18 October 2012

Five Questions on the US Election your Students should Wrestle With

There are many resources for kids studying the current US election, including one from Lynn University's School of Education focusing on the final Presidential Debate.

It was in looking at that site, and trying to ask questions about it with Dean Craig Mertler that I began to really wonder about all the questions we do not ask our kids to wrestle with. Because there might be value in a 17-year-old working on: "Reforming the Electoral College: The students will, as a whole class, debate the Electoral College; examining the merits and problems associated with the current system and each of the proposed reforms. The students will propose an amendment to the Constitution to reform the system and vote on it as a class," or a 13-year-old practicing: "The voting process: (Common Core - SS 7 C 2 7 Conduct a mock election to demonstrate the voting process and its impact on a school, community, or local level). The students will run for student council elections. They will campaign for themselves and create a brochure providing information about themselves and why their peers should vote for them," but I think our students are not just capable of much more, I think they need much more if they are going to be effective citizens of this nation, and this world, in this century.

So, here are five questions you might raise in your school:

(1) Why do Americans vote the way we do? Should we continue to do that?

This is a question I keep begging educators to engage with, because how we vote largely determines how we are governed, and in a global century the ignorance of Americans about democracy around the world - even around their own nation - is both absurd and dangerous.

An Irish General Election Ballot, choosing five "TDs" - members of the legislature
by ranking candidates in preference order.
There are many ways to vote, not just the "single-member-constituency" and "First Past the Post" systems the United States inherited from 18th Century England. There are consequences to the choice of any system, for First Past the Post, the key consequence is the diminishment of choice:
"The main reason for America's majoritarian character is the electoral system for Congress. Members of Congress are elected in single-member districts according to the "first-past-the-post" (FPTP) principle, meaning that the candidate with the plurality of votes is the winner of the congressional seat. The losing party or parties win no representation at all. The first-past-the-post election tends to produce a small number of major parties, perhaps just two, a principle known in political science as Duverger's Law. Smaller parties are trampled in first-past-the-post elections."—from Sachs' The Price of Civilization, 2011
First Past the Post Voting with three parties gets confusing. The inner
circle in this graph shows percentage of the votes British parties
received in the last general election, the outer ring shows the
percentage of seats won in Parliament.
A few US states - Louisiana is one - use the "French" system of runoff elections for some offices, requiring a majority win. But in most elections in the United States, the more parties, the fewer votes one needs to be elected.

In Canada, for example, in the last election, the Conservative Party received 39.68% of the votes against four left-of-center parties (Liberals, New Democrats, Parti Quebecois, Greens) yet ended up as the "majority" party in Parliament with 53% of the seats in a nation in which over 60% of voters strongly disagree with their policies.

In other words, choice is discouraged. If there were just two Canadian parties - as the US has - the Conservatives would not have won a Canadian election since 1988.

But what might happen if we had multi-member-constituencies with "proportional representation" ("PR")? What if we had, as Ireland does, "transferrable votes"? What are the implications - what else changes - if we chose another electoral system? Get your students talking.

(2) Should it be easier to get on the ballot everywhere in America?

Does democracy require choice? Who gets to limit what your choices are in an election? In Pennsylvania a group called the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition says they (like many in other American states) are, "seeking more choices for all of us on Election Day. Current Pennsylvania law makes it difficult for independent and minor party candidates to appear on the ballot — much more difficult than in most other states. The result is less political competition, less political dialog, and fewer choices to vote for in November. The current system is simply not fair and does a great disservice to the ideal of democracy and to the voters. In 2006, independent and minor party candidates were required to collect over 67,000 valid signatures simply to get on the state-wide ballot in Pennsylvania on Election Day. Legally, Democratic and Republican candidates require no signatures to get on the state-wide ballot, and even the 2,000 signatures required for the Primary Day ballot are ridiculously smaller than the virtually impossible hurdle of 67,000." So, first question, should it be easier to get your name on the ballot because you say you are a "Republican" instead of saying that you are "Green" or a "Socialist"?

