Interview: Teaching Trauma-Informed Practices with Bethlehem Area School District

At Pear Deck, a source of inspiration is seeing what innovative classroom teachers and school leaders are sharing on social media. This tweet from Bethlehem Area SD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jack Silva caught our collective eyes a few months ago:

Dr. Silva and Supervisor of Professional Learning and Technology Integration Mark James agreed to sit down with Pear Deck Marketing Director Danielle Stebel to discuss their efforts with building a learner- centered district environment and more.

Let’s start with some background. What led you both to choosing education as a career?

MJ “If I was to go back in time and tell my 17-year-old self I was a teacher, I wouldn’t have believed it. I received my Bachelor’s in Business from Miami University, and worked in the industrial railroad industry as an Account Executive before going to Culinary School. After a stint in food service I became Director of Catering for a school, and was asked to create a training program for undergraduate students.”

Creating the training program planted a seed, which grew into a Masters degree in Education with secondary certification in Math. As a passionate devotee of math and math instruction, James focused on changing, improving, and innovating his math instruction. After 17 years of classroom instruction, at the request of Dr. Silva, he applied for and was promoted to an administrative position focusing on staff development and instructional technology. Mark has been a Pear Deck user for so long that he was even in the original beta test group for Pear Deck back in 2014!

Dr. Silva — “Aside from working a drive-in movie theatre in my teen years, [education] is the only industry I’ve ever worked. I got a teaching job right out of college teaching Middle and High School Social Studies, and since then have tried everything from teacher to Department Chair, Principal, and Director of Secondary Educator. After 33 years in education, you start to lose track.”

With a “first and lasting interest” in educational programs, Dr. Silva jumped on a 2010 opportunity to come to his hometown of Bethlehem where he has been serving as Assistant Superintendent for Education and Chief Academic Officer.

Let’s discuss the tweet that led us to this conversation. Where were you that day?

Dr. S — “The tweet that I made happened after walking through a school who have been taking lead in Trauma-Informed work in the district. I saw that image on a few different doors and wasn’t sure what it was at first. Our first T/I implementation baseline was giving students a paper with pencil and having them mark [a self assessment] on the upper righthand corner with a scale to clue us in. The principal, faced with limitations of paper collection, advocated for a tool to allow for ease of access to the same information. Taking it just a few steps further with Pear Deck, the teachers are able to collect actionable data to allow for informed adjustments in the moment. This is a great example of independent application of formative assessment that shows independent thinking, which happens when they deeply understand a tool.”

Which leads us to your the implementation of Trauma-Informed Practices. How are you seeing the practices implemented, and what is the path forward?

Dr. S — “What we realize as we look ahead to our work with understanding trauma is there are different approaches that work with various school sites. We’ve got Pear Deck in schools with principals who saw the potential to take the Classroom Climate add-on to check in with their students. Some schools use a color system for self assessment of emotional readiness to learn that day. Another middle school is trying a different approach, and took the idea of mood check and decided what we wanted to know deeper insights. They use a two slide Student-Paced deck every morning for students to respond with how they’re feeling. The first is the four faces slide, and the second slide is a text response to ‘tell me more.’ The teachers drove that process, and we’re interested to see how it develops over time.”

MJ — “Understanding what type and how prevalent trauma is for our students. We want to create a clear path to becoming successful learners, and if you’ve got students walking into a classroom experiencing trauma, they can’t engage with their lessons.”

Have you met any resistance along your path of implementation of new practices or tools?

MJ — “Teaching is such a complex profession, and can unfortunately be lonely. Unless you have the good fortune of having a co-teacher, being the only adult in a room can be a lonely endeavor.

It can become isolating, and when you learn to live in that way, that is at the heart of resistance to change. This is not just in education, everyone is resistant to change in some way. When you start saying ‘everyone must or will’ — that’s when resistance comes in. We overcome that by leading by example, by checking in that we’ve provided adequate support, training, and time.”

Dr. S — “Principals are our secret sauce — they model and reinforce through supervision. We’ve come together in a universe where you walk the talk with the tools you’re using and competencies you’re developing.”

What does success look like for your work to come?

MJ — “Adjusting the trajectory of classroom conversation. I’m looking forward to seeing Pear Deck used in a way that becomes really high-level formative assessment in real time. I have a goal of having a mindshift for our teachers to have their students leading for more of a two way socialized learning environment.”

Dr. S — “In the short term, teachers applying and using tools in a unique way, to solve problems in school. Ultimately when our Principals see teachers happy with the tools at their disposal, and when teachers see students command technology to better their learning, then we’ve successfully connected all the dots.”

Our most sincere thanks to Dr. Silva and Mark James for taking time to share the incredible work they’re doing within their district!

This week’s blog post was written by Pear Deck Marketing Director Danielle Stebel.

Dancing around the Obvious — Blog VIII

“A flood of thought is swooping through my head while I do my best to write it all, in a sense that the reader will understand — what for me seems obvious — how can I be sure it is for the reader?” Credits for the Pic: Thoughtco

When I worked as a social worker, one of my duties was preparing lunch for the different people I was helping out. At certain occasions, the job required me to cover some areas I didn’t visit regularly and so, you get to help new people.

As in good old days, bread with butter was the norm at lunchtime.

So one of the usual questions I became better at asking was:

“How much butter should I put in your bread?”

Now, most of the times I will always get this answer:

“The amount you always normally put, obviously”

Then, feeling like an ignorant child but wanting to do a good job, I would ask again:

“How much is that?”

The reply was always the same — a good old danish expression:

“en tand smør” — meaning a tooth-thick butter slice.

This would seem to make the preparation easier.

But it didn’t.

People have different perceptions of how thick the tooth is.

I can’t tell how many times I got the crazy look from the people I was preparing lunch for – such a small, simple thing as to put butter in the bread. How could this child not know?

It is so obvious what amount is right to put. It is after all basic knowledge.

Turns out….is not….

Not even for people in the same culture, neighborhood and age.

I quickly found out Tooth-thick butter slice could mean:

  1. 1 cm thick butter on top of the bread.

2. The size of the amount of butter you pick with the tip of the knife, or spoon.

3. The size apparently meant baby tooth, as the less visible the butter was, the better.

4. surprise, surprise! new defition here please.

Since I was doing this job at their home, there was a certain way for things to be done and prepared.

A topic I always have found fascinating through all my crossings and meetings with different people is the obvious fact we humans are the beautiful paradox of being the same and being completely different.

This beautiful paradox which I choose to call for Diversity, is one of the most amazing assets of life, one which I enjoy and appreciate everyday.

But there is a not so obvious part to the obvious fact of diversity.

Even in the universality of us all being connected with the world and with the fact that we are all human beings —

what seem obvious to you, might not seem obvious to me.

what seem obvious to me, might not seem obvious to you.

I have, many times, in different occasions, try to talk about it to my friends and in random metro conversations.

One sentence I find myself saying pretty often (to which most people react in an almost outraged manner, at the stupidity it apparently expresses) sounds something like this:

This is of course, setting the possibility of color blindness out of the picture.

Even though we both see the same color, we can perceive it differently, call it something completely different.

Does it sounds too ridiculous?

Maybe it is a bad example. Or, maybe it is what I am actually trying to explain here.

What seems ridiculously obvious to you, might not be for me.

What seems ridiculously obvious to me, you will stand there thinking — what is she talking about?!

It moves forward to this: What does obvious mean?

According to Cambridge Dictionary in English: Easy to see, recognize, undestand.

In Spanish: Something that is found or put in front of the eyes, very clear and without difficulty.

In Danish there are a couple of words, depending on the situation: “indlysende” ( in-lighted) meaning clear, visual quality.

and “oplagt” ( up-put) meaning clear to see and understand.

