Downtown Doha from Museum of Islamic Art

I just landed in Doha, Qatar after almost 24 hours of travel. I’m in Doha to be the keynote speaker at the 3rd Annual ICT in Education Conference in Doha, Qatar on March 27th. My address is entitled, “The Best Educational Ideas in the World.: Tickets to Constructing Modern Knowledge”

New Museum of Islamic Art by I.M. Pei

This is my third trip to this amazing country and I am quite honored to share my thoughts on teaching and learning with a young nation eager to create an educational system for the future.

From Doha I travel to Bangkok via Cairo for a few days of exploration. I’ve never been to Thailand before and am glad that the airlines are forcing me to stop there.

From Bangkok I fly to my adopted second home of Melbourne Australia where I’ll be keynoting the Australian Conference on Educational Computing Conference (ACEC). My keynote address is being created especially for this occasion and is called, “So, You Say You Want a Revolution.”

You can also register for a special “Breakfast with Gary Stager” workshop on April 6th.

I’ve keynoted this event a couple of times before, but this year’s biennial conference is quite special.

The first conference I ever keynoted was ACEC 1992 coincidentally in Melbourne and 2010 marks the 20th anniversary of me working with schools and educators across more than 40 trips Downunder. In 1990, I had a paper accepted for the World Conference on Computers in Education in Sydney. I accompanied Seymour Papert to Sydney, where he gave a magnificent keynote address, and I met fantastic educators seriously engaged in changing the world.

Three weeks later, I was invited back to Australia to lead professional development activities in the world’s first two “laptop schools.” That wa followed by work with dozens of schools, plus consultation with state governments and lots of of workshops and keynotes over two decades. I also earned my Ph.D. in science and mathematics education at the University of Melbourne and have been a Visiting Scholar at Trinity College.

Here is the cheeky video I made for ACEC 2010.

The organizers of the conference asked me for a video advertising my participation. It ain’t Scorsese, but here it is.

Gary Stager’s ACEC 2010 Video from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

Description
ACEC Keynote Address: You Say You Want a Revolution?

This keynote will explore the notion of the digital learning revolution and its assumptions while addressing such questions as, “What happened to the last digital revolution in Australia?” Were there lessons learned? If not, why not?

Who are the combatants in this latest revolution? Will children, democracy and creativity be the first casualties.

Gary Stager will reflect upon his experiences of working in Australian schools for the past twenty years and insights gained from similar top-down “reform” efforts being imposed across the United States.

Gary will remind ACEC attendees why he is still excited by the potential of computers in education as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression and challenge the audience to raise their game in order to realize the opportunities computing affords learners. This of course will be accomplished with humour, candor and provocative examples of student learning.

screen-shot-2010-03-22-at-21148-pmI’ve written another article about teaching with computers for The Creative Educator magazine. The Genius of Print may be downloaded here (pdf) or you may download the entire issue of the magazine.

You may also download, read and share the entire issue of The Creative Educator magazine here.

screen-shot-2010-03-22-at-24048-pm

You might also enjoy reading two articles I wrote for previous issues of The Creative Educator about effective project-based learning.

Download and distribute:

  1. What Makes a Good Project?
  2. Raising Our Standards – Developing Projects that Endure

click to downloadclick to download

click article to download

screen-shot-2010-03-16-at-14226-pm

Seymour Papert on Capital Hill

C-Span has now made 23 years worth of video, everything they have broadcast – 160,000 hours, available online. (Read NYTimes article) That means that some of my favorite public policy discussions, author interviews and political fireworks can be accessed and shared on-demand. The entire programs may be embedded in other web pages and an awful lot of the programs may be edited via a browser for embedding excerpts in blogs and web pages.

This is an amazing resource for teachers, learners and citizens. From time to time, I will share some of my favorite C-Span moments via this blog.

In October 1995, the House Committee Economic and Educational Opportunities and House Science Committees held a nearly three-hour hearing to examine “technological advances in education.” The first two hours or so of the hearing are a real hoot (as the kids on Capital Hill say).

