Tottenham HotSpurs draw with Arsenal in fabulous 4-4 draw

A set of midweek games last night cannot be overshadowed by the Phillies victory in the World Series 2008. My Liverpool Reds continued their great progress this season with a 1-0 win over Portsmouth courtesy of a Gerrard spot kick. But the match of the night was the London derby between #3 Arsenal and ragtag bottom of the barrel Tottenham Hotspursat Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.

With an unlikely 1-1 score at the half, Arsenal went ahead 2-1 to open the second half. Then there were three goals in the space of four minutes, with the Gunners still coming out trumps at 4-2. The game was wrapping up when Spurs pulled one back in the 89th minute. Arsenal had an injury-time booking and then in the 94th, last gasp, Spurs scored the equalizer via substitute Aaron Lennon. A resounding 4-4 thriller, even if a draw. And quite a startling start for new Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp.

English Words Being Removed from the Collins Dictionary

The Wisdom of Winnowing Words?

I have often read, with keen interest, about the addition of new words to a language, typically to French and English where I can gauge the novelty, meaning and importance of the word(s) in question. Last week, however, I came across a TIME magazine article (European edition, October 20, 2008), entitled “War of the Words,” that talked about the opposite: the culling of what are considered archaic words from the [Collins] dictionary. Here is the list of words that are under review [in England]… There are 24 such words up for axing, in order to make room for 2,000 new words (presumably that means that the new words have little in the way of derivative definitions and the archaisms fill up reams of pages?).

Apparently, there is an opportunity for some words to “fight for their lives” by being used six times in an authentic “quality” fashion in the next few months (death knell is February 2009). My post here will not constitute an effort to “save” any of these words, but I find some of the words on the block (that may not have been around the block enough?) rather charming. From the list of 24, here is my selection of words that I would consider keeping:

Apodeictic: Unquestionably true by virtue of demonstration(and a good one for spelling tests)
Caducity: Perishableness (surely a necessary word for the Sustainable Developers?)
Fatidical: Prophetic (since vaticinate, meaning prophesy, is also up for damnation, I conclude that being prophetic/forward thinking is in trouble?)
Fubsy: Squat (to be come up with a sequel to Bugsy Malone)
Griseous: Somewhat grey (for those who can’t ever make up their mind?)
Muliebrity: The condition of being a woman (love this one, a sequel for André Malraux)
Olid: Foul-smelling (so close to fetid, and living in cities we’ll need lots of adjectives on smell)

Apparently, embrangle (to confuse or entangle) garnered the most support through a London Times survey. This Times Online article uses all the words, more or less, in context. You can read more from VisualThesaurus. But, while the announced intention to cull these words has received so much press, I am inclined to say that it is the addition of 2,000 more new words that is fascinating. With so many lesser languages dying every year, the addition of new words to English is a sign of a vibrant, dynamic language. Making space by cutting 24 words (or less as the case may be) is basically irrelevant, especially in the virtual era, where paperbound dictionaries will become less and less printed, much less interesting (lack of Random Access Memory, etc.).


What do you think? Should words make exits or not?

Eco-Town & Housing Project in England

Eco-Towns in England – Green or Greenwashing?

The English have embarked on a plan to create up 10 eco-towns (by 2020) selected from an original list of 57 locations (including Imery’s China Clay, Ford, Rushcliffe, Middle Quinton, Pennbury, Manby and Strubby…and many other unheard of places) dotted around the country. The list is now down to a shortlist of 15 towns from which ten would be chosen to start the program. The new towns, which would be the first new towns created in England since the 1960s as part of an effort to provide new housing developments (5,000-20,000 homes per site), are intended to be zero-carbon, water neutral and car-curbing areas. Of course, 10×20,000 is a drop in the ocean compared to the government’s stated need of 3 million new homes by 2020 (from Caroline Flint, Housing Minister). There are 700,000 people currenty stuck on waiting lists for affordable housing in England. The Guardian published this rather complete article on the subject of eco-towns back in April 2008 when the shortlist was announced.

