Laptops and Learning
Can laptop computers put the “C” (for constructionism) in Learning?
Published in the October 1998 issue of Curriculum Administrator
© 1998 – Gary S. Stager
“…Only inertia and prejudice, not economics or lack of good educational ideas stand in the way of providing every child in the world with the kinds of experience of which we have tried to give you some glimpses. If every child were to be given access to a computer, computers would be cheap enough for every child to be given access to a computer.” - Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon (1971)
In 1989, Methodist Ladies’ College (MLC) in Melbourne, Australia embarked on a still unparalleled learning adventure. Eighteen years after Solomon and Papert’s prediction this school made a commitment to personal computing and constructionism. The unifying principle was that every child in the school (from grades 5-12) would own a personal laptop computer on which they could work at school, at home, and across the curriculum with a belief that their ideas and work were being stored and manipulated on their own personal computer. Ownership of the laptop computer would reinforce ownership of the knowledge constructed with it. The personal computer is a vehicle for building something tangible outside of your head – one of the tenets of constructionism. By 1994, 2,000 MLC teachers and students had a personal laptop computer. This school, like most serious workplaces now has a computer ration of more than one computer per worker (teacher & student). Today, approximately 50,000 Australian school children have their own laptop. More and more American schools are embracing laptops as well.
Personal Computing – Personal Learning
Until recently, the notion of the PC and personal computing has escaped schools. Computer labs, special furniture and computer literacy curricula have been designed to make efficient use of scarce public resources. The potential benefits of using a word processor to write, edit and publish are rarely realized when access to the computer is limited and artificially scheduled. Laptops provide a personal space for creating, exploring, and collecting one’s own ideas, work, and knowledge in a more fluid manner. Pioneering schools like MLC adopted laptops for the following reasons:
The laptop is flexible, portable, personal and powerful
Students and teachers may use the computer whenever and wherever they need to. The laptop is a personal laboratory for intellectual exploration and creative expression. Learning extends beyond the walls and hours of the school.
The laptop helps to professionalize teachers
Teachers equipped with professional tools view themselves more professionally. Computers are much more likely to be integrated into classroom practice when every student has one.
Provocative models of learning will emerge
Teachers need to be reacquainted with the art of learning before they are able to create rich supportive learning environments for their students. The computer allows different ways of thinking, knowing and expressing ones own ideas to emerge. The continuous collection of learning stories serves as a catalyst for rethinking the nature of teaching and learning.
Gets schools out of the computer business
Laptops are a cost-effective alternative to building computer labs, buying special furniture and installing costly wiring. Students keep laptops for an average of three years, a turnover rate rarely achieved by schools. Built-in modems provide students with net access outside of school. The school can focus resources on projection devices, high-quality peripherals and professional development.
Since my work with the world’s first two “laptop schools” in 1990, I’ve helped dozens of similar schools (public and private) around the world make sense of teaching and learning in environments with ubiquitous computing. My own experience and research by others has observed the following outcomes for students and teachers.
- Students take enormous pride in their work.
- Individual and group creativity flourishes.
- Multiple intelligences and ways of knowing are in ample evidence.
- Connections between subject areas become routine.
- Learning is more social.
- Work is more authentic, personal & often transcends the assignment.
- Social interactions tend to me more work-related.
- Students become more naturally collaborative and less competitive.
- Students develop complex cooperative learning strategies.
- Kids gain benefit from learning alongside of teachers.
- Learning does not end when the bell rings or even when the assignment is due.
- The school’s commitment to laptops convinces teachers that computers are not a fad. Every teacher is responsible for use.
- Teachers reacquaint themselves with the joy and challenge of learning something new.
- Teachers experience new ways of thinking, learning and expressing one’s knowledge.
- Teachers become more collaborative with colleagues and students.
- Authentic opportunities to learn with/from students emerge.
- Sense of professionalism and self-esteem are elevated.
- Thoughtful discussions about the nature of learning and the purpose of school become routine and sometimes passionate.
- Teachers have ability to collaborate with teachers around the world.
- New scheduling, curriculum and assessment structures emerge.
“I believe that every American child ought to be living in the 21st century… This is why I like laptops – you can take them home. I m not very impressed with computers that schools have chained to desks. I m very impressed when kids have their own computers because they are liberated from a failed bureaucracy …
You can’t do any single thing and solve the problem. You have to change the incentives; you’ve got to restructure the interface between human beings. If you start redesigning a learning system rather than an educational bureaucracy, if you have incentives for kids to learn, and if you have 24-hour-a-day, 7-day a week free standing opportunities for learning, you’re going to make a bigger breakthrough than the current bureaucracy. The current bureaucracy is a dying institution.” – U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich (Wired Magazine, August 1995)
When Seymour Papert and Newt Gingrich are on the same side of an issue, it is hard to imagine an opposing view. The fact that computers are smaller, cheaper and more powerful has had a tremendous impact on society. Soon that impact will be realized by schools. Laptop schools are clearly on the right side of history and will benefit from the experience of being ahead of trend.
Much has been said recently about the virtues of anytime anywhere learning. Laptops certainly can deliver on that promise. Integrated productivity packages may be used to write, manipulate data and publish across the curriculum. However, the power of personal computing as a potential force for learning and as a catalyst for school reform transcends the traditional view of using computers to “do work.” I encourage school leaders considering an investment in laptops to dream big dreams and conceive of ways that universal computing can help realize new opportunities for intellectual development and creative expression.
Before accepting overtesting as inevitable, try debating the issue with parents and students
By Gary S. Stager, Ph.D.
Originally published in District Administration Magazine – July 2003
Our schools are in the midst of a mass panic not seen since the swine flu epidemic–standardized testing. We are swept up in a wave of “the tests are important,” “parents demand accountability,” and “they make us do it.” This uncritical groupthink will destroy public education unless we wake up, form alliances and tell the public the truth.
Democrats and Republicans alike caught a bad case of testing fever and voted overwhelmingly for No Child Left Behind, perhaps the greatest intrusion of the federal government into local education in history. NCLB will compel states to test their students every year from grades 2-12 in order to rank schools and shut many of them down. Our Proctor-in-Chief, George W. Bush, is extending the joys of standardized testing into Head Start.
Since many administrators and school board members have no idea how many standardized tests they need to administer, NCLB will undoubtedly add additional tests and draconian consequences to a school year already diminished by weeks of testing and test preparation.
