Thursday, December 8, 2011

Critical Mass and the 100th Monkey

Despite massive and myriad attempts on the part of parents, teachers, and students to have some effect on the national (and international) dialogue about "school reform," the powers that be seem deaf to even the most well-reasoned arguments, and those of us who have acted as "voices in the wilderness" certainly feel invisible as well.  It seems obvious to me, and to thousands of others like me, that after thirty years of infighting to change the schools, it’s time we realized that numbers, statistics, and political rhetoric only tell us the symptoms of out-of-date schools: drop-outs, bullying, gangs, parent unrest, a proliferation of alternatives, loud and long debates, and all the rest.

Statistics cannot, by their very nature, get to the heart of the problem.  Schools are not businesses with numerical bottom lines. They are organizations of people that much more resemble families than factories.   When schools are allowed, encouraged, and supported to redesign themselves as collaborative systems that inspire students, teachers, and parents to share and pursue knowledge, then we will have the kind of educational "families" that can nurture each child individually and return FUN, belonging, and excitement to the learning process--for all of us.

Thus, with the dawning of the REAL Age of Aquarius (Hey, those Mayans knew SOMETHING was happening, right?), we're approaching that moment when a critical mass of public opinion will be reached and, like the learning of the hundredth monkey, we will all intuitively know what we have to do:  Create a new paradigm for public education--for every child in the world--that encompasses what we know about the human brain:

Human brains are designed to synthesize multiple factors and functions and to build webs of meaning, not to be forced into narrow, linear, prescribed channels of thought. Like the Worldwide Web, schools must become smarter, faster, lighter, more adaptable, more collaborative, more open-ended, more technologically integrated, and more connected to the global community--a Renaissance of schooling for ALL kids.

Teachers must have time, training, and support to adapt to the new realities:  They will learn to become coaches, facilitators, creators, nurturers, designing projects and interactive experiences that engage students with important content. They will work with parents and their communities to expand "school" beyond classrooms and into cyberspace and real-world environments.  When we catch on to this concept and help teachers unlock their own creativity, just stand back, folks, because a whole universe of untapped energy will be released. 

At the same time, school systems must find ways of downsizing their bureaucracies and of meeting NOT the needs of the adults, but rather the needs of the students:
  • Kids want answers to these questions: What am I doing here, how does this relate to me, what can I do with this information, how can I help make the world a better place? 
  • Kids need NOT more factoids, but more MEANING: How to make connections among ideas, how to value the importance of information, how to assemble a big picture and do something meaningful with it--a global picture. 
  • Kids need connection, a sense of belonging, inspiration, direction--and a way to use their own talents, passions and skills to build a life in the new world that is revealing itself as the new millennium progresses.
Imagine what school must look like to achieve these goals, for EVERY child at every age, and that is the starting point for “school reform”: a deeper level of learning than we have ever experienced before. What we're really talking about is breaking down barriers and false walls and bringing people together in creative, intelligent environments where all members of the community can learn, grow, and thrive. 

Yes, that's right.  This is an entirely NEW VISION of what schools are and what we want them to do.  And the more of us who talk about this new vision and blog about it and share it with our friends, the faster we will all be able to change our minds.  As we take the quantum leap of changing our minds, we will, at last, be able to change the schools in a meaningful way and, in the process, transform the world.  Join in by "liking" ChangeTheSchools on Facebook, or join another group, but, somehow, let YOUR voice be heard!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What Are the Parameters of Your Sandbox?

Did you ever notice that all pre-school teachers, and kindergarten teachers for that matter, have one important trait in common?   They consciously, subconsciously, and unfailingly create the physical environment that will promote the desired behavior from their kids:  Their placemats in a circle so kids will sit in a circle on the floor, a tricycle lane and kiddie cops to make sure trikes stay safely within the lines, books on small tables of four so kids will share pictures with each other, personal cubbyholes so everyone can store their own crayons.  You know what I mean.  So, my question is this:  What behavior did we have in mind when we designed schools (and are still designing schools) in separate little boxes called classrooms with desks in careful rows and silence enforced by the teacher's presence at the front of each room (sometimes actually sitting behind a big desk)?