The idea is to make a living standard bearer to measure, benchmark and promote the possible eco-savings one can make in daily life. The plan calls for having at least 50 dwellings per hectare (2.5 acres) on average (100 in the centre of the town). The debate about the measurements, however, is still raging. See here in the Guardian newspaper’s article “Eco town dwellers may be monitored for green habits” (Sept 26 2008). The amount of monitoring of the eco-town dwellers is up for grabs. If you are going to have eco-towns, it makes consummate sense to have the towns be avant-garde in their means, to help mastermind innovation and, at the same time, help improve living standards (i.e. amenities, choice…) in such a CO2-reduced environment. But, considering that the existing households in England create 25% of the country’s CO2 output, there is still room to work on the existing infrastructure it would seem.

Opposition to the eco-town projects is, meanwhile, rife around the country. Housing Minister Flint’s own constituency (“Rossington”) has recently been protesting (see here Times article). Tim Henman’s father is waging a campaign against the potential invasion of 20,000 people into his local community. People are up in arms about the loss of greener pastures and living spaces in favour of urban sprawl. Others, such as Marina Pacheco, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, wrote on Open House at the Independent, criticizing the projects as something closer to greenwashing, with too much encroachment on the greenfields.

One has to assume the residents of the eco-towns will be pure bred eco-friendly people. That said, as the new generation comes in, the town will have to create a sufficiently free system to encourage the youth – who did not originally choose this type of community or existence – to adhere to the principles. All the commerce will also have to be at the forefront of sustainable development initiatives, with a high mix of locally produced goods. It is worth noting that consumer goods account for 14% of an individual’s ecological footprint.

It will be interesting to see how this plan comes to fruition. Watch this space (assuming my blog is around in 2020!). What do you think of the eco-towns?

Political Heroes & Role Models Debated in the UK

Politicians’ Heroes from the English Perspective

As if on cue with regard to one my recent posts on role models, the English (run by the Guardian newspaper) have put on two debates – one by each political party — to establish who is the greatest hero [of their party]. The format in each case was to put forward a short list of four candidates.

The first debate by the Labour Party chose Clement Atlee (1883-1967; the only Prime Minister [1945-1951] in their list, defended by David Blunkett), Keir Hardie (1856-1915; Scottish socialist and founder of the Labour Party, presented by the Labour peer and historian Kenneth O Morgan), Aneurin “Nye” Bevan (1897-1960; creator of the NHS by Ed Balls), and Barbara Castle (1910-2002; championed by Fiona Mactaggart, with article here from Patricia Hewitt). And the winner was the founder of the Labour Party, Keir Hardie, without whom the others would not have existed… See here for the Guardian writeup. BBC writeup here.

On the Tory docket, debated on Monday September 29, were: Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1888; Prime Minister 1868, 1874-1880), Winston Churchill (1874-1965; and Prime Minister 1940-1945, 1951-1955) and Margaret Thatcher (b 1925; PM 1979-1990). And the winner of the Tory debate was the Iron Lady, Maggie Thatcher (pictured as a young lady on the right, in front of another icon).

A few things to note about this Tory short list.

First, it is neither a classically Conservative nor particularly pure breed list. As the Guardian points out (Fight for the right), under closer inspection, the list “reveals more respect – at least in retrospect – for unorthodoxy, romanticism, even recklessness among leaders than first glance suggests.” Moreover, three of the four have a mixed background: Churchill (half American and a past Liberal), Disraeli (3rd generation immigrant, son of a practicing Jew, and a former radical) and Burke (Irish & Whig heritage).

Secondly, the list includes a woman. Kudos.

Thirdly, in reference to my prior post (read here) on the topic of political role models, I note that I chose Palmerston over Disraeli (eminent rivals). Also, I mentioned in the same paragraph Churchill and Gandhi, whom the former called “a half-naked fakir.” Oops.

Finally, there are two out of the four from the 20th century (oh dear, that was LAST century) — with 3/4 for the Labour Party selection. The beauty of a debate like this is that the winner depends on the quality of the presenters as well as the context within which it is taking and some “great people” do some great things that may or may not age well. In any event, one could read all sorts of things into the winners in both camps, but I note that the Labour Party chose its only 19th century [non 20th] representative. (Added later) Read here for an insightful commentary from Martin Kettle, including what the winner says for each political party.

