Why M.L.K. Matters to Children Today

Why M.L.K. Matters to Children Today

 

Martin Luther King was a tireless worker for creating a better America. In this sense, children should know who he was and what he was all about. MLK’s work was all about making things better for children. He knew the things he was working for would take time to achieve and would manifest more fully for the children of his time to experience. In this way MLK stands out as someone who deeply cared about children and children should have people like that for reflection.

 

MLK was a tireless believer in the power of love. Children know that their greatest power is to love and be loved. MLK’s stance for non-violence and for the power of non-violence speaks to children as they are among the most vulnerable to violence.

 

MLK was a tireless believer in hope and action. Children raised with a spirit of hope for the future are more likely to grow naturally and fully. Children who learn and see models for action in  creating better futures will be more likely to develop as people of action themselves. Action and hopefulness are a great combination for the making of life and the development of a society.

 

MLK was a tireless worker for the rights of all women and men.

 

MLK was tireless worker to end poverty and its destructive impact on the development of society.

 

MLK was a great example of sacrifice and commitment to things higher than self.

 

All these attributes are found in other people, in famous and non-famous. Still, Martin Luther King stands out in America and across the globe as a unique figure in the historical development of mankind. As a family of billions of people over time, we are connected to big ideas and to inspiration by people we know close in our lives and by people whose lives have become global narratives. Their lives, words, images, and legacies serve us in sustaining ways. In all of these ways, MLK is important for children to know. In all these ways MLK matters to children.

 

Childhood

Childhood

 

As I get older in years I have taken to rereading books from our home’s many bookshelves. We are a family of readers and some books have kept a thirty plus hold on the mind. For various reasons, the works of Colin M. Turnbull are certainly among those texts in the keeper list. This rereading reminds me of the ever developing sense of identity we have. If we are lucky enough to live on in decades, we live different lives. My wife and I have lived the lives of teachers for the past thirty two years and we brought the books we read and their ideas through this pedagogical work. Recently in rereading Turnbull’s book, The Human Cycle, I remembered how deftly he describes childhood among the Mbuti people while comparing it to his upbringing as a well to do member of the English/Scottish establishment. His insights remain profound and resonate deeper than ever as I ponder how new trends in western education harken to the types of schools and society we should and can create for children.

 

Mbuti children grow outward through exploration and discovery and inward through using their senses to find who they are as individuals. Their physical, intellectual,and spiritual selves are not segmented into different compartments but rather are constantly interacting as they become their indivisible selves. Mbuti children experience intense early physical connection with their mother and have a deep sense of family togetherness that link them to people and place. Mbuti life is complete with mutuality and as the child develops and faces challenges, they are able to face them and grow as individuals. Mbuti children grow up among family who are part of and connect with the spirit of life itself and this is what they draw from to understand variation in people and to find resolution in conflict.

 

As we have entered into the twenty first century, now almost two decades in, many schools are recognizing skills or practices that seem necessary to survive and thrive in this modern day while also serving humans in any time and context. Many are calling them the 4Cs or more than 4Cs. They speak to the notion that not only do we need adults to be collaborative and creative but that childhood should be replete with opportunities for children to work together in collaborative ways rather than competitive ways and to learn from adult models who do the same. More and more we are creating opportunities for children and teachers to work together and connect themselves to the world around them. More and more we are trying to create school and classroom cultures that create conditions that allow children to work together while also allowing them to use all their senses and talents to find themselves as individuals. All of this work is emergent or re-emergent and is a far cry from the dividing, separating, and often dehumanizing contexts we have created in the name of school for many many years in western institutions.

 

Teachers have long worked within these constraining confines, some subverted them quietly and others reinforced them while most intuitively understand that raising children in fragmented, competition, highly standardized, factory like settings is not a natural condition for the human species. Still, Turnbull’s deep anthropological work does not glorify a native existence. It tells it like it is, but his comparison to the cruelty and distance of his own upbringing gives us all an easy opportunity to reflect on what we want and what we can design for children in terms of their learning environments. To this aim, I say Bravo to all our nation’s schools that are putting communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking first and a Bravissimo to those who add caring as a quintessential “C.”

Children as Infrastructure

Children are our infrastructure.

