Thursday, December 1, 2016

Here's the Deal: We already know what needs improving.

Education Post's sensational headline reads, "Here’s the Deal: We Can’t Help Teachers Improve If We Don’t Know What Needs Improving (11/29/16)." Author Thomas Toch argues that better teacher accountability metrics will lead to—what? Higher test scores? A stronger workforce?

How about we improve teaching with the aim of a more green, healthy, and sustainable America?

And we already know what needs improving.

Our country needs to improve family access to safe neighborhoods, healthy housing, meaningful employment, and balanced nutrition. We need to improve parents' and guardians' access to time and resources so that they can make sure their children are curious, energetic, well-fed, well-rested, and learning ready.

We need to improve student and staff access to green, healthy, and sustainable schools; beautiful schools that conserve energy and water, foster wellness, and advance equity between people, planet, and prosperity are good for students. This will help teachers.

We need to improve the capacity of educators to collaborate on curriculum, instruction, assessment, and policy that enriches students' love of learning, critical and creative thinking, and democratic civic engagement. 

We need to improve supports for educators as they exercise their professional expertise.

We need to improve teachers' stewardship of the profession. 

We need to improve our civic commitment to American values such as democracy, liberty, and justice for all.

We need to improve our courage. 

This will help teachers.

Check out the organizations below.
Green Schools National Network U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Green Schoolyards America Women Of Green Center for Green SchoolsEcoRise Youth Innovations Eco-Schools USA National Environmental Education Foundation Shelburne Farms Center for Ecoliteracy GreenFutures UN Sustainable Development Platform The Networked Teacher Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse Caucus of Working Educators Badass Teachers Association Center for Teaching Quality Teacher Powered Schools Teach to Lead Network for Public Education Sustainable Happiness

Monday, September 26, 2016

What does a society look like with no racism, sexism, classism...?

I believe that one of the best responses to economic and social inequity is joy and happiness. After all, what does a society look with no racism, classism, sexism...?

I want to live in prospering, abundant, and democratic society, and I want to help create it. I am probably best situated to do so when I am coming from a place of well being. It is our well being that we risk when we maintain inequitable social and economic structures. And our civility towards our brothers and sisters can become masked if not stunted, as well.

This short video from Matthew Cooke, called Race Baiting 101, profiles some of the complexity of how the Masters conjure lateral conflict among the 99%. The video has compelling arguments and stark images that hopefully affirm how we are connected in our humanity. So although there is a bit of ugliness in the video, I think it serves as a good reminder of why I am aligned with the hope of Black Lives Matter, sustainability, feminism, and other movements for a better world.

I also remind myself that the embrace of well being, as a political act, is not a form of surrender. To want to be everywhere, all of the time -- to right every wrong, to confront every injustice -- is to succumb to the violence. I choose to acknowledge the violence, educate myself, and focus on what I want, rather than what I don't want.

In solidarity, and in peace without appeasement.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What is a Culture of Sustainabilty?

By Gamal Sherif 
Everyday, teachers work hard to foster passion, engagement, and equity into our schools. What do we need to make this work sustainable? What has to happen within our schools -- or within ourselves -- so that students and staff have beautiful environments that conserve energy and water, foster wellness, and advance social and economic justice?

On Saturday, October 15, 2016, Francine Locke, the Environmental Director at the School District of Philadelphia, and I will be hosting a workshop about sustainability at the Global Education Forum in Philadelphia, USA.
Our workshop, entitled GreenFutures - Local Action for Global Stewardship, will focus on how GreenFutures overlaps with the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). As part of our introduction, we're going to ask participants a series of questions that are designed to cultivate small-group discussion -- and more questions!
One of our first questions is: "What is a culture of sustainability?"

Beautiful green schools that engage students and staff do so, not because of solar panels, farm-to-cafeteria, or clean air and water, though these certainly do help! It's something else.
How would you describe a culture of sustainability? Let us know what you think via email, tweet, or the ProgressEd blog.

Or just feel it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Letter to Bernie Sanders: A green, healthy, and sustainable U.S. for peace in the Middle East

Dear Bernie,

I've been thinking about your positions on war and peace, and I was especially interested in your comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an American with Hebrew and Arab roots, I'd like to make a few suggestions about the best way to advance peace here in the U.S., and in the Middle East.

I think that, as Americans, we have to focus on what we want here in the U.S. as we address inequities around the world. I recommend that we advocate for a green, healthy, and sustainable America. I’ve outlined some general principles below.
  • Green: reduce energy consumption and conserve water. The result is that we reduce greenhouse emissions, stabilize our climate, and create green jobs. A green economy fosters interdependence rather than violent competition for resources such as energy, land and water.
  • Healthy: provide free health care and promote effective working conditions. People have a right to be healthy, and we need to create a culture that values emotional, social and physical wellness. We need recreation in schools and communities, contact with nature, experience with the arts and sciences, and a sense of belonging. Healthy Americans take care of themselves, their families, and their communities. Healthy Americans also have the time to influence local and global politics for a just world.
  • Sustainable: study and advocate for systemic economic, social and ecological balance. War isn’t good for children and other people, and it is expensive. War is a result of fear, desperation and greed. Conflict in the U.S. and in the Middle East results from an imbalance that positions economy against society and the environment. Alternatively, sustainability is a road map to a flourishing world that ensures a high standard of living for all, in the present and in the future. For more information, read the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The Middle East is a beautiful part of the world that could easily celebrate cultural diversity, honor and protect indigenous people, and even create abundance through low impact eco-tourism.

