I Guess Reflection is Important

readysetscilogo3I’ve spent the past semester, for the first time in my career, working with science TEACHERS. Teachers, not students. It’s a change I guess I always knew in the back of my mind was coming, it just didn’t hit me that this is what I wanted to be doing until  I really got into it.

So, what has been my most profound realization after the first few months: reflection is important, and I can’t stop reflecting on how teaching and learning in the 21st century needs to change. In working with teacher candidates (TCs), it really has become evident why new teachers become so much like the teachers from yester-year. I’m not going to go into this too much, it’s been documented before (Lortie, 1975). The model of how we prepare future teachers has many obstacles to overcome. The most profound is the muddled relationship that is the TC and his/her cooperating teacher (CT). In being in someone else’s classroom, with his or her students and his or her classroom procedures, it can become quite challenging. On top of this, the manner in which teachers are placed with CT’s is a real crap shoot in itself to begin with. It really is luck of the draw. There are many factors that impact where TC’s get placed, and it is less than ideal. If teacher training programs are to change, I can envision many more effective ways in which we can get future teachers in a classroom with students (though not practical right now).

So, how does this happen with student teachers and in-service teachers? I don’t know the answer to this, but I think it starts with the “WHY?”. I’m anticipating a talk next week by Simon Sinek (How great leaders inspire action) at the MN Ties conference. You can check out my schedule HERE. I can see how this applies to education in so many ways. Another individual, John Moravec (who I’m connecting with in January) has a talk (Leapfrogging toward knowmad society) that is also related. I’m so focussed in most of my thinking on big scale change. In talking with TC’s, I can see that I’m quite comfortable discussing teaching strategies and love the help and guidance that I’m able to provide, but yet can still find myself thinking larger scale. How will this large scale change come? That’s the path that I’m on trying to discover an answer to.

One thing I know for sure is that writing blogposts such as this aids in my thinking so much. We constantly preach to our TC’s about it, and I’ve understood its importance for a while now; but never really appreciated it as much as I do now that I’m encouraging others to do it as well.

To wrap up, in my first semester of grad school, I’ve learned how to use Dream Weaver and am in the process of giving the blog a face lift (see the logo above). I’m working on a project involving the Minnesota River (see logo to the left) and creating professional development opportunities for teachers using some sweet technologies. I’m anticipating this being my dissertation research. I’m presenting a  paper next semester at the ASTE conference in South Carolina. I’m looking at teacher reflection using video annotation software. I’m following 20 scholarship winners who are current science or math teachers in the  Metro. I’m quickly knocking down the credits as my coursework continues to fall into place. And of course, the fabulous TC’s I’m supervising and working with too have impacted me tremendously as well. I couldn’t be happier in my professional life at this time.

And We’re Off

The new school year is upon us and for the first fall since 2005, I am not in a science classroom teaching. This, to say the least, is a bit strange. I always knew I’d be teaching in a secondary classroom for 5 years or so, but now that this time has passed, I’m a bit unsure who what exactly it is I do. So it seems that right now I’m up to 3 things: a full-time graduate student working on his doctorate in Learning Technologies, a student teacher supervisor, and a graduate research assistant tracking past grant award winners for the grant itself.

I’m very excited about all 3 and also very excited about my new schedule which is much more flexible and allowing me the time and energy to participate in more Web 2.0 happenings. One that I recently partook in was the Learning 2.0 Virtual Conference which I found out about via their email listserv which I highly recommend getting on for weekly updates on talks by educators from all walks of life. The two keynotes which I listened to via recordings on iTunes were Yong Zhao and Sugata Mitra.

The former discussed “Product Oriented Learning” and the difference between making sausage and bacon in today’s education landscape. Product Orientated Learning as opposed to Project Based Learning, which far to often turn into search and find webquests online, is a teaching strategy which involves designing curriculum in which students create something during or as a culmination of the lesson such as a song, structure, visual media, or video for example. This Zhao argues is crucial; as students need to ability to create and be creative if they want to be 21st century citizens. He details this more in the keynote and his latest book. Interestingly enough he also talks about the creation of a new working class in this country. The “black tie” class (a term coined from the late Steve Jobs) is a society’s creative class. This was by far the most interesting part of the talk as he discussed the division of labor in the future and the implications this paradigm shift needed to have in education today. He also claims that while the U.S. has had successes doing this in the past; it needs a more concentrated effort in the future. This is where he makes the analogy of poorly making sausage and therefore, having some bacon being able to be made as a result. However, with the push more more assessment and common core standards on the horizon, he feels the sausage maker will become more efficient and less and less bacon (Steve Jobs & Lady Gaga’s) will be ‘made’. All and all a great thought-provoking talk that’s worth putting on your iPod and listening too.

