27 April 2007

The Future of Education in a Digital World

Last evening, I was a panelist on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, on TVO. The topic was an interesting and provocative one:
What should we be teaching? How should we be teaching it? And who should teach it? The cornerstones of a solid educational system: If we had a clean slate, what would a brand new education system look like?
As you might expect, it provoked a lively conversation, and many interesting questions from the live audience at the Munk Centre, from where it was broadcast. The video of the hour-long conversation is lined on this page, and will be there for about a week. Just click on The Future of Education in a Digital World.
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Yogurt Recommended

A serendipitous placement of a poster for a fast food sandwich consisting of deep-fried chicken, processed cheese, some goopy sauce and other high-calorie, high-cholesterol, artery-clogging stuff.
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25 April 2007

In Today's Mail

Dear Ms Federman [my daughter]
Congratulations! We are pleased to offer you admission to the Bachelor of Physical and Health Education program at the University of Toronto. ... The Undergraduate Admissions Committee received many applications from qualified students, and yours was among those we found outstanding. Your accomplishments, experience and interest in physical and health education are very impressive. We would be pleased to have you as a student at this fine institution, and hope you will accept our offer of admission.
Kinesiology at U of T was her first choice. Congratulations, Julie! We're very, very proud parents today!

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23 April 2007

Excerpts from Generation Gap: Why Today's Youth are Living in Tomorrow's World

Last week, I had the opportunity to take my Valence Theory on the road to New York City for its maiden outing in front of a live, business audience - a roomful of about 70 CEOs from the advertising, marketing, public relations and branding industry. This latest talk, Generation Gap: Why Today's Youth are Living in Tomorrow's World can be summarized like this:
We are now facing a generation gap of historic proportion, the nature of which has only been seen twice before in 3000 years. It almost goes without saying that every aspect of our society is changing in profound ways, including business and how we manage and structure organizations. "Generation Gap" provides the context that allows executives and managers to understand precisely what the changes are, and why they are occurring, and offers a framework and vocabulary to develop management strategies that are consistent with what is actually happening right now. After experiencing "Generation Gap," the way you think about your business will never be the same.
Unlike many of my previous talks, I don't have a formal text that I can share with you. However, I did capture one of my dry-runs, and have taken some excerpts that will give you a flavour of the performance of Generation Gap.

I first provide a historical context for our time, and introduce the notion of the break boundary of our Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate - UCaPP - era: Listen (5:02). Later in the talk, I describe the Valence Organization and its consequences with respect to employees, customers and suppliers: Listen (5:29). So what does this mean for Identity, and the traditional form of Relationship Marketing?: Listen (2:08). And finally, what is the "bottom line" for business leaders, and indeed, all of us?: Listen (1:11).

The entire talk runs just under an hour, and is suitable for business audiences, and especially senior managers and executives who are trying to make sense of the changes in our world.

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22 April 2007

John Taylor Gatto - Against School

I've been doing some more detailed thinking about the enterprise of education lately, since I've been invited to participate on Steve Paikin's show, The Agenda on TVO, this coming Thursday. Having had two children traverse the Ontario public education system - both successfully and in good schools - I have come to realize that our public education system does an excellent job of preparing our citizenry for the 19th century. I suppose it could be worse; but it can also be a helluva lot better. A few days ago, I suggested some of the philosophy that might form the foundation of "the better." But many may object, claiming that if the education system was good enough for them - and they turned out alright - it's good enough for our kids.

A counter argument could be mounted that simply states, "look around you'; the dysfunctions of our society are indeed the product of modern, public education. But an even more compelling case is mounted by John Taylor Gatto, a one-time New York State Teacher of the Year, and fierce critic of the current public education system. His Six Lesson Schoolteacher is a scathing critique of the systemic failure of the school system to prepare youth for today's world.
With lessons like the ones I teach day after day, is it any wonder we have the national crisis we face today? Young people indifferent to the adult world and to the future; indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence? Rich or poor, schoolchildren cannot concentrate on anything for very long. They have a poor sense of time past and to come; they are mistrustful of intimacy (like the children of divorce they really are); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.

