A site of endless curiosity

Posts Tagged ‘education

Passing the time; passing away

leave a comment »


We build our own prisons and serve as our own jail keepers, but I’ve concluded that our parents and the society at large have a hand in building our prisons. They create roles for us – and self-images – that hold us captive for a long time.

“There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives.”– Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve

Sometimes I hear the expression, “Passing the time”.  People are trying to find ways to “pass the time”.  That is, they are bored, have nothing to do, or otherwise unmotivated to do anything.  They need to find a distraction, or entertainment, something to “pass the time”… until they pass away.  Life as a tragic waiting game for death.

Sometimes I hear about people who visit the doctor and they are told they have some sort of terminal illness.  One of the first things they do is to catch up on their “bucket list” – do all those things they had planned on doing before the end of their life.  These people are running out of time.

So, how can some people struggle to “pass the time” when they have all the time in the world while others struggle to do all they can in the limited time they have?

We only have one life.  We all have limited time.  Why would anyone struggle to “pass the time”?

What do jobs and the concept of education have to do with it?

Reading the Huffington Post I ran into an article about Bill Gates.  The article had a quote from Gates

Gates’ belief that education is the greatest predictor of America’s future is supported by a report released last March that declared education to be an issue of national security. “A Nation at Risk,” penned by former New York City Schools chief Joel Klein and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, argues that a failure to provide quality education in areas like foreign languages, science and technology will create major future deficiencies of engineers, diplomats and soldiers, among others.

“As we’re not able to train people for the jobs, you’re going to hit a limit that, no matter how good the economy is, you’re not providing the opportunity,” Gates said Wednesday.

Whenever I read something like this I cringe.  What always seems to be confounded in these opinions and statements is the difference between getting an education in the classical sense and getting a vocational education.  Whenever you hear “job” and “education” in the same sentence think “training”.  Training is not an education.  Perhaps we conflate the words training and education so much we lose the distinction.

Management consultants – hands off the educational system

For all the respect I have for the consulting firm McKinsey I had to set that aside last year when I read their report “Boosting Productivity in US Higher Education”.  Boosting productivity?  They used terms like “unnecessary credits” as if higher education was like a factory to produce “just in time” workers for immediate deployment as dictated by what America’s corporations need today.

Why are people … Passing the time?

People who are “passing the time” are generally not working – either by choice or by circumstance.  When I hear “passing the time” I get the idea that the educational system and the job market have both fulfilled their purpose and at the same time it has destroyed someone.

Note the use of the words “train people” in the quote above by Gates.  Training people is like manufacturing a part (a cog) for a giant machine.  I don’t think many people would identify themselves as a “cog” but that’s how most companies treat people and that’s what they are.  Companies have “roles” and there is generally little problem in swapping different individuals in and out of roles (interchangeable parts).  This is especially true for jobs that are non-strategic (operational, support, etc.)

So, when you are out of a job you are essentially a cog without a machine.  And a cog without a machine really has no purpose or identity.  Having no purpose or identify all a cog can do is “pass the time”.  Opportunity?  A custom manufactured cog for a particular machine in a particular era has little chance of reuse.

The Take

Too many people don’t consider the difference among education, vocational education, and training.  As Gates points out, America needs people to be trained for jobs.  But, unfortunately the terminal point for people “trained for jobs” will be quick obsolescence in a rapidly changing job market and/or wages reduced to poverty level to the extent that “training” is readily available to anyone producing surpluses of undifferentiated workers.

Gates’ belief that education is the greatest predictor of America’s future is supported by a report released last March that declared education to be an issue of national security.

Yes, education, not training.  But the article does not make this distinction.  What is important for America is not so much a ready and able”trained’ workforce to solve pressing in-demand problems of today but an educated segment that can create a tomorrow for America in the context of a global economy.

No one who is educated to “make the future” will ever have time to “pass the time”.

Training people for today’s jobs seems to be a tragic (and necessary) sacrifice of people which leaves them aimless near the end of their lives.

Read more

Re/Imagine everything – Mary Meeker 2012 Internet Trends Year-End Update – Business Insider

The Future of Digital – The Future of Digital… is not in a rear-view mirror

McKinsey – Boosting Productivity in US Higher Education

Do we want management consults messing with higher education?

