Welcome to the Starting LineI thought the rush of professional motorcycle drag racing was one-of-a-kind until I started seeing the parallels to working with students at BVT. I get the same feeling of pride watching our students discover their passions, work through adversity, and succeed in their endeavors that I get when I cross the finish line. It’s watching your hard work pay off in a very big way, and in short — it’s exhilarating!
The strategies and values featured in this blog are derived from my observations and experiences in competition, leadership roles, and life. They’re the same ones we instill in our students to help them understand commitment, overcome adversity, embrace healthy competition, and find happiness in life. We teach our students to be fearless in their pursuits and foster a desire to pursue lifelong learning. We’re also sure to teach them about balance — there is time for fun in everyone’s world. Here at BVT, we want our students to work hard, but also enjoy the ride.
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Long Division & Dead BatteriesPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 2/15/2023
Each time I craft one of these articles, I’m challenged with captivating you with educational wisdom and perspective that is original, engaging, relevant, and thought-provoking. Sometimes the words come with ease, and other times it’s a process (brainstorming sessions, research, writing, and rewriting). What gives these articles “soul,” as my editor would put it, are the personal stories I share to help illustrate and support the subject. So, let me tell you about LONG DIVISION & DEAD BATTERIES.
I will never forget learning long division in 3rd grade and simultaneously being introduced to calculators.
Like every other kid, I asked why I needed to tediously perform long division on paper when I could just punch the numbers into the calculator. My teacher always replied with the age-old mantra, “You need to know how to do it yourself because you might not always have a calculator handy, and if you do the batteries could die.” Well, 40 years later, I’ve never come across a calculator with dead batteries. In fact, I grew up when they started putting those little solar panels in them. I also had a Casio watch with a built-in calculator — they were all the rage in the 80s. For the last few decades, my smartphone took over to ensure I was never without a calculator. I can still do long division, and I’m grateful for that, but the prophecy that “I had to know it” is questionable. I can diagram a sentence too. But if I couldn’t, there are a plethora of tools to get around that too.
As we continue to push the boundaries of technology in education, we also need to consider the potential impact on our students' learning experiences. One such example is the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the form of ChatGPT, a natural language processing tool that can assist with tasks such as writing and research. Have you heard of it? ChatGPT is just the latest technology gaining notoriety these days for its incredible ability to write grammatically perfect, well-constructed answers to practically any prompt a user can lob at it. It’s a game changer, but time will tell if it’s for the better or worse.
Language processing AI brings us to a whole new level of such capability. I encourage you to give it a try — go ahead and ask it anything. The responses are sophisticated, original, and simply mind-boggling. It can research facts, write code, and opine on moral dilemmas. As a teen I recall how difficult it was to keep up with assignments and deadlines, and how overwhelming it felt to balance academics, extracurricular activities, and social life. Today’s high school students feel the same way, if not more so, given the additional pressures and distractions of the digital age. The temptation for students to use ChatGPT to lessen the crunch will be a predictable reality, especially considering it will produce an “A” paper, with original wording (i.e. not plagiarized) — and with citations if asked, in approximately a minute and a half. It can do your math homework too — even the word problems, and ironically it can also “show your work.”
As educators and parents, it’s important to approach the integration of ChatGPT with caution and consideration. As I mentioned, it has the potential to enhance the learning experience. For example, ChatGPT can offer personalized tutoring, assist with foreign language acquisition, provide feedback on assignments, and suggest ideas for projects and essays. However, it’s crucial that with all this automated capability, we also prioritize the development of independent thinking and problem-solving skills. This can be achieved through careful implementation and monitoring, and provide opportunities for students to reflect on their use of the tool and its impact on their learning.
AI is here, so we’re going to have to learn to live with it. The genie is out of the bottle so to speak, and it’s rapidly growing in its sophistication. We have to impress upon our students the value of learning versus reliance on tools to think for them. Given the growth in connectivity, it’s highly unlikely a day will go by that they won’t be able to access AI tools one way or another. It has suddenly become critical that we ensure that our students are not relying on these tools to supplant their education, but rather using them as a supplement to their learning.
Let’s consider AI in teaching. Yes, it may also be used on that side of the desk as well. It will undoubtedly revolutionize teaching as we know it. One example is the automation of grading and assessment. Give ChatGPT a term paper and ask it to grade it. In less than a minute, it will not only have a grade based on the parameters provided, but it will also throw in robust feedback and comments for good measure. As a former English teacher, I will attest that it’s right on the money with its assessment. Thinking ahead, I can envision lesson plan design, individualized instruction, monitoring classroom engagement, tracking skill attainment, and parent communication are right around the corner. AI won’t just simply save time for educators in the near future, it will completely change the level of individualized service provided to each student. What I fear is that this super-teaching capability could ironically come at the cost of human interaction, creativity, and relationships in the learning experience. You know, the “soul” part.
As forward-thinking parents and educators, it’s important that we are aware of our concerns and take steps to mitigate them. This can include providing opportunities for students and teachers to reflect on their use of AI in their teaching and learning, as well as promoting a culture of critical thinking and reflection in the classroom. Additionally, we should work to ensure that the use of AI in education is thoughtfully implemented to harvest its benefits while filtering its detriments.
I understand if you still have reservations about ChatGPT. It has only been available to the public for a few months, and most people haven’t played with it yet. For your amusement and perhaps to make a point, I asked ChatGPT to write this article. To be clear, I asked it to read my 28 previous blog articles to mimic my writing style, then write about the concerns of ChatGPT and its effect on teaching and learning, and to make it more personal, add fictional examples from my childhood. It completed that task in one minute and 14 seconds. I must admit, I was impressed with the result. For nostalgia, I rewrote approximately half myself. I’ll leave it to you to deduce which half.
Enough about the future. Let’s go back to my 3rd grade classroom. My teacher understood that I needed to know long division because I would be building more complex math concepts on that foundational skill and knowledge. She innately understood that all learning works this way, and that if humans simply turn to a machine for an answer, they will never grow their intelligence. All they will accomplish is a growth in their dependence on a machine for answers. This concept is more important than ever today. If we get to a point where we allow, if not welcome, machines to do all of our thinking for us — humanity be damned. Of course, that’s a lost concept to a bunch of cackling 3rd graders…but I never forgot the real meaning behind long division and dead batteries.
