Sunday, November 30, 2008

JuJitsu for educators?

It's interesting from time to time to see what thoughtful non-educators (as opposed to the many non-thoughtful non-educators that fill the letters-to-the-editor section of a lot of daily newspapers) have to say about education.

This writer discovers a lot of Deweyan themes (not that he has, as far as I know, read Dewey) in his jujitsu classes:

Here's one quote:

Learning is an active process. You can not make someone learn. Sure, you can convince students to want to learn by threatening them with bad grades and extra work. ...Until you convince students to actually WANT to learn, you’re fighting a losing battle. And the quickest way to make someone NOT want to learn is to force them.

That could have been lifted from Democracy and Education.

There are a few things in the post that'll probably make you wince, but I'll let you find those for yourself.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution

irvington_statue_of_rip_van_winkleOn November 4, voters in the US made a momentous choice, not only by taking another step towards racial equality, but also by demanding new ways of relating to other countries, to injustice, to the environment, and to truth itself. As of today, that is only one step; nothing has changed except the direction we are pointed.

Where the path leads next depends even more on the rest of us than it does on President-Elect Obama. The great challenges of globalization, racism, poverty, and violence are unaffected by a single election. Yet, there is a risk that we can fall asleep, lose sight of those challenges, and begin to think only of narrow issues, such as many that surfaced in the campaign.

We have the opportunity now to respond to the challenges posed 43 years ago in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s excellent speech, Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution. In his talk, he relates the story of "Rip Van Winkle," who slept 20 years. But he reminds us that when Rip went up to the mountain, the sign on the local inn had a picture of King George III of England. Twenty years later, the sign had a picture of George Washington. Rip had not only slept 20 years; he had slept through a revolution. As King says, "Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep."

King saw that we are experiencing a scientific and technological revolution, one that challenges us to remain awake, and to develop a world perspective. It's more imperative than ever to eradicate racial injustice and rid the world of poverty, and to find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Long before talk of flat worlds, King saw that our destinies were intertwined:250px-martin_luther_king_jr_nywts
All I'm saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be - this is the interrelated structure of reality...And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.

Remaining awake means looking beyond government as usual and recognizing that children in Haiti are in our "garment of destiny," as much a part of our world as the person next door. It means knowing that justice is an ongoing project that needs to be defended wherever we hear of abuses of human rights, not seeking ways to justify them. It means finding an end to wars, not simply moving from one venue to another.

Can we do any better now at addressing King's great challenges?


King, Jr, Martin Luther (1965, June). Remaining awake through a great revolution. Commencement address for Oberlin College, Oberlin Ohio.

Cross-posted from Chip's Journey

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I've been missing in action on this blog for a couple of months because I've been in Portugal, learning a new language, figuring out how to live in less than convenient conditions (quite an enjoyable adventure actually), and generally absorbing Portuguese culture and the Portuguese approach to education.    And after two months I think I'm beginning to understand, and I have quite a lot to share.

For today, the focus must be on the protesting teachers.   The very centralized government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates (how about that name?!! for the philosophical among you) and Education Minister Maria de Lurdes Rodriques has put into place a new system for the evaluation of teachers and the teachers are in the streets  protesting it.   And the protests are getting widespread press coverage -- including regular TV spots.

Two weeks ago, 120,000 of Portugal's 140,000 teachers gathered in Lisboa to protest a plan in which the Ministry selects "titular teachers" within each building to evaluate other teachers (without additional compensation by the way).  Nobody's very happy with the plan nor with the way it was imposed.   That's both clear from the numbers above who protested that first Saturday and in line with the politics of this small nation that has embraced participatory democracy since overthrowing Salazar in the 70s.

The following Saturday about 70,000 teachers were back in Lisboa, but the Ministry continued to insist that the evaluation plan would be implemented as written.  There is one hitch.  The "titular teachers" are out protesting with the others, so it's not clear who's going to do the observing, etc.

On Monday, the Ministry hinted at "greater flexibility" in implementing the plan.   That might be because each day this week, teachers in one of the five political regions of Portugal are taking to the streets (as the TV just put it) for evening protests.   From the image I just saw on the morning news, lots of them showed up in Porto last night.

I have mixed feelings about this -- as do some of the teachers with whom I have talked.   An evaluation system seems reasonable.  I find myself wondering why there has never been one.   But in a system where school directors were teachers elected by their peers and where literacy has traditionally been very low, evaluating teachers was not high on the list of priorities.    But globalization and the European Union have changed all that.  Portugal, perhaps the most parochial of the EU nations, is experiencing all kinds of changes -- from much needed new roads to (perhaps not so needed) an educational system of surveillance.

