The Sage on the Stage

The Sage on the Stage

This week our founder and managing member, Ron Slee, asks us to take a moment to remember and wonder about the sage on the stage. Where are they now?

I started teaching children at a country club when I was a teenager. I taught people how to swim. I did that every summer from the time I was 14 until I had to get a real job in business. During my teaching of athletics, I ended up teaching at McGill University in Montreal. I was teaching students who were getting a degree in athletics. I was asked to develop a coaching and training program as well as water safety. I had classes three night a week. Half was in a classroom and half was in the pool. I loved it. I guess I am a teacher at heart as I truly love to see the lights go on in people’s eyes when they “get it.”

The classroom was long and relatively thin. It had a raised dais in the front of the room with a wall-to-wall black board. A stage. I was never comfortable with that situation so I started what a has become a habit of wandering around through the desks and among the students. Then recently I ran across the title of the blog “A sage on the stage.”

It was an interesting paper that was addressing the exclusive nature of education at University. The paper talked about the thirty-one million people in the US between the ages of 18 and 24. Thirteen million of them are current undergraduates; almost three quarters of them are enrolled in four-year-degree programs. The article also pointed out that 0.2% of the 18-to-24-year-old population was enrolled in Ivy league schools. 63,000 students.

Society at large as well as educators and legislators have been struggling with this problem for some time. Inertia is hard to overcome. Everyone in America is aware of the student debt problem. There are many issues to be faced in solving this problem. One of them is that trade schools fight with liberal arts schools for funding. This should not be a zero-sum game.

Looking at the structure today shows most classes have between three and four credit hours. A semester “load” is 12 to 18 credit hours and lasts for 15 weeks. Each year is two semesters and four years is what is required to earn a degree. That structure has been around for a long, long time. Many don’t think that is works in today’s world. Further information comes from a study by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa. They tested 2,300 students and found that after first and second years 45% and found that once after four years they demonstrated no improvements in key areas including writing and critical thinking.

They believe, as we do at Learning Without Scars (LWS), that Lifelong Learning needs to help people move in and out of the classroom. In fact, we should be creating and experimenting with dozens of new models to keep the workforce and the new entrants to the workforce in a position that they have skills that apply to the ever-changing workplace.

One of the thoughts on changing learning is to have three staggered 12-to-18 months of learning and work interspersed. This is similar to how many technical school programs work today. Western University in Canada has had this type of program for decades. It works.

One of the missing pieces, in my opinion is that we do not have enough advising and mentoring in education and career selections. We also need to have much more intensive internships and career development available to students and parents. As we have found at LWS learners benefit from more frequent, low-stakes real time individual assessments and quizzes interspersed in learning programs. This type of constant assessment and quiz changes how a student learns and enables more serious concentration on the material being presented by teachers. There is an awareness that the usual checking-in and checking-out listening and learning that has become the norm with a fifty minute or longer class doesn’t work and the students learn with very quickly with constant quizzes and assessment through learning experience.

This also leads to more awareness at the student and business level of the need for constant learning and relearning of skills and knowledge. Those of you who follow our blogs know that Ed Gordon has made a pronouncement that 50% of the current American work force will not have the skills required to hold and keep a job by 2030. That, if it becomes true, which is quite likely will mean very radical changes in the American society. How can the American education system, business community, and state and federal taxation handle such a situation?

Many people have written on this subject most recently is Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska who was once a University President. This is a very serious situation and one that needs much more debate and thought. 

 The Time is Now.

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