January 16th, 2013

The Anti-Education Era

James Paul Gee from the introduction of The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning:

This book is about what it means to be smart and to be a fully awake participant in our high-risk global world in the twenty-first century. It is about what parents ought to do to forestall their children becoming victims in that high-risk world. The book is about how to think about the future before we humans don’t have one. We need to save our children and ourselves from the sorts of human stupidity to which we are all prone, but that are now way too dangerous to indulge in. To have a future we need to start exercising our smart side more, a side that today’s schools, colleges, and media have too often put to sleep.


July 15th, 2011

Testing Kindergartners

So during vacation it apparently came out that a new Obama edu-initiative appeared, called by some “Race to the Top for Tots.” You guessed it…we’re now going to be giving money to states who can show that it’s preschoolers are test ready for elementary school. Cooper Zale has a great reflection on this fact that ties in nicely to the research that I cited in my post here yesterday. The absurdity continues:

But my fear is that in our instructional obsession (including a focus on a drill and test approach to ensure that instruction “sticks” at least until after the test), state funded and regulated preschool programs will be pushed in the direction of teaching to the test, which I believe would do a great disservice to our kids’ healthy development.  “Kindergarten readiness tests” are one thing if they are a low-stakes assessment for parents and other adults that work with the kid.  They are quite another thing when they become a high-stakes assessment by the state of which preschool programs will receive or not receive funding.

If as I fear it becomes a high-stakes situation, adult preschool staff are highly likely to increase their efforts to direct children’s play more, while the study I cited above says that children’s development is generally facilitated by directing their play less.  Even now, from my anecdotal experience, I’m concerned that many parents, childcare providers and teachers are way too directive when it comes to children’s skill development.

And it’s already happening. In this piece by Milwaukee kindergarten teacher Kelly McMahon in Rethinking Schools from a year ago (reg. req.), she recounts the number of tests that her 5-year-olds took in the 08-09 school year. 

  • Milwaukee Public Schools’ 5-Year-Old Kindergarten Assessment (completed three times a year)
  • On the Mark Reading Verification Assessment (completed three times a year)
  • A monthly writing prompt focused on different strands of the Six Traits of Writing
  • 28 assessments measuring key early reading and spelling skills
  • Chapter pre- and post-tests for all nine math chapters completed
  • Three additional assessments for each math chapter completed
  • A monthly math prompt
  • Four Classroom Assessments Based on Standards (CABS) per social studies chapter (20 total)
  • Four CABS assessments per science chapter (20 total)
  • Four CABS assessments per health chapter (20 total)

It’s hard to come to any other conclusion that we have simply lost our collective minds when it comes to learning, and the worst part of it is, there is no leadership at the highest levels that a) has an understanding of the really powerful negative effects of standardization, and b) is willing to educate us and move us collectively in a different direction. In that vacuum, we have Bill Gates and Jeb Bush and other non-educators who can’t see learning as anything but a bunch of numbers and data that can be sold to vendors and, now, parents.

But here is the bigger problem, I think. An engaged citizenry would have picked up this fight by now. I’m constantly amazed at how few people I talk to outside of my network really don’t have any sense of what this system is doing to their kids, and, more importantly, the kids in inner cities who don’t have nearly the advantages and opportunities they do. The fact we haven’t mustered much of a collective fight speaks volumes about the negative effects of a system that now is going to dumb down our youngest learners even more. 

July 9th, 2011

Schooling is a Choice (?)

So, the first thing I read this first-morning-back from vacation was this amazing post by Bonnie Stewart, a post that echoes much of my own struggle as a parent but articulated in a much more powerful, thoughtful, beautiful way. Here is a snip:

We send them into the school system, most of us, with great hopes. Learning. Education. Talisman words. They promise development of our children’s potential, inculcation into the mysteries of consciousness. The lure of the Tree of Knowledge.

What they get – what we all get – is something…other…than that. We get people who learn their place in our culture. In the – however much I flinch at the word – patriarchy, with its implicit hierarchy of gendered behaviours and classed behaviours and racialized behaviours, even as we in our schools and culture pay lip service to inclusion and acceptance and celebration of difference.

More times than I can count now, in the Q & A follow ups after my presentations, I’ve been asked some variation of “So, what about you, Will? If the system is in such disarray, why don’t you pull your own kids out?” I never give a great answer, I don’t think. And I wonder if it’s because I don’t have one. As I commented to Bonnie, I just feel worse when I consider it deeply. I wrote:

I keep wondering if 10-15 years down the road I’ll look at my kids and wish I’d done it differently. Wish I’d had the guts (?), the sense (?), the love (?) to have put them on a different path, one that as much as I hope for the system to embrace, I fully realize it can’t.

I know deep in my heart that a “better” education lies elsewhere, right now, outside of the school walls. Yet, I keep sending them back. And Bonnie’s description of that dissonance resonates very, very deeply.

In the end, I suspect that I will deliver my children over to some version of a 1950s classroom. Anything else would shock me. And I assume there will be good in it, and bad, just as there was for most of us.

Yet, sitting here thinking about tiny diplomas and the patriarchy and the world I’d like to live in, I recognize that schooling is a choice.

And I marvel and cringe at the power of a system that makes it so difficult for even those of us most deeply embedded in and privileged by its operations to see other options. Patriarchy for the win, indeed.

Schooling is a choice. Why is it so hard for us to see it as such?

(Source: theory.cribchronicles.com)

June 27th, 2011

For Parents: How Much Do We Really Need (Want?) to Know?

When I was in middle school, I remember trotting out my bike just about every summer afternoon and riding to the local park to meet Tom and Ken and my other best friends for a few hours of play and horsing around. We lived in a small, country town, and as long as I promised to be home by 8 o’clock, my mom was fine with it. Not that she didn’t care; I guess she trusted me and my friends and to some small extent maybe kept her fingers crossed. Looking back, we were good kids, good friends, and my mom didn’t really have much to worry about. But there were discussions and stories and secrets that my buds and I passed back and forth on those afternoons, the stuff of adolescence that mothers didn’t really need to know about. And she never found out (at least not that I know.)

Not that I’m getting all nostalgic or anything, but fast forward a few decades and now I’m the parent with the adolescent kids (11 and 13). And it’s feeling like life has changed quite a bit, especially in the knowing what’s going on in my kids’ lives department. Both of them have Facebook pages; both of them know that my wife and I have the logins and passwords to their accounts. And I’m not saying that we are constantly checking what they’re up to over there, but every now and then, our view is that it’s appropriate and important for us to take a peek. 

So here’s the deal: I know at some point, my kids, despite knowing that “nothing is private” online, are going to start sharing private stuff online. There have already been some forays into that territory, and I’ve seen enough on other FB pages to know that there will come a time when I find out something that I probably didn’t need or want to know if the first place. Something that I’d probably sleep better at night not having read. 

And I can imagine other parents in my shoes. It must be akin to the people who were breaking codes created by Germany’s Enigma Machine back in World War 2, wondering what, if any, action they should take when they did start getting actionable information in the communications they were intercepting, not wanting to let the Germans know they had broken the code, waiting for the really big secret to come through.


I know I’m not the only one struggling with this stuff. And I haven’t found much about this in the parenting manual. But I am wondering, how does this change things? My sense is it’s not quite the same as the journals many of us kept as kids. And I know bazillions of us made it through just fine without our parents knowing even a fraction of the thoughts and actions of our lives growing up. But still…

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

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Welcome! I'm Will Richardson, parent, educator, speaker, author, 12-year blogger at Weblogg-ed and now here. I'm trying to answer the question "What happens to schools and classrooms and learning in a 2.0 world?" Best selling new book: Why School?s...order now!!

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