Thursday, August 30, 2012

Desks shown to harm student education

“So no matter what you been through, no matter what you into
No matter what you see when you look outside your window
Brown grass or green grass, picket fence or barbed wire
Never ever put them down, you just lift your arms higher
Raise 'em 'til your arms tired let 'em know you here
That you struggling, survivin', that you gon' persevere
Yeah, ain't nobody leavin', nobody goin' home
Even if they turn the lights out, the show is goin' on”  
- Lupe Fiasco 

It seems like there is no shortage of articles that talk about how technology doesn’t improve education.  The focus is usually around the impact of the technology on test scores.  The question these articles answer is this: does the use of technology in the classroom improve test scores?  The methodology they use to answer this question is simple.  They look at any school who has put “technology” into some of their classrooms, they wait a school year, and then they compare last year’s test scores with this year’s test scores.  They look at the scores and conclude that the use of “technology” doesn’t improve test scores, therefore the impact of the technology on education at best is flat.

For some reason I still really can’t understand, the New York Times used this simple erroneous methodology and argument in a bunch of education technology articles last year.  This surprised me.  As a long time subscriber (I’ve been getting the hard copy of the Sunday Times dropped on my doorstep since I can remember…I would shut off cable before I stopped my NYTs if I had to choose), I expect so much more from the nation’s standard of journalism.  I asked myself on more than one occasion, why would the New York Times simply ask the wrong questions? 

Everyone I regard in the education and the education technology space knows that technology doesn’t improve education outcomes.  They all recognize that great education improves education, not technology, or anything else for that matter.

Last year, the New York Times wrote no articles about how school lighting doesn’t improve test scores.  They wrote no articles on how the use of text books, a $8 billion dollar annual expenditure by the way, does not improve test scores.  Can you imagine the New York Times blaming the textbook industry for our nation’s appalling dropout rate?  Without even having to search, I am confident the New York Times did not write a single article on how the use of desks in the classroom do not improve student test scores.   Why is that?  It’s pretty simple actually.  It is clear all these things are just tools we use to enable education.  The use of a computer in a classroom is as powerless as a desk in improving test scores unless it is used in support of a great educational model. 

We don’t talk about desks the way we talk about computers.  We don’t go to desk conferences or develop desk implementation plans.  We don’t have desk professional development plans.  We don’t think about the question of equity when it comes to desks.  We would never say, “we only have budget for 90 desks but have 300 students.  We’re going to have to figure out which students stand all day.”  We don’t question the need of desks in the classroom and I would argue they are more detrimental to education than other tools we use.  For example, we now have enough evidence that shows sitting all day is bad for you.  This is why you are seeing an explosion of stand up desks in offices across the country.  Desks also create this individualized island, designed to fit in rows and face forward, which creates what I call “peer barriers” and limits collaboration with other students.  Finally, the way they are designed, they are perfectly made to fall asleep on.  Where’s the New York Times article on that story?

The reason why you don’t find articles about the impact of desks on test scores is because it’s a ridiculous correlation.  The use of laptops in the classroom, like the desks, have nothing to do with test scores.  Only great education directly effects test scores (let’s leave the argument as to why we shouldn’t even be talking about test scores for another post).  When used as an enabling tool, laptops, the web, smart boards, tablets, and anything else we call “technology” has an enormous impact on education. 

There is plenty of data that supports the use of technology as an enabling tool.  For example, In a study called, “Intertwining Digital Content and One-on-One Laptop Environment in Teaching and Learning: Lessons from the Time to Know Program” (I appreciate how they like to keep the names of these studies as short as possible), (2012 Journal of Research on Technology in Education), the correlation between good education and technology is clear.  The study looked at how one-to-one computing programs effected teaching and learning practices as well as student learning achievements.  The study found consistent and highly positive outcomes in student math and reading achievement.  They also found higher student attendance, and decreased disciplinary actions.

As in other studies, this one showed that a technology enabled learning environment can more effectively promote “social-constructivist educational goals, such as higher-order thinking skills, learning motivation, and teamwork.”  To me, the highlight of this study wasn’t the increase in scores or how the technology helped engage students.  To many of us, that just makes sense.  The highlight of this study is how they emphasized the following: “to achieve this change, a school system must go through major processes.  It requires setting new educational objectives, preparing new curricula, developing digital instructional material aligned with new learning standards, designing a new teaching and learning environment, training teachers, creating a school climate that is conducive to educational technology, and so on.”  In other words, it’s like we used to say in the consulting world I spent six year in, “whatever you do, don’t help your clients automate bad processes, you’re just helping make bad things happen faster.” 

