What do you do?

Maybe Jim’s right and I am eating babies1. I struggle quite a bit with a lot about this job. I didn’t think I was already at the baby eating stage but sometimes it’s hard to see from inside.

I often wonder where guiding becomes restricting. I am unsure how tools of reflection become tools of assessment and then evolve into dogma. It happens though.

My goal is to construct things that help people think about what they are doing and why they are doing it. The reality seems to be that many people need some scaffolding to do that. There are a variety of reasons for that. I think in some cases it’s just a way of providing some shoulders to stand on, not necessarily the shoulders of giants but a least a boost above starting from scratch.

I don’t believe that roots out creativity or individualism unless it’s done incredibly wrong (which often happens) but that’s an application of formula, of recipes, instead of an attempt to create reflection and conversation around pedagogy and concepts. I think the latter can be done but it’s much easier to do the former. To dictate that a course will contain X, Y and Z- always. And that those structural components somehow create worth and quality. I believe that path leads to stagnation and death. It creates a thin ice of believable competency. Underneath that ice lurks a lot of dark, cold water. I feel the same way about a lot of edtech stuff. It creates just enough of a veneer to allow people to mislead themselves that what they are seeing is far better than what it is. IWBs often being a prime example.
Image source

I believe we are at a time and place where scale and speed matters. It is not a good time to be a public school teacher.

Maybe I’m being melodramatic but I’ve talked to quite a few education vendors. They aren’t laying people off. They aren’t cutting salaries. Business is great. Educational consultants are hiring. BlackBoard is on a buying spree and Pearson is teaming up with Florida Virtual School. For profit charter schools are riding a wave of media2 into the hearts and minds of America. It’s a great time to be an education vendor.

Meanwhile, pupil-teacher ratios are rising, salaries are frozen, teachers are laid off. Public opinion of the profession and the institution is low. Gallup has education being of greater concern to Americans than war, immigration and lack of money. Seriously.

We have to turn the corner here and I believe we have to do it with speed.
-image source


1 The saddest part of that quote is that it was mine and originally used against Barney (the purple dinosaur, not the sheriff guy.

2 An Oscar? Seriously, for an infomercial?

Comments on this post

  1. Jim Groom said on November 24, 2010 at 12:26 am

    Man,

    Between that awesome cartoon image and the following two paragraphs this is a post for the ages:

    Maybe I’m being melodramatic but I’ve talked to quite a few education vendors. They aren’t laying people off. They aren’t cutting salaries. Business is great. Educational consultants are hiring. BlackBoard is on a buying spree and Pearson is teaming up with Florida Virtual School. For profit charter schools are riding a wave of media2 into the hearts and minds of America. It’s a great time to be an education vendor.

    Meanwhile, pupil-teacher ratios are rising, salaries are frozen, teachers are laid off. Public opinion of the profession and the institution is low. Gallup has education being of greater concern to Americans than war, immigration and lack of money. Seriously.

    I was being facetious on twitter today to some degree, but at the same time I think you nail a deeper concern here, that surface sense of “thin ice competence” that actually robs the educational experience of any of its potential. And I think the idea of the course must require X,Y, and Z in terms of rubrics, assessment, etc. plays into the whole model of commodifying this whole enterprise so beautifully. If a course can be broken down into its essential content components, then teachers/professors are expendable, and the content factories at Pearson and the like start up their corporate engines and pump out content. All of this in the name of efficiency mind you. That was my real response to the rubric/assessment tweet.

    What’s more, I feel this idea of the X,Y, and Z requirements for a particular class that can be taught by anyone is part of my growing discomfort with Open Educational Resources (OERs). Reason being is that they provide this idea of the content as the means by which we create and share, and for me it is quite the other way around. It is the network of people you really build and collaborate, and learn from. And the content becomes a shared object of attention and desire for a moment or two, but the ongoing back and forth and discourse is something that the classroom never really made possible, yet the internet can and should be that.

