Entries Tagged 'Soapbox' ↓

So I Got Called Greedy Today

So I got called greedy today.

I was driving to work, turned on the radio and lo and behold! The melodic sound of Christy Clark’s voice filled the passenger cabin. Apparently she is on another Sound Bytes Over Facts media tour and I was lucky enough to flip her off… I mean flip her on, just as she was calling teachers “GREEDY!”

After getting a hold of myself and resisting the urge to drive into oncoming traffic, I began to wonder. How much does a MLA cost as compared to a teacher?

We are constantly hearing how much teachers want and how much teachers cost but who costs more? Who gives the biggest bang for the tax payers buck?

Now my approach to this calculation is going to be crude, I am not going to itemize facility costs, support staff cost, supply costs. I am just going to take the total cost to run the Legislature and the total cost to run the School System and break it down on a per MLA and per Teacher basis, as if MLA’s and Teachers pocket the whole budget. So here goes nothing.

Since BC Liberals took power total MLA compensation and Legislature operational costs rose from $36 Million to $70 Million. That is a whopping 94% increase to do business in just 11 years. To add insult to injury, in 2013 MLA’s sat for only 36 days.

Tyee Spending Costs Explode
CBC No Fall Legislative Session
Globe & Mail BC Legislature Sits 36 of 572 Days
Globe & Mail Liberals, NDP Back Speaker

Compare this the operational costs of BC Schools, which went from 3.6 Billion to 4.7 billion in the same period of time. That is a 30% increase to run and organization that is 352 times bigger than the Legislature.

2001/02 funding 
2012/13 funding 

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Although there is a segment of the population who will read this and immediately jump to the tired old refrain of “Quit your whining and get to work”. My hope that my readers who are remotely rational, will see the absurdity of a someone like Christy Clark saying “Teachers cost too much, teachers are greedy”, when she is sucking off the tax payer’s teat harder than anyone.

So this is my message to Ms. Clark.

Before you go pointing a finger at someone and calling them greedy, perhaps you should check your narcissism at the door and realize there are three other fingers on your hand pointing directly back at you.

It is people like Christy who give politicians a bad name

Note: These numbers are based on a simple Internet search. If someone has more accurate numbers, please share.

Preparing students for the 21st century?

iStock_000033215132SmallWelcome to this weeks instalment of Questions to Ponder for Learning Design #EDCI 335

This weeks question is:  Are our current schools / teachers / curriculum preparing students for the 21st century?

I am going to start off by saying that the problem with this question is that it is a tad misleading. It would suggest that the role of grade school is to prepare our children for the world but it isn’t. Grade school is designed to prepare kids for further education once they graduate from high school. Preparing kids for the real world is no longer part of our mandate.

Personally I think kids should be able to walk out of high school and become gainfully employed right out of the gate. When I say gainfully employed, I am not talking having a 100K a year job, driving a Porsche and living like a Gangsta. I am talking a good job that provides a living wage and an opportunity to improve their lot in life with hard work and further education. If this was the case then asking: Are our current schools/teachers/curriculum preparing students for the 21st century? My answer would be an emphatic NO!

Unfortunately, over the past 30+ years, under the guise of the tired old mantra, “You need a good education to get a good job”. Society has chosen to warehouse young adults in post secondary institutions, rather than employ them. So ingrained is this “Must go to school” mentality, post secondary education has become a multi billion dollar industry unto itself. At times it would seem that the primary purpose of education is to extract money from parents back accounts, rather than create employees of the future.

In reality kids graduating from high school today don’t need to be ready for the 21st Century, they need to be prepared to spend another 4+ years in a post secondary institution doing exactly what they were doing in high school. So if this is the inevitable plight of our children, my answer to this weeks question is YES! The existing school system does exactly what is required to prepare our children for their continued academic incarceration in the 21st Century.

Unrealistically, I would like to not lecture at all; not as the result of being shown the door by my employer, as will happen soon enough, but because lectures are a terrible way to teach. Since I am scheduled to give them, and can’t see how to provide one-on-one instruction to the nearly 200 students enrolled on the course, I know that I shall in fact stand up and talk for 50 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks – Alan Ryan, 2014.

The problem is that grade school is designed to keep kids from engaging with the real world, not to go out and be embraced by it. Even if we did make kids work ready by the time graduation rolls around, the only thing waiting for them is starvation wages and poverty. The reality is that what we have here is an 21st Century employment problem, not a 21st Century school problem.

I work with kids on a daily basis that are bright, capable and phenomenally talented and need nothing more than to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They could be and should be in the work world making themselves useful to society. Instead they are trapped in a system that insists on “educating them” indefinitely before deeming them worthy of a living wage.

The thought I frequently bandy about in my mind is this.  What if the solution is not to look for a 21st century solution but backwards to the 19th century. Instead of marginalizing our youth in a world of never-ending academia, why don’t we turn them loose to participate in the adult world sooner? The role of school / teachers / curriculum would be to provide “in progress” academic support for kids who are engaged with the real world. We already do this to a small degree with Apprenticeships and Co-ops but why are these programs not the norm rather than the exception?

The question posed is far bigger than any single school, teacher or curriculum. It is a question that needs to be answered by students, parents, teachers, business people and politicians. 

  • If you want work ready kids by grade the end of grade 12, the business world needs to provide living wages for them when they get out.
  • If you want to change what schools / teachers / curriculum teach, then you have to change what qualifies for graduation.
  • If you want to change what constitutes high school graduation, you need post secondary to institutions to change entry requirements.
  • If you want grade school teachers to support each child’s specific interests or “passion”, then provide the resources and the time to make it happen.
  • If you want us to change our teaching practice, then provide us with the time, resources and professional development to do it.
  • If critical thinking, innovation, resilience, adaptability and effort are what is most important in school, then stop placing so much emphasis on grades and value what really counts.

Our schools and teachers are more than capable of delivering a 21st Century education, it is the outside world that needs to do a better job in helping the new age of learning to come to fruition.

Some facts and figures

Registered apprenticeship completions, Canada, 1995 to 2007

Post Secondary Enrolment Trends to 2031

Unemployment Dynamics of Canada’s  Youth

University Tuition Rising to Record Levels in Canada

Education reformers don’t know what they are talking about

schoolreformThis mid summer blogpost comes to you courtesy of a tweet I sent a few weeks back. It got a retweet or two and I had a wee bit of a discussion about what it all meant with my twitter friend @HGG, which eventually brought up an obvious question. If parenting is more important to a child’s academic achievement than school, why doesn’t the education reform movement focus their vitriol on the living room rather than the classroom?

Ultimately, I think we all know why reformers don’t point fingers at parents, it’s just bad politics and teachers are ripe for the whipping. The other problem is that there is a laundry list of things beyond the classroom that can derail a child’s academic progress, something I call “Academic Disruptors”. Some of these disruptors are related to parenting but much of it is simply a reflection of the twisted society we live in. The unpopular reality is that failure to thrive in school, is a MUCH larger issue than just a lack of rigorous academic standards or teacher accountability measures but reformers don’t want to hear that, they just want someone to blame other than taking a look at a socioeconomic system that has come to ruin.

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 8.33.36 AM

Out of curiosity I asked a few people (teachers and civilians) to give me three things they feel get in the way of a child’s success in school. Obviously the teachers looked beyond the classroom but curiously, I did not get a single response from a non teacher who pointed to the classroom. The list of “academic disrupters” I compiled are essentially all forces beyond the hallowed halls of your local school.

The list has some fairly obvious items but there are some not so obvious ones in there too. Many are interrelated but I mention them separately because they can stand on their own as an academic disruptor. What follows are the items from that list, juxtaposed with the two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers.

  1. Tougher academic standards
  2. Greater teacher accountability

As you read through, you may ask yourself “Yes well… how many of kids does this list really represent?”

My response is that any single item may not represent all that many kids but collectively, I would say that it represents a significant percentage of any school population. The other thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and could potentially be endless.

I hope as you read through, it becomes clear just how ludicrous the education reform movement in North America has become. The simplistic bifocal solution of tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability cannot fix the education system, simply because it does not address the real academic disruptors in our schools.

Poverty – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will immediately address the daily effects of poverty on a child’s ability to be academically successful.

Hunger – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will provide a child the daily nourishment they need to be ready to actively engaged with the curriculum.

Divorce – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will mitigate the emotional turmoil that can be created by divorce and ensure that students experience academic success.

Mental Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will negate any mental health issue that could impede a child’s cognition or ability to build positive relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Addiction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the root causes of addiction and substance abuse in our society and pave the way for academic success for our children.

Fitness & Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the epidemic of poor health and fitness issues faced by North American society and empower children to become more academically successful.

Body Image Disorders – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will protect our adolescents from the biological, psychological and environmental factors that are believed to cause body dysmorphic disorders and allow all children to be academically successful.

Digital Distraction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will keep children from spending inordinate amounts of time outside of school on passive non academic activities such as gaming, surfing the web and playing on their smart phone.

Nutrition – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will prevent children from starting their day with a bag of chips and a can of coke. This will ensure that all children eat nutritious meals before during and after school, enabling them to be ready for their academic day.

Enabling – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will stop parents from enabling their children to engage in behaviours that negatively affect their academic performance and ensure academic success.

Pregnancy – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability, will prevent teens from having sex and conceiving children, allowing children to stay in school and be academically successful.

Employment – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that academically successful students will be gainfully employed once they have completed school.

Death – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will shelter children from the detrimental emotional effects of death in the family or amongst their friends, allowing them to be academically successful.

Developmental disabilities – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that children with developmental disabilities will no longer need psycho educational assessments or classroom assistance and they will still be academically successful.

Bullying – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will eliminate all bullying regardless of where or when it takes place, allowing for all children to feel included in the school community and become academically successful.

Relationships – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that students do not get themselves involved in distracting or harmful relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Now if anyone tries to tell you schools can be fixed within the walls of a classroom, you can call BS with confidence that it can’t.

If you come up with anything else, feel free to add to the list. I would love to hear more.

**NOTE** This post is intended to be a critique of the school reform movement in the USA, not a critique of the Canadian education reform movement. It can however, be seen as a “Don’t go there” warning to Canadian education reformers.

Latest attacks on education

North Carolina axes masters degree pay bump

WiFi in Schools – 2012 Prediction coming true in 2013

earth_stopWell I called it. My powers of EdTech prognostication have once again hit the mark. Way back in December 23, 2011, I did a post called Digital Learning in 2012 – My Predictions. In this post, I predicted a push back from parents and other concerned individuals and groups about WiFi in schools.

Although I was a tad off the mark in my prediction, In 2013 the anti WiFi movement began to get some legs in British Columbia when the representatives at the 2013 British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) AGM tabled a four resolutions which addressed the membership’s concerns over WiFi in schools.

In the middle of the four resolution Anti WiFi package is Resolution 138, which backs up parents in BC and supports the BCCPAC’s May 2012 AGM resolution, calling for WiFi free education choices at both elementary and secondary levels in Province of British Columbia.

Resolution 137: The BCTF recognizes the World Health Organization’s classification of Radio-frequency Electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices as a 2B possible cancer risk to humans; that the BCTF ensures all teachers have the right to work in a safe environment, including the right to work in a Wi-Fi/ wireless-free environment.

Resolution 138: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Council’s May 2012 resolution, which calls on each Board of Education to allocate one public school at each educational level (elementary, middle, secondary) to be free of wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, cordless phones and cell phones.

Resolution 139: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils’ May 2012 resolution calling Boards of Education to cease to install Wi-Fi and other wireless networks in schools where other networking technology is feasible.

Resolution 140: The BCTF supports members who are suffering from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity by ensuring that their medical needs are accommodated in the workplace.

Further to these resolutions, some School Districts in both Canada and the USA have already moved to ban WiFi outright and some WiFi wary administrators are making executive decisions and pulling the plug here there and everywhere.

The push back is here and it is looking like things are about to get heated but I do have some questions about people’s understanding and motivations behind the WiFi bans. Sure I get it, we want our kids to be safe from what MIGHT be harmful but look around, everything is deemed as “possibly harmful” these days. Whats more, it is hard to take people seriously when they are rallying against WiFi with clenched fists in the air and inside that fist is their beloved cell phone.

I am not sure if people really understand that EMF’s or Electro Magnetic Fields are everywhere and emitted from things as mundane as your clock radio, hairdryer, kitchen appliances and baby monitors. EMF’s are even emitted from every wall socket in your home and yet WiFi is singled out as the lone crocodile in the reeds.

If this is an issue we are going to choose to fight in our schools we need to look beyond just WiFi. We should ban cell phones in schools (Good luck with that), get rid of computer labs, microwaves in cooking classes; welders, band saws, table saws and all other electric-powered tools in our shop programs… While we are at it, I am not sure if I should put my students in work experience placements where EMF’s are abundant or supporting their career choices where they might be at risk of EMF exposure. IF we are going to make this an issue in our schools, we are opening the door to liability issues way beyond the walls of the padded cells we call our classrooms and I am not sure I want to expose myself to that.

Whether you like it or not, Lightning the horse has been let out of the barn long ago and unless we can pinpoint examples of people dropping dead from the EMF’s emitted from WiFi, she ain’t gunna come back in any time soon.

Perhaps our time might be better spent trying to educate kids (and parents) about appropriate use of personal digital devices. Not unlike they way we do with sex and relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet and fitness and a litany of other 21 Century lifestyle pitfalls. Planting a scarlet letter on WiFi and calling for a good ole fashion public linchin solves nothing and eliminates any positive outcome WiFi might be able to deliver to our children’s learning environment.


The Generation We Wont Let Grow Up

2012 was once again an interesting year for Public Education. From Delaware to Chicago to British Columbia and back to Ontario, pundits and the politicians sold the story that all the struggles our youth encounter can be laid squarely on the shoulders of every teacher that has ever walked this earth. Just short of being the spawn of satan himself, teachers are source of all that is wrong in this world, especially as it pertains to today’s youth. unemployment, failure to launch, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems… you name it, it is the education systems fault.

I however, would beg to differ. Yes I know, as one of satan’s classroom cronies, my objection is predictable but read on, I might actually make some sense by the end of this post.

I see education as being waaaaay down on the list of roadblocks the youth of today face. From the bedroom in which our kids are conceived, to the boardroom in which they are received, our children have more stacked against them than just what people perceive as an inadequate public education system. In fact, I would say there is simply one roadblock our youth face and that is, we have stolen their adulthood or at least postponed it indefinitely.

The obvious question then becomes, who is an adult? and I found a satisfactory answer in a Psychology Today article entitled Who is an “adult?” The path from adolescence into adulthood. March 3, 2010 by Jennifer L. Tanner, Ph.D.

…it became apparent that becoming adult was about, well, becoming. Across cultures, Arnett’s findings have been replicated. Accordingly, an adult is someone who-accepts responsibility, makes independent decisions, and becomes financially independent.

The article goes on to discuss the precise thing I am talking about here and what I refer to as the Abyss of Suspended Adulthood

The funny thing is, the evidence is all there right in front of us. Most of it already identified, researched and publicized. Anyone who isn’t seeking election or is remotely sober, should be able to see that education isn’t the biggest problem our youth face but alas society is myopic. Scapegoats are easier to understand then our own miserable misdeeds.

Although the central issue here is the deadultation (new word) of our youth, the process has three parts working in concert to sideline anyone under the age of 30.

  1. Post Secondary or Starve
  2. An Economy of dependence
  3. The Engineered Child


Dollars & Sense – Am I an Employee or a Volunteer? (soapbox post)

As the Teacher dispute in British Columbia starts to get ugly with plenty of mudslinging from both sides of the political spectrum. It would seem things are starting to come to a head simply by the pinch which only the withdrawal of Volunteer services can bring.

Teachers in school districts throughout the Province are now being told to ONLY do their job as outlined by contract and to work bell to bell. What this means is that any “extra time” a teacher volunteers to their school in the way of coaching, clubs, study sessions… etc, will be withdrawn. The strange thing is, it seems that the public feels that this action is more reprehensible than the legislation which got teachers to this point in the first place.

Like the kids, for many teachers the extra curricular stuff is the best part of their school day. Teachers do not volunteer out of obligation, they volunteer out of a love for the activity they are supporting. Despite the old adage, “those who can do, those who can’t, teach” Schools are packed with incredible people who have achieved great things in their lives. All of them want nothing more than to impart their wisdom, their skills and their experience on their students and extra curricular activities gives them this opportunity. With this said, the withdrawal of volunteer services is not taken lightly and there will be some instances where teachers will continue giving their time, regardless of professional or personal consequence.

So where does this leave us? Well for the short-term, things will be messy and both kids and teachers will be deprived of the opportunity to do what it is they love to do. How long will this last? It could be months, it could be years but one thing is for certain, this has been many years in the making.

Teachers giving their time, is not as simple and straight forward as one might think and before the general public goes straight to taking on a “HOW DARE YOU” position, one needs to understand that there is more to it than a simple temper-tantrum.

Teachers can no longer afford to “donate time”.

As I wrote in a previous post Teachers simply can no longer afford to give away their time. In cities like Vancouver, many teachers (usually the <40 crowd) need to work at least one additional job just to pay the bills. If a teacher is racing off to go to another job after school, they won’t be spending time with your child after school for free.

Should it come to the point where participation in extra curricular activities becomes part of a teachers job description, it would become a significant problem for many, as people’s livelihood would be at stake.

Liability issues are scaring teachers away from giving their time.

We are a litigious bunch nowadays and because of this, many teachers refuse to take on the responsibility of any activity that requires 24/7 supervision. Where common sense and personal responsibility use to be the code by which most extracurricular programs were run, today this expectation is not enough.

We no longer look at our youth as sentient beings, capable of making mistakes of their own doing. Instead if a kid screws up, we immediately start looking for an adult to blame. It is because of this, I will not take any group of kids anywhere that requires me to be “responsible” for them over night.

I have heard stories of coaches taking shifts, standing watch in hotel hallways all night long, to ensure kids are not sneaking out at night. I have been on watch myself until 1 am on occasion because kids could not behave themselves. I have even heard of programs resorting to requiring parents to accompany their child on road trips in an effort to mitigate liability issues for the coaching staff.

Our desire to blame an adult rather than expect our children to behave responsibly, is quickly destroying extracurricular activities all on its own. If a coach cannot have a reasonable expectation that kids are willing and able to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, then you cannot expect teachers to take on that responsibility.

Pay for participation programs are poaching kids from school activities.

Kids have so many opportunities outside of school, that many simply do not have time for in school activities. We over schedule our children in an effort to enrich their lives but in doing so the “free” programs like those in schools, tend to suffer.

In Canada, many of the best athletes in a school are playing hockey. Depending on the level they are playing, some may try to do both school sports and club hockey but usually school sports are secondary. A kid can only attend one practice or game at a time and it is the free one that will get forsaken.

In the larger centers there are also a myriad of fine arts programs that draw kids away from in school programs and then of course there is the constant drive for academic excellence that send kids to extra studies outside of the school hours.

As a coach this is frequently a HUGE headache as teams may start a season with a full roster but kids will fall away as the season progresses until the team is no longer viable. The result is that, there is not much motivation for a teacher to give up their time for a fruitless cause.

Sometimes thank you just isn’t enough

I have a colleague who takes 6 – 8 kids every year on a hardcore wilderness experience over 10 days, during which he is on 24/7. In addition to this, the responsibility he takes on when he is in the middle of the bush is extraordinary as there is no support. No principal, no parents, no ambulance service, no nothing. He is literally on his own in the wilderness. Of the 240 hours he spends with these kids, only 64 of that might be considered “billable time” but he gets no additional pay, no days in lieu… absolutely nothing other than a thank you

Now that sort of thing would be unheard of in private industry, lets see a lawyer do that for free! I am thinking it would be an absolute “NO!” and the public would accept that but if a teacher says “NO!Ain’t gonna happen”, all hell breaks loose. Teachers are instantly labeled as selfish, greedy, uncaring and money-grubbing. If a teacher even thinks about saying “NO” they are instantly vilified. It just doesn’t add up.

Just like the BC Liberals have said, we need change in our school system and it looks as though the changes the @BClibs want to make will be at expense of the teaching profession and if that is they way they want to go, so be it. If they want to go to a free market system, where teachers are nothing more than a commodity, then teachers will more than likely start treating their time as such. You can’t have it both ways, where teachers are freewheeling with their time all the while the employer is trying their best to short change them at every corner.

Like it or not, the Good old days are gone and we are all going to pay for it in the end.

Side Note

Here is a great Video on what motivates us in the work we do. At about the 4:40 point in the video, pay close attention to what is most important in getting the most out of an employee.

Education – You Gotta be Kidneying Me!

Blog posts are funny things. The thesis usually comes to you at peculiar moments throughout the day. In the middle of class, in the shower, driving home from work…. Or In the case of this post, while writhing in pain on the living room floor @ 3am, with a nasty case of kidney stones. If I were to truly share all the thoughts I had in the wee hours of that night, this post would be rated PG13, littered with F bombs and other expletives but in between the colourful language, a blog post was sketched out.

For some bazaar reason, during my two hour battle with a 4×6 mm stone that was raking its way through my kidney, I was thinking about the school system. Don’t ask me why, you would think I would be trying to picture sandy beaches and baby bunnies but that was not the case. Instead, five questions bounced between the F bombs. Each contrary to everything we have come to accept as a society about the value of education and its place in this world.

I know what you are saying, “why can’t you be agreeable about anything?” But when you are born a contrarian, you just got to go with it. Besides it is waaaaaaaaaay more fun then being agreeable.

What follows is what I like to callThe Kidney Stone 5 – Thoughts of a delirious pedagogue, or the other working title. Questions worthy of consideration, as our policy makers sketch out what the Twenty First Century learner is going to look like…

Here goes nothin! I make no apologies.

Why does someone have to have a degree to make a living wage?

It would seem to me that sometime in the past 30 – 40 years, someone / somewhere decided that the only people who deserve to make a living wage are those who have some type of post secondary education. Simply putting in an honest days work for a living wage, just isn’t good enough any longer. In fact it is virtually unheard in the Western World. Of course there is a long list of reasons why this is the case but really, why can’t someone who doesn’t want to go to school for 4 or more years, make a living?

I can’t help but think about members of my family, who graduated from High School in the 70’s, never went to post secondary school but worked hard and made a great life for themselves. Now at the age of 55 – 60 they are looking at retirement with their house paid off, money in the bank and everything is rosy. Try that today and more than likely you will be living in subsidized housing and visiting the food bank on a regular basis?

At what point in the past 40 years did hard work become unworthy of a living income?

Why do we work so hard at warehousing young adults in the name of education?

Is education really all it is cracked up to be? Sure it has its place but why can’t people work and learn at the same time? Back in the day that was how it was done but somewhere along the line book lernin became king and real learning was out. We all know that warehousing youth in the name of education was done by design, it kept young people out of the workforce and left the jobs to the older people but does this really have a purpose any longer?

With the Baby Boomers starting to retire, perhaps we can stop warehousing our youth well into adulthood and start employing them. Perhaps going back the way things were before factory schools were established, teaching people along the way in real world situations rather than artificial learning environments that have little application.

A Good Read: The Coming Melt Down of Higher Education

Is keeping twenty somethings dependant and unproductive really good for our society?

By the time many young adults graduate from post secondary, they are in their late 20’s / early 30’s, carry immense debt and have yet to begin their productive adult lives. Many can’t even conceive having a life like their parents did. Buying a home is impossible and starting a family is laughable. They have been effectively shut out of the “real world” for a third of their lives all in the name of education. Historically this was a persons most productive years both from an economic and biological standpoint.

It begs the question, is this really good for our society, our economy and our youth to actively prevent them from actively contributing to their community?

A Good Read: The Higher Education Bubble

Perhaps every kid doesn’t need to be inspired, perhaps some just want their independence?

Anyone who reads this blog, probably graduated from high school back in the day, when grade 12 was the end of the line for many if not most. Do you remember the excitement you felt at the prospect of being FREE of school and independent of your parents. The prospect of starting your life, becoming an adult and being responsible for yourself. Now that was motivating, that was exciting.

In the past 40 years, under the mantra of education creates opportunity and choice, we have created a system of dependence and uncertainty and taken away perhaps the single most important choice of all. The choice to be an adult and get on with one’s life.

What is interesting about this thought is that things are not all that different today. I have kids on both ends of the academic spectrum who would like nothing more than to just get out of the system. On one end, I have kids who run their own businesses, are actively contributing their community and just want to get on with their well laid plans. On the other end, I have kids who just want a job, a pick-up truck and the opportunity to make a comfortable living.

Quite frankly, I struggle finding issue with either scenario.

Perhaps it isn’t our school system that is failing our youth. Maybe its the world outside the system, that sets them up for failure?

It is undeniable that the world has changed immeasurably in the past 40 years. It is also pretty hard to argue against making some changes to an education system, created for a world that no longer exists but there is a problem. Those who are calling for change refuse to recognize that the struggles our youth face in today’s world are not only caused by the education system. It would certainly be nice it were that simple but in reality, the problem has two sides.

Yes, we need to change things in our schools so kids can be better prepared for the Twenty First Century but our youth struggle in the real world because they are walking into a world that the education system can’t possibly prepare them for.

  • It is a world rejects the presence of youth in the work world.
  • It is a world where simply working hard isn’t good enough to make a living.
  • It is a world where I make more than 3 times what my father did but my home cost me 27 times more than the one he bought when he was starting out.
  • It is a world where academic inflation forces bright, skilled young people out of the workforce and into an academic warehouse, where they spend a decade of their lives preparing for work that might not pay the bills.

Sure it is convenient to point at the schools and say, “it’s their fault!” but in reality, some of the biggest problems facing our youth, have nothing to do with the school system they are a product of. Our education system may need some updating but I would say the world it delivers our kids into, is in dire need of repair.

So what does this all mean?

Well, I would hope that at some point, someone realizes that the difficulties our youth face involve more than just the education they receive. I hope that someone comes to understand that marginalizing youth in educational warehouses is not the most productive use of their time or ability. I hope that we rediscover that person’s worth can be measured by something other than the education that they have.

Finally, I hope that the move towards the Twenty First Century Learning model is more than just a new and improved way to warehouse our youth. If we are going to change the school system, lets take a big step backward and allow our youth to be contributing members of our society. Unfortunately this will require policy makers to stop pointing fingers and start to address the other reasons our youth fail to thrive in today’s world. Unlike the passage of my kidney stone, our children’s road to freedom shouldn’t be a one way street.

Student Engagement – The social contract is changing

I love the fact that we are moving toward a different model of teaching and learning because to be quite honest, I am not really a big fan of the old one. I didn’t really like the traditional model when I was a kid and I am not a big fan of it now as a teacher either. This is not to say the traditional model doesn’t work. Generations of people have been taught this way and accomplished great things as a result but these are different times and so things must change.

There is one thing that is troubling me however. As we move toward a more personalized “twenty-first century learner” (TFCL) model, there seems to be little if any discussion about the students part in the social contract we call an education system. Sure we talk about how we want the kids to be engaged and excited about learning but it is always in the context of what the school system is doing to create a new “love of learning”. It would seem to me that, the student need only take on the roll of grateful recipient in this new and improved, hand crafted education system.

I started to think about this the other day, as I was sitting down doing my homework at one end of the dining room table, while my daughter sat doing hers at the other. Up until now she has been one of these kids who is very bright, usually enjoys school and cruises through without too much effort. This year however, she has had to knuckle down a fair bit because her grade 7 teacher is old school and PILES on the homework. So far she has fared pretty well and has managed the workload with relative ease. What I am most pleased about this year, is her willingness (without too much prodding) to get the work done. In my mind she is demonstrating that she is willing to work her backside off and invest in her education.

During our little father daughter homework session, I began to think about our current education system and my children’s place in it and asked myself the following.

  • Why is there a movement under foot to change the system?
  • Is it really so bad?
  • Is the system failing kids or could it be that the kids failing the system?

My daughter is bright but is not a genius and she seems to be excelling in this archaic, factory system we call education.

  • If she can manage to plod along why can’t others?

My daughter is literate, creative, works well with others, has a keen interest in science and is a successful little athlete.

  • Where is the failure of the system here?

Then my wife came up the stairs and hovered over my daughter’s shoulder, inspecting every last pencil mark on the page and I thought to myself, School gives my daughter the opportunity to learn but her degree of success is more about what is going on outside the classroom. Sure a good education system is important and always will be but how well she does (thus far) has less to do with the school system and more to do with the effort my daughter puts in and a hovering task master of a mother.

So here is the issue I am having with the personalized TFCL model. We all know that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication to one’s education. We can see examples of this everywhere and teachers see it every day. The kids who excel make an extra effort, those who don’t are usually on the other end of the spectrum. My concern is that we are billing TFCL as a no fail, perfect fit system which guarantees unconditional success to all who enter. The social contract between student and school in the old system, which was based on hard work and effort between all stakeholders, is being replaced with a simple promissory note that guarantees a perfect and effortless education for students from K to 12.

As a teacher I can see the point of trying to create an education system that makes learning better because it is perfectly suited to each learner but as a parent, I don’t want easy for my kids. I want them to have to muscle through classes they don’t like. I think the effort it takes to choke down a class you despise holds as much value as the enlightenment you may gain from a class you love. Sure I want my kids to follow their dreams and have the opportunity to learn new, exciting and interesting things but I also want them to fail and then succeed. I want them to face frustration and overcome and perhaps even experience crushing disappointment and live to tell about it.

Life is not about perfect or easy and school should reflect that. We need to teach kids that life is more about taking pride in your efforts, whatever the result, not just doing what comes easy or is interesting. Unfortunately, I am not sure the TFCL model can accomplish this.

I am all for changing our current education system to meet the needs of Twenty First Century Learners but let make sure that the social contract between student and school, places as much value in good old-fashioned effort as it does the joy of effortless learning.

Teaching – Not what it use to be (soapbox warning)

As I stumble out of my 15th year of teaching and look ahead to the last half of my career, I can’t help but marvel at the changes I have seen in the classroom. It is really quite amazing how quickly our education system has changed. I can still remember the first day of my teaching practicum at Spectrum High School 1993. I thought it was just so cool when I saw one of the teachers, printing out a crossword he created using a new fangled program on his Apple II. The only problem was that he could only create a few every month because the ribbon for the dot matrix printer was too expensive and office staff got mad at him for wasting it on his silly crosswords. Today I find myself part of an iPad pilot where I have essentially gone completely paperless. The classroom is being revolutionized and turned upside down by the digitization of information and curriculum delivery. So much is changing so quickly , it is difficult to keep up at times.

The pedagogical wisdom I was imbued with during my university years has become a faded memory. In part because of the distance between then and now but also because, much of what was dispensed in the 90’s as educational gospel, just doesn’t apply any longer. In 18 short years it seems like I have been transported from the good old days of education and deposited in the middle a brave new world in the digital classroom. These are uncertain times for education but there is also great excitement for what lies ahead and I for one, look forward to being a part of what is shaping up to be an educational revolution.

Although I reminisce with fondness the past and feel great excitement about the possibilities that lay ahead, it cannot be said that everything in our school systems are rosy. All anyone needs to do is flip on their local new cast and see that education systems all over North America are struggling with major issues around achievement and engagement of our students. To complicate matters, major discord between policy makers and educators has completely stalled any sort of cooperative approach toward making positive changes to our education system.

