A few days ago my son posted this short statement on Facebook:
We weren’t ready for the Internet
He got some affirming comments and I just added,
Because of the Internet and other advances in telecommunications and broadcasting, we have become a world of nations divided by ideology instead of nations divided by borders. You can’t “storm the beaches” of the ideas that are contrary to yours.
This is actually something that I’ve thought about for quite a few years and the reason I spent the last 15 years trying to convince teachers to redefine literacy.
The fact is that we believe what we read on the Internet, because we were taught to believe what we read. Our schooling was purposely limited to textbooks, compelling (and not so compelling) lectures and library resources selected by librarians with advanced education. We try to limit our students’ learning to what is reliably accurate. As a result, our notion of what it is to be literate is limited. Can you “read and understand what someone, who you trust, has handed you to read.” ..and can you answer questions about it on a test?
In my efforts, I respelled the 3 Rs with 3 Es. Instead of teaching children to read, we should be helping them learn to Expose what is true. To expose what is true, you must learn to read it. But being able to search for, find and synthesize the information, and select that which is most appropriate to your situation, has become just as critical as being able to read it.
I use to suggest to teachers that they should, at every occasion, ask their students, “How do you know that’s true?” I added that students should be free to ask their teachers, “How do you know that’s true?” I suspect that if political candidates were regularly asked, “How do you know that?” and we demanded answers, our leadership might be quite different.
The other Es were:
- Learning to Employ information, instead just teaching students to calculate numbers
- Learning to Express Ideas Compelling, instead of just teaching students to write a coherent paragraph
- There was a 4th E – exposing, employing and expressing information with respect for and devotion to what is true, Ethically using information to answer question, solve problems and accomplish goals.
In the graphs below, I label the X-axis as “Years of Republican Led General Assembly,” referring to the years that North Carolina’s legislative branch has been dominated by the Republican Party, the first time since 1870. I regret using this distinction because I actually respect much of what I think the Republican Party represents. I am referring, instead, to the Cuckoo legislators, arrogantly conservative politicians who appear to be Republicans, holding just enough resemblance to push many fine and thoughtful statesmen out of the nest of North Carolina’s State Government.
Students in Music & Art Ed Programs
That said, I want to report on one of the many effects of their arrogance, and not the millions of dollars lost to the state as a result of their hastily written and passed HB2.
I am no longer a teacher. I left the classroom for leadership roles in a time when teachers practiced autonomy in their classrooms and were rewarded for advancing their own educations. Today, I can barely imagine how demoralizing the last five years have been for North Carolina teachers, and for school administrators who are desperately struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified teachers.
The solution to an alarming teaching shortage is simple, at least to the amateurs in Raleigh.
Appear to grant a raise to teachers in North Carolina.
Factoring in the nominal inflation of the past decade and a half, teacher pay in North Carolina has dropped 13%.1 Real and significant raises would certainly help and are certainly warranted. But there’s nothing new here. While teachers have always been grossly underpaid, we have continued to have talented and committed men and women wanting to become teachers.
In my opinion, the teacher shortage has more to do with the declining conditions of the job and the increasing barriers that stand in the way of real learning in the classroom. A teacher’s passion comes from celebrating the meaningful learning and growth of her students. But today, the creative art of teaching has been spoiled by requirements to comply with government mandated standards that are measured by tests that choke real learning.
..And why would a high school student want to do, what they’ve spent 13 years watched their teachers dispair in not being allowed to do?
Enrollment at the 15 UNC schools of education has plummeted 30 percent since 2010, a worry for a state where those programs are the biggest source of classroom teachers.2
I recently received a document from one of the state’s 15 schools of education that lists the numbers of students joining their various education programs since 2012, and the numbers SHOULD worry us.
For instance, this graph illustrates the university students who are planning to become elementary school teachers.
The decline, since 2012, represents a net loss of 213 potential elementary school teachers.
Equally disturbing are the numbers entering Math and Science programs, illustrated here.
That’s 34% few Math and Science teachers than would have been likely in a more stable environment. And, as I’ve written many times before, the real problems of this state, nation and world have less to do with Math and Science, and more to do with our social condition – and we’ve lost 65% of the Social Studies teachers we might have had. In 2016, no college student in that university sought to pursue a career as a Social Studies teacher.
Considering how teachers have been treated in this state, it is easy to fathom what these Cuckoo legislators fear the most. It is highly educated and organized teachers. In many of the state’s communities, the most educated citizens are teachers. It’s why the General Assembly and Pat McRory (Governor) stopped paying higher salaries to teachers with advanced education (part of the Appropriations Act of 2013). We are the only state that does not pay more to teachers with graduate degrees. The result?
A loss of 27%, though many teachers continue to advance their own education, even without compensation.
