Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Unknown

The above quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, but the incredibly extensive investigation documented at seems to indicate that he never said it. Two quick notes on that:

  1. If you're famous, people will give you all sorts of additional credit. :)
  2. That this animal allegory has been used since 1898 many times to describe deficiencies in how we think about education, means that it does a good job of reminding us that standardization is not the ultimate measure of others' talents.
When I talk about the "inherent worth and value of every child," this is language that resonates with those who consider themselves religious or spiritual; however, it's not the language of science. In a purely scientific worldview, we accept that talent and IQ are not spread evenly among the population, and we're comfortable with (or maybe not always comfortable with, but accepting of) the idea that some percentage of our students will fail or drop out because they just aren't that smart or that capable. Most of us see the boundaries between where science ends and morality begins pretty clearly when we get to practices like eugenics, but don't feel the same moral urgency when measuring intelligence or capability.

I think this is a mistake. As someone who believes in the importance of both science and spirituality, I'm troubled when I see hubris on either side. Science has brought us incredible advances, but what is often seen as settled science is shown later to have been a misreading of the evidence; as well there are no more profound feelings for me than those that come from believing in the divine, and yet religion is often used as an excuse for exploitative and even barbaric behavior. I cannot explain, scientifically, my belief in the inherent worth and value of every person, but I do know that when I act as if that is true, I not only feel better about who I am, but I believe those who are treated that way are more likely to experience their own growth and development.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"Almost all education has a political motive." - Bertrand Russell

The fuller quote is:
Almost all education has a political motive: it aims at strengthening some group, national or religious or even social, in the competition with other groups. It is this motive, in the main, which determines the subjects taught, the knowledge offered and the knowledge withheld, and also decides what mental habits the pupils are expected to acquire. Hardly anything is done to foster the inward growth of mind and spirit; in fact, those who have had the most education are very often atrophied in their mental and spiritual life.

- Bertrand Russel
I don't think we're unaware of this concept of education having a motive--it's just that we are so conditioned to speaking about the virtues of education that we suppress the deeper understanding that mandated schooling reflects forces of power and control. What we read in history about other cultures we resist applying to our own circumstance.

A willingness to build the capacity of individuals--who then will be in a position to innovate, work together, and build things of worth and value--is a form of generational trust. It's a willingness to believe in the strength and potential of others; and the opposite, believing we know and should tell the next generation what problems they will face and how they should solve them, is a sign of narcissistic control. I'd argue this is the same pervasive narcissism which seems willing to be the source of many of the problems that our students are now inheriting.

If we really want to help our kids, we will focus on their "inward growth of mind and spirit." 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays, and have things arranged for them, that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas." - Agatha Christie

This quote is echoed in the writings of lots of accomplished people--often in the form of how they needed to overcome schooling to accomplish their life's work. I think it reflects the cognitive dissonance we have about the school experience--believing that we are trying to draw out the unique best in each child, but also believing that the path to do so is through memorization and compliance. The Yin and the Yang of learning, growth and structure, often get reduced in the practice of institutionalized behavior as caricatures of their fuller selves.

The huge inherent dilemma with institutionalization is that codified practices ultimately bend toward that which benefits those with power and privilege, and not necessarily (or usually?) to the individual that the institution claims it is serving. I don't think many of us are under the illusion that food companies are there to help us make healthy eating choices; rather, they are for-profit companies that reward profitable (and usually not healthy) behavior. The same is true of the financial industry; do we really think that banks want our financial independence? Education as an institution faces the same dynamic: no matter the nobility of the individuals working inside the system, that most students leave school that system believing they are not good learners is an output that helps maintain the benefits of those who depend on people eating unhealthy food, or their making bad financial choices.

At some deeper level we understand this. Most of us have memories of those who really helped us think better, or find something we really cared about, or become good at something hard. Those who care enough about others to help them grow and change and develop are usually outliers to the institutionalized system. We develop systems because we want to systematize good practice, but don't realize how much those systems then develop their own agenda, and to paraphrase Ivan Illich, in order to maintain their existence, perpetuate the very problems they were designed to solve.

If we want children to be able to produce their own ideas, to help build a healthy next generation, we have to be willing to question institutional practices and those who benefit from those practices. This isn't radical behavior, it's just a recognition of the dangers of how institutions end up becoming protections for powerful, one-sided behavior. There is a lot more money to be made in education when things are standardized, commodified, and centrally-controlled... but that's not really why we are here, is it?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Events + News - Library 2.0 Spring Summit - Free-Range Kids - Testing "Chaos" and Opting Out - Student Debt - Will College Survive?

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Two Week Calendar

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Library 2.015 Spring Summit

Spring Summit

Learning Revolution Events

Library 2.015 Spring Summit - The Emerging Future: Technology and Learning, April 30th, 2015

The technology landscape changes rapidly, and these changes have economic, social, and ethical significance for individuals, organizations, and the entire world. The Emerging Future: Technology and Learning brings focus to the planning skills that are needed, the issues that are involved, and the current trends as we explore the potential impact of technological innovations. These interactive sessions on future technology trends will present key issues faced by information professionals and educators. A goal of the Spring Summit is to provide a forum to discuss ways to prepare for your personal and organization’s future. Register for free today at

2015 ISTE Unplugged Events, June 26th - July 1st

Thanks to our generous friends at, our NINTH annual set of extra-curricular events at the ISTE conference this year will launch on the Friday before ISTE (June 26th) with an all-day open Maker Day--expect lots of table, activities, and fun for all ages, geared toward education. Saturday's all-day unconference features special guest Audrey Watters again this year, and huge shout-out to this year's unconference and evening party sponsor, StudyBlue and Shutterfly. Sunday is our fourth annual Global Education Summit, a three-hour event + connecting party you don't want to miss. The Bloggers' Cafe will be open Friday - Wednesday, and we're really hoping to add an education slam poetry event still. Stay tuned for all events at, which also has Facebook event links for each activity.

Library 2.015 Worldwide Virtual Conference: Tools, Skills & Competencies, October 20th

The fifth annual global conversation about the future of libraries is scheduled for Tuesday, October 20th, 2015. The conference will be held entirely online and is free to attend. Everyone is invited to participate in this open forum designed to foster collaboration and knowledge sharing among information professionals worldwide. The Call for Proposals will open May 1st, immediately following the Library 2.015 Spring Summit. See this year's conference strands and plan to get your proposal in early. We are looking forward to the fifth year of this this momentous event, and to your participation!

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See you online!
Steve Hargadon
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"Human beings are curious by nature." - Aristotle

This question of our inherent nature is at the heart of how we think about teaching, learning, and formal education. Can and will children learn on their own? Is curiosity the main component to learning, or is it disciplined activity? Of course, both are important, but which one we emphasize depends on another fundamental question about our inherent nature: are we individuals with unique, inherent value and potential; or are we part of a collective which needs to shape our nature? Most of us probably hold some balance of beliefs: children are naturally curious but need help in refining their thinking abilities, and there is a balance between individual freedoms and society's larger interests.

From my perspective, the big mistake is to find fault with others who have reached different conclusions about these most important human questions.

Monday, April 13, 2015

We have to stop pretending...

Responding to Scott McLeod challenge.

When it comes to education, I say we have to stop pretending…

  • That it's OK for the majority of students to leave high school believing they are not good learners;
  • That it is OK to believe anything less than in the inherent worth and value of every child;
  • That schooling as it now exists is about increasing individual learning capability and not actually about enforcing compliance and conformance;
  • That it's OK that politicians, the elite, and business-people have more influence over education than local parents, teachers, and the students themselves;
  • That students are not capable of directing their own learning, and that this isn't the ultimate goal of education.

From Scott:  Please join us. When it comes to education, what are 5 things that we have to stop pretending? Post on your blog, tag 5 others, and share using the #makeschooldifferent hashtag. Feel free to also put the URL of your post in the comments area so others can find it!

From Me: Add the hashtag #reclaimlearning.