Taking the ‘self’ out of self-empowerment

We’ve Had 100 Years Of Progressive Education And The World’s Getting Worse, writes Jordan Shapiro, a fellow at Sesame Street Workshop’s Joan Ganz Clooney Center, in Forbes.  “A century of well-intentioned progressive trends in education may have cultivated a generation of entitled I-me-mine individualist ‘winners’,” he suggests.

Each wealthy kid who is taught to follow his/her passion, discover his/her true vocation, or find his/her authentic self, is also inadvertently learning that personal success is a kind of implicit manifest destiny.

Parenting norms differ by social class, writes Robert Putnam in Our Kids. “Well-educated parents aim to raise autonomous, independent, self-directed children with high self-esteem and the ability to make good choices, whereas less educated parents focus on discipline and obedience and conformity to pre-established rules.”

Reformers “try to spread the message of self-actualization more equitably,” writes Shapiro. They forget that “self-confidence and individual empowerment” aren’t neutral or equitable. “Winners necessarily require losers.”

Shapiro dreams of “new classroom rules, new district wide administrative systems, new school designs and new educational customs that will break the cycle of winners and losers, haves and have nots.”

We need to teach our children that the goal is not self-empowerment for the sake of the individual, but rather for the collective. They must learn not only how to identify and discover their unique gifts, but also how to offer them up in service to the rest of us.

Do winners require losers? If Johnny learns to read well, is that bad for Susie?

And teaching kids to serve the collective is . . . kind of creepy, right?

Sir Ken’s well-meant twaddle

http://sirkenrobinson.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/skr_creative_schools_3d-cover.jpgSir Ken Robinson, known for a 2006 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?,  has a new book out called Creative Schools about “transforming” education.

“Think of it as a jukebox cranking out all of the anti-reform hits,” advises Robert Pondiscio on Education Gadfly. “Nod your head like, yeah, as Sir Ken critiques not just standards, but competition, corporatization, back-to-basics, ‘industrial model education,’ and, inevitably, the school-to-prison pipeline.” Or, perhaps, it’s a “greatest hits album.”

Naturally, there’s praise for a certain country:

a)      Finland.

b)      Obviously Finland.

c)      Of course it’s Finland! It’s a freakin’ Sir Ken Robinson book!

d)     All of the above.

“In terms of knowledge, the standards movement favors direct instruction of factual information and skills and whole class teaching rather than group activities,” Robinson writes.

No, it doesn’t, responds Pondiscio.  “Teachers are expected to ‘differentiate instruction’ at all times, and students sit in pods … because group work.”

Sir Ken’s oeuvre is well-intentioned, but it is almost entirely nonsense—a warmed-over Rousseauian fantasy suggesting all children are “natural born learners,” defying what cognitive science tells us about how knowledge and practice drive skill and competence.

It is also much easier to divine what Sir Ken dislikes about schools than what he proposes we should do about it.  At several points, he compares education to organic farming. “Plants grow themselves,” he writes. “The job of the gardener is to create the best conditions for that to happen. Good gardeners create those conditions, and poor ones don’t.”

Standards and curricula aren’t the problem with education, writes Pondiscio. “They are the point.”

From time immemorial, schools have existed to transmit—consciously and unconsciously—the language, knowledge, and values of their societies at any given time and place.

It worked for Sir Ken, freeing him to think creatively, he concludes. “For those on the outside looking in—whose very existence seems lost upon Sir Ken—it’s not quite the same.”

“Robinson rightly makes the case for the rigour of creative learning – ‘creativity in any field may involve deep factual knowledge and high levels of practical skill’ – but we always need to guard against the soft bigotry of low expectations,” writes Tristram Hunt in a more positive Guardian review.  Hunt fears “the worrying trend of play and expression being adequate for working-class pupils, while leaving the tough stuff, the physics and history, for their better-off peers.”

A school is not a factory

Most Likely to Succeed by filmmaker Greg Whitely asks whether schools can “become less mind-numbing, and more mind-awakening,” writes Sam Chaltain.

Whitely spent a year at High Tech High, a public charter school in San Diego that measures  student progress through projects and public exhibitions.

There are no bells, class periods, or subjects. What teachers teach – on one-year contracts – is entirely up to them, and not one minute of class time is spent preparing for standardized state exams.

On the first day of school, incoming ninth graders “look disoriented and sheepish as their teacher asks them to set up the room for Socratic seminar,” writes Chaltain. A girl named Samantha is “hesitant and self-conscious.”

