Posts Tagged ‘education’

Within the Comfort of Our Safe Zones

July 19, 2018


The image of the American trailblazer, bravely forging a path into the unknown, fades to a ghostly image in the bright lights of modern American glitz.

Today, the majority of the participants in the social media networks move tepidly against the backdrop of… of… well, many very scary things!!

It has become a commonplace to stay within the confines of what we already “know” whether it is correct or not and never bother questioning whether it is correct or not. Our opinions matter so much more than… well anything else, especially something like facts.

Opinions have become the new brand of “truth”.

It is like those friends – and I’m sure most of us know these – who claim that someone is fat or ugly or stupid and, to soften the blow, claim it is because they alone are the one friend who will speak the “truth” to you.

Who ever believed opinions were “truth”? How did this ever become a thing?

During the 2016 election cycle, this was displayed quite publicly on the large public stage.

While I was ranging far and wide to learn as much as I could about the various candidates, the issues, and so forth, I received the same messages from differing sources. I mean, I kept hearing all the “bad Trump” messages from left-leaning friends and the “crooked Hillary” links from my more conservative associates.

I would post and link what I found to be cohesive and intelligent views from all sides during the period. Green party, Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, and quite a few independent or undecided sources; whatever I found of interest to the greater issue, I would share while my friends were stuck on a one-tone throughout the debacle.

Why are these people so quick to judge and so reticent to actually do anything like independent research?

First off – TIME.

Doing your own research takes a lot of time. Being a fast reader, I can breeze through this stuff rather quickly. Others sometimes struggle through pithy political punditry or pedantic posturing, trying to find some sense in the mess.

Memes are so much easier than anything like actually “reading”.

But even though some of my friends read a lot, they generally read only those articles that merely reinforce their previous opinions, their “truth”. When reading articles they disagreed with – found very uncomfortable to read – they flatly rejected them or, most often, ridiculed them. When put to the task of clarifying the points they found objectionable, the response was usually “all of it”.

Maybe it’s just me, but I doubt I can read any lengthy article (on any subject) and fully agree with the author on all points. I sometimes even do not completely agree with the stuff I’ve written when removed a year or so from it… yes, my opinions morph over time. I actually thought that was normal!

When the assault occurred on the alt-right speaker Richard Spencer, the internet exploded with “Punch a Nazi”.

A wave of self-congratulatory flag-waving ensued among the collective intelligentsia as if some mighty blow had been made against the assembled forces of evil.

It was humorous to watch. Even if it gave me an uneasy feeling. It reminded me of a period in history when, after the death of Lincoln, anyone who said something bad about the late President was liable to be shot dead. And there were many killings “claimed” to have been for this reason although no investigation was done.

When the mob intelligence (what an oxymoron!) rules, mayhem ensues.

But I digress…

What is the cause of this retreat of our consciousness into our imagined “safe spaces”? Why this refusal to step beyond our comfort zones?

No man is an island, the old saying goes, but we are becoming more so every day. Stuck in echo chambers, hearing our own thoughts regurgitated by others, constantly reinforced, it is hard to see beyond the veil of consensus to ever glimpse some truth beyond the pale.

Is this a by-product of our education system?

The strict enforcement of “only one correct answer” thinking leads to a society that can no longer think.

And neither Bill Gates’ questionable agenda in that regard or the leadership of Secretary DeVos seems to be working toward any relief to the growing problem.

The result will be more and more enlarged comfort zones, people incapable of robust thinking, polarization of ideas, and inability to find their way around a negotiation.

In complex situations, those who do not comprehend – in depth – the data and motivations of all the parties involved, are doomed to be the frantically screaming sidelines seeking out passive Nazis to sucker-punch before running off cackling like a loon to post their “blow against evil” on their Facebook page.

Where are the trailblazers from whom we sprang?

And from where sprang these…?



September 15, 2013

My feet are specialized for what they do… I would hate to try it on my elbows. But some people – without feet – have adapted to let their hands or elbows do the job.

My stomach has a specific function too and I don’t think we have a backup organ to do what it does. Specialization is great but with the connective systems to keep them working together, they would flounder around with no purpose.

The same is true for people.

Specialists in chemistry or law, history or astronomy are great but without a few interdisciplinarians, where would we be?

This becomes especially important in today’s world where the specializations are getting more and more narrow, experts have less knowledge of the current development in other fields, even some whose work is closely aligned.

