30 November 2010

Carnegie v. Gates: Centuries of Educational "Reform"

The Carnegie Library of Homestead, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
On a hill on the north side of the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh sits a remarkable public library. Actually not just a library, this incredible building, opened in 1898, includes a massive "Music Hall" and a full community athletic center, including a pool. It is a remarkable bequest to the "Steel Valley" community of western Pennsylvania from United States Steel pre-genitor Andrew Carnegie. But it was not just a good deed, it was a deep attempt at an apology.

The Library overlooks the waterfront site once occupied by the Homestead Steel Works, site of the nightmare Homestead Steel Strike of 1892, one of the low points of American industrial "democracy" - a moment when U.S. capitalists demonstrated exactly how little they thought of the society which had made them rich, and the U.S. government demonstrated that it belonged to wealth, and not the people.

Andrew Carnegie wanted to get into heaven, and unlike today's Christian capitalists, he did not believe his ruthless pursuit of profit and failure to support his society via taxes would get him there.

So once he sold the world's largest steel-making corporation to J.P. Morgan, he devoted much of his life to making amends for his commercial life by giving his money away. Much of this effort was directed toward education in the United States and the United Kingdom. He endowed universities and, of course, public libraries, and he created a foundation which came to dominate educational research in the 20th Century.

The Carnegie Corporation - and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching - funded, supported, and advocated for many commissions and reports which structured 20th Century education. Everything from the curricular structure of high school - in which Carnegie helped spread the Committee of Ten division and order of secondary subject matter - to the notion of high school credits and seat time ("Carnegie Units"), to the idea of generous retirement plans for teachers, were generated by these organizations carrying out the wishes of their benefactor.

Carnegie had massive wealth, and he used it to do the things which were important to him. Some seem like undeniable good works - those free libraries we all use. Others, the promotion of educational industrial standardization for example, now seem like disasters (and seemed disastrous at the time to educators such as Maria Montessori). This kind of agenda-setting power of the wealthy always seems a double-edged sword, but equally, it is always counter to the idea of democracy. Grand societal decisions occur via personal grants from an aristocracy, not through community decision-making or community effort.

Fast forward 100 years, and now data management is to American capitalism what steel-making once was. Not the non-contributory wealth-making of financiers like Jay Gould (then) or a Lloyd Blankfein (now), but massive engines of production, jobs, and great fortunes. And today's Andrew Carnegie - in some ways - is Bill Gates Jr. No, he wasn't born poor like Carnegie (he followed a more conventional 20th Century path to massive wealth, leveraging the advantages of being born wealthy). And I don't think he is motivated much be the fear of going to hell. But he does imagine himself as the great capitalist benefactor of today.

And while we all might find his efforts on global health to be laudable - like Carnegie's global peace initiatives - Gates' work in his home nation, on education, seem worse than Carnegie's mixed results. Perhaps that's because he isn't motivated by that fear of hell, perhaps it is because he is still motivated by egotism and greed. He believes - in Horatio Alger form - that he is not just an expert, but a morally good man, because he is very rich. Of course if his policies preserve his family's generational wealth advantage, that is all good too.

Diane Ravitch this week:
"The struggle for control of American education continues to evolve at a dizzying pace. I read that Bill Gates advised the Council of Chief State School Officers to eliminate seniority and tenure and recommended that schools stop spending to reduce class size and stop giving teachers extra money for master's degrees. He wants teachers to get paid based on "performance" (i.e., their test scores). I guess we are now seeing a full-court effort to impose the corporate model of school reform, and Gates is the leading spokesman.

"No, wait, I take that back, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said something very similar in a speech a day or two earlier, where he seemed almost happy to say that the days of wine and roses are over and schools must learn to do more with less. They seem to be sharing scripts. I don't know who is the leading spokesman.

"I can imagine some of Secretary Duncan's predecessors, such as Secretary Shirley Hufstedler or Secretary Richard Riley or commissioners of education such as Frank Keppel or Harold Howe saying something very different. I can imagine them going to the public and urging them to support more resources where they are needed and more equitable funding. I can hear them saying that we need to thank our hard-working teachers, and we need a stronger profession. But Secretary Duncan likes to win plaudits from the people who love to cut education budgets. Go figure. The eerie similarity between Secretary Duncan and Bill Gates makes me wonder who is running the Department of Education.

"Funny, about the same time I read Gates' demand to eliminate tenure (that is, the right to due process), I got a letter from a young teacher, expressing his concern about what was happening in his district. When I asked if I could post his letter on my website, he asked me not to use his name because he is untenured. This is not unusual. I have received hundreds of letters from teachers who have asked for anonymity, because they fear reprisals. Some are tenured, some are untenured.

"Since Gates is a multibillionaire, he can't possibly understand what it means to work in an environment where you might be fired for disagreeing with your boss. Nor can he possibly understand that schools are collaborative cultures that need senior teachers who are ready and willing to help newcomers. He can't imagine that school is different from Microsoft or other big corporations. Let's be honest. CCSSO and The New York Times pay attention to what Gates says because he is so rich. If he didn't run the biggest foundation in the world, if he wasn't one of the richest men in the world, would anyone care about his opinion of education? Really, who would care what he said if he were the chairman of the Whatzit Corporation and sold widgets?"
(you may want to read all of "Ravitch answers Gates")

It is not to overstate Gates' personal wealth or what that wealth can buy to suggest that he has become the engine driving the current corporate-based "reform" effort in education on two continents. His money lies behind a constant stream of misinformation spread from Seattle to Westminster. His ability to speak to any newspaper, any network, even almost any school - an ability based solely on his wealth, not any inherent capabilities or knowledge - make him a powerful voice no matter how misinformed he might be.

