Tag Archives: Durable Skills

BRAKING UPHILL IS NOT SENSICAL

Kevin O’Leary of the hit TV show Shark Tank purports how compliance is the fastest-growing cost in American business. A close friend of mine recently was blindsided when his small business was threatened with a lawsuit. His website was not accessible to the blind. When he first told me this, I honestly wondered if I missed the punchline. It however was not a joke and according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, commercial websites must conform to specific web content accessibility guidelines. Brooks Johnson of Star Tribune reported, “An annual survey of the million most-visited websites found 96.3% do not meet accessibility requirements as of February, according to WebAIM, part of the Institute for Disability Research, Policy, and Practice at Utah State University.” However, ADA compliance lawsuits are on the rise, quadrupling since 2018, according to accessibility firm AccessiBe.

In no way, is this meant to discredit the importance of providing accessibility to the more than 285 million people who the World Health Organization reports as suffering from visual impairments. Yet, it seems like a very different approach could be taken to improve accessibility, instead of lawyers preying on struggling small business owners.

I cannot help but think back to when I read Gulliver’s Travels in high school. One memorable theme is how humans cannot possibly know everything. Further, all understanding has a natural limit, and a world bound by litigation makes our existence even more shrunken. Instead of a non-compliant website, we see the protagonist Gulliver himself, putting out a fire. Only to do so, he does it with his urine and is charged with treason. Convicted, he ironically is sentenced to be blinded. 

Again, this litigation approach is likely not going to contribute to the world we or our children wish to live in. 

So, what connections can be made within the field of education? For starters, we might consider whether we are more focused on compliance or its antipode, defiance. Whatever the response, the movement must be away from extreme devotion to tedium. In layman’s terms, are we still having our students memorize each other’s phone numbers?

Not Making Ourselves Redundant

It is highly likely many students have not even memorized their phone number. Ask them. And this is perfectly okay because memorizing phone numbers is a bogus task. Arguably, not very different from cramming for a history or biology exam. 

Over the past two-plus decades we have repeatedly heard and maybe even said,” Twenty-first-century skills… twenty-first-century learning, twenty-first blah blah blah.” As if the more we say it, the more it becomes a reality, and yet I would argue the opposite. We approach the end of the first of four laps around the twenty-first-century track and yet there is a dogged determination to hold on to the functionless forms of the last century. As if to throw some plaster and puddy on the caving walls of the knowledge economy. Whether we can face reality or not, the teens of today will be living in the 22nd century! As digital natives, they without even efforting, moved beyond a fixation on knowing the day they were born. Life today is all about skill development and transfer. 

Twenty-six years ago, May 11 to be exact, remains an infamous date. Commentators remarked how Garry Kasparov, a world chess champion, “can’t believe it,” as he remained speechless after having lost in a six-game match against IBM’s computer Deep Blue. This was not to say that computers became smarter than humans. Rather, it was a signpost or flashing yellow warning light to the fact that memorization no longer is sufficient. Since the late 1990s, machine learning has quickened the pace leaving many of us unable to grasp what computers, algorithms, and artificial intelligence are now capable of “knowing.” Yet, this hopefully inspires more than it causes one to tremble. For the mundane can now be programmed. Leaving more time for the humane. Such skills as collaboration, attentive listening, critical thinking, and problem-solving, but also creativity, adaptability, and even initiative. 

Something Less Lilliputian

When I think of school as a “system,” the first faculty to kick in, is my sense of hearing. Though not a Star Wars fan, I hear the low, raspy breath of Darth Vader. As if a last gasping breath is slowly being exhaled. It is the exhale of schools ensnared in the crusty ways of bygone knowledge-based days. For secondary teachers, it is entirely likely that May and June reflected uncreative traditions. On default mode, “We just always do this.” Final exams, memorization, and regurgitation. Even in the face of the ChatGPT rage and the automated intelligence craze, students are asked to simply be information processors. Where this happened, an opportunity was missed. 

Yet, there is always next year! The climb may feel uphill, so squeezing the brakes even a bit, is not sensical. As we reflect over the summer, now is the perfect time to plan for something different. Something less Lilliputian. Might we possibly prioritize defiance over compliance, as we intentionally create opportunities to ready learners for the 22nd century!

