Counterparties

By Felix Salmon
January 20, 2011
HuffPo

" data-share-img="" data-share="twitter,facebook,linkedin,reddit,google" data-share-count="true">

Why Obama has to nominate a CFPB director by July — HuffPo

Bus Rapid Transit in NYC: It works! — Gothamist

How have I not seen this amazing Ken Robinson education animation before now? — YouTube

Henry Blodget blind item! Who is the entrepreneur-philanthropist who went to Davos in the 90s but can no longer get in? Kevin Ryan? — TBI

14 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

I really enjoyed the education speech and accompanying drawings. It really brings a speech to life.

The public education system is the quintessential cookie cutter and this fellow is right on in so many ways, but it beats no education. In times of forced austerity the public education system suffers and as teachers are laid off and classes get larger (doubling is what one city recommended) standardization is the only way to be able to keep a semblance of control over that many kids and still be able to (attempt to, in this case) teach.

Rather then dump the system as archaic, there needs to be more tweaking and school studies. You can’t just have budding teens constantly interacting with 6 year olds, but you can and should have them interact and teach each other. If they were “pitted” against each other on an intelligence basis in the same classes, how successful will the teen be when compared to a child?

The only way to truly intermingle the age differences successfully would be to home school… or eventually we will see future generations of kids educated on the internet… both which lack the social aspects that children need and will have a future speech-maker lamenting of that lack.

There really should be more specialty and performance schools where budding artists can be sent, as well as athletic and trade skill schools so education can be a springboard for their future and tap into each child’s intellect as well as creativity.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

I really enjoyed the education speech and accompanying drawings. It really brings a speech to life.

The public education system is the quintessential cookie cutter and this fellow is right on in so many ways, but it beats no education. In times of forced austerity the public education system suffers and as teachers are laid off and classes get larger (doubling is what one city recommended) standardization is the only way to be able to keep a semblance of control over that many kids and still be able to (attempt to, in this case) teach.

Rather then dump the system as archaic, there needs to be more tweaking and school studies. You can’t just have budding teens constantly interacting with 6 year olds, but you can and should have them interact and teach each other. If they were “pitted” against each other on an intelligence basis in the same classes, how successful will the teen be when compared to a child?

The only way to truly intermingle the age differences successfully would be to home school… or eventually we will see future generations of kids educated on the internet… both which lack the social aspects that children need and will have a future speech-maker lamenting of that lack.

There really should be more specialty and performance schools where budding artists can be sent, as well as athletic and trade skill schools so education can be a springboard for their future and tap into each child’s intellect as well as creativity.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

I dunno, hsvkitty. The speaker was witty and the drawings amusing, but the content…meh. Totally agree with his main thesis that education needs a fundamental overhaul! But he appears to know nothing about the developmental and social needs of children. The idea of 14 year olds “collaborating” with bright 8 year olds is a recipe for disaster for both. And he is fashionably wrong about ADHD, sigh. CAT scans show a neurological difference, it is a NEUROLOGICAL problem! About all you can takeaway from this lecture is the idea (never fleshed out) that much greater differentiation and personalization needs to take place in our schools. Amen to that, but how? And who is to teach in this brave new world? Some other lecture perhaps.

Posted by LadyGodiva | Report as abusive

I’ve got more than a little expertise in this area…

* Childhood of being a square peg in a round hole.
* ADHD diagnosed as a pre-teen, likely Asperger’s spectrum.
* Exceptional mathematical ability, at least as conventionally measured during school.
* Fifteen years in high school education, half of that as a parent of little square pegs.

Sir Robinson has it half right. Learning is necessarily an ACTIVE pursuit, and it is practiced by seeing a problem, considering DIVERGENT aspects and approaches, then applying prior knowledge to experiment with these approaches as you grow towards a solution. Small-group and active-discussion techniques are designed to encourage students to abandon their passivity and engage the material. As he notes, young children do this naturally. Somehow they (mostly) have this curiosity beaten out of them by the time they reach high school.

He is also half wrong. First, it is nonsensical to suggest that “the arts” suffer more from this approach than other disciplines. They all do. (He even realizes this, which is why he rapidly backpedaled.) The arts may receive short shrift in test-driven education, but ALL subjects wilt in a passive-learning environment. At least students learn that creative thought is permissible during their 30 minutes of art each week. They somehow believe that it is unnecessary (undesirable?) when studying other subjects.

Second, ADHD is a very real condition. It isn’t caused by standardized testing or electronic stimulation, though it might be exacerbated by both. It shows up in neurological testing. In my case, it manifests as a “noisy brain”. Even in a quiet dark room, trying to sleep, I am besieged with dozens of divergent thoughts every minute. Around the age of 16, I finally learned to focus my attention on one thing — but even then I am easily distracted by sensory intrusions. The flip side of this is that I’m better than anybody I know at attacking mathematics problems from a half-dozen different directions simultaneously. Both a strength and a weakness.

Finally, we hit at the root of the matter. Great goals, but how do we achieve them? I would encourage you learn more about the philosophy and methods of Maria Montessori.

(1) Multi-age groupings. (Each level covers three years, so the child benefits as he progresses from novice to “elder” in each classroom.)

(2) A strong and consistent emphasis on personal responsibility and self-direction. No opportunity for passive learning.

(3) Individualized progress, allowing students to easily shift groups in each subject whenever they are ready to do so. Partly because of the multi-age grouping, there are at least five working groups in each subject in each classroom.

I could go on and on, but it all boils down to one thing. Why reinvent the wheel? Montessori education is a century old, almost as old as the “archaic” system he decries. It does EXACTLY what he hopes quality education should do. It might not be ideal — but it is commonly implemented with a 30:1 student/teacher ratio, a higher ratio than is common in our public schools today (admittedly it is helpful to have an aide in each classroom in addition to the teacher). In fact you don’t WANT a classroom with just 15 children, as that changes the dynamics.

hsvkitty, my apologies but I *HATE* your idea. Pigeonholing kids in grade school doesn’t create diversity, it destroys diversity. I know it works in Germany, but that doesn’t make it right.

Finally, don’t get tricked into believing that Technology is the answer. Young children exist in the real world, they grow through direct experience with the concrete. There is definitely a role for the Internet, but it needs to be introduced slowly and carefully. Children should have minimal contact with electronics before 7th grade.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

Ouch TFF. Before you hate the idea you have to understand the idea. Not sure where you got the idea about pigeon holing grade schoolers. I will expound then…

I was speaking of education being a springboard to the future. The specialty schools would be for parents and students to have more choices, not so a teacher can peg them. I consider Montessori schools a choice of schools that a parent might make IE: for a gifted child who may not do as well and keep pace in other classes.

That is not pegging, but matching for the child’s best interest. Although an extremely strong program for preschoolers and the lower grades, Montessori methods break down for the average student after that and is seldom offered in middle school.

And I was thinking more of having schools offer more programs in grade school to find their child’s forte, rather than the weaknesses as they do in public school. Then by High school their learning abilities and their niche would be apparent. How can you hate the idea that specialty schools offer fine arts and trade courses, sciences or extra sport programs to kids who aren’t intellectuals and who might otherwise quit under peer pressure to be one?

Although the idea is being tested in another Province, the distance to drive is a deterrent but those teens attending them are doing especially well with fewer dropout rates and hopefully more schools will adopt the approach so that won’t be a factor.

Here in Manitoba, the trades courses are being reintroduced in school, but not high schools, yet. They were phased out in the late 90′s as being archaic and costly and is reintroduced due to the dearth of students going into trades, with huge shortages of mechanics, cooks, carpentry and construction and even engineers being the result since that time.

Learning hands on skills and building confidence by being amongst those who appreciate talent , skills and abilities only add to the education experience and future choices. How will that destroy diversity?

The internet idea is one way I was trying to see how children can learn at their own pace in the future. I wasn’t advocating it, if you reread the context.

