Sunday, August 23, 2015

Schools Need Intellectual Leaders Too!

“The role of the intellectual is to expose new ways of thinking: to make people see the world around them in a different light, to disturb their mental habits and to invite them to demand and instigate change.” Johanna Oksala, How to Read Foucault
I want to propose a radical idea: School leaders need to be “intellectual leaders.” If you look at any one of the hundreds of books about educational leadership, you see the words, “instructional leader,” “micropolitical leader,” or “managerial leader,” but what’s missing is the idea of “intellectual leadership.” Educational leaders, as I see it, should also be “intellectual leaders."
If there ever was a time “intellectual leaders” are needed it is now. Intellectual leaders who “expose new and old ways of thinking about education and its practices” are needed in the face of an onslaught of privatization and corporatization. Educational leaders have often blindly accepted the “corporate agenda” for schools often without question. They have bought the idea that “If it works in business, then it will work in education” mantra. They have come to accept without question an audit culture that places results in the form of test scores above anything else. They have blindly followed politicians into this by accepting massive amounts of federal money with chains attached to drag public education in places of destruction. In a word, educational leaders are complicit in the destruction of public education and the destruction of the teaching profession with their unquestioning acceptance of the latest brand of educational reform to travel downward from on high.

What is needed to counter this downward spiral? Intellectual leaders willing to expose these mandates, these policies to the scrutiny of critical examination. Intellectual leaders who don’t just accept as gospel that tests are the equivalent of learning and that test scores are the only worthwhile measure of learning. It is intellectual leaders in the schools who would scrutinize and resist policies bad for kids, and bad for public education.

One other thing about intellectual leadership: it also involves “distubing the mental habits” of others within the school organization. These others also need to question the reasons "why we have always done things this way” or “why we are going to do them this way now.” With the questions, spaces for resistance open up for true leadership. Change begins with seeing outside the boundaries; not with accepting the boundaries as given.
"The intellectual is not the moral conscience of society, his or her role is not to pass political judgments, but to liberate us by making alternative ways of thinking possible."Johanna Oksala, How to Read Foucault

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Is Education’s Sole Purpose to Prepare Students for the Jobs of the Future? I Say No!

Is education’s sole purpose to prepare students for the jobs of the future? I am positive that many educators who read my headline immediately ask, “What a dumb question! Sure, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.” But, is that really the case?

Educators have long accepted as a maxim that education should be about preparing students for the jobs of the future, jobs that don’t even exist yet. But is that possible? Can we actually, without a doubt, predict the kinds of jobs our students will have twenty or thirty years from now? If not, then are we not gambling with students’ lives by teaching skills to students declared by gurus and educational prophets funded by corporations to be necessary for our students’ survival?

We all know that the future can change suddenly and drastically. The fortunes of one industry can be sunk by a single invention. Examples? The record industry, video rental stores, etc. A whole family of industries can become obsolete with the changing times and literally, in the blink of the eye. Why then would we want to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, especially when there is not a single human that I know capable of seeing into the future enough to tell us what our students need?

Take my own hometown community. Fiber optic manufacturers sprang up all around, promising to make our area the “Silicon Valley of the East.” To foster the promise of a future boom, our local fiber optic industry spent a great deal of time speaking and working with our schools, talking about the kinds of skills they needed kids to have in order get good jobs with their industry. There were joint workshops with their educational experts, exchanges literature and teaching ideas, and even visits to our schools to speak to our kids about the importance of obtaining the skills that their businesses sorely needed them to have. These evangelists of prosperity were everywhere, preaching and teaching the kinds of skills they wanted kids to have so that they could work in their factories when they graduated. Six years later, the bottom fell out of the fiber option industry. Companies closed and consolodated. Thousands were laid off. Plants were closed. Many of those employes of those companies were left stranded, with a knowledge specific to the cabling industry, that was now useless because the only industry around was in a downward spiral, with little hope of things ever returning back to the earlier boom days.

I am certainly not suggesting that we should not prepare students for the future. I am suggesting that to prepare students according to current industrial and corporate specifications is shortsighted and morally wrong.

Our job as educators should be much broader. Instead of providing graduates with industry specific skills, we need to prepare students who can leave our education system and do anything. They should be be able to act intelligently, learn as demanded, and be active citizens of the community. We should not be job trainers for the local factories. Those factories do not have the interests of our students at heart, nor should they. Their interest is in short term profits. Educators have to be visionaries and interested in the long-term. This means thinking about the educational big picture. We can work with our local industries and businesses to provide them citizens who they can then train for their jobs. To allow ourselves as an educational institution to become solely job training institutions is shortsighted, malpractice, and a disservice to our students.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Beware of ‘Educational Snake-Oil Salespersons’: Ask Them to Provide Evidence

I was having a conversation the other day with a salesperson of an educational product, and he threw out the words, “My product is research-based” at least five times before I decided to call his bluff. I asked, “If your product is research-based, can you provide me with the studies that validate the effectiveness of your products?"

He stared at me a moment before muttering something like, “Well, the product’s methods are research-based, not exactly the product. There have been studies that point out that the method our product uses is research-based.” I could not let it go yet. I asked, “Well can you point me to the studies then that validate the method behind your product.” He said nothing at first and a glimmer of frustration appeared for a moment. Then, he said, “Well, I’ll be glad to find those studies for you and email them to you.” We shook hands and he walked away a lot quicker than he did when he arrived. Needless to say, I never received those studies outlining the research that supported the method behind his product.