 

America is a country that is fairly young by country existence standards. Born in 1776 and existing to 2017 that makes 241 years of the United States of America as a democratic sovereign nation. In 1776 there were approximately 2.5 million people living in the U.S.’ first 13 colonies – states. Today in 2017, that number has grown to more than 300 million people in 50 states. In terms of population, that is growth by a factor of 125. If you average that growth over the 241 years of existence it amounts to an average growth of about 1.2 million people per year.

 

American society and its cities, roadways, waterways, and other elements have grown in complexity and scale during these last 241 years. The wikipedia notion of infrastructure searched this day, 9.4.17, reads;

 

Infrastructure refers to the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or other area,[1] including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function.[2] It typically characterises technical structures such as roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, and so forth, and can be defined as “the physical components of interrelated systems providing commodities and services essential to enable, sustain, or enhance societal living conditions.”[3]

 

This definition suggests that we commonly use this word “ infrastructure” to describe the man-made physical systems that we create to undergird our society’s functions. It concludes by by breaking the ultimate purpose of having a society into three key themes;

 

  • Enable
  • Sustain
  • Enhance …. societal  living conditions.

 

These three themes are key to the wiki-definition. Enable signifying what allows the condition to be. Sustain signifying keeping what is enabled going, and Enhance signifying make the conditions better.

 

Recently I have been considering my wife and I’s last 32 years of work and service to children in public schools as an effort in enabling, sustaining, and enhancing the “ultimate infrastructure.”

Just thinking of children and infrastructure together seems an activity worthy of the investment. More traditionally, one might think of variety of the physical and social service infrastructure in terms of how they support the development of children. Hospitals, schools, day care, parks, and other basic infrastructure seem all linked to growing the next generation of human citizens to reach the age of adulthood prepared to enable, sustain, and enhance the society they were born or immigrated to.

 

This post puts the notion physical facilities and systems aside and stops to ponder the actual children of America as infrastructure. They too are physical systems however this post looks at them as fully human systems and more importantly, people.

 

America has been said to be failing itself in recent decades in terms of sustaining or enhancing or facilities infrastructure. Roads, ports, bridges, subways, airports and the lack of high speed rails are commonly described as less than adequate by people from across the political spectrum whether they believe government or private investment should solve the problem. While there seems political agreement on our current -”needs improvement”- condition it is notable that investments and the condition of our “ultimate infrastructure” children, is less commonly agreed upon or emphasized. On one hand we invest the majority of our state budgets across the country to schools, on the other hand, we find the statistics on youth poverty, literacy, health, nutrition, educational attainment, and general well-being to be equally or even more problematic than our failing bridges, water treatment systems, and pot-holed streets.

 

In 2017, more than 44% of children live close to the poverty line and 21% live in families in poverty. According to https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-literacy-america,

 

  1. 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  2. 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
  3. Students who don’t read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school…..
  4. As of 2011, America was the only free-market OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country where the current generation was less educated than the previous one.
  5. Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.

Recent census data suggests that we have enhanced our nation’s achievements in terms of college education levels. It suggests some 34% of Americans now have a 4 year college education which is up dramatically from 1940 when we managed only 4.6%. In a sense, we have increased this aspect of the human infrastructure by a factor of 7.4%. 2017, however, is obviously a different time in terms of economics, the work world, and what represents the minimum bar for being basically educated to enter the workforce. It is now fairly easy for people across the political spectrum to recognize that a high school diploma has lots its value in the economy as the  four year degree has taken its place. One can think of the infrastructure enhancements in education growing in relation to the demands of the other aspects of the society. Just as two lane roads worked well for many transportation needs and demands in the years between the car’s invention and the 1950s, it was recognized that construction of interstate, multilane highways was an enhancement to road infrastructure that was needed to keep pace with other demands in the society.

These connected facts taking us from 1776 to 2017 demonstrate that different questions should be asked about our children as infrastructure. In some ways, when we average all the children in the country together and state the related %s….our country seems to have enabled, sustained, and enhanced our living conditions at satisfactory rates. When we begin to ask questions such as; which parts of the infrastructure, which groups of children, we open up a 241 year dilemma. While some statistics reported that revolutionary period boasted nearly 100% literacy among the new country’s residents, these data skipped the inclusion slaves and other peoples living in the states. Thus, the question broader questions of which children as infrastructure are we investing in and which benefit?

