Looking Forward #3

We are far into this “stay-at-home” life, with some states extending the orders into May and a few others looking at partial openings. School openings are questionable right now in most states. This raises a multitude of questions.

What about the lost school year? What about kids who were already falling behind? What about kids that weren’t provided a laptop or don’t have internet access to participate in distance learning? How will schools manage the outcomes of this hybrid home schooling model?

It’s not the end of the world as some would have you think. At the very least it is sparking innovative thinking and rational discourse on what is really important right now.

The pandemic response of closing schools led many school districts and state boards of education to rethink the mainstay principles of tracking student progress via grading as well as how to address grade level coverage of curriculum. State and local education officials vary widely in their responses.

Ideas/plans floating around include giving all students A’s, issuing pass/fail marks or counting these past few months as enrichment, not work done for credit. Some want students to attend summer school and others are waving attendance requirements. The word scrambling comes to mind.

How do you solve a problem that was created by the very nature of schooling itself?

None of these questions would present a problem if we shifted our school paradigm concerning grade levels and grading students. The issue is only present when you feel compelled to give students a grade. It’s present when you feel compelled to hold them back a grade level or push them thorough with interventions when they have not yet mastered the arbitrary grade level material.

Young people can learn without grades or the artificially imposed age-batching practice of grade leveling.

Sadly, some are still not convinced.

What are ways in which we can facilitate, observe and report on learning without using a flawed, inequitable and damaging system like grading?

What are ways in which we can group young people for learning experiences that are not based strictly on age?

Teachers are asking themselves these questions right now. They are trying to figure out how to transition and then meld the two realities of regular classroom school with school at a distance, to finalize student progress for this school year. It’s challenging to say the least.

I hear teachers sharing their stories of Zoom meetings with various age groups that include little brothers and sisters joining as well as one on one communications back and forth between students and their teachers. In general teachers, children and their families are going with the flow. Day by day, moment by moment, they are all doing a difficult and incredible job. As stated earlier, this is uncharted territory and we have much to learn from it.

Interestingly enough, MindShift posted this on Twitter recently, (ideas from Larry Ferlazzo), to help teachers navigate this time and it’s good advice.

Pandemic response

In my book, Learning Unleashed, I shared the importance of remembering the early childhood days of curiosity and intrinsic self-directed learning. Schooling proposes a different kind of learning than curious self-direction. It shifts the learner to a tightly constricted box that is a one size fits all approach.

This pandemic “shut down” response sheds light on what is really important and how we might transition back to classrooms next year with a newly developed sense of purpose.

For as long as I can remember, at least in my 30 plus years as an educator, the issues of grading and grade levels are on the “do not touch ” list of school reforms. The practice of grading is one of the sacred cows that we talk about but can’t seem to reach a consensus. The idea of grouping children based solely on their age is rarely questioned.

The idea of developmental and interest grouping instead of grade levels by age, is not even on school radars. Many credible and well respected educational visionaries speak on this regularly. Sir Ken Robinson is an example.

We listen and do little to change.

What will it take to make changes to these unproductive practices?

Perhaps a forced closing of all the schools in the country could set the change in motion.  It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention.

Maybe Pandemics are the Mother of Innovation.


My Photo taken at the Musee Olympique in Lusanne, Switzerland. The screen says CHANGE as my Grandson examines the information. Seems logical for a 16 month old!

Come back for Looking Forward # 4, the last in the series to celebrate the graduating class of 2020!


Looking Forward #2

We are still in the uncharted territory of a massive nationwide shutdown that has never been implemented before, at least not in my lifetime. Regardless of one’s political views or personal beliefs, this is devastating on many levels.

The loss of thousands of lives being the most tragic, as with any pandemic, places many in the heartache of unanticipated death of loved ones. There is never a more scary result than this. It is truly a sad time.

Other consequences as a result of this quarantine have left many unemployed, suicidal and hopeless. Those that are the most vulnerable to poverty, sickness and despair are suffering like no other group or individual. They are in survival mode right now.

Those who can still work from home, or as brave essential workers on the front lines still collect paychecks and can provide for themselves and their families. The stay-at-home directives are an inconvenience for some and for others a luxury of sorts. They are not as financially impacted as many filing for unemployment or those with no source of income at all.

