Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What is school for?

Let me put it out there: I am frustrated with public education. I agree with Ken Robinson that schools can and often do destroy the creativity of young people. So we have to think about school differently. We have to ask zany questions like, "What would school look like if we were starting over on the moon?"

Seth Godin asks the most fundamental question about public education that never gets asked:

What is school for?

The scary thing is that your local school district doesn't know the answer to that question. They don't even know that they don't know the answer to that question. They have never asked themselves that question.

If school is about teaching kids to learn, then why do we use textbooks? If school is about teaching kids the skills they will need to get good jobs, why don't we use more internships? If school is about preparing kids for college, what do we do with the kids who don't want to go to college?

Public school is an enormous opportunity. But we're squandering it by doing the same things that we've always done without asking ourselves if it makes sense.

So, I ask you the question: What do you think is school for?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why Vote?

You can tell the difference between "smart people" and "not-so-smart people" by whether they think their one vote has a chance of being the difference in a national election. That's according to Freakonomics author Steven Levitt in a recent Freakonomics Radio podcast. Levitt admits that he doesn't usually vote, but when he does, it's because "it's fun."

I agree with Levitt that voting is fun. I vote on election day instead of mailing my ballot in because I love going to the polls and seeing other people there voting and getting the "I Voted" sticker and wearing it all day.

But Seth Godin offers a better reason for voting: Politicians focus all of their energy trying to convince the people who vote. If you don't vote, you are invisible to political campaigns. If you start voting (especially in low-turnout races like primaries and city council races) all of the sudden all of the politicians are contacting you and obsessing over what you think.

Utah has a funky caucus system. When I moved here from California, I didn't understand it. But then I got chosen by my neighbors to be a State and County delegate to our party conventions. Now I constantly get mail from politicians. My congressman calls me personally on the phone before each convention. I am one of about 80 people who chooses my state legislator.

Maybe your vote by itself won't change the presidential election. But the people who care enough to show up this time will get listened to next time. All of the sudden you are the target audience for the people running for office. That's sometimes a hassle, but to me it's worth it.

So go vote. If only so that you will get goofy mailers from C-list politicians during the next election cycle.

Monday, November 5, 2012

New Education Model: Carpe Diem Schools

Carpe Diem's educational model is radical.

At the center of the school is a cubicle area that looks like a call center. Each student is assigned a cubicle and a computer. The student does all of her lecture-style learning with online video tutorials on the computer so that she is prepared for small group projects.

Teachers do not lecture. Instead, they facilitate small group learning experiences and answer their students questions.

Each teacher stays with the students throughout their educational career. So, your math teacher when you are in 6th grade is still your math teacher when you are 12th grade. The teachers know their students well enough to have a relationship with them and to design instruction for that student.

Carpe Diem is a public charter school that spends less per student than traditional public schools in its district, but achieves significantly better results. Carpe Diem spends about $5,300 per student compared to an average of $7,000 per student at traditional public schools in Arizona.

If I were designing a brand new educational model from the ground up, I would seriously consider the Carpe Diem model as a starting point.

Here is a short video introduction to the school:

Note: This is part two in a series of posts about big ideas in education. Part one asks, "If you were building a new education system on the moon, what would it look like?"

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What would schools on the moon look like?

Here is a little thought experiment: Suppose you are starting a new space colony on the moon. You are appointed the governor of the colony. The colonists will soon be arriving with their families. You've figured out some of the basic problems like housing, food, and air. Now you have a big question:

What will your schools look like?

You realize that you have a great opportunity here. You can design your school system however you want. There is no existing system that you have to build on top of. What would your education system look like? Will it have teachers? Will there be textbooks? Will there be grades? What will you teach? What are the goals of your lunar education system?

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Internet is written in ink

I have started blogs before. I think one reason that they haven't lasted is that I am intimidated by the thought of saying something that everyone will be able to find forever. What if I say something dumb and it haunts me for the rest of my life? The Internet is written in ink, after all.

Seth Godin calls the fear of taking risks "the lizard brain." The lizard brain is the part of our brain that can't stand being laughed at - that wants to play it safe - that compromises. 

One of my goals with this new blog adventure is to overcome the lizard in my brain and say something. If you laugh or think it's dumb I'm okay with that. I would rather speak my mind and be ridiculed than wonder what might have happened.

At least that's the plan.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Manifesto

The Nobel Prize: An idea nerd's dream
  1. If I could win an award, it would be the Nobel. As far as I know, I am not in consideration, so I am nominating myself. I am open to any category, although the prize in medicine would be particularly nice because my mother always wanted me to be a doctor.
  2. I am naive enough to believe (or hope) that people will sometimes change their behavior based on good ideas. I know it doesn't always happen because I don't usually exercise, but I believe that good ideas give us the best possible chance at making good choices. Without ideas, we might start using leeches to suck the bad blood out of each other. With good ideas, we might eat doughnuts, but we'll at least know we shouldn't.
  3. Good ideas make me happy.
  4. I have some deep-seated beliefs in the way the world works. Some or all of them are almost surely wrong. Because I am not Descartes, I don't think I can abandon all of them, start from square one, and work out the basis of all my assumptions. However, I can try to keep an open mind to other people's ideas and a healthy skepticism of my own certainty.
  5. I like spreading ideas.