National Academy of Science issues Garbage Report Recommending Schools Reopen in the Fall.

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“This fall, public school districts should prioritize full-time, in-person classes for grades K-5 and for students with special needs.”   So says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  Many are using this report to endorse opening all education institutions FULL-TIME and even decrying distance learning as a failure.  If you want to read the full report, you can download it in PDF for no cost.  Go to:  Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is one of the worst pieces of research I have ever seen in my life.  It is claimed in the report that “The report includes an updated review of the evidence from around the world and a set of recommendations on mitigation strategies for the corona-virus in school settings.”  In actuality, there is little factual data supporting a reopening strategy but a great deal of conjecture.  Some of the so-called findings would seem to support NOT opening.  For instance:

“there is no definitive evidence about what suite of strategies is most effective for limiting transmission within a school setting when students, teachers, and other staff are present.”

(145 Pages of this report is mostly information you could get online about the effects and history of the Covid Pandemic.)

“The existing guidance documents offer an extensive list of potential strategies but little guidance on how districts and schools can or should prioritize them.”

(Little guidance but they are making their recommendations to open the schools anyway).

“Many of the mitigation strategies currently under consideration (such as limiting classes to small cohorts of students or implementing physical distancing between students and staff) require substantial reconfiguring of space, purchase of additional equipment, adjustments to staffing patterns, and upgrades to school buildings.”

(When and how will this happen?  In the next month? Does this seem realistic?)

“The research community should immediately conduct research that will provide the evidence needed to make informed decisions about school reopening and safe operation. The most urgent areas for inquiry are: • children and transmission of COVID-19, • the role of reopening schools in contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in communities, • the role of airborne transmission of COVID-19, and • the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies.”

(This is a so-called research study but it recommends we make more research to find “evidence” about school reopening that they are already recommending to reopen.”

“Second, the committee determined that, given the short timeline for producing this report, an exhaustive, systematic review of all available guidance documents for schools and districts was not feasible.”

“The committee met virtually five times over a 4-week period.”

(The time spent doing “research” is ridiculous.  It is nothing but a cut and paste job that looks like it came from the White House.”

“If children do transmit the disease efficiently, as they do with influenza, for example, physically reopening schools could accelerate the transmission of COVID-19 in a community.  Data needed to answer this and other important questions are unlikely to be available by the time the decision to reopen will have to be made.”

(The Data will not be likely to be available, but we recommend anyway?”)

“Twenty-eight percent of public school teachers are over 50, putting them in the higher risk age category for serious consequences of COVID-19 (Taie and Goldring, 2020). On a survey of teachers, principals, and district leaders administered by the EdWeek Research Center in June, 2020, 62% reported that they were somewhat or very concerned about returning. Any plans for reopening will need to address these concerns.”

(So how do we protect the teachers? Administrators and Parents?)

There are five major reasons this study offers for reopening the schools, but they give little evidence to support a true analysis of the costs/benefits for reopening.  Nor do they offer any alternatives. They are as follows:

  1. Many families rely on schools for daycare.
  2. Schools provide meals
  3. Schools provide mental health counseling and health care
  4. Schools are a center of social life
  5. Minorities and disadvantaged youth will fall behind wealthy children who have better home access to the internet and distance learning. 

My response to the above issues:

  1. We need national daycare as well as national health care for all.  No question.  But are schools the right place for day care services?  Is reopening going to solve our daycare problem?
  • Many schools have already made arrangements to help provide needed meals.  We do not need to reopen the schools to do this.
  • In Wisconsin there is 1 counselor for about every 470 students in the state.  (See data from “https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Publications/ratioreport.pdf)  It does not seem very likely to me that much mental health counseling is actually going on.  This ratio is even worse in many other states.
  • Schools may be a center of social life, but kids will not die from a slightly diminished social life.  I doubt many high school kids suffer much during summer months from a lack of social life.
  • Suddenly, they are concerned with minorities and disadvantaged youth? This is a quite disingenuous argument.  Educators have been asking for years for more funds to help address this issue and suddenly it is given as one of the primary reasons for reopening the schools. The report even notes the pervasive systemic racism in the education system.  Now they want to reopen the schools to address the issue of racism?

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After reading this 145 pages piece of garbage, I may never have any respect again for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

I can only suspect that the White House threatened to cut off their funding if they did not publish something to support Trump’s determination to open the schools. This is clearly part of Trump’s agenda to get the economy to reopen before the elections. The result of his pressure on states to reopen and his lack of support for efforts such as masks to mitigate the spread of this virus are nothing short of criminal. The administration is willing to sacrifice “old people” for the sake of the economy and now they are willing to sacrifice “young people” as well.

