stephanie jones

Archive for the ‘communities’ Category

Are Georgia Families Opting Out of Tests in 2014?

In communities, democracy, Education Policy, families, high-stakes tests, Standing up for Kids on February 28, 2014 at 3:25 am

My blog Stop the CRCT Madness is starting to get some hits again even though I never add any content to it. Everything has already been said about the insanity of the testing regime, the billions of dollars poured into corporate pockets every year as a result, the shrinking budgets for teachers and students and what really matters to them, and the inhumanity of the conditions of schools where nothing really matters except for the test scores.

It’s very quiet over there on that blog all year long, but when testing season emerges the comments emerge as well. These are likely from parents in Georgia desperately googling and trying to figure out how they can act against this testing machine. But I also get comments from students themselves – usually self-identified middle schoolers – who are desperate and feeling helpless and hopeless about the trap they find themselves in.

My reply to a recent comment:

There is a national “opt-out” movement happening. I’m not aware of any Georgia group doing this, I am well aware of many Georgia families being sick and tired of the hyper-focus on the tests, recess being taken away, Saturday school being mandatory, after-school being mandatory, and summer school being mandatory all in the name of passing some test. Kids are stressed out and anxious, and learning that school is a place where anxiety is normal, and that the only real reason to “learn” something in school is so that you can pass a test at the end of the year.

We are in desperate times and perhaps they are calling for desperate measures. It’s time for an opt-out movement in Georgia.

Check out this website for some opt-out options:
Fair Test – Opting Out

Is there an opt-out group forming in Georgia? Let me know –

Will you and/or your child be a conscientious objector to this war against children and youth? 

We are, indeed, in the midst of a legalized form of abuse – a war being waged in schools all over the country. We have a right to stand up, walk out, opt-out, speak out, object, and refuse to participate.

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Jumping back in with both feet – Who needs rules?

In class-sensitive teaching, communities, creativity, Education Policy, every day stories, institutions, Reggio Inspired Schooling, Standing up for Kids on January 29, 2014 at 5:32 pm

“Kids only get in trouble when they’re bored,” an educator from an elementary school in Auckland, New Zealand says, and kids don’t have time to be bored when they are fully engaged.

“Engagement” and “engaged” are two words we hear a lot in U.S. education reform and practice. But what do they really mean? Whose version of the words do we intend when we use them?

I’m jumping back into the blog after months of wiggling my way into a new research site that is in a community where most kids of all ages have the run of the neighborhood. They run through backyards, crawl in ditches, shoot hoops in the road, jump fences, chase the occasional chicken, run from and with dogs, play soccer in the red clay dirt, and swing as high as they can so their jump off will be more exciting.

The kids in this neighborhood don’t need plastic or wood playgrounds, their whole neighborhood is their playscape, and their imaginations are wide and impressive. Old picnic tables become stages where songs and dances are performed, which may be an activity that “educators” can find some value in. But what about jumping from swings sailing way above our heads?

A research study is underway in New Zealand that challenges the assumptions that guide so many of the “rules” governing children’s and youth’s playtime at schools. Four schools agreed to abandon their rules for the playground and the initial findings are simultaneously fascinating and predictable.

Watch a news report and read an article here about the research and its impact on one school.

Is it possible that adults’ rules create harsher social conditions for kids?

Is it possible that adults’ rules create barriers to full physical and cognitive engagement?

Is it possible that adults’ rules restrict kids’ creativity, imagination, motivation, and – dare I say it – “engagement”?

Sitting outside in the community where I am doing work, I watch a four-year-old boy climb to the top of the wood-and-plastic playground apparatus and I predict that he will slide down the cylinder-shaped slide.

But he doesn’t. And I can see how one adult expectation of how the playground equipment is “supposed” to be used could restrict play – and therefore development. Come to think of it, how fun is it really to continuously, day in and day out, climb up the steps in the same way and slide down the slide in the same way? Even a four-year-old masters the expected use of the playground equipment and boredom starts to set in.

Instead of sliding down, he struggles to pull himself up on top of the cylinder shaped slide, grunting and pushing his small arms to their limit until he manages to get one foot in place and finally the other.

Standing on top of the cylinder slide, arms stretched out to his sides, this young boy has achieved something. He is standing on top of the world looking out over the playground, the swings, the picnic tables, the tree trunk seats, and even the one-story homes that surround the playground.

He smiles.

Then jumps.

