Tag Archives: youth development

Biological Foundations of Learning-Gray

I’m a big fan of Dr. Peter Gray’s thinking on self-directed learning and how humans really learn most effectively. A good deal of scientific study validates the notion that the principles of self-direction are how we maximize our learning and performance. But while there are plenty of reasons for self-directed learning to go prime time and there has been plenty of success, true self-directed learning remains on the fringes. Ninja sneak attack time…I’ve been studying how to infuse proven principles of self-directed learning into mainstream, traditional education.

Why Can’t We Accept and Leverage Our Human Nature?

Dr. Gray posted an article nearly two years ago that describes “….four powerful drives that exist in all normal children:  curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and planfulness.  The foundations for these drives are encoded in our DNA, shaped by natural selection, over our evolutionary history, to serve the purpose of education.  Our standard schools quite deliberately suppress these drives, especially the first three of them, in the interest of promoting conformity and keeping children fixed to the school’s curriculum.”  

These four drives are critical to human development and to lifelong learning. WHY can they not be incorporated into the methods and materials of a traditional academic curriculum?

A related question: what is the relevance of these biological foundations for “big” kids? Are they important to us too, do they represent basic human nature regardless of age? What if leaders in the workplace were mindful of these? I’m seeing a direct correlation to elements of high engagement (see Engagement and Mojo—Peas and Carrots) which have been proven to boost morale, job satisfaction, productivity, overall performance, and even social-emotional well-being, physical health and longevity. You suppose there’s something to all this?

Read Dr. Gray’s piece. It’s short, and it’s not crammed full of scholarly mumbo-jumbo. Once again, Gray has done a great job of capturing the essence of what learning, and life, could and should be. Come back here and offer your thoughts: what are the barriers to mainstreaming? And what are the resolutions that will help us work around those barriers?

 Biological Foundations for Self-Directed Education

Here are four powerful, innate drives that lead children to educate themselves.

Posted Sep 28, 2016  Peter Gray

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All-Community Development: Vision, Delusion or Simple Pothole Repairs?

Replaces two earlier “RWPS” posts, re-tooled with Part Two worked in here rather than separate, for continuity. But now it’s a big honkin’ Tolstoy. Hey, if it grabs you, you’ll still find enough time.

I Had a Dream Last Night…

….a wickedly delicious dream. My community had somehow put together an all-stakeholder collaboration complete with shared vision, ethics and goals. We had even initiated a well-coordinated action plan with no infighting, no control freaks, no country clubbing. Very strange.

What is this thing called all-community development? It apparently involves education, employers, parents, civic leaders—all the players—doing their part. Burden had partially shifted away from the overextended education system. Collaborative needs analysis, co-design and delivery by employers, community leaders and educators ensured actual workplace needs were met. It was working…our town was booming! A banner inside City Hall was kind of a vision statement-looking slogan:

We are a vibrant, economically and emotionally prosperous community.

Our model of development is a magnet for economic growth, attracting

families with children, new employers, and working adults to our community.

A smaller wall chart beside the banner was titled “Community Strengths and Objectives”. As I read the bullets I said out loud “pinch me! No…don’t!” This looked like a great environment for families, employers, the whole community to grow together:

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

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

Hold my beer.

***********

Why would I dream all this? Maybe it has something to do with the issues that had been consuming my waking thoughts for too long. I’ve been trying mightily to get involved in repairing just a few of the multitude of potholes in the intersection of Workplace and Education, and Life. There are many issues in the interface among these, or more accurately the lack thereof. While the academic and workforce issues are well known, there’s a Grand Canyon of a gap between knowing and doing. Here are a few of the heavy hitters.

Potholes Needing Repair—Intersection of Workplace, Education and Life

People Issues Poor prep for post high school life: (1) socially / emotionally; (2) for the workplace; (3) for higher education. All ages: hopelessness, lack of direction, apathy…why bother? Increased stress, anxiety, substance abuse, self-harm, suicide; youth bullying, workplace harassment, social polarization.

Economic, job market, demographic and political issues all point to the need for a different approach to preparing young people for post-high school life, as future workers able to meet the moving target of workplace expectations but especially how we prepare them for life itself (social-emotional needs).

System Issues  Education budget and school resource cuts, talent pool skills shortage, poorly / unrealistically defined workplace skills needs, unrealistic expectations of “degree required” by employers; higher ed identity crisis, rising cost of higher ed, inaccessibility and irrelevance. Real-world expertise is outside the academic wheel house, and education resources are too thin to change.