I love the fact that we spend time to debate the great heroes in England. Reviewing, debating and selecting heroes is a great way to sharpen one’s understanding of the importance of role models. Perhaps we should do the same in France? For the right and left, it would be hard not to want to feature de Gaulle from the 20th century. Who would you propose on the short list for France’s political role models?

Beijing Olympics 2008 Medals Recap with Per Population Analysis

Beijing 2008 OlympicsThe Beijing 2008 Olympics have come to an end today Sunday, August 24th. It is hard to imagine that 303 events are crammed into the past 15 days. The kick-off and finale were works of art (if well ‘orchestrated’ in the most generous of terms). And, true to form, China hauled in the largest number of gold medals (51), followed by the USA (36), unaccustomed to playing second fiddle. Aside from chronicling the winning countries in this post, I have chosen to analyse the results according to population. There are many striking facts to these results — the best of which I will attempt to highlight.

Herewith the Top 20 winners, ranked by number of golds. The standout performance after the Chinese clearly belongs to Great Britain with 19 golds.

Olympics 2008 Beijing Medals Table
I choose a second table below to demonstrate the number of medals won per population member (a medal per pop measurement). In the below chart, I have taken the Top 30 (this time), ranked by the most medals from the smallest pool of people. The chart shows the total number of medals won (2nd column), the ranking according to the total number of medals G/S/B (3rd col), followed by the percentage of golds won out of the country’s total medals. Finally, I cite the country’s 2008 population (according to the US Census Bureau). In the last column, you have the population divided by the number of medals, showing — by some way of voodoo statistics — the pool of people that ‘created’ the winners. The Bahamas (2 medals) take the honours here with 1 medal per 153,000 citizens, followed by the miraculous Usain Bolt’s Jamaica (11 medals) and then Iceland (1 medal) taking the bronze place (considering its tiny population). Slovenia, Australia (6th place overall in the total medals haul as well) and New Zealand round out the top 6. Of the top medal scorers in the table above, GB scrapes in at 26th with 1 medal per 1.3 million citizens.

2008 Olympics Medals per Pop
For the record, under this calculation, China landed 68th (13.3mm/pop), the US came in 45th (2.8mm/pop), Russia was 37th (2.0mm/pop). India was plum last of the medal winners with 383 million per pop.

And, for another viewpoint, the non-medalling countries with the largest population (a sort of hall of shame, if it weren’t for the political and social strife):

Pakistan 172 million (6th largest)
Bangladesh 153 million (7th)
Philippines 96 million (12th)
Congo Kinshasa 66 million (18th)
Burma 48 million (26th)

And among the major upsets that I observed from a US standpoint anyway, the US getting only a bronze in baseball and having both the US men and women failing to qualify for the 4x100m. There were many others certainly. However, aside from having a war begin and end within the timeframe of the Olympics (with Russia’s invading Georgia’s [30 medals] South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and China’s internal silencing and manipulated PR campaign, the largest other surprise that I can come up with is the low level of doping scandals. Lo siento Rafa, but Nadal escaped again… along with surely many hundred’s of others.

All in all, a fairly vivid affair. And, for the foreign companies that invested in advertising to the Chinese, presumably a winning gamble. Your thoughts?

Heir Hunters or Probate Genealogists and Aging Octogenarians

Getting older every day…and more lonely?

This post is about two trends that seem to be crossing inexorably: the aging of populations around the world and the general lack of people taking care of this group.

If you feel like you are getting older, you are not alone. As the UN.org site says in a report published in 1999, “[g]lobally, the number of octogenarians is projected to increase to 311 million in 2050, 5.3 times its 1998 size.” In France, there are already well over a million people over 85 years old – a number that is projected to rise dramatically and quickly: to 2.2 million over 85 years old by 2015. The problem, according to an article in the Le Figaro of July 17, 2008, « Pénurie de main-d’œuvre pour les emplois de service, » is that there will not be enough people to care for the predictable increase of octogenarians… so you may be alone after all. Demographics - Age Pyramid UN 1998 Worldwide[Note the 2050 line in Figure 1 from the UN site, showing for the “more developed regions” that the women bulge is significantly higher/older than the men.]

