Tag Archives: education

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.

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

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!

 

Everybody is a Star

You’re a shining star, no matter who you are

Shining bright to see that you can truly be

What you can truly be.

(Earth, Wind and Fire)

Everybody has a role, everybody has a purpose. Everybody has hopes and dreams. Everybody is a star.

Every. Body.

I just got to spend another day with “special needs” kids at the high school, kids with varying levels of learning issues, autism, downs all the way to profoundly crippling physical challenges. My kind of people.

These kids accept their uniqueness, their challenges and they do the best they can. “Regular” people need to as well. We could stand to learn a good deal from these special people.

Connecting with “special needs” people gives a person a special sense of fulfillment. If you haven’t had the opportunity to reach out, you’re incomplete. It may take a little extra effort, a higher level of patience and understanding sometimes. Are you up to it?

The reward is worth the risk and the effort.

*****

In our community’s schools–small town, 15,000–we’re blessed that the vast majority of our non- challenged kids go out of their way to include our “special” kids. They come into the special needs classrooms in their free times to work with / make an extra connection with the kids and it carries over into the community outside of school. “Mainstreaming” is alive and well here. It’s truly heart-warming to see, I’ve noticed it for years now.

Something I feel our community has been lucky enough to learn and practice needs to be more widespread. So often it’s not a matter of kids being mean or not caring, it’s just that they are unaware. Why don’t schools (AND the WORKPLACE!) expand the meaning of “diversity training” to include generally “special” people? How about “inclusion awareness training”.

Everybody is a star, doesn’t matter who you are (Sly Stone).

Trouble is, when educator / administrators (and too many private sector leaders too!) hear “diversity training” they think about compliance only, taking the narrow view of diversity—treating others equally regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual preference. All important, but there is more to true inclusion–sensitivity to others with any kind of differences, accepting others for who they are and what they’ve been given to work with, realizing everyone has a place. Too many just don’t get it that way!

Awareness and understanding needs to start first with us big kids. And we need to accept our roles as stewards of the younger generation’s attitudes toward special people. For the most part, the kids are doing a great job on their own. You think we should try to catch up?

Philanthropists—Butt Out of Education (??)

(also on LI Pulse https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/philanthropistsbutt-out-education-craig-althof?deepLinkCommentId=6158651323240767488&anchorTime=1468336897682&trk=hb_ntf_MEGAPHONE_ARTICLE_COMMENT )

Structure and common core investments are not working. An Edutopia approach is recommended: just help teachers teach. Beyond that, philanthropists need to butt out and let educators and states run education. “The Gates experience teaches once again that educational silver bullets are in short supply and that some educational trends live only a little longer than mayflies.”

This is for those who are concerned with education reform, social well-being, economic productivity and competitiveness, and saving the world….share if you care.

In an LA Times article, philanthropist / education champion Bill Gates (If you weren’t aware THAT Bill Gates is very committed to the greater good!) says structure improvements and investments in furthering common core are not working. He recommends an Edutopia-style involvement for philanthropist funding, with the singular goal of helping teachers teach. (Gates Foundation failures show philanthropists shouldn’t be setting America’s public school agenda

The Gates Foundation has provided significant funding for major education initiatives like reducing class and school size, new methods for evaluating and rewarding (and firing!) teachers, and pushing full implementation of common core before education was geared up to support it.

…the Gates Foundation has spent so much money — more than $3 billion since 1999 — that it took on an unhealthy amount of power in the setting of education policy.”

The foundation is re-thinking its “bust-down-the-walls” approach to education improvement.

The education system needs help, needs to change. Educators already know the issues but their systems are slow to respond to the environment. That’s not intended as a critique, just a statement of the way the education change process works. I’m not sure I agree with philanthropists needing to back off. The Foundation’s message basically says…

Don’t worry about those root causes, philanthropist. You’re not qualified.