The first panel consists of the father of educational computing, Dr. Seymour Papert; Alan Kay, the inventor of the term “personal computer” and many of its accompanying technologies; an Wall Street guy who gave a lot of money to the Clinton Campaign; and Chris Dede.

Papert starts off like he was shot out of a cannon. Alan Kay says that he agrees with Seymour and then throws gasoline on the fire. The Wall Street stiff decides to argue with Dr. Papert while the Congress bangs the gavel in an attempt to restore order.

The discussion is well worth two hours of your time if you care about the edtech or the future of education.

I remember seeing the hearing when it first aired and have cherished a 3rd generation VHS recording. Now I can share it with you and my students via the Web!

When I originally saw the hearing, back in 1995, I remember thinking that the members of the Congressional Education Committee may not be our nation’s best and brightest. Watch the hearing today and you can’t help notice that naughty underage male Congressional Page sexting aficionado, Mark Foley, and convicted felon, Duke Cunningham, interrogating some of the most thoughtful educational thinkers in the world.

If the video does not appear, please use this link.

I’ll be a keynote speaker at the semi-annual Australian Conference on Educational Computing April 6-9, 2010 in my adopted 2nd hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

2010 marks my twentieth anniversary of working in Australia, beginning with the introduction of laptops into schools and ACEC was the first conference I ever keynoted back in 1992, coincidentally in Melbourne.

I’ll also be presiding over a “Breakfast with Gary Stager” workshop in which we’ll explore some of the “Best Educational Ideas in the World” on April 6th. You may register at http://acec2010.info

The organizers of the conference asked me for a video advertising my participation. It ain’t Scorsese, but here it is.

Gary Stager’s ACEC 2010 Video from Gary Stager on Vimeo.

On last night’s edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, the political comedian took on the recent rash of teacher firings as a solution to all of our nation’s education problems. (Read complete text)

While I disagree with some of Maher’s conclusions and the “evidence” he cites, he must be applauded for challenging the “magical thinking” required to believe that firing “bad” teachers will magically transform the system.

The free market is not going to solve our educational issues, especially when poverty is the single greatest predictor of educational attainment!

Where are all of the “great” teachers to come from? There are major US cities without a supermarkets or movie theater. Who is going to build all of the fabulous private, I mean charter, schools to occupy those communities and rescue the children who don’t look like us from the grasps of the evil teachers who are deliberately suppressing standardized testing scores?

Who wishes to teach in joyless schools jerked around by political whim or in which the curriculum is scripted and interactions with students are micromanaged?

Yes, America has found its new boogeyman to blame for our crumbling educational system. It’s just too easy to blame the teachers, what with their cushy teachers’ lounges, their fat-cat salaries, and their absolute authority in deciding who gets a hall pass. We all remember high school – canning the entire faculty is a nationwide revenge fantasy. Take that, Mrs. Crabtree! And guess what? We’re chewing gum and no, we didn’t bring enough for everybody…

…Firing all the teachers may feel good – we’re Americans, kicking people when they’re down is what we do – but it’s not really their fault.

Bill Maher, March 12, 2010

Fast forward to the 2:27 mark in the YouTube video below to hear what Maher has to say about the despicable recent Newsweek cover urging the wholesale firing of American public school teachers. The video is a lot more entertaining than the text AND it’s may not be suitable for children or the workplace.

If the video above doesn’t work, try this clip below. The teacher stuff starts immediately.

David Warlick is the latest person to go all “digital immigrant” and proclaim that we should all take a good hard look at the hugely popular YouTube video, “A Vision of Students Today.”

Fantastic. A college class with far too many students in it (200) attempts to revolutionize the educational system by whining in a five minute web video.

I’m sorry, but count me unimpressed!

Perhaps a student should hold up a sign saying, “My professor is wasting my time and money by making me participate in a piece of exploitative propaganda in which I get to insult either my generation or the one before me just to get on YouTube.”

