February 2017

Education and Alternative Facts

I have always been an avid reader and I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction. My favorite books I’ll read over and over again because the adventures of appealing characters in good, well researched stories are timeless. They say Jane Austen (my favorite author) is more accurate than history because she is unselfconscious about capturing the era in which she wrote. I believe it.  Even though they are both loaded with historical data, the difference between Jane Austen and the History I studied in school is that I know Pride and Prejudice is a made up story and I didn’t know History was made up too.

Recently I moved to Niagara Falls to a little church that I renovated into a home. My church has historical designation and played a small role in the War of 1812 as the last place the British soldiers took refuge on the last night before the last battle between Canada and America on Canadian soil. Two hundred years of peace between our nations dawned at my house on October 19, 1814. Exciting right! I was inspired to deeply research the rich history that surrounds me in Niagara.

My public school understanding of the War of 1812 was that America saw an opportunity to take over the vast British colony to the north when Great Britain was preoccupied with the Napoleonic War (1803-1815). It was a sound military strategy. Although grossly outnumbered by Americans the British sent some reluctant leaders like Isaac Brock over with troops they could barely spare, rallied the local settlers and with a hot tip from a woman leading a cow succeeded against all odds in sending the Americans packing. In a brief frenzy of overkill revenge the British sailed up the Potomac and burned the American capital to the ground.

The War of 1812 is written up in American History as a victory. The Star Spangled Banner was penned by a lawyer, Francis Scott Key after witnessing the defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Americans had lost so much ground after inciting the war, they were fighting to get the British to go home. (Eventually the Americans put the Key poem to a British drinking song and it became their national anthem.)   There were 1.2 million blacks enslaved in America when the Star Spangled Banner touted ‘the land of the free’. At the Canadian border 1,000 British soldiers, English and French settlers and Indians rallied to defend Montreal  from the ensuing attack of General Dearborn and his 5,000 American soldiers. Not a shot was fired. When the Americans heard the Indians were involved, they refused to fight and turned tail. ‘Land of the free and home of the brave’ my ass. The fairy tale that is American History was written by old white men and stood unchallenged until women, Blacks, Native people, Asians and Hispanics were allowed to learn to read and write, bought computers and found their voices. (No wonder the President is terrified of us) .

I didn’t realize how much of history was alternative facts until I moved to Niagara and took an interest. English on the other hand I knew was a pile of garbage since TESL school. Grammar is not an effective method for teaching language especially when you teach grammar that isn’t English because you don’t know the difference. Apparently we took the Latin Alphabet (ABC) and Latin grammar, called them English and started selling textbooks and teaching with conviction. No results but lots of conviction – read arrogance. Tenses are a function of time in Latin but not English. We don’t have past, present and future per say but there isn’t a teacher in 100,000 who knows that unless they have studied under Rita Baker.  No TESOL, TESL, IELTS, IATEFL… program has any idea how English grammar really works and they don’t care. They are making lots of money doing it ‘the way we have always done it’. The education industry doesn’t  don’t know how English speaking works either. No wonder students study English for years without attaining fluency or confidence. Oh well, more money for us.

What else about education is alternative facts? I think most of it. At the very least – we have no idea.

I’d have failed this student except this is what they were taught was true. I’m not faulting teachers, they are just chock-full of alternative facts, don’t know it and are doing the best they can.

I’m not sure it it’s ironic or tragic probably both, fiction is actually full of fact and non-fiction is made-up stories. The irony is social media, news shows and education are called non-fiction even though they contain more alternative facts than Sherlock Holmes.  The tragedy is we believe them.

I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction. I didn’t know they were the same thing.

Until next time,

Teacher Judy

If you SEE something SAY something

I’ve been away from ESL for a while. I bought a little church in Niagara Falls and spent see saya few months renovating it. It is fantastic and fun. Now I have taken the opportunity to escape Canadian winter and visit friends in beautiful Mobile, Alabama on the Gulf coast. There is a slogan posted all over this part of the world IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING encouraging everyone to speak up when they encounter something not right in the world around them. I love it.

Was it just a coincidence that the first few files I encountered when I finally opened my work computer were from people who SAW something wrong with Education and had lots of suggestions to SAY  to address it? The first one is by Dr. Peter Diamandis. Reinventing How We Teach Our Kids . Here is part of it:

Here in L.A., it’s kind of insane that a great kindergarten requires a competitive application and tuitions that exceed most colleges.

I started asking myself, given the fact that most elementary schools haven’t changed in decades (maybe longer), what do I want my kids to learn? How would I reinvent elementary school during an exponential era?

This blog covers five subjects related to elementary school education:

  1. Five Issues with Today’s Elementary Schools
  2. Five Guiding Principles for Future Education
  3. An Elementary School Curriculum for the Future
  4. Exponential Technologies in our Classroom
  5. Mindsets for the 21st Century

Excuse the length, but if you have kids, the details might be meaningful. If you don’t, then next week’s blog will return to normal length and another fun subject. Let’s dive in…

Five Issues with Today’s Elementary Schools

There’s probably lots of issues with today’s traditional elementary schools, but I’ll just choose a few that bother me most.

  1. Grading: In the traditional education system, you start at an “A,” and every time you get something wrong, your score gets lower and lower. At best it’s demotivating, and at worst it has nothing to do with the world you occupy as an adult. In the gaming world (e.g. Angry Birds), it’s just the opposite. You start with zero and every time you come up with something right, your score gets higher and higher.
  2. Sage on the Stage: Most classrooms have a teacher up in front of class lecturing to a classroom of students, half of whom are bored and half of whom are lost. The one-teacher-fits-all model comes from an era of scarcity where great teachers and schools were rare.
  3. Relevance: When I think back to elementary and secondary school, I realize how much of what I learned was never actually useful later in life, and how many of my critical lessons for success I had to pick up on my own. (I don’t know about you, but I haven’t ever actually had to factor a polynomial in my adult life.)
  4. Imagination – Coloring inside the Lines: Probably of greatest concern to me is the factory-worker, industrial-era origin of today’s schools — programs so structured with rote memorization that it squashes the originality from most children. I’m reminded that “the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.” Where do we pursue crazy ideas in our schools? Where do we foster imagination?
  5. Boring: If learning in school is a chore, boring or emotionless, then the most important driver of human learning, passion, is disengaged. Having our children memorize facts and figures, sit passively in class and take mundane standardized tests completely defeats the purpose.

An average of 7,200 students drop out of high school each day, totaling 1.3 million each year. This means only 69% of students who start high school finish four years later. And over 50% of these high school dropouts name boredom as the No. 1 reason they left….  And continues with concrete curriculum suggestions.

changed priorities

If you have any interest in Education Reform you have probably heard about Will Richardson. If you haven’t google him and get a coffee. He is a true pioneer in education reform. Here’s a new article from Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon. Ten Principles for Schools of Modern Learning.

I used to feel like a complainer and anti-establishment whistle blower. Now I feel like part of a movement that is growing exponentially and changing the way people learn. Together we are making a difference.

Until next time,

Teacher Judy