Skip to main content

Education, Attention, and Maker Time

Watching Meet the Press this morning, I was really struck by the honest assessment of the state of the U.S. educational system by Sharpton, Duncan, and Gingrich. President Obama has tasked these three with assessing and identifying the elements of successful K-12 education in the U.S., and empowering it.


{Brief aside - Thank you MSNBC for this fantastic editing tool, where I can highlight the text in a transcript, and embed just the video for the highlighted portion. So easy, so powerful, so useful. I can search and edit in text, and publish and embed in video}

This led me to think of what Matt Dugener said in his TEDxDetroit talk about Michigan, and the culture we have in this state towards entrepreneurs and enterprising individuals. The whole thing is worth your time, but I want to focus on the idea that, in Michigan, we train our children to be excellent employees, but poor entrepreneurs.



Have you ever considered how we teach our children? The modern classroom is largely an artifact of the Industrial Revolution. Only for the past 150 years or so has the education of children been so formalized, largely devoid of "play", and structured. (Stefana Broadbent makes some other interesting observations about the rituals of the modern education system in her TED talk). Certainly, advanced subjects require rigorous study, but are we going about that rigorous study in the best way? Students are given sixty minutes of a subject, and then 10 minutes to switch gears into a different subject and provide their undivided attention once again.

In effect, we're conditioning our children to what Paul Graham calls the Manager's Schedule: days divided into blocks of a single hour. Graham contrasts this to the Maker's Schedule (blocks of at least half a day) where creative types get settled into a problem. If you've ever experienced what it means to be "in the zone" with a project, then you know how important the maker's schedule can be to creativity or complex problem-solving. The manager's schedule works great for mid-level management, who largely serve to role of information funnel to management above them--a function that's critically important to large, vertically-oriented organizations. However, today's fastest growing organizations aren't vertically oriented monoliths like they were in the 20th century. They're nimble, creative, innovative, and decentralized. They depend on products of the maker's schedule, not the manager's schedule.

Conditioning children to live on the manager's schedule not only robs them of the time to settle into and play with important ideas, but it conditions them for employment in vertically-integrated, highly structured organizations--exactly the kinds of organizations that are going to have the hardest time surviving in the 20th century. This kind of education makes sense for industrial society, but it runs counter to the kind of education today's students are going to need in a creative, innovative, post-industrial economy. When children have difficulty conforming to this unnatural form of learning-without-playing, we label them with learning disabilities when what we really have is a teaching disability. Worst of all, we're conditioning our children for a work environment that won't exist in a post-industrial America: an environment where work life and home life bleed into each other, the 8-hour day is a thing of the past, and complex problems aren't easily broken into simple repetitive tasks to be managed towards efficiency like an assembly-line.

We're beginning to shift from a society that values time-management skills to one that values attention-management skills. At the same time, we're training our children to neglect deeply engaging their attention with a single subject, and instead, teaching them simply how to juggle their time.



Popular posts from this blog

COVID-19 and the Tools We Need to Re-open Wisely

There's a lot of graphs and stats that the news is throwing at people right now. So much so, that you can get information overload trying to make sense of the statistics that have meaning. To quote my old Econometrics professor, "There are three types of lies: 'Lies', 'Damned Lies', and 'Statistics' ". I should also lead with the caveat that I'm an engineer and data nerd by trade, but I'm not an epidemiologist. I welcome feedback from those who have more experience than I do. The most important question we're trying to answer (at least here in Michigan), is "How are we doing?", and "When can we reopen our economy?". With respect to those questions, here's my take on the most important data, and some caveats about what these data are telling us. The four most cited data in news stories are: Total Number of Cases Daily New Cases. Total Number of Deaths Daily New Deaths This post will talk about #1 and #2

The Re-Opening Experiment

We should remind ourselves that, this Memorial Day weekend and the weeks that follow, we are subjects in a grand experiment to see how good we are at social distancing as stay-at-home orders are being slowly lifted. The state's stay-at-home order was never meant to keep you, individually, safe from infection. It was meant to keep hospital's safe from being overwhelmed by too many of us needing them at the same time. In Michigan, the daily new cases of COVID-19 are higher today than they were when we locked down in late March. We are testing whether or not we can open up (with all of our new precautions and protocols) without spiking the rate of spread, but make no mistake: it *is* an experiment, and we *are* the test subjects. Please don't get careless as things start to open up. We need to get our economies back on track, but we are still a long way (and a vaccine away) from being out of the woods. Stay vigilant, folks. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. As has always been the

What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self?

An old friend recently reached out to me (and presumably others) and asked us what advice we'd give our younger selves, particularly at ages 20, 30 and 40. After writing my response to him, I thought it worth posting myself as well.  The substantive bulk of my response to him follows: ----- The difficult thing is that I really wouldn't change a thing about who I am, so any call for advice feels a bit like a time-traveler scenario where my advice to a younger self would affect the outcome of my present life, and I'm not sure I'd risk it. My experiences shaped me, including the glaring mistakes, and I wouldn't trade places today with anyone on Earth. But, for the sake of argument, let's assume the Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics here, and thus assume I won't mess my own (present) life up. Wibbly-Wobbly. Timey-Wimey. It is also important to note that the question is "What advice would you give your younger self?". The a