Without so much as a public debate on what we would want for our schools, testing mania has been allowed to spread like a plague on our educational process. If some testing is good, more is better. If the youngest students can’t yet hold a pencil or read, of course they can bubble-in answers to math problems for several hours at a time. Head Start should be a reading program. You got a problem with three-year-olds reading? Why then, you must suffer from “the bigotry of low expectations.” The end of recess does not affect obesity. Replacing art and music with scripted curricula won’t lead to increased school violence or discipline problems. Down is up, black is white.
Education Week’s annual report “Technology Counts,” states an alarming trend–schools are not spending enough money on using computers for the purposes of standardized testing! Apparently, the years I’ve spent helping schools use computers to enhance learning have been wasted. It never occurred to me that computers should be used to replace #2 pencils and scan sheets. Tech-based testing reminds me of the old Gaines Burger commercial that asked, “Is your dog getting enough cheese?”
The Education Week “research” is replete with charts and graphs designed to whip child-centered educators into line. EdWeek loves winners and losers nearly as much as the testing industry. Coincidentally, a giant publisher of standardized tests, textbooks and test preparation systems, funded their “study.”
In such a climate of confusion and hysteria, educators feel powerless. Parents trust that you will do the right thing. Misconceptions about high-stakes testing are amplified by an unwillingness to engage the community in conversation.
Inspired by Juanita Doyon’s terrific new book, Not With Our Kids You Don’t: Ten Strategies to Save Our Schools, and a desire to show my kids that you can make a difference, I decided to try my hand at activism.
I designed a flier answering some of the myths about standardized testing and telling parents that California state law allows them to exempt their child from the STAR tests. Two days before testing was to begin I stood in front of my daughter’s high school and passed out 150 fliers in about 10 minutes. I felt a bit creepy, but the kids told me that I was cool (a first).
I have since learned that 46 students opted out of the tests. That’s a one-third hit-rate. Not since the Pet Rock has a marketing effort been so successful with so little effort Think about it–a kid had to take a piece of paper from a stranger, bring it home, convince his parents to write a letter disobeying the wishes of the school and bring the letter back to school the next day. Perhaps the public isn’t as hungry for increased accountability as we have been led to believe?
One parent said she didn’t know her tax money was spent on standardized testing. Can you imagine the public being less engaged in a matter so important?
It is incumbent upon each of us to tell parents what we know and engage the community in serious discussions about schooling. We may find that we have many more allies than there are politicians telling us what’s best for kids.
The year following my initial opt-out activism,I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper urging parents to opt-out. Fearing a loss of federal money as a result of not making AYP due to testing resistance, the Torrance Unified School District lied to parents about the legitimacy of the testing process. I responded with a freedom of information request about funding, personnel, policy, costs and time dedicated to STAR testing. This tied the district office in knots for months. If I can find the request, I will share it.
Here is a list of recommended books for parents and educators interested in opposing standardized testing.
A funny thing happened on the way to writing this article. I realized I had already published it one year ago. Senseless Acts of Homework in The Huffington Post describes my contempt for the loathsome practice of summer homework.
However, this summer, my nephew’s high school cranked the stupid dial up to 11.
I am against homework for lots of reasons.
- The public equates it with education
- Kids hate it
- It encroaches on a student’s private life
- It is coercive
- It is too often busy-work provided by a textbook company who knows nothing about the learner
- It wastes class time when kids swap papers and grade homework; a tedious process that leads to zero benefit for learners
In the face of a glaring absence of evidence, teachers argue that homework is used for practice or reinforcement. (I’ll save how this is a misinterpretation of “practice” for anther day) If homework is for skill development then every student should have different homework each night, right?
Nah, one-size-fits-all kids!
If there was a shred of evidence that homework was good for kids or had anything to do with learning, I would be sympathetic. However, the crazy train has now gone one station beyond forcing kids to do something they hate, that makes them hate school and that robs them of free time.
If homework is intended for reinforcement, how does one possibly justify assigning homework to students during the summer before they set foot in your class? Let me say that again. Schools are giving homework to kids before they start a course!
This is personal
Three years ago, my nephew became fascinated by genealogy and has spent a great deal of time since researching our family history. He has done a remarkable job with the Ancestry.com account I pay $30/month for, has reached out to experts and fellow researchers across the globe in grammatically perfect email messages and has developed sophisticated habits of mind. I’ve long since given up hope that schools (and teachers) at most schools (The Big Picture Schools are an exception) will take notice of student interests, connect with them and provide the intellectual support to go farther than they could have gone on their own.
Kids don’t receive credit for what they are passionate about and school rarely values outside activities, except for assigned homework. I would love for my nephew’s teachers to respect his genealogical research, but it would be even better if they helped him learn what he needs to know in order to be a better historian.
My nephew’s school district does just about everything wrong – endless test prep, tracking, “honors” classes and mountains of homework.
When I realized how serious the kid was about genealogy, I promised to take him to places he learns our family is from. So, I am writing from a hotel lobby in L’Viv, Ukraine. We spent the day touring Zboriv, Ternopil and Zolochow, the villages where the learned that 3/4 of my ancestors came from. My nephew’s clue that that my great great great grandfather owned a mill in Zboriv led us to a small museum where an old historian said that there was a large mill that provided flour for the Austria-Hungarian empire down along the Strypa River. Our guide was our translator and took us to stand on the spot where my ancestors worked and fire killed their young daughter. We walked through the remaining disheveled Jewish cemeteries, visited too many monuments marking the sites of World War II exterminations, ate Ukranian food and learned about the Zboriv battle of 1649. We discussed Eastern European politics, Soviet occupation and US politics. Our guide and driver was Alex Dunai, one of the world’s experts on Jewish life in Galicia and invaluable researcher for Daniel Mendelsohn’s magnificent book. “The Lost – A Search for Six of Six Million.”
Tomorrow night we head to Krakow and Auschwitz, followed by Vilnius, Lithuania before we rush back to the USA so the kid won’t miss a day of school. Prior to this, we spent two days in London, where we saw pieces of the Parthenon at the British Museum, and five in Athens where we went to the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum and Temple of Poseidon. The kid spent a bit of time hanging out at the Constructionism Conference where I presented a paper. My nephew not only had the opportunity to attend a SNAP! programming workshop led by Dr. Brian Harvey, but had dinner with linguists, mathematicians, computer scientists, master educators and with friends of mine who worked with Jean Piaget, Paolo Friere and Seymour Papert. He got to see his uncle speak, watch really smart people argue passionately in a civil fashion and share his work with interested adults.
