Tag Archives: John Dewey

Letter To My Representatives In Response To New Hampshire House Bill 39

NH House Bill 39 I sent the following e-mail to the reprsentatives from my distinct in response  to the attempt to eliminate  arts education, world languages, technology,communication and health.  It seems obvious that the bill wouldn’t pass but it could be dangerous to let such bills come before the legislature without comment.

I am writing to encourage you to vote against House Bill 39.  Tom Friedman in his book The World is Flat stresses that the institutions that encourage imagination will be the successful schools in the ever changing world of the 21t century.  To return to the 19th century concept of reading, writing and arithmetic is reactionary in a world dominated by change.  Arts education is integral to the development of a well rounded creative and imaginative individual.  World language is even more important today than it has ever been as our population will be called upon to collaborate with people from many different cultures.  It would be short sighted to cancel health classes at a time when many segments of our population are embracing unhealthy lifestyles.  The idea that we should not be training our students to use technology and communication in effective, creative, and ethical ways is also counterproductive when our children will be called upon to function in a rapidly evolving technological age.  William Butler Yeats pointed out that “Education is not filling a pail but the lighting of a fire.”  Returning to the “3 R’s” will not create the well rounded citizens that the great educational philosopher John Dewey envisioned. It will simply be an attempt to fill the pail and we will be doing children a great disservice if Bill 39 is passed. This will certainly not light any fires.

Reclaiming the Language by Jim Bower from Red Deer Alberta

Have you ever taken part in a conversation about progressive education or school reform and left the dialogue wondering if you were even talking about the same topic? Often I’m left wondering how this can happen. How can two people talk about the same topic with very similar vocabulary, and yet be having two separate conversations at once?

It would be convenient if we could simply differentiate the discussion via politics; however, it would also be inaccurate. There’s a reason why Rep. John Kline (R-MN) recently remarked with chilling accuracy that the Obama-Duncan education game plan is “straight from the traditional Republican playbook.” The larger point to be taken here is that it doesn’t matter whether you are speaking with a liberal, a conservative, a Democrat, a Republican, reading the Washington Post or Newsweek – when it comes to education, most of them are indistinguishable from Fox News.
So how do we differentiate between the authentic and the rhetoric? In his article The Case Against ‘Tougher Standards’, Alfie Kohn states, “Today, it is almost impossible to distinguish Democrats from Republicans on this set of issues — only those with some understanding of how children learn from those who haven’t a clue.” So who has a clue?

To sort out who does and who doesn’t, I think we need to understand how one Washington DC activist put it, “It’s gotten to the point where I’m almost embarrassed to be associated with the word ‘reform'”. There is nothing inherently wrong with school reform – but there is something amiss with the way the word has come to be defined. Words like achievement, data, 21st century skills and accountability have been bastardized by those who haven’t a clue about real learning.

A real discussion about 21st Century education would require us to understand how wrong we got it in the 20th Century. Some might say that there is a war going on in schools between behaviourism and constructivism and the kids are losing while others have written “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”

If we really want to have an authentic discussion about 21st Century education and data-driven accountability then we better be crystal clear what we mean by these concepts.

ACCOUNTABILITY: in it’s current context, accountability is simply a code word meaning more control for people outside the classroom over those who are inside the classroom. Ever wonder why we can’t get school reform right? I won’t profess to have the definitive answer, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the fact that education is being run by people who have no practical experience or professional training in how children learn. What’s worse is that these clueless dictators have the audacity to enforce their ignorance through manipulative legislation, and when those who know better speak up, they are beat down by the accountability club.

So how do we reclaim the word accountability? We need to redefine it. John Spencer, a teacher from Arizona, says “accountability should mean that when you wander off too far, there is a group of people calling you back and saying, ‘Look, you belong here. You are important to us.'” For those who claim we need accountability in its current form, I encourage them to look to Finland who don’t even have a word in their language for accountability, so they use responsibility – the difference being much more than simple semantics.