Another notable example is Japan, where over half of the population will be over 65 years old in less than 50 years. In absolute figures, the UN study projects, “[f]ive countries will have 10 million or more people over 80 years old. They include China, which will have 100 million; India, 47 million; the United States, 27 million; Japan, 12 million; and Indonesia, 10 million.”

The aging of the populations around the world is obviously going to create new economies and business opportunities. While on a recent trip to England, I discovered an until-now-not-heard-of business regarding firms that specialize in hunting down heirs of recently deceased people whose “next of kin” is not identified or known.

This type of business exists AT LEAST in the US and UK and I assume in many other countries although I stopped short of doing a worldwide search. Out of LA in the US, there is HeirHuntersInternational.com. The HHI site comes replete with information on the company’s TV appearances (Court TV) and its own blog — quite a media spin. The percentage of the assets the surprised heir gives to the heir hunters is “negotiable.” Of course, the interesting challenge must be to declare to the prospective heir that the money/assets exist, but that the name of the deceased must be withheld until the signing of the contract. Apparently, the hunter’s rate is between 20% and 50%. What a business — a win/win except for the deceased who was more-or-less abandoned in the last part of his/her life.

As one of the HHI founders says in the Court TV session: “it’s a very, very competitive business,” which means that time is of the essence. And HHI is certainly not alone. A more “low key” heir hunter company in the US is “American Research Bureau” which does not like to advertise (and its site is exceedingly dull)… and perhaps with good reason. In the UK, you can find out about probate geneologists (aka heir hunters) Fraser & Fraser, or Finders UK, The BBC carries a series on Heir Hunters. The heir hunters don’t have a particularly good reason (read here for more from allbusiness.com).

What the whole notion (or specter) of heir hunters fails to highlight is that there are so many people dying without their next of kin being aware: what does that say to family ties and the loneliness of the deceased? With the oncoming wave of octogenarians and the lack of personnel and family members to take care of them, it would seem that heir hunters [as well as caregivers] have a bright future. Of course, that assumes that the housing and stock market resumes its bull run some time soon!

Anyone else want to write about other great business opportunities?

Eurostar train station comparisons between St Pancras & Gare du Nord

St Pancras Station - EurostarIf you take the Eurostar between Paris and London, you will find there is a tremendous difference in the appearance and experience in the departure space of St Pancras in London versus the Gare du Nord in Paris. While it is obvious that London now has a brand new train station [after a renovation of significant proportions at St Pancras], the conditions of Gare du Nord remain profoundly in the 20th century. The difference? London CHOSE to invest in its new station when Waterloo was already a more agreeable experience (than Gare du Nord).

At Gare du Nord, you can be forced to wait in a long line before even “registering” your ticket. If you happen to want access to the Eurostar ticket office during the peak hours, you have to fight through crowds (the line to the registration area blocks the access). Then, once you go through the first ticket control, you must struggle through three more lines: exit the French territory (passport stamped), followed by entry into the English territory (another passport stamp) and finishing with the security control. That means, overall, you have four lines to zigzag through, with Latin-flared lines and habits in rather confined spaces.

At St Pancras, the experience is altogether different. First, you have a wide berth to “register” through a large number of different automated barriers. After, you do security control, youSt Pancras Eurostar Station show your passport to the French immigration. And, each time, it has been an absolute breeze. Wide open spaces with no fuss, no lines, no barging. The one regret is that their is no shopping once you have passed inside. (Means I wasn’t able to stock up on Pimm’s at the Station — even the outside shopping mall area has no Pimm’s).

