Tag Archives: Education

If you love somebody…set them free

As a parent you want to help your kids – it’s only natural.  But take a step back once in a while and they might just amaze you.

Each of my kids has recently given me cause to rethink their limits and be blown away by their abilities.

It started a few weeks back when my 13 yr old was making a music video for a school project.  He had already selected his music, found a karaoke version and written his own lyrics.  He asked for help mixing his audio on top of the music but then refused any other help.  A few days later he showed me the finished result – all his own work – and I was totally blown away.  You can see the results of his efforts here and I’ll let you be the judge.

ImageNext up…my eleven year old daughter.  Her old iPhone would no longer hold a charge and so I ordered a new battery from iFixit.com.

I was all set to replace the battery – not a task that Apple makes easy – when she asked me not to start without her.  She then proceeded to take on the entire procedure, following the on-screen instructions in a calm, methodical manner that would have been beyond many adults.  30 minutes later she had a fully restored iPhone and I was in awe of this young lady.


Finally my older son has been helping out with a local charity shop by taking pictures for them every weekend and posting items for sale on their website.

ImageWhen he started this he was all fingers and thumbs.  He was shy, awkward, forgot the camera once and turned up with a dead camera another time.

Yesterday he strolled into the office, picked up the camera and checked it over with a practiced air.   I had a little time so I went with him to give the dog a much-needed walk.

When we arrived at the store I was amazed to see the calm and easy way with which he interacted with everyone, and how warmly they received him.  This wasn’t my little boy anymore, this was a young man making his way in the world and I couldn’t help but feel proud for him.

It’s easy to forget that the role of children is to push limits.  For them limits change on a daily basis – one day they can’t reach the faucet and the next they can.

Challenging limits; physical,mental or imposed by other, is not only normal but to be expected.  Think on that they next time they challenge your authority. Children need boundaries or they feel adrift, but as parents we have to recognize that those boundaries change every day and we need to change with them.

The next time you are doing something for your kids take a step back and consider whether by “helping” them you are actually them holding back.  I guarantee they will blow your mind if you would just let them.


Filed under Children, Education

The Dog Walking Diaries


A few weeks back my Daughter asked me to come with her as she took the family Shih Tzu for his regular walk.  I reminded myself that these opportunities won’t last forever, put down what I was working on and we set off in the rain.

She likes to chat and was quickly updating me on her latest craft projects, exploits of friends, books she’s reading and stories that she’s writing.  For my part I can’t help but look for lessons everywhere so, as she spoke, I asked questions such as how she thought she should deal with someone who was being mean or why things worked in a particular way.  Listening to her tales from school I then provided some stories from my school years and she was able to draw parallels with her own experiences.

Before I knew it we were deep into a discussion about a book I had just finished reading.  The book (Change of Heart) has a dilemma in it – should a dying eleven year old girl receive a heart transplant from the man who murdered her Father and Sister and, if she doesn’t want it, should her Mother force her to take it.   Despite being only ten we had a very mature chat about this, explored things from different angles and, in the blink of an eye, we were back at the house.

Since that first walk I’ve taken the opportunity to head out with my kids when I can and each time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the one-on-one time together.  The talks don’t follow any particular theme.  Yesterday my Son and I started by talking about why salt melts ice, which lead to discussion about what he is learning in school about valance electrons.  Back at home we were taking the lead off of the dog when he said to me “Who knew that talking about chemistry could be so much fun!

I’m really enjoying these moments.  The lack of screens, phones and other distractions leaves us with little to do but actually talk to each other which, in today’s modern world, is a rare and precious thing.


Filed under Children, Education, Life - or something like it

Programming for kids!

I’m always looking for ‘teachable moments’.  So much so that I’ve heard “Oh Dad!  Why does everything have to be a lesson” on more than one occasion.  

Knowing that the kids will do just about anything to get more ‘screen time’ I have been a long time fan of the Khan Academy to provide additional education without the complaints and with more patience than I could muster.

When I heard that the Khan Academy had come up with a computer science course I was intrigued, but a little skeptical .  But after just two sessions with my kids I have to say that they have outdone themselves!  The lessons are explained in ways that are fun, accessible and very easy to understand.

The best part is that they have an interactive screen right next to the code area where any changes are seen in real-time.   Numbers can be changed using sliders instead of typing, which helps them quickly understand what each parameter does and whether it is the one they were looking for, and any errors are immediately shown along with a helpful message.

Check out the video to see just how easy this is to use.

After one lesson my 9-year old daughter ran off to the kids PC to start creating her own colored shapes.

