Shoe’s On The Other Foot

After 38 years of asking other people questions, I find the the tables (occasionally) being turned. Some people want me to answer questions. Truth is, it’s actually kind of fun, because it forces me to think more deeply than I am perhaps inclined to.

It’s already happened four times this week.

On Wednesday a policy person asked me what I thought about the push for “College and Career Readiness” and the national policies that were developing around that notion.

Followed by a question about ‘digital natives.’

On Monday, I was with Arts educators, always a lively bunch, and one asked me how I felt about teacher training.

Followed by a question about No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and the Common Core.

In the interest of spurring some debate, here’s a shorthand version of how I responded.

I told the questioner that “College and Career Readiness” strikes me as a wrong-headed term. It implies that ‘College’ is a destination, when in fact it’s a way station on one of the roads to (one hopes) a fulfilling life. And putting ‘College’ first and ‘Career’ second implies to some that ‘Career’ is a poor cousin; it’s what you do if you do NOT go to college.

Sloppy language reveals sloppy thinking. And, I gather, a mish-mosh of policies and programs. I’d prefer government investment in, say, two years of education beyond high school and in what are called ‘early college’ programs in high school. (We’re reporting on the latter very soon on the NewsHour).

The question about “digital natives” was a softball pitch down the middle of the plate. To me, many adults say ‘digital natives’ as part of their confession of feelings of inadequacy, as in “The kids are digital natives who just get this technology naturally, and I can’t keep up.” Maybe so, but adults have important responsibilities here, because being a ‘digital native’ is NOT the same thing as being as ‘digital citizen.’ Developing good citizens — digital or otherwise — is an adult responsibility and obligation. ‘Nuff said.

John has made a career of asking the big questions. But sometimes ... he gets asked them, too.

As to teacher training, we need to do better. I found myself reaching for a sound bite on this issue: “We need to make it harder to become a teacher but easier to be one.” Raise the barriers to entry by making training more demanding. Internships and time with master teachers. Visits to classrooms in countries like Finland. But once in the classroom, teachers need to be treated like professionals. We need to get off their backs and involve them in curriculum development and student assessment. From what I hear, Stanford’s STEP program is a pretty good model to follow. STEP, for Stanford Teacher Education Program, pairs would-be teachers with carefully selected mentor teachers. In its own words, STEP is “where theory and practice meet and where, in turn, learning takes place. The links between theory and practice, university and school, experience and standards, are the links of learning.” I’ve been impressed by STEP graduates and hold the program’s leader, Linda Darling Hammond, in the highest regard.

Programs like STEP make it tougher to become a teacher (high admission standards, a demanding curriculum) and equip their graduates with a skill set that will make it easier for them to succeed in the classroom. More has to be done to make it easier for teachers to succeed, of course, including an end to the current ‘gotcha’ game that’s dominating education politics.

The last question thrown at me had to do with NCLB, ‘Race to the Top’ and the Common Core. What, the questioner wanted to know, did they have in common, if anything? I hope you will weigh in with your thoughts on this. As I stood there thinking (while saying “That’s a great question” — which is what you say when you don’t know how to answer!), the notion of ‘power’ popped into my head. Think about it: George W. Bush came to Washington as an avowed ‘states rights’ Governor and immediately proceeded to enact, with Democratic help, the greatest Federal intrusion into public education in our history. Secretary Duncan was a harsh critic of NCLB when he ran the Chicago public schools but has replaced it with a program that is only marginally less intrusive. He’s granting waivers so that states don’t have to follow NCLB’s orders — as long as they follow his. And the Common Core looks as if it’s going to continue the pattern of centralization.

The lesson here may not be that “Power corrupts,” but instead something akin to “Power corrodes.” To me, NCLB has proved conclusively that Washington cannot run public education, but maybe I feel that way only because I am not in Washington and do not have any power.

Your thoughts?

