David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
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Times of Complexity

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!”



A New Education Environment

The best of my teaching resources
 When I taught Middle School Social Studies in the 1970s, I used a five-year-old textbook, a few old maps and globe, which predated WWII, a well managed but tiny school library and two stacks of ancient National Geographic Magazines, inherited from my grandparents and cut to pieces for the pictures. The New York Public Library’s upcoming release of 180,000 documents to the digital public domain is a small contribution to the vast infoscape that we learn in today. I taught with information scarcity. Today’s teachers teach in information abundance. This dramatically changes how we teach, what education looks like, and even what it means to be educated. 

If no NCLB, then what?

So What!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?

But were our schools lagging behind?  The scientific research that we never saw was the proof that a generation who could pass tests could, as a result, prosper in a world and time of rapid change.

Were the the countries that were out performing us on tests, also out performing us in the real world?

Of the 32 countries who topped us in the Science PISA test, in 2012, only 7 ranked above the U.S. in the “World Happiness Report,” compiled regularly by an international team of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians.  They were Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark.1

I’m not saying that our schools were good enough in 1999.  They weren’t, and they left many, many children behind.  But to improve education in the U.S., we need to rethink what it is to be educated.  Being an educated person is no long based on what you know, as much as it is what you can resourcefully learn and what you can inventively do with what you can learn.  The job of the science teacher is to help students learn to think like scientists and to care about science – and even want to become scientists.  The same for other disciplines.

Once we understand what we need to be doing for our children, as a society, then we need to pay for the very best ways of accomplishing it.  Personally, I don’t think we’re paying enough to our teachers and for the infrastructure required to prepare our children for their future.  I also do not believe that our children need to spend as much time in classrooms as they do.  Learning is not as place-based as it use to be.

Four hours in school a day and redefine homework.

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


No Child Left Behind Act  1
GW Bush Signs NCLB into Law

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



Three Convictions

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Did our Invasion of Iraq Cost More or Less than Vietnam?

Cost of American wars in 2010 dollars & percent of GDP

Cost of American wars in 2010 dollars & percent of GDP

Woke up with an irritating insect buzzing in my head this morning.  It was the cost of American wars.  Weird!  But, unable to sleep because of all the racket, I got up, climbed upstairs with my laptop and did some research, creating this graph based on data I gathered from a 2010 Congressional Research Services report.

The reason that mental insect was  so darn irritating was the same reason that I was not surprised to learn that the post 9/11 invasion of Iraq was the second most expensive American war (WWII #1), toping the next, Vietnam, by 50 billion dollars.  That’s in 2011 dollars.

What I can’t figure out is, “Why did Iraq’s cost ($784,000,000,000) represent only 1% of its peak year’s (2008) U.S. GDP, while Vietnam ($738,000,000,000) amounted to 2.3% of its peak year’s (1968) U.S. GDP?

If you have an answer, please comment here.

Why Tolerance?

The Kadam family leaves India for France where they open a restaurant directly across the road from Madame Mallory's Michelin-starred eatery.

My wife and I watched and enjoyed The Hundred-Foot Journey the other night.  If you have not seen it, you should.  If nothing else, Helen Mirren’s portrayal of a posh restaurant madam is an interesting contrast to that of a conscienceless hired killer in RED.

I posted a comment about the movie in Facebook, earning a healthy number of likes and an even more impressive number of comments.  Many of the statements suggested that watching the film would be a good way to teach tolerance – and I agree.

But, as I’ve thought about this and the movie, I think that it’s not tolerance that is being illustrated by the characters, nearly as much as it is finding the human value of each other.

If we were in the habit of looking for the human value of each other, instead of taking offense to the perceived differences, then tolerance becomes passé.

It seems to me that teaching the value of people as the objective would be easier than teaching tolerance.

N’es pas?

“Are teachers going the way of local bookstores?”

In my new situation of retired educator (or semi-retired educator. I can’t really decide), I find myself paying less attention to Twitter and more to friends and relatives on Facebook.  But this morning, when I started my computer and Twitteriffic flashed up, I scanned through the most recent tweets from my long-time and famous educator friends – and my eye landed on one by Doug Peterson  actually a retweet of Miguel Guhlin’s,

The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher is a March 25 article in The Atlantic written by Michael Godsey, a “veteran high-school English educator.”  Asked by a college student about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, he writes,

I never think it’s enough to say that the role is shifting from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator.” Instead, I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The “virtual class” will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a “super-teacher”), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.

