The Story of Benson, Vermont

Educational reform has been a volcano of debate during the past, well, forever really. But if we want to focus on just the more recent debate, we can go back just eleven years to the No Child Left Behind Act and trace the argument to the present Race to the Top initiatives.

The state of public education, compulsory schooling, is not a result of democratic or republican policy; it is a result of an ideology born hundreds of years ago by philosophers, scientists, unschooled intellectuals, industrialists, and foundations with the power to influence a nation.

John Taylor Gatto illustrates how one small aspect of this works when he tells the story of Benson, Vermont.

Here is just a hint of what you will read.

In a jurisdiction serving only 137 children, a number which would have been handled in the old and successful Walden schools with four teachers—and no supervisors other than the town’s traditions and the willing oversight loving parents would provide because the students were, after all, their own kids—taxpayers were being forced to sustain the expense of:

  1. A nonteaching superintendent
  2. A nonteaching assistant superintendent
  3. A nonteaching principal
  4. A nonteaching assistant principal
  5. A full time nurse
  6. A full time guidance counselor
  7. A full time librarian
  8. Eleven full time schoolteachers
  9. An unknown number of accessory personnel
  10. Space, desks, supplies, technology for all of these

Read the whole story here.

Posted in News and Notes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Montessori Mafia” Among the Creative Elite

So shouldn’t we be paying a great deal of attention to the educational method that produced, among others, Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos, Jimmy Wales, Peter Drucker, Julia Child, David Blaine, and Sean “P. Diddy” Combs? They were all students in Montessori schools. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Peter Sims, there’s a “Montessori Mafia” among the creative elite. So maybe there’s something to the method Italian physician Maria Montessori came up with around the turn of the 20th century. The cornerstones of the Montessori method are:

• mixed-age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½-or-3 to 6 by far the most common,
• student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options,
• uninterrupted blocks of work time,
• a Constructivist or “discovery” model, in which students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction, and
• specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators

Research indicates that Montessori methods work even for disadvantaged kids who are randomly selected to attend (although this might not be the best idea for dental school). And as far as I can tell from my quick glance at the studies, Montessori kids don’t do worse than their more classically educated peers on standardized tests. So why do we spend so much time on rote learning and teaching to the test?

When I got too old for my Montessori school and went to public school in fourth grade, I felt like I’d been sent to the Gulag. I have to sit in this desk? All day? We’re going to divide the day into hour-long chunks and do only one thing during each chunk? Am I on Candid Camera? Am I Job?

Posted in Atala Schools | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

I.Am.Teacher – I Will Gladly Hand You the Reigns

Year after year, class begins with dozens of kids seated in parallel rows nervously anticipating my every movement. They come to class wondering what I will do instead of what they will do. In their minds, class is supposed to feed them something, but what that is they have no idea. They only know that this year they have six new classes; they hope that this year, unlike last year, they are taught something worthwhile.

In my class, they are. They are taught that it is their job to teach themselves. They are taught that education is not about giving me the answer I am looking for, but the answer that is on their minds. Most of the kids I teach are not ready to share what is in their heads. It has never been asked of them. They have been taught that their experiences are not relevant, not important to the curriculum so meticulously devised and revised to insure passage of the test.

So they stare up at me, wondering what answer I am expecting. I know this because they tell me. I never accept their initial response to any question. “Why?” I ask. “Because, ” they say. “Because Why?” I ask. “Because that is what I think,” they say. “Why do you think that?” I respond. Until they become frustrated, and this is when it comes. Every year, in every class, in every grade level, the kids inevitably blurt out, “What do you want me to say?”

“I don’t want you to say anything,” I reply. “I want to know why you think what you think.” Class has officially begun. Rows upon rows of kids, each different, each an individual, but taught for years that that their differences are not important, that their identities are not relevant to the “curriculum.” 

Indentity is everything. Education begins with the self; when kids begin to study their own thoughts, when they begin to recognize the roots of their feelings, of their points of view, they get excited about learning. Because now in everything they do, in literature, in history, in science, in psychology, they find a little more of themselves. And the more they find, the more they look.

It is now that they take the reigns. And at some point in every class, I am able to sit with the class instead of in front. And when the kids, in the middle of a heated discussion, turn and call on me, I tell them what I am thinking. And since they have the reigns, they  smile big, and ask me, “Why, Mr. Golburgh?”

Posted in I.Am.Teacher | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Teachers will March; Will Anyone Listen?

On July 30th, teachers from across the country will march on the streets of Washington to raise their voices against top down policy making decisions related to the current educational policies. Disappointed by the Obama administration’s continuation of the troubling policies set forth in the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers have rallied with the help of advocate Diane Ravitch.

“We all assumed that things would change between Bush and Obama,” Stevens Shupe said. “Instead, we saw the Obama administration double down on the policies of the Bush administration. That was when it became clear: We can’t wait for the top to change their minds. We can complain all we want, but nothing will change until we do something.”

“We’re protesting the thrust of any kind of policymaking that is top down and punitive in nature,” said Sabrina Stevens Shupe, a former Denver teacher and march organizer. “There are elements of this in Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, but mostly we’re fighting for fair funding of schools, for curricular development, things that support students.”

The discontent stems from the continuation of education policies organizers say are passed down from on high, with little regard for their impact in the classroom.

