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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

What I Would Do To Destroy Public Education

The following is a work of satire. There is no way this could happen...not in America.

TOPIC - What I would do to destroy public education

First - I would have to think long-term: Generationally, at least 25 years would be needed.

I would start by quoting people who were around when the idea of national, free education for all children was necessary in order to build and maintain a democracy. It would have to be put in political terms first.

An educated populace is the basis for a strong democracy/republic/sovereignty.  You know, that kind of thing.  Build a nationalist spirit among the masses.

I would continue to repeat this mantra until most politicians, and all educators believed this is an inalienable right. Then, I could move forward.


Second - I would link education to the economy.

One must be educated in order to be a productive member of society.  By "productive" I imply (or you would infer) that I always mean able to pay taxes to the government coffers.

I would get support from teachers, unions, and businesses. It is a noble idea (as well as practical) that all children will grow up to have good jobs and pay taxes. I might even institute "free or reduced lunches" for the impoverished, and cause a few teachers to begrudge students their need for food. Kind of an "I pay taxes so you get free food, and you have no respect for me and my class" attitude.

I maintain a secret though. As noble and ideal the idea of 100% employment is, it cannot happen (but I'll never let that be known to teachers). I will remember my history; that all societies had its poor, and all societies of the future will have its poor.  I might even consider removing sacred texts from the classroom (calling it division of church and state) so that people would forget religious truths like the following:

  • Deuteronomy 15:11 - "For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.' (Judaism)
  • Mark 14:7 - ""For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them..." (Christianity)
  • Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376 - "Do not turn away a poor man...even if all you can give is half a date. If you love the poor and bring them near you...God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection." (Islam - implies the poor are always present) Further, the giving of alms to the poor is one of the Five Pillars of Faith.
I would somehow convince people that "charity begins at home," and not for those around us. I might even be able to convince people that I found that saying from the Bible.


Third - Listen to successful people in the country tell their stories of how bad school was for them.

Perhaps I could get Hollywood to make movies about school life. After all, they are the best storytellers. I could get them to create stereotypical caricatures of teachers reading newspapers during class, and principals being mean and not liking kids.

I might be able to take stories of the few teachers who should never have been in the classroom (sex offenders, druggies, and other idiots) and convince the public that this is an everyday occurrence of the 6.2 million teachers in America.  That might be difficult to do, but I'll try anyway. All I need is a willing media.


Fourth - Convince teachers that children are miniature adults, with adult abilities to think and reason.

Now that teachers are adults, their brains have developed to be able to think abstractly.  Time has passed, and they begin to believe they had the same knowledge, information, experiences, and intelligence they have now when they were in school. They will have forgotten that they needed what I will call "boring and dull" in order to think like they can now. After enough "teacher movies" they won't want to look like one of the stereotypical teachers, so I can probably pull this one off.

Teachers will have forgotten that the boring process of building a warehouse of basic knowledge and skills on which they can now build their personal careers was actually the very reason they are able to think like an adult and have the career they enjoy.

[It just occurred to me, that I never touched a computer as a required part of my education; from kindergarten through my B.A.  But when computers did come out, I was somehow able to use one, thanks to the Macintosh 128k OS.  I better hush, I don't want it to get out that I really didn't need instruction in most of what I do now.  But I did need to know how to think, read, write, organize, do basic math, and communicate with others.]

If I can convince teachers that young brains should be treated with adult-like stimulus, that repetition is wrong (even though marketers and commercials know it isn't), then maybe they will forget to teach, teach, and reteach these basic needs. Then when the kids grow up to adulthood they will be lacking the ability think critically because they have no basic understanding of logical thought processes or the fundamental knowledge on which to build their ideas.

Perhaps I can develop or promote a theory that there are actually many kinds of intelligences, and that teachers should experiment with different techniques of presenting material, and yet kids automatically will be able to put the pieces together. Even common sense says this won't work, but with a little luck I might be able to do this too.

I need an expert...or a government report or something...

I will need consultants to influence administrators that kids learn more when they have fun.  Since everyone defines fun differently, I'll need competing philosophies of learning and teaching. This way I could cloud the educational process and create educational marketing wars.

Teachers could be indoctrinated by consultants in conferences designed to sell canned curriculum.

This is too easy.

Now the most difficult part...


Fifth - Wait. Wait until the students who were intentionally untaught become the teachers of a new generation.

Teachers like to learn, but likely did not learn all they could have, and they know it. They know they want a change from the way they were taught, but they are now at the mercy of someone (government perhaps?) to tell them what and how to conduct their classrooms. For, you see, they were not given the tools for critical thinking on their own.

So, when a program is designed, teachers will follow it, thinking it will give them what they didn't get.  Then they can compare themselves with their teachers and conclude they are better...or at least the students like them.

While I wait, I'll be working on some other things.