But to see the teachers -- massive numbers of them -- in the streets demanding control of their own work and their own profession, ah, this is heartwarming!  Imagine if 75% of the teachers in the US gathered in their state capitals on one day (or 50 days in a row) to say that the testing regime that NCLB has bequeathed us is too punitive and too miseducative.   Imagine if those teachers offered an alternative that includes accountability and peer evaluation, heck even parental evaluation,  and took the case directly to the public as the teachers in Portugal have!!   

(Here are some hints for future posts:  The university professors are up in arms and so are the secondary students -- for different reasons.  They too are making noise and protesting.    Also, there is a network of educators in Portugal, part of the Modern Education Movement, that are implementing progressive educational models with success at all levels from infância to secundária.  And I might comment on the 16 years drinking age about which I chatted with several groups of 16 year olds -- or the 9th grade/14 years old compulsory school law that lets students leave school at 14 but not enter the work force until 15.   Lots of grist for the mill here.) 

Monday, November 24, 2008


“The current sad state of ‘arts and education’ as a specialty in philosophy of education, a discipline itself shrinking and potentially extinct on this continent”—This seldom considered circumstance “in the era of No Child Left Behind” was the thought-provoking “backdrop” for Deanne Bogdan’s George F. Kneller Lecture to the American Educational Studies Association in Savannah on October 30. Just one year earlier, AESA had celebrated Maxine Greene’s 90th birthday in Cleveland with accolades for her many inspiring, radical contributions to the arts and education specialty in philosophy of education, including her John Dewey Lecture The Dialectic of Freedom (1988). In Spokane two years earlier AESA had mourned the tragic death of a much younger radical philosopher of arts and education, Landon E. Beyer, whose last work was The Arts, Popular Culture, and Social Change (2000). Having authored Re-Educating the Imagination (1992) and having taught philosophy of literature and literature education, aesthetics and education, musical aesthetics, and women’s studies for over two decades, Bogdan noted that her arts and education position at OISE/University of Toronto was eliminated following her retirement and that “massive arts funding slashes” in Canada “were recently made by a federal government that believes support for the arts [should] be left to the marketplace (Smith 2008, R1-2).”

I cannot even begin to do full justice to her finely nuanced lecture here, "Betwixt and Between: Working through the Aesthetic in Philosophy of Education," which soon you can read in its entirety in Educational Studies if you did not hear it in person. Her eloquently theorized "betwixt and between" is at risk of becoming nowhere--that is not Bogdan's thesis, it is mine, albeit this is a fear that I suspect she shares. Therefore I want to respond to her lecture selectively here, to its office as “a memoir of one dying breed—the arts—within another—philosophy of education—in Educational Studies,” since it bears witness not only to her specialty’s “sad state,” but also to its potentially transformative significance for cultural politics and social issues.

Composed in three “movements,” her memoir recounts the subtle and dramatic phases of her journey through study of both Plato’s and Northrop Frye’s educational and literary thought and of feminist thought, within the context of disputes over censorship and curriculum, to construct an original theory of “embodied” reading and pedagogy. With this theory developed through reflection upon various exhilarating and troubling events that occurred within her own teaching practice in higher education, she has aimed to resist that same moral and spiritual destructiveness of “professionalization” which so deeply concerned both Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Virginia Woolf in Three Guineas—without falling into the domesticating, sentimentalizing, trivializing trap that arts education became as training in “female accomplishments” in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bourgeois culture.

Bogdan’s own journey sets out from an education in philosophy, literature, and music—which she calls mousike techne—into and through philosophical studies of literature and education. After a richly provocative engagement of feminist thought and pedagogy, gradually she reaches an impasse of paralyzing silence familiar to many millennial women—in Bogdan’s case wrought by that critical stance which Shoshona Felman has called “self-subversive self-reflection,” within a professionalized postmodern intellectual milieu that felt to her like an “emotional desert of discursivity.”

Without mentioning John Dewey’s Art as Experience, Bogdan stands out among recent philosophers of arts and education as one whose artistic performance and creativity inform and deepen her thought no less than aesthetic appreciation does, as one for whom the Deweyan dialectic between “doing and undergoing” is fecund indeed. For, confronting her own post-feminist impasse, she perseveres to reclaim the differently embodied but significantly wordless voice of the piano. Her pianistic voice becomes her resilient means for deepening her study of embodied reading and pedagogy as a simultaneously spiritual, social, political, and educational practice. While playing in domestic solitude and local nursing homes as well as at conferences, both at home and abroad, and in various master classes, she thinks about Glenn Gould, Marshall McLuhan, Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Jane Campion’s The Piano, and complex questions that music inevitably raises for educators concerning its inflections and invocations of race, nationality, ethnicity, and sexuality, as well as (implicitly here, but explicitly elsewhere) what Lucy Green has called “musical patriarchy.”

Bogdan’s narrative concludes logically—with her post-9/11 reflection upon music’s educational and philosophical significance for the democratic projects of social justice and nonviolence, in light of her recent participation in Tanglewood II, an international symposium “charting the future” of musical learning in the twenty-first century. Inspired by Bogdan’s journey, I will return next month to this blog to invite you to revisit with me Jane Addams’s Hull House and its descendant, Myles Horton’s Highlander Center, while thinking about the Tanglewood II Declaration—about what education in music and other arts has done and may yet do as education for social justice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A New Course Proves Controversial in Québec...

In the United States, the question of the place of religion in public schools is a familiar one. In Quebec, the historical and social context is significantly different, but there is still a great deal of controversy about religion in the classroom. In fact, a new, mandatory course that combines moral and religious education may be on the cusp of emerging as a significant issue in the upcoming provincial election.

The churches have, historically, played a major role in the Québec education system; until recently, almost all Québec public schools were denominational. In keeping with this, classes in religion were offered in all public schools. Québec secondary school students could choose between Catholic Moral and Religious Instruction, Protestant Moral and Religious Instruction, and Moral Education, which was a secular course. However, this year, the government introduced a single new course--Ethics and Religious Culture--which has replaced these three courses.

The new course has drawn fire from both religious and secular critics. Protestants and Catholics are unhappy with the fact that the new program takes a more cultural approach to the question of religion, while the Mouvement Laique Québecois (Québec Lay Movement) is unhappy that religious instruction has become mandatory. In October, parents protested in the streets of Montreal. Last Monday, things heated up even more when Mario Dumont, a conservative populist and the leader of the official opposition in Québec, suggested that the new course should be stricken from the curriculum. In his speech, Dumont remarked, "The people who thought up that course are the same people who fight through all kinds of roundabout ways for there not to be Christmas trees in classes. They are the same people who fight to make words like Easter disappear from classes."

If you would like to find out more about the new course, an explanatory video and some curriculum documents can be found here. It will also be interesting to see whether the controversy dies down or escalates to become a major election issue. I will keep you posted.

Friday, November 7, 2008

RINO Watch #2

Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly that the social conservative wing of the Republican party is initiating "Operation Leper" to identify and cast out those so-called Republicans whose loyalty to Governor Sarah Palin in the recent presidential election was not absolute.

Benen reports that Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, has predicted that, after the election, there would be a "bloodbath." Nuzzo explained, "A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?"

Brooks, Frum, and Noonan are all bright people, but to put it bluntly, they are not Einsteins. We attend to people like this not because they have earth shattering insight, but because they sit astride a mountain of power. The Republican party is that mountain.

The question is: where do these influencers and their sponsors go if they are lepers, or "dead people" in the Republican party?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Where will all the RINOs Go?

The Republican party as we have know it for the last third of a century is dead. It was always an untenable coalition of groups with antagonistic views: libertarians who wanted to do away with government to protect individual freedoms, theocrats who wanted to take over government to limit individual freedoms, and free-market corporate liberals who wanted to buy and sell government to feather their own nests. Anyone outside of that triumvarate was a RINO: a Republican In Name Only. Eisenhower, Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller -- all just RINOS.

What happens now? The libertarians fade back into the woodwork as essentially a marginal group of innocuous kooks; the theocrats look to attach themselves to some other, larger political coalition like a parasite or cancer, the free market corporate liberals buy and sell government in more strategic, retail politics.

As for those RINOs, like Colin Powell, Chris Shays, Richard Lugar: many will gravitate, like Jim Webb, into the Democratic party, alongside of Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, and others, to bolster the centrist pragmatist group. These folks will counter-balance the progressives like Russ Feingold and John Conyers. Obama as president will no doubt straddle the centrist -progressive divide. The near term future of American politics will be inside the Democratic party, with Obama holding the internal balance of power.

As a result, the issues on the table for education will be somewhat different. I suspect we will be hearing less about faith-based institutions, anti-science curricula, or voucher plans. For those looking for a key to decipher the future federal policy agenda, I suggest taking the likely proposals of both of these groups within the Democratic party and figuriug out their ideological synthesis.

Charter schools and other choice-within-the-system plans, networked technologies, and provisions to increase the educational attainment levels of minorities are likely to loom large.

For "the next big idea," look for a formula that bring these three themes together.