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Harm in the School System
    
Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

As a social psychiatrist, I examine society much like a doctor examines a patient.  One of the most troubling ailments that I encounter is our school system, which - without ever realizing it - harms the majority of our students.

It is my belief that our school system is the most fundamental cause of the social problems that our society faces today.  Far from being expensive, the solution to this problem would cost no money.

Speaking from a psychiatric perspective, our most critical mental attributes involve emotions, judgment, a sense of priority, empathy, conscience, interpersonal relations, self-esteem, identity, independence, the ability to concentrate, and a number of other whole-brain functions that defy description.  I will lump all of these attributes under the term 'mindfulness'. 

There is a sharp jump in the incidence of mental illness immediately after children begin school.  This would suggest that something about our school system is in direct conflict with the human psyche.  The academy-award-winning film American Beauty captures the essence of social dysfunction in today's world, and has the power to portray many things that cannot equally be expressed through the written word.  I would urge you to see this film.  Note how most of the characters in this film suffer from a major personality disorder. By restructuring our schools, many such disorders could be prevented.  I will show you how.

First, we must conquer our obsession with attempting to align academic achievement with some sort of time-table.  Everyone has a very unique personality, and therefore, learns at a different pace.  Some people are ready to learn how to read at age 3, while others may be better to suited to learning how at age 10.  In schools, we force subject matter down the throats of the students.  We neglect to realize, however, that children learn much more quickly and effectively if they are receptive and eager to learn the subject matter.  Children could master the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic far more quickly, if they were allowed to learn what they wanted to learn when they wanted to learn it.

Prior to about 1850, schooling as we presently understand the term - wasn't considered critical to the development of young minds.  Granted, some children did attend schools, but only as often as they wanted to.
  
Classroom education was far from mandatory, yet children still learned to read, write, and perform arithmetic.  In fact, Senator Kennedy's office once released a paper stating that prior to the implementation of compulsory education, the literacy rate was 98%.  Afterwards, the figure never exceeded 91%.
  
Forcing people to learn has no value, and is extremely harmful.  Tests, grades, busywork, and competition are at the core of the problems that plague our schools.  The motivation to learn must come from within the student.  Often, we become so concerned with fulfilling the demands of other people, that we lose track of what we feel and who we are.  I have met or worked with countless individuals who are intellectually well developed, but who have lost touch with their inner-self.  

As a child, everyone is curious and eager to learn.  Before attending school and being subjected to this process of coercion, children manage to learn a complex language (in bilingual families, two languages) and a copious amount of things about their environment.  There is no reason why such learning could not continue without the negative effects of rigid institutionalization and standardized test scores, which seem to form the basis of modern-day education.  Rather than hindering the growth of our children, we must provide an environment that will nourish them, and facilitate continuous learning.

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School Reform That Works

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

In order for students to reach their fullest potential, they must be allowed to develop their own individual educational programs.  Teachers should be present to facilitate this process, and should be available when called upon for help by their students.

In our schools today, two of the most neglected areas of adolescent development are the social and emotional aspects.  Children need to exist in a healthy community that is open, honest, nurturing, interactive, and free from harmful activities such as bullying, humiliation, favoritism, and scapegoating.

As I have previously stated, all children have a unique personality, and therefore, will all respond differently to various educational methods.  This might prompt some people to ask, "How can we have schools that serve the needs of so many different personalities without spending any more money?"

A school has many rooms, which are used for a variety of different activities throughout the day.  Rather than the stagnant classroom environment that currently exists, classrooms would become places for workshops, discussions, laboratories, and other activities.  Some of the rooms would be equipped with computers for use by the students.  Other rooms would have projection monitors with theater-like surround sound.  In the workshops, talking, movement, and experimentation would be encouraged, rather than forbidden.

One of the most effective educational tools is the discussion group, which can often be found in colleges and universities.  There is no reason why such groups could not exist in high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools.  A variety of discussion groups where students could express their feelings openly would be valuable at all levels in our educational system.  Both moderated and unmoderated groups could be successfully used to promote emotional and social maturity in our young citizens.

Students would be able to attend the activities of their own choosing.  Learning would be made an active, rather than a passive, endeavor, and at a minimal cost.  Some would argue that such hi-tech equipment would be too expensive.  Granted, such equipment would cost a small amount of money, but the core concept of this reform remains costless.  It is the restructuring, not the technology, that is most important to my proposal.  We must allow children to legislate control over their own educations.

On another page I will explain, in detail, the concept of flow, which is essentially a process of intense involvement with a project or activity, with such involvement stemming from internal motivation, rather than arising as a response to external demands.  Teachers must be observant of the degree to which this process is occurring, and must respond appropriately if it is not present.  When people have flow in their lives, they are generally happy.  Preschool aged children naturally experience flow, but once they are inducted into our school system, this flow is interrupted.  In the new educational model that I have proposed, there would be a heightened flow-awareness and a sense of both community and social equality.

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Mindfulness: A Definition

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Beyond the brain’s capacity to store factual information and perform various calculations, it has higher functions that enable us to:

   • Prioritize our needs and interests

   • Extract relevant facts from complex realities that are marred by
      distracting elements

   • Make judgments and decisions based on a complex array of factors

   • Integrate seemingly unconnected facts into an enriched whole

   • Communicate effectively with one another and elicit cooperation

   • Empathize and feel emotional connection with others

The brain’s capacity to perform these higher functions encapsulates the essence of mindfulness.  Mindfulness, however, is not simply an abstract concept that resides solely in the invisible realm of the brain, but can be found all around us.

Have you ever listened to a piece of music that seemingly touches the core of your soul, thrusting you into a realm far beyond the present moment, and all of its concerns?

Suddenly, your mind opens, and you see the world in a different light.  You no longer obsess over the details of your daily routine.  For some inexplicable reason, you are able to tap into your innate creativity, and you realize that life is full of possibilities.  Without needing to hide, lie to yourself or hide behind a mask, you are able to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses.  You no longer feel the need to control or be controlled by others.  This is the power of mindfulness.

Perhaps you have encountered such individuals who have the ability to tune out the irrelevant distractions of the world, and focus solely on those things that truly matter.  These are people such as the doctor in the emergency room.  Though he knows that the chaos of the world rages around him, he is able to direct all of his energies toward the patient at hand, often with a human life hanging in the balance.

These are the people who can reach a higher plane of existence, that transcends the mediocre and the negative.  Mental power is an integral part of mindfulness, and cannot be obtained overnight.  It takes great patience.  One of the best ways to develop mental focus is through the practice of meditation.

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Mindfulness: What It Looks Like

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Mindful people make good husbands, wives, and parents.  They get along well with others, and have a sense of empathy and conscience.  They tend to be responsible, yet still understand the importance of play.

Although mindfulness is an abstract concept, we can still describe many of its characteristics; what its absence causes; how it develops; and how we can introduce it into our school system.

Mindful people are in touch with their feelings.  They are aware of their strengths and weaknesses.  They are able to make decisions.  They can think independently.  Rather than simple black and white alternatives, they are conscious of the shades of gray that fall between.  They do not control people and do not allow others to control them.  They are honest, and have a sense of truth that causes them to react when a story doesn't quite 'add up'.  They are creative and effective problem solvers.

Mindfulness includes the ability to focus one's thoughts on an objective, while tuning out irrelevant distractions.  For example, when a doctor listens to your heart with a stethoscope, he hears a series of heartbeats.  Within each heartbeat, there are a series of subtle sounds.  He must listen to each tiny segment, by mentally tuning out the rest of the sounds.  This takes a lot of practice.  We all need to develop the ability to temporarily ignore the extraneous distractions of the world, and focus on what truly matters to us.  This process does not involve a denial of reality, but rather, the selective direction of attention.

The inability to focus is a very common problem.  People often allow the various distractions that surround them to pull them in many directions.  They are unable to steer their mental ship.  Our senses are flooded with an abundance of information, much of which has no sense of logic, no goal, and no direction.

A sense of functionality is an important part of mindfulness.  For example, if you examine a watch, you can tell if it is functioning properly.  You can take off the back cover of the watch, and inspect the precision mechanism.  Even if you don't understand all of the inner workings, you still have a sense about the precision with which the watch was made.  You can often intuitively discern when something is wrong or dysfunctional.

I recently read an article about healthcare reform, which came to the conclusion that nothing we can do will change the system, aside from "getting angry".  This doesn't solve the problem.  Even if all of the people in the world got angry at the healthcare system, the problem would remain unsolved.  We need to develop our problem solving skills.  The vast majority of our problems are solved intuitively, with all parts of the brain working together in synch.  Higher math is rarely required.

We see evidence of our societal lack of mindfulness in the poor decisions that are made by people in government regarding military actions, our environment, and our healthcare system.  We witness mindlessness in our educational systems which have curriculums that lack relevancy.  We see it manifested in medicine, where doctors rush from one patient to the next, writing countless prescriptions, rather than listening.  We see it in people who blame and punish, rather than attempt to understand.  We observe a world of people who have become engaged in a rat-race of meaningless activity that has no intrinsic value to them.  These are the people who hang onto the clutter of the past, and have difficulty moving forward.

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How to Be Mindful: an introduction

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Read Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life (1991) written by Thich, N.H. and published by Bantam Books.  It initiates readers on a meditative journey into the world of mindfulness, and is so simply written that it can be read and understood with ease.

This book integrates the simple mind-set of mind and body awareness into daily activities.  By being conscious of one's breathing while doing daily activities such as driving, washing dishes, or eating, one can develop a heightened state of mindfulness.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, mindfulness is an all-encompassing quality that springs from a sense of profound self-awareness.  Only through existing 'in the moment' can we achieve tranquility that enables us to confront our darkest fears and tap into our own self-healing powers.  With the aide of mindfulness, we will possess the inner strength and peace that we must have in order to identify our suppressed fears, and bring them to the surface in order to release them.  Those who have obtained mindfulness can acknowledge the need to look within themselves to uncover the underlying causes of their negative feelings.  Once the cause has been realized, such feelings can be eradicated.

Mindfulness, or an intense and profound self-awareness, lies at the heart of an ideal society.  Each individual’s behavior exerts an impact on other members of the society. Mindless individuals generate chaos.  They harm the people who they love, often without realizing the consequences of their actions.  In contrast, mindful individuals are intensely aware of their environment and the people around them, and follow a path of love, selflessness, and peace.

Our current school system - government-controlled and factory-like - produces an environment that is contrary to mindfulness.  It is built on the notion that happiness will come in the future if we are miserable today.  This reliance on hope is based on a lie that is extremely destructive.

Every person, from the moment of conception, is dealt a unique personality that determines how and what he will learn, and the kind of social contribution that he will make, among other things.  This process of individual and unique development works extremely well until the child is placed in the traditional classroom.  At that point, the teacher essentially says: "You will learn what I want you to learn, and do the many assignments that I give you.  If you do not, you're going to be in big trouble."

There are many problems with this approach, but three particular concerns are paramount:

1) People, males in particular, absolutely detest being controlled.  In my twenty years of experience as a psychiatrist, patients have had three main complaints about parents and teachers: control, abuse, and neglect.  Students want to learn.  They don't want to be controlled.

2) Abuse is extremely common in schools, particularly among men.  Almost every school has its bullies and scapegoats.  Teachers often have their favorites, and their 'bad' kids, who are targets of incessant humiliation.

3) Excessive assignments and 'busywork' are extremely damaging to mindfulness.  Many students spend 70 hours or more per week on assignments.  In this kind of environment, the brain has no opportunity to integrate and process the complex array of data that it encounters.  This results in the neural circuits becoming a tangled mess.

The essence of meditation is to sit quietly in a place where there are no distractions.  Do you know that most people cannot do this?  When presented with no external distractions, people must confront the internal conflict and disorganization that exists within their minds.  Doing so makes most people very uncomfortable, and if they remained in such a reflective state, they would become even more confused and uncomfortable.  As time passed, however, they would reach a point of clarity, and arrive at a deep state of inner peace.

Most people are unwilling to engage in this process, which would force them to confront their own subconscious conflicts.  To avoid this, many individuals become addicted to the rat race of meaningless activity.  In order to distract themselves, they must remain constantly busy.  Unquestionably, the mind needs an environment free of pressure, and time set aside for peaceful reflection.  Now contrast these needs with the common practice of students neglecting sleep in order to study for exams.

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Mindlessness: What it Looks Like

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

It is purposefully deceptive.  Elaborate, expensive buildings conceal the real functional impairment of the school system.

When we do not cultivate the ability to use our minds at a higher level, we often loose the capacity to do so.  Without proper development and stimulation, certain mental processes can literally be shut-down.  Instead of acting mindfully in their lives, mindless people are governed by negative thoughts that emerge from their unconscious mind to fill the void.

Many of us have encountered mindless individuals in our schools, such as the teachers who stick strictly to the textbooks, without animating the printed words through the use of demonstrations and examples.  They are the teachers who suppress any students’ effort to introduce innovative and creative ideas into the classroom, because such additions deviate from the curriculum.    

They are the administrators who are unwilling to transform an obsolete educational system for fear of harming their vested interests.  These individuals have essentially sacrificed the mindful qualities of humor, empathy, judgment and humanity in their mindless pursuit of power and control.

Mindless people are self-centered, and deny their social responsibility.  They abdicate their responsibility as rulers of their own democracy.  They lack the wisdom to know the difference between what they can change, and what they cannot.  Mindless people lack a sense of purpose, and have no system of personal record keeping and organization.  They are incapable of feeling real empathy.  They may manipulate and use other people.

Mindless people deny responsibility for their behavior, and instead blame others.  Though they are unable to control themselves, they seek to exercise power and control over the lives of other human beings; this is the most central cause of damage by mindless people at the interpersonal level.  Often, such individuals are pseudo intellectual, writing and speaking in a dry, academic, and verbose style, yet their sentiments are void of any real substance.  These are the people, who, lacking any sense of direction, go around in a rat race of meaningless activity.  These people are the products of our present educational system.

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Mindfulness:
How To Develop It Within the Schools


Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Our schools can do a great deal towards developing mindfulness in our young people.  We need to abandon rigid requirements and courses that are of marginal value.  A rigid curriculum results in excessive busywork and the postponement of real growth and learning.  We must weigh the time, energy, and cost of a program against its future value.

One of the biggest errors that schools make today is that they try to exert too much control over the lives of the student.  It is critical that children be able to develop in ways that are consistent with their own unique personalities.  The system must conform to the needs of its students, not vice versa.  The child must know that he is in charge of his own life and future.

Much of what I learned about this subject was obtained during my twenty years as a psychiatrist.  In general one of the primary responsibilities of a psychotherapist is to help the patient undo what over controlling superiors have done in the past.  A good psychotherapist is supportive, adapts to the unique personality of the patient, and allows the patient to be comfortable with himself.

One of the most common patterns of behavior that I observed in patients was that they frequently hung onto 'clutter'.  Junk would pile up in their houses, and although they realized that it was becoming a problem for them, they just couldn't let go of it.  Their houses were a mess.  They were surrounded with items from the past, and simply couldn't let go and move forward with their lives.  Our educational system works in a similar way.  It is maladaptive and clings to obsolete traditions that are not only ineffective, but also damaging.

There are some fairly simple things that could be done to greatly improve the quality of education in our classrooms.  For example, meditation using a stereo headset is easy to do and requires no training.  It’s a wonderful tool for developing whole-brain integration.  Both the theory and practical application can be taught as part of a health education program.

Incorporate large screen audiovisual programming into classroom curriculum.  This is very effective for helping students rapidly build a large fund of knowledge on a given subject.  It is entertaining and makes the teacher's job less stressful.

Develop a huge world-bank of educational satellite television programming.  This is all part of creating a seamless interface with outside-world research and development.  With the aid of audiovisual programming, we could provide better instruction in the bottleneck fields, as explained in the next page.

The role of teacher must be shifted from lecturer to educational manager.  Intersperse these presentations with group discussions.  There could be structured discussions, but also, ones where students could bring up any reasonable topic or feeling.  Additionally, we need to remove the excessive busywork and homework.  These steps will take unreasonable pressure off of both the teacher and the student, allowing them both to lead more balanced lives.

Students should be encouraged to express their wishes concerning what they would like to get out of their educational experience, and teachers should be responsive to their desires.  Teachers should recognize that there are special and unique things about each student.  We need to spend more time listening, and less time giving instructions.  People - even young people - have an instinctive sense of what they need.


The most important parts of this program are cost free.  The technological aspects do carry an expense, but it is low compared to the overall educational budget.

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The Bottleneck Subjects

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Have you ever wondered why lawyers, doctors, plumbers, electricians, and air-conditioning specialists charge so much money for their services?  One reason is that these subjects are excluded from high school and college curricula.  Classes directly pertaining to the above mentioned trades are simply absent from our schools.

In order for someone to enter one of these 'bottleneck' fields, they must receive specialized training at an entirely separate institution.  This places a huge economic burden on both the students who want to enter these fields, and the public who need these services.  The bottleneck acts to restrain free trade, and drives up the cost.  Students should have the freedom to choose their own curriculum, and this doesn't only apply to existing academic subjects and classes.  Just like the student who is interested in math and can learn math in the classroom, the student who wants to become an electrician should be able to learn about this trade through the public school system.

The bottleneck subjects would attract a great deal of interest from students.  The major problem is that they are difficult to teach, but there is a solution.  We could record televised (via satellite) presentations pertaining to the aforementioned trades, and show these programs using large screen projection monitors.  This would provide stimulating, entertaining sessions for the students, while requiring very little preparation on the part of the teachers.  Additionally, teachers could learn from the programs alongside their students.  In an age of 'McDonaldization' and efficiency, it seems utterly inefficient to prepare the same educational presentation a thousand times, when it could be done only once and digitally recorded.  The curriculum could alternate between videos and discussion groups. The class could vote on which videos would be shown, and decide what portion of class time would be designated for discussion.

We need to bridge the gap between the classroom and the outside world.  Remember, real learning can take place outside of school just as effectively as it can in school.  It is also important to give students credit for past or present outside work experience.  The classroom day could be shortened for students who have jobs that are instructive.

We must endorse the notion that every person has value, no matter what his walk of life.  Our academic system discriminates against students who have an aptitude for trades.  Students who might be interested in becoming plumbers or electricians are often discouraged by counselors who would prefer them to enter more academic fields.  But remember, schools should be adapting to the needs of the students, rather than the reverse.  If a child wants to pursue a trade, he should be encouraged to do so, rather than coerced into changing his mind.

We often hear teachers complaining that they can't control their students.  The solution to this problem is to stop trying to control them.  Education should be an invitation, not an issue of force.  The school should make every attempt to come to terms with each student.  If this is not possible, then it is better to allow the student to find his own solution, outside the classroom if necessary.  Using coercive force is damaging to both students and teachers.

If these programs are developed in the United States, they can be used in other countries at little or no cost.  Inefficiency in education is a worldwide concern.  With relevant, effective educational programs, less developed countries would prosper.  A major defect of the accreditation process in these areas - medicine, law, etc - is that it is based on written tests.  There are many competent, bright, and creative people who are not skillful test takers.  For example, someone may be a very capable and responsible tile layer, but not be able to pass the written exam to get his contractors license.  Someone else may be a poor tile layer, but a good test taker.  And guess which one gets their license, hires people to do the work for them, and pockets most of the money?  Our society must understand that test taking skills do not equal competence.  An alternative method of measuring competency would be oral exams and/or on-the-job evaluations.

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School Reform
The Mindlessness Of Irrelevancy


Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Looking back on my educational experience, I realize that 90% of what I learned in school, I never used, and 90% of what I needed to know, I had to learn on my own.

I always had a natural love for science.  I created my own lab at home, and worked with friends who shared the same interests.  I built amateur radio transmitters, did chemistry experiments, and explored nature.

Though I can still vividly remember the science that I did on my own, because it was done purely out of my love of exploration, I soon forgot most of the science that I was taught at school.  The cycle of memorize, pass the test, and forget was drudgery.  It took all of the fun and creativity away from a subject that I loved.

When I entered high school, I started a college preparatory program that was geared toward preparing me for a major in chemistry.  I was told that I needed two years of Latin, four years of higher math - algebra, geometry, advanced algebra, trigonometry, and solid geometry - plus chemistry and physics.  Upon graduation, I was accepted at a highly rated private college, where I majored in chemistry.  I took calculus, advanced calculus, advanced engineering math, general chemistry, analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, college physics and more...

When I graduated from college, there were very few jobs available for chemists with my experience.  The chemistry jobs that I could find were always looking for a 'pair of technical hands'.  In other words, someone else would design the experiments, and I would carry them out.  I was not allowed to use my creativity.  I was judged purely on the basis of my academic background, not on my ability to do creative work.  After doing this for about five years, I decided to go to medical school.  I wanted the opportunity to do my own independent research.

After my first year of medical school, I got a break.  There was an opening at Beckman Instruments for someone to lead a research project aimed at developing an artificial pancreas.  I was given complete freedom and all the support necessary to carry out my assignment.  In three months, I had a working prototype.  It's was 12"x 6"x 6", completely portable, and could measure a patient's blood sugar and automatically deliver the proper amount of insulin as needed.  In the course of completing this project, I'd applied very little of the math and science that I had learned in school.  In fact, I could have done just as well without any of it at all.  I applied what I had learned from doing science as a hobby, from doing creative work on my own for the simple joy of it.  I've talked with a great many researchers who have had similar experiences.

In no way is this a criticism of my teachers.  They did their assigned jobs very well.  It is a criticism of the system.  Our classroom traditions are dysfunctional, but with some restructuring, we could make our system work for us much more effectively.

In medical school I became interested in psychiatry.  I liked the patients and found the inner workings of the mind fascinating.  Over the years, this led me to develop an interest in social psychiatry, which is the study of dysfunctional social systems.  Working in this area has proved very challenging, but it has also provided an outlet for my creativity.  It is the area in which I can make the greatest contribution to society.

It is a great mistake to judge people on the basis of their academic degrees.  When I evaluate a person, I practically ignore their credentials.  I look at the inner person, and can generally understand them much better by conversing with or working alongside them.

I found institutional learning much more of an obstacle than a benefit.  I could have moved forward much more quickly, if I'd had the opportunity to create my own learning program, and have this program accepted as valid credentials.  Self-initiated exploration results in real learning; something that doesn't result from the cycle of memorizing, passing tests, and forgetting data.

Self-initiated discovery allows us to develop as unique human beings.  And if we are to solve the problems of modern society, we will need to cover vast amounts of information, and have a great many specialists.  We will need people who have an innate passion for what they do, not just a degree in a certain area of expertise.

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Technology In Education Reform

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology


When many people think of using computers in the classroom, they imagine a computer at every student's desk.  Except for computer training courses, this doesn't really seem necessary.

My vision would be to have a single computer in every classroom, equipped with a cd-rom drive and a DVD player.  Additionally, there would be a digital video recorder along with a projection monitor.  I hasten to add that this technology is optional, and secondary to our primary reform proposals.

