Thursday, October 4, 2012

0190: Collaborate, but collaborate better than thy neighbor(?).

#education #occupyedu #SOSchat #deleuze #revolution

We’ve had several meetings this year that have all had a similar message: “create a competitive environment in your classroom to motive your students”. We are told that they respond well to competition. They should always strive to do better than their neighbor. We are also expected to tell them that they are working toward a reward, even though we can’t decide what the reward will be, or even if it will exist at all. And, at the same meetings we are told to put students in groups to “work together”.

I understand what “we’re” shooting for at my school. We’re in trouble with the state—deep. Our goal, rather, our prescribed goal is to do anything we can to get the state of our asses. Administration is fumbling for any answer—little bits of 3rd hand research they’ve picked up at workshops and mashed together with whatever dung the consultants have passed down. Encouraging heavy competition between individuals and then asking for group collaboration is a bit contradictory. I understand this is an oversight. They’re worried. We fear for our jobs.

The collaboration side of this equation gets swept to the side fairly quickly unfortunately. It’s the unfed dog in the fight. Collaboration does not come naturally among my colleagues. We’ve been compared and divided by test scores, academic subject areas, grade levels, and meetings involve listening to one person ramble on about how we need to work together, but we never get the chance. So teaching collaboration is quite foreign for many—impossible for others. And, it cannot be ignored that the real goal for the higher-ups is to get the scores up to keep jobs and what-not, and I’m sure somewhere the really-higher-ups just want to keep everyone divided and on the never ending challenge of always outdoing thy neighbor (I’m sure this statement is just a mad raving of a cynical fool).

So what are we to do? What am I to do if I find encouraging brutal competition among my students unethical, cruel, counterproductive, and unfortunate? I’ve been reprimanded for not putting the sticker charts on the wall for my students to chart their progress against their neighbor. My learners happen to be working with each other—motivated as a group for the sake of the group and the learning.

Certainly, humanity first.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

0124: What is Underground Education? The How’s, Why’s, and What-Nots

#education #SOSchat #revolution

Underground Education is revolutionary, but does not aim to teach or incite external revolution; rather, it aims to nudge minds awake. Underground education begins the moment you see something that needs to be taught, and you teach it regardless of time allotted. Teachers engage in this daily. It is not a specific plan or curriculum. It is simply teaching, an art that has been and is being rendered obsolete through excessive and oppressive testing procedures. Underground Education begins with you, the teacher, examining the current curriculum as is, and critically supplementing it with what you know to be educational best practice.

Early elementary teachers often don’t have time to help their learners master the skills necessary for reading. Take the time. Make sure they really learn to read. You know how to assess their literacy. Help them develop every single tool they need to engage in ‘reading’— their worlds
and the word. Talk to them, let them talk. Spend time questioning and exploring. Build motor skills and number sense. If a concept is tough to grasp and you must move forward, don’t neglect to go back even if is just for that one child. Teach. You know how to do it. No evaluation, third party, or administrative office can tell you to neglect a child in the name of an assessment. Underground teaching is about providing learners with what they need. It’s about exploring curiosity. It involves teaching and stimulating every child and mind as though they belong in gifted classes. Early elementary teachers build a firm foundation. The slogans say this is so, teachers make it so.

Upper elementary teachers face the fourth grade slump. The transition from learning to read to reading to learn, and beyond that, an even greater emphasis on testing. Learners arrive lacking basic skills for numerous reasons, teachers don’t have time to go back and teach K-4. You don’t, but you must. This is a tough critical slump. The focus, as you know, must center around enabling the learners to glean information from texts— math, reading, social studies, science, the physical world, cultural contexts, etc. This period is quite critical. Learners decide at this point if they can “learn” or not. So often kids never learn to glean any valuable or interesting information independently from the texts lain before them. This is the point where a decisions made about whether “learning” is cold and pointless or meaningful and enriching. Behavior problems blossom out of thin air for those who are behind and lost. Every child should be able to pick up a book or look at a problem, on paper or in world, and glean information and generate critical questions. They should have vocabulary and the ability to acquire vocabulary to talk about what they experience. The vocabulary and language must belong to them, it must be internalized. Of course, there is no time for this in a class full of 30+ struggling fourth graders. You’re frustrated, exhausted, beat down. It will take you chasing rabbits in class, letting them explore seemingly random trains of thought, hallway, lunchroom, and playground conversations. It will require think-alouds and scaffolding of cognitive processes galore. It requires teaching and nurturing critical thinking and problem solving skills constantly and weaving instructional strands together. It requires teaching social skills and building language to express complex emotions. It involves dialogue. Much of this sounds like teaching according to “best practice”; it is teaching the child, the human, not the test. To recap and summarize, upper elementary must aim to enable a child to learn and know s/he can learn. The tools must have a chance to be used. Learners must develop a stake in their own learning. Their curiosity must be explored. They must find what motivates them. They must be successful more than enough to have the desire and payback to continue learning.