Let me give you another little personal example:

Growing up in the mountains of Bolivia — learn to ride a bike was the last thing you will think about. The streets are so vertical, even cars can’t get up there. ( There is one street in particular, leading from the center to our place — that taxi drivers fear, and at times they refused to drive through and will ask us kindly to walk the rest)
Because my stepfather was from Holland, a country where riding a bicycle is the most obvious thing to learn to do — He made sure we should learn it, not so much out of need, but because it was such a basic knowledge he thought was important to learn, even though it wasn’t relevant for us in the place we were living.

I recall never really understanding why we had to, looking away from the fact that it was fun, until you fell. At least, we became popular in the little neighborhood, as we were the only children with this fancy metal toy.

Now, finding myself in Copenhagen, where to ride a bicycle is part of the life style of every single person — the most obvious part of the agenda — I am deeply thankful to have learned that skill.

Since streets where impossible to practice in, we were lucky enough that our little “allé” was closed to cars. Lots of rounds were tried out.

We have all agreed, until a certain degree, about how to perceive the world and each other — some people call it a common sense. Common sense is the reaction, the action, the perception we find obvious to react to and act upon.

The common sense agenda is taught since we are very small and we treat it as something deeply rooted to the understanding of our existence and we use it everyday to find connection in the diversity of people, places and experiences.

Growing up in two different continents with different backgrounds, different mentalities, values and ways of life — gives you the unique opportunity to grasp the overview of diversity.

I feel it has taught me something very paradoxical and very precious:

Obviousness looses its value, once you understand for real that the world is big and we are 7.6 billion unique people living in this planet.

And

Everything becomes Obvious. This means, you can connect with anyone, and everyone in their own pace at the right time.

Once you manage to understand, that even if I am convinced to the core of my being — This is the right amount of yellow butter on this bread.

For you — it is not only not the obvious amount — it is not even butter. Or yellow.

Maybe….You don’t even know what it is.

Oh yes we were excited! excited and afraid!

How to deal with this difference of perception? How to share your perception?

I find it most of the times, if I do my best to explain it to you, teach you, inspire you to create your own definition of butter could help create a connection.

And to do so, I need to imagine, how would I explain what butter is to someone who has never seen, smelled, tasted butter before?

Since this is a very broad topic, and I still have a couple of drafts waiting to be formulated in a sense, so the message can sound obvious for us, I decided to divided it in segments.

Changing Careers from Teaching to Freelancing: Becoming Self-Employed

Sit Your Fraction Axis Down! Math Cursing for Mathlicious Teachers

By Kim Thomas, 2016 Illinois Teacher of the Year

When you walk into my classroom, it’s like math is giving you a big hug. When someone asks me what subject I teach, I reply Mathlicious! because if I say math, most people want to rotate 10² + 80 degrees and run, much like my students when they first walk into my classroom.

I teach middle school students in Peoria, Illinois at the Peoria County Alternative School. My students are expelled or administratively placed, and like many, my kids are kids who have made mistakes. Their mistakes just got them placed in my school, and I try to prove that to them through a Mathlicious philosophy. As they walk in our room with negative parabolas on their face, I tell them, “Just give me 1/60 of an hour to rotate those negative parabolas into positive ones!” In our classroom, the only negative allowed is a negative integer.

My classroom is filled with diverse angles. Some angles are acute, while others are obtuse. It’s my job to figure them out and let them know that I care about them no matter what. Knowing the degree of each angle and my Mathlicious approach instills in my students that I always see them for their future potential, rather than past mistakes.

My students have already been through traumatic events, so it is my goal each day to ensure that the time they spend with me is one of the best fractions of their day. I am about to begin my 10 x 2 + 5 year of teaching. Those years have varied, but constant in all of them is my love for kids…and math. So I’ve learned after all this time that I need to engage them, care for them, and embrace some of their habits rather than try to change them to suit my needs.

Some of their habits are appropriate, while others are not. Cursing is a habit many of my students bring to school, and while it’s not exactly appropriate, let’s face it, most people want to curse when they come to math class. Instead of telling them to stop, we discuss why I don’t curse. I don’t have any rules posted; instead, we talk about things when they come up. My classroom management is about relationships, not rules. When it comes to cursing, I ask each one of my students to give me the name of someone they are not allowed to curse in front of. They tell me their mom or grandma or a respected neighbor. After everyone has given me a name, I ask them to put me on that list. When I tell them this, it isn’t solely about cursing. It is really about connecting me and our Mathlicious environment to what matters to them.

But even after this talk, I realize many of my students have days where they just need to let whatever is bothering them out, so we created math cursing. My students can math curse it up in our room. Math cursing goes something like this:

“Mrs. Thomas, what in the height is going on?”

“Let’s sit our median fraction axis in our seats.”

“This denominator pencil won’t sharpen.”

“That binomial is driving me crazy.”

It’s easy. They just substitute math words beginning with the same letter for their curse word of choice. Our room is always filled with positive parabolas as kids are using math words to get out their feelings, or just trying to break a bad habit. I get Mathbumps when I overhear them using math curse words while speaking to each other because they get to be themselves around me, and I get Mathlicious words in their heads.

It’s not about cursing, really. It’s about embracing our students’ habits as an example of how we can embrace them as people. When my kids use the desk as a drum or musical instrument, I apply what I call rhyMATHm into my daily routine. Instead of telling them to stop pounding on the desk, we incorporate the rhythms they make into the math lesson. I present my lesson to the beat, and kids answer or ask questions to the beat. Or if I have some students who can beatbox, we use our rhyMATHm skills to transform their favorite lyrics into math songs. This past year instead of “Juju on That Beat”, it was “Get Vertical on That Line”. Here is the first line:

Walked into the classroom students looking at me,

Math swag on and heels looking sweet.

I Love X Love the first time my students experience this. They are all “median fraction” surprised when I encourage pounding that creates a beat, probably because they are most often told how annoying it is. And for them, this can be a message that they are annoying. For my students who have piles of baggage weighing them down, such a message can destroy my relationship with them and their relationship to math. And, just between us, they get tired of it eventually and the pounding stops.

The bottom line is to find ways to let kids be themselves and bring out your and your content’s best self around them.

So excuse my sweet looking heels, I gotta get my Mathlicious swag on and go teach my median fraction axis off.

Mathematically Yours,

Kim Thomas

Kim Thomas is the 1000 x 2 + 16 Illinois Teacher of the Year and the author of Mathivate: The Mathlicious Way to Put a Positive Parabola on Everyone’s Face! Buy it here. And follow her on Twitter here.

The first few moments…

Image Credit: Lewine, Rob www.gettyimages.com

Walking into the room on the first day is like walking into a dream on the edge of it becoming a nightmare. There are at least 30 of them staring at you as if you are a doe to be devoured. You’re staring back at them as if they are the scariest beings you’ve ever encountered. You thought you were prepared, you thought you were ready, for gods sake you’ve been training for at least 8 years for this moment and here you sweating through your brand new NY & Co. pants suit. A pants suit??? Who the hell are you, a coed going on her first interview for a political intern position? What a poor choice of attire! You’re in three layers of clothing, there’s no air conditioner, the windows only open 5 inches because they’re afraid someone will try to escape, and you feel like you’re in a pressure cooker. As they stare at you waiting for you to begin, you start to feel the walls close in on you. You can’t find your voice…some of them are so much bigger than you, all of a sudden you’re assessing the room for escape routes only to realize you don’t have any, you’re on the top floor! In order to get out, you have to walk past them…what if they try to stop you? Trip you? Mock you as you run?

It’s literally been less than a minute and it feels like an eternity. You look around and realize that if you don’t say something soon, you’ll never be able to control them. They’re like wolves, they smell fear and you’re scared for your life. If you were a dog, this would be the moment to roll around in mud and muck to try and cover you scent and protect yourself against your predators. And then…

A moment of clarity. You’re not a dog, you are a teacher and this is your moment. The first one of the rest of your career. Let go of that fear, harness your intelligence, and teach these kids more than the curriculum. Teach them how to be young men and women in a world that is unforgiving and ruthless by showing them empathy and kindness. Teach them that through hard work and perseverance they can accomplish anything. Ignore the naysayers and the jaded colleagues who have forgotten why they choose this path. Focus on the person you are and citizens you want to teach them to be. This is your room, these are your kids, and this is your time. Embrace it and enjoy it, for this is truly the best career you could have chosen.

