Why Edu-Cat-Ion?

Why do we need another Web site that talks about education?

Why is there a picture of the space shuttle blasting off associated with this article?

Why is education spelled that way?

And now, why is this article being repeated since it was first published on November 1, 2014?

This site was launched on November 1, 2014 (now you know the answer to “Why” number 2 above), and there are even more voices talking about education in cyberspace today.  Legislation has changed; STEM is still a hot topic (or is it STEAM…or STREAM…or STREAMS); Common Core was something thrust into the conversation almost a decade ago, and has now taken a backseat to a hybrid education model and learning from home vs. learning in the classroom (thank you, coronavirus pandemic); home schooling is on the rise; budgets are tighter than ever; and, those who are elected to public school boards usually are “concerned citizens” with absolutely no background in education, wanting to keep taxes low for senior citizens, but who have absolutely no idea how to generate revenue to keep up with inflation and additional necessary programs, not to mention security concerns as children in classrooms continue to be slaughtered by semi-automatic weapons in the hands of those who believe they are entitled, are seeking revenge, or who have some other type of brokenness they’re dealing with.

As an even smaller voice in a sea of growing voices, this site may have impact, or it may not.  However, you can’t gain anything without risking something.  Who could have thought that a guy named Bill Gates would create a company that has had the impact and influence that Microsoft has on the world of computing?  All he wanted to do when he started out was to create a computer operating system that could handle more than one program simultaneously.  Does anyone remember the IBM XT that ran MultiMate?  If you wanted to change to Lotus 1-2-3, you had to close out of MultiMate on that computer which could store a whopping 512MB of information on its hard drive (by the way, if you have a 64BG iPhone, your phone/handheld computer can store almost 120 times the amount of information that the IBM XT personal computer could.

If you’re like most people who have read the last few lines of the previous paragraph, you probably don’t even know what the difference was between and IBM XT and an AT, and may have no idea what MultiMate or Lotus 1-2-3 did.  If you’re a Millennial, these were products used in the prehistoric days of computing, which took place about 30 years ago, perhaps even before you were born.

What makes this site different from other sites that talk about education?  We’ll share that in next week’s article.  As a preview, let’s just say that everyone wants to improve education, but how we’re going about doing it is causing frustration, consternation and a lot of other “ations” that you could name.  Many of today’s attempts at improvement are remedies, but, similar to health care, are designed to treat the symptoms.  The following content articles will take a look at things that have to happen long before school begins to “prepare” the child’s mind to be open to learning, since we all know that children learn differently than adults.  Each of those 5 things by themselves can have an impact, but when simultaneously considered as a system, the results can be astounding.  Further, since some of these things need to happen before a child enters school, the real responsibility is on parents…which means that a crisis in education may mean an inability to effectively parent a child (see, I told you this would be controversial).

So why edu-cat-ion?

We all know what “edu” stands for.  It’s the URL extension that signifies an educational institution.  Cat provides a reference to “Cat Theory.”  Some would think this is an erudite reference to Schrödinger’s Cat Theory, a thought experiment which provides an analogy and not a proof to paradoxical observation, that, in quantum physics, matter can exist in two states simultaneously.  The analogy is that a cat in a box can be both alive and dead at the same time.  If one doesn’t check on it, it could be assumed to be alive…when it really isn’t.  And isn’t that how we sometimes think about education?

But that’s not what “cat” refers to.  It’s more along the lines of Cat String Theory, which is often discussed when talking about human attraction.  Cats are always curious about things, but they’re only curious when something “remarkable” happens to them.  Put a ball of string down in front of a cat, and they’ll ignore it (unless it’s filled with catnip).  But set it down across the room, and, after a period of time, move some air across it so that it rolls, the cat will go investigate on their own.  Then they’ll sniff at it, bat it around, pounce on it, bite it and have a grand time with it until it no longer does something remarkable.  That said, education must be continuously fascinating to the learner.  Once it becomes “boring,” it holds no interest to the learner, no matter how well-crafted the lesson plan is…or is thought to be.

As for “ion,” to continue the physics reference, that’s a charged particle.  It can be positively charged, or negatively charged.  And isn’t that how our discussions and ideas regarding education are today?  Common Core is a good idea!  Common Core is a bad idea!  STEM is cutting-edge innovation!  STEM is old news!  Classroom education is alive!  Classroom education is dead…and there’s Schrödinger’s Cat again!  Education is all about change, since learning occurs only when change happens, yet everyone seems to not just dislike, but hate, and sometimes, abhor, change.  Discussions about education are indeed “charged” with emotion.

As for the 4th “why,” these articles are being repeated because that’s how learning occurs.  Spaced repetition is important.  If you’re a practicing Catholic and attend Mass regularly, you know that the Sunday readings repeat themselves every three years.  The point is not that new information usurps old information, it’s that hearing things repeatedly allows you to be affected differently because where you are in history is now different.  The point is not that the readings change; the point is that the readings change us.

Then there’s the 5th “why,” since, in the writings of Systems Thinking pioneer Peter Senge, the perfect system has at least 5 elements.  Most interesting is the “Five Whys” construct utilized in Lean Six Sigma process improvement.  Note that both have five elements, and even the process improvement process developed by W. Edwards Deming consists of five steps (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control). 

As for the “Five Whys,” which was developed by Sakichi Toyoda as a simple way to get to the root of a problem, suggests that after you get to the fifth “Why,” the problem can usually be the result of a bad managerial decision.

So, perhaps we’ve found our fifth “Why,” which would be “Start With Why.”  That’s the title of a book by Simon Sinek (2009).  In it, he states that most organizations have difficulty making improvements because they look at “What” first, and try to correct the issues, rather than starting with “Why” they do what they do, and eventually get to “what” they need to do.

“Why” is a question that needs to be answered by education today.  Is education to provide the basic literacy skills to create an informed electorate (which was the original intent of public education); is it to enable the learner to get a job to contribute to the welfare of the community; is it to allow the learner to achieve to their potential, or is it to be able to provide answers to questions that have not even been thought of yet?

Perhaps, even more profoundly, is the fact that there’s a step that’s a priori to “why” – and that’s “who.”  Who are we trying to educate? (children or parents).  Who is in charge of making the decisions? (teachers, educators, administrators, the school board or the voters – the people of the community).  It’s been said that people lose their way when they lose their “why;” I believe people lose their “why” when they lose their “who.”

Before you leave for today, don’t forget to subscribe to this site, and take a look at Sal Kahn’s TED presentation from 2011 at http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education?language=en

Here’s hoping you enjoy the ride!