Month: December 2013

Call me Mr. Johnson

So I got another email asking my help in transferring a large sum of money. How do these folks find me?

Dear Friend,

Greetings with good faith. I am Barrister Steve Wilson, a solicitor at law. I am the personal attorney to Mr. Mark Johnson of United states of America who work with Shell Petroleum Company here in United Kingdom.
On Sunday, 2nd June, 2008, my client with His Wife and Their three children Were Involved in a vital car accident and lost Their Lives, since then I have made several inquiries to the embassy to locate Any of his extended relatives all to No avail. Therefore, After several unsuccessful Attempts, I have Decided to track His last name over the Internet maybe luckily I might locate Any member of His Family It was there I contacted you.
Meanwhile, before the death of my client in A terrible accident he Deposited sum amount of GBP15, Millions British Pound under Security company Bank in United Kingdom
Nevertheless, I have only written to seek your indulgence to assist in trustful and retrieve the money left behind by my late client before the FUND is a Declared confiscate by the security company Bank of U.K as I has-been Mandated by the BANK as the personal attorney to late Mr. Mark Johnson to Provide the next of kin to the decease or-have the account confiscate Within the next Few weeks.
Since I have-been unsuccessful in locating the relative for over five years now I therefore, seek your consent to present you to the BANK as the next of kin to the deceased late (Mr. Mark Johnson) It Would be easy to convert the valued [GBP15 million] to you as the rightful next of kin Then you and I can share the money in the Following ration: 60% goes to me and 40% goes to you.
I have all Necessary Legal Documents That can be used to back up the claim and I have Worked out the Modalities of this transaction all I require is your sincere co-operation to enable us succeed in this deal. I guarantee That this transaction Would Be execute under a Legitimate arrangement That Will protect you from Any breach of law.
Please if you are interested to work with me with good faith and honesty, I will Provide all the legal papers / Documents That backs you up as the true next of kin and It Will Be and submit to the Finance house for proper Claim of the fund. I hope to hear further response from you regards the successful conclusions of this great transaction.
I therefore, patiently to hear back from you as to enable us proceed further to the next level of this project Which would be under full 10 days.

Barrister Steve Wilson (ESQ)

I can forgive Barrister Steve Wilson (ESQ) for the Random capitalization and poor Punctuation in His email. He’s, you know, a Brit and all. Probably not familiar with the proper American way of writing words and stuff like we do here in the good old USofA.

But the key to this generous offer is that to close the deal, I’d probably have to change my name to Johnson to prove I am the next of kin to my dear departed Uncle(?) Mark and his lovely wife and their three kids, Huey, Dewey and Louie, or whatever their names were. I had better work on my story a bit.

Now, £15,000,000 converts  to $24,438,000. And if I get 40 percent out of the deal, that’s still $9,775,200 — not chump change by any stretch. That would more than pay to have all my monogrammed towels and underwear converted to Johnson… if I had monogrammed towels and underwear.

But with that kind of money I could go out and buy it monogrammed with my given name and THEN have it changed. Sweet!

I’m thinking this could work.

Changing the college admissions process to reflect motivation and ambition

LeonBotsteinBard College made news last fall when President Leon Botstein announced that prospective students would no longer be required to submit their grades, SAT or ACT scores, teacher recommendations or the typical personal essay. Instead they could choose to apply by writing four analytic essays—10,000 words total—chosen from a variety of weighty topics.
Botstein recently discussed the school’s new system and why he believes the admission process, as a whole, is flawed. “It’s not an objective process. It’s completely subjective,” he says. “And the parents ought to know that.”

How did the change to the admissions process come about?

We didn’t change the admissions process so much as add to it. In other words, students can continue to apply through the Common Application. What we did was create another option because we had become dissatisfied with the way the application process is handled and what we learned from the application process as normally conducted.

What was your objection to the Common Application?

One of the things about the normal application process is that young people want it to be easy and convenient—as it should be. However, as the Common Application became more streamlined, we wanted an application that is more connected to what goes on in college and that has more educational merit.

The answer was to find out whether students are interested and motivated to do the kind of work they would be asked to do in college—not to test what they know, but are they willing to sit down, think about a question, and come up with a response. What is your curiosity? What is your motivation?

That’s the only thing we need to know about a student. We don’t need them to be captain of the baseball team. We don’t need to know whether they are popular, unpopular, or whether they ran for class president, or whether they did some requisite charity work.

How does the process work?

We created an application based on four essays. You have to answer questions in three areas, and you get to double up in the area of your choice. You can choose from science, mathematics, computing, the humanities and the arts, and the social sciences.

The questions also signal our values and the connection of learning to life. So it might be a question about lying—whether it’s right to lie—that shows how the intellectual tradition can help people think through these very difficult issues. Then there is a question regarding the relevance and continued significance and appropriateness of the U.S. Constitution. We also ask about art. People say a picture is worth a thousand words, so we offer a library of images from which you can choose three to write about what you think they represent. There are also a bevy of choices in sciences and mathematics and so on. It appeals to the adulthood, to the maturity, and to the ambition of the student.

Some critics have wondered how you can be sure the essays are truly the work of the applicant, but a student who had someone else write their essay would be in big trouble in Bard’s first year seminar, which is based around reading and writing.

Yes. It’s very connected to our curriculum. It’s like a trial run. This gives you an idea of what it’s all about. It focuses the applicant’s attention on the education, not on how pretty the buildings are or what the extracurricular life is like. It’s not a country club. We are really appealing to your motivation and ambition. We are targeting the student that has curiosity, motivation and ambition. Those are the three most important things.

What has been the reaction to the new option so far?

We had well over 300 people who have chosen the essay process initially, which is much larger than we thought. We won’t know until January how many people complete the exam. But when we rolled it out we expected the real impact to hit next year, because many seniors were already pretty far along in the process.

It was a risk worth taking. We didn’t know how much upside there would be, since it wasn’t replacing the existing mechanism, but there certainly isn’t a downside. It is also a very nice way to signal what we’re about as an institution.

You were recently quoted saying that you wanted to start a debate about the kind of dishonesty that prevails in college admissions.

Oh, yes. The dishonesty is No. 1. They make students go through hoops when, in fact, most institutions are recruiting.

They give the illusion that they are sort of assessing the person. They are not transparent about what their criteria are for admission and rejection. They don’t want to confess that if you are the daughter of a famous person you are in a different position than if you are the daughter of a public sanitation worker—even if the sanitation worker has inherited money. Do you follow me? It’s not only a matter of money; it’s a matter of social class and standing.

No one tells the truth that institutions are admitting for reasons of their own, not because of the student. They need their distribution of students in every field. They are like a supermarket. They have an aisle of produce. They have an aisle of meat. They have an aisle of canned goods. They have an aisle of fruits. And they need customers in all those departments. They just can’t have people buying the canned goods and everything else goes to rot.

Every applicant pool in every institution is biased with certain interests. They are looking to have a balance in the entering class. They need gender balance. They need ethnic balance. They need regional balance. Then they have specialty interests. They are big in sports. They need to stock the teams like a fish tank. But the parents are not told this.

And finally, the most important dishonesty—it doesn’t make a difference where you go to college. It doesn’t at all. It does makes a difference how well you do in college, so it makes a difference to you personally where you feel best. But it doesn’t make a difference from an external career point of view. When I look at my own children, the question is not what the name on the door is. It’s where are they going to get the biggest head start to improve their self-confidence, their competitiveness, their ambition and their motivation?

People think, “If I want to be a scientist, the only places to go are MIT and CalTech.” Well, not true. Grinnell produced Tom Cech, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Swarthmore produced David Baltimore, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1975. Harold Varmus, a product of Amherst, won the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine in 1989.

The whole thing is manipulated to be way out of proportion. Where the student ends up in college is an exaggerated variable.