I have to admit that my heart skipped a beat and I’m pretty sure my eyes tripled in size and my mouth fell open. Yes, I am questioning and challenging the ways adults restrict children’s bodies (and therefore minds), but I am not immune to the assumptions circulating in a society that is saturated with “safety” mindedness and rules. What if he gets hurt? Should I intervene and stop him? Should I talk to the kids and create a rule about not jumping off the top of the playground equipment?

He lands, hard, and jumps up laughing and smiling and runs to the other side of the playground.

Achievement.

Engagement?

He struggled to make his body do something new, do something he didn’t know for sure he was capable of doing but confident enough to give it a try, and he did it. It wasn’t pretty or graceful or effortless, but it was evidence of motivation, perseverance, risk-taking toward the outer range of ability (determined by him), and success.

Is this not what educators wish children and youth would consistently do?

Being engaged in something isn’t just going through the motions of what was already planned ahead of time. For this young boy, continuing to climb up the steps and slide down the same slide in the same fashion day in and day out and well beyond the time within which he has mastered the activity does not produce “engagement.” When he is faced with having mastered the expected use of the equipment, he makes decisions about whether to abandon the equipment altogether or innovate a use of the equipment that will be more challenging (cognitively and physically – though I don’t see those as separate). Indeed, he figures out a way to challenge himself without the help of well-intended adults who may create a new activity for him that isn’t appropriately engaging. Part of the attraction and motivation of this new task that he has decided to take on may, in fact, be the unpredictability of it, the fact that the outcome isn’t already determined and every step between the beginning and ending laid out in a predictable fashion. He has to depend on himself and his creative use of the materials available to him, not someone else’s plan.

The Auckland school hasn’t entirely abandoned all rules for the playground, but the rules they do create are created in conversation with kids as issues arise. To too many adults such an approach is way too inefficient. Isn’t it easier to just have the rules ahead of time, teach the rules to kids, and then have adults around to surveil the kids and ensure rules are followed?

My response would be that efficiency in the eyes of adults is not equal to a commitment to the development and growth of children and youth. Educators are not supposed to be aiming for efficiency, but for something much more complex and beautiful: the cultivation of young people who are comfortable in their own bodies, confident enough to take risks, imaginative enough to grow beyond themselves, and content with who they are.

This young boy’s accomplishment was met with his own laughter and smiles and running off to continue his journey of mastering new things. He didn’t look to adults or peers for approval, and I’m pretty sure that powerful feeling that so many of us have had throughout our lives of “I can do that” planted a seed of certainty in him that wouldn’t have been possible had there been rules about not jumping off the playground equipment.

My witnessing his work/play also planted a seed of certainty in me that offers a little more comfort in standing back and letting children play in the ways that make them feel good by pushing themselves physically and cognitively. The Auckland school has found that “no rules” on the playground has resulted in a significant decrease in bullying behavior, a significant decrease in kids being in “trouble,” and a significant decrease in the need for adults to be supervising the playground.

“No rules” actually seems like it could be an “efficient” way to rid playgrounds of unbearable taunting and bad behavior.

Perhaps efficiency and engagement could find  a way to live among one another after all.

 

**Thanks to JT for passing along the no rules article and to the Browns for inspiring me to jump back in after a long hiatus from blogging.

Reggio Wish #1 – Slow Schooling

In class-sensitive teaching, communities, creativity, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, inquiry, Reggio Inspired Schooling, teacher education on December 2, 2012 at 1:53 am
IMG_1261

Slow Schooling

Five minutes pass, then ten minutes, then twenty.

Thirty.

Forty-five.

Has it really been an hour?

A young girl and boy wander around the schoolyard taking turns experimenting with a camera that offers new and unusual ways of looking and seeing and living in the world.

A close-up of grass, part of a tree, a swing, and a friend provide material for curiosity and wonder and laughter and play.

The two children spend at least an hour on their own. No adult checking on them wondering about their task and whether they’re on it, no expectation that some kind of share out will hold them responsible for an adult mandated lesson they were to put into practice, no interruptions or calls to the carpet or lights flipping on and off or shushes or claps or public celebrations of other children who are doing a different task.

To be in a place of such peace where  children and adults work/play for long periods of uninterrupted times pulled me into the slowness of being, the rhythm of the present, and the quiet of curiosity. To be in a place where time is supplanted as the governor of activity by the meaningful movements of people is really stunning given that I spend so much of my time in educational spaces that are marked by the minute.

When a society (or any sub-culture of a society) becomes so compelled by narratives of efficiency and accountability, it is inevitable that measures of time will begin to rule human lives. And if measures of time begin ruling adult lives, it is inevitable that the same restrictions will soon be forced upon children – perhaps with even more force given the assumptions from most perspectives that children are to be controlled in their stage of only partial humanity.

I am struck by the ease with which children and adults populate the spaces of the Reggio schools. Bodies seemed natural and relaxed. Talk flowed without a sense of urgency. Conversation happened. Wondering, wandering, play, work, and smiles interacted fluidly as if everyone was in a time machine. A time-standing-still machine.

What long-term effect would a commitment to a slow school movement have on the quality of children’s, youth’s, and adults’ lives? If a school is not governed by time passing, but instead governed by the present and tending to our joys, curiosities, needs, and togetherness, what would happen in that school? How would we recognize it?

With the U.S. policymakers and education reformers persuaded by “time on task” and “preparation” for a hypothetical future of “career and college,” most schools become spaces where fluidity is outside the lexicon. Where present is only here to prepare for the future. Like the grassroots slow food movement that challenges all the efficiencies and speed of fast corporate food and the culture-changing impact it has had on nearly everyone, I wish for a slow school movement that parallels in commitment to the local and present.

I wish for a school movement where two children can wander around for an hour taking photographs of objects and people they find curious, and their explorations won’t be disrupted by clapping hands, flipping lightswitches, teachers calling out, or threats of losing their 10-minute recess for not being on task.

Hedge Funds for Education? The next economic (and moral) crisis starts here…

In classism, communities, corporations, economics and economies, Education Policy, government, high-stakes tests, NCLB, politics, Standing up for Kids on August 8, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Thanks to PAGE for sending this out.

I hope to comment on this before too long – but until then, educators, families, and politicians better think seriously about whether they want our collective children and youth to be the primary victims of the education equivalent to the mortgage corruption and resulting crisis.

Remember the words prime, subprime, mortgage “products,” underwriters, hedging, hedge funds, adjustable-rates, asset-backed commercial paper, insolvency, credit default swap, derivatives, foreclosure, bankruptcy, too-big-to-fail, leveraging, negative equity, mortgage-backed security, short sales, and others? 

What lexicon will be created to describe the crisis of hundreds of millions (and billions?) of private and venture-capital dollars pouring into formerly-known-as-public education once it creates a false financial bubble and then a real meltdown?

I hope folks are paying attention – 200,000 jobs in the financial sector were cut this year alone. Those economic geniuses are now eyeing our education system for replacing those jobs and more. So where will educators be? Replaced by hedge fund managers and financial magicians keeping our eyes on the rabbit while money is shuffled under shells.

We thought NCLB was bad, greasing the hands of the publishing industry like never before? We ain’t seen nothing yet…

“KEEP YOUR INVESTMENT DOLLARS OFF OUR CHILDREN AND EDUCATORS’ LIVELIHOODS!”

 

Private firms eyeing profits from U.S. public schools

By Stephanie Simon
 
 
 
NEW YORK Aug 1 (Reuters) – The investors gathered in a tony private club in Manhattan were eager to hear about the next big thing, and education consultant Rob Lytle was happy to oblige.
 
Think about the upcoming rollout of new national academic standards for public schools, he urged the crowd. If they’re as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad, their students testing way behind in reading and math. They’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software and student assessments will be right there to provide it.
 
“You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up,” said Lytle, a partner at The Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting firm. “It could get really, really big.”
 
Indeed, investors of all stripes are beginning to sense big profit potential in public education.
 
The K-12 market is tantalizingly huge: The U.S. spends more than $500 billion a year to educate kids from ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors.
 
Traditionally, public education has been a tough market for private firms to break into — fraught with politics, tangled in bureaucracy and fragmented into tens of thousands of individual schools and school districts from coast to coast.
 
Now investors are signaling optimism that a golden moment has arrived. They’re pouring private equity and venture capital into scores of companies that aim to profit by taking over broad swaths of public education.
 
The conference last week at the University Club, billed as a how-to on “private equity investing in for-profit education companies,” drew a full house of about 100.
 
 
OUTSOURCING BASICS
 
In the venture capital world, transactions in the K-12 education sector soared to a record $389 million last year, up from $13 million in 2005. That includes major investments from some of the most respected venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, according to GSV Advisors, an investment firm in Chicago that specializes in education.
 
The goal: an education revolution in which public schools outsource to private vendors such critical tasks as teaching math, educating disabled students, even writing report cards, said Michael Moe, the founder of GSV.
 
“It’s time,” Moe said. “Everybody’s excited about it.”
 
Not quite everyone.
 