Lastly, Mitra’s talk, which was really a more detailed conversation about his “hole in the wall” TED Talk from last year discussed the De-materialization of banks, audiograms (not sure on the spelling here, but think a record player that’s as big as a safe), and money. He seems to be pointing in the direction of teachers (at least teachers in rural and poor areas) going away at some point due to the high rate of teacher attrition in those areas. The best teachers, tend not to stay in areas where it is most challenging to teach. This then, ties into his research involving “self-organized learning”, which I won’t go into more detail about. He also details a great example of someone posing as an accountant and simply teaching themselves the how-to’s of being one while creating a successful career.
Both talks have really been shaping my thinking lately of the purpose of education and I’d highly recommend them both in sequence.

Better Thank a Teacher

I recently sent out an email to my favorite teacher of all time from grade school. It was just something I felt compelled to dImageo after realizing how valuable it has been for me over the past 5 years to talk with and get updates from previous students. I share the email and response below. If you get the urge to do the same, you may be surprised to hear what your old teacher would have to say back to you.

Mr. Oleary,

I’ve been contemplating writing this email for a few months now and finally decided that I would send it off. I’ve just completed my 5th year of teaching and have made the decision to move on to higher education and begin working with pre-service teachers. This is something I’ve always wanted to do and am excited to begin.

However, I just wanted to send out a note of thanks to you for hands down being one of the best teachers I’ve ever had throughout my life. I never truly appreciated your skills and abilities at the time, but upon reflection, it is a thanks that is far overdue. I still have vivid memories of experiences in your 5th grade classroom that I feel have instilled characteristics that I still in myself today. One of note is my love of reading, which I can honestly say was spurred by the books I read when with you.

Thanks for all you did, have done, and will do in the future as a teacher!

Sincerely,

Justin

His response:

Justin,
Thank you for those kind words. I am here at school getting ready for my
40th year of teaching. I can honestly say that I have been never regretted
going into education. I hope you will find the same satisifaction and
enjoyment in your career.

I truly am pleased that your love of reading books, was helped along
by being in my room.

In fact the reason I ended up teaching in Cavalier was because of my love
of reading. When I interviewed with Mr. Sunderland, Cavalier Supt., during
the interview he asked what were my hobbies. I said the usual, hunting,
golfing, fishing, and reading. When I said reading he asked what book I was
reading at the time. I was reading James Micherner’s Centennial. As luck
would have it he was reading the same book and one chapter ahead of me.
Mr. Sunderland said anyone who is reading Michener is good enough for the
Cavalier School. So 40 years later I am still teaching.

Again, thanks for the kinds words, and have a great future.

Kevin O’Leary

So what are you waiting for, get out there and find that favorite teacher and drop them a line!

 

How Your Relationship with Your Dad was Kind of Like ‘Formal’ Education

With Father’s Day around the corner, I found myself reflecting on two things: first fretting that  I’ve yet to get my dad his standard pack of golf balls for the summer, and second, the realization that I too am now a father going on 3 years. my son and I...My son is the anchor in my and my wife’s life. The realization for this post came when I tried to put  myself in the head of a two-year old and began reflecting on how the nature of our relationship. In his eyes, I can do no wrong. I provide fun and enjoyment at every opportunity. Every indulgence that I partake in (ice cream and good music mostly) are quickly becoming favorites of his as well. I’m there when he’s hurt or has a request, or when he just plain needs a hug. Nearly all of his frustrations in life are a result of actions that I (and my wife) have attempted to enforce upon him. His world and mine are intricately connected. He has expectations and needs of me, that I for the most part attend to (staying up late and watching Little Rascals is not always a reasonable request). It is a sound and meaningful relationship for this stage of our lives.

At some point, my son will realize that the world is more complicated than it appears right now. His biggest questions about life right now are figuring out why he needs to sleep at night and that urinals are only for going #1. The challenges that he will need to overcome will become too large for me to handle. His sources for joy and happiness will be found elsewhere (though I intend to be involved the whole way through) and I’ll no longer be his first person of contact with the troubles he is facing. In a sense, he will outgrow our current relationship, which is to be expected and by no means an issue. It will mutually come to be understood that the stage in our life when he thinks, ‘my dad is the coolest and most amazing person in the world’ will come to an end.