Sounds good, right? The only problem has been the house the kid has been in a hotel room trying to guess how to respond to open-ended homework prompts from teachers he hasn’t met? Did the teachers spend their summer working an unpaid second shift like my nephew did? Why did we have to schlepp a backpack full of school shit (the technical term) half-way around the world?
Before anyone says, “not every kid has an uncle who does such cool things with his nephew,” I’ll respond by saying that I would rather a kid play basketball, take a trumpet lesson, swim, go to summer cam, read for pleasure or just watch television then memorize a chapter in a science textbook before any science occurs.
I don’t know any nicer way of saying this, but preemptive summer homework seems a lot like a clear case of an abuse victim battering an even less powerful subordinate. This cycle of insanity has to end.
Defend preemptive summer homework! C’mon! I dare you!
Here is the article I published last year…
I’m a big fan of summer. I still have the same “back-to-school” nightmares I experienced as a kid as the days get shorter each August. I think that “Back-to-School” sales before Independence Day are a form of child abuse. I believe that casual neighborhood play, family vacations, scouting and organized camps produce powerful learning experiences unrivaled by school.
When I hire new teachers, I look for people who worked at a summer camp. These are teachers who love kids and know how to engage them in meaningful (and fun) activities without coercion or a scripted curriculum. In 2007, I took issue with then Senator Clinton’s call for more tutoring and suggested that the federal money allocated for tutoring children in “underperforming schools” be spent on summer camp (My Plan to Fix NCLB). The richest nation in the world can afford high-quality summer activities for even its poorest children.
Also in 2007, I published When the Jumbotron says, “Read,” You Read! That article addressed the folly of forced summer reading assigned by schools, the outlandish claims made on behalf of the practice and the punishments meted out for non-compliance. I marveled at the quality of books assigned as summer reading when compared with the standardized drivel “read” during the school year and mourned the absence of meaningful discussion accompanying the reading.
When I was a kid, the only time you heard the combination of the words, “summer” and “school” was if you misbehaved or failed a course during the school year. How I long for the good ol’ days.
Just when I think that schooling can not get any more punitive or heavy-handed, things get worse. Schools no longer feel constrained by the impulse to ask kids to read Homer Price, Holes or Because of Winn-Dixie for pleasure under a tree on a balmy summer day. Now, school leaders view children as their serfs and every waking minute of a child’s life as their property. Such megalomania may be rooted in the paranoia created by the testing uber-alles policies of NCLB and Race To The Top. Whatever the motivation, robbing children of summer is irresponsible, ineffective and malicious.
Wow! Those are strong words, Dr. Stager. What are you talking about?
My “niece,” let’s call her “Miss Summer,” just completed eighth grade in a Northern New Jersey public school district. Miss Summer is an excellent student with perfect attendance and a great many interests she looks forward to pursuing during the summer. They include swimming, playing with her brother, developing friendships, practicing the trumpet, fishing, genealogy, reading and doing nothing at all but staying in her pajamas on rainy days and watching cartoons. When I was a kid, our society valued those activities and embraced childhood. That is no longer the case.
At the end of eighth grade, Miss Summer received a substantial packet of work to be completed before she sets foot in her new high school. The transition from primary to secondary school is stressful enough, but now a mountain of homework hung over a carefree summer like a rain cloud ruining your beach vacation. Miss Summer’s school district is no longer content with suggested summer reading for parents interested in supplementing a child’s education. Hell no!
Miss Summer has assignments in nearly every subject, is expected to read Dickens’ Great Expectations alone and without teacher support, write a thesis or two and submit the work by assigned due dates via a Web-based plagiarism site, Turnitin.com.
This mountain of homework is not only cruel, it is irresponsible, miseducative and profoundly unfair for the following reasons.
- Miss Summer has not met any of the teachers this work is being submitted to. She neither knows their personalities, values or expectations.
- Great Expectations is pretty heavy for a fourteen year-old without teacher assistance or classroom discussion. Will it inspire or hinder a greater interest in English literature?
- Thesis writing has not yet been taught and is unnecessarily anxiety producing for a kid who has yet to enter your school for the first time.
- Three is an assumption made by the school district that every student knows how to use the specialized web site and has sufficient computer access to complete and submit assignments.
- Due dates assume that children have no plans for the summer. Should camp or family vacations be ruined by these deadlines? Should a student take a laptop and satellite modem on a hike?
- The same impulses to assign massive amounts of homework to students you’ve never met predicts that there will be little follow-up of that work when students return to school.
- These practices are coercive, intrude upon families and seek to overrule parental decisions.
- You are ruining kids’ summer!
I do everything I can to combat to the misguided federal education policies turning schools into joyless test-prep factories. I’ll march. I’ll write. I’ll speak out. I’ll organize. I’ll donate. I’ll provide educators with alternative strategies and help them improve their practice. I will challenge the plutocrats who threaten teachers and children.
What I will not do is defend educators who transfer their misery to innocent children. It is unconscionable for teachers to outsource their corpulent curriculum to children. You have no right to surveillance when a child is at home. If kids cannot count on you to stand between them and madness, who will protect them?
For more arguments against homework, read Alfie Kohn’s book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing or watch his DVD, No Grades + No Homework = Better Learning.
While in While in Italy last week, I received email from Eugene Paik, a reporter for The Star Ledger newspaper. He read my blog post, BYOD – Worst Idea of the 21st Century?, and was seeking expertise for an article on a New Jersey school district enacting a Bring-Your-Own-Device/Technology policy. I dropped everything and responded to his questions immediately via email since I was overseas. Besides, you can’t be misquoted when you respond in writing, right?
Paik’s article, Bernards Twp. district encouraging use of mobile devices, ran in the December 4th issue of The Star Ledger. That article completely misrepresents and distorts my answers to his questions. I cannot claim to be misquoted since the attributions to me are not printed as quotes. Sneaky, eh?
The following is how Mr. Paik reports my views on the matter of BYOD in Bernards Township, NJ.
Gary Stager, an international school-reform consultant and advocate for laptops in classrooms, said there are other issues as well. Not only are there challenges in training faculty on different devices and phone applications, but many school districts also mistakenly assume all electronic devices are alike.
A focus on mobile devices could prevent students from becoming familiar with software and hardware that require an actual computer, Stager said.
Here are my major issues with the reporting of my views.