Creating life strategies and the road to continuous self-renewal

Written by frrl

March 3, 2013 at 5:37 am

What is school for?

leave a comment »

There has been multiple mentions of Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams” on this site

So, finally, there is a TEDx Talk on this and the future of education.

Here it is, invest 18 minutes of your time

STOP STEALING DREAMS: On the future of education & what we can do about it.

Other mentions of TED talks on this site

Written by frrl

October 18, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Why (Can’t we) ask why? Questions over answers

leave a comment »

Seth Godin came up with a good list of questions (read the blog entry)

Why ask why?

“Why?” is the most important question, not asked nearly enough.

Hint: “Because I said so,” is not a valid answer.

Why does it work this way?
Why is that our goal?
Why did you say no?
Why are we treating people differently?
Why is this our policy?
Why don’t we enter this market?
Why did you change your mind?
Why are we having this meeting?
Why not?

That’s a good set of questions.  Those are questions you ask inside an organization.  How about some questions that you ask about an organization and what it does.  Here are few that comes to mind, not asked nearly enough.  They are about positioning, structure, and assessment.

  • Where is our industry headed?
  • What are we / can we be the very best at?
  • What should we invest in?
  • What is the best operating model that supports this?
  • Who are the best leaders to put in place?
  • What are the best metrics of our success and how do we measure them?
  • What compensation and incentive systems support this?
  • How do we continually monitor our progress and make adjustments?
  • ( rinse, repeat – often, according to the clockspeed of our industry/business – the world)

In Seth’s set of questions, if you hear “Because, I said so” it’s a clear giveaway that you are in an environment dominated by political decision-making.  In these environments it’s more important that someone gets their way as opposed to linking the decision to some measurable goal of the organization.  In short, it’s about the demonstration and exercise of power rather than making the right decision for the organization’s stakeholders. (Why do some people make decisions to their own benefit when they know they undermining the organization’s stakeholders in doing so?  Read some insights from clinical psychologist Martha Stout Ph.D regarding the “organizational bully” here. )

The second set of questions isn’t about political power, it’s about positioning.  These questions are not asked frequently enough in a world of continuous change and opportunity.  (One of my favorite answers from an entrepreneur when asked about his business model…. “You know that blind spot that you have when you’re driving.. that’s where we are”.  Perhaps Borders Books and BlockBuster should have paid more attention to their blind spot to discern the likes of Amazon and Netflix.  But now, this ability to see the blind spot or to “see around corners” is no longer needed by those companies – they are out of the race. Read more)

Teaching answers – not questions.

Today in schools we teach kids to show up on time, leave on time, memorize facts, be able to recall those facts on standardized tests, and to not question authority.  It seems the perfect factory process to turn out factory workers that … show up on time, leave on time, do their work and only their work, and not question the boss or the company.  The perfect factory education for the early 20’th century Industrial Age.

But what do we need now?  Perhaps a focus on a new set of skills.  What moves the world?

Can Innovation be taught?

Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to be innovators as opposed to factory workers?

Gregersen and co-authors Clayton M. Christensen (professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School) and Jeff Dyer (professor of strategy at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School), believe that roughly two-thirds of the skills it takes to innovate can be learned. They point to historical research findings that concluded 25-40% of human innovation stems from genetics as evidence.

What are the skills for innovation?

In their own research involving hundreds of innovators and thousands of entrepreneurs, managers and executives from around the world, Gregersen, Christensen and Dyer boiled the formula of innovation down to five key skills:

  • Questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities;
  • Observing helps innovators detect small details — in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies — that suggest new ways of doing things;
  • Networking permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds;
  • Experimenting prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas;
  • Associational thinking — drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields — is triggered by questioning, observing, networking and experimenting and is the catalyst for creative ideas.

The take

Do we teach any of the above in schools?

When I was a kid I used to watch Jeopardy.  At the time, me and everyone else thought that those folks on Jeopardy were the smartest people in the world.  But were they?  What they could do is memorize a vast collection of facts and recall them on demand.  Did we think that was intelligent or smart or showed a capability that would make them successful in the world?

