Utility and Location

Online learning. Supposedly the thing that will help everyone become a participant in the economy and be able to educate themselves to become the new social entrepanuer, entrepaneur, business owner, newest new newey thing, etc.

But, what ever really comes out of online learning? Is there really any THING, that one can point to and say they’ve learned this or that in order to create a THING. Sure, you can learn some coding, in a very limited way that so far, I don’t think has led to any serious break throughs.

I think an important question never asked about online learning is, what are the things that online learning CANNOT teach? Really, it seems like all of the most important skills needed to be a human or to really be useful fall into the cannot-be-taught-online bucket. First example is every skilled trade: pipefitting, brick laying, carpentry, welding, plumbing, truck-driving, teaching (quality-wise) basically, if it has a union, it is something you cannot learn online and generally, if it has a union, we need it for society. Second, any and all physical sports, if you move on a field you cannot learn it online. This one is important for physical health, mental well-being and generally being social too in most cases (it’s the one situation where focusing on “teamwork” can be beneficial too). Third, food. Sure, there can be an online course showing how to cook food but, there isn’t an online course to get you to be a gardener they can teach the ideas behind it but, to actually learn, one must put seeds into the ground and then real agriculture cannot be taught online because there is no one-size-fits-all for farming, we’re just going to skip over the wisdom that one has to gain about weather, soils and everything else someone in agriculture has to know.

So, an online course cannot teach you how to influence the world, move through the world, or use the world to provide for a basic necessity. Sometimes it feels like online courses are just a conspiracy to make everyone feel good with more certificates to hang up and a way to show insurance companies that “we have trained our employees” and allow companies to make the trite claim that “our employees are our best resource” without actually accomplishing anything.

So instead of constantly being enamored with these free online courses and living online, take a minute to think about all the things one cannot do digitally, consider most of our analog existence, our analog skills and wonder, why aren’t we focused on those things more?

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Student Debt

What would happen if all students with debt simply decided, at one time, to stop paying the loans back?

Seriously, if every, or nearly, every person with student loan debt simply stopped making payments, what would happen? Can government/enforcement organizations seriously go after every single individual with student loans? I know that’s loans are based on an assumption and trust of the system working but, it seems that everyone thinks that this system isn’t working anymore so why continue with it?

Or, how about if our government bails out those with the loans when this bubble does finally burst instead of the banks?

Just a thought.

Discipline

What if trying to “build a child’s self-esteem” is actually becoming detrimental to that self-esteem?

I mean, there seems to be a movement to help “build a child’s self-image” through talking to the young child (I mean early elementary or before).  Cutting deals with them and attempting to manipulate them in subtle ways in order to get them to do what the adult needs/wants them to do.

It seems that this is the preferred method because it “empowers” the child which then gives them confidence. What if this confidence is a weak confidence though; instead of creating a deep-set confidence which holds through any issue, what if confidence based on this empowerment is very shallow and not resilient?

Sure, giving a child a choice, if only of limited options delimited by the adult can empower the child; make them feel like they have control over parts of the world but, that feeling of control is fake and, I think, a root cause in people lacking resiliency.

Think about it, resiliency comes from many factors.  Some of those are: feeling in control, being able to let go of the things you cannot control and your emotional outlook towards events in life.

Giving a child options, instead of simply a “no, because an authority figure said no,” limits which factors grow in a child.  The child ends up always feeling good because they at least always have the semblance and feeling that they are in control.  What happens once that facade fails though?  Since they are less used to being in a situation out of their control, there is potential for all of their self-confidence to crumble.

Instead, the benefits of simply telling a child “no” and not giving them options teaches them that they are a) not always in control and not always going to be in control and then b) how to emotionally deal with that in a way that makes sense and teaches them to remove their personal feelings from the exact situation so that they can have a healthier emotional outlook on the situation.

So, what if resilient individuals come from slightly sterner upbringing?

Resilience

Floating around in business, self-help, etc. seems to be this idea of gaining resilience; gaining the ability to “bounce back” from set-backs and keep going.  I have not read many of those books, yet.   But, what if our current perceived lack of resilience comes from a lack of firmness?

