what's your rank?

"Priorities of the College of William and...   licensed image via Wikipedia**rank/raNGk/

Noun: A position in the hierarchy of the armed forces: "the rank of Captain".

Verb:  Give (someone or something) a rank or place within a grading system: "rank them in order of preference".
Adjective:  (of vegetation) Growing too thickly and coarsely.
Synonyms: noun. grade - row - order - class - line - degree - range
verb. classify - range - align
adjective. lush - rancid

On being seduced by The World University Rankings (2011-12) | Inside Higher Ed:
"Rather, we also need to ask more hard questions about power, governance, and context, not to mention interests, outcomes, and potential collateral damage to the sector (when these rankings are released and then circulate into national media outlets, and ministerial desktops). There is a political economy to world university rankings, and these schemes (all of them, not just the THE World University Rankings) are laden with power and generative of substantial impacts; impacts that the rankers themselves often do not hear about, nor feel (e.g., via the reallocation of resources). 
Is it not time to think more broadly, and critically, about the big issues related to the great ranking seduction?"
** NOTE: Easier to read at the site. Author = w:User:Stillnotelf Source = Took the photo myself, plaque donated by the w:Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities in 1914, as can be seen in the image Date = 03:00, 18 March 2006 (UTC) Description = This is an image of a plaque listing notable academic firsts reached by the w:College of William and Mary. It is on the side of the w:Wren Building facing the w:Sunken Gardens (Virginia).

child poverty is massive in US

The evidence is grim:

Child Poverty Tops 20 Percent In Half Of U.S. States: Report
"Child poverty is getting worse in America. And with more and more states seeing their populations of disadvantaged youth soar beyond pre-recession levels, the crisis is far from limited to a few troubled states. 
In 2007, before the economy seized up, and before a combination of rising unemployment and plunging home values left millions of Americans scrambling to make ends meet, the child poverty rate in America was 17.8 percent, according to a report released in December from First Focus and the Brookings Institution. Only fourteen states had child poverty rates of 20 percent or more, a percentage that put them in a category the report calls "high child poverty status.""
And this:
In the years since the financial crisis, the dire state of the economy has affected children as much as anyone. By the most recent estimates, sixteen million children live in poverty in the United States -- a climb of some three million from 2007. Seventeen million children live in households thatlack food security, meaning they do not always know where their next meal is coming from.

Educational change and reform cannot be obsessed with achievement anymore. We need schools to become strong agents of actually helping children live their lives.

that's why I am pro-sound: no one has to learn to spell to talk

"Ornette Coleman" by Geert Vandepoele. 
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
Interview with Ornette Coleman: "Coleman: Exactly. And that's why I am pro-sound. No one has to learn to spell to talk, right? You see a little kid holding a conversation with an adult. He probably doesn't know the words he's saying, but he knows where to fit them to make what he's thinking logical to what you're saying. Music is the say way. If you desire to play it or write it, then you have to get more information. But the end result is that you play music. Even when you write it, someone's got to play it. So if you can play it and bypass all the rest of the things, you're still doing as great as someone that has spent forty years trying to find out how to do that. I'm really pro-human beings, pro-expression of everything." [...]
Coleman: After I found out that I was playing music and that I'd have to learn how to read and write music, I started doing that about two years later. Finally, I said, "Oh, that means what I really want to do is to be a composer." But when I was coming up in Texas, there was segregation. There was no schools to go to. I taught myself how to read and how to start writing.
"It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something."
Ornette Coleman @ A&R Recording, New York, NY, April 29, 1968

Coleman's young son also played with him:
Ornette Coleman - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "In 1966, Coleman was criticized for recording The Empty Foxhole, a trio with Haden, and Coleman's son Denardo Coleman – who was ten years old. [...] His technique – which, though unrefined, was respectable and enthusiastic – owed more to pulse-oriented free jazz drummers like Sunny Murray than to bebop drumming. Denardo has matured into a respected musician, and has been his father's primary drummer since the late 1970s."
And more, Fresh Air Remembers Jazz Innovator Ornette Coleman

Joni Mitchell on school

Full interview and more is here (and more gifs,too).

"At that time I was pretty much a good time Charlie. I was a bad student in the public school system. I failed the 12th grade. I had done my book reports from classic comics ... I was anti-intellectual to the nth. Basically I liked to dance and paint and that was about it. And as far as serious discussions went, at that time, most of them were overtly pseudo intellectual and boring. To see teenagers sitting around and solving the problems of the world ...  I thought, all things considered, I'd rather be dancing."

we're doing it all for the black kids: joining #optout and #blacklivesmatter movements

I have transcribed an important talk and discussion  by Jesse Hagopian and Rita Greene, held at the NPE Conference. The Seattle teacher who refused to test, Jesse Hagopian, and Rita Greene, with the Seattle King County NAACP, have both shown great leadership and a deep grasp of the issues and they discuss how the #optout movement and the #blacklivesmatter movement could work together. The Q and A discussion is also transcribed, further below, and also worth viewing, great questions and answers.

JH: The #blacklivesmatter movement has reshaped politics in America today and so has the #optout movement. We want to talk today about seeing the important connections between these movements and how we can build off the momentum of both of them. My name is Jesse Hagopian and I'm a teacher at Garfield High School in Seattle. I'm an editor for Rethinking Schools magazine. I'm the Black Student Union advisor there at Garfield High School. I've been active in both the #blacklivesmatter movement and at Garfield where we refused to give the MAP test and helped to lead a boycott that defeated that test and spread resistance around the country. And I'm really excited today to introduce Rita Greene. She is the Education Chair for the Seattle King County NAACP and it's really exciting to see the Seattle NAACP chapter take a stand in this fight around the new Common Core tests and smarter balanced testing in Seattle. And so I want to give the floor to Rita and let her explain why she's done this and a little bit about her perspective.

RG: I first got involved advocating ... because of my son. My son has epilepsy and he has an IEP. My kids went to private school but then there was a change in the law and no longer could the services be received in the Christian-based school and so we put them in public school. I used to be just a parent but now I am an authentically-engaged and empowered parent. ... So when Garfield first boycotted for the MAP test, me as a parent, I actually liked the MAP test because it gave me the opportunity to see this is where my child's strengths were and this is where his weaknesses were. At that time I had no idea how many tests students actually took. Soon as I started reading more, learning more, talking more, that's when I'm like, wow, this is ridiculous. Then when I saw how much money is spent on testing, and we know that money is going to private organizations, that's when I'm like, ok, this is really bulls**t. ... And the other piece of that is ... How do you expect teachers to be graded on test scores when the kids don't have all the services they need? So that again, is not right. And I just think that we as parents don't know all the details. ... So I asked Jesse, let's meet, to educate me more on what the whole story is. We met and then I'm like, ok yeah we're on, so then I went to the President ... and I'm going to write a Resolution and I'm going to write a Statement. That was the beginning of this venture.

Basically on the statement I just talked about ,private schools don't have to take the test, why is that? So the 99% have to take it but the 1% do not. The amount of money that is being spent on it and it is really targeted toward kids of color, so that ties into the #blacklivesmatter. And you're trying to fund private organizations which is another problem that I have because public dollars should not be spent privately. My pledge is to really hit the ground with the NAACP branches and really to help you guys reach out to civil rights organizations because they really don't know the full picture and that's the piece that's missing. They only know the sound bites. But if you really talk about 60 days out of the school year is spent on testing. When third world countries go to school more days than we do in the US. That's what I'd really Those are the things I'd like to see us teachers reaching out more to the civil rights organizations to help educate them so that more can join in on the fight.

