A Rising Tide

Unless you live in a cave — or a 20th century classroom — you know that one of the goals of Staples High School is to infuse critical thinking into everything students do.

Whether it’s analyzing environmental issues or connecting the health class curriculum with rising rates of obesity, principal John Dodig’s mission is to ensure that every graduate has the knowledge, confidence — and skills — to compete in the fast-changing, terrifying, challenging and exciting world they’ll soon inherit.

Actions, of course, speak louder than words.

Last week, Dodig spent 15 minutes of “Communication Time” to introduce a schoolwide goal.

Every student watched a sophisticated, inspiring TED.com video featuring Hans Rosling.  The Swedish professor described his own youth in the 1960s, when there was an enormous gap between “the West and the rest.”

Since then, the world population has increased by 4.6 billion.  Using simple boxes and props, Rosling showed the difference between then and now.

In 1960 the developed world wanted cars; the undeveloped world, clothes.

Today, China — the symbol of the newly developed world — has cars; the country owns Volvo, the ultimate Swedish symbol.  Most of the world population, Rosling said, is now found in the middle, between the poorest and the wealthiest people.

Projecting to 2050, Rosling said that 4 billion people can leave poverty — provided the world avoids climate change, and energy remains cheap.

How could this happen?  By raising the living standards of the world’s poorest people.

Rosling showed a fascinating graph.  In it, child survival rates lead to greater wealth; this creates smaller families, which in turn leads to slower population growth — and ultimately, sustainability.

What does all this have to do with Staples?

As Dodig explained in a televised address, over the next 50 to 60 years, today’s students will form the foundation of the world.  To build a firm foundation, they’ll need real-world skills.

The problems they’ll face may be ill-defined.  But tomorrow’s leaders will need to:

  • Know where to find information
  • Know how to synthesize and evaluate that information
  • Be able to collaborate across many disciplines.

“If all Staples students can master those skills,” Dodig said, “you will be successful.”

They’ll be able to handle the economic, environmental and other global challenges they face — and they’ll make the entire planet a better place.

Dodig then asked each classroom teacher to lead a discussion of the video.  Among the questions:

  • Why was the video shown?
  • How did the video relate to Staples students, and what you learn in school?
  • What part will you play in the future?

Dodig asked for feedback.  Teachers told him the video sparked insightful discussions; students said it made them think, and posed questions of their own.

Much has changed since 1960, as Rosling pointed out.  But a button from that decade remains true:  “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Staples High School has challenged its students to make sure, 50 years from now, that the saying is a long-forgotten relic of a dim, dusty past.

(Click here to view the Hans Rosling Ted.com video.  Click here to see the video that Staples students saw, including Dodig’s introduction and conclusion.)

43 responses to “A Rising Tide

  1. In 1960 the Club of Rome predicted that by 2000 have the world’s population would be sick or starving. They were wrong. This sort of forecasting is based upon no more than prejudice and/or wishfull thinking. BTW there is no evidence that we can do anything to prevent or alter the climate cycle, and energy is plentiful and would be much cheaper if governments would just get out of the way,

    • Jeff–does that mean you opposed the government’s role in helping to block the building of a nuclear power plant on Cockenoe? I suppose our electric bills and taxes would be lower if it had been built, but is that really the kind of trade-off you would have wanted?

    • Jeffxs – so, then you believe the presentation to the students should not have been made? Did you even watch it? But that’s not he point.

      Regardless of the fact I disagree with you, the point is that your position still has a place at the table Dodig is working to create. Hopefully views typical of both the left and right were expressed – but nothing will ever happen if the conversation isnt started.

      Bravo for studying the world, instead of the next chapter in the textbook. Its wonderful that Staples students are being exposed to these conversations.

  2. Brilliant presentation.

  3. The Dude Abides

    Interesting. Hope I am around the see it. Another culturiological study was done on the United States alone. There are expected to be another 100 million people living here by 2050 with the newer generations choosing Houston, Denver, Atlanta and Dallas to live because of avoidability of housing and mild climate. Thus, a “graying” of the Northeast and as I have predicated all along, a return to huge estates and an aristocratic Wesport.

  4. While our middle class is evaporating, the world’s middle class is growing? Sounds alittle far fetched to me.

  5. The presentation was not bias free. Dodig was pushing a point of view as much as he was a methodology for discovery. His point of view is easily identified through his enumeration of what he variable finds important a priori.The analysis presented was a simpleminded form of extrapolation of the sort used by the Club of Rome. If I were trying to encourage the acquisition of knowledge, I would not advocate the use of horse and buggy methodologies.

  6. Jeffxs, organizations like the Club of Rome, which you cite, and individuals like Hans Rosling predict possible future scenarios based on existing trends. Some prognostications may prove to be incorrect due to poor modeling but other predictions may change because policy makers understand serious predictive consequences and alter practices in order avoid those consequences. Does it make the prediction bad, because it didn’t come true, or good because it changed harmful practices?
    What has happened at Staples with the introduction of critical thinking several years ago augmented by this new thrust of access to information, understanding how to interpret it and then knowing how to collaborate to make things happen gives Staples students important tools to take into their futures.
    The horse and buggy methodologies of education you mention are what you and I did when we were in high school.

    • Jim: No, the horse and buggy methodologies are those advocated by Dodig. Empirical methods have advanced far beyond those he uses. The method of building a model for forecasting based upon assumptions, global warming and oil prices, is about as outdated as the 5 cent post card. Builders of mathematical models must be agnostic or their models are useless. Forecasts such as those made by the Club of Rome, and more recently the MMGW cult, were useless at the time they were made. There were good reasons to know that the 1960 forecasts were nonsense, just as there are good reasons to think that the current forecasts of MMGW are nonsense. Basing public policy on such nonsense just compaunds the foolishness. Critical thinking should extend to critical thinking about the empirical methods.

  7. The Dude Abides

    I am not sure why you need an elaborate “dog and pony show” about what is going to happen or what is not going to happen in 40 years WHEN the basic conclusions are fairly simple common sense logic i.e do you really need to tell high schoolers that they need to learn where to find information?
    Probably should be telling them to learn Chinese instead. Do they teach Chinese at Staples????

    • 50 years ago we were told to study French and German. 25 years ago we were told to study Japanese. Now, the fad is Chinese. We’ll see.

      • The Dude Abides

        Well English would be a good start for most high school kids. And I do remember the Japanese craze in the 80’s but I think they be a comin’ this time, Jeffxs. No 49 with no MSG please.

        • Why teach them English when they can “study” mural painting? Who needs math or English or the ability to speak Chinese, when you can paint a mural? The American public school system is a very bad and very expensive joke.

          • The Dude Abides

            Agreed. But the Democrats won’t push the unions and the GOP won’t bring education to a national standard. Stuck in the mud. Meanwhile, the average high school graduate reads at an 8th grade level if they are lucky to be one of 63% who do graduate. Of course that is there not here. So who cares?

  8. Staples has a very robust Mandarin program. In addition, for at least 10 years the school system has hosted 1 or 2 teachers from China. They teach language and culture, in schools throughout the Westport district.

  9. The Dude Abides


  10. Jeff, how do you even know what “methodologies are those advocated by Dodig”? Have you met with him, have you taken the time to examine what goes on in the sciences or in math or any other discipline at Staples? Dodig’s presentation appears to be a way to open minds beyond the four walls of the classroom; to start a dialogue. Leadership is a term applied to successful CEO’s who use effective thematic communications to stimulate a work force as well as the marketplace. Why not take a similar approach in a high performing high school?

    If you used the empirical method applied to one communication from a school principal to determine what that principal “advocates”, then you are as short sighted as was Chicken Little who determined the sky was falling when hit on the head by an acorn. Go see Dodig and learn something, if you don’t agree with it you will at least have a basis in fact for your opinions – and maybe you can even do some good.

    • Did you read the article? Did you read the part about assumptions? Then you should be able to answer your own questions. Under Dodig’s leadership, Staples eliminated courses in math and science to accommodate a course in mural painting. How will the students learn of the appropriate empirical methodologies while painting murals? Some wonder about why US students are becoming less competitive in the job market and why the US middle class is disappearing, but I don’t. Now, I have lived in Westport long enough to know that the schools are perfect and the teachers are the best money can buy. I know these things to be true because every superintendent, First Selectman, and head of the BOE has told me so for 32 years. That’s all the empirical evidence I need. LMAO

      • Frank Corbo - 6-12 math coordinator

        Are you kidding me? Staples kids take more math than anything else. Because of an increase in math enrollment this year, we added another math teacher. What are you talking about?

      • Jeff: First of all, I want to refute your argument about these courses “replacing” the math/science courses listed. Course changes are decided department by department, and it is not as if the art department got together with the science department and said, “Hey, would it be worthwhile to replace AP Physics C with Mural Painting?” That’s not how it happened. There were simply not enough students signing up for those courses.

        As for your second point about real-world careers, again realizing that the courses added and those removed have nothing to do with each other, you only mentioned the mural painting class, which, as you say, has no real business value. However, you failed to mention the other courses added, such as the new programming, finance, and software courses. Guess what? Those courses have a ton of value in the real world. What is one of the fastest growing industries? Software and web development. Yeah, Staples is clearly not providing Staples students with 21st century skills.

        So, next time you decide to criticize Staples, back it up and don’t just selectively choose facts.

        • Nice try, but the facts are not in your favor, and you have refuted nothing. More to the point, you help make my case that the analytical skills taught at Staples leave much to be desired. Read the minutes of the December 14, 2009 meeting. Courses were eliminated and courses were added. Those that were eliminated were as I described, and mural painting was added. It was Landon, and not individual departments that made the representations. I am sure that like most Westport residents you too have drunk the BOE Kool Aid and have no frame of reference for evaluating the Westport school system. BTW how far behind Darien and New Canaan are Westport math students?

    • Does anyone think that by eliminating Mathematics Problem Solving Landon was advancing the ability of students to solve problems?

  11. The Dude Abides

    If the premise of the dialogue is incorrect, as Jeffxs originally commented, why would you go beyond that in any discussion? I can appreciate the interaction of ideas which is noteworthy. But I can think of many other avenues of subject matter to stimuate the designated goals. It appears that someone sold our good principal a very good video display and he ran with it. I applaud his attempt to expand unfounded principles to current application but if I was 17 and watching: nap time. Of course, I am not sure Staples was as “high performing” in ’66.

  12. Jeff,
    Staples has mural painting. Mural painting replaced a different art class because of changing student interest. The same teacher has been involved with both classes.

    Art classes (or English, etc.) don’t replace science classes. It would be foolish to do so if it were true and it is categorically untrue.

    It is also foolish to think things would operate in such an absurd manner so one is forced to conclude that you are foolish to believe it, gullable to repeat someone elses nonsence, or that you are setting up a strawman so you can continue to trash-talk the school system.

    If you have any curiosity at all you might consider asking a few questions, because if your conclusions are an example of the value or your empirical thinking, then you must have failed the course.

    It is also foolish to think things would operate in such an absurd manner, so one can only conclude that you are foolish to believe it, gullible enough to repeat someone elses nonsense, or just setting up a strawman so you can continue to trash the school system.

    You damage your credibility by repeating factual errors.

    • Please make reference to the Board of Ed minutes which state quite clearly that an advanced calculus class and an advanced science class were being eliminated to make room in the budget for a mural painting class. I wrote to superintendent and asked if this was a joke. He never responded. Now, want to continue the discussion?

  13. jim: On December 14, 2009 Landon proposed eliminating, American Literature and Composition, AP Physics Electricity and Magnetism, AP Physics Mechanics, Applied Mathematics, and Mathematics Problem solving. The Board agreed to eliminate these courses and replace them with Mural Painting and similar courses. Now, it seems that the Board acted in exactly the manner I wrote. A simple apology will do just fine

  14. Jeff,
    Not until I check it out for myself.

  15. Jeff,

    All the information you needed to understand what goes on with courses at Staples was in an earlier posting by SHS Student. Scroll back and review it because it provides a good starting point for this response. I will provide additional context that I believe to be correct based on discussions I had today.

    The Staples course catalog lists close to 250 courses. Listed are both required courses as well as electives. Not all elective courses are offered every year and courses that are undersubscribed (i.e. too few students sign up) are withdrawn. A lack of student interest in an elective course over time will result in that course being removed from the catalogue. In short, with elective courses, students vote on the relevance of offerings to them by signing up. When interest is strong, additional sections are added and when interest is weak, courses are eventually eliminated and other offerings may take their place.

    Modifications may also be made to courses to make them more effective learning tools. When a course is changed fairly significantly (i.e. it may include subject material not in the original course and/or it may change from a one semester course to a two semester offering) it may be necessary to rename it to reflect the change of content and scope.

    There is a managed process in adding, changing, or removing courses. It starts with a combination of student needs/interests and requirements. Students talk to teachers, teachers meet with department heads. Department heads meet with administrators with recommendations for change.

    When change recommendations have gone through the school, they go next to the Superintendent for his approval. Assuming the changes are approved by the Superintendent, they are then presented to the Board of Education for approval. The Board of Ed minutes of December 14, 2009 reflect the end of the process. Courses are only deleted or added after significant review and final approval by the BOE

    The answer to your question about the science and math courses is as follows:

    “We eliminated AP Physics C Electricty and Magnetism and AP Physics C Magnetism and replaced these two courses with the more appropriate AP Physics C Mechanics and Electricity and Magetism. The new AP course, requiring students to have completed Physics and Calculus BC, is a college freshman level Physics course that uses Calculus so that students will be prepared to take the AP Physics C exam in both Mechanics and Electromagnetism in May. The reason for the elimination of the other courses, was to permit our students to take this course, which propels them further along in scientific academia than did the former two courses.

    By eliminating Applied Math and Math Problem Solving, we were able to offer the more appropriate Applied Mathematics 1 and Applied Mathematics 2, a far more effective way to deal with those students requiring Applied Math/Math Problem Solving. By providing a two-year sequence for coverage of the same topics (Applied Math had been a one-year course), the students enrolled had more time to learn the basics of mathematics necessary for their future success in real life.

    Thus, the elimination of the courses noted above was accompanied by the substitution of courses that were better suited for the students we serve”

    The information above came from the Superintendent.

    I believe this post should answer your questions about what happened with science and math courses. Also, I owe you no apology and stand by my earlier comments.

    • You are making an unsuccessful attempt at historical revisionism. The minutes of the December 14, 2009 Board meeting are clear. The courses I enumerated above were eliminated, and among the courses added was mural painting. Nothing you or anyone else has posted changes any of those inconvenient facts. At a time when Dodig is touting efforts to enhance the problem solving skills of Staples students, he eliminates Mathematics Problem Solving and adds mural painting. Those are the facts. I do understand that you have no choice but to defend this foolishness given your vested interest in the wrong side of the issue. I have not yet asked the broader question; Why are scarce taxpayer dollars being used in such a frivolous manner? A question of that significance would cause all manner of hysteria on the part of the Kool Aid drinkers. I’ll save it for another venue. I never expected an apology, that would have required some intellectual honesty on your part.

  16. Mathematics Problem Solving was a specific course designed for students who had not met goal on the math portion of the CMT. It was to prepare them for CAPT. We eliminated the course because there is no longer a need. We have the highest CAPT raw score in the State of Connecticut. Mural painting was an interest of students and it replaced another art course. The two courses (math and art) are not connected. They just happened to be presented to the BOE on the same night. Problem solving is embedded in ALL math courses.

    • The only reason Landon gave for eliminating the science and math courses and the English composition course was “…lack of student interest…” That is the public record.

  17. Jeff,
    Fom your previous posts we know you think that elected officials are idiots, that your fellow citizens are sheep and perhaps “Kool Aid drinkers”. I won’t post what people think of you but I will say that you are a very toxic personality and too angry and, therefore blind, to bother engaging with.

    • A hasty retreat on your part. You have not challenged one fact I posted. The written record stands as clear evidence supporting my position. And yes, of course, anyone who demands more than a mediocre performance by elected officials must be toxic. Anyone who challenges the status quo must be angry. Public offices are filled with mediocre talents who fend off criticism by running away or dissembling.

  18. The SAT scores in math at Staples ranked behind, Darien, New Canaan, and Wilton. I have yet to find a college that requested CAPT scores. You have confirmed all of my earlier posts with respect to the course changes, thank you. Now, you and Jim are trying to change the written record after the fact. Unfortunately, you and he do not have the discretion awarded to members of Congress, the ability to amend the written record after the fact when the written record proves to be embarrassing. All of this might lead to the question, why are taxpayer dollars being used to fund a course in mural painting? But then, that question might open up an examination of the efficacy of the entire curriculum, which I am sure is just perfect in your unbiased opinion.

    • Mr. Goodrich and Mr. Dodig aren’t “trying to change the written record after the fact.” They are simply clarifying that the course changes were not related, and they were simply put in one table for courses added and courses removed. It might have been smarter if they were separated by department to make it seem like the changes were not collected, but that was the presentation of the changes.

      Furthermore, if you are complaining about your taxpayer dollars going toward students’ art education, you have a seriously flawed mindset about education. It isn’t all about AP courses and SATs; some students prefer to express their creativity through drawings rather than through standardized tests. If you have a problem with that, then look at the variety of academic courses that are offered at Staples. As Mr. Goodrich pointed out before, AP Physics C Magnetism was not removed for good, but it was replaced by the broader course, AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism. In fact, it is offered in two different periods for the 2010-11 school year.

      You complain about officials evading the facts that are presented to them, but, in reality, you are the epitome of your stereotype.

      • They and you are most certainly trying to alter the records after the fact. Landon said “…lack of student interest…” Any embellishments are irrelevant. Clearly you have not read the BOE minutes. I am sure that mural painting is much in demand in the global marketplace for labor, but that argument was not advanced at the December 14, 2009 BOE meeting. The intellectual content of the activity must be staggering. It’s called the dumbing down of the curriculum. American students are losing the competition in the global marketplace for labor. They are often deceived by those who claim that mural painting has the intellectual content of physics, math, and Amercan Literature and Composition. I guess if you can’t add, you might as well not be able to write.

  19. The Dude Abides

    Jeffxs: Nice job of “sticking it to the man” so to speak. Staples is an excellent school in a very flawed overall system of education. There are always “cracks in everything in order to show some light”. Thanks for such revelations. I think what bothers me most about the strong Staples advocates is they can never admit to the school’s “cracks.”

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