With growing bias and subjectivity in our news, and “fact-checkers” who apparently need fact-checking, it is often difficult for me to watch the news anymore or even see it shared on social media.
Social media is especially painful, because of the growing predilection of corporations and people to categorize and label everyone based on an article or a few words.
Here is an example of something that drives me crazy. A fact-check that says there is “missing context” on a story.
I have friends who span the political spectrum, and I see lots of stories get shared. I would estimate that over 90% of the stories I see shared lack some context or balance in perspective.
Recently, the story of the woman getting arrested at a school football game has been making the rounds with political Conservatives. People describe the event as a woman getting tased and arrested for not wearing a mask while being outdoors and socially distanced from others. In many cases, I see the story is flagged because the “independent fact-checkers” say there is missing context.
So, what context is missing?
The fact-checkers say the woman was arrested for criminal trespass and was not arrested for not wearing a mask. Of course, that gives you the impression that her not wearing the mask was irrelevant and that she did something else to warrant getting arrested.
Well, if you know the story (or read the story provided by the fact-checker), the woman was arrested for criminal trespass because she violated school policy. What was the school policy? She was not wearing a mask on school property.
It appears that on this case – it is actually the alert of “missing context” that is somewhat misleading.
Bias and misinformation are a threat to our intelligence
Though I am often critical of news organizations and news media, I do not think “the media” is the enemy of the people.
Rather, I have come to accept that as technology has expanded our access to information and increased competition for audience and advertising – most media organizations treat headlines as marketing copy (with all media occasionally guilty of resorting to “click-bait headlines,” which is nothing more than a polite term for “false advertising.”).
What’s more, I accept that subjectivity interlaced with reporting improves media profit – therefore – in a competitive marketplace it will only continue to increase.
That does not mean media is the enemy. Journalists, reporters, commentators and entertainers are all essential. It is bias and misinformation that are (and always have been) a threat to us because they influence our perceptions and thoughts. And the quality of our thoughts influence our actions and decisions.
With that said, a question that comes to my mind is, “What is the solution to improve the quality of information we process about the world around us?”
This leads me to comment on the whole scheme of “fact-checking” on Facebook and other social networks. It is poorly designed and implemented, inconsistently applied and largely ineffectual. What could it possibly achieve since the real battle for truth was lost (9 times out of 10) before the story even appeared in social media in the first place?
In fact, as it stands now, the labels of “false story” or “missing context” coupled with complaints of censorship from page owners and bans for violating community guidelines have almost become badges of honor. I see people celebrate the fact that they have been sent to “Facebook Jail.” It has become a source of pride.
How can we improve the quality of information we process about the world around us?
In my opinion, what we really need is news that focuses on the core facts – just the facts – and to allow people to ask questions and draw conclusions based on just the facts.
This is the format for a news story that the media companies I own will follow to improve the quality of information being shared:
- First, a breakdown of a story’s key facts without interpretation or subjectivity. No commentary or unnecessary information.
- Second, a list of sources with links to original reporting so people can compare and contrast reporting.
- Third, a series of quotes from people relevant to the story.
- And finally, a thread for questions and discussion.
In my view, this format accomplishes a few things:
- There should never be a label on social networks or through fact-checking organizations such as “missing context” or “false story” for any news item that follows this format.
- People who want to be informed without bias, and want to learn how to ask better questions, will be drawn to the story that follows this format. A reader will know the core elements and be better able to spot interpretations and opinions.
It is time our country was better informed. This is one approach that could help us improve the quality of the information we receive and help us make better decisions.
Warning: A proud Dad tells a story about his oldest daughter handling a cornavirus issue with her employer and a co-worker.
First of all, I’m proud of my oldest daughter.
I am proud of how she has matured and grown as a person, proud of her achievements in school and in life, proud of the ethical decisions she has made and her commitment to stick to her values, and proud of how she has taken a pragmatic and responsible approach to living her day to day life during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other day, she told me about a decision she made that related to her work and the threat of coronavirus. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized that this was a model approach… And another reason to be proud of her.
Here is the story…
My daughter attends college in Virginia, but works throughout the year for a national restaurant chain. This restaurant chain does a lot of wonder things for their employees (tuition reimbursement and free meals), and my daughter has been working for this company since high-school. They have been her only employer and quite frankly, she loves the company, the work and the people.
Similar to many companies that serve the public and handle food, this restaurant has been very supportive of its workforce during the COVID pandemic. When employees get sick and have coronavirus symptoms, they cover the cost of testing and insist they quarantine. Employees get some pay while they quarantine and the company insists they provide a negative test result before they return to work. All sensible and good policies.
However, what happens if someone travels for several days to a place for a vacation? And not just any place, but a place where the coronavirus is spreading fast and new cases and deaths are increasing rapidly?
One such place where coronavirus is spreading rapidly is Florida.
We all know that Florida is experiencing increases in COVID-19 infections. Florida has surpassed New York and has the second highest number of coronavirus cases in the country (California is #1). At 10,000 new cases a day, Florida has the highest new case count in the country (California is #2).
And we know that young people traveling to Florida for parties, beach time and vacation fun have become sick following their return to their home states. In some cases, these young adults have helped spread coronavirus to others.