JH: Thanks a lot, Rita. It was one of the most exciting moments in this struggle for me, when called a press conference last week with the President of the Seattle King county chapter and Rita. We held it in the Seattle office of the NAACP. And they kicked it off by saying that the #optout movement is part of a #blacklivesmatter struggle and that they're calling on all parents to #optout of the Common Core testing. It was electrifying and it has shifted the political terrain in Seattle. You can begin to see the power ... that this movement can have. We saw it at Garfield when the entire staff refused to give the measures of academic progress test [MAP] and the school district had all those Gates groups in to their offices them, telling you can't lose this fight, it's too important. And then the Superintendent issued a 10-day suspension without pay warning and none of the teachers backed down. And everybody knew that this test was harmful for students, they knew that it wasn't even aligned to our curriculum, they knew that this test was shutting our computer labs down for weeks at a time, they knew that this test wasn't culturally or linguistically appropriate for our English language learners, they knew that this test was reducing our kids to a test score and not measuring the many different important qualities and intelligences our kids have. They stood strong and it helped launch a wave of resistance in 2013 spreading across the country as teachers began to refusing to give tests in Chicago and New York. I mean the #optout wave in New York right now is just breathtaking with hundreds of thousands of parents refusing. I'm really happy to say we are in the middle of the largest uprising against high stakes testing in ... US history. The largest walkout of students in US history against high stakes testing happened in Colorado earlier this school year with thousands of students refusing to take exit exams. And then many hundreds of students walked out of the PAARC exam in New Mexico refusing the Common Core test there. The resistance is just growing and spreading.

And why is this happening? Well, let's hear from Arne Duncan, what his explanation for why this is happening. You remember what Arne Duncan said, he said, opposition to Common Core has come from "white suburban moms" who all of a sudden their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were. I find that highly offensive for a couple of reasons. One is, I think that even white suburban moms have a right to have their kid not be reduced to a score and have a meaningful education. But I also think that that comment actually hides the really important leadership of the #optout movement that's happening from black people and people of color. It's actually their families that these tests are designed to punish the most. We've seen that right here in Chicago where with the stroke of a pen, they closed 50 schools. And it's not just random which 50 schools they close. It's the schools in the black neighborhoods which they use these test scores to close them. They reduced the intellectual and emotional process of teaching and learning to a single number so they can punish and then turn them into privatized charters. Same story in Philadelphia and Detroit, we've seen the labelling of communities of color as a score and then the punishing of their schools. And it's part of a school-to-prison pipeline that's being built from my city in Seattle across the country to Washington DC and everywhere else. When students reject the classroom, that's not just bad behavior, right? That's actually informed disobedience to a racist curriculum, right? But then what happens? There's a zero tolerance policy waiting to scoop them up and push them out of the school. So they get pushed out into the street, they don't graduate, and they end up disproportionately in jail. I would say that high stakes testing is one of the key components to the school-to-prison pipeline.

Educators have known this for a long time. A study came out of Boston University recently from Kevin Lang. He looked at all the various possibilities, the way that exit exams could impact students. Did it bring them better jobs? No. Did it raise pay for them? No. What was the only thing, the only outcome of exit exams was increased incarceration rates. That's the only thing he could find. So we've known about the school-to-prison pipeline for some time. But I think increasingly, we need to start talking about a school-to-grave pipeline. When you look at what happened to Michael Brown ... or you look at what happened to Tamir Rice ... Young black people just being shot down, everyday it seems like there's a new name. And there's no accountability and there's no justice for police who are doing this. How do they get away with that? What is it that goes through their minds? Do you remember what Darren Wilson said in the testimony to the grand jury, did people read that? He called Michael Brown a demon and a hulk, just dehumanized him. And that's how he could take his life. Because he didn't see him as a human being and it's easy to take that life. And so why didn't he see him as a human being? There's a lot of reasons. We have this war on drugs culture that has criminalized being black and it's perpetuated in the media all the time with the predator narrative of African-Americans. But I think a key component to the dehumanization of African-Americans and people of color is the labelling them as a test score.

Today we are told by the testocracy that these test scores are the key to closing the achievement gap: that we're doing this all for the black kids. I mean never mind that a thermometer can't cure a fever or ... especially a broken thermometer, but these are the key to closing the achievement gap. But if you know the history of where standardized tests were created, how they were created, and when they entered the public schools and why standardized testing entered the public schools, you will never buy that line again. Because standardized tests were created in the early 1900s by open eugenicists, people who were very proud that they were white supremacists. It wasn't something to hide then, it was something to show you were an intellectual. This was the scientific reasoning of the time. And there's man named Carl Brigham who was a Princeton University professor and he went into the military and when WWI broke out and he designs the IQ tests that are going to rank and sort the troops. So who's going to be the grunt soldiers who are going to go die in the trenches and who are going to be the officers to oversee it. And when the war was over, he came back to his post at Princeton and he adapted his tests into the SAT. That began the explosion of the use of these tests, mostly for tracking purposes. So once you know the origins of these tests ... it wasn't just to prove white supremacy, it was also about proving male supremacy. They wanted Princeton to be white, wealthy, male. And so they wanted to show that men were smarter than women with these tests. They wanted to show that native-born were smarter than immigrants with these tests. They wanted to show even that the Northern, lighter Europeans were smarter than the swarthy Mediterranean. 

If you know that history, you shouldn't be surprised that some of the first testifiers, I like to call them, test resistors were black intellectuals. W.E.B. Du Bois who founded the NAACP, one the founders of NAACP was one of the first, most outspoken critics ... and I just want to grab my book out so I can read this quote real quick, because I think, when you hear his quote, you'll understand why he opposed these tests. Du Bois wrote in 1940:

It was not until I was long out of school and indeed after the first World War that there came the hurried use of the new technique of psychological tests which were quickly adjusted so as to put black folk absolutely beyond the possibility of civilization.
JH: He was joined by a cadre of black activists and intellectuals who were able to debunk the myths of these standardized tests sand talk about what we're still talking about today. What these tests measure is not your intellect but your access to resources. Horace Mann said this:
But so long as any group of men attempts to use these tests as funds of information for the approximation of a crude and inaccurate generalization, so long we must continue to cry hold [stop]. To compare the crowded millions of New York's East Side with the children of Morningside Heights [then a really wealthy neighborhood] indeed involves a great contradiction. And to claim that the results of the tests given to such diverse groups drawn from such varying strata of the social complex are in any way way accurate, is to expose the sense of unfairness and lack of appreciation of the great environmental factors of modern urban life.
JH: The environmental factors, like poverty, that impact these things. Like they're asking our kids to take these tests on computers and they don't have computers at home and they don't know how to use a mouse and now we're going to judge their knowledge based on this test. We're still fighting for that very ideal that they revealed back at the beginning of these standardized tests.

