Category Archives: education

RWPS Support: What Can Be

(Preface: if it seems like this jumps all over the place…well, it does. It’s an overview collection of excerpts from several sources, all in support of a community socio-economic improvement initiative titled “Real-world Prep School”. If you’re one of the few I’m having direct conversations with, you have a leg up. If not, see the first two links in “References / Sources” at the end)

Community Objectives

We are vibrant and growing, economically prosperous and emotionally healthy. Our community development model is a magnet for families with children, new employers, and working adults.

  • Whole-life engagement! We have a community-supported education and development system that produces a highly skilled, fully engaged talent pool that is supported and utilized by community-conscious local employers;
  • Community retention and recruiting! “Want In!” New families and businesses stand in line to come here. Young people have a reason to stay, family roots and stability are rejuvenated;
  • Employability of learners and the current workforce is assured by ongoing and meaningful, targeted education and skills updating: timely and relevant preparation to secure a desirable position with an excellent company that is a pillar of the community;
  • Equal opportunity to develop and grow! Each person has the means to reach their full potential along their desired path, maximizing the opportunity for a long, fulfilling life on “my” terms;
  • Strong community-wide relationships! Respect, appreciation and inclusion regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or social / economic stature is the norm and a shared expectation;
  • Well-informed and highly involved community members! The greater good is elevated above individual gain. Community members are fully engaged in civic matters and there is ample opportunity for all to contribute toward community goals regardless of status or position. The community belief: the good of the many outweighs the good of the few…Ubuntu!

What Is “Real-world Prep School”? (RWPS)

RWPS is an application-intensive enhancement to existing grades 5-12 curriculum, balanced between interpersonal skills / social-emotional development, and workplace preparation / hard skills.  Modular topics range from quick-hitter stand-alones to ongoing projects and full-term coursework.

Curriculum is built around topics employers identify as essential foundational skills. Workplace subject matter experts and instructors are utilized when possible. RWPS content is typically unavailable in traditional education; this isn’t meant to compete with education but to complement by collaborating on needs analysis, co-design and delivery to ensures actual workplace needs are met. With all stakeholders pitching in, time and budget burdens are lifted from the over-extended education system.

Workplace Prep and a Whole Lot More. RWPS is the education component of a broad social well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. CAUTION! Some people could be turned off if this is viewed as overwhelmingly big or too weird, or if they think they will be forced to change their nature. So there is little overt attention beyond the primary target of preparing young people for life. But All People is the actual target, including the working adult population and the community’s families. We can only enable systemic change by engaging families, employers, education, legislators, civic leaders…the whole community. We’re all in this together.

A Radical (Unschooling) Lightning Bolt (from 8-2 New Unschooling Two Parter.doc)

It’s widely acknowledged we must do something different in education. We’re zoned in on post-secondary ed availability and attainment and STEM prep, but the real issues are much deeper. Have we elevated the right targets? We can and must do better for the kids, ourselves, the economy, society.

A strange animal called “radical unschooling” (homeschooling on steroids) has incredible potential. But it’s too weird for mainstream, and education establishment would be hesitant to take a chance on adopting even some of the core philosophies that make RU work—not enough research, data or rigor for educators. I’ve been overly critical of what I perceive is the establishment’s conservatism and resulting inability to adapt. Epiphany: is there such a thing as working within the system, is there value in trying to partially win over traditional educators? While it is perceived as such, RU is not an all-or-none, revolutionary replacement of the current, broken system. Coexistence is possible.

What’s Really At Stake?

Personal attainment and life satisfaction, community and social well-being, Improvement, health and prosperity…that’s “all” that is at stake. As social-emotional development of all community members is critical to the greater good, the RWPS model develops adults, not just kids in school. Community-wide vision, goals and action is the key, with a collaborative effort among stakeholders the catalyst: families, education, employers, legislators / local gov’t / civic and community leaders all aligned and involved.

The real drivers are a sub-surface iceberg of human maladies: bullying, harassment, youth (all ages!) suicide; chronic incivility; anemic values and ethics, social and political polarization, hatred, bigotry. Apathy (+) low awareness of civics and issues (+) social disengagement (=) no community involvement.

A key enabler of economic and social stability is the process of norming and socialization, of simply “growing up”. The institutions of family, education and church have lost their influence on young people, there’s too much busyness to accumulate more “stuff”, to give kids a “better life” than what the parent had. We need to redefine “better”. We need, badly, to get to work stitching our social fabric back together. It was once a beautiful quilt, now it’s just a bunch of grease rags on the shop floor.

Tech giant Google studied the relative importance of hard skills and “soft” attributes. It found that “success” has little to do with algorithms, data crunching or search engine optimization. There is a whole arena of “soft” attributes that Google found are even more critical than technical skills. And research shows that priority should be onpeople needs” first: soft before hard skills. We’ve got it backwards! We can do better by at least balancing our attention on both people and process, but we need to acknowledge that people needs are the prerequisite to achieving optimal “thing” results.

Unspeakables (sure hope this doesn’t ruffle feathers, “let me explain….”)

  • The traditional education system is doing too much harm to too many young people. A top cause of the alarming increase in middle school suicide rate is academic pressure to perform and to conform. Add peer bullying to the mix. America sees alarming spike in middle school suicide rate
  • Young people who survive the education system are ill-equipped for college or the workplace, and unprepared emotionally for life. The traditional system isn’t delivering the goods, and the system isn’t designed to respond to pressures to adapt. (Or it won’t change….)
  • Kids cannot perform outside of standard, canned responses, memorized answers. Still, the US is not doing so well by global performance in standard testing.
  • Level of creativity and critical thinking among US youth is plummeting. Peter Gray examines this in As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity, first posted Sep 17, 2012. It’s even more relevant today as the situation has worsened considerably. Creativity and critical thinking are the two most essential new workplace skills, and we’ve lost our edge. US competitiveness and productivity, and economic and social stability are at stake.
  • Our talent pool is shallow and muddy, our ability to compete globally is in serious danger. The private sector guy in me says that’s unacceptable. If it can be resolved why isn’t it a priority?
  • I love my grandkids. If I live long enough to meet them, I’m sure I’d feel the same about their kids. I want to do all I can to ensure they all have a decent world to call home, a safe and fulfilling life. We cannot get there going down the path we’re on. It’s that simple.

     If anything makes Americans stand tall internationally it is creativity.  “American ingenuity” is admired everywhere. We are not the richest country (at least not as measured by smallest percentage in poverty), nor the healthiest (far from it), nor the country whose kids score highest on standardized tests (despite our politicians’ misguided intentions to get us there), but we are the most inventive country.  We are the great innovators, specialists in figuring out new ways of doing things and new things to do.

In the business world as well as in academia and the arts and elsewhere, creativity is our number one asset.  In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs acknowledged this when they identified creativity as the best predictor of future success. It is sobering, therefore, to read Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documenting a continuous decline in creativity among American schoolchildren over the last two or three decades. (Gray blog–above)

(from Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass) Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illness, self-harm, and suicide are increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we have no purpose or meaning in our own lives, and we’ve forgotten the importance of treating each other like human beings. We’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued life. Harsh? Reality usually is.

Future Ready Iowa Alliance: Final Recommendations (Craig’s  comments too)

The most relevant section is #5: Develop a grassroots strategy to engage the business community, sector boards, regional workforce boards, STEM regions and other regional collaborations to align with Alliance recommendations.

A few recommendations have been deleted. (Parenths and italics = RWPS relevant element).

