“I read the news today, oh! boy, about an unlucky kid about to loose his spirit”

I saw the headline—”Aiming to close the achievement gap”. I know what the words say, I’ve heard them thousands of times. But the picture with this story—handsome Kelvon Cook—is worth a thousand words about how schools become spirit killers, beginning this early. I see the bright and interested eyes of a child already being dulled by doing uninteresting things when he could be outside finding shapes, or playing some kind of game, working on a computer or reading a story with an elder about shapes or colors. But this is how it will proceed for the rest of his school life—boring, uninteresting, teacher-planned lessons about what adults think is important, inside of a school house unfriendly to his spirit, curiosity and intelligence. And when he emerges, curiosity and his bright beautiful eyes, will be emptied out, hollowed. To be sure, there will be a bright spot from time to time, but this is standard fare for many of our lovely children.

There’s no one to blame. Most educators I know are hard working people, interested in children’s well-being. Parents, too, mostly want what’s best for their children. I think maybe it is school boards, politicians, policy wonks, and a public attitude about “keeping taxes low” and not paying what is required, that may be to blame for a lack of an exuberant, exciting vision of learning . Until we collectively take responsibility for the capture and prosecution of our young and provide wonder filled places and experiences with and for them, we will continue to waste human potential and talent we so desperately need. And it breaks my heart!

Have a nice day!

The “schools” we deserve!

I just read Tom Friedman’s latest shot across our bow. He comments on “a new study by the consulting firm McKinsey, entitled “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools.””

He concludes his piece with, “…today, educationally, we are not a nation at risk. We are a nation in decline, and our nakedness is really showing.”

I’m continually flummoxed by our collective lack of concern for the problem he writes about (and there are many other challenges as well). We react like a deer caught in the headlights—stunned, confused, afraid. It looks and feels like analysis paralysis—we continue to analyze the problem(s), come up with similar conclusions, fail to act, then study again. How can this be?

As I said elsewhere, survival is not mandatory and I guess it doesn’t hurt enough yet.

Enuf said—I’m going for a walk!

Can we fundamentally reinvent schools or a school?

I listened to a podcast yesterday, part of a series called “4 Guys Talking”. I was drawn to it because I’ve been following Scott McLeod’s blog for some time and he’s got some interesting ideas. While he was reading The Game of School, for example, he posted thought-provoking quotes from the book. The “4 guys” talk about education, technology, K-12 schools, and higher education. The description is: “Four guys talking about education, technology, leadership, K-12 schools, and/or higher education. Drs. Scott McLeod (Iowa State U.), Jon Becker (Virginia Commonwealth U.), David Quinn (U. Florida), and Jayson Richardson (UNC-Wilmington).” What interested me was the question posed in the beginning by the host: Can we fundamentally reinvent schools or a school?

Interestingly, they seem to conclude that it ain’t gonna happen in any widespread way in current schools. They note that successful schools with new approaches tend to be charter schools, schools that started from the beginning with a focus (high tech school in Philly), public charter schools or magnet schools. The rest seem hopelessly locked into the old model.

They also observed that if leaders (boards, superintendents, principals, teacher leaders) don’t get it, it ain’t gonna happen. Additionally, teachers obviously have a choice to get on board or not, complicating and compromising rapid movement. If they choose not to, then principals have the task of getting them out of the way by helping them find different assignments—not an easy task. There are, after all, parents, teachers, and students that want worksheet schools and they should have them—just as we who want something more technological, problem-based, or project-based should have the freedom and encouragement to organize around what we see as important.

Their thinking has helped me conclude a little more firmly that change—necessary, quick, and fundamental—is not possible with current thinking. Many good and decent people have been at it a long time. Yet schools haven’t changed much. It looks easier to destroy the system and rebuild another more organic, loosely coupled, system of learning environments (formerly known as schools). And I’m increasingly ok with it, given the destruction to the human spirit that the current system causes.

You may want to check out the podcasts. The question upfront helps you decide if the broad cast is worthwhile, so it doesn’t have to be a time waster.

Too Much Sadness: 2

I spotted 2 articles in this morning’s newspaper that also contributed to my sadness today. A member of our local school board allegedly called the principal at a school and the school’s community racist. After a surprise visit to the school and apparently after “words” between board member Chris Stewart and the principal, the principal was called to the central office where he was suspended with pay while an investigation is conducted. I don’t know exactly what happened between the two, but I can guess, having watched Stewart since he was elected. No matter what happened, how does a school board member get off calling a community racist. It is reckless and irresponsible and reprehensible. As if the schools don’t have enough to worry about and plan for due to marathon budget cuts over the last 10 years, Stewart contributed nothing to help and, in my opinion, actually delivered a serious blow to  MPS. While the school district continues to hemorrhage students due to poor planning and the lack of any vision related to the 21st century, Stewart:

  1. made the district, administration, and board look foolish;
  2. sent a message that dissent, criticism, disagreement would be punished;
  3. robbed the students and families at the school of stability and order and education as the year closes; he alienated hundreds of people;
  4. and probably set in motion the departure of a principal who won praise from his community for 10 years. This last point is especially egregious because it will no doubt influence other bright educators to leave.

