31 January 2011

The Cost of Public Education

For the five of you that have been following the BlazeBlog since the beginning of time, please forgive the next 5 or six sentences. For the rest of you, here's the short version:

When I started this blog, I didn't intend for it to become a place for me to talk about educational philosophy and vaccines. Instead, I started it to complain about the general non-sense that public school teachers deal with on a daily basis. Don't believe me? Fine, don't. But don't think that I won't link to that post anyway. BOOYAH! 

I think the closing paragraph in that post sums up most of my complaints. I've never been angry about the kids being dumb. It's the people that make larger decisions that frustrate me. I told you, my not-at-all-random reader, that I was going to write about dumb decisions from above. Then, I didn't do that. I mostly talked about Jenny McCarthy and the socialization function of schools. I also put up some videos. These things were fun, but they missed the point. 

Meanwhile, the school district I work for was busy making all kinds of stupid decisions, and here I was, not ranting about them. I'll be honest, I'm more disappointed with myself than  Howard Dean after he got too excited in Iowa

But now, the board has served up a pitch so in my wheel-house that I have to swing for the fences.

Our board is currently dealing with a financial crisis. The voters haven't approved a new bond or property tax increase in several years. As state funding has fallen, we have found ourselves short of cash. This has led to many cutbacks. In fact, a recent press release acknowledged that "financial stress is the new normal". We will ignore what that says about society in general for today, because I have more pressing things to complain about. To help make ends meet, our board voted to end bus service for the 2011-2012 school year. This is a savings of $3.5 million. 

I could launch into a tirade about how cutting bus service hurts the students most in need; I could talk about how those are the students schools most need to help; I could drag you along for yet another discussion about diversity and schools and society. I won't. Why, you ask? Because the board followed up that cost cutting measure with a decision so mind-numbingly, reason-defyingly, undeniably bone-headed that I can't even get to busing today. 

My school district has recently begun to institute a "innovation" plan. (I know this doesn't seem like a good segue; stick with me.) This plan will move control of hiring, firing, and money spending from the central office to the building level. This seems like a good idea. In fact, I think it's a pretty good idea. However, to implement this "innovation plan" (which is really an attempt to "charterize" the public schools), some central office employees need to become obsolete, and therefore get eliminated. 

No, not "eliminated" like an enemy of the State in Soviet Russia, but they'll need to look for new work. The problem is that they negotiated contracts which would last through the end of the world May of 2012. So, to move forward more quickly, and honor contracts made by the previous board (even though at least one board member was on that board as well), the board bought out three contracts. The cost?


Yes, you read that correctly. Three upper level administrators, losing 18 months of their contracts, will be paid more than $230,000 each, including retirement benefits. That means that they were making, if we get rid of the benefits part, and round down to an estimated $200,000 for those 18 months, $11,000 per month prior to taxes. I make around $35,000 a year. These goons were making more than my yearly salary over summer break. I haven't had a raise, not even a cost-of-living adjustment, in 3 years. I work at a school with a plain concrete block room with folding chairs that is called an auditorium. We won't have transportation next year, but the head of our IT department was making superintendant money.

But, you know, teachers' unions are the problem. Wait? Did I just link to myself sarcastically? Hang on. Ok, how about this one? Yes, that story is better. Problems in education funding are all about those evil unions. Definately not about Boards of Education making bad decisions. I mean, that's just non-sense.

Enough of that, lets get down to the part where the board explains their reasoning.

The board defended its decision by saying they would rather just honor the contracts and eliminate the positions, instead of keeping people in obsolete positions, doing menial tasks.

Now, I would note that obviously I'm in favor of cutting these positions. But why pay these three folks for the remainder of their contract, and let them walk? Hell, I'll stop working and take the next 18 months of my salary while I search for a new job. Where do I sign up?

I don't give a damn if you make these three clean toilets (or perhaps drive buses), but for 3/4 of a MILLION dollars, you probably shouldn't cut them free. I'm sure you can find something for them to do. 