  1. Determine if gaps exist where guidance could be provided to a community or region to assist in the development of a collaborative approach toward workforce initiatives. (RWPS will be a benchmark for FRI participants on how to avoid gaps in the collaborative approach)
  2. (“Sector” focus is too broad)
  3. Ensure playbook includes models and best practices for rural businesses. (define “rural businesses”)
  4. Ensure playbook includes models of best practices to strengthen relationships between businesses and education and build new and expand existing career pathways. (Who “ensures”? Is this work-in-process? How long? RWPS is a benchmark for relationship-building among stakeholders. “Expand career pathways” is integral to RWPS design, and grads have much more flexibility in career capabilities, therefore choices)
  5. Design successful strategies, including:
  6. Identify challenges the business community has in attracting and retaining a qualified workforce, including “soft‐skill” challenges, and engage in collaborative solutions. (Needs analysis and flagging challenges are ongoing, real-time and integrated. RWPS is balanced between soft and hard skills, with emphasis on developing soft skills)

iii. Determine how to best leverage existing solutions such as career pathway development and training, work‐based learning experiences, internships, apprenticeships, and K‐12 career exposure opportunities. (All this is built into the RWPS model)

  1. Utilize local, state, and federal programs that already exist to support challenges identified. (of course! FRI is a valuable benchmarking and occasional as-needed consultation resource)
  2. Support successful work or operations of existing business‐community collaborative. Technical assistance for existing or future sector partnerships and other public private partnerships will be provided by the Department of Education, local workforce investment boards, and other relevant partners depending on the strategy selected. (Support from the FRI system and from RWPS back to FRI, truly symbiotic! The Alliance will be interested in the RWPS model once it starts proving itself!)

Potential types of technical assistance may include: providing private sector with necessary partner to “lead” board; conducting research on solutions/issues at request of sector group; marketing and sharing relevant labor‐market data including local occupational outlook data; recruiting the private sector to participate where gaps exist; inviting supporting entities to participate based on issues identified by employers; sharing statewide best practices and success stories; serving as catalyst or engage a catalyst where public‐private workforce partnerships do not exist. (an eventual endorsement of RWPS from the Alliance would lend credibility to the process. And FRI will benefit from collaborating with RWPS as well)

Where Future Ready Iowa (FRI) Misses the Mark

  1. 70% post-secondary education or training goal by 2025;
  2. Sector or region-based needs are not the most effective education and training design driver. There is a really big, convoluted mashup of agencies and players, yet there is minimal action and results! Culprits besides newness: complexity, overkill, programitis.
  3. STEM and high-paying, targeted industry position targets ignore entry-level jobs, which are the more realistic starting point for a young worker. And it’s dangerous to assume even an advanced degree is a reliable indicator of capability to succeed in a specific position;
  4. Employers are asked to contribute to a broad pool for scholarship / grant funding;
  5. FRI calls for collaboration, but it’s still too silo-oriented with minimal direct collaboration among stakeholders.

Re-calibrating Future Ready Iowa with the RWPS Model (numbers reference above list)

(one) By 2025 68% of Iowa jobs will require post-secondary of some kind. What is the 32%? Goal: 70% of all Iowans with some form of post-secondary academic / trades education / certification by 2025. Education or training in what, to meet which specific needs? College-for-all is too general, isn’t necessary. Too many people spend half a lifetime in debt but still miss the employability mark;

(two) RWPS is locally developed and controlled rather than a not-invented–here program. It’s human nature to more fully support something and commit to its success when you have had front-end input. Future Ready Iowa is a great resource to benchmark, not to blindly embrace and somehow make it fit.

(two) The need is for more local, tighter focus. The RWPS community-based model is scaled down from FRI. It is designed to meet specific needs and directly connects and involves the key players.

(two)  The arm swings the hammer, or thumbs get mashed! Too often, the tool controls the craftsman, if the process is sacred the customers’ and users’ needs become secondary. While it is a good resource, the FRI process / program is complex, and hard to fully embrace without significant assistance;

 

(three) FRI is skewed toward STEM careers in targeted industries. Community colleges are favorable toward trades careers. Iowa’s current core businesses, and greatest immediate and near-term needs, besides agricultural are finance, health, banking…service and information processing. The world economy is shifting. How relevant will mfg be in Iowa by 2025? Service and information may be bigger. STEM is essential to our future, but it isn’t the be-all and we can’t bet the farm on STEM alone.

(three) FRI’s heavy emphasis on post-secondary academic attainment locks learners into a specific area of study, and limits their career options. RWPS develops high-potential people who are socially, emotionally, intellectually prepared for success in a variety of fields.

(three) No academic curriculum can adequately provide job skills for a specific position. Specific job skills are better provided post-placement, by specific employers to meet their specific needs.

 

(four) Business leaders like ROI. FRI asks them to support scholarships / grants for unknown recipients to pursue unknown studies… pretty much throwing money into a dark hole. Contributors may or may not see a direct benefit. RWPS builds relationships with young people in the local community’s talent pool starting in middle school, including early introductions to high potentials. Early exposure increases the likelihood of a better employer-to-candidate cultural fit. Last, high potential learners know they are being “scouted” for a future job, a powerful motivator for learners!

(four) In addition to direct and early interface with their most likely future employees, employers need substantial input to the education / training curriculum and process, and more direct control over their own talent pool preparation. Ongoing input and re-design ensures that needs remain relevant;

 

(five) The workplace must align with coursework, so front-end employer input kick-starts RWPS: defining near-term position skills requirements and realistic expectations for degree attainment.

(five) Employers aren’t done once they provide a list of needs and contribute to funding. Involvement is in-depth and ongoing, from needs assessment to co-design, through co-delivery and determining placements, even internal employer-provided skills training: the handoff must be seamless from academics to workplace, from education to more specific internal training and development;

(five) Education is not well-versed in workplace concepts, tools and techniques. This is not a slam! It’s unrealistic to expect educators to become content and process experts. Easy remedy: Let the Rabbits Run. Leverage strengths, with education and employers collaborating on material design and delivery.

 

SF475 (Omnibus education bill–Iowa): Online Learning

House passed, Senate is assessing. I’m concerned about the online component (see 1 in the bill) There is no successful model to benchmark, even though there’s probably a multitude of vendors hawking their wares…let the buyer beware! Just a hunch from prior experience. See “Diploma Inflation”. 

What’s driving this legislation, why is this being considered? Are we actually headed down this path for HS coursework? From the bill’s language, it appears the legislation is relevant only when online is “the primary” material (?). Pretty gray, need to operationally define: how much is “primary”?

My view: online learning will require substantial up-front investment for system and coursework licensing. The greatest detractor: working online is efficient and convenient, but it eliminates interaction that is so critical to social-emotional development and deeper learning. We don’t need another handy check-box activity to hasten graduation, we need youth development and lasting results.

Efficiency without effectiveness is like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic. (S. Covey)

Defining Preparation and Qualifications

Employers scream and point fingers: “We need better prepared candidates!” But what exactly is “prepared”? System improvement must begin at the front end: what are employers’ real needs, we need better definition and more realistic application of the “degree required” hiring criteria and what learning is provided to whom and when. Goal: provide the right learning to the right people in the right way at the right place and time. Critical first step is to determine needs, at three levels:

  1. Pre-hire attributes and core capabilities: what kind of people are we looking for generally? May be legally touchy as hiring criteria / interviewing questions but should include “soft fit”… culture, vision, values;
  2. Foundational, broad workplace skills that can be provided and practiced pre-hire, in school;
  3. Position-specific skills Training that is much more tightly focused on real needs specific to the position must be provided post-hire and placement. It’s common sense: this type of training will not stick without immediate on-the-job application and reinforcement.

Closing Thoughts This project is my passion. It has evolved for over a decade, it still needs thoughtful, in-depth analysis, needs to make sense to others. It requires the right champions too. I’ve spent considerable time in both education and the workplace. I realize that marrying tradition-bound academians with pragmatic, results-driven managers is an unnatural partnership. I understand both worlds’ issues and needs, and speak both languages. I want to help ensure our sustainable productivity and ethical quality of life, as a shared resource for education, employers, community—a catalyst / liaison who brings the players together for the greater good.


References, Sources

These blogs and articles provide RWPS project background.