Teachers Say Rush to Reopen Schools Without Covid-19 Safety Plan Shows Trump and DeVos ‘Do Not Care About Students’

 

 

 

Deconstructing Fairy Tale Enigmas and Conundrums

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Once upon a time there was a town that had a rat problem.  It decided to hire a Pied Piper who could lure the rats away from town with his magic flute.  Okay, you probably know the rest of the story.  He got rid of the rats, but the town managers refused to pay him.  So the Piper got out his magic flute and lured all the young children away.  They were never seen again.  Incredibly sad.  But is it plausible?  Let’s examine a few questions here:

  1. What kind of a flute could lure both rats and children? Wouldn’t the frequencies Rattenfaenger_Herrfurth_Pied-Piperrequired be different?  Could children hear the same frequencies as rats?
  2. Where did he take all the rats? What would stop them from coming back again?
  3. Why did he steal the kids? Why not lure the town managers away?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get rid of our politicians that easily?
  4. Most importantly, what happened to the kids? If they survived, how would the Piper feed hundreds of kids?  If they did not survive, how did he kill them?  Would the Piper really have been nasty enough to murder hundreds of little children?  And if he did, who would ever hire him again?

Lots of questions but we simply accept the story as it is told.  And that my friends is the problem.  We go through life simply accepting fairy tales without ever questioning them.  For instance, the Trickle-Down Fairy Tale.  This tale says that if we give lots of money to the rich, the money will somehow work its way down to the poor.  Most poor people I know believe this fairy tale.  Most poor people are still waiting for it to happen.

Deconstruction is defined as “A method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.”  I am going to use this concept loosely to look at several old and new fairy tales.  We will look to see if we can find the obvious truths that we take for granted.  Searching for the truth often requires us to cast common myths and assumptions aside and pursue the dangerous and mysterious.  I am going to apply deconstruction to the enigmas (“A person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.”) and conundrums (“A confusing and difficult problem or question.”) that are inherent in most fairy tales.

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Cinderella:

Once upon a time there was a lonely and mistreated girl named Cinderella.  Cinderella is a popular fairy tale with its stereotypical evil step-mother and beautiful but hapless heroine.  Cinderella lived with her two stepsisters and her evil stepmother who made her life hell.  But along came a fairy Godmother who turned things around for Cindy.  Throw in a handsome prince, money and a giant castle and you have the stuff of a fairy tale that still thrills young girls and would be princes.  But I have a few questions:

  1. Ok, I will give you the fairy Godmother with superpowers to transmute organic material into other organic material (mice to horses) as well as pumpkins into a carriage. But if she has such powers why can’t they work past 12 Midnight?
  2. What was Cinderella’s plan after the prince fell madly in love with her? Was she going to get anything else from her stepmother to help with next steps?  It does not 618bdeaaba384270870seem like there was any long-term strategic plan here.
  3. Do you really think that the King would let his heir apparent marry a commoner, no matter how beautiful she was?  If that was the case, why couldn’t the fairy Godmother give Cinderella a million bucks or at least make her a princess?
  4. Where would Cinderella learn palace etiquette? Would she be accepted in court with the manners of a scullery woman?  I doubt it.  I think divorce would have been pretty quick.
  5. What about the poor stepsisters?  So they were ugly.  Doesn’t this story smack of discrimination on the basis of looks and beauty?  Where was the Godmother for the two ugly stepsisters?  Seems to me that they were the ones who needed the most help.  All Cindy needed was a makeover and a gown, but the two sisters needed extensive plastic surgery.

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Anybody Can Be President in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave:

This is a wonderful fairy tale.  It is one that we all grow up hearing and ultimately believing.  “In the USA, anyone with drive, passion and a vision can be President of the USA.”  But let’s be realistic.  Looking at the statistics, we see that:

  • 44 out of 45 Presidents have been white
  • 45 out of 45 Presidents have been male
  • 36 out of 45 Presidents had a net worth in today’s dollars of >$1,000.000
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Latino
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Asian
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been female
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Native American

Not since Harry Truman (1953) have we had a president worth less than one million dollars net worth.  Now if there are 328,000,000 people in the USA and we subtract from the total amount of people living in the USA those with little chance of becoming President, (I list each of the above characteristics that do not seem to play well with one’s odds of becoming President) we can see how many people really do have a chance of becoming fulfilling this fairy tale.

328.2 million people in the USA (2019)

-76.29 million Black and White men under the age of 35.  (Must be at least 35 to be President.)

-73.29 million Black and White women under the age of 35

-85.1 million Black and White women over the age of 35 (Not good odds since none have made it yet)

-27 million Latino women

-15.4 million Latino men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Latino men over 35)

-9.7 million Asian American women

-4.66 million Asian American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Asian American men over 35)

-3.2 million Native American women

-1.77 million Native American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Native American Men over 35)

I have not forgotten LGBTQ people, but I have not found a way to eliminate them by ethnicity or gender from the general census data.  I did not subtract Asian American, Latino or Native American men over the age of 35 who I think may still have a better chance of being president than a woman.  African American men over the age of 35 are also included since their probabilities are now somewhat higher since President Obama’s election. 

