These past two months my mind has been looping in circuitous circles; going round-and-round. With the crazy schedules and multiple tasks I have been unable to focus my internal lens. But yesterday my circles interlocked like Venn Diagrams; my thoughts intersecting. I love when it all comes together and I can begin to make sense of things.
Unable to write/blog I busied myself with digital graphics and the tablet graphic, above, visually summed up where my thoughts ran. It all began with rounded rectangles.
When Bill Atkinson, an engineer at Apple, discovered algorithms to create ovals he excitedly showed Steve Jobs.
“Well, circles and ovals are good, but how about drawing rectangles with rounded corners? Can we do that now, too?”
Dismayed Atkinson replied that it would be difficult to do and felt there was no use for them. Jobs demanded they take a walk, his modality for communicating important issues and decisions in his life, and proceeded to show his lead engineer the various rounded rectangular objects they encountered. Jobs’ demand for more made Atkinson discover how to create this graphical interface the very next day. These roundrects became the design philosophy for all things Apple; from the original Macintosh in 1981, to the iPod/iPad designs and apps today.
And of course the icons came in his favorite shape, the primitive he made Bill Atkinson design into the software of the first Macintosh: rounded rectangles.
This small detail would’ve escaped me; but my computer scientist hubby noted this design feature as I worked on creating a yearbook cover for my sons’ elementary school. The idea was not my own but I was designated as the implementer; the one to manufacture the vision digitally. It is a small detail, the rounded corner, and as I created apps we began to realize it permeated everything; tablets, iPods and apps. I had not realized this in December, but this feature would lead me to various unrelated paths that would come to intersect.
At this same time I had begun reading the Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers. I had indulged my epidemiological curiosity of what defined off-the-chart individuals, and discovered that being born in 1955 would be a harbinger for success. Interestingly enough both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were both born in 1955, and Gladwell discovered that a combination of factors created outliers in our society. One assumes hard work, motivation and innate ability creates success but there are other socio-economic, physical and geo-political factors that align to create, “the perfect outcome.”
I continued to learn to use Inkscape for my vector graphics and thought of the book choice I would make for our February bookclub. The bright red cover brought The Rosie Project to my attention; tying in with the month of Valentine’s day. And as I read within its pages I discovered the protagonist had the characteristics of Asperger’s. As a parent always worrying about my eldest son’s lack of empathy and social skills; I took this read to heart. This led to reading Flowers for Algernon and the curious incident of the dog in the night-time about the lack of services for severe retardation and special needs services. I had traversed from high-to-low outliers; statistical points or deviants from the mean or norm.
As I began to populate my tablet cover with applications, apps, I thought of how technology pervades my children’s lives. Most of the students of our school are familiar with electronics and social media. It is both a blessing and a curse as instant gratification produces immediate, and sometimes dramatic, results. Growing up, without our current technology, I had time to think before I made choices. My modem would still be dialing the CompuServe server to check message boards. I recalled the green screen of the TRS-80 in my middle school science class and programming with DOS prompts. Now, with the press of a touchscreen, kids had the means to include and exclude. Comments and photos were instantaneously seen and read by large groups of people in a short amount of time.
Yet I lament that our school lacks technology.
On my Goodreads feed I see the Amanda Ripley book, The Smartest Kids in the World, and I devour it in three days during a busy work week. The Rubik’s cube on the cover intrigues me as the yearbook cover is sidelined for approval. This book was completely off my radar and when I was done; I went online and diligently looked at several of the author’s resources.
Technology did not prove to aid in creating smarter kids in our society. Instead our education system needs a better way to compensate and support our teachers to raise the bar. We need more rigor and to demand all of our kids, not just those tracked or designated as special, with support services. We are a community and parents, teachers and students need to be aligned with the same common values to create smarter kids in the U.S. The theoretical physicist Michio Kaku claims the top scientists in our country are not born in the U.S.A. He asserts that they become American and have been granted their residence due to the H-1B Visa.
Where are the innovators?
