Two years ago, Dr. Leah Buechley delivered a stunning address at Stanford University’s 2013 FabLearn Conference. In her speech, Dr. Buechley challenged MakerEd.org’s slogan, “Every Child a Maker,” in light of the lack of diversity displayed by a commercial entity often associated with its activities, Maker Media. (Note: The non-profit advocacy group, MakerEd.org and the company, Maker Media, share a founder and similar names, but are indeed separate entities regardless of any confusion in the marketplace.)

Dr. Buechley shared stunning statistics on the lack of diversity represented on the cover of Make Magazine (the flagship of the enterprise), the lack of editorial diversity in Make, and the cost of the most popular kits sold by MakerShed, the retail arm of Maker Media.

I highly recommend that you take some time to watch Dr. Buechley’s Stanford Talk.

These are not the words of a cranky critic. Leah Buechley is one of the mother’s of the maker movement (small m). She urged those with enormous capital, influence, and connections to take their mission of “Every Child a Maker” more seriously. A change in behavior needed to accompany this rhetoric in order to truly make the world a better place. Maker Media and its subsidiaries have gained access to The White House, departments of education, and policy-making discussions. With such access comes great responsibility. Every educator and parent has seen the pain inflicted on public education by corporations and other rich white men who view the public schools as their personal plaything.

Earlier this week, I wrote the article, Criminalizing Show & Tell, to tell the outrageous tale of a 9th grade young man who was arrested, cuffed, detained, and suspended from school for bringing his invention to class. He hoped his creativity would gain him support in a school culture hostile to his complexion, name and religious beliefs. In my article, I addressed the steps that must be taken to correct this abuse of power, deprivation of rights, and violation of sound education principles.

Since then, Ahmed Mohammed has become the cause célèbre of the Internet. Why, he got tweeted by @potus AND got his very own hashtag, #istandwithAhmed. What Ahmed has NOT received is an apology from the school district that brutalized him or the police force that wrongfully arrested him. In fact, the school district continued their victim-blaming in a letter to parents  and the Irving, Texas police chief thinks that his force handled everything perfectly as well.

But hey, he got a #hashtag! Case closed, right?

I don’t think so.

Makershed Stand with Ahmed

Home page of Makershed.com on 9/19/15

This morning I awoke to this tone-deaf email from Makershed announcing their Stand with Ahmed clock kit sale. Worst of all, only 3 of the 12 clocks are actually on-sale.

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.51.08 AM

Sale page on the Makershed web site 9/19/15

If tasteless isn’t your style, how about sweet?

My social media stream is full of postings like this one.

Ahmeds cash and prizes

Hooray! Ahmed is getting lots of presents. Who doesn’t like presents?

A few pesky questions remain:

  • Who will buy all the plane tickets Ahmed and his parents need to meet the folks wishing to pose for photos with him?
  • Will his school punish him for missing class?

Oh, that’s right. He doesn’t have class because:

  1. Ahmed was suspended for not bringing a bomb to school.
  2. The intolerant culture of his school is forcing him to change high schools.

Neither social justice or the right to a high-quality public school education free of brutality and intolerance can be exchanged for exciting cash and prizes.

Ahmed’s growing gift bag of goodies will do nothing to cleanse the Irving, Texas schools and community of its toxicity, xenophobia, Islamophobia, or racism. The misbehaving adults will not have their behaviors addressed.

Where does a fourteen year-old boy go to get his childhood back?


Veteran teacher educator, journalist, and speaker Gary S. Stager, Ph.D. is the co-author of Invent to Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroomcalled “the bible of the maker movement in schools” by the San Jose Mercury News.

S.T.E.M. is every politician’s favorite acronym. The White House held a Maker Faire. Barnes and Noble stores will soon be hosting Mini-Maker Faires and next week’s World Maker Faire NYC expects over 100,000 attendees sharing and celebrating personal ingenuity, engineering, creativity, and invention.

The maker movement is being touted as education reform, a matter of national security, and resurrection of the American manufacturing economy. We are told that we need to prepare kids for S.T.E.M. jobs and help them love math and science.

Against this backdrop, Ahmed (Texan for, “We’re all gonna die!”) Mohamed was detained, suspended, and arrested in handcuffs for bringing his homeade clock to school. He thought his teachers would be impressed by his handiwork or be proud of him. Boy was he wrong. (Read the rest of the story here via Washington Post)

This adolescent reign of terror began when Ahmed showed his clock to his Engineering teacher. That teacher knew it wasn’t a bomb. When the clock beeped during English class, he showed it to the English teacher who confiscated it. She knew that Ahmed had not brought a bomb to school. Nowhere in the story is any threat or violence insinuated, but that didn’t stop the school from calling the cavalry.

During 6th period, Irving’s own Thomas Edison was pulled out of class by the school principal.

“They took me to a room filled with five officers in which they interrogated me and searched through my stuff and took my tablet and my invention,” the teen said. “They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’ I told them no, I was trying to make a clock. But his questioner responded, “It looks like a movie bomb to me.” (Washington Post)

At this point, the only charges that should have been filed are for racism and stupidity by school officials.

Yet, young “Kill-Whitey Antichrist” was handcuffed, dragged to the Police headquarters, and not allowed to call his parents or seek legal representation. Not wanting to be accused of being fair or rational, the high school suspended the innocent boy tinkerer for three days. That will teach his kind to be good at math!

