Musings on education
Something new each week starting soon
On the heels of the recent US election, some voices are bemoaning the state of US democracy. Some decry the choices of those they call the "uneducated", asking how these people could make such "uninformed" choices. "What has happened to our education system?" and "Why have civics classes disappeared?" they moan.
Before pursuing this sensitive topic any further, I would like to stress a quotation from Mark Gerzon, cofounder of The Common Enterprise, an organisation working to bridge ideological and partisan gaps between citizens, as quoted in this ASCD InfoBrief on public education:
“Democracy is a process, not a product. It is how diverse constituencies coexist. It is the fabric of our civil society. What keeps the United States from disintegrating into the Divided States is our fragile yet enduring compact as fellow citizens.”
So in this compact, what is the role of public education?
According to a report published by the Center on Education Policy (downloadable here),
"Public education in the United States emerged in part from the goals of democratic society: to prepare people to become responsible citizens; to improve social conditions; to promote cultural unity; to help people become economically self-sufficient; and to enhance individual happiness and enrich individual lives."
Let's distill these points.
Public schools serve three primary functions:
For the third point, I am going beyond the materialistic, interpreting "to enhance individual happiness and enrich individual lives" as:
3. To teach young people ways to enrich their intellectual lives, becoming both knowledgeable and intellectually discerning.
US public schools seem to address the first two points with varying success.
For (1) "societal norms", from Kindergarten forward, students are taught methods of coexisting, dealing appropriately with conflict, and what it means to be a citizen. How well students are indoctrinated in these norms varies widely, but overall people grow up believing in a democratic union.
For (2) "skills", students are given the tools to access the job market - the tools have changed over the years, but the concept remains. Even so-called "21st Century Skills" were created by the OECD to meet the projected needs of employers. Nothing has really changed since the advent of public education two centuries ago.
However, it is the third point which may not be addressed fully, if at all, by public schools. And it is this third point, becoming both knowledgeable and intellectually discerning, that is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy.
Thomas Jefferson famously wrote "wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government".
We must ask if being well-informed or nurturing the "intellect" is being addressed by public schools.
Are students given the chance to become intellectually discerning by facing well-constructed arguments that go directly against their own opinions and beliefs?
Without such point and counter-point in the public school system, how can the electorate become well-informed and discerning? It is only through debate that one can become knowledgeable and intellectually discerning.
Liberal or conservative.
Take a moment to ponder this: Are you open to listening to ideas that run contrary to your own?
Or, if not, is it fair to say you are contributing, perhaps unknowingly, to the current rise of anti-intellectualism?
Is it possible to pay school administrators too much?
OK, it's a catchy title meant to hook you, but follow my logic. I started thinking about this possibility while reading articles on CEOs' pay and the role of incentives in Harvard Business Review. I then wondered if the ideas held validity in schools.
Research shows that money ranks 5th or even 6th for people in management when asked "What do you care about?"
W. Edward Deming famously declared that "pay is not a motivator". (He also said "Forces of Destruction: grades in school, merit system, incentive pay, business plans, quotas.")
Dan Pink went further in "Drive" by saying "The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table: Pay people enough so that they’re not thinking about money and they’re thinking about the work. Once you do that, it turns out there are three factors that the science shows lead to better performance, not to mention personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery, and purpose."
Simple enough: enough money takes money off the table.
However, is it possible to pay people so much that the potential LOSS of their high salary puts money back on the table?
In other words, if they are paid above market value, do they fear losing that incredible salary?
What would you do if you really wanted to keep your job because of the salary? How would this affect your actions, your decisions?
In any school, policy is set by the Board and then carried out by the administration. There is ample room for risk-taking, starting new endeavours and leading as long as policy is followed. For example:
However, let's say an administrator becomes risk-averse.
How could risk-aversion affect decision-making?
I wonder if these musings are at all valid. In the abstract form, they seem possible, but I wonder what people's experiences / thoughts may be. Looking forward to any comments you may have.
Until next week.
I respect maids, aka housekeepers. They are outwardly patient even when they may be overworked under the weight of an oppressive hand. They may want to quit but actually may like the children in their bosses' family. So they don't quit.
I respect teachers They are outwardly patient while they may be overworked under the weight of an oppressive hand. They may want to quit but actually like the children in their schools. But they don't quit.
The similarity ends there. Teachers are professionals but are often not treated as such.
