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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; 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.


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!

Apple Pie Parenting; A Dose of This and a Dash of That

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

I have been asked by so many, “What is good parenting?” Even though I consider the answer to be a matter of common sense and honest, selfless decisions I have come to realize that common sense is not in abundance and selfless decisions are held hostage to ego needs and immediate gratification. So I have concluded that the best answer is another question.

How is good parenting like baking an apple pie?

Let’s take my simple apple crumble pie recipe that I bake for one son. Its ingredients are: a 9” deep dish pie crust, 5 cups apples – peeled, cored and thinly sliced, ½ cup white sugar, ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/3 white sugar again, ¾ cup all purpose flour, 6 tablespoons butter. The oven must be preheated to 400 degrees where I bake the assembled pie for 35 to 40 minutes. Of course all the ingredients must be assembled in just the right way to get tasty results AND the pie must be baked just right to get that crispy top with soft apples under it.

Now what if I left out, because I was busy or distracted with my own needs, one third of the sugar, or the butter. Maybe I only used half the apples. Maybe I forgot the cinnamon; after all it is only ¾ teaspoon and that shouldn’t matter. Maybe I only baked it for 25 minutes. Who would know?

These appear to be such small compromises for my pie that I am serving to my family. Granted, it won’t be the best pie I could bake for them and maybe it won’t taste just right but it will get us through dessert and I could probably camouflage it with a heavy dose of vanilla ice cream.

On the other hand this could have been a superior pie that I would be enthusiastic to serve if I took the time and care in the preparation. There would be no excuses to suffer through and no camouflage tactics to cover up my personal failure to take pride in my creation. Excuses are so complex. It’s so much simpler to do it the right way.

Now let’s take a simple recipe for parenting. Its ingredients are: thoughtful nutrition and healthy balance during the uterine environment, careful physical and emotional maintenance during infancy with many tablespoons of hugs, big arms, and soft talk, a huge bucket full of reading out loud and play time, hundreds of hours of decision making and direction pointing, large and small doses of discipline, many cups of creative thinking, a dash or two of self esteem building, gallons of intellectual curiosity, and a dash of this and a dash of that. Baking time is at least 18 years.

What if we left out some of the dashes, doses, gallons, or buckets? Who would know? The most sorrowful parent is the one who left out some ingredients only to find that 18 years later it was too late to add them back. Like the pie both were baked. You cannot unring a bell. It’s so much simpler to add all the ingredients and do it the right way.

I was reading the “Future Buzz” blog by Adam Singer today. Even though this is a blog about digital marketing he says it all, “Complexity is standard and expected, simplicity is elegant and surprising because it is daring. It requires confidence – you’re taking a chance that what you’re putting out there is good enough to stand on its own.”

Food preparation is an art. Child rearing is an art. It is simple and surprising but when done with confidence it is good enough to stand on its own, no excuses.

Apple Pie & ParentingAPPLE PIE & PARENTING – SAME THING

The Family; Ben Bernanke & Freeman Hrabowski

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I was reading an article this morning that reinforced what I have been writing about these many months. Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve Chairman, was asked about the rising financial inequality in the United States and he responded, “It’s a very bad development. It’s creating two societies. And it’s based very much, I think, on educational differences. The unemployment rate we’ve been talking about, if you’re a college graduate, unemployment is 5 percent. If you’re a high school graduate, it’s 10 percent or more. It’s a very big difference.”

Mr. Bernanke added: “It leads to an unequal society, and a society which doesn’t have the cohesion that we’d like to see.”

I found it enlightening that the Fed Chairman is aware of the huge disparity between the financial groups based upon educational achievements. The people at the bottom of the educational scale are usually minorities whose parents are uneducated and whose parents were uneducated. And so it goes, one generation of underachievers perpetuating the next generation of underachievers. This perpetual motion, an action that continues into infinity, enslaves a class of people who shroud themselves in ignorance as if it were a cloak of pride. What is it that makes people continue down the road of satisfied ignorance from generation to generation? How do we change this?

I read another story about Mr. Freeman Hrabowski, who is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Freeman (love his first name) lays awake at night worrying about the low number of college graduates in this country who have degrees in science and engineering.

Right now only about 6 percent of young college graduates in this country have degrees in science or engineering, as opposed to about 10 percent in many developed nations. He states the numbers are far worse for minorities: only 2.7% of young African-American college graduates and 2.2% of Latinos. The United States was once the world’s leader in science education but is now far behind the rest of the world. It ranks 21st out of 30 developed nations in terms of student performance on international science tests. It ranks 27th among developed nations in the percentage of students who graduate from college with degrees in the natural sciences and in engineering.

Freeman led the committee that produced “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation,” an eye-opening study issued by the National Academies, the country’s leading science advisory group.  The report sets the goal of nearly doubling the percentage of science graduates. To reach this goal, the country should at least triple the percentage of science and engineering degrees granted to underrepresented minority groups, who will represent nearly half the national population by the year 2050. Mr. Hrabowski leads by example at U.M.B.C., which now produces more minority scientists than any predominantly white institution in the country.

I then went on to read about 21-year-old Zakiya Qualls, a senior-year science research student at Howard University and her dream of finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. Ms. Qualls was one of more than 150 students who received awards last month at the 10th Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, in Charlotte, N.C. It is sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and attracted about 2,000 mainly minority students, along with hundreds of research program recruiters and professors who led seminars and judged competitions.

Then there was James McCann, a quiet young man from St. Edward’s University in Texas, who wowed the conference with his work on a bacterium that preys on victims of cystic fibrosis. And how about Melissa Youssef, a 21-year-old senior and award winner from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. whose experience at the ceremony was life changing and who went home determined to pursue both an M.D. and a Ph.D., even though it will probably take eight years.

What do these wonderful young award winners have in common beside their race or ethnicity? I am willing to bet my lucky rabbit’s foot that it is their parents. They committed to raising their children from conception to a goal of elevation, above the normal. They, as my parents, improved the next generation. Even though Asians are considered a minority group their success is unrivaled in our educational institutions across our country. I’ll bet my lucky rabbit’s foot that this is largely due to their parents, who value family, education, discipline, and ambition.

We cannot continue to disregard the importance of parenting in hopes that we can change children, who are ignored from birth, into scholars and high achievers. We must begin at the beginning and help those who are having children to become loving, committed parents. It is the parents who first open and cultivate curious minds. It is only possible to educate and enlighten minds that are open.

If we can find a way to accomplish this then Mr. Ben Bernanke and Mr. Freeman Hrabowski may turn their attention to other matters of worldly concern.

Family & Parenting = Success

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