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Archive for March, 2011

My Super Grand Supreme Department of Education/Pt. 3

This is the third and final day appointing people to my imaginary Department of Education.  So far I’ve named Sir Ken Robinson to be a visionary leader and Diane Ravitch to lead systemic reform.

Today I appoint Jonathan Kozol to address issues of equity in our system of education – or should I say inequity. Kozol is known for writing about the harsh inequalities found in our education system, while at the same time inspiring people to enact change.  Check out this list of some of his books and articles.  You may recognize some of them, such as Shame of the Nation, Savage Inequalities, and Letters to a Young Teacher.

Kozol’s writing reminds us that despite the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, American students face sometimes insurmountable inequities, largely due to race and income.  Think about it – the school you attend is based on where you live.  Where you live is largely based on your income and race.  Your income is largely based on your educational opportunities. Of course, there are exceptions to this cycle, but the vast majority of students who start out in under-funded, low-performing schools are unable to break free.  Let me say again, I know there are students who rise above their circumstances.  And I know that a person’s race and income doesn’t dictate how they will do in school and their future job.  These statistics, however, cannot be ignored.  If we’re too afraid to talk about race, income, and education, we’ll never be able to address the issues that keep all students from reaching their potential.

The Kirwin Institute at The Ohio State University published a report which maps the economic segregation of Ohio and its effect on student performance (as measured by standardized tests.)  If you doubt that inequities exist, look at these statistics from the report: In the 2004-05 school year, 72.7% of non-high poverty schools were ranked as effective or excellent (the two highest categories in Ohio’s grading system.)  Only 5.6% and 6.2% of high poverty and extreme high poverty schools ranked in the two highest categories.  In addition, the report shows the economic status of these schools is very much aligned to race.  It almost seems the best predictor of student success in Ohio is family income and race.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, those kids just need to work harder, because everyone knows if you work hard you can become anything you want to be.  But how do you work harder when you are virtually raising your siblings because your parent(s) work two or three jobs, or you couldn’t sleep all night because you were hungry, or you’re afraid of walking through warring gang territories on your way home?

This is why I’m appointing Jonathan Kozol to my department of education.  He’s taught in the toughest schools.  He loves the students in these schools.  He believes in the students in these schools.  He is a voice for them.  My department of education needs someone who will speak the hard truths we need to face if we are going to truly reform the educational system for everyone.

So that’s my Super Grand Supreme Department of Education – Sir Ken Robinson, Diane Ravitch, and Jonathan Kozol.  It’s great to think about what kind of reform these three great minds could bring about in education if their ideas were valued by the people making decisions.  Because let’s face it,  I’m not sure who the decision makers are listening to these days, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t anyone who knows much about what it takes to educate children.

~mwe

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My Super Grand Supreme Department of Education/Pt. 2

Welcome to the second day of  my Super Grand Supreme Department of Education.  This is where I get to decide how the universe would be if I were in charge.  In yesterday’s post, I appointed Sir Ken Robinson as the head of all things education in my universe.

Today I move on to appoint the person who will plan the restructuring of my education system and its methods of accountability.  This will be be Diane Ravitch.  You may know her from her most recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, where she explains how she moved from being the assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush to an outspoken critic of the current system of accountability, testing, and charter schools.  But I’m not choosing her because she’s against these things.  She was actually for them before she was against them.  And that’s ok.  In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I’m choosing her.  She’s not afraid to change her position when the facts warrant a reevaluation of stance.

I also respect Ravitch’s ability to consider the historical roots of education along with the present conditions when making conclusions about the state of education today.  This perspective allows her to see trends for what they often are – the “fix-it strategy of the day” – the “If I support this it will make me sound like I’m ready to tackle the challenges of the education system” political position- the “We have to say we’re doing something and this one fits best with what we’re already doing” school improvement plan.  Of course there are some trends and strategies that are effective, but more often than not, you can’t pick up what works in one school and reproduce it in another.  Ravitch knows that just because something works in one setting, or even a few, it doesn’t mean it will work everywhere.  She knows there is no such thing as a silver bullet for the education system.

If you want to hear Diane Ravitch explain herself, check out this video.