Education wants and needs “outsiders” to get involved—they need the help! I’m a private sector guy who has dabbled in teaching for five or six years, enough to see the needs and issues firsthand from both sides. But I’m an academically non-credentialed nobody, easy to ignore.

Mr. Gates, I love what the Foundation is trying to accomplish, and education does need you and your friends, badly. Can I help? If I had any input at all, these things would be on my Wish List, operative word = “wish”.

Education Improvement Wish List

Focus is on the wrong stuff! It’s not structure, not just a matter of class and school size and teaching methods. We focus on process vs people, things vs emotions. Same in the private sector: do things right, fix things when they break, ignore real people issues.

Social-emotional development must become priority one, starting with a better understanding of engagement especially with young people but also teachers, community leaders, parents. And get serious about understanding engagement in the education environment, then DO something about it. Research is clear and consistent in its findings: well-adjusted people young and old perform better, achieve more, have more fulfilling lives. Physical and emotional well-being skyrockets, people are less stressed and live longer, social issues diminish, the community and private sector –general social and economic prosperity—increases.

Social and economic issues are impacted by disengagement too. We need to excite people, involve people. We need solid values and norms to become the anti-bullying / cope-with-the-real-world serum. Too many young people committing suicide, too many people going over the edge and murdering innocents-it’s not just terrorists, it may not always be “somewhere else”.

Establish relevance, purpose, hope for a bright future for young learners by providing an ongoing process that builds self-awareness and becomes a work-in-process portfolio for each learner’s career and future planning. Included: identifying values, vision, strengths and dominant characteristics. Don’t buy “we do that already” from well-intentioned educators. Sure it’s there, but at best it’s a checklist activity that comes and goes then is mostly forgotten. Where’s the lasting impact? Class skills-based project work should also become part of the learner’s portfolio, providing objective evidence of mastery. Result:  a real resume for kids with no job experience, to help them find a career that is both satisfying and rewarding.

Employers complain about the “unprepared talent pool”. But what should the education system prepare learners for? They’re flying blind because expectations have not been clearly defined.

The workplace changes rapidly and the education system cannot match the velocity of change even if current needs were clearly defined. Education cannot provide the right specific knowledge and specific skills, especially with no solid input.

SOLUTIONS: (1) collaborate on a process of identifying and meeting talent pool needs, with a control plan to verify performance and a built-in means to rapidly respond to changing needs.  (2) Develop high-potential candidates with the right foundation skills, the capability to adapt to different work demands and the agility to learn on the job. (3) Education does not have the bandwidth or the knowledge and experience to teach real-world skills. Only employers can provide on-target job skills training, post-hire. (4) Develop all-stakeholder local coalitions directly involved in needs identification, learner development and real-world prep. (5)

Eliminate unrealistic education expectations and re-define “prepared”.  Challenge unnecessary “degree required” restrictions!

The current skills gap is partially self-inflicted by employers who artificially inflate academic requirements for positions and have unrealistic expectations of ready-made expert new hires who will step in and hit the ground running without guidance. College students get “just-in-case” degrees, then try to find a job the degree may fit, unnecessarily increasing college debt. Guidance counselors and parents push college-or-bust and education mass-produces cookie-cutter graduates. Employers jam square pegs into round holes, grads assume half a lifetime of debt, employers get unprepared candidates. Worse, job seekers grasp for any employment they can find, regardless of whether the work is satisfying and they can emotionally survive.

Free or affordable college is not the solution, curriculum relevance is. Scratch where it really itches, not where we think it may possibly start itching some time in the future. It makes no sense to throw more funding at an ineffective system.

Shovel Work is Good for the Soul: put the polish back into “real” work for an honest living, even if it’s entry level or blue collar. Increase the opportunity to enhance skills through tuition reimbursement and targeted in-house skills development only after an employee finds their niche, and after real needs for additional skills training and education are better understood.

