Tuesday, March 22, 2011

#7 - Education

Disclaimer: You may notice that this post is out of order (#7, when I'm already at #10).  I've been thinking about this topic for quite some time, and I think I'm finally ready to move from draft to publish.  Generally, I'm a bit quicker on the draw with these things, but this topic is really near and dear to my heart.

Although I've briefly touched on the topic of education before (here and here), I haven't really shared my current thoughts on the overall structure and purpose of education in the United States.

My intent is not to bury you with stats (although that is certainly easy enough to do), educational jargon, or stories of woe and sadness in the educational system.  That can all be accessed in many other places.

Instead, I'd like to take a quick look at the concept of education as if we were able to start completely anew.

First, the background.

Although I'm generalizing here, based on my experiences, hopefully you can relate.

I've been in education since I was five years old.

I've been a student (K-12, undergraduate, master's, and doctoral), a teacher, a professional development specialist, an administrator, and a professor.  I've seen this process from a number of different angles, and it seems to me that we are holding onto a model that is no longer as applicable as it once was.

Think about the process of moving students through a typical K-12 school, and consider whether this educational process truly prepares individuals for "real life" (whatever THAT may be).

In general, a very specific amount of time is dedicated each day to a specific area of content (I'll grant you that there is some interdisciplinary work happening, but in today's high stakes testing climate, are you willing to give up your math class to partner with a science teacher?  didn't think so).  We assign students homework problems and check them to make sure they are understanding, but how does this ensure long term transfer?

We have an assembly-line model, in an information-age society.

A question: what should education be like?  What should be the purpose of attending school?

Is it to memorize dates of obscure battles?  Learn how to solve systems of linear equations using matrices?  (Although, I have to admit, that is a fun one!)

Before I start to freak out my brethren in social studies and mathematics, let me say unequivocally that I believe that we have many of the content areas right.  Math, Social Studies, Language Arts/Reading, Science, Visual Art, Physical Education/Health, Music (as well as any other content areas that students are fortunate to have access to) are all important for us to explore.

However, it may be that our emphasis is misplaced a bit.  In an effort to quantify everything (I'm looking at you No Child Left Behind), we lose sight of the larger goals of education.  Think about this: when was the last time that you needed to know the major dates and theatres of war for the French and Indian War for your employment (History teachers and professors excluded, obviously)?

Instead, is it not more instructive to learn the lessons of what happens to colonists and indigenous peoples when two imperial nations (thanks France and England!) are locked in conflict halfway around the globe?

So, what should we teach in our schools?

Here is an outline, taken directly from the 'off the top of my head' region of my brain:
  1. Early Childhood Education: begins at birth, runs until age 8 or so.  This is a partnership between schools and parents, where students begin to learn language skills (reading and writing), core math skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division), exploration in the arts.  There is exposure to civics and science as well.
  2. Middle Childhood Education: age 9 to 13/14.  Aptitude is assessed frequently, and students are given ample time to explore various fields (presentations from experts?  videos?) in connection with aptitude testing.  More advanced skills in mathematics are introduced and mastered (everyone masters Algebra I, essentially) and core language arts skills are mastered.  More time is given to Social Studies and Science, in order to spark interest in those who are interested in these fields, as well as to ensure that everyone has mastered civics as well as foundational scientific principles.
  3. Secondary Education: 14 to 18ish.  Again, time is devoted to exploring aptitude, with more emphasis on field experiences (would I like to operate on people? I should probably watch a few surgeries, or speak to surgeons about their day-to-day).  BIG emphasis on life skills training: preparing healthy foods, personal finance, and living a healthy life, come to mind immediately.
  4. Service Learning/Required Draft: 18 to 20.  No exceptions.  Everyone is drafted into either the military service, Americorps, the Peace Corps, or another service entity, yet to be designed.  If the military is not your thing, you could work a rotation in the Hotel/Restaurant industry (i.e., cleaning rooms, working as a waiter, etc.)  The lessons one could learn in serving others would last a lifetime; would you trash a hotel room, if you knew what all was involved in making it look spotless?
  5. Postsecondary Education/Advanced Training: 20-24ish. Depending on your interests, and how you believe that you can contribute to society, upon completion of your service tour of duty, you could enroll in additional training/apprenticeship in order to master your craft.  Sure, traditional undergraduate colleges/universities would still fill a role here, however, it would be important to provide many other training opportunities for this population.  Apprenticeships, internships, technical training opportunities can all fill the knowledge gap for those individuals who want to improve their understanding of the world, but may not be a perfect fit for the demands of the typical university.
Following your training, obviously, you would be expected to enter the world of work and make a contribution to society.  Since we don't stop growing intellectually upon leaving school, it will be important to offer additional learning opportunities (for fun, even?!?) for adults.

Really, this helps me get back to the root of the question: what IS the purpose of education?  Is it to make everyone equal in their knowledge (our current standard, btw), or is it to craft productive members of a society, regardless of the path chosen later in life?

Again, this is an outline, a starting point.  What did I miss?  What would you suggest?  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

#10 - Climbing vs. Serving

What is the message that you receive from "society" regarding success?  If you're like me, success has been measured by how high (and quickly) you climb the ladder.

I think I may have figured out a better way to measure success though: have the heart of a servant.  Normally, I don't beat you over the head with my faith, but I think that there are some wonderful lessons to be learned from the teachings of Jesus, particularly his approach to serving others.

Let me back up a bit.

When I was in high school, I put in just enough effort to do well with my grades.  Aside from my wonderfully challenging AP English class (thanks, Mrs. F.!), I didn't really dig into any content area in detail. 

So, I got all A's, was the top of my class, but I didn't really transfer any of the information I "learned" to my life.  High school was just a hoop to jump through to get to the next level.

Honestly (sadly), I feel the same way about my undergraduate degree.  I learned some valuable life lessons (living in a fraternity house helps with that), but I viewed my classes as a hindrance to getting on to "real life."  Plus, what did I need to know about Ed Psych?  I was going to be a band director!


This overall attitude of viewing my current station as a temporary condition followed me into my career as well.  When I was subbing, I wanted a full time position.  When I got a full(ish) time job (thanks, MC) I wanted to get a better job.  When I got a better (paying) job, in fact, my DREAM JOB, I lasted for only four years before bailing on teaching music in general.

After leaving the classroom, I worked for a great company.  I started moving up at the company, but eventually, I began to look for something "better."  This led me to my current employer.

When I first started here, it was pretty unclear what my responsibilities would be.  I made some effort to establish my role, but not really.  Instead, a year in, I started looking elsewhere.  Not seriously looking, but the key here is that my mind was not on what I could do to make my job awesome.  I was looking for the next big thing.  The next rung on the ladder.

I'm not sure exactly when my attitude changed, but it did.  I sought out ways to help the overall organization, as well as the School to which I am assigned.  I work hard to make a contribution to the university.  This was accomplished through committee work, publication, and presentations at conferences.  I represent my institution and strive to further our reputation.

I became a servant to my colleagues, and it has paid great dividends.  I don't say, "that's not my job" even when it isn't.  Instead, I help find a solution.

My attitude has changed from seeking out the next big thing (i.e., a "better" job) to being a better person in the job that I have.

So, what rewards, you may ask?  I have been promoted from the Coordinator for Online Curriculum Development to the Director of Instructional Technology.  While that may seem like promotion in title only, I did take on many new responsibilities (faculty training, primarily).

Now, instead of seeking out a better (higher on the ladder job), I'm letting that take care of itself.  In fact, as a result of my efforts as the Director of Instructional Technology, after one year, I've been asked to take on two new positions this next academic year: Chair of the Graduate Education Department and Assistant Vice President of Online Education.  Both of these roles are heavy, but I think I'm up to the challenges ahead.  I now have a seat at the table where the significant academic decisions are made, and I feel absolutely honored that I am allowed to make such a contribution.

Please understand that I'm not bragging here, I just feel compelled to share how my life has changed for the better upon changing my attitude.

Instead of thinking, "I should get a great job at a great big university (ladder climbing)," I now say a prayer of thanks that I'm able to help others develop strong teaching practices.  Anyone who has taught will understand when I say that not every moment of my day is filled with sheer joy.  I do face challenges to my patience, regularly.

However, from some of my biggest challenges also come some of the biggest rewards.  When I see a faculty member struggle but then get it, I feel like I've made a contribution to society (remind me to expand on contributing in a future post).

Boiled down, what am I really trying to say?

Work hard and serve others with a joyful heart, and let the rest take care of itself.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Advice to Young Men, #1

At the risk of being misunderstood (this blog post is not to brag, but to hopefully inform others), I would like to share some advice for the young men out there who are thinking about becoming a responsible man in an adult relationship.

Honestly?  I'm writing this series of posts to the twenty year-old me.  Pay attention, young D.

Recently, I had the pleasure of grocery shopping with my wife.

I'll repeat that, in case you stumbled over the wording the first time.  Recently, I had the pleasure of grocery shopping with my wife.

No, there is nothing wrong with me (well, nothing that relates to grocery shopping, at least).

I actually enjoy this activity.

Would I go so far as to say that I look forward to grocery shopping?  Don't be silly, no one loves grocery shopping, do they?

However, the key phrase to consider here is "with my wife."

You see, I actually put effort into my relationship with my spouse.  I'm a firm believer that all relationships require effort in order to flourish.  But that doesn't mean that the work isn't enjoyable, because it is.

Do I love going to the grocery store?  I do not love going to the grocery store.

But I do love my wife, and when WE go to the grocery store together, SHE hates the grocery shopping experience far less.

A very wise friend of mine supplied me with the following equation:

Happy wife = happy life

So, how do you make grocery shopping fun?

Talk.  You are captive for a half hour, roaming up and down the aisles.  Engage in meaningful conversation with your better half.  Better yet, shut your mouth and let her do all the talking - you would be surprised at what invaluable information will come out of the discussion!

Make her laugh.  If you have a sense of humor, use it!  I try to make every unpleasant situation (aside from firing people) more bearable with a laugh.  (Just ask the nurse who was giving me pain meds for my colonoscopy.)  It should go without saying (again, I'm writing to my twenty year old self here) that you shouldn't be a complete idiot in the store.

Don't sulk.  You may think you're following my advice by simply accompanying your spouse to the grocery store, but if you do go, and you're a grumpy butt, you'll end up making the situation worse.  Trust me, you do NOT want to go there (not that I have experience with that - ok, yes I do).

Will going grocery shopping (or, insert undesirable chore here) guarantee that your life will be filled with wedded bliss?

No, no it will not.

However, I can guarantee you that YOU will feel better about the effort you make to keep your relationship healthy.  When your partner knows that you are making a meaningful contribution, you are headed in a good direction together.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

#9 - Nostalgia.

Have you ever felt drawn to a place before?

Since I started at my current job in the summer of '06, I've taken essentially the same route to work each day.  A fairly straight shot from Waldo to Mount Vernon, with a few curves, towns, and hills along the way to break it up a bit.

Apparently, after four years of this, my brain was looking to break up the routine a bit and I started daydreaming (I do this a lot, btw) of alternate routes.  Eventually I recalled a path that allowed me to hop on a highway closer to my home and take it through Cardington.

Even if it is shorter in distance, it makes up for it in stops.

However, I really felt compelled to give it a shot.  So, one day I headed out that way instead of my normal drive.  About halfway in, I realized why I was drawn to this new way to work: the Lutheran Memorial Camp.

This is actually kind of weird, considering I've only been on the property a handful of times, including a recent visit (we'll get to that in a minute).

Yet, the first time I saw the sign, I was instantly transported to a different time.  Oh, time travel does indeed exist, both forward and back.  We make plans, projections into the future, right?  Similarly, we can cast our minds back to a time long past, as if it just happened.

I thought of the first time that I was there as a camper in sixth grade.  Our school, like many others, took all the sixth graders out there for a week, while recruiting well-behaved seniors to serve as counselors.  What could go wrong, right?

Of course, there was some late night drama, lots of laughs, and a great experience in the wilderness (I actually learned some things), all in an idyllic setting.  I remember the senior counselors, how I thought they were so much older (and cooler) than us.

I went back six years later, for I was then a well-behaved senior.  I realized why I thought the seniors were cool when I was in sixth grade; as seniors, we were cool.  I took an acoustic guitar and the latest RATT cassette, I had it going on.  Again, I had a great time, wonderful facility.  The camp is perfectly suited to the purpose for which it is used.

Back to the current day.  After taking the new route for a few months, I finally detoured into the camp on my way in one day.

I forgot how long the driveway is, and how the whole camp is set in a wonderful woods.  My dream driveway would look a lot like this.

Once I got into the camp proper, the waves of nostalgia began.  I flashed back to memories of playing basketball and kickball, chasing girls (both visits), making candles, making rain sounds one night in the lodge with everyone (snapping, clapping, slapping our thighs) as it poured outside. Johnny Appleseed stories, wading in the creek, identifying different plants, and team building.

That was a week or so ago.  Today, on my drive home, I wanted to get to the root of why this place called to me, after only a couple substantive visits.

That's when I remembered: I had actually been there a couple other times.

