Tour Guide vs. Travel Agent

Well its official…its August and most of us are under one month away from the start of a new school year. As we all begin to prepare for another school year, while still trying to carve out “one more” summer trip and experience, I have questions for you to consider and reflect upon before the school year begins. If you think of a school year like traveling or a trip, which in many ways it really is :), what type of teacher will you be for this year’s “trip”?

Are you going to be a teacher who teaches like a Tour Guide?

Are you going to be a teacher who teaches like a Travel Agent?

When trying to decide, let’s first examine some of the common characteristics of a Tour Guide and a Travel Agent. A Tour Guide has great expertise about their area. A Tour Guide will spend a considerable amount of time and effort increasing their expertise. They enjoy their job.  They have real passion and they truly enjoy being an expert/resource for their visitors who need them.  Most Tour Guides are very good, enjoyable, and add to the experience.  Comparatively, a Travel Agent has great expertise about their area. A Travel Agent will spend a considerable amount of time and effort increasing their expertise. They enjoy their job. They have a real passion and they truly enjoy being an expert/resource for their customers who need them.  Most Travel Agents are very good, enjoyable, and add to the experience.

So what’s the difference? How can you decide? I believe the difference does not come from, nor should we question, the passions or purpose for their jobs.  Rather the difference lies in what role they play and what role their “learners” play as they experience either a Tour Guide or a Travel Agent.  A Tour Guide directs or leads the tour guidelearning of their group through the experience. During their tour, they will do most of the talking. They tend to be in the front of a quiet, passive group of learners. They set the pace of the learning experience. They have a set routine process or path they follow with each and every group they lead. Their tour tends to be generally the same time after time. They will ask the group if they have any questions, usually at certain times and/or at the end of the tour.

Conversely, a Travel Agent puts their client and their needs first, before they design the experience.  Most often, each and every trip they plan is unique or has unique elements travel agent.jpgfor their individual client/experience planned.  A Travel Agent asks a lot of questions.  The client does the majority of the talking.  A Travel Agent provides options and ideas to their clients, but ultimately the responsibility for the decisions and directions for the trip come from the client them self.  A Travel Agent uses their vast experience and expertise, but only as it relates to the needs of their individual client and desired experience.

So what type of teacher will you be this upcoming school year – a Tour Guide or a Travel Agent? Or put differently, what type of teacher is most effective and is needed most by your students of today? In my opinion, like many things in life, it is probably a matter of travel experiencesdoing both. But I would challenge each and every one of you to be more Travel Agent than Tour Guide. Our students of today don’t need (nor want) someone who just knows a lot of stuff, who spends most/all of their time delivering their expertise, often in a one-way, “Tour Guide-centered” format.  They need an expert, but one who can empower them to lead their own learning. To provide for them a safe place to learn and grow, but a place where the path, pace, and, to a large extent, the direction of their learning is determined by them – the learner.  Students need highly effective teachers, probably more today than ever before, but we need to be more Travel Agent, than Tour Guide.




An Equation for Educational Change


What is the equation for American education?

At the dawn of the 20th century the equation for American education was

1 X 1 = 1

The first factor “1” represents teaching and learning.  The role of the teacher was the keeper and disseminator of all knowledge.  The teacher would stand at the front of the room, largely lecturing or talking at the students.  The students were mainly passive, seen as vessels to be filled by the expert teactraditional-classroomher.  Students, usually sitting in rows, listened, took notes, and focused primarily on memorizing the information the teacher told them so that they could take the test to determine their letter grade (A, B,C, D, F).
The second factor “1” represents school structure.  By school structure I mean “how we do school”.  This would include our standardized curriculum and subject areas.  It also includes daily school schedules, bells, different classes, seat time, assessment practices, grading, curriculum sequencing, learning environment, etc.  The professional roles and responsibilities of teachers and administrators would also be included in this factor.

The equation’s product of “1” represents the results we expected from American schools of the time.  We wanted students who were generally literate, were civilized, and could leave school with most of the knowledge and the skills they need, not only to begin working in American factories, but for the rest of their life.

This equation for our schools held largely the same for most of the 2oth century.  However toward the end of that century, as we progressed away from the Industrial era, the equation for American education needed to change.  These more modern times demanded a different “product” from our schools – say “2“.  Schools had to producworkers-in-cubiclese workers and citizens that could first compete in a Cold War and then survive and thrive in an American economy that was becoming a more white-collar, knowledge based economy.  Students needed to be able to solve problems, apply their knowledge, think more complexly and get to a higher/further level of learning (advanced classes, college bound, etc.).

To address the new demanded “product” and to make the equation work, American schools evolved their teaching and learning practices – the first factor in the equation.  Schools expanded curriculum opportunities for students, offering more advanced classes, and creating greater college-bound opportunities. Teachers began to emphasize students working in groups, integrating more diverse pedagogical approaches – not just lecturing.  Classrooms evolved into more student-centered learning environments, where students became more active and played a larger role in their own learning.  Additionally, we saw legislative mandates to provide supports and protections, like Special Education, Response to Intervention (RTI), English Language Learner (ELL) programs, etc., to ensure all students could have equal access to the standard curriculum.

So the equation of American education became:

2 X 1 = 2

But, expectations and demands have continued to grow.  Needs like financial literacy, nutrition and exercise education, social services, etc. have all been added to the equation.  Then as we approached and surpassed the 21st century time barrier, we 21st century skills.pnghave entered into an era of unprecedented change.  The needs of our country, economy, and world have changed dramatically.  The knowledge, skills, abilities, and perspectives (often called 21st century skills) students need today have increased exponentially.  The “product” of our educational system hasn’t just increased, its has doubled – what is now needed is “4“.

The question is if this is our currently reality, what must be done to make the equation work?

Do we again look to the teaching and learning factor of the equation?  The answer is NO.  Teaching and learning has continued to evolve and improve and in the last 20 years.  We have added even more improvement and innovation – for example: interdisciplinary learning, Problem-Based Learning (PBL), differentiation, collaborative learning, flipped classroom, blended learning, personalized learning, 1:1 devices, etc. Our current teachers are the most educated, diverse, professionally developed and skilled our country has ever seen.  But even these additions don’t solve the equation.

Our best, only real viable, solution to solve our current equation is to change the second factor – school structures.  The reality is, since our teaching and learning has improved so much, our school structures are actually working against our teaching and learning factor.  This counter-productivity is largely behind the feelings our priceless educators have of being inadequate, overwhelmed, undervalued, frustrated-teacheruninspired, and disillusioned, causing far too many teachers to leave the profession.

Take interdisciplinary teaching for example.  We know this is highly effective for student learning, but for teachers to pull this off they have to work around and against subject area structures, lock-step curriculum demands, a far too rigid school schedule, and silo-ized school cultures.  Teachers end up having to compromise aspects of what they want to and know what is right to do and have to work extra hard even to accomplish the compromised version.  It is no wonder why this practice hasn’t caught on and become mainstream in our schools.

School leaders and teachers alike need to come together and take a look at how we can transform our school structures.  Upon closer inspection, this aspect of education has not been addressed since our modern form of education was created.  Traditional school subject areas, bells, curriculum priorities, classes, seat time metrics, assessment practices, grading, etc. are all largely the same and are in serious need of re-design. We need to identify the skills, abilities, competencies, and knowledges that are essential to our modern times (i.e. critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, diverse literacies, engaged citizenship, student agency, etc.) and then design a new school structure that starts with these as our priorities.

Create authentic, real-world learning experiences – not classes and subject areas – for our students that go beyond interdisciplinary and become antidisciplinary.  Don’t have seat time drive our schools and student learning, have learning be the driver.  Eliminate assessments of knowledge that can be googled.  Why are we preparing students for testsStudents work in Columbus College of Art & Desig's College PreView program that computers can pass?  Stop giving meaningless letter grades and give feedback to students on their level of progress in the important competencies (skills, abilities, and knowledges) relevant for their needs, their world and their futures.  Put students in a position to explore their passions and interests.  Develop them as learners, not as students.  Get rid of the bells and the factory-based schedules.  Furthermore re-examine the roles and responsibilities of teachers.  Our best teachers shouldn’t have to make a decision between staying in the classroom or having leadership influence in their profession by entering into administration.  Integrate career advancement within the profession by bridging and the gap between teachers and administrators.  Tap the knowledge and expertise of ALL staff. Remove the structures of the industrial model of education that only exist because we have never closely examined our practices in these areas.  They are a real hindrance to transformative, lasting, highly-engaging and effective learning for our students.

And if we do this…maybe we can ‘solve’ the equation of education before us…

2 X 2 = 4


Roundabouts – The Direction for Learning

roundabout-image-2In the early hour morning of a Wednesday in October while on my way to work, I exited off of Interstate 41.  I was deep in thought…about many things…and as I reached the bottom of the off ramp, I breezed through the first roundabout intersection.  This particular route to work has me go through a series of intersections that are set up as roundabouts.  Given that it was early in the morning, I went through each and every one of them without having to wait or even having to slow down much.  Then as I got closer to school I came across my first traditional traffic light controlled intersection.  Of course I hit a red light and sat there waiting, while no other cars used the “green light” coming from the other direction.  I became impatient, felt like I was waiting there forever, became frustrated, etc., until I finally got the green light to “GO.”


As I pulled away I thought about how inefficient the traditional traffic light intersection
was and how much better the roundabout process was for me that morning.  It was then…that it hit me…this situation is analogous to what is happening and must happen in education. Educational leaders now fully understand that the traditional, industrial-era model of education no longer best prepares our students for their current and fucreative-schools-book-imageture realities. That what we must do within education is not “reformation”, but “transformation.”  (If you haven’t already read it, please read Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica’s book Creative Schools for more on this topic.)  It is not a matter of improving the traffic lights in a traditional intersection – making the lights brighter, using LED lights, changing the location of the lights, etc. – is a matter of transforming the intersection completely – empowering the drivers (within general rules, expectations and structures) to make the decisions for themselves given the dynamics of the unique situation each of them experience when they approach the intersection.


redlightFor far too long students have experienced a “traffic light” learning experience. They were told when they can “go“, when they should “slow down“, and when they must “stop.”  If a student was ready to “go“, but their learning light was red, they had to stop and wait even if there is no reason.  OR  If they weren’t ready to “go“, but their light turned green they had to move forward.  Whether or not they wanted or needed to stay where they were at, they had to “go.”  Furthermore all of the cars, regardless of the driver, the car, its condition, etc. are all directed in the same manner.  There is little to no consideration of their individual abilities, needs, hopes or desires.

Roundabouts, however, give much greater choice and empowerment for the individual driver.  Within the structure of the road and the roundabout and under the parameters of the rules of the road, drivers can use their judgement to make decisions about whether or not they should “go” or need to “stop.”  It is through the lens of a roundabout that we should view learning and opportunities for our learners.  Education/Educators still have a responsibility to lay the path and to design the process (loosely) and the students still have to follow the “rules of the road.”  However through a roundabout mentality, our learners can be more empowered to drive their own learning (pun intended).  They can be put in the position to make the decisions, to react to their needs, to follow others, to learn from others – to “go” or “stop.”  Having a “roundabout mentality” does not mean a free for all where students can do whatever they want, but rather where there is purposeful, meaningful design and structure that enhances learning, not limits it.  Where the power, decision-making and ownership of decisions, actions, and direction are much more in the hands of the learner/driver and less in the hands of teacher/administrator/police/city planner – or traffic light.

Blanket Forts & The Future of Learning

It has been said that for first time in human history the value of unique knowledge and expertise is declining significantly due to the proliferation of accessible digital technology. This phenomenon has happened in history before (see the Protestant Reformation and the works of Martin Luther and many others), however not at this pace and not to this scale. Access to information, knowledge, and each other is historically unprecedented.

This was very apparent to me, and its implications to education, last week when my daughter (Ellen-6) and son (Eddie-3) were building a blanket fort in our living room. When

blanket fort

Generic image of a blank fort. Didn’t take a picture of it, as I didn’t know it would be the subject/basis of an analogy in an upcoming blog. 🙂

I came home Ellen informed me that they had built the Millennium Falcon. As I toured their creation, I asked her how and why they built it the way they did. My daughter informed me that they “googled it.” (duh dad?!?!?) She continued to describe how they used our iPad to look up pictures and information on the features and look of the Star Wars ship. Amazingly they did a pretty good job – including satellite dishes on its top, a spaghetti strainer for one of the windows, correct shape of the ship, etc.



Her statements, explanations, and process really hit me. Here I am listening to my 6-year old, who is completely comfortable and competent in using devices like our iPad, discuss how she used tools and resources available to her to access knowledge that previously she would not have had access to.  (Get ready for it…obligatory parent line coming)…When I was a kid, I never could have done this.  Not only did I not have I the internet or devices, but if I needed to learn something, I needed to seek out someone, an expert who could teach me about it.  

So what does this experience mean and have to do with a blog about education?…A LOT!!!

– The world has changed.
– The impact of digital technology (i.e. devices, internet, etc.) is significant.
– Our children will learn and experience their world very different that we ever did.
– We, in education, must understand the above and adjust our practices accordingly.  And if we fail to, we risk increasing our ineffectiveness and even the potential for total irrelevance.  

My kids were demonstrating the skills, abilities, and mindsets that soon (if not now) all of our nation’s schoolchildren will possess.  Therefore we, in education, can no longer “hang our hat” on the fact that schools are the only place for knowledge and learning. We cannot place a great deal of value on information, memorization, compliance, and one-directional dissemination – teacher to students. Teachers are no longer the experts, holder of all of the knowledge, while the students are the naive, passive receivers of this process.

Now this is not all bad news for education – it only is bad news if we ignore it and change nothing.  I would argue that if we approach this correctly and openly, we can begin a whole new era of American education.  An era where we can inspire a whole new generation of thinkers and creators that can compel our nation deep into the 21st century.  However to do this, we have to keep in mind the lessons from my blanket fort experience.

Lesson #1 – Re-Evaluate Knowledge – My kids built a Millennium Falcon blanket fort on their own, as learners, using curiosity, accessible knowledge and technology, and their own abilities to find and apply information.  We need to re-examine and re-order our views and values related to knowledge.  We cannot continue to emphasize learning and knowledge in the traditional sense.   Information exposure is not the concern, it is information processing and application that now is more important.  

Lesson #2 – Be a Travel Agent – My kids built a Millennium Falcon blanket fort on their own without the direct role of ‘experts’.  We, in education, also need to change our view, conception, and primary role of teachers.  Shifting from being the keepers and sole knowledge bearers, to guiders and igniters of exploration and application.  This doesn’t make the teacher any less significant in the learning process, in fact I would argue it makes the teacher more vital.  Teachers can now serve so many more important roles to learning (e.g. facilitator, resource, vision caster, challenger, etc.), in addition to still being an expert on the subject area/material they have taught traditionally.  As I have heard it said, “Highly effective teachers are more like travel agents, than tour guides.”   

Lesson #3 – Create Empowered Learning Opportunities – My kids now know and will remember more information and features of the Millennium Falcon because of the opportunity they had.  This is probably the most critical step in our re-visioning of the learning process and schools.  If we only learn lessons #1 & #2, we will be missing the larger point and will actually do more harm than good to our students and their futures.  We need to create more applicational learning opportunities for our students.  Places/times when they can explore curiosities, develop hypotheses, navigate through the ocean of information, ask questions, share their ideas with others, re-learn from their peers, seek out support and advice from others, and ultimately “create” things.  If we do this, not only will we increase student engagement and stronger learners, we will become more effective in teaching the “traditional knowledges” we have always wanted to emphasize.  

In building their blanket fort, my children effectively used their technology skills, were disseminators of available information, applied their learning to create something/solve a problem, shared it with others,  were highly engaged, AND developed a strong knowledge base of Millennium Falcon.  Knowledge, skills, and mindsets that we need to emphasize in schools.  Not bad for a Sunday afternoon…

The Power of HOPE

quote-each-time-a-man-stands-up-for-an-ideal-or-acts-to-improve-the-lot-of-others-or-strikes-robert-kennedy-54-63-48In 1966 then Senator Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.) visited South Africa in the midst of some of the worst years of Apartheid.  His speech, known as “Ripples of Hope” at the University of Cape Town, which some historians believe was the best of his life, Sen. Kennedy described a better future for all and the role and responsibility of all of us in making it happen:

Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Senator Kennedy used his visit and speech as an opportunity to spread his message of HOPE to inspire and empower others.  With no attempts to parallel or compare to RFK, however greatly inspired by RFK, his life’s efforts, and his message of HOPE, I was recently honored by the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA) as the 2016 Associate Principal of the Year.  At the awards ceremony, I took my own opportunity to make my own ‘ripples’ and share my message of HOPE.  A message and concept that I believe is very important, dare I say critical, to the profession of education and those who have dedicated their lives to it.  Below is an excerpt from my speech about HOPE:

imgresI want to leave you today with one word…a word that drives me every day…and that word is HOPE.  This school year Mr. Damian LaCroix, Superintendent of the Howard-Suamico School District (@DLHSSD1), challenged all of us to read a book about HOPE called “Making Hope Happen” by Dr. Shane Lopez (@hopemonger).  In his book Dr. Lopez defines HOPE, what it does, and why it is so important.  After reading the book, reflecting on its message, and discussing it with colleagues, I now define HOPE to mean — HOPE = DREAMS + DETERMINATION.  

HOPE is powerful, it isn’t wishful thinking or optimism alone…it is the confluence of beliefs that: (1) The future will be better than the present; (2) I have the power to make it so; (3) There are many paths to my goals; (4) None of them will be free of obstacles.  HOPE takes vision, optimism, aspirations AND hard work, creativity, passion, perseverance — it take DREAMS + DETERMINATION.


It is my HOPE to make a difference in the lives of my students, their families, my teachers, and my community.

It is my HOPE to be an effective and impactful leader, who works tirelessly for others, challenging, supporting, and inspiring them to grow.

It is my HOPE that I am an agent of change in education.

It is my HOPE that our profession of education will one day be controlled and driven by educators, not politicians.

It is my HOPE to help lead a revolution in how we do education and schools – updating our practices to reflect our students’ future, not our pasts.

It is my HOPE to continue efforts to transform how we professionally develop our teachers – they want it and deserve it.

It is my HOPE to continue to learn and grow everyday.  To never settle for good enough.

It is my HOPE to continue to be a connected educator – dedicated to learning, expanding, and influencing others through my Professional Learning Network (PLN) through Twitter, Voxer, my blog, conference presentations, etc.

It is my HOPE to come to work every day with the same level of passion and zest for my job that I had as a new teacher on my first day of school.

It is my HOPE to inspire others.

It is my HOPE that I can look back at the end of my career and know that I have made a difference.

And…it is my HOPE…that you will join me!


How Thanksgiving Dinner Can Improve Your Staff Meetings

Next week, millions of Americans across our great country, who are blessed and fortunate enough to have the family, tradition, and the means, will sit down with loved ones and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.  As I prepare for my own Thanksgiving festivities, I was reflecting on what makes the dinner at Thanksgiving so wonderful.  The opportunity you have as a family to gather together, to laugh, to catch up, to talk, to bond; the quality of the food and the care and the attention that it took to make; pulling off a Thanksgiving dinner is truly a group effort; the variety of offerings from bread, to fixings, to desserts – so many choices, where everyone is sure to find ample options for their liking; the values and traditions that make the day and dinner so special – the idea of sharing and giving to others, being thankful of what we have and what others bring to us, being connected across generations and differences, yet sharing a common, communal experience.

So what does Thanksgiving Dinner and improving your staff meetings have in common?  Besides the obvious unfortunate commonality that they often have the same effect on people…think Seinfeld…tryptophan…feeling sleepy…see the connection?!?!? 🙂

In all seriousness, I believe if we compare the reasons why Thanksgiving Dinner can be so special (as identified above) with elements that are too often lacking from staff meetings, you will see the obvious connection – that Thanksgiving Dinner has a lot to teach us.  REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Are your staff meetings a place/opportunity for staff bonding? Has the meeting been planned with care and attention? Are your staff meetings ‘pulled off’ because a team of people are working on and leading it or is there one person ‘doing all of the cooking’? Do your staff meetings offer choice, where people can select exactly what they want and need? Do your staff meetings provide people the opportunity to share their gifts/offerings with others?

I fear the far too common response to these questions is NO.

But fear not, there is a potential simple solution to making your staff meetings as satisfying as Thanksgiving Dinner – implement a ‘conference style’ approach.  Professional conferences often are highly effective learning opportunities because they bring people together. They are attended and led by a community of colleagues. They offer tremendous choice and they allow colleagues to share and learn from one another.  I am here to tell you, you can replicate that same experience in your building/district during staff meetings.


Originally called Tech Fest; now called EduFest. Pictured here is my son Ed who was also excited about ‘Ed’uFest. 🙂

Over the past few years our school, Bay View Middle School, has instituted several conference-like staff meetings. We call it EduFest.  The process is very simple:

  1. We begin by soliciting insight and ideas from our staff: What do they want to learn more about?; What areas of growth do they need?; What new areas do they want to be exposed to? AND What ideas/areas/tools/approaches can they teach and lead others in?; What are they willing to share with their colleagues about?
  2. Based on that feedback, we then determine the format for the roughly 90 minute ‘conference’ staff meeting time.  For example at one EduFest, we have offered 4 – 15 minute sessions during our 90 minute staff meeting.  This EduFest (originally called Tech Fest) had a focus on various tools, apps, and technologies (again picked by teachers).  We have done another EduFest where we offered 5 – 10 minute sessions, where staff were exposed to innovative practices their colleagues were currently doing in their own classrooms/with their students.  Or we have done expanded 30 minute sessions where staff can pick 2 sessions to attend on a deeper dive, collaborating and even creating with their colleagues on a particular topic of interest.
  3. Utilizing a Google form and the ideas that staff generated and volunteered to lead in step #1, create a ‘conference schedule’ where staff can sign up to attend the session of their liking.  The form will then create the session rosters that can be communicated to the presenters and the attendees.
  4. TAKING IT UP A NOTCH – If you want your ‘conference style’ staff meeting be even better, consider some of the follow-up that we have tried:
    1. Create ‘name badges’ on lanyards for the conference attendees
    2. Have some small, free available ‘conference swag’ for all attendees
    3. Have snacks and beverages available for attendees to have before and during sessions
    4. Buy small ‘thank you gifts’ for your presenters
    5. Take pictures and promote the conference and the sessions through social media – develop a twitter hashtag that you and all attendees/presenters use during the ‘conference.’
    6. Play music before, during and after the ‘conference.’
  5. Have fun!
    1. ADMINISTRATORS – Make sure you attend the sessions, even offer to present on a topic or two.  But be a participant, don’t supervise.  You will enjoy the conference, you will be impressed with what a wonderful group of teachers, leaders, and learners that make up your school and you will learn!

The implementation of this simple idea of a ‘conference style’ professional learning staff meeting format can produce a significant, positive impact on your staff and school. Conference style staff meetings, like EduFest, will create opportunities for staff bonding. Teachers will be highly engaged and satisfied because they had choice and could personalize their experience based on their interests and needs.  They will also be engaged and will have buy-in because they are sharing in the leadership responsibilities and will enjoy working with and learning from their colleagues.  The staff meeting will be well designed and planned, with a direct focus on the learner (i.e. the teachers).

Like a good Thanksgiving Dinner, when you bring people together, working and helping each other, where there is choice and an effort to make things special – the results, memories, and impact of conference style staff meetings will be significant.  Please consider implementing a conference style staff meeting approach with your staff soon.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Public School Funding – Trick or Treat?

Happy Halloween party with children trick or treating

Happy Halloween party with children trick or treating

As a kid I fondly remember the night of Halloween was always a special night. Getting dressed up, walking around my neighborhood, getting to see friends and family, and that special feeling you got from seeing so many people in your community – some you know very well, but many others not as much – taking the time, effort, and money to give to the children of the community.  Now as a parent of two young kids that same fondness has returned, and in fact, it is even better as I get to watch my own children have that same opportunity and joy.  Furthermore now I can appreciate, even more, the gesture of my fellow community members giving to my children, like other generations had given to me.  The history, the tradition, the giving nature of the night, one generation taking care of another, supporting our youth, etc. – Halloween is a unique and ‘sweet’ event in our culture.

More importantly, however, I believe that Halloween has a lesson that all of us must remember – generational responsibilities.  If you think about it, Halloween only continues as a tradition because a previous generation understands that they previously received from others and now it is their obligation to pay that forward to the next generation.  Can you imagine if my parents’ generation decided, “I’m not going Trick or Treating any more and I don’t have any kids doing it anymore, I’m not going to support and participate in Halloween any more.”  Neighborhoods all across our country would have houses ‘with their lights off’, kids would get less of an experience, and eventually the positive impact and memories of Halloween would end.  How sad would that be for our children?  A positive, memory-forming, cultural experience ended.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 7.25.07 PMTo the children of America, who are freaking out that they may never get to Trick or Treat again…don’t worry this will probably never happen.  I mean Americans value Halloween, right?  According to the article The Halloween Economy published by The Atlantic in October 2011, we annually spend $6.86 billion on Halloween.  More specifically $2 billion on candy and $300 million on pet costumes. (Really $300 million on pet costumes, I mean come on?!?!?)

However, there is something very scary and very sad about this story and something we should all realize.  This exact scenario is happening to a more important generational, positive, cultural building experience supported by generational responsibilities – America’s public schools.  What happens if you change the subject of the above ‘scary’ scenario from Halloween and Trick or Treating to American public schools and funding them?

What conversations do you hear now about funding our schools?  Or more specifically, what do you hear the older generations say when it comes to their responsibility of ‘paying it forward’ to the next generation of students?  To give back to the same system that provided them so much?  What I hear is, public schools can do with less; that we spend too much oScreen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.42.14 PMn education; that teachers are overpaid; it won’t be a big deal if some programs and offerings have to be cut; class size doesn’t matter, what’s the big deal?, I don’t have any kids in schools any more therefore I shouldn’t have to for them, etc.  This rationalization goes on and on, however ultimately still does not satisfy the fact that our ‘previous generations’ are largely shirking on their generational responsibilities.  To illustrate, see the graph to the right, which shows the annual trend of public funding for the school district my children attend in Wisconsin.  Previous generations in the state of Wisconsin are making the decision that students today can do and should do with less than they had when they went to school.

This direction for our state and our country is irresponsible and frankly dangerous for our nation and it’s future.  It is wrong – Why?

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1. High Student & Family Needs – According to economic projections and multiple research studies, it is now predicted that this Generation Y (current parents of school aged students) will be less well off than their parents – the first time in American history this has happened.  More urgently, this is not a problem only for the future, American families of school aged children are already struggling.  As the article title indicates, also for the first time in American history the majority of public school students are eligible to receive ‘free/reduced meal services.’  A student qualifies for reduced meal services if they come from a family of four with a total household income at or below $39,220 per year and for free meal services if total household income at or below $27,560 per year (according to the National School Lunch Program – NSLP).  This increased low income/poverty rates also means greater services and support schools must provide these students and families while at school, for example medical care, social services, school supplies, etc.  All of which puts increased financial strain on our public schools.