By year’s end, however, Samantha is transformed; she has become the director of her class’s play about the Taliban – a production that is entirely student-run and written. And most importantly, she has become more self-confident and self-aware. “I’m astonished about your voice,” a teacher says to her during her final “test” of the year – a public conversation in which she is asked to make sense of her own growth. “Sometimes at the beginning of the year, it was hard to even hear you. So can you talk about the development of your voice this year?”

It’s about being confident with who you are, Samantha explains to a rapt room of adults and classmates. “And this is one of the absolutely most important things I’ve learned this year. It’s good to make other people smile. It’s good to smile yourself. But it’s also good to have new experiences. It’s good to learn, and to go through struggles so that you come out knowing something new.”

The movie’s executive producer, former venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith, is on a mission to change “19th-century schools,” he tells Hechinger’s Liz Willen.

When teachers run the schools

Pacing guides turn teachers into assembly-line bosses, writes Kim Farris-Berg, guest blogging on Eduwonk. But “our students aren’t widgets,” writes Farris-Berg. “They’re humans who vary in their readiness, aptitudes, interests, and rates of learning.”

In Trusting Teachers with School Success:  What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, she looks teacher-run schools.

With authority and accountability, teacher partnerships design stunningly different approaches to teaching and learning.  Many forego grade levels, opting instead to place students in multi-aged groups based on skill level.  Teachers move through curriculum at the pace appropriate for each group.  Other teacher partnerships, recognizing the difficulties of individual progress in group settings, empower students to self-direct their learning using a mix of projects and seminars.  To these teachers, equity isn’t about “sameness.”  It’s about doing whatever it takes to help every student move to his or her personal next level of achievement.

“Teachers could be the social entrepreneurs we need for K-12,” Farris-Berg concludes.

Duncan: Get productive, drop ‘factory model’

Education Secretary Arne Duncan “knocked it out of the park”  in a speech at “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, writes Rick Hess, who hosted the AEI panel.

The New Normal — doing more with less — is “an opportunity to make dramatic improvements,” Duncan said. “It’s time to stop treating the problem of educational productivity as a grinding, eat-your-broccoli exercise. It’s time to start treating it as an opportunity for innovation and accelerating progress.”

Duncan urged states and districts to consider raising some class sizes and consolidating schools, but not to try to balance budgets by “reducing the number of days in the school year, slashing instructional time spent on task, eliminating the arts and foreign languages, abandoning promising reforms, and laying off talented, young teachers.”

Duncan made clear the financial drag of the status quo, saying, “The factory model of education is the wrong model for the 21st century. Today, our schools must prepare all students for college and careers–and do far more to personalize instruction and employ the smart use of technology. Teachers cannot be interchangeable widgets. Yet the legacy of the factory model of schooling is that tens of billions of dollars are tied up in unproductive use of time and technology, in underused school buildings, in antiquated compensation systems, and in inefficient school finance systems.”

And his to-do list was spot on. He said, “Rethinking policies around seat-time requirements, class size, compensating teachers based on their educational credentials, the use of technology in the classroom, inequitable school financing, the over placement of students in special education–almost all of these potentially transformative productivity gains are primarily state and local issues that have to be grappled with.”

. . .  “Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have masters’ degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers — with the possible exception of teachers who earn masters in math and science.”

Small classes improve student learning only in the early grades, Duncan said. Duncan “laudably argued against gutting arts, music, and sports in a mindless effort to protect small classes, and pointed out that schools in South Korea and Japan excel with class sizes much larger than ours,” Hess writes.

While Duncan said in the Q and A that unions need to reform, he added that many problems are the fault of  “dysfunctional school boards”  that lack courage and superintendents who put “political longevity” over “doing the right thing.”  His own department ” in many cases has been a huge part of the problem,” Duncan said. “I promise you, we’re looking in the mirror every day to say how do we stop being this compliance-driven bureaucracy and how do we support innovation.” He also warned that no more federal bail-out money will be flowing to districts.

Duncan can “make it safer for superintendents and state chiefs to talk about productivity and efficiency alongside student learning, Hess writes.  The U.S. Department of Education can “scour its regulations to make it easier for states and districts to spend dollars smart. It can reduce paperwork and compliance burdens. It can fund and disseminate research and tools that help state and local officials gauge cost-effective programs and services.”

Ed Week’s Teaching Now has more on Duncan and his co-panelist, Shawn McCollough, superintendent of the Nogales Unified School District in Arizona, who cut $7 million in the past two years without layoffs. McCollough redeployed central-office staff to positions working directly with students and families.