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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Students: Be very afraid of online degree programs, especially if Pearson had anything to do with them

The other day I read this article in Politico:

No profit left behind
In the high-stakes world of American education, Pearson makes money even when its results don’t measure up.

Anyone who cares about education knows that Pearson is running our school systems through its tests, grading of tests, and nearly anything else it can think of. What I learned in this article is that they are now a major provider of online courses to universities and virtual high schools as well. So, I thought I would take a look at their courses which would of course, be the usual crap mixture of reading and taking tests interrupted by a  lecture.

But, the University of Florida, one place that buys these courses, doesn’t show them to the casual viewer. Instead it provides a promo video which includes the following keywords:

innovative pedagogy
positive game play
social interaction 
promotes pure learning
encourages collaboration
values individual student identity
builds upon student’s strengths and interests
allows for student choice
provides opportunities for reflection

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they were describing the learn by doing, experiential, mentored simulation courses that me and my team have been building for over a decade. We too have created an innovative pedagogy that encourages (in fact, it requires) collaboration. provides choices, and is big on reflection.

(I don’t know what pure learning is and I don’t know what it means to value student identity, nor do I think positive game play means anything, but, I am getting the idea that Pearson (and Florida) are learning innovative educational vocabulary rather then learning how to build good educational experiences.)

I went on in the U of Florida video. I found that:

Students interact with each other

This, I have found, means that there are student discussion boards and students get to talk to other students just as they do in MOOCs without ever actually involving the faculty in any way. There are “team discussions” which would be fine if they ended up in something shared and engaged with by a teacher, but that doesn't happen. What does happen is the use of “playful promo videos for each module topic,” which seems to mean a funny intro of some sort. There are also short “weekly constitutionals covering foundational topics.” I have no idea what that means. Maybe it means the lectures they assure us they don’t use or the readings they don't mention they will make you read.

They do have an instructor however. 

“The instructor interacts with students via twitter, live tweeting during public events, and sharing content related to course activities.”

Wow. The students get to read tweets from  a professor. Now that is an innovative pedagogy! 

We also find that “the course does not rely on assigned readings and multiple-choice assessments (although all those are featured to a limited degree.)”

I have no idea what that sentence means, but my best guess is that course is nearly all assigned readings and multiple choice tests since that is what Pearson does for a living and that is what Pearson is ramming down the throats of every student online and off line whenever it can do it.

We are told that students complete missions. What is a mission you ask?

“Missions are the experiential component of the course:   They have to interview people, they have to talk to people, they have to do research and they have to build something, whether its something as simple as an essay or maybe even an infographic, a digital timeline, or a video.”   

So students are writing essays as usual, but they can also make graphical or video essays. I wonder who looks at them. The twitter bird?

So this is what I learned: Be very afraid of online courses. They are worse than live courses by a lot, and live courses are usually just boring lectures and tests. 

Students: Be very afraid of these online degree programs  because if Pearson continues to be in charge they won’t be worth the price of printing the diploma. You will have learned nothing except how to argue with other students on a discussion board and take lots of test and complete many “missions.”

The U of Florida may use the vocabulary of experiential learning but accomplishing real live tasks, tasks that someone might one day actually employ you to do, requires the learning and practice of real skills.   But, building courses that simulate actual experiences is expensive, and neither Florida nor Pearson is willing to spend much money on building new things. If you want to see what an experiential learning by doing course should look like, take a look here:

They can steal our vocabulary, but they can’t copy what we do, mostly because they really don’t want to. 

Universities are, for the most part, not concerned with teaching. I also watched the video promo of an online U of Florida Psychology course where the speaker was the instructor. She never said what the online course was like but she did say the word “research” about ten times. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Students: Life isn’t actually a multiple choice test. Have some fun.

I want to consider four separate things I happened upon this week that all lead one glaring conclusion.