The answer to that would be, let's see, regimented, silent, listening behavior, uninterrupted by flights of fancy, comments, or other noise; and no moving around; and going from one classroom like this to several others every day on a permanent rotation of 55 minutes each.  I'm only slightly exaggerating and anyone who has ever been to high school will certainly recognize the pattern.  At one high school where I was an administrator, we actually had the teachers all shadow a student for one whole day, following him/her to every class.  The teachers were outraged and dismayed, especially with the boring drivel their colleagues (and they, too) piled on the "general" students.  They all complained that their rear-ends hurt and they were bored out of their minds and how could the kids stand it?

Well, it didn't take us long after that (one year of planning) to change the culture of the entire school, starting with team-taught, cross-disciplinary two-hour blocks for all freshmen, aided by a dedicated computer lab and multimedia systems for freshman teachers, plus personal and team support for each group of ninth graders.  This was around 1990, when the "back-to-basics" movement that has now leached all creativity out of schools, was in its infancy.  The teachers did all the research to select their integrated approach (in an ethnically diverse public high school of 2200) and even talked their colleagues into moving out of their classrooms to make a couple of special freshman pods for the new design.

Despite all the excitement and two years of very successful implementation, when personnel changed and the daily pressure lapsed, "the system" snapped back into place like an overstretched rubber band.  Before long, under new "leadership," the school's reputation waned, the faculty's energy did, too, and it was back to the faceless hordes trudging from classroom to classroom.  For one brief shining moment, we all had (gasp!) FUN; obviously, that could not be sustained over the long haul, right?  A long way of saying that all the collaborative energy was no match for the culture of isolation and disconnection that our traditional approach to school requires:  that one-classroom, one-teacher, delivering- information model.  That assembly-line model where each child goes bumping down the conveyor belt, has information added, and pops out at the end either stamped "Standard" or dropped off the line like so much slag if the child doesn't fit the mold.

Having watched this entire pattern play out over 25 years in public schools as a teacher and school and district administrator, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that all those outraged conversations about "the system" heard in every teacher lunchroom and parent meeting were being echoed by other change agents in different fields.   I discovered that artists, architects, writers, scientists, musicians, and other creatives were seeing the same thing, and talking about it:  Here, for example, is the latest commentary by the president of an international architectural firm engaged in school design:  The Classroom Is Obsolete.  In part, he says, "The classroom is a relic, left over from the Industrial Revolution."   From the standpoint of design, we have consistently painted ourselves into a corner, the better to do the "basics" and to prevent our teachers and kids from engaging in collaborative, creative, critical thinking and doing.   Wow, I thought; we are saying exactly the same thing! 

An earlier commentary had enthralled me and prompted me to contact this firm, because nothing makes more sense than, as all pre-school teachers are wont to do, designing the environment to elicit the behavior we want to promote.  Thus, if we want clever, other-directed, creative, smart, articulate kids who grow into creative, productive, entrepreneurial adults--as we all have to be this century--then how must schools look to achieve that effect?  Read all about it (and more) on the international forum DesignShare and, while you are there, marvel, as I did that, in all possible ways, Changing the Schools Can Change the World

A Novel Way to Promote Change

As an added note on the post "What Are the Parameters of Your Sandbox?" I was recently notified that the education director of DesignShare had read my novel, Angel Park, and wanted to feature it in the first newsletter for the creative design site.   Wow!  Fast company, I thought, and gladly provided the needed information.  So, here is my novel about school reform and cultural change in the inaugural edition of this prestigious international newsletter:

A Novel Way to Promote Change Agency

In ANGEL PARK, a novel about school reform that centers on the mystery surrounding the death of a school official, the characters’ lives and attitudes are shaped by the buildings that contain them. Despite its attempt at modernity, the school district reveals its real story at the ringing of each bell when “the pressure of all the classroom doors shutting simultaneously” allows students to be “vacuum-sealed into each tiny micro-climate.” Thus, the educational spaces embody and perpetuate the sense of isolation and disconnection that still permeates the traditional school system, despite a century of human progress in the outside world.

