Diane Ravitch on The Daily Show.
Ravitch is the queen. If only the government would listen…
We would also address poverty directly. We would increase the minimum wage and make post-secondary education cheap or free, and we’d improve improve unemployment benefits and offer free job-training to the unemployed.
Poverty is one of the few social ills where throwing money at the problem really does seem to work.
These are not radical, liberal ideas. In fact, in Europe most of them are associated with the more conservative parties, and many of them were associated with the American Republican party in the 80s. But the United States’s political climate is so different from anywhere else in the industrialized world that I fear we will just continue to get farther behind in education (and in % of people living in poverty) until we decide to make some big domestic investments.
That which remains
For me, this paragraph from Sage Wagner, a student of Frank Chimero, illustrates the importance of experience over curriculum. As a sixth and seventh grade teacher, I hope that my students come away from this school year with memories of their thoughts that are just as vivid and beautiful as this one.The version of Beowulf that I read in seventh grade described the hero as having honey in his veins. His greatest virtue was how, when he received his subjects in his great beerhall, he would listen to them—really listen. His eyes and ears wouldn’t leave the speaker for any distraction and they would feel the bees and sweetness and yellow sunshine bore into their soul, and they would glow with the warm, sublime knowledge that they were truly being heard. That description has always stuck with me, while the rest of the story is hazy (they wrestled in a mucky pit and someone lost an arm? Mother was pissed?) and I know the reason is stayed with me was because I wished I could be as great as Beowulf in that way. If listening with honey can make a Scandinavian warrior great, imagine what it can do for a tiny little designer like me.
Wow. I need to work on that—being able to listen in such a way that the people around me begin to glow with warmth as if they feel bees and sweetness and yellow sunshine boring into their soul.
I have a serious suggestion to make. We should stop worrying about the problems of education, declare it a disaster, and let teachers and students get on with their lives.
— Frank Smith, via
Landscapes of Betrayal, Landscapes of Joy
The following are some pull quotes from Landscapes of Betrayal, Landscapes of Joy: Curtisville in the Lives of its Teenagers, by Herb Childress. (Curtisville is a pseudonym for a city in California.) I post this here because it serves as a deep influence and validation of my educational philosophy and work in schools. Of course, I would also like to encourage others to read the book.
David Seamon writes in the introduction:
Throughout the book, Childress demonstrates the crucial role of social, economic, and educational institutions in the lives of teenagers and their positive and negative, active or passive responses. He suggests that, too often today, these institutions undermine and destroy the places and situations where teenagers might find joy, with the result that many young people become manipulative, cynical or angry.
This passage reminds me of the difficulty students and teachers in the NMY program had in defining to outsiders their roles and relationships to one another. Our institutions force us into oppositionaly and hierarchically defined roles that are unhealthy for the social and emotional well-being of all involved.
I voluntarily surrendered my adulthood (which is to say my authority and encultured status of power over these people), and in many ways I succeeded. I don’t know how many kids said that I was something other to them than “an adult,” even though I was clearly not their age. They had no precedent to help them figure out who I was.
They also got a friend who wouldn’t make fun of their plans and their insecurity over the future, and who could answer factually, if anecdotally, about what and adult life might be like. As I went further in the project, I spent more Saturday evenings doing the basic work of friendship.
I opened my home to them in small return for being a part of theirs. They seemed to enjoy coming to visit, to listen to some odd music that I wanted to share with them or simply to sit on the couch and read and play with the cats, to see another version of adulthood, to add another scrap to their collage.
The responsibility I started out believing was the important one—learning enough to tell the world about their lives and places, being their public advocate—disappeared constantly under the real responsibility of being a good friend.
In Chapter Twenty-Three, “The Hidden Program of the High School,” Childress addresses issues of age-segregation and standardization, both frequent themes on this blog.
The first metaphor that guides school construction and administration is the separation of kids and adults, removing teenagers from the community and placing them into the hands of appointed experts. The school building and grounds are both evidence of adult desire for separation from children and teenagers and the means of separating them.
This supervised distance between teens and community ensures that teenagers only rarely come into contact with adults engaged in their work. Kids get to see teachers at work, and janitors; they get to watch the lady who makes their sandwiches at the Deli; they see the guy who fries potato wedges in the convenience store and the woman who runs the cash register. But they’re held apart from the real economic doings of their town and the human aspects of that working life. If one of the the jobs of school is to enculturate teenagers, we act counter to that if we separate them from the most basic elements of that culture: the ways in which we make our livings.” […]
Even on campus, though, kids are held separate from the adults around them. Teachers have separate bathrooms, a separate lounge and work room, a separate parking lot. Within the classrooms, there are two zones set aside for the teacher: the front wall of the classroom, […] and the desk in the rear corner of the room[…] Physical proximity between teacher and students is very rare in Curtisville—and it was, over the year, to be a reliable sign of a good classroom.
The administration of the school is also sharply divided from the students, both in function and in building. Students play very little role in the planning of their school or their education, planning which takes place on the site but in buildings that are never entered by students except for punishment.
Our insistence on treating everyone equally and “fairly” ensures that we treat almost no one sensibly.
The linkage of so many schools to mandated curriculum frameworks has led to a massive industry that creates and sells teaching aids in careful compliance with the California Department of Education guidelines. […]
Teachers are caught in the middle of the struggle, attempting to deal both with administrative abstractions and with the realities of classroom and personality and interactions. Some teachers align themselves closely to the state curriculum[…] Others use the frameworks as a broad outline[…] Still others treat guidelines and uniformity as the enemy: Dan Jacobs, a twenty-five-year veteran, told me early in the year that “you’ve got to break the rules if you’re going to get anything accomplished in the classroom.”
The school building and its associated program are based around placing passive kids into an isolated and homogeneous environment for mass-produced training. This training will be delivered by rule-bound experts who prepare youth at the least cost for a life of mobility and participation in the global economy. Continued participation is always contingent upon periodic competition and evaluation.
In Chapter Twenty-Five, “November 19th, Where Joy Was Found,” Childress recognizes the general absence of joy in the institutional lives of the teens in Curtisville and shares some of the rare instances that he was able to observe it. He goes on to pinpoint the conflict between the frequently stated goals of our schools and to show how the policy decisions we make tend to produce dehumanizing and joyless results.
On a single transparency, drawn from a single seminar, are two strikingly different positions. On one hand, education is hailed as an ability for “creative problem-solving,” to deal with “a problem that drops out of the sky,” “to apply what they learn, “to try new things and perhaps invent something totally new.” On the other hand, we want a “common language” for our expectations, a state assessment that will “provide a definitive description… of what students need to learn to be able to do.” Didn’t anybody notice some discrepancy when this discussion went on, or when they assembled the PR materials? And can it be any surprise who held what position? The creative problem-solvers were two entrepreneurs and a curator of a shrine to innovation. The proponent of standards for assessment worked for the phone company.
When things become institutionalized, the rational systems and their rules get more and more clear, and the real emotional goals—that imagined and desired future—get harder and harder to find. We seem to be bent on making our human encounters reliable and accountable and consistent. We are not standard people, but we believe very strongly in standardized processes.
Teenagers live in much more proximate contact with institutions, because kids don’t have the resources that allow adults to cushion the blow. Every place they use is owned by someone else. They cannot build places. They cannot purchase places. They typically cannot modify places. They can only inhabit places, which means to be subjected to someone else’s rules. […] If rules are the logical extension of mistrust, then rules about teenage behavior are doubly so, because most adults are certain that kids don’t share our assumptions. We fear and dislike teenagers as we do any foreigners.
Whenever kids try to find some joy within this bleak landscape, they almost always find that there’s a rule against what they try to do. An extraordinary amount of the planning in city government isn’t planning at all, but simply a default to the even more distant rule systems of insurance carriers and lawyers. […]
Kids also run up agains the rational insistence upon singular definitions for all things, even when that demand runs counter to the experiential world of use. […] Rather than applaud their ingenuity [in using unoccupied spaces for purposes than those intended], we define teenagers off the tennis courts.
We use schools to introduce these kids into the divisive ways of thinking that our culture depends upon for both its operation and its sustaining beliefs. We introduce the sequential and divided curriculum, the sharp grade divisions, the sharp temporal divisions, the sharp between one student’s success and that of another, the sharp division between student and teacher, the “right” time and the “wrong” time for each activity. We divide the whole and complete world into amazingly small bits, and we do it so thoroughly and so systematically that it becomes the entire galaxy for these kids; it’s the only system they see. They learn to ask questions within the framework, because questions that lie outside it can’t be asked; institutional language is a language of division, a language that sets analytical units in relationship to one another rather than synthesizing the world as it appears. What the kids are being taught throughout their schooling and in their communities is the division of object and subject, the rational split that lies at the heart of western thought. We tell them that all problems and all solutions lie somewhere “out there” in the correct manipulation of external things, and that objective factual knowledge is the basis for their future lives.
We seem as a culture to be doing everything we can to make the world less spontaneous and more uniform, to move away from personal responsibility and personal moral positions and toward simple adherence to standards that may not make sense in any particular case. […]
We can devise a lot of reasons for doing things the way we’ve done them. They all seem to make sense, because we’re so thoroughly used to them. But our reliance on rules and standards represents a fundamental way of experiencing the world, a lifestyle that is based on a presumption of mistrust combined with a worship of precision, uniformity, efficiency, and economic gain.
A lifestyle with little room for joy.
At the end of the chapter, he highlights the colonialist nature of our schools and the different ways that teens respond to an imposed culture.
Adolescence is neither a condition nor a stage nor a phase. Adolescence is the search for the self, trying both to find and to make the person that they are and will continue to be. Teenagers are caught in the heart of the movement in the existential dilemma, placed into a system not of their own choosing and having to make a set of conscious decisions about their response, their position within it. When I speak of adolescence, I am not talking about a set of inherent psycho-physiological patterns, the one-way genetic road down which “they” travel to become “us;” I am talking about the power-laden point of conflict between two sets of ideals, the intrusion of one way of living upon another. There is a generation gap, and it has little to do with age. It has to do with power and status, with imposition and submission. It is a cultural divide, as distinct as black and white, as broad as the Rio Grande.
