The most gifted companies in the U.S. (i.e., Microsoft, Google) nurture and reward creativity in their workers, while public schools continue to run the business of knowledge acquisition as if it were simply an assembly line product.
Schools and colleges often seem to be rather crude and rude information dispensers, pretty much like an automatic teller machine, spitting out money when the right password is entered. Today's public schools in the United States are often like factories, continuing to mimic an outdated industrial worker organization. Elementary students in such schools often remind me of what the Japanese call "salary men," ennui-plagued corporate employees.
Most normal children do have an active mind with which to start. A newborn isn't bored. Wild animals aren't bored. Boredom is a learned response. Parental neglect and example teach some children how to be bored. Considering the fast learners little kids are, they pick this up fast, too.
Boring times never existed in our household. We children were taught to motivate ourselves, to take care of ourselves, to truly learn, and to make whatever contributions we could to the family's or others' well-being and advancement. All four of us siblings were busy with lots of projects of our own. As a child, I learned to straighten out nails - in those times nails were expensive. As a teenager, I was taught how to sharpen knives on a circular whetting stone. Those "jobs" taught me how to take initiative and be thrifty. An additional benefit of tackling tasks, regardless of how mundane, is that it produces personal satisfaction and builds pride in accomplishment.
People who have never experienced boredom will see so many opportunities to do something useful or pleasing that they'll never have enough time to pursue them all, which will be also good for their mental and physical health.
The main reason why the state of education is so dismal is because large numbers of parents have abdicated their role in the upbringing of their own children. Johnny and Jane need to be taught the way princes and princesses used to be taught, as the center of the learning experience, with teachers and tutors available to them at a moment's notice. They need to be taught in surroundings that are conducive to learning, such as a private room or corner of their home, not in what are sometimes jail-like classrooms filled with 20 or more unruly charges who are not intent on learning.
The learning mind needs to be nurtured, to "be present" so that learning can take place. If this process is missed or bungled, then one-to-one in-person teaching or trying to pick up knowledge from an electronic screen is likely to fail.
If, on the other hand, it does work, then the venue will matter less and distance learning via television or computer screen can be just as effective. It certainly allows for a far greater wealth of sources and materials that can be studied.
Over time, the need for old-school-type facilities should shrink, since more and more students would be learning in locations where computer or TV screens can be found and are connected to the desired education programs. The community of students will be both virtual and physical, though virtual most of the time. Yet the student connection will be there, and most likely more intense as a result.
Once the shift to modern electronic screen learning with individual on-the-spot support becomes a workable option: Education will be broader-based and more universal in its standards, kids will learn more again, families and communities will function better, and it will be a better world for all. Not perfect, but better than today.
- Win Straube,
This excerpt from Win Straube's "QGE = A: Quality Generic Education is the Answer," (University Press of America, $36, www.univpress.com) appeared in U.S. 1 on October 24, 2007. An inventor, scientist, and engineer who holds degrees in linguistics, economics, and law, Straube has led high-tech ventures in Europe, North America, and Asia.
Yes, Says a Lifelong Educator
Are we losing the race? For generations American politicians and pundits have been worried that our nation's students are dropping the educational lead.
Robert Burkhardt, lifelong educator, points to a uniquely American educational edge. The country's creativity, he argues, is being fueled by a system and spirit that will long keep us front runners (U.S. 1, May 30, 2007).
A Princeton alumnus, Burkhardt ran the California Conservation Corps, an alternative school that had youngsters building, serving, and enthusiastically learning. In l989 American Honda hired Tom Dean and Makato Itobashi to come up with an innovative education institution, and both men thought of Burkhardt. Together they formed Eagle Rock School, set high in Estes Park, Colorado. Each of the 96 students comes from an at-risk situation where graduation was deemed unlikely, and all are turning their lives around www.eschangelab.org).
"The world may be getting flatter with high tech knowledge making great strides in India and China," says Burkhardt, "but the new Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and the spirit that launched Google are still coming from America." Burkhardt thinks the whole concept of we-versus-they educational yardsticks are defeating, but for those who insist, he happily enumerates America's assets and liabilities.
Land of innovation. Probably our greatest educational strength, says Burkhardt, is the one most taken for granted. Since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, America has made the commitment to teach 100 percent of its young people. In most other nations five percent still remains the maximum commitment. By whatever method, America simply gets more of its youngsters educated to a higher level than anywhere else. It gives more people more tools.
Secondly, Americans are in love with the clever idea, backed by hard work. The old Horatio Alger stories invariably involved people who blended these two. Leonard Bernstein, speaking at John Hopkins in l987, said that "imagination is the key component to success." Daniel Rink, an international computer genius who has reinvented the networking industry, predicts that "the future belongs to people who can synthesize ideas."
By fiction or fact, American success is seldom earned by scholarly education alone, as is often the case in Pacific Rim nations, nor by finding favor with those in power. The intellectual melting pot has done away with any one sure path to success. For an American to rise to the top, he must think.
The process of starting a business remains comparatively simple in the United States, and we seek education that will fit our children for this task. Ten years ago the Massachusetts Institute of Technology moved humanities classes from elective to mandatory. When asked why, the school's president responded, "because too many MIT graduates end up working for graduates from Harvard and Yale."
Whether it's our traditional emphasis on the individual carving his own path, early childhood filled with playful imaginative games, or simply the fiscal rewards from a successful startup, "believe it, America's creative DNA is alive and well," says Burkhardt.
Foreign competition. With more singular cultures and longer traditions, other nations find themselves inadvertently hemming in the creative DNA that is fostered in the American educational system. Given the fact that no nation's youth are inherently smarter or more creative at birth than any other, Burkhardt invites us to examine the educational systems themselves.
Nations like India and China are producing a great number of very highly skilled technical graduates. But these nations are striving to survive, while the United States is striving to flourish.
Burkhardt estimates that these struggling nations will require several generations of successfully feeding themselves well before creative juices can be truly unleashed. They are in an atmosphere that does not - cannot - allow great risk taking. "And imagination demands that," he says.
In the established nations, such as Germany, the rest of the European Union, and Japan, a tight educational collar, linked to an equally tight business milieu, often constrains top talent.
Encouraging trends. Burkhardt says that the increased move toward small, personal schools over the last 15 years has proved to be one of the most significant educational improvements in this country.
Back in the l950s, when classes were booming, educators espoused the mega high school. Such big schools, they argued, could offer the students more: full orchestras, for example, and a wider variety of sports and courses.
The problem was that none of the students knew each other, and most of the "athletes" sat on the bench while only the top 11 played. "Now private foundations and municipalities are developing schools from 50 to 300 students, where learning becomes personal again," says Burkhardt.
In addition to the more personal atmosphere, educators are trying desperately to banish the formulaic teaching environment. Burkhardt cites Wendy Kopp, Princeton University Class of 1990, who founded Teach for America www.teachforamerica.org). Kopp's program has gotten Ivy League students teaching in inner-city high schools in a number of cities, including Camden and Detroit, to the benefit of both instructor and student.
Burkhardt admits it is impossible to undertake teaching 100 percent of America's children without some formalized standards, but with so many different, individualized approaches, he sees great educational hope.
"Just look at the product," he says. "I see hundreds of extremely bright young kids being turned away from even second tier colleges. We have nothing to fear."
- Bart Jackson