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EdTech Update





BFTP: The most important reason kids need to learn to be creative

Creativity, I believe, is a vocational skill, a work skill, a means to secure good jobs.

But idealist that I am, I also want students who feel empowered, knowing at heart they have the ability to be sufficiently clever that they can solve any problem they encounter. That they don't have to simply take what life throws at them and live with it. That there is always a way, if one is sufficiently innovative and persistent to get around, over, under, or through any wall. 

Far too many children leave school without the confidence, mindset, skills, or even realization that they have the ability to solve their own problems. They rely on parents, teachers, or perceived leaders to present “the solution” to issues that trouble them.  In large part this is because schools have had the historic societal charge to create conformists, order-takers, and in-the-box thinkers. As David Brooks observes about that student who has a perfect academic record:

This person has followed the cookie-cutter formula for what it means to be successful and you [as an employer] actually have no clue what the person is really like except for a high talent for social conformity. Either they have no desire to chart out an original life course or lack the courage to do so. Shy away from such people.

Schools have done a good job of creating followers. In his book Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol, after examining schools in  East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, Cincinnati, and Washington D.C. concludes that two separate public school systems operate in the United States”

... children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe. (Kozol, 1991).*

As a life-long educator, my mantra has always been that as a teacher my mission is to create thinkers, not believers. A large part of thinking should be thinking creatively as a means of solving one's own problems, solving the problems of society, and understanding that we all have the power to choose the paths we take in life.

Personally, I love the everyday MacGyvers I encounter. Those who see an obstacle as something akin to a jungle gym - a chance to not just climb, but to get joy and satisfaction in doing so.

Can you think of a better reason that students need to practice creativity?


* Check the recent Annie E Casey Foundation report on acheivement gap by ethnicity if you think Kozol's 1991 findings are ancient history. What chances are students who are performing poorly academically being given to be creative, empowered personal problem-solvers. My guess is about zero. Pass the test then maybe, maybe we'll think about dispositions like creativity.

Original post 4/2/14


But it's not on the test!

A few days ago, I asked "What ever happened to information literacy?" wondering if it was still being addressed in schools. A reader of the Blue Skunk blog on its Facebook account commented:

Unless it’s tested it’s never going to be a priority in our schools.

This is a common sentiment. "Teach to the test" seems to be a common (and practical) philosophy of many teachers.

But do good teachers only teach what will be tested? I don't think so.

The best teacher somehow manages to teach those skills, facts, and understandings that society (via legislation) have identified as important for its citizens to know in order to be productive. Although often antiquated or misguided, the teacher understands and honors his/her role in the part of the educational process. I get it.

But I believe most teachers find time and resources to share their passions with their students as well. They understand that not everything, even the most important things, can be tested - at least on a multiple guess test.

Information literacy, I hope, is one of those passions for many teachers. The ability to determine accuracy, bias, and relevance of information in an age in which anyone can and does make "information" available online is more necessary than ever. Good teachers will help student not understand just how to evaluate their sources, but why doing so is so critical.

Great teachers also give time and energy to "teaching":


  • Creativity
  • Interpersonal skills such as empathy
  • Play
  • Honesty and fair play
  • Respect for diversity
  • Joy and passion for personal areas of interest (Civil War, poetry, baseball, favorite authors, chemistry ...)
  • Numeracy


Many of became aware of those areas of interest we still love due to a teacher who went beyond the test. Many of us have been able to perform humanely and effectively because we expected to do so in a class, despite some of those skill being immeasurable.

Many of us are better people thanks to a teacher who expected the best of us - not just the best performance on a standardized test.

Thanks, teachers, for teaching what's not on the test.


BFTP: Spring cleaning - should it only be stuff?

OK, it's not exactly spring as I repost this from about 5 years ago. But I personally like it enough to share it again, despite its chronolological problems. I "downsized" my household possessions dramatically about 3 years ago and have not regretted tossing much. As the post below asks, however, am I as willing to toss outdated ideas as I am to toss outdated clothes?


With temperatures in the low 60s this weekend and no pressing writing deadlines, it was the perfect time do do a little spring cleaning. 

When I think of spring cleaning, it's not washing windows or dusting knickknacks. I love tossing stuff out. On Saturday I tackled my home office and pitched old professional books, innumerable cables - mostly ethernet and phone, and old tax records, properly shredded, of course. Sunday was cleaning the garage of unused tools, no longer needed furniture, and, well, just junk.

There is an old rule of thumb that says if you haven't worn an item of clothing in two years, you may as well give it to Goodwill, because odds are that you will never wear it again. My guess is that rule holds true for a lot of other things as well including tools, furniture, and sports equipment. (I haven't used satellite service in five years, but the old dish was still taking up space.) It's the rare book I'll not give away - and I realize that of the 10% I keep, I'll still only re-read 10% of those. I tossed my print dictionary this weekend - gasp - since it's been at least three or four years since I cracked its spine.

So here's my question: am I as ruthless about discarding my old beliefs, values, assumptions, and goals as I am about scrapping broken toys, obsolete electronics, and unworn sweatshirts?

It's very easy to recognize the antiquated practices of others. (Really, she still lectures all the time?) Outdated views are fair game. (He still believes standardized tests are the best way to determine student abilities?) And the reluctance to adopt to new realities is soooo obvious in others. (He still has kids put their personal devices in a bucket by the door instead of using them as a part of instruction?)

On a more personal note, I hope over the past few years, some old ideas I've held about race, culture, sexuality, politics, and finance I've, if not thrown away, at least modified to be more humanistic, more empathetic. I am sure there is still plenty of de-cluttering I can do in each of these areas.

There's an old saying from scripture that reads "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" which makes me wonder if people can truly recognize the beliefs that should be part of one's professional and personal spring cleaning each year.

If we could, wouldn't we change?

How do you know what to keep and what to discard from your professional practice and world view?

Original post 3/31/2014