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Sunday
Apr202014

Raising a Moral Child

The final segment of my three part blog post about ethics and public education is basically a reference post.  I came across a NY Times article from last week that I found quite interesting.   Titled, "Raising a Moral Child," the author unveils some fascinating research about how to raise a "moral" child.   As the article states, "When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring."  The article goes further:

If we want our children to care about others, we need to teach them to feel guilt rather than shame when they misbehave. In a review of research on emotions and moral development, the psychologist Nancy Eisenberg suggests that shame emerges when parents express anger, withdraw their love, or try to assert their power through threats of punishment: Children may begin to believe that they are bad people. Fearing this effect, some parents fail to exercise discipline at all, which can hinder the development of strong moral standards.

I highly recommend to read the NY Times article and review some of the innovative research cited therein.  As the author, Wharton Psychology Professor Adam Grant, concludes:  "People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character."

Parents, this is advice we must all heed.

Thursday
Apr172014

The Importance of Teaching Ethics, Part 2

From a story at UGA, to one that hits closer to home:   high school sports.   Let me reiterate why it is so important that rules are rules, but "doing the right thing" in sports and in life is far more important.

Yesterday, I was watching a high school regional tennis tournament.  For those of you who know how high school tennis works, there are no umpires.  Line judges are only called if the players cannot agree on line calls or other situations that may come up during a match (e.g., keeping score).  Coaches and parents are not permitted to intervene on these things, which, while teachers the kids to problem-solve, does spur the moral hazard of cheating (or, as they like to say in professional tennis, "gamesmanship").   During the match, one of the players lost track of the score.  For everyone in the stands, it was abundantly clear that a game was lost.  If this player served the first game of a set, then how could they be serving in an "even"game based on what the score said?  It was supposed to be 4-2 in this player's favor, but instead, the score read 3-2.   Keep in mind that these players had played each other before, and the opposing player has a history of "cheating," slamming the racket against the net, etc.  The player clearly knew it was wrong, because they had served out the previous set.  Finally, coaches and parents spurred an intervention, which, while against the rules, was warranted.  There was a very long stoppage where USTA officials, coaches and players discussed the situation.  When the opposing player was asked about this, they denied that there was a game missing from the score!  After a long discussion, it was decided that because the players did not agree to the change themselves, they could not go back and fix the score.  So instead of this player winning the second set 6-4, they ended up losing the match in a second set tiebreaker!

The parents from the opposing team just stood there and defended their player.  After the match, the USTA official goes over to the opposing player and pats them on the back saying "nice job."   Nice job?   So we're supporting cheating here?  In all my years of playing Division I baseball, high school baseball, American Legion baseball, etc., I thought I had seen it all.   Why couldn't coaches be permitted to intervene if EVERYONE knew that a game was missing?   As a bystander watching this unfold, I was mortified.   Yes, the player should have kept track of the score, but why was another player allowed to blatantly cheat?   This happened at other times throughout the match - scores in a game getting messed up, not switching sides after 6 points in a tiebreaker, etc.

Bear in mind that this player attended a Christian school in the Metro Atlanta area.  I do not want to stereotype by any means, but at Christian Schools, there should be even GREATER emphasis on values such as integrity, honesty and sportsmanship.   In sports and in life, doing the right thing and as the Romans would say "show honor in battle," is the most important trait to have.    Luckily, this player's team lost the match, even though that line won under controversy.

Some folks who read this blog may disagree with my perspective on what transpired herein.  They'll say, "rules are rules."  However, watching this unfold and thinking about my last post about teaching ethics in K-12 education, this incident was a harsh reminder that we need to teach our kids about honesty.  A famous person once said that "integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking."  Well, everyone was looking, and because of the archaic rules, no one was able to make this right.   Instead, bystanders were left with a stinging feeling that it's ok to cheat, just because your opponent couldn't remember the score.   And the player who was wronged had to learn a very harsh lesson.  I'm sure they won't ever forget the score anytime soon!   

We need to teach our kids that speaking up and being honest is more important than a ridiculous rule.   Maybe this player, and this school, needs to re-read a classic children's book titled, "Tell The Truth:  It's The Right Thing To Do."

Wednesday
Mar192014

Forget Common Core. How about Common Ethics and Morality?

I was gearing up to write a scathing piece that lambasted the Georgia Assembly for their reckless disregard for students and educators and their blind loyalty towards Jeffersonian, state-controlled philosophy.   I was going to refer my readers to the folly that took place in Georgia over the past few weeks, with the Georgia senate teeing up a disastrous bill, SB 167 that would have set Georgia's reform efforts back at least 8-10 years, and would have not only voided any set of standards conceived out of state, but would have also put to rest any chances of cloud-based education and digital learning being implemented in Georgia's schools.   When you have the author of the bill unable to cite examples of inappropriate Common Core Standards, you see why this was reckless and a breach of politicians' fiduciary responsibilities.   But enough said there - at least common sense prevailed at the end of the day when the bill was effectively killed for now by the Georgia House.