I mean, I feel like, growing up (and in general), I learned to “go with the flow,” and accept things in life as they came.  As one book I recently finished phrased it, “…being generally groovy…” School never really helped me search for my ideals, we never even spoke of ideals that I can think of.  There was never time spent, going inwards and finding depth, figuring out what we consider most important as individuals. Now people are apparently feeling somewhat, out-of-control or at a loss and lack this resilience that is being looked at.  I think that these two things are connected.

I would argue that, for something to bounce back, there has to be a certain level of firmness in that same thing; a solid core if you will. That core is actually the thing that creates resiliency.

I always imagine a blade of grass or bamboo when I think of the word “resiliency.” The wind blows and the plant bends or sways but, as soon as the wind stops, the plant goes right back upright to it’s original (or close to it) position. That’s my mental image of resiliency.  Following that image, one part that the grass or bamboo has is a core, an internal structure which holds together even while being bent over.

That internal structure; that is the thing missing from people I think. So, what if instead of resiliency, we looked at a core? We, as a society, are generally too groovy I think, not to mention too schizophrenic due to our focus on television to have that discussion usually. Yes, I can even take a distrust of technology and make it old.

Back to being groovy, you know one thing I was never directly asked through grade school, high school and University: what do I value? I don’t remember that being on any college essay nor scholarship application. We certainly did not have a class on it at any point (maybe kinda-sorta with philosophy but not directly).

Even on a more basic level, some of the words teachers, parents, mentors, etc used were never clearly defined: “be kind,” “be nice,” “be fair,” etc. Those are non-resilient words, they are groovy ones and sway everywhere with the breeze yet have no core to retreat to.

(Yes, I’m enjoying a chance to constantly use the word groovy) 

I have generally been convinced of the power of language to shape thoughts and actions, following this line, weak (non-resilient) words would lead to weak actions and weak individuals since their internal cores are based on words which do not actually have substance, leading to squishy, non-resilient, cores.

As such, using words that have a clearer definition and helping students define those words and learn hard, real examples of those words would be the first step in creating more resilient people.  Defining those words and then using those words to help students define their values, I think, would be the way to create resilient citizens.  What if education spent some time on that sort of work?  The only down side, that I see, would be a distinct down-tick in grooviness.  I would consider that a fair trade for citizens able to handle uncomfortable situations though.

Play SHED

There is a lot of focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum in schools.  In some places there is a new tag-on so it is becoming STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & design, Math) instead as a disappointing attempt at bringing in innovation through arts.

First thing, I tend to have a habit of wondering, when so much money is being thrown at a problem, why does it seem like it still is not working?  An example of this is all of the money being thrown at STEM/STEAM curriculum, trying to show people how important it is for the future, etc. etc. etc.  All this time, effort and money thrown at a problem yet, there does not seem to be much headway; that tells me, it is time to reconsider.

People and organizations that promote STEM programming/curriculum always want to say that “no, but it is fun!” to kids and then make attempts to teach the STEM ideas through “fun projects” or something.  So, it seems that the STEM idea comes first and then is somehow worked into something fun.  What would happen if the fun part was first but, it built up and into STEM ideas?  Meaning, what if we cut the end-goal out and let the student(s) play first?  Looking into this idea I stumbled into the idea of “loose parts,” a short description is here.  Really, the inherent basis of science is curiosity I am pretty sure that is agreed upon.  Then, the basic elementary level teaching of the scientific method is to create a hypothesis and then test it, if I remember correctly: basically, problem solving.

Now, think back, which problems were actually worth solving for you as an individual?  Those which someone already had an answer to or the ones that no one really seemed to know and that had all paths open to you for solving?  I can say that I personally like the problems with no known answers and many options and it appears that the children I work with prefer their own problems and their own solutions instead of a problem I create and know the solution to.  When I attempt to do something like that, I usually get “I don’t know, can you show me?” from the children.  So, instead of providing the exact path to get STEM thinking in children, what if we started to let them have those loose parts and go where they wanted?

