23 August 2018

The Story of School or the History of Education

The history of education revisited with inspiration from the Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard.

History of Education: the Story of School Script, Part 1 of 2

Did you get one of these? 
I got a little obsessed with mine, in fact I got a little obsessed with all of my schooling. 
Did you ever wonder where schools came from and where they are going ever since you were thrown out...
I mean, graduated? 
I couldn't stop thinking about that so I looked it up. 

Examining the History of Education

What the text book said is that only schools for the elite existed until the industrial revolution when the current schools for the masses were invented. 
The ideas of age segregation, dividing the day into class periods, ringing bells to change classes, letter grades, report cards, and many other features of most schools today were designed to ensure that children would be well-trained to behave as if they were a cog in the production machine of a factory.
The essential features of schooling are, first, to deliver content via instruction and, second, making sure that the teachers and students have the right incentives to produce the instructional bookkeeping, such as test scores and grades, that are supposed to tell everyone how well they are doing.

Re-examining the History of Education

Well, I looked into it a little more. 
I've spent over 20 years studying schooling and education.
And you know what I found out, that is not the whole story.
There is a lot missing from this explanation. 
For one thing this system looks fine, a nice feedback loop, no problem. 
Everyone knows it's in crisis but if you believe the media the crisis is bad instruction, bad teachers, bad incentives, bad administrators, bad tests, and/or bad students.
The real crisis is that they've completely missed the problem. 
It is in crisis because the system expects people to act like data-processing robots and real human beings do not act like robots. 
The truth is that learning is not about delivering content. 
Learning is about growing mental maps. 
You cannot treat human beings like robots that will unquestioningly follow your program. 
Robots that will relentlessly process instructional data without regard for their family and friends. 
Or robots that will magically produce all the qualities of human creativity and good decision-making without ever being given the opportunity to be creative or make important decisions. 
The truth is that you have to give children lots of opportunities to be creative and make important decisions in order for them to map out how to work within a community. 
Preferably a community that provides them with valuable opportunities to meet their needs and pursue their goals. 
By having those experiences they will make useful mental maps of that community of humans.
When they get older and start making decisions for different kinds or sizes of human communities they will have good solid mental maps of their family and school communities that they can scale up or adjust to help them work with their new human friends and co-workers.

Retelling the History of Education

Now, here is the story that is implied in text books but that they don't have the guts to say outright.
Suddenly a few thousand years ago human civilization popped into existence equipped with sacred books that contained the absolute truth about who we are and how we should be. 
Of course, it was only logical that since books contained such powerful wisdom then the ability to create books by manipulating symbols must be the most important skill to have. 
The key to passing symbol manipulation skills, and therefore our power and wisdom, from one generation to the next is the institution of school. 
But, access to schools and the skills of the book were restricted and it was assumed that dutifully accepting guidance from the book caused success and prosperity. 
Therefore, children must have those skills delivered to them or they will not be able to make a valuable contribution to society.

Science in the History of Education

Then just a few hundred years ago science came along and proved even more effectively that manipulating symbols is really powerful. 
The books produced by science were not deemed sacred, but they began to give those who could understand them seemingly miraculous powers. 
These developments just made it all the more obvious that manipulating symbols must be the most important skill to have. 
And we, the people of the Book, succeeded like never before although our success brought problems, too. 
Lots of us were flocking to the industrial cities where more people lived together than ever before. 
And chaos reigned. 
Inspired by the very scientific industrial revolution that was causing the problems we cleverly reorganized our schools like we organized our new factories and we nobly started down the path to making everyone literate. 
We invented efficient management techniques that enabled school administrators to manipulate the incentives that operate in the classroom with scientific accuracy based on the measurement of student outcomes. 
We redesigned the schools to reflect both our heritage as People of the Book, who deserve their good fortune, but we also borrowed ideas from the scientific management of the factories that were making us a global force. 
Thus, we transformed ourselves from the People of the Book into the People of the Book Factory. 

Recent History of Education

Since that change schools have been charged with generously sharing the secret of our success by making children learn how to manipulate symbols. 
And as we have spread throughout the world we have enabled more and more humans to live at a level that would have been the envy of the richest people of the distant past. 
The scientific industrial complex has transformed the world and given us global dominion.
But, our success is once again forcing us to face difficult problems. 
And, as People of the Book Factory we have faith that our symbol manipulations will guide us to the technological innovations we need to survive and live happily ever after.

NOT the History of Education

Of course, that is not the whole story. 
There's a lot missing. 
The truth is the majority of human existence was completely left out. 
And, of course, we were not spontaneously generated out of nothing equipped from the beginning with literacy and schools. 
Literacy and so called 'civilization' were developed from at least 50,000 years of storytelling and even before that the stage on which we, humans, arrived was set by over three billion years of life's evolution. 
In part 2 I will share with you the real story of school.