In fact, to demonstrate what they could do, I've compiled a partial list of things I would do, for $233,000, which is about what they will each take home:

1. Clean every toilet in the district.
2. Shave my head.
3. Eat a sandwich made entirely of rotten eggs.
4. Teach.
5. Take over public relations for the district. In fact, to demonstrate my qualifications for this role, some free advice, just for Board of Education: The order of the two things you did in the last month should have been contract buy-outs, THEN cutting services)
6. Create an entire curriculum on fiscal responsibility.
7. Grade every single thing I assign.
8. Buy a Corvette.
9. Buy a Chevette.
10. Throw a really bitching prom.

Now, our board couched their decision in some bureaucratic language about "the business model" and how change always incurs some cost. Is this the future of education?

Well, if it is, it won't be long until schools are back where they started, because this kind of news from an "innovative" school district will kill "innovation". Actually, you know what? Buy out more contracts! Bankrupt the district! But do it all in the name of "innovation". That way the people know exactly what to blame.

24 January 2011

The Follow-up Follow-up

There are times when the only way people would believe my life is if they were following me with a camera crew. For example, I was once yelling at a marching band when the top plank of a scaffolding flew off and tried to kill me. Also, I was once in a boat, with a tank full of emptied Porta-John, when it ran out of gas (I'll let you make your own alternative fuel jokes, but trust me when I say that those are pretty easy).

Another one of those occasions happened last Wednesday, when we had a professional development meeting. We have these during our planning hour, one day a month. I had of course forgotten that we had a meeting and arrived 5 minutes late. What did I walk in on? The exact video of Sir Ken Robinson I had posted here the night before. (check it out here) Better yet, the next day IT blocked youtube, making the link of the video the administration team had sent out inaccessible to us. I love public education.

Anyway, I bring this up not to illustrate how far ahead of the curve I am (about 12 hours, evidently) but because I think that Sir Ken Robinson might miss the boat on some of his claims, and that while his speech is often used as a motivational tool, there are parts of it that I'm not on board with, and further parts that are simply code words and restatements of educational philosophy that have fallen out of favor.

Actually, that's not fair to Sir Robinson. I think his view, on the larger scale is somewhat more nuanced than that video might lead us to believe. However, I think that nuance is often lost on the school leaders who watch the video online, and then decide to use it to motivate their staffs. I think the loss of nuance makes Sir Robinson's speech, in the wrong hands, dangerous. 

And so I offer my experienced but not expert opinion on Sir Ken Robinson's speech:

The Good

Passion: I think Sir Robinson obviously has a passion about schools, and about educating young people of all types. This passion is why he is such a persuasive speaker on education.

His grasp on history: Sir Robinson has a good grip on education as a tool of socialization for the factories of the world. He misses the role of schools as creators of common culture (admittedly more important for American schools with their large, diversely backgrounded populations than for British schools.) However, I think he then veers off into a place I don't love. But, I guess I'll get there in three or four paragraphs.

His take on the way parents, doctors and schools anesthetize children: His take on the over-prescription of ADD and ADHD drugs is spot on. Also, his belief that the Arts suffer because of this is, I think, pretty accurate.  I'm not sure his other conclusion is one I agree with, but again, I'll put that in the "the Bad" section of this rant.

The division by ability instead of age: Back in the dark ages (the 1980s and 90s), schools did this. It had a name which has become tantamount to cursing in education circles. We called it "tracking". In a tracked school, students took classes based on their ability, and were grouped in that way. Surely you remember this. Your school offered classes like "English 4" and "College Prep" English. Students on the non-collegiate track took classes which were intended to prepare them with life skills (like writing for applications, and reading the news critically) while "college prep" courses spent more time on material and skills which would be useful in the collegiate setting (like writing annotated research papers).

Obviously this division is one that Sir Robinson would like to avoid, since he puts for the idea that schools fail when they divide kids as intelligent (academic intelligence) and not (other intelligences). In fact, this seems like a good point for us to transition into "the Bad" with.