Logos LostPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/14/2022
Civilization has evolved because of our ability to communicate ideas, speak, debate, and ultimately reach a greater understanding of our world and our place in it. In addition to our verbal speech, the ability to write has allowed us to record our collective knowledge and preserve it for future generations. It is easy to see what becomes of our collective wisdom when we lose the ability to exchange ideas freely and LOGOS IS LOST.
We are not always the best listeners. Remember when your teen was young and threw a fit when you told them something they didn’t want to hear. Emotions were driving their reaction. Sometimes as adults, we’re not much better.
We have a long history that suggests we are not very good at listening to warnings, logic, or unpleasant realities. It seems to be in our nature to resist these things, and we appear to be hardwired with what is termed, “optimism bias.” Like the child, we too make emotional appeals. Whether it is immature behavior or optimism bias, perhaps we are destined to resist reality.
For now, let’s focus on logos. The Greek word, “logos,” roughly translates to word, thought, principle, or speech, and is often used to describe an appeal to logic in argumentation. Citing facts and statistics, or using logic and common sense to convince an audience is logos in action. On the opposite end of the spectrum, one can make an argument using emotional appeal (pathos), or convey the sense of right and wrong (ethos). In doing so, one would think it is hard to argue against a set of well-constructed facts and statistics, right?
Wrong. Perhaps the best illustration of our propensity to reject logos can be seen in the historical record of scientific mavericks and heretics. In 1616, Galileo Galilei was imprisoned for asserting that the earth revolved around the sun, and it took 219 years for his vindication to come about. Despite the evidence, we just weren’t ready to accept that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. A lesser known fellow, Ignaz Semmelweis, suggested in 1847 that if surgeons disinfected their hands before procedures, it would reduce deaths. He was fired from the hospital and shunned by the medical community for suggesting that they were unclean. Louis Pasteur drew similar conclusions about microscopic bacteria around 1862, and he too was ridiculed for his outlandish ideas. Today, Semmelweis and Pasteur are hailed as two of the greats in early medicine. The list of these scientific mavericks and heretics is as fascinating as it is long. Unfortunately, no facts nor data could save them from the closed minds of their contemporaries.
Warnings and evacuations often go ignored by individuals confident that they can weather the storm—some make it, and some don’t. In 1912, the crew of the Titanic received no fewer than five radio warnings from nearby ships about heavy icebergs in their path—we know how that played out. Hurricane Katrina is a great example of optimism bias on a grand scale as the powers that be were well aware of the fragility of the levee system around New Orleans and its vulnerability to storm surges. It also illustrated how woefully inadequate our country was prepared for disaster relief. Another example we can all relate to is irrationally positive outlooks in economics and investments. The 1929, 1987, and 2008 crashes were all preceded by signs of trouble brewing. Investors tend to pile in until it’s blatantly too late, and during the good times, we all root for growth in our retirement accounts as though it is a football team that never loses.
Thinking back to childhood, I remember hearing many things I didn’t want to hear: The older kids told me Santa and the Easter Bunny were not real, I was miffed when my Jr. High School aptitude test suggested I would be a farmer and not an astronaut, and my classmates definitely had more mean things to say than kind words. Regarding the latter, every adult in my life armed me with the age-old antidote, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Of course, we also had the ultimate retort, “I know you are, but what am I?” Later, in high school and college, we honed these primal lessons in argumentation by learning how to write persuasive essays, and how to support a thesis with solid supporting details. We learned to use logos and appeal to emotion in a well-balanced argument. Some of us even took a speech course and joined the debate club to spar intellectually with our peers.
In my experience, the pinnacle of this type of activity came in my graduate level English and Law courses where argumentation was performed at the varsity level. We were well past being offended by our opponents’ words as we may have been as children. To the contrary, there is great insight to be gleaned by listening very intently, learning from opposing views, and adjusting a response that may appeal to logic or reason. Perhaps the first step to improving how you make a cogent argument is to learn the art of listening with an open mind. Win, lose, or draw, you are sure to exit more informed and enlightened. To me, this is the essence of logos. It is how humans have advanced our collective knowledge, philosophy, and wisdom over the history of mankind. Without debate and the welcoming of new ideas, even offensive ones, it is easy to see the cultural formation of an echo chamber of the same old ideas, talking points, and views.
In the last five or so years, it is hard not to notice a shift in how we and our kids share, or don’t share, our views—our logos is changing. There is a growing hypersensitivity to differing viewpoints, and predictably people are increasingly reluctant to openly share their thoughts and ideas due to the exhausting effort to be truly heard in any exchange. I haven’t lived long enough to assess if this is a normal rhythm in the logos cycle, or if such a cycle even exists. However, I have lived long enough to know that it’s not good if this dynamic continues to escalate. In any relationship, society, or system, dysfunction quickly ensues when communication and the fine art of listening stops.
So, as parents and educators, how do we teach our teens to be respectful, active listeners and hold space for other people’s points of view while still standing tall in their beliefs and values? The answer is elegant in its simplicity—it is Encouragement. To encourage literally means to instill courage and confidence. We all need to be reminded that opposing views are important to hear. When we get our fur up, that signals that it is time to pause and reflect, not time to shut down or retreat to one’s echo chamber. Listen, analyze, synthesize, and revisit your understandings. Conversely, we also need courage and confidence to speak and write our ideas. Be respectful, be tolerant, and be resolute—then communicate unapologetically. We must do this lest Logos Lost.
Face TimePosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 8/3/2022
The thrill of a new school year is upon us! And with it, there is a nervous yet appealing angst, regardless of how many times you’ve experienced it. It is an odd juxtaposition to be both anxious and elated simultaneously. Yet it is a predictable response to breaking the summer routine, anticipating the challenging work ahead, and reuniting with our school community. In addition to the social aspects of a new school year, students and staff return with challenging goals in mind. One goal we should all consider this year is increasing our awareness of how we use our phones, electronic devices, and social media — I call this awareness: DIGITAL HYGIENE.
We know that hygiene refers to practices and daily habits conducive to maintaining good health, like washing hands, bathing, and brushing teeth. So, what does Digital Hygiene mean?
A quick Google search defines Digital Hygiene as “… regularly updating and cleaning electronic devices, using passwords that follow security protocols, optimizing settings, and the organization of the stored files.” However, that is not what I had in mind. So, allow me to define Digital Hygiene on my own terms.
It is hard not to notice our ever-increasing dependence and attraction to our electronic devices. Few aspects of professional and personal life are yet to be integrated into our phones and devices. They have become essential. We do our banking and shopping and even track our heart rate and the number of steps we’ve taken throughout the day. We communicate with friends and family in a variety of ways, meet new acquaintances, join groups with similar interests, play captivating games, plan trips near and far, and use the navigation to check traffic and arrival times even when we know the route. Every day there seems to be a new app or platform that brings us more utility and entertainment. It’s quite addictive.
Digital Hygiene centers around awareness of this growing dependence with a mindfulness of how and when we utilize our technology, and more importantly how it affects our overall health. Surely there must be some practices and habits of technology use conducive to maintaining good health, but it is not as straightforward as washing your hands.
There was a time when we didn’t know about harmful bacteria and that washing our hands and covering our coughs, would promote good health. Throughout history, awareness of things that do harm has led to countermeasures. We’ve learned to co-exist with natural things we can’t control, like bacteria, the sun’s harmful rays, and heavy metals. And sometimes we learn the hard way that our ingenious creations bring unforeseen consequences such as asbestos, lead paint, Thalidomide, Round-Up, and cigarettes, just to name a few. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Mobile devices and social media are just the latest additions to humanity’s list of creations that may prove to have some undesirable consequences down the road. Some would opine that they already have. Technology has changed our lives for the better and the worse. I am not writing to take sides, in fact, I believe that debate is futile for the simple fact that technology will continue to advance as sure as the sun rises. Devices will become more sophisticated and include more must-have features, apps, and human-to-human connectivity advancements. NeuraLink chips for human brains are already in development, which will allow humans to seamlessly integrate their minds with devices via Bluetooth. Google’s artificial intelligence, LaMDA, has already developed to the point where it is arguably sentient. In the not-too-distant future, we will be able to choose the degree to which we transform ourselves into cyborgs. None of this is science fiction; it is yesterday’s news. In case you are thinking that limiting screen time is the solution, screen time will become an outdated term in the future as humans progressively merge one-to-one with technology.
The relevant topic to consider today is how much or little you want the electronic world to intersect with your life. As parents and educators, a far more challenging issue is making that decision for the children in our care. It is a bit of a conundrum to prepare our youngsters for life in the future, encourage them to learn the latest technology so that they may be competitive in life, yet intentionally limit their use of it for the health of their minds and bodies. Clearly, we need thoughtful balance.
Everyone would benefit from a Digital Hygiene regimen that suits them, lest they run the risk of becoming a digital zombie. Individuals must determine a personal balance between immersing in technological utility versus experiencing life the old-fashioned way, in person. It is a question about an individual’s relationship with the virtual world and how far they want to take it.
There is nothing wrong with complete immersion in the virtual world, but it is not a life I want for myself or those in my care. The point is that when dealing with irresistible and addicting technology, it is easy to see how that can become detrimental to one’s psychological and physical health. And, like any addiction, one may not be aware that they have crossed a line until they realize they are negatively effecting others or try to quit.
A word of caution to the adults: Be aware of generational or nostalgic bias. It is a form of arrogance to reminisce favorably about your earlier days and assume that is what’s best for kids today. I am fond of my memories of growing up without cell phones. One of my favorite idioms is, “When the phones were tied by a wire, humans were free.” But I don’t think I would have liked growing up in my grandparents’ era with no television. Likewise, I don’t think kids today would look favorably on the prospect of growing up without Snapchat or Twitter. It’s all relative. Today’s youngsters will experience a world with technology beyond our wildest dreams (and nightmares). They will need the skills and proficiency to navigate a high-tech world, and we need to be mindful of that when considering digital abstinence as a consequence when they get in trouble.
So, as we embark on this new school year, let’s do so with eyes and minds wide open. As we learn and grow with new technologies, we must also make intentional efforts to engage with one another and develop interpersonal skills. We need to recognize when we’ve had enough digital time and make time for one another in engaging activities in person. We should incorporate regular activities free from technologies to ensure that everything technology can’t enhance, from fine motor skills to nature walks, doesn’t languish. With some practice, Digital Hygiene will be as routine and easy as washing your hands.
Poised for GreatnessPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 2/16/2022
Even if you’re not a country music fan, you are probably familiar with the hit Johnny Paycheck song, “Take This Job and Shove It.” Not only is it a catchy tune, but also to some degree, I think everyone finds it relatable from time to time when workplace frustrations arise. It is normal to be frustrated with one’s job on occasion, after all, it is work and not play. But, if you find yourself humming Paycheck’s song regularly and harboring the sentiment within, it may be time to rethink your career choices and find GREATNESS elsewhere.
It appears as though record numbers of Americans are doing just that—they are quitting. This economic phenomenon has been termed, “The Great Resignation.”
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the monthly resignation rate remained fairly stable over the past 20 years up until February 2021, and during that period, it never exceeded 2.4% of the total workforce. In April 2021, that number began climbing rapidly despite record numbers of job openings. By November 2021, a record 4.5 million workers tendered their resignations, bringing the “quits” to a whopping 3.0%. Fortunately, there were also 6.7 million new hires that month for a net gain, but something remarkable is certainly afoot.
This economic trend is fascinating in its own right; however, as educators and parents guiding children at a career-technical school, we must dive in and analyze! What are the forces driving The Great Resignation? More importantly, is there anything we can glean from it that will prove valuable to our children in the midst of their own career exploration? Let’s see.
First, let’s unpack some of the sentiment behind all of these resignations. Numerous articles, surveys, and studies show a complex array of factors that compel individuals to seek better employment opportunities elsewhere. I can’t possibly cover all of them, but I can share a glimpse of the underlying conditions from my research.
