Education and Public Policy Series : Community

Before I begin this series I need to tell you all that this series is in conjunction with an announcement.

I decided several weeks ago, but haven’t written it on this blog, that I am running for the Texas State Board of Education, District 7.  In the last weeks since this became my reality I have been asked, well, why? Why would you do this? Why open up your life and your sanity to such scrutiny?

To be completely honest – I am on paper probably the least “qualified” of the people running. I am not – however – afraid of this difference.

I think we need to reframe who we think should be in charge and try to change things up.

Because I require a little support and guidance I have asked to run as the Libertarian party candidate for this position. I see so little difference between the Republicans and Democrats these days that I am…to say the least…disappointed in their behavior. I don’t think any one party has the right answer. The only way to make this work is to work together and vote my conscience, not because someone tells me to vote with my party. I think I should get to know the educators I will be representing and I hope that in the next 11 months I can meet all of them. As for the public scrutiny?? Dude! I write a blog and anything you ever wanted to know I have written myself in a very public platform. I have not lived perfectly, I have lived on the edge quite a bit and I am a rule breaker. I admit it…I am a ruler breaker…so lets see what we can do.

Do you consider education to be one of the foundations of a community?

We are, each of us, in a community. Whether we have neighbors near or far we each have a group to share social experiences with…and if you don’t you are probably not reading this. My previous post defined community as people within an area, people with a common background, nations with common histories, or the other beings with whom you interact over the internet. Each of us has a community.

What is the foundation of any of these?

The ability to communicate. In one form or another you are in constant communication with the other people around you.

Every gesture, every behavior, certainly every word.

We begin learning these behaviors at birth. “I’m hungry!” Cry. “I’m tired!” Cry louder. “I’m happy!” Giggle, smile, and sometimes this eventually leads to crying. As the child grows older their methods of communication evolve, they sign, they speak, they go into the kitchen and get themselves a snack.

All behaviors that they have had to learn.

All communication is education on display.

The foundational knowledge that you build from infancy is called your working memory. Breath, think, eat, walk, run, process. The things we do automatically without even thinking about them, we learned to do.  If you have 10 minutes please watch this short TED talk from Peter Doolittle and see if you can remember the five words he gives about 3 minutes into the speech.

Click here –> For the record – tree, highway, Saturn, and Electrode are all I remember 2.5 hours later.

Education is the most natural of concepts for us to understand. We are born to it. We perhaps learn more in those first few years than during any other period of our lives. Because we know without acknowledging it that by learning more we can do more ourselves. We have a natural independence and curiosity that no amount of being told no can change.

Toddlers practice the scientific method every day and they don’t even know it! They are told not to do something because we as adults know the result, but they want to do it anyway and that is how they learn.

We've all seen this before - I think the original was in Parents or Parenting Magazine several years ago.

We’ve all seen this before – I think the original was in Parents or Parenting Magazine several years ago.

There is a very interesting playlist from TED of some of the leaders in brain science. The video lengths vary, but are all so interesting and link to more information and it’s hard to get it all into one easy to read post. I hope you will find the time to view this list…and the others.

We are amazing creatures and our brains are capable of doing anything we set our minds to do. This does make me wonder why is it then that our educational system doesn’t lend itself toward this natural energy, this curiosity? Why it is that children who should be up and running around and learning through play and experimentation are forced to sit at a desk and learn the skills to pass a standardized test?

Shouldn’t the very nature of childhood dictate that our communities should at their foundation encourage creativity, trial and error, and support?

Innovation is dismissed because some individuals don’t understand what it is that people who haven’t had their natural curiosity trained out of them think. The people who suggest better ideas and methods have to work twice as hard as the people who want to keep with the status quo. Not because they aren’t doing it right, but because they have to do it the old-fashioned way and develop the case for WHY their idea would make things better. As a community we should embrace our innovators!

I asked a friend of mine (easily one of the most well-read people I have ever spoken to)  if he considered education to be one of the foundations of community and with a resounding yes he stated the following.  “Education allows for you to rest in the shoes of the other…empathy for an individual is gained through education instead of through an unforgiving existence of learning your way up.”

Meaning that you don’t always have to be the toddler who has to feel the fire to know that you will get burned, by learning from your community and through education you can know what will work and what won’t.