 

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Bookends: Early Childhood Development and Diploma Inflation

(Preface)

I’ve been trying mightily to unravel the education -> workplace prep knot one thread at a time, not like any establishment experts will listen to an outsider. But it only takes a little common sense and experience in both sectors to see the disconnects. If you step back and look at the big mess it’s a massive, systemic Gordian Knot. Socio-economic issues, human development ….in my opinion, together these are survival issues as much as environmental concerns.

     This blog addresses the bookends of (1) secondary and post-secondary education and (2) early to middle childhood development. Not separate topics, because they are part of the same systemic mess. We have significant issues in between the bookends too. You have to start somewhere, right? If you’re in a hurry or are only mildly interested, you may not want to even start reading. But if you follow the roadmap of links, a few light bulbs may come on. Please comment: what do you think?

Current State: High School and Post-secondary Education. Young people leave high school woefully unprepared for what awaits them whether it’s college, the workplace or life in general. Employers sing the blues about the skills gap / inadequately prepared talent pool. A college degree is the new high school diploma, with “degree required” stipulated for even entry-level jobs. Young people pile up a lifetime’s worth of student loan debt to earn the ante to the workplace poker game. The kicker for me personally: the education system is proven to cause incredible levels of stress in young learners, leading to mental and emotional problems, drastically increasing levels of self-harm and suicide.

A recent NPR report started with a big “woo-hoo” but went downhill from there. HS graduation rates are nationally the highest they’ve ever been! But there’s a problem: diploma inflation, and it applies to both HS and post-secondary. Simply, a diploma is too easy to get and everybody wants one—employers and learners. A diploma’s real value is diluted, secondary education system upkeep and post-secondary diploma attainment costs are sky-high, and the cost is artificially inflated rather than market-driven, by true demand.

Check-the-Box. In the “good old days” if a student struggled they’d take the dreaded summer school or get extra tutoring. Now, failing students are pulled out of the regular class and are allowed to catch up online at their own pace, typically completing diluted coursework to pass the course and get full credit! It’s not just material issues but the method / system that are also the issue. And the kids know how to work the system.

Here’s a quick example of how online self-paced makeup work goes. Students must spend “x” time in each section before the online course allows them to take that section’s quiz, typically ten multiple-guess questions. More often than not, students can (and do!) goof off for the required time then click through the quiz. After a few rounds, I finally asked “don’t you need to study the material?” Response (laughing): “Why? When you miss a question, they show you the right answer and let you re-take the question.” Each chapter requires 50% to “pass”. Further, if the student has a good enough grade so far in the course some don’t even care if they get the 50% section minimum. Why bother? Just do the time, check the box and move on. No exaggeration, I’ve seen it over and over.

Confession: I’ve taken my share of online re-cert courses. Pricey but at the time it beat the commitment of time to attend the classroom alternative. They were set up the same way…lots of no-brainer material so I’d let the mandatory time clock run while doing more urgent stuff, then take the quiz when allowed. Moral of the story: a “bad” system will tempt good people who are under the gun to short-cut so they can check-the-box when that’s the only expectation that matters.

You get what you pay for…schools get evaluated based on graduation rates. So they’ll graduate people come hell or high water, pushing kids through and out of the system if necessary—we’re done with you, get outta here, ready or not. And under-motivated kids don’t mind the easy checkout express lane either.

You get what you pay for is an old expression in goal-setting and performance management. Measure grad rates, get graduates. I’m not an academically credentialed expert, but I’ve been around performance management most of my professional life. We need new education goals, new metrics, a new definition of “success” beyond Diplomas ‘r’ Us! A few example goals quickly come to mind from this non-expert. Input?

Upon graduation, learners demonstrate their preparedness for:

  1. A post-secondary education in a carefully chosen academic field based on the learner’s goals, which may include a trade or vocational field; or
  2. Entry into the workplace, with a solid foundation of appropriate workplace skills that ensures their employability, then success in an entry-level position where they have the ability to grow within the field.
  3. Most importantly, graduates possess the knowledge, skills and abilities to a make meaningful, positive contribution to society, and to live a successful and satisfying life by their own definition of “success”. Priority!

The real measure of success is assessed two and four years after high school graduation, by tracking:

  1. Enrollment in a post-secondary course of study, two or four year or trade school, with a “C” or better average. Or,
  2. Grads are gainfully employed, measuring ratio of total time / time employed, length of current employment, current hourly earnings and +/- earnings history.

When sufficient data history has been gathered (NOT ten years!), weak points are identified and resolved.

Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Educators and administrators are unintentionally part of the problem.  Most are fully committed to doing all they can and while they may see the issues (they’re living them!) they may be too close to and are swamped with unrealistic expectations, especially given their paltry resources. “But we do that…kind of” and “we do what we can” or other excuses from well-intentioned people, with an occasional admission that stuff is broken and needs fixed. No blame, that’s the reality of the environment.

Employers own a big chunk of the diploma inflation / workforce prep puzzle too–unrealistic “degree required” expectations, abdication of responsibility for the only way true job skills training can happen: at the time and place of need, in the workplace after placement when the skill needs are truly identified and can be immediately applied. Employers abdicating their role is not cost effective, not an efficient means to develop a workforce with the right skills. Alternative: hire high-potentials with the right skills foundation and work ethic. The education system must then shift its goals and efforts accordingly, to produce those outputs.

Diplomas ‘r’ Us. Wherever there’s need, something will fill it…if there’s money to be made. Enter education- for-profit. Lots of degrees wanted / allegedly needed = lots of providers. For a cost a degree can be obtained from the comfort of your home = more diploma inflation: low market value, high cost designer degrees.

Big Picture Impacts, Issues and Actions

Economic Issues: suboptimized productivity, weakened global competitiveness, overwhelming personal indebtedness for student loans used to purchase a worthless product. Social-emotional Issues: stress, anxiety, frustration, hopelessness, lack of purpose. All the above leads to mounting social issues, substance abuse, and harm to self and others from domestic abuse to suicide to mass murders.

 

Goals and Actions, to salt the mine. Comment with your thoughts, please!

Employers:

  • Set realistic “degree required” expectations, especially for entry level jobs.
  • Adjust hiring practices and criteria to value candidates with the right hard and soft foundational skills and who show potential for quickly learning specific skills on-the-job.
  • Assume ownership of fine-tuning your workforce’s capabilities with in-house training at the time and place of need.

Education:

  • Help students find the right fit for either continued education or entry into the workplace, based not just on learners’ aptitude but also based on individuals’ values-based interests.
  • Provide foundational skills development course work based on projected employer needs.
  • Do not side-step social-emotional development!
  • Last, change goals! Graduation rates are meaningless if students are not prepared to “pass” the next phase in their lives, where a failing grade is devastating!

Community: support and collaborate! Education, employers, parents, civic groups all have a vested interest.

Especially daunting is the challenges we face in social-emotional development that must be met with a community wide collaboration. Young people need serious preparation to do battle with life in general….it’s a survival issue for young and old. But for now, here’s a quick look at the other end of the spectrum: early childhood development. Systemic issues impact our economic prosperity and global competitiveness, and more importantly our overall social-emotional well-being.

While this is a huge topic that people are content to leave to educators and other “experts” to resolve, we can’t take a “wait and see” attitude. The need is to minimize noise and weirdness, boost awareness of benefits and minimize confusion, barriers, conflicts….make any effort accessible to John and Mary Everyman.

The Other Bookend: Early Childhood Development

There’s way too much to address in-depth here, so you’ll have to shift into self-discovery mode. Please click and read the links that follow, as I’ve provided only a very high level touch on critical subjects.

(CNN April 18: two links below) After 0-6 the mold is pretty much already cast for life. We are far behind other first world countries in our attentiveness to the needs of those critical years, and guaranteed our short-sighted neglect will catch up to us.

US education system needs help….What needs help the most? The whole system is in disarray. But early childhood development (0-6yrs) is critical.

