Creating a Twenty First Century Education System

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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.  We no longer have a democratic education system.

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 underfunding 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 Pollyannaish 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.

 

 

Endless Horizons:  How We Learn and Develop

horizons and clouds

I have a theory about life and about how we grow as individuals. I call this my theory of “Endless Horizons.”  I developed this theory through experience and observation.  I would like to share it with you this week.  It has been a big inspiration in my life and provided a great deal of motivation for me in my journeys.  It involves the ability to accept the unknown but with a difference that is important.  Whereas many theories posit an “unknown and unknowable,” my theory says that what is unknown may just possibly be “over the next horizon.”  Let me explain more.

Once upon a time, I believed that what we see, feel, taste and smell was all that there was.  It did not get any better or worse than what I was already experiencing.  I was usually a very angry guy.  I was ready to physically fight at the drop of a hat or some perceived slur or insult.  My temper and lack of anger management got me into a lot of trouble.  I was arrested for assault and battery.  I had more fights than I can remember.

“Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth and personal achievement and begin to replace youth with wisdom, innocence with understanding, and lack of purpose with self-actualization.” — Bo Bennett

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Perhaps worse was the constant state of fear that it kept my first wife and daughter in.  I never realized how hurtful my temper and lack of anger control was to them.  From my throwing things, to yelling and punching walls, I was like a volcano that might explode at any moment.  Even my sleep time was violent.  I was constantly having nightmares of someone chasing me and trying to kill me.  I would wake up drenched in sweat with my pulse racing a mile a minute.

My first wife and I divorced after sixteen years.  My daughter who was fifteen at the time eventually cut off all contact with me.  I have not seen or talked to her for over twenty years now.

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“Building a better life for every child is a lot harder than becoming a world champion. Both goals take dedication and commitment.” — Kim Yuna

I knew I needed some help and I joined a treatment program for violent and abusive men.  About ½ of the men were in treatment voluntarily and about ½ were court ordered.  It was sponsored by the Wilder Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I completed the program (which met weekly) for about 16 weeks. After that I continued with a support group for another two years or so.  The support group also met weekly and was restricted to men who had finished the regular treatment program.  I had a buddy (Jerry) whom I could call if my temper flared up.  Jerry was part of my process or control plan for dealing with my anger issues rather than acting out.  There was more to the plan that included walks and other means of cooling off. 

I do not know whether my marriage would have been saved if I had gone through this program earlier.  I do know my wife would have been a lot happier and my daughter would probably still be speaking to me.  Another thing I know is that my nightmares went away.

Getting back to my “Endless Horizon Theory,” I first observed it in the anger support groups that I went to weekly.  Before coming to these groups, most “angry” men were in denial.  It was always, “they or she made me do it.”  “It was not my fault.”  The horizon of most men in terms of their awareness of themselves was very short.  After they went to treatment, they made it to a new horizon of sorts.  From this new horizon, many men could now understand that it was their fault not the fault of others around them.  If they chose to, they did not have to go through life angry, violent and abusive.  Standing at the horizon of having accepted their responsibility for their anger, they could see a new horizon.  This horizon was one of equanimity and if not happiness, at least not misery.  The support groups offered a way to get to this next horizon.  As they say, “Rome was not built in a day.”  Well, dealing with anger problems involves a trip of years.  It would not be an easy journey for many of these men.

I stayed in the group for nearly two years.  Many of the men I met during these two years were also long-timers.  Our support group seemed to grow together as friends and comrades along the journey.  I think many of us made it to the next horizon.  When I arrived there, I saw another horizon just beyond the one I had reached.  We had all assumed that the best we could get would be a life without being constantly angry and explosive.  When I came to this new horizon, I began to understand that there was more that I could accomplish.  The next horizon promised happiness and a positive outlook to life.  Many of us had gone from a negative outlook on life to a neutral outlook and now saw a horizon that promised a positive outlook.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

Unfortunately, the Wilder Center did not see that as the role of these support groups.  They saw their mission as helping to curb domestic abuse.  They did not see their mission as helping men grow and develop beyond their ability to control their anger issues.  With the lack of support and even hostility towards our new goal, many of the long-termers in my group simply quit and went away.  I kept in touch with a few men, but the years have melted these relationships away. 

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.” — N. R. Narayana Murthy

I realized that when I reached one horizon, I could now see beyond it to a new horizon. It was clear to me that there was possibly an infinite number of new horizons.  If one has the tenacity, discipline and determination, there is no end to the development that we potentially can reach.  Another experience gave me more proof for my theory of “Endless Horizons.”

