Sunday, 29 September 2013

Two Legendary Stories for Our Time

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

The other story comes from India and probably many other places too.  Several boys. hoping to trick the village wise man, figured out a fool proof plan.  They would capture a bird, hold it in their hands, take it to the wise man and ask him whether the bird was alive or dead.  If he said it was alive, they would crush it and show him he was wrong and if he said it was dead, they would open their hands, the bird would fly away and the wise man would be wrong.
So they captured the bird, went to the village wise man and asked him the question, "Sir, is the bird in our hands alive or dead??  After a moment of silence, the wise man replied, "Boys, the answer is in your hands."

Saturday, 28 September 2013


Ted Mitchell, CEO of New Schools Venture Fund, which has raised $3.4 billion over the past decade for entrepreneurs in education, has a big idea.  His big idea is to allow kids to progress at their own pace, accumulate course credit as they master their work, not as they put in required time. Ted says that the good news is that we actually now have technology tools that can help us do that. We have adapted tools that provide students with the right challenge for the right problem sets and examples as they move through courses like algebra or chemistry or even American history.

As many as 25 years ago, there was a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, in conjunction with Germany and what they found was that we have the "formula" for education bassackwards. We hold time constant and make education the variable.  In other words, a student has so much time, whether a quarter, a semester or a year (what Ted Mitchell and others call seat time) to get it.  Ted's daughter has a semester, or a year to embrace Algebra I.   He says what if she could show mastery of Algebra I in four weeks?   That is but one example.  

If we are about reforming and reshaping education, we would hold education constant and make time the variable.  The sad conclusion of the study was that although this was clearly the problem, it would not happen because schools and those in charge would not be willing to change the system.  It is not only broken.  It is mired in the status quo, protected by incompetency, institutional arteriosclerosis and fear.   Do you think the Gates Foundation's billions to reform high schools, Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million to Newark's public schools, and the gazillions of dollars being thrown at the problem to try and fix schools are making a significant difference?

There are plenty of people with big ideas and if money would make the difference we would have seen the impact long ago.   What I concluded was that education was not going to reform itself in the same way that governments refuse to change.  Educators are not going to solve the problem because they are the problem and the only way we will have reform is a revolution.  I believe it's time for real intervention and rehabilitation.  Systemic change requires the commitment and action of those responsible and for too long we have thought that if we just got better at what we were doing, that would be sufficient.  It isn't.

Here's a quote from one principal that illustrates what has to happen. "At first I didn't see the magnitude of the change. I thought if we just did better what we had always done, we would be OK. Then I realized we had to do something totally different, but I didn't know what. Gradually we began trying some new approaches. One change led to another and another and another, like dominos. I started to see what people meant by systemic change. A new energy and excitement surged among us as hope grew and the cloudy vision of what we wanted became clearer and clearer."

The really big idea is change, real change, not just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!  How do we get the change that is needed?  There has to be some agreement on what is needed and then we have to get rid of the industrial/factory model of education and replace it with one that is designed to set kids on fire with learning, to ignite their passion and purpose beyond themselves and turn them loose on solving the world's problems that are confronting all of us.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Common Vision, Common Purpose, Common Goal

Honest homeless man’s fund over $91K via crowd funding.  The story touched enough people that by now it’s probably over $100K.  
 The point here is not his honesty nor the money but what the guy who set up the fund said that I have been “preaching” for over 50 years.  Ethan Whittington, who started the fund, has been overwhelmed by the response but he understands why it works as revealed in this quote: “If we come together and work toward one thing and work together, then we can make it happen."
What I experienced in World War II was what I call the circle of success, common vision, common purpose, common goals.  It is what works to make an organization, a jurisdiction, a country successful.  What is often missing are the will and the desire to come together and create that vision, purpose and mission around what we can all agree on that we either need or want to happen.
The most recent decade has seen plenty of examples of political obfuscation that results in inaction, a kind of institutional arteriosclerosis.  There are also wonderful examples of success at the micro level, individuals like Whittington and others who are having an impact in positive and constructive ways, rewarding desirable behavior and reinforcing the principles and practices of ethical choices.
So, what will you do today to advance common vision, common purpose and common goals?  What is your individual and institutional mission?  How will you invest your time and energy today to get the biggest bang for your efforts and the greatest return on your investment?  Go ahead, make your choices conscious and intentional and take the initiative to act and get out of the react and respond mode for awhile.  You will feel better at the end of the day, guaranteed.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Pursuing Happiness: Is GNH of any real value?

Is GNH useful?  Probably not, but on a personal level, I believe it is immensely valuable.  I came across the following brief article this past Saturday in the Lex Column of the weekend edition of FT (Financial Times) and share it for your own musing. See if you can read between the lines for the U.S.A.
“Oh, perfect: another study concludes that Scandinavia is wonderful. The Swedes, Norwegians and Danes are already known to be the best educated, most egalitarian and richest, not to mention the tallest and blondest.  Now the UN World Happiness Report 2013, published this week, rubs our noses in it buy finding the five happiest countries to be Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands and Sweden.
The rest of us – ignorant, unequal, poor, short and ugly – cannot help but feel our misery all the more.
Other surveys have thrown up the same conclusion, the only difference being which nations join the Nordics. The Better Life index produced by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has Australia, Sweden, Canada, Norway and Switzerland at the top.  What these countries share is not great weather.  It is that they are rich, stable and western.
Do these measures teach us anything?  The UN says happiness is closely related to ‘social equality, trust and quality of governance.’  Intangibles such as these are important in evaluating what has come to be known as a country’s gross national happiness (GNH).
Life expectancy and personal freedom are also important.  So is real gross domestic product per capita.  But it is only part of the mix.
The UN survey shows that the Irish, who have suffered huge falls in personal income as a result of the financial crisis, and the Italians, who have been in recession, on and off, for at least the past decade are happier than the Germans, who have come through the global crisis without undue hardship (schadenfreude is overrated, apparently).  Family and social ties in Ireland and Italy at least partly compensate for declining wealth it would seem.
The trouble with GNH, though, is that it may not be any more useful as a political, economic and social tool than GDP.  The GNH measure was pioneered in Bhutan in the 1970’s and is a key measure of progress made there.  In July, however, the government that made a fetish of it was voted out of office.  Personal happiness is elusive.  The pursuit of happiness on a national level is likely to be harder still.”