The reality is that many teachers in the US and other countries want to quit, partly from lack of respect. Many teachers leave the profession early on and the nagging feeling doesn't go away for many throughout their career. The reasons?
Of those who stay on, according to a poll conducted by the NEA, 45% of them have considered quitting because of the recent love affair with high-stakes standardised testing imposed from above. Is this also a form of lack of respect for teachers as professionals?
How to change these dire straits that exist in so many countries?
A good start is to look at a country where students are succeeding, stress is minimal and teachers' lives seem more balanced: Finland.
Finland, touted as having consistently high ratings as an educational system, largely due to:
The process of becoming a teacher lasts about six years, people stay in the profession for 40 years, and the average experience of a teacher is about 16 years (Source: Finnish Lessons 2.0).
Finns think of teaching as a high-status profession in the same way as law or medicine.
Students strive to become teachers. Finnish society is not a place where, in the words of Woody Allen "those who can't do, teach, and those who can't teach, teach PE". Teachers in Finland are professionals and are treated as such.
Now, time to reflect on other countries. The US is but one example. Among 34 developed countries (OECD Countries), the US scores 17th in reading, 20th in science and 27th in mathematics. Can this be related to the results of a new study that shows that 17% of teachers leave the profession within 5 years.
So is it time to treat teachers and teacher trainees as the professionals they are and aspire to be? Some quick changes are due:
In the end, teaching is a partnership. Teacher, school, family and society all benefit from a healthy learning environment led by the teacher.
A good teacher is like a good doctor. You should trust your doctor's judgment. You should trust your teacher's judgment.
Both are professionals and have much more education and training than a maid.
Ingenious. No that's too positive. Devious. And I say that with utmost respect. You cannot find this subject on a straight Google search. Maybe they pay to kill the subject? The subject is "Kool Killers on Wicked Wheels".
Have you seen cars with "The Reds" on them. The above shot is from a van delivering cigarettes to a store in a mall. Pretty uncool and no one really cares.
But the other vehicles are Porsches and high-end SUVs. Driven by models.
Keep an eye out for them. They drive to clubs with their windows down so everyone can see their coolness. At clubs, they hang out looking ever-so sexy smoking their brand in outdoor areas overlooking the Bosphorus. And they offer cigarettes to young people.
Philip Morris, the cigarette manufacturer has its head office up the street, so I often get to see these cool people pass by in their cool cars. The company has security most often reserved for consulates and embassies.
Perhaps it is fitting for what some call "merchants of death".
Cigarettes are not my point though. Media literacy is my point.
Media are not limited to newspapers, TV and films. Media include everything we see and interact with.
And cool cars with cool creatures smoking uncool cigarettes is a medium that gets young people to smoke.
Let's not let the smoke get in our eyes so we can see we are being duped.
Many years ago, I worked for a bank. The potential for a good salary gave me incentive to stay and rise through the ranks. Initial annual holidays were two weeks if I took them in the summer or three weeks if I chose winter. The fact I chose winter was an early indicator of what I held as valuable: a block of time for myself.
When I became a teacher, there were of course strong intrinsic incentives. However, a strong extrinsic incentive was the block of time afforded teachers for summer breaks. During the school year, a good teacher works at least as many hours outside of class as inside the class and very committed teachers may prep and mark at a ratio of 2:1. So when summer comes, teachers decompress.
Time is ours.
During the long summer hiatus, teachers may choose to take courses, they may choose to travel, they may choose quality family time. But that's just it. They may choose. The time is theirs to use or abuse as they wish. This choice of how to use time brings an amazing amount of happiness.
In a recent article in The New York Times, research shows that those who value time over money are happier. Note the word "value" here. Valuing time more makes you happier than valuing money more. (That said, when a person who values time also has time, needs are met, just as when someone who values money has money, needs are met.) The article indicates that "even if you’re scraping by, and thus forced to focus on money, you’ll be happier if deep down you know it’s time that’s most important."
A few years ago, I moved into school administration and thus a good deal of my summer time became other people's time. A basic value that I held was undermined and a basic need was not being met. I created justifications: the job was "better" - after all, I was making more money. I had an important influence on more people than if I were a mere teacher. But my time belonged to others ...
Ten years ago, I returned to teaching and have since been happy on many fronts, including meeting my need for the time which I value. I work hard but have time to play hard.
So, is the expression "time is money" valid? In some concrete ways, very much so.
