Inquiry: The Cornerstone of Teaching–Part I

Fifth Article in the series on The Artistry of Teaching

Conservative and neoliberal paradigms dominate education, which have reduced teaching to skills, economic growth, job training, and transmission of information.

In spite of these authoritarian policies,  many K-12 teachers practice a different form of instruction based on principles of equity, social constructivism, progressivism, and informal learning.  The cornerstone of this approach is inquiry, and in this article, I’ll explore the nature of inquiry, and why it is the magnum principium of teaching.

Inquiry teaching requires that teachers take risks because the very nature of inquiry brings us into the unknown.  It is like crossing into a new environment.  Some researchers think of this as “crossing cultures,” and for a teacher embracing inquiry as the cornerstone of their approach to teaching, it means crossing into a classroom culture that is very different from the traditional classroom, that we are too familiar with.  For a teacher who is experimenting with their own willingness and courage to accommodate inquiry teaching, it is much like thinking about Lev Vygotsky’s (public library) theory of zones of proximal learning.  Embracing inquiry teaching requires courage and the close collaboration with trusted colleagues who are supportive and believe that in a social constructivist environment, teachers can push themselves into new zones of learning.

Normally, Vygotsky’s theories are applied in the context of K-12 student learning.  But in this article, I want to show that Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism (which researchers suggest is similar to inquiry) can be applied to the artistry of teaching.

The Age of Inquiry

My story of inquiry teaching began in 1960s as a science teacher in a small community near Boston.  The 1960s was the “Golden Age” in science education in the sense that the National Science Foundation invested tens of millions of dollars in curriculum development and teacher education.  The school’s science program was an “Alphabet Soup Science” curriculum made up of BSCS Biology, CHEM Study Chemistry, CBA Chemistry, PSSC Physics, and HPP (Project Physics).  These courses were four of the nearly fifty curriculum projects that were developed between 1957 – 1977.  I was personally involved in four of them, ESCP Earth Science, ISCS (Intermediate Science Curriculum Study), PSSC Physics, ISIS (Individualized Science Instruction System) as a writer, field test coordinator, student, and researcher.

One of the characteristics of these programs was an approach to teaching unified by the word “inquiry.”  Inquiry teaching, with an emphasis on hands-on and minds on learning was integral to NSF programs developed in the 1960s, and has continued to the present day.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 5.44.03 PMHowever, in 1960s, they concept of equity, multiculturalism, and urban education was not part of the research and development scene. Beginning in the 1970s, especially with educators such as Dr. Melvin Webb at Clark Atlanta University, research and development on issues of equity and multiculturalism in science education began to emerge in new programs, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.

Chicago. My introduction to inquiry teaching and learning was enhanced by participating in an NSF eight-week summer institute at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago on the PSSC Physics course.  For eight hours a day, five days a week, and for eight weeks, 35 teachers participated in laboratory sessions, lectures, and films on the PSSC physics program, the first of the NSF courses for American schools.  A team of teachers, including a professor of physics, a graduate student in physics, and a high school physics teacher taught the course. The PSSC course emphasized science laboratory work and hands-on investigations.  We did every laboratory activity in the PSSC text that summer, but more importantly we discussed how to integrate the idea of inquiry learning into our own teaching.  The three faculty in our program encouraged us to be activists, to ask questions about the science curriculum and the instructional approaches being used in high school science, and to encourage new approaches and ideas.

Nearly all the teachers, who were from 30 different states, were there because they were going to teach PSSC Physics in their school in the fall.  Not me.  I had taken a new job in a different town in Massachusetts (Lexington) and would be teaching earth science (I earned a B.S. in earth science in undergraduate school and really wanted to teach E.S.).  Later in the year I realized how important this intense study of physics would affect the way I taught earth science.  I adopted many of the labs in physics for the earth science course I was teaching, and began to adapt the activities in the text we used so that students were engaged in inquiry and problem solving.

Lexington. All the ninth grade teachers moved to a brand new high school science building the next year, and two of my colleagues in earth science  “piloted” a new NSF funded earth science project, ESCP (Earth Science Curriculum Project).  ESCP was a hands-on inquiry oriented program, different from the earth science program that was part of the high school curriculum.  I teamed up with one of the pilot teachers (Dr. Bob Champlain–Emeritus professor, Fitchberg State University) and planned a research study comparing the ESCP approach to the traditional earth science approach.  As it happened, Bob and I were working on our Masters degrees in science education at Boston University, and thus the study became our thesis study.  We didn’t find any significant differences (on a content test we administered), but qualitatively we saw many differences in terms of how students felt about learning science in the two contexts.  Students were naturally attracted to working with teammates in group activities, and enjoyed trying to solve problems that involved messing about, and trying different methods and techniques.

Columbus. I left Lexington in 1966, and moved to Columbus, Ohio to attend the National Science Foundation Academic Year Institute at The Ohio State University.  I joined with 40 other teachers of science and mathematics to take part in a one-year program of study in science and science education.  Several science courses designed for Institute participants integrated some aspects of inquiry, and were different from many of the other science courses we took.  There were nearly 20 full-time doctoral students in science education, and over the next three years we explored and studied the pedagogy and philosophy of science teaching  After three years of study, I finished my work on the Ph.D., and headed to Atlanta, Georgia, to take a job as an Assistant Professor of Science Education at Georgia State University.

College Park, MD. Before going to Atlanta, I made a three-week stop in College Park.  My induction into what inquiry was all about, however, took place three weeks before arriving in Atlanta to begin my new job.  At the University of Maryland, Professor Marjorie Gardner, one of the leaders in science education in the U.S. then, invited me to a member of a team of three science educators from Atlanta, even though I hadn’t arrived in Georgia.  Each team that the attended the Leadership Institute at UMD was composed of a science teacher, a science supervisor, and a university professor.  Twelve teams from around the country participated in the first Earth Science Leadership Institute directed by Dr. Gardner.  The institute was designed as a total immersion in the ESCP Curriculum with special emphasis on inquiry teaching and learning.  Each day we did two to three hands-on activities from the ESCP program, participated in lecture/discussions with scientists who were brought in to focus on specialty topics in the ESCP, e.g., astronomy, paleontology, mineralogy, physical geology, meteorology, geology, oceanography, space science).  We also were involved in micro-teaching.  Each of us had to teach several “inquiry” lessons to groups of middle school students.  Lessons were video taped, and then in collaboration with other participants, each lesson was discussed from the point of view of our goal to carry out an inquiry activity.  Suggestions were made to change the lesson, which we then re-taught to a different group of students.  The important aspect here is that collaboration with colleagues was essential in moving each us into new conceptions and zones of activity.

