We Need More Steve Jobs in Education and Less Bill Gates

Last week I read this article in Education Week that stopped me in my tracks; probably because I am a teacher and this is where I live.  It talks about how Bill Gates is so involved in shaping our Common Core educational structure, and that maybe it’s not good for individual kids to have to all be taught the SAME exact things. Maybe there is a better way.

Are we wasting kids’ natural curiosity and giftedness and instead choosing silent classrooms, sameness and lock step teaching  in the name of good test scores? More here…

How many of us fell in love with our current hobby or interest because of a class we took during our school days? I did. Steve Jobs did too. He dropped out of college after 6 months because of a lack of interest in what he was forced to take, and the huge expense it was to his parents. He fell in love with a few classes he sat in on for free that shaped him, and the company he later started. He chose what he was interested in over what he was told he needed to take. And he says it made all the difference.

 I feel that his view is SO RIGHT ON.

Jobs, one of my favorite people of all time. 

Sometimes you stumble into things because of a curiosity you have, even if you know it might not have any practical application. And many times we are forced to learn in a one-size-fits-all approach, as in Common Core. But what of creativity or the arts? What if you miss the drama or speech class that may change your life? My favorite class in high school was drama class. How sad if I’d never tried drama because it wouldn’t fit into my schedule? You may never find out you love learning to watercolor, or sing with a guitar, or make your own videos. These things you are exposed to, early in life, can make a huge impression on you!

All of my kids were exposed to every sport I could get my hands on in the Parks and Recreation system in our Lakewood, California town where they grew up. We lived 5 doors down from a city park and they attended T-Ball, baseball, football, soccer, basketball, and all sorts or classes and camps. Each one of them hated all group sports. Even though one of them was kind of gifted at sports, he didn’t like the negativity and the teasing of the other boys. It was sad for me, their mom, because I loved going to the games. But funny thing is,  how each of them, on their own, found a high school sport they loved doing, that was kind of off the grid.

My kids and my grandkids too have all been exposed to many, many types of learning; sports, music, arts, scouting, dance, and lots of different kinds of cultures  and outdoor experiences. 

One of them was on the rowing team and swim team in high school and started programming at 15, taking his first college class in Java at the city college, with special permission. He was also in the band and played trumpet and french horn and took cartooning classes.  One of them did track and field and was captain of the debate team and sang in the choir and still plays piano beautifully. He’s an eagle scout. One of them did ice hockey and loved woodshop and was the best sketch artist of my entire family. I remember he would have Bevis and Butthead in the margins of all of his writing papers in 3rd grade and his teacher lectured me at conference time. He made beautiful things, but sometimes his teachers did not notice his gifts.

 My daughter loved math, music and reading. And she took dance and tap danced with a troupe of about 50 kids; very exciting to watch on stage! (She hated dance as a child….go figure). But she was a true academic and took all the advanced math and APs her gifted high school program offered. She does accounting for her hub’s business now. She still plays violin and piano and was in the best orchestra in 5 high schools.  Her favorite High School teacher was an english teacher. And she still reads several books a month. Her Kindle account is mighty.

We experienced multi-culturalism in our city schools. Two of my kids’ best friends were from India and Pakistan, because we lived in a multicultural, port city. They regularly hung out with kids of many cultures from Samoan and Tongan, Spanish and African American to Vietnamese and Cambodian. We went to church with a stake made up of all of these cultures. Imagine the pot luck dinners we had! I could tell you they were grand!

How sad if you never get that exposure, that variety of topics, and that talent tested though? What if you never get the teacher who notices what you love and what lights you up because she doesn’t have time to; or because of somebody’s box structure of education, or Common Core, that has been designed for everyone to fit into.

Because I’ve been trained in gifted and talented education, I KNOW how important it is to give kids lots of experiences so they can get a Renzulli type II interest sparked in their young lives. Like Steve Jobs did with Calligraphy and computers.

My granddaughters at age 3 and 4 and acting out what interests them. Magic wands and high heels….and crowns of course! 

Not that Common Core is all bad. It’s not. I’m all for it basically. It’s good to have the same framework in each state. But as a teacher I have felt that its implementation has encroached on the myriad of colorful additions to my classroom school day, that I have always made the time for. Things like science experiments, art projects, musical productions and free writing. Common Core doesn’t translate to everything has to be done the same. But in some cases,  that is what is occurring; because of the lens of the person in charge.

