This week was an exciting week. I had been planning my proposal to my girlfriend for several months now, and it finally all came together this past Tuesday. After sending her for a manicure in the morning, proposing after she got back, taking her to a surprise lunch with both of our families, and then throwing in a surprise trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is awesome by the way, one of the fortunate side effects is that I finally had enough time to read a book. My brother had given me Smartcuts as a christmas present, which is written by the Chief Creative Officer at his new job, Contently. Shane Snow is an interesting character because he’s a design guy with a cutting intellect on the business and financial side of his trade as well. There aren’t too many people who see all of those angles.
What is Smartcuts? It’s a book that critically examines the ways that people become immensely successful in a short period of time. The book examines the ways that these people have bucked the trend of working up the corporate ladder and “hacked” the systems traditionally in place for work lives. It does this in an entertaining fashion, and I personally thoroughly enjoyed the alternate histories of popular icons such as Skrillex, Twitter, Buzzfeed, and others. Strictly as a group of case studies, it was fascinating, and even though I may question the science behind the conclusions drawn by the author, I can’t discredit the intrigue of the selected cases, as they all had me at the edge of my seat trying to figure out how these people earned their success so quickly. The educator in me can’t help but be drawn to the education section, where I was both surprised and excited about Snow’s comments on teaching these.
Smartcuts ultimately come from pattern recognition, and while that won’t tell the whole story, I think it accounts for at least 60%ish of the stories highlighted in the book. Snow touches on disappointment in the fact that these aren’t taught in school, and while I share the sentiment that there is a disturbing lack of life skills taught in schools, pattern recognition, if anything, is something taught in droves. English teachers encourage students to analyze continuous trends in literature and story, science teachers instruct students how to write conclusions based on data they’ve collected in a lab, art teachers show students how to translate their own unique perspectives in the world to artistic expression, and math teachers constantly teacher pattern application to problems. Schools are always emphasizing pattern recognition, and I would love to hear how others are handling it in their classrooms, but the point here is that it underlines a problem with education reform. The author of this book hasn’t spent a day of his life inside a classroom unless he was a student, and yet he has written an otherwise informed and well researched book. This book is going to be far more received than any teacher’s innovative and otherwise successful series of pattern recognition lessons, but I would venture a guess that other people will be convinced of the author’s point after reading.
Why do we constantly embrace solutions and problems offered by everyone but educators? This is why common core is having so much trouble growing after planting its roots; it’s because it stems from problems like the one presented in this book, by people like the author of this book. Teachers are many things. Design of national curricula and assessment is maybe not something everyone is good at, but it doesn’t take a highly effective teacher to tell you what will and what won’t work in their classroom. For this particular problem, it’s not that students aren’t taught pattern recognition, it’s that it’s deeply embedded into everything they do and incredibly boring. They probably don’t even realize when it’s happening, and I would bet that some teachers don’t even realize when it’s happening. That doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Before launching our computer science program, our principal asked me if we could really get this program rolling at the school. This simple act is the difference between our successful program and many other unsuccessful programs across the country. Asking a teacher, “can this work?”, and then allowing them to mold their course to fit the goals of a program is far more effective than saying, “here, make this work”. Unfortunately, the latter is the shape taken by many educational reforms, and it’s not going anywhere without the buy-in of its soldiers, the teachers.
Negative tangent aside, this book was thoroughly entertaining and, if not scientific, it was certainly thought provoking. I’d suggest it to anyone who wants to have their eyes opened to many unknown stories of today’s hyper successful people.