During questioning, officers repeatedly brought up his last name, Mohamed said. When he tried to call his father, Mohamed said he was told he couldn’t speak to his parents until after the interrogation was over. (Washington Post)

So, let’s just stipulate that this was an act of racism and islamophobia.

How should this have been handled?

Let’s say that Ahmed’s teachers were a-scared. The lad could have been questioned in a civil fashion with his parents present while the Irving, Texas police force investigated the clock. If there had been a more serious threat, say, an actual “ticking time bomb,” the police could have still investigated before the parents left work and arrived at school. Surely, a city the size of Irving has the equipment, manpower, and expertise to examine a suspicious object. DFW, America’s 3rd busiest airport is in Irving, Texas!

Once the clock was determined to be – well, a clock. Ahmed’s school principal should have apologized to the student, given him two Pizza Hut gift certificates, and called an emergency faculty meeting to ensure that nothing this stupid ever happens again.

All systems go!

NBC-DFW reported that a police report released Tuesday cites a “hoax bomb” incident, listing three MacArthur High teachers as complainants against Mohamed. (Washington Post)

According to press accounts, the only system in the school to perform flawlessly was the one in which three “educators” conspired to frame a 14 year-old student within the blink of an eye.

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 11.20.42 AM

What Should Happen Now?

Now that MacArthur High School Principal Dan Cummings has lost this round of “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?”

  1. The suspension must be lifted and expunged from Ahmed’s record.
  2. The school district and principal must stop defending their actions.
  3. The entire administrative team and each of the three teachers involved must apologize to Ahmed publicly at an all-school assembly or perhaps at Friday night’s football game.
  4. Each school administrator and the three teachers who filed a complain need to write “I will not be a racist clown who hates children” 100 times on a sheet of paper.
  5. The police officers involved should be suspended without pay.
  6. If you think someone has a bomb, don’t ask them to hand it to you ala Wile E. Coyote. Run and call the police.
  7. Diversity and sensitivity training – blah, blah, blah…

Speaking of racism and islamophobia

Can you believe that the Washington Post calls the student “Muslim boy” at the top of their reporting?

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 11.31.58 AM

And here is just one of the racist tweets you might find online.

Update 9/16: The Irving School District and Irving Police standby their actions and refuse to admit that they did anything wrong.


Veteran teacher educator, journalist, and speaker Gary S. Stager, Ph.D. is the co-author of Invent to Learn – Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroomcalled “the bible of the maker movement in schools” by the San Jose Mercury News.

Gary was recently interviewed by the National School Boards Association for the June 2015 American School Boards Journal.

Read “The Best Makerspace is Between Your Ears.”

 

 

Kim Cofino recently convinced the Head of her international school to blog. Kim reached out to lots of folks and asked them to comment on his first post where he asked for advice. Since I was asked, I shared some of my views on school leadership for the future and on educational technology.

After my comments (below), I add some thoughts I should have included regarding the limitations of blogging. As always, your comments are welcome.

Dear Mr. Macdonald,

Welcome to blogging! Now you are a blogger! That was no big deal, right?

Blogging IS no big deal. It is just writing, but on the Web. Sometimes there is even an audience for what you write. I suspect that you will never receive as many comments as for this post and you may not even get as far as mine. Regardless, I took my assignment from your colleague Ms. Cofino seriously.

Blogging (and its social media cousins) are useful if you have a confessional nature and feel like sharing your thoughts with the world or if you need to have a question answered. It may also serve a utilitarian function in easily communicating with your school community. Blogging, like nearly every other school use of the Web, is essentially a literacy activity. One challenge for school leaders is finding ways to use computers to enhance the rest of what it means to be educated.

For example, Is “math” taught in a Pre-Gutenberg fashion at your school or has computation and the social sciences’ need for number transformed kids’ experience as it has radically reinvented real mathematics?

Regrettably, much of what is done in schools in the name of edtech or ICT is really just a form of “computer appreciation” The true power of the computer lies in its power as a computational instrument for constructing knowledge, the concretizing of formal ideas and the creation of artifacts in intellectual domains that would otherwise be inaccessible to children. This ability to use the computer to amplify human potential is only possible with awareness and teachers’ ongoing development of expertise. Leadership is critical for setting high expectations, asking “so what?” questions, supporting continuous growth of teachers and creating an atmosphere where the technology functions in the ways children expect – free of counter-productive, expensive and hysterical IT practices.

Leaders in the digital age need to redefine “new” and “progress.” New isn’t about what you buy as much as what your students DO. Progress isn’t measured by bandwidth, but when classrooms are less mind-numbing, soul-killing and time-wasting. Leaders need to recognize that young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity and find ways to make school more intense, without making it more chaotic.

So, blogging at least familiarizes yourself with an activity required of students. That’s the first step towards making sound educational decisions. Too many school leaders mandate that children do things that they themselves would never do or may never have even attempted. That isn’t leadership. Leaders also recognize that we stand on the shoulders of giants and that computing offers yet another attempt to realize the ideas of Dewey, Papert, Malaguzzi and other progressive educators.

Now, on to the actual nature of your questions…

The greatest challenge facing school leaders is to abandon the notions that 1) education is based on scarcity and 2) learning is the direct causal result of having been taught.

