Category Archives: Commentary

There’s Good News, and There’s Bad News

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.

Things Travel Far and Fast on The Internet. We Get It. Now Stop.

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.

Stop it.

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.

Stop it.

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.

Enough.

My Charter Lament

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.

Throwback Thursday: Blodgett Vocational High School

For #throwbackthursday I’m sporting a shirt I custom-ordered to represent a school I loved and a building I cherish in memory.

blodgettshirt

Andrew Burr Blodgett was the Superintendent of the Syracuse (New York) City Schools from 1899-1910, and when Syracuse constructed what was at the time of completion in 1918 one of the most innovative and progressive school designs in the country, Blodgett’s name was emblazoned across the doors.

Blodgett Vocational in 1925.
Blodgett Vocational in 1925.

Located in the Near West Side neighborhood, I attended Blodgett in 1985 as part of differentiated instruction when I was in first grade. I recall its grandiose halls, towering doorways, massive columns, and endless ornate wood and stone with fervent fondness.

blodgett_exterior_3

It was at Blodgett where I learned Lego Logo, programmed turtles, played chess for the first time, was read stories in dramatic readings, painted, colored, danced, built airplanes, and engaged in immersive play and deep, relevant, meaningful learning. Vocational stood for progressivity and application in education for the half-century it served as a high school in Syracuse.

The main entrance of A.B. Blodgett Vocational High School.
The main entrance of A.B. Blodgett Vocational High School.

I’m a proud native son of Syracuse, born at Crouse and having grown up in the Eastwood neighborhood on the east side of the city. My father Dave Reeves was a Syracuse firefighter (most notably out of the now-shuttered Station 7, where I climbed onto a fire truck and slid down a pole for the first time) and my mother Luana Reeves, RN MSN was a nurse and later director of education at Crouse Hospital. My family has very deep roots in Central New York, and it’s fair to say we “bleed Orange” as a Syracuse family. (Though I probably bleed Blue and Green as a graduate of Cicero-North Syracuse High School.)

Today, however, I sport “The Maroon and Maize” as the local papers of the 1920s and 1930s called the colors of Vocational.

Twilight and the great staircase at Blodgett, which I first ascended when I was about six years old.
Twilight and the great staircase at Blodgett, which I first ascended when I was about six years old. Note the no-longer-accurate “Junior High School” designation, one of the many roles Blodgett played after it ceased to serve as a 9-12 school in the late 60s.

The last high school graduates from Vocational left the halls of the school sometime in the late 1960s from what I can find. (I think the Class of ’65 was the last official high school class.) Those that attended – often hailing from meager means and coming to learn a trade, back during an era when education was largely divided into “academics” and “vocations” – remember the school as a hallowed place of true community. History remembers Blodgett not so much for its originally-progressive educational mission, or the progressive man who gave his name to the school’s halls, but for the fact that the shot clock, a modern staple of basketball, was first used at Blodgett in 1954.

shotclock

Converted sometime around 1970 into a middle school, then into an elementary school, then into a K-8 school, and today standing as an unused facility (closed in 2011 after languishing as a barely-utilized early education site), Blodgett has seen better days. Its neighborhood has fallen on very hard times, and the school – having been (IMHO) criminally neglected along with its old rival and counterpart, Syracuse Central Technical High School – would be expensive to properly renovate. However, recently (2010), consultants have advised that the potential of the school is well worth the investment. The subject of what to do with Blodgett has been a raging debate for a long time, sparking protests by locals who want their school in their community and fierce contests within the political arena of both the School Board and the Common Council. I happen to be of Sean Kirst’s opinion that Blodgett is “fundamentally indestructible,” and it worth using as one of if not THE cornerstone facility of the schools in Syracuse, driven in no small part by my discovery of a wonderful book I want to share with you:

If you have any interest in Syracuse, in schools, or just in early 20th century American history, consider reading Doug Kahl’s book, “A.B. Blodgett Vocational High School” (2009), available for free on Issuu. It’s a great look back at one of the great icons of Central New York educational history, a fond way to remember an educator that did much for the kids of Syracuse, and, for me, one of the most formative and influential learning places of my life.

Today, I’m sporting Maroon and Maize in remembrance of Vocational, “my first high school” and a place that deserves recollection, preservation, and renovation.

 

Student Rights and Moments of Silence

I had a series of conversations today with students at my school about student rights. I’m deeply passionate about this subject. In fact, one of my projects in grad school (specifically, the fourth time in grad school, LOL) was the development of a student “code of conduct” that was exclusively based upon legal precedent, especially Supreme Court precedent. Because my education nerdliness is known far and wide – Hi, Whoopi! – several different colleagues sought my insight with their kids for relevant projects, and today was just sort of a culminating day of education law.

So. Cool. I just adore working with sharp kids asking cutting questions!

I took kids through a few of the major highlights I think are relevant, starting with the early establishment of “In Loco Parentis,” or “in the place of the parent.” The landmark Lander v. Seaver was basically about a kid cutting across school grounds, and getting disciplined by the schoolmaster. The family sued, as they didn’t believe the schoolmaster had a right to discipline the kid outside of the school day, on school grounds. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school, establishing the doctrine that schools have a compelling interest in the broad care of their children, in the stead of the parent.

Fast forward to 1969: It’s the Vietnam era, and student protests aren’t isolated to college campuses. Several students tie black armbands around their arms, devoid of slogans or logos, to protest, and are told to take them off. The parents sue, charging that the school violated the free speech rights of the students, and the Supreme Court agrees. The Tinker v. Des Moines ruling establishes the “Tinker Standard” or “Tinker Test,” which says that the school can prohibit student actions that “reasonably lead school authorities to forecast substantial disruption [of] or material interference with school activities” or “invasion on the rights of others.” Since the school could not have reasonably forecast any problem with the armbands, the school was found to be in the wrong.

