ADD trash to the curriculum?

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As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon.

Looking out my living room window, I see five large trash receptacles on the four corners of the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 79th Street that our east side Manhattan apartment overlooks. And, probably as a consequence, there’s very little garbage on the street and sidewalk.

In fact, most intersections in my neighborhood seem to have a trashcan on each corner, something I have been aware of — and grateful for — when I walk our yellow Lab in the morning and at night.

But when I was visiting a school in the South Bronx last week, I couldn’t help but notice that sidewalks and streets were littered and there weren’t very many public trash receptacles. Just one per intersection, not the four (or five) in my neighborhood.

Now, a couple of casual sightings and an anecdote do not constitute data, but this is a great opportunity for social studies teachers to use technology to enliven their classes, energize their students, and perhaps provide real life lessons in how cities distribute resources.

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REQUIRED READING: 6 Titles Not To Be Missed

February is a great month for books about education, with very readable releases from John Seely Brown, Richard Whitmire, Ron Dietel, Alexander Russo, Gene Maeroff and one of Peg and Gris Merrow’s sons. It’s a short month, so you might not have time to read them all before March 1, but I hope you will give at least some of them a try. Below are my somewhat biased reviews of some notable titles.

For those who are looking forward to what schooling might become, “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Flux” is essential reading. While I don’t know co-author Douglas Thomas, I assure you that John Seely Brown is a deep thinker whose interests encompass just about everything. He’s one of the smartest people I know. To give you a taste of their thinking, here are a couple of quotes from the book. “We propose reversing the order of things. What if, for example, questions were more important than answers? What if the key to learning were not the application of techniques but their invention? What if students were asking questions about things that really mattered to them?” And “The ability to play may be the single most important skill to develop for the twenty-first century.” Amen to that, I say.

“A New Culture of Learning” turns school on its head, which the authors say is essential because the world our kids live in is already upside down. In short, play is the new work, and questions are the new answers. The book, which is short and punchy, is only available on Amazon. (Full disclosure: I blurbed this book.)

Richard Whitmire is an engaging writer and a fine story teller. Marry those talents with a charismatic subject, which Whitmire has done, and the result is a terrific read. “The Bee Eater” is a semi-authorized biography of Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the Washington, DC schools. As some readers may know, we followed Rhee for 3 years  on PBS NewsHour (the 12 resulting episodes are viewable online). Whitmire, a friend and colleague over many years, essentially shadowed Michelle Rhee for months, and the result is an insightful portrait of a bold, courageous but flawed leader.“The Bee Eater” is published by Wiley.

Ready for a break, for a romp? Pick up Ronald Dietel’s biting spoof, “The Perfect Test.” It’s a dystopian vision of a world gone crazy, a science fiction portrait of the future that often comes wickedly close to where we are now. “The Perfect Test” will make you laugh, but it will also make you mad and make you think. (Full disclosure: Ron has generously signed over the royalties to the Education Writers Association and Learning Matters, my non-profit company.)

With all these books, I worry that Alexander Russo’s  will get lost in the shuffle, and I hope that does not happen. “Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors” is the gritty story of an unlikely attempt to fix a broken Los Angeles high school, Locke High School in South Central L.A. Alexander, also a friend and colleague, seems to have had complete access to the process, and the result is an engaging story with several complex characters, including Green Dot founder Steve Barr. (Full disclosure: I also blurbed this book.)“Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors” is published by Jossey-Bass.

“School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy” is the latest book from the tireless Gene Maeroff, the veteran New York Times reporter turned scholar. This is a dense but rewarding book, enlivened by stories of Gene’s own experience as a member of the school board in his home town of Edison, New Jersey. It’s not ‘tales out of school’ but a serious examination of the past and future of school boards. Given all the bad stuff that’s being written about school boards lately, this book is a necessary balance.“School Boards in America”, which is Gene’s 14th book, is published by Palgrave MacMillan.

And finally, I come to “The Influence of Teachers,” a book that comes out in a few days on Amazon. Neither Peg nor Gris Merrow, the author’s parents, are here to tell you to buy the book, but others are speaking up. Here’s a sample:

“Terrific” – Jim Lehrer

“Invaluable” – Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund

“Important and enjoyable, warm and thoughtful” Former US Secretary of Education Richard C. Riley

“Passionate, persuasive, and eminently readable” Chris Cerf, co-creator of ‘Between the Lions’ and recipient of the 2010 McGraw Prize in Education

“A book that will move you to tears and to action” Tony Marx, incoming President of the New York Public Library and current President of Amherst College

“If only there were more John Merrows!” E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder of Core Knowledge and author of Cultural Literacy

By now you have figured out that I wrote “The Influence of Teachers,” which LM Books published on Amazon. It’s available on February 15th, although you can put in your order right now, by clicking this link. (All of the proceeds go directly to Learning Matters.)

Happy reading…

Video, Media & Empowerment in the Classroom

Television and video have an undistinguished track record in public education, as either a baby sitter or a security measure. But things have changed in recent years, and the future is certainly getting interesting.

I cannot begin to count the number of times I have seen darkened classrooms full of kids watching some video or other. Sometimes it seemed to be relevant; other times it was clearly filler, an uninspired teacher killing time or ‘rewarding’ his students by letting them watch a movie.

Of course, some teachers have used video brilliantly to bring to life what otherwise might be words on a page. Far better to experience, say, Olivier’s Hamlet on the screen while also reading the play. (When I was a high school English teacher in the late 60’s, I used some wonderful Caedmon LP’s of Shakespeare’s play to bring Macbeth’s power and passion to life.)

Lots of schools use video cameras for security purposes. I’ve been in schools where every hallway is wired and someone sits in the main office watching multiple screens. Creepy. Other reporters tell me about schools where classrooms have cameras, allowing the principal to monitor activity.

However, in recent years we’ve seen videos of teachers losing it in class, thanks to hidden cameras or cell phones.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some teachers were now turning the tables, whipping out their cell phones to video kids who are misbehaving.

But this use is negative to the max and reflects how unhealthy the atmosphere is in some schools. Continue reading