Monthly Archives: August 2015

Re-thinking Purpose and Roles in Education>Training>Development>Skills

Sometimes new input comes in waves. When that happens it’s hard to ignore no matter how strong preconceived notions may be.

I have not been a fan of the US education system. It is unresponsive to the needs of the real world and graduates are completely unprepared to go to work. So they are very likely to struggle on their first job and all-too-often fail. One of my pet projects over the past fifteen years is code-named Real-world Prep School, an enhancement to traditional education. It is designed to do what the pet name says. I’m convinced it would contribute toward saving the world, but the rules and definitions keep changing on me!

The more you study the more you learn, the more your understanding grows. Targets change.

A friend of mine shared an article that is really working hard to change my thinking. I do agree with the article that a broad, liberal education is critical for real-world preparation, a.k.a. “life”. Educators educate, when they’re not doing research or writing articles and books. But who or what prepares students for work?

How about this deal? If the private sector is grousing about the lack of qualified candidates, they should be the workplace prep instructors for those allegedly unqualified candidates. “Don’t bring me problems, be part of the solution”.

I’ve been guilty of having blinders on, of not seeing the truly systemic potential. We need to re-think the purpose and roles of the entities involved in education, training, development and workplace skills training.

First, a proposed macro goal for the full cycle of education > training > development > skills:
Provide every child, youth, adolescent, adult and senior (every human being, all ages!) with every opportunity to be all they can be.

Second, a little WIIFM to entice the private sector to partner with education: it’s Payback Time! Forward-thinking companies that nurture their employees’ and local community’s development get something in return, and it’s nothing to sneeze at: (1) a more highly engaged workforce—major bottom-line payback; (2) the highest regard in the surrounding community—image, branding, CSR; (3) elite status as employer-of-choice—current employees tend to stay, new candidates stand in line to get in—huge impact on both retention and recruiting; (4) a culture built on an absolutely solid foundation shaped by integrity and social consciousness; and (5) a deep talent pool stocked with healthy, readily available job candidates. Barring major marketplace meltdowns, this is a surefire strategy for sustainability.

Third: WIIFM for education system owners to play along. Squirrels climb trees, rabbits run. Let the Rabbits Run. Why do we expect our academic experts to be job trainers? That’s as silly as expecting rabbits to learn how to climb trees. Educators educate. More later!
Another carrot for educators: when education is perceived as providing maximum value and attaining goals, the theory is they will (or should!) receive maximum reward. Money talks, BS and MBA walks.
A few excerpts follow from the article my friend shared that got this train on the track: (From College Shouldn’t Prepare You for Your First Job. It Should Prepare You for Your Life)

“If we make money the object of man-training,” W.E.B. Dubois wrote at the beginning of the twentieth-century, “we shall develop money makers but not necessarily men.” He went on to describe how “intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and the relation of men to it—this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life.” A good pragmatist, DuBois knew that through education one developed modes of thinking that turned into patterns of action. As William James taught, the point of learning is not to arrive at truths that somehow match up with reality. The point of learning is to acquire better ways of coping with the world, better ways of acting.
      Pragmatic liberal education in America aims to empower students with potent ways of dealing with the issues they will face at work and in life. That’s why it must be broad and contextual, inspiring habits of attention and critique that will be resources for students years after graduation. In order to develop this resource, teachers must address the student as a whole person—not just as a tool kit that can be improved. We do need tools, to be sure, but American college education has long invited students to learn to learn, creating habits of independent critical and creative thinking that last a lifetime….
      .…In the nineteenth century, Emerson urged students to “resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism.” He emphasized that a true education would help one find one’s own way by expanding one’s world, not narrowing it: notice everything but imitate nothing, he urged. The goal of this cultivated attentiveness is not to discover some ultimate Truth, but neither is it just to prepare for the worst job one is likely to ever have, one’s first job after graduation.”
(The New Republic Nov 26 2014 by Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University)

More Input! Just In, From Humans of New York–(Pakistan Style)

“Education changed the lives of my entire family. Before education, we knew only how to work. It was always very quiet in our home. My grandfather was a laborer, but he paid to send my father to a tutor so that he could learn to read. He told my father that, if nothing else, he should begin by learning how to read and write his name. When I was born, my father taught me how to read. I started with local newspapers. I learned that our village was part of a country. Then I moved on to books. And I learned that there was an entire world around this mountain. I learned about human rights. Now I’m studying political science at the local university. I want to be a teacher.” (Hunza Valley, Pakistan)

The first of many great reader comments: “Imagine what he will pass on to his own children.” Imagine, indeed.

