Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
Matt Skurnick about Sustaining the Teaching Life
Mon, 25.03.2013 14:05
Jon Goldman was both my
English Teacher in 9th
grade and Advisory Mentor
for my four years at
Karen Greenberg about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Tue, 14.08.2012 11:13
Perhaps a more apt term
would be "altering
physics - two objects in
Amethyst about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:51
I really appreciate this
blog entry. Our roles as
teachers require, at our
best, a deep [...]
Mark Ahlness about The Long Haul
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:33
Chris, thanks. Pete is my
hero, and has been for a
while, but now that I'm
retired, after 31 years
Gary Stager about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:15
No need to worry about
Others all around us are
debasing our [...]
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Friday, February 25. 2011
[This entry is cross-posted at ASCD's Whole Child blog. It is kind of an entry point into what I believe about how technology can humanize and revolutionize our schools.]
There has been, over the past decade, an increasing trend to push technology into schools. Everyone, it seems, knows that kids should use computers in schools, but we don't often ask why. Larry Cuban, among others, has written a great deal about how technology in our school has failed to reach its promise. Schools have spent millions of dollars on computer labs and interactive white boards to find new ways to do many of the things that schools have always done.
And today, many people are arguing how technology and "on-line learning" can transform student learning so that kids can learn from anywhere. But kids have learned everywhere for generations. What on-line learning can do is recreate the construct of a classroom anywhere, anytime.
And we wonder why we have not seen technology truly revolutionize education.
The true promise of technology does not lie in being able to reproduce - in shinier ways - the things schools have always done. If all we can imagine is how technology can "deliver instruction" in new ways, we will forever be limited by our own lack of vision. What technology can allow us to do is to realize the promise of many of our best ideas of progressive education. It can allow students to inquire, collaborate and connect in ways that allow us to realize the promise of Dewey's dream. Moreover, it allows students and teachers to see themselves as real people, defined not just by the power dynamic of the classroom, but through the social networks that should and will and must cross.
Technology Can Realize Dewey's Dream
For years, teachers have worked with students to help students learn to construct knowledge through project-based learning and the creation of authentic artifacts of learning. But the tools we had at our disposal made student creation more difficult, more time-consuming and the tools often lagged far behind what a professional would use. (I remember the times in my career as a student when they didn't. It was what made shop class so incredible. We were using the real tools... (even if I made what might be the worst birdhouse in history.) Today, the tools at our students' disposal allow them seek out the answers to their questions and then create powerful artifacts of learning that can be as polished as what a professional might create. And once they have created their work, they can share with the world. The progressive educational idea of the exposition can be on-going and can extend far beyond the walls of the classroom and the school to the world at large.
Technology Can Humanize Us
There is incredible debate right now about whether or not we should let students friend us on Facebook... or if we should follow students on Twitter. I am not naive enough to not understand the issues around it. However, at root, what social media can allow us to do is to see a much greater range of each other's human existence. When teachers and students can see themselves as more fully developed people, we can relate better in the classroom. When we know more about each other's lives, it is that much harder to create that sense of "otherness" which can poison a classroom. We should not run from the opportunity to see each other for the whole people we are.
Networking Can Change the World
2011 may well be the year that social media grew up and became a force in the world. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we allowed our students to be a part of the global change we see around us? Right now, we are at a moment in time when the echoing voices of every people are affecting change all over the globe. In that moment, how can we continue the soft illusion that learning is contained solely in a classroom? Why would we? When we help our students develop their expert voices for the world, who knows what they can build, create and change? When students' voices live in the world they can both change that world and be changed by it. We have an obligation to let them try.
For years, in our schools, teachers have told students that school is preparation for real life - a statement that divorced the meaning of school from the lives kids led in that moment. With the research, creation and networking tools at our disposal, we have the ability to help students see that the lives they lead now have meaning and value, and that school can be a vital and vibrant part of that meaning. We can help students to see the powerful humanity that exists both within them and all around them. And technology can be an essential piece of how we teach and learn about that.
Don't we have the moral obligation to try?
Thursday, February 24. 2011
I am fascinated by marginal tax rates from a historical perspective. (All of you who were not already convinced that I am a geek... I am a geek.)
I'm fascinated by marginal tax rates in general. I'm also fascinated by what I perceive as a general lack of understanding in our society of those things, why so few people understand them, and what kind of paradigm shift it would take to have more people understand them.