How did bashing our own profession become such a popular sport? What possible value could demeaning educators have in a professional development setting? Are we desperate for moving pictures or are they merely a substitute for actual ideas?

Is showing these types of videos the conference speaker equivalent of the teacher running the filmstrip to eat up class time?

One valuable lesson you should learn at university is that the world is full of people smarter than you and wondrous things to learn. This video and the mindless kudos afforded it make just the opposite point. Hey kids, you have cellphones! You’ve played Halo and excerpted someone else’s blog which in summarized someone else’s blog which excerpted an article on a magazine web site. Therefore, you are master of the universe and every educational institution should abandon scholarship, discipline and any text longer than a screen.

I’ve wanted to tell the Web 2.0pians the following for some time:

  • Observation is not insight.
  • Factoids are not knowledge
  • Talk (in this case, mime) is cheap.

A concerned competent educator might ask, “What should Ido to make learning relevant without making it dopey or trivial?” This video offers no such guidance.

The excitement and praise afforded “A Vision of Students Today” is a clear example of what Dr. Seymour Papert called, “verbal inflation.” Apparently we should all be astonished that college students used Google Docs and then conflate such a trivial mechanical act with educational innovation.


Originally published Monday, November 05, 2007 in The Pulse: Education’s Place for Debate.

Below is an article I first published in an Australian newsletter back in 2001. I cannot believe how many of the concerns raised in this article remain with us today. I hope you enjoy the first of what will be a series of articles exploring how we grow as a professional community and who we choose to learn from.

Sloppy language, sloppy thinking

Terms like school reform, change, child-centered education, professional development and authentic assessment have become meaningless in an educational climate favoring systems, buildings, ideology and processes over children. Lingo-slinging administrators, politicians eager for the quick fix and educators too beaten down and overwhelmed to take a breath and reflect upon their best practices, have irrevocably devalued the currency of such terms. Textbooks, curriculum software and high-stakes tests deprive students of experience with primary sources.

Too many teachers do not read “real stuff” either. The big ideas of Piaget, Montessori, Dewey, Vygotsky and Papert are ignored or reduced to bumper sticker slogans. To some constructivism is when a teacher pauses to pass out the next worksheet. Balance has become the watchword of educators unwilling or incapable of taking a stand.

Many of our colleagues know that schools are dysfunctional so they search for new words to describe futuristic processes rather than step-up and do the right thing. Medical science has changed constantly over the years yet the practitioners are still called doctors. If the art and science of education are living processes we should expect leadership from teachers, not facilitators or coaches.

We speak of a shift from teaching to learning, but are unwilling to give up the hierarchy of teacher and learner despite the enlightened rhetoric. I’m hard-pressed to see evidence of such a shift in practice. There are just too few examples of coequal learning in current schools.

Have you noticed that learning has become a noun rather than a verb? I have been reading a growing number of articles and advertisements saying things like: “we must increase access to learning,” “the new test measures the learning,” or “teachers must improve their students’ learning.”

Education is still something adults do to children. Perhaps we shouldadmit that verbs like training, teaching, testing, assessing, grouping and administrating describe unnatural and invasive procedures.

Where in the world is educational computing?istock_000008573212xsmall
As a community of practice, educational computing is at best dysfunctional or at least learning-disabled. Twenty years after microcomputers, a medium with the potential to revolutionize education, entered classrooms the educational computing community continues to focus its energies on the dubious goals of curriculum integration and professional development.

Theoretically these sound like lofty aspirations while in reality they are code words for paralysis and the status quo. We are cursed by an absence of vision and expertise.

In addition to curriculum and professional development, the two unspoken goals of educational computing are fund-raising and shopping.

Despite the rhetoric about preparing kids for the digital age, schools are grossly underfunded and professional educators are continuously distracted from their primary duties to shamelessly suck-up for more hardware. Educational computing conference programs are full of sessions about grant writing and schools of education are compelled to teach grant writing in their educational computing degree programs.

The hype regarding the rate of change spurred by computing causes educators to equate innovation with the purchase of a new software package. Educational computing conferences have become flea-markets rather than incubators of knowledge. It is much easier to buy a new software package than to change the goals, practices and outcomes of schooling – even if the society is demanding such growth.

The mantra of curriculum integration is really a call to limit the enormous potential of computational technology in order to support questionable educational content and pedagogy. Curriculum integration is offered as an alternative to the previously dopey goal of computer literacy instruction. Imagination-impaired educators can now say, “we can teach kids about hanging indents while preparing boring assignments they have no interest in writing rather than the old-fashioned way when we just taught about hanging indents without the exciting context of writing a book report. We’re motivating the kids to learn by connecting tech skills to the curriculum.”

This phenomenon may be more dangerous than the old-fashioned ways in which we use to lie to children in the name of curriculum. Contemporary children live in a computer-rich world in which personal computers and the Internet are natural extensions of their environment. Using these technologies in a dumbed- down way to impose inauthentic learning objectives on children is asking for trouble. They will undoubtedly react badly to the use of their beloved computers as tools of their own oppression. This is especially true when the offending adults have less fluency with the medium than do their students.

Make no mistake; kids can do marvelous things with computers. They may delight and impress us with their abilities. However, the learning potential of children is severely limited by the talents, curiosity, knowledge and expertise of the adults in their care. Most kids do not discover computer science, nor even know what might be within the realm of possibility without access to accomplished adults.

Professional development has become an obsession of schools and for-profit corporations desperate to develop expensive strategies for begging, bribing, cajoling, tricking, enticing, bullying, inspiring and threatening teachers to touch computers. While kids are widely believed to have more natural fluency with computers and the net, there is still much they could learn and be inspired to construct if led by imaginative modern educators. A quick survey of American culture would show that toddlers recognize www before the golden arches and senior citizens represent the fastest growing segment of the Internet-using public.

No after school workshops, technology coordinators, philanthropy or acts of Parliament were required to get Grandma online. She just wanted to talk with her children and grandchildren more regularly [and perhaps check on her prescription drugs].

So, let’s review the evidence Kids get the stuff; seniors get it and folks working in most professional and even blue-collar jobs use computers. The last group of professionals to embrace computers as a useful tool
is teachers. Henry Becker’s research tells us that being a school math teacher is a statistically significant predictor that a person DOES NOT use the Internet. One would hope that workers charged with the development of intellectual capital would embrace the most powerful medium for the development of ideas and creative expression in history.

The current state-of-affairs is the result of low expectations, educational leaders without vision, false prophets/profits and an anti-intellectual society in which powerful ideas are rejected in favor of expediency. All of these problems have to do with expertise. Let’s explore them.

istock_000008537013xsmallLow Expectations
I often joke that the difference between a novice computer-using educator and an expert is a two-hour workshop. Our expectations for what teachers might actually do with computers are so low that those goals are easily achieved. Well, one would think so. Human nature suggests that the less we expect of others, the less they will actually achieve. The goals of simple word processing, web surfing and strapping kids to a drill and practice program seem hardly beyond the reach of a living-breathing teacher, yet even these modest goals remain elusive. One look at a state or national educational computing conference and you would have to conclude that ‘cutting and pasting’ represents the post-doctoral level of the field. The banality of most conference programs would suggest that the ceiling for learning with and about learning with computers is low indeed.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that we should not expect teachers to use computers in more creative intellectually empowering ways if they are incapable of achieving the most pedestrian of objectives. This line of reasoning misses two fundamental variables – motivation and scarcity of resources. Inspiring teachers by the limitless potential of computers to empower students to learn and express themselves in previously unimaginable ways requires a different manifestation of expertise, leadership, and a community’s desire to embrace the construction what’s new. Experience would suggest that schools excited by the potential to engage more kids in rich learning adventures would challenge teachers to ‘think different’ and provide the support necessary to support such motivation.