The push to privatize has alarmed some parents and teachers, as well as union leaders who fear their members will lose their jobs or their autonomy in the classroom.
 
Many of these protesters have rallied behind education historian Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University, who blogs and tweets a steady stream of alarms about corporate profiteers invading public schools.
 
Ravitch argues that schools have, in effect, been set up by a bipartisan education reform movement that places an enormous emphasis on standardized test scores, labels poor performers as “failing” schools and relentlessly pushes local districts to transform low-ranked schools by firing the staff and turning the building over to private management.
 
President Barack Obama and both Democratic and Republican policymakers in the states have embraced those principles. Local school districts from Memphis to Philadelphia to Dallas, meanwhile, have hired private consultants to advise them on improving education; the strategists typically call for a broader role for private companies in public schools.
 
“This is a new frontier,” Ravitch said. “The private equity guys and the hedge fund guys are circling public education.”
 
Some of the products and services offered by private vendors may well be good for kids and schools, Ravitch said. But she has no confidence in their overall quality because “the bottom line is that they’re seeking profit first.”
 
Vendors looking for a toehold in public schools often donate generously to local politicians and spend big on marketing, so even companies with dismal academic results can rack up contracts and rake in tax dollars, Ravitch said.
 
“They’re taking education, which ought to be in a different sphere where we’re constantly concerned about raising quality, and they’re applying a business metric: How do we cut costs?” Ravitch said.
 
 
BUDGET PRESSURES
 
Investors retort that public school districts are compelled to use that metric anyway because of reduced funding from states and the soaring cost of teacher pensions and health benefits. Public schools struggling to balance budgets have fired teachers, slashed course offerings and imposed a long list of fees, charging students to ride the bus, to sing in the chorus, even to take honors English.
 
The time is ripe, they say, for schools to try something new — like turning to the private sector for help.
 
“Education is behind healthcare and other sectors that have utilized outsourcing to become more efficient,” private equity investor Larry Shagrin said in the keynote address to the New York conference.
 
He credited the reform movement with forcing public schools to catch up. “There’s more receptivity to change than ever before,” said Shagrin, a partner with Brockway Moran & Partners Inc, in Boca Raton, Florida. “That creates opportunity.”
 
Speakers at the conference identified several promising arenas for privatization.
 
Education entrepreneur John Katzman urged investors to look for companies developing software that can replace teachers for segments of the school day, driving down labor costs.
 
“How do we use technology so that we require fewer highly qualified teachers?” asked Katzman, who founded the Princeton Review test-prep company and now focuses on online learning.
 
Such businesses already have been drawing significant interest. Venture capital firms have bet more than $9 million on Schoology, an online learning platform that promises to take over the dreary jobs of writing and grading quizzes, giving students feedback about their progress and generating report cards.
 
DreamBox Learning has received $18 million from investors to refine and promote software that drills students in math. The software is billed as “adaptive,” meaning it analyzes responses to problems and then poses follow-up questions precisely pitched to a student’s abilities.
 
The charter school chain Rocketship, a nonprofit based in San Jose, California, turns kids over to DreamBox for two hours a day. The chain boasts that it pays its teachers more because it needs fewer of them, thanks to such programs. Last year, Rocketship commissioned a study that showed students who used DreamBox heavily for 16 weeks scored on average 2.3 points higher on a standardized math test than their peers.
 
 
SPECIAL ED AS A GROWTH MARKET
 
Another niche spotlighted at the private equity conference: special education.
 
Mark Claypool, president of Educational Services of America, told the crowd his company has enjoyed three straight years of 15 percent to 20 percent growth as more and more school districts have hired him to run their special-needs programs.
 
Autism in particular, he said, is a growth market, with school districts seeking better, cheaper ways to serve the growing number of students struggling with that disorder.
 
ESA, which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, now serves 12,000 students with learning disabilities or behavioral problems in 250 school districts nationwide.
 
“The knee-jerk reaction [to private providers like ESA] is, ‘You’re just in this to make money. The profit motive is going to trump quality,’ ” Claypool said. “That’s crazy, because frankly, there are really a whole lot easier ways to make a living.” Claypool, a former social worker, said he got into the field out of frustration over what he saw as limited options for children with learning disabilities.
 
Claypool and others point out that private firms have always made money off public education; they have constructed the schools, provided the buses and processed the burgers served at lunch. Big publishers such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have made hundreds of millions of dollars selling public school districts textbooks and standardized tests.
 