What about today?  Today everyone has a vast collection of facts at their fingertips – for free – on demand.  We can ask Siri almost anything and get a raw fact-based answer (not an insight, not a deduction, not an induction, not a connection or association among facts) in a few seconds.  The ability to recall facts is not smart or intelligent.  You can imagine the trajectory of Siri and similar systems in the future of facts on-demand.  It can only get better.

Wouldn’t it be better to focus more on the skills above?

The fist skill in the list is Questioning… challenging the status quo and consider new possibilities…

Perhaps if we taught kids the skills above then the questions that Seth posed above would be asked naturally by everyone – and Seth would lose a posting idea.  The ability to challenge the status quo would reveal the power and political dimension of organizations that undermine outcomes for stakeholders and reveal the blind spots that exist in every organization that hide opportunities.  The unique capacity of humans is imagination and the development of the skills above.  So let’s use ’em.

Read more from Forbes

More from Seth on Education

Stop Stealing Dreams (free Audio edition)

Written by frrl

May 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

A Manifesto for Education in the 21’st Century

leave a comment »

Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teacher’s Union President, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have a testy relationship at best…

Lewis said she got her answer about Emanuel’s character rather quickly.

“In that conversation, he did say to me that 25 percent of the students in this city are never going to be anything, never going to amount to anything and he was never going to throw money at them.”


So, 25% of the kids in school in Chicago will never “be anything” and never “amount to anything”.  So let’s not waste our time or money.

Has anyone really thought about what we want our kids to amount to or become? Is the role of education and school in the industrial age of the 20’th century the same as the role of education in the 21’st century?  Perhaps the 75% of the students that do amount to something are really amounting to the wrong thing given the new opportunities of the 21’st century  Are we giving our students an industrial-age education when that age has long passed?

What has changed?  In the 21’st century we have an abundance of information rather than scarcity.  If we can look things up on the internet in a fraction of a second why do we force our students to memorize so much – what a waste.  In the 21’st century we are globally connected.  Why do students study in isolation?  The smartest person in the room is not a student, nor the aggregate of students, but the room itself.  The room is the network that joins the people and ideas.  What prepares students to collaborate in the globally connected world?  What will success look like in the 21’st century?  Who will be rewarded?  Show up on time, do what your boss tells you, do your job and only your job, wait for instructions on what to do next.  That will no longer get you anywhere.  The rewards will go to those who will take initiative, take risks, are not afraid to fail, solve problems, connect data to create information, collaborate, create, and move forward.   How does today’s education system teach this?

Someone who has given some thought to the role, purpose, and delivery of education in the 21’st century is Seth Godin

Check out his manifesto on education here –

Here’s the impetus for this work …

I don’t know how to change school, can’t give you a map or a checklist. What I do know is that we’re asking the wrong questions and making the wrong assumptions.  The best tactic available to every taxpayer and parent and concerned teacher is to relentlessly ask questions, not settling for the status quo.

“Is this class/lecture/program/task/test/policy designed to help our students do the old thing a little more efficiently, or are we opening a new door to enable our students to do something that’s new and different?” School is doing the best job it knows how to create the output it is being asked to create. We ought to be asking school to make something different. And the only way to do that is to go about it differently.

The simple way to make something different is to go about it in a whole new way. In other words, doing what we’re doing now and hoping we’ll get something else as an outcome is nuts. Once we start to do schooling differently, we’ll start to get something different.

Read another perspective … from Prof. Walter E. Williams of George Mason University
Should we stop trying to teach the unteachable?

Written by frrl

March 4, 2012 at 6:33 am

Do we want management consultants messing with Higher Education?

leave a comment »

From a report by McKinsey (website):

The United States needs more college graduates. Opinions vary on exactly how many, but McKinsey estimates that the nation will need an additional one million each year by 2020 to sustain its economic health. That would mean increasing today’s annual total— 2.5 million—by 40 percent…

To meet this goal, universities and colleges would have to increase their output of graduates by 3.5 percent a year over the next decade. That’s a daunting task…

To meet the target without spending more, colleges would simultaneously have to attract additional students, increase the proportion of them who complete a degree, and keep a tight lid on costs. Gaming the target by lowering the quality of the education or granting access only to the best-prepared students obviously wouldn’t count. Not surprisingly, many people within and beyond higher education say that colleges can’t possibly do all these things at once.