Continuing on the “loose parts.”  The Arts part of STEAM has been brought in to help promote some more creativity within the curriculum.  As mentioned in the article, loose parts promotes creativity in a material sense by their nature.  Another aspect of education that is becoming a problem is reading comprehension within schools by my understanding.  What if we started sharing “loose parts” with children in a reading sense?

These “loose parts” are actually inherently human to all of us: stories.  What if we started telling stories again?  I call them loose parts because, in telling a story, especially a story of a legend/myth style, children can pick up the parts of the story and imagine themselves as those characters in the story; they are loose, open-ended characters for them to assume and build a world with their friends with just the bits and pieces that were shared, they remember and find important from the stories they have heard.

Stories, in being told, do not have the visual aspect; that lack of visual is the primary opening for visualization.  Somebody can describe something as much as they want to but, due to the nature of communication, the mental image that a listener gets will be slightly different from all of the other listeners.  Those different images, when a child begins to try to turn them into a reality with their material loose parts, will lead to different things and creative solutions to the problem of different viewpoints.

Stories help do another thing too.  Stories help children create heroes, idealizations of an individual and how to act.  Having heroes probably leads to the children wanting to know more about them which can be the gateway to helping inspire them to read on their own, then they do not have to wait for the story to be told, they can read all they want about their hero whenever they want.  The idealizations of how to act can begin to lead to critical thinking and questioning how to be a good person, I doubt anyone has a problem with that.  So, with these sorts of thoughts I came up with a new acronym for curriculum: SHED.

Science, Humanities, Engineering and Design.  The whole thing is Play SHED.  Play first in order to have scientific thinking (problem solving with loose parts), the importance of humanities (story-telling), engineering (building with loose parts), design (art, creating something from a mental image).  Just an idea to consider.

Considering Management

What if management is simply taking the unconscious aspects of an organization, or group making them conscious and then actively making the changes required to improve those aspects?  Sort of like life in general.

Trying to view management through this framework does a few very useful things.  The first being everyone can step back from leader worship.  Not everyone is a leader, not everyone can be a leader and not everyone will be a leader; quit trying to make it otherwise.  But, everyone can begin to learn to identify unconscious actions in themselves and each other then try to change those actions.

A manager would simply be someone who has become adept at identifying those unconscious actions and thoughts in individuals and an organization, bringing them into conscious levels and working on changing them if required.  Work cultures become what they are due to the people in them and how the relationships between those people form, grow and change.  A manager works to consciously create a work culture that is beneficial for the end goal of that organization/group/team.

Next, viewing management from this framework would lead to managers not becoming stagnant.  To become adept at identifying these unconscious habits, one needs to practice and the best place to practice would seem to be on oneself, constantly.  A framework of this sort has self-improvement built into itself without needing to specify.  A manager taking this sort of framework as their way of management would be a dynamic individual that is constantly growing meaning that they will probably constantly be finding new habits in the organization to identify and tinker with meaning the organization will also be continually growing.

Finally, taking on this framework means a manager can explain some of their practices to those they are managing.  When a manager requires some sort of meeting or training, under a framework of identifying unconscious habits, a manager has the potential to explain to an employee why they are being put through the training that seems to be ‘common sense’ or not useful. The manager has the potential to say to the employee that they had identified habit x within the team which seemed to be hindering the team so, this training was scheduled to bring this habit into the open for the team so that they can identify it and agree to a way to change it.

This sort of framework seems to be a lot like a sports training coach.  The coach gets the team together and starts working on training some aspects of the sport until they become unconscious habits.  He also watches the team and identifies current unconscious habits of team members or the team overall which are detrimental to the team during a game.  Then, the coach creates a new, beneficial habit to replace the old one and trains it into the team until it becomes unconscious again.

