Teaching “things” … and the disconnect of education!

I don’t understand the education system in this country. We have all the resources imaginable – yet we can’t seem to get it right. Each year we see our standing in the world’s education community slipping. At present we sit somewhere in the middle of the pack for “developed nations.”
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We continually “tweak around the edges.” Oh, and we can’t forget about the schools and the teachers not having enough money. As if throwing more money into a malfunctioning abyss is going to do anything but make a malfunctioning abyss … that costs more.
I believe the problem is our education system focuses on teaching our children “things.” Most all reform efforts involve improving our methods in teaching these “things” or facts. Whether it’s better teachers that engage their students to absorb these “things,” or reducing class size … it all comes down to teachings “things.” Even if we succeed in finding and implementing the ultimate ways of teaching and learning “things,” we still have the issue of what “things” should our kids be learning. With the current of obsession of trying to keep up with the Chinese and the reliance on standard tests to solve all educational ills – the situation is only getting worse.
At present, this decision is being made by people two decades or more removed from the present world – let alone the world when our children join it. Restricting Twitter, and the enormous amount of incredibly useful information available at our student’s fingertips, via the web – only helps the old guard “circle the wagons.” “We know what’s best and what the students should learn and we’ll be damned if anyone will tell us otherwiseWhat’s wrong with teaching our students how to think, how learn on the fly and adapt? By using tool such as Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube and the rest (and yes they are tools) – we teach our children to investigate, to digest different points of view and recognize the world is not just one book of facts … but rather a plethora of views, opinions and interpretations. And best yet, what these electronic tools do for our children – is they engage them. Most students have multiple access to the web at home – so why should they have to step back into the “stone age” when they go to school, seven plus hours a day!
Education … circa “70s

Engagement is the single most important factor to successful learning. No teacher, no new building … and no endless amount of money’s going to open up a child’s mind to absorb what they think is useless, irrelevant facts and figures. Unless they see a reason what is being thrown in front of them every morning, in the name of learning – is going help them after they leave the “iron walls of school” … it will be nothing more than useless, irrelevant facts and figures. And I believe no textbook book written twenty years ago – according to the bias specifications of some special interest group, a special interest group with immense buying power – is going to engage any eight year old, any twelve-year-old … and especially any eighteen year old.

No one can say what lies ahead in the future for each of our children. To be so pompous to say we know what will be the best opportunity and proper future for a young individual in a formative stage (and what should be learned to prepare for this erroneous assumption) is wrong and irresponsible. All we can do is provide a foundation, a platform for which we can help them develop an “ongoing” lifetime habit of learning and adjustment … adjustment that will most differently be needed in an ever-changing future.

And for some reason … I don’t think “teaching things” is going to do that!

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I can be reached on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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Where do you see yourself in five years?

A couple of days ago I was talking to my next door neighbor, Carrie, about a job interview she’d just been on. “It went pretty well … except that: ‘Where do you see yourself in five years’ question. I didn’t know what to say. I’m just trying to get through the next week … five years – who knows!”

I couldn’t agree with Carrie more. Isn’t it time we move on as employers – and once and for all, and throw this archaic interview question to the scrap-heap.

Being a recruiter for over fifteen years, I have found that most interviewers ask this question only because they were asked it and it seems they would be committing heresy if they didn’t ask it too. Aside from nixing the candidate if they say – “I want your job,” or “I want to learn everything I can so I can start-up my own firm and compete against you” … nothing is gained from it.

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Imagine if an interview went like this. Upon the appointment confirmation, the candidate was emailed these questions: Where do you see this company in five years? What role do you see yourself in it at that time? And what steps do you believe you need to take to get there?

First, as an employer, you just might get an interesting outside perspective on your firm. One you wouldn’t get as an insider.

Second, you would find out what the true goals and ambitions of the candidate were – not just what they thought you wanted to hear.

And third, you would find out whether the candidate could think creatively and critically. Most CEOs say the their biggest challenge in hiring these days is to find critical thinkers. Some even say they prefer candidates from oversees because of this factor.

As a candidate or even as a networker, it would force you to face your possible future in that firm. It would also give you an opportunity to gauge the response of the interviewer, your prospective boss. Does their vision align with yours?

The world has changed from the time this question can into our lexicon. Why hasn’t has it?

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg

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The Real Problem with Higher Education

This week President Obama unveiled his Higher Education student loan relief program. The program has nice sound bites. Lower interest rates, an extension here and there and so on. I’m not going to get into it here. I’m sure you can find more than enough on the subject elsewhere.

In my humble opinion, it’s like bringing a box of band aids to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The problem is fundamental and rooted in behavior – no band-aid is going to stop the bleeding. The problem and solution lie well beyond the pearly gates of our esteemed institutions of higher learning.

The problem lies at home … with us.

A big part of the “American Dream” is going to college – and even more so having your children go to college, especially if you didn’t. Every parent envisions standing in the audience, watching their child walk across that stage receiving their college diploma in full cap and gown. After all, what parent wouldn’t want that experience. And plus it gives them standing with their friends. “The better the college my kid went to (i.e. most expensive), the better the parent I must be.”

That’s the problem. It’s their dream as much, if not more than their offspring’s. It’s a dream that is rooted in tradition. How could someone not want a college degree. Unfortunately, that revered degree comes with a price … and often that price is more a liability than the asset generated by the degree itself.

The “ball and chain”

The cost of a college has become exorbitant at best, and some cases outright crippling. Stories of graduates coming out of school $100,000 in debt are not uncommon. And with this debt – there is no guarantee of a job to pay it off. And on top of it, school debt is one thing that cannot be dismissed in a bankruptcy. In other words, there is no key to unlock that ball and chain you will care around for years, and years.

Now let’s assume there are no parents in the picture, no grandparents either. No societal preconceptions on what you should, and what you shouldn’t do. The only thing that matters is you, the prospective student – your well-being, and your future.

Let’s break convention, and let me give you some alternatives.

  • Don’t go to college. Or if you do, wait a few years until you have some experience in the real world. Contrary to popular belief, not all careers require a college degree. This is the route my daughter took. Well able to get into, and do well in college, she chose to take a job with Apple out of high school. Now, just turned twenty-two, she is about to become certified – which will pretty much punch her ticket to wherever she wishes to go. Being a voracious writer, I’m sure she’ll go to college sometime. But now she better, and productive ways to spend her time. We also have to take into the financial obligations, of which she has none.
  • Go, but wait a year. Get your feet wet. Find the path you want to take. High school is not the real world. Only the real world is, well … the real world. Too often we enter college with no idea why we’re there in the first place. Maybe we listened to some, average at best, high school guidance counselor  – but that’s about it.
  • But if you’re hell-bent on going to school, go to a community college for the first two years. The first two years of college, especially in a major university, consists of taking entry-level classes with three hundred of your not so closest friends taught by a teacher’s assistant not much older than you are. With a community college you get smaller classes taught by a real professor, probably one with real world experience (unlike most universities). With any other purchase, getting more and paying significantly less – pulling the trigger would be a no brainer. But with higher education, ironically we lose our minds.

None of these options will saddle you with tens of thousands in debt, at least not before you can actually start paying it off. Obama’s trying to help you, but his efforts are misguided. Debt, restructured or not, limits your options. It limits your mobility – mobility that very well take you to the opportunity, that great opportunity that you went to college for in the first place.

But with the ball and chain … you go nowhere, literally and figuratively.

Now there’s certain professions where you must have a degree, and for several an advanced one. In these cases, medicine, law, engineering, etc., you’re just going to hunker down take initial financial hit and hope it comes around in the long-term. If you want to go into business or become entrepreneur … you’re an idiot if you go down the traditional route.

Now everyone has their own “Perfect World” and their path will be different than the person sitting next to them. But the education taken should be the education appropriate for that path. But understand there are options … the four-year university degree is not the only avenue to success. In fact it very well could your barrier to success.

The “American Dream” of a college degree and a white picket fence may have been right for your parents … but is it right for you.

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I can be found on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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Why do we want our kids to fail?

Every day there’s a new article chronicling the plight of education in the United States. I just read one today in the Atlantic. Every pundit has a different scapegoat. It’s the teachers. It’s the teachers’ unions. It’s the parents. There’s no money. The school day isn’t long enough. Video games are the problem. Blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s all of these … and it’s none of these. The problem is that our children just aren’t learning. But how can we expect anything more of them. We put hurdles in their way every chance we can. The bottom line is we are not giving them the platform they need when they walk into school every morning. If you prepared yourself for work the same way – you’d be in the soup line outside the homeless shelter. I’m not a teacher, or principal. I’m just someone who raised a kid and paid attention what worked for my daughter (and for myself when I was growing up) … and what didn’t. Here’s are my observations – and correspondingly, my suggestions:

  • We need more physical education in school, not less. I find it ironic, that many parents put a priority on their own fitness and its benefits, yet don’t care if their children are chained to desks eight hours a day with none. The more exercise, the more oxygen that flows to the brain … and the better it works. We are taught exercise in old age to wards off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – yet ignore its benefits in young growing minds. And don’t get me started on the child obesity epidemic and the affects it has on focus and learning
  • Incorporate healthy food consumption in school. Whether it’s getting rid of junk food or adding healthy ‘in-school’ breakfast programs – food is the fuel for performance. We can say it’s the responsibility of the parents, but that doesn’t fix the problem. We can significantly make a dent by just “kick starting’ our kids every morning by feeding them nourishment that releases it’s energy gradually, rather that in a “spike and crash” fashion that most often is the norm. Even prison food is better. All we have to do is look at ourselves and the effect what types of food has on our own performance.

