In this episode, Zac talks with Scott Nine, executive director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America about Scott’s learning throughout the web series A Year at Mission Hill.
I’m just getting to today’s ASCD SmartBrief in my inbox. I don’t often have time to run through it, but it’s summer, and such extravegances are permitted.
The subject line today, “Principal: Testing is about measuring knowledge, not meeting deadlines.” The link leads to this Education Week commentary from Ryan McLane, a junior high school principal in Utica. I’ll leave the content of McLane’s piece to him.
This isn’t about that.
The second story is about 21st-century skills and a Gallup survey sponsored by Microsoft Partners in Learning and the Pearson Foundation.
Third? A story on Texas schools uncovering knowledge that taking kids on field trips helps them think about what they might want to do after school.
These are the top stories under “Learning and Teaching” for the day. While they speak to the trends of the American education landscape, but they do little to push at the boundaries, challenge popular beliefs or uncover new ground.
The other categories in the brief follow a similar pattern.
My ire was probably its highest under the “Whole Child” section which featured a single story on the pantopticonian increase in demand for survelliance cameras as the answer to school safety concerns followed by “Wyo. considers training teachers to recognize students who are at risk of suicide” under a sub-sub-heading.
To say this reflects a saddening national conversation would be an understatement.
Perhaps I’m asking too much of a SmartBrief as well as showing a naive hope that what remains of the Fourth Estate might take on the mantle of helping their audiences critically evaluate the objects of their reporting. At the very least, it would be nice to see any continuing coverage of school closings taking place across the country and how they might disproportionately effect students from different ethnicities differently.
Special thanks to my English teachers who, even though we were firmly in the 20th century, helped me to develop the distinctly 21st-century skill of critical thinking and reading closely.
Bud Hunt just got another reason to show up at work in the morning. Starting this fall, I’ll be joining Bud and the rest of the team in the St. Vrain Valley School District as a District Technology Coordinator. It’s a position that will allow me to call on my experiences as a classroom teacher, training in the policy sector, and the work I’ve done with school districts and teachers around teaching and learning.
I am excited for it, and excited to be back in public schools again. Certainly a departure from heading a classroom as a teacher, this is still much closer than my last two years of graduate study.
Speaking of those, what’s to become of my doctoral program?
As of right now, it is on hold. I’m availing myself of the option of taking a year away from the program to decide if I want to continue in whatever capacity. I think I know my answer now, but I want distance and perspective so that I might be more certain.
I’m stepping away from the program because I want to be more useful. While I realize some graduate studies are inherently practical and relevant in their implications, I’ve not felt that this year after nearly a decade of knowing it in the classroom each day.
I’m also not certain I’m to be an academic. After hearing my thinking on the subject a few months ago, Sam Chaltain said, “So, it sounds like you’re more activist than academic.” That felt right.
It’s not that I don’t think of myself as intellectual or drawn to intellectualism, it’s that I see the world of the Academy and can’t see myself in it.
This year, I have seen myself and taken great joy in supervising student teachers. Nine people allowed me to do what I could to help them improve their practice and prepare to take their own classrooms following student teaching this year. Because of some small part of what I did, they will be teachers and their students might have a better experience.
While there are exceptions, by and large, the path to a Ph.D. does not lead to experiences like this.
I’ve more reasons for the move, and I suspect they’ll find their way into my writing in the coming weeks. For now, suffice it to say that I am thrilled to be working with what is truly a top-notch team in St. Vrain. to move a step closer to teachers and students, and to have the chance to improve education in a way that will both respect my experiences and challenge me to grow.
I’ve been slowly working my way through Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. (Cataloged highlights from Kindle here.) The text began with much read-noddign on my part. “Yup,” my brain said, “She thinks what I think.”
Because of this, much of the early chapters didn’t feel challenging. Nussbaum was presenting the arguments I find myself making to others all the time. I needed her to either challenge my constructs or deepen my understandings. I saw the merits in her arguments, so I stuck with her.
Happening upon chapter six “Cultivating Imagination: Literature and the Arts,” I’m pleased I’ve kept reading. While the argument for play, creativity, fun, exploration and all their adjoining pieces is a familiar one, Nussbaum does something I’d not before witnessed.
She makes the argument for the importance of play and imagination in strengthening a democracy.
Claiming “Citizens cannot relate well to the complex world around them by factual knowledge and logic alone,” Nussbaum calls in play and imagination as skills to be prized in helping to build the empathy necessary for a democracy in which a plurality of views coexist and build a society.
We cannot get to empathy without imagination.
Democratic equality brings vulnerability…Play teaches people to be capable of living with others without control; it connects the experiences of vulnerability and surprise to curiosity and wonder, rather than to crippling anxiety.
Nussbaum calls for empathy education here. In fact, she opens her chapter quoting education authors calling for the same thing in 1916 and 1971.