Perhaps we are entering a similar point in our relationship with schools as most of us have known them for the past century or so. Schools were intended to be a safe and secure option for youth of all ages to prepare for the obstacles (of a century ago) that life would throw them. It provided answers (though usually in the back of the book or in the teachers’ head) to the questions they were trying to solve for the day. And it also provided the type of knowledge (that was deemed valuable by those in power) needed to be viewed as an ‘educated’ person in the society in which they lived. The relationship was for the most part understood as a necessity and deemed necessary for those involved. The world was a simpler place. However, the times they are a changing.

We know look to schools for answers to more complex problems. We point our fingers and make accusations questioning the purpose of education and what it is supposed to do for us. Oversight and monitoring are done to the extreme in many cases (reading, writing, math & science test) to ensure validity (and results) in teaching methods. High demands are placed on education with the stakes being even larger.

In essence, the relationship which was once so fruitful (for the factory-model days of yesterday) and innocent  now has to be accountable. This is likely not helping the situation and is furthermore not justifiable considering the transition learners in this brave new world are encountering.

So perhaps what we need to suggest is that a more mature relationship between teachers and learners (schools and societies) come to the forefront. I’m not advocating for any particular agenda to be pressed forward to replace the current model (Un/home schooling, School of One, Kahn Academy, etc.); but rather asking for a shift in how we think about the evolution of the role education plays in society today.

My son will always reflect back on our time together during his childhood with fond memories; but it would be ridiculous for me and him to expect the same types of supports at different stages in our lives from each other (I will hopefully no longer be asking him every 2 hours if he needs to poop). So as we enter the interconnected, Web 2.0 world that is quickly infiltrating every aspect of our modern lives; perhaps we should look for more a ‘adult’ (or at least adolescent) relationship with the father that we have all known and looked up to for so long. You can still keep in touch with him and occasionally look to him for advice; but for the most part we need to realize that things between us will never again be like they once were.

The Willpower Instinct: An Audiobook Review

As my commute for the year goes into the second semester, I’ve found myself finding audiobooks to be my saving grace. I recently finished (in a couple of weeks in the A.M. hours of my drive) Kelly McGonigal’s (@kellymcgonigal) The Will Power Instinct: How Self-Control Works. Why It Matter. and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

I was a bit worried initially as the book is written from her experience teaching a course with a similar intent at Stanford. And while I can see the point of reading a chapter a week, and working on the chapter’s willpower “lesson” that week,  I found I could listen and pull out what I needed from each chapter after my day’s drive.

I purchased the book after following her on Twitter, and figured if her tweets were this entertaining and interesting, her book must be as good if not better. I found myself beginning to look at my own actions/thoughts/and desires differently after first hearing about the research, and then applying it to my own life. My own knowledge of the science of the brain, such as dopamine’s true affect was better understood, along with research backing up her claims. Examples of mice in cages with electric grids in the middle running back and forth to feeders on opposite sides of the cage to stimulate their brain’s dopamine releasing sections of the brain tell a revealing and somewhat scary story about our own desires and intuitions, as the mice would do this until they couldn’t walk.

Her grasp (AND LOVE) of the nature of science, neuroscience, and psychology along with her ability to write to an audience looking for help with their own will-power struggles were evident throughout. From simple tips like waiting 10 minutes before indulging in another piece of chocolate cake to more challenging tasks like visualizing and thinking about your “future self” before blowing that big paycheck, are introduced as ways to help you get your long-term ambitions to take precedent over your short-term impulses.

The book progressed in a way that put me in the center of the story being told, as I could easily picture myself (while listening and afterwards) struggling with the examples given in the book. I began taking note of when I resisted a temptation and thinking more about why I keep procrastinating working on a project I really want to work on and finish. The mind can be a fabulous thing when you actually take a minute to reflect upon what it’s doing….in other words, just breathe.

A marvelous read that I can’t wait to introduce to my wife (if she’s willing to give up her nightly escapes into a certain soap opera) as well as anyone who’s willing to listen. My only complaint is I wish I had an outline of each chapter to reflect upon and take account in the future as I continue to work on my willpower challenges.

The Blocks of Science: Teaching abot NoS

The Nature of Science (NoS) lesson I’d like to introduce has been known as “Blocks of Science” or “Inquiry Cubes”.

