A few years back, my criticism of Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat and harsher criticism of educators who sought direction from it, Reading Fads: Why Tom Friedman Does Not Compute, made quite a splash in the blogosphere.

I tried, with humor, to express the sloppy logic, shoddy journalism, factual errors and terrible educational advice contained between the covers of Friedman’s book, but I have been outdone.

Rolling Stone political reporter Matt Taibbi has published two stunning, profanity-laced, witty and thoguhtful disections of Mr. Friedman’s work in the following articles from the NY Press.

Flat ‘N All That (about Friedman’s latest book, Hot, Flat and Crowded)

and

Flathead: The Peculiar Genius of Thomas L. Friedman (2005 review of The World is Flat and other writing by Tom Friedman)

Both articles are worthy of your time and consideration, especially if you are an educator who totes and touts Thomas Friedman.

Warning: The commentary is adult in tone and language.

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(Gotta catch a flight. I’ll edit later)

Obama CookiesIn Washington D.C. for the Presidential Inauguration.

Watch this space in the next few days…

Whenever we took our kids out of school for a family educational activity we made sure to alert their teachers out of a sense of courtesy. We indicated that we would hold our children responsible for any work they may miss during their absence – even if we were going to Colonial Williamsburg or to visit the White House, museums and monuments of our nation’s capitol.

Remarkably, most teachers responded to our overture by assigning more homework than the kids had ever seen. Apparently, instruction is extra-productive in your absence.

It seemed as if every day of absence was rewarded with thirteen days worth of busywork. If the trip involved travel, the teachers made sure to assign pages 12, 49, 112-119, 347 and 414 in each of four heavy textbooks per kid, in addition to a mountain of worksheets. My kids were rarely if ever invited to share their recollections or even travel journals with their classmates upon their return to class. “School” treated these learning adventures as if visiting museums, plays, concerts, monuments and exploring different places were the enemy of education. Perhaps because it interfered with “time-on-task.”

OK, I know it’s unfair to generalize from my experience with three children representing 39 years of K-12 attendance. That may be a statistically insignificant sample.

It’s possible Malia and Sasha will be too tired to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. The jam-packed days leading up to the inauguration include a Lincoln-inspired train ride from Philadelphia on Saturday, a Lincoln Memorial Concert featuring Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce on Sunday and community service projects to mark Martin Luther King Day on Monday.

If that weren’t exhausting enough, the girls are expected to join their parents Monday night for a concert featuring Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers, the girls’ two favorite musical acts…(source)

I can’t help but wonder if Sasha and Malia Obama will be welcomed back to their new school with a punitive pile of worksheets. Did they have to schlep their backpack full of Houghton-Mifflin with them on the historic train journey from Philadelphia to Washington D.C? Will they need to use all of their vocabulary words in TWO sentences this week? While they are meeting world leaders and the most talented people on earth will they may miss the weekly D.A.R.E. sermon?

Will all of this frivolity and unexcused absenteeism hurt their standardized test scores and jeopardize their school’s Annual Yearly Progress (AYP)?

Of course not. The Obamas were clever (and wealthy) enough to send their children to a school unencumbered by such bullsh#*t.

Welcome to Washington Obama Family! Thank you for your service and sacrifice!

Many of you know of my displeasure regarding President-elect Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Education and how concerned I am that there are indications that public education policy under President Barack Obama will be indistinguishable from the NCLB Days of George W. Bush.

Also check out:
Obama Practices Social Promotion (from the Huffington Post)
Will He Really?
I’ve Angered Hooked-On-Phonics
Obama Flips Off Teachers
What do Arne Duncan and Paul Bremer have in Common?
Why Australia Worries Me About Barack Obama

After swift-boating Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, there is reason to believe that the Obama Administration is going to staff the Department of Education with “get tough” ideologues to serve in the critical positions beneath Obama’s basketball buddy, Arne Duncan. The following letter comes from Dr. Monty Neill the Deputy Director of FairTest. If you do not know about the important work FairTest does, you should.

This is a call to action!

Dear Friends,

I have heard from a growing number sources in whom I have confidence that when confirmed, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will appoint to key positions in the Education Department several people whose views and stances are contrary to the building of high quality education systems. These names are apparently to be part of a larger slate likely to promote a dangerous combination of programmatic approaches: continued high-stakes testing, growing privatization via extensive private control over schooling, scripted curricula, and a revolving door of untrained teachers in urban schools that will reduce the availability of skilled professionals. This will be an educational disaster for the nation’s children, especially students from low-income backgrounds.

In particular, we at FairTest are concerned about the possible appointments of Andrew Rotherham, Education Sector, and Wendy Kopp, Teach for America. Mr. Rotherham has been a major supporter of NCLB’s test-and-punish approach, of high-stakes testing, and of aspects of privatizing education. He has also joined in incessant attacks on teacher unions and other professional associations. Similarly, Ms. Kopp’s priorities for “reform” remain on the terrain of high-stakes tests and privatization.

Our preference would be for nominees to key positions such as Deputy Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education to be supporters of the Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind who would work to end the test-and-punish components of ESEA. (The Joint Statement, with 149 national organizations signed on, is at www.edaccountability.org.)

If they are nominated, it will be very hard to block them. President-elect Obama will not want to withdraw their names, and the Senate is unlikely to oppose them.

Therefore, the best approach is to try to dissuade Duncan and President-elect Obama from even nominating them.

We do not have a direct line to either Mr. Obama or Mr. Duncan.

Therefore, we suggest you take a few steps to help build pressure that can lead to these people not being nominated:

1) Email Jim Messina who heads personnel at the Presidential Transition Team: jim.messina@ptt.gov. Email now. Feel free to use the opening portion of this letter in your letter and in your calls.