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My second wife Karen and I have both been to two Marriage Encounter weekends.  We went to our first Marriage Encounter weekend about five years into our marriage.  The second weekend was about ten years after the first.  Both weekends had very positive impacts on our marriage, friendship and lives.  My horizon theory was further strengthened by events that happened at both weekends.  I will relate the events at the first weekend.

I was long past worrying about anger issues by the time of our first Marriage Encounter weekend.  I had been trying to be more tolerant of Karen and some of the things that she did that annoyed me.  I had reached what I will call a Horizon of Tolerance.  I thought I was doing pretty good when I could practice tolerance.  When I could not, I would be sarcastic, rude and frustrated.  We went to the first weekend as a means of improving our marriage.  I will forever be grateful to the organizations and volunteers that put these weekends on.  We have found that both these weekends helped us to be better lovers, parents and friends.

Well, during the first weekend, we were having some discussion about the issue of tolerance.  I was pretty pumped up because I thought I was doing pretty good with dealing with this issue.  I made the remark that I thought I was very tolerant.  The response I received caught me by surprise.  It was something to the effect that tolerance falls short of respecting the other person. The speaker explained that tolerance simply accepts what is.  Respect on the other hand sees the benefits and appreciates the value of what is.  There is a significant difference between respect and tolerance.  For instance, we can tolerate minorities or people who are different than we are but that is not the same as respecting them.

I was confronted with a new horizon for my relationship with Karen and our marriage. Again, I realized that this new horizon further supported my “Endless Horizon” theory of growth and development.  I had finally accepted (and thus my theory was born) that there is an endless number of horizons.  Each horizon presents a new possibility for growth.  We cannot see beyond our present horizon, but we can be sure that something new will await us once we reach it.

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”  — Napoleon Hill

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What does it take to reach a horizon?  I said earlier that you must have determination.  It helps to have support and coaching along the way.  As the song says, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  It also takes commitment to keep trying.  There are lots of potholes along the way. There are dead-ends.  There are large crevasses, boulders and obstacles to overcome.  There are no straight flat highways to the next horizon.  It is not a straight-line journey.  There are times when you will get lost and times when you will go backwards.  But the journey is not to the fittest but to the ones who are most determined.

Time for Questions:

What horizon are you at in your life?  What new horizons have you found in your life’s journey?  What obstacles have you had to overcome?  Have you given up on finding new horizons or are you still searching for new horizons?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“The journey is never ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.” — Antonio Brown

What is the One Thing that is Hardest to Find in Life? 

What is the one thing that we all want in life but that we can’t buy or pay for?  We can live a life without it but we will end up feeling like we only lived a shell of a life.  We can chase all over the world for it but we will sometimes end up finding it in our back yard.  We can live a life with security and comfort and never find it.  We can settle for the mundane but we will regret that we did not have the courage to grab it when it was in our reach.  Sean John says “Life without passion is unforgiveable.”  You can buy his cologne for fifty dollars an ounce but it will not give you passion.  Most of us will never have passion in our lives.  We might think a one night stand or our favorite team winning the Super Bowl or taking a trip to some exotic land is passion but deep down inside of us we know that these activities are only surrogates for passion.

The saddest people I’ve ever met in life are the ones who don’t care deeply about anything at all. Passion and satisfaction go hand in hand, and without them, any happiness is only temporary, because there’s nothing to make it last. ― Nicholas Sparks

You can climb Mount Everest.  You can dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  You can get a Ph.D. degree but you can never get passion simply by accomplishing things.  Passion is not a fad or a commodity.  You can’t buy it in Walmart or find it on top of the Empire State building.  Most of us do not grow up with a desire for passion.  We do not even know that it is missing in our lives.  Passion gets smothered in us when we are very young.  It is extinguished before it can be ignited.  Passion scares people.  Authorities and parents both fear passion.  The passionate person is a juvenile delinquent.  Early on, parents, teachers and others wage a campaign to destroy the roots of passion in children.

Sex is the consolation you have when you can’t have love ― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Someplace deep inside all of us, the embers of passion still burn.  We go through life thinking that there must be more to it then what we are experiencing.  We look for God.  We look for Ghosts.  We look for love.  We look for things but still they do not bring us the passion that we crave.  Some spark must be ignited in us to rekindle our passion.  When they speak of quality, they say that you will know it when you see it.  However, you can’t see passion.  You have to feel passion.   We know it exists because from time to time, we can get a glimpse of it in others.  The passion that we sometimes see in others thrills us to the bone and leaves a certain degree of incredulity in its wake.  We know we are missing something that seems unfathomable to us.  Greatness and passion seem to comingle.  Does greatness produce passion or does passion produce greatness?