We know that these tests reproduce institutional racism in several ways: we know the zip code effect. That these tests are better measures of your zip code than your intellect, because they measure your access to resources. That's just been shown by researchers over and over again but that research just falls on deaf ears to policy makers and profiteers in the testing industry. We know that there's numerous examples of culturally-biased questions on the test all the time. I was just talking to one of the English language learners teachers at Garfield before I came out here who said there was a test [question] about the roller coasters for her students who just came here from Ethiopia and had no idea what that was and yet they're going to be judged and punished by this test. In Washington state, there are glossaries provided for taking the smarter balanced Common Core test for English language learners so they can know various terms in their own home language. But there wasn't a single glossary in any African language provided in Washington state. So that meant all of our Somali kids, Ethiopian, Eritrean kids, which are a significant part of the population, are out of luck. 

And the last thing I want to talk about briefly is how do they come up with the test questions that are on the test? A lot of times how it works is, kids take the test and in the course of that test, test makers put a few questions, scattered throughout, that they're using to basically vet to see if they're going to put those on the next test. So how do they decide if those sample test questions were reliable? If people do really well on that sample test question, then it's an anomaly and you have to throw that out. So why would more people do well on that question? Well because more low income, more students of color, more black children are doing well on that test question, it's obviously invalid, we gotta chuck that one out and find one that gives us a nicer bell curve. So there's so many ways in which these tests are fundamentally unfair and biased and punishing our schools. And then you see desperate educators fixing the scores in Atlanta, right? And, nobody sees that as a solution to this crisis, nobody condones that. But to see black educators being marched off in handcuffs when there isn't a single banker who sabotaged the global economy arrested yet, is a little too much to take. You know, you see these unaccountable police just walk free or the people who are cheating our kids out of a meaningful education everyday, are just free to go about their business. That's a contradiction that I think we have to oppose and I think we have to fight to completely redefine what the purpose of education is and I think that we have to wrest it away from people who would say that it's about preparing businesses to compete with each other.

I was at my son's ribbon cutting ceremony for his school. He entered kindergarten this year and so I began seeing this from a whole new perspective as a parent. And it was a wonderful ceremony because they began .. they changed his school to be a Spanish immersion and a Mandarin immersion bilingual school and so they renamed the school and they had all the students come out on the front lawn and sit down and these wonderful cultural performances and all these politicians were there to celebrate it and The principal gave a great speech and then the governor's education aide came out and she leans into the microphone addressing all these kids sitting out on the lawn and she says I want to congratulate you all for coming to this school because now you'll be prepared to compete in the global economy. Cheers did not erupt from the third grade section. I wasn't, like, yes! my kids gonna be able to hold down some other father's son in Mexico and get over on them. I wanted him to go to that school so that he could communicate with other human beings on the planet and work together with more .... (applause) Let me read this quote to you from Edward B. Russ, Jr., the CEO and Chairman of the State Farm Insurance Companies who proclaimed, this is on the Common Core website, this is a big pullout quote about why we need Common Core and the tests:
State by-state adoption of these standards is an important step towards maintaining our country's' competitive edge. With a skilled and prepared workforce, the business community will be better prepared to face the challenges of the international marketplace.
And so it's not about our kids learning to be creative or imaginative or if someone has a bad day, my son learning how to help that kid out and empathy and creativity ... these things are pushed off to help businesses compete. And I think we need to reclaim the purpose of education in a society that's so deeply as troubled as ours. When we have endless wars and ... use trillions of dollars that could have gone to lowering their class size and wraparound support services .. to bomb children halfway around the world. We have the greatest level of income inequality in US history, where you have 85 people that have as much wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion people. 

And for the first time, we have now more than half of the children in the United States school system are in poverty. We have an epidemic of violence against women and sexual assault so that 1 in 4 women report having faced sexual assault and a flourishing rape culture in our media, on college campuses that goes unchecked. We have a broken immigration system that's deporting the children in our classrooms at unprecedented rates, splitting up families ... mass incarceration system where you have more black people behind bars on probation or on parole than were slaves on plantations in 1850. That's a social catastrophe that education has to have something to say about and to address. And climate change I think is the one that really grabs me because none of the other problems can be solved if we don't fix that one. And those are the real high-stakes that we face in this struggle for education. And none of those problems can be solved by bubbling A, B, C, or D. If ending police terror was on the test, you wouldn't have to ask me to give it, I'd be the first one handing out #2 pencils.

We have these two great movements in our country today, the #optout movement that's become a truly mass phenomenon with hundreds of thousands of parents across the country and the #blacklivesmatter movement that is addressing this systematically, institutionally racist country, as Michelle Alexander says, the New Jim Crow system of mass incarceration. And they have so many advantages in this fight but they're worried, though. They're already worried. The fact that they're resorting to threats ... they're going to revoke teaching certificates, or .. Title 1 schools that just said in Washington state will lose funds because of all the boycott activity we've had, and the #blacklivesmatter movement deeply troubles this establishment as well. Can you imagine the immense power we would have if those two movements were to find common cause? If the #optout movement was on the marches for #blacklivesmatter so that African-American families knew that these activists stood with you in your movement so that when we call for #optout, the #blacklivesmatter movement understands that it's part of the same struggle to value all of our children. And that would create a truly great social force that could not only remake education and the education system but could retool society to be put on the basis of social justice. And that's the fight I want to be in with you all. So thank you everybody.

Q and A Discussion 
Also in this Q and A Discussion are Monty Neil of FairTest, Diane Ravitch, and some great activists, teachers and parents. The whole thing is worth watching right through to the last question.

Jesse Hagopian, Garfield High School Teacher and Rita Greene from the NAACP Chapter in Seattle answer questions about the issues binding the Black Lives Matter and Opt Out Movements at the Network for Public Education Conference held in Chicago, April 25 and 26.

Q: I guess for me right now, and this is a NYC lens, there is a conversation going on about ... charter schools that have found the solution to help children of color to do better on these exams and that is their path toward social equity. And of course some of us who dissent say ... there is something inhumane about that and I guess my question to you would be how do we ensure that our classrooms and our pedagogy address social justice, which I think is the next critical element in the elevation for that meeting between #optout and #blacklivesmatter?

JH: I am really glad you asked that to kick off the conversation because there's a deafening silence, right, from the corporate reformers they don't say anything about what is good pedagogy, what that looks like, they just say if the test score raises, it was good. And we have to come in as the practitioners and actually explain what culturally relevant, anti-racist teaching can look like and can be to empower our students and that's gotta be, that has to be it ... if the classroom isn't helping kids to solve the problems they face in their community, then they're check out, right? When we have such levels of mass incarceration and other problems in black communities, then the classroom has to address those issues if they're going to be effective. There's a lot of different tools we can use. Rethinking Schools has a lot of great materials like Rethinking Multiculturalism is one I would highly recommend. But I'll just end by saying that, at Garfield, the work I've done teaching that kind of anti-racist curriculum has really paid off. The Black Student Union at Garfield has just erupted ... they led several marches and walkouts and forums at Garfield and they just won the city's Human Rights award ... that was a huge victory and they've taken leadership not only in the school but in the entire city and they are actually connecting these issues of testing and #blacklivesmatter. When you bring that anti-racist pedagogy to the classroom the students will take the lead and they're hard to silence.

RG: The other really fascinating thing about the issue of students ... there's are a lot of white kids that are participating in the marches and that to me is very powerful because we actually don't have enough black people that live in Seattle ... so we really can't do it alone. So it's great to see  ... over a 1000 white students that participated in the #blacklivesmatter march, that's really good.

MN: So I think one of things that I would challenge all of us folks here who are white folks like me, is to do a couple of things: one is very explicitly support the struggles in the communities of color to make ... certainly the #blacklivesmatter but also the #optout which is tougher in low-income communities and communities of color because the threats are coming down, we know that for a fact, it's not political surmise. We could have guessed it ahead of time of course but we now know for a fact in NY, in Chicago  and in other places, it simply comes down heavier. So the support for them is critical. The second thing is that the #optout movement brings the possibility as Jesse has said, through the #blacklivesmatter but also very directly through schooling itself... that if we are going to unite to defeat the tests, we also have to address the reasons why the testing was attractive and remains in some cases attractive despite the evidence of failure, that it will lead to improvements ... we'll use the test scores to make things better. Well they didn't. It has not happened even according to the test scores, never mind anything else.  

But the underlying issue of underfunded schools, schools unable to deal with the consequences of poverty AND provide a high-quality education are not being addressed. The whole testing thing also becomes a cover for the unwillingness of society to address all all the other issues and, quite bluntly, many civil rights groups have not challenged that so there's issues there, too. But the issue is primarily one of what the white communities will do because we're the problem that causes the racism and the class bias that also shoots through all our communities that has to be dealt with because it's the poor people of color that are the bottom of the bottom. But all of those need to be addressed and can be addressed by this movement simply on the practical grounds that we want to win on testing and also because the issues of the destruction of public education is slowly creeping into the suburbs as well. Maybe not the richest ones, but certainly the lower middle ... ones and there's a lot of them ... because there's only so many rich people, right? Those issues have to be brought on the table and it's us as white folks who have to take a strong stance and that includes my organization FairTest cause I think we've done some and we need to do more.

RG: I just want to tag on ... as I said earlier, this is why it's very important for you guys to work with the civil rights organizations because they don't know. So me, as the Education Chair for Seattle King County NAACP, that's one of the things that I'm working on is contacting the NAACP branches that I have to explain because again, we don't ... because we don't know all the things that are happening in all the school buildings, some of us aren't there, so if we reach out and explain ... I guarantee you're going to have more input and more of us joining forces ....

DR: One of the biggest problems with the re-authorization of NCLB/ESEA is the fact that 20 civil rights groups came out saying our kids need annual testing ... we cannot have our our civil rights validated without having annual standardized testing. So I want to add a footnote to your discussion, after WWI, after all these psychologists has been involved in creating IQ tests, to sort the people who would be cannon fodder from the officers, ... they then went on to create IQ tests that were distributed throughout the public schools. The thing that was a real problem for them, that they never addressed but that some of their critics addressed was that urban blacks had higher IQ scores than Southern whites which if you were thinking, if you had a high IQ you would conclude that what they were measuring was access to opportunity. But all the psychologists of the time... they believed that IQ was innate, that it was fixed, that you could measure a child's IQ at 6 and you would know what that child would be as an adult so you could track them beginning in 1st grade. This is what these civil rights groups don't understand is that we are dealing with an instrument that is a measurement of opportunity to learn and those kids who don't have opportunity will have lower scores. And it's not a civil right, it's a civil wrong.

RG: ... so the reason why ... the national NAACP has said that they support testing as long as all things are equal, right? But we know that all things are not equal.  So the other piece of that is ... for the long standing history of me, as a black parent, I don't have a good relationship with my child's white teachers, so civil rights organizations view the testing as a way to hold teachers accountable, they don't have all the inside facts that schools aren't fully funded, we don't go to school full days ... there's all those other issues that they don't know and that's why we have to educate them in the details.

JH: And I think that there is a side of this ... when there's such uncultured competent teaching happening in some of the classrooms and ... the parents are, like well, this isn't working, we need something else and then the corporate reformers come in with the something else ... they're exploiting a situation but we know that our schools aren't setup the way they need to be and we need to acknowledge that and ... when our movement acknowledges that and claims that and says we're going to be the ones to fight to undo the institutional racism and to teach the culturally competent teaching, then we'll be able to bring in your black families and parents and civil rights organizations a lot easier ... if we can work on that as a national movement, I think we'll make a lot of headway.

Q: Here's my questions. I need help, especially in my district. We have a sleeping giant, of course, who are the parents who don't know in our inner city and I can't go in there as the little white teacher and raise this awareness. I need your help, how do I contact? What chapter of the NAACP can I get in there to help me? I want to get into the churches, into the communities, because we are not opting out and we have a superintendent of the Broad Academy who ... has sent out a letter to the parents not to optout, they'll have to sit and stare. We have so many different levels of the onion to peel through ... most of our constituencies within the building don't know what's the hell's going on. I need your help.

JH: Think about doing a reading or a movie showing. Thinking about ... reading something from Michelle Alexander's book or her interview in Rethinking Schools on the school-to-prison-pipeline or showing the film that she's interviewed in as like ... teachers at the school talking about fighting institutional racism and inviting the black parents to come and then making the connections to the optout movement. That might .be a good .. beginning to build relationships and then raise the consciousness of some of these issues.  My website is iamaneducator.com and on my website there's the statement that the NAACP wrote calling for all parents to #optout of Common Core testing and that could be a document that you share at an event like that.

Q: What can parents do that are willing to go out and try to bridge with other people in communities of color?

RG: I think one-pagers is what I say because people don't like to read so really short, just the clear points. ... if you're in a public school, you have to take the test ... private school kids don't have to take the test. Why is that? If they need all this data, then why do you need data on my child but you don't you need data on the child that's at the private school? So when you start explaining some of those clear details ... that's when they're like .. that's not fair ... that's not right ... and that 200 million dollars or how-many-ever million is being pent on the tests, what would happen if your school had an extra 2 million dollars, what could be provided, what is your child not getting that they could get if those dollars were put in our classrooms instead of given to these test developers? So it's explaining those kinds of things that's what going to get people to say that's not right and we're not going to take these tests.

Q: My question is, as a teacher, at my school ... just a quick background, I am one of the only black teachers at my school and I teach in Baltimore city. So all of my kids are black. I have two white children ... this school year I started my unit with everything, with Eric Garner, with Mike Brown, all of these things, I even showed Do the Right Thing, I cut out the sex scenes, but I wanted them to really analyze art. It was all about art and ... we did all of these amazing things and I got an email that said: we don't want you to be doing what you're doing because we have always been very careful about this, we don't want you to be breeding angry black children, from my administration. ... So what I want to know from you, guru, is ... I want to know as a young teacher, as a young woman of color, how do I get around it because I am not going to stop teaching black stuff. I am never going to stop... our classroom has to address it ... I understand that cultural relevance is hard for a person who is not from our culture ... even if you read and you know everything which everyone else reads so much about us, people know more about us than we know ourselves ... How do I combat that without getting fired?

JH: That's a really important question. If you're teaching your students to combat injustice, there are real consequences that come down. You don't get away with reproducing the levels of inequality and racism in our society by accident, it doesn't just happen, you have to make sure the schools are designed to do that, right? And so having you in this fight is so important and people to support you. You're teaching high school? [middle school]

RG: What I think you need to do is actually reach out to your students' parents. And you tell those student's parents to contact the school and tell them they want their kids to learn that curriculum because understanding their culture is very important to helping them being productive citizens. That's why a lot of blacks aren't productive citizens because we're only told negative things about ourselves. Parents are very powerful, we can say things that you the teacher can't say and the District can't fire us.

Q: I'm just up the road a piece, I'm in Evanston, home of Northwestern University,  so the context is ... white, liberal, we have students of color in our public schools, I'm the librarian in an elementary school. And they're primarily poor and the ones who struggle and thinking about schools opting out and that whole ... 100% teacher, like, we're not doing it, how did you guys get there? Because our unions, we have two unions because we're two districts ... both the unions are really silent and it's really amazing, in such an educated community that appears to be liberal, appears to want to do the right thing.

JH: Over the course of years ... I held union meetings every month where we would discuss the littlest issues to the biggest policy issues and that community we built was a community of teachers that trusted each other, that knew we saw the attack on our jobs similarly, and it was through building that that the entire staff was willing to take this stand together and we didn't wait for the union. They found out after we announced it and got on board once thousands of people were sending us letters of solidarity from all over the country and gave us some important support. But the power of it was that it started at our school with the teachers who were fighting for their own livelihoods and their students' livelihoods. That's really where you have to build your power, right, at the building level ... and that starts with doing a study group or a film showing, right? Documenting what the abuse of these tests does, right? Like having everyone write down what it looks like when kids are under extreme stress and pulling their eyelashes out or wetting their pants or not sleeping at night and documenting those cases and talking about it as a staff ... at the building level and then you can take that power and try to project it throughout the union and ... from that way you will actually find more support from the union when you take that initiative.

Q: The three issues that I would like you to comment on are: the first one, I started in 1972 when the war on poverty ... the money was there for our children. When I walked in that first day it was like I was in heaven,  you were there to teach, everybody loved the children. Ok we know what happened with that. Right now principals are ... they're drawing principals, unless you're a maverick, who really push parents out in black schools. I mean I saw it, I retired in 2011,  but they're pushed out, so a lot of the things we're saying, are not going to get to them. ...  If parents could get in and see what was going on in my school the last year I was teaching? Parents love their children, I don't care if they have an education or whatever, this would be totally different. I think Chicago is the northern plantation politics capital of the world because they draw people in, give them their little tidbits, and then hurt the people who need the help. So my question for that one would be what can we do to drive that because it would be totally different if these parents really knew what was going on. That's the first one. 

The second is ... Urban League and NAACP. 2007, 2008, I mean we tried to get ... I went to my Congressperson I went to NAACP and hey all looked at me like I was crazy, NAACP was almost hostile ... with these things we're talking about right now. Urban League now has commercials, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Mark Morial, for the Common Core, ... I want to know how do we get these national organizations to truly stop taking whatever it is they're taking ... and uprising among us to stop them ... And then the third thing is Linda Darling Hammond has made it ... very plain to see that the gap was being closed. And I was there so I know what was going on, ... those were some days. But she documented it. It's clear but they still get away with that myth that they're saving the schools but the fact is we know that poverty is the problem. So we were attacking poverty, the gap is documented as being closing at that time, they came in to take the money away and it's widened. ... If that were made known to people even people who innocently grab on to ... innocently follow charter leaders ...  if they saw that and they'd say, well, they've been lying to me all the time because how can we get that message out? Because I agree with what Monty was saying earlier. I live in a suburban area... I live in Oak Park Illinois, we have one of our school board members, just re-elected, is one of the co-founder of KIPP ....

JH: Now that there's an example, now that Rita has stepped out and taken the lead, it's a new situation where you're not just going there cold. You're saying join this movement now of civil rights groups and here's the statement. Is this statement wrong? Is the Seattle NAACP wrong? ... I am working with some folks nationally to try to get as many prominent black leaders as we can to have an alternative statement that we put out and any help that people can be with that, contact me on my website if you know folks. .... But there are a lot of folks who were a part of the last civil rights movement, who led Freedom schools, right? and know what real education looks like and had alternative forms of assessment. You think at the Freedom schools they were using standardized tests? The test was can you go register to vote? Can you go organize a march and a protest to change our society, right? So if we can get some of those people who were part of that movement to help provide some political clarity ... counter some of these groups that are making money. And the last thing about parents, they were the key to us ... at Garfield when we were threatened with the 10-day suspension without pay, that would have gone through if the parents hadn't joined us. ... The PTA voted unanimously to support us. And it was also because I was running the Black Student Union that the black parents understood that this wasn't something separate from their concerns as well and joined us as well.

RG: I actually filed a civil rights complaint because I was told I had to pay for extra math something for my son and I thought, ok, I can pay but I know all these other kids in here, they can't so I filed a civil rights complaint.  Then the lawyer from the District sent me a nasty letter and I said ok, you may send other parents that but not this parent. So I sent a nasty letter back, I filed a harassment complaint, she was fired. Then, the next day, they gave me access to the math thing that I needed for my son for free. We need to have parent engagement coordinators out in the community that teach parents how to navigate the system .so now when I go to the District and they see me coming ...

Q: I have two daughters, I am Dominican, a person of color, my ex-husband, their father, is Irish. I have two daughters who are one year apart. One is Irish-looking, and the other looks just like me. Like I said, one year apart, they both went to the same school, from kindergarten all the way to ... high school. My white-looking daughter got into the gifted program, always got into everything ... what I'm saying is that they both got at home ... we took them to the library .. we travel a lot together ... they both got the same home... but in school, Joselina who looks just like me, she was geared toward sports but my white-looking daughter, today she is a lawyer ... she is a civil rights lawyer with the AFL-CIO ...

JH: I want to thank everybody for starting this conversation ... this is the very beginning, right? But if we can go out into our communities and begin to make these connections more diligently and expose them more, I think when we meet again next year, we're going to have a lot more stories to tell about black and brown communities organizing in the optout movement and white communities coming out and supporting the #blacklivesmatter movement. And those are the stories that I want to hear from you next year in this struggle. Thanks everyone.

the homework battle: Shanghai, China edition

Peng Yijian, the missing boy. 
(Photo/ Shanghai Daily)
Shanghai police issue appeal for missing boy, 12 : "The boy's mother, surnamed Liu, told Shanghai Daily that Peng ran after being scolded for getting into trouble at school. 
"He was very upset and I feel guilty that I shouted at him," Liu said. Liu said she received a call from Peng's school on Monday morning. "A teacher told me he hadn't done his mathematics assignment and as a result would have to go home," she said.  "At home he got more upset, and then he fled," she said."
Blogs considered it a case of a bad mom who told off her son and the interesting thing was that he was found in IKEA. It is true that IKEA stores in China work differently than in other places. And the mother apologized.

Overlooked is the call from the teacher, pressuring the family about homework and virtually asking the family, if only by the implicit institutional nature of contact,  to take some kind of action. That's the way it works: family life is supposed to support the institution, not the other way around. The mother may have felt a huge pressure to conform to the schools' demands after punishment of her son. Accepting that kind of social pressure is not easy.

Peng Yijan was a student at Longyuan Middle School, a massive place that sounds well equipped, a school that supports students whose families have emigrated to the city from around the country and whose abilities are ranked and graded and found wanting and weak:
About our students:
At present, our school hosts nearly three quarters of students whose parents are non-native Shanghai residents, who are largely from other provinces and are looking for better job opportunities in Shanghai. Our school enrols all children nearby. Most of the students in our school are simple, natural and fond of sports. However, due to their poor family background and lack of educational support at home, many of our students face more difficulties in learning especially in English learning. For these reasons, our teachers are encouraged to give more care and love to each student and communicate with their parents regularly. Meanwhile, the teachers are encouraged to try their best to cultivate students' learning potential by setting practical teaching and learning objectives and working out effective teaching strategies in their daily teaching practice. Furthermore, we have also tried varied instructional strategies to cater for students’ different learning needs at different learning levels, in addition to individual tutoring.
About our teachers:
Most of the teachers in our school are, on the one hand, young, hardworking and energetic, but, on the other, they still lack experience in teaching and are in need of professional support and advice for effective teaching strategies, methods and techniques. Besides, the students' low competence and achievement in learning add to their difficulty in teaching and helping the students. Thus they can hardly enjoy a sense of achievement.
Mass schooling, a partner of industrial capitalism, removes a great deal of initiative, weakens families, and attenuates talents and gifts with its top-down imposition of a 12+-year curriculum that works to preserve class status in the long run. There is a big bump as the credential industry gets underway creating many get jobs within itself. But once in place, as the US system so clearly shows, this design can only grow top-heavy especially in large nation-states that will have trouble with the deep integration that supports families that smaller nation-states can sometimes achieve (Finland) and even these small states have issues.

In building a cob wall, one must grasp that it needs to breathe to be stable. This same concept applied to school systems that work from the top-down without the flow, the give-and-take between the people using the system. If this service were viewed as a way of providing services that families choose, we would have a very different outcome and we could avoid much of the huge, unmeasured waste and harm to a greater extent. Families would still be driven to choose economically viable paths but the decentralized decision making would allow far more flexible movement.

If we viewed the credential industry as a combination mass daycare, training whose ill effects are completely unmeasured, and a jobs industry, a highly centralized companion to our flagging industrial model, then we would see it more clearly. It is an industry that supports a small fraction of people and harms a great number to do that. We increasingly see the effects of peer orientation, easy acceptance of authoritarian structures, physical and mental health issues, poor quality social lives, fragmented community life, and immense amounts of wasted time.

And as we look around our polluted cities, misshapen buildings, traffic snarls, and lack of coherent public and private space, we see that the many human talents and gifts we ignore, warp and mangle, these vital talents and gifts are lost to us all. It is written on the very shape and design of our lives.

moving beyond mass socialization

by Ryan M (Flickr) under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license 

Three Ways Homeschoolers Socialize Differently Than Schools Kids
I’ve been in the depths of back-to-school preparation on multiple fronts, and I’m continually astonished that people still bring up the old “socialization” thing with respect to homeschooling. So let’s be blunt: Homeschoolers do not socialize the way school kids do.
It’s a spectrum, of course. There are many school families that don’t get sucked into the assembly-line socialization rut, and thus teach their kids to cultivate a mature social life long before graduation. There are likewise homeschooling parents who cling so happily to their middle school social skills that they pass them on to the second and third generation. [...] 
Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses
This week my daughter leaves home for the freshman Red Zone. While I will be there for her in so many ways, I will not be able to scan the environment continually, watching for predators. My absence will be one factor that places her at risk for sexual assault. Another will be the impulse, refined through millennia by evolutionary pressures, to find a new attachment figure.
It is time to discuss how we can begin to build healthy social lives and the importance of a society that acknowledges this primal need of human beings. If our society does not support healthy social lives for all citizens, and the US system does not, it will be very costly in a myriad of ways. The growth of mass schooling and its extension into decades impacts the social nature of our lives in ways few societies have lived through. Attachment theory is one tool that helps us grasp some aspects of the problem and move toward positive change.

The first post above discusses the ways homeschoolers socialize differently than kids in the mass system. Many homeschoolers have spent years fending off the concerns of other parents about socialization even as schools are filled with bullying, peer pressure, grading, and extracurriculars and special programs that filter students but also have harmful social impact. It isn't just other kids who cause the problem (though studies about class size should focus also on the social aspect of large class sizes in societies that have very large numbers of weak or fragmented families, like the US) but the very structure of school itself works against human social instincts and needs. It isn't just a matter of having a good anti-bullying course: the very nature of being compared and ranked fights human social instincts in ways we should consider more deeply.

Building a healthy social life for children and young people isn't easy for any family and, surprise, money really helps. Families with money (whether homeschooling or in school) can counter a lot of the peer pressure and bullying with special trips to build family team spirit, gifts that buoy low spirits, and clean, outfittted homes with adequate transportation that provide venues for alternative social experiences. Sometimes even less wealthy families have extended family members or some other situation that helps. And for many decades in the US, neighborhoods provided more social capital for families as neighbors knew neighbors and often lent a hand.  Kids could roam widely and play in open spaces for free. 

But many families today have far less today in terms of economic power, social capital is low as neighborhoods decay, people work longer hours and commute, women work away from the home, and extended families are growing less common. Open and common spaces are few, and curfew laws and police limit children and teens ability to play and police in schools criminalize youthful behavior. As Ferguson shows, many poor communities are under police siege by a predatory capitalism that feeds it.

And wealthier schools, often exploiting the public system by adding funds to their own public-private school, also learn that the soft authoritarianism and grading/sorting that does not deeply affect their lives making it seem a valid way to manage society. The impact of mass socialization in the factory system on those who fare well is less talked about but perhaps even more important. 

All of this means that mass socialization of schooling, where compulsory attendance has been extended into many long years, provides an increasingly negative social life for children and teens. The second post above presents a brief discussion of attachment theory but it doesn't have the space to pursue a deep discussion of the aspect of college social life that greatly impacts the sexual assault discussion: the need for adult attachment figures. The referenced Atlantic link on fraternities did discuss the ending of in loco parentis though they did not really acknowledge the transitional nature of social life at these ages (and they blamed young people for doing it, unlikely).

Young adults still need attachment figures and the hand-off to college the author discusses really works best for wealthier parents who can use colleges as marriage sorting institutions as well as credential programs. When even the well-tended campuses of liberal arts schools are struggling, you can imagine how tough it is for those in local community colleges or state universities. Recognizing the necessity of strong social relationships that are not only intergenerational and striving to conserve the family relationships that children already have will have to become a conscious focus of schooling because that's how human beings are built. We can easily extend schooling but we can't easily change our inborn natures. This isn't a limit of money or political will power or organization: schools are up against the limits of human nature itself. 

A Learning Services Model Would Support Families 
Creating healthy social lives for all citizens should mean a stronger economy, if the numbers were honest. Changing the social life within mass compulsory schools means:
  • allowing families to choose courses and paths within their neighborhood schools
  • networking kids across district lines to open up segregated social spaces even as families and kids remain in control of their social lives by having course and activity choice
  • Knowing that supporting families' social strength helps kids, too
  • allowing families to create courses and help build out more services
  • allowing schools to provide so-called non-educational services like: bikes and classes, gardens, play areas, parent support meeting spaces, cooking classes, music lessons, martial arts, chess, etc.
  • ensuring schools are community centers providing space for friendships and activities for families whose homes cannot easily accommodate these
The factory model wants to ensure each child is installed with the same content. An open model, like that of the 1970s, is completely possible. as are schools without walls. Indeed, homeschoolers have shown that accessing college can be done outside the factory model. The failures of alternative approaches all happened before homeschooling. Homeschoolers have created awareness of the nature of the system by having families experience learning outside of the system. And homeschoolers get into colleges and a wide variety of training programs and other credential programs right now, with alternative credentials.

