What's Happening in Character Education?

Book Review: The End of Average

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 @ 13:04 PM

Book Review: The End of Average, How We Succeed in a World that Values Sameness by Harvard scientist Todd Rose

By Becky Sipos

You might think a book about the story of “average” would be arcane and uninteresting, but I was hooked from the opening anecdote. The book begins with the story of the Air Force in its early days when planes kept crashing. In fact, 17 planes crashed on a single day. Investigators kept saying “pilot error.” But one researcher kept digging. The cockpits had been designed for the average dimensions of pilots, but researcher Lt. Gilbert Daniels found that out of the 4,063 pilots, none had all the “average measurements,” not one. Even if you took only three of the measurements, less than 3.5 percent of the pilots were “average.” That may not seem significant, but taking a split second longer to reach a control or to make an adjustment to a piece of equipment just slightly out of reach could make the difference between flying or crashing. To their credit, the Air Force took that knowledge and created flexible cockpits—adjustable seat belts, mirrors, helmet straps and foot pedals—things that we take for granted in our vehicles today. The Air Force created a radical plan: to design environments to fit the individual.

Today that concept of individual fit is being applied to medicine as oncologists, neuroscientists, geneticists and more try to design medicine and treatments best suited to match an individual’s DNA. Some successful businesses also have begun to implement these principles. Google found relying on standard measurements did not help them find the creative employees they sought. There is even a new interdisciplinary field of science known as the science of the individual. With the “average” philosophy, we aggregate and then analyze; the science of the individual says analyze and then aggregate

And yet, this mindset is not everywhere. It is not widespread in schools. The age of average persists.  

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Topics: testing, Sipos Rebecca, Book Review

Examining Poverty & Cultivating Empathy: Three Books that will expand your perspective

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Mon, Nov 9, 2015 @ 13:11 PM

By Becky Sipos

I’ve been preparing for Thanksgiving, anticipating a visit to see my grandchildren in South Dakota and looking forward to all the family socializing in the kitchen as we prepare our traditional feast. This banquet will be quite a contrast to the three books I’ve been reading.The first is Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, my book club’s nonfiction selection this month. I thought the horrific stories of life in the slums of Mumbai, India, would be too awful to read, but Boo’s empathetic portrayal really drew me into their lives. I cheered for Abdul, the young garbage sorter, who works hard to get ahead, and was intrigued by Zehrunisa, his mother, whose efforts so often backfired despite her best efforts. As I got to know the complexity of the people, I was appalled by the corruption in society. But even when I felt that some deserved some blame for certain outcomes, I certainly understood and empathized with why they did what they did. I liked that Boo did not just focus on the terrible things. She showed the fun and playfulness of flagpole ring toss, teenage girl tell-all sessions and more. The book gave me a look at an aspect of society I had never really contemplated before. As a former journalism teacher, I read with amazement wondering how she gained the trust of her subjects and got such details of their lives. It also made me think how important it is that she makes us look at something we’d normally not notice. Now that we’re aware, what should we do? The author said in an interview: “If we don’t have all the time in the world to make things perfect, we can still make incremental and meaningful improvements. And seeing what’s wrong—seeing it clearly—seems to me a crucial part of beginning to set it right.”

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Topics: empathy, Book Review, Poverty

3 Books All Educators Should Read this Summer

Posted by Rebecca Sipos on Thu, Jun 11, 2015 @ 16:06 PM

By Becky Sipos 

Count me among the millions who have watched Ken Robinson’s 2006 Ted Talk on “How Schools Kill Creativity,” (the most viewed in the organization’s history), so when it was time to select books for my summer reading column, I knew one book I would choose was Robinson’s new book

Creative Schools The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education.”

The book is full of inspiring schools and creative educators. Robinson makes a key distinction between teaching and learning and many stories focus on that. I found particularly touching his example about a teacher in Mexico, who taught at a primary school in Matamoros, described as “a destitute town not far from the U.S. border that regularly serves as a backdrop for drug wars.” After several years of traditional teaching with limited success, Sergio Juarez Correa decided to focus on empowering students to learn for themselves. He built his lessons around open-ended questions and encouraged collaboration and conversations.

The transformation was amazing. One girl who lived by a dump and had never done well turned out to be a math prodigy and scored the highest math score ever and was featured on national television. But 10 other students scored in the 99th percentile in math. Not that Correa was impressed by their standardized test scores as he was focused on empowering them to think and do so much more, but the scores showed others the potential that had been ignored among his students.

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Topics: Book Review, Professional Development