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Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

Schools are “Totally Predictable.” We Good With That? I’m Not!

September 18, 2019 Leave a comment

On his website Modern Learners, Will Richardson often offers thought provoking posts that force readers to examine the way our schools are structured and the way they operate. Schools are “Totally Predictable.” We Good With That? is one such post. In it he asserts that the predictability of the way schools function and the way teachers present lessons undercuts what employers and students want most: the ability to deal with changes that are occurring at an astonishing rate.

As I have often bemoaned, our accountability metrics reinforce the Factory School status quo and, in so doing, reinforce the notion that there is a discrete and finite knowledge that must be learned by students and their own curiosity and interests are not at all important. In compelling students to adhere to a predictable schedule and preordained curriculum imposed by well-intentioned adults schools are unwittingly undercutting their ability to explore information and learn independently… and in so doing are not preparing them for what exists now and will exist in the future.

Two Examples of Telling a Lie Often and Making it True: The “Immigration Crisis” and “Failing American Schools”… There are Countless Others

September 17, 2019 Leave a comment

I saw this graphic on FaceBook taken from a NYTimes article from earlier this year titled “Trump Claims There is a Crisis at the Border. What’s the Reality?
As the graph above shows, the reality is that during the Obama administration immigration declined! This inconvenient truth was overlooked throughout the 2020 campaign and has not been corrected by the media every time the “crisis” lie is repeated and so we watch films of children in camps, the “caravans” and conclude that there IS an immigration crisis.

As one who lived through countless reports of “failing American public schools” this playbook is all too familiar. Make an assertion that cannot be substantiated by facts and repeat it endlessly and soon it becomes imprinted on the public’s consciousness. The purpose behind both memes is to inculcate fear in the minds of the public in order to advance a political agenda. In both cases… and countless others— the big lie, repeated, becomes irrefutable truth. And social media, with its relentless churning of videos, graphics, and catchy memes and soundbites makes truth especially fungible.

 

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David Brooks’ Bogus “Meritocracy” Definition

September 13, 2019 Leave a comment

David Brooks column today, “The Meritocracy is Ripping America Apart“, rightfully calls out the impact of the “savage exclusion” of what he calls “the exclusive meritocracy”. Here is his definition:

In the exclusive meritocracy, prestige is defined by how many people you can reject. The elite universities reject 85 to 95 percent of their applicants. Those accepted spend much of their lives living in neighborhoods and attending conferences where it is phenomenally expensive or hard to get in. Whether it’s the resort town you vacation in or the private school you send your kids to, exclusivity is the pervasive ethos. The more the exclusivity, the thicker will be the coating of P.C. progressivism to show that we’re all good people.

As US News and World Report rolls out its annual report “ranking” colleges and universities, it is ironic to read that David Brooks has accepted their definition that “…prestige is defined by how many people you can reject”… Before US News and World Report adopted that as a proxy for “quality” colleges did not even keep track of that data point but since it became a variable that colleges could control they’ve gone overboard in encouraging as many people as possible to apply so that they could tout their rejection rate as evidence of their “excellence”. What passes for “merit” in our era of Big Data and standardized testing is what can be measured easily, cheaply and quickly.

And Mr. Brooks also rightfully notes that the highest wage earners from “exclusive meritocracy” work ungodly hours to accumulate their wealth:

People in this caste work phenomenally hard to build their wealth. As Daniel Markovits notes in his powerful new book, “The Meritocracy Trap,” between 1979 and 2006, the percentage of workers in the top quintile of earners who work more than 50 hours a week nearly doubled.

What Mr. Brooks fails to mention is that this hard work has the effect of the “meritocrats” justifying the requirement that everyone else work equally hard to earn a living. Consequently, they often have little sympathy for the individual who works more than 50 hours a week at two part-time jobs neither of which offer them health benefits, vacation, or leave time.

It might be a better world if the “meritocrats” shared their work load as well as their largesse. It’s possible that corporations who spend millions to retain these 50+ hour/week “meritocrats” could spend less on having multiple individuals performing the same tasks for less money– say $125,000/year– and less time– say 30 hours per week. The human resources are out there. The money is out there. We need to look at hour we spend time and allocation resources in order to improve the lot of our workforce.

Kids Don’t Vote, and the Parents of Poor Kids Don’t Donate… So Poor Children Suffer

September 13, 2019 Leave a comment

Our Children Deserve Better, Nick Kristof’s recent NYTimes op ed column, describes the sad plight of children in America. He writes:

UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.

Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record.

And yet, he notes, America’s politicians are silent about this issue when the campaign for office. Indeed, by his count the issue of child poverty has not come up in over 140 consecutive Presidential debates. He wonders why this is the case, particularly given the massive research that supports this investment. He concludes his article with this response:

We don’t lack the tools to help, or the resources. The challenge is just that in our political system, children don’t count — and never get mentioned in presidential debates.

Kids don’t vote,” notes Nadine Burke Harris, the surgeon general of California and an expert on the lifelong costs of childhood trauma. “They require us to speak for them.

The real problem is NOT that the KIDS don’t vote. The problem is that the parents of kids who are adversely impacted by the bad drinking water, the lingering lead paint, the lack of a strong safety net, are overlooked by politicians in both parties because they do not make any kind of financial or political contribution to the system. They cannot make a financial contribution because they are poor and they cannot make a political contribution by volunteering for campaigns and participating in political party meetings because they are working two jobs to make ends meet. The system is set up so the affluent parents, who reside in the nicest neighborhoods and communities, whose children are enrolled in the best public schools in the nation, and whose children are well taken care of at home, are not at all impacted by the adversity faced by children raised in poverty. Until affluent parents are willing to speak up for their brothers and sisters who are struggling to make ends meet, we will never leverage the tools to help or the bounteous resources available to us.