To that, I say, “poppycock!” How’s that for post-career reflection and rejection of the ideals that I seemingly promoted for the last 20+ years? But the fact is that I never promoted such a future for the classroom and find the arrangement to be personally revolting and counter-productive to what I believe the purpose of education to be.

It’s an interesting question and one that many of us have challenged ourselves and each other with, “What is the purpose of school.” Here’s a good answer, in my opinion – Why School by Will Richardson and what is described in Invent To Learn, by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.  But here is my ready answer that is short and to the point.

The purpose of school is to prepare our children for adult life during the next 70 to 80 years.

Life doesn’t happen on a video screen and it can’t be simulated with a game.  Goddey’s “fantastic computer screen” will help as will the games and video clips from top thinkers on TED.  In fact, they are essential.  But the fallacy is the assumption and fear that technology replaces the teacher.

To be sure, nobody in education, but those in the darkest recesses of denial, believes that the role of the teacher is not changing.  The shift from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator” is certainly happening – and it should.  But NOTHING, my most loyal readers, IS EVER THAT SIMPLE.

A phrase like “sage on the stage to guide on the side” is intended as an idiom to focus the attention of experienced professional educators who already grasp the changing conditions that are reshaping school.  It is not an all-encompassing description of the future of classroom instruction.  Frankly, while reading Godsey’s advice to his student, I saw no need for classrooms at all – and that’s the last thing I’d want to see for my grandchildren and their children.

We have to acknowledge that there is a powerful cabal that desires and promotes just the scenario described by Mr. Godsey.  They fancy an education system that spends its billions on their videos, games, tutorials and assessment products, instead of unionized public school teachers.  Products, whose service can be measured (test scores), can be marketed.

In my mind the most preposterous statement in the whole article is the advice of a superintendent, aired on NPR, “If you can Google it, why teach it?”  ..and this gets back to the question, “What is the purpose of school?”  If education’s objective is to equip our children with facts that they can recall on state test day, then I would agree with the superintendent’s statement.  But if its purpose is to prepare our children for adult life, then the job of the teacher is to help learners to understand what they’ve Googled and develop the essential literacy skills and habits of questioning, analyzing and assigning context to the Googled information.

What we can predict about life in the next 70 to 80 years is almost nothing, beyond the timeless practices of responsibility, compassion and providing value to the community.  It will continue to be a time of rapid change, inventions that redefine how we accomplish our goals and discoveries that challenge our beliefs and philosophies.

The common core subject of every classroom today should be learning to learn.

And this brings us back around to Michael Godsey’s apparent fear that his college earned knowledge of literature has become obsolete.  Our classrooms still require experts.  But experts today are no longer known for knowing all there is to know about a subject.

Today’s experts are known for being highly skilled at learning and relearning the ever growing and often changing knowledge about their subject.

This is the notion of expertise that teachers need to model and that students need to see every day, the essential and constant practice of contextual learning-skills / learning-literacies.

Adult life is about learning.



Back to the Future

Technology & Learning Magazine is running excerpts of my in-progress book about the last 35 years of educational technology. Here is the first paragraph of the first excerpt…

My first direct encounter with the personal computer came during the winter of 1981 as part of a diagnostic/prescriptive reading course I was taking at Wingate College for teacher recertification. The instructor, Dr. Henry Funderburk, also ran a commercial learning clinic on the side.

Read the rest here: http://goo.gl/kfhfvS

Another Conference

It was like a gut punch,

This morning,

When I glanced at my Twitter feed, and realized that the North Carolina Technology In Education Society’s annual edtech conference began today, completely without my knowledge.  How could that happen?

My knee-jerk response was, “I must truly be retired.”

But that wasn’t good enough.  I tweeted about it.  I posted my thoughts on Facebook.  Then a conference representative saw my comments, connected, and invited me over to the convention center tomorrow.  

If I was truly retired, would I go?  If I go does it mean that I’m not ready to retire?

It doesn’t matter.  I’m going.

So I downloaded the conference App and started scanning the presentations.  One observation.  It seems that personalized learning has become the new ready phrase that can be wrapped around any and every technology that anyone wants to sell you.  Sad!

But what really wrinkled my brain was a tweet from Brandy Reader from Davidson County.  Now tell me this (if you’re old enough to remember) 

“How Jetsons would it have seemed, when I started teaching in 1976, that I’d hear someone say (tweet)…

 How could I not go?
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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind

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