The Tale of Two Schools, Part 1 of 3

Old School

My academic experience began with my mom being my kindergarten teacher. I’ll only say “that I didn’t get away with anything.”


The highlights: My academic experience began with my mom being my kindergarten teacher. I’ll only say “that I didn’t get away with anything.” My elementary school experience was mainly about playing, socializing and having fun. Middle school was about socializing, playing and girls. High school was about staying out of trouble, being terribly bored and working on the farm. The highlight was going to the first two days of my senior year, then dropping out and a few weeks later getting my GED. Followed by a year of manual labor and concluding I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. Starting the college at the correct time, it was about having fun, socializing, young women and avoiding academic probation. The sophomore year ushered in the new plan. Which was to take whatever courses sounded interesting. During this time, education was relatively inexpensive about $400 a semester $100 in books and about $100 per month in rent. Thus, I began the 10-year plan for a four-year degree. College was Plan B. If nothing else was exciting. I would attend another semester. Otherwise, it was “don’t let school get in the way of your education.” This plan worked well until the 8th year when my first child was born right at midterm exams of my last semester. The pending of his birth was the cue. I got it put something together and get out of school. The last semester was scrambling to pick up the required introductory level courses to graduate with a degree in communications and psychology. Those Plan B years were a lot of fun of taking whatever sounded interesting. There was coursework in biology, horticulture, soil science, plant pathology, philosophy, anthropology, engineering, linguistics, business, architecture, art history and others I don’t recall. Retrospectively, having the wherewithal and the ability to take whatever courses were interesting was a great thing; being a solid “generalist.” I then stumbled into mental health for 7 years. Followed by impulsively deciding to go to grad school. Applied for a PhD but only allowed in for a master. Made the commitment to my wife and two young children to do the master’s and get out. Which ended up being 72 semester credits in a year and a half. Subsequently invited to stay for my PhD. But decided it was best to get on with family life.

Most of my academic experience was just screwing around. I really didn’t enjoy school until I could take whatever I was curious about. And then it was fun and interesting. It wasn’t until grad school when forced to discover and use the skills of efficient learning. Being married, two young children, working 20 hours a week and doing 18 graduate credits per semester. Frankly, did not have the time, energy or money to be screwing around. It was a GRIND, but it was a passion that got me through it along with the heroic graciousness of my wife and children.

Two Schools

The first school is of “dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s.” It is the tale of the old school. Diving into the foundation of the old school perspective of education. What is the founding principle or premise of this school of education? Think about it, what is the purpose of education? Why do we need education? What is learned and why? Put on your thinking hats, you can do this.

Blank Slate

The founding old school premise is that we are a blank slate; a “tabula rasa.” We know nothing, come from the dust, wallowing in the mud. We are the product of random genetic mutations that somehow developed, most recently from primates. If left unschooled, we are merely salvage beast that would continue to exist in darkness and ignorance. Therefore, education helps us continue to develop from crawling to standing upright. The development of increased brain capacity is thought to lead to the ability for language, subsequent civil society and the primacy of the ego’s rationality. Higher-ordered thought and religion would allow us dominion over nature.

The entire process is learning about the “what, why, when, where and how” things work so that we can have dominion over nature and our salvage instincts. It presumes that if we are “educated,” we climb to the top of the food chain. An educated individual is like the gods, kings and queens that have dominion over all that is seen. If one cannot purview this dominion, they suffer from some lacking. Is this the result of nature/genetics or nurture/lack of opportunity? Regardless of the fault, it is best remedied by more education. School is thought as the great equalizer so that all could fulfill their highest potential. The goal of teaching our children is so that they will attain success. To be triumphantly crowned as a winner. Yet the question is the what, when, where, why, how and who determines success?

Being schooled in the ways and means of dominion is thought to ensure success. Educated is processing of acquiring knowledge. And with knowledge, specifically the skills of analysis, interpretation, synthesis, innovation and execution. This is the foundation of education. Elementary through high school is developing a base of knowledge, gaining skills of analysis, integration, synthesis, innovation and execution. These skills are relatively simple to learn.

Let’s break this down. There is knowledge, analysis, synthesis, innovation and execution. Knowledge is the “what.” The trick about knowledge is the ability to search for what you need, knowing where and how to find it. It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I took a class in “library science.” Holy crap, why wasn’t I taught this in middle school? It would have saved me tons of time and frustration. This requires basic reading but also learning to find the premise or learning the concept of first principles thinking. First Principles Thinking: The Most Powerful Way To Think – TechTello I did not figure this out until graduate school. Both these two simple techniques should be introduced in middle school and heavily required in high school.