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2. Our Priorities are Off – As we have progressed as a nation, our focus and priorities have become skewed.  Consider this question – (while all people are important and have value) Who should our nation invest more in – a child (yours, your grandchild, your nephew/niece, your cousin, your neighbor, etc.) or a prisoner (someone who has violated our laws and collective values)?  The answer to this question is obvious – a child.  Would it surprise you to know that as a nation we spend nearly 5 times more annually on a prisoner than on a student?  More specifically, there is not a single state in our nation that annually spends more on educating our children than on a prisoner behind bars.  According to the included graph, each orange dot indicates the average annual spending per state on a student.  Each blue dot indicates average annual spending per state on a prisoner.  This is not a question of money and spending, but rather priorities.  Are we going to continue to shortchange our students and our future?  Are we going to continue to be reactionary, short-term thinkers?  Instead of responding to poor investment in our people, by having to build more cells and prisons, why couldn’t we be more proactive and forward-thinking and invest in our children and our schools?

3. Global Competition – During the Cold War our nation overwhelmingly supported increasing spending in Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.17.05 PMeducation, specifically in math and science, as we needed to keep up with and outpace our Communist enemy, the United Soviet Socialist Republic (U.S.S.R.).  This was seen as a national security interest – we had to win.  However, just because the Cold War has ended, the global ‘war’ or competition hasn’t ended.  In fact, in many respects, the significance of our new competition and the scope of our competitors has actually gotten more significant.  As the video “Shift Happens” shows us, places like China and India (due to their relative massive size) have more honors students than we have students.  And because of the ‘flattening’ of our world through a variety of technology-based platforms and these nations’ own English language development programs, our nation’s students are now in direct competition with students from all over the world.

4. Complex FuturScreen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.18.44 PM– Due to unprecedented technological advancement, our students’ future is more uncertain than probably any point in history.  As the Department of Labor Statistics has predicted today’s students will have 10-14 different jobs by the age of 38.  Adding to this complexity is the fact that most of the jobs that these students will have do not even exist yet.  So we are preparing students for multiple jobs/careers, most of which don’t exist right now, to solve issues that we can’t fully conceive yet.  All of this requires an education system that is dynamic, responsive, robust, sophisticated, and fully funded.  Our nation’s school systems have to be challenged, modernized, and should be held responsible for creating a learning environment that will develop learners that not only will survive in an uncertain future, but thrive and continue to be the leader for the rest of the world.  We can’t do things like we always done, but we also cannot do this on a shoestring budget.

5. American Exceptionalism Does Not Just Happen – From the inception of our nation wShining_City_Upon_Hill-American-Exceptionalisme have believed and have shown the world that there is something special about our nation and its people – what has been coined as “American Exceptionalism“.  Whether because of the beliefs our nation was founded upon, the expansion of our nation and its influence, or our successes and influence – economically, culturally, militaristically, politically and socially, we all have lived in an era of American Exceptionalism.  Whether you believe in this concept or not, there is little doubt that our nation has been a global leader for an amazingly long period of time.  However, this ‘exceptionalism’ did not happen by accident or by default.  Our nation’s sustained successes have come because all previous generations have understood that for our nation to get better or stay great, it must invest in itself and it’s future.  In the early days of our nation, we understood that by developing a system of canals and ports we could expand economically.  We understood that by developing an intercontinental rail system we could expand westward.  We understood that during our nation’s darkest economic times, while facing military threats abroad, that investing in ourselves through the New Deal and other programs we could turn our economy around and defeat fascism throughout the world.  We understood that developing a nationwide highway system not only could we grow and expand as a people, but we could develop a whole new economy and way of living and means to experience our nation.  We understood that to defeat communism we needed to invest in our military, in research and development, in our colleges and universities.  Our place in history and our position in the world today, did not come by accident.  ‘Exceptionalism‘ has happened because of generations of Americans dedicating themselves to hard work, ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and investment in themselves and our future.

So as Halloween approaches and you finalize your own preparations for this memorable night, whether that’s decorating your house, finalizing your costume or buying candy to give to your neighbor’s children, please remember how and why this tradition continues.  Then the next morning as your own children, children in your extended family, or children in your community go to school, please remember how and why this tradition continues.  While your own ‘school days’ may be over, you still have a major role to play in our nation’s schools.  Our children deserve to get a ‘treat’ from you, not being left holding empty candy bags.