Policy makers feel that today’s teachers are not committed enough, don’t do enough to engage their students, spend to little time on professional development and expect far too much in compensation. In short, they feel teachers care too little about the job and expect too much in return and naturally teachers are taking great offense to this affront on their professionalism.

Now as someone who is smack dab in the middle of their career, I get to see our past move on and our future take its place. It is a weird place to be at times but I believe it affords me a clear view of what is really at issue here and it really isn’t all that complex.

My colleagues who are leaving are dong so after 30 years of outstanding service. Not a single one of them would I dare criticize for the work they have done and the lives they have influenced. They are the foundation on which our public school systems were built and flourished for decades. The new teachers who replace my esteemed colleagues are outstanding in their own right. Bright, energetic and well-educated, they all show extraordinary promise and are excellent additions to the profession BUT…

Where my retiring colleagues were able to focus their energy on their job, own a home, raise a family and have a relatively comfortable living over the course of their career, up and coming teachers haven’t a prayer of doing the same. The standard of living which the profession once enjoyed is retiring right along with the teachers who enjoyed it. What we are seeing today, are teachers struggling to just to make ends meet. Most young teachers I encounter are working 1 or 2 additional jobs over and above their teaching assignments just make rent, never mind supporting a family or buying a home.

Now some might say: “As it should be! If those lazy teachers want more money then get another job and quit robbing the tax payers pocket!” but the ramifications of this attitude are rather significant. Instead of teachers investing time and effort in their careers and the school for which they work, they use their time outside of the classroom to simply pay the bills. All those things that my retiring colleagues use to do outside class time, are falling by the wayside out of economic necessity.

The result is that you are left with teachers in our schools who simply can’t put the time in that society has come to expect from their teachers. What we are seeing ever more frequently, are young teachers leaving the profession in very short order. They hardly stick around long enough for a cup of coffee in the staff room.

My last student teacher bailed on the profession after only two years. This young man was a phenomenal talent and made me look like an itinerant Sunday school teacher right out of the gate. He loved teaching and would have been an asset to any school he set foot in but he saw no financial future in it so he left. When discussing his departure over a pint he said, “To be the teacher I would want to be, I would have to invest too much of my time and effort in exchange for too little money. It simply doesn’t make good economic sense to continue.”

This is but one example of many and part of a growing concern about the future of the teaching profession. The equation is simple. We can’t expect teachers to be as vested in their careers and their students as our retired colleagues were because they simply can’t afford to?

The question then is, will this situation continue to get worse? Unfortunately I can’t see any improvement coming down the pike and there are a few reasons for this.

  • The tax dollars are simply not there to pay teachers in a way which would make much of a difference to anyone’s bottom line. To give teachers a raise that would create a lifestyle similar to that our predecessors would be intolerable for most taxpayers.
  • As long as North American kids continue to fall in international rankings, there will be no impetus to pay teachers anything more than what they all ready get.
  • Public opinion toward teachers is hostile, in large part because teachers can no longer do the job as it was once done.
  • Paying teachers in a way which allows them to do the job as their predecessors did, would be political suicide for anyone who dare step up and made it happen.

What it all comes down to is that in spite of entering an exciting new age in education, moving ahead will be difficult. The good old days, where teachers could afford to invest in their careers and countless hours to their students, have come to and end and they are not coming back any time soon.

It is a sad state of affairs and I am sure I will get spanked for this post but it is just the way a teacher who has a clear line of sight to the past and the future, sees it.

Oil Spill In The Gulf Of Mexico

As we sit and watch this disaster in the Gulf of Mexico unfold, I marvel at the diversity of opinion and attitudes toward what might just turn out to be a world-wide environmental disaster that makes global warming look like a Sunday school picnic. The most incomprehensible of which is the nonchalant “Well if you drive a car then you can’t complain”. It is said with indignity and indifference toward the situation in the gulf, almost as if driving a car makes this disaster an acceptable consequence like smog or traffic jams.

The majority of us however get that what is going on in the gulf is an unmitigated disaster and yet most of us have no idea of just how bad it is.

The irony in all this is that the United States concerns and efforts around oil supply have all been focused abroad for the past 50 years and in the end it is a home-grown disaster perpetrated by a USA “friendly” corporation which just might spell the end to us all.

There is no amount of praying for divine intervention that will fix this one.” We the people” have over stepped our bounds and because of our complicity are going to pay the price for generations to come.

As a wise old geography prof of mine use to say, “We are doing things to this earth for which an engineered solution or counter balance cannot be found. One day, within your lifetime, you will be witness to a manmade disaster so catastrophic; all anyone will be able to do is stand by and watch as Mother Nature gives us a lesson in ultimate power and destruction”

Who knew our greatest enemy was our own arrogance.

But what do I know?!