The organizations charged with promoting educational computing are often guilty of contributing to the imagination gap by failing to create, sustain, recognize and promote outstanding models of 21st century learning. When I heard Board members of the California Computer-Using Educators (CUE) sharing their horror at the new state mathematics standards in which computer-use is strongly discouraged, I was outraged by their reaction. CUE after all has tens of thousands of members, commands a substantial budget and employs a lobbyist. “How could this be a surprise?” I thought.

I later realized that the problem was much deeper than if they failed to speak-up at a meeting. If that organization had been offered an opportunity to advocate a different policy direction, would they have been able to present models compelling enough to change policy? If not, then we must work harder to close the imagination gap by taking bolder actions and celebrating new ways of teaching and learning with great clarity.

Expecting teachers to support all kids in the use of computers as an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression requires different kinds of fluency and old- fashioned ideas of creating a rich learning environment. While schools focus on teaching word processing and the use of scroll bars over a 4-year scope and sequence, we forget that the existing technology allows even the youngest kids to produce movies, engineer robots, program video games, build simulations, conduct sophisticated scientific explorations and compose symphonies.

The dirty little secret of educational computing is that it has failed to make a significant impact on learning not because there are too many computers in schools, but rather too few. What good does it do to motivate teachers to think about teaching and learning in new ways if their students get only minutes of computer access per week or if the computers are stored in a bunker down the hall? (My kids in a southern California public school system have not used a school computer in at least six years.)

Scarcity is a major obstacle to use!
How many after school workshops should a teacher attend before they can get a printer ribbon (yes, many schools still need ribbons) or a few extra minutes of time in the computer lab? The ‘one computer classroom’ may have been not only a cute marketing slogan, but perhaps even a useful set of classroom strategies in the mid-eighties when microcomputers were less ubiquitous. However, it now represents a most cynical corporate strategy to maintain the status quo and support the supremacy of externally imposed curriculum at the expense of children.

Equally virulent ideas include the often touted 30/50% rule that suggests we spend 30-50% of our technology budget on professional development and the latest excuse for inaction, total cost of ownership. Spending even one penny of the hardware budget on professional development is a cheap accounting trick. We don’t pay for art teachers out of the crayon budget, not should we pay for teacher education out of the computer budget. This only devalues the importance of computers as instruments for the construction of knowledge and avoids the cold hard truth that the obstacles to successful computer use may have much more to do with issues associated with good teaching than computers themselves. The idea total cost of ownership, (TCO) has been recently introduced into the educational debate. While fiscal responsibility requires schools to plan for all of the costs associated with computing, the high costs presented by TCO advocates are unrealistic and will scare schools away from investing in computing.

The Leadership Abyss
It is not only school leaders who fail to realize, articulate and nurture the potential of digital technology. Elected and self-appointed leaders of the educational computing community appear to be as ineffective. School leaders without personal computer fluency can not possibly understand the power and possibilities of computing. The confluence of the insane demands being made on school administrators and the above mentioned imagination gap is causing an alarming number of school leaders to abdicate their leadership to others. The need for someone to ‘understand this stuff’ and ‘go shopping’ has created a new profession, school computer coordinator. In many districts, excellent educators are removed from the classroom in order to supervise the purchasing, inventory and installation of computer. The boom in the number of technology/computer coordinators is unprecedented and institutionalizes the notion that computers are precious, mysterious and beyond the comprehension of school administrators. (It would be fantastic if great educators could be rewarded for continuing to work with children and create inspirational models of great teaching with computers.)

The increasing complexities caused by the hysterical pace and paranoia regarding school networking has led to an even more dangerous trend than the creation of computer coordinators. Schools anxious to bulldoze their lawns and pull cat-5 cable through their walls are not only hiring seventeen year-olds with Lee Harvey Oswald personalities to manage the process, but are making these non-educators network administrators.