In Chapter Twenty-Seven, “Rereading Curtisville,” the final chapter of the book, Childress tees up two quotes:
To make changes within that framework [the existing “enormous landscape that already asserts its own power”] would be to accept that narrative, to surrender to the terms that have already captured us. What we need is not a new set of rules but a new story. In the words of Frank Smith:
I have a serious suggestion to make. We should stop worrying about the problems of education, declare it a disaster, and let teachers and students get on with their lives. The trouble with the endless concern over “problems” in education is that many well-meaning but often misguided and sometimes meddlesome people believe that solutions must exist. They waste their own and other people’s time and energy trying to find and implement these solutions. Typically, they try harder to do more of something that is already being done (although what is being done is probably one of the problems).
Or, in the words of Douglas Biklen:
We probably should abandon all hope of reforming institutions from within. To assume that one can instigate reform from within is to assume that closed institutions exist primarily to serve inmates and that dehumanization is an aberrant condition in an otherwise acceptable system. … institutions emphasize other, less charitable ends. With this knowledge we should frame our reforms. … I suggest, therefore that any proposal for transforming institutions be accompanied by a detailed plan to evacuate these settings altogether.
Childress goes on to define and list the “Modernist ideas, a “set of beliefs that have formed Curtisville.” In parallel, he suggests an alternative, the “Existential ideas.” He also quotes Ivan Illich, Alfred North Whitehead, Jane Jacobs, and Christopher Alexander, several favorites of mine. You’ll have to read the book for all of that. I hope you do.
the far-off influences
I spent a lot of last week thinking about the opening to “The Braindead Megaphone” by George Saunders:
I find myself thinking of a guy standing in a field in the year 1200 doing whatever it is people in 1200 did while standing in fields. I’m thinking about his mind, wondering what’s in it. What’s he talking about in that tape loop in his head? Who’s he arguing with? From whom is he defending himself, to whom is he rationalizing his actions?
I’m wondering, in other words, if his mental experience of life is different in any essential way from mine.
What I have in common with this guy, I suspect, is that a lot of our mental dialogue is with people we know: our parents, wives, kids neighbors.
Where I suspect we part ways is in the number and nature of the conversations we have with people we’ve never met.
Here’s why I’ve been thinking about this. Last week I gave my students this prompt:
My students’ responses to that prompt led me to think quite a bit about what George Saunders suspects about the difference between the person in the field in 1200 and my students today.
I’ve given my students this prompts before, at least a few times. But this is the first batch of students who were willing to admit the importance of their far-off influences – people who are very influential on their lives who live somewhere far away – and even to include those far-off, digitally-connected influences alongside or even before those who they are in contact with regularly.
One girl, who most of her classmates consider to be in the upper echelons of popularity, wrote this: “I guess you could say I’m a lonely person. I don’t hang out with friends all that often. I probably spend the majority of my life surrounding myself with my phone and Netflix….” Another wrote about how one of the most important influences on who she has become is her favorite YouTuber. Another listed four friends and put Tumblr for the fifth. One student wrote about a friend he met through YouTube who has become one of his best friends. He lives in another state and they take turns flying to visit each other in the summer.
I shared with them how interesting I found all of this, and how I too have found these far-off influences to be very important in shaping who I am and what happens in my head. I shared an example with them: how great it has been for me to get to know Rob and his family. I bragged about his idea sommelier skills (and he delivered), but I also told them about how his approach to life and art and school have changed me.
I can only hope that their experiences with their far-off influences are as quality and formative as mine have been.
It may be said that an education which does not succeed in making poetry a resource in the business of life as well as in its leisure, has something the matter with it.
— John Dewey
Purely academic standards, such as the Common Core movement in the United States, will begin to decline. As educators seek curriculum based not on content, but on the ability to interact, self-direct, and learn, institutionally-centered artifacts of old-age academia will lose credibility.
About halfway through his magisterial study “Higher Education in America,” Derek Bok, twice president of Harvard, identifies what he calls the “two different cultures” of educational reform. The first “is an evidence-based approach to education … rooted in the belief that one can best advance teaching and learning by measuring student progress and testing experimental efforts to increase it.” The second “rests on a conviction that effective teaching is an art which one can improve over time through personal experience and intuition without any need for data-driven reforms imposed from above.
— here, it’s squishy vs. slick all the way up (down?)
I used to work in dangerous places and people who moved survived and those who didn’t…
— from the movie World War Z, filed under #ThisHasSomethingToDoWithTeaching
Kelly’s sessions are designed around one thing: maximizing time. Kelly’s solution is simple: The practice field is for repetitions. Traditional “coaching” — correcting mistakes, showing a player how to step one way or another, or lecturing on this or that football topic — is better served in the film room.