First, I think it is important to understand the difference between marginal tax rate and average (or actual) tax rate. Marginal tax rate is the rate you pay on the last dollar you earned. But we because we have a tiered or graduated tax rate, you don't pay that rate for every dollar you earn. From The Money Chimp:
So... first, I think that's a really important thing to understand. If you make $100,000, and you are married filing jointly, your tax bracket (your marginal tax rate) is 28%, but your actual (average) tax rate is 22%. (And according to another tax calculator, if you have two kids and are married filing separately (and really - file jointly, already) your average tax rate is more like 17.4%. A marginal tax rate - a tax bracket system - means you only pay that percentage for the amount your income is in that bracket. To wit - If your income is one dollar into the highest bracket, you only pay the highest rate on that one dollar.
It's important to understand that for the next part.
It's also really interesting to take a look the history of tax rates in this country. If you listened to the rhetoric right now, you'd think taxes were incredibly high in the US, when actually, they are the lowest they have been since 1931 - when Roosevelt raised taxes as part of a Keynesian plan to get us out of the Great Depression. To get a sense of the history of tax rates in this country, take a look at the history of the top of the income tax bracket over the past hundred years. It is incredible to imagine that as recently as 1963, the top tax rate in this country was 91%. Yes, in 1963, a married couple had to pay 91% of their earnings to the government for every dollar in salary over (2011 adjusted dollars) $1,439,000. Think about that one.
So let's take a closer look at marginal tax rates across a specific moment in time. Let's look at the tax brackets and tax rates from just after Ronald Reagan's historic tax cuts of 1981 as compared to today.
Amount of the tax bracket for married filing jointly in 1982.
Amounts of the tax brackets for married filing jointly in 2011
So... most Americans are paying much, much less in federal taxes than they were in 1982 under Reagan. And this is happening at a time where state, federal and local governments are all trying to figure out what essential services they can no longer offer. It is happening at a time when governors are calling for changes to state law to take away contractual benefits to state workers. And this is happening at a time when many states are calling for state-level layoffs and pension and contract give backs at the same time as states are raising the minimum estate value before you have to pay an estate tax.
As we, as voters and citizens, try to make our voices heard... try to figure out what we believe and what party (and candidate) match up most closely with our own beliefs, is it important that we understand both the math and the history of taxation in this country?
If the answer is yes -- and for me it very much is -- do we teach math or social studies as a nation in a way that would lead us to believe that our citizens are getting the transferrable skills - in math, in social science, with the ability to ask good questions and find out answers - in school? If not, why? What are we teaching instead?
At root, this would require us to teach students every subject through the lens of what it would take to help our students become fully realized, full equipped citizens of their world.
Tuesday, February 22. 2011
I am reading Sam Chaltain's - a fantastic text about creating more democratic schools. It is a wonderful read... one that I had started before EduCon, but after meeting Sam at EduCon and being completely inspired by everything he had to say on the Sunday morning panel, it was a text I had to return to.
In the text, Sam talks about creating a democratic culture that can create and sustain change through the three civic habits of mind, heart and voice (pg. 74.) The mind signifies the understandings we have about the communities we want to have, the heart signifies our motivation and voice signifies the skills we need. It is a lovely frame for the kind of work Sam is writing about - the kind of work it took to build SLA, and the kind of work that I advocate for when I go out and speak. It reminded me of the lens and language I use when I talk about students and teachers doing the work of their own head, heart and hands.
And here's where it gets fun. (Or I get waaaaaaaay too into language - take your pick.) I really started to question the space between "voice" and "hands." In the end, I think Sam and I both meant much the same thing - the stuff we can do... build... say... but what was the difference? Was there a difference? Voice traditionally has been a powerful signifier of agency, especially when one looks at the civil rights struggles, so in that respect - especially since Sam's book is about democratic schools - "voice" was a more powerful word for skills than "hands."
But I run a school where kids make stuff. And in that context... in a more constructivist context... "hands" is about the artifacts of learning that kids (and teachers) can create. Hands is about the ability to do things, and I wouldn't want to lose that in the context of what we do... and it feels very different to me to say "hands" than "voice." Is "voice" encompassed within "head?" No. Clearly not. All one has to do is look at who has agency in the world to know that they are not the same thing.
So does it matter? Is one of us wrong? Who knows... what I love is finding someone whose ideas pushed mine in great ways and forced me to examine my own language. How will I change mine? I don't know yet... the ideas are still running around in the brain. But Sam's book, even though -- perhaps because -- it is so close to the stuff I believe has pushed me to refine what I believe even more deeply. And that's a good thing.