Lessons From Flipped Classrooms and Flipped Failures (An interview with EdSurge)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jakecaptive/


International Issues: Defeating Gender Inequality in Education

Gender inequality is a prevalent issue around the globe — from first world superpowers like the United States and Great Britain all the way to Afghanistan and India. However, the severity of these iniquities, as well as the degree to which they affect the people of each country, varies greatly.

In recent years, countless organizations from around the world have been established with a single mission: to defend and extend fundamental human rights to women in the most afflicted countries. Some of the most urgent issues these organizations face include, but are not limited to: fighting human trafficking, freeing young girls from arranged marriages, and providing necessary medical aid to mothers and their children.

With these movements, a great focus has also been put on equal access to education — a right that many young girls are denied from the very beginning of their lives. The support for providing a quality education to all children of all ages and nationalities is a worldwide effort.

To continue reading, please visit International TEFL Organization’s education blog.

3 Ways to Include Students in Your Classroom Redesign

by room2learn

June and July have flown by and we have swiftly found ourselves in August. This time might bring up a range of emotions, but today, we’re going to focus on the positive ones. The end of summer means the beginning of school and we are enthusiastic, determined, and ready to gear up for a successful year.

Whether you are a teacher, architect, or a learning design enthusiast, your mind is likely swimming with new ideas for the year — everything from pedagogy to new education products. Today, we are going to focus on one simple concept: students and our spaces.

You can have the fanciest, most cutting-edge furniture, a highly-advanced makerspace studio, or the newest brand of whiteboards, but if your students do not engage or respond positively to their environment, the design is moot.

S

Today, we’ll explore three ways you can include students in your classroom redesign process.

Ah, the town hall — a symbol of the democratic process in its most local form. This strategy doubles as a lesson in civic education. It is a great, public way to engage your students in the classroom design process. Here are a few helpful tips for setting up your town hall:

that you will be holding a town hall on classroom space and share topics you will be covering — pain points, classroom design dreams, concerns, etc. This step allows your students to think thoughtfully about space before the meeting.

We can’t stress this step enough. The benefit of the town hall is it gives all students a chance to speak up. Norms set the foundation for a respectful conversation. Depending on the age of your students, you could actually create these norms together. Ask your students, what makes for a respectful exchange of ideas? Here are a few norms that have worked for us:

  • — avoid interruptions or talking over people, even if is is a positive or agreement statement.
  • , not “we” statements.
  • and there are no wrong or right answers.

When setting up the town hall space, stick to the questions that you already shared with your students. It’s possible that the conversation may veer elsewhere. Try to bring it back on track, unless, of course, the new tangent is full of new, fruitful ideas about your space!

Appoint a fellow teacher, student, or colleague to capture all the great ideas shared during your town hall. You can even record the conversation to come back to it later.

While townhalls are a great way to hear from your students and have them practice public speaking, some students may not want to share their opinions out loud. Surveys are a great way to capture honest opinions about your space, especially if you allow the answers to be anonymous. One way to make your surveys even more powerful is to write your survey with your students. Ask your students to submit questions they would want to answer or source a “committee” of students to help you write your questions. This also ensures that the survey is written in an age-appropriate manner.

Hosting a competition is arguably the most fun and imaginative way to learn about how your students think about space. Here, the opportunities are endless! You can challenge students to bake up dream spaces or redesign the classroom with certain guidelines. Remember, creativity thrives on constraints! Plus, then you actually implement the contest winner’s idea. Here are a few potential competition prompts:

  • If time, space, and money were not an issue, what would your dream classroom look like? This question is a great way to tap into your student’s imagination and understand what their learning values are.
  • You have $50 for materials — how would get the biggest bang out of your buck to upgrade the classroom? Get creative with textures and colors, and think about what would improve the classroom experience. This is a great way to get your students to problem-solve! You could change up the materials based on what you have available.
  • Without adding anything or taking anything away from the classroom, what is one thing you would change about our classroom? Obviously, this is the best contest to hold if you there is not much budget for redesigning your space!

