Categories » ‘School’

The Future’s So Bright…

October 30th, 2012 by

The world of education has begun to shift.  Noted educator Will Richardson recently wrote in the New York Times that, because of the pervasiveness of the internet and the World Wide Web, “schools, like media, music, business, politics, and other industries… will have to change.”

Even though he says that no one now knows what will become of schools and the classroom by the end of this transformation, Mr. Richardson notes three touchstones as a starting point for parents and educators to involve themselves in the change – and to prepare students for it.

One of the ideas he finds central to “tomorrow’s” education is that the classroom will expand, or have, as he puts it, “thin walls”.  As our society becomes more and more connected – as our teens and tweens become more “plugged in”, we have to realize that the amount of learning taking place outside the traditional classroom setting is increasing exponentially.

So, what, as parents and educators, can we do to prepare our children and ourselves for this unprecedented change?

The first thing, and quite possibly the most important thing, we can do is to teach our children discernment.  Kids are very adept at scouring the web at younger and younger ages, and we need to give them the skills to navigate this world.  Up until now, the conversation has rested mostly on keeping kids safe online, and, while that is important, it isn’t enough anymore.  Kids need to understand how to find reliable information online; they need to understand that not everything they see is the truth.  This task of teaching discernment isn’t a new one for parents – they’ve been doing it for generations (eat this mushroom, aKids Get A Lot of Screen Timend not that) – the trick is that with the internet and World Wide Web, we are in heretofore uncharted territory.  We are in territory that is changing and evolving more and more rapidly with each passing year.  If we’re to teach Web skills to our kids, we had better have at least a basic handle on it ourselves.

The second thing we need to remember is that, even with society changing at an exponential pace, we still need to take time away from all the information.  Kids (and adults!) need to make sure that they have time to play, rest, relax, and engage with each other in a non-cyber fashion.  Screen time is becoming an addiction (think of TV addiction on steroids!) for many tweens and teens today.  It’s important as parents and educators to stop and model play and recreation behaviors for their kids and to schedule it into their lives.

We’re living in exciting times – Will Richardson says that there has never been a better time in the history of mankind to be a learner – the bounties that technology has to offer us and will continue to offer us in the future is breathtaking.  But, as parents and educators, we must meet the challenge with open eyes and open minds.

Locked Down?

October 14th, 2012 by

A little slow on the postings this past week, but I wanted to comment on a post from Free Range Kids guru Lenore Skenazy.  Another “stranger danger” incident happened recently at a preschool in the SF Bay area.  Apparently, a parent had allowed another adult inside the preschool compound without letting staff “buzz” them in, which created quite a stir- AND a lengthy letter outlining the dangers of people we don’t (and do!) know.

My reaction is this:

  • Why are our preschools / afterschool programs / schools wired like a minimum security prison in the first place?  I mean, I understand why.  At least I understand the reasons given.  I don’t agree with them.  Do we need to look at the DOJ statistics?  If we’re merely playing a statistics game then, shouldn’t we ban parents from driving their children home? (more car accidents happen per year with child passengers than stranger abductions) Perhaps we should ban relatives from picking up children at all (most abuse happens at the hands of relatives than any other category).
  • The main issue I have with the “lockdown” mentality is the subconscious message that it sends the children.  It tells them that they are just victims in a game where strangers lurk in every crevice waiting to pounce.  It tells them that they are incapable and must be protected from all things, real and imaginary.  It creates in children a sense that the world is a dangerous place, and that they’re better off not exploring, questioning, or learning about the wider world.

The fact is that, statistically, children are safer now than at any time in our nation’s history.  But paranoia makes for great headlines and child safety (or the fear of un-safety!) makes for great copy and Nielsen numbers.

But what is the cost to our kids?

The Primal Question

September 28th, 2012 by

Before we can even begin to discuss what needs to change in our system of education, we need to take a long, hard look at our raison d’etre for education in the first place.  Our cultural subconscious has been branded, as it were, since the 1950′s with the idea of what success looks like: more money, more power, more prestige.  And that is the ethic that we mindlessly hand down to our children: stay in school, even if it sucks, stick it out, get good grades, go get a “good” job, work your butt off for someone else’s profit for 50 years, retire, and hope you’ve socked enough money away that you don’t starve in your old age.

