Tag Archives: education reform

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.

 

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)

“RU as a Social Movement”…NEWSFLASH!

If you’ve read some of my more recent articles you’ll know I’ve embraced the notion of “RU as a Social Movement”.  We were set to explore the possibilities in a panel as part of the For the Love of Learning series but a logistical delay allowed time to further ponder social movements. I dove into academic studies and the current state of practices within the RU community, to better understand whether RU should and could be elevated to a “social movement”. Not so sure academia had any answers but the exploration led to bigger questions and one Big AHA.

RU needs and deserves more understanding and awareness in the general public, leading to greater acceptance and increased numbers of practitioners. But not just because it’s the right way to educate and raise kids. RU principles are the right way to live, work and interact with others in daily life settings too. With greater acceptance of the principles, unschooling will be a natural progression. But while it’s a critical piece, RU is not “the movement”. It’s still a key piece to a much bigger puzzle. AHA!

Drive the RU Principles Down Main Street, Not the RU Practice Itself

Emergent strategy: focus on promoting the principles that make RU what it is, rather than the actual process of unschooling. (WAIT …there IS no cookie cutter step-by-step process for RU) So, what are “the” Principles and what is their relevance to life in general? (WAIT again…wouldn’t an official, all-inclusive list of principles be uber un-un?). Practitioners will understand those two points, other neophytes like me not so much.

Unschooling is considered the most allegedly radical among the various approaches to alternative education. But it’s more normal than it appears to be. Radical unschooling extends the philosophy of unschooling into all aspects of life. It involves partnering with our children, not just with regard to academic pursuits, but in daily activities such as eating, television viewing, and going to bed. (From What is Radical Unschooling?)

Practitioner parents practice the philosophies and principles of unschooling with their learner children, even outside of the family relationship. But the outside world can be harsh. Let’s look at  just a few of the philosophies and principles to understand how all this may fit together.

 Driving Principle: TRUST

From the same source as above: The bedrock of radical unschooling is trust: a belief that our children possess an inner wisdom or intuitiveness far beyond what mainstream America gives them credit for. Parents act as guides and facilitators, helping children to connect with that inner wisdom.

Simply backing away and trusting children to follow their own path is contrary to what we’ve been brought up to believe the role of parenting and teaching to be. How much guidance is appropriate? And if learning is “me”-driven, when does socialization and norming happen? In considering “movement” potential how, and how much, is “trust” relevant in the adult world?

Pause just a moment to let the profound absurdity of that last sentence sink in….hurts, doesn’t it?

Principles, Not Rules

Rather than strict rules, unschoolers use principles. Instead of imposing limits, unschoolers work with their children to help them live in a balanced and healthy way. Instead of a strict schedule, unschoolers follow a daily rhythm.

Organic rather than mechanistic. Principles make a heck of a lot more sense across the board than authoritarian, over-structured, black-and-white command and control. It’s as true in education as it is in the workplace. Organic elicits commitment, while mechanistic usually only begets compliance. I used to write management system and operating procedures, work instructions and safety and HR policies. I’m well aware that specific rules are sometimes necessary. But we’ve become so obsessed with (addicted to!) rules, procedures, protocol, policies for every single nit, every possible scenario. For the sake of legal CYA and compliance we’ve over-documented and over-regulated ourselves into a corner and the paint will never dry.

Being principles-centered and values-driven is nothing new or radical in the private sector, it’s just not nearly as prevalent as it should be. Long-standing workplace concepts include engagement and empowerment, and an enabling organizational structure and leadership style. The Dark Side of the Force: hierarchical command and control style and structure. C & C prevails in a work environment with distrust between leader and follower, lack of ability in followers, or task criticality. Mostly, it’s a trust issue. Relationships built on trust require leaders to freely share information needed for people to make good decisions and giving away information is giving away power. But people need credible information to safely make decisions. And they need to know they won’t get hammered if they make an honest, well-informed mistake. Even though trust is free, we still get too much of this stuff….