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4 thoughts on “Shoe’s On The Other Foot

  1. We want everyone to go to college and college is not for everyone. I think this is the root of our high dropout rate.Yes, there are many, many students who would be a good fit for college and do not have the proper training in high school because of lack of resources, particularly in our inner cities. We need to help those kids get to college. But there are also students who would be very productive citizens, and I have seen some of these students attending fancy private schools, as plumbers, electricians, and mechanics. Having just returned from three months in France, I was struck by how much l’ouvrier, or the manual worker, was celebrated. Workers were proud to put in a good day’s hard work. By observation, they were far more productive, too. So, I think we need to bring back classes like “shop,” fund more technical schools, and give students who like to work with their hands some pride. Let’s not prepare everyone for “college,” making it shameful not to go to college. Let’s prepare everyone for a productive career and satisfying life. Preparing absolutely everyone for college closes doors. Educators are in the business of opening them.


  2. My dad, back in the late 1960’s, just had to go to college. So he did to Yuba Community College and Sacramento State College (now California State University, Sacramento). Because his older brother Jay was a beloved and successful History teacher, dad thought about being a teacher. By the time he did some classroom observations, he decided that was not in his future. He had no other real aspiration, no real motive or objective other than going to college. He majored studied and got a degree in Psychology and a minor in Anthropology or vice versa. He worked for a moulding mill and did remodel work until the mill burned. Then he became an electrical contractor. He has been a great one from about 1980 to the present. I’m glad and grateful for his example. But I wonder what he might have done had he simply gone into that trade sooner. As the Tootsie Pop ad used to say, “the world may never know.”

    Being educated or having training are relative terms in my mind. I believe they are almost synonymous. A great book is out there whose author’s name escapes me, but it is called “Shop Class as Soulcraft.” And the basic premise for me is that we need not only be informed, but we need work, moving our hands in concert with our minds and our hearts, to be well-rounded. My dad understood that well before the current debate and discussion. And I am so grateful he did. I may have barely earned my BA in History and minor in Spanish from California State University, Chico, but earn them I did. And it set me up for why I believe so strongly in education as a playing field leveler.

    It is also why I believe in some of the unwritten or informal outcomes of an education. A few examples: understanding that for every professor and student, there are going to be various ways of seeing this world and it is okay to adjust your world view or recalibrate your thinking; comprehending that being old enough to drink doesn’t mean one should; knowing that attendance is 9/10 of the law–my “failed” grades were about boredom with the class and non- attendance, but had I dropped them, the GPA would be sweet; falling in love is brilliant just as breaking up is heat-changing (it isn’t broken, it just has different capacity), etc. All of these things and others came because I went to Yuba College and Chico State and along the way took classes at the University of Utah, the University of Oregon, the University of Phoenix, and have attended myriad workshops, symposia, and conference, all with the idea that I need to be educated.

    And this all dovetails into all the questions John was asked that prompted this piece. It really is all about what we do with learning or training that matters most, not how it manifests itself in terms of a career or job or whatever. What kind of people, what sort of citizens do we create in a country with so much promised by our Founding Parents? If we fail to provide support, reasonable price tags, guidance about how much online vs. how much outside (see Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods”), and so on, I fear we will bury ourselves in self-perpetuated caves of isolation and lose some powerful characteristics.

    Wow… fresh air near some mountains in central Utah and the quiet of the early morning and I am thinking way too deeply. Not to mention taking too much space. Love the thoughts you caused me to consider. Without some form of feeling about our thinking and thinking about what we feel, we’ll continue on our march toward mediocrity which inevitably is a march toward failure. Suffice it to say I feel that college and career readiness is poor wording when all is said and done. Life readiness is far more what it really is, or should be. Or needs to be.


  3. Thanks for representing the trees. Trees are great teachers of patience and acceptance.I am so greatfull for trees because of the way they demonstrate generosity and unconditional loving by constantly transmitting sunlight energy into clean air for all animals to breathe , and purify the water for us to drink.


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