A Cornerstone

Atlanta. Inquiry teaching became the cornerstone of my teaching at Georgia State University for the next thirty-two years.  Through collaboration with colleagues in science education, the sciences, educational psychology and philosophy, inquiry and experiential learning became fundamental characteristics of courses and programs we designed.

When I began teaching at GSU, half of my assignment was to teach courses in the geology department, but specifically to teach geology courses for teachers.  My first course, which was taught off campus at a professional development center in Griffin, GA, was an introductory geology course for middle school teachers.  Using only laboratory and experiential activities, teachers learned geology by inquiry and problem solving.  For the next two years, I taught courses in geology in Griffin, and an opportunity to explore the nature of inquiry teaching with professional educators.

One of the most important learnings that I took away from these early experiences teaching geology was
the joy that I saw in the eyes and minds of these teachers.  A few years later, I began to study the work of Rollo May, an American humanistic psychologist.  In his book The Courage to Create (public library), he speaks to us about what the artist or creative scientist feels.  It is not anxiety or fear; it is joy.  He explains that the artist (or scientist or teacher) at the moment of creating does not experience gratification or satisfaction.  Although he didn’t talk specifically here about teaching, later he does, and it is important to make a connection and bring teachers into the conversation.  This is how I see it.  The teacher, like the artist or scientist, uses creativity to create an environment of learning, much like an artist creates a painting, or a scientist advances a theory.  All are personal.  But May adds another dimension that I think is powerful.  He says this about the moment of creating for artist, scientist or teacher.

Rather, it is joy, joy defined as the emotion that goes with heightened consciousness, the mood that accompanies the experience of actualizing one’s own potentialities (May, R., The Courage to Create, 1975, p.45).

Over the course of my career, I worked with hundreds of teachers, professors, scientists, and researchers with whom we constructed our knowledge of inquiry in particular, and teaching in general.  We teamed to create projects that brought together not only for adults, but students and their families.

The GTP Telecommunications Network linking schools in the USA and the Soviet Union, c. 1991
The GTP Telecommunications Network linking schools in the USA and the Soviet Union, c. 1991

Moscow & Leningrad. The activity that epitomized the essence of inquiry while I was at GSU was the design and implementation of The Global Thinking Project (GTP), a hands-across-the-globe inquiry-based environmental science project. Utilizing very primitive Internet technologies and face-to-face meetings, teachers from Atlanta and other areas of Georgia forged cross-cultural partnerships with colleagues in the Soviet Union (1983 – 2002).   In 1991 the GTP was implemented in 10 schools in the U.S. & the Soviet Union, after we transported 6 MacIntosh SE 20 computers, printers and modems, and installed them in six schools in the Soviet Union.

In the Global Thinking Project teachers from different cultures came together to develop a curriculum was inquiry-based and involved students in solving local problems, as well thinking globally about these problems by participating in a global community of practice.  Inquiry was at the heart of the project.  By working with a range of teachers and students, the project developed an inquiry-based philosophy that emerged from years of collaboration among American and Russian teachers that was rooted in humanistic psychology.

Inquiry teaching was envisioned as a humanistic endeavor by American and Russian participants.  They believed that students should work collaboratively & cooperatively, not only in their own classrooms, but they should use the Internet  to develop interpersonal relationships, share local findings, and try to interpret each others ideas.

For more than ten years, collaboration took place among hundreds of teachers and students, not only in the United States (led by Dr. Julie Weisberg) and Russia (led by Dr. Galena Manke), but including significant work with colleagues in Spain (in the Barcelona Region under the directorship of Mr. Narcis Vives), Australia (under the leadership of Roger Cross), and further collaboration with the Czech Republic, Botswana, New Zealand, Scotland, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Singapore, and Canada.  With their work in the GTP, the following principles of inquiry emerged:

  • Innovative, flexible thinking
  • Cooperative–students work collaboratively in small teams to think and act together
  • Interdependence–a synergic system is established in groups within a classroom, and within global communities of practice.
  • Right-to-choose–students are involved in choice-making including problem and topic choice, as well as solutions; reflects the action processes of grassroots organizations
  • A new literacy insofar as “knowledge” relates to human needs, the needs of the environment and the social needs of the earth’s population and other living species
  • Emphasis on anticipation and participation; learning how to learn, and how to ask questions
  • Learning encourages creative thinking, and is holistic and intuitive

Inquiry as Magnum Principium

Inquiry is the sin qua non of experiential teaching and learning.  A method?  No.  It’s a foundational principle that is integral to democratic and humane environments that was espoused more than a hundred years ago by John Dewey.  In Dewey’s mind, this question must be asked when considering the way learning should occur in schools:

Can we find any reason that does not ultimately come down to the belief that democratic social arrangements promote a better quality of human experience, on which is more widely accessible and enjoyed, than do non-democratic and anti-democratic forms of social life? In Dewey, J., 1938. Experience & Education, p. 34. (public library)

At a deeper level, classrooms organized as democratic spaces encourage imagination, and it with free inquiry that teachers show themselves as Freiean “cultural workers.”  Freire says:

Teachers must give creative wings to their imaginations, obviously in disciplined fashion.  From the very first day of class, they must demonstrate to students the importance of imagination for life.  Imagination helps curiosity and inventiveness, just as it enhances adventure, with which we cannot create.  I speak here of imagination that is naturally free, flying, walking, or running freely.  Such imagination should be present in every movement of our bodies, in dance, in rhythm, in drawing, and in writing, even in the early stages when writing is in fact prewriting–scribbling.  It should be part of speech, present in the telling and retelling of stories produced within the learners’ culture. In Freire, P.,Teachers as Cultural Workers,  p. 51. (public library)

Becoming an inquiry teacher is a life-long phenomenon that emerges from the craft of teaching in the context of classrooms and schools that advocate professional collaboration and a pursuit of wisdom in teaching.  This is not ivory tower thinking purported by an emeritus professor of education.  It’s going on now in schools across the country.  Working together from the ground up, rather the top down, Chris Thinnes says on his blog how he and his colleagues work together to “formulate, analyze, prioritize, and activate driving questions that democratically identify the intersections of individual interest and shared priorities.”  You can go to Chris Thinnes blog, and read the kinds of questions he and his colleagues asked at their first meeting which focused on how a teacher creates an environment and climate conducive to learning.  It is this kind of democratically organized work that leads to teachers growing into cultural workers, inquiry teachers, and artists in their own right.

As way of introduction, here is what Chris said about the in-school meeting among all the staff to explore ways to improve teaching:

For a variety of reasons, I have been inspired for a number of years by the idea that our teachers’ professional learning and collaboration should be governed by the same principles and objectives as our students‘ learning and collaboration. To that end, each of six domains from the framework of our Goals for Learning (Create – Understand – Reflect – Transmit – Include – Strive) will be invoked as we establish language to articulate our core commitments to effective teaching practice; design driving questions that will facilitate further inquiry among our teams; identify teaching practices that should be visible to teachers, learners, and observers; explore resources drawing on a wide range of expertise outside our community; and create our own rubrics for self-assessment, reflection, goal-setting, peer observation, instructional coaching, and administrative evaluation.