The pandemic set the table in a number of ways. Initially, routines were broken—many took a pause from work as they knew it, and in many cases new work modes were established. Many people got an extended taste of what it is like to set your own schedule and work remotely from home. Millions lost their jobs altogether and embarked on new ways to make an income—it created the conditions to reinvent oneself either by necessity or desire. Another big driver was childcare. Displaced youngsters became a monumental issue overnight, and many parents had to make difficult career choices to contend with it.
Living with the pandemic over the next two years didn’t get any easier. It is fair to say that very few career sectors have gone unscathed by pandemic conditions such as mandates, restrictions, worker shortages, and supply chain issues. The net result is that our jobs have universally become harder, more stressful, and growingly unpleasant. In a word, “burnout” is setting in, and it’s causing droves of people across all professions to rethink what they are doing for work, how they are doing it, and ultimately reassessing what they value at this stage of the game.
Next is the labor market. With job openings swelling in excess of 10 million over the last few months, opportunity abounds for anyone seeking a new arrangement. These conditions won’t last forever, but at this time, it is easy to see why frustrated individuals are emboldened to take the plunge and look for better work opportunities. Whether it is better compensation and benefits, different working conditions, health concerns in the workplace, fulfilling a dream of self-employment, or the consideration of retirement, the conditions are ideal for anyone inclined to make a change.
Speaking of retirement, the U.S. labor market is at the leading edge of the Baby Boomers reaching retirement age. This is significant because, according to Seniorliving.org, 10,000 Baby Boomers will hit retirement age every day from now until 2030! That is likely to give The Great Resignation some staying power for what would otherwise be a short-term trend.
After all of my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that “The Great Resignation” is a misnomer. This is an explosion of individuals [re]thinking their careers and choosing a better fit. Yes, the “quits” are off the chart, but the new “hires” are significantly greater. Through my lens as a career-technical educator, calling it “The Great Exploratory” is more fitting. Although there is a lot of grief and hardship driving The Great Resignation, the underlying premise is one of hope and excitement. Just as we teach our freshmen in Exploratory to evaluate all aspects of a career choice, workers across all generations are digging in and evaluating that very thing.
During their four years at BVT, we push our students to pursue their passions, explore their strengths and weaknesses, and learn the many facets of a particular career field and where they fit into it. They get a sense of what they want to do for work, how they prefer to do it, and what kind of compensation and growth to expect in a given career path. We hope they discover as many of these things as possible so they are a step ahead in, as Mark Twain would put it, “…making your vocation your vacation.” On a side note, they also know that it is equally valuable to explore and experience career interests and learn what they do not want to do for a living!
When I think about our students and their futures, calling this “The Great Opportunity” would be apropos for the current trends in labor. As the Boomers are retiring in massive numbers, the foreseeable future is bright for anyone entering the workforce. Our students have an opportunity to learn a skill, master a skill, and deliver a skill. In my opinion, they are poised—poised for “Greatness.”
Chew on ThisPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/17/2021
The changing of the seasons, celestial orbits, and the rhythmic exchange of night to day and back again are so overt, we rarely give them much thought. Why would we? Fairly consistent cycles are predictable, maybe even taken for granted. It is fascinating, however, when we recognize cycles in unsuspecting areas like human behavior, history, philosophy, and ideology. We perk up and take note of those, and sometimes it becomes apparent that we haven’t lived long enough to realize that we have come full circle. Here’s some FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
The ouroboros symbolizes these cycles, and in most cultures throughout history, it represents eternal renewal and the lifecycle more so than cannibalistic destruction. But, an unbiased observer may see these as one and the same.
What is an ouroboros? Carl Jung pioneered the concept of Collective Unconscious in modern psychology. In essence, Jung’s theory recognizes that throughout human history, civilizations and cultures around the world have shared common instincts, symbols, and archetypes. One of these Jungian archetypes I think about often is the ouroboros which dates as far back as 1600 BC. It translates roughly from the Greek words, “oura,” which means tail, and “bora,” which means food, and is frequently depicted as a snake or serpent eating its tail.
Our approach to public education in the United States, like everything else in the world, also ebbs and flows in fairly rhythmic cycles. It has done so since its inception in the 1830s when Horace Mann, a local gent from Franklin, Massachusetts, spearheaded the Common School Movement. Graduate schools of education profess that education vacillates between four basic philosophies: Perennialism, Essentialism, Progressivism, and Reconstructionism. In layperson terms, our innovative ideas in education grow stale, and “new” ideas become popular again. In my relatively short 25-year career in education, legislation like the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993, No Child Left Behind (2001), and the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) all highlight some of these aforementioned shifts in educational priorities and philosophies. You may recall changes in educational methods such as Common Core Math that emerged in 2009, and perhaps you caught wind that it is teetering on the verge of returning to the “old way” of teaching math. Educational philosophies and methods come and go to suit the times, and like bell-bottom pants, each will run its course and most likely be back in fashion someday.
One of my proudest moments as an educator is each year’s commencement. By its literal meaning, commencement is a new beginning, not an end. Just as the snake nourishes itself with its tail and grows stronger, our graduates draw upon their K-12 school experience to start the next chapter in their lives. As their senior year concludes, 8th graders are accepting their offers to become the next wave of freshmen at BVT, and this beautiful cycle repeats. We miss the outgoing seniors and their unique contributions to our school as we eagerly await a new class of freshmen — such an interesting mix of happiness, sadness, and excitement all wrapped into one.
Opinions on the evolution of career-technical education has been another interesting cycle to observe. BVT opened in 1964 with the same basic mission it has today — to prepare students for success in the workplace and excellent citizenry. It goes without saying that the skillsets to be life-ready and work-ready have changed dramatically since 1964, and approaches to achieve that mission evolved along with it. From the inception of vocational education in Massachusetts, it was never intended to be terminal — but in the early years, a high school diploma backed with strong trade skills was a proven recipe for high earning potential and success in life.
The need for a strong academic foundation and post-secondary education (even technical training) grew over the decades primarily due to ever-advancing technology. By the early to mid 1990s, state and federal education reform required that all students graduating from high school be college-ready, including vocational students. BVT, and schools like ours across the country, transitioned from the trade school model to today’s career-technical education (CTE) model. In the wake of the national movement that all students should pursue education beyond high school, two out of five Americans report that they are not utilizing their degree, yet bear the cost of paying for it, according to a recent survey by finder.com.
Popular opinion on the matter has certainly come full circle, especially if one compares the lifetime earnings of a licensed plumber without college loan debt to those paying for a degree they aren’t using. As the old joke goes, you need to be a physician to afford a plumber these days… if you can find one! Regardless how you feel about the evolution of CTE, I assure you that today’s career-technical graduates have a solid academic foundation and the versatility to choose how to build upon it.
There are so many of these cycles in action these days, particularly in education, and unfortunately many are quite controversial. Is MCAS an accountability mechanism to perform gap analysis and ensure all students in the Commonwealth receive a high-quality education, or should we do away with it because it unfairly and unequally exposes said gaps? Are dress codes inherently sexist and therefore should not exist at all, or should we go to the other extreme and return to school uniforms? Should competitive school admissions policies consider the merit of student applicants, or should lotteries be utilized as a fairer method to accept students? On any particular topic, some will welcome the change as much-needed progress, while others see a well-intended snake cannibalizing itself — it’s in the eye of the beholder.
Everything evolves. Here’s what I know: change is the only constant, the sun will rise (I think), and the universe will continue to cycle all things. This is humbling, and should be. To suggest that your view is the best one, or only one, is a particularly arrogant aspect of human nature. Be open to new ideas, be diplomatic in how you express your own, and be reminded there are very few “new” ideas. Nick Carroway’s closing line in The Great Gatsby says it all, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Advice to My Younger SelfPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 8/11/2021
Without a doubt, everyone shares my hope and enthusiasm to start a new school year without pandemic complications. There is extra excitement in the air to move on from Covid and begin a whole new chapter at BVT. Our incoming freshmen will experience vocational-technical training for the first time, and we all look forward to putting our full focus on our mission to bring our students closer to career, college, and life readiness. One challenging aspect of accomplishing this mission is giving cogent advice to our children, as we might have given to OUR YOUNGER SELVES.
Why does it always seem so challenging for adults to convey advice to kids? As adults, we have several decades of accumulated wisdom and experience to draw upon. A youngster would be a fool not to listen to our sage-like advice, right? After all, we adults have been there-done that, and we’re only trying to help. But we all know that it is rarely so simple. It may be relatively easy to know what to advise, but it is far more difficult, and at times very frustrating, to convince our kids to buy-in and utilize good advice. Why is that? Let’s dive in and analyze.
First, let’s have some fun and remove one variable — credibility. Hypothetically, if you could go back in time to your high school years and meet with yourself for thirty minutes, what advice would you give to the younger you? Do you think the high-school-you would have listened? Do you think you would have embraced this advice and done anything differently? As farfetched as this hypothetical scenario is, it provides us with a valuable thought exercise in the challenges of advising our students and children. Why is it exactly that you might not listen to future you? If we can excavate a few of these reasons, we will be much better prepared as advice-givers.
Time: Perhaps the most significant schism between the young and old is our perspective of time. As a 15- to 18-year old, we don’t have a developed concept of how finite time is. However, the 40-year-old-you is far more aware of how quickly those decades slip by. We are also more aware that goals often take longer to realize than we imagined, which creates a dynamic where adults see urgency and kids feel like they have “forever” to get around to a task. Although we elders may be correct, our urgency doesn’t resonate the same with youth, and I am sure we sound like excessively worried nags at times.
Curiosity: Young or old, trailblazing is always thrilling, and some say it’s the spice of life. The very heart of innovation and exploration is going down paths never traveled before. Making mistakes is part of the experience, and sometimes we learn from failure. It is so ingrained in our nature that we absolutely have to try things. A classic example of this basic human trait is touching the stove to believe it’s hot. No doubt you were told it would burn you, but you just had to see for yourself. Why? We have to experience life. We have to learn for ourselves. Sometimes we have to fail to truly learn.
Determination: Part of a healthy mind, body, and soul includes some degree of defiance and determination. As youths, we often wish to prove our elders wrong when they say we can’t do something. When we are young, we think we know better — we don’t know what we don’t know, and we have a high degree of confidence that we know plenty. As elders, we have a 30,000-foot view of that attitude and want nothing more than to spare our youngsters from tough experiences and hard-learned lessons. Again we hit a dynamic where our perspectives couldn’t be any further apart.
For all these reasons and many more, we can start to see why it is challenging to have youngsters follow our advice. Even the opportunity to meet with our future self, an amazing hypothetical scenario, may not have the profound difference in our path through life that I first imagined. However, the more I think about it, this hypothetical scenario has impacted how I might present advice to youngsters differently. Understanding your audience always makes one a more effective speaker. Approach advice-giving from the young recipient’s perspective and avoid being perceived as the all-knowing, finger-wagging adult.
As we tear into this new school year with gusto and enthusiasm, let us hone our skills at being more effective at guiding our kids. It’s a very worthy goal, even if you’re a seasoned pro at parenting and educating, but hey, that’s just my advice!
Think It OverPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 2/24/2021
The human mind is an amazing thing. We have the ability to focus very intensely on the tiniest details while simultaneously handling most of our daily tasks without thought. By design, we can choose where to expend our mental abilities and when to relax them. Young or old, there is never a bad time to pause and — THINK IT OVER.
Some people are more inquisitive than others by nature. Critical thinking is a learned skill, but we need to be aware that choosing to be a critical thinker is a personality trait. If we so choose, there are techniques to develop the habits of mind to be more inquisitive, engaged, and analytical.
It is all too easy these days to slog through life without much critical thought. We are busy, tired, and sometimes completely consumed by the daily routine. In that sense, not thinking comes as a welcome form of relaxation for an otherwise overworked mind. Technology has responded to this modern reality in a remarkably interesting way. Like no other time in history, social and mainstream media have elected to do much of our critical thinking for us, and it is very easy to accept that offer - we hardly perceive it is happening.
