The Associated Press had an article describing a Connecticut supermarket chain's experiment with automatic checkout lanes. The chain, Big Y, has decided to phase them out. Read it here.
"… only 16 percent of supermarket transactions in 2010 were done at self-checkout lanes in stores that provided the option. That's down from a high of 22 percent three years ago."
"… found delays in its self-service lines caused by customer confusion over coupons, payments and other problems; intentional and accidental theft, including misidentifying produce and baked goods as less-expensive varieties; and other problems that helped guide its decision to bag the self-serve lanes."
"Another chain, Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons LLC, has said it's phasing out self-service lanes"
"Home Depot and some other businesses, which cater to customers with a do-it-yourself mentality, report success with their self-serve lanes."
"If he hadn't seen the clerk standing there immediately ready to help, he said, he would have used the traditional lanes …"
This experiment mirrors what has been happening with education technology like MOOCs. Self-starters and autodidacts love it, which would seem to follow the typical technology adoption cycle, but then no one follows the early adopters. The only way the technology consistently works is with a person standing by which of course is antithetical to the purpose of the technology: to replace cashiers.
If technology cannot replace cashiers, why should it be able to replace teachers?
"Kings are the slaves of history." - Leo Tolstoy
The "Great Man" view of history fell out of fashion after WWII. It holds that history is created by a series of heroes, geniuses, and villains, and that learning history is simply learning a series of biographies.
Herbert Spencer, famous for coining the term "survival of the fittest," formulated the counterargument: that heroes are the products of their own time periods, or zeitgeist. Leo Tolstoy supported this view of history throughout War and Peace, pointing out that great leaders, or kings, are slaves to the forces of their times.
The Zeitgeist view of history is probably the more accurate one, and it has influenced the teaching of history for the past several decades; knowledge of basic history during this time period among high school graduates has plummeted.
A quick look at non-fiction bestseller lists is revealing: it is stuffed with the biographies of influential heroes (and scoundrels) throughout history. It is the same with TV programs that deal with history: the Great Man view of history is alive and well in the private sector.
The debate should be moot to high school history teachers. What matters is what is more easily learned. Physicists don't mind that students learn the structure of the atom from a wildly inaccurate diagram. Teaching is not about telling the truth - at first.
Like many things in education, there is no real debate here. The history curriculum could easily start with the Great Man view, and then move into the more subtle Zeitgeist view as the students get older and more sophisticated.
But starting with the Zeitgeist view will bore them to death.
Bayard Rustin played a major part in almost every freedom movement of the middle of the 20th century. His accomplishments are so numerous that they are hard to summarize: he organized the March on Washington in 1963, organized the first Freedom Rides in the early 1950s, protested Japanese Internment camps during WWII, was jailed as a conscientious objector during the later years of WWII, organized American opposition to Apartheid in South Africa, organized the Montgomery Bus Boycotts with Martin Luther King in 1956, and convinced FDR to desegregate the defense industry in 1941. He was a founding member of CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) and the SCLC (the Southern Christian Leadership Conference). He was the anonymous author of the famous pamphlet "Speak Truth to Power."
Even during his lifetime, he went largely unrecognized. Why have most people never heard of him? Because he was gay. The FBI would track him; being affiliated with him could tarnish reputations. And yet, he had such a formidable intellect and incredible organizing skills that many leaders kept him on despite the risk.
He was supporting himself as a nightclub singer in New York (incidentally, he had a remarkable music career as well, and sang with many of the blues and jazz greats of the time) when he became involved with the Communist Party of the United States in the 1930s.
Rustin became disillusioned with the party in the early 1940s. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, and Stalin sent word to the Communist Party of the United States to shift its focus from civil rights (it had been encouraging the development of a separate nation in the southeastern United States!) to encouraging the US government to enter WWII against Germany. Rustin left the party almost immediately.
In the late 1940s, right after the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi, Rustin went to India and met the leaders of the resistance. He took notes, and brought his ideas back. When he went to Alabama in the 1950s, he saw the charismatic potential of Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King saw a great mentor in Bayard Rustin, and forged a strong friendship despite protests from his fellow ministers; the ministers wanted Rustin gone because of his homosexuality. King ignored them, of course, and the rest is history. King learned nonviolence from Rustin and Rustin helped King with logistics.
Even today, in the loonier corners of the internet, where white supremacists seek to discredit Martin Luther King, the first person they bring up is Bayard Rustin. It is a testament to King's courage and intelligence that he was able to ignore the "realists" in his movement and benefit from Bayard Rustin's mentoring.
Scholars studying K-12 education often examine public systems around the world (like the Finnish school system) to figure out ways to improve the American system and then completely ignore the massive, multi-billion dollar domestic private education sector. This sector includes not only private schools, but also private tutoring and education-themed books and services.
The first lesson that should be drawn from an examination of the market: Fundamentals are important.
There has been a great shift in the content of the courses in public schools away from fundamentals, which are disparaged as "rote learning." Grammar is barely taught; it shocks many people when they realize that few high school students can define "adverb."
Here is how the private sector has responded:
The shift away from fundamentals was motivated, of course, by good intentions. The problem is the either/or mentality of many changes in education. Pure fundamentals: bad. No fundamentals: bad.
Can't we meet somewhere in the middle?
"Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave."
- Omar Bradley
Omar Bradley, known as the "G.I.'s General," was the last American general to earn five stars. He was the senior American commander during the invasion of Europe that began with the D-Day landings in Normandy. He recaptured Paris, and his army linked up with the Soviet allies on the Elbe river.
After the war, he was put in charge of the Department of Veteran's Affairs. A year earlier, in 1944, Congress passed sweeping legislation concerning the millions of returning veterans. The veterans of WWI had been dissatisfied with their treatment postwar, and this bill sought to avoid the same mistakes.
Hailing from a poor background, smiling, and remarkably humble for a general (he rarely issued an order without saying "please"), General Bradley was extremely popular with his soldiers and with the American people. He would prove to be difficult to oppose; his administration of the G.I. Bill was generous, almost without precedent.
In the post-war years, almost half of all college students were veterans funded by the G.I. Bill. The government had calculated that only 10% of the returning veterans would use the college scholarships, but over half did. The number and percent of college educated Americans soared by the 1950s, creating the world's first mass middle class.
African American veterans were extended the benefits as well; Jim Crow laws prevented them from attending certain white universities, particularly in the South. Nevertheless, the number of African American college graduates exploded, and these graduates would be the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights movement.
The perception of college altered forever. Before the G.I. Bill, college was for the very elite, and the curriculum was purely academic.
This Bill was the first time the federal government had played a large role in education.
Later this year, the U.S. will "celebrate" its 12th year of war. Are there any heroic figures like General Omar Bradley to help us in the post-war years?
Education was founded on the archaic-sounding idea of "spreading civilization." To that end, it had three goals: learning, morality, and citizenship. There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about our present test-focused system, and many of the complaints happen to be correct. The system generally ignores the two old-fashioned goals of morality and citizenship. (They are now often referred to with the hilariously obtuse label, the "non-cognitive" effects.)
The founders of the excellent, pioneering KIPP charter schools noticed that many of their students were not graduating from college despite having the academic chops to do so. A whole New York Times story later, they realized that the students lacked important "non-cognitive" traits and adopted one in particular, "grit."
Grit is a modern rebranding of an old term; essentially it is a mixture of resilience, determination, and perseverance. The history of its synonyms traces the history of the education of "non-cognitive" traits. Perseverance and resilience have been extensively studied by psychologists and were cornerstones of the various "character" education movements through the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century and the colonial era, grit would have been known as "long-suffering."
Whatever the word, it is an important idea. Here are three easy ways, ripped from the pages of From Rebel to Ruler, to improve your students' grittiness (and other important "non-cognitive" traits):
If you want more activities like these, to help you turn your rebellious teenagers into worthy leaders, click here.
