Food for thought from this letter to the editor:
Dear Governor Snyder,
In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren’t we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to “fix” what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.
One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don’t believe Michigan wants to be on top of.
Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.
This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!
Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It’s the least we can do to prepare our students for the future…by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.
Nathan Bootz, Superintendent, Ithaca Public Schools
What if there was a way to flip the equation? $7,000 a year per prisoner and $30,000 a year per student. In time we might not even need the prisons … think of all the money we’d save.
New Haven, Conn. — Scholars, artists and other individuals around the world will enjoy free access to online images of millions of objects housed in Yale’s museums, archives, and libraries thanks to a new “Open Access” policy that the University announced today. Yale is the first Ivy League university to make its collections accessible in this fashion, and already more than 250,000 images are available through a newly developed collective catalog.
I have hotly debated the merits of memorization with fellow educators and I have vehemently questioned the value of knowing the state capitals (my favorite example of knowledge useful only when playing trivia games down at the pub). In the Age of Google, the argument seems ridiculous – if for some reason I actually needed to know the capital of South Dakota*, I can look it up within seconds on my phone. Why memorize?
I recently read Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer. A participatory journalist, Foer delved into the geeky world of memory competitions and does a nice job describing the cultural history and scientific research into human memory. It’s a good read, much like an in-depth magazine article, and certainly a compelling story (Foer trains for and competes in the US and World Memory Championships).
As an educator, I was particularly interested in the ramifications for teaching … and I have revised my opinion regarding memorization. I still don’t think the state capitals are worth committing to permanency, but I can appreciate the merits of some memorization. Foer writes:
“A valid criticism of … mnemonics is that they are a form of decontextualized knowledge. They are superficial, the epitome of learning without understanding. This is education by PowerPoint, or worse, CliffsNotes. What can an [the mnemonics device of an] image of Lenin and Stalin the bathroom really tell you about communist economics? But [Raemon] Matthews’s point is that you’ve got to start somewhere, and you might as well start by installing in student’s minds the sorts of memories that are least likely to be forgotten.
When information goes “in one ear and out the other,” it’s often because it doesn’t have anything to stick to. This is something I was personally confronted with not long ago, when I had the opportunity to visit shanghai for three days while reporting an article. Somehow I had managed to scoot through two decades of schooling without ever learning even the most basic facts about Chinese history. I’d never learned the difference between Ming and Qing, or even that Kublai Khan was actually a real person. I spent my time in Shanghai roving around the city like any good tourist, visiting museums, trying to get a superficial grasp of Chinese history and culture. But my experience of the place was severely impoverished. There was so much I didn’t take in, so much I was unable to appreciate, because I didn’t have the basic facts to fasten other facts to. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know, it was I didn’t have the ability to learn … This [is the ]paradox – it takes knowledge to gain knowledge …
Of course, the goal of education is not merely to cram a bunch of facts into students’ heads; it’s to lead them to understand those facts. Nobody would agree with that more than [teacher] Raemon Matthews, “I want thinkers, not just people who can repeat what I tell them,” he says. But even if facts don’t by themselves lead to understanding, you can’t have understanding without facts. And crucially, the more you know, the easier it is to know more. Memory is like a spiderweb that catches new information. The more it catches, the bigger it grows. And the bigger it grows, the more it catches …
It goes without saying that intelligence is much, much more than mere memory (there are savants who remember much bud understand little, just as surely as there are forgetful old professors who remember little but understand much), but memory and intelligence do seem to go hand in hand, like a muscular frame and an athletic disposition. There’s a feedback loop between the two. The more tightly any new piece of information can be embedded into the web of information we already know, the more likely it is to be remembered. People who have more associations to hang their memories on are more likely to remember new things, which in turn means they will know more, and be able to learn more. The more we remember, the better we are at processing the world. And the better we are at processing the world, the more we can remember about it.”
Certainly something to think about …
*Pierre. I had to look it up – although forced to memorize the state capitals in elementary school, seems I’ve forgotten them over the past 30+ years.
Full XKCD comic here.
Excerpts from Mike Rowe’s Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
I believe we need a national PR Campaign for Skilled Labor. A big one. Something that addresses the widening skills gap head on, and reconnects the country with the most important part of our workforce.
Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider …
In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel …
In a hundred different ways, we have slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a “good job” into something that no longer looks like work. A few years from now, an hour with a good plumber – if you can find one – is going to cost more than an hour with a good psychiatrist. At which point we’ll all be in need of both …
The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work.
It’s worth reading the entire speech here.
1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days, a program that Scientific American is now launching as part of its Change the Equation initiatives … aims to make it easier for scientists and teachers to connect. The idea is simple. We seek scientists who are willing to volunteer to advise on curricula, answer a classroom’s questions, or visit a school—for instance, to do a lab or to talk about what you do. How much you choose to participate will be up to you.