The other key component you find in good education technology studies is the duration of the study.  Researchers are starting to recognize that the real benefits and any significant change start to appear over a length of time.  In other words, even when you fix everything in the education model, it takes a few years to start seeing dramatic shifts in improvement.  A six month study isn’t good enough.   

We shouldn’t be teaching technology, we should be using technology to teach.  If we are using technology correctly, it should be invisible.  When I talk about my work and the projects I’m involved in, I never talk about how I used my tools.  The tools are just there.  Just like it is for us, the technology should be part of the support structure.  The potential benefits are tremendous.   Lots of studies like the one quoted above show that technology is ideal in supporting and enabling a learner-centric environment.  In these environments, students feel critical things like autonomy, engagement, and purpose.  They feel ownership over what they learn and how they learn it.  This type of environment clearly leads to students who are involved in their learning and more importantly, are willing and able to learn.  With this autonomy, students learn at their pace and teachers serve as facilitators and not as knowledge towers.  Technology can help these environments by giving students the opportunity to work and learn collaboratively with other students to solve problems and create and share new ideas.   We can produce and implement new creative assessment tools that promote learning, making sure students are involved in constructing their own self and peer driven assessments. 

These are just some of the possibilities with using technology in education.   Until we stop seeing technology as a nice to have, or as the line item in the budget that gets cut because it is “outside of learning goals,” we will not be able to fully realize it’s potential value.  We would never dream of building a new school with air-conditioning on only two floors or electricity in only three of the four buildings.  Until we start seeing broadband as electricity, and computing capabilities as desks, we are a long way from that realization.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Make sure you look both ways!

“This is an invitation across the nation,
the chance for folks to meet
There'll be swinging, swaying, music playing,
and dancing in the street”
- Martha & The Vandellas

I live in an urban area of Phoenix, right downtown in fact.  One consequence to growing up in a place like New York City is that you’re never comfortable unless you see lots of cars, hear police sirens all night, or have your street lit up by police helicopters on the weekends.  Because we live in the city, and while my kids were young, I decided to teach my them to cross the street.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to ban the cars.  The other option was to pretend the cars weren’t there and never ever let my kids cross the street.  I didn’t think that was reasonable.  Eventually they had to deal with cars so it made sense to teach them early and often.  When it comes to the web and our children, that’s exactly what many of us are doing.  We are pretending the web is not there.

The web isn’t going anywhere so ignoring it isn’t going to work.  We certainly aren’t teaching our kids how to navigate the web (teaching them to cross the street).  We’re left with the only option we have left, we simple ban it.  I don’t know if that’s the smartest idea in the world.  Like cars, eventually they are going to have to deal with the web.  Wouldn’t it make sense to teach them, early and often?

I have the opportunity to speak to lots of principals, superintendents, school board members, and parents.  Whenever I bring up this subject, they all start blaming each other.  The superintendent says, “the school board will never let me.”  The school board member says, “the parents wouldn’t let us.”  The parents say, “the school is to rigid and would never allow it.”  One of my favorite arguments I hear all the time is that the kids are picking up the skills at home.  The general argument goes something like this:

“Listen, the parents here are very traditional.  They don’t want their students surfing the web.  What if they end up complaining to the board?  Also, the feds would take away our eRate funding if we unblocked YouTube and we can’t lose that (I even had one senior administrator of a large district tell me that they would lose ALL federal funding, including Title 9!) Besides, the kids are developing these digital skills on their own, in their own home.  They were born digital citizens so there is no need to teach them.  Yes, I know a lot of them already have access to the web in their pockets but they aren’t doing it on school property so we aren’t accountable.”

I push back:

“Have you talked to the parents?  Have you showed them the benefits of the web?  Are you demonstrating how your school is developing student skills as you prepare them for their future?  Have you showed them how the web opens up new opportunities to learn?  Have you offered them ‘parent Internet classes’ to teach them what their kids will learn?  In terms of CIPA and eRate, can you give me the name of just one school that lost their funding for violating CIPA?  How much did they lose?  Can you show me where it says YouTube violates CIPA?  Finally, in terms of students developing the skills on their own at home, are you sure that’s what’s happening?  How do you know?”

The assumption that kids are learning these skills at home is insane.  Most college educated folks lack basic search skills.  Even if it was true, not all our kids would be learning these critical skills.  If the kid comes form a family that makes more than $75,000 a year, they have a 90% chance of having computer and Internet access at home.  If they comes from a family that makes less than $30,000 a year, then they have less than a 50% chance to have this access at home.  This applies to new technologies as well.  For high income families, 55% of kids have used a smart phone or a tablet.  For low income families, that number drops to 22%.  In fact,  38% of low income parents say they don’t even know what an app is.  In case you were wondering, it’s only 3% for high income parents.

So even if they were learning how to be good digital citizens at home, and we all know that most of them are not, then we are failing a good portion of our students, the ones who probably need the skills the most.  We need a different approach.  We need to teach our kids how to cross the digital street and turn their web experience into something positive.  We need to get parents involved.  We need to look at the web as the new platform which will require a set of skills critical to success. We should also be asking ourselves, what do we need to teach our kids so they are safe online?  How do we teach them to stay secure?  How do we teach them to protect themselves and their information?  How do we teach them about privacy, and what is the right and wrong way to interact with each other?

Things are certainly getting better, like in the case of Chicago Public Schools lifting it’s ban on YouTube ( to help expand digital learning.    
Filtering bad content and sites is essential but not in the way many school systems do it.  Broad filters that catch everything, including sites like National Geographic, aren’t very useful. 

We need to teach our kids to be good digital citizens.  Even more importantly, we need to  teach our kids to be great digital leaders!  The world’s information is at our fingertips, we must take advantage of it.  As my teacher friend says, what students post and share on-line should be the reason why they get into college, not the reason they don’t.

Let’s teach our kids how to cross the street.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Your Attention Please

“I used to ride the train to the same two stops
And look at the graffiti on the rooftops
Like the same song playing on the jukebox
Joint called "Faded Polaroids In A Shoebox"
Regardless to what the cadence is
It can’t be forgotten like old acquaintances
I realize how depressing of a place it is
And when I notice my reflection whose face it is”
- The Roots

When you do a search for “millennials multitasking,” you can come up with 52,000 or so hits.  If you do one for “students Multitasking” you get close to 3 million hits.  You find articles debating the validity of this skill set, and you also find articles on how to teach, manage, and/or take advantage of this skill set.  One articles gives you ways that you can develop your multitasking skills.  Another gave you ways to hire the best multitaskers.

The problem is that multitasking does not exist.  A human brain can multitask, but not in the way some think it can.  Not when it comes to actually paying attention.  I can type this, wiggle my toes, and chew gum at the same time (oh yea, and it keeps my heart pumping too).  The brain is constantly multitasking.  However, what these links are describing, and what we think of when we think of multitasking, is doing two things at the same time, or, paying attention to more than one thing at a time.  This, we simply cannot do and all the evolving we’ve done in the millions of years we’ve been walking around hasn’t given us the capability to do so.  Say nothing of the idea that kids who are “digital natives” all of sudden have the ability to do something the brain hasn’t done in million of years.  Relatively speaking, evolution happens fast, but not that fast.

The irony is that we are creating a generation of kids that believes they can multitask, simply because they were born in the digital age.  We have convinced them that they are different than we are, that their generation was born with this special skillset.  It’s like saying my generation was born when we had cars, therefore we are all natural race car drivers.  What we should be doing is teaching them to concentrate, not filling their heads with the believe they were born with comic book super powers.

I just read Brain Rules, by John Medina.  It’s a fascinating and insightful book that describes how the brain works, and why it works as it does.  It comes complete with a set of 12 principles and rules about the brain.  In terms of multitasking, Medina citing real scientific research, calls it a myth.  “The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time.  We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.”  In other words, your students (or you for that matter) must systematically move from typing an email to talking on the phone.  If you try and do both things at the same time, something is going to fail. 

So students can’t pay attention to two or three things at the same time (i.e., texting and driving).  Therefore they can’t read and text at the same time.  They can’t chat and do complicated math problems at the same time.  They can’t write an essay and watch TV at the same time.  It’s important to know this because they actually try (they get the essay done while watching TV) but studies show if you are interrupted, it takes you 50% longer to accomplish a task and you also make 50% more mistakes. 

If our students are multitasking, we’re simply not getting the best from them.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Education as the Silver Bullet

“PS 111 had free lunch
Embarrassed but managed to get a plate
We was kids hungry
Mom's working, I was famished
She getting home late
So I decided now I'm in charge
Either stay full or starve…”

I often start presentations with the idea that education is a silver bullet.  I believe the reason we all care about, and are passionate about education, is because we all understand the importance of being educated and what it can do for us.  The idea that “you need an education” applies to all classes and across all the ages.  This is especially true if you are born into a cycle of poverty. 

