Relevance in the Revolutionized Schools: What Really Matters?
Is Homework All That Important?
Relevance in the Revolutionized Schools: What Really Matters?
Is Homework All That Important?
Capriciously labeling, ranking, and categorizing people is a nightmare for adults and for children. The powerful negative feelings, thoughts, and psychosocial phenomena associated with being told who you are, being told what you are (or are not) worth, and being publicly branded can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Doing such a thing once is bad enough, but doing it all the time is downright despicable. I am disgusted as both a person and as a professional educator by ideology that idolizes concrete judgment, self-centered importance without regard for others, regards inductive reasoning as supreme, and fervently believes in the worth of some people and the worthlessness of others. Broadly, this embodies Objectivism, a philosophy madly embraced by the far right and rejected by serious academics and scholars of philosophy, and in short, I find it unhealthy, inhumane, and dangerous, and wherever I detect situations in my work with children and with teachers that involves painting with broad brushes, corralling children into predefined pens, and otherwise treating human beings like statistics or objects, I fight it.
Consequently, you can imagine my wrath and scorn when my colleague Rachel forwarded me Caitlin Dewey’s article from the Post describing Peeple, a new app that lets anyone in the world rank you. As she describes it, it’s basically “Yelp for people”
This is, in short, one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard in my time in education and educational technology.
Firstly, let’s get the big one out of the way: It is not your place to judge me. You might in fact judge me, and you have a right to form private internal judgments me, but it is not your role in society, and certainly it is not your place to publicly proclaim your assessment of me as a person from a throne of authority, and Peeple seeks to coronate any idiot who registers.
Has Peeple learned nothing from Lulu (as Caitlin points out) or RateMyTeacher or other platforms that spike briefly for prurient Mean Girls social terrorism, and then fade to rant-fests and mud-slinging?
From the educator’s perspective, I’m alarmed and infuriated by the brazen ignorance of the founders. One of them as quoted in the article called herself “empathetic” and indicated she wanted to “spread love and positivity” and “operate with thoughtfulness.” There is nothing prosocial, empathetic, loving, or positive about providing a nearly-unfettered platform for shame.
Shaming is a neuropsychologically-destructive act, and Peeple creates a condition for slander and vengeance and meanness as well as unfounded aggrandizement and egoism, by allowing individuals to utilize an oversimplified integer-based evaluation method, rooted in nothing more than baseless evidence-free opinion, to judge others. And yes, I indict it for the same reasons I indict grading in schools that is rooted in similar garbage data.
An example: I know a person who says that person respects me tremendously as an educator. I also know that person loathes me as a person because of our deep disagreement on sociology and politics. In Peeple, that person can claim to know me professionally, and then excoriate me for something that 1. has nothing to do with my work as an educator insofar as my duties are concerned, 2. does in fact have everything to do with my work as an educator insofar as those who agree with me on matters of children, individualism, and pedagogy are concerned, and 3. is absolutely, positively none of anyone else’s business. The conversations I’ve had with that person were had with that person, not in a public forum. Public debate and chatting are different things, with different standards of decorum and format. Peeple does not make any effort to distinguish these phenomena, and rightly so: It’s not for anyone else to say who I am, what I do, or how I do it, based on anything but their own perspective, and that perspective is ONLY valid for that person.
Sycophants and egoists, predators and shamers, scapegoaters and sociopaths, you’ve found yet another pile of grist to grind in Peeple, but I’ll thank you all to leave my grainy goodness out of your mill. I will not be participating in such psychopathy.
Adult control is the enemy of a child’s learning.
Unnecessary mechanisms of control forge shackles that chain children together into groups, and herd them into corrals we presuppose for them. This is not empowering children, but is adult control, and adult control is not a desirable characteristic when it comes to authentic child learning. We must, wherever we identify it, seize adult control, drag it kicking and screaming out back, and put it down. We should proactively identify restriction that is not absolutely necessary to protect kids and destroy those constraints.
Blocking an internet-based resource writ large – YouTube is the most common example I hear about from lamenting teachers – in order to prevent access to potentially-troubling material is not an educational technology best practice and it is not mandated under law. To say that such large-scale blocking is “a legal requirement” as I sometimes hear is to fundamentally misunderstand not only ed law and case studies on the subject, but to ignore and indict in the same breath the progressive and thoughtful school systems that have paved the way to empower students who have a keen interest in learning from audiovisual illustrations as they may need.
The Children’s Internet Protection Act is extraordinarily simple: No porn. No bloody gory murder. Nothing that is defined as “obscene” under state statute. Those are three very clear definitions, and the vast majority of content that students are trying to access does not fall into any of those three categories. We should have basic internet filtering to ensure that students cannot access pornography, abject violence, and depictions of obscenity as defined locally, as is our legal charge, and then ensure that pretty much everything else under the sun is available to any kid, anytime, anywhere. Yes, some of this content will be low-quality. Yes, some of this content may be inaccurate, outdated, or incomplete. Yes, some of it may be inflammatory or controversial or downright stupid. That’s YouTube.
That’s also life. I believe we have an ethical responsibility to teach children about the world and to live in the world as it is and may be, not as if we would have it be in a sanitized petri dish. Such sanitizing strikes me not only as disingenuous and perilously close to lying to children, but miseducative.
How on earth are we to teach our cubs what rapids are too fast for them or are simply swift waters they can race upon? How are we to teach our cubs the difference between an empty hive full of yummy honey and an active yellowjacket nest? How are we to teach our cubs the difference between a friendly clawless spotted cat and a deadly leopard, if we do not occasionally aid them in interacting at least at a distance with our basic “mama bear” safeties in place? And how do we scaffold the transition from students who need more support (often earlier in development) to savvy users of complex information systems, if we keep things just as locked down for the 18 year old as the 8 year old?
When we focus on building fences and emergency lights and hazard signs along the sides of runways, we aren’t focusing on teaching kids to fly and empowering them to safely and thoughtfully choose their own flight paths and soar independently. This is not to say that we ought to abandon safety, scaffolding, or care. I recognize clearly that it is important sometimes for adults to act to protect children. It is in the mama bear’s nature to sometimes pull back her cub to prevent catastrophic harm. However, “I will protect you when I must” is very different from “I will control you all the time.”
These kinds of policies reflect non-educator thinking.
There are those that disagree with me, but so rarely are those people teachers, so I find. They are more often than not, in my not-insignificant professional experience in this field, voices of dissent from Luddites, anti-technology naysayers, or people that don’t believe that some resources have a place in learning because they don’t personally benefit from those resources. These attitudes are not rooted in empiricism, research, or experience, but are rather (often unlettered) opinions that have nothing to with setting the best policy we can, to ensure students and teachers are as free as possible and to ensure that they both have the fullest access to the fullest possible range of resources, tools, and techniques for learning, anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
The days of the pre-ordered lesson plan with pre-arranged everyone-together-now technology use for basic substitution and common productivity tasks are behind us. That was a 20th century relic of 19th century pedagogy, and every educational technologist worth a shake of salt knows that.
Individually blacklisting offensive sites is a far more precise and far more liberating way of approaching keeping kids safe than to carte blanche block a resource that has helped children around the world. I do not advocate that we force children to be autodidactic, but we ought not restrict autodidacticism when a child desires it, should not assume that these resources have no value and place in a meaningful teacher-child learning partnership, or restrict autogenic impulsive learning opportunities both within the school and without.
I often speak about love, because as I write in my upcoming book, I believe love to be at the center of learning and teaching. Love desires freedom and empowerment, and rallies against forces that deny these things to those we love. Teachers must love children, actively and meaningfully, in order to teach. Disabling access to information is an intrinsically-unloving act. It is, in my estimation, a terrible and totalitarian form of adult control to keep children in the dark, to shut off access to information, and deny them writ large resources from which they may benefit. Organizations around the country have striven tirelessly to provide connectivity and access to children because we know that knowledge really is power. Empowering students to access information at a moment’s notice for whatever reason, whenever and wherever, can only be helpful, if we truly believe that the way a child learns is more important than the way we teach.
Again: Those that disagree with me on these points usually believe at best that teaching is more important than learning, and at worst that neither really matters, so long as the institution’s control is maintained. This lattermost point is underscored notably in overly-restrictive hardware environments. The Albemarle (Virginia) schools have made their students full administrators of their 1:1 devices. Is it more work for their IT people? Sure thing. One of their higher-ups recently told me that they need to, in a given year, re-image about 50% of their elementary level devices, and about 10% of their high school devices.
So what? We exist to work for kids, not the other way around, and if the devices really are for their benefit… why not empower them? Given that most of the time there’s a problem with a device, we re-image it anyway, what’s the real net loss here, as compared to the massive potential gain?
Again, to love: It is unloving not to trust someone. Love does not assume wrongdoing or incapability.
When I go into a classroom, and students are typing on any device, my presumption is that they are individuals and thinkers who are innately deserving of my respect. I value their brains, I love their minds, I uphold their freedoms, I believe they have a right to learn as they naturally learn, to manage information as they choose, to annotate as the choose… I do not compel them to learn a particular way; I want to empower them to learn how their minds work and to get what they need, which may (and statistically, nearly certainly will) differ greatly from the other students in that learning space.
There are times when it’s best for me as a learner not to take notes at all. There are times when meticulous notes or illustrations of some kind are critical. There are times when simply videotaping is just better for me, and there are certainly times when accessing related information that is relevant and of interest that is helpful to my learning in that moment and enriches my comprehension and skill mastery and passion for the subject at hand, in realtime, in situ, is what’s best for me. And it is no one’s right to tell me I may not learn that way or that my brain must conform to anyone else’s command.
And yes, let’s be honest: Frankly, there are times when what the teacher or instructor or administrator is doing is irrelevant to me. Sometimes I already know the subject or skill cold, sometimes better than xe does. Sometimes I know it’s completely irrelevant for me to know bean one about what’s being discussed, and I find more often than not, so do most of the people in that room. I know how my brain works and in those moments I am absolutely pleased to extend into other things and subjects and interests during that otherwise-wasted time, because I am a thinking person.
I find it incredibly disrespectful to think that I as an adult must be told “put your phones away.” I hate it when this happens in meetings. “Everybody put your devices away. Everybody close your computers.” I shall not, and how dare you ask me to do so in the 21st century. It is arrogant presumption to assume that I am unable to “pay attention” with my device in front of me, let alone that what you are about to do is so flawless that it will completely meet the needs of every person in the room. Get over yourself. I am perfectly capable of running my life and learning what I need in the way that I learn, and rising to the challenges at hand, in the ways that work for me.
Why, then, do we insist upon doing this to children? Are adults by default “smarter” or “wiser” because they’re older? I think serious educators everywhere cannot help but chuckle at the idea, it is so absurd. Children are developing human beings, yes, neuroplastic and constantly changing, but they are human beings nevertheless, and I believe it is as sovereign a right to use any tool at hand to learn as it is to access unfettered resources using that tool.
Do I believe that all children have as full an understanding of their own learning modalities and brain functions as compared to a career professional well versed in the subject? No, certainly not, not the least of which is because I don’t “believe” that “All Children” are or do any one thing. But I do think that I owe it to the child to give them the benefit of the doubt to do what they need to do.
How do I know if they need help? Good assessment, of course. But creating sound assessment methods is not the same as “Johnny put that away” and “Sally close your laptop.” The latter is making a massive assumption about what that individual child needs at that individual moment.
If the child has mastery, it should not – and indeed, I purport that it does not – matter if the child did everything with a pencil and paper or with a smartphone or with a tablet or a computer or an abacus or a barrel of monkeys.
I refuse to presuppose the homogeneity of children’s minds and I have no desire to restrict them from using anything and everything they can to learn. I love them too much to do that to them.
With the ubiquity of technology, we educational technologists have learned that monitoring everything every kid does all the time is not only impractical, it’s also unnecessary. You don’t need to know that every single kid is doing the same thing in class, because that doesn’t matter for learning. What matters for learning is what matters for that child’s learning. Consequently, don’t worry about it if a kid is what in the old days one might call “off task.” Instead, focus on meeting the individual needs of every child, as much as you can and with every resource you have, all the time. Then, ensure that the assessment mechanism demonstrates very clearly to all parties involved exactly what skill mastery the child has and in what way. This isn’t a “gotcha;” it’s allowing for all ways of learning and doing – true ontological and pedagogical liberty – while ensuring skill mastery, which is our charge. Trust the kids to do what they need to do, but verify that they’ve done it through effective omnimodal assessment.
Omnimodal assessment allows for any valid skill mastery. (I write about this in my upcoming book, Insurrection.) If a child can satisfactorily demonstrate that the kid has the skill at hand, it really doesn’t matter what the kid is doing while you’re lecturing. The fact of the matter is that even if we accept the most grossly-oversimplified descriptions of neurodiversity – like VAK learning styles – we can roughly estimate that if you’re lecturing, about half of your class (Kinesthestics and hybrids that are non-Auditory) aren’t getting diddly squat out of what you’re doing. Forcing students to conform to your teaching style or thinking modality is damaging to those learners. (Jung described this as the “falsification of type.”) Consequently, who cares if a kid isn’t doing what you would be or want them to be doing, so long a they’re doing what they need to be doing?
This is my focus for my staff, and for my professional speaking and professional development, this fall: Shifting from “how I teach” to “how they learn.”
While the public school has certain legal requirements, those requirements are actually really simple: prevent kids from accessing “obscene” (under Miller) pornographic, or “harmful” (under the Neighborhood Act) content. Tracking what kids are doing online is not an explicit requirement of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. So disenthrall yourself from “pay attention” and “do what you’re supposed to do,” and instead shift to “do what you need to do to learn,” and use effective assessment to determine what works and what doesn’t.
If a kid isn’t learning, what can you do to help that child change xyr behavior and strategy to do so? That, my friends, is progressive pedagogy.
If we’re serious about student-centered practices, then we need student-centered learning environments. That, by definition, means eliminating teacher-centered structures. This year, I tackled the computer lab at my school, transforming it from a bolted-down traditional 30-machine computer lab to a space designed for kids to bring their 1:1 laptops into a space with students controlling their own learning in mind. I eliminated the teacher workstation, eliminated the “front of the classroom,” and installed furniture and technology designed for kids of all sized and intended to be moved, used, and abused.
Most computer labs, like most classrooms, put the teacher “up front” and get everybody facing the same way. To heck with that! This design reinforces “teacher gives, kids passively and quietly accept” banking pedagogy. Power in a teacher’s hands is useless, so as Red Hot Chili Peppers riffs, “give it away give it away give it away now!” My new lab has tables and chairs of all heights and sizes, beanbag chairs, tall tables, short tables, modular desks, white boards of all shapes and sizes, screens “scattered” around the room, and I’m going to pile every piece of technology that isn’t bolted down into this room.
How will I control the technology in this room? I won’t.
See, that’s part of the idiotic traditional ideology in schools: It inherently mistrusts kids, because it misperceives kids as “bad” in some way. This year, at my school, I’m putting my money where my mouth is: not teacher-centered, but child-centered, and that means child-empowered and child-empowering. Technology in a closet does no good, so I’m “turning them loose.” I believe fervently that as students see the efforts to put them in charge of their learning, and see us making strides to eliminate intellectual and age-based discrimination against them, they’ll thrive. This is their school, not ours, and they should have a right to use absolutely anything they want.
Revolutionize your group learning spaces by tearing down teacher structures – which requires teachers to shift pedagogically from being “in charge” or “responsible” to being meaningful partners with each kid for that kid’s learning – and build up structures made for kids, to be used by kids, in a variety of ways.
About Praxis in Practice:
My new blog series “Praxis in Practice” will detail hit-the-ground-running right-now applications of the philosophy and pedagogy I espouse in “Insurrection.”
In the legendary “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” Freire described praxis as “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.”
Rock-star principal Rob Furman and I have teamed up to dig into education revolution in our new video channel, [R]evolution. Subscribe to the YouTube channel, follow me on Twitter at @ReevesKD, and be sure to join the “Insurrection” mailing list for updates on the upcoming release of the book!
“Cisgender” is a term that refers to individuals who identify with the gender to which they were assigned at birth. For example, I am a cisgender male. My experiences as a person are consistent with that of a male: I feel male, I identify as male, I generally express my gender in a male(-ish) way, and have XY genetics, not that any of that is any of your business.
Because of my biology – and for no other reason, which is the issue – I have been called by male pronouns my entire life. I was called a “boy” as a child, and have always been referred to as “he” or “him,” with the possessive pronoun “his” applied to things that someone thinks are mine. However, this is a gross assumption about who I am. I had no choice in that matter. Individuals decide how they should be identified and referred to, not an obstetrician. Transgender, genderqueer, agender, genderfluid, and other non-cisgendered individuals are victims of the English language’s lack of gender neutral pronouns. Other societies have taken this issue far more seriously than ours. For example, in 2013, Sweden officially changed its language to include a gender-neutral pronoun, which facilitates eliminating gender assumptions in language. As PracticalAndrogyny blogger Nat Titman points out, alternative forms of address have been around for some-odd four decades, but English is not a rapidly-evolving language.
English speakers have several options for referring to people in non-binary ways. As a writer, I often attempt to pluralize, despite it being somewhat inconsistent with my ferociously-individualist approach to teaching and learning. Because “they” is gender-neutral, many individuals prefer to be referred to by “they/them” pronouns, even singularly. (This often tweaks some of my English teacher friends, who say it is “incorrect,” but which is worse? Nontraditional pluralization, or forcing a person into a box for your convenience?)
Still others prefer invented pronouns, such as “xe.” I actually use this quite frequently now because I find it inoffensive in practice. Pronounced “zee,” it is a compromise between “he” and “she.” If you speak it out loud, it’s actually quite facile in practice across its declensions: “I think xe is very nice. Did you meet xem? That’s xyr jacket over there.” However, because it can call attention, there are those who eschew such inventions.
So which pronoun should you use to refer to an individual? The pronouns they choose for themselves, of course, and you should not assume what those pronouns may be… which brings us to my point:
I concur absolutely, wholeheartedly, and passionately with Twitter user Em (@heartIines, who I follow enthusiastically, because they’re brilliant) who recently tweeted that cisgender people ought to be as forthcoming with their pronouns as other relevant personal facts. (I am, for the record, a Sagittarius, though I do not post that in my Twitter profile.)
I believe that all educators should include their gender pronouns in their Twitter profiles. If you are a cisgender person, posting your pronouns in your profile helps reinforce that nobody should assume anything about anyone, and we have a responsibility as role models for children to ensure we do not confound gender any more than it naturally is for the psychosocially-developing child mind.
In typical educational technologist fashion, here’s a tutorial!
First, log in to Twitter, and click on your name to go to your own profile page. Find the “Edit Profile” button on the right, beneath your header, marked here with the green arrow:
Next, on the left, find the “Location” field. This has rapidly become the proper place to put your pronouns. (Nobody cares where you live, and if it’s really important, put it in your profile description above it.)
When you’re done, click the blue “Save Changes” button over on the right where you found the “Edit Profile” button, and you’re done.
If you are a cisgender male, like me, you might type “he/him,” indicating you prefer to be addressed thusly: “He is a nice person. That belongs to him.” I am unoffended by pluralization, so I have no problem with someone referring to me thusly: “They are a nice person. That belongs to them.”
I haven’t included “xe/xem” not because I’m offended by it – I’m perfectly fine with that! – but because I’m just fine with the traditionally-male nomenclature, and so I think that’ll be easiest for people.
This is not an insignificant issue for many of our students. I know students at my own school who have strong feelings about their pronouns, students who are trying on pronouns at any given time (and including that in the Location field helps us honor the references chosen by children, even as they grow), and students who have pronoun combinations and preferences that I would not know they prefer unless they’d told me.
Consequently, I encourage all educators and those who are involved with children to model good online citizenship and to honor the individual’s right to be who they choose to be, and include their pronouns in their profiles.
And if anybody asks who told you this is important, you can point at me and say “Xe did!”
The good news is that kids now have access to the whole wide world. The bad news is that there are teachers who think that fact is bad news.
My friend Christine recently posted an article from The Atlantic, the first line of which asked the baiting question,”When the internet delivers its own content, what’s left for classroom instructors to do?”
The article’s author, Michael Godsey (a regular education podcaster and internet article author) opens by portraying a typical dystopian (to educators at least) vision of quasiprogressive technology-facilitated mega-centers of digital content delivery, watched over by (or rather just watched by) an ever-less-relevant facilitator. “Are teachers going the way of local bookstores?” he asks, half-ironic, half-lamentingly.
The article is lengthy and thoughtful, and cites some decent examples and articles, but as is almost always the case, Godsey (a veteran English teacher) fails to drill down far enough into the true pedagogical and philosophical questions he’s tapping up against. This is, to me, one of the hallmarks of “education reform” and where otherwise strong voices (and I like Godsey’s as well as Ravitch’s and Cuban’s and Wormeli’s) sometimes fall down: They do not truly get to the heart of the issue we’re talking about, which is that the conservation of the school, of teaching, and of our cultural concept of children and learning is folly. We cannot, we must not preserve the attitudes, ideas, and understandings of our past as teachers. Children have changed. This is a neurobiological truism that has been true for a long time now, yet many teachers are utterly unaware that the brains of their learners are measurably, observably different than theirs.
Teaching is absolutely going to change. It has changed, and it will change, and it must always change, because children change. Highfalutin abstract notions of “real learning” and archaic lamentations of “real teaching” betray a fundamental misunderstanding of learning and teaching. I don’t suggest here that Godsey has his head in the clouds; he’s right that he’s seeing an explosion of robust, powerful digital learning tools and a constant plummeting of the costs involved (for teachers as well as for students, often totaling zero) in accessing these resources. I see absolutely nothing wrong with children opting to be autodidactic on their own terms, in their own time. But there is a huge difference between a child choosing to do something alone, and forcing a child to be alone. Autonomy is one thing; abandonment is quite another, and the circumstances Godsey describes in the warehouse-like “facilitation center” run by an unskilled, uneducated thrall are conditions of intellectual and psychoemotional abandonment.
The longing for a more comfortable time that weeps out of the interstices of Godsey’s article has good company online, which he even points out: “When I did some research to see if it was just me sensing this transformation taking place,” he writes, “I was overwhelmed by the number of articles all confirming what I had suspected: The relatively recent emergence of the Internet, and the ever-increasing ease of access to web, has unmistakably usurped the teacher from the former role as dictator of subject content.”
And there it is. There’s what Jed Bartlet called “the ten word answer.” There’s your key phrase that’s the nexus of difference between a reformer and a radical, between a position like Godsey’s that apparently yearns for return, and a position like mine, which burns for revolution. “Teacher as dictator” is a nightmare. It’s bad for kids. I know he doesn’t mean it as a political position, and I’m not misunderstanding him: The teacher was, in days of nineties yore, the same a teacher had been since 1635: An ad lib content expert authoritarian who governed a classroom and delivered said content.
But that was never teaching. It never has been teaching. I spend a lot of time in my writing and work talking about what teaching really is, and there is a huge difference between lecturing (“delivering content”) and teaching. In fact, I loathe the phrase “delivering content” because it is so often conflated with teaching. The phrase commoditizes learning as well as learners. This cuts right to the center of Godsey’s article, and his incorrect premise: facilitators can help deliver content, but none of that is teaching, and the technology systems that he describes are incapable of teaching.
Teaching is the bringing about of all necessary conditions for the individual learner to create relevant meaning for themselves and to construct the skills to apply that meaning, which is learning. One cannot “deliver” that as if it is a commodity. Inundating a learner with learning opportunities is not enough to qualify as “teaching,” in my universe. True teachers are more than content experts. True teachers are masters of the craft of pedagogy, able to flexibly adapt in real-time to the individual needs of the individual child, comprehensively inclusive of their psychoemotional conditions, their unique traits of person, their immediate and long-term sociological contexts, their learning styles and thinking modalities… True teachers meet all of the learning needs of their children, and to do so must absolutely be masters of content, but they must also be experts in children and learning. This is a massive field, and no matter how many pieces of paper cultural artifacts someone hangs on the wall or how many bits of comma-separated alphabet soup cling to the end of their names, no person can be a master of children. We try, but we must constantly learn and relearn ourselves, because children are rapidly changing, right in front of us.
That’s not new.
Yes, the rate of change is accelerated, and that’s highlighting this disparity, this too-slow inability for the social institution of “The School” to keep up, but I say, “Good.” Enough is enough. It’s high time we recognized that the school of 1852 wasn’t good enough in 1916, or in 1954, or in 1975, or in 1999, and it sure as heck isn’t good enough now. Teachers must disengage from the concepts of teaching and learning and school as they have been popularly promulgated for decades (indeed, centuries) in America.
At one point, Godsey quotes a teacher who said, “I don’t ever write my own lesson plans anymore. I just give credit to the person who did.” There was a time when lesson plans were sacrosanct, artifacts of a teacher’s guile and panache, mastery and expertise, thoughtfulness and wittiness and cleverness and genius… only there wasn’t, really. True teachers have no desire to throttle learning, to govern or limit or manage or regulate learning. True teachers want learning to explode vibrantly from the minds of each individual learner, not to be poured into them. Freire called this vessel-like objectification of children into empty boxes to be filled “banking pedagogy,” as if each vacuous little head is a vault into which the tight-fisted teacher carefully places an equal and identical little set of facts. That was never teaching and learning. We called it that sometimes, but that’s never what it was. That was lecturing. That was creating conditions within which children were autodidactic, and while autodidacticism is permissible, it cannot be forced upon the learner, lest we impose solitude, isolate, and abandon.
We know at my school, for example, that over forty percent of our learners like to use YouTube to learn how to do things outside of what is required at school. Four in ten kids wants to learn how to do something that we’re not teaching them, and turn to YouTube for help doing that. Is that child learning? Yes, quite possibly. It’s no guarantee, but it’s possible. Should that child be forced to learn that way exclusively? Of course not. Can that child learn absolutely everything s/he needs from experiencing “delivered content?” While the answer is “yes,” because some students are indeed marvelous autodidacts and vastly prefer that, the answer is an emphatic “no” for many other learners. We cannot overgeneralize kids into any one way of being, and we cannot oversimplify learning into the experiencing of delivered content. Consequently, we cannot oversimplify teaching into the delivery of expert content, and that is precisely what we’ve been doing in our schools for two hundred years.
Enough is enough.
Schools have to change, and they’ve needed to change. Radicals like me say that the institution of the school is incapable of true teaching in the way I describe, and consequently children cannot truly learn within that institution, because we as a culture and as a profession are obsessed with the institution itself. We perpetuate the fallacious idea that schools should be structured as they have been, with classes and classrooms, with desks and rows, with clocks and periods and hallways and Spring Breaks and quizzes and no hats allowed. We self-aggrandize an antiquated vision of The Schoolmaster while the students around us gain ever-increasing access to better ways of doing, knowing, and being, as we become increasingly irrelevant to their lives.
Who can blame them? We do it. We tune out when our leaders prattle on about crap we already know. We turn to our devices when our leaders spend forty-five minutes talking at us reading from a slide presentation that’s being used as a script. We comment, “this could have been done in an email.” We comment “I already knew this.” We comment “I don’t care about any of this.” Why are we surprised that our students not only do this, but they’re vastly better at it than we are?
Schools are concerned with rigor and compliance. They are mechanisms of coercion designed for adults. Consequently, they are irrelevant to the modern learner, who has access to the totality of the information and shared experiences of the human race online, and has no need of us to gain the wider world. Well, “rigor” is just the right word for the way things are going in schools, because they’re solid, rigid, uncompromising, unbending, and in many ways lifeless. However, the future “learning environment” that Godsey describes is another kind of dangerous for kids. It may step back from some of these traditional structures, but it still abandons children into the wild by failing to conceive them as individuals and provide for them individually. “Tailoring content” isn’t meeting the comprehensive needs of the individual child.
The Self-Organized Learning Environment that Sugata Mitra talked about in his 2013 TEDTalk advocates for teachers in a facilitative role, and can be considered taking the so-called “flipped classroom” idea to the extreme. (The “flipped classroom” shifts content consumption from in-school to out-of-school, and similarly swaps content analysis from out-of-school to in-school, thereby allowing the teacher to better observe and, ideally, understand and influence the analytical process.) Godsey went on after watching this TEDTalk to talk about Khan Academy and other massive repositories of information and resources, and then pondered, “For how many more years can I compete?”
Dude. C’mon. It is hubris beyond measure to think that any one person can “compete” with the sum total of human freaking knowledge and nearly-universal access to every other person on the planet. There is no “competing” with The Internet. That comment, though made in passing (as much as anything in an article published by The Atlantic can be made “in passing”), demonstrates the misunderstanding of the teacher role about which I’m complaining. We’re not arbiters of information. We’re not custodians of knowledge anymore. In fact, the Joshua Starr quote Godsey uses highlights this: “I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it?”
I am apt to say that it is not important, in 2015, for a child to be able to immediately recall the date of Pearl Harbor. The child should instead be able to access that date, and understand its relevance. There was a time in America when the passing on of facts and factual knowledge was much like an oral rote tradition among a native population, and there was a case to be made for having immediate factual recall, but at some point knowing something factual got confused with understanding something and being able to do something with that understanding. They are not, nor have they ever been, the same thing. I do not care about facts and names and dates and places. I care about being able to find those things when it matters.
And I’ll go a step further, and clarify: When it matters to me. I don’t consider that solipsistic; learners only ever learn what is relevant to them. They may recall things that are irrelevant, but how many things were you “taught” when you were a student that you just plain old don’t freaking know now, because it wasn’t relevant?
I, for one, am thrilled that I no longer have to recall the publication date of Stravinsky’s Firebird like I once had to in college. I can whip out my phone, and there it is. Godsey seems to think this is problematic, or at least paints is as an artifact of what he sees as the lamentable shift toward facilitation, exemplified by his reference to the “cliche” of moving from being a “sage on the stage” to being “a guide on the side.”
Priscilla Norton, a professor of mine at George Mason, used to refer to “the sage on the side.” Is it true that teachers need to “get out of the way of learning?” Yeah. It is, in some cases, if the teacher is being a regulator of learning and a manager of process, because those things aren’t part of learning. Those things are part of schooling, and I have no interest in schooling. True teachers – compassionate, powerful experts in pedagogy as well as content – cannot be replaced by any content delivery mechanism. Even adapting learning platforms lack the ability to comprehensively understand the individual child, as an individual human being, with the empathy, analytical power, observation, environmental and even tactile experience, critical thinking, and human relevance that is critical to teaching and learning. Facilitators are not teachers, and neither ever have been nor ever will be. Teachers may sometimes facilitate, this is true, as they may sometimes lecture or train, but these are not synonyms.
Teaching is a craft, and computer technology is a tool. To conflate the two, and fear the latter will replace the former, misunderstands not only psychology and pedagogy, but philosophy and history in education.
Godsey closes his article with a few wonderings, and I’m going to selfishly answer them, because this is my blog and that’s what I do here, LOL.
“Should I encourage this aspiring educator to fight for his or her role as the local expert, or simply get good at facilitating the best lessons available?” he asks. If he wants to fight to preserve the role as it has existed, then I say “neither.” The former is the status quo and the latter is a misunderstanding that one can pull a lesson off a shelf, plug it into a classroom, and cherry-BOOM-sauce! learning happens, like some chemical reaction. Children’s minds are not beakers to be catalyzed with reagents. Instead, I’d prefer Godsey tell the aspiring educator to remember that mastery of pedagogy, and all of its substudies – child psychology, the history of American public education, socioemotional learning, learning and thinking modalities, child development, emergent work in assessment, etc. – is almost more important than content mastery, and content mastery is more important than ever. The role of the True Teacher is not diminishing; it is expanding. We must be experts in children as well as content. We must study harder and know more than we’ve ever had to before, and we must constantly engage in new learning for ourselves in a way that’s never been seen, if we are to aspire to what I believe is True Teaching. I know a whole lot of people who work at schools who I don’t believe are really teachers at all. It’s scary as hell, but I didn’t make the world, I just live in it. I’m no master teacher, but I try like the dickens to get there.
Godsey asks, “Should I assure this person about my union and the notion of tenure, or should I urgently encourage him or her to create a back-up plan?” Listen, I of all people get that teachers are under fire. I’m the guy who went buck-wild on Whoopi Goldberg defending tenure as a valid method of ensuring due process rights, so I’ll defend my bona fides as a teacher advocate any day. But if the union in question believes that teachers haven’t and shouldn’t change, that union isn’t protecting its teachers. If the union in question thinks that lecturers and content facilitators that try to deliver learning like it’s a dish of cocktail wieners are doing right by kids, that union is way out of touch. As a former board of directors member of a union who resigned in protest despite massive local support because my leadership was out of touch, I’ll again defend my bona fides as a teacher advocate. Tenure is fine. Bad teachers are not. Let’s get those two separated before we get poor Whoopi all ticked off again.
Finally, Godsey closes by suggesting that he might be giving young new teachers “false hope” by suggesting that the teacher role we know it will be gone in 20 years, because he suspects it might be gone sooner.
Sorry, my friend, but I have to be the one to say it: It’s already gone. It’s been gone for a long while. The reason teachers are scared is because a lot of teachers aren’t really teaching, and haven’t been, and to wake up suddenly and realize that your kids aren’t who you thought they were, your school is completely irrelevant, and our entire profession is teetering on the brink of eradication at the hands of laypeople who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing because we have lost our way so badly and are in such deep need of revolution, is a nightmare. It is terrifying.
I’m sorry to be the one to say it. When I woke up, I experienced what I called “My Professional Heartbreak.” I cried. I absolutely, seriously sobbed, for about two days. My entire concept of my career path, where I was going, what I was doing, it all disintegrated. I worked my way “up” from teaching at a poor, rural secondary school as a new, young teacher to a senior (at least that’s what my title says) instructional administrator (at least that’s what my contract says) at an incredibly affluent and renowned school, in a position intended to help teachers enhance their teaching practices… and then realized there is no “up,” and that every school I’d ever taught at, independent of socioeconomic conditions, was basically “the same.” The structures, the institutions of the American public school, are basically “the same,” and that led to a comprehensive review of the history of American public education, tearing through the collected works of Lawrence Cremin… “The same.” That led to digging deeply into the social and psychological structures of teaching and learning, of parents and children, of adults and kids, of individuality versus group, of homogeneity versus uniqueness… The deeper I dug, the more I wanted the answers that terrified me. I became “a radical” in the way Vidal used the word, someone who seeks the root of the problem and wants viscerally, desperately to understand the truth.
My teacher truth is the epigraph of my manuscript. Ken Robinson said it in his legendary 2010 TEDTalk. He rightly said that our schools cannot be reformed, but must be transformed. They must be revolutionized. I believe that. I believe, truly, that our school institutions are preventative, not facilitative, and I do not believe that the future vision Godsey portends is any less prohibitive and restrictive for all its facilitative trappings, because it continues to misunderstand what teaching and learning is.
Teaching is not the delivery of content. Learning is not the consumption of content. These objectifications of meaningful, autogenic, constructed, and relevant processes that are totally unique to the individual continue to plague our national, state, local, and classroom attitudes… as well as well-meaning articles in The Atlantic.
I hope my writing, when it sees the light of day, will help explain what I think we should do instead.
I’m going to add something here that I sometimes forget to when I blog, because I confess I don’t want to get ahead of myself and my writing as I come into the home stretch: I know some wonderful teachers. I know gifted, incredible, fantastic teachers. I know that sometimes it sounds like I’m being terribly harsh and judgmental, and I do think I’m harsh on schools as institutions (rightly so, IMHO), but I believe so, so many of my favorite teacher colleagues would thrive in the conditions I want to bring about. I also think we can do some really remarkable things in classrooms, given these tools and opportunities, in the intervening time between the now of the hardly-changed-in-three-centuries nonsensical, contradictory, anti-child, self-defeating institutions in which we work, and the freedom-loving, learning-loving, child-loving learning environments for which I advocate in my work. I went into educational technology because I believe that I can do great things to connect to my individual students, as individual intellects, using tools that we didn’t have twenty or thirty years ago. I’m not trying to discourage you.
But we cannot allow ourselves to mope about and yearn for times gone by. Pick up the tools, embrace them, and use them… but don’t forget pedagogy. Don’t try to “do it for the sake of doing it.” Don’t use YouTube just so you can say, “I use YouTube with my kids!” Instead, ask yourself the deep questions of learning, skill mastery, assessment, and understanding the unique child that you should ask every day, and use the tools that fit best the needs of the individual child. That’s the key, for right now. That is my advice:
Don’t forget that every single individual child in your classroom is a thinking, feeling, creative unique individual human being with individual experiences and situations. That should be the center of absolutely everything we do, and no technology – not even adaptive and purportedly-individualized technology – can replace you when you do that.
Please, for the love of all that is educational, stop posting pictures that fall into the following meme: “Smiley picture of me and/or my kid! I’m from Anytown, USA and we’re learning about how far and how fast things can travel on teh inturwebz! Share this pic and like it and comment where you’re from! Thanks!”
Hey. Hey. Hey. You. Stop it. This is lousy educational technology and you are not teaching your kids anything that matters at all.
I recently discussed this with my friend Christine, who is brilliant and fabulous, and she summed it up as elegantly as I’ve ever heard it summarized: “Ed tech for the sake of ed tech = lousy ed tech.”
Yup. Exactly right.
“Share my pic to see how fast and far it goes” is the modern day equivalent of a potato battery: Get over it. We’re past it. It’s superficial, unnecessary, and irrelevant. You’re teaching your kids a nonsensical widely-known factoid in a contextless vacuum with at best a hope for data that you don’t need to generate and at worst (and I think, often likely) with a self-aggrandizing egocentrism that is distasteful if not downright unenlightening.
Now, there is the counterargument “you [KDR] believe in individual authenticity, and when it’s my kid’s picture and my kid’s data, it’s more relevant and authentic than some other person’s data.” That’s a fair counterargument, but it’s still answering a question that’s incredibly superficial. I’d much rather students develop some authentic surveys to administer internationally, maybe to gather information on perceptions or cultural norms, to assemble some never-before-conceived data. Children are capable of doing that, and it’s a far better use of their time, which EMBEDS the core understanding – how far and fast we can reach – in the project.
If you want your kids to know how far they can reach, create an opportunity for them to reach out meaningfully to other humans for a genuine purpose. “Repost my pic” is useless; your kids aren’t doing anything. You are. That’s not empowering or enlightening kids, and you’re squandering an opportunity to empower your kids to reach out themselves with the compassionate, protective guidance of a loving adult teacher.
Create a three-question survey in Google Forms about something that matters to them and let them ask those questions to the international community. Create a hashtag on social media that asks a meaningful question relevant to the cross-curricular content your kids are studying at the moment, that informs the discourse. (I’m starting one: #StopTheShareLesson.) Create a race to connect with a picture that says “meet us in X Google Hangout at Y time from wherever your classroom is so we can chat in realtime for 15 minutes about how far away you are.” There are SO MANY brilliant ways to accomplish the objectives you THINK you’re accomplishing, but aren’t. You’re not teaching your kids anything by throwing your blithe smiling face around the internet. You’re wasting opportunities for authenticity.
There is no point in making the point “photos go far and fast on social media” because it’s an established obvious thing that kids know far better than adults. They may not have the equivalent ethical, experiential, social, or safety frameworks to DO anything with that knowledge, and THAT would be a worthwhile set of connections to pursue in the classroom, but I generally find it to be more an exercise in “look at how connected my kids are, fellow digital immigrants” than it is authenticity and experience for kids.
I’ve seen infinite variations on this. The most recent variation I saw was, “This picture is private. Show my kids how private private really is!” And somebody will copy-paste it, download it, screencapture it, or otherwise reshare it, and you’ll get to say “oooooh, look, it’s not private at all.” What have you accomplished here, in a vacuum? Why not have a conversation about Julian Assange and Wikileaks?
The most frequent rejoinder I hear is, “I teach elementary school.”
This betrays the fundamental misconception that I think leads to this entire debacle in the first place: You underestimate the skills-based sophistication of your children because you conflate their moral-psychological (vis-a-vis Kohlberg) development with their technological development, and you ought to differentiate between the two. Children are capable of understanding complexity at a level for which we rarely give them credit at surprisingly young ages, but only if relatively contextualized, meaningful, and authentic. Nevertheless, pedagogically, I would FAR rather you take the time to design something authentic with your collaborative educational technologist than waste YET ANOTHER ounce of the time of your friends, family, and colleagues doing the same tired potato battery picture repost that a million other teachers have done to have the same yawn-fest result:
Hey! Guess what? Things travel far and fast on teh inturwebz! ZOMG!
Get over it. It’s pedagogical charlatanry. It’s hackery. It’s a waste of your time, and far more sinfully, it’s a waste of your students’ time. I’m not saying internet safety and information management isn’t important. I’m saying “repost my pic” threads on your Facebook page is a stupid and ineffective way to accomplish it.
Develop a meaningful lesson and let this meme die, please.
If you don’t know what else to do, talk to your educational technologist. If you don’t have an educational technologist, click “Resources” above and contact me. I’ll help you. Please… internet… we’re begging you: Enough with the “share this picture for my kids” meme.
This morning, WAMU special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza interviewed Carrie Irvin of Charter School Partners, who trains board members for charter schools. WAMU aired two segments, one for Morning Edition and one for Metro Connection. The priorities both Kavitha and Carrie listed for charter boards included “financial, legal, and marketing,” “P.R. [public relations] and communications,” and mentioned “education skills” as a passing aside.
My fury was kindled instantly, unsurprising to those of you who know me.
Carrie spoke about how often “friends and family board(s)” create schools founded around a “compelling and inspirational mission.” Friends and families… also known as non-educator laypeople. I can imagine these missions, advancing idiosyncratic causes made for social-engineering purposes or focused through biased lenses about what matters in society, what businesses need, or what communities want their streets to look like.
That’s not teaching and learning in my universe. That’s coercion. That’s the usurpation of the individual child to advance an adult cause, and I have no patience for such an enterprise.
Private boards cannot bring about the “clear thinking” that Carrie speaks about to “look out for the best interests of the students” if their thinking is predominated by the very items listed in the interview: financial, legal, marketing, public relations priorities… That’s not teaching. That’s not learning.
I am a Radical, in the sense that Vidal used the term. (I came to realize in 2014, in part through correspondence with masters of modern pedagogical reform like Giroux and McLaren that I’m neither a radical pedagogue in Friere’s tradition nor even a critical pedagogue in Giroux’s, though I think our aims for children would often be compatible. Ultimately, however, social engineering endeavors have no place in my definition of teaching and learning. I’ll save boring you with all that for the magnum opus.) I believe to solve problems, we must not be afraid of complexity and must go to the root of those problems. Superficiality and oversimplification are the bane of analysis, and I have been analyzing and prying apart and studying schools for a while now. I am convinced that to understand schools, one must both conceive the individual child and meaningfully comprehend real learning.
As I’m writing extensively, learning is an individualized process. It is autogenic (originating within the learner as opposed to originating within the teacher or the source material), and is entirely unique to the individual learner. Learning must be relevant, meaningful, applicable, and actively-engaged to be “learning.” I believe retaining and factually-recalling inert knowledge is not learning. The mission of teaching – learning! – is complex and difficult to achieve, because it varies from child to child, from situation to situation, from topic to topic, and even from day to day. Teaching must lead to learning, or it is not teaching, at least not in my universe.
It is so, so rare these days that I see what I consider to be “true” teaching and learning.
This brings me to the rebuttal to my lament, and one I’m finally answering today: “Why don’t you make your own school, then?”
I love the idealism of “found your own school and do your own thing,” but it’s all corporate. Private schools? Corporate. Charter schools? Corporate. Parochial schools, for crying out loud, are vassal institutions of a larger sociopolitical entity which while religious in nature is, ultimately, corporate.
A corporation is a distinct organizational entity that is treated, under law, as a person. Non-public schools are distinct private organizational entities and are invariably influenced by a select group of non-educators, be it a board of directors or a board of deacons. One of the reasons I began my writing, speaking, and working outside of the mainstream was because I even believe at this juncture, thanks to the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex and the nature of local-level democratic sociopolitics, that public schools have been corporatized. I wish I could believe that I, with like-minded radicals, could strike out and found a school detached from both the State and the Corporation, but I just don’t believe it possible because the root problems that corrupt teaching and learning would be unsolved in such an enterprise. If one does not stem the poisonous source, seeking a clean corner of a lake does not prevent pollution from eventually destroying the swimmers there. Don’t be pedantic about the definition of “corporation,” though, because I use the phrase “corporatocracy” more broadly to refer to the infusion of capitalism into enterprises that ought to be without it. There should never, ever, ever, ever, ever be any concern whatsoever with money or profit when it comes to loving, nurturing, and teaching children. Ever.
Non-public schooling is ultimately, from the executive perspective, deeply entwined in marketing and competition and money. I recognize that “money” is always going to be involved in education in America because America is a capitalist plutocracy – much to my chagrin, because I believe American corporatocracy to be responsible for dehumanizing, isolating, marginalizing, and destroying human beings – but we cannot solve the problems of pedagogy, and ensure that every person working with children conceives individual children and is exclusively invested in ensuring relevant, meaningful skill mastery for each unique learner, if we introduce utterly-unrelated priorities like “marketing and public relations” or “competition and recruitment.” That has nothing to do with kids and learning. It is the corporate-like systemization, yet again, of teaching and learning, and it cannot be allowed.
People say, “you complain about school so much, form your own.” You can’t. You can’t. We’re talking about the context of American capitalism, folks. It’s banks. It’s Wall Street. It’s The Two Party System. It’s Boeing. It’s Microsoft. It’s Pearson. It’s The Koch Brothers. As Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing in The Newsroom said, “they drop Brinks trucks on people they disagree with.” If I was completely independently wealthy and had ten billion dollars, then certainly I could found a school that would, in my personal and professional opinion, fulfill the mission of truly teaching every individual child, at least as long as I could pay for it. But the minute I start to look for sustainability from outside, it’s going to involve some kind of corporatizing and that instant, that very instant that happens, it’s dead. Even if I’m still the one paying for it, the minute I let the compelling long-term private interest sit at the table, the project is dead, because they’ll want to talk about sustainability which has to do with capital-raising, which in our society means corporate. Even non-profits are often and increasingly corporate, as is evidenced time and time again by the discovery that minuscule percentages of donations and raised funds actually go to the fulfillment of the mission of a non-profit. So either one person who is 100% altruistic has to entirely fund such a project – and I’d do it in an instant if I could! – or it’s never going to be uncorrupted by corporate influence.
Even if I came into all of that money, because I’m not “one of them,” because I’m neither the bootstrapping middle class workaholic storybook American Daydream love story, nor the entitled-to-it insider of the plutocratic sociopolitical elite, they’d destroy me. Who I am? What I believe? Artist? Radical? Out? Vocally opposed to the results of the mechanism of local representative democracy? Vocally opposed to the oppression of the poor, the disenfranchised? Vocally opposed to the coercion of others and the principle of profit and objectification and the imposition of property-status on human beings? What I say, what I do? I’m a buffet of material for them. They’d ruin me, because I wouldn’t… play… their… game.
Going it by yourself as one tiny island amid the sea of machinery that still destroys children is not a solution to the machinery destroying children. You have to stop the machine. Sabot, as Valeris in Star Trek VI illustrated. It’s like a sci-fi film with a massive alien invasion. You grabbing your kids and a couple nearby people and racing off to an island somewhere, holing up, laying low, and hoping that the aliens don’t find you is no way to save humanity. I recognize there is a whole group of rational, compassionate people who say, “that’s a solution! You can’t stop the apocalypse, the aliens are more powerful,” and will go live alone, hope for the best, and try to wait it out and make it better in the future. They concede.
I can’t do that to kids. I can’t walk away. Public school is where the kids are, and the only place to teach children where corporatocracy hasn’t entirely wiped us out yet, we pedagogues of my ilk.
And yes, I really struggle some days with being a part of a system of which I fundamentally, deeply disapprove. You have no idea.
But I’m the dude in that film that needs to save as many kids as he can. How can you not? They’re little kids. Eighteen years old or eight years old, their kids, man. I’m going to leave them to be decimated, to be corrupted and turned into alien slaves by their hegemonic overlords? No way! They’re little kids, man. How can I abandon them? It’s war, it’s going to destroy them, and I have to stop it.
It’s worse yet, though, because they’re not alien invaders: They’ve been here the whole time. They’re us, the corporatocrats, the plutocrats. They’re people. At least I think they used to be.
Yes, you can find a way to get your kids and your friends’ and neighbors’ kids the kind of education you think they should have, but laypeople creating organizational structures that have a schooling mission of a type of character, a way of being, a type of education, a type of learning, that’s not teaching, that’s not learning: That’s indoctrination.
Those are indoctrination camps. Corporate-influenced “schools” aren’t schools.
Public education is a trust. The American public school is a trust. It seems like practically every other (mostly socialized!) first world nation has figured that much out. Pluralism is not served by American democracy in the 21st century. It would be better served by a system that did not work like our democracy works, a system that isn’t a system at all, really, and instead conceives of and celebrates individualism and equality, that seeks to empower instead of disenfranchise, that does not, at its core value the defeat of one in favor of another.
Idealistic? Sure. But what’s wrong with that?
The one degree of pragmatism I do have in this is knowing that capitalism and the middle-class machinery of corporatocracy that exists in 2015 is so powerful that if you sufficiently, overtly buck it, it may try to kill you. I know. It’s happened. I’ve been attacked by it, hurt by it, wiped out by it. It’s not so simple as “just go it alone.” The system has to be stopped. I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it. I’ve been complicit in it because of my ignorance. Now, I’m awake, and I’m trying really hard not to do that anymore.
I wish I believed that founding a unique school that practices the pedagogy in which I believe and serves the children to whom I’ve dedicated my life was a solution. I don’t. It’s a patch, and it’s all well enough for those who want to to do so during these dark days of inhumane schools. My work is different. My work is to try and shine a bright light upon the failure of public school, and why I believe free public schools, as insulated as possible from the barest hint of influence from the private sector, is a human, ethical, moral, civic responsibility.
I have fears and doubts. I struggle with big questions. But I do not at all believe that private or charter schools are even remotely the answer to the root problems of education in America. We have an inclination, as people, to preserve that which is extant, and to fear the replacement of the extant with the emergent.
I don’t. I celebrate the unseen, the unknown, and the not-yet-made.
As David Kaplan said in Particle Fever, “In exploration, there needs to be a set of people who have no rules, and they are going into the frontier and come back with the strange animals and the interesting rocks and the amazing pictures to show us what’s out there. Discover something.”
I’m a Radical. I’m not here to patch things up. I’m here to build something new in the place of the failed old. I want to forge out into the wilderness and collide elementary elements of education into each other and split them into a billion fragments and look at what’s inside, and discover what teaching and learning really is, really means, really can be, and then help ensure every single child is loved, uniquely and authentically conceived, and really learns.
I can’t do that sitting on an island waiting for the aliens to finish ravaging my world. I have to be in the fight to win the fight, as agonizing as it is when the battle rages fiercest.