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Wichita’s Wonder School Looks Wonderful… Despite the Founder’s Surname and Assumptions that Competition is the Answer

February 22, 2018 Leave a comment

The headline in a Wichita Times article earlier this month immediately repelled me. It read “Koch Family to Open New Kind of Private School at Wichita University“. But in an effort to be open minded, and, quite frankly expecting my repulsion to be reinforced by an article describing an ill conceived “anti-government school” that would lead to a denigrating post, I read the article. And when I read that one of the partners and co-founders of the new school, called “Wonder” was Zach Lahn, a former fundraiser and state director for Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-backed conservative political advocacy group, I was certain the whole project was going to be badly conceived. But as I read deeper into the article I was stunned to find that the school envisioned by the son and daughter-in-law of one of the Koch brothers and a former fundraiser and state director for Americans for Prosperity actually looked wonderful! The article described the school’s program as follows:

▪ Students will be grouped into multi-age studios, rather than traditional grade levels, and advance only after they achieve certain academic and social milestones – a mastery-based approach touted by Kahn Academy founder Sal Kahn.

The first level, Wonder One, will be a Montessori-model preschool, Lahn said. Wonder Two will be for children roughly in second through fifth grades. Wonder Three and Wonder Four, part of the school’s long-range plan, will be geared toward middle- and high-schoolers.

▪ The school’s floorplan reflects a trend toward flexible seating, rather than traditional desks, with glass walls and wide-open spaces designed to encourage collaboration and creativity.

The school’s outdoor space, which will feature berms, tunnels and various climbing structures, was designed by Katy Bowman, author of “Move Your DNA,” who argues that movement should be a part of people’s everyday lives.

▪ There won’t be any teachers at Wonder, but rather “guides” and “coaches,” Lahn said. The school plans to allow students more say in what, how and at what pace they learn.

“We think that children are not challenged to the fullest extent that they could be right now,” Lahn said. “We want to challenge them to take on new tasks and greater ownership over what they’re doing.”

▪ There won’t be traditional grades or report cards either. Students will spend four to six weeks working on theme-based, hands-on projects, presenting them at the culmination to family and community members, who will offer feedback and ratings.

“There will be conversations happening every day in the studio: ‘Is this your best work?’ And they’re constantly being challenged to produce more iterations and better iterations,” Koch said.

▪ And no homework – at least not in the early years, Koch said. Older students who want to start a business or pursue a specific career goal might work on those projects outside of school.

“We think there’s so much value in spending time with your family, having free time, playing,” Koch said. “We really want to preserve that for the kids.”

In reviewing and reflecting on these elements, I was struck by how much they align with the libertarian– AND progressive— notions of self-direction and individuality… and how contrary those notions are with the current “factory model” of schooling. I was also struck by how the “Wonder” structure was developmentally appropriate as compared to the “factory model” that groups children by age cohorts and measures their progress based on comparisons to children who are the same ages.

While I liked everything about the Wonder design, I DID find it unsettling because it was only possible because of the resources the Koch’s could bring to bear… resources that can underwrite a small start-up but would defy scaling up without a marked increase in funding levels for public schools. And in the final paragraphs, after reading that the Koch family did not want their schools to be perceived as having any kind of political mission, I was distressed to read this statement from Shirley Lefever, dean of the College of Education at WSU, who said she was “…excited to partner with the school, which will serve as a kind of living laboratory for teaching students”:

“I think they have an incredible vision, and we just feel very privileged to be a part of that conversation,” Lefever said… “We’re always looking for ways that we can continue to learn and continue to try to understand how to improve educational outcomes for students.”

Koch said she envisions sharing ideas and encouraging other startup schools.

“We want other people doing this. We want competition,” she said. “We want somebody else to open another one of these, because we feel like that would make us better.

“We’re a small school, but we feel like we could have a big impact.”