(should end Part One here and do a follow-up, but plowing ahead if you’ll hang with me…)


Proposed: A New System
Repeat: don’t bring me problems, offer solutions. Following is a humble, rough offering that is begs for your input. Just a couple of starter thoughts….

Levels of Learning, Talent and Strength vs Age / Grade Segregation
The draft list of topics as they are roughly grouped below could be inaccurately perceived as following learner age, the traditional model of “Johnny is this old, therefore he’s in that grade”. When Johnny doesn’t keep up with others his age and grade level, he may get “special needs” attention. Or, he may get passed upward through the system anyway, especially if Johnny is a star athlete. In the private sector it’s called pencil-whipping. Or book-cooking.

On the flip side, if Johnny is exceptional in a particular subject, or advanced all the way around, some rare and exceptional programs will leverage Johnny’s abilities as a gifted learner. But typically, Johnny gets bored at the level he is stuck in, or he effortlessly breezes through a subject while others struggle. Because he’s gifted and not “a problem” Johnny doesn’t get the attention other students get. Johnny’s drive and ability soon dims, and we achieve our sacred standard results from the mediocrity-nurturing process. NCLB can mean No Child Gets Ahead too.

The age / grade segregation paradigm must be abandoned!

The more sensible way: learners progress through a matrix of topics, mastery is demonstrated before the learner moves on to the next. Eliminate the artificial age / grade boundaries and group learners with others at a similar level of capability and achievement. The group is challenged with as much learning as the learners can handle, and learners progress when they have demonstrated readiness.

If you’re still with me, need your input, please!

A Little Help…What are the Topics, by “Level”? Here’s just a little to salt the mine, with traditional education levels referenced as an anchor only!

(ONE-Earliest Learners. Preschool) Learning to learn; creative exploration; early social skills—sharing, teamwork, collaboration.

(TWO-Early Elementary) Social and civic skills; progressive social skills—values and normalizing factors; self-awareness (other strategies for growth and personal success: empathy / emotional intelligence, volunteerism, inclusion, global citizenship); physical and spiritual well being.

(THREE-middle through high school) Progressive expansion of earlier subjects (ref TWO); researching and analyzing information; technology toolbox; higher-level problem analysis and resolution; communication and interpersonal skills;

(FOUR-“Higher” Education) Deep-dive into the humanities and understanding the human condition; engagement / motivation theory, spirituality, global awareness; the impacts of philanthropy and volunteerism, significant project completion required. This level has little to do with workplace skills prep, beyond stuff like macro economics to understand at systems-level.

(FIVE-finally, workplace skills) Meaningful skills development does not happen in a vacuum, it takes hold only when there is a focus, a purpose. What good does skills development do if it is not to be used immediately and if it doesn’t meet a real need?

A Little More Help…Who are the SME’s Best Suited to Provide Guidance for Each Topic?
Hint: squirrels climb trees a whole lot better than rabbits. Let the Rabbits Run.

Align! Leverage the strengths of the providers, promote ownership among a broad coalition of local educators, private sector and community leaders, coordinate efforts.
Align Some More! Approach and goals must be consistent among topics and levels. EX: if we preach and teach creative exploration in early education, we can’t turn around and demand conformity and standardization later!

Start Local, One Pebble Into One Pond!

There’s no need to pass national legislation. A local alliance among community leaders, education and the private sector can reshape the local mountain range.

A solid education system is a catalyst for economic and community growth: young couples move to areas with progressive education opportunities for their kids, companies relocate to areas with an innovative education infrastructure that provides a highly skilled work force. The economic strength of the community grows and overall well-being and quality of life for its citizenry grows as well.

How can you say “but that’s not possible” to an ‘everybody wins’ opportunity like that?