The most important part of including your students in your design process is simply reminding them that they have a voice. As they see their voices create positive change in their immediate environment, they are able to build stronger feelings of agency and investment in the classroom. .

At a Crossroads of Anti-Authoritarianism: Dismissing Far-Right School Advocates

Education is political. As Henry Giroux states in On Critical Pedagogy,

“…classroom learning embodies selective values, is entangled with relations of power, entails judgments about what knowledge counts, legitimates specific social relations, defines agency in particular ways, and always presupposes a particular notion of the future.”

Often, the Human Restoration Project find itself discussing and applauding unschooling and homeschooling — both worthwhile pursuits for families. Having a choice of attending public school or not is a fundamental choice within a democratic system. Progressive education typically wants a plethora of schools and non-traditional experiences for children to choose from. However, I want to outline the differences of thought between some libertarian homeschoolers versus ours.

To display our differences, I’ve included the Political Compass Test’s outline, which is recognized as solid footing in underlying political beliefs (although the test questions are disputed for accuracy.) I’ve highlighted (poorly) — in my view — how school belief systems align. Obviously, this is highly debatable, but these quadrants demonstrate some key differences between progressive education, unschooling, and traditional education, as well as showcase potential commonalities.

Both progressive education and unschooling are rooted in anti-authoritarianism. We both see national and state heavy-handed standardization as detrimental to student and teacher success, rooted in implications of societal control by elites. We both question the “knowledge-based” principles of defining what is important to learn versus what isn’t. And we both believe in choice/consent for learners in their education.

A fundamental difference is the left/right paradigm. Now, this is a broad brush — certainly there are left-leaning unschoolers. Essentially, this implies why progressive educators almost universally support work by say, John Holt, but not Bryan Caplan. And many will choose to homeschool while simultaneously supporting and integrating progressive education, and vice versa.

This article is not meant to assume that all homeschoolers or all unschoolers believe these extreme viewpoints. I believe the majority don’t and would actively call out these beliefs. And some believe these concepts for entirely different reasons. Nor is the intent to paint unschoolers or homeschoolers as “the enemy” of public schools. Further, to state that unschoolers align themselves with these views as a whole would be the same as lumping all progressive educators with those who promote SEL for test anxiety or portfolio-based learning for standardized test scores. The intention is to specifically target a small wing of this fraction.

However, there is a place for progressive education to distinguish itself from the extreme-wing within unschooling/homeschooling circles that find themselves associated with:

  • Incorporating Explicit Christianity Instruction in Schools
  • Hesitant or Seeing Social Justice Issues as Brainwashing/Propaganda/Post-Modernism
  • Ending Public Education
  • Promoting Individualism

Religious Integration

Progressive education believes in tolerance of all religions, including those who don’t believe. Many against the public school system take issue with the perceived “attack on Christianity.” Notably, they mention a lack of explicit Christian mentoring. Michael J. Metarko, an ex-public principal and current homeschooler, writes in IndoctriNation how public education is a Trojan horse:

“…what I found was indoctrination in an anti-Christian worldview called humanism…”

Later adding that a statist education system is leading to former Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network director Kevin Jennings (President Obama’s Safe School director) “possessing great power and authority over schools” — adding disparaging remarks on the “homosexual movement.” To substansiate this view, Metarko adds that schools:

  • Teach evolution
  • Teach “revisionist history”
  • Promote socialism
  • Focus on self-esteem and what “feels right”
  • Promote feminization of boys and masculinization of girls
  • Acceptance over tolerance
  • “Misguided environmentalism” (Earth over God)
  • Rebellion against the family

This tirade concludes with an attack on schools “removing God from the Pledge” and removing nativity scenes. Outside of the completely inaccurate portrayal of the Pledge (“Under God” was never intended to be included), this entire account assaults a communal vision of schooling. I don’t mean to imply that all homeschoolers, or even a majority of homeschoolers, agree with these views — but it’s worth noting that progressive education is opposed to them.

Being able to have an accepting learning community — where children value, care, and support one another is an underlying goal of the education system. This includes respecting people for who they are — being open to listening — and not fetishizing or demeaning lifestyle choices. Christians aren’t targeted in progressive schools, they’re simply accepted along with all other belief systems and lifestyles. If students cannot accept those of different beliefs, it’s up to educators to encourage acceptance. Likely, this is counter to the power structure much of “the right” implores. We want students to have authority figures who not only demonstrate accepting behaviors, but mentor and guide students down that path. It is absurd to me that we would promote behaviors that target gay, trans, or androgynous students, let alone restructure schools to make those oppressed even more so.

Sometimes these beliefs are deemed “humanist” — as they don’t allow explicit religious instruction in schools. (Although that term by militant activists seems to imply hate-mongering toward Christians, which is the fragility of power being lost by this author.) In addition, all these views tend to avoid discussing all the other belief systems students have.

Social Justice Implementation

On School Sucks (which I was just on and hope to discuss more about!), Brett Veinotte speaks with Jay Dyer about “social engineering” in schools, using the Tavistock Institute as a means to rationalize their argument. If you’re not aware, a conspiracy theory exists that Tavistock was developed to brainwash people toward statism. While I agree that schools prop up a neoliberal agenda toward accepting war and patriotism, the counter-rationale by this crowd is further including that “social justice warriors” are brainwashing children by teaching acceptance.

Sometimes used as demeaning toward these instructors, opposers call identity politics instruction in schools as “post-modern.” Progressive education explicitly notes the need for teaching acceptance, as well as the realities of our race, gender, and socioeconomic histories — which will include blatant understanding of our country’s fractured history. As bell hooks states,

“When everyone in the classroom, teacher and students, recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.”

In order to create a purposeful learning community, social justice will be taught in schools. Allowing for racist, gendered, or homophobic responses is unabashedly counter to principles of mutual care at the core of a human-centered education. So although progressive education is incredibly anti-authoritarian toward the state deciding what is and isn’t knowledge, and does not value a teacher enacting authoritarian control of the classroom, prog. ed. still puts a learning community at the center. That practice isn’t possible without an explicit understanding of social justice.

Furthermore, to ignore these issues is society is to simply promote the current structures that exist. I believe, as many progressive educators do, that schooling is a place to counteract hate and promote the social good. This may have authoritarian tendencies (who chooses what “the social good” is?), but societal cohesion is necessary for tearing down discriminatory practices that exist in our daily lives. Critical pedagogy opens opportunities for students to recognize these practices and act on them, without being similarly marginalized by their instructor.

Ending Public Education

Obviously, I am not for an end to public education — I am a public school teacher. One can critique and want transformation without advocating the dismantling of an entire system.

Some homeschoolers see no value in the public school system. They see it as a place for indoctrination. In some cases, that is true. Many succeed in spite of their education. However, to destroy the school system would further inequities in society — especially when pockets of educators are doing so much to help their students.

The school system is stuck in a loop surrounding neoliberal practice — ranking and filing kids, placing a teacher at the center, supporting “core knowledge”, judging on subjective grades, and inequitably funded. Most traditional teachers don’t see themselves doing any of these things. They don’t see themselves as colonizers — they believe they’re doing what’s right for kids. Dismantling this notion and transforming the pedagogy within schools is the cornerstone of progressive education.

This discussion between Sean Illing and Bryan Caplan on Vox, author of The Case Against Education summarizes this debate well:

“Illing: Here’s where I think we disagree: You think we have too much education, and I think we’re doing education wrong. In other words, you want less education, and I want better education.

Caplan: My response is that doing less education is easy, and improving the education system is hard…We’ve got very clear evidence that we’re wasting a lot, but we don’t have a clear idea as to what would be better. All we know is that the system we have now is grossly dysfunctional, so I don’t think we should keep pouring money into it.…

Illing: You think of education as a rote technical enterprise, so it’s all about skills and productivity and the labor market. I think a good education is about cultivating wise citizens, people who appreciate democracy, who are discerning and not easily hoodwinked. That we’ve failed to do this doesn’t mean education is a waste of time; it means we’re doing it wrong…

…I also worry that a massive public disinvestment in education would widen many of the inequalities that already exist in this country. In your ideal world, people with money would continue to receive a good education and the people who don’t would be left further and further behind.

Caplan: …Today, because education levels have risen so much and because of the power of the kind of signaling I mentioned earlier, not finishing high school virtually destroys any chance you have of getting an interview for a decent job. Employers can easily dismiss high school dropouts precisely because education levels have increased dramatically.

This is why cutting education across the board is the only way to level the playing field, because it changes what the degrees mean and the way employers think about who’s worthy of being interviewed or hired. In a world where no nurses have bachelor’s degrees, hospitals can’t say, “We only interview nurses with bachelor’s degrees…

…I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that we should have separation of school and state, just like separation of religion and state, and that government should just get out of the business and leave it to customers and charity to handle it. To be clear, this conclusion isn’t implied by the data I cite; this is my personal political philosophy.”

Much of Caplan’s calls for removing public education as he does not believe it is doing a good enough job — particularly for the labor market. We both believe that we can do better — and just as Illing states, education is about a lot more than jobs. Without public education, society would only become more inequitable. Those who can afford expensive charter schools will be placed further ahead, and those without the means or wherewithal to navigate the system will be pushed further behind. Education is meant to be a leveler in society — a way for everyone to have the same equitable opportunities as everyone else. This is not the case now, and it likely won’t be for quite some time, but our goal as educators is to make this a reality.

Promoting Individuality

As in the previous notions, this brand of homeschooling tends to place the individual at the center of everything. This is counter to progressive education, which places the community at the center of everything. As already mentioned, this means accepting others and being assumed to help each other. Perhaps this is “socialist” — but cohesive societies require caring communities.

Perhaps part of this dismissive structure is rooted in white fragility. It isn’t every case, but almost every single writer on entirely dismantling public education, promoting religion, focusing on individualism, or against social justice education is a white male. Outliers do exist, but there is a prudent point to analyze surrounding why those privileged in the United States would make claims on how they’re being “held back” by accepting and supporting those in an inferior power structure. Dismantling public education would further push an inequitable society that already festers systemic racism.

Developing Commonalities

Therefore, despite the anti-authoritarian commonalities that exist between progressive education and this belief system, it is hard for the two to coincide. While both recognize that traditional schooling is doing a disservice to the majority of students, and both want to see drastic changes to benefit the individual, we completely disagree on the means to get there.

The silver lining is there are many unschooling advocates who support public schools and progressive education. Despite neoliberal organizations profiting off their brand of “progressive schools” — there are plenty of advocates working throughout the country to build human-centered schools who don’t perpetuate a system that causes children harm.

We can build a better system together — one that has school choice, public schools, and homeschooling — where no matter who you are or where you live, you have access to a quality education system that won’t make your child hate learning. This school system will help students navigate their purpose in life, while simultaneously exposing them to diverse viewpoints and peoples to live positive lives.

The Collective Genius Awards

The EC team are committed to celebrating and scaling teacher-led innovation. In 2017, we are giving a big, public High-Five to individuals and teams who are not only living out the EC Values, but are absolutely changing the game for schools and communities across Australia.

The award winners will be supported by EC and our partners in a range of ways to share what they are leading and changing across the next 12 months. This isn’t a certificate and media-wall kind of award. This is true kudos and acceleration of ideas worth scaling.

Welcome to the Collective Genius Awards.

Nominate schools or individuals with incredible proven traction in: Improved Student Achievement | Enhanced Wellbeing | Strengthened Staff Capacity | Development of the Community.

Nominations close August 31 and we will celebrate on September 28th at EC17. Make sure you’ve got your ticket to the event (link there on how even more WOW can happen).

Together in unleashing teacher-led innovation so that every child is successful in an education worth having.

Team EC