I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.”  ― Aldous HuxleyBrave New World

Hollywood is perhaps the most frequent purveyor of passion.  We get our impressions of passion from our Hollywood idols and movie stars.  Passion is pervasive in Hollywood.  From superheroes saving the world to unrequited love romances to tales of great daring, we glimpse a world where passion is the norm.  A world where passion is as common as grass.

There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” — Nelson Mandela

Looking at passion from a theoretical perspective, (something rarely done) we can see that there are three areas in which we can inspire passion.   These conform to our three life components.  We can be passionate about ideas or thinking.  We can be passionate about doing or activities and we can be passionate about feelings.  What about things you may be asking?  I will argue that we cannot really be passionate about things.  Hard core motorcycle riders usually care more about riding their bikes than they do looking at them.  Trophies, money and even fame are ephemeral and rarely suffice to infuse passion in anyone’s life.

Maybe the bike is more dangerous, but the passion for the car for me is second to the bike. — Valentino Rossi

People who are passionate about ideas are intriguing.  We find that they have a love for the mind and all things cerebral.  We may not understand their theories and concepts, but we are fascinated by the premises and hypotheses that they can spin out.  History has shown that a key element of progress lies in the intellect that a civilization can bring to its culture.  The Jews, the Greeks and the Chinese each stand out in our minds with their history of great thinkers from Abraham and Maimonides to Socrates and Plato to Confucius and Lao Tzu.  These cultures had a deep respect for the ideas and philosophies of its great thinkers.

Some of us are passionate about books, education, museums, history, biographies, TED talks, documentaries and other intellectual activities.  We would rather read a good book then go to the Eiffel Tower or the beach.  Our ideal life is of the mind and not of the body.  We no sooner finish one book then we are off to another.  Our dream of heaven is one vast library with no late charges.

You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”  — Steve Jobs

Some people are passionate about their activities.  Great explorers like Marco Polo, James Cook and Zheng He lived for the adventure and excitement of finding new places and new civilizations.  For such adventurers the risk was hardly a consideration given their dreams and desires for discovery.  One cannot imagine anyone undertaking the hazards and deprivations that met these men without a true love for action and doing.  People like this cannot be content in an arm chair reading a good book or sitting in front of a fire place with a family watching TV.

Some of us are passionate about our work or our sports.  We love what we do so much that we would pay our employers to let us do the work that they are paying us to do.  This is what passion means.  To love something so much that you would pay someone to let you do it.  We live for the activity whether work, traveling, sports or a hobby.  Our dream of heaven is an activity that allows us to become intimately involved with the act of creation or the challenge of overcoming some obstacle or the chance to exceed some goal.

If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.”  — Mia Hamm

Our final passion involves the realm of feelings.  We usually think of passion as connected to sex.  We have watched the all night love affair of two Hollywood stars as they undress and ravage each other in a fit of what one might call sexual frenzy.  We marvel at their physical dexterity.  Two bodies engaged in positions that would challenge the authors of the Kama Sutra or even tax a painters abilities to portray.  And to think, that after they are done, they start over again until the sun begins to dawn on another day.

“When I touched her body,
I believed she was God.
In the curves of her form
I found the birth of Man,
the creation of the world,
and the origin of all life.”
― Roman Payne

But sex is only a small part of what emotional passion can be.  Passion can involve feelings of all sorts.  People who are deeply passionate about their emotions feel things that the rest of us do not.  They feel the joy and pain and sorrows of other human beings.  They experience the highs and lows of existence.  They live a roller coaster of feelings that range from happiness to sadness.  They do not let the pain of empathy discourage them from identifying with the feelings around them.  Perhaps the greatest fear that people of feelings have is the fear of apathy or indifference.  People who are passionate about their feelings live for harmony and rapport with others.

People who live a life of passionate feelings dream of a heaven that will be populated by all the people that they have known in their lives.  They want to see all their old friends, relatives and loved ones.  They dream of making amends for the wrongs that they have done to some and sharing their love and compassionate hearts with all others for infinity.

Time for Questions:

What are you passionate about?  Do you have enough passion in your life?  How could you have more passion? What would happen if you tried to live a more passionate existence?

Life is just beginning.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”  — Maya Angelou

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