What is the connection between potholes and your education dollars? Simple – just about everything. Potholes are a visible reminder that we are running out of tax dollars. There are actual signs on the expressways around the Island that say “not getting paid but still working”. These have been put up, I imagine by the contracted crews who are trying to fix the roads. So far I personally have lost two tires to these chasms. Not a big deal but they are an everyday reminder of what is going on.

I am sure we all have some teachers in our families. Being in academia for 23 years I have had many a student who went on to become teachers. The recent ones have all reported to me that they have been “pink slipped” and have been told that they have to re-apply for their teaching positions.

Recently a friend told me that an international shipping company is desperate for drivers and is paying some up from $70,000.00 a year to start. See the article in WSJ.com and Yahho.com homepage. This is while the strip malls and main streets are inundated with empty storefronts. How many friends, if not you, have been laid-off from their jobs in the last year?

For goodness sakes Greece is going bankrupt! You don’t think a state can – again!

Why is this happening? IMHO – very simple, it is a ripple effect of this new global economy that we didn’t see coming. Online spending has gone up about 300% in the past 5 years. This is great? Yes and no. It is great if you are an online company that sells the goods or manufactures them. Not so great if you are a traditional brick and mortar based business.

Many people today prefer to do their shopping online.  It is simpler, quicker, easier and cheaper. However it does come with a price. One that you think, you do not feel. That is until you get in your car.

Without the revenue base from business and their employees the overall tax base diminishes, therefore less tax money coming in, less to be spent on services – roads and schools. Am I saying don’t shop online, of course not. What I am saying is that we as a country and community did not prepare for this new economy. Nor did we prepare for the economic disaster that just recently passed. And now we are paying the price for those mistakes – potholes on the road to progress.

Well what do we do from here? We do the best we can and go forward. How do we do that? We properly prepare the next generation to take their place in this new economy. How do we do it – not so simple!

IMHO – we need to re-tool how and what we are teaching. We need to embrace the concept of critical thought and proper application. The marriage of these two perspectives is paramount and necessary for this new economy.

We have a new generation throwing another hero up the pop charts. How are we preparing to teach this new generation? Are we meeting them on the right playing field? Are we teaching them the right skill sets? Do we know who they are?

Gen-i is coming at us fast. How are they wired?

The first thing I do when starting a semester with a new class of students is to try and find out the order of the tribe. Make no mistake about it they are a tribe. Not a malicious one but a hierarchy nonetheless. You need to find out who the chief is and win them over or if not dethrone them. Dethroning a chief is very bad and dangerous. It is better to win them over. Today as always most chieftains, male or female, love trinkets or gifts bestowed upon them. Hey we bought Manhattan for clamshells right?

In most tribes today the trinkets are technologically based. So this is what I usually do. If the chieftain is tech savvy I ask for help. Play “Frozen Caveman Lawyer” (Phil Hartman – SNL, 1990s) with them. “I do not know your strange and futuristic ways, perhaps someone could help me?” Believe it or not it works.

Once you win over the chief it is time for real anthropological discovery. Who is this tribe? How and what do they react to? What will gain their trust and interest?

Basically I am trying to find out how they are wired? I really do not believe in reading reports and assuming I have the same group. I read the reports and if there are similarities it helps.  But usually I want to find it out for myself.

What do we know about Gen-i? Well they are early adopters of technology. They spend approximately 7 hours a day in front of a screen. They have no problem interacting with inanimate objects. They have the ability to text 50 words a minute with just their opposable thumbs. They can spot a fake a mile off. We’re “grubs” from the original Star Trek episode??? (I am not a Trekkie, if I knew the number it would definitely make me one. I just like good work.)

Besides these incredible “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues – Uma Thurman” thumbs they are physiologically different. Their brains have been stimulated in different ways. MRI tests show this to be true. There are different areas of the brain that are active from other generations. They literally think different.

In other words PowerPoint doesn’t cut it. They want something they can interact with. Something they can contribute to, something that is UGC – user generated content. They want to be part of the process.

Sitting in a class with all the great technology surrounding you is still just sitting in a class. They have to want to use it, to become part of the process. They want their voices heard.

This is a delicate line between teacher and student. One that should be danced everyday. If done properly it is like tending a garden. You don’t twist the tomato plant to your way. You let it grow and untangle it when it gets too carried away. But you always try a little to point it to the sun, backup and see where it is headed.

Be careful there might be a pothole behind you.