Thinking About the Consequences of our Education System, Bullying, our Health System, Coach Azul, Cameron Harold and FREE Publicity


I listen to a lot of podcasts. I was listening to them while commuting to and from work. Then last year I suffered a back injury and I have been waiting at home, consuming pain medications and exercising for what seems like forever, for ACC to approve spinal fusion and a discectomy so that I can get back to work.

Around a week ago they notified me that they are not going to pay for the surgery on the basis that I have degeneration in my discs that was not caused by the injury. It ‘rendered them symptomatic’ and I am now waiting for an appointment with the Waitemata District Health Board, whilst working on a review claim with ACC, New Zealand’s Government Accident and Injury insurer, who I feel could have had me back at work 6 months ago. They are still covering me for the back strain, but my specialist has said that they have tried everything bar surgery. “We’ve painted ourselves into a corner” he said.

I’m told that the North Shore Hospital spine surgeon is fantastic, but they also told me they have to legally see me within 4 months. In other words, just because it says “urgent’ on your case file, doesn’t mean you will even get to speak to someone anytime soon.

So I’ve had a lot more time to listen to podcasts while exercising, strengthening my core, whilst awaiting the needed surgery I still need, so I can return to work. I suspect there are thousands of people like me, numbers that get recycled in meetings focused on saving money. Ironically, when I work I am saving citizens much more money, but I digress.

One of the podcasts I enjoy is from Azul Terronez called Born to Write. If you follow me, you know I am passionate about writing and storytelling as a means of sharing a message on my various blogs and books.

The latest podcast from Coach Azul really resonated with me. The guest was Cameron Harold, a writer, entrepreneur, business mentor and founder of the COO Alliance.

He talked about some struggles he had growing up when he was told that he was  not academically in the top 40% of students and how he battled in his mind with that through school and university.

His story to becoming an entrepreneur resonated with me but from a different perspective, particularly the education part. It fascinates me how education systems seem to fail at both ends of the spectrum, contrasting with today’s apparent dumbing down of some generations whist the skill levels that create our greatest achievements are held back, limited to those who often achieve despite the system, rather than by its design.

I was one of those kids who didn’t fit in school, particularly once I got to high school. This was not because I wasn’t in the top 40%, but because I was in the top 2%. I’m starting to write about it, but not at this stage for publication.

I used my smarts to survive in a school (being a good guitarist helped) where the height of success was failing exams and getting into the school rugby 1st 15. In my school an A+ meant getting bullied for showing up the other kids. We had streaming, but being in the ‘Ac 1’ class also put a target on the back of your head.

Even teachers who tried to encourage kids to do well were on occasion beaten up and thrown down stairwells because the kids they tried to help were embarrassed in front of their peers. I liked sport (I played in previous schools, hockey and club soccer when living in Holland) but the thought of having to stay at school a minute longer than I had to (for training) was anathema.

The podcast I listened to this morning was about getting FREE publicity. I learned similar lessons to Cameron Harold early in my career, when I was racing landyachts as a hobby sport, and I was looking for sponsorship to send a team from New Zealand to the USA.

90 Mile Beach

Me on my Class 5 Winger on 90 Mile Beach

I needed publicity to attract sponsors for a sport where one minute you see the yachts racing over the sand on a long beach or on the tarmac of an air base; and for the next half an hour or so, you sit there waiting to see them briefly again as they would fly around a mark, crashing into each other on 2 wheels. It was a great spectator sport for about 4 minutes of each race that could take up to an hour and a half.

I did two things. I got a well worn small book from the library. I don’t recall what it was called but it may as well have been called “Get the coverage you want by giving the media what they want”.

One of the things it said to do was to ask them what they wanted. That seemed to simple but I did it. I rang radio sports journalists, I rang TV, I rang magazine editors and I rang newspaper sports writers. I introduced myself and gave a quick pitch of why I was ringing, explaining the challenges of a fast exhilarating sport, with yachts on wheels doing over 100 kph on the beach that no one had heard of.

Next thing I found myself in the newsroom of the New Zealand national daily, speaking with the Sports Editor. End result, they got some great stories, we got global TV coverage, we got international magazines and radio stories, we got sponsors and our team (unfortunately I had to pull out at the last minute) went to the Nevada Desert and won the America’s Cup of Land Yachting! And I learned how to get more than my fair share of media coverage for my employers and my modest entrepreneurial ventures.

Ironically listening to Cameron’s story, and despite being very gifted intellectually, I didn’t do any university study until much later in life, because I spent many of those teenage years rebelling against a system that had no place for bright people. I’ve had a pretty exciting life so far and I feel I have made a strong contribution in my endeavours, but I also wonder if I didn’t live in the land of Tall Poppy Syndrome, how much more I could have achieved if the education system had acted on what they discovered about me and nurtured it.

Which sort of brings me back full circle to my ailing back. I have now sat down too long writing this and need to do some stretches and exercise as I wait for my number to be called by the Waitemata District Health Board for my first specialist meeting, so I can have my surgery and get back to my job. When you’re a number in the system, a few pages in a manilla folder, you are equally invisible if you want to work and be productive as someone who will quite happily live on a benefit.