It is unfathomable to think we can go on like this much longer. It’s not the way it’s suppose to be. We have to understand both the risks and the safety measures as an interwoven dilemma. We live our lives walking the delicate balance between both. It’s always been that way. Yet, in a world divided by ideology instead of reason, intellect and compassion, we seems to be at odds, or at least that’s what social media tells us.

One particular challenge area is how we are educating our children during this crisis. In Part 1 of this blog series, I elaborated on those challenges and our best efforts to meet them. Take a minute to read it if you haven’ t done so yet.

Since most schools will not resume for the duration of this school year, what does that mean for our children, for their teachers, for the system itself? Public school systems fare better since they are funded through various public sources. Private and religious schools are in a different reality. Home Schooling families carry on with adjustments.

In my last blog entry, I floated the idea of learning valuable schooling lessons from this pandemic response. Ones that could inform the future of education for students around the country. Crisis situations, while difficult and sometimes overwhelming, can also provide an opportunity for re-evaluating basic services, the status quo, the institutional constructs that once bound us to a one size fits all approach. Innovation often rises from the ashes of crisis situations.

Innovation is not necessarily welcomed by the faint at heart. Most early adopters of innovation do so at their own risk but they are often deep thinkers, doers instead of talkers, and most importantly, fearless explorers. Many teachers fit that category. Given the opportunity, individually and collectively, they rise to the occasion and innovate.

Teachers are innovating right now. They are navigating uncharted waters every day. They are discovering what to keep and what to let go, what’s important and what is irrelevant or unnecessary.  It’s not their normal school routine and they are working so hard to balance once considered “essential” activities with the inability to pull some of these off at a distance. They have discovered a new way of working with their students.

School will resume eventually. How will what we’ve learned about necessary and unnecessary carry over to next year? What can we let go? What can we do differently? Will we go back to the way things were before this pandemic? When teachers have flexibility during this time and young people are still learning, what can we can take away from this experience? What should we consider when looking forward?

The possibilities are endless. We can aim high. The view is exhilarating.


My Photo looking up from a boat on Sydney Harbor Bay Australia 2009 seems appropriate. Being in the right place at the right time.

For the record: These possibilities should not include students having to repeat the grade level, attend summer school, or in any other way be punished or stigmatized for a pandemic response imposed by adults. If anything, we should rethink grade levels and the harm that does to a growing young mind. That’s next in this series by the way. Stay tuned.







Looking Forward – #1

Looking forward to what?

When things get back to normal. When our lives are not sequestered. When we are free to leave the house again and visit with family and friends. When fear and loss is replaced with hope and life.

All of us are looking forward to these things.

For those of us who advocate for educational freedom, our list includes a few additional items, especially given that schools are closed right now and distance learning is happening.

What are we looking forward to?

  • The day when all teachers are free to facilitate learning without restrictive system constructs.
  • The day when all parents are free to access educational options.
  • The day when all children are free to learn unleashed from school labels and artificial barriers.

What’s happening?

Teachers are working from home to provide “distance learning” for their students. This looks very different from state to state, zip code to zip code but there are some commonalities. No state tests. No pressure for grading. No need for elaborate classroom management strategies and no getting sent to the office. This is hard work for sure and a steep learning curve for many. Communication and continued relationship building are emphasized and most teachers and kids are engaged and enjoying it.

Parents (some as teachers), are juggling home schedules that include whatever distance learning the school is providing, with their own work from home requirements. There are parents who say they feel ill-prepared and under-qualified, but are rising to the challenge. They are realizing that their kids are learning in spite of what they perceive as less than optimal circumstances.

Children are missing their school friends, many missing their teachers, and most spending a lot more (structured and unstructured) time with their parents. For the most part kids are enjoying the new found freedom that learning at home provides.

Homeschooling families are plugging away as usual, but with limited “out of house” adventures and community co-ops with their friends. They are sharing “at home” and “online” ideas with teachers and other parents who find themselves in a sort of “hybrid” homeschooling model.

What can we learn?

What we learn during this time with regard to conventional school system structures, has the potential to shape an illuminating and liberating future for learners, teachers and parents alike.