Another leap to 1986: A student delivers a graduation speech laced with innuendo, and is sanctioned by the school. In Bethel v. Fraser, the Supreme Court held that “teachers and administrators must have the authority to do what they reasonably believe is in the best interest of their educational responsibilities.” This word “reasonable” appears throughout a survey of SCOTUS opinion and literature on the subject. The court held that the school DID have a right to limit student speech, thereby establishing the idea of “school speech” versus “free speech.”

A couple of years later, in 1988, the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier opinion (which dealt primarily with student publications), held that “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control” … “so long as their activities are reasonably related to pedagogical concerns.” Again, the court sided with the school, finding that the administration did have a right to restrict student publications of inflammatory or controversial material, in order to preserve the educational mission and protect kids.

These benchmark tests – Tinker, Fraser, and Hazelwood – form the triumvirate of major student rights law where speech and expression is concerned, and are often-referenced in subsequent case law. The 9th Circuit court decision in LaVine v. Blaine, which found that a school can sanction students who describe abject acts of violence, including on homework, said “we review” … “with deference schools’ decisions in connection with the safety of their students even when freedom of expression is involved.”

The now-infamous 2007 “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” case – more properly known as Morse v. Frederick – once again reinforced the “school speech” doctrine, using a three-prong test for the curtailing of student speech: 1. the speech occurs at a school event, 2. the speech is “reasonably viewed as promoting” illicit or illegal activity, and 3. when the school has an “important, indeed perhaps compelling interest” in doing so to protect the educational mission and keep kids safe.

A 2014 ruling, Dariano v. Morgan Hill (better known as the “Live Oak” Decision), found that the school’s power in this regard is pretty significant, and might even seem outlandish to laypeople without all the facts. In the case of Live Oak, administrators told kids they couldn’t wear American flag T-shirts. Many were outraged at what they perceived as an egregious abuse of power, but in truth, the totality of evidence showed that administrators had credible reasons to reasonably believe the children wearing the shirts would be targets of ethnic violence at the hands of another group of students, and were acting to protect the wearers of said T-shirts. Because protecting kids is part of a school’s charge, and that charge has been upheld and reinforced by case law, the Supreme Court (rightly) held that the school acted within its scope.

I had to defer on a few questions during the school day, because I was operating as a school employee. Outside of my professional responsibilities, I’ve been recently asked about the Moment of Silence in Virginia. Virginia law requires a “minute of silence” to start the school day, despite the Supreme Court decision (Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985) that specifically prohibits such silence as Unconstitutional. (Engel v. Vitale, 1965, had already long ago decided that school prayer was Unconstitutional.) Despite this, appellate and district courts have found differently, most recently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

So what’s a school leader to do?

Well, in the case of every Principal I know, they like being employed, so they do what they’re told, and the Superintendents and School Boards of Virginia obey the law. Until the law is challenged, it’s the law of the land. As I’m apt to say, a law is only as valid and strong as those willing and able to defend it.

Inevitably, I was asked… what do I think? Fortunately, being a lover of Constitutional law and precedent, I am happy to exercise my First Amendment free speech rights to share my opinion, with the caveat that as always, this is my opinion, and not representative of anybody I work with or for.

In the Treaty of Tripoli, Jacob Barlowe as Plenipotentiary wrote, “The government of the United States of America is in no way founded upon the Christian religion.” Signed into law by John Adams in 1796, and ratified unanimously by Congress, this, to me, provides as clear a statement as possible about the “Founder’s Intent” when it comes to the nature of this country. The Founders’ personal Judaeochristian tradition does not imply a national legal or philosophical Judaeochristian foundation. I have always found that to be a nonsensical position. It’s like saying that since I was raised in a Baptist church, clearly the foundation of the things I did in high school were Baptist by nature. That’s illogical, and not accurate. (I find it remarkable how few people I’ve heard cite that the Founding Fathers were “Christian” are able to historically discuss the religious demographics of the 1790s or Christianity versus Deism. As Aaron Sorkin wrote, “complexity is not a vice,” and none of these issues are definitively solved by throwing down quotes in isolation.) The predominance of Christianity makes it easy for some people to dismiss things like the moment of silence as “no big deal” or “whatever, get over it” or “it doesn’t matter” or “nobody’s forcing you to do anything.” The fact is, a Moment of Silence is, to any reasonable person (to use SCOTUS language) a spiritual enterprise, and as such, has no place in a school. Just because it doesn’t offend the majority doesn’t mean it doesn’t offend the First Amendment, which I argue that it does.

The Constitution is a remarkable idea and a remarkable piece of legal writing, rightly deserving of its place in history. However, like most major documents – The Bible, anyone? – abiding by it is harder than admiring it.

When we say “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” we mean that totally and absolutely: No individual citizen ought to be compelled by his government, at any level and in any way, to do or not to do anything pertaining to religion and spirituality. No agency of the government or in any way funded by the people as an agency of governance should have the right or ability to say to you or anyone else in this country, “yes you can” or “no you can’t” where your personal beliefs are concerned. Moreover, you ought not to have the right to compel me in any way to abide by your beliefs, nor should I have the right to compel you in any way to abide by my beliefs.

I find this wholly applicable to student rights.

As such, when the school (a governmental agency) says to a child, “you must do this,” it ought to be (in my personal opinion) for one of two reasons, as established under the Tinker Standard: it’s directly related to the educational mission of the school, or it’s directly related to keeping students safe. Short of that, the most minimal application of force (of law) is appropriate and necessary. When the school says “you must be silent as a group,” when that silence is deeply, traditionally rooted in religion, the school establishes religiosity, and offends the First Amendment. School moments of silence are rooted in school prayer, and I find no provable and invariable pedagogical, organizational, governmental, psychological, or developmental reason to do it. Consequently, I’d prefer to be minimalist and not compel it.

