Seeing the Forest through the Trees

How is it that some of the nation’s most intelligent and accomplished people overlook a simple truth. As trite as it may be, the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees!” is as true as it is timeless. In the midst of the trees, or any other complex reality, it is incredibly difficult to see the whole of which we are apart. The consequence of being so immersed in the detail is that we are not fully aware of the external forces that influence whatever it is that we do. Without that broader perspective and the knowledge and understanding it provides, we find it difficult to resolve the challenges we face.

The analogy is very much like the reality in public education. Public school teachers, administrators, and policy makers work hard to address the challenges they face, particularly those in communities populated by large numbers of disadvantaged students, and yet satisfactory solutions elude us. Public school teachers and administrators seem disconnected from what outsiders perceive as the reality. Educators judge their work by the effort and commitment they put into teaching our children while those outside of the system judge the work of our schools by the performance of its graduates. Far too often those assessments are on opposite ends of the curve.

That raises the operative question. How do we judge any process developed to produce a product, service or any other outcome? Do we judge those outcomes by how hard people think they work and how much they say they care, or by the quality and utility of the outcomes, themselves?

The incremental improvements made in public schools over the last half century are comparable to course corrections of a ship at sea. The corrections are intended to allow the ship to arrive more quickly to its destination. If the destination, itself, is incorrect, however, the course adjustments are not only irrelevant, they might divert us even farther from our destination.

With respect to our system of public education, the education process as it is currently designed is neither tasked, structured, nor resourced to optimize each child’s academic success, particularly disadvantaged kids. The data from public schools in communities all over the U.S. supports this assertion. What we hear so often from public school educators is that “public schools are better than they have ever been.”

How these educators respond to challenges about the low performance of disadvantaged students provides insight into our dilemma. What educators say is that the performance of these kids is a consequence of poverty and segregation and fixing these socio-economic issues is the responsibility of society; not public schools and teachers. The unfortunate result of this disavowal of responsibility is that, in response to a half-century of poor performance of the disadvantaged, public school educators have made no substantive changes to the education process. They have, instead, relied on incremental improvements that are as irrelevant to American society as the course corrections at sea, by ships steaming toward the wrong destination.

It is clear to this observer—one who has spent an entire career working to help my organizations and clients fix ineffectual processes on the one hand and who has walked in the shoes of public school teachers while subbing, on the other—that the education process at work in our schools is fatally flawed. Because it is flawed, it has proven almost impossible for children who start at a disadvantage to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to escape poverty and become fully productive and responsible citizens. The fact that public school educators have done nothing to address this critical deficiency is the motivating force behind the education reform movement.

What we need from public school educators is for them to acknowledge what they know to be true. The process does not work for disadvantaged kids.

The good news is that the reinvention of the education process is a relatively easy thing to do. All it requires is that we take the time to re-examine what it is that all kids need, including the disadvantaged, and then engineer a structure that is designed for the express purpose of meeting those needs. This is what this author has done in creating a new education model.

So what do kids need?

1) What kids need is more time on lessons with which they struggle. They must not be pushed to move on to the next lesson before they have mastered a current one. As success on many lessons depends on a student’s ability to apply what they have already learned, struggling students are set up for failure, are rarely able to catch up, and fall further behind. This repetitive bruising of young egos is devastating. .

2) What kids need is a fair starting point on a unique academic plan that builds on what they know and what they can do. What matters is whether each of the children for whom we are responsible learns as much as they are able at their own best speed. Students are not competing with one another in the classroom rather they are each laying their own foundation and building for their own unique futures.

3) What kids need are warm and nurturing relationships with all of the adults who share responsibility for teaching, protecting, caring, and advocating for them and the more such people there are the better off the child.

4) Children need the people who care, protect, teach, and advocate for them to work together as a team. The more these educators, mentors, and care givers communicate with one another and work together, the better it is for the child. This need places a premium on the parents and teachers working together as partners to be a positive force in the lives of our children.

5) Children need these relationships to be stable and enduring. We want each child to have the same quality of relationships that many of us recall when we think back on our favorite teachers. Often, it takes an entire school year to create these special bonds and, far too frequently, it never happens within as single school year. Once formed, why would we want to sever such relationships because it is May or June?

