I’ve Only Been Saying This for a Freaking Quarter CENTURY

What’s this? Labeling certain students as “gifted” might have a downside?

Through personal conversations with her students, [Stanford education professor Jo] Boaler began to see how being labeled “gifted” or “smart” as children stunted even these bright and successful young people….

It’s hard to feel sorry for Stanford students, many of whom have had amazing opportunities not offered to peers precisely because someone recognized them as smart, but their experiences do call into question the practice of labeling in the first place.

Wow, if only someone had pointed out potential problems with sequestering certain students and labeling them as “gifted” — oh, wait, I did that, in the first edition of Quality Education. Granted, I put the topic in an appendix entitled “The Gifted and Talented Myth,” which in retrospect wasn’t the best place to highlight it, but it was there.

In the new edition, the subject of “gifted and talented” programs takes a more prominent position in four short chapters instead of one lengthy appendix.

Gifted and talented education usually is not limited to letting students with special aptitudes learn at a faster rate. These programs often remove some few students from their original classrooms, place them together with other “gifted” students, and focus more attention on their efforts. The students are told explicitly that they are part of the “gifted and talented” program, and become increasingly aware of differences between themselves and other students. But at what level does a student simply have a better grasp of a subject as opposed to being “gifted”? The differentiation is not always clear.

There’s more, of course, but that’s enough to prove today’s point.

I admit, it’s gratifying to find someone agreeing with something I said a quarter century ago. But it’s also incredibly frustrating, and rather makes me feel like:

Picard facepalm

What a way to start the week.

P.S. If you want a FREE copy of the introduction to Quality Education, you can get one by signing up for my newsletter (you get two other free gifts, too). I’d also be pleased if you would pick up a copy from Amazon.

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The Power of Inflection

Since I worked as a speechwriter for a number of years — and would write more speeches, if the right clients came along — I thought I’d do at least one public-speaking-related episode of “Between the Black & the White.”

Public speaking can be hard, and some of us are afraid to do it. A lot of factors go into that fear — who the audience is, how well we know the subject matter, whether we’ve had a chance to practice, and so forth — and I’m not sure it ever goes away completely. One looming part of the fear of speaking in public is wondering how our words will be heard.

Most of us have had the experience of listening to someone speaking in monotone. They put no emphasis on any certain words or syllables, and live up to what “monotone” means: one tone, one sound. Their words change, but their delivery doesn’t. From that experience, we know there’s good reason for “monotonous” to be synonymous with “boring.”

If we remember what it’s like to be bored by a speaker, then we never want to be boring when we’re the one speaking! Avoiding a monotone delivery can help in that regard, but it can also do much more.

Back when I was teaching I developed an easy demonstration of how adding just a bit of emphasis can change the meaning of a simple statement. The nice thing is that we do it naturally all the time — it’s not a new skill to master, just a technique to be aware of that can help us make the points we want to make. “The Value of Inflection” lies not only in what it can do to help us avoid being monotonous, but in the fact that it’s something we already use in our day-to-day lives.

You’re probably comfortable enough with using inflection that this video won’t help you much, and it might be hard to find a tactful way to suggest that your monotone friend watch it — but, there it is:

If you’re a teacher, though, and you want to help your students develop their public speaking skills, feel free to use this exercise or one like it. Let me know how it goes!

Thanks, and have a great day!

More “Between the Black & the White”:
– Debut episode, The Musashi-Heinlein School
Series Introduction
Host Introduction

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Zombie Blog Post: ‘Training’ is NOT a Bad Word

(Nothing horrific here: a “zombie” post only in the sense of coming back from the electronic dead.)

Here again I’m reprising an old blog post that I particularly like. It was published on this date in 2012 on the old NCSU-IES blog, which unfortunately no longer exists.

At the time, we had been having an internal debate over whether we provided “training” or “education” to our clients. There was a definite push by the unit leadership to say we were not trainers but instead were part of the “education” mission of the university.

Unsurprisingly (and perhaps unwisely), I pushed back:

The distinction between the two, as I understand it, is a matter of practicality. Training gives us skills and techniques we can practice, hopefully with enough knowledge to know when and where they will be useful. Education, meanwhile, gives us new knowledge and insights, and a better understanding of the world. When I taught CPR, I trained my students in how to apply the life-saving methods; when I taught leadership and management, I educated my students about different aspects of and approaches to the two.

[In 2011] one of my colleagues showed a tag cloud she made of comments from our clients and “training” was the largest word in the cloud (i.e., had been used by clients most often). Immediately, a discussion started about how we might change that perception and the relative worth of one versus the other. The discussions have been interesting. From what I’ve observed, on one side of the debate are folks who came from industry and say of course we provide training. On the other, folks who grew up in the academy tend to downplay the T-word in favor of education. In the middle, folks who have spent time in both camps lean one way or the other, depending on how deeply they’ve immersed themselves in the campus culture.

Color me unimpressed by the whole thing, and firmly on the side of training.

I admit, I started out with my share of the “we’re-the-university-so-of-course-we-educate” mindset. But recently I’ve been studying and refining a model of how we … should fit into the academic side of the university, and after thinking about it I’ve (to borrow a phrase) come to the dark side.

The way I see it, education and training are two sides of the same coin: teaching. Both imply the delivery of knowledge — or at least information — from a person who has it to a person who needs it. I’ve flipped that metaphorical coin a few times and come up with what I see as major differences between training courses and classroom education….

At this point the original post presented the differences in tabular form, but I’ve arranged them in a bulleted list for this “zombie” version:

  • In terms of Location, EDUCATION is mostly On-Campus, while TRAINING is mostly Off-Campus
  • In terms of Audience, EDUCATION is mostly aimed at Traditional Students, while TRAINING is mostly aimed at Nontraditional Students
  • In terms of Source Material, EDUCATION is primarily based on Theory, while TRAINING is primarily based on Practice
  • EDUCATION mostly delivers Facts & Ideas, while TRAINING mostly delivers Skills & Tactics
  • In terms of Desired Outcome, EDUCATION primarily emphasizes Thinking, while TRAINING primarily emphasizes Doing (but smartly)
  • EDUCATION is taught mostly by “Professors”, while TRAINING is taught mostly by “Practitioners”

Adult Students in Business Class
Whether education or training, it’s all teaching and learning. (Image: “Adult Students in Business Class,” by Newman University, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

As part of its transition to become the “Industry Expansion Services,” the staff deleted the finale of that old blog post (and the entire blog itself,* which I still think violated the rules for retaining official state records). A former co-worker recovered what was left of the blog and sent me the results, and that post ends right after the table with the enigmatic “From that p.”

However, thanks to the “Wayback Machine” Internet Archive, I found the remainder:

From that perspective, our … courses and services fit much more into “training” while the university’s more general offerings are clearly “educational.” And that’s okay! In the end, it’s all teaching.

Finally, on the Internet I found an interesting paper on the subject of education versus training, which included this amusing item:

Think of it this way. If your sixteen-year-old daughter told you that she was going to take a sex education course at high school, you might be pleased. What if she announced she was going to take part in some sex training at school? Would that elicit the same response? Training is doing. Training improves performance.

So I say: of course we train people (though, not in sex). And if we educate folks at the same time — and we often do — that’s a bonus.

My perspective on this hasn’t changed: Education and training are both good and useful things. It’s all teaching.

And if you’re involved in the business of teaching — wherever you do it and whatever you teach — my hat’s off to you.** Thanks, and keep up the good work!

* I can’t even provide a link to the old NCSU-IES blog, since they now redirect to the College of Engineering page for some reason. I find it ridiculous.
** For more on teaching and learning and organizing schools and systems for better teaching and learning, may I present Quality Education.

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Monday Morning Insight: Reading, Culture, and Education

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)


Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury!

Ray Bradbury (22 August 1920 – 5 June 2012), of course, was a prolific and influential author of fantasy and science fiction — he claimed to be a fantasy writer who was labeled a science fiction writer — and one of his most-acclaimed works is Fahrenheit 451, in which the fire department no longer fought fires, but set them: and in particular, set them to burn books. So this quote of his, from the afterword to the 1979 edition of the novel, is quite interesting:

The problem in our country isn’t with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. Look at the magazines, the newspapers around us — it’s all junk, all trash, tidbits of news. The average TV ad has 120 images a minute. Everything just falls off your mind.… You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.

That, of course, was years before social media came on the scene. How much more junk, trash, and tidbits of news do we encounter every day — up to and including this blog post? How short have our attention spans become?

On the platform, reading

(Image: “On the platform, reading,” by Mo Riza, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)


Years later, in a 1996 interview in Playboy, Bradbury said,

Listen, you can’t turn really bright people into robots. You can turn dumb people into robots, but that’s true in every society and system. I don’t know what to do with dumb people, but we must try to educate them along with the sharp kids. You teach a kid to read and write by the second grade, and the rest will take care of itself.

Take that last quote, of the importance of teaching children to read and write at an early age, and think about it in light of what the first warns against: the barrages of images we encounter, the reduction of text to snippets, even today the vapid combinations of text and images known popularly as “memes” (but which insult the very name they carry when you consider that “meme” more broadly means an irreducible element of culture or knowledge).

How hard have we made it for teachers these days? Think about how powerfully children are affected by images and sounds, compared to text. Think about the difficulty of teaching children to read and write who are brought up in this age of constant, cacophonous media — and the importance of doing so, if we are to prepare them to avoid becoming robotic in their thinking.

When I think about that, I’m thankful for parents and others who introduced me to books, and for teachers who helped me get the most out of them (including those who let me sit in the back of the classroom and read while they taught lessons I’d already learned). And I’m especially thankful for teachers who carry on today in the face of the obstacles in front of them.

And I’m thankful for you, taking a bit of time out of your day to read this. I hope it was worth your while, and that you can think of lots of people to thank for your ability to read!

Have an excellent week!

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