Historical investments or diminishments in children across the world are also informative. Following the Korean war in the 1950s, thousands of Korean children left their country through international adoption. Since 1987, the country, in recognizing its lack of children deficit, began to legislate quotas on outgoing children and incentivize the sustaining and development of its youth. Other informed countries like Scotland, are realizing that investments in children, the “ultimate infrastructure,” are in the interests of their society as a whole, their “Getting it right for every child” initiatives are testament to this new mindset. http://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/1141/0065063.pdf

This rudimentary pondering of children suggests a number of persuasive elements for people considering investing in and thinking of children as the “ultimate infrastructure.” If folks need more to persuade them, several other thoughts come to mind;

As we get older as a society, who will care for us in old age?

As our society becomes more complex, how are we preparing the next generation to sustain much less enhance what we have created?

How are growing well-being differences in sub-groups of our children related to current and future living conditions for all citizens?

Are crime,safety, life-expectancy, quality of life related to the quantity and quality of investment in children?

Who Do We Learn From?

Who Do We Learn From?

This is a question we educators need to ask and re-ask. Do we learn from teachers? Do we learn from peers? Do we learn from our parents? Our coaches? Our elders? Television? Computer? Experience? The list goes on. As humans, we have realized that we are learning all the time and thus we have named ourselves life-long learners. Over time, we tend to learn that we have learned things that before we had not realized we learned. Our new selves learn about our past learning and learn from our past learning as new selves.

On this day, August 31st, I am reflecting on what I have learned from my father. He was born on this last day of August some 82 years ago. He has been gone from the physical earth for 31 years about the same amount of time I have been married and about the same amount of time I have worked as an educator in public schools in California. I am some 5 years older than he was when he passed now and still he is still 82 years old for me. I am fortunate enough to continue to interact with colleagues and mentors from my father’s era and in one case with someone that shares a very similar life path and origin as my father.

In working with Rio’s children in grades Kinder to 8th grade I wonder whether they are cognizant of what their fathers are teaching them or what they are learning from them. I’m not sure I was at their ages. Still I think it has some utility to reflect on what one son has learned from their father or perhaps many sons from many fathers. Of course the same is equally true for mothers as sources of learning, teachers, grandparents, etc.. My father teaches me now when I think of him. He reminds me of what great coaches do and how teaching is like coaching in some ways. My father was a coach. He knew how to develop and lead teams and how to develop and guide individuals. He knew how to blend the human aspects of performance and observation with the numbers of statistics.

My father taught me the importance of relationships and family and at the same time taught me how alone we all are in the human condition. Many of these lessons were not conveyed through discussion, this rarely occurred. For the most part, he taught by example. An example that took me years to understand in some cases. My father taught me to be calm in emergencies and to help people when they need it most.

There are many lessons I have learned from my father in which I seek to do better in areas that were not his strengths. Areas I often struggled against him in my youth. Later, I see the seeds of these things in myself and how I must consciously seek to develop and improve and learn to be a new self.

My father taught me many things, but perhaps, the deepest lesson was his love for and great appreciation for family and children. He was orphaned by the loss of his mother and father in his first year of life and was raised by a caring extended family of first generation American immigrants. Even as he was unable to keep his family together later in life, family was the deepest root in his life.

Getting autobiographical is not my first direction or preference when pondering writing about learning. Today, however, on this 31st day of August in the year 2017, it is meaningful to consider what our children in our classes are learning from their fathers, their mothers, their teachers and what they will learn later from them when they re-think their learning as older selves. It is also meaningful to appreciate and further develop how Rio’s classrooms and teachers are becoming more and more open to bringing the wealth of learning and resources into school learning that come from our students’ lives and families. This ethnographic and student centered approach is alive and developing. It is as natural as learning itself and helps to transform our learning environments from the factory models that have long alienated young, immigrant, and often low-income children and families such as my father was in 1940 when he first entered school.

I am excited to be part of a process some 31 years later that is learning to incorporate the “lessons of our fathers” as it might be called into the learnings of school. For me, they are a life long resource that seem to unpack themselves more and more as I am fortunate enough to spend more time in this wondrous world.