I can only tell you that I wish this had been around when I was learning to program – it would have saved me enormous amounts of frustration staring at the cryptic “Syntax Error” messages that the Apple II would throw out.


Filed under Children, Education, Technology

Not doing this when searching? It’s like watching ads on your DVR.

Since the DVR arrived we almost never watch live TV.  In fact, on the rare occasions when I do, I still zipping through the ads and can’t understand why the fast fast-forward button has stopped working.  When I catch myself watching ads needlessly I curse and wonder if, one day nearer my death, I’ll regret all those wasted moments.

And yet I recently discovered that 90% of people are wasting time searching the Internet because they don’t know one very simple trick.  In fact, analysis suggests that people who know this trick are, on average, 12% faster than other people using when searching the web.

So…here it is.  On any web page pressing Ctrl-F will bring up a search box where you can type in a word and immediately jump to that on the page.  Go ahead, try it now to look for the word amazing…I’ll wait.

Not only does this magic key work on ALL web browsers, but also in office tools, PDF files, and pretty much anywhere else where there is text to be searched.

And there are many other keys that can save you a lot of time too and, since I’m on a roll, I’ll throw a few of my favorites in here:

  • Ctrl-Z = Undo.   This works even in places where no undo button exists.  I can’t tell you how many times this baby has saved me.
  • Ctrl-A = Select All.  The next time you need to select everything in a document or web page, just make sure your cursor is in the text you need and use this.
  • Ctrl-P = Print.  I think that one is self explanatory but, again, it works in many places where no print button exists.

Using just these four simple keystrokes will save you hours.  The only question now is what are you going to do with all that free time?

1 Comment

Filed under Education, Technology

A Fully Accredited Degree for $3,900?

OK…I admit, that sounds like the sort of thing that would be swept straight into your spam filter along with the emails about Viagra and penis enlargement.

In fact, that title and first line just about guarantees that none of the email subscribers are going to get this post…

But, in theory, obtaining a full four-year degree for under $4k should be possible. How?

CLEP is a program that allows you to take tests to show proficiency at a college level and can provide up to 12 credits per test.  The tests usually last about 90 minutes and the cost …under $100 per test!   Yes, for under $100 you could earn 12 credits. 

I used CLEP tests to cover a bunch of subjects when obtaining my degree, saving me months of sitting in classrooms listening to lectures on subjects I already knew.

Most of the tests I was able to pass without any study at all, but not all of them – I had to study for the test on American History.  So I started looking for a course that would fit in with my schedule and my budget.

Phoenix University wanted about $2,500 to spend a semester online.  Fortunately, I came across a faster and cheaper solution.  It turns out that Berkeley (and many other colleges) provide most of their lectures as downloadable audio for free.  I promptly downloaded 40 hours of lectures on American history and spent the next month listening to them during my daily commute.

At the end of that month I took a 90 minute test and walked out with 3 credits.  Total cost – $90!!!

Now I am not saying MP3s and videos can replace a classroom – there is a lot to be learned through interaction with teachers and other students.  And you certainly won’t get the ‘full college experience‘ via CLEP.  But how much is that worth?

Let’s compare our $3,900 degree with the cost of a school, such as New York University (NYU) Getting a four-year degree at NYU costs over $160,000 – in tuition fees alone.  Whoah!  That’s a big jump from $3,900.  I could buy a lot of ‘social interaction’ with the $150,000 difference!

And don’t let NYU give you a sob story about how much it costs to run a University either.  When I estimated how much NYU pulls in each year just (see the end of this post for the dull math stuff) I couldn’t use my iPhone because the numbers were too big.  By my estimate, NYU pulls in about $2.5 billion every year

While NYU is not a cheap college it is by no means the exception in its fees.  You can do things cheaper, of course.  Using community colleges to get the first two years out-of-the-way can save you a bundle (assuming that the college you want to officially graduate from will take your credits).  Even the cheapest four-year degree (in state, living at home and attending a community college) will cost you at least $25,000.

How do colleges and universities get away with this?  Well first off, none of the schools are going to let you take CLEP tests for more than a small percentage of their classes, so you have to attend their school if you want their piece of paper.  And let’s face it, most people don’t go to school for an education anymore – they go there to for a certificate.  Don’t believe me?  Ask yourself this question – if employers dropped the need for a degree certificate, how many people would still go to college?

Please don’t take this the wrong way.  Education is vitally important.  But we seem to have switched to a society that values certificates more than education and, in both academia and business, there are plenty of people willing to profit mightily from that.

