THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN in June 2012. Posting in now because some (many?) parts still seem relevant.

Sometimes, even the most mild-mannered people (which I am, clearly, not!) need to let off steam to express strong opinions and to seek feedback on opinions. Here are three things that have been simmering in the back of my mind for quite some time now, but they really seemed to “gel” on the drive home this afternoon. I’ll start with the short one:

The cost of moving manufacturing overseas

It seems to me that people aren’t considering the effects of “lemming syndrome” when they talk about the loss of jobs and the effects of outsourcing. Here are two ideas that I think really need to be considered by organization that are in a position to build up local communities.

  • Obviously, to the individuals who are laid off when a job is outsourced and to their families there is an immediate negative consequence. That is, that person no longer can support the family, and must look for other employment. In many times and places it has been possible for workers who were laid off for no fault of their own to find a new job fairly quickly. But as has been mentioned (over and over and over) right now even the best workers with solid references are having trouble finding jobs that pay a “living” wage.
  • Second, there is a slowly spreading pyramid of loss that ultimately strikes at the organizations that outsourced their work: That is, as more and more workers are unemployed, or underemployed, there are fewer and fewer customers for whatever the product is that an organization produces. Whether a physical object such as a car or computer, or a service, or an intangible such as information, people simply cannot afford those services or products. Organizations that look too far afield for workers will ultimately have to look further afield for customers as well.

The cost of “one size fits all” education

Most of us, if we sit down and think about it for a while can name people who did really well in school without seeming to work very hard. We also know people who worked very hard and did well. And we know people who seemed to try everything and never quite “got” school. Or they did well in some subjects and very poorly in others. Why is that? And why does it matter?

  • Howard Gardiner posited the idea of Multiple Intelligences in the 1980s. But this wasn’t a truly new idea, teachers have known for thousands of years that some students do better with hands-on learning, some do better with memorizing, some do better with mathematics or music or art… Still, we often forget that different people have different areas where they excel, and expect everyone to be able to accomplish the same tasks at the same level — at the same stage of development. Read on for why that is unrealistic…
  • Jean Piaget articulated “stages of learning” nearly 100 years ago. People generally follow similar paths in learning, and our brains are adapted to do some things first. When a person isn’t ready to learn something, generally speaking, they can’t. Some tasks that we used to think were pre-requisites for others are now known to be related but not sequential. For example, writing and reading (to talk about something that I know about!). Current research shows that waiting to teach writing until students can read at a certain level is not necessary. In fact, there are some people who write well and can articulate complicated thoughts long before they can read at that level. And there are some people who are great thinkers, who understand a great deal but who do not spell very well or understand the rules of written grammar. It is important to allow people to work at the level where they are in each content area (this is something along the lines of Vygotsky’s thinking), rather than lumping them all in one group by age, or by making one kind of understanding a gateway to an unrelated type of learning. In fact, keeping people working at their optimal learning level in reading supports their writing, and vice-versa.
  • There is a strong movement in the United States to require students at specific grade levels to reach specific “benchmarks” — without considering whether the students are developmentally ready. Again, just because the average student at a particular grade will be able to [fill in the blank], doesn’t mean that all students can, nor indeed should. We start our children in school at kindergarten around age 5 whether they are ready for that environment or not. Children who are still in a very motor-skills driven stage are asked to start looking at and working with things on paper before they are ready. We don’t always know this before they enter kindergarten, but it’s easy to spot in a very short time once they are there! But generally those children who would be ready the following year for the same tasks are simply moved along to first grade, where they continue to be “not quite” ready for the level of work of their age peers. And then second grade… at some point these students may be identified for needing extra help, or given medication to help them conform to the expectations of the classroom, when a little more time and repetition of the learning would help them catch up and begin to excel. So much of our time in school is spent with paper and pencil (and now computer) learning, that there is pressure to push those skills beyond the developmental readiness of students, and to exclude other learning until those skills are learned. Eventually, disillusioned students who could have enjoyed learning leave school thinking they don’t have much to offer.
  • Students who are capable and hard working don’t get the feedback on what they do well as often as they get feedback on what they do poorly. I don’t believe that all students should be promoted whether or not they meet standards (see above), and I don’t think that we need to sugar-coat when a student needs more time or work on something. But I do think that when their strengths and progress go unrecognized, not only do they lose self-esteem, they lose opportunities to use those strengths to support their learning in other areas. If a student is great at math, or engineering, or sports, but struggles with writing and reading, keep them moving where they can, support their learning where they need the extra help — but don’t take away their time in things they love. Celebrate their gifts and help them find a way to use their gifts in life.

The cost of restricting access to education, voting, legal agreements…

That was the end of the original post. Clearly unfinished, but at least now it’s online!