But McKinsey research suggests that many already are, using tactics others could emulate. In fact, the potential to increase productivity across the varied spectrum of US higher education appears to be so great that, with the right policy support, one million more graduates a year by 2020, at today’s spending levels, begins to look eminently feasible. The quality of education and access to it could both improve at the same time.

Ok, I get it.  The US needs more college graduates.  But do we want a bunch of management consultants getting their hands on higher education?  When I read the McKinsey report  it seems to me that “college graduate” now means a vocational education and that the desired productivity will be achieved by turning higher education into a factory process.  It is an example of “Greater Taylorism” applied to higher education.  (read about Taylor and scientific management)

This caught my eye… the elimination of educational “waste”.  A sort of “lean manufacturing” approach to higher education.

Reducing nonproductive credits

Up to 10 percent of all credits taken by US students are in excess of the number required to graduate. True, such credits may expand students’ minds, but they add cost to a degree. Tracking students’ progress and skillfully intervening when necessary can help reduce that cost. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), for instance, has a monitoring system that discourages students from embarking on redundant credits altogether: no bachelor’s graduate at SNHU completes more than 150 credits en route to a degree, while 20 percent of graduates at similar institutions have upward of 150. Better preparation for college work and a policy of allowing transfer students to conserve credits help reduce redundant credits too.

“True, such credits may expand students’ minds, but they add cost to a degree…”  And colleges will “monitor” and “skillfully intervene” to stop such waste.  There will be no intellectual “mind expansion” beyond what is required by the corporate market demand for labor at any point in time.  What year is this?

When I read the quoted paragraph above I thought of the 1984 Apple commercial created by Chiat/Day.  The US may need more “college graduates” but what is the nature of these college graduates?  What McKinsey may have in mind is education understood as a lean manufacturing factory stamping out undifferentiated marching armies of  “college graduates”  fabricated to uniform specifications (there will be no “unproductive credits”).  This will not lead to what  the US really needs most.  And that is people who can think out of the box (beyond the specification) in innovative, creative, and insightful ways.  This will not be a capability produced or enhanced by a factory education.

Would McKinsey hire a person with a factory-made education? – doubtful.  Can you win in a competitive job market if you can’t differentiate yourself from the other job candidates?  What happens, over time, when your factory-made education is no longer relevant to the job market?  Do you go back to get “re-fitted” or does a person fresh off the education assembly line take your place and you are placed on the trash heap?   Do companies hire people who are merely average?  Why be average if you can be remarkable?

Sometimes a person hurling a hammer is necessary.  Be that person.


Read the full McKinsey Report – Boosting productivity in US higher education

Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford University

Written by frrl

April 28, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

Does Professor Quality Matter in Education?

leave a comment »

A weak faculty operates a weak program that attracts weak students.
(Koerner 1963)

This is some interesting research based on  student data from the US Air Force Academy

This research has interesting implications for the ongoing debate over “teaching the test”, short-term vs long-term benefits of an education, and “deep-learning”.  The study found that the way introductory courses are taught may have a detrimental affect  on student study habits that may have to be “unlearned” for follow-on courses.

Finally, and most significantly … “our results show that student evaluations reward professors who increase achievement in the contemporaneous course being taught, not those who increase deep learning.”

So, if these student evaluations are used as input for promotion and tenure decisions of professors, are we rewarding and promoting less experienced and less qualified professors over highly qualified professors that position students for longer-term deep-learning even though their students perform less well in contemporaneous courses and provide lower score evaluations back to these professors?

Here is the conclusion from the research paper.  A PDF of the full paper is available at the end of this posting


We find that less experienced and less qualified professors produce students who perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course being taught, whereas more experienced and highly qualified professors produce students who perform better in the follow-on related curriculum.

