Tag Archives: Authenticity

“Urgent” COP28 and Education: Between Illusion and Imperative

Just yesterday I was asked by a student’s parent, “If you could wave a magic wand at anything in education, what would it be?” Being in a continual state of reflection of all-things-education, I did not hesitate to answer on a more global scale. What tops the “in need of a magic wand” list for me is authenticity. This includes the overemphasis on standardized testing (high-stakes college admissions tests too!), as well as the need for education to serve as a mechanism for “real world” applications. After our conversation, I thought back on an article I wrote in April of 2021 for Getting Smart titled, “Transforming the Landscape of Education”. In it, I alluded to “personalization, authenticity, and transferability”. As I attempted to make more sense of all I observed on a recent visit to Dubai, I used the same “trifocal” lens.

The point of a December visit to Dubai was to attend COP28 and the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The fact that Dubai hosted COP28 was not only ironic but may have added insult to injury. Past summits have not exactly resulted in an active addressing of global climate change. The need to “walk the talk” is entirely relatable to educational rhetoric. A close friend of mine is increasingly growing impatient with dialogue. He shared the proverb “ready, fire, aim,” a reminder to not delay any longer in taking action. It is likely to fare even better than planned action. There may even be truth behind the devil smiling when we sit and make plans. Besides, don’t we already know enough about the problems, to know what to do?

A past colleague shared recently how the director of his school boldly decided to add Capstone and Advanced Placement (AP) curricula to their existing International Baccalaureate program. Not because it was best for students but because the school, the director used the word “business,” is in a “saturated market.” Keeping up with the Joneses and a dependency on economic models may not be the best strategy for the long game and is not in the best interest of preparing learners for the exciting and uncertain times we already face. Rather, the nexus is in providing students with pathways of personalization. Where the learning they do makes a difference today and prepares them for tomorrow. Albeit, as tangible as growing vegetables or doing interview projects with the elderly. Approaches akin to this are about inclusivity and equity. Not exactly a pervasive feeling in Dubai, where upon arrival at the airport the taxi driver professed, “Dubai is for rich people.” This was a sensible claim after my near interrogation and uncovering how he works 10 months a year, 7 days a week, and 12 hours a day. On a purely commission basis and in a country with no minimum wage, if my Math was correct, his annual earnings are around $14,000.  

Stripping Away All Pretense

Though I was in Dubai for just a week, I came away feeling like it could be summed up in a single word. Mirage. A rather ostentatious one too. Though it is clean, an international business hub, and virtually faces none of the social ills such as homelessness and drug abuse plaguing so many cities in the United States, I quickly brushed up against a reality not congruent with the facade. A city of superlatives. The world’s tallest building, biggest fountain, etc., etc. Skin-deep appearances are to be kept. Handbags which cost thousands of dollars, possibly as much as the annual salary of a taxi driver, and flashy sports cars. Dubai is about a mortgaging of the future and an incessant development of Herculean scale. The United Arab Emirates is an immigrant nation, where just 12% of the population is Emirati. A nation built literally out of the sand in just five decades. Income inequality and labor rights remain chief concerns. Head wounds that seldom even receive bandaids. One must not dig deep to learn more about how powerful and profitable construction companies are.  As well as their omnipotence. Often, the businesses and the government are one. 

Before this year’s climate talks, there were already reports of labor rights abuses at the very site of COP28. Built to host EXPO 2020, the European Parliament boycotted the event and called on Member States to not participate because of human rights abuses. Even with an abundance of glitz and glamor, a visitor need not strain their eyes to see inequity. Lining the highways are labor camps, and concrete housing structures more resembling prisons than homes. Yet, employers who have 50 or more employees and pay less than AED 1,500 per month (approximately $400) are required to offer housing. There are even more labor camps out of sight and surely out of mind. After all, most visitors to Dubai are here to see what they want to see. Nonetheless, the city skyline, technological advancements, and recent sustainable labels attached to nearly everything are marked by contradiction. In a twisted manner, sustainability is being employed. “Political and business leaders in the UAE understand that burnishing environmental credentials are incredibly important for presenting the country and cities like Dubai as modern,” says Professor Natalie Koch, a specialist in political geography at Syracuse University. Regardless of whether or not the truth is being told and/or sold, there are two things humanity is unable to run from. They are truth and the future. 