For Americans, the best way to bring peace to the Middle East is to focus on a green, healthy and sustainable America as we promote a culture of peace and joy at home and abroad.


A modified version of this letter was published in The Swarthmorean on Mar. 11, 2016.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

And what about a "progressive" teacher union movement?

What is the difference between a progressive, liberal and Marxist union? The answer, in part, might have something to do with the emphasis on members' stewardship of the union.

Thanks to Xian Franzinger Barrett and his colleagues at the Chicago Teachers Union for inspiring the Caucus of Working Educators (WE), a social justice caucus within the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT). WE is challenging the Collective Bargaining Team (CB) for leadership of the PFT. CB has run the PFT since the 1980s. Ballots go out this week and are due by Feb. 19, 2016.

In this informative 10-min video, Kelley Collings provides a summary of how WE came together, the importance of union member stewardship, and the emergence of hope for the schools and the city.

PFT's Kelley Collings, candidate for VP of Middle Schools

Sharif El-Mekki, a principal with Mastery Charter Schools, has worked in Philly since the 1990s, and shared a few comments on what I will call CB's "old school" v. WE's "new school" unionism:
I'm excited about WE's desire to align with social justice issues that impact communities. They appear to look at the profession as a natural alliance with others who are fighting oppression from various angles. Encouraging.
WE's "new school" unionism has already had an impact on the PFT, the city, and teacher leadership. Should WE win the upcoming election, I expect and hope that they will build on the best of the CB legacy and then continue to innovate.

Back to the question of the "progressive" union. The Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN; ca. 1995) has published a paper called "Three Frames of Progressive Unionism," which emphasizes:
  1. industrial frame
  2. professional frame, and 
  3. social justice frame 
Although the document has changed over the years (i.e. from 2005 to 2011, v. 5), and is arguably less "progressive," I've found that the three frames are helpful tools to understand the sociology of unions. Steve Owens has a lot of knowledge about TURN and may be able to provide more context.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

American Education Week and Neoliberal Market Efficiencies

Founded in 1921, American Education Week was designed to inform "the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs." 17 years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed "the teachers and patrons of American schools" about the relationship between democracy and education.
As American Education Week is once more observed throughout the schools of the United States, opportunity again is afforded to evaluate the part which our schools play in the preservation and promotion of democratic life.
Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education (Sep. 27, 1938).
Roosevelt's comments, though brief, provide sharp contrast with the writings of Joanne Weiss, who served as President Obama's director of Race to the Top and then Secretary Duncan's Chief of Staff. Weiss actually sees teachers as passive recipients of education reform -- to be fed data -- rather than co-constructors of democratic practices that engage students, families, and colleagues. From Weiss' Harvard Business Review (HBR) post:
It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students – and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents (Mar. 31, 2011).
Weiss' comments reflect the notion that teachers are passive observers within their own profession. She assumes that teachers do not, in fact, do research everyday on what works and what doesn't work for children. And when we place her comments within ED's push for the adoption of common standards across the U.S. via Race to the Top, her framework becomes so much more dangerous. From her HBR post:
The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.
Some may note that Weiss' post was from 2011, and that her views might have "evolved," in part, due to the good work of ED's diverse, passionate, and caring colleagues. Yet with such a Machiavellian view of education, I wonder how Weiss even ended up in ED in the first place.

I'm not interested in gnarling Weiss' reputation.

I am interested in engaging colleagues in a critique of the anti-democratic practices that sometimes pass for a "kinder and gentler" neoliberalism. A neoliberalism that sees children as a revenue stream, and teachers as an obstacle to market efficiencies. The threat to our democracy is real, and the saboteurs are in the room.

Sometimes, nuance is not good enough.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mapping Sustainability Education (in the U.S.): Process, Engagement, and Democracy

Education for Sustainabilty (2012),
from Nektarina Non Profit (internat'l).

There is an interesting richness to how different groups conceive of sustainability education in the U.S.. Some call it sustainability intelligence, or ecoliteracy, or environmental education, or education for sustainability (sometimes abbreviated as either EFS or EfS).

There is a difference between sustainability and sustainability education. One simple distinction is that the latter is the process in which students study the former. And yet both emphasize the importance of local decision-making and relevance. For example, check out Shelburne Farm's take on the local context:
The broad nature of these definitions [of sustainability] has allowed groups and individuals to define sustainability on their own terms, to meet their own needs and those of their places. In one way, this is the promise of sustainability: it is not a prescribed endpoint, but a goal or vision that individuals or communities must design themselves and then plan and take actions to realize. Ultimately, the goal of sustainability increases the investment of citizens—including students—in their communities as they work towards creating their desired future (p. 2 in A Guide to Education for Sustainability, 2011).
Another salient feature of sustainability education is the engagement with a process rather than compliance with and end-product. Shelburne Farms emphasizes this (above): " is not a prescribed endpoint." This process-oriented approach to sustainability can be found in John Dewey's [sometimes wordy] emphasis on aims in education:
For it assumed that the aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education -- or that the object and reward of learning is continued capacity for growth.... In our search for aims in education, we are not concerned, therefore, with finding an end outside of the educative process to which education is subordinate. Our whole conception forbids. We are rather concerned with the contrast which exists when aims belong within the process in which they operate and when they are set up from without (p. 100 in Democracy and Education, 1916).
For more information on sustainability education, you can check out The Journal of Sustainability Education. And below is a partial listing of several sustainability education groups, their websites, and selected text.
  • Center for Ecoliteracy (link): Big Ideas: Linking Food, Culture, Health, and the Environment: A New Alignment with Academic Standards (2014). "Most people engage in the act of eating every day. What we eat and how we grow, process, prepare, and consume food profoundly affect the lives and welfare of humans and other beings, yet our food systems remain a mystery to many people. It is vital that we all understand the linkages between the food we eat, the ways that culture shapes our food choices and behaviors, the relationship between food and our health, and the interconnections between our food systems and the environment."
  • Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education (link): Brief History. "Education for Sustainability was formed out of the recognition that there is a distinct difference between “education about sustainable development and education for sustainable development.” The former was seen to be a theoretical exercise while the latter asked for the educative process to be used as a tool to achieve sustainability (McKeown, 2002)."
  • Eco-Schools USA (link): Education for Sustainability."Because of the urgent need for citizens to understand the concepts of sustainability, Education for Sustainability (EFS) or Sustainability Education has become a strong focus worldwide. EFS is a framework that can be used to engage students in all subjects by using the real-world context of the complex interconnections between the creation of vibrant communities, strong economies, and healthy ecosystems, both locally and globally. Education forms the foundation for building sustainable communities, and without education we cannot achieve sustainability."
  • EcoRise (link): Sustainability Curriculum Overview (2015)."The Sustainable Intelligence lessons are focused on building the environmental literacy of students and encouraging youth to become thoughtful stewards of the environment and leaders in their communities! Our lessons introduce students to challenges and opportunities surrounding sustainability and engage youth in developing real-world solutions in their communities through design labs, campus eco-audits, and much more. Lessons are available in both English and Spanish...."
  • Green Living Project (link): Student Connecting to Global Sustainability (nd). "The approach is to embrace the positive and successful stories around global sustainability [and] serve as an effective "the-glass-is-half-full" type [of strategy]. As the future generation, students play a vital role in leading the charge on sustainable living through their schools and communities in an attempt to make a difference locally and globally.
  • National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF; link): Environmental Literacy Report (2015)."Although knowledge and understanding are important components of environmental literacy, they are not the whole picture. Research has shown that there is often a disconnect between what people know and what they do. In reality, other factors — how people feel, their environmental experiences, social norms, what their priorities are, their skills, their self-identity, and other factors — come into play when people decide to do something or not."
  • ​​Shelburne Farms (link): A Guide to Education for Sustainability (2011). "Education for Sustainability is not something new. Aspects of sustainability have been a part of formal
    education for the past century. Many teachers have been, and continue to be, engaged in EFS or similarly named efforts in the United States and around the world. Schools and programs can relate sustainability to the curriculum through multiple pathways: a school- or program-wide approach; service-learning projects; curricular units; and courses. Just as service learning can provide a needed connection between different subjects and skills, Education for Sustainability creates intrinsic opportunities for students to apply their learning through real work in the school and community."
  • The Center for Green Schools (link): National Plan for Educating for Sustainability (2014)."EfS was officially “born” as a new field of inquiry in 1992, and thought leaders have been asking what students need to know, to be able to do, and to be like if we are to increase the possibility that humans and other life can flourish on Earth indefinitely. The rich collection of answers and subsequent field work has propelled the movement to a place where, today, elements of EfS exist to some degree in schools across the country and around the world. We don’t yet know the total number of schools that have engaged in any of the EfS approaches such as environmental education, place-based learning, or expeditionary learning; nor do we have a firm grasp on how many have placed a sustainability lens on instructional attributes such as systems thinking, lateral
    thinking, metacognition, or creativity."
  • US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development (USP; link): National Education for Sustainability K-12 Student Learning Standards (2009)."Education for Sustainability or Sustainability Education is a relatively new and evolving field. For the purpose of the USP standards, Education for Sustainability is defined as a combination of content, learning methods, and outcomes that helps students develop a knowledge base about the environment, the economy, and society, in addition to helping them learn skills, perspectives, and values that guide and motivate them to seek sustainable livelihoods, participate in a democratic society, and live in a sustainable manner (McMillan and Higgs, 2003)." 
Know of any others resources? Send them my way!