Mexico Is NOT Paying for the Wall… The Children of Military Officers Are

September 6, 2019 Comments off

A couple of days ago President Trump used a Sharpie to modify a US Weather Service map to “prove” that Hurricane Dorian was, at one point in time, going to graze the NE corner of Alabama thereby making his erroneous claim about that true.

Yesterday, while news headlines focussed on the track of the same hurricane and the President’s efforts to “prove” his “forecast” was accurate, the Secretary of Defense released an itemized list outlining the cuts he needed to make to his budget to divert $3,600,000,000 to pay for the wall along the southern border…. a part of the enormous costs for the wall that “Mexico will pay for”. Here’s a portion of the list:

The planned multi-billion-dollar transfer — which has been strongly denounced by Democrats — is expected to defund more than 120 construction projects that the military was hoping to conduct over the next years.

Documents obtained by CBS News show the reprogramming request by the White House will divert funds that the Pentagon had previously designated for a diverse set of projects in the U.S. and around the world, from a missile facility in Alaska and an engineering center at the U.S. Army Academy at West Point, to a hangar at a U.S. Air Force Base in Japan and a veterinary facility for working dogs at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Funds for the construction of schools at military bases and facilities will be transferred to finance the construction of border barriers, including a $62,634,000 grant for a middle school at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and a $56,048,000 grant for an elementary school for children of U.S. troops stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. 

The $118,682,000 diverted from new schools is less that 2% of the $6,100,000,000 the Trump administration asked the Department of Defense to “divert” in order to fund the wall he claimed “Mexico would pay for” and an even more minuscule percentage of the $59,800,000,000 the wall would reportedly cost even after the plans were modified to substitute fencing in some stretches….

As the election season begins in 2020 I fully expect the President to wield his Sharpie to show us how “Mexico will pay” for the wall through fees collected at the border, higher tariffs, and other fiscal hocus-pocus. The shell game he will use to justify his “promise” is no different than the Sharpie he used to justify his erroneous tweet about the hurricane. In the meantime, the children of military service personnel will be denied new schools in at least two places and $3,600,000,000 that COULD have infused funds into communities near to military bases will be spent for a 12th century technology on the Southern Border.

Criminalizing the Disease of Addiction is Wrong Approach

September 4, 2019 Comments off

As reported by apple.news/AboIG8hxxRZ-, an NBC news story indicates that 38% of the school districts in the US will be doing some kind of screening for drugs, up from 25% a year ago. At the same time the money being spent on prevention programs at the elementary level is declining. The bottom line is that we have decided to spend scarce dollars on law enforcement instead of spending it on medical prevention. This same approach is also being used to address the issue of school shootings where we are devoting billions to hardening schools to protect students from alienated outsiders while slashing budgets for student services. Fear is a potent force and protecting children from bogeymen is a powerful narrative. We need to use medical science and data to guide our decision making… not fear and compelling stories.

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Study Proves Mindfulness Reduces Stress, Improves Academics… But There’s Another Benefit

September 2, 2019 Comments off

A few days ago, Science Daily reported on two studies at MIT that came to the same conclusion: “…mindfulness — the practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment — can enhance academic performance and mental health in middle-schoolers.”

I have been a formal mindfulness practitioner for roughly 15 years and can attest to the positive effects it has had on my mental acuity and physical well-being. But as one who has practiced mindfulness, I believe that the studies’ focus on the positive impacts on children are understated. Here are the conclusions of the studies as reported in Science Daily:

Synopsis of Study #1: After the mindfulness training, students showed a smaller amygdala response when they saw the fearful faces, consistent with their reports that they felt less stressed. This suggests that mindfulness training could potentially help prevent or mitigate mood disorders linked with higher stress levels, the researchers say.

Synopsis of Study #2: Students who showed more mindfulness tended to have better grades and test scores, as well as fewer absences and suspensions.

The first study’s conclusions are drawn from brain scans while the second study’s conclusions were drawn from an analysis of questionnaires. John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, the scientist from the second study, emphasized that mindfulness cannot be taught in isolation or offered as a one-time course. It needs to become a habit:

“Mindfulness is like going to the gym. If you go for a month, that’s good, but if you stop going, the effects won’t last. It’s a form of mental exercise that needs to be sustained.”

These reports and this conclusion bring to mind a talk given at a retreat by Zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh who was approached by the military to offer mindfulness training to soldiers to help them improve their functioning. While he was disinclined to refuse the opportunity to offer the training because he knew the power of mindfulness, he ultimately rejected the proposal because he saw mindfulness as a PATH and not an end in itself. While this sounds like a call for a dogmatic “religious” approach, it reinforces the message offered by the MIT researchers. The mindfulness trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh require a wholistic approach, a willingness to not only go to the gym every day but to commit to a regimen of healthy living, to adopt habits of mind and habits of living that are sustainable for the individual and the planet. Those habits of mind will lead to a level of self-awareness that will help preclude the fear that grips us today, fear that leads to hatred of “the other” and a sense of isolation that ultimately can lead to unhealthy thoughts, speech, and deeds.

If mindfulness is approached as a path, as part of a mental regimen, it will do more than lead to better grades and test scores, as well as fewer absences and suspensions…it will help transform the mental formations that are leading us in the wrong direction… mental formations that compel us to think that better grades and test scores, as well as fewer absences and suspensions is all we need to change in schools.