“Many developed nations now have more than 90% enrollment in pre-K programs, surpassing the US with just 66% enrollment for 4-year-olds. Rising superpowers are making significant commitments to expand access to early education over the next few years, with China promising to have pre-K for every 4-year-old and most 3-year-olds by 2020.”

In the US we choose to mostly ignore early development and, like our STEM obsession, our focus is wrong.

In just a year, New York City had nearly tripled its number of full-day prekindergarten slots. And before they entered their classrooms, Mayor Bill de Blasio crowed about his signature initiative — a key part of a campaign promise to fight inequality, but a goal that has had more than its share of skeptics…one of de Blasio’s comments: The city was planning to use the Common Core curriculum in prekindergarten. A child who’s had the benefit of a full day of rigor, he assured us, would be imbued with a great love of learning.

Rigor for 4-year-olds? What about their social-emotional development, which goes hand-in-hand with cognitive skill-building? What about play, the primary engine of human development?

Unfortunately, it seems like we’re subjecting our young children to a misguided experiment.

See the many articles published in Psychology Today written by Dr. Peter Gray, a psychologist / education expert and long-time proponent of alternative, self-directed education. Here’s your starter: Biological Foundations for Self-Directed Education.

Stuck in the Middle Too

In between the bookends is a plethora of issues and opportunities. See Real-world Prep SchoolThe world is kicking our ass in creativity and critical thinking skills. What happened? It’s not only the how-to job “skills” but our ability to think that is tanked. Read it and weep. US youth’s level of creativity and critical thinking is plummeting as Peter Gray examines in As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity, This was first posted Sep 17, 2012. It’s even more relevant today, and the gap is widening. But education has developed a 21st century skill set, and creativity and critical thinking are well-represented. It’s a start, but there’s a long way to go.

Students can be lost outside of providing canned responses, reciting memorized answers. Creativity and critical thinking are the two most essential new universal workplace skills and by global standards the US is not doing so well. We’ve lost our innovative and economic competitive edge, our ability to even keep up in the global marketplace is in serious danger. The private sector guy in me says that’s unacceptable, it can be resolved. The grandparent in me says it must be resolved.

(from Gray’s blog-above) If anything makes Americans stand tall internationally it is creativity.  “American ingenuity” is admired everywhere. We are not the richest country (at least not as measured by smallest percentage in poverty), nor the healthiest (far from it), nor the country whose kids score highest on standardized tests (despite our politicians’ misguided intentions to get us there), but we are the most inventive country.  We are the great innovators, specialists in figuring out new ways of doing things and new things to do.

In the business world as well as in academia and the arts and elsewhere, creativity is our number one asset.  In a recent IBM poll, 1,500 CEOs acknowledged this when they identified creativity as the best predictor of future success. It is sobering, therefore, to read Kyung Hee Kim’s recent research report documenting a continuous decline in creativity among American schoolchildren over the last two or three decades.

Education is aware of the need for real-world skills development, especially critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity. But those things are outside the academic wheelhouse. Education also seems to be more aware of the power of self-directed learning. Enter project-based learning (PBL). But there are a few hitches, most notably a lack of teamwork skills and project management, among teachers and learners alike. And there is a project management tools and techniques and methods gap between education and the work world. The easiest, most common-sense resolution: enlist subject matter experts from the workplace to work in the class room. Employers need to take ownership of developing their own future talent pool.

Again, reference Real-world Prep School

Early childhood development is a major socio-economic need. It will do no good to focus on secondary and post-secondary improvement without ensuring that our very young learners are being fully developed and are ready. The most important thing we can do is to ensure our children have a fighting chance to survive the challenges of what awaits them, not just workplace skills / employability but social-emotional strength and resilience.

(from Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass) Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment. Society is a mess, we’ve forgotten the importance of treating each other like human beings, human life itself is de-valued and there’s a huge void in ethical leadership to help pull us out of our funk. Current social-emotional development efforts in schools aren’t effective–not deep enough, not frequent enough, no ongoing adult coaching. Hit and miss at best. And we need to reach out to the adult population too, in the workplace and at home.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illness, self-harm, and suicide are increasing across all ages. We have no purpose or meaning in our own lives,. We’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. Harsh? Reality usually is.

A related CNN story, Are we hurting kids at school?

https://www.cnn.com/2015/10/06/opinions/ochshorn-education-performance/index.html

Leave it to Peter Gray to provide a perfect closing statement:

OUR SCHOOLING SYSTEM was designed for a different age, a time when jobs required rote performance and unquestioning obedience, where innovative thinking was considered to be unnecessary or even a liability for the majority of people. Ironically and tragically, rather than adapt our educational system to the needs of our modern times we have doubled down on the old system, so it is harder today than ever before for young people to retain and build upon their natural curiosity and creativity. For the time being, I think, employers may be well advised to seek out those who have bucked the system rather than those who have kowtowed to it. More and more employers are beginning to do so.

 

Been Slammed by Slam Poetry

I had the privilege of observing 7th grade students reading original “slam poetry” compositions. It’s not really poetry, more like free verse. I found out later the students had signed up for the elective class. Those who read their pieces hadn’t had the chance to develop the necessary  comfort zone to infuse the emotional punch of “real” slam poetry. But there was plenty of punch just the same.

From the first line into the first reader, for forty five minutes I alternated between teary eyes and goose bumps, mostly same time. I was hoping, desperately hoping, these were not first-person, fact-based accounts. Four girls (reminder, 7th graders!) were nailing THE top issues for their age. Maybe they were assigned their topics?  While the dramatic interpretation wasn’t quite there, they were too graphically and emotionally convincing in the details of what they shared. The four topics:

  • Step-parent sexual abuse, parental substance addiction;
  • A younger sibling bullied because of his impairment;
  • Frustration, hopelessness, cutting;
  • Dealing with the recent death of a best friend.

I’m almost glad there wasn’t more time, I was emotionally tapped out after just the first share. Those issues…even if these young people weren’t dealing with them personally, it was a gut-punch. These things are probably going on far too often for us to even grasp.

But later that day, I was told every one of the slams was true, actually experienced by the girls who shared them. I talked to the girl who had so vividly and poignantly described how she was sexually abused by her step-father and her addict mother did nothing. She was seven years old at the time. This is not the projects, it’s not a big city horror story. This is a quiet community of 15,000 in the heart of Iowa.

She gave me permission to run her story, without her name of course. I put in a few breaks to help the readability, and bolded those passages she really punched in her reading. That’s all I’ve done—no editing, no correcting. I didn’t dare. You can’t hear her emotion, you can’t see the raw feelings pour out of her face and body almost as if she was reliving what she endured. It tore me up.

************

My mommy was sick. Come to think of it she was always sick. She met another man today. He was nice she said. He was funny. He was good. That’s what you would see about him. But under the covers weren’t so warm. They weren’t so cozy like it looked. It was cold and wet like a murky swamp on an early autumn morning.

He had a beer in his hand so often I  thought it was stuck there.  when mommy wasn’t there, He would get closer and closer to me like a predator does when it hunts its prey. She’d be in the other room “sleeping”.  He looked at me like I was a fresh meat. He swooped in so fast it caught me by surprise. I didn’t know what was happening until it hit me. This nice guy wasn’t so nice but mommy needed him.

He touched me and violated my skin. I will never be untouched by the filthy hands of the monster. I will never feel safe in the arms of a man again. I will never get to feel the comfort a little girl should feel. I will never be able to cleanse my mind of the images the feelings I witnessed in my young once innocent eyes. I will never be able to notice the sunshine on a summer day I used to.

He did that to me. My mommy didn’t notice though because she was too passed out to give a crap! To understand that her baby girl is crying herself to sleep at night and the man she thought she loved was sexually abusing her every night and not even caring because she was busy having a good time being so high she couldn’t walk!