In the 21st Century, there is no reason for school to be concerned with creating winners and losers. Sorting, ranking, grading, labeling and classifying of students are destructive artifacts of a bygone era when access to education was scarce and limited to a privileged few. This is no longer the case. I won’t go into proving the plethora of examples to support this argument. I suspect you can find them yourself.

School in itself is a technology with benefits and consequences – affordances and constraints that dictate the experience of its inhabitants. In the future, your school will NOT have the monopoly on children’s time you currently hold. The challenge is to answer the question of why your students and teachers are co-located in the same space for X hours per day?

Leadership requires serious reconsideration of heuristics like homework, testing, grading and age segregation. These discussions need to be public and your constituents need to know where you stand or how you are thinking.

International schools are blessed with an embarrassment of riches and resources that most educators would covet. However, international schools also suffer from a number of self-inflicted constraints that are on the wrong side of history. Despite their independence, wealth, talent and outstanding facilities, many international schools refuse to innovate because they THINK it will be bad for business. That’s why they too many have discriminatory admissions policies, promise every parent that their six year-old is Harvard-bound and chase IB, AP and every other curricular fads that makes their schools indistinguishable. The prevalent assumption of international schools that kids with mobility will not miss a single day of the US, British or UK curriculum is folly and a noose around the neck of innovation. (The best schools have already abandoned centralized inflexible curricula like the AP while less secure schools grab on with both hands.)

Reflective school leaders know that this homogeneity of approach is ridiculous, unrealistic and ignores the diverse needs, interests and talents of children. Ultimately, it is also bad for the business of international schools.

In many places, you are in the catbird’s seat. If a parent needs a school for their English-speaking child, you may be the only game in town. Yet, far too many international school leaders lack the courage necessary to articulate a unique educational stance and say, “we do things differently for the following reasons…” If you have a waiting list, you do not have to pander.

I truly believe there is a significant market for schools that are not Oxford/Harvard Prep and designed for the children who are good at “doing school.”

Being a franchise of Oxford/Harvard Prep is no way to do good or to do well. That model makes your school more easily replaced by YouTube videos and online testing.

At the very least, school leaders should recognize that people learn differently and invest in some “school within a school” programs where alternative models may be offered to children and parents. Boeing spends billions annually on planes that never fly while schools spend almost nothing on R&D despite the constant rhetoric about innovation. My experience is that whenever parents are offered a chance at a different educational experience for their child, they will seize it. Alternative programs within your school serve as incubators of innovation and may drive future practice in ways you can’t possibly anticipate.

In summary, What if the policy of your school was to make every day the best seven hours of a child’s life?

Best Wishes on your journey,

Gary

I wish I had pointed out that it may be difficult for a new blogger to assess the expertise, point of view or bias of a commenter he/she doesn’t know. I should have warned the new blogger about the torrent of clichés and meaningless platitudes that fill blog comments just as they bog down most contemporary discussions of education. I should have warned of the “attaboy” responses awarded for simply blogging.  I should have mentioned that most commenters have little or no interest in the thoughts of the other respondents. Most of all, there should have been a discussion of whether or how much the blogger should respond to reader comments.

Education is in desperate need of real dialogue. Social media may be an imperfect vessel for mindful discussion.

The PBS documentary, Steve Jobs – One Last Thing, contains video (I believe from 1994) in which Steve Jobs offers the following advice.

“Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact and that is everything around you that you call life was made up by people who were no smarter than you.

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually, if you push in, something will pop out the other side – you can change it. You can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing.” (Steve Jobs)

(Photo credit: Johnathan Mak)

I am beyond thrilled to share the stage with Dennis Littky at this weekend’s TEDxNYED.

For those of you unfamiliar with Dennis Littky and his amazing work as a true school reformer and briliant educator, an interview I conducted for District Administration Magazine in 2005 is below.

After you read Dennis Littky’s book, The Big Picture: Education is Everybody’s Businesss, you MUST read Doc: The Story Of Dennis Littky And His Fight For A Better School. This recently republished book by Susan Kammeraad-Campbell may be the first education thriller ever published.


Radical Reformer

Dennis Littky drew on his 30 years of education innovation to create a new school model.

By Gary Stager – November 2005

Dennis Littky may be America’s most important educator. After three decades of leading major school innovation in New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, Littky, along with co-founder and co-director Elliot Washor, seems to have found the holy grail of school reform in Providence, R.I. Not only have they created a radical school design–Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, a network of six small schools across three campuses that personalizes each student’s education and prepares all 700 students for collegiate and professional success–that has enough success to prove that it works, but they are successfully “scaling up” this model in communities across the United States. As of last school year, there were 26 MET schools in operation and Thayer High School in New Hampshire was the first school in the Coalition of Essential Schools while Littky was its principal.

If all of this were not enough, Littky recently wrote a book, The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business, (ASCD 2004). In the book, Littky, 60, reveals the MET model through the profound learning stories of the students it serves. The book is a passionate testament to learners, learning and human potential. The author’s breezy style makes the powerful ideas he shares easily accessible to education stakeholders.

“I think it’s a comment on the world we’re in that simply by being kind and knowing the kids and greeting them is something that stands out.”
Fast Company magazine recently named Littky its No. 4 Entrepreneur of the Year and the Gates Foundation has provided a nearly $10 million grant to help create 38 small, urban high schools in the next five years based on the Big Picture principles and pedagogy. Business leaders embrace Littky’s educational vision without requiring him to pander to their notions of schooling.