But a home computer is a different story.  Over the past decade, the price of computers has dropped dramatically, to the point where every child should have the opportunity to own one.  It is rare for children not to show some interest in computers, which can be fun and interesting, while at the same time helping children learn to read, think, develop language skills, and explore the internet.  Children can even learn how to develop their own businesses using websites, and can even gain a certain amount of financial independence.

One of the most useful tools for classroom teaching is the video projection monitor.  It is mounted on the ceiling of the room, and projects an image on the wall that is approximately eight feet tall and ten feet wide.  It uses either a television receiver, VCR, or computer as its source.  The effect is dramatic. The large image, combined with stereophonic sound is akin to being in a movie theater.

One very effective model is the "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" format.  I know teachers who are already doing something similar to this, but without the big screen the impact is much less dramatic.  Still, to play the more basic version of this game, you just need a huge array of questions and four multiple choice answers.  The teacher makes a game out of it.  It adds excitement to the classroom and keeps the students focused.  The questions can be about simple facts: the comprehension of a written paragraph, a chart, graph, diagram, map, painting, or photograph of some geographical location.  Thousands of these questions can easily be placed on a single cd-rom.  It is the fastest and most enjoyable way for students to build a large fund of knowledge.

Many more instructional or educational films should be produced on DVD.  This would give teachers breaks during the day, and reduce their stress level.  Their time would then be more productively used for leading discussions.  The devices described above could also be used in a videoconferencing network.  Many classrooms could join together in a discussion.  Better yet, multiple schools could simultaneously video-conference with world leaders in industry and research.

We now have broadband internet service that is rapidly being expanded to many areas of the country.  It could carry low-cost, high resolution audiovisual programming to our classrooms, which would in turn choose the programs that they wanted to view from a menu.  The programs could be accessed at any time, both at school and at home.  They would be available all over the world.  Given the money that is presently being spent (quite inefficiently) on education, I can't imagine a more practical endeavor.  Programming could cover such topics as health, plumbing, electrical work, political science, math, chemistry, physics, languages, computer science, physiology, law, medicine, and a variety of other disciplines.

The experience of discovery in cutting edge research is a vital part of the learning process.  The computer can be used to connect individual classrooms to a worldwide teleconferencing network, where students and researchers from all corners of the globe can share their ideas.  The school would move from its present state of isolation into a real-world interface.  Imagine joining with a team of scientists who will soon create the first microscopic submarines which can move through the human bloodstream, attacking and eliminating disease.

Nanotechnology researchers in both Europe and the U.S. have created computer simulations of these mini subs, and some scientists believe that prototypes are less than a year away.  A team from Utah State University is examining the prospect of using bacteria to propel small drug-delivering structures to various parts of the body.  These submarines could deliver drugs to treat tumors, or clear blocked arteries.  According to the magazine New Scientist, commercial manufacturers are also working on similar technology.  Within the year, the U.S. based company, Renaissance Technologies, plans to start making medical robots smaller than a millimeter in diameter.  The German firm, MicroTEC, is exploring the use of external magnetic fields as power sources for microscopic motors that can travel throughout the body.  In the UK, medical researchers are seeking to create systems that will directly target tumors with powerful drugs, without causing harmful side-effects.

I have worked with hundreds of scientists and have found that they love to teach.  Imagine students learning about cutting edge technology, and the most current research.  This approach would integrate the classroom with the real world.  Soon the students would begin to make genuine contributions to research.  If schools emulated real-world situations in the classroom, the transition following graduation would be seamless.

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School Reform
The Way We Learn

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
     
The key element of learning is FOCUS.  It's much easier for someone to focus on a one-sentence question than it is for that person to focus on a chapter in a book.  The stimulus in learning should take the form of a question.  First, the question stimulates the person to think about an answer.

Second, the ability to answer the question provides an instant measure of the success or failure of the learning process.  If the student is unable to answer the question, it can be repeated until the answer is learned.  Learning is enhanced by maximum sensory stimulus.  If we simultaneously see and hear the question/answer, it will have a much greater impact on our memory.  If the stimulus is delivered in a more captivating form, such as with surround sound or on a wide-screen, the impact is even greater.

One of the biggest problems in the traditional classroom is distraction, both on the part of the teacher and the student.  Someone may be making a commotion.  Something might be happening outside the door.  Its hard to pay attention to a dull lecture or a textbook when there are other things occurring in the environment that affect all of the senses.  One benefit of the audiovisual presentation is that it can hold everyone's attention.

In many cases, textbooks can be eliminated.  They are expensive and burdensome to carry.  Some books take three-hundred pages to say what could easily be said in ten.  Other books are overly terse and confusing.  Usually, only about half of the book is covered in a course.  It is more efficient and cost effective to use computer-generated printed handouts.  The savings in textbook expenses should easily cover the cost of the projection monitor and ancillary equipment.  The net increase in classroom budgets would be zero.

Lectures, unless given only occasionally, are inefficient.  During lectures, students frantically take notes, translating what they hear into fact fragments.  Later, they must try to decipher their hastily taken notes, which may or may not accurately reflect the meaning of the lecture.

After all of this, students are expected to memorize their notes.  The exception to this is the inspirational lecture.  In this case, the teacher is speaking from the heart, with the objective of sharing an experience from his or her own life with the students.

Many people learn best through self-initiated exploration.  This is fortunate, because knowledge, in and of itself, does not solve problems.  The most pressing problems that we face today will only be solved through discovery, thought, and exploration.   A solid foundation of knowledge is required, but the universe of information is extremely vast.  Except for the basics, we don't know what information we will need in the course of our lifetimes.  It makes much more sense to know where to look up the material when it is needed.

Excessive busywork and homework is counterproductive and makes students resentful.  Teachers often pass out homework as if their students were only taking one class.  If a student becomes ill and is unable to attend school, the work will pile up and the student may fall behind.  Examining our school system - our society’s primary institution of socialization - it is no wonder why we live in what has been termed, "the age of anxiety".

Let's suppose you were a manager in a company and you were lucky enough to hire a great employee.  He had the one quality that every manager wants most: he was a self starter, and didn't require a lot of supervision.  Everything was running well.  Now let's suppose that you are replaced by a new manager, who has to control every move his employees make.  The self-starting employee becomes very frustrated because his personality is not adapted to that style of management.  He winds up quitting.

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School Reform
The Transition to Valuable Social Contribution

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

One of the reasons for low morale among students is that they feel their work is meaningless and has no lasting value.  We could free up the student's time by eliminating required courses and allowing the students to develop according to their own unique personalities.  If we are to solve the problems that confront our society, we will need to do more than memorize data, pass tests, and forget.  We will need to develop creativity.  And the biggest obstacle to developing creativity is fear.  Along with criticism, fear is the primary motivational force in today's school system.

Goleman, Kaufman, and Ray (1992) call this psycho-sclerosis, or a hardening of the attitudes.  Fear activates the limbic system and shuts down the cerebral cortex.  Play - which stimulates creativity - is all but outlawed.  If evenings and weekends are packed with homework, there is no time for that.

Our mind has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years and is accustomed to learning through a wide variety of experiences and senses: visual, perceptual, intuitive, interpersonal, emotional, artistic, and verbal.  If our only method of conveying information is through the printed word, then we are ignoring ninety percent of our brain.  We are not adapted to sitting in a classroom for hours on end with a narrow focus on words alone.

Dr. Myron Tribus had a powerful influence on the post-World War II recovery of Japan.  In a few decades, that nation went from almost being completely devastated to becoming a prolific producer of extremely high quality products.

William Glasser, M.D. has applied Dr. Tribus' principles to education.  He states: "Boss-teachers tell students every day to work hard; even though they are punished, many students still do not work hard.  In fact many do even less after they are punished."

If fear isn't a good motivator, what is?   Let's look at what students want:

    ●   Independence

    ●   Real-world relevance

    ●   The skills that are needed to get a good job and earn a living.

    ●   Knowledge of how their bodies work and how to obtain better health.

    ●   Ability to make a social contribution.

    ●   Teachers who listen rather than lecture

    ●   Adults who care rather than control

Some of the most highly praised books on education that exist today, though in a more verbose style, will say essentially the same thing.  Children are generally curious about the world around them, when information about it is presented in a colorful and engaging way.  But they want to be in charge of their own lives.  They learn much better when they are in control.  For some reason, our educational system can't seem to break out of this rigid straightjacket.  We are prisoners of our own mindlessness, and each one of us must realize our responsibility to change this.

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School Reform:
Integrating the Resources of Public Schools and Home Schooling


Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

The resources of public schools and benefits of home schooling could be integrated, providing children with a dynamic education.  Rather than diploma mills that stress rote memorization, schools could become 'learning centers,' where students would be allowed to study their choice of a variety of subjects offered - the subjects that interest them the most!

Students would have at their disposal books, videos, CD ROM's and the internet.  Teachers would serve as facilitators, rather than lecturers, and would give guidance to students when it was requested.  There would also be a program in which students with an interest in a particular area or discipline would be able to observe - either in person, via the internet, or through videos - adults working in that industry or business, thus helping to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world.

Two arguments are frequently made against home schooling.  One is that parents are not as qualified to teach as professional teachers are.  The other is that home schooled students do not have enough opportunity for socialization with their peers.  By applying the home school model to public schooling, students can study the subjects that interest them, socially interact with their peers, and take advantage of a qualified teacher's expertise in a particular subject while enjoying the freedom of a more flexible and tailor made curriculum.

There are many parents who would like their children to benefit from home schooling, but simply cannot afford to take the time off from work that would be necessary to personally instruct their children.  The public/home schooling model affords such families the opportunity to get the best of both world.  In making a case in favor of the home schooling model being applied to public schools, one must first make the case for home schooling.  Empirical evidence shows that the home schooling approach produces students who excel both in the academic world and the real world.  Students who have had the benefit of home schooling are given the opportunity to progress more quickly in the subjects for which they have a natural aptitude.  By the same token, they are given the luxury of progressing slower in those areas in which they have an interest, but are not naturally gifted.

In the traditional school system, students who would like to progress more quickly in a given subject often get bored waiting for slower classmates to comprehend the material.  Similarly, students who may lack a natural aptitude for the subject are pressured to keep up with their quicker peers, and end up getting frustrated.  With the home schooling model, everyone can progress at his or her own pace.  As a result, many home schooled students advance to college, while their public schooled counterparts - who may be just as intelligent, but are restricted by the system - are still in high school.

A 1999 University of Maryland analysis of the nationally recognized Iowa Test of Basic Skills confirmed that children who are educated at home perform exceptionally well on national achievement tests.  Home schooled students scored well above average on the SAT in the year 2000, and on the ACT in the years 1997, 1998, 1999, AND 2000.  Studies have shown that home schooled students excel in college as well, exceeding their college's average GPA.  They have traditionally exhibited excellence in academic competitions, as demonstrated by home schooled students finishing first, second, and third in the 2000 Scrips-Howard National Spelling Bee and second in the 2000 National Geography Bee, sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

No one will argue with the idea that students will, at sometime in their lives, have a use for some subjects of study such as reading and writing, and basic math, science, and social studies.  But if a student wants to become a lawyer, how much value should be placed on that student's learning algebra?

While it is certainly true that not every student has a clear idea of what career path he or she plans on pursuing, most students do have a definite opinion on which subjects or occupational fields are of little or no interest to them.  Rather than trudging through classes that will have no bearing upon their future, students would be allowed to customize their studies to maximize their potential for success in their chosen field.

One could perhaps question such emphasis on career.  After all, there are many situations - in a non-occupational setting - that students must be equipped to handle, if they are to thrive in modern society.  Personal development and goal setting are concepts that would, no doubt, enhance the lives of any student, but are rarely taught in the public schools.  Most people have to learn these skills in their adult life, often through trial and error.  Furthermore, the traditional education system often fails to prepare students for such realities as job searches, interviewing, and personal finance management.

Another important element that should be addressed is the development of interpersonal skills.  We need to consider the brutal teasing and bullying that tends to occur in traditional public school settings. The schools tend to tolerate animosity among students, defending bullying with a 'kids will be kids' nonchalance.  But the emotional scars that are inflicted by cruel classmates can often last long into adulthood, and have a deleterious impact on how an individual is able to function in our society. Sometimes a student may feel as though he has been pushed beyond his limit, and will resort to retaliation.  Columbine.  Santee.  School violence is on the rise, as has been so dramatically demonstrated by the wave of school shootings.  An obvious reason for some parents choice to home school their children is to protect them from being subjected to such brutality.

The home school model as applied to public schooling would provide students with a program that encourages tolerance and teaches interpersonal problem solving and cooperation skills that will last a lifetime.  This approach exemplifies the value of a home school model for public education.  It benefits both the individual and society at large.

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School Reform: Unschooled Mind

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

One group of classes that I did not regret taking in high school was English.  (Another was civics.)  In fact, I get very nostalgic about my experiences in those classes.  Though it didn't occur to me at the time, because I was an avid scientist, those classes were fun.  They were relaxed, interactive, and unforced.  Sometimes we gave oral book reports in front of the class, which was a good experience. Speaking in front of a group was definitely educational.  The following is the first in a series of book reports on topics related to school reform.

The Unschooled Mind was written by Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Mr. Gardner states that without the help of a grammar book or a trained language instructor, all normal children readily acquire the language spoken in their vicinity.  In fact, if many languages are spoken, children can learn them all.  Furthermore, during the first years of life, youngsters all over the world master a breathtaking array of competencies with little formal training.  They become proficient in singing songs, riding bikes, and dancing.  They can throw and catch balls.  They are able to deceive someone else in a game, even as they can recognize when someone is trying to play a trick on them.  They develop clear senses of truth and falsity, right and wrong, and beautiful and ugly.

Nonetheless, these same children frequently encounter difficulties when they enter school.  Tasks assigned in an academic setting and attached to a grade are often burdensome and met with resistance.  Somehow the natural, universal, or intuitive learning that takes place in one's home or immediate surroundings, seems of an entirely different order from classroom learning that is now required throughout the literate world.

Mr. Gardner contends that even when schools seem to be successful, they usually fail to achieve their most important missions.  Evidence for this comes from an overwhelming body of educational research that has been assembled over the last decade, much of which claims that even when students score well on tests and receive good grades, they typically do not display an adequate understanding of the materials and concepts with which they have been working.  He goes on to give a number of examples.  This section is the book's greatest strength.

I found this part of the book very helpful and consistent with my own experiences.  But at this point, the author describes a complex theory which he calls the unschooled mind, which he offers to explain this phenomenon.  He explains this theory in terms that are so intellectual and complex that it would be difficult if not impossible to apply it in a classroom.  There are numerous side journeys into the history of western thought that reminded me of my college days.  Adding these relics of the past simply over complicated the issue.

I think that if you cannot explain an idea simply and plainly, then you probably don't understand it yourself.  There is a word that is used in psychiatry called "circumstantial," that is used to describe a person's thought processes.  The humorous, plain-English definition, is that you ask someone what time it is, and they tell you how to build a watch.  Furthermore, they still haven't told you what time it is.  Yet the author does begin with a partial definition and description of the problem.  It is useful confirmatory evidence.

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Destruction of America’s Future: The “Dumbing Down” Institutions and
Their Adverse Impact on Children


Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

In the richest country in the world, children have lost their instinctive passion for learning and life itself. The most desperate students resort to violence to vent their frustration (St. George & Thomas, 1997).  The “successful” students thrive in the school system and grow up to become professionals such as doctors.  Yet recent research indicates that doctor-induced deaths are the third leading case of death in the U.S. (Starfield, 2000).

The underlying causes of these startling facts are no mystery to the scientific community.  In recent years, medical and psychological research studies have demonstrated that the current practices of social institutions need to be altered in order to eradicate the mounting social evils that have emerged in our society.  Intrusive parents who impose rigid control over the lives of their children represent the first institution (family) that needs to change its methods and practices.  In recent years, various studies have established a relationship between excessive parental psychological control and their children’s low “self-esteem (Litovsky & Dusek, 1985), self-worth (Garber et al., 1997), self-confidence (Conger et al., 1997), self-reliance (Shulman et al., 1993), self-expression (Bronstein, 1994), and psychological maturity (Steinberg et al., 1989)” (qtd. in Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 28). These negative self-perceptions have also developed into clinical disorders such as “depression (Barber, 1996, 1999; Bean et al., 2001), suicidal ideation (Comstock, 1994) and eating disorders (Jensen, 1997)” (qtd. in Barber & Harmon, 2002, p. 33).

The results of these studies are also verified by a research study on children’s perceptions of their mother’s controlling behavior.  Based on the self-reports of children aged between six and over nine years of age and reports from mothers and teachers, the researchers found that children are extremely prone to experience negative emotions and act out their frustration in schools when they are subject to their mothers’ psychological control (Morris et al., 2002, pp. 132-42).

Schools have also played a major role in destroying children’s identity and instinctive passion for learning.  With a curriculum that focuses solely on intellectual development, traditional schools have failed to promote social and emotional development.  The social dimension of many students is neglected and suppressed as students are compelled to work in solitude and in direct competition with their peers, with each regarding the other as foe, instead of friend.  A study was conducted to assess the impact of an elementary school curriculum that is dedicated to the reduction of aggression and the promotion of social behavior.  With the completion of the curriculum, 30 fewer acts of negative physical behavior and 800 more acts of neutral or social behavior occurred per class every day on average in a classroom of 22 students within a six-hour period (Rosenberg, Powell, & Hammond, 1997).  The success of this study not only highlights the deficiencies in a curriculum that emphasizes the academics, but also celebration the natural inclination of children to acquire positive social behavior in a conducive environment.

The abolition of recesses in school districts all over the country in order to cope with increasing academic demands is also symptomatic of the overemphasis on the development of the mind instead of the whole body.  According to child development experts, recess activities serve a vital function in the comprehensive development of children.  During recess, children have the opportunity to make decisions about their choice of activity, engage in pretend play with peers and participate in physical activities.  Based on the findings of her classroom studies, Olga Jarrett, a professor of early child education, asserts that children require physical activity during the school day in order to excel academically and socially.  Her taped observations indicated that children who were deprived of recess tended to lose their concentration and engage in distracting activities for 15 to 20 minutes (“Schools Taking Breaks from Recess,” 2001).

What is even more disconcerting is that the classroom experiences of young children exert a significant impact on their ability to function over time.  In a study that documented the development 179 children from kindergarten through eighth grade, Harmre and Pianta (2001) found that one of the strongest predictors of the students’ academic and social behavior was their relationship with their kindergarten teacher.  According to the results of this study, students who possessed a negative relationship with their kindergarten teacher experienced both academic and behavioral problems in lower elementary grades.  The poor social behavior of these students persisted into adolescence, especially in the case of boys who were even more liable to act out than girls.  The findings of this study are significant in illuminating the importance of social components of schooling.  Recent observational studies show that teachers who are sensitive to the distinctive needs of their students will be able to build positive relationships with them.  Essentially, children can only become well-integrated individuals when their intellectual, social and emotional dimensions are developed in a positive classroom environment (Meyer, Waldrop, Hastings, & Linn, 1993).

Our society, in general, is not immune from the destructive effects wrought by controlling parents and schools on our children.  Currently, the American public is suffering from this tragic legacy: Each year, 225,000 die as a result of their medical treatments.  In spite of the sophisticated drugs, state-of-the-art technology and professional training of doctors and nurses, the American medical system has failed to provide a decent standard of health care for the public.  In contrast, the Japanese medical system that involves family members in caring for patients has yielded considerably better results.  The Japanese medical system’s recognition of the importance of human caring is in stark contrast to our dependence on drugs, surgery and technology.  As a society, we are responsible for cultivating doctors who have suspended their humanity in deference to machines and drugs.

While the images of controlling parents, kindergarten children deprived of recesses and a creative learning environment, and patients dying in the hands of doctors appear to be unconnected, they are inextricably interwoven together.  Until we address the causes of the problem, we will continue to suffer from the terrible consequences of our failure to change the system and save our children.

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School Reform
Frequently Asked Questions


Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

The following are questions submitted by our readers.

Q.  Don’t students need to learn the information provided in the required textbooks before undergoing an internship in their desired occupation?

A. It depends on the student and the subject matter.  Textbooks are expensive, and often only about one third of the book is covered in a course.  Books are heavy to carry around.  In some instances it might be more efficient and cheaper to print out handouts.

Many people have trouble learning from textbooks.  The sights and sounds approach might work better for them.  America has more people in prisons than any other nation in the world.  I have visited people in prisons and talked to them extensively.

Most prison inmates are mentally ill, have below-normal intelligence,  or come from poor backgrounds.  I found most of them quite likable. Our schools have failed them.  Almost all of them have trouble learning from textbooks.  There are educational systems within prisons, but they are as dysfunctional as the ones on the outside.  Most prisoners turn to crime because it seems to them that it is the best way to adapt to the system. 

First and foremost, prisoners lack mindfulness because it has never been properly addressed to them.  They usually lack a trade and the practical skills of going into business.  This population needs to be identified within the school system and provided with mindfulness, which includes character development, and the ability to make a living in the real world. 

Q.  Doesn't the school curriculum require a wide variety of subjects in order to broaden the student’s learning horizons?

A.  Today the school curriculum is set by the state.  Frequently there is a greater emphasis on analyzing the meaning of a poem, than on making a living.  The people making the decisions on school curricula have shown very poor judgment.  Given that, who should decide?  I feel strongly that it should be the student.  Will he make mistakes?  Yes, but he will learn from them.  Each person is unique and has an inner sense about what he needs to grow.  We need to nourish the students inner sense rather than suppress it.  That is essential to the student's developing mindfulness.

There is a big difference between today's concept of a "broad, liberal education," and mindfulness.  Many people graduate from college with this emphasis and when they face the world, feel totally lost.  Mindfulness and a way to interface with the world in order to make a good living are primary goals.
Q.  How will this networking system work in school and how will it contribute to the traditional classroom? 

A.  It will be done over the internet.  It is extremely important to have a ceiling mounted projection video monitor that projects a ten foot wide image, along with a good stereo sound system.    A desk size monitor will not be adequate and the students will lose interest.  A ceiling-mounted video camera should be mounted to cover the classroom.
Current versions of windows have the features necessary to implement videoconferencing, and an IT specialist would set up the system and instruct the teacher in its use.  The other participating schools would have the same system, as would the outside professionals.  The system is quite easy to use, once the technical people set it up.  It is not expensive.

The program would be coordinated through a central web site, and the class would select by a vote from a large menu of topics.
Q.  What will happen to the traditional classroom style after this teleconferencing and the student's freedom to choose his or her curriculum is added into the school system?

A.  That would be up to each individual class.  They would arrive at a group decision regarding the activities that they would be doing as a class, and the teacher would act as a moderator.
 
Q. Doesn’t the current educational system currently try to assist students in finding their identity?  So how is this conforming the student? 

