I’m occasionally accused of suggesting that Seymour Papert is the answer to every educational question. That may because over more than 40 years, my friend and colleague, predicted the future of education with impeccable precision, warts and all.

Don’t believe me? Check out this recently found Papert quotation.

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.

Sound familiar? That passage is ripped from today’s headlines!

Twenty years ago, a lifelong dream of visiting Australia was achieved. That was followed by my work leading professional development at the world’s first “laptop schools” and more than forty subsequent  trips to my second home, “downunder.”* In addition to having a paper accepted by the July 1990 World Conference on Computers in Education, that first trip to Australia was the first time I really got to spend a lot of time socially with Dr. Papert.

It was at that 1990 World Conference that Papert gave the keynote address including the words above. That keynote address has been published as Perestroika and Epistemological Politics and it is worthy of your attention. Here is another passage from that important speech.

I would suggest that one reason education reform has not worked is that it almost always treats these dimensions as separate and tries to reform one or another–the choice depending on who is doing the reforming. Curriculum reformers try to put new curriculum in an otherwise unchanged system but ignore the fact that the old curriculum really suits the system and reverts to type as soon as the reformers turn their backs. Similarly, when reformers introduce new forms of management of the old approach to knowledge and learning, the system quickly snaps back to its state of equilibrium. And, perhaps most dramatically from the point of view of people in this room, the same kind of process undermines any attempt to change education by putting a lot of computers into otherwise unchanged schools.


*I’m currently in Australia keynoting a conference, working with the South Australia Department of Education and as a Visiting Scholar at Trinity College – University of Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Maher, March 12, 2010

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

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