Sophisticated software, keywords overheard by our phones, “like” buttons, and the amount of time we pause on a particular headline or picture while scrolling makes it possible for our technology to “know us.” All of this algorithmic synthesis generates agreeable and satisfying content for our walls and feeds, ensuring that we see things we like, and in a calculated fashion, things we don’t like. The personalized content comes in the form of ads for appealing products, videos of interest, known and suggested music, attractive places to visit, and news stories chosen according to our biases. In many cases, our devices show us things we didn’t know we liked, but discover that we do! In totality, we are now able, if not encouraged, to do a whole lot less critical thinking.
It is more important than ever to embrace critical thinking. One could argue that it was never a bad idea to intentionally be more inquisitive and analytical. But these days, it provides a necessary counter-balance to the plethora of automated decisions and suggestions that are being made for us.
Let’s get down to basics and examine some of the habits of mind and techniques to become better critical thinkers. It doesn’t matter if you are forming an opinion on an argument, shopping for the best product to fit your needs, or anything in between; the same basic principles apply:
Be Proactive. Seek out information beyond what is conveniently available. It is your personal responsibility to be actively inquisitive; otherwise, someone or something will provide you with a filtered array of information.
Stay Open-Minded. We can usually sense our own bias, and we should always question it. In the end, we may return to our original position, but at least we engaged in a validation process and affirmed that we held that opinion for a good reason. The only real danger in bias and opinion is when we blindly follow it without scrutiny.
Flip It. One of my favorite techniques is looking at an argument from both sides, looking at the other person’s point of view, walk in their shoes, so to speak. Employ good listening, not to pounce on a counterargument, rather to understand and internalize opposing viewpoints. Try to disprove your conclusions, argue against yourself, and make the case that your original premise is wrong. It can be very revealing and enlightening to challenge your original standpoint in this way. When you return to your original point of view, it will be thoroughly analyzed and you will be prepared for counterarguments.
Proof Your Work. When you reach an analytical conclusion but it doesn’t completely make sense, then it probably doesn’t. If the line of reasoning doesn’t add up, then most likely you haven’t solved the full equation yet. Perhaps you need more data, some facts are missing or false, or you don’t have the whole story. Don’t settle for a conclusion built on doubt. There’s a good chance you haven’t solved the problem or completed your reasoning if you can’t proof your work. This concept works in analytical thinking just as well as it works in math.
Be Unique. It is human nature to go with the flow, join the hive-mind, get on the bandwagon and adopt popular thought. It takes guts, fortitude, and effort to stand alone in your opinions. Find that confidence and strength that allows you to forge your own beliefs, philosophies, and conclusions. Get comfortable standing alone. Eventually, you will find others who agree with you and validate your thinking – that always feels great – but never start there.
Stay Awake! Do not allow yourself to be lulled to sleep by the conveniences of modern technology. You have an incredible mind – use it! And if you catch yourself sleepwalking, let the memory of this article serve as your alarm clock.
Today’s parents and educators are the last generations to grow up without the influence of technology and the unfettered ability to think for ourselves. It is vitally important for us to embrace individual thought and emphasize its value to our children. We have a choice to be inquisitive and analytical. Please encourage others to habitually stop – and Think It Over!
All Things in ModerationPosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 11/25/2020
In the pursuit of producing well-rounded and prepared graduates, we must go beyond the world of academia and career studies. It is also our mission to teach our students important life skills and traits such as good citizenship, character, leadership, and organization just to name a few. Let us focus on one such life skill: BALANCE.
No doubt we have all heard the phrase, “all things in moderation” or some variant of it. My earliest recollection of this sage-like advice was from my grandmother. She was a fountain of proverbs and life lessons, and a younger me credited her as the original source. Later in life, I learned that the origin of the phrase traces back to ancient Greeks like Hesiod, Plautus, and Aristotle. I would also learn that the phrase, “all things in moderation” is more of an idiom than a proverb as it is not to be taken literally. Nonetheless, there is something metaphorically valuable in that phrase as it has endured for thousands of years. In short, it reminds us of the importance of balance in our lives.
There are some interesting observations about the human condition, and more pointedly, about our cultural values. We seem to be ever adrift toward the temptation of gluttony and extremism. If a large soda is appealing, then the Super Size or Big Gulp is even more appealing. Who doesn’t need a half-gallon of Mountain Dew with their triple bacon burger? If we are shopping for Aspirin, I don’t know why I would buy regular strength when there is extra strength, or better yet, double strength, right next to it on the shelf. Who has time to be fooling around with regular strength anything? We are in love with the concept of superlatives — if one is good, two is better. We have a similar affinity for the smallest, the lightest, and the most compact, particularly as it applies to things like electronics and items we wear and carry. Our affinity for the extreme is a concept that marketing and advertising industries know all too well. We also have the incredible ability to have things practically on-demand with the advent of services like Amazon, fast food chains, drive-up windows, and e-commerce.
Interestingly, the phrase “all things in moderation” is commonly heard in the context of one’s diet, but metaphorically it applies to all things for which we have an appetite — goods, services, entitlements, and expectations. The concept of gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins in Christianity, refers to more than just an overindulgence of food — it applies to all that is desirable. In humankind’s earliest writings, there is evidence that the temptation of gluttony has always been part of the human experience. Fortunately, we have an awareness of this, but we also need to be reminded to practice restraint. Said awareness is not uniquely human, but a delay of gratification is a rare higher order skill among living creatures. For example, any equestrian will tell you that we must protect our four-legged friends from finding an unattended apple bin lest they may snack themselves to death — the delay of gratification is an unknown concept to a horse.
I mentioned earlier that “all things in moderation” should be considered an idiom because one should not take the phrase literally. There are certainly times when we want nothing in moderation; for example, no one wants a moderate amount of COVID. Likewise, there are times when excess, even obsession, is healthy and necessary. This is where passion, dedication, and excellence intersect with the concept of moderation. Imagine if Mozart’s parents nagged that he was overindulging in his music, or Nikola Tesla was admonished for reading too much as a child. Sometimes obsession and excess are good things, which brings us back to the concept of balance, and more to the point of this article: How do we help our youngsters conceptualize and achieve balance? We need to guide and teach them to approach decisions as a thought process — an internal analysis and negotiation. Furthermore, like any successful negotiation, a compromise must be reached between desire, indulgence, sound reasoning, and practicality.