I was told last year that my classroom had too much “calling out” because I have a risk free classroom. Kids can call out questions and I answer them. I have always taken pride in this. Silly me. Previous principals have commented positively on my classroom climate being “risk free.” And, in my defense, I had 30 gifted students in one class; 3 of which were “special needs” kids (autism, aspbergers, aggressive, etc.) that would forget to raise their hands.

So I was surprised when I got marked down very low in classroom management during an official observation by a first year principal. She had only been a classroom teacher for 4 years herself (It was my 19th year). She was very young, maybe 29 or 30, hadn’t raised any kids of her own, and only taught 1 grade. I’ve taught 4 different grades. She misspelled 2 words on my official evaluation. (chuckle).

For my first “coaching session” I was marched into the classroom of a teacher gifted in management who, no matter what time of day, you can always hear a pin drop in her classroom. I have never even thought personally, that this was healthy for young kids aged 6 and 7 to have total silence in their primary grade classroom.  And although I admire her skills, I have had kids that came from her classroom into mine the following year. Parents have told me that their kids were scared to say a word for 3 months in her class, and after one day in mine they came home and said, “It feels just like home in Mrs. Moss’ class.” I felt that was high praise. Parents have always loved my classroom.

My goal is to be more like the unicorn. Unique. Not in the box. But still awesome. 

But now I was told I didn’t fit the mold, I needed to get in a box.  The “coach” told me “THIS is what your room needs to look like!” as she spread her arms around the silent room.  Can you imagine? I was not only humiliated and confused, but I realized right then and there that I may never reach this level of silence in my room, EVER. It did not only seem unnatural to me, I didn’t have a clue how to reach that kind of perfection.  And the coach had no ideas for how to get there either! The topic was reading. You couldn’t even hear any reading going on. Everybody was seriously whispering! What the heck is that all about? My kids read OUT LOUD in my reading groups.  And that’s a good thing!

Learn to adapt. But ALWAYS Be an innovator. 

The next time I felt that “the box” of education was being drawn around me was when my principal asked me to “present how I did my spelling routine to the school staff” at the next staff meeting. I was on the leadership team and team leader in my grade. I was the former school mentor to new teachers 2 years previous, and the last 3 years was co-chair of  the “Coaching Committee” of the school, assigned by my former, favorite principal. (Ironic I know! Now I needed coaching!)

So when my new admin asked me to present, I was quite flattered and excited. I know what I have learned in 20 years of teaching, and taking all kinds of classes in the best practices in the rules and patterns of spelling. I have a Masters in Edcation, an endorsement in Reading and ESL and in Gifted and Talented Education, and have studied brain research on how the brain remembers spelling patterns. I felt this all gave me a breadth of knowledge in this area that I was excited to share.

He doesn’t look like he likes being put it a box either! 

The week before the meeting I double checked to be sure that she still wanted me on the agenda. The night before the meeting, I had my handouts all stapled together and 3 games the teachers could use to drill spelling lists for the week. They were all pretty awesome too, if I don’t say so myself.

I also had a “vowel teams”visual I had gotten from the Lindamood-Bell Reading Institute.  I attended a training there in San Francisco, early on in my career, that I’ve always used to quickly teach kids the vowel sounds and how they change according to rules of spelling. I had been asked by my California principal to be a specialist at our school’s after-school reading clinic we started that same year.

 We had kids bussed in from all over the Long Beach Unified School District (rated one of the best 20 districts in the world Check it out!) for 6 weeks at a time to attend my class and 5 other teachers’ classes at the school in grades 1-6.  We taught spelling, reading and some writing. The 6 teachers that went to Lindamood Bell learned a lot at that conference that still informs my practice in teaching reading today.

Another awesome Innovation. Ever heard of the new PIZZA CAKE? Yum. Don’t try to tell me you don’t want to try it! 