Subtracting the groups that are not likely to see a presidency in the near future we are left with:  31.79 million men over the age of 35 who have a chance of being president.

We will assume that you will likely need to be a millionaire to be elected President.  5.8 percent of the US population are millionaires.  Let’s estimate that between 3 to 4 percent of all millionaires are either males over the age of 35.  The rest of the millionaires being either female or males under the age of 35.  Then we multiply 31.79 million x 5.8 % to find the Final Total number of people in the USA who may rightfully feel that they have a chance to be president.  Trumpets please.  The final number is:

1.113 million

Thus, if you are born in the USA, and you are a male over 35 who is rich your chances of becoming President are about 1 in a million.  White males will no doubt continue to hold an advantage for the foreseeable future.  Well, at least that is better odds than winning the lottery.  However, the lottery pays a lot more.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

Once upon a time there was a mischievous and naughty little girl named Goldilocks.  Goldilocks was spoiled rotten by her parents who gave her everything she wanted.  They named her Goldilocks because of her bright yellow hair.  One day Goldilocks decided to go out for a walk in the woods.  She soon came upon a small cottage and decided to peek in the windows.  She was a very nosy child.  Upon looking through the window, she spied a table with three bowls of hot porridge just sitting there.  She did not see anyone inside and decided that she was hungry and that she was entitled to a bowl of cereal.  She held the belief that everything belonged to her and that included the porridge.  She tried the door and upon finding it open, she entered the home.

Have you noticed that Cowboy Stories, Comedy Romances and Fairy Tales all have happy endings?  For the rest of us, it’s death and taxes.

At this point, I am sure that you remember the rest of the story.  She eats three bowls of porridge.  Do you think she was maybe obese to begin with?  She breaks the little bear’s chair when she tries to sit on it.  Proof that she was too fat!  And then messes up all the bear beds and finally gets caught by the bears when they come home.  At this point, Mama bear would probably have messed up the kids face for messing with her nice clean beds.  But as far as I know, Goldilocks gets out alive and runs home where her parents continue to spoil her rotten.  So a few questions to deconstruct things if you will indulge me.  I will give you the anthropomorphic bears as a gift even before we begin.

  1. How did a fat kid get so far into the woods that she found a bear den or cottage?
  2. Where did the bears purchase their furniture and porridge? Do fairy tale bears shop at the same stores as humans?
  3. Bears can run at speeds upwards of 30 mph, how come they could not catch Goldilocks?
  4. Why were the bears eating porridge? Is that a traditional bear food?
  5. If the bears lived that close to other human dwellings (Assuming a fat kid could not walk too far) how come no one warned Goldilocks about the bears?
  6. What is the moral of this story anyway? Spoiled kids should not mess with bears or eat porridge that does not belong to them?

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The United States of America is the Greatest Democracy on Earth:

This is one of my favorite fairy tales.  According to this story, there was this exceptional group of people who banded together to form a more (and almost) perfect nation where democracy ruled.  It would be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  According to the Fairy Godfather, who was named Thomas Jefferson, everyone in this country would be free except: Black People, Indian People, LGBTQ People and Women.

This country would be based on a democratic form of government where each person had one vote (Except Black People, Indian People and Women).  Representatives would be fairly elected and would make great and wonderful decisions for the people based on their superior knowledge and intellect.  Democracy would be a rule of the majority with CONCERN for the minority.  Thus Black people could continue to be happy down on the old plantations, women could continue to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and Indians could happily walk many miles to their new homes on the reservations.  What a great place America would be.

There was only one snag though.  Jefferson said that you could not really have a Democracy without two things:

  1. An educated citizenry who could make informed decisions.
  2. A free press which would keep people informed.

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Now, in the fairy tale, voters are all given equal opportunity to vote.  There is no voter suppression, Jim Crow laws or gerrymandering.  A vote is a vote is a vote.  Also in the fairy tale, the government is “for the people” not “for the Corporations.”  Representatives are looking out for the best interests of the people and not big business.  There are also no bad guys in the fairy tale.  These are the things that make the fairy tale so great and insure a happy ending.  In real life we have the greedy lobbyists, the corrupt politicians, the sycophantic followers and the corporations who buy votes.  Real life does not have happy endings.

But before we finish with deconstructing this fairy tale, we must say something about Jefferson’s two conditions for a democracy noted above.  In the fairy tale we have great public education systems where people are taught to think for themselves and to be able to tell lies from the truth.  In real life of course, schools do not teach critical thinking and students cannot distinguish lies from truth.  However, they are excellent at finding the right answers to exam questions.

