"How to Turn American Education Around in 50 words or less."
I originally wrote this for a local paper where I could actually use only 300 words, so the "50 words" are in Bold and I numbered them as I went along. I took some liberties here. This project was conceived as sort of a rumorous story where an imaginary teacher would ask me as a Professional Engineer and sometimes substitute teacher to do this as an assignment and actually get an answer that will work.
Smile! (1) I define "smile" for students as a positive emotional level as well as what you see on your face. Like good friends or soul-mates meeting, you meet heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul. Can you do this? As a Professional Engineer I go into a company with a confidence I can solve anything that presents itself and I always do (almost anyway!). That means Im willing to experience fully what it there. If you approach new situations or problems or everyday things in this way, with this viewpoint, you will find life much more enjoyable. This is my Rule #1 when I do substitute teaching. The biggest problem I have found in local public schools is that the students are not in a positive frame of mind. One little boy says, "I cant smile!" He kind of pokes the side of a stoney face with a finger, "See!" He was serious, so I said to the class with a big smile, "How long do you think it will take me to get him to smile?" One of the tricks I had learned is that when one is at a negative emotional level (most of American Education?) one tends to act negatively to positive things. Even when you are trying to get yourself to do something positive like smile. Have you seen this? So for this young man I just made up a negative statement, just for him and looking directly into his eyes with a smile, I said, "Try not to Smile!" (5) It took about three-quarters of second and this young man broke out into a huge smile. I think the first one in a while. The class broke out into clapping, smiles and encouragement! He was happy. In another school on another day, one of my students remarked, "You sure smile a lot!" In another school a teacher that was looking out for the kids and me, came in with three little kids one day all smiles and says the kids say, "Your Cool!"
My Rule #2 isManners (6). I define "manners" as; those things one does to make others feel comfortable. This is the second biggest problem I have found in local public schools. Manners dont seem to be taught or used. One student had been in earlier classes and asked that I not repeat "My Rules" because she had heard them before. I complied. I noticed that class didnt smile and didnt use manners. Hearing it once isnt enough, the students have to be expected to use good manners. Once when I was teaching with another full-time teacher, co-teaching, the other teacher had a problem with a student being rude, so he got a big smile and says, "Rule #2, use his Rule #2!" The class got it!
Rule #3: "Drugs are Poison!" (9) I only have three rules for my classes. Across America I see drugs as the biggest problem for kids. It is a problem that is hard to shake if you dont know how. Locally ten percent of students are taking ADD type drugs in school and this sets a bad example to students that drugs are a solution problems. The ads on TV do the same. They send the common message drugs are used to solve your problems. I cringe when I see "Just say NO!" anti-drug programs. Like the boy above that cant smile, when you say something like that to a person in a negative frame of mind or negative emotional level, they will do the opposite. I had gone over my "positive" version at the beginning of a class and at the the end of the class a boy that had become impressed that I could do things, asks me, "Can you show me how to make liquid-ice?" He only got the negative of what I said about drugs. Drugs are actually just poisons. In lower doses hey stop, inhibit or enhance various bodily functions and in larger doses they kill. They all basically work the same. I draw a little graph on the blackboard for students with activity level going higher then lower with increasing dose till death. A tiny bit acts like a stimulant. Life is threatened and the body responds by increased activity. The activity level is greater than normal as the dosage increases to a certain level. Like soda or coffee, a little arsenic acts like a stimulant. The next level is a depressant, it decreases the bodys activity level and causes sleepiness. Increasing the dosage results in less activity and more toxic reactions, eventually resulting in death for some very high dose. For the caffein in sodas the lethal dosage is about 5000 milligrams. Thats about 40, 20-once sodas. Coffee produces addiction at 5% of this level, 2 cups of strong coffe a day. The same with sodas, two per day, may cause addiction! I tell them about me taking about 2 cups of coffee a day for 30 years and became allergic and addicted. I would get an unbearable pain in the middle of my head three days after trying to quit coffee and jitters all night if I took half a cup. What do you do from there? Most kids believe you can just cut down and get off drugs easily. Addiction is not a problem forseen by them. If the kids are in a positive frame of mind this makes sense. I estimate this is about 50% of kids at grade seven. If they didnt do Rule #1, Smile this may have meant something entirely different.
"Decide to be in Enthusiasm!" (14) I teach parents, engineers and kids how to acquire skills. I do this by demonstrating that skills are acquired by making a decision about an observation. Acquiring a skill or ability can be defined as "to observe, to decide, to act." (29) The observing part can be as simple as looking at someone, or some people that can do the skill. I taught one parent how to teach her boy with attenion deficit disorder how to use attention skills. (He is no longer ADD and is in the Gifted and Talented Program.) I taught her first and said, just have him look at people that have good attention skills and have him decide to acquire those skills. You can also just define a word carefully by having the person use it in sentences, give some examples, do some demonstrations of the word and skill with some actual objects. Then you have them decide to acquire that mental concept as a skill and use it. I did this with a mom that had been depressed. We defined how to acquire a skill. We defined the word enthusiasm. Then I asked her to decide to be in "enthusiasm." Its a long jump from an emotional level of depressed to the emotional level of enthusiasm. She was rather like a light bulb that suddenly lit up. She came alive! She found a job that paid twice as much, got her kids in a better school, and handled her marriage. Just after she came alive like this, she spent 5 minutes thanking me. She said she felt so great she couldnt believe it. Depression is a frame of mind, you may be able to just change your frame of mind to something more positive like enthusiasm. It helps to have one or more people in enthusiasm present to ask you to do it.
