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Reinventing the Education System… with a business model of technology?

So tomorrow… I am traveling to Thailand and Vietnam! I’m pretty excited but that means I might not be posting as much. I have a LOT of drafts saved though, so I will do my best to find time (and internet connection) to blog.

Since I have to start packing soon, I will just do a brief post (you will soon learn that I love lists and bullet points).

Here are some of my thoughts on this article about reinventing rather than fixing the education system.

Yes, it’s from Forbes, which made me wary at first and it did feature some pretty appealing education rhetoric which, from experience, I know is hard to analyze because it makes you just want to agree with everything being said.

The author’s basic argument is that the education system is “not broken” but simply “obsolete” in that it no longer caters to the needs of the current generation. Thus, to solve the issue of education, we need to reinvent the system, and move away from the monotonous “assembly line” style of education that is currently implemented in our schools in order to move towards making education experiential, exciting, and as “addictive as a video game.” This means promoting creativity, critical reasoning, and collaborative learning.

Sounds pretty much everything I fight for right? Well… let’s see.

Here’s what I agree with, or at least find interesting:

  • First of all, I have to say that I was really happy to see an article about education on Forbes.
  • Very true that our current education system seems to be outdated… I think I’m going to devote some time to looking at the history of education in our country…just to see the path it has taken.
  • Yes yes yes to everything about:
  • fostering creativity and critical reasoning
  • embracing students’ various learning styles
  • promoting experiential education and interdisciplinary approaches to learning
  • making education that works for, not against, its students (“If they can’t learn the way we teach, why don’t we teach the way they learn?” – Ignacio Estrada)
  • moving away from standardization, which limits individuality and what I like to call out-of-the-scantron-bubble thinking
  • implementing well-rounded and exciting curricula for students

Here’s what I’m not so sure about:

  • “I want all entrepreneurs to take notice that this is a multi-hundred billion dollar opportunity that’s ripe for disruption.”
  • NO NO NO
  • Okay, I am a social entrepreneurship minor at USC, which is a minor in the School of Business. So I hear this all the time. And it literally makes me cringe.
  • I am pursuing social entrepreneurship because I have realized that current movements of “education reform” do not fit the model of social activism that I wholeheartedly agree with. On my journeys as an aspiring educator and educational activist, I have come to realize that in order to make the best difference that I can in education, I have to pave my own path.
  • My social entrepreneurship minor equips me with the tools and skill sets to put my educational theories and philosophies into practice.
  • What I don’t appreciate, however, is corporate agendas and motives of profit, because no matter how much you want to make a difference in education, those two things get in the way of truly and genuinely working for and with students. They dilute the focus on students and educational equity, which are the real focus here.
  • Education is not a business to be profited from. Period. If you want to make a real difference, work from the bottom up. Really get to know students, work with them, listen to them, and start with local change. Slowly, students everywhere will have equal access to the quality public education they deserve.
  • Also, I feel like the article was moving in a direction of using technology as the core of education, rather than a tool.
  • “It is time we flipped the model on its head and used technology to focus on our learners.”
  • I believe that while technology is definitely very useful in the classroom, its influence on curriculum should be limited to only a tool.
  • To have technology infiltrate every aspect of education in a classroom for the purposes of creating curricula that works for all types of students is… a little counter-productive in my opinion.
  • Not all students learn with technology, and there are many more methods and styles of learning that don’t need technology (lively discussions/debates, collaborative projects, creative projects, field trips, hands-on learning)
  • Also, technology can be very limiting for students, since it can tend to think for students and doesn’t really leave room for the student to create something him/herself. Well there goes that whole “fostering creativity” bit.
  • All in all, technology should assist learning, not dominate it.

Those are just my thoughts on this article! If you agree/disagree/have an idea of your own, feel free to comment!

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More Thoughts on Ken Robinson’s TED Talk – Questioning

Hi everyone! I’ve been reading up on wonderful things I can’t wait to share with y’all (things like Cooperative Catalyst and IDEA and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and “The Common Core” [no link here because there are just too many articles on this topic…]). 

Attention will be given to all of the above and more, but first, I wanted to share some thoughts about my post last night.

I’ve been letting myself experience Ken Robinson’s talk again (I like watching/reading/experiencing things over and over again, I get new perspectives every time), and I’ve discovered there is another… dimension, if you will, that is essential to humans’ flourishing, but that is currently stifled by the structure of our education system.

