Places of Learning, Places of Joy….

In the history of education, the most striking phenomenon is that schools of learning, which at one epoch are alive with a ferment of genius, in a succeeding generation exhibit merely pedantry and routine.-Ted Sizer (2004)

I recently perused an amazing strategic plan for a boarding school that is thinking to the future and thinking deeply about students as individuals at the heart of the process.  The thought of supporting and mentoring young people while also co-creating learning environments that bridge tradition, today and in the future is both daunting and wonder filled. The difficult discussions and direct actions toward progressive change are not made lightly in any school seeking resiliency, but the sustained motion toward those changes are essential to ensure a chance at resilience.

When thinking about the design and planning of these learning environments I am at once inspired and then cautionary.  Inspired because we are right to want, and more importantly work toward, schools of the future.  Institutions that shift and realign resources to grant both the permission and “place” for Interdisciplinary, connected, mobile and cross cultural education will have a place in history.  As core contributors of direly needed solutions for a world in ecological, social and economic overshoot we will tell stories of their grand experiments and bold action. I am cautionary because the roads of reform are now well paved with good intention, money and research yet driven back and forth with the “exceptions” at the wheel.  We can do the most visionary x but must not radically alter the schedule because of y.  This is a place where  Ted Sizer’s 1973 book “Places of Learning, Places of Joy: Speculations on American School Reform illustrates and illuminates this pattern in American education.  At the time publication, Ted had just arrived at Andover as headmaster to oversee the Abbot-Andover merger (Undoubtedly a landscape of intellectual, social and physical change that allowed his thought to further steep about reform in American schools and undoubtedly a reason for the success of Andover today.  In the book Sizer argues, that we know the barriers to educational reform and as a country we rest with them willingly.  As a country we will throw out slogans, sentiments and salutations; spend millions of dollars tinkering and ignore the science and possibly, more importantly, the humanity and needs of our children.

To often only that change which fits neatly into our schedules, classrooms and conditioned comfort of work pass after calls for change in education are raised.  Ted asks that we look in the mirror and ask deep questions about what schools are for…. Are they places of learning, or places of joy…..or something more? Schools that place their tradition (today and tomorrow) onto the wind with a mission and vision of change instilled give hope for what can be.  Sizer spoke of words, and actions that suppressed and confused movement for needed change in schools.  In some sectors of education, thirty four years later we may see the same issues that Sizer discussed in Places of Learning Places of Joy but we also see an independent school movement poised to transform education and one starting to do so.


Philosophers, Innovation and Questioning

Audrey Waters is a highly intelligent, connected and caring philosopher of education and technology.  In her post Against “Innovation” #CNIE2014 she wades into the murky waters of culture and education through a dialectic on terminology, meaning, praxis and ultimately ethics.  Giving a keynote talk to the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education conference her style, tone and brilliance in crafting an argument are immediately apparent in her cover slide:

Watters suggests that innovation (as a word and conceptual frame) is now loose terminology in education.  She points to the corporate nature of “reform” in education to make this point, calling out the educational technology sector and even the silicon valley driven ethos of entrepreneurialism for both ambiguity in message and means (and even inspiring blatant exploitation of education).   As a philosopher, Watters knows what she’s doing.  As Zizek (2009) posits ” a philosophers place is not to solve problems but to redefine the problems societies face”. To this end, Waters cares deeply about human self determination and has a unique place in the contemporary academic and cultural space to disseminate her thoughts. She is attempting (with much of her writing and speaking) and succeeding in her atempts to redefine the problems we face in education.  To me, Watters inspires a question for all of us in education, technology, industries of innovation, cultural studies and politics (for a nod to Watters).  How “thick” is our understanding and description of whats going on in these spaces?  As Geertz (1973)  wrote in his essay Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture:

The thing to ask about [innovation or educational technology] is not what their ontological status is.  It is the same as rocks on the one hand and dreams on the other–they are of this world. The thing to ask is what their import is….