Recently, a co-worker of my daughter traveled to Florida for fun. While such trips are not on my daughter’s radar, she does not tell people how to live their lives. What she does expect is that if you put yourself in higher risk situations for contracting the coronavirus, you should respect other people and take some common sense / responsible steps to avoid passing the virus onto others.
So, when the co-worker returned to Virginia from her Florida vacation, my daughter was surprised that this person was immediately put back on the work schedule.
Upon seeing the schedule, my daughter politely asked her manager if the restaurant could wait a few days to make sure this person was OK before she returned to work. She also asked her co-worker to forego coming to work for a short time and get tested – just to be safe.
Some people may consider this kind of behavior “bossy” or inappropriate from a young woman. In fact, when I shared this story with my friends on Facebook, I had one friend say this was “fear mongering.”
My daughter only made these requests for her welfare, for the welfare of her coworkers and the for public who patronize the restaurant. No judgement. No fear mongering. No anger. No personal attacks. She just considered the facts and suggested what I think was a pragmatic course of action.
Like many people, myself included, my daughter recognizes that people have a right to live their lives. She does not tell people they cannot go to the supermarket, restaurants, have social events or walk around. She does not police people’s behavior or yell at people who are not wearing masks in public places. She wants to return to in-person classes at school, because there is no way for her have virtual studio or labs.
Never the less, she knows a coworker is going to destinations in Florida that are nationally known have high rates of coronavirus infection, she does consider that to be a little bit different than a quick run to the market. In her mind, a decision like going to Florida for several days and coming right back to work requires a little more thought and prudence from both the coworker and the business.
Of course, businesses that are part of national chains follow corporate policies that are set by others. My daughter understands this. This company’s policy was to support employees if they become sick – not before. Managers sometimes have some leeway or flexibility, but when it comes to healthcare and personal privacy, there is only so much people can do.
My daughter asked for the restaurant to wait. She asked her co-worker to wait. The restaurant declined.
Hence, since the manager would not ask the employee to wait and there was no policy to require the employee to quarantine or require they get tested since they were not reporting symptoms, my daughter was offered a “leave of absence” to wait to see how the situation developed. She had enough money saved to cover rent, utilities and food, and decided that was the best option for her.
Instead of working, my daughter will patiently wait to see if her co-worker gets sick or gets a negative test result.
I am proud of her for the way she approached this situation. And I’m happy that she was offered a choice by her manager to wait it out.
This story, however, brings me to ask some questions:
Should companies ask their employees to report out-of-state travel to places with high infection rates?
What about visits to places (like hospitals) where there are high infection rates?
Should states get tougher about people to travel to states like Florida, Arizona, New York or California where there are high COVID-19 infection rates?
Some states have implemented non-binding travel restrictions, while others have imposed requirements. Starting August 1st, Massachusetts will require anyone who is a state resident and travels to a non-exempt state (or is coming into the state from another state that is not exempt) to complete a form and quarantine for 14 days unless they can provide a negative test result within 72 hours. How that will be tracked or enforced is a topic for discussion. But the fine for non-compliance is pretty steep: $500 a day.
Companies have largely banned in-person meetings and attending in-person events for the rest of the year.
For businesses that serve the public, like restaurants and supermarkets, not all are required to publicize if they have employees test positive for COVID-19. And none (that I am aware of) require people who travel out of state to report that travel and undergo testing before they return to work.
Every business needs to decide what makes the most sense for their day to day operations, but perhaps for certain types of businesses it is worth considering a policy that if employees leave the state to travel to other states with high infection rates – that they quarantine for a period before returning to work.
If a person travels and becomes infected with the virus during their trip – they likely won’t know for many days. What if this person is sick and spreads the virus to co-workers? A restaurant or supermarket could then lose employees to illness and lose the ability to operate well due to inadequate staffing. This impacts overall business operations from productivity to customer service to quality control.
While some people say the death rate from COVID-19 is low, the recovery time can still be long. We also have seen reports that the virus causes significant harm to the lung and heart in certain people. A person may recover in 3, 4 or 6 weeks, but keep in mind – they will be out of work and may not get paid their full salary until they test negative and return to work. The word “recovery” also may be somewhat relative.
I am a freedom-loving person. But freedom requires responsibility. Businesses should look at their COVID-19 policies and consider how personal travel can impact their operations as well as their workforce.
These are challenging times. As we continue to learn and find all the ways we can thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic, we ALL need to be smart and realize that some minor inconveniences are necessary to protect the health and welfare of the people around us.
Let’s look at situations much like my daughter did. Let us weigh the facts and not act out of fear, but purpose. A little pragmatic and common-sense decision-making today, can go a long way to making a brighter tomorrow.
The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) threat has changed many aspects of our daily life.
But whether we are run-down from work, isolated from social distancing and taking steps to “shelter in place,” or feeling stressed if we need to leave home and make potentially dangerous visits to facilities for our daily work, we are going to face moments when we lose our inner energy.
We all have faced those moments.
We do not need the threat of a virus to cause us to lose that special power we have inside – that drive or energy that is synonymous with effectiveness and success.
When we are in our zone, the feeling inside us is an almost magical force capable of propelling us forward to great heights.
However, when we are missing that feeling – there is a flatness to our state of being that creeps in. Put simply: We have lost our mojo.
So, how can you get your mojo back?
Here are some steps you can take to get your mojo back.
Keep in mind as you review this list:
- There is no pill or formula that will work for everyone or work every time.
- You may find that some days it will not take a great deal of effort to get your mojo back, while other days you need to use a great deal of effort.
The important point to remember as you try ideas from this list (which is by no means complete) is to do your best to quiet your mind and remove yourself from any sense or feeling of panic before you start.
I realize that may be easier to say than to do in practice, especially given what is happening around us.
What helps me get started is to think of the words from the great American Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”
Well, the same is true of fear or tension. For every minute you remain scared or uneasy, you are willfully giving up feeling peaceful.
Yes, the situation we are in is unique, but it will not be the end. It is one moment in time. So, do not allow yourself to drown in a flood of emotions. Take a breath and get your mind to a point of calmness. Peace is the best starting point for getting your mojo back.
Sleep to Recharge Your Batteries
How do you start to find peace and get your mojo back? The first thing I’ve discovered is that if I have lost my mojo it is typically because I am run-down or tired. Getting run-down or not getting enough sleep can lower your immune system, reduce blood flow and oxygen to your muscles and brain, and diminish your overall mood.
Fatigue is a mojo killer!
Though sometimes we feel better after just one night of rest and sleep, getting two days rest will really help return your body to a higher energy level. Caution: Do not oversleep, or you will find your body stays in a state of fatigue.
Wake Up Early and Get Moving (No Matter How Hard It Is)
Waking up early and getting moving creates a lot of positive reactions in your brain and throughout your body.
Many people do not consider themselves “morning people” and prefer to sleep in. The truth is – everyone’s body is fully capable of waking up early. We have conditioned ourselves through habits to associate greater pleasure with staying in bed and daydreaming then with getting up and moving.
Part of getting your mojo back will mean creating new habits and not succumbing to the old ones. It takes time. But if you start waking up early and getting active in the morning, it will help improve your thinking, productivity and health, and be a great step towards getting your mojo back.
It is true, there are no more 5 am Orangetheory classes, pickup basketball games or late day stops at the gym. But exercise remains an important way to recapture our mojo.
So, how do we exercise during a pandemic where we are asked to “shelter in place”?
The key is to just get started. Keep it simple. You don’t need weights, resistance bands or a Peloton with an online racing community. Start by doing some pushups and some jumping jacks. The number is not important – what is important is getting your heart rate up.
Begin with just 10 or 15 minutes of exercise and see how you feel.
As the weather is warming-up in many parts of the country, you can go out running or walking.
Exercise will help to get your blood flowing faster, which will get more oxygen to your brain and muscles. This will give you an energy boost and help you to get your mojo back.
When I say “get organized” I don’t mean download a bunch of time management apps for your phone or sort all your wrapping paper by holiday in plastic containers.
Simply lay out your schedule for the day. Create some goals and be sure to include a creative project to start and other ‘to dos’ that you can quickly tackle.
If you have a blueprint and create some structure to your day, it will enable you to accomplish more. When we can see our accomplishments that helps create positive feelings and a sense of success. Positive energy and success are feed our mojo.
Mojo Does Not Work with Anger, Fear, Pity or Sorrow
Mojo is NOT compatible with anger, fear, pity or sorrow. If those are the emotions you have flowing through your body, you will not be able to get your mojo back.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Have some empathy, Mike! We are living through a [INSERT ADULT LANGUAGE / COLORFUL METAPHOR] pandemic!”
You may find it hard to believe, but I hear you loud and clear, and I am empathetic. I’m living through the same thing. Nevertheless, difficult as these times may be, you will not be able to get your mojo back if your mind and soul are stuck in a negative state.
To start to break out of your funk you need to think about all the good in your life. Start with the most basic positive facts about your life and say them aloud. Letting the words come out of your mouth will better affirm a positive state of being. The more positive thoughts you have – the closer you will get to restoring your mojo.
It may seem corny to some but visualizing yourself being successful or doing something you have always wanted to do can be a great way to generate some mojo.
I’ve used visualization before exercising as well as while I am running and swimming. I have used it in preparation for events I’ve spoken at, as well as for things that have not yet taken place that I am striving to achieve.
While no moment will turn out exactly as we planned, visualization can help generate some of the energy that makes up our mojo.
Outline Your Strengths, and Short-Term and Long-Term Goals
One of the most consistent exercises in personal achievement experts recommend is to outline what your strengths are as a person.
What do you do well in life?
What professional skills do you have?
Another tactic is to outline some short-term and long-term goals. Create a list of places you want to go, skills you want to gain, books you want to read, etc.
But don’t put these things in your computer. If you type them up and stash them away in a folder, they will rarely be seen. Get a piece of paper and write them out. Then hang your lists on a refrigerator or someplace where you can see them each day. The truth is we react more positively to things when they are on paper and in front of us each day.
Connect with People
Connecting with people in our age of social distancing is still possible, and it is an amazing way to get your mojo back.
For starters, pick up the phone and call someone. Ask them how they are doing. Listen to their stories and share some of your own.
Create a virtual forum and invite people around you to participate. In “How To Socialize When Practicing Social Distancing,” I outlined a few ways you can do this. Click here to read.
Open yourself to learn and laugh.
Interacting with others can be a quick way to elevate mood, establish a new relationship or bond, or even make a life-changing connection that jump-starts your mojo.