Analysis is the “what and why” of something. At a primary level, it is how do the pieces fit together? And once understanding how the pieces fit together and then see how they work together; lends knowing how to take things apart.

Synthesis is basically understanding the how’s and why’s. And then asking questions of what if? It’s basically the ability to move different parts around. Or thinking outside the box, using a fresh box or throwing the box away. It is questioning and wondering along with some good old imagination.

Innovation is then trying to put the pieces in a different configuration or trying out different dynamics or relationships and how things may work or be applied differently. At this level, innovation is basically a change of perspective, application and execution. It involves coming up with an idea, conceptualizing how it might work relative to the theories and then making a reasoned plan. And then execute the plan and perhaps see what you can salvage from the mess.

Execution is simply implementing the plan. It is the operation, logistics of strategy and tactics. It requires being flexible and adaptable with intuitively seeing the important dynamics. At some point, a person develops a framework in which to hang bits of information in an organized manner. Often kids are first taught the basic who, what, when, why and how. However, having an overall conceptual framework (big picture) helps to organize, analyze/evaluate and absorb the relevant information. There are many frameworks one can use such as historical, systems, factor, components, development, progression models etc. It’s basically figuring out a useful big picture to hang information and concepts on in an organized manner. The two essential things are to be curious and have first principles thinking.

At times, the experience happens and then later; we rationalize or recognize the dynamics and actions of the experience. These are the “ahh ha” moments of discovery, insight and enlightenment. Much of execution is more of a free-flowing dance rather than following detailed step-by-step instructions. One needs to innovate, revisit or be open to a reconfiguration of synthesis, questioning one’s analysis and being open to discovering new pieces of information or knowledge as the experience unfolds.

Three minds of Execution involves the ability to simultaneously observe and evaluate what is happening with the plan you have put in to action. This takes three minds. One mind of paying attention to what is happening in front of you. The second mind is paying attention to the context, dynamics and terrain/environment of what is occurring. It is like paying attention to what is on the ground in front of you. While also maintaining a 10,000-foot view of the larger perspective. And the third mind is to realize that execution involves having a plan but as soon as the plan starts, one also needs to be adaptable and innovative how to move toward the goal. Sometimes the goal is not attainable for many reasons and thus the execution becomes a salvage operation. A salvage operation is merely finding out what are the lessons and how might I apply this new information (and what may be salvaged) as the situation unfolds or emerges.


The internet offers a vast base of knowledge at our fingertips. The currently issue is, what knowledge, is it valid and what is garbage? How does one determine what is real knowledge verses non-sense? In the past, it was simply what worked and what didn’t. Now one must consider data, scientific method, effectiveness, efficiency, economics and complex energy and frequency calculations. And most important is who determines the relative value of knowledge?


The presumption is that everyone wants opportunities for an excellent education. To have the experience and opportunity to develop these abilities. Primary education is the what, why, how, when and where. And high school is an introduction to the formal of academic models for analysis, integration, synthesis, innovation and execution/application.

The secondary education level occurs in college and graduate school. It is about theory, application and using models or paradigms. These paradigms have their subsequent history, theories, research, methods, interpretation, etc. However, models and paradigms are merely different colored lenses which highlight different aspects or qualities that enable us to see something in slightly different ways. For example, in photography or looking at the heavens we use different lenses to highlight different aspects of what are looking at. A simple change in the lens of a camera or telescope will create a different view, a different understanding, a different interpretation of what we are seeing. And likewise, if we are looking at the heavens using an old-school optical telescope or a microscope versus infrared versus x-ray, we will see different aspects. This is quite simple.

So different models have different premises, technology, methods, etc. They can be time-based, space, environmentally, motivational, goal, frequency, etc. Our understanding of the world is literally based on various models. For example, with an analysis of a crime, there are environmental, historical, risk factors, economic, cultural, resource, political and the list is endless. Each of these various specialties has vested rational/logical scientific or empirical method to support and validate their model or perspective. These are merely conceptual or “first principles thinking.” But it is not the crime. Do not mistake the model for the elephant.

Application is the conceptual level of the utility of the problem-solution model. The key factor is the perception or definition of the need/problem and subsequent solution(s). Application, centers on defining the need/problem and the subsequent solutions. Thus the axiom of “if you want an excellent answer, you have got to ask a brilliant question.” However, one must also pay attention to details and day-to-day activities that involve logistics, management and flow of the actual implementation, execution. And if needed willing make reasoned adjustments, i.e., “innovate, adapt or die.” And then there is the salvage operation of what must we do today to survive, to fight another day.  

If we only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. But in real world experience it helps to have different tools and match the right tool for the right job. Folks that have only academic conceptual knowledge and understanding sometimes don’t have the “know how” to make it work in the real world. And if a person only has the “know how” they may not know or understand the “why” (theory) of how it works. Of course, folks with real world experience along with theory, research/data and application experience will be in-demand.


