Is there Good News in the Swine Flu?

Swine Flue Cartoon
Swine Flu: Some bad news, some profiteers, and perhaps some good new habits!

 

As the world awaits for the onslaught of the swine flu [porcine flu, aka A(H1N1)], there are going to be evident winners and losers. The losers? Basically all of us: consumers, society at large and business (especially with poor cash flow), if the epidemic does come home to roost. There will also be profiteers. While hospitals and pharmacies risk a deluge, the pharmaceutical companies with anti-flu medicine are bound to benefit enormously and, some say, they are behind the summer media frenzy. In the likely panic and fear-mongering that will lead up to the ‘Flu Fall, consumers will surge to buy extra tissues, hygienic towelettes (wet wipes), alcohol-based gels or sanitizers and face masks. BTW I note that Fushi-Protective has bought premium space on Google and advertises in broken English (Chinese company): “specializing in face mask prevent from swine flu.” Frankly, improving people’s personal hygiene — even making acceptable in the Western world the wearing of a face mask as we see in Asia — will be a win for society. Cleaning our hands more regularly would be a good habit to inculcate. Buying internal filtering systems that “clean” up the air inside is another interesting avenue, albeit one that provides also provides a long-term benefit (a player in this area I have come across is called AirSur, which can provide allergy-free air at home).

Distance Learning eLearning

But, beyond the health-related plays, the one area for which the swine flu could be a super boon is distance learning. Imagine the situation: schools being closed down for long stretches, for example 12 weeks, as France’s Education Minister, Luc Chatel, has just announced as a possible measure for the upcoming bout with the potential epidemic. Schools should be getting themselves prepared to turn their courses into proper distance learning or eLearning — not just a rebroadcast of filmed lectures, but up-to-date e-pedagogy based on the exceptional possibilities that internet provides. This is a great opportunity to modernize, if not revolutionize, the education institutions — especially those that have been reluctant to move forward with technologies. The students we know will be willing. The question is whether the schools — and their teachers — will be nimble enough to react.
Distance Learning Mouse & Academic Cap
In the same vein, but only because I happened to be based in Paris this year, I think of distance learning as a great way to get around strikes and scam manifestations such as we experienced in several higher institutions in France (e.g. Sorbonne Paris IV, Toulouse-II Le Mirail, Aix-Marseille-I, Amiens,  Caen, Nancy-II and Reims…). For the teachers and students who were forced to stay at home by a small contingent of indignant ‘revolting’ students, courses should have been available over the ‘net.

Lastly, the trend of reducing business travel (budget cuts under the guise of green fingers) and “congregation” meetings may also continue, since such meetings will only promote further contagion. Another area that is bound to benefit is thus video-conferencing and distance meetings and webinars.

So, the swine flu may be a nightmare about to happen, but I see that there may yet be positive results in the long-term, including improving our hygiene habits, reducing carbon footprints and, possibly, generalising the practice of eLearning.

Your reactions are welcome!

The E-volution of the Book… Kindle, Sony, Google weighing in

The evolution of all media is fascinating to follow, but today I am going to zero in on the printed word.  Whether it’s the future of magazines, books, mainstream newspapers or even research & professional journals, the internet platform is causing radical paradigm shifts and there are some hefty decisions to be made/duked out for each category of the printed word.  For the book, there are two massively important phases: the democratisation of the eBook and internet referencing.  As beautiful as the Amazon solution has been for e-commerce, the digital reader platform is still in its nascent phase and has room to improve.  Nonetheless, there are a number of exciting functionalities that make the digital book much more viable for the regular book reader.   You can immediately download content through the wireless internet connection, search for the definition of word, open to a reference map, use RAM to search for words in a text, copy and clip text you want to remember, and when you go on a long trip you carry many books & magazines in one tidy place… and probably many other functions yet to be integrated.  And, importantly, technology has improved dramatically, including the lighting, font sizes and definition; and the price is now accessible, especially as the competition heats up.

The two leading options at this point are Kindle 2 (from Amazon with 230,000 titles currently) and the Sony Digital Reader PRS-700BC (right).  As a quick analysis of the their sites reads, it is interesting to see Kindle focusing on the content (see the video) and ease of use.  Sony seems more interested in its technical specifications and the upgrading of the different products (they have already issued multiple model numbers).  You have to scroll down to the very end of their site to find that they have “thousands of eBook titles available.”  Based on these virtual observations, for now the Kindle (below) gets my vote for best presentation, and I love the free wireless access to wikipedia.  But, there are going to be plenty of other players jumping (the more expensive Fujitsu eReader with its colour screen, the iRex Iliad with superior hackability, the BeBook from Endless Ideas BV…).


