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  • Jessica Doong

    Totally agree. Been thinking less about changing the system and more about changing myself. Or, rather, allowing myself to be changed and be an agent of change. For me, that will likely take place outside the confines of the system.

    I'm not saying systemic change is impossible, but I think the urgency you convey here is apparent to me as well. The change can't wait. (Kids are dying in the current system. Their curiosity and creativity are being trampled into the ground. Kids who do not learn in the traditional way are being told, essentially, that they are failures because they don't fit into the box the system has deemed to be good.) And, from my experience, you have to take a good look at what is driving the system. And if you find, as I did, that those values and priorities are different from your own, then don't expect change to ever happen. You may just find your own creativity, passion, etc. trampled into the ground.

    So many great ideas are out there, but I guess the scary (and fun) part is trying some of those theories out. I applaud all the educators out there that are practicing a student-centered approach to learning. I think that any step is a step in the right direction if we are putting the interests of kids at heart. If we are listening to them and helping them to find and celebrate their unique voices. If we are looking at them as whole beings rather than numbers or merely minds. And if we are engaging them in a way that also brings life to our own souls! :)

    • Chris Thinnes

      Thanks Jessica for sharing your thoughts! Whether from 'inside' or 'outside' the system, and with some combination of the 'fear' and 'fun' to which you refer, I'm sure you'll continue to lend an important voice to discussion and action.

      • Jessica Doong

        Thanks, Chris! I think one of the other challenges I am facing is learning to be flexible so I can adapt to what the kids I'm working with really need, rather than just trying to make what I think is a good idea work. I guess it's one of those things you can only learn as you are trying things out!

        It's funny how being outside of the structured environment I am used to is both what I asked for and the source of my fears. It's like now I have no one to answer to, but I also have no one to take responsibility for my decisions except myself. What do you do when you can do anything is my question of the hour. Guess I'll find out!

        I think it's definitely forcing me to be more creative, to think more independently, and ultimately to get in touch with more of who I am and how I am meant to uniquely connect with and care for kids.

  • Berl Kaufman

    "...who dreamed we could help develop, with the support of nine leading voices in education,a set of common principles on which meaningful school change could be based".

    This is exactly the wrong sort of thinking.

    How is this a "grassroots" type of movement? Real grassroots is the opposite of this. What am I missing here?

    I think we would all agree that innovation is not lacking in other areas of our society, such as technology. Why is it so lacking in public schools? The answer is fairly simple. Let's look at tech for minute. Apple comes up with a new version of its mapping software. In days the product is slammed, Apple's stock price drops and they start developing relationships with mapping vendors to replace the darned thing. We are talking here about a tiny fraction of Apple's product base, but the failure of this one thing causes a huge stir.

    Now, education has an equivalent user base to Apple. The way the school system is currently structured, an experiment of this sort (think "no child left behind" as an example) is attempted. Because the customer is not readily defined (is it the parent? the student? the local school district? the taxpayer???), there is no way to minimize the impact across the system.

    Innovation results from a few factors, but the most important is incentive or drive that is customer based. There is a desire on the part of the innovator to satisfy a customer demand. Innovation typically happens in a micro form, through tiny improvements. Yes, its true that occasionally major transformation inventions occur, but even these, such as the automobile, evolve over many decades. It is virtually impossible to obtain micro innovations in a public school setting, Yet this is exactly what we need. Innovation that works results from countless attempts, and from countless failures. The successes build on themselves.

    Conclusion is that we need to create a customer-centric model to the education "system". I put "system" in quotes, because I don't think we should have a system at all for education. A system, is indeed the opposite of what we need to be truly innovative. We need something in place that allows for the same type of innovation found in the technology sector. I leave it to your imagination what that might look like.

    • Chris Thinnes

      Thanks for your feedback, Berl. I regret that you misunderstood me to be abusing the concept or dynamics of 'grassroots' organization -- it was the invitation to use these shared principles to foster hyper-local conversations in various learning communities that we took to be supporting 'grassroots' reflection and action. Yet I still think that our effort to gather the sometimes isolated voices of educational stakeholders -- teachers, parents/guardians, writers/theorists -- in shared conversation, together to establish some points of non-binding but shared agreement, is empowering in precisely the manner I suggested.

      By the same token, I don't think it's your intent to appropriate the 'market' model of innovation, or to demean public schools or stakeholders, by adopting the language system of 'innovation' in private enterprises, or by offering your opinions about either education or the marketplace. I think we'll agree to disagree with some of your claims: that innovation "is so lacking in public schools," that "innovation results from...incentive or drive that is customer based," or that "innovation typically happens...through tiny improvements." I think quite the opposite is true of each.