  • I’m gonna write you up!
  • Just do it, you don’t get paid to think!
  • “They” just don’t get it!
  • Why are we losing money?

FACT: When exploration and learning is fun, more and better stuff gets done. Something is “fun” when it’s intrinsically satisfying—it strikes a nerve with the explorer. The fun factor is driven by a combination of values, natural ability, challenge of the exploration…clearly individual-driven.

Why overwhelm with facts and data that simply require spewing back? Issues with multiple possible “right” answers are a whole lot more thought-provoking than “2 + 2 = ___?___”

HYPOTHESIS: Work can be fun too! (don’t push your luck, Bubba!) Re-read the description above. Why not “work is fun”? Engineers continuously tweak work systems to maximize productivity, ease of use and quality. Why can’t we engineer work systems and environments using the same engaging “fun factor” criteria.

Humans are naturally organic.  Cosmic, right? Seems like an undeniable truth. And roots need room to support healthy plant growth. Also needed: natural fertilizer, water and sunlight.

About Engagement

Engagement theory, when put into practice, delivers big league hard results in the workplace and in academic performance. Not nearly enough organizations are insightful enough to simply do the right things by people. And guess what? The cornerstones of engagement are a mirror of the RU principles that I’ve seen. Would love others’ opinions: see Supercharging Engagement for a summary of seven universal attributes, principles from several of the mainstream engagement models.

Why don’t we set common goals, learn the same language, establish the right norms all the way across the spectrum of education, work, society…life?

 Now, Wait Jest a Gol-durned Minute, Matthew…. of course, civilization could be more civilized. Society,  and therefore every one of us,  would benefit from being more principles-centered, more driven by shared values. So this whole conversation is a bit silly isn’t it? Of course it is. It’s hard to disagree that we need more caring, compassion, understanding, empathy, general civility in how we interact with each other, right? What’s the real underlying issue? The academic analysis: we’re an individual-centered transactional society. Everyday translation: we’re me-first, driven by the pursuit of power and profit at all costs. That’s the root cause, that’s what we need to eliminate or at least minimize.

The question is a whole lot more “how” than “what” do we need to do?

Pardon the crudity, but humanity sucks. It would be so understandable to reach the point of saying “what’s the use in trying?” It’s damned tempting to me sometimes, how about you? This is the reason behind backing away from “RU as a Social Movement” even though I still feel it’s wildly important and high-impact. There’s a more pressing greater good need. Seems like ages ago, I was advocating a community-based model built around whole-person social-emotional development. I’m leaning back that way: drive the principles of RU. When unschooling becomes more recognized as a humanity-friendly, natural practice it will be less “radical” and we’ll have the movement we need.

First we need to ditch this “thing” fixation, replace our obsession for power and profit with passion for people and planet.  THAT’S the one movement that really matters. Open for suggestions, folks….

We’ve amassed an amazing body of information on human dynamics and what enables people to reach their full potential. To have this information and not leverage it into knowledge is unconscionable. Big Concepts waiting to be turned loose:

  • Flow / positive psychology
  • Engagement theory, general motivation
  • Strengths-based learning and leadership
  • Social-emotional development

The Last Great Frontier may be exploring the mind, the human condition, individual and group dynamics—what really makes us tick? Why not focus on the front end of the process, the “people” stuff that drives how well we do stuff and accomplish goals and results?

Why not, indeed?

Radical Unschooling Narrative for Neophytes

In Part One Confessions of a Radical Unschooling Neophyte I shared where I feel I can most contribute to the RU movement, and why I am compelled to be involved. By explaining my intent and point of view I hoped to convince others I’m able and determined to make a meaningful contribution.

Here in Part Two I’ll describe a few specific areas where it appears to me that RU could use some clarity, especially when it comes to other neophytes. The movement needs more boots on the ground beyond practitioners and a targeted PR effort will help in recruitment.

A Rose By Any Other Name. I’ll use “RU” until the community determines whether it should be called something else. No matter which label, we need to develop a compelling narrative for RU for the uninformed general population. That’s the target, it’s the only realistic one for my level of influence and expertise.

To regular people, “radical” and “unschooling” together is a downright baffling, scary term. And people tend to avoid that which is scary. Speaking of “scary”…RU folks are a unique breed, and that’s meant in a positive way. They are visionary, insightful, committed, values-driven, strong-willed. But that can be an issue. It’s difficult for regular folks to understand much less support RU if we can’t relate to practitioners and feel we belong as a meaningful part of the movement. RU needs a broad base of support for it to be all that it is capable of, and practitioners need to reach out, be more inclusive.

Un is a state of mind where trust is key, fear is a liar, and  compassion drives respect and acceptance. (Maggie at Process)

Embrace by Letting Go.  Unschooling is getting out of the way, letting kids’ naturally inquisitive and creative nature take over, letting go of authoritarian, control-freak parenting and teaching. But silent and deep runs the Dark Side of the Force and this is a real challenge for newcomers and long-time practitioners alike. We need some serious de-schooling.

Elevate Big Un Principles (is “Attributes” Better?) to the social norms they could / should be. Some in the RU community seem to resist having clear cut principles that define RU. Would that be too close to “rules” which would be such an un-Un control freak restriction, contrary to “letting go”? Principles represent a solid potential values system, one of the essential elements of developing strong group identity. Values are a “must” for internal cohesiveness and external growth, especially critical for those debating whether it’s safe to jump on board.

There is actually an abundance of principles-looking attributes that drive Un. They’re just not yet formalized into one “official list”, again that would be so un-Un. The biggest challenge would be agreeing on which attributes to include in “the” list. Is there already a one-size-fits-all collection of Un Principles?

Do What’s Natural. Beyond letting go, the most important thing a parent must do is to better understand the basics of human nature and brain theory–how our minds process information, especially young minds. Then make sure kids attain a high state of emotional development and readiness to learn, something traditional schools largely ignore. Parents have a good deal to learn to fully embrace unschooling and it has nothing to do with reading, writing and arithmetic. But first, embrace by letting go. “Trust in the Force you must, Luke!” Interesting.

Nimowashe is a Japanese bansai gardening concept: prepare the tree for planting. It is essential to craft the right environment conducive to relaxation, learning, creativity: provide the most comfortable and stimulating surroundings possible–lighting, music / white noise, kinesthetic doodads and mind-stretching playthings. Can’t get enough.

Provide, or Facilitate, the Environment? RU is letting go, empowering the learner to explore their own path in the environments of their choosing. “Craft the right environment” above is a different level. It’s not directing the child’s thinking, but providing the surroundings that sharpen their vision and increase their thirst. Nimowashe: prepare the tree for planting so whatever the learner explores has a fully receptive, maximum capacity container. We can enhance self-directed learning effectiveness through scientifically validated methods. Not methods of instruction or specific content, but elements that enable maximum freedom, creative thinking and learning to take place.

 Live Well and Prosper. This is so critical that it can and should still be “taught” and continuously reinforced–practices that keep the mind and body at maximum receptivity. Practices should be modeled with the young learner, a great way to connect by spending purposeful time together. Some adults have trouble with physical and mental / emotional / spiritual well-being: relaxation, mindfulness, basic yoga (call it “disciplined stretching”). Start young to develop good habits without pressure, a routine of fine-tuning the mind-body relationship. Not to prep for “doing something” like studying, but treating yourselves to a regular feel-good session practitioners learn to look forward to. “Good” chemicals are released and the body and mind learn to crave them. It’s an addiction but a positive one.

If a learner chooses at some point to really dive into the spiritual stuff it sure won’t hurt them or the world a bit. And isn’t that the way this unschooling is supposed to work?

