Education and the bottom line

Right now, states assess the proficiency of students by using standardized tests in individual content areas. The students bubble in their answers for math, English, history, science, and so on, and then receive scores for each subject. The students’ knowledge is compartmentalized, and in California, the rating goes like this: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced.

Not only are subjects divided for assessment purposes, but students (for approximately the last 100 years) are taught specific concepts in isolation. There is complete division between, let’s say, English and science–or science and history–and cross-curricular schooling is the exception rather than the norm.

Lately, I’ve been comparing education to business practices: specifically, Sony and Apple.

Around 2003, Sony (who had already successfully made its footprint on the music world by rolling out the Walkman) tried desperately to create an mp3 player to rival the newly popular iPod. Unfortunately for Sony, the company was split into divisions that all looked out for their own interests. Because of this, synergy was elusive, and the artists, business people, software, and hardware never converged to make a successful product.

Apple was the exact opposite. It wasn’t split into competing divisions, but rather worked as one cohesive company. Whereas Sony had multiple profit-and-loss bottom lines, Apple lived and died as one organization.

Yesterday I wrote about simplicity. Education needs simplicity, but maybe before that, it needs synergy between the different content areas. If education took Apple’s heed, schools would begin teaching their standards in more of a mixed/lively way as opposed to the sterile/divided way they have for the last century.¬†On standardized tests, schools would be assessed as a whole cohesive unit–instead of: “The students at school X are proficient in science but not in history…”

Who learns anything in a vacuum? I’d argue that real learning takes place in environments where students are introduced to problems that need to be solved utilizing multiple content areas, as well as the right and left sides of their brains. Ignoring this and isolating, let’s say, prefixes just to English class fails to open up students’ minds to the fact that many prefixes are used for scientific purposes.

This is a crazy idea, but perhaps English and science teachers could be in the same class room, teaching photosynthesis and critical reading at the same time. Science teachers would teach the process, while English teachers would help students circle key ideas, mark the text, summarize in the margins, and chunk important paragraphs and ideas together.

It would be good for education’s bottom line. More importantly, it would be good for the students.

Approaching technology

Sometimes I’m tempted to pick Facebook up again, and I continually weigh the pros and cons. There are plenty of reasons why Facebook is good. There’s one big con, however: The insidious way it sucks up time.

I used to check my wall while watching T.V., while on my iPhone, while waiting in line at the pharmacy… Sometimes I’d click around on the different things people posted and half an hour would be gone.

Once I quit Facebook, I wrote a lot more and read a lot more (books, that is). A level of productivity materialized I hadn’t known the year I was on FB.

Now I approach technology a lot more skeptically. (Like the Amish, I guess.) Instead of thinking about how cool a new site might be to visit, or how fun a new gadget might be to own, I think about what I’m giving up to invest time in the next new thing.

My goal: never pick up a new gadget unless it simplifies my life. And hopefully, gadget makers will be striving for simplicity within the product itself.

Interestingly, Apple’s priorities are becoming the industry’s priorities. It seems that companies making electronics–whether they are vacuums, hand dryers, or thermostats–are striving for simplicity, beauty, and excellence. This wasn’t always the case. Remember the way cellphones appeared before Apple introduced the iPhone? All those sad devices looked the same. Now they all look like iPhones.

By the way, have you seen this new thermostat? Here’s the trailer. (Yes, it has a trailer.)

It’s designed by a former Apple employee. The way things are going, however, you don’t have to be a former Apple employee to appreciate striving for perfection.