Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why am I doing this?

A few observations about my efforts of the past weeks to get ahead on the old Internets, increase my Twitter presence, enter into more networking on Facebook and increase the readership of this blog. Hard to say why I entered into this endeavor in the first place; I can always use the excuse that I am isolated as an education agitator here in Maine and I need to establish for myself a community who believes in the things I do, and reach out to those here in Maine who I might cultivate as allies.  But in reality, I think I just really want to crack the code of getting those 5-figure weekly hit counts on Minds of Kids.

Lisa Nielson of the Innovative Educator gave me a few key words of advice a few weeks ago. Example: focus on school boards. That helped me narrow in. Add parents to that mix. Those lay people who want to change education are a bit harder to find than teachers and school administrators with the same goals. So I used Twitter, worked it hard, made it scream for mercy. Why Twitter? I can answer that easily. Sometimes Diane Ravitch retweets my posts. Someday Dan Pink will respond to something I direct his way. Who doesn't like to hobnob with the greats? Twitter really is a great equalizer. All things seem possible.

About three weeks ago I had 100 followers on Twitter. Now I have 400. It's been a very  painstaking process, going through the follower lists of folks who are in my target audience, either by virtue of being parents, being involved in education, or living in Maine.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Independent Project

For the past three weeks or so, I have been thinking and talking about ways to introduce change to our high school without completely disrupting the existing schedule and routine there. Something that would plant seeds of possibility without having to institute system-wide change.

I heard about The Independent Project about a year ago when an article in the New York Times came out. "Kids Rule the School," it said. Well, that's it, my whole philosophy in four words. Sounded good to me.

When we were confronted with a group of teachers who wanted to start a charter in our district, I started looking for ways that the district itself could make innovative change that would affect a similar number of students. As I've said in previous posts, change that takes place outside the walls of the district buildings is change wasted, as far as its influence on the mother ship goes. I wanted the whole school to observe and be affected by the project.

It also seemed to me that a project that invests itself in the idea that kids are in charge would, naturally, involve fewer adults, less of the establishment that is busy keeping up with the demands of the traditional model.

And it would cost less. Bang for the buck, that's what I'm looking for.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Radical School Board Member

[Join the Radical School Board Member on Facebook!]

The least skillfully executed part of my life as an education activist takes place while I'm sitting at the school board table. It's the least significant and the least enjoyable. It also provides the most frustration and anger.

I've lost a lot of sleep trying to figure out why. While I have scads, just a huge ginormous surplus amount of knowledge and ideas about how to change education and what our educational goals should be, I suck as a leader. Too emotional, not able to be diplomatic.

I'm not trying to list my bad qualities in a backhanded way of making myself look better; I do not perform well as a leader. I make mistakes, I fail to listen.

Maybe I do feel that because of the extensive time I spend researching education, talking to other educators, using social media as a tool to understand the education issues that affect us all, finding new ideas and new breakthroughs in the classroom...because of all this, I deserve to be listened to, and the things I suggest, acted upon.

Forget it. Never going to happen. Nobody deserves to be listened to. Nor does anyone deserve to have their opinions negated by virtue of the other guy having spent the greater amount of time on Twitter.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

These Kids Nowadays! School Change and the New Generation Gap

(This entry will be crossed-posted on the Cooperative Catalyst)

We adults make as honest an effort as we can to imagine how school and learning can work better for our kids. But we are their worst enemies; or rather, it is our warm/fuzzy ideas of what our own childhoods were like that stand right in the way of our children.

The time had come for us to check our youthful experiences, memories and feelings at the door. It's simply not relevant, and blinds us to the differences between then, and now.

When we look at kids now, we see things that make us cringe inside and long for a trip back to the good old days. We want very much for our kids to have what we had. We don't consider that by having those wishes we are inappropriately imposing our values on our children. No: our values are universal! (Hey, baby boomers are the worst at this; we've grown up with the sense that we alone know what reality and truth is.)

How many of us look at kids attached to their phones, busily thumbing away without regard to what's going on around them and think, Oh, that poor child, missing out on the here and now?

How many of us shake our heads when we see kids grappling with enemies foreign and domestic with joysticks and controllers in their hands, headsets on their heads, shouting and grunting and ignoring the real world?

But here's the thing: these kids are living in a world we created for them. We made it. It is our generation that invented those devices and made them so irresistable. They are using it because it's as much part of their world as the television and the microwave oven, but we think it's terrible, just terrible.

We can think that our values have more merit than theirs because our culture is so frightened of the Teenager. The Adolescent. Those miniature adults with the bad instincts and poor impulse control. We have decided that teenagers cope better with structure, rigid expectations, and have rejected their hyper-communicative proclivities for their own good.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Charters, Redux

(The opinions below are my own. I don't speak for the RSU 3 school board in any way.)

I have been accused of freaking out when I hear the word charter.

"It's just the word that upsets you," people have said. "If you call it something else, you wouldn't get so exercised."

If you called it something else, it wouldn't be a charter.

I gotta cop to it. I have a particular allergy to the word. For me, it's surrounded by some seriously bad juju.

When I first heard there were people who wanted to start a charter school in my district I felt a sort've numbing of my chest and a rush of blood from my head. "No, no! Not here!"

There was a moment when I tried to ignore my gut reaction, and consider the possibility that it might be a good thing as part of the whole advancement of my district. A simple alternative, making use of the talents of two dedicated individuals who love working with kids, helping them open doors.

But, as they say, you can put lipstick on a pig but it is still a pig. It's still making educational change for some, and not all, in a way that is not benign, given its impact on a local system.

There are still those who still see it as positive for students who need very badly to get out of the traditional model NOW and into a different way of doing education. They are right about the need, but the conclusion is wrong.

Let's look at three reasons why there might be a need for charters.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Can learning be joyful?

Those of us who have either witnessed or experienced the beauty of the ideal learning experience may not have known it for what it was. It looks too much like joy.

Perhaps it isn't recognized for what it is because generally it does not take place in the school building. School is where you work and grind and focus; therefore work, grind and focus are what we think of as learning. (Sad, yes.)

Perhaps, also, we think of those joyous experiences as only in the area of art, music, dance, those learning extras. Who ever heard of the joy of the multiplication tables? [Note: I have been rightly corrected here; there are those who love numbers and love to explore what they can do. I have a couple of siblings like that, so I know it's true!]

So because joyous learning is not thought of as existing in school, or at any rate, not in academic classes, it therefore cannot take place in school or in academic classes? Or is it just learning what you most care about that creates that joy? If so, then we need to let students learn what they most care about, in school, out of school, wherever.

I have more questions, and some possible answers, but I want to record something that happened at my daughter's dress rehearsal for the Nutcracker ballet, one week ago today.

The Jesters' dance is mostly done by little kids. Michelle, our director, did that scene first so she could send those kids home. Then we began the dress rehearsal but when we came to it, we played the music from Jesters so that dancers who were changing would know how much time they had.