Why innovation, innovating, inventing, imagination, creativity, knowledge….. may be our keystone question to consider in educational research, theorizing, design, and praxis.  Thus, we need to further critique as Watters has the ideology of innovation hysteria while also illuminating efforts where the why is obvious in innovative educational ecologies (see my previous post Pathways for Interdisciplinarity for examples of exemplar schools and projects). In these examples, communities of learners are imagining and innovating….designing the future of education. I am thankful to Watters for redefining the problems for us, asking us to question and frankly just making us think. It is an uncomfortable time in some schools as entrenched traditional forms of education are under attack and institutional immunity is flaring up. That same immunity can find comfort in some of the technologies Watters points out as those technological “innovations” strengthen rather than change managerial/industrial age methods.  Some in education rightly feel that the last decade has been spent fighting for “innovation” and change to very little systemic effect and to critique innovation of technology may be premature. I will argue that understanding the topographies of culture and education (symbolic, political, economic, historical, linguistic) is vital to serving and contributing to our collective futures. These futures exist in a middle grounds of hope, possibility and imagination for a global civic culture.  To support educational landscapes and learning.that proliferate these futures we must do the hard work of understanding philosophy, innovation and culture.

Who Are You Now?

“We cannot withdraw from the choices or moral consequences that come with knowledge”

-J. Roberts (2012)

Do you remember the last time your community of learners came alive in ways that astounded you….maybe scared you ( a little?). Students convened online study sessions around topics of self and social concerns, the way physics connects to the earth, poetry, a book, a simulation of the UN….took an interconnected service  learning project to worldwide levels, devoted themselves to others (or in my case, the student who has devoted her life to the architecture of resilient human rights struggles after our course studied Darfur)….that, just the world of upper schools. Amazing middle level educators like Bill Ivey can undoubtedly tell us of integrated mini-societies, futures thinking projects and more that that made the walls and halls of his school burst at the seams and demand the outside world as an essential freedom for growth.  Lower schools could regale us with stories of learning that feature heart-exploration, play and foundational connection to community and scholastic learning that cause hope to flourish.  The outcomes of the times you may be envisioning are vast. These experiences propel individuals and communities of learning into the spaces many of us yearn for in education.  They are wild spaces, panarchic frontiers and borderlands of learning. These learning experiences are liminal….but do they last?  How do we process experiences past the feel good times as they fade so often under a duress of the status quo and reoccurring managerial education that orders us again….not as ecologic complexity might order, but with social constructs that take enormous effort on the part of humans to maintain (schedules, tests, behavior management, fragmented disciplinary instruction)….

What if we asked ourselves, colleagues and the young people we interact with “who are you now?” as a key assessment or better yet, centerpiece of our curricula.1 Given the space and time to reflect on this question what can you imagine they would say….what would you say?  “Who are you now?”  The statement gathers the epistemology and praxis of experience in education in the simplest yet most potent way.  If we are discussing schools, pedagogy, thinking and action this question is in many ways all encompassing. Who are you now?  Have you given yourself, the students you serve, the  faculty you inspire, the community you share joy with the time to reflect on those experiences that made the heart sing?  Aren’t our founding school visions and missions built upon supporting young people in a growth meant to easily answer this question for the sake of the world? It is startling to know how much we and our learning communities learn every day, month and year. I challenge you to ask this question of yourself, students and beyond on a regular basis. Be careful however, in the way you open a heart and soul.  If you ask, listen for their sake as they answer.  Do not grade, do not measure, do not benchmark against a standard….simply ask and listen.  I hope what you hear is experience unchained. If this experience is allowed to grow and change in your school as humanity does what is our next step? The new fields of experiential education are open to us.  We are “making”, flying kids around the earth and driving them across town to connect and serve, enabling connections around the earth through the internet, sitting down with, instead of standing in front of young people, and asking foundational questions of ourselves about education. Ultimately then, what are the moral choices we would face as the answers to our question “who are you now?” emerged and wove a tapestry of humanity and confluence around us?


1 I participated in the 2014 Independent Schools Experiential Education Network (ISEEN) Annual Institute January 15-18. The experience was iseenfulfilling. Meaningful discussions and collaboration unfolded daily at the institute with some amazing educators from around North America. As you might imagine this group was active and I found myself in deep belly laughs multiple times–a treat. In a recent post I make an argument that a New Field For Learning is emergent in education. The institute is a testament to this in many ways with its focus on experiential education. There were a wide arc of individuals at ISEEN representing faculty, directors of outdoor programs and amazing Headmasters like Ed Maggert of The College School. There where also industry professionals, professors, researchers, lawyers and luminaries like Dan Garvey (link is to a video of Dan Speaking on the future of education at a NOLS faculty gathering). As I reflect on the conference a few points of wonder have stayed with me as I think about the place of experience in education.

