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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Schools have established themselves as the arbitrator of our meritocracy. How are they doing?

The Wall Street Journal Saturday Essay, called The Late, Great American WASP, hits many of the points from Unschooling Rules.

Here are some interesting quotes that form the argument:
  • Meritocracy is leadership thought to be based on men and women who have earned their way not through the privileges of birth but by merit.
  • The U.S. now fancies itself under a meritocratic system, through which the highest jobs are open to the most talented people, no matter their lineage or social background.
  • Meritocracy in America starts (and often ends) in what are thought to be the best colleges and universities.
  • The current American imperium appears to have been built at the offices of the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SATs.
  • Whether Republican or Democrat, left or right, the leading figures in U.S. public life today were good at school...   Their merit resides, presumably, in having been superior students.
  • But is the merit in our meritocracy genuine? Of the two strongest American presidents since 1950— Harry S. Truman and Ronald Reagan —the first didn't go to college at all, and the second went to Eureka College, a school affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Eureka, Ill. 
  • The only thing that normal undergraduate schooling prepares a person for is... more schooling. Having been a good student, in other words, means nothing more than that one was good at school: One had the discipline to do as one was told, learned the skill of quick response to oral and written questions, figured out what professors wanted and gave it to them.
  •  A good student might even be more than a bit of a follower, a conformist, standing ready to give satisfaction to the powers that be so that one can proceed to the next good school, taking another step up the ladder of meritocracy.
  • What our new meritocrats have failed to evince... is character 
  • Trust, honor, character: The elements... have not been taken up by the meritocrats.
  • The subprime real estate collapse and the continuing hedge-fund scandals have been brought on directly by men and women who are little more than "greedy pigs"... [and]  all have master's degrees from the putatively best business schools in the nation.
  • Thus far in their history, meritocrats, those... good students, appear to be about little more than getting on, getting ahead and (above all) getting their own. 
The school industry (and the academic PhD guild) has established itself as the arbitrator of our meritocracy.  How are they doing?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

#unrules55 - The only sustainable answer to the global education challenge is a diversity of approaches.

The last "rule" of Unschooling Rules is, "The only sustainable answer to the global education challenge is a real diversity of approaches, including homeschooling and unschooling."

  • Current Scorecard Rating: OMG! Thought-leading breakthrough!
11/10/2013: Here is Ken Danford, presenting at TEDx Amherst College:

4/8/2011: Jeff Sandefer's work is increasingly becoming "required reading" for anyone really interested in evolving education. While so many say it, Sandefer's work actually does start from the needs of the students, not the schools.  Here he is:

 For the most recent Unschooling Rules scorecard, see: http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/search/label/Scorecard

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

#unrules46 - The future is portfolios, not transcripts.

Unschooling Rules 46 is, The future is portfolios, not transcripts.
  • Current Scorecard Rating: OMG! Thought-leading breakthrough!
11/1/2013: ETS Share Knowledge Analyst Kelly Bergman put up a great list of ePortfolio resources on LinkedIn. These included:
For the most recent Unschooling Rules scorecard, see: http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/search/label/Scorecard

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Writing a Non-Directive Book - Notes on Unschooling Rules

A good friend of mine, Jay Cross, wrote a book called "Informal Learning." My immediate snarky response to him was, "isn't the style of your book inherently structured formal learning, and so doesn't that betray rather than role-model the experiences you seek to encourage?" He wrote back, about one of my early simulation books, basically the same thing. "If you advocate simulation and serious game based media, why am I reading a book about it?"

I have wrestled with the affordances and limitations of books. Books are spectacularly easy to create using today's tools (i.e. a word processor, a digital camera, a drawing program) and easy to share. It is also a piece of media with which we have all grown up - we know how to engage them.

Most Books are Directive
But books are, from a leadership perspective, typically directive. One is taken lock-step on the author's path. Books are, for the reader, passive. You can keep turning the pages, and you will reach the end. I walk away from directive speakers and writers with three sensations 1) I believe the writer or speaker is much smarter and more accomplished than I am, 2) I really don't know what he or she is saying most of the time, despite (or because of) all of the references made and jargon used, and 3) I have a vague feeling of depression and angst.

Even wonderful stories that are emotionally invigorating to consume can be frustrating to transfer to make one's own life better.

