prove to myself that Lateral Thinking is a relatively new concept in our educational thinking. Here is what happened to Lateral Thinking between 1900 and 2000.

Lateral Thinking from 1900 to 2000

You will see that Lateral Thinking was flat lined from 1900 until about 1965. In 1965,  which was the height of the Vietnam war and the protests associated with it, Lateral Thinking spiked from 0% to 100%  until about 1973. These years thrust forward a massive burst of intellectual lateral energy. It then took a huge downward spike beginning in about 1973 when the Vietnam War officially ended. Lateral Thinking hit bottom in 1975 (war ended, protests over, back to what was customary). It then began a gradual ascent in about 1976 with a slow climb though the 80’s and 90’s and then between 2000 and 2010 it shot up vertically to 100%. These years were responsible for the serious advent of public use of the internet and the beginning of the social media revolution; Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Groupon, EBay, Craig’s List, Priceline, You Tube, Firefox, WordPress, and more than I have  time to write.

Most of this Lateral energy flourished and bloomed outside our public educational institutions. These institutions and educators did not change with the advent of this energy. As a matter of fact, educators and education functioned more as obstacles than facilitators, except in a very few isolated instances. Many continue to teach with chalk, blackboards, and outdated textbooks while their students are speaking a different language and operating in a virtual world outside their classrooms.

This generation of young entrepreneurs and start ups have invented Lateral concepts that are changing our world; the way we shop, the way we communicate, the way we bank, the way we pay our bills, the way we travel, the way we apply for jobs, the way we sell our possessions! These Lateral thinkers are on their way to horizons we have not yet imagined. They are creating a new world and leaving our industrial educational institutions in the dust of the chalk falling off their blackboards.

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