Oct 18, 2005
A Custom-fit Education System
Have you ever been to some event and received a one-size-fits-all hat? Did it fit well? Did you actually take the hat home and wear it? Or did it go up on the closet shelf where you can't really get to it? Maybe you've donated it to Goodwill for the bums and college students who shop at thrift stores.
I originally set out to simply make a comment on A Schoolyard Blog's latest post about stale donuts and her remorseful response to Fantasia Barrino's admission that she can't read:
Over the weekend I read a tidbit of star news. Fantasia Barrino, an American Idol who left me in awe with her rendition of Summer Time, has admitted that she is functionally illiterate. She has a new book out that she dictated to a free-lance writer. Star and illiterate in the same sentence is a sad statement. I fantasized Fantasia in a school where the main focus was singing, something she always knew about from the bones out, and she was learning to read and write on the side. I don’t know if it is possible for a singing school to turn someone into AP material, but maybe you have to start somewhere.
And with a one-two punch, ASYB'er talks with a guy who has come from a D.C. ghetto to Denver and is installing cable boxes:
Then a young man who told me he grew up in the “ghettos” of Washington D.C. came to install a new cable box. As I was talking with him I saw that the only thing keeping him in the installers truck was lack of practice in talking about his thinking. Because of the way he was enjoying our conversation I could tell that he had not been exposed to enough people who thought their job included listening and helping him be comfortable extending his thoughts.
...so ASYB'er concludes:
How I felt about these two incidents spurred me to conclude that I am sort of over education issues. Perhaps my imagination is too wild or my ideas too simple for a public institution. I have watched education for a long time and the stories haven’t changed much. They say a watched pot doesn't boil so I am going to stop watching for a bit.
I understand her frustration. The source of her frustration is so systemic in our current ways of thinking that we might not be able to overcome it.
Colorado is gearing up to vote on Referendums C & D, which ditch the Tax Payer's Bill Of Rights (TABOR) Law in favor of a tax increase to "improve education and health care." Colorado's TABOR law is unique. Pretty much every economist in Colorado agrees that the TABOR law is the single mechanism that kept Colorado from serious financial woes like the ones California is facing.
Personally, I'm a little worried to be ditching the TABOR law. As a young professional with a good job, I am theoretically earning enough to pay off my education debt and am looking to buy a house. Unfortunately I'm not doing either, and am increasingly frustrated with putting 30% or more of my wages towards "improving" things. If I could skip paying taxes for just this year, I could use that tax money to pay off all of my debt and start 2006 as a fresh, fired-up, debt-free consumer. I would: buy a house, start contributing to my company's fully-vested 100%-match-up-to-6%-salary 401k, get married, and take a vacation. I might also think seriously about starting a family. Instead, I am paying credit interest and making only small dents in the principles.
Nevertheless, they are asking for a tax-raise in Colorado. From my perspective a tax-increase feels too much like piling an increasing amount of money into an increasingly failing education system where everybody is feeling increasingly worthless -- both kids and teachers. (Hopefully the administrators are also starting to feel worthless...)
Why do I think our system of public education is failing? Because in most cases, in the lives of most of our students, it is worthless.
I do not think it is failing because Fantasia Barrino cannot read. I think it is failing because we have somehow trained ourselves to conclude that we have failed if Fantasia Barrino cannot read.
If Fantasia could read as a child, would she still be able to sing as well as she can? Probably not since a creature's abilities are strengthened and weakened in inverse proportion to the strength of the other abilities involved in surviving and thriving. Fantasia's singing ability provides her an opportunity to reach out and help people. Had she spent more time reading and writing and less time singing, it's very possible that both her writing and singing skills would be mediocre and would not provide her with such an opportunity as she has now.
B.B. King is another example. In his semi-autobiography, he mentions that he stuttered horribly as a child, and began singing in the church choir because singing was the only time he could say words smoothly. B.B. learned to read at a later age in life, and has accomplished much more than he would have otherwise.
I'm not writing this to be a nay-sayer. I am not trying to excuse us from the obligation to assist the progress of everyone in our society. But I would like to point out that the quality of an average public education in America (all the way through college) is going downhill at an increasing rate the more we tell ourselves that "everybody deserves the same education."
Clearly people do not deserve the same education, nor do they even want it. And if they did want it, nobody would respond to it in the same way. Education is a personalized journey that each person must tailor for themselves. It is Our responsibility to continually seek more effective ways to help students educate themselves. It is subsequently Business's responsibility to find more efficient ways to assess a person's education "travel" log.
Only a thin, dynamic and scalable education system will perform well for us as our society grows. A heavy, laggard and highly-political system is failing us now as our society grows past the system's capabilities. Our one-education-fits-all approach is like the one-size-fits-all baseball hat -- it truly fits nobody.
Sep 16, 2005
Got Met Thinking, Part 3: See What I Mean?
A perfect example of resource-based problem solving!
Got Me Thinking Continued: Resource-based Problem Solvers
Continuing with my thoughts that sprung from Microsoft's Hiring Practices...
How many kinds of problem solvers are there? Some that I have thought of are:
"Leave me alone, I can find it on my own" - The ultra self-motivated type of person
"Give me a few books (or an Internet connection) and I'll figure it out" - The resourceful type of person
"I'm going to look very cute until you tell me" - The sociologically-resourceful type of person. Some ex-girlfriends come to mind here.
"I won't ever figure it out" - The non-problem solver.
...and I'm sure that technical names for these categories have been coined by people who do much more thinking about problem solving than I do. Maybe we can even map them to this chart of the 16 personality types. But the names do not concern me for now.
What does concern me, however, is how successful these types of people are going to be in different circumstances throughout life.
Jul 21, 2005
Got Me Thinking...Microsoft's Interviewing Practices
I just wanted to give you a heads-up that I'm pregnant with a new post. I'll briefly describe the idea here until it's ready for a full blog post...
ASP.NET bloggers have been arguing recently about Microsoft's interviewing practices. In particular, they are wondering whether it is good that Microsoft asks preposterous questions simply to observe how an interviewee approaches problem solving.
TwentySomethingMom has been watching her 6 year old son read adult-level hint books while playing the Legend Of Zelda video game for hours upon hours.
(Correction: He's 7 years old...)
And we can't forget our Level 5 rule to leadership: Get the right people on the bus, decide where they should sit, and then decide which direction the bus is headed.
There are correlations here that should help identify what characteristics define "the right person". I have a feeling that we'll discover that TwentySomethingMom's son B will be the right kind of person for any bus.
See you soon!
Jul 08, 2005
I'm Back Blogging
I apologize for the quarter-year hiatus and appreciate your emails and comments in the meantime.
What have I been doing?
Mar 15, 2005
A New Job
AFTER 5 YEARS OR SO of working for myself in one form or another, I've taken a job writing ASP.NET code for a company that provides web solutions for credit unions.
I'm struggling getting used to the organizational culture, both as a large organization and a Microsoft shop. I'm not quite sure what my conclusions are about it. When I do, I'll let you know.
Anyways, my posting time is limited but should return after I have settled into the new job.
Mar 08, 2005
The Structural Unprofessional-ness of Teaching, Part II
THE UNPROFESSIONAL-NESS OF TEACHERS: Jonathan Kallay at OverEducation has his second installment of "the structural unprofessional-ness of teaching." Be sure and read Paul's comment (first link in OE's post).
(It's a bit long, I've had a long day, and he has my thoughts a rollin', so expect a response a little later this week.)
The Structural Unprofessional-ness of Teaching
I’m going to be writing in my blog (http://overeducation.blogspot.com) over the next few days about how all of the problems in education stem from this one fact- which I refer to as the structural unprofessional-ness of teaching- and propose some solutions.
His term "the structural unprofessional-ness of teaching" is a much nicer description of what I judged to be a "muck of honor-less unaccountability" -- that is, the public education system, replete with unions, quotas, state-classifications, tenure, and high-paid administrators.
Jonathan's first post on the subject is a great start. He describes how progressive charter schools have had little success in disseminating new ideas and better practices back into the traditional public schools. This breakdown in communication demonstrates the first point of unprofessional-ism: There is no standard or culture for post-entry training or competition-fueled improvement within the field of school-teaching.
As a programmer, I spend about a quarter of my work-week learning about new technologies and best practices. I constantly look for small projects which utilize a new technology or technique so that I can improve my skills. There are even books written to help organize a programmer's time spent improving. I could not possibly survive in my profession without this effort.
But I hear very little of this type of culture from teachers. In fact, almost any story that starts with "I just learned about this new approach to teaching..." inevitably ends with "...and now nobody will talk to me in the teacher's break room" or worse, "...and the principal called me into his office then appointed somebody to monitor my class twice a week."
Indeed in order for the profession as a whole to improve, professionals must learn from each other in both a communal and competitive way. A major goal of the profession must be, simply, to improve -- to write more capable software, save more lives, net more dollars per unit, or earn more of the World's respect.
Thanks Jonathan, I'm looking forward to reading more of your thoughts about the profession of teaching!
Mar 07, 2005
The Goon Joins The Gaggle
CONGRATULATIONS to FishbowlDC blogger Garrett M. Graff for winning clearance for the daily press conferences at the White House, somewhat officially known as the daily press "gaggle." No matter what you think about the current administration, you have to give them credit for acknowledging the importance of our newest information network.
Any jealousy towards Graff is quickly doused when you consider this: Graff's new position is like Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the pulpit on a Sunday mass when the Pope is visiting from Rome, with Catholic-CNN's top crew filming every second. After about two mistakes, either the MSM or the blogosphere (or both!) will quickly turn FishbowlDC into 95 feces.
The VodkaPundit has some thoughts and advice for him:
I offer my wholehearted congratulations to Garrett – and a stern warning, too.
...While blogs are often looked down upon for not doing enough original reporting, I think it's important - even vital - for bloggers to remain outside the system.
...In terms of power, influence, and prestige, a mid-level, Washington-based MSM guy probably ranks with a mid-level (or higher) Washington bureaucrat. Your most popular MSM television personalities wield more power than any single politician other than the President.
Is it any wonder the MSM considers itself (if only half in jest) to be a part of the government? Because, really, the line between government and media is getting fuzzier every year.
That's where bloggers come in.
...We're outsiders. We're cranks. We aren't caught up in the system. Those are our strengths. As individuals, they can be weaknesses...We know exactly where Power stops and We begin: Right here, at our keyboards.
...The blogger who gets access, is the blogger on the road to irrelevance if he doesn't watch himself.
Garrett, I wish you luck, Man!
Mar 04, 2005
A Man, a Bass, and the Airlines
I'VE SPENT a good bit of today making phone calls trying to figure out how fly with my upright bass to some upcoming gigs in Las Vegas and Green Bay. I ran across this funny story, I hope it isn't prophetic...