EMPLOYERS:  “Our talent pool is a mud puddle. We need job candidates who are better prepared!”

EDUCATORS: “But we’re doing a-b-c already, and x-y-z too. We’re doing what we can the best we can with what we’ve got to work with.” It’s just not enough. The Big Question: is it the right stuff?

Paradigm Buster–You want it? Help make it happen! It’s not just education’s responsibility. Need front-end partnering and ongoing collaboration on design and delivery among education, employers, and community.

Education and Workplace Prep Issues

High school graduation rates are unacceptably low. Grads aren’t ready for college rigor or are unable to attend for various reasons. Our obsession with standard test performance and common core is under fire. The battle cry: “we need a new education model” but academia is painfully slow to change. It’s no one’s “fault”: it’s the nature of the education system.

“College is the new high school.” But college is out of reach for too many. The relevance and value of higher education is being challenged too, with over-priced and under-valued degrees (“diploma inflation”). Employers set unrealistic demands for “degree required” even for entry-level jobs when there is no real position-based need. Many positions simply do not require a degree as much as they require specific job skills training. Result: degree or not, employers consistently hire what they feel is unprepared workers and education, counselors and parents still push young people into college-or-bust, especially into STEM fields. The real issue is our perception of “well-prepared” and unrealistic expectations of how much an academic education can prepare the future workforce.

A high school education with an accurately defined curriculum could be of more value than a post-secondary academic degree….if Real-world Prep School (RWPS) is driven directly by employer-identified needs, to ensure content is relevant and timely.

Wait…There’s More

There is no longer any luster in providing a service or making things people want and need …“that’s blue collar, not good enough for my kid.” No matter if the work is skilled, pays well and has a huge upside. “Get a degree so you can get a professional position” is the only game in town. No matter if you’re miserable jockeying a desk the rest of your life, if you manage to find a desk. No matter if you end up owing a ton of money for the privilege of being miserable. Everyone deserves fulfillment.

“Free college” is a sexy political hot potato initiative, but deeper questions need to be answered. Relevance and affordability are an issue. For starters, is a degree even necessary for a field, realistic position and required job skills? A trades program may meet immediate workplace needs better than a STEM education and degree. Mike Rowe isn’t an often-quoted academic expert. But he’s a highly regarded champion of workforce skills development. Mike feels that we’ve created much of the skill gap problem ourselves. He points out that we’re millions of workers short for existing jobs in high-paying occupations:

     This is the great, underlying fiction that’s allowed the skills gap to widen. It’s the reason vocational arts have vanished from high school, even as those same vocations now go begging. It’s the reason we now hold 1.3 trillion dollars in student loans. And it’s why we continue to lend money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back, educating them for jobs that no longer exist.

The skills gap is real, but it’s not the problem — it’s a symptom of what we value…. we have to stop elevating one form of education over all the others, and begin treating all jobs for what they truly are — opportunities.

Employers are part of the problem, imposing artificial “degree required” stipulations even for low-paying entry level positions. As RWPS coursework is built around employer input, it provides targeted pre-job skills training that is of more value than a degree. Need alignment: stakeholder collaboration to determine actual, realistic pre-employment job requirements: what knowledge and attributes would most likely ensure a new hire’s rapid assimilation?

Also needed: help people redefine “good career choice” (hint: “me” is key, not others’ expectations, and values-based is the key to “me”). We also need to redefine higher ed’s role: when is it of value, for whom and for what career paths, and what should it consist of?

It’s wrong to recruit, coerce or mislead students into choosing a STEM career path, turning them away from a more desired career choice. While a STEM degree may be of value, technical skill sets vary too much from employer to employer. Fine-tuning job training may be more ideally provided after a high-potential candidate is placed. And, tech giants are realizing that social-emotional “soft” skills can be a greater indicator of employee success than STEM-related capabilities. See Google’s Ginormous (Non-technical!) Breakthrough. This Google epiphany has nothing to do with algorithms or SEO…surprise!

Case Study: Right Here In River City

It’s not that “nothing is getting done”.  FRI (follows) is a stellar example of good stuff developed by good people with the best intentions. It just needs better focus. A local state legislator pointed me toward this state-wide workforce prep initiative, and some related in-process legislation. My original reaction was critical, but as RWPS needs allies not enemies focus must be “Improve on Existing Effort”! Future Ready Iowa (FRI) is politically vested, it’s here to stay. But it can be better. I am bound and determined to do what I can to help focus and bring this to meaningful action!  The original is here:  Future Ready Iowa Alliance’s Final Recommendations.  Following: a few potholes in the FRI highway and how a community development approach may smooth out a few of the bumps.