On another front [page], another battle is being waged with books, this time with Google and the referencing of book content on the Internet.  Google has finally come out with its Google Books search function.   Having laid dormant for some three years in the lawcourts, since October 2008, Google Books is now live in beta format.  This function allows you to search for terms or names within a large volume of books.  The site is in beta testing.  Punch in your name, your brand or a specific term and you can find out where it is embedded in the database of over 7 million books.

With the settlement of October 28, 2008, the Google Books site states:  “Three years ago, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers filed a class action lawsuit against Google Book Search.

Today we’re delighted to announce that we’ve settled that lawsuit and will be working closely with these industry partners to bring even more of the world’s books online. Together we’ll accomplish far more than any of us could have individually, to the enduring benefit of authors, publishers, researchers and readers alike. 

It will take some time for this agreement to be approved and finalized by the Court. For now, here’s a peek at the changes we hope you’ll soon see.”

The books are catalogued into two different types and, according to the agreement reached, you can either read some information on the book plus some snippets for Library Project books; or for Partner Program books, you can flip through a few preview pages, as if you were in a library/bookstore.  There is a mobile version of Google Books as well that works on iPhones and Android.  You can read more about the settlement here.

The bottom line is that the book — and its printed paper form — is not dead yet… but it sure is going to evolve.  Apparently, book publishers had a very reasonable year in sales last year (no worldwide data is publicly available it seems as this google answer says), but it strikes me that the tsunami is out there for the book world and, as iTunes and the iPod revolutionised the music world, so will the trio of Amazon, Google and Sony change the book world.  Perhaps book companies would be wise to take heed of the bloodbath in the music world to involve themselves in the changeover rather than fight against it.  Bookstores should be quick to find out how they will need to change their model… perhaps stocking digital readers and preloaded USB keys (for the Sony Reader).  And I will be curious to see how schools and universities move to the new e-platforms.

International Year of Astronomy 2009

The Universe 2009: The Year of AstronomyIt is the International Year of Astronomy 2009 (and from Wikipedia), a collaboration between UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union.  Thanks to an interview on Europe1 this morning of Hubert Reeves, the brilliant Canadian astronomer and philosopher, I learned about this celebration and the inter connection between astrophysics/astronomy (the history of our universe) and ecology (the future of our universe).  And, nodding my head, I thought about how I have become a student/acolyte of both as well. 

Of course, I was also perplexed as to how one goes about creating a year of Anything… and whether astronomers around the world are, as a result, going to come up with the big one this year (i.e. proof that life exists on other planets).  I’d love to be on the UNESCO committee that comes up with which topic area will be attributed the “Year of” status.  How many subjects can be given in a year?  It is the year of how many other things?  The year of Obama?  The year of Facebook?  The year that peace broke out somewhere?  I note that there is a branding guideline for this Year of Astronomy which you can read here (serious business).

Meanwhile, I also was contemplating the link, in a prior post, between sustainable development and web 2.0.  Now I am left wondering about the link between astrophysics and web 2.0, to close the circle.  The ever expanding universe, the interconnectability of everything, the virtual life (secondlife and more)…  It makes me wonder.  What are your thoughts?

The Grand Divide Between Education & Teaching

The difference between Educating and Teaching… and the emptiness inside

I have decided to translate into English a post I did in French over the weekend due to the interesting discussion that it provoked. An article, entitled (for you francophones) « Il y a un divorce entre enseignement intellectuel et formation morale », by Jacqueline de Romilly, published in Le Figaro on October 29, 2008, inspired this post.

The article features a speech by Jacqueline de Romilly on the state of education and teaching in France. Education is a subject dear to my heart both personally and professionally. In a post I wrote earlier this year, I touched on the topic addressed in the speech by Ms. de Romilly, writing about the differences between education and training.

EducationWhile teaching relates to the transmission of knowledge and intellectual learning, Ms. de Romilly stresses the importance of education in the larger scope, including the transmission of values. “Education … means enabling someone to develop and flourish with his own qualities; for human beings, such human qualities relate to the spirit, character and suitability for life in society.” She cites three major problems in French ‘education': (1) the poor knowledge of the language which affects the ability to communicate [with a risk of giving way to violence]; (2) a poor understanding of history and, therefore, of one’s past and one’s culture; and (3) a lack of reading of literature that is formative in the development of ideas and one’s imagination, not to mention what one can learn via certain iconic characters.

