What’s Kickin’ Blog

Kids @ School

Inspired by a true story is still fiction – right?

In a truly postmodern twist, movie screenings for the film Won’t Back Down, during both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention, are creating some buzz in advance of the film’s September 28, 2012 release. That’s great for ticket sales. The movie is described as being “much like the documentary Waiting for Superman.” Except this film is a fictionalized account “inspired by a true story.” Still it has sparked strong reactions from union leaders, activists and teachers.

Isn’t it ironic that fiction is sparking such strong reactions, when our current reality should be more than enough to inspire “we the people” to individually as well as collectively improve our schools and our communities by reclaiming public education? Perhaps some good will come out of all this (besides more movie tickets being sold). Anything that sparks or inspires people to start their own kitchen-table conversations, back-yard, neighbor-to-neighbor, authentic real-world deliberation…

Oh, wait. I forgot. These are political infomercials conventions.

We bear a lot of responsibility for this. We were focused – as unions are – on fairness and not as much on quality.

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers
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Culture of Distraction Demands More Slow Tech?

Matt Mullenweg, one of Business Week’s 25 Most Influential People on the Web, shared an insightful essay on the Culture of Distraction. Referencing a recent Joe Kraus presentation, Paul Graham’s Acceleration of Addictiveness, Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, Huxley’s Brave New World as well as Orwell’s 1984, Matt politely yet poignantly shares his concern: Is Silicon Valley creating products that are so engaging that they’re also incredibly distracting, to the detriment of creativity and productivity?

Ironically, Matt used the essay to also announce his company’s new comment push notification feature for iOS app-enabled devices such as iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Hmmm? Now, while some might consider this a paradoxical juxtaposition – the ultimate of postmodern marketing – he still makes some insightful and important points to consider.

Microsoft’s commercial humorously makes the point that we just might need a phone to save us from our phones.

As paradoxically juxtaposed to Apple, who would have us stop the world to reflect on life–using an iPhone of course.

Slow-tech to save us from high-tech? Yin and yang might be the key to balancing what we do and how we do it. Kickin’ back a bit every now and then, so we can keep KICKin’ IT IN!

I believe that the biggest gift we can impart on our kids is the ability to be mindful – to pay attention to the things and to the people that are actually around them. In 10 years, that’s going to feel VERY VERY different than the norm.

—Joe Kraus, Partner at Google Ventures
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What All Teachers Should Learn from Jazz Band

A professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University shares what all teachers should learn from jazz-band teachers in his article for Psychology Today.

Unlike traditional education, where the goal is to meet minimum standards on state-mandated tests, jazz band directors make very clear their high expectations that everybody in each band class should become as proficient as they can. The whole point of their teaching is mastery and excellence.

—Dr. William Klemm, Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University
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Student Loans Worry Students, Families, and the Fed

Student loans have received considerable media attention in recent months as researchers and policymakers voice growing concern about the heavy debt loads assumed by students and their parents. Now the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has announced via Grading Student Loans that since student loans have grown to be such a huge part of the consumer debt landscape, they’ll be providing quarterly data–detailing the demographics of borrowers–on the Liberty Street Economics Blog.

How big a problem is student debt? Very big. As of the third quarter of 2011, the outstanding balance on student loans ($870 billion) exceeded the outstanding balance on credit cards ($693 billion) and auto loans ($730 billion). That’s big.

—Cheryl Russell, Demographer and Editorial Director of New Strategist Publications

Wonder when colleges will start to be concerned? Students seem concerned as do recent college graduates given they’re:

Moving less (and moving back home more)

Not getting married

Having fewer children

Spending less

Perhaps those trends will turnaround as the job market improves? Hope so, or we might see student loan delinquencies higher than anyone would have thought possible.

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Making school different or keep stealing dreams

Seth Godin's Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?)Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?) is a quick 30,000 word read just released from Seth Godin. While he doesn’t offer a prescription, and it’s certainly not a manual on how to fix our schools, Seth will provoke you to think about a different set of educational goals. Now don’t worry, you won’t have to tie these into the common core curriculum or develop a new formative and/or summative assessment for them. According to Seth, “It’s more a rant than a book. It’s written for teenagers, their parents, and their teachers. It’s written for bosses and for those who work for those bosses. And it’s written for anyone who has paid taxes, gone to a school board meeting, applied to college, or voted.” Plus, it’s priced to fit into any education budget no matter how badly your’s has been cut because it’s FREE! Get a copy for every faculty member, every administrator, every school board member, every parent, and every citizen in your community. Seth asks questions and shares insight that will hopefully spark a few essential conversations communities across the country need to have regardless of their current or past socioeconomic realities. After all, in the words of John Dewey:

Democracy cannot flourish where the chief influences in selecting subject matter of instruction are utilitarian ends narrowly conceived for the masses, and, for the higher education of the few, the traditions of a specialized cultivated class. The notion that the ‘essentials’ of elementary education are the three R’s mechanically treated, is based upon ignorance of the essentials needed for realization of democratic ideals. A curriculum which acknowledges the social responsibilities of education must present situations where problems are relevant to the problems of living together, and where observation and information are calculated to develop social insight and interest.