      Above all else, I don't believe "we need to create a customer-centric model to the education 'system'" because schools are not selling a product; stakeholders aren't customers; and teaching and learning aren't commodities. Respectfully, this language system of 'customer,' 'client,' 'innovation,' and 'market' is precisely the language system that has been appropriated by the 'choice' movement, corporate interests trying to profit from the educational market, and pundits and wonks who allege we need to 'save' our 'failing' schools. These gestures don't help to support public education, but to destroy it -- restricting our thought about the possibilities and the value of education to the degree that they impose the market model, and its language system, on the discourse and our decisions.

      I don't think it's a 'customer' but a 'purpose' that education serves -- whether that's to develop an informed and active citizenry; to prepare children for college, careers, and their futures; to create a context in which children can learn to interact, to think, to create; and so on ... stakeholders' efforts to realize those principles and promises seem to be what's framed the evolution of the institution's goals and systems in its best iterations.

      • Berl Kaufman


        By asserting that education has a purpose suggests some sort of specific higher meaning that can be discovered through enough digging and / or discourse. I profoundly disagree with that premise. It seems to ignore the realities of a diverse society; indeed, it suggests that any given sub-culture, in fact, any given individual should defer to this discovered truth. Once you discover this truth, and you build an edifice around this truth, you've created just that - an edifice. Edifices have a very rough time evolving (do I hear continuous innovation anyone?).

        Regarding your opposition to a customer-centric model for education, you need to rethink your premises again. How exactly do you know you've succeeded in your innovations or your experimentation, your changes, unless you have some means of getting feedback? Any who gives you feedback other than your customers? Are you perhaps suggesting that the only way to get feedback is to measure results against some arbitrary external standard such as comparison against other countries, our district against district on reading scores or math scores? I'm afraid standardized tests don't provide much room to elicit individual creativity or innovation. In fact these things stifle creativity. Is it our intention to be as good as the Finns, or perhaps better? Or is it our intention to allow our children to create something wildly new and...well, innovative?

        I once pitched an innovative curriculum concept to the school board of my daughter's public high school here in Westchester County. I'm not an educator, but a concerned parent who had an idea. The response I got was blank stares and one administrator who essentially said "we couldn't do that here".

        • Chris Thinnes

          No, I'm not suggesting any of those things. Far from it. And, respectfully -- an admission of a limitation of my own intelligence, more so than an assumption of your intent -- I can't carry on a conversation referring to school stakeholders as 'customers.' Children, teachers, and parents are simply not agents in a 'free market,' and I can't construct a response within the logical, philosophical, or ideological frame you'd prefer, and have every right if you wish, to use.

          • Berl Kaufman

            Okay, so forget about customers. How about answering the question about feedback? How exactly does your model provide a mechanism to determine whether you are successful? How about addressing the other (non-customer) points I made? Such as the notion that there is some sort of higher truth that can be discovered with sufficient digging and/or discourse?

            • Chris Thinnes

              You can't seriously ask me to "forget about customers" and dig down regarding your other questions, when your other questions are clearly interrelated within, and anchored by, the market-based assumptions you bring to the table.

              In any case: we were not presuming to development an assessment system, but to provide a forum for shared voices among stakeholders who feel disempowered (by, ironically, a national obsession with traditional notions of 'accountability'). If an individual or group wanted to consider that question, and develop a system, they would be free to do so in their home, classroom, or learning community. Nor were we trying to posit any 'higher truths' or support any philosophical arguments defending such an effort.

              It seems unreasonable to me that you're calling this effort to task for its failure to satisfy certain goals it wasn't meant to address, or to honor certain assumptions about education, markets, and innovation you posit as though they were parts of the natural order of things.

              You could read further about what we _were_ intending to do at if you wish. If you like it, swell. If you don't, that's swell too. By all means let me know on Twitter or by email if you have any helpful suggestions. If you have other ideas about how to develop a better system, process, or goals, by all means _do_ something about it and share your efforts as well!

              # # #

              • Berl Kaufman

                Would you kindly explain to me your apparent revulsion for individuals or companies making a profit on education? I have heard this from a number of people, but I just don't get it.

                • Jessica Doong

                  Berl, if I could interject here...As someone who has worked in for-profit education I could speak to my own experience, for what it's worth. I don't necessarily think that an organization working for profit is inherently evil, nor that every non-profit organization is free from corruption.