What the future holds for the United Arab Emirates appears to be precarious. Even more so, as “development” shows no intention of decelerating. Sands shifting is a very real phenomenon, even if left undisturbed, “sands are in constant motion” determined by a recent study published in Nature Communications. What might this say about cities springing out of the desert in such a short time? The impact of millions of people has the sands unfathomably shifting. Ecological disruption, waste, extreme temperatures, and water scarcity are as “authentic” as the sun’s morning rays. The extremes one would expect of a desert are ignored, attention being directed toward the world’s largest artificial islands, colossal shopping malls, or a top-rated water park. Some of which have the gall to be marked “sustainable” even. How long this delusion might last is only a matter of time. One cannot help but marvel at how befitting 19th-century poet Percy Shelley’s words were in “Ozymandias”. A visionary depiction of collapse. Inevitable decline where the unethical smacking of “sustainable” and other “green” labels is merely pretense.  

Breaking the Hostage State: Climate Talks, Education, and Action

In education I often find myself asking, “What is normal”? The education system we currently know has been around for only 150 years. A system designed for control and mechanization, we often are encrusted in yesterday’s ways of thinking. Much bolder approaches must be taken. Where there is not only inspiration but aspiration. Where we gladly throw out the bath water to save “the baby.” The design of choices IS ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE and can happen quite quickly. Consider how in my lifetime humanity has burned 80% of all the fossil fuels ever burnt. Humanity can consume what it wants…and fast!  

Climate talks and education are riddled in politics. Commonplace traditional schooling is not being addressed to scale, similar to the accelerated rate the earth is heating up. Neither education nor COP are fully responding. Though the science is clear, how can we applaud the slowing down of burning fossil fuels? A much more immediate plan with actions to stop burning fossil fuels is what is needed. Professor Daniela Schmidt of the University of Bristol sums up the necessary immediacy in action, “The time for talking is over. Delaying change further is indefensible. Pretending that reducing emissions by 2050 is enough and ignores the dangerous, life-threatening consequences of our anthropogenic heating of the planet.” Similarly, it is crucial to prioritize the designing of optimal learning experiences for students NOW, rather than focusing solely on a distant future. United World College is pioneering a course in partnership with the International Baccalaureate called, The Systems Transformation Pathway. It is divided into three components (Core curriculum, Enquiry into impact areas, and Impact area specialization). Though a stand-alone course, the Systems Transformation Pathway is a beginning. One bent on action orientation and focused on authentic real-world learning instead of being classroom-based and exam centered.

The framing of climate talks and movements forward in education must be free of politics. 2500 oil lobbyists at this year’s COP28, a number far more than the indigenous representation, was counterproductive and was purely a positioning for argument. Abolitionist and orator, Frederick Douglass said it best, “At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed.” Could there be more irony that a nation built on oil wealth, spearheading discussions on sustainability and environmental preservation? If that is not scorching enough, consider how COP29 is set to be in a city (Baku, Azerbaijan) where one of the world’s first oil fields developed 1,200 years ago! A coming home or maybe an origin story of sorts, as climate talks bent on transitioning away from fossil fuels are hosted by a nation where oil and gas account for 90% of their exports.

Just as nations face a transformative imperative, shifting from fossil fuels, so too must education. Where we embrace personalization, authenticity, and transferability. Climate talks and the future of education can no longer be held in a “hostage” state. A situation where there is almost a spellbound freezing in one’s tracks. Or worse yet, a dishonest celebration leading to a plan of even more far-flung crisis. Nor can we tolerate any longer the diversionary wag-the-dog approach, where there is an amalgam of calculating, “If others do not act, I don’t have to either.” This is not only self-destructive but devastating to humanity. The time for truth and action is now.

Could COP, “Conference of the Parties,” be a “Championing Of Planet” or might it remain a “Center of Pantomime”? The choice is ours.


MASTERING FIRE WITH WATER: A Lesson in Creating Educational Sparks

Many outdoorsy types, including boy and girl scouts, dream of successfully mastering the age-old art of igniting fire with nothing more than a magnifying glass. What if I told you I started a fire with water?  

Nurturing Trust and Agency: The Cornerstones of Inclusive Education

As educators, we invest copious amounts of time into planning for the school year and in the first few weeks intentionally creating community in our classrooms. At the forefront, is fostering an inclusive environment where every student’s voice is valued and respected. Listening and truly valuing one another is our hope. As is collaboration and providing multiple opportunities for students to build connections with one another. Yet, at the foundation of everything is a fundamental feeling of trust. A Harvard Business Publishing Education article suggests that activating positive emotions, including trust, among students helps students foster cooperative relationships, build resilience and persistence, and increase motivation. Further, trust is in many ways tethered to agency. Positive and effective learning environments should induce trust. Trust in teachers, classmates, and possibly even in the education system. Of course, however, trust must begin within the individual. Then, there is empowerment. Not being acted upon as if to say, “I am giving you the choice.” But from within. This subtle nuance is the spark. It is the sensing of control, “the world is at my doorstep.”   

But beyond trust and agency, what are the other necessary ingredients to creating optimal learning environments?

Learning Language, Breaking Barriers: The Role of Authenticity and Place

Recently I was in a high school language classroom and it took me back to my first experience learning Spanish. The class was held in a lecture hall where I sat passively amongst 200 other students as the professor stood up front and rattled on incomprehensibly. Feeling academically wounded, I would then limp over to the language lab. Here, a teacher’s assistant would open a sliding glass window to enquire about the module. Then, before pushing play on the cassette recorder she would hand over tight-fitting headphones, a #2 pencil, and a scantron sheet. Never was there the ability to pause, let alone stop. The “show” just went on. With a one in four chance, I would guess, weary to have too many Cs blackened. My confusion and being disheartened eventually lost out to a more pervasive feeling. One of repulsion. This is NOT the experience we ever endeavor to create for learners.

Oddly enough, a decade later I would be in the classroom teaching Spanish even though I questioned if language could be learned in a classroom. My sentiment is captured in a timeless parody called, “One Semester Spanish Love Song.”  When I last watched, the first comment below the video read, “I took Spanish all the way up to AP Spanish in high school. This song summarizes how much of it I remember.” Might this be because of relevance? Language often is learned by going somewhere. We learn it when we have a purpose. When it is authentic. Furthermore, might there be ties between place-based education and the learning of language? Certainly, a deeper understanding of local culture and environment is integral. This example of learning a language ultimately can be translated into what it means to learn anything. The importance of place, purpose, an individual’s motivation, and authenticity. Ultimately, getting out of the classroom and into much more boundless spaces of learning.

Even if the reality for many teachers remains within four walls, we know learning is like breathing. Students will learn no matter what. So, let’s keep the “air” as clean as possible.

The Container: Creating the Right Conditions

So I did really light a fire with water. I share this because it showcases what is possible with just the right conditions. Might we as educators intentionally create such similar conditions? Where there is a spark and then a fervent fire for learning. Countless times in the past I have filled a gallon glass jug with water and set it in the sun to allow for dechlorination. Recently, I errantly placed it against a dry wooden stump where in the days to come I would water saplings. 18 hours after filling the jug I received a text from our tenant saying, “There was a small brush fire at a tree stump in the front of the house, all put out now and heavily watered down. It was caused by science and a glass water jug which magnified the sun…” He was being generous, the fire was caused by ME! Well, my negligence along with heat, dryness, powerful morning sun rays, and the water’s reflection. Never in my wildest dreams would I have considered the gallon jar of water a fire hazard. Besides being grateful to have learned the lesson the easy way, I thought about how this example speaks volumes about what is possible. What is possible with the right conditions? 

So, venture forth to continue to spark inspiration and kindle the flames blazing within your classrooms!


Invaluable Intangibles

As of late I find myself swirling, if not drowning, in acronyms. First SPACS and now most remarkable of all, NFTs. Non-fungible tokens.  Never one to be a laggard I took a deeper dive.. And to simply know what NTF stands for is not enough. More than “all the rage,” NFTs likey are the future. Clearly millennials grasp the concept of NFTs and are paving this somewhat ethereal and hard to conceive of future.  One where we may stray from the more traditional business model of stocks, bonds and mutual funds, but also dip into the entertainment industry.  Artists, athletes, and musicians are seemingly all rushing to create limited digital editions of their “goods.” 

In layman’s terms, digital items being bought and sold with digital money.  What is especially of significance is how authenticity is being guaranteed.  Each item stamped with a unique code and stored on a blockchain.  For more information on blockchain technology, there are a host of YouTube tutorials on the subject.  For now, just think Bitcoin. and where a distributed ledger system underlies blockchain technology. Meaning, the ledger or records, are spread across the whole network, making tampering difficult.  Further, it is encrypted, anonymous, and data added cannot be removed or altered. Everything is recorded.  The whole “story” intact.