Can Books be Collaborative?
I attempted to write my last two books, The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games, and Unschooling Rules, using a collaborative leadership style rather than directive. (See my entry here about leadership styles.) The two books, superficially, look very different. The Complete Guide weighs two and half pounds and Unschooling Rules is just 8 ounces.

Many of my books have tried to challenge the traditional 'directive' affordance.

The Reader Controls the Flow
But both books are made up of independent entries. You can read both by opening to a random page and digging in. If you are intrigued by what you have read, you can bounce around in short hops, to nearby entries. If you want something completely different, you can move farther away in the book to new grounds. The reader has responsibility for his or her own journey, and I, as the author, have the responsibility to make that journey productive and worthwhile. Writing was more like laying out a city than constructing a strong story (Simulations and the Future of Learning, in contrast, was written as a first person narrative with story arcs, frustration and resolution pairs, and character development.)

The Star of the Book is the Reader, not the Author
Ultimately, though, the books are very different. True, Unschooling Rules can be read from front to back, while The Complete Guide is almost impossible. But more so, Unschooling Rules does not give the readers easy answers. (Well, it gives some easy answers and low-hanging fruit, but not too many!) It is not a comprehensive reference. Instead, it truly is (and necessarily so to be effective) collaborative with the reader. It leaves the reader invigorated, frustrated, but better positioned to create their own solutions. My goal is to reduce the number of false paths taken, call out some absurd assumptions made today regarding education and schools that get in the way, prod and inspires with fresh perspectives, take away some doubt, provide some places to start, and encourage action, but I do not take away the responsibility of the reader to create, implement, and ultimately own their comprehensive solution. I am there to help. The reader is the star, not I.

Are there Perfect Rules to Create Inevitability in Education?
The culture of all academics seeks to emulate the rigors of science, such as physics (see the impact of learning theories on National Science Foundation grants); the culture of government is to create a comprehensive set of rules to eliminate the need for judgement in employees. Even the culture of the Quality movement in corporations feeds this philosophy, with deviations from norms (i.e. students' different capabilities, backgrounds, or home environments) seen as problems to be eliminated. As a result, much research into school reforms wants to find the underlying rules and processes that, when executed exactly as prescribed (including normalizing children into students), creates inevitable success. (No wonder it is easy to predict The Gates Foundation will fail on its current path.) This approach is of no surprise given that school cultures also tend to paint parents as either drug addicts or workaholics who need to be managed and overcome, and teachers and students as slackers that need to be threatened to keep from goofing off.

A Compass, not a Map
Unschooling Rules is, of course, starts from a different place. It is a compass not a map. It tries to match technique with message. If someone wants to kick back and read a satisfying story, a devastating and irrefutable critique, or wants an exact solution to the problem to criticize or implement as they might a recipe for custard, this is not the right book. Rather, if readers wants to take ownership for the problem either individually or as a community (including a few easy wins to start the ball rolling), Unschooling Rules will be a great companion.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Implications of Unschooling Rules

I was asked in an interview the other day to summarize what the key implications of Unschooling Rules are. Here they are, by group:
  • For families of children in schools: You do have a choice. Traditional school may be the best option, but understand several alternative options anyway. It will make you stronger. Further, traditional schools do a lot of things horribly. They are businesses and, no matter what they say or imply, do not love your children nor are they committed to their long term success. They have scalable processes not answers. You need to budget as much time for compensating for schools as supporting their programs.
  • For families of home- and unschooled children: Treat childhood as you treat adulthood. There are no single answers or paths. Your family members are education entrepreneurs. There are some rules, but not that many. The future belongs to the creative working.
  • For teachers and schools administrators: You are stuck in a broken monopoly. It is not your fault. You are given an impossible task. Still, you are powerful. Think of your job as protecting the authentic education journey of each child from the system and pressures around them. And look for other jobs, again for back-up. You cannot be effective if you believe you have no career choices.
  • For policy makers: Embrace and encourage real alternatives to school as much as possible. De-emphasize test scores and other standardization attempts. Think of home- and unschoolers as a fifteen year research and development experiment. Be prepared, over time, to try to make institutional schools more like homeschooling, not the other way around. Here are two thought games. First, what would you do if half of what schools taught was useless? Second, what if you had to cut the budget for schools in half?
  • For foundations and think tanks: Those who have tried, through brilliant arguments and generous donations, to improve schools over the last thirty years have suffered epic failures. If you want to have been influential in improving schools two decades from now, put every last dime and neuron into supporting and enabling home- and unschoolers today. Think of how often you have thought "If only schools could..." Well, home- and unschoolers can.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Isaac Asimov on Personalized Learning