I’ve made the call for empathy myself when speaking with groups of teachers. It’s embedded within the Ethic of Care. The pieces new here are the relationship of empathy to democracy and the use of play as a building block for empathy.
If I am not given way to imagine, I’ll never find the space to imagine how you are feeling or see our lives as interconnected. If I never see those lives as interconnected nor your thoughts and feelings as relevant to me, I’ll not take them into account when I think about things like school funding, civil rights, taxation, environmental issues…basically, every idea that intermingles with democracy.
I’ve valued and spoken to the value of each of these pieces – play, empathy, democracy. I’ve not had the occasion to consider them as interdependent and one leading to another. Such a relationship rearranges the furniture in my brain a bit and helps me to find a way to structure a call to action when next I find myself in front of a group of educators.
While the work at Creative Commons is certainly a way forward for public scholarhip, and open academic journals such as though mentioned in Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence fit a certain bill, neither is what I meant.
There is a scholarship in the public – a knowing of a community. What I meant, and what hasn’t left my brain since the conversation, was the scholarship that resides within the public. Because of who Scott and I are, the conversation centered around education and the scholarship within neighborhood about the kind of school needed by the community.
Not signified by any diploma or formal academic recognition, the public affected by schools closing and schools opening are scholars of their communities. They know the people of the neighborhood. They know the history of the neighborhood. They know.
While initiatives like Story Corps and others who endeavor to capture the stories of the people in these communities and communicate them to a larger audience, this isn’t quite the same idea as public scholarship. Perhaps it is, but it is not the full potential of such scholarship. The corpus of knowledge within a given public sphere could should be leveraged to inform the policies of civic policy long before the public comment period. These public scholars are useful consultants.
Perhaps their is a feeling that this scholarship is not in the language of academics. It is unlikely to appear in any journal or pass the scholarly review process (unless it is a true peer-review process).
This misalignment with what we have been taught to respect as the scholarship worth heeding draws the impluse to suggest what is necessary is helping these scholars to tell their stories or to take those stories and re-tell them in a way we find more familiar.
This too speaks to a hierachical construct. Something would be lost in translation. What is necessary, instead, is listening to the scholarship, finding it, and paying it the attention we would pay the latest study from Pew or MacArthur.
Our communities are full of public scholars and their bodies of work. Perhaps we should enroll in whatever courses they’re teaching.
Here’s a sample of Imagining Learning’s work:
The first time I read anything by David Sedaris was over a weekend when a friend and I had taken the train up from Central Illinois to housesit for my aunt and uncle. I was in high school, and this was my first major “solo” adult outing.
I picked up Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day at the Borders on Michigan Ave. and felt pretty extravagant because of it.
We didn’t have a Borders. Not coincidentally, the now-defunct chain therefore held a cosmopolitan mystique.
I share this to help communicate the position of Sedaris in the formation of my adult identity.
I bought those books at a grown-up store, in a grown-up city, during a weekend stretch of independence.
I read Naked first and laughed aloud throughout the book.
Thinking, “Adults get to read all the cool stuff,” I didn’t occur to me that Sedaris’ stories were connecting adult content with adolescent humor. What made them funny to adults was that he was dealing with adult content, but thinking about it in a way adults weren’t supposed to. What made it funny to me was that he was writing for my sensibilities.
Having completed Sedaris’ latest effort, Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls, I’m glad to know we’re progressing apace of one another.
The book presents a more mature Sedaris. Throughout each essay and story there was a feel of trying to understand things, of peering through his narrative telescope to find fodder in his life and realizing things look different from farther away.
While his essay “Loggerheads” evoked moments of wincing and laughing, the piece concluded with me turning to my friend Abby and saying, with a slight lump in my throat, “Dammit, I don’t expect him to be poignant.”
Where one of Naked’s concluding essays skirted around issues of the sexual and hilariously profain, Sedaris presents several entries in Owls that speak more directly to his sexuality in terms of the love he feels for his boyfriend Hugh. One takes on the issue of gay marriage in a logically political way that I found myself thinking a younger Sedaris wouldn’t have attempted.
“States vote to take away my marriage rights, and even though I don’t want to get married,” he writes in “Obama!!!!!, “it tends to hurt my feelings. I guess what bugs me is that it was put to a vote in the first place. If you don’t want to marry a homosexual, then don’t. But what gives you the right to weigh in on your neighbor’s options? It’s like voting on whether or not redheads should be allowed to celebrate Christmas.”
Whereas this struck me an evolution in Sedaris’ voice, readers will also find the biting comedy they remember from earlier works like Barrel Fever. In “I Break for Traditional Marriage,” Sedaris writes as a married man who finds justification of his killing spree following his local legislature’s legalization of same-sex marriage. It was an essay that had me laughing in the blend of hilarity and discomfort I’ve come to hope for from Sedaris. At the same time, the awkwardness was made more important, more personal because of the content of earlier non-fiction essays.
