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Bombs & Breakthroughs

BIG SHOES: The "de facto national model of the digital school"

CJ Westerberg, February 13, 2012 12:55 PM

big-shoes.jpg

"Pretty bold statement there. 
Better have the stuff to fill those shoes."

-C.J. Westerberg


Learning in the Company of Adults
channeling the Deborah Meier book, "In Schools We Trust"

by C.J. Westerberg

Today's NYT Web home page headline:  "A Laptops-to-Success Story: A North Carolina school district has quietly emerged as the de facto national model of the digital school."  2/13/12

Quite the sensational pronouncement, especially when compared to the actual article, filled with Bill Maher-light-satire-like factoids.  Pretty hard for any parent, teacher, or student to swoon over statements like:  "Sixty-five jobs were eliminated, including 37 teachers, which resulted in larger class sizes - in middle schools, it is 30 instead of 18 - but district officials say they can be more efficiently managed because of the technology."

Here's another gem:   " . . . who needs globes (in school) in the age of Google Earth?"

The third quote from a history teacher, ""There's a tendency in teaching to try to control things, like a parent."   Ahh, like a parent.  Indeed.  Just like the very first time.

Sigh. Why don't we just skip going outside, look at dirt on the screen, call it science, shall we, and be done with it?  (Channeling Lady Mary in Downton Abbey after last night's 2-hour Brit-athon).  (I wrote about Mooresville last year and am still skeptical about their method and leading with tech while protesting too much.  Those of you who follow my writing know I'm generally pro-tech, neither a fearful fretter or rigid idealogue.)  

Actually, this story for me brought to mind another topic this time - having already addressing my concern of issues such as in-school screen time and monitoring in the previous post -  and not the obvious technology and education connection.

". . . . the genuine heartfelt desire of young people
to be in the company of adults
who are doing adult work,
 
and the way our institutions and adult lives
are structured more and more
to keep us at a distance."
                                                
- Deborah Meier, "In Schools We Trust,"   --   Chapter One, 
                  Learning in the Company of Adults


It had more to do with my growing concern about the dwindling value of  adult-youth relationships in American culture.  This article amplified that.  I get teachers not being the
"sage on the stage", more of a "guide on the side".  Yet it doesn't mean they are cellophane, either.  Neither should parents or other adults that matter.  Some people get it.  Try Jim Burke (the English Companion), Larry Rosenstock (High Tech High), Dennis Littky (Big Picture Learning),  Deborah Meier (Ted Sizer colleague and Mission Hill founder), and Tony Wagner, author of "The Global Achievement Gap", and collaborator on The Finland Phenomenon.

So, when I read an article like today's Mooresville school digital "success story", I really was trying to figure out the point.  It claims the Mooresville philosophy is one of technology as a tool for democratization (good), yet we should weed out those who don't "get it," according to the powers-that-be at the school (aka clueless need not apply):

Many students adapted to the overhaul more easily than their teachers, some of whom resented having beloved tools - scripted lectures, printed textbooks and a predictable flow through the curriculum - vanish. The layoffs in 2009 and 2010, of about 10 percent of the district's teachers, helped weed out the most reluctant, Mr. Edwards said; others he was able to convince that the technology would actually allow for more personal and enjoyable interaction with students.

Do the students who don't buy into something, don't get it, don't get with the program, aren't compliant, shouldn't they, too, be weeded out?  When and where are teachers learning all this tech wizardry? How is the professional development happening?  Maybe it's the language of the article, but . . . .

Here's a quote from Deborah Meier's classic book, "In Schools We Trust" :

There are, after all, good reasons for buyers to beware the goods being sold them, including those that come from their local schools.  But whatever the origins, social distrust plays itself out in education in the form of draconian attempts to "restore accountability" through standardized schooling and increasing bureaucratization."

Do we really think reducing bureaucratization equates to reducing the number of teachers and increasing class size? Is this technology in education at its finest hour?  Argh!

More excerpts from the Meier book (Ed note: this book is 2002, but is classic; bold emphasis mine):

The message of this book, then, is not "just trust us." . . . .
"Our schools must never be beyond question, argument, debate.  First, our schools don't deserve such trust; second, I don't think it would be healthy for us to invest such trust in any secular intuition,
and surely not in any democratic institution. . . .  It is a hard-won, democratic trust in each other, tempered by healthy, active skepticism and a demand that trust be continually earned - what school people these days call the demand for accountability.  Trust is thus a goal and a tool.  If there is faith involved in the kind of trust I have in mind,
it is faith in the extraordinary drive and capacity of all children
to learn and in the ability of ordinary adults to be powerful,
active citizens in a democracy.
  This trust demands that we
cope even when trust is occasionally betrayed, as it inevitably
will be, if we want schools that enable kids to cope with modern
and democratic life, and if we want this for not some but all kids.   . . . .(snip) 


Within these communities, teachers are encouraged to talk to each other, debate things of importance, and use their judgement on a
daily basis.  Parents meet with teachers frequently and press for their own viewpoint.  Sometimes they make trouble.  Kids learn the art of democratic conversation - the art of passing judgment - by watching and talking to teachers whom the larger community shows respect
for and who in turn show respect for their communities. 
Principals
are partners with their faculties and have the respect of their communities.  Everywhere you look, in such schools, people are keeping company across lines of age and expertise.  Innumerable casual as well as formal interactions take place between generations.  And there are plenty of checks and balances to support appropriately skeptical families, citizens, and taxpayers.  But the bottom line is, the school has sufficient authority to act on its collective knowledge of its children.


Sounds like Finland, not Mooresville, NC.  We cannot want, demand, or mandate autonomy - as per Meier's last line above - without understanding context.  Ten years ago, Meier wrote this without the benefit of watching the must-watch Bob Compton/Tony Wagner collaborative documentary, The Finland Phenomenon.  Finland has autonomy, technology, engaged students, and the highest PISA test scores (accountability anyone?) but it doesn't look like the Mooresville NC video below.  Maybe it's the reporting or the editing, but I just don't see it.
Please enlighten me if I 'm missing something here.

"De facto national model of the digital school?"  Pretty bold statement there.  Better have the stuff to fill those shoes.    


Final note: 
Compare these two quotes:

"You have to trust kids more than you've ever trusted them," he said.
"Your teachers have to be willing to give up control."

- 2/13/2012, NYT - Edwards, Mooresville NC District Superintendent


The principal illustrated how she could monitor
every student's screen during class. 
In fact, she "caught" one student playing a video game,
and sent a note directly to him digitally.

- The Daily Riff, June 2011, referring to Mooresville NC school, as per PBS video

Oh, trust!
###

Correction.  Egads!  The Daily Riff wrongly posted earlier with Diane Meier, not Deborah, as correct.

Related posts -The Daily Riff:

We are all a part of the puzzle - Jim Burke- English Companion

The Finland Phenomenon - What we can learn from a country that is breaking all the rules

Larry Rosenstock - Person of the Year in Education The Daily Riff

10 Essential Rules for School Engagement - Big Picture Learning

Watch North Carolina School Engages Tech Generation With Digital Learning Tools on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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