- I NEVER EVER use the word training. It is antithetical to learning. Anyone familiar with my work knows this to be the case. You do not train professional educators! Training is what you do when you’re trying to get your chihuahua to piss on The Star Ledger.
- While I understand the space constraints required by writing for publication, the author decided not to raise my major objection to BYOD policies – inequity.
- I never said anything about students becoming familiar with hardware and software. My advocacy of computers in education is based on depth, breadth and fluency.
I truly wish that educators and reporters would pay greater attention to nuance and stop tossing around terms like “training.”
Here are Mr. Paik’s interview questions sent to me and answered on November 27th. My quite precise answers are indented.
Just a little bit of background about the policy. The district, in
Bernards Township in New Jersey, is mulling the proposal for its high
school and middle school students. They would use their smart phones,
tablets and laptops for instruction, and those who don’t have those
devices would be asked to share with students who do.
Here are my questions:
1.) The most common concern I hear about is that students would use
their cell phones to goof around (chat, use Facebook) under the guise of
information gathering. Obviously, the issue goes far deeper than that,
but I’m wondering if you agree that this would be an issue. Or are
critics incorrectly calling this the biggest problem when there are many
other issues to be concerned about?
I have worked in schools where every student has a personal laptop computer since 1990. Most recently, I launched 1:1 in a new Korean international school where every student down to first grade has a personal MacBook computer. Theft, breakage, loss have not been a problem anywhere in the world from Harlem to Sydney.
As for goofing around, there is a good deal of anecdotal and scientific evidence that children with computers are not only more social, but their social interactions tend to be work related.
If kids are goofing around or aimlessly surfing the Web, this is a function of an unimaginative curriculum or lackluster teaching.
I view the computer as an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression that amplifies human potential. When the goal is not to use the computer to teach what we have always hoped kids would learn, perhaps with greater efficacy or efficiency, but to learn and do things that were impossible without the presence of computing, the work takes on a sense of life and urgency much deeper than Facebook.
It seems odd to me that an affluent district with a long tradition of educational computing, like Bernards Township, would adopt such a policy. Bernards’ students are much more likely to own real portable computers than kids in other districts where the BYOD policy seems to be “Let them eat cellphones!” Even if every kid can afford the quality of personal computer I advocate for learning, BYOD is still terrible public policy.
2.) One of the issues arising out of this is the divide between the
“haves” and the “have-nots.” It would appear that this would set an
uneven playing field for certain students. Could you explain a little
more about the significance of this? Would sharing devices be enough to
solve this problem?
First of all, if schools did not create moronic knee-jerk policies banning things kids own, they wouldn’t need to enact new policies to allow them back on campus. While there might be educational potential in cell-phone use, the real reason not to ban them is that we should not be arbitrarily mean to children. Schools need to do everything possible to lower the level of antagonism between adults and kids. Any idea, passion, question, expertise or gadget a kid brings to school should be viewed as a potential gift. It is incumbent upon teachers and administrators to build upon such gifts. That does not mean that BYOD is sound policy.
One problem with BYOD is that it enshrines inequity while pretending to be democratic. Some students will have much more power and capability when educational policy is left to the accident of family wealth. Not every object requiring electricity is equivalent. Since the computer is today’s primary instrument for intellectual and creative work, every child needs as much power as possible. The cost of providing every American youngster a multimedia laptop computer has never been more than a few percentage points of the annual per pupil spending and that price would fall dramatically if we committed to every child having a portable personal computer as Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon proposed in 1971.
3.) You mentioned the issue of teacher anxiety, and I’ve heard stories
in New Jersey about some teachers who aren’t familiar with smart phones
at all. In your opinion, do those kinds of teachers represent most
educators? Even if they form a minority, how big of a problem would that
Teachers, for a variety of reasons, are among the least comfortable users of computational technology in society. Asking them to teach in an environment when kids have random “devices” only exacerbates the problem and raises their anxiety. This is a bad idea for two reasons. 1) Not all devices are created equally. So, educational activities need to be predicated upon the weakest device in the room. 2) There is a tendency to think of technology in education as “looking stuff up online.” This is the low-hanging fruit and represents the most trivial potential of the computer.
4.) Considering the shrinking budgets many school districts are seeing,
why shouldn’t this policy be considered a good compromise between
educational quality and cost? I’ve heard some say that school-issued
laptops for students typically are not well maintained or cared for.
Wouldn’t students take better care of the equipment knowing it was their
Kids do take better care of their computer, even if it is on loan from the school. However, it is terrible policy to leave 21st Century learning up to the financial liquidity of children. Educators will suffer more dire financial conditions when they endorse the idea that the public need not finance high-quality public educational opportunities for all of its young citizens.
5.) I thought your argument about BYOT policies narrowing the learning
process was intriguing. What are the skills that students would not
develop under this policy?
Science, technology, engineering, mathematics, computer modeling, programming, computer science, music composition, film-making, personal fabrication are but a few of the learning opportunities rendered impossible or very difficult on a cell phone or tablet device – at least for the next couple of years.
Thanks so much for the quick turnaround. I appreciate it.
Feel free to contact Mr. Paik and express your concern about this reporting.
Read my original post, igniting this controversy.
In a perfect world, members of the edtech community would know better and stop equating cellphones with computing.
In 1990, I began helping schools across the globe realize the transformational learning potential of a laptop for every child. From the start there was a recognition of the certain inevitability that every student would own their a personal mobile personal computer in the near future, whether school provided it or not. Twenty-one years later, way too few students have a personal computer and the very issue seems to become more controversial with each passing day.
Schools and school districts who have come to the personal computing party decades late now have conjured a cheap less-empowering way to produce an illusion of modernity. They call it “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) or “Bring Your Own Technology” (BYOT) and it’s a terribly reckless idea for the following reasons.
BYOD enshrines inequity
The only way to guarantee equitable educational experiences is for each student to have access to the same materials and learning opportunities. BYOD leaves this to chance with more affluent students continuing to have an unfair advantage over their classmates. This is particularly problematic in a society with growing economic disparity.
Real people don’t want a device
What was the last time you walked into a Best Buy or Apple Store and asked the clerk, “I’d like to buy a device please?” Nobody does that. You buy a computer. A device is something you buy for other people’s children when you’re pinching pennies or have too low expectations for children.
BYOD simplistically creates false equivalencies between any object that happens to use electricity
Repeat after me! Cell phones are not computers! They may both contain microprocessors and batteries, but as of today, their functionality is quite different.
It is miseducative to make important educational decisions based on price!
A wise mentor of me told me long ago that important educational decisions should not be based on price. It’s immoral, ineffective and imprudent. Who is to blame when BYOD fails to realize its potential or creates unforeseen problems. For forty years, visionary educators like Alan Kay, Seymour Papert, David Thornburg, David Loader and countless others have demonstrated that the cost of providing every child with a powerful personal computer (laptop) is between 2-5% of the cost of schooling. These costs have fallen in recent years. Plenty of schools and districts have reordered priorities to provide each student with a personal laptop. Doing the right thing is a matter or priorities and leadership, not price point.
BYOD narrows the learning process to information access and chat (when students aren’t being punished for either)
Information access, note-taking and communication (presenting, sharing, publishing) are the low-hanging fruit of education and represent the tiniest fraction of what it means to learn. Looking up the answers to someone else’s questions online in order to write an essay or make a PowerPoint presentation reinforces the status quo at best while failing to unlock for children the wondrous opportunities provided by computational thinking.
BYOD increases teacher anxiety
Schools have largely failed to inspire teachers to use computers in even pedestrian ways after three decades of attempts. A cornucopia of various devices in the classroom will only amplify teacher anxiety and reduce use.
BYOD diminishes the otherwise enormous potential of educational computing to the weakest “device” in the room
Some educators are excited by using “technology” to teach things we have always wanted kids to learn, perhaps in a more efficient fashion. My work is driven by an understanding that the computer is an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression that makes it possible for children to learn and do things in ways and domains unthinkable or unavailable just a few years ago. Such empowerment is impaired when educational practice needs to be limited to the functionality of the least powerful device.
BYOD contributes to the growing narrative that education is not worthy of investment
We reap what we sow, educators who placate those who slash budgets by making unreasonable compromises at the expense of children, will find ever fewer resources during the next funding cycle. Education must not be viewed as some competitive, commercial, “every man for himself” enterprise that relies on children to find loose change behind the sofa cushions. Democracy and a high quality educational system requires adequate funding.
Oh yeah, check out the brand new Macbook Pro, iPhone, iPad and high-def video camera being carried by the tech coordinator who decided that students should be happy with whatever hand-me-down devices they might scrounge. Let them eat cell phones!
It takes a special pitch to ask a school or school board to buy one of something for every student. You better make sure you ask for the right “device.” Kids need a personal computer capable of doing anything you imagine they should be able to do, plus leave plenty of room for growth and childlike ingenuity.
Of course teachers should welcome any object, device, book or idea a student brings to class that contributes to the learning process. Every thing a child brings to school in her heart, head or backpack is a potential gift to the learning environment. However, BYOD is bad policy that constrains student creativity, limits learning opportunities and will lead to less support for public education in the future.
This is video of Dr. Diane Ravitch’s address to the Save Our Schools March, July 30, 2011 in Washington D.C.
Other posts from the SOS March:
Here is my wobbly video of NYU Professor and Obama advisor Pedro Noguera’s steadfast address at the Save Our Schools March on Washington D.C., July 30, 2011.
Other posts from the SOS March:
“I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents. I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.” (Academy-Award Winner Matt Damon, March to Save Our Schools, July 30, 2011)
Matt Damon is one of the world’s most popular action-heroes, but you educators do realize that is make-believe. Right?
Saturday, July 30th, thousands of educators from across the country spent many hours in sweltering heat as part of the March to Save Our Schools. Leading educators, Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Jonathan Kozol, Pedro Noguera, Diane Ravitch and fed-up courageous Texas school superintendent John Kuhn inspired the crowd.
The demands of the march were unequivocal:
- Equitable funding for all public school communities
- An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation
- Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies
- Curriculum developed for and by local school communities
I had a front row perch. Matt Damon is a real mensch. He flew all-night from a film shoot in Vancouver to stand with public school educators on behalf of their jobs, dignity and the critical importance of public schools to a democracy.
That is precisely the problem.
Washington D.C. is less than a day’s drive from hundreds of thousands of teachers. Why was Matt Damon fighting for their profession while they stayed home?
There are well-funded powerful forces out to destroy public education and deprive educators of their livelihoods. Despite this, most educators remain silent and defenseless. The “bold ones” fantasize about Twitter saving the world while their dignity, expertise, paychecks and pensions are being attacked.
Educators, if you will not stand up and take care of yourselves, how can we count on you to care for other people’s children?
If you will not stand between students and the madness of “the system,” who will?
Matt Damon can’t save you. You need to be the action hero for America’s children!
Here is another fabulous video clip of Damon responding forcefully to questions from a Libertarian crackpot at the March.
Check out his comments on charter schools at 1:33
I just received the following email with the subject above. It’s a political critique of Governor Christie by my 13 year-old nephew, Mathew. I’ve posted it here verbatim.
That’s it Christie! I’m moving to Nauru!
Jonathan Kozol has never been afraid to take on big targets. His current best seller, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Education in America (Crown, $25) puts a spotlight on what he calls this country’s biggest education failure. Editor-at-Large Gary Stager spoke with Kozol recently about his latest work and how NCLB is widening, not closing, this gap.
Jonathan Kozol: There is no other word to describe with accuracy what’s happening right now. You know, in our urban public schools segregation has returned with a vengeance. The percentage of black kids who go to truly integrated schools has regressed to the level of 1968. I visit schools with 4,000 black and Latino students and, perhaps, 12 white kids and 6 who are classified as other. And to me, it looks exactly like the photographs from Mississippi 50 years ago.
In the South Bronx school I visit, 99.8 percent of the children are black and Latino. So I suppose technically you could say 2/10 of one percent mark the difference between legally enforced apartheid in the South 50 years ago, and socially and economically enforced apartheid in most of these big city districts now, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Jonathan Kozol: First of all, we need to have urban schools that are so good that they will not be abandoned by white people, and this is impossible without equitable funding. Until we have equitable funding for our urban schools, there’s no chance in the world that white people in large numbers are going to return. So in the short run, the struggle is for not just adequate resources. I don’t like that term, because I think adequate is an ambiguous word. But for genuinely equitable resources at the level of the highest and big suburban districts in this country.
Now in California, some people mistakenly think it’s different because, you know, there is officially a degree of equity in the California schools. But in reality this isn’t so because the affluent school communities in California raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, privately to subsidize their schools.
Jonathan Kozol: We need an entirely new structure of school finance in this country. It should not depend on local property wealth, nor should it depend on the unpredictable dribbles of state funding that allegedly are intended to equalize, but don’t. Nor should it depend on private initiatives.
These kids do not go to school in America to be the citizens of Sacramento or Albany or Boston. They don’t go to school to be citizens of California or North Dakota either. They go to school to be citizens of the United States.
And ultimately I predict that by the end of the century that we’re beginning now, we will do what almost all modern developed Western societies do, which is to finance the education of every child in our nation on an equitable basis, out of national resources. All the money spent for public education in America ought to come from federal taxes that are equitably distributed with adjustments only for greater or lesser costs of living in various sections of the nation and the greater educational needs of certain children. In fact, we are seeing the stirrings of a movement in that direction, even in this conservative era.
In my book I support and endorse a constitutional amendment to establish a high level of equitable funding for education as a national entitlement of all children in this country. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has introduced such an amendment, and now he has a very large number of co-sponsors. We just did a press event together in Washington the beginning of the book tour. The practical question isn’t will that amendment pass because it won’t immediately. There’s no chance, in the [current] political climate. We have to build a political climate in American in which such a constitutional amendment can be passed and ratified.
It is in the long run not simply a matter of simple justice, but it’s also a matter of national self-interest. That’s why I suspect it will come to pass within the next 100 years. I’d like it to come sooner, rather than later. I mean especially now that the federal government has intervened in local schooling to a degree that it never dared to do before. We’ve got a virtual national test, to some degree national textbooks. And we have a virtual national testing system, and when we apply to college, we’re competing with kids in all cities and all states, not just our own district.
Jonathan Kozol: The Bush administration has nationalized punishment, but not nationalized equal opportunity. NCLB is sort of the nationalized system of giving school administrators anxiety attacks.
It’s a nationalized system of substituting test prep for learning. It’s a national system of measuring the worth of children, only by their scores in the narrow range of topics that we measure. It offers no national provision for fiscal equity. In fact, it has diminished equity because the lowest performing schools are spending enormous portions of their budget in order to comply with the stipulations of NCLB.
For example, I know schools in which the principal would dearly love to be able to provide every teacher with a wonderful classroom library. These real literary treasures are found almost always in good suburban schools. And that costs a lot of money. [But] if they don’t meet their AYP in two years, they are obliged instead to spend that money to hire companies like Princeton Review or Kaplan to tutor the kids for examinations. In some districts, because we have the damage of cheating, like in Houston and several other Texas districts, the school systems are being obliged actually to create a new profession–anti-cheating monitors.
Jonathan Kozol: And more important, is the loss of time. Up to a quarter of the teacher’s school year is now spent drilling the kids for the exam, instead of teaching them subject matter. In most of the schools I visit there’s at least one assistant principal, sometimes several personnel, are assigned full time to monitoring tests. Do you know what I mean?
Jonathan Kozol: Let me say, this book is not written from a think tank. This book has been written from the first-grade classrooms and from the offices of principals. And in many cases, from the late night, dinner tables where I talk with superintendents. After two glasses of wine, they’re very honest and blunt and they pour out their hearts to me. NCLB has far from equalized opportunity for minority children or poor children. It has lessened their opportunity by diverting so much of the school’s financial resources to practices that have nothing to do with learning, but everything to do with measuring.
Jonathan Kozol: Well look, first of all, my heart goes out to the superintendents of these urban systems. I’ve been very close to many, many superintendents, probably several dozen of the people who now run our major schools.
Because I’m an old teacher, my first identification is with teachers, but I’m very close to many of the principals and the superintendents, especially those who have treated me with unusual trust and camaraderie. I’ve very grateful for that. Some never vent their passions while they’re in office, others do. In my book, I cite Duncan Pritchett, a superintendent in Indianapolis, who excoriated present policies in this nation, especially the charter school movement, which is favored by the White House. I asked him if I could I quote him by name because Indianapolis is a very conservative part of the country and he said, basically, “You know, if we don’t speak out, who will.”
I was just up in Seattle for several days, where I was honored to be introduced to a huge crowd by David Engle, the former principal of a high school who resigned in protest when Seattle began to be resegregate its schools. This was because of the NCLB issue, but this was a related issue. After he had the courage to do this 18 of the other school principals in Seattle wrote a public letter supporting his courage. He also said to me basically, “You know, if we won’t speak out and act on our convictions, how can we expect our students ever to do so?”
I say again and again, I think being an urban superintendent is the hardest job in America. I often think this job was invented so that one man or woman could die for our nation’s sins.
So I understand the pressures they face. What has happened is they have been bludgeoned and bullied not just by NCLB, because this started really more than a decade ago. It really began with–in the era of Bill Bennett, that exemplar of high morality–started excoriating our administrators and disparaging our teachers. They’ve been bullied and bludgeoned, not only by political figures such as Mr. Bennett and then, most recently, by Secretary Rod Paige. But they’ve also been terrorized by local business interests, business CEOs who want the schools which poor children attend to take on a more exclusively corporate agenda by training these children for the kind of entry-level jobs they have available. They don’t bring that pressure to bear on suburban schools by the way. And so these superintendents are under the sword, and they pass that anxiety onto the principals, and then the principals …
Jonathan Kozol: They are terrorized and it’s at that point that the principals say to the teachers, “Look every minute of the day must be on task. Here is our school improvement plan.”
I’ve studied these documents with principals and, frankly, they’re usually 9/10 gobble di gook. They move around unassailable banalities into new configurations. And then they give principals timetables for achieving these objectives and there are too many. I mean, I’m one of the few writers who actually reads this stuff.
Others read the state standards. Then the school has to write its strategic reply to the improvement plan.
Jonathan Kozol: Yes. For example, I mean take a good old-fashioned word like, “skill.” You know, add three syllables, call it a proficiency, and then the accountability technicians just melt into a pool of satisfaction that we’re willing it to be as pretentious as they are.
Jonathan Kozol: Good principals become less interesting human beings as a result, and they pass this on to their teachers.
In my book I quote one principal of a heavily test-driven school in Columbus, Ohio. And who at the very end of the visit, she took me by the arm and said something very poignant like, “I envy principals in suburban schools where they can teach critical thinking to their students.” She just touched my arm wistfully, you know. So an awful lot of very good people are being forced to do things they consider pedagogically harmful in order to cater to the strict accountability demands. And we’re gonna lose a lot of those people because a lot of the best principals tell me they are taking early retirement because they don’t like to betray their principles.
I mean our school systems work so hard to recruit these wonderful, young, idealistic teachers and they’re losing them within a few years. I’ve recruited tens of thousands of the brightest college graduates I meet–whether it’s at Berkeley or the University of Michigan, or Brown or at Harvard, or Amherst, to go into the inner city schools and teach. And they go in and they get certified, or they join Teach for America. Then within two or three years, they call me up at night and they cry and they say, “This betrays everything I believe. I’m being forced to train these kids and turn them into examination soldiers. This is not the kind of education I received, which enabled me to go to Berkley or Harvard.”
They describe it bluntly, as apartheid curriculum. It’s a desperation curriculum for children whom America doesn’t really value. So they quit, and they don’t quit because the job is too hard. They don’t quit because of the kids.
Jonathan Kozol: They love the kids. They quit because they cannot stand being obliged to essentially give up educating children and, instead, train them.
Last night in Portland, Ore., a wonderful teacher who taught three years in Seattle, and quit finally over the demand that she do scripted teaching in a test-driven school, broke down and cried in front of me. She cried for an hour. And she cried because she misses the students.
Jonathan Kozol: Oh absolutely. I mean I’m not excusing it. I don’t excuse a bit of it. I was just trying to explain it.
Jonathan Kozol: Yeah, the dynamics of what I call infectious anxiety. We do have to stand up to it. I mean if we won’t speak out, who will? We are the witnesses. We are the frontline witnesses. We see these kids everyday. We know very well that–I mean good principals and good teachers understand the major distinction that’s taking place in America now. They understand that we are educating the children of the privileged and most of the middle class to ask discerning questions, to read with comprehension and intelligent irreverence. To pose probing questions and to find intellectually capacious answers, while we are training another class of children, mostly minority, to perform predictably and provide answers that have been scripted for them in advance. So one class is learning to grow into politically sagacious and culturally rich adulthood. And the other is being trained to perform the least interesting and lowest paid economic functions in our society and essentially to accept the world order as it is dictated by the children of the privileged.
To me this is a bigger divide than the so-called achievement gap. It’s a larger gap than the achievement gap because it doesn’t have to do merely with, you know, how quickly you learn a constant blend, although that is important. It’s a much deeper thing. It doesn’t just have to do with your ability to fill in the right bubble on a high-stake exam. It has to do with your ability to function with authority and wise judgment in a democracy.
Jonathan Kozol: Well that’s not entirely true. That may be the case in parts of California because the state has impoverished itself to like the level of operating a third-world school system.
I disagree with those who believe that this is an infliction that’s universally distributed. In the very good suburban school systems that I visited repeatedly while I was writing this book, in order to make comparisons, I still see classrooms in which there’s a terrific and highly successful mix between good sequential disciplined and substantive instruction and a great deal of highly energized, exhilarating inquiry, question posing and sophisticated argumentation.
This is what these elementary school children need if they’re ever going on to high school and take demanding courses and then to college.
I think there’s a huge distinction to be drawn in this country. I regret this trend everywhere and good suburban administrators often tell me that the NCLB accountability demands are just a royal pain in the ass and have almost nothing to do with education. But they still know most of their kids are gonna do well, and so they are not in a state of terror and they still maintain good drama programs. Their students actually read literature. For God’s sake there are thousands of suburban high schools where apart from reading real literature, the1y also read books like mine.
Savage Inequalities and The Shame of the Nation are now being adopted by suburban high schools. So I think something very different is happening in the inner cities. I think we have not just apartheid schools, we have apartheid curriculum.
Superintendents whose intelligence I respect and have known for many years, like Superintendent Roy Romer in Los Angeles, bought right into this and I regret that very much. I think they should speak out. We need more people like Duncan Pritchett who will speak out bluntly, who will protest, who will put their jobs on the line. And I don’t think they should go on bended knee to the private sector. The private sector says we will be your partners, but it’s not a real partnership because the business CEOs tell the teachers, “This is what I need you to do to sharpen my corporation’s competitive edge.” The teachers are not given the right of saying to the business CEOs, “And here’s what I need you to do in order to tax people of your social class high enough to give us the schools we deserve.” So it’s not a real partnership.
Jonathan Kozol: Well, it depends on whether you mean long-term self-interest or short-term self-interest. Yes, wise business leaders know that over the long term it is to the advantage of business commerce and of the democratic society in which they’ve grown apart, to have a richly educated population. But in the short run, many business leaders, frankly, have written off the academic and truly intellectual potential of minority children and have prepared, instead, to train them to fill the bottom level rungs here in their corporations or factories while they educate their own children to address all the high order questions of society.
I hear this repeatedly when business leaders say to me, in the mistaken notion that I will agree with them, “I’m on your side Jonathan. I want to help you to train these kids so I can hire them for my entry level jobs.” And, you know, if I’ve had a glass of wine sometimes, I’ll look right in their eyes and I’ll say, “If you need entry level laborers, train your own kids for those jobs, educate the little ones I write about so they can be the CEO someday. Or if they want, they can turn their back entirely on your mercantile agenda.”
I say that all the time and some of them who agree say to me, “You’re right Jonathan, I made–I made a myopic short-term choice which ultimately betrays the essence of democracy.”
Jonathan Kozol: Yes.
Jonathan Kozol: OK. I think it’s too late in the day to waste time finding out how we got there. I think we need to use all the strength we have to figure out how to get out.
Jonathan Kozol: Well in that case, that principal was not at all typical of inner city principals. That principal was tyrannical and there’s nothing I could say that she would hear. I emphasize in my book, in a chapter called Treasured Places, that there are ways in which good principals can accede to the demands of the Federal government enough to survive, but simultaneously denounce the underpinnings of this agenda in a number of constructive and–and I would add–mischievous ways.
For example, here’s one way. You give the test because you have to give the tests, but you don’t tell the children that these tests measure their real value. You don’t tell the children that narrow area of learning that the test measures reflects their value to you as human beings or–or as little intellectuals.
You make certain that you do not allow test prep to interfere with education. You do not cordon off a quarter of the year before the exams. You refuse to allow this to be imposed on the youngest children. School systems have to bring these high stakes test in third grade under NCLB; some schools in desperation are starting much earlier, in first grade, in order to get ready for the test. I describe one district in California where they starting test-prep in kindergarten. The good suburban districts I visit absolutely flat out reject those practices.
