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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Learning and Teaching 101: Milo teaches Mira to do the cannonball

Learning and teaching are very simple really.

 Some basic elements:

1. a teacher who want to teach
2. a learner who wants to learn
3. something that can be clearly accomplished by the learner
4. a teacher who can show how it is done
5. success is obvious to everyone

we don't need learning theories, testing, teacher evaluation, or help for kids who can't learn

we also don't need classrooms

we just need one on one attention to help kids do what they express an interest in doing

until we understand that we have "schools that don't perform"

just get rid of the 'one size fits all' curriculum

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kids all over the world think school is useless; does anyone care?

People get to my column in many ways, but quite often they just type something into Google. Here is what they typed into Google this week that got them to various columns I have written about school. (The country the writers came from is listed first.):

US: how many kids hate high school

Romania: hating high school

Morocco: advice to students who hate school

Serbia: hating high school

Guam: school subjects are useless

France: why do students not like school

South Africa: school taught me of how useless aim

US: why i hated high school

Romania: why school is pointless

US: reasons why high school is useless

Kuwait: why I hate high school educational

US: i hate high schoolers

US: highschool is useless

US: useless high school classes

US: i hate high school and i dont want to be there

Canada: why high school is useless

Canada: why high school is useless

UK: why do we have education

US: how to not hate high school

US: isnt school useless

Canada: why high school is useless

US: why school is pointless

US: useless school subjects

US: school is bad for children

US: useless information learned in highschool

UK: what to do when you hate high school

Spain: hate high school

US: i despise high school

US: what does high school teach you

Canada: i hate high school

Canada: books about kids hating high school

Australia: high school for kids who hate school

Brazil: a great deal of what students learn in school these days is a waste of time

US: high school dont teach you anything

India: academic knowledge taught in high school is worthless if they don't prepare us for own decision

US: useless school subjects

I just though I’d take note of this phenomenon. While people debate Common Core, or worry about evaluating teachers, or raising test scores, or getting their kids into a good school, try to remember this. Most kids are miserable in school. We need to stop teaching the silly stuff we teach in high school and stop creating high schools that make students miserable.  Apparently we do this in most every country.

It is easy to change all this. (Amazingly the answer is not MOOCs.)

We can change it my letting kids learn what they want to learn in way that is fun. It is that simple. Technology can help with this. A reasonable curriculum could help with this. Thinking kids have a right enjoy their lives could help with this. Unfortunately, politicians who talk about reform aren’t helping nor are they trying to address the real issues. They never really worry about the kids at all. 

The people who wrote these things into Google are right. School is useless. Time to do something about it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Letter from a teacher: thank you Arne, Bill, and Pearson for making her so miserable

Many people write to me, especially unhappy students (go here for most recent letter from a very unhappy student :

and teachers who have had it with the system they teach. Here is a letter I received a few days ago: 

I believe as you do that stories have power. I teach history where story should play a more prominent role in our curriculum. I have been a teacher for 11 years.  While never a strong supporter of the public school system, I am a strong supporter of public education.  The system is killing the hope of everything this country could possibly achieve.  Public education is truly in critical condition. I am especially concerned for the minorities and those in poverty.  We do not have an equitable system, but we expect equal results. 
I read your book, Teaching Minds, with great interest. I love studying about curriculum and cognitive science.  Education, in general, is my passion.  Teaching seems to be a natural outgrowth of this, but it has not been as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Social Science with a minor in Psychology and concentration in History.  I currently teach US History at the high school level.  I also have a Special Ed endorsement. Most of my teaching has been in Special Education classrooms. I now have a Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction.  I constantly think about how to create curriculum that makes sense.  Hence, your book was like taking a deep breath after being submerged in an ocean of chaos and confusion.
Like you, I grew up hating school, but loving to learn, and when my children were born I embarked on my adventure of learning about education in the hope of keeping their love of learning alive.  I dabbled in homeschooling them for a time. When they did go to school, I supplemented with a variety of experiences and believed in "unschooling."  Eventually, I began to get my degree in education with the dream of establishing an alternative school.  Now, over a decade later, I still dream of such a school, but have found myself stuck in the mire of our public school system.
I want to engage students, motivate them to learn and be self-disciplined (another skill that desperately needs to be learned). I would love the feeling that I had actually done a good job when I fully retire.  Following administration’s guidance has only led me to feel less competent and less effective than ever.  We all know we should lecture less, if at all, but what we have to replace it with is worksheets and graphic organizers that mimic the ACT.  I am required to give practice ACT tests throughout the year.  To counteract that, we also have Document Based Questions that are supposed to encourage critical thinking, but the kids still don’t care. I have lost all student engagement.  It has been most disheartening.
I would love to have the opportunity be part of Alternative Learning Places.  It is exactly what I have been dreaming of.  I plan to try and implement your ideas into my curriculum next year, if administration allows me (or I manage to sneak it in). Next year is not an evaluative year for me and I am close to retirement age, so I may go rogue.  At this point, I have nothing to lose except the boredom of my students.  I think gaining teacher support would be easier than gaining administrative support and, if we banded together, I believe we could make things happen. I am willing to help on that score, as well. Teachers want to make a difference in their students’ lives. They want their students to want to learn.  They don’t want to work hard with nothing to show for their efforts and then be blamed for the outcome of something over which they have no control.
Thank you for your book and your courage to share your ideas.  I stand with you in the hope changes can be made.  It’s time for a revolution!

I found this letter extremely difficult to read. How miserable we have made teachers (and students). Why does someone who really seems to care about her kids being excited about learning have no real way to do that?
Thank you Arne Duncan. Thank you Bill Gates. Thank you Pearson Publishing, McGraw Hill, ACT, ETS, and all the other organizations who just want a world where there are tests to take and teachers to make sure students take them.  Thank you for making it nearly impossible to make any changes because of Common Core and because of your tests. Thank you for making teachers miserable by judging them by how their students do on your tests.
I don’t what these people’s real goals are, (except making more money.) I have trouble believing they just hate kids and hate teachers. But they sure don’t care about letting kids have fun learning and letting teachers have fun teaching people who are excited to learn.