Gov. Chris Christie proposed Thursday that private companies play an unprecedented role in public education, managing some schools and creating others from the ashes of dysfunctional ones.
The governor said the state would launch its experiment in five chronically failing schools where students are hopelessly mired in traditional approaches to education that have utterly collapsed.
“This pilot program will provide an innovative alternative for those children who need it most, bolstering our efforts to ensure opportunity for every child in our state,” the governor said. “This program will begin to restore hope in communities where failing schools deny children hope and opportunity.”
What he didn’t say: We can’t trust educators to fix this. We want to make money off of our students’ backs. I need more campaign contributions. I need a job after I lose the governorship next year. Etc.
Just a thought…
I remember when 9/11 occurred I was teaching a journalism class when another teacher came in and said a plane had hit the World Trade Centers. We had a TV in the room, and I immediately flipped it on and we started watching as Aaron Brown tried to make sense of what was happening. After a couple of seconds, I told my kids to take out their notebooks and begin jotting down key quotes, interview names, etc. as the pieces began to trickle in. It was a mistake on my part, I realized, as the gravity of the event began to grow and settle in. At some point, I told them to put their notebooks away, that this wasn’t a great time for an exercise, and we watched until the TV feed was cut by our superintendent. Still, for the next couple of weeks after the dust cleared a bit, I threw out the curriculum, and we divvied up the pieces of this complex story and followed them, reported to one another and the school about what was happening, and worked through our emotions in the process. We learned a lot about the world and the times as they presented themselves.
I’m not in a classroom any longer, but moments like the one we’re in right now I wish I was. We are watching a slow unfolding of history as opposed to that day seven years ago that came at us in such a rush. In the midst of all of this angst and uncertainty that we’re dealing with, there are a host of teachable moments that would serve to make all of our kids better, more able, more functional citizens. I’m sure there are more, but how about these topics, just for a start:
- How mortgages work
- What credit is
- What the tax code is
- The intricacies of borrowing money
- Investing in the stock market
- Balanced budgets
- What debt, both personal and national, is
- The political process (or lack thereof) of the two Houses of Congress
- The electoral college
- Truth in advertising
- Vetting of expertise (as in talking heads)
- The “Global Economy” and our effects on it
Please feel free to add your own in the comments if you like, but I wonder how many teachers are throwing out the curriculum at this point and focusing on real events that have real consequences. (Here is one example by a social studies supervisor who I used to teach with back in the day.) If we’re not doing it now, when?
One last point. This is a perfect time to teach our kids “editing” as well. I’m still struggling with this whole debacle in terms of what it means for the average person. This morning on the news, I heard one “expert” put it simply: if credit dries up, the economy stops. In other words, if banks don’t have money to lend, not only will we not get loans, our credit cards will be pretty much useless, and cash on hand will be king. If that’s true, inaction could be really, really costly, which is what many seem to be saying. But who do we trust at times like these? We have to teach ourselves and our kids how to answer that question.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a president who was a teacher as well? I think the times demand it.
Moments like the Sarah Palin for VP pick are moments to sit back and take measure of what a complex landscape we’re living under when it comes to what to believe, Googleability, and the whole concept of “citizen journalism.” The stupidity from both sides has been amazing (the “she has foreign policy experience because she’s right next door to Russia” remark on the right and the “it really wasn’t her baby” watch on the left), and the breadth and speed with which all of the details of her and her family’s life have been coming out have been astounding to watch. In fact, we’re no doubt witnessing it in spades right now simply because it was such an out of the box pick and the MSM just wasn’t ready for it.
Good thing we’re all here to fill in.
If you listen to C-SPAN in the mornings like I do, you can’t help but agree with Bill Maher when he says the country is getting stupider and stupider. If you watch FOX or MSNBC, listen to Rush or Hannity or Ed Schultz, read the red and blue blogs, you quickly find yourself in a huge virtual, asynchronous shouting match that regardless of your political leanings will make you both tired and frustrated and longing for the one page briefing memo with just the “facts” if there still are such beasts. (By the way, does anyone want to argue that the Wikipedia article on Sarah Palin may be the most extensive, neutral point of view collection of “facts” that exist about her right now?) Yeah, everyone having a printing press is a good thing on balance. But sheesh, it sure complicates things.
And it’s been a real treat watching a good chunk of this develop with my kids, pausing the TIVO like every 30 seconds to ask them what they heard, what they think it means, and then explain why it doesn’t necessarily mean what is sounds like it means. (Don’t worry, we don’t torture them too much with this, and we do it across party lines. We can only take so much of it ourselves.) All in an effort to plant some seeds of skepticism for media in their brains. (The best quote was from Tucker, btw, who while watching Palin’s introductory speech to the nation said “Why does McCain look so nervous?”)
There must be about 3 million ways we can make all of this a “teachable moment” for our kids, from having them blog the convention goings on to creating their own campaign commercials to building their own policy wikis. (I’m sure there are many others much better than those ideas, btw.) That is, of course, assuming we have the editing skills (and we’re not just talking punctuation, here) to sift through all of it and come to some informed conclusions ourselves, that we have the ability or at least the awareness of our ability to participate in meaningful ways.
I love presidential politics, but while it usually points out what is best about this country, it also serves to remind us how really, really dumbed down the whole process has become. And unless we get some folks around here who can sift through this morass of “truth” with a little more skill, it ain’t gonna get any better any time soon.
New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks writes about the pretty dire state of education in this country in his piece “The Biggest Issue” which ran yesterday, and it cites some interesting research about the relationship between education and technology. Namely, not so great things happen when the pace of educational progress slips behind that of technological progress, which is what is occurring right now.
The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.
Now I know that “educational progress” in this instance is being measured by how much of an education most people get, a rate that peaked (in graduation terms) in the late 1960s and continue to decline. But can we really measure educational progress on the basis of graduation rates these days?
Two other points from the essay: First, the bottom line is that family environments, “which have deteriorated over the last 40 years,” have a great deal to do with the potential success of any given student. Second, it appears, at least, that the candidate better positioned to deal with this situation is Obama, given his emphasis on early childhood education.
Here’s another nugget to chew on:
Itâ€™s not globalization or immigration or computers per se that widen inequality. Itâ€™s the skills gap. Boosting educational attainment at the bottom is more promising than trying to reorganize the global economy.
I’m still doubtful that either campaign will push these conversations to the forefront even though, as Brooks suggests, they represent “the biggest issue facing the country.”
Given the rules in place, this clash between the old ways of talking to the Congress and the potential new ones may have been inevitable. Noyes says Culberson and Ryan are active users of the Internet. “They have been Twittering all over the place,” he says. “They’ve been Twittering back and forth, engaging one another in debates over politics and policy.” The reporter describes Culberson, in particular, as something of a Web maverick and a poster child for the issue.
I love it.
I saw this presentation live a couple of weeks ago at the Personal Democracy Forum and would suggest that it’s worth 25 minutes of your time to take a listen. I really like a lot of what Pesce is trying to say, even though the verbiage gets in the way at times. And it really pushes my thinking about cell phones in general. Have a look.
Here is the overview from the PDF presentation page, which has some great talks by Rushkoff, Shirky, Lessig, Zittrain and others:
In this keynote talk at Personal Democracy Forum 2008, Pesce situates the current moment of transformation in the context of 60,000 years of human civilization; argues that our innate tendencies to connect with each other, copy behaviors and share ideas are now on hyperdrive; and projects a near-future where “hyperempowered” individuals and networks transform politics. As he concludes: “Representative democracies are a poor fit to the challenges ahead, and â€˜rebootingâ€™ them is not enough. The future looks nothing like democracy, because democracy, which sought to empower the individual, is being obsolesced by a social order which hyperempowers him.” The text of his talk is available on his blog here. He has also posted his slides on Slideshare, here.
In light of the Obama campaigns use of social tools, Pesce pushes the thinking quite a bit…
My head is swimming with all sorts of impressions from the opening day of the PDF conference. Really smart people talking about really amazing shifts, trying to figure out if they are really transformative or just a better, larger, more immediate way to communicate with people and move them to action. I think the jury is still out (though I’m leaning toward the former) but it gets pretty heady when you think about what we have to prepare our students for in terms of the potentials for participating in the political process (both good and ill) and the extent to which we encourage that participation.
Zephyr Teachout (who has by any measure one of the coolest names ever) opened the day with a compelling question:
How many people have within them the knowledge of how to form a local group and to use that group to change the structure of their society?
And it wasn’t asked in the context of these connective technologies, but the implication was obvious. If we’re not preparing them to do it in their own physical spaces, how can they be expected to do it effectively in virtual space?
There was lots of talk as well about being able to use these tools, especially mobile tools, to capture and document important events and share them with the world. The example of Mayhill Flower, who happened to catch the Obama comment on average Americans being bitter and clinging to their guns came up on a couple of occasions, as did the Hillary Clinton comment about Bobby Kennedy which was captured on a Mogulus stream. Left a lot of people wondering if all of this is a good thing or just a recipe for chaos.
During the session I Tweeted to Andy Carvin who was also in attendance, asking whether all of this meant we should be preparing our kids to be, in effect, journalists. He Tweeted back, yeah, we should prep them to “conduct random acts of journalism when moments arise that demand coverage, debate.” I think I agree.
And then there was a panel titled “Building and Using the World Live Web” which featured Robert Scoble and the creators of Qik, Mogulus and Cover it Live. It was a fascinating discussion and model of just how live things are getting, including live streaming from your phone right to the Web where people can interact, ask questions, leave comments which are then sent back to the phone where you can integrate the suggestions into the broadcast. Stories of politicians who are using the feature to interact with their constituents, me wondering what the potentials are for local board of ed meetings, town councils, graduations, etc. (And, all the not so wonderful content as well.)
Zephyr cited a statistic that said that historically only about 5% of people have actively participated in the political process on a local or national level. I’m heading home tonight wondering if that percentage is going to change because of these tools, and if so, if that will be a good thing or not.
Just a quick pointer to a post by Jeff Jarvis who has some interesting observations about blogging ethics in the context of linking and quoting from other sources. Seems the Associated Press has attempted to get some bloggers to stop using pull quotes (even as short as 35 words) from its stories and, somewhat understandably, the blogosphere is rebelling. Jarvis is leading the charge, and describes the ethic of link and quote as this:
It says to our readers: Donâ€™t take my word for it, go see for yourself. And: Hereâ€™s what the source said; I wonâ€™t rephrase it but I will quote it directly so you can see for yourself.
I’ve always thought that this was one of the powerful qualities of blogging, the ability to send the reader back to the original to see the context for the writing. It’s what made me love teaching journalism with blogs, because it was so easy for me to follow my students’ line of thinking, but because it also gave me a great opportunity to talk about the issues of plagiarism and fair use and copyright with my kids. And, like Jeff, it’s what I want and expect now from traditional journalism, whether newspapers or magazines. It’s an expectation that makes print more and more difficult for me to read. It’s an expectation that I have of just about all non-fiction writing.
What’s interesting is that when I teach blogging workshops, this concept is not an easy one for people to wrap their brains around. The ease with which we can link and connect ideas makes this vastly different from the analog world. And the importance of links in connecting people is one of the foundational points in all of these discussions.
The continual disruptions to traditional journalism continue to fascinate me, another reason that I’m really looking forward to PDF next week.
I’m extremely interested in watching the impact of social media on the current presidential election cycle, and I’m wondering if we really are at the point where, as the author of this post suggests:
Facebook and MySpace are as important as New Hampshire and Iowa.
I don’t think there is any doubt that the Obama campaign has gotten that message sooner than the rest. Their very savvy use of social tools on their Website has been an incredible boon to their fund raising and, in turn, their ability to capture delegates. Some of the deconstructions of the impact have already begun, as in this great piece in Rolling Stone. This quote sums up what’s happening:
“They’ve married the incredibly powerful online community they built with real on-the-ground field operations. We’ve never seen anything like this before in American political history.” In the process, the Obama campaign has shattered the top-down, command-and-control, broadcast-TV model that has dominated American politics since the early 1960s.
But the impact of blogger/observers is turning out to be pretty huge as well. According to the Technorati article, almost 30,000 blogs are parsing every word the candidates utter, every policy, every interaction (which is a good thing, right?) If 51% of Internet users are not turning to blogs to “gather information and communicate about politics,” and every indication is that the number will continue to grow, it’s pretty obvious that realities of being an engaged, informed voter are becoming more and more complex, and that our students are going to be stepping into that reality without a great deal of navigational skills unless we begin to bring these shifts into our curriculum.
So how are we doing that?
According to interviews and recent surveys, younger voters tend to be not just consumers of news and current events but conduits as well â€” sending out e-mailed links and videos to friends and their social networks. And in turn, they rely on friends and online connections for news to come to them. In essence, they are replacing the professional filter â€” reading The Washington Post, clicking on CNN.com â€” with a social one.
I like the phrase “social filter” that the article puts forth as a way to capture what I think is a big shift in emphasis on many of the basic reading literacies that we should have been teaching but by and large haven’t been doing a very good job with. We have to be editors, not only in the sense of identifying those pieces of information that should be “passed on” but in assessing those that have been passed on to us. It is a bit more complex, and potentially problematic, when the filter who is suggesting something for you to read may not be very well trained in the skill of filtering either.
While, as the article points out, much of this trend is a technological version of “word of mouth,” I think the difference is the scope of the potential personal audience, the ease with which we can copy and forward what we find, and the speed with which it all happens. Think Twitter for all of that.
And this is a younger vs. older thing. While two-thirds of those under 30 use social networking tools to disseminate and consume information, only 20% of those over 30 do. I’m guessing those percentages are about right for education as well.
Finally, I find this really encouraging, especially in an age where talking heads hold so much sway:
Young people also identify online discussions with friends and videos as important sources of election information. The habits suggest that younger readers find themselves going straight to the source, bypassing the context and analysis that seasoned journalists provide.
Obviously, that can be good or bad, depending on who those “seasoned” journalists are and who your friends are. But I’m just thinking that if we can teach kids to go to the source and do their own cogent, reasoned analysis, that’s a good thing. Again, establishing these skills and habits in our students has to be something that we model and include in every part of the K-12 curriculum.
Like him or not, what Barack Obama did yesterday, in my opinion at least, epitomizes what we need our next president to be, namely a teacher. Agree with him or not, can there be any doubt that anyone listening to that speech yesterday is not thinking harder and more expansively about race in this country and in our lives today? Trust him or not, is there any question that he articulated a real truth about the state of race relations from both a black and a white perspective?
Right now, we are having a “teachable moment” about race in America. If you listen to conservative talk radio as I have been for the past few weeks, the issue is, no pun intended, black or white. If the candidate does not distance himself from his pastor and his church, then he is guilty by association of believing the invective that’s being dragged in front of us by the media or which we are choosing to consume on YouTube. If he does distance himself, then it’s simply politics as usual. It’s a simple equation.
But the reality is that this conversation, like most, is more nuanced. And it’s our collective lack of understanding of that nuance which bogs us down. We have little empathy for the experiences of those unlike us, and too many of us are afraid to ask. We need an education in this country about race. We need a starting point for the conversation, and we need someone to take on a teacherly role to guide it.
Seventy-five years ago, FDR gave the first of his “Fireside Chats” intended to educate (as well as sway) the American public about the issues of the day. By every measure, they were hugely successful in moving people to act in informed and collective ways. And the feedback that Roosevelt received in the form of millions of letters allowed him to tap into the pulse of the people and the nation in ways that few other presidents before or since have been able to. He guided, he taught my father’s generation about the realities of the world, enabling them to have more informed conversations about the state of their lives. Yes, I know, these were not balanced presentations, but at minimum they made the country think about the proposed solutions to the complexities of the time.
And while the world by its very nature is complex, this moment seems decidedly so. Not just because of race, but because of the litany of problems that Obama articulated and the fact that no one no matter what color or heritage is immune from them. (I don’t think climate change cares much about the color of your skin or your family heritage.) We need someone who will encourage and facilitate a broad ranging conversation about these issues. We need someone who can create some lesson plans for the millions of us who want to engage, want to contribute, want to work to solve the problems together. We need someone who I can hold up as a role model for my own children as a steward for the environment, as a peace maker, as a listener, as a deep thinker.
We need a teacher.
This is just one of many teachable moments that this world and this society will continue to throw at us. Rare has been the occasion when we as a country have been led to a deeper understanding of events. In what was without question the most teachable moment of my life six-and-a-half years ago, I was told to go to the mall and keep spending my money. That’s not what a teacher would have done.
To steal from the inimitable Chris Lehmann, yesterday, I saw a teacher.