I was content upon concluding Let’s Discuss Diabetes with Owls because it had given me the experience I was hoping for as a long-time fan and because it offered assurance that Sedaris and I are both growing up nicely.
A few minutes ago, I received an email from Credo, a progressive organization that I’ve paid attention to a few times as they called me to action on some item or another that I felt passionate about. The email has moved me to unsubscribe from future alerts. In heralding Rep. Michele Bachmann’s announcement that she will not seek another term, the organization referred to Rep. Bachmann as “The Tea Party’s queen of Crazy.”
That’s enough to lose me as an ally. I don’t imagine there’s much, if any, common ground between Rep. Bachmann and myself. Over the last few years, she’s said many things and taken many actions that I have found disturbing and repugnant. And, while the folks at Credo and I are in agreement about most things, we don’t see common ground on the importance of elevating the rhetoric of disagreement.
Given recent episodes within the past year during which those people who desperately needed mental health treatment made horrifying decisions resulting in the loss of innocent life, I can’t stand behind such a public and thoughtless use of crazy, especially when there are so many other arguments of merit to be made.
We do a horrible job of providing mental healthcare in America. Bandying terms like crazy about as dismissive does little to recognize mental illnesses as real and true, and in this case, implies an element of choice.
We can use better words.
My unsubscribe explanation:
I’m no fan of Michele Bachmann, and I’m happy she’s not running for re-election. I also understand the general feeling of triumph voiced by Credo’s most recent email in my inbox.
However, I’m unsubscribing because of a use of language that runs contrary to the objectives and values that are espoused by the company and which led me to sign up in the first place. By referring to Rep. Bachmann as the “queen of crazy,” Credo is doing no favors to attempts to better understand the importance of language choice and services around mental health in this country. It’s also working against any argument for a higher level of discourse in politics.
There are better ways to celebrate. There are better ways to comment on the ideas of a rival. In some small part, I hope my unsubscription will be take as a call to be more thoughtful in the way we discuss people and ideas.
I finished reading Susan Crawford‘s Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age. Now, I want everyone to read it. More than that, I think everyone should read it.
In a goodreads status update as I was reading, I noted that I was learning more in the book than I remember learning from any of of my high school or undergraduate history classes. Perhaps this feeling comes from the face that Crawford has taken as her focus something that is immediately important to my life and the lives of anyone else living in contemporary society – information and the way we gain access to it.
Traditionally, such books focus on media corporations and their editorial approach to the way newscasts are crafted or what they don’t tell their audiences about given events. While Crawford touches on this lightly, her focus is more on the tubes through which the information travels, who owns them, and the regulation of all of it.
More specifically, the lack of regulation. Crawford draws appropriate comparisons between America’s first Gilded Age and the evolution of how the public and subsequently the government came to think of utilities like the railroads, electricity, water, and the telephones. While information tubes, specifically wired and wireless Internet access provide quite similar services and have take a place of necessity in people’s lives, Crawford documents a series of missteps by regulatory committees in assigning the same common carriage expectations to information infrastructure that it has historically applied to the above utilities.
The result has become a sub-par, monopolized, inequitable information network that lags behind many developing nations.
What I appreciated more than the historical context of the book was the accessibility of the content. One goodreads commenter noted that this was a topic about which he was interested and saw as important, but he hadn’t found a way in to the information.
In this realm, as with her blog, Crawford succeeded tremendously.
The machinations of the corporate world are of great import as I learned in my brief stint as a financial journalist, but the difficulty lies in crafting narratives about those goings on that can call to attention an audience outside of the financial and business field.
Here, Crawford succeeds again. Each piece is logically presented and embedded in a storyline that presents readers with characters and actions that are understandable. While certainly a presentation of information and facts, Captive Audience is also written in such a way that those facts and information are part of a story.
It’s a frightening story with antagonists that seem too immense for the typical citizen to move against. The events and actions are presented as “Here are the things that are being done to you,” and “Here is where your representatives are failing to act on your behalf.”
This is where I found myself needing one more chapter or some supplemental material as I concluded the book. Crawford ends with a possible blueprint for a way forward that would provide the type of access and infrastructure that would break the monopolies and better serve American citizens, but she stops short of advising what those citizens who might not be elected officials or philanthropists can do to affect change.
While I put the book down feeling more informed and ready to engage, I am still unsure as to what I can do to act on that engagement.
Crawford has written an important, thoughtful, and eye-opening book. It is to the benefit of anyone with an Internet connection to pick it up and read it. I’m certainly glad I did.
For more on Crawford, see the below video from her appearance on Moyers & Company.