A note to Ms. Koch: the notion that competition is the only way to make schools better is reinforcing a political notion that schools are a commodity and not a public good… Schools can get better faster through collaboration… and underfunded schools can get accelerate their improvement even more rapidly if they receive the funding they need. But that cannot be seen as a viable solution in Kansas where the legislature has decided that schools don’t need more money.

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The Conservative-Libertarian Federalist’s Analysis is ALMOST Correct… Offers Some Possible Avenues to Undo “Reform”

February 22, 2018 Leave a comment

The Google feed that provides me with articles on public education from the entire political spectrum offered up an op ed piece by Federalist writer Stella Morabito with the click-bait title “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids“. After reading the article, I came away convinced that libertarian-conservatives and progressives share many of the same perspectives about the ways public schools function in an adverse way for many students… but clearly do not share a common perspective on how to address the defects.

As I read through the list of thirteen ways public schools create a negative environment for most children, I found myself nodding in assent in most cases, particularly in large urban schools where test-driven “reform” has taken root:

  • The size and model of mass schooling IS alienating
  • Public schools are abnormal settings that feel like prisons
  • Public schools are breeding grounds for hierarchical cliques
  • Giant public schools are breeding grounds for aggression
  • Public schools are increasingly politicized
  • Schools are becoming more repressive
  • Public Schooling stunts personality development
  • Kids with special needs are especially judged as different

In most cases I could have written (and maybe HAVE written) similar observations, albeit coming from a completely different perspective. The school-to-prison pipeline, which is not referenced at all in Ms. Morabito’s article, is the result of schools becoming more repressive. The next four “ways schools incubate mental instability” are arguably accurate, but for completely different reasons than Ms. Morabito offers:

  • School bureaucracy tends to reinforce social pecking orderThe social pecking order is reinforced more by the way school attendance zones are established than by “the school bureaucracy”. Moreover, the “school bureaucracy” doesn’t SET “the social pecking order”, it mirrors “the social pecking order” that parents want to see in place. 
  • Reduced content knowledge promotes conformity: Ms. Morabito attributes the “reduced content” to “identity politics, fads, and political activism” instead of the true culprit, which is the slavish adherence to standardized tests as the means for measuring whether schools are “successful”. This has narrowed the curriculum so that the topics Ms. Morabito values— like “history, geography, and classics”– are pushed out. 
  • Public schools disregard students’ family and non-school lives: This is true but NOT for the reasons Ms. Morabito contends. While she sees that “Parents and families are increasingly treated as nuisances to the collectivist agenda of training children to conform to politically correct attitudes and emotions”, I see the problem as schools disregarding the needs of single-parent families and/or families where both parents work. And where Ms. Morabito laments the hours children spend in school, I would focus on the hours many children spend before schooling begins sitting in front of screens.  

 

Then there are two completely groundless assertions:

  • Public schooling is increasingly hostile to Christianity: Ms. Morabito writes: “Growing and intense aggression against any form of Christian prayer in the schools has a further alienating effect. It teaches any child who is emotionally hurting that he can’t even seek solace in a private and silent conversation with God without knowing he’d be ridiculed if his peers knew. The hostility towards religion also leads us on a path to utter lawlessness, since the rule of law evaporates when left to the devices of elites.”  While Ms. Morabito professes to desire that we do a better job of instructing children about the Constitution, she chooses to ignore that part of the Constitution that provides freedom from religion in government… the basis for precluding prayer in school. While many teachers, administrators, and “bureaucrats” may wish to allow prayer in school, those who work for the government are required to follow the laws of the land as interpreted by the courts. 
  • Enforced conformity promotes peer victimization: This somewhat confusing statement makes the point that the anti-bullying initiatives in schools are falling short of the mark, which may be the case in some school districts. But Ms. Morabito’s analysis of anti-bullying is off the mark. She groundlessly asserts that “…A bully is free to target with the taunt “bigot” any child who comes from a traditional Christian home, and the curricula will back them up”, but fails to suggest that additional counseling and direct instruction on the teaching of tolerance might be helpful in addressing the bullying behavior that is arguably a part of human nature that needs to be controlled if we want to live under a rule of law as opposed to a rule of vigilantism. 