The author, Patricia Kokinos, a veteran teacher and school and district administrator in both California and New York, saw these buildings and the fictionalized but true events of the story as a microcosm of the issues of school reform. She offers the unique perspective of fiction to give readers an emotional sense of the forces, both human and societal, that stifle change and the deep beliefs we may have to uproot to make some changes that count. ANGEL PARK is available on Amazon (, and more about its awards and reviews can be found on the author’s school reform website,

--from the inaugural newsletter for DesignShare, a global forum for innovative school design,   See the entire newsletter for October 2011.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Message from India

"The future is unknowable and cannot be predicted. A child who joins school today will retire in 2065 and can be expected to live up to the age of 85. The challenge for schools is staring us in the face."  These are the words of Lt. Gen. Arjun Ray, a decorated leader of India's school improvement efforts and now CEO of an independent international school in Bangalore.  An online friend of mine who works on school change in Atlanta sent me the link to this message from India, because it states so eloquently why schools in the developing world are moving ahead and schools in America continue to struggle.
For one thing, life in India, the country that completely jumped over the Industrial Age and took up residence in the Information Age without a backward glance, is not about "test scores."  As Gen. Ray states, "There prevails a lot of confused thinking on what is the fundamental purpose of schools."  Indeed.
Gen. Ray believes schools should have a social objective to play a worthwhile part in the progress of the 21st century, with a "new literacy" that includes competencies in "higher purpose and vision, how to be creative, how to think critically, and how to be lifelong learners."   While U.S. schools may say some of these same things, they are not concepts that are valued by a system that prizes test scores above all else.  As Gen. Ray sees it, "Schools should, therefore, look upon themselves as agents of change and not as repositories of knowledge."
Ah, there's the crux of the argument:  What are schools trying to accomplish?  If we are no longer training factory workers for the discipline of standing at conveyor belts for long boring hours, being silent and focused on their narrow tasks, then why are we still running our schools as if that were their purpose?   If we, too, want our students to be creative, to have a sense of purpose and vision, how must we change things to create that outcome?
The person with the best answer to that question is Linda Darling-Hammond, the Stanford professor who originally advised President Obama on education issues.  She was recently featured in a webinar on, explaining in great detail why the tests our students take now in NO way prepare them for their own futures.
The challenges today, she says require "motivated and self-reliant citizens and risk-taking entrepreneurs" who have a new set of abilities including solving problems, working in teams, creating, innovating and criticizing, reflecting on and improving performance.  These new expectations, in turn, require a major shift in schools, away from the recall and recognition--simple, low-level abilities--that form the basis of our testing programs. 
Here's an American test question in science:
  • What two gases make up most of the Earth's atmosphere?
1.       Hydrogen and oxygen
2.       Hydrogen and nitrogen
3.       Oxygen and carbon dioxide
4.       Oxygen and nitrogen
Contrast this simple, easy to machine-score "standardized test" question with the "rich task" from a state exam in Queensland, Australia:
  • Students must identify, explore, and make judgments on a biotechnological process to which there are ethical dimensions. 
  • They must choose and explore an area of biotechnology, identify and use laboratory practices, and research frameworks of ethical principles that apply to their issue.
  • Students provide a written explanation of technological differences in techniques used and present a deep analysis of the ethical issues involved.
  • Further, they must select six real-life people whose views contribute to the issue and plan materials for a conference at which these scientists will speak, based on research of their views.
The Australian exam, and others that Dr. Darling-Hammond cites from England, Singapore, and other countries, obviously involves a wide range of skills, assessing student competencies in such areas as research and analysis, understanding of ethical issues and principles, lab practices, organization and communication, understanding of biological and chemical systems, etc.  That's why it's called a "rich task" and why, as an assessment of AUTHENTIC work, it requires an entirely different mode of teaching--also richer, more in-depth, more purposeful.

Darling-Hammond points out that worldwide school reform makes such assessments part of a "tightly integrated SYSTEM of standards, curriculum, instruction, assessment, and teacher development."  A SYSTEM designed to train teachers as it trains students to think in creative ways:  The goal for the NEW American public education system.  

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Human Brain, Unplugged

Energy Man Emerges Connections, connections, the human brain is all about connections:  Pulling memories out of a storage vault with, what would you say, a zillion gigs of capacity?  Shaping responses to stimuli in a nanosecond.  Putting discrete pieces together into patterns with a glance.  It's already the ultimate quantum computer, and getting more sophisticated by the generation, so it is no wonder that today's kids just aren't going to put up with doing traditional "school work" that is, at best, a conglomeration of isolated knowledge.  Human brains are designed to synthesize a multiplicity of factors and functions and to BUILD webs of meaning.  When are we going to translate that reality into modes of learning that do NOT force children's brains into narrow, linear, carefully circumscribed channels of thought?  The next stage of human development is here, and we're standing flatfooted at the door, arguing about irrelevant details like "test scores" while the world passes us by.  
If you're not already feeling left behind, especially in the too-tight strictures of the education world, then you probably haven't read A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink's racy paean to Big Picture Thinkers and the need to move beyond Knowledge Workers and into "The Conceptual Age."  I know, in schools, we're still trying to figure out the "Information Age," so somehow we're going to have to both immerse ourselves in technology and simultaneously leapfrog into what's going on right now, and Mr. Pink argues a great and compelling case, backed up by research, readings, and resources we can all use.
With the advent of Abundance, Asia, and Automation, Pink says, we're moving into a new era, where RIGHT-brain thinking (he calls it R-directed)--that part of us that schooling tends to pooh-pooh and ignore--is rising into a new prominence.  You know what that's all about, the part of our brain that is simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual, the part that creates a Gestalt of experience and allows us to be "emotionally astute" and "creatively adroit."  Well, how much of that new "success and fulfillment" modality are we stimulating in schools?  That's right, very little to none at all.  Instead we have defined school success as filling in the right bubbles on woefully narrow "standardized tests," an approach that has given us lots of statistics but has held us back from moving to the next stage: A new agreement about the  meaning and purpose of school, a smart policy that articulates a supportive structural WEB around which states, communities, and schools can spin their own designs.
As we work piece by piece to achieve that smartbomb of national leadership, we can also work Pink's concepts into our policy discussions and teaching, subversively fulfilling our students'  real needs--and our own as well.  Here are the Six Essential Attributes that Pink discusses at length as markers of the new Conceptual Age:  Design, not only functional but beautiful and engaging.  Story, not only argument but a compelling narrative.  Symphony, not just focus but synthesis, creating a new whole.  Empathy, not just logic but caring and understanding.  Play, creating a balance of work and play for general well-being.  Meaning, not just money but purpose, transcendence and even spiritual fulfillment.  If you're like me, Pink's articulation of what we have always intuited to be true  is enough to make a frustrated teacher or parent cry.  Finally, someone creative enough to give us a framework for a new way of thinking about how we can connect our children to the REAL "real world."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

What's Deming Got to Do With It?

Wasn't W. Edwards Deming the management guru who transformed the Japanese economy back in the day, showing that nation how to organize for the production of quality products?  Well, yes.  And didn't his ideas foster the whole Total Quality Management development that occurred in the '90s?  Of course.   But his reach went much beyond industry to teach us about SYSTEMS THINKING and show us that the whole must be centered around a powerful vision of learning.  

"Massive training is required to instill the courage to break with tradition," he said.  Courage, yes, that's what we need to break with the rigid patterns that define public education, and to break the stranglehold that piecemeal efforts have on the concept of school reform.  After all, we have had 40 years of "school reform," where almost everything in the ballpark has been in vogue.  Now, let's step back to the conceptual level with school itself and look at ways to change the system . . . .

Deming's ideas spawned an entire generation of systems thinkers, who extrapolated his views into the growing study of organizational change.   Peter Senge, the original Director of the Center for Organizational Learning at MIT, is perhaps the most famous of these, an organizational innovator whose books The Fifth Discipline and Schools That Learn catapulted him to the global stage.

In an article posted on the site of the Society for Organizational Learning (, which he founded, Senge says, "Building learning organizations requires personal transformations or basic shifts in how we think and interact."  The three major roadblocks to this shift are cultural dysfunctions that promote fragmentation, competition, and reactiveness.  Sounds exactly like our traditional school system, doesn't it?

"We continually fragment problems into pieces; yet the challenges we face are . . . systemic," Senge writes.  We also revere competition, which can be fun and inventive, but needs to be balanced with cooperation.  "We think in terms of war and sports analogies . . . when the process of developing leaders may be more like parenting than competing . . . and developing a new culture may be more like gardening than a military campaign," he says.
Most importantly, Senge says, "We have grown accustomed to changing only in reaction to outside forces, yet the wellspring of real learning is aspiration, imagination, and experimentation."  He relates this mental state to what we ALL have learned and continue to learn in school:  "Fitting in, being accepted, became more important than being ourselves.  We learned that the way to succeed was to focus on the teachers' questions as opposed to our own."   

These dysfunctions, he believes, are "frozen patterns of thought to be dissolved," for which he proposes a "Galilean Shift" in the way we view our places in the world, as members of a whole community that works in collaborative ways to create a new culture. 

Nowhere is such a new culture more desperately needed than in our schools, where our obsession with test scores, closing the gap, evaluating and punishing teachers, and turning around failing schools is distracting us from the REAL WORK of school change:  Building a new, coherent vision of schooling that can bring EVERY CHILD, EVERY TEACHER, EVERY PARENT, EVERY COMMUNITY into productive and positive work toward a smarter, more inclusive, and more nurturing public education system.