As I posted a few days ago, I’ve been reading Pamela Meyer’s Quantum Creativity with varying degrees of interest. While not everything is sticking with me, one piece of Meyer’s chapter on following passion has been knocking around in my brain for a few days.
Usually, that’s a sign that I should write through my thinking.
“…[Y]ou may just as likely discover Follow Your Passion to lead you to change the way you work, not what you do for work,” Meyer writes.
It’s a step above, “Worker smarter, not harder,” and it might be more important.
The example that comes to mind is the elementary teacher smitten with her unit plan on dinosaurs. She’s been teaching the unit forever, and it’s a bright spot in her school year. The majority of the students also end up smitten with dinosaurs by the end. (Because, who doesn’t love dinosaurs?)
The criticism I’ve heard most often when this example is raised in education circles is that this teacher is letting her love of content override what should be her goal of teaching her students content relevant to their lives and that will make them college and career ready.
I get that logic. Meyer’s thinking, though, opens up another possibility.
Give our exemplary teacher her dinosaurs. Do not deny her the what. Dinosaurs are fascinating, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a kid who isn’t at least passingly interested in these great lizards.
The shift, though, need come in the guise of changing the how of the unit. Open the unit to students’ questions and let them guide the study. Incorporate skills across content areas – primary sources, experts from outside the school, art, writing, reading, contemporary biology, presentation, critical questioning, etc.
Most often, those I speak with who are hopeful about the adoption of the Common Core State Standards find their hope in their close reading of the standards are promoting greater student voice and choice.
While there’s no great content jump in the what of the CCSS, perhaps there’s hope in moving toward more authentic, inquiry-driven, personal learning. Perhaps we can shift the how.
My friend Dayna Scott is Deputy Director of Denver’s Project VOYCE (Voices of Youth Changing Education), and mentioned the other day that organizations like VOYCE might find in-roads to accomplishing their goals of greater student participation in public education through an advanced understanding of the CCSS.
I hope this is true. With some minor exceptions like Texas, the shifts we need in public education, the shifts that will help us build the schools we need, will be based in looking at the how of learning.
To find out more about the work of Project VOYCE, watch the video below.
During the last week of March this year, I went home. At a work conference in New Orleans the weekend before, my uncle, David Baker, collapsed. Despite all the best efforts of medicine, he died a few days later.
He was 47, and all of this was a shock to my family.
I wish you’d met him. I wish he was still here for me to introduce you to him.
I’ve been grieving, probably since the moment I heard the news. I’ve learned the stages of grief, no matter how they were presented to me, do not form a single-file line as they enter a person’s life. Some days are horrible.
I write this because the world is a little less bright without David, and maybe these words can hold on to a little of the light.
He was trained as a teacher. For the last many years, though, David worked with the Illinois Community College Board. His passionate work was focused on adult learning and helping adults within the state to access and leverage their educations.
Some passions must be genetic.
In the last few years, we moved from the usual conversations about life and family when we talked. We’d become peers and colleagues. Conversations included mentions of local and national education policy, new developments in technology, and education practices. I will miss those conversations.
Most of my life, though, with only 15 years separating us, David was something between an uncle and a big brother. My mom tells me the story of David coming over to our house before heading to his high school classes and watching cartoons with me. I was far too young to remember those mornings, but I will still treasure them.
David is the reason I know James Dean, Johnny Cash, and Elvis are cool. He never explained why, but I came to understand their place in the pantheon of coolness through some sort of osmosis. The day Johnny Cash died and I spent the second half of my teaching day explaining who Johnny was to my eighth grade students, I knew I was doing the right thing.
David knew what was right.
When I was a teenager and we were celebrating some holiday at my grandparents, my grandmother asked me to go to the basement and get the folding table and chairs. Somehow, I showed adolescent resistance to the task. David, whose job collecting the table and chairs had been for years before I came along, stepped in, “Go get the table and chairs your gramma asked for.” He said it not in a stern or angry tone. He said it in a tone that reminded me what was right and of the tremendous place the elders of my family hold. I got the table and chairs.
Someday, I hope to have the chance to be a fraction of the husband and father David was. He loved his family completely with a sense of creativity and fun that filled the moments of their lives with life. He loved the snow. When it snowed and it was time to walk my 6- and 8-year-old cousins to school, it didn’t matter that playing in the snow would make them late for school. There was fun to be had in the moment, and school would be there whenever they showed up.
It hurts to write these words because I know they will forever fall short of the life and joy with which David filled the world. That doesn’t seem fair.
Just after he died, I was talking to one of my cousins. I was angry at other people who thoughtlessly offer platitudes about someone who’s died, commending people who were average as unforgettable.
David was unforgettable, the we needed him. Life was brighter, laughs were deeper, and the world a little better for his presence.
I wish you’d met him. I am sad that you will not.