I don’t know if I have as much experience using at as others, but it’s been one I’ve enjoyed every year I’ve used it. For a more veteran look with helpful suggestions, see (Cube Essay).

The handout that I’ve used for students (Blocks of Science Investigation (Student Handout)) may or may not work for you. It’s adapted from a great book “Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science ’98″ for the National Academy of Science and can be found in its entirety (though not very user friendly) online. The template taken from the book is also a nice resource to have as a .jpg file for easy access when you need it .

The pictures of the blocks if you needed to do the activity virtually could also be used (Inquiry Cube Pics). I’ve also used it for students who were absent. The last is a template for a solved cube (Inquiry Cube TemplateSOLVED).

As I’ve told teachers who I’ve discussed this with in the past, it’s really an activity that gets students to think, and then conversely, think about their thinking (meta-cognition…YES!) in a way that also incorporates thinking about science. I’ve also taken the activity a step further by introducing the notion that individual teams of 2-3 are from a country of their choice. Then, after a round of trying to determine the phenomenon at hand (what is on the bottom of the cube) we discuss our hypotheses at the World Symposium of Cube Scientists Conference.

So, I hope this can be of use to those who’ve used it before or those who were just introduced to it for the first time. I’d also add that having the shop teacher or students with spare time on their hands actually construct a classroom set of 16 or so wood cubes is a great idea. Also, saving past students cubes, when they construct their own, is a great idea as well for the next year.

Twitter: A Link-a-Fest

Here’s a link-a-fest of blogposts on Twitter. It’s really a great resource, and one I’d say could be very valuable for newer teachers looking for other teachers in their content area.

Here’s a Complete Guide to Twitter. The “Terminology” section gives a nice overview of the language of Twitter.

Next we have a post from Edudemic. It has a ton more links than this so use as needed to familiarize yourself with whatever you need.

The next is two short videos of @tomwhitby and @web20classroom (both of whom I follow) discussing why they use Twitter. Short and to the point. They were posted on the blog For the Love of Learning.

How about a post dealing with Tools for Twitter. One that I’d be interested in using is Group Tweet. We’ll see.

A great administrator that I’ve had conversations on Twitter with before, Justin Tarte, has a nice post for Teachers New to Twitter. I’d look at some of his recommended followers (#2) for good suggestions.

Free Technology for Teachers, a blog that has so many resources on it I don’t know where to begin, has a guest post on how to keep up with it all. I use tools like this myself. I’d especially recommend Read It Later. Accessible anywhere and easy to use.

An Iowan, Scott Mcleod, on his blog Dangerously Irrelevant, with a post on what he discovered on Twitter. This guy is amazing and one who got me going into a lot of what I do on the web today. Explore his blog more to see what I’m talking about.

Lastly, “hashtags” or “#”. Hard to keep up with, but @cybraryman has you covered. Check out his site as he’s a librarian of the 21st century.

Lastly, Tweetdeck, a Twitter client which was recently purchased by Twitter, is my main method of using Twitter on my laptop and smart phone. Install it everywhere and enjoy it’s ease of use. It’s also the easiest way to create “Lists” on your twitter account, which you’ll need to do once you have a lot of people you’re following.

Huh, this turned out to be a lot more than I thought, but I hope it can get anyone interested in interacting with educators all over the world. I’ve been amazed at the famous educational leaders that I’ve had conversations with on here.

Feel free to follow me@jmcfad10

Can New Meanings of Knowledge Change Education?

A wise man once told me average minds talk about people, good minds talk about events, and great minds talk about ideas.