The first was this article in the NYTimes:

More College Freshmen Report Having Felt Depressed

“High numbers of students are beginning college having felt depressed and overwhelmed during the previous year, according to an annual survey released on Thursday, reinforcing some experts’ concern about the emotional health of college freshmen.”

This would be very interesting if it weren’t so sad. The article reports that students are stressed out about getting into college and academics and so they socialize less and don’t even have time to watch TV.

To put this another way, we have managed to test these kids to death in the last years, so that their life is all about getting into college by getting good grades. How does this make for well adjusted human beings? Do families even gather around the dinner table and talk anymore? Do they play together after dinner? Or are they all cramming for the next test? What kinds of people are we raising? If you are depressed when you arrive at college, how are you going to even get through college much less life? Where  is the fun?

Well, apparently not in childhood. The next article, also from the Times, makes it clears why. 

Is Your First Grader College Ready?

“Matriculation is years away for the Class of 2030, but the first graders in Kelli Rigo’s class at Johnsonville Elementary School in rural Harnett County, N.C., already have campuses picked out. Three have chosen West Point and one Harvard. In a writing assignment, the children will share their choice and what career they would pursue afterward. The future Harvard applicant wants to be a doctor. She can’t wait to get to Cambridge because “my mom never lets me go anywhere.”

They are talking about college in first grade? Why? “If you focus on Harvard you will get in” is apparently the answer.  But Harvard has a 5.9% acceptance rate. It is probably a lot lower in Harnett County, N.C. So is our goal to get kids to focus on what they will never achieve so that they can be depressed once they get into college, or worse fail to get into college? How can college matter in any way to a six year old? Fun matters. Learning what you want to learn matters. We have made school into a contest that no one can win. All are Harvard graduates so happy and successful? I don’t know. I taught at Yale, where there were a lot of miserable kids and where plenty of the graduates never went on to do all that much. It is all so sad. 

And then I got this, forwarded from my son. It is from his four year old’s teacher:

Hello Families,

In honor of Black History Month, throughout the month of February, each classroom at our school will be highlighting important contributions of African Americans to our country and culture. Our classroom will be studying and celebrating the inspiring artwork of Shinique Smith, a Baltimore native who is renowned for her bright, geometric and abstract paintings, collages and sculptures. We are thrilled to introduce Ms. Smith's work to the children as her artistic interests and philosophies are very similar to our students' artistic tendencies in the classroom art studio: 
1 The children an Ms. Smith share a passion for reusing recyclable materials in their artwork, giving "found treasures" and "loose parts" new life through their creations. 
2 The children and Ms. Smith share a fascination with spirals and mandalas, consistently incorporating circular patterns and designs into their work. 
3 The children and Ms. Smith have been inspired by the work of Jackson Pollock and enjoy utilizing flicking, splattering and dripping techniques on their canvases when using tempera paint.

I am sure that a 4 year old “studying and celebrating” an artist will be something to behold. But, we have a hint of what will happen. Apparently the 4 year olds have been inspired by Jackson Pollack to dribble paint on canvases. Really? No one just plays with paint any more. Now they are all Jackson Pollack. And since they like playing with junk, we find this is now a tribute to an artist that no one has ever heard of.

This wouldn't bother me so much except for what followed.

Extending Learning at Home:
Here are some resources to learn more about Shinique Smith at home. Consider taking some time to look through her work with your child (or the whole family). Spark discussion by asking the following: "What does this remind you of?" "What do you see in this piece?" "What do you think  Shinique was thinking about when she painted/sculpted this?" "What shades of color do you see?" "What shapes do you see?" "How does this piece make you feel?”

The parents are being told that despite the fact that they have spent the whole day working and despite the fact that the kids have been in school all day, what they should do at home in their free time is this: They shouldn’t play with their child or talk to him about what he is thinking, Instead, they should talk about the work of an artist they never heard of and don’t care about to a kid who has no interest in the subject. All this because the teacher wants to rest during class while the kids throw paint?

The good news is that I wont be visiting my grandson or I would talk to him about what the teacher was thinking when she sent home this message or how doing this required art work makes him feel. Fun? That’s out. Let’s make them stress about school 24/7.

But it hasn’t been a bad year for kids in school this year. Why? Because there have been lots of snow days. Kids celebrate when school is cancelled. I wonder why. 
But, apparently not in Indiana:

“Even when schools are closed for snow, students in Delphi, Ind., are expected to log on to their classes from home.
The seniors in Brian Tonsoni's economics class at Delphi Community High School are no strangers to technology — everybody has an Internet-connected laptop or smartphone in front of them in class as they work on business plans.”

Can we please stop and think about what we are doing to our children? They are all in a giant competition but I am not sure for what. I didn’t pay any attention to that competition when I was a student. I graduated #322 in a class of 678. Those numbers never left my mind. I had a C average in college. 

Why? Because I believe in playing and having fun and not in stressing out about school. Still I managed to be the youngest full professor at Yale at the time (at 29). 

Let them have fun, please. School just isn’t that important. I never got into Harvard. (Nor did I apply.) Somehow I managed through life without it. College has become a symbol of achievement in this country. It isn’t. There are 4000 colleges. Anyone can get into college. And anyone can graduate by memorizing answers and passing tests. 

Life isn’t actually a multiple choice test.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why do we give lectures? Why does anyone attend them?

I found myself in the unusual position (for me anyway) of being a tourist in Brazil about a month ago.  For various reasons, I was on boats, and busses, and other vehicles, on which I found myself being lectured at. 

This was a bit ironic since as my readers know, I hate lectures. It is also ironic, because, I am a frequent lecturer at meetings of one sort or another.

I found myself wondering why people love to give lectures so much, and why I seemed to be the only one irritated by having to listen to them. (One was given beneath a tree, so I walked away, but no one else did, and one was during a walking tour of a winery which I left, but again no one else did.) Now, I understand why no one left the busses or the boats, but I certainly wanted to. On one boat ride the man giving the lecture (which I had thought was just a trip around the harbor) mentioned at least 8 times that there were (fill in the number) states that comprise Brazil. I had no idea why he was telling us this, and, obviously, I have no idea what the number is, (I am guessing between 5 and 50). I don’t care any more now than I did then.

My question is: why was he telling us this fact once, much less 8 different times?

There is something about lectures that is fascinating to me because while I hate them, I love giving them. In fact, it seems like most lecturers love giving them, so my question is why anyone listens.

As a professor (but one who did not lecture) I understand that students are there because they have to be and for the most part they aren’t listening much either. But, I have noticed that most people will not admit this about themselves. When I ask people to try and remember a lecture they heard, they usually say they can and then say a sentence or two about one they happen to recall. But the average educated person has heard hundreds of lectures and they usually cannot even remember what the subjects were or whom the speakers were after a while.

So my question remains. People do voluntarily submit themselves to this and they do think they learned something. Why do they do it?

So here are my best guesses as to why we give lectures and why people seem to want to attend them.

5 reasons why people give lectures

  1. Everyone is looking at the lecturer and the lecturer is performing. People love performing in front of an audience.
  2. A lecturer feels as if he or she is the smartest person in the room while lecturing. Everyone is paying rapt attention (they think), so they must be very smart and very important. People like being the smartest person in the room. Even the boat guy felt he knew more about Brazil then anyone else on the boat and so he was sure he must be very wise indeed.
  3. The lecturer feels that he or she is saving time. If the lecturer can convey lots of information in an hour then  think of the time the audience and the lecturer are saving by putting everything in one neat place.
  4. The lecturer is also saving money. Instead of having a conversation with each member or the audience. He or she can talk to everyone at once. This makes university education very cost effective and does the same for corporate training. One person and five hundred listeners makes great economic sense.
  5. A lecturer, not this one of course, believes that facts are the currency of education. The more facts that he or she can provide, the better off everyone’s life will be. If he or she could only talk faster, think how many more facts could be provided. The providing of facts must be thought of as being very important, even if one of those facts is the number of states in Brazil.