Critics see the newest rush to private vendors as more worrisome because school districts are outsourcing not just supplies but the very core of education: the daily interaction between student and teacher, the presentation of new material, the quick checks to see which kids have risen to the challenge and which are hopelessly confused.
 
At the more than 5,500 charter schools nationwide, private management companies — some of them for-profit — are in full control of running public schools with public dollars.
 
“I look around the world and I don’t see any country doing this but us,” Ravitch said. “Why is that?”

Shocking Censorship, Banning, and Silencing in Arizona!

In anti-bias teaching, communities, democracy, Education Policy on January 20, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Many of you already know about the shocking decision to suspend the Mexican-American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District, well now books connected to those programs are being banned in schools.

Check this out for a list of BANNED books – some of which have been confiscated by school officials during class while students and teachers are present.

And, if we want to take on a more “come on, this ain’t about politics, or race, or power, or fear, or the teaching of one particular history and the exclusion of exploitation and colonization – this is just about closing down the courses and therefore moving all the books used in those courses to central office storage where they will be tightly sealed in boxes and never to be used by youth or teachers again unless they go out of their way and locate one of the few copies we might have available in some of our libraries” stance – here’s the “official” story of book banning reposted from Empty Wheel.

Here’s a message from Rethinking Schools – if you’re on Facebook (which I’m not) you might want to post ideas and messages of support:

Dear Rethinking Schools friends,
Did you see the news last week? On Friday, we learned that our book Rethinking Columbus was banned — along with other books used in Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program, including Paulo Freire’s A Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America, and Elizabeth Martinez’s 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures. So we’re in good company.
School authorities confiscated the books during class—boxed them up and hauled them off. As one student said, “We were in shock … It was very heartbreaking to see that happening in the middle of class.”
This is the latest chapter in the rightwing attempt to ban ethnic studies in Arizona. Last week, facing the loss of $15 million in state support, the governing board of Tucson’s schools voted 4-1 to terminate the popular and successful Mexican American Studies program.
On Friday, I spoke to the Tucson school district’s director of communications, who told me that the books had to be seized and carted away, because they were “evidence”—as if the teaching going on there were a crime scene. On Tuesday, the district protested that no books had been “banned”—although district officials admitted that they had been “boxed and stored” and could not be used in class. Sounds like “banning” to me.
Rethinking Schools is talking with teachers, students, and activists in Tucson about how we can help their struggle there. We will let you know as we gather ideas.
Do you have ideas to express support for Tucson teachers and students, and to organize opposition to Arizona’s banning of Mexican American Studies and Tucson’s confiscation of books in their curriculum? Please post ideas to the Rethinking Schools facebook page, or if you’re not on facebook, e-mail me.
We’ll follow up soon.
For more information, check out Jeff Biggers’ Salon.com article, “Who’s Afraid of ‘The Tempest’?” Debbie Reese’s, “Teaching Critical Thinking in Arizona: NOT ALLOWED,” Biggers’ Huffington Post interview with Tucson teacher Curtis Acosta, and my Rethinking Schools blog post.
Thanks for your important work.

 

Occupy EDU – The Education version of Occupy Wall Street

In communities, creativity, democracy, economics and economies, Education Policy, high-stakes tests, NCLB, Neoliberalism and Education, social class on October 17, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Excellent piece here about how Wall Street and trends in corporate America impact public schools, teachers, children, and the institution of public education.

Take a read!

Teaching “Occupy Wall Street” and Being Class-Sensitive Pedagogues

In class-sensitive teaching, communities, creativity, critical literacy, economics and economies, social class on October 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm

An important way to be class-sensitive in our teaching is to pay attention to current events around issues of social class and poverty and bring them into the classroom.

If you haven’t already started teaching about the movement of Occupy Wall Street – the protest against economic inequality that started in New York City a month ago and has spread across the world – this is an exciting time to be doing so.
This is also a terrific time to reconsider how things such as “Stock Market” and “Monopoly” games are taught and why they have become such a staple in schools over the past thirty years promoting investment in Wall Street and a focus on “profits” without necessarily considering the consequences of high profits on people, community, and natural resources.
Like all things, there are no simple answers to the issues being illuminated in OWS, but they create amazing material for conversation and continued research in schools and classrooms.
Teaching OWS can integrate reading, writing, history, economics, geography, math, citizens’ rights, politics and the influence of money in political races, community rules, etc. and could be used at any grade level with varying levels of sophistication. (For example, early elementary classrooms might roleplay a “General Assembly” from OWS in their classroom to see its benefits and disadvantages in making decisions for the whole group, or PK and Kindergarteners might like to see how OWS is using the “human microphone” and try it during their outdoor activities).
A wikipedia entry for OWS is live and being revised constantly and offers some fun facts about the movement up to this point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_Wall_Street
Happy Teaching!