I fear that the penalty for not learning and practicing moderation is a recipe for unhappiness and lost potential. Without “all things in moderation,” will we not spiral toward an insatiable appetite for something perceived to be bigger and better? Do we start to lose our ability to moderate in general? Looking at the political landscape in 2020, I never remember a time of such staunch polarization and political encampment. Perhaps this is a coincidence, perhaps not, but the middle — the moderate — seems to have all but disappeared in American politics. Extremism is in vogue. Does anyone still buy regular Aspirin? I hope so.
I also hope that we can teach our students what the adults in my life taught me as a kid. I have a renewed appreciation for those silly idioms and phrases preaching moderation and those adult oversights such as not allowing me to eat the entire pillowcase full of candy on Halloween night. Young or old, I think it’s never a bad time to be reminded, “all things in moderation!” Please take a moment to celebrate the middle, or at least appreciate its existence.”
Risk!Posted by Anthony E. Steele II on 8/13/2020
It is with great pleasure that I welcome everyone back for the start of the 2020–2021 school year. Although it has been quite an unusual summer for us all, I hope that you are well-rested and enthusiastically ready to commence another exciting year at BVT. Our school community consists of a strong partnership between our staff, parents, and students. Our shared vision and approach to learning continues to produce the best possible learning environment for our students. As schools across the nation prepare for the new school year, apprehension abounds concerning the safety and health of in-person versus distance learning. Let’s take a moment to look at a particular aspect of that apprehension and synchronize our expectations with the expression: RISK!
Assuming risk is an inherent part of life. The art of risk assessment is a skillset we start learning in our earliest years and practice throughout our lives. As adults, we protect our children from getting themselves into harm’s way and hope they rapidly develop the sense to do this more independently as they mature.
Anyone who has installed baby gates knows that the clock is ticking the moment a baby first learns to roll and crawl — in the blink of an eye their sense of exploration without the knowledge of danger can get them into trouble very quickly. Throughout childhood, we begin learning to weigh risk versus reward, but this takes time. When we are young, we are notoriously fearless — practically immortal — at least in our minds. I’m sure you can recall climbing a tree, jumping a bike off a rickety ramp, or taking a flying leap off of a rope swing all for the thrill of it and with utter disregard for the potential consequences. We look back fondly at the stunts we pulled and the chances we took. Perhaps getting away with it was all part of the thrill.
Grownups cringe at the sight of children and young adults embracing their perceived immortality, and for good reason; we know that we’re not invincible and have the scars to prove it. Author/Screenwriter Jean Shepherd had some fun with this concept in his classic movie, A Christmas Story. The only gift Ralphie Parker wanted that year was a Red Rider-200 Shot-Carbine Action-Range Model-Air Rifle, or as he put it, the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts! Instantly and instinctively, Ralphie’s mother (and even the Mall Santa) retorted, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” and, well…we know the rest of the story. In archetypal moments like this, we are reminded why ‘mom really does know best,’ even if we don’t like what she is saying.
The inescapable, underlying fact is that risk is pervasive through every life decision we make. Hollarmikekan, a well-known blogger, aptly states, “Life is a series of calculated risks, nothing more. Everything that you choose to do has an edge of risk. We risk everything, each day of our lives without knowing it.” Consider some of these subtleties in terms of health: we choose the foods we eat, how much we exercise, as well as life choices of whether or not to smoke, wear sunscreen, and make our routine checkups with the doctor. In the financial realm, we calculate investment opportunities, make business decisions, change careers, and carefully manage retirement accounts — all with risk-reward in mind. We constantly make minute-by-minute decisions ranging from how fast we drive to how securely we plant the legs of a ladder before ascending. Even in leisure, we must consider the inherent danger of the hobbies and activities we pursue. It all involves the basic calculation of the perceived risk taken for the potential reward gained. It is largely a very personal decision — literally how one lives life.
One fascinating thing about risk is that the calculation can be both an art and a science. Most of the examples I’ve given thus far are very organic. I’ve described one’s experiences and perceptions leading to a common sense conclusion; that is why I see it as an art form — it does not require a foundation in science or math per se. Conversely, insurance actuaries use incredibly sophisticated predictive software and modeling to calculate risk with extreme scientific precision. The likelihood that a particular driver will create an accident claim, the health insurance premium for a given group of policyholders, or the chance that a rare flood will wash away a home, are all prime examples. Casinos and the gaming industry are quite precise with predicting outcomes of a different sort. I’m not sure if I should say casinos leave everything to chance, or nothing to chance — but over time, we all know that the house always wins.
2020 introduced the world to a whole new challenge in the realm of risk calculation with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In retrospect, it has been a remarkable case-study in risk management at the global, national, state, and regional level that combines all the elements of scientific, economic, political, and personal aspects of risk management. The pandemic also casts a spotlight on the personal process (and art) of an individual’s risk calculation. Not surprisingly, the strategies and responses to COVID-19 have varied greatly at every aforementioned level. It is also not surprising that individual attitudes toward COVID-19 are equally as diverse. The inherent problem for anyone in a leadership position is that decisions are made for, and on behalf of, others. It is one thing to make your own risk-reward calculations, but entirely another matter when making decisions that impact others. What is even more troubling for leaders making decisions around COVID-19 is that the stakes are incredibly high. When assessing the risk, it is in terms of great numbers of people suffering from life-threatening consequences. When assessing the rewards, we contemplate our economy, children’s education, ability to worship and conduct vital business just to name a few. I empathize with anyone in a leadership position who has to bear the weight of these decisions — and consequences — that affect so many others.
