First, my good friend Chris Lehmann wrote about in “Why I Am Against For Profit Schools,” how the school privatization movement (and I would add the Obama administration) have embraced the rhetoric of personalization and individualization to replace teachers with less expensive drill and practice systems. These integrated “learning” systems reduce education to an endless  series of multiple-choice quizzes. (read what I wrote about this idea in 1992, Integrated Learning Systems, The New Slavery) They never have worked and never will.

Since the evidence supporting computerized teaching systems has been weak since WWII, the dystopians and their bankers pushing this idea feel compelled to dress it up in fancy names like “Carpe Diem,” “Flipped Classroom,” “School of One,” “Blast,” “Khan Academy,” etc…. Each of these old wines in new marketing slogans have at their core a desire to reduce the cost of education as low as possible and attempt to do so by replacing qualified educators with 200 terminals, Math Blaster and an armed security guard.

Soon after Chris published his article, our mutual friend Will Richardson wrote “The Thin Value Proposition,” in which he too agrees with Chris and argues that the the value in schooling is the establishment of relationships among teachers and students. I often end my speeches by saying that teachers make memories and when students come back to reminisce, they never speak about the time they raised PISA scores or used all of their spelling words in a sentence, they remember meaningful projects teachers created the context for.

I agree with the arguments made by Chris and Will. They perfectly frame the terms of the conundrum many of us who advocate the use of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression face when more powerful forces wish to use computers as tools of oppression, cost-cutting or antidotes for progressive education. How is it possible to love computers in education and hate the popular implementations of computers in education?

It is questions like this that led me to create The Daily Papert two years ago.

Papert articulated Will’s argument twenty-two years ago.

“It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems. They are worried about how to verify that the teachers are really doing their job properly, how to enforce accountability and maintain quality control. They prefer the kind of curriculum that will lay down, from day to day, from hour to hour, what the teacher should be doing, so that they can keep tabs on it. Of course, every teacher knows this is an illusion. It’s not an effective method of insuring quality. It is only a way to cover ass. Everybody can say, “I did my bit, I did my lesson plan today, I wrote it down in the book.” Nobody can be accused of not doing the job. But this really doesn’t work. What the bureaucrat can verify and measure for quality has nothing to do with getting educational results–those teachers who do good work, who get good results, do it by exercising judgment and doing things in a personal way, often undercover, sometimes even without acknowledging to themselves that they are violating the rules of the system. Of course one must grant that some people employed as teachers do not do a good job. But forcing everyone to teach by the rules does not improve the “bad teachers”– it only hobbles the good ones.”

Papert. S. (1990, July). Perestroika and Epistemological Politics. Speech presented at the World Conference on Computers in Education. Sydney, Australia.

Seymour Papert began giving voice to Chris Lehmann’s concerns as far back as 1968!

“The phrase, “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dumbest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a skinner box.”

Papert S. (1980). Teaching Children Thinking in Taylor, R., Ed., The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee. New York: Teachers College Press. pp. 161 -176.

Note: This paper was originally presented in 1970 at the IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education in Amsterdam. The paper was published as an MIT Logo Memo No. 2. Nicholas Negroponte reports that Papert first presented this work in 1968.

On October 4, 2010, I had the great privilege of participating in a webinar sponsored by Edutopia and featuring a stunning panel of experts charged with addressing alternative visions of school reform.

It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems. They are worried about how to verify that the teachers are really doing their job properly, how to enforce accountability and maintain quality control. They prefer the kind of curriculum that will lay down, from day to day, from hour to hour, what the teacher should be doing, so that they can keep tabs on it. Of course, every teacher knows this is an illusion. It’s not an effective method of insuring quality. It is only a way to cover ass. Everybody can say, “I did my bit, I did my lesson plan today, I wrote it down in the book.” Nobody can be accused of not doing the job. But this really doesn’t work. What the bureaucrat can verify and measure for quality has nothing to do with getting educational results–those teachers who do good work, who get good results, do it by exercising judgment and doing things in a personal way, often undercover, sometimes even without acknowledging to themselves that they are violating the rules of the system. Of course one must grant that some people employed as teachers do not do a good job. But forcing everyone to teach by the rules does not improve the “bad teachers”–it only hobbles the good ones. (Seymour Papert – Perestroika & Epistemological Pluralism, 1990)

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Here are some resources related to my presentation:

Mark your calendars!

