Education: A value proposition: Ethan Crowell at TEDxSugarLand

I want you to imagine an island palm trees and beaches beautiful water there are children on this island and like most children they’re very curious about the world around them but there’s something about the people the island they’re very good at running it because they’re good at running that’s their singular focus and their schools they teach running they teach classes on nutrition and your stride you see there’s a problem because not all the children are good runners some of the children are slow runners some of the children are disabled some of the children don’t have anyone to run with at home and because of this the system still says that they have to meet a standard they have to run a certain distance and a certain speed in order to graduate and if they don’t they’re failures this is obviously a fictional situation but in a very real way describes how the education system in this country has a very singular focus the title of my talk today is education a value proposition so what is a value proposition those of you that are in the business world are probably familiar with that a value proposition says that if you buy my product or service I’m guaranteeing a certain value so purchase my cell phone plan and you’ll have this much coverage or eat this yogurt and you’ll be healthier what is the value proposition of Education in this country what are we telling students they’re gonna get if they come to our schools for 12 years I’ll give you the textbook answer come to school and we’ll get you college and career-ready I’ll tell you what the value proposition is not come to school and we’ll teach you to work with others come to school and we’ll let you be creative and drive your own learning come to school and we will assess you by what you can produce and not what you can memorize in the 20th century American education was asked to do a lot of things early in the century was asked to assimilate large population of immigrants from Eastern Europe then in the 30s and 40s it was asked to produce skilled labour for manufacturing the turn of the last century it was also asked to increase the number of students that were going to college but today it’s different today we have to prepare students for jobs that don’t even exist yet to solve problems that we don’t even know what problems yet that’s not even speaking about the problems that may be passed from one generation for the next I want you to do something I want you to make a list in your mind of a couple things that you think employers look for in college graduates just whatever comes to mind I recently read an article by the CEO of a recruiting firm and the CEO listed four qualities they look for in a college graduate and those qualities are communication flexibility positive attitude and teamwork or any of the things that you thought of on the list maybe a few of them but the question is do we integrate those soft skills into our schools or our students able to graduate with that set of skills and as a practitioner I have to say for the most part no they really don’t the current paradigm in education is known as the 3 R’s and if you’re thinking reading writing arithmetic you’re at least one paradigm shift behind I’m talking about rigor relevance and relationship I’m just gonna speak more a little bit more about relevance than the other two how do state education boards make the decision about what a student needs to know in order to be considered an educated individual how do they make the decision about what’s taught and what students need to learn and I’ll tell you there’s one word that sums it up and the word is tradition we learn this way therefore we’re going to continue to do it this way and to be very honest with you tradition and education kind of needs to go to the direction of MySpace okay there’s a few subscribers left and it’s just not that cool to be on it anymore so I’ll give you example in this particular state students either in in the math what they take in math I either finish with algebra two or they finish with pre-cal and sometimes they go far farther if they’re actually doing an elective of taking calculus or what not but statistics is not actually something that’s required well the question is what benefits the whole what benefits making educated citizen what is relevant what are you gonna use every day everybody in here uses statistics every single day whether you read a new story or you’re reading an article it doesn’t matter statistics are useful I’ll give you another example johnny is a good student but he’s really good at mechanical things he’s been in auto shop he enjoys it but there’s a problem because Johnny can’t pass a state assessment so what the system is gonna do is it’s gonna make Johnny a dropout because he can’t pass it he may or may not go on to be successful as a mechanic but why are we tagging him with a label of being a failure just because there was something that may not be relevant to him that we say he has to know what about physical education is there anyone in here that believes that mandated physical education has done anything to reduce the obesity rate in this country see we’re already using statistics again what about rigor we have a common definition for rigor in education but the problem is a lot of times rigor gets translated to mean more work and not different workers which is what it should mean and what about relationship I had a student once come to me and she said you know I’m having some trouble in this Jones and I said well what’s the problem are you doing you work you understand what’s going on and she said you know I don’t really know I said what are you asking me to move you out of the class she said no don’t even have the class I love Miss Jones at wait a minute you you said you’re having trouble yeah but I like her see learning and learning may not happen even in situations where a student likes a teacher the opposite is also true when I was in the classroom I taught Spanish and I was like teaching Spanish willing because students were always very excited about the possibility and excited about learning a new language and you know they always wanted to learn most ridiculous things the boys the first thing asked me is how do I ask a girl out in Spanish which was funny because most of wouldn’t ask girl in English so I don’t know what the difference was but I had this habit this thing I did when I had a student inevitably there was somebody would get frustrated with Spanish and so what I did is I had an alphabet in the back of the room it just so happened to be a Russian alphabet and I take him to the back of the room and I say okay I tell you what I know you’re frustrated Spanish but if you read this alphabet to me I’ll give you the rest of the week off