Problem and project-based learning in teams is the most effective way both young people and adults learn. Current classroom applications are spotty and ineffective—fuzzy project definition, unclear expectations, not enough ongoing guidance or project control. Project deliverables and the end result are all over the place. And there are team dynamics as well as execution issues, notably alpha team mates taking charge and passives are glad to let them.

Teachers must become better project managers and team leaders, learners must become better team players. Skills training must be provided for teachers and learners on project planning and management, team dynamics and group decision-making. Side note: the same issues prevail in the private sector, an excellent opportunity to learn together!

A systemic, all-stakeholder approach is needed rather than independent classes and programs that are owned and operated by isolated education entities only. Workforce prep is a hot topic in education and economic development right nowthey are intimately related! But social / human development must also be an integral part of the discussion.

Research is abundant and experts agree on the systemic need for all-stakeholder involvement. But most people just don’t get it. “They need to do something” rules the kingdom and the various stakeholders are reluctant to sit down at the same table. Communicate and collaborate!

There’s always more, but this has to do for now….react please, and share if you care.

 

GradNation-Don’t Quit On Me!

No affiliation, just spreading the word. Maybe it will help.

Check out the just-issued GradNation / America’s Promise report “Don’t Quit on Me” which explores the causes behind US students leaving high school early. The full report and summary are both here. The 20-pager is great, if the full 80-page report scares you. I weighed re-stating report highlights but no value added. You’ll either be on the bus or you’re happy hanging out at the station. Invest in a few clicks before you decide.

For starters, a story that brought this issue into focus for me, just last week. I was teaching at the alternative high school, working with students who for whatever reason have issues with traditional education and are high risk for leaving school. Behind my desk is a life-sized poster of John Wayne with the caption “Don’t much like quitters, son.” When The Duke talks you listen up, Pilgrim…except most teenagers don’t know who he was.
“Ashley” is a 17 year old student. In the morning meeting, a teacher reported that she had asked him if he knew anything about getting paycheck loan advances. A big red flag, so he spent some time talking with her.
Ashley’s father was helping her make ends meet but he just left the country with his girlfriend. Her mother had been sharing the apartment and expenses but moved out, she’s no longer in the picture. Ashley’s two teenage room mates have no job, no income. She doesn’t have food or money for car insurance or rent. She said “I don’t want to quit school, but I need to work more hours.”
True story Seventeen.. Students leaving their education and their future behind is not just a big city issue, it’s right here in my small community of 15,000. Ashley’s story is too close to home. This is something WE CAN IMPACT, even “little” things matter.

Make a Difference—Don’t Quit on Me!

What’s at stake? (US data) The social and economic impact of young people leaving school without a degree is huge.

  • More than 485,000 young people leave high school each year before earning a diploma, severely limiting their options for further education and sustainable employment.
  • Those who leave and don’t return to school will remain less likely to get a job. Those who do will earn far less, pay fewer taxes and will be more likely to require social services. They are more likely to be involved with the justice system. They will live shorter, less healthy and less fulfilling lives.
  • Young people who don’t graduate from high school aren’t qualified to serve in our armed forces and are far less likely to vote.
  • The financial cost to society for just one cohort of young people who leave school without graduating can be calculated in billions of dollars.

Graduation matters now more than ever — not just for young people’s futures, but for our country’s future. Interrupted enrollment contributes to a host of social and economic issues. Too many young people are disenfranchised, disengaged—not just from the education system but from society, from any hope for a meaningful future.

There are few opportunities like this for one person to make a huge difference. This is a triple win: (1) individuals benefit at two levels-certainly young people but also their volunteer mentors; (2) private sector supporters stand to gain bottom line improvements, enhanced community status, sustainability; (3) society will see increased civic and economic well-being, citizens will experience enhanced quality of life.

Social well-being and economic prosperity all in one…that’s appealing to me, how about you?