FRI is driven by projected workforce skill shortages in STEM fields and high-paying, targeted industry positions. The related goal is 70% post-secondary education or training by 2025. This is my biggest concern. While lofty and noble, the post-secondary goal ignores the entry-level jobs–a more realistic starting point for grads. It’s dangerous to assume that even an advanced degree is a reliable indicator of capability to succeed in a specific position. College-for-all is often not necessary or appropriate, and too many people take on half a lifetime of college debt but still miss the employability mark.

The FRI model is based on industry sector and / or region needs. Not an effective education / training design driver–it’s too broad, too big! And even with a convoluted mashup of agencies and players there has been only minimal action! A terminal case of complexity, overkill, programitis.  The need is for more local employer need focus. The RWPS community model is scaled down from FRI, key players are directly connected and involved, coursework is designed to more tightly meet specific needs. Do what makes sense, when it is necessary to do so. Too many times the tool controls the craftsman, the process is sacred and the users’ real needs become secondary. While it is a solid resource, FRI appears to be too overly complex to fully embrace without significant help.

Employers are asked to contribute to a broad pool for scholarship / grant funding: to provide financial support for unknown recipients, unknown studies. Contributors may or may not see a direct benefit. RWPS ensures early relationships / first contact with high potentials. RWPS increases the odds of a better employer-to-candidate fit than FRI. RWPS builds relationships from middle school on, with young people in the local community talent pool. High potentials learners are known to employers early on, and knowing they are being “scouted” for a future job is a powerful motivator for learners!

Along with direct and early interface with their most likely future talent pool—local students—employers need direct input to the local education / training curriculum and process, more control over their talent pool’s preparation.

Front end employer input kick-starts the RWPS model: define actual position skills requirements and realistic requirements to be met with a degree program. And workplace must align with coursework.

Employers aren’t done once they simply provide a list of needs and contribute to scholarship / grant funds. In-depth involvement is ongoing, from needs assessment to co-design, co-delivery and determining placement. Smooth handoff must be seamless from academia to employer, from education to internal training and development.

The need: a co-designed model that promotes systemic change. All we stand to gain is community prosperity, social well-being, personal attainment and whole life satisfaction. Social-emotional development is critical to the greater good.  Community-level action is the key, with the catalyst or enabler being a collaborative effort among community stakeholders—education, employers, legislators / local gov’t / civic and community leaders, families. Shared vision and goals. The RWPS model includes adults, not just kids in school.

Families, employers, learners, education, legislators, community…we’re all in this together.

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

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

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

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

For more on the absolute criticality of social-emotional strength, especially for our kids, I hope you’ll take a little time to read Searching For Our Mojo which describes my personal WIIFM…why I am so passionate about S-E development. Focus on our “people” needs and all that economic prosperity stuff will come along for the ride.

The Dream Grows Legs

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

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

Important: the RWPS curriculum consists of topics employers identify as essential foundational skills, and utilizes private sector experts for much-needed subject matter expertise as adjunct instructors when possible. RWPS is not in competition with education, as it provides course content typically unavailable in the education curriculum.

RWPS Nurtures Community Growth. It is the education component of a broad community well-being and economic development initiative in disguise. “Whole-person / All-person Development” is the true focus, and it extends into the working adult population and community’s families.

STEM + Social-Emotional Learning: = Develop People, Save the World! Current Shortcomings:

(ONE) Team-based learning and project assignments are the rage right now. But kids are lost when they are assigned to a project team. They don’t have the soft or hard skills needed to ensure project success. Teachers and kids are not natural-born project managers—they need development. A related issue: schools and employers call the same basic tools and techniques different things. The simplest resolution: learn a common language!

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

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

Workforce Prep: More Than Job Skills

It is essential to balance how we prepare learners for the real world. Technology is here to stay, but so is the need for emotionally grounded people. The two are not a one-or-the-other proposition. RWPS coursework includes (1) social-emotional development and (2) mainstream workplace concepts, methods and skills. Priority order is people before process:

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

Employer WIIFM

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

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

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

Parting Shots (FINALLY, Right?)

