Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Equality: Outcomes vs. Opportunities by Brian McGarry

Two popular themes often pushed in schools are "celebrating diversity" and "preaching tolerance." At first glance, these ideas sound really nice. However, the roots of these messages stem from an ugly past in which people were judged by the color of their skin (or gender/ethnicity), rather than the content of their character. The battle Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  and others fought was intended to make these debates obsolete.


Today our schools are filled with children making posters, flying balloons, and drawing colorful rainbow pictures showing the blending of cultures and acceptance of others' beliefs in order to showcase their collective tolerance for one another. This helps create a school environment that discourages discrimination.


"Teachers need to distinguish the important difference between equal outcomes, which inevitably lead to greater government controls, and equal opportunities, which free the individual to succeed and to make mistakes."

Most students have an intrinsic sense of fairness and sharing. When teachers appeal to the idea of equality, students tend to gravitate towards it. Therefore, teachers need to distinguish the important difference between equal outcomes, which inevitably lead to greater government controls, and equal opportunities, which free the individual to succeed and to make mistakes. Simply talking about equality as a global ideal can easily be misinterpreted.

Each year, I do an experiment in my classroom that highlights the problems with forcing equal outcomes. I adjust the grades from a chapter test by rewriting the "new" grade to account for the successes and failures of each student. For example, those who score in the 90s receive an altered grade in the 70s. Those in the 50s jump to the 70s. Seeing the reactions of those who celebrate their sudden fortunes and the anger from those who have seen their intellectual efforts destroyed by a "central authority's" arbitrary decision is quite interesting. Give it a try with your class.

izzit.org's video 2081 presents educators with an entertaining and graphic example of what happens when you force equal outcomes. The students see how equal outcomes drag the successful down, while institutionalizing mediocrity and incompetence. The heavy hand of government is highlighted in this wonderful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's dystopian short story "Harrison Bergeron."

The production value matches the important message. My kids watch intently and are actively engaged in class discussion after viewing it. I ask them to compare and contrast the video with Lois Lowry's The Giver, which is another dystopian novel we read.

I think I have about 20 videos from izzit.org. Thanks to izzit, I can show students that rugged individualism and free-market economics are not merely about making money. These principles also help people tear down the many barriers that tend to make people judgmental and intolerant, without the government attempting to equalize all outcomes.



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Book Review - How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life (Andy Jobson)

Review – How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness by Russ Roberts

I recently was introduced to How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness by Russ Roberts.  Roberts takes the lesser known Adam Smith work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and selects useful highlights to illustrate how we can know ourselves better and pursue happiness.


I first became interested in Moral Sentiments when I read a P.J. O’Rourke book called On the Wealth of Nations.  Like Roberts, O’Rourke analyzed Smith’s seminal works and made his own observations, (although O’Rourke worked far harder, and perhaps less successfully, at being amusing), and he referenced the earlier book enough that I bought a copy.  Like many before me, however, I bogged down somewhere in the middle.  Smith is brilliant, but his syntax can get complicated, and his reasoning is often roundabout. I got busy with work and family life and set it aside.  

When a friend at izzit.org recommended the book, however, I was excited to re-open my investigation. Capitalism gets a lot of bad press as being ‘heartless’—evil capitalists are the villains of several TV shows and movies nowadays, it seems—but I believe capitalism is actually the most moral of economic systems.  (As Smith put it, as everyone pursues his own self-interest, the good of society results, as if an ‘invisible hand’ were manipulating the process.)  The challenge is to figure out how to explain this.

Roberts does a good job of selecting appropriate passages to explain key ideas from The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He adds more modern stories to illustrate the concepts, such as the role of conscience (or what Smith called ‘the impartial spectator,’ whose approval we seek).  At my school, moral instruction is important, and Roberts takes a book that raises important issues (like ‘How to Be Good’ and ‘How to be Lovely’) and provides a coherent, entertaining overview.  I look forward to sharing portions with my students this year.

You might enjoy doing the same.

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

What's Your "Poop"? by Lee Mayfield

As a high school agriculture teacher, I am required to provide each student with a "work-based experience." We call this and "SAE" project: Supervised Agriculture Experience. These projects are designed to teach students the value of hard work, relevant work and to instill the entrepreneurial spirit. Some students find jobs by working for other people. Others take on projects on the school grounds. Still others develop their own agricultural projects bu raising animals, maintaining lawns, growing crops, or by starting a host of other small-scale enterprises. Last spring, after the students had been engaged in their various SAE projects for a few months, I wrote the following Ronald Reagan quote on the chalkboard: "There is no constraint on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect." I asked the students if this was a true statement.

At first, most were quick to agree. But as I pressed the students to think about this quote in the terms of their SAE projects, the students began to see constraints and barriers that limited their potential for success. Most of these barriers had been placed on them by others. One student mentioned he was not allowed to pursue his ambition of raising horses on his land because of local zoning laws. Another student mentioned regulations regarding how he could advertise in his community. Another student mentioned the fees, taxes, and burdensome regulations about growing watermelons he sold at his family's roadside produce stand.

I then showed my students the izzit.org video From Poop to Profits. The video illustrated how a Michigan dairy farmer was able to use innovation and his entrepreneurial spirit to overcome obstacles related to his success. The students quickly related the experiences of the dairy farmer to the barriers they were facing with their SAE projects. I challenged my students to take inspiration from the video and apply the concepts in order to overcome any obstacles. In the video, the dairy farmer used resources he had readily available on his farm (manure) to create a value-added product to replace income lost due to low dairy prices, which had threatened to bankrupt his operation.

After engaging in a lengthy class discussion about the story of how the dairy farmer had turned a dire situation into a successful business venture, I assigned each student with a task: Each was simply to put him-or-herself in the position of the dairy farmer. I asked them to imagine what they would do if they, and their families, depended on their projects for their livelihoods. How would the students overcome these barriers which they had mentioned earlier in the class discussion? What solutions could they innovate? Do they have any untapped resources that could generate additional income? What was their "poop" they could turn into profits? I gave each of them two weeks to research, write, and present their ideas to the class.

The result were amazing. Here are some examples:
Josh is a junior who has steadily grown a small neighborhood lawn mowing service since he was a freshman. Josh took inspiration from the video and looked into the waste he created from mowing lawns. His "poop" turned out to be grass clippings. After researching several uses for the clippings, h e came across and idea to use the decaying grass clippings to generate heat for his small greenhouse. In his research, Josh discovered that a well-aerated compost pile typically generates between 90-140 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperatures. In our moderate climate, Josh determined that this was more than enough to heat his small greenhouse. With his heating issue resolved, he diversified his operation by growing vegetable seedlings in the greenhouse. He sold the vegetable transplants to area farmers and gardeners to supplement his lawn care project.

Amanda is a senior who was born and raised on the family farm. As a freshman, she began growing watermelons for sale at her family's roadside stand. While she was relatively successful with her watermelon project, she was inspired by the From Poop to Profits video and wondered if she could make additional profits. She asked herself "What would Brad Morgan (the dairy farmer) do?" She immediately looked into what she was wasting. Turns out her "poop" was unsold watermelons. Amanda researched the uses for watermelon rinds, and discovered rinds could be made into an assortment of products. She preferred rind preserves. By using the rinds from watermelons which would otherwise be discarded, she was able to produce a high quality product that has yielded additional income and become a local favorite.

Tanner was not raised on a farm. Instead he lives in a community without much land to raise large animals or grown crops. Since his sophomore year he has raised specialty rabbits that he sells mainly around Easter. After watching the video Tanner said "If that dairy farmer can turn cow poop into a profit then surely my rabbit poop has to be worth something!" Tanner was right. While the manure Tanner's rabbits produce is not enough to generate a sellable product, he was able to work out an agreement with a community garden that was just as good as money. Tanner agreed to supply the manure to the community garden, and in return, the garden manager would give Tanner the excess lettuce, carrots, and other produce Tanner could use as rabbit feed. Tanner said his inspiration came from From Poop to Profits, where he heard the phrase: "Do what you do best, and trade for the rest." Tanner learned that in a free society, businesses can work together for mutual benefit.

These, and many other students, have shared example after example of how izzit.org's From Poop to Profits video has moved them to explore innovative avenues in overcoming barriers to success. Later in the year, I wrote the quote from Ronald Reagan on the board again and asked the students if the statement was true. This time, without hesitation, they simply said "yes."


Monday, June 6, 2016

We Will Change the World by Dave Smith

I'm fortunate that students at Garden Spot Middle School in New Holland, Pennsylvania have really big hearts.  


A large percentage of them know what it’s like to live below the poverty line because their families do, and in turn, they have real empathy for others around the world that live in difficult situations. Some have first-hand knowledge of growing up in a country like Haiti. And they have powerful stories to share with their classmates.  


For example, every day our Haitian student’s family would wake up early to go to school. Then after school they walked for miles with their father, hauling five-gallon jugs from the village well up the mountain to their house, so that they would have drinking water for their family—an amount that would last for only a day.

Just like those students, people around the world have powerful stories to tell. It is critical in this global community we all live in now that every student is made aware of how others around the world live. Living standards are different in most countries, and we’re fortunate here in America. 

As a teacher, the best way I have found to do this is by incorporating the Pennies A Day video. Pennies a Day shows firsthand how the idea of microloans plays out in the real world. Microloans are a critical component to helping end world poverty, so I've made giving microloans to people around the world a key component of our class’s service projects.  

In my classroom, I give students the opportunity to replicate in real life what they see done in the video. We use the website, www.kiva.org to lend out $25 to entrepreneurs all over the world.  The kids do what they can to raise money in a variety of ways, and then choose whom they want to lend to on the website, and then we do the loans live in class. It makes it even more real to the kids, and takes the lesson from the kids hearing about it, to seeing it, and finally to doing it. Most importantly, by making it “real” to them, they see that even they--at 13-years-old--can really make the world a better place.  I tell students that we not only can change the world, but we will change the world.  

I had the opportunity and pleasure of hearing my hero, Muhammad Yunus, speak this past year at a local college; and I must say this man is truly a rare, living treasure in this world.  To be able to see his idea come to fruition in this Pennies A Day video in a very concise, easy-to-understand way is awesome. My students can see how such a simple idea can truly change the world and work towards eliminating poverty. Students get real insight into the lives and culture of the people of Bangladesh, and see their homes, their clothing, their food, their cooking stoves, their transportation, and their water sources and so on. We learn the differences between their banking systems, made up of a card table and benches, versus the brick-and-mortar banks students are familiar with here in America. It’s a powerful lesson.

I've now been doing this with my students over four years, and in that time our "One Million Dollar Team" on the Kiva website has loaned nearly $60,000, helping over 2,300 families in 67 different countries around the world- including the United States.

My ultimate goal is to have the kids take on the role of entrepreneurs, to go above and beyond to do things to help raise the money to help others. Some have chosen to do bake sales, others have made duct-tape wallets, while others have made jewelry to sell and have donated their profits.  This lesson encourages them to set goals, and to make real change in the world. 

The best part is to see a real change that occurs in the students’ thinking and behavior. They begin to think globally, as opposed to simply thinking about their own little home town. They can learn about geography, history, mathematics, economics--the possibilities are endless--all the while actually making a real difference in the world.  It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

Thank you, izzit.org.