Turning to the issue of a free press, in the fairy tale, we have courageous journalists who seek out the truth and who will print it regardless of the consequences.  In the fairy tale, journalists are motivated by a desire to inform the public and to ensure that information about critical issues is widely available.  In real life, most journalists are hacks whose major skills involve writing good clickbait lines to draw you into an extensive amount of advertising designed to make money for the corporations running their newspaper.  Profits and not information are the motivators in real life for newspapers and media.

So there you have it.  I have deconstructed some major fairy tales.  If you live in the USA, I am no doubt sure that you have read or heard of all of these.  Just to be clear, I love fairy tales and the fantasies that they give us.  Without fairy tales, we would have to live in the real world 24/7 and who could do that without going out of their minds?

“There must be possible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.” — Ralph Ellison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wonder Who’s Curious Today?

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I wonder how many great novels have started out with these two words: “I Wonder?”  Ok, I am curious, so I will find out.  “Google, how many great novels have started with the words: ‘I wonder’?”   Well, I found “Wonder” a great book about children who are different and Natalie Merchant’s beautiful song “Wonder” about the same subject, but no list of great novels.  I will try again: “Novels beginning with the words ‘I wonder’.”

Wow, now I have found a list of some interesting books.  Foremost among the list of books is “I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey: by Langston Hughes.

In I Wonder as I Wander, Langston Hughes vividly recalls the most dramatic and intimate moments of his life in the turbulent 1930s.

His wanderlust leads him to Cuba, Haiti, Russia, Soviet Central Asia, Japan, Spain (during its Civil War), through dictatorships, wars, revolutions. He meets and brings to life the famous and the humble, from Arthur Koestler to Emma, the Black Mammy of Moscow. It is the continuously amusing, wise revelation of an American writer journeying around the often strange and always exciting world he loves.

Now I am getting somewhere.  Although sadly, Mr. Hughes stole the title of my proposed next book.  But I will let it go.  I am sure I can think of another title.  But the point that I am thinking about is that wonder and curiosity is or should be the essence of our lives.  “Once upon a time” is probably the most popular starting words for many stories, but I propose that “I wonder” should be the start of any journey.  More stories need to start with “I Wonder.”

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I wonder why they do not?  I think I know.  Schools do not encourage wonder and curiosity. Schools encourage learning the right answers to pass tests.  Society does not encourage wonder and curiosity.  How many times have you heard “Curiosity killed the cat?”  Of course, the retort is “And satisfaction brought it back.”  But there is already the societal warning that curiosity can kill you.  Consider one of the most famous anti-heroines in history and her story about wonder and curiosity.

debfcabe3a329e58d451650b7bbe3120653267d4r1-299-371v2_uhqPandora was the first human woman created by Hephaestus on the instructions of Zeus.  Pandora was a curious woman.  She was given a jar or box by the conniving Zeus with all the evils of the world.   Being a woman (sexism at its earliest) she could not resist peaking in the box.  So she opened it and inadvertently allowed all the evils within lose upon the world.  The only thing that did not fly out of the box was the spirit of Hope which remained in the box when Pandora put the lid back on.  Thus to this day, our world is full of evil but balance always by the ever-present Hope that things will be better.  Nothing could be more fitting than Hope for the times we live in today.

Here is a great song to listen to about Pandora’s Box by David Francey

Now, I have been teaching since 1975, on and off. I have taught every grade from preschool, to elementary school to high school and up though grad school.  There are trends and fads in teaching like in business and society.  Many argue every year about what the “core curriculum” of a school should be.  Some say math is essential, some say English is essential.  Some want civility to be added to the curriculum and some are still fighting over the dreaded “Sex education.”

One of the most popular subjects today is “Critical Thinking Skills.”  Every single teacher in America believes that “Critical Thinking” should be part of every curriculum yet less than five percent of any curriculum is allotted to these skills. There simply is not enough time to teach everything that people want to see taught.  Particularly, when we have standardized tests to prepare for and a believe that what was good for the Greeks and Middle Ages is still valid today.

Here is a great song for the curious:  “Be Curious” with English lyrics by Humood Alkhuder

I could leave every one of these subjects behind.  It is my belief that schools should only teach one thing.  That thing would be “wonder and curiosity.”  I doubt if anyone would agree with me.  I can hear the arguments now: “Schools must prepare children for life.”  “Schools must prepare children for jobs.”  “Schools must prepare children for society.”

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Just think for a second.  What if schools actually did teach children to be more curious?  What if they taught children to wonder about the world, to wonder about life, to wonder about people?  What would anyone imbued with a sense of wonder be like?

5 Benefits of Being A Curious Person by Leigh Weingus

  1. It can strengthen your relationships.
  2. It can help protect your brain.
  3. It can help you overcome anxiety.
  4. It correlates with happiness.
  5. It can help you learn pretty much anything.

You will find many articles about the virtue of curiosity on the web.  You will also find many of the components of curiosity.  Whether or not we can teach curiosity is perhaps another issue.  I have seen little in my many years of education that show we have the desire or knowledge to teach children to be curious.  If anything, I think curiosity is an innate trait which rather than nurture we do the best to kill.  Children ask fewer and fewer questions as they progress through our school systems.

‘Schools are killing curiosity’: why we need to stop telling children to shut up and learn – The Guardian

Imagine if you will that kids were not taught answers but were taught questions.  Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that they are the most curious little creatures on the face of the earth.  But right from childhood on, we do our best to extinguish this innate curiosity.

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Imagine if kids who asked, “who made the world?” or “why do I have to do that?” were given the quest to investigate and come back with their own opinions.  Imagine if children who asked, “why are some people racist?” or “why do people hurt other people?” were told “Well, I don’t really know, but can you research this and come back and tell the class what you have found out?”

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Imagine if we had leaders who asked more questions and looked more to experts to help solve social problems rather than political polls.  Imagine if politicians were curious about life and wanted to explore life rather than control it.  Imagine if stories written in newspapers and the media were less biased and more honest about what is known and what is not known.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.  — —”Old Man’s Advice to Youth: ‘Never Lose a Holy Curiosity.'” LIFE Magazine (2 May 1955) p. 64” — Albert Einstein

The 3rd of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Knowledge without Character.

Several years ago I became very interested in the question of “Character.”  What is character?  How do we develop character?  Are we losing character in our population and if so, why?  I found a number of books on the subject but the one that most impressed me was called “The Death of Character.”  It was published in 2001 and was written by James Davison Hunter.   The book description is as follows:

The Death of Character is a broad historical, sociological, and cultural inquiry into the moral life and moral education of young Americans based upon a huge empirical study of the children themselves. The children’s thoughts and concerns-expressed here in their own words-shed a whole new light on what we can expect from moral education. Targeting new theories of education and the prominence of psychology over moral instruction, Hunter analyzes the making of a new cultural narcissism.

One of the observations that I drew from reading this book is that as a nation, Americans have moved from a perspective of absolute values to a strong belief in relative values or flexible standards.  Wherein once people could be labeled as moral or immoral based on their behavior, today we have the concept of amorality which does not seem to have existed before the 20th century.   Some definitions might help here:

Moral:  Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.

Immoral:  Violating moral principles; not conforming to the patterns of conduct usually accepted or established as consistent with principles of personal and social ethics.

Amoral:  Being neither moral nor immoral; specifically: lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply.

Character:  The aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person.

According to Hunter’s research, the American population has moved from a bipartite arrangement in which people fell between the poles of moral or immoral to a tripartite arrangement in which most people would be classified as amoral, immoral or moral.  The percentage of people in the amoral area has steadily increased while the percentage in the moral area has steadily declined since the early 1900s.

I was teaching in higher education from 1999 to 2015 and one question I  routinely asked my MBA and BA students is “What would you do if you were driving down a lonely dirt road and saw a Wells Fargo money bag lying on the side of the road?  Would you return it?”  I suspect that you would be surprised if I told you that less than 3 students in 30 say they would return it.

However, if I ask them the following question, the numbers change dramatically.  “What would you do if you noticed that upon leaving the classroom, Mary had dropped a twenty dollar bill?  You are the only one who has noticed it. Would you return it?”  The replies are unanimous in that all students say they would return it.  Students regard hurting another person that they know as wrong or immoral, but stealing from Wells Fargo is not considered immoral but is rather considered as amoral.  My own teaching experiences over the years confirm much of what Hunter says in his book.  Amorality is rampant among business students.

So we come to an important question.  Can we have an educated and intelligent population (more people getting degrees and going to school) and less morality?  What if more people are becoming amoral and we have less moral people?  What are the implications?  Well, I think the answer is clear here.  Look at corporate behavior.  You have only to read the story of Enron “The Smartest Men in the Room” to see concrete examples of intelligent behavior without a sense of morality or character.   When we look at amoral behavior in people and organizations, a primary question is how long before the amoral behavior becomes immoral and crosses the line to illegal – as it did with Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing.

Gandhi says this about his 3rd Social sin: 

“Our obsession with materialism tends to make us more concerned about acquiring knowledge so that we can get a better job and make more money. A lucrative career is preferred to an illustrious character. Our educational centers emphasize career-building and not character-building. Gandhi believed if one is not able to understand one’s self, how can one understand the philosophy of life. He used to tell me the story of a young man who was an outstanding student throughout his scholastic career. He scored “A’s” in every subject and strove harder and harder to maintain his grades. He became a bookworm. However, when he passed with distinction and got a lucrative job, he could not deal with people nor could he build relationships. He had no time to learn these important aspects of life. Consequently, he could not live with his wife and children nor work with his colleagues. His life ended up being a misery. All those years of study and excellent grades did not bring him happiness. Therefore, it is not true that a person who is successful in amassing wealth is necessarily happy. An education that ignores character- building is an incomplete education.”

In my book, “The New Business Values” one of my chapters was on Information.  I outlined a hierarchy of information as follows: Data>Information>Knowledge>Wisdom.   I described knowledge as a set of beliefs, facts or ideas that contained relevance to some goal, need or desire.  In my model, knowledge cannot become wisdom until it is linked to emotions and feelings for others.  I think Gandhi’s ideas of linking knowledge to character probably hits the mark more accurately.  It was my understanding that knowledge without empathy and compassion for others could never be wisdom.

The world is full of knowledge today since scientific belief has replaced religious belief.   However, science can never develop the sense of empathy and compassion as a central part of character development.  Furthermore, character development even more than knowledge, stands alone as a primary developmental need for any civilized society.  Gandhi wisely noted that we have let our passion for commerce and money outrun our passion for purpose and character.

The famous economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in his book Economics and the Public Purpose (1973, Houghton Mifflin) that:

“The contribution of economics to the exercise of power may be called its instrumental function… Part of this function consists in instructing several hundred thousand students each year… They are led to accept what they might otherwise criticize; critical inclinations which might be brought to bear on economic life are diverted to other and more benign fields.” 

Galbreath observed over 35 years ago that we are educating MBA students who have become mindless automatons in a corporate system without a conscience.  Having no conscience is one aspect of amoral behavior.  In today’s society and schools such behavior has become the accepted norm.  It’s the “go along” to “get along” mentality that accepts corporate decisions regardless of their impact on people, the environment or even our nation.  The “diversion” that Galbraith speaks of is easily recognized as sports and media entertainment.  Sports and news create 24/7 hours if mostly inane and benign diversions that keep the public’s mind off of character or moral development.  Indeed watching sports figures and media figures today is evidence of a “vast wasteland” in terms of character development.

So where do we go from here?  The picture appears bleak.  We now accept amorality as a legitimate position on the map of character development.  We ignore the development of true character in our schools and churches; in fact, we supplant the development of character with the requisite amorality needed to get ahead in the business world.  The values of the corporation have supplanted the values needed for a kind and compassionate civilization.  Our schools have become prisons and our prisons overflow.  The USA has some of the highest amounts of incarceration in the world.  Our courts have become three ring media circuses designed to show an endless succession of trials whose main points seem to be to titillate and entertain the masses.  Can we escape from this cycle of destruction that we have built for ourselves?

Time for Questions:

Am I too bleak?  Do you think there is more morality in society than I describe? What do you do to develop your own character?  Do you feel that there is enough emphasis on character development in our churches and schools?  What do you think can be done about it?  How do we start?

Life is just beginning.

“Compassion is the basis of morality.”  ― Arthur Schopenhauer

Creating a Twenty First Century Education System

large school

We no longer have an education system that works.  This is true for most people that need education.  A few people still find value in the current system, but it is no longer a system that works for the masses.  It is no longer a democratic education system.  It has become a school system devoid of the benefits and value that it once had.  We now are stuck with a school system designed for the nineteenth century that is expensive, inefficient and much less effective than it could be.  This is true not only in America but also for most of the world.

Times have changed.  Needs have changed.  Our education system has not changed.  It no longer meets the needs of a world economy that has gone from agriculture to industry to information.  A world that has gone from analog to digital.  Changes from the nineteenth century to the twenty first century are incomprehensible.  Changes in our education system have not kept up with the needs of a modern world.  Outside of growing larger and more expensive, our education system is still based on nineteenth century principles of education.

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Nothing is more important to a nation than a democratic education system.  A system that provides equal opportunity to all regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, income or religion.  Education provides the knowledge and information that is the foundation for all successful endeavors.  Whether it is a building a great company, finding a cure for a disease, writing a musical masterpiece, developing innovative technology to help people or even fighting a war to defend a country, nothing was ever accomplished without knowledge.  Knowledge may not always be developed in an education system, but an education system is the primary mode of transferal for knowledge.  From Caesar to Leonardo Da Vinci, from Shakespeare to Einstein and from Henry Ford to Mark Zuckerberg, it was education that gave them the knowledge to be successful.

school fundingToday we have an elite system of schooling whereby the children of the wealthy get to go to charter schools, private schools and high-priced universities that are beyond the incomes of the average person.  These schools may still provide a decent education, but they are “not open to the public.”  This morphing of schools from democratic institutions to elite institutions did not happen by accident.  It became all too clear to many people that the public-school system was collapsing.  Anyone who has taught in a public school today knows the chaos and bedlam that is called education in these schools.  Discipline has gone out the door and students terrorize each other and even the teachers.  The results of the decay of the public-school system has seen the wealthy shift their funding to private schools while those who cannot afford private schools often opt for home schooling.  The rise in home schooling parallels the decline of the public-school system.

