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) http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120405/wesleyan-president-money-anxiety-corrupting-higher-ed?utm_content=buffer3be02&utm_medium=social&utm_source=nfrb&utm_campaign=20150803))
“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) https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/photos/a.102107073196735.4429.102099916530784/1045192165554883/?type=1&fref=nf
“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?