From my own experience, I know an education can literally change a family’s destiny in just one generation.  In addition to the impact education has to a immediate family, there is a domino effect that cascades across the community.

I am a first generation American, born in Hell’s Kitchen, NY and raised by a single mother who illegally emigrated from Argentina.  My mother spoke only Spanish so I showed up at PS 111 for kindergarten and had no idea what anyone was saying.  English is technically my second language.  I grew up on welfare in a nasty environment where I saw my first murder at 10 years old.  My friend’s mother killed her boyfriend with a kitchen knife in their apartment two buildings over.  We were having a sleep over at my place that night but we were supposed to stay at his place.  I was shot at when I was 15, had a loaded gun shoved into my mouth when I was 16,  and went to more funerals in high school than most people go in two life times.  Crime and drugs were just part of my every day experience and Hell’s Kitchen was the proud birthplace of crack.  I saw my first vial three years before it showed up on the cover of Time as a “ghetto epidemic.” I didn’t need Nancy Regan to encourage me to “just say no,” I figured out all on my own that I didn’t want to spend my evenings at Grand Central Station “taking care” of commuters in the men’s room for a few dollars to buy my next hit.  Many people I grew up with hopelessly tried to support their new habit.

I think one of the reasons it’s so hard to break the cycle of poverty is human nature.  You just don’t know how terrible everything is.  You just think everyone lives like that.  If you take someone from a “normal” situation and put them in that environment, I believe they would do whatever they could to get out!  When all you know is poverty, drugs, death, and violence, you just live in it.

My mother did work out on Long Island and in the summers, I would go spend weekends there while she worked.  I got to see what was actually normal and I wanted in.  I wanted to get out of Hell’s Kitchen.  I recognized education was my silver bullet and because of it, my two kids do not need to experience life the way I did.  The cycle is broken.

When I was a kid, I used to wake up without electricity.  My mother couldn’t or sometimes wouldn’t pay the bill and I would go days without having electricity.  My 11 year old wakes up and complains that he has to suffer through a system update on his PlayStation 3, before he can play Call of Duty online with his friends on his 55 inch 3D TV.  He is already asking if we can start visiting the colleges he is interested in.  The cycle is broken. 

My daughter, a second year student, never asked if she had to go to college.  She just always assumed she would and even before she picked her college, she was strategizing where she was going to go to graduate school.  The cycle is broken.

The impact isn’t only felt by my family.  It is felt by my community.  Education is what makes us better and it is supposed to be the equalizer in the American dream.  Get educated, work hard, and you control your family’s destiny.  That’s what I bought into and it worked for me and countless others who grew up just like I did.

Today, this idea is in serious trouble.  Lots of recent data suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is getting wider, which of course threatens the idea of education as a silver bullet.  I’m afraid this could just become the norm, accepted culturally as just the way things are.  If this happens, we’ll never be able to capitalize on the amazing potential education has to change families.

NYTs article by SabrinaTaverniseEducation Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor Studies Say,” points out that in long term data, researchers are finding, “while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.”  They point to a study that shows the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students has “grown by 40% since the 1960s.”  The gap is also getting dangerous in college.  Researchers looked at two generation of students from both high and low income families.  One generation from the early sixties and the other form the late seventies.  For high income students, the number of college graduates went from one-third in the first generation to more than half in the second one.  For low income students, the college graduation rate went from five percent to nine percent.  The gap got wider.

Clearly, parental influence goes a long way.  My children have had education and learning hammered into their heads.  They are in my school everyday, where I question their assumptions, ask them for data to support what they say, and push back on their ideas and theories.  They are getting a great education, no matter what school they go to.  A lot of time and money is spent on their development.  A few of the findings in the article didn’t surprise me but made me very nervous that we are no where near closing the gap.  A University of California professor found that high income children start school with 400 more hours of literacy activities than poor children.   They also point to how much money parents are investing in their children.  They found over the last 40 years, affluent parents have increased their spending on their children’s learning activates by $5,300 a year (adjusted for inflation).  Meanwhile, those on the lower scale of economic prosperity were only able to increase their spending on these actives by $480. 

So you have to ask yourself, how exactly will a poor child succeed under these circumstances?  I know we don’t have all the answers but we have to keep at this.  This isn’t a poor issue or a ghetto issue.  This is a national issue.  There is a unreasonable amount of data that points to the high school diploma as the magic line.  We have to at least get students to that line, especially those who are growing up in the cycle of poverty and despair.  A lot of this work has to take place in the early years.  By the time they drop out, we all recognize we are too late. 

Every month, 50,000 Latinos turn 18.  If we use the most basic acceptable statistics about drop out rates, 20,000 of them are turning 18 without a high school diploma, each month.  We know that students who drop out of school are more likely to be unemployed, earn lower wages, have higher rates of public assistance, likely to be single parents, have children at a young age, more likely to become criminals, and like many of the kids I grew up with, end up in jail...or dead.

How long do you think that will be sustainable?  Education as the silver bullet is part of who we are.  Our nation’s identity is made up in large part by the concept of opportunity.  If you give me the opportunity, I will succeed.  We need to restore that concept in education and give every student access to those silver bullets.

The Baby Web

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?”
- Pink Floyd

Do you remember when you had to call the Internet?  It really wasn’t that long ago.  Remember you would call the web and the web would say, “I’m sorry, I’m very busy right now.  Please call me back later.”  We would try a different number, or we would pretend we were calling long distance and try an out-of-state number.  We just kept trying to call the Internet, no matter how much it just didn’t want to talk to us.   After trying for what seemed like hours, we would finally get through.  Then someone would walk into the kitchen, pick up the yellow wall phone hanging there, and knock us right off again!  Very frustrating experience. 

What was our reward for all this effort?  A web page with lots of words, sentences, and paragraphs, that had links to other web pages that were filled with words, sentences, and paragraphs with links to other words, and so on.  That was our web experience and we have to remember that it wasn’t that long ago.   Today we get frustrated if we have a slow web connection while traveling on an airplane with a hundred other web users at 35,000 feet at 525MPH.  Oh how quickly we forget.

It took the telephone 75 years to reach 50 million users.  It took the radio 38 years to reach 50 million users.  The TV set did it in 13 years.  50 million of us were using the web in just four short years.  If you look at the use of websites or apps, things are only getting faster.  For example, in just 35 days, Angry Birds Space had 50 million users.  33% of the world is online.  When I started at Google, it was 16%.

The web is a baby.  We just started using it and already, most of us do not know what we would do without it.  The web is where we read, where we learn, where we share and collaborate, and where we socialize.  Whether you use your laptop, your tablet, or your mobile phone, think about how you use the web and how many times a day you call the Internet today. 

In just a few short years, we went from viewing static web pages full of text, to collaborating with 10 others on documents in real time, looking at each other face to face.  We went from reading blocks of content to having access to 3 billion hours of video on YouTube.  We went from sending emails to our friends with links to websites to check out, to clicking on one of the thousands of articles, blog posts, articles, or videos shared with us by those we selected to be in our network every day.  In just a few short years, the web has become an integral part of our lives. 

Something funny happened over the last Thanksgiving break.  My 11 year old (10 at the time) asked me what Cyber Monday was.  I thought it was a funny question.  I explained to him that it was the Monday after Thanksgiving when all the online retailers had their “Black Friday” sales.  He asked a logical question, “why?”  He didn’t understand why the online shops wouldn’t also have their blowout sales on Friday.  He didn’t understand why they waited until Monday.  He wanted to know what was so special about Monday.  Do you remember why?  The reason we have Cyber Monday is because there was a time when all our “technology” was at work.  The Internet access at work was better than the access we had at home (if we had access at all).  The computer we used (usually a desktop) was at work.  Lots of us didn’t have computers at home.  We certainly didn’t have laptops, tablets, or smart phones.  The applications we relied on were at work.  We have Cyber Monday because we had to go to work to do our online shopping.  We didn’t have the option of doing it at home on Saturday or Sunday.  Cyber Monday, which isn’t that old to begin with, is already ancient folk lure to my 11 year old.

Somewhere in the last few years we crossed over from being a “work technology” culture to a “consumer based technology” culture.  We do everything online.  The applications and programs we use are web-based.  Can you imagine buying a product without reviewing it online first?  Can you imagine pulling out an encyclopedia to find an answer to a question you had?  We all can clearly see how dramatically and drastically the way we deal with information and knowledge has changed.

Education hasn’t been able to keep up with these changes and I think that makes sense.  It is true that my 11 year olds’ classroom looks pretty much the same as it did 20 years ago.  I understand.  The changes have come in waves and at a speed education was not set up to handle.  Totally understand.  Wait time is over.  I think it’s time education started catching up and got into the game. 

The web is a baby and the way we use technology is relatively new.  Most of us can see now how the use of these tools can be applied to education.  All that is great news but that’s not why I want education to jump into the game.  I want it in the game because of what’s coming.  If we all see the benefits of what we can do today in education with technology and the web, can you imagine what we’re going to be able to do in 2 years, or 5 years, or in the next 20 years?

Yes, the web is a baby but it’s growing up.  We haven’t even begun to imagine it’s possibilities.

I’m the Taxman

“Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you, nineteen for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman”

- The Beatles

When I was in 3rd grade, I took one of those “what are you likely to be when you grow up” assessments, with some interesting results.  According to this assessment, I was to become an IRS agent.  Every time I mention that in a talk, I get some big laughs from the audience.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with being an IRS Agent.  I am sure it is a fine and honorable profession but if you know me even just a little bit, you would know why there was something seriously wrong with that assessment.  I am clearly not IRS Agent material and members of my team will tell you that I can barely figure out the tip.

However, that’s not the point of the story.  What happened after I got the results is what makes this story interesting.  My teacher looked at me in the eyes and said, “oh honey, you probably aren’t going to be an IRS Agent but don’t worry, I am sure you will work hard and get a good job.” 

Without knowing it at the time, I had just become a victim of a horrific affliction -  Low Expectation Syndrome.  Looking back at my life, I can point to very specific examples of Low Expectations Syndrome.  The problem with low expectations is that you don’t know you are a victim of it for a long time and I would argue many people never realize it.  These low expectations have dire consequences on students, especially students growing up in disadvantaged environments.  Low expectations give you permission to not work hard, to be lazy, to tell yourself that you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing.  It is truly a life altering decease.

Luckily for me, my 4th grade teacher had the antidote and treated the Syndrome with a new set of expectations and kicked my ass.  She was the first real great teacher I had.  I handed in work and she handed it back with,  “I stopped reading after the first paragraph.  I know you can do better than this.  Work harder.  Do better,” written across the top. She taught me to never say, “I don’t know how to do X.”  She corrected me every time and told me to say, “It’s not that I don’t know how to do X, I just haven’t learned how to do it yet.”  I feared her, not because she was scary or mean.  I feared her because I came to believe she knew me better than I knew myself!  Now I realize that she didn’t need to know me.  She understood the power of expectations and the human potential to do amazing things, no matter what your circumstances. 

It’s tough enough dealing with society’s low expectations, especially if you are a poor Black or Latino kid.  I remember trying to stay out of the sun when I was younger.  I didn’t want to be any darker than I already was.  No one on TV looked like me and I wanted to fit in.  One summer I put Sun-in in my hair.  A commercial told me that I could highlight my blonde hair.  I spent the summer with burnt  red hair, looking like Dennis Rodman.

In school, no one talked about college or more importantly, careers.  I would tell my principal that I was going to go to medical school to be a doctor and he would just pat me on my head and say, “sure kid.”  We were just marred in a sea of low expectations. 

The problem with Low Expectation Syndrome is that it is a deadly silent killer.  It impacts you without you recognizing it.  When I was in college, I wanted to continue my education and go to graduate school to study public policy.  My favorite political science professor suggested that I apply to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  I thought he was insane and said, “kids like me don’t go to Harvard, I’d get eaten alive there!”  He couldn’t talk me into it.  I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to get in, let alone do well there.  Never mind that I took four of his classes and he knew me well, or that I taught Intro to Political Science over the summer, as a senior.  Of course now I look back and I know that not only could I have gone to Harvard, I would have kicked it’s ass!  But at the time, I didn’t know I was suffering from Low Expectation Syndrome.  It took graduate school, working for the Governor of New York, and years working at Accenture before I truly got the syndrome out of my system.

I read an article where a University of Minnesota professor (Sherri Turner) and a postdoctoral fellow (Julia Conkel Ziebell) did an interesting study on the career beliefs of 97 inner-city adolescents.  Students were asked to rate how much they believed career focused statements and the results are telling.

The most interesting one was, “success is related to effort.”  If you think about that statement for a second, what do you think your own kids would say?  Would they agree?  I know my kids would.  As a competitive swimmer, my daughter got up at 4:30AM several times a week for years to practice before school.  She worked her ass off and graduate high school on a team that lost one swim meet in 30 years and she finished as the second fasted breaststroker in Arizona (we do swimming well in AZ).

Well in this study, only 24% of students believed that that statement to be true.   70% of them completely disagreed with it.  The authors say turning around these negative beliefs should be a major emphasis among school administrators.

No kidding.  This is an important topic that isn’t addressed much.  I will be posting much more on this subject in the future.