Since qualified networking professionals are a rare commodity, schools can only afford to pay the least experienced candidates. If they do a poor enough job, they may be rewarded by hiring all of their low-skilled friends. In far too many schools the network administrator has consolidated power and holds the entire educational process hostage.
This is especially ironic since many schools require highly qualified computer-using educators to earn administrative credentials before they can be a computer coordinator, yet place unprecedented power in the hands of non-educators. School administrators place unprecedented budgetary discretion, policy-making and curricular influence in the hands of these folks due a different type of perceived technical expertise. This is a worrisome trend that must be slowed. Alternatives may be explored at http://www.stager.org/articles/takingbackthenet1.html

fried

False Prophets/Profits
The low-regard in which our society holds education requires school leaders to seek the wisdom of non-educators. Rather than work hard to realize the dreams of Dewey, Piaget, Papert and Holt, school leaders are forced to memorize the simplistic decontextualized platitudes of ‘experts’ from the business world. In many cases the only accomplishment of these men and women is measured by the wealth they accumulate in the act of selling clichés to those craving simple solutions to complex problems. I am tempted to write an academic paper in which I seamlessly intersperse the accumulated wisdom of Peter Senge, Don Tapscott and Suzanne Somers. There isn’t a dime’s bit of difference in substance (or lack thereof) between Tom Peters, Anthony Roberts or Richard Simmons. None offer constructive advice for making schools better places for kids and teachers to learn. I expect that we will soon be sending school principals to football arenas in which they can channel the spirit of Madeline Hunter.

Like any other industry, educational computing is full of ‘experts.’ Some of us may lead us to a brighter future. Others may just make us feel good or bad for an hour.

We should celebrate the visionaries, like Seymour Papert, who paint bold loving portraits of learning in a digital world as well as the classroom teachers who heroically work miracles every day and have great stories to tell. However, these folks are often marginalized for causing trouble, challenging us to do better, requiring additional resources or for offering complex solutions to timeless dilemmas. (Find books by thoughtful educators here)

Our anti-intellectual culture favors sound bites over powerful ideas and messy problems. As a result, the educational computing literature and conferences promotes different kinds of experts. I often think of these experts as vaudevillians traveling from town-to-town on a modern high-tech chitlin’ circuit. The following is a guide for spotting some latter-day experts. Some may be tricky and combine elements of different species.

The Flaky Futurist
Tell teachers that some day they will have computers in their corneas and suggest that they are on the verge of disintermediation. The strategy is to overwhelm audiences with predictions about the future and invoke inaction due to fear and a lack of specific suggestions for preparing for that future. Many flaky futurists have a decidely 19th- century technology, the workbook, for sale at the end of their presentation.

The Salesman
The salesman is often former president of a tire company, but now CEO of an educational software or hardware company. The notes written by subordinates on their teleprompter reassures them that they are indeed educational visionaries – especially since they sponsored the rental of projectors at this conference.

The Counter
Counters are academics anxious to demonstrate their counting abilities by reviewing tables of data regarding the number of computers in schools and percentage of teachers who do this and that with them.

The Whiner
The whiners enjoy great applause for complaining that the government pays $500 for a toilet seat and yet you can’t afford a district-license for Dipthong Bomber or Gerund Blaster.

The Human Interface Guy
These folks assure the audience that educational software is all crap, except for the stuff their graduate students have been working on for eleven years. All of our educational problems will be solved as soon as they figure out just the right place to place the button on the screen or they receive more NSF funding – whichever comes first.

The Hipster
These folks met actual kids and have spoken with several of them. Now they want us to hear their message.

The Yuckster
These presenters have a million and one Microsoft jokes!

The Populist
The populist is a non-educators who make a big splash by attacking the use of computers in schools by setting up false arguments between funding priorities or by making simplistic arguments that computers retard learning. Their observations are often accurate, yet they lack any sense of a brighter alternative.

The Teacher Basher
With the passing of Al Shanker it is up to Alfred Bork and a handful of governors to entertain a room full of educators by telling them how incompetent he believes them to be.

© 2001 Gary S. Stager

New Ravitch book I have eagerly anticipated Diane Ravitch’s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education , for many months. I’ve recommended the book in this blog and at conferences since my copy arrived a few days ago.

