Uber-edublogger Will Richardson recently published a blog post entitled, Valuing Change. In the article, he reiterated the frequent lament that teachers don’t “consider” or “value” change especially when the Web allows students to “connect outside of the classroom.” The who, what or why of connecting isn’t discussed.

Will’s article illustrates a teacher’s unwillingness to embrace change by showing how a topic like gerrymandering could be made more engaging through the use of information technologies. Will recognizes the challenges facing teachers and offers an olive branch by suggesting that we can “do both” – teach what will likely be on the test and do so more meaningly.

It should come as no surprise that I disagree, especially given the example used.

As I write this, there are two dozen comments in addition to the few I contributed. Either blog commenters don’t consider the ideas of other commenters or my argument was not clear enough.

Perhaps, as much as you would like it to be otherwise, the incrementalism of “doing both” is really the problem.

Why would you Skype someone involved “in the process?” What process? Who? State legislators? What are they likely to tell a student that can’t be found out in a book or article?

The connections you speak of, now matter how much you yearn for them may be as inauthentic as the task itself. Perhaps they just make a task nobody cares about even more arduous. The “you can use Google ____ or Skype with someone” suggestions have become as automatic and meaningless as when a politician says, “We need to pay teachers more, but hold them accountable.”

One of the lessons I learned from Seymour Papert (http://dailypapert.com) was that you cannot transform school just by changing teaching practices or even the technology used. You must rethink, challenge or reinforce the content of the curriculum. The “what” has a great deal of impact on the how and the why of learning something.

Papert once asked me, “What are you thinking about doing with the students next?” When I replied, “We were thinking of doing some geography…,” he shot back with, “And what can they DO with that?”

“Whatever you ‘teach’ kids should have a high liklihood of leading to the construction of a bigger question or a larger theory (NOW – not later), otherwise, why bother?”

Like so much of schooling, the topic of gerrymandering is really just a vocabulary exercise. Memorize the definition and move on. I’m not sure you can put lipstick on that pig.

I do not believe that it is possible to make schools more productive contexts for learning (the how we teach) without calling the curriculum into question (the what we teach).

When Will requested “The Stager Plan,” I replied…

If I wasn’t clear enough above, a substantial aspect of “The Stager Plan” includes expending some serious effort at every school to determine what is worth being taught.

Pedagogical strategies should reflect the content and the learning styles of students.

The ideas proposed for making gerrymandering more engaging only add false complexity to what is a vocabulary term, likely taught in isolation as the curriculum whizzes by.

My other concern is how we tend to reduce education to information access (or trading information) and how the emphasis on using computers as information appliances reinforces the status quo while depriving learners of authentic experiences.

In addition to commenters reminding us of the wonders of Web 2.0 technology, the author repeates the familiar cliché, “We need to use technology to get kids engaged in the curriculum, not just in the technology.”

Why is this so? Should teachers be so compliant and teach anything they’re told to, regardless of context or value?

Also, why is engaging with the “technology” so quickly dismissed as being inferior to the curriculum?

Here’s a thought experiment…

What if we DID do everything in our power to engage kids in the technology? (I don’t think you can engage someone else, but I’ll leave that aside)

This might be the first real engagement kids experience.

Learning computer programming might actually lead to different thinking, different thinking about thinking, student agency and provide a window for teachers into the intellectual capabilities of kids.

I wish there was a way for me to run a hands-on workshop for every teacher in the world during which they could experience the intellectual rigor and creative joy experienced while computing. Not only is this workshop necessary for teachers who don’t use “technology” in the ways Will’s post urges, but educators excited by Web 2.0 would do well to expand their computing fluency as well.

Educators interested in spending four days on creative computing projects with a world-class faculty and amazing guest speakers this summer should check out Constructing Modern Knowledge. Act quickly, this very special event may sell-out!