Today, we still live with many of Carnegie's mistakes: Our kids take Biology before Chemistry and Chemistry before Physics because Carnegie pushed a Committee of Ten curriculum based on alphabetical order, not logic or an understanding of learning. Algebra is an essential course rather than Logic because Carnegie needed to beef up secondary math. We equate "seat time" with knowledge because of a Carnegie report. But at least we have the libraries.

What damaging nonsense is Gates inflicting on the next hundred years? We can only guess right now. But whatever it is, it will not be a community's mistakes, decided through research and democracy. Rather it will be the blatherings of one rich guy - a guy who is incredibly wealthy mostly because he bought someone else's work and passed it off as his own.

He's calling the shots on our future. If we let him.

- Ira Socol

29 November 2010

Faux Nostalgia and the Damage it does to Education

The "Holiday Season" is here, and so is our annual high-point of faux historical belief, when nostalgia is mistaken for history. We imagine old "Colonial New England" Christmases with everyone gathered around the tree, forgetting that most of New England outlawed Christmas throughout the 18th Century as a "pagan holiday." We see Christmas Trees many places Christmas Trees would not have been before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert made them "Anglo-fashionable" in 1848. And we think of gift giving, a tradition brought to North America for the sixth of December (St. Nicholas Day) - more or less, as something which has always been part of the holiday. The American right-wing, forgetting that they usually belong to Christian denominations which once rioted to stop Christmas celebrations, treat all that we do now in December as if it was an essential part of 2,000 years of Western Tradition.
"On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after [St. Peter's Church near what is now "Ground Zero" in Manhattan] was built, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed by some in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens were injured, and a policeman was killed."
But at this high point in nostalgia for the never-was, we cannot forget the place where false memory might be most damaging, education. A while ago Tomaz Lasic, Dr. Greg Thompson, and I wrote a never-quite-finished series which began with the question: "Why is everyone an expert on education?"

It is a serious question, especially at a moment when New York State's chief education officer has once more caved to pressure from Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and allowed a "completely unqualified" person to take the job running New York City's public schools. What makes Cathie Black an expert on education? Or Joel Klein? Or Paul Vallas? Or Arne Duncan? Or Michelle Rhee? Or, for that matter, any of the thousands of recruits who will go into classrooms this year via Teach for America? Or, to move further down the road, the hundreds of thousands of parents who want schools to remain the same or return to some mythical "golden age"? (you know, homework and basics, desks in rows, "classroom discipline," et al)

Well, yes, what makes them experts - in their own eyes - is that they remember going to school.

But what, exactly, do they remember? And is any of their memory related to any understandable "truth"?

There seem to be two kinds of memory out there, both fundamentally flawed. Type one is dominant among the names I listed above. They went to "good schools," where they "did well," and hung out with other kids who, "did well," and they came home from school to some Leave it to Beaver-esque home with supportive parents. Actually, this is also the memory - however more recent - which Teach for America kids hold. School was good, and it was easy, we just have to be nice, smart people in front of the kids and everyone will get As on their tests.

Type two is more common among the type of low-income parent who signs their kid up for a KIPP Boot Camp. Here, school was terrible, but the terrible is - it has been taught by the media - the fault of the students themselves. They didn't have enough rules at home or in the classroom. They didn't work hard enough. They dressed badly and blew off their homework. If only they had done all these things right - think of that Horatio Alger image of Barack Obama and his mom in the wee hours of the morning doing tough schoolwork at the kitchen table - then they'd be successes today.
"I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.  

"Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."'
That is America's Horatio Alger myth in full flower. Failure is not a system issue. It is not because schools typically work in absolute opposition to the way kids learn. It is not because school is designed for compliant white Protestant middle class typically-abled children and the way they've been raised. Failure happens because you are a moral failure - because you didn't suffer enough. It is Calvinism gone wild. We ignore that Barack Obama was the child of not one, not two, but three super-intelligent, super-educated graduate students, in a family of college graduates, who attended elite private schools, and we stare instead at his miserable 4:30 a.m. suffering.

The myths are different, but both equally reinforce the current failed way of doing things. Both blame the children (and parents) for the problems and defend the essential structure. Both lead away from radical - effective - changes and back to conservative tinkering which imagines that schools as-we-know-them are some sort of natural creation of God's. And the combination - from the winners above and the losers at the "street" level - of these mythic faux memories block real change both legally (see The U.S. Department of Education), societally (see The New York Times), and even when principals and teachers try to truly improve things despite all that.

My father, who had a clearer memory than most, used to say, "Of course high school was 'better' back then [1930s], only the top third of kids ever made it past eighth grade." Then he'd say, "Those kids still do fine, in fact, they'd do fine if there wasn't school." And he'd point to my sister, the one who was the perfect student, who, if there was no school, would have sat in the library all day anyway. I suspect he said that mostly for my benefit. He knew I wasn't stupid. He knew I could work intensely hard. And he knew school was all wrong for me. Every day.

That's the reality. That was the reality. But just like Colonial Christmas in Boston was a full work day with slaves sweating and workmen shredding cold skin at hard labor, we recall it all differently. Unfortunately, misremembering history will never get us where we need to be.

- Ira Socol

22 November 2010

Blogging for Real Reform - Real Ideas, Not Faux Reform

Please go to http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/BRR2010 and stick your post on our wall...
More posts at Cooperative Catalyst where Paula White is tracking this a bit better than I.

Superintendents, Principals, Parents, Teachers, Technologists, Researchers, Professors, Students: A global education community seeking real transformation of education for our times. Different visions, different motivations, different ideas, but one commitment. Schools for student learning...
Also see the October 17th blogging event posts...

