Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hating School Vacations

Three tidbits from Governor King's Presentation. (I may not remember all of this perfectly, but it's close.) He talked about a foreign exchange student from China that's currently living with his family. She's 16 and was initially placed in trigonometry/pre-calculus. After about three weeks the teacher called home and said she should be moved up to Calculus. After about 3 more weeks the teacher called home again and said she should be moved up to AP Calculus and should be on the math team. Governor King said the most interesting thing about this is that the girl said she's not even considered good at math at home . . .

The second story he told was that the student told him that at home they hate school vacations. When he asked why, she said it was because they are expected to study 8 hours a day during school vacations . . .

Finally, he mentioned that one of the first things she did when she got here was to ask to go to a bookstore, where she purchased an ACT/SAT prep book and started working on it (in English, of course) . . .

Now, I don't necessarily agree with the idea of studying 8 hours a day on vacation, or that every student should take AP Calculus. But the point the Governor was making is the same point Thomas Friedman and a whole bunch of other people are making as well. In a flat world, where several billion people are stepping onto the playing field that never had the chance before, things are going to be different. What has worked for us in the United States in the past in terms of preparing our kids for the future is not going to work now. We desperately need to find a way to communicate this to our students (and their parents) and change the entire culture we have surrounding education. Because there are several billion hungry (both figuratively and literally in some cases) people out there that are more than willing to work hard at their own education. Who are going to seize the technology and use the tools and skills of the 21st century to compete in a global, 24/365 economy.

And we're not ready. We're too busy eating junk food, watching American Idol, and reading about Brangelina. Now, we may not be able to change America overnight, but surely we can make a dent at AHS. But we need a plan for how to communicate this to our students and their parents. Any suggestions?


  1. Two things really jumped out at me as I read this post and thought about how to communicate our message (and the urgency of our message) to students, parents, and the community.

    1) They need to hear this too. When I read the part about the exchange student being moved into AP Calc here when she's not even considered good at math in China, that almost knocked me over. What a hefty comparison...that our AP caliber classes might only be considered normal in another country. That's what students/parents need to hear. So, maybe I'll start next year's classes with a little reading and discussion (Sophomore's, how about a little T. Friedman?!)...what a powerful way to set standards and expectations for the year.

    2) I have never gotten in to American Idol, but I certainly watch my fair share of realty tv and mindless entertainment. Not to mention the fact that a bag of Doritos really hits the spot every once in a while. And to be honest, I felt guilty for those things after finishing this post. Now maybe I should feel guilty, but it just made me think about how careful we need to be as we begin/continue to spread our vision to parents and students. We want motivation and drive to fuel the fire. The message certainly doesn't need to be sugar-coated, but I don't think it should be created out of guilt.

  2. Wow Cara, I really like your idea of setting classroom expectations next fall with this post in mind! Maybe then I can influence my students more regarding the world in which they will be working and living.

    My greatest concern, however, is that teachers are not paying attention to the fact that their students need to be prepared for a different world than the students they had just ten years ago. I speak with teachers at other schools in our district, and our conversations make me think they are in denial. We keep using the idea of 21st century learning, and how it must be different, but maybe our group should be visiting other schools (elementary?) either physically or electronically to help them see the reality of the flat world!?!

  3. Barbara - interesting idea about visiting other schools and getting them involved in the conversation. I met with the Principal and Dean of Students from Centennial a couple of weeks ago. They wanted to pick my brain about technology and staff development and what we had been doing here at AHS. I think I overwhelmed them a little bit with some of my ideas (er, rants?), but in the end they seemed very interested and appreciative of the time. I invited them to come observe 21C and I think the Dean of Students may try to do that sometime. While right now I still just have to focus on AHS (with 32 folks in cohort two coming on board), I do wonder how we could broaden the conversation throughout LPS.

  4. Karl, I think that you have already put yourself into a position where you are going to spend the gospel through LPS. I wonder about the effects that these students from around the world are having on college enrollment. Some of these students may not relate as easily to jobs after college because it is so far in their future, but if there is a correlation with college acceptence in the flat world they might be more receptive. I do think that there is an urgency that not many people realize. This message needs to be spread to keep the US on top of the expanding economy.

  5. I agree with your perspective Karl-the fact is that most people don't seem to care or are just ambivalent or ignorant to the present issue. I think people take the future seriously, but many just see it happening whether you worry about it or not. I think it's a huge social problem and our mass media, parenting and materialistic society perpetuate it. Think about it-kids have so many more mediums in their lives than we ever had. It is more socially acceptable, in their eyes, to play video games or watch mindless tv than to do something constructive or creative or trying to make a difference. I think the mentality of our youth today is that most, (not all), see learning as boring because they haven't been challenged to think-they don't have teachers or programs or outside influences that facilitate growth and make them see how valuable and fun it could be. So, we resort to escaping-into the realm of the "OC" or "American Idol" (which I happen to thoroughly enjoy) or Sony Playstation's "Vice City." It's more fun to them to play a game where they can create chaos, shoot people, hang with hookers, and sell drugs rather than pick up a piece of text and expand their minds-or write-or paint. I know this is, in a sense, is a generalization, but pop culture is taking over America-and what matters to people is the irrelevant, no-nothing, rumored, chit-chat that leads to the same old conversation. Sure, it's fun; but, we are selling the future generation short-and if we don't address these problems, who knows what the outlook will be. I'm not above mindless tv, or anything that can take you away from reality for a bit, but when that IS the reality, it's quite a scary thing. Thanks for letting me rant-I could go on and on.

  6. I have my seniors do research on their school(s) of choice, major(s) they are interested in, and what types of writing will be expected. They very quickly see that writing is something mandated in all content-areas. They are motivated to improve their writing over the following year after they do their own research on their own topic of interest.

    I too, immediately thought of starting this unit with excerpts from Friedman. I also would like to contrive some sort of research that students would have to do related to where the work has gone in their field: taxes in India, customer service in China, medical records/MRI reading in Australia. I think this too, would add urgency to their learning.

    I am not sure how to spin this into the 9th grade year so that they feel the necessity of education, technology, and pushing themselves. If I come up with a brain child, I'll let you you!