Can You Go Part Way? My paradigms are strong. I’m aware that being unable to let go of every shred of ingrained authoritarian thinking is a personal barrier. This “environment” question is a prime example. Does RU necessitate total freedom to choose and explore whatever with no influence, or is it OK to provide the right environmental elements to fully empower the learner to choose and explore? (I know, I know…the answer is “yes!”). A bigger question: is it possible for home-schoolers to ease into RU, learning and applying a few of the principles for starters to get comfortable? OR even more challenging, how does a parent make the Grand Canyon leap from traditional to RU? Isn’t a little bit better than none? Practitioners weigh in, please!

_1 Factory Model of EducMaximum potential cannot be reached in a bricks and mortar classroom where administrators and traditionally educated teachers must pay homage to The Holy Curriculum and Pedagogy.

Well-Centered. Unschooling is an individual thing, no bricks and mortar needed. Buildings can even be artificial barriers…”you must go to school to learn.” Still, I can’t shake the notion of a “center”, an infatuation I’ll admit is selfish. It would allow non-practitioners a chance to support unschooling in a meaningful way even though, like me, they are past parenting.

Maybe a center is an unschooling-friendly location with all the right environmental elements for explorers, a resource center for those who can’t provide it on their own. Or an information source for people wanting to learn more or who need a little passive guidance.  An Un Center could host informal peer coaching or information-sharing events. DANGER! The moment there is too much structure, too many programs, we cross over to the Dark Side! A fine line.

One objection to RU is that it doesn’t provide enough socializing opportunities. How about hosting group gatherings? Not planned or structured activities, simply provide the place and a reason for un learners to come together and let whatever happens happen.  (Socializing Sidebar: “socializing” in the traditional school setting typically comes with heavy baggage– bullying among peers and rampant competitiveness, making alternative education even more attractive.

These are just a few RU talking points that I feel should be developed into the right narrative for neophytes. Now I need insights from the community. Where can I be best used for the greater RU good? Keeping the target in mind, what should the narrative be? Oh….forgot to mention: I have no interest in becoming “the” messenger. I’m happy with being part of crafting the message. But if I get the chance to be directly involved in delivery, I sure wouldn’t turn it down!

There’s so much deschooling we need, so much new to learn…a little help? I recently wrote a couple of blogs on all the above and more:

1.      Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

2.      (Part Two) Living Large With This “Un” Thing.

These are work-in-process, on a low-traffic site I use to collect my thoughts and share with just a few people. If you get a chance, check them out. I do need your insights—thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Radical Unschooling Neophyte

I’m an Un uninitiate, a non-expert, non-practitioner but I’m more than an interested bystander. That’s got to change, because the radical unschooling movement mirrors what I’ve been searching for in the private sector: a creative, fun, exploration-intensive environment built on relationships of trust, honesty, respect, compassion and mutual respect. Workers deserve it and perform incredibly better under those conditions. So do kids. Data on job and academic performance, and on peoples’ overall happiness and satisfaction with life is plentiful.

Radical Unschooling (RU) is too extreme for some, or if they’re interested they may not know where to start. But traditional education is failing in so many well-documented ways that more parents are seeking alternatives. Mine field! Fads and hucksters sprinkled among genuine principles and real practitioners. Isolated local education systems are putting on “progressive” window dressings while staying mostly traditional, still bound to executing their marching orders. Limited changes = limited success, barely scratching the surface of what could be.

My outsider perspective can be useful to the unschooling movement. I’ve studied RU and have lots of neophyte questions. And my misperceptions are surely typical of other non-practitioners looking for education alternatives, or who may be Un supporters if they knew more.

This turned into a two-parter when I wasn’t looking:

  1. Where I feel I can most contribute to the RU movement, and why I am compelled to be involved. The latter will help readers understand my point of view and why I am so intent on making a meaningful contribution;
  2. A few specific areas where it appears to me the movement could use some clarity, a compelling narrative for other neophytes, an identity for the practitioner community.

Go Large. Un is a State of Mind, a Way of Life.  I’ve always been a Blue Sky Big Picture guy. What has really grabbed me is the growing school of thought that “The Big Un” references a whole lot more than unschooling. It’s a social movement and unschooling is just one element. The sweeping potential of Big Un needs clarity, and it needs to become more concrete for myself and for others. It’s the most personally compelling part of this mission.

More and more Un Believers are aware they’re making the world a better place. That bigness may scare some people off, but the significance cannot be ignored. Just for starters, if an adult is to fully understand unschooling as a practitioner, they must fully live it. And Big Un applies to big kids at work, in politics (hell, yeah) and for what ails us socially as well. Un offers the best shot we have at salvaging a better life in a more sustainable society.

Worth repeating: Big Un is humanity’s best shot at recapturing our humanity. It’s survival of the species. Practitioner parents—all of us—need prep work. And NOT in academics and pedagogy!

Looking Outward. PR for unschooling specifically and Big Un must build mainstream acceptance and support by targeting non-practitioners, everyday people. I am committed to growing awareness among others at the same beginner level of understanding as I, bridging a gap from the RU community to the general public, building broad grassroots support, possibly growing the practice of unschooling and broad adoption of Big Un principles. That is overwhelmingly compelling in its bigness. And it’s admittedly tough for me to focus in on RU only…for now.

For me to pursue this mission I first need to grow my own awareness and understanding of what’s right, what’s wrong. Maybe there’s no such thing as right or wrong, just “is”?

All of this has all been thoroughly dissected within the RU community already, and it would not only be delusional but rude to propose changes or offer grand new improvements. The goal is simpler: to promote awareness, greater understanding of, and support for RU–not within the community but among the everyday population, people like me.

We All Need a Little Good Press Now and Then

There needs to be a target adjustment for a PR awareness campaign. Why preach to practitioners and professionals? Hit the non-practitioners. Where I may provide value:

Break down the more baffling elements of Un to a basic, everyday people level:

  1. RU in general, including hefty doses of benefits selling. Short pieces for local media, presentations to local civic groups. Replicate, make readily available to others;
  2. Interpret scientific stuff that may scare potential practitioners away: brain and learning theory, early childhood development, environmental support elements. So much of that is gobble de gook to most folks, no wonder they don’t want to take the plunge.

I speak the private sector’s language and understand their thinking. Employers will more fully embrace and even come to prefer unschooled candidates when they understand what and who they will be getting. Employer WIIFM is clear: RU improves the quality and depth of the future talent pool, providing candidates with what the new work environment demands: highly adaptive critical thinkers who are creative and thirsty for new knowledge, and are more emotionally connected to their sense of purpose. No bricks in the wall here.

Make a non-threatening case for RU for the traditional education community. Our shared Mission One should target the most critical common denominator—our kids. This may be akin to juggling lit dynamite, but there are good people being held hostage by a bad system. I’m guessing some would be powerful allies, potential deep-cover operatives hidden among the hostages. Some have already managed to escape that authoritarian dictatorship and are part of the RU practitioner population. How do you converts feel about connecting with your ex-peers?

LIGHTNING BOLT….I hate internal arguments, they are not winnable. A real-time epiphany: is there such a thing as working within the system, is there value in trying to win over traditional educators? I’ve been plenty critical of the establishment, and rightly so. Is RU an all-or-none, revolutionary replacement of the current, broken system? Is coexistence at all possible?

The most compelling high-impact goal is to connect the dots: identify common themes, goals and needs among sectors. RU community > traditional education > government > community / society > private sector / business…we’re all in this together. With a systemic, all-stakeholder effort so much more would be possible. It’s more than parenting and child development. It’s a way of life and state of mind, a social transformation. But only if all understand and embrace The Big Un.

Why Do I Want to Be Involved?