The Bad:

His ideas about divergent thinkers and different types of intelligence: Sir Robinson is a creative thinker, in fact, should you choose to google him, you'll note that one of the top videos is him talking about how schools kill creativity. Ok, on the surface this makes sense. But what does it mean on a practical level? How should we structure schools to address divergent thinkers? He uses the example of the paper-clip. He points out that younger children come up with more uses, because they don't bother to define the paper-clip in a set way. He thinks this is good. I'll be bold and disagree. Not because I think that I'm smarter than he is. Not because I want to stifle creativity. No, I'll disagree because I'm practical enough to understand that society needs its members to agree on certain things. We want to all have the same basic understanding of how society works, what side of the road to drive on, how to tell time, what acceptable behaviors are at work. Divergent thinkers, unbridled and unchecked by the socialization of schools, would not learn these social norms. Indeed, society would break down.

I know it makes me sound like a crotchety old man to say these things, but they're true. Schools serve this vital purpose. Now, they may too aggressively force children into certain boxes, but I think that's more a symptom of the emphasis on sending all students to college than it is of the structure of schools. In fact, I suspect that I have written about this before........ (I HAVE!) I think that schools that offer more hands-on learning don't need to restructure as dramatically as many of the people who watch Sir Ken's video would tend to think. Now, perhaps society should readjust its views on the worth of people in those traditionally non-academic jobs, and perhaps schools have to help lead that adjustment; but to advocate wholesale change because of the assertion that schools don't reach divergent styles of learners is foolish.

His (I feel) willful ignorance of the socialization role of schools: Sir Robinson, near the end of the video, says that traditional education is a myth (the cartoonist draws a nice little man with a sword, waiting to strike down evil, evil academic education). I think he's wrong. Even in an economy and society changing as quickly as ours, schools still provide a vital socialization function. You see, no matter how pie-in-the-sky we may want to be, in the end our job as teachers is to prepare our students to function in the "real" world. Now, we may want to let every student have the freedom to choose their course of study, and work independently (a very collegiate model). There's a problem with this view; it ignores the fact that teenagers are terrible decision makers. Don't believe me? Look at these. Those were some of the oldest, and one assumes "wisest" students in their respective schools. I rest my case.

So, we want to let the same kid who chose to pose with his chainsaw pick his course of study, when he's 13? That seems like a recipe for failure. Sure, Sir Robinson doesn't make that statement, but it is a short step for viewers of his video to take. Further, that's not how life works very often. Indeed, most of the time even the most creative and brilliant people have to operate within the confines of society. Look at Bill Gates. He didn't become brilliant totally outside of the box. He found a way to harness his creative spirit and use it to profit within the system. That's what schools need to do. They need to socialize their students to express creativity within the framework of society.     

Finally (I know, I know, too much in one sitting), his idea that schools are too boring for the modern teen: Really, I think he makes a valid point. I think that schools have to do a better job of engaging students who operate in a constant world of stimulus. However, they have to balance that with their job to create young people ready for the world.

An example: It's great when classrooms use text-messaging to conduct polls of students (see, I'm not so crotchety). It's not great when students text during class. We must find a way to balance the two. That is the great demand on public schools. Not raising standards. Not getting enough funding. No, the great challenge, for educators from elementary school through graduate classes is to find the appropriate balance between technology and society.

That scares me, and not just because I know that the average teacher is 97 years old (approximately). It scares me because that's an awesome responsibility.

Copyright 2011, G.B. Trudeau. All rights reserved by the author.
 Used blatantly without permission. I'll claim fair use, though it won't stand up.

21 January 2011

Friday U-boat, ed. 7

Editor's note:

This u-boat, like all u-boats that were mean-spirited have been removed by request of the management

19 January 2011

The Follow-Up

So, yesterday's post has generated some conversation, both on the internets and in some face to face discussions I had today at school.

Some of those thoughts are getting plugged into a different post (which is mostly about squirrels, but has some thoughts about what we want schools to do, and how that changes how we want schools to treat children). But for today, I'm going to share 11 minutes of youtube with you.

I think that Sir Ken Robinson says a lot of good things. However, I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't think that we can afford to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. I don't think that we should change schools so much that they lose their socialization function. It's important to note that Robinson is talking mostly about British education, and British education doesn't have to function as a place where all children learn a shared history; this is something that American schools must do because of a lack of hegemony in American culture. (and yes, English snobs, I know that last sentence was exceptionally convoluted). If we want members of society to have a common set of basic morals, history, and points of reference, schools must perform that function.