6) Kids need to experience and celebrate success at every opportunity. They must also learn that success is neither a destination nor a trophy. Success is a process in which we learn how to set goals and objectives, how to achieve them by learning from the mistakes we make along the way. It is the child’s mistakes that point us to areas where they need more work. We want children and teachers to think of mistakes as the building blocks of success and accomplishment.

7) Our children need to master the skills, knowledge, and discipline they will need in order to have real and meaningful choices available to them when they leave school. This is only possible when our children are able to utilize in the real world that which they have learned. If they cannot use it, they have not learned it and our job on with that child is not yet done. It serves no one’s interest when a child is allowed to fail.

Creating an education process that is tasked, structured and resourced to help children meet their needs is our responsibility and it is eminently doable. It simply requires that we acknowledge that the existing process is irreparable and then go back to the drawing board.

Use Your Imagination and Experience as a Positive Force for Change Rather Than As an Obstacle!

In almost any other venue in American society, when something is not working properly we waste little time before we fix it. We may try to fiddle with the problem for a while but if that fails to produce the outcomes we want we move quickly to revamp or replace a faulty component or process. Very few of us are willing to put up with disappointing outcomes.

This is especially true in business. Few businesses can endure dissatisfied customers as doing so is the quickest way to lose one’s business. When a pattern of disappointing outcomes is recognized, business owners feel a sense of urgency to find a solution. Only rarely will tinkering or other incremental adjustments do the trick. What is needed is a trip back to the drawing board, analyzing feedback, clarifying purpose and objectives, challenging one’s assumptions, and finding a new solution. Very often, the new solution involves a radical departure from the manner in which things were done in the past.

“But, this is the way we have always done it” is never an acceptable answer to dissatisfied customers. Learning how to be an agent for change is one of the core principles of positive leadership.

How is it that the American people can be tolerant to the point of disinterest in the fact that millions of American children are failing in public schools. Disadvantaged kids failing in a nation that boasts of American ingenuity and its commitment to human rights? It seems incongruous. Do we not care about disadvantaged kids? Do we think them incapable of learning and therefore undeserving of our time and attention?

In my last blog post, I quoted Linda Darling-Hammond from her book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, (Teachers College Press, 2010). Dr. Darling-Hammond is President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, a Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University where she is Faculty Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She wrote:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

In the midst of the failure of so many of our most precious children, how is it that public school educators do little more than ask teachers to try harder while the education reformers are on a mission to shut them down? How is it that public school educators and the advocates that support them leave some of the most fundamental assumptions in public education unchallenged? Challenging assumptions is also one of the core principles of positive leadership:

• Does it really make sense for the education process at work in our public schools to be structured as if education is a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest?

• Do we really want public education to be a competition in which some kids win and others lose?

• How can we continue to justify asking children to move from one lesson to the next, one semester after another, and from grade to grade when they are unable to apply much of what they were expected to learn.

• Do we never second guess our tradition of accepting the failure of a significant percentage of public school students as an unalterable given?

• Does it still make sense to ask all children to progress through academic standards at the same pace as other children of the same age, even though there is great disparity in their level of academic preparedness?

• Other than the fact that this is the way we have done it for over a century, does it still make sense to move students from Kindergarten through grade 12, changing teachers every year?

• Is it fair to kids who want to learn to see valuable classroom time usurped as teachers allocate increasingly larger percentages of their time to unmotivated students who act out in class and exhibit no motivation to learn?

• Do we ever consider the possibility that there might be a better way to help kids learn?

It is so easy to blame public school teachers, whom I consider to be unsung heroes, for the problems in their schools and communities but doing so is no different than blaming soldiers on the front lines of combat for the faulty strategy and tactics of their commanders.

Our public school teachers need our help not our recriminations and they need our patience as it is only natural that they be resistant to change. That being said, the best thing public school teachers can do in their own best interests and the interests of their students is speak out about the inadequacies of the education process.

The education process at work in schools all over the U.S., both public and private, does not provide our children with the best chance to learn and it does not place our teachers in a position to teach at the top of their ability. The education process and the entire system of public education is flawed. Not only is it destroying young lives it is robbing our nation and our society of its ability to provide a safe community for its citizens, to compete successfully in a dynamic world economy, and to participate meaningfully in an increasingly interdependent global society.

