Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Do you want to play golf, or....?

It amazes me how much effort — in time, money and resources — people will devote to not changing education.

Evidently, adults want kids to continue to be powerless in school...but we're going to go through Herculean efforts to make it look like things are really going to change.

That's why I'm turning to Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing in the HBO series, The Newsroom. Take a minute to listen. I'll wait.

Now, do you want to change education or do you want to fuck around?

I'm sorry, I know foul language is offensive to some, but Leona Lansing hits the nail of my impatience, frustration and growing anger right on the head. I've been repeating the punchline to myself for days. It just keeps popping up in my head.

Let's look at the standards-based or proficiency-based system that we are "moving toward" in my district, Maine's RSU 3.

Here's the model that's being held up to us as the One True Way out of the mess we send our kids to every day:

It looks good. We're getting kids through important learning goals by letting them decide how to go about learning it; and at their own pace they "level up," achieving goals and moving on until they have all learned what they should learn, in their own individual way.
What could possibly be bad? 

Just that we're dismissing the one thing that can get kids to believe their learning belongs to them. We should be teaching kids that they are the only ones who hold the ticket to their own learning. That's exactly what we fail to teach them, when we cling to standards, or "learning goals."
Ultimately this is a failure of adults to understand who children are and what they need; a failure to respect children. This failure occurs despite the fact that children are perfectly constructed learning machines; turn them on and they go.
They are force-fed learning from the time they are 5. Occasionally a teacher reaches a kid, but a stopped clock is also right twice a day. The successes don't negate the overall failure.
That's the missing message of the Chugach Miracle. What has been lost?
  1. An chance to explore what is most meaningful to them and see where it leads.
  2. The opportunity to build the self-respect that comes from accomplishment.
  3. The ownership of what they learn.
  4. A sense that learning might be something more than "having been taught."

Every parent I've ever talked to says they want their kids to be critical thinkers, problem-solvers. They want them to learn to make good choices, to collaborate, to create. But with the standards-based or proficiency-based system, they are getting a long march through a state-mandated, 12-year course of study. Kids are the very last consideration in this education model.

The standards-based system is built to support the profit juggernaut of the Common Core, standardized curriculum and standardized testing. It's not built for kids. It's built for bureaucrats. Wait....who are schools for, again?
Distressed that so many kids don't know anything about basic civics? Do you think the answer is to have them sit in a room and learn the branches of government? Of course not. Get kids involved in issues that are meaningful to them, let them find out who to talk to about making the changes they want made. They will be able to imagine their own place in their community. That's the only thing that will get them truly interested in civic involvement and democracy.
And if they choose not to get involved, if they aren't interested in issues, that's ok.

We need to just repeat that until we believe it. It's OK!
What they are learning is that when they choose to care about something, they will be able to go after it, learn it, master it. We all talk about the importance of life-long learning; why do we feel we have to stuff kids full before they leave public school?
Either we support kids or we don't. Honoring student self-determination is the only thing that will really "work;" and when I say work, I mean work for kids, not for whatever preconceived ideas we harbor about what kids need.
So do you want to play golf, or do you want to fuck around?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What's next for The Minds of Kids?

I'm overdue for a First Post of the School Year. In the three months of carting off to craft shows and replenishing supply between them there was little time for writing cogent blog posts on educational change. The good news is I had a lot of replenishing to do; one of my best seasons selling jewelry in the seven years I've been doing it. But I have been thinking about this stuff almost constantly though...and making plans.

Here are some questions for you:

1. How can we build a movement of change to counter the "education reform" agenda that wants schools to be places where we teach kids what is measurable, and then test them on what was "learned." Almost all the parents I know will say their hope for their kids is that they will learn critical thinking and problem solving skills, innovation, creativity; discover the world around them and their place in it. But are all those skills measurable? Nuh-uh. So why aren't more parents getting angry about what schools are doing?

2. How can we help ordinary people tell truth from nonsense, as a lot of both is thrown around in this mess called the Education Crisis?  Most particularly, how can we do it on a low budget, not having the nearly infinite resources of those on one side of the debate?

3. The brain is a lazy organ, say the folks who study this sort of thing. It doesn't learn unless it understands why. But when a kid says, "Why do we have to learn this?" more often than not they are shushed. Some teachers go out of their way to give kids a picture of why the learning they are engaging in is necessary to them. But when the student still doesn't get it, what then? The brain is still in the dark.

But that's how schools function. Learn what I tell you to learn, and it doesn't matter if you want to or not.  Why is top-down, traditional education still what we find in classrooms everywhere, when we know it's goes against how learning happens?

4. How do we move the agenda of student-driven education on a local level? With pressures from outside to comply with Common Core Learning Standards, with achievement scores well below that level that NCLB insists must happen by 2014, with funding sinking and districts under pressure to make drastic cuts, what's a school board to do?

If these look a lot like the questions I have been asking all along, you are right. This time, though, I am focused on strategy, and I have a few pathways that I am building -- pathways that will define my own participation in this movement.

My biggest question has been, how can I use both my passion and my skills and talents to help the movement to transform public education?

What is my next, best move?