I’ve been online since 1983 and my own web site dates back to the first term of the Clinton presidency. Along the way, I may have ruffled a few feathers.

Let me tell you about one of my all-time favorite social media brouhahas.

On December 17, 2008, The Huffington Post published an article I wrote entitled, “Obama Practices Social Promotion.

I began the article…

“A curious cartel of billionaire bullies, power hungry politicians and tough-talking school superintendents wage an eternal battle against social promotion — for the good of our children of course. Social promotion, a divisive political term with no basis in reality, like partial-birth abortion, is one of the most popular talking points among the the most vocal critics of public education. The “end of social promotion” has caused tens of thousands of kids as young as 3rd grade to be left-back, despite overwhelming evidence that this practice harms children and increases the drop-out rate.

However, social promotion is a godsend to urban school superintendents in this age of privatization. It is truly bizarre that the public education system, which at least in-part is dedicated to preparing people for careers and life, would devalue expertise.”

…and went on to say…

“Arne Duncan Fails Upward

Today’s nomination of Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan to be the Barack Obama’s Secretary Education is a spectacular example of social promotion. Duncan, who as been the CEO or Chief of Staff of the Chicago Public Schools for the past ten years has done such a swell job of “reform” that his best friend and basketball buddy, Barack Obama, would not send his own children to the public schools. President-elect Obama is like Eli Broad, Bill Gates and the members of the Business Roundtable who kill public schools with their kindness while turning them into the sort of joyless test-prep sweatshops unworthy of children they love.

Arne Duncan is a darling of the charter school movement, Eli Broad, the right-wing Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, anti-union “Democrats” and I kid you not — Hooked-on-Phonics. President-elect Obama eagerly awaits recommendations on nuclear proliferation from Billy Mays, Ron Popeil and the ShamWow guy.”

All of my assertions (especially the inflammatory ones), contained links to supporting evidence.

Then it happened

A few days later, right around Christmas, my Google Alert started sounding. Soon it was like a bell warning of  four-alarm fire and the alarm sounded for several straight days. What could possibly have caused such sudden popularity for Little ‘ol me?

It seems that the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics® was so offended by my joke comparing their qualifications to endorse a federal Secreatary of Education to the ShamWow guy that the company paid a public relations firm to issue a global press release condemning me. “Hooked on Phonics(R) CEO Responds to Gary Stager’s Criticism of President-elect Obama’s Choice of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education,” was released in dozens of countries around the world. Every time one of those press releases went public, my Google alert rang again.

What is so golden about that misguided attempt to make me famous is the lengths to which the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics® went to avoid offending the ShamWow guy (probably a wise idea since he apparently beat up a cannibal hooker).

“Gary Stager is entitled to his opinions regarding President-elect Obama’s selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and education policy generally. However, it is unfortunate he has tried to trivialize my views by likening my company and its product — Hooked on Phonics, a product that has helped millions of children learn to read — to a sponge (with all due respect to the folks at ShamWow).”

Read the entire condemnation of me here. I could not be prouder!

My only regret is that the predictions I made about President-Elect Obama’s education policies and his nominee for Secretary of Education turned out to be even worse than I had feared. Read the five and a half year-old article for yourself here.

I am always looking for ways to help teachers be more intentional and create deeper learning experiences for their students. Today, through the haze of Bombay Belly, I had an epiphany that may help you in similar learning situations.

Authentic project-based learning is in my humble opinion incompatible with curricular tricks like, Understanding by Design, where an adult determines what a children should know or do and then gives the illusion of freedom while kids strive to match the curriculum author’s expectation.

I view curriculum as the buoy, not the boat and find that a good idea is worth 1,000 benchmarks and standards.

Whether you agree with me or not, please consider my new strategy for encouraging richer classroom learning. I call it, “…and then?”

It goes something like this. Whenever a teacher asks a kid or group of kids to participate in some activity or engage in a project, ask, “..and then?” Try asking yourself, “..and then?” while you teach.

For example, when the kindergarten teacher has every child make a paper turkey or a cardboard clock, ask, “…and then?” This is like an improvisational game that encourages/requires teachers to extend the activity “that much” further.

You ask first graders to invent musical instrument. Rather than being content with the inventions, ask, “…and then?” You might then decide to:

  1. Ask each kid to compose a song to be played on their instrument
  2. Teach their song to a friend to play on their invented instrument
  3. The next day ask the kids to play the song they were taught yesterday from memory
  4. When they can’t remember how, you might ask each “composer” to write down the song so other players can remember it
  5. This leads to the invention of notational forms which can be compared and contrasted for efficacy or efficiency. This invention of notation leads to powerful ideas across multiple disciplines.

I think, “…and then?,” has application at any age and across any subject area.