Bill Gates and “educational reform”

September 1, 2013


Bill Gates thinks he’s large and in charge.

First, he conquered the computer landscape with his programming (& plundering tactics) and moved on to other things.

His foundation delved into health issues and after much work they “eradicated” malaria. Another feather in his cap.

After seeing how well his Windows performs (not very, thank you) and knowing how viruses once-eradicated seem to come back bigger and stronger, I don’t think we need to thank him just yet.

Now, flush with the victory over an age-old disease, Gates has now set his sights on another major problem: education.

Call me skeptical but after the “advances” he has made in his earlier two conquests, I really don’t see how he is either 1- qualified to lead this fight, or 2- innovative enough to take us where we need to go.

Most revolutionary educators that I have read lately complain about the testing and “standards of learning” matrix now in place.

So, has Gates come up with a way to creatively evolve that process?

Heck no! He now insists that the way to improve education is the expand the practice to include teachers.

That seems a bit like patching a tire to fix it and, when the patch leaks, put some bubble gum or scotch tape of the leaky patch.

But what sort of thinking would one expect from a person who dropped out of school and even thought he could trademark the word “innovate”?

I shudder to think what product our educational system will produce if this dilettante is given free reign.


Empowering Girls in Math and Science

December 30, 2012

I have been speaking about education for a while now and, though I hate to sound like a one-trick pony, I will probably be talking about it more. It is a very important subject and far too important to let it slip into mediocrity.

The struggles in the Middle East to allow women to be educated at all has gotten a lot of news in the past few months. In Afghanistan, Najia Seddiqi, was murdered on the way to work and two months earlier, in Pakistan, Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head on a bus. Malala survived the attack but Najia did not. The theocratic regimes in that area of the world would like to keep women from any education whatsoever.

In our country, things are quite a bit different. Women are educated. But still they are not encouraged to delve into the fields of science which remain predominantly male. There are many women in these fields today but they still remain a small percentage of the professional population.

Fortunately, there are “activists” in our country who are actively promoting scientific careers as a choice for girls. If their curiosity carries them toward one of the technical fields, their sex should not be a stumbling block, or a road block.

There are many resources on the web for various groups around the country (and the world) who are actively creating programs, curricula, and training materials toward this end.

One I recently came across was on facebook called Empowering Girls in Math and Science. Just like the title of this entry. It also displays a different focus in educating children: play. That is a more appropriate style than drill-and-kill. But that is a different topic.

Regardless, the female of the species has as much right to every opportunity afforded the male of the species. And, biologically speaking, even more of a right.

But maybe that’s just me.

Identifying “Gifted” Children

December 16, 2012

When I was in public schools, they had no templates in place for the identification of “gifted” children. They had programs for “special needs” and the such, things for children at the “lower end of the spectrum” whose problems required they be set apart and instructed differently.

But the “gifted” were not identified, nor were they assisted within the system.

Many parents of such kids usually pulled them out of public school and enrolled them in private institutions where they could be assisted as required.

Quite often, teachers took my boredom in the classes as an unwillingness to participate.

Oh, well…

When my eldest daughter got into fourth grade, the schools had a prototype gifted program in place and she was placed in it.

Today, my grandchildren are given the opportunities for even more such instruction because the schools generally “identify” the gifted students by the time they reach the second grade.

And this is all for the good… so much better than when I was a child…

Except for one thing: through the third grade, I was nothing exceptional. I doubt if any testing would have showed any “giftedness” in me. For me, it did not kick-in until I hit puberty.

And that is the problem with the present system. If the child is not identified by the second grade, the system thinks it is pretty much too late to look for any further signs.

We may be losing a lot of future genius because we do not check on them flowering later. What if they do not flower until age fourteen? Or sixteen?

Another problem is that they are looking for specific criteria of giftedness. Specifically, math and science gifts. You know, those wonderful things that raised us to the top of the technological spectrum so many years ago.

Except that those gifts do not appear to be keeping us there. Can it be that the next evolution of technology will require something else? We seem to have stop thinking outside the box and the latest waves of “advancement” have merely added to the same old structures.

Will the “same ol’ same ol'” keep serving us years into the future or are we going to actually have to do some out-of-the-box thinking? The sort of thinking of which that those only gifted and trained with the inside-the-box thinking are not going to be capable.

