A 15 year old Canadian schoolboy, with a fascination for the ancient Mayan Civilization, recently theorized a correlation between the star positions in major constellations and the geographic locations of known Mayan cities. Based on this theory, he used Google Maps to suggest the location of an unknown ancient city. The Canadian Space Agency was so impressed that they used a satellite-based space telescope to study the spot and confirm the existence of the hitherto, unknown city.
In my work I ran across many ordinary youngsters who — with access to technology, supportive teachers and unconstrained curiosity — did extraordinary things. It all begs for a more empowering and imaginative way of educating our children.
97% of scientific papers written by climate scientists state the position that global warming is caused by human activity. This is not a secret.1 Yet, according to a 2008 Gallup Poll,2 questioning people in 128 countries, only 49% of U.S. citizens believe what these scientists are telling us. That’s a smaller portion of the population than 86 other countries.3
My point is this. What we typically think of as literacy and what’s taught in schools, needs to expand. In the age of Internet, social media and 24 hour news, literacy is no long just the ability to read and comprehend. It is equally critical that the literate be skilled and inclination to detect if what they are reading is intended to inform their behavior, or manipulate it.
2 Pugliese, Anita; Ray, Julie (11 Dec 2009). “Awareness of Climate Change and Threat Vary by Region”. Gallup. Retrieved 22 Dec 2009.
3 Climate change opinion by country. (2016, March 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:38, May 9, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Climate_change_opinion_by_country&oldid=711997815
Many would disagree, but I believe that the introduction of new information and communication technologies into our classrooms has had a productively disruptive effect on education. We have certainly not seen its full potential, and reaching it may well be impossible for a human society. But I’ve recently wondered about a new disruptive influencer on the horizon, one that has the potential to further progress formal education – or destroying it – in my humble opinion.
Consider that even though some presidential candidates have promised to bring back the manufacturing jobs that America has lost to China, the jobs that actually left our shores are a mere ripple, as Matthew Yglesias put it in a recent MoneyBox article,1 compared to the manufacturing jobs we lost to robots during the same years – and those jobs will not return.
And now we have driverless cars, just around the corner? Sam Tracy, in a 2015 Huffington Post article itemized the numbers of Americans who make their living by driving: taxi drivers, chauffeurs, bus drivers, driver-sales workers, school bus drivers, postal service carriers, light truck deliveries and heavy truck transport. It totaled almost four million jobs, with wages of almost $150 billion a year.
Will there really be new jobs for them to train for?
Then entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Sam Altman, says this in a recent Freakonomics podcast, that, “..90% of (the) people (may) go smoke pot and play video games, but if (only) 10% of the people go create incredible new products and services and new wealth, that’s still a huge net-win.”2 In other words, is there a national economic need for 100% employment in the near future, or even 15% employment – besides what Altman refers to as a “..puritanical ideal that hard work for its own sake is valuable.”
All this is to suggest that the job of schools, sooner than later, may be to educate our children to be unemployed. Consider the recent media interest in the concept of basic income. Here is a Google Trend graph of the frequency of the term’s searches.
In the most general terms, basic income would have the federal government handing out to all citizens enough money to live on. Those who want more would work for a wage. Those who do not, would find some other way of spending their time. Experiments are already underway in Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland & the UK.
Even though I suggest an open mind, I do not want to spend this blog post arguing the merits or dangers of such an arrangement. What I do want to ask is, “What would you say to a student who says, ‘I don’t need to know this because I don’t need a job?’” What if he is absolutely right? The next question is “What would he or she need to know for a future that does not require employment?” and “How might preparing our children for productive leisure change the WHY, WHAT and HOW of formal education?”
What do you think?
2 Weller, C. (2016, April 19). A Silicon Valley entrepreneur says basic income would work even if 90% of people smoked weed instead of working [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.techinsider.io/sam-altman-praises-basic-income-on-freakonomics-podcast-2016-4
I launched Class Blogmeister in 2004, realizing that there were a lot of teachers who needed a blogging platform for their students, one that was designed for the classroom. I anticipated that the service would live for a couple of years, after which other more skillfully constructed and professionally supported services would be available. They were available, but teachers wanted to keep using CB and I wanted to keep learning from their inventive ideas and add features as they were requested.
Now, 12 years later, I have mostly retired from speaking and writing, and my wife and I are spending much of our time in the foothills of North Carolina, helping and enjoying our aging parents.
So, sadly, I will be closing Class Blogmeister around the middle of June this year. It’s seen a pretty good run, serving over 300,000 teachers and students from 90 countries, who have written nearly 1.5 million blog articles – and I have been the real beneficiary, learning from this amazing community.
I want to commend everyone who has used Class Blogmeister for your adventurous nature and your steadfast adherence to the idea that teaching is an art. Student blogging requires courageous teachers – and I believe that “courage” is one of the central defining qualities of all good teachers.
I thank you for your loyalty and patience, and especially for being a good teacher. I can think of no better compliment to pay.
The title of this article is a question, because I admit my ignorance of the answer. I’ve not been paying much attention to THE conversation, since I have finally accepted my status as retired. Wahoo! But I am working on another book, so my mind is still in our righteous endeavor, even though my PLN has evolved.
The book I am working on will be a history of technology in education, as I have witnessed it – so programming is on my mind. You see, that’s what we called it back in the 1982, programming. So I was struck by a sense of déjà vu when I saw so much of the edtech discussion, at the recent Raleigh NCTIES conference, devoted to coding.
But are we (and I’m asking this question seriously) missing the point of a skill that has been so important to me, not to mention a pure personal joy? You see, what has made coding so important is not necessarily its practicality, though I have been able to support the educational endeavors of many teachers with my tools. It’s not even the bread it has put on my table, though I am enormously appreciative of that.
I often tell the story that on that first afternoon, after spending my first couple of hours teaching myself how to program (uh, code), I got on my hands and knees and I thanked every algebra teacher I had ever had. There was finally a practical use for those mystical techniques for manipulating numbers.
But there was a major difference between how I was using Math and how I was taught Math – and it is a difference that strikes right at the heart of what we’re doing wrong in education. You see, I immediately understood, though I may not have been able to express it, that I was using Algebra as a language, in order to instruct the digital environment (Radio Shack TRS-80 computer) to behave in the way that I wanted. If you can communicate with a computer, then you can use it to learn and express.
We learned Reading so that we could read our textbooks and other more authentic sources of knowledge. We learned to Write so that we could articulate our growing knowledge. Maybe we should learn Coding in order to learn the language of numbers, so that we can learn from our own thoughts and express our ideas in endlessly creative ways.
..instead of teaching Math and teaching Coding.
Of course, I’m not the first to suggest such a radical idea. It was during those earliest years that some very smart people (Seymour Papert & my friend, Gary Stager for two) were already suggesting and putting into action this very idea with the Logo programming language.
I received two surprises last Friday at the annual NCTIES conference in Raleigh. The first was being honored with ISTE’s Making IT Happen award. This really wasn’t a surprise for me because they needed my coat size before hand. But it was an enormous career-gratifying honor.
The second surprise was something a bit strange – a phenomenon that I have noticed in my conference experiences across the United States. You see, in some regions, when you receive an award, you walk up, take the object, shake a hand, thank the organization, pose for a photograph and walk back to your table. North Carolina is a perfect example of this practice.
In other regions, say New England, you take your object of honor, shake a hand, but are also obliged to “say a few prepared words” to the audience – words of understated but eloquent humility in the case of New England.
So when the Outstanding (Tech) Teacher of the Year “said a few well prepared words” after her award on Friday afternoon, I calculated that I had only the “carefully prepared words” from two more honorees left in order to come up with something Warlick’esque to say.
I did, though I bungled it badly behind the microphone. So I thought I would try to say it more eloquently here.
I started teaching in 1976, and in these 40 years as an educator, one fact has become clear. We live in a complicated world. Despite what some would have you believe, there is complexity in our world and in our individual lives – and that complexity is beautiful.
Our problems are not simple and they deserve better than simple tried-and-true solutions. They are complicated and they require creative and complex solutions – solutions that also provide new and wonderful opportunities.
The best uses of technology in our classrooms help us and our students to understand and appreciate today’s complexities and to imagine the opportunities that they offer. But we must continue to understand, as true educators, that simplifying and streamlining education will fail, not to mention the fact that it insults our children.
..because the most beautiful aspect of this exquisite complexity is that it invites us all to be different – and we can continue to permit our children to exercise their differences as long as we are willing to simply say, “Surprise Me!”