Why do people listen to lectures?

5 reasons why people listen to lectures

  1. Everyone likes watching a performance. People listen to the State of the Union address to see the performance.  People attend a keynote lecture at a meeting to see the performance. After more than 40 years of giving them, I have come to believe that most people haven’t much of an idea what I am talking about and they don’t much care, but they like when I make them laugh and they like when they can come up and talk (or argue) with me later.
  2. People like feeling that they are smarter than the guy who is supposed to be the smartest person in the room. They get to tell their companions that the speaker was a dope, or make fun of something he did. They like feeling superior to the guy who clearly thinks he is the smartest person in the room.
  3. People attend lectures because they are saving time. They get all the stuff they need in one place in one hour and then later they can “explore more deeply” if they want to. This is a nice myth anyway. I am not sure that much “exploring more deeply” actually happens, but it is nice to think that it does.
  4. The attendee is spending money, not saving it. The lecture usually costs something one way or the other. But typically mom and dad, or the government, or the company, is paying for it so they don’t care.
  5. The listener agrees that facts are the currency of education. They like facts. They like them because they can pop them into a conversation at a cocktail party and seem erudite. (My wife heard these same tourist lectures. She is the opposite of me. She got all A’s in school and was actually listening to the boat man. I asked her, while I was writing this, how many states there are in Brazil. She said 21, she guessed. I looked it up after she answered. There are 26. Later when I told her what I was writing, she said “oh its 26.”) But, even the good students don’t really care much about the facts. They may say they are important but they know they are not (unless of course there is a test, in which case they are important for the test.)

So, why do we have lectures? Because we always did. No one wants to change this really. We are all just used to it.

I will end with a quote from Max Sonderby. Max was the TA in the first learn by doing mentored simulation based master’s degree program we rolled out at Carnegie Mellon’s Silicon Valley Campus, in 2002. The year before, he had finished a typical masters degree at Carnegie Mellon using the classroom based approach to education:

I am almost jealous, in a way. I see that they are gaining skills more readily than I gained them in the program which I attended in Pittsburgh on Carnegie Mellon’s campus. They get exposure to things that we just talked about in a lecture hall.

They are actually doing it, implementing, building software, putting designs into practice, whereas we mostly just did homework and talked about it in a lecture hall.

I am jealous in that respect, but its also a lot more work, but that work definitely pays off for the student.

Max was right. Lecturing is a lot less work for everyone. We still have lectures for one main reason. They are the lazy person’s approach to education. Both lectures and listeners agree that neither of them wants to do much work. Real work, and real doing, and real conversation, is all that matters for learning, but education is really not about learning.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Only poor kids in school; why would someone send their kid to public school if they didn't have to? Mr Obama surely doesn't

This news appeared today (from Washington Post):

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation’s public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention among educators, public officials and researchers.

Why is this true do you think? Seems simple enough. If you can possibly afford it you wouldn’t even think about sending your kid to public school unless there happened to be a safe school with interesting and fun teachers who did exciting things in a public school nearby. And what are the odds of that?

Thank you Mr Bush, and Mr Obama, and especially Mr Duncan, for making school even worse than it was before by having a policy of constant testing to see how everyone is doing. Under the guise of helping poor people do better you have pushed richer people out of the system. No one wants to use your public schools. Try thinking about that the next time you make more standards that make school a nightmare of test preparation and testing.

The latest salvo was from Mr Obama and his henchman Tom Hanks, trying to convince everyone that it is ok for high school to be an awful experience because you can go to Community College for free and that will solve everything, The New York Time printed that and I am guessing that Obama;s staff wrote it. They will do anything to avoid the obvious conclusion that the schools aren't working.

Here is a simple idea: let people who want to make changes in high schools make them. We can teach job skills, life skills, and make it fun. Or, we could make all the poor people learn algebra, chemistry, and history so they can remain poor having learned nothing of use to them.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Free Community College? How about we fix the high schools Mr. Obama?

The New York Times explained this morning what is behind the free Community College plan of President Obama. In this article they said

The United States built the world’s most successful economy by building its most successful education system. At the heart of that system was the universal high school movement of the early 20th century, which turned the United States into the world’s most educated country. These educated high school graduates — white-collar and blue-collar alike — powered the prosperity of the 20th century. 

That may well be true. The high schools of the early 20th century taught employable skills (in addition to the absurd 1892 academic curriculum still in place.) Eventually all practical high school programs were eliminated from high school because everyone “must go to college.”

Mr. Obama, instead of restoring all the practical things that were taught in high school, wants to make everyone go to college in order to learn employable skills.

The plan would allow anyone admitted to a community college to attend without paying tuition, so long as they enroll in a program meeting certain basic requirements and they remain on track to graduate in three years. Its broad goals are clear: to extend the amount of mass education available, for free, beyond high school — from K-through-12, to K-through-college. “The president thinks this is a moment like when we decided to make high school universal,” said Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Here is a wild suggestion, Mr Obama. Fix high school. Teach practical subjects there. Eliminate the 1892 curriculum. Here are some suggestions for what could be taught in high school today:  

Some Proposed Curricula

  1. Criminal Justice
  2. Sports Management
  3. The Music Business
  4. Music Technology
  5. Law
  6. The Legal Office
  7. Military Readiness
  8. The Fashion Industry
  9. Electrical Engineering
  10. Civil Engineering
  11. Robotics
  12. Computer Engineering
  13. Computer Networking
  14. Homeland Security
  15. Medicine
  16. Nursing
  17. Medical Technology
  18. Construction
  19. Television Production
  20. Real Estate Management
  21. Landscape Architecture
  22. Computer Programming
  23. The Banking Industry
  24. The Investment World
  25. Automobile Design
  26. Aircraft Design
  27. Architecture
  28. Biotechnology Lab 
  29. Film Making
  30. Travel Planning
  31. Financial Management
  32. Accounting
  33. Parenting and child care
  34. Animal care
  35. Zoo Keeper
  36. Urban Transit
  37. Hotel management
  38. Healthcare industry
  39. Food industry
  40. Graphic Arts

Could we do this? Easily. Online education allows teaching anything anywhere. Every kid could choose what they were interested in and then change his or her mind and do something else if they got interested in something else. And there are many more possibilities. Spend our money more wisely Mr. Obama. Build that.

Community college wouldn’t be necessary if the high schools weren't broken.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hawking is afraid of AI without having a clue about what AI is; don't worry Steve

The eminent British physicist Stephen Hawking warns that the development of intelligent machines could pose a major threat to humanity.

"The development of full artificial intelligence (AI) could spell the end of the human race," Hawking told the BBC.

Wow! Really? So, a well known scientist can say anything he wants about anything without having any actual information about what he is talking about and get world wide recognition for his views. We live in an amazing time.

Juts to set the record straight lets talk about AI, the reality version not the fantasy one.

Yes, we all know the fantasy one 2001, Star Wars, Her. We have been watching intelligent machines in the movies for decades.

Apparently, Hawking is using a voice system. That’s nice. Maybe he should find out how it works. The new system learns how Hawking thinks and suggests words he might want to use next, according to the BBC. So that makes it very smart does it? That is statistics. We can easily count what you have been saying and guess what you will say next. It is not that complicated to do, and it is not AI.

What is AI? AI is the modeling of mind such that you have created a new mind. At least that is what it is to people who don’t work in the field. To people who do work in the field, the issue is not what word comes next as much as it how to have  a idea about something, or how to have an original thought, or how to have an interaction with someone in which they would think you are very clever and are not a machine.

You average five year old is smarter than any computer today and is smarter than any computer is likely to be any time real soon. Why? Because a five year can do the following:

  1. figure out what annoys his little sister and do it when his mother is not watching
  2. invent a new game
  3. utter a sentence that he has never uttered before
  4. understand what his parents are telling him
  5. decide not to do it because he has something he would  rather do
  6. be left alone in the kitchen and make an attempt to cook something possibly burning down the house but in any case leaving a giant mess
  7. listen to someone say something a draw a conclusion from it and ask an interesting quetsion about it
  8. find his way school without help if allowed to do so
  9. throw a ball
  10. get better at throwing a ball by practice
  11. eat certain foods and hate them,  and others a love them
  12. cry when he is felling anxious
  13. be thrilled with a new toy
  14. throw a temper tantrum
  15. make his mother think he is the best thing in whole world

Why am I listing such mundane things as hallmarks of intelligence? Because in order to build and intelligent machine, that machine would have to grow up. It would have to learn about the world by living in it and failing a lot and being helped by its parents. It would have to have goals and tastes and make an effort to satisfy those goals every day. I would not be planted with goals. I didn’t grow up wanting to work in AI for example. That interest developed while I was in college as result of a wide variety of experiences and interactions with others.

If we have to build an intelligence that acquires knowledge and motivation naturally we would have to know how to build the equivalent of an infant and teach it to interact with the world. Would that infant have arms and legs and be trying to learn how to walk and get stuff it liked and be angry and hot an hopeful? If not, it wouldn’t be much like a human. 

But maybe Hawking doesn’t mean AI that is human-like. Maybe he just mean a computer program that is relay good at prediction by statistics. That is not AI my view, but it is something. Is it something to fear? Only if you are worried about a machine that predict certain things in the world better than you can. That could happen.

To build the AI that I have always had in mind, requires more money than Mark Zuckerberg is willing to invest and requires a purpose. Before someone builds a general purpose AI they would have to try building a special purpose one, maybe one that is smart enough to kill Bin Laden. Interestingly, while the Defense Department has invested plenty of money in Ai it still sent humans to do that job. The Defense Department would undoubtedly have preferred to send an AI robot to do the job, but they are nowhere close to having one.

Could they have one? Yes, someday. But it would be talking to you, or predicting what works not what Hawking wanted to say next. It would be about navigation and inference and figuring out things just in time and son on. It needs to know how to talk and comprehend the world (to think really.)

Special pursue AI machines, ones that do things like clean our house will be around long before any AI Hawking fears. As much as we all would like one, I don’t see any AI cooks and maids around. 

The AI problem is very very hard. It requires people who work in AI understanding the nature of knowledge; how conversation work; how to have an original thought; how to predict the actions of others; how to understand why people do what they do; and a few thousand things like that. In case no one has noticed, scientists aren’t very good at telling you how all that stuff works in people. And until they can there will be no machines that can do any of it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Learning through Conversation; Part 3; persuasion

Teaching students how to move people to their point of view is a very important thing to do. Challenging students to try to persuade fellow students, by debating in public for example, is a very useful thing to do in education. It is useful because constructing and backing up arguments and causes you to think hard. The more you have to think hard the better you get at it.

So, I have a simple suggestion for school. Teachers should stop having persuasion conversations all together (where they are the persuader) and help students learn to persuade each other better. Students learning to persuade is a very valuable educational goal. We need to make that part of any school we create.