Does any of this resonate with you?

 

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Why Don’t Grownups Understand?


When you are a child, everyone around you is a potential friend. Someone to play with, have fun with. Language, color, gender, disability, don’t matter. You see them in the playground, looking for someone based roughly on age and height, they make eye contact, they do a sort of ‘I’m open for contact’ dance, getting closer together and then just start playing together. Often they won’t even introduce themselves. Next thing you know they are laughing and playing and bringing more kids into their circle. In many cases the parents stay at a protective distance, but appreciate and encourage this interaction.

I used to love watching kids TV programs like Art Linkletter and Cosby Kids. I think one of the famous ones was used in the What The World Needs Now John F Kennedy assassination tribute, where they asked a kid what racism is and he said “I think it’s when you’re sick.” They asked “what is bigotry, and the answer was “I don’t know what biggory is.”

When WWII, ‘the war to end all wars’ was over, there were famous speeches, saying “this must never happen again”. Today it appears we have learned nothing. It may to some degree be propaganda when we see children carried, walked or driven away from bombing sites. The fact is, they are children and they are victims of man’s inhumanity to man. It continues daily in many parts of the world.

I don’t need to show it, you don’t need to be reminded of the actual scenes. It will be on CNN, BBC, Fox or your other favorite news TV station in the next 30 minutes, day after day.

So here’s my question? How do we go from kids, who understand that differences make us interesting, to adults who think we should all be the same and that to be different is a threat? How do we go from sharing our resources to wanting to take them from each other?

At some point we decide children should think along certain lines. We teach them prejudice, we teach them fear and hatred. We teach them on the street, in our homes, we teach them in our schools and we teach them in our places of worship.

I watched the kids in Gaza on TV last night. I saw the looks in the faces as their bodies and lives were wrenched apart, the confusion, the terror, the blank gazes of minds dazed beyond comprehension They were just playing. They don’t understand. They’re just kids. But I’m an adult and I still don’t understand. Does that mean I haven’t grown up?

One of the real ironies to me is that we all have kids. We have all been kids. We have all been taught prejudices by our parents and those around us.

So here’s a thought. Why don’t we change the curriculum?

Brain Controlled Prosthetics


As you do, conversation at the dinner table last night went to prosthetics. It started with her school planning assignments on innovation and her plan to get her class thinking about how people could cope without the use of their hands.

She mentioned the story of Mariatu Kamara who had both her hands hacked off in Sierra Leone, which is the subject of her book Bite of the Mango. She decided that she would get her kids to spend a day not being able to use their hands and then get them to think about how they could cope with this. The next step would be how to use innovation to come up with a solution to this problem.

I told her about the Kiwi company Rex Bionics who are helping people who are wheelchair bound and thought they would never walk again, to get on their feet with an exoskeleton. This is a topic I have covered on a number of occasions including my recent blog on Singularity.

Anyway, this is an area that is being well researched and just to prove that learning to control a prosthesis via the brain, check out this video where a University of Pittsburgh team trained a monkey to feed itself using a prosthetic arm controlled via a brain implant.

Now I do have to warn you not to try this at home folks. Implants produce scarring and scarring inhibits conductivity. Now of course the problem is how to produce this technology at a price that is affordable. Probably decades away, but pretty exciting, don’t you think?

The power of other people’s opinions or bias


I had the opportunity to attend the Time Convention in Auckland, New Zealand today, which was a great opportunity to step out of my normal day and have time to think. I didn’t learn much, but it did remind me about things I know I should be doing, but don’t spend enough time at. I used my Blackberry to take notes which I emailed to myself, as it doesn’t have a notepad or Word application, as my trusty Windows Mobile and Palm handhelds used to.

The final presentation, that I very much enjoyed was from Kevin Billett who, while promoting a 2 day seminar for next week, came up with some thought provoking concepts about taking responsibility for attitudes and accepting experiences that you allow to have control over your life expectations and achievements. This set me to thinking about aspects of my experiences, particularly as a child, that have I have allowed to hold me back in some of my endeavours, but that’s another story.

He raised a topic that has interested me for many years, which is the effect that people’s expectations or opinions about other people, influence them in many ways.

There are countless examples. John’s Hopkins researchers recently found that many physicians had negative attitudes to patients with obesity problems, which negatively affected these patients to the extent that their problems worsened.

There have been many studies that show that a teacher’s expectations of their students, irrespective of any basis on which those expectations were founded, had a significant impact on their results. I recall being told, although I can’t site the source, of a university study that proved this point. If you know of the study, please share it with me.

A group of students of equal ability were split into two groups. The teachers were told that one group was of above average capability and the other were below average potential. The groups were taught the same lessons by the same teachers. Their results were consistent with the information the teachers had been given, those who they said were above average, performed above average and the others under performed.