Editor-At-Large Gary Stager spoke with Littky recently, covering his philosophy, his future plans, how he operates in this day of NCLB and liability concerns, and whether his schools offer extra-curricular activities. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

How would you describe the MET in 30 seconds?
Littky: The MET is the school that truly takes one student at a time. An incredibly respectful place, meaning not just being nice to kids but [also] in the way it respects whatever they’re interested in.

The family is part of making decisions, whatever the kid is interested in, it starts from that kid. So in that sense I think it’s different than any other school and we do not believe that there is one curriculum that everyone has to know. A lot of people argue about that.

And then the structures are set up with a teacher following a kid in a small group for four years so you really get to know [the student] well. And we push that all the work be real, so it’s not [pretending] you’re interested in writing a paper on horses. It’s working with somebody around horses and finding something real that can be done. So I think it’s the deep respect allowing the kid in the family to build their own curriculum, follow their own interest and passions and to do it all in a real way so it’s not fake.

So how do you know they’re done–prepared for college, life or jobs?
Littky: That’s a great question because they’re never done, done with a project or done with school, ready to move on. You know in few of the ways we are pretty traditional, I mean there are kids who come to us that are very skilled, kids who come to us that could spend eight years with us. … Some kids do something very different their last year. … I was just with a kid yesterday who is doing a documentary as a senior project. I almost don’t consider our stuff school.

So it partly is the longer we can stay with kids, helping to support their learning and letting them grow is good. Kids ready to move on whenever they want to move on, they move on.

We don’t leave our kids after they graduate. One of the main things we do that we don’t even talk about that much is that I have a transition counselor. I involve the advisors after [graduation].

Last week we had an empty nest meeting with the parents of the kids who left because many of them are single parents, their best friend just left for school [college. They’ve] never had anybody in school. So your kid messes up. What do they say? “Come home honey.”

We’re with them forever, I have 10 kids now working back in our school in some capacity who graduated over the last four or five years.

So how do you convince colleges or employers that they’re ready?
Littky: Well, ready, of course, is relative, but because our kids are dealing with the adult world from freshman [year] on–having lots of adult mentors, making their phone calls, talking to customers, making presentations, they’re way more ready for the work world and getting stuff done.

The only way they’re ready for college is that the hope that most of them have this love for learning and want to continue. People ask me how do our kids function once they get in regular classes? The kids take college classes all through, they know some are [lousy], they know some are good. They’re pretty independent in their thinking and working so they don’t need to be guided. So, the good part and the bad part is there’s less tolerance of [lousy classes].

You know, we grew up to accept bad teachers. On one end you hope they put up with it and don’t drop out of school, on the other hand you want them to acknowledge that they’re being mistreated and disrespected.

You make the point in the book that the MET is not vocational. So with all the emphasis on internship and real-world things how does it remain non-vocational? How do you resist that temptation?

Littky: I believe that everything is hands and eyes, I’m not sure there is anything vocational anymore, things are changing too fast. And the reason we use the internship is not to prepare the kids to be an architect or a car mechanic. It is to find something they love that can engage them and get them to think and to explore new bigger things.

I have a quote in [the book] saying–and I love the quote–“The way to really teach people to be good thinkers is to let them learn anything in an in-depth kind of way. And if they do that then you change,” so that’s why it’s not vocational.

I don’t care what the kid’s going to do, but whatever they love, now that’s what I care about.

So what does a day or week look like at the MET?
Littky: Tuesday and Thursday the kids don’t come to school, they go right to their internship and for the advisors it’s not a time where they are in meetings or doing other things. The teachers are on the road during that time also. They’re visiting that kid at the architect’s office. They’re visiting that kid at the zoo. They’re trying to find the work that’s real work. They’re trying to make sure that every kid has their own learning plan. They’re trying to make sure that the goals they set are being met by the environment.

So in those days if you came to school and we took you to the hospital you would see kids doing blood tests, or see kids following around a doctor. At a computer place, they’re developing some programs for one of their customers. So really in the best-case scenario, they’re real workers in places where they’re not just filing.

How do you convince the partners, the mentors of that?
Littky: It’s been way, way, way easier than people expect! One, adults love to have some teenager that loves what they love and they don’t they have to take home at night. And their own kids don’t give a [darn] about what they do, so they become very attached to our kids. Mentors who have been there for four years are given an honorary teaching degree at graduation. They’ve really been there [for the students] so that has not been the problem really.

Then Monday, Wednesday and Friday kids come to school in the morning and we all start the day with what we call a “pick-me-up.” Our schools are only 120 kids each and the whole school is together and you may have someone reading poetry, you may have a kid talking about their trip, you may have someone showing a video they made. There’s something to broaden the kids and start the day in an up way. Then they go to an advisory, every kid belongs to one to 15 in our case, one to 17 in California, a group that meets every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for four years.

And that advisor/teacher is really in charge of their whole program. So on that day they could be reading a paper about what does it mean that Arafat died, what does that mean for us? They’ll be talking about the election … The main textbook is each kid has a calendar book, they’ll be walking around, “What’s your schedule for the week? Who are you meeting with? When are you working?’ So that advisory period goes on about a half hour. Then the kids are kind of on their own, small groups, individuals having their meetings, teachers moving around helping them saying, “C’mon I want to edit that paper with you. Jimmy go work with Sam on this.”