All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are magnified to a grotesque extent by schooling, whose hidden curriculum prevents effective personality development. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children our schools could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified schoolteacher. ... Institutional schoolteachers are destructive to children's development. Nobody survives the Six-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking that schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that it is not likely to happen. First and foremost, the business I am in is a jobs project and a contract-letting agency. We cannot afford to save money, not even to help children.
Likewise, his 2003 essay in Harpers Magazine, Against School traces the historical roots for an public education system specifically design for mediocrity, conformity, instilling discipline, and the replication of privilege rather the promotion of equity and true opportunity:
Inglis, for whom a lecture in education at Harvard is named, makes it perfectly clear that compulsory schooling on this continent was intended to be just what it had been for Prussia in the 1820s: a fifth column into the burgeoning democratic movement that threatened to give the peasants and the proletarians a voice at the bargaining table. Modern, industrialized, compulsory schooling was to make a sort of surgical incision into the prospective unity of these underclasses. Divide children by subject, by age-grading, by constant rankings on tests, and by many other more subtle means, and it was unlikely that the ignorant mass of mankind, separated in childhood, would ever re-integrate into a dangerous whole...

We don't need Karl Marx's conception of a grand warfare between the classes to see that it is in the interest of complex management, economic or political, to dumb people down, to demoralize them, to divide them from one another, and to discard them if they don't conform. Class may frame the proposition, as when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909: "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." But the motives behind the disgusting decisions that bring about these ends need not be class-based at all. They can stem purely from fear, or from the by now familiar belief that "efficiency" is the paramount virtue, rather than love, liberty, laughter, or hope. Above all, they can stem from simple greed.
Actually, I think we should be greedy, we should never consider ourselves sufficiently full of the very things that Gatto laments are being lost in the modern education industry - love, liberty, laughter and hope. It is only through our collective hunger for the aspects of life that are truly worthwhile that the collective will for change can emerge.
(Thanks, Graham!)

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21 April 2007

Artistic Science Visualizations

From Seed Magazine, a magazine that treats science as artistic endeavour (without compromising the science), a beautiful video that demonstrates the types of gedankenexperiments that scientists are performing these days. Gorgeous, thought-provoking and accessible science.
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20 April 2007

Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault

CAPA, the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault - has a new weblog. It is an activist group comprised of "activists, psychiatric survivors, dramatists, academics, and professionals." Here's what CAPA is about:
We see problems in living which are currently pathologized as largely created by sexism, capitalism, racism, ableism, heterosexism and other systemic oppressions. We see the very concept of mental illness as flawed. We object to incarceration, electroshock, and the vast array of brain-damaging drugs. We oppose the violation of human rights which is endemic to psychiatry. We see a connection between globalization, intolerance, and the mass marketing of the mental health industry. The world which we strive to co-create is one where people are not pathologized, where care is neither commodified nor professionalized, where choice and integrity are respected, and where we are all joined in caring and creative community to each other and to the planet earth.
CAPA is holding an event on Mothers' Day, May 13, 2007 to protest against the use of electroconvulsive therapy, often referred to as "electroshock," on women - especially elderly women.
The public mistakenly believes that electroshock is a treatment that was only used in the past. In fact, the use of shock has increased in Canada and the United States during the last 10 years.

The two main targets of this destructive psychiatric procedure are women who have recently given birth, and women 60 years and older. With women electroshocked two to three times as often as men, with the physical and emotional damage wrought by electroshock well established, and with the complicity of the state clear, we are declaring electroshock a form of state-sponsored violence against women.
There will be a gathering at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry at College and Spadina beginning at 13:15, followed by a Puppets and People March to Queen's Park. The festivities at Queen's Park get underway at 14:00, and include hearing from CAPA's director, Dr. Bonnie Burstow, women survivors of electroshock, plus performances by Roger Ellis, Friendly Spike Theatre Band, and other special guests. Free food and fun for all concerning a very serious issue.

(Disclosure: Bonnie Burstow was one of my professors at OISE, and is a friend. I volunteer with CAPA.)
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15 April 2007

What do Don Imus and Trent Lott Have in Common?

This and this. Bad cat poetry and teenage angst aside, it is the fourth estate, extended, enhanced, amplified, intensified and enabled.

