“We make the road by walking”, part deux

Recently, Dr. George Reese (MTSE, CTRL-Shift, etc) emailed the CTRL-Shift list about a video he had watched of the “Good Morning Mission Hill” school model (from Founder Deborah Meier). I asked about borrowing it, so he brought it to the Blind Pig for the CTRL-Shift gathering tonight. I took it home and watched it straight away.

Now I am agitated inside because there is so much that I love about this school model that I dearly want to see in my local schools, but I don’t know how to make that a reality.

There are some major things that hit me hard.

First and foremost, it comes down to allowing humans to be human, allow the natural to be natural. And fundamentally to grow relationships. In fact, there was a line that a teacher used that almost exactly echoes the way Lisa Delpitt ends her “Other Peoples’ Children” book – “to teach you, I must know you”. Relationships are hard things, and our modern schools do not prioritize relationships. Yet, in my opinion, learning how to “do” relationships is probably the single most important factor in a successful society. I would ask Martin if he agrees, since we share many aspects in our world view. It seems to me that humans, and many other living creatures, are naturally hardwired for relationships.

Second, the school takes integration to a whole new level. It so much reminded me of Paulo Freire and Myles Horton (in fact, when I write my blog post about this, I will steal the title of their book, “We make the road by walking”) and their Highlander Folk School. So while we use new words like “project-based learning”, “collaborative spaces”, “student-directed outcomes”, really this just repackages older ideas that have older names (and so says Rebecca Patterson, who lived through something similar). For all I know, Freire and Horton recycled ideas that predated even them. They not only integrated, very successfully, people who are “different” (differently-abled or otherwise), but they integrated assessment (I absolutely love how they rendered assessment as “to sit next to”) and life-skills right into the daily flow of class time.

Third; while I do not yet share Dr. Reese’s conviction that PARCC writers set out to destory public education (*grin*), I would consent that standardized testing has had that end result. It seems that standardized testing killed what was great about Good Morning Mission Hill. But why? At the Blind Pig today we talked about what an awesome school Leal was. Is it merely the nature of these things to ebb and flow, to wax and wane like a moon visiting each chapter of its interminable cycle?



During a brief chat with Todd Lash and Minsoo Park at Kenwood today, I was commenting about how we got to where we are, and Minsoo wisely, succintly said “money”. Big money drives the federal mandates, while at the same time sucking away the very money needed to support those mandates. At the same time, “little money” is spent frivolously, without accountability – our tax dollars hard at work.

Last night I read the “young reader’s edition” of “I am Malala“; this was a totally fascinating, if shortened, account of a woman with tremendous bravery, amazing courage and wise beyond her years. She literally put her life on the line, multiple times, to pursue that which is good. Is this not what we all should be doing?

We will not be judged by what we say but by what we do. The path our feet make will show where we have been and how far we traveled.

I titled this post “part deux” because I have written about Freire and Horton’s book before.

8 Responses to ““We make the road by walking”, part deux”

  1. George Reese Says:

    What a wonderful post Charles. It cites so many of the important and inspirational works for our common effort.

    I do want to take the chance to add some nuance to a statement like “PARCC writers set out to destroy public education.” I know some of these people and they have no desire to destroy public education. So, if/when I said something like that, I was talking out of school. I have no right to cast aspersions on the motivations of the PARCC writers (some of whom are colleagues). I don’t deny having strong feelings about how the testing is rolling out, but let me say more about my position.

    I’ve said before in Ctrl-Shift posts that I think Common Core Math standards are good, and I believe that are a positive extension of the NCTM Standards from 2001. If I had my druthers, it would be an evolving document and the authors of the CCSSM would be planning for revisions and improvements along the lines of those recommended by Zalman Usiskin in the ICTM video at . Unfortunately, no revisions can happen by the original authors, because the group has disbanded. Usiskin recommends NCTM taking up the cause. I hope they do. But that will probably have to wait.

    Meanwhile, the groups the were contracted by the federal government to develop assessments are rolling them out far too quickly as evidenced by the number of states that have backed out of PARCC (I don’t know about Smarter Balanced). From a starting number in the mid 20s, I think the PARCC states are now less than a dozen. Also, I am sympathetic to the arguments of DIane Ravitch that there are efforts to cash in the plans to push testing in all the schools, and that part of the plan is to show how “bad” public schools are and bring wide-spread private-sector solutions to one of the great American institutions: public education. That would be a catastrophe.

    We are too concerned with international test comparisons, and we are mostly (not completely, but mostly) wrong to think that through testing and measuring we can somehow tell teachers and parents many worthy facts that they don’t already know about the kids they see every day. And I think it’s dangerous to view schools and children as a market there to exploit. The consequences of these errors have already damaged public education. We remain far too concerned with test scores. However, I don’t know that even in the back rooms of the Pearson Corporation they believe they are trying to destroy public education. Probably they believe just the opposite, that they are making it better through trying to systematically and as carefully as possible, measure all students’ achievement on standard measures. And that this information will inform teachers, parents and administrators to make better decisions. Again, I think they are mostly wrong. NCLB has taught us what we should have already known, that we don’t test our way to excellence. In fact, these high-stakes testing efforts seem to end up doing more harm than good, and it works against the development of democratic schools like Mission Hill, embedded in the values and knowledge of local communities.

    I should say, these are strictly my own opinions. Obviously, other views are available. -George

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      George, thank you so much for taking the time to reply. You have added some valuable context and historical perspective to this discussion, and I am in your debt.

      It seems that everyone I talk to has really good intentions, that have good (even excellent) motivations for whatever they do. This seems to be reflected in your own response, moreso because you state you have colleagues involved in drafting PARCC. It does seem that there are certain private interests that seek to replace the common public school with an “upgraded”, privatized version, and as such I would agree on that count with Diane Ravitch. I have recently checked out one of her books so I can read it for myself to see what she says.

      I will also bring out in this more public forum that George and I have had several in-person conversations about “democratic schools” (following the “Good Morning Mission Hill” model as shown in the video), not to mention the number of emails sent to the CTRL-Shift email list. As a sidebar, I wonder if those can be publicly archived for everyone else to read. George, a question for your IT guy. 🙂 What is really exciting to me is the impetus and synergy between MTSE and Kenwood in particular, but also the University and Unit 4 in general; no matter what domain the words come from, it seems to me that we are collectively taking a step back from the focus on so-called “efficiency” and assembly-line educational models, and starting to realize that those models are more harmful than helpful at this point. From what I have read of the generous and ambitious Gates Foundation, and the relevant work with Khan Academy, I believe they are able to see the powerful tools of technology and what those tools can do to accomplish certain goals like real-time assessment, asyncrhonous content delivery, and ubiquitous, global availability. Those are all good things in and of themselves, and they clearly have distinct advantages. I believe, based on my own experiences and immersing myself into how things work in my local school district, that none of these technological wonders can ever replace the necessarily slow and messy but crucially fundamental work of building relationships.

      After speaking with my child’s principal at a school event this evening, I am reminded that even though “the powers that be” attempt to dictate how they want school to run, local schools still have some amount of autonomy, and have taken steps to scale back the negative effects of a PARCC implementation that was rolled out way too fast. For instance, third grade testing will be offered via paper, which helps to offset the cumbersome and problematic interface. Another example is that they have scaled back “practice tests” so as to reduce the amount of time taken from regular instruction time.

      I say that, because as should be obvious in this thread, it is easy to not have all the pieces to the puzzle and start casting stones. I have to be careful when I do that. 🙂 We all have to be careful. It is good to point out flaws and hold people accountable, but even better to allow others to do the same for oneself. Yes, there are problems with the current implementation, even the current mindsent wrapped around high-stakes testing. Let us address the root problems where we can. I very much agree with George Reese in that democratic schools (call them whatever seems most suitable to you) seems to address the shortcomings of such standardized testing as it exists today.

      I welcome further thoughts on this topic, especially those that disagree.

      • George Reese Says:

        Hi Charles,

        I agree with all that you say above. Especially that there ARE things schools can do, and even more important, things that parents and communities can do. I think the most important is to hold onto a vision of schools as reflections of our communities and support the local citizens that we’ve chosen to put in them as teachers.

        One of the books that Diane Ravitch cites that you might be interested in is “Education and the Cult of Efficiency”. It’s clear the the desire to make education a predictable, scientifically managed activity is at lead 100 years old. We have new tools now to monitor students and deliver material, but the desire by education experts to control the process is at least a couple generations old. I’ve got a copy of the book, if you’d like to borrow it.

        Even though the desire to manipulate and control the education process with technology is not new, I do think there is something new with our current tools. For example, I think there is a new pressure on teachers at all levels to explain what they do and why it can’t be replaced by a computer. If, as a math teacher, all I do is write notes on the board and assign homework, there is no reason I can’t and shouldn’t be replaced by Khan’s videos. On the other hand, none of those teachers at Mission Hill are replaceable by computers. Nor are the teachers at Kenwood. In fact, they demonstrate what only the joys of human interaction can do to promote the growth of children.

        I also believe that the task of our best schools now is to empower students for a technology-rich democratic society. We’re still figuring out what that means. All that is happening at Kenwood and the documenting and gadflying (if that’s a word?:) you’re doing is part of that effort. I think you’re keeping us all honest.

  2. pattsi Says:

    Great dialogue. How can we get this out to the public?

    • charlesdschultz Says:

      To me, it seems like the best way to “get this out to the public” is to force the public to talk about it. 🙂 Barring any coercion, a simple invitation seems like the next best thing.

      The whole reason I am blogging about this topic is an effort to get it “out there” so more people are aware of what is happening in our schools. Perhaps if someone were skilled at public speaking, that would be an excellent next step? That person is definitely not me. *grin*

      • George Reese Says:

        I think we have to bring the different constituencies to the table and keep the dialogue going. Kerris Lee started this back in 2012 when he brought us together to work on the computational thinking project with Unit 4 schools. That’s been two and a half years ago now and we’re still talking. But we’ve made a LOT of progress in two and half years.

  3. Jails, computers and standards, oh my! | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] Allow me to segue to a News-Gazette story in which Dr. Wiegand briefly mentions a desire to expand computation-thinking that is being pioneered at Kenwood. I have written about Kenwood several times, not to mention that they have a pretty public presence on social media if you want to follow them yourself (techtime blog, twitter accounts for Todd Lash and KenwoodStars, Ctrl-Shift’s website, U4Innovate website). Last night I learned that Kenwood and Dr. Wiegand are enthusiastically exploring the Mission Hill School model of a public school (referenced in a previous post). […]

  4. pattsi Says:

    Least we forget any of Jonathon Kozol’s books. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Kozol

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