Questioning

I don’t know about you, but I started asking questions the moment I could talk. I don’t even think my first words were, “Mama” or “Dada”. Legend has it, they were either “What’s that?” or “Where’s my food?”. Probably the latter. 

Anyway, I think Questioning deserves it’s own dimension, even though it’s basically the child of Diversity and Curiosity. Questioning entails being curious about diversity. It’s seeking alternatives to the status quo, looking at different and all perspectives, recognizing that there might be more than one right answer, maybe an even better answer than the one that’s widely accepted. Healthy skepticism, critical thinking, and careful analysis are all hallmarks of the human tendency of questioning.

Although this is a very important and natural part of being human, it appears to be missing from most students in America. What’s happening here?

Well, I can’t speak for those students, but I remember the first time I didn’t want to ask a question. It happened about 5 minutes after someone called my previous question stupid. And maybe it was stupid, but I asked it and now I felt stupid.

Now that isn’t the end of the story. One mean kid couldn’t quash the flame of questioning in me. But society could. If I got a quarter for every time someone told me “That’s just the way it is, Hannah” or “Why question it?” I could probably rename a building at USC after myself.

As I got older, it got harder to question and to speak up about my own opinion, or even come up with an individual opinion. For a long period of my life… I stopped thinking. I seriously just thought what anyone told me to think. So basically, I had a bunch of opinions about things, none of which were my own, most of which conflicted with one another.

Thank goodness real education saved my life, or at least my mind. Since then, I’ve valued questions, original ideas, moving discussions, and critical thinking like no other. I try my best to always question what I read or watch or hear about. I always try to find the source, to employ my sociological imagination to really consider all moving parts and factors of any situation. I know that I’ve only been able to arrive at the philosophies I currently hold about education because of a long, arduous process of considering various perspectives, analyzing them, and synthesizing them with ideas of my own while still holding true to my values as a student and aspiring teacher. 

I was only able to do this with support from my teachers and school. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to engage in discussions, to question ideas, to voice my opinions, to think outside the box. Many students today in America don’t get that because testing and standardization moves questioning to the bottom of the priority list. Instead of being taught how to think for themselves, students are taught what to think and how to repeat that information for a number. Their tendency to question and doubt and critically analyze begins to fade the minute they are subject to a standardized test. Standardized tests don’t just restrict students and teachers in the process of education; they send a very clear message:

“That’s just the way it is. Why question it?”

“Why?” you ask? Well, that’s a very good question. 

Ken Robinson – How to Escape Education’s Death Valley

When I got here, I was told various things like, “Americans don’t get irony.” … But I knew that Americans get irony when I came across the legislation, “No Child Left Behind.” Because whoever thought of that title gets irony, don’t they! Because it’s leaving millions of children behind. Now I can see that’s not a very attractive name for legislation: “Millions of Children Left Behind.”

Gonna end this first day of blogging with an amazing video of Ken Robinson, an author and international advisor on education. His TED talk is my FAVORITE out of the TED Talks Education series. Above is just an excerpt from the beginning of his hilarious but enlightening talk, but it’s definitely worth 20 minutes of your life. Trust me.

To sum it up, Ken names 3 things that are essential to the flourishing of human life, and then points out 3 things that the current education system does to stifle those natural human tendencies:

  1. Diversity vs. Conformity
  2. Curiosity vs. Testing
  3. Creativity vs. Standardization

Please check it out! His talk is very refreshing, full of humor, aha! moments, and quotable quotes that leave you smiling and nodding your head furiously in agreement.

One thing in particular appreciate about Ken’s talk is that he really touches upon essentially “human” things. He brings up anecdotes and scenarios that are truly relatable to anyone, whether you care about education or not, because they highlight things that are a part of the human condition. Anyone can agree that is natural for us to be different and diverse, that it’s natural for us to be curious and to have imaginations, that it’s natural for us to be creative with our paths in life. It’s basically common sense at this point: why doesn’t our education system nurture those naturally human aspects of ourselves? 

Why does it instead discourage celebration of diversity, stifle a child’s flame of curiosity, restrict the mind’s natural tendency to be creative?

As my philosophy teacher once told me, “we must first learn to ask better questions before we can reach any good answers.”

More to come on these questions. But here’s some food for thought!

When Real Education Changed My Life

To elaborate more on my second educational philosophy:

I guess the biggest reason I have a problem with the dominant culture of standardized testing is that it undermines the importance of social justice/civic education, which is the one thing that made my education magical. 