and inevitably they look at and go I don’t know that that’s too hard I said right you know the alphabet in Spanish so we go back to the to the to their desk and we would work on it and they would understand what’s going on see it had value because it provided them perspective and that’s kind of what I want to do now I want to provide a new perspective because often time the stakeholders and education are unable or unwilling to hold each other’s perspective and so I’m gonna propose a new paradigm this paradigm are the three C’s and the three C’s are community creativity and customization the first one is creativity now the first one is community and you know as humans we desire to be with other humans we’re social creatures and my favorite example of community is actually Pixar wildly successful company and the thing about Pixar that’s interesting is that their physical building is laid out in a way where everybody has to interact they have one cafeteria and once at our restrooms so if you’re an engineer or you’re an animator at some point you’re probably going to run into each other and you’re probably going to solve a problem the interactions were beneficial to the whole organization the question is our school structure in a similar way and I’d have to say no not really our schools are very departmentalized they’re very hierarchical in my own story I’d actually returned from a deployment with the military in the Middle East when I got into teaching I figured hey I’ve been to war how are can teaching be so I got hired on in the district and thrown into the middle of the year there were nine teachers I even quit the middle of year which should have been my first sign and then I proceeded to teach for the rest of the year and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the devices the inflatables where you put on a Velcro suit and then you jump on it you stick on the wall that was kind of their approach to training new teachers throw them in the room and they stick great if not whatever so anyway the reason I made it is because I had community with the other new teachers that were in the program so community is so very important to our schools with the students I recently one of my ears of research is Advanced Placement and I met with some of our students to do a focus group and the last question I asked in the focus group was someday you’re gonna have children yourself would you want them to have the same advanced placement experience you’ve had and the answer I got from the students was no we’re talking our best and brightest and part of the reason was because there’s not always a sense of community one student actually told me that she doesn’t ask for answers from people she doesn’t trust because people have given a wrong answer so they can make higher grades than her that’s not a sense of community that’s not what we’re striving for what about creativity I was recently a survey done by a university on teachers to see how creative they were and this was elementary teachers and the teachers said they highly value creativity but when the researchers got into the room what they saw was oftentimes teachers will actually downplay or outright punish the most creative students and the reason is creativity is messy requires a certain amount of letting go and what’s easier if you’re doing a lesson on the Eiffel Tower to give them a worksheet or to ask them to build a mock-up at the Eiffel Tower and do a presentation obviously the second option is more difficult so creativity is very very important and we need to integrate it into our schools the next point is customization we’re no longer just imparting knowledge to students we’re imparting skills and it’s so important to to make what they learn relative to what they want to know and what they’re interested in one of the greatest contradictions that I have seen in the push for more testing and standardization is often the groups that lobby for that or business leaders so I’m going to list a couple of business slogans and I want you to see if you hear the standardization these slogans innovate think different forever new frontiers imagination at work can you hear the standardization know these companies are all about innovation and the same people that push for that standardization are people that drive cars that come with 49 add-ons and 150 channels of satellite radio and have a phone that has half a million apps on it companies are all about user experience you live a customizable life so why if it’s such a good thing do we not do it in education we need to we have to make education and customizable so that students will find relevance in what they do nothing I’ve said today is new there are education reformers and thought leaders that have talked about this sort of thing for years one of the books that I read this summer was Thomas Kuhns a structure scientific revolutions and it’s not a book that I would recommend you read unless you absolutely have nothing else to do in a weekend because those you in here that engineers and scientists probably had a reading at graduate school and you remember it drags on a little bit but what’s interesting is that Kuhn actually says oftentimes when a new scientific paradigm is introduced it’s not accepted by the current scientists but often the scientists have to move on and the new scientists bring the new paradigm with him we’re at a point in this country right now where we have seven million teachers in the next five to seven years about three million of them are gonna retire we are at the tipping point in education we are gonna see massive change in the next five to seven years and it’s going to be driven by technology and the customization and the creativity and the community that it’s going to create when I was in the classroom as a Spanish teacher I would always have a student that would ask me do I have to do my homework in Spanish and I had a ready answer I would always say no you don’t have to do in Spanish but I’m gonna grade it in Spanish so the question is are we grading what we need to be grading are we judging success by the right measure we are preparing students for a world unlike the one that we grew up in we need to address education questions as the deep moral questions they are and they are deep moral questions because they affect an entire generation in an entire society the value proposition has got to change the value proposition means needs to change to come to school and customize your education come to school and be creative come to school and find community as an educator I don’t invest in I invest in students I invest in lives in the outcome of this is that their success is my success if we get things right for students individually the rest will follow thank you

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