Thursday, June 30, 2005

We do not need no education

Over the last few days I have been brooding over various articles bemoaning low pay for teachers, poor opportunities for high school graduates and drop outs, bleak future for college graduates all tied together to a theme of US economic decline and malaise. The best part, for a contrarian like me, is of course that this is just a lot of food for writing. The bad part, is that of course I never do.

So here is a topic for comments or post submissions: what do you think K12 schools could and should teach. What they should not be teaching, or teaching less is a different topic. For the moment, let us assume that adding extra subjects or classes is feasable.

One of my favorites would have to be "note taking". Not once in all of my years in school (in two countries with radically different educational systems, mind you) did a teacher show me how to take good notes. I was never graded on taking good notes. I got to college, and barely through college, by basically doodling on paper. It is possible that no one method fits all types of people and personalities. But surely 2 or 3 techniques would cover most students. Why is note taking so important? Well, for one this is pretty much all you do in meetings. As everyone knows, meetings take up an inordinate amount of time, and fairly often people actually expect you to know what took place, in detail, and to follow up on tasks that came out of that meeting. One of the biggest, and most common, mistakes young graduates make is to come into a meeting without a pen and paper. Does not go over well with senior executives. Trust me. Good notes pay for themselves 10-fold two weeks or two months after the initial meeting, talk, or lecture. I still keep notes I took in college in various classes. They are a distillation of what I got out of class; and a great resource for quick reviews of various topics. Well-taken meeting notes can help you remember not just the raw data, but the context of the tasks assigned to you and others.

In short, benefits of good note-taking habits:
  • a set of data points relevant to your activities
  • improved productivity due to clear understanding of tasks, their interralationships, and responsibilities for those tasks
  • strong basis for future papers, memos, or documentation if need ever arises
  • makes you an indespensable member of the team
  • clean and readable notes are an aethtetic pleasure to work with
drawbacks:
  • less doodling time during lectures and meetings
If one wants to think about universal business skills, effective notes-taking has to be one of the chepest ways to guard against mistakes and improve productivity. I think it is a winner.

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