Sixth - Begin a campaign that declares all children are equal in ability, and maintain this is what is meant in the Declaration of Independence where it is written:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

Once this idealism takes hold, students who do not have the same mental capacities are then denied the specially trained teachers who could actually help them achieve at higher levels.  I could force these kids to leave smaller classes and enter into crowded classes with greater distractions. I could call it something like "INCLUSION."  (The opposite is exclusion, and no one wants to be equated with thinking students should be excluded.)  Going further, I would determine to equate Inclusion with Equality.  Anyone who disagrees with this methodology is seen as a person who is heartless and seeks to create (or maintain) an unequal education; equating it to the separate but equal doctrine that was unfair.

If that doesn't work...then I'll figure out a way to get the government to deny funds to the school system.  Schools always want money, and will sell their souls for it.

Then, I'll sit back and watch educators fight over this issue. The Special Education teachers will be passionate about their kids, and the regular education teachers will think with their hearts and accept the children into their rooms, even though they are not equipped or qualified to teach them.

Then, once all kids are considered equal, I'd have no reason to employ specially trained, special education teachers. 


Seventh - Create a system under which teachers must disseminate certain information and on which all students will be tested.

I already know that there will be some who cannot meet the standards I set forth, for it is by definition that special education students cannot meet the standards set forth. But that won't matter, because I have already convinced everyone that all students are to be equal, or it's not fair or quality education.  I'll also make it a law that immigrants who do not know the English language must take all test in English, so they can't understand the questions, so they'll fail too.

Once the testing is mandated, I cannot fail at achieving my goal.  Either the students with lower academic and language abilities will fail or the questions will be so simplistic that all can pass. If students pass, then I'll claim that only "certain" students are doing well. I will use a big word like, like, like DISAGGREGATION. I will bring race and gender into the equation. I'll make sure no one really knows how the tests are scored, but the results will be considered valid, and I'll eventually find that either minorities, the economically disadvantaged, or girls are being discriminated against.

I'll have to make sure some of the standards do not have meaning for specific groups of students and that the tests use words and names that are foreign to the students as well.  But that shouldn't be to hard to do.  I'll just make the questions Eurocentric.

When students do not pass the test (and I have created conditions where I know some cannot), I can claim the teachers are not doing their job.


Eighth - Continue to endorse multiple methods of instruction (differentiation) as a means of keeping teachers from mastering the art of teaching.

Just when a teacher is beginning to be effective, change what they are allowed to do in the classroom by claiming the next program is better than what they are doing.  When they get good at that approach, then change it again.  If I do it in the name of helping the student, then no one can oppose me, because it's for the children.

When test scores return after using method #1 and we find that not everyone passes, then we move on to method #2.  When method #2 results come in, and score are too low, we move to method #3.

Remember, I have set up three things already:

  1. Teachers who cannot think critically.
  2. Students who are all measured by the same set of criteria which will be impossible for some to pass.
  3. Citizens who are undereducated and who did not experience success in schools when they were young. More movies might be needed.
With this in place, I can now get to my real goal.


Ninth - Convince the public, all of whom believe they are education/school experts because of mandatory attendance policies, that teachers are to blame for the poor education of the nation's young people.

I am getting close to my goal at this point.  I think this might be my most difficult task.

Somehow, I have to get the public to believe that when a student doesn't do their work, they get little encouragement at home, they do not come to school with the intent to learn, that when they fail the test that is designed for some to fail, that IT IS THE TEACHER'S FAULT.

My earlier steps will have to be really successful for this to work. It is so obvious that people should not be judged on the performance or activities of others, but I really need for this to happen. 

I have to have this kind of math - Student's failure = Teacher's fault


Tenth - Implement a Pay-For-Performance scheme for teachers.

I will reduce base pay, and then offer incentive pay, even though I know Al Gore's former speech writer, Dan Pink, has just spoken about how incentive pay does not work. But that's okay, because teachers don't know about TED anyway.

Knowing that teachers will not work harder for incentive pay, and that I have set up classrooms with students who cannot achieve on arbitrary tests, and I have a culture of teachers who cannot think critically because of my implementations 25 years earlier, I know I can reach my goal.

But just to be safe, maybe I could get one of the richest people in the world, who is a college drop-out, to believe he is an expert in public education (even though he attended private schools). He could then badmouth things of which he didn't experience.

Then, I could easily achieve my goal.  After all, everyone knows that the rich are always right.

Public education will end. I will have created an exponential atmosphere in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and I will use the one system created to keep that from happening.

And since the rich will support my political ambitions, I'll be constantly re-elected and never have to work a day in my life. But more importantly, my kids and grandkids will have less competition in the future.  Because I'll be sending them to private schools and pay for tutoring, and make sure their schools are exempt from testing.  Some of them might even become president one day.

America - what a country!

Posted via email from Murry's World

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why Teachers Should NOT 'Friend' Students

What!? 

I just wrote the most-read post I've ever had, called Why Teacher Should "Friend" Students Online.  I have had over 3000 readers, 17 comments, nearly 100 retweets, and one very sad direct message in Facebook from a spouse of a former middle school teacher who had an inappropriate relationship with a student that was propelled through an online opportunity.

That's a big deal for me.  Not that I'm looking for a big readership, but that the issue has some very passionate conversation, that apparently is ready to be discussed in practical ways instead of theoretical/philosophical terms.

I really appreciate Miguel Guhlin's RT and his follow-up post filled with data - Safety Trumps Citizenship.  It is something very much needed for the conversation.

So here's my response to all of this.

There are situations in which teachers should not friend students online:

  1. If you truly believe that your responsibility to your students ends when the buses pull away from the building, you should not friend students online.  You are correct, you are no longer obligated to your students, and since you do not get paid for your online interactions, you should not friend students online.
  2. If your "personal life" needs to remain secret you should not friend students online.  For those teachers who spend their nights and weekends in behavior that would not provide a good example to students please refrain from influencing impressionable students with your pictures of the beer-drinking gang at the sports bar or tailgating party. Just remember, your friends will have cameras and your picture will eventually find its way on their facebook page, and you will be searchable by your students anyway.
  3. If you have to even ponder the question of if you should consider friending students online, you are not ready to friend students online.  You still have doubts about yourself with students in a relaxed environment, and you need to protect yourself and your students from the situations that may arise during a give-and-take conversation.
  4. If you are afraid of losing your job, don't friend students online.  For nearly all of us, we have to have an income, and if your school has a policy of staying away from online networks, then stay away from them, until your school catches up or you find a different place of employment.
  5. If you know deep down that you might be tempted to have an inapproriate relationship with a student online, then do not friend students online.  You will only hurt yourself, your students, your family, and the profession of teachers.  As a matter of fact, please leave the education sector immediately.
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, et. al. are not the problem.  People are the problem. To blame pedophilia and abuse on teachers may be politically correct right now, but we are not all looking to harm children.  The overwhelming majority of us do care about the children, and not for some political, economic, or other kind of gain or fame.

The online communities provide an opportunity for interaction for people. I have heard parents and teachers say they keep their kids in the house today because it is too unsafe outside for them to play.  Isolating our children saddens me, but I fully understand.

All I know is that the students I teach are "crying out" for adult attention, supervision, and care. If I can provide that, if you can provide that, then I will.

To paraphrase MLK, Jr.'s quote - "You have not begun to live until you have found something worth dying for" - I say "Until you are willing to do something that seems so wrong, to so many, perhaps you haven't done anything right.

Posted via email from Murry's World

Monday, January 18, 2010

Why Teachers Should 'Friend' Students Online

Education is still trying to figure out this Internet thing.  Someday, I hope they will.

This week, an educator friend (Georgia) of mine tweeted that he was being told to 'unfriend' many of his Facebook friends...because they are students.

As I responded, another IT educator friend (Texas) of mine said someone from ChildSafe (no link ever for them) made a statement that teachers 'friending' students was "stepping over the line." The implication was that pedophiles and molesters go to where children are, and teachers should not make online relationships with students for fear that they might be considered child molesters.

Yesterday, another educator friend (Nevada) of mine tweeted that his child's friends were 'friending' him on Facebook, and the 'kids' thought it was cool.

Well, as Popeye said, "I'VE HAD ALL I CAN STANDS, AND I CAN'T STANDS NO MORE!"  Give me some spinach!

Beginning Thought - Have you ever considered that children are friending teachers they trust, because they are looking for an adult to watch out for them while they are online?

Let me get to the things that bother me the most:

  1. I resent the fact that someone who makes their living off of "scare tactics" in the name of child safety lumps my profession in with pedophiles and molesters. Facebook did not create the molester. Pedophiles, moelsters, and abusers have no specific career. 
  2. Teacher-bashing is the newest thing in political correctness.  It is always the teacher's fault when anything goes wrong with kids. If I didn't have students read what I write, I would use some other language at this point, but because I know they do, I refrain. See the power of online accountability!?
Now, if you are still with me, let me make my case.

Assumption #1 - Children are on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other social sites.
Assumption #2 - Molesters can be found on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other social sites.
Assumption #3 - Schools should care for the well-being of their students, which includes teaching them online safety.

If each assumption is true, one has several options to protect children.

  1. Prohibit kids from getting online and joining social sites.
  2. Teach kids how to protect themselves in a classroom setting, where most likely the sites are blocked at the school where you are presenting the lesson.
  3. As an adult, do not join social sites so you can hide from the activities that take place there.
  4. As an adult, join the social sites, model and monitor the activities of the children you care about.
There are more, I'm sure.

Option #1 is not going to happen.  Kids are online, and we will not stop this from happening.  Get over it, and move on.
Option #2 is going to be mocked and ridiculed by the kids you seek to protect.  Like telling boys 40 years ago that "girlie magazines" were terrible, it only peeked interest.
Option #3 is a dominant approach. Bury our heads in the sand, and que sera, sera. Then badmouth the online communities to demonstrate personal piety.
Option #4 is currently feared, but is the "best practice" model available to help guide young people through the online world.

Anecdotal Evidence:
 
I know you researcher types may not consider anecdotal evidence to be reliable.

To you I say, "It is time to spend time with young people and move on from Excel number-crunching, and beging to make a difference."  [I told you earlier, I can't stands it no more.]

In August of 2008, my son's best friend died while running a short road race in Chattanooga, TN. He was a college distance runner, who had just had his physical, and was in great shape.  It occurred a few days before his high school class was returning to their respective colleges.  There were hundreds of young people (under 20) who walked through the visitation. 

I stayed behind the family, and thanked every young person who came to support the family, and receive support from each other as well.  I was there for five hours.

It was during hour three that it happened. Three girls and two boys came up to me (former students) and asked why this happened. They were heart-broken, and wanted (needed) someone to talk to...someone who would listen. They were heading back to college in two days, and didn't know what to do. One of them asked if I was on Facebook.  I told them I was.

I also told them I would not friend them, but I would accept their request for 'friendship.'  By the time I was home (about 3 hours later) I had more than a dozen requests on my Facebook page...all former students.  That's when the power of Facebook hit me. It is about relationships, not technology.

The next day, I had a big decision to make.  I had younger siblings of these former students who started requesting friendships...they were in my classes, and in my school.

Choices - Friend them, and be accused of "crossing the line" or IGNORE them and run the risk of hurting their feelings, or worse yet, telling them I wasn't interested in them or their hurts.

I friended them, and told no one but my wife and sons. If anyone asked, my character would provide the answer.

I did not start conversations with them. I did answer them when they had questions. I did encourage them. I also told them that we all had to support each other.

A year later, on the anniversary of John's passing, I sent a message to many of his classmates that I was thinking about John, and about them. It was a difficult message for me to write, but the replies I received settled this argument for me.

The question - should teachers friend their students? - was answered.

I will not quote them exactly, but I will tell you some of the content of more than 45 messages.

  • Thank you Mr. Murry. 
  • You really made a difference for me.
  • I thought teachers forgot about us when we left their classrooms.
  • You are the only teacher who listened to me.
  • [From a current student at that time] Mr. Murry, my brother told me you were cool, but now I know why...you really helped him through John's death. Thanks.
CHILDSAFE PEOPLE - Do not ever...ever...ever make a statement that I have crossed the line, or I will cross a line with you. [Perhaps I just did]

I still do not friend my students, but I never IGNORE them when they ask.

I create Facebook Quizzes for my kids. I communicate with their parents through Facebook. I have class discussions on Twitter. I teach 7th graders.

My question: How can adults be so heartless as to deny or accuse teachers who care about their students of crossing a line? 

It is NOT Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, or any other online community that is the problem. It is the people who are out of touch with today's youth.

I will go this far - teachers who are not online, communicating with their students and the parents, limit their effectiveness as a teacher.  I'm not bashing them, just sharing my experience.

My online conversations are public.  There is a record of my actions, words, conversations, and goofiness with my kids. I think it is modeling for my students. I refrain (most of the time - perhaps not here so much) from voicing anger.  Knowing my students read what I write have made me a better person(ality) online. I think my students show restraint, knowing they have a teacher(s) who see their posts.

Without giving too much away, my school has developed Fan pages, class pages, and we follow each other.  I don't know of anyone who asked permission to do so. Students can't get to Facebook on school-networked computers (but they do on their phones). I've seen Facebook used as homework reminders, group discussions among students, and picture-sharing of ballgames, band, and school life.  All of our principals (4 of them) are on Facebook too. Kids talk about who to friend for school stuff.

By not discussing "how to do it" our school is sneaking into the educational use of Facebook. The students like it. The teachers like it. And we are becoming a very close community for 1600+ people in our building. I know what is going on with peers I never get to see. I have students follow me that I don't teach.  They take my class quizzes. It's very cool.

Can you see why I'm upset over the practice of guilting, litigating, and/or forcing good teachers to 'unfriend' students?

Final Thought - Have you ever considered that children are friending teachers they trust, because they are looking for an adult to watch out for them while they are online?

I feel better now.

Posted via email from Murry's World

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Ocoee Middle School Trash Can Band. Awesome halftime performance! Video link coming soon.

iPhoned
From R. Murry

Posted via email from Murry's World

Watching "old friend" Bobby Cremins coach against UTC. Met him in late 90s at his GA Tech office. Good man.

iPhoned
From R. Murry

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Best - Venn - Diagram - Ever

Saw this in Twitter.

iPhoned
From R. Murry

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How Much Do We Grow After High School?

I never once heard David talk about any of these ideas in high school, and he surely would not have heard me talk about them either.  But what both of us received while we were there prepared us to learn these issues on our own.


[Dave is on the left with two beautiful young ladies from the Dominican Republic]

I've told my story - but in brief - I didn't enjoy school once I got to high school.  I was in it for the sports, and I didn't really care for any of my coaches. So you can imagine the misery.

I told my colleagues a story this week about my study habits.  I was new to the town where I went to high school.  Dad transferred jobs.  I was looking forward to a good change.  I decided in my first week of classes that I was gong to start paying attention and DOING HOMEWORK.  The first test I had was in Spanish.  I took my notes and book home.  I studied for over three hours.  I was confident.

I went to school (in the second week), took the Spanish 1 test, and received an 'F'.  I never took another book home to study

Anyway...

A friend of mine during my freshman year, David, is now in the Dominican Republic.  He's a professor there, and works to reforest the region.  Very cool.  Here's why.

I would guess that our classmates would not have thought either of us would have gone on to earn our living in academic/educational endeavors.  But we have, and, if I say so myself, I think we are doing important work not just for the sake of academics, but to make our world a better place when we're gone.

How do I know?

Well, a few weeks ago I was demonstrating to my classes the power of developing a network outside of face-to-face world.  I had just found David on Facebook through some other high school friends.  I looked at his pictures, read his updates, and was amazed at what he is doing.

I showed my classes the pictures of him with the people in the Dominican Republic (I also have two students from there).  We had just finished learning about deforestation in Africa, so David's work seemed to fit into both academics and networking rather well.

Jump ahead to this past week.  Haiti has a terrible earthquake.  We discussed it in class on Thursday.  I had one of my students ask if my friend was okay.  I didn't know who he were talking about.  He said, "You know, the one in the Dominican Republic.  It's on the same island as Haiti."  

My students asked if there was anything we could do to help him and the people in Haiti.  THIS IS HOW I KNOW I AM DOING MY JOB! NOT BY A TEST SCORE.

I did share with all my classes how they could help the Red Cross by texting 'Haiti' to 90999.  You still can.  If my information is accurate, my students (and their parents) donated around $150 on Thursday.  THIS IS HOW I KNOW I AM DOING MY JOB! NOT BY A TEST SCORE.

Anyway...

I told them I didn't know anything about David's situation.  I went to Facebook. I saw that his friends were worried about him.  His daughter posted a message saying David was okay, just busy, and in Haiti. I sent David a note asking if there was anything my kids could do for him or the people.  He had been in Haiti last Fall, so I knew he knew people there.

Here's his response:

Hey Rick...just got back from Haiti...well on my way back now.  Very much a disaster area...that has become a military operation.  Here is what you can do with your students:
  1. Learn about colonialism...not the definition..but the long term affects.  Much of the issues in Latin America can be attributed to the structural voids that remain when colonists depart.
  2. Learn about centralized governments.  The negative impacts in crisis situations.  Much of the government is dead in Haiti...and the municipalities have almost no authority. Rebuilding will be almost impossible.
  3. Learn about sustainability issues; deforestation, potable water, agricultural practices, waste policies..and how they will impact Haiti moving forward.  Much led to this crisis..obviously no one controls nature..but the infrastructure that was in place has possibly made it worse..and has made reconstruction almost impossible.
  4. Learn about the roles and responsibilities of the UN and other NGOs that are taking action in Haiti.  Understand the lack of communication of the NGOs and what that is doing to the efforts there.
  5. Most importantly..learn about inequalities..what causes them..economic and social structures....and how Americans view these inequalities.
These situations are always patched back together...with the assurance that the same systems are intact.  It might be an opportunity to visit the relationships of all economic and social systems...and how they contribute to the overall direction of humanity.

Enjoy...keep up your good work.


I ask if there is anything we can do for him.  His response - TEACH YOU KIDS!    DO THIS WITH YOUR STUDENTS!

Wow. He just "put feet on" 25% of my standards.  Everything in the bold is attached to the standards I am responsible for teaching, but at a much deeper and more practical level.  Notice he said, "...not the definition...but the long term effects."  That's what I try to do everyday. 

I never once heard David talk about any of these ideas in high school, and he surely would not have heard me talk about them either.  But what both of us received while we were there prepared us to learn these issues on our own.

So teachers, administrators, government, academicians...please understand that some students may not be what you think they should be while they are in school.  But we can become something anyway.


Posted via email from Murry's World

Saturday, January 09, 2010

It's cold. Frozen fountain.

iPhoned
From R. Murry

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Teach For America Thinks It Has Found a Magic Formula

In this "data-driven" world of education reform, Teach For America (TFA) believes it is now able to quantify what makes great teachers (and perhaps what makes a teacher great).

The results (abbreviated from Freakanomics):

Great teachers share some key characteristics:
  • they set big goals for their students,
  • constantly seek to improve their own effectiveness,
  • actively involve students and their families,
  • stay focused,
  • plan extensively by working backwards from their desired outcome, and
  • work relentlessly.
I have only a few comments (and I really don't care what teacher training program one comes from, as long as the teacher can do the job):
  1. None of these ground-breaking discoveries contains anything that doesn't make someone in any profession effective (with the exception of specifically involving families).
  2. There seems to be al lot of subjective material in a report that says it has quantified the results.
  1. "Big goals" = very subjective
  2. "Constant improvement of effectiveness" = very subjective and personal
  3. "Stay focused" = again, subjective - focused on what? and who says that the "what" is important?
  4. "plan extensively" = personal and subjective
  5. backward design = The UBDers will be happy
  6. "Work relentlessly" = what does that even mean?
Please observe what TFA is saying here.  To be successful as a teacher you must:
  1. Know where one needs to be at some point in the future ("set big goals").
  2. Be reflective (did you accomplish your goal in the lesson or not? If not, why not" If so, can you do it again next year?)
  3. Get people involved in the process (identify the people that will make your work worth your time).
  4. Know what you need to really be doing (focus on what really matters most).
  5. Know where you're going and only do the things that will get you there (duh).
  6. Work until you accomplish the goal and get your work done (don't give up on yourself of the kids in your room).
This is reaching the news as if this is something brilliant.  Give me a break.  If you don't have these qualities in you by the time you leave college (no matter what you are preparing to do with your life) you're not going to be ready to succeed.

How can something so benign be considered so revolutionary?

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

I Need My Teachers To Learn

Thanks Kevin Honeycutt for the song - Thanks to @KarenJan, @clifmims, and @melhutch for posting the link on Twitter.

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Environment & People Issues Review Outline

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Dreamer, Dream Keeping, Dream Stealing

I had a former student, who is home on break, text me to see if I was at school yesterday.  I was, and said, "Come see us!"

She stopped in to talk, update us on her life, and tell us about her hopes and dreams.  She is hoping to travel to Costa Rica soon on a medical relief mission, under the auspices of a non-governmental organization.  Her heart is so pure, so filled with love for others, and so much like what I wish I had.

She has an opportunity to witness first-hand what she only gets to read about in school.  In her letter to me, she writes,

It is with frank humbleness that I seek your support in this objective.  My goal has always been to help destitute societies throughout the world. Indeed, I aspire to travel to underprivileged countries around the world to personally witness these issues and find ways to improve the living conditions of these individuals-individuals just like you and me...

I have been teaching long enough to begin receiving these types of requests.  My wife and I helped a former player of mine travel to South Africa this past summer on a mission trip.  [He interviewed today in Orlando for a position with a non-profit organization that focuses on helping children.  I hope it went well.]  He gave my wife and I two framed photographs of a elephant (that charged their vehicle for nearly a mile) and a giraffe they passed as they went from one village to another.  Both photos are now in my classroom.  I will use them to motivate my current and future students.

I am a dreamer - I truly believe that I can change the world.  It may not be me who does the exact work, but perhaps one of my students will.  I believe one of the will...someday.

I am a dream keeper - I want to know what my former students are growing into as people.  I want to know their dreams, keep them in my mind to pray for them to come true in their lives, and perhaps to motivate them when they return to visit me.

I also shed some tears when I speak with these students who feel so alone, and frustrated, and disheartened when they continually have people try to steal their dreams.  They may not mean to do it, but there are those who will try to get these students to think rationally; that it is impossible to do the things they hope to do; that they're misguided youth who will need to get a better, firmer footing in the world. 

They mean well, I'm sure...but it is a form of dream-stealing.  I've witnessed the dream being stolen in real-time through the years, and I have witnessed the actual physical changes in the young person as their heart breaks when those of us "older and wiser" people steal their dreams.

So, my wife and I are about to write another check to a former student.  It is our investment and offering.  The return we seek is a happier life of what is and was, so later they won't experience the life that could have been - had someone not stolen their dream.  Oh, yeah...I do like souvenirs, pictures, or a guest lecture/question/answer in my classroom.

So what are you?  A Dreamer, Dream-Keeper, or Dream-Stealer?

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Good Policy Or A Step Backward in Racism, Stereotyping, Discrimination, and Prejudicial Behavior?

Airline passengers from "terrorist tendency countries" to experience additional checks, including body pat-downs.

I first read the news through Twitter - my first source of international, national, and regional news - that the Transportation Security Administration was enacting "additional measures" of searching airlines passengers from countries who have "terrorist tendencies."

I am surprised that this measure was accepted and implemented so quickly. It is based on a failed attempt to blow up a jet on 12/24/09, and that seems like a quick reaction when the government is involved in making the decision.

Just asking questions now:

  1. Is this racial profiling? If so, is this a good thing now?
  2. If this is a good thing, why wasn't it a good thing in 2002. 2003, 2005?
  3. Is it ironic to anyone other than me that a "minority" President of the United States is the one to implement/support this policy?
  4. Is it only because we have a "minority" President that this was able to be implemented? Were the "powerful white guys" just waiting for this opportunity?

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

I Promise...

It's a time of New Year's Resolutions, Top 10 Lists (the 2010 thing to do), and reflection.

I was about to write something that I thought would be worth my time, then I thought a little further, and decided that my criticism of something that someone else had written wasn't a wise use of my time, effort, or desire to keep things simple (see items # 1, 2, and 4 below). It is not that what I would have said would have been right or wrong, just that I'm not sure it would have been productive.

So...

In the spirit of the new year, I promise...

  1. Not to waste my time or yours with cyclical arguments based on opinions (or "research" that was concocted to support an opinion).
  2. Not to criticize methods of teaching/learning/or whatever we decide to call the process of schooling.
  3. Not to tell you, when I can ask you.
  4. Not to bother you while you are doing what cannot be done.
  5. Not to believe that 'new' means better when it comes to technology use in schools.
  6. To be supportive of your ideas.
  7. To focus on what my students need from me and want from school. And if it helps you with your students - great.
  8. To read with an open, yet critical mind - to separate wheat from chaff, in order to do what is best for my students.
  9. To think globally and act locally - realizing the the planet is getting smaller, and "local" is bigger than it used to be.
  10. To speak to the basic needs of humanity, instead of the unlimited wants of narrowly focused communities.
Wow, that's a lot of stuff.  This should simplify my life if I can follow each of them, don't you think?  Can you help me accomplish these tasks? [item #3]

I do not want you to think I will lose my sense of history and humor.  I leave you with my favorite New-Year's-Resolution-like, audience-participation performance from Steve Martin (sorry, I can't find a video/audio clip anywhere):

STEVE MARTIN: Let’s repeat the Non-Conformist Oath. I promise to be different.
AUDIENCE: I promise to be different.
STEVE MARTIN: I promise to be unique.
AUDIENCE: I promise to be unique.
STEVE MARTIN: I promise not to repeat things other people say.
AUDIENCE: I promise … [Dissolves into nervous laughter.]

I guess this means Steve Martin will never use the ReTweet feature.

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Has Technology Led Teachers Astray

I just finished reading about how three separate GPS-led traveling parties have gotten lost in Oregon.  All were rescued, thankfully, but it made me wonder about teachers who have had a love affair with technology and how tech will change education.

Have teachers who relied on technology to attempt to change education been led astray from the real purpose of educating children?

Using the analogy of GPS, and how people "believe in the power" of GPS to get them where they are going, I wonder what technolgies have been espoused as directional tools to change education but have only made us lose our purpose. 

I have been less than impressed with the GPS assistance I have been given as I have travelled.  I have never been "lost" because of the bad directions through GPS, but I have been extremely disappointed in the accuracy of the instructions.  And the voice telling me to "turn left" annoys me, especially when turning left would lead me the wrong way down a one-way street.  I've been late to dinner reservations, and had to "re-wait."  It is frustrating - so I don't use it anymore. 

What happens when we begin to rely on things that don't work? 

What I use instead of the newer technology, GPS, is a folding map to get an idea of where things are. Then I'll use Google Maps for details as I get closers (usually on my iPhone, but sometimes printed on paper).

In it's simplest form, I use what works for me.  Technology is meant to make life easier for the user.  If it does not make our life easier, it is bad technology for us.

Now back to education. What is the PURPOSE of education?

My goodness, how the answer to that question has been debated over the past 10 years. And through the debates, I wonder if we (all of us who really care about the future of our children) have clouded the answer with supporting statements, rather than clarifying the true purpose of education.

Is the purpose of education...

  • to prepare students for their future?
  • to provide students a basic knowledge base?
  • to prepare students to be productive members of society?
  • to identify specific talents among individuals to connect them with their potential livelihoods?
Because the purpose of education is clouded, we have multiple opinions as to what will help our students succeed.

I would like to think that purpose of education could be to prepare students to experience the best life they can achieve.  There are some presuppositions to make this happen. 

  • Teachers have to care about the best of each student, not about the prejudices we may bring with us about the students in our classrooms.
    • Things like race, socio-economics, gender, and all the other ways we classify students today (in the guise of leaving none behind).
  • Teachers have to accept that students have differing abilities, and that is a good thing.
    • Since we have artificially inflated the need for college (all kids should go mentality) we have left behind those children who will become the electricians, mechanics, woodworkers, plumbers, and other service needs personnel.  We will soon find ourselves void of craftsmen...none of whom need a college education, but will have to find some way to learn the craft because we have all but eliminated these classes from our high schools, because they do not fit into our public education system any longer.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I stopped in a wood works store today.  In the back they had a classroom where people could learn to use table saws, lathes, and routers to do "projects." Everything there reminded me of my high school woodworking class.  I learned to make tables, desks, and tried my hand a cabinets.  I was 15 years old. I enjoyed the work, and many times call on the skills I learned there to do odd jobs around the house. 

