I get to teach a master’s course on social networking and schools. Wanna come learn with me?

I missed teaching more than most anything else during this last year of grad school.

From the first weeks of the first semester, my body was confused by the sleeping in, and my brain was confused by the writing of a single essay instead of the grading of 120.

This is why, when I was offered the chance to teach a course next year as part of Antioch New England’s new Next Generation Learning Master’s Program, I was keen to seize the opportunity.

I’ll be creating and teaching the program’s course in social networking for teachers and in the classroom. I’m more than a little excited to be a part of this project. After suffering through some unbearable online courses, I look forward to the chance to design something that can be useful and user friendly.

I’m also pleased to be a part of Antioch New England. Their progressive, experimental approach to learning and teaching is simpatico with my own.

The course is one in a 5-part master’s sequence, but it (and any of the others in the sequence) can be taken as a stand-alone.

For my money, each of the other courses, led by Cathy Brophy, Gary Stager, Dan Callahan, and Cathy Higgins are worth every moment. I’m more than a little humbled to be included in the team, and I’m planning to sit in on each of the courses to whatever extent I can.

I’ve started tinkering with ideas in my head, and I’m certain that tinkering will spill out here once some of the formalities are taken care of. One piece I’m certain of is wanting to run a large portion (if not the entirety) of the course through Peer to Peer University’s School of Education. That way, anyone wishing to get credit for the course can sign up through Antioch and anyone interested in augmenting the fund of knowledge for the group can walk through the P2PU door.

For now, if you’re at all interested in learning along with us and/or earning a master’s degree, head over to sign up. I’m excited to be learning alongside everyone who takes the course and/or enrolls in the program.

16 Proposals for Radically Changing Schools (for the better)

I was finally able to finish Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity yesterday. (What else was I supposed to do the day after graduating?) That I’d made it so long without encountering this text baffled me, but I’m willing to chalk it up to the right books coming into our lives at the right time.

Toward the end of the book, Postman and Weingartner list a group of proposals “that attempt to change radically the existing school system.”

I should like to learn and teach in a school that honors these proposals. In the case of a few of them, I’ve already done just that.

  1. Declare a five-year moratorium on the use of all textbooks.
  2. Have “English” teachers “teach” Math, Math teachers English, Social Studies teachers Science, Science teachers Art, and so on.
  3. Transfer all the elementary-school teachers to high school and vice versa.
  4. Require every teacher who thinks he knows his “subject” to write a book on it.
  5. Dissolve all “subjects,” “courses,” and especially “course requirements.”
  6. Limit each teacher to three declarative sentences per class, and 15 interrogative.
  7. Prohibit teachers from asking any questions they already know the answers to.
  8. Declare a moratorium on all tests and grades.
  9. Require all teachers to undergo some form of psycho-therapy as part of their in-service training.
  10. Classify teachers according to their ability and make the lists public.
  11. Require all teachers to take a test prepared by students on what the students know.
  12. Make every class an elective and withhold a teacher’s monthly check if his students do not show any interest in going to next month’s classes.
  13. Require every teacher to take a one-year leave of absence every fourth year to work in some “field” other than education.
  14. Require each teacher to provide some sort of evidence that he or she has had a loving relationship with at least one human being.
  15. Require that all the graffiti accumulated in the school toilets be reproduced on large paper and be hung in the school halls.
  16. There should be a general prohibition against the use of the following words and phrases: teach, syllabus, covering ground, I.Q., makeup, text, disadvantaged, gifted, accelerated, enhanced, course, grade, score, human nature, dumb, college material, and administrative necessity.
I’ve not stopped thinking about how much the teachers in schools adopting this list of proposals would learn and how much more effectively they would begin to teach.
What else deserves to be on this list?
Citation: Postman, Neil, and Charles Weingartner. Teaching As a Subversive Activity. Delta, 1971.

Bullying now Constitutionally Mandated in North Carolina

Bullying is now legally mandated in North Carolina. With the passage of the State’s Amendment One creating a constitutional ban on marriage between anyone other than a man and a woman, the people of North Carolina have added their state to the list of those successfully creating a legal protection of bullying.

I’m borrowing my definition of bullying here. Let me be more specific:

…bullying or harassing behavior includes, but is not limited to, acts reasonably perceived as being motivated by any actual or perceived differentiating characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, socioeconomic status, academic status, gender identity, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with a person who has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics.

