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Look to Struggling Students for Your Future Leaders and Game-Changers

Valedictorian Speech

Valedictorian Speech

Karen Arnold, a Boston University researcher has conducted a 14 year longitudinal study of high school valedictorians, finding that they rarely achieve fame and fortune. To be sure, they usually finish college, many earn graduate degrees and about half rise to top tier positions.

“But how many of these number-one high-school performers go on to change the world, run the world, or impress the world?” Eric Barker is asking this question in his new book, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree.” He cites another study of 700 American millionaires, finding that their average high school GPA was 2.9. Of course, not all millionaires are game-changers.

Barker seems to believe that there is a disconnect between the kinds of students we reward and the kinds of graduates that a rapidly changing world needs. He suggests two reasons for this incongruity, both of which I touch on in “The Quiet Revolution.”

  1. “Schools reward students who consistently do what they are told” – and life rewards people who shake things up. Arnold says that in high school, “we are rewarding conformity and the willingness to go along with the system.Speaking to a group at Business Insider’s New York office, Baker said, “In school, rules are very clear. In life, rules are not so clear. So a certain amount of not playing by the rules is advantageous once you get out of a closed system like education.”
  2. “Schools Reward being a generalist” If you are passionate about political history, you have to restrain that passion for time to spend on your Math, Science, Health, and English homework. The real world rewards passion and expertise.

Surprisingly, Arnold’s study found that students “who genuinely enjoy learning tend to struggle in high school. They find the education system ‘stifling’ because it doesn’t allow them to pursue their passions deeply.”

Lebowitz, S. (2017, May 29). Why valedictorians rarely become rich and famous — and the average millionaire’s college GPA was 2.9. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/why-high-school-valedictorians-dont-become-really-successful-2017-5

New Years Resolution: Bring Democracy back to North Carolina

Political scientists, Andrew Reynolds (UNC) and Jorgen Elklit (Aarhus University, Denmark), have designed a method for evaluating the democratic quality of elections around the world. Based on their work in setting up elections in Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa, Sudan and Yemen, their method has been adopted by the Electoral Integrity Project, who have used it to measure 213 elections in 153 countries. 

A North Carolinian, Reynolds was unpleasantly surprised to find that his own state rated poorly on the democracy scale — on the level of Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. It’s measures of legal framework and voter registration ranked NC with Iran and Venezuela. 

North Carolina’s districting for legislative elections was the worse in the U.S. – and worse than any other country — worse in the world and worse ever recorded.  

According to a compilation of all indicators, North Carolina’s government can no longer be classified as a full democracy. 

We should hang our heads in shame, that we have allowed this to happen. 

Reynolds, A. (2016, December 22). North Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy. News & Observer [Raleigh].http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article122593759.html

Use Your Department of Education to…

Consitution
U.S. Constitution

Before this absurd presidential election is over and the chilling potentialities have faded, I want to urgently request something of our next president. 

We are a great country with a wealth of resources, a rich culture that derives from its heritage of immigration and a government that has been carefully designed by some really smart people. We are greatest when we thrive to better ourselves based on the honorable principles that guided the best of our countries designers. As such, we have an immense responsibility to ourselves and to the world. 

In recent months, I have also come to realize how fragile our country is — not because of a failure of resources, culture or even our government (surprise).  It’s because we have forgotten what our country is about and the spirit behind its creation —  and our education system deserves a large part of the blame.  We endeavor to prepare our children for their future workplace, and rightly so.  But we have increasingly worked toward this goal at the expense of preparing them to become knowledgeable and responsible citizens of a democratic society. 

We have angrily express our dissatisfaction with how Congress, the President and the Supreme Court conduct governmental affairs.  Yet, according to an Annenberg Public Policy Center study, only 36% of us could name all three branches of government. 35% could not name a single one. Only 27% knew that two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate could overturn a Presidential Veto. 21% believe that a 5-4 Supreme Court Decision is sent back to Congress.* Yet the constitution we apparently know so little about grants us the power to select those who will fill our offices of leadership. 

Therefore, I earnestly beseech our next president to use his or her Department of Education to enact a complete overhaul of Social Studies education in America.  We need to understand the history and heritage of our country, both our successes and our blunders.  ..And, additionally, we will not be able to accomplish this without escaping the tyranny of high stakes testing and the multiple choice knowledge that it precipitates. 

The United States has an exciting history that folds into an even more exciting world history, and it all influences nearly every aspect of our daily lives.  Learning about that history and its social, cultural and economic implications should be just as exciting — and it can be. 

It should be. 

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” - George Santayana

..or worse, have it rewritten for them!

* Annenberg Public Policy Center. (2014). Americans know surprisingly little about their government, survey finds. Retrieved from http://www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org/americans-know-surprisingly-little-about-their-government-survey-finds/

Good Enough for the 4th of July, But Not for the Classrooms of North Carolina

The history of my country is accented by acts of enormous bravery, men and women who did what they were told, and more, in the face of the ultimate sacrifice.  But among those acts of bravery, for which we owe our independence and freedom, were people who did what they were told by the powers of authority, not to do.  The Boston Tea Party is an example, when patriots risked their freedom and even their lives to dump bundles of tea into the Boston harbor, rather than pay the British taxes, imposed without representation.  Other such acts of civil disobedience include:

BostonTeaParty
BostonTeaParty.jpg
  • Refusal to pay federal taxes in protest of slavery and the Mexican War
  • Street marches, hunger strikes, and submission to arrest and jail in order to gain the right to vote for women.
  • Harriet Tubman’s underground railway and other actions which helped to end slavery.
  • Sit-down strikes and free speech confrontations to eradicate child labor and improve working condition.
  • Sit-ins and illegal marches to gain civil rights for all Americans.

We were taught about these acts and their courageous actors in school and we celebrate them on days like “The 4th of July.”  They are part of our identity as “the land of the free and home of the brave.”  But, if this nation’s most arrogantly conservative legislature, the North Carolina General Assembly, has its way, such acts will be considered grounds for refusing teacher licensure, in the interest of keeping our children safe.

Protect Students in Schools (Senate Bill 867) was sponsored by Senaters Chad Barefoot, Trudy Wade, Buck Newton and others. The bill suggests that a teacher, who has been “..convicted of a crime, whether a misdemeanor or a felony … indicates the employee poses a threat to the physical safety of students or personnel.”1

Among the crimes listed by the bill are murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, arson and…

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

I have written a number of blog posts (here, here, here and here) about the declining state of public education in my state, since radical conservatives took the legislative, executive and judicial branches of our state government. Without collective bargaining, North Carolina teachers have little voice in determining the direction of our schools, beyond the voting booth — which the legislature and Governor McRory seek to influence with long awaited for raises, averaging 4.7%. 

To put teacher salaries into context, on average North Carolina’s pay for public school teachers averaged $1,549.93 below the national mean, between 1970 and 2010.  However, between 2010 (when conservatives took control of both houses of our General Assembly) and 2016, NC teacher salaries have fallen to $7,911.66 below the national average.  Part of this may be the General Assemblies elimination of a higher pay scale for teachers who continue their education through graduate degrees.2&3

It seems to me that in this time of rapid change, we need to empower our professional educators to lead in our schools with permission to be flexible and creative, as they craft and facilitate learning experiences that help students to become innovators and resourceful learners. But, if our legislature’s desire is to turn public education into a market place and our schools into customers for corporate products and sources for corporate profits, then creative, resourceful, passionate, and well-spoken teachers are a factor to be avoided. 

 

1 Barefoot, C., Wade, T., & Newton, E. S. (2016). Senate Bill 867 (S867). Retrieved from North Carolina General Assembly website: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/Senate/PDF/S867v1.pdf

2 Teaching Salary Data by State. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.teacherportal.com/teacher-salaries-by-state/

3 Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state or jurisdiction: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2009-10. (2010). Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics website: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_083.asp

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What Would You Like to be Doing?

I ran across this Guardian article (Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots) yesterday morning and posted it to my Facebook timeline immediately.  I wrote, “The manufacturing jobs that once brought prosperity to many of our towns and cities will not be coming back, if this article represents a trend – and there’s no reason to think it does not.”

There is a caption on the Guardian page that reads,

If robots are the future of work, where do humans fit in?”1

I think this is an interesting question – and it should not necessarily make us afraid.  Why not consider it an opportunity.  If we no longer need the economic contribution of every adult to make our national economies work, then a lot of us, a whole lot of us, will be freed.  I do not make this statement lightly.  Having mostly retired from kmy work life, I have experienced some of the inevitable depression that comes from reflecting on how much my work has dominated more than half of my 60+ years – and I’ve had the most interesting career that I can imagine.  It seems to me that working for a living, as a necessity,  is a bit unfair – not that I would give up any of my time in the field of education.

Perhaps the more interesting question should be, “What would you like to be doing?”

If the answer is, “Getting stoned and watching TV.”  Then we have a problem, and I have no doubt that this would be a common answer.  Assuming that I am right, I would suggest that one of most important goals of our public schools in the near future might be, assuring that for our students, the answer to that question is something a lot more productive and interesting.

I ran across this article, just minutes after posting this entry: iPhone manufacturer Foxconn is replacing 60,000 workers with robots

1France-Presse, A. (2016, May 24). Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots. The Guardian [London]. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/adidas-to-sell-robot-made-shoes-from-2017

Tax-Cuts do Spur Employment…

But it’s not the tax-cuts we’ve been sold.

Tax Cuts

Retirement has given me the time to pursue some of my ongoing curiosities.  Not nearly as much time as you might imagine, but more than I had when planning and traveling from gig to gig. At present, it’s some of the stories we’ve been told to justify laws and actions that benefit, I suspect, only a small portion of the country’s citizenship. I am curious, because I suspect that many of these stories are nothing more than myths.

Take the rash of tax-cuts awarded to rich Americans over the past decades, across the country and state by state. They were rationalized by the promise that rich people, with large corporations, would use that money to build more production — and hire more workers. It makes sense, assuming the the intentions of these rich people.

In fact, and according to a 2015 study by The National Bureau of Economic Research , and reported in The Wall Street Journal, employment is generated more effectively by cutting the taxes of the poorer 90% than the richer 10%. This also makes sense. Poor people will spend their extra income on goods, generating more demand and consequently, more production. Rich people are already spending enough, so they’ll save the extra. One of the paper’s authors, Owen Zidar, wrote,

The positive relationship between tax cuts and employment growth is largely driven by tax cuts for lower-income groups and the effect of tax cuts for the top 10% on employment growth is small.1

It’s a good read,Tax Cuts Boost Jobs, Just Not When Targeted at Rich, by Pedro da Costa.

1 Da Costa, P. N. (2015, 20). Tax Cuts Boost Jobs, Just Not When Targeted at Rich. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/04/20/tax-cuts-boost-jobs-just-not-when-targeted-at-rich/

Extraordinary Learning

A 15 year old Canadian schoolboy, with a fascination for the ancient Mayan Civilization, recently theorized a correlation between the star positions in major constellations and the geographic locations of known Mayan cities. Based on this theory, he used Google Maps to suggest the location of an unknown ancient city. The Canadian Space Agency was so impressed that they used a satellite-based space telescope to study the spot and confirm the existence of the hitherto, unknown city. 

In my work I ran across many ordinary youngsters who — with access to technology, supportive teachers and unconstrained curiosity — did extraordinary things. It all begs for a more empowering and imaginative way of educating our children. 

Did our Invasion of Iraq Cost More or Less than Vietnam?

Cost of American wars in 2010 dollars & percent of GDP

Cost of American wars in 2010 dollars & percent of GDP

Woke up with an irritating insect buzzing in my head this morning.  It was the cost of American wars.  Weird!  But, unable to sleep because of all the racket, I got up, climbed upstairs with my laptop and did some research, creating this graph based on data I gathered from a 2010 Congressional Research Services report.

The reason that mental insect was  so darn irritating was the same reason that I was not surprised to learn that the post 9/11 invasion of Iraq was the second most expensive American war (WWII #1), toping the next, Vietnam, by 50 billion dollars.  That’s in 2011 dollars.

What I can’t figure out is, “Why did Iraq’s cost ($784,000,000,000) represent only 1% of its peak year’s (2008) U.S. GDP, while Vietnam ($738,000,000,000) amounted to 2.3% of its peak year’s (1968) U.S. GDP?

If you have an answer, please comment here.

The Day that It Changed for Me

Bob Geary photo accompanying an IndyWeek article about the NC General Assembly's plans to divert millions of taxpay money from public education to private schools.

Some of you are aware that I am working on a new book.  I wrote about it here, in I Can’t Believe that I’m Doing this Again!  The initial intent of the book is to describe the history of educational technology, as I have witnessed it.  However, I won’t really know for sure what this book is about until I finish it.  Like all living things, it’s becoming…

Reaching the vicinity of 1994 has provoked a long forgotten memory, an event that convinced me that my days, in my cushy government (NCDPI) position, were numbered.

Here’s what happened.

The big thing in leadership circles at that time was Total Quality Management (TQM). It was developed by Edward Deming, at least partly during the post-war years helping Japan rebuild its economy.  I have shamelessly forgotten all of the tenets of this movement, as with all of the improvement schemes of the 1990s. But TQM was really big thing at NCDPI, as the Associate State Superintendent, Henry Johnson, had recently attended a set of workshops. So inspired was he, that hire the consulting firm and required the entire instructional services staff to attend.

I do not remember the name of the firm that delivered the workshops, nor the name of the little woman who led them. I just remember that she came in about every other week, with two or three young minions in tow, prepared to change the way we did things. Although we felt that we could better use the time, we also recognized that we could alway improve our services.  So we came with learning and self-reflection in mind. What we didn’t expect was to have our steady-enough legs swept out from under us.

It was near the end of the day of the third or fourth session, when she asked us, “Who do you work for?”

We said, in unison, more than a hundred of us, “The Children of North Carolina.” She looked a little puzzled, and then repeated the question, “Who do you work for?” We looked at each other, our turns to be puzzled. Some people, hesitantly called out, “Communities of North Carolina?” “Parents of our students?” “The schools of North Carolina?” “The teachers in the schools of North Carolina?” ..after each attempt that little lady would repeat,

“Who do you work for?”

Our frustration turned to horror when she blurted out, “You work for your General Assembly (legislature)!”

We, in instructional services, had all come to the Department of Public Instruction because we were educators. We were not there working jobs. We had missions. We believed that we were contributing to a better world by serving the education of our children. The North Carolina General Assembly was viewed, most often, as a barrier to our work, restricting us with budget cuts, politically motivated dictates, and the effects of increasingly blaming teachers and NCDPI for what these politicians called, “Failing schools.”

Horror probably best describes how we felt when she told us that we worked for the General Assembly, and even more horrible was the sudden realization that she was right. The job of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction was to enforce and support the laws passed by our law-making body.

That was the day that I realized that I would be doing something else, sometime soon.

Vote Today! Vote for…

On this election morning, I am reminded of the second half of Jeff Daniels’ speech in the the first episode of “The Newsroom.” Here’s my slightly edited version…

“We sure used to be (the greatest country). We stood up for what was right! We fought for moral reasons not self-interest, we passed and struck down laws for moral reasons not for greed or spite.

We waged wars on poverty, not poor people.

We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chest.

We built great big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases, and cultivated the world’s greatest scientists, artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, and we acted like men.

We aspired to intelligence; we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior.

We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election, we voted for the best government, not the most or the least – and we didn’t scare so easy…”

And we were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed and educated. By great men and women who were revered.”

(full & unedited speech here [http://goo.gl/QSJUP], C/O Brian Hines)

If you vote today, vote for the aspirations of our original patriots, not those of the corporate CEOs and boards of directors, who camouflage themselves with terms like patriots and TEA party.

My 2¢ Worth…

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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