As I read about the libertarian thinking on education, I am struck by how often I find myself agreeing with some of their principles, many of which are grounded in common sense and research. But too often their anti-establishmentarian ideas ascribe intent and power to bureaucracies that do not exist. Ms. Morabito’s belief that the “school bureaucracy” sets the pecking order in schools is a case in point. For better or worse, there is no monolithic “school bureaucracy” that exists in our country. Our public education system is radically decentralized and immune to edicts from the Supreme Court. If that were not the case we would have fully integrated and equitably funded public schools and adhering to a “Common Core” curriculum that would would have been in place for decades. Instead our schools operate democratically under the control of local boards elected at the levels established by each state. It’s a cumbersome system that is exceedingly difficult to change… but it better than any alternative… especially an alternative that is based on religion.

 

Adam Gopnik’s New Yorker Article on Prodigies Offers Key Distinction that Public Schools Miss

February 6, 2018 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Adam Gopnik’s January 29 New Yorker article titled “How to Raise a Prodigy” on line and “The Parenting Paradox” in print. It is well worth a read for anyone who wants an insight into parenting, the underlying forces in public education, and the underlying forces of our consumer-driven economy. Mr. Gopnik’s  article is in the book review section of the magazine because it focuses on three recent books on the general subject of raising children who are prodigies of one kind or another: Sara Zaske’s “Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children” (Picador); “Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies” (Knopf) by Ann Hulbert; and “Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence” (Simon & Schuster) by Karen Crouse***.

Mr. Gopnik’s essay provides a brief overview of each book and is interwoven with his own observations about child rearing and our parents’ and public schools’ efforts to identify and nurture prodigies of one form or another. His meta-observation is offered at the end of his critique of Ms. Zaske’s book that idealizes the German method of raising children:

And here we arrive at the real ghost that haunts these books, the one that sends us to Paris or Berlin for help: the sense that American parents have gone radically wrong, making themselves and their kids miserable in the process, by hovering over them like helicopters instead of observing them from a watchtower, at a safe distance.

Having worked with parents of the best and brightest and observed the interactions of parents on playgrounds in Brooklyn where my daughters both live, I can attest to the accuracy of the “helicopter” metaphor. Mr. Gopnik offers the “cooperative spirit” that Ms. Crouse witnessed in Norwich, Vermont, as the antidote to helicopter parenting:

What we don’t get to see, in Crouse’s account, is the little town nearby, where, as must be the case, everyone coöperates and yet no one is a champion. (And there must also be, in Norwich, at least one Holden Caulfield type who thinks the whole Norwich thing is phony.) Looking at Norwich, we’re told that the non-competitive, non-pressuring approach is best because it gets us to the medal stand, or close. But what if it didn’t? If Norwich values matter, it’s because they’re good, not because they’re shortcuts to victory. The point of a non-competitive attitude can’t be that it makes us better able to compete; the value of an unpressured approach can’t be that it creates a more effective kind of pressure. In any case, one has the sense that what Crouse has found is not a “secret” but a well-known effect: unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions, whether they are in fifteenth-century Florence, in painting, or in San Pedro de Macorís, the “cradle of shortstops.” One good painter with an apprentice produces a Renaissance, just as one good coach with willing kids supplies the major leagues.

As noted below, I am familiar with Norwich and its surrounding communities and Mr. Gopnik’s assessment that there is “..a little town nearby where everyone cooperates and yet no one is a champion” could describe any number of nearby communities in Vermont… and the values Ms. Crouse ascribes to Norwich are good in and of themselves. Too, Mr. Gopnik’s insight that “unusual excellence emerges within tightly structured local traditions” captures the notion that who children associate with outside of school is more important than what they learn in school and underscores the importance of the values of the community where a child is raised.