A fundamental concept is that the education of children begins at home. For example, at the dinner table, a family can forge links, telling stories and, at the same time, transferring the family history. But, today, with the quest for time, broken families and stress of work, the transmission of values, personal history and sharing of free time have become rare commodities for a child. I also know that the French philosopher, Luc Ferry, would approve when I say that we, as parents, must cultivate the passion for — and reading of — great classics, in which there are real lessons of life. In fact, it is vitally important for a child to develop his or her passion(s). Through this passion, a child will cultivate his/her curiosity, learn, connect and ultimately give meaning to his/her life.

Acting MasksSports CreativityExtending the concept of education beyond academia, I am a strong believer in the educational value of sports: how to work as a team, be a leader, to deal with physical challenges, to learn to win or lose with grace. Of course, sports are not all equal in the transmission of these values and are not necessarily for everyone. But for many, sport is also a avenue to channel one’s [excess] energy. In another domain, I believe deeply in the importance of performance arts, such as theatre and dance. Participating in theatre at school (I had roles in a dozen plays) was very formative for me – theatre called for the development of the self, opened me up to the diversity of personalities, and exercised my communication skills and stage presence. In England and university in the United States, I also greatly appreciated the art of debate – an environment that hones one’s talents in defending one’s ideas. It also serves to sharpen communication skills and how to compete in a public forum.

What struck me in the article by Ms. de Romilly was the way in which what she described echoed with the state of education – and society more broadly – in the United States. Ms. de Romilly does not cite the influence of the Internet which is normal to the extent the Internet is merely a tool and not at the root of the problem. But she could have expanded about the lack of attention span of children, distracted by the hyper-visual world, the addictive online games, chat rooms without profound meaning, and so on. Across the Atlantic in the US, a book was released this summer called “Why We Hate Us,” by Dick Meyer. In a similar sense, but coming from a completely different angle, Mr. Meyer writes of the lack of interest that have vis-à-vis each other. For Mr. Meyer, hate is not the hatred of fear & loathing, but the hate as in “oh, [women] don’t you just hate it when the men start talking about sports.” The level of conversation in suburban dinners in the United States, says Meyer, pushes some Americans to seek solitude, isolation (at the very least, it does nothing to encourage meaningful bonding). The conversation is too dehumanized. Many are disappointed by the lack of culture, the lack of depth – and indeed, the dulling effect of being permanently “politically correct.” Americans, he writes, naturally turn to the Internet to find interaction with others who share a specific passion, people who are present at any time within social media networks. Is the same phenomenon currently spreading to France?

Taking a helicopter view on Ms. de Romilly’s speech, I would say that teaching in France focuses too much on academics in general and should incorporate a broader scope on “education,” such as sports, theatre and even debate. With the emphasis on subject matters that promote the left side of the brain (maths, sciences…), schooling in France is flawed and gives less chance for children to blossom fully. Both Ms. de Romilly and Mr. Meyer talk about their values as “old” values; yet, even if some consider them retroactive, these are, in my opinion, timeless values and seem – in some circles, at least – to find a resonance on both sides of the Atlantic (and, of course, the Channel, too).

Blogs that have written on the book “Why We Hate Us”:
Page 99 Test
Campaign for the American Reader

Sex Education Training

What’s the difference between training and education?

If you are in or interested in education, you should enjoy this explanation which I heard via Mitch Joel in his intro to Six Pixel’s of Separation podcast #104. Quoting a conference speaker Mitch heard in Toronto, he shared with us how to make the difference:

Any of you fathers in the audience have a daughter? If so, the question I have for you is whether you would rather your daughter have sex training or have sex education?

Simple distinction.

So, what does education mean? As Socrates believed, education (educere, to lead or draw out in Latin), is about making apparent what you already know. For example, one is led to understand one’s own value system. But, it also speaks in part to the pedagogical method of having people learn through experiment or experience: the interaction brings out the learning–in which case training has all its place. Merriam-Webster writes as a second definition of education: “the knowledge and development resulting from an educational process.” A school formally considers imparting knowledge as its core contribution to a student’s education. The question, however, is to what extent a school’s remit is to work on the secondary component, that of development? What should “development” look like? Learning how to learn, rewarding curiosity, instilling manners & discipline, teamwork, sex education… etc. Where does it start and end?

In France, in the Figaro of 6 June 2008, LCI OpinionWay presents the results of a survey saying that 89% of those interviewed were favourable to an obligatory « real moral and ethical instruction » at primary schools. In the same survey, 93% said that French primary education needed to return to the basic knowledge of reading, writing and counting. For the debate on France’s national education, see page 12 of the pdf file here.