And the paper is related to the internship?
Littky: That’s right, the projects are all related to a Hispanic kid, his writing, doing a brochure in Spanish for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. There are a lot of Spanish people in Providence. Somebody else is doing a presentation at CVS Drug Stores, they’re doing PowerPoint. Somebody else is researching a project for an architect. So, in the best-case scenario, I describe it like looking like a newsroom. People moving around and working.

To me that’s what’s so exciting. When I bring people to school I say, “Look, you don’t see teacher out here,” the kids are on the computer, they’re moving around, kids are asking for help because they have something real that’s got to get done. Then they have lunch together in a regular way and then again they’re out doing their individual small group work with a teacher moving around and then they come back together at the end of the day for a half hour, kind of summing up what they’re doing, making sure they know what they’re thinking about doing at night.

The teacher doesn’t assign homework, it’s on the individual, “Hey I got to present this manual to the guy at the hospital tomorrow, how do I do this?” So that’s kind of the week and the exciting part, which keeps our attendance the highest in the state in all our schools is it’s different every day. You know there’s something new all the time.

And the kids collaborate?
Littky: The kids collaborate so they have other teachers work with them, like they say, “I don’t know much about this area.” “Go see Rachel over there so.”

The expertise is distributed.
Littky: It truly is a learning community. It’s about using lots of adults. We have six schools there. Yesterday I was at the Oakland school and there’s this group pushing kids to get a voice through reading and they were all running book groups, so the teachers didn’t have to do that. They were working on something else.

So it’s looking at what a kid needs, looking around and saying, “How do we get them there?” A lot of our kids take college courses; you find an interest.

So how do you deal with the more mundane things like liability, ADA, certifying that they’re ready to graduate; all the sort of legal stuff that everyone gets hysterical about?
Littky: Well the world has become a tougher place to do our work since No Child Left Behind. You do whatever you need to do. We don’t have grades. Students do an hour-long exhibition every quarter, ninth grade on. Teachers write a page or two narrative on it, kids write notes and self-evaluations. But then when it’s time to go to college we translate that into a transcript. So we’re not stupid, we know colleges aren’t going to look at 16 narratives.

And our transcript has our four English classes. They’re just done in a different way, so as long as you can translate it. … You force your state to be a little more performance-based within as much structure as you need. If you’ve got to call the morning advisory something else, you call it something else. You’re covered by child labor laws and our kids are working regular internships in places It’s not so difficult.

So do you think there are lessons in MET for elementary schools?
Littky: Yeah, absolutely.

The thinking is always that the high school has so much to learn from the elementary schools.

Littky: Yeah. The best kindergarten class is built around kids’ needs. Find out what that kid needs, getting along with others, learning how to do blocks, learning how to read and then we seem to forget and everybody is the same in third grade. I think elementary schools need to look at [what they do] too.

But again, how do you make it real? We have a few elementary schools and we started a charter school in Providence. How do you make it real for a third grader? It’s like a visit to a fish place, it’s like going to a museum, how real is your community? But again, you know those young kids have creative, great ideas for inventions that do stuff; they just get it knocked down. And if you do it right, I mean and in the younger grades this is even more important. Kids got to learn to read and so you’ve gotta just keep pushing that, but if you find stuff kids are interested in then that’s how you teach them to read. I think our ideas are applicable all over the place.

Where do you get teachers from?
Littky: Well, that’s a hard one because our teacher training institutions are obviously not training teachers to work in Big Picture schools.

What are they training for?
Littky: They are training them to stand up in front of a room and lecture for high schools. And they’re spending time on how do you discipline kids? How do you control the class? Making sure you know all this content. … So most of our people who’ve gone through teacher training programs are not very well trained for, “Stop a second. Listen to the kid. Look at the kid. What connects? What kind of project?” So one, we do a tremendous amount of training ourselves. Every summer we have something we call working camp where we bring the freshman in.

You’re working them two, three hours and then you’re understanding what does it really mean to follow your passion, what does it really mean to get an internship? When we bring the whole staff together for another two weeks, we have every month a day where we step back and really look with a couple meetings during the week. So it just becomes this ongoing teacher-training piece and sometimes some of your good people didn’t even come from teaching. They come from other places that think about kids and have that respect for kids.

Our teachers need to be people who have a lifelong learning within themselves, an excitement about learning because they’ve got to be excited about helping you go further. They’ve got to be smart enough in the broadest way. So it’s mostly trying to find the kind of people that feel this in their heart and then we have to train them through the years.

So how many MET Schools are there now?
Littky: Twenty-six.

How do they get started?
Littky: One starts one by finding somebody with the power who says, “I want one of these.” We start them all different ways. So it could start from the superintendent in Oakland saying, “I want one of these,” or it could be somebody saying, “I’d like to start a charter school like this.”

Somebody said they want to do a charter and use our materials. If they get that charter and have a building, they can come to us. We’ve been going to a lot of districts that say they want us. And then we together select a principal. We feel that’s the key and then we train that person. We have what we call “TYBO,” The Year Before Opening, and we train those people on and off for a year. So it’s not like, “Okay, August, congratulations you’re on, let’s go.” A year beforehand we’re visiting the school, I’m working with some people.