Mr. Gopnik’s best insights come near the conclusion of his article where he describes the importance of mastery as opposed to achievement and the futility of trying to be a perfect parent:

What typically emerges from looking at kids, gifted and ordinary, is that, from the kids’ point of view, accomplishment, that is, the private sense of mastery, the hard thing suddenly made easy, counts for far more in their inner lives than does the achievement—the competition won, the reward secured. The mystery of mastery, felt in the child’s mind or muscles, is more compelling than the concreteness of achievement, the trophy pressed in her hands. What sustains us in any competition are the moments of interiority when the competition vanishes; what sustains us in any struggle are the moments when we forget the struggle…

Accomplishment, the feeling of absorption in the flow, of mastery for its own sake, of knowing how to do this thing, is what keeps all of us doing what we do, if we like what we do at all. The prizes are inevitably disappointing, even when we get them (as the life of Bob Dylan, prize-getter and grump extraordinaire, suggests).

What really helicopters over these books is what one might call the Causal Catastrophe: the belief that the proof of the rightness or wrongness of some way of bringing up children is in the kinds of adults it produces. This appears, on the surface, so uncontroversial a position—what other standard would you use?—that to question it seems a little crazy. But, after all, chains of human causality are, if not infinite, very long; in every life, some bad consequence of your upbringing will eventually emerge. We disapprove of parental hovering not because it won’t pay off later—it might; it does!—but because it’s obnoxious now. Strenuously competitive parents may indeed produce high-achieving grownups, but it’s in the nature of things that high-achieving adults are likely to become frustrated and embittered old people, once the rug is pulled out from under their occupation. If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then all chains are infinitely weak, since everybody ends up broken.

Mr. Gopnik’s advice should be heeded by parents and public educators. If Mr. Gopnik’s assessment that a “private sense of mastery” is more important than “the competition won, the reward secured“— then parents and schools should strive to gain an understanding of each child’s gifts and talents and cultivate them instead of forcing a child to compare his or her talents in academics to other children that are his or her same age. Moreover, parents and schools should strive to help each child develop the self-awareness that is implicit in cultivating a private sense of mastery. The best writers and artists do not live to get favorable reviews: they live to develop an essay or story that captures their ideas in print, to develop a piece of artwork or music score that captures a spirit they possess, or to transfer something internal into something to share with the world at large. I think in the end, prodigious athletes, musicians, writers, and individuals in the world of work do not compare themselves to any external standard: they possess an internal standard of excellence that drives them to do the best they can and an attitude that so long as they are doing the best they can they are indifferent to winning a competition or securing a reward. If schools want to develop happy and healthy prodigies— or happy and healthy citizens, they need to stop focussing on competition and rewards and begin helping students develop their private sense of mastery.

 

***In the spirit of full disclosure, I served as Superintendent of Schools in Norwich for seven years, so I have some understanding of the dynamics in that community which, in Mr. Gopnik’s words, “…continually sends athletes to the Olympics and other competitions in numbers ridiculously disproportionate to its size.” It is not quite as perfect as Ms. Crouse describes, but it IS a wonderful place to raise children… and Mr. Gopnik is correct in assuming that there is “at least one Holden Caulfield type” in that town.

 

Koch Brothers Want to Individualize at the expense of Democracy. Only State Legislatures and Local School Boards can Stop Them

