After reading an essay by Alfie Kohn, entitled, “Turning Learning Into Business”, from his book, “What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?” I got curious if the essay he had written might possibly have been exaggerated. I started my own research to verify what he had written. The results I found out were straight out of the movie “Pelican Brief.”
Our story starts in 2017, with an Internet site called Executive Paywatch, which reported that the CEO’s of the Standards & Poor (S&P) 500 index made $13.98 Million dollars of compensation. S&P are known for their marketing intelligence. The information they gather benefits their clients who are willing to pay for it.
[FLASH BACK] In 1992, I took an in depth course in becoming an Info-Broker. The type of clients I worked for needed information that was current, like today, and would benefit their company tomorrow morning. I found out that information could be bought, sold or traded. I remembered that employees from the RAND corporation were also taking the same course. They were learning how to gather information for their clients too! High profiling clients that were heading for the Olympics in Spain. Safety and security for those clients was paramount, and they required information that was current to the hour.
[BACK TO STORY] What about S&P clients, who are they? They range from corporations to schools. Regarding schools, the S&P was the first to tabulate, organize, and package education information from test scores that were eventually sold back to states who were interested in what was happening in their own schools. Who could benefit from knowing student scores? Maybe your parent company to start with. Guess who is the parent company of S & P? McGraw-Hill, the same company that makes school textbooks. Interesting huh?
Standardized testing is a machine that collects valuable data that can be organized into information. This is why corporations are not interested in the Arts, because the Arts can’t be standardized. If they can’t be formed into standardized data they are worthless. The Arts are subjective, whereas math, science and English are objective and can be tabulated. So explains the push to downsize and remove the Arts and promote math, science and English scores.
While schools play into the illusion of which school is the best, the real gold is being mined in the classroom as schools compete with each other. Who supports the efforts of these testing and reporting companies? Business Week has printed the top business schools, as well as the top STEM schools in the nation. Business week writers gather their evidence from test scores. By the way, did I forget to tell you who is the parent company of Business Week? If you guessed McGraw-Hill you’re getting ahead. But hang on, the plot takes some interesting turns.
Oh yes, the more I dug, the more shadows seemed to appear behind dark corridors. I could envision Dan Brown writing a novel concerning a global conspiracy to control schools. To control the minds of students and their futures. Of course, to make such a novel you would probably need the Church and several key corporate head characters, who were all Masons, all sitting around key educational school boards around the country. All being controlled by one silent and cryptic person. Then you would have a good novel right? Well,–that’s another story.
Some business corporations have intertwined so skillfully into education that the public only perceives a mask representing education. We have already discovered a couple of the corporations who already control the $20 billion to $30 billion dollar a year textbook and standardized testing industry, and this doesn’t even count the online, apps, and other electronic media that has surfaced like an enemy sub off the coast.
For example, Apple computers; Lest we forget they make and sell computers–and schools are their best customers. Another company that seems safe is Proctor and Gamble. Did you know they have their own G&P School where they send their products in the form of lesson plans to teachers all across the country? Sounds nice until you realize they are paving the way for future customers by presenting their product in a very clever and hidden bias.
So where does this leave us? The majority of schools throughout the United States have mission statements that generally cover these three basic common goals for the 21st Century: (1) To develop creative thinkers; (2) to develop productive global citizens and leaders; and (3) to develop lifelong learners.
If big business controls the curriculum and standardized testing how can we develop creative thinkers. If we want students to become productive global citizens and leaders students must be taught how to ask the right questions–not how to answer the correct multiple choice question. Finally, if we want lifelong learners, education must be stimulating not stagnant.
The only way to change this, I believe, is to allow teachers to teach. I remember several years ago, I met with a school board made up of businessmen. One was a podiatrist. I remember discussing with him a biodegradable suture thread I had read about and strongly suggested he consider using it. He told me that it had some benefits but couldn’t be used in every case. I strongly suggested it could. He replied, “I’ve been a surgeon for 25 years and I think I know my business better than you.” I retorted, ” I’ve been in my field for 30 years, and I think I know my business as good as you do yours.” He responded, “Good come back. I get it!” Corporations really don’t understand what is going on in the classroom. That’s why professional educators are hired, but it is the silent business partner who seems to have a say into what is important to teach and how it is to be taught. Teaching to the standardized test was not developed by educators.
No standardized test would complete without a scantron sheet and a #2 pencil. It’s the “Scantron” company that makes the millions of scantrons students from elementary to university use. Their parent company is M&F Worldwide whose Scantron Division provides data management solutions and related services, including testing and assessment solutions, patient information collection and tracking, and survey services to educational, commercial, healthcare, and governmental entities.. The parent company of M&F Worldwide is MacAndrews and Forbes. Finally, MacAndrews and Forbes is owned wholly by the billionaire investor Ronald Perelman. It’s amazing where these trails end up.
For the past 20 years, the corporate business world has put down educators and told the world they can produce a better student. In those 20 years, the government and corporate world has invested $60 billion dollars into technology and Internet infrastructure. State laws have been influenced to incorporating standardized testing and assessments, the business world has had more influence and input into school curriculum development. However, the results published by PISA (Programme International Student Assessment) has shown that in those same years the ROI in grades for 15 year old students has remained average or below average in the United States. Out of 71 countries the U.S. ranks 19th in science, 30th in math, and 27th in reading.
This past weekend, Superbowl LIII, sponsors invested $5.25 million dollars for a 30-second spot. Was that money down the drain? Of course not. Yes, it does seem like a David and Golliath scenario, and I am only one voice, but I’ll say it anyway, “It’s time to return the class over to those trained to teach, and remove business out of classroom.”
In Forbes’s article, “Ten Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Fail,” written by Steve Andriole, a business professor from the Villanova School of Business at the Villanova University in Pennsylvania, stated that Entrepreneurs were not smart. “Not talking about IQ here. Entrepreneurial IQ (EIQ) is about a holistic understanding of situations. Many entrepreneurs understand their idea, but not the market that will accept or reject the idea. Nor do they understand how accidental, uncontrollable, unscheduled innovation actually works. Or who the real competitors are. Often entrepreneurs have too little domain depth: they literally do not know what they’re talking about (though they often talk a good game).”
I like to address this issue from a different perspective and use an example from the movie, “The Last Samurai.” It’s a story of a 19th Century army captain named Nathan Algren played by Tom Cruise. In one scene of the movie, Cruise’s character is attempting to learn how to sword fight with wooden samurai swords. His teacher, a seasoned samurai, is showing no mercy and Cruise’s character is getting beaten and bruised mercilessly.
After another round and ending up knocked to the ground, the American captain sits quietly and bewildered as to what he is doing wrong. A young samurai approaches him and tells him quietly, “Too many minds.” The young Japanese man goes on, “Mind of the fight, the mind of people watching, the mind of your surroundings, too many minds.” This concept of too many minds can also parallel the concept of listening skills. Here are four key lessons to improving those skills and help you focus on one mind.
Lesson 1: Maintain eye contact.
This means to focus on the person who is talking to you. It doesn’t mean stare and think about a good come back. The blank stare shows no activity because the person is thinking or daydreaming about something else. Grant you in some cultures, like in Japan, looking at the eyes can be an insult, but even in this case, the focus must still be on what words are being chosen to express thoughts.
Lesson 2: Listen for keywords.
What words has the speaker chosen to express himself? If the words are vague or too general, that is a good time to interrupt politely and ask for clarification or definition. This will also demonstrate that you are listening and engaged. Emotions play a big part in what is spoken and should not be taken personally. Listen for emphasized words. But how will you know which words are keywords?
Lesson 3: Body communication.
I remembered a community play I directed, and one patron came up to me after the show and told me she really liked the young actress in the performance but could not hear or understand her. I thought that was interesting because I was up in the control booth and could hear the young actress’ lines perfectly. But when I saw the video of the performance, I understood immediately what the problem was. Several times the actress delivered her lines with the right emotion, but with nobody communication. No hand gestures, facial expressions, or body movement. Body communication is 80% of public speaking. Body language is another way to listen by interpreting what is being said through facial expressions, hand gestures, and body stance.
Lesson 4: Shut up and listen
A while back Forbes described and listed the 10 top reasons why entrepreneurs and solo business owners failed. Interesting enough, six of the ten can be further filtered down to one specialized skill. One that you don’t even think about but can affect your sales, marketing, partner relationships, customer service, and in the end your business. That is learning how to listen. Strong listening skills will improve your marketing, sales, customer service, and presentation and public speaking from presentations to sales.
A successful entrepreneur, Ernesto Sirolli, learned the hard way an important fact about listening. In his 20’s, he had come to Africa with ambition, knowledge, and resources to help Africans move from their primitive ways, according to Western thinking, to modern advancement–and he failed. Why? Listen to his story on learning how to shut-up and listen. Ernesto is a brilliant public speaker with a talent for quick wit and humor. If you really want to succeed as an entrepreneur take the time and listen how to achieve that goal, it will be, in my opinion, the first primary step to learning an important lesson that can start your improvement towards better listening and inevitable towards improving your public speaking and presentation skills.
Then, when you are ready, I’m here to help take those next steps in mastering both your public speaking and presentation skills. Look me up on LinkedIn.
Awhile back, Education Week (online) posted in the Curriculum Matters, an article titled, “Study: Give Weak Teachers Good Lesson Plans, Not Professional Development.” The study in question was done on 360 teachers in three Virginia school districts. Not once in the article, did the authors of the study ever define what, in their research, the characteristics of a ‘weak’ teacher was. Only, the so-called weak teacher benefited from purchasing good lesson plans. Final analysis: invest in giving weaker teachers lesson plans, but don’t spend time or money teaching how to develop a good one. Duh!
It was really no surprise to find the authors of Mathalicious backing up the study. Of course, it’s money in their pockets. You can read the article http://bit.ly/29FAdqb. In fact, I suggest that every publisher who is having trouble selling their lesson plans grab this article, it might bring in a few more dollars into their pockets.
I’m being cynical of course! I will agree, as most teachers do out there, that many of the professional development tortures that are endured are never totally created for the teacher. The majority of teachers feel that their PD courses are useless, never really addressing their issues. Why? Rarely does anyone ask teachers what they need!
The authors talked about moving average-performing teachers, but never defined what average-performing meant, to 80th percentile—It sounds impressive but doesn’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
Weak teachers don’t need store-bought lesson plans. They need mentors. They need to be taught, yes even teachers need to be taught, how to put a well-developed lesson plan that teaches to the objectives. Oops, I didn’t say test. Darn right! All lessons should have objectives, we should tell the student ahead of time what he is going to learn, learn how to teach students how to ask questions, how to analyze feedback, and how to create an assessment to find out if the objective was learned! The test will take care of itself if objectives are met.
I’m tired of hearing Ph.Duh’s who have either (1) never been in a classroom, or (2) haven’t been in one for years, dream up their studies so that they can publish their article, keep their jobs, and have something to talk about at some roundtable lunch meeting. The simple fact is weak teachers need mentoring, a safe environment to question and get feedback, resources, and the time to develop strong lesson objects. Any Questions?
Back in the 1990’s, I took a course on becoming an info-broker. It was a week-long course where I was introduced to data research, database design, and data retrieval. About this same time, the Internet was evolving with Websites and new technology tools like browsers to surf the Net for information. It was also during this time Vice President Gore created the phrase, “Information highway.” However, the course I took had nothing to do with links to Websites or University libraries. It was about being able to access unpublished information via the Internet using SQL and FTP commands. Unlike published information, unpublished information had value as a commodity, which could be bought, sold, and traded for the right price.
In order to access databases of this caliber, one had to have the following three things: First an account and password to access these global information databases; Secondly, a bank account pre-established to pay for the information once retrieved. Pricing varied from a few dollars per hour to one particular database that cost $1,800 dollars for every 15 minutes; Thirdly, the knowledge and skills needed to maneuver in a database to retrieve the information desired as quickly as possible. What I also took out of this course was the importance of two other key elements: Learning how to ask the right question, and knowing where to get the best answer.
Asking the right question was not about asking a typical journalist question (who, what, when, where, why, and how.) But learning how to ask open-ended questions, prioritizing them, and then mapping out a path within a database’s labyrinth maze structure.
I recently just finished a great little book by Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana called, “Make Just One Change: Teach Students to ask Their Own Questions. This book mentor’s teachers on how to develop the skill in asking the right question. I highly recommend it for those who are interested in getting students engaged and developing a classroom culture whose motivation is self-lit. This is a small book but powerful.
Teaching students how to ask questions and then having them answer their own questions does lead to student lesson engagement. Because the questions are developed by the students who are motivated to explore and discover their own answers. Consequently, doing it this way has another benefit, they retain more information than through a lectures or worksheets.