My post on ending age-based grade cohorts is just below... and on physical redesign, "The Third Technology"...

Looking at the day... Pam Moran - Superintendent Albemarle County Public Schools
                          and Dave Britten - Superintendent Godfrey-Lee Public Schools 
                          and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
The day's Twitter Feed Transcript

Chad Sansing: “Beep beep doot doot doot.” 

Adam Burk: "Education for Sane Planetary Citizenship"
Becky Fisher: "Effective at What? Effective for Whom?"
Mary Beth Hertz: "Take the Power Back: Teacher-Run Schools"
Paula White: "Planting… or Uncovering… Brilliance"
Ira David Socol: "Changing the Structure"
Ira David Socol: "The Third Technology"
Teacher Ken: "One educational reform I would like to see"
Dan McGuire: "e-portfolios will be central to the new form"
David Britten: "Real Reform Begins with Raising Expectations"
David Britten: "The Rule of Law
Pam Moran: "Imagine. November 22, 2010
Jon Becker: "To everything there is a season... except learning
Chris Lehmann: "What we can do: New Teachers"
Dan Callahan: "What #edcamp has to teach us about PD: A letter to administrators"

Gregory Hill: "Reform Your Perceptions of Geography and “Salvation”'
Miss Shuganah: "Don't Be Stingy or, Forming a Grassroots Organization to Save Public Education"
Stephen Hurley: "Re-Inventing The Learning Process: Really?"
Larry Ferlazzo: "The best lists on School Reform
Deven Black: "All This Talk of Reform is Making Me Cranky"
David Wees: "Reform Through Action"
David Wees: "Voices of Reform" - an open VoiceThread
John T. Spencer: "A humble reform"

Greta Sandler: "America needs Reflective Educators"
Shelly Terrell: "Education needs Reflective Educators"
Monika Hardy "Document...Reflect...Share"
Damian Bariexca: "Deschooling Education"
Michael Kaechele: "Real Reform Goes Backwards"