Recommendations
Here are a few things I’ve been thinking about since reading this report. As you review the report I hope you’ll consider these and critique, and add your own ideas as well.

(one) Recruit and develop private sector champions. First, build a compelling business case. Business leaders like to see that. Focus on the huge payback potential for those companies that step up. Next, provide organizations with a user-friendly, comprehensive process and tools, and offer ongoing support and coordination. Operations leaders like to see a workable plan and process. Build it, they will come. But we have to make it feasible and as painless as possible for them to commit their time and resources.
Leaders, you have an army at your disposal ready to commit to the fight. This has huge appeal, a great potential to satisfy the basic human need to make a difference. It’s more than your civic duty, more than CSR, more than servant leadership. This is a powerful strategy to ensure your sustainability!

(two) USE predictive data to take preventive, proactive measures. I’m a problem resolution / continuous improvement practitioner. I live by “don’t wait for something to break before taking action, it’s much easier and less messy to make the repair before the damage is done!” The report tells us a good deal. We know the key predictors. We have buckets of data and anecdotal information too. We NEED predictive analysis, we need to take proactive action, providing help before the need. Before it may be too late.

(three) Tending to relationships is typically an afterthought in both business and in education. Relationships are an essential success factor for youth in education, for big kids in the workplace too. Yet, the report indicates relationship poverty is bankrupting us and my private sector experience says the same thing. We need help! The report provides links to all kinds of online relationship-building resources but I’m adamant about this. Think about it: interpersonal skills development requires an interpersonal touch to be effective. Provide the highest quality in-person relationship-building / interpersonal skills training and development: mentoring, coaching, listening, the art of empathy, building trust, weaving the safety net. Focus on the unique needs of the target: youth from the specific demographic most needing the support relationships provide.

This can’t be done half-way, relationships are the most critical need and we need experts. By the way, the right training product can be marketed to the private sector. The need is huge.

About “Relationships”
We’re not talking about Big Brother / Big Sister on steroids. It’s much more, much less at the same time. At-risk youth need a stable adult in their life, someone they can count on. Mostly, they need someone who can help them tap into a larger support / assistance network. This means that the adult mentor may need to do some initial legwork to find resources, if their community does not have a network in place.
Beyond that at-risk youth may simply need guidance to stay on track and above all an understanding ear, someone who respects and doesn’t judge them.

(four) The report calls for individuals to start a conversation with others, company, church, civic group, card club, student peer groups. Develop quality resources, materials and support for champions to successfully convince their organization to take action. Then, provide a process, structure, material support referenced in recommendation one.

In Closing…the Four Recommendations
WE need kids to stay in school (see data!). Many at-risk young people simply need a support net, stable and trusting, non judgmental relationship built on respect with an adult they can count on. Potential mentors need development of the necessary special skill set. This can (must!) be a broad-based effort with a lot of people pitching in just a little.

EACH ONE of us can make a difference, one pebble one pond at a time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third: WIIFM for education system owners to play along. Squirrels climb trees, rabbits run. Let the Rabbits Run. Why do we expect our academic experts to be job trainers? That’s as silly as expecting rabbits to learn how to climb trees. Educators educate. More later!
Another carrot for educators: when education is perceived as providing maximum value and attaining goals, the theory is they will (or should!) receive maximum reward. Money talks, BS and MBA walks.
A few excerpts follow from the article my friend shared that got this train on the track: (From College Shouldn’t Prepare You for Your First Job. It Should Prepare You for Your Life) http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120405/wesleyan-president-money-anxiety-corrupting-higher-ed?utm_content=buffer3be02&utm_medium=social&utm_source=nfrb&utm_campaign=20150803))

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

More Input! Just In, From Humans of New York–(Pakistan Style) https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/photos/a.102107073196735.4429.102099916530784/1045192165554883/?type=1&fref=nf

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

The age / grade segregation paradigm must be abandoned!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little More Help…Who are the SME’s Best Suited to Provide Guidance for Each Topic?
Hint: squirrels climb trees a whole lot better than rabbits. Let the Rabbits Run.
https://craigalan.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/let-the-rabbits-run-redux/

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

Start Local, One Pebble Into One Pond!

