Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Basic Skills: Pushed down curriculum in preschools vs. pushed up curriculum in business schools

For several years, early childhood experts have been promoting developmentally appropriate practices in response to the “escalated” or “pushed-down” curriculum. What is the pushed-down curriculum? In short, Preschool classes and kindergartens have begun to look more like traditional 1st grade classes were young children are expected to sit quietly while they listen a whole-class instruction filling in worksheets. Even though it is not developmentally appropriate, some parents favor this change with the idea to give their children a "head start" in life based on the belief that faster is better, at least academically speaking. “We worship speed,” says Jim Uphoff, a professor of education at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.  “That's an integral part of our beliefs.” 

But, what are the consequences of this nonsense race? The consequences are that the skills that were once taught in preschool, or the early years of life, are now being "pushed-up" to business school curriculums or executive training with the labels of leadership, strategy, negotiation and innovation. Lets see some examples from the latest issues of the Harvard Business Review; a magazine known as the "source of the best new ideas for people creating, leading, and transforming business":

The article Leadership is a conversation (June 2012) states "Smart leaders today, we have found, engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation more than it does a series of commands from on high. Furthermore, they initiate practices and foster cultural norms that instill a conversational sensibility throughout their organizations." This model is a complete opposite of what is modeled for children in the educational setting. Traditional teachers give to children "a series of commands from on high" and rearly foster conversations that go beyond having the right answer. Maybe that's why the art of conversation is now one of the most important topics in business schools and executive coaching programs. Go figure.

Also in June, the article Let your Ideas go was published. The premise is that an idea can only evolve being held with an open hand, that's how ideas grow bigger. The key is "openness, [which] changes everything when used. Openness is a stance — to share with, to collaborate, to distribute power to many. Openness is powerful, even catalytic. On a personal level, it not only allows us to share, but to co-create with speed. On an organizational level, it allows for more than collaboration, it enables communities. At a societal level, it is more than distributing power, and allowing for the shift from what is to what will be. It also allow for shared responsibility." Does the educational competitive model, focused on academics and having the right answer first, supports openness?  Not really. So, How do we teach and practice openness? By being open to others' ideas and by sharing ours. By listening to children's ideas and co-creating instead of competing with them. By showing the value and the possibilities of letting ideas go. Openness is an attitude and attitudes are developed over time. From my point of view, better start young.

Finally at the end of July, the article How leaders become self aware was published finding that "there is one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager, and leader. That quality is self-awareness. The best thing leaders can [do] to improve their effectiveness is to become more aware of what motivates them and their decision-making." How can you know what motivates you when the expectations growing up are good grades on every subject in order to move to the next grade? Most of the goals or challenges during childhood are extrinsically motivated rather than intrinsically. Decisions are made by adults and informed to children expecting blindness obidience. It is not surprising that the majority of high school graduates have no idea which profession to pursue in a world they hardly know.  It is sad that self-awarness has become a rare quality that we start reading about and developing later in life.

Today's world is fast paced and often called the social era demanding more than ever the art of conversation, openness and self-awareness. Today, they might be a luxury. In the next decade, they will be basic skills needed from early on. In the past, information was power. Nowadays information is available for anyone. Critical thinking and consciousness will lead the way in the next century, if not this one. Isn't it time for the educational system and our teaching/parenting practices to catch up? I think so. Let’s stop pushing curriculums up and down and act today.  No matter what world you live in, preschool or the boardroom, let's focus on what's important.

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