I remain excited that a noted education historian is openly criticizing the pandemic of standardized testing, union-busting, teacher-bashing, charter school expansion and heavy-handed policies being driven by political ideologues and corporate profiteers. Diane Ravitch can teach us a lot about school governance, policy and the history of public education. Just don’t expect to learn much about learning from her new book.

Admittedly, I have only skimmed the book, but it is not hard to find evidence that Dr. Ravitch has not left all of her highly conservative views behind. She blames the familiar bogeymen of the religious right for many of the problems in American public education, notably constructivism and whole language with the selective citing of easily refuted research. Her naive understanding of learning theory or learner-centered pedagogy is like that of a teacher education student or mom who just returned home from a “Tea Party” rally.

Ravitch dismisses research conducted by noted scholars Lauren Resnick and Richard Ellmore and seems to present the case that Anthony Alvarado is one of the villains whose embrace of balanced literacy (HARDLY a progressive idea) and “constructivist math” (oooh booga-booga) led to the destruction of public education.

This assertion is not only wrong, but ignores the fact that Dr. Alvarado led many of the pioneering efforts in urban education including the “small schools” movement that resulted in the highly successful Central Park East Schools started by Ravitch’s colleague, Deborah Meier. Calling the reign of San Diego Superintendent and former prosecutor, Alan Bersin “left-wing”  is laughable to anyone with the slightest awareness of his heavy-handed leadership style.

Ravitch seems to revere A Nation at Risk as gospel created by divine intervention, not the Reagan administration and caricatures efforts of the 60s and 70s to make classrooms more democratic, creative and child-centered. She remains a proponent of national curricula, a patently absurd solution in search of a problem.

That said, I will read the rest of the book and share my thoughts as warranted. I just felt it was my obligation to warn my friends and colleagues that although I recommend  The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,  you should read it with a fresh new battery in your BS detector.

New Ravitch bookEducation historian and former Assistant Secretary of Education for the first President Bush, Diane Ravitch has just published an extraordinary book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. The book should be required reading for every policy-maker, citizen and educator.

The extraordinary reporting found in the book can not help but convince Americans that their public education system is endangered by the politicians, billionaire mischief-makers, foundations and business groups professing to “fix” the “broken” system.

Similar accusations have been leveled before in books by Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian, Gerald Bracey, Herb Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, Deborah Meier, Linda Darling-Hammond and others. What makes this book so extraordinary is that it was written by a proponent of many of the reforms Ravitch herself now admits are destroying public education.

That’s right, Dr. Ravitch is the rare scholar/leader who when confronted by the actual application of theory is capable of rethinking her assumptions. Ravitch has also severed ties to many of the conservative think-tanks with whom she no longer shares similar views and has had the courage to expose her change-of-heart and mind publicly in this book and in the spectacular blog, Bridging Differences, she writes with (CMK 2010 guest speaker) Deborah Meier.

Ravitch challenges the current fetishes of merit pay, mayoral control, charter schools, vouchers and standardized testing while also questioning the statistical plausibility of the test score miracles being touted by politicians like Arne Duncan and NYC Mayor Bloomberg. At the same time, Ravitch advocates a national curriculum (albeit a richer one than proposed), an idea I find extremely troublesome. Without sentimentality, Ravitch’s new book is a love letter to public education and the democratic ideals it fosters.

The story of personal transformation late in life is generating an unprecedented level of publicity for a book about education. I am most grateful to Dr. Ravitch for placing these issues at the center of mainstream media debate for the first time. I intend to write something substantive about the book once I have an adequate chance to digest it. In the meantime, I recommend you read the following reviews of the book.

  1. Little Dead Schoolhouse – Boston Globe 2/28/10
  2. “Teacher Ken’s” comprehensive review of the book for the Daily Kos – 2/28/10 (highly recommended)
  3. Business principles won’t work for school reform,  former supporter Ravitch says – Washington Post – 2/26/10
  4. Los Angeles Times review – 2/28/10
  5. Why You Should Read Diane Ravitch’s New Book - Washington Post – 2/26/10

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