The world of elite sport is often built around belief that people of the right proportions can become medal winning athletes, even if they have never participated in that sport before. Sir Steve Redgrave has selected people based on height, with a view to having them represent their country in the 2012 Olympics. For rowing, the expectation is that tall people have powerful levers suited to the sport. One would not think that this alone could not be enough, but combine that with the positive expectation that they will become medal winners and history has proven that this can work.

The same occurs in gymnastics, where girls are headhunted at an early age based on being short and enjoying sport. I’ve seen from personal experience that girls who are told they can do things, outperform girls of similar strength and flexibility who are told that they aren’t good enough. What I saw was the same thing, girls over whom coaches had high expectations performed confidently, had less injuries and ended up on elite squads.

Psychology 101 has always featured nature and nurture. In any country where people are to some degree living in communities featuring high proportions of particular minority ethnic groups, there is a tendancy for them to be poorly represented in professions and overly represented in menial work. Students’ expectations in these areas are low, often fostered by teachers who have low expectations of their wards.

I won’t go on with this topic. I would appreciate your opinions and experience. Have you seen this happen first hand?

eLearning, So What’s New?


This morning when I read the Herald, there was a story in a supplement on Education about eLearning. The supplement is obviously focussed on students heading for Uni for the first time and Abcd – e – learning was well written and researched, and it was a supplement, but I was also thinking, that it was ironic that it was presented as if it is something new. It was interesting that while I couldn’t find a link on the Herald’s website, I guess because it was a commercial supplement, I did find a story about using podcasting (which was key to this morning’s story) written in July last year called Pupils book place in world with podcasting, by Martha McKenzie-Minifie.

The story was largely about universities including MIT, Berkeley UC and Yale posting lectures as podcasts on iTunes U. It was about the benefits of students being able to listen to podcasts and make sure they don’t miss anything.

This was interesting timing because I have been having discussions with Massey University about eLearning for sometime and last month launched the Location Innovation Awards, which runs until February 16th 2009. I was considering adding eLearning to one of the categories, but given that the Awards are in fact a learning experience and the categories of Location Based Games, Social Networking, Proximity Based Marketing and widgets for AA Maps all provide scope not only for learning, but offer the opportunity for supporting education that is location based. For example a location based game music elearning could involve a treasure hunt in a community based around learning about the history of the area, which could be cultural, historical, ecological, environmental and so on.

In a recent blog I wrote about Music eLearning on the net and made reference to Gordon Dryden’s new book, Unlimited – The New Learning Revolution (which is totally about eLearning) which he told me will be on the retail shelves within a week or so. I feel I relate well to Gordon because I was also frustrated and bored with school as a teenager.

The problem for me was that I wanted to be a songwriter and musician and my parents sent me to a school where the major subject was rugby and music was a 40 minute session 3 times a month or so. By the time I got to 5th form I was bored to tears with subjects that I felt (and still feel) were irrelevant (although I guess there were a couple of exceptions, being French and Latin which have both served me well.

I didn’t pay much attention in class, was bored, found other ways to amuse myself. At the end of the year come exam time, I used a form of eLearning. I got all my school notes, typed them up on a typewriter, read them out loud into a tape recorder and played them back to myself while listening to Led Zeppelin in the background. Now I was aware already that Baroch music is far more conducent to learning, because it has a tempo that your brain matches into a state which is good for absorbing information. However, it wasn’t cool and this still worked and I did pass my exams, except for Geography which is ironic given that I speak a number of languages and have travelled aorund the world several times, it was just hard to record maps:)

I have been using audio tapes for many years to enhance my learning. I recorded radio shows and learned about cosmic string theory, and also bought and used Psychology tapes to learn about NLP, negotiation and other skills.

This morning in the shower I was learning about SPIME, which is very pertinent to my current focus of Location Based Services. I learned about it from a podcast interview with David Orban on the podcast of The Future and You by Stephen Euin Cobb. “A Spime is a location-aware, environment-aware, self-logging, self-documenting, uniquely identified object that flings off data about itself and its environment in great quantities.”

This technology is very relevant to my work in car navigation and future driving safety. Imagine if every car had SPIME technology and independant of any internet or cellular telecommunication technology, cars could communicate with each other, ensuring safe driving in terms of car proximity to each other, safe following speed and distance and the ability to react to an emergancy. For example, if the car in front of you engages its ABS and brakes suddenly. A SPIME technology could potentially tell your car which is following it, about the situation and have it react potentially seconds before your brain and foot can engage with your brake pedal. This could be a marvellous development of ADAS.

Anyway, I am heading off on a tangent, but the thing is that eLearning continues to keep me abreast of the latest developments in the fields I am interested in and you do not have to be a university student to access the information.

I often listen to University Lectures at iTunes U and so can you. If you are interested in a topic and want to follow the lectures whether you are studyig at a university or not, they are as close as your iPod.

While this blog is starting to get a good following, I would love to get more readers and encouraging me to keep writing. If you feel that my blog is interesting I would be very grateful if you would vote for me in the category of best blog at the NetGuide Web Awards. Note that the form starts each site with www whereas my blog doesn’t and is of course https://luigicappel.wordpress.com.

Thanks so much for your support:)