The Better Way to Improve Education: Invest and Trust

(this is a reblog)

Slaves to Robots

Reposted from

“The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that man may become robots.” –Erich Fromm

Peru and NDSG

Dear friends and readers all,

I came back recently from a trip—to Peru and Texas.  I am feeling elated even though it is partially probably an illusion of hope that springs eternal.  Of course, a week with my granddaughter is enough to make anyone feel good about life and the future. She made me do more walking than I have grown accustomed to, and to try my hand (?) at hang-gliding over the city and ocean. And the sunsets we watched together gave me the feeling I have about rainbows, with a bucket of good news at their ends.  In short it was glorious.

Deb hanggliding

Then came 3 days in southeast Texas with my annual North Dakota Study Group of friends and newcomers. There were a great many newcomers this year—mostly from the region itself.  They bring a fresh perspective on the way I see the world—for many reasons.  Many are young, many are Latino—mostly with Mexican roots—and involved in many different ways in organizing communities and unions in Texas. They required me to rethink what it meant to be an immigrant on land that was once part of your “homeland” roots, while also seeing yourself as a citizen of the future of the United States. I have not quite the words to explain this as yet. But their collective determination to remake the future gave me courage to look ahead with rosier glasses.

Then I came home determined to keep the glow alive. I even avoided going back to my serious reading and am two thirds the way through rereading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  But, the world intrudes—like daily newspaper and magazine stories about the situation in Rikers Island and Attica prisons, as well as official US policy regarding the use of torture. I want to shut them out, for the sake of peace of mind, but I dare not. It is perhaps a healthy sign, I say to myself, that we are reading so much more these days about torture and abuse, and our own role as citizens in perpetuating it in our own backyard.

It is time to feel both optimistic about “what could be”—imagining otherwise, as Maxine Greene used to put it, while also being angry, and letting the anger motivate us to react to what is.

My reaction to the 3-hour interview on C-Span with Lani Guanier—another day.

Rank Order

Dear readers,

Alan Singer sent out an e-mail entitled “Let’s Rank Everybody.” The scary thing is when satire seems like reality. With doctors being ranked by mortality rate of patients, police on recidivism of arrestees (or maybe that should rank prisons?), sanitation workers on how clean the streets are an hour after, and on and on. Actually we know what happens when “merit” pay goes to cops who arrest more people. It is interesting to think of who would rank where on other such metrics.


Lani Guinier once presented data that demonstrated that lawyers with lower LSATs do MORE pro bono work than lawyers with high LSATs. So maybe that’s a rank order we should turn on its head—if we’re thinking about the common good.

Once one is “required” to differentiate people in a way that can produce a rank order—or in the old days, a normal curve—the deck is stacked. Anything will do, or… How can one prove that any of these are valid?

In another article describing the problems with choice, a researcher notes with surprise that parent don’t always choose higher achieving schools. Why?? But in most cases that “higher achieving” simply means schools with more White and rich people taking the test. It is not the school that has a higher score, but it is students. And we know what that higher test scores correlates with directly—income and above all total wealth.

It might be interesting to rank order the percentage of their income that people give to charity. Gates and company might not look quite as generous as the nice little old poor black lady who gives regularly at her church. We also know that old lady may well be paying a higher portion of her income to keep the nation floating, that is paying her taxes (both income and sales).

Hands Behind Your Back

Dear readers,

I couldn’t resist this excerpt from an article in Teachers College Record, entitled Hands Behind Your Back by Samina Hadi-Tabassum  in the January 27th on-line edition. This commentary addresses turn around schools in Chicago.

“Throughout the day, an immense amount of time and energy is spent making sure young African American children are taught to obey. In one particular school, my graduate student had to go to the restroom so I walked her students down to the cafeteria. Even in the cafeteria, children are not allowed to talk to each other. I made the foolish mistake of having a conversation with a table of first-grade girls when another teacher came over to me and yelled out “you do not talk during lunch.” At first, I was going to laugh aloud thinking the teacher was being sarcastic. It was quite disheartening to realize after a few minutes that this young Caucasian teacher had been indoctrinated by her school to think African American and Latina/o American children should not be allowed to talk at the lunch table. Whenever the students are given any time to actually act like children on the playground, they are often admonished for “acting like animals” when they return back to their prison-like classrooms.”

She describes, in contrast, the public schools her own children attend and the reactions her students who are assigned to this particular school.  They are horrified but afraid to say anything.

Where did this ideology come from?  It’s old and I thought long since discredited.  It’s hardly consistent with the idea of students who have grit, independence, self-initiative, can handle uncertainties, engage in critical thinking, and collaborate with their peers, etc.

Why not try it out for a week in Winnetka, or Scarsdale, or on Obama’s or Duncan’s children before imposing it on mostly poor Black children.


Dear Readers,

I have been getting annoyed at the casual references to Occupy’s failure.

I think they were, by all and any measure, an incredible success.


Many years ago, my colleague Ted Sizer, when asked what he hoped the Coalition of Essential Schools’ influence would be five years down the line, said: “We’ll be having a better conversation about American schooling.” That was 1985. Maybe he was victorious five years down the line. We thought so, at the time. But alas today the important ideas that drove the Coalition of Essential Schools are decidedly less popular than they were when he made that point. We have moved very fast away from what Ted sso persuasively (we thought) was arguing for.

Now, I don’t know whether the founders of the Occupy movement expected to change the world, but they did what Ted had hoped for. They have had a remarkable impact on the language of the world, the conversation, the metaphors—the way we see things. They introduced, dramatically, the “99% vs 1%” thought! Now it, or variants of it, are on everyone’s lips and appear in all the pie charts, et al. They have made a powerful impression. Now we have to figure out how to capitalize on the fact that this dramatic unfairness is getting worse, not better. But, at least, it has been named.

Thanks, Occupiers of the world.

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.