Jerry Mintz, the founder of the Alternative Education Resource Organization, the world’s largest umbrella for unconventional educational approaches, recently submitted the following op-ed piece to The New York Times and Newsday. Since neither of these esteemed newspapers elected to publish it—are we surprised?—I asked Jerry if I could post it here.
First lets make one thing clear: the Common Core is not an educational upgrade. It doesn’t make education more rigorous except in the sense of rigor mortis. The only reason I think the Common Core is great is because it is so negative and destructive that it has finally done what we in our organization have been unable to do for the last 20 years: galvanize students, parents and teachers into a formidable force to resist top-down, disempowering forms of education. This is what I said yesterday to a large group of protesters who had gathered in the bitter cold outside Mineola High School, where New York State Education Commissioner John B. King was delivering …. read more
I’m not quite done with charter schools. Another critical slant I’ve had on them since the “movement” became widespread is that they’re just another in a long series of “reforms” with the unstated purpose of keeping dissent at a manageable level by distracting us from the utterly dysfunctional core of the educational model itself.
We’ve seen this same kind of phenomenon over and over again in the political arena, to the point where Hollywood finally made a movie about it. In the 1998 black comedy Wag the Dog, a Washington, D.C. spin doctor diverts the public’s attention from the President’s dalliance with an underage girl right before the election by hiring a Hollywood filmmaker to stage a fictitious war with Albania. As fate would so deliciously have it, soon after the film’s release the real Bill Clinton was accused of having sex with a young intern. Then, just as the legal noose was closing around him, he ordered a cruise missile strike against an alleged weapons of mass …. read more
With the blog now averaging almost 200 views per day, I think it’s time to find out how many people are actually reading it. So after I tell you my list of all-time favorite books and why, I’m going to ask you to do the same. Then I’ll compile everyone’s picks and post an expanded list.
An idea I’ve always had for a book is How Reading Summerhill Changed My Life. It would be a collection of the stories of all the wildly different people I’ve met over the years—from taxi drivers to chimney sweeps—who said they were never the same after reading Neill. It was certainly true for me, a lost college freshman who happened to stumble upon Summerhill in the unlikeliest of places, the bookstore at the last remaining all-male university in the U.S. It was definitely a bad business move on their part—I sat down in the aisle and read the book instead of buying it, and decided soon after to drop out at the end of the year. If seven-year-olds are capable of determining their own fate, why …. read more
My old friend Dan Grego, a long-time educational activist and reformer in Milwaukee, has taken issue with my harsh assessment of the charter school movement in my inaugural post. So I thought I would challenge him to a good spirited debate.
Since it was my idea, I get to go first.
Chris: I recognize that truly innovative schools have sprung up in certain states with liberal charter policies, and that’s great for the lucky minority of students who get to attend them. But when the charter school concept was first conjured up, there was the promise that the movement would generate new and better models that would lead to system-wide change. Can you to point out a place where this has actually happened?
Dan: First of all I need to say that the only states I know much about are Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. But as I understand it, there were two stated goals for the charter movement in the beginning: autonomy and innovation. Many charter schools across the country are autonomous, …. read more
Longtime alternative educator Elliot Washor and his colleague Charles Mojkowski have just come out with an excellent book called Leaving to Learn. The authors’ central theme is readily given away by the subtitle: How Out-of-School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates.
It’s been 17 years since Washor and Dennis Littky started the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, aka “The Met,” a publicly funded four-branch high school for 700 students in Providence, RI. The Met learning model is far more experiential than instruction-based, with the keystone being the substantial amount of time that students spend out in the adult world involved in internships, apprenticeships, and community service projects. The model is also highly personalized. Students, with the assistance of a mentor and input from their families, design their own individual learning plans based on their own particular needs and interests.
Washor and Littly’s goal from the outset …. read more
I’m excited to welcome our first guest to the blog. Alan Berger, a former NYC public high school administrator, totally changed direction in 2004 and founded the Brooklyn Free School. The school serves a highly diverse group of children ages 4-18 and was recently featured in the Huffington Post.
One of the major factors driving educational policy in the U.S. is ramped up concern over student performance on standardized tests in math, science, and literacy compared with students in other countries.