You recently published an op-ed where you said: “High school should start earlier and end earlier. And middle school should be discarded.” Why?

It’s simple. America has this ambivalent and paranoid view of maturation. We actually don’t, as a society, like adolescence. And we glorify a mythic notion of pre-sexual childhood. So rather than  having a simple system which is age-integrated, where older students and younger students are in the same building and learning in the same environment, we’ve segregated and age-segregated young people.

Instead of the older system, where there’s an elementary and a secondary system, we’ve now created the junior high school/middle school because we want to protect the little innocent children from the pubescent and early sexual development of the middle schooler. And we want to protect that middle schooler from the corrupting influence of older adolescents. The whole thing is nonsensical.

Life is not age-segregated. You and I don’t live in a world where the only people we talk to are within six months of our birth date. So why should schooling be that way? The fact is that I’m for simplification. There should be an elementary system, K-6, and then 7-10, that should be high school.

There’s no acquisition of knowledge that justifies six years. Four is plenty, ending at age 16. And that’s it. Then the student should be deemed as an incipient adult and decide: go to community college, go away to school or take some time off.

Maybe if we had a national service program we could do something—go into the Army, then go to school when their service has ended, at their choice. They should be treated as adults, not as big children, which is the way most of our high schools treat them. I may be wrong, but at least let’s have an honest conversation.


How classrooms can survive when education is leaving the building

Will Richardson color photo 300 dpiWill Richardson has been a familiar name to DA readers over the years. An educator, author, speaker, and one of a handful of original education bloggers, Richardson advocates for change in the classroom in the context of the diverse new learning opportunities that the internet and other technologies offer. His latest book, Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere (TED Conferences 2012), argues that schools, of their own device, are hampering their ability to educate, while young people take advantage of a wealth of outside knowledge and expertise to learn on their own. “With few exceptions, all the things that our children are using to connect and learn outside the classroom—social media, cell phones, internet connections—are banned inside the classroom,” he says.

Your book is about how education is not and should not be the same as it has been for the last 150 years or so. Reformers are trying to change things, but in your view they are taking us down the wrong path.
There are really three narratives right now around what school should be. The first is the narrative that says we need an influx of corporate money to build charter schools, to get rid of bad teachers, to compete with Finland; corporate thinking applied to public schools can raise test scores and make us more competitive.
The second narrative says schools really aren’t that broken, that what we really need to focus on is less testing, fewer standardized assessments. We need to support and nurture teachers as the most important things in classrooms. We just need to do school better than we’ve been doing it.
I’d argue the third narrative, which isn’t as pronounced right now, is that we want kids to go to school and to be with teachers. But what happens in schools has to be really different now. It isn’t so much about learning a discrete set of content, because in today’s world, you can get access to that content in lots of different places. I don’t need to send my kid to a school to learn algebra, or French, or U.S. history if we are going to measure it by being able to pass a test that says you can do it. I don’t need school for that any longer.
What we do need school for is to build the types of skills and dispositions that kids need to be successful learners in a world where they have access to so much stuff. The emphasis should be on: Can kids collaborate with others? Can they create? Can they solve meaningful problems, authentic problems—not contrived problems in the back of a chapter somewhere. Can they do work that really lives in the world?
Give kids real power to do authentic work, to get out into the world, and to participate in these spaces, and to invent, and tinker, and play in lots of different ways that are going to make them more suited for success, rather than memorizing a whole bunch of content knowledge.

You tell how your son taught himself how to use the online building simulation Minecraft with the help of online videos, forums, and chats. My son did the same thing with stop-motion animation when he was 10.
I think many people have similar stories. But a lot of what happens in school looks nothing like that.
More parents are seeing their kids do things with technology—learn things, make things—that are profound at an early age, and that are really interesting, and that the kids are really passionate about. Then they go to school, and it’s difficult because they are not learning the things they care about. They are not allowed to do the work in ways that they find interesting.

