If we were making widgets…

There aren’t too many professions where the raw material a person works with is unique in every circumstance. It makes the process of creating an end product unwieldy, unreliable, unstable. It is inefficient to use unique and heterogeneous raw materials. In short, it is against every model of business practice known around the world.

Enter education, public, private, charter – any at all.

A teacher is expected to take the person that walks in the room, and bring all of the other young people in the room on a journey where they all reach a high-end result. It doesn’t seem to matter to the pundits whether the “raw material” being supplied is high-grade, low-grade or nonexistent. Somehow, teachers should be held accountable for the quality of the material being supplied to produce the end product.

It also doesn’t seem to matter to the pundits that there are external forces that weigh on students that have impact in the classroom.

No, none of that makes for good media.

So, as I teach my college Career Development course for future school counselors late into the night, as every piece of academic literature seems to consistently remind us to take account of the myriad contextual variables that all inform a person’s decisions every single day, I am reminded of one thing: Education is personal. What I am willing to put into it is defined by where I came from, what tools, both physical and mental I have been provided to work with, whether anyone fed me breakfast or not or if there was anything to eat, what’s it going to be like when I get home, how long will I be home alone, are my clothes clean, do I need to pick up and watch my sister, are the water or lights going to turn off?

Many have some of these or other burdens they carry throughout the school day, and some have none of these. And you, teacher, counselor, principal, custodian, cafeteria staff, receptionists, school data managers, teaching assistants, bus drivers, media center specialists, you work everyday to take an inconsistent set of variables and hopefully add them to at least 13. Hopefully, without any repeat or retention, but trying nonetheless.

June comes soon, to soon for some to pull it together. But you, there is a student who needs someone just like you to realize the variables can add up.

With the holidays upon us…

First, let me extend greetings and warm wishes for you and your family during both this holiday season and for the year.

Second, let me ask you to consider the message you send through the holiday season in your classroom, your office or your building.

You have constraints, certainly, imposed by your governing body (district, building admin, etc.), but within the constraints of your seasonal celebrations, what messages are you conveying to students? To parents? To the community at large? While you are thinking about that, let me run down another trail for a moment.

My family celebrates Christmas. The operational possession there is “my family”. It is not my Christmas. I didn’t make it. I don’t own it. The traditions I had with my parents are certainly a part of my celebration today, but there are definitely differences.

No one owns the holidays. There’s a lot of hostility that exists because people have stopped wishing each other an exclusive holiday, and have gone for the more global “Happy Holidays”. Personally, I want to be inclusive. I’m not looking to rob anyone of their celebration of Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa or the Prophet’s Birthday or Cyber Monday or Wright Brothers Day. I hope you, and everyone else, to has a great and relaxing holiday, and I’m not interested in wishing you the incorrect holiday for what you choose to celebrate. And if you decide to wish me a happy holiday, feel free to wish me good tidings for the holiday you celebrate, because if you wish me a Happy Chanukah, I know you are sending kind regards.

So as you get ready to celebrate, and even as you begin to remove some decorations late next week, think about how wide you are casting your net to spread tidings of comfort and joy. Hopefully, all of your students feel their celebrations are worthy of sharing with others, particularly if they include peace on earth and good will to all.

The Technology Conversation

There will be no “last word” on how technology affects our society, and as a result our kids, education system, etc. Every new app, new device, new way to create a prosthesis or synthesize a formula has potential impact on the world, so as long as we make new things, there will be no finality to the conversation.

I would love to say I am a casual observer of the effect, but I am clearly not. I am a parent of technology-users, I am a product (in terms of learning), a consumer – my life is directly affected by the ability to use technology. Many things would be much more inconvenient for me, whether writing this article or conducting my banking without going to the bank.

Before I go any further, I am going to cite three folks who are absolute GOLD when it comes to this conversation. Consider following them on Twitter, because while their viewpoints are not all the same, they are resonant, credible and poignant.

Jordan Shapiro’s (@jordosh) column today makes me think about the technology conversation. It can be found here. In short, Shapiro expresses concern about Sherry Turkle’s (@STurkle) position on modern technology, which is that modern technology is not a surrogate for true conversation and connection.

What strikes a chord for me is that Turkle said the same thing Shapiro is saying about technology when she was a young advocate for the adoption of technology. Is it really just a conversation that moves from, “Hey, the kids are alright” to “Hey, the kids are not alright?” over the course of 30 years? Danah Boyd (@zephoria), the author of “It’s Complicated” may also promote the tenet that digital connection is the connection in this day and age, and in many ways reinforces stronger bonds for young people. Danah also reports the experiences of young people who have experienced the extremely damaging power of those connections when peers turn on you.

(And Danah, if you do read this, I love your Twitter banner right now! For everyone else: It’s all R2, R4 and R5 astromech droids with an R7 tucked in the bottom right hand corner. What’s an astromech? R2-D2 from Star Wars is an astromech. But I digress…)

That probably depends on who you speak with. Now in my mid-40s, I have observed first-hand the problems students incur when using technology unfettered and undirected. I have also observed the ease with which people can complete the process-oriented pieces of life that previously consumed the life of a high school student and parent. So, more than trying to take an adversarial position in any direction, what I need to tell educators working with any student is this: Every position in this conversation is important. Sherry Turkle has experienced and grown with changes in our culture and society. Danah Boyd has lived experience and has researched first-person how technology is affecting the culture of young people (who by the way, will generally become older people). Jordan Shapiro is enmeshed in how tech, simulation and gaming are changing the dynamics of interaction.

All three of these folks have a unique perspective and focus in the tech realm, and all three (as well as many others) have important things to share. Continuing to have thoughtful and meaningful discussion about how tech is affecting our society, our young people and in turn our ability to educate those young people academically and socially is probably the most important part. So please, read away.

I also like to share articles through LinkedIn and Twitter on current technology events that are shaping our world. Feel free to join the conversation at:

LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/ericjchancy

Twitter – @ericjchancy

The Inequity of Global Comparison

For years, we have heard about how the U.S. education does not keep up with our global competitors. I would like to make a few analogies to the comparisons to help illustrate the deficiency in such a comparison.

Two different people have two separate gardens. In both gardens, they plant 100 tulip bulbs. In the first garden, you wait two weeks and eliminate 25% of the tulips who are not thriving. In three more weeks, you eliminate another 25% of the original planting, leaving only half still in the garden. In another few weeks, you eliminate another 25-35% of the original crop, leaving only 15-25% of the original crop to benefit from the garden’s (hopefully) nutrient-rich environment. You have a stellar crop of 10%.

In your second garden, you allow all 100 tulips to grow unfettered for the duration of the cycle. You have some stellar tulips, some pretty tulips, some fair tulips, some rather unsightly flowers and some that just did not grow the way they should have.

How should the choice being made by the gardeners on how to allow their gardens to come to fruition be judged? Is the first a better gardener for whittling his yield to 10%, but the best 10%? Is the second a better gardener for attempting to allow his entire yield to grow?

Many counties competing with the United States run the first garden. They only allow a certain percentage of children to move up in each level of schooling. Essentially, if the U.S. ran it’s “garden” the same way, we would remove a large chunk of students with each rise in school level. From the elementary level, we would push a large number of students to training only for work-focused activities. From the middle school to high school level, we would again remove a large chunk, pushing them toward work, vocational school or government (military or civil servant-oriented service). The last remaining 10% of students would compete doggedly for seats at the college / university level. In essence, the system decides for you what your options are based on your demonstrated academic level (and sometimes your connections).

Compare that with a system that lets you decide how when and where your options are. Maybe you don’t put the work in while in high school, but you decide at 30 to get yourself together and make it happen. You can’t do that in the first garden.

The way that we are evaluating our effectiveness in preparing our adult workforce IS NOT congruent with the systems in which our young people are being educated. In those competing countries, 10% of the population is effectively being compared with the progress of 90% of the students in the US.

It comes down to what freedoms you are willing to give up. Are you willing to run the risk that your child will be refused entry to a traditional high school because we want better performance statistics, or does your child deserve each and every opportunity to succeed, even if it means there is potential for failure? I have my own bent, but I went back to school at 35 to get my doctorate. No one, not even our global competitors who would never have let me in can take that away from me.

Education around the world

Education is a very personal issue. The recipients could experience the repercussions of a solid or a poor education for the duration of their lives. Those who are professional educators experience it in a way that is often different from business professionals, because they carry the experiences and successes and defeats of the children they serve with them as they move forward in their careers. One educator I worked with from 1999-2002 recently told me that she still wonders if we did the right thing for a student in a particularly difficult situation. These are the trials and tribulations of the professional educator: Your decisions in the moment could have impact over the long haul.

The personal nature of it makes education an easy target to create an audience. It is an easy news item, and a simple way to roil people into thinking their community is in dire jeopardy because we are “not keeping up with our global competitors.” This is a false statement on its face, but it is fairly simple to use some juggling of numbers to make the statement appear to be true. (I intend to address this in upcoming articles.)

So, more than anything today, here and now, if you are an educator, a parent with a child who benefits from education, a teacher who hears all the rhetoric and wonders where the support is, a community member who wants great education for children but hears all the blather, an administrator who knows we have a great thing going here but becomes so disheartened hearing the media talking points, take heart. Our children are learning more than they ever have before. There is more content packed into the K-8 curriculum in most instances than there was at some high schools 50 years ago. There are more 8th graders taking Algebra 1 or higher than at any other time in the nation’s history. There are more and more early college programs available in school districts each year, affording students the opportunity to advance their learning AND earn college credit, often for free!

If you teach, if you work in a school, if you care about and participate in your child’s education, you are making a difference and an opportunity. There will be students and families who do not take advantage of the opportunity made available. There are only so many tweaks and changes you can make to that. Keep teaching, keep learning, and keep making us all better with your time, your energy and your knowledge.