"Heroes are made in the hour of defeat. Success is, therefore, well described as a series of glorious defeats." - Mohandas Gandhi
The "Big Five" personality traits, easily recalled by the acronym OCEAN, for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, are often discussed in psychology and pop psychology in the passive voice - for example, "in recent decades, there has been a growing consensus among psychologists that five factors blah blah…"
The Five Factors are interesting enough, and there are many free online resources to test yourself. It is important to note that the Five Factors were chosen because they are very stable over a person's life. Most conscientious adults were conscientious children. Many studies also suggest that each of these five factors has a large genetic component.
It is also important to emphasize that the Five Factors were not meant to provide a complete picture of a personality, nor are they the most important traits. (A brief brainstorm of other traits: courage, kindness, sense of humor) The Big Five are stable and genetic and easy to measure.
Honest researchers have begun doubting some of the statistical foundations of psychological research, in particular, the issue of "external validity," which is when a result is not relevant to another population. Researchers at the University of British Columbia coined an acronym, WEIRD, which stands for Westernized, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic. The vast majority of psychological research is conducted on American college (WEIRD) students, and therefore may be biased or irrelevant.
We may be missing vital aspects of human character, despite the studies being "scientific" or "randomly controlled," because life in modern western societies is so vasty different than the rest of the world (and the rest of history).
For example, psychologists have been trying to understand "everyday heroes," like the subway hero, who buck the "bystander effect," and have come up empty. The subway hero, Wesley Autrey, is a construction worker who saved a man who fell into the path of an oncoming train. Autrey jumped onto the tracks, wrestled the man down and held him as the train passed over them, narrowly missing killing them both.
These guardian angels come from all walks of life. Many are quiet and unassuming; some are not.
Many of these heroes change their lives after the event and continue a life of service. The event seems to have awakened something in them.
Perhaps there is a hidden hero trait that is not easily detected in sheltered Western life. There have been subway heroes after Wesley Autrey who left the scene and remain anonymous.
Could you be a hero?
"He that increaseth wisdom, increaseth sorrow."
- Robert Burton
There is a controversial term in psychology, depressive realism, which refers to the hypothesis that depressed people have a more realistic view of the world. It has been backed up by a wide array of experiments.
Other research has showed that putting people in "negative moods" actually boosts their memory. The people in negative moods pay more attention and deliberate more carefully. In the experiment, the people in negative moods were able to detect lies more readily and were less racist.
Aristotle believed that creativity was spurred on by melancholy; great poets, artists and philosophers, he said, all had a bit of the melancholic spirit, which he believed to be caused by an excess of black bile (melan choler). His tutor and mentor Plato, and Plato's tutor and mentor, Socrates, were afflicted by melancholy. Seneca, the great Stoic philosopher, quoted Aristotle on this and took it one step further, saying, "There is no genius without some touch of madness."
During the renaissance, a highly influential work, "The Anatomy of Melancholy," by Robert Burton, revived interest in melancholy. A "Cult of Melancholy," in England, as well as a parallel movement, Sturm und Drang, in Germany, arose soon after. Many of the works of Keats, Mozart, and Wagner are products of this period.
Certain psychologists believe that negative thinking and sadness are adaptive. Sadness causes people to be introspective and solve problems: they are more attentive to their surroundings, less influenced by quick, positive emotions, and more focused on the facts. Sadness, according to them, should not be avoided, but used.
Albrecht Durer, the famous German Renaissance artist, has a much debated piece, Melencholia I, which depicts a sad women in the grips of "melancholia imaginativa," or melancholy of the imagination, which is brought on when an artist is waiting for inspiration to strike.
Sadness, according to the most remarkable people over the past two thousand years, appears to be the price we pay to solve problems, make insights and discoveries, and create art.
I'm an entrepreneur and I teach math, history, economics, and fitness. I'm looking for arguments.