From here forth, education involves mass testing. Everything is for the test. Students are known as proficient, basic, and minimal. Names are lost. Discipline, emotional, academic, you name it, problems multiply at this point.
Anything missed in elementary, say fractions, is multiplied from here forward. A kid without a solid understanding of multiplication can derail a pre-Algebra class in a second. The trend is triage. Help who you can. This does not suffice, of course, but what can you do? Parallel curriculum to supplement, reinforce, develop, skills to scaffold this learner to be as close to where they need to as possible. There is not time for this, I know, but it must be taken. The second half of education— middle school, junior high, and high school function academically as a place to deepen skills and augment learning. Pacing guides and high stakes testing obfuscates this though. Secondary teachers beat their heads against their cages trying to figure out how to help their learning learn independently. Kids arrive with so many pieces missing. By this time the cumulative affects of missing pieces here and there make the puzzle seem impossible. Teachers are forced to make tough decisions. The outliers are often thrown out with the bath water. Educational triage- teach to the middle. Learners and teachers are beyond frustrated at this point. It’s survival.

What can be done? Help them, the learners start connecting information, give them problems to solve. Perhaps its a problem in their own world. Something they can arrive at in dialogue. Help them, or watch them work it out through dialogue. Note their cognitive processes, go back and help them notice those processes. Help them learn to understand how they are thinking, how they are solving the problem. Let them see that they are critically working through cognitively complex stuff. Help them write it. Help them teach it. Slowly draw these skills into academic sundries. Help them note their own problem solving/learning ability. Turn them loose on a skill within their ZPD (remember that?), encourage them to teach that skill, to a neighbor, to you, to the world. Help them become powerful learners and collaborators. Everyone has mad skills that can contribute to the group. Perhaps Johnny isn’t the best reader, but his reasoning skills are out this world, his contribution to the collective intelligence of the class, this world is invaluable.

The world functions as a huge cooperative learning project. Schools do not, but they don’t then victims are left behind without a clue they ever had anything to offer— learners and educators. Education leaves people disillusioned and lost, Underground Education seeks to empower and awaken. Underground Education will not allow a learner to pass through a system without finding their value. Underground Education is not dictated by the test or the State agenda of intellectual suppression; rather, it is dictated by the needs of the learners in your care. Here, the educator is the professional. Reform is in your hands, not the hands of the distant, gravy-train riding, ed policy pricks. A top down model cannot work in the underground. Education is for the People. It is by the People. It does not celebrate labels, failures, or separation by assessment measures. It seeks to teach and help learn.

Most important teachers who bother to teach in the Underground must be connected. We must band together in this struggle. We must collaborate and innovate. We must share our methods and our aims. We, together, can revolutionize education. We are not reformers or policy makers; we are teachers, we make decisions, we implement them. We stand together.

Share your experience.
Twitter: @educatedtodeath

Let’s talk.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An Open Letter to Educators via Dan Brown

The #education #revolution

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

0085: Unpacking the phrase “education is your ticket out of poverty.”

#teaching #revolution #literacy #education

I heard the phrase “education is your ticket out of (insert situation)” used by teachers, principals, parents, counselors, etc., etc. I’ve used it. I think it is often spouted thoughtlessly in the attempt to focus students on the task we choose for them. It positions education as a panacea and me, the educator as the distributor of that all important cure. This phrase, when used like this, turns into a tool of oppression, forcing students to focus on the falsehood that I, the teacher, have something that they need, and will withhold it until they bend to my will. This statement asks for non-critical compliance. By saying, “education is your ticket out”, it is implied first that the learner is already in an undesirable situation. Judgment is passed, the learner is told that he or she is inferior and needs a way out, the way which is provided by the educator or the education system. Second, the statement implies that the alternative is better. By leaving one class of people, the family, friends, and neighborhood the recipient of education will suddenly better off. They will then be the haves, having left the have-nots behind. This language does not encourage transformation; rather, it encourages blind abandonment. It serves to turn the underclass and the oppressed into oppressors themselves. Additionally, it positions teachers or the education system itself as the catalyst for change or even as savior. As long as the oppressed believe they require a savior they will always be oppressed. Transformation must be the aim of education, not forced dependence.

I do not mean to say that education is not a tool for transformation or even transcendence. It is. Unfortunately, it is often poised as a means to “leave those poor people behind”. As long as education is just a ticket out then there will be no transformation of the rapidly growing underclass in our country. Education should benefit the community not just the individual. As teachers, we must be cognizant of our language. We must do our best to empower learners and communities to do what’s best for them. If that means leaving, so be it. If it means uniting to become better educated, and to reduce crime, and build their own economy, then let it be. As long as teachers function as missionaries who drop in, feed the ailing and runaway, then there will be no change. True education is not a ticket out, it is a tool for transformation.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

0082: 7th Grade Student reflections on participating in SOPA Blackout and Calling U.S. Reps

#BlackoutSOPA #Democracy #education

These are a few of the responses my students wrote regarding their participation in their democracy. Keep in mind they are in the seventh grade. Additionally, the school is nearly 100% free lunch, and we are at risk of being taken over by the state for test scores. Does testing assess this?

K.W. wrote

I felt surprised and excited at the same time. I felt those ways because asking someone to vote against SOPA and PIPA was the first time I been a part of helping. I was surprised because I had never associated with anyone from Washington D.C. before. I was excited because the next day they started changing their mind.

S.P. wrote

Yesterday, by calling the National Senate to vote against SOPA and PIPA, I felt like I did something extremely historical and important. I had this feeling because I felt that I did something that would’ve helped everyone later in life. By keeping this a law or enforcing it will lower our intelligence and cause a lot of problems later on in life. Being a part of this moment of history will be remembered. No free Internet is just like having a school with no children. Going against this, I know made history.

J.B. wrote

What I did yesterday was amazing. I did something that could change history. I told someone to vote against SOPA and PIPA. It’s a blackout. We called Washington DC and ask if they could go against SOPA and PIPA because we need the Internet for school and so we can do projects. And now they’re going to vote on it on January 24 2012

M.J. wrote

I felt so important asking them to vote against SOPA and PIPA. It made me feel good about myself of what I did. I was happy about calling the senators. That was the best thing I did that day. When I got home I wanted to call them again, I wanted to tell my whole family about it.

T.T. wrote

So yesterday we protested and I feel good because we helped someone. Most of the people I helped were my very own school mates. We need the Internet and its websites. We should vote against PIPA because it affect information and free rights to download things and post things so just vote against it for the sale of every child’s learning.

Monday, January 9, 2012

0073: #Education as Utopia, or Heaven, or Not so boring, or Humanizing

#SOS #revolution #teaching

If I had my way, if schools were to slide from the dystopian clutches of training and ennui, then how would they look? I struggle to produce an image, and I find it hard to recall what I know about how people really learn and function. But, here goes.

We’ll start with the teachers. Teachers would work together, and now just during rare and pointless faculty meetings. Teachers would plan, teach, and reflect together. It would be a team effort. Subjects would not be segmented, they would work in concert to solve problems, some real and some invented for simulation. So, I suppose all curriculum would be problematicized, problem-based learning. Of course, basics would be taught, literacy, math, etc. And, those basics would be mastered. But, while they were being mastered real problem solving would be in progress. Teachers and students would work in collectives to solve problems. I think that would suffice as curriculum. People would all have strengths and weaknesses, different strengths and weaknesses, and strengths would be used, and some weaknesses would be strengthened or forgotten (teachers included). Additionally, something practical and tangible would come from the work done in school, a product, new information, perhaps money, something other than a score. Decisions would be made democratically. That means the role of principal and upper administration might no longer exist. That might mean teacher training would have to be different. It might exclude or include some from the teaching field. Teachers would have to be devoted to the process, and self-disciplined. Education would be participatory. No top-down bullshit.

I would love for the building to look different, less institutional. It’s a problem when schools and prisons use the same aesthetic. What if schools weren’t confined to specific buildings? Perhaps there was a building, but more time was spent elsewhere. What if we did more? What if we performed and produced instead of just sitting and getting? What if? What if? What if, these were realities and not what ifs? I know I’d be more eager. I’d teach forever. Changes must be made, and not just bandaid reforms. It’s not the curriculum. It’s not just the bureaucracy. It’s the whole damn system. The intention is wrong. People need to thrive, not just survive. How can this change? Who will change it?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

0059: What does the #occupy movement mean for educators? Who are the educators?

#OWS #teaching #revolution

Is the occupy movement the rallying of the troops before a revolution? Or will the regime just topple? I think we are all on the edge of our seats, or in the streets, filled with hope. This is a hard time for all of us, but for once there is a unified us. I am young, but I feel like I have neighbors, true neighbors, everywhere. The occupy movement is clearly a major movement and a seemingly unique movement with broad implications for a broad group of people— the 99 percent. And, it matters as much to 18 year olds as it does to 80 year olds. We all are stakeholders in this vast place we call our country. We all give a damn.

I’ve been trying to figure out what this movement means to me, a teacher in an urban southern middle school, or, what it would have meant to me when I was teaching in a really rural school. First, the results of this movement, if it continues, will come slowly. This idea of social, cultural, and economic revolution is highly viscous. It was not born in September, nor will it suddenly die. This movement is the culmination of a group of people who have voices who have been trampled steadily and slowly for quite some time. I expect this movement to be more than just a unit in a textbook. Perhaps, it will be the end of the textbook. Maybe it will bust the textbook companies and text will become relevant to the people who read it. Maybe this movement will continue to affect people in such a way that they realize they are capable of contributing to culture. That society belongs to them. It is certainly teaching us to communicate. It is teaching us that we are actually a people. We are not as distant as we were a year ago.

I don’t know the impact on the system of education this movement will have. But I see it changing our perceptions. It is an infectious and transformative idea that is burning. If anything we are looking at each other differently. We are idealists. But, our thoughts are not without deed. We are undefined, but are stronger in our mutual existence. We are peaceful, but not silent, and certainly not passive. We are the educated. We are being educated. We are educating. We are the people. And, we are the revolution. We are awake!

Monday, November 28, 2011

0043: Education, Lament, and Revolutionary Curriculum without a Plan

#teaching #edchat #revolution

What is the point of teaching relatively useless subject matter? We spend day after day teaching a tired curriculum to tired kids in a world that is filled with action. We should be working with our students to develop revolutionary ideas and strategies to impact the world we share. We should all be striving to figure out the debacle that is called the United States. I’m bored from the curriculum
I teach and have taught. I know the kids are. I’ve spiced it up and have even taught beyond and around the curriculum. I’ve made an impact I know. But, what good is 13 years of segmented instruction that leads to joblessness or debt from student loans. Why can’t we all be powerful now? Teachers have been reduced to mere carriers of the carrot that makes the rabbit run. Teaching is not enough. Learning is not enough. School is not learning. People are hungry and jobless— in debt. The people are our students, they are us. We’re all in this boat together, and we’re still teaching the same tired curriculum? Has education been completely neutered? Have we? The curriculum must become revolutionary, and so must we. We are breathing the air of necessary change. We are nearing the tipping point. We need to push.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

0024: Build Creators not Blind Consumers

If we force our students to sit and listen only, then we are creating blind consumers. If we allow out students to collaborate, connect, create, debate, disagree (with us even), argue, question, and so forth, then we are taking part of the development of free and independent minds. We need critical consumers, who are also savvy producers with the ability to distribute information. We want creators, not just blind consumers.

Monday, October 31, 2011

0022: Don’t give up on relinquishing control to your students

I feel like I’m beating a dead horse suggesting that education should look different. I think we all know that. The world is different, so education and education practices should follow suit. In the college classroom teachers are taught to teach using different methods, and to use cooperative learning, and other methods that fall within best teaching practices. Many teachers carry these methods into their classrooms and use them very effectively. This isn’t always the case. Many teachers, myself included walk into a survival situation. The kids have often been mistreated and neglected academically (never been engaged) so their behavior is less than favorable. The schools use punitive discipline and authoritarian control. Any attempt at stepping away from the existing rigid power structure comes with great risk. Kids who’ve never experienced freedom will react negatively at first. Suddenly they’re in control and have been denied any sort of freedom. So teachers run the risk of “losing control” of their classrooms. And, principals are looking, in many cases, at classroom management— a term that has been misconstrued to having a quiet classroom. With this in mind teachers often try these less authoritarian methods once. The kids go wild and then the pendulum must swing to the authoritarian side with thoughts of how “these kids just can’t handle it, we’ll just sit in our desks, and I will lecture”. Something like that. Of course, we find a few months into our lecturing that our students aren’t learning as well as they should be. They’re not engaged. They’re not being active in their own learning. So, we arrive at a great conundrum. I can have classroom control, but students won’t really be learning, or I can lose control of my class. And, for many that’s as far as the thought process ever goes, before settling into an ineffective routine of authoritarian rule with little concern beyond depositing facts into fearful students.

The alternative involves some patience and scaffolding. Rather than setting aside those “student-centered” methods that were learned in college and in workshops we must remember that those great methods must be taught and practiced. If a learner has been cultured to be a passive recipient of meaningless information for x number of years, then suddenly participating in a classroom that requires problem-solving, collaboration, and active learning will come as quite the cognitive shock resulting in all sorts of bizarre behavior. There must be a transition. New skills must be taught: listening, speaking, working together, taking turns, conversation, and so forth. If a high school student has never worked in a group, then it will be a learning process. The group work must start simple, and become more involved as the year progresses. Small group and independent learning require students to be exhibit a level of internal control that is in direct opposition to the authoritarian nature of many schools and classrooms. It is important to remember that change takes time. It is difficult to change directions as a teacher, and the same goes for students. Build trust, and don’t be afraid to relinquish control gradually to your students. Their learning and future well being depends on it.