I didn’t really start learning until sophomore year of high school. Before that I hated history because I thought it was just memorizing facts and I wanted to be a doctor because that’s what my parents wanted and I guess I felt more content memorizing facts about the human body than about humans. But I was never learning, or at least never engaged with my learning. I hated it when my teachers asked me “explain” or “analyze” because I didn’t know what that meant. But hey, I had a 4.0 and was deemed a genius according to my test scores so I must have been educated right? 

Don’t worry, the story gets better because I met my match sophomore year. Her name was Ms. Garcia (more affectionately called Mama G) and she challenged my thinking like no other. She was one of my teachers in a program called “Facing History and Ourselves” (you really should check it out, it’s a lovely program that taught me so much), which basically delves into social justice issues in history and society to foster socially responsible leaders committed to fighting injustice. I clearly remember crying after a lesson because I just couldn’t contain my feelings. And that was the key. For the first time during my education, I was feeling and experiencing what I was learning. I was doing an inherently human thing, and my education was coming alive. 

And this is the most important lesson I learned from Facing History and Mama G:

Learning is felt. It is not the 2 digit percentage on the Calculus test, or the 4 digit score on the SAT, because we cannot attach digits to learning, we cannot measure something so endless and profound. Learning is something that is felt. It’s the ache in my heart when I learn about the Holocaust, the churn in my stomach when I hear about minorities being denied their basic human rights, the refreshing confidence when I make a philosophical point that is uniquely mine, the excitement that shakes me when I connect something in science to something in history, and most of all, that feeling that I can’t quite name, the one that gets my head all hot and my insides queasy and my muscles just aching to get up and go out and do somethingLearning is experiencing what someone teaches me, letting it soak through and change me. 

Through my learning, I was able to become a more socially and politically conscious citizen and an overall better person. My mind and heart were opened and I grew in both intellect and character. I cared, not only about what was going on around me in society, but also about my education as a whole. I wanted to keep learning, keep analyzing, keep thinking, keep exploring, so that I could figure out the best way to contribute to society.

I realized after that year that I am not meant to be a doctor. I am meant to be a teacher. I love learning and I want nothing more than to share that love with my future students. I want them to feel what I felt. I believe that learning can not only be fun, but it can be life-changing, monumental, magical, even electric. My experience of true learning was the spark of electricity that set off a current in me, and education is now the passion that pumps vigorously through these veins.

Where I Stand – Standardized Testing, Civic Education, and the Bottom-Up Approach to Educational Justice

I think it’s important, before I embark on this journey of educating myself, to elaborate on my 3 biggest philosophies on education and educational activism.

—1—

The high emphasis on standardized testing is destroying real education.

Seriously, high stakes testing needs to leave, like, yesterday. I wrote a 10-paged paper on this my sophomore year of high school, and I can still go on and on about it. Simply put, students are more than test scores. There are numerous dimensions to learning and education, and the standards don’t even begin to capture most of them. Test scores simply cannot objectively capture true learning, because education can’t be standardized or forced into a single definition.

These tests, which claim to measure student performance, are destroying our schools, turning them into factories where anything but reading, math, and writing is pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Now don’t get me wrong, math, reading, and writing are important and valuable skills but would you really consider someone educated if all they knew how to do was answer multiple choice questions about those 3 subjects?

  • What about looking at the past and understanding the present?
  • What about understanding society?
  • What about global perspective?
  • What about diversity?
  • What about civic education?
  • What about appreciation for the arts and music?
  • What about exploration and discovery of exciting ideas and topics?
  • What about intellectual freedom?
  • What about critical analysis?
  • What about applying concepts across disciplines?
  • What about problem solving?
  • What about creativity and innovation?
  • What about lively discussion and collaboration?
  • What about experiential learning?

Are any of these questions ever asked? Not on a standardized test, that’s for sure. The machines that grade these tests don’t care about how students came to their answer, if they used critical thinking, or if they can apply their knowledge in practical settings. All it wants is that one right answer. And how many times in life is there only one right answer?

Because of standardized tests, enthusiastic, creative, and dedicated teachers are placed in an impossible paradox where their job is to educate their students, but they have to make sure that their students’ scores are high so that the school can appear “accountable” and they can continue teaching. This leads to teaching to the test, which deprives students of the well-rounded and real education that they deserve. Testing should be used as a tool to support learning, perhaps for diagnostic purposes from some subjects, but unfortunately it has become the core of educational culture (thanks a lot, NCLB and RTTT). It has gotten to the point where learning has been obstructed in classrooms because of the very high emphasis on test scores.