In the old days, very few people could read and write. Literacy was a very novel sort of thing, and it was felt that most people just didn’t have it in them. But with mass education, it turned out that most people could be taught to read and write. In the same way, once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries, where you can ask any question and be given answers, you can look up something you’re interested in knowing, however silly it might seem to someone else.

Today, what people call learning is forced on you. Everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class. But everyone is different. For some, class goes too fast, for some too slow, for some in the wrong direction. But give everyone a chance, in addition to school, to follow up their own bent from the start, to find out about whatever they’re interested in by looking it up in their own homes, at their own speed, in their own time, and everyone will enjoy learning.”

- Isaac Asimov, Bill Moyer Interview, 1988

Unschooling Rules 33: In education, customization is important like air is important.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Six Wrong Arguments for Growing School Budgets

Here are six arguments that school budget advocates just can't resist to raise money, but that we should:
  • Use case studies from disadvantaged schools as an excuse to expand school's reach everywhere. (i.e. "Pre-K is great for children in the poorest neighborhoods, so all communities everywhere should spend on Pre-K.")
  • Use "getting into college" (or grad school, or Ph.D. program) as self-evident proof of earlier success. The number of new graduates who are unemployed and 200,000 dollars in debt are a success only of the school industry not society.
  • Use "falling behind" grade level and the vague threat of "never catching up" as an excuse to implement any program. "Grade levels" are arbitrary sets of internal standards that inevitably and erroneously assume that students are the same. Different students have different strengths and weaknesses by subject. The clustering of Math + English + Science into rigid and lock-stepped "grade levels" is a weakness of school programs, not an opportunity for more extra hours.

    At the very least, schools grade on curves. 30% of the students will always be in the bottom 30%. If the bottom 30% of school children trigger automatic special help (because they are in the bottom 30%), schools have an infinite cash feedback loop.
  • Use test scores as broad proof of success. Tests measure a very finite set of skills. Anything extrapolation, specifically as a justification for school expansion, should be treated with suspicion. And then there is the paradox of: Test scores up? Spend more to replicate the program! Test scores down? Spend more to get them up!
  • Assume academic success as currently delivered by today's schools is a driver for economic success. Any statement from school lobbyists that falls into the broad camp of, "In order to be competitive in the global marketplace, we must give schools more power to..." is unsubstantiated. These statements are not backed up by our experience over the last few decades (there are no measured correlations between economic good times and previously enacted school programs), nor by highly responsive research between the new economic realities of the last few years with the new academic programs of the last few years (as this research not only doesn't exist but almost inevitably can't exist.) So at the very least, one can measure the intellectual dishonesty of education industry spokespeople by the forcefulness by which they make these claims.
  • Demand that childrens' experiences be 'fair' and standardized. Children have different starting conditions, home environments, and competencies. But factories and places where measurements are heavily used strive for consistent inputs. So when schools argue for activities that make "students equal" and everything "fair" (so that they can subsequently and aggressively sort and judge them against their own internal criteria), this means disintermediating parents and growing schools, inevitably fighting against authentic experiences open to students (such as family trips), and increasing their own budgets to pretend to replace what has been stripped away.
Our nation needs both broad competencies, and a diversity of world-class specialized talents which comes from passion, depth, and rigor across generations. The services that schools are structured to offer are able to help with this some of the time and for some people. But we all have to be smart, active consumers of education services seeking out the best options between real choices and working to unbundle offerings, and not just Soviet-style heterotrophs, consuming whatever our bureaucracies decide to paternalistically feed us for our so-called collective good.

My point of this piece is not that education budgets should be slashed or should be expanded. My point is that if we use the wrong arguments for growing school budgets, we will spend more and get less. And that hurts everyone.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dr. Jack King's list of 13 influential books that can change the world.

Dr. Jack King posted a list of '13 influential books that can change the world.'