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Laugh Like the Whole World is Watching

Might May 11 mark a new path forward? For the past several years society has seemingly carried the Sisyphean rock, Covid. The date marks the official close of “Emergency Declarations” in the United States. In effect, this is the end of both the COVID-19 national emergency and the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

Emergency, emergency, emergency.

We need not continue to live and learn in such a state. 

And this is something to certainly celebrate.

Immersed in Crumbling Models

The month of May bears witness to other forms of celebration, with commencements across the nation and abroad. Speeches will soon be scribed and just how many center on the power and importance of transition is left to be determined. Few, however, likely will focus on the importance of humor. In a world quickly becoming more conscious of the crumbling models all around us. Political, economic, religious, economic, even educational model! Resiliency will increasingly be more important. A component of such resiliency is humor.

You may ask yourself, how many times did I laugh today? If you are able to take this inventory, whether 3 or even 17 times, then a more apt answer probably is, “not enough!” Carol Whipple published of University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension published how on average, a child laughs 300 times a day while an adult laughs only 17 times a day.  In “Big Think,” a multimedia web portal which “challenges common sense assumptions and gives people permission to think in new ways,” Matt Davis contributed an article titled,  “Why a good sense of humor is an essential life skill.”  Davis indicates how research has shown that humor can improve the physical immune system as well as cardiovascular health.  “Aside from improving your health, laughter can also lead to greater creativity and productivity as well.”  

So, if we know laughing is good for us, then why are we not doing it more?

Probably for the same reasons that few philosophers ever have given laughter much thought. Nigel Warburton summed it up well when he wrote, “Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who believed that we laugh because we feel superior; Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer who argued that comedy stems from a sense of incongruity…”

Anyone who spends a considerable amount of time in or at schools, probably can attest to the fact that it would not hurt to have a bit more laughter in our classrooms and hallways.

Thriving as Opposed to Surviving

We seem to be enmeshed in seriousness. In the field of education, administrators concentrated on whatever “fires” need putting out. Educators focus on curriculum coverage and lesson plans, and hopefully student well being!  Students often center their attention on achievement and grades. And all too common, parents operate from a narrowly defined notion of what success might look like for their child. That same overplayed recording of, “get into a good college.” Each in effect, seemingly playing the part of pawn. Fixated on the tree before them and not the glorious forest. Or, in a world of Covid, simply surviving.

Yet, we are on the precipices of thriving. It is right within grasp. A ripe fruit ready for the picking. And not only because the “emergencies” are nearly over.

It is refreshing to see how momentum is being gained as we transition away from knowledge and into competency. America Succeeds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is committed to improving equity, access, and opportunity in education. To do this, their focus is upon Durable Skills, a combination of how you use what you know along with character skills.  Yet, I am hopeful they may begin to consider the role humor will play in the days to come because nowhere listed in the 36-page Durable Skills report, does humor appear. Ultimately laughter is essential to success but also especially necessary as “function” dissolves the archaic “forms” in which we have been living. Victor Frankl alluded to humor when he wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning (1946), “another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.”  Author and educator May Kay Morrison asserts to the power of humor, even coining a term she calls, “humergy.” Humergy  as she defines it, is the energy that emerges from joy and optimism of our inner spirit. 

A sense of humor is an essential life skill. Brain research backs the power but also importance of humor. Laughter is surely within each of us, yet simply may require a bit more space and time to express. As May 11 marks the terminus of Covid and the end of a state of emergency, we might just want to challenge ourselves to step forward with even greater joy, lightness, and laughter. 

TRY IT YOURSELF:  Jim Paterson shares these few ideas for how you might attempt to use humor.

Get back to work. A bit of humor gets attention and provides a break, but teachers should have it relate to the work somehow, should keep it brief (even if they let students participate) and have a path back to more serious information and a method to bring their students along.

A simple surprise. Just having on an odd hat or projecting a cartoon at the start of a class can get students energized. A simple surprise is also a way that a teacher who doesn’t think they are funny can easily bring some lightheartedness to the classroom.

Let them at it. Have time when students can tell a joke (with guidance about the humor being appropriate) and you will find that even the most introverted ones might be willing to participate. Give them a chance to write about a funny incident.

Game time. Give students a quiz with the right answers mixed in with outlandish wrong ones. Have a game show where the answers are on topic, but the game is humorous and fun.

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