History of Education: The Real Story of School, Part 2

The real story of school starts a long time ago. 
In fact it starts at a time when you would not have recognized the earth as The Earth. 
Unlike now, billions of years ago the earth was just a regular Joe planet like all the others. 
It was pretty wet, but there was hardly any oxygen. 
The atmosphere had a whole lot more sulphur, which is normal for planets. 
So the early earth was doing what most planets do: cooling down from a very hot beginning by dissipating a bunch of that energy into space.
But then something happened. 
In the soup of chemicals that made our planet wet there emerged some molecules that didn't just randomly dissipate energy like all the others, they got organized and dissipated that energy more efficiently than ever before. 
And it was cool. 
Those molecules were so cool because they figured out how to respond to changes in the environment as the dissipation process occurred so that they could keep their transformation processes going. 
Variations on that organization eventually led them to arrange themselves into a system that could both respond to the environment and could replicate themselves so all the cool molecules could keep partying together. 
So these molecules did something that might have been a first in the whole universe, they made the party permanent by creating the first living cells on Earth. 
The first living cells were a molecular party celebrating the dissipation of energy. 
That momentous transition was the beginning of learning and it kicked off the first population explosion. 
Now the thing about great parties is that you eventually have to pay the piper. 
In this case those first cells were having a great time deep in the oceans. 
But direct sunlight was too much energy all at once so it could kill them. 
And you know how it is, the popular spots get crowded. 

A Crisis in the History of Education

Naturally, life replicated itself right into all the easy places to live. 
So some cells eventually ended up being forced to live near the surface where the sunlight could kill them. 
This is where the creative organization of life came in handy. 
Some of those cells living in danger near the surface decided to turn this problem into an opportunity. 
They invented photosynthesis by focusing their ability to channel energy on some of the water molecules around them. 
They channeled that potentially deadly solar radiation into breaking apart an H2O molecule. 
They used the two hydrogen to dissipate energy even more efficiently, thus saving their lives, and exhaled the toxic oxygen. 
Since they were living in the ocean it just bubbled right out of their home into the atmosphere. 
Photosynthesis kicked off an even greater explosion of population and changed the entire planet in the process. 
So, once again, life got back into party mode. 

Another Crisis in the History of Education

Remember that oxygen is a pretty uncommon thing to find on a regular Joe planet, so when life went on this multi-billion year binge replicating itself throughout the early oceans then that oxygen eventually started to accumulate in the atmosphere. 
Photosynthetic life, naturally, filled up all the easy places to live and once again the piper called for compensation. 
There came a time when they had to face the fact that their own waste product was becoming unavoidable. 
They, in fact, created a global environmental crisis. 
You know what happened? 
Creativity saved them again. 
Some of the organisms faced with immanent death by oxygen poisoning found a way to transform the toxin into a nutrient. 
They figured out how to breathe the oxygen. 
And once that happened the party kicked into over drive. 

Third Crisis in the History of Education

Oxygen breathers were such successful energy transformation processes that they diversified to encompass every area of the planet both in the oceans and on land. 
New forms of cooperative organization emerged, like organisms becoming multicellular. 
Species were constantly specialized to fit ecological niches. 
But, if their niche changed too fast and they failed to adapt … extinction! 
The diversity of life exploded and contracted a few times including the rise and fall of the dinosaurs. 
And eventually primates emerged, then humans, who are the ultimate ecological generalists. 
The original humans lived according to their local version of the story of how the gods created them as just one of many life forms within the sacred hoop whose fates are entirely in the hands of the gods. 
Every group of humans created a unique story about how to live properly in their niche which they passed on to their children. 
But they all believed that as long as they acted as Keepers of the Sacred Hoop then all would be well. 

Yet Another Crisis in the History of Education

The Keepers were so successful that they overcrowded the easiest places to live and, eventually, some people were forced to live in danger where harsh conditions made living extremely difficult. 
Then one day a tribe figured out that the gods were about to wipe them out and they decided to take their fate into their own hands. 
These were our ancestors who developed a new story about how we could be powerful like the gods. 
We broke the sacred hoop and swooped down out of those dangerous lands to conquer our neighbors and began subjugating people and lands in the hope that we could take control of Fate. 
We, the Breakers of the Sacred Hoop, have been subjugating and controlling so long that we can change the environment itself in response to changes in our human story. 
We developed writing and began to endlessly repeat exactly the same sacred story as if it were the absolute truth independent of where it originated. 
We invented schools to ensure the symbol manipulation skills for creating sacred books would be passed on. 
The development of the book eventually lead us to the development of the factory which became the final piece that gave us dominion over every ecology on the planet. 
We combined them to become the People of the Book Factory and we spread both the Breaker story and the Book Factory Schools across the globe. 
Breaker schools embody the story of how important it is to be in control by managing everything that a child does. 
Adults in Book Factory Schools noticed that children are sometimes reluctant to submit to the boring tasks associated with being MADE to learn symbol manipulation. 
Since those symbol manipulation skills are an unqualified good for Breakers it is both logically necessary and morally correct for the adults to control the children so that they will learn the skills for success. 
But, Breaker schools are exclusively devoted to the symbol manipulation skills of our Breaker ancestors and utterly neglect the deeper lessons from our Keeper ancestors and from life itself. 
Breaker schools act as if they believe in the content delivery theory of education. 
Regardless of what they say about what they are doing they are systematically treating children as if they lack value until after teachers deliver valuable academic content into their heads. 
And they account for the delivery of the content by having the children regurgitate the content on command. 
The children learn from those behaviors that their value as human beings is contingent upon their scores and/or grades. 
In Breaker schools children are not regarded as valuable until after they have proven that they did what they were told to do.

The Current Crisis in the History of Education

So now we, Breakers, have been so successful at our own planetary transformation processes that we put ourselves in danger by fouling our nest with our own waste and we are at risk of extinction, like the dinosaurs. 
We are now, like it or not, agents who are capable of changing the way our world works. 
But, we need to recognize that the Keepers of the Sacred Hoop had it partly right; we can be wiped out if we do not recognize our proper place in the world. 
We need to mend the Sacred Hoop and act as co-creators with all the rest of life, the universe, and god because complete control of fate is impossible. 
We need to embrace and nurture sacred stories that help us to live sustainably. 
It is time for us to become Menders of the Sacred Hoop. 

Overcoming Our Current Crisis in the History of Education

We need to honor the power of the sacred mystery that can both bless us with health and wealth and use volcanoes, tsunamis, disease, our fellow humans, meteorites, and many other mechanisms to kill us at any time. 
Schools need to realize that the most elementary lesson we need to learn from our ancestors is a proper attitude towards the world and our proper place in it as powerful agents of transformation. 
Academic skills are secondary. 
Mender schools act as if they believe in the growing mental maps theory of education. 
Regardless of what they say about what they are doing they treat children as if they are inherently valuable transformation processes who happen to need to figure out how they will contribute to the world. 
They structure their community to support the children in a process of discovering how their unique talents and gifts can create value. 
They encourage the children to engage with the world and figure out how they can make valued contributions to it. 
They know that the children will succeed in life as long as they are healthy and hearty. 
Therefore, they will hold each other accountable by assessing the well-being of the children.
They know the children are being well educated because they can observe the growing skillfulness and creativity with which the children navigate self-selected challenges and pursue goals and aspirations that are relevant to both themselves and their community. 
And when a child's actions may have destroyed value instead of creating it, they carefully help the child realize the consequences of their actions and help them redirect their efforts to more valuable ends. 
We need to teach our children how to be both the masters of their own attention and wise decision makers who have compassion for all of the life around them that will be impacted by the decisions they make. 
Then perhaps, we can party on in harmony with the rest of life as we figure out how to live happily ever after!

Mender Schools in the History of Education

Fortunately, we don't have to invent Mender schools from scratch. 
There are schools around the world that put attitude before academics and are on the path to mending the sacred hoop, even if they don't call it that. 
They are currently few and far between so it will take some effort to scale them up and help other schools to transform to meet the challenge. 
The good thing about having such a vast problem is that there are lots of places for intervention. 
There are people working in schools on respecting diversity, more equitable use of resources, more participation in decision-making, better access to food, flexible scheduling to better support the sleep patterns of teens, all of this work is really important.
But things are really going to start moving when people see the connections. 
When we see the big picture of how well-being is the foundation upon which all good pedagogies build. 
When people throughout the system get united we can reclaim and transform our education system into something new. 
What we really need to chuck is that old school mindset that learning is just content delivery. 
There is a new school of thinking on this stuff and it's based on growing mental maps, supporting equity, student voice, more reliable funding, restorative justice, rights respecting schools, and many more. 
It's already happening. 

Prospects for Mender Schools in the History of Education

Some says it's unrealistic, idealistic, that it can't happen.
But I say that those who are unrealistic are those that want to continue with the old path. 
That's dreaming. 
Remember the old way didn't just happen; it's not like gravity and we just have to live with it. 
People created it and we're people too, so let's create something new. 
For more information visit Schools-of-Conscience.org. 
Thanks for watching.

The History of Education: Story of School References

The Story of School includes a synthesis of a variety of thinkers about the deep history of education and our society. Our "Book Factory Schools" are a reflection of what...
  • Riane Eisler calls "Dominator Hierarchies" in her book The Chalice and the Blade
  • Daniel Quinn calls the "Taker Story" in his Ishmael series, 
  • Sharif Abdullah calls "Breaker Consciousness" in his book Creating A World That Works For All
  • David Korten calls "Empire" in his book The Great Turning
  • George Lakoff calls "Strict Father morality" in his books Moral PoliticsDon't Think Of An ElephantThinking Points, and (with co-author Mark Johnson) Philosophy In The Flesh
  • Mark Johnson calls the "institution of morality" in his book Moral Imagination.
I also drew inspiration for key elements of the story from The Web of Life by Frijof Capra and Thank God for Evolution by Michael Dowd. 
These two books about the history of education in the United States present widely different views of the subject. 
I have not found any history of education that is global, but I have heard rumor of such a history of education existing, please inform me if you know of one or more.

22 August 2018

How Waiting For Superman Misrepresents Teaching And Learning

Waiting For Superman reviewed by Don Berg. 

While it's a well made movie the filmmaker's concept of learning and teaching falls short. 

Video Script:

Today's movie is Waiting For Superman directed by Davis Guggenheim and released in 2010. It's a political documentary that focuses on the fact that having great teachers is necessary for having a great school system and how teachers unions have become an obstacle to achieving that goal. As a film it focuses on the stories of 5 children from across the country who are each in a lottery to get into a public charter school. This film is an example of excellence in documentary filmmaking. The filmmakers skillfully weave lots of different threads together unified by the political focus on the role of teachers and the dramatic focus on charter school lotteries and the emotional roller coaster that children and their families experience in that process. 

However, I have to take issue with the understanding of learning and teaching that the filmmakers so artfully presented. But first, I have to change hats. I earned this beret as a theater manager for the Port Townsend Film Festival in 2008 and thus far I've been talking from a film buff perspective about Waiting For Superman. 

The Represention of Education in Waiting For Superman

Now I am putting on the red feather which means that I am shifting to the education perspective on the movie, in this case, challenging their presentation of teaching and learning. 

[Waiting For Superman Excerpt: Male voice over animation of a female teacher opening a child's head then pouring stuff in until it appears full then closing the head and moving on to the next child. (13 seconds)]
"It should be simple. A teacher in a schoolhouse filling her students with knowledge and sending them on their way. But we've made it complicated." 

The famous educational critic Paulo Friere called this the banking model of education. 
It's also known as the transmission or delivery model. 
This conception of learning has been soundly criticized for many decades, so I was amazed when I heard them say it without any hint of irony. 
But that's also because I sometimes forget that I have the advantage of 20 years of studying education, and just because this view has been rejected by every educator I know, it is, in the wider world, quite common. 
Everyone who knows anything about learning knows that it's a terrible description. 
It's like the flat earth theory of education, but unlike the actual flat earth idea it hasn't been completely rejected by everyone on the planet yet, so a filmmaker can still present it in all seriousness and almost no one will balk. 

But the problem is that this one image is the logical premise upon which the entire political agenda of the film is based. 
So the accuracy of this image of learning and teaching is an all-important point. 

The Central Problem With Waiting for Superman

Here's the issue, since the delivery metaphor sucks then accounting for the delivery of units of content misses what's really important. 
A much more apt metaphor is cartography, learning is more accurately described as a kind of map making. 
The cartography metaphor better reflects basic biology. 
It acknowledges the important role of purpose in guiding human behavior. 
And it accommodates differences in available resources. 

The delivery metaphor portrays the learner as a completely passive receptacle for whatever information is delivered. 
But learning is inherently active and when the learning activity of an organism becomes completely passive then it is dead. 
Personally, I find it disgusting that an ideal student in the delivery model is dead!

What is going on in the learning process is not just the piling up of data points, what is most important about how we learn is creating meaningful relationships between data points such that later we can successfully navigate the world based on the map we construct with all that data. 
One of the key outcomes we want for children is that they become reasonably autonomous individuals. 
They should be able to make good decisions on their own. 
They can only do that after they have a pretty good map of how to get along in the world. 

Here's a clip from a TED Talk by Bill Stone that illustrates the importance of autonomous exploration, although he's not talking about children. 

TED Talk Robot Mapping Narration: What you are seeing as yellow beams emanating from a central point represents the signals put out by the robot and the dots being arrayed around it are the points it determines to be where that signal bounced back from. 
Thus it is constructing a concept of the world in which it exists. 
Which is what we do, too. 
Our signals are more complex and the world we construct in our minds is far more nuanced, but the basic process is the same. 
We activate varied aspects of our being and gather in the results that occur in the world. 
From this we construct cognitive maps of our world. 
Learning is the construction, correction and ever present maintenance of these maps. [end TED Talk excerpt]

The cartography metaphor also implicitly assumes not only activity but also purpose and the application of particular resources to achieve that purpose. 
Both of which are missing from the delivery metaphor. 
Think about it this way: let's pretend we are both in Portland, Oregon, and I want to help you get to Seattle, Washington, but you don't know how to get there. 
In order to give you a truly useful map I have to know how you plan to get from here to there; driving, biking, boating and walking each require very different maps. 
It would be really stupid if I gave you a nautical chart when you are riding your bike. 
Or a walking map when you are driving your car. 
Purposes and resources are crucial to success so a productive concept of learning and teaching must account for them.

Getting Beyond Waiting for Superman

Since the whole point of Waiting for Superman was the importance of good teaching, how should teaching be understood in this way of thinking about learning? you ask.

First we have to make a distinction between teaching and instruction. 
Because actually, Waiting for Superman was about was instruction, not teaching. 

So to address the main point made by Waiting for Superman, effective instructors are very important for excellence at the transmission of information and training people to follow the customs of different fields of study. 
And the difference between good and bad instruction is like the difference between interacting with a rock wall and interacting with the world wide web on a computer. 
The robot was gathering information from the rock walls of an underwater cave, not a very dynamic source. 
But, what kids have to work with is another living breathing human being who can act as a conduit for vastly more information, like an internet connection. 
In the movie they pointed out that good instructors cover 150% of the required material whereas bad instructors cover only 50%. 