So perhaps then, there are two meta-takeaways for me in this blog post. The first - language is joyous, fun and important. When people say, "That's just semantics," I have always thought, "Just?" And second - as much as we decry the echo chamber, there are times when the folks whose views are closely aligned to your own are the ones who can push you, shape you, challenge you in ways that few others can.
And oh yeah, read Sam's book. It really is wonderful.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad
Saturday, February 19. 2011
Dear Ms. Monroe,
I read the two blog posts where you spoke about what you are now calling Bloggate. And I am concerned. I'm concerned that you are missing the point of why people are angry. And please be aware, I'm writing this letter as a teacher, a principal and a parent.
Teaching is a tough career. It demands the best of you every day. And it takes an incredible amount out of you every day. And the dark days are bad. There are days when the kids frustrate you. There are days when the work frustrates you. And there are days when the combination of the two are almost overwhelming.
But when you teach, you work in the public trust. And you have a responsibility to that.
And when you teach kids, you have a moral obligation to work to see the best in them. The kids will see themselves by what is reflected in your eyes.
You see... you don't teach English. You teach kids. Flawed, messed-up, never perfect, wonderful, amazing kids.
Every child you denigrated has something wonderful about them, even when you didn't see it.
Every child you insulted has worked hard at something, even if it wasn't on the assignment you wanted them to work hard on.
Every child you mocked has aspirations, even if they don't match up with the ones you want them to have.
Perhaps parents did go looking for your blog... have you stopped to consider why they may have?
Perhaps a parent was frustrated hearing her child come home every day talking about the English class where the teacher made it clear that she didn't like many of the kids - and trust me, the kids knew. There's no way what you wrote didn't come out in the classroom. No one is that good an actor, and teenagers are better at sussing that out than most people give them credit for.
You were unkind. More to the point, you were cruel.
You were cruel to the children that parents have entrusted to your care.
And there is no excuse for that.
And now, you are trying to argue that your act of public cruelty was somehow justified... somehow part of some larger dialogue about what is wrong with "kids today." And you don't seem to want to own that your actions have now contributed to the larger anti-teacher rhetoric that is out there today. But you must understand... nothing can possibly justify writing those things on a publicly accessible blog. How should your principal respond when a parent calls and says, "I don't want my child in class with someone who writes that?" How is a child supposed to sit in your classroom when s/he will be wondering, "What does Ms. Monroe really think of me?" And - to be completely blunt - why should students respect what you do in class when you have shown them such incredible disrespect.
We had a situation at SLA where a student wrote a teacher an email that was a frustrated and snarky email. The teacher, in a very human moment, responded sarcastically via email. It was understandable from a human moment, but it was not the way we can respond as teachers - because we're the adults.
High school kids say and do really frustrating things. They are kids. It's almost their job. They are learning how to navigate that space between being really kids and being adult. They try on adult responses. They switch back to childish responses. And through it all, they are learning from how the adults in their lives respond to their actions.
What I told that teacher then - and what I say to you now - is that once you abdicated your responsibility as the adult, you were in the wrong. What a parent has every right to say is, "I understand that my child may have done something wrong, but now I want to talk about the behavior of the teacher." Because, after all, we are the adults.
Whatever frustration, grief, anger you may have over the behavior of your students... you gave up the moral high ground to speak with authority about that when you wrote publicly in a manner that was profoundly disrespect of and demeaning to those who are in your care.
And finally, there was something else that really bothered me about your most recent two blog posts.
You never said you were sorry.
You hurt kids. There are students who are angry and hurt that a teacher would write those things about them. You hurt kids' feelings... you wrote mean and cruel things about the children in your care. You may say it was not meant to be public, but you wrote mean and cruel things about the children you teach on a public blog. And those words were found, and kids were hurt by your actions.
And you never said you were sorry.
I hope that you do some serious soul-searching over the coming days. I hope you ask yourself why you teach. I would urge you to consider that your job is not to teach English, but to teach children English... and you need to keep those kids in your class at the top of your mind. And you need to ask yourself if you can find it in your heart to care about them, to listen to them, to want to know their dreams and aspirations, even when they do not line up with your own. If you can, then you need to start with what Randy Pausch defined as a real apology. To make a real apology, you must say - and mean - the following.