Be Gracious, Kind and Giving
Obviously, we should always strive to be gracious, kind and giving. However, when you’ve lost your mojo and you’re trying to get it back – focusing on generosity and kindness can really create a strong and positive sense of being.
Remember, the highest state of generosity and kindness is to give without expecting anything in return (and to do good acts anonymously whenever possible).
If you hear about a friend or neighbor who lost a job – send a VISA gift card with $50.
If you order food – double your usual tip to help support a delivery person.
If you know someone who is isolated – send them some flowers or a nice note.
Address Your Stress
Stress is a part of our lives whether we like it or not. And there is a good stress and bad stress.
Which one do you have?
Chances are – if you’ve lost your mojo – you’ve got some bad stress.
Bad stress is the feeling that you are both overwhelmed and not working towards anything you believe in or think will succeed.
Stress can be reduced by asking others to take burdens off your shoulders. It also can be reduced through physical action where your body is able to release tension.
Recognize that you may not be able to address your stress on your own. You may need help. This can prove difficult given social distancing and self-quarantines; however, you need to let people know how you are feeling so you can come up with a solution. Stress is a mojo killer.
Do Something Fun
Fun comes in many forms.
You can write a story or a poem.
Create an Adobe Spark page and do something fun online.
Order a home garden kit and grow some vegetables.
Having fun is a great way to get your mojo back.
We may not be able to do ALL the fun things we want but search online for fun activities to do while you are at home.
Also remember – you are not confined to your home. We need to be careful about coming in close contact with others and what we touch. But you can still go outside. Why not wake up early and take pictures of the sunrise?
Fun can take many forms.
We were inundated with distractions before the COVID-19 coronavirus threat. Now that many of us are home, the distractions are coming at us non-stop. Between Facebook, cable news, talk radio and more – there is an endless stream of opinions and news.
The problem with all these distractions is that they drain our energy and take us away from doing what we need to do.
So, have a day (or even a block of several hours) where you remove all the distractions.
Identify a small list of your main priorities and focus in on those.
Distractions can be real mojo killers, and if we want to restore our energy they need to go.
Get Some Sunlight
Sunlight is vital to your body. It helps with digestion, food absorption, maintain your insulin balance, and generates physical and mental energy.
There are many studies that link sunlight to the promotion of stronger bones and heart, as well as improving your immunity.
So, go outdoors and absorb some sunlight each day. A little sun can do a lot of for state of mind and your body.
Improve Your Diet
Eating poorly is another mojo killer.
With supermarkets facing shortages, it can be difficult to make a lot of improvements in your diet. But it can be done.
Start small and find simple ways to improve how you eat, and gradually phase things in.
You will find a phased approach will generate better short-term and long-term results, and help you get your mojo back.
Lastly… Be Present
Woody Allen once said, “80 percent of success is showing up.”
Well, if you are in a state of self-quarantine – “showing up” has been replaced by “being present.”
That means wake-up and participate in everything you need to. Clearly, we need to manage our time and priorities, but when isolated – we can fall into the trap of self-isolating too much.
Do not allow your mood or events around you dictate your actions and life.
While showing up or being present is not a guarantee of success, it is an essential component of restoring good mojo.
Do you have steps that you take to get your mojo back? Share them in the comments section below.
Whenever we start off on a new invention, begin to cultivate an idea or just start something new, it is important to remember:
- Dreams and ideas take time. And…
- The first attempt won’t be your best or last.
116 yrs ago today (December 17, 2020), the Wright Brothers made the first successful flight of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air plane.
It was an incredible moment. Their plane stayed in the air for 12 seconds and went 120 feet.
Think about how far we have come, and how far we can travel thanks to advances in aviation.
It all started with a 12 second flight that went 120 feet.
The lesson we should all take from that first flight is to stay inspired and stay motivated and keep trying.
Accept your success, even if it feels small. Because it every successful step brings you closer to taking a big leap.
Our education system is failing today’s children because it was designed to mass produce a large order of standardized people.
On this day (December 10th) in 1915, history was made as the 1 millionth Ford Model T car rolled off an assembly line at an auto plant in Detroit, Michigan.
Ford’s perfection of the assembly line and mass production was one of the great triumphs of the Industrial Age – or Second Wave American society.
In the early days of auto manufacturing, companies made cars one at a time. However, in order to have a scalable operation that met growing demand, mass production of standardized cars allowed Ford to become more efficient and reduce overall costs of production.
From 1908 to 1927, more than 15 million Model T cars were sold by Ford.
At first, production of a car cost about $850 or about $20,000 in today’s dollars. By the late 1920s however, production costs were lowered to $300, which is about $3,700 in today’s dollars.
The use of standardization, large-scale factories and mass-production were key components of industrial societies all over the world, and not limited to auto manufacturing. American Second Wave society implemented a mass education system, mass social welfare, as well as national standards across industries and greater centralized control.
However, today’s society is very different.
Technology has pushed America into a mix of a Third Wave and Fourth Wave society that is now being driven – not by standardization – but personalization, self-service, virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
While the Second Wave, or industrial era, was dominated by mass production, today’s society is far more individualized. We seek things that meet our specific needs and wants, and often, have context or meaning to our lives.
Third Wave trends started to really take shape in the early 1980s.