What will  “getting an education” look like after this particular time, or in ten years, twenty years, and beyond? The possibilities are endless and exhilarating if we see this time through the lens of innovation, opportunity and fearless exploration.

It’s innovation that shapes our future. It’s thinking out of the box that opens up ways of learning that we never thought possible. It’s shifting the “industrial” model of hours in seat and grade level curriculum to a new and far reaching understanding of authentic learning. It’s thinking differently about how we DO school.

It takes a VISION of the future.

Imagine a time when teachers are not tethered to a union mentality working for the system, but can work for themselves, set their own parameters, salaries and working conditions. Parents and students would seek them out for their expertise and rapport with young people. Teachers could band together in their communities and elsewhere to provide their services. There are multiple ways to make this affordable, especially when parents have state and federal funding follow their child instead of a school system.

There are trade offs with this model as with any venture. Entrepreneurial types do well. Those who want others to manage their profession, ultimately live with the limited choices that decision brings. Those limitations are too lengthy to list here as one would imagine, but here is a recent example below.

Alfie Kohn
I’ve been asked my reaction to schools’ having temporarily stopped grading students because of online instruction challenges due to the pandemic. Hmm. What would your reaction be to news that the CIA had ordered a brief moratorium on waterboarding prisoners due to a drought?
9:51 AM · Apr 5, 2020


There is much more to say about looking forward in education. This is just the first in a series so stay tuned.

There is a grand picture on the horizon if we have the VISION to see it!


My own photo from Newport. R.I. 2010

Hindsight is 20/20


The year 2020 is upon us and it offers a whimsical yet important opportunity to revisit the phrase, “hindsight is 20/20” as we think about the future while remembering the past.

This phrase is particularly salient when it comes to the history and evolution of the American school system. I encourage the reading of the article sited as a quick history lesson.  See article here

When one considers the evolution of the American public education system and its current impact on young people, questions still arise although somewhat different than at its founding.

As information gathering, problem solving and critical thinking are key and necessary skills for twenty-first century jobs, how well are our public schools preparing young people to meet the challenge? How well are schools preparing young people to become well-informed, knowledgeable and contributing citizens?

If the most recent, Program for International Assessment (PISA) test results are any indicator, those questions are valid. New York Times article Here

In our schooling history and evolution, multiple reform efforts tackle the need for accurate measures to assess whether or not our children are actually learning in school. A more compelling question may be, what have our schools learned from our children?

Actually, our children, most of them, learn exactly what we teach.

Here is a small list for example, in no particular order of importance.

  1. Compliance
  2. Obedience
  3. Good behavior
  4. Attendance
  5. Right answers
  6. Time limits
  7. How to get good grades
  8. How to sit, stand, ask, and move
  9. How to take a test
  10. How to think about their thinking (meta-cognition)*

*Studies have shown that children grow naturally in their meta cognition. We as adults, can help stimulate that growth. Some schools stimulate growth and others don’t. It’s a coin toss.

At least nine out of the ten items listed above do not align well with most standardized or performance-based assessments. Think about it.

In my book, Learning Unleashed Re-imagining and Re-purposing Our Schools, chapter five addresses this phenomenon with authentic and very personal accounts when asked the question, “What do you remember learning in school?” (page 37)

One particular response is as fresh in my mind as it was the day I recorded it for my book.

“School was like a pile of irrefutable facts, and my job was to learn all of those facts and make sure that my teacher knew that I knew all of them. It was like that game where you look at a bunch of things, and then they take the things out of the room and you have to recall all the things you saw. The person who has the best recall wins.” (page 38)

We need to look at how one becomes educated much differently than how our early founders did. We live in a time with vastly different needs, technology and access. Public education in 2020 is not and can never be a fully equipped or able means to arrive at the learners/parents desired end.

Its scope is too broad, its reach is too narrow, and its relevance is fleeting.

There are multiple ways in which to become educated. In fact, it is essential that those opportunities are embraced and valued for our young people to fully realize their potential and contributions. Homeschooling, un-schooling, hybrid programs, online courses, family-led co-ops, charters and other innovative approaches to the old school model can all yield desired results. More and more families are looking for alternatives, particularly those who are trapped by a zipcode.