Voters in Israel pick between 18 political parties (Wikipedia Photo), what are your choices?
What choices you have on your ballot are limited in many ways. Most US states prohibit "Electoral Fusion," a ballot system which helped break "one party rule" in New York City. Fusion voting empowers smaller parties in remarkable ways. New York City mayors John Lindsay and Rudy Giuliani owed their election victories to New York State's Liberal Party, while New York State's Conservative Party elected a United States Senator, and no Republican has been elected to statewide office in New York since Nelson Rockefeller without Conservative Party cross-endorsement.

Limited ballot access in the United States is a battle without traditional dividing lines, with everybody from the Green Party to Michelle Bachmann weighing in, from Oklahoma to Georgia, and the inconsistency of these laws mean you may not have the same choices as your neighbors a hundred miles away. As USA Today says, "It is a quirk of American democracy: Your choices for president depend on which state you live in."

(3) Should all votes be counted in every election?

West Virginia, and many other states, refuses to count the choices of many voters: "Only votes for official write-in candidates will be counted" says their website. And an "official" write-in candidate is one who, "submits a Write-In Candidate's Certificate of Announcement to the proper filing officer."

Why would there be a law like this? A law which also has a date limit on when someone can become a "write-in" candidate? 

Let's begin with the "ridiculous" - suppose a whole bunch of people decided to write in "Mickey Mouse" or "Bart Simpson," is that "joke voting" or "throwing their vote away" or might it suggest a deep unease about available candidates which should be recorded?

Or, what if people chose to write-in the name of someone who had not chosen to become an "official" candidate? Surely that person has the right to refuse office if elected, but shouldn't voters be allowed that choice?

And finally, let's consider this situation. In my county in Michigan about half the people on the ballot are running unopposed. It is pretty much a one party community (like the old Soviet Union). But what if the only candidate on the ballot dies eight days before the election? (Michigan has a formula for a candidate dying under 7 days before election day )Or gets arrested for robbing a bank? Voters where I live are then deprived of any choices at all.

It gets worse, if you run a write-in campaign ("officially") in a party primary, you can win that election but not get on the general election ballot because you did not get "enough" votes according to th state ["
if the office involved appears on a partisan primary ballot, a write-in candidate is  nominated to the office if he or she 1) receives more votes than any other candidate seeking nomination to the position and 2) meets a vote threshold provided under Michigan election law. (MCL 168.582)]. If a write in candidate gets three votes and nobody else gets more than two, doesn't that mean he or she won the election?

And in seven US states, write-in votes for President are prohibited!

(4) How many people should be in the US House of Representatives? How many in your state legislature? City Council?

Wikipedia has attempted to list legislatures by size:
Jurisdiction Type of
Population Lower
China People's Republic of China Nation-state 1,333,370,000 2,987 [1] 2,987
United Kingdom United Kingdom Nation-state 61,634,599 650 786 1,436
Italy Italy Nation-state 60,114,021 630 315+7 952
France France Nation-state 65,073,482 577 321 898
India India Nation-state 1,169,850,000 552 250 802
European Union European Union Intergovernmental
499,794,855 754 27[2] 781
Japan Japan Nation-state 127,540,000 480 242 722
Egypt Egypt Nation-state 77,420,000 454 264 718
Indonesia Indonesia Nation-state 229,965,000 560 132 692
Germany Germany Nation-state 82,002,000 622 69 691
North Korea North Korea Nation-state 24,051,218 687 [1] 687
Ethiopia Ethiopia Nation-state 79,221,000 546 112 658
Thailand Thailand Nation-state 63,525,062 480 150 630
Mexico Mexico Nation-state 107,550,697 500 128 628
Russia Russia Nation-state 141,883,000 450 168 618
Cuba Cuba Nation-state 11,177,743 614 [1] 614
Spain Spain Nation-state 45,929,476 350 259 609
Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic
of the Congo
Nation-state 68,692,542 500 108 608
Nepal Nepal Nation-state 29,331,000 601 [1] 601
Morocco Morocco Nation-state 31,993,000 325 270 595
Brazil Brazil Nation-state 191,956,000 513 81 594
Poland Poland Nation-state 38,100,700 460 100 560
Turkey Turkey Nation-state 71,517,100 550 [1] 550
United States United States Nation-state 307,635,000 435 100 535

