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Feb 28, 2020

In our 34th "Deming Lens" episode, host Tripp Babbitt shares his interpretation of wide-ranging aspects and implications of Dr. Deming's theory of management. This month he looks at joy in learning with a discussion on grades in schools.

Show Notes

Deming Lens #34 - Joy in Learning?

The Deming Players in Education

Wisconsin School Replaces Grades

Dr. Deming on Education

Experimentation Leading to Improvement is Needed

Andrea Gabor - Special Needs School

13% Don't Graduate from High School

Artificial Scarcity

Alfie Kohn on Grades




Tripp: [00:00:14] In the thirty fourth episode of the Deming Lens, we'll take a look at Dr. Demings views on joy in learning specifically around grades.


Tripp: [00:00:28] Hi, I'm Tripp Babbitt, host of the Deming Institute podcast in this Deming lens.


Tripp: [00:00:34] I have been listening to the television and reading some things about education and it really brought me back to Joy in learning and I apologize ahead of time. This is going to be some random thoughts. I often do that just to provoke conversation amongst people within the Deming community about maybe what should be going on with education. We've had in the Deming community, a lot of people speak about education. Chief among them is David Langford and I've interviewed David a few times. If you go to podcasts, Dot Deming, Dot, Oregon, you do a search on David Langford. You can listen to some of those interviews. And also, I've had a few conversation with Andrea Gábor, who wrote a book about Dr. Deming, who is a and she is a Deming advocate, but she writes quite a bit about education. Another person heavily involved from the Deming community is Alfie Cohn, who's written many, many books. And I've interviewed Alfie on the podcast also.


Tripp: [00:01:47] And all of these people. Alfie, I almost look at as philosopher slash educator about education in and of itself. David Langford's in kind of the front lines associated with the education system. And Andrea writes quite a bit for Harper's and Bloomberg in a number of other mediums that she communicates through. And if you get a chance, read some of her stuff. She's a very prolific writer. No one but two. She's heavily and deeply involved and tracking history of things like charter schools and government run schools and things of that sort, which is a lot of controversy.


Tripp: [00:02:42] But what got me started on this education thing this week was I saw the interview on one of the networks about a Wisconsin school system that had eliminated grades.And it just kind of set my mind to the thinking, you know.


Tripp: [00:03:07] How long have we been at this? Within the Deming community about trying to change the education system, we're certainly not the only ones trying to influence that. And these. This interview was a basically instead of having grades, they had something else. And I will go into the detail of that, because I don't think it's that significant.


Tripp: [00:03:32] But you can look into the Wisconsin school system without grades and it kind of replaced it more with adeno something more.Well, let me just kind of break down what they what they wrote. It's the they have exceeding meeting, developing and emerging students. And the article doesn't go into enough depth.


Tripp: [00:03:58] So I'm not really even get a link to it. As far as what's the result of this system, it was more of a attack on them eliminating grades. And I'm not sure that replacing it with what they have is has created any new results for it.


Tripp: [00:04:16] But then I started to go back to my Deming.Books and. It took me back to the basics.


Tripp: [00:04:29] You know, Dr. Deming wrote in the New Economics about a system of schools and he writes a system of schools, public schools, private schools, Peru for all schools, trade schools, universities, for example, is not merely pupils, teachers, school boards, boards of regents and parents working separately to achieve their own aims. It should be instead a system in which these groups work together to achieve the aims that the community has for the school growth and development of children and preparation for them to contribute to the prosperity of society. And Dr. Deming goes on to write, It should be a system of education which pupils from toddlers on up through the university take a joy in learning free from fear of grades and gold stars. And which teachers take joy in their work. Free from fear and ranking. It should be a system that recognizes differences between pupils. And differences between teachers. Such a system of schools would be destroyed if some group of schools decided to band together to lobby for their own special interest. They, together with all the schools, would be in time, would in time be losers.


Tripp: [00:05:51] And, you know, I think the takeaway for me from the New Economics from this is the joy in learning piece and how we've built these schools around the grading system.


Tripp: [00:06:06] It's so it it takes over the thinking of really everyone in that system. And Dr. Deming obviously railed against grades, but you look at each of the stakeholders in it.


Tripp: [00:06:21] You know, pupils focus in on the grade and not the learning. And I think that, you know, as I look back at when I was growing up, you know, that was it. It was degrading care, what you learned. Let's get a good grade, because that's what people paid attention to. You know, and teachers are dealing with grades all the time. What's going to be on the test is question often asked to teachers. And, you know, even parents, you know, I was given five dollars for every a I got. And if it was anything other than an add and get anything.


Tripp: [00:06:59] So, you know, we've got this entire system with people that have grown up this way.And, you know, if it was, quote unquote, the way I had to live with it and not even good, then you should have to live with it, too.And I think this is a this is a universal problem. And the fact that we have this in education then is reflected in business, too.


Tripp: [00:07:25] I came across the article and linked and that Clifford Norman posted and, you know, talking about how, you know.Businesses maybe are finally starting to experiment. I thought, geez, you know, shouldn't we be doing that all the time and learning? And the problem might think we have is the fear of experimentation. And Doug Hall's talks quite a bit about that and innovation. There's this fear of failure. We don't innovate enough. And you've got you, Cliff Norman and this article that, you know, experimentation. It's like something new. And it was in Harvard Business Review is where the article was from. And it really does set my mind thinking about how little we experiment with the aim of learning.


Tripp: [00:08:19] It's kind of a you know, it's proving silly. It's it's a zero sum game.


Tripp: [00:08:24] There's gonna be winners and losers in all of these situations. And we tried it your way. You were wrong. And, you know, this is kind of bleeds out into Democrats and Republicans and conservatives and liberals. And I keep wondering, where's the learning? Forget about the joy in learning. But where's the learning in general?


Tripp: [00:08:44] In some in these systems. But going back to education, you know.


Tripp: [00:08:51] Eliminating grades challenges our education system and the people in it and the people I just talked about, the administrators, the teachers, the parents and the students, but the existing system is leaving people behind.


Tripp: [00:09:08] I just read an article by Andrea Gabor about a special needs school that was really doing some great things that cost per pupil was higher, which you might expect because somebody with, let's say, autism is going to have to get some extra help. But think of the benefits of that. If you can get this student to function normally within society and learn at the same time become a productive member.Back to Dr. Demings Aim. And unfortunately, I had to look up the numbers, but there in our existing system leaves too many behind.


Tripp: [00:09:55] How many people just give up? Ultimately, because, you know, they aren't getting good grades in school. Well, we know from the figures that I just saw, about 13 percent never graduate from high school, you know? So what happens with these people? And now some of them go on to great careers and find their find their ability to learn. But unfortunately, the barrier was our education system.


Tripp: [00:10:24] So I really you know, as as I look at this, I'm saying, what do we do next? What can we do as a a community? Deming, the Deming community to live through this education system.


Tripp: [00:10:43] And as I said, the people that I mentioned earlier are people all working on it.Are are all voices within the education system. But it just doesn't seem that learning is happening quite a quite a bit. I made some notes as I started going back to similar videos of David Langford talking at some of the Deming conferences and things.


Tripp: [00:11:07] And I think the words that kept coming up in my mind were artificial scarcity, the artificial scarcity that grades produce within the education system.


Tripp: [00:11:21] And and David Langford talks quite a bit about that in that, you know, why can't everybody get an A in a particular class and shouldn't that, you know, over whether there should be grades or not, everybody should have the opportunity to achieve, you know, in a state status.


Tripp: [00:11:40] And by virtue of putting the grades in school, we're creating this system of koc of competition. And I was always fascinated by some of the stories that that David talks about, about his students. You know, once they got kind of everybody is gonna get an a what's what's focus on learning how the people that got something much faster were able to help the people that weren't quite connecting and humorously.


Tripp: [00:12:11] He talks about how, you know, he's listening to these conversations between somebody who's understanding it and somebody who doesn't understand it.


Tripp: [00:12:21] As far as his students and how this person with the understanding would communicate in a way that David said, you know, I'd I'd I'd like they'll never get this by what they're saying, but it connected and that person was able to learn. And, you know, this goes back to some of Russell, a cough stuff that, you know, he talked quite a bit about the education system, specifically talks in terms of, you know, the traditional education system that focuses on teaching and not learning.


Tripp: [00:12:57] And he put a lot of emphasis on the fact that the actual learning comes about by teaching. And so the teacher learns more, but the student doesn't get it. We've lost the aim of what education is really all about.


Tripp: [00:13:17] So, you know, I wrote some a few things down that even Klfie Cohn talked about. One is the effects of grades. He says three things. Grades tend to diminish interest. The extrinsic motivation drives out the intrinsic motivation because the focus is all on the grade and not really the learning. The second thing he says is grades create a preference for the easiest possible task. So if you're going to get graded on something, why would I take on something hard, because if I'm going to want to get a grade, I want to get the way. I don't want to have to, you know.


Tripp: [00:14:01] Put extra effort in. And then get a C or a D. Because I wanted to challenge my learning. The third thing is grades reduce the quality of the student's thinking. And here he goes in and and talks about cheating. And you know how we'd generate this fear of failure. And it just you know, as you read all these things, you get back to really what the education system should be about, which is developing lifelong learners.


Tripp: [00:14:33] So my final question is, if learning is the aim, then what is the method that we're going to use and how are we going to continue to learn about what actually works rather than fighting over who's the winner and who's the loser of the last idea?


Tripp: [00:14:54] This is really ingrained in our society now, and I see this every day. And a lot of the transactions that you have in talking with people is somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. And this is really damaging not only our education system, but the way we go about thinking in politics and business and just about everything else. I hope this stimulated some conversation. If you listening to this about what the state of the education system in Yaffe through the lens of the grades. But like I said, I like to Deming lens to to become something more of stimulating conversation about very tough, big issues that are out there.


Tripp: [00:15:44] Thank you for listening to the Deming Institute podcast. Stay updated on the latest blogs, podcasts, programs and other activities at