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Lead from the Start: November 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How Many Presidents Does it Take to Turn-On a Light Bulb?

My buddy Bill "The Tempered Radical" Ferriter posted about the above visual on his blog. He had this to say...

"Because we're working on identifying main idea in our reading classes, I asked my students a simple question: "What point do you think the artist was trying to make with this image?" My students' answer:

"Well, that's pretty obvious, Mr. Ferriter. He's trying to say that the United States has never had a woman president."

Amazing, huh?

That's got me feeling pretty good about the future of our country. Sure, there are people who will always look at other individuals through the lens of skin-color. While racism is abhorrent, it's also a sad truth of the human condition.

But as more and more children grow up in an increasingly tolerant world with successful role models of every shape and color, our country---like my kids---becomes increasingly color-blind...and that' just plan cool."

I found Bill's post interesting but perhaps a little naive. I never thought I would say that about a post that Bill wrote but our cultural circumstances are so entirely different I thought that I should leave a comment. Here it is.

I think that you may be on to something but, I am not sure that racism is a condition of the human race or that being color blind is a good thing.

What does color blindness in ed policy lead to? What does it lead to in our classrooms?

As you may know I am the minority, a white man, in my school. The more I talk about, and joke about race the less of an issue it becomes for my colleagues and myself. I am also taking all these doctoral classes and let me tell you that race blind researchers are the last thing we need. Sometimes researchers forget that race is not the cause of the poor performance it is the name for the poor performance. It is a descriptor for a group of students who historically have been under served by education.

It is in naming the unnamed so that it loses power that we create a color "full" America. Maybe Bill's students were afraid to name the unnamed and address race head on. Maybe it was the safe route to talk about something they were all obviously comfortable with, gender equality.

Some thoughts from an embedded reporter. What are yours?

Image from: Patrick Moberg's Illustration Blog:

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Disrupting Education

I have been reading Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class.In it he proposes that education, like all industries of a certain vintage, is ripe for disruptive innovation. He proposes that this will come about because technology provides unique opportunities for individualization in untapped markets like early childhood education, boutique classes offered online, and home schooling. I think he misses the mark with his application of his theories about innovation to education.

I agree that education is ripe for disruption but I don't think it will come about because of technology.

I have come to the conclusion that education is an entirely human endeavor and not necessarily adaptable to the laws of commerce that so many business models encourage us to adopt. I think the future disruption that Christensen proposes will come about.... but only from and by the hand of teachers.

Teachers taking more and more leadership in the process of education would constitute a true innovation. Changes to education in the past have come from influences outside of education like technology. As teachers embrace their creative capacity as professionals they will push education past its current state to become another entity and that technology will only be the tool for that disruption.

Teachers are currently creating disruptions in areas like:
Dr. Christensen, you have made some excellent points in your book but I think that perhaps you might have committed the classic academic researcher's mistake by seeing what you were looking for and not necessarily the reality of the situation. Education will change but, it is the people who will change it, not the tools.

Image from:

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Hart & Risley Turned Inside-Out

In Clayton Christensen's book, "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Transform Education." I have finally come to the dreaded chapter on early childhood. In chapter six Christensen says flat out that America shouldn't invest in voluntary preschool because it won't work. He then uses one of the most important studies of early language learning, Hart and Risley's "Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children", to argue that pre-k is too little too late to help kids' language development. The only supportive evidence he sites is this study. I doubt Hart and Risley would agree that preschool should not be funded because kids make the most gains in language development from 0-3 years old.
Christensen states:
"Rather than funding programs that hire people to substitute for parents who aren't succeeding at preschool talk, quite possibly we might have a greater impact if we taught children how to b e parents before they become parents."
I actually agree with the above statement that some prevention, especially parenting courses at the middle school level in health classes, would help prevent some language delays in all children. But, the reality is that Hart and Risley's study, published in 1995, did not account for the current economic environment. It was also completed before welfare reforms which required poor parents to work. At the time, teaching poor parents how to talk to their children may have been the only intervention needed but now, that would not be enough. What Hart and Risley do not say, and what Chirstensen takes for granted is that it is too late for a child who is 3 or 4 years old to gain language at a rapid pace.
This is why Head Start has, for approximately 15 years, included parent involvement and parent literacy training in its comprehensive services offered and required of parents. In fact, our program recently received an Early Reading First grant through VCU to implement, as part of a holistic literacy program, family literacy strategies based on Hart and Risley's work. To say that children learn most from 0-3 is not the same as saying kids don't learn from 3-5. Shouldn't poor kids have the chance to catch-up even if they do start out behind?

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

History, Future, America and other big words for kids

I spent all day in a workshop as part of a new Early Reading First grant funded by the U.S. Dept. of Ed. It is part of a comprehensive grant to support early literacy in 13 classrooms in my school system, all Head Start. In the training the presenter made a point about how researchers in the 1990's began to find that at-risk children who were able to read, even after pre-k experiences began to fall behind by third grade. One of the reasons given for this was students' lack of vocabulary and oral language experiences in preschool. Students who start with less words when they come to kindergarten are not able to understand enough words by the time they reach third grade in order to comprehend the words they read in content areas like science and history.

This struck a chord with me today because I realized that today and the rest of this week is a really amazing week to talk about new words with young children.

Some of the new words that might come up naturally, because of America's election of its first president of color, include those below. Please add some more words that your students brought up today in the comments section.



history / historic





These might be new words for young children and if addressed in developmentally appropriate ways powerful words that they can use for the rest of their lives.

My favorite word from this list is future. Many of my colleagues are African-American and if you don't spend time in the African-American community you might not feel the weight of what happened yesterday. One of my mentors, an African-American woman who has worked for Head Start since its inception mentioned that it was because of Martin Luther King Jr. that yesterday's election was possible.

Sitting in that room today, with a number of African American women, some of whom remember Dr. King's words in the first person, was an amazing experience. Today it felt like more than an important day, a historic day, an amazing experience. It was the fulfillment of a prophecy. Martin Luther King said,

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
In a sense that happened yesterday. We may never erase the stain of slavery and racism from our country's flag but yesterday, we began to wash it in the river of history and see that its colors are even brighter than we thought.