First Nation Beliefs- Personal, Organizational Relevance

(Disclaimer! This is long as it covers a lot of ground, all related. I’ll venture a guess that you’re either going to like it all, or not like it at all. Let me know what’s on your mind either way!)

But ya doesn’t has ta call me “Chief”! Even though I’m well over 6ft (OK, used to be) with green eyes and blond hair (again, used to be), I am allegedly part Native American. My last generation that would know first-hand chose not to talk about it. Back then there was a stigma assigned to those who associated with godless savages, but in spite of the silence there are early, early photos of a family reunion on the prairie, with familiar ancestor surnames written on the back. Several in attendance sported suspiciously Native-looking dress and had distinctly Native features.

Right….if they were pictures from a Halloween party, kudos to the props and makeup team.

Something about the Native American—the First Nation—beliefs system and simple but sophisticated spirituality has always gripped me. My real awakening came in the early seventies at the University of Iowa and I had a chance to study Native American Literature through the Writers’ Workshop. The professor wore buckskin-fringed desert knee boots and shortly most of the students did too. We sat cross-legged on the floor in a circle for classes. We learned the finer points of story-telling. We listened to long recordings of Native music in the pitch-black orchestra room.

We read and discussed several classics, Black Elk Speaks and Seven Arrows among them. And we explored the First Nation’s beliefs system in great depth, total immersion mode. That one-semester experience kicked my Vision Quest off in earnest.

Personal Perspective. I had twelve years of Catholic education. Result: I cannot buy into any formal, dogma-laden religion, Catholic or otherwise. Man-made interpretations and human-authored rules are behind too many wars and petty disagreements haunting us—people killing people in the name of my religion? Please. But I am highly spiritual; I live by a very strong personal beliefs system that I’ve later learned quite accidentally borrowed elements from the mainstream religions: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism… and Native American. To me, deep down the core values and beliefs are all compatible. Human-created dogma is the trouble-making differentiator.

BUSINESS and ME, INC. IMPACTS! For my day job I study and practice human behavior as it relates to organizational and individual development. I’ve had two major “aha” moments along the way, both are substantiated by tons of studies and data:
1. We all want to leave a legacy. We need a purpose in our life, we need real and relevant meaning, a feeling that we are somehow earning our way. We need to know we are making a meaningful contribution toward the greater good. All of this just oozes higher-order spirituality. Impact and Legacy have become essentials in my vision statement.
2. Humans are social creatures (we’re pack animals!) and we are driven to connect with not only our world but with others around us. We need a sense of community, of belonging. We must be part of something important and “bigger” than me alone. The alternative: gang membership and, even worse, radicalization becomes extremely appealing to both young and older disenfranchised people who have been given nothing better to belong to or believe in. A true, full-time Lone Wolf human animal is a little bit sociopath…or a lot. Again, a higher-order level of spirituality is in play.

Both of those ‘ahas’ have sky-high relevance for organizations. Companies that tap into these two spiritual motivators are rewarded with (1) a more highly engaged workforce (major bottom-line payback!); (2) the highest regard in the surrounding community; (3) elite status as employer-of-choice (candidates stand in line to get in) and (4) barring major marketplace meltdowns, nearly guaranteed long-term sustainability because their culture is on an absolutely solid foundation.

These two ‘ahas’ are also wildly important for individuals. They ensure longer, healthier, less stressful and more productive lives. Google Blue Zones and check out the research, studies and findings—it’s not just my opinion, it’s well-researched and well-documented.

Two-level challenge, I seriously hope you take this personally and professionally:
(1) companies and their leaders have a moral obligation to promote those two ‘aha’ points among their employees in the spirit of true servant leadership, corporate social responsibility and impacting the greater good. Those long-view organizations that do so will be rewarded with insanely better bottom line results and that other good 1-4 stuff mentioned earlier;
(2) Each of us has the potential to have a real influence on others…see “The Ripple Effect–One Pond, One Pebble”. Talk about impacting the greater good!

Back to the First People.

Bet you’re wondering how this is all connected, aren’t you? Following is a sampler of key Native American beliefs. I’ll leave it to you to establish organizational and personal relevance. It’s there. Self-discovery is the most effective learning experience there is!

