Thursday, January 19, 2012

Education: not ready to listen?

"The customer knows best." It's an adage seemingly old as time (for us young'uns, anyway). While it's not always the case (as anyone who has worked an intense over-the-phone customer service job before may know), it's certainly always valuable for businesses to listen to what clients are saying--whether surveys, market research, or feedback cards, many businesses have some structure in place to listen to their customers. And public feedback can have an important impact--Bank of America cancelled its $5-a-month debit card fee before it even began due to customer backlash.

In almost every area of the private and public sectors (think of representatives meeting with constituents or city hall meetings), there are ways for "customers"--those receiving the services or being represented--to make their voices heard. So why should education be any different?

Education? you might think. Surely there are those school board meetings or PTAs? But a crucial voice is missing in education: that of the student's. How often do classroom teachers ask students to provide them with feedback on how their teaching could be improved so students learn better? When was the last time administrators sat down with students and gave them decision-making power or at least input--no, not just over the theme of the Homecoming Dance or how to decorate the school for the holidays, but important issues like curriculum, required courses, or assessment?

I'm asking these questions because of an email from a prestigious education membership organization that my mom recently received in response to talks about a potential book I was hoping to write (that would bring issues of student voice, reciprocal learning, and education technology to the forefront). It said that based on their research, the education community "is not yet ready to receive the message from a student."

If the education community is unable or unwilling to receive a message about education from a student, I think we have problems. We'd find it unacceptable if our representatives suddenly started refusing to meet with constituents or if companies like Bank of America kept on charging ridiculous fees despite public uproar. Yet we accept that education doesn't want to hear from students? We are the "customers" of our nation's schools. It's in our interest to learn in the best way we can--many of my fellow students have plenty of wise insights that I think could help change education for the better--but that simply won't happen if the adults in the room are covering their ears.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"One Expensive Chocolate Bar" - Story Written With Elementary School Students Over Video Conferencing

One Expensive Jumbo Chocolate Bar
     It was quite a festive scene at the McHugh house on January 17th . There were bright red and gold streamers, colorful lights, and a very big chandelier.
     It was all to celebrate Bob McHugh’s birthday. He was the baby of the family—he was just turning seven years old (and very proud of it). All day in school, he had been reminding his classmates how old he was.
     “I’m turning seven!” he shouted in the middle of PE class.
     “That’s very nice. Now go do five more pushups,” said the PE teacher gruffly.
     Bob was super excited about the number of presents he received on his birthday from friends and family. Not only did he get a brand new toy train set and an iPod, Bob also received fifteen dollars in cash from his grandpa.
     “That’s more than last year,” commented his brother David as Bob counted his money. “Wait—watch out, Bob—you’re throwing money all over the place—” David gaped helplessly as his little brother tossed money in the air and cackled.
     “I’m rich! I’m rich!” Bob crowed gleefully.
     “Uhhh…not quite,” David said matter-of-factly. “Fifteen dollars is a lot of money, but it’ll go really fast unless you manage it carefully.”
     “You sound like a banker, David,” Bob said, sounding bored. “What do you think I can get with all this money? Do you think I could get that jumbo chocolate Hershey’s bar?”
     “Bob, would you really want to spend all your money on chocolate?” David asked, aghast.
     “Sure! Why not? It’s not like there’s anything better to spend it on,” Bob said obliviously.
     “I could think of a lot of things, but sure, it’s your money,” David said, and, shaking his head at Bob’s foolishness, left the room.
     The next day Bob ran down to the local chocolate store to buy his jumbo Hershey’s chocolate bar. He plunked down all fifteen dollars on the counter and smiled happily.
     Over the next few days, Bob’s attitude toward chocolate changed dramatically.
     On day five of eating chocolate non-stop, Bob looked with despair at his only quarter-finished jumbo chocolate bar.
     “I’m gonna die before I finish all this chocolate,” he moaned as David walked into the room. “There’s no way.”
     “I tried to warn you,” David said. He could have added another “I-told-you-so” but decided against it. “Next time you get a lot of money for your birthday, why don’t you save it?”
     “You’re sounding like a banker again,” Bob said unhappily, but he listened. “Alright, go on.”
     “You can save it and then when you have enough money, you can buy something big that you actually want,” David said, “or need. Instead of the jumbo chocolate bar, imagine if you had put that fifteen dollars in the bank and saved for that summer camp you really want to go to, or for college—”
     “Or for a flatscreen TV,” Bob said hopefully.
     David rolled his eyes. He wondered if Bob would ever learn…
     “But I think I’ll save it for college,” Bob added quickly with an angelic smile.
     “Okay,” David said, a little relieved. Maybe “sounding like a banker” wasn’t such an insult after all.



I wrote this with elementary school students via video conferencing as part of a program called "A Kid's Guide to Smart Money."