Expose them to big houses? Thinking about Upper Middle-Class Bling

In American Dream, anti-bias teaching, communities, discourse, economics and economies, Education Policy, environmental issues, family-school relations, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, poverty, social class on September 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Big houses, fancy sedans, downtown boutiques filled with expensive clothing and shoes, trendy restaurant spots with hard-to-pronounce specials.

Some educators believe that the way to “motivate” working-class or poor students is to expose them to the ways  upper-middle class and wealthy people live their lives. Just let them see what else is “out there,” expose them to the bling (my word, not theirs) acquired through high paychecks, inheritances, good credit loans, and inspired by materialism and consumerism. Bigger and fancier is better – name brand purses, the most expensive imported cars, designer shoes, houses large enough to provide shelter for five families.

I sympathize with people frustrated that children and youth often grow up and find limited opportunities to sustain themselves financially. But this idea of exposing children and youth from “lower income” neighborhoods to the materialistic bling of upper middle-class wealth is more than disturbing.

People suggesting this exposure are often the same folks who demonize mothers who find a way to buy the newest sneakers for their children, or share quick glances of mortification when they see adolescents with gold caps on their teeth, or laugh out loud when a completely rebuilt older American made car slides down the street with the shiny wheels turning and a hip-hop beat thumping from the speakers.

“That’s why those kids grow up and sell drugs,” some people might say, “because they see those sneakers, those gold teeth and chains, those hooped up cars around their neighborhood and they want that bling too.”

Really now?

So you’re telling me that a $100.00 pair of shoes will make a child envious enough to become a drug runner, but showing him a $500,000.00 house will inspire him to stay in school, make good grades, go to college – and act like you?

This is really what we’re talking about folks. Upper middle-class people that say and believe these things are convinced that their own lifestyles (often of opulence and tremendous waste and materialism, though of course not always) are simply better than others’ lives. They secretly – or not so secretly – think that the gold chains and teeth and cars and music and sneakers are ugly, gaudy (is that how you spell gaudy?), disgraceful, “ghetto,” “low-class,” and disgusting. In other words, “Low Brow Bling.”

But that the material goods they acquire and consume are “classy” – pretty, understated, classic, “tasteful,” etc. etc. etc. In other words, “Aspirational Bling.”

We really need to wake up here. Bling is Bling, and using materialistic bling as a lure for supposedly getting kids to stay in school and “be like us, instead of like those people in your community” is the most absurd, classist, self-absorbent, egotistical, naive, ignorant, clueless, contradictory thing I’ve heard of.

Kids will stay in school and engage themselves when they feel like they belong, when they are valued, when they are treated with dignity and respect, when they are given some choice and power over their school experiences, and when they are motivated and inspired by the work they do there.

It’s as simple as that.

No bling required.

In fact, all that upper middle-class bling might just offend and alienate the very students some are trying to inspire and make them work extra hard to get away from anyone who represents it.

I haven’t even gotten to the unsustainability of persistent consumption of bling in the upper classes…but think about this: What if every family in North America had a 3,000 square foot home that required increasing amounts of energy to heat, cool, and water? What if every family in North America bought the newest, fanciest imported car from Europe? And on and on and on….you can see where I’m going with this.

Using one “class’s” Bling as a lure because it is positioned as infinitely better than the working-class or poor community’s Bling is simply unethical.

Encouraging more and more consumption of bigger and costlier things is simply wrong-headed and short-minded.

We have to really think long and hard about what it is we hope children and youth get out of our school systems – and surely it’s more than hoping they are envious enough to become like someone else, or motivated enough to work harder and harder so they can buy bigger and more things.

The American Dream – if there ever was one or ever can be one – must be about more than making yourself like someone else and aiming to buy  “classier” Bling.

a thousand paths to happiness…including one little book

In communities, creativity, democracy, Education Policy, family-school relations, freedom, great books, institutions, justice, teacher education on June 25, 2011 at 11:26 pm

“There are thousands of paths that lead to happiness, but you have accepted only one. You have not considered other paths because you think that yours is the only one that leads to happiness. You have followed this path with all your might, and so the other paths, the thousands of others, have remained closed to you.” Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book, you are here: Discovering the magic of the present moment, is such a delightful treat to read and consider and I am enjoying myself immensely each day when I settle in and drink another paragraph of wisdom.