    I think your sense of urgency is absolutely important right now, and for me it seems that more and more there is a sense of capitulation to what is inevitable: the corporate takeover. And it’s funny, and I always seem like a “radical” for pointing out the obvious in just about every element of the public sector. It is not radical, it is reality. And I don;t know what to make of it, i want a solution that is real, and provides some kind of public space and money for education and experimentation—but it seems that what could be more than possible will simply be another tombstone on the way to corporate finishing schools.

    it is sad, and I want to know what we can do. it is dire and real, but who is really talking about it honestly and openly about just how bad it is?—and how much worse it will get? I’m trying to rack my brains—who? I mean you saw EDUPUNk rechristened as a for-profit vision of the future of ed baptized by Anya K. It’s every around us:

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    http://www.online-literature.com/donne/780/

  2. Kyle A said on November 24, 2010 at 1:56 am

    I do not think you are being melodramatic at all. This post brings up important points and Jim does an excellent job of highlighting what many people (or maybe a few people) are thinking.

    I like the idea that you are considering the concept of rubrics. Not that rubrics are bad, but rather what they can potentially represent. If we hold rubrics up to be ‘the great’ tool then anybody can pick them up and say ‘I got it! I can do this!’ I know of no rubric that can fully define good teaching, but I have seen rubrics that can help teachers.

    Both of you represent the devil and angle on my shoulders everyday. Tom, if your goal is to “construct things that help people think about what they are doing and why they are doing it.” Then never stop using or developing the tools to help you do that. Jim, if your goal is to challenge people like Tom from becoming complacent with a one size fits all approach then keep doing it, All of us will benefit.

  3. Trip Kirkpatrick said on November 24, 2010 at 10:00 am

    I’d like to pick on the other half of the necessary duo you point out: scale and speed. Though you close with the need for speed, I’ve been thinking lately that scale is more of a core issue. That is, for some reason people are looking for answers that will fit everyone. Not finding any, they throw up their hands and look for answers that ignore most but address a few. As with so many problems, if you assume that the scale is national and that the solution has to be national or transnational, the only actors who can address the problems are of tremendous size themselves: large NGOs, governments, corporations. One way forward for public school advocates, IMO, is negotiating the paradox of building a large coalition that insists it can’t solve the problem itself on that scale.

    By the same token, public school advocates can’t ignore issues of scale. My impression (warning — straw man ahead!) is that many solutions proposed by public school advocates might work great at small scale, but face conception and implementation difficulties at medium, to say nothing of large, scale. Scale requires efficiency, something difficult to sell — with good reason — to those of us who are interested in education more than throughput. @jimgroom could, I’m sure, tear me a new one on the efficiency front; the notion conjures up all that’s bad about the Industrial Revolution, Taylorism, and the corporatization/militarization of public life. And yet the metropolises will continue to exist and to have public schools and to need to work on a huge scale with tight budgets.

    • Tom said on November 24, 2010 at 11:46 am

      I am struck by, possibly stuck in, the reality of my district. We have about 50,000 students (and we aren’t even a huge district – check out this list. We aren’t going to reorganize around small neighborhood based units. It doesn’t matter if that’s better for students. It simply won’t happen. Our society, as a whole, has demonstrated very clearly what it will pay for and what it won’t. People with the means will pay for small schools and individualized attention for their children but won’t support the same via taxes etc. for their community as a whole.

      How do you make something like this work? We keep giving easy answers and watching the inevitable horrific results.

      I feel like education/America needs to do what Barbados reportedly did in episode two of This American Life #410 (How’s that for an obscure reference?). I just don’t see us making tough decisions. We keep going for easy, black/white decisions that address short term surface symptoms while the ice gets thinner and thinner.

      Gary Stager’s post Why Should She Work for You? pretty much locks down why teachers leave education and why we will continue to draw from a smaller and smaller pool of good candidates. I don’t see this cycle leading to good things.

      • Trip Kirkpatrick said on November 24, 2010 at 12:38 pm

        I’ve got a pretty dark view of the situation, and it comes from noticing that no actionmakers in American society were around before the New Deal and the social protections it ushered in, much less (obvi) before the Progressive era of the early 20th century. My dark view is that things are going to have to get much worse before they will get better, that people are going to have to experience the alternative to investing in our public sphere. I’m only moderately hopeful that there will be a public sphere worth investing in once that realization comes. But as I heard Billy Bragg say once, that can’t stop us from trying.

  4. Brian said on November 24, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Just to add this bit… Rupert Murdoch buys Wireless Generation for $360 Million”

    Why is News Corp buying it? Murdoch says it’s because education in the U.S. is a $500 billion sector “waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching”

    http://tinyurl.com/2ard8y6

    • Tom said on December 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm

      Education “reform”- here’s to more money and less work.

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