A.  High schools have counselors that assist students in choosing courses.  This is not helping the student to find his identity.  This is a major process that starts much earlier.  It begins by putting the student in charge of his life, and getting the state out of the picture.  Finding one's identity usually requires years of exploration, and is an evolutionary process.  It deserves an extremely high priority.

Q.  How can students obtain a state of “mindfulness” when they don’t fully understand the real world yet?

A.  Mindfulness is a state of whole-brain integration.  It requires that the brain circuits be properly aligned by not interfering with development by abuse, control, and neglect.  It is not necessary to have a complete grasp of the real world in order to be mindful.
Q.  Don’t the teachers incorporate a sense of control over the classroom in order to teach the child to learn discipline as well as the subject the teacher is trying to teach to the students?

A.  This presumes a teacher-centered system, where the teacher is the boss, and must control the class.  In this system, the teacher imposes discipline on the student.  When the teacher shifts her role from boss to manager, the students provide their own discipline, for the most part.  There is an excellent book on this subject:  The Quality School - Managing Students Without Coercion. Glasser, William, M.D. (1998)  In this approach, motivation is internal, from love, rather than external, out of fear. 
Q.  Don’t the current school systems already have opportunities available to the students to learn beyond the school walls, such as field trips?

A.  Yes. But generally, field trips are very occasional, consisting of about 2% of the total time.  But they are very successful.  I can remember vividly every field trip that I ever took, as though they happened yesterday, even though they occurred forty years ago.  The experience was permanently embedded into long term memory.
Q.  What are some other examples of the lack in mindfulness?

A.  This is a very big subject.  When you are mindful, things that go on around you that were previously mysterious, make sense.  Let's take the subject of cruelty and a punitive attitude.  I believe that the life of Jesus exemplified mindfulness in the fullest extent possible.  He said: "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn your head and allow him to strike you on the left."  That was a radical statement in his day, and in our times also. 

Now you can listen to a hundred sermons and memorize a thousand Bible verses and it may still not make sense.  You can "explain it away." but then miss the point also.  But to a mindful person, it makes perfect sense.  You don't have to explain it, because the attitude is a natural consequence of being mindful.
Jesus had more influence on society than any other person in history, yet he was never punitive, and never controlling. 

Do you want to be elected judge?  Say that you're really tough on crime.  We live in a very punitive culture.  There is a great deal of difference between punishment and the protection of society.

Q.  How are we able to change the teachers into having a sense of mindfulness and why will this change our current school system for the better?

A.  Mindfulness starts with an explanation like I am giving, but is developed through a living experience.  I envision weekend or weeklong retreats.  There should be the personal practice of meditation.  Mindfulness is contagious.  Teachers need to have access to mindful people, and get out of the over-busy rat race.  Mindful teachers will pass on this attribute to their students as a natural consequence.
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School Reform
Frequently Asked Questions

Part Two

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Q.  How are we able to change the amount of control over the student without giving them too much control over their education?

A.  The question is, what is too much control?  There will always be a few people who will mess up their lives, no matter what we do.  There are probably some biological determinants of sociopathy.  I propose giving the student complete control of his education.  That does not mean that we neglect the student.  On the contrary, I feel that we should listen more.  The student as a unique individual has an intrinsic sense of what he needs, and when we as adults respond to that, the child cannot help but be positively motivated. 

I realize that giving up control is frightening to many people.  A lot of men thought that our country would go to pot when we gave women the right to vote in 1919.  Consider that at Oxford University in England, the only requirement is that the student see his mentor (called a don) once a week, eat in the student union, and attend chapel on Sunday.  There are no required courses and no assignments.  The student designs his own program. 

Q.  Isn’t mindfulness already present in the school system?

A.  A little, in bits and pieces.  We pay far too high a price for it in money, time, and energy, though. 

Q.  What if what the student would like to learn is socially unacceptable or immoral?  How would the teacher respond to the student’s desire to learn this particular controversial subject?

A.  How could any learning be immoral?  Of course, antisocial behavior would not be tolerated in the classroom.  I would define antisocial as harming another person.

Q.  Doesn’t  homework allow the student to practice what he has learned in class and show the teacher that he comprehends the material?

A.  The student is in school for the student's benefit, and not the teacher's.  The student will be his own judge and the teacher's role is to be available when needed.

Q.  Doesn’t the control over the student help them develop time management skills by giving them lots of homework and study materials?

A.  Our era has been called: "The Age Of Anxiety."  Stress is a major problem in our culture.  Time management skills are not a priority, as I see it.  Creativity and mindfulness should be our first objective.  If you look around you, you see people being busy for the sake of being busy.

Q.  How would the student know what subjects they want to learn if they haven’t been exposed to all of the necessary subjects yet?

A.  It will be easy to expose students to a huge range of subjects.  Forced memorization is quite another matter.

Q.  Doesn’t the present school system already conform to the needs of the student by offering him or her a universal education in order to explore their interests of their future occupations?

A.  No.  It burdens him with a bewildering array of busywork and projects to the point that he loses a sense of who he is, and his mind is damaged in the process.

Q.  Wouldn’t teaching from a television be less personal then listening  to a teacher lecture in a classroom?

A.  A ceiling mounted projection monitor with a ten foot wide screen is very impactful.  The teacher's time would be better spent leading discussion groups and listening to the student's concerns.

Q.  If you don’t need the trivial education that you obtain in high school, college and graduate school, then why is it necessary to take the required courses?

A.  Because the people planning the curricula don't appreciate the concept of mindfulness, how it is developed, and how it is harmed.
Q.  How are we able to remove the everyday distractions in the classroom?A.  Mindfulness promotes awareness.  When people are aware of a problem, they will deal with it.Q.  Why wouldn’t some students also disrupt the classroom during an audiovisual presentation as well?A.  Because the ten foot screen and stereo sound system is so captivating, that almost everyone will be focused on it.  It would be like someone talking in a theater.  The group would rapidly put a stop to it.Q.  Aren’t a lot of textbooks important to some classes such as math?

A.  That would be a judgment call.  The class would decide between a book and computer-generated handouts.  The class could vote on it.
Q.  Don’t the required courses offer the student a universal education?
A.  It depends on your reference point.  In the model that we are proposing, the student is allowed to develop his full potential as a human being.  He is not required to satisfy an outsider's mindless, ivory-tower view of a "universal education."  Whole-brain functioning is paramount, and necessary for real happiness, rich, fulfilling relationships, and creative social contributions.

------------------------------------------------------------School Reform
Frequently Asked Questions

Part Three

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

Q. How could we organize and implement an apprentice program for the "bottleneck" professions?
 
A.  In the trades, it is already there.  It is simply a matter of getting a part time job with a contractor.  If the job market is tough, simply reduce the salary expectations - to zero if necessary.  The critical thing that the schools must do is to is to allow the student to have control of his curriculum, and to have skillful audiovisual programs that explain the fine points well.
 
Q.  In what specific ways does our current educational system reward conformity and discourage individuality and creativity?

A.  Primarily, the teacher is in charge, and the way to get good grades is to give him what he wants.  The solution is to allow the student to be in charge of his education and eliminate grades.  There is a great deal of theory behind this that is well worth reading.

Q.  You point out how important it is for teachers to learn how to recognize the special individual differences in each student.  I agree.  But in the real world, classrooms are often overcrowded.  In addition, teachers must teach a specific curriculum mandated by the school district.  Also, public school funding is often based on how well the students perform on standardized tests?  Given these obstacles and others, how is it possible for teachers to take the time to recognize and nurture the special individual differences in each student?
 
A.  For current teachers, give them time off to attend workshops on the new attitude.  Provide them with videos and other resource materials.

Q.  How can we limit control in the classroom when it is such a strong force and given the fact that we all must live function under a capitalist system that favors competition over cooperation.