Another interesting question in the same survey, showed that 31% of respondents believe that it is a priority to reform the training of the teachers, in France. And in a curious spin, the survey showed a range of 18% up to 52%, according to the Presidential candidate the respondent voted for: basically with those voting for the left [Ségolène Royal 18%] feeling reform is less a priority while on the right [Sarkozy 44% and Le Pen 52%] feeling that it is more a priority. Voters of Bayrou were down the middle at 36%.

In French, the word education is typically translated as “formation.” The Larousse writes: “Conduite de la formation de l’enfant ou de l’adulte.” Etymologically, formation is quite a strong term — ironically, word formation is a definition of etymology, too. In its execution, however, “formation” is regularly closer to “training.” Education encompasses a wider mandate and, in the case of sex [or athletics] training, is less a question of repetition and more about the context. I tend naturally to attribute to education terms such as ‘life skills.’ And I continue to advocate that sports is a very good way to bring life skills into the education of a child.

In any event, as a close to this post, when I asked a couple of mothers of daughters whether they preferred their daughter(s) receive sex training or sex education, they both smiled and said, under certain conditions, each had their benefit. Even sex training depends on the context.

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

Great Teachers in my Life

Great TeachersI remember the great teachers in my life as if it were yesterday that I was sitting in their classroom and reveling in the learning. I have been blessed to have had six standout teachers whom I will honour today in the post below. The real take away for any reader of this post is what are the defining characteristics of a great teacher? And, secondly, it is the questions: what have you done to say thanks to those teachers? For the most part, teaching is a often a thankless and low-paying job and there is little way to understand the long-term benefits and/or realisations (ROI) brought about by a great teacher. My call to action for you? Call him or her; write a letter; make a special visit…now before it is too late. And if you need a special motivation, read Mitch Albom’sTuesday’s with Morrie.” You might find the urge.

So, who were my inspiring teachers?

I will start with John Peake (or JSBP). Nominally, John was my housemaster, history beak (teacher) and sports coach at Eton College. But, he was also the man responsible for cultivating my passion to learn, who showed me how to teach and live with zeal, humour and sensitivity. I shall always remember the day he led our class outside onto a muddy field to re-enact the falling of the British Square [first time in its history] to the Zulus in the Boer War. And, in the annual athletics competition, our house always excelled. This was in large part because John knew how to motivate every single boy to participate. He also had a habit of attracting some of the better talent, if I say so myself. In so doing, I credit John with laying the foundation for always wanting to be the best I could be. JSBP REMEMBERED

Secondly, I think back to how lucky I was to have known Patrick Jordan (aka PJFJ), the headmaster at my [now defunct] prep school, The Old Malthouse (OMH), down in sunny Dorset. After all these years, I have to thank Patrick for my passion for rugby and athletics (including throwing the javelin). He also was passionate about his Triumph cars which he delighted in sharing with us. Patrick went on to become a highly successful headmaster at Packwood Haugh.

Thirdly, I cite the theatrical Michael Kidson (MGMK), my history teacher for many divisions (classes) at Eton. His theatrics–sometimes hystrionics–always kept us at attention, if not on edge. Michael laid into us with vigour, I shall always remember his criticism of my “woolly” English. Flying wood blocks notwithstanding, he was as generous and kind a man as you will ever find.

Fourth, I cite Colonel Ozzie Ostock, my history teacher from the Old Malthouse. With his authentic Colonel’s handlebar moustache, Mr Ostock brought history to life with his anecdotes. He would tell us vivid tales of WWII and was responsible for having at least one war hero (that I can remember) come present to us in the Gym. Managing to corral the zany energy of a roomful of 8-9 year old boys, he started me on my journey of twelve years of studying history–and a lifetime since. He is responsible for my love the film “The Dambusters”, the story of an eccentric scientist’s invention that devastated three German dams in the Ruhr Valley (Ruhr and Eder rivers). Here is a “fan site” out of England: Dambusters.co.uk.

Anil Gaba - Great TeacherThe most valiant award, however, goes to my statistics teacher, Professor Anil Gaba, at INSEAD. If you knew me, you would know that this could not have been my favourite topic. But, through wit, real case examples and a great deal of patience, he systematically, and single-handedly, made statistics stick. Also, Anil created a favourable environment for social interaction. A soulful individual. Anil is now Dean of Faculty at INSEAD (Singapore campus).

Finally, I would like to remember Professor Terry Des Pres, holocaust scholar and my freshman English teacher at Colgate University. While his classes borderlined on Dead Poet’s Society material, wearing every day the same outfit, Terry excelled in the ‘happenings’ in his own home. Reminiscent of a Salon environment, we would stay endless hours debating and sharing stories, especially on one occasion with his great friend John Irving. Here is the NY Times article covering his premature death in 1987, and a nice writeup in the Colgate Scene on-line.