A few days ago, Edutopia asked me to write another piece voicing my objections to NBC’s Education Nation coverage and the deeply flawed documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” I suggested that they host a webinar instead. I had already tweeted, blogged and Facebooked so much that I inexplicably lost my voice.

Edutopia took the suggestion and enlisted boy wonder, Steve Hargaddon, to organize and host the event entitled, Elevating the Education Reform Debate. This two hour webinar will feature some of the voices silenced by NBC, Oprah and director Davis Guggenheim. They include my heroes and colleagues, Deborah Meier and Alfie Kohn; friends, Chris Lehmann and Will Richardson; YouTube sensation, Sir Ken Robinson; and Julie Evans. I cannot wait to hear what they (or I) will say on Monday.

Wake the kids and call your neighbors! This is an event you won’t want to miss!

This Elluminate webinar is FREE and open to the entire World Wide Web.

Date: Monday, October 4, 2010
Time: 2pm Pacific / 5pm Eastern / 9pm GMT (international times here)
Duration: 2 hours
Location
: Log in at http://tr.im/futureofed
Recordings: Posted after the event at http://www.learncentral.org/event/106358
Note: Conference organizers have a nasty tendency to book me last on the program, this webinar may be no exception. Therefore, stick around for Sir Ken and hangout for me to bring up the rear. I promise not to disappoint!

chrislehmann200So, in my mission to change the world, I search for opportunities to preach to the unconverted. That’s why I’m prevailing upon friends, colleagues and complete strangers and begging them to vote for my session at next year’s South-by-Southwest Conference (SXSW). (Read the description of my session, The Best Education Ideas in the World, here) Here are the instructions for voting.

While you’re there, you might consider voting for my tricky little pal, Chris Lehmann’s session at SXSW. He and I share common values and several honors. He’s an excellent urban high school principal who is walking-the-walk 24/7. Vote here for Chris’ session, Building School 2.0 – Creating the Schools We Need. But don’t forget to vote for me too!

The voting deadline is August 25th, so act today!

New CokeWell, it’s 2:11 AM and I’m here in Denver for a week of ISTE (or are we supposed to call it the ISTE Conference?) Believe it or not, I am one of the signatories to the original ISTE Charter from back in ‘ye olden days when “computer” was removed from the titles of organizations and magazines! I still can’t help, but think that changing NECC to ISTE is akin to New Coke.

That said, I look forward to catching-up with friends, leading the Constructivist Celebration and making two new presentations at the 23rd or 24th NECC/ISTE I’ve spoken at since 1987.

This year marks my 20th anniversary working in 1:1 environments since I led the first professional development at the world’s first two “laptop schools” and it’s my 28th year working with children, teachers and computers.

Here are the program links to the sessions I’ll be presenting at ISTE 2010

Creativity 2.0: The Quest for Meaning, Beauty, and Excellence Add to Planner Add to Planner
[Formal Session: Spotlight]
Monday, 6/28/2010, 11:00am–12:00pm, CCC Four Seasons Ballroom 2/3
Gary Stager, Pepperdine University
Digital-Age Teaching & Learning : Project, Challenge, & Problem-Based Curricula

Authors and pundits stress the importance of creativity, but what does it look like in classrooms? How do we get there? What needs to change?  Recommended by ISTE’s SIG1to1

20 Lessons from 20 Years of 1-to-1 Teaching Add to Planner Add to Planner
[Formal Session: Lecture]
Monday, 6/28/2010, 3:30pm–4:30pm, CCC 205/207
Gary Stager, Pepperdine University
School Improvement : One-to-One Initiatives

The lessons learned over 20 years around the world are invaluable for schools contemplating 1-to-1 computing and those seeking greater educational returns on their investment.  Recommended by ISTE’s SIG1to1

I’ve also been invited to yuck it up with my old (geologically old) friends on Tuesday at one of ISTE’s most popular sessions!