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

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

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

Bully For You!

In the classroom, I see and hear too many first hand accounts of bullying. The unseen instances are scarier to me, due in part to the unknown magnitude: how big is this issue, really? Is one of these kids teetering on the edge of “too much to handle”?

CNN just ran a piece on bullying by peers; here are a few highlights:
Adolescents who are bullied by their peers actually suffer from worse long-term mental health effects than children who are maltreated by adults…because children tend to spend more time with their peers, it stands to reason that if they have negative relationships with one another, the effects could be severe and long-lasting… children who were bullied are more likely to suffer anxiety, depression and consider self-harm and suicide later in life.
(Bullying by peers has effects later in life)

What wrong with kids? They should know better, right? We can blame it on the way they were brought up and the lack of enforcement of anti-bullying policy by the schools. Our culture tolerates bullying and abuse. Still, kids should flat-out know better.

“Bullying” comes in different shapes and forms. There’s spousal abuse–bullying in a relationship. Not just obvious physical abuse but verbal and mental abuse. Which begs a question: why is it “bullying” for kids but we call it abuse for (alleged) grown-up cases?

Then there’s bullying at work, but what we call the behavior morphs again. In the workplace it’s called harassment and discrimination. We even have federal laws dealing with it, and most companies tout a “zero tolerance” policy. But how wide is the “say-do gap”? My opinion: Grand Canyon-wide. Those who do shout out when they are bullied > abused > harassed only stand to catch even more grief. Sure, in the workplace there’s the “whistle-blower” clause that addresses retaliation. But except for an occasional exception it’s basically worthless.

In schools, staff is for the most part woefully under-educated about bullying. Honestly, they have their hands far too full with other stuff anyway. Dare I get radical: parents must play a much larger role in addressing bullying with their kids, both for the bullies and the bullied. Oh but wait…their hands are far too full with other stuff too. A pattern!

Schools are workplaces too. As such, they are governed by harassment and discrimination laws. But awareness of individual rights and protections, and of responsibility to abide by the laws, are both big-time issues. Again, the gap is Grand Canyon-wide.

Abuse in relationships has grabbed the spotlight due to high-profile cases involving professional athletes. Teams and leagues have come down hard on the accused, but is this due to a new awakening, a real moral outrage? Or is it more a reaction to public opinion, a necessary PR move to keep butts in the seats and minimize protests?

From the CNN piece: while government has justifiably focused on addressing maltreatment and abuse in the home, they should also consider bullying as a serious problem that requires schools, health services and communities to prevent, respond to or stop this abusive culture from forming.
“It’s a community problem,” Wolke said. “Physicians don’t ask about bullying. Health professionals, educators and legislation could provide parents with medical and social resources. We all need to be trained to ask about peer relationships.”

We need resources…we all need to be trained…we need to stop this abusive culture from forming…all three of those statements have always shouted out to me “you might as well raise the white flag now and continue with the same old same old. It ain’t gonna happen.”
As that great country troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker lamented so eloquently decades ago, we’re just pissin’ in the wind.

Here’s what it boils down to: no one should be subjected to treatment that makes them cry tears of relief at the end of the day and makes them feel waves of dark dread over starting the next day for fear of what may go down. And yes, some do drown in those dark waves.

There’s huge variation in what it takes to make someone’s life miserable. Some have ‘thick skins’ and nothing gets to them (maybe we’ll visit about the “reasonable suspicion” clause in drug policies later). Others can take a whole lot of grief from others, apparently…until one more remark or incident sets them off and all their pent-up frustration lashes out, sometimes with violence directed at themselves or others. Still others are what the callous among us call crybabies, getting all weepy and irrational if you even look their way and they catch you.