Is inquiry the cornerstone of teaching?  What do you think?  What would you add to this conversation?


10 Ways to Modify the Druid Hills Charter Cluster in DeKalb County, Georgia

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The Druid Hills Charter Cluster, Inc., is a corporation that has petitioned to the DeKalb County School Board to convert seven public schools into a charter cluster. In 2010, the Georgia Legislature amended the Georgia code to enable a local board to act on a petition for a conversion charter school for a high school cluster if approved by 60 percent of faculty and parents. According to the law, two elections by secret ballot must be held, one for faculty and one for parents. One election was held on August 13, where about eleven hundred people cast ballots. According to the DHCC, Inc., 93% voted in favor of submitting a proposal to the DeKalb County School Board by August 15-16.   The Board has 60 days to act on the petition, which you can read here.

Two articles about the DHCC were published on this weblog, and you can read them here (about the vote) and here (a critique).   Some advocates of the charter cluster commented on these posts, and generally did not agree with the analyses presented.  But, the comments were well-intentioned, and provided an opportunity to study more carefully the Druid Hills Charter Cluster petition.

In this post I am going to discuss and critique the plan to convert seven schools in DeKalb County, Georgia into a cluster of charter schools.  However, my critique will include 10 suggestions that the authors of the petition might consider to truly submit an innovative petition.

The authors of the proposal make the claim that their charter cluster will take an innovative approach which will enable them to raise student achievement.  More specifically

The DHCC supports the legislative intent of O.C.G.A 20-2-2061 to raise student achievement through academic and organizational innovation as described herein.

The Druid Hills Charter Cluster will develop college and career ready students by providing continuous learning pathways for students from K-12.  These pathways will provide a choice of learning models with rewarding instruction, an authentic assessment process, and environments that value parent, teacher, and community contributions to the education of all children. (DHCC. (August 2013). Druid Hills Charter Cluster. In Petition. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from

As I will show, raising student achievement is focus of the petition, and in my estimation, the fundamental problem with the proposal.

The DHCC Petition

The DHCC petition is 75 pages plus appendices.  The DHCC petition is based on the Charter School Checklist, which is required for a charter school petition by State Law (O.C.G.A. 20-2-2063 (2010) and the State Board of Education (Rule 160-4-9-.04).  The petition contains the DHCC response to 76 item checklist of queries.

There are some good aspects to the proposal, but they  are subordinate to the uncritical infatuation with an accountability system based on standards and high-stakes testing, which means the cluster of schools will be focused on accountability measures to meet the bottom-line and that is how well the students do on high-stakes tests.

Professor P.L. Thomas, who has written extensively on school reform outlines what we know about educational reform based on the present accountability system.  In one of his recent articles, Dr. Thomas refers to a research study by Virginia Tech sociologist David L. Brunsma.  According to research by Dr. Brunsma, what we know about charter schools doesn’t work out well for the DHCC petition.  Thomas writes,

What we know now about charter schools: Despite the increased support and funding for charter schools,“charterness” has not been shown to be a determining factor in school quality (when compared to traditional public schools [TPS]), charter schools have produced a range of outcomes essentially indistinguishable from TPS, but charter schools have increased segregation (by class and race) as well as underserved English language learners and special needs students (see annotated research here).

There is a great deal of evidence that the accountability system that has dominated K-12 education over the past two decades has not worked. Yet, in spite of what we know, the Druid Hills Charter Cluster bases its decision-making on the very tools that have been shown not to work.

For example, according the petition, the “DHCC will demonstrate measurable improvement in student achievement over the same school performance levels for the prior year; and measurable improvement in student achievement in the aggregate over the same school groups and subgroups in the County at large.”  Although the cluster organizers have identified a list of innovations that they will carry out, this will be done in the context of raising achievement.

For example, this is how the authors of the petition put it when they talk about goals.  Goals should be:

  • specifically tied to raising achievement and ensuring efficiency and fiscal stewardship
  • can be measured using public data
  • tied to trend data
  • time bound and established for each
  • based on quantitative data over three years

There are other positive aspects of the proposal including the DHCC’s emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), Montessori, and the International Baccalaureate Program, which was established at Druid Hills High in 2004).  There was also a suggestion to partner with the Healthier Generation/Healthy Schools Program.  But again, these “innovations” will be subjected to a standards and high-stakes testing drag.

A word analysis of the document reveals key words related to the failed accountability system that appear repeatedly throughout the petition,  These include achievement (30 instances), measure (50), school choice (21), standards (25), tests and testing (57), Measures of Academic Program (26), Autonomy (20), board (of directors-150), teachers (42).  I find it telling the board of directors is mentioned three times more than teachers.  These words infer that the authors of the petition are steeped in the rhetoric of accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing.

If the DHCC petition was based on research about the effects of charter schools on student learning, the document would include such references and note that charters have not been as effective as regular public schools.  But they don’t.  So, how will this proposal be any different?

Learning should be an exploration into the unknown, and a search for understanding, not something that is done to prepare for another test.
Figure 1. Learning should be an exploration into the unknown, and a search for understanding, not something that is done to prepare for another test.  (Parkes Observatory, Australia).

If they read the literature or even the newspapers, they should acknowledge that there is a trend in the country questioning the use of high-stakes testing.  In Texas, more than 1,000 districts signed on to a letter suggesting that high stakes testing should be greatly reduced.  The Common Core State Standards have created even more controversy, from both the left and the right.  Who would have thought.  And in New York, proficiency rates in English/language arts fell from 55.1 percent to 31.1 percent, and in mathematics they fell from 64.8 percent to 31 percent.  The Georgia Department of Education has adopted the Common Core for all Georgia schools.  What’s going to be the result of this?

The DHCC, if it wanted to make a real difference in the lives of the children and youth and their families that feed into Druid Hills High School, might want to consider some of the following recommendations.  They might seem radical.  But, actually, they are not.  We have to move away from the accountability era.  Here are some ideas that I have modified based on research by Dr. Thomas.

10 Ideas to Modify Charter Schools (or any School)

1. End accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing

All the good in the DHCC petition, such as emphasis on the arts as well as science and math, the implementation of new curricula, the International Baccalaureate program, and the emphasis on community based programing, will be held up to inspection by a failed system of uniform standards and the outrageous dependence on high-stakes testing.  The unfortunate aspect of the accountability era is the focus placed on outcomes, which boil down to performance of students on standardized tests.  It’s as simple as that.

