Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Children’

Education; The Lost Art of Engaging Students in Public Education and Universities

January 26, 2011 1 comment

“No one is thinking if everyone is thinking alike.”
General George S. Patten, Jr.

There is a high school in a poor section of the Bronx called the Theater Arts Production Company School. Report card grades were released in the fall for New York City’s 455 high schools, and the highest grade went to this school. It is a school that believes that no one should fail!

The principal’s instructions as codified in the teacher’s handbook states that all teachers should grade their classes in the same way: 30% of students should earn a grade of A, 40% should earn B’s, 25% should earn C’s, and no more than 5 % should earn D’s. As long as they show up, they should not fail. According to a New York Times article on January 19, 2011, “…even students who missed most of the school days earned credits. They also said students were promoted with over 100 absences a year; the principal, rather than a teacher, granted class credits needed for graduation; and credit was awarded for classes the school does not even offer.”

One teacher discussed a student who was absent 98 days in one year. This student was promoted to the next grade, earning credits for classes including cooking, yoga, and independent study. The school does not offer a cooking class. The principal, Lynn Passarella, created an independent study course called cooking, which was given after school. “I don’t know how they think they are raising these kids to think that they can do what they want with no consequences and still get good grades,” said a teacher who left due to an illness. “It’s just so wrong on so many levels.”

The city is opening an inquiry into the practices of this school.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, ACTA, confirms that many students aren’t learning very much in their first two years of college. As troubling as it is, it comes as no surprise to ACTA. Their study of more than 700 top colleges and universities, which enroll more than 6 million students, documents that, “…students can graduate from college without ever having exposure to composition, literature, foreign language, or American history.

“To be specific, our study found that less than five percent of schools require economics and less than a quarter have a solid requirement of literature. Of the more than 700 schools, sixty percent received a “C” or worse for requiring three or fewer subjects.”

Is it any wonder that students learn little and do little, when colleges today expect little of them?

So what is to be done?  The goal is not simply to have more students with diplomas, but rather to graduate students who have a rich and rigorous education that prepares them to think CRITICALLY. The ACTA is reaching out to 10,000 of these colleges and universities to address this national scandal.

Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, asks, “Why is anyone surprised to find that standards and expectations in our colleges are too low? High school graduates, a rapidly dwindling elite, come to college entirely unaccustomed to close reading, habits of disciplined analysis, skills in writing reasoned arguments and a basic grasp of the conduct, methods and purposes of science.”

Can there be any question why America increasingly finds itself at a competitive disadvantage when our K–12 public education and higher educational institutions are failing to do their job? By the way this failure from a post secondary system costs more than twice as much per pupil as the average expenditure in other industrialized nations. We outspend and we underachieve.

President Obama in his State of the Union Address last night wants to “invest” in education. He and the Department of Education can pour billions, even trillions of dollars into the public education system, but nothing will change because MONEY IS NOT THE PROBLEM. We have Industrial Age educational institutions at the K-12 and college levels. We do not have a Technological Age educational system. We continue to educate as if our population will be working in factories, or as bank clerks, or manufacturing zombies.

Our teachers/professors are secure in their chalkboards and books, notes and standardized tests, lectures and authority. As a matter of fact, most of the instructors in the first 2 years of college are NOT PhD professors. They are graduate students, who are making little money teaching while they work on their higher degrees. Research and graduate education dominate American higher education, placing undergraduate education at the margins.

As a result of our perpetuating the past in our teaching methods and material, our students only know rote learning and how to respond to mediocre, standardized tests to receive grades. There is no vital connection made in the classroom between learning and life, much less any affection for voluntarily using one’s mind in the rigorous, sustained, and frequently counter intuitive way that leads to innovation and the advancement of knowledge.

This is the century of innovation! This is the century of technology! Our children have daily access to worldwide communication, to instant knowledge via Twitter, Google, Facebook, iPhones, iPads, etc. They know when someone in the world is assassinated the moment after it happens. They are exposed to worldwide events on a daily basis! This generation is smart, inquisitive, hip, curious, and able. They DO NOT like being bored by someone holding a piece of chalk in their hand.  Most of their learning occurs outside of school. What a comment on Education in this country.