A serious question…what can we do? Why does bullying exist, what are the real impacts, how can we fight it?

The CNN article concludes with this: “We tend to admire power, but we also tend to abuse power, because we don’t talk about achieving power in an appropriate way. Bullying is part of the human condition, but that doesn’t make it right. We should be taking care of each other.”

Bullying is abuse, and abuse is bullying. Period. Why should there be less than zero tolerance for bullies? Why should bullying be “part of the human condition” as that passage states? Wouldn’t “taking care of each other” be much more…human?

Ubuntu!

Lots to Learn–Ubuntu!

(a quick plug…if you’re looking for a chance to do what you can to make this world a better place, check out Citizens and Societies-join up and join in. C&S is a LinkedIn community, 9100 global perspectives coming together to work toward positive social change. Review the Group Profile for a good overview. Note-the above links won’t work if you’re not logged on at LinkedIn)

Two years ago I was introduced to Ubuntu by African refugees I connected with at work. Two days ago a new LinkedIn friend who was born in Africa shared his thoughts on Ubuntu. And just today a friend posted a classic Ubuntu story on Facebook.

I can take a hint, especially if it’s repeated often enough! Sometimes it seems things come together for a reason if you just open your eyes and mind. We stand to learn a lot from Ubuntu but I was letting it collect dust. It’s high time to flip the spotlight back on.

My Experience With Ubuntu
My past employer had many refugees working in the plant, including a wide cross-section of Africans from several countries. When we first started bringing these people in, I studied up on their customs, norms, and history so I could connect with them on a personal level. I feel incredibly richer as a result.

My new Liberian friends were amazed when I wished them Happy Independence Day on July 26th. My musician friend from Uganda had a lot of fun at my expense as I struggled to learn a song in Lugandan so I could sing a harmony part with him. Judging from his face and laughter, I was probably singing something like “you smell like a water buffalo” before he got me straightened out with phonetics rather than spelling. Wasn’t easy.

An incredible lesson was given me when one of my Sudanese friends introduced me to ubuntu. We were talking about the importance of teamwork and what it meant to be a real team. He listened intently, then said simply “you are talking about ubuntu. What other way is there?”

He was right. Ubuntu is perhaps the purest expression of true community at the cultural norm level, and could be a powerful expression of teamwork in the workplace.

Norman’s Perspective on Ubuntu
Norman is African born, but mostly grew up in the UK and Europe. These are his thoughts. “The concept of Ubuntu is about:

  1. one’s conduct both in terms of manners (social etiquette) and ethics (don’t do unto others what you don’t want others to do to you) and,
  2. a Spiritual worldview.

Ubuntu at its most basic emphasizes brotherly love and neighborliness on the part of an individual. It offers a set of expectations put on an individual on how he/she should treat others and a spiritual worldview that emphasizes the connectedness of individuals to everything that surrounds them including the view that an individual’s action can rebound to affect his/he life for good or for worse. At its extreme, it seeks to emphasize the Africaness of an individual, to get him to stay within that Africaness and not to adopt Western sensibilities.

I interpret it to mean that one should stay humble, should look after the environment and should respect all human beings regardless of age, gender, religion and in return, the world will give you everything you want. I practice it most times, and it appears to work, for me at least. The truth though is that manners can get you very far anywhere in the world.”

Archbishop Tutu on Ubuntu (The Tutu Foundation is a great Ubuntu resource!)
“Ubuntu is the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

“If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children.”

This started with a plug, it may as well end with a plug. We collectively need a greater understanding of others, full inclusion even if someone is “different than me”, a true worldview. What better place to start than with our children? Imagine a curriculum that included learning and really understanding the values system of other cultures, other beliefs systems, including the religions of the world? See Character-building and Ethics in School here,  also posted at LinkedIn Pulse where at last check there is a decent discussion brewing…must be signed up on LinkedIn.