Public school educators are challenged to step back to a vantage point from which the educational process can be examined as an integral whole. You are invited to evaluate the education model I have developed and an accompanying white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ If you do not think my model will work, use it as a springboard to come up with something that will work. Use your experience and imagination as a positive force for change rather than be an obstacle in the way of progress.

Withstanding the Relentless Wave of the Education Reform Movement

Throughout the U.S., the movement to privatize education is advancing, whether in state legislatures or local school districts, and it is a relentless force. Education reformers are on a mission to replace under-performing public schools with charter schools and other private alternatives. They are committed to giving parents a “choice.” Most of the public schools reformers are targeting are located in urban and rural communities with populations that are as diverse economically as they are culturally. That public school educators have not taken the time to understand the true motivation of reformers places their futures and ours at risk.

This unrelenting pursuit of privatization on the part of education reformers, and the policy makers who support them, is driven by the poor performance of students. The zeal of these crusaders, however, is not just about the numbers rather it is guided by the intransigence of public school teachers and administrators who insist that public education is better than it has ever been.

The irony is that public education might, indeed, be better than ever but it is nowhere near good enough. This leaves public schools, their teachers and communities in a showdown, winner-take-all poker game in which they hold no cards.

The facts are indisputable. In states throughout the U.S., the percentage of children unable to pass their state’s competency exams in math and English language arts is unacceptable. If you have doubts that what I say is true, go to the website of a nearby public school district that serves a significant percentage of poor and minority students and examine the data. Better yet, go to the website of your state’s department of education and look at statewide data. Although children who fail are often poor and include a disproportionate percentage of children of color or for whom English is a second language, they come from all segments of U.S. population. The data is alarming.

It is my assertion that most of the problems facing 21st Century American society are rooted in the separation between the haves and have nots and between white Americans and people of color. The chasm that divides us exists because disadvantaged children enter public school at age five or six and then exit, 13 years later, without the knowledge and skills necessary to accept the responsibilities of citizenship in a participatory democracy and without the ability to participate in the American dream. Instead, they return to their communities and join the previous generations of men and women who have always failed in school and have always been poor and who live under a canopy of hopelessness and powerlessness.

As these men and women clog up our justice system, fill our prisons to overflowing, raise their children on welfare, and become hardcore unemployable they elicit the bitterness and resentment of mainstream Americans who are asked to bear the economic burden. Many of these “mainstream Americans” have been reared in a society that has long been permeated by racism and discrimination and the events of our time validate, in their minds, the long-held traditions in which blacks and other people of color were viewed as inferior. Is it any wonder that, in the anger and frustration of so many, the American people have elected an authoritarian outsider as President of the United States on the basis of his promise to make American great again? Sadly, what is great for some is misery for others.

The biggest cause of this separation is that the needs of disadvantaged students are not being met by public schools and by the educational process at work in those schools. Public education was intended to be the great equalizer that would give every American child a ticket to the American dream. Instead, public education has become a brittle shell of its former self. While American society has changed exponentially, public education has plodded along with a seemingly endless series of incremental improvements none of which help our public schools serve the mission for which they were created. Public school educators have forgotten whom they exist to serve.

Would we be content, for example, to let physicians practice early 20th century medicine in response to the health challenges facing 21st people? Of course not, and we cannot afford to let our public schools prepare children for the challenges of the 21st century using outdated early 20th century methodologies.

Public schools, their teachers and administrators must recognize and acknowledge that they are viewed as obsolete by the education reform movement in America. Reformers are committed to putting public schools out of business. Unfortunately, the leaders of the reform movement, who are enormously successful business people, have forgotten the very principles upon which their own success has been built. They think that just by taking over the responsibility for educating our nation’s children, their success and the success of their students will be guaranteed. Unfortunately, they have not taken the time to understand the needs of their customer. It is ironic that this is not a mistake they would make when making an acquisition of another business entity.

This flaw in the internal logic of the reform movement, with its focus on high stakes testing and privatization, creates a real opportunity for public education. It is an opportunity, however, that cannot be seized and realized until educators are willing to go back to the drawing board and re-examine the needs of their customers. We need our public school educators to understand that not only are they responsible for the outcomes public schools produce they are also responsible for finding a solution that produces the outcomes our society so desperately needs. Blaming external forces is unacceptable. As I said in a recent post, what public school educators need is a paradigm shift.