How is it that the two experiences at either end of the train have to be so radically different in terms of organization? Whereas when you travel by train, for the grand majority, you start and end in the same country with a similar look&feel to the stations, for the Eurostar, the nation’s are competing. Every single person that does the round trip will surely make the [same] comparisons? If St Pancras can do it, then Gare du Nord could as well (naturally, British Rail could perhaps upgrade its overall infrastructure, too). And, of course, I haven’t even started in on the arrival experience and the difference in taxis… You surely know where I would go with that commentary.

Winning The Boat Race – Lessons in Leadership & Teamwork

The Oxford Cambridge Boat Race 2008Leadership means getting the team to row in the same direction!

In Time Magazine’s December 3, 2007 issue, I read with great passion the article “Ready All, Row” by Thomas K. Grose (so much so that I cut out the article and am still keen to blog about it many months later). In this article, Grose talks about what it takes to win THE Boat Race. This 4-mile boat race is fought between two eights of Cambridge and Oxford universities every April on the ThSt Catherine's Oxford 1st Eight 1977ames River. Among the many rivalries in the world, this is of course one of the most historic, dating back to 1829. The training, the hype and the race itself are extensive and intensive. Nearly 8 million people in the UK tune in, with millions more overseas. And, believing that sport is a perfect training ground for business, I am always on the lookout for lessons in leadership.

I often put in opposition two images of leadership style: (1) where theRowing Lessons of Leadership individuals in the boat are driven to excel and the direction sought of the boat is absolute perfection; and (2) where the focus is on team chemistry and individual expression where synchronization is more important than direction. Of course, neither path is necessarily at the exclusion of the other. However, as a matter of course, I tend to prefer the second orientation, putting an emphasis first on teamwork, especially when you don’t always have access to the best talent. Knowing how to extract the best out of the personnel you have allows for the greatest leverage — and people with talent will tend to gravitate to you. Key to success is the ability to galvanize the team around the same values and objectives. And, as the TIME article suggests, the interplay of the personalities is critical to gaining the extra insights, effort and results.

What does it take to create a well synched boat or team? The team needs superior communication skills (listening and sharing). It helps to have gone through some tough times together (and survived). And then, there is the alchemy that allows the team to be “in the zone” (or the groove), especially when it counts most. When these elements are suitably brought together, the fact that the team may have chosen the wrong lane at the start, been slightly off course at certain moments or hit an unexpected wave will more than likely be overcome.

For the record, the 2008 Race, this past April, was won by Oxford for the sixth time in this young 21st century–and yet with the slowest time clocked since 1947. Cambridge still holds an overall edge 79 – 74 with one dead heat. And, for one of the more eccentric reviews of this year’s race, try Mark de Rond’s piece (Cambridge Judge Business School) on orgtheory.net, “Why Cambridge Won the Race and Why It Nearly Lost It,” written while intoxicated. I will be looking out for de Rond’s book to be published this year, “Subjectivity of Performance,” as he delves into business learnings from the world of THE boat race.

Lyon defeat PSG in Coupe de France

Olympique Lyonnais wins Coupe de France 2008, first time in 35 yearsPSG defeated by Lyon in Coupe de France 2008Olympique Lyonnais double up on PSG in the Coupe de France 2008, but is the French Ligue really competitive?

Having watched the Manchester United vs Chelsea in the European Champions Cup Final this week (prior post here), this Olympique Lyon (OL) v PSG Coupe de France final match was decidedly less attractive and fun to watch, although there was plenty of tension (to the extent any overtime match is tense). A goal-less regulation game which PSG dominated was not good enough to win. OL’s Sidney Govou scored in the 102nd minute to sink PSG with a 1-0 scoreline. Here is a quick writeup in The Sports Network. What was more interesting than this tail-ending match itself, was the tale of the season.

PSG spent the majority of the season around the bottom of the league (Ligue 1), threatening to be relegated for the first time in its history. However, they managed, not only not to be relegated, but to win the League Cup, for the first time in ten years. And, they also got into the finals of the Coupe de France, the French equivalent of the FA Cup (which PSG had won in 2004 and 2006 most recently). What an up and down season! Winning the League Cup means a qualification in the UEFA. So, when all’s said and down, they finished 16th (two away from the relegation zone) in the League and yet had two national cup final appearances. PSG would qualify as a team that plays well in the knockout tournaments…in France anyway. [They won the UEFA once in 1996].