I know, to those school "purists" who believe that school is for academics and all that fuzzy caring-about-the-kids stuff is just so much California "fluff," what I'm saying here is appalling and probably frightening.  If we did that, what would happen to our (gasp!) test scores?!?  Listen guys, if we really want schools that work for KIDS, if we really want "better teachers" and "smarter schools," then we're all going to have to CHANGE OUR MINDS in exactly the ways Senge suggests. 

Now, this kind of change does not have to be scary and certainly not "touchy-feely," so don't despair, all you academic hardliners.  We're mainly talking about a NEW PERSPECTIVE from which to view schoolwork.  Does it really have to be drudgery for everyone involved?  Or can it be a shift of thinking that does things like teach Algebra and Geometry together as a mathematical SYSTEM for problem-solving with scenarios where kids can apply what they're learning and see some use for such abstractions?   Or what about Physics and Chemistry working together to reveal secrets of the physical universe?  Or how about history as a human system with developing THEMES working toward equilibrium?  Well, there are about a million more examples, but you get the idea:  A NEW WAY of engaging kids (AND teachers) in their own learning is our KEY to real change. 

Even more to the point, we need to see EACH INDIVIDUAL SCHOOL as a learning organization where teachers work together to develop new, engaging projects and support each other in their implementation; thus, common ground and collaboration instead of closed classroom doors.  We need a flattening of the hierarchy that is sitting on the heads of teachers and schools, crushing out creativity with statistics and test scores; we won't need all that paper-pushing when we finally repudiate "test scores" as our sacred cow and more highly trained people can escape the dreaded "district office" and go back to the fun of working with kids, teachers, and schools.   There's a RENAISSANCE for schools right there, in that single concept.  We need university education faculties to be headed by people with REAL experience in real schools, and we need them to be out in schools with the fledgling teachers, helping them solve teaching dilemmas in real time.  Again, a whole new concept that would revolutionize teacher training.

But let's take these thoughts a step further:  Deming was a member of the "Greatest Generation" who passed on in 1993, leaving his work to Baby Boomers like Senge.  Now there are Gen-X systems thinkers who have picked up the challenge.  A recent article sent to me by a colleague in Atlanta gives a fresh take on the whole concept of "standards," from a quality management professional--and a parent:  Mike Micklewright says in his piece in Quality Digest (, "Students are taught how to take tests, not how to learn or discover or create or challenge or to gain more knowledge . . . .  School becomes a job and children begin to lose their natural desire to learn."  If we really wanted to focus on students, he asks, shouldn't school quality be judged by "the degree to which students are fulfilled by the educational system to meet their particular and individual needs based on the unique method by which each student learns?" 

Sounds like a good plan to me.  What about you?  We're only a few steps away from a SEA-CHANGE in public thinking about what school can be.  Jump on Facebook with us to help spread the word:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Beyond Darwin: A New Road to Evolution

When Charles Darwin was hanging around the Galapagos Islands, theorizing about how species develop and what the mechanism for natural selection might be, I'm sure he never imagined that he would become the poster boy for the Industrial Age and the raison d'etre for a whole system of thinking based on that competitive "law of the jungle" mentality--Social Darwinism.  We like to think that this sort of misappropriation of Darwin's ideas has gone the way of high-button shoes, but, alas, it keeps cropping up, cloaked in newer terms, in the midst of budget debates, policy debates, and even school reform debates.  In fact, if we pull up the corners of the 21st century and look underneath, we will be amazed to find that these Victorian-era ideas about "survival of the fittest" underpin--at this very moment--the structure of society.

We can find the symptoms everywhere, from gun-toting "cowboys" in Southern Arizona to student bullies on Facebook, to corporate loopholes for avoiding taxes--to the very fact that we are afraid, as social beings, to let go of our competitiveness because we may be eaten alive, or more importantly, be ostracized from the group.  The idea that "I'm rich, what's the matter with you?" is still the foundation for Western society is not so surprising when we realize that the go-go '80s with their emphasis on "conspicuous consumption" and the ludicrous concept of "trickle-down economics" have not yet faded from the public scene, no matter how far in the past the Industrial Revolution may be. 