Hours she would spend napping on the couch. I would escape to my friends house whenever i could. At night i would cry myself to sleep trying to get rid of my thoughts that clawed at my brain. I would lie in conflict. Who could i talk to about my issue. That’s what it was right, an issue.  One big issue that no one seemed to notice because they were too high or drunk to care. When i was being tortured i would try to think of a better place to take me away from what was haunting me in this hell hole i called home.

But the thing is there was no better place. I would sit there muffling my sobs letting my body be used for the pleasure of a drunken man who had the power to kill me if tempted. No one will ever understand what I felt. No one can understand how i thought this was all my fault. You never will. But that’s ok. What you need to do is be aware of the pain that hides behind my glossy blue eyes. You need to be aware that i am not a normal girl who walks through life like it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Everyday i would dread going home on a saturday because i knew what would happen when i got home. It would be happy hour for him and pills for my mommy. My mommy said she loved me. She said she would die for me. I believed her. But I  realized that if she loved me so much she would be here to protect me. He told me he loved me like a daughter of his own. Why would anyone do such a thing to there daughter! I thought to myself.

Often times i would ask why he did this to me. I asked if all girls had this happen to them.  But my therapist said it was all ok. It stopped. He is gone now. But that was a lie. You’re telling me that he is in jail HE’S NOT!  You’re telling me that i don’t have nightmares anymore I DO! Your telling me that he still doesn’t want every dark corner of my room every crowded area. HE DOES!

You may not feel my pain or know my thoughts but you don’t need to taunt me about it. My mind is a maze of thoughts that swirl around chasing me until i can’t stand it! These thought in my mind are far beyond comprehension. Far beyond normal.   I never had many friends but that’s okay. I have the voices in my head to talk to. I am fine i would say and put on a smile like its ok that i’m being abused. I don’t want to hurt you with my pain so i keep it inside like a volcano that sits and waits and sits and waits and sits… Until i express my feeling that come out like a wildfire a spark turns into crazy flame uncontrollable twisting and turning my thoughts escaping my head, my body i can’t stop.

I think that i’m ok. I keep my thoughts to myself. He broke me. He broke my mind. My sense of safeness.

Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?

I Had a Dream Last Night…

….a wickedly delicious dream. My small town had somehow pulled together an all-stakeholder collaboration complete with shared community vision, ethics and goals. We had even taken significant coordinated actions with no infighting, no control freaks, no country clubbing. That alone was strange.

What is this thing called “Real World Prep School”? It looked like education, employers, parents, community, civic leaders—all the players—were doing their part, shifting delivery and budget burden away from the overextended education system. Collaborative needs analysis, co-design and delivery by employers, community leaders and educators ensured actual workplace needs were met. It was working…our town was booming! I saw a banner at City Hall, kind of a vision statement-looking slogan:

We are a vibrant, economically and emotionally prosperous community. Our model of development is a magnet for economic growth, attracting families with children, new employers, and working adults to our community.

A smaller wall chart beside the banner had the header “Shared Community Objectives”. As I read the bullets I said out loud “is this Utopia, or what?” At the very least it seemed to be a great environment for families, employers, the whole community to grow. The objectives:

  • Whole-life engagement! We have a world-class talent pool: highly skilled, fully engaged, fully utilized by local employers;
  • Community retention and recruiting! New families and new businesses standing in line to join us. Our generational roots and stability are rejuvenated as young people have a reason to stay;
  • Employability among learners and the current workforce is assured. Free and meaningful “higher education” and skills updating for adults is provided with targeted, relevant topics leading to a great position with an excellent company that is a pillar of the community.
  • Equal opportunity to develop and grow! Each person can reach their full potential along their desired path, maximizing the probability of a long, fulfilling life on their own terms;
  • Strong relationships community-wide! Mutual respect, appreciation and inclusion are the norm, regardless of gender, ethnicity, nationality, or social / economic stature;
  • Well-informed and highly involved community members! The community’s greater good is held above individual gain, and citizens are fully engaged in civic matters. There is ample opportunity for all to contribute toward community goals, regardless of status or position as long as the willingness is there. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few. Ubuntu!

Can you imagine? Pinch myself…it’s only a dream. I didn’t want to wake up but I did. I grabbed a pad and pen and scribbled down details before they faded. As I wrote, the fuzzy dream became more clear.  And I got to thinking…“why not?”

Hold my beer, right?


Why would I dream all this? Maybe it has something to do with the nasty issues that had been consuming my waking thoughts for too long. I’ve been deeply involved in repairing potholes in the intersection of Workplace and Education. There are many issues in the interface between the two, or more appropriately the lack thereof. While academic and workforce issues are well known, I’ve documented a few here. But first…Potholes to Repair: Intersection of Education and Workplace (go here and come back…will make more sense)

What’s Really At Stake? (from Kids Bully, Big Kids Harass)

Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, we have no purpose or meaning in our lives and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity. Harsh? Reality usually is.

“Big” targets are a sub-surface iceberg: bullying, harassment, youth (all ages!) suicide; lack of civility anemic values and ethics, social and political polarization, inability to discuss our differences. Apathy, disengagement, low awareness of civics and issues = no community involvement. We can do better.

Real-world Prep School > Community Growth. RWPS is the education component of a broad social well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. “Whole-person / All-person Development” is the macro focus, and it extends into the working adult population and the community’s families.

The Dream Grows Legs: Details

RWPS is an application-intensive enhancement to existing 5-12 curriculum, balanced between interpersonal / social-emotional development and workplace preparation / hard skills.  Modular design ranges from quick-hitter stand-alone lessons to ongoing projects and full-term coursework, all based on employer needs. Learners are coached on how to increase their employability, building portfolios with specific examples of their work. Lessons provide resume-worthy bullets in lieu of job experience.

Initial focus is on high school students who may be unable to go to college, college students nearing graduation or recently graduated; employed, unemployed or underemployed adults needing an upgrade of workplace knowledge, skills and abilities.

The RWPS curriculum consists of topics employers identify as essential foundational skills, and utilizes private sector subject matter experts as adjunct instructors when possible. RWPS is not in competition with education, providing course content unavailable in a traditional education curriculum, and tapping the private sector for much-needed subject matter expertise and adjunct resources.

STEM + SED: Target = Develop People and Save the World

Teaming and STEM-based project assignments are all that right now. But kids are lost when they are assigned to a project team. They have not had the soft skills development needed to ensure success.

A huge concern is bullying and the growing numbers of youth suicides. And bullying morphs into big kid bad behavior…harassment. Society is a mess, there is general disregard for how to treat each other, human life is de-valued and there’s a huge void in ethical leadership to get us out of our funk. Current social-emotional development efforts in education aren’t effective. They’re not deep enough, are too infrequent, have no ongoing adult coaching. And we need to reach out to the adult population too.

Workforce Prep–More Than Job Skills

RWPS coursework is balanced between (1) social-emotional development and (2) mainstream workplace concepts, methods and skills. People before process:

  1. People: purpose / vision, values, social consciousness. Help people develop emotionally and socially; guide learners in personal branding, and in establishing a meaningful connection to themselves, others and their environment. Only then can skills development truly take hold;
  2. Process: toolbox mastery / workplace skills preparation. Provide hands-on experience with mainstream workplace tools and techniques, including direct interface with employers.

It is essential to balance how we prepare learners for the real world. Technology is here to stay, but so is the need for emotionally grounded people. The two are not a one-or-the-other proposition.

Social-emotional development (SED) is typically provided for elementary age kids, if at all, then it stops. Nothing for teens, even though adolescence is a particularly tough road to navigate, with future blues, social issues, peer pressure, raging hormones. Teen years are high-risk and common sense says there should be more and deeper attention given to their social and emotional development.

Employer WIIFM

Employers are a key stakeholder group, and their commitment and direct participation is essential. But there is plenty to gain for them, a hat trick (three!) of benefits in RWPS involvement: (1) additional internal development resources; (2) community CSR that matters; (3) goodwill and connection into their future talent pool, extending into earn while you learn, a highly effective internship program.

