Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jack IN the box or Jack OUT of the box?

by Dave Burke

Greetings. A disclaimer before I start. This is Jim's brother Dave. While I have a great deal of interest in education, my experience is limited to providing corporate training, and adjunct faculty instruction at Andover College. I have a B.A. degree in Economics and an M.B.A. I've worked for a major corporate concern for the past twenty years. Thus, you won't read many educational acronyms in this article.

But, I have opinions, and Jim offered me the opportunity to post here after I feared for his safety following his lack of posts to this blog since last Thursday. He's fine, but busy doing things off the Borg, so to speak.

I'm not entirely sure what the demographics of his readership are, but I'm guessing it consists of educators that are interested in the integration of technology into education, and perhaps some who are interested in shaking things up.

The advent of the internet is a wonderful thing. But this non-educator (at least in the primary and secondary fields) is of the opinion that public schools have been slow to adapt any substantial change in the way things are done.

Let's step back for a minute and pretend that the new super collider created some black holes and sucked the earth inside out and then, by a freak of nature, brought us back without scars. Except that the black hole wiped out all government institutions, and institutional memory concerning how our children are to be educated.

Given a blank sheet of paper, how would YOU proceed?

Myself, I see today's education system as an archaic dinosaur. Frankly, I don't see a big difference in the schools than when I was in them. (I graduated from Mexico High School in 1980. )

We still try to force students to learn in the classroom. Perhaps some computer stuff is thrown in for variety, but it's still the same old drill. And you know what, we're still not doing the best we could to develop children with substantial work skills. As a previous post stated, a lot of students still don't feel worthy.

Let me step out on a limb and throw out a few ideas.

  1. Dump the concept of school grades. (meaning 1st grade, 2nd grade, etc.) Instead, develop a list of core competencies that must be met prior to "graduating". Why continue to stick to such an archaic system? It either pushes some ahead too early, and/or bores others. Some students may be ready for "College" by the age of fourteen, others may need until they are in their 20's. It really doesn't matter in the long run, does it?
  2. Have teachers become knowledge managers. Integrate self-paced technology and tutoring from staff to teach competencies.
  3. Completely revamp and reduce teacher certifications. The present system makes it difficult, if not impossible for others to enter the profession if they don't choose the "education" major in college when they're in their 20's. Instead of fully staffing a school with education majors, instead have them organize the teaching of competencies, then hire "adjunct" elementary and secondary teachers to teach mini-classes. These "adjunct" faculty need not have Education degrees. Frankly, they need not even have degrees period, just be able to teach a subject. This would encourage people with broad experiences in all types of employment to share their skills and knowledge. The core staff of educators could still assist in designing curriculums, providing guidance, etc. Encourage home schooling, and work with parents in instructional methods and resources. This core staff need not even be located in the same town, or state, or country.
  4. Quit buying textbooks. Develop "open-source" books. (they already exist, I"m sure), and collaboratively improve computer based learning programs.
  5. Re-think what "core competencies" are. Introduce new ones, like being knowledgable about the use of e-mail, instant messenging, and other communication skills, including etiquette . Place more emphasis on "life skills", like managing a family budget, credit considerations, health, and so on. Start internships when students are in their teens. Give them a feel for what working is all about.
  6. Quit being so worried about structure. Learning is about discovery. Let students discover, explore, follow their own path.
There's already others who have thought about this, including a site on New Education Paradigm, Holistic Education, and A new Paridigm for Undergraduate Education.

Society is changing. Shouldn't our Educational Paradigm? If you think it should, HOW will this ever happen without a blackhole sucking the earth inside-out and erasing institutional memory?

I'm sure most of you have thought about this too. What do YOU think? Am I totally off my rocker?


Margie Genereux said...

Jim's Brother Dave,

You have just summed up Homeschooling from start to finish. That's why I do it, and that's why I love it.

You have also summed up the direction that Adult Education in Maine is taking. We are heading to a standards-based system, which is awesome. We aren't there just yet, but we are heading there.

Most of the adult ed students (at least in Sanford, and I'm sure all over Maine) adore the way that we teach. Authentic materials amaze them. Left Brain/Right Brain and Multiple Learning Style activities help them to know who they are, and how they learn best.

I love all of your ideas, and it strikes me as rather humorous that they come from a guy who is not an educator. Maybe you should run for the local school board!

SJ said...

You hit every nail on the head, you must really be smarter than a 5th grader. Now how do we get the "real" people in charge to listen to you?

Sharon said...

Great post! I have thought it for a long time, you put it in words.

Mrs. W. said...

If I knew how to start an effective revolution in education, I would. The kind of sweeping change that is needed requires a revolution.

Your ideas are 'spot on'. John Dewey would approve.

I second the nomination for School Board!

Jim's brother Dave said...

Thanks for the positive comments.

I'll pass on the school board, but thanks for the support. I live in Auburn, and there appears to be two factions in play here.

1 - The 'you don't need nuthin' except a slateboard, a teacher with a piece of hickory, and course content in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Make the kids walk 5 miles, uphill both ways, to school everyday. We can't afford to spend anything more. (translation: "our kids are long gone out of school and we don't want to pay for it anymore")

2 - The education establishment, often backed by the omnipotent teachers union. They have strong organizational talent, marked by the ability to pack a school committee/city council meeting with those who back their viewpoint. Their viewpoint, "leave the education to us, we are educators, you are not." Spend more, and learning will improve.

Unfortunately, neither group listens to the other, and neither group are really intent on actually changing things in a paradigm changing way.

Group 1 wants to cut the budget, but basically maintain the status quo.

Group 2 wants to increase the budget, but again, basically maintain the status quo.

So, the school committee, at least in my town, typically spends its time on the following, in order of time spent.

1 - The BUDGET.

2 - Facility plans.

3 - Updating of student/teacher policies.

4 - Maybe, occasionally, a discussion on curriculum, learning methods, etc.

Unfortunately, the local school board is merely following the marching orders of the State Educational Department, which is following the marching orders of the Federal Educational Department.

But I'll keep a possible office run in mind, particularly if I want to alienate myself from both sides of the community.

Now, being a revolutionary, that's something I can be!

So the real question is, how do we make this happen? What level do we need to start at?

Is that super-collider up to speed yet?

Jim's brother Dave said...

Margie - I'd love to chat with you about homeschooling some time.