Dr. Slammy in 2008: A thinkpower curriculum for the 21st Century

Hi. I’m Sam Smith, and I’m running for president on a platform that stresses education’s critical role in solving our nation’s problems and assuring a future of universal opportunity for all citizens. Today I’m introducing my platform plank on curriculum, a cornerstone concern for any productive educational system.

One size does not fit all. It goes without saying that we must emphasize education in mathematics and the sciences, as these skills provide the foundation we need to compete in a world of increasing technical complexity. Language, writing and communication skills, which have been sadly de-emphasized in the past 20 years, are also essential. Somewhere along the line we’ve come to accept the idea that these faculties aren’t all that important in our commercial culture, but ask any senior executive how plummeting written and verbal communication deficits are affecting business.Additionally, we must strongly emphasize the teaching of critical thinking. The Millennial generation of students, who currently range from 7 to 27 or so, have been victimized by cultural dynamics and educational approaches that leave them severely lacking in thinking and problem solving skills. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to quickly remedy this, and we’re going to pay a steep price for it in the next 20-30 years. However, we can assure that future generations aren’t similarly sabotaged.

Our curriculum will foster generations of students who, if dropped into novel, unfamiliar, even hostile situations, with few tools at their disposal, can nonetheless think their way to success. The story of past American triumph has always been about resourcefulness, and a renewed commitment to inculcating ingenuity will assure countless future chapters in that story.

Critical thinking is also our best hedge against tyranny and corruption. Our current administration has done all in its power to promote vocational learning while stifling the Liberal Arts, and this is a strategy that brazenly serves one master – the economic power elite. It has encouraged all manner of abuses in its quest for a “do, don’t think” society that profits the haves and assures that the have-nots stay in their place. A strong commitment to teaching social studies, civics and history will go a long way toward inoculating young Americans against home-grown despotism, and curricular elements that shine the light on propagandist communication techniques – both verbal and visual – will diminish the manipulative impact of our nation’s merchants of spin and disinformation.

Our curriculum will provide significant support for the development of creative and artistic faculties. While legions of brilliant, Nobel-worthy scientists are critical to our future greatness, a truly bright society cherishes and cultivates excellence across all human endeavors. The Arts and Humanities provide tremendous insights into the truth of our condition, and we should strive to be a nation whose collective right brain is as spectacularly brilliant as its left.

Finally, the simple reality of human society is that not everybody is destined for leadership, scientific accomplishment or artistic immortality. America has always thrived on the back of a dedicated working class, and despite the observation above about the power elite’s lust for a do, don’t think society, we in fact need people who do. Our educational system should account for those who have neither the interest nor aptitude for advanced study, but who are better suited for a career in industry or our surging service economy. These citizens should have access to exceptional vocational and technical training, which will be required if we are to compete with offshore competitors like India and China.

However, these sorts of decisions should be made in a good faith attempt to allow all citizens to seek satisfaction at their best, most productive level. The default goal of the system should be to help up, not hold down.

My administration will have no illusions about being lauded in the short term. However, decades of profoundly counter-productive policies have ushered us to the point where we desperately need leaders willing to be judged by those 50 years down the road instead of eight.

27 replies »

  1. Sam,

    Here’s the question: How will you decide which citizens are suited for a service job and others are not? Where and at what level will this determination be made, and how will you make it?

  2. I’ll tell you the same thing I tell everybody: save the tactical minutiae questions for later. Let’s agree on where we’re going before we bog down in the millions of details.

    This is a good question and I’m not diminishing its importance. But we have to get the cart and the horse in the right order.

  3. I’m sure it looks that way, but you DO NOT get mired in the details before your strategic vision is set. The details matter, and they matter a lot. But if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

    Now, get me a couple hundred million bucks for staff and we’ll go there….

  4. Sam,

    I’ll be sure to come back when you get into the nuts-and-bolts of the proposal. I know it’s not fair to ask a lot of what is, essentially, a mock presidential campaign, but if you’re going to put your policy out there, I’m gonna do all I can to understand it.

  5. That’s fair. In general, the direction we’re going to be looking at views this task within the context of the entire program. For instance, will we give Little Jimmy a test to see if he’d be better off as a rocket surgeon or a Wal*Mart stock boy? Well, there’s always going to be testing and evaluation of students using a variety of techniques. Once we get the system humming, we’re going to see better performance across the board and with any luck more and more students will see possibilities they never saw before.

    Now, add in a better and better supported teaching force and a dramatically re-envisioned administrative structure that puts more resources at the teacher’s disposal. What I expect will emerge is a far stronger ability to track students according to their interests and capabilities, and direct qualitative evaluation by teachers is going to be a part of that.

    Tracking won’t be a permanent captive process, by the way. Little Jimmy might get on the Wal*Mart track and after a couple of years his teachers conclude that he needs to be involved in something more worthy of his late-blooming abilities. Great – there’s mobility built in. Same goes for those who get tracked too high or into the wrong emphasis.

    If you conclude that I’m counting heavily on teachers, you’re onto something….

  6. Sam,

    Here’s your first problem. What if Little Jimmy tests better than a Wal-Mart level track, but the store needs people to fill those slots in order to keep the commerce flowing? What happens then? Let Jimmy go and start bringing in new people who test more “rightfully” for their circumstances? Or will the books get cooked to keep Jimmy where he is?

    Any system is ripe for abuse, so the best test of your theory is how it’ll handle circumstances when it breaks.

  7. And again, you’re right back to the minutiae. Yes, any system is ripe for abuse, especially the ones that are ill-conceived at a strategic level. We’re going to nail the vision first, then dig down into the execution.

  8. My questions tend to be nuts and bolts, too. And they’re probably not something you can even do on a strategic level. For instance, how do you deal with people who suck in a classroom setting, but excel in a lab/work/professional setting? Who figures that out? I got lucky. I was an average 2.0 student as an undergrad. But I had a mentor that saw something in me and had enough power to me a chance. And if my internet footprint and/or publication record is any indication, I’m doin’ alright. How would any organized system wide policy would be able to even begin to address these kinds of issues?

  9. Dr. Slammy,

    I think I understand your point about digging down into minutiae, but I also believe that the devil is in the details. I’m one of those who, when faced with an idea at 50,000 feet, has to go down to at least 10,000 feet to get a better look before commiting to the very high level view.

    Just how I am.

  10. The short answer is that the more responsive and versatile a system is, the more likely it is to catch these cases. When the whole platform is in place, it will hopefully be clear that while no system is perfect, we’re structured to take dramatic steps in the right direction.

  11. Doh! Obviously, I failed English class. 🙂 Sorry about that. Must be my pidgin English creepin’ in. haha.

  12. My vote (a selfish one) will be based on raising the compensation for teachers commensurate the responsibility placed on them and their effectiveness in this system.

    You want me to be the principal horse in this parade? Pay me. (I know; it’s a detail for later …)

  13. Well, if you were being a wiseass, and I had my dog bite you, and you stopped being a wiseass, that would effective.

    So I guess you’d say we’ll rely on a battery of iterative, operational measures.

  14. I think we should have a standardized test for all canines to determine whether or not they are capable of biting, let alone biting me. 🙂 But on was only being a half-assed wise ass. I was actually semi-serious.

  15. I think if you’ve read the platform planks rolled out so far, and if you also read the ones that are still to come, what I mean by “effective” will be more or less obvious.

  16. OK. Here are a couple of nuts and bolts type questions you really can’t ignore if you want to get elected.

    1) How are you going to handle places like Kansas and their take on “evolution?”

    2) How will you address the current “brain drain” situation? I can’t seem to find the report that came out a few weeks ago, but the conclusion was basically this: The proportion of Americans getting degrees in science related fields has been dropping. The trend is reversed for students from other countries.

    The second one is vague enough that you could say you’ve already answered it, but I’m looking for more specifics.

  17. 1: Stay tuned. But the short version is probably going to be something like “no Federal funds.” Government is getting out of the religion business if I’m elected.

    2: Well, in order to address this conclusively I’m going to need to understand the causes a little better. I can make some guesses, maybe, but should probably reserve comment until I KNOW what I’m talking about. I will pledge that my administration will make studying this issue a priority.

    I don’t suppose the report you’re referring to addresses the root causes?