So, is the United States Congress too big or too small? You might ask students to start doing some math to begin. How many people are represented by one member of the United Kingdom's House of Commons (62,000,00/650) vs the US House of Representatives (310,000,000/435)? How does that compare to Germany (82,000,000/622) or France (65,000,000/577) or, say Ireland (4,600,000/166)?

How does that compare to your state legislature? To your County or City government? Each "TD" in Ireland represents about 27,000 people, each member of the New York City Council represents 159,000 people. Each member of the Michigan State Senate represents 238,000 people, but each member of New Hampshire House of Representatives represents just 2,350 people - or far less than the members of most local American Boards of Education.

Consider all that this implies. If I, as a candidate, need to get to the voters of a New Hampshire district I could probably drive around and meet almost every voter, but if I want to be in the Michigan Senate I probably need to spend a lot of money on radio, mailings, phone calls, perhaps even television. If I need to spend money I need to either be rich, or I need to have lots of rich friends, or I need to promise things to lots of rich people. None of that is necessary in New Hampshire, where the legislature meets part time and members are paid $250.00 annually. Will that difference allow differing kids of members to get elected?

Who benefits when a legislature is smaller? Who benefits when a legislature is larger? How does size impact function? In what ways? Many questions...

(5) What would happen if the US Electoral College no longer included electors for Senators?

Simple question: Right now each state's electoral vote is based on the number of members of congress - representatives plus senators. What if it was just based in the number of members of the House of Representatives?

Wyoming, its as if all the animals in this photo get to vote for President.
This year, Wyoming gets one electoral vote for every 190,000 people, but California only gets one electoral vote for every 691,000 people. So, every Wyoming voter, effectively, gets more than three times as many votes for President as a Californian.

How might this change things? Consider the contested 2000 election - without those "senate" electors, George W. Bush's electoral vote would have dropped from 271 to 211 (he carried 30 states), while Al Gore's electoral vote would have dropped from 266 to 224. In other words, it wasn't Florida which changed the nation's political course, it was Wyoming, Alaska, and North Dakota.

What would be fair? Who would be hurt? It is important to note that the United States does not have - and has never had - any kind of "national election." All elections in the US are state-by-state affairs, but in this one instance - what is fair when the state's come together? Is the Senate enough protection for small states? Do we really have "one-person-one-vote"?

- Ira Socol

07 October 2012

The System Effect

The interesting thing to me about Ayn Rand - well, it's not her writing, her books are as fourth rate literarily as they are philosophically - is that she is perhaps the last Leninist quoted by any "mainstream" American political figure.

portrait of a young Leninist:
a 1925 Ayn Rand bookcover
Now Ayn Rand is, of course, no Marxist. Marxism being a rather "Catholic" utopian vision of the perfectability of all humanity (my translation). But Ayn Rand is a pure Leninist - "The principle of democratic centralism and autonomy for local Party organisations implies universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action; it rules out all criticism which disrupts or makes difficult the unity of an action decided on by the Party." (Lenin, V.I. (1905) Freedom to Criticise and Unity of Action, from Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 10, pages 442-443. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1906/may/20c.htm  ). Leninism includes ideals of global revolution - which Ayn Rand also insists on - as well as a belief that one is not permitted to disrupt the "inevitable march of history" - and that basic framing, "the ends justify the means," which is the point of Ayn Rand's novels.