But in many cases, teachers’ hands are tied.
I believe the kids aren’t going to stand for it much longer. I talk to many teachers whose kids are really pushing them in classrooms and saying, “Why can’t I do this history project in Minecraft? Why can’t I replicate Colonial America in Minecraft as a way to show my understanding of it?” I think, more and more, teachers are being forced to say, “Okay, yeah. Go ahead and do that.”
We are at an unusual and change-filled moment, which is really disruptive. We are all going through this very interesting period where education is leaving the building and we’re not sure what to do about that. We don’t know how to react to it. We’re not sure whether we should support it or try to rein it in.

But how do you assess that kind of learning? In the end, that will be the deciding factor for the policymakers who need to show results.
It’s not that we can’t assess it. Employers assess that type of stuff all the time. But we can’t quantify it as easily unless we trust teachers to do a good job of assessing that more qualitative learning. It’s a “we know it when we see it” type of thing. But we can’t give a multiple choice test on it to make sure that kids understand it or not.
So much of what we do in schools is done because it’s easy, because it’s efficient. But it’s not necessarily best for kids. We’ll need to look not so much at content knowledge, but whether kids can think critically. Can they solve real world problems where there isn’t one path to a solution, or there isn’t just one answer?
You used the phrase “old wine in new bottles,” to describe how new technology isn’t being used to its full potential when it is merely being applied to old ways of learning.
Because policymakers and the big name school reformers themselves don’t use technology in transformative ways. They don’t make stuff. They aren’t collaborating with other people to create things that are meaningful that live in the world. I don’t mean PowerPoint and Word documents. We’re talking about the types of things that our kids are creating—stop-motion video, sharing that with the world, having other people interact with that, finding a network of people who share those interests and passions, who push your thinking, who want to work with you, who want to do stuff with you.
The reformers don’t look at technology that way. They look at technology as a way to deliver the information to personalize the curriculum so that it brings us to those better test scores. They don’t understand at a personal level what that transformative use of technology looks like. Technology does not amplify their own learning, so they can’t write policy around that.

So change will likely come from the bottom up rather than the top down?
I think education is in a vice grip between policymakers and parents. We’re not going to be able to loosen the policymaker side because they are, for lack of a better phrase, bought and sold right now. There’s so much money in writing policy that supports business growth. And education is a billions of dollars industry. That side isn’t going to loosen.
The parent side of it is where we’ll be able to make inroads; especially with parents of younger kids. Many of them, because of their own use of technology, are more comfortable with it. I’m not sure they understand the real transformative parts of technology, but I think they are more open to the possibilities. And I think they are more open to a conversation that says the world is significantly changed. The skills and dispositions that their kids need to be successful are very different from the ones that their own education experience was centered on.
That’s the third narrative I was talking about. There are parent groups saying, “We have to think about schools differently, and we have to really start focusing on helping kids be really creative problem solvers now instead of just masters of knowledge.”

Learning how to learn.
Exactly right. That’s what school has to be about now. Superintendents tell me, “Love the ideas, but it’s really hard to figure out a way to do it.” I understand that. But I think you have to find a way to begin to do it classrooms. It’s a huge step for a lot of people to make, because they don’t have the experience of learning with technology. When I ask most teachers about their own practice, they just aren’t using technology in those kinds of amplified ways when it comes to their own learning. They are using it to consume content. Everybody has an iPad now, but that’s not a transformative use.

So schools will have to catch up to what the students are already doing.
Yes, but what schools must do before they try to catch up is to give kids the freedom to learn; to say to them, “That is important learning that you are doing and we’re going to support that. We’re going to make that count somehow.” School takes on more of a support role in that respect. It can be a place where kids interact with other learners who are passionate about their stuff too. They become a part of a culture of learning that is inspiring and where they want to be, instead of this culture of information content and testing where kids don’t want to be. Imagine if school was more of a place that supported what kids wanted to learn on their own. That would be really cool. That would be a great place to learn.