—John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916)
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Overreliance On Accountability Undermines Confidence

New research presents startling evidence critical for education as well as a number of other fields including philanthropy, government, business, and health care. While the report authors admit the results are suggestive, not definitive, the implications are undeniably massive. They found there’s a big difference between what the general public believes “being accountable” means vs. what leaders believe it means. This is significant, especially in education, given the current ongoing drive to assess every child (and every teacher), using multiple measures of assessment in order to broaden beyond summative assessments and high-stakes accountability.

Perhaps no other field has produced more performance data and so little confidence over the last two decades. Education needs to seriously re-think what accountability really means to parents, communities and children.

—”Don’t Count Us Out” A Report from Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation

This research report summarizes in-depth qualitative research and details how the general public needs more than just “the numbers.” The report states that “while many leaders hope and expect that the accountability systems they are developing and institutionalizing will address Americans’ frustrations and lack of confidence. Based on the research summarized here, that is not likely to be the case.”

“Many are dubious about whether test scores are the best measures of teacher effectiveness (or student learning for that matter). Most say the chief problem in America high schools is poor student behavior and lack of motivation, a problem that teachers can’t solve alone and that has not received much attention in current accountability discussions.”

‘We the people’ ultimately need genuine two-way communication and relationships that build trust. Not just between the schools and the parents of today’s students, but between schools and everyday citizens. “Now, more than ever, leaders need to reach for the strategy of engaging members of the public in genuine dialogue. In a dialogue, the goal is not to convince the public of pre-selected ‘solutions.’ Rather it is to share the concerns of both public and leaders, recognizing that each has knowledge and expertise that can be brought to bear on the problem. In a dialogue, the goal is to spend as much time listening as talking.”

The report, “Don’t Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public’s Confidence in Schools, Business, Government and More” is available from Public Agenda.

Don’t Count Us Out: How an Overreliance on Accountability Could Undermine the Public’s Confidence in Schools, Business, Government and More

While this report “describes a potentially corrosive gap between the way leaders in government, business, education, health care, and other sectors define accountability and the way typical Americans think about it,” what do you think about it? Share your thoughts, comments and ideas.

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No Textbook Answers, No Waiting For Superman

The Kettering Foundation released the full-length web version of No Textbook Answer: Communities Confront the Achievement Gap. The film highlights eight communities who were tired of waiting for Superman and came together to make a difference.

FYI: According to the Kettering Foundation, the film’s name actually came from one of its main findings – that there is no textbook answer that will fix all schools and all students.

FYI: This film’s title came while interviewing Geoffrey Canada when he recalled being told for the very first time (as a child by his mother) that Superman was not real and feeling scared because there was nobody to save him.

To be clear, neither of these 2010 documentary films offer any explicit silver-bullet answers to “fixing our schools.” But to be honest, neither of these films purport to do so. It would also be foolish to suggest that either one of them offers a valid comprehensive analysis of the current U.S. public educational system – by simply following several students through their community’s version of a school system. Yet after viewing both, I was struck by the different emotional responses created by each film. “Waiting for Superman” left me seriously concerned and depressed. “No Textbook Answer” left me seriously concerned and hopeful.

That’s because “Waiting For Superman” leaves viewers with an implicit message to “demand change.” While “No Textbook Answer” leaves viewers with the inspiration to start their own “kitchen-table conversations,” back-yard, neighbor-to-neighbor, deliberation. Asking themselves and others these three questions:

  • Are my kids and my community facing this problem?
  • What could we do about it?
  • Who can help?

When citizens in a community engage in these tough questions having crucial conversations via real-world authentic deliberation, they’re taking an important step towards creating the kind of public-building work that sustains our democracy. As David Matthews states in his book Reclaiming Public Education, “communities don’t have to do anything outside the ordinary – they just have to do the ordinary in different ways.”

When people work as a public, they name problems, frame issues, and make decisions in ways that empower them to act collectively.

—David Mathews, The Kettering Foundation

Perhaps the biggest lesson in watching both films back-to-back is that life isn’t just a lottery, it’s a series of choices and actions that we the people ultimately make individually and collectively to improve our lives and our world.

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What Makes Kids Kick

A collection of ideas, research, and thoughts about kids today.

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