Students deserve better. They deserve an education that fosters creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, an education that civically engages and empowers, an education that says a great big, “YES!” to all those questions above, and most of all, an education that celebrates rather than excludes all kinds of students and styles of learning, whether or not they align with the so-called “standards.”

—2—

Social justice and youth civic engagement are incredibly important components of education.

Students should not only be taught how to become good students, but also good people. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said, “The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

Education should foster open-minded, civically aware, and caring members of society, not create robots that know how to regurgitate facts. Every aspect of a person’s education needs to be paid attention to, and currently civic education is simply not given enough weight. Civic education is not simply just important anymore, it’s absolutely necessary. The issues of inequality and injustice in our world will only continue to remain unresolved if we don’t have socially and politically conscious people who are equipped with the tools to stand up for themselves and the oppressed in their communities. Students need to understand what happened in the past, how that has affected the present, and how they can contribute to a brighter future for all. Civic education not only builds respect, consideration, and character in students, but it also builds their analytical and problem solving skills.

And it’s not hard! The essence of civic education is all about relating to students, engaging students in dialogue, tapping into what makes them sad, angry, happy, human.  It’s a great tool for motivating students to learn because it reawakens what is natural to them: emotion, experience, creativity. It enriches learning by weaving passion, discovery, critical thinking, and compassion in their education, and tells them, “you have the power to make a difference.” Wouldn’t you care more about your education if you could relate to it? If it was engaging? If you believed in yourself and your own potential? If you knew it could help you do things or act on issues you were passionate about?

Once we realize the importance of social justice education for our students, then our students’ education will become more exciting, applicable, and real for them, and they will be able to learn more than they ever did before.

—3—

Stephanie Rivera (a great advocate for student voice) and other students protesting the Chicago school closings.

Any approach that aims to achieve educational justice must take students’ voices into account.

Okay. Pause. For those of you who don’t know Stephanie Rivera, go look at her blog right now. She is an advocate for student voice and educational equity, and one of my newly discovered heroes. She’s absolutely amazing, courageous, full of passion and drive, and definitely a force to be reckoned with. I hope we get to talk soon because that would be a complete honor.
The reason I’m bringing her up as I discuss my 3rd philosophy, is because she wrote this brave and controversial (but hey, what can you expect when you voice a unpopular opinion) post about how she stands against Students for Education Reform (SFER), a group that I was a member of. Was. As in past tense… I left before I found Stephanie’s post, but reading her post now definitely helped me put words to the discomfort I felt with the group. Basically, my experiences with SFER reinforced my passion for elevating student voice and involvement in the education revolution.
During my freshman year of college, I was definitely that starry-eyed aspiring educator, eager to join any movement I could that had to do with education. When I found out that USC had a club called “Students for Education Reform”, I was ecstatic. I was so excited. At the USC EdMonth conference, I went to the workshop led by SFER and got to talk to the president. He was explaining SFER, basically making a case about why I should join. I didn’t think I need to be persuaded, as I was really eager about education reform, but let’s just say… I didn’t expect to be dissuaded.
After explaining that I wanted to be a teacher and that I believed in a bottom-up approach to education “reform” (because “I don’t think you can truly fight for people unless you know them and fight with them”), he basically didn’t treat me seriously. He said that at SFER, they were taking more of a top-down approach, and while the girls at Whittier College focused on “babies” (yes, he referred to students as “babies”), USC SFER was all about “real policy work” and working with adults to make policy changes that will affect the “babies.” He then turned his attention to the political science major at the table, who he probably felt would not be so typical female aspiring teacher obsessed with “babies.”
Still, he wasn’t able to stamp out my eagerness. I came to a meeting, hoping that maybe after some stimulating discussion my faith would be restored, but lo and behold, teachers and teacher unions were bashed and once again I was made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and excluded because I just didn’t agree with the top-down approach. The whole atmosphere of the conversation was all so condescending towards the students, and so counterproductive to the change that needs to happen. So I decided to stand by my opinion and leave the group. I said it once above and I will say it again: Any approach that aims to achieve educational justice must take students’ voices into account.
Stephanie Rivera brings to light a lot of issues about SFER (I will link it here again because I urge you to look at her thoroughly researched and very well-articulated post), but one that I will emphasize here is that there is no room for working with and mobilizing high school and middle school students in the fight for their rights. Their stories are ignored and their voices are silenced. Sure, it will be mentioned that hm, maybe we should talk to the students we are essentially fighting for… but no… they’re too young and busy with a school system that fails them to understand or even care about the complex, “big kid” policies at hand. And this is exactly the attitude that makes students never want to speak up in the first place. 
We cannot simply fight for students from the top down. We cannot ignore their experiences. We cannot claim to fight for education and then simultaneously exclude students in a fight for their rights. We must make the effort to involve students in the process. We must collaborate with them, shed light on their experiences, and help them realize their power in the movement. We need to fight with them.
The students have a story to tell. The injustice in the education system is not something they just read about in news articles; it is their every day reality. These issues affect them directlyAny large social or political change movement in this country started when the oppressed spoke up about what they were upset about. It all starts with a voice, a story, a cry for help. Real change begins when the oppressed realize their power and use it to end their oppression.
Yes, education is a very complicated issue, but then why don’t we simplify it for students? Why don’t we equip them with the knowledge they need to fight for what they believe in? Why don’t we at least change our mindset and start believing in students? Why don’t we give them a chance to care about this issue and to take appropriate action?
Believe in the power of student voice and invest in that power. You may will be surprised.
Thank you for reading! I can’t wait to continue writing about what I care about and sharing my thoughts on such an important issue.
Blessings,
Hannah