If you are a North Carolina voter, and you believe that the future of our state depends on the talent and intelligence of its citizens, then learn how your representatives voted on the final adoption of the Appropriations Act of 2013. If you do not know who your representatives are, go here. Then go here and click the name of your House member (here for your senator) to see their voting history in 2013-14 session. If he or she voted “No” to the final adoption of SB 402, the Appropriations Act of 2013, then they voted FOR teachers and stronger public schools in North Carolina.
2 Bonner, L. (2016, February 3). Enrollment plunges at UNC teacher prep programs. The Charlotte Observer[Charlotte].
The history of my country is accented by acts of enormous bravery, men and women who did what they were told, and more, in the face of the ultimate sacrifice. But among those acts of bravery, for which we owe our independence and freedom, were people who did what they were told by the powers of authority, not to do. The Boston Tea Party is an example, when patriots risked their freedom and even their lives to dump bundles of tea into the Boston harbor, rather than pay the British taxes, imposed without representation. Other such acts of civil disobedience include:
- Refusal to pay federal taxes in protest of slavery and the Mexican War
- Street marches, hunger strikes, and submission to arrest and jail in order to gain the right to vote for women.
- Harriet Tubman’s underground railway and other actions which helped to end slavery.
- Sit-down strikes and free speech confrontations to eradicate child labor and improve working condition.
- Sit-ins and illegal marches to gain civil rights for all Americans.
We were taught about these acts and their courageous actors in school and we celebrate them on days like “The 4th of July.” They are part of our identity as “the land of the free and home of the brave.” But, if this nation’s most arrogantly conservative legislature, the North Carolina General Assembly, has its way, such acts will be considered grounds for refusing teacher licensure, in the interest of keeping our children safe.
Protect Students in Schools (Senate Bill 867) was sponsored by Senaters Chad Barefoot, Trudy Wade, Buck Newton and others. The bill suggests that a teacher, who has been “..convicted of a crime, whether a misdemeanor or a felony … indicates the employee poses a threat to the physical safety of students or personnel.”1
Among the crimes listed by the bill are murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, arson and…
I have written a number of blog posts (here, here, here and here) about the declining state of public education in my state, since radical conservatives took the legislative, executive and judicial branches of our state government. Without collective bargaining, North Carolina teachers have little voice in determining the direction of our schools, beyond the voting booth — which the legislature and Governor McRory seek to influence with long awaited for raises, averaging 4.7%.
To put teacher salaries into context, on average North Carolina’s pay for public school teachers averaged $1,549.93 below the national mean, between 1970 and 2010. However, between 2010 (when conservatives took control of both houses of our General Assembly) and 2016, NC teacher salaries have fallen to $7,911.66 below the national average. Part of this may be the General Assemblies elimination of a higher pay scale for teachers who continue their education through graduate degrees.2&3
It seems to me that in this time of rapid change, we need to empower our professional educators to lead in our schools with permission to be flexible and creative, as they craft and facilitate learning experiences that help students to become innovators and resourceful learners. But, if our legislature’s desire is to turn public education into a market place and our schools into customers for corporate products and sources for corporate profits, then creative, resourceful, passionate, and well-spoken teachers are a factor to be avoided.
2 Teaching Salary Data by State. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.teacherportal.com/teacher-salaries-by-state/
3 Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state or jurisdiction: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2009-10. (2010). Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics website: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_083.asp
I ran across this Guardian article (Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots) yesterday morning and posted it to my Facebook timeline immediately. I wrote, “The manufacturing jobs that once brought prosperity to many of our towns and cities will not be coming back, if this article represents a trend – and there’s no reason to think it does not.”
There is a caption on the Guardian page that reads,
If robots are the future of work, where do humans fit in?”1
I think this is an interesting question – and it should not necessarily make us afraid. Why not consider it an opportunity. If we no longer need the economic contribution of every adult to make our national economies work, then a lot of us, a whole lot of us, will be freed. I do not make this statement lightly. Having mostly retired from kmy work life, I have experienced some of the inevitable depression that comes from reflecting on how much my work has dominated more than half of my 60+ years – and I’ve had the most interesting career that I can imagine. It seems to me that working for a living, as a necessity, is a bit unfair – not that I would give up any of my time in the field of education.
Perhaps the more interesting question should be, “What would you like to be doing?”
If the answer is, “Getting stoned and watching TV.” Then we have a problem, and I have no doubt that this would be a common answer. Assuming that I am right, I would suggest that one of most important goals of our public schools in the near future might be, assuring that for our students, the answer to that question is something a lot more productive and interesting.
I ran across this article, just minutes after posting this entry: iPhone manufacturer Foxconn is replacing 60,000 workers with robots
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.
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!”