One thing to consider on education reform

This has been education week on the cable news and talk shows and in true fashion, they have blasted out all sorts of opinions from tons of experts in the education field who purport to know better about how to reform education in America. Most of the advice is along the lines of; getting parents more involved, making teaching a more respected profession, giving schools more money. Blah, blah, blah we’ve heard this all before.

And I waited throughout the week to see if I could pick out some truly great ideas. I heard none. And next week, we’ll all go back to the same old stuff and next year about this time, trot out the same ideas on reform we had this week. This cycle of a week-long focus news programs do may be the most harmful thing we do, but I digress.

Instead of trying to propose a massive change to the entire education system, I think we should try just one thing; employ older people as teachers. Hear me out.

If you are 50-67 years old with a bachelor’s degree and you want to become a teacher, the Federal government would allow you to draw 70% of your Social Security benefits, enroll in Medicare and earn up to $25,000 in salary before it affects your retirement benefits. If you wished to continue teaching after the age of 67, you would be eligible to draw full Social Security and Medicare, but your salary allowance would cap at $20,000 (or something like that. Smarter people than me would have to run the numbers) You would be required to take a six month teaching course on managing a classroom.

Studies show first-year teacher turnover at a little more than twenty percent. If you visit any college campus and ask education students why they want to become a teacher, you will find some legitimately have realistic expectations of what the occupation is like, but for the most part, you will hear things like: I like working with kids or I want my summers and holidays off. You will also find a fair number of students who have delusions of becoming another Mr. Holland or reviving the Dead Poets Society.

And many recent graduates are woefully unprepared both intellectually and emotionally to handle kids who are formulating their own emotional identity. You do not have to spend much time in the classroom to see how this plays out every day in frustration and tantrums on both sides of the teacher desk. Young teachers with little confidence quickly grow into old teachers with obstinacy in an attempt to establish their expert credentials over parents. It becomes a tug-of-war which results in parents being effectively shut out of the classroom, relegated to sidecar tracks like the PTO or Boosters.

By employing older professionals who have more life experience outside the classroom — including raising kids of their own — school districts are able to tap into a richer experience and more emotionally stable teacher population than colleges are producing. And as older people have most likely built some wealth over their working years (this could be a qualification) and feel no pressure to repay huge student loans on a small salary, they would be a lower flight risk. Medicare would be available as a benefit so the cost to employ an older person as a teacher would be less. And we would be saving one more soul from the doors of Walmart or the counters and drive-thru windows of McDonald’s.

Young kids as teachers was a good thing several generations ago when learning to read, write and add were all the skills citizens needed to be productive. But this has changed and the world has gotten to be a far more competitive place. To entrust the educational future to young kids, fresh out of school also learning who they are is perhaps not the wisest long-term strategy.

I’m confident the teacher’s unions and colleges would discredit this idea on its face, but I’m hoping perhaps Education Secretary Arne Duncan will at least read this post and start thinking. We can’t start down the road of corporations owning the educational process like IBM is doing in New Jersey. Education is a matter of public trust and to allow corporations to craft the education of our citizens will eventually lead to them only producing workers that satisfy their need for profit. We tried that with health care and food production. When will we learn?

I’d sure hate to be back here next year during Education Week talking about the same old ideas. One can still hope.

Editor’s addition after publishing: I keep snippets in my head until I write and I sometimes forget them until days after I press the Publish button. But this is a bit too important to let go.

What young teacher truly understands the internal struggle of the characters in the Scarlet Letter or the quiet desperation of Edna in The Awakening or the social statements made in the turtle chapter in the Grapes of Wrath or the meaning of the other in The Secret Sharer? You can outline the plot, discuss themes, memorize lines in these works, but you don’t arrive at a full understanding until you are much, much older. And even then, you ache to understand. Each of these works holds a timeless lesson on navigating the human condition but without the benefit of a life lived with purpose, they are just another book the teacher checks off as the class having read. A teacher who has lived will beg students to read each in every decade of his or her life forward.

What would you do if you had $1 million dollars?

Dear President-elect Barack Obama;

I am a small business owner. I do quite well for myself as I am in a knowledge-based business servicing the youth sporting market and the retail services industries. I also dabble a bit in coffee and Web 2.0 consulting.

I was running some numbers this afternoon on the bail-out plans that have been proposed to date. As I look back on my college days some 20 plus years ago and my classes in English Literature — specifically with regard to American literature of the mid to late 1800s (Hawthorne, Dreiser, Meliville, etc) — I was struck with what is to me a strangely obvious fact. Modern capitalism has run its course and the current financial crisis is the front wave of a new economy.

At its basics, capitalism is providing money to build infrastructure for making goods and to a certain degree, providing services with the promise of a return on its sale or sale of the goods produced. Having been in a service industry all my life, I am not unaccustomed to “cramming” a product economic model (“making widgets”) into a service model. It really doesn’t work but we lied to ourselves just the same.

This country no longer makes things. We provide services; we assemble components. The old capitalist model where we invest in machinery, buildings, factories, etc for making goods is dead. It has been dying for a very long time. As such, funding the economy from the top down is not a viable option. There will be no trickle-down benefit as the economy will only swell and move if the bottom tiers start spending and buying goods and services. Yet, they can’t because they have no ready cash.

Capitalists talk in billions of dollars. Ordinary citizens talk about hundreds each week. Investment banks talk millions in transaction per day. Small business talks about hundred of thousands in revenue. When you pour $700 billion into Wall Street, it is like dumping a gallon of water into the Pacific Ocean. When you pour $1 million into a small business, it is like filling a bathtub with a fire hose.

Here is my proposal:
– Establish a fund of $400 Billion dollars.
– Give $1 Million dollar grants to 400,000 business that are ready, able and willing to provide services to a service-based economy.
– Each business can then afford to hire 6 people at a salary of $40,000. With health care, taxes, equipment, etc. that should equal about $60,000 investment for each employee.
– That leaves about $640,000 left for materials, computers, advertising, marketing, etc.
– Encourage a strong multi-generation team, such as Gen Y, Xers, Boomers and beyond. Working together, we make a difference we all want to experience.

That puts about 2.4 Million people to work, building knowledge centers for teachers, creating software to better manage health care systems, providing new event marketing systems for brands, creating better time balance management systems for new parents, perhaps even finding a cure for some diseases. The infrastructure of services you will jump-start will sustain itself well past the year the US Government will fund.

Your campaign proved the model. Small amounts of money spread across millions of people who are motivated to creating a better world than was left them works. We are ready, willing and able to make the change.

Lead us and help us say, “Yes, we can” one small voice at a time until it becomes a thunderous, mighty roar.

Warm regards,

G.

PS I look forward to seeing the new puppy Malia and Sasha pick out!

Disappearing males?

This is an interesting video and it appears as if males are disappearing. The video concludes that that is is becasue of the chemicals we’re producing, but as a male of the canine species, I’d like to posit another theory:

Mommybloggers

Ok, not specifically mommybloggers, but everything they represent. The mommies have all bonded into this huge economic and marketing force that has diverted much of the scientific research dollars on disease and such to things like breasts cancer and away from colon cancer, protate cancer and various other things men die from.

Almost two full generations of men have been emasculated by this “mommyblogging” force into believing men are not really valuable unless they get in touch with their feminine side. Limiting sperm count in college-aged, sex-crazed boys has got to be a good thing, right? Men who have kids should celebrate the fact that they got a girl, and another and another.. even though they really wanted a boy. But, they will never say that for fear of losing the single testicle mommybloggers allow them to keep.

Women really no longer need that many men in society because they can store sperm for generations to use when they are ready. In fact, we can cut down men to half their current population and really not affect our viability as a species.

But, I’m just one puppy and my view of this issue may be colored just a little by my “procedure” that left me a little less manly.

Posted by email from rufus’s posterous

Plain talk Palin email

Well, not really plain talk, but we’ll translate.

I received this email from Sarah Palin…. well, not from her personally, but from the Palin-McCain Campaign. I’ve attached it as a PDF file for you to read, but here are some highlights.

1. She encourages me to vote TODAY because you can vote early in Ohio. I read this to be:

Vote for me BEFORE you see my performance in the debates tonight. You can’t change your mind after you vote.