Just as, no matter how he might object to the label, Nathan Harden, author of that new right-wing porn best seller Sex and God at Yale (which I suspect all male Romney campaign staffers are reading on their private jets at night while their wives are at home banging the pool boys), is a "classic Yalie," as smug and superior and intolerant of the world as any sexually-active Ivy Leaguer in New Haven, Connecticut has ever been. In this - and not at all intellectually - does Harden reflect one of his claimed heroes, William F. Buckley, Jr.

"The hidden curriculum is the curriculum," my friend and mentor Lynn Fendler is fond of saying, and Rand, Harden, Buckley are all deep proof of this concept. Ayn Rand is a proud product of Petrograd State University in the early 1920s, one of the students there who most purely absorbed the Leninist theories flowing around here, no matter her reaction to whatever academic content was in play. She writes like those other boring Soviet polemicists of her time, she argues as they do, she is as one-sided as they are. 

She cannot really help it. The affect of the educational system which "created" her has had its expected effect. Compare Rand, for a moment, to John Reed, the oft-forgotten early developer of "New Journalism." Reed was the child of wealth, but in the America of his time, a kind of "wild west wealth." He was a "poor student" who, upon admission to Harvard in 1906, failed to become part of the club and football culture, and instead ran with a kind of "Cambridge underground" of swimmers, Lampoon writers, theatre majors, and socialists. "All this made no ostensible difference in the look of Harvard society, and probably the club-men and the athletes, who represented us to the world, never even heard of it. But it made me, and many others, realize that there was something going on in the dull outside world more thrilling than college activities, and turned our attention to the writings of men like H.G. Wells and Graham Wallas, wrenching us away from the Oscar Wildian dilettantism which had possessed undergraduate litterateurs for generations," he later wrote. (Hicks with Stuart, John Reed, pg. 33.)

Sergei Eisenstein (and Company), Oktyabr. - or - Ten Days that Shook the World, film 1927
Reed was a Marxist. A dedicated Marxist.  But Reed could never quite get to Leninism, no matter how hard he tried, and he tries very hard to convince both the reader and himself in his masterwork, Ten Days that Shook the World.

Reed tried very hard to be a Leninist, but remained more poet than committed revolutionary (Beatty, Warren. Reds, 1981)
John Reed remained the system outsider he was from the moment he entered school. The weird kid. The poet, the comedian, the one who never saw his name on an honor roll, and with the comply or defy choice schools offer their students, he defied, every bit as much as Rand, Buckley, and Harden complied. All, however, might be considered victims of their educations.

Rand and Buckley, Mitt Romney, and even - to an extent - Barack Obama, never acquired the empathy needed by real leaders who could understand and work for others. Reed, like Scott Fitzgerald who followed him from west of the Appalachians into struggles with the Ivy League, could never turn his skill as one of the greatest writers of his generation into a way to communicate successfully with, or negotiate successfully with, "power" - and so suffered all of his life.

"[My brother is] a really, really smart guy, and where I was always great at memorizing facts and applying rules, he was always able to look more deeply into subject matter and understand it in a different way.  But schools wanted people like me and not people like my brother, who has dyslexia, ADHD and other learning difficulties, and who was called by one horrible teacher "stupid" in front of an entire class filled with his peers.  And who still believes that teacher." - Rachel Ash on Google+

The System Effect

Teachers need to be better, sometimes much better, at what they do. I understand this, I have said this. But when the Carnegie Corporation of New York says, "that quality teachers have a greater influence on pupil achievement than any other school-based factor," they are so completely wrong it is embarrassing to hear them say it. Because the Carnegie Corporation - largely responsible for at least the secondary education system we struggle with today - never bothered to include as a variable the system of school itself.

The Carnegie Corporation - education research which hurts American children for more than 100 years (?)
School is an environment - a built environment, a social environment, an authoritarian environment, a temporal environment - and like all living things, humans respond to all the clues and components in their environment.

I might focus on teacher education (for example), because it does not matter how 'progressively' we speak at the Michigan State University College of Education, as long as our undergraduate teachers-to-be go through prescribed class hours in a prescribed and divided curriculum while sitting in chairs in classrooms and getting graded - traditionally - on both their work and their attendance, we are reinforcing the system we claim to be overturning. "Let's all sit down for the lecture on differentiation," as we say.

