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Lead from the Start: October 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Education's 5th Job: Whipping Boy

In the second chapter of Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen he describes the various reason's for schooling that have been present through out the history of organized education in America. Christensen describes the 4 jobs schools have been "hired" for:
Job 1 Preserve/Inculcate Democracy
Job 2 Provide something for every student
Job 3 Keep the U.S. Competitive
Job 4 Eliminate Poverty
I can see his point on most of these issues. Schools have been charged with fulfilling these "needs" for society but, I think he leaves one job out: Whipping Boy.

a whipping boy was a boy brought up together with a young prince and required to take the punishment for the latter's misdeeds. Because this is a blog post and not a thesis I can say this type of thing.

The reason I bring up this "job" of schools is that I have a great deal of trouble squaring Christensen's hypothesis about schools needing to innovate and become student centered learning places because his theory of innovation surpassing "business as usual" relies on the profit motive. In his theory an untapped market is found, a product/service is provided that was not available before, the market expands and overtakes the previous model. This, however, relies on equal players in the market. For example, I can sell apples on the corner, just like anybody, and if there is a market, I can make a living. But, with education there is a different relationship between the "customer" and the established competition. The prince/politicians have always had education to take their beatings for them. If politicians allow for poverty to destroy lives, then education can be expected to clean up the mess, and if it can't well then there is something wrong with education and it needs to be fixed. If politicians can't provide equal opportunities for all of its citizens through the job market then the schools can take a few licks if they can't make everybody above average.

Most of all, the "politics/business as usual" needs the whipping boy to stick around. It is vital that the whipping boy is available to take the punishment and the blame for the princes.

I mean, what would happen if education, despite politics as usual, actually defeated the achievement gap as some 90/90/90 schools have done. Then who could we blame for the lack of real choice provided to all manner of disenfranchised people in our country?

This is why the innovation theory doesn't work. How can the whipping boy innovate when the prince is the one in charge? Maybe the most profound innovation would be to set the whipping boy free. It worked in Finland.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

No Child Left Inside

Kids_klubhouse1 In the maelstrom of our current economic crisis, a radical new education bill has made it out of the House and is headed to the Senate. The bill titled No Child Left Inside is making tiny little waves in the sea of education reform. It is a bill that essentially requires environmental education in schools with the goal of developing citizens' feelings of stewardship.

As a pre-k teacher I am ecstatic to have a federal mandate to take my students outside. It is like your parents telling you that you "Have to have ice cream!" after dinner. If the government wants me take kids outside, I am all for it.
From Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi's website:

On September 18, the House passed the No Child Left Inside Act, H.R. 3036. One of the greatest challenges facing current and future generations is to build a more sustainable, energy-efficient world. By teaching students about the role of the environment as an important
national resource, we can prepare them to take on critical issues – energy conservation, air pollution, climate change, wildlife protection – and become better stewards of the earth.

NCLI gets at what is wrong with education today without pointing fingers or directly challenging that other "No Child Left" bill that has narrowed curriculum to the point that schools had stopped teaching some subjects because they weren't tested. This bill fundementally transforms the role of schools from places to create a viable work force to schools as places to create a viable people.

The No Child Left Inside Act would address this by igniting students’ interest in the outdoors and spurring them to take part in outside activities. And learning to explore the natural world and their personal connection to it inevitably triggers an interest in spending more time in it.

The bill orginated from the work of Richard Louv, who coined the term "Nature Deficit Disorder" in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Louv talks about how a nature deficit has contributed to behavioral disorders in children. His book has sparked a national movement to get kids back outside. In Richmond Virginia this Spring there will be a symposium exploring this important subject at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, in conjuction with its 25th anniversary.

If this bill passes in the Senate, you may hear the joyous cries of wild children and adults who are fed up with days spent inside, thier eyes glazed over with the flickering colors of video games. The sound of America waking from the fitful sleep of SecondLife to realize the potential that living in the presence of nature could have on our collective soul might just change education for the better. I know it will confirm what pre-k teachers all over the country already know: kids need to go outside.

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