February 2, 2018 Leave a comment

From the beginning of my career as an educator, I have been an advocate of individualization as a means of allowing students to progress through subjects at their own rate and to pursue subjects that are especially interesting to them. But my vision for implementing individualization would incorporate self-paced and self-defined learning within a framework where students instruction in social skills, inter- and intra-personal skills, and governance skills would be explicit. The role of teachers would be to monitor and coach students as they proceed through curricula that help them develop hierarchical and factual information and to facilitate dialogue sessions where student learn the skills required to operate in a democracy and make it thrive. A blend of Sal Kahn’s approach to “personalization” of content and the collaborative Harkness method used at Philips Exeter Academy comes closest to the kind of instruction that would achieve this kind of vision. If schools were organized in this fashion age cohorts would gather in groups of 12 to wrestle with age appropriate ethical issues drawn from common readings. The reading need not be complicated or lengthy: Aesop’s fables, for example, could generate in depth dialogue among students no matter what their reading level or their learning pace. From my perspective, the act of gathering around a table to debate and gain an understanding of these issues is the heart of democracy, and absent that kind of opportunity children have no way to learn how to conduct themselves with civility, how to empathize with others, or how to reflect on their own views.

The Koch Brothers, though, have a different view of the ideal education. Where progressive idealists like me want to ensure that students have an opportunity to learn from each other, learn how to collaborate, and learn how to think reflectively, the Koch Brothers view schooling as a sorting machine designed to winnow out the weak and celebrate the strong. “Public Education in Koch Network’s Sights“, Martin Levine’s article in the recent Non-Profit Quarterly offers an unsettling description of the Koch Brothers’ ultimate goal in their effort to change public education. In reading the recent Washington Post article that reported on the Koch Network’s annual meeting, Mr. Levine concluded that democracy itself will be imperiled if the Koch’s vision is adopted across the nation— and sees that as the ultimate end-game for the Koch Network:

The Koch Network’s new strategic focus appears to move beyond debates over school choice, common core curriculums, and testing; instead, they’re working toward longer-term changes in societal thinking. The Network’s vision is one of highly tailored individualized learning, which leaves little space for education to support core democratic values…

In an earlier post on this sameI encouraged local voters to WAKE UP to the Koch Brothers’ stealth funding of political campaigns at ALL levels of government, especially state legislatures and local school boards. A quick read of Mr. Levine’s article makes the alarm more urgent. He concludes his essay with this:

Those who believe public education is a shared responsibility entrusted to local governments will surely want to resist this. Replacing “public” with “individual” is a radical change that could further divide our nation along racial and economic lines as well as serve to undermine notions of equal opportunity. The Koch Network has passion and money to fuel its work. How public school and nonprofit civic advocates respond to these assaults could greatly affect our future.

One thing is clear to me: if “…public school and nonprofit civic advocates” remain on the sidelines we will not only divide our nation along racial and economic lines (and) undermine notions of equal opportunity, we will undermine democracy itself.

Unsurprising Results in Online Courses: Self-Actualized Learners Do Fine… Others, Not So Well

January 21, 2018 Leave a comment

The NYTimes featured an op ed article by University of Michigan professor Susan Dynarski earlier this week with the unsurprising headline: “Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need Help the Most“. The article describes a study that concluded that “…the growth of online education is hurting a critical group: the less proficient students who are precisely those most in need of skilled classroom teachers.” But, as Ms. Dynarsky notes, these are the very students who are being steered into online coursework in the name of efficiency and equity.

Online learning is more efficient. After all, a single teacher— or in some cases and single teacher and an algorithm— can oversee hundreds of students working online. But too often, online courses are used for the purpose of credit restoration, and when students “pass” an online credit restoration course they gain far less understanding than students who take the same content face-to-face. But passing as many students as possible is important when the metric for “success” is pass rates and if one can achieve a pass rate using computers it saves a substantial amount in the budget.

Online learning can provide equity, but only if the students are highly motivated. As Ms. Dynarsky writes:

Online courses have many real benefits… They can help high achievers in need of more advanced coursework than their districts provide through other means. This is especially true in small, rural districts that offer few specialized, traditional courses for students working ahead of their grades.

A study in Maine and Vermont examined the effect of online courses on eighth graders with strong math skills in schools that didn’t offer face-to-face algebra classes. Students were randomly assigned either to online algebra or to the less challenging, standard math offered in traditional classes.

Both groups of students were tested at the end of the school year. The online algebra students did substantially better than their counterparts in standard classrooms. They were also twice as likely to complete advanced math later in high school.