My tricky little pal and fellow suffering Jets fan, Will Richardson, recently tweeted asking for TED Talk suggestions to share with his family on “TED Talk” Tuesdays. Will and his wife are embarking on an interesting family event featuring dinner, a TED Talk and conversation with their teenage kids. I know how much my family learns watching Jersey Shore together, so I decided to share my parental expertise with the Richardson family via the following TED Talk recommendations.

You might find my small selection surprising:

#1 Margaret Wertheim on the Beautiful Math of Coral

This talk is all about connections and contrasts – beauty and science, math and art, problem solving and creativity. As a result, this brilliant presentation challenges many of the sterotypes about learning, knowledge and the scientific method perpetuated by school. You will be amazed by how the craft of crocheting led to the visualization and understanding of  centuries old theorems at the frontier of mathematics.

#2 Greening the Ghetto

Majora Carter’s TED Talk explores the connections between economic justice, poverty and environmentalism through community activism. Aside from the importance of this message, I selected this TED Talk because marketing and communications genius Guy Kawasaki does a masterful job of analyzing the talk line-by-line in his book, Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition. Kawasaki demonstrates how Ms. Carter breaks many of the rules of public speaking while persuasively delivering a world-changing presentation. (Kawasaki’s book is a must-read for educators and even high school students.)

This talk is also all about connections.

#3 The Sixth Sense

MIT Media Lab Pattie Maes and her graduate student, Pranav Mistry, demonstrate how $300 worth of consumer electronics may be worn and woven into daily life as we face a new world in which ubiquitous information is available to you as if it were a sixth sense. This video is mind-blowing and should inspire kids to learn to program computers and embrace tinkering.

#4 Tony Robbins Asks Why We Do What We Do


You do not need to buy into any of the new age hokum being peddled by Tony Robbins to recognize that he is one of the greatest communicators alive today. His presentation style is remarkable and the impromptu exchange precipitated by Vice President Gore’s heckling makes this one for the ages. There is much to learn stylistically and affectively from this performance.

#5 Dave Eggers & 826 Valencia

Best-selling author Dave Eggers’ desire to give back to his community is only matched by his passion for whimsy and sharing his love of writing with young people. This TED Talk celebrating Eggers winning the TED Prize explores how pirate supply shops and superhero stores may serve as incredibly rich non-school learning environments where children become writers by writing with expert adult writers. Put aside Eggers’ nod towards school and homework and consider the powerful ideas of apprenticeship, access to expertise, community of practice and how we might all create productive contexts for learning.

If you want to go beyond five recommendations, might I suggest the two TED videos exploring El Sistema, the Venezuelan Youth Orcestra program and remind yourself of what the performing arts mean to a culture.

El Sistema: Music to Change Life

No educator's library is complete without this DVD

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

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

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Here are some resources related to my presentation:

Mark your calendars!

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

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

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

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

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

elitesThere has been much talk among the “EduWeb 2.0” community questioning the value of formal schooling, particularly higher education. Will Richardson has written several blog posts on the subject.

While the democratization of knowledge and unlimited access to information are laudable goals, and perhaps approaching reality, I wonder about the role of expertise, specifically that resulting from “paying dues” in the learning process. Will culture contine to survive and civilization progress if everybody is equal and education is reduced to “looking stuff up” online?

Information access is no substitute for education.


Is this an educator endorsed expansion of anti-intellectualism?


Time Magazine’s columnist, Joel Stein, challenged some of these assumptions in a very witty article, Bring on The Elites. (I’ve waited a week for the entire column to appear online so I can share it with you). Here is a taste of Stein’s column.

Magazine editors and network executives make writers cut references and words they think most people won’t know — even though everybody has Wikipedia. We are becoming a country that believes the rich have earned their money but the well educated have not earned their intellectual superiority. This leads to a nation that idolizes Kardashians.

Antielitism is a cancer waiting to metastasize in any democracy and one that Alexis de Tocqueville worried about for the U.S.

I always get a bit queasy when I hear educators argue against education, including college opportunity, for all students. What do you think?