Nor, no matter how brilliant our conversations in PhD seminars, will we not create change-agent leaders unless we stop making the doctorate a program of prescribed hoop jumpings. Successful hoop jumpers are far too likely to become hoop setting leaders. Students taught "the old way" tend to reproduce that - or to flee the profession. Comply or Defy. (Pink, Daniel)

None of this is said to let individual educators off-the-hook - I believe in the moral responsibility of all of us to subvert the system in any way that we can - but I also know that real change requires system change. The "Prussian Model" plus the factory system of treating human children as industrial parts - championed by the Carnegie Foundation at the turn of the last century - are the dominant influences on every child entering an institution of American education today. The biggest influence? Of course it is home socio-economics. But the reason that remains the biggest influence is that every systemic part of our education system was designed from the start, and remains designed to, exacerbate those home differences and reward wealthy parents, instead of creating equitable opportunity.

Yes, everything. Age-based grades. Grade-level content. Grade-level "standards." "Common Core" curricula. Classroom shape. The early focus on symbolic languages. Classroom chairs. Standardized testing. The school clock and calendar. Homework. Many "behavior standards." The division of secondary content. The way we pay, or don't pay, attention to students. Our view of attention... All of it is designed to control who wins and who loses in a way which will protect, not reduce, the class divide in the United States (and in England, and elsewhere).

And if we want to change that, it is a political question. And if, as I believe, education is the most important thing a society does, then this is the political question.

So we need to ask the questions, every day, and of every leader. Really? as Yong Zhao recently asked, will the Common Core increase equity? What, exactly, is the point of "value added" assessment - other than to emphasize the "defective" nature of many incoming students? When we say "high standards," whose "standards" are these? When we insist on grade-level curriculum, or grade level content, who are we rewarding, and who are we hurting? When we insist on multiple years of algebra - or anything in particular - for secondary graduation, who are we turning into losers? When we create arbitrary behavioral standards - from insisting that children sit in horrible chairs to banning mobile phones - who gets the win?

The system affect is very difficult to escape from, as Ayn Rand and John Reed indicate. And the the system effect will stay with our children for their lifetimes. Change seems almost impossible.. but if we are responsible adults, change must occur as rapidly as possible.

- Ira Socol

04 October 2012

Changing Pedagogy vs. Teacher Identity

Those who watch my Twitter stream closely may understand that I cycle through two very different approaches to the night - either I stay awake "working" through the dark hours, fighting my way, or I hide as I did as kid, still mostly awake, just waiting for dawn when sleep can come...

Anyway, that's not the point...

But awake one late night I watched The Story of Louis Pasteur on Turner Classic Movies. And in that movie I realized something - that it took Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister forty years to convince the world's doctors to wash their hands. This seems - to us, as it did to Pasteur and Lister - a tiny thing with huge results, patients stopped dying at a 50% rate from infections, but it was massive because it threatened the entire self-image of the doctors. In order for the doctors to make this change - in order for them to stop killing half their patients - they had to admit that they were not quite the "healers" they imagined themselves to be. And the doctors of the 19th Century couldn't quite get there...

Joseph Lister explains the whole germ-infection thing...
Today, education is caught in the trap which suffocated medicine 150 years ago. Pedagogy and the structure of schooling does not change because so many of those who practice and lead it refuse to confront their egos and their self-images - and this ranges from the teacher who still uses worksheets and grades compliance to Arne Duncan, Michael Gove, and even Barack Obama.

And the result is... we are "killing" kids - both figuratively and literally.

Educators get caught in an awful "Anti-Virtuous" Cycle. So many did well in traditional schools for very traditional reasons. They were born to wealth and privilege, or they were born to educationally successful families. And/or, they simply are the kind of student "school" - that culture of compliance and passivity - enables.