Owing to the complexities of the education production function, where both students and faculty engage in optimizing behavior, we can only speculate as to the mechanism by which these effects may operate. Similar to elementary and secondary school teachers, who often have advance knowledge of assessment content in high-stakes testing systems, all professors teaching a given course at USAFA have an advance copy of the exam before it is given. Hence, educators in both settings must choose how much time to allocate to tasks that have great value for raising current scores but may have little value for lasting knowledge.

One potential explanation for our results is that the less experienced professors may adhere more strictly to the regimented curriculum being tested, whereas the more experienced professors broaden the curriculum and produce students with a deeper understanding of the material.

This deeper understanding results in better achievement in the followon courses. Another potential mechanism is that students may learn (good or bad) study habits depending on the manner in which their introductory course is taught. For example, introductory professors who “teach to the test” may induce students to exert less study effort in followon related courses. This may occur because of a false signal of one’s own ability or an erroneous expectation of how follow-on courses will be taught by other professors.

A final, more cynical, explanation could also relate to student effort. Students of low-value-added professors in the introductory course may increase effort in follow-on courses to help “erase” their lower than expected grade in the introductory course.

Regardless of how these effects may operate, our results show that student evaluations reward professors who increase achievement in the contemporaneous course being taught, not those who increase deep learning.

Using our various measures of teacher quality to rank-order teachers leads to profoundly different results. Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.

Read the full paper  from The Journal of Political Economy

Written by frrl

June 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

The Aldous Huxley Solution to the Texas Textbook Debate

with one comment

We live in a time when great efforts have been made, and continue to be made, to falsify the record of the past and to make history a tool of propaganda; when governments, religious movements, political parties, and sectional groups of every kind are busy rewriting history as they wish it to have been, as they would like their followers to believe that it was.

Bernard Lewis, quoted in Teaching Religion, Washington Times, 23 Dec. 2008

If you want to hear the flak on the Texas Textbook changes – here it is in 7 minutes

Maybe the question is “who cares”?  Here’s why.

First, who are we trying to educate and for what purpose?  Does a chemist need to know anything about history?  How about a Physicist or an electrical engineer?  Do they need to know anything about any history – american history or world history – to do their job?  How about a factory worker?  Or a person that works at McDonald’s or Wal-mart?  Do they need to know anything about history to do their job?

Perhaps we are over-educating people.  Perhaps 4 years of high school is too much.  Why not simply “cut to the chase” and train people to do a job that larger society needs done?  Who needs history, philosophy, literature, and all the rest?  It would seem to simply “get in the way” of the task at hand of learning a marketable skill.

I recently read this: “Don’t have any economically unproductive  thoughts”.  No one is going to pay people in any of the careers cited above for their knowledge of American history – or philosophy or literature – for that matter.

Maybe Aldous Huxley got it right in Brave New World 

“Set out the books,” he said curtly.

In silence the nurses obeyed his command. Between the rose bowls the books were duly set out–a row of nursery quartos opened invitingly each at some gaily coloured image of beast or fish or bird.

“Now bring in the children.”

“Now turn them so that they can see the flowers and books.”

The Head Nurse, who was standing by a switchboard at the other end of the room, pressed down a little lever.

There was a violent explosion. Shriller and ever shriller, a siren shrieked. Alarm bells maddeningly sounded.

The children started, screamed; their faces were distorted with terror.

“And now,” the Director shouted (for the noise was deafening), “now we proceed to rub in the lesson with a mild electric shock.”

“Observe,” said the Director triumphantly, “observe.”

Books and loud noises, flowers and electric shocks–already in the infant mind these couples were compromisingly linked; and after two hundred repetitions of the same or a similar lesson would be wedded indissolubly. What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder.

“They’ll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an ‘instinctive’ hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They’ll be safe from books and botany all their lives.” The Director turned to his nurses. “Take them away again.”

With this solution it makes the whole Texas Textbook debate moot.  Rather than spending time teaching these folks history, philosophy, literature, and the rest why not use this opportunity to teach these folks to be good consumers of products and entertainment?  This would ensure a continued, and perhaps increased, stability of the economy plus people wouldn’t ask too many questions.

Written by frrl

May 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with

%d bloggers like this: