How Many Ways To Cross The Gap

Throughout the school year I want students to practice a variety of locomotor movements. From the very beginning in Pre-K we learn to differentiate between a skip and a gallop, between jogging and running, between a jump (two feet) and a hop (one foot). Whether we’re doing a freeze dance, stop and go, or follow the leader, we practice these movements and learn the vocabulary. They show up in just about every lesson. Repetition works.

Image by Zayda C from Pixabay

Outside of my classroom I have other interests. I like to think about education more widely, about inequality and how it shows up in our schools, our policies, our curricula, our educator mindsets. To those ends, I read a lot. A recent blog post by a friend who works in university administration in Canada got me thinking. She wrote specifically about an ethics gap in the way universities procure and deploy educational technologies. While there is a tremendous openness to inviting technological solutions into colleges and universities as forms of innovation, she argues that not nearly enough attention is paid to the real and potential tradeoffs that may work to the disadvantage or even harm of students, staff or the institution. She writes:

It is therefore paradoxical that we have often given more ethical consideration to how we procure teabags than we have technology in institutions. In much the same way as we have considered issues like Fairtrade, living wage and modern slavery when selecting other goods and services within institutions, we need to look at aligning the procurement of educational technologies with ethical practices and principles. One aspect of that alignment must be a consideration of the ways in which companies conduct themselves, and the extent to which that is compatible with our beliefs and values.

Anne-Marie Scott, “Mind The Ethics Gap”

What struck me about this remarkably concise post was the illustration of the ways in which ed tech companies have rushed into a gap in educational structures at every level. While the bounty of services and capabilities available to students and teachers remains impressive, they are not without costs. Concerns about privacy, surveillance, the overwhelming profit motives among others are regularly voiced by scholars and users.

Going back to my classroom example, part of my job involves establishing clear pictures and physical associations between words and action. Running looks and feels a certain way; walking is something very different from running. What would happen if I offered my students new words? What if I asked them to rush? Or race? Or parade? Or stumble? I suspect that many of them would create a corresponding movement. They are familiar with rushing and being rushed. To race they would know that comparison with another student is called for. My students are creative, lively beings. I have no doubt that they could easily show me what it would mean to parade or stumble around the gym.

I wonder if our vocabulary around ed tech tools and associated actions are narrowing rather than expanding. In our haste to respond to (constant) urgency, we leave out critical steps like carefully understanding terms and conditions agreements before insisting that students and families sign on to personally invasive tech tools. We hire one service to address one problem which then creates a host of other problems with its implementation (think exam proctoring software).

Beyond asking what the tool does, we need to ask ‘what does it demand in return?’ We need to be clear about who is profiting and precisely how that profit will be generated; through whose data? As institutions, we need to be concerned with how are students will be protected when we require their use of a particular tool. And we better make space for student questions and objections regarding their use of a mandated tech service. Why are we rushing to adopt this tool? How is this service being paraded in front of parents before teachers have had time to feel confident in its use? How can policy makers be dragging their feet on funding the necessary hardware while touting plans for universal remote learning?

Over the last five or six years, I have found out so much about my teaching by reading about topics that are not in my wheelhouse. After reading Anne-Marie’s post, I’m thinking about expanding my own thinking about locomotor movements, about broadening the vocabulary and lending more creative license to our routine activities. Which, in the grand scheme, is what I want education to be about: broadening, expanding, widening, welcoming.

Get Rich By “Teaching”


Perhaps it is really this easy. (image via

Imagine for a moment that someone wants to let you in on a little secret. He is privy to some special information and is willing to share it with you. It’s a small favor. It will help you, really. So you read on.

This person then goes on to tell you about an outsized opportunity that may well have escaped your attention. But thank goodness, he’s got your back. Listen up, he’s not talking about small potatoes here. This is a righteous opportunity to win big. If you get in early, that is. If you act now and jump on the epic wave that leads to the very gold (I mean totally gold) coast. (You’ve gotta see that, right?)

And get this, this opportunity is in teaching!! Yes, creating, promoting and teaching online courses and seminars! THIS is the future we’re talking about here and IT IS A GOLDMINE! And you can do this all via LinkedIn because LinkedIn just bought e-learning giant Lynda. Are you kidding me, it doesn’t get any better (or easier than that)!

As much as I wish I was kidding, I sadly, am not. This was a real article (post? hype banner?) which showed up in my Twitter timeline.

One of the headines reads:

How YOU Can Sell More By “Teaching” On LinkedIn

“Sell More By ‘teaching.'” Let that sink in. “Teaching” in quotes should set the alarm bells ringing. I realize that the audience here is not educators, per se, but everyone else. The author is John Nemo, CEO of LinkedInRiches, a company dedicated to helping individuals make money via LinkedIn and other media platforms it appears.

I guess what struck me here has more to do with readers, young and old, who can easily accept this as a set of facts to be acted upon; who would have significant difficulty recognizing this as a piece of hypeware (yes, I just made that up), a piece of writing that is there solely for the purpose of creating the illusion of buzz and importance. He could just as well say that selling T-shirts, coffee mugs or pet blankets will lead you to the revenue promised land we all dream of.

We must not be alarmed that “teaching” in this context is there to be commodified like all sorts of other products. This bit of specially served info has little to do with improving society and its citizenry. Rather this is about a business opportunity, and the field in question happens to be “teaching.”  Education in all its forms is a genuinely enormous market not only for tech products but also for traditional publishing. This we know, although the side-effects can be difficult to stomach at times.

I bring this up as yet another public service announcement: Don’t Believe The Hype! And even more to the point: Always Question The HYPE!


One of the benefits of the internet, social media, and all this connectedness is that whatever you are doing, writing, explaining – somebody else is probably also doing it/has done it/will do it better. In this particular case, I believe this post, The Non-Uberization of Education  by @mweller fits the bill particularly well. In a nutshell, he asserts that the hype surrounding Uber’s model of market domination and seemingly inevitable march of all other sectors to follow suit simply does not work in the field of education.

The appeal of apps and businesses like Uber is their simplicity. It’s not impossible to address all of the reservations I’ve set out above in some Uberized fashion, but it would end up being a complex, unwieldy affair that would defeat the very object of its existence. And that is the biggest difference between Uber and education – getting a taxi is simple, getting an education is complex. That’s why we value it highly – after all, you put letters after your name to indicate your education, not to show how many taxi rides you’ve taken.

This reminds me that I, too, probably need to learn to let go. Yes, the gold diggers are here and well supported by snake oil salespeople galore. This is no surprise. This is not the neoliberal apocalypse. It is simply an attendant reality of our times. Education and teaching can be tools for money making and therefore plenty of folks will make every reasonable attempt to shake the money tree. Let them shake it.

We, as educators, citizens and parents, on the other hand, will need to do more than preach critical thinking. We’ll need to practice it, and model it, teach it, and practice it some more. We won’t get rich doing it, but we’ll have some integrity and evidence of learning to show for our efforts.


Digital Consciousness Training (Rough cut)

CC via
CC via

Let me start in the middle. When I open up my WordPress blog for editing on my iPad or through my browser it gives me this baby blue and white watered down version of itself. For reading this is more or less fine. But when I want to post something, I don’t want ‘watered down’ and ‘super simple.’ I want to see the full complement of my options, all the knobs, buttons and icons I can stand, many of which I still don’t know how to use. But I want to have them there and visible and available and at my disposal.  At the top of this very page there’s that infamous claim: “There’s now an easier way to create on! Switch to the improved posting experience.” But that’s not what I want. I don’t want the “easier” way. I don’t want their version of an “easier” way. It does not add up to an “improved posting experience” for me and I get a little annoyed.

In many ways this is par for the course, especially in dealing with consumer technology. The marketing and sales people insist that the developers keep coming up with a thousand different ways to maintain and grow the clickety-click-click of new users, members, consumers. The guiding question is no longer “what makes this person tick?” rather “what makes this person click?” In this brave new economy, no matter how much information we can access so quickly and easily, to our favorite and most frequented digital platforms, we are really only as valuable as the data bread crumb trails we leave and the thousands of keystrokes, swipes, and clicks we contribute to the mounting masses of relentless data.

One of the questions I ask myself is, where is WordPress going with this “improved posting experience”? What is it that they want me to understand? I feel like I am  gradually and unwillingly being weaned from the more complex, layered and nuanced posting experience over time – that one day I will arrive and that skimpy baby blue option will be the only one left. Unless, of course, I want to pay.  This is what I anticipate happening because this is what technology companies do. At some point they have to find ways to make some serious money from all these “free” services. Their shareholders are banking on it. I get that, but it is still so easy and common to feel duped in the process.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tech lately. I use my fair share of tech and while I would hesitate to apply the term “tech savvy” to my digital profile, I have learned how to figure stuff out, whom to ask for help and how to read directions carefully and to decide when a video tutorial will do the trick. Upon returning to my teaching post, I’ve found numerous ways to integrate more tech into my planning and teaching routines. My colleague started a great blog of our program last year while I was away and now it is the easiest thing ever to share pictures and videos of what our kids are doing in class with parents, colleagues, students and anyone else who may be interested. I like that.

We have a department iPod which has a great selection of music on it which I use a ton in class (music is my start and stop signal in most cases). We have a well protected iPad with a bunch of different apps related to fitness and performance. I can connect the iPad to a beamer and the stereo and show demonstration videos or use the video delay app which allows students to see a playback of their performance a few seconds afterwards – talk about immediate feedback! The possibilities are countless. And yet.

It’s still early in the year and these new additions are definitive upgrades. But it’s still up to me, the teacher, the human, the pedagogue  to determine what, when, how much, and for what purpose tech can be applied for the benefit of student learning. And because I am the teacher and human, there is also resistance. It is frustrating when things don’t work on the first try, or I miss seeing what my students are actually doing in real time because I am busy trying to position the camera to catch them doing it on film. It pains me to get the video up and not have sound. I dislike appearing incompetent. I am human. I am the teacher. Trying out new stuff, both with and without tech, is both risky and rewarding; it’s troublesome and (mostly) worth the trouble. It’s the hardest thing to be patient and keep believing; to have that ounce of faith that in a month or two, this awkwardness of switching cables, locating the remote, waking up the sleeping beamer and more, will gently recede into the background and I will look like I know what I am doing.

My tech use in class will likely become as routine as our strengthening routines but only within the parameters of genuine usefulness. This is not about making my work “easier”; that is not my interest. Rather I want to take on the complexity and messiness of teaching and learning with tech rolled up inside and navigate, find my way. Right now I’m taking a lot of new tools for a test drive. And sometimes I feel like some of those same tools may be taking me for a ride. This kind of travel is tiring and may make me a little irritable in the short term. That’s a bargain I am willing to strike en route to becoming the better teacher, and hopefully better human that my students need and deserve.

So when I rant a bit about the ferociousness of the information economy, I do that as one who is immersed in that economy and eager to see it live up to its promise to help us become better people. So far, much of what I have seen has not been overly convincing. So I rant and resist and point out and raise questions even as I use the tools and share terrabytes of data. The tools I select to use in my classroom, therefore, merit all the more scrutiny and caution and care. Balancing risk with rewards is always more complicated in action than in the written plan. Teaching with tech, or not; blogging with the full dashboard of options, or not – Which is better? When? For whom? These question recycle themselves in my mind. Contemplating my possible responses becomes my diet of digital consciousness training.

Digital. Consciousness. Training. – That may have to become my thing.

In Deep Water With Audrey and Tressie

As an educator there are plenty of reasons to be on Twitter or to engage on other social media platforms. I’m a PE teacher finishing up a year’s hiatus from the classroom and looking forward to getting back into the routine of working with real children.

That said, my intellectual excursions this year have taken me far beyond my classroom and the practice of teaching. Through extensive and very eclectic reading I’ve ventured into territories that may or may not have to do with education directly. What has happened is that my choices have become more political. In the opinions I seek, the analyses I read, the topics addressed reflect a deliberately more politicized interest. So when I do read about K-12 classroom practice or recent trends in ed-tech for instance, a filter I have added is political perspective – where is the author coming from? What factors may be contributing to this person’s take on the subject? How might this person’s perspective change and influence mine? What I have found is that reading in areas where I feel to some extent “out of my depth” has worked wonders in allowing me to zero in on what my core beliefs and concerns are when it comes to education.

Two authors who regularly challenge me to start treading in the deep end of my beliefs about education are Audrey Watters and Tressie McMillan Cottom. This week they appear to have double teamed on the intersecting topics of technology, education, markets and privacy.
First, Audrey goes to town with this talk given at a panel at the International Society of Technology and Education (ISTE) conference last week: Is It Time To Give Up On Computers in Schools?
Provocative? Yes, quite and by design. Her talk was published on She says:

Sure, there are subversive features of the computer; but I think the computer’s features also involve neoliberalism, late stage capitalism, imperialism, libertarianism, and environmental destruction. They now involve high stakes investment by the global 1% — it’s going to be a $60 billion market by 2018, we’re told. Computers involve the systematic de-funding and dismantling of a public school system and a devaluation of human labor. They involve the consolidation of corporate and governmental power. They are designed by white men for white men. They involve scientific management. They involve widespread surveillance and, for many students, a more efficient school-to-prison pipeline —

Further she suggests:

We gaze glassy-eyed at the new features in the latest hardware and software — it’s always about the latest app, and yet we know there’s nothing new there; instead we must stare critically at the belief systems that are embedded in these tools.

It happens often when I read Audrey’s work that I am called to attention in a visceral way. Her tone is not alarmist, yet her message is alarming if you dare to sit with the implications of all that she is saying. She speaks to a much deeper question than “should I use Firefox instead of Chrome?” (Which is where many K-12 tech conversations are happening) Rather, she asserts that our homegrown brands of social and economic inequalities are not only baked into the tools we use but likely reinforce and exacerbate them.

If we want schools to be democratizing, then we need to stop and consider how computers are likely to entrench the very opposite. Unless we stop them.

Then I came across Tressie McMillan Cottom’s remarks prepared for a recently held panel discussion: “New Topics in Social Computing: Data and Education.”
Tressie is a sociologist who, in my mind, has moved mountains in the area of public scholarship. Her high profile Twitter account has helped promote the visibility of accessible scholarly writing happening both within and outside the academy. Delving into the broad area of “Data and Education” she asks the reader to get clear with what we mean by “privacy” in this context:

What if privacy is euphemism for individualism, the politically correct cousin of rational actor theories that drive markets that is fundamentally at odds with even the idea of school as a public good? If that is possible (and, I of course, think it is not only possible but the case at hand), then how can we talk about students’ privacy while preserving the integrity of data to observe and measure inequality? I suppose that is where I am on current debates about privacy and data in K-12: are we talking about everyone’s privacy or are we talking about new ways to mask injustice? Do you get to a Brown v. Board when schools that are also businesses own school data? I suspect not, because the rules governing data are different in markets than they are in public trusts.

To grasp what we are dealing with means that we will have to unpack our firmly held beliefs about what is at stake:

I question the assumptions about privacy that seem to be the only way we currently have to talk about how deeply enmeshed schools are in markets. Can we talk about privacy in a way that is about justice rather than individualism? If we cannot then privacy may be as big a threat to students as data mining because they are two heads of the same beast.

In agreeing with Audrey’s call to rid our schools of computers she remarks:

I would add: give up on computers and get up on politics. Computers can be fine. Computers are politics. Personalized learning may be fine. Personalized learning is politics. Apps are fine. Apps are politics. Tech is politics. Tech is politics. Tech is politics. Unless and until that is the conversation, then tech is most likely a politics at odds with my own.

So there’s that political thing: connecting the things I do, use, and promote to their effect on me, on others, our our collective existence and making decisions about my actions based on the outcomes I say I want. If I say I want a more just world, what am I doing to support and promote that? How does it show in my voting behavior, in my media consumption, in the way I choose to raise and educate my children, in the friends I keep, in the organizations I endorse and those I decry? Those are political questions, just as they can be deeply existential questions. The choices I make as an individual do not happen in a vacuum. They occur and have implications in and for my surroundings and also express views and beliefs that relate to those surroundings. This why reading Audrey Watters and Tressie McMillan Cottom has become so important for me. Both point to intersection after intersection where individual decisions collide or overlap with societal assumptions and outcomes.

It’s dizzying and disorienting to do this kind of reading on a regular basis. Feeling “out of my depth” comes at a price. I finally understand that smh is shorthand for ‘shaking my head’, but often I am too bewildered to do even that. Being confronted with how much I don’t know is not nearly as trying and uncomfortable as recognizing how little thought I have given to some very central facets of my daily existence. Tressie and Audrey take me there and what I choose to do with these fresh insights is entirely up to me. I feel like I may be getting a little wiser, gaining a bit more nuance in my political views, stretching my critical thinking muscles a little further.

Tressie’s concluding sentences trigger a peculiar response in me: I think about weightlifting:

 I believe education is a human right when education is broadly defined as the right to know and be. Period. I believe schooling can still do education but it cannot do it and be a market. Information symmetry is at odds with most market relationships and schools have to be about information symmetrically produced, accessed and imagined. Schools can be valuable to markets without becoming them. I believe there is such a thing as a social category that subsumes markets to societies. I believe those are political choices and only effected by social action.

“Schools can be valuable to markets without becoming them.” That feels to me as though a weight has been lifted – off of my shoulders, somehow. There’s that blessed moment of recognition: “yeah, that’s what I wanted to say.” So there’s some comfort.

At the same time, “schooling can still do education but it cannot do it and be a market” which is where so much neoliberal rhetoric and policy is leading us: to education systems as markets -There’s the weight bearing down on me, on us; the likelihood of freeing ourselves shrinking before our eyes. Unless of course we wake up and see that we in fact have choices. We can lift the weight. We needn’t simply succumb to it because it’s heavy and makes us incredibly drowsy.

Audrey and Tressie are here to wake us up. And K-12 educators, this is a conversation we need to be in on. Not only listening but dialoguing. This is how we build critical thinking into our curricula and lesson plans: we do it ourselves. Regularly. We wade into the deep waters and have our beliefs challenged. Readings like these provide necessary starting points.

The Integrity Diet

The calendar I never kept. Lipstick? Really?
The calendar I never kept. Lipstick? Really?

Throughout this year I have spent a fair amount of time wondering about what it is I am actually supposed to be doing. For about 8 more weeks I will still be working, living and learning entirely on my own dime. Time away from the classroom has brought an astounding degree of freedom and plenty of thinking and dreaming space. As this designated phase draws to a close, I am looking for the list of achievements I can hang my hat on; evidence of my productive use of this precious time. I keep asking myself: so where is the evidence? What have you actually done with yourself this year?

A valid question, yet not the ideal. Rather, to ask about what I gained, how I grew and which capacities I strengthened – these are the questions that bring me closer to understanding the value of this time better than lists of what I did and made. And on closer inspection, I see that above all – I changed my diet. I paid closer attention to what I was taking in, how it affected me and this in turn changed what came out. I didn’t realize it while it was happening but now I see that this year had everything to do with my integrity – how I live my life as my whole self and how I express and share that whole self with the outside world. I treated myself to an integrity diet.

I recently shared one of my biggest revelations on Twitter:

I joined social media, specifically Twitter, to “hang out” in a sense but instead got “caught up” as I described in a recent post. The deeper and wider my education-related conversations became, the greater my interest and focus on the very things that school and education, in and of themselves, can hardly fix or solve. In fact, the more I engaged with educators, journalists, activists and academics around these topics, the more keenly aware I became of the potential for school systems and political systems to harm students, exacerbate disparities and claim ignorance about how such circumstances (i.e., school-to-prison pipeline, excessive police brutality against black and brown people, also in schools) could come to pass. Internally, I note a shift in myself from accommodating to critical. While I love the idea of speaking to a broad audience,  it has become more important for me as a person, as a writer and as an educator to speak out and speak up and accept that not everyone will feel included, or comfortable, or agree with what I have to say. I am now willing to run that risk. My ego may take a hit but my integrity finds sustenance.

While I feed my integrity, where does the time go?

It seems to me that I read for hours on end each day: books, articles, blog posts, e-mail. I read and I seek to become wiser, better informed. I read in search of nuance and depth. I read in search of examples of healthy daily coping. I follow my friends’ recommendations. I develop opinions and then read on to have those same opinions challenged. When I find nuance and depth, I am grateful and compelled to share. One think piece that struck me in particular was Why Women Talk Less because the author did not leave well enough alone. Rather, she  examined research and arguments from various angles refusing to sum up her findings in tidy tweetable bullet points. She let the reader grapple along with her as she laid out the complexity and stickiness of the options that women appear to have in choosing to speak out and up. This type of reading is like a good workout. It leaves you a little tired and mentally sweaty but satisfied. And stronger; ready for the next solid think piece to come along and start something. And there goes the time. I read,  feel edified, and wonder where all this reading may be leading me.


Into the arms of writing, it would seem. The other chunk of time when I am not reading, I am seated at my laptop, pecking my thoughts out onto white screens with hyper-interactive sidebars. I used to write in journals, on paper. I do less of that now and tend to go straight to the screen. Since June 2014 I have published 65 posts on this blog and about a dozen on Medium.  At the outset I was fairly sure that I would be writing about coaching and teaching. But the most passionate pieces are best characterized as responses. Something I read or saw or thought about struck a chord and affected me. Like when a post by Audrey Watters nearly sent me over the edge (in a good and slightly revivalist way). Or when I  needed to dissect the reactions I was seeing on Twitter and elsewhere to a NYT piece on Success Charter Schools. Or most recently when I felt a little out of my depth venturing to take higher education to task but I did it anyway and am glad  that I did. In all of these pieces there was an emotional boiling point which made writing imperative and allowed me to push past the weighty apprehension I typically feel before I click “Publish.” Writing this year has meant jumping over my own shadow. Repeatedly. And with bigger and bigger leaps.

What did I do with myself this year?

I grew and I learned. I have found that my interests extend far beyond where I thought my borders were. In my reading and writing, in fact, I’ve gone abroad. I have ventured into unfamiliar and often uncomfortable territory. I have gained a new appreciation for this wonderful brown skin I am living in.  I have come to better understand and value the ways in which it interacts and intersects with all the other aspects of who I am and how I identify.  I have explored aspects of my otherness while finding commonalities in likely and unlikely places. Opportunities to get down on the ground and truly wrestle with my most stubborn biases and blind spots have been multiple and recurring. I have made many friends and so far, very few enemies. I have come to value questions and responses over supposed answers and solutions. I have found a deeper desire to connect not simply with people but to their ideas and  connect those ideas to other people who may not be seeing the same things.

At the end of this year I have no product to market, no book to pitch, no course of study to offer. What I do have is the well nourished integrity of my intellectual, social and artistic pursuits. Perhaps I have never been as fully myself as I am right now. My integrity has never been in better shape.

Knee-Jerk vs. A Stone’s Throw

photo via
photo via

I read that article. Yes, that article. You know the New York Times article about Success Academy Charter Schools; about how they employ rigid and punitive teaching and management methods to produce very strong standardized test results. Yeah, that article. You read it too, right? And what was your response? Outrage? Indignation? Horror?

In my Twitter feed (which is how I was introduced to the article in the first place), I found an assortment of these reactions which, not surprisingly, resonated. No, I would not wish for my own children to experience that type of schooling. Yes, I find it deplorable that public shaming of underperforming students  is relied on as a viable teaching and motivational strategy.  Yes, I concur that the definition of academic success as evidenced by high test scores is narrow and misleading. And no, I do not believe for a moment that Ms. Moskowitz and her billionaire backers care as much about the improvement of outcomes for poor brown and black children as they claim to.

After reading and re-reading the article, I found my desire and need to cast the Success Academy Charter Schools and their feckless CEO, Eva Moskowitz as the obvious villains nearly irresistible.  Because we have a narrative here. And our brains are hard-wired for stories. The story goes: innocent poor brown and black children and their families become pawns in a much larger political and financial shell game in which obscenely wealthy hedge fund managers use education reform efforts as a cover for protecting their financial gains in the short and long term. (See this article for more.) Poor brown and black families in this narrative lack agency and wits to do much beyond make the most of the hands they are dealt. At the same time, middle class liberals protest on the street and via social media while sending their own children to imperfect yet workable public and private schools.  This is what I perceive to be a widespread narrative. It is simplistic, has fairly flat characters and beyond the occasional ideological skirmish, offers little in the way of visible action.

The reality, however, is and must be so much more complicated, messy and multifaceted than this particular narrative. Each intersection of individuals – students, teachers, parents, principals, charter CEO  –  yields a host a perspectives and ideas which may blend, align, collide, or explode at various junctures. That’s the picture that is so much harder to show. Because it’s more than a picture; these are phenomena unfolding in real-time where not all elements are on display or available for armchair interpretation. While the flat narrative fits nicely with my pre-selected biases, my thinking, and worse, my potential understanding are weaker for taking this story at face value.  If I step away from the flat narrative, then I must also acknowledge all the things about which I know next to nothing.

I do not teach and have never taught in a public school. Or in a charter school. I do not live in New York City nor have I ever. I am African-American and my upbringing was distinctly middle class. I have never lived in poverty and I cannot claim to know that experience. The list could go on and on. What I do have are beliefs about society, about education, about the power of writing, about the power of reading and dialoguing to further and deepen my understanding of the world you and I inhabit. I also have my unique life experiences which inform and also filter my perceptions of what is and what is true.

While I find the portrait of  Success Academy Charter Schools and their model of academic progress depicted in this single article both troubling and frightening, I must also recognize that I am not that parent whose child is thriving in that environment. I am not that student who feels like this teacher cares about her more than all her previous teachers. I am not the young ambitious educator out to change the world who gets promoted to principal at 25. There are beneficiaries in every system. My point here is that in our eagerness to judge, judge, judge, we are deeply prone to dismissing the experiences of those whose achievements we might well applaud in other contexts which align more conveniently with our unique set of biases.

One of the questions that came up for me as I continued to turn these contrary thoughts in my head was: Could it be that this portrayal irks us so much because it reflects how we actually do much of school, just taken to an ugly extreme?  Because looking at my own teacher behaviors: I line kids up and walk them from place to place, I shush them, I insist on quiet when I am or others are talking, I have shamed children, I have not allowed every child to use the toilet when he or she wanted. Again my list could go on. Many of the practices which offend our particular sensibilities that appear in the article may prove to be extreme versions of what many of us do already.

In the course of my reading yesterday, I came across a post calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against corporations which feed off the prison economy. While the context of the remarks below refer to the blatant injustices of penal culture in the US, this passage strikes me as painfully applicable here:

Michelle Alexander, the author of “The New Jim Crow,” is outspoken about the imperative for organizing to fight back. In a speech at Union Theological Seminary in New York City in March she told her audience: “Jesus taught that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Well, we have become a nation of stone throwers. And in this era of mass incarceration it is not enough to drop your stone. We have to be willing to catch the stones raining down on the most vulnerable. And we must be willing to stand up to the stone throwers and disarm them.”

“We have become a nation of stone throwers.”  This sentences hits home on so many levels. Whenever I deign to talk about what education should be, particularly for other people’s children, then I need to check and see which stones I am carrying and prepared to cast. Which assumptions am I holding that may cloud my capacity to see what I wish was not there? How and to what degree am I perpetuating and further entrenching negative practices?  Hard questions and very necessary questions.  We cannot go on espousing the importance of critical thinking for our students, in our curricula, throughout our standards, if we are not willing and able to deconstruct the narratives we create and support in our own minds.

Stop and look at the stones you are holding.


Hat tip to my Twitter dialogue partners who really helped me arrive at a deeper level of reasoning on this topic: @Sisyphus38 @JustinAion @pepinosuave @LubaSays @NA_Dellsey  Thanks, all!

Sales, Not Education

Recently an innocent tweet went down the wrong way. It provided a link to an article without further commentary. What I found was a post extolling the virtues of technology to “transform education” based on the freshly released NMC (New Media Consortium) Horizon Report – Higher Ed edition. So often have I heard such lofty and outsized claims which I fear miss the point. I retweeted the link with this comment:

Now having reread the article on Campus Technology more carefully, I realize that it is simply a tech friendly channel highlighting the big points from the researchers’ report at NMC. Nevertheless, my reaction also has its place. Although this article and the report at hand are addressing trends for higher education, the sweeping claims made are those most likely to show up in K-12 ed-tech discourse as well.
Two things are at issue for me:

  • The idea that technology will transform education needs to go. Rather it is and will continue to be people (students, parents, educators, community members) who will transform education. People have many tools at their disposal and certainly technology will play a role, but we need to stop abdicating our responsibility and power to devices, software and corporations to create just and equitable access to education for all students.
  • Too easily we in education seem to take such reports and their underlying assumptions as gospel, conveniently forgetting that technology is an industry with profit motives like other industries. Education is a vast and diverse market with multiple entry points to exploit. (Audrey Watters writes expertly about the corporate interest sides of ed-tech like here and here. Read these and be enlightened.)

I often worry that we (teachers, parents, policy makers) are absolutely complicit in selling the education of our kids to the teams with the best marketing strategies. We love new and shiny and all promises of time and effort saving – while at the same time we expect our kids to develop grit and become critical thinkers. We want to believe that we are equipping our children and students for a future which we can’t fathom and yet we fail to question our most basic assumptions about what school is good for and how it should function. (See this awesome post by @BlueCerealEduc about inquiry for grown folks.)

We also like to give people who claim to care deeply about education more of the benefit of the doubt than they perhaps deserve (i.e., politicians, education “reformers,” billionaire philanthropists). I urge you to keep up with the likes of @edushyster (Jennifer Berkshire) who has her eyes peeled for all of the nonsense, misinformation and outright lies which are perpetuated via the media and other channels to cloud our understanding of what’s actually at stake when we hand over public schools wholesale to charter organizations or create programs of school choice without actually creating viable options for the weakest recipients of such initiatives.  A recent post of hers unpacks an  unbelievable document full of highly refined PR talking points for reformers to use in addressing a number of major parental concerns with testing and other feature of ed reform. The document is both remarkable and sickening in its baldfaced illustration of how manipulation is a science that can and will be used against you unless you combat it directly.  (No, really, the document and the post are each extraordinary in their own right. Go read both carefully.)

Critical and higher order thinking, collaboration, cooperation, digital literacy – these are skills we claim we want our children to master, that we insist are critical to their success in the future.  And I ask, How skilled are we?  How well are we collaborating and cooperating to inform ourselves and bolster our critical thinking skills? In my own experience I am finding out how naive I have been in several areas. I am only now beginning to fully appreciate the extremely well informed minds in my personal learning network. I need their tireless investigations into the false claims and snake oil peddlers in order to better understand how I can contribute to conversations in a meaningful way.  For now my attempt is to curate, read, share and synthesize the great work that others are doing to keep us awake at the wheel of our own and our kids’ futures.