Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I just tried out a new website with lots of cool stuff for geeky folk like me. It lets you create a map that shows where you have been or where you are going......

Here is the web address....

Monday, April 26, 2010

One of the things Mr. Duncan said, was how excited he was about “young, new teachers.” I find young new teachers exciting also, but what about those of us who are seasoned, who have ridden some of the waves of change and reform? Education’s problems have never been solved by getting rid of everyone who is over 30! When I first finished my Masters, and encountered resistance to change, I remember professors who said you just have to wait for the “old guard” to retire. But the “old guard” did retire, and change didn’t come.

Every year starry-eyed new teachers go into education willing to do whatever it takes to make education work.

Mr. Duncan, the problem is

  • deeper than the “old guard,”

  • deeper than the curriculum,

  • deeper than training teachers,

  • deeper than what kids bring to school from their personal experiences,

  • deeper than issues of merit pay (I would not and could not work harder or longer than I have matter what I was being paid. Most educators go into education because they are altruistic, not because they planned to amass a fortune).

The real problem is systemic. How can we move teachers into the coaching role when they are held responsible for each student’s mastery. Realistically, coaching implies that the student decides how much s/he will invest. When you coach students are allowed to wash out. There is no allowance in the current system for this.

If we want education to work better, most of our communities need to do the hard work of changing. It means changing schools, teachers, parents, students, and administrators. Indeed, it means changing everything. This kind of systemic change takes time and and requires long-term consistency. People must relate to one another in ways beyond pointing fingers and suggesting that if we just had better prepared and serious teachers things would be better, or better parents, or better …………

Before we can make it better we must know what we want education to be. We must be a village to raise our children --- we must have trust in one another. We must have shared understandings about the kind of world we are educating children for. Until we understand what we want and where we want to go we won’t even be able to tell if we have arrived!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Following Dean as he went to earn his Phd. I found myself in a small district in West Texas. I stood in the middle of a “library” that clearly offered many opportunities for my gifts, with a group of teachers and administrators who were promising to give me the tools I needed to make a difference in this school library! It was an offer I couldn’t refuse! I never looked back toward a classroom again.

My expectation that teaching quality in this dusty little town would be poor was altered by the reality. I found teachers who were passionate about math, science, history and art. Inspired by this and the students I met, I found myself working non-stop…. I worked at school all day, and came home and got online at night working to educate myself about possibilities on the Internet. It was 1993, and the Internet was new to public educators. It was a place filled with idealism, freedom, collaboration, encouragement and support.

I was pushed and pulled by the educational reforms of the day. The introduction of technology seemed poised to push the reforms in which the college of education had grounded me. Delight-directed education and the ability of students to do authentic research and publication of their thoughts! I wrote grants to gain funds to implement these lofty ideas. But looking back I realize that we are always under the gun of someone’s political agenda, and I do not see the reforms I so cherished were part of that landscape. Control of information is the ultimate goal of those in power. It keeps them in power and doesn't allow for a divergent world view to challenge theirs. As long as that is the case, I am not convinced change can take hold.

I think about this reform movement and how it came to be often since I am still in education and still in the midst of campaigns to change. We need to ask some questions.
  1. What is driving "education reform?"
  2. Are we comparing apples to apples when we look at our statistics and compare them to other countries?implementation.
  3. What would a school that actually implemented change look like?
  4. Is the goal of educating all children to the same level of competency achievable?
  5. What does Mr. Duncan mean when he says that the tests have been "dumbed down?"
  6. What is it we are testing for?
  7. Has any of this recently driven standardized testing resulted in a positive improvement in educational outcome and how would we measure that? What would it look like?

Most historians pinpoint the beginning of the modern educational reform movement to the publication of A Nation At Risk, by the Reagan administration's conservative Education Secretary, William Bennett. But in truth it goes back much further all the way to the writings and experience of John Dewey. To understand the scope of all this you must also become familiar with the writings of educational psychologists like Piaget, who wrote at the early part of the last century. By the time I was on my path, we had already experienced the first round of the Bennett driven educational reform. This reform focused on standardizing American Education and standardized testing.

