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Sept 11 Reflections: Democracy, Citizenship and Education

11 Sep

CC License: Photo by Flickr @North Charleston

What should a good citizen do?

The question of “what a good citizen should do” in a democratic society begins with an assumption of a universal ethical imperative within democracy.  Perhaps this follows from the concept of democracy itself.  At the onset of American independence, the writers of the Declaration stated that it was self-evident that “all men are created equal” and that with that equality of nature comes unalienable Rights, such as Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  A democratic society could secure these rights through a government that derives its just power from the “consent of the governed.” 

Consent of the governed.  Perhaps, too often we overlook this essential democratic freedom, the Freedom of Consent.  The idea that democracy requires consent of the governed supports an imperative for the people of the democracy, the good citizens, to actively give a say, to give a consent or descent – through speech, voting, the practice of beliefs or religions, exercising their other freedoms – on the positions and actions of the government.

More than ever, it is vital that American citizens actively exercise their own rights and freedoms, while also working to promote the rights and freedoms of others.  Through both speech and actions, we must declare our consent or descent and encourage the equal participation of other citizens to do the same.  Howard Budin stated that “the heart of democratic action is collaborative decision making,” making “decisions with their fellow citizens to improve their lives and the life of the community or nation.”  In this way, all democratic citizens are benefited by the increased voice and involvement of others, even of those with whom we disagree.  To asymptotically approximate the ideals of democracy, citizens must have equitable opportunities, freedoms and rights to participate… and must actively exercise these opportunities, freedoms and rights within the collaborative society.

Too often in education, we speak of citizenship simply in terms of being honest, neighborly or kind.  Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahane call this the “personally responsible citizen,” though they warn that this concept of citizenship alone does not necessarily foster equality, justice and democracy.  “Indeed, government leaders in a totalitarian regime would be as delighted as leaders in a democracy if their young citizens… don’t do drugs; show up at school; show up at work; give blood; help others during a flood; recycle; pick up litter; clean up a park; [and] treat old people with respect,” they write in “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy.”

Somehow, the concepts of participation and activism are missing from much of today’s education on citizenship. In fact, when I asked, “What should a good citizen do?” to my twelve year old daughter at the dinner table yesterday, she responded with “don’t kill people,” even though she is active in community service and often engages discussions about social justice at her Montessori middle school.  She did not automatically associate those participatory practices with her responsibilities as a “citizen.”  Perhaps this is because what is often considered “good” behavior or citizenship at schools is not always aligned with the promotion of justice.  Frequently, the “good” child in class is the one who follows the rules, even when those rules are enforced in unjust ways.  It is important, especially in education, not to confuse the promotion of personal responsibility with that of standardization, compliance and obedience.

Instead, the good citizen needs to have the ability to transfer the qualities of personal responsibility to critical reflection, active participation (participatory citizen) and the promotion of social justice (justice-oriented citizen).  The good citizen must go beyond personal responsibility to participate in giving consent or descent, in effecting change and in encouraging equity.  In this way, the rights and freedoms of all citizens can be maintained and expanded in order to improve the quality of life for citizens and the collective life of the community or nation.

As educators, there are many opportunities to exercise our roles as citizens and to promote participation and social action in our students:

  • Register to vote, vote, and encourage others to vote, too!
  • Investigate educational issues being discussed in politics, not just in the Presidential race, but also at the local and state level.
  • Call, email and write letters to your School Board or Congressmen, supporting funding for education.
  • Provide community service learning opportunities to your students – serve meals at a homeless shelter; coordinate a canned food drive; raise funds to support cancer research or the creation of a local park.
  • Engage your classes in student-driven action projects and competitions that focus on solving real world problems, like Heifer International Education Programs or the Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge.

Today is September 11th.  Yes, we mourn and remember the lives lost and the bravery of so many Americans eleven years ago, but we also celebrate the freedoms we enjoy in this democratic society.  Freedoms that we shouldn’t take for granted.  Freedoms that were earned with blood, sweat and tears.  Freedoms that we should exercise and should harness to advocate for equal rights for all people… here in the United States and around the world.

Happy Birthday, Maria Montessori — from Google and the rest of us!

31 Aug

Google's Montessori Tribute

Google's Montessori TributeAugust 31, 2012. Today would be 142nd birthday of revolutionary Italian physician and educator, Maria Montessori.

To celebrate, Montessori alums at Google displayed a Google doodle of traditional Montessori learning manipulatives on their homepage.  That’s right –  both Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, grew up as Montessori kids.  What’s more, it is this very Montessori heritage that they attribute to their success.

In a 2004 interview with ABC (embedded below), both Page and Brin spoke about the power of self-directed learning in the Montessori learning environment.  “I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders –  and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a bit different,” Page said of Montessori school’s role in his success.  Maria Montessori believed that children had an innate drive to learn and that the educator’s role was to remove obstacles and provide opportunities for the student’s educational growth.  The self-directed Montessori student is then able to concentrate on acquiring knowledge through experimentation with hands-on, personalized activities, according to their own interests and at their own pace.

In fact, Google’s infamous 20% rule – where employees spend 20% of their work week on something company-related that they are personally interested in, something not in their job description – is grounded in this idea of self-directed learning.  And success in the form of Gmail, Google Talk,  Google Maps, Reader and other innovations has been the result.  As is often the case, powerful things happen as the result of empowering people to follow their own dreams instead the dreams of someone else.

So, in Maria Montessori’s honor, I want to take a moment to celebrate her legacy – a legacy of respecting the dignity of every child and empowering children to be masters of their own learning.  Raise a glass, give a cheer… and let’s all spend a few minutes reflecting on our own educational practice, a few minutes dreaming up at least one practical way to give our students more voice in their learning this next week and, in doing so, continuing her amazing legacy.

Happy birthday, Maria Montessori.

 

Transforming Technology Integration for 21st Century Learners

9 Apr

Thirty-five years ago, the IBM 5100 and the Apple I circuit board were released, ushering us into the age of the personal computer.

Twenty-five years ago, computers began to enter the classroom… in the form of The Oregon Trail on the Apple IIe.

Fifteen years ago, teenagers took a break from typing their term papers to use a home cordless phone to “page” a school friend… and wait endlessly by that same phone to see if it would ring.

And five years ago, the iPhone, Wii, and eventually netbooks were released, changing everyday use of technology in and out of schools.

This fall, our kindergarten classrooms will be filled with children who were born that year. Children who only know a world where they have access to more information, games, and applications while playing in their car seat with their Mom’s cell phone than they often have when they enter the school’s doors.

These are not the same “21st Century Learners” we’ve grown to know over first decade of the new millennium. For these students, simply watching video and images during lessons, playing a multiplication Internet game, or even taking turns at an Interactive Whiteboard is no longer enough.

These new 21st Century Learners are highly relational and demand quick access to new knowledge. More than that, these students are capable of engaging their education at a whole new level. With the world literally at their fingertips, these students need us to re-envision the role of technology in our classrooms. In a revolution that began as academic technology use and turned to teaching with multimedia technology, we now need a new transformation to teach through technology.

So, what does that look like? For one, we must increasingly put the technology into the hands of students and trust them with more progressive technology objectives. Moreover, we must transform our pedagogy itself to prioritize student discovery, collaboration, and creation. Finally, educators must establish Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) to support their own learning and innovating. In this way, we will ensure that this next generation will not only thrive at our schools, but shine on assessments, establish the problem solving and technology skills needed for successful careers, and become the lifelong learners and innovators we desire to mold.

Are you an NAESP member, you can read this blog and link to others here: http://naesp.org/blog/technology-21st-century-learners
AND
If you are attending the NAESP 2011 Annual Convention, you can join me on Sunday, April 10th from 12:30 to 1:45 PM in Room 13 to find out more as we explore strategies and success stories for Transforming Technology Curriculum for 21st Century Learners.

MORE in RESOURCES: Technology Integration

NAESP 2011 – Thoughts and Faves from Day 1

9 Apr

Sir Ken Robinson and Nancye Blair at NAESP 2011Today was the first of three days I will be spending at the National Association of Elementary School Principals Annual Convention. It was eye-opening. Surrounded by thousands of educational leaders ready to grow and brave bringing ideas of change and innovation back to their schools, I was inspired by the clear messages of reform potential in the sessions I attended and the conversations I had with principals from across the country. Here were some of my favorite comments, quotes, and moments of the day:

General Session with Sir Ken Robinson:
“The only things necessary for education are the learner and the teacher. You could take away everything else.”
“All high performing education systems have 1 thing in common – highly respected teaching status.”
Finland with no drop-out rate, in response to hearing of the US 30% drop-out rate, replies, “Why wold you drop out?”
“Each of us is a unique moment in history.”
“Anyone who credits their organization had a teacher who looked into their eyes to see who they were.”
When speaking about ed reform – “Children can’t put their lives on hold while other people figure it out.”
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anias Nin
……..I could probably continue this list all day….
More about this session at: Education Needs Different Principles—Not Different Principals http://tinyurl.com/3myogu2 via @NAESP
or stay inspired by following @SirKenRobinson on Twitter.

Robert Marzano Session – Formative Assessment & Standards-Based Assessment
This session was informative and moving. Impossible to leave unchanged!
These quotes do not do the whole session justice, and yet they were some of my favorite uses of words today.
“You can never rely on a single assessment.”
“We must avoid labeling students with a number.” (ex: Little Bobby is an 80 student.)
“This is not the extreme, because it is the logical conclusion.”
“You can never rely on a single assessment.”
“…let me paraphrase, but not exaggerate…” <<– I hope he doesn’t mind if I adopt this phrase!
“If I sounds passionate about it, I am.”
“You can never rely on a single assessment.”
You can find out more about Robert Marzano at MarzanoResearch.com
or follow him on Twitter @robertjmarzano or @marzanoresearch.

Another moment of note:
A Washington DC ed leader in learning about the success of Charter Schools in Polk County: “Why aren’t people talking about this?! My wife works in Florida and doesn’t even know about this. Why isn’t this being published everywhere? People need to hear about these things.” <<— Good question. Perhaps we need to speak up!!

Looking forward to another inspiring day tomorrow… and then sharing in my own session about Transforming Technology Curriculum for 21st Century Learners on Sunday. Keep looking for posts and updates on here and on twitter @engagingedu or #NAESP11. Going to be a great weekend!