Once upon a time schools were the places with the information you needed, and if you wanted to get an education then you had to go there.  Today it is completely possible to learn everything you need online, in your own time, and in a way that suits your learning style, timeframe and budget.  We are now in an age where education is freely available, but certificates are getting more expensive every year.

Which leads me to one of  my favorites quotes from the movie Good Will Hunting – “…in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re going to come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life: one, don’t do that, and two, you dropped $150 grand on a f***in’ education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library!

And that, my friend, is the honest truth.

How much does NYU bring in each year?  

  • $40,082 – Undergrad tuition (figures from Collegeboard for 2010 – 2011 could be a bit higher)


  • The current total enrollment at New York University is 22,097 undergrads and another 21,700 graduate enrollment.

So, 22,097 x 40,082 = $1,215,335,000 per year for just the undergrad tuition.

Add onto that:

  • Fees paid by the 21,700 grads (estimated at $883,276,800)
  • Fees for books and, of course, the non-refundable registration fees (a figure in the tens of millions).
  • Donations to NYU of $349,000,000 in fundraising during 2010.

So, each year, NYU brings in about $2.5 billion in fees and donations.

(note: NYU are not alone in this – I just picked them because they are local.  NYU does not accept CLEP at all currently)


Filed under Career, Education, Technology

What’s wrong with education?

In an earlier post – The American Caste System – I stated that there are many things wrong with the current education system and that there were too many things to put into a single post.

This follow-up post highlights how our education system stifles creativity with standardized testing, and how the rules in place are completely out of line with reality.

Test taking is a great example.  In school, you are told not to copy, not to speak with anyone else, and not to use any books, computers or the internet.  But when was the last time that you were given a work task under those conditions in the real world? 

I am willing to bet the answer would be never – not only that, but you would be told to find people who had done this before, and use all the resources available to find the answer.  And you would be rewarded for collaborating in this fashion.

I would prefer that during tests students have access to all the resources available, but the tests were then made much harder – focusing on the students’ ability to digest information and make sense of it, come up with new ideas, and find solutions.  Instead, we are feeding our kids lies and misinformation (usually in the form that there is only one right answer) and, in the process, crushing their creativity and their ability to think outside the box.

While researching this post, I came across the video below and realized that Sir Ken Robinson had, once again, done a better job of summarizing the situation than I could ever do.

I was particularly struck by his statement that, based on some tests, 98% of kindergarten kids rate in the genius level and that this declines over time.  This is backed up by the observances of Peter Skillman with his “Marshmallow Challenge” which gives similar insights, and if that isn’t a sign that our education system is failing our kids then I don’t know what is.

So, in the spirit of using all the resources available, I will just leave you in the capable hands of Sir Ken Robinson.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Filed under Career, Children, Education, Life - or something like it, Technology, The Human Condition

Why Women’s Rights has Damaged Education

In the last century the status of women in the workplace has risen dramatically, and never more so than in the last 40 years. While this has been great for women, and even society overall, it has been a disaster for the education of our children.

Historically, women had very few job choices, limited to roles such as home-maker, positions in the garment and food industries or teacher.

But starting with the Suffragette movement in the late 18th century, women have gone from strength to strength.  Along the way they have had some help:  two world wars, the “Pill”, knowledge based economies and even bottle feeding, have all contributed to a level of freedom never before experienced by women – and education has paid the price.

Graph going downIn 1960 about 40% of female teachers scored in the top quintile of IQ tests, with less than 8% of them in the bottom.  Twenty years later less than half that number made the top spot, and the number of teachers in the bottom quintile has more than doubled.

This fact was highlighted by The Chancellor of New York City’s public schools in 2000 when he said, “The quality of teachers has been declining for decades, and nobody wants to talk about it.”  In addition, between 1967 and 1980 school test scores fell by 1.25 grade level equivalents – a fact that John Bishop (the well-known education researcher) called “historically unprecedented.”

Of course, we can’t blame women for wanting a better standard of living, and sending them back to the kitchen is really not an option…at least not without a lot of folks sleeping on the couch.  So what do we do?

The first thing we need to do is recognize that education, particularly in those early formative years, is critical to future success.  If we are not willing to invest in education, then America is doomed to fall further and further behind, in part because the brightest women are simply following the money.

That is not to say that there are no good teachers – there are many, and teachers who have choices but stay for the love of the children should be put up on a pedestal and thanked profusely. Sadly they are not, and teaching pay scales are generally lower than many other professions, in part because most educators only work 9 months of the year.

Since we can’t force people into teaching we must raise the status of teaching to make it more appealing.  Increased pay is an obvious method to improve status, but that is only part of the story.  On a per-hour basis teachers are actually well paid, so perhaps we need to increase the number of hours worked in a year to enable teaching to become a “full-time” profession.

