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  • Peter Bouloukos

Education in America

Education in America - just my humble three cents...

Recently I came across some disturbing statistics in a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. U.S. educational institutions spend more per student than any other developed nation at $15,171 annually yet we trail on a number of important measures including childhood education, test performance and college graduation.

The article notes the U.S.future global competitiveness which relies on insights and innovations from younger generations in school right now, is being put at risk by inadequacies of our current approach to teaching and testing. In a sense, I feel government funded education is backwards and every four years we hear the promise of "improving education" yet we fall further and further behind.

Clearly there is incredible opportunity for improvement in our school systems and homes. Creative alternatives like "Growing Healthy Kids" and the fundamental principles of Stephen Covey's "8th Habit" are successfully changing curricula in a positive fashion.

But a gap exists between wealthy and poor where taxes fund schools and bases are different. Generally, when parents earn more money, live in better towns or cities, the children benefit and in my opinion that is fantastic! But...on a global front fundamentals need to change nationwide not to balance a thing, but to get better. The trouble is our governments can't balance a checkbook and we somehow believe they are the best at regulating our schools?

Now, while we continue to encourage and expand new education models, I feel a dialogue needs to begin nationwide where we all do a little more to encourage creative thought, innovative thinking and teamwork.

We need to embrace failure too! So many adults as well as children take the "safe route" often living a "loop" rather than a "life" itself. Everyone wants to "know" right now and most tend to put their toes in the water rather than jumping right in and swimming. Think about the marathon runner who has no idea where the finish line is or even how to get there, but through pain, psychological and physical pain...the marathon runner pushes through each known limit and discovers potential and strength never realized before. Yet, we reward kids sixth place trophies and pass kids from grade to grade without ever really learning anything that will carry them forward in life.

I have always thought monthly tests in major subjects should be a team effort, not cheating but presenting problems and having four kids take the test together. Think about what this teaches people about the "real world?" Successful people, wealthy people and in my opinion, happy people team up, support each other and seek help to even some of the most simple questions...without fear of failure or looking stupid.

Now I am not pointing fingers as I am definitely a work in progress, but we can all do a great deal more at home. Encourage learning, reading, artistic expression and try playing with your children even at high school age at a park or in the gym. Talk about what you are excited about and learning yourself. Model learning behaviors you want the kids to emulate. Personally, I tend to "nerd out" when I am alone so I have to work on reading in front of them. I also love to draw, so I could start drawing again. Well, obviously I also like to write...

On some level, the education each of us obtains over the course of our lifetime reflects the ownership and accountability we take for what we want to learn and whom we hope to become. It reflects the effort and passion we take to learning new things, to develop and embrace natural curiosities and how we best nurture new information and stimuli.

Now, as someone who struggles in certain aspects of life as well as with certain subjects like advanced mathematical concepts, I know firsthand that "learning" is not a "one-size-fits-all" endeavor. In business, I use this knowledge to uniquely support and serve others where they stand and I truly do authentically listen and learn from each individual I mentor, coach, work for or work with. Some people do well with words. Some people do well with pictures, arrows and visual tools. Some do great with numbers. Researches even suggest music in the background helps certain minds develop in a learning environment.

My hope is someday soon, our politicians will back out of education and send the money we pay in taxes to a private business that truly affects change. The government and the people demand total transparency from the entity with a year end balanced budget and measurable goals. With the internet, we can "on-time" vote on important changes and topics eliminating any bureaucracy or "middle-man."

Perhaps one day we will have a system taking all people, from all walks of life, with unique learning styles, sets of experiences and intelligences into consideration equally. We also need to hold ourselves, our children, our communities as well as our government to higher standards here. To me, it seems government is going through the motions and wasting more money and time.

At home, that may mean modeling healthy behaviors for our kids, including choosing whole, nutritious foods over junky ones; getting daily physical exercise; and making adequate sleep a priority. It may mean setting appropriate boundaries around work and play; putting strict limits on TV and recreational screen time. It may mean demonstrating an avid interest in continual learning and personal growth, insisting on high standards of integrity and dedication to any commitment made.

Because if we don’t do these things, how can we expect our kids to? And if we don’t teach our children the value of these standards, who will?

Inevitably, we will struggle at times, and so will our kids. We may fail to live up to our own or others’ prescribed standards, and we may experience the consequences of our shortfalls. And that’s OK. Kids need to understand that life presents us all with challenges and adversity. Sometimes life serves up pass-fail situations and delivers real consequences for failing. I think it’s best for kids to learn this at an early age.

In fact, I think that imparting the ability to deal with adversity and failure is one of the best gifts we can give our kids. Because, after all, it’s not so much the difficulties we encounter that define us, but the way we respond to them. I share this philosophy in the workplace. I support and serve, but I never enable. I speak directly when something violates the mission at hand or my core integrity. it's sometimes met negatively because many have never experienced environments and levels of success beyond where they stand in the "now" so they can't "know" any better.

Ultimately, all of life is a learning opportunity. It’s also an opportunity to actively cultivate what Viktor Frankl called the “last of human freedoms” — the power to “choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” When we realize we are a product of the choices we make, not even a bad teacher or boring curricula can prevent one from seeking knowledge and doing a little more.

Within the muddle of our present limitations, there are always creative ways forward. It’s up to each of us to take personal responsibility for finding them, one learning experience at a time. Finally, learning to fail, fall or stumble is the best lesson one might teach or share...because what you learn on the journey is always worth the distance traveled even if it is tough on our fragile ego.

Yours in Success,

Peter Dean Bouloukos

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