We can and must do better for the kids, ourselves, society. Top personal drivers:

  • The traditional education system is doing irreparable harm to our 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 do survive the education system are ill-equipped for college or the workplace, unprepared emotionally for life. It’s well-documented: the traditional system isn’t delivering the goods, and the system can’t or won’t respond to pressures to adapt.
  • US youth’s level of creativity and critical thinking 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 with the situation arguably worsening considerably. 
  • Kids cannot perform outside of standard, canned responses, memorized answers. The US is not doing so well there either by global standards. Creativity and critical thinking are the two most essential new workplace skills, and we’ve lost our edge. Our talent pool is shallow and muddy, and our ability to compete globally is in serious danger. The private sector guy in me says that’s unacceptable, it can be resolved.
  • 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 place to live, a fulfilling life. We cannot get there going down the path we’re on. It’s that simple.

The Biggie Closer. Our education system continues to fail our kids, we continue to lose them. RU is powerful in part because it allows kids to connect with their Self. We desperately need to re-connect with our humanity, for the good, no the survival, of kids of all ages.

Too many good people are soured on life. You can see it in their eyes, the spirit is sucked out of them. Their body language screams “I hate my life!” We’re wandering through the desert and we’ve given up on ever reaching the Promised Land. No purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment, no closure. We’ve done it to our Selves from early childhood on. And that’s wrong. We must win  back our mojo. It starts with Big Un as a way of life, state of mind.

Is that being a totally drunk-on-the-koolaid idealist? I think not. We need whole-life “Un”. And I like it. That’s why I care.

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Expert practitioners, your patience in helping me grow in my understanding would be greatly appreciated. Besides parts one and two, I’ve written other blogs on the above and more. These are perpetual works-in-process, on a low-traffic site I use to collect my thoughts and share with a select audience. If you get a chance, check them out. Help me learn, please?

1.      Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

2.      (Part Two) Living Large With This “Un” Thing.

Part Two, Radical Unschooling Narrative for Neophytes is an overview of my neophyte perception of radical unschooling and the Big Un movement, and where my current understanding tells me we need more awareness and support by crafting a compelling narrative. I need your insights—thanks!

 

Youth Suicides and the Skills Gap—Common Denominator?

Peter Gray got me again. As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity  was originally posted Sep 17, 2012 but just showed up again on my feed, and it’s even more relevant today. The situation has arguably worsened considerably in five years.

Gray writes: “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.”

The article details research methods, explaining how creativity had been accurately measured in the study. If you’re into analytics, read the article–I won’t elaborate here.

Findings summary: “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.” (there’s a reason for that!)

We have automation to do menial, repetitive physical stuff, and artificial intelligence to even do some light lifting low-level, analytical thinking. The only way for humans to add value that machines and computers cannot (yet) replicate is our unique ability to think creatively. So kids and adults alike are losing the edge we used to have, and the very capabilities the new workplace most demands.

The economy and the nature of work, for that matter the world, have all changed. Education has not, and it shows. The US workforce is seriously deficient in the new skills, and it starts with poor preparation in school.

If you’ve read much Gray you know his position on traditional education. His concerns include the serious and lasting damage inflicted on our young people by rigidity in education, standard testing, no freedom to play, to explore, to really learn.

How much damage? This came along two days after the Gray article: America sees alarming spike in middle school suicide rate   Research shows that “…increased pressure on students to achieve academically, more economic uncertainty, increased fear of terrorism, and social media are behind the rise in suicides among the young.” And of course bullying, most of which takes place at school, by peers.

We dump our kids into a toxic environment and expect them to learn in ways that are contrary to their natural wiring, and they are not even developing the skills and attributes that may help them survive to adulthood and beyond. And the US workplace is crippled by a poorly prepared talent pool. Related?

Hello (hello…hello…) is there anybody IN there? Just nod if you can hear me.  Is there anybody home?

You’d think we’d eventually wake up and realize this is a life-and-death social and economic problem. We’re failing our young people socially and emotionally, even doing irreparable harm, and plodding along with antiquated teaching methods and curriculum. Along the way we’re trashing the economy and our global competitiveness. It’s more than a double whammy because the two issues are connected and compound each other’ impact.

We expect conformity, we demand following rules, rigidity. We condemn creativity, freedom of expression, exploration. It’s so contrary to human nature. And the same expectations, issues and profound, lasting damage applies to big kids too—at work, in politics, in social interactions.

Gray’s writings and the education reform movement are not just about education, it’s social reform. Much, much bigger than kids in school and the education system.

I’m not an expert, not a “real” educator (full-time subbing doesn’t really count) and I’m a dozen years removed from parenting. So why should I care so much about education and parenting, the way we treat and teach our children, the way we force them to “learn”? Why should I care that society is going down the tubes? I’m old enough, I can surely ride this one out to The End.

The driving purpose behind what I do is a need to to do my part to make the world a better place for future generations. I kind of like my grand children. Haven’t met their kids, and I doubt I’ll have the chance. But I bet I’d like them too. They are why I care, and why we all must care.

Resolution?

Suicide and the skills gap share a common denominator…the two issues are one. They need to be clearly connected and framed together, then a concise and compelling narrative developed: here is the central issue and here are the impacts.

Then share the resulting narrative to build grass roots awareness and concern. The need to act must be elevated to the pressing crisis status it deserves. Emotional well-being can be life-and-death for too many kids, then there’s sustainability of our way of life for all of us. High stakes.

We must attack the issues with a consistent, coordinated focus. But here’s a huge barrier: tons of organizations, armies of concerned people, so many that none seem able to get anything of substance accomplished. Turf wars, fragmentation, over-saturation, diminishing returns. Maybe more simply herding cats, bb’s in a boxcar.  Joiners and activists are mule and Clydesdale, no offspring out of that one. Chaos, anarchy, complexity, rampant A.D.D. Experts blowing their knows all over each other, comment threads akin to meth head babblings. Very few if any groups can stay on-topic and maintain focus on progressing toward a well-articulated common goal. Crafting, sharing and staying focused on a common goal—what a concept!

We need laser-sharp focus and a coordinated attack. Activity does not equal progress.

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Post Script: I Rest My Case

There’s technical writing and persuasive writing. Dissertations and journaling on a napkin. Investigative reporting and data analysis, and editorials / opinion pieces. Some folks scream if they don’t see annotations and scads of trustworthy numbers (an oxymoron!). Others could care less about style, sources and data–they’ll look further if they want to. I’m in the latter group. I can do the first examples of writing but at a price–my sanity. But we demand more and more technical expertise, less and less creative thinking. So we get a bunch of grown people sitting around highly polished tables, all fearful of being the first to raising their hand and say “I don’t understand”. Fear and angst in school and the adult world has taken root like a fast-spreading cancer.

Suicide PSS…

I just read a story about a young woman who hung herself several years ago in her college dorm room. Written from her mother’s perspective, it was a look-back at red flags. Her mother said: “I keep coming back to one such warning sign, one that is so obvious now. I don’t know how I didn’t see it: not worrying about future consequences.”

I’ve studied engagement theory and its relevance to young people, a spin-off of my business world involvements turned toward youth and education. One key measure of engagement for kids is their feelings toward the future. I’m no expert but there may be something there.

I taught 4th-6th grade guidance classes off and on for a year, 45 minutes for each class every 10 school days, social-emotional development, bullying stuff. Not nearly enough time. I waited impatiently for the material to turn the kids inward, to help connect them with their inner feelings, put a name on what they dream about, what they hope for, what truly makes them happy. On the flip side, what makes them unhappy, what they fear most. Identify the bogey man under the bed and exorcise it. But the curriculum never went there. So I did what I could to take the kids there off-script

Our education system continues to fail kids and we continue to lose them. One of the reasons radical unschooling is so powerful is that it enables and encourages kids to connect with their Self. We desperately need to re-connect with our humanity, for the common good….no, survival…of kids of all ages. Maybe we need to strive toward making “Un” a state of mind, a way of life?

(Part Two: Living Large With This “Un” Thing)