This is the generation who invented a whole new language; Mouse, Apps, Email, Domain, Emoticon, Firewall, Flash Drive, Gigabyte, Hyperlink, Icon, jpg, JavaScript, LOL, Adware, Avatar, Bitmap, Blog, Bluetooth, Malware, Browser, Cache, Megapixel, codec, Cookie, Desktop, Motherboard…You get the picture!

These are not idiots! This is a generation trying to sprint into the New Age while being anchored in the Industrial Age by their Industrial Age teachers, buildings, and thinking. Let’s catch up and then lead them forward into a life of rigorous and sustained Lateral and Critical Thinking.

It’s NOT about money. It’s not about billions and trillions of “invested” dollars!

“I skate where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Wayne Gretsky

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!

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!

The Family; Postpartum Dads

November 14, 2010 2 comments

We spend a lot of time in our society focusing on Mothers and their postpartum depression, which appears to occur following birth. But how about the father’s; How do they feel? What goes on in their minds and how do they cope? When a father is told, “We are going to have a baby”, the first thing that goes through his mind after adjusting to the news is, “How am I going to pay for this?” He thinks about money, current bills, future expenses, job security, education and all those things that men feel are their responsibility. Fathers get depressed too; it is not only mothers who suffer from  Postpartum depression; it’s just that fathers conceal it better.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now looking at the effects of postpartum depression on Fathers as well as mothers. The AAP states, “Every year, more than 400,000 infants are born to mothers who are depressed, which makes perinatal depression the most under diagnosed obstetric complication in America. Postpartum depression leads to increased costs of medical care, inappropriate medical care, child abuse and neglect, discontinuation of breastfeeding, and family dysfunction and it adversely affects early brain development.”

One of the reasons that postpartum depression has garnered so much attention is because it can have serious consequences for children. The new AAP report lists the many ways in which kids of depressed moms may be worse-off: “They are more likely to have developmental delays, social and emotional difficulties, cognitive and language problems, and more.”

US News Health reports the emerging work on fathers shows that depression in dads can have similar ripple effects. In his 2006 study, J.F. Paulson, Center for Pediatric Research, Eastern Virginia Medical School, found that melancholy fathers were less likely to play with or read, sing, or tell stories to their babies. A follow-up study, published in 2009, showed that these behavioral changes can have long-term effects on child development. Sad dads read to their kids less frequently, and the less reading aloud those fathers did, the worse their 2-year-olds scored on vocabulary tests.

The National Institutes of Health conducted studies on postpartum depression. These included a national sample of 5,089 two parent families. The NIH concluded that 14% of mothers and 10% of fathers exhibited high levels of depressive symptoms. They emphasized that postpartum depression is a significant issue for fathers. “In both mothers and fathers, depressive symptoms were negatively associated with positive enrichment activity with the child (reading, singing songs, and telling stories).”

University of Oxford psychiatrist Paul Ramchandani claims that children of depressed fathers are more likely to have some genetic risk for developing their own mood disorders. But there could easily be environmental mechanisms at work as well. “Depression affects how fathers interact with their children,” Ramchandani says. “They may be more irritable, they may be more withdrawn. That might affect children’s understanding of emotions and how they learn to regulate their own emotions.” Mood problems may also influence a fathers’ ability to work, affect the strength of his marital relationship, and more—any of which could put their kids at risk.

The accumulated evidence is clear: Depression in new dads—whatever the name, whatever the mechanism—is a real problem that has gone undiagnosed for many years. Men by their very nature are not allowed to talk about their inner selves or express their feelings. Society expects them to be the provider and not to admit any emotional stress. The stress on some men must be enormous, but they can’t express it and they have to bottle it all up because most of the attention when a newborn enters the family is focused on the mother and the baby.

Parents may miss their own doctor’s appointments but they never miss seeing the pediatrician. We need for pediatricians to look for depressed symptoms in fathers and offer advice and/or support systems where fathers as well as mothers may receive help from peer groups who have experienced these symptoms. Presently services are fragmented for fathers and are focused mainly upon mothers and their child.

Mary Alabaster, head of maternal mental health at South Essex Partnership Trust Runwell Hospital said: “Fathers psychological health is a neglected area. We do a lot for mothers, but not for dads. When I see women, I am often left wondering how their partners are coping.”


%d bloggers like this: