"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Education Barreling Down The Wrong Path Towards Uselessness

Every once in a while, someone's voice rises up and dares to speak the things that most ed reformers will never say.  Today that voice belongs to Calvin Mackie  author, speaker, former engineering professor and technology entrepreneur. He received a typical education from his New Orleans high school which resulted in his scoring low on the SAT. He ended up having to take special remedial classes to learn all the things his high school wasn't able to teach him before Morehouse College would accept him. Whether through his own personal motivation or through the inspiration of a mentor, he managed to turn his poor school performance around and ended up with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, and has inspired thousands of students and educators across the country through his public speaking engagements.

He wrote for CNN about his thoughts on education:
In America, the education system has moved away from developing citizens to serve their fellow man to the unadulterated pursuit of standardized success at any cost. Mixed in with a sea of social change and celebrity obsession, somehow we’ve all lost sight of the goal of education: creating passionate students who are employable, teachable and adaptable in a dynamic world. Students are turned off for a number of reasons right now.
To get back on track, we must recognize that education is useless if students aren’t thirsty for it!
Finally! Someone who recognized that handing students, who are unmotivated to participate in the process, a "worldclass education" on a silver platter will be a complete waste of time and money. Finding all the right things to teach, developing tight schedules for learning, measuring progress, limiting class size - all these things will be, as Mackie states, "useless" because the children are turned off by the current process we use to educate them.

Why is this happening to our children?  Mackie offers this explanation,
One of the biggest issues is that our children are growing up in a culture where their passions are advertised and sold to them - there’s no room for them to grow on their own terms. They are more motivated to become the next American Idol, contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” or hip-hop mogul than to become leaders of the free world or create the next Internet. 
Our children are motivated by the wrong things: celebrity, a focus on material wealth, desire for limited personal responsibility.

Reformers promise to give kids the skills they will need in the 21st century by packing someone else's conclusions into their brains. They are heading towards a static completed package of skills and claiming that this is what the 21st century economy will need. They advocate this through Common Core as if what is needed is already known, teachable and testable.

Yet technology is changing our world so quickly that it is almost impossible to know what the future will look like. Check out USA Today's Section The Next 30 Years, where they asked experts in various fields to predict what their field will look like in 30 years, and you will see polar opposite viewpoints because each expert is looking only through their own personal lens. One expert says we will have no cars because every town will be planned to mix commercial and residential development rendering the car unnecessary. Another says cars will be not only a mode of transportation but a necessary connection to the world. The first expert was an urban planner and the second a representative from Ford Motor Co. To work in either of these fields will require vastly different skills.  If these top experts in their fields can't agree on the vision of the future, how could we possibly think that schools will know exactly what to teach the kids?

The best thing schools could do for children is teach them to remain flexible, open to new ideas, creative and to view education as a lifelong process of knowledge gathering and skill set adjustment. Mackie proposes that schools shift their focus this way, "Rather than starting with lesson plans that attempt to go right to the brain, teachers need to grab student’s attention and win their hearts first. Show them the amazing lifestyle they can earn by becoming a contributing member of the knowledge economy. Put new role models in front of them - people they should look up to, follow on Twitter and “like” on Facebook."

Will anybody in education reform listen to people like Calvin Mackie?

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