Perfect vision is marked 20/20. If we look back and understand what we might have done better or differently then our hindsight is considered 20/20. It’s a form of meta-cognition similar to what we try to stimulate in our children.

Maybe as adults, we are still learning meta-cognition too. One can only hope. Let’s look to the future of education as an opportunity to get it right once and for all.

Sources cited:

  1. Education to the Masses – The Rise of Public Education in Early America, Ted Brackemyre Accessed Jan. 10, 2020
  2. ‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts, New York Times Dana Goldstein Dec 5, 2019. Accessed Jan. 19, 2020.
  3. Learning Unleashed, Reimagining and Repurposing Our Schools, Evonne Rogers Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.

*Disclaimer: The title of this blog and subsequent references do not indicate endorsement for any 2020 candidate who may also use the term as part of their campaign efforts.  I do not use this platform for political endorsements.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Holidays have a way of either bringing great joy or severe stress and often at the same time.

I remember my teacher days and the varying degrees of both joy and stress as I planned lessons and activities for the months of November and December.


I welcomed a slight detour and diversion from the “regular” curriculum in order to bring a different kind of learning into and out of the classroom. I could catapult new learning  into something far more exciting and enjoyable by ditching the conventional text books and finding more authentic avenues for discovery. A strange subversive awareness launched my mind and heart into an exhilarating realm that super charged my internal batteries as well as those of the children. The buzz was palpable.

Exposing children to winter holidays celebrated around the world and in particular various cultures and beliefs in our country, always included a few field trips to plays, musicals, museums, walks, and visits to local businesses or factories. It also provided opportunity for classroom visitors.

Families that did not celebrate holidays were open to their children learning about them. I provided a calendar of events and lessons in advance and never once had a family decline to participate. The emphasis was on the learning not the holiday.

Plenty of books we read together, our own stories we shared, art and music we experienced, recipes we followed and made, and family meals together in our classroom brought a strong and trusting level of relationship like nothing else could.

The learning became more organic and often their questions and discoveries led to more questions and discoveries. Their faces told the story of what was happening all around them. We experienced pure and joyful learning.


I was not following the agreed upon grade level curriculum for over a month! I worried that my students might miss important lessons in math and science which were key assessment areas they had to know by spring testing time. If they had low scores, I would be the one responsible and my principal would inform me. Poor results means poor teaching and everyone understood that. No one wants to be a poor teacher.

A few fellow teachers resented my “out of the box” efforts at learning. They made sure I understood that my unconventional approach made them look bad. Some handed me the guilty card saying that I was “robbing the students” of valuable learning time. Unsettling to say the least.

How do you return to the strict adherence of determined grade level material when you’ve opened Pandora’s Box? How do you go back to coloring within the lines when you’ve just gone off the paper entirely? How do you continue to teach under the pressure of accountability, enforcement, and artificial deadlines? You just do it. Your paycheck depends upon the status quo.

Insights from a former status quo adherent.

  • The schooling system is not structured to enable, emphasize or value authentic, joyful learning. In fact it more often prohibits it.
  • No matter how hard teachers try to make lessons engaging, the minute a score or grade is placed on any of the student’s efforts, it becomes less engaging.
  • Getting good grades is a result of regurgitating information in an acceptable manner. It has nothing to do with real learning.
  • Teachers who veer off script are often seen as subversive and undermining the goals of their profession.
  • Forty four percent of new teachers leave teaching within five years. EdBlog

I am still convinced that how we do traditional schooling is incrementally damaging. I  hope that someday we become brave enough to dismantle the status quo and unleash real learning to better prepare our children for their future.

Students asking insightful questions generated from their own inquisitiveness, being able to delve deeply into a topic without an artificial cut off, testing hunches with trial and error and not evaluation, locating and utilizing accurate sources and resources, and understanding the importance of their contributions to the world are patterns of behavior that will serve them well.

Just point them in the right direction and watch them GO!


Data Collection Done Right


If you are fortunate enough to witness the first year of a child’s life, you’ll learn just how amazing the human mind is. The first year is a series of intensely curious discoveries,  profound exploration and repeated experimentation with frequent trials and errors. It’s undeniably incredible to watch, to hear and to learn how easily and naturally little babies amass volumes of data from the world around them. I saw this years ago with my own children and now have the privilege to witness it again with my one year old grandson, Troy.

