My last post, a lengthy reply to a letter from a teacher-to-be who was reading one of my books, met with an excellent response from another young woman who started a small, inner-city school in Austin, Texas four years ago. In it she asked about the nuances of how a teacher can facilitate learning by following the student’s lead instead of the dictates of an imposed curriculum. More specifically: “How do you take observations [of the child's interests and strengths] and turn them into a plan for each child?” The question warrants an in-depth answer, and so again I have decided to post my reply in order that everyone can see it:
The first thing to say is I don’t remember forcing Ethan to do any conventional schoolwork. What little he did was voluntary, though I’m sure I nudged and encouraged him from time to time. The reason I’m beginning my response here is that in my experience removing coercion from the teacher/learner dynamic is a key first step in helping kids like Ethan …. read more
I got a letter the other day from a special education teacher-to-be in Ohio. Reading my book Teaching the Restless was bringing up her concerns about certain things she had observed during student teaching sessions with several second-graders who had been labeled ADHD. She—I’ll call her Jane—mentioned the teacher’s intolerance of the kids’ idiosyncrasies and the fact that one little girl’s difficulty wasn’t a learning or behavioral problem; it was simply being required to sit still for such long periods of time.
Jane ended her letter by asking me to send her the syllabus from my “Ritalin free school,” as she put it, so that she could show it to her future principal at the middle school where she will be working as a resource room teacher next year.
Of course I was heartened to see Jane’s instinct for seeking the possible causes of the trouble not only inside the children she was learning to teach, but also in the critical and restrictive climate of the classroom. But how am I going to explain to her that the answer …. read more
Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Life Learning Magazine, the author of twelve books, and the mother of two adult daughters who learned without school.
As I wrote recently in Life Learning Magazine, unschooling is the way of the future, for all ages. So I’m always surprised that so many people think it is wrong, weird, or witless…or even anti-intellectual. In fact, it’s just the opposite; our current education systems are based on outdated science, and unschooling reflects current cognitive research.
When schools were created, it was thought that learning was a sequential process that involved structure, uniformity, and memorization, and relied on extrinsic motivation and control – things like praise, rewards, and punishment. Now science knows differently; modern cognitive research is demonstrating that learning is open-ended and spontaneous, and that people – including children – learn best when they are intrinsically motivated and can build on their everyday experiences.
There are different types …. read more
As I said in Part I, my original reason for wanting to write about the Programme for International Student Assessment had nothing to do with digging up more conspiracy theory dirt about the corporate takeover of education. Now that the dust has settled, it was to reflect on what it is the tests actually measure and on the educational models of the nations whose schools led the most recent PISA rankings.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about the use of standardized tests to measure knowledge and understanding is the famous Albert Einstein quote, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” Who better than Einstein to try to lead us away from the old Newtonian paradigm’s obsession with quantifying everything? Meanwhile, contemporary neuroscientific and developmental theory is steadily bearing him out. We now know there’s nothing linear at all about learning and development, and so the idea that the snapshot measurements taken by standardized tests have any real meaning …. read more
This isn’t going to be about that famous bell tower in Italy, the old marble one which was so well constructed it’s still standing over 900 years later even though it’s been tilting 4 degrees to one side almost the entire time. It’s also not about another type of tower, the ivory kind that connotes academic elitism and intellectual pursuits disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life—although that’s getting warmer. No, the subject for today is P.I.S.A.—Programme for International Student Assessment. It’s the battery of standardized tests given every three years with great fanfare to 15-year-olds in 65 countries around the world. If I were to refer to this PISA metaphorically, I would call it a house made out of cards that is likely to collapse any day now because it has no foundation in reality.
The day in early December when the test scores are released is now known as PISA Day. Here in the U.S. the Secretary of Education holds a special press conference to announce the results; panels of experts convene to parse their significance; television networks highlight the …. read more
Here is a new post from guest blogger Kristan Morrison. Kristan is a professor of education at Radford University and the author of Free School Teaching.
If you’re interested in Being My Guest, CONTACT ME
Whenever my husband and I go on our summer vacations to various lovely locales, we always wonder about moving to that beautiful place and living there year-round. We imagine that we would love it, but then we start to think about all the ramifications and repercussions of moving to this very different place….. what will it be like in winter? What is the education world like here (would we like teaching here)? What are the utility bills, taxes, etc.? We start to pretty quickly realize that what looks like a lovely idea on the surface might be fraught with lots of problems underneath.
For over 12 years, I have been enamored with alternative forms of education. They sound so good to me – democratic, empowering, balanced, social justice-oriented, environmentally-oriented; basically, …. read more
The soiled underbelly of the Common Core State Standards is just beginning to come into view. For starters, according to an ongoing series of posts by investigative blogger Mercedes Schneider, dating back to October, 2013, the idea that the Common Core State Standards, unlike the old NCLB version, were developed at the state level through a transparent process involving teachers, principals, parents, and education experts is a complete sham. The CCSS were actually “prefabricated,” as Schneider puts it, under another name in 2004 by Achieve, Inc., an allegedly independent, nonpartisan, and not-for-profit education reform organization that in reality is none of the above.