Finally, I would hope that you ask yourself why you are teaching. If the answer is because you loved being an English major, I'd encourage you to find another career.
You must teach because you want to help students achieve their dreams. You must teach because you care almost as much as much about the children in your class as you do about your own children. And you must approach the job with the humility to know that what you are trying to do - to help children grow up wisely and well in an ever-more-complex world - will tax you to the limits of your being. It should - it will - demand the best of you. If you can engage in that reflection... you will understand why you must apologize deeply and profoundly to your students... because you would never want another person to hurt your students as I imagine you have hurt them. You are going to have to listen to them when they tell you how your words made them feel. And you are going to have to be open to feeling that hurt with them. This isn't the time for, "Yes, but..." It is the time to listen deeply, with an open mind and an open heart, so that you can grow... so that you might return to the classroom in a fashion that allows all members of that community to learn.
Tuesday, February 15. 2011
My TEDxPhilly talk from November is online! There were some audio problems that required an overdub for about two minutes (you'll know when you hear it.) But the whole thing is up and online. This event was a TON of fun to do, and the energy you get from the audience and the TED format makes it a ton of fun.
Thursday, February 10. 2011
Sam Abrams is a former colleague and very dear friend of mine. He is one of the most thoughtful scholars on education I know, and he and I have spent many dozens of hours over the last ten-twelve years talking about education policy and pedagogy. He has been working on book on the school reform movement of the last decade, and knowing Sam, it will be measured, insanely well-researched, fair and incredibly powerful. With that...
With all of the discussion around the Finnish model of education that is being touted on many sides of the education debate, I'd urge folks to read The Children Must Play from January's New Republic. It examines some of the underlying beliefs of the Finnish system - broad standards that allow teachers to then create curriculum around its, sampled test data, rather than testing every last student, small class sizes, and a powerful respect for teachers in their society, examines how Finland got to this moment in time and compares Finland's success contrasted with their neighbor Norway.
It's well worth the read.
Thursday, February 3. 2011
[Influencing this post - Chris Lehmann, Alan Shapiro, and sitting on a Philadelphia floor, almost 40 years ago by Ira Socol]
So I spent last night re-familiarizing myself with the 3i program, an alternative high school program in New Rochelle, NY that existed from 1970-1983. The school was born out of a moment in time when people believed change was possible, and it was steeped in the work of Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner's classic text of resistance, Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The school was started by Alan Shapiro in collaboration with Postman and Weingartner, and it was part of a time in American schooling where many people believed school could be different.
I was doing this reading because of the dialogue between Ira Socol and me on his blog post-EduCon. It's a good place for me to be right now because SLA rarely gets challenged from the left-side of the educational spectrum. We spend a lot of time explaining what we do to those on to the right of us on the continuum that it's good to be stretched on the other side too. Given the personal experience Ira had in going to 3i, and the research and scholasticism he has shared since then, it might be a little ridiculous for me to write about 3i, but it's what is on my mind. I hope I honor the spirit of inquiry with what follows.
Postman and Weingartner's work was based in the belief - and SLA is, in many respects, a descendent of this belief - of inquiry education. From the wikipedia entry on inquiry method, good learners share the following traits:
And teachers worked to live these ideals:
And the 3i Program, a school within the larger New Rochelle school, was built on those principals.
In reading those documents, you can see the valiant struggle to create something meaningful and powerful and democratic for students in the school. Kids and teachers made decisions together... classes were purely democratically chosen... students powerfully owned their learning. But I also read some of the same problems that we've seen in varying degrees at SLA. Student motivation to make those decisions or find learning on their own waxed and waned.... figuring out what to do when given ownership and freedom was hard... and maintaining the spirit of the revolution, so to speak, could be exhausting.
And that isn't to say that the struggle was bad... or that the school was not a success. So many folks have spoken to the power of classrooms and schools like this all over that something incredible was going on. I wonder, though, as I look at the staff page, and I see how many teachers spent only a year or two there... how hard was it to teach there? (Gloriously amazing, yes, but hard, I'm sure.) How Zen did teachers have to be to be completely able to let go of all of the authoritarian nature of the role of teacher. There are times, so many throughout the day, where trying to 20-30 people to pull even a little bit of the same direction - even in a student-centered classroom - must have gotten frustrating. Did teachers get frustrated when projects were started and abandoned? Or when decision-making on everything became too much... and folks just generally let the most involved, the most committed make the decisions... until a problem arose? I thought Sam Chaltain had a great quote this weekend in the Sunday morning panel when he said, "Teachers need to be authoritative, but never authoritarian." Did that describe a 3i teacher? Or was that still too "teacher-y." And yet, I have no doubt that Alan Shapiro led... servant leadership, for sure but leadership nonetheless. And his writings have a powerfully defined moral center. It is easy to imagine that moral center came through in his teaching... not in a didactic fashion, but still powerfully from his role as teacher. (Read "On Falling Apart" for a sense of that voice and powerful moral core.)
And what were the bargains the school made as a part of the larger whole over time? By 1981, there were two hours of SAT test prep a week built into the schedule, and the documents suggest that trying to let students run their own gym was an uphill battle. 3i lost the battle to keep the Project Week at some point. And by 1983, with no lack of sad irony the same year A Nation at Risk was published, the school was closed - reabsorbed back into the larger school. The struggle had ended... at least it ended there.
But what a wonderful struggle. I am sure that so many of the kids in the program felt it was worth fighting for. And I have no doubt that many kids (and over the course of the program, there were between 50 - 125 kids in the program across all high school grades) found it to be a life changing and empowering form of education. (Ira's writing - he might argue his life - is proof of that.) And while there was a class schedule and times for things to meet, kids went or didn't go, and for much of the school's existence, there was a week in the middle of the year where the only thing kids did was work all day on a project of their own design. (Interestingly, Masterman HS, not exactly a bastion of progressive pedagogy, does that for senior project. There are the seeds of 3i in many places.)
And I think SLA is one of those seeds. We are not 3i. We are far more structured. And I am more communitarian than individualistic, and I can point to many ways that influenced the choices we made. For example, that led to our belief in grade-wide essential themes and questions that allow student-driven interdisciplinarity because kids draw the connections between classes. That decision precludes multi-age classes in all but our elective courses. And believe deeply that it is incumbent on every member of the community to figure out (with support, help, care, love) how they can be themselves within the larger community... and strengthening the community in the process. I don't believe (as some principals do) that you should suspend / punish / whatever kids for skipping classes, but I also admit that it drives me a little batty when kids do... not because I think whatever I might say is so important, but because I think what the student might say is. I think we make a social contract in our classes that together we will make meaning together. And I want every brain in the room for that. I miss kids when they are not there. (That being said, as an aside, when kids tell me that they made choices to not go to a class because they were still working on another class' work, I am powerfully confronted with the limitations of any and all class schedules.) Is that better or worse than the decisions 3i made? For who? When in their academic career? The better or worse question is, to me, profoundly unhelpful, because it assumes that difference must assume a hierarchy of best to worst.
What I want... what I think we need... are schools that do things for reasons. I believe - and I think Ira believes - that if we were more reflective, more critical about why we do things, that more schools would move toward the progressive / inquity-driven edge of the spectrum. Maybe not to where 3i landed or maybe not to SLA landed, but they'd move. So little of what happens in school today is thoughtful... or based on a deep-rooted but still living and growing philosophical core. I want schools to make decisions based on what we think we can do - kids and teachers both - rather than what we can't do. I want education to be based on the best of what we be, not on the deficit model of "Make sure everyone doesn't suck quite so much" that is driving the language and policies of education today.
And in the end, I come back to a few places that feel like familiar ground for me and a few that are less common.
On a less positive note, As I write this, a part of me is angry. Because the seeds of 3i live in private schools and the slow-growing, but growing (private) free school movement more than they live anywhere right now. No inquiry-driven teacher would ever say to my son, "I don't get a chance to know the kids, because I need to get them ready for the next and stay on the curriculum guide. And I worry that the only kids who will get to experience an inquiry-driven approach to school will be kids who can afford it. (In much the same way that I'm kind of really annoyed that Harvard came out and said that Harvard isn't worth the money... but I don't see them charging less. We are at a very dangerous moment in time where we could regress quickly to the point where children of privilege will receive an education and everyone else will get trained.)
But the thought I want to end with is that our inquiry must lead us to action. We must ask questions that matter, work together to make sense of the answers and then be prepared to make change based on what we discover. We also have to always listen, with an open heart and an open mind, to those who disagree with us. If we are unwilling to do that altruistically, do it selfishly, because we learn so much when we do.
And by the way, Ira, in a nod to the past... we wish we had a gym too.
Wednesday, February 2. 2011
(Page 1 of 1, totalling 8 entries)
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
The Quote File
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little"