Perhaps we should consider expanding the “giftedness” to include other areas of expertise…

But then we would have to be prophetic to know which field is going to bring that next evolutionary step.

The lack of that prophecy would mean we would have to start developing ALL the gifts of each and every one of our students, regardless of the field or area of giftedness.

Wow! What a unique concept!

How Learning Actually Occurs

December 12, 2012

Teachers are proud of their place in our society and proud of their role in the enormous task with which they have been entrusted.

There is even the popular bumper sticker: “If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher”.

Yes, teachers are the very backbone of our society. But that backbone is often bent, misshapen, or broken.

And, if the truth be told, they do not actually “teach” anything.

Now, before people go on the warpath and find some rope to lynch me for such sacrilege, let me clarify one thing: how exactly does anyone learn anything?

Even a cursory look at Pavlov’s experiments with the dogs will answer that one for you. And, no, it is not through stress and torture and food deprivation.

We learn things ourselves because it tends toward survival. And not everyone learns these things at the same speed. And not everyone has the same take on exactly what “survival” means to them.

Simply put, anything that improves the welfare of our mind/body/spirit is deemed pro-survival. Anything detrimental to that triumvirate is considered anti-survival.

But let’s extend the example a little bit further than Pavlov.

Let’s say you are trying to grasp a concept in class… say how numbers work… and the teachers puts up example after example of math in action…

But you just stare. The concept is completely foreign to you. Math! Addition! What utter nonsense! Who could possibly have a use for such things?

And then the kid sitting next to you gets it. And then another kid in the back of the room gets it. Suddenly, you realize that maybe this does have some importance, some relevance… If nothing else, you know you will become a laughingstock if you do not get it.

You puzzle over it for a time until the light bulb goes on and you see what the heck is going on with all the weird things the teacher is writing on the board.

Now, the tough question… where was the teaching done? Did the teacher actually bring the idea, the abstract concept into your head?

No. You did it yourself.

Certainly the presenting of examples was part of the process, the teacher’s guiding your attention to various parts of the process helped as well, but did the teacher actually teach you anything? No. You did it yourself.

The teachers have to realize their role is simply as a facilitator, a guide in this process. For them to think they actual teach is a bit of a stretch and it gives them some sense of power that was never theirs to begin with.

Having children copy information down, over and over, learning to recite data, repeat things by rote, is all fine and good but it is NOT teaching.

Studies through the years have shown this is the most effective way at “teaching” because it forces the child to go over the data again and again, and those same studies have shown that continuous exposure to the data will – in many cases – eventually cause it to become lodged in the child’s brain.

Unfortunately, those same studies also show that in very few cases do the children actually learn the concepts, though they can repeat the data well enough to get them through the battery of state tests.

There are even children who excel at taking tests. They know how to study for them and how to score well on them. Yet many of them have no understanding of the subject matter.

So we have a wonderful population of robotic drones with great test scores!

And America’s place at the forefront of scholarship and technological advancement slips ever so slowly from the top of the list…

We have become mediocre.

And we had better figure out a way out of the quagmire before we lose too many more generations through a lack of proper education.

Survival is the key to learning. Anything that brings happy, fulfilled beings leans heavy toward the survival side of the scale. If this is one key to the problem, it is only one.

Another key, and probably more important, is the natural state of children. This is the one key that should be utilized most heavily in education but it is usually ignored and quite often killed as brutally as possible: a child’s natural curiosity.

Rather than attempting to shove data down their throats, one needs only create a mystery about something and the child will generally move toward it. If the mystery is presented strong enough (not forcefully, but interestingly enough for the child) the teacher, as facilitator, will not have to do anything but get out of the way and let the child discover the answer.

Make resources available for the child to uncover the mystery and their curiosity will drive them to find the answer. Getting off-track? The facilitator can nurture them back on the task, with questions and instilling more curiosity.

Working with the basic temperament of children is so much more efficacious than trying to stifle their natural gifts. Use their powers, direct their strengths.

Another natural gift of children is the love of play. If “learning” was more like “playing” they would embrace it all the more quickly.

Quite often in pre-K and kindergarten, the teachers play games with the kids and help them learn that way. Why not continue the practice in later years as well?

Older children love to play as well even though recess and such physical activities are usually phased out of the curriculum in favor of more rigorous forms of (boring) rote learning.

