What’s In a School

Eds Note: And now, batting cleanup, Drrrrrrrrrr. Rent!

John H. FischerBy Dr. Rent

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in one of the discussions being held by the Wausau School District’s superintendent to help determine the direction of Wausau Schools for the next 20 years.

So, why does a single guy who is unlikely to have children care about Wausau Schools?  These children are our future; and from a business point-of-view, there are issues that need to be addressed.  The kids in school today are my employees AND my customers of tomorrow.

The Wausau School District (WSD) is ranked as high as 11th in the country by certain organizations that do such rankings.  But one of the biggest obstacles to “great” is “good.”  The WSD realizes that the world from 20 years ago is nothing like the world of today.  Just think of some of the every-day items that were not available to the general public in 1987:  the internet, e-mail, cell phones (available, but not to people of average income), even computers, and the list goes on.  Let’s be honest, much of what we learned in school in 1987 did not prepare us for the technological advances of 2007.

The WSD wants to figure out what they need to do to prepare the children of today for 2027.  To do this, the WSD is having 24 discussions with stakeholders throughout the Wausau Area to determine how the school district can best prepare students in the following general trends:  Technology, Globalization, Social Justice, Demographics, and Innovation & Life-Long Learning.  The School District is not only looking at what type of classes will help our students in these trends, but also is looking at how delivery of education may need to be changed.

I applaud Superintendent Stephen Murley’s personal involvement in helping with the future of Wausau’s schools.  This is the kind of forward thinking that I honestly didn’t know a government entity was capable of.  And in their planning, they are including businesses.  The WSD realizes that their product is NOT education and the consumers students.  They acknowledge that their product is educated individuals ready for the “real world” and WE are ALL the consumers of that product.

Although this forward thinking is great, what I found surprising is that EVERY MEMBER of the group that I participated with agreed that no matter what is done, there has to be a better focus on the fundamentals (reading, writing, math) and more importantly, their application.  We have all seen that too many people are graduating not knowing how to apply these basic skills.

In my business this means people who can’t handle a simple personal budget to know what they can afford; it means people who can’t balance a checkbook; it means people who were just holding onto middle class when they got into a real estate mortgage deal that didn’t make financial sense – lost the house in foreclosure – and are now homeless and fighting poverty.

The purpose of this post?
1)    To stress that good schools are important to all of us, they are just as important to those of us without kids.
2)    To commend the Wausau School District on its forward thinking and including as much outside input as possible.
3)    To stress the importance of students not only having basic knowledge, but knowing how to apply that knowledge.
4)    To encourage all of us to get involved in education, regardless of what we do or if we have kids in the school system or not.

I have been a Junior Achievement volunteer for 7 years now, teaching 8th graders about our free enterprise system and the basics of being in business, and would not trade that for anything.

Dr. Rent.


22 responses to “What’s In a School

  1. Okay Dino.. here I am… commending the Wausau School District for including businesses of all sizes in their long-term planning…. I am ready.. fire away!

  2. I am horribly sorry. Children are not workforce, employees, or anything else.

    They are children.

    But at least this one does not seek to leverage my tax rate with children in the hopes of growing corporate citizens.

  3. Have to agree with the good Dr. on this one…too many schools think they can live within a vaccum and try to make “one shoe” or in this case “one educational delivery system” fit all. Our world has changed vastly over the last 25 years and we are driven by global competiveness, technological advances, social justices, political shifts….we owe it to our children to give them the best chance at success. WAD should be commended for having the forsight to realize that it has to continually evolve in order to produce students who are able to survive and succeed in this world. What a great opportunity to join the educational sector with the public market sector and talk about what basic skills, knowledge, etc that students need to have in order to meet minimum daily living skills and minimum job requirements and ask the tough questions, “such as are we meeting those needs and instilling those qualities in our students…” “How do we insure their continued growth & success?” How do we insure that our students not only have a solid skill set but understand the ethics, decisions and responsibilities that the world desperately needs today?

    In this case we have only have 12 short years to lay the framework for success for these students who will be come the adults that will change, challenge and create our future as well as the future of generations for years to come; and I for one, want to know that the leaders of my future have had the very best that our educational system could give them…

  4. I’m sorry, Dr. Rent, but educated people are NOT products, and their responsibility is NOT to a community of “consumers.” Once again, this business-centered rhetorical pose greatly worries me, since it reduces (even unintentionally) the graduates of the Wausau School District to tools for the local business community to utilize for their well-being.