13. Anyway by Kent Keith
12. Good to Great by Jim Collins
11. Strategic Intuition by William Duggan
10. They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson
9. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Leadership by Donald Phillips
8. Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich
7. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
6. The Go-Giver by Bob Burg & John David Mann
5. Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken
4. Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr
3. William Wilberforce by William Hague
2. Make Gentle the Life of this World by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy
1. The Servant by James Hunter

Friday, February 15, 2013

Math Sims and Games at ClarkChart

I have been launching www.clarkchart.com, a comprehensive database of simulations and serious games, now in beta.  The database should grown significantly over the next few months.

Some collections worth exploring:
Please feel free to leave comments if you have experiences with any of those listed, and also suggest new ones.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Four Articles

Today, my fourth article for the British magazine Inside Learning Technologies & Skills came out.

The three so far were (and click on title to download pdf):
  • Why Educational Simulations? Designs to Develop Competence Plus Conviction: This outlines the most important reasons for pursuing simulations and serious games, and some some design frameworks to make these programs accomplish their lofty goal.  Developing conviction in all students will be one of the most meaningful opportunities of the next decade for universities, corporations, and other organizations.

  • How Would Steve Jobs Do Training and Education?: My most important article, this outlines my research agenda for the next five years to create a unified framework for all education and learning.  Part three, the new old education, changes everything.

  • L&D Life Through a Lens: A broad look at the multiple perspectives through which to evaluate techniques and opportunities for any formal learning organization.  This is probably the weakest developed of the four (although I still like it quite a bit!).  

To these, I now add:

I am proud of my run, and thank both Inside Learning Technologies & Skills and its readers for the positive reaction.  I have also highlighted the most important passages in each.

Finally, for those looking for some easy, fast reading, may I suggest my newest book, available at Amazon:

Start Here to Reboot Education

Thursday, January 31, 2013

How Success if Measured

A few days ago I heard this grant-sponsored academic PhD researcher gush about a teacher profiled in some of his research, roughly as such:
Let me tell you about this amazing science teacher. Some of his students were having trouble with the class module on 'The Scientific Method.' They were failing tests and papers about it. This science teacher went to meet with these students after school, and found them all playing World of Warcraft. These students had charts they had made about discoveries in WOW all over the wall. This science teacher made an incredible discovery. These World of Warcraft playing-students were actually applying the scientific method without knowing it. What he did then was to explain to the students the links between their methodology and the scientific method. From that point on, the students aced that part of the curricula.
To me, this was not a success story - it was a cautionary tale. Here is the Unschooling Rules break down.
  1. Most importantly, the scenario is about students who taught themselves the material on their own better than their teacher, who failed utterly.
  2. The teacher applied a testing methodology that didn't pick up the fact that these students had a working knowledge of the target skill set. The system could easily have failed the students who had the best understanding in the class of the material.
  3. The teacher's goal and success metrics were for the students to do well in the test and papers, not master the material.
  4. The school wrapper around the students' self-learning probably cost about two thousand dollars in total costs of resources including teacher time, all to justify a failed instructional methodology and testing methodology.
Centuries ago, in some cultures, the happy ending of a fictional story (specifically "comedies") was one in which every protagonist got married. Through our modern perspective we rightfully challenge that definition of success. Today, most school success stories (at least told in academic, political, and foundation cultures) end when students are back on track to consume more education hours.  This may be the happy ending for schools, but not necessarily everyone else.

See also: Right and Wrong Questions

Monday, January 21, 2013

Authentic Value Chains: Maple Syrup

Unschooling Rules: 
15. If you care about learning, start with food. 
11. Use microcosms as much as possible in learning programs.

New England roads now are dotted with pails, this year put out earlier because of the warm winter.
Text books, lectures, worksheets, videos, and tests all have their place in teaching science and physics.  But real conviction and curiosity tend to come out of real experiences.  While the natural diversity of the real world engaged at an individual level confounds an industrial education system (which prefers the scale and consistency of precanned and prefabricated content), it seems necessary to create the next generation of passionate scientists and engineers.  Here is an example around maple syrup.

Make sure the hole angled downward.
For sap to flow, the temperature has to be above freezing during the day but drop below freezing during the night.
One Drip at a Time
It is hard to cram syrup production.

This has not been a bountiful year!