Should we change the way we teach to reach more creative students? Yes. But there is danger in wholesale change. 

As usual, I'm willing to admit that I don't know the answer, but I think we need to spend more time, as people and as a nation, examining the question.

Anyway, the video:

18 January 2011

On the role of schools in modern America.

There is a classic truism among educators in America. It is said that teachers in elementary schools and middle schools get into teaching to teach kids, and that high school teachers get into teaching to teach information. 

I, being a high school teacher, tend to believe that this is true. I got into teaching because I love history. I wanted to get paid to talk all day, every day, about history. However, like most high school teachers, I soon discovered that the history got boring. The kids, on the other hand, were never boring. They always bring new insights, jokes, and great answers (see: boat, U). This revelation, that I actually liked being around high school kids, literally changed my life. 

It meant that going to work was fun. It meant that I could build relationships with kids. It meant that kids would ask me for advice, and not just about that Frederick Douglass paper. It meant, in short, that I could change kids' lives. It meant that I began to see that all students were individuals, and that many of them were facing hardships at 15 that I would struggle to overcome at 30. In the long run, it made me much more compassionate to my fellow human being.

And this dichotomy, between teaching information and teaching people, is at the center of the debate on school choice. Critics of public school, and there are many, often decry public schools as places where children don't learn; or don't learn enough. To make this claim, they rely on test data. Data is the holy grail of education today. Data can get you to the promised land of Annual Yearly Progress. But there is no data that can measure the impact a teacher has on their pupils, especially impact outside of the realm of tested information.

Critics don't like to address this, because they want to live in a world of black and white. They want schools to run like businesses, with a balance sheet, and an easily measured outcome. Schools don't, indeed can't, run like that. Schools shouldn't be about creating automatons who know all of the answers on the state or national test. Schools should create young, independent people, capable of making socially responsible decisions. They should create people who can think. 

If you want schools to create students who have all of the answers on the state and national tests, I think we can do this. Just fire the teachers. Hire a bunch of people to babysit, and show videos. Kids will learn if you repeat the information enough times. Sure, they'll be sociopaths, but they'll make AYP. 


So, what is the solution?

I think several things are needed. Since this is a blog, I'm going to list those things, because it makes me feel like I'm important if you read these things.

1. There must be a clear mandate from the upper levels of state and national government as to the role of schools. No more of this "make AYP, have certain scores on certain tests, get graded "Excellent"". No; schools should be told what we already know; that our job is to train young people to reason, think, and interact in society as contributors, not just consumers of knowledge. I don't mind some accountability given to the level of knowledge our students have, but that should not be our mission. Our mission should be to teach them to use that knowledge.

2. Reformers, especially of the cost-cutting type, must recognize that students are taught by more than just classroom personnel. They must understand that students are shaped by their environment, and that means that a custodial staff which is a part of the building community is vital. When custodians feel like part of the team, they maintain the building better. When the building is clean and well maintained, both teachers and students feel valued. When those people feel valued, they perform better. The same goes for food-service and secretarial staffs. Too often, in the name of saving money, these vital services are outsourced to companies like Sodexo, and the people they put in the buildings are not a part of the educational team. 

This seems like a small deal, but it isn't. The classified staff in a building are more than just their hourly wages and job duties. They are adults who interact, in meaningful ways, with students. Many students confide in security guards, secretaries, and lunch ladies things they would never tell other adults (like teachers).

3. We must, as a nation, find some consensus on the role of schools (and yes, I know this is like point one, but I was raised in a church where the sermon ALWAYS had three points, it's all I know). Are schools supposed to change children to fit into society, or should we change the way we teach, and our expectations, to ensure students learn the material? Is it more important that a student know all of the state mandated information about the Great Depression, and therefore be allowed to turn in late work, to use their phone on a quiz, to not do the homework, and only the assessment; or  is it better that the student not learn the details, but be held to a standard that future employers will hold them to in regards to punctuality and attentiveness?