Try it for yourself and let me know what you think!

Four out of five kindergarteners agree.

foam blocks 1 smaller
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foam blocks 2 smaller

Foam blocks suck.

 

I led professional development in the Newark, NJ Public Schools and taught Newark teachers for about a decade from 1983 through 1993. Newark, NJ, a large city dwarfed by its neighbor, New York City has spent much of my lifetime grappling with third world-levels of poverty and all of the ills that accompany urban neglect. Half of Newark’s mayors since the 1960s have gone to prison on corruption charges. Only recently has Newark had supermarkets or a movie theatre despite being the birthplace of Sarah Vaughan, Wayne Shorter, Amiri Baraka, and countless other great American artists. Teaching in Newark is difficult and a calling.

Allow me to be unequivocal.

In my thirty-two years of work with schools and educators on six continents, I have never worked with more caring, competent, generous or hardworking educators than those employed by the Newark Public Schools.

If I led a PD session on a sweltering August day, it would be filled by Newark teachers working without compensation. Others would pay their own way to attend afterschool workshops 30 miles away.

I have worked in some of the most elite and expensive private schools on earth and in many cases would rather trust my child’s education to the teachers I worked with in Newark (the physical plant and resources are another matter entirely). Newark teachers provide material, emotional, and financial support for their poor students every day.

Decades before Cory Booker donned his superhero Underoos and tweeted his enthusiasm for code.org, Logo programming was being taught by outstanding Newark teachers in dozens and dozens of Newark elementary schools. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Newark Public Schools were one of the leading centers of innovation in educational computing. All of that is long gone after decades of test-score-raising gimmicks imposed by political charlatans from outside of the community.

You would never know that because in addition to abandoning the residents of this once great city, the good people of New Jersey suspended democracy, neutered the elected school board, and let the State take over the school in 1995. That’s nearly 20 years ago. Surely, all of that State wisdom, leadership, and no-nonsense zero-tolerance innovation, together with endless test-prep and demonizing of teachers would be successful, right?

The city’s public schools are among the lowest-performing in the state, even after the state government took over management of the city’s schools in 1995, which was done under the presumption that improvement would follow. – Wikipedia

Where’s the accountability Governor Christie?

It is high time to return democracy to the governance of the Newark Public Schools!

Surely after the State installed the unqualified adolescent little sister of Michelle Rhee, Cami Anderson, as Superintendent of Schools, things would improve, right? She even instituted that holy grail of no-nothings, merit pay.

Cami Anderson loves charter schools and has dynamite (I mean literally dynamite) ideas for the Newark Public Schools. Check out Diane Ravitch’s review of Anderson’s “One Newark” Plan.

Cami’s dynamite plan is to get the state to suspend tenure/seniority laws so she can fire 700 Newark teachers and replace them with 350 or so unqualified Teach-for-America interns. Surely, interns will solve the problem. Larger class sizes AND unqualified teachers, perfect together!

Where’s the accountability Governor Christie?

According to the TFA regional website, Newark schools already have hired some 200 members.  They are usually graduates of liberal art programs who sign up for two years to teach in low-income areas and then leave.

Anderson herself is both a TFA graduate and an executive with the  foundation-financed TFA, an organization that also receives federal subsidies. (source)

Oh, did I forget to mention that this plan will be financed by the Walton Family Foundation. The Waltons aren’t that nice TV family, they are the scumbag plutocrats who own Wal-Mart, bribe foreign officials, underpay their employees, and stick taxpayers with the bill. Driving the cost of public education to zero is consistent with their scorched earth business practices.

If you care about public education, stop shopping at Wal-Mart.

The business press and forces of public school privatization LOVE Cami and her dynamiteplan. We need to stand up and tell them, “Hell no!”

Isn’t it time that we treat Teach-for-America interns as the scabs they are?

Every American who cares about the future of our nation or values the role our public schools play in preserving our democracy needs to stand with Newark teachers against the robber barons, Mark Zuckerberg and Governor Bully.

Candidly, I have not been enthusiastic about teaching “computational thinking” to kids. In nearly every case, computational thinking seemed to be a dodge intended to avoid computing, specifically computer programming.

“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”

(Sir Joshua Reynolds)

Programming is an incredibly powerful context for learning mathematics while engaged in being a mathematician. If mathematics is a way of making sense of the world, computing is a great way to make mathematics.

Most of the examples of computational thinking I’ve come across seemed like a cross between “Computer Appreciation” and “Math Appreciation.” However, since smart people were taking “computational thinking” more seriously, I spent a great deal of time thinking about a legitimate case for it in the education of young people.

Here it is…

Computational thinking is useful when modeling a system or complex problem is possible, but the programming is too difficult.

Examples will be shared in other venues.