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.”
It was in Natalie Wexler’s Forbes (April 9, 2018) article, “Three Mistakes We Need to Fix If We Want Education Reform To Succeed,” that caught my attention in how corporate America still doesn’t get it. Below, I have quoted each of her points as they were written.
- The real problems begin at the high school level. In fact, the problems that manifest themselves in high school have their roots in elementary school, which reformers have long seen—mistakenly—as the bright spot in education. When students arrive in ninth grade reading several years below grade level, as is often the case in high-poverty schools, the answer is not simply to demand that they graduate within four years, come hell or high water. We need to give students more time to catch up if they need it—and we need to start looking critically at what is happening before high school that leaves students so unprepared.
It was Sir Ken Robinson (International education speaker and writer) who remarked, “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed–it needs to be transformed.” Where the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice has laid its course of action is at the secondary level because the elementary starts out fine but over time student engagement and motivation are drained by the time students reach high school.
Why are students needing more time to catch up? Reformers have already increased the classroom workload, extended school days making for shorter summer vacations, and have added more technology infrastructure including computers, notebooks, and iPad\tablets. The reformers still don’t get it. Reforming the old system just puts bandages on the old system. It’s now time for transformation not reformation. So, what is missing?
Curiosity is the fuel for exploration, discovery, inquiry, and learning. It was Walt Disney who pointed out, “Ideas come from curiosity.” Children are born with a natural curiosity about the world around them. Curiosity naturally manifests itself with questions seeking understanding and answers. But instead of feeding the fire of curiosity, the system slowly creates an environment of silence leading to death for long term learning. Students are guided away from exploration and inquiry and replaced with pre-assessments, tests, and post-assessments. The grade becomes more important than how the student learns. Standardization has become a machine-like system similar to Pink Floyd’s 1979 song, “Another Brick in the Wall.”
Interesting enough, elementary students already walk in with strong curiosity and motivation. The question is how is our educational system slowly puts out the fire by the time that child reaches high school. More content, testing, and technology is not the answer–that has already been proven. When more becomes less than expected the next step is to blame the teacher.
- The most important factor in educational achievement is a highly effective teacher. It’s true that teachers are hugely important, but reformers have judged teachers’ effectiveness by how much they boost students’ test scores and whether they’re seen to be employing the right kind of classroom “moves.” What reformers have paid little or no attention to is what teachers are being asked to teach. There’s increasing evidence that the best way to improve teachers’ performance is to provide them with high-quality instructional materials and specific training in how to use them.
According to the U.S. Department of Education statistics, 50% of new teachers will leave their profession within their first 5 years. These are qualified educators who are hired as effective teachers. Why are they leaving? Who are the reformers who “judge” a teacher’s effectiveness? The Forbes writer sites increasing evidence that to improve teacher performance, reformers need to provide high-quality instructional materials and teach them (the teachers) how to use it.
Corporate America has changed the classroom environment to mimic their own. Teachers are referred to as classroom managers. Superintendents are administrators, students are clients, content and curriculum have become business production, grades are paychecks. Finally, government and state assessments are not based on what the curriculum demands but where they think the client should be by age and grade. The same standardization that made manufactures and businesses work has been applied to human learning–and it isn’t working!
When District and State assessments cut into the learning process to measure what they feel students should know, the so-called high-quality materials are no longer important. Teachers earn a Master’s in their course of study, they must go through two years of training before they are accepted with certification. The majority of educational businesses are run by individuals who lack both classroom experience and education, and these are the people who are responsible for reforming teachers. Holding an MBA or Ph.D. in a business field does not give a person the training to teach young children or teenagers.
One reformer says, “Remove paper textbooks and give students digital tablets to read from–this will improve their reading skills.” Of course, it won’t. Reformers are rarely educators. They are business people who sell and market their products or services promising to improve learning, increase student motivation, and a host of other snakebite medicine benefits. Since 1996, over $80 billion dollars has been invested in internet infrastructure, computers, and digital equipment. These technologies are only tools. Teachers are given the technology and told to incorporate it into their curriculums. Training is rare, and when given it is only introductory at best. Tech companies always state their products are hands-on intuitive. Technologies are generally designed and programmed for only one or two learning styles, subject matter, or limited content. Most of the elementary tech tools are no more than electronic rote memory devices. Students wanting to explore beyond what is programmed is not available.
Ask the question who are these “Reformers?” From Horace Mann in the 19th Century to the business world today with their acronym of S.T.E.M. education. Reformers have not in the past 50 years focused on student needs, that has been graded by organizations like P.I.S.A. (Programme International Student Assessment), which for the past 20 years has shown American 15-year old students are still average in science and math and below average in reading. However, corporate America is not interested in what goes on in the classroom but their business ledgers, stock prices, and marketing agendas. It’s time to give the classrooms back to the educators to transform the status quo into the 21st Century educational journey.
- Education needs to be data-driven. What this means in practice is two-fold. First, teachers and schools are held accountable at least partly on the basis of students’ end-of-year scores on math and reading tests. In addition, teachers give students tests throughout the year that are supposed to predict performance on end-of-year tests, and they base their instruction on the results. At least when it comes to reading tests, this approach is actually counterproductive.
Here the article returns not to education but the corporate world. Equating business mechanics with organic learning. Because this final suggestion is the biggest problem facing our educational system today–data-driven assessment. The data-driven assessment has not only forced teachers to teach to the test, in order to keep their jobs but has also been one of the reasons many teachers are leaving their vocation.
Anyone who is a teacher knows that teaching a group of students cannot be accomplished by only one mode of learning. Not all students learn the same way. This is why a student’s curiosity is important because it lends a helping hand to a professional educator on how a student processes information.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “To have a complete mind: Study the science of art, and the Art of science. Learn how to see. Realize everything connects to everything else. Leonardo also wrote, “Every action needs to be prompted by a motive.” That motive is curiosity.
We start by rekindling the fire of curiosity at the high school level. This is the end product and where the problem blows-up. Address and fix this by building the support and mentoring elements that encourage student-directed learning and then we will be able to move down the ranks to elementary where curiosity walks in fresh and ready. This is the goal of the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice. Leonardo’s Apprentice is an educational nonprofit foundation started by an educator to support student growth, learning, and leadership by encouraging creativity and innovation in solving problems that affect our global community.
Back in the 1970s, the business world stepped in and said they could produce a better product (student). 50 years later, we are losing more teachers and students who are not performing enough or motivated enough to move on to the engineering and science fields this country needs. The United States has become a country of consumers and app builders. The high power invention machine that was so powerful in the 19th and early 20th centuries has lapsed into a state accepting mediocrity. If you feel real changes need to be taken, help support the Academy of Leonardo’s Apprentice, check out our website, and help us as we help engage and motivate our youth in reigniting the fire of curiosity.
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.