So here’s an idea that I’m not sure what to do with or what it means, but I needed to get it out to somebody and that somebody is you.
I’ve recently resigned from my job as a result of who I am, how I teach, and my views of the value of learning and knowledge. It’s the life of a non-tenured teacher. No worries though, as it seems to have opened up my mind to ideas which were previously locked away in the security that is a steady job.
I just wrote a term paper for a grad school class, and in it I came across the following table titled, “Learning Over Time.” (see attached). It comes from a paper from some guys at Harvard. “Learning: Peering Backward and Looking Forward in the digital era.” (http://db.tt/tNDhUPN). I’ve not read it all, but the story told in the table is one that I don’t feel many are aware of; Knowledge and its powerful capabilities. The paper itself, also has aspects which are critical to this story. I’ll let the table speak for itself, but you can see the major shifts as knowledge acquisition has evolved over the centuries. History is important to this story, because to fully understand where we are now and where we are going, we need to see where we’ve been. Few have this awareness.
Further influencing my thoughts was a piece of Chomsky’s I just read, Human intelligence and the environment. http://chomsky.info/talks/20100930.htm. He basically posits the question that human intelligence is a lethal mutation, and we are irrational when it comes to making decisions that could potentially harm the next generation. You really need to read it though as everyone reads and interprets the world differently.
So let’s see if I can wrap this into a coherent pitch…Knowledge and its powers have been evolving ever since the dawn of literacy. This has changed the lives of everyone on the planet. From who can learn, where they learn, what they learn, and the dominant media that influences the culture. Basically the column headings of the “Learning Over Time” table.
Today, we are entrenched in the political environment and therefore educational environment that standardization is the best method for all. This is folly and leads to atrocities in what we do to kids in schools. For an example of one of the many stories relating to this that I know of, see here: http://youtu.be/JyljNAqAZ40. This control over and power given to factual knowledge reins supreme in most educational settings. Everyone is held accountable, and for what? Some Neil Postman fits in here to: Technolopoly, End of Education (God of Economic Utility), Entertaining Ourselves to Death. The real irony of the whole matter is that once we have all of these test scores, that actually measure very little, we don’t even do anything in education productive with it: http://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/data-driven-instruction-and-the-practice-of-teaching/.
So, I feel we’re at an epistemological “tipping point” or paradigm shift in regards to knowledge. The world is changing. It’s in its infancy, and many of the dominant systems that once had control over that knowledge are becoming obsolete and detrimental as we reach the pinocle of standardization….high-stakes tests for students and more recently for teachers (“value-added”). So as people in this culture/society begin to see, if they are allowed to, the new possibilities that Web 2.0 technologies are affording us, a new more individualized, relevant, constructivist, authentic, real-world education is possible. Knowledge can be social, collaborative, communicated, and viewed differently by everyone, but yet still appreciated and valued.
So the film I’m envisioning in my head tells this story. I honestly don’t feel a lot outside of select educational circles know this story and I feel its value to everyone is immense. I feel big concerns such as the environment, poverty, out of control consumerism, DIRT & PLASTIC, are all symptoms of a an educational system that is inherently not prepared to help humankind perceiver into the future and continue on the beautiful experience that is life.   
I’ll end with the conclusion of my 15 page paper which puts more of a face on this story. I’ll make it available  if anyone is curious. It was written in two days, but I still like it.

I’d like to conclude with a story to wrap up where I’ve been and hopefully gone in this paper. I
realize my own limitations in this paper may be somewhat obvious to someone more versed in the field
of knowledge epistemologies, technology in education, and purpose in education, yet, I feel that my
own construction of this paper has illustrated my thinking and feelings of what is sadly occurring in
schools today as this paradigm shift is beginning.
I was recently in a computer lab with my class and a student who I’d had the semester before
was sitting at a nearby computer. I’ve come to know this student quite well through formal and informal
situations. I know she works extremely hard at her job virtually every night. I know she
has a fondness for animals that goes well beyond most. I know that she has low self esteem and a self-
consciousness about her appearance. And lastly I know that she couldn’t write a coherent essay about a
topic such as censorship, which she was asked to do by a language arts teacher, at or above a middle
school writing level. Still, here she was. Attempting to get the answer to the question, ‘How is
censorship affecting our society today?’ Her first and only attempt at answering the question, typing it
into Google. When her results came back, she felt flustered and confused. She had never been taught
how to conduct such a search. She’d never been given the tools to look for multiple sources that attempt
to answer the same question with different perspectives. She’d never been asked or shown how to
organize those ideas into a manner in which she could communicate and attempt to make sense of. So
ultimately she was lost and upset. Her ability to communicate her own knowledge of the word
censorship and its impacts on the society today where lost. Taken away from her by an educational
system that never told her that sometimes there are no “right” answers. Taken away from her by an
educational system that seemed to only value how she filled in a bubble on a multiple choice exam.
Taken away from her by an educational system that never taught her that her view of the world matters
and her experiences in the world matter and she has the right to express those feelings in ways that are
comprehensible to her.
A very Orwellian view of the world is depicted to me when I reflect on examples of information
overload and disengagement such as this. I have more stories. Questions by students ranging from
‘Why do we have to learn this?’ to ‘Why can’t we use the Internet on the test?’ Far too often I too find
myself asking the same types of questions. When will a system that does so much harm to so many
people take a look at the world which surrounds it and realize that there are a new and profoundly
different ways to go about doing what its doing. When and if this is ever realized, will be  a day I hope to be standing at the forefront screaming ‘FINALLY!’

