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Saylor U

Michael Saylor, CEO of Microstrategy, a Virginia software company and a billionaire announced that plans to open a free open university featuring a website that will provide access to contemporary mental giants. He is already being criticized for suggesting that higher education can be had by means of canned video packages, yet the hallowed halls of learning are paying attention to what might eventually become a threat. Is free tuition an idea whose time has come? There is a curious anomaly in the world of universities that gives lip service to the idea of learning in a non-commercialized environment and at the same time that charges tuitions that are so high as to bring into being an entire industry devoted to supplying information about college grants and scholarships and providing financing for college.

The missing ingredient in the prescriptions for better schools

Joanne Jacobs writes in the San Jose Mercury News about why Hispanics do well at many local schools in the San Francisco Bay Area . Based on her investigation, she makes these observations as to why some schools work.

  1. The teachers expect a lot from the kids.
  2. The teachers are trained.
  3. The parents are involved.
  4. The schools love data and know how to use it.
  5. More time is given to needy students.
  6. Part of the day students are grouped by skills.
  7. Teaching is in English.

This is all well and good. It would be a good start for any school, yet the author misses an important point. As Doctor William Glasser points out in his provactive book, Quality School: Managing Students Without Coercion, lead-management instead boss-management needs to be the governing orientation for both teachers and administrators.

Boss-management is at its essence coercive - do it my way or I'll hurt you in some way. It is the way of breaking in horses that Monty Roberts, the man who learned how to communicate with horses in their own language, has spent his life fighting against. Lead-management, based on Dr. Edward Deming's work in the field of quality management, puts the burden on school administrators and managers to see to it that the system works so that the bulk of the students do high-quality work.

According to Dr. Glasser, leader-teachers discuss quality work with their students and and obtain input about it from them. They model what's expected and expect the students to evaluate their own work. The leaders cares more for the welfare of the students than themselves or their superiors. Once the students see that, they are willing to follow. Leaders facilitate in noncoercive, nonadversarial settings. It is true, as Dr. Glasser contends, that teaching is one of the most difficult jobs because the teacher has to do what many consider an almost impossible task: convince someone who does not want to learn to do quality work.

There was a saying in the middle of the Great Depression that there are plenty of jobs for good salesmen. Salespersons have a difficulty analogous to that of leader-managers; they have to convince someone who doesn't want to buy something to buy it anyway. That is also true, of course, of selling lead-management to the school hierarchy.

Dr. Albert Mamary, Superintendent of Schools, Johnson City, New York writes the following about Dr. Glasser's book:

This should be required reading by every school administrator, every teacher, every board member and all university faculty involved in the training of teachers. There is no doubt that we need to squeeze all blame, all coercion and all criticism out of any people-related business. Not until we realize that schools are in a people business will we ever be able to make meaningful changes.

Doctor William Glasser most likely is right about the inhibiting effect of coercion  - although the right kind of persuasion can prove to be useful. However his Lead Management prescription and Joanne Jacobs prescriptions  may still be not enough to turn the tide. Even if removal of  the time trap flaw of configuring classes strictly by age is added to the mix, it will not suffice all because of a missing critical ingredient.

Dr. Glasser points out the undeniable fact that human beings have basic needs that include:

  1. survival, 

  2. love,

  3. power,

  4. fun,

  5. freedom, and 

  6. a desire to belong

 As adults we readily acknowledge the existence of these needs, yet we tend to underestimate their presence in children. With respect to the arena of power, for example, Dr. Glasser during his presentations asks junior and senior high school students, “Where in school do you feel important?” He writes that “This question always seems to the students to come from outer space; they look at me as if I had asked something ridiculous.”

Some schools are trying a teaching script or structured curriculum  that dictates class by class exactly what  procedures the teacher is to follow. There are claims that this  prescription can up test scores in schools in low socioeconomic districts. In addition to their high cost and their dispensation of a multitude of disconnected inert facts, I believe that this approach is fatally flawed because it fails to satisfy at least two of the fundamental needs of the teachers, power and freedom. 

Joanne Jacobs in a follow-on article points  out inconsistencies whether  one tries to blame less-educated parents, less-educated teachers,  low economic status, or poor funding for differences in student achievement as one can find exceptions in all these cases.  She does come closer to the mark in saying that the social status that a given culture gives to education matters. Our culture gives lip service to the idea of education, yet it is does not really value it for its own sake. As William Bennett, the former Education Secretary who wrote the epilogue to the close study of Japanese education that is contained in this site, wrote in his book The Educated Child, "Kids are reading Batman rather than Henry James, and that's got to change."

Joan Jacobs says that she see the problem of quality education  as a 'critical mass' issue: "Striving must be numerous enough to raise expectations, fill challenging classes and make studying socially respectable." That begs the question of how to get to the critical mass? What is the missing ingredient?

Gail R. Benjamin, author of Japanese Lessons: A Year in a Japanese School through the Eyes of an American Anthropologist and Her Children, puts her finger right on the missing ingredient although she doesn’t use the technical term. In the academic worlds of cognitive and social psychology it is called group dynamics. The Japanese use the word han, which means a small group or squad usually with five to eight members. The secret of success in the Japanese educational system at the elementary stages is the skillful use of the group in satisfying the basic needs that Dr. Glasser identifies.  Although the teachers keep a watchful eye, they stay in the background as their charges work together in stable groups throughout the academic year in all phases of school activity including cleaning up, serving lunches to their peers, athletic and social activities as well as academic work.

By taking on various roles in the group all members get to satisfy their basic needs for power, fun, freedom, love and belonging.  The Japanese consider a small class, say under 35 students, to be a disadvantaged one because it lacks a sufficient number of student with which to make up sufficiently heterogeneous groups. The faster students help their slower fellows; there is no division by ability. The core belief is that everyone, by hard work and application can succeed, and by and large they do succeed.

 As a general rule, teachers don’t give positive or negative evaluations of answers in the classroom. Only the other students evaluate. Validation comes from peers, who are the source of authority not the teachers. Leadership power rotates  around the group as do other roles. The power given to students is illustrated by the story of Hirotada Ototake, born without arms and legs, a pubic hero who is making changes in the traditional negative attitude that the Japanese have for the disabled. He says that he particularly likes to speak to grade-school children because they have no fear of asking blunt questions. The teachers exercise power in seeing to it that the system works.

Integration of group dynamics into the American educational system would require a radical revision of the roles of teachers and administrators. Progressive companies are reorganizing their structures to make teamwork an integral part of their businesses. That idea unfortunately doesn’t appear to be trickling down to the elementary and high schools. The American ideal of the independent individual is a myth. In the real world, little gets done by individuals alone. Even my Real Estate Mortgage Broker advisor in Silicon Valley California, Elliot Ames, in his newsletter writes: “We also find that today’s successful buyers operate within a close knit team, consisting of themselves, their Realtor, their loan officer, and appraiser. The competition is simply so tough that only a coordinated team effort can prevail.”

Crackers Can Be Bad Cookies
The warning are out on Internet users with high speed cable or DSL connections that are left on, and that includes home computers. The warning is double for those who are hosting a Web site or sharing files. Bad crackers are hackers that look for Internet Protocol numbers that clue them into penetrating computers connected into the Internet. Once into your machine, the hacker can store stolen or obnoxious  data to launch attacks on other machines from your computer.

Things that you can do to protect yourself include using hard-to-guess passwords for file and print sharing, not leaving your computer connected to the Internet all the time, and installing a firewall.

On our Links page you will find some references to inexpensive firewall software. 


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