LOL @ ISTE: Bring Popcorn and an Open Mind Add to Planner Add to Planner
[Formal Session: Spotlight]
Tuesday, 6/29/2010, 12:30pm–1:30pm, CCC 505/506
Saul Rockman, Rockman Et Al Inc with Michael Jay, Heidi Rogers, Ferdi Serim, Gary Stager and Elliot Soloway
Professional Learning : Student, Teacher, and/or Administrator Leader Preparation

The usual collection of punsters, jokesters, storytellers, and really terrible singers strive to explain why technology is so important in education.

Plans are shaping up brilliantly for Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010. I wish every single educator on earth could spend four days with us building, creating, collaborating, messing-about and discussing matters of learning, teaching and school reform with some of the leading educational thinkers of our time. I’ve been speaking with Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn and James Loewen this week and can assure you that CMK 2010 will be historic!

One of the best pieces of news I received this week was that Chris Lehmann, Principal of Science Leadership Academy is coming to CMK as a participant. It takes a mighty great educational leader to dedicate four days to learning in public!

There are still spots available and time to register. Don’t miss out!

Now, it’s 2:50 AM!

corporatesce200 This weekend, January 29-31, I will be in America’s winter vacationland, Philadelphia, to participate in a timeless tradition, the annual running of the bull at Educon.

Here are the two “conversations” I’ll be leading at this year’s Educon:

20x20pixelStager Certified Educators Executive Programgirlsce200

Play your cards right and you can leave this intensive, immersive, engaging and transformative session a Stager Certified Educator, complete with I.D. card, certificate of awesomeness (suitable for framing) and web badge for use on your blog or web site. Some educators don’t achieve this much over a lifetime, but you may in less than 90 minutes! You will also gain a greater sense of the issues, ideas and expertise a 21st Century educator needs in order to create more productive contexts for learning. Resources for post-certification learning will be shared.

Session One– Room 204  (10:00 – 11:30 AM)20x20pixel

gary-and-seymour200

Papert Matters: Thinking About Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas

Seymour Papert’s work has defined the frontiers of education for 40+ years. Gary will share what Papert’s ideas mean for the future of learning through personal anecdotes, Papert’s words and video clips.

Session Four – Room 204 (10:30 AM – 12:00 PM)

20x20pixelCheck the Educon web site to find out how you can participate in these sessions virtually from your parent’s basement via Eluminate.

squigglesce200

Wow!

I am a finalist to be a keynote speaker at this June’s International Society for Keynote debate at NECC 2009Technology in Education Conference (ISTE) in Denver.

This is quite the honor!

aThe other finalists are Peter Reynolds, Chris Lehmann, Alan November and Jeff Piontek.

Please vote  here (http://bit.ly/3nvfV9)

Voting ends on Friday January 15th. Don’t miss out!

I landed in Paris to read the sad news that Ted Sizer has passed away. This is the second loss of great leaders the progressive education community has experienced in just a few days. Earlier this week, Gerald Bracey died in his sleep. May they both rest in peace.

If you don’t know whom I’m talking about or have not read their work, then ed school, we have a problem.

Dr. Theodore Sizer was a veteran school principal, former Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, author, mentor and original thinker whose ideas on school reform led to the creation of the Coalition of Essential Schools, a vital organization that brings relevant, common-sense, student-centered and practical reform ideas to schools wishing to do better by youngsters

Gerald Bracey (Obituary from the Washington Post)

It was easy to marginalize Jerry Bracey since his career was so deeply committed to using the tools of a hard-nosed researcher to expose their emperor’s lack of clothes. He was a university researcher – a wonk’s wonk willing to enter the arena and battle powerful forces and mythology without fear. Bracey fought standardized testing, the politicization of public education and demonstrated time and time again how the claims of public school failure are simply untrue. He was unafraid to expose the frauds who keynote our conferences and dominate professional development agendas.