Then, because "school" worked for them, they stayed in school - many teachers have never been anywhere else since heading off to nursery school/preschool: Primary, Secondary, University, Graduate School, Working in School, it is all they know, and they only know the schools they have succeeded in.

Thus, they mimic the teachers who honored them, and then... surprise, surprise... the kids who succeed in their classrooms, in their school buildings, are the kids most like them. This is powerful reinforcement, it ensures these educators that their life's successes are not the accidents of privilege but are because of their inherent superiority.

"It worked for me..."
So when we challenge the old pedagogies and old school structures we attack the entire self-image of these educators. We not only challenge their life's work as "educators" - we are in fact saying that often they are doing as much damage as good - but we are also challenging their entire identity and self-worth.

That's a big deal...

And it is a horribly destructive deal, just as the self-image of those ancient doctors was so destructive.

So we need to decide... who is more important in education? The kids or the recalcitrant teachers?

Because if we are going to move from replicators to design thinkers, we must move our focus from the needs of those who work in schools to the needs of those for whom schools exist. And beyond that, if we are to succeed where we have not, we must begin to see and understand that "user experience" of school from the perspective of those students for whom it is not working.

That's "design think." When Ford Motor Company decided to become truly competitive in the United States they really began to look at the choices made by all those who did not buy their cars. They focused on their "users," their customers, and they tossed out virtually every old management structure. Compare a 1995 Escort and a 2012 Focus, and you'll see the difference. They knew they had to win back all those who had walked away from their products... and we, in education, must win back all of those who - quite logically - walk away from our "product," literally and figuratively, every day. Just as General Motors spent years in denial, pretending they built cars people wanted, our schools live in denial, claiming that "there's something wrong" with all those kids who won't bother to pick up the passive parcels of knowledge we dump on their mental doorstep. Because we are so often part of that one third that waited for those parcels back in our day, we never stop to imagine why anyone wouldn't grab it.

So, here's the beginning... I am not going to pick on teachers or the teaching profession because I believe it to be the most important job in the world. But I am going to say that teachers must learn every day, from brain research, from observation, from great practitioners. And that learning must change their practice every day, otherwise, they are simply not demonstrating their learning.

And I will say that teacher excuses, "I don't have the time," "I'm busy," "I don't get paid enough for this," "We tried this before and it didn't work," can only be used by teachers who consistently accept those excuses from their students.

great teachers do not wait to do the right things

I understand - even if I don't really - that it is very hard to be told that you've been doing a "not very good" job. I don't really understand because people have told me that pretty much all my life. So, its ok... my goal is to keep changing every day so I do it better. But if you've never heard that before, I'm going to imagine that it's devastating. Maybe almost as devastating as it is to be student in a school which pays no attention to how you learn and what you need.
"Scientists are now discovering massive structural changes in the adolescent brain through extensive functional MRI scans, changes that apparently shake the internal mechanisms of a teenage brain to its roots. If this is true – and all the signs suggest that it is – these must be seen as essential evolutionary adaptations that ensure the survival of the human race by forcing teenagers to break away from their parents and teachers. “Get off my back,” adolescents down the ages have pleaded. “Leave me alone. Give me space.” Adolescence is about growing up and no longer thinking like a child. It’s about ceasing to be a clone. Sitting still (if only for part of the time!) may be an appropriate learning environment for the pre-pubescent child, but it is largely inappropriate for adolescents, whose biological pre-dispositions, we now know, urge them to find out things for themselves.

"And here is the crux of the present advanced world’s dilemma. Little more than 100 years ago, American psychologists started to define this rebelliousness of adolescence as a disease, an aberration that made teenagers a threat to themselves. Psychologists and educational bureaucrats alike concluded that something had to be done to prevent teenagers from threatening the carefully controlled world that teachers had created.

"Educational administrators saw only one answer to this problem: put adolescents into school for longer and longer, and give them so much studying to do that they wouldn’t have the time or energy to question what an adult society was actually doing to them.