However, ask yourself this question:
"If your basic needs were met, would you want more time or money?" Your answer may tell you how happy you can be.
Until next weekend ...
(For the original study, you can access it by clicking the link to the journal "Social Psychological and Personality Science" below.)
Crap. I'm packing and the cats have nestled in with the suitcases again. One is looking out at me in a truly satisfied way. Every time I travel he does this. But ... Is he onto something?
Cats live very much in the moment. They appreciate the small stuff. The daily treasures, the new discoveries, however small. So do dogs. But we as human beings tend to work so much at the expense of enjoying each moment, each day. At the expense of traveling. At the expense of defeating the bad guys. Yes, that's correct, defeating the bad guys: here's why.
We do four things very differently when we travel than when at home or work.
So, how does this affect the proverbial bad guys?
Until next weekend!
Perhaps like you, I prefer to work in a place with a purpose, a plan, a mission. It excites me that we all know why we are here. A shared mission builds community and common purpose. It is the rudder on a steady ship. When a mission is crisp, clear and understood, there are few uncertainties.
Before looking at schools, let's take a look at these two missions from the corporate world: Apple in 1980 and Apple in 2016 (as quoted in Business Insider). Which of the two missions do you prefer?
This first one is from 1980: “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”
The second mission statement is from today: "Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad."
Take a second to reflect. Which one might inspire you? Which company sounds exciting to work at? If it's the first, it may be because the original mission addresses what Simon Sinek calls the "why" or the raison d'etre of Apple (see his 17-minute TED Talk on the subject here). In 1980, Apple knew why they existed and were ready to create new "tools for the mind", yet unnamed, that would advance humankind. A heady mission indeed!
What about today? It looks like they are concentrating not on the "why" but on the "what". Today, Apple concentrates on the product. It seems to be a mission about making stuff so they can make money. Not so inspiring anymore.
So, which Apple would you want to work for? An Apple that creates new as yet unnamed tools to help mankind? Or an Apple that creates Macs? Your call.
If you are an educator or a student, take a minute and try to remember your own school's mission. If you know it and it is meaningful, excellent! Please share it in the comments below! If you do not know the mission, is it because it is too long, meaningless or full of generalities such as "excellence", "internationalism", and "life-long learning"? Do your eyes glaze over when you think of it? It does not have to be this way!
A school's mission can change over time and should reflect the needs of a school's current situation. Most important is that a mission statement should be about something that can be connected to everything the school does. Every proposal, every lesson, every act of the school must connect in some way with the mission.
That does not mean a mission should include everything. Quite the opposite.
Let's look at a few that capture my fancy for their simplicity. (All of these mission statements have been taken from MissionStatements.com)
Belmont Hill School 350 Prospect Street Belmont, MA 02478:
Mission Statement: To Ensure the Safety and Security for Each Person in our Community
I am not sure what prompted this mission, but everything done within the school can be attached to this mission. If it is not ensuring safety, perhaps it should not be done.
New Horizons School
The Mission of New Horizons School is to provide a school for homeless children. Our objective is to help the children escape the bonds of poverty and hopelessness by providing education, life skills, values and a caring environment that will empower them to successfully move into the mainstream of society.
Straightforward and again, if something is proposed that will not empower these homeless children, it should not be done.
Brehm Preparatory School 1245 East Grand Avenue Carbondale, IL 62901
Brehm’s mission is to empower students with complex learning disabilities to recognize and optimize their full potential.
If it doesn't help the student recognize self-potential, it should not be done.
Buckley Community School 305 South First St. Buckley, Michigan 49620
The mission of the Buckley Community School, where kids come first, is to partner with families to develop enthusiastic learners.
If someone proposes an activity where kids don't come first, where families aren't involved or where the kids' eyes will glaze over, trash it!
You get the idea. One sentence or two at most. Do-able. Those are missions.
Are you at a school with no mission, a long-winded mission, and/or a meaningless mission? Here are some pitfalls for schools without a meaningful mission:
Here's the good stuff. A mission is a statement that reflects the soul of the school. Among the benefits for schools with a meaningful mission:
Please share your own school's mission in the comments section below. Maybe we can all think about which ones are worthy of being reflections of a soul of a school.
Until next weekend!
Maybe you have have money. Maybe middle class? Educated? A no-brainer - but are you really among the 53%? OK, let's see how financially astute you are.
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