GIFSec.com

  • Change the average class length to two hours. Don’t increase the length of the school day. We have to get off this chasing the Chinese thing we’re enamoured with. Out of an hour class – only maybe forty minutes of it is actually used for instruction. Subtracting the time it takes to get from class to class, settle into their desks and waiting for the bell to ring – a third of class time is transition. Synaptic connections are strengthened best by focused periods of attention when the brain can build on a single topic – not constantly switching gears. Imagine organizing your work like a normal class schedule – yea right! Giving a child ninety or hundred minutes of concentrated thought on one topic will build the synapses so that half of it isn’t forgotten by the time they get home.
  • Teach writing … everywhere and all the time. Outside from composing music, the most stimulating thing you (or your child) can do is write. So why do our kids do so little of it in school. Writing is a skill that will be universal for the rest of their lives. Every discipline in school should incorporate writing in their curriculum. Have the kids write about the subject material – not just memorize. Use English class for more of an editing function – than just composition. By writing about the material in each class, serious thought will need be used.
  • Teach to relevancy not random facts. Currently our schools teach facts based around whats going to be on a standardized test. This instruction has no relevancy to our kids. It’s just random stuff that some old guy has told them they’re going to have to learn. Things happen in the world every day – and each can be a learning experience – a experience (a life story) that will stick and will be built on years in the future. You want children to be civic-minded – spend a month on the political elections when they’re happening. Conduct mock elections with the kids having roles in the campaign process. Discuss local as well as national issues. Engage them, show them the relevancy to their lives. Teach to stories. It’s been proven time and time again, a brain digests information via stories far better than anything else. Any sales trainer will tell you this. Yet we continue to pound random irrelevant facts into their brains and wonder why they don’t stick.
These are a just a few of my ideas. They’re really just about providing a structure for our kids to learn to think and use their brains. They don’t involve teachers pay, or new buildings, or new iPads (even though we should use them) or even the subject material. And for the most part they don’t really cost much. But they’re improvements that can make a serious difference in our children’s ability to learn.
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More than anything, we just have to use common sense. So much of what I’ve described above, you do for yourself every day to help you perform and deal with your daily stresses. Why is it we can’t seem to think these same things would work for our kids? It’s almost like we want them fail.
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Education is the paramount issue this country is facing – and yet we do nothing but throw around blame as our kids muddle through schools eight hours a day getting ready a for future they will be ill prepared to face.
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It’s sad … just really, really sad.
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If you’re on Twitter please follow me at @clayforsberg.
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Invest in the future … fund a ChangeMaker!

There ‘s been a lot of attention recently about the benefits of crowds. Everything is being crowdsourced. A project that wants to get crowdfunded, posts its project or idea on a website dedicated to soliciting small investments. These investments are often as small as ten dollars and seldom larger than a hundred. For your investment, you get a token of appreciation. This token could be a white paper, a shirt or anything else the project head wishes to give you for your support. There are also levels of appreciation which correspond to the level of your investment.

This whole crowdfunding thing got me thinking about when I was young in Minot, North Dakota (pop. 35,000) – where I grew up. When I was in high school, there was a professional golfer in town, Mike Morley, that was trying to hit the PGA tour. He had his tour card, but didn’t have enough money to go from event to event to compete. A group of Minot businessmen decided to back him and pay for his expenses. I don’t know the details of their arrangements, but I suspect that if Mike made money then they would participate in the spoils. This was kind of an informal local crowdfunding.

If we can participate in a new company or project through crowdfunding, why can’t we participate in the success of the individual themselves, like what happened with Mike – only even more esoteric. OK … work with me.

Meet the ChangeMakers

Imagine a web site or portal with a variety of different people on it, people looking for career assistance. For the sake of argument – let’s limit it to young people. Each of these individuals, let’s call them ChangeMakers – would have to put up a profile or online portfolio. These portfolios would be a “Here I am world, this is what I’m all about and why you should invest in me.” The portfolio could be an essay, it could be pieces of art, or a video or whatever vehicle the ChangeMaker wants to use to present themselves to the world.

All of these ChangeMakers would be put in a central virtual location where we, the investors, can find them. They could be organized by location, or life focus or even age. Each ChangeMaker would determine their own tokens of appreciation they wanted to give investors. Chances are, financial participation probably wouldn’t be one – but who knows.