I have decided to elevate my response to Benjamin Meyers’ recent comment to a blog post. He mostly agreed with my sentiments over the demise of No Child Left Behind, with his personal experience of test-prepping high school students for the ACT. It was his first teaching job and it was what he was hired to do.
I certainly found incredible resistance and boredom from the students. It seemed like the harder I tried to teach the test to my students, the more they hated the subject of science. Indeed, high stakes’ testing has a nasty way of creating negative feelings toward school in students.
Indeed, it seems that the more we seem to care about our children knowing the answers, the less they seem to care about the questions.
But then, Meyers put forth a relevant challenge,
NCLB was created for a reason. Our schools seem to be lagging behind in performance compared to the rest of the world. This in spite of the amount of money that we spend on education and the number of hours that our students spend in the school building. If we are not going to improve education through legislation such as NCLB, then what is the best policy adjustment that our country can make that will actually make a difference?
1 Brodwin, E. (2015, April 23). The happiest countries in the world, according to neuroscientists, statisticians and economists. Business Insider. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://www.businessinsider.com/new-world-happiness-report-2015-2015-4
On January 8, 2002, George W. Bush signed into law, the No Child Left Behind Act. For 5,084 days, the United States has engaged in despicable acts of child labor, forcing its children to slog through physically and emotionally harmful toil and stresses, for reasons that have nothing to do with what was best for them.
We have speculated about the intent of No Child Left Behind, a title that exemplifies political PR’s employment of the english language to “..make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.”1 Our speculations have varied into the realms of conspiracy, going so far as to suspect an all out effort to kill public education in America. We have delighted in our own retitling of the law, my favorite being, “No Child Left able to Think for Him Self.”
Sometime today, President Barrack Obama will sign into law, Every Student Succeeds, overhauling the flawed NCLB, which has corrupted the institution of public education for 14 years. Just like the Bush-era law, Every Student Succeeds emanates from political machinations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel calling it a victory for “conservative reform.”2
Of course, returning education to the hands of parents, teachers, states and school boards is not a solution. It is an opportunity for courageous and inventive educators to seise. So here are some suggestions from one in a minority of educators, who actually remember classrooms unconstrained by policy compliance and political accountability.
|R||-||Throw the scripts away and Resourcefully invent practices that work here and now or our tomorrow.|
|I||-||Return scientifically proven research to its proper function and Innovate. Bring back the art of teaching.|
|P||-||Reject the practices of beating our children over their heads with test-prep. Instead, inflect them with Passion. Become passionate again about teaching and what it is that you teach, and make it glow with that passion.|
|N||-||Take the “No” out of education. For 5,000 days, education has been defined by it limits. Education today must be defined by its lack of limits.|
|C||-||Don’t teach students to collaborate, to be communicators, to be creative. Instead, create learning experiences that utilize Collaboration, Communication and Creativity to energize students’ accomplishment of things bigger than they are.|
|L||-||Reinvent Literacy. Free yourself and your students from 19th century notions of the three-Rs. Look for the literacies that instill in us all, a learning lifestyle.|
|B||-||Be Bold. Courageously teach, what has not been taught before and craft learning experiences that are new and exciting. You students will love you for it, and their communities will fund your educational programs.|
1 Orwell, G. (1946). Politics and the English Language. Penguin.
2 Barrett, T. (2015, December 9). Obama to sign ‘No Child Left Behind’ Overhaul. CNN. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/09/politics/education-bill-no-child-left-behind-senate-obama/index.html?eref=rss_topstories
The fun part of writing my latest book has begun – the second draft. It’s a bit like sculpting, looking at each paragraph, knocking out words that distract and inserting ones that enlighten. What’s really exciting is reading something that I had expressed poorly, and suddenly being able to fix it because I finally comprehend the idea’s deeper core.
I am currently working on the pages that describe my first year of teaching (no computers yet), and I find that I ended that year with three convictions that kept me in the education profession and helped to carry me through the next 40 years.
- Teaching is important. If I had understood this during my early days in the classroom, I would not have allowed myself to get tripped up so easily.
- Teaching is a personal art. A classroom is not a laboratory and none of its subjects can be controlled. Even though there is much that is known about what works and what doesn’t, the most important tools for a successful teacher are imagination and inventiveness.
- Teaching requires a passion for both what and why you teach. To be imaginative and inventive in your classroom, you must already know a lot about your subject, be in the habitual practice of learning and unlearning, and understand why your students should know it.