The most beneficial aspect of this framework, for me, is the ability to explain the reasons for something in a way that makes sense.  Having to go through different “trainings” for some of the things I have done has always ended up being frustrating.  There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the trainings and they do not tend to be beneficial due to their one-size-fits-all style and lack of context.  A management framework as I am describing will cut out the one-size-fits-all trainings and would actually be able to provide context for the trainings in the form of, “I, as the manager, have noted x habit within the organization/team.  This habit is not helpful to the team because of a, b, c reasons.  So, as a team/organization, we are going to examine this habit, consider it and agree to a way to change the habit into something helpful to the team/organization.”  Finally, an answer to “Why do we have to do this?” as I am sure many people get tired of hearing from employees.

Teaching To Excellence

I had been thinking about such a topic before but, conveniently, there is an article tapping into a similar idea (at points) here.

Ignore the gender gap bit, that is a different conversation.  Instead, focus on this paragraph:

SMPY and numerous other studies have provided large-sample evidence that appropriate acceleration benefits the vast majority of gifted children. In a comparison of grade-skipping students with a control group of equally smart students who stayed with their age groups, the grade-skippers were more than twice as likely to earn a Ph.D. in science, math, or engineering, and had more patents and publications at mid-career. Even modest interventions, such as access to Advanced Placement courses or self-paced instruction, give students demonstrable advantages that continue through college and into the workplace. Conversely, exceptionally gifted students who remain with their age peers typically underachieve and experience negative effects on motivation, self-esteem, and anxiety.

“…exceptionally gifted students who remain with their age peers typically underachieve and experience negative effects on motivation, self-esteem, and anxiety.” Yet, we continue to make these gifted students sit in these classes that they can sleep through and still pass with flying colors.  Meaning that they lose motivation and disengage while waiting for those who are not as gifted to come along.

What sort of situation does this put the teachers in too?  How does one teach to a class of 20-30 students of a similar age group but with say, a 5 year difference in abilities?  They can either spend time on the higher end and keep going or, in order to make sure standardized test scores are met, spend all of their time on the lower end while receiving pressure from those doing better.  I had to do this for a single sort of project with only 7 students and I was stressed out by it, doing something like that day in and day out for years sounds impossible.

So, what if we did bring “grade-skipping” back or, started separating classes into different levels by ability and NOT by age solely?  Sure, sounds like we are becoming elitist but, is it really elitist to simply try to make sure everyone can achieve their best at their best level?  Instead of relying on huge amounts of statistics that say “generally, a student at age 10 can do x,” and operating off of that assumption only, what if we started to use the “local data” of the individual student and adjusting accordingly so that they can be taught to the level of excellence that they are capable of handling.

Also, think about how much better every student would be able to do surrounded by peers at their own level and who they can connect with and with a teacher who can devote the time required to help them.  Next, how about the potential of building an “advancement” type of carrot system too into education, instead of moving forward inevitably happening simply due to the passing of time, a reward system of achievement could be built in.  Something like Boy Scouts, only by reaching a certain level do doors open  up which can let the boy do some of the cooler stuff, that may help inspire some students (especially in a much more supportive classroom environment) to reach further than they usually would and achieve more than they seem capable of.

The other side of this would be to not hold those “higher achievers” up so much.  Separating by ability not by physical age would then mean that these higher achievers end up being “average” by the standards they are surrounded in, probably a humbling experience for them and helpful because that means that instead of constantly being held in the limelight and receiving all of the awards those in other groups will not feel so disconnected so, separate from those.  This would also end up working against the culture of “everyone receives a trophy.”

I typically hear complaints about that sort of idea how everyone gets an award for participating instead of actually receiving awards for excellence and capability.  Separating out by abilities can help to limit that and promote healthy competition between competitors who are actually equal.  Those who would always receive recognition would be put into a cohort of similar people and not constantly receive recognition when compared to others of a similar level, while those who would suffer low self-esteem due to no recognition might actually achieve a level of recognition since they are also with a group similar to themselves and be able to outshine them in some aspect.  But, since they are being compared to a similar group those peers can feel like they might make it some day too because they identify with the recognized individual.

In short, what if we taught to the highest abilities of all students instead of only the lowest common denominator?  Teaching towards excellence for everyone with high expectations at their level instead of teaching towards everyone getting above a minimum hurdle.  Set the bar high enough to be met but outside of comfort zone, I bet all students would start doing better.