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Education in America; Wisconsin – The Real Story

February 23, 2011 5 comments

Here’s what we know that will make our schools better:

1.    Improve the quality of teaching.
2.    Personalize the educational experience of children to meet diverse needs and interests.
3.    Treat schools as unique, organic communities, not standard same-for-all institutions.

What do we have?

1.    We have “No Child Left Behind” that places enormous importance on standardizing instead of a more personal, organic, and creative experience for each child.
2.    We have president Obama’s recent State of the Union speech emphasizing that the only disciplines of importance are math and science. This message tells our children that if they are not good at either one of these subjects they are not smart and they will probably not be as successful as those who are accomplished in math and science.
3.    We continue to believe that if everyone is good at math and science, we’ll be fine. Meanwhile, creativity, innovation, lateral thinking, and the treasures all our children house in their minds are wasted as we are commanded to focus on math and science.
4.    The entire model for our education system is built on Industrial Age beliefs regarding supply and demand. This no longer holds true. The rapid acceleration of technology, population growth, and the shifting of power throughout the world make it impossible to predict what our society and economy will have even 2 years from now.

Here is what is true:

1.    Education is extremely personal. Everyone is unique and different in their interests, talents, and learning styles.
2.    Human talents are buried deep within us and teachers must be adept at identifying and nurturing our children’s aptitudes.
3.    It will take more than competency in Math and Science for America to prosper and grow in the future.
4.    It is NOT about money!

Now let’s look at money and what it has accomplished in Wisconsin, since it is in the news for leading the charge in education:

1.    Wisconsin’s per pupil spending on public school students increased from $6,517 in 1996 to $10,791 in 2008.
2.    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator the $6,517 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in 1996 dollars equaled $8,942 in 2008 dollars. That means that from 1996 to 2008, Wisconsin public schools increased their per pupil spending by $1,849 or 20.7% in real terms while adding only one percentage point to their average eighth grader’s math score. (Terence P. Jeffrey)
3.    The $10,791 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in its public elementary and secondary schools in fiscal year 2008 was more than any other state in the Midwest.
4.    In the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests administered by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009, the latest year available, only 31% of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a “proficient” rating while another 8% earned an “advanced” rating.
5.    The other 61 % of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned ratings below “proficient,” including 40% who earned a rating of “basic” and 21% who earned a rating of “below basic”.
6.    The NAEP tests also showed that the mathematics test scores of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders have remained almost flat since 1996 while inflation adjusted per-pupil spending had significantly increased.
7.    In fiscal 2008, the federal government provided $669.6 million in subsidies to the public schools in Wisconsin.

I don’t mind paying teachers what they are worth. I don’t mind paying them for results, but NOT these results! If Wisconsin teachers, their unions, and teachers all across our country call the above statistics “Results” then they have lost their way.

We have placed our most precious treasures, our children, in the hands of impostors who cannot deliver. They are stealing the nation’s future. We are doomed. They cannot produce. They cannot be fired. They have TENURE, a job for life. The laugh is on us; we pay their salaries with our property taxes. They take our money and dull the minds of our children.

It is easier to get rid of a Predator Priest than it is to fire an Incompetent Teacher.

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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

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

 


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