And then there is the 7th consecutive Ligue 1 title for Olympique Lyonnais. That is an absolutely huge stint at the top… but also possibly proving the lack of solid competition? There have been several teams that have won 4 seasons in a row in France, but none has accomplished what Lyon did. A dynasty in the making. Congrats to my Lyonnais friends for yet another great year and their first double (odd stat since they had 6 other years to do so). It is the first time in 35 years that OL have won that cup. That said, when you see Manchester United which has won 10 of the last 16 Premiership titles (17 overall, 1 behind Liverpool I note) as well as three European Cup Championships (two in the last 10 years), THAT is a dynasty. And, curiously enough, the longest stretch of consecutive Premier titles in England is just three (done four times, once by Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal and Huddersfield[!]). So, I am going to have to argue that the English Premier league is significantly more competitive.

See here for some highlights of the Lyon-PSG game at FC Footbal Blog.

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Educational Systems

Great or Worst Teachers NYCThe Good, The Bad & The Ugly Teachers – How to get rid of the bad apples?

As much as I would love to continue praising the great teachers in my life, it occurs to me that many countries feel that their educational systems are in dire straits. With my Franco – Anglo – American educational upbringing, I want to look at each of the three systems I know best. Each has its strengths: US = positive reinforcement, extra-curriculars & universities; UK = all rounded academics & sports; FR = academics. However, they each have serious failings and somewhat similar challenges. These can be resumed as: low motivation and accountability among the teachers (no merit pay and no punishment for underperformance), staffing issues (over-staffed in France, under- in the US), and an increasingly stretched family situation.

Accountability Issues.

For starters, I return to the story of being able to judge and bring true accountability to teachers. In France, note2be [see prior post en français], a sensible student-grades-teacher site, was closed down despite the very widely known failings of the French educational system. In the US, similar sites have been in existence with great success (e.g. Rate my professors), but that hasn’t cured the US of its huge educational challenges. Per this banner [upper left] at Times Square in NYC, the Teachers’ Union in the States is so strong that the worst teachers can’t get fired. You can, meanwhile, vote for your worst teachers at TeachersUnionExposed. In a novel competition, the 10 worst teachers will be paid $10,000 to “get out.” The site explains how difficult it is to unload bad teachers:

“In 2003, one Los Angeles union representative said: ‘If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible. Unless they commit a lewd act.’ Between 1995 and 2005, only 112 Los Angeles tenured teachers faced termination — eleven per year — out of 43,000. And that’s in a school district whose 2003 graduation rate was just 51 percent.”

In the UK, the situation is similar in some regards. Referring to a May 5, 2008 The Daily Telegraph article, entitled ‘Bad teachers letting down children’, the General Teaching Council of England issued a report at the beginning of May saying that as many as “24,000 poor teachers may work in the state system” as school heads essentially relocate underperforming teachers to other schools rather than “dealing” with the problem. Since 2000, the report details that just 46 out of 500,000 teachers have been reported for incompetence.

Merit Pay & Staffing Issues.

On the one hand, the lack of accountability and appropriate measures being taken is an absolute shame. Schools, like governments and even hospitals, can do with a healthy measure of good business practices. On the other hand, these “social” necessities [health, school] continue to struggle with adequate finances. Teachers and nurses both provide enormously important functions in our society. And both require substantial training and education. The lack of “good” pay is certainly not motivating. However, this is not an excuse not to find ways to measure performance and hold them accountable. Unlike nurses (where it is difficult to find statistical measurements), teachers can be graded by the objective evaluations of their students. But, just like bad teachers should be dealt with, good teachers should be recognized — given their just due. And merit pay should be encouraged. However, merit pay is systematically rejected by the Unions.