Now, teachers, are the ones who determine the context of the learning environment, the climate of the school and the classroom. 
This means that teaching is a responsibility that is mostly vested in the principal, who was originally called the “principal teacher,” but everyone in the school has some power to alter the climate. 
So while the principal is responsible she is not really in control of it. 
But in this sense I absolutely agree that teachers are extremely important, but the job of establishing and maintaining the school climate is not what gets accounted for on a test except indirectly. 
And when a school focuses their energy on preparing students for tests they are missing the point. 
They would be better off focusing on creating a positive school climate, and if tests are included within an important school purpose, then the test scores would improve, too. 
So ultimately what we probably need are high stakes accountability protocols for school climate, not student test scores. 

And instructors should be held accountable for the classroom climate as much, or maybe more than, content delivery. 
The difference between good and bad instructors is not an ability to plow through material. 
The difference is that people who are inspired by purpose process relevant material more efficiently and effectively. 
So the difference in instructional quality is not about delivery, it's about the ability to align the class on purposes that inspire engagement with the teacher and the material. 
The difference is skillful management of the climate, not delivery of the content. 

Finally, cartography offers a similar account of why certain schools succeed and other don't. 
It is not the mere input of more data that makes the difference, it is what the kids are inspired to do with data when it's aligned with their purposes. 

Remember the robot that will be going off to Europa. 
It will get lots of data, but in order to be effective at it's job it can't just collect data, it has to process it intensively and make decisions based on the map of it's world that it creates. 
A map that will be informed by both purposes and available resources. The same is true of kids, they need to be able to handle the data and make decisions informed by good purposes and realistically constrained by the resources they have available. 

Schools that work, work because they share purposes and take account of the resources that can be brought to bear to accomplish those purposes. 
So to address the central political point of Waiting For Superman: Teachers unions might be an obstacle to progress, but the truth is that they are ultimately made up of human beings who are just as capable of being inspired as everyone else. 
So if they continue to be a problem it's a failure of the reformers to align the union leadership with the purpose of the reforms. 
Union folks are navigating the world based on their maps just like everyone else, so until their maps are informed by a transcendent purpose, they are going to remain focused on the narrow purpose of taking care of their own in the tried and true union manner.

Ultimately real solutions will enable passionate people to align themselves around shared purposes to organize their school. 
If charter schools have an advantage, the advantage is the high degree of purpose that school leaders have developed and that their school stakeholders are aligned with. 
So even though having a purpose is perfectly accessible to every school in the world, only some schools actually achieve it. 

Creating good policies for accountability based on cartography requires schools to be held accountable for delivering the kind of environment they promise. 
Schools should be judged on whether they treat the children the way the children expect to be treated. 
They should be judged on whether or not the children and their parents know exactly what their options are for resolving conflicts. 
And on whether everyone involved in a school knows explicitly how to make changes when there are conflicts that cannot be resolved. 
Accountability based on cartography learning would judge the quality of schools based on a combination of the school climate and the ability of the organization to meet the expectations of it's stakeholders. 
So I'm all for school standards but standards of just treatment and democratic participation, not content. 

So, waiting for super instructors is not the solution. Instead we need to be cultivating inspired purposeful leaders who create and maintain positive school climates. 
I personally and professionally want to help school leaders to pursue that goal through the implementation of democracy and restorative justice. 
Another good aspect of Waiting for Superman was the showcasing of a number of schools that have benefitted from inspired leaders, like Geoffrey Canada, Michele Rhee, and many others. 
The movie makes it clear that they have to deal with a lotta crap in the form of content driven accountability policies that can potentially distract them from what matters. 
But to the degree they are clear about serving a purpose that transcends the tests, then they are succeeding in spite of the testing policies, not because of them. 

Waiting for Superman Review Conclusion

Waiting for Superman is a very well made film, even if they are slightly misguided about what matters for learning and teaching. 
They are right that high quality instruction is important for delivering academic content, but more important than any content is the climate of the school and how effectively learners and teachers engage with each other, on purpose, in the process of making their cognitive maps for navigating the world. 

Thanks for watching.

On another page on this site I take a broader view of how the delivery paradigm fits into the history of education and the story of school.

21 August 2018

Reading First Failed: They Created a Franken-School Monster

Playlist of all three videos

Reading First Failed Episode Videos & Scripts

Script- Reading First Failed: How NOT to Invest $6B in Schools, part 1of3 

One of the flagship programs of the No Child Left Behind law was called Reading First. 
The Bush Administration invested over a billion dollars (that's with a 'b', as in boy), a billion dollars a year between 2002 and 2008 to improve the reading skills of students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. 
Reading First required "scientifically proven programs" so, on the face of it, it sounds like a good goal pursued wisely. 
Yet, on May 7th, 2008, Education Week reported on a major federal study of the program that found, and I quote:


The $1 billion-a-year Reading First program has had no measurable effect on students’ reading comprehension, on average, although participating schools are spending significantly more time teaching the basic skills that researchers say children need to become proficient readers.
from Reading First Doesn't Help Pupils 'Get it'
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo,
Education Week Associate Editor 


So, that investment caused more teaching time devoted to certain basic skills for reading, namely decoding. 
But, that focus on delivering that particular skill did not help the children to better comprehend what they read.


In March 2009, the funding for Reading First was eliminated. 

Reference For Reading First Defunding

The omnibus 2009 spending bill recently passed by the House zeroes-out funding for Reading First, the Bush administration’s flagship early literacy program.
From Last Rites for Reading First By Andrew J. Coulson,
Director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute
Over $6 billion dollars gone and they failed to produce meaningful improvements. 
How could such a huge, science-informed investment fail so miserably?


That waste of six billion dollars is just one of the more spectacular symptoms of a major problem in education with two root causes. 
The first root cause is the use of vanity metrics instead of actionable metrics to assess the intended improvements in learning. 
In case you are not familiar with the term, "vanity metrics" refers to gathering data that gives you the illusion of knowing something useful. 
The term was coined by entrepreneur Eric Ries to explain why so many start-up businesses fail. 
The idea is that if you are an entrepreneur and you don't figure out how to get actionable data then you will most likely fail. 
Actionable data is data that tells you what you need to do to improve an important business process. 


Vanity metrics are widespread throughout much of our society, so it is not surprising to find it in education. 
And scientists are not immune to the problem of vanity metrics. 
Scientists have sophisticated arguments for justifying whatever metric they favor, but their sophisticated argumentation can deceive practitioners about the usefulness of those metrics. 
The science behind Reading First programs included clear evidence showing they could help children "decode." 
But reading involves a lot more than decoding skills. 
The Reading First crew had an impoverished concept of what it takes to learn to read. 
And that $6 billion dollar failure occurred because those programs were embedded in a system that enforces an impoverished concept of learning.


That misunderstanding of how learning works is the second and most important root cause of the Reading First debacle. 
It was a paradigm that led Reading First policy makers AND their scientific advisors to suppose that, with the right combination of instructional delivery techniques and targeted incentives, they could productively improve the learning outcomes for young children. 
That misunderstanding has been pointed out by critics for at least one hundred years by the likes of John Dewey and Paulo Friere. 
But, what has been missing from that critical dialogue has been a replacement concept. 
If learning is not delivery, then what is it?


Fortunately, we have learned a lot more about learning since Dewey and Friere were writing their criticisms. 
Ironically, the scientists who study learning do not seem to realize yet that they have arrived at a new paradigm for learning. 
They all talk about learning using terms that are consistent with what I call the “growing mental maps” paradigm. 
The two models completely contradict each other and are utterly incompatible, yet the harmful and rejected delivery paradigm continues to guide many schools and is still the only model that is reflected in public policy.


In Part 2 I will explain the failed delivery paradigm that informed Reading First, then in Part 3 I will explain the growing mental maps paradigm and how it would have better informed the Bush Administration and could have prevented the waste of 6 billion dollars on Reading First.


Back to top

Script- Reading First Failed: The Franken-School Monster Part 2of3 


Welcome to part 2 of 3.
I have provocatively titled this episode The Franken-School Monster in order to highlight how the system of education in the United States is a hodge-podge of cobbled together ideas that are having unintended harmful effects on children. 
I want to emphasize that the monstrosity of the system is embodied in policies like Reading First, not in people. 
The harms being done by the system are caused by the interaction between policies and brains. 
The brains are doing what brains have always done, but the ways that the policies are guiding behaviors is causing harm. 
The best leverage for productive change is in the policy arena. 


Let's think about the Franken-School Monster in terms of the Reading First program. 
First of all, it was a given that there were teachers who were charged with delivering the decoding skills to kids. 
But there was no recognition that the teachers were anything other than a mechanical algorithm that possessed the decoding skills. 
Teachers are not people, they are teacher-bots. 
A teacher-bot's job is either to get the decoding skill out of their brain into the instruction pump so that it could be reliably transferred into the brains of their students. 
Or, in some cases, it was never expected to be in their heads in the first place. 
So they were just expected to operate the instructional mechanism without adding value. 
This is also known as teacher-proof curriculum.


The instruction pump system is not capable of dealing with curious little boys and girls with unique personalities, so the instruction pump treats them as mechanical systems, too. 
They are treated as kid-bots. 
So the teacher-bots operate the instruction pump which then delivers those skills into the brains of the kid-bots. 


In order to ensure that this miracle of immaculate transmission actually occurs, the kid-bots are periodically required to regurgitate their learning by performing on tests. 
The data from the tests are gathered up and analyzed by admin-bots who are responsible for adjusting the incentive pumps in order to manipulate the teacher-bots and kid-bots into producing the proper patterns in the data. 
This is a nice feedback loop that should be capable of producing whatever pattern of data the policy makers want.


You will notice that in the mainstreams of media and education politics there are only six things that are considered crucial to getting schools to work better. 
All it takes is better teachers, better instruction, better students, better tests, better administrators, or better incentives. 
And if learning worked like an algorithmic feedback process, then this would be a great plan. 


But learning doesn't work this way, so no matter how big the budget is, investments relying on this model will fail to produce consistent improvements in learning. 
In fact, some of the Reading First programs actually did produce some positive results. 
That happened because sometimes there are some key factors of actual learning that accidentally get rolled into the delivery programs. 
For instance, if a particular program for decoding skills incidentally increased the quality of the network of caring relationships that students experience in school, then the kids subjected to that particular program will learn better. 
In part 3 it will become clear why that is the case. 