Employers develop a workforce committed to strengthening the company and community. A cohesive, sustainable culture grows, and future employees come on board already aligned with the culture and vision. My community is a good example: three employers are green industry and have high turnover, making productivity levels unsustainable. The Green Movement vision: fight environmental destruction especially atmospheric / climate damage, and health problems from fossil fuel production, transport and usage. Go for the jugular by adding “make the world worth living in for your kids.” This shared Green vision could boost retention and recruitment, but it is under-leveraged. Community-wide awareness is the key.

The long-range community and economic development potential: once RWPS is established, it is a highly marketable economic development magnet for additional employers, younger families with school-age children, and working adults (see “Develop People” model). This is CSR on steroids with substantial employer WIIFM. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s good business.

Parting Shots

Workforce skills have been a long-time career focus. I saw the immediate need fifteen years ago and was closely involved in skills development. We also addressed demographic projections due to baby boomer retirements. RWPS is the original focus of my “career crowning achievement”. And I have a real passion for social-emotional development (SED) from extensive involvement in the classroom, but especially because I’m a crazy grandparent who wants to leave behind a better world for my grand kids. RWPS and SED are a powerful combination that can re-engineer this broken society and world.

These wild notions have evolved for over a decade, this project is my passion. It still needs thoughtful, in-depth analysis to make sure it makes sense. I’ve spent considerable time in both education and the workplace. It’s not a natural partnership to marry theoretical, research-based eggheads with pragmatic, results-driven managers. I understand the issues and needs, and speak both languages.

Here’s my greatest frustration. There is so much going on out there, huge initiatives and some of them are really, really good. But they may be just a bit off target here and there, and there’s no real concentrated focus driving things. Even more frustrating: with all the shotgun effort and in spite of lots of people with the best intentions, nothing sustainable is happening!

I want to help bring things into focus and make it happen—a catalyst / liaison who brings the players together, a resource that is shared among education, employers, community. Most of all, I want to be a proud grand parent who is reasonably sure we’ve done all we can to make things right for the next generations.

11-2017 New Model

Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough

The Google Epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or search engine optimization.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded (Google) on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities. (see end: Wa-Po source)

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998.  Project Oxygen and Project Aristotle were the result.

“The seven top characteristics of success at Google are soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” (Project Oxygen report)

“Project Aristotle, a study released by Google (spring 2017), further supports the importance of soft skills even in high-tech environments. Project Aristotle analyzes data on inventive and productive teams.” Findings: “…the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Google people are masters at collecting and analyzing data and translating it into meaningful information. We’re so used to command and control, being shoved in a box, fear of failure…all disengaging and counter-productive…that it’s no surprise the top impact on team effectiveness was  psychological safety: “…a group culture that Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.’’ Psychological safety is ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up…It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” (NYT source)

Project Aristotle has significant intersects with mainstream engagement theory. So all this is nothing new, no big secret. But how do you “do” psychological safety? Another way of saying it: what helps people feel comfortable with fully engaging? These Universal Engagers are a few proven “hows”.

We’ve known it for some time, but are so painfully slow to embrace the obvious. Unless you’re totally on your own or are work-at-home you’d best be good with people and be well adjusted socially and emotionally.  Google stumbled across the keys to organizations, effective teams and people leadership. The keys are standard practice non-secrets. What IS incredible is that a tech giant had this voluntary epiphany that soft stuff is at least as critical as tech skills!

Google is a tech giant, so Project Aristotle’s findings are likely to be relevant to the tech industry overall. Still, Education continues its obsession with filling the STEM hard skills pipeline. There’s still little attention given to social-emotional development, interpersonal skills, stuff for whole-life survival. Education needs to catch up in a hurry, and it wouldn’t hurt to partner with its customers in fully defining needs and meeting them. Our productivity and global competitiveness is at stake, as is quality of life and, even more importantly, our physical and emotional well-being, our love of being happy with our lives.

It’s A Man’s World (NOT!) Silicon Valley has been under fire for a grossly uneven gender playing field and recently, both covert and more subtle gender-based harassment and discrimination (search for “silicon valley good old boy culture” and look around). Remedy: a booster shot of decency in the form of social-emotional development…equal inclusion, understanding, respect, acceptance, dignity for all.

The Google Epiphany alone shouldn’t trigger a mad rush into a significant direction shift in education. But Project Aristotle isn’t the first or the only study to indicate the significance of soft stuff. From the Wa-Po article: Google’s studies concur with others trying to understand the secret of a great future employee. A recent survey of 260 employers …which includes both small firms and behemoths like Chevron and IBM, ranks communication skills in the top three most-sought after qualities by job recruiters. They prize an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization…

STEM skills are vital to the world we live in today, but technology alone, as Steve Jobs famously insisted, is not enough. We desperately need the expertise of those who are educated to the human, cultural, and social as well as the computational.

We cannot dump STEM entirely because we need 21st century technical skills to compete. But we can do better at balancing hard and soft. When should young people as potential employees be trained on specific, necessary hard skills? Each company / situation / position has unique needs and skills, and Education cannot possibly hit so many targets. Why not focus on prepping students to succeed in life in general, to cope with what they will face emotionally and on the job, to be able to adapt and quickly pick up on the specific skills they will need to be a high contributor…but only after the skill gaps are more clearly understood. Hire for the intangibles: potential, the right attitude, soft stuff mastery.

What’s at Stake, Really? From Social Science Fiction

Too many young people suffer irreversible long-term harm, even commit suicide because of pressures they can’t handle. Key triggers: education demands, bullying, growing up in a vacuum. Too many adults are in pain too, suffering from isolation, lack of purpose, workplace pressures, big kid bullying a.k.a harassment.

     Stress, anxiety, formally diagnosed mental / emotional illnesses, self-harm, suicide are all increasing across all ages. Hypothesis: we’ve turned our backs on the importance of treating each other like human beings, and we’re far too often killing ourselves and each other. We’ve devalued our humanity.

Envision a company using its considerable influence to help provide a stabilizing force in the local community. Consider the impact on social issues if employees feel a sense of community, a purpose larger than “me”, an island of safety and sanity in the midst of the turbulence of their lives.

That community happens to be the company’s current and future talent pool. A forward-thinking company that champions the social-emotional well being of its host community would realize huge bottom line improvements. Not a hunch, it’s been validated over and over. Now, what if shared values were embraced throughout the community? All-community stakeholder alignment would exponentially boost isolated company impact. Conclusion: a broad collaboration to impact the greater good would boost our well-being, the social condition, and our economic prosperity.

Epiphany: capitalism’s Job One isn’t economic prosperity, competitive advantage or global market superiority—all outcomes—but to impact the human condition. People-first is a high-return endeavor that assures sustainable social-economic success and personal well-being.

Barriers

What S-E material should be used, and who will lead the charge? Good questions! There’s already an overabundance of material, but spotty half-hearted efforts. I’m concerned with what I’ve seen of social-emotional learning in education, and I’m also concerned with how a revitalized initiative would be handled. This is not a condemnation of education, just observations of the current state:

  •  Academia is not capable of real-time responsiveness to market needs for S-E or any other subject matter;
  •  No polite way to say it: educators can be a closed and protective group. As a result academia tends to suffer from inbred thinking, country clubbing, not-invented-here;
  •  Lack of funding is a huge constraint: no staff, no resources to give the necessary level of attention to soft stuff. Academic demands are stifling—educators’ hands are tied;
  •  S-E is more than a dinner garnish, it must be recognized as a main course;
  • Real-world practitioners are best suited to design and co-deliver real-world subjects. Even though the help should be warmly welcomed, Education would likely not embrace outsider meddling and would likely push back.

Education isn’t market or needs-driven, is slow to respond demanding validation, research, papered educator / expert design, academic rigor. How to sneak the Trojan Horse past the guards at the gate?