This is a question bigger than this humble blogger. I don't know. But I do know that the educational system cannot much longer survive without these issues being addressed. If schools are simply to put facts into young peoples' brains, that can be done, but schools need to be massively restructured, and many teachers will leave education. 

If, on the other hand, schools are still expected to teach all students how to be productive members of society, then schools need to be evaluated on the intangible things which they do. I don't know how you measure "lives changed" but I'm willing to bet that most students can tell you at least one teacher who changed their life. 

In the end, maybe putting those testimonials on the "school grade cards" would be a better measure of success than AYP. But what do I know, that's just what I've spent the last 9 years trying to do.

And now, as a reward for reading all the way to the bottom, a Soviet poster equivalent to that "don't stand on chairs to hang things" poster from your work. Remember, when using a pitchfork, don't stab your coworker!

13 January 2011

In which I ask you for advice...... well that's a little awkward, isn't it?

Ok, fans of the BlazeBlog. Normally, I use this space to rant ferociously about the problems I see and encounter on a daily,  sometimes hourly basis. Some days I go all Jon Stewart, and just use my virtual soapbox to expose absurdity in public education. I generally deal in anger and hyperbole. But today is different. Today, I'm at a loss. No, not a loss of words. Such a thing is basically impossible. I talk to myself in the shower because it isn't loud enough in there.

Nope, I'm at a loss of ideas.

I'm at a decision point and need some advice. (No, I'm not going to read Dubya's "book" to get advice on making decisions. Maybe I'll visit his "decision theater", but I'm not reading the book. If I had Voldemort's number, I'd give him a buzz, but I don't have those digits.) So, lacking influential and knowledgeable co-writers, the BlazeBlog turns to you, its good looking and likable (if not powerful) readers.

Here's the problem I face. There is a proposal on the table at my current employer to restructure the schools in a radical way. It would convince the state to allow us to operate basically as charter schools. It would allow for the privatization of services such as the custodial and bus driving arts. (two services close to my summer-time heart) It would put public schools into competition with one another for students, and for their funds. It would give parents enormous control over their childrens' schools, since the student would take funds with them, even if they moved mid-year. Parents who objected to material being discussed could use the funds that were attached to their child to influence administrators to curb teaching of certain controversial topics. 

(If you don't know how I feel about parents and the educational process, you can always check out this little entry and its near relation, these words of wisdom.)

If you know much about me, or my educational viewpoint, you know that these changes fly in the face of many things I believe in, philosophically. I oppose charter schools. I am not a fan of choice in general. I think, and genuinely believe, that schools have a higher purpose. Schools, at their best, provide a place to build community. They educate all students, giving those young people an equal opportunity to succeed. When schools enter into competition, those things are thrown away. Suddenly schools compete for only the best students. They look for ways to convince poor students to leave. In short, they want to win, and try to use any and all methods to do so. Students who need good schools the most, get them the least.

So, I need to make a decision; do I support the change wholeheartedly, or do I use my position to oppose this change, on philosophical grounds?

This seems like it should be an easy choice, especially as I am poised to leave my current school at the end of the year, changes notwithstanding. I should roll over and let it happen, choosing the middle path, neither endorsing or attacking, right?

Of course,  I could go out in a Blaze of furious, righteous indignation, torching every bridge I've spent 6 years building, right?

There's no way that I should buy into this new system, right? There's not a circumstance in which I should endorse this radical change, in which I should sell out my values; right?

Well, here's the problem:

I currently work in a school that I helped plan and open. I've spent countless hours making this school one of the top performers in the district, according to all of that deeply flawed test data. I like my co-workers. I adore the students. I want the best for them. If the competition plan is implemented, it seems like my school, (and a little bit, my legacy) will benefit. I think they will thrive like never before. But at what cost?

Reacting negatively makes it seem like I want to protect the status quo. It makes me seem reactionary and archaic. Whenever a teacher drags their feet against educational reform, critics cry that they just want their comfort and wages and to keep turning out a poor product. There is the distinct possibility that that teacher (me in this case) actually does want reform. They're just once bitten, twice shy. (actually, in the case of teachers that have been at this for a while, they're "every year bitten, next year shy"). In fact, I've tangentially written about this before .