What I want to write about is something far more serious - ethics and morality.  You might have heard about four University of Georgia football players who were arrested for theft and deception and then subsequently allowed to practice by Coach Mark Richt!   The sports radio stations in Atlanta were talking about this all day, and I heard one talk show host saying unequivocally that these players should NOT be suspended or removed from the team.  I had to call into the station.   I said it was a "privilege" to play college sports, especially under a full or partial scholarship, and that they committed a crime and should be suspended indefinitely.   Another call echoed my sentiments, but then a woman (probably a mother) phoned in and accused us of not having ever played a college sport and that these kids deserved and were entitled to a second chance!

At this point, I was about ready to explode.   To use a Percy Jackson metaphor, my gut was ready to unleash a tidal wave on this woman!   First, let me say that this woman has probably experienced criminal behavior in some way, either herself or via a loved one.  She may even be the mother of a college athlete who has faced disciplinary action.   And she couldn't be more wrong.  

First of all, I was a Division I baseball player.   I went to an Ivy League school and they do NOT offer athletic scholarships.  I was listening to the radio hosts talking about mistakes - this wasn't a mistake.  A mistake is being late to class or handing in an assignment late.  A mistake is not being arrested for a misdemeanor!   What does this say about society when a college coach allows these students to practice the very next day???   How about these disciplinary options?

  • Suspend the players for the rest of the season
  • Void their scholarships and kick them out of school
  • Lose one year of athletic eligibility

Any type of arrest, once proven guilty, should be grounds for serious punishment.  These kids can still go to college, they can apply for financial aid just like any other student.  They can alternatively transfer to a junior college or some other institution after a period of time.   But for this female caller to shrug this off like playing a college sport is some irrevocable entitlement is not only ignorant, but not something a parent should ever say in this situation.   I can hypothesize that this woman never had any control over her children.  She taught them that when you do something wrong, you don't have to get punished.   So when these children grow up, they know no boundaries and never worry about being responsible for their actions.   And when discipline doesn't exist in the home, how can we make it work outside the home?

Ethics and morality must be integrated into the school environment at all times.   If we do not make this a priority, then we will continue to see spoiled, misguided college athletes who lack a moral compass making bad decisions and expect their coaches to look the other way.   Student athletes should be bound by the same disciplinary code as non-athletes.   I hope we see more outrage on Coach Richt's poor decision to look the other way.   We need a Common Core of Ethics and Moral Behavior, because this incident is deeply troubling on so many levels.  May it be used as a teachable moment for all children.

Thursday
Feb202014

The Mob Mentality, Not Factual Evidence, Is Hampering Education Reform

Last year, Anthony Cody, a prominent NEA member and author of an Education Week blog titled, "Living in Dialogue."  wrote more than 80 posts in 2013 about the Common Core, and others specifically about Bill Gates.    Diane Ravitch will use any story on her blog to sensationalize the facts and rally the NEA troops, whether or not the facts have been verified or not.   Others like Paul Thomas regularly write in such an adversarial, unprofessional tone that it comes as no surprise why the mainstream media won't respond the his verbal volleys.   He, like all of the NEA bloggers who the NEPC republishes to try and amplify their perspectives to the base NEA membership,

Why am I highlighting and giving acknowledgement to certain bloggers who are fundamentally opposed to any meaningful change in public education and who regularly lobby personal attacks on those who oppose their views?   Because it is important to understand your opponent in any type of debate.   And it's clear that the mob mentality is alive and well in many of the camps involved in the Common Core policy debate.

I have posted contrarian views on some of these blogs.  What you will find is a mob mentality in full effect.   Teachers (mostly retired I suspect or using an unidentifiable alias) will preach the words of these authors as the holy gospel and verbally bully anyone who is opposed to their views, immediately claiming that those views do not matter, especially if you are not a member of the teaching profession.  And if you are not a member of the teaching profession, you are immediately characterized as a profiteer who seeks to profit from public education and are lumped with the so-called "privatizers" of public education:  the triumverate of Gates, Walton and Broad who in the minds of the NEA and AFT are the education equivalent of the "Axis of Evil."

But what fascinated me about the conduct of these people is that their behavior has been diagnosed.   I recently read a blog post about a book that is next up on my reading list:  You Are Now Less Dumb:  How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself    by David McRaney.    We're not only seeing the mob mentality with the NEA, but also with the Tea Party which is also trying to derail the Common Core.  The Common Core has not been implemented well, that I will readily confess.  However, what it has exposed is the fundamental tension in our republic (we are not a democracy - remember that) which is a tuggle between Federalism and state control.  Because the Common Core is being supported by the U.S. Dept. of Education although a state-led effort, states are forgetting about the advantages of a common set of academic standards and instead feel it is an assault on their state rights.  We will never be able to choose a side - the inherent tension between these two philosophies is here to stay and will always make education reforms very difficult to enact in the United States. 

