Educators and Billionaires: Adversaries or Partners?

Anyone who has worked with kids knows that when an adult has a real connection with a child, amazing things happen. Clearly, some proponents of “personalized learning” or “digital learning” seem unaware of the importance of such relationships and this is tragic. These powerful advocates from the Gates’s to the Zuckerbergs and beyond are squandering hundreds of millions of dollars on initiatives that will ultimately fail. More tragically, the combination of their zeal and power has pushed us further away from a solution.

We need to embrace the utilization of technology in education but rather than involving professional teachers to learn how technology can be folded into the art and craft of teaching, these reformers have drawn a line in the sand. They want to diminish the role of teachers because they have not taken the time to understand why so many children are failing.

In the education model I have introduced, first in 2013 with the publication of my book, Reinventing Education, Hope and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America (CreateSpace, 2013) and more recently on my website under “Education Model and White Paper, my conclusion is that if our goal is to bring an end to the failure, we need to enhance the relationships between teachers and students (and parents) rather than diminish them. The problem with public schools, today, is that the education process is rigid and obsolete and does not support improving relationships and giving students more time to learn. Rather, it is a system that is structured like a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest, and where there are both winners and losers.

Once we have addressed that issue, as I have done in my model, it opens the door to the utilization of technology to help professional teachers guide their children down an academic plan that has been tailored to the unique needs of the child. The categorical imperative, however, is that the relationships are the key to every interaction between people, and the more fragmented our world becomes the more important these relationships become.

My model changes the structure of the education process and classroom in such a way that teachers are supported in their efforts and that such relationships are an expectation, not something that happens every so often. Anyone reading this who has had a special relationship with a favorite teacher at school, or a favorite boss or supervisor at work, knows that it was during these periods that we were the most productive and achieved the best outcomes. We look back on these special times with regret, particularly when we were in school, that such relationships were not allowed to continue. These relationship could not endure because the education process required that we move kids on to a new grade and a new teacher at the beginning of every school year. The existing education process is focused more on preserving traditions than it is meeting the needs of 21st Century children.

My model changes this reality and makes the formation and preservation of such relationships our highest priority. No matter what we do in life, even if we are programmers writing code in a secret location, our success is ultimately determined by our ability to interact, communicate, and form relationships with other human beings.

Technology in any form, whether “digital learning software” or making full use of our smartphones, will always be tools to help us achieve results and produce outcomes through our interactions with other people. As I wrote in my book, The Difference is You: Power Through Positive Leadership (Create Space, 2013), even in their purest form, the value of assets whether land, money, or time is always measured in terms of their utility to people. The challenge is to keep abreast of new developments and discoveries, in the context of a dynamic environment. This is the job of leadership, in any venue, including public school corporations.

In education, whether public or private, the relationships between teachers and students are paramount whether we are talking about five and six year olds in Kindergarten or teenagers in high school. The second priority for teachers in my model are to pull parents into these vital relationships as partners with their child’s teacher. When there is a positive and enduring bond between the key players in education’s cast of characters, truly amazing things happen.

In her insightful blog post, “The Edu-Tech Billionaires Promote ‘Personalized’ Learning That Lacks the Personal Touch,” Jan Ressinger notes that true collaboration would involve the “billionaires” working with teachers through the NEA and AFT, and through college departments of education.

There is a simple lesson from operations management that “if a process continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they are, then the process is flawed and must be replaced or reinvented. The one thing of which we can be sure is that the outcomes produced through the initiatives of our “billionaires” have been no more acceptable than the outcomes produced by far too many of our public schools. Our best chance of success is when the business community, even through retired consultants like this author, and professional teachers work together.

The irony is that the outcomes from the charter schools promoted by our billionaire reformers are rarely any more acceptable than those from the public schools the charters were intended to replace. And, why should we be surprised at this? With rare exceptions the charter schools rely on the same obsolete education process as public and most private schools. When are we going to admit that putting different teachers into different classrooms while using the same process will never produce the outcomes we need.

I invite the reader to check out my model and white paper to see how professional teachers, parents, and students can utilize the tools of the 21st Century to transform public education in America. Once we put talented professionals in an environment that is tasked, structured, and resourced to produce the outcomes we want, success is always within our reach.

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