The world is Troy’s school and there is no limit to what he’s about to learn.


The data he is collecting for the next five or six years is for analysis and future reference.  It’s stored in his memory for retrieval and further exploration. It triggers his mind to question, examine, and re-examine as needed for clarity and dependability. He came hard-wired with these capabilities, they are not taught, it’s intuitive.  It’s the most intriguing and amazing study of pure self-directed learning.

When a child reaches five or six, some form of schooling is usually introduced. For most, it’s a local elementary school.

There are two paths a child can take when they go to elementary school.

First Path: They learn the value of coloring within the lines, following rules, performing for rewards, and not bringing too much attention to themselves. They do fairly well curbing their curiosity, limiting their questioning and forgoing any individual interests at least between the hours of approximately 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. They learn what the teacher wants and how to make her or him happy. They repeat, regurgitate and re-align their early and vast data collection methods to a more narrow version with a predetermined data set given to them by the teacher. The prescribed information flows wide across grade levels but not very deep. They figure out how to get good grades, learning what counts and what doesn’t. They navigate grade levels and eventually graduate high school. Teachers love these kind of students, it makes them feel like they did a good job. Parents are proud as well.

Second Path: They ask a lot of questions and blurt out answers when not chosen to speak. They dislike worksheets and homework, avoiding them when they can. They want to explore, be creative and share their curiosity with others.  They ask for, and like to choose, projects that interest them.  They may investigate the inner workings of the pencil sharpener, light switches, electrical outlets and every piece of technology within their reach. They want to know why and how things work. They are constantly collecting seen and unseen data that doesn’t necessarily translate into good grades. Sometimes they are held back a grade level, given labels such as gifted or learning disabled, or referred for interventions. They just don’t fit the “typical student” mold.

Note: The first path of schooling categorically stunts the natural learning of a child and relegates them to memorization of narrow curricular knowledge, presented in meaningless morsels that are often totally unrelated from one year to the next. It wipes out intrinsic motivation in favor of an extrinsic reward system. It acknowledges one type of genius to the exclusion of all others. It lessens the value of free play, creativity, and self-directed learning. There is never enough time, enough space or enough acceptance of differences no matter how inclusive schools claim they are. Kids are placed in grade level boxes with a set curriculum and there they must remain until elementary school is over. It’s particularly overwhelming for children who have no voice.

The second path looks and sounds more like the first five years when children learn at their own rate and exponentially. It’s messy, it’s loud, it can be annoying at times but it is far more authentic and more relevant to the learner. It allows for intense curiosity, exploration and trial and error without evaluation or punishment. It trusts the innate abilities each child has to go deep rather than wide on topics of interest, not mandated subjects. Our schools are often not structured for this kind of learning. In fact, they tend to frown upon it which is why so many are choosing homeschooling options.

As I always make sure to say, and I’ll say again, there are deeply caring teachers who, if given the opportunity, would love to have the kind of environment that fosters second path kind of learning. That said, it is difficult to imagine schools relinquishing firmly held and narrow views of learning. Unfortunately, there are many who still believe that children need to get with the program and develop grit to persevere in school. That’s how they will be educated and that’s the expectation.

Going to school and getting an education are not synonymous. You can go to school and not get an education and you can get an education without going to school.

I want Troy to have the whole world as his school, with his mommy, daddy and all of his extended family helping him along the way.  I’m going to do my part as Grammy to make sure his learning takes flight in whatever direction he chooses to fly.

I want this for every child.




A Logical Conclusion

I’ve cared about children for as long as I can remember. As the youngest of three girls, I always hoped for a little brother or sister. When that didn’t happen, my dog, my baby dolls and younger cousins filled the void. As a teen, I spent the majority of my free time babysitting for my older sisters and neighbors.

We often visited parks, zoos and historical venues but spent most of our time playing outdoor games such as hide and go seek, any kind of ball, or hopscotch. When indoors, we read, did art projects, danced or created scripts for plays.  All of these ideas came from them, not me.

I lit up every time I saw them discover something new, ask cool questions, or make inferences based on their observations. It was as though I was learning all over again only with them. I have no idea why this excited me as much as it did, but it made sense to consider teaching as a profession. This was a logical conclusion.

A teacher salary never entered the equation in my decision making. No doubt a career in math, science, medicine or law would provide ample earnings, security and a certain amount of respect and prestige. Teaching didn’t afford the same. It didn’t matter. I would be doing what I loved and helping children along the way. So it began.

I was off to a late start after having four children, when I finally earned the title “teacher” in 1984. I was teacher to my own four children and of course my nieces and nephews, preschool teacher at the local YWCA and Sunday School teacher at my church. However, this certificated title opened doors to private and public schools both in the city and suburbs of my hometown.

It eventually took me to an adjacent state where segregation had been the norm just ten years earlier. It exposed me to the haves and have nots in public schooling. I learned the inequities of zip codes and the lack of choices for the have nots. These experiences, along with meaningful interactions with children and their families led me to become a Comer facilitator with the Comer School Development Program created by Dr. James Comer, Child Psychiatrist at Yale Child Study Center.  Dr. James P. Comer

My public school administrative career took me out of my own classroom and led me to school, district, and county positions along with another move to a new state. Throughout this three-state journey, I observed both caring and dismissive teachers, facilitative teaching and managerial teaching, competent administrators and inept ones.

On a more granular level, I saw young children held back a grade or “fail” because they did not meet the grade level standards in the given time frame. I followed the labeled “at- risk” children as they were identified and mortified with interventions. I visited classrooms and schools that bribed students with rewards for behavior and punished them with public ridicule, lack of recess time, lack of time with peers and the stigma of sitting in the school office for all to see.

“What rewards and punishments do is induce compliance, and this they do very well indeed. If your objective is to get people to obey an order, to show up on time and do what they’re told, then bribing or threatening them may be sensible strategies. But if your objective is to get long-term quality in the workplace, to help students become careful thinkers and self-directed learners, or to support children in developing good values, then rewards, like punishments, are absolutely useless. In fact, as we are beginning to see, they are worse than useless—they are actually counterproductive.”
― Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

I participated in and led federal, state and local educational mandates commissioned by the various officials who held the important purse strings. I reluctantly followed the rules while often questioning the purpose and value of such mandates.

Over the years, when I questioned why we were doing this or that, when I colored outside the given lines, or when I made decisions that veered from the norm, I risked my credibility and longevity as a public school educator. At a distinct moment in time, I didn’t care anymore. Suddenly a multitude of epiphany moments led to a logical conclusion and cemented my decision to retire. Remembering why I first decided to enter the teaching profession and my learning along the way, made it an easy decision.

My decision to retire had nothing specifically to do with the school district where I worked. In fact, it was one of the best. I do not fault anyone who worked there or anyone who works in any school in this country. For the most part, they are hardworking, caring people who are just hardwired to do school in a particular way. My decision had more to do with the children. I could no longer justify the system’s unyielding, relentless effort to make children conform to its desired image of a good, well-behaved student.

Simply put, the joy of learning, the freedom to play and grow at ones’ own pace, the lack of time and attention to creativity and imagination, and the emphasis on standardization and scores sealed my decision. I crossed over to the retirement world and discovered that there is quite a bit of learning that happens outside of conventional schooling. A pioneer in the field is Dr. Peter Gray.  Worth a read. Dr. Peter Gray

It’s been four years now since my retirement from public education. I’ve made an interesting discovery. Many of the thought provoking ideas and research that I see now match most of my epiphany moments from years ago. It’s as if the writers are saying, “here’s something to think about educators, here’s a way we might make learning more authentic and meaningful.” While I find these discoveries note worthy, my intuition tells me that four years from now, I’ll be reading the same ideas, while observing no structural or substantive change in our schools. Parents who choose to home school, quote this as one of their reasons for leaving.

For those who support public schooling and want to send their children, I hope you live in a great zip code. I hope you find caring people in those schools. I hope your child has great teachers. I hope your child has smooth sailing along the way and learns to their satisfaction. I hope that they have choices.

My deeply held belief is that student and parent choice is the key to educational liberty and justice for all. It will unlock every child’s potential for learning and that is the important outcome.

