About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is our educational system aiding in creating the flu pandemic?

Many may have noticed that I haven't written a blog for a while. My kids went to a school dance a couple of weeks ago and 4 days later came down with (most likely) the H1N1 flu...along with 400 others. I guess the school was lucky it was only half of the 800 at the dance.

My daughter actually attends an alternative school in the school district (for science and technology) and my son went as a guest of one of his elementary school friends. My daughter's school, a technology based, project based, group learning based school which draws students from multiple locations in a 200 square mile radius, requires students to continue to check into school and expects sick children to keep up with their work while they are ill. As a result, my daughter went back to school fever free, but still not well as we were having internet connection issues. The school is still unprepared for the students coming down with the flu. Even before my daughter got the flu, her work was affected as there was always a team member sick from the first week of classes. However, as there is a greater critical mass of students coming down with the flu, a letter has finally come out outlining what students should do. This still does not address how those that are WELL or teachers should handle classes and projects that can't be completed because a majority of group members are ill.

The high school where the dance was held initially sent out a letter stating that the flu was the "general flu", not h1n1 despite the rapid spread of the illness. They did not shut down the school, despite the fact that a quarter of the students were ill. The next day a "clarification" was sent out in conjunction with the health department which began to monitor the situation at the school. In fact, there were no other confirmed flu types in the county (although there were some in other nearby regions). So most likely, any flu students from the school came down with was h1n1.

My son, being a typical teenager, did not tell anyone at school that he was feeling feverish. His driver's ed teacher had told them that the flu was not an acceptable excuse to miss class. If that wasn't bad enough, that evening my son played a soccer game which he had been looking forward to for the entire season. So he played, then proceeded to shake hands with the opposing team, and went home where we discovered he had an 102 fever.

What the flu reveals about our schools and healthcare system

I recently heard an interview by the head of the CDC who said that they were recommending the schools not close down because students were safer in school (healthy) than unsupervised (also healthy). This reveals the role that education has taken in the US. Schools are safe havens from communities that have broken down and duel working parent families (or single parent families). No longer is school just a place to educate students. So shouldn't we be putting more money into after school programs, family and student support services, and even healthcare?

My own experience at how the different approaches the colleges in which I work take demonstrates the different approaches the healthcare system can take. At the one college, students see health professionals, initially at the health center. However, as more incidences of illness has begun to take place, there have been emergency health screening available at the dorms. On this campus, we have diagnosed strep, the two different types of flu, and mono (a common occurance for college students). Students are put on medical leave, sent home, and not allowed back until they are feeling better. Surprisingly, there has been less long term illness (from students in my class) and my students seem much healthier than I usually see this time of year. It will be interesting to see if they perform better, as they are allowed to heal.

The second school has only self reporting, with very little diagnosis of the illnesses. The health center does not really see any cases as they don't have the man power to do so. My classes for the last 3 weeks have really diminished. In some cases, at other colleges, I have heard about incidences in which professors will fail students for x number of absences, whether they were diagnosed with the flu or not.

Our society believes that it is better to "work through" any illness. This is in line with our "hard work" values, individual over group (you wouldn't go into work to infect your colleagues if you valued the group), and our relationship with nature (we can overcome nature, work through illness). In addition, we have a tendency in our healthcare system not to seek treatment until it is critical, nor do we want to overwhelm an already overwhelmed system. On the part of education, our society reinforces these values in the school. We need to "get through content", keep students safe, and keep pushing the envelope for student achievement.

However, perhaps it is time we start investing in a healthcare system that can meet the challanges of the unexpected. Perhaps we should start providing healthcare and "sick beds" in schools for those times when parents feel they can't take time off. Perhaps we as a society should allow parents to take the time off for family illness and start developing protecals and infrastructure for work from home.

And for anyone who gets the flu, don't go back to work too soon. While I only had a fever for one day, and had been fever free for 3 days before I went back to work, it took me a good 2 weeks to feel healthy again. The same was true for my children.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Writings of a harried 21st Century mother!

There are so many topics that I would like to write about, but lately, my mind does not hold a thought for more than 5-10 minutes.

In any given day, I

  • am teaching. This semester I am teaching the 18th different course I have taught in the last 20 years, in consumer behavior, in the marketing/management department. I have two sections of 33 students in each. I teach in the communication department at a second university where I have been for the last 5 years.
  • writing my dissertation (although this seems to be on the back burner more than front in my thoughts). I am in the "brain explosion" phase as I try to take my analysis and figure out what it means. I have bits and pieces of insight, but now I'm trying to pull it all together to make sense out of it.
  • teaching my son to drive (as he does not want to drive with his father who makes him nervous and my husband does not to drive with my son who makes him nervous). Of course, my son makes me nervous also, but I have learned how to appear calm and respond to his mistakes with gentle instruction so he doesn't panic and drive into a tree or another car!
  • attending soccer games, working concession for the team, or picking my son up from soccer practice.
  • driving my son and/or daughter to the school dance, football game, or the store to pick up something for school
  • driving my daughter to dance class
  • meeting with or communicating with one or both of my children's teachers about some issue with school
  • or correcting papers, writing papers, or checking my emails

Occasionally about 3-4 times a month, I am checking in with my mother. But I have to prepare myself for those calls to my 83 year old mother, as I still revert back to the old triggers from my childhood.