However, one can find absolutely no fault with any Local Educational Agency (LEA) in the Commonwealth for abiding by the law of the land. These are issues of law, philosophy, and jurisprudence that aren’t the direct purview of the teacher or school-based administrator, and so until there is a challenge to the Virginia law, one can reasonably expect schools to continue to maintain moments of silence as policy. Why? As I said before, a law is only as valid and strong as those willing and able to defend it.

That doesn’t mean that’s right, of course. It just means that it “is.” These are great discussions, in my view, to have with other professionals and with students. After all, our Constitution once deemed a person of color was a fraction of a person. We know that to be wrong now, but it “was” for a good long while. (Indeed, one can make an argument that some Framers knew it to be wrong even then.) The Constitution is a living document, as are the arbiters charged to interpret its words and meaning. How very educational to debate such things!

I do like my facts, though… and I’ve yet to come across even a hint of research that intimates that 60 seconds of silence in the morning at a public school “does a body good,” and have no reason to suspect it would have any positive impact, qualitatively or quantitatively, on “respect” or “discipline.” The issue is not that the MOS is “open” to all people, it is that it is forced upon all people. An “optional” MOS is one thing, but that’s not the functional issue at hand. To say mere availability somehow avoids an Establishment offense is kind of akin to saying, “if you don’t want to pray with us, cover your ears.” (A silly example, but apt!)

I suggest that the power of government should never be used to enforce an idea that has merit for some upon all, within the milieu of Constitutionally protected rights. The freedom of and from established religion is one of those specifically-enumerated rights. Insofar as the Constitution and education is concerned, I believe that the government should be restricted from exercising the power of the majority over the minority, as Madison and Jefferson seemed to believe.

Moments of silence in schools may not offend the majority of the populace, but I believe quite fervently that they offend the Constitution and that the Constitution is designed to protect the minority (or the one; give it up for Spock!) from the majority. We Americans have a long tradition of standing up for the little guy when it suits us, and kicking him in the face when it doesn’t. I tend, whenever possible, to prefer first part of that tradition…

…as does, I believe, the Constitution.

Student rights are not discussed nearly often enough in schools, largely because despite a tradition of In Loco Parentis – eroded as that traditional may be – schools are often relegated to “speaking only when spoken to,” no longer appreciated to be the purview of sagacious experts in children. I, for one, would like to have meaningful conversations that lead to clear statements, transparency, and a belief that our individual students are individual intellectuals, worthy of our consideration as thinking rights-bearing citizens who should be empowered to discuss, debate, and decide for themselves.

I love children, and believe that part of being loving is being respectful of individualism, especially when those individuals are different from us.

Adult-on-Child Violence

I cannot claim to have originally said it, but I’m happy to repeat it, because it’s spot on: By definition, violence violates a person.

Both “violence” and “violate” have roots in the Middle English violentus (with the core word “viol“), by way of vis, meaning “force.” The two words are rooted in the same meaning, and bear a strong connotative resemblance.

Children are people. They are neither a homogenous class or unified group, nor are they things or property. Children are thinking, feeling, individual human beings. They are people. Violence against a child is – literally, practically, and figuratively – the violation of a person.

This is more than a semantic exercise.

A short time ago, I was pointedly asked to differentiate between occasional spanking and beating children. I was roundly rebuffed for categorizing spanking as “adult-on-child violence.” As a thinking person, there are obvious differences, even to me, between occasional spanking and regular HCP or “harsh corporal punishment” as it is known in child developmental circles. Some of those differences are illustrated simply in factual language: frequency, inferred strength of impact, inferred frequency of incident, and so forth.

These are (not so) nuanced qualitative differences describing two different acts, but both situations nonetheless describe acts of violence. Striking is by definition violent: it is the application of physical force, or “vis.” Hitting another person is violent, and is violence. The question is not whether or not spanking is adult-on-child violence. It is, by definition, one person being violent to another. Advocates of HCP seem to want me to give them credit for their intent. They seem to want credit or validation or affirmation in being violent. They would say selectively and infrequently violent, but I see no reason to make such a distinction in this context. Research shows us that care-taking adults who are violent to children damage those children. Be it neglect or corporal punishment, mistreating children hurts children.

Kids that get hit are getting hurt.

Hitting Never Teaches

Parents who embrace corporal punishment, of any kind, intend to use selective violence as a teaching tool. They seem to believe that it “toughens kids up” or “straightens them out” or “sets them right.” The truth of the matter is that violence is never a viable teaching method. It is never an effective teaching tool.

Ever.

It may induce a Pavlovian aversion dynamic, and instill even keen awareness of an antecedent-consequent action-outcome logical truism, but that’s not teaching. That’s training.

You may not differentiate, but I do not believe in “training” children. I am a teacher in part because I believe all people deserve to understand. Hitting is the action equivalent of the ubiquitous verbal “because I said so.” That’s not instructive; it’s dominating. “You must comply,” as the Borg might say, is not a valid form of engendering trust and bringing about understanding. Instead, it establishes a dominating power dynamic, and I find that undesirable in the context of love and compassion.

Yes, a parent has “authority,” but explaining why that is in a way that children truly understand will have far more valuable and extensive validity than any momentary pop-off, verbally or physically.