Having worked in rural schools, this result is unsurprising. Often small schools enroll weaker students in a course labelled as “Algebra” in order to provide the course for children in their school… but many of the students in the course are only marginally prepared for the rigors. The online courses, though, are often limited to those students with “strong math skills”, which would account for the differential in performance at the conclusion of the course.

The real damage done to struggling students occurs at the higher education level:

n colleges, especially in nonselective and for-profit schools, online education has expanded rapidly, too, with similar effects. These schools disproportionately enroll low-income students who are often the first in their families to attend college. Such students tend to drop out of college at very high rates. Students with weak preparation don’t fare well in online college classes, as recent researchby professors at Harvard and Stanford shows.

These scholars examined the performance of hundreds of thousands of students at DeVry University, a large for-profit college with sites across the country. DeVry offers online and face-to-face versions of all its courses, using the same textbooks, assessments, assignments and lecture materials in each format. Even though the courses are seemingly identical, the students who enroll online do substantially worse.

The effects are lasting, with online students more likely to drop out of college altogether. Hardest hit are those who entered the online class with low grades. Work by researchers in many other colleges concurs with the DeVry findings: The weakest students are hurt most by the online format.

And to make matters worse, these for-profit “colleges” often use false advertising to entice enrollees who take out loans to pay— or more accurately OVERpay– for the courses they take. Ms. Dynarksy leads this conclusion out of her analysis: This scam, more than anything, adds to the student loan crisis facing our country.

 

This Just In: Privatizing Profiteers Benefit from and Exacerbate Racial and Economic Segregation

January 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Washington Post blog post by Valerie Strauss consists of an interview of author Nowile Rooks whose latest book, Cutting School, is summarized in one telling quote that leads Ms. Strauss’ post:

“If we as a nation really took seriously dismantling underperforming school districts and replacing them with the same types of educational experiences we provide the wealthy, it would negatively impact the bottom lines of many companies.” — Noliwe M. Rooks

In Ms. Strauss’ interview, Ms. Rooks provides a narrative on how segregation began after the Civil War, how it flourished and was supported by law until the mid-1950s, and how it continues today. But Ms. Rooks asserts that the privatization of public education has made the situation even worse, and that any policy that seeks to end segregation by race (or, by implication of her analysis, income) would likely run afoul of the investor class whose campaign contributions to conservatives and neoliberals ensure the perpetuation of our current system:

Students educated in wealthy schools perform well as measured by standard educational benchmarks. Students educated in poor schools do not. Racial and economic integration is the one systemic solution that we know ensures the tide will lift all educational boats equally. However, instead of committing to educating poor children in the same way as we do the wealthy, or actually with the wealthy, we have offered separate educational content (such as a reoccurring focus on vocational education for the poor) and idiosyncratic forms of educational funding and delivery (such as virtual charter schools and cyber education) as substitutes for what we know consistently works. While not ensuring educational equality, such separate, segregated, and unequal forms of education have provided the opportunity for businesses to make a profit selling schooling. 

Ms. Rooks coined a term for this phenomenon: “segrenomics”. And this paragraph on how it works could have been lifted from “Reinventing Government” or any treatise coming from libertarian think tanks:

I am calling this specific form of economic profit “segrenomics.” Children who live in segregated communities and are Native American, black or Latino are more likely to have severely limited educational options. In the last 30 years, government, philanthropy, business and financial sectors have heavily invested in efforts to privatize certain segments of public education; stock schools with inexperienced, less highly paid teachers whose hiring often provides companies with a “finder’s fee”; outsource the running of schools to management organizations; and propose virtual schools as a literal replacement for — not just a supplement to — the brick and mortar educational experience.

The attraction, of course, is the large pot of education dollars that’s been increasingly available to private corporate financial interests. The public education budget funded by taxpayers is roughly $500 billion to $600 billion per year. Each successful effort that shifts those funds from public to private hands — and there has been a growing number of such efforts since the 1980s — escalates corporate earnings.