This of course is in addition to the regular house hold chores of cooking (with the exception of soccer night games, the whole family eats together, but I cook dinner every night whether we eat together or not), grocery shopping, cleaning, wash, dishes, and helping out with the occasional homework question.

I am tired! I know I am not the only one in this position (at least I don't have to run my own business like Karyn Romeis, now are my children totally dependent on me like Janet Clarey). But I do want to apologize now if my blogging is a bit on and off again in the next few months.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dumbing down in the World? Defining "smart"

Let me start with a question to reflect on. Make sure you think of this before you read on. Think of the teacher that had the greatest impact on your learning throughout your life. How did they influence you? What did they do to influence your learning? What characteristics did they have?

Now read on.

I recently had a conversation with my adviser about "good teachers." He begins his introduction to teaching course asking his students to reflect on these questions. This conversation came back as I read a post by Ken Allen on "Is the world dumbing down?".

In the post, he has a clip of Branford Marsailis who speaks about what he has learned from his students. Basically, he says he has not learned anything, as his students just want to be told they are good, and don't want to work hard to learn. My adviser also mentioned how one of his students felt that much of teaching education focuses on the "touchy-feely stuff" and not on the learning outcomes.

This got me to thinking about which teachers had influenced me the most. There were four teachers who had the greatest impact on my learning. One thing that they had in common was they challenged me, but always let me know that they had confidence that I would meet any challenge.

Miss Relation was my reading and 3rd grade teacher. I can still remember when she was so impressed with how well I did with multiple digit multiplication and complex math concepts (such as sets). As I learned to read, she would always re-enforce it with, "I knew you could do it. See?" But she would never take, "I can't" as an excuse. She was in it with me, guiding me, having confidence that I could do it.

Miss McDonough was one of the toughest teachers I had (5th grade), but when I accomplished something, she would let me know how proud she was that I stuck with it and was able to master it. At no time would she give up on any student. You would achieve her high standards or she (and possibly you) would die trying. Her utter confidence in every student (I never heard her say a negative thing about a student...they weren't smart, they were lazy, what were they thinking?) made you want to show her you could do it.

My middle school math teacher was the first to let me know that I was really good in math...during a time when women were not expected to be good in math. Everything that we did, he would point out the good job I did. This confidence in me, made me confident in myself and I excelled in math as a result.

Finally, one of my professors in graduate school, allowed us to co-create our own curriculum. I loved this class as the students found the readings, presented the content, but were guided by very insightful questions from the professor. He treated us (master and Ph.d students) as knowledgeable students that he could learn from. Some of his questions would make you stop and think (and sweat if you weren't prepared). He was very low key and respectful of the students, which made you want to do the best you could. I still remember many of the discussions we had in the class, and the project I worked on (tariffs and counter-tariffs for the Steel Industry).

Another trait that all of these teachers had was that they knew ME and what I needed to learn. They did not use a cookie cutter approach to teaching and took time out to know what I knew and how I thought. They then used this to help me learn better.

What I learned from poor teachers

Likewise, the teachers that I look on with humiliation and anger, even to this day, taught me what a good teacher does not do.

As I mentioned in my comment to Ken:

"Dumbing down" is in the eyes of the beholder though. What is important is that in the US at any rate, we have begun to classified "smart" or "knowledgeable" as being able to take standardized tests about basic facts (i.e. math formulas, defining terms, and writing in a standard format regardless of audience or purpose). We have also relegated anything outside of math, science, and technology as "fluff" and not real knowledge.

The teachers that impeded by learning only looked at the standards and never bothered to look at what I actually knew. They also had a very narrow view of what "learning" and "knwoledge" was, then labeled those outside of those norms as "not quite smart". I can remember being moved from the "smart" reading group to the "slow" reading group in 1st grade. The major problem was that the teacher taught reading in one way only, and those that did not learn that way were then labeled "slow". It was humiliating for me and I lost all confidence in my studies. She always made it know who the "good" students were and who the "bad" students were.

These teachers also tended to have only the curriculum and book learning, with no abstract or creative activities in the classroom. Students did what the teacher wanted them to do ONLY or else you were a poor student. I remember a home economics teacher telling me how disappointed she was in my cooking class because I didn't follow the recipe exactly. My classmates all liked my changes (for the most part, sometimes they ended in disaster though), but I did not "follow directions."

Finally, the most difficult teachers that really turned me off to learning were those that seemed to exert their power over me as a student. They always had a way of making sure I knew they were in control and knew more than I did, so I should not ask questions of them or interrupt their class flow. In fact, years later, I realized that they did not like me to ask questions because they probably did not know how to answer them.

Dumbing down the World? Or a new way to assess learning?

In some ways, I do think that we are "dumbing down" in the world. But not in the traditional sense. I don't think that a grade these days is complex enough to assess a student's learning. I don't think that many of the teachers from which I learned the most (I still can remember many of the lessons 30-45 years later) would be able to keep up with the "testing". In fact, some of my daughter's teachers that had the qualities I look for in a good teacher were considered "poor" by some parents because their students enjoyed school and the kids did not have enough homework at night! (Even though their students tested high on standardized tests).

The new educational reforms in the US still focus on these simplistic quantitative tests and pitting teachers against students and parents. I have just read about community schools, however, which I hope with create a new educational environment that is based less on numbers and more on learning.