With Diane Ravitch and Ken Robinson, my education system will be on the road to real reform.  Reform that is driven by the desire to truly educate children, not just make schools look effective on paper.

~mwe

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My Super Grand Supreme Department of Education/Pt. 1

When I was in graduate school, I had a couple of assignments where I was asked to create various elements of an imaginary university.  These were always interesting because it was an opportunity to play the ever-popular game, If I Were the Super Grand Supreme Queen of the Universe.  You know the one.  The one where you get to decide how things will be when YOU are in charge of everything.  I like playing this game because I can decide how I want things to be without having to figure out how to make them happen.  I get to jump right to the end with none of those messy details getting in the way.

Well as it turns out, I now have my own little universe in this blog where I am the Super Grand Supreme Queen.  (Well, not really, but I can at least pretend.)  So I’ve decided I need to make some cabinet appointments for my little Dendrochronology universe and I’m going to start with my Department of Education.  Over the next three posts, I’ll be appointing the three people I would most like to have run all the ins and outs of education.

Without further delay, allow me to introduce the first appointment to my Super Grand Supreme Department of Education … (drumroll please) ….

Sir Ken Robinson

Yes, he’s British, but we’re talking universe here so citizenship isn’t really all that important.  What is important is the way he thinks.  If you’ve never heard of him, I urge you to check out these two videos of his.

Changing Education Paradigms

Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Ken Robinson would oversee everything to do with my system of education.  And here’s why:  He’s able to look through traditional practices to sort out what is actually effective and what is merely tradition.  So much of what is done in all aspects of education is done simply because that’s the way it’s always been done.  Once upon a time, these practices may have made sense, but it’s quite possible they’ve now lost their purpose.  It’s much harder, though, to change things once they become part of the sacred That’s How It’s Always Been Done bible.

Maxine Greene talks about this in her book, The Dialectic of Freedom.  She writes that the traditions, values, and beliefs of education are so strong, so deeply entrenched that they are part of the accustomed and the everyday. Without perspective, they are education. It is only by gaining perspective that they can be noticed. When this occurs, the traditions, values, and beliefs become objects of thought. A space exists between the objects and the whole, making it possible to change objects without dismantling education.  For instance, subjects, grade levels, grades, and schedules are what we can see as immovable parts of education.  Once we see past these to the actual process of education, we can think more clearly about how to make it more effective.  Paulo Freire describes a similar process in his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  He calls this process of gaining perspective conscientization. In it, one learns to perceive social, political, and economic contradictions in order to take action for or against them.  The key is, we have to be able to see them before we can decide if we want to keep them or get rid of them.  (Greene and Freire don’t make it into my top three department members, but they’d definitely play an advisory role.  Well, Maxine would.  Paulo, unfortunately, is no longer with us.)

I’m confident Ken Robinson would bring invaluable insight into creating my education system.  He’ll separate the status quo from what is really effective and necessary.  Plus, I like to listen to him talk with that British accent.   (If anyone has any connections, please feel free to let him know he have a new job waiting for him here.)

~mwe

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Questions That Count

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

– Sign hanging in Albert Einstein’s office at Princeton

How much time do we spend trying to quantify how much, how many, and for how long?  Sometimes it seems as though we want to assign a number value to everything.  Our kids, our schools, our thoughts, our actions, our opinions – are all measured in tests, report cards, polls, and surveys.  But even Albert Einstein, a man who was all about numbers, science, equations, and formulas, recognized that data isn’t everything.

So why are we so tied to being a data driven society?  Before I try to answer that, let me say that I do believe data has a place in our world.  It’s important to collect data so that we know what to expect.  We can then plan and act accordingly.  Certainly Einstein realized this, too, and the quote reflects this.  It doesn’t say nothing that counts can be counted.  Just not everything.

Back to the question, then … why are we so tied to being a data driven society?

Some people even say, if it can’t be measured it doesn’t exist.  Really?  Doesn’t exist?  Or  do they just  refuse to recognize that it exists?  Life would certainly be easier if I didn’t have to pay attention to the things I didn’t understand – which is really what measurement is about – understanding how things work and how people think.

But the problem with this thinking is that many of the best and/or most important things in life can’t be counted or measured.  Think about it.  How do you measure the feeling you get when you walk outside on the first warm day of spring?  How do you measure the pleasure you get from listening to your favorite musician? And how do you measure if your favorite musician gives you a better feeling than another person’s favorite?

And then there are some really important questions, like how do you measure what makes a good teacher?  Study after study has tried to figure this out but there is always something intangible they can’t quite put their finger on.   Or what methods work to teach students in struggling schools?  You may think you know, but as it turns out, the same methods can bring unprecedented improvement in some schools while barely making any changes in others.  As of yet, we haven’t found a way to collect data that gives us answers to these questions.  Does that mean they don’t exist?

Then there is the second part of this quote, “not everything that can be counted counts.”  If you’ve spent much time reading research articles, you’ll know that there are countless things being counted by very smart people who work very hard that don’t seem to count for much.  How many times have you read or heard about a new study and said to yourself, “Du-uh!” (To say it right, it has to have two syllables.  Take it from me, the mom of 2 teenage girls.)  Like this article, for instance, that gives us the newsflash that “recent studies show that sleep loss can affect one’s daytime functioning.”  As my mother would say … no foolin’.  Or this poll from our friends at Gallup, which asked people who they would vote for – Obama or an unnamed Republican.  Now, I know a lot of people who could easily answer this poll, but are we so obsessed with producing polls that we don’t even need to specify the choices?

Which ever side of the quote you look at, it’s about trying to make sense of the world  by answering questions.  But if we only ask the questions we can answer, are we really asking the questions that count?  Are the only questions that count the ones we can answer?

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Friday Favorites: Brene Brown

News Flash:  If you don’t know who Brene Brown is, you should.  So just in case you haven’t run across her work, let me begin to fill you in and send you in her direction.

Here’s a bit of her bio from her website

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Brené spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She poses the questions:

How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?

I think the best way to get a taste of her work is to watch her TED talk (and if you’re not familiar with TED … check that out, too!  It’s AMAZING!)

She’s also written several books.  I’ve only read one so far, The Gifts of Imperfection, but I can honestly say it is life-changing.

I hope you will find her work as inspiring as I do!

~mwe

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Public school systems and teachers are the topic of much conversation these days.  We could talk about viewpoints for days and days and probably never come to any consensus – and I’m sure some of those topics will come up here in the future.  But today I’d like to stay away from the political side of things (if at all possible) and just consider some of the things we see happening and what they mean for music education.

When I was doing my undergrad degree, we would spend time talking about advocacy for music education – things like, how do I convince people that school music is important?  What do I say to administrators who might want to cut my programs?  We talked about the threat to music and the arts quite a bit, but I don’t really recall programs actually being cut.  I haven’t researched this, so I could have just been oblivious, but it’s not something I remember coming to fruition.  Arts would come up on the chopping block, parents would protest, advocates would make pleas and presentations to school boards, and eventually everything would somehow work itself out and the arts remained in schools.

Today, it’s different.  Cuts to programs started a couple of years ago in some local districts (which have now reinstated most of the programs they cut), but now it seems that every week I read about another district and/or state that is slashing art and music, especially in elementary schools.  I’m sure there are some places where parents and students fight a good fight – but somehow many of these decisions seem different.  It’s as if they are presented as a done deal – it’s happening – there’s nothing we can do about it.  As a music educator and as a parent, this breaks my heart.  We could have a lengthy discussion about why they shouldn’t be cut and/or the dire financial straights many districts and states are in today (and the reasons for this), but let’s save that for another day.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this whole situation – I’m not sure that the cuts and changes that are taking place in education today will ever be fully restored.  I hope I’m wrong.  I pray I’m wrong.  But it seems to me that we’re heading down a different path and there will be no turning back.  Let me say right up front that I believe there are a lot of changes that NEED to take place in education.  Of course, it would be better to make the needed changes if they weren’t motivated by financial issues and/or politicians jumping on the “we need better schools and teachers” bandwagon.  No matter the reason, my fear is that these changes are taking place without the full value of music and the arts being considered.

They are taking place as cuts are made to programs.  They’re taking place as underperforming public school are restructured to increase achievement.  They’re taking place as charter and STEM schools are created as alternatives to traditional public schools.  If you’ll allow me to make a leap here, let’s say that we’re at some point in the future and schools have settled into whatever they will look like – something that includes diminished programs, restructured public schools, charter and STEM schools.  What place will music education have in them?  I truly think that if we continue with the model we have today – elementary general music and secondary ensembles – school music will fade away in most places  – especially the places that need it most.  (Yes, we ALL need it, but most people who can afford it will find a way for their children to be involved in music if they think it’s important.)  This may sound harsh, but I believe we need to wake up and smell the coffee before it’s too late.  We must insert ourselves into the conversation about school reform in a way that makes us relevant, even in the face of structural change.  And while we’re smelling the coffee, we should probably swallow the pill and realize we may need to rethink what arts education looks like.

What do you think?  I’d certainly love to hear the opinions of my music educator friends, but I’d really love to hear from non-musician readers.  What do you think school music will look like in the future?  What do you think it should look like? Do you even care? *GASP*

~mwe

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Success

Success

-An event that accomplishes its intended purpose

-Favorable or desired outcome

So the question is, what is my intended purpose?  What is my desired outcome?  In the past few years, I thought I had a pretty good idea what this was and what it would look like.  In fact, for many years I was already there.  I had a family, home, job – that’s what life should look like, right?  Why?  Well, that’s what everyone said. (Everyone … I’ve learned that’s a term I use when I’m trying to convince myself of something that might not necessarily be true.)  But even then, I knew there were other possibilities.  But what were they?  What would they look like?  Will they look like anything I ever imagined?  Will others consider them successful?  Does that even matter?

So here I am, and I’ve decided it’s time to come to terms with what I want for my life – what I want my life to look like.  But this might not be about what kind of job I have – why does a job have to define me anyway?  Aren’t there more important things?  (Yes, I know there is the money thing, but let’s set that aside for a moment.)  Is it possible that if I figure out the core values of my life that the rest will follow?

So again the questions:  What is my intended purpose?  What is my desired outcome?

  • Live with purpose
  • Think
  • Nurture my children in a safe, peaceful, encouraging home
  • Be healthy
  • Connect with others in a way that conveys my purpose
  • Be

A good list, I think.  A good place to start.  But still rather vague.  Big picture.  A list which makes me feel hopeful, but falls short of providing real direction on a daily basis.  When I read it, I’m left asking, “Great … but how?”

This is where it gets tough.  I can think about living with purpose and feel good that it is a goal of mine, but unless I ACT on it, it’s just a lovely phrase to live by.  All of these things are meaningless unless I ACT on them.  And that is where the success comes.  At this point in my life, I believe success comes in the action, not the outcome.  The outcome is more of a byproduct.  The byproduct will be what it will be because of the action. And it’s important to remember that in many cases, I’m not in control of the byproduct.  The reception of my actions by others is a result of their experiences, values, and perspective.  Of course I’d love for the byproductto be favorable, positive, and possibly even fruitful.  But my success is found in the action  – in the doing.

So, my list now becomes an action list:

Live with purpose

  • Spread love, peace, kindness (I know, it’s SO cliché, but it’s true.)
  • Be a voice for those who are forgotten, especially in education
  • Make connections through context and the big picture
  • Ask questions
  • Open minds and eyes to situations and ideas that have been hidden

Think

  • Read every day – for fun, for information, for my heart
  • Write every day – for fun, for information, for my heart

Nurture my children in a safe, peaceful, faith-filled, encouraging home

  • Show them love every day
  • Pray for them
  • Remember they are children

Be healthy

  • Spend time moving everyday
  • Think about what I put into my body

Connect with others in a way that conveys my purpose

  • Talk to someone everyday in a way that conveys one of the purposes above.  Talk to those who I know will listen and those who I know may not.
  • Share my ideas – post, blog, submit
  • Teach
  • Look and act on opportunities to share my ideas in more formal settings

Be

  • Be present
  • Be confident
  • Be confident in my unconfidence
  • Be ready
  • Be willing

Remember, success is in the ACTION.

Ready, set, GO.

What about you?  Where and in what do you find success?

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