Thursday, February 24, 2011


 I just got the email about an hour ago...  I WON the Speaker Search and get to do a longer talk at TEDxSF.  You can see a write up of my Speaker Search talk here (180 seconds on the future of education...  in a word, it's creativity!)
On April 9th, I will be one of the presenters at TEDxSF.  If you are near the SF Bay Area that day, you can register to attend the event here.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

TEDxSFED: Rethinking Education

David Orphal - Small Learning Communities Coordinator - Skyline High School

I had a great time last night, speaking at the TEDxSFED Speaker's Search at KQED Public Radio.  There were 14 of us, ranging from a parent to a corporate CEO.

We'll find out soon who made the top spot and an invite to speak at TEDxSFED on April 9th.

David Orphal - Small Learning Communities Coordinator - Skyline High School

Here is a copy of my 3-minute talk...

“What if a Jewish person turned into a vampire?” Kirin asked me one day.  “Would that vampire be afraid of a Star of David like regular vampires are afraid of a cross?”  “That’s the great thing about vampires,” I replied.  “Because they are a literary devise, they can do pretty much whatever the author wants them to.”

We talked for about fifteen minutes about Kirin’s Jewish vampire, specifically, weather or not he will cringe at a Star of David, and what that decision might mean.  Would it mean that Kirin has replaced the exclusive rightness of Christianity with an exclusive rightness for Judaism?   Or will it be more multi-cultural, where the vampire is really cringing at our symbols of goodness and righteousness?  Or will all vampires cringe at all holy symbols marking out the many paths up the mountain of faith?

In a deferent year, a puzzled-faced fourteen-year-old girl stuck up a conversation with me one afternoon. 

“I was reading here in Hammurabi’s code.” She began.  “I get how it says that if the farmer doesn’t keep the levees on his land in good repair, and when the river floods, the levee breaks and ruins his neighbor’s land that he’s responsible to repair the damage and pay the neighbor for the neighbor’s ruined crops. I get that,”

“But what if the farmer was renting the land?”

Both of these children were in classes of mine at Skyline High School, across the bay in Oakland.  What makes these children remarkable is not their uniqueness; I could talk all night, telling you similar stories.  What makes them remarkable is that these stories of curiosity and wonder come from a so-called “failing school.”

You see, the problem for these children, and my school is that neither Babylonian rental law and nor Jewish vampires are on the high-stakes test in Spring.

The center piece of No Child left Behind is that all schools will have all students testing at “proficient” or above in reading and math by 2014.

100% of schools

100% of students “Proficient” or above in reading and in math.

A goal like that leaves little room for wonder.  It leaves little room for creativity; for divergent thinking.

A goal like this reduces schools and teaching to an integrate game of trivial pursuit with only two categories of value.

So, contrary to the wisdom enshrined in the name of the legislation, children like these are told that what they are good at doesn’t count and what they are curious about doesn’t matter.

I had hope that things would be different after the 2008 elections, but as a new set of testing gurus begin work on a new set of tests, my hope fades.

I hope we can all take a deep breath and remember that education is a lot more complex than the score on a single test.

I hope we can come to our senses and demand that our government does away with these tests.  As the farmer says, “You can’t fatten the hog by weighing it.”

We need fewer tests in our schools.  We need more room for curiosity, more room for wonder.  We need more room for Jewish vampires.

Monday, February 21, 2011

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

How Do You Define 21st-Century Learning?

Ten leading educational reform thinkers weigh in.

How about you? How do you define 21-st Century Learning?

Cartoons for a Presidents' Day Break

I've been typing so much about the purpose of schooling, I thought you might like a little break, so I got this cartoon for you...  Mind you, it's still about education.  It's about what I hope will be the most talked-about book in education reform this year...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Purpose of Schools, Democracy

Is the point of school to prepare children to participate in democracy?  Perhaps, but first we have to disabuse ourselves the idea that America is a democracy.  We are a republic.  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t get o vote on the health care overhaul.  I did get to select some representatives who got a piece of the decision-making power.  If we think in terms of a democracy, traditional schools certainly do not prepare children to participate in it.  On the contrary, we are opposed to it.  Instead,  we like to prepare our children to accept authority and the rule of law.  Democracy is messy and we prefer order.  We teach them that there is a different class of people who get to make the decisions and rules.  How often have you heard a teacher abdicate the responsible of discussing the purpose or reasoning behind a rule and allow for polite debate among children.  More often we hear, “It’s the rule” or “The principal (or school board or state) made the rule, I have to enforce it.”?