Hopefully we are just having communication problems again, because I think you would find me as interested in education and having kids reach their potential as you are.

I agree that children don’t need as much hands on with technology at very early ages, but learning those skills is important for their future as everything is tied to it… but not allowing children to be lost in it is equally as important. (I understand that happens even more with Aspergers… as I know several people with it, including my ex)

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Lady Godiva you and I seem to be saying the same thing, only you are so much more succinct! HEHEH

Also, I agree with you that ADHD is absolutely a brain wiring problem that should not be dismissed.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

Lady Godiva you and I seem to be saying the same thing, only you are so much more succinct! HEHEH

Also, I agree with you that ADHD is absolutely a brain wiring problem that should not be dismissed.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

I only pressed once.. sorry! (anyone know why that happens?)

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

“Although an extremely strong program for preschoolers and the lower grades, Montessori methods break down for the average student after that and is seldom offered in middle school.”

My son is still in the lower elementary grades, so I’ll withhold comment on the Montessori upper grades until I see enough to say something sensible. I’m a firm believer in “strong beginnings”, however. If a child can make it through those early grades with his curiosity intact, I think there is a good chance he’ll survive the traditional system after that. And in high school, the struggle is to REVERSE this change in the students. Suddenly curiosity and independence are valued again.

For what it’s worth, we chose Montessori because of his weaknesses, not because of his strengths. He was in danger of being shunted onto a dead-end track in the traditional schools.

“How can you hate the idea that specialty schools offer fine arts and trade courses, sciences or extra sport programs to kids who aren’t intellectuals and who might otherwise quit under peer pressure to be one?”

You look at Child A and see “intellectual”. Child B is an “artist”. Child C is a “tradesman”. I look at three children and see a mix of talents, some stronger, some weaker, some developed, some not. Is there a reason we can’t support ALL THREE kinds of skills in the same school? Is there a reason we cannot help a child develop in more than one way? Your “specialization” sounds to me like lopping limbs off a tree that is only half grown.

For several years I taught an alternative sequence in which those three children might have sat at the same table in high school, working on the same math problems, each bringing their own strengths to the group. Implemented properly, it was a pretty powerful program. We live in a complex and (somewhat) integrated society. I don’t believe that segregating our high schools is the way to go.

The Internet becomes a valuable research tool in the upper elementary grades and through college (and beyond). As are cell phones. I still am cautious about introducing either too prevalently too young.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

Arguing against myself, one of the biggest reasons we DON’T serve more diverse students under the current system is that the “academic high school” structure is unnecessarily rigid.

(1) Students are only permitted to study seven subjects each year.

(2) At least six of those seven subjects are dictated by state law and school policy for the first three years of high school.

Consider how this could be changed? How it could be made more flexible? In college, students can choose *ten* subjects each year (of course some course sequences run for multiple semesters) of which only half are dictated by their major. Could a high school be reformed along these lines?

I greatly enjoyed my “trade” classes in junior high school, but that was no longer a possibility in high school. Instead of studying something useful, I was required to study foreign languages to certify myself as an “academic”. Would have found greater application for an auto maintenance class than I ever did for German IV, more insight from electronics than from World Literature.

Is there a reason we pile on so many arbitrary requirements? Could they be slimmed down?

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

TFF said: You look at Child A and see “intellectual”. Child B is an “artist”. Child C is a “tradesman”. I look at three children and see a mix of talents, some stronger, some weaker, some developed, some not. Is there a reason we can’t support ALL THREE kinds of skills in the same school? Is there a reason we cannot help a child develop in more than one way? Your “specialization” sounds to me like lopping limbs off a tree that is only half grown.

Please stop putting words in my mouth TFF. My son chose his school. He had few choices: private Catholic, all boys school, a private mixed school, a technical vocation school or the average public school with his friends from High school. All have as yours do, a core curriculum which is required for higher education.

He chose the Catholic private and all boys (to my surprise) because it had so many sports options, media, art and technical studies that he knows he will need for the future. We didn’t push prod or pigeon hole him … just gave him choices and had him speak to some alumni so he knew exactly what to expect. We intend to do the same for his higher education.