Who are Classified Employees?

Who are Classified Employees?

Classified employees in the Rio School District are represented by the California School Employees Association (CSEA). Along with confidential employees, they perform a wide range of essential work, including: security, food services, office and clerical work, school maintenance and operations, transportation, academic assistance and paraeducator services, library and media assistance, computer services.

Rio’s classified employees are our support staff, they help us run a more than $50 million annually budgeted government agency serving children and families on their journeys to become productive and thriving adult members of the community. Our support staff carry out a wide variety of tasks and take on a wide variety of responsibilities. Many are on the frontline of community interactions such as the folks who help make our offices and departments run smoothly, while others work more behind the scenes to ensure that we provide safe learning environments that are conducive to the 5Cs of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and caring.

As with all our employees, we ask classified employees to engage in the 5Cs as role models of 21st century learning and living. Classified employees embrace this challenge and know that in many cases our community’s children are as connected to them as they are their teachers. Our classified staff know the deep meaning of collaboration and working together. This is where they shine in the sense that they are really the connectors that bring buildings and services together to care for and educate our community’s youth.

Who are classified employees? They are the glue that holds our organization together. They are the long term and short term employees who care to get the details right. They are the people you can depend on daily to do their work tirelessly and humbly. Their work is often not the glamour work. Their work is often the things that need to get done.

This week, Classified Employees Week, we celebrate the many special people who serve children and the organization as classified and confidential employees and we thank them for all they do.

Thank you for your work and for who you are.

John Puglisi, Ph.D.
Superintendent

Just 18 days left

Just 18 days left

There are just eighteen days remaining of the Rio School District 2016-17 school year. The more than 5000 students who attend our eight schools are surely thinking about the year’s closure. They are surely thinking about their classroom cultures coming to an end. They are surely thinking about their relationships with their teachers and classmates. They are surely thinking about who they are, what they have done, and what they have experienced this year. Some are thinking about grades and test scores, others about summer while 5th graders and 8th graders are contemplating changing schools in the coming year. Our children are surely filled with thoughts about the past, present, and future.

Together, we aim to keep the learning processes going through each of the last few days. We aim to make special end of year events and celebrations authentic and sincere. We aim to finish strong and connect the school year to the summer and what will follow.

For me, this is the 31st school year I will have seen through as a public school educator. Each one has been an adventure and a great learning experience. My very first classroom of 4th graders at 93rd street school in south central Los Angeles would be in their 40s now. Many, perhaps, with 4th graders or older of their own. Some few have stayed connected through writing or other means over the years and social media has created a flourishing growth in this area. Still, each year, each classroom culture has its own unique beginning, middle and end. As is the case, every small “c” culture is a group of people coming together over time for a purpose. They develop a language and rules of what to do and what not to do. These small “c” cultures have a life of their own. Some that yield great nostalgia, others great sorrow, and most are rich with memorable stories, characters, and plot lines.

In my work as superintendent I take the time to engage with classes and students at multiple schools. Teaching with some regularity, still not quite the full development of a class culture that connects students to teacher and students to students in ways unlike other cultures. In our public schools, we take all comers. The classes are composed of whoever enrolls. Often times, the neighborhood kids or kids who have chosen a special type of open school. These classroom cultures are our chosen model for helping to develop and guide the next generation of American adults. They are deeply important cultures that help shape and form what types of people that our students will become. All this said, our aim is to complete this year and every year in a way that leave each child with fond memories of their school year and with hopeful anticipation for the school year to come.

A great appreciation is offered to every teacher and every staff member, every volunteer and parent that contributed to making positive and learning filled school year for the children of the Rio School District. We look forward to finishing strong and getting ready for summer programs and the 2017-18 school year to come.

College. Go For it! Complete it! Enjoy it!

College

Go for it!

Complete it!

Enjoy it!

 

This month’s Ventura County gathering of school superintendent’s was noteworthy. We were fortunate to be visited by three educational leaders in our community. The president’s and chancellor of California State University, Channel Islands (CSUCI), California Lutheran University (CLU), and Ventura County Community Colleges came to talk with our K-12 District leaders about the state of education in Ventura County as well as considering and discussing efforts to improve outcomes.