Thus, when schools are rife with bullying, when cyberbullying takes the fight for survival to an even more dangerous level, when kids take guns to school, when gangs, drop-outs, drugs, and disaffection continue to devour student populations--why are we not noticing that these issues are connected and tell us something troubling about our very social system?  Surely, these are symptoms of our social dysfunction and part of our urgent need for large-scale change in our institutions, our habits, our ways of thinking.

As for the school debate, despite the rash of profiteers who want to cash in on charter schools, online learning, and bigger and better "standardized tests," at some point we need to say, "The Emperor has no clothes," and call for an end to the Darwinian fantasy that enmeshes us. (Sorry, Charles, you were just in the right place at the wrong time).   I guess this is why I keep saying that "Changing the Schools Can Change the World," despite being labeled as a "visionary"  (code word for impractical dreamer), an "idealist" (ditto), or utopian thinker (really?).

So just let me lay it out right here, succinctly:  Our outdated school system that is based on dividing kids into statistical groups, academic tracks, social subgroups, racial groups, and competitive pecking orders is the very embodiment of Social Darwinism in action.  The engine for this ongoing disconnect, separation, and have-vs.-have-not thinking is our overblown system of "standardized testing," a bureaucratic and corporate superstructure that has been growing exponentially (again, from the mid-'80s) as public "proof" not of our failures, but of our unwillingness to fit into tight little boxes anymore.  Thus, it is not schools that are failing, but we who are failing schools.

If we want to create what the first George Bush liked to call "a kinder, gentler nation" (a phrase that I always thought out of character for a former CIA director), we must begin with changing the structure of our schools.  This "visionary" foresees schools as community centers, in EVERY community, where teachers coach thinking and creativity, services are provided for families, students work to discover their gifts and hone their talents, and curriculum and instruction are based on connections among disciplines, teamwork, and the tools of technology.  Schools are the foundation for social progress, so let's stop talking about statistics and make some changes that count . . . .

Small, personalized, collaborative venues create students and teachers (and parents, and communities) who care about each other, and that, my friends, is the antidote to all of the ills laboriously outlined above.  No more dog-eat-dog, let's-all-compete-and-see-who-dies-first, if-I-can't-get-into-Harvard-I'm-going-to-kill-myself, who-makes-the-most-money-that's-where-I'm-going scenarios for our kids.  It's a new millennium and way past time to move beyond the Industrialists' high-jacking of Darwin.  The new road to human evolution leads to a much different place, where (yes, idealistically, all right!) we can work together to improve the planet, our lives, others' lives, and our children's future.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Surprise, Universe! Humanity Is Not Done Yet . . .

For the past two months my mind has been gestating something new . . . a pattern that looks a lot like a revolution in our collective outlook, revolution in its most positive sense: A fundamental change in the architecture of society. Hopeful energy seems to be spinning around the Internet, from petitions to social networking sites to changes of heart among politicians to supportive work for disaster areas.  At a level just below the daily news beats a strong humanizing impulse that is pulling us closer together, as though every new meme dropped into the zeitgeist morphs immediately into connection and then, amazingly, action.

Faster than we can imagine, every action produces an opposite and equal reaction, a scientific response that makes our new global camaraderie into something like an organism, shifting and responding, amoeba-like, to prods that we couldn't even register before.  Tyrannical dictatorships, natural disasters, unfair political practices, monopolistic corporations, ecological dangers--all of these and more are poking the body politic in highly uncomfortable ways, and getting poked back.  Who knew, when computer geniuses were talking about computers becoming faster and smarter than people, that the human brain would adapt in unforeseen ways--and operate on subliminal levels that no one has been able to explain or prove.

This is the moment when (Shazam!) Jung's collective unconscious appears to be coming alive, catapulting us a few extra steps ahead on the progression of human evolution.  And, of course, not a moment too soon, forced into revealing itself under the pressure of that much bandied about "apocalypse."  Surprise, Universe!  Humanity is not done yet . . .

