Friday, October 31, 2008

Test Scores, Betrayal, and Being Human

Seems to me that MiShawna Moore is one of us: an educator who cared and went to great lengths (too far sometimes) for her students. This story is becoming all too common as we look to test scores to reassure us that everything in our schools is all right. Neil Postman warned us years ago when he said that science has become the new golden calf, the thing we worship because science is never wrong. In reality, whether science is right or wrong (and it can be wrong), Postman argued, human beings should be thinking, not relying only on data, polls, and test scores.

It seems MiShawna Moore cared. No one argues that she went way beyond the call of duty. If she were a soldier and her school were a battlefield, she would have been given a medal, and would be a national hero. But it seems that between feeding and clothing her students, and sometimes their families, and making her students believe in themselves; she was doctoring test scores. So far there is only circumstantial evidence that test scores had been doctored, but MiShawna Moore resigned and moved away. I can only believe that she meant the best and her alleged actions, if misguided, had the highest of intentions. She has become a victim of a society that is crying out for a savior, one she was willing to be, yet a society that demands evidence that the happiness of our children will ultimately lead to greater earning power.

And here is the betrayal. If MiShawna Moore were to be convicted of anything it is this: She made the people in her community believe that they could be successful. And success can be measured in two ways: happiness with being who we are; or a large bank account. Moore was providing the first kind of success when the community was assuming that the success was the second kind. Moore must have known the difference. I suspect that she ignored the difference and hoped that one day the two definitions would coincide.

When MiShawna Moore walked away, we lost a little piece of our humanity: imperfect, basically good, and caught up in a world in which we face some very serious realities that should not be trifled with by assigning test scores to assure ourselves that those realities don't exist. Life is not that easy, as MiShawna Moore just proved.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Sometimes I worry about work. Sometimes I worry about my students. Sometimes I worry about the election. Always, I worry about my family. This sobering clip of what is happening in the Congo, reminds me that we remain pretty immune to the dangers that many around the world must endure. Is the United States risking becoming weak, as conservatives argue? Is the United States simply a selfish bully, as liberals argue? Are we even arguing about the right things in this election? Are my students even aware of what is happening in the Congo or anywhere else for that matter? I am struck by the juxtaposition of my area's celebration of a Philadelphia Phillies World Series victory and the people in the Congo, living in desperate conditions, fleeing for their lives. Chaos in Philadelphia last night was mostly celebration with a few misguided individuals turning over cars, breaking local business' windows, and setting fires. In the Congo, chaos is much more dire. What do we do? What do we even think?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Where Are We Going?

Like the boy in the story, I can sometimes become enamored by the latest technology to pass by. It's an innocent feeling, understand, but it can be blinding. I just dive in and get involved. But is that wise. Am I ignoring my true love? I like to write; I like to read. And both activities have to do with the processing and interpretation of a language, one that I learned as a toddler and that was pushed at me all through school. I survived school to love language anyway. I do reject those that say that my teachers were right and I finally saw the light. But I credit Steinbeck, Baldwin, Joyce, and others for turning me onto language more than my teachers. So naturally I am frightened by what is becoming of that language. What language will today's students use and what view of language will today's student take away from school? Will I turn them onto James Baldwin? I doubt it. Will I try? I sure will. As humorous as the above story is, I wonder what our students will find after they leave? I found Steinbeck et al. Will our students find only emoticon? :-(

Johnny Can't Read or Write (Can He Think?)

Johnny (yes, the one who couldn’t read or write) has a look of horror on his face. He has been asked to complete a project in which he must define the task; must identify and organize his resources; must make connections; must draw conclusions and evaluate those conclusions. He has survived the many years of schooling, despite not being able to read or write, by dutifully submitting assignment after assignment that failed to challenge or inspire. He knows the system and he will not put up with someone telling him that the rules have suddenly changed. He, of course, will resist doing this assignment.

