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TED – Ideas Worth Spreading, Deb Roy

August 7, 2011 Leave a comment

“Imagine if you could record your life, everything you said, everything you did, available in a perfect memory store at your finger tips so you could go back and find memorable moments and relive them or sift through traces of time and discover patterns in your own life that previously had gone undiscovered.” 

This is what Deb Roy did at the birth of his son, whose every moment was recorded from birth to present day. He is the Founder and CEO of Bluefin Labs, an MIT spinoff. This is Deb Roy’s TED talk March, 2011.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.

This has to be shared with my audience. It is truly one of the most remarkable video moments I have had. It takes about 20 minutes to watch but it is riveting.

Enjoy this amazing father and his amazing family. Hang in there the end is POWERFUL!

Deb Roy studies how children learn language, and designs machines that learn to communicate in human-like ways. On sabbatical from MIT Media Lab, he’s working with the AI company Bluefin Labs.

The Chicken or the Egg: Good Parenting or Good Teachers – What comes first?

“For more than forty years I’ve taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in major American and Asian universities, and in progressive preschools and schools. In part because of the subjects I teach, in part because of the ways in which we work together, students of all ages often confide in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught. In particular I’ve learned that for all human beings nothing in life is more important than our experience of parenting. How we’re parented determines almost everything about how we envision and respond to ourselves, other people, life, and the universe: how we exist, how we seek, and what we accomplish.” Peter Glassman

I too taught school and had students confide in me with ‘uncommon intimacy and trust”. There was Gloria, whose mother was having an affair with a student who was 20 years younger than her mom. The student came to Gloria’s house one afternoon and shot and killed the mother. Gloria escaped his rage by hiding under the bed. I saw Gloria once after that and then she went to live with a relative in some distant place. Then there was Zack, who sat beside my desk one day. He was a “hippie” at 15. He drew a flower on the floor with chalk and said to me, “It is not the place where you live that makes you happy; it’s where you live in your head that makes you happy.” Zack walked onto the interstate one night in a happy state of mind and was hit and killed by a truck. Billy came from a family of PhD’s. Expectations for his success were high. He had blazing red hair, a frail frame, artistic nature, and was gay. He could not bear to reveal this to his socially prominent parents. He confided some of his misery to me. He became an addict. Kathy was the only child of doting parents. She was a talented artist who loved my English class and its emphasis on the art in each child as we studied literature and composition. She came to me one day in tears describing her parent’s shame with her desire to be an artist. She ran away. I too learned more than I taught.

Despite the immense importance of parenting we do not require courses, instruction, direction, or mentoring before a man and a woman make this amazing decision to have a child. However, we do require instruction, licensing and permitting for driving a car, flying an airplane, operating heavy equipment, opening a business, or practicing a profession. But in parenting, the single most important responsibility we ever undertake as adults, we offer no preparation in what children need, how children develop, and how we best can fulfill our immense opportunities and responsibilities in guiding, guarding, and gracing our children’s lives. Faith traditions, schools, or workplaces do not and should not assume this vital work.

This is the sole responsibility of parents in the early years. They are the ones who build self-esteem, confidence, sensitivity, compassion, and intellectual curiosity in their offspring. Parents are the ones who instill manners, respect, vision, ambition, and a desire to learn and to know. Yet in every jurisdiction on earth anyone can become a parent. We can raise our children, shape their minds, or devastate their souls in almost any manner we choose. Step into your malls on any weekend to observe our nation’s parenting results.

We create voids in a child’s life with our unskilled parenting. Voids create vacuums which are opportunistically filled with one substance or another. “Children have but one work in life. They learn. Learning is all that children do. They do it full-time, and they do it with genius. They observe. They glean. From the foundation of their own experience, they employ their intellect. They interpret. They judge. They learn.” Peter Glassman

Children long to learn from their parents; they are their first example, their first love, their first hero’s. However, as we parent badly or ignorantly, the void in a child’s life slowly fills with powerful competitors, the fascinating and alluring electronic media and their peers, who are a major influence in their lives. Because they have no strength of family to sustain them, they succumb to these immensely empowered alternative forces: schools, friends, play environments, and most importantly the contemporary pop culture that form our children’s emotional civilization. Parents, who have many excuses for their haphazard parenting skills, surrender their responsibilities for their children’s soul life to televisions, computers, or iPhones. These artificial caregivers become our children’s primary companions.

In our own hurried, frantic lives we let go of the careful and necessary supervision of our schools. We let lapse the passion for our children and our basic and necessary expressions of love and care. Children will not accept this void. They need to be loved, guided, and parented. If we can’t be there for them they will do three things to compensate for their unfulfilled yearning: they will decide we do not love them; they will conclude they do not deserve to be loved; they will look for, discover, and become profoundly influenced by other persons or presences that will parent them in our place.

In the end, we send these hapless children off to our schools, where classrooms are chaotic, disruptive, and filled with children whose parents had little time for them in the early years. Teachers often teach in classrooms that are obsolete and filled with children who have no identity or purpose. We expect teachers to be surrogates when we should be expecting them to bring the intellectual curiosity of our children to life. Teachers should be setting children on fire with knowledge and exploration of their God-given abilities. This should be the most exciting adventure of each child’s life; learning and exploration. So who is to blame for the failure of our schools? For the failure of our children?

Is it the chicken or the egg?

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; 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.

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!

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