BVT is not exempt from the challenge of starting the school year while the threat of COVID-19 still looms. The time has come for us to make a collective decision, as a state, a 13-town community, and as a school. Surveys confirm that both staff and the families we serve would love nothing more than a return to the classroom and the resumption of pre-COVID normalcy. I ask that everyone appreciate and respect that our school community is comprised of the sum of each individual’s risk-reward calculation. No matter what mode we choose to deliver instruction, it must reasonably assure everyone’s safety and minimize risk while rewarding us with the best possible education we can provide our students, sons, and daughters.
In this sense, the school is the bridge between a very wide divide in personal feelings about the risk of COVID-19 and the sacrifices we must make to keep everyone safe and healthy. We know that schools cannot stay in a purely distance-learning model forever. This is particularly true for career-technical schools like BVT where the hands-on experience we provide is paramount to student learning. At some point, we need to inch our way out on that proverbial tree limb and return to the schoolhouse. With our collective wisdom, science, and judgement, we will need to determine how much or how little in-person learning can occur given the circumstances. Although safety is always our first priority, I am reminded of the words of Neil Armstrong, who said, “There can be no great accomplishment without risk.”
Win Some, Lose SomePosted by Anthony E. Steele II on 2/20/2020
One of the hallmarks of BVT is encouraging our students to take pride in their work—to compete even when no one is looking. Our students encounter success in life because they have experienced competition and deeply understand the value society places on merit. They also learn to be resilient in failure. Let’s face it, you can’t win all the time. Our students are strong and have the fortitude to try and try again (and again...). We WIN SOME; we LOSE SOME, but we never give up the fight.
I’ve always enjoyed the spirit of competition. I might even say that competition is what makes life worth living…or at least enjoyable. Charles Darwin would argue that all life on our planet owes its existence to competition, but let’s take a less scientific focus on the sociological aspect of human fulfillment.
I posit that the human need for competition is so innate that we are hardwired to engage in it even as a solitary endeavor. Have you ever toiled at something seemingly unimportant to others for your own satisfaction? Sure, you have—that beautiful house plant, that greener lawn, that clean car, that elaborate recipe you cooked for yourself. You took pride in it, and you did it for yourself, but subconsciously competition was at play. Striving to be better, to do our best work, is innate. And, when others take notice—it scratches that primal itch to engage in competition. If this were not true, we simply wouldn’t try—we didn’t really need a house plant at all, and a brown lawn will still hold the dirt down, just as the dirty car still gets us there. And, as long as we have sustenance, is the elaborate recipe and thoughtful presentation really that important?
Consider how excited we get about competition when it involves others. Examine our culture around individual and team sports—the determination of the athletes, the intense rivalries, and the screaming fans decked out in team gear to signify they are part of it. Sports are obvious examples, but our whole existence revolves around competition in one form or another. Perhaps Darwin was correct on an evolutionary and biological level, but humans have cultivated the spirit of competition on every level imaginable. We adore excellence in every form and will gather like moths to a nightlight to experience (and hire) the best musicians, orators, writers, barbers, carpenters, designers, chefs, manufacturers, doctors, and so on and so forth. We strive to earn our way into the best schools, and ultimately to be hired by the best companies in our chosen vocations. Some of us start our own businesses and strive to build the best mousetrap, so the world beats a path to our door to buy one. It goes without saying that we seek the best service we can afford, whether it’s the doctor standing over our hospital bed or the plumber fixing our water leaks.
Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Education (DESE) took issue with the state-regulated admissions process for all vocational-technical schools. Six vocational schools were engaged in the initial discussions to amend the statewide regulations, and BVT had the distinction of being among those chosen to participate. Some who clearly don’t understand career-technical education have suggested DESE abolish the state approved and regulated competitive application process to vocational schools in favor of lottery admissions. The primary rationale is that 8th grade is too early for students to experience meritocracy. In other words, a student’s effort to have great attendance, discipline, character, and grades (his or her merit) should yield to the luck of the draw because it is presumably fairer. I stand with virtually every career-technical educator in the state to say that I am vehemently opposed. Here’s why:
First, let’s rule out a few things. If eliminating our waitlist would solve the concerns, we would gladly admit every student who applies. But, in our case at BVT that would be roughly 3200 students, which is an unrealistic solution for many reasons. Another option is to create more career-technical programs throughout the state, and that effort is well underway. Nonetheless, demand for career-technical education far exceeds capacity and will for the foreseeable future. That brings us back to pondering the lottery.
I disagree that 8th grade is too early for students to experience meritocracy. As an 8th grader, I pursued military and maritime options for high school. I didn’t get into my top choices and accepted that other applicants exhibited more merit than I. I made the next best choice, you know, Plan B. I wasn’t sunk for life, and it was very indicative of what to expect four years later in college admissions. I learned from it. I’m afraid that lottery-style admissions not only lack that inherent lesson that our society rewards merit, but also creates an inexplicable blip in meritocracy for a moment in time. Let me explain.
Immediately after students enter BVT via the lottery, they would begin on day one competing with classmates for shop placement through the Exploratory process. One-quarter of a student’s career GPA would be in the books, and class rank is already a reality by the end of freshman year. By sophomore year, the bulk of the state MCAS exams are administered, and ironically the state will award John and Abigail Adams Scholarships to the top 25% of performers in the class—not the bottom 25% and not a random 25%. By junior year, students will be filling out college applications, none of which are based on a lottery. Juniors and seniors are also setting their sights on Co-op employment, and once again competing for the best opportunities. SkillsUSA will roar into town in March, and by summer, we will know who the best regional, state, and national champions are in every trade conceivable. And finally, in June, graduation will be upon us, and we will declare that we have prepared our seniors “for the real world.” We will also proudly proclaim that they graduate ready for “the world of work.” I’m curious—were you hired for your current job because you showed up on time every day, took your training seriously, gained valuable skills and experience, and worked hard—or were you hired by a lottery?
Lottery admissions defy every notion of our mission to make our students college, career, and life-ready. It is not “the real world” and certainly has nothing to do with “the world of work.” Furthermore, lottery admissions do not solve the severe supply and demand issue for quality career-technical education. Even in the lottery, there are winners and losers. All that lottery admissions will accomplish is the fantasy that for a split second, merit doesn’t matter.
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