I am going to do something in this blog that my son warned against, that I criticized Will Richardson for doing, and that every training on digital etiquette warns against. I am going to write with some emotion (read: anger). In doing so I respectfully thank Ben for his input, apologize to Will for my criticism (and Dave Cormier who so admirably and rightfully came to Will’s defense) and I throw caution against the wind relative to etiquette, as I will hit send when I am done writing this post, emotions and protocol be damned. The fact of the matter is, this transparency thing is not something I can do only when I am happy or excited to share something new. It is a choice I have made and in doing so forfeited the opportunity to hold back or filter. So, you will read some anger in my words, frustrations in my thoughts, and disgust in my remarks, but that is where I am right now. As always, you have the right to rebut or ignore, share or toss aside, laugh in contempt or laugh in the discomfort that what I am writing you know to be true. Whichever you choose, just know that I am uncomfortable with where education is, both locally and globally, and I need to get things off my chest.
1. I am really upset with Michelle Rhee right now. Not necessarily because she quit, but because when she became the Chancellor of Washington, DC schools, she said her job was not driven by politics. Yet, when the politics shift and the votes don’t go her way (see DC mayoral race) she bails. Regardless of whether or not I was a supporter of he efforts (which I was not) I don’t think you should sell “reform” if you are not willing to fight when you no longer have political clout. Educational leadership takes courage, especially when it has to move beyond politics.
2. I am so tired of the amount of paper my kids are bringing home from school. To the left is a picture of the pile of paper my kids have accumulated over the past two weeks. Really? Why can’t this be digitized?
3. Within that stack is information for upcoming fundraisers that are being held to pay for a variety of activities at the school. The major fundraiser is a magazine drive. I’m sorry, but I am moving to paperless, I don’t want more magazines cluttering my house. Further, our school doesn’t lack for books, supplies, or computers like so many others do; if we are going to raise funds, shouldn’t we be doing so with the children and in a way that allows them to explore global issues and not by the children to throw a bigger party at the end of the year? Truthfully, I’d rather see my taxes increase to support education AND donate to student organized fundraisers that allow the kids to make a difference in the world then keep taxes stagnant only to hide them in a variety of fundraisers. I understand that others may not agree, but I would rather see more opportunities for more kids than an embarrassment of riches in any one school.
4. I was pretty disappointed in some of the discussion I heard at my kids’ “Back to School Night”. When I hear teachers say things like, “we have to teach them to be responsible” by implementing ancient homework policies or “they need to learn how to read out of a textbook to prepare them for middle school” I cringe. First of all, don’t prepare my kids for middle school, prepare them for life. Second, you don’t teach “responsibility” by creating a double-jeopardy homework policy (please read Alfie Kohn and Doug Reeves), you coerce students into compliance. There’s a big difference between being responsible and being compliant.
I know these teachers, they are all terrific people, I don’t want to come off as pointing the finger at them, I really don’t. This is a systemic problem due to the fact that educators as a group loathe change. The result is that old practices and dogmas rarely get purged. We work in a system that rewards consistency and predictability and shuns change and the unknown, even if older practices do not help students engage in 21st century issues. The quotes above could come from teachers in all grades, in all schools, in all states in this country. I know that my kids’ teachers care and love my children, but there is the opportunity to do so much more.
5. My most proud moment as an Assistant Superintendent was my collaboration with a district wide team of educators to change the Acceptable Use Policy into one that allowed for schools, educators and students to be more participatory on the web and to learn from and connect with others using web2.0 tools. Yet, more than 5 weeks into the school year, my kids have yet to write a blog post, create a wiki, post to flickr, or connect with other learners. In fact, the only participatory web tool that my family has been exposed to has come from the cafeteria director asking my family to start using the new web-based pay system, where I can fund my kids’ hot lunch accounts automatically using my credit card. Could it be that the school’s cafeteria is more web savvy than its classrooms?
(In full disclosure, one of my daughter’s teachers has asked me to come in an speak to the class about blogging, but when my son says on Sunday nights that he is not looking forward to writing in his journal Monday morning because, “only the teacher reads it, not the whole world” I get frustrated. Again… my kids’ teachers are great, it’s the system that bares the brunt of my frustration.)
6. On a more global scale, I’m worried that my PLN is becoming cliquey. I’m not sure if it is, but sometimes I feel as though my network is beginning to splinter off into different groups each claiming rights to their “specialty”. This isn’t a complaint because I feel like I am being left out, but what I valued so much about all of the connections I have made over the past year is the cross-pollination that so often took place. At times I feel as though that is happening less. Perhaps I am doing it as well and don’t recognize it, but there are times when I am on Twitter, Facebook, or just catching up on my Google Reader and I feel like I am at a high school dance, with each group establishing squatters rights in their part of the gym. Maybe I need to be more of a bumblebee and help make connections where there might otherwise not be any. Maybe I need to form Triads as Dave Logan describes in Tribal Leadership.
7. I’m growing more angry with the national conversation about education. It is turning into an us vs. them debate. Charter vs. public school. Virtual vs. brick and mortar school. Union vs. non-union school. I have real disdain for competition in education, and I am still not sure why someone (or group) has to feel the need to claim victory here. One of the things that I am most proud of our work at VLACS, is the fact that we partner with any school (or home school parent) in an effort to help kids graduate from high school. Our core values are built on the foundation that we are partners in education, not rivals. I don’t hear that sentiment coming from that national conversations these days.
8. I am incredibly saddened by the decision this school board made. It is so short-sighted. I have come to the realization that decisions based on standardized testing rarely have long-term vision. You can’t take someone’s temperature with a stethoscope and you can’t assess how much learning has taken place by a standardized test.
9. It bothers me that I feel like I have a greater voice locally as a parent and taxpayer than I did as an Assistant Superintendent.
10. Finally, I’m frustrated with educators (and community members) here in New Hampshire. I hope that I see more progressive thinking and a push toward more authentic, passion-based learning models than what is happening right now. My fear, however, is that people move here to find traditional ideals and values and that any movement forward will continue to be glacial at best. We’ll see, I’ll keep pushin’.
On another note, I’m thinking that the Chilean mine rescue will go down as one of those events in my life when I will remember where I was when I watched that first miner rise through that tiny hole in the Earth. And, just to be grumpy a little more, I don’t ever want to hear another golf announcer use the word “courageous” when describing a 4 foot putt. The courage displayed by that very first rescue miner as he descended down into the hole is hard for me to fathom.
Thanks all. I feel better now.