What happens to children who want to debate the purpose of a rule?  What happens to a child to wants to exercise her right to free speech too often, or too loudly?

We do eventually teach them about the structure and processes of our system of government.  We teach them about many of the hot-topics of political debate raging in their time.  We teach them to look at multiple sides of these issues, and then look for leaders who most closely match their views.  We encourage them to support these leaders and help them become representatives.  In the end, we reinforce our beliefs in respect for authority and rule of law.  If you don’t like the law, find an authority figure who feels similarly and support him/her.  We typically do not teach children how to organize and become leaders themselves.  Again, our belief is that there is a different class of people who are destined to walk the halls of power and they are not us.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Purpose of Schools, Caring Adults

Is the point of schooling to create competent, caring loving and loveable people?  Perhaps it once was, and perhaps the pendulum will swing back toward seeing relationship or inter-personal intelligence as valuable again.  Certainly the world of professional work has recognize this need.  Professional employers have time and again said that they want workers who can perform in teams, think creatively, and solve problems.

Turing to Sir Robinson again, “Throughout the history of state education” he writes in Out of Our Minds, “there has been a contest between the mainstream vie that ‘reason’ and ‘objective’ knowledge should dominate education, and those who have argued for forms of education based on feelings.”  During the Romantic period, education thinkers like John Dewey argued that education should start with the child rather than with the canon.  The purpose of education, said the Romantics, was to awaken the curiosity and talent of the child and provide a nurturing place for those talents to bloom.  Some vestiges of this viewpoint are still with us today.  Teachers are still encouraged to get to know their students and their students’ families.   However, Teaching 2030 makes an important point when they quote Ellen Condliffe Lagemann in chapter 2, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the 20th century unless one realizes that Edward Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”  Thorndike personified the Classical school of educational philosophy that promoted a teacher-centric curriculum-centric ideology in opposition to Dewey’s Romantic philosophy of education.

While teachers are told to get to know their students individual needs, their families, and their interests; while we are told to differentiate instruction and to customize intervention and planning to suit the needs of each student, we are to do so in order to achieve ever-higher scores on the standardized high-stakes tests.  What is measured by these tests, what matters in the world where the scores on these tests are conflated with “learning” is the canon.  It is the Classical body of knowledge intended for student memorization.  It is the logico-deductive reasoning championed by Thorndike.  It is as if we are now being asked to use the methods of the Romantic school of education to serve the interests and achieve the objectives of the Classical school of education.  Thorndike didn’t just beat Dewey, he made Dewey his whipping boy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Student-run School-based businesses are Awesome!

So… what would you do if you were at school and needed twenty dollars?

If you were at McMinnville, you would go to the Bank of the Bear.

The Bank of the Bear is a legitimate branch of Wells Fargo located in the student commons.  The bank is open before school, after school and during lunch and, like the student store and snack bar, is run by the Business Management career pathway. 

Wells Fargo audited and approved the training class that the McMinnville students take for this pathway.  As a part of their class, the kids run the bank, take care of the accounting and are accountable for the books and the cash. 

The Bank of the Bear finances itself with a three-dollar transaction fee on any non-Well Fargo customer.  The bank allows Wells Fargo members to withdraw or deposit funds, and any customer can cash a check.  No ATM’s at this stage of the banks development, but the Bank of the Bear was impressive nonetheless. 

It really works!  Skyline math teacher Ian Garrovillas deposited a check into his account.  “I actually needed to deposit this check and I was wonder when I was going to be able to do that before we flew home, but then I was like, ‘Wow, I could take care of that right here!”

Dave Orphal also tested the services of the Business Management Pathway by withdrawing twenty bucks and buying a McMinnville hat from their student store.  “I was floored,” Orphal gushed.  “I’m a sucker for a good souvenir when I travel, plus, the Grizzly’s colors are black and red like ours.  It was a no brainer.  I think I was most impressed when my transaction didn’t go smoothly at the bank.  The kid did freak out of call for a teacher to solve the problem.  He trouble-shot the situation and got it fixed in minutes; just like a pro would.”

The Purpose of Schools, Intellectual Development

If we say that schools are meant to provide intellectual development, then we only mean a narrow band of intellectual development.  Schooling is dominated by what Sir Ken Robinson calls logico-deductive reasoning and memorization of an agreed-to body of knowledge.  These two skills he calls “academic intelligence.”  They are the skills that dominate our schools and are the ones which monopolize our standardized ways of testing if children are learning.  While we may agree with Sir Robinson, that academic intelligence is a very important part of intelligence, we should also agree with him that it is not the end-all and be-all of intelligence.

There are lots of other types of intelligence.  Unfortunately, these alternate forms of intelligence are given short shift by schools and valued far less than academic intelligence.  Ponder for a moment what happens in school to kids who are really good at inter-personal intelligence.  These are the ones who can talk to anybody and engage then in deep dialogue.  We punish those children for disrupting class.  The children with high levels of intra-personal intelligence (our deep ponders) most often quietly slip through the cracks and fail.

Physical intelligence may get celebrated at Friday night’s game, and this kind of intelligence may be highly honored in the social pecking systems of students, but if the athlete isn’t maintaining a “C” average in academic intelligence, then she is ineligible for the team.  Frankly, we teachers will say, “What’s the purpose of school anyway?  Athletics are extra-curricular.”  “Extra-curricular” is a great word for the way physical, musical, and artistic intelligence are both honored by schools and relegated to second-class status.  Sure, we think these talents are great, but we don’t think kids should focus on them to the detriment of academic or “real” skills that will help them get a job one day.  Art, music, sports; these are extras.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Purpose of Schools, Prologue

In Jonathan Kozol’s essay “What does it mean to be well-educated?” he spends some time writing about the point or purpose of schooling.  What is the point of school?  In his essay, Kozol gave four suggestions:
·      Intellectual development
·      Creating competent, caring loving and loveable people
·      Preparing citizens for democracy
·      Preparing for work

Over the next week, I'll throw some ideas up on each of these suggestions.

Meanwhile...  What do YOU think is the purpose of schooling?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More Sir Ken Robinson

This fantastically entertaining RSA Animate video is the best summary of Ken Robinson's seminal thesis.

He lays his ideas about creativity; how the current "Raising Standards" movement is taking us in exactly the wrong direction; and what schools can do to prepare children for the next epoch in human experience.

Read his book, Out of our Minds.

Friday, February 11, 2011

We need a Revolution in Education, not more reform

In this TED talk from last year, Ken Robinson talks about the need to radically change the way we educate children.

We have built education on a fast-food model, he claims.  Everything is standardized.  If educational reformers such as Michael Bloomberg and Michelle Rhee have their way, even more standardization is to come.  He recommends an alternative.  Just like Zagat and Michelin Guide restaurants are not standardized, but creative and customized, so too education should forgo the old standardized paradigm and move to a creative and customized model.

Our education system is designed like a factory.  It's linear, where batches of children start at the beginning of the system and moved through each successive stage until they wind up at the end.  "Defective" children, like defective factory products, are discarded along the way.  As an alternative, he suggests modeling education more agrarianly, creating the environment and best conditions for childrne to grow and supporting them as the flourish.

Just two more years until we are all “Failing Schools.”

Just a reminder that the center piece of No Child left Behind is that all schools will have all students testing at “proficient” or above in reading and math by 2014.

100% of schools

100% of students “Proficient” or above

That figure includes the kids who are in the process of dropping out; it includes the kids who have been in America only a few years or a few weeks and don’t yet speak English; it includes kids with special needs; it includes the kids with chronic attendance problems; it includes the kids living in abject poverty; it includes the kids who live in violent neighborhoods.

It includes Kevin (not his real name) who was shot last weekend.  Kevin was one of my kids last year.  Together with his mom and through a Herculean effort, the three of us succeeded in getting his grades from a series of “F’s” to mainly “D’s” and “C’s”. 

It included Shannon (not her real name) who ran away from home in October.  None of the adults in her life knew where she was until the police arrested her on the streets of Oakland and returned her home in February. 

I wonder if they’ll be ready for his high-stakes tests in Spring.  I wonder if the Value-added gurus have sophisticated enough formulas to determine the effectiveness of Kevin and Shannon’s teachers.

I wonder if we can take a deep breath and remember that education is a lot more complex than the score on a single test.