For those of you old enough to remember, Burger King launched its “Have It Your Way” slogan. This slogan was no accident. It aligned to the growing desire people had to have things customized.
In the 1980s we also got the “personal computer” or PC. Entertainment diversified (we went from 6 or 12 viewable channels, to hundreds more). Mobility increased as access to communication and transportation expanded. And what defined standard relationships, families, learning and more all changed. For example, we went from talking about the “nuclear family” (a standardized view of a family) to recognizing a far broader and more accommodating concept of what a “family” is or can be.
By the 1990s, one for many, or “one size fits all” was no longer the principle that dominated our lives. We wanted things our way.
If we look at the last 20 or 30 years, advancements in technology have steadily fueled the greater sense of hyper-individualism we have today.
The personal computer revolution was followed by the Internet revolution. These both helped form the baseline of Third Wave society, and encouraged us to seek out more personalized products and services.
Then we got the mobile revolution, which was followed by today’s artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR) revolutions. AI and VR are the forces driving change throughout every aspect of our lives and forming a Fourth Wave society that is hyper-personalized – meaning we are focused not just on our needs and wants, but our aspirations and feelings as well. We are entering an age where we can seize every moment. An age where a sense of limitless opportunity and potential is starting to take hold.
To help illustrate the changes taking hold in our society, let’s discuss Burger King again.
Burger King recently decided to change its slogan from “Have It Your Way” to “Be Your Way.” This also was not an accident. Burger King’s new slogan emphasizes even greater individuality and ownership of one’s life. The idea is that you can not only get food the way you want it, but it also is OK to live how you want and express yourself in any way you want.
Just think about this for a moment: Burger King, a fast food restaurant, went from mass producing flame-broiled burgers, to customizing orders, to now seeking to make an emotional connection with their customers to not only understand them better, but also to show they respect and encourage each person’s desire to be who they want to be.
Burger King is still a restaurant. But it has changed as society changed.
Education: Still Riding The Second Wave
So, what does ANY of this have to do with education?
Quite a bit, actually.
As referenced above, industries and families and culture have gone through massive changes – or revolutions. I think the word “revolution” is apt, because it means complete systematic change has taken place.
We see it at home, in the workplace, on television and in movies, in music, restaurants, how we find and buy the things we want and more.
Yet, despite all of the changes we have seen, across every aspect of our lives, our system of education still remains… fundamentally… the same… riding the Second Wave.
It is a great paradox that on one hand we have normalized the idea that, due to technology, a person – any person – can learn what they want, when they want and from where they want. And at the same time, as a society, we still send our children into a mass education system that treats them and young adults like Model Ts rolling off an assembly line in 1915.
The mass educational system we have does not regard children as unique or distinctive people who need or want different information or have an infinite number of aspirations, but as products that are shuttled and delivered to a factory, and go through an assembly line.
This is not a design failure. This is how our school system was supposed to work in 1915 and beyond – until we decide to change it.
Our current education system is failing today’s children, because it was designed to mass produce a large order of standardized people.Michael Hackmer, 2019
As we progress through the 2019 – 2020 school year, our schools are still the old factories of our industrial era that require all children to attend, arrive on-time, perform specific and often repetitive tasks, and then leave. All learning is to take place in one, centralized place. And the end product goal is a child that is designed and assembled with the same outcome that is in mind for all children.
This is not how our Third and Fourth Wave society functions today.
Most importantly, this is not how children function or thrive today.
How Long Do We Continue To Accept The Poor Results Of Our Mass Education System?
Recently, test results were published from two standardized tests. One is from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) – an international test – and the other is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – a test administered in the United States.
The results from both tests show some minor success for American school children, but a lot more stagnation and regression / lost ground. This poor performance comes on the heels of years of changes (new laws and policies), and in spite of federal, state and local governments, businesses and communities investing billions of dollars in education.
In short, we are doing more to try and fix the existing system, and spending more money, but still achieving poor results. In fact, some results are getting worse.
Here is a selection of data points from the tests mentioned above and some other studies that I think are worth noting when considering the performance of our mass education system:
- 20% of American 15-year-old students scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old.
- The bottom 10% of all US students taking PISA lost ground compared those who took the same test in 2012.
- American ranking increases in PISA have been explained as less about learning successes or improvements to education, but due to declining test scores in other countries. In other words, our ranking has improved because other countries are doing worse than we are.
- Two out of three children (4th and 8th grade) did not meet the standards for reading proficiency set by NAEP.
- The average eighth-grade reading score in NAEP declined in more than half of the states compared with 2017, the last time the test was given. The average score in fourth-grade reading declined in 17 states.
- Overall, reading scores declined for 4th and 8th graders over the last 10 years across ALL percentiles.
- Math scores on the NAEP for 4th graders show a net 1 point drop over the last 10 years for students in the 10th percentile to the 75th percentile. For 8th graders, the decline was a net 10 points for students in the 10th percentile to the 75th percentile.
- In California, eighth-grade scores fell in both reading and math. Los Angeles Unified scores fell by the most of any of the urban districts across the country. California ranks at the bottom of the nation in reading and math for fourth- and eighth-graders, but at the top of the nation in the size of its achievement gaps.