And so I suppose these are the questions I need your help to answer, because this isn't the usual reflection on the absurdity of public education, this is a genuine moral quandary. I need your help. I need your advice. What cost to personal philosophy is too high? What benefit needs to exist to justify that cost? How do you weigh concern now versus possible benefit later? How do you weigh benefit now versus possible cost later?

Many of you work in education. Many of you have been or will be faced with similar questions of ethics.  I want to know what you think I should do. Please, share in the comments. Feel free to comment anonymously, if you, like many teachers, live in fear of being terminated or reprimanded for actually voicing an opinion (an entry for another day, I'm afraid.)

Get it? I said  "afraid", and I was talking about fear? Pretty clever, right? In the words of the famous philosopher Ralph Malph, "I've still got it!"

Anyway, once you stop laughing with at me for that pun (and gratuitous Happy Days link), please tell me what you think I should do. I appreciate it.

07 January 2011

In which I manage to talk about Playboy and the Space Race

News broke from Great Britain this week that the original study which linked autism to childhood vaccination was an "elaborate fraud". (details here in addition to other places). It turns out the author had falsified the records of EVERY SINGLE patient record he had used to draw his conclusions.

Since 1998, medical experts have been saying that the links between autism and vaccination were tenuous at best. However, Jenny McCarthy (whose qualifications for being in the public eye included getting naked and hosting a dating show on MTV) felt that she knew better. She wrote books, she went on TV, she co-founded a foundation, all of which were dedicated to autism. I have no problem with this. She has an autistic son. So I empathize with her having an autistic child. Lord knows the autistic student who just today implored me to "eat more paaaaaancakes" is hard to handle for 90 minutes, I couldn't do it for a lifetime. In short, my problem isn't with Jenny McCarthy.

My problem is because she was famous, people listened to her.  The only reason she gets on television programs (including The Doctors, Larry King Live, and Oprah) is because she was already famous. Then, once she's gotten on the TV, she uses the platform to spew non-sense.  If you watch the clip I linked, the doctor she appears with actually claims that infant mortality is higher in the U.S. because we have too many vaccines. I'm not an expert (a statement full of Friday irony), but that certainly seems counter-intuitive. Look at how much she confused Bones (Dr. Jim Sears). 

This wasn't a one time thing; nor has she stopped. She just keeps spreading non-sense. For example, her foundation's website calls the attention focused on the only study that backs up her claims about autism, "much ado about nothing." That's patently false. The study on which she's based her entire foundation is called "an elaborate fraud" and she responds with, in effect, "Look away, nothing to see here."

Now, by this point, if you're still reading, (thanks for that, by the way) you might be wondering why I've spent 500 words attacking Jenny McCarthy. Is he going to move into a rant about the over-diagnoses of autism? Is he going to rant about the desire to find a cause, so that people can rest assured that their genes had nothing to do with their child's autism? Is he going to link the the playboy images that made McCarthy famous in the first place, and use that to talk about the sexualization of society? No, no, and no. (although the last one would be totally hilarious and gratuitous. In fact, look for it next week).  

Nope, I spent all that time talking about Ms. McCarthy and autism to come back to one of my classic points. Trust the experts. Why would anyone trust Jenny McCarthy as a source on childhood vaccination? It doesn't make sense. But, because she could get on TV, people trusted her. Literally, the only reason she had a national voice was because pubescent boys liked to look at her in her birthday suit. And yet, people did listen. (admittedly, she's not the only person railing against vaccines, but she was clearly the voice and face of the movement.) 

I think the problem exists in society, but more importantly for this blog, education. People with no training, but a platform, believe that they know best. Parents went to school, so they feel comfortable questioning how a teacher conducts class. Politicians went to school, so they get on the stump and propose reforms that "make sense." People who lack the basic knowledge to know the difference between repudiate and refudiate are allowed to spew forth their opinions, and people follow them, simply because they are on TV.


I don't know when this became ok. I don't know when the voice of the "man on the street" became more important than the expert. But I do know that it's bad for America. We need, as a people, to trust the experts. It turns out that experts are specialists, and they understand the issues better than the average Joe. 

And now, a historical example: When the space program was faltering in the late '50's, there was a large hue and cry about the failings. Many people called for a merging of our civilian and military space programs. The Eisenhower administration, to its credit, didn't give in. They trusted the experts. Instead of simply following the crowd, the U.S. reinvested in math and science education. We let our engineers work, and in the end, they created spacecraft capable of reaching the moon. This would not have been possible on military rockets, since they were designed for ballistic, not orbital flight. But at the time, that was something that only the experts understood.

We are, if education critics are to be believed, in an education race. But now, we're rushing to implement programs too often not supported by experts. We're investing in charter schools, home school programs, and online schools. We're tailoring programs to facilitate childish behavior and attitudes, instead of fixing them. (just ask Dr. Dick) I encourage society to pause, and to give the experts a chance to "fix" education. I suspect that, given time, the supporters of charter, online, and home schooling will find themselves like Jenny McCarthy, having spent years of their lives defending positions that were based on false data. I suspect this because all of that testing data that they love to lean on will end up being, like the study in Lancet, misleading at best. 

If only the education critics looked as good in a bikini as Jenny Mac..........     

03 January 2011

A guide to student suceess

Hello dear readers,

For those of you only familiar with the contributions of my worthy colleague Cato, allow me to reintroduce myself. I am Dr. Dick Johncock. I am a behaviourist, with a focus on educational behaviour. I believe that most problems in education today are, at their root, problems of behaviour. I also believe that most of these problems can be rectified through the use of my patent pending NBR and STFU systems (NBR and STFU).

Both of those renowned systems are teacher directed, and inflicted upon students. Today, however, I wish to share with you, the loyal Dr. Dick-ite, a system designed to help students be more successful in their studies. Before I reveal this new system to the world, however, I wish to share with you its genesis, and explain how I developed it.

Here in the collegiate world, the final exam season has only just ended. During this hectic time of year, students often come to my office hours (many for the first time all semester!) and ask how they might improve their grades. For some of them, they are beyond repair. Nevertheless, I have for several years been using a flow-chart type visual organizer to make my points. 

I have often thought that perhaps I should share it with students at the beginning of the semester. However, I firmly believe that students should self-advocate. However, I do recognize that at the high school level, those same students may need some prompting, and that this could be a valuable tool for educators at that level.

Now, with access to this fine educational blog (and the beginning of a new semester for so many of my dedicated readers), I have decided to share the system with the wider world at large. It is, like many of my publications, based on a shape, to help students remember the key points, since much research shows that people memorize shapes better than words.

On to the studying method

In my years of experience, I have deduced that there are roughly 12 key things which students should do to maximize their scores and learning. They are as follows:

1. Study
2. Take notes
3. Do homework
4. Go to class
5. Ask questions about the reading
6. Read the text
7. Listen to the teacher
8. Participate in class!
9. Put that phone away!
10. When in a group, work
11. Think
12. Draw Conclusions

Now, dear reader, you may think that these are far too many things to be put on a simple shape. After all, when I revealed the Octagon of Punishment (the OoP), there were those who complained that even eight ideas on a graphic organizer were too many, and now I'm going to attempt to put twelve ideas on one shape? The task is Shakespearean in scope, and yet with help from the mathematics department here at the Shannon Higher Institute of Teacher, I have the solution:

The Rhombic Dodecahedron.

Do you see what they've done? They've provided me with a three-dimensional shape, which obviously makes it easier to put all twelve student steps for success in one place! Better yet, dear reader, a rhombic dodecahedron provides me with the opportunity to acronymize my new system for student success:

I call it the RDOS, the Rhombic Dodecahedron of Success. If students master the twelve easy steps that make up the RDOS, they can be virtually assured of academic success.

Of course, I have student work sheets and teacher ancillary materials, so please don't hesitate to contact me, and I can begin the quote process for a visit your school, during which I would help you to put into place the RDOS, OoP, NBR, and STFU. In combination, these tools can revolutionize your learning environment.