 

The discussion was robust and interesting and highlighted the great potential of our community to collaborate to improve and develop the opportunities for our community’s youth. The discussion led me to further reflection that is the source of this blog post. I thought it might be fruitful to hear one supt’s thoughts on the topic of college; who goes, who completes, and who benefits from our collaborative educational efforts.

 

I write this blog for everyone involved; students, families, teachers, and especially leaders of educational and community institutions of every size and level. Some basic premises undergird this blog post. They include the following beliefs;

 

  • Going to college and completing college is of great benefit to the majority of young people.
  • Given the right circumstances, the majority of students can attend and complete college.
  • Going to college and completing college can offer the student two great opportunities to learn about the two most essential subjects; self and the world.
  • Students going to college and completing college provides a great benefit to community and family.

 

They also include the following beliefs;

 

  • Many students do not go to college due to lack of communication.
  • Many students do not go to college due to misinformation.
  • Many students do not go to college due to under-developed math skills, knowledge and standardized testing abilities.
  • Many students do not go to college due to under-developed English literacy skills.
  • Many students do not go to college due to a lack of belief and expectations among the adults in their lives and community.
  • Many students do not go to college because they believe they can not afford it.
  • It is possible to double the numbers and percentage of students in our community who go to and complete college.
  • It is important and doable to develop many, many more college graduates than we currently do.

 

Ok, now that the basic bullet points have been listed, I offer some anecdotal and hopefully inspirational words on next steps for Ventura County. Getting back to the meeting attended, my reflections led me to consider what dedicated, articulate, and optimistic leaders we are fortunate to have leading our local institutions of higher education. Although the meeting time was short, they had the opportunity to describe a plethora of programs and initiatives that exist that are working to improve the numbers of students who go to and complete college. They also expressed an ongoing interest in further discussion and work to improve our community’s results along these lines. It was also mentioned that our Ventura County community offered geographical and organizational opportunities to collaborate that are rare in the state of California. I look forward to contributing to these aims and processes and learning more about the outstanding work being done across all these organizations.

 

Still, following the meeting and upon later reflection I couldn’t help but think about two things I care deeply about and think often about; young students and statistics. For more than thirty years, my wife Sarah and I have been working as educators in the state of California. We have been part of the learning process for thousands of students over the years. Some have stayed connected in one way or the other and are now grown with adult lives and children of their own. To my mind, the vast majority of these students, most from what demographics call lower-income homes, would and could go to and complete college. I say this from direct experience as someone who has attended multiple colleges and completed multiple degrees from B.F.A. to Ph.D.. I also say this from direct experience teaching as adjunct professor in local Universities for more than a decade, and perhaps more importantly, I say this as someone who has remained deeply rooted to K-12 classrooms and the lives and learning that children do in them from preschool through senior year of high school. I also say this as a father of three children and community member.

 

So why all the stating of the obvious, well, I think we can do much, much better in the number and percentage of young people who go to and complete college. My experience tells me that statistics do not match the potential. My experience tells me that we can do much, much better. This blog post is little more than encouragement for the types of collaboration and collective problem solving that many are already engaging. That said, I do suggest, as I did in the meeting, that the community and our educational institutions need a methodology to solve this problem. We need to identify the low numbers of students going to and completing college as a problem, deeply work to understand the problem, and then work wisely to develop change ideas, test the change ideas, develop those that work,  abandon those that don’t and make sure that the problem solving is informed always by three levels of knowledge; the stakeholders on the ground floor (teachers), successful organizational practitioners, and research. This description of methodology is a basic attempt to describe Improvement Science, a developing tool in educational improvement efforts that has experienced dynamic results in many health care contexts.

 

Regardless of the chosen methodology, it is clear to me after all of these years working at every level of the educational process, that we can and should do much better at sending more young people to and completing college. We can do it, we should do it, we need it, and they would enjoy it. Ironically, little has changed over the last thirty years in the aims and curricular structure of K-12 education. The curriculum, or running course, is aimed at a specific finish line; A-G approved classes so that children can achieve entry criteria to the pinnacle of California public educational opportunities, UC schools. This is the structural aim of all our K-12 work. This is what all the lessons, units, tests, grades, etc… are aimed at. This is what we aim for, for all our own children. This is the new 21st century bar, leaving the 20th century bar of high school graduation far behind.

 

This blog post, in no way suggests that other paths to success in life are less valued or valuable. It is simply a matter of a structural and stated equation. Together, as a community of adults over generations, we have aligned our stated school aims and processes to the stated result of the blog post; going to and completing college. Therefore, in pursuit of improved community for all involved, I call all our students and families to believe in our students as I do. I know that most and many more students can and should go to and complete college. Do it. You will enjoy it. I also know that the many well intended, college educated, teachers and leaders in Ventura County are capable of helping many, many more students go to and complete college. Let’s do it. We will enjoy it even as we struggle to innovate and do new things, some that fail, while others succeed.

 

Before publishing this post, I thought I would send it to a fellow collaborator and 1st generation college goer; Dr. Victor Rios. Dr. Rios thought the post was very relevant to his work as an educational researcher and posed the following set of questions;

 

What are the practical strategies used by successful educators like yourself to get these kids to college?

What is stopping the system from being able to send more of these kids to college?

How about school culture and climate?

How can we effectively train more educators to push more kids to college?

What might an invisible hand look like?”

 

In terms of what we are doing in the Rio School District to get students to go to college, well there are numerous efforts that are worth mentioning. First and foremost we are working hard so students develop their 5Cs 21st century practices; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and caring while also developing their basic literacy skills in reading, writing, math, and technology. While we only have our students through the eighth grade we still have a long way to go to make sure they all go to ninth grade with literacy skills that are up to the grade level expectations required. Ironically, most Rio students are advancing well and demonstrating their 5Cs on a regular basis. These practices are what students need to succeed in college along with their basic literacies but few colleges measure these skills or allow them to play a role in their entrance criteria. Thus it really comes down to reading, writing, and mathematics. These are the skills measured in most high school classes and most college entrance exams along with heavy doses of logic.

 

We also work to provide Rio students college going experiences including programs like AVID and a variety of field trips. We link with Universities to bring a variety of projects and curriculum such as coding projects that engage university researchers with Rio students. In this way Rio students normalize interactions with people attending and teaching at colleges and universities. I suppose I could add a great variety of other endeavors to this list of responses to Dr. Rios’ question about what we are doing to help encourage and prepare students for college, but rather I think I will highlight the fact that each University and college leader present at the aforementioned superintendent’s meeting described a variety of programs and initiatives aimed at increasing the numbers of students going to and completing college. Several mentioned “promise” programs which described programs where students in middle school and high school were guaranteed entrance into college if they met certain criteria over the years.  

 

Dr. Rios also asked. What is stopping the system from being able to send more of these kids to college?

 

Unfortunately, this question elicits a laundry list of things that come easily to mind. So here is a short quick list;

 

  • Failure to develop students reading, writing, and math skills to required levels.
  • Failure to communicate a belief that the adults in schools see the students as worthy of college going.
  • Failure to communicate the logistics involved in applying and paying for college.
  • Failure to communicate the long term economic benefits of college graduation.

 

In a sense, this short list fails to directly respond to Dr. Rios’ question in the sense that to my mind, nothing is “stopping” the systems, rather we are just failing to achieve these aims for significant numbers of students.

 

Dr. Rios also asked; How about school culture and climate? How can we effectively train more educators to push more kids to college?

 

I suppose as many have said, in real estate it’s all about location, location, location and in education or schools it’s all about culture, culture, culture. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and staff in all roles construct school cultures as they interact with their students. Perhaps a simplification, but the pygmalion effect of low expectations or not believing students are college material is likely one of the strongest contributing variable to our current outcomes. In K-8 school Districts I would suggest that school cultures need to connect their students’ literacy and 5C development directly to the college going experience as early as possible.

 

Two of my own personal experiences linked to my mother seem very relevant to this discussion. My mom, Joan Durante, grew up in Newark, New Jersey in the projects . She was an outstanding student and in those days (the 50’s) when you excelled in schools they often advanced you a grade level. My mom was moved up twice and graduated early. She had all the A’s but in her place and time women were not encouraged to go to college. She went to New York to be a dancer and actress instead and soon after got married and had children but that said, she represented the best academics her school had to offer but apparently packaged in the wrong gender. My mother later worked at and attended a community college and was one of the most educated persons I have known, due to her voracious appetite for reading and learning. Clearly, school culture and home culture intervened. Girls like Joan in her city and her family didn’t go to college. A few years later after she and her husband Vern, returned from Europe and their brief stint as an army family, they began a process of working and buying homes every six years in successively higher socioeconomic neighborhoods. In essence, moving us children from lower class, middle class, to upper middle class schools. By the time we hit high school we attended high schools in which the vast majority of families took it for granted that their children would go to college after high school and each of Joan and Vern’s children did just that. Culture matters, schools matter, and expectations matter in this process of sending more kids to attend and complete college.

 

The last question Dr. Rios posed required me to ask for clarification which he dutifully provided, What might an invisible hand look like?”

 

I had to ask him if he was connecting to Adam Smith’s invisible hand of free market capitalism, but rather he was asking what invisible things in school cultures and teachers’ approaches can support college going and completing pathways. His own amazing story and pathway connects to one teacher in particular that helped him believe in himself long enough to grind through many challenges and to multiple degrees. For me the confluence of these two ideas is something very interesting; invisible hand of cutthroat supply and demand capitalism and the invisible human support of adults and children collectively believing and supporting each other to achieve the goals the adults have already achieved by virtue of them being there in the educational profession. Teaching other people’s children as they were your own children, yes of course regardless of race, gender, family income etc… but even moreso regardless of their expressed ability to read and do math on standardized tests scores. I am an advocate of open university. Come one, come all.. No prerequisites.. Just show up and try and either meet the standard for completion or not. This is what we basically have in grades K-12. Come one, come all. Kids have thirteen years to get where they are going. That should be to college and to completion of college. Many, many kids do not accomplish this basic goal that could. To me, this is a stone cold fact. Stone cold like the invisible hand of Adam Smith’s economic competition in the so called “free market.” Ironically, the correlate of poverty and college graduation has long been deeply tied. More money more college grads, less money less college grads and there is the whole crazy matter of the actual costs and loans of college. One job I have always considered as a leader of organizations and public service is to work towards higher and higher levels of transparency and accuracy and away from hypocrisy. Away from speaking out of both ends of our collective mouths; curriculum aimed at every child going to college and circumstances and structures aimed at a very different result. It is true that over the years I have come to learn to find balances in idealism and pragmatism but I know a big hairy problem when I see one and to my mind the numbers of kids going to and completing college is a problem that is doable in terms of making major strides towards collective improvement. I would suggest that the invisible hand of “good will ”  that Dr. Rios is perhaps asking about exists in great abundance. Most teachers and teacher leaders believe in kids and their potentials. Most know what it would take for an individual child to find the pathway to the pomp and circumstances parade. But most are also siloed in classes, departments , schools, Districts, organizations, institutions and this problem needs to be solved at scale in an interconnected and collaborative community way. Ventura County is ripe for such an effort. I look forward to contributing my small part.    

 

21st Century Skills? Practices? Stuff?

As we enter into the year 2017, there is quite a buzz afoot in education circles about 21st century skills. As an educator for the last 31 years it’s refreshing and a bit exciting to see the recent reform 21st century learning movement. The origins, as have been described to me as well as emerging from basic research forays, is the idea that American businesses and corporations were dissatisfied by the quality of worker coming to them post-schooling. It would seem, they had been educated for a factory that no longer exists in significant numbers. With one peek under the hood of our schools, folks suggested that the way we arrange our schools and learning experiences were less relevant and non-parallel to the work experience the young “educated” would encounter in 21st century contexts. In addition, much has been made about the rate of change (technologically driven) that our 21st century inhabitants experience and the incongruent experience that our schools were providing in that they seemed to be frozen in an inert time warp somewhere between 19th century British classrooms and the American 1950’s.  

 

One way or the other, these notions and other currents in the educational stream, have given way to the 4 Cs and a whole lot more Cs that have followed. A new set of foci have emerged and I think they are great on their own; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The Rio School District has added the 5th C, Caring which is another great thing in my opinion. Reaching back to the purported origins, the world of business has suggested that students who can communicate, collaborate, critically think, and be creative are just what they need in their 21st  century enterprises and I would suggest that they have it right. What’s exciting to me beyond the generalized pragmatism of these business driven aims for education, is the idea that these 4 Cs and the many other C s that educators can imagine and design lessons for are really great focal points for the construction of curriculum, units, lessons, schools, Districts, partnerships that have the potential to guide young learners and educators into developing full human beings that can live and thrive in the 21st or any century.

 

To some degree this 21st century reform movement seems linked to the enlightenment of centuries past. For me this focus on the 4 Cs and the other Cs that help to fully humanize our schooling efforts are both a return to progressive thought and a reaching towards the future in which we ask basic questions about freedom and the purposes of education and schooling in general. Allowing all students to talk and discover language as a means for intellectual development is a good start and a departure from the sit there, shut up, and do your workbook mindset. Thus we have communication at its essence. Collaboration, that we allow children to learn from the feedback loop-rich context of cooperative learning and group work is a nod to the years of positively leaning research on the effects and constructs of of socially constructed learning. Critical thinking emerges as schools come to understand that the world of work and the world of life in any century is filled with complexity and uncertainty. Thus, in order to problem solve and navigate complexity, we need to be experienced in working through problems that are such that they do not lend themselves to simple uni-algorithm solutions. This suggests the idea that there is rarely the one right answer and that learning is not best done for all by setting up a race to see who gets the right answer first and more often. Finally, there is creativity, which emerges in the corporate sense from divergent or innovative thinking and design. That is, coming up with unique or divergent solutions to problems in order to think about the problems in new ways and perhaps create pathways for solutions that have previously been non-existent. While this form of creativity is certainly the engine of the day in terms of economies and business, it is also at the root of the basic survival techniques of doing a lot with a little. This tradition of creative survival has been a root of human development in every century. All this said, the idea that having the last 4 C for creativity promoted and permitted is giving way to the return of many school activities that we all know and have always known that all children and humans in general deserve and need. That is, the arts and making, and playing, and expressing and while I am not sure we can teach that per se, we can certainly create the conditions that foster it for all learners and educators.

 

There are Skills and there are Skills. The traditional skills were conceived as the three Rs. Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.  Taken together they can conjure the aims of the basic work of the 19th and 20th century school to produce basic literacy for workers and citizenry. As we think about the new 21st century skills, are we juxtaposing this same mindset on a much more complex and dynamically changing factory or should we consider the differences between skills and say practices. Even this idea of practices which lends itself to a more professional frame and is a major component of this age’s New Math and New Science has a very pragmatic orientation. That is, it suggests that same parallel in education between what learners do in classes and what say doctors or lawyers do in their “practices.” These professions never get all the answers right, they work on it and practice. They learn from their experience and study. These practices also suggest to the learner that the entire process of life is a verb not a noun. It is a learning process. Finally, I would say that at this point I prefer to just call it all stuff. The stuff we ask kids to do during what we call school and later define as education.
Whether it is the 4 Cs the 5 Cs or the 22 Cs, I am heartened by the world of professional educators’ leaning towards “stuff” for children that are more fully human and that lead to freedom, choice and simultaneously guiding learners to know themselves, and the world, while learning to live and learn with others. I am also heartened by this leaning to actively pursue these opportunities for all children. While it may take years or never happen that we create scoring systems a la grades, tests, credentials that don’t benefit some children to the detriment of others, we can at minimum, provide rich 21st century 4 C infused opportunities for every child in every school. In this sense, it’s a great time to be an educator in the 21st century. We shall see if it can sustain itself. The sustaining of these efforts which seem to resonate with students and families from every walk of life must also come from the students and families themselves. They must advocate for 21st century learning contexts and support professional educators that help to design and develop them. Ultimately, the 21st century school can be a fusion among professional educators, learners, families, and communities that render developing and redeveloping learning processes that can guide and prepare students for the 21st or any century. For if we don’t educate in 21st century ways, it is laughable, as we are now sixteen years into the century.

I have pasted below some amazing examples of Districts visualizing this work; its great to see the spirit and innovation developing in the American public school system.

21st-cent-3 21st-cent-4 21st-cent-5 21st-cent-6 21st-cent-pic-2