- Studies have shown the student engagement in the classroom and with their learning drops every year they are in a mass education system. The Gallup Student Poll surveyed nearly 500,000 students in grades five through 12 from more than 1,700 public schools in 37 states in 2012. Gallup found that nearly eight in 10 elementary students who participated in the poll are engaged with school. By middle school that falls to about six in 10 students. And by high school, only four in 10 students qualify as engaged.
- The vast majority of public two- and four-year colleges report enrolling students – more than half a million of them–who are not ready for college-level work, a Hechinger Report investigation of 44 states has found. This forces students into remedial education and turns higher education into an expensive continuation of mass education secondary school work.
- Even in states highly regarded for their education systems (Massachusetts and New Jersey), over 30% of students are placed into remedial college courses.
When you look at the above data, it is clear that the results from our mass education system are not positive or successful.
Alvin Toffler, the famous futurist, once noted that for future generations, the true illiterates would not be people who could not read or write, but people who could not ask questions, think critically, logically and creatively. He based that on the influence of technology on society and work, and the fact that most schools had literacy covered.
Our focus on standardization (especially in testing), teach to test, demand on graduating to attend college and out-dated curricula are all part of the problem and actually creating an environment where people don’t read and don’t think critically or creatively.
This begs the question posed above: How long do we continue to accept the poor results of our mass education system?
How long do we continue to avoid making a change that will improve the lives of all our children?
What About Education Reform?
What about education reform?
The calls for education reform picked up a lot of steam starting in the 1980s.
Policy-makers, parents, teachers, school administrators and others recognized that technology was changing fast, and society was changing along with it. They did not fully comprehend everything that was going on (most still don’t), but people knew that our education system needed some attention.
Most of us are familiar with various government laws and programs that have been introduced, especially over the last 20 years, such as: No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, the Common Core State Standards, the Every Student Succeeds Act, etc.
Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, none of these have produced much, if any success at improving education in the United States.
Common Core went from being a bright star (supported by Bill Gates, numerous governors and others) to being strongly disliked by both Liberal and Conservative educators and politicians. Some states backed out of the program completely, while others actually use their consistent opposition to Common Core as an example of their superior education policy-making.
When I read quotes from educators, policy experts and politicians in articles about low international or national test scores, or failing academic achievement in general, there is very little agreement on the causes or the solutions.
The same is true when you examine reader comments to articles and reports on education in America. People whose experience spans a wide range of professions (including past and present teachers), age, ethnicity and other factors all have a million different ideas on what needs to be done.
A common refrain is that everyone talks about the need for education reform.
People ask, “What education reforms will help turn things around?”
In response, we see the usual suspects: more funding for schools, better teacher pay, less homework, longer school days… and the list goes on and on.
There is no doubt that every school system wants more money, better teachers, school materials that match testing materials, and students who are not concerned about socioeconomic challenges or bullying or other problems.
School districts battle every year over funding, better teacher pay, earlier start times (or later start times), less school vs more school, more tests or homework vs less tests or homework, and whole range of other issues.
But the idea that one reform or five reforms or all of the reforms that educators or politicians or parents want is going to somehow create an academic unicorn and change the direction of education in America is wishful thinking.
The truth is that no one really wants to hear the truth.
No one wants to hear, “There is nothing we can do to improve the current system,” because no one wants to believe that nothing can work. Something has to work, right?
The truth is that when it comes making improvements to mass education – there is nothing that will get us the results we really want.
To help illustrate this point, here is a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say I told you that you were going to have to sit in a school for 5 days a week, several months of a year, for 8 years of your life, and that this school was designed to make you less creative every year.
For 8 years, the teachers at this school are going to insist you memorize a lot of information you don’t need to know – that does not connect with your life – and demand you adhere to a strict schedule with little to no time for yourself. A vast majority of your courses will be required courses, and you will not have the freedom to explore more of what interests you.
Oh, and I will tell you ahead of time that you will be bored at least 50% of each day, every day, for the next 8 years.
Now, do you think it really matters if you wake up earlier to attend this school? Or arrive later? Does it matter if you read from a different text book? Or eat a better lunch? Or if your teacher is paid more money?
Of course not!
None of those things, nice as they are, will change how the system is designed or the results it achieves. Peripheral changes or adjustments do not change how the system itself functions. You may have eaten better, your teacher may have more financial security, and maybe there is a slight bump in some test scores for a large percentage of students in your age group, but the overall goal and output of the education system remains the same: to mass produce a large number of standardized people.
Unfortunately, the hypothetical I gave you above is the reality for our children today. Students are sent to schools that are designed to strip them of creativity and individuality, and standardize them. As parents and leaders, the best we have managed so far is to change lunch programs, add money or switch around school start times.
Studies prove the negative affects are real.
The truth is, if given the choice, most people would not want to put themselves through 8 years of that kind of experience.
If it were you, you would probably want an alternative.
So, what is holding you… or… us… back from creating an alternative to mass education?
Viva La Revolución… de Educación!
Two fundamental reasons are keeping us from really changing education in the United States and giving our children a much better learning experience and brighter future:
- We don’t accept that the system is not designed to meet our current and future needs.
- We are afraid to accept we need to make a significant change, because “change” and the unknown scares most people.
First, let’s start to face the fact that we need to end mass education.
We need an education revolution!
But what does an education revolution really mean? It sounds a little scary.
Well, a revolution is “an overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.” Right there – in the definition – we see that a new system must emerge from a revolution. This is the first piece to the puzzle. When people talk about education reform they are talking about making “adjustments to a system in order to improve it.”