“Hitting to teach” does not accomplish the goal at hand, regardless of intent. The outcome of violence is neurobiological trauma to the child. This action fails to address the real issue at hand, whatever issue that may be, and instead replaces meaningful relevant consequences imparted by a caretaker with the “action shorthand” of causing hurt to another person as a dissuading influence. Corporal punishment is by definition an extrinsic motivator, and serves only to deter one specific behavior again the consequence of violence in return, but it does not serve as a method for addressing the underlying cause of whatever the erroneous behavior may have been. Indeed, it makes an assumption that the behavior was erroneous to begin with, without ascertaining the reasons behind and the causes of the behavior to begin with, or why a child said or perceived a thing, and instead utilizes what to me is obviously action shorthand.

Before one even need study the ample evidence that striking children harms them psychologically and neurobiologically, one need only examine the pedagogical inefficacy of violence as a relevant consequent to child antecedent action to recognize hitting children as ineffective and counterproductive.

To view children as empty-headed little know-nothings with no thoughts of their own, no beliefs of their own, no experiences, no unique qualities, no personal observations, no individual characteristics, to fail to see them as individuals is bad enough, but to see them as objects is entirely inhumane. A child who has misbehaved – first of all, misbehavior requires a significant analysis of the rules: What is the child doing and why? Frequently I find people who are supportive of spanking or HCP adult-on-child violence will speak at length about hypothetical conditions in which they may nee dot coerce the child’s behavior to a specific conduct: “the child is crying in public, and its embarrassing, so sometimes you’ve gotta smack the kid to straighten him up. The child took something without permission, and he’s gotta learn.”

That’s not a teaching tool.

You haven’t shown me, in this hypothetical, any effort to understand the origins of the behavior. You need to understand that child that action that situation, and not paint with some over broad brush, but significantly and seriously ask: “why is this happening?” What’s going on. Only then, only by truly understanding that child in that situation, can you create some kind of intervention if appropriate. Kid took something without asking: Why? What if it was born out of a deep seated injustice that some other child had less? Is that something we should punish? Does the child developmentally understand the situation? Is the rule you have or the social convention that you’re objecting to not being followed, is that appropriate developmentally? Was the child put into a circumstance that set him/her up for failure that s/he didn’t choose and may falsify type (Jung) or be contrary to the child’s natural modality? (Benziger.) These are questions of child development, and to suggest that as part of child rearing, violence is a useful and thoughtful tool, is patently absurd. It’s not going to teach the child anything. Providing an extrinsic motivator of relevance maybe developmentally appropriate, but the aversion to violence is not an effective teaching tool. You are instilling fear, terror of violence, in a child. Have you not seen what goes on in Gaza? Parents who are advocates of spanking see absolutely no similarity, but psychologically violence light is still violence. Even violent words can be extraordinarily damaging to a child. I’m not suggesting that we wrap kids in bubble wrap, because certainly children nee to learn relevant lesson sir they are to develop their own understanding and identity, which is something every individual ought to have, and certainly there’s difference between the thoughtful compassionate restraint of a child from self-harm and abject violence.

Parents who are tired or exhausted or frustrated may not take the necessary time, not invest the necessary energy, to fully ascertain and understand the conduct and the child, and instead may simply want the behavior to stop, no matter what no matter why, and resort to violence. If a child does something undesirable, striking the child as a consequence may serve as a momentary deterrent, but it does not address the underlying cause nor does it act in a loving or compassionate manner in understanding the situation, communicating the situation, helping the child to understand the situation in a relevant and meaningful way, and assist the child in building personal meaning so that s/he will can better decisions in the future. Adult on child violence does not seek to teach the child. It says, intentionally or not, simply, “I’m bigger and stronger than you, so you better listen to me, or I will hurt you.” For violence to aid a child’s learning, the method must be meaningful and relevant, and that means violence must become relevant to the child. Children are not developmentally equipped to handle violence. Indeed, humans are not intended to experience violence. We’re not built for it. Exposure to violence leads to hyper vigilance, post-traumatic stress responses of a variety of fashions, and ultimately may lead to antisocial or pathologic behavior, given the significant neurobiological impact that violence has on the brain. Children, while neuroplastic, are especially susceptible to neurobiological damage, and violence will force the child brain to “develop around” perceptions and understandings of violence.

Do I feel empathy for tired parents, beleaguered by life circumstance or a grueling day, who then come home to face energetic children who, by developmental necessity, are pushing buttons, challenging boundaries, and learning new ways of doing that may be problematic or frustrating? I absolutely do. Folks, I’ve taught kindergarten, I’ve taught self-contained special education classes, I’ve taught middle school… I’ve taught sixth grade percussion, and if you wanna see kids push buttons, come hang out with eleven and twelve year old drummers. I get it: Kids can be tiring. Kids can be challenging. Kids can really frustrate you.

You’re an adult. Grow up. There is never a valid reason to strike a child because you’re annoyed.

In instances in which parents are more thoughtful, and selectively apply hitting their kids after all other instructive avenues have been exhausted are almost always skipping the next steps: ask for help, do research, look for other strategies, and so so often, are compromising on other consequences.

Once, a mother told me, “it was easier to spank her than to go through the trouble of taking away her iPhone.” That is the laziest parental argument I have ever heard. If you’re not willing to parent, do not complain about the challenges of parenting.

Hitting a child is “shorthand.” It skips the compassionate care and nurturing instruction the developing child needs and requires in favor of simple situational modification at the hands of superior force. It is not only discompassionate, but ultimately counterproductive, and has no place in any child’s life, let alone in the context of a caretaker relationship.

Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes kids are pains in the ass. Guess what? They’re hardwired to be that way. Learn about your kid’s head, don’t strike it.

They’re kids.

Real Harm

The use of violence is not an effective adult skill for enhancing child understanding or for addressing perceptions of the child mind. I don’t doubt that many parents are well intentioned in their use of corporal punishment, but it strikes me as extraordinarily arrogant for a person who has not studied child development, who has not invested time and energy to study the child mind, and who are not experts in learning, to say “I know better” for logically-fallacious reasons, and that they are uncompelled and unswayed by the evidence presented to the contrary. Recently, during a particularly unexpected and volatile interaction, I was accused of utilizing “junk science,” because the studies in question had not been replicated on the billion-person scale. In short, the counterargument presented justifying the use of selective violence with children was that billions of people evident all around “turned out just fine” hitting each other.

The truth is that they did not “turn out just fine.” Instead, they had to develop around instances of violence. This is not to say this is not possible. Shonkoff & Phillips showed in 2000 that proper brain development is promoted through occasional, infrequent experiences of moderate stress. However, there is no compelling research to support the use of violence as a form of this stress. I do not advocate a “parentless parenting” technique in which one does not establish boundaries and consequences within reason to establish safety for the child and encourage alignment with general expectations – learning not to hit other people, for example! – but find no compelling reason in the literature to use violence as a teaching method. To the contrary, I find compelling, overwhelming evidence that suggests doing so is deleterious to development. (If you read the collected works of Alice Miller, and still attempt to make a rational argument that treating children so is good for them, I’ll gladly take on that debate.)

Strikes to the head are the most problematic for developing child brains, by far, and the recent emphasis on traumatic brain injury has only served to reinforce this. Miller’s work suggested that children of single digit ages are especially susceptible to damage when struck. Several major studies have recently shown that abusive head trauma (AHT) causes massive damage to children up to age five. However, violence is not merely a matter of the immediate imparting of hurt, but also of the lasting consequences of violence-induced stress, such as the hormonal response. Striking a child as a parenting technique is, usually, designed to induce embarrassment and/or terror, responses which have significant biochemical consequences. As the child brain is susceptible to hormone and neurotransmitter influences, this is not an inconsequential consideration. All the more disturbing is the 2011 finding (Berger, et al) that during times of stress for adults, like the recession, incidents of AHT resulting from HCP rise, underscoring the issue at hand: adults hit kids for the wrong reasons, and adults who think hitting kids is a good thing are justifying their mistakes in judgment and decision making.

Many adults to whom I speak say that they are not trying to injure the child, but rather use a “last resort” consequence when verbal, temporal, or material admonishments fail. They describe a “gentle swat” or an “uninjuring smack” or a “light tap on the bottom.” If there is no injury caused, no harm or physical discomfort intended, then the argument as a consequence is dismantled from the start. If there is no extrinsic motivation, the act serves no purpose. The only purpose of striking is to induce harm, so if one does not seek to induce harm, there is no purpose in the action. I have heard the follow-up, “well it’s embarrassing and makes the child feel bad about themselves.”

When that is the motivation, you are now squarely in Miller’s research and must begin to explore the nightmare of psychological trauma induced through humiliation ritual and personal denigration as a parent method, and that is the subject of another equally-excoriating blog post. Shaming an humiliation rituals are also psychologically damaging and counterproductive, and there is still the inclusion of the threat of violence in the act, as an amalgam it is still violent. I believe very fervently, based on the psychological work done in the field, based on a career’s worth of experience with children and child development, intense recent study of these subjects in my work, and my own experiences as a child and with children, that there is no room for any form of violence with children. In short, if you hit to injure, you’re causing injury, and if you hit not to injure, you have no reason to do so.

Neuroplasticity, Intent, and Outcome

I have never made the claim that children are totally destroyed by being hit once. I was struck as a child. I can recall four, perhaps five times I was struck as a child. Spanking was not a way of life in my household, and I was never beaten. However, I was hit a few times. Do I resent my parents for it? No I do not. Do I blame my parents? No I do not. Do I believe my parents were bad parents? No I do not. Do I believe that my parents’ belief at the time that an occasional spanking was good for their kids is a damnable and unforgivable offense? No I do not. But the fact of the matter remains, yes, every time I was hit, my development was impaired. In a minuscule way? Perhaps. Insignificant in the grand scheme? Perhaps. But just as likely is that something significant – relative to being child – happened in my brain that I had to “grow around.” I use the phrase “selectively brittle” in my work to describe the fact that children are extraordinarily neuroplastic, with up to three times more neural connections than the healthy adult. However, my ability to grow up neurotypically does not change the fact that I was subjected to unnecessary harm through selective, infrequent, well-intended violence. I am not afraid to use the correct term to describe what something is, and striking another person is violent. A caretaker striking their child is adult-on-child violence, by definition. If you are uncomfortable with that language, then your argument is with Merriam-Webster and the development of Germanic languages, not with me, because I cannot help you with that. This isn’t a matter of semantics: violence hurts kids. It causes irreparable harm, though not irrecoverable harm. You can grow up to be healthy and happy after having been hit, it’s true. But that doesn’t change the fact that your brain will have to do something it ought not to have had to do to adapt unnecessary trauma. While occasional moderate situational stress may be productive, I find no compelling evidence to suggest that being struck by a caretaker is a valid or healthful form of such stress. You may consider this no big deal and totally absurd, but the bottom line is that once you have seen the neurobiological evidence as to the significant harm that striking a child does to that child, if you care about children, if you believe that adults in care taking roles have a responsibility to truly care for those children, then as I say in pedagogy, so I say for child behavior: intent doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter if you meant well if what you did was harmful. Thinking people who want to do right by children cannot roundly ignore the evidence that hitting children hurts them. That, to me, is far more compelling, far more important, valuable, has far more veracity than any layperson’s opinion or casual observation, than any logical fallacy, and I’m not interested that it’s inconvenient for people. I don’t care that it gets people riled up. It’s good to be challenged, to be set back on your heels, and to seriously question: is this best for my child? Is this right? Is this healthy? Is this good for my child, not just not bad? Is this achieving the aim of compassionately caring for and teaching the child? The evidence says that it is not.

If you are uncomfortable with the word “violent” in the context of the adult-child relationship, you ought to be seriously circumspect about being violent, and question why you are willing to be so to a little kid. Some of the people to whom I speak, who are most angered when I challenge a parent’s right to as if we’re on a playground and that I said something mean about your dad. The truth of the matter is that if your dad hit you, I have absolutely no judgment about your dad’s intent or mindset or philosophy or character, because I don’t know your father. I’m not interested in making such a judgment, nor am I interested in judging people. I’m not talking about people; I’m talking about behavior. I’m not talking about a person when I say “corporal punishment is adult-on-child violence that results in significant often-unseen harm to the child.” I’m talking about an action. Now, your dad may have had all the positive intentions in the world, and was a loving, compassionate person who would have done anything in the world for you, and believed fervently that what he was doing was the right thing for you and good for you. That may be the case. You may also have simply rationalized away the fact that your father engaged in regular violence and might have been abusive. At least one of these two sentences probably gets your blood running. Good: it’s good to have passions. But your passions running hot can never be sufficient justification for an action, and very frequently, we do exactly that. the fact is that when an adult is physically violent for the child they are responsible for taking care of, they do significant, often invisible harm to the child.

If knowing that, you still say, “I know that when I strike my child it is an act of violence that will damage him/her in a way that they will have to effectively grow around,” then you and I stand at philosophical odds in terms of how people treat one another, not just how parents parent their children, but in terms of what is appropriate and healthy behavior of how one person treats another. Selective violence against women by men who feel it is difficult to reason with them, and in order to teach them desirable behavior, is decried by mature thinking people. Selective violence against one race by another, which feels it is difficult to reason with members of that other race, and in order to teach them desirable behavior, is so reprehensible to our society that it is illegal and the subject of constant social awareness campaigns and reparation efforts. Selective violence against one age group by another is, however, “a right” in the minds of those who support spanking, HCP, and other forms of child mistreatment. I find it selective and silly to allow for violence against the group most susceptible to its ravages, and to claim moral righteousness and superiority in doing so.

Children are People

To treat children in a lesser way because one feels children are incapable of understanding betrays ignorance of the child mind as well as demonstrates a misunderstanding of the pedagogy of actions and consequence. The developing child mind certainly will have a challenging time understanding certain concepts. It may, in fact, have an extraordinarily difficult time, and require simplification or allegory, with more developed nuance being introduced into the child’s understanding at a later time. However, children deserve understanding. They deserve to be explained to. Simply by virtue of being, they deserve to be free of violence, and to be explained to, because that’s what caring adults do: they patiently explain.

Adult on child violence betrays the adult responsibility to the child, especially when that adult is a caretaker. It is unacceptable to me for a care taking adult to say I cannot, will not, do not invest the time and energy necessary to help the child understand healthfully, and will instead resort to violence.

Violence is not an acceptable or valid way to treat a person.

If you believe in harming a child, in striking a child, if you believe that adults should occasionally strike children, then you believe that your perception is more important than their outcome. You believe that your opinion and your expedience has more validity than substantive reproducible research, and you believe that an ineffective way of doing something for the sake efficiency for the adult is acceptable parenting.

I fail totally to see a pedagogically-appropriate context for teaching by hitting.

Here comes Adrian Peterson in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal: We have a national outcry that Ray Rice physically battered his girlfriend. There was significant outcry (as there should be) at so heinous an assault. It is not acceptable for a person, regardless of their size or gender, to physically attack another person. There are no situations in which physically striking someone is an appropriate solution to your problems, is an acceptable expression of anger or frustration or sadness. It is not an effective teaching tool. It is not an appropriate or effective thing for a police officer or teacher to do. Why is there, then, any shred of difference when we’re talking about a child? In order for a person to accept that these rules that we would apply to any other person do not apply to children, one must suspend the believe that children are people. This is a prevailing view of certain sociopolitical groups that espouse extremist ideology: That children are in fact not people, but are property.

It is an inhumane, despicable, disgusting attitude that, to me, is indicative of either some significant pathology or psychology, or some kind of social or institutional co-opting or damage, such is its significant departure from essential humanity.

Children are people, and each child is an individual person. To treat them as anything less is, by definition, inhumane, and I have absolutely no tolerance for those that purport to value humanity but do not value each human.

You say “don’t hit people,” and yet we’ll hit a child. You cannot teach that lesson. If you expect the lesson to be learned as an adult don’t hit people, then why would you violate that principle for the child. Well because he’s a child. You view him as different than a person, and I do not accept any situation in which a child is not understood to be, seen as, a unique individual person. It is discompassionate, inhumane, unloving, anti child, and I reject it out of hand. Stirking a child does not teach a child, does not help a child. Parents who are such strong advocates of spanking often say “I myself was hit, and I turned out just fine.” While you may have turned out “fine” in the macro, that does not mitigate the fact that there is strong evidence that every time you were struck, your development was in some way impaired or affected. Children being extraordinarily neuroplastic is insufficient justification for the application of violence as a teaching tool. It is not a teaching tool. Teaching is the b ringing about of learning, and learning is auto generative: it comes from within, and it must come from relevance. For violence to be effective, you’d have to make violence relevant to children, and violence ought not to be relevant to children. Children are not developmentally equipped to deal with violence; I daresay no person is. Violence damages the human being. Violence damages the human entity. When we are exposed to violence, we become hyper vigilant, develop post traumatic stress, develop neurological, biological, measurable damage psychologic, because violence is damaging. A smaller, less physically robust human will be more significantly damaged by less robust forms of violence. It’s relative. you say, it’s just a smack, it’s a thoughtful and occasional smack, relative to the little child condition you’re still imposing abject violence on another person to no productive or useful end. One must separate in their minds, fundamentally, the difference between consequences and violence.

Contradiction in Terms

I find it so entirely strange that we can generally acknowledge it is normal and healthy for an adult to be averse to pain, but to be so willing to inflict it upon a person when they are most vulnerable to its most damaging effects, instead of doing what we can to shield children from that pain.

Parents who say I would only ever hit my child on the bottom I would never slap my child across the face, that kind of mitigation it seems to me indicates that you know that what you’re doing is wrong. You bring about crying and shame and hurt and believe that associating these deeply damaging feelings with behaviors will dissuade the child’s behavior. But do you understand the development stage, what he will and will not associate. At what point od you decide to start seeing that person as a person, and shift away from violence? Does my 60 year old father have a right to hit me, his 35 year old son? No? Why not? When did I cease to become something less than a person, and became a person, to you? Is boyhood a subhuman condition? Can it be so defined as to separate those who are to be kept safe, and those who are to be left out to be harmed for their own good? If either animal was to be subjected to harm, ought it not be the one who is better equipped and less developmentally damaged? The logic alone fails. You reserve the right to escalate your violence as the child grows and becomes more resilient to your physical duress. Do you eventually get to the point where you’re systematically escalated violence over years, built up a tolerance to the point you’ll crack your daughter across the face?

I find nothing laudable about this sort of pattern. Nothing desirable about this dynamic. Nothing loving about this kind of relationship. It is essentially flawed, essentially missing something. It is damaged.

I cannot help but wonder what happened to a person that led to such willingness to damage the ones they purport to love.

Learn more about the child mind, understand what works and want doesn’t, and step back from violence. There is no room for violence in any caretaker relationship. None.

None.


No views expressed anywhere on this website are or should be construed to be representative of the positions, endorsements, or views of any organization, institution, or group. The author is solely responsible for the content of this privately-maintained blog.

The Cycle of Misunderstanding Children

It was a joy to be a featured guest today on We Act Radio’s Education Town Hall (www.educationtownhall.org) with Thomas Byrd, alongside feature DC reporter Virginia Spatz and fellow pedagogue and guest David Greene.

Here’s a link to the MixCloud archive if you missed it: http://www.mixcloud.com/education_town_hall/doing-the-right-thing-for-students-and-teachers-on-the-education-town-hall-august-7-2014/

One of the things I touched upon is the cycle of misunderstanding that exists at the heart of the discussion about assessment and evaluation. Make no mistake, our misperception and misunderstanding of the individual child is at the heart of our misunderstanding of effective teacher evaluation.

The cycle is vicious:


cycle

1. Inappropriate Learning: Students experience irrelevant, disengaged, homogenized, generalized “learning” experiences, based on false perceptions and deep misunderstandings of children, based largely on leaders insisting that teachers use nonsensical data and ill-advised, often non-educator-influenced ideas about teaching and learning.

2. Inappropriate Formative Assessment: We use standardized, unidimensional, homogenized “measurements” to determine “mastery.” However, these formative assessment “systems” and “programs” absolutely fail to consider all factors, and do not at all engage students where they are, neurocognitively and psychosocially, leading to deepening feelings of irrelevancy and a set of data that does not reflect what non-educators think it does.

3. Inappropriate Remediation: Because our assessment method stinks, we don’t know what a kid does and doesn’t know, what s/he can and can’t do… So how the heck can we help them?

4. Inappropriate Summative Assessment: Again, using standardized, unidimensional, homogenized “measurements” of “mastery,” we know jack about what a kid really knows and can do, only this time, we’re using very high-stakes, high-stress vehicles that are totally removed from the real world and reflect more of an ability to navigate a system of hoops than actual mastery.

5. Inappropriate Outcomes: Because we never understood the kid to begin with, don’t listen to the kid, don’t know what the kid can and can’t do and knows and doesn’t know, we failed the kid all the way down the line, and the results weren’t great. So we blame the teacher, or the school, or worst of all the kid, and then make policy and strategic decisions based on all of this inaccurate nonsense, and begin the cycle all over again: We put the kid right back into irrelevant, meaningless industrialized rote learning without ever having addressed some of the root problems that may exist.

Until we wrestle the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex to the ground and stop misperceiving children and inaccurately believing that they can be oversimplified into single quantifiable integers, we cannot break free of the gravity of the effort to objectify and commodify children and their learning.

Responding to Whoopi Goldberg

Recently, teacher tenure was the subject of discussion on ABC’s “The View.” The prevailing sentiment was that tenure was a mechanism for insulating teachers from being fired, and that everyone should be in favor of getting rid of bad teachers… by getting rid of tenure.

On August 4, I watched the video response Whoopi Goldberg posted a brief video reply on YouTube, defending her statements.

Later on August 4, I replied with my own video message.

A probationary teacher can be, in many jurisdictions, summarily dismissed without due process. Tenure is the mechanism by which schools BEGIN to afford teachers due process rights. It is not the end of a process; it is the beginning. In places where this basic concept is misunderstood or misapplied, certainly we can agree there is a problem. However, the solution to getting rid of bad teachers is not eliminating tenure. The entirety of the way we employ and evaluate teachers is worthy of consideration.

While I don’t want to give away the farm as I continue to work on finishing my manuscript, I will say that I believe assessment is at the very heart of this issue, and that reducing teachers to “good” and “bad,” and the debate over teacher evaluation to “tenure” or “no tenure” is dangerously oversimplified.

I sincerely hope I can have an impact on this debate, and that together, perhaps we can all shine a spotlight on the complexity of the problems and solutions. As Allison Janney’s marvelous C.J. Cregg said in Sorkin’s The West Wing, “Complexity isn’t a vice.”

To those who have shared my message and have left such wonderful messages of encouragement and support, my thanks. I am but one voice among the many, and I am humbly grateful if anything I ever do is a help to you, in my quest to serve kids.

Banning Devices in Your Classroom is a Stupid Idea

Cell phones are not a distraction to learning. Period.

If a child in your class is using a cell phone unrelated to what you’re teaching, that fact has nothing to do with a cell phone. The child does not find the learning opportunity relevant, meaningful, and/or accessible, and that is the problem. There are a litany of reasons why this might be, many of which are outside of the control of the teacher, but no assessment that one can do better on because of having a picture of it is a worthwhile authentic assessment of skill mastery anyway.

If you can copy it down from a phone or your hand or a note, it’s not an authentic performance-based assessment, and that’s the thing to change, not the cell phone policy.

A modern smart phone’s purpose is to provide the user with connectivity that s/he desires. Period. It’s not “for use outside of class.” It’s to be connected. We want students connected. We want students using every tool at their disposal to access, search, sort, collaborate, and create. The policy is flawed because the pedagogy and the educational philosophy is flawed. I guaran-damn-tee that nobody consulted one of us who actually lead schools and integrate technology into public school classrooms for a living. We have got to, as a field, stop trying to prevent people from being people and start changing our practices and policies to reflect the realities of 2014, lest we continue to disregard the contemporary individual child as s/he is in favor of the backward-looking children we think we were. Ed tech best practices do not support banning cell phones.

Think of it this way: If you like taking notes by hand, do you want to be told you have to use an iPad? If you take notes on an iPad, do you want to be told you have to use a pencil? If you like setting your book down and making eye contact with a speaker, do you want to be told you must follow along? If you need to follow along with a text to understand it completely, do you want to be told you must put your book down?

Those that advocate the wholesale removal of personal electronic devices from classrooms both fundamentally misunderstand the role of the device in the classroom and demonstrate bias against some kinds of learning modalities, even if that bias is unconscious. I, as a learner, benefit from using my device in learning. You, as a teacher, cannot reasonably or meaningfully demonstrate evidence to the contrary. Therefore, the wholesale “ban” of personal electronic devices from the hands of students during learning is intrinsically ANTI-CHILD and ANTI-LEARNING for some children.

We must be more precise and more individualized in our application of pedagogy and policy in our classrooms. A haughty “whatever, I’ve seen it” or a dismissive “whatever, I disagree” betrays an elitist attitude that is unbecoming of progressives and radicals. Don’t try to micromanage the methods by which your students integrate technology into their learning and their lives; they will inevitably utilize those devices in ways inconsistent with and outside of your understanding of both the technology and the child, because you are not that child.

Instead, focus on creating learning opportunities and methods of assessment that are meaningful and relevant, and let everything else go. One must be far more anarchistic than authoritarian in the design of a meaningful learning situation if one has any hope to include those learners who have fundamentally different psychosocial ways of being than their teachers.

Unless you think all of your kids are just like you, you shouldn’t even think about banning cell phones. Just ask the kids to silence them, and be done with it.

If a kid does poorly in demonstrating knowledge and skill on an assessment, it should be because that is an accurate reflection of that child’s knowledge and skill, not because s/he was doing or not doing any one particular thing at any one particular moment.

Cell phones are not a problem. Kids are not a problem. Misperception of children, micromanagement of learning, and pedantic insistence that our children emulate OUR behavior, is.

American Education Is, In Fact, Broken

Diane Ravitch wrote, “Bill Gates is wrong. American education is not ‘broken.’ Federal education policy is broken. Testing children until they cry is a bad idea. It is educational malpractice.”

Diane and I agree on a lot. We agree that Federal education policy is broken. We agree that testing children until they cry is a bad idea and that it is educational malpractice. I go so far as to call it systematized child abuse, the intellectual brutalization of a generation.

How can anyone say such a system is not a failure? I do not understand Diane’s position that a system that abuses children is not a failure. I’m not indicting every individual in that system, but I am indicting the system, and rendering the most vehement judgment.

Where Diane and I fundamentally disagree, as I’ll outline in the book, is that we have a national public education system, and Federal policy is woven into every cell of that system. Consequently, I contend American public education IS broken, and broken beyond repair. Does this mean teachers are to blame? Categorically, no. Does this mean children cannot learn? Categorically, no. Does this mean we should not have public education in America? Categorically, no. But one cannot fix this system. One must end it, and start anew, not with the reparation of policy, but with its wholesale replacement. Our system is not “only” broken because of utterly failed legislation. It is a catastrophic and complex failure of societal values, agrarian calendars, misperceived roles and responsibilities, flawed social science, self-defeating corporate interest, inhumane attitudes toward and treatment of children, and damned bad math. That’s not a failure of policy; that’s a total failure of a system. Diane, I find the vast majority of your insight absolutely correct and consider you one of the foremost leaders and voices in favor of doing right by children and schools, but can’t the system be a failure without the people in it being failures? How can we say, as pro – child educational leaders, that a system that regularly and systematically intellectually, emotionally, and psychosocially abuses children, is not broken? 

The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one: The American public education system has failed, past tense.

I haven’t given up on it. I haven’t given up on kids. I’m an idealist that isn’t quitting: we can fix the problem, but the solution isn’t repairing the disaster that’s beyond repair. It’s clearing away the wreckage and building a new structure, correctly, right from the start. Let’s stop using duct tape on the hoses of the blown-up Yugo and consider our smart options for a new car. Sometimes it’s less costly and better for the family, right?

I love children. I love education. I hate what’s happening, and we can do better. We can. Right from the start… anew.