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13 April 2007

More Thoughts on Education Reform

When I talk about "education reform," I'm not referring to tinkering with curriculum. Rather, I'm talking about a serious re-examination of, and conversation about, the foundations and philosophy that underlie contemporary education. Here are five principles that I've been thinking about to move the conversation along:
  1. People should learn when they’re ready to learn; they should be taught in the places where they will learn most effectively. This means that,
  2. Learning should concentrate on context and process; content is largely irrelevant to education and is therefore quite interchangeable and replaceable. This is another way of saying, “education is what remains after you’ve forgotten everything you’ve been taught.” Consequently,
  3. Intellectual networks replace experts, traditional forms of knowledge authority, and disciplinary boundaries that create subjects. This, in turn, suggests that,
  4. The world is a collaboration, not a competition; Darwin is quite misunderstood and misapplied. That distinction is important, since education is political, establishing the foundation of relationships of power that underlie the social fabric of society. We all wear what we sew from that fabric. All of these taken together mean that,
  5. The goal of education is to learn how to make sense of the complexity of the world as it lived and experienced, and from that sense-making, to construct a world in which we would all want to live, together.

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This Goes on the Reading List for the Next OD Course

A terrific article [pdf] for those interested in organizational change, and the theories that underlie the impetus for reorganization:
We discovered many reasons for repeated reorganizations, the most common being ‘no good reason’. We estimated that trillions of dollars are being spent on strategic and organizational planning activities each year, thus providing lots of good reasons for hundreds of thousands of people, including us, to get into the business. New leaders who are intoxicated with the prospect of change further fuel perpetual cycles of redisorganization. We identified eight indicators of successful redisorganizations, including large consultancy fees paid to friends and relatives.
(Thanks, Ingrid!)

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11 April 2007

Figure and Ground

What if one of the greatest musicians in the world were to give a free concert in public, playing on one of the greatest instruments in the world? It is the ground, or context - often that which we don't notice - that gives meaning to events - the figures that we do notice... nor not, as the case may be. An interesting experiment in human dynamics, to be sure.
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07 April 2007

Microsoft is Dead? More Like Obsolesced

Paul Graham offers an interesting essay on why Microsoft is Dead. Not dead as in buried, only to return as a zombie. Rather, dead in the McLuhan sense of obsolesced – no longer the dominant structuring force in the software industry. I disagree with Graham’s assessment that web-based desktop applications have killed Microsoft; on the other hand, I think that his comment about the combination of Apple’s OSX and Microsoft Vista weighs heavily against the Redmond giant. Microsoft’s history parallels that of IBM as I describe in my talk, How to Determine the Business You’re Really In, from a few years ago. Microsoft reached the pinnacle of its power, and then hit a nexus point - its strategic decline (despite the fact that it is rolling in cash, a result that is a lagging indicator of success for Microsoft) being quite predictable from watching IBM's history. Unlike IBM, however, Microsoft has not been able to re-make itself, a feat that the Lords of Armonk have been quite adept at performing throughout IBM's history. In McLuhan for Managers, I describe Microsoft's strategic nexus point: it occurred when Nathan Myhrvold left the company, rendering then-president Bill Gates without a cool, forward sensing organ (even hotter now with Ballmer at the helm).

Expressed in terms of Valence Theory, Microsoft’s problems become even more clear. In an organization conceived according to Valence Theory, employees, suppliers, customers, and to a certain extent, customer’s customers, are equivalent. This means that inequitable treatment among these various constituencies, especially on account of imbalanced valences, leads to organizational dysfunction. This situation is most evident within Microsoft in products like Vista and the seemingly ill-fated Zune. When it becomes a matter of identity, that is, how your organizational identity is collaboratively constructed among its various constituencies, the relevance of your organization – and perhaps its very survival – is at stake.

This is a theme that I will be introducing next week in New York as I take my Valence Theory out in public (as it were) for its first presentation to a live business audience at Omnicom’s CEO Forum. I can hardly wait!

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03 April 2007

Supermarket 2.0

This is a very clever video that takes the so-called Web 2.0 constructs such as tagging, comments, RSS feeds, wish lists, and vendor site recommendations, and realizes them in the physical space of a supermarket.
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02 April 2007

Pesach Sameach

Where has the year gone? It seems like just yesterday that we were sitting down to the annual ritual of matzah, maror, and four cups of wine, and here we are again. And all those tasks that I was supposed to have completed before the end of semester (like ethical review - yeah, yeah, I'm working on it). Well, never mind about that, at least for a couple days. For now, I hope you enjoy this wonderful, artistic rendition of that Pesach favourite, Had Gadia [pps; 3.5MB] that a friend sent to me. To all my readers and friends, may your Passover be filled with joy, happiness, insight, and personal emancipation and redemption.

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