Once, when I was a seventh or eighth grader, I went to visit a friend who lived really close to the camp.  He was one of my best friends as a kid, and our families spent a lot of time together.  He and I walked back a trail where a railroad track once lay, and wandered through the woods of the camp.  We chased crawdads in the creek; I tried snuff for the first (and last) time, and it made me sick.

The other time was with the same friend, only a few years later.  I think I was a sophomore in high school, and I was invited to his younger brother's birthday (I was actually between the two brothers in age).  I showed up to the party with my girlfriend at the time, and spent hardly any time at all at the party before bailing with the older brother and his girlfriend back the same trail to do some necking (ask you parents, kids) at the camp.  Sorry, KD for being a big ol' schmuck - I've grown up a little (ok, quite a bit) since then.

Thinking about spending time with my friend eventually led to memories of losing him when I was a freshman in college.  I was home on Christmas break, and ran into him early in the week.  We exchanged contact info (as much as we had in 1987) and made plans to get together soon.  It felt as if no time had passed between our last meetings, although it had been a few years.

A few days later, he was killed in an accident.

Yet, he is still alive for me, at least as long as I hold onto those memories.  I can travel in time.  I can hear his voice, hear him picking on me in a good way.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried a little bit.

But it wasn't a bad thing.  This seemingly random release of emotion is an indication of how powerful memories can be in our minds. 

Thanks, Lutheran Memorial Camp, nostalgia can be a wonderful thing.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

#8 - Metacognition

Now wait just a minute there.  Where are you going?

Don't freak out, I'm not going to get all educational on you here (well, maybe a little, but still, don't freak out).

Disclaimer out of the way?  Good.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about thinking.  More accurately, I've been thinking about how wondrous it is that we can even consider the concept of thought.

Don't you think that it's interesting that even with as much as we know about the human body, including the brain, we still don't fully understand how our consciousness works?  Granted, we get how neurons send electrical signal, and what happens to people when there is damage to an area of the brain.

I promised you no edujargon, so I'll lay this out in a way that even I could understand:
"Metacognition is the process of thinking about thinking" (Kearsley, 2010).
So why am I fascinated so much by our consciousness, and our ability to philosophize in general?

I'm not sure.

I only know that, as a lay person, I've had an interest in the human mind for a long time (I'm sure that a parallel universe Damon is a neuroscientist of some sort).  Why else would I order some Philip K. Dick and Ray Kurzweil when presented with a Barnes and Noble gift card? (Of course, my father may have had something to do with the love of SciFi with his everchanging collection of hardcovers and paperbacks.  We're talking Asimov, Pohl, Heinlein, Clarke, the big hitters.)

I love curiosity.  I love creativity. As far as I know, and, to the degree that we display these traits, they are exclusively human.  Sure, some animals are curious, but how many of them compose blog posts on consciousness?

I'm currently reading The Element by Ken Robinson, Ph.D., and it speaks directly to the issues discussed above: how creativity and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. (note: I'm only in the third chapter of the book as of this posting.  I highly recommend the book, although you may find it a bit of a slow, circular start.)

Can I tell you a quick(ish) story?

When I was in the eighth grade, I knew what I wanted to do for a living; I wanted to be a band director.  Specifically, I wanted to come back to my (then future) alma mater and be the band director.

I was an adequate musician in a small school (big fish little pond), even though I didn't work hard at it.

As humbling as it is to admit, I was torn to SHREDS in my first week of music theory by one of the most brilliant musical minds I've ever met, the late Dr. Joseph Thomas.  In that week, we were required to submit some music theory workbook pages on key signatures and clefs and notes and other basic theory things that everyone else knew.

I had no theory background, so I got a D- on that assignment, with some fairly strong commentary, some of which suggested I might want to consider an alternate major.

I should mention that I was at the top of my high school class academically - not to brag, just to provide context.

I had no idea what a D- even looked like in person.

Still, I had the dream of being the band director, so I buckled down and actually learned.  Dr. Thomas' music theory and aural training classes were challenging but incredibly educational.  For example, in the second year theory course, we were often asked to write one sentence about a particular measure in a score he would supply.  The measure, or chord, or phrase, would be something pivotal to the piece and he would expect us to not only see that, but also to find a way to write about it eloquently.  He was as harsh on us regarding sentence structure as he was on the content of the writing.

I remember this, because I was engaged in the course.

Sadly, I don't remember much else about my undergrad coursework, primarily because I approached those classes as a means to an end: a degree.  Need the degree if you're going to go back to teach at your alma mater, right?

Wait.  Why am I telling you this, when the point of this post is thinking about thinking?

I'm just reflecting on my thought processes at the time, from the standpoint of a career educator, and realizing how any of my professors (or K-12 teachers) could have engaged me in their content.

In Dr. Thomas' classes, I was required to be creative.  One part of our final exam for my second year aural training exam was to select three traditional Christmas carol melodies (from memory) and supply the original harmonization as well as a reharmonization that we composed. Part writing rules apply!

Eventually, I passed my classes, did my student teaching, and earned my teaching credentials.  I subbed for a couple years, taught at a small Catholic school for a couple years, and eventually ended up realizing my childhood dream; I was hired to teach at my alma mater.

I only lasted four years, before leaving for a technology professional development position at another educational entity.

Even though I came to the conclusion that teaching music at the K-12 level just wasn't for me, I still believe that music is an integral part of who I am.

I play bass and guitar for a singing group that my children are in, once in awhile I get to play some worship music at church or at work, and I write some weird electronica pieces from time to time.  Writing or playing music allows my consciousness to enter Flow, and that's a good thing.  If it was good enough for Einstein (Foster, 2005), probably good enough for me, right?

Likewise, education, and the process of educating others, is also a big part of me.  Ask my wife, I struggle to turn off "teacher mode," regardless of my context.

However, both of these activities allow me to use my brain, and think about things, in a different way.

I charge you to let you mind wander, be creative, think big thoughts, and dream big dreams.

Will all of us be the President of the United States of America when we grow up?


But that doesn't mean that your daydreams won't turn into something that could change the world.

Think about your thinking, in order to find ways that you are creative!


Foster, B. (2005). Einstein and his love of music. Retrieved from http://www.pha.jhu.edu/einstein/stuff/einstein&music.pdf

Kearsley, G. (2010). The Theory Into Practice Database. Retrieved from http://tip.psychology.org/meta.html

Wednesday, December 15, 2010



I don't care who you are, you can find a way to help other people.  This man is compassion, embodied in human form.  If you know the caste system in India at all, you realize how powerful his actions are.



Tuesday, November 16, 2010

#6 - Humbled.

I'm trying to do good things without trumpeting my accomplishments.

I could provide you with a list of how I try to make a difference in the world, but it really doesn't matter.


Because no matter what I do, someone else does more.

It really isn't a competition, instead, it is a wonderful lesson for me to learn (over, and over, and over again, apparently).

Here are a couple recent examples that should clarify where I'm coming from:

1.  My kids are in a Christian singing group that has an annual retreat around the end of October.  All day Saturday rehearsals, fun time on Sat. night, sleepover, and then all day Sunday rehearsals topped off by a performance for the parents.

I play bass in the band, and my wife is the coordinator for the group, so we're committed to the weekend.  However, there are many other parents who sacrifice their personal time to help out and chaperone.  One such individual helped provide me with some perspective at this last retreat.

Everything was going great for me during the weekend, right up until an hour before the performance.  We had just eaten a potluck lunch, and all of a sudden, I wasn't feeling so hot.  I struggled mightily throughout the performance, but was able to make it all the way through without bailing.

Feeling pretty good about myself for putting the group ahead of my nausea, I read Facebook the next day to find that not only did the aforementioned individual sleep in the boys' cabin as a chaperone (a prescription for little sleep), he went into work on Sunday night and worked third shift.

All day Saturday running sound, up late Saturday night, all day Sunday running sound, followed by a full shift in a factory on Sunday night.

Makes my little battle seem pretty insignificant, right?

Wait, it gets better.

2.  Where I work, we have meetings.  Lots of them.

One of my colleagues seems to perpetually struggle with the concept of maintaining consciousness in the meeting context.  No matter where we meet, there's a good chance he's going to doze a little at some point.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I might have made some comments of a mocking or humorous nature regarding this situation.  As it turns out, he has a pretty good reason for being a bit sleepy during the day.

He volunteers at a men's homeless shelter downtown.

Since someone needs to be on duty overnight, that responsibility falls to him when no one else can be found.

So, there are days where he will work during the day, go home for a few hours, and then stay awake all night at the shelter to supervise.

I'm thinking that if that were me, I might be a bit sleepy in meetings as well.

Again, I don't think that living a good life is a competition against others; instead, I think that we can all do good without boasting, and just be an inspiration by example to others.  I can tell you that both of these men have inspired me to step it up a bit, especially regarding the concept of sacrifice.

Who challenges you to do the same?