Vision Quest. People on a spiritual path—their Vision Quest—know they are here for a reason but may not yet know what it is. The journey is all about finding that purpose and understanding their intimate connection with the Medicine Wheel. “We want to know what we need to accomplish in life for our highest benefit, and, in turn, the benefit of the world….The most important thing is being clear in your heart as to what you are seeking for yourself and the people of the world.”

Circle of Life, Medicine Wheel  The Native American beliefs system and spirituality is based on inter-connectedness of all forms of life and the relationship of all living things with Mother Earth in a circular / cyclical / systemic relationship. An early precursor to systems thinking: to understand the parts one must examine the whole.

The Circle of Life (from Black Elk Speaks)
“You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.
The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance….Everything the Power of the World does, is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves…. “

So the circle holds a place of special importance. Human beings live, breathe and move, in a continuous cyclical pattern. Every seeker’s journey is to find their own harmonious way of traveling through and interacting with that cycle.

This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel. The Circle of Life / Medicine Wheel are based on the four directions: North, East, West and South with each having special attributes, a way of perceiving things. Those on their Vision Quest explore all four, seeking to thoroughly understand their place in the world and make their own deep connection to The Four Great Ways:

NORTH: wisdom and truth, strength and endurance.
EAST: illumination, the new dawning sky, enlightenment.
WEST: introspection, looking within. Rest, recharge, renew.
SOUTH: warmth and growth after winter is over, a new beginning.

Religion “vs” Spirituality

I’ve been part of a highly engaging online conversation on whether we would be better off without religion and had spirituality in its place. Interesting thoughts, a couple of mine follow.

I have faith, very strong faith. But I do not trust that any religion has “the” direct line to God. And I especially do not have faith that the words of the prophets, whether Jesus or Mohammed or any other you can label as such, were accurately captured, preserved in their original wording and meaning. Humans have mucked that all up by reinterpreting interpretations, sometimes twisting words and meaning for personal / political gain.

One discussion participant issued a challenge to name one good culture that did not have an organized religion governing its norms and values / beliefs system. I offered up the Native North Americans, the First Nation, as an example of a rock-solid and highly spiritual beliefs system that governed a very good people. The First Nation ran headlong into the “white man’s” greed, their need for elbow room and an arrogant, dogma-fueled obsession to tame the godless, savage beasts, saving their souls by giving them “real” religion to replace the pagan rituals.

The level of spirituality and depth of the beliefs system of the early native North and Latin Americans was incredible and flourished prior to conquistadors, colonization and attempts at conversion to Catholicism and other models of human dogma. It was an undeniable way of life, not based on any book. It was shared by an entire people regardless of tribe or location. There were wise old shamans but no prophet mouthpieces serving as middle men with the inside track on communicating with an all-powerful. No one “owned” the Word, it was commonly shared. Everyone told the stories and legends around the campfire with little difference in interpretation. Even my American Indian Lit class was blessed to share in that tradition.

They / we managed to do that because Native beliefs were / are so strong and they were / are a way of daily life, not just dogma or memorized and repeatedly recited words.

(Right turn, Clyde…) Permaculture and Reconnecting. I am an Iowan. We’re blessed with a large piece of land for being in town, living in what was once the farm house whose original family once owned all the surrounding land that was finally sub-divided into mini-suburbia. Our garden plot is where the hog lot was over 100 years ago, still very fertile ground (pig poop is powerful medicine). The past two weeks the green beans have needed picking every other day and now homegrown tomaters are coming in too. Gourmet dining, and it’s all natural. Not quite enough to get me off meat altogether, but close.

The actual growing and consumption of natural, wildly healthier fresh produce is just a small part of the permaculture system and a very small piece of the personal health and psychological benefits in doing so. The systemic / social benefits are incredible too! The greatest benefit to me is what this stands for. My Native blood drives me to fully buy into this notion of reconnecting with Mother Earth and becoming somewhat responsible stewards again.

Right now Mother Earth is crying from the pain we’ve inflicted on her soul, both physical and social. You have to wonder when she will finally give up on her children.

Two Questions for Later…
(ONE) Was the First Nation Gnostic?
Gnostic Christianity and the Myth of Sophia by Bette Stockbauer

(TWO) Where Do We Go From Here?
Decolonizing Humanity by Reconnecting with the Earth