It turns out that Achieve is closely aligned with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing political organization well known for its efforts to privatize public education and bring about other “market-based” education reforms. ALEC has been one of Achieve’s major funders since day one; and, in turn, according to a flow chart of CCSS corporate connections compiled by education activist and journalist Morna …. read more
We should all know the story by now: After the Soviet Union launched a satellite into orbit before we did, someone discovered that Soviet children were outscoring their U.S. counterparts on standardized tests in math and science. So Chicken Little slowly wound her way to Washington to tell the President the education sky is falling, and Ronald Reagan decided the best way to reassure the frightened fowl was to appoint a federal commission to study the problem and figure out how to fix it.
The commission thoroughly agreed with Chicken Little. “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people,” cried out the authors of the commission’s A Nation at Risk report. And such a hysterical response struck just the right chord. It generated a groundswell of support for the commission’s solution, which would be to “reform” our education system by making math and science curricula more …. read more
Here’s one from the archive
You won’t find it mentioned in any Albany guidebook, no matter how obscure. And forget about Google. Even the beefed-up security force of the post-911 era hasn’t a clue that there is a dragon residing at the rear of the New York State Museum. That’s right, a real, live, fire-breathing dragon, one wise and powerful enough to survive St. George and all the other knights in shining armor, and in modern times Walt Disney, Harry Potter, and reality TV.
It was my wife who first uncovered this startling fact, quite by accident, not long after the museum’s construction over thirty years ago. One morning Betsy was walking with her kindergarten class along the edge of Lincoln Park, above which the building perches on a man-made plateau overlooking the historic eastern portion of the city. It was midwinter. Suddenly someone spied a plume of steam coming out of the roof directly above a giant spiral staircase that rises up mysteriously in the back and appears to …. read more
What makes a school good? More than any other single factor, the answer is good teaching. While many of us, myself included, were never fortunate enough to go to particularly good schools when we were children, we occasionally lucked into a good teacher—someone who genuinely cared about us, really enjoyed teaching, and had a sense of humor—and what an enormous difference this person made in the quality of the experience.
Research like the Minnesota Study of Risk and Adaptation, confirms the value of good teaching. The recently completed landmark study closely followed the lives of 180 kids born into poverty from conception through age 30 in order to determine why some were able to transition into successful adult lives and others were not. After all the numbers were crunched, one difference in particular stood out: nearly 100% of the resilient participants had an influential teacher in high school who took a special interest in them.
This uncomplicated fact makes Stuart …. read more
1. That teachers will resolve to welcome every student (and I mean from the heart) every morning and then spend the day helping them to recognize and express their innate worthiness.
More of a prayer I suppose, this sentiment was inspired by the late Jean Liedloff, the author of a very important book called the Continuum Concept who once told me in an interview that two of children’s most fundamental needs are to feel worthy and welcome. Then they’ll be perfectly capable of taking care of everything else.
2. That parents will likewise recognize their children’s instinctive goodness, as well as their natural ability and desire to learn and succeed.
This trust will serve to immunize parents against the educational system’s constant fearmongering and also enable them to demand that their children’s schools stop turning education into a race to nowhere. If you haven’t seen the 2009 documentary by that name, then make a resolution to watch it in 2014. The film came into …. read more
With the holidays fast approaching and my wife and me about to head down to Washington, DC to spend them with Betsy’s almost-90-year-old mom—who has always been an important second mother to me—I think I’m going to give the blog a rest until the New Year.
David and I launched the blog exactly three months ago. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I very much look forward to continuing. Our guests and I have covered some important ground already, which the steady and excellent feedback we’ve been getting seems to confirm; and the farther I get into it, the more ideas David and I are having for new directions the blog might take. As you can see in the previous post, for instance, now we’re going to start highlighting current news stories and events that are in the blog’s wheelhouse.
While we pause I’d like to again thank everyone who has sent in a guest post, submitted a comment, or shared the link with friends and associates. And special thanks to David Easton for his ongoing …. read more
Here comes the good and the bad news both in the same breath: After 25 years the mainstream media is finally reporting on the ruthless marketing of ADHD by the nation’s pharmaceutical companies.
A scathing and lengthy exposé in last Sunday’s NY Times begins with prominent and longtime pro-ADHD psychologist Keith Conners calling the mushrooming of the ADHD diagnosis—the rate currently stands at a full 15% of American children, with the number of medicated kids soaring from 600,000 to 3.5 million since 1990—“a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”
“The numbers make it look like an epidemic,” continues Conners. “Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous. This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”
The article reveals in lurid detail how drug manufacturers have stopped at nothing to convince easily frightened parents that ADHD is a real disease with dire consequences if left untreated. It all began in 1990 when the drug companies offered to rescue the …. read more
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