Workforce skills have been my long-time private sector focus, being closely involved in skills development. We saw the demographic projected impact of baby boomer retirements as well as the changing economy and workforce. RWPS was to be my “crowning career achievement” and I’ve grown into a real passion for social-emotional development (SED) from my involvement in the classroom. But I’m driven especially because I want to leave behind a better world for my grand kids. RWPS and SED are a powerful combination that can re-engineer this broken society and save the world.

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

My greatest frustration is not inaction. It’s that there is so much being attempted, huge initiatives and some are really, really good. But they’re just a bit off target here and there, or there’s no real focus or cohesiveness and no shared, systemic effort among a broad base of stakeholders. Even more frustrating: with all the shotgun effort and even in spite of all kinds of experts with the best intentions, nothing sustainable is happening! No results.

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

 Additional Thoughts and Support

 

 

Fish Outta Water Gonna Die Every Time

Education improvement, youth development, workforce preparation, global competitiveness, quality of life, species sustainability…..these are the things I am passionate about. They’re all tangled together in one big Gordian Knot. Ginormous? Yes. Overwhelming? Pretty much. My sphere of influence? No way. These are the things we need to build a serious national dialogue around and I don’t see much attention being paid to these issues. Good thing I’m an Iowan because all I can do is plant seeds.

How can we expect academic experts to prepare young people with real world skills? Teachers teach. They’re trained to provide an academic foundation of knowledge and are ruled by Common Core and making sure kids can ace standard tests. Schools are assessed on students’ standard test scores and graduation rates, right or wrong. You get what you pay for.

How can we prepare young people socially and emotionally for what life will throw at them, by only providing occasional learning in short snippets provided by minimally qualified counselors, then leaving them on their own to sink or swim? No systemic support, no mentoring or coaching, no direct involvement by their classroom teachers or parents.

Why do employers filling entry-level jobs expect a four-year degree? How can we expect graduates to be well-prepared for a specific position, even though they’ve gone into hock to get that “degree required” caveat covered? A post-secondary degree cannot, repeat cannot, provide job skills for a specific position. Employers must more clearly define expectations (see three levels, below) because they are certainly creating a good deal of problems with their inappropriate, unrealistic degree expectations.

“We need better prepared candidates!” But what exactly is “prepared”? Do employers have good reason to cry over the sorry state of the talent pool, and how unprepared the new entries into the workforce are?

Improvement must begin at the front end: what are employers’ real needs? They also need better definition and more realistic application of the “degree required” hiring criteria. Prep goal: provide the right learning to the right people in the right way at the right place and time. What learning is provided to whom, by who and when? 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 may 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 is irrelevant and will not stick without immediate on-the-job application and reinforcement!

How can we expect people to be happy with their lives when they are herded, almost forcibly, into a career path that does not suit them? Yet, we preach that STEM is da bomb, that you need to make financial considerations #1 in your career choice, and that you better go into a lifetime’s worth of student loan debt to get your STEM-related degree or other high-return field. IF you can find the work, welcome to a future of eventual regret.

How can we ensure that a college degree is truly worth the time and investment? College has become the new high school. Everybody “needs it” so we zone in on ways to get a college education for everyone. Relevant or not, thou shalt possess a degree or you will not work.

How can we expect employees to be satisfied with their jobs and put forth their best efforts when they are trapped in a toxic environment of bullying, berating, demanding more more more “because I said so and I’m the boss”?

Hey boss, if you’re still into command and control you’re lucky to still be in business. It would behoove you to read up a little on “engagement theory”…a powerful motivational philosophy to maximize performance…and hard bottom line results.

How can we expect different results if we continue doing what we’ve always done?

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.

 

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.

 

Ten. Again. Nothing. Again.

“Why do you drive yourself nuts over all this gloom and doom violence and murder? It is what it is, no matter what you think or say.”

Can’t accept it, can’t buckle under, can’t go numb. My hot buttons revolve around our kids and their future. Bullying, mass murders, apathy, stress, suicide…they deserve better, don’t you think? If I can nudge the needle just a little, I have to try. Move the needle, make a difference. The first step is awareness…help enough people understand and maybe care. A movement requires grass roots, a critical mass. We’re out there, somewhere.

All this nobody can do is drop my little pebbles into this one pond, and hope the ripples reach others. Even if I never know the effects I have to believe I’m making some kind of difference. How about you?

******

(real time) Oh great, another school shooting. I guess another rant is due. A broken record, but can’t get numb. Just had a school break, home long enough to find out about the Santa Fe, TX shooting. Ten more and counting. This time, the weapons of choice were a shotgun and handgun. IED’s too but none set off. Like the shooter was consciously trying to make a second amendment statement.

OK, maybe not by intent but that’s what is happening….”see, NOT an AR. And it’s not guns. It’s people”. Book it. And stay tuned for another lightning round of thoughts, prayers and outrage–an emotional gusher for an appropriate time then…. nothing. Again. (Update: not even two weeks later…this “event” came and went in a huge hurry. Numb)

After break, my classroom will be filling up again with 6th graders, and I can only hope that for now they are blissfully ignorant that more kids have been gunned down. It won’t ever happen here…will it?

Oh, but it could.  The kids in Santa Fe probably thought “never here”. They participated in the last protest.

I know myself well enough that I expect to have a hard time keeping it together every time I look at all the faces, kids I’ve watched get older for several years. What if….?

We’re in a science classroom. A big aquarium with a couple of painted water turtles is 3 feet away. One of them was on their rock sunning, and got startled…thumpity thump, splash. I’m on edge, I jumped. This sucks. If you haven’t been in a classroom lately, if you haven’t been painfully aware of the “what ifs” you can have no idea how this feels. I’m not a badass but I do know how I’d react if some nutjob tried to come after my kids. I think about it every day, first thing in the room it’s recon time, get the plan in place….this sucks.

Do something! Someone please….we all deserve, we all need better.

It won’t kill me to say it…it is NOT just guns, and gun control is not “the” solution—that’s just a band aid, but it’s one we need now. There, I said it OK?! It’s more than laws, policies, regulations. We cannot legislate values and ethics. We CAN use a little common sense to keep the wrong stuff out of the wrong hands. What is so stinking radical about that?

The highest priority is for long-term systemic preventive action, a resolution of this inhuman funk we’re in, starting very young in school and extending into the workplace and community, solidified in the family.

The most shocking issues: mass murders, gun violence especially in schools., followed by youth suicides. But also harassment, abuse, bullying; bias, bigotry, intolerance, hatred, polarization….HOW can we re-boot society’s ethical, values-based respect for each other and for human life?  What can we do to rediscover our humanity? It used to mean something to be an American. Now, we’re the worst of the worst.

We’re not having the right conversations, not exploring lasting solutions. We’re focused on using band-aids to fix things. Typical isn’t it? Is it because the social-emotional issues are too overwhelming? Still. ignoring the real issues is not the appropriate course of action. We need to get started. Somewhere, somehow. No other mission is more critical. And it should be simple, really….

Understand true root cause(s) -> Identify feasible interventions > Implement > Make systemic, coordinated improvements

Hold my beer, right?

People in Peril:  Excerpts from Mojo (itals)

It’s depressing but necessary to call attention to our human shortcomings. They are collectively overwhelming–we’re a mess. But we must more fully understand them. The issues have common roots; they’re one giant Gordian knot. So if we wield the right sword with the right concentrated effort we can slice the knot into pieces. Focus and effort…that’s “all” we need.

Our social, moral, ethical fabric is being torn to shreds, society is imploding. We’ve disconnected from our selves, each other, our environment, our basic human values. We’ve lost our humanity. We’re emotionally confused, socially isolated, ethically directionless. There’s apathy and disengagement at one extreme, and over-engagement, stress and burnout at the other. Both lead to physical health issues and emotional and social baggage. We desperately need realignment and emotional healing.

We need a visionary and ethical compass, we need compassion, we need to be part of a community that cares. But we don’t know where we’re going, and no one seems to have the ability to collectively get us back on track. Identity, community, principles and values, purpose and meaning are among the most powerful universal human drivers, right up there with love, compassion, the need to contribute to something meaningful. We’ve lost touch with those things, which has a lot to do with why society is self-destructing.

Our kids are in trouble, they’re killing themselves and each other…. The same transient blip of caring, same outpouring of thoughts and prayers magically appear every time we have yet another mass murder at a school, every time another child hurts badly enough to take their own life. But they go away. Until next time.

