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How Will Education Reform? - THE GENIUS IN CHILDREN

How Will Education Reform?

by Rick on June 27, 2016

I never let my schooling interfere with my education.

—Mark Twain

Education Reform won’t succeed until schools do what computers can’t.

Because Sara was home sick for a week in October of her eighth grade year, her parents bought software so that she could learn algebra at home. When she got back to school she discovered that she was ahead of the class. When she told her parents, they said, “Well, good. That gives you more time to spend on other homework,” which she did, but she didn’t stop taking her online course in algebra. She liked it.

Desk7-2.jpgIn class, since she was so far ahead of what her teacher, Karen, was teaching, algebra class was review for her. This was okay for a while, but before long, the difference between Sara’s proficiency and the rest of the class made Karen uncomfortable. She told Sara to stop learning on her computer to let the class catch up with her. But Sara was having too much fun zooming through algebra. By the end of the month Sara was up to quadratic equations and had essentially completed the course that her class was only just beginning.

But Karen was an educator. Rather than maintain her stand that Sara should stop learning at home, Karen saw an opportunity to let Sara exercise more leadership in the class. In large group instruction, Sara could sometimes explain things differently. In cooperative learning groups Sara was particularly helpful getting some students to see things a different way and to explain why one approach to a problem was better than another. Thus Sara worked on her social and leadership skills, developed friendships, and continued to learn. (Just because you have learned to solve two linear equations by substitution, doesn’t mean you have mastered it). Sara practiced her math, had fun doing it, and got an education at the same time. Sara’s teacher cared about the whole Sara.

Educators know that their core business is not their subject but the characters in their care. Karen saw algebra as a vehicle for Sara to develop her character.

Tony Wagner, Ellen Galinsky, Paul Tough, Angela Duckworth are only a few of the more recent and popular researchers who remind us of what we actually already know; i.e. that the “soft,” “non-cognitive skills” are at least as important for success as academics–and are certainly way more important when it comes to happiness. In fact, these “21st century learning skills” are actually harder and more “cognitive” than algebra. Algebra was Karen’s passion, but her love was her students, and the students felt that love, because it was obvious that she  loved them as complex learners, respected their uniqueness, and cared more about them as people than as receptacles for content.

What can schools do that software can’t?

Educational reforms have failed for decades because they miss the point. The school industry needs to rediscover its core business. Taking a chapter out of Jim Collins’ Good to Great our society needs to ask, “What can schools do that software can’t?”

School is a place where people come together to learn those things that are best learned in community. Traditionally, it was understood that the business of school was to deliver the 3R’s using the authority of the teacher to make students work. But really! Is that the highest and best use of that most valuable resource, the teacher? Making kids do stuff?

What can schools do that books, technology and software can’t do? They can create learning communities where the interactions among students cause them to develop fully as humans. They can bring together great teachers who learn from one another in the infinitely difficult job of each day rededicating themselves to those mysterious creatures: their students.

The 3C’s: Collaborating, Creating and Contributing

Studying history improved my mind, but it did so better when I engaged others in conversation about what I thought I was learning. Furthermore, I didn’t really know much until I started creating lessons and teaching them to eighth graders. That’s when the character-building started—my character more than anyone else’s.

Karen saw the whole Sara, believed in her and led her genius farther into the world by creating the conditions for fulfilling her character. Now, that’s a worthy mission, and it’s usually what draws teachers to the profession and keeps them challenged, satisfied and showing up. Great teachers have always known that their topics are mere vehicles for learning what is really important in life. Reforms will keep failing until we come to this deeper understanding of the core business of education.

Yes, school reform has been going on since Mark Twain’s day. But school can only be an education when the educators understand that the 3R’s are the vehicle for the 3C’s: Collaborating, Creating and Contributing.

“A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.”

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Bobby Richman June 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm

Well said, Rick!

Coach Miike Nwoke June 28, 2016 at 2:50 pm

RE: gr8 article, bobby.
curious why you omitted character as a 4th c.

Rick June 29, 2016 at 7:34 am

Thank you, Bobby.
Miike: The reason character is not one of the “3C’s” is that Collaboration, Creativity and Contribution are the means to the end of education, which is the development of a person’s character. The Greek “kharakter” means “the mark that the gods put on your soul at birth.” Character is the You that is becoming. the 3C’s are the sets of behaviors necessary AND sufficient for growing your character.

Marilyn Price-Mitchell June 30, 2016 at 9:37 am

I think the 3 C’s are wonderful. For the most part, they are activities that lead to the development of the 8 compass abilities, aren’t they? (http://www.rootsofaction.com) I’d have to think longer about what’s missing in the 3 C’s that impact the development of the whole student. I suppose what pops most into my head is the need for metacognitive processing that leads to self-awareness. I believe schools can provide this (but most don’t) and I’m not sure it would fall into the 3 C’s. See my article on nurturing metacognition in the classroom: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/8-pathways-metacognition-in-classroom-marilyn-price-mitchell

Rick June 30, 2016 at 10:12 am

Marilyn, Thank you. Your article inspired me to write this morning about the relationship between the 3C’s and your 8pathways and your seven strategies for meta-cognitions :

When a person focuses on collaborating, creating and contributing, they are drawn to and are even sometimes forced into the frames of mind necessary for building more successful and happy brains.
For instance:
A decision to make collaboration work requires that we not only contribute what we know and what we think to the group, we have to open up our minds to the contributions of others, i.e. allow our minds to be changed, think creatively about what others are saying and doing.
As we do so we are drawn to—almost forced to—your seven strategies. With the 3 C’s we:
1) assume our brains are wired for growth (not necessarily right all the time).
2) get practice recognizing what we don’t understand (and working toward more understanding,
3) use opportunities to reflect on our work (See it from other perspectives).
4) to use reflective techniques like keep learning journals.
5) and use a “wrapper” for self monitoring skills.
6) focus away from simple answers toward sophisticated, novel solutions. (No point in collaborating if the right answer is staring you in the face.)
7) working on our reflexive thinking skills, if we are going to be successful at it.

Therefore, whether you want to better yourself, help others grow, build a functional organization, or reform education, you will want to focus your attention, energy, activity, behavior and work on collaborating, creating and contributing.
Let’s say you are the principal of a school and a teacher needs to improve his teaching, focusing him on increasing the amount of collaborating, creating and contributing in the classroom will make the education in the class improve. (These are necessary and sufficient conditions to improve what is going on in class.) If you want to help an employee to grow, you will get best results by collaborating with her to think creatively about the quality of her contributions to the organization, and collaborate with her to create new behavior. (These are necessary and sufficient behaviors for improvement.) If you feel you need to counsel someone out of the organization or get him to “perform better or else,” what should you do? Ask him to tell you about his collaborations with others, his creative solutions to challenges, and what contributions he would truly like to make to the organization. (These are necessary and sufficient conditions for not getting sued for wrongful termination.)

Jim Ackerly June 30, 2016 at 10:26 am

Software can’t coach and respond to the current environment and circumstances. Teachers can.

Software can’t give reasoned opinions, only respond with fact-based filtered results programmed by someone who is probably not a teacher. Teachers can.

Software can’t join in discussions other than to insert comments which may be germane, but doubtless are not insightful or probing. Teachers can.

Software does not provide classmates under any circumstances, and that is where more than half the learning comes from in an education.

Rick July 1, 2016 at 5:08 am

Thanks, Jim. Yes. More than half the learning comes from classmates.

Marty Dutcher July 3, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Whoa, wonderful topic, discussion, and responses! There is hope!

Side note: Back when I was starting out in early education, our reason for bringing computer learning programs into our early childhood classrooms in the mid-80s (for limited periods of time) was that the computers’ responses never made the children wrong, yet lead them to accurate responses to the posed questions. And using the computers was optional, not a requirement.

But more to what I am working on now: what it is that schools can do but don’t do: share advances in understanding human behavior with students on a daily basis, and allow more autonomous social experimentation. I’m thinking particular of the issues of autonomy, relatedness, and patterns of both evolutionary as well as early-learned behavior/attitudes/beliefs. How can this happen? If teachers know it, they can share it. E.g., “Annie, of course your friend Giselle is mad. Every healthy human being gets angry or upset when they don’t get what they want when the expect they should – even you and me”, or why people continue to do what doesn’t work: “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” rather than they are bad or stupid. We are all in the same boat with our children, and can learn to understand ourselves and others with compassion – if we realize that behavior that doesn’t work isn’t “bad” or “wrong”, and what we can do is help others find new and more effective ways to get want they want. Here are two books whose contents would make great classroom discussions as well as for parents and teachers: Why We Do What We Do (Edward Deci), and my latest, On Second Thought (Wray Herbert), about heuristics.
I love this blog, Rick.

Mark Herman July 3, 2016 at 2:25 pm


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