Friday, December 5, 2008

Keynote Flim-Flam

Will Richardson writes of his disappointment that highly paid speakers at a conference dedicated to the future of schooling lacked concrete ideas relevant to, well - the future of schooling.

This comes as no surprise to those of us who have endured endless lectures by "experts" with no educational experience, background or knowledge who apply conventional wisdom from every field except education, to improving our schools. I've asked the following question a zillion times in different forms, but continue to be clueless as to, "Why are educators so willing to take marching orders from slick talkers who know nothing about learning, have extremely limited experience in schools and have never led anything, even as assistant night manager of a 7-11?"

Will's blog about conference speakers
, Michael Horn and Tony Wagner remind me of Stager's First Two Axioms of Education Reform.
(Note: Tony Wagner has considerable education experience.)

Stager's Axioms of Education Reform

1) “It is my belief that the dominant solution to any educational challenge will be wrong and make the problem worse.”

2) "Observation is not insight and counting is not wisdom!"

The best of the fancy conference talkers and airport bookstore authors can sling meaningless statistics about cellphone ownership, Indian engineering graduates and how many kids play video games like a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher. However, the conclusions they draw, if they even bother to draw them, tend to be fatuous and apropos of nothing.

In other cases, the conclusions are drawn with complete ignorance or discounting of the social, political, historical or human aspects of schooling. Merely proclaiming that the world is changing and schools will soon be irrelevant is a cheap party trick worthy of your contempt. Inventing clever puns, taking credit for ones created by others or making self-evident claims about the value of educational tradition, without questioning those traditions, is just as disgraceful (see here)

Will ended his blog on an optimistic note, but I harbor great reservations about what he sees as progress.

Finally, I think the conversation that most blew me away was the one with Andy Ross, the VP of Florida Virtual High School. They’ve got almost 1,000 full time staff now and over 20,000 kids on their waiting list to take classes. They can’t hire teachers fast enough. Kids can take their entire high school curriculum online without ever meeting a teacher face to face, though there are plenty of phone calls and e-mails. Andy said that their research shows that those kids do better on the standardized assessments than kids in physical schools, primarily because of the deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery. Now I’m not saying that those are necessarily reasons to move everything online, but it was the one solid vision of a “School of the Future” that I got at the conference.

  • First of all, the fact that kids have decided to avoid schooling and accept an alternative, any alternative should neither surprise nor encourage us. Dropping out may be the most rational response to the current system that will not be improved one bit by kids opting out for correspondence school.

  • What is lost when you never meet a teacher face-to-face? Is education merely the objective exchange of questions and answers? Of teaching and being taught?

  • I am NOT comforted by increases in standardized test scores or the "deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery." This is a vision of education I find nauseating.

  • While I remain a great supporter of the affordances offered learners by well-designed online learning environments (I have fifteen years worth of experience teaching online), the Florida Virtual School was not created out of pure intentions. One needs only to look at the new state law requiring online alternatives to school for every elementary school student and it's easy to conclude that the Florida Virtual School is first and foremost a stealth plan for privatizing public education and cutting costs. Jeb Bush achieved what his ideological brethren only dreamed of by offering a scheme to parents that sounds futuristic. It is impossible to see this news in an apolitical context.

Educators in Pennsylvania told me that parents tired of receiving truancy calls simply withdraw their kids from school and "enroll" them in "cyberschools." The value or efficacy of that educational alternative remains in doubt.

On another note, I'm always amazed when bloggers who use so little computing potential and offer a slightly incremental view of educational innovation also feel compelled to apologize for their advocacy of the tiniest of changes in pedagogical practice.
That doesn’t mean than we throw out all of the good pedagogy that we’ve developed over the years and make everything about technology. But it does mean, I think, that technology has to be a part of the way we do our learning business
You can also keep your learning "business" while we are at it.

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  • Gary,
    I'm surprised by your description of my "love for Daniel Pink's phrenological theories." I mentioned his book once. I said The World is Flat is by far the most important book I've read in a decade. But more importantly, I spent much of my talk describing my interviews with scores of executives who told me about the "7 Seven Survival Skills" that matter most for college, careers, and citizenship. This is a world most educators are largely isolated from. And I talked about my regular observations in classrooms where I observe that these skills are not being taught even in our best schools--because they are not on the test. I wonder if you were fully awake that morning--or if you simply listen for what you want to hear? As to experience, I spent 12 years as a high school teacher, 2 years as a principal, and 5 years teaching at the university level. More importantly, I have spent the last 20 years working closely with change leaders in education--helping them to understand what our students will need to know and be able to do to succeed in a rapidly changing world, how best to motivate them to excellence, and what constitutes effective teaching and assessment. I spent time in schools nearly every week. I think this experience gives me at least some modest qualifications for speaking to educators.
    Tony Wagner

    By Anonymous Tony Wagner, At December 6, 2008 5:46 AM  

  • Tony,

    1,000 apologies. I stand-corrected and will finish reading your book (I purchased it) more carefully.

    I bought the book because of my respect for the people who blurbed it and it is a cut above the rest.

    I do however have deep reservations about Friedman's book on its own as a piece of writing and on the conclusions people draw from it.

    I will remove you from the blog and hope we'll get a chance to meet in the very near future.

    All the very best,


    By Anonymous Gary, At December 6, 2008 12:49 PM  

  • Here is my 2005 review of Thomas Friedman's book, "The World is Flat."

    By Anonymous Gary, At December 6, 2008 12:51 PM  

  • Thanks, Gary. Let me know what you think of the book. You can reach me through my website.

    By Anonymous tony, At December 10, 2008 11:47 AM  

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