Rather than just giving money to a faceless charitable cause (not that there’s anything wrong with that), you’d be investing in the future of an actual young adult, one that you could watch grow and progress through life – on one that you had a vested interest in. You could create a portfolio of ChangeMakers, not unlike an investment portfolio. You could diversify … or could you throw all your weight behind a single industry or group of ChangeMakers in a similar field.

Ingenious ChangeMakers wouldn’t limit the parameters of investment to just money either. They could solicit mentoring and expertise in their areas endeavour. If they were an artist, they could request studio space. If they are interested in public policy, they could request a legislative internship.

And on top of it, not only would these young ChangeMakers get the resources they need to jumpstart their future – they’d have to figure out what resources they need on their journey to success. This organizational prompt might be worth more than the assistance itself.

As we search for ways to reform schools and prepare our young for the future, we almost always overlook one of our greatest resources – our community. We look to the public sector for all the answers through political debate ad nauseam … when the solution is just down the street, or in the next town or on the other side of the country. But it’s never potentially further than a mouse click. I believe we all want to help and we all have the same goal – success for our young. But we just don’t have the vehicle to pull it all together, a vehicle where we can put a name and face to those that need our assistance – whatever assistance we may be able to give them.

I’d be interested in hearing your views on this idea I’ve been rambling on about. Maybe it’s just a pipe dream, but I don’t think so. Please give me some feedback.

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Is corporate accountability right for public schools?

The recent appointment of Cathleen Black’s as head of the new York school district got me thinking about putting corporate leaders in charge of a public institution like a school.  Below is piece I read in LearnBoost this morning about the situation and my corresponding response.

Corporate governance

Over the last month, talk of Cathleen Black’s appointment as Chancellor of New York schools has sounded through all the major media. Some people rally behind her no-nonsense focus on the bottom line, but others worry that with her utter lack of ties to public education, she cannot possibly help students succeed.

As Joel Klein makes his exit from education into the media arena, Cathleen Black is stepping in straight from the corporate world. Eli Broad, education philanthropist and businessman, recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post exalting the appointment. He noted Black’s outstanding performance in management and track record for holding herself and others to high expectations.

Without a doubt, leadership ability is a top priority, but is it really possible to be a great leader without any experience in a given field? Black has no teaching experience. What’s more, neither she nor her children attended public school. I have no doubt that Black will be able to make shrewd decisions to help the ed system stay on budget and take measures to improve the efficiency of the system. Having had a high up boss without teaching experience, though, it worries me that Black may place unfeasible demands on educators.

Below is my response:

Education seems to be a magnet for new leaders to come in and ‘shake things up,’ epecially with the inevitable saber rattling that will occur after yesterday’s world student test results hit the airwaves.

Unfortunately for teachers, being on the front line, they have to endure the brunt of the change sword. But by no means are they the only factor in a child’s education. And this comment isn’t meant to get them off the hook.. In reality, running a school district isn’t a lot different than running company. There’s different inputs and different outputs – but it still comes down to creating goals and picking and motivating a team to achieve those goals.

Maybe having a history of accountability as Cathleen Black has had, at least according to Eli Board (for whatever that’s worth), might work out. But unless the teachers buy into the goals and strategy she sets up … it will not work out. Student success is a direct result of teacher engagement and their desire to go that extra step to get their ‘kids’ engaged. If the teachers come in in the morning with a chip on their shoulder – this engagement chain won’t happen.

While I truly believe that the far majority of teachers really care about the future of their students … I don’t believe that is the case with their union. The extra flexibility needed in any modern day organization, in all facets of the process (yes pay included), is tantamount to the success of its, especially one the size of the New York School District. But will the union allow this flexibility? We can only hope.

Black’s success will be dependent a lot on how she is accepted going in. If the rank and file are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and choose to band together with her for the greater good, the students … then maybe it just might work out.

If they don’t, then – well … it won’t. Teaching isn’t turning bolts in in car plant. All the processes in the world won’t produce a product that is ready to go out and change the world.

Just some thoughts …

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Happy Birthday Alex ;-)

Today is my daughter Alexandria’s twenty-first birthday.  As a way to send her into adulthood or … “On the Road of her Perfect World,”  I gave her a framed copy of my following “roadside assistance.”

Take what you can from it.

Alex-Italy-8x10

  • LEAD Amongst a generation of heroes … there still needs to be the one that leads.
  • FEED YOUR OPTIMISM In the tale of the two wolves … the one that gets fed wins.
  • EMBRACE CHANGE “It’s not the strongest or the most intelligent that survive and flourish, it’s the ones most able to change.”  Charles Darwin
  • GIVE Leave every person, place and thing better off from you being there.
  • REMEMBER THE PAST While your future may burn bright, it’s in your past the bulb was built.
  • HAVE FUN All the victories, all the accomplishments are but hollow action without a smile.

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