I walked in 15 minutes before the staff meeting all ready to present, and the things I had set out the night before, and had prepared on my own time, were all being collected up. The principal said “I’m sorry, it turns out we won’t have time for you.” She asked 4 teachers to do the spelling routine outlined in the Reading Streets Teacher’s manual. She had video taped each teacher in several different grades doing almost the EXACT same thing, using the same hand movements, words, and spelling routine. (Bill Gates example.) There was nothing fun or very engaging about these routines either, especially if you did the same thing week after boring week! (NOT Steve Jobs, for sure)

I was not only offended, but kind of shocked. Did this mean that she believed there was only ONE proper way to teach kids to spell? Really? Were we all expected now to teach this way, like a robot or drone? Were we all a part of the Borg now? I was worried if I stayed at that school I might be assimilated into the Borg of that district’s philosophies. Think Star Trek….The BORG.

It  reminded me of  a one-size-fits-all analogy. I saw it again and again as “routines” became a “do it this way exactly” practice. And you better be holding the book in your hand and reading the script while you are at it. Follow the “daily schedule” required up on the board for every half hour or else. And that concept board better look the same in each classroom in each grade level, because people will be checking!
This is SO BILL GATES.  And it is so NOT STEVE JOBS.

If you have admired a unique teacher who does things  differently,  creatively, changes it up, has lots of innovation and engagement, but gets great results anyway; you are looking at a Steve Jobs teacher. If you notice that all the teachers on the first grade team do everything alike, very little deviation, and not a lot of uniqueness, but above average results, you are looking at a BILL GATES team of teachers. That is the difference. But let’s be clear. There is no room for much creativity and choice, or veering off into current events, or the arts in a BILL GATES classroom. Although there is always time for testing!

There is no time if you are going to cover everything on the next page in the core curriculum on a lock-step schedule. But in the STEVE JOBS classroom you may skip an element of the core you think your kids already have grasped, compact some things, and instead teach something entirely new. Possibly something from another culture, something you saw another teacher in Georgia teach from reading her blog, or something that is just interesting to you like the Iditarod or the Northern lights for 30 minutes. Or create your own game using the theme of Columbus’ Voyage to America, or do an interesting writing workshop. Which classroom would you rather have your kids attend? Hmmm?

One size Fits All doesn’t mean better education. It just means the same for all. 

I remember taking a sewing class in the summer between elementary school and Jr. High. I fell so in love with that creative outlet that I ended up taking it all 4 years of high school, AND summer schools AND even 2 years of it in college! I can tailor a jacket, and I designed and made my own wedding dress from a piece of newspaper I made into a pattern. I still sew all kinds of things from curtains and quilts and table runners to fabric cornices over my kitchen and french door windows. I’ve made window seat cushions in my bedroom, as well as baby quilts and Christmas tree skirts. I made snow overalls for my boys.

I remember chafing a few years back when district leadership said they needed to update and get rid of classes such as Home Economics and sewing to make room for more tech classes. NO! We need all sorts of classes! Diversify! I wish I had been able to give more time to electives that interested me, but instead had to take many classes that did NOT interest me.

This kid of mine was exposed to writing workshop in a 3rd grade gifted class and grew to love it. He won the Reflections Contest in poetry at the regional level in California. He wrote on his college newspaper. He almost became a newpaper reporter  because of one superb teacher who recognized his talent and recommended him for an interview with a T.V. station.  You just never know how one class or teacher could change your life. He still writes. And he is good. 

I remember one such class called English Composition 201 where I had to diagram sentences for an entire semester. What a dumb waste of time that was for me, a lover of writing! Another required class was a Logic class where I had to do backward syllogisms for a whole semester. I hate logical stuff to this day! Ugh! I had to get a tutor to try and understand all of the nonsense, and what was outside the triple Venn Diagram. And even though I got a B in the class it was a complete waste of time; and a painful one at that.

 I don’t give a rat’s behind if I ever see or hear of syllogisms or sentence diagrams as long as I live. Or the fact that I can do them backwards to reach a proof.  Stupid. And even learning how to pound a nail into a piece of wood in kindergarten, when all I wanted to do was go to the fingerpaint center? Well it still kind of chaps my hide! Do I pound nails nowadays, or do I paint? Take a guess? I’m sure there were some who preferred to pound nails. But we should have had some choice.

My sons’ preschool classes (an excellent mommy-and-me preschool attached to a college) had 12 centers they could choose from EACH DAY after fulfilling some daily required tasks. And that is how I always ran my centers. Devin ALWAYS chose play dough. My other son, Danny, ALWAYS chose the outside physical activities, and Jeff ALWAYS chose computers. Those were excellent preschools, in my opinion. They had to do a few required activities, and then they chose the rest. It was the Montessori way of teaching. Very Divergent and student directed.

“Knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration”. Joshua Davis Wire Magazine. 

The last straw for me last year, was after I heard “Book Clubs are a thing of the past, we are dismantling the guided reading library”. I wasn’t sure I had understood correctly, so I asked in a leadership meeting for some clarification. “We have found reading a snippet of a book is just as good to teach a concept”. I went out looking for a new job that very day. But heard the same thing from the first principal who interviewed me. She also mentioned something I’d heard before. “There is no time for long productions like Shakespeare at my school. No musical productions”. That was it for me in my district.

Ever been to a book club where nobody actually finished the book? 

YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN READING WHOLE BOOKS NOW?!?  That is just laughable. There is no way a snippet of a book is better than learning to love reading a WHOLE BOOK and having a discussion about said book. Period. The End. No wonder we have kids that never crack a novel after high school. And what student do you know who doesn’t count their end-of-year musical production as one of their best memories of the year? Even if your part was “head tree”. lol.

The first day in my current district I was told TWICE in meetings at a district and at the school level; “YOU are the Professional. YOU pick and choose from the curriculum we give you according to the needs of your students.” Awwww (sounds of sighing) I’m HOME! And I can do a musical production OR a Book Club. (breath in…breath out). I’m a happy camper again.  And Steve Jobs lives here!

Montessori schools pioneered giving kids choices in their daily activities.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin claim that their Montessori schooling imbued them with a spirit of independence and creativity. Wired Magazine Oct.2013

Okay my rant is over. But as you can tell, I feel rather strongly about this topic. I think schools are going to disinterest themselves out of a clientele before too many more years, because doing the same exact thing every day is boring. Especially in middle school which is a disaster for some kids. It’s where we have the checking-out going on most. I talked to an assistant principal once when I had switched one of my sons to a new middle school because of dissatisfaction with the old one. He said “Middle Schools are broken, and nobody knows how to fix them.”!! That was startling then, and still is now.

If I was a parent of today, especially of a middle or high schooler, I might look into Kahn Academy, and online K-12 public schools, where you can pick and choose from the curriculum. Especially if you can’t find a creative school of the arts, or a STEM (Science, Technology and Math) magnet school, or whatever your child is most interested in. Remember, one great teacher is all you need to make a great year. Charter schools are just public schools with a creative twist.

I remember ALMOST sending my smartest (highest IQ) gifted kid to a public high school within a college campus. He met all the requirements and would have flourished there. I chickened out, thinking he’d miss out on social events like football games and prom. He never went to prom anyway.  I made a mistake there because he was so bored in high school he sort of checked out. But hindsight is always 20/20. Don’t let that happen to your kids if their school is not meeting their needs. There are things you can do.

Our whole family enjoyed  a musical at Tuacahn a few summers ago together, grands and all. I love that place! 

I always found time to take my kids to museums, musicals, ice shows, camps, scouts and lessons of all sorts. Some they liked (golf camp). Some they hated. (scouting). But I always made them complete the class or semester. One of my kids took 3 different musical instruments 3 years in a row till he found the one he liked. 😀 (one of those instruments he conveniently lost at a bus stop) lol.

But as the academic leader in my family, I had the responsibility to expose them to all sorts of things. They can get what is lacking in their school day that way. I think it makes for a happy camper, and a more fulfilling life, to have lots of activities that interest you. And hopefully their teachers can diversify and differentiate the curriculum for them, going higher if your child needs it. If your kids are always saying, “I’m bored”,  you need to get them taking a class in something. Get out the Parks and Recreation catalog and pick something, anything to start.

A family bike ride we went on for my hub’s birthday. He loves cycling. So we all did it with him. All the kids and all their spouses and all the grands. 

NEVER stop learning new things.  We never stop growing, or having new experiences. We ALL read a lot.  I hope that is what I’ve taught my kids and every student I’ve ever had. And isn’t that what Steve Jobs would say? (“Stay hungry, stay foolish…”) Remember, after he got kicked out of his own company he went on to start a brand new adventure; making Pixar movies.  And he was HUGELY successful in that creative, animated field.  I’m not so sure about Bill Gates. He may be more of a one trick pony. What do YOU think?

Last year’s end of the year Musical “The Ugly Duckling”. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.