Ann Etchison: "Golf, Procedural Knowledge, and Ed Reform"
Tom Altepeter: "Justifying Injustice"
Mike Lubelfeld: "Educational Reform - changing the way(s) in which we always do things in public schools..."
Corrie H. Kelly: "“Drowning in shallow water”: How can we deepen literacy instruction?"
David Keane: "Students' Insights"
Kevin Hodgson: "Blogging for Real Education Reform: Empower Students"
Dave Meister: "Positive Reform, making it happen"
Jason Flom: "My Inner Pollyanna’s Ed Reform Blue Sky"
EdReformPR: "Zombies are attacking! Ready the children!"
Bill Bushaw: "National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform: PDK’s Commitment"
David Warlick: "Education Reform is Re-establishing, Redefining and Retooling"
Tony Baker: "Technology Training for Teachers - The Right Way"
Alice Mercer: "Blogging for Reform: First, let’s fire all the teachers…"
Michael Thornton: "Go beyond the Four Walls of the Classroom"
Jonathan Martin: "Computer-based Math: the silver bullet for Math education"
Steven W. Anderson: "#Blog4Reform-Slow Down And Take A Step Back..."
Jeremy Lenzi: "How can (I, you, we) work toward ed reform?"
Steve Barkley: "Teacher Evaluation"
Heidi Hass Gable: "Mixed Messages"
Eric Sheninger: "Passion Drives Us"
Ryan Woods: "Educational Dilemma - What's Important?"
Sabrina: "Whatever happened to promoting student ownership & responsibility?"
Chad Ratliff: "Are We Preparing Developers or Producers?"
Peter Pappas: "9 Questions for Reflective School Reform Leaders"
Kyle Pace: "The Passion Bug Is Spreading. Have You Ever Caught It?"
Lyn Hilt: "Win the Battle"
Lyn Hilt: "Loosen up (your hold on classroom management)"
Walter McKenzie: "From Drift to Shift: Celebrating the Transformation of Education"
EdVoices: "
Celebrate the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform on November 22"
Magistra Mahoney: "Experience Matters"
Stephanie: "Ed Reform – Critical Time To Truly Make Change Happen"
Jeff Delp: "Unfettered Educational Reform"
Chris Fancher: "National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform"
Chris Fancher: "God Bless Elementary School Teachers"
Gail Poulin: "Sharing Ideas in Teaching"
Mrs. Brophy: "Those that inspire…teach"
Tobe Buffenbarger: "$120,000 for 20 Years of Service?"
Lani Hall: "An appreciative vision"
Ruth Bettelheim: "Time for Schools to Stop Damaging Children"
Bob Sprankle: "Overlooking the Obvious"
Milena: "Data and Collaboration"
Bill Ivey: "So Close and yet So Far"
Bill Ferriter: "Testing is Destroying Schools"
David Truss: "Passion Driven Conversations"
David Truss: "Thinking about Change"
Vanessa Peters: "Preventing Reading Learning Disabilities"
Jeff Jarvis: "Who says our way is the right way?"
Chris Fritz: "The WHY, WHAT, and HOW of Real Education Reformation"
Rick Hess: "Even on IDEA's 35th, Special Ed Dollars Aren't Free"
Mrs. Ripp: "A Teaching Degree Does Not Make a Teacher"
Nancy Flanagan: "Sub-a-dub-dub"
Deanna Senn: "Research + Classroom Application = Real Ed Reform"
LeeAnn: "The Power of Integrated Curriculum"
Doug Peterson: "Blogging for Real Reform"
David Loitz: "It is about relationships, stupid"
David Loitz: "Transformation Plan: Designing Backwards"
Walt Sutterlin: "A Mission from the Heart"
Institute for Humane Education: "The World Becomes What You Teach: Transforming Our Education Systems to Graduate Solutionaries for a Better World"
EduRebel: "Real Ed Reform"
Nicole: "How I would change education"
Mr. Zimmer: "America's next best teacher"
Kathy: "Education for Profit and Its Nexus with the DPVA Decision"
Moriarity: "Blog4Reform"
Michael Sweeney: "Should we be good at school?"
Laura Thomas: "Real Reform"
Kristin: "Should we be good at school?"
Rafaela Ramirez: "Do I have to good at school in order to be successful?"
Amanda Brooks: "Should we be good at school?"
Ashley Alexander: "Should we be good at school?"
Nick2.0: "Should we be good at school?"
Jason Tarpey: "Should we be good at school?"
McMan: "Irrelevant?"
Shelley Owen: "My Rants and Praises"
Carolyn Foote: "21st Century Education is the Real reform"
Bonitadee: "What is our Purpose?"
Mike Klonsky: "The trend for appointing CEOs to top ed jobs"
Julie Woestehoff: "National Education Blogging Day"
Julie Woestehoff: "School Funding and the Kindness of Strangers"
The Frustrated Teacher: "KIPP Should Change Its Name To CIPP: Updated"
Dana Bennis: "Ten elements of a good education"
Robert Skeels: "Governor Elect Brown: Please remove Ben Austin from the State Board of Education"
Cian Sawyer: "And I'm not saying there's only one way..."
David Timony: "No, #Reform is not "Trending"'
Richard Lakin: "44 Words which Bear Repeating"
Adrianne Stone: "The “New Normal” of Sec. Duncan"
Ann Leaness: "We Stand Beside Them and Learn"
Garden337: "A moment for education"
Eric Juli: "Name your reform"
Mary Rice-Boothe: "One size does not fit all"
Rick Glass: "Creative Courage"
Lauralee Moss: "Normalcy of Public Schools"
Pam Lowe: "Keeping what's important in focus"
Chris Liebig: "What is "content"?"
Kelly Tenkely: "Education doesn’t need any more Nip Tuck: Our Normal Approach is Useless Here"
Frank Noschese: "Science for 21st Century Students"
Milton Ramirez: "US National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform"
Renee Moore: "Taking charge of our profession (again)"
Yoon Lim: "Learning for pleasure, seriously"
Stella Porto: "Blogging for Real Education Reform"
David Andrade: "Incompetent Teachers or Dysfunctional Systems? Fix the system to support the teachers."
David Andrade: "Excellent Education Model - WPI's Plan"
ZebBassoon: "There Is NO "Magic Bullet"; "Superman" Does Not Exist"
J. Robinson: "Is It Reform or Is It Memorex? Nature of True Education Reform"
Charlie Sutherland: "Schools a third way"
Zoe Branigan-Pipe: "Teaching Teachers to become Global Educators – an inquiry approach"
Paula Naugle: "Transform to Reform"
ITeachQ: "My #blog4reform suggestions"
Tyler Rice: "What I want from my union"
Tyler Rice: "Reform Education - one classroom at a time"
Donna Mace: "Even in failure the St. Johns County public school system got it right"
Shullamuth: "Re Form: Why Libraries are the Future of School."
Jennifer Sertl: "Fostering Passion and Curiosity"
Cathleen Richardson: "“What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying” '
Shelley Krause: "Mind the Gap"
Sarah Puglisi: "Yeah, Maybe It's ALL about Finland"
David B. Cohen: "Education Reform Tragedy, and Catharsis"
Casey Corona: "The Collective Individual"
Adam Fletcher: "A New Vision for Students in School Reform"
Chad Sansing: "Gowalla and the virtual geography of learning"
Eric Brunsell: "On Education Reform - Equity"
Carrie Bakken: "Minnesota teacher to Secretary Duncan: To improve teaching, put teachers in charge"
Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba: "Describing teacher-run schools in a Teacher Magazine interview"
Nicole Pelton: "Obsessing over education"
Mark Ahlness: "Trust Me"
Tamar Wyschograd: "One parent's story of one school"
Shelley Wright: "Taking the plunge"
Marla McLean Atelierista: "An Awakening of Sorts"
Ryan J. Wassink: "Ryan's Recipe 4 Reform"
Anne O'Brien: "Reform Education: Get Rid of the “Students as Widgets” Mentality"
Scott McLeod: "If we were really serious about educational technology"
"Arne Duncan" [ED.gov]: "Making Real Progress on School Reform"

I will keep building this throughout the day...

- Ira Socol

21 November 2010

Changing the Structure: Blogging for Real Reform

Please go to http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/BRR2010 and stick your post on our wall...
And read all today's posts there... http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/BRR2010
Please also link your post at http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/ideas/ Wallwisher is failing us today.

This is not the first time I have said this, but it is the thought which must begin any conversation about truly "re-forming" our education system. The system in use in the United States, in Canada, in the United Kingdom, in Australia, in Ireland, et al, was designed to fail 75% to 80% of students. The idea, whether the builders were Henry Barnard and Ellwood Cubberley or Henry Brougham and William Edward Foster, was to find a very few students who might arise from the lower classes while consigning most students to the mills and mines of 19th Century industrial society.

So, if our schools are only failing 50% to 65% of students - as they are - the system is already performing way above its design capabilities. "We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." - Woodrow Wilson

The heart of this "designed to fail" system is the "age-based grade." The notion that student "raw material" is brought in at age five, and after 12, 13, 14 "stampings" with "grade-level expectations," that "raw material" will be transformed into a "value-added product," a manufactured worker-citizen designed to fit into the proper slot in the capitalism of the second industrial revolution.

