It was not in Ann Arbor that Dewey engaged himself in problems of pedagogy and schools for which he is renowned, but in Chicago from 1894 to 1904. Once again, it was an uber-man and older mentor, this time William Rainey Harper, first president of the University of Chicago, who greatly influenced Dewey's thinking and professional development. Harper's zealous commitment to the reform of Chicago schools, his wider, messianic vision that the American university and precollegiate schooling system must powerfully accelerate "democratic progress," and the great importance he placed upon pedagogy and education--all provided Dewey with the impetus to take up public schooling, not the communications media, as the strategic agency for the participatory democratic society he had envisioned in 1888.

Who are the William Rainey Harpers and the John Deweys who follow them of our day? Where do we find the vision and leadership to seize today's opportunity for education reform?

Tags: democracy, education+reform, leadership, progressive+dream, vision

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Good question, Skip... Let's figure this out; let's find some examples. But even before starting with examples, do you mind some more comments on how Dewey was changing in his sense of purpose?

From "Thought News" to elementary school? The "thought news" idea (from back at Michigan) seemed so good, so perfect a solution to citizen participation in an ideally-functioning democracy. Just make sure all the information is available. People will get it, and then make informed decisions. The idea is so lovely, and so naive. It would be true if only it worked! "A society governed by a participatory democratic system of authoritative decision making, Dewey claims, is truly democratic precisely because all individuals freely and actively participate 'in the expression of the common will.'" (Dewey's Dream, page 4) ( I have comments in the margin of my book: "A bit like expecting everybody in class to be good—self-motivated, constantly seeking information, and endeavoring to use the information to do the right thing…")

Was Dewey really going for solving the problem of a "deficit of intelligence" in society, and seeking to remediate this through open access to knowledge? "Working together, the Hegelian professor and the professional newspaperman would 'fulfill the promise of the age.' How would they do that? How would they 'reveal the meaning of the age' to the world and, therefore, help change it radically for the better?" (Dewey's Dream, page 9) "Thought news" never came about, never even saw the light of day...or, um, maybe it did, 100 years later, in an unauthored and unruly form, the internet of today. But back then Dewey, who was such a visionary, didn't know how to get the day to day details done, the tools for what he was envisioning didn't even exist, and knowledge was coming in even then at far too fast a pace to be able to it get out in "thought news." Still, you gotta love it. I think he foresaw what's here now, in more ways than one.

Dewey turned to elementary school (all of schooling, really, from college on down); it became the new purpose in his next life-stage. He may have turned to it simply because it was there. Fixing public education was the primary focus of his new mentor...

I only brought this up because although in Dewey's life these two Purposes were different stages and never really joined together, we can see a joining together of these stages/purposes in what's going on now. We have the potential, like never before. Can we activate that potential for the sake of "good"?

Thought News (open access to the world's information) and educational reform. Do they go together? You bet. But it's quite a lot more than we ever imagined, a bit like the American tall tale of Pecos Bill who needs to rope and wrestle with a tornado of gargantuan proportions...

Skip, you're asking for examples of what? Of vision and leadership? Of perspective and action? Yeah, I think we can come up with some people going for both, in this new age.

Here’s a start:
About TED, from the website:"The annual conference now brings together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. More than 100 talks from our archive are now available, with more added each week. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted. Our mission: Spreading ideas."
from the website: "Comprehensive, collaborative, ever-growing, and personalized, the Encyclopedia of Life is an ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Our goal is to create a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. To transform the science of biology, and inspire a new generation of scientists, by aggregating all known data about every living species. And ultimately, to increase our collective understanding of life on Earth, and safeguard the richest possible spectrum of biodiversity."
also, E.O. Wilson telling about the project on TED:
"Founded by renowned primatologist Jane Goodall, JGI is a global nonprofit that empowers people to make a difference for all living things. We are creating healthy ecosystems, promoting sustainable livelihoods and nurturing new generations of committed, active citizens around the world." (from the website)
also, "engaging and empowering youth with service learning projects"
"Project Zero's mission is to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels. Project Zero's research initiatives build on and contribute to detailed understandings of human cognitive development and the processes of learning in the arts and other disciplines. They place the learner at the center of the educational process, respecting the different ways in which an individual learns at various stages of life, as well as differences among individuals in the ways they perceive the world and express their ideas. Many of these initiatives involve collaborators in schools, universities, museums, or other settings in the United States and other countries."

These examples are largely about dissemination of information, educational reform, and in the broadest sense, world change through participation in "democratic progress."

There are plenty more. Other participants in this group have some links?
Another candidate for the list of people who are providing the vision and leadership today is John Goodlad through his Center for Educational Renewal.

How about George Lucas and his Edutopia organization?
There is a remarkable book on the seeds of the reform process. Readers who think that the District of Columbia needs even more money to run its awful school system; or those who think the laws of economics stop at the school door may not be familiar with the detailed progress of the past two decades, but... The germination of that process is laid our in a very readable and to me exhilarating style in A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America by John J. Miller. In a nutshell, you will be amazed at how much recent change has been enabled by a tiny handful of staff administering one philanthropist's fortune.

As to the right now, as far as I can tell, for volume of work and influence, Rick Hess and those around him, including the Thomas P. Fordham Foundation, Checker Finn, and Diane Ravitch.

And God Bless Michelle Rhee, founder of Teach for America, and now the new Chancellor of D.C. schools. May she be able to make some difference in these kids lives.
Slowly. Very Slowly. Sadly for the kids.

At least if it is all to be done politically. Which is how, unfortunately, the "liberals" and "progressives" want it done. Politically. Same ole. Same ole.

OK, so Michelle has 5000 central office bureaucrats working for her. When she asks them what they are responsible for, most point to someone else as being responsible. They spend double the national average per child, with little effect. No matter how useless one is, she can't get rid of them. Many consider teachers and parents a bother.

I'm not sure what part of the "progressive" solution is about fixing this.

She also has, I think, 50,000 teachers. How do these teachers approach their jobs economically and professionally? Like world class knowledge workers? Do they organize, negotiate, train, and advance like other world class knowledge workers? Like electrical and aerospace and chemical engineers? World class health professionals? Bio-scientists? Financial professionals, accountants, marketing professionals? Web development professionals? Professional trainers?

Or would you compare their economic model to a different era?
Indeed. How we get teachers to make that change; to move to the model that works for so many other knowledge worker professions, we still don't know. I go to conferences where past successes are celebrated and past mistakes recalibrated, where lots of new good ideas are expanded. The mentioned problem is always scalability. How do you scale up what works here and there to work across the bulk of the nation? And how do you accelerate innovation? It always comes back to money and training.

And there they stop. The un-mentioned elephant always sitting in the room is the nineteenth century labor model. The one invented for steelworkers. The one steadfastly adhered to by the NEA, the ed schools, and the Unions.

None of the innovations of the Internet, Web 2.0, online shopping, etc., none of the incredible medical advances, none of the wonders of aerospace, none of the financial and marketing and development miracles which have happened over the past 20 and more years could ever have happened in a unionized knowledge-worker environment.

And so, those of us who see the need for teachers to be paid more; to have incentives that make sense and spur them on, to have the wisdom to go back to the ed schools and change them, well...
As long as you're including Diane Ravitch, we may want to include the debate over educational policy between Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier going on over at Education Week. There's a lot of food for thought...
> "too little debate"
Amen to that.
“Ordinary citizens still gather to discuss important questions, but they are less informed, less able to support their arguments. —Margaret Thatcher
Connie, as I said to Diane this time last year (she in her nothing is working doldrums and I in my why don't you finance real innovation vexment), we didn't expect NCLB to solve everything. At least not those of us who know enough about human economics.

NCLB's best hope was to document the problem and improve the conversation. It's done that, of course with many of the expected downsides. (Teaching to the test may be necessary, but its still an evil). Its also prompted many good responses, like the Great City Schools.

What we haven't found, and what all the little data and conversations can't fix, is a voice who will take on the real elephant. If we want teacher pay and work conditions, staffing, organization, innovating and resources to look like those of other 21st century world-class knowledge workers, we need to start moving that way. Two things can happen:
  1. Teachers can, one school at a time, leave the 19th century steelworker labor model behind. Or
  2. A President can rise who will get Congress to suspend the labor laws for an experimental period of not less than 10 years.
Diane and Deborah are good people, but we need much less talk and much more movement.
Both Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier have done more than their share of doing over their long years of committment to education and children. I don't think it's fair to just label them as simply talkers.

But if you really want to see Dewey-esque (is that a word?) education reform in action, it's out there. Check out The Big Picture, by Dennis Litky (who just announced he's starting a college, by the way), the Coalition of Essential Schools, and the Reggio Emilia movement. There are many more unheralded examples.

These are all completely different takes on the problem. The Big Picture starts its own schools. CES is an affliation of like-minded schools. Reggio Emilia is a distinct philosophy about how schools should be run, it's not a group or organization.

It's a big world out there, and even the actions of the president of the US have little to do with the everyday lives of most citizens of the world. I really think that the actions of one teacher, one leader, one group who change the lives of children are more effective than we think.
Wasn't chiding Diane et al, so much as myself.

What I was saying was, if you want Dewey-esque change--that is, one person whose name is synonymous for 100 years with changing the face of education--then that person will be the one who moves us from a 19th century steel-worker labor model to a 21st century knowledge-worker model.

Each of us can (probably should) list a dozen of these coalitions and movements and partnerships. And they're all good!

What's good about them is they are busting up the Teacher-Union-District-EdSchool-State-Feds pyramid. They're empowering building administrators and local school boards to say, look, we don't have to submit to a hodgepodge of textbook publishers and pedagogies, we like the results that these schools over here get, and we think we can replicate it.

The problem is the continued replication. In the end, those networks will draw the funds and the good teachers, the ones who will go beyond the call despite the hardships and the low pay. They will draw larger resources as long as they can somehow add extra value and appear to be more deserving than the lesser school down the road. And the lesser schools down the road (tho they may have been the star 5 years ago) will get the lesser resources.

We call this the scalability problem.

Not every school has to be edgily innovative. What we need is for all schools to together be adaptive enough to give 95% of the kids the basics they need, and still move enough well-prepared students on to college.

We have many examples of quality controlled, innovative success to choose from. Innovation as its done by electrical and aerospace and chemical engineers, health professionals, bio-scientists? financial professionals, accountants, marketing professionals, web development professionals, etc. Quality control as its practiced at Fedex and Amazon and Health Care organizations and many other low-tolerance-for-failure organizations. Some use collective bargaining in their production; none use it in their innovation, training, or leadership.

Dewey-esque change will be the tipping point, when we don't point to even a score of CES and High Tech High networks's but when every school is able to move good people in as needed, move the not-so-good out, train and support on demand, restructure when necessary, and adapt with agility.
So, getting back to Dewey. I am not an expert or a philosopher, but my reading is that he believed the school should be controlled by the community and not by the central government. The community should participate in the formulation of the curriculum, the allocation of resources, and students should likewise be involved with the community as they become educated. It seems to me that Ed is saying that our schools have lost the flexibility to adapt to the new needs of the community. Would it be an improvement if we abolished the federal DOE and put the responsibility back on the states?
It doesn't entirely seem so. The states have bureaucracies now probably bigger than the Feds did in Dewey's time. And they are less susceptible to quality control sometimes.

The control should go to the teachers as individuals, negotiating as individuals, but belonging to a world-class knowledge worker professional organizations who give them the intellectual tools to stand their ground.

But the biggest thing is to give them the power of incrementalism. Every other knowledge-worker-professional negotiates on his own. While it seems to be the less powerful way to bargain, in fact it works out better. Why? Same reason XM radio will give you the radio if you just pay $14.95 a month. Its just a little bit here and there; I can afford it.

So, when one person walks in and asks for a 4 percent raise, it seems not much. When 300 or 800 or 2000 walk in on one day and ask for a 2.5% raise, tempers flair. It makes no sense mathematically, but it is human nature.



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