Some of us speak out on issues of concern, but we relied on Bracey’s research to fortify our arguments. I recommend that you read some of his recent Huffington Post columns here to get a sense of Dr. Bracey’s genius. I regret that I never had the privilege of meeting him.

Ted Sizer (read obituaries from the Washington Post, NPR, Coalition of Essential Schools, Forum for Education and Democracy)

Ted Sizer was a different kind of radical. He was straight out of central casting – white, male, smart, articulate, soft-spoken, innovative, inspirational with a Patrician sensibility suited to running universities, government agencies or a think-tank. Sizer should have been the United States Secretary of education long ago, but American education policy is not a meritocracy. Instead, we have been saddled with a series of mediocre governors, talk show hosts, football coaches and Tasmanian minor league basketball players. Being right seems insufficient.

Unqualified is the new qualified. Many of our large urban school districts are run by woefully inadequate people (NYC, D.C., Chicago, New Orleans come to mind). Unlike such bloviating union-busting marionettes, Sizer was a learned man who had actually led successful schools and developed a set of principles for others interested in doing the same.

The Coalition of Essential Schools was built upon ten common sense and replicable principles. With all due respect, if you are a school leader who has not read Sizer’s three seminal books on high school reform, Horace’s School, Horace’s Compromise and Horace’s Hope, then I’m sorry, but you’re a pretender.

It is worth reading Dr. Sizer’s views on effective (or as he calls it “admirable”) teacher education on the heels of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s mean-spirited misinformed attack on the enterprise.

A collection of Dr. Sizer’s speeches for the Coalition of Essential Schools may be found here. The Coalition of Essential Schools’ Fall Forum (annual conference) is this November 5th-7th in New Orleans. You can still register.

Fewer shoulders to stand on

I wish I were optimistic that Sizer and Bracey’s work and spirit will live on and inform the future of public education, but even if ignorance is absent, amnesia will likely prevail.

Chris Lehmann and I often remind our easily excitable friends in the edublogosphere that we stand on the shoulders of giants. Ignorance of history and the great thinkers that came before us not only dooms one to repeat the mistakes history, but retards the progress that would be possible if we recognized that as Bill Clinton said, “Every problem in education has been solved somewhere.” Alas, we continue to slip backwards.

I get dismissed as an old crank if I suggest that colleagues read texts longer than 140 characters, attend conferences or think more deeply about fads. There isn’t a single discovery of an edublogger that Seymour Papert didn’t write in his 1996 book, The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap, but who wants to read books by experts when our PLN applauds our laziness?

Just this week, one of my graduate students in a Masters in Learning Technologies course expressed surprise that I asked students to read Papert’s 1993 book, The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. How could what Papert wrote in 1996 or 1993 or 1968 possibly be relevant? Animoto and Plurk didn’t even exist back then! John Dewey must have lived in a cave.

I am sorry, but Dan Pink, Tom Friedman and a boatload of Web 2.0 authors combined don’t know as much about teaching and learning as Ted Sizer or Gerald Bracey could share in an 800-word article or five-minute conversation. We must stop being so easily distracted by shiny web objects, rhymes and slogans.

Seymour Papert and I used to talk at length about how the edtech community needs to know more about learning and how the progressive education community needs to understand how computers can amplify their ideas and offer learners unprecedented opportunities. Unfortunately, Dr. Papert was in a terrible accident and the summit we envisioned never came to pass. I do my small part by writing, speaking, recommending books and organizing events, but there is still much more work to be done.

I created Constructing Modern Knowledge so that younger educators excited about learning with technology could situate those experiences within a context of powerful ideas – Deborah Meier, Lella Gandini, Bob Tinker and Alfie Kohn have been but a few such people who spent time inspiring CMK participants. I had really hoped to feature Ted Sizer in the future, but will redouble my effort to acquaint educators with powerful ideas and whenever possible with the originators of those ideas.

We all need to get busy and get smarter. Our children depend on us.