Snow, Disasters and Boredom

Dear readers,

Sitting here as the snow comes down, feeling a bit disappointed that we’re not getting as much snow as predicted. It is the child-like side of me that comes out every time there is a natural disaster, a hang-over from childhood when I bore no responsibility for getting things done. I imagined floods as a chance to dive out of my window into the water, etc.

Disasters always seemed exciting, and for some foolish reasons, not threatening. (Probably a sign of a very lucky life—although I still experience a panic when the phone rings at an unreasonable time of day or night.)

I suspect many young people share this. especially when they are in school. Disasters augur a break in the boredom! Do most get over it, unlike me? As John Goodlad noted many years ago—the primary problem facing our schools is BOREDOM. Kids aren’t kidding when they say, “It’s bo-or-ing!” And, adults who sit in K-12 classes, concur.

It leads me to my number one criteria for judging a school. Is it an interesting place for the teachers and the students and every other person who must spend 5-8 hours a day there. If it is, productive learning will take care of itself—or, at least, have a fighting chance. Otherwise, forget it.

The End of the Rainbow


I am underlining virtually everything in this new book I just got sent from the publisher (New Press), The End of the Rainbow: How Educating for Happiness (Not Money) Would Transform Our Schools.  It is by another friend, Susan Engel.


It says it all. Including a wonderful and rare to find chapter on alternative approaches to what and how to measure success. It is rare because Susan defines well-being, happiness, and leading a good life as at the core of what a good education should help lead us to. She describes how, historically, we got to viewing education as a road to making more money—which, she argues, is a recent phenomenon! It is not often enough that I get a truly new idea—but I found this fascinating. Her “hard” data about the relationship between money and happiness is also intriguing and worth a pause as we are consumed by the hyper-materialism of our time and place. She provides a different framework for rethinking these ideas.

It is a gem of a book. Susan has so many good anecdotes to demonstrate her points, based on her many years of work as a teacher of teachers, time spent in school, and in raising children. Order it today!!!



Dear readers,

I saw the movie SELMA. It left me stunned. I just couldn’t let go. Yes, I was there—for the last march—the celebratory one, which may have given it extra power for me. But most of the audience seemed similarly overwhelmed. It brought back a period that is sometime hard to remember in the gut. We need that energy again to tackle the critical issues we face today.


I found, to my surprise, that the way Lyndon B. Johnson was dealt with was very positive and hardly deserving of the uproar it has caused. Goodness gracious! It shows a man with good intentions, not to be taken for granted given his background, but also a practical political mind, not eager to engage in losing battles or losing powerful allies. Is that unfair to LBJ? It is what we admire about him and probably what created King’s successful effort to get a voting bill passed. Perhaps, I am trying to recall, the movie suggests that LBJ may have sent the FBI after King—which maybe he did? Or didn’t?

But of course it gets a lot of things wrong. The SNCC leaders, who are miffed at being overwhelmed by King’s plans, were hardly children. In fact, I am reminded, they were more or less the same age as King, and it was their work made that event possible. That does not come across in the somewhat patronizing scene where King lectures them about real life. For those who probably know the story best, there were probably omissions that distort the history of the times more seriously than the way it shows LBJ.

It strikes me as odd that this is where so many critics have spent their energies. Maybe why it was easier for the Oscars to ignore the film? Yes, this is decidedly a film that “glorifies” the civil rights movement—showing it mostly at its best. (Meanwhile, millions of dollar are made by a movie that glorifies war—The Sniper.)

My thanks go out—wholeheartedly—to those who enabled me to have that renewal of hope by remembering what we once did. And must do again. We need a new voting rights act as much as we did a half century ago. Our new and “improved” system for counting votes—not to mention who gets to vote—has made a mockery of that great victory at Selma. It is past time for us to imitate the actions of those SNCC workers, and of the many heroes who made Selma and the Voting Rights Act possible.

A Bitter Sweet Season

A Bitter Sweet Season
by Jane Gross


I just finished rereading a book I avoided taking seriously four years ago when it was first published—because it’s about dying. It is written from the viewpoint of the daughter caring for her aged mother, but….  It is as useful for the reverse. I literally could not put it down unless sleep overcame me. It is also a useful reminder for me of how to combine the personal and the how-to. I am trying, just beginning, to do something like that regarding caring about schooling. So what? Jane’s book left me feeling much better, actually, about the fact that I will, indubitably, die some day. I can see how it might be done.

As a child and in the early years of my adulthood I had incredibly strong fears about “not being.” I had a special friend who would call me or I would call her when overcome by one of these panics. It has somehow almost entirely dissipated—even before reading Jane Gross’ account. So, maybe avoid this book until you come to that stage. It’s author is a good friend who I spent many hours with in the course of this tale.  She wrote for the New York Times for many, many years and initiated and continues to blog as The New Old Age . And for Yankee fans my age, she is also the daughter of the NY Sports Columnist we read regularly in our youth.

Thanks, Jane.


Automated Living in U.S. (Part 2)


Dear readers,
Thanks to Larry Cuban, again and again. He helps me see what forces are driving the de-persnalizing of human relationships. The automation of our humanity. Think of all the sci fi we’ve absorbed about this. Yes, it’s related to the profit motive–inexorably, I fear. And it’s moving fast, starting with the youngest who relate now not only “not to people” but not even to dolls–or other people-like or living objects as we replace play with computerized devices and school lessons. It’s a good moment for re-reading Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary–and reminding ourselves of the power of the human touch, the human voice, the human interaction.

Originally posted on Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice:

In Part 1, I pointed out earlier predictions of futuristic schools and one in New York City that offers “blended” and “personalized” learning. A school that uses multiple ways teaching includes software customized to each student’s math knowledge and skills. It is an example of automated teaching and learning that champions of school technology see as the future of schooling. Maybe algorithms will indeed become standard in the next generation so that by 2025, schools will no longer be recognizable. But “maybe” not.

There are fewer “maybes,” however, when it comes to the spread of automation in the U.S. beyond ATMs, supermarket self-checkout counters, and industrial robots. Piloting jumbo jets, self-driving cars,  trading stock on Wall Street, practicing law and medicine, and other occupations  once thought to be invulnerable to automation are either wholly run by software or largely guided by programmed instructions.

Once a job or task from…

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Data and More Data

In the dispute over the revision of NCLB the argument has been made –sometimes by civil rights advocates–that if we don’t test annually we won’t be able to compare. But, what use are such comparison? Let us look at other areas where we do such comparison’s.


Has our knowledge about the increasing differences in income led to actions to close that gap? Hmm, seems the rich are still getting richer, while the poor get poorer.  Is evidence that we spend more money on the education of those at the top than we do on those at the bottom changed how we allocate educational resources? Is health care data that demonstrates that the poor are less well served than the rich changed health care, his it created more general or family practitioners serving poor neighborhoods, for example? Not at all.

What is the “evidence” that more testing, and more comparing of data on the basis of race, class or language will do for schooling what it has not done for other institutional decisions? When it comes to how we spend our resources, data has had remarkably little impact—at least since we ended the short-lived and underfunded “war on poverty.” The data sometimes even confirms racism: “See, ‘they’ just aren’t….smart, hard working, biologically fit.”

In fact, we are spending more money on confirming the data year after year than we do on changing the circumstances that lead to the data.

Two books that provoke

Dear readers,

I haven’t kept up on all the books that are being written about our concerns. Including, and this is new, lots by working teachers as well as recently working teachers. It is hard to do both at the same time—be a full time teacher and find the time to write a book! A friend of mine, Vanessa Rodriguez, a teacher I met first in her classroom, for example, has taken off a few years to further her own education and to write a book. The book, The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education, is an example.

rodriguezI am known as a skeptic about brain research as a useful field for improving good teaching/learning. But Vanessa has taken the field more seriously, and used some of these insights into exploring the field she knows best—over many years. Of course, the “teaching brain” and the “learner brain” are not separate. But then nothing in the brain is disconnected from any other part of the brain—or really the body either. She uses the topic, instead, to explore her own and others in practice—how our awareness of our own selves as teachers (and we all are, at times) is the kind of “brain research” I appreciate. I think others will find this as interesting a read as I have. (It is a New Press publication; and just out.)

I also have not kept up with talking about a man whose been real hero and model in my life. That man, John Goodlad, has died. The summer before I starting CPESS—a public secondary school in Harlem—I holed myself up on Block Island, near my friend Brenda Engel, to read. I read Seymour Sarason (on why all reforms had failed) and John Goodlad (on the large picture of America’s schools). I do not usually take notes, but I did this time. I soaked up what they said and hoped that their wisdom would help me get through the next few years. Goodlad’s book, The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling is written a decade later, steeled me for the next episode of educational history. It is a collection around the topic I am most concerned about. John and co-editor Timothy McMannon, picked six wonderful authors for the task, with a wonderful final chapter by John. Read him—start anywhere among his 30 plus books.

I will share more books in the future. I am meanwhile trying to write one myself. HELP!!!!