You see the difference, right?
Education reformers keep the system that is not working, but make little changes – like – arriving a little earlier or later, or you add jumping jacks to start your day instead of quiet reading. Whereas education revolutionaries decide to do something completely different.
We’ve all heard the definition of “insanity” is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. Well, education reformers are doing the same kinds of things again and again. They are trying to adjust, tweak, or repair a system that is not designed to produce the results we want… correction… need for our children.
When we look at the data and the short-term and long-term results, we can see the system is not working to get our children where they need to be. The laws, the programs, the money, the adjustments are not working. Hence, we need to accept that nothing anyone does will make the system perform significantly better. We need to make a change.
Now, the second piece to the puzzle deals with our fear of change.
If we are ever going to make the systematic change we need to make, we cannot think about such a change as actually being a real change or even doing something that is an unknown.
We know the current system is not working (at best, it is not working well). So, if we think about what is really working all around us and applying those same actions to education, then we are not really doing something we are unfamiliar with at all. We are only doing what we know works!
So, what is working? Where do we look?
Well, to put it simply, we need to look all around us. We need to look at the world we live in today. How do we consume information? How do we buy things? What options do we have for education currently? What would we love to have access to if we could create our ideal learning experience?
We need to ask ourselves, “How is the world is changing?”
Once we do this, we can start to build an educational system that reflects our present and future technology, culture and values. We can build a learning experience that is not limited just to our children, but to everyone – at all stages of life. Learning is a life-long endeavor for all humans, and it is time we started supporting this mission.
Here are two basic questions for you:
- Do we want a system that continues to standardize and marginalize our children, and strip them of creativity and individuality?
- Or do we want a system that encourages learning, exploration and creativity, and respects the individual uniqueness of each child as well as fosters a wide and accepting view of ecosystem we live in today?
An Outline For Third And Fourth Wave Education
Now, before you flip out at the idea of ending mass education, let’s clarify a few things.
- Just because we end “mass education” does not mean we end “public education.” A system of “mass education” and “public education” are not necessarily the same thing. In fact, under Third and Fourth Wave education we will end up investing more in a more diverse suite of educational programs available to more people.
- Ending “mass education” also does not mean we eliminate curriculum or all standards. It does mean we eliminate the idea of one, universal education system that is designed to standardize all children.
So, what is a preliminary framework or outline for a Third and Fourth Wave education system?
- Education must be treated as a lifelong journey or pursuit for all of us.
- Standardized outcomes must be eliminated. The idea that every child needs to know specific things about math, biology and chemistry, for example, or that students need to be categorized and grouped by age is obsolete.
- Standardized testing and comparisons to other nations and states needs to be abandoned in favor of project-based assessments. Too many schools are teaching to tests, which then make the results more about memorization than knowledge. However, project-based assessment allows for different solutions that work to be done. A display of applying knowledge, especially in context to one’s life or future aspirations, is a much more effective indicator of learning.
- Focus problem solving in a way that is creative and cross-disciplinary, not linear and results focused or competitive.
- Build learner communities and crowd-sourced learning environments. These must be supported by federal, state and local governments, as well as businesses and organizations. By expanding the number of in-person and virtual learning environments, we provide a wide pool of information, lessons and teachers that cross borders and schools districts.
- Build communities of “Learning Agents” who help learners of all ages to build a learning plan as well as a comprehensive support system that includes virtual and physical learning opportunities.
- Change secondary education into a time of “Exploratory Learning.” Students should no longer need to be designated to one school, but be able to enroll in different programs for periods of time. A student may want to enroll in a three-month program around “Environmental Sustainability and Healthy Living” or a program on “Building Robots.” Baselines of education / knowledge can be layered into new programs and classes.
- Recognize that our model of higher education needs to change. Learning and skill development is now a continual process throughout one’s lifetime. People do not have time or money for a 4 year program every time they want to pursue a new career. Colleges and universities that do not offer specialized and personalized education, but are instead expensive continuations of high school will become dinosaurs. Instead, programs that offer shorter, more intense spurts of teaching and training will take over. Quality of knowledge and project-based assessments will come to mean more that a piece of paper with a degree printed on it. This does not mean we will see an end the need for advanced degrees in medical, scientific or legal professionals. However, it does change the landscape of most higher education.
As we have seen the rapid changes brought on by technology to our society. This outline serves as a starting point for how we can build a new education system that benefits our children and society as a whole.
For many people, fear of change is the reason why mass education still exists today. For virtually all Americans, the only system they have ever known is the mass education system. No one wants to believe that something that has lasted so long cannot be tweaked and made to work. What’s more, people are afraid to make a life-altering change such as replacing our system of education.
Increasingly, however, more people are recognizing that systematic change is what we need.
One person wrote in response to a NY Times article, “‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts,“:
We need to replace the punitive aspects of education with an appreciation for the utility of learning. Students don’t care about scoring better than a Chinese counterpart on some test, but they do want to figure out how to maximize their allowance. We need to fill the gaps in knowledge bases so students can build on a foundation, not pass students along with insufficient background to master new concepts; we need to help them develop new tools so they will want to take on new challenges; we need to accept that learning rates are not universal. And we need to stop looking at education as test competition.Ann R, Columbia, MD, NY Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/03/us/us-students-international-test-scores.html#commentsContainer)
Another comment responding to the same article noted:
Kids are naturally curious but the pressures to get test scores up, increase content covered, and loss of life-giving activities like recess, art, and music extinguish curiosity and replace it with compliance.Annie O’Shaughnesay, Vermont, NY Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/03/us/us-students-international-test-scores.html#commentsContainer)
There are some great points to extract from both.
The first is the use of the “punitive” when referring to “aspects of education.” Punitive means to inflict or take action that is intended as punishment. This is the affect of mass education today, precisely because it does not encourage an “appreciation for the utility of learning,” or how learning allows one to meet their aspirations. It is controlled and standardized and compulsory and rigid and not contextual or necessarily relevant.
The second point is that education should not be based on performance compared to a Chinese student or even a peer. Learning is about individual mastery, and each child needs to learn at their pace and be encouraged to explore new challenges – tapping into their natural curiosity. Now, the system is based on compliance and conformity.
If one has an objective review the educational testing data, perspectives (such as the ones shown above) and other trends, no additional proof should be required to know education reform has failed and a new system is required.
If we want a better future for our children, we need to start thinking about how we can end the mass education system and truly revolutionize education. We need to outline the shape or characteristics a new system would take. And we need to start taking action now.
We need to put aside fear of replacing the old with new, and realize that we already have replaced so many aspects of our lives and culture. The change is all around us. It is time to stop being afraid of what already exists, and use the technology and values we have to better the lives of ALL children in America.
Michael Hackmer was born in Boston, MA in 1975. Graduated Phillips Academy, Andover in 1994. Received his B.A. in Politics from The Catholic University of America in 1998. Hackmer is Chairman of the Reform Party of Virginia (www.reformpartyva.org). He has specialties in digital marketing, social media marketing, SEO, project management and strategic planning. He also is the founder of Social Web Tactics (www.socialwebtactics.com), a digital marketing and sales agency focused on providing businesses and organizations the ability to connect with their audience using the latest and most effective digital technologies and tools.
‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts, New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/03/us/us-students-international-test-scores.html
Reading Scores on National Exam Decline in Half the States, New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/30/us/reading-scores-national-exam.html
Nation’s Report Card, Results from the 2019 Mathematics and Reading Assessments. https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/mathematics/supportive_files/2019_infographic.pdf
How Do You Think American Education Could Be Improved?, New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/10/learning/how-do-you-think-american-education-could-be-improved.html
U.S. math scores remain flat on international test of 15-year-olds, EdSource. https://edsource.org/2019/u-s-math-scores-remain-flat-on-international-test-of-15-year-olds/620711
US Students Continue to Lag in PISA 2018 Results, Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mastery-mindset/201912/us-students-continue-lag-in-pisa-2018-results
PISA: US students show no progress on international assessment, Education Dive. https://www.educationdive.com/news/pisa-us-students-show-no-progress-on-international-assessment/568202/
The School Cliff: Student Engagement Drops With Each School Year, Gallup. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/170525/school-cliff-student-engagement-drops-school-year.aspx
Most colleges enroll many students who aren’t prepared for higher education, The Hechinger Report. https://hechingerreport.org/colleges-enroll-students-arent-prepared-higher-education/
High School Seniors Aren’t College-Ready, US News and World Report. https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-04-27/high-school-seniors-arent-college-ready-naep-data-show
California is failing its students: Where is the outrage?, San Francisco Chronicle. https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/California-is-failing-its-students-Where-is-the-14827184.php
The Third Education Revolution, The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/03/the-third-education-revolution/556091/
The Future of Education, Toffler Associates. https://www.tofflerassociates.com/vanishing-point/this-is-the-future-of-education
Why Kindergartners Always Win the Marshmallow Challenge, Toffler Associates. https://www.tofflerassociates.com/vanishing-point/why-kindergarteners-always-win-the-marshmallow-challenge
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote speaks to the need to be original in your life, explore new directions, and make your own way.
Both Emerson and Thoreau wrote often about this notion of making new paths (it is very apparent in Thoreau’s writings about Walden Pond). I think this approach leads us to new discoveries, new actions, and new opportunities for learning.
The last part of the quote highlights to need to remind oneself about the journeys taken, as well as to share knowledge – to share one’s experiences for others by leaving behind a trail.
I think it is important to note that creating new pathways in life is not exclusive to certain moments or circumstances. Sometimes we think trying new approaches is reserved for new things or big things or big ideas. But the concept of a path is a simple one, and as such, should serve as a reminder that life is filled with moments where we can go in new and unique directions.
Think about it as taking action that breaks your routine.
Maybe it is the first time you have volunteered at a soup kitchen, donated money to someone in need, or made a positive comment to a stranger. Or it could be driving a different way home from work.
The point is – life is better with discovery.
“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
We sometimes forget just how unique we are, because we are taught from such an early age – and all throughout our schooling – to conform to rigid standards. Passing a standard is considered a measurement of success, whereas failing to meet it is considered failure.
Rarely do we get many opportunities as we grow up (and even after we have grown) to truly experiment and to fail in a way that is acceptable to others, least of all ourselves.
Experimentation and failure are not negatives. All of our life is an experiment. Embrace that reality, and you will live a more complete life filled with a wide range of experiences and perspectives.