Please check out this new book by Kerry McDonald.

Kerrys book_

Order Kerry McDonald’s new book here!

























Look Kids…Big Ben!

In the cinematography world, its called a circular pan where the camera rotates 360 degrees around a fixed axis. What you see the first time around, is seared in your memory after multiple trips. As the speed increases, the scenery becomes a dizzying and repetitive blur.

The movie scene in Les Miserable comes to mind when Russell Crowe, as Javert, stands perched on a rooftop overlooking Paris at night. The panoramic view behind him becomes a frenzied and fast paced outward panning. I remember turning my eyes away momentarily as my mind struggled to adjust.

Does anyone else have this problem?

A comical scene in European Family Vacation serves as another type of example. Trapped in a London round-about, the Griswold family discovers a few important landmarks over and over and over again. Attempts to exit the circle proved unfruitful as day becomes night. Clark is at the wheel and the family is asleep. It’s a classic tale of going in circles.


I see similarities between these visual effects in the above mentioned movie scenes and the effects that circular schooling has on children. Over the years, I panned these circles thousands of times from various angles and heights. Pausing, slowing down, or exiting were not viable options. I made frequent and valiant efforts, but the pace of high stakes schooling forces propulsion.  An object in motion stays in motion as Newton explained.

The vast and dizzying views of schooling as a mass diploma-producing factory left many experiencing the illusion of learning. The scenes observed were classroom and school-wide management programs, rewards and punishments, assignments, homework, tests, and grading practices, honor roll status, tons of work sheets along the way, and a final certificate that validates completion. It’s done in a cyclical fashion, a 360 degree circle each year with increasing speed.

What they, and I have discovered, is the difference between going to school and getting an education. They are radically different. Authentic learning is unique and can never be mass produced no matter how hard we try.

Psychological studies in child and adolescent development tell us that we all learn differently and at different rates. Formulating that understanding into a mass production model of learning will inevitably result in casualties. Teachers intuitively know this as they are told to differentiate based on the needs of their students. True differentiation does not square well with a mass production model that crams way too many children into a classroom.

In my book, Learning Unleashed – Reimagining and Repurposing our Schools, I suggested several ways we might benefit children by creating a more authentic and engaging model. Since its publication, I’ve painfully come to the conclusion that schools can’t change. They can’t make real or substantive change because they lack the autonomy to do so. It’s a fixed system that requires circular movement around fixed scenery unhindered by any force that would attempt to stop it. This saddens me because I know so many great people who work tirelessly every day in schools to make them work better for children and young people. I’m glad they stay. Like Obi Wan, they’re our only hope.

Please understand that teachers, administrators, parents and children who chose not to stay offer valid and sound reasons for exiting the round-about. I can’t blame them. When all you see is Big Ben over and over, it might be time for some new scenery.






The Power of Choice


At one time, public education held the promise of providing a common good for the people it served. Schools reflected the values and beliefs of the local community.  For the most part; home, schools, places of worship, and local government spoke a common language. Families sent their young ones off to others trusting that the school, (in parentis loco) would provide a quality education that prepares young people to become productive citizens of the greater society.

While some have always chosen private options, the majority of families still access the public schooling option as a viable on-ramp to what they believe offers a well rounded educational experience for their children.  While not a pure monopoly, the public school paradigm is a tough one to substitute. It is accepted by most as the common good option of choice, except when it’s not working for them. What other choices do they have?

It never ceases to amaze me how the word, “choice” evokes a multitude of emotions and has many different meanings depending upon the situation.

Studies conducted by child and adolescent psychologists tell us that offering choice is vital to the healthy development of children.  Educational articles on how to offer more choice in the classroom are published, tweeted and retweeted on a regular basis. Businesses vie with one another to offer their customers choice. The law has settled that choice in matters of personal decisions, such as abortion, is a fundamental right of an individual.  History has shown us that true freedom depends upon choice. When choice is taken away, freedom is lost. So, choice is a good thing right?  It depends.

