Education

Dear Michael Thank you for your lecture here at the RSA a couple of weeks ago. It was eloquent and robust and sparked some fascinating debates face to face and on-line. We didn’t have much time for discussion on your visit but you kindly offered to try to respond to some questions posed through my blog. I am taking up this offer today, hoping to catch you before the summer break. I know from the conversations on my blog site that your response will be of great interest to many people. Your speeches give a very strong sense of the direction in which you think teaching and learning should travel. Below I have identified seven different aspects of this shift of focus. I appreciate your commitment to parental choice and school diversity, but, as you recognised when we last spoke, if the...
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Dear Freshman: Welcome to college!! Here’s your first lesson: College is not a stepping-stone to life, but an exciting part of life. College is your first professional position! Your instructors are your new bosses, as well as your teachers, your collaborators, and your mentors. Let me explain the implications of your new position as a college student, and this new way of thinking about college: Your official job title is “College Student.” Although this sounds a lot like “High-School Student,” it is very different. For example: In high school your teachers shared some responsibility for making sure your assignments were completed and for saying in class everything that would be on tests. As a “college student,” you now have full responsibility for completing your assignments,...
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Dear America, I’m sorry. You entrusted me with your children, and I have failed them. Please know that I had the best of intentions. I didn’t want to leave a child behind. I wanted to help them win this race to the top. You asked me to test them, and I tested them. I gave them choices: A, B, C, D, and sometimes even E. I didn’t just test them though; I spent hours showing them how to test, and I prepared them for that by quizzing them. My quizzes and tests were rigorous, too, just like you asked. I have to be honest with you, though: my heart wasn’t in it at first. I had this ridiculous idea that art and music and drama and activity breaks would help my students grow. Maybe it was all those years of allowing my students to be creative. To think, I once had my English class produce a...
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Dear Professor Høj, I was struck by a recent paper published in Environmental Research Letters with John Cook, a University of Queensland employee, as the lead author. The paper purports to estimate the degree of agreement in the literature on climate change. Consensus is not an argument, of course, but my attention was drawn to the fact that the headline conclusion had no confidence interval, that the main validity test was informal, and that the sample contained a very large number of irrelevant papers while simultaneously omitting many relevant papers. My interest piqued, I wrote to Mr Cook asking for the underlying data and received 13% of the data by return email. I immediately requested the remainder, but to no avail. I found that the consensus rate in the data differs from...
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Dear Educators: When Educational Leadership asked me to write an article for this issue, I almost said no. I surprised myself. I'm a writer, a blogger, and an English teacher by trade, and I never say no to a request to write. I hadn't realized how painfully I felt that the trajectory of U.S. education had skewed in the past 10 years. In the face of the failure of funding for public schools, damaging teacher evaluation policies, stultifying infatuation with high-stakes testing, and continued national myopia regarding the influence of economic inequity on our students, to write about how to help teachers "put on a happy face" felt ludicrously peripheral. I believed, finally, there was only one way to do this with integrity, and that was to test my own experiences and ideas in fire. I...
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Dear newbie graduate students, To all of you about to start on the exciting, confusing, rollercoaster-of-emotions path of graduate school, I’d like to share some advice and lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning!) during my own experience as a graduate student in biological sciences. Own your project Graduate school is going to be vastly different from your undergraduate experiences. As an undergrad, you most likely helped out on another person’s project, running a few PCRs here, taking population samples there. You were a helper of sorts, learning a little of this and that as you went along. It was a great opportunity to get your feet wet in research. If you worked in a lab after your undergraduate studies, you probably had more responsibilities but most likely were still an...
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Dear Colleagues: It is difficult for me to express the depth of my feelings about the heroic actions of our country during World War II. Our veterans and our allies prevented the extermination of my people. I often wonder what my life would have been like had I lived in another country or another time; being Jewish, I could have lived a life of horror and helplessness. I am safe and free because of the spirit that moved this country to act. That spirit is best expressed in the founding documents of our nation, an immovable commitment to liberty and human dignity, a willingness to shed our blood when those rights are threatened. It is with this in mind that I write to address recent concerns regarding the new framework for the College Board’s AP® U.S. History course. I want to...
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Dear Troll, Since I started blogging about my son Quinn and his disability, I knew this day would come. There’s no shortage of trolls on the internet who hide behind the anonymity of a screen name with the intent to be cruel, and I’ve seen their hostility many times before. In fact, just last week, in the wake of a robbery at the Down Syndrome Association of Houston’s headquarters, in which $10,000 worth of technology was stolen, there was no shortage of ignorant comments on the news story reporting the incident. One user asked, “how will they learn to count to potato?” Another claimed that wasting computers on “retards” was stupid anyway and that the organization deserved to be robbed. These comments, while offensive, simply serve to showcase people’s hate-fueled ignorance and aren’...
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Dear Kiva Community, If you’re a part of Kiva’s lending team community, chances are you’ve either seen or taken part in a conversation about the loans that Strathmore University recently posted to the Kiva website. We're listening. In this blog post, we hope to address a lot of the issues that have been raised and provide answers to many of the questions we've been seeing. If this is new to you, here’s a brief recap: A couple months ago, one of our Field Partners, Strathmore University, posted a number of loans to cover full tuitions for students from low-income regions in Kenya who could not otherwise afford higher education. Soon thereafter, many lenders raised concerns because Strathmore University was founded -- as the school describes it -- with “inspiration and encouragement...
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Dear Penn & Teller, I really don’t want to say this, but I feel obligated to. I’m afraid you screwed up. Big time. (Of course, if this weren’t a generally family-friendly blog, where we rarely go beyond PG-13 language, I’d use a term more like one that Penn would use to describe a massive fail, which, as you might guess, also starts with the letter “f”; I think he’d appreciate that.) I’m referring, of course, to your appearance on The Dr. Oz Show one week ago (video: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4). Before I begin the criticism, let me just take care of the obligatory but honest statement that I am a fan. I’ve been a fan for a long time. Indeed, I remember seeing you guys perform in Chicago back in the late 1990s when I was doing my fellowship at the University of Chicago. I’ve also...
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