                  However, I do think that you have to take a look at what drives a company. Its values and priorities become crystal clear when you look at their decisions and decision-making process.

                  The unfortunate reality in education (whether expressly for profit or not) is that when the bottom line is money, the students and staff suffer.

                  The ironic thing is that I have a feeling that a model of education that prioritizes the people (students and staff) instead of making money or maintaining the system would likely end up being financially sustainable. I have no research to back that up, but that's just a guess based on the premise that people are looking for good ideas and welcome change that would be good for their souls.

                  • Berl Kaufman

                    Thanks for interjecting Jessica.
                    I understand your perspective: it derives from experiments based on a very firmly established status quo - the current framework for education in this country. We desperately need to recast that framework, which is fundamentally flawed. We need to question all our cherished premises about education as a "system" or as "model" (as you put it). We need to view education from a perspective that actually works, that would and could foster the ideas espoused by CHILD.

                    Those principles cannot possibly arise in a top down approach. Top down approaches create standards, testing, etc. They result in a lowest common denominator education, which is what we have now, and it's getting worse. The grassroots efforts as promulgated on this site and various links I've seen are still trying to function with the conventional framework, which is deeply flawed. Public schools, by definition, cannot function in a grassroots change mode. It's impossible. We need to completely abandon the role of government in educating our kids.

                    In spite of Chris' strong feelings to the contrary, the only framework that really works is one that views the children and their parents as customers. Sorry Chris. Point of fact is that every human interaction is a microcosm of a market place. A small market. That includes public schools, private schools, even gulags.The question becomes the degree to which the participants are truly free to engage in the commerce. The gulag is 0% free. The private school, probably 90%. The typical public school is closer to the gulag: standards, systems, control. Very little progress and innovation is possible within that framework. The framework that works in one in which the needs of the subjects are being satisfied. That is best serviced by the freest market possible, where there are no tariffs, no restraint on trade, no restraint on ideas, on methods, etc.

                    The for-profit education perspective you've encountered still involves a huge amount of government involvement. Whenever you have govt involvement, you have that top-down framework. It is inescapable. Education should not be funded by taxpayers, by communities using coercion.

                    Imagine for a moment there were no government schools in a given town. What would happen? What would take their place spontaneously? I have some ideas, but it's an interesting gedanken experiment to imagine what would happen.

                    • Jessica Doong

                      I see what you are saying and definitely agree that top-down control is a huge problem in education and many other systems which are often tied to the government.

                      I guess theories and language notwithstanding, we can all agree that there are aspects of education that we are displeased with. I've recently been challenged in my own life to invest less of my energies in being right and more of them in engaging in something I believe to be true.

                      I don't think there is just a single solution to the problems in education. As a natural idealist who prides herself on being creative and having great ideas, it's been humbling to realize that no matter how great I think my ideas are, they are just ideas until I do something with them. I've been challenged to be willing to try things out, admit when one of my great ideas just doesn't work for the kids I'm working with, and mostly to put aside my own ego and fears to engage with kids where they are at. I think that every person who cares can bring his/her unique experiences and ideas to the table and press forward into something new.

                      • Berl Kaufman

                        "Displeased with" is an understatement! If you accept the notion that there is something inherently wrong with top-down government education ("education by edict") then you are invalidating the basic framework within which this whole discussion (indeed virtually all reform efforts) is couched.

                        I raised two girls to adulthood. For the most part they went to government run schools, except for my middle daughter (i also have a three-year-old now) who spent about 5 years in a private school I helped to found. In all the years these girls went to the government school, I never received a single solicitation from the schools asking how they were doing, or whether there was any programs that could be improved upon. Contrast this with the market place, where you, the customer, is besieged by such questions. A striking contrast.

                        When you work with your kids, how do you assess whether you've succeeded? What is your benchmark, your yardstick? And who participates in making this assessment? Just curious.

                    • Chris Thinnes

                      "Point of fact is that every human interaction is a microcosm of a market place..."

                      Yes, of course, Berl: witness the miracles for health care, hunger, and a habitable planet such neoliberal pornography hath wrought.

                • Chris Thinnes

                  See @DavidSirota's video for a good overview on some dimensions; there's plenty of writing, research, op-eds in the googler if you wish to pursue further . . .

                  • Liz Dwyer

                    "When it comes to education reform, most of the political press doesn't mention the potential financial motives of the funders in question." Great point, Mr. Sirota--and thanks for sharing, Chris.