Age-based grades guarantee that no one who "starts behind" - the poor or anyone else not born to class and power - will ever catch up. Since grade level expectations are a step-by-step ladder, unless the people ahead of you fall off, you will never catch them or pass them. Age-based grades create disability - if you differ in developmental speed grade level expectations ensure that you will be labelled "retarded." And age-based grades enforce the dominance of the white, Protestant, "middle class," because it is those norms which grade level expectations turn into rules - what those in power are good at becomes the measurement system - all others will find themselves permanently behind.

Age-based grades do one more thing - by forcing the industrial process of stampings and standards on education it labels failure the fault of either the production line workers - teachers - or the quality of the raw material - students and their parents. Those in power are never at fault. No wonder Michelle Rhee nor Joel Klein nor Arne Duncan can ever find fault with either themselves or the structure of the system.

Change anything else without doing away with the tyranny of age-based grades and your reform will fail because students will never be allowed to truly develop as humans - at a rate and in a pattern appropriate for their own needs. Only when you toss out this industrial structure - the Prussian Model - can teachers and students really begin to re-imagine school.

Don't believe the myths. Age-based grades were neither inevitable nor scientifically discovered. Before the mid-19th Century most schools were a mix of all ages gathered in one room. Students began when they began - both at age and at time of day (when chores were completed) - and they moved at their own rate, mentored by more advanced students. I'm not claiming these were perfect places - they were not in any way - but they did not expect every 5-year-old to be doing the same thing, or every 12-year-old. They did not measure via "standards" or "bell curves." They did not judge attendance or presume that everyone was "following the teacher with their eyes."

The Ivy League in the U.S. and the feeder private schools
(see Geoge W. Bush and John Kerry) are modelled on
England's "Public Schools" - a way to ensure that the
wealthy remain in control.
The Prussian Model was brought to English-speaking nations (and others) not for educational purposes but for industrial capacity. As the German Empire needed compliant worker-soldiers (raised step-by-step and separated into cannon-fodder, non-coms, and officers), so the United States and the British Empire needed compliant worker-citizens (separated into manual laborers, clerks, managers). Real education, in all three environments, was the work of private tutors and elaborate schools for the children of the wealthy.

That "real education," with plenty of room for creativity, individual development, and second chances, contrasts sharply with the increasingly reductionist "back to basics" platform hawked by our elites for all the "other" kids. But then, those children of the rich and powerful are being groomed to be leaders, not the followers Michelle Rhee and Cathie Black hope to create, so they are allowed to develop appropriately, allowed to be children, and allowed to cultivate a variety of skills.

So, what to do: First, all standardized tests based in "grade-level expectations" or age need to be eliminated. Obviously, it is incredibly difficult to break up these age-based cohorts if teachers' jobs and school reputations are based in test results based in age. Second, our curricula need to be re-designed around expected competencies - skills, knowledge-base, etc - that our students can check off as they move through an individualized study program in a multi-age environment. Third, every student needs an individualized education plan - not just "Special Needs" kids. The notion of "mass Instruction"is inextricably tied to the industrial educational model, but kids are humans, not interchangeable parts on Eli Whitney's or Henry Ford's assembly lines.
America's private schools and Ivy League colleges only
look more diverse these days, in reality their students
represent a single socio-economic class. 2% of the
population but controlling the majority of wealth.

Fourth, we must think about those multi-age environments. Whether the U.S. K-8 then High School system, the classic British Reception-Year Six Primary followed by Secondary (or Secondary plus Further), or Infant Schools, Junior Schools, Secondary Schools - we need to experiment with the best ways to create these multi-age mixes, and we need to - probably - develop a choice for kids in every neighborhood public school between large multi-teacher, many child classrooms and smaller group single-teacher classrooms. For in this future, one-size still will not fit all.

And fifth, we must embrace the contemporary technologies which support individualizing education. One-to-one computing, with individually, task-chosen technologies (including handheld), allow children to move and learn as they need. Embracing these technologies means abandon our inordinate concern with "how" kids do things (handwriting, reading only via ink-on-paper, etc) and instead focus on what they are doing, and what they are learning.

When our current systems of education were constructed, they were designed to fail the vast majority of students, and the first step in doing that was to separate students into age-based grade cohorts with rigid curricular standards - ensuring that anyone who fell behind would never catch up. Those systems, with their "retarded labels," their "retention" issues, their "age appropriate"dumbing down of study, remain the key impediment to truly "re-forming" education.

Start by breaking that failed system. Then we can move ahead.

- Ira Socol

Thanks to all who are participating in this international day of blogging for real educational reform. You can post your blog's link in the comments here, or - preferably - post it to our Wallwisher page.
Please inform your elected representatives and your local and national media of our efforts today. Get everybody reading, everybody talking. The Twitter hashtag is #blog4reform. Also link your post via comment at http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/ideas/

16 November 2010

November 22 - Blogging for Real Reform

Copy this logo and add it to your post
The need for real conversation about the future of "organized learning" has never been greater.

In the United States, in Australia, in the United Kingdom, in Ireland, Canada, and elsewhere we have two forces battling over education.

We hear constantly from the first group, which includes some of the wealthiest and most powerful people on earth and the biggest corporations - Oprah Winfrey, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, General Electric, many Ivy Leaguers, and a bunch of ultra-rich hedge fund managers. This group has proclaimed themselves the saviors of our schools, and with their vast resources, they have squeezed all dissenting views out of the national media.
Their essential idea is that, education being an industrial process, if it is not working, it must be the fault of some combination of the raw material(the students) or the production line workers (the teachers). (see the pathetic Rhee/Klein manifesto for the ultimate version of this, as many have pointed out)

This presentation of the problem ensures that the system - which has always worked well for the rich and powerful - does not change. Plus, as a side-benefit, it destroys unions and forces unsuccessful communities onto a treadmill which guarantees that they will never catch up.

But there is another group, and another narrative. This narrative arises from people with more experience in education than Michelle Rhee's two years in Baltimore or being handed a job without qualifications by Richard Daley, Mike Bloomberg, or even Barack Obama. This is a student-centered narrative of systemic change. It is a narrative which understands the fundamental issues facing our students. A narrative which understands, in the words of the Sacramento (CA) schools, that "there is no magic bullet to our problems, no easy answers. But collectively and collaboratively, I believe we have enough power to change the lives of the children we serve." We can't get NBC or Oprah or The New York Times or even Barack Obama to pay attention yet, but we can start the conversation from below.

I'm asking you, those who know schools, and who seek real reform, to blog with me and others on Monday, November 22, 2010. Describe the change you think education needs - in America, in the UK, in Australia, in Ireland, in Canada, wherever. The date is "American" - it is designed to push the conversation as those in the US gather with their families for Thanksgiving, but the idea is globally important.

"Let’s make sure our voices are heard on and after November 22. [says Dr. Pamela Moran]. The American Association of School Administrators and the Virginia ASCD both have taken a public stand to say, “let’s continue this call to action in the social media world” by supporting the November 22 date on their websites. Paula White, @paulawhite, of the cooperative catalyst graciously has set up a site for archiving links.

"Our links from November 22 need to make a sound beyond our “forest.” Let’s not just write, but also share work with local media, national media, politicians everywhere, the Secretary of Education and the President of the United States. Our educational associations, many of whom have a social media presence today, need to hear us. We know the names, the emails, the twitter addresses, and blogs of those who need to hear educators’ voices. We just need to share."

If you add a link to your post in the comments section of the "Blogging for Real Reform" post which will appear here on November 21, I will link to it - whether we agree or not - no matter what you say - short of hate speech. And then I'll ask you send your blog post, and a link back to the collection, to as many of your local news sources, and local leaders, as you can.

Please. Let's take back the discussion, let's take back the agenda. *a diploma from Sidwell Friends is not required to participate in this event

- Ira Socol

12 November 2010

The Bad Guys: Part One - Dr. Paul Peterson

A long time ago I urged us to "look behind the curtain" in that Wizard of Oz sense in order to understand who was promoting what I'd call "the wrong things" in education - and why.

Why does Walmart want to support Michelle Rhee? Why does Rupert Murdoch want with NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg's schools chancellor? Why do those who fund George W. Bush's lifestyle want non-teachers as principals?

And who provides intellectual "cover" for these initiatives?

"Paul Peterson is the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Editor-In-Chief of Education Next, a journal of opinion and research."

I asked Diane Ravitch one night why Harvard University seemed to be the source of so much anti-child, anti-teacher, anti-learning "educational theory." I think that was an important question because in America, when something says "Harvard" on it, people tend to assume validity. And so what spills from Harvard Yard these days - despite much evidence that shaky practices are common there - matters in public perception.

And Ms. Ravitch gave me one name: Paul Peterson, suggesting that he wielded significant power over Harvard's educational research agenda.
"Paul E. Peterson, the Henry Shattuck professor of government at Harvard University, is best known in education circles for his controversial studies on school voucher programs. But Peterson has also played a major role in recruiting and mentoring a new generation of scholars who are making their own mark in education debates. Most of them, like Peterson, are political scientists challenging public education's core conventions, and most of them, like Peterson, advocate choice, competition, and other market-based reforms.

'"A large percentage of the people doing research in education that I would consider outside the mainstream have a connection to Paul," says Terry Moe, a Stanford University political science professor and co-author of an influential 1990 study advocating market-based reforms in elementary and secondary education. "They are generally more critical of the existing system and more willing to challenge its basic structure."

"These include people like Moe and John Chubb, Moe's co-author of Politics, Markets and America's Schools and now a vice president of Edison Schools Inc., a for-profit school management company; Frederick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and Marci Kanstoroom, both executive editors of Education Next, a journal critical of the educational status quo published by Stanford's Hoover Institution that Peterson edits; Jay P. Greene, head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; Bryan C. Hassel, a private consultant and expert on charter schools; and Kenneth K. Wong, director of the Urban Education Policy Program at Brown University."
Now Peterson, like so many favored by today's faux "reformers" is not someone trained in education. He seems to have spent a year hanging out in Stanford University's School of Education, but, you know, I've walked around there too. Essentially he's a right wing political scientist who, after years of trying to increase inequality in America through other means, stumbled on education. He kicked around the fringes of anti-national political theory from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s (with some forays into anti-public schooling), then, if his CV is to be believed, he found his voice as a pro-school voucher, anti-public school advocate funded through grants from right-wing think tanks.

It has been a profitable endeavor for him, as it has for his fellow travellers, from Paul Vallas to Arne Duncan, from Michelle Rhee to Joel Klein. It is such a profitable path, in fact, that a highly paid publishing executive will quit the lucrative role of telling teen-age girls how to have sex in order to follow that route beginning as Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools.

And Peterson, collecting paychecks from Harvard, Stanford, and (probably) the U.S. Department of Education, is doing especially well.

As are his disciples, now spread through right-wing publicity mills and for-profit educational groups.

What is Peterson's agenda? Who pays for it? Why is Harvard joined to the Hoover Institution on this and not, for example, the Stanford School of Education or Columbia University's Teachers College?

After all, we know that students have no money, poor parents have no money, but that the people funding Peterson and pals have a lot of cash. And when people pay for research... well, you've heard of Vioxx, right?