Collective knowledge keeps us from having to reinvent the wheel with every generation.

He also said that “To learn to write is to learn to live, [because] it offers you the ability to articulate your point vividly and pointedly and gives you the strength to carry your ideas into the marketplace. To learn Chemistry, Physics and Biology (Hard sciences) must be liberally smoothed by the soft sciences, Sociology, anthropology, psychology, etc. in order to come up with creative linkages between one or more of the hard and soft sciences. The reason for the linkages is to be offered the knowledge of the disciplines and know what draws them together…example Mathematics. Neuroscience requires mathematics as well as psychology and scientific understand of the physiological requirements to make changes.”

My friend also stated that an education “Offers you a smoother, more complete route to understanding your vocation in life.”

“If I came into this world and knew nothing. How would I want the world to be set and governed?” John Rawls.

Later that same day I spoke with an educator in Houston, Bon Crowder, she is a Math teacher and Education innovator, Bon writes Math is a Four Letter Word. A website full of practical ways for parents to teach their children solid math skills. Her response to my question was surprising. She said “No! Education as we know it is no longer a part of the community. It should be, but it is not.”

Bon went on to state that as it is the Texas Educational system now is purely based on the standardized test scores and in order to ensure that all the requirements are met teachers are forced to teach little else. All that counts at the end of the year is the grades received by the classes on statewide testing. There is no room for critical thinking or creativity, no place for the scientific method to be put into practice. Math is now a series of memorization tables and practical exercises that won’t teach the child to think.

I think that both Bon and Mark are correct. Here in lies the problem, and it is one that is not unfamiliar to hiring managers everywhere. We are teaching our children to memorize numbers, but not to use them. We are teaching them that A+B=C but what if A is a theory on thought and B is a theory on progress, however are they ever going to find C? Children have lost the ability to critically think. There is no formula to memorize, no prescribed thought pattern to follow.

How does this relate to community?

Well, we no longer question. We follow the rules and do as we are told and don’t stray from the line because if you stray from the line there is no turning back. We call the thinkers black sheep for daring to do something different and then we tell everyone to treat them differently because if you want to be different you HAVE to do it alone. This is a shocking error in judgement. We have to dare to be different if we are ever going to make the community known as the world reach its maximum potential.

How do we solve the problems of hatred, pollution, disease, or education unless we have those thinkers who are willing to put themselves out there for the good of the whole?

I leave you with this to contemplate. A caption from Sagan, from an interview that I saw on Upworthy.

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5 thoughts on “Education and Public Policy Series : Community

  1. justaddtea says:

    You’re exactly right! The test rules the school, and not only are we teaching kids that the only thing that matters is passing a test of memorization, but that it’s ok to do that with the least amount of effort. Just passing is enough. No one strives for excellence anymore.

    Also, educational studies all point to Project Based Learning as the most effective method. It allows kids to learn in all the ways you mentioned (scientific method, creativity, etc.), and was considered all the rage a few years back, but isn’t really talked about anymore. The new thing is Flipping the Classroom, where students do the learning at home, watching their teachers on Youtube, and then do their homework with the teacher in the classroom…

    I am becoming disenfranchised as a teacher. The education system has me frightened for my future. One day these children who can’t think will be running our country. Or we’ll all be speaking Chinese…

    Something has to change!

    • Megan D. says:

      I’m guessing we were in school during the project based learning boom? I remember doing so many projects, very few tests.

      However in order for anything to change we have to change the demographic and perspectives of those in office. The only way to do that is for the brave souls who are different to stand up and volunteer to help.

      Change only happens when we change leadership.

      • justaddtea says:

        It probably started then, but PBL’s wee really big and the IT thing as recently as a few years ago.

        I look forward to watching your journey to change the leadership. Good luck!

  2. seubank says:

    Fantastic! You took my personal frustrations as a parent, my thoughts as a voter, my ideals as a mother who hopes for change, and put them on “paper”. I wish you all the very best. I don’t believe “qualifications” mean diddly squat where politics are concerned. I’ve seen what qualified politicians have done…and I’m far from impressed.

    • Megan D. says:

      More to come! But first I have to get trough Christmas, New Years, and changing professional jobs! Also I’m asking everyone the questions as I write the post…I’ll call you for the next one!

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