DATA: Number crunching, data mongers see children as data-in-waiting. Their bodies are simply transportation devices for their number two pencils. And yet, one test isn’t even enough for these spreadsheet junkies, so they feed their mania for reducing everything to numbers by having tests that prepare kids to take a benchmark test before they take the test. Sadly, the worst teachers don’t teach to the test any more, they test to the test. The problem here is that if their goals are simply higher test scores (raise achievement) then their methods are not going to be worth much. In other words, even if we achieved all the test scores the policy makers could ever want, we would end up providing the kids with nothing they really need. Things go very, very wrong when a teacher knows more about how to raise a kid’s test score than how to raise a kid.

If we want to reclaim data, and we do need to, we need to stress that real learning is found in children not data. The best teachers never need tests to gather information about children’s learning nor do they need grades to share that information with others. They know that there is no substitute for what a teacher can see with their own eyes when observing and interacting with students while they are learning, and any attempt to reduce something as magnificently messy as real learning will only ever conceal more than it will reveal. I might go so far as to say that the best educators in the 21st Century understand that “measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning” except that this has been true in every century. Anyone using data must understand that what we see largely depends on what we look for and there’s a huge difference between valuing what we measure and measuring what we value – but again, this is true regardless of the date on the calendar.

21st CENTURY SKILLS: Unfortunately, most people who speak about 21st Century Skills actually think that something changed because the date on the calendar advanced. They also (mis)assume that we are in some competitive race for the finish line – except there’s no competition and there’s no finish line. Education reform built on the foundation of competition is a house of cards just waiting to be toppled over.

If we really care about getting school reform right in the 21st Century, then we have to go back to two men from the previous century who have framed how we think of truly progressive education – John Dewey and Jean Piaget.

Dewey’s message focused on democracy as a way of life, not just a form of government, and that “thinking is something that emerges from our shared experiences and activities.” Piaget taught us that “even very young children play an active role in making sense of things, ‘constructing’ reality rather than just acquiring knowledge.

If we take the work of Dewey and Piaget seriously, we have to acknowledge that the best kind of education we can provide our children has nothing to do with the date on the calendar and more to do with understanding how children learn.

In the end, I have one question about the 21st Century: will the politicians and policy makers figure out what Dewey and Piaget figured out in the 20th Century, and will they listen to the modern day education experts such as Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, Yong Zhao and Constance Kamii before we get to the 22nd?

Thoughts on the Back Cover of Tony Wagner’s “The Global Achievement Gap” by Rick Davidson

I have just received a book that the SAU purchased in the hopes, I imagine, of contributing to my evolution as an effective educator. I have not read the book yet but the blurb on the back cover was enough to get my intellectual juices flowing. The book is called “The Global Achievement Gap” by Tony Wagner. On one level, I ordered this book in the hopes that it might help me understand why we, in the American School System, justify so much testing and standardization. Instead, Mr. Wagner appears to be yet another proponent of what is becoming recognized as a new movement in 21st Century education. Everything I have absorbed from a myriad of books, blogs, magazine articles, TV shows, interviews, and keynote speakers indicates that tomorrow’s survival skills are not to be found in nineteenth century educational practices. Even in those days, voices such as John Dewey encouraged project based learning that encouraged students to be active researchers, not receptacles of the teacher’s assumed knowledge and wisdom. “Dewey was a relentless campaigner for reform of education, pointing out that the authoritarian strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students’ actual experiences.” (Neil, J. (2005) “John Dewey, the Modern Father of Experiential Education” )

So I had to ask myself, am I truly providing my students with Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills for Teens Today? Forgetting that my prejudice is that technology must play an important part in helping students acquire these skills, I wonder whether we are not short changing our future citizens when we don’t pay attention to what is a recurrent message from the experts. Education should not be a matter of merely accumulating knowledge. We can find the answer to just about everything on a computer or, for that matter, on an iPhone. Higher order thinking skills are essential to success in our incredibly fast changing world. Whether we like or approve of this future is irrelevant. It is here and we and our students need to know how to survive and thrive in it. The other reoccurring theme that I hear is that we, as teachers, have to model these skills in order to be effective educators.

Seven Survival Skills for Teens Today:

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
Agility and Adaptability
Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
Effective Oral and Written Communication
Accessing and Analyzing Information
Curiosity and Imagination

As Albert Einstein said:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress and giving birth to evolution.”

Einstein would love google. Are we listening?