2. Does the GOP now support unions:

As the mother of five and the wife of a proud union member, I understand what it takes in these difficult economic times…

3. Oh, wait, in the next paragraph, she says:

By promoting small businesses, keeping taxes low and fighting for good jobs for all Americans, we will work each and every day to improve our economy

Ok, but do small businesses now have to hire only union labor which drives their labor costs up? Do we get tax credits for hiring union members? I’m really, really confused.

4. New voters? Oh my God, what is that all about?

Barack Obama’s campaign has already proven they will stop at nothing to win this election, and they’re already flooding the polls with new voters…

Maybe only wrinkled up old people should be allowed to vote??

Tonight is going to be interesting!

Put the smart guys in charge, please

Susan Suess Kennedy wrote an article recently for the Huffington Post examining why Americans have such a disdain for smart people. A popular terms among the non-intellectuals and shallow thinkers is “elistism.” The undereducated white guys chant this, along with “drill baby, drill” (which I don’t really get as a mantra, but ok..) Here’s the puppy take on all this.

Way back in the good ol’ days of air travel (pre-1996 or thereabouts) getting on a plane was something that you did because you had really important business. You knew the rules (or got to know the rules quickly) ticket prices were high, but so was the expectation of flyer sophistication and service from the airlines.

At some point, the airlines thought it was a good idea to let anyone fly. They deserved to fly to see grandma, visit the new baby, etc. Ticket prices plummeted and the airports were suddenly overrun by people who really didn’t have a clue where they were going, what they were doing and had expectations of service that was far in excess of the price they paid for their ticket. The airline employees suddenly felt like a “babysitter” when they were hired as a trained air traffic professional. Things got surly and the service and profits plummeted straight to the bottom. In addition, the airlines and airports were so overrun with volume that it was easy for nineteen people to slip into planes on 9/11.

The same thing happened with the housing market. Days were the only people who were allowed to buy a home were those who could actually afford it. They saved their money, they worked hard and smart and they had at least 5%-10% down on a home. They bought a home that might have been a little lived-in, was probably too small and in an area that was not exactly their first choice. And buying that first home was tough as bankers made you sweat the details of employment history, credit history and cash. The money was real and it was hard-earned.

Then, along came a generation of people who deserved to be in a home, regardless of their credit history or income. The question was not whether or not it made sense to buy a home; the question was how do we bend the rules to get you in a home. And so we put a lot of people in houses that they did not work for, they couldn’t afford to buy and more importantly, couldn’t afford to maintain. In addition, we sent a message to all the home owners who did work hard for their homes that their work was just not that valuable. And now, as these $0-down, sub-prime folks are abandoning their homes in record numbers, they are kicking more dirt into the faces of the hard-working folks in the form of lower home values, higher property taxes and an economy in shambles.

The same thing happened with a college education. A time was only the really smart people who tested high on the ACT or SAT, had a solid GPA and could write a coherent paper got accepted into college. Paying for it was another matter, but if you were really smart, you either found a way or were given a way.

Now, colleges are more interested in being in the food service and housing businesses than the business of education. Most colleges will take any student who applies, but require they stay in student housing for their freshman and sophomore years. Their cafeterias are now stocked with branded food items from Chik Fil A, Burger King, KFC, etc. in addition to gourmet lunches and dinners. The dorms are lavish apartments starting at $3,000+ a semester, per student, sleeping four per unit. And every student there believes they deserve a college degree, regardless of how hard they work or the quality of their work.

And we get to the US Elections. On the one side, we have someone who is really smart and is a deep thinker. On the other side, we have a candidate who shoots from the hip, deserves to be President because he served his country for decades and it is “his turn.” Moreover, he has paired up with an “average hockey mom” and journalism major who doesn’t read newspapers, speaks plainly but incoherently and identifies well with the Bubba vote who is able to fly to Vegas for less than $100, lives in a house he can’t really afford, went to a college where he majored in drinking and works at a job for a company that really doesn’t produce anything of value. But, by God, she deserves to be VP!

Despite her dreadful interview performances with Charlie Rose and Katie Couric, Palin could win the debates tomorrow because she appeals to a growing audience that has become dumber and dumber, but more deserving. We have abdicated our need to know facts for sound bytes and slogans to chant. “Drill, baby, drill!”, “U-S-A, U-S-A” and statements like “We are all Georgians”, “Make the Wall Street fat-cats pay” and the oft-used “Main Street vs Wall Street.” We don’t know what these mean, we don’t really examine why they have meaning or even if they do, but they have a nice cadence and chanting them in a large crowd makes us feel a part of something.