“We all want to strengthen education in this country and we’re all united in that goal,” Duncan told The Huffington Post. “We have to take education to a different level. I think we all have a sense of urgency. I look forward to doing everything to see America again lead the world in college graduates.”

Read the entire article here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Take Hold of the Flame

The inner drive to learn and develop is the core contrast between montessori schools and conventional public schools. Montessori schools assume kids do not need to be forced to learn.

By the time kids reach upper grades, one common question becomes, “Will this be on the test?” Come on, you’ve probably even asked this question of your teachers. Or what about, “Are we getting graded on this?”

Watch Trevor Eissler explain the montessori method in this video.

Posted in Atala Schools | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Like Reading, We Should be Ritualizing Math and Science

What if we had a weekly curiosity ritual?

The Genius in Children

From birth, children are natural scientists. From Birth! (Sorry for shouting.) Children want to understand the real world and organize it so that they can wrap their brains around it—almost literally.  Numbers, mathematical disciplines, scientific questions, tools and the way they work are the very stuff of the lives of children and adults alike. Mathematics is the language of the physical world, the more it is part of normal, everyday conversation, the better their minds will be prepared to understand the numbers that school throws at them.

It is common for parents to ritualize story time every day. This is a good thing. To read to your children before he or she goes to bed is the most important thing parents can do to ensure that their children will grow up to be readers. It not only models something that you value, it builds your relationship, and gives you a time to be with your child in loving, fun, calm, quiet, spiritually enriching ways. Stories are the staff of mental life and relationships.

To learn any language it is best if the child swims in the milieu of the language. The reason bedtime reading is so important is not that it is a time to TEACH reading, but that it makes reading a part of a child’s reality—the reality which their brains are constituted by nature to master. If we want our children to master mathematics, we need to make sure that the phenomena of the physical world (Science), tools (Technology), how they work (Engineering), and measurement (Mathematics) are a conscious part of their lives, not just something they take for granted and hope others (certain rare mathematical geniuses) will miraculously take care of.

Read the full article here.

Posted in News and Notes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Myth of Competition

I have been brought up to believe that competition builds character and brings out the best in us. Alfie Kohn, author of No Content: The Case Against Competition, presents an alternative point of view. 

[Alfie Kohn] has spent the last few years exam­ining the arguments used to support competition and sorting through the evidence from various disciplines. [Her] research has convinced [her] that these arguments are really myths–that competition is neither necessary nor desirable. In the order of their popularity, here are the four central myths of competition and what the research actually shows.

Myth 1: Competition Is Inevitable

But half a century ago Margaret Mead and her colleagues found that competition was virtually unknown to the Zuni and Iroquois in North America and to the Bathonga of South Africa. Since then, cross-cultural observers have con­firmed that our society is the exception rather than the rule. From the Inuit of Canada to the Tangu of New Guinea, from kihbutzniks in lsrael to farmers in Mexico, cooperation is prized and competition generally avoided. Working with seven to nine-year olds, psychologists Spencer Kagan and Millard Madsen found that Mexican children quickly figured out how to cooperate on an experimental game, while those from the United States could not. In fact, 78 percent of the Anglo-American children took another child’s toy away “for apparently no other reason than to prevent the other child from having it.” Mexican chil­dren did so only half as often.

Myth 2: Competition Keeps Productivity High and is Necessary for Excellence

Which method is more productive–competition or cooperation? The answer will take many by surprise. David and Roger Johnson, brothers who are educators at the University of Minnesota, recently analyzed 122 studies of classroom achievement conducted from 1924 to 1980. Sixty five found that cooperation promotes higher achievement than competition, eight found the reverse, and thirty-six found no significant difference. One after another, researchers across the country have come to the same conclusion: Children do not learn better when education is transformed into a competitive struggle.

In the late 70s Robert Helmreich of the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues decided to see whether this was also true in the “real world.” They gave personality tests to 103 male scientists and found that those whose work was cited most often by their colleagues (a reasonable measure of achievement) were those who enjoyed challenging tasks but were not personally competitive. To make sure this surprising result wasn’t a fluke, Helmreich conducted similar studies on businessmen, academic psychologists, undergraduates, pilots, and airline reservation agents. Each time he found the same thing: a significant negative correlation between competitiveness and achievement.

Myth 3: Recreation Requires Competition

…Research in nonrecreational settings clearly shows that those who are not successful in initial competitions continue to perform poorly and drop out when given the chance.

Even the youngest children get the message, as is obvious from the game of musical chairs, an American classic. X number of players scramble for X minus-one chairs when the music stops. Each round eliminates one player and one chair until finally a single triumphant winner emerges. Everyone else has lost and been excluded from play for varying lengths of time. This is our idea of how children should have fun.

Myth 4: Competition Builds Character

Perhaps the most disturbing feature of competition is the way it poisons our personal relationships. In the workplace, you may be friendly with your colleagues, but there is a guardedness, a part of the self held in reserve because you may be rivals tomorrow. Competition disrupts families, making the quest for approval a race and turning love into a kind of trophy. On the playing field it is difficult to maintain positive feelings about someone who is trying to make you lose. And in our schools students are taught to regard each other not as potential collaborators, but rather as opponents, rivals, obstacles to their own success. Small wonder that the hostility inher­ent in competition often erupts into outright aggression.

Read the whole article here.

Posted in News and Notes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment