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An Argument for Classical Education

July 6, 2012 1 comment

“One of the functions of a teacher is to raise the dead.”
Peter Kreeft, Author, Professor of Philosophy, Boston College

Great leaders from our past were men of unyielding convictions in their beliefs, values, and ideals. They fought a war and crafted the Declaration of Independence; they framed the Constitution and formed a nation. They were giants on the world’s stage whose intellect was highly developed and whose thoughts and spoken language reached an uncommon level of eloquence.

What made them different? What grounded their thoughts and determination? With all the technological advances and easy access to the world’s knowledge, why are our leaders today, who are more “educated”, so obviously less literate and  uncommonly inelegant than our Founding Fathers? Could it be that our Founding Fathers were the result of a Classical Education, something our leaders do not have today?

Mike Myatt, managing director and chief strategy officer at N2growth, eloquently states, “Nations rise and fall with the quality of their leaders, and their leaders succeed and fail based upon who they are at their core – what they believe, how they think, and what they do. Nothing shapes a leader or a society like their education or lack thereof. Let me be clear: when I refer to an education, I’m not referencing earning a degree, I’m talking about developing a rich intellect – they are not always one in the same.” He asserts that we have lowered our standards and expect too little of our children. Go to the local Mall after school and see what the children of our nations parents are doing to increase their intellect and satiate their natural creative curiosity.

How is it that the Colonists in the 1770’s, who had little formal education, had an expansive vocabulary, a wider range of literacy, and a mastery of many subjects than our students have today? How is it that the graduates of these one room school houses produced these intellectually literate men and women who became the bedrock entrepreneurs of our society? I am reminded of a film I saw that illustrates this point, TRUE GRIT with Jeff Bridges. I was stunned by the vocabulary of Matty Ross the 14 year old girl, played by Hailee Steinfeld. Her character is the product of a one room school house education. If you haven’t seen the film, rent it and listen to her dialogue. Point made!

We spend more money and award more degrees to students who spend more time in school than ever before, most of whom are unable to read and comprehend the language of many of our historical documents or classic books. We are a one dimensional nation with a one dimensional educational system turning out test takers who are unable to have intellectually civil discourse. Should we return to the Classical studies?

Could you pass this 1895 eighth grade exam administered to the the one room schoolhouse students in Kansas? Point Made!

  The following quote by Leigh A. Bortins sums up the crossroads we currently face as a nation:
“…the current culture of education has displaced parents as the primary instructors of children in favor of professionals who try their best to recreate the home environment at school; has the federal government rather than the community determining the structure of equal educational opportunity; has deserted the idea that memorization trains the brain; has fostered a loss of literacy by replacing the study of original writings with abridged textbooks; and has created a populace unable to engage in reasonable discourse. We have rejected the historically successful model of rigorous, classical education in favor of entertainment and job training.”

Studying grammar, memorizing multiplication tables and historical events and reading original sources is no longer politically correct. Instead our students read from abridged textbooks and write their thoughts in 140 characters or less. We are a nation who believes education should be “entertaining and fun”. It should not be hard work. We are less literate and less educated than our global competitors. To succeed we need to start again to develop our greatest national treasure, the intellect of our children, who are the future of our nation.

Education and the Teacher Cheaters

July 17, 2011 1 comment

The New York Times July 16, 2011 editorial states, “A cheating scandal in which scores of teachers and principals in Atlanta’s public schools falsified student test results has thrown the system into chaos and made its name synonymous with fraud. This shameful episode has destroyed trust in the schools and made it impossible to determine how much students are learning and whether the system is doing its job.”

At least 178 teachers, principals, and administrators in the Atlanta public schools cheated to raise student scores on standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. These teachers and administrators helped Atlanta’s minority children cheat for money, which included teacher bonuses for raising a child’s academic level, to teacher evaluations, and federal money for performance. This is being referred to as an “ethical lapse”. I call it Criminal!

Now Washington DC and Los Angeles, and maybe other school systems, have been implicated in this horrible crime against innocent and mostly minority children. The Council of the Great City Schools recently released a study that says, “By fourth grade only 12 percent of black male students read at or above grade level, while 38 percent of white males do. By eighth grade it falls to just 9 percent for black males, 33 percent for whites. Black male students are almost twice as likely as white males to drop out of school. And in some big American cities the dropout rate is around 50 percent.”

Cheating teachers, principals, and school administrators aid and facilitate these children ending up in poverty and crime. Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools says, “The overall academic achievement of African American males was appallingly low (in this study), not only in cities, but nationwide.”

According to a November, 2010 report by Bill Whitaker, who wrote an article for the CBS News’ series on education: Reading, Writing and Reform, “Dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs like food stamps. It costs on average $25,000 to incarcerate an inmate for a year and only about $14,000 a year of community college.”

What should alarm us is that these “professionals”, and I use this term with disgust in referring to these cheating teachers and staff, felt that their students could not even pass basic competency tests, despite targeted school improvement plans, proven reforms, and state-of-the-art teacher training. This massive fraud against minority children, those who need education the most, is a reflection of these “professionals” who are so ordinary and incompetent that they need children to cheat on tests so they, teachers and administrators, can receive their bonuses and rewards.

While they spend their bonus money and bask in the glow of their rewards they condemn their students, without a trial and jury, to a life of irreversible poverty, ignorance, and maybe crime. How terribly heartless of these so called “professionals”. I wonder what the Teacher Unions have to say about  these people? Who will they defend the teachers or the children?

How terribly disheartening for the minority parents and their sons and daughters, who they entrusted into the public educational system. They thought their children would have opportunities they never had by getting a proper education. What they have in Atlanta, Washington DC, Los Angeles and maybe other cities across the country, are their children who cannot read, write and do mathematics at grade levels. One step forward two steps back! If it were my sons I would be storming the gates of the educational bastion with fire in my eyes and a sword in my hands.

What a mess!

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.

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; 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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