So, am I preaching to the choir here, or is this a story that needs to be told?

Purpose and Education: A Disconnect?

Who am I to say what the purpose is. I too often feel a system is being imposed upon the work that I do everyday. Who am I to make a difference or even question the purpose/system. It’s evident. I can feel it breathing down my neck in my classroom far too often. I hear it in my students voices. It’s a search for purpose. However, where we are isn’t satisfying that search. It merely presents obstacles and frustrations and confusion. I know I too contribute to this and continually look for ways to speak up but don’t.

So what can/should education be. I want to think that it can be whatever it needs to be and that no one should ever be in a position of power to tell someone else what the purpose is. Education is real, it’s life, and to suggest that it is preparation for life is folly. Therefore, the journey that we send the next generation of citizens on must be carefully thought about. It needs to be accountable, but not in the way that something that’s held accountable is used. The system must be held accountable for the atrocities, pain, fear, and disadvantages that it creates for all.

What that looks like, again I’m not sure. I can feel it on the brink though. I can see glimpses of it. Sometimes in my mind, sometimes in my classroom, and sometimes not at all. But yet I know it’s there. There’s so much that it could be. To set limitations on what it could/should be seems almost inappropriate. I want to say that the purpose of education can be determined by those that are entrenched in it. If the students themselves are able to see, describe, analyze, explain, realize, understand, justify, celebrate, and do all those other great things we want our students to do but never explicitly say, then education’s purpose will be served. Until then, there’s a generational gap between those who are trying to determine the purpose and those who are trying to discover it.

Pendulums, Precautions, and Reactions

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lindseysphotos/3899027260/sizes/m/in/photostream/When I was in junior high, I still to this day have a vivid memory of an incident in my sixth grade English class. A classmate of mine was arguing with the teacher about the vocabulary assignment for the day. The assignment consisted of taking a list of vocabulary words, looking them up in the dictionary, and then writing a sentence using the word you just looked up. A fairly simply task. My classmate, was doing as such until the teacher came over and told him he had to start over as he wasn’t doing the assignment the “right” way. He was taking the vocabulary words and merely writing sentences without taking into account the definition of the word, which he was supposed to be learning by looking them up in the dictionary. Ultimately, he ended up writing sentences such as, ‘The word luminous is a word in the dictionary that is found on page 455′. This subversive approach to the assignment, was quite clever in my mind at the time and still is today. Even though my friend was not technically doing the assignment correctly in the eyes of the teacher, he was thinking of different ways in which he could use a word out of context in a sentence. His approach to learning the “official knowledge” was different and didn’t fit into the teaching curriculum of the teacher. Today, my friend is a plumber, and rarely reads and has not looked up a word in the dictionary in quite some time. My reminiscence of this story came into mind as I was reflecting on the curricular interests held by different members of the U.S. society today. It’s not that I think my friend’s decision to become a plumber and not let’s say a lawyer were influenced by this particular activity, but it definitely didn’t encourage him to seek out more than a two year post-secondary degree.

So, whose interests were being served in this scenario? Or for that matter, any educational setting in the country today? As I began reading about The Struggle for the American Curriculum, a picture began to be painted of the beginnings of curriculum in this country, and implicitly, the role of education in our society today. As the title of this op-ed piece states, there were many pendulum swings and precautionary/reactionary responses to how we should educate our children. No one interest group exists in isolation of another, and as one weakens, another may take force as a reaction to a national scare.1 As discussions in class were progressing, I continually felt, along with others in the class, that the issues that we face in education today (globalism, 21st century skills, standards-based, STEM, and the like) were all issues that we’ve dealt with in some capacity in the past. The interest groups who would attempt to swing the nation’s curriculum in one direction or the other would ultimately feel that their “solution” to the problem would be one that would solve all problems. Their interests, would be potentially served, if citizens were educating in particular way. These interest groups, the humanists, social developmentalists, social efficiency educators, and experience curriculum individuals all seemed to have their own interests, rather than that of the learner in mind.