I didn’t say the specialty schools wouldn’t be quality schools teaching art, trades and academics, but that their focus would be extra courses that where the teens talents, interests and future might lie. That may seem like segregation to you, but to me it means less at risk students not having ample choices for their future and those who have talents will have them nurtured rather then stymied.

You ask, “Is there a reason we cannot help a child develop in more than one way?” Yes, and as usual it is monetary. The public schools can’t afford to have extras classes and classrooms will be stuffed even more in the future. There will be teacher shortages and constraints that will mean it can only deteriorate. There is not a specialized education in North America that a child can’t have as long as you don’t mind sending them away to private specialized schools and paying big bucks. But the public schools don’t have the budgets for such fanciful things.

Is the answer to revert back to the days when getting an education was the mandate, not just having a standardized curriculum? School boards weren’t sucking up so much of the funds meant for education. Any discussion we have is moot as public education will be squeezed and there will be little room for change for the better, but alternative schools might have a fighting chance. Realistically,maybe we should just pray the poor and at risk won’t be left behind in the coming years.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

“He chose the Catholic private and all boys (to my surprise) because it had so many sports options, media, art and technical studies that he knows he will need for the future.”

Great! I would love to see that kind of balanced mix in ALL of our schools. We shouldn’t be forcing students in high school to choose a single area to develop. We should be offering them opportunities to develop all their abilities.

Moreover, I believe we do a social disservice when we segregate those with an “intellectual” focus from those with an “artistic” or “trade” focus. The “specialty school” approach feeds class distinctions and a devaluing of non-intellectual talents. Have you fully thought through these implications of your suggestion?

Combine your “specialty schools” on a single campus and you end up with a student population that is rich and diverse. The “intellectual” students can benefit from exposure to their “trade” peers (while taking advantage of some of the more basic trade-course offerings to enrich their own curriculum). The “artistic” students can pursue AP study along with their “intellectual” peers, if they have the talent and interest to do so.

If you separate the schools, you limit the options for everybody. This is part of why the “trade” programs have died in our local high schools. Anybody with a serious interest in the trades attends one of the many (excellent) vocational schools in the area, while the “intellectual” schools don’t have sufficient interest to justify maintaining the programs as an elective.

I agree that monetary concerns are at the bottom of much of the problem. When budgets are tight, the “elective” programs get cut. But I don’t believe creating narrow programs is the way to go — we need to focus on building quality schools with diverse opportunities for ALL students.

Educationally, my greatest concern is for the “semi-intellectuals”. Our traditional programs work pretty well for the top 25% (as measured by purely intellectual ability). They learn, they grow, they succeed in the more competitive colleges. Yet we make a huge mistake when we try to offer a watered-down version of the same program to the rest of the population. If the schools are restructured to better serve the “whole child”, then we might begin to address this problem? But again, that is achieved by moving to greater diversity within our schools, not greater segregation.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive

TFF when i read your comments I see we actually are saying the same thing, for the most part. I see it is a communication problem, but I’ll take the blame on this one. Sadly as I age I tend to write as I think and my thoughts aren’t as concise and precise as they once were! I do not think segregating is the answer either and agree whole heartedly with your last post.

Posted by hsvkitty | Report as abusive

hsvkitty, I suspect I love arguing too much. Given no other foil, I’d debate myself to death…

Wish I could offer a good answer to your “no money” objection, but quality education ain’t cheap. Private schools have the easiest job in the world, supportive families, engaged parents, kids without severe behavioral problems or learning disabilities (other than those schools that specifically serve this population). Yet even the “no frills” schools spend more per pupil than our public warehouses.

It isn’t a “night and day” difference in expenditure, but something that could be addressed with as little as a 20% budget increase. Unfortunately that is impossible when most of the people paying for education (i.e. the taxpayers) have minimal interest in the quality of the outcome. Sad.

Posted by TFF | Report as abusive