I should insert here, the commentary of my grandmother and mother – both of whom tried to explain to me that all educational reform is cyclical and that I would soon discover that the ideas I subscribed to, would fall from favor and I would then watch as educational reform worked its way through constantly like a snake eating its own tail.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The more things change part I

Last weekend I watched Education Secretary Arne Duncan discuss the state of American Education. You can take a look for yourself at what he said at the following link -- Mr. Duncan's remarks generated a lot of thought for me, and my response is too long for a tweet, too long for one single blog if you are curious after reading todays post, you will have to return daily to see what I want the secretary to know --- that he seems not too understand....

Dear Mr. Duncan;

My mother taught, my grandmother taught, and I swore I would never teach! Growing up in a virtual medieval gild of educators made me want to run from education. Every family gathering (which included teachers, college professors, newspaper publishers, park rangers, and farmers) wound up being a discussion about education. Stories were shared around the dinner table. Always in the background – never spoken outloud—was the message that we are part of a community to which we owe ourselves and all that we are.

I became a librarian, because I believed in that concept of public service (and to avoid public service as an educator). Gradually, I recognized that my service as a public librarian was teaching. This was a freeing concept. People may not realize that being a librarian is often about teaching;
  • helping people find their real question,

  • coaching them as they seek their own answers,

  • rejoicing with them when they answer their question to their own satisfaction, and

  • helping them frame what they learn so that they can utilize their new knowledge as they desire.

When I recognized that I was already in education, I decided to make the relationship formal. I returned to college and got my masters degree in Education! It was stimulating as I found many people who understood education as my grandmother did! Whole language was a philosophy and mirrored what I did as a librarian with literature and kids! You couldn’t bottle it, replicate it, or sell it! It was more like a disease -- an infection of educational curiosity. In this new world of educational reform I learned that students would be driven by delight and questioning! We would no longer be bound by the steel bands of skills alone. Of course, skills could not be under-rated! They were necessary, but not the goal of education. Skills helped kids acquire the tools to think. THINKING CRITICALLY was the goal. My professors understood that education was, as Dewey had seen it, related to personal experience! These were ideas I could give over my life to!! I graduated and looked around for a job in my "new-old" calling, education!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Who am I and how did I get here?

Yesterday, I found myself searching for a pair of Crocs (those plastic shoes that are great for summer gardening). For some reason the shoes, once available at most stores, were illusive. I found myself at Greenhills Mall here in Nashville. Unlike the mall nearer my home, which is struggling to survive and lacks any clear understanding of who their consumers are, Greenhills caters to a wealthy clientele.

I felt uncomfortable, out of place, as someone stopped me to inquire what message my shirt was intended to convery (it says quite simply "talk books to me") It seemed like an easy message to understand, but the very well-dressed young women teetering on 5" black heals thought it might have some more mysterious message. Everywhere I looked people were coiffed, made up and dressed in the latest fashion. I was meandering in t-shirt and jeans with no makeup (a daring fact -- considering that I have just begun my sixth decade of life.)

I sat for 15 mintues in the shoe section of Dillards. No one waited on me. The youthful shoe sales people rushed past me with their arms loaded down with boxes of shoes for customers who appeared to be engaged in some sort of dance. "I really love these, but I am going to look further, even though I can hardly think I will find another pair as nice. I will probably be back later, thank you dear. And what was your name again?" The exhausted young man gathered up six boxes and carried them past me to the back room. Little did he know that I was there to make a purchase --- all I needed was to tell someone.

Finally, an older woman in the department asked if I had been waited on. "Nope."...."I want this pair of crocs," I said, AND if you have a nice sandal like that one," I said pointing to a strappy leather, "in my size I will take it too." She stopped what she was doing and following my clear directions was able to make a sale in less than 3 minutes!

It made me think about our country. We hear a lot about "the American people" But who are the American People? Certainly, I was not one of these American People, as my 11-year-old stick shift Saturn in the parking garage attested, but in this mall I felt like a foreigner. If you want to take a look at what I was experiencing here is a great link

The L-Curve website which graphically represents this data.

Despite my level of education, and the fact that I do not feel inferior. I was clearly a stranger in a strange land here. My question might be, as a person who believes in community and shared responsibility, why would people of similar economic demographics to mine choose to identify with the extremely wealthy? Why would they fear the "government" (translate that WE THE PEOPLE)and give over trust to corporations and banks, the very people who plunged us into the current economic straights, NOT to mention the Gusher In the GULF!