- Ira Socol

11 November 2010

Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month...

At 0500 hours of "French Time" on the 11th of November, 1918 representatives of the new socialist German government and those of the British, French, Italian, and American governments signed an Armistice ending hostilities on the "Western Front" of The Great War. This cessation of battle would begin six hours later, on the "Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month."
Official Radio from Paris - 6:01 A.M., Nov. 11, 1918. Marshal Foch to the Commander-in-Chief.

1. Hostilities will be stopped on the entire front beginning at 11 o'clock, November 11th (French hour).
2. The Allied troops will not go beyond the line reached at that hour on that date until further orders.
5:45 A.M.          

In the United States, where even Vietnam is a forgotten bit of ancient history, "Veterans Day" is simply part of the early Christmas sales period. In Britain "Remembrance Day" will involve two minutes of silence and a day of the "coalition" government cutting benefits for those in need. France, where the so many of the battles of 1914-1918 were fought and the scars are still visible across that nation's northern landscapes, the day will be different...
"Here in France, Armistice Day will be observed in silence. The shops are closed, the roads empty. (The boulangerie will open this morning, it even opens on Christmas Day; fresh bread daily for every citizen is embedded in the French psyche since the revolution!) At 11am every village memorial will be surrounded by a solemn and silent group of aged men and women."
How can you bring this day's meaning to life in your classroom? Perhaps with one bit of writing, writing which challenges conceptions of both war and representation as that war challenged society - producing "The Lost Generation" and modern literature. This is the last chapter of John Dos Passo's book 1919, part of his U.S.A. Trilogy, and it merges the multiple formats which form those books... fictionalized narrative, biography, found poetry ("Newsreel"), personal narrative ("The Camera Eye") into an autobiography of the unknown soldier.

What does this say about war, about witness, about authorship, about narrative? Why would war - total war - challenge even punctuation? And if you are reading The Great Gatsbythis year, what does this say about Jay Gatz?

- Ira Socol

The Body of an American

Whereasthe Congressoftheunitedstates byaconcurrentresolutionadoptedon the4thdayofmarch last-authorizedthe Secretaryofwar to cause to be brought to theunitedstatesthe body of an American whowasamemberoftheAmericanexpeditionaryforceineuropewholosthis lifeduringtheworldwarandwhoseidentityhasnot beenestablished for burial inthememorialamphitheatreofthe nationalcemeteryatarlingtonvirginia
Unknown Soldier

In the tarpaper morgue at Chalons-sur-Marne in the reek of chloride of lime and the dead, they picked out the pine box that held all that was left of

enie menie minie moe plenty of other pine boxes stacked up there containing what they’d scraped up of Richard Roe

and other person or persons unknown. Only one can go. How did they pick John Doe? . . .

how can you tell a guy’s a hundredpercent when all you’ve got’s a gunnysack full of bones, bronze buttons stamped with the screaming eagle and a pair of roll puttees?

. . . and the gagging chloride and the puky dirtstench of the yearold dead . . .

The day withal was too meaningful and tragic for applause. Silence, tears, songs and prayer, muffled drums and soft music were the instrumentalities today of national approbation.
Unknown Soldier

John Doe was born (thudding din of blood of love into the shuddering soar of a man and a woman alone indeed together lurching into and ninemonths sick drowse waking into scared agony and the pain and blood and mess of birth). John Doe was born

and raised in Brooklyn, in Memphis, near the lakefront in Cleveland, Ohio, in the stench of the stockyards in Chi, on Beacon Hill, in an old brick house in Alexandria Virginia, on Telegraph Hill, in a halftimbered Tudor cottage in Portland the city of roses,

in the Lying-In Hospital old Morgan endowed on Stuyvesant Square,

across the railroad tracks, out near the country club, in a shack cabin tenement apartmenthouse exclusive residential suburb;

scion of one of the best families in the social register, won first prize in the baby parade at Coronado Beach, was marbles champion of the Little Rock grammarschools, crack basketballplayer at the Booneville High, quarterback at the State Reformatory, having saved the sheriff’s kid from drowning in the Little Missouri River was invited to Washington to be photographed shaking hands with the President on the White House steps;—

* * * * *

though this was a time of mourning, such an assemblage necessarily has about it a touch of color. In the boxes are seen the court uniforms of foreign diplomats, the gold braid of our own and foreign fleets and armies, the black of the conventional morning dress of American statesmen, the varicolored furs and outdoor wrapping garments of mothers and sisters come to mourn, the drab and blue of soldiers and sailors, the glitter of musical instruments and the white and black of a vested choir

— busboy harveststiff hogcaller boyscout champeen cornshucker of Western Kansas bellhop at the United States Hotel at Saratoga Springs office boy callboy fruiter telephone lineman longshoreman lumberjack plumber’s helper,

worked for an exterminating company in Union City, filled pipes in an opium joint in Trenton, N.J.

Y.M.C.A. secretary, express agent, truckdriver, fordmechanic, sold books in Denver Colorado: Madam would you be willing to help a young man work his way through college?

Unknown Soldier

President Harding, with a reverence seemingly more significant because of his high temporal station, concluded his speech:

We are met today to pay the impersonal tribute;

the name of him whose body lies before us took flight with his imperishable soul . . .

as a typical soldier of this representative democracy he fought and died believing in the indisputable justice of his country’s cause . . .

by raising his right hand and asking the thousands with the sound of his voice to join in the prayer:

Our Father which art in heaven hallowed by thy name . . .