There are six academic goals listed on pages 24 – 26 of the petition, and each one of them will be evaluated by using quantitative measures, e.g. scores on tests, percentage meeting this or that target.  The quantitative tests that are used include Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), End of Course Test (EOCT), Measures of Academic Performance (MAP was rejected by hundreds of teachers in Washington because it did not relate to what they were teaching and they felt it was a waste of time), ACT, Grade Five, Eight & High School Writing Test, ITBS (Iowa Assessments).

And furthermore, the academic goals are not stated in terms of local curricula, but instead are statements of performance on specific tests, which may or may not be based on the curriculum at the seven schools.

And as Paul Thomas puts it,

A growing body of research has shown that the accountability era has failed: “the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity, educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by itself” (Mathis, 2012). A first and essential step to a new vision of education reform is to end the accountability era by shifting away from focusing on outcomes and toward attending to the conditions of teaching and learning—with an emphasis on equity of opportunity.  (Thomas, P., August 19, 2013, What we know now (and How it doesn’t matter), the becoming radical, August 23, 2013,

2. Implement a small (low-stakes) and robust measurement system

Instead of the tables of assessments that the DHCC organizers will insist that teachers administer to their students, a better approach would be not to use the assessments listed in the charts shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.  The Formative and Summative Assessment and Accountability Measures in Place for DHCC Students by Grade Level.
Figure 2. The Formative and Summative Assessment and Accountability Measures in Place for DHCC Students by Grade Level.

Instead, researchers have argued that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment system that exists today, and has since 1969 would be a much more powerful way to gather data about the effectiveness of schools.  If you were to study NAEP data over the past four decades, you would discover that there has been a slow, but steady improvement, and a decreasing gap between ethnic groups.  Instead of making every student in the DHCC take an unbearable number of tests each year, the NAEP is administered using a random methodology meaning that not every kid has to suffer through endless testing cycles.

3. Scale back and eventually end tracking

4. Focus on equitable teacher assignments

The focus on teacher quality within the accountability movement has tended to mislead the public about the importance of teacher quality connected to measurable outcomes while ignoring that impoverished, minority, and special needs students along with English language learners disproportionately are assigned to inexperienced and under-certified teachers. Education reform committed to equity must monitor teacher assignments so that no students experience inequitable access to high-quality, experienced teachers.

5. Honor school and teacher autonomy

The DHCC petition states clearly that it wants autonomy, but as I read the document, it seems to be autonomy for a board of directors that might be made up eventually of cronies who self appoint themselves.  There is too much power vested in this board, and it one of the first things that must change.

Teachers and school staff are the ones that need autonomy.  If the accountability system based on standards and high-stakes testing was abandoned, then the autonomy would naturally rest with the faculty of Druid Hills High School, and the other six feeder school faculties.  There has to be a disruption such that the board that wishes to assume power is restricted, and given an advisory position.  The board should not have the power that it has written into this proposal.  All that is being done here is replacing one layer of bureaucracy that already exists with another one, that appears to value power and control.

As Paul Thomas has well stated:

Individual schools and classrooms vary dramatically across the U.S. School autonomy and teacher professionalism are the greatest sources of understanding what populations of students need. The current move toward national standards and tests is inherently a flawed concept since student needs in Orangeburg, SC, are dramatically different from student needs in Seattle, WA.

By removing the failed accountability system from the Druid Hill Charter Cluster proposal, the authors would actually re-invent the original purpose of charter schools–to beacons of excellence.  In this re-invented form, professional teachers would make decisions about curriculum, instruction, and student assessment.  In this system, teachers would carry out a qualitative system of assessment (which would still include quantitative measures), but would rely of their professional decision making to make decisions.

6. Replace accountability with transparency

Individual school faculties would give its students’ parents and citizens in the county a transparent approach in which the public is seamlessly informed about the needs of the students, and how the school is providing evidence that the best pedagogical strategies are being implemented to help students succeed.

7. Address wide range of issues impacting equity—funding, class size, technology, facilities

The authors of the petition are quite aware of the diversity of their community.  If the authors are courageous enough to move away from accountability measures and toward equity, then there is a greater possibility of equity for all students.

8. Abandon ranking

We have a fetish with ranking.  CRCT results each year are published in the newspaper, and it seems that the goal here is to name the schools and districts that are awardws gold medals or gold stars using questionable data.

I’ve written at great length on much of misunderstanding associated with international rankings based on PISA and TIMSS assessments which are given to students in countries around the world.  It may surprise you, but the rankings that we see each time these two organization release their results are based on a national test score average.  Recent research at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark reveals that only 10% of all students that were tested in reading were tested on all 28 questions on the test.  As the lead researcher, Dr. Svend Kreiner say, “This in itself is ridiculous.”  He goes on to say that PISA comparisons are meaningless.  We can say the same about the TIMSS rankings based on national averages.

I’ve reported on this blog, that when these international tests are investigated more carefully, and comparisons are based on important socio-economic factors, the rankings change considerably.

As Paul Thomas writes:

Education in the U.S. has suffered the negative consequences of ranking for over a century. Ranking nearly always distorts data and typically fails goals of equity. Instead of ranking, education should honor how conditions of learning match clearly identified learning goals.

9. Rethink testing and grades:

By re-thinking testing and grades, we have the opportunity to change the interpersonal dynamic between ourselves and our students, and their families.  The idea that a student’s worth in science, or history should be based on high-stakes test scores diminishes the student’s quest for knowledge and self-understanding.  By removing the emphasis on tests and grades, students and teachers can work on goals and evidence of progress.  Student interests can surface as important markers for curriculum and for projects.  But more importantly, by doing this, we create environments of trust between students and teachers, quite unlike the system that we have in place today.

10. One More Thing

In my view, reform needs reform, and I hope that the authors of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster can review their plan, and reconsider the plan.  I would hope that they would abandon the accountability system that relies on standards-based curriculum and high-stakes testing.  And I also would ask the faculties of these schools to look at how the board will be formed, and the power that the board has invested in itself.

Finally, here is link to a collection of articles many of the reform ideas presented here.

This is a personal view, and I invite your responses and ideas on this charter school proposal.



The Wisdom of Practice

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Around 1990, I started working on a research project which was published as a book entitled Minds on Science (library copy). I was interested in exploring teaching from a humanistic and progressive point of view. One aspect of this project was to include “wisdom-of-practice” interviews with teachers that I had met from various parts of the country. I interviewed more than 20 teachers, grades 5 – 12.  An example of this kind of knowledge is expressed by Bill Blythe, an 8th grade physical science teacher, when he answers the question, “Is science teaching an art, a science, or both?

This seems like an easy question but I believe that it changes constantly. Good science teaching is based in the methods and best practices that have been developed over the years. Also, as I have progressed, I believe that I have become a more artful teacher in that it is not always the best move to follow a script. You have to follow your instincts to where your students take you. You have to be well-versed in the best practices but at the same time have the confidence in yourself to allow changes of direction and then use the art of teaching to bring you back to the science that you are teaching. The science is first and the art takes you to where you need to be; they must work together dependent on the circumstances (Hassard, and Dias, 2009, p. 21)

What I discovered was that teachers were vocal about pushing themselves to take risks in their classrooms, and that they believed that their multiple years of teaching contributed to their willingness to practice teaching as an art, and that the wisdom they gained, especially from colleagues, was a part of their professional development.

As you will find out, as you read ahead, teaching wisdom–insight, common sense, astuteness, experience, gumption, sageness, sophistication–is not fully appreciated nor understood, but is crucial if we believe that it is teachers who will lead us out of the present mire. Clearly, we will not be lead out of the present movement by corporatist reformers.

Howard Zinn  speaks eloquently about where wisdom is NOT, and points out how all social change takes place. He writes:

One of the things that I got out of reading history was to begin to be disabused of this notion that that’s what democracy is all about. The more history I read, the more it seemed very clear to me that whatever progress has been made in this country on various issues, whatever things have been done for people, whatever human rights have been gained, have not been gained through the calm deliberations of Congress or the wisdom of presidents or the ingenious decisions of the Supreme Court. Whatever progress has been made in this country has come because of the actions of ordinary people, of citizens, of social movements. Zinn, Howard; Arnove, Anthony (2012-11-06). Howard Zinn Speaks: Collected Speeches 1963 to 2009 (public library) (p. 59). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Zinn argues that education does not convey wisdom.  In his view, there are values that transcend centuries that are missing in school.  These transcendental values center on “human life, of concern for human beings, which are not limited to one historical period.”  In the present age, there are many things about which we should be concerned.  These include surveillance of citizens, insecurity created by capitalism run amuck, diminishing voting rights, and the corporatization of American eduction.

To push back against the corporate infusion of public education will need wisdom, risk, and courage.  These human attributes are not platitudes, but are everyday actions of teachers and administrators who not only reject the movement to privatize, “charterize”, and “voucherize” public education, but know that this movement is politically and economically chartered.  The movement to privatize education is not based on evidence.  It is based on the “cozy” relationships among corporations, especially charter management companies, and e-publishing ventures, and corporate family philanthropists including Gates, Walton, and Broad.

In the last article in this series, I discussed the corporate the communal approaches to teaching.  In research over many years, Professor Christopher Emdin, Teachers College, Columbia University, has explored teaching and learning in urban classrooms, primarily in New York City, based on communal classrooms.  In Emdin’s research, teachers who are willing to reflect on their own connection with students tend to embrace an approach to teaching in which students are given voice, and indeed take part in constructing what is learned, and how it is learned.  This approach is not only courageous and risky, but involves insight, understanding, experience, in short, wisdom.

Questions Unknown

Grant Lichtman, in his book, The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School (public library), provides powerful insight into the nature of teaching, especially the attributes of courage and wisdom.  His book provides a rich story of teaching based on his “conversations, trials, and testing in the classroom ranging over a period of more than twenty years.”  It is from reports by educators such as Grant Lichtman that we find out how courage and wisdom emerge from professional work.

Like Howard Zinn, Grant Lichtman doesn’t think that we are teaching our students what they really need to know.  He asks if there is a space or step in the learning process that we have not considered that transcends our fetish for the teaching of competency and knowledge.  He wonders if this hidden dimension might give students the tools of creation, invention, and wisdom.

One of the aspects of Grant’s book that I appreciate is that the central theme of his book is the importance of asking questions.  We have established a system of education based on what we know and what we expect students to know at every grade level.  The standards-based curriculum dulls the mind by it’s over reliance on a set of expectations or performances that every child should know.  In this approach, students are not encouraged to ask questions.  But, they are expected to choose the correct answer.

Where is the wisdom in this approach to education?  There is no where in standards-based curriculum where students are encouraged to take risks, or show courage.  They essentially are told to learn what others think is important without consideration of their community and personal needs and aspirations.

Teachers who have worked in schools for at least a decade have built up and constructed an understanding of teaching from their collaboration with colleagues (other teachers and administrators), and among their students, and their parents.  Wisdom emerges from these experiences.

In Lichtman’s view, education will only change if we overtly switch our priorities from giving answers to a process of finding new questions.  This notion sounds obvious, but we have gone off the cliff because of the dual forces of standards-based curriculum and high-stakes assessments.  Lichtman writes:

Questions are waypoints on the path of wisdom. Each question leads to one or more new questions or answers. Sometimes answers are dead ends; they don’t lead anywhere. Questions are never dead ends. Every question has the inherent potential to lead to a new level of discovery, understanding, or creation, levels that can range from the trivial to the sublime.  Lichtman, Grant (2010-05-25). The Falconer (Kindle Locations 967-971). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Grant’s thinking reminds me of a song that John Denver wrote called Calypso (YouTube), which was about the research vessel of oceanographic researcher Jacques-Yves Cousteau.  Denver’s lyrics of Calypso give another way to envision science teaching.  Here is the first stanza, followed by a YouTube performance of Calypso by John Denver.

To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean,
to ride on the crest of a wild raging storm
To work in the service of life and living,
in search of the answers of questions unknown
To be part of the movement and part of the growing,
part of beginning to understand, 

The Ecology of Wisdom

In this article, an underlying assumption is that continuous open inquiry is the path towards wisdom.  There are many examples we could explore to help us understand this process.  Perhaps, one of the most significant examples is the work of Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term “deep ecology.”  In a marvelous book (The Ecology of Wisdom, public library) that brings together many of Naess’ thinking, editors Alan Drengson and Bill Devall, suggest that Naess embodies the spirit of philosophy as a “loving pursuit of wisdom.”

How can we bring a “loving pursuit of wisdom” to public education?  There are many examples of how we can do this (please see Grant Lichtman’s book, The Falconer), but for this essay, I am going to focus on Arne Naess as depicted in Drengson and Devall’s book.

How can an ecology of wisdom become a part of American school culture?

One of the principles of learning that can be applied to teaching is the notion of deep inquiry, which to Arne Naess, reflects the real day-to-day work of scientists.  Unfortunately, when experts are commissioned to make recommendations for (science, or math, or history or literature) curriculum, they end up creating a book of knowledge arranged into topics and lists of performances.  In the case of science education, the latest rendition is the Next Generation Science Standards.  Although these recommendations include statements about values, methods, and approaches, the overwhelming result is that all students should learn the same science, in the same order, and on the same time schedule.

This does not create citizens who question, inquire, wonder about, or go out of their way to search for new understandings.  The curriculum in most of education is learning about stuff (or in many instances, learning what will be on the test), rather than capitalizing on “our spontaneous experience, which “in the world is far richer than we can ever say (Drengson and Devall).  They write:

Our spontaneous experience is so rich and deep that we can never give a complete account of it in any language, be it mathematics, science, music, or art.  Devall, Bill; Naess, Arne; Drengson, Alan (2009-05-01). The Ecology of Wisdom: Writings by Arne Naess (p. 20). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

Naess believed that dogmatism was anathema to an ecology of wisdom.  He, like Lisa Delpit, advocate social movements and education supported by diverse people with multiple worldviews.  Schools that are diverse have an innate richness when all experiences are valued.  Because of corporate reform, schools have become increasingly segregated, thereby eliminating conditions for diverse worldviews.

Naess also was convinced that people (read public education students) with no special training are able to think deeply about the meaning of ideas such as freedom and truth.  One of my colleagues at Georgia State University, Dr. Bob Almeda, emeritus professor of philosophy, decided to find out if this was really the case.  During a one year period (in the 1980s), he taught a philosophy course for 5th graders at a local elementary school in DeKalb County, GA.  In the course, he engaged the students in discussions of a variety of moral questions, a different one each week.  He found that students were able to discuss birth, death, truth, freedom, and relate them to personal and social circumstances.  The students were at ease when they talked about such philosophical issues, and pursued their discussions with a sense of inquiry and knowing.  Too bad this kind of wisdom was missing when the Carnegie Foundation brought together scientists to decide the next set of science standards.

What students learn, to help them develop the ability to create, innovate and pursue wisdom, does not have to be laid out in bits and pieces, like it is in the Common Core State Standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards.   Students are able to purse complex questions, and indeed, ask questions that are important, which will help them be active and participatory citizens in the democratic society.

To develop wisdom, Naess would suggest that education should involve students in social change, and engage them in real projects in which students uncover truths and knowledge.  This is just the opposite of the way school is organized today.  But it can be done.  It has been done.

For more than 20 years (1981 – 2002)  teachers, administrators and academics in the U.S., Russia (in the beginning, it was the Soviet Union), Spain, Czech Republic, Australia and other countries collaborated with each other to discover ways of working together that would benefit their students (Hassard, 1997).  This project was an environmental one based on citizen diplomacy and youth activism.  It made use of the Internet to bring disparate groups together. Through face-to-face exchanges of teachers and students and the Internet, hundreds of individuals worked together to create the project, which became known as the Global Thinking Project (public library).  As Dr. Jennie Springer, Principal and Associate Superintendent for Instruction in DeKalb County, GA said about this kind of work:

We must be scholars and activists. It is simply not enough to be scientists–that is to measure and calculate, but rather we must be willing to dedicate ourselves to causes–to be activists who are willing to commit to environmental and humanitarian issues.

But it was much more than a global project.  As Naess has said, people who want to live wisely realize that most environmental problems are not simply technical, but are also personal and local; they have community and global dimensions.  By bringing students and educators together from diverse families, the GTP was able to engage students in big questions: How can we work together to solve environmental problems?  How can we work together to end violence, improve social justice, to consider other possible solutions to problems?  In this kind of work, Naess would suggest that students would begin to act as if “anything can happen.”  The choices they make do matter, and their future is open.  He would call this being a “possibilist.” In the Global Thinking Project, the wisdom of students and educators led to student and teacher activism (for more information follow this link to the GTP Archive).

The ecology of wisdom, in Naess’ view, derives from the notion of deep ecology or deep questioning.  Crucial here is understanding that the quality of life depends on the quality of relationships.  If we design schooling based on the relationships of students with their local communities then we have the possibility of establishing school climates that foster deep understanding and wisdom.  A deep ecological perspective applied to education would reject the recent movements that seek to privatize education, and dictate what knowledge all students should learn (and be tested).  A deep ecological perspective would respect the worth of all people, and would prevent the predator behavior of wealthy people and their family foundations, and organizations (such as ALEC–please see ALEC Exposed) from encroaching public education.  Public education should be respected in the same way that we respect public grounds and spaces like national parks and forests.  The students and teachers who spend a lot of time in the spaces of public schools should be given the same protections that we have established for our public spaces.

Many people cherish those moments and memories of visiting a national or state park, and experiencing the peacefulness as well as the richness and diversity in these environments.  For many, wisdom is sought in these spaces.

So it should be in schools.  Students should find schools as environments that offer the same kind of richness and joy that they experience visiting a park, climbing a tree, or being with their friends in a coffee-house.

Eight More Things

Before we end this post.  The wisdom of practice is inextricably linked to the writings and doings of Arne Naess.  The common themes that Arne Naess and George Sessions described in 1984 are essential aspects of the wisdom of practice that so many teachers and administrators aspire. The list that follows is provocative. Could these themes be applies to education (Retrieved on 12 August 2013 from  

1. All living beings have intrinsic value.

2. The richness and diversity of life has intrinsic value.

3. Except to satisfy vital needs, humans do not have the right to reduce this diversity and richness.

4. It would be better for humans if there were fewer of them, and much better for other living creatures.

5. Today the extent and nature of human interference in the various ecosystems is not sustainable, and the lack of sustainability is rising.

6. Decisive improvement requires considerable changes: social, economic, technological, and ideological.

7. An ideological change would essentially entail seeking a better quality of life rather than a raised standard of living.

8. Those who accept the aforementioned points are responsible for trying to contribute directly or indirectly to the

necessary changes.  Devall, Bill; Naess, Arne; Drengson, Alan (2009-05-01). The Ecology of Wisdom: Writings by Arne Naess (p. 28). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

What do you think?  How would these principles, if implemented, affect the quality of education for students that you know?



What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching

In this post I am going to share some thinking about teaching that I learned along my journey as a teacher from three people.  I future posts I’ll share thoughts about teaching from other people who I’ve met along the way. What everybody ought to know about teaching is a response to what Henry Giroux calls “critical pedagogy in dark times.”  Education is dominated by conservative and neoliberal paradigms which has reduced teaching to skills, economic growth, job training, and transmission of information.

What everybody ought to know about teaching is NOT about tips for teaching, but more about the nature of education in a democratic society.  As educators ought to be advocates for a critical pedagogy that, in the words of Giroux,

connect classroom knowledge to the experiences, histories, and resources that students bring to the classroom but also link such knowledge to the goal of furthering their capacities to be critical agents who are responsive to moral and political problems of their time and recognize the importance of organized collective struggles.  (Giroux, Henry A. (2011-06-23). On Critical Pedagogy  (Kindle Location 145). Continuum US. Kindle Edition.)

There are many people who influenced my teaching and professional work including Dr. Marlene Hapai, Dr. Joe Abruscato, Dr. Julie Wiesberg, Dr. Ted Colton, Dr. Frank Koontz, Mr. Francis Macy, Mr. Sergei Tolstikov, Dr. Marge Gardner.  Each of them taught me what everybody ought to know about teaching.  Mr. Bob Jaber, Mr. Ken Royal, and Dr. Carl Rogers are featured in this post.

I am going to start with Bob Jaber.

Bob Jaber

Bob Jaber was a high school chemistry teacher who taught in the Fulton County schools (Georgia) in the 1970s and 1980s.  I first met him when he took one of my courses in the science education graduate program at Georgia State University.    While at GSU he studied advanced graduate chemistry and science education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Bob Jaber.

As well as scientist, Bob Jaber was also an artist.  His work used mixed media to create textured art forms.  One of the art forms that he perfected was using colorful carpet samples to design floors, walls, and create poster size wall hangings.

Like Jacob Bronowski, the British-Polish mathematician and scientist, Bob integrated science and human values in his high school chemistry classes. Like Bronowski, Bob Jaber believed that science can be part of our world, and can create the values that humanize our experience.  I learned from Bob Jaber that values and attitudes should be as important as the content that we are teaching.  Everyone should know this about teaching, yet, in the present day, we are breaking teaching down into dozens of components, and in doing so forget that there is something much more important about teaching.  Teaching is something much more than the way it might look on the Danielson Framework for Teaching or Flanders Interaction Analysis.  Teaching is about the whole thing  on so many levels.  It’s not about skills (although they are important to know), it not about lists of content spelled out in the standards, and it’s not about the tests that are given to students.  It is harmony and holism in teaching, and to teachers like Bob Jaber, teaching is a journey of  profound and enduring connections with students.

Ken Royal

I first met Ken in the mid-1990s when he was teaching science at Whisconier Middle School, Brookfield, Connecticut. At the time I was conducting national seminars for the Bureau of Education and Research, and I met Ken at one of my seminars in Hartford. At Ken’s invitation, I visited his school and classroom, and actually presented a seminar at his school for science teachers in his district.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Ken Royal.

Two aspects of teaching jump out when I think about what I learned from this man.  First is his willingness to take risks, and try new stuff.  Second, Ken epitomized the experiential educator, who like Giroux believes that school should be a project intent on developing a meaningful life for all students.

His classroom was a model for the experiential science approach, and he was also a pioneer in the use of technology as a tool to enhance student learning in science. His students were involved in global conversations and research with students in at least three continents, and his students were posting results of their research using digital cameras and text at a time when the Web was in its infancy. His classroom was an environment where students were involved in active inquiry, and with the rapid development of technology in the 1990s, Ken was one of the leaders pioneering ways that this technology could be harnessed to help students get excited about science. He later became technology coördinator for the Brookfield School District, and then started writing as a freelancer about technology, and making presentations around the country. Scholastic saw one of his presentations, and hired him as senior editor in technology and teaching.  You can follow Ken on his website at Royal Reports.

One of his most popular blog posts is Flipped, Blended, Disrupted Nonsense!  It’s a must read.

Carl Rogers

Carl R. Rogers
Carl R. Rogers

While I was a graduate student at Ohio State University in the 1960s (yup, that’s right), my advisor, Dr. John Richardson, suggested that I read Carl Rogers’ book, On Becoming a Person.  You can read between the lines, but I think he had something in mind for me.  But later in my life, when I read what others have written about this book by Rogers–that it was revolutionary thinking–did I realize how significant Richardson’s recommendation was for me.

In 1969, the year that I finished my Ph.D. at Ohio State, Rogers published Freedom to Learn, the most important book published to date on humanistic education.  The book became the guide that I used as a professor of science education at Georgia State University, where I worked from 1969-2003.  It was a guide in the sense that it encouraged me to be experimental with my courses, and the programs that I developed, and working with others at GSU, had the gumption to swim upstream away from more traditional approaches to teaching and especially, teacher education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Carl Rogers.

I learned so much from Rogers’ work, that I’ll only share some of the ideas that I think influenced the way that I designed courses, and programs at the University level, and in so doing encouraged K-12 teachers to consider Rogers’ ideas for their own classrooms.

One idea I want to share here is the notion of being willing to be experimental as a teacher, and to have the courage to try new ideas, and be willing to be open to the opinions and ideas of your students.  In Rogers’ book, Freedom to Learn, Chapter Two is entitled “A Sixth Grade Teacher Experiments.”  Rogers describes the despair and frustration that teacher Barbara J. Shield felt, so much so, that she tried a drastic experiment in her classroom by promoting an experiential type of learning in her classroom.  Rogers tells us that Shield decided to change the way she was teaching which she described as teacher centered to an approach based on student-centered  teaching–an unstructured or non-directive approach.  What’s important about this chapter is not the particular approach that Shield unleashed in her class, but the attitude and philosophy underpinning her wish to change what she was doing, and try out something that was new (to her), risky, and took courage, and support.

In the summer of 1973 I designed a graduate seminar at GSU for teachers that was based on Rogers’ ideas in Freedom to Learn, but especially, Chapter 2.   Teachers who took the course knew in advance that it was the intent of the course to encourage experimentation in their own classroom during the 1973-1974 school year.  About 30 teachers signed up for the course.  Our sessions were designed to explore a variety of pedagogics, and approaches to give the participants ideas to help them formulate their plans for the school year.  Some of the teachers actually took the experience of Barbara Shield’s and reorganized the curriculum of their course (usually in science) along the non-directive, student-centered approach.  Other participants delved into project based teaching, team teaching, collaborative and cooperative learning.  All the teachers agreed to collect “data” on their own and their students attitudes and concepts learned, but also to sample student work, as well as student journals.  In the summer of 1974, a second seminar was held at GSU (which met only for one week), where the teachers presented their work in a conference type of setting.

A second idea I want to share here that I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching comes from Rogers’ book On Becoming a Person.  The same chapter also appears in his book, Freedom to Learn.  The title of the chapter in each book is Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.  The very short chapter is a talk he gave at Harvard University, April 1952 where he was asked to put on a demonstration of “student-centered teaching.”  After taking some time painting, writing and photography in Mexico, he “sat down” and wrote a personal view of what his experiences had been with teaching and learning.  He said this about what he wrote:

I may have been naïve, but I did not consider the material inflammatory. After all the conference members were knowledgeable, self-critical teachers, whose main common bond was an interest in the discussion method in the classroom. I met with the conference, I presented my views as written out below, taking only a very few moments, and threw the meeting open for discussion. I was hoping for a response, but I did not expect the tumult which followed. Feelings ran high. It seemed I was threatening their jobs, I was obviously saying things I didn’t mean, etc., etc. And occasionally a quiet voice of appreciation arose from

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4256-4260). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

What he said influenced me throughout my entire career as a science teacher educator, in my work as a seminar leader for the Bureau of Education and Research, and in my work with colleagues in other nations through the Global Thinking Project.  Here is just an excerpt of what Rogers said in 1952 in Boston at Harvard:

a. I may as well start with this one in view of the purposes of this conference. My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.

b. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behavior. That sounds so ridiculous I can’t help but question it at the same time that I present it.

c. I realize increasingly that I can only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior. Quite possibly this is simply a personal idiosyncrasy.

d. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.

e. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4283-4290). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

I took what Rogers said seriously, and to some extent acted on it while I was at GSU.  I did away with tests in my courses, because I agreed with Rogers that most of what we test is inconsequential, and as a result there was no reason for tests.  I couldn’t do away with grades, but I could create different systems in which grading was student-centered.  Here is what I did in nearly all my courses:

All class sessions were experiential encounters that were designed as informally as possible.  On the first day of class I arranged with the on campus food caterers to have coffee, juice, fruit and cookies delivered to my classroom just before class began.  Nearly all my students were full-time teachers, and after a full day of teaching, food and drink seemed to be the ticket.  In some courses, we took two weeks to work out the curriculum with the students.  In other courses, students were encouraged to try any of the activities that were done in class back in their elementary, middle or high school.  If special materials were required, such as ozone monitoring strips, or chemical powders, they were provided.

But in nearly all the courses, the only requirements that were expected were drawn from Rogers’ chapter on his way of facilitating a class as outlined in Freedom to Learn.  As Rogers points out, every instructor has her own style of facilitating the learning of her students.  And I also agreed that there is not one way of achieving this.  The requirements that I outline here, worked for me, and my students.   This is what I gave the students on the first day of class in the form of a handout.

Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University
Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University. Rogers, Carl (1961). On becoming a person. Columbus: Merrill Publishers 

What would you like to add about What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching? Who influenced you, and what were the consequences in your professional work?

The Standards Emerged from the Progressive America Playbook: I Don’t Think So

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In my previous post, Are the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards Progressive Ideology, I argued that the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards are not the kind of movements that would attract the freethinkers that I discussed.  The K-12 Standards movement is a top-down, authoritarian system that is polar opposite of the kind of action that progressive teachers would see as improving the education for children and youth.  Indeed, as I pointed out, freethinkers then, and today, were attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation.  Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.  Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life. Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals.

I concluded that any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is a conservative idea that proposes  what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

A comment related to the progressive ideology blog post, indicated that the standards “is a page right out of the current Progressive American playbook.  The writer also suggested that 100 yrs ago Democrats fought to save slavery and Republicans supported Darwin.

Click on Darwin Two Pound Coin to go to Evolution as Design

Well, that might be so about the Democratic party then, but the Republicans did not support Darwin’s original ideas; instead they supported “social Darwinism,” which was an ideology that applied Darwin’s evolutionary theory to sociology and politics.  Darwin didn’t accept this, nor did other biologists. However,some sociologists and biologists invoked the term “survival of the fittest” as the fundamental concept of evolution and used it to further the idea of “social Darwinism.”  The problem is that cooperation is a more significant behavior in Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

The freethinkers that I documented in the last post were not Democrats. The foremost progressive of the 19th century was Robert Ingersoll, a Republican.  He was active in the Republican party, especially in years after the Civil War.  Professionally he was a lawyer, and held the post of Illinois Attorney General.

But Ingersoll also had radical ideas on religion, slavery, and woman’s suffrage.  He was one of several prominent freethinkers who wrote and talked openly about the economic, legal, and social injustices that were inflicted on women, but also the poor.  Susan Jacoby connects the 19th century progressives with their 18th century American “founding brothers,” by the declarations that they wrote.  The 19th century Progressives wrote their own declarations (using similar language that we read in the Declaration of Independence), including the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments.  This declaration stated in part: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal.”  (Jacoby, Susan (2005-01-07). Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism (p. 90). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition).

The progressive movement was about inclusiveness.  It was grass-roots movement that fought to change the economic, social, legal and educational problems that many Americans endured.

Progressive education, as envisioned by John Dewey and other progressive educators, was experiential.  They believed that learning is embedded in experiences when the student interacts with the environment.  Dewey believed that learning was natural, not a process limited.  He would say that we are always in motion trying to resolve or seek a goal, or working on something intently.  Establishing a set of goals or standards that each child in America should reach is the antithesis of a progressive education.  Education should be in the hands of local boards of education and the faculty and administrators of their schools.

Dewey documented the work of progressive educators in his book, Schools of To-Morrow, published in 1915.  According to Lawrence Cremin, Dewey’s book showed what actually happened when schools put into practice, in their own way, progressive theories of education.  A number of schools around the country are featured in Dewey’s book including The Organic School at Fairhope, Alabama, the Experimental school at the University of Missouri, the Francis Parker School in Chicago, the Kindergarten at Teachers College, and public schools in Gary, Indiana.  Dewey documented not only the inclusiveness of progressive educators, but he developed a body of pedagogical theory that could explain the diversity of the progressive education movement.  (John Dewey and the Progressive-Education Movement, 1915-1952 Lawrence A. Cremin, The School Review , Vol. 67, No. 2, Dewey Centennial Issue (Summer, 1959), pp. 160-173 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Article Stable URL:

It is important to note that the progressive movement of the early 20th century was according to Malcolm Cowley, as quoted in Cremin’s article, an individual revolt against puritan restraint, as well a social revolt against the evils of capitalism (Cremin, 1959).

The goal of education in a progressive context would be moral reasoning integrated with values, human concerns, and scientific literacy. Limiting education to the achievement of canonical knowledge of science, mathematics, social studies and English/language arts is contradictory to progressive education.

To suggest that the standards are part of a progressive ideology simply without merit.



Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

Any thought the standards movement is an idea hatched by progressives is without merit. Indeed, the idea of standards is conservative idea that proposes that what students learn is out there, and that what is out there can be expressed as discrete sentences or standards. Further, the idea is that not only can we tell students what they should learn, the standards spell out when.

attracted to John Dewey’s educational philosophy because of his view that learning was rooted in observation and experience, not revelation (Jacoby, p. 160). Education should not only be based on experience, but should be secular.

Progressive educational programs were learner-centered, and encouraged intellectual participation in all spheres of life. Dewey suggested that the Progressive Education Movement appealed to many educators because it was more closely aligned with America’s democratic ideals. Dewey put it this way:dfs