Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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I can’t believe I have been back in the States three weeks already. Summer goes way to fast. Family, friends, and the continued remodel of our condo has filled my time which has kept me away from the computer…that’s a good thing when it comes to vacation time though. 🙂

Now I find myself some 30,000 feet over the mid-west on my way to Washington D.C. and the JOSTI conference. I was asked by the U.S. Deptartment of State and the Jefferson/Overseas Schools Technology Institute (JOSTI) organizers to represent the EARCOS region (Southeast Asia) as they discuss a program called the World Virtual School.

It also means that I miss out on this year’s ISTE conference. I’ll be following via Twitter and other streams but not the same as being there and connecting with your PLN in person and making new connections. Next year for sure in San Diego!

This year marked my 9th year of being overseas. Each year the U.S. seems more “foreign” to me. The more global I become the more strange the U.S. becomes. What is interesting is the fact that I get to see huge changes in the use of technology within American society. Unlike those that live here who see the technology slowly roll out. I get 6 weeks once a year to see how technology is changing America.

This year is no different and here are a couple of my early observations.

 

Social Media:
We know it’s everywhere, we know it’s what the “new web” is about. But it fascinates me to see Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare and Yelp signs in 99% of all the places I go to in Seattle (we’ll see if DC is the same). The last couple of years you’d find a sign here or there, but this year the Facebook f and the Twitter t are front and center in most shops. Asian societies aren’t there yet in their adoption of these tools for customer connections. American based companies are leading the way and we’ll see how long it takes, if ever, for this kind of social media induction to take hold in other parts of the world. Favor: US

socialmedia

QR Codes:
I predicted this would be the year these little buggers would show up in American society and I have to say not a bad guess on my part. What I notice from last year is a refinement of there use to really connect the physical world to the digital world quickly. Last summer they were around but used in some strange ways, or ways that probably were not working….but this year there use is becoming refined and in most cases I have found them to be very useful. Anyone who has been to any large city in Asia knows that QR Codes have been round for a good 4 or 5 years so it’s good to see the US finally catching up to these useful little codes. Favor: Asia

Instant Connectivity:
Many international travels, myself included, are still very frustrated with the lack of choices in the US when it comes to getting connected quickly and cheaply. How can the same data connection in Thailand cost 60% less than it does here in the States? Why can I walk into any shop in China buy a SIM Card for my phone and 100 minutes for $10 and a months worth of data for $15 and be up and running in less than 10 minutes. Here in the US there isn’t an easy way to get people/travelers connected…and if you’re not willing to sign the big 2-year contract….be prepared to pay through the nose for everything. I just can’t figure out why a company wouldn’t get on board with the rest of the world…..and don’t even get me started that because I’m on a pre-paid plan I can only have an Edge connection and not 3G on my Android phone (both AT&T and T-Mobile). Favor: Rest of the world

Economic Turn-around:
In Seattle anyway it feels much different this summer than last. Last year people seemed down, worried, and stressed. Some of those feelings are still there but there is also hope and optimism in the air that last year I just didn’t feel. This being said with all four of my closest friends, both in education and out, jobless. But all of them see light at the end of the tunnel….and that’s a good thing. Favor: US

Education:
An even hotter topic than it was last year education continues to struggle in the media and at all levels of government. Educators are frustrated, parents are frustrated, the government is frustrated. A lot of that frustration, I think, also coming from fear. Fear of the unknown and the feeling of the shift that is happening. I’ve been overseas for 9 years, 6 of those in Asia and the world is shifting and its pace is increasing. I think American’s feel that and don’t know what to do about it. What we do know is we can’t keep doing what we were doing because that doesn’t work anymore. But how do we “fix” a system that for so long kept America as a world leader? How do we “fix” a system that we’re still trying to figure out where it’s broken while the world continues to shift and mutate around us?

I think back to my days in Saudi Arabia even to conversations at the Education Project in Bahrain and the middle east. For generations now the Saudi’s haven’t had to work. The country made enough money to pay all of its citizens. They imported workers from around the world to do all the work and sat back and enjoyed the riches that came from the oil. Now with the green movement and oil supplies being depleted governments are trying to find ways to re-educate their citizens to work. In Saudi it is called “Saudization”. Where Saudis are slowly replacing the imported work force. Its been unsuccessful in most areas. Convincing a nation that they now need to work is not easy. Why change when everything seems to be going so well? For generations they were taken care of by the government…..and still are to some extent. But now they’re being asked to change, to work, to be a part of a different future…..and it’s hard. It’s hard to change when everything around you seems the same.

I think the same holds true for the American public education system. For many years it worked, we all reaped the benefits of it, but it isn’t working any more. All we know is what we all went through, what we all succeeded at: Parents, Politicians, Educators, we are all part of the system that needs to be changed and that’s hard because it seemed to work so well for so long and it’s scary when you can feel that the thing you held true, that you really knew because you went through it isn’t good anymore. We want to hold on, we want to “fix it” and it’s hard to let it go.

It’s a great time to be in education….and a tough time….and I think it’s going to get even tougher as public school systems just were not built for the fast pace world of today. As online learning in high schools continues to explode across America I think we’ll see public high schools be the first to crumble to their knees in a heap of dust before being rebuilt. That’s the revolution not evolution that Sir Ken Robinson and so many others have talked about the past few years. It’s the revolution that I touch on in my TEDx Talk, and it’s the revolution that needs to happen if the K-12 American public school system stands a chance to compete in a new world that is fast, flat, and connected. It won’t happen to all public high schools as some are making the change. Those with innovative leaders and the freedom to explore and try new things are succeeding…but that’s a small percentage of schools out there. 