This is not an unprecedented situation. 
In the fight against communicable diseases by the medical profession, this same kind of thing happened when miasma theory was the generally accepted model. 
Back before what we know today as germ theory was properly articulated, there were lots of efforts to prevent death and cure disease that were only randomly effective. 
Given a large enough population with numerous doctors trying whatever techniques they can think of to heal their patients, then the laws of probability would predict that some of them will accidentally happen upon techniques that bolster healing. 
But the same odds predict that overall there will be just as many techniques that cause more harm than good. 
The overall result remains statistically dismal. 
Even when Ignaz Semmelweiss demonstrated in the late 1840's how hand washing could save lives, it made individual differences but not a large scale statistical difference. 
The statistical difference was only made after the germ theory of disease became the paradigm that guided public policy.


History provides two stories from the transformation of medicine in support of the view that policy is crucial to this kind of situation. 
First, the fight against epidemics of cholera in London between 1848 and 1874 and second in the changes in medical practice between 1910 and the 1940's. 
I refer you to the books The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson and Bad Medicine by David Wootton for more detail. 


In 1848 in London authorities passed the Nuisances Removal and Communicable Disease Prevention Act. 
This was a law that mandated the elimination of open cess pools and the connection of the newly invented flush toilets to the storm water system. 
The problem was that London stank and, over the previous 16 years, tens of thousands of people had died from epidemic outbreaks of cholera. 
Given that everyone believed in the miasma theory of disease, it was “obvious” that the bad smells were the cause of those epidemics. 
The only problem was that the storm water system thereafter effectively delivered immense amounts of raw sewage into the drinking water of over two-thirds of the city. 
The epidemic outbreak in 1854, six years later, was the worst ever in London and killed many more people than it otherwise would have if they had left things the way they were. 
But that outbreak also inspired Dr. John Snow to investigate one of the neighborhoods that was hit hardest by the outbreak with the help of a local clergyman, who was skeptical of Dr. Snow's radical ideas about the cause of the outbreak. 
Together they discovered a pattern of data that logically disproved the miasma theory and eventually lead to what we now know as germ theory. 


But the discovery was initially dismissed by the authorities. 
They did not become convinced of Dr. Snow's ideas until the early 1860's when they finally decided to invest in the creation of a separate sewer system that would ensure drinking water and raw sewage would not mix. 
There was another outbreak of cholera in 1874 which was alarming since they had made such a huge investment in new infrastructure. 
But the outbreak was very limited and was eventually traced to two specific points in the new sewer system. 
The data, in fact, provided further clear evidence that some kind of particle in the water had to be the source of the disease because those two points were places where the system was not operational. 
The pattern once again vindicated germs, not miasma. 
London has not had another outbreak of cholera since 1874. 
Over one hundred years without an outbreak is the result of public policy guided by germ theory.


But with the vindication of the germ theory and its final articulation about the same time, you might expect that medical practitioners would have immediately transformed their practices. 
But that is not how human beings work. 
By medical historian David Wooton's estimation, the adoption of germ theory was not in full force in medical practice for over 60 more years. 
In the United States, the transformation was finally initiated by the Flexner report in 1910. 
The report lamented that amongst over 150 medical schools operating at the time, training in biological science (and therefore germ theory) was extremely rare. 
All medical approaches (homeopathy, osteopathy, allopathy, electrotherapy, etc.) were all on equal standing and most relied on an apprenticeship model with little or no grounding in scientific practice. 
The Flexner report lead to policy changes in the accreditation system for medical schools. 
The changes in accreditation, which included requirements for laboratory facilities, forced over half of the schools to close or merge by 1935. 
Those few that were left produced a new generation of doctors who were trained in scientific practice (not just told theories) and, unlike their predecessors, readily adopted the antiseptic and aseptic procedures that germ theory requires as a foundation for effective medical practice. 
It took over 20 years for the policy changes inspired by the Flexner report to bring medical practice in the United States into full alignment with germ theory. 


In education I believe we are in the equivalent of the early 1860's. 
There are practices that have been proven to be effective, but the policies and the common everyday understanding of the education process undermine the acceptance of those practices and perpetuate the policies that produce Franken-School Monsters. 
We are just now realizing that a new paradigm is available and it has not yet arrived in public policy.
In part 3 I will explain the growing mental maps theory of education that declares well-being to be the foundation and how it could have prevented the Reading First debacle. 


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Script- Reading First Failed: A Better Strategy for Investing in Schools 3of3 


Welcome to Part 3. 
Before I explain the Growing Mental Maps paradigm, I want you to understand what is needed. 
For five years I was a volunteer instructor of First Aid and CPR for the Red Cross. 
One of the lessons I taught was about the ABC's. 
In the context of CPR 'ABC' refers to Airway, Breathing, and Circulation. 
The idea is that you have to deal with those things in that order. 
If a person's heart has stopped and s/he is not able to breathe through an open airway, then there is no point in manually circulating their blood. 
The circulation of blood that does not have any oxygen in it is useless. 
This is called an order of operations problem. 
If you fail to do the operations in the proper order, then you will not get the results you want. 
That is what is happening in most of our schools. 
They are failing at the order of operations. 
You will see what I mean momentarily. 