But what we are finding through the generations since the end of WWII is that having this “more” mentality has had some adverse effects.

People doing unrewarding, personally meaningless work because it pays well or because someone along the line told them they “should” pursue a certain career.  Important, necessary work falling to the wayside or relegated to the underclasses (or socially masochistic) because it has not been glamorized by our culture.  A subculture of people who will disregard ethics, principles, and even the rule of law if a certain activity will fill the “more” mold set forth by society.

As Brendon Burchard has written in his latest book, The Charge, Maslow’s hierarchy is now turned on its head.  In today’s uber-connected, sped-up, and super-informationalized society, our base needs have pretty much become a given.  Today, the poor of our country aren’t those who can’t afford food- they’re the ones who can’t afford cable TV and cell phones.  And behind this fast, profound change that we find our society amidst, is our human search for meaning… our drive to be fulfilled and live lives of purpose.

So… what does this have to do with education?

Today’s education model is still trying to turn out, assembly-line style, “workers” for the old economy.  People who will go accept any job to grab hold of a rung to try and climb to “the top”, wherever that is.  Children are told to sit down, shut up, and listen; the single most valued character trait in today’s schools is compliance.

Rarely are our children given any tools to understand, much less seek, fulfillment.  Rarely do our schools speak to children about meaning and purpose.  Yet new psychological studies are showing that children who do understand and have intrinsic representations for purpose and meaning are more apt to learn and contribute (See William Damon’s book “The Path to Purpose”).

So the question that must be asked is this: at the end of our kids’ compulsory education, do we want factory-ready worker drones, or do we want thinking adults with an intrinsic link to the meaning of being human?

I realize that it is not as simply dichotomous as presented above… but I do know that if we are to evolve as quickly as our technology is moving, we need to start questioning the foundation – the reasons – for our educational systems.

Finding Purpose and Meaning
It’s time for schools to foster the incubation of little humans’ search for meaning and purpose

What is the future of Education?

September 26th, 2012 by

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately on what, exactly, the future of the American Education System is going to be, if we continue down the road we’re currently traveling… AND what the future could or should be, given our current level of technology development, social and cultural development, and the current damage being dealt to the next generation via our outdated, outmoded, and detrimental clinging to paradigms in education that were relevant 50 – 100 years ago, but are now counterproductive.

All this against the backdrop of my first experience as a PARENT within the education system… my child has just begun 1st grade…

Transforming an entrenched, funded, and “we’ve always done it this way” mindset within the education system is a daunting task.  Sometimes it feels too big, too overwhelming.  But, by the same measure, if someone – if I – don’t start, we’re going to have a real hot mess in (probably) less than a decade’s time.  Some folks think we already have a real hot mess now.

So, stop number one on this train ride, is thought provoking material from “The Innovative Educator” blog.  One teacher chimes in with “20 Things” – 20 insider observations – that he thinks outsiders should know about the education system… and another teacher comments on each of the 20 items. They don’t always agree, but the sum of their observations sheds much light on what is going wrong, or is about to go wrong, in today’s schools.

20 Things an Educator Wants the Nation to Know About Education

What do you think?

Watch Your Mouth

August 25th, 2011 by

This week, my youngest son started kindergarten.  Of course, being the baby of the family, it was quite a milestone, and the whole family was very excited.

I was also excited to have him attending the school where I run the on-site afterschool program!  Close proximity, the fact that I know the teachers… all great positives!

Somewhere along the way of dropoff time for kindergarten, his teacher somehow missed the connection that I am his father.  I regularly drop off kids at kindergarten classes (as well as pick them up), so the teacher knows me as the guy from the afterschool program.  Maybe she doesn’t know my last name (same as my son’s); maybe she missed that I was taking pictures of him as he approached the door on his first day of school; maybe she missed the goodbye hug when it was time for us to leave our kids for their first day of academic prosperity.  She missed something.

When I returned after school to pick up my son (and the four other kids from her class that attend our afterschool program), I casually asked, “So how did this little guy do?”, my arm around my son.

“Oh,” she replied, “okay… he’s got some issues.”

I’m not sure why, even though her sentence bothered me, I didn’t get mad.  Maybe the anesthetic euphoria of it being the first day of kindergarten hadn’t worn off yet.