Don’t get me wrong America has a lot to offer. The best university system in the world, a government structure that works and that people believe and trust in (both in American and out). A work ethic that I’ve only seen rivaled by the Chinese while I lived in China. Forward thinking in human rights, and free-will for all, and a culture where any man, woman or child has the opportunity to be what they want to be.

But does America have the ability to adapt, to go into beta mode and figure schooling out on the fly? Because the world won’t stop turning to allow us to figure it out. We need options, we need creativity and we need the ability to take risks, try new things, and the ability to say we failed and be OK with it. That’s what will make the public school system strong again…the same work ethic that made America a world leader in the first place will have to rebuild an education system built for a new and constantly changing future.

From cbsnews.com Math Tests For Five-Year-Olds?

The experiment could involve tests as long as 90 minutes and change reading assessments for kindergartners through second-graders in the nation’s biggest school system, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration has embraced testing. The approach dismays some parents and educators who see it as mechanizing education.

Show me one piece of research that says a 90 minute test is good for a 5 year old? Heck….show me a 5 year old who can sit for 90 minutes!

The Department of Education unveiled the $400,000 program in an e-mail Monday inviting elementary school principals to participate. About 65 principals have expressed interest, and as many as 12,000 pupils may ultimately be involved, said James Liebman, the department’s accountability chief.

Let’s see why would principals be showing interest in testing Kindergardeners? HHHMMMM……I wonder…..$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

…going beyond No Child Left Behind requirements. For each of the city’s more than 1,400 schools, third-grade through 12th-grade test scores factor significantly in letter grades – which can earn principals bonuses or jeopardize their jobs.

And you wonder why you can’t find people to teach in inner city schools.

The school grades and stress on test scores anger some parents and teachers, who say classes are being drained of creativity and reduced to drills on how to ace standardized exams.

Dear Policy makers….please read A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink. Thank You!

The rise of testing in No Child Left Behind’s wake has caused contention nationally. Some studies show students’ math and reading skills have improved, but that schools have cut back on history, music and other subjects.


Seriously….why is this a shock to anyone? We still have an 8 hour school day and we can only teach so much. If we’re going to teach more math and reading than something has to give.

And to think that at one point in my life my wife and I packed up everything we owned into a storage unit and drove to Albany, New York to find jobs. Lived out of our car and a tent for three weeks with no luck before driving back to Washington and getting jobs in Aberdeen and Westpoint.

What’s the reason for this? Really we need to know where kids are in their reading and math? I mean, teachers can’t and haven’t been doing that for…..like……ever?

Here’s the thing….do we really want America to be like China? Why is America so scared? Yes they have low cost labor…is that what we want? Do we want America to be that country? Do we want America to be the country where you can make a pair of Levi jeans for $4? If so then make sure our students know how to stand in a line, read, and rework numbers.

According to the latest patent stats of 2006 which is the last full year we have stats on:

Applicants from the USA: 390,815 applications

Applicants from China: 128,850 applications

That’s 3 times the patent applications. America needs to understand that it’s place in this new economic flat world is not trying to compete with China but instead being the brains, the thinkers, the creators of the products that China produces. America will never be able to compete with that labor force, but they will be able to compete with their minds, their ideas, their creativity.

That is if there is any creativity left.

This is so interesting….as I can remember at least three different times that I sat down with heads of Chinese schools, people looking to start private Chinese schools, or Chinese school looking to improve their education. I remember sitting and talking about the American system and how we focus on getting students to think different, we encourage them to think, to analyze, to question their findings. We teach them to learn on their own.

There is one man who I remember particularity clearly who wanted to hire me to come help him set up a private school in a province south of Shanghai. He was a wealthy man and he wanted to build a school focused on technology and thinking. His grand daughter lived in this city where he wanted to build the school, because he felt it was the only way she was going to compete.

“She must understand how to think.”
he told me.

So here America is trying to compete with Japan, S. Korea, and the China’s of the world and they are the ones looking at our systems to create thinkers, creators, and inventors.

America can not compete by testing their kids smarter. America will never be able to complete by testing down their kids to the basics.

Screw the basics! We need thinkers!

The issue is (and yes…now I’m on my soap box) that Americans are bombarded by reports of China doing this, and China doing that. China grew by 200% in this and 400% in that. The news is America’s worst enemy. Of course China is on fire. They’ve gone from riding bikes to driving Lamborghinis in about 15 years time! There growth rates should be off the charts and America should be celebrating that they had a part to play in helping the Chinese to open up, to modernize…and now they’re scared of it?

You will not be able to compete in a global soceity if you are scared.

You will not be able to compete in a global soceity if you don’t understand your role as a nation?

You will not be able to compete in a global soceity if you do not educate your younger generations to be globally minded, open to new ideas, and give them the abilty to learn, unlearn, and relearn in a fast pace world.

Trying to compete head on with a nations 4 times your size is a garenteed loosing battle. It’s a typical David and Goliath…America must think smarter, not bigger.

(Stepping off my soap box now and going to bed)