Go observe a learning plan, then go out and do your own. Get ready to teach your own staff. How do you recruit back in your area? How do you get a building so we [can] work with people for a year getting them ready to go. Then we send coaches out, we’ve got materials online, we’re now starting video conferencing. But it can also start with women in Santa Monica just started following Elliot and I around. You know we kept putting them off, putting them off and then we’re talking about starting a school there.

So what is your goal?
Littky: Our goal is to have no more than 50 schools and to try to build a network so they can support each other and be here in 20 years and be a model for others. Not that someone has got to do the exact thing, but if you were designing a school you may say go there and look at how they do internships. We can’t do this, but let’s make our senior year [different]. So we’re looking to change the world in the way of having a model design that can help people as you say go further and further in their work.

What’s the involvement of the Gates Foundation?
Littky: Well, Gates has given out money to start schools so we’ve been very fortunate to use their money to hire coaches to develop our Big Picture Online and to train principals. They’ve made it possible to do it.

I am very grateful to Gates, I think we should all be very grateful to Gates because in these tough times they have been one of the lone few that have supported something very different than the mainstream in this country. So the fact that they’ve given out $600 million, or however much it is, to people to do small, personalized schools is real positive. My worry is always about quality and sustainability.

You know we’re in our ninth year at the MET and just getting to our full capacity, we just got our buildings a year and a half ago, so this stuff takes time. When people used to look at me and say, “Oh you’ve got such small schools, how are you going to attack the districts?” I felt like saying, “It’s taken a hundred years to screw up our education system, it’s not going to be cured overnight.” Now I can do this 100-year plan that says, “Of course none of us are that patient, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Funding the Big Picture is at odds with current educational practice.
Littky: Correct.

So is that an accident or does the Gates Foundation have an actual dog in the fight?
Littky: No, I think two things that are rather interesting; I think Tom Vander Ark who was given the right even more so at the beginning to go find the movers and shakers to do this, had the right philosophy and found the right people regardless where the world was going.

He sought out people who were doing this kind of stuff, pressures of the world might be starting to change that, but I think it’s no accident that there are a lot of good groups that a lot of my friends, colleagues, got funded during this time. I don’t think it was an accident.

So how does your school deal with things like extracurricular activities and the other stuff that becomes synonymous with secondary education?
Littky: The baseball team is 0 and 30. No we don’t have it, and I get asked for one every day. And we do have proms, I guess everyone’s got their line you know. There are things that kids really connect to a high school in a way and really want and if you feel it will not take away from the main reason you’re there, then we go with it. The yearbook is something that’s very important to us. A prom was something very important to us.

Those are both things you see at the school all kind of run by the kids. Big-time sports, which were important to me personally, are hard to do when kids are working late, with internships etc. So we have managed to do intramurals. We have managed to have kids that want to play in a city league come at 6: 00 in the morning and practice. And if a kid wants to play big-time sports because that’s their passion, and we usually have one a year, they’re allowed to play at another school.

You know we talk about school going on all the time, so everything a kid does counts in a way. So we’re doing a thing this year, I’m struggling with it, but I’m keeping ninth graders till 5 p.m. So rather than going after school I just extended the day so there’s more of an option and time to do stuff.

Why are you doing it?
Littky: Well, 3 to 5 is the most dangerous time of the day. Ninth graders are usually pretty bored. So it’s just extended time to be able to either play with tutoring, to be able to give them a support environment, to do dance, to do those kinds of things. But I kind of look if they’re playing on a church team, that’s part of it. If they’re taking dance lessons someplace, go for it. We’re trying to get our kids to be active learners and engaged as much as possible.

You told a story in the book that resonated with me. I’ve seen variations on it a hundred times. You became nationally famous because you and your teachers greeted kids in the morning. Can you share some of your feelings about the reaction to such a gesture?
Littky: Well, I always say it’s pathetic–the standards we have out there. There was somebody, I think it was one of the Disney Teachers of the Year on one of the talk shows …

The 75 rules?
Littky: No, no, this one was somebody said, “I know every teacher’s name in high school.” “Oh my gosh that’s fantastic!” or “I know all my kid’s names!” “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, it should be the other. “Oh my gosh we’ve been talking about it.” And so it’s just I think a comment on the world we’re in that simply by being kind and knowing the kids and greeting them is something that stands out. You know it’s like school has gotten to be such an impersonal place, the people have no idea how learning is connected to understanding who the kid is. So it’s laughable actually.

How did we get to this place?
Littky: I’m not that old but I think, I don’t know. The first page of my book I define what is learning. And I was thinking about it in terms of that’s the difference? We don’t have a definition in this country on what is learning. There is the famous quote that Bush’s grammar was a little incorrect when he said, “He wished–no he used instead of he and she he used he and her, but it says he wants kids to learn to read so they can pass the literacy tests.

So that has become our goal, not to read well, not to use what you read, but to pass the literacy test. So, I think until the country either gets a little more together on what they think is important for human beings, how to help people be mindful, or to have enough choices so people can decide this is who I want my child to be so I want to send her there, we’re in trouble.

Gary Stager, gary@stage.org, is editor-at-large and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University.

Explaining MET

  • Each MET school consists of no more than 120 students in advisories of no more than 15 to 17.
  • Each student works with the same advisor and peers for their entire secondary education.
  • Two days each week, MET students do not go to school. They do community-based internships with mentor experts in the student’s area of interest. The curriculum for the remaining three days is based on whatever the student needs to learn in order to succeed in their internship.

MET facts

  • The Met’s math scores jumped from a three-year average of 38 to 68 in 2004, a 79% increase.
  • The Met’s English/Language Arts scores rose from a three-year average of 64 to 79, a 23% increase.
  • The Met exceeded the No Child Left Behind goals set for Rhode Island in 2007.
  • On average, The Met had 18% more students profi cient in math and 14% more students proficient in English/Language Arts than the three largest Providence high schools. 94.2% graduation rate (one of the highest in the state) The state average is 81.3% and the Providence average is 57% for the city’s three largest high schools 93.3% attendance rate (one of the highest in the state) The state average is 89.5% and the Providence average is 77% for the city’s three largest high schools #1 in the state Parent Involvement1
  • The Met: 88 State Average: 41 Measures how involved parents feel in the school and how comfortable they are with teachers and school environment #1 in the state School Climate
  • The Met: 79 State Average: 68 Measures school safety, respect between teachers and students, student behavior in class #3 in the state Instruction
  • The Met: 61 State Average: 38 Measures teachers’ skills and support from school #1 in the state Teacher Availability (academic)
  • The Met: 76% High School State Average: 46% Percentage of students who feel they can talk to a teacher about academic issues #1 in the state Teacher Availability (personal)
  • The Met: 63% High School State Average: 18% Percentage of students who feel they can talk to a teacher about personal or family problems 1 Data on parent involvement, school climate, and instruction (from 2004), highest score = 100

peter-garrett1In the current world of education policy, nothing succeeds quite like failure.

Traditionally, Australia’s newly elected Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, “should” be pro-teacher and public education, but in a strange twist of politics much like the way Obama treats public education, she too will do irreparable harm in the name of meaner tougher “reform” and greater accountability.

Gillard LOVES all of the failed educational policy fantasies of her buddy and mentor Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools – merit pay, Teach for Australia, standardized testing, public reporting of deeply flawed teacher accountability measures, insulting and shaming educators.

Now, just like President Obama, Prime Minister Gillard has now pointed someone with dubious credentials to lead the nation’s schools. Arne Duncan played basketball for the Launceston Ocelots and other defunct Australian basketball teams and Australia’s new education minister is wait for it – Peter Garrett.

If that name sounds familiar, you may recognize Education Minister Garrett in this video.

Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper, The Australian, reports the following about Garrett’s appointment and qualifications.

THE minister pilloried for mishandling the $2.45 billion home insulation scheme, Peter Garrett, has been rewarded.

Julia Gillard has handed him the prestigious education portfolio.

Despite expectations Mr Garrett would be dumped from cabinet, he received one of the biggest promotions in the ministry, progressing from being an environment minister with diminished responsibilities to become Minister for Schools, Early Childhood and Youth…

The school sector was cautious over the appointment, with some concerned Mr Garrett’s environmental stance would align him with the Greens, who oppose government subsidies for private schools; others questioned his ability to manage the schools portfolio, given his problems with the home insulation scheme.

Opposition frontbencher Peter Dutton said he was “absolutely amazed” Mr Garrett had been rewarded. “He’s presided over deaths and fires in a program that probably has been mishandled like no other since federation,” he told Sky News.

Doesn’t this sound eerily like Arne Duncan being promoted to Secretary of Education after the spectacular job he did of “turning around” the Chicago Public Schools?

Further reading:

It’s Superbowl Sunday (Go Saints!) and I just saw the first of what will undoubtedly be many public service Play60announcements for Play 60, the NFL’s campaign to encourage play.

Are there children averse to play? Seems to me that play is the natural state of children.

So, who stole play? Is a play-eating virus ravishing our nation?

The real enemies of play are the folks who set school policy from the President of the United States down to some local school principals. That’s who is responsible for turning classrooms into joyless test-prep sweatshops free of recess, blocks, dress-up corners and increasingly, even physical education.

For too many American public school students, playing 60 minutes per day is as big of fantasy as a Detroit Lions Superbowl threepeat.

Consider my nephews, named “94th Percentile” and “Exceeds Expectations.” They live in a community 40 miles from New York City. There has NEVER been recess in their elementary or middle schools. After a rushed 20-minute silent lunch ( school is about socialization, right?), the kids are forced to participate in some forced march, called “Walk/Run.”

Due to a 45-minute commute.  94th and Exceeds board the school bus at 7 AM and return home at dusk. They then rush through a meal with their parents, followed by an hour or two of their parents yelling at them to complete their meaningless homework and then bedtime. Sometimes, there’s even time for a shower.

What there isn’t time for is play – or trumpet practice, bike riding, answering their uncle’s email, reading a book, karate or Scouts.

Obama for Play 60My young nephews hear President Obama call for a longer school day and think he should lay off the Gummy Bears. He just can’t be thinking clearly!

Playing for 60 minutes per day is a swell idea. I think kids should play as much as possible – all sorts of play, not just sports. That’s how kids learn, create, develop interpersonal skills and become productive citizens. The NFL Play60 campaign targets childhood obesity. Could school violence and the epidemic of attention deficit disorders possibly be rooted in a lack of play?

It’s also ironic that the NFL is combatting childhood obesity while simultaneously encouraging teenagers to weigh 300 pounds and sign 13 year-olds to USC football.

In Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, John Taylor Gatto reminds us that one of the lessons of school is surveillance:

I teach children that they are being watched. I keep each student under constant surveillance and so do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children; there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child’s waywardness, too.

I assign “homework” so that this surveillance extends into the household, where students might otherwise use the time to learn something unauthorized, perhaps from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wiser person in the neighborhood. (Gatto, 1991)

We would not have to “Save the Music” or create a charity advocating childhood play if we adults did the right thing and cared for children! Why don’t we try that at least 60 minutes per day?


Resources:


Originally published in the September 2000 issue of Australia’s Hotsource online newsletter

I recently attended the American Association of School Administrators Conference. The wares being plied on the exhibit hall floor were at once both amusing and appalling. Everything being sold to the school superintendents was advertised as a solution. Next to the curriculum solution was the testing solution. Within walking distance you could find the technology solution and the vending machine solution. Why exert the effort required to solve education’s intractable problems? A solution to any problem could be exchanged for a purchase order.

Recently, the Logo list-serv, logo-l@gsn.org,** was the site of a discussion begun by teachers in search of Logo workbooks and clip-art to be used in Logo projects. While slightly disappointing, this discussion is not unexpected. Teachers have been conditioned to follow lesson plans prepared far from their classrooms and their newfound enthusiasm for Logo leads to the inevitable quest for ancillary materials. Logo is not about solutions. It’s about problems – good hard ones.

Instead of dismissing the concerns of these teachers I think we should spend some time responding to their perceived and actual needs.

In Search of Ideas

Logo-using teachers do not need workbooks, worksheets, or multiple choice tests. They need good ideas, courage and permission to use their imaginations and value the interests of their students. There are not enough good books about learning Logo, Brian Harvey’s series, Computer Science Logo Style 1-3, is among the best ever written, but it is of little help for a beginning MicroWorlds user. The standard Logo books require enough translation of the Logo syntax to make the transition to MicroWorlds difficult. Adults interested in learning MicroWorlds would be well-served to spend the time working through the project booklets provided by LCSI. They should be encouraged to experiment with and extend the ideas in those student booklets. Teachers can also learn more in workshops and from colleagues online. HotSource, SchoolKit and the Logo Exchange journal are good sources of additional project ideas.

Children can learn a great deal from these carefully designed projects as well. They will quickly master the elementary programming skills introduced and should then apply this knowledge in service of their own project ideas. Logo is not intended to follow a prescribed scope and sequence-style curriculum. Logo, by its very nature, is anti-curriculum which in no way means that it may not be used to serve the school’s curriculum.

Teachers need to trust the skills, experience and imagination of kids and use Logo to enrich the learning process. If kids develop sufficient Logo fluency, they will be able to enrich a curricular topic with graphics, text, animation, interactivity and multimedia elements. This should become natural and expected of students with appropriate access to computers.

Those teachers interested in using Logo beyond the boundaries of the traditional curriculum should follow the interests and talents of their students? What would the kids like to design in MicroWorlds? Conduct a technology survey. Ask yourself sorts of video games, computer programs, web pages do you find in the community? What sorts of simulations could be built to concretize an abstract concept or historical event? Once you and your students have a problem-solving goal, start working towards solving it. Remember that one of the strengths of Logo is the ability to solve a problem in a number of ways. Share the knowledge, talents and breakthrough discoveries of your students within your community of practice and seek assistance from the online Logo community when necessary.

Clip-Art

The question about using clip-art in a learning project is a bit more complex. As a general rule, kids should draw, paint, photograph or record any content required by their project. Illustrations too complex to be created on the computer may be scanned from traditional media into the computer. Original work should be the educational goal. It also eliminates any questions about copyright. I am horrified by the school reports consisting of photocopied illustrations from encyclopedias and am no more impressed by cut-and-paste reports created via World Wide Web plagiarism.

The issue of when to use clip-art is primarily a matter of balance. Ask yourself what the primary educational goal of the project is. If your students are developing sophisticated mathematics and computer science knowledge through the design of an interactive card game, then the educational outcomes far outweigh the virtue of hand-drawing 52 different playing cards. In that case, find some graphics on a CD or the web and paste those graphics in the turtle’s shape centre. If students are using MicroWorlds to tell a story, simulate a scientific concept or report on a historical event, they should design their own graphics (perhaps in collaboration with others).

The same logic applies to the use of music and audio in student projects. Narrations and simple musical accompaniment should be prepared by the learner. When a recording by Churchill is required, use the real thing – unless of course you think the kid would benefit from learning the speech and recording it herself.

Kids should be encouraged to derive satisfaction from their own creativity and not be compared to professionally created products. The neurotic needs of teachers craving error-free teaching should not be allowed to interfere with the learning and creative expression of their students.

Go on try something new. Take some risks. I dare you!


**site may no longer be active

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Dale Carnegie era is well and truly over. American republican democracy is at great risk when one party, the Democrats, hone their skills at winning friends and influencing people while their rivals employ the scorched earth techniques of birthers, tenthers, 9-12ers, deathers and the other racist paranoid fantasies of Fox News performers and their followers. President Obama acts at our collective peril when he behaves as if there is a new politics.

Bill Maher’s latest “New Rules” commentary, “Float Like Obama, Sting Like Ali.” Is quite important and timely advice for not only the President, but citizens (even teachers) concerned with more rational and compassionate civil society.

Read the text of Maher’s advice here.

Watch him give the same advice here.