In her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, (Teachers College Press, 2010) Linda Darling-Hammond writes:

“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”

Now, seven years after these words were published, very little has changed in the way the American education process is structured and we are still getting the same outcomes we were getting then.

I utilized an axiom from operations management with a similar theme when developing my education model. It is a model that I believe will transform public education in America and seize the initiative from the reform movement. It says:

“If a system, process, or operation continues to produce unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work or how qualified they might be, then the system is flawed and must be replaced or reinvented.”

What my model does is:

• Change the objectives and expectations of teachers;

• Identify and address the unique needs of each and every student;

• Alter the structure of the education process to support teachers in meeting our new objectives and expectations;

• Rewrite the rules by which the game is played; and,

• Change the manner in which we keep score.

What we will soon discover after implementing such changes is that anything is possible. Reinventing the education process is a simple human engineering exercise. We have the ability to create a process to do whatever we need it to do, if only we are willing to use our ingenuity and open our hearts and minds to the possibilities that exist outside the boundaries of conventional wisdom.

I invite the reader to visit http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ to check out my education model and also a white paper that sets out the logical foundation of the model and summarizes the findings and conclusions in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America.

If public school teachers and administrators continue to bury their heads in the sand and refuse to accept responsibility for fixing what is broken, the outcome for public schools and teachers is inevitable. The reform movement is riding the crest of a powerful wave and they will not be deterred. The only solution is to eliminate the failure and help every child develop the knowledge, skills, and character they will need to live the American dream. Only then will Americans see the false promise of privatization; only then will parents have a real choice.

Public School Educators Need a Paradigm Shift

Public school teachers in our nation’s most challenging schools and communities are like someone lost in the middle of a swamp who finds him or herself up to their waist in alligators. The rest of us act surprised when people who find themselves in such a predicament cannot seem to find their way out or even find the time to wonder how they became lost in the first place.

The concept “paradigm shift,” first introduced by American physicist and philosopher, Thomas Kuhn, and later popularized by Stephen Covey in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (first published in 1989), is a significant change in the way people think about an idea, concept, or process that provides one with a whole new perspective. Once a paradigm shift occurs, nothing looks the same. After our perspective has been broadened, we begin to see forces at play in our world that have been invisible to us. When we gain an understanding of these forces, whole new realms of possibility reveal themselves to us and, very often, we see new ideas scattered around us like precious gemstones.

It is bad enough that we criticize public school teachers for their inability to extricate themselves. What makes it worse is when we blame them for the existence of both the swamp and its dangers. Worse, still, is the fact that the self-proclaimed education reformers and the policy makers who are influenced by them, are choosing to turn their backs on these dedicated men and women. The focus of education reformers has shifted almost entirely to privatization through the creation of charter schools as alternatives to public schools, and voucher systems to help families pay for such choices using tax dollars. If one steps back and examines the education reform movement systemically, there is a clear picture of intent “to help the families we can and leave the rest to fend for themselves.”

This focus on privatization through charter schools and high stakes testing also leaves public school teachers to fend for themselves. It is as if we have decided that we cannot do anything to repair the system, so we will just bypass it and those who want to come along are invited to join us. For the rest, “c’est la vie.”

This situation is aggravated by the fact that public school teachers have opted to play the role of victim. Much of the efforts of teachers appear to be devoted to defending themselves from criticism rather than taking ownership of the problems they face in their classrooms. These teachers are constrained because they are so busy fighting off the alligators that they are unable to view the larger picture. The consequence is that they struggle to envision any other way to do what they do. They spend their energy reacting to criticism rather than working proactively in their own best interests and in the interests of their students.

This is why a paradigm shift is imperative if teachers are going to utilize the power they possess to transform public education. And, yes, teachers do have the power to bring about systemic change that can transform public education even if they cannot see it. Until they break free from the encapsulation that suppresses their creativity, however, they will be doomed to keep repeating the mistakes of the last half century. They will remain stuck in the swamp at the mercy of its dangers.

The solution to the problems in public education is there, right in front of teachers but they cannot see it from where they sit. Maybe the solution is too simple. Most teachers understand that some kids need more time but they do not see how they can find that time within the context of the current educational process. And that is exactly my point. Teachers cannot give students the time they need to learn, particularly the disadvantaged students, as long they are stuck in the failed education process of the last century. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students fail, unnecessarily; not because they are incapable of learning and not because teachers are incompetent. The fail because our obsolete educational process thwarts the efforts of teachers and students, alike.

So, what is the solutions?

Fixing the problems in public education is nothing more than a simple human engineering challenge. It is a matter of reinventing the education process in such a way that giving children the time they need is not only a teacher’s priority but also the basis of how their own performance will be evaluated. It is redesigning the structure to support students, empower teachers, and pull parents into the process. It is changing the nature of the game from a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest, to one in which each and every child gets the help they need to learn as much as they are able at their own best speed. It is changing the game from one in which some children win and others lose, to one where we make sure every child acquires the knowledge, skills, and self-discipline necessary for them to have choices about what to do with their lives. It is changing the way we keep score because that is the only way to break from the patterns of the past. We want every child to be a winner and we want all children to enter adulthood with real and meaningful choices about what to do with their lives.

What teachers will discover after a paradigm shift is that winning is not measured against the performance of classmates. Winning and learning are synonymous. Each lesson learned is a win. Why would ever allow a child lose or fail? If they are struggling to master a given lesson how can a teacher’s job be finished?

The educational model I have developed is one example of a new idea; a new solution. Once we embrace this new paradigm, everything changes. The reader is invited to visit my website and review the education model I have developed at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. They are also invited to read the white paper I have presented that provides the logical framework within which the education model was conceived.

Public school teachers have one of the most challenging, and at the same time, most important jobs in modern society. Society relies on our teachers to help our nation’s children acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to become productive members of society from both an economic and political perspective. We expect teachers to carry out this important function even though children arrive for their first day of school with great disparity with respect to their academic preparedness, motivation to learn, and parental support. Similarly, our nation’s children come to us from a diverse patchwork of racial, cultural, and religious backgrounds and, more often than at any time in our history, we may not even speak the same language. Never has American society been as diverse as it is today, and never again will it be less diverse than it is in this second decade of the 21st Century. This demands new ways of thinking about the challenges we face and new patterns of behavior that produce the outcomes we are seeking.

It demands a paradigm shift. It requires that we reinvent the education process.

The refusal, on the part of teachers, to acknowledge that the education process is flawed will eventually lead to their doom; it is a dangerous and self-defeating strategy. While they sit back in denial about the failures of the process, reformers are working, unobstructed, to put them out of business.

Latest 5-Star review of “Light and Transient Causes”

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5.0 out of 5 stars Rated 5 stars. This one will become a future classic., March 23, 2017
By vermont reviewer

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This review is from: Light and Transient Causes (Kindle Edition)
Light and Transient Causes by Mel Hawkins reminded me of other classics like 1984 and animal farm. Well written and certainly one that will make you think long after you finish reading it. I was impressed with the story and I thought the author did a wonderful job with the characterization in the story. I would love to read more novels by this author. I have rated the story a solid 5 stars.

An Open Letter to Public School Superintendents

Below is a letter being sent to superintendents of public school districts in the U.S.

The solution to the problems in public education is so simple, conceptually, that most educators seem unable to see it. The over-riding objective is: “Don’t let kids fail!”

How we keep children from failing is by restructuring the educational process in such a way that every child is given as much time as they need to learn a given lesson. This model is constructed on the premise that education is not a race to see who learns the most the fastest and where how they finish becomes part of their permanent record and the basis on which future expectations are set. Rather, it is a process by which students learn as much as they are able at their own best speed and where performance is a function of their progress along their own unique path.

Here is a letter mailed to the first group of superintendents:

Dear Superintendent:

It is frustrating when whatever you do, the performance of schools serving disadvantaged kids seems intractable. Please consider the possibility that the educational process in public education is poorly designed to meet the needs of these kids. In operations management there is an axiom that if a process produces unacceptable outcomes no matter how hard people work, the process is flawed. The only way to get the outcomes we want and need is to replace or reinvent the process.

I am seeking at least one public school superintendent who is open to the idea that kids should not have to fail. Just one man or woman who is willing to believe there is a solution for disadvantaged kids and who is searching for a new idea that might work.

I am a writer and former leadership and organizational development consultant who, in 2002, gave up consulting to fulfill my lifelong dream of writing books. During the 10-year period from 2002 to 2012, in which I wrote 3 books, I worked, part-time, as a substitute teacher for Fort Wayne Community Schools. This turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers.

That experience has given me a unique perspective in that I have witnessed and experienced the challenges teachers face but am able to evaluate what I felt and saw from the point of view of an independent consultant. As a consultant, my job was to help clients examine their business processes to understand why they were getting disappointing outcomes and then guide them toward a solution. Invariably, this required that their processes be re-engineered. What I also learned is that there is always a solution if one can look outside the boundaries of conventional thinking.

Although the overwhelming majority of public school teachers are dedicated professionals doing the best they can within what I describe as a flawed process, they have been blamed for the problems in public education so vehemently that they are, understandably, defensive. This is unfortunate because teachers are perfectly positioned to translate what they see in their classrooms into meaningful advocacy. Teachers know the educational process is flawed every time a student shows up in their classrooms so far behind that he or she has stopped trying. They know the process is broken each time they must move a class on to the next lesson, knowing there are students who are not ready. They know something is wrong whenever they must record an “F” in their gradebook or are asked to help a student qualify for graduation when that student has made minimal effort over a four-year period.

I urge you to take time to review the educational model I have developed and the accompanying white paper that provides an overview of the logic behind the model as well as the findings and conclusions offered in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America. You can find the model and white paper at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/.

I am seeking a public school corporation willing to test my model in one of its lowest performing elementary schools. In school districts throughout the U.S. there are elementary schools where students perform well below their counterparts in other schools in their community and around the state, as measured by standardized competency exams. This is not a new phenomenon and has, in fact, been a pattern that can be traced back to the beginning of high-stakes testing and before. By the time these students reach middle school, their performance drops, suggesting that the further along they move through their K-12 academic career, the further behind they fall. By the time these students reach high school, many have given up and have stopped trying. Our teachers and principals see this, routinely. It need not be this way!

Would it not be worthwhile, and in the best interests of students, to examine a new idea? Imagine being the first school district to lead the nation in meaningful educational reform that actually changes the lives of American students?

I look forward to the opportunity meet with you to discuss my model and white paper and invite you to contact me at (260) 740-8285. We still have time to implement my model in the fall semester of the 2017/2018 school year.

Most public school educators have found it difficult to envision any other way to do what they do. Surely there is someone out there who can.

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA

Light and Transient Causes, a novel – FREE, Today (3/6/17) Only!

Today, March 6, my novel, Light and Transient Causes, will be featured as the book of the day at onlinebookclub.org. The Kindle version of the book will be available at Amazon.com for free until Midnight on 3/6.

There will be multiple shares on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, and posts on LinkedIn as well as emails. Please like and share or retweet as often as you are able to as many of your contacts as you can and ask your friends and connections to do the same.
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Light and Transient Causes
It would be great if people would read the book and post a positive review on Amazon.com. Because the book is free, however, it would be nice if they download it even if they are not sure they will read it. The more the book is downloaded, the more attention it will generate.

If you do not have a Kindle you can download a free Kindle app that will allow you to download Kindle books on your smart phone and/or your computer. When you find yourself stuck somewhere it is pretty cool to be able to pull up and read a book on your smart phone.

I know this is a lot to ask of people but I believe this book is important given what is happening in the US, today. It is a story about what could go wrong if the American people became so dissatisfied with their government that they elected an authoritarian outsider as president on the basis of his promise to “restore peace and prosperity” (make America great again) at any cost. If such a president was bold enough to disparage the election process, silence the press, and discredit the judiciary and Congress, thereby weakening our system of checks and balances, they would be in a position to do great harm to democracy.

It’s the old saying: “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The lesson to be learned is that the Americans must participate in their own governance and remain vigilant in protecting the civil liberties of the American people, in all of our diversity.

If ever there was a time that was right for this story it is now!

Thanks so much for your help and support!

Public Schools and Teachers Must Heed Customers!

Public school teachers are not to blame for the problems in public education but they must accept responsibility for responding to the customer dissatisfaction and doing something to fix it.

I once heard a public school teacher making a presentation who said that “it was not his job to train students to work for someone’s corporation.” His comment brought an immediate cheer from the audience of other public school teachers. At the time, I accepted his comment as true. It was only later that I decided this was not right!

It is the job of our teachers and schools, both public and private, to help their students gain sufficient knowledge and skills to give them choices about what to do with their lives. One of the choices a young man or woman may make is to go to work for “someone’s corporation.” In fact, they all need to find some way to make a living for themselves and their families. If a young person lacks the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful at such a job then our public schools have not done its job. Performance must always be judged against the results produced and this applies to private, parochial and charter schools, as well.

This past week, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, printed an article in which improved graduation rates in our area’s schools were touted. What those educators who were celebrating their success do not seem to understand is that, to the communities those school serve, graduation rates are meaningless statistics if these young graduates are unable to use what they have learned on the job, in the military, at a college or university, or as a responsible citizen of their communities. When many of those graduates return to their communities and gravitate to gangs, drugs, crime, violence, incarceration, or an early violent death, they don’t choose such a life because of its glamorous appeal, they choose it because they are not qualified for much of anything else. Clearly the interests of neither the community nor these young people are well-served.

When our private and public schools are meeting the needs of neither their students nor their communities then something is horribly wrong and it doesn’t matter whether we blame poverty and segregation, or unmotivated and unsupportive parents. When something does not work it is the responsibility of the people who produce that “something” to keep trying new approaches until they find something that will work. It is not sufficient for public school educators to say they are doing their best. Customer dissatisfaction is never acceptable even in a community with poverty and segregation.

What educators must come to accept is that it is dissatisfaction with the results produced by public schools that is the motivating force driving education reformers to use high stakes testing to document those unacceptable outcomes. It is such failures that are the motivating force behind the privatization of schools through the creation of charter schools and voucher programs. These reformers did not wake up one morning and decide that charter schools might prove to be a profitable enterprise. They were motivated by what they have witnessed with respect to the qualifications and work ethic of young people entering the job market and by their belief that they can do a better job. It does not matter whether we agree with this logic but it is the reality behind the reform movement.

Unfortunately, these business men and women did not apply the same rigorous problem-solving methodologies that they would have used to replace an under-performing production process in one of their operations. They did not take the time to understand why public schools are not performing up to their expectations and then use that knowledge to design a more effective education process. Rather, they decided that if they just move kids to a private school setting; pick teachers who are not members of a union; recruit students whose parents are motivated to move their child to a better school; and, then manage those schools the same way they manage their businesses, everything will be better.

Today, we are seeing that many of the charter schools that have been thus created are not performing any better than the public schools they were intended to replace. Instead they are teaching kids the same way public schools have been teaching for as long as any of us can remember and they are getting the same outcomes.

If we want better outcomes, we must take the time to understand why the existing educational process is not working and re-invent that process to do what we need it to do. We need an educational process that gives each and every child the time and resources they need in order to learn and that gives teachers the time, support, and resources they need to help their students along, each and every step of the way. We need an education model that works.

The education model I have introduced in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge for Twenty-First Century America is a model that is designed to give teachers what they need in order to teach and give kids what they need in order to learn. The reader is encouraged to check out both my model and a white paper that summarizes the findings and conclusions of my book at http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/

An Open Letter to President and Mrs. Obama

Dear President and Mrs. Obama:

While the election of Donald Trump has created great uncertainty for the poor and minorities, there is no uncertainty about the impact Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Betsy DeVos will have on public schools and our nation’s most vulnerable children. If ever we needed powerful champions for American public schools, their students, and communities we need it now.

During your eight years in office, your administration had very little impact on public education. Disappointing, I know, but the facts are indisputable that millions of American children are struggling in school. Once you leave the White House, however, you will be perfectly positioned to lead public education through a transformation. All that is required is that you open your hearts and minds to a new way of thinking about the reasons why so many of our children are failing and what we can do about it.

Think about what is happening in our public schools in urban and rural communities all over the U.S. The numbers are staggering. In just two school districts in Fort Wayne, Indiana, more than 7,000 students in grades 3 through 8 are unable to pass both math and language arts components of the 2016 ISTEP+ exams (Indiana’s version of high stakes testing). While seventy to eighty percent of African-American children are among that population, that total also includes white and other minority students.

These children are not just statistics; they are living, breathing boys and girls with names and fading dreams. Multiply that total by the number of struggling urban and rural school districts in the U.S. and we are talking about millions of children. This is a national tragedy of unprecedented breadth and scope. That the percentage of children who pass both exams actually drops when they reach middle school is evidence that the longer we allow this reality to persist, the further behind these children will fall.

While many students do excel in public schools, the overwhelming majority of the students who are struggling will leave school without the skills necessary to give them choices about what to do with their lives. They will return to the communities into which they were born and will begin producing a whole new generation of children who are destined to fail in school and are doomed to live in poverty, just as their parents and grandparents have done. Many will end up in prison or die an early, violent death. This is not an exaggeration, it is incontrovertible fact.

This tragedy in public education exists because both education reformers and public school educators are wrong in their assertions about the cause of these failures and what to do about them. While public school teachers and administrators defend public education in spite of compelling evidence that the needs of disadvantaged children are not being met, education reformers promote the privatization of our schools through the use of charter schools and vouchers so that parents can use tax dollars to pay for their children to attend charter schools and other private schools.

The fallacy in this latter approach is that education reformers are doing nothing to help the public schools that are being abandoned. It is as if they have decided to help the children they can and let the rest fend for themselves. We cannot permit public education to become triage where we pick and choose to whom we will offer the opportunity for a quality education without which the American Dream cannot exist.

How many failing children does it take before we declare the evidence to be compelling? Only a fortunate few of these young people will find a good job on which they can support their families, contribute to American enterprise, and pay their fair share of taxes. The rest will continue to be an economic burden to taxpayers and a social burden on their communities and justice systems. The fact that these Americans are perceived as a burden is the single greatest factor in the chasm that divides the American people. It is this reality that solidifies the anger and resentment in the hearts of so many Americans and allows them to justify their prejudices and, in some cases, their bigotry. Donald Trump’s election is proof positive.

There is a simple axiom in business that if a system or process consistently fails to produce acceptable outcomes, no matter how hard people are working, then the system is flawed. Clearly, the educational process at work in our schools is flawed. In almost any other venue, leadership would promptly replace the flawed process with one that can and will produce the desired outcomes. Educators are not trained, however, to step back and examine what they do systematically. In public education, educators and reformers are entrenched in a ferocious battle over all of the wrong things and we keep making the same mistakes and enduring the same unacceptable outcomes.

Every once in a while, throughout history, there have been voices crying out in the wilderness with new ideas that changed the world. Consider the possibility that this appeal might be such a voice and, then, visit http://www.melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/. There, you can review the implementation plan for my Education Model and a white paper that provides an overview of the findings and recommendations offered in my book, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-first Century America. It is an education model that enables public school teachers to give disadvantaged students the time and attention they need to learn while allowing other students to move ahead at their own pace and that rejects the idea that learning is a competition with winners and losers. It is a model that is structured to support success and that rejects failure, absolutely.

Thank you for your service to our nation and for the class and compassion with which both of you have served. Then, please recognize that your work is not done. With your help we can alter the reality for disadvantaged children, far too many of whom are poor, black, and other minorities. Our nation’s children need you more than ever.

Sincerely,

Mel Hawkins, BA, MSEd, MPA

Bullies and Daughters

I don’t agree with how my daughter responded to the outcome of the election but I do understand it and share her sentiment. Half the nation went a little nuts with protesting in the streets and others writing racist epithets on other people’s property. What my daughter did was criticize people whose votes helped elect a man whom she considered to be immoral and who modeled racism and sexism. Not quite the same as throwing stones at police.

She was highly emotional in the aftermath of the recent election. She is the mother of two non-white kids, for mercy’s sake, and is not the first mother to rise up in anger when perceiving that their kids are threatened; a reasonable fear given the bigotry and bitterness on display throughout the election. Defensive mothers can be ferocious. I’m the grandpa, here, and I am every bit as fearful for my grandchildren as is their Mom and Dad.

It would be nice if one chose to walk in another’s shoes before attacking, especially when one professes to be a libertarian whose mantra is “respect the rights of others to think, believe and feel what they want.” Why not stop and think, “She’s wrong, but then I don’t know how I would feel in her situation.” Can you begin to imagine how you would feel worrying that your black son might be stopped by police at a time or place where his presence could be misconstrued?

Most adults have learned to show a little restraint and back off when someone they should care about is in the midst of an emotional crisis. They let tempers cool before chiming in with their own opinion. Others seize such occasions to stick their noses in and pick a fight with those who are vulnerable at such times and then they brand their target as a bully. They have to have their say even when they must surely know that doing so will fan the flames, escalate the intensity of such exchanges, and result in deep resentment.

Such people are instigators and it seems pretty clear to me who the real bullies are, here.