This is not to say that children instructed for years in the normal manner used at present cannot become contributing members of society, because they can. And they do.

I just wonder, though, how much further we could all go if the education system was designed to be teaching human children rather than Pavlov’s dogs?

Mindless Students Created by Mindless Teachers

December 7, 2012

(if this comes across a little harsh toward teachers, I apologize in advance… but my complaint stands, well-founded)

A local teacher was teaching a course to teachers to better their situations in the school system and complained that though the questions specifically asked for answers PLUS “real-life” examples from their own classrooms, the students (professional teachers) all copied the answers from the materials and rarely include any examples of such they had noticed in their classrooms, unless liberally punctuated with “catch-phrases” from the reading material.

It was a sad complaint: why can’t the teachers answer the questions properly? Surely, as they each have years of teaching experience, they must have some experiences to draw conclusions from… not simply rely on the book answers.

Actually, and this is perhaps the saddest part of all, the teachers are taking the class with the same mindset they expect of their students: DATA (yes, the sacrosanct gift of the gods) is set before the students to be copied ad infinitum, to be transferred by rote to the brain, and then regurgitated – on command – ad nauseum.

Like Steely Dan said: “What passes for knowledge, I can’t understand.”

I am certain these teachers can look back into their own past when, as youngsters, they decided to actually become teachers. What divine inspiration brought them to that decision?

Perhaps it was the handcramps from copying all the data listed by the teacher on the chalkboard, perhaps it was the hours of repetitious fun in filling out those mimeographed or xeroxed worksheets, or perhaps the endless repeating of homework paralleling the classwork, or maybe just the haggard looks of their teachers as they continued in their own fashion to continue beating the dead horses.

I am certain it was none of the above.

These people probably disliked that part of the curriculum as much as any thinking organism would, and yet they became teachers and continue doing the same mindless tasks. School boards and education colleges across the country all subscribe to this methodology of teaching and, as teachers, they have dutifully fallen into line with it.

Without thinking… without recalling their own past.

Surely, some of these can remember that moment of wonder when they “finally got” a concept and saw the beauty and wonder of learning. I’m sure that’s what hooked most of the teachers today, seeing that process in action. The connection between the mental universe and the real world and how understanding any concept actually comes into being.

It is truly a marvelous thing.

And I can almost guarantee it did not occur during any of the mindless tasks teachers have handed out over the last couple of centuries.

Advocating for Your Child… Gone Bad

December 2, 2012

Fairfax County is one of the most progressive counties in the nation and a firm believer in offering “better” opportunities for their “gifted” children.

Unfortunately, the very concept is self-defeating as much as it is self-indulgent.

One young girl I heard about, a 2nd grader, got accepted at one of the gifted learning centers. Her parents were overjoyed at the prospect but the girl herself was quite happy where she was. Her friends were there and the school she had been attending had ample after-school activities that she loved.

Her mom talked her into trying the advanced center for a year. If she did not like it, she could transfer back to the school she loved. It was a hard sell – a year being an awful long time to a seven year old – but the mother finally prevailed.

At the end of the year, I saw the young lady and she was so happy to be coming back to school she left. The advanced center was so “nose-to-the-grindstone” that it was boring and the new school had absolutely no after-school activities or summer programs like her former school.

Two weeks later, she was very disappointed. It seems the mom had told her one year wasn’t long enough to give the new school a fair shot and said to give it another year…

And you know what happened at the end of the second year…

The girl is now in fifth grade after spending much of the summer hanging out at her old school, wishing she could be involved in some of the wonderful summer activities going on there. But she could do nothing more than stare through the fence at the kids learning happily, doing science experiments and investigating nature, IN nature… not in some stuffy classroom… you know, like in those advanced academic centers.

Advocating for your child is good.

Lying to them – for any reason – does not set a good precedent for any sort of a bright future.

Even if you assume the ends justify the means, they do not.

It would have been better to simply endure the tantrum the child would have thrown or the weeks of sulking to “lay the law down” in the beginning.

And it is a shame in this case that the young girl got the raw end of the deal because those gifted centers are not all they are cracked up to be.

Sure, they are geared toward the advanced children but the level of enrichment is decidedly less as they assume the parents are advocating other enrichment for their children outside of school. Which this girl’s parents could not afford.

The teachers at the gifted centers know their children will not fall anywhere near the bottom of the academic barrel and so they do not try that hard, merely pumping data into the young minds like it is some sort of an Einstein-assembly-line.