As for where to look, that takes us into research. Google has become the 21st Century equivalent to the 20th Century photocopying phrase, “I want to make a Xerox.” Boy did 3M, Minolta, and other photocopying companies hate that phrase. Today, you hear, “Google it,” for getting information. Actually, there are 65 large databases on the Net. Even though not as popular as Google many of the databases have links to information that might cut down on research time.
In any case, no matter which database is used by students they still need to know three basic things:
- First, the structure of the database and how information is stored;
- Secondly, logic tools on how to reduce the number of hits and get the best information quickly. Noted that I said the ‘best’ information, not the ‘right’ information. In school, on a test, there is generally the one right answer whether that answer must be spelled out or blocked out on a multiple-choice question; and
- Thirdly, the sources of the information. Understanding where the information came from and the timeframe are crucial to data integrity.
We should also teach students the value of asking the question, “Which database will best serve me?” Followed by, how do I design the best approach to get the information and document it. As for documentation, students should be able to tell you which database they used, where the information was stored, the date of publication and the person(s) responsible. In my case, it was date and time (GMT) that had to be recorded for the unpublished data or information once retrieved.
Every database on the Net has a map along with the logic tools that best serve information retrieval. But, I caution, it still comes down to answering the question, and if the question is not formed correctly, well, as Lewis Carroll put it:
Teaching students how to ask questions and then how to retrieve the information are important skills that all learners will need their entire life. In fact, you might still have a question yourself. You might still be wondering about what was in a database that would cost $1800 dollars\15 minutes to retrieve? If you really want to know, I’ll tell you—for a price. My next blog will tackle strategic ways to help students develop questions through storytelling.
Top: Thomas Edison, Alan Turing, Nikolas Tesla Middle: Walt Disney, Mary Cassatt, Marie Curie Bottom: Galileo Galilei, Claude Monet, Albert Einstein
What are the characteristics of an apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci? First, the people above would all qualify as apprentices of Leonardo. All of them grew up in a world of conformity, established beliefs, and standards. All challenged the established beliefs and traditions. Each one was ridiculed, smeared, or shunned. You see, traditions and conformity go hand in hand. Once accepted, anyone who confronts the established validity, framework, or rules is no longer accepted by the masses.
Each above approached his work and then asked a simple question, “What if. . .” It is not just the question(s) they asked it’s the action they all took. They all shifted 90 degrees, and as strange as it seems, their actions caused the rest of the world to eventually accept and benefit from their ideas, visions, and dreams.
My personal 90-degree shift occurred back in 1995. It started with a simple question, “What if my students could collaborate with another school, in another state, on a science project–online?” My school, Don Bosco Technical Institute, in 1995, did not yet have the Internet. But I did on my personal account with AOL. I contacted AOL and asked if we could set up an electronic schoolhouse. I helped to develop the format, and then launched my program, “Space Island’s.” I developed a project that involved a virtual space station orbiting earth. Each participating school would have its own lab onboard to conduct experiments. In 1995, websites were still rare and all communication was done via emails and FTP settings.
By 1996, the program had gone viral with 2.3 million students and teachers in forty nations, ranging from elementary schools to universities. In that same year, the U.S. Congress placed my program into the Library of Congress as a historical event. It was documented as the first successfully launched long distant educational program ever completed online. Today, many universities and educational institutions benefit from online distant learning, and it all began with a question.
In 2005, I had two new questions. “What if educators, who are trained to teach, actually were given the chance to do just that?” Question number two, “What would happen if educators took back the reigns from businesses and politicians that now run education?” In that year, Leonardo’s Apprentice was born.
Leonardo’s Apprentice is about taking a 90 degree shift from the present course we have all been put on by both politicians and big business and giving control back to where it belongs, with the educators. It’s about giving the professional educator the respect and right to plan the strategies of engaging student learning. This is not about creating a new model or template. It is about generating visions, ideas and action that will bring efficacy to future generations. Generations who, in turn, will learn to make their own 90 degree shifts.
The upcoming series will not be a monologue but a dialogue of exchanges. Exchange of ideas, questions, doubts, and most importantly–movement! It will all start by taking the 90 degree shift from conformity and tradition into exploration and discovery. The first dialog will be on, “How To Engage Students.” I look forward to our future discussions and sharing your ideas and visions. Begin by leaving a comment or questions below and registering your email for my future book, “Making A 90 Degree Shift: Learning how to become a Leonardo’s Apprentice Educator.”