I tell this story because way too often, we as educators allow those selling us products to get by with using the words “research-based” and even statements about how their product increases student achievement without asking for the evidence.

I think we should always ask for that information even if we are familiar with it. It will tell us a great deal about both the product and the people selling us the product.

As a lot, educators are a trusting bunch sometimes, but they shouldn’t be. When someone makes claims about their products, we should ask for the research they claim supports their product. We perhaps should even ask for it even if we know that research.

Our budgets are tight enough as it is, but more importantly, we need to always disturb these notions of research-based and claims of effectiveness. It is not impolite to be skeptical and demand people selling us products to back up their claims. There are way too many salesmen of “educational snake oil" out there. That’s how we end up with those curriculum closets full of instructional materials that no one uses.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

“In Pearson We Trust!” Trust Corporations Not Teachers

In this recent story from NPR entitled “How Standardized Tests Are Scored (Hint: Humans Are Involved),” it becomes clear how companies like Pearson have purposely created a “facade of objectivity” in order to make it appear that their scoring of tests has some kind of legitimacy. This kind of test wizardry has become more common as the quest for “objective measures” has heated up in recent years. The NPR story helps cast doubt on this so-called “objectivity-from-afar!”

Somehow our education policymakers from President Obama through Arne Duncan down to our state departments of education have decided we can’t trust classroom teachers to tell us how students are doing. Instead, the motto in public education has become “In Pearson We Trust!”

Check out the NPR story here.

Friday, July 3, 2015

July the Fourth: Celebration of Our Commonalities and Our Differences

As this July the Fourth approaches, we hear the usual calls for “patriotism” and “love for country.” American flags fly everywhere. Fireworks blast during the afternoons. Barbeques and cook-outs with families occur throughout our neighborhoods and cities. But due to recent events in the United States, our divisions have become more apparent, and this July holiday might be more of an opportunity to celebrate our commonalities as citizens of this country, and our differences as individuals with the recognition of our sameness as human beings.

All to often, it is frequently an American practice to turn this holiday into celebrations of pride. In that celebration, are the uses of phrases like “greatest country in the world.” No doubt, this country has done some amazing and great things, and it has done some things for which no one would be proud. That’s because countries don’t exist without people, and people make mistakes. But I do not think we should seek to just celebrate of national pride or a confess our national mistakes.

Instead, it is in times like these, where the world and our country seems most divided, I think it is more important to use this July the Fourth to remember our humanity, and that we all have a place in the world. We, no matter which country in which we live, are part of humanity as well. We can celebrate that too.

As we celebrate, let us remember these words from His Holiness, the Dalai Lama:

In a sense, all human beings belong to a single family. We need to embrace the oneness of humanity and show concern for everyone— not just my family or my country or my continent. We must show concern for every being, not just the few who resemble us. Differences of religion, ideology, race, economic system, social system, and government are all secondary.

The Dalai Lama His Holiness; Hopkins Ph.D., Jeffrey (2002-02-12). How To Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life (p. 80). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bluetooth and Wifi Issues with MacBook Pros

Since I upgraded to OS X Yosemite, I, like many other Mac users have been issues with bluetooth and wifi interference. As updates have rolled through, my problems with using my Bluetooth Apple Magic Mouse and the wifi connections at work just haven’t been resolved. I searched the web and tried a whole list of things, but nothing worked. I narrowed the wifi connectivity issue down to an issue with using the Bluetooth Magic Mouse by simply turning off the wifi, which stopped the wifi connection dropping. While Bluetooth is turned off, I have no network and Internet connectivity issues.

After searching the forums, I discovered that the real issue causing the Bluetooth-wifi connectivity problem was FaceTime. This application when activated was causing issues with both my Magic Mouse and my wifi connection. The solution? Turn off FaceTime. It worked! While it seems like a great idea that I be able to text and answer calls on my MacBook, being able to have a solid connection to wifi and being able to use my Bluetooth mouse is much more important to me.
So, if you are like me and are having bluetooth and wifi issues, you may be able to resolve the problem by simply turning off FaceTime.

UPDATE: My fix above stopped working. Apparently, the wifi frequency and the bluetooth frequency still interfere. I gave up and purchased a regular USB wireless mouse. So for the "magic" in Apple's Magic Mouse.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

On Blogging and Where Have the Posts Been?

What many have probably noticed lately, there just hasn’t been as many posts to The 21st Century Principal blog as in years past. For some that may have been just fine. You may have tired of my blather any way. But for those wondering where I have been, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work on my doctoral degree at Appalachian State University, and work. Doctoral work, with its reading and more reading and more writing and more writing, just gobbles what ever time one has left over from work, which for administrators, that is not a whole lot of time any way. I just haven’t had a great deal of time. Now, the real work begins on this doctorate; I have finished classes and have begun work on the qualifying exam and dissertation.
Still, I have found the lack of time only part of the reason I’ve just not had much to say here. The truth is, my writing energy has been consumed as well with all the massive and demanding writing I have had to do the past two years in my classes. By the time I was able to write a paper, I just couldn’t find the energy to post on the blog.
In spite of this, The 21st Century Principal blog is still alive, just not as prolific as I would like it to be. I plan to continue writing about technology, teaching, leadership and public education policies that matter to me the most.