Racial Disparities in School Infographic-AIR-hp-sm-01Teachers sit helplessly by as the school system they belong to sinks slowly but inevitably beneath the waves of societal change.  Like the proverbial fish, teachers are the last ones to see the water.  Asking a teacher how to fix the system is like asking a fish how to fix the ocean.  Adding to the general ignorance are pundits in both the business arena and the political arena who propose solutions based on what worked in the past or worse what they think has worked in the business arena.  Thus, we see proposed solutions such as:

  • More standardized testing for students
  • State wide tests for teacher competency
  • Pay for performance
  • Guards in the school hallways
  • More money for education
  • Smaller class sizes

None of these solutions will work.  None of them have worked.  That is why the rich and privileged have opted to destroy public education by under-funding the present school system.  Teachers all over are clamoring for more money both for salaries and also school improvements.  While teachers and staff certainly deserve a higher pay for the jobs they do, and students deserve decent facilities, none of the changes that money will bring will improve the school system.  There is a simple but profound reason for this and anyone understanding the concepts of systems change and paradigm shifts will clearly know why.

First, in a system all processes are linked, and each impacts the other.  To change a system, you must change the assumptions upon which a system is based.  A paradigm is a set of assumptions that govern how processes are developed and allocated.  As Thomas Kuhn noted in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” when a paradigm changes what worked in the old paradigm will not work in the new paradigm.  Paradigms change when the underlying forces of a society fundamentally change.  These forces include economic, social, technological, political, legal, environmental and even spiritual factors.

“In order to displace a prevailing theory or paradigm in science, it is not enough to merely point out what it cannot explain; you have to offer a new theory that explains more data and do so in a testable way.” — Michael Shermer

In lieu of a train load of data that would make Michael Shermer happy, would you accept that societal forces have changed rather dramatically from the nineteenth century to today?  Do you think that the type of business model that worked in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century would still work today?  Do you think Zuckerberg or Musk or Brin or Bezos could run their business like Ford or Carnegie or Rockefeller ran their businesses in today’s world?  I think the obvious answer to these questions effectively addresses the need for a paradigm change.

Yet we are not seeing a paradigm change in education.  Even as I write this, teachers are striking all over America for more money.  We are still trying to run our education system on the principles and assumptions that nineteenth century education was based on.  These include the following:

  • Schooling should not start until about six or seven years of age
  • Students need a standardized education curriculum
  • Students need to proceed in assembly line fashion one grade at a time
  • Students should take courses that match their age level
  • Students need tests and diplomas to ensure that they are qualified to go on to the next level of education
  • Students need to go to school in one place
  • Most education will take place in a classroom
  • The teacher is the expert and knows what knowledge the student needs
  • College is the best place to go after high school
  • Students should go to school Monday through Friday
  • Students should finish school and then go on to a career
  • Public education funding is only through high school

Now, what if all these assumptions were no longer valid?  What if they were valid in the nineteenth and even twentieth century but are no longer valid today?  What if we turned them upside down and built an education system on the opposite assumptions?

  • Schooling should start as soon as possible perhaps as early as two or three years of age
  • Students need a customized education curriculum
  • Students proceed according to their progress regardless of age level
  • Students take courses that match their interests and abilities
  • Students need tests only to determine their level of understanding and not for passing or failing
  • Students need to go to facilities that match their interests regardless of where they are in the community
  • Most education will take place in customized facilities
  • The teacher is a facilitator and has the responsibility to aid the student in pursuing their interests
  • College is not the best place for all students
  • Students can go to school on flexible schedules
  • Students never finish schooling and education is life long and career based
  • Public education funding is life-long as needs and careers change

Can you imagine if we designed an education system based on the above assumptions rather the assumptions in the first list?  You would have a totally different education system.  In some ways, it might be like the change in business models from mass production to mass customization.  We would still have a public education system, but it would be customized to meet the individual needs of each student.