2) Call the offices of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL and Assistant Majority Leader), key members of the Senate HELP Committee (which will have to confirm nominations to Deputy and Assistant Secretary positions), and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Sen. Dick Durbin – (202) 224-2152
Sen. Harry Reid – (202) 224-3542

HELP Committee:
Sen. Ted Kennedy – (202) 224-4543
Sen. Tom Harkin – (202) 224-3254
Sen. Chris Dodd – (202) 224-2823

CALL NOW.

For your state’s senator or for others on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP), go to www.senate.gov and search using the boxes on the top of the screen.

Thanks – and please act now.

Finally, the consensus among those I have talked with is that it is better not to circulate letters like this via public listservs. Please do share it with those individuals and organizations in whom you have confidence, and ask them to act now.

Monty
Monty Neill, Ed.D.
Deputy Director
FairTest
monty@fairtest.org
857-350-8207 x 101; fax 857-350-8209
15 Court Square, Ste 820
Boston, MA 02108-9939
http://www.fairtest.org
Donate: https://secure.entango.com/servlet/donate/MnrXjT8MQqk

Back in 1996, I presented a couple of public lectures in Melbourne, Australia. Portions of those seminars were published in a monograph entitled, Computing and the Internet in Schools: An International Perspective on Developments and Directions.

It seems to me that after fifteen years of ‘Computer Literacy’ nobody seems to be really ‘literate’, and very few can ‘compute’. Since I am among friends, dare I whisper the awful secret that we have not really achieved very much?

I no longer have a digital copy of that document and spent years trying to figure out a good way to get it online since it was printed in blue ink (making it difficult to scan) and even if I did scan it, the OCR would be terrible. After wasting time and money buying a series of crappy sheet-fed scanners, I finally bit the bullet and bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap S510M Instant PDF Sheet-Fed Scanner (Mac model) (PC)

This scanner rocks! It’s reliable, fast at more than 30 pages per minute BOTH SIDES and automatically knows if one side is blank or if the document is upside down or sideways. It’s the best investment I’ve made in ages. The OCR even works! Now, I’m able to archive all sorts of gems from the past. I’ll share some via my blogs in the future.

In any event, I cut up a copy of the monograph, inserted it into the new scanner and now I can share it with the world in a searchable PDF format.

Remember that co-operation begins at home. If you have classrooms in rows, where the children never talk to each other, then it is highly unlikely that you are going to succeed with any collaborative projects in cyberspace.

Was I prescient in the predictions made about the future more than twelve years ago – long before anyone was blogging or talking about 2.0 anything?

To my mind, the notion that we are going to use the greatest communication vehicle ever, to deliver lesson plans, is not a useful one. In a worst case scenario, if implemented, such an approach could be a way of controlling what teachers do and what children learn.

(NCLB anyone? BrainPop? ‘Interactive Whiteboards’ with content delivered by the vendor?)

Read it and you decide. I’d love to hear what you think!

(quotes from 1996 document by Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.)

As inauguration day nears, a group of leading progressive educators I admire, The Forum for Education & Democracy, has launched a site, Will We Really?, to promote five quite modest principles for raising children in 21st Century America.

Like so many other groups, this site features a petition to President-Elect Obama requesting that he and the Congress take steps to make the “five freedoms” outlined on the site a reality. There is also a community of educators and concerned citizens you may join on the site.


It’s refreshing that the progressive education movement is finally embracing the power of the web. We still have a way to go before equalling the power and influence of our our harshest critics online

To give our children the chance to live out their dreams in a world that’s never been more competitive, we will equip tens of thousands of schools, community colleges, and public universities with 21st century classrooms, labs, and libraries. We’ll provide new computers, new technology, and new training for teachers so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with kids in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future. (Barack Obama, 1/8/09)

I just received an email from FETC alerting me to the “blockbuster” closing keynote at their upcoming conference.

FETC 2009 conference highlights include:

FETC 2009’s Blockbuster Closing Session!
Be part of an FETC exclusive Q & A session with Chancellor of Public Schools for the Florida Department of Education, Dr. Frances Haithcock. During this “Town Hall Meeting” format, Dr. Haithcock will respond to questions submitted in advance from FETC attendees. Questions are being accepted now and attendees are encouraged to submit their question to info@fetc.org with the subject line “closing session.”

Although this sounds like Jaleel White performing in the Cirque du Soleil production of Uncle Vanya, I do have a few questions.

1) Why is it so unique when a public education official speaks with the public?

2) Why do questions need to be submitted in advance? Is to ensure that nothing interesting or relevant gets asked of the public official? Or, does this speak to the Chancellor’s ability to answer tough questions?

When did educators become peasants and school officials Czars?

3) Why would anyone from outside of Florida care what is discussed during this “blockbuster” event?

The program for the Educon 2.1 preconference event, Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge, is now available online here.

Check it out and register today!

There is an ongoing discussion about literacy, new literacy and 21st Century skills.

The following article written by Seymour Papert in 1993 is well worth reading. It may help fuel the debate. It appeared in the 2nd ever issue of Wired Magazine.

When knowledge had to be handed out to children, it was necessary to break it up into pre-digested units that could be passed out in a systematic way. Thus the definition of knowledge by subjects, children by grades, and achievement by test scores. But the success with which they learn to speak (and manipulate parents) in their pre-school years attests to the fact that they learn very well from direct interaction with knowledge. The existence of media that could give children direct access to knowledge leads me to question much that is taken for granted in the organizational structure of school. But organizational issues are only at the surface of the rethinking. Deeper rethinking focuses on the nature of knowledge and the learner’s relationship to it.

Read Obsolete Skill Set: The 3 Rs — Literacy and Letteracy in the Media Ages and let me know what you think!