What a sad commentary.


Related to Stewart’s shenanigans is the article that appeared on the front page of the business section. It tells about a successful project, Project DIVA, that “attempts to connect members with speakers and mentors from business and other walks of life to help the students understand the relationship between school, work, community and success.” These wonderful young ladies have marvelous dreams. What saddens me is that they are enrolled in a charter school, a sign, I think, that MPS isn’t taking care of business. I don’t believe that these young women should have to go to a charter school to experience the success that is reported in the article. Perhaps young Mr. Stewart should be more concerned about MPS’s lack of success, imagination, and thoughtfulness and less about witch hunting.

I’ve got to go for a walk now on this lovely, windy spring day to cheer up.

Too Much Sadness: I

I’m sad today. I just happened on a blog run by FrontLine. The topic they will be exploring is the impact technology is having on our lives. The producer of the series found herself in one of those moments where you are propelled beyond the circumstance to a much more profound question. While cooking dinner for her family, she suddenly realized that her husband, sons, and daughter were all on separate computers each doing different tasks. She marveled at the availability of finding information quickly, or taking a picture with an iPhone, or emailing a grandmother but was troubled by being vastly separated while in close proximity. Isn’t life short enough? Shouldn’t we take advantage of our time together? And so the blog and Frontline series was born.

I proceeded to look at the most recent entry and found a comment about the military’s use of drones in Pakistan. Accompanying the text is a clip from Hearts and Minds, a popular 1974 documentary. The footage is disturbing and outrageous and makes me want to cry. I was reminded of another chilling piece from The Fog of War, where Robert McNamara describes the fire-bombing of Japanese cities during World War II, just before he indicts himself as a war criminal. His face about 5 seconds in and also at the end of the clip says it all. What makes me sad is that we haven’t learned much. The pilot interviewed in Hearts and Minds most pointedly says, when asked if we’ve learned anything, that, to the contrary, we seem to be avoiding learning. And it is not unlike the current debate about torture and “collateral damage”! It reminds me of a poem by an outraged poet. Naomi Shihab Nye captures succinctly my own sadness and outrage.

FOR MOHAMMED ZEID, Age 15

There is no stray bullet, sirs.

No bullet like a worried cat
crouching under a bush,
no half – hairless puppy bullet
dodging midnight streets.
The bullet could not be a pecan
plunking the tin roof,
not hardly, no fluff of pollen
on October’s breath,
no humble pebble in the street.

So don’t gentle it, please.

We live among stray thoughts,
tasks abandoned midstream.
Our fickle hearts are fat
with stray devotions, we feel at home
among bits and pieces,
all the wandering ways of words.

But this bullet had no innocence, did not
wish anyone well, you can’t tell us otherwise
by naming it mildly, this bullet was never the friend
of life, should not be granted immunity
by soft saying–friendly fire, straying death-eye,
why have we given the wrong weight to what we do?

Mohammed, Mohammed, deserves the truth.

This bullet had no secret happy hopes,
it was not singing to itself with eyes closed under the bridge
like the exiled lady in her precious faded hat.

—Naomi Shihab Nye
Poetry 180, page 168

A terribly disappointing education policy

This is a test to see is ScribeFire works while responding to David Warlick’s post. Kate Olson over at Kate Says blogged about her experiment with ScribeFire and it sounded like a very convenient add-on to Firefox. Thanks Kate. I just checked the first sentence in ScribeFire and it works–so on with it.

I think David is absolutely correct when he says:

The nature of information has changed — not in what it does and what it means, but in what it looks like, how it flows and grows, and where and whom it comes from, how we find it, what we use to find it, …  It means that there is still much that needs to be taught.

The days are long gone when an educated adult in front of the classroom was the source of knowledge. Knowledge today is everywhere and is constantly being refined and grown by all of us web workers. What we educators have to teach is wisdom, judgment, and how to use the ever-widening digital tools collection skillfully. We also need to cultivate and teach creativity and design. And we will not get there by using a Model T school organization–a school system designed at the end of the 19th century when our school system was “preparing” students for a vastly different reality.

The vent (Let’s just put them all in jail 24/7) that David refers to in his blog was a reaction to Arne Duncan’s incredible ignorance–that school should be 11 months a year and entail longer days. As I’ve noted before, we are too concerned with “school” to the detriment of learning. Not all learning takes place in school–and that statement is even truer today. One third of students drop out and countless others despise school and simply play the game by dropping out mentally and doing the minimal. We are loosing an incredible amount of our future and we don’t seem to give a damn. Generally, we are not reinventing or reimagining but rehashing the old ideas with the old assumptions–AND I GUESS IT SIMPLY DOESN’T HURT ENOUGH for us to collectively get off of our asses and get on with the business of learning. “Change is not necessary. Survival is not mandatory.” (Deming)

Our stupidity, laziness, and lack of courage is a site to behold!

ScribeFire Test

This is a test to see is ScribFire works while responding to David Warlick’s post.

Education and schools as the American Auto Industry

David Brooks wrote a very interesting article in the March 31 New York Times about General Motors (G.M.)There is an eerie, chilling echo to what I call General Education (G.E.)–you know, schools, or the establishment. See if this resonates with you.

Brooks pointed out that, “For 30 years, GM has been restructuring itself toward long-term viability.” Then he observes that, in the time G. M.  was restructuring, their market share took a long, steady slide downward. But nothing “…stopped the waves of restructuring. The Powerpoints have flowed, and always there has been the promise that with just one more …push, sustainability nirvana will be at hand.” The experts identified what they thought was the problem: costs. But, “The real problem is the product. The cars are not good enough. The management is insular. The reputation is fatally damaged.”

That’s how we’ve been spending out time, isn’t it? That’s the conclusion many of us have made, isn’t it? That management is insular. That the experience  is no longer any good because we’ve (educators) failed to keep up. Isn’t our reputation damaged witnessed by the vast number of students dropping out mentally and physically or the growth of homeschools or the growth of charters or the 50% dropout of new teachers to the field?

Teaching as a Subversive Activity was published in 1968—40 years ago. We had the A Nation at Risk in 1983. And after hundreds of reports and many theories of reform and restructuring, school today is essentially the same as when my father went to school in the early part of the 20th centurty: teacher led classes, prescribed curricula, 8-3 school day, September to June school year, tests, similar curricula (English, history, math, science, elective, and physical education), taught in classes of 30-40 students, in age-segregated classes of 12 grades. We have been restructuring for at least 40 years, and I bet longer if we do a little research.

It interests me why there is this knowing, perceiving, doing gap. Next time I’ll offer what appears to me to be an idea that could change this if people–parents, educators, policy people–could choose something different.

Finding my way back

It’s hard to believe that I haven’t posted since September 30 last year. That’s almost 6 months ago and so much has happened to me, the country and world, and to my friends.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have things to write about. There was lots of  opportunity to write about education, digital tools, a new book I’m working on with Anne Jolly about digital tools for professionals, the wonderful outcome of the election and my friend Amy’s first art gallery opening. I simply have no excuse–just a kind of inertia that’s hard to understand or accept.

Yet, I’m here, I’m back to this exciting life of thoughtful meandering, trying to be gentle with and forgiving of myself .

I must tell you that I’m writing this on an Asus 1000 Linux netbook, a wonderful little machine that is less than 3 lbs, with a 10″ screen, between 5 & 6 hours of battery life, keys that are 95% of the standard, with a full office suite (StarOffice) and other useful software, a web cam, Firefox and wifi, AND I’M JUST ENJOYING THE HELL OUT OF IT!

I’ve been doing some work on the website on pages not yet published trying to set up The Rational Inquirer, an information focussed publication aimed at principals.

So, here we go for another ride into the blogosphere! Tally Ho! and I’ll be with you tomorrow with some more interesting stuff.

Be well!

ReImagining: Developing a toolchest for 21st century information management

On September 24, 2008, David Warlick over at 2¢ Worth posted a very interesting question: If “It’s not about the technology,” then What is it about? As you might imagine, a lively conversation followed. The conversation pushed my thinking about re-imagining learning. What should we be doing?

Scott McLeod caught my attention when he posted on September 29, 2008 about what’s on the back of his business card. He explains that most cards have nothing on it. McLeod saw the empty space as an opportunity and put the following on the back of his business card:

… and they all crossed their fingers, hoping … despite little to no investment in their leaders … despite making conscious, intentional decisions to keep it out … that somehow their students and staff would be prepared for the digital, global world that surrounded them …

The End?

And I was confronted again with the nagging question of what we should be doing for and with our students to help them confront the tumultuous 21st century with verve and confidence.

It came together for me like this. A tip of the hat to Stephen Abram over at Stephen’s Lighthouse for his post on Zotero. When I read Stephen’s post I immediately went to the article he recommended at Educause: 7 Things You Should Know About Zotero. I read Educause’s piece and was astonished to see this free addon to Firefox (also free and cross-platform) automated lot’s in researching a topic of interest. This is an invaluable tool for researchers, writers or anyone working on a complicated project. Educause notes that,

By automating the tasks of gathering, managing, and citing online references, Zotero and other online reference tools facilitate a more efficient research process. 

Shouldn’t our students and teachers know about this? Shouldn’t they be trained to use this simple tool? We educators have got to get aggressively intentional about teaching students (and our colleagues) how to use tools like this for their personal and work lives.

All of us are bombarded with random information. We often feel overwhelmed by it all. All this information coming at us so quickly represents a kind of chaos. Tools like Zotoro can help professionals and students build documented digital personal libraries that accumulate and organize information for their own purposes. It’s one tool in the challenge to develop a personal information network.

You can find Zotero’s Firefox extension for free here

Thanks to the three of you for pushing my thinking.