The one voice that resonated with me was Dewey. He may have been ahead of his time, as he seemed to bump up against the contextual nature of the educational system, but he appeared to have the interest of the learner in mind. This, rather than producing schools that were say “efficient” and factory-like. This brings me back to my friend. Very little thought about his experiences were taken into account in the assignment described above. There was a type of knowledge that was deemed official, and he was to inhale it and take it as the dominant way in which knowledge worked. The other notion that continually came up in class and discussion was the gap between theory and practice. I’ll admit that at times what occurs in my own classroom is not directly related to the standards, but in the big scheme of things, the powers that be have an impact on the content that is taught in my classroom. How could they not? My students will be tested on the content every year, if a question arises about the “legitimacy” of my curriculum, a standard must be referenced to account for my curriculum, and the whole process gives me a very “top-down” feeling in affecting what happens in my classroom with my students. This type of curriculum puts an awful taste in my mouth and the realization of whose interests were being perpetuated became even more evident after reading Michael Apple’s Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age.

Why is it, that conservative issues hold such a grip on educational practice in this country today in some folks’ minds? As Apple describes, “-in an economy that is increasingly conditioned by lowered wages, unemployment, capital flight, and insecurity-rightist discourse connects with the experiences of many working-class and lower-middle-class people.”2 Evidently, this type of discourse again  puts the interests of others in the place of the interests of learners. In order to secure stability and security, it’s best that students of today are taught very similar to how those a generation ago were taught. This in spite of the changing contexts in which the learner exists, the information paradigm that has become evident in most students’ lives, and the lack of guarantee of a job that exists at the end of this dark and dreary education of mindless facts tunnel. How is it that politically correct, multi-cultural, and social justice related education can lead to such upheaval? A word in which I was unfamiliar with, “balkanization” came up in discussion and  to my surprise is considered a threat of some sorts if students are taught in a manner that is considered “progressive”. Similar themes to patriotism and unity along with the religious interests were also discussed as being potentially threatened if education becomes more progressive. My only question is, is this threat legitimate? What is it based on and whose interests are being served by presenting this type of propaganda in the media? And when the media is presented in schools in formats such as Channel One, how does this impact the ability of students to critically examine the society in which they live? This “official knowledge” has many implications for teachers in the classrooms as well as for those deciding which curriculum should be taught. After all, aren’t “All ‘academics’…first and foremost educators, teachers. What do we do in our own practices, to follow through on our commitments?”2 This quote from Official Knowledge struck a cord with me. What do I do in my own classroom to allow for my students to become inquisitive, life-long learners, who can form opinions, critically evaluate, and critique each others work, while at the same time realize that the world in which they live is evolving into an entirely new landscape where problems that don’t exist today will need solutions in the future? Let’s just say very little (but I’m getting there), and it is eating me up inside. I occasionally feel deskilled in my classroom as I’m asked to teach my students content that I can vaguely see the point in learning, let alone them. I’m also stuck in a world where I see Web 2.0 technologies as solutions to many, not all, issues in my classroom. However, I am not able to create learning environments in these types of worlds due to the pen and paper nature of school and of course textbooks.

Textbooks, textbook publishers, political interest groups, and politicians have a stranglehold on a lot of what happens in classrooms today, if not at least the drape that hangs over them. I have a textbook for my biology class that incorporates many of the state standards that were adopted in this state, and I am told by my administration that the textbook is to be read and particular attention needs to be paid vocabulary words to create rigor in my course. In reading about the struggle for the national standards in Whose History? it was scary to realize the media’s influence, and particularly those with access to the media, on educational policy in this country. The reactionary responses that were brought about due to reports such as A Nation at Risk and others are eerily similar to those we are beginning to hear today. Just as the powers that be were attempting to take down department of education in the 1980’s3, so to are attacks on teachers and public education occurring today. Blog posts such as, Oh No! The Chinese are beating us!, scores on international tests in science and math as evident on assessments form the Programme for International Student Assessment, and documentary films such as Waiting for Superman are sounding the alarm that a reaction to public education mishaps needs to take place. That reaction, needs to come in the form of privatized public education, the creation of choice in the form of charter schools, the accountability of teachers and students, and de-regulation on who will be allowed to teach our students in the future.