They do not consider a kindergarten or first grade child uncompleted product into which value must be added by this kind of miserable agenda. I visit countless suburban schools in which children still are allowed to learn out of a thirst for learning, out of a fascination for learning and where the teachers are able to enjoy the company of children, without becoming drill sergeants for the state or branch managers for the corporations.
It’s the inner city schools that are under the sword of high stakes tests and low performance that this has become a tyrannical agenda and it is not closing the achievement gap.
Occasionally we’re told, you know, I’ve been watching this for 40 years and occasionally we’re told there’s a blip. Fourth-grade scores in reading look better this year. Then I meet the same kids four years later when they’re in the eighth grade, the same kids who allegedly made this 5 percent gain in scores in fourth grade. I meet them in eighth grade and they can’t write a cogent sentence or read a book with any element of comprehension.
If they can read it at all, they read it like phonetic drones. Then by the time they get to twelfth grade, the average black and Latino student in America reads at the level of an average white seventh grader. That comes straight from the Education Trust, which they say is a very politically moderate organization. So these are not real gains. These are testing gains; they are not learning gains. Real gains endure. False gains evaporate.
Every year or so there’s a new plan to turn it all around. You know, for some reason all these are always seven-point plans. I keep running into this and a school system says well we have a new seven-point plan to fix–they love the verb fix–to fix the segregated schools. Or seven scientifically proven ways to make the segregated schools work. Work and fix are the operative verbs. They’re technocratic verbs which imply that the prior problem of our separate and unequal schooling can be resolved in an auto body shop, you know, as a technical tune up of some sort.
My publisher even suggested that I end my book with a list of maybe seven things–a recipe. I didn’t write this book to provide America with a recipe for polishing the apple of apartheid schooling. I wrote this book to force good people in America to stand up and denounce the restoration of this kind of schooling and to simultaneously to denounce the apartheid curriculum that accompanies it.
If there’s one recipe in my book, it’s not, you know, like the better way to teach constant blends, although I do know a few better ways to teach constant blends. I’m a real teacher, you know, I taught phonics believe it or not. I have no problem with phonics.
Well the point is that we shouldn’t allow our commonsense as teachers or school officials to be distorted by the false polarities of these culture warriors who basically say “You know, you either use our strict, rigid scientifically proven phonetically fanatical approach, or else [you have] no value as a teacher.” That’s all. We have to resist these crazed extremes.
I go to great length in this book to recognize the dilemmas that school administrators face and to refuse to accept this false polarization between, you know, fanatical drill-and-kill on the one hand, and on the other hand kinds of mindless, random, euphoric education. I say that this is a false dichotomy. The best schools in America have developed and sustained a well-balanced mixture of–of good skill teaching and genuinely inquisitive, deeply intellectual learning in which there is still joy in the classroom.
I argue that our principals and superintendents, especially in inner city schools, should fight for that balance and refuse to be steamrollered by this juggernaut that’s bearing down from Washington.
Jonathan Kozol: Yeah. And they’re usually very bad schools.
Jonathan Kozol: That’s right. I don’t think I was the first… I’m sure there were some teachers who asked that question–if they’re given the time to ask any question, you know.
Jonathan Kozol: Well look, in the case of the Thurgood Marshall School in Seattle, the principal, who’s African-American, simply managed to convey the vague impression to the children that Thurgood Marshall is some kind of a manager. OK. I learned that because the slogans manager and self-manager were all over the building.
When I sat down with a group of fourth-grade boys, who were some of the top students in fourth grade, none of them at first could tell me who Thurgood Marshall was. One thought that he ran a camp for boys, a summer camp. One thought he was some kind of a business manager. Only one, finally, told me he was a lawyer who tried to fight to make things more fair in America. And that answer came only after considerable prodding on my part.
But the principal was in a damnably difficult position. I mean what, in fact, could he say to these little kids? This was an elementary school. “Thurgood Marshall dedicated his entire life to the struggle to abolish schools like the one in which you will spend the next five years of your life.” Not too many inner-city principals would want to say that to their students.
We have forced the principals themselves to do all sorts of somersaults in order to avoid naming reality. However, at the high school level I think teachers and principals have an absolute obligation to open up these ironies explicitly to their students. Because by that age, at least some of the students, are well aware of the irony and they ought to be allowed to voice it.
I have tremendous admiration–my breath was taken away by a veteran teacher at the Martin Luther King High School in New York City, which is an overwhelmingly segregated school in the middle of a white middle class upscale neighborhood, right next to Lincoln Center. When she said to me, “If I’m teaching in a segregated school named Martin Luther King, I think my students have the right to know what he stood for.” She made sure they knew what he stood for and as a result, those students developed a very strong consciousness. At least many of her students, as a consequence recognized what I argue repeatedly in Shame of the Nation. Namely, that this nation has trampled the legacy of Dr. King, even while we celebrate his birthday every year. That we have ripped apart the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. That in reality, we are back to Plessy, because our schools are still separate, but they’re nowhere near equal.
I think these subjects ought to be opened up candidly in front of our students. And to be quite blunt about it, it may cause many of these students to be angry and to confront us intellectually. I know that it will liberate them to do some of the best writing they’ve ever done in their lives because for the first time they’ll be writing about something that …
Jonathan Kozol: … that matters to their heart and it’s something which comes out of their heart, rather than out of the over-structured mind of someone in Albany or Sacramento who’s making lists and standards. Most of the state standards are mediocre.
Jonathan Kozol: I’ll be honest, I came to teaching from a career in literature. I majored in English literature at Harvard. I wrote my thesis on Elizabethan poetry and I went to Europe and studied with older writers–older American writers. [including Richard Wright] Most of the standards are mediocre at best and jargon-ridden to a degree that is insulting to anybody who actually values the written word.
They basically move jargon around mindlessly. Try making a sonnet out of the standards published by the State Board of Education anywhere in the United States. I defy you to do it. So they made things efficient. They made it easier to measure everything empirically, but they have exiled aesthetics. They have abolished any semblance of respect for learning for it’s own sake, To compound all the other inequalities, they have made the school a joyless experience for children of color. We have to stand up and denounce this agenda. And we have to do it quickly and politically and vocally.
If the superintendents say,” It’s hard for me to do it, please do it on my behalf, Jonathan,” I’m willing to take that role. But, I want them to stand up beside me and defend me when sharp knives of the Heritage Foundation come out.
Originally published in the January 2006 issue of District Administration Magazine