    As a proud graduate of the Wausau School District, I resent the notion that I, or any of my contemporaries, should be considered in such a narrow manner. This concept, which Dr. Martin Luther King called the “thingification” of human beings, both obscures the real questions facing educational systems and points to the very real problem of corporate influence in our public schools. No matter what students envision for their years after high school, they are most definitely not products: they’re human beings, whose choices and obligations are not served by being in any likened to the objects of industrial production. (Same goes for teachers, and maybe even more so.) I am not a product, nor do I wish to be “consumed” by the members of a community.

    The key question in Dr. Rent’s piece comes through his mentioning of WSD’s plan to have “24 discussions with stakeholders throughout the Wausau Area to determine how the school district can best prepare students in the following general trends: Technology, Globalization, Social Justice, Demographics, and Innovation & Life-Long Learning. The School District is not only looking at what type of classes will help our students in these trends, but also is looking at how delivery of education may need to be changed.”

    My questions are: who are these “stakeholders,” what agendas do they represent, and what changes do they wish to see enacted in school curricula and infrastructure?

  5. I don’t think that Dr. Rent means to say that children/students are simply products and that isn’t what I meant to convey in my discussion, either. This whole discussion sort of reminds me of the beer commercials where they argue about whether it’s “Less filling!” or “Tastes great!” These things aren’t mutually exclusive.

    If the net result is a broad base of support for quality education, there should be some good ways to direct that positive sentiment between different but not really divergent interests toward the benefit of students, educators, parents and the overall community.

  6. I don’t know of all of the 24 groups… local business leaders are included within the realm of stake holders. I know earlier in the day, they had a meeting with dozens of retired educators. I would assume that parents also are included, but again didn’t ask.

    This all comes down to the issue of what does a school do? What is its purpose in our society? And, if a school is not able to “produce” educated inviduals ready for the real world…… why bother?

  7. What a ridiculous quarrel! This is a silly red herring that’s being chased all over place rather than looking at the REAL issue: What is at stake with the DCE School Referendum?

    I am positive that Rosenberg doesn’t doubt the humanity of school children (and while I don’t personally know Rent, I would be willing to bet he too believes students are unique sentient beings).

    Educated people posses something important–knowledge and maybe even some wisdom. That is reflected in the community including the businesses (because really, who owns the businesses? Your neighbors). That adage “It takes a village” seems pretty appropriate here.

    I concur with Rosenberg, this issue is multifaceted-everyone has a stake. Arguing about the obvious temporality of students makes for a boring metaphysical discussion and an even duller discussion about the DCE referendum.

  8. Go for it Kat! This round and round discussion is really too much. Let’s educate our children to be the best they can be by giving them the proper tools. What they do with that education is up to them. Hopefully they contribute to the greater good of the world. Whatever that may be at the time.

  9. The fundamental purpose of this blog as I understand it (and Bill.. correct me if I am wrong) is to establish a discussion of all things Wausau, and to encourage input and discussion of those topics.

    What we have here is a discussion of two different school districts in the Wausau area. We are getting this topic in the hearts and minds of the blog readers..

    Mission accomplished?

  10. I’m not arguing that either R0senberg or Dr. Rent doubt that students are human beings. I’m arguing against a *very* *specific* strategy being employed by business/corporate interests in larger questions over public education: namely, the increasing pressure being placed on public schools to follow an explicitly business-oriented model in the educating of students, a model that has resulted in (among other things) the imposition of unfair and inaccurate standardized tests, the removal of music, art and other programs deemed “non-essential,” and the development of narrow, “results-based” curricula that hamstring teachers, administrators and students. This has been done in the name of making public schools – and their student “products” – to “better serve” the communities (of “consumers”) who, in the business model, deserve to expect the same kind of object-like output as any other industrial stakeholders.

    My point about the use of terms like “products” when describing students is that it is part of a larger ideology to which I strenuously object, and which has made a very real impact on the current educational infrastructure.

    Moreover, as I said in a post on a previous entry, I agree that the central issue in the DCE referendum (or the future of the WSD) lies elsewhere than this discussion. Still, I bristle at the use of such language in any discussion of the goals or obligations of public schools.

    Thanks for the info on the WSD “stakeholder” meetings, Dr. Rent. From what you say, it sounds like it might be fruitful.

  11. Oh my god let the oversimplification rise. When a city council member uses the argument that we need to develop or accept a referendum based on the development of corporate whatever the hell, well then I think voices should speak up.

    Like I said, if Jim said that he needed the referendum to buy books, that is fine.

    Allow corporate interests to invade the decision making about a child, well that is the worst form of capitalism.

    For me, and I dig John endlessly….the idea that someone other than an educator will get to determine what a child learns for a real world anything, is wrong.

    If corporations are involved in this discussion, we are not giving educations, we are guiding are curriculum based on job descriptions.

    There are hundreds of examples of this sort of issue playing out in horrid ways. I think the most troubling being the ASVAB test I took as a young man. I find it deplorable that the military would test a person, collect that data and use it for recruiting later on. To see if I was fit.

    As far as the sort of head in the sand thinking developed here, well I will just let it go.

    How about his argument, I have no kids there, why should I pay?

  12. why should you pay…

    imagine our society without schools. Where parents are 100% responsible for education

    In the modern world, most families need both parents to work just to make ends meet.. who teaches the children then the basics.. and how do they learn interpersonal interactions?

    here is where I am going to get in trouble.. but so be it. In many of my apartment buildings, I have issues in the summer months with kids loitering.. hanging around.. having nothing better to do than vandalize cars and buildings. When the kids are in school… they don’t have time for such things

  13. Discussion sounds good to me, Dr. Rent. Just clean up after yourselves and turn out the lights when you are done. 😉

  14. The views that I have expressed here are my own — not an expression of corporate interests and not undertaken in concert with with any government agency, school district or school official. They are based on my insights from partcipation in a number of business-education partnership organizations over a number of years touching a number of different school districts.

    If someone wants to try to make my personal comments into a far-reaching conspiracy theory, I think it is misguided and not supported by any facts. None of the partnerships I participated in took a position in favor of “No Child Left Behind”, for example.

    If you want to argue that good schools are NOT an asset of interest to companies from multiple standpoints, then have at it. I think you are wrong. I also vehemently disagree with the notion that only educators are in a position to have positive, valuable input into the educational experience of students. Moreover, I think many educators would disagree with it, too.

  15. Jim,

    I have never doubted your coolness or conviction for one minute. But corporations have no business in schools.

    For example, Wal Mart…Wal Mart would not care one way if Dante’s Inferno was never taught again.

    They would ask, why is it taught in the first place?

    Your a good dude. The argument is a good one, but one that pushes buttons of us left leaning whack o’s.

    Ask me for money for schools, fine. Do not tell me it is to provide corporate citizens with something at all, pre grad students and the school they inhabit are not for that.

  16. question for ALL those who feel businesses and schools do not belong in the same thoughts..

    What is the purpose of our school system?

  17. OK, I have been extremely silent as I’m sure Bill can attest to (since I haven’t contributed in a long, long, long time) but I still read this blog daily. The spirit has moved me and I feel compelled to respond.
    First, we have a first-rate school system here, both public and private (got to get my Newman Catholic School plug in…) and we have the luxury to be having these types of conversations, instead of truancy, violence, and astounding failure rates. We are also lucky that our school leaders are looking at a way to keep the experience of education relevant for students who are not content to sit in a classroom being talked to for hours on end. Today’s students can, and are, multitasking at an astounding rate. We need to keep pace, and I applaud people looking to make changes that will allow Wausau’s students to be competitive.
    That being said, one of the functions of education is to prepare students to be productive members of society, and looking to elicit feedback from leaders in business and industry is a good way to see what companies are looking for in a workforce.
    We have a crisis in this country in regards to education, and we owe it to our children to prepare them for college, a trade, or whatever entrepreneurial endeavor they aspire to. Like it or not, businesses are “consumers” in so far as they are the ones who get to decide who they want to work for them. Don’t we then have a responsibility to listen to what they’re looking for and use that as a guide (not the sole criteria) for how we structure their education?
    Just to put out yet another question here, as flawed as people perceive testing and standards to be, how then do we decide the effectiveness of our schools?

  18. I say this…where does this line of thinking? At what point do we say to some check writer, “No, we need to read Ethan Fromme and learn to play the flutophone”.

    Businesses are not consumers of pre graduation children.

    Opening this door leads to trouble.

    I do not see the relevance to the referendum, but I get worked up.

  19. Hi Shawn, welcome back. Looks like they started without you, but you caught up. 😉

  20. Watching the news last night before the WNRB meeting, they were stressing again how American students were lagging behind in science and math. When I was meeting with Wausau’s superindendent, he found it interesting that while we have people looking at Japans and Germany’s schools to get an idea of how to improve our science and math programs, Japan and Germany are looking at our schools to see how they can improve on creativity and imagination (things that our students tend to lead the world on)

  21. Maybe knowing about a couple of things that business-education partnerships have worked on would bring it down to earth a little.

    One area school system was teaching stick welding and learned, by talking with an area company, that the equipment and techniques they were using were outdated. Applying for a grant, the school system was able to set up a program in which students were able to use state-of-the-art equipment and learn current methods.

    In several school systems, there are building programs in which students actually build houses using current methods.

    Think about how different being an automotive technician is today compared to what it was when I graduated from high school. Who do you think should look at the program to decide if the systems and methods are up to date? Should it be the Department of Public Instruction? Or maybe people who will be out of business if they don’t keep up with their constantly changing field?

    Sounds too much like Dickens, still? Here’s another…

    Soft skills are an area of focus for all business-education partnerships. Understanding how to deal with people, showing up and being able to communicate orally and in writing are criticial skills. Being able to understand sometimes complicated instructions and carry them out is important. Several area school systems have “soft skills workshops” in which they cover things like how to present yourself, how to do a resume, what matters in an interview and how to deal with customers.

    We often hear the theme that if people come to them with the right soft skills and the ability to learn, then they can frequently be trained to be successful in various fields that will continue to change very quickly going forward anyway.

    Learning soft skills doesn’t mean eliminating the drama program to make room for it. Whether you are going on to get a PhD or you want to be a mechanic, soft skills are something that will have a huge impact on your future success.

    Internships for students, externships for teachers, a program called “Reality Shop” in which students learn about budgeting and choices, career expos, conferences that give educators a chance to understand future trends in technology, etc. — these are all things that link the educational experience with the “real world” that education is designed to prepare students to live and work in.

    How can kids even understand what they want to do after high school — no matter what it is — if they are not given the opportunity to understand what skill sets are necessary for various careers? Students have decisions to make about future education, training, etc. that are best made prior to graduation. Helping young people learn about the practicalities of life and work so they can begin to focus on finding their niche — whatever it happens to be — is really not such scary stuff. It gets to the heart of what education is all about.

    I’ve never heard anyone in a business talk about what programs should be eliminated; only about areas that might be strengthened. It’s a collaborative thing; not coercive. And it is also only one piece of a very big puzzle that goes into making choices about what should go into a quality education.

    We are a long way from where this discussion started. 🙂

  22. Just found this blog through the Daily Herald website and as a member of the WSD Board, I wanted to answer the question of who is participating in these listening sessions (i.e., who are the stakeholders?).

    Although I am not a graduate of the WSD, I am hopeful that my numbers in parentheses should equal the total number of sessions:

    Parent Sessions (2) – there were five scheduled and three were cancelled due to lack of response.
    WSD Staff (4)
    General Public Sessions (2)
    Business Leaders (2)
    Young Professionals (1)
    Southeast Asian Leaders/Community (1)
    Spanish Community/Leaders (1)
    Human Services (1)
    Students (1)
    Service Clubs (1)
    WSD Retirees (1)
    Government/Municipal Leaders (1)
    Early Childhood (1)
    Fine Arts (1)
    Community Resource Committee (1)
    Community Retirees (1)
    Foundations (1)
    Former Board Members (1)

    Faith Based community members were also originally scheduled for a meeting but it was cancelled due to lack of response.

    As I am hopeful you can see, we actually will be taking comments from a variety of people. We really do have an excellent school system but we are challenged by our community to continue to work at improving it and these meetings are a positive step toward that goal.

    By the way, this blog is a great resource and a great idea…thanks to whoever set it up.

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