Ray Kurzweil, futurist and inventor, predicts that humans will have micro-computers embedded in the brain (he says un- invasively) linking us to the cloud by 2030 or 2040. Personally I’m not sure that the prediction makes me jubilant or alarmed! Kurzweil predictions shouldn’t be looked at as science fiction. He’s been on target about 86% of the time. He missed by a few years with the self-driving cars but not by much. I don’t know how I feel about my progeny being cyborgs. Perhaps in the near future we won’t have to worry about education because we humans will be able to access libraries of information in the cloud by simply wanting to know it. But how do we decide that we want to access the data; want to know something? Do we still need to think, process, discriminate? In other words will our education system meet those demands? At the moment it looks bleak.
Just yesterday Edward McClelland reported on NBC.com Opinion: Why Elites Don't Think CPS Is Important To City's Future remarks made to him regarding the unimportance of Chicago Public Schools to the health of Chicago! Wow that hurt. Chicago Universities matter but not the preparation for university matriculation. This unnamed person commented that none of the power brokers, public officials. Etc. in Chicago came from CPS. This did not hold true for the Catholic or other private schools. Remember the Daley’s are products of De La Salle. In other words closing CPS schools on the south and west side really doesn’t impact our rating as a global city.
I would like to challenge that. Chicago is now the murder capital, the emirate of drive-by. Does any half way intelligent being think there is NO association between poverty, lack of education and crime? The mere thought of a sustainable anything has to include people. CPS is not creating sustainable people. Our kids are disposable or at least that seems to be the case. This concern about sustainability and people and the planet led me to grab a press pass and head to the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) conference.The organizers kindly accepted my spouse who helped me canvass the vendor exhibits and secure interviews. He has a deep seated interest in education, especially project based learning and education technology to address learning difficulties. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2011) 5% of all public school children are learning disabled. My nuclear family has two or three school aged children who may have or do have ADHD, so our brood (sixteen grandchildren, one on the way and two great- grand) is directly affected. We are concerned about how they and other children will fare in this brave new world and we are not too concerned about Chicago’s rating as a global city.
So off we went with plans to find the latest technologies that address learning disabilities. We didn’t find a plethora of exhibitors like we thought. Just about to give up we stopped at one of the vendor booths to inquire about cognitive fitness and neuro- feedback use with learning difficulties. The sales representative smiled but acknowledged she had no information on the subject. She walked us over to meet someone she said would be able to address our questions, Dr. Terrence Layng (T.V. Joe Layng), the Director of Learning Science at Mimio. He proved to be a wealth of information. Over the next several hours we received a crash course on learning disabilities.
About Dr. Joseph Layng:
T. V. Joe Layng, Ph.D., Director of Learning Sciences for Mimio, is a co-founder of Headsprout, where he served as the company’s Senior Scientist until its acquisition by Mimio in 2011. He led the scientific team that developed Headsprout’s patented Generative Learning Technology, and was the chief architect of the Headsprout® Early Reading and Reading Comprehension programs, now MimioSprout and MimioReading Comprehension Suite, and a new comprehensive interactive whiteboard NGSS science series, MimioScience.
Joe has over 35 years of experience in the experimental and applied learning sciences. From 1991 to 1996 he served first as Director of the Academic Support Center and then as Dean of Public Agency and Special Training Programs at Malcolm X College in Chicago. In 1992 he co-authored the seminal paper on Generative Instruction, which appeared in the journal American Psychologist. He has been published in over 40 academic publications. Joe holds an MA in Behavioral Science from the University of Houston, and a Ph.D. in Behavioral Science (Biopsychology) from the University of Chicago. His research at the University of Chicago led to some of the key elements of Headsprout.
The blurb above is from the Mimio website and to say the least, is brief. During our discussions we were treated to a lot more. Firstly, Dr. Joe finished from high school in Rockford with a 1.9 GPA. As he said it “that was really sad because that was the upper half of the class.” He even flunked out of Western Illinois not once but twice! It probably helped, as he put it, that he was a lousy student because during his second hiatus from college proper he and friends developed the Center for Innovative Design of Programmed Instruction. These events lead to the director of educational technology inviting him to cosponsor a conference on education technology, where he met to education leaders who would become his mentors for life, Dr. Susan Markle and Dr. Philip Tiemann of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Layng’s interest in the writings of behaviorists, John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner helped to pave the road that finally led to receiving his doctorate at the University of Chicago.
His work at Malcolm X College produced a project that accelerated low functioning students to achieving students. The project continued for ten years after Dr. Layng left the school. Currently he has been commissioned by the DOE supported Center on Innovations in Learning to write two chapters for an upcoming book on stimulating innovation in technology applied to learning.
I asked him specifically about how technology is being applied to date. To sum it up Dr. Layng likened our current and typical use to substituting a pen for a quill. It is technology tools not technology as a process of teaching and learning that we are seeing.
As I alluded above, my husband has been researching neuro feedback as a process of teaching individuals with learning difficulties and/or memory problems. There are numerous software programs available on the market, Kurzweil 3000 system text-to-speech literacy software, Play Attention, Fast Forward just to name a few. So we asked about these systems. Dr. Layng went into some detail about the wealth of information on the study of learning over the past 50 to 60 years. He noted that one of the software program companies exhibiting that day has phenomenal success rates, especially with reading problems.
The information that has come out of the reams of laboratory data regarding neuroscience and behavioral science doesn’t, in the main, seem to find its way into the public school system classrooms across the country. “Why?” I asked. After a thoughtful pause, Dr. Layng cited a few reasons. There is research and study in the science of learning but training programs for teachers don’t incorporate the findings. The experimental lab work is left “experimental” not applied and teaching teachers is more of an apprenticeship model.
Tod Risley, a very passionate advocate for children, in collaboration with Dr. Betty Hart, led the most comprehensive research project ever conducted on the home language learning experiences of young children. Language skills diminished sharply as socio-economic status dropped. For example, 50% of low income west side students, Joe and his colleagues tested, did not know their first and last names when entering kindergarten. As I thought about the schools being closed in so many minority communities, the virtual takeover of the Detroit schools, I listened to his remarks about disconfirmational vs. conformational learning. Simply put, we teach our children by telling them what they are doing wrong. Very rarely are their strengths pointed out. This is a particular problem in lower income families. I can’t even count how many times I have heard parents refer to their two year old as “bad” or the instances in which loving, supportive parents are viewed as “spoiling” the children. This is highly disconfirmational.
I had the opportunity to lunch with Thomas Armstrong during the conference. He is the author of Neuro-Diversity, a book suggesting that we celebrate diversity in the brain. Some geneticists are proposing that ADHD may have been encoded centuries ago to keep members of the clan aware of rapidly developing dangers and allow them to respond appropriately. In his book he stresses the need to find positive niches for special children. In fact, there is some evidence that ADHD children learn best in a green environment. I was very glad to hear that considering our fledgling not for profit is planning a learning center in a greenhouse.
By now you must be wondering what is CDD and how is it affecting the Chicago Public Schools. Well to quote Dr. Joe it is more devastating than ADHD and any other learning disability. It is Curriculum Deficiency Disease and there are many cures. We, parents, teachers, principals, and neighbors oh heck all of us need to make the school system swallow the pill.