Classroom education is essentially gaining the knowledge and skills to be successful. But what drives the desire of an individual to learn something? Is it because we want to become successful? Perhaps we have been told and are expected to get an education. If we want to become successful, motivation is based on their definition of success. It is reaching for a worthy goal. Getting the golden ring is the measurable sign of success, but is not necessarily success.

Some folks are just expected to get an education and told that they will do so. This type of motivation is based on external influences that are demanding a certain level of achievement that has been internalized. But what if there is some internal conflict or difference between what a person is told to do versus what they want to do? Has that educational experience been a waste… what they can salvage… how does one navigate the internal conflict/dissonance?

Or are we are just interested, curious and wanting to find out for yourself. Motivation because you are curious or find it interesting. It’s passion is an intrinsic/internal “I wonder” motivation. Each type of motivation has different results. Success driven motivation may end up feeling rather empty and superficial. The prescriptive motivation often feels more like coercion. While the intrinsic or internal motivation and feel more like a joyful and happy adventure. Depending on one’s motivation can be perhaps correlated with one’s ability to endure the path or adventure of education and experience.  

Schools of Distinction!

Education has moved from the experiences of a one room school where there was one teacher and kids that ranged from very young to young adults. These one-room schoolhouses had to learn to work together. These schools were community or family based. Students had to help clean, start the fire in the stove to keep warm during the winter and had to help each other get to and from school. The older ones had to help teach the younger ones. Much of the educational experience was “the see one, do one and teach one” (more later).

These days education is expensive. Whether we are talking about capital expenditure of buildings and operation facilities maintenance. Staffing, technology infrastructure, ongoing training for teachers, etc. The cost (time and money) of college and graduate school is out of reach for most families. And going into debt is a matter of personal financial/economic risk/benefit calculation without guarantees, except for incurred debt. Enrollment in the technical and community colleges has exploded and is oriented to vocational needs of the local community and its industry. The focus is on the “how to” but doesn’t question larger contextual questions of the planetary challenges.

The basic question is, what are we really teaching? Are we teaching people what to think? Or are we teaching people how to think? Has education become an initiation and indoctrination? Has it become a jumping through the hoops to join the circus?

And what is research? How is the research method done? Who funds it? How is the data compiled and what is it used for? And who benefits?

Testing is gathering data. What are we testing for? For whom is this data for? How is this data validated? And how is it used; for feedback, for innovation, for measurement of performance? Performance of whom; the students, the school district or the teachers? And how or is it even correlated to expenditures and capital improvements? Is the community/and or the property owners who pay taxes have any measure of effectiveness of how effective these funds are being used?

An interesting facet: is of “informed consent” for the testing or even learning? The idea of informed consent is that it is required to be aware of what is being tested and why. How are the test to be administrated and to whom, who is funding the test and how will the results be posted, used and results given back to the parties being tested? It is basically a good faith contract of participation. I wonder if each student and parent signed a contract for learning each year? How might that influence the educational experience?

The whole idea of informed consent is the acknowledgment and agreement participate knowing the potential risks and benefits of participation. I wonder if there is even a mention of the option to opt out and how these opportunities to opt-out of these tests are presented to parents? And are there any academic ramifications? This brings up some ethical questions at the level of an institutional review boards for school districts. It begs questions of “state mandated testing,” its funding and ramifications for students, families, teachers and community.

Many of these issues of consent and confidentiality are circumvented by the concept that each student’s scores are not attached or identified to a specific student. And the results are compiled and noted at a classroom, grade, school and district levels to evaluate performance. But at the economic level school districts that have a higher economic tax base consistently perform better, have lower drop-out rates and fewer rates for crime and incarceration. Thus, there is the question of equal access to education and how are the measured differences to be addressed? Of course, these are complex questions with even more complex discussion and with mind-boggling state statutes, regulations and administrative endeavors.

Back to dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s of education.

What are the I’s; instruction, indoctrination, investigation, intervention and imagination? And for the T’s; is it teaching, training, tutoring, technology and testing?

So ends part one “old school.” It is the set-up for part two; “new school.” As in other areas of life, there is change occurring in finance, economy, religion and politics. Education is also positioned for significant change. It is important in life to stop and ask fundamental questions of what are we doing, why are we doing it and how is it done; where and when? The lesson of history is that if we are not aware of our history, it often doom us to repeat it. If we know what has happened, we can at least try something different.

Homework for next week: Go watch the movie “School of Rock” with Jack Black (2003). School of Rock – Wikipedia

Peace, love and light!



Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: