Sunday, December 30, 2012


I just finished reading Keeping School written by Deb Meier, Nancy Faust Sizer, and the late, great Ted Sizer. Although the book is nearly nine years old, I found the discussion on community, standards vs. standardization, and school authority (whose school is it anyway?) to be even more timely and illuminating. Folks know the Sizers and Meier from the Ed Reform wars. To have a conversation in the form of letters (epistles) to their respective school communities (Mission Hill School and Francis W. Parker Charter School) made the reading riveting. In fact, it had me thinking about the form that my first book might take. The epistolary book may be maddening to some, especially without the right context, but it's also is like reading a conversation in real time.

Money's Worth: I was intrigued by Ted and Nancy Sizer's description of the "gateway" projects that their students at Francis W. Parker Charter School in Massachusetts could take at anytime. It means that if a student completed or mastered some level within a given subject (even before the end of a given school year!) that the student could petition to move on to the next level. That means that a student could stay in Geometry until they were prepared to test out of it to go on to the Algebra II. In addition, for those people who needed a good comeback to why standardization and standardized testing do not work, you must read Keeping School.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


I have not seen "Waiting for Superman" or the newly released Dave Eggers and Matt Damon film called "American Teacher: A Documentary." It breaks my heart to see the continued downward spiral of the American public education. Yet, I do believe that we are approaching a critical time in our nation's history where something's got to give.

Education is about creating positive communities and having high standards. It's about saving as many students as you possibly can and giving a damn in the face of the brutal facts.

How can we continue to be one of the most innovative countries on the planet that dismisses the vast majority of our students and our teachers. Over the next several weeks, I'll explore what our current popular culture and media has to say about teaching and learning. Are we stuck with outmoded ways of how we do education? Can teachers achieve the kind of support from the public that other professions enjoy or have unions and the Republicans and Democrats overly politicized their plight? Over the course of the next several weeks we'll explore these questions and more.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pacific garbage patch comes home | Marketplace From American Public Media

I'm not sure if you heard this story the other week on American Public Media's show called "Marketplace." I'm a pretty devoted listener to "Marketplace" and haven't missed an episode (they come daily) in over a year. This one got me thinking, so what are we going to do with all that garbage that's floating around in a big patch as big as the State of Texas. It seems like someone is trying to make money off of it. If this sounds far fetched, it is.

The Pacific garbage patch comes home | Marketplace From American Public Media

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Strivers, All--Teaching School from K-12

I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about educational reform over the years. Although I am a product of public schools and have been a principal/leader in public schools, I don’t pretend to be an expert on all things public or educational. What I do know is that the federal government’s attempt to compare apples to apples with state testing is a good thing. However, state or national tests are not nearly enough. We have nearly twenty-five years of bad governance to begin to dismantle.

What I’d like to see? More reporting on what’s actually being taught in K-12 schools rather than the cases of bullying and harassment that people seem to be enthralled by. I’m not saying that those issues are not important. Indeed, they are critical to maintain healthy and safe schools. Yet, I’d like to see more coverage on innovation and on the development of what makes great teachers great.

I stumbled across a Facebook page for my old K-8 school in Harvey, Illinois: Carl Sandburg Elementary and Junior High Schools. I started at Sandburg in 5th Grade—Mrs. Delaney’s classroom. Even though we were in the midst of some pretty aggressive white flight at that time, those teachers—mostly white women and men—were committed to educating all of the children they had in front of them. I was impressed by their encouragement, support, and no-nonsense way of promoting what they loved and what they had to teach. My sixth grade teacher Mrs. Mullins used her famous “Mullins Bucks” to tempt us all to do better and try harder. Although I am not a firm believer in rewards as motivators—grades or scip systems—I do believe that those candy bars, pencils, and books that we bought in sixth grade had many of us trying harder. On the other hand, Mr. Love, the science teacher and basketball coach, quite literarily kicked us in the ass when we were messing up. I do remember banging hard on the door to get in after one lunch period. Mr. Love opened the door and hauled us in and said, “What and the hell are you doing?” He pulled two of us in the resource room, closed the door, and prominently kicked us in the posteriors. Talk about corporal punishment. I remember being shocked and amazed that he would do something like that. But I never told my folks. I guess I thought I deserved the swift kick for being so obnoxious. By eighth grade, Anne K. Bentley inspired me after I finished with all of my SRA independent reading cards. I could boast that I was reading at a 12th grade level—according to the cards. Indeed, I did love to read. She put me into my own independent reading group, handing me Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “House of the Seven Gables.” I’m not sure if I was the best independent learner, but I felt special and different. I was ready to learn.

So, what does all of this memoir stuff have to do with reforming the educational system of this country? If you put good teachers who can think and reason for themselves in front of the children of other strivers, you get magic. It’s all about fearlessness, trying something new, being aware of the cultural landscape (even as the ground is shifting), and doing a good and credible job. Did I get everything that I needed then? Perhaps not. Yet, I loved those men and women who tried to do their best at Carl Sandburg Elementary and Junior High School. I wish them eternal peace and give them my promise that I’ll try to continue the work that they began.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


If you thought that LEARNING BY HEART took a holiday over the last 12 months, you would be correct. Future blog posts on this site will continue to cover news stories, events, and media analysis dealing with the world of K-16 education.

The news of the last year was dominated by the economy and healthcare. Issues of the day tend to push the business of tomorrow off the front burner. The business of tomorrow should be our children as learners; those who will inherit what we leave them. In baseball this back burner report is typically called the hot stove league, which is where news items are placed to simmer for a while. Consider these news items and analysis the simmering pot of our educational democracy.

Named after Roland Barth's extraordinary book, LEARNING BY HEART, the thoughts written on these pages are mine and mine alone.

Instructions: Please feel free to post comments and commentary about what may be important to you, too. I'll also plug blogs and reports of educational news that may be relevant to this audience. Make suggestions, connections, and introduce yourself to the world or educational ideas.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lifelong Learning: Financial Matters

Can you speak mortgage-backed securities?

I've been stretching myself over the last year and a half, learning all that I can about the economy. I did not take Economics in college or high school, so this study is definitely self-directed and personally generated.

Understanding about "toxic assets," "shadow banks," "credit default swaps," and the US Government's "TARP" plan has been pulling me in directions that I could have never imagined more than eighteen months ago. Every night I put on my iPod Classic, drifting off to sleep listening to American Public Media's "Marketplace" with Kai Ryssdal.

What I have learned relates directly to Chaos Theory and how our world is truly interconnected now. When George H.W. Bush described his New World Order, perhaps he meant this world that we are in right now where when a folks in a neighborhood in Las Vegas default on their risky loans, then workers in Finland might find themselves out of a job.

Our world, this brave new world, is so woven together that we must figure it out fast, or get left behind.

What are ways that you are stretching yourself beyond what you know?

Paddy Hirsch--"leaves all of us badly needing a drink."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009