The latest case in point is a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.) that The New York Times covered in their lead editorial on October 23, 2013 with the headline “The United States, Falling Behind.” In case you missed it, the study spanned 24 countries and measured the proficiency of people ages 16 – 65 in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving using computers. Consistent with other studies of its kind, the U.S. scored at or below the international average.
The alarm generated by …. read more
Almost two years have passed since the kindergarten massacre in Newtown, CT, and now that all the hype has settled and the horrific event is fading into memory, I decided to collect all my thoughts about school shootings in one place. See what you think:
Soon after the Columbine massacre I published an emotional essay called “The Teachings of Tragedy,” in which I implored us all to dig beneath the media hype and the obvious causes of school shootings until we grasp the deeper reasons why they keep happening. Because only then can we stop this gut wrenching form of child-on-child violence.
Thirteen years and scores of such tragedies later, clearly we’re still not getting the message.
A bizarre coincidence had moved me to write about Columbine: I happened to be visiting a neighboring high school only four miles from the scene of the massacre right when it was going down. And as irony would have it, the Jefferson County Open School turned out to have little in common with Columbine High other …. read more
Writing an in memoriam for someone I never quite met should be an interesting challenge indeed.
My acquaintance with Glenna Plaisted began with an email telling me she liked my book In Defense of Childhood so much that she bought copies for the staff of her school and insisted that they read it. Then she asked if I would be willing to spend a day at the school, which I wasn’t familiar with, and lead a faculty workshop after the kids went home.
When I surfed the Riley School’s website to find out more about it, I immediately liked what I saw. There was an opening quote from Piaget about the importance of education being to learn how to learn, so that our development continues far beyond school. I also loved the school’s small size—80 students ages 4-14, and its location—25 acres of fields and forest on the Maine coast where they do things like make maple syrup and learn about salt water marshes by tramping around in them all day.
I decided to accept the invitation, and soon to follow were two memorable phone calls. It’s a …. read more
The year was 1971. A small collective of hippie civil rights and antiwar activists decided the way to change the world was to drive around downtown New Orleans in a beat up old van and pick up a racially mixed bunch of kids, two-thirds of whom were poor; and then bring them to a donated community center space and call what they did together the New Orleans Free School.
The founders never took the time to hash out a coherent educational philosophy, but they were heavily influenced by the writings of A.S. Neill, John Holt, Jonathan Kozol, and George Dennison, who along with his wife Mabel had recently started a similar freedom-based alternative on New York City’s Lower East Side. There was no tuition because the founders wanted anyone to be able to attend, regardless of socioeconomic status. Instead, operating capital came from donations made by the few families with surplus income, a handful of unpredictable small grants, and constant grassroots fundraising.
The school was …. read more
Reform: to put or change into an improved form or condition.
Remodel: to alter the structure of; remake.
It’s an age-old question now: Do we keep trying to improve the flawed educational model we have; or is it time to declare it too broke to fix and develop an entirely different one? A total remake, in other words.
There is no shortage of proponents, past and present, of either possibility. We sometimes forget the original school reformer was Horace Mann, his mission to institute a kinder, gentler, more interesting version of the heavily starched model handed down to his generation by his Calvinist forebearers. As such, he was able to separate public education from a puritanical religion that viewed children as the devil’s handiwork and to lobby with some success against corporal punishment in school (which still remains legal in 19 states). He also preferred leading children to discover underlying principles and relationships to the rote teaching of out-of-context facts and information.
Still, Mann never intended to alter the structure of the model, with its …. read more
Okay … ouch … I give, I give. For years people have been nagging me to start blogging and instead I have steadfastly maintained my loyalty to the printed page. But now it’s time to face the reality that every print publication I have ever written regularly for has either gone under or switched to an online format. (Besides how many people ever read those magazines anyway?) Thus, with one last loving nudge from my wise young son-in-law, I have concluded that since my words are going to wind up on the Internet anyway, why not just do it myself (with massive amounts of help from David)?
Don’t look for me to start tweeting too – my cell phone will remain JUST A PHONE – but what I do intend is to produce weekly (or thereabouts), meaty (1000 words or so) articles that dig around at the roots of important issues pertaining to education, children, and the world they live in. If I can convince enough of my friends and colleagues who also think deeply about such things to make guest …. read more