* * * * *

Unknown Soldier

John Doe’s

heart pumped blood:

alive thudding silence of blood in your ears

down in the clearing in the Oregon forest where the punkins were punkincolor pouring into the blood through the eyes and the fallcolored trees and the bronze hoopers were hopping through the dry grass, where tiny striped snails hung on the underside of the blades and the flies hummed, wasps droned, bumble-bees buzzed, and the woods smelt of wine and mushrooms and apples, homey smell of fall pouring into the blood,

and I dropped the tin hat and the sweaty pack and lay flat with the dogday sun licking my throat and adamsapple and the tight skin over the breastbone.

The shell had his number on it.

* * * * *

The blood ran into the ground.

The service record dropped out of the filing cabinet when the quartermaster sergeant got blotto that time they had to pack up and leave the billets in a hurry.

The identification tag was in the bottom of the Marne.

The blood ran into the ground, the brains oozed out of the cracked skull and were licked up by the trenchrats, the belly swelled and raised a generation of blue-bottle flies.

and the incorruptible skeleton,

and the scraps of dried viscera and skin bundled in khaki

they took to Chalons-sur-Marne

and laid it out neat in a pine coffin

and took it home to God’s Country on a battleship

and buried in a sarcophagus in the Memorial Amphitheatre in the Arlington National Cemetery

and draped the Old Glory over it

and the bugler played taps

and Mr. Harding prayed to God and the diplomats and the generals and the admirals and the brasshats and the politicians and the handsomely dressed ladies out of the society column of the Washington Post stood up solemn

and thought how beautiful sad Old Glory God’s Country it was go have the bugler play taps and the three volleys made their ears ring.

Where his chest ought to have been they pinned

the Congressional Medal, the D.S.C., the Medaille Militaire, the Belgian Croix de Guerre, the Italian gold medal, the Vitutea Militara sent by Queen Marie of Rumania, the Czechoslovak war cross, the Virtuti Militari of the Poles, a wreath sent by Hamilton Fish, Jr., of New York, . . . . All the Washingtonians brought flowers.

Woodrow Wilson brought a bouquet of poppies.

08 November 2010

Of time and technology...

"It's half seven in the morning and I'm still hoping some big flood of snow is going to come so that I can miss school," I read on a blog one day. "Krish was convinced that he would catch “his girl” the next day around quarter to seven in the evening, as it was around that time he saw, rather gawked at her for the first time," I found on another blog.

So, what time is it? And how are we teaching kids the telling of time?
"I was sitting in the train going home the other day when the man opposite me leant over and said: "Excuse me, but have you got the right time?"

I glanced at my watch, said: "It's 13 minutes past six."

"That's interesting," he said.

"Interesting?" I said. (I should know better by now than to say things like that to people who are clearly looking for the merest toehold in order to clamber into a conversation.)

"Yes," he said. "It's interesting that you said '13 minutes past six' and that you didn't say '6.13pm' or 'nearly quarter past six' or indeed '18.13 hours'. There are so many different ways to say the time."

"Yes," I said, instead of the "So what?" which I really meant.

"Which is unfair on the young."

"I'm sorry?"

"Don't be sorry," he said. "It's not your fault."

"I'm not sorry," I said. "I only said I was sorry as a way of saying that I didn't understand what you were driving at."

"If only we all said what we really meant," he said, "we'd do a lot better."

"If we all said what we really meant," I said, "we wouldn't have any friends left, and we would be reduced to striking up conversations with total strangers on trains."

There was a strained pause. I relented. "So, why is it unfair on the young?"

"Well," he said, "because young people have become used to telling the time from their mobile phones or computers, and it is always done in terms of digits. 10.47, they say. 3.27. 1.04. A mobile phone never tells you that it is a quarter to seven."


"But we don't talk like that. For the most part, we don't go around saying 'It's 6.45 pm'. We say 'It's a quarter to seven'."

An "old school" flip clock app for your computer.
Except this conversation is wrong. Because, as is obvious from the very first paragraph of this piece from the Independent in 2006, "we" no longer say, "it's a quarter to seven," unless we define "we" as a certain subset of the population - certain people born before 1980.

In fact, "old school" for clocks is now represented by the late 1970s flip clock technology. It is on my phone. It is on many computers. That concept of all those little paddles flipping over is "steam punk" in the 21st Century.

So now - in an age when the wrist watch has shifted from tool to jewelry - we look at our phone or our computer and we say, "it's 6.13," or, "it's 7:35," using periods or colons as markers of our preferred side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Does this represent a collapse of either our language skills or our numeracy skills? Shouldn't we still be teaching the "analog" clock face and the older language of time?

I think not. After all, both of those simply represent an earlier conversion of human experience by technology. There's no intellectual, moral, or linguistic superiority in being able to read a circular gauge vs. reading a numeric image, nor in using the language of pictures vs. the language of numerals - as long as everyone fully understands what information is being transmitted.

"It's half seven in the morning and I'm still hoping some big flood of snow is going to come so that I can miss school."

Eleanor of Aquitaine with two of her sons and the 12 day Christmas Candle. It is what date and time?
Lots of time telling devices - and the languages fostered by those technologies - have come and gone over human history, from Stonehenge to the sundial. Both of those, of course, can prove difficult to use, especially with daylight savings time and other such contemporary twists. And the same is becoming true of the circular clock face and its "steam punk" phrases - "quarter to," etc (funny, why didn't we say "it's a third past"? - Christian Trinity and all...).

So when I sat in an elementary school last week and saw a lesson on time and quarter hours I wondered why we were still doing that - other than, in this case, mandates from the Commonwealth of Virginia? So I asked teachers sitting near me, and only one in five still tended to use those old terms.

There is a lovely antiquity, I suppose, in the nature of that circular clock. But it encourages imprecion and confusion, and barely is used anymore in a functional way.

So why are we teaching it?

- Ira Socol