A.  Capitalistic types are better organized and financed.  Social minded people have focused on symptoms rather than causes.  For example, recently we have seen huge demonstrations for "peace," which is too vague and lacking in focus.  At the present time, most social activists have a very weak conception of the things we are talking about in these web sites.
Q.  I agree that scapegoating and favoritism needs to be eliminated from the classroom environment.  Specifically, how do you suggest that I can begin to do that. 

A.  I recall that in the fifties, there was a campaign in the schools, using movies, designed to eliminate racial prejudice.  Where I grew up, it had a powerful impact.  My parent's generation talked about the "Jews" and the "nigers."  In my area, this kind of talk was stopped cold in it's tracks.  We can do the same thing with other social values.

Q.  I am confused about the concept of mindfulness.  How can I  increase mindfulness in myself and my family?

A.  An ounce  of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  It is much easier when starting with a young child.  But begin with this simple, easy to read, book: Peace Is Every Step : The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh.  Additionally, practice meditation
 
Q.  How can we increase the mindfulness found in our society?  How do we achieve the "mass mindfulness" that you speak of.  

A.  This movement is increasing its membership daily.  At some point it will reach "critical mass," and explode.  Until then, we just have to take it day by day, using our creativity to develop the web sites and engaging the activists.
 
Q.  How would one shift the role of the teacher from lecturer to education manger?

A.  The teacher would primarily be available, observant, a good listener and a problem solver.  He would support the students needs rather than control.  See The Quality School - Managing Students Without Coercion. Glasser, William, M.D. (1998).

Q.  How can we convince the powers that be to implement the campaign reform to the internet?  I fear that writing to my representatives in government will not be enough.

A.  Right.  We need to educate and mobilize the activist community.  We are currently hiring activist leaders as consultants in order to learn more about this.

Q.  How do we enable teachers in our schools to be less controlling and more empowering and guiding?
 
A. Get rid of the curriculum and  standardized tests.  Allow the student to seek his own learning level by choosing the school room he prefers, irregardless of age.  Educate and mobilize activists to focus on causes rather than symptoms of social dysfunction.
 
Q.   What is WORLD PROSPERITY'S response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?

A.  We have a new web site devoted entirely to the causes and solutions of terrorism.

Q.  What is WORLD PROSPERITY'S response to the Bush Administration's response to the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001?

A.  It tends to be overly militaristic and denies the responsibility that our government has had in evoking this.
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 School Reform
Frequently Asked Questions

Part Four

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology
 
Q. What should we do if sending letters (electronic or regular mail) to our representatives in government is not achieving the results we desire?
 
A. Contribute to the production of our dramatic feature film which will convey these principles in an impactful and entertaining way.

Q. Why do mindless people try to exercise power and control over others?
 A. Generally it is due to low self esteem arising during their development as a result of control, neglect, and abuse.

Q. At what age should the educational system make audio-visual instruction available in the bottleneck fields, including medicine, plumbing, electrical, and air-conditioning?  Preschool, Elementary School, Junior High School, High School, or College?
 A. It depends on the student.  The students will tell you when and what they are ready to learn, and each student should have the freedom to pursue his own interests.  Most schools have many rooms, and different things will be going on in each room.  The student could choose what room he wants to be in at what time, given space limitations. Part of being an education manager is observing the students and paying attention to the things to which they respond.  Social interaction is especially important for the early age groups. Q. Other than presenting students with audio-visual presentations, how can we help teachers lessen their workload?

A. The biggest frustration that teachers have, is dealing with students who they perceive as not wanting to learn.  When the schools give up forcing students, and allow the students to choose what they want to learn, then the school will be a cooperative,
friendly place to be.  The teachers will be happier, because the students will regard them as helpers rather than adversaries.

Q. Do you believe the apprentices should be paid for their services or should it be done on a credit only basis.  If so, then this might overburden the student by having to take another job or two to meet living expenses.
 A. This would be a matter between the student and the mentor, and subject to negotiation.  If we take medicine, for example, I would not expect that the beginning student to be paid.  But this is a far better deal than the present system, in which the student pays big money.  Q. How do you propose to implement a teleconferencing network for students to be directly exposed to cutting-edge scientific discoveries? A. Teleconferencing software is currently a part of newer operating system software.  Someone with a strong aptitude for computers, including many high school and college students, could set it up within a few hours.  Currently, practically all high schools have web sites which are built by volunteer students.  When we eliminate forced assignments, grades, and required courses, a huge amount of the student's time will be freed up to devote to these projects.  The students and teachers would work cooperatively and organize committees to make it work to their satisfaction.  The cost would be negligible, because the energy now being put into busywork would be transferred to establishing relationships with industry and research. 
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School Reform A Plan of Action

Shaun Kerry, M.D.

Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

You can make a big difference just by using your mind.  There is no cost involved.  Contribute your ideas using our
forum.  Send letters to your government officials using a few mouse clicks.

We need to work in a cooperative way if we are going to solve the problems of education, healthcare, government, poverty, energy, and the environment.  If we help our schools to function, our productivity will soar, and our young people will have a tremendous morale boost by being put in charge of their lives.

If you have ideas to contribute, questions, objections, or any other  input, please go to our discussion forum.  The comments are arranged by topic on the left side of the page.  It will be necessary to register if you want to enter comments.  Otherwise you can visit as a guest.  Down at the bottom of the page, it will say: "New to forums?  Create a new account."  Click there and fill out the form.  Uncheck the box at the bottom so you won't get unwanted e-mails, unless you want them.  You will choose a
member name and password.  Enter those and click "login." 

On the very left you will see topics grouped  into categories.  The main headings will have blue backgrounds.   Select the general subject in blue that interests you most and look under that.

The subtopics are underlined.  Click on them to read them.  When you are ready to write something, there are two ways to do it.  You can reply to a statement someone else has already made, or you can Post New, to start a new subject.    

The American senate and house of representatives has an education committee.  Almost all states also have education committees in both houses of state government.  By registering with our action network, you can send a custom edited letter to each member of your state and national education committees automatically.

We have a database of all state and national representatives.  The computer will see that the letters go to the right people, based on your address.  Your contact information will be kept completely confidential.  It must appear on your letters to government officials to be taken seriously. 

If you add some personal remarks to your letter, it will be much more effective.  If you have any questions or concerns, please write to office@school-reform.net and you will receive a prompt reply.

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Bibliography

Glasser, William, M.D. (1998) The Quality School - Managing Students Without Coercion. New York, Harper

Goleman, D., Kaufman, P., & Ray, M. (1992). The Creative Spirit. New York: Dutton. Perennial.

Tribus, Myron, Selected Papers on Quality and Productivity Improvement.  National Society of Professional Engineers, P.O. Box 96163, Washington, D.C. 20090-6163.

Tony Wagner, Thomas Vander Ark, Making the Grade : Reinventing America's Schools

Tony Wagner, How Schools Change : Lessons from Three Communities

Alfie Kohn, The Schools Our Children Deserve : Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and Tougher Standards

Linda M. Mcneil, Contradictions of School Reform:  Educational Costs of Standardized Testing.  New York: Routledge, 2000.

Deborah Meier, Will Standards Save Public Education?  Boston: Beacon, 2000. 

Susan Ohanian, One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999.

W. James Popham, Testing! Testing! : What Every Parent Should Know About School Tests.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

Betty Lou Whitford and Ken Jones, Accountability, Assessment, and Teacher Commitment: Lessons from Kentucky's Reform Efforts.  Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

Peter Sacks, Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do To Change It.  Cambridge, Mass: Perseus, 1999.

Gerald Bracey, Put to the Test: An Educator's and Consumer's Guide to Standardized Testing.  Bloomington, Ind. : Phi Delta Kappa, 1998.