A thousand paths to happiness has me really thinking though, and I couldn’t resist jumping on the computer and pounding out a few lines (one thing that often makes me happy) about this notion and what it might mean to me – at least in this moment.

If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then all of those thousands of paths should be encouraged and valued and celebrated and shared. In other words, diversity wins again, and not only should we encourage and celebrate diversity, but we should do everything possible to prevent any kind of restrictive ideas that limit possibilities and promote standardization of human beings and life in any way.

If there are, indeed, thousands of paths to happiness, then why aren’t we actively teaching children and youth to seek happiness, or better yet to “be free to experience the happiness that just comes to us without our having to seek it” (Thich Nhat Hanh, p. 75). This could move us a long way beyond the false promise of a “good job” so well-advertised throughout every level of education.

If school isn’t about promoting thousands of paths toward happiness, then what is it and why would we want to do something other than teach toward happiness?

Some readers are blowing me off now, huffing and puffing at their screen because they think it’s all fluff to teach happiness – so without going into excessive detail here, I’ll add that working with passion and engaging in intellectual journeys around academic content or in a workplace can be a path to happiness. Don’t worry reader – we’re not going to end up with a society of non- “workers” because everyone is sitting lotus-style in a forest seeking happiness. We might, however, end up with lots of people who refuse to sell their soul and time/life to corporations doing meaningless “work.” Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Has anyone out there ever read a school vision statement that included the words “happy” or “happiness”? I’d love to hear if you have.

And this ‘thousands of paths’ has me thinking of other things regarding “diversity” – we humans are all just different and somehow we keep trying to shove us all into the same-sized box. Just like ecological diversity is imperative to the survival of earth, human diversity is also imperative to the (healthy) survival of the species. While this is not only about the “size” of us humans (it’s also about our lifestyles, family and community structures, livelihoods, homes, interactions, relationships, physical looks, tastes, etc. etc.), diversity in size and shape should also be a consideration. I’m stuck on this a bit because of the recent onslaught of the “Obesity Epidemic” across the country and the fetish we seem to currently have around body measurements, plastic surgery, and the persistent metaphorical and literal chiseling away at natural diversity among bodies.

Just one example –

Body Mass Index (BMI)  and the push for schools to include children’s BMI on report cards even though CDC reports there is no evidence that such actions would change anything about childhood health and/or obesity.

Folks have – and will continue – to debate me that “there is a real obesity epidemic – parents need to know their children’s BMI and what those numbers mean and get control over what their children are eating.” Okay – and what role has school and Corporate America played in this heavy-ing of America’s children? Do we slap some numbers onto a child’s report card and insist that parents do something to change those numbers when kids are at school 7-8 hours a day and have to complete 2 hours of homework between 4pm and the 8pm bedtime? I might be exaggerating a bit in some contexts, and underestimating in others – but this is yet another way to tell parents how they are the individuals to blame for a societal problem that is only exacerbated in schools: over-processed foods are served for breakfast and lunch in cafeterias and recess is non-existent for most children above the age 8 and limited to only 10 minutes for children up to 8 in public schools.

Hmmmmm….schools work harder and harder to get kids to sit still and be quiet for 7 hours at a time preparing for tests and covering standards while only breaking to eat over-processed foods that are high in fat and sodium, then expect the kids to sit at home for 2 more hours at night to do homework and schools are going to “report” children’s BMI to parents so the parents can fix it?

I’m against the use of numbers for nearly everything and BMI is included – I always believe a holistic perspective on a person’s health and lifestyle is much more important than a single number that may be used to determine categories that label and blame and shame people. But let’s pretend for a moment that I accept BMI as some good indicator of a child’s health (even though CDC might argue against that). Perhaps we might allow schools to include the BMI on the report card and demand they also include a specific plan the school will take to ensure the child has access to healthy foods and sufficient exercise and physical play during the day. In other words – the BMI becomes a reflection of the way an institution operates rather than good or poor parenting.

So back to a thousand paths to happiness…

Maybe if we taught children to feel happiness, to see the infinite possibilities for happiness, to see happiness in unexpected places, and to cultivate happiness through mindful practice (including mindful practices of eating), we might find ourselves educating the most diverse, happy, healthy children on earth. What if school’s purpose was to cultivate happiness, peacefulness, contentedness, connectedness? Of course some private schools and home schoolers have been doing this for a long time, but what if public schools put these purposes first and foremost in their work? The possibilities make me smile – and happy.

March with SOS, Diane Ravitch, and Deborah Meier in D.C. on July 30th!

In communities, democracy, Education Policy, Standing up for Kids, teacher education on June 22, 2011 at 1:39 pm

I know a lot of you all are going to D.C. for the July 30th Save Our Schools march – and some of you know that I will be at a dear cousin’s wedding on that day in Ohio (bad timing!!!!). But I’m hoping to get some live video from folks who will be there.

Here is Diane Ravitch’s letter to Deborah Meier (Bridging Differences – Education Week blog) about the upcoming march:


Posted: 21 Jun 2011 06:20 AM PDT
Dear Deborah,
I will be marching with the Save Our Schools coalition of teachers and parents on July 30 in Washington, D.C. I know you will be, too. I hope we are joined by many thousands of concerned citizens who want to save our schools from the bad ideas and bad policies now harming them.
I am marching to protest the status quo of high-stakes testing, attacks on the education profession, and creeping privatization.
I want to protest the federal government’s punitive ideas about school reform, specifically, No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top. Neither of these programs has any validation in research or practice or evidence. The nation’s teachers and parents know that NCLB has been a policy disaster. Race to the Top incorporates the same failed ideas. Why doesn’t Congress know?
I want to protest the wave of school closings caused by these cruel federal policies. Public schools are a public trust, not shoe stores. If they are struggling, they should be improved, not killed.
I want to protest the way that these federal programs have caused states and districts to waste billions of dollars on testing, test preparation, data collection, and an army of high-priced consultants.
I want to protest reliance on high-stakes testing, which has narrowed the curriculum, encouraged gaming the system, and promoted cheating.
I want to express my concern about the effects of 12 years of multiple-choice, standardized testing on children’s cognitive development, and my fear that this reliance on bubble-testing discourages imagination, creativity, and divergent thinking.
I want to express my opposition to an educational system devoted to constant measurement, ranking, and rating of children, which validates the belief that some of our children are winners, while at least half are losers.
I want to speak out against federal policies that promote privatization of public education.
I want to protest federal efforts to encourage entrepreneurs to make money from education, instead of promoting open-source technology, free to all schools.
I want to protest the federal government’s failure to develop long-term plans to improve the recruitment, preparation, and support of the teaching profession.
I want to protest the ill-founded belief that teachers should be evaluated by their students’ test scores, which is a direct result of the Race to the Top.
I want to express my disgust at the constant barrage of attacks on teachers, principals, and public education.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize that federal funding should support equity and benefit the nation’s neediest students.
That was the rationale for passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and it should be the rationale for federal funding today.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that school reform cannot be imposed by legislative fiat, but must be led by those who are most knowledgeable about the needs of children and schools: educators, parents, and local communities.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize the constraints of the Constitution and federalism and to stop using the relatively small financial contribution of the federal government to micromanage the nation’s schools.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to acknowledge that our nation’s public schools have played an essential role in making our nation great. After many historic struggles, their doors are open to all, regardless of race, economic condition, national origin, disability, or language. We must keep their doors open to all and preserve this democratic institution for future generations.
I want to urge Congress and the Obama administration to recognize that our public schools are succeeding, not declining. Since the beginning of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the 1970s, our students have made slow but steady gains in reading and mathematics. Improvement has been especially notable for African-American students. Progress was greatest, ironically, before the implementation of NCLB.
I call on Congress and the Obama administration to cease spreading false claims of educational decline. Since the first international test in 1964, we have never led the world in test scores, and we have often been in the bottom quartile on those tests. Yet, as President Obama said in his State of the Union Address in January, we have the world’s greatest economy, the world’s most productive workers, the most inventors, the most patents, the most successful businesses, and the best universities in the world. And all of these great achievements were created by people who are mainly products of our nation’s public schools.
I urge Congress and the Obama administration to support programs that help children arrive in school ready to learn: assuring that every pregnant woman has appropriate medical care and nutrition; that children have high-quality early-childhood education; and that parents know they have the support they need to help their children grow up healthy and ready to learn.
I am marching because I want every child to attend a school where they can learn not only basic skills, but history, geography, civics, the sciences, and world languages, and have ample opportunity to engage in the arts.
I am marching to support the dignity of the education profession and to express my thanks to the millions of teachers, principals, and other educators who are in the schools every day, doing their best to educate our nation’s children.
I hope the march will revive the morale of our nation’s educators. I hope it will remind the American people that the future of our nation depends on our willingness to protect and improve our public schools, the schools attended by nearly 90 percent of our nation’s children.
Diane
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