In short, these privatized for-profit schools are designed to benefit shareholders first and foremost and if children learn as a result it is a collateral benefit.  Is there any way out of this trend given the money being spent by philanthropists and profiteers, the relentless message that privatized for-profit market driven schools are better than “government schools”, and the desire to keep taxes low at all costs? Ms. Rooks’ interview concludes with this:

In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech entitled “Where Do We Go From Here: Community or Chaos?” I often reflect on his questions when thinking about where the contemporary paths we are traveling in relation to public education are leading. I think community or chaos are two potential destinations. We have to stop and reflect on where both our educational preferences and policies are leading us. We can either continue to encourage chaos by allowing our tax dollars to be used to educationally experiment on working class and poor children, and disrupt poor communities by closing schools, or we can embrace community by requiring that poor children are educated in the same ways as the wealthy.

The choices we make are will tell future generations much of what they will need to know about what our democracy means to us here in the 21st century.

I have been consulting in rural Vermont communities who are trying to answer a variation of this question. The legislature in Vermont passed a bill that encouraged town school districts to voluntarily merge into multi-town union districts where their local schools would be represented by regional boards instead of locally. This bill rightly assumes that a single merged K-12 district will provide greater efficiency and, thus, greater savings. But many town bridle at the changes that come with regionalization: they fear that their towns might ultimately lose their public schools, which serve as community anchors. The overarching question is one of efficiency versus community: do we want to save every dollar we can in the name of reducing costs, even if it means eliminating our community? It is clear that some Vermont towns do not want the state imposing a new definition of “community” on them in the name of efficiency. It is also clear that some suburban and exurban towns and urban neighborhoods do not want the state government or city government imposing a definition of “community” on them in the name of segregation. In both cases the hearts and minds of individuals need to be changed. I believe we need to expand our definition of “Community” to be as inclusive as possible without abandoning the traditions that make our local “community” unique. It CAN be accomplished if we lower our voices, soften our positions, and open our hearts and minds.

 

Christensen Institute’s Julia Freedland Makes An Important Distinction: Behaviorism vs. Constructivism

January 14, 2018 Leave a comment

In her recent Christensen Institute post flagging the “5 Big Ideas for Education Innovation in 2018“, Julia Freedland encourages critics of disruption to focus on the distinction between constructivism and behaviorism in their analyses. Under the heading “Stop debating technology, start debating constructivism and behaviorism” she writes:

The ever-simmering edtech debate is starting to boil over. Commentators are stuck arguing whether tech is good or bad, whether personalized learning is synonymous with robot teachers or high-touch teaching, whether technology is under-researched or offers a high payoff. I worry that these debates draw false dichotomies. They risk entrenching different camps in their feelings about the form a tool takes rather than its function. I suspect that the deeper tension undergirding these debates may have less to do with technology itself and more to do with competing behaviorist and constructivist philosophies. I’m hoping that mainstream edtech conversations dedicate more time to examining these competing pedagogical philosophies—and how edtech tools do or don’t support each—in 2018. This year I’ll keep following thinkers like Larry Cuban who have become more vocal about this distinction.

In the article Mr. Cuban wrote, he contends that “personalized learning” is used to describe programs that range from de facto programmed instruction where students more through teacher-constructed playlists at their own pace to technologically enhanced Summerhill-like approaches– where students dictate both content and pace. I think his nuanced perspective, one that eschews “value-loaded” words, is far superior to that of those who bundle all technology into the Skinnerian end of the spectrum.

As one who advocates the elimination of age-based grade levels and the open-ended opportunity for students to explore subjects that interest them in depth once they’ve mastered reading and mathematical skills, I tend toward the constructivist side of the spectrum. But as one believes there is a place for technology in school improvement, I also hope educational critics will heed Ms. Freedland’s dictum and “Stop debating technology, start debating constructivism and behaviorism“.