We need smart people to start leading this country. We need to quit giving the masses what they want because they feel they “deserve” it. We don’t really have to look very far to see what happens to industries that succumb to the pressures of market expansion at any cost. Eventually, the industry dives to the bottom and crashes. Air travel, housing, education, credit cards, and soon to be the executive branch of the United States.

The office of President and Vice-president of the United States of America should be the hardest job to get in this country. The people who eventually get elected to fill these top jobs should be the best and the brightest, not the ones who can drink beer best with us or who can shoot a moose the best. We need to advance the country forward, technologically, politically, ethically and societally for the next generation of the best and the brightest, not drive the standards down to allow more people to participate. To borrow a phrase from TheLadders.com, if everybody plays, nobody wins.

It’s time to make being smart a thing of value again. We don’t need presidential and vice-presidential candidates mocking community participation, academic accomplishment, reasoned arguments and hard work as elitism. We need leaders who appreciate the value of human smarts and recognize that there is more power in a pen than a sword. Human smarts is the ultimate infrastructure of any society. When that is damaged and devalued, the society will eventually crumble, united or not.

After-post: If you have a chance and have read this far, perhaps you will read one more article by Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post Writer’s Group.

And this says more of the same, but a far better post than mine. Thank you, Deanie Mills.

Appeasing the under-educated white guy


Since Hillary’s win in North Carolina last Tuesday, the “news cycle” has been all about how Barack Obama is going to get the “under-educated, white man” vote. After watching news story after news story on this, a very large question suddenly dawned on me:

When did this country get to the point where the under-educated, white working class decides who gets to be the president of The United States of America in an information-based world-market economy, where the competitive advantage is determined by who has the smartest and most clever on board?

Wow! But the REAL question us dogs are barking about is:

How did we get to the point where the richest country in the world — with the greatest opportunity for individual achievement — produce such a large majority of under-educated people?

Could it be that the public education system is failing us? Could it be the we have become so arrogant and confident in our “place” in the world that we simply quit trying to become better? Could it be that our parents, in their quest to “give us a better life than they had” simply handed us what we needed for two generations instead of making us work for it? Could it be that we value economic contribution more than we value human contribution like art, creativity, knowledge, wisdom, music, love, etc as an end rather than a means? Could be a lot of things. Could be a lot of a lot of things.

I watched an episode of 30 Days by Morgan Spurlock last night where he and his wife tried to live on minimum wage for 30 days. In the richest country in the world, what did them in was a “medical emergency” that cost them $1,200.00 and change. They worked hard, they saved.. but they worked minimum wage jobs. Only their time and labor was valued; their health was something that they could have, if they could afford it. In the richest country in the world. That should anger people everywhere, educated or not. But, it doesn’t seem to. We’re all just living each day, hoping to not get sick or injured.

I suspect that for a lot of under-educated folk in this country, that is their fate. While there are probably many reasons that “white guys in North Carolina” may be under-educated, the argument I’ve been getting around the block is that there is nothing wrong with not having a college degree. There is nothing wrong with wanting to work a blue-collar job.

Except there is EVERYTHING wrong with having a MAJORITY of a population NOT being educated in the richest country in the world, in the middle of a world economy that is fueled by a knowledge workforce. If you want to become a plumber, that is fine, but don’t do it without an education. And don’t allow the media to define “under-educated” as “stupid and provincial”, but that is a whole other argument. Please forgive me if I don’t address that; I can only sniff one topic at a time. I’m a dog.

So, I think we are witnessing the first step in the decline of a great nation, whether we want to or not. There is still time to reverse this trend and make education a top priority; not just for those who can afford it, but by anyone who wants it. Because, if we don’t do that soon, we will soon have a majority of under-educated citizens falling prey to short-term solutions that eventually resolve nothing except our own demise.

We must resolve to become competitive and invest in our human infrastructure. Education for those who want it, regardless of the ability to pay and health care just because we are human beings. That is not socialism as uber-conservatives would like you to believe; that is just plain ol’ common-sense capitalism. Invest in what will make you more. And smart people are now the new machinery and factories.