On day two of ISEEN, Dr. Barry Wright spoke to the institute on institutional and personal change. I tend to be tough company for businessese speakers on the topic of change. My work is influenced by the time I have worked with and learned from Shoshana Zuboff . Her work on bypass, mutation and change theory for institutions sings to me as vitally important. That said, Barry was a good speaker, a smart man and a tale he told has stuck. The tale was of him entering his Ph. D. program and being reunited with an earlier mentor he had not seen for years. As he worked to track his mentor down, he only caught fleeting interactions with the man. He describes the first interaction with this professor like so. As he walked eagerly to speak with the mentor, the man looked him in the eyes and said “who are you now?”, and kept walking.

My thanks go out to Jesse Barre of Albuquerque Academy and all of the participants at ISEEN 14.  You moved me.


On Mutation in Education

Mutation in Education1



The Individual

In the 21st century, the individual is the kernal of energy for educational design.


Who are you? What do you need?

Two questions that drive education at the root and rhizomatic levels. Schools have not been tasked with these questions in the past at more than a philosophical level (there are distinct examples otherwise most certainly).


Education–>>Content–>>Hours | Resources and assets needed for each individual.

A premium puzzle exists within this design.

  • Education is multifaceted–culture-as-local space blends with a global civic culture born of the networked world. The individual as interdependent and connected part of the world.
  • Content drives education, be it pure experience or didactic instruction, content is what we as humans intake and produce in organic realms of design,  iteration, understanding and beyond in cycles.
  • For schools and society at present hours matter.  How long someone needs to spend on any given content is important for both progress and leisure.  Schools need to understand the fluidity of time and its discontents.  Ubiquity in learning requires a very different conception of “scheduling”.

Once education, content and hours are considered in design, schools must look at the resources and assets necessary to see education as an ecology.


What would need to happen to realize this mutation in your learning community?

1 Distilled from ongoing conversation and deliberation with Shoshana Zuboff,  Jim Maxmin, Grant Litchman and a very important roundtable discsussion on Lake Damariscotta, ME this spring.

A look at Education and History

…”the history of education loses much of its meaning when it is formalized in terms of selected institutions, when school and society are disassociated.” (x) – From the forward written by Cappon.

This Spring I am involved with a group of educators from all political spheres focused on education, rural America and innovation.  For our first read I suggested Baiyln (1960) Education in the Forming of American Society, University of North Carolina Press. We start next week.

Chomsky on Education

Sound doxa on critical education, deschooling, open learning, complexity in reform, technology in education.

Apple (2010) Global crisis, social justice, and education

For some time I have been deeply interested in the work of Michael Apple. Apple’s writing on the politics of curriculum (specifically 1990, 1995, 2000), his work with James Beane on democratic schools (see 1995, 1999, 2007), and more recently his edited works in the field of critical education (2009, 2010) have helped me form some of my core values around learning, society and humanity.

Over the last month, I have also taken an interest in the work of Leigh Blackall(Leigh’s Blog). Leighs interests in deschooling, free schools and social change caused me to contact him. After looking over some blogged reading notes of Leighs, and having a short Twitter conversation with him I will be posting a few reading notes of my own starting with Michael Apple’s newest work here. I hope they are helpful to those considering these topics.

Apple, M. (2010). Global crisis, social justice, and education. New York: Routledge.


This is a very important work for those seeking change in learning. Global crisis, social justice, and education is an affirmation of so much thinking and reading I have done on the need for a mutation in education. My doctoral research looks at a nexus of critical education and the possibilities of networked learning ecologies to fundamentally shift the non-democratic systems of education. This book has been a good resource in many ways. The silent power of neo-liberalism is easy to set aside in the world of internet freedoms. Apple helps us remember that as reseachers, designers, and practitioners in the field we have a role to play in international human rights, the common good, and as critical scholar/activists in our learning communities.

Apple uses Rosa (2008, p.4) in Global crisis, social justice, and education to introduce the seminal arguments of critical education (p.19):

Radical Democracy is not just born out of our option to participate in the ordinary political infrastructure. It is a process involving the ongoing democratization of civil society, the constant interrogation of how exclusion on the grounds of multiple markers occurs even when progressive projects are unfolding, and problematizing of conditions that fail to clal into question the various ways in which economic systems undermine political cultures, The term encodes democracy as unfinished. Educators need more exposure to such language given the reality of schools as highly undemocratic spheres where various oppressive ideologies converge in front of a captive audience. A democratic political system cannot com to fruition if the institutions of that society are undemocratic, anti-democratic, or fail to (re) create the structures and conditions that lead to further democratization. Democracy flourishes when democratic cultures are the norm.


In Global crisis, social justice, and education, Apple outlines an argument and challenge for critical educators and weaves the need for critical education (a nexus of scholarly endeavor: ideation, research, development, and activism), post-colonial mentalities and systems thinking to address the multifaceted pressures facing global education, in a globalized world.


Apple et al. use four regional case studies, the US, Japan, the Israel|Palestinian state , and Latin America to prove that critical educators (teachers, researchers, learners) and social movements are needed to countervail the neo-liberal, and neo-conservative designs (against social justice and progressive education) surfacing as reform movements around the world as entrenched facets of globalization.


Apple frames global crisis using a neo-marxist (world sytems theory) and radical democractic framework to explain how an integrated international economy effects core and periphery states. Global crisis emerges when the states both core and periphery adopt neo-liberal (market based reforms that further marginalize subaltern groups ,and place increasing power with corporations and business) and neo-conservative ( hegemonic control through militarism and economic policy). Apple argues that these forces denude social justice through “reform’s”. These reforms focus on socio-economic policy, and education. Apple argues that neo-liberal and neo-conservative “reform” actively sideline democratic and progressive education initiatives that foster awareness and action for the subaltern and state in favor of curriculum standardization (US, Israel, Japan), unfair distribution of educational resources to subaltern groups (Palestinian State, United States, Mexico) and in many cases human rights violations Palistinian State, Isreal). Apple et. al use this framework to highlight effective progressive movements working to counter neo-liberal and neo-conservative reform and to call on those in the field of education to proliferate the frameworks of critical education in research and practice.

Apple et al. illuminate the social movements, critical educators (p.40-45 Byrd Academy)(1), (p.55, role of “schools”) and the power of new networked learning;(p.94-100),(p.136-153 see note 17 Caspi(1979) and The Kedma School,(170-185 CEAAL), that are challenging neo-liberal, and neo-conservative hegemonic proliferation. In doing so we are given both inspiration, and example of movements, projects and people working to address critical education and globalization. These progressive schools are unique according to Apple because they have risen in opposition to neo-liberal and neo-conservative “reforms” in areas where where these policies are prolific and well entrenched (The United States, Japan, Isreal/Palestinian State, and Mexico).

Specifics of Interest: On Our Role as Researchers and Practitioners

Apple states that the new critical educator may engage in research acting as secretaries to social movements centered around education….Apple et al provide reminders, ideas and resources both theoretical and empirical regarding critical education, and the role of the “organic”,or “Public” intellectual. (He uses Gramsci from the Prison Journals well here (p.17).

“I and many others have argued that education must be seen as a political act”

” The restructured role of the researcher–one who sees his or her task as thinking as rigorously and critically as possible about the relations between the policies and practices that are taken for granted in education and the larger sets of dominant economic, political, and cultural relations, and then connects this to action with and by social movements is crucial to what we are doing with this book.”

Apple reminds us that education can and should be viewed as activism.

I have at my core a belief and share with Apple as a critical educator that education can be the determinant of peace and unity in our world. That said I believe that world systems theory and the economic division of the world described by Apple et al. has led to a very dangerous place for humanity. The huge division of wealth and access to resources in the world has led to radicalization and anti-democratic policy’s in education.

How we recognize the role of critical education in our network learning ideation, research, design and practice is of concern to me. Leigh Black
, Stephen Downes, and George Seimens and recently Florian Schneider have all given me cause for hope.


Apple on Critical Education: this is a good Introduction (translation is edited out here) See original here.

Apple, M. W. (1990). Ideology and curriculum. New York: Routledge.
Apple, M. W., & Beane, J. A. (2007). Democratic schools: lessons in powerful education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Apple, M. W. (2000). Official knowledge: democratic education in a conservative age. New York: Routledge.
Apple, M. W. (1995). Education and power. New York: Routledge.
Apple, M. W., Au, W., & Gandin, L. A. (2009). The Routledge international handbook of critical education. New York: Routledge.
Apple, M. (2010). Global crisis, social justice, and education. New York: Routledge.
Apple, M. Theory, Research, and the Critical Scholar/Activist. Educational Researcher March 2010 39: 152-155)
Gramsci, A. : Prison Journal’s on Education and “selections 1st ed.”(1971)
Rosa, R. (2008) Savage Neo-Liberalism Education Review, 11, 1-17