Voilà, my list of top six Great Teachers is complete. There were, however, other great “moments” Great Teacher - Mark Rosekindin teaching that I would also like to remember, including Professor Mark Rosekind, an FSR*, at Yale University, teaching us about sleep (and dreams). And, on this one occasion, on my suggestion, we decided to hold an entire class outside (on a beautiful spring day). Since the class had somewhere over 100 students, that was a trickier enterprise than might be imagined to do spontaneously. I set up my amplifier and microphone outside our dorm room window and all the students sprawled out on the grass in Silliman College square. And it was the surprise of my sleeping roommate that gave me this priceless memory: There Bert was, sleeping in mid-afternoon and, in the midst of his dreams, he heard through his window a mellifluous Californian accent speaking about sleep and dreams. Professor Rosekind was also great at keeping our full attention by hatching spontaneous studies of his students who dozed off in his class. See here for Mark’s site at the National Sleep Foundation. And here, no less, a blog about Dr Rosekind with one of his podasts. (*Famous Sleep Researcher).

I should also thank my English teacher and sports therapist “Uncle” (aka Unkie) at The Hotchkiss School for giving me another memory of a lifetime. As he walked in this one spring day, the whole class spontaneously broke out singing the Grateful Dead’s “Loose Lucy” in a capella from beginning to end. And his priceless answer at the end: “why me?”

So, why these teachers? The attributes that blare out like a coach’s megaphone on crisp winter morning are: being passionate, being real, being interactive. As Todd Whitaker says in his book “What Great Teachers Do Differently,” great teachers focus on expectations, while the mundane teachers focus on the rules. And, in every case, they were also great listeners and always available for discussion after hours. As you can see, I did the rounds when it came to schools. But, no matter where, there always was at least one teacher that stood out a cut above. Make sure you remember the one(s) that stood out for you!

For further reading on the topic, if you got inspired, here are a selection of other sites and articles about Great Teachers:

TIME magazine feature on How to Make Great Teachers (i.e. how to overcome the low pay de-motivation)
Great Schools website features the Great Teachers’ qualities
Oprah did a show on Great Teachers featuring Mr Clark’s essential “rules” for Children

Graduation Ceremonies in France

Graduation CeremoniesI saw the other day (Dec 1, 2007) in Le Figaro about an opinion poll saying that 81% of (4,470) French people interviewed via internet were in favor of having an (American style) graduation ceremony to mark the end of a university (equivalent) degree in France.

I think this is marvellous. The celebration of education through the graduation ceremony is a lovely tradition which I discovered at the end of my (only) year at The Hotchkiss School (Lakeville, Ct). Compared to my almost stealthy departure from Eton in England at the end of five years, I very much enjoyed the festive–emotional–ceremony at the end of my year at Hotchkiss. Of course, there is still a long way to go before the concept of alumni relations travels across the Atlantic.

The state of education is a concern in many countries. I see it as a “top of mind” concern in both France and the United States, in any event. Both systems have positives, but both suffer from a degradation in the standards, as well as a challenge to valorize (give value to) the role of the teachers.

In any event, we should acknowledge the importance of education, celebrate the achievements and also not forget to recognize the teachers that have had an impact on our lives (beyond academics, on the transmission of values).

College courses on Facebook!


Stanford University is now offering a course in how to use Facebook… specifically on “application deployment.” Stanford Course. Got to love that spunk (way to snake the fame from Harvard, from whence came the founders)! How quick are business schools getting up to speed?

Stanford is clearly paving the way in terms of “getting” new media. A recent competition by Google (Earth 3-D) was won by a Stanford team.

Here is the Facebook Group on the Stanford course. And here is a great “history” (kind of all you need to know) of Facebook.

Why Old Boys don’t feel old

Had a lovely dinner the other night with some old school friends. Not that it [old] means anything, but we’ve all known each other for over 25 years. And, judging by some parts of the evening, we certainly were not wanting to act our age. In certain respects, I am inclined to keep getting younger. The older one gets, the younger one feels like being. That can also lead one to be considered perhaps more eccentric, quirky. But, being the very last eligible year of the baby boomer generation (’64), I feel it in my right to affirm my youthfulness. Yes, I still want to hackie sack, to toss the disc, and wig out to the Dead. I want to feel good. I want to be me. Love this photographic blog on the topic: groovy granny spotter. Have to subscribe to the notion that, as Robin Wight, Chairman of WCRS says, “everybody in their head is 25.” That’s true of the teenager. That’s true of me.