Let's just look at one example, the argument about "school reform" in the U.S., and, by extension, in the rest of the world as well.  This arena is more indicative of the public mood than one would initially imagine, since schools and the way we raise and treat our children, globally, tell volumes about who we are as people and what we want our societies to become.  In fact, schools are the deep reflecting pools of the values we hold as a society.  In the U.S., this concept has immediately been grasped on a subliminal level by thousands of people across the country, without the words ever having been uttered.  Thus, and suddenly, thousands of us are spontaneously, and in hundreds of different places, saying exactly the same thing:
  • Structured, hierarchical, controlled, competitive, linear schools are no longer acceptable to society at large.
  • Narrowly conceived "standardized testing" is diametrically opposed to the kind of creative, collaborative thinking that the new millennium demands.
  • Children, teachers, parents, and communities need cooperative, entrepreneurial, engaging, innovative, and uplifting venues where we can all work together to build the future.
Human progress is moving forward despite traditional society's best efforts to reign everyone in, control what they do, and maintain the status quo--or even go backward to some imagined "golden age."  Ain't happenin', folks.  We're breaking through those barriers right now, and it is only through the SYNERGY the internet provides that this collective power is possible.  Of course, synergy is the only force strong enough to pull us through the web of inertia that has held everything in place for so long . . . .

So, want to see that happening in living color?  Here's a case in point:  In January, everywhere on the Web, we were still talking about teachers standing up for themselves and fighting back against the two-year campaign by school "reformers" and venture capitalists and even our own President to discredit schools and teachers--as though they had CAUSED the current structure of society. 

By February, a Save Our Schools campaign was underway all across the country, supported by the biggest names in humane schooling for ALL kids.  This is only the public tip of an enormous iceberg of public sentiment that says, "We won't stand for any more pointless 'testing' of our kids."  Another notable site that has spread like, well, the proverbial wildfire is End the Race to Nowhere, based on the popular film that has galvanized parent and teacher audiences across the country.  There, too, the talk is about ending the competitive testing craze and the pressure we put on kids to perform tasks that are no longer even germane to their lives.

In March, articles and blogs, as though communicating through that same unseen spider web of connecting threads, were talking actively about boycotting the testing process that is soon to be upon us as spring plays out.  In the past two weeks, we have seen a Texas school superintendent break all precedent by speaking out against "the system," kids run away from home to avoid the testing circus, and the corporate gains of the testing fad exposed.

Just the other day, either reacting to this barrage of public opinion, or finally stepping out of the clutches of his handlers, President Obama said much the same thing to an audience of students at a town hall meeting: 
“One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the President said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.”
This from the President who has allowed high-stakes testing to form a cornerstone of his education agenda.  A major turnaround, emphasizing the lightning-fast progression of public thinking over only the past three months.  Apparently, once a tipping point is reached, the falling action is not only swift but exponential in its power.

The humanizing impulse at work extends far beyond the school issue, of course, and we have been watching the drama unfold daily on our internet screens.  The impulse to connect, create change, and make a difference in the world is becoming universal.  As we are seeing right before our eyes, change works in mysterious ways, and the ability of the people to merge and broadcast their interests beyond their individual realms is giving new meaning to the term "the will of the people" in this brand-new era.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

California: The New Education Battleground

Here we were congratulating each other in California because we elected a former governor, Jerry Brown, who actually understands and supports the deep civil rights issue of equal access to excellent education for every child.  (I know, such a feel-good '60s concept, but 55 years after Brown v. Board of Education, shouldn't SOMEONE be saying this out loud?)  Jerry is an old-school infighter, a former Jesuit and two-term governor whose father was governor before him; he's smart, he's savvy, and he's up against the fight of his life.

It is one of those grand coincidences of cosmic time that Michelle Rhee, the front-man for the moneyed interests who would turn our public school system over to venture capitalists, is engaged to be married to the mayor of Sacramento, which just happens to be the capital of California.  So Michelle and Jerry will be neighbors, and the lone Democratic governor to win the most recent election is surely number one on the hit parade of those same "reformers" who can't wait to get in here and take over California schools to help our kids better serve the economy (or their economy, I forget).  No, that's right, the moguls haven't figured out yet that lighting the intellectual fire for every kid would do more than any other factor to boost the American economy and upgrade our way of life far beyond that tired Sputnik level that the President mentioned just this week.

So, let's call out Michelle Rhee and see what she's really made of, shall we?

Welcome to California, Michelle, and here's the deal:  We invite you to put your money where your mouth is (Students First) and collaborate with Governor Brown to do something REALLY worthwhile for California's kids:

  • Use that money to UPGRADE existing schools
  • Free teachers from the outdated testing system
  • Implement creativity and critical thinking in classrooms
  • Provide technological training and support
  • Bring in private sector experts to help rebuild the educational infrastructure, including adequate technology for every classroom
  • Provide funding to support personalized learning in small, collaborative environments for every child
In other words, help this heavily populated and heavily broke state (Thanks, Arnold, you did a great job . . .) create a Renaissance for public education right now, no waiting!