It has been well documented that those long hot summers are an “education eraser”.  On average our children lose about 2 months of learning during the summer, and this effect is more pronounced in the poorer families who cannot afford to send their kids away to camps to stimulate their minds.  Adding in 6 more weeks of education would boost salaries, increase learning, and allow people who could not consider a teaching profession because of the lower “per year” salary to look at it anew.  This is also a fairer way to boost pay than the typical ‘seniority’ increases that are often awarded and have proven to be of little benefit to the children.

Unfortunately the ratio of people without kids in school is increasing as people live longer – and many of those will not vote for an increase in school budgets.  Personally I feel this is short-sighted, since a good school district raises the value of their homes – but what do I know?

During the last election America came very close to seeing its first female President, so I think we can agree that women are going to take more and more of the prestigious roles in society – and rightly so.  So let’s make teaching a prestigious role again, so that the best and brightest – be they men or women – are there to motivate our children and drive them to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Children, Education

The American Caste System


I’ve been thinking about the education system recently – and mostly about what is wrong with it. After jotting down some notes it became obvious that there is too much material to cover in a single blog post, so I will spread this one out.

First, let me start out by saying I am a huge fan of education.  I believe education should be a lifelong pursuit that does not stop with the acquisition of a diploma or the landing of that first job.

Properly structured, education expands minds and pushes people out of their comfort zones, forcing them to learn about the world as a whole, and not just a tiny subset.  In addition to the usual suspects of math and reading, classes that involve the arts (music, literature, drama etc.) and those that develop critical thinking through face to face dialog and debate should be mandatory in any general education.

But education also needs to be met by each person on his/her own terms. University and college isn’t for everyone, and there will always be people for whom college just doesn’t fit right – like shoes pinching at the toes.  Some people just learn more effectively in different environments, and we should not stifle their dreams by forcing them to do things the same old ways.

Unfortunately society (or at least Western society) doesn’t seem to agree with me.

The world of education is changing rapidly.  Where once these “institutes of higher learning” had a monopoly on information we now find ourselves in a world where virtually unlimited knowledge is never further away than your phone.

Given this quantum shift in knowledge availability, it would be reasonable to expect that the existing education system would be rapidly changing to mine these new resources.  But instead of leading the charge we find that the existing educational establishments are not even keeping pace – how can this be?

There are many answers, ranging from ignorance to profit margins.  But here I want talk about something more subtle, and far more sinister – education (or the lack of it) is a tool for keeping people in their place.  These techniques have been used around the world for centuries, and against all kinds of people:  Slaves, Women, Blacks, etc.

The status quo today mandates that most good jobs require a diploma and, as long as that situation exists, the colleges are able to make substantial sums of money supplying those bits of paper.  To get that coveted prize you must play by their rules, which include steep tuition feeds and expensive (and heavy!) textbooks.

The Caste System at WorkBut let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that, as a whole, we like it that way.  These expensive diplomas help keep the ‘riff-raff’ out, and effectively create a caste system – ensuring that the higher-paying jobs are reserved for those who can afford those hefty school fees in the first place. This creates a catch-22, and thus ensures that there are plenty of people to handle the low paying, menial jobs that most of us would not want to do.

I don’t think most people actually think of it that way, but deep down we would all prefer to compete against fewer people.  The good news is that the current education system provides a handy way to separate “The Haves” from the “Have Nots” without tweaking our social conscience.  Obviously they have lower paying jobs because they are not educated!  Q.E.D.

Unfortunately for The Haves, the Internet is spoiling this game.  Now people can educate themselves to almost any level for free.  And freed from the restrictions of the standard educational system, these outlaw students can tailor their education to where they have talent and passion – a deadly combination that can eventually lead them to create revolutionary products and services that leave the rest of us in the dust.

As one of the people who started in a lower caste (I left school at sixteen) there is a part of me that cheers this revolution and the feeling of justice it brings.  Surely any intelligent, hardworking person should be able to compete on equal terms…That’s part of the American Dream, right?

But having now spent the money to get my degree, there is part of me that says “…as long as it doesn’t affect me and my family.”  It’s tough being a rebel when it puts my livelihood at risk.

Are we educating people because they need those skills, or to separate them from the rest of the herd?  Should we give accreditation to anyone who can prove their intelligence, without requiring a college or university being involved, or should we protect what we have?  Do we even need college education at all beyond areas such as medicine and law?

Go ahead and vote – it’s anonymous, so be completely honest!


Filed under Career, Children, Education, Technology, The Human Condition