Citizen-Focused Schools


Someone today acknowledged the fact that an audience of folks had likely heard many keynote presentations over the last decade or so warning, proclaiming, and evangelizing on the need to change schools to better meet the shifting demands of the modern workforce. This was a lead in to the question of what the assembled educators should do about it and what they might ask employers to help them focus the work of school.

For my money, it’s all the wrong question. As much as I want every student I’ve ever known to find gainful, satisfying employment, shooting for a successful workforce aims below the best possibility of what American schools can be.

In an election season jacked up on discourse and discord, we see the highlights of how worker-focused schools are set to fail our country if they do not become citizen-focused schools.

Workers who know how to collaborate, innovate, adapt, and design are still less powerful than citizens who know how to organize, advocate, and investigate.

Rather than asking employers what schools can do to produce students to fit their needs, we should be speaking to politicians, public servants, and civic leaders asking what it takes to get their attention, what effective advocacy looks like, and what problems are on the horizon for communities and cities that our students will need to be ready to tackle.

Chasing jobs that don’t yet exist and may only exist for a moment is a fool’s errand not worthy of our children. Learning how to craft a society that realizes the best ideals of our democracy, our republic, and our grand experiment is not only a worthy goal, but a necessary one as well.

From Theory to Practice:

  • As you wrap up your school year or plan for the start of next year, make citizenship and the kinds of citizens your school community is working to create a central conversation. Keep in mind this is a conversation for all subject areas, not just social studies. Citizen scientists, public health, and a mathematically literate public are just as important as those who volunteer and show up at the polls.
  • Invite civic leaders in to build out the conversation. Ask anyone from the city manager to the mayor to local congressional leaders to come speak across classes on where any given subject area intersects with their work.
  • Think about the civic centers your schools can become. Host candidate forums. Ask leaders to come in and participate in town halls. Keep voter registration forms on the counter of your office and linked on your homepage. Make participatory citizenship part of the DNA of learning and teaching.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong: Discussion Forum

As I’ve explained, I started my master’s program three weeks ago. Through an online program, I’ll have a Master’s of Teaching and Learning in Curriculum and Instruction in 14 months. It’s my first time in an all-online learning environment. They’re doing it wrong.

There were stone tools, there was the wheel, there was online learning, there was the discussion board.

Instructors looked at this and said it was good.

Learners looked at this and said was annoyingly restrictive at times.

The discussion board for my current master’s class looks like this:

The standing assignment for the discussions says:

The “Education Specialist” has contributed to this discussion board this many times:


Here’s why “Education Specialist” needs not worry about joining in:

Learner’s options for posting new threads to the discussion board look like this:

That’s right, we can’t.

Some thoughts:

  • I don’t always have 250 words in response to the posted discussion questions that are often meant only to check if we’ve completed the reading.
  • Requiring me to reply to 2 people means I tend to reply to the two folks who posted their responses earliest and never read the responses of those who follow.
  • Knowing people are responding to what I wrote because they were required to spend 100 words on my thinking cheapens it.
  • Inferring that my discussion log is going to be used to check for completion and not quality of discussion cheapens it.
  • Not being able to post what I like when I find it cuts out the possibility of organic discussion and learning.

I don’t find future contributions from “Education Specialist” likely either. There’s no pushing of thinking, there’s no questioning of our premises, no “Oh, I found this link to this article related to the reading for this week.”

The others in the class have picked up on the hoop-jumping nature of the discussion board assignment as well. Posts are empty, enough words to get by and then done. Not about the ideas, but about the word count.
Not that the questions lend themselves to real depth.

The one assignment from the course where I’d like to have seen and responded to my peers’ work and have them do the same for mine was the drafting of our philosophies of teaching. These documents outlining who we are as teachers and where we come from could have led to some interesting discussion and thinking.

The philosophies went straight to the assignment dropbox. Why collaborate on those?

I’ve used the moodle discussion forum in teaching many times. I’ll throw a forum up for sharing resources or giving feedback on drafts of essays or discussing readings. I’ve done the whole “respond to two other people” thing. I don’t know that I’ll be doing that again. I’ve come to realize it’s the online equivalent of forced mingling. The worry could be that people won’t respond to one another if not required to. If you have to require someone to use the tool and they wouldn’t normally do so, you might be using the wrong tool. Maybe content matters?

I’ll certainly be keeping this experience in mind the next time I use the discussion forum in class. Discussion isn’t enough. It seems we need actually be saying something.

Hi, you’re doing it wrong.