"We’re still doing this today. Policymakers, with little background in the neurological processes, expected that, by the age of 22 or 23, the next generation of young people would have been “broken in” to the currently defined way of doing things. Their thinking resembled that of horse breeders who, until very recently, thought it necessary to break in a young foal after it had run relatively wild for two years. Now horse breeders carefully study the temperament of every foal, and then define unique training programs that build upon what each can do naturally. Human adolescents crave and deserve no less. Deep down, there stirs within them the urge to climb the mountains of the mind and see what possibilities lie before them; they are innately “big picture” thinkers and frequently upset older generations by questioning the compromised lives so many of us lead. That is their nature; it is what their brains have evolved to do. It is the apparently unreasonable dreams of adolescence that, years later, drive the progress of what we are proud to call our civilization. It has always been so." - Education Canada
- Ira Socol

01 October 2012

Art and Invention Across the Curriculum

Lights in the Night by Mark Carpenter and Dan Johnson

It is ArtPrize time in Grand Rapids, Michigan and this past weekend was the World Maker Faire at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing, Queens, New York, and it is a fascinating chance to "re-discover" Christopher Columbus on 59th Street in New York... and all of this adds up to some key questions about how we have failed in education by failing to embrace the arts fully enough.

Cities: Departure and Deviation - Milwaukee to Youngstown detail (above)
and New York, Newark, Philadelphia detail (below) Norwood Viviano

I sometimes note, from a historical perspective, that before Gutenberg and the Reformation and the Calvinist devotion to text, "the arts" were the dominant thing in - and form of - education. Symphonies and operas, frescoes and sculptures, choral works and theatre, storytelling and simple folksong were the ways in which culture was both transmitted and reimagined.

Disabilities and Sexuality by Robert Coombs
But our "western" schools were created principally by Protestant ministers - in the US by Calvinist New Englanders of Yankeedom - in British-influenced nations by the Anglican and Presbyterian class of industrialists - and thus became places of a single form of "reading" and "writing" with a definite hierarchy of subject matter we cling to still. A hierarchy with art, music, theatre and other creative arts at the bottom, or, if not quite at the bottom, only just above the workaday skills of every day life - how we make things.

So, neither Michael Gove nor Arne Duncan really gives a s*** about how your students are "doing" as artists and creators. Neither Pearson nor NewsCorp has figured out how to turn evaluations of the creative into profits which can then become campaign contributions, so it is of no interest to those who hold power in this time... but it is very important to me, to you, to our children, and to the future.

Columbus Tranformed and Reconceived: The statue of Christopher Columbus in New York City's
Columbus Circle (Gaetano Russo, 1892) is being cleaned and restored, but as it is,
it is being rediscovered and reconceived via artist Tatzu Nishi's incredible installation...
Our children will either grow up to be "consumers" or they will grow up to be "makers." They will either solve their own and society's problems or they will turn to someone else's "app store" to purchase a canned solution. They will either see possibility with an artist's eye or they will simply accept what is placed before them.

Which of those directions are our schools leading our children toward?

As I moved through ArtPrize, as I watched images from Maker Faire, as I looked around this weekend I wondered why art and the maker ethos do not dominate our school days? Isn't the Lights in the Night a magnificent way to express all kinds of science and aesthetics? Aren't giant Van de Graff generators another way? Who could imagine a more powerful way to see population growth and (perhaps) decline than the tactile glass are of Cities: Departure and Deviation? (you were perhaps thinking of a Microsoft generated chart?).

Who could force a more powerful conversation around Columbus Day than by - literally - placing the "great explorer" (or "great colonizer") into our living room and making us consider all that he did - intentionally and unintentionally? How could we open the conversation about "the disabled" being fully human - or not - than with Robert Coombs' photographs?

And what could mean more to students than to abandon the nonsense of the "five paragraph essay" and the arithmetic worksheet and to create - to make - their own explorations and explanations?

- Ira Socol