Out of control depression, anxiety, stress impacting kids, teens and adults alike. Death by Lifestyle. Killing ourselves and each other, both slowly and traumatically. It’s even visible….On your next trip to the store do a little people-watching. You’ll see good people soured on life, hopelessness and pain in their eyes or worse, nothing. Spirit drained, their demeanor screaming “I’m tired of this life!” Forgotten dreams, no purpose, no meaning, no fulfillment? Still, we keep isolating our Selves further from others and from being human, starting with how we raise and “teach” children into adulthood, and  the nature of work, the meaning of “success”. We’re in a constant struggle with our core human values, we’re denying our humanness. We self-inflict pain and do irreversible harm to others too. We floor it, stretching to hit 130mph in a broken down Yugo. And we wonder why we’re stressed out, miserable, killing our Selves physically and emotionally.

We’re unknowingly coerced into recklessly pursuing more and more “things” at any cost, while we juggle the demands of an endless list of urgent to-do’s. We’ve forgotten what it means to be human, paying a high price. When values and norms die problems crop up—unethical / illegal behavior, a myriad list of significant social issues, rudeness and other variations of treating each other like crap.

How did we get to such a dark, scary place?

Plenty of reasons, just a couple of starter thoughts….To me, a really big culprit is conspicuous consumption driven by capitalism without conscience. We’re brainwashed to buy, buy, buy well beyond our “needs” and beyond our means. We’re driven by Wall Street’s slick, scientifically perfected marketing onslaught.

The long-standing expectation to make sure our kids have it better is also driven by Wall Street. We take on two, maybe three jobs to deliver the goods. If we don’t we’re failures. In doing so, we rob our kids of what they really need: nurturing and love, freedom to be kids without any strings attached. We load them up with activities > shuffle them off to caregivers so we can get out there and earn, earn, earn > buy, buy, buy.

Adults obsess over STEM, driving kids toward what may be their greatest potential for earnings, but with no regard for what their real life’s passion may be. They are destined to become the hollow stares in the store, terminally miserable, another generation fully engrossed with buy, buy, buy. Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

(More From Mojo)

We’ve Lost Our Humanity. Humans are by nature caring, compassionate, social / tribal. Bad behaviors are learned, and our toxic lifestyle and sick society are artificial creations; they are unnatural and incredibly destructive; Kids (big people too!) need to know they matter, that they make a difference in the world. People need purpose, vision, values and a community built on caring and compassion. Purpose, meaning, values, ethics cannot be legislated or otherwise mandated. All we can do is provide opportunities for discovery of Self.

Poor Information, Polarization. Deep ideological differences have polarized us. Misleading and dis-information have us paralyzed. Combine the two = rabid advocacy of issues / ideologies with positions supported by poor information. Who and what do you believe, who and what do you trust? No wonder we’re at each others’ throats.

So, where to start restoring our humanity? With young people? There’s plenty of rework to do with big kids too. Focus on kids in school, or adults in the workplace? The family unit? One community at a time? Society? Short answer….”Yes, all”. We’re in this together, we all need the same attention at the same time…ASAP.

What if?

I’ve been involved in developing a model of workplace prep for our future workforce, extending through working adults. Needed: systemic intervention, all of a community’s stakeholders playing an active role. “Real-world Prep School”…information is here:

(one) Real-world Prep…Vision or Delusion?

(two) Potholes to Repair—Intersection of Education and Workplace

More critical than “systemic intervention” is the need to focus on the right things: People First, then process. If you don’t take care of people issues you will never, ever, achieve maximum “thing” results. It’s been studied, measured, verified, validated: how well people are socially and emotionally adjusted directly impact results. S-E well-being even affects physical wellness, and not just a little.

Last consideration: there’s a difference between an in-charge authority figure demanding compliance to marching orders, and developing full commitment to vision, mission and goals. One works considerably better than the other—academically, in the workplace, personally, socially….guess which?

Here’s a radical sci-fi epiphany: what if the right values, goals and actions were shared community-wide among education, employers and organizations, community members and even (gasp!) politicians? What if an entire community focused its efforts, all stakeholders on the same page? Synergy, reciprocation, constant reinforcement would kick in. The broader the ownership and collaboration, the greater the sustainable impact becomes. With a big enough lever, we can move the world.


An earlier blog has been referenced a bunch here, as the theme has been with me for some time. Go here, read the whole thing and let me know what you think…. Searching For Our Mojo

While you’re at it, all this social-emotional stuff is well represented in something I’ve been deeply involved in for years, engagement theory. Emotional intelligence, mindfulness, social-emotional development in education, and engagement…they’re all pretty much the same thing, the same basic human motivators and values. We ought to be able to leverage the similarities.  See Engagement and Mojo—Peas and Carrots

 

Been Slammed by Slam Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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