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Scott Oki – “Outrageous Learning:” another voice begging for transformation

June 4, 2009

Yesterday I received in the mail a copy of Scott Oki’s latest book, Outrageous Learning, an Education Manifesto.

I couldn’t wait to read it as it’s all about the former Microsofter’s ideas for transforming our public education system (something near and dear to my heart, particularly today!)

I’ve already finished it.  Scott opens the book with some great points; things he can get away with saying, which are the same things that get me into trouble.   For example:

“We lament the downward path of our K-12 public school education system. The United States spends $500 billion a year just maintaining the public school systems we have now.  We devote billions more public and private dollars each year to try to improve and fix them…There are too many indicators that we are on a negative spiral; and…we accelerate down the path toward mediocrity…or worse.”

I couldn’t agree more. What’s worse is the next paragraph where he asks the question I lament over so often:

“So, where is the public outrage?  I believe the lack of sufficient emotional energy to make a positive diference in public education is due to the fact that we, as individuals, feel powerless to fix a problem that is a multi-headed hydra of gargantuan size.”

Again, I agree, where IS the public outrage? Why do we accept this as the best we can do?  Even the Hydra was vanquished by Hercules; changing the education system will take a Herculean effort, of that you can be sure.

But, what better thing to devote our energies and emotions to? If we are “ok” with, as Oki points out, that our current generation is less educated than its parents were, for the first time in history, then we should just continue to go our merry ways, pretend all is well, and be ready to accept that we deserve the mediocrity we are all too often getting . And soon, we will be overtaken by all the other countries out there who recognize children are vital human capital: our future workforce, future leaders, seeds of the next generations and invest accordingly in preparing them for that future.

As Oki points out, we’re going to have to have a major mindset change if anything is to appreciably improve. I find it ironic that I said the same thing in a post from the other day which today I was asked to remove from this blog because it angered two of the five people who actually read it. But, my goal in writing it wasn’t to embarrass any particular individuals or entities, rather to express my frustration at the “system” which is the same system Oki seeks to reform in many of the same ways I’ve been suggesting. I’ve made my apologies for causing other people distress because positive outcomes for all is what drives me to do what I do and say what I say.

I’m glad there are other people that are saying the same things; perhaps if enough of us say the same things, to enough people, with enough passion and committment, we WILL see a change. After all, aren’t our KIDS worth it?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. ProudParent permalink
    June 6, 2009 1:46 am

    Hey! I was looking for a Blog entry you had a few days back (I saved it because I wanted to print it out) and it is gone! I wanted to forward your Blog to a friend back east because she is having very similar frustrations with her local school district. This was your Blog entry I saved:

    June 1, 2009 by corinnegregory

    I took a mental break over the weekend and tried to focus on things unrelated to the business of saving our schools. I had had such a frustrating experience on Friday that I just had to take an attitude adjustment day. Sometimes things happen where you really wonder: do our schools/our educators and administrators really even CARE about the kids? I have to hope that some do, but I feel that many are just in it for themselves. Let me explain:

    Friday, I had what’s probably the final meeting with a local school district about whether they were interested in SocialSmarts for their schools. This meeting was the culmination of nearly 10 months’ worth of effort. I won’t name names, but let’s just say it’s a school district local to me, and one I am VERY familiar with. Back last December, I met with the Superintendent who is also a non-business acquaintance/friend of mine. I introduced him to SocialSmarts and asked for some feedback on what he heard. In response, he asked me to schedule meetings with three of his top people who all have responsibilities for separate areas of District programs and operations. I was specifically told to say that he (Superintendent) had recommended I speak with them. So began the odyssey.

    Several rounds of emails went ignored. I was particularly frustrated by that because one of the individuals was told about SocialSmarts through another source and the feedback from her was quite positive — she wanted to know more. But, not so much that she returned my emails or queries, apparently. Finally, four months after I had started the follow up campaign, and I kept hearing about all the budget cuts needed by the District I emailed the Superintendent again. He expressed disappointment that no one from his office had contacted me and promised I’d hear from someone shortly.

    Well, I did…but not from the three I was expecting. It was more like an assistant to the understudy to the head of schools. I was given a less-than-welcoming reception, was allowed about 15 minutes to give my pitch…and then was told “well, we’ll be in touch.”

    Then…continue follow up for another 6 weeks. Nothing. Repeated contacts go ignored. I know they have other things on their minds, but sheesh…at least respond, will ya? Finally underling says he’s done some research and is ready to tell me what he knows — would I like to meet in person or just do it on the phone? I said in person would be better, and reminded him that the purpose of my meeting with District people was so that I could tell them about OUR program, not just hear about what they are already doing.

    So, I have my meeting — the biggest waste of 15 minutes of my life. Was essentially told, “well, we’re not looking to replace our current anti-bullying programs.” Which is swell, except that SocialSmarts is NOT strictly an anti-bullying program. I was also generously informed that there’s nothing stopping me from going principal-to-principal to pitch the program, which is usually how this happens anyway. Oh, and here’s something encouraging: since curriculum evaluation runs in cycles, in a couple two-three years, this area of the District curriculum would be reassessed and perhaps I’d have an opportunity then.

    Takeaway: they don’t CARE about whether their current programs are actually DOING anything for their constituents. They’ve already done their homework and they have what they have, regardless of whether it’s working or not. The message I received was, “We don’t know anything your program, but we know we don’t need it.”

    Meanwhile, this school district is talking about needing to cut $7.7M worth of programs this coming year. Yet, they do nothing about the $35-42M they are wasting every year from not dealing with the issue of classroom disruption and discipline, and all that comes with. The Superintendent himself has said that classroom disruption is one of his biggest problems.

    My observations too often are that the schools are NOT about really doing what’s right and beneficial to the students. They are about empire building, about pointing out that if they had more money, smaller classrooms, paid their teachers more, had more planning time, had shorter school weeks, blah, blah…THEN they’d be able to achieve an excellent education for our kids.

    But, ask them to really look at what the problems are and where they come from…nah…we don’t need to do that.

    So I threw up my hands in frustration and wonder what it’s going to take to make a change? It’s going to take a real mind-shift and I think it’ll take pressure from the “outside” to compel the administrators to consider alternatives. We owe it to our kids now, and to our economic marketplace and future communities to insist on a critical examination of what our schools are doing and why. And, we can’t take “business as usual” as an acceptable answer ’cause business as usual is failing.”

    What happened to it and how come you pulled it off the site? I think what you experienced is happening all over the country. Keep going after the system because the system will never get fixed if left to the bureaucrats! Is this the Seattle schools system, just wondering?

  2. corinnegregory permalink*
    June 6, 2009 3:02 am

    Actually, proudparent — no, it’s not Seattle PSD. You may want to consider it a profile of districts that have the attitude that “if it was something that worked, we’d already know about it.” There are too many schools and districts that have blinders on and use short-sighted excuses for why they don’t have better outcomes.

    Fortunately, there are the more enlightened districts out there that are willing to look at new alternatives — because they KNOW that what they’ve been doing historically is NOT yielding the results they want or need. If enough of those are willing to consider new possibilities, well, then we all stand a chance to improve outcomes for all those the districts serve: the parents, the families, the students — and ultimately the community.

  3. June 12, 2009 6:00 pm

    Hi. My name is Chris Wirkkala ( and I’d like to dialog with dedicated parents such as ‘proudparent’ and corrinegregory.

    If either of you see this and can e-mail me that would be great. I’m working on building a company to help augment the educational needs of latchkey children who are products of dispersed families and I’d love your input.



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