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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

Were We Ready?

A few days ago my son posted this short statement on Facebook:

We weren’t ready for the Internet

He got some affirming comments and I just added,

Because of the Internet and other advances in telecommunications and broadcasting, we have become a world of nations divided by ideology instead of nations divided by borders. You can’t “storm the beaches” of the ideas that are contrary to yours.

Being a Digital Detective
Being Literate Means being a Digital Detective

This is actually something that I’ve thought about for quite a few years and the reason I spent the last 15 years trying to convince teachers to redefine literacy.

The fact is that we believe what we read on the Internet, because we were taught to believe what we read.  Our schooling was purposely limited to textbooks, compelling (and not so compelling) lectures and library resources selected by librarians with advanced education.  We try to limit our students’ learning to what is reliably accurate.  As a result, our notion of what it is to be literate is limited.  Can you “read and understand what someone, who you trust, has handed you to read.” ..and can you answer questions about it on a test?

In my efforts, I respelled the 3 Rs with 3 Es.  Instead of teaching children to read, we should be helping them learn to Expose what is true.  To expose what is true, you must learn to read it.  But being able to search for, find and synthesize the information, and select that which is most appropriate to your situation, has become just as critical as being able to read it.

I use to suggest to teachers that they should, at every occasion, ask their students, “How do you know that’s true?”  I added that students should be free to ask their teachers, “How do you know that’s true?”  I suspect that if political candidates were regularly asked, “How do you know that?” and we demanded answers, our leadership might be quite different.

The other Es were:

  1. Learning to Employ information, instead just teaching students to calculate numbers
  2. Learning to Express Ideas Compelling, instead of just teaching students to write a coherent paragraph
  3. There was a 4th E – exposing, employing and expressing information with respect for and devotion to what is true, Ethically using information to answer question, solve problems and accomplish goals.

Who Would Teach for Cuckoos?

In the graphs below, I label the X-axis as “Years of Republican Led General Assembly,” referring to the years that North Carolina’s legislative branch has been dominated by the Republican Party, the first time since 1870.  I regret using this distinction because I actually respect much of what I think the Republican Party represents.  I am referring, instead, to the Cuckoo legislators, arrogantly conservative politicians who appear to be Republicans, holding just enough resemblance to push many fine and thoughtful statesmen out of the nest of North Carolina’s State Government.

The Exceptions

Spreadsheet ods  OpenOffice Calc
Students in Music & Art Ed Programs

Why? click

That said, I want to report on one of the many effects of their arrogance, and not the millions of dollars lost to the state as a result of their hastily written and passed HB2.

I am no longer a teacher.  I left the classroom for leadership roles in a time when teachers practiced autonomy in their classrooms and were rewarded for advancing their own educations.  Today, I can barely imagine how demoralizing the last five years have been for North Carolina teachers, and for school administrators who are desperately struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified teachers.

The solution to an alarming teaching shortage is simple, at least to the amateurs in Raleigh.

Appear to grant a raise to teachers in North Carolina.  

Factoring in the nominal inflation of the past decade and a half, teacher pay in North Carolina has dropped 13%.1  Real and significant raises would certainly help and are certainly warranted.  But there’s nothing new here.  While teachers have always been grossly underpaid, we have continued to have talented and committed men and women wanting to become teachers.

In my opinion, the teacher shortage has more to do with the declining conditions of the job and the increasing barriers that stand in the way of real learning in the classroom.  A teacher’s passion comes from celebrating the meaningful learning and growth of her students.  But today, the creative art of teaching has been spoiled by requirements to comply with government mandated standards that are measured by tests that choke real learning.

..And why would a high school student want to do, what they’ve spent 13 years watched their teachers dispair in not being allowed to do?

The result?

Enrollment at the 15 UNC schools of education has plummeted 30 percent since 2010, a worry for a state where those programs are the biggest source of classroom teachers.2

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article58311793.html#storylin1

I recently received a document from one of the state’s 15 schools of education that lists the numbers of students joining their various education programs since 2012, and the numbers SHOULD worry us.

For instance, this graph illustrates the university students who are planning to become elementary school teachers.

Elementary Ed
Students in Elementary Ed Programs

The decline, since 2012, represents a net loss of 213 potential elementary school teachers.

Equally disturbing are the numbers entering Math and Science programs, illustrated here.

Science/Math Ed
Students in Science or Math Ed Programs

That’s 34% few Math and Science teachers than would have been likely in a more stable environment.  And, as I’ve written many times before, the real problems of this state, nation and world have less to do with Math and Science, and more to do with our social condition – and we’ve lost 65% of the Social Studies teachers we might have had.  In 2016, no college student in that university sought to pursue a career as a Social Studies teacher.

Students in Social Sciencs Ed Programs

Considering how teachers have been treated in this state, it is easy to fathom what these Cuckoo legislators fear the most.  It is highly educated and organized teachers.  In many of the state’s communities, the most educated citizens are teachers.  It’s why the General Assembly and Pat McRory (Governor) stopped paying higher salaries to teachers with advanced education (part of the Appropriations Act of 2013).  We are the only state that does not pay more to teachers with graduate degrees.  The result?

Students in Advanced Degree Programs

A loss of 27%, though many teachers continue to advance their own education, even without compensation.

If you are a North Carolina voter, and you believe that the future of our state depends on the talent and intelligence of its citizens, then learn how your representatives voted on the final adoption of the Appropriations Act of 2013. If you do not know who your representatives are, go here.  Then go here and click the name of your House member (here for your senator) to see their voting history in 2013-14 session.  If he or she voted “No” to the final adoption of SB 402, the Appropriations Act of 2013, then they voted FOR teachers and stronger public schools in North Carolina.

1 Hinchcliffe, K., & Johnson, C. (2016, April 26). After inflation, NC teacher pay has dropped 13% in past 15 years. WRAL.com [Raleigh].

2 Bonner, L. (2016, February 3). Enrollment plunges at UNC teacher prep programs. The Charlotte Observer[Charlotte].

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. 

Why We Need to Rethink Literacy

C02 TCP social media image 97
From the Consensus Project

97% of scientific papers written by climate scientists state the position that global warming is caused by human activity.  This is not a secret.1 Yet, according to a 2008 Gallup Poll,2 questioning people in 128 countries, only 49% of U.S. citizens believe what these scientists are telling us.  That’s a smaller portion of the population than 86 other countries.3

My point is this.  What we typically think of as literacy and what’s taught in schools, needs to expand.  In the age of Internet, social media and 24 hour news, literacy is no long just the ability to read and comprehend.  It is equally critical that the literate be skilled and inclination to detect if what they are reading is intended to inform their behavior, or manipulate it.

1 Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., … Way, R. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature (doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024). Retrieved from Environmental Research Letters website: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024/pdf

2 Pugliese, Anita; Ray, Julie (11 Dec 2009). “Awareness of Climate Change and Threat Vary by Region”. Gallup. Retrieved 22 Dec 2009.

3 Climate change opinion by country. (2016, March 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:38, May 9, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Climate_change_opinion_by_country&oldid=711997815

The Next Disruptive Wave in Education

Many would disagree, but I believe that the introduction of new information and communication technologies into our classrooms has had a productively disruptive effect on education. We have certainly not seen its full potential, and reaching it may well be impossible for a human society.  But I’ve recently wondered about a new disruptive influencer on the horizon, one that has the potential to further progress formal education – or destroying it – in my humble opinion.

Consider that even though some presidential candidates have promised to bring back the manufacturing jobs that America has lost to China, the jobs that actually left our shores are a mere ripple, as Matthew Yglesias put it in a recent MoneyBox article,1 compared to the manufacturing jobs we lost to robots during the same years – and those jobs will not return.

And now we have driverless cars, just around the corner?  Sam Tracy, in a 2015 Huffington Post article itemized the numbers of Americans who make their living by driving: taxi drivers, chauffeurs, bus drivers, driver-sales workers, school bus drivers, postal service carriers, light truck deliveries and heavy truck transport.  It totaled almost four million jobs, with wages of almost $150 billion a year.

Will there really be new jobs for them to train for?

Then entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Sam Altman, says this in a recent Freakonomics podcast, that, “..90% of (the) people (may) go smoke pot and play video games, but if (only) 10% of the people go create incredible new products and services and new wealth, that’s still a huge net-win.”2  In other words, is there a national economic need for 100% employment in the near future, or even 15% employment – besides what Altman refers to as a “..puritanical ideal that hard work for its own sake is valuable.”

All this is to suggest that the job of schools, sooner than later, may be to educate our children to be unemployed.  Consider the recent media interest in the concept of basic income.  Here is a Google Trend graph of the frequency of the term’s searches.

Google Trends  Web Search interest basic income  Worldwide 2004  present
Google Trends - Web Search interest_ basic income - Worldwide, 2004 - present.jpg

In the most general terms, basic income would have the federal government handing out to all citizens enough money to live on.  Those who want more would work for a wage. Those who do not, would find some other way of spending their time.  Experiments are already underway in Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland & the UK.

Even though I suggest an open mind, I do not want to spend this blog post arguing the merits or dangers of such an arrangement.   What I do want to ask is, “What would you say to a student who says, ‘I don’t need to know this because I don’t need a job?’”  What if he is absolutely right?  The next question is “What would he or she need to know for a future that does not require employment?” and “How might preparing our children for productive leisure change the WHY, WHAT and HOW of formal education?”

What do you think?

Coincidentally, this article, Machines Won’t Replace Us, They’ll Just Force Us to Evolvepopped up in my Reddit stream just minutes after submitting this blog post.

Yglesias, M. (2012, November 19). Nothing Will Bring Back Manufacturing Employment [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/11/19/global_manufacturing_employment_is_in_decline.html

Weller, C. (2016, April 19). A Silicon Valley entrepreneur says basic income would work even if 90% of people smoked weed instead of working [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.techinsider.io/sam-altman-praises-basic-income-on-freakonomics-podcast-2016-4

Three Convictions

The fun part of writing my latest book has begun – the second draft. It’s a bit like sculpting, looking at each paragraph, knocking out words that distract and inserting ones that enlighten. What’s really exciting is reading something that I had expressed poorly, and suddenly being able to fix it because I finally comprehend the idea’s deeper core.

I am currently working on the pages that describe my first year of teaching (no computers yet), and I find that I ended that year with three convictions that kept me in the education profession and helped to carry me through the next 40 years.

  1. Teaching is important.  If I had understood this during my early days in the classroom, I would not have allowed myself to get tripped up so easily.
  2. Teaching is a personal art.  A classroom is not a laboratory and none of its subjects can be controlled.  Even though there is much that is known about what works and what doesn’t, the most important tools for a successful teacher are imagination and inventiveness.
  3. Teaching requires a passion for both what and why you teach.  To be imaginative and inventive in your classroom, you must already know a lot about your subject, be in the habitual practice of learning and unlearning, and understand why your students should know it.

Why Tolerance?

The Kadam family leaves India for France where they open a restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory's Michelin-starred eatery.

My wife and I watched and enjoyed The Hundred-Foot Journey the other night.  If you have not seen it, you should.  If nothing else, Helen Mirren’s portrayal of a posh restaurant madam is an interesting contrast to that of a conscienceless hired killer in RED.

I posted a comment about the movie in Facebook, earning a healthy number of likes and an even more impressive number of comments.  Many of the statements suggested that watching the film would be a good way to teach tolerance – and I agree.

But, as I’ve thought about this and the movie, I think that it’s not tolerance that is being illustrated by the characters, nearly as much as it is finding the human value of each other.

If we were in the habit of looking for the human value of each other, instead of taking offense to the perceived differences, then tolerance becomes passé.

It seems to me that teaching the value of people as the objective would be easier than teaching tolerance.

N’es pas?

I Just Learned a New Word

In my efforts to write this book about the history of educational technology (as I have witnessed it), I’m finding myself doing more reading than writing. I guess that’s normal for book-writing, though it surprises me since I am typing this mostly from my own recollections.

This morning, in my reading, I learned a new word.  It’s mesofacts.  These are facts that, when learned, seem to be dependable, longterm and applicable truths – when in fact, they are likely to change within a lifetime, and often within a few years.

In his Harvard Business Review article, Be Forwarned: Your Knowledge is Decaying  Samuel Arbesman relates an example, a hedge fund manager saying in a conversation, “Since we all know that there are 4 billion people on the planet…”  4 billion people is what I learned when I was in school, and it still surprises me when I heard that it was up to 6 billion and now 7 billion.

Arbesman says that these mesofacts are far more common than we realize.  It makes me wonder about how much of what we are expecting our students to memorize, will simply not be true in their adulthood, and may even be problematic.

This all supports something that I heard someone say a few years ago.

Any question, whose answer can be googled,
should not be on any test.  

Another epiphanic statement, which may or may not be attributable to John Dewey is,

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s,
we rob them of their tomorrow.


Another word I learned is scientometrics.  Its the study of the shape of how knowledge grows and spreads through a population.


Arbesman, S. (2012). Be forewarned: Your knowledge is decaying. Harvard Business Review, Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/11/be-forewarned-your-knowledge-i

A Nation in Decline

North Carolina anxiously awaits its grades. State law (General Statute 115C-83.15now (2013-2014 school year) directs the State Board of Education (my former employer) to award each of the state’s public schools a grade, A-F.  80% of the calculated score is based on standardized test scores.

This is, to this citizen, further evidence of the arrogance of North Carolina’s pompously conservative law makers.  Is their goal, to improve the state’s public schools, when there actions are designed to make it easier for parents to judge their community schools at the same time that they continue to cut staff and instructional materials?  

An October 2013 NC Policy Watch article itemized the effects of state’s education budget (2013-2014), as reported by 34 local mostly conservative news outlets in 34 NC towns.  Among other degradations to North Carolina children, the cuts totaled the loss of 364 more teachers, 901 more teacher assistants and $8,226,774 for textbooks and instructional materials.

By coincidence a publication just released by the Southern Education Foundation reports that students in American schools, who qualify for free and reduced lunches, now outnumber those who do not. 51% of U.S. public school students are low income children.  Of North Carolina’s Students, 53% are low income, and to our south, 58% of South Carolina and 60% of Georgia public school students are low income.

I especially appreciated the statement made by SEF Vice President Steve Suitts.

“No longer can we consider the problems and needs of low income students simply a matter of fairness…  Their success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline…”

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
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Raw Materials for the Mind

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