The model of learning I am sharing with you starts from the concern for how we humans get from the now moment into future moments in a way that enables us to affect the new nows that follow. 
Learning requires a feedback loop and the feedback loop needs to be one that is meaningful to all the humans that participate in it. 
The learning tree has eight roots in the now moment, called the soil of the situation here. 
Those eight roots are the primary human needs for air, water, food, shelter, sleep, relatedness, autonomy, and competence. 
Primary means that they are not derived from other needs, they have non-neutral effects on well-being, and they are universal across cultures.


The roots come together into the trunk of well-being. 
The trunk of well-being is where whatever modicum of need support was found by the roots goes through a process that gives it our unique stamp of individuality. 
The aspects of individuality are driven by the energy of motivation through attitude structures by dual mind processes that produce engagement patterns. 
Engagement in its various forms creates the branches of experience. 
The outer area of the branches is where consciousness occurs and we also find the leaves, flowers, and fruits of outcomes, as well. 


I don't know if you know about real trees, but somewhere around 95 to 99 percent of the material substance of a tree comes from thin air. 
The seed of a Giant Sequioa is almost microscopic but it can grow up to be one of the largest trees in the world. 
And the majority of the material out of which it builds itself is drawn from the air. 
Photosynthesis takes carbon dioxide gas from the air, uses energy from sunlight to break off the carbon atom to build itself, and then exhales the oxygen. 
So the question is: where in this model does the majority of the substance and the input needed to integrate that substance into our individuality come from?


First, the organizations and institutions to which we belong, such as schools and families, are the air that supplies the bulk. 
Second, the society, culture, and/or our ancestry are the light that enables us to combine our individuality with our group. 
That combination produces the leaves, flowers, and fruit of outcomes that also fall down to be mulched into our new nows. 


Thus, the model, so far, covers growing, but, what about maps?


There are actually two kinds of map in this model. 
The relationship between where the roots find need support and where that modicum of individuality contributes to the structure of a leaf, flower, or fruit forms the first map. 
In healthy circumstances they should be roughly correlated. 


The second map in this model is formed by the canopy of leaves, flowers, and fruits. 
The individual's conscious ideas about how to attain what they need in life are determined by the shape of their canopy and how that canopy interacts with the canopies of other individuals they encounter. 
What might be called the “manifest world” that we consciously experience on a moment-to-moment and day-to-day basis is shaped by the outcomes we produce and how our conceptions of those outcomes are influenced by our context of organizations, institutions, society, culture, and our ancestry. 


This growing mental maps model of learning provides us with a basis for a substantive critique of Reading First and suggests better ways to invest six billion dollars. 
Recall that at the beginning of this video I talked about how the Red Cross teaches the ABC's of CPR. 
If we are trying make the blood circulate for a victim whose heart has stopped when their airway is blocked or they are not breathing, then we are wasting our time and effort. 
Even if we pump the blood with chest compressions of great skill and elegance, death is inevitable without oxygen in that blood. 


The problem is in the order of operations. 
Perfect performance on any given step will still result in dead victims if we do not go through the steps in the right order. 
Highly inconsistent results and an overall failure rate are guaranteed when we don't get the order of operations right. 


Reading First failed because the delivery model that guided that policy doesn't include well-being, let alone place well-being into an order of operations. 
The learning tree model gives us the correct order of operations for education. The first thing to check out when you find a problem with learning is support for primary human needs. 
Using the tree model as a method of analysis, we can see that the law makers behind Reading First were trying to make a leaf grow without making sure the roots of the tree were healthy. 
In fact, if they had attended to the roots of primary human needs first, then focused on reading second, they would have gotten different results. 


When the proper foundation for education is in place, then science-informed investments in targeted areas will pay off. 
Reading First might have worked if they had nourished all the roots of the learning tree instead of ignoring them in order to focus on one leaf. 


Of course, if policy makers really pay attention to the learning tree, they will also see that reading is a lot more than just decoding text. 
In fact, all of the knowledge, skills, and information that the mainstream system attempts to deliver, such as reading, are actually the means to achieve more important goals, they are not ends in themselves. 
All that content occurs in the leaves not in the roots.
The true goals are primary need satisfaction within cultural constraints. 
Each individual human is unconsciously looking for effective means to pursue goals rooted in primary needs that can only be fully realized by the individual within the culturally relevant affordances provided by the organizations and institutions in which they are embedded. 


Educators will serve their students best when they participate in a systematic effort to make it clear to children that their unique individual goals are important so long as they pursue them within the constraints of the cultural and societal context that we share. 
To be clear: their uniqueness is just as important as the cultural constraints. 
How they inform each other is where goodness, truth, beauty, and joy reside. 
And that is what education should ultimately aim for: goodness, truth, beauty, and joy.


If you gave me six billion dollars to invest in education, I would invest it in building the nurturing capacity of K-12 schools, where nurturing is support for primary human needs. 
My web site, schools-of-conscience.org, is all about how to build the nurturing capacity of K-12 schools. 
Thanks for watching.