After all, changing the schools is going to require MONEY, as every reputable charter operator has discovered, including Geoffrey Canada who has eked out millions from his supporters for this very effort.

Oh, even better, let's take that charter concept to its logical next step!

Michelle, with your national platform, help California become a CHARTER STATE, where all the inhibiting rules are lifted for two years while we pull all the players together to REINVENT our entire system for the 21st century.   Help California (and the nation) develop a new VISION for what our schools can become by statewide collaborative events that bring parents, teachers, students, and community INTO the process.  Excellent public schools for every child in every neighborhood!

Oh, that's not what the Students First money is earmarked for? Collaboration is, what did you call it, "over-rated"? Your business backers have another political agenda in mind? In fact, you have your own agenda?

Really.  Well, I guess we'll all have to think of something else . . . .

The State of the Union? Disappointing . . .

If we were waiting to hear a bold new direction for school reform, President Obama's State of the Union address on January 25th was a deep disappointment.  Nothing new, and even worse, a complete capitulation to the kind of bipartisanship that makes Americans say there IS no choice between the major political parties.  The House and the Senate are cordially agreeing among themselves to tinker with No Child Left Behind, completing ignoring the head of steam building up all across the country among those of us who expected "Change" to mean . . . well, "CHANGE"!   Now the press is talking all about the cool way the Democrats and Republicans can probably make something happen with NCLB this year.

My reaction to "reauthorization of NCLB" is quite simply WHO CARES? Congress is clueless about what would really work for education, and, quite frankly, they can help more by simply REPEALING NCLB and constructing a federal program to REWARD states that do something useful:

DOWNSIZE and restructure their state hierarchies to put more funding into actual public schools, cutting incredible waste and quite a bit of porkbarreling and corruption too. The public school system in a new incarnation is the only entity in this country that may have a chance of creating the equity we have talked about for half a century (Equal funding and equal technology for ALL kids!).

Get rid of meaningless "standardized tests" as indicators of mediocrity and engage teachers/parents/communities in, you'll pardon the jargon, "authentic assessment" of student progress (Creativity AND critical thinking--what a concept!).

Restructure funding streams for education to adequately support personalized learning and collaborative, creative training for teachers, integrating and SUPPLYING technology for teachers and students.

Surround schools with supportive services that will draw communities toward schools as centers of community life (as rural schools have always done). Schools are the only public entity that people will trust to serve this integrative purpose, thus helping trim down even more duplication of services and waste of resources.

All of this is only common sense, a term that I realize is not in the Washington lexicon. Even worse, this administration is sorely lacking in follow-through on its promises, which were for POSITIVE CHANGE, not bashing of our most beloved institution and selling it to venture capitalists.   The few simple ideas listed above were what I expected from this administration, a bold new approach to REIMAGINING our public education system.   Nothing of the sort is coming out of Washington, however; only more feeble talk about our "Sputnik moment," as though that dated reference were relevant to today's world.  Not.

Here's the best article I have read all month, by a Columbia University professor who came out first to say "The Emperor has no clothes," a sociological and well-reasoned review of the direction Washington is taking in regard to schools:  "Why Bipartisanism Isn't Working for School Reform."   Read it; you'll be nodding your head all the way.  Then come over to Facebook to join our campaign: ; it's time to suit up and get into the game!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Talking about What School Change Means . . .

Here's my latest radio interview on KVTA in Southern California, with host Kelli McKay. We laugh a lot because of the absurdity of the situation, but how deeply we need to promote a change of mind about what schools can be is what we talk all about. Kelli talks about my book ANGEL PARK, and how radical the book and my ideas seemed barely four years ago when the first edition was published. Now, the ideas are right in the mainstream, thanks to a crescendo of voices from parents to teachers to homeschoolers to systems analysts to professors to journalists to politicians, et al., all calling for a DEEP CHANGE in the way we do school!

Clicking the book cover at right takes you directly to my ANGEL PARK page where you can see reviews and awards for the book and link directly to its AMAZON page, so buy it today: It explains everything you need to know about WHY schools are the way they are and HOW we need to change our minds to shift into a new reality for our kids.

Then come over to Facebook, by clicking on the BOY WITH BLUE WORLD on his face and join my brand-new campaign to build a new vision for schools. You can read all about it in our "manifesto" at, a PDF that you may freely download and send to your own friends. Thanks for helping to spread the word!