But, of course this is very difficult to do within the current system. Here is an article from the today's New York Times:

AUSTIN, Tex. — Texas’ State Board of Education has approved new history textbooks, but only after defeating six and seeing a top publisher withdraw a seventh — capping months of outcry over lessons that some academics say exaggerate the influence of Moses in American democracy and negatively portray Muslims.
The board on Friday approved 89 books and classroom software packages that more than five million public school students will begin using next fall. But it took hours of sometimes testy discussion and left publishers scrambling to make hundreds of last-minute edits, some to no avail. A proposal to delay the vote to allow the board and general public to better check those changes was defeated. “I’m comfortable enough that these books have been reviewed by many, many people,” said Thomas Ratliff, a Republican and the board’s vice chairman. “They are not perfect. They never will be.”
The history, social studies and government textbooks were submitted for approval this summer, and academics and activists on the right and left criticized many of them. Some worried that the textbooks were too sympathetic to Islam or played down the achievements of President Ronald Reagan. Others said they overstated the importance of Moses to America’s founding fathers or trumpeted the free-market system too much.
Bitter ideological disputes over what is taught in Texas classrooms have for years attracted national attention. The new books follow the state academic curriculum adopted in 2010, when Republicans on the board approved standards including conservative-championed topics like Moses and his influence on systems of law. They said those would counter what they saw as liberal biases in classrooms.
Friday’s 10-to-5 vote, with all Republicans on the board supporting the books and Democrats opposing them, was the first of its kind since 2002. The books will be used for at least a decade.
Mavis Knight, a Democratic member from Dallas, said she could not support books adhering to the 2010 academic standards.
“I think it’s a disservice to the students when we have a particular bent in which we present things to them,” said Ms. Knight, who is retiring and attended her last board meeting.
Texas is such a large state that textbooks written for it can influence the content of classroom materials sold elsewhere around the country — though that clout may be waning. A 2011 state law allows school districts to buy books both on and off the board list. Technology, including electronic lessons, has also made it easier for publishers to design content for individual states.
The final vote was supposed to be without rancor, but an effort earlier in the week to give preliminary approval collapsed. Board members raised concerns about a series of issues, including Moses, Muslims and the Common Core, a national set of curriculum standards in math and English that is forbidden by Texas law.
Why does the government think that it should direct the conversation? The government is after all just an assortment of politicians with what is probably a rather limited view of history.  The answer is simple enough. Politicians understand persuasive conversation well enough, and they want to direct it. They could, of course, simply participate in it,  allowing others with different points of view to participate as well. But they don’t. Politicians see school as way of indoctrinating students, and they always have. If we are ever to change our schools to ones that teach thinking, we must allow students choice in what they learn, and choice in what they choose to believe. We must encourage them to reason from evidence and not from someone older than them told who wants to tell them what to think. This is not easy to implement.
The kind of thing we see happening in Texas here, happens in one way or another everywhere. “Truth” ought not be taught in schools. Students need to learn to verify, not memorize. 
What should a persuasion conversation be about? How should one be conducted? How can we help students be persuasive?
Instead of teaching history, how about if we asked students to convince other students why it was important to learn history and what history it was important to learn? Instead of politicians having that debate (not really, they all know the answer) let’s let students have the debate.
This weeks assignment: was Moses important to America’s Founding Fathers? 
How could we find this out? What evidence is there? Why would it matter if it were true? Who benefits from believing it was true? What would happen if it weren’t true?
Next week’s assignment: "how good a President was Ronald Reagan? How can we know if a President succeeded? What should the criteria be for success for a President? Whose interests does it serve to have Ronald Reagan be seen as a great President?
Another assignment: What is the free market system? Who wins? Who loses? Why does the Texas School Board care about this?

Now I am making a simple point here about persuasive conversation. It can be about anything. But students need to be involved in making judgements of the sort the Texas Board is making. They should be in this conversation, not for political reasons but because it is within such conversations that real thinking takes place. While no real thinking probably goes on in any actual Texas Board meeting, students would not be serving vested interests when they addressed those issues and would not be making any real decisions anyway. They would just be learning how to be persuasive using evidence, facts, and reasonable argumentation. They would be learning how to attack and defend such arguments in a reasonable way. This is what learning in school or out of school looks like, or should look like.

Students need to be in persuasive conversations in order to learn.