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.
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!
"Enis, the curator of the project, normally works in an advertisement company. They worked with my father in Libya last year. My father said that I could work for his projects if he wanted me to. So basically the plan was I was going near him (Enis) taking photographs for his advertisements. Then he refused us and said that he worked with professionals.
Then they continued for my father’s architecture project. They were designing a bank together and they needed a bird photo for covering up a big window. They found one from the Internet and Enis tried to call the photographer and buy it. He couldn’t reach him. Then I sent a photo of a bird that I took in ARAS CIP (a Community Involvement Project for school) to my father. He sent that to Enis.
Enis: "Oh why did we try to buy the other one? This one is way better, we should buy this one."
My dad (laughing): "Oh what are you talking about? We won’t buy it because it is my daughter’s photo."
Enis was amazed and convinced that I was a good photographer by the end of that project.
One month ago when I was in Chicago, I received a text message from him (Enis) asking if I would travel 5 countries with him taking photographs for a project. My answer was of course "yes" but it was a "double yes" when I learned that two prestigious universities (KOÇ and Istanbul Universities) and the European Union were in it because I am only 17 and I couldn’t even dream about working for them.
I took my backpack – camera – tripod and was ready to travel! My dream was coming true, traveling with a backpack and taking photographs. This was what I want to be in the future. So we traveled to 5 countries in 2-3 weeks and tried to finish up everything. But most of the time the schedule wasn’t planned well. We were arriving in a city at 5 am and didn’t know where to stay. We were meeting with new people every day. ... I was so stressed because it was my duty to take photographs for an exhibition and I wanted all of them to express me.
I designed the posters, invitation cards and edited the photographs in the last 3 days, I was so stressed and messed up but last night (the opening) I forgot all of it because of being there with the people I love and them supporting me; it was unbelievable. It was better than what I have imagined."
Tulya and Enis' exhibit is in an area of the museum dedicated to nautical objects and images. The setting is perfect; her images hang amidst the salt and splendor of the Black Sea.
Here is a student who has blended an artistic eye, and a very good one, with an energy for her work to be seen and appreciated. May I say she has combined art and business? If such a mixture was good enough for the artists of the Italian Renaissance, why have we as a culture separated the two ideas? Tulya: well done on the work you have put into creating the photographs you have, and further kudos for "getting yourself out there".
You may view works by Tulya either by visiting the exhibit at the Rahmi Koç Museum (poster linked above) or by viewing some of her work online here. I understand that Tulya is starting to create a website and look forward to it being online in the near future.
She is one student of many who will be well served by entering the "real world" before leaving high school. I do hope it is a trend.
Graduation season and congratulations to all who have succeeded in their particular rite of passage!
One valedictorian stands out for this wonderfully modern image. Yasemin Özdoğan, a SEV Üsküdar Elementary School grad, Robert College grad and now valedictorian for Koç University Class of 2015. She embodies Business Administration with panache. At the lectern, relaxed, with a succinct speech; she turns, raises her iPhone just so, and shoots. 21st Century in a frame. Brilliant. It should go viral.
Mevlüt Hacıosmanoğlu works tirelessly supporting all of us at school. One of the first to arrive every day, six days a week, he scours the halls with broom and dustpan and sometimes mop in hand, picking up the remains of the previous night - everything from discarded wrappers to cat droppings.
With thanks to Mevlüt bey and his co-workers: without you, our lives at school would not be as pleasant.
Twenty delegates and four chairs attended Nevsky MUN in St. Petersburg, Russia this week. Part MUN and part cultural exploration, our 4 chairs acted as the leaders and mentors of the younger students in all aspects. The opening was in St. Petersburg's Assembly Hall; for a brief video of shots of before and during, click here. Kudos to all, including Aybike Oğuz who created the Animoto video.
A snapshot of learning: many students are not in school this week, but they are learning more than we can imagine. European Youth Parliament members (scattered among those pictured) are debating matters of substance in Ankara. Model United Nations students are representing countries not their own in Vladimir Putin's homeland, St. Petersburg. Junior Achievement members are at a Trade Fair, pushing a product in Vienna. Our Badminton Squad is fighting hard in a Ministry of Education tournament in Istanbul. Our Model UNESCO members will be in Ankara, and our teachers will be developing professionally on the weekend.
This is but a snapshot. Learning during which students (and teachers) socialize, collaborate, write, speak and internalize ideas. They sleep little and learn much. Perhaps much more than in any class. Many teachers complain that students are missing class, but I would postulate that students can catch up, usually by collaborating with students who have attended class.
And is that not a true 21st Century skill?
My greatest joy as a teacher is watching a young person do things outside of the school walls, on his own time. It is our job to nurture, celebrate and otherwise help them in this endeavour. Here is but one example ... one of our students who is "making" for the "internet of things".