Adding to the Supply
Straining Out Some Debris
Since the stove is going anyway (or use an outdoor setup)...
....evaporate away most of the water.
Now just add the requisite Richard or David Attenborough monologue.
Here is our recipe for Whole Wheat Pancakes:
  • 1 cup organic whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup unprocessed wheat bran
  • 4 Tablespoons raw wheat germ
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Turbinado sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon canola oil
As well as our local maple syrup, we use raw milk from a local dairy farm and our own organic, free range eggs. Then, we just put a small amount of butter a hot pan before each scoop of pancake batter goes in.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Big Cost of Little Vision in Education

There is a very large school industry in the United States.  (One genius of the industry is making everyone who owns property pay dearly to fund it.)

But despite the enormous shared burden, there is very little shared vision for the goals of the school industry. There is no collective mandate for change or even agreement on managing metrics. (Without oversight, the school industry has generously provided their metrics, primarily around more students consuming more school hours.)  There are few articulated vision for how education should or even could look in a few years.  People are often more united in what they want to move from than what they want to move towards.

There are, apparently instead, four pockets where there are mini-visions.
  • Top Students (a very different group than smartest students or most productive students, btw).
  • S.T.E.M.
  • Special Needs
  • At Risk
("Sports" may be a fifth targeted group in many schools.)

These groups cover, roughly, 30% of all students, but get a disproportionate amount of attention.  That then leaves most students feeling like middle children, the Jan and Peter Brady's of the system (against the Greg and Marcia's Top Students and STEM and the Cindy and Bobby's Special Needs and At Risk).  Many of today's homeschoolers likely draw from that lost and ignored 70%.  (Moreover, the irony should be lost on no one that, while Obama's vision of education is as a "pathway to the middle class"  the middle class of students is mostly treated as a pool from which to prop up the success of those at the top and subsidize the blunting of the liability of those at the bottom.  

Where there are no visions, people default to (and argue passionately over) management strategies.  As much as schools have no consensus on vision, there are a tremendous amount of belief in the concept of "rigor".  It doesn't matter what we are doing or towards what end, but let's do it with a greater focus on adherence to statistical norms with the goal of reducing variability.  So yes, in the era of automobiles, the horse and buggy vendors want to be six sigma black belts.

It is with this context that I listened to this archive Slate Magazine Political Gabfest.

First, I am a huge fan of the Political Gabfest and would hate to miss an episode.  On the other hand, listening to Slate Magazine discuss education is cringe-worthy (it is as painful as hearing the equally great and unmissable Culture Gabfest talk about clothing and fashion).  Where the Political Gabfest team is so sure-footed and intellectually robust around issues of politics and law, masterfully tying tactics to strategies, they represent the deer-in-the-headlights groping-in-the-dark responses when it comes to education.  If education does evolve, the types of statements regularly made by this team will seem incredibly dated (for example, presenting polling numbers that reflexively conflate well-educated with time spent in school programs

So, grab the current Gabfest here: http://ec.libsyn.com/p/1/0/a/10acc2782eec16f5/SPG12091401_Gabfest.mp3?d13a76d516d9dec20c3d276ce028ed5089ab1ce3dae902ea1d01cc8031d2ca5efe48&c_id=4942034

The story, on the strike in Chicago, starts at 25:50.  Most Gabfest conversations attempt to discuss the reality of the situation, and then the optics.  Here instead, during the ten minutes, the conversation rambles from Obama vs. unions, to the hiring of laid-off teacher in charter schools, to the evolution of unions in general, to the bland critics of bad teachers as the reasons school under-perform and the equally bland praise for generic good teachers as people who "close performance gaps and improve test scores."  It is finally around time 32:58 where there is an attempt to put the conversation into some less-permeable context with a broad challenge of the influence of standardized tests, which is soon cut off and spun into the meh-ish "I can see both sides".

Again, I don't mean to pick on The Political Gabfest.  But if the same level of flailing about was evident on any other subject, I suspect someone would get fired.  Instead, this all appears to be par for the course.

This lack of vision is so prevalent that it is not even recognized as the problem it is.  Perhaps schools themselves have been so successful as scuttling any new big ideas that we all are first trying to figure out if we can change schools at all.   But I disagree with that tactic.  Until we can be clear about the what schools are supposed to accomplish (FYI, my vision is here), we cannot reward real leadership.  We can only to continue to promote management.