And now… introducing… ME!

“I want to teach them how to be not only good students, but also good people. I want to open not only their minds, but also their hearts.” 

Now I won’t tell you who said that… but once you’re done reading this page, you will probably know who it is.

But anyway, greetings! Thanks for visiting my blog! My name is Hannah Nguyen and I am here to pave my own path in this highly complicated but incredibly rewarding and magical field of education. I want to be an educator and educational justice activist because real education changed my life and I think every student, no matter who they are or where they come from, deserves the opportunity to experience this kind of magic

¡Mira! Magic at school! (yes, I am a Harry Potter fan and proud Gryffindor)

But unlike the magic that’s in Harry Potter, the magic I want to share with my students doesn’t make snow fall indoors or turn a frog into a teacup. But it can turn someone into a magician. It can teach them to believe that they have magic in them, that they have potential to do great, that they can work their magic and help the world in their own way.

I call my learning experience magic because it changed my life forever. And that’s what I think education should be. Life-changing. Monumental. Magical. My education has taught me that I am a part of something greater, and to ignore that is essentially criminal. I am an individual, but I live in this world, I am a part of this society, and I want to contribute in the best way that I can.

And this is why I’ve decided to start this blog! My biggest passion is education. As I said, real education changed my life, and I want every single student to get the chance to get a real education.  One that isn’t limited by test scores and standards. One that is well-rounded, enlightening, and stretches beyond regular confines of today’s curriculum. One that isn’t overshadowed by politics and corruption in the system. One that opens the mind and heart. I wholeheartedly believe that really focusing on education and investing in the younger generation will lead to a better future for this country and for all. If we can achieve educational justice and equity, then we move so much closer to creating a more just and peaceful world. 

Although my ultimate goal is to become a social studies teacher in a public school, how can I even begin to teach social justice in a system full of injustice? I want need to fight for educational justice as well. I am so tired of seeing potential go to waste because of inequalities in the system. I am so tired of hearing my students tell me that I’m the only one who will listen to them. I am tired of seeing creativity, critical thought, and innovation squashed by restrictions and “the-way-it’s-always-been”. I am so tired of hearing politicians and authority figures talk about students as if it’s their fault they are failing. I am so tired of decisions being made on behalf of students without anyone consulting their thoughts, ideas, or feelings. I am tired of the lack of student voice in a system that is supposed to be working for and with its students.

This is where this blog comes in.

Each and every day, I am still learning about all the components and factors that contribute to the state of our public education system today. The whole picture is extremely complex, with various moving parts and dimensions. So, this summer especially, I want devote extra time each day to learning, critically analyzing, and writing about these issues so that I can develop a deeper and more holistic understanding of who/what I will be fighting for/with. I will be reading books, articles, watch videos, visiting organizations in my area, and (hopefully) attending conferences, to learn as much as I can. I feel that only once I become more fully aware of the underlying issues and am able to critically analyze them can I truly figure out how to address the entire social justice issue as a whole. 

Although this is mostly a place for me to record inspiration I encounter and ideas I develop on my journey, you are more than welcome to follow along. If you have anything you want to show me that you think would really help me along this journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!

This will be posted under my “Introduction” tab as a future reference if you’re ever reading my posts and wonder why the heck I’m posting so much about education. Thanks for reading!