Sunday, February 23, 2014

When Schools... DIRECT TV style

While the Direct TV commercials may be obnoxious, they are great examples of cause and effect, in showing how one small decision can snowball into something much greater.
I help with my church's youth group, and the youth pastor used these commercials to spark student interest in his message about using our God-given abilities and passions. (Thanks David Trainer!) This cause and effect concept can be applied to so many areas!
Here are the commercials:

And as you would guess, this method can be applied to schooling.
Ready for some examples...
When big business feeds on k-12 education, it becomes all about the money. 
When it becomes all about the money, they make standardized tests and common core standards.
When they make standardized tests and common core standards, we're no longer acting in the best interest of the children.
When we don't act in the best interest of the children, the kids don't feel valued or cared for.
When kids don't feel valued or cared for they devalue their self-worth.
When our boys and girls devalue their self-worth...(FILL IN THE BLANK). 

We all have witnessed the consequences dealt to a young innocent generation. Unlike the commercials, these extreme effects are our reality.

I'm not blaming big business, because frankly, you could replace big business with a number of factors that have taken the focus of main stream education away from the children. Whatever point you start with in the public education process, at some point it becomes a selfish system, deflecting the love and care away from the students. 

What if...

When every individual involved invests in the wellness of the child first, the child views his life as valuable and purposeful to others.
When a child views his life as valuable and purposeful to others, he cherishes himself as a unique creation.
When he cherishes himself as a unique creation, he desires to inquire and explore his God-given abilities and passions.
When he desires to inquire and explore his God-given abilities and passions, he lives unselfishly with great motivation and vitality.
When he lives unselfishly with great motivation and vitality, he can be powerfully used by God to bring light to the world!

-I'm aware there are many missing pieces in these scenarios, but the bottom line is; There is a big difference in the results of an unselfish community compared to those groomed by the selfish system.     

Joy in the unselfishness

Monday, February 17, 2014

Does Production Match the Purpose? The Food and Education Industries

Too Close to See the Problem?

A person residing and working in a smog-filled city, probably doesn’t recognize the danger and harm being inhaled daily from his polluted surroundings. He is so deeply entrenched that there is no opportunity for perspective within the conditions. He doesn’t gain true reflection and perspective until he spends a long weekend at his countryside cottage amidst the pure, clean surroundings, infused with a natural floral fragrance.

After participating in parent-teacher conferences, contributing and listening to the concerns and priorities of all involved, I can’t help but think that the entire system is covered in pollution. We were obviously consumed by the educational smog as words like, "test scores, data, and common core standards" were repeatedly hacked from our mouths. The dialogue was clouded with the theme of WHAT students are thinking and learning. As we continue to sit in the fog we no longer notice the flaws in our purpose for teaching and learning.
Over at the countryside cottage, free from the suffocation, we consider the best methods for teaching children HOW to think and HOW to apply.

Education and Food: My two favorite things (when done right)!

I think there is a legitimate analogy to be made between our culture’s food industry and our process of education. (This idea has quite possibly resulted from me watching too many food documentaries).
            In both cases the healthy, organic alternative is an option, though this path is distant and often obstructed. While mass production and sheer numbers can be appropriate objectives, I’m not so sure we want that driving these vital areas of our lives.
In order to eat smart and healthy, a
consumer must be resourceful, committed and informed. I would say the same attributes are important when consuming an education. What do you value as an educational consumer? I’m concerned that our children are becoming obese on a hunger for extrinsic motivators, chasing a number, and competition.
Let me introduce you to an educator’s pesticides and hormones. Things like “data-driven instruction” and “adequate yearly progress” have disconnected the relationship between teacher and student,  just as the industrial farming processes are unnatural and inorganic.

We can earnestly evaluate food or education by asking the following questions:
Are these products being made in a selfish manner, or is the process pure, genuine and selfless? Does the producer cherish the wellness of the consumer?
God uses Paul and Jesus to express His strong feelings about selfish teachers. Paul in           1 Timothy 3-11, and Jesus in Matthew 23 both condemn these teachers that exert self-interest and base their instruction on measurable outcomes.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A School of Vitality: More than academics

Based on his Tedtalk, Andrew Solomon said “the opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.” Solomon also points out that depression is the world’s leading disability.
These points caused me to consider two main things:
1.                    To what degree can our schooling environment and experience impact a person’s mental/social/emotional state? Is it a positive or negative influence?
2.                    How is vitality defined? Can we create learning environments that boast this characteristic?

While my medical knowledge only goes as far as WebMD, I can tell by the statistics that we do not have depression figured out. So I think it’s fair to discuss and even speculate how school, just one facet of a child’s life, is influencing the well being of these children at their fragile age. Oh, by the way, I’m talking about “well being” beyond simply academics. School has become so much about scores and academic growth that arguably the most important component is being left outside the walls of these supposed “learning communities”.

John Dewey, known for his educational reforming mind, wrote that education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform. How disappointed would he be to know that the public school system has become so hungry for a higher numerical mark that strategies today could be described as a divide and conquer tactic to increase each individual score. While this may work for what is being measured, all of the isolation and testing is harmful to everything that isn’t being measured. Since we’re really only measuring one thing these days, that’s suggesting a lot of harm!

I guess what I need to know is, what does vitality look like? I can surely describe what it doesn’t look like: worksheets, rote memorization, rows of desks, silence, “don’t forget this is for a grade”, and the list goes on.
Vitality however carries a culture of complexity. Each child is considered valuable to the social, emotional, mental, and yes even academic progress of every member of the community. Students are intrinsically motivated because their time is spent on authentic projects that relate to their current life and the world around them. The relational interactions are supportive, encouraging and even fun because we need each other to become better. Development and growth are found here due to productive collaborations and luminous reflections. Each contributes to and benefits from the community. I must infer that vitality aligns with a healthy and safe culture as well. This prepares kids with tools for living their lives today, which naturally will provide skills for the future.
In contrast, the creative George Lucas noticed, “Traditional education can be extremely isolating…many schools operate as if they were separate from their communities.”  

Lastly, I have a hard time thinking of vitality without encountering the concept of purpose. Rick Warren, in The Purpose-Driven Life writes, “Without a clear purpose…you will tend to make choices based on circumstances, pressures, and your mood at that moment. People who don’t know their purpose try to do too much – and that causes stress, fatigue, and conflict.” 
It’s alarming how perfectly Warren has described today’s mainstream education.

We can probably apply this depression-vitality spectrum to many facets of our lives.
Let’s increase our vitality by making genuine connections for an appropriate purpose! I would also include the Author of Life as an essential for consistent vitality.

Joy in the journey.