The store was not as busy as Lowes or Home Depot, but they had customers.  I overheard one of the men working there say to a customer, "We can teach you how to do that. We have a classroom in the back of the store. You can use the equipment, and be finished in about a week."  Educrats would call it mentoring.  It is a form of apprenticeship that they are hoping to bring back to our area.

I liked what I saw - no pun intended. They are meeting a need for people to turn hobbies into income. As colleges price themselves out of students, I see these kinds of businesses having a place and purpose. They will train the students we have neglected by thinking the best hope for all students is to go to college and "find themselves."

I don't claim to have all the answers, nor should anyone else.  I just know that in an effort to "leave no child behind" we have interpreted that to mean "all children go to college" and thus have downgraded the value of a college education (now that anyone qualifies). Sir Ken Robinson said it this way (paraphrase) - what used to take a high school diploma, now takes a bachelor's degree and what used to take a bachelor's degree, now takes a master's degree. 

This can only be true if a) doing the same tasks we did in the past have gotten harder, or b) we have reduced education to the lowest level of student ability (dumbing-down), thus requiring more time to provide the same material.  Personally, I believe it's a little bit of both with a much heavier dose of the latter.

What do you think the purpose of public education should be?

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Friday, January 01, 2010

When Hard Work Hinders Advances

The world has always needed trailblazers. The "more tech in education" trailblazers, evangelists, or whatever you choose to call them appear to be burning out, changing their course of action, or at least need a deserved break. 

Will Richardson - grieves for the systemic lack of change
David Warlick - changing focus and vocabulary

There are many others whom we all know and read. Our work - hard work - may have been the reason change did not occur. That's a sobering thought. How many arguments did the edubloggers have over tech tools throughout the past decade? We still bicker over the best operating systems, though perhaps in good humor among us, it is humor not understood by teachers who don't care about the OS, just that they can read their email.

Ewan McIntosh writes a brief thought to start the year.  I love the title - 2010: The system's not changing fast enough and it no longer matters.  I imagine Bill Murray in Meatballs - "It just doesn't matter! It just doesn't matter!"  So perhaps we should lighten up a bit.

McIntosh says what I resigned myself to believe a couple years ago. Change is going to happen, because it doesn't need that much help. It may not happen how we want it to, or when we want it to, or where we want it to; but it will happen because it is happening.

Our approach to getting technology more ubiquitous in schools was a battle that we fought poorly.  We talked about the tools, what they could do. Our focus was misplaced.

It is not that what we did was wrong; it probably allowed us to come back to what really matters in our field - learning, and knowing why the learning is important for the world. Our focus on the technology was a diversion to what is necessary for our next generation. BUT, it did help most of us come to develop a better philosophy of education. The technology is what we LEARNED, so we were excited about it and wanted to share it with everyone - but most others were not that interested.

We alienated the overwhelming majority of teachers.  They looked at us as tech people, not teachers (or "teacher-learners" for D. Warlick).  They saw us as people who were trying to "add just one more thing" to the tasks of the teacher.  So they tuned us out. I don't blame them.

We tried to do the work that did not need to be done.  The students will usher in the use of technology, as they always have.  I said at the end of my tech evangelism phase (sometime in 2007) that just as TVs are a part of most classrooms today, SmartPhones (of all kinds) will be the norm as the next generation of teachers fill our classrooms. Again, I remember as a student the rejection, deference, and animosity toward bringing a TV/VCR into the classroom. "TV is not an educational tool!"  Now they sit in most rooms and are in the way. We laugh at (or even forget) the notion that TVs were rejected by educators in the 1980s.

Soon, the conversations of "should teachers 'friend' student on Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/etc." will be laughed at as well; as the climate demands it instead of debates it.

So, as I begin the 2010 (pronounced twenty-ten), I am getting back to the basics of life. 

Teaching is about building relationships with students, allowing them to trust that I care about them, that I am there to help them succeed in whatever THEY choose to do with their life. 

Part of my job is to help them choose things that are morally upright, ethically appreciated, and something that will help them experience some form of pride and satisfaction that their life was worth the living.

I hope to do even more for some students; to lead them to know that happiness in life is not about what you get, but what you are able to give. I want these students to know that others in the world struggle, suffer, and surrender at the hands of evil - and that one person can make a difference for them, perhaps it will be one of my students who can make that difference.

I will be present in the lives of my students, as long as they want me to be. If that means in the classroom, at a ballgame, in the mall, at their house with their family, or on Facebook/Twitter/et. al., then I'll be there for them.

Teaching is important to me.  It does not end when the bell rings, when the school year ends, when the students graduate. Teaching ends when the student decides. Some students decide your teaching ends after the first week in your class.  Other students continue to ask questions long after they achieve their graduate degrees.

The more technological the world becomes, the more human we must become.

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