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Monday
Jan182016

Love, balance and critical thinking

The most important word in our language is love.  The second is balance — keeping things in perspective. - John Wooden

As a long-time advocate of balance, I like the graphic above. In my article, Change from the Radical Center of Education Teacher-Librarian, June 2008, I suggested that "radical centrists" in education, adopt to the following principles if one is to truly make change...

  1. Adopt an “and” not “or” mindset.
  2. Look for truth and value in all beliefs and practices.
  3. Respect the perspective of the individual. 
  4. Recognize one size does not fit all (kids or teachers).
  5. Attend to attitudes.
  6. Understand that the elephant can only be eaten one bite at a time.
  7. Make sure everyone is moving forward, not just the early adopters.
  8. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
  9. Believe measurement is good, but that not everything can be measured.
  10. Know and keep your core values.

As I read the papers, listen to NPR, and even read friends' and relatives' Facebook posts, I can't help but feel the country, if not the world, is ever more polarized and less centered. "If I can't get everything I want, I don't want anything at all!" is the mantra of the decade.

Schools that produce believers rather than thinkers are failures. Schools that produce graduates who are capable of exhibiting, empathy, thinking critically, developing multiple "right" answers, and changing one's beliefs based on evidence are successful.

It doesn't feel like we've done a very good job. Yet.

Saturday
Jan162016

BFTP: Keeping kids in their place

This ugly little list called “Dumbing Down Our Kids”  (or should it be called "Keeping Kids in their Place?") by Charles Sykes is making the rounds again. I detested the thing when I first saw it and it still creeps me out.

Below Sykes’s original is in bold; my response follows.

Rule 1: Life is not fair; get used to it.  Life is absolutely fair. We all get the same odds of absolutely arbitrary good and bad things happening to us.

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.  The world doesn't care about anything. Only people have the capacity for caring and there are plenty of caring people in the world. We should teach people to feel good about a much wider scope of "accomplishments" than that narrowly defined by the business world: creativity, empathy, friendship, and healthfullness.

Rule 3: You will not make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice president with a car phone until you earn both.  I know kids who come out of high school (or a year of technical college) Novell or Cisco certified that make 40K easy. Artistic, athletic, entrepreneurial, and musical talents are rewarded at an even higher rate. Age and experience are not an indicator of earning power. Talent and rare or valued skills sets are.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss who doesn't have tenure.  Very funny. Have you ever seen an employee evaluation done in the private sector? They are a joke. Good bosses aren't tough. They are teachers and coaches and mentors. At least the ones who wish to keep good employees are. (And that's driving the old white, bald, cigar-chomping, I-say-jump bosses nuts!)

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger-flipping; they called it opportunity.  Depends on whether it is at MacDonalds or Chez Bovine. Any work into which a person cannot bring imagination, creativity, and personal-goal setting should be automated. I hate seeing humans doing the work of machines nearly as much as I hate seeing machines trying to do the work of humans (Internet filters, telephone automated responses, etc.)  

Rule 6: If you screw up, it's not your parents' fault so don't whine about your mistakes. Learn from them.  You haven't seen some of the parents my students deal with.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning your room, and listening to you talk how about how idealistic you are.  I thought they got that way because they lost their idealism by for working for people like you, Mr. Sykes.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This, of course, bears not the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.  Really? Then why do I always read about the number of times people like Harlan Sanders (KFC) failed before making it big? Good schools never give up on kids. We've learned that some people take a little more time to perform at an expected level of competence, but given time, energy and motivation, everybody will eventually get the "right" answers. Schools can't afford to be social sorting devices anymore, since there aren't places for D and F kids in society anymore.  

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off, and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself.  Do that on your own time.   If you are smart and talented enough you can have as much time off as you wish. If you are a self-employed or a contract worker, you can pick and choose your own hours. If you are not finding yourself though work, you are in the wrong job.

Rule 10: Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs. Unless you are a writer, consultant, salesperson, or work from home (or with a cell phone and laptop out of a coffee shop). I would agree that television is not real life. Real life is a whole lot better. Thank goodness.

Rule 11: Living fast and dying young is romantic-only until you see one of your peers at room temperature. But living fast IS romantic. If you aren't a little wild while you are young, you'll have to be a little wild during a middle-age crisis when it's a lot more expensive and you'll look a great deal more foolish. The longest book is not always the most interesting book.

Rule 12: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for them.  Be nice to everyone. Chances are true "nerds" will be working for you. Learn what motivates them and makes them loyal and productive.

Mr. Sykes, lighten up, get a grip and give some 21st century advice. The worker mentality you're promoting is not just wrong, but dangerous for anyone wanting success in a post-industrial world.

Original post December 25, 2010

Friday
Jan152016

Anger or disgust? 

I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!! - Howard Beale, Network

A disturbing article appeared in the February issue of Esquire magazine. American Rage reveals the results of a survey about the issues that anger people today. To summarize, everybody in this country, men and women regardless of ethnicity or income, are pissed. To be sure, not every group is angry about the same things, but it seems just about everyone is mad about something.

Except me, maybe.

There are a lot of things I would like to change in world. Certainly a decrease in violence, poverty, and disease. Intolerance and inequity appear to be increasing (or are at least getting more press). The quality of our politics and politicians is laughable. Need l go on?

And yet, anger is not usually the first emotion that surfaces when I listen to the news. It's more likely to be disgust. Cynicism. Even fatalistic amusement (Come on, there are times you just have to laugh at Trump.) Been a long time since I've thrown anything at the TV screen.

While I would like to think that a more rational response to events is a more mature, more intelligent reaction than anger, could it be that anger is better? Do we ever work to change anything at does not engage us emotionally?

As educators, it  becomes too easy to detach ourselves from the problems our students and their families face. The distance is emotional protection, to be sure. But can we afford this separation?

If the changes we make only come from the head - and not the heart - do they ever really account for much?

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