Big Money

In the news you may have read how a band called the Kings of Leon garnered more than $2 million by auctioning a song.  Then, American football superstar Rob Grownkowski auctioned playing cards.  Many others followed but none matched the recent trade of a JPG digital piece of art which sold for $69.3 million.

The beauty in each sale is how the internet acts as a short of auction house, helping artists reap the benefits of their trade. The middle man cut out.  In the case of the near $70 million dollar graphic art sale of “Five Thousand Days,” graphic artist Mike Winkelmann, known under the pseudonym Beeple, profited from his 13 years of attention on the “masterpiece.”  

New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose posited in a March 24th article, “Why can’t a journalist join the NFT party, too?”  $558,134.50.  This was the result of Roose’s column purchased by a user named @3FMusic.  “The biggest perk of all, of course, is owning a piece of history,” Roose wrote in the column. The article is the first NFT in the New York Times’s almost 170-year history.  The column purchased is about what NFTs are all about. Now that is philosophical!

Shifting to professional sports, there is question of whether or not athletes will be able to fully represent themselves.  Or, will players be more like owned commodities?  Gronkowski’s NFT trading cards were auctioned for over $1.6 million.   Patrick Mahomes, another professional football star raked in $3.7 million. The 25-year old has a mission to “make the world a better place,” and proceeds were donated to his 15 and the Mahomies Foundation, as well as 40 different Boys & Girls Clubs in Kansas and Missouri. However, the National Football League is moving fast in hopes of cashing in on NFTs.  Recently a memo was sent to teams telling them that  league approval was needed and to not begin making their own agreements.  This is on the heels of the National Basketball Association establishing a partnership with Dapper Labs and development of NBA Top Shot.  This is a place where fans are able to buy, sell and trade official licensed digital cards. With an estimated market cap over $1.5 billion, this is a slam dunk for the league. 

But What Does All This Mean to Education?

A lot.

College admission is riddled with stories of fraud, cheating and inauthenticity.  The list is as long as it is wide. Implicated parties include organizations, universities, athletic departments, coaches, parents, and celebrities to name a few.  Centralization has permitted secrecy and scandal.  Timothy Collins, a financial adviser, recently shared how “the education industry could use NFTs to share and/or secure transcripts, letters of recommendations, standardized test scores, certifications, and diplomas.” What is being traded or shared as an NFT may be questionable.  However, the significance of adopting blockchain technology is certain.

The future of higher education, and I might argue the future of work, will make this shift.  This may even be considered old news, as nearly two years ago, “nine universities from around the world collaborated to create a trusted and shared infrastructure standard for issuing, storing, displaying, and verifying academic credentials.”  Amongst these was the University of California at Berkeley, MIT, Hasso Plattner Institute at the University of Potsdam in Germany, and the University of Toronto in Canada.

This is good news.  



A Future of Great Possibility

The fashion apparel brand Supreme was a bit a bit ahead of the curve. Opened in 1994, Supreme was just that.  Supreme in its uniqueness and originality, possibly even items being limited in stock.  Yet, living in Asia has afforded me many lessons. One, is to not be fooled by a fake.  Ubiquitous are the markets where knock-offs are so well constructed, that only the price attests to imitation. Buyers ultimately chasing exclusivity.

Will education follow a similar trend? Hopefully not in exclusivity but in authenticity. As students “brand themselves” with credentials and accomplishments that ultimately can be attested to by a ledger.

The future holds great possibility. And I wonder where we might be in 10, five, or even three years.  Because I continue to try and wrap my head around how a piece of digital art, a JPG file, something not in the physical realm sold for nearly $70 million.  Purchased with digital money also not in the physical realm.

Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do (The Twilight Zone Theme Song).


“At our faculty meeting yesterday we spent too much time talking about how to give final exams so kids who are home don’t cheat.”  So began a Whatsapp message from a friend months ago, her frustration shared by many. COVID-19 caused more than a disruption to education.  However, it may be the catalyst that was needed in order for education to reach a more authentic approach.

“The vast majority of the things we don’t readily forget are all learned from experience and interaction, not from a curriculum or a test,” Tweeted Will Richardson, co-founder of the Big Questions Institute.  Nominated as a Top 5 “Edupreneur to Follow” by Forbes, Richardson’s tweet was aptly given the hashtag #justsayin.

The game has changed. We knew this as we broke into the 21st century and as the digitized world hurdled us all forward.  Long gone were the days of “sit and get” and text books.  Yet still “the institution” seemingly maintained some of its grip.  Control handed down by tighter or even more robust curriculums.  And of course the tests.  