I've been thinking a lot about my students and how they proceed with their academic lives. In a class that I am taking we have discussed leading a horse to water, etc. And to this day, after 21 years of teaching, I still question how we can get him to drink.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Art of Art: Closer to Earth

There is something divine about stopping amidst all of the information, in the news, in the blogs, on peoples' minds. W.S. Merwin always makes me stop, at least for a moment to ponder the richness of our human existence, and distracts me from the alleged richness of our economies and currencies. Although Merwin's "Alba" gives us the bucolic on the surface, there is a more powerful message, to me at least, about the staying power of the human spirit if one looks at a bit of history of the Italian town. Still singing after all these years.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Did He Say Blogosphere?

Why, yes! He did! I was watching an interview of Paul Krugman talking about our current economic crisis. He was asked his opinion of the current government bailout plan. He liked some of, and some of it he thought was too little too late. In fact, he said there were a lot better ideas out in the blogoshere weeks before the government took action. Wow! I guess our elected officials don't blog. By the way, Krugman had put a link to the interview in his own blog.

I am beginning to wonder how powerful blogs really are. Governments that feel uncomfortable are taking action against bloggers. Must be powerful stuff.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Are You as Excited as I Am?

I am beginning to sound like a politician on the campaign trail. I hope there is more substance in my excitement than we have witnessed in the orchestrated appearances of our would-be political leaders.

I just read the "papers" this morning, using my usual rss feeds, so I feel as if I have gotten a cross section of views--at least within the constraints of my own prejudicial selections of the actual feeds. I went over to Paul Krugman's blog, read his thought on yesterday's Alan Greenspan testimony, and added my comment. How powerful is that? Once again I am feeling the power of blogging, reader as both consumer and producer. I will pop back in at lunch to see what others have to say. News will never be the same.

Now, will my students ever feel the same excitement? My hope is yes. I will need to create a project for the second quarter and will include blogging somehow. I hope that I am up to the task. I don't want to spoil this powerful medium. Time will tell.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Good Leadership

Whenever we overestimate ourselves, rust starts to accumulate on the wheels. Whenever we underestimate ourselves, we begin to slide backward. The two work hand in hand in preventing progress and good leadership. Like a good blog, one must go with the flow, not necessarily a linear path, so that opportunity is not missed. Leadership is often defined in a way meant to control. I would call this old leadership. Yet, the new leadership tries not to control, but to encourage, guide, and mentor a team or group of teams with the knowledge that the destination is unknown in specific terms but known in more global terms. For example, If I am a teacher, I want my students to read, write, and think, but I must also be aware that the definition of reading, writing, and thinking have changed. Old leadership will hinder the development of the new definition. New leadership will usher that thinking into the mainstream.

What is Worth Learning?

I owe Stephen Downes who writes the blog, Stephen's Web, for this question. His article, "Things You Really Need to Learn," is a great read, imperfect, but a great read. And I suspect that the greater point: Our learning is imperfect, or at least it is ever evolving. What I learn as a youth has a life lasting impact, yet I learn must differently as an adult, and happily so. Mr. Downes is putting a human touch on learning, something that I rarely see, in reaction to an article by Guy Kowasaki in which learning is a mere currency and success could be measured in dollar signs and titles. I prefer to fall on Mr. Downes' side where learning includes all of us, where learning has deep impact beyond earning power, and where things like caring for self and others is an admirable pursuit. The article reminded me of a story I read by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, about three kinds of men. Blogger Dave Englund outlines the article quite well. Rohr, I think, would agree with some points that Downes makes but disagree with others. The third kind of man is the one who "enters, teaches, recognizes what others are thinking, commands, questions and calmly acts." Both Rohr and Downes have something to say about learning and living. But there are differences in the two, I think. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Two Way Street Without the Double Yellow Line

If I have been learning anything over 21 years of teaching is that I have so much to learn. This is not big news to anyone who loves to learn. But today it is bigger news, at least to me, because of the wealth of information that is available. More information is not only available, but it must be found, it must be sorted, it must be screened, it must be organized, and it must be used, preferably in a positive way. So suddenly, education is not simply a one way street, teacher providing some information and directing the traffic toward other information. Today, students are the teachers as much as the teachers. But students are also the editors and the producers of ideas. Schools now need to help students become these thoughtful persons instead of just pushing students in a single direction of rehashed information. Frightening? You bet. But it is a new world and we need to be brave. I'm not exactly sure where this will lead, but I hope I have the ability to be a part of it.