The state of teaching today in the US–with its low pay, lack of accountability and “hyper” Gen Y student body–leads, not surprisingly, to a lack of teachers–much less, good teachers–coming into the profession. From Teachers Union Fact, “[a]ccording to NEA researchers, 41 states [in the US] are currently experiencing a shortage of math teachers. Forty-three have shortages of science and special education teachers.”

Who is Responsible?

For England, newly elected mayor of London, Boris Johnson met with NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg (Daily Telegraph article) and Boris is apparently considering taking direct control of Education (getting rid of the Board of Education). He will have his work cut out for him. But, I am afraid that the US (or NYC) has no solid answers (see comparative report against OECD countries). Certainly, the numbers in the US are not encouraging, with the perilously high dropout rates–if one can get a reliable figure [see here from the National Bureau of Economic Resources how the range of US high school graduates ranges from 66-88%]. The illiteracy and, in general, low levels of Maths and English are an embarrassment for the US. Surely, education is one of the biggest structural problems facing the US — one that involves the ability to accommodate the influx of immigrants as well as the less fortunate neighbourhoods. While the US boasts a good number of “top students,” I would have to believe that a large number of those students are children of immigrants from countries where academics are valued (i.e. China, Korea, India…); and that Middle America and below are seriously underperforming. For the US to maintain its position in the world, it will absolutely need both a high flying top end and a better-than-average average.

Finally, there is the family situation.

Split families. Dual-working parents. Too much television and/or internet. New “illnesses” such as ADD. Differing notions of discipline. SMS lingo and emoticons. There is, in all these challenges, an evolving dispensing of responsibility by the family. “It’s not my job to teach my children,” one can sometimes hear. And, truth be told, when parents are called upon to oversee 2 to 3 hours of homework per night for 10 year olds, that is a sign of system overload and just not feasible for full-time working parents. Parents are not necessarily perfect pedagogues–especially because of the emotional nature of parent-child relations. And, if a parent’s time is split between hard work and hard homework, where is the time for the “other stuff?” Parents must learn to work better with the schools. Parents need to get aligned with the school’s teachers. And, if possible, they ought to be involved with the school. But, sadly, the complicity is too often missing.

The solutions?

Teaching is a magnificent profession when it is fully embraced. And, while the pay can surely improve, apparently, a teacher (at a day school) will be actually teaching students less than half the number of days in a year. The potential quality of life is virtually unique. However, motivation remains terribly low on balance. My feeling is that the educational systems need to have the best elements of a private enterprise (meritocracy…); but, these must be subscribed within a long-term view that a government must impose. Part of the challenge of changing an educational system is the precarious nature of swinging wildly from one curriculum to another or from one practice to another, in the process destabilizing the teachers AND distancing the parents from the ability to participate (when they do) in the complementary education. Parents have a substantial role to play which for many, in today’s economically stressed times, is difficult to fulfill. Yet, having chosen to be a parent, they must take responsibility for their choice.

And What To Do As A Parent?

Despite the invasive presence of computers and televisions, as I heard Luc Ferry (contemporary French philosopher) recently say, give love to your children and stress the value of the great classics (books, movies…whichever classics you may choose with passion). These are timeless values that give grounding and learnings for life. For, education to be “successful,” it must be a complete concept. It needs to cover the academics, but also needs to have sentimental value. Both parents and schools have their responsibility. Stop the blame game and work together.

International Mix.

If I had an educational cocktail to suggest, it would be the academic intensity of the Asian culture, the extra-curriculars of the American system, the rigour of the French academics and the playing fields of English schools. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about the German system to comment although I hear many good things. If you know of positive elements of other educational systems, don’t hesitate to chime in!

Background reading/viewing for this post:

* Two Million Minutes – a film comparing the education of 6 students in China, India & US (trailer on YouTube – where I picked up this comment from kesjalyn: “i go to the #1 high school in america (as ranked by US News and World Report)and i’m really lazy, i never work more than two or three hours a night, and i still get good grades. so our schools definitely do not expect enough of students.” [note that US NWR got the capital treatment!)
* Nature.com, Making the Grade, May 2008
* Christian Science Monitor – World’s schools teach U.S. a lesson
* Education Watch international – Validation of Rate My Professors