The tests. The tests. The tests.

However, need we be reminded that the game has changed?

With greater clarity we are able to see eyes to see the broken systems but moreover what ultimately matters most.  The “end-all be-all” high stakes hallowed tests have fallen by the wayside.  According to Fairtest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, “More than two-thirds of 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. will not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores for fall 2021 admission. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which maintains a free, online master list, reports that more than 1,570 schools are now test-optional.”

The Phoenix Flaps Her Wings

An outdated education system akin to crumbling infrastructure or even political shambles, is in transition.  A re-birth of sorts.  One of purpose, authenticity, personalization, and empowerment.  Matt Miller, author and educator of “Ditch That Textbook” sums it up best by positing whether students rent or own their education.  The renters come to class out of compliance.  Whereas the owners are dedicated to caretaking for their own education.  And this makes sense because the global job market no longer is about clocking in and out.  Rather, it expects us to problem solve and proactively and passionately produce.

Getting students excited to have the keys to the car, their car ultimately, does however take educators to trust. “I struggled early on to accept that you couldn’t just convert your class to digital without making changes. I’ve only recently really started to embrace allowing students to own their own experiences,” reflected Jake Trinca in a recent post in response to Dr. John Spencer’s, “7 Big Ideas As You Shift Toward Online Teaching.”  

Letting Students Own Their Own Experiences

Talk about liberation, step back and allow students the space to discuss, grapple, and wonder.  Then, listen and remain flexible to the subtle and sometimes overt direction learning may meander, reminding yourself what this all is for.  Further, who this all is for?  

In “What School Could Be,” author Ted Dintersmith appeals for schools to do just this, by “prioritizing critical thinking, the scientific method, and the essentials of civil society — not high-stakes fact-based multiple choice exams.”  Dintersmith makes the bold claim that, “failure to do so imperils our democracy.”

And wouldn’t this approach in itself be more democratic?  Sitting eight hours a day, being talked at, and told what to do, not only is contrary to democracy and dehumanizing, but also counterproductive to any end goals we have related to student preparedness or empowerment.

A More Authentic Approach Moving Forward 

At the heart of this new, or in actuality old approach, is authenticity.  Proof in the power of apprenticeship is but one example.  A clearer but also brighter vision of the near future is one where education is focused on core competencies and their mastery.  What can students do?  Not on one test but as demonstrated with evidence through their school career. 

The Mastery Transcript Consortium® (MTC) officially launched in 2017 with a purpose of introducing a digital high school transcript. The intent to provide a venue for students to showcase their “unique strengths, abilities, interests, and histories fostered, understood, and celebrated.”  Ultimately, this is where we are.  The train HAS arrived.

This approach is not only possible but necessary because inherent in the design is authenticity but also accountability.  Google and Apple are but two of fifteen companies boasting how they hire individuals without a university degree.  Credentials and moreover “pedigree” are not necessarily the “golden ticket” that they maybe once were. This is because employers want to know and be able to see what an individual can do.  Increasingly, it is about evidence.  

“When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people,” said Google’s former SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock. 

Graduates with a mastery transcript not only have gone to school but also are able to demonstrate competence.  Much more telling than a fancy resume or high test score.  

Tony Wagner, a globally recognized expert in education, ironically has the initials M.A.T. and Ed.D.  attached to his name.  Both degrees are awarded through the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.  Yet, for more than a decade Wagner has exhorted how outdated the standardized framework for high school is.  Carnegie Units are essentially what students have to earn if they are to graduate and they merely are measures of how much time a student sits in class.  Doing time? Similar to prison. The uncanny resemblance even shows up architecturally.  You can test your luck in determining whether a building is a school or prison on a fun website even.  

Wagner shares how a mastery transcript goes beyond the knowledge and skills mastered.  “It will also include qualities of character that make their humanity visible and help admissions officers make better decisions when it comes to an applicant’s ‘fit.’”  Again, it’s all about authenticity.

Over the past few years The Mastery Transcript Consortium® (MTC) has developed into a network of 369 schools, a blend of public and private schools in the United States but across the globe. “That 99 percent of the high school transcripts follow an identical format is a vestige of an outdated industrial age,” asserts Scott Looney, Head of Hawken School.  

For now, mastery transcripts may be the exception, yet we can await the day when it is the norm.