It is quite a jump from depressed to enthusiasm, it is less of a jump if you use an idea from music,Tone (30). If you pluck a string or a key on a piano you will hear one musical tone, or one sound. If you go up eight keys on a piano or pluck a string with half the length you will hear a second tone that is higher and similar. The string will move back and forth twice as many times per second or have twice as many wavelengths per second. We can say this new tone is twice as high as the first. The second tone is a harmonic of the first or an upper harmonic. The same thing is true of emotion. People that feel the same emotion are said to be on the same wavelength. Well, its very interesting that if we were to take an emotion like boredom we could say it has a certain wavelength and we can go more positive or negative from that. It is easier to go up or down one harmonic than it is to change a little to something that is less comfortable. It is more difficult to do something that doesnt resonate so well with you. Nearly all the emotions thought of as positive are more positive that boredom. All of the emotions we think of as negative are more negative than boredom. Boredom is barely a positive emotion so going to a level more negative like one harmonic down gets us into the negative emotions. What emotion resonates at the harmonic just below boredom? Now if we think of these emotional levels as just wavelengths they may or may not have an English word for them. The closest English word I know of for this lower harmonic of boredom is "unexpressed resentment."
To the best of of my observation "unexpressed resentment" is the average emotional level of American Education. I estimate that 100 years ago it was "boredom." Whats the easiest way to turn American Education around? Ask and expect the student to be in "Boredom!" Now next to possibly unexpressed resentment this is probably about the last thing a student wants to do is be bored stiff. Guess what? Why did he go negative? Was it to avoid "being bored to death?" I said it was the easiest, not the best solution. So what I would do, is about half a second after the student goes up one harmonic and gets to the emotional level of boredom, I would ask him to go up one more harmonic to an emotional level that doesnt really have a close English name to match. Thomas Jefferson referred to his love of learning as "a canine appetite for books." This emotional level would be somewhere above enthusiasm which has a lot of physical outflowing of action, projects and working together to do constructive things. Thomas Jeffersons emotion seems to me to represent more about thoughts as an individual and a high volume of inflowing thought and analysis of what was being absorbed. If he read the books in his library, he read more than one book per day over his career. It seems to me the first harmonic above boredom would be at about this level, but probably not be outflowing or inflowing in that amount. Why dont I just call this range of emotions Analytical Thought. At the level of Analytical Thought the mind has a tremendous ability to anlalyze things, compare things, distinguish things, pose problems, and solve things. Intelligence is very bright. The imagination can do anything! Have you ever seen someone go to a special place (emotional level) when they are doing cross-word puzzles or something? Have you kind of lost yourself when reading an excellent book and found your mind and imagination totally wrapped up in the book and unable to let it go or put it down? Well, I think thats the level of Analytical Thought. I think just above that level at a slightly shorter wavelength, we would have the writer transported to another place outflowing a story at a high rate. Like at ethusiasm but with thoughts and emotions and using the imagination fully. I believe this Analytical Thought emotional level is the ideal emotional level for American students. I believe it was the emotional level of the Founding Fathers when they were at their best.
My estimate is that a students rate of learning doubles with each harmonic of emotional level. When students go to a positive emotion like enthusiasm I believe their learning rates double. In my substitute teacher classrooms where I was able to achieve a high emotional level we usually completed the regular teachers lesson plan in 20 minutes instead of 50 minutes. In one class the students were jumping up and down in the isles with a few streams of tears running down cheeks and yelling out, "Me next! Me next!" Learning how to use "head words" in a dictionary can be dull, but it can be a level of exhileration seldom found in public schools. A whole classroom learning at the level of exhileration is a little like being towed along the learning process by 30 race horses or speed boats or agile fighter aircraft. Exhileration is an upper harmonic of enthusiasm.
Just above the level of Analytical Thought is Beauty or Aesthetics. One mom I was working with seemed to me, to be kind of conservative and had no trouble at all just deciding to be in enthusiasm and doing things at that level. I asked her if she were down about something could she just turn around, collect her thoughts and decide to be in enthusiasm? She said she could. So I told her well, there is level called "aesthetics." "Decide to be in aesthetics!" If you want to hold on to beauty and attend art shows and observe art galleries, flower gardens, view architechture and things like that, that is one level of aesthetics. Just above that would be an outflowing of beauty like the painter, the poet, the sculpter, the calligrapher, the singer, the opera company, the creators of beauty at their best. Just below that would be an inflow of aesthetics like the art collector, the audience in the theater, the reader of poetry, the enjoyers of beauty at the moment they live for.
I have found a method for researching these things. It takes a lot of courage. Just decide to be at the emotional level you want to learn about and use it.
If we want the academic level our Founding Fathers were known to have by the world, 200 years ago, then I believe we will also have to have the emotional level that produces this level of results. Analytical thought will do this, aesthetics will exceed it, exhileration will outdistance even that. 100 years ago the emotional level of schools was boredom, and today its lower, unexpressed resentment. I believe we have to match the level of analytical thought or enlightenment that the Founding Fathers demonstrated. One way to achieve this is just to decide to be in this frame of mind.
I believe the above will turn American Education around. But just to be sure, lets:
"Define each word in the curriculum fully as a set of skills." (42) Not partly define it by context clues.
"Have a Purpose for each thing you study." (50) That means each thing you study in the curriculum or on your own. Ask yourself application type questions that test and build your ability to apply the material. Like, "How can this be used in life?" "How does this apply?" "Who has used this and how did they use it exactly? "What do I have to gain by studying this?"
Decide to be in enthusiasm! The decision is yours!