This means the factory model can and must change to a learning services model. In fact, there is no other way to go in a nation-state as large as the US. Stealth standards, tied to corporate curriculum, and foisted on all 50 states will not replicate Finland, as the entire structure is not only imposed from without but lacks the deep connections and coherence that national systems in smaller nation-states achieve.  Test-based accountability is an attempt at enforcement that wants to to make change across the entire nation (since it is illegal to have a national curriculum). But this effort also makes the Federal role not only a very negative one, chief enforcer, again unlike Finland, but because it is not deeply rooted within states, it is also a structure dangerously authoritarian in nature. We need to have change that is feasible and a model that allows states and communities to move forward and help build on it.
"The ability to build communities of people committed to lead change within their environments is the shift of focus from reaction to response." Kenneth Chomba, Tatua
There is no other way to change mass schools except to move toward a learning service model. The very fact that the high school degree is widely acknowledged to be worthless only proves how zombie-like the factory model is in reality. A learning services model supports families and brings them into the fold by allowing them deep choices as well as access. Accountability has to come from below as it cannot be imposed from above in a nation-state the size of the US without winding up in an authoritarian nightmare (and a major asset grab by corporate players).

No, the answer isn't school boards, but the actual users of the system itself: families. Families need to have some power in a system that has completely shut them out through compulsory attendance laws and the insularity they created. Parents and families tend to care about their kids and if they were deeply involved, we would have the best shot at accountable systems that are responsive to the people in them.

It is important to note that it is a false choice: local control versus national control. We need families with real power and we need systems that allow local schools to network across wider areas in new ways. This would build neighborhoods and lessen segregation while allowing individuals to build social networks that make their lives and neighborhoods better. We need a healthy relationship between local schools, districts and states as well as on the national level. And that will start with a healthy relationship with families.

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movement building: Scott Nine at Homeschool+ 2014

Recordings of all the Homeschool+ 2014 conference sessions are up now. A great session is available to listen to  Scott Nine of IDEA. This session is called From protest to politics: A provocation about the future of learning in the US. Grasping the Bayard Rustin reference in the title and mentioned in the talk is essential to understanding IDEA and Nine's work in movement building and connection.

I agree that we need to expand beyond our individual solutions and situations and I think homeschooling's legacy isn't just that families with money can be happy. I've blogged about how creating exemptions to compulsory attendance laws are a key contribution of homeschooling and should be seen as a way to change the power base of education away from the factory model. Partial transcription:
This ...educational paradigm is dying. It hasn't been realized yet. You can watch the current common core dialog and narrative .... The reality is that [the idea that] we are going to use high-stakes tests ... to narrow and compete is done. But its a mess of future possibilities and there's not much coherence in terms of public discussion of what we want. ... What's core ... is the understanding that learning has left the building. [...] 
IDEA's view of the world is that over the last twenty years progressive educators have gone into hiding. And for this particular conversation, I would say many students and parents opted out of the system completely. They went home. And I wouldn't say people shouldn't go home. I believe every parent and young person has the right to decide where they want to learn best and if they have the ability or capacity to do it, I'm not going to argue against that. But often people have done that because they felt trapped, broken, scared, it wasn't working for them, they wanted to do something different. Sometimes with an ideological bent ... a Christian ethic ... people have all kind of reasons for doing what they do. IDEA's story is that ... people ... because of these conditions, went into hiding in some form. For some people that meant doing some great work inside their classroom ... for some people that's building alternatives, or charter schools or independent schools. ... But people who share a lot of values about what really healthy learning environments can look like, ran away ... and they're in some outposts, and in some isolation. And we're at a unique moment when people are trying to tip back and beginning to find one another and lots of new ... connections are being made.

There really is great education going on all over the country. Sometimes in living rooms, sometimes in classrooms, sometimes in whole districts. And we don't have to take a position that is ideological about one of those environments being superior to the other but instead try to look at what's fundamental to those conditions and who should have access to more and more of them. ... How do we put people together in coherent, politically powerful ways? ... What would it look like to build a network that has real political and social influence in thinking about the future of learning? ... And it is our analysis that we need to try to convince numbers of people coming from very different perspectives, that it's a time to move from protest to a political engagement and strategizing together ... trying to find where there's a common set of values...

(Nine talks about working with Dr. Vincent Harding) .... you can't make a movement but you can prepare for one ... my provocation ... is that as we think about pursuing learning alternatives .. or even stop using the word alternatives but we pursue learning ... what we're preparing to help happen ... on behalf of whom and with what values are we working?

... my last provocation we have to hold two tensions. We're at a time of incredible promise ... the very beginning of the tipping point that will change quite significantly I believe in the next ten years .. we're also at a time of tremendous peril: we have tremendous gaps in equity in our country, there's tremendous injustice, there is huge amounts of social poverty, and the reality is that for many communities of color and for poor people, what their kids experience as a learning environment and what they feel like their families can provide looks very different than what other families. .... and the history from the 1960s and 70s ... it is not enough to have a progressive or a unschooling movement that is filled with middle and upper-class white people. And that if we are going to have something powerful happen in the country to unfold, it has to be something that joins with and weaves with some of these tensions and ideas and tries to think about a public purpose for learning and how to hold and stitch those things together. ... what I am advocating or proposing ... how those realities are showing up in your own work or life and what kinds of structures ... might begin to weave and stitch together...

Q&A (partial)
Steve Hargadon asks a question about how we deal with organizations that have power structures in place ...
Nine answers ... and I believe passionately, from a strategic perspective going back to that Bayard Rustin article that we are at a similar moment, we have to be able work on multiple fronts, we have to be able to have authentic conversations, .... we have to play strong ... how to be powerful advocates ... being comfortable with some of the structures, recognizing all structures are inhabited by people ... we choose the title Executive Director ... we know that that will make much of the educational world be able to see us and to potentially allow access ... there is a political consciousness ... that we have to decide that we are not just going to resist ... how we build the capacity in ourselves and how we network in ways that step forward ... if we don't work at both levels, where we are connecting all the parents and young people and community groups and also playing at that macro-level [with power structures]... we are doing a disservice to the possibility of the moment ... we need to be building those muscles. [...]

Steve H: ... I always think of that Bible verse, Scott gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent
Scott: Dr. Harding's expression to me was to be like love and iron fused together

Steve: Pasi Sahlberg ... GERM ... a virus spreads because its good at spreading ... how do you think about spreadability and stickiness .. Gandhi's spinning wheel allowed people at all levels to get behind an idea...

Scott: ... I'm of two thoughts about it. I want to leave room and excitement ... there is already emerging a huge movement ... I'm also really aware of the fact that we have 40, 50, 60 years of [great works in all media on learning] ... some moment, an expression will happen ... let's spend time trying to understand [our differences] ... being able to control the relationships, the networks, the pathways, the muscles, to be able to have a moment become viral ... when the Chicago teacher's unions was first striking in Chicago ... [Scott discusses how they were able to get early responses to the Chicago teacher's union strike out by having relationships in place that enabled communicators to move at great speed and get a frame in the media]...

the decline of play & rise of mental disorders

An important talk by Dr. Peter Gray about the deep and necessary need for play by human beings to grow up smart and happy. Children need to play to be mentally, physically and emotionally healthy. Partial transcription.
I'm a researcher who studies play from a biological, evolutionary perspective. I'm interested in the reasons why play came about in the course of evolutionary selection, I'm interested in the evolutionary function of play. So I'm going to start with animals. Young mammals of essentially all species play. In play they develop fit bodies, they practice physical skills that are crucial to their survival, and they also practice social and emotional skills. By playing together, they learn to cooperate with one another, they learn to be in close vicinity with one another without losing their tempers, very important for social animals to develop. In risky play, they learn to take risks, to experience fear without losing their heads, a lesson that can save their lives in the course of a real emergency.

Researchers have conducted laboratory experiments in which they have deprived young animals, usually this is done with rats but sometimes with monkeys, of the opportunity to play as they're grow up and they've developed ways of doing this without depriving them of other social experiences ... The result is that when these young animals develop, they are socially and emotionally crippled. When you place one of these play-deprived animals in a somewhat novel, somewhat frightening environment, they overreact with fear. They freeze in the corner, they don't adapt to it, they don't explore the environment .... If you place one of these play-deprived animals with an unfamiliar peer, they alternately freeze in fear and lash out with inappropriate, ineffective aggression, they don't learn to respond to the social signals of the other animal. ... those mammals that have the largest brains and that have the most to learn are the ones that we find play the most ... human children, when they're free to do so, play far, far more than do the young of any other mammals.

A few years ago ... conducted a survey of anthropologists who had observed hunter-gatherer cultures in various isolated parts of the world and we asked them questions ... . Every single one of these ten different anthropologists ... told us that the children in the cultures they studied including the young teenagers were free to play and explore on their own without adult guidance all day long from dawn to dusk essentially every day. The adults in these cultures ... say, we have to let them play because that's how they learn the skills they need to acquire to grow into adulthood. Some of these anthropologists say that the children that they observed ... were some of the brightest, happiest, most resilient children ...

So from a biological, evolutionary perspective, play is nature's means of ensuring that young mammals, including young human beings, acquire the skills that they need to acquire to develop successfully into adulthood. ... Now here's the sad news, here's what I'm here to talk about. ... There s been a continuous erosion of children's freedom and opportunity to play, to really play, to play freely ... I've seen it in the course of my lifetime. ... In the 1950s .. we had ample opportunity to play. We had school ... Some people may not remember but the school year then was five weeks shorter than it is today. The school day was six hours long but at least in elementary school, two of those hours were outdoors play. We had half hour recess in the morning, half hour in the afternoon, a full hour lunch, we could go wherever we wanted to during that period. We were never in the classroom more than an hour at a time, or for four hours a day. It just wasn't the big deal. And homework, for elementary school children, was essentially unheard of. There was some homework for high school students but much, much less than today. Out of schools, we had chores, some of us had part-time jobs, but for the most part we were free to play for hours after schools, all day on weekends, all summer long. ... I like to say that when I was a kid, I had school but I also had a hunter-gatherer education. At that time, you could walk through any neighborhood in America, almost anytime the school wasn't in session, and you would find kids playing outdoors without any adults around. Now if you walk through most neighborhoods in the United States, what you find, if you find kids outdoors at all, is they're wearing uniforms, they're on some kind of manicured field, they're following the directions of adult coaches while their parents are sitting on the sidelines cheering their every move. We call this play sometimes but it isn't by any play researcher's definition, its not really play. Play by definition is self-controlled and self-directed. It's the self-directed aspect of play that gives it its educative power.

Here are some of the reasons why play has declined. One, of course, is the increased rate of school, but an even more important reason ... has been the spread outside of the school walls of a schoolish view of child development. The view that children learn best, everything, from adults. That children's own self-directed activities with other children are wastes of time. We don't often say it that way but that's the implicit understanding that underlies so much of our policy with regard to children. So childhood has turned from a time of freedom to a time of resume building.

Another reason, of course, has to do with the spread of fear, really mostly irrational fears, spread by the media, spread by experts who are constantly warning us of the dangers out there if we don't watch our children every minute they are out there. Many people recognize the absurdity of some of these extreme fears but yet once we get them in our heads, its hard to shake them. ... In addition, there's a kind of self-generative quality to the decline of play. Once there are fewer kids out there playing, the outdoors becomes less attractive. It also becomes less safe. So that kid who does go outdoors, finds nobody to play with and goes back inside.

Now I don't want to romanticize the 1950s, there's a lot of ways in which we're a much better world today than we were there but we are a much worse world for kids. Over the same decades that play has been declining, we have seen a well-documented increase in all sorts of mental disorders of childhood. ... [...] based on such [clinical assessment questionnaires] assessments, 5 to 8 times as many children today suffer from major depression or from a clinically-significant anxiety disorder as was true in the 1950s. This has been a continuous, gradual, roughly linear increase over the years, very well documented. Over this same period, we've seen among young people 15--24, a doubling of the suicide rate. We've seen among children 15 and under, a quadrupling of the suicide rate. ... We've become a worse world for children. Not necessarily a worse world for adults ...

We've also seen a decline in the sense, of young people's sense that they have control over their lives. There's a questionnaire called an internal/external locus of control scale and there's a version of this for children as well as for adults, given since about 1960. Ever since its been given, we've seen a ... continuous decline in children's and young adults' sense that they have control over their own lives. They have more and more of a sense that their lives are controlled by fate, by circumstance, by other people's decisions. This is significant in terms of the relationship between anxiety and depression because one thing clinical psychologists know very well is that not having an internal sense of control sets you up for anxiety and depression. ... We've also seen ... a rise in narcissism in young people and a decline in empathy. And most recently ... a gradual decline in creative thinking ... since about the 1980s. ...
...as any social scientist will tell you, correlation doesn't prove cause and effect. But in this case, I think that there is good reason to believe that the decline in play is the cause of these deleterious changes. For one thing, the correlation is very good, especially the correlation between the decline in play which seems to be roughly linear beginning around 1955 until today correlates very well with the roughly linear increase in anxiety and depression. .... Children are more depressed today than they were during the Great Depression, they are more anxious today than they were during the Cold War when they were continuously being warned of the threat of nuclear holocaust that could happen at any time. In addition, everything we know about play, tells us that these are the effects we would expect of children are deprived of play. They are analogous to the effects in animals when we take play away from animals. Play is where children learn that they're in control of their own life, it's really the only place they are in control of their life, when we take that away we don't give them the chance to learn how to control their own life. Play is where they learn to solve their own problems, they learn therefore that the world is not so scary after all. Play is where they experience joy and they learn the world is not so depressing after all. Play is where they learn to get along with peers and see from others' points of view and practice empathy and get over narcissism. Play is by definition creative and innovative. Of course, if you take away play all these things are going to go downhill. And yet the hue and cry that we hear everywhere is for more school not for more play. We've really got to change that.

So I'm told its always good to end on a positive note. ... Let's admit this is our fault. ... But then let's say we can do something about it. .... Once we've recognized its a problem, then we need to figure out a way to solve that problem. ... We have to.. examine our own priorities ... develop neighborhood networks ... establish places for children to play ... we've even taken away sidewalks ... we need to open up ... school gymnasiums after school for free play ... we need to put supervisors in the park so parents will feel its safe enough to leave their kids there to play, a supervisor who knows how to keep things safe enough but not intervene ... we need to ... close off city streets at certain hours ... develop adventure playgrounds, relatively common in Europe ... We need to be brave enough to stand up against the continuous clamor for more school. Our children don't need more school, they need less school. Maybe they need better school but they don't need more school. ... Thank you ....