It appears that many who believe in the choice options listed above do not adhere to the same choice principles when it comes to education. Specifically, there are those who decry any efforts to offer educational choice to the millions of children and young people who desperately need it. The National Teachers Association and a plethora of other public school advocates consistently rebuke and shame anyone who dares to think differently about public education. Those who promote choice in education are assigned the most unflattering labels. Tragically, those who seek or exercise school choice are stereotyped and targeted unfairly.

Those who believe that choice as applied to schooling should also be a fundamental right, are mocked as religious fanatics, subversive and even dangerous extortionists. There is no doubt that some of these types may be in the mix, but they are the exception, not the rule. Even within mainstream schooling, there are terrible tragedies that occur. None should happen anywhere, but unfortunately they do. This is not a valid argument against school choice.

The monopoly of public schooling is gradually shifting. It served a purpose for our industrial age but is sorely unprepared for innovation. It’s premise, design and structure are factory like which places it at odds with most current career and job requirements. It still teaches and tests for a bygone era, not skill sets for this century and beyond. It simply can’t stay far enough ahead of the curve to be relevant enough to this or the next generation. Only book publishers and the out of touch bureaucrats cash in on the belief that it still can. 

Knowing stuff is nice, but not necessarily valuable. With a little effort one can locate and access needed information.Teachers are great at bringing information to kids and in multiple formats. Many use technology in some form to assist with information getting. But the bottom line is mastering the grade level curriculum in a given period of time. Student work hanging on the walls of a classroom are good examples of this. One might notice variations, but on a set theme. There is little room for deviation. Individuality is not the point, conformity is.

What is not taught or tested is creative thinking that promotes innovation. Thinking out of the box and finding different ways to solve problems is not typically in the regular school curriculum. Allowing ample time for trial and error, or persisting at a difficult task for as long as it takes, are not highly valued in the classroom. We don’t regularly do this in schools even though some insist we do.  The format and schedule don’t allow for it.

Standards testing looms over schools like a dark cloud of inevitability pushing creativity to the back burner or maybe the last week of school.  

For these reasons and a multitude of important others, parents, students and even teachers want options. Many are accessing them by way of innovative charter schools, homeschooling and the self-directed learning path.  (See Kerry McDonald’s website.) Here

Can we please stop demonizing those who want to seek their educational journey differently? Simply stated, the more educational options, the better the playing field for all young people.

The Power of Choice is liberating.









The dreaded question: “Why are we doing this?”


Charged with rolling out one of the largest, nationwide educational initiatives (Common Core Standards) a few years ago,  I heard this comment more than once. “Why are we doing this? “Honestly, my initial gut reaction was annoyance, because we spent a multitude of hours planning it. Regaining my composure,  I paused for a moment to state my obviously rehearsed response. “We are doing this in an effort to bring all students a more rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for college and careers.” That was the talking point given to those of us who needed to make it happen. Then came the next question, “what’s wrong with the ones we already have?” My rehearsed and rapidly fired response for that question came with even more quizzical looks than the first response had.

Nonetheless, we forged ahead and swallowed the time consuming, expensive mandate. A few years later I retired. This roll-out was not the tipping point for me, but added to my already long list that started with the same dreaded question, “why are we doing this?” I learned that while those questions are important, the status quo of schooling is more important.  We can only entertain questions that will keep the institution of schooling intact. Any effort to dismantle, change, or do away with the format, procedures, policies, and practices is met with consternation. We simply don’t want to DO SCHOOL any other way than how it’s been done.

Sure, we grab buzz words/ideas on a regular basis and add them to our collection of greatest school hits. We embrace strategies to control students, to manage behavior, and to push the narrative that all of it is good for kids. We publicly shame with charts, verbal reprimands, low grades and disability/failure labels. We learn that herding the masses requires strict adherence to rules and we reward those who abide by them.  I know this because I did it and many others did/do as well.  It’s impossible to do it any other way because the system is built on the economies of scale model, not real learning.

See explanation here. (Prateek Agarwal, Economies of Scale in Intelligent Economist, May 5, 2018.)

In other words, the more students you cram into classrooms, the more money a school system will have to operate.

Here a just a few of my questions.

  • At what point is there a diminished return?
  • Does it really matter?
  • Do we really care?
  • Are schools designed for learning or leaving?

You decide.



Picture of Scales Courtesy of Pixabay.com