Resolution? We’ve missed the real-world skills target. Kids need much more in the social-emotional development a.k.a soft skills department. Employers have a vested interest, and we’d be improving the chances of kids having a much more fulfilling life. Proposed: don’t call it social-emotional development. Work around the associated baggage and NVA connotations by providing real-world prep skills. As such, it only makes sense for the future employers to step up to the plate and pull their weight.

Too Much of a Good Thing. Our STEM obsession is counter-productive and is potentially detrimental to young people who are herded into STEM education and careers regardless of their talents, passions and interests. We can do so much better for them, for ourselves, for the world.

No student should be prevented from majoring in an area they love based on a false idea of what they need to succeed. Broad learning skills are the key to long-term, satisfying, productive careers. What helps you thrive in a changing world isn’t rocket science. It may just well be social science, and, yes, even the humanities and the arts that contribute to making you not just workforce ready but world ready.” (from the Wa-Po article)

SOURCES

The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students   Washington Post December 2017, by Valerie Strauss

What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team  by Charles Duhigg Feb. 25, 2016

In Search of Lost Mojo: The Series   (lots of embedded links)

“Radical” Unschooling–Just Doing What’s Natural

I’m a radical unschooling non-expert, non-practitioner and for some time I wasn’t much more than a highly interested bystander. But I’ve become passionate in my advocacy for RU.

By default, I see my role as limited to outreach–an awareness-builder who is connected to the RU community but mostly working with the general public and private sector.

Result: I’m straddling a barb wire fence, interfacing with experts and practitioners while tailoring my message to uninitiates / neophytes like myself. Worrying about appearing to be a presumptuous, meddling outsider among practitioners, and talking over the heads of non-practitioners. As my blogs begin to find their way into the RU practitioner community, this up-front disclaimer became necessary.

The private sector is critical—we need their support and buy-in for RU specifically, and for the social movement generally. So my intent with this post is to ease private sector angst by showing how RU is very engagement-intensive, something most business leaders are quite familiar with and value highly. They should want, and they NEED unschoolers who have grown up as explorers within a creative and highly engaging environment.

As a neophyte student / non-practitioner, my understanding of the issues is limited. If I’ve  unintentionally ground any sacred cows into burgers I apologize. That said, how do you like yours cooked? Oh…I can do tofu too.

**********

This thing called “radical unschooling” confuses me. I guess it’s “radical” because it’s homeshcooling to the extreme. But it’s not RU that is “radical”. What is radical is the way we try to educate young people then manage them in the workplace, the way we expect all ages of people to happily accept an authoritarian, command-and-control governed life with absolute, limiting boundaries. The way our lives are managed for us is what’s radical, unnatural, causes health and emotion-destroying stress, holds us back from being all we can be, goes against the way we are meant to live.

“Radical” unschooling is based on the way children really learn, the way they are designed to grow and mature. That’s not radical, that sounds abnormally normal to me. Maybe the “radical” perception among the general public needs to go, starting with that inappropriate label? But it’s bigger. RU principles applied to the workplace and to society in general would trigger a radical transformation and take us where we need to go to thrive and survive. Now that’s radical!

Most of what I’ve been studying and writing about lately is how people really learn and grow. RU is the only sensible human development game in town. Then there’s the bigger picture of the desperate need for social change. A connection! “Radical” unschooling represents the springboard to radically transform our world. Thing is, except for practitioners and the occasional accidental converts like me, not enough of the right people know it. And the wrong people—the power wielding establishment—would be scared of the fullness of human development RU represents, if it becomes more than a fringe practice. Docile, compliant creatures are so much easier to control and manipulate.

Radical unschooling must become the New Normal…our profoundly destructive education practices and lifestyles need to be normalized and that will take a major shift away from this current path. There’s so much already written and over-discussed that I started doing a compilation with links and annotations for original blogs and sources, organized by topic with condensed thoughts in summary thumbnails. Very labor-intensive, it can come later. For now, big picture stuff.

Key Themes

  1. RU practitioners don’t deserve being banished into the shadows as a fringe group. RU needs to be Main Street, needs to become The New Normal. The core philosophy and principles are scientifically well-founded and they represent nothing less than the means to unleash our full potential as human beings. What’s the holdup?
  2. “New Normal” must become a highest priority social movement. At stake: social-emotional well-being for all ages which translates into less stress and fewer suicides, greater health, more and better years of life. Also on the table: higher levels of contribution and achievement (the related dirty words are “productivity and performance”) thus greater US private sector competitiveness vs the rest of the world. To be really crass….”MO’ MONEY, OK CEO’s??”
  3. RU’s benefits for young people and their families, and for the workplace and society, needs to be told in simple, concise and compelling terms to achieve broad buy-in from everyday people.
  4. There is so much cross-sector WIIFM for all stakeholders in the RU philosophy and principles that we’re damned silly if we do not systemically embrace it in every sector. The culprit is lack of understanding, no widely shared, credible information. Once the right knowledge is provided there can be no excuse.

Not-so-Radical for the Workplace

There is a clear connection between “employee engagement” and RU. The private sector fell in love with employee engagement going on a quarter century ago because the research and tons of data irrefutably showed monster bottom line enhancements across all private sector entities: a direct and significant correlation between levels of engagement and performance. But it ended up being nothing but a fling, a passion-driven affair that led to over-saturation with throngs of engagement experts hawking high-dollar wares that were nothing but window-dressing enhancements of the Gallup Q-12 model from 1994.

The private sector also flirted with Goleman’s emotional intelligence, Mihaly’s flow, Covey’s principles-centered leadership and even the military’s (seriously!) values-based leadership model. Always in search of a better way to make more money…all that is another story for another time though.

For now, here’s a quick run-down of the leadership and workplace attributes that result in gains in engagement levels, therefore impressively increased levels of productivity, profitability and every other bottom line measure the private sector worships. The findings have been verified, validated and then validated some more. “Gallup Q12” is easy to google, if you do want to learn more. If you do it’s highly recommended that you stick to the original and stay away from the imitations. Same wine, different bottle.

Top Drivers of Engagement per Gallup

I’ve taken some liberties in the wording to fold in other thoughts that came along after the original Gallup Q-12 items and to expand the relevance of the items beyond employees in the workplace. These are in no particular impact level or priority order:

  • I need to know that what I do makes a difference in the grand scheme of things;
  • I do my best work and am most productive when I enjoy the work and have a talent for it;
  • Recognition and praise are more powerful drivers than cash and other extrinsic perks;
  • Values-based relationships are important, especially trust and respect;
  • I need to contribute at a high level, toward something that really matters. Better yet if I like it;
  • I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I am challenged to use my talents and creativity.

That should be enough for you to get the idea. What needs to be made crystal clear is that these attributes of employee engagement are part of what makes RU what it is. And, for the most part, these attributes are suboptimized in traditional education. One engages, the other disengages. As someone who used to hire a lot of people, I would drool over a candidate who I knew grew up learning in the right kind of environment. Most employers are smart enough to understand that too.

“Systemic” Initiative: More Than a Buzz Phrase

You see it everywhere in the private sector, and in education improvement initiatives. “Systemic” is became the sexy way of saying “across-the-board”. To maximize results and make an idea, or for that matter for anything really take hold, it takes an all-stakeholders-on-deck effort. Isolated pockets of doing stuff is pointless. It blasts noise into the system–churn, chaos and confusion along with it. And isolated activity is unsustainable. For something to have stickiness, for the new to fully replace the old for the old “radical” to become the New Normal, it can’t be just youth development. All-hands-on-deck, systemic, across-the-board. Not isolated activity but a movement. Oh….and it makes sense too.

When it comes to changing the world, radical unschoolers can only go so far on their own.

Summary (more like the preface to the next chapter…I’m Learning!)

Traditional education is broken. It’s failing our kids and their parents, it’s failing employers and society. Kids “graduate” woefully unprepared for higher ed, for the workplace, for life. Essential workplace and life skills attributes like creativity, judgment, civic and social responsibility (principles) are not well-represented in traditional curricula. The US is behind the 8-ball in global competitiveness because our workforce is so anemic. The employment talent pool is a mud puddle and we’re losing our global status along with our quality of life (different from “standard of living” but it’s tanking too).

Kids are hard-pressed to survive being molded into bricks in the wall. So do adults. Too much suffering, stress, burnout, suicide. Stop this radical madness!

Humanity needs a radical intervention!

 

What Should the RU General Public Narrative Include?

In Part One Come Out of the Shadows http://wp.me/p4xnz1-83 I asked for practitioner input on a proposal to the RU community that RU needs a narrative, a more cohesive identity not within the community but externally, targeting the general public. Greater understanding of RU would lead to greater acceptance and inclusion, unschoolers being able to practice openly without fear, recognition of the legitimacy of RU, and of the impact potential for significant contribution by unlearners to society and the workplace. Part Two is one neophyte’s observations on what it is about RU that would be most relevant for the general public to understand.

Narrative Themes

Out of the Shadows.

RU has earned the right to more than fringe cult status with practitioners in hiding. The likely culprit? Fear of the unknown, misunderstanding among the general public. Fear of being considered weird by other kids and adults. But RU actually centers on well-established, familiar principles. There’s nothing new here to be afraid of. More on “fear factor” later.

There is also the possibility of unwillingness or inability of an authoritarian establishment to let go of their power and control. Opinion: they’re a dangerous animal when cornered. Is it just paranoia? How to deal with it beyond grass roots pressure?

We’re Working Against Human Nature.

Traditional education as well as private sector management practices are predominantly command and control, compliance-mandating systems. This is counter-productive to human development all around, all ages. We’re stifling performance and causing incredible levels of killer stress because these systems are in direct conflict with basic human nature.

We’re All In This Together.

Principles and values-centered leadership, employee engagement, and emotional intelligence are somewhat established in the private sector. RU is absolutely aligned with the same core concepts. We can leverage the private sector’s familiarity with these by focusing on similarities and minimizing the perceptions of “radical”. Nothing new here!

The Private Sector, Traditional Education and Society All Need RU.

Creativity and creative thinking and highly principled, purposeful job candidates are the most valued new workplace capabilities.  RU delivers these attributes and skills. Traditional education does not. If we continue on this course, US competitiveness and quality of life will fall even further behind the rest of the developed world.

Traditional education is not just ineffective, it is destructive.

The worst-case scenario is a looming reality: youth suicides are on the rise and a key driver is academic pressure to perform and conform. There has been so much written about this that it is a travesty and a moral embarrassment to continue on this current course (personal note: young people committing suicide is the hottest of my hot buttons, followed by the dangers of self-inflicted stress on social, emotional, physical health).

RU Needs a Narrative.

What is it? Why is it important? What’s the WIIFM for the kids, the parents, employers, society? People cannot learn unless they are compelled to invest the time. People will not invest without a clear, compelling narrative.

Principles ->  Beliefs –> Values –> Norms –> Behaviors -> Society.

I jump around a lot, from what currently interests me to what my key drivers / intent is behind my “life’s work”. Things keep circling back to values. Values are human nature, part of our DNA. They determine who we are individually and what we can become. Values give us a shot at living a life with purpose. But for some reason we’re intent on pushing our selves further and further away from what is most natural to us, from the way we raise our children to the way we approach life as adults to the nature of “work”. Then we wonder why we’re so stressed out, miserable, killing our Selves.

The collective of values becomes norms–what we are societally. We as individuals, and society as a whole, are driven by individual values that become shared norms, our common attributes of human behavior and needs no matter age or application. Young, old, school, work, society, government. Not “just” values. And quite simply, living a life of purpose has huge universal appeal and interest is growing. This is something people can believe in.

And we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.

Leverage the Data!

Old-school establishment in education and the private sector thrives on validation with data. You want results? You need data to back up the claims? No problem. But just my opinion: numbers are an addictive drug that dull the pain of using human intuition. But if you must have your fix…numerous studies of years of experience with alternative ed and workplace motivation theories bear the hypothesis out: fuzzy stuff delivers much greater hard results and higher levels of personal satisfaction. Less stress, greater longevity to boot. Need more WIIFM?

Fear Factor?

This late entry is powerful. I need to learn more about the reasons RU practitioners apparently feel they must keep low profiles. One practitioner said … it is fear of being turned in to Child Protective Services for arbitrary reasons, kind of like medical kidnapping .…family and friends are a never ending battle over whether they should or shouldn’t be doing it….some simply find it easier to stay out of the spot light.”

“This can’t be happening” was my first thought. “Is this fear factor widespread?”

“Yes, because there are enough stories circling the homeschooling and unschooling communities of it actually happening. Someone thinks the kids are being neglected because they don’t have curriculum and the parents aren’t making them do structured work. The state takes the kids and asks questions later, then the parents spend months fighting the stupid arbitrary nature of the system that can’t overlook crossing a t even if harms the child more than what the state suspected in the first place. It is not widespread, but in most cases, there is no rhyme or reason as to why “that” family.

There are facebook pages set up to help expose stories to help families get their kids back.

And then there are homeschool legal aid outfits here and there that help families fight courts over their right to homeschool. I have encountered my own opposition from a school board member, that same school board member still questions what I do and even tries to quiz (my child). It is nuts because they think we are crazy when they are the ones who are brainwashed.”

It seems society needs some serious deschooling.

 My Role: Gather and Sow

Besides getting a good grasp of practitioners’ perspectives, there are several areas where more information is needed to build the case for RU. I’ve come across much of this information in the past but didn’t see much need in cataloging it until now:

  • Worker / private sector and learner performance / achievement data relative to engagement level. We’re all in this together: RU leans heavily on principles that are fairly well-established in the workplace. It’s really not all that radical after all!
  • Evidence of the damage traditional education is inflicting: data on youth suicides and rising incidences of mental health issues among youth;
  • Life After Unschooling. How do unschoolers do in the workplace / job market, and in higher ed? What has been their role in society?
  • Non-technical information on brain theory and learning, why RU works and why traditional education and command and control management are counter-productive, even destructive.
  • The subtle as well as clear physical and emotional impacts of stress induced by the toxic school and work environments we subject people to.

(RU Narrative Support, in process)

Now, About That Data….

RU is principles-intensive. Practitioners don’t worry much about validating what they do with data, because they know it’s the right thing to do, they see the results of their efforts. A practitioner observation: “…over the years I’ve seen plenty of articles with anecdotes from college admissions people and trends that homeschooled kids went quickly from “untouchables” to “sought after” as soon as they realized that homeschooled kids perform better than their schooled peers during freshmen year. (They need much less hand holding for one.)
Now we have decades of homeschooling and data points…there are also some test score comparisons out there and I’ve never seen one that didn’t show homeschoolers performing better. Don’t have links saved or anything, but I’m willing to bet a google search (or maybe duck duck go) will give you some good hits.”

Conclusion…For Now

RU needs a greater level of public awareness, understanding, acceptance. It needs to become more firmly established as a viable approach to human development.

For the general public to buy in, the RU community needs a stronger identity, a cohesive presence that is a whole lot more than random individuals doing whatever. The community needs a narrative, and the ideal would be for an outsider to be involved in building the compelling case and serving as one of the messengers.

I’ve more than dabbled within the establishment in both education and the private sector but have no expert credentials, no real feathers in my cap. Just a regular guy who has seen the light. That’s part of my personal narrative because I have to answer the question “why should what I think, what I’ve studied, and my conclusions matter to the rest of the general population?” As an education / private sector hybrid my views are big picture, inclusive. As a non-practitioner, my perspective will hopefully be seen as objective and impartial, rather than that of an insider making a sales pitch.

I’m also someone who believes, not because I have a vested interest but because it makes sense, we need it badly, and it’s the right thing to do. Stay tuned for Making the Case for Radical Unschooling: Factoids and Anecdotals