“Given the rapid rate of change, the old paradigm of one-off education followed by a career will no longer work: life-long learning is a must, and it is up to governments and employers to invest in training and for employees to commit to constantly update their skill set.” — Alain Dehaze

student failureMany young people who are now either lost in the present system of schooling or who are ill-served by it would be rejuvenated and excited again. Classrooms would no longer be places where the concept of discipline permeated every minute of instruction.  There would be no such thing as failures or dropouts.  No such thing as staying back or not passing.  No detention or hall monitors.  Vocational education, music, art, and drama would be as important as reading and math and science.  Poor kids would get the same education as DISCPLINErich kids.  All kids would find joy and fun in their education since it would be designed to meet their needs and interests and unique abilities.  People from two to ninety-two would be able to receive the education and knowledge they need to be effective members of society regardless of whether they had yet begun to work or had retired.  Education would be for life.  Public funding would be provided throughout a person’s lifetime.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” — John Dewey

Some will read this blog and call my vision either Pollyannish or unrealistic.  I have spent many hours arguing with people over the need for change in our education system.  There is nothing unrealistic or even idealistic about my vision.  It does not represent an ideal.  It represents a decision.  Either we are going to have an education system that benefits all of our citizens or we are going to have a system that only benefits a few.  It is not an ideal.  It is a choice we can make.  Do we have the determination to change a failing system and to look beyond the norms of the past?  Can we take our mental model of education and exchange it for a new model of education?  Either we are going to progress, or we are going to decline.  The direction we go will be based on what we do with our education system.

Time for Questions:

The Socratic Method was based on what?  Why did Socrates feel his method was a better one to instruct his students?  What is “Critical Thinking?”  Do we teach “Critical Thinking” in our schools?  Do you know?  Do you think we should?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

What is wrong with education today? Part 1

Creativity-vs_-Formal-SchoolingMy father always put a great store in my getting an education.  I am not sure if my mother could have cared less.  However, from an early age, it was my dad who always looked at my report cards and wanted to make sure that I was doing well in school.  Oddly enough, his interest in education did not seem to entail putting away any money for college. I remember quite well sometime before I finished high school when I told my dad “I would like to go to college.”  His reply was “Great, good luck.” No mention of money, no talk about how it could happen financially.  Realistically, it was rather a moot point. Most of my high school teachers disliked me; my grades were abysmal, my SAT scores below average and my desire to attend college was well below my desire to party and score with the “chicks.” (Please note this was a colloquialism of the times)

Thus, the future was clear.  The time was 1964.  The Vietnam War was looking for bodies and the military would take anyone who could still breathe.  I checked out the uniform options and decided (with limited knowledge) which uniforms might be the best “chick” magnets.  Based on this rather biased assessment, I decided to join the Air Force and enlisted for four years.  During this time, I partied, drank, read, exercised, partied, drank, read and did less and less exercise.  I honestly cannot say whether my uniform attracted the “chicks”, but I did not seem to want for drink or sex, the two most important things in my life at the time.  One thing not on my radar was “school.”

Often, other enlistees would ask me about attending classes or going nights to a local college.  “John, if we get enough guys interested, we can have Professor So and So come out to the base to deliver the class.”  My typical answer was “Professor So and So can shove his class, I am not interested.”  I managed to stay away from any education for my entire four years (One notable exception being my AFSC training school.  I will talk about his situation in a later blog.) When I married my first wife in 1967, I informed her I had no desire to attend college or ever set foot in a school again.  High School had been enough torture for me.  My favorite class in HS was detention where all the other goof-offs went and we could have a swell time finding creative ways to harass the detention monitor.

I should note a fact here.  I am the only member of my immediate family who ever went to college, not to mention obtaining a Ph.D.  Not my mother, father, brother or two sisters and hardly any of my first cousins, nor aunts, uncles and other relatives ever set foot in a college.  I have subsequently found a long lost and now deceased cousin who also received his Ph.D. but a college education was certainly not typical in my family.  It was rather like getting a winning lottery ticket. It was something that everyone espoused as a greater good, but few if any every obtained a degree or even thought about what it took to get a degree.

At this point, I am boring you with the history of my life and you are probably wondering why and where this story is going?  I want to show you that education was not something that was part of the woof and warp of my existence.  Unlike many people today, I did not have any chart memorized that showed how much a college degree versus no college or versus a high school diploma would be worth. In fact, I would venture to maintain that most of the people I knew in the sixties went to college simply because they wanted to get a liberal arts degree and sincerely believed that Higher Education would make them a better person.  The Democratic Liberal Arts Paradigm was still dominant in education at the time as opposed to what I call the Technocratic Function Paradigm that now dominates education. Today, students by a large margin, go to school to get jobs, make more money and have a planned career. This was not the case in the 60’s.  One is not better than the other as a motive, just different.

Ok, time for questions.  I will continue this blog next week.

What are your beliefs about the value of education?  Do you think older people are wiser than younger people? Does aging lead to wisdom? Does education lead to wisdom?  Can young people be wise and old people be fools?  How much is a Higher Education worth?  Do we have an education bubble in this country?  Should we have free Higher Education for all qualified students?  Should we allow students to leave High School to perform community service or join the military?

Life is just beginning.

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