I am not saying the teachers are necessarily doing bad work, it is just that that system is heavily flawed.

I feel sorry for the children abused in this manner in the name of “progress”.

And shame on the mothers and fathers who force that kind of slipshod education on their kids.

Especially to the point of lying to them about how “good” it is for them…

Or is this just some prideful posturing for the parents?

the Different Schools of Historic Thought

November 4, 2012

There seem to be two very different methodologies in the study of history.

The oldest is the study of the times and the peoples and the events that shaped the times, people and events within the framework of their own world.

And then there is the most common methodology used today: the study of history and how the past has shaped today, and therefore what that past means to us, today.

Historians love this one because it means they constantly get to “revise history”, which means they can keep getting published for the same material just with a “newer” slant that is more “to the moment”.

This is what I can the “zenithal” form, that form of thinking that puts us at the apex and everything in the past has lead us to this great height. Of course a few years from now, we will be at a new “apex of history” and everything will have to be revised for how we were guided to that apex.

It is a very ego-centric method. It is the same sort of thinking that led us to believe the Earth was the center of the universe, with the Sun and planets rotating around us.

And led us to believe that we are they only form of life in the entire universe.

And that we are the reason the Creator made Heaven and Earth.

In other words, it’s always all about us.

It is almost too easy to stroke our own egos and think everything has been leading us to… well, US.

I am certain many ancient Greeks and Romans had the same thought, that they were the pinnacle of evolution, both biological and social.

It might be a valid argument on social grounds (i.e. survival of the species) but doesn’t it sort of get in the way of understanding the past?

They were not ALL busy trying to make the perfect world for us.

Still, most Christians throughout history have thought the fabled “end times” was in their generation and many today somehow think the Maya created their wonderful calendar just to tell us that our world was going to change. Somehow, I don’t think the ancient Maya were really thinking about us and our problems.

And it may be true that, as a species, we need that sort of positive reinforcement like some unconfident people need, but is it really good history?

Not really, except for the fact that people throughout history have thought this way. And as that seems to be encoded into “human nature”, is it right to expect anything different?

Probably not for humans.

And history does seem, after all, to really be about us. No other species seems much to care so much about the past.

So, why then should the past matter to us?

I have always thought that we, as individuals, can learn from our mistakes. So, would it not be possible to learn, as a people, from the mistakes of our past? It seems likely that we could… if we would only stop repeating it long enough to try and understand the past.

But history will never be put to that usage until we start teaching it toward that end in view, rather than treat it as a parade of urban myths to glorify our patriotism.

Or used to stroke our egos.

What’s Really Important

October 19, 2012

I saw a recent report about the population at one of the local math and science tech centers for advanced children.

It appears that the vast amount of students attending are either white or Asian persuasion. The Hispanic and African-american students do not seem to have a place in that program.

Many scholars are scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to increase the representation in those two groups. They see a real problem in this.

They cannot understand why the families are not pushing the children harder to excel in public school.

Actually, changing the instructional programs for those two ethnicities will not solve the “problem”.

Having grown up in the American southwest, where there are a lot of Hispanic families, I know they have different value systems than the mainstream population. Believe it or not, their primary focus in life is NOT about their careers. Their first concern is family. After that is usually church. And then somewhere down the list is self.

Most families of European extraction tend to want the best education for their children and push them to excel in their studies. They will also hire tutors if it is thought to be necessary. Asian Americans also have a very strong focus on personal achievement and a great number of these families do hire tutors or embrace other types of study enrichment for their children. If there is a chance to get the children into centers for advanced academics, they will advocate for their children.

We sense something wrong with the two lagging ethnicities and try to create some model to get them more involved and interested in education. But, as one might expect, that is more about us than them.

A parallel can be seen in the organizations we have doing charitable works in the poverty-ridden countries in Africa and Latin America. They raise funds to help these unfortunates out and often show pictures of their situations.

What they do not seem to get is that the people in those conditions are very often happy. Their families are together and they actively support each other as well as their extended kinships.

Sure, they don’t have the latest fashions – rarely do most have what we would call even a basic wardrobe – nor do they watch television, play video games, or compete in the workplace to “make things better” for their family.

They seem to think that having family and sharing that closeness is really all it is about.

One can imagine they do not have a lot of psychotherapists in their neighborhoods.