It’s a bit specific, I grant you, but I take bullying fairly seriously. So, as it turns out, does the North Carolina Legislature. They were the ones who crafted and approved the language above as law in 2009 as part of Senate Bill 526 or “The Anti-Bullying Law.” The law works to keep students safe in North Carolina schools and makes illegal those acts within school walls that would have students feel less-than because of who they are or are perceived to be.

Students and teachers in North Carolina are not allowed to bully students and teachers.

That is the job of the electorate.

If you think Amendment One doesn’t qualify as bullying as defined by state law, you’re wrong. If you think Amendment One doesn’t “Create or is certain to create a hostile environment by substantially interfering with or impairing a student’s educational performance, opportunities, or benefits” (again, their words, not mine), you’re wrong. If you think LGBT students across North Carolina didn’t wake up feeling their entire state had joined their classmates, community members, and even families in thinking there was something wrong with their fundamental identities, you’re wrong. If you think that this measure doesn’t add to the desperation, hopelessness, and shame many students wrongly feel they must suffer through alone, you’re dangerously wrong.

Amendment One and other measures like it are publicly-sanctioned, legally sani-wrapped bullying.

Opposite-sex marriage in North Carolina may have been better protected this morning, but the children of the state were not.

What do you mean when you ask if it scales?

No idea has much chance of surviving in the intellectual marketplace these days if it cannot prove its muster in the face of one question:

But can it scale?

It frustrates me to no end. While I appreciate the market and capitalistic underpinnings that lead to the question, I appreciate a good idea much more.

Problems require nuance and sophistication in their solutions. Elements of those solutions may be replicable or scalable, but the solutions themselves must connect to the people and contexts of a particular instance of problem. Student mobility in one city may look like mobility in another city, but it may be the result of a wholly separate set of causes. The solutions will have some elements in common, but they will not be the same.

I’m interested in whether or not I can see and borrow pieces of the solutions I need in the answers you’ve found. If 95% of what you’re doing would solve my problem, implimenting your solution wholesale prevents me from serving my community as fully as I could. What’s more, it let’s me solve a problem without thinking and without questioning deeply what should and can be done.

Scaling a solution runs the danger of reducing thought.

Earlier this semester I found better language for answering the question of whether an idea scales. From professors Mark Moore and Archon Fung, I came to define scale as follows:

Scale is…

…the number of people affected.
…the geographic spread across jurisdictions.
…the critical mass reached in population segment.
…the size of impact on individuals affected.
…the scope and durability of individual impact.
…the sustainability of effort over time.
…the total individuals and assets engaged.

If all we’re trying to accomplish is scaling in the form of the first definition, we’re paying attention to the number of people, but not being mindful of the actual people.

Does this mean I’ll need to change my twitter handle?

For the first time in a long time, I’m nervous.

Stepping in front of a classroom for the first time nine years ago didn’t frighten me. My teacher training at Illinois State prepared me for that.

Stepping foot on the Harvard Ed School campus as a student this year didn’t worry me. Learning as a teacher and student at Science Leadership for four years prepared me for that.

Next year is a bit different.

I’m going west (young man) to Boulder, CO where I’ll be one of the newest doctoral students at the University of Colorado – Boulder in their Educational Foundations Policy and Practice Ph.D. program.

While everything up to this point prepared me to complete the application and ostensibly to complete the program, joining the program also means stepping out of my depth.

Under the G.I. Bill, my grandfather completed his master’s degree when he left the army decades ago, and my mom completed hers a couple years ago. Making the move to complete my M.Ed. this year meant following in their footsteps. It was learning from the lead of two of the most impactful role models I’ve ever had. I wasn’t encouraged by the fact teachers around me had completed their master’s. It was that this was something my family has done. We do this.

The doctorate lives in a different space in my head. While I’ve encountered and befriended countless Ph.D’s, it’s not something my family has done. I didn’t realize, until I received my admission notice and was faced with the decision, how much my family and lineage weigh on my perception of what I can (and should) do.

I’m going.

In the end, it came down the chance to study a topic about which I’m passionate at a world-class institution dedicated to interdisciplinary studies with a social justice bent versus moving safely in the spaces I know.

Part of me is scared.

I could fail. I’ve no family history toward which I can nod and say, “This is something we do.”

I’m moving halfway across the country. I’m committing to the formal life of a student. I’m saying this is the work to which I am dedicating my life for the next few years. Pieces of it feel more selfish than teaching. Most of it is much less immediate than the daily workings of the classroom. But it’s something about which I’m curious and something I know to be important. It’s a chance to make a difference in a different way.

Because of this – and because it’s important to lean in to the things that scare us – I’m going.

And, I guess, if you keep reading, you’re going too.