I’d like to move the last piece of this into a discussion of where I think education is at right now, and where it could potentially head in the future. I’d like to look at this through a precautionary lens as I feel that too often, pendulum swings in education are reactionary, as discussed above. I always like to state that this is where I’m at right now. I feel I’m on a journey and my ideas and opinions are continually being influenced and changing as new knowledge enters the arena that is my brain. So, let’s briefly start out with my view of learners. All children are naturally inquisitive and thus learners. When placed in an environment that fosters learning, the need for standards and official knowledge is not needed. Every learner brings certain experiences to the learning environment. Let’s just call these “chips” for simplicity sake. So as children, with their “chips”, who are born with creativity and are intrinsically motivated to learn, are placed in an environment where learning is valued and harbored, the role of the teacher can be dramatically be changed from content dispenser, to content navigator. This new role, creates teachers who can become individual artisans who can truly become masters of their craft. How are teachers and learners currently viewed in schools today, well I think I can sum this up in a few sentences. Teachers are not content experts so someone else must determine what content in necessary/standard/official. This is influenced by the media in which a majority of the society is exposed to and it is increasingly becoming more politicized. Students are buckets to be filled with content, must be made to realize the false importance of test, be testing on content, and view compliance in school as  means to a justified ends (i.e. a job and money). So how do I envision this a new role for teachers and students becoming possible? Well, it needs to begin with giving students the same tools that teachers use and other working professionals use to navigate their way through the world, laptops.

You need to give students the power to harness the creativity that comes with being able to produce something in the digital age. Allow students to bring in their own experiences and knowledge and let them put their ideas out into the world. From here, students can do so much. Collaboration, autonomy, community, criticism, engagement and so much more are made available to students. No longer are they passive observers of their own learning, but rather they are an integral part. Meaning, something I myself struggle to find in my curriculum at times, will be transformed as students and groups of students become meaning makers. And while I view this transformation in classrooms as being revolutionary, it is already happening in schools throughout the world. For a recent example take a look at Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century or many of the blogs I have on my blog roll. These types of classrooms are out there, and it drives me up the wall that mine is not one of them!

In creating these new learning environments, there are some obvious problems that need some innovative perspectives to consider before hailing technology as the all-mighty answer to our problems. First and foremost, teachers need to be prepared differently. Too often, as Dan Lortie in Schoolteacher noted, we teach how we were taught. This change in itself is obviously a move towards a more “progressive” education, but it is one that I feel we must embrace if we are to prepare our children for the future. I read about classrooms that solve real community problems, grapple with real-world data from agencies like the department of natural resources, and create solutions to problems in their own lives as well as their friends. I’d rather foster these types of learners than the ones I see far too often in schools today. Students who “play school” for the day to get good grades. Students who “sit, get, spit, and forget” the content they are learning. Students who are ventriloquist dummies as they mindless navigate their way through a math problem. I want an educational system that incorporates the aspects of human motivation as described in books like Dan Pink’s Drive and that allow for individual autonomy and learning that isn’t necessarily that of the dominant culture. Are they all going to learn the same thing? No! That’s not possible as everyone interprets knowledge differently, but perhaps they will come to appreciate knowledge and figure out why certain types of knowledge have value to some groups and others not so much. This is the type of skeptical citizen I want to see.

What type of citizens will this type of pendulum swing create and what are the realistic repercussions if it does occur? I feel that if we as educators don’t embrace this shift, it’s going to happen without our influence. Rather than having the influence of educators who are in it for the learners, you will see a generation of students who are influenced by this new technologically-savvy society that consumer agencies are attempting to create.  If students are continually turned away from school and forced to use their creativity in other, sometimes not always the most productive ways, our ‘buy this and we’ll make you happy’ culture will provide them with an outlet. On the other hand, if teachers are allowed to create these types of learning environments for students and allowed to guide and help them navigate a world that is ever-changing, a much more informed and sustainable society will prevail. Will it be one with varying views of what is means to be an American, or one that views our nations history through different and sometimes critical lenses, absolutely, but this society is one that will develop with or without us on board. My question is, do we want to be involved or not? I’d hope yes, and that when we do we take a precautionary look at where we are heading, we can put aside partisan politics, thoughts of fear, and create schools that students run to get into, as fast as they currently run to get out of each day (and hopefully one that doesn’t make them look up words in the dictionary just for the sake of looking up words in the dictionary).

1- The Struggle for the American Curriculum: 1893-1958, Herbert M. Kleibard (1994)
2- Official Knowledge, Michael W. Apple (2007)
3- Whose History?: The Struggle for National Standards in American Classrooms, Lisa Symcox (2002)

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