Turns out the “issues” she was talking about centered mostly around my young son’s inability to have, as of yet, mastered the fine motor benchmark of proper pencil control and letter-forming skills.  Yes, I admit, he hasn’t gotten there yet on some of these fine motor skills.  But I’m not worried, as it is balanced out by his 7-year-old grasp of mathematics (I’m not kidding here… at least the 7-year-old level!).  I’m mostly pleased he’s in school now, where he’ll have the opportunity to develop these skills.

But the part that got me to thinking was the casual “you-know-what-I-mean”, educator-to-educator, almost snarky way she said “… he’s got some issues.”

And what it got me to thinking about is how I am sometimes guilty of the exact same thing.  When talking to colleagues, teachers, or peers, I say things sometimes that would be upsetting for parents to hear.  Not mean things, but things that tip slightly on the deprecating side.

I’m not a big bible-thumper, but I do believe there is much wisdom in the good book to know and digest.  And one quote from St. Paul’s letter to the early church at Ephesus:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up…”

Very wise man, that St. Paul.

Or you could go back to “Bambi” and just roll with “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, I think I will take this advice and look closely at what talk comes out of my mouth.

 

It’s the Hair that is the root of learning

January 20th, 2010 by

"Tater Tot"'s hair is obviously too long for his own good.

It seems that Taylor “Tater Tot” Pugh has been suspended from his pre-kindergarten class in Mesquite, Texas.  What heinous infraction did he commit?  Stealing? Physical violence? Sexual inappropriateness?

Ah, no.  It seems that Taylor simply refused to cut his hair.

According to the online news source “The Sphere“, Taylor prefers his hair a bit longer and decided to let it grow past the legal limit for the Mesquite public school system.

Of course, as any educator knows, four-year-olds can not properly learn if their hair is too long (or is in any way disheveled or unkempt).  Just look at Einstein.  He was kicked out of school, too.  And would anyone like to be Jesus’ teacher?  He was a Nazarene, committed to never shaving or cutting hair.  Good thing he didn’t come to Dallas looking for an education.

The school will not budge.  They claim righteous truth on their side as they point to the holy scripture of their education code:

“students who dress and groom themselves neatly, and in an acceptable and appropriate manner, are more likely to become constructive members of the society in which we live.”

Ah…. thank goodness the Mesquite School District has spoken… finally, we can understand that all our social ills can be solved if and only if we can jam each kid into the “acceptable and appropriate” mold.

The Adult-Driven School

August 26th, 2009 by

Today, I was reminded of how adult-driven our school system is. My 8th grader brought home his syllabus from his science class, and (as per the instructions of the teacher), we read through it together.

What immediately struck me was half-way down the first page, written entirely in ugly capital letters (not like the pretty formatting here on WP):

YOU WILL COME INTO CLASS QUIETLY AND REMAIN QUIET
YOU WILL SIT DOWN AND NOT MOVE WITHOUT PERMISSION
YOU WILL NOT SPEAK WITHOUT FIRST RAISING YOUR HAND AND RECEIVING PERMISSION

The free-spirited hidden rebel deep inside me lurched almost perceptibly as I read these instructions. What kind of autocratic jerk would create such rules and write them down IN CAPITAL LETTERS? Ah, but then I remembered… this is how school ishand_raised. Maybe not how it should be, or could be, but, nonetheless, even if the other teachers aren’t writing it down in capital letters, it’s probably how most of them run their class: in a top-down, adult-driven, I’ll-talk-and-you’ll-listen-and-do-what-I-say mode.

And, as is usually the case when I come across items like this, I got to thinking. What would a school look like if it were driven by the desire of children to learn? Would the children learn, or would they just goof off given half the chance? Sociologists Judith Levine and James Kincaid have written extensively on the hidden loathing we secretly harbor when we regard our society’s youth (not usually our own kids, mind you, but youth in general)- I think this would explain why most adults would, off-the-cuff, say that the kids would just wind up screwing around. I know some charter schools at least attempt to have children self-direct part or all of their own learning; have these schools declined into chaos, or are they holding their own? Would a relaxation on the adult-driven model begin a slow decline into anarchy?