The mob mentality is everywhere, especially in public education policy discussions.  Facts are ignored, research is regularly twisted to meet the needs of the argument, conclusions are taken out of context, all in the name of unionism.   Self interest groups cannot support anyone who disagrees with their platform and they will use whatever tactics are necessary to cut them down to size.   You can look at the comment threads on nearly every Ed Week blog or the blogs of the specific authors I mentioned above if you do not believe this to be the case.

One of the articles I alluded to above was from a popular blog called "Brain Pickings," by Maria Popova.  Dubbed "The Benjamin Franklin Effect,"  Maria talks about Franklin's mastery of human psychology and how to handle "haters."  McRaney gives valuable advice to those who want to try and win over their opponents instead of disparaging them further:

For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.

 

Cognitive behavior therapy is something that the self interest group "bullies" should prescribe to.   As McRaney adds:

The Benjamin Franklin effect is the result of your concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in your personal narrative get rewritten, redacted, and misinterpreted. If you are like most people, you have high self-esteem and tend to believe you are above average in just about every way. It keeps you going, keeps your head above water, so when the source of your own behavior is mysterious you will confabulate a story that paints you in a positive light. If you are on the other end of the self-esteem spectrum and tend to see yourself as undeserving and unworthy [and] will rewrite nebulous behavior as the result of attitudes consistent with the persona of an incompetent person, deviant, or whatever flavor of loser you believe yourself to be. Successes will make you uncomfortable, so you will dismiss them as flukes. If people are nice to you, you will assume they have ulterior motives or are mistaken. Whether you love or hate your persona, you protect the self with which you’ve become comfortable. When you observe your own behavior, or feel the gaze of an outsider, you manipulate the facts so they match your expectations.

Will Common Core survive?   It's clear the mob is gaining the upper hand right now, but the question remains, "how do you tame it?"   We are in uncertain times.  The Common Core has forced the hand on public policy.  Even if the end result is that many states create better standards, even if not uniform, it is still unlikely that public education will take the bold steps necessary to fix a dysfunational system that has not been fundamentally altered in more than a century.

Wednesday
Jan222014

The Education Establishment Does Not Understand Disruptive Innovation

Over the past week, we've seen some cautionary signs coming out of some of the new public school designs in k-12 education.   We've seen certain growing pains from the "flexible school" model coming out of Rocketship Education.  Education Week blogger, and public school protectionist Walt Gardener wrote a post today called "Bad News for Charter Schools"where he talked about the charter school closings in various states and making the sweeping conclusion that charters are not working.   And folks like Diane Ravitch believe wholeheartedly that charter schools are a "colossal mistake" and uses a conspiracy theory claiming that they give public money to private corporations.  These are VERY predictable responses and certainly not surprising to those who understand the principles of disruptive innovation theory:

  • If an innovation is in fact "disruptive," it will start out as low cost and likely inferior to the existing products or services in the market.
  • It will target areas of non-consumption

At this point, some charter schools may be sustaining innovations and not disruptive innovations.   Are they targeting a different set of consumers?  Are they being deployed disruptively?  If a charter school is controlled by the local school district, will it be able to disrupt the status quo?  This was part of the debate in 2012 in Georgia and other states about whether there should be alternate authorizers at the state level for public charter schools.

Is it too soon to gauge whether certain innovations are having the favorable impact expected of them?  In some cases, the answer is YES.  In a recent article titled "Schooling Rebooted,"we see a case study about Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School in Yuma, Arizona.  As the article states:

Carpe Diem has delivered some promising results, while serving a student population that was 46 percent low-income in 2011–12: Carpe Diem ranks among Arizona’s 10 highest-performing charter schools, outperforming Arizona’s statewide four-year graduation rate five of the six years between 2007 and 2012 (with a 96 percent graduation rate in 2011), and regularly exceeding the Arizona average at every grade level on the statewide assessment.The Carpe Diem model is also cost-effective. It requires fewer teachers per student than a traditional school, so Carpe Diem has achieved those results with only about $5,300 of the $6,300 per pupil allocation, according to Ryan Hackman, the school’s chief operating officer.

With new school designs, it's still a mixed bag.  Some models will be successful, and some may not,  But we know unequivocally that charter schools have certain accountability systems that traditional public schools do not.  If a charter school does not meet the requirements of its charter, it can be shut down.   Traditional public schools have historically not faced the threat of closure. 

At the end of the day, the defenders of the status quo expect charter schools and other new innovations to become instant successes.  That's not how innovation works.  These folks would be mindful that reforms and evolution take time, and can be painful at times.  Do you think the American Revolution was a smooth and orderly transition?  Far from it!  However, the analogy here is that we must have the courage to change our system because if you ask college professors or look at the abilities of our international graduates, the status quo is not an option.