When I watched the seventy minute YouTube video on Amanda Ripley; I noted that her former editor at Time magazine, Walter Isaacson from the Aspen Institute, was the author of the Steve Jobs book that sat on my nightstand. I barely made it to page 88, in February 2013, and set it aside. I haphazardly glanced at the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and knew it was being piloted at our school this year; before it officially rolls out in Fall 2014. I began to dig deeper, and researched the lofty educational goals. Would they work? How would we implement them? Would we be able to, once again, produce the smartest kids in the world?
In manufacturing we’ve discovered the lack of technical expertise needed to create products from raw materials. Most businesses look outside the country to fill the void. Why? Because Americans do not have basic mathematical skills to measure, to analyze and to critically think. The blue collar jobs are now outsourced overseas to those who can and will do these things.
Steve Jobs lamented that Apple contracts were overseas because there were not enough technical engineers who could decipher how to create the products he produced. If we are transplanting foreign born “genius” Visas and not providing ample compensation for those who occupy our top math and science professions; how will we motivate and nurture our children’s generations? Will we continue to lose our knowledge base and jobs overseas?
I finally did pick up the Steve Jobs book again. And upon its completion I stared at my graphic above; understanding his obsession with the rounded rectangles. I also noted the author’s observation that Bill Gates’ geeky fascination flirted on the fringes of Asperger’s. Steve Jobs’ success was, in part, due to his obsessive and ruthless desire to push the limits; raising the bar. He demanded his product be the best and that meant he only needed A players; weeding out the B and C players.
Apple is about people who think outside the box, who want to use computers to help them change the world.
Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. it’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.
Jobs envisioned his products and tablets replacing heavy textbooks. In education he had strong opinions, as well.
Teachers should be treated as professionals, he said, not as industrial assembly line workers…All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time.
I commiserated Windows 8 woes with my son’s former first grade teacher. Windows 8 is NOT intuitive. Neither of us endorse the closed integrated system that Apples promotes, but we talked about innovators. She shared that she attended a GATE conference where Steve Jobs had been the keynote speaker. We both lamented the brain-drain in the fields of math and science.
Soon after I sat in the audience of parents as both our administrators presented the Common Core State Standards. How could our kids take the Smarter Balance assessments when they didn’t have basic typing knowledge? My youngest son is able to type now; a typing program available for all of our school families, for free. Last year a cost analysis to purchase a typing program had been $1,000. Thankfully our administrator thinks outside of the box and utilized resources untapped. Later, as I stood in her office I noted the Aspen Institute webpage on her monitor. Unbeknownst to either of us we both had watched the same seventy minute YouTube video.
The Venn-diagrams appeared in my mind; our thoughts were aligned. Independently we had arrived at the same place. I stared across at her and was grateful that my children attend this school; her school.
My circles began intersecting. Education. Technology. Simple Design. Common Core. Depth of complexity. Love of reading. Manufacturing. Math & Science Skills. Collaboration. Delayed tracking.
Tracks for vocational and technical occupations and college shouldn’t be determined until high school. All of our students should universally be taught higher, rigorous standards until this time. Teachers should have more rigorous training, more support services available and compensation. We need to streamline these pathways. The hope is that Common Core will do this. I cross my fingers but I know this isn’t the sole answer to this problem.
The way to a great start is to model a love of reading to our children. It is that simple.
It is the simple beauty that inspires. The rounded rectangles, the colorful covers of books, the tea cups that set the mood for an informal, pajama-clad group of ten women who enjoy discussing books. Most of these women did not make the time to read books before we began our reading discussion group in January 2010. It is now a priority, each month, and our children note our solidarity. Yes, we do socialize. But what our kids also see is a love of learning, the ability to discuss and think outside of our four walls. We are exposed to outside worlds…vampires and female trafficking. Nazi occupied Germany and slavery in the South. Tiger mothers and ordinary days.
At the end of the day, any of our ten women can think outside of the box. We can provide text driven responses and back up our statements with written evidence. We’ve learned to collaborate with each other and to communicate issues and concerns. When we hit our lows we’ve learned to put one foot in front of the other, to ask for support, to rediscover who we are and what we feel is right. We take missteps and leaps but that is okay. Our kids won’t solely learn to think critically from CCSS and education alone. We have to model it for them.
The circles are closed; circuits interwoven. I appreciate the rounded rectangles and enjoy the tablet graphic that allows me to visualize my intersecting thoughts. My lens is clear and focused.