What Didn't Happen at #ISTE12

I walk past the booths of vendors and toward the Blogger's Cafe. Everything here has a "sponsor," with as many spots for advertisements as I typically see in a baseball stadium. It doesn't bother me. ISTE is a large organization and they put on a large-scale, state-of-the-art conference every year.

The Keynote
Before the keynote begins, we sit through a speech by Arne Duncan. I expect outrage. I expect the audience to boo the video clip. I expect explosions of tweets about the man who speaks of innovation, but pushes for factory-style, hierarchichal reforms based upon an industrial model that even many within the business community have abandoned.

Silence.

Where is the teacher voice?

I tweeted out a few thoughts:

  • You know what we need for innovation? A 20th century factory model system of carrot and stick rewards #Duncan #iste12 #edsarcasm 
  • If Obama wants to run on "Change" again, maybe he should start with the Secretary of Education 
  • Arne Duncan is to innovation what snake oil is to medicine. #iste12  

For his credit, Sir Ken Robinson advocated for exactly the opposite of what Arne Duncan spoke about.  However, he did so timidly, without directly referencing the policies of Race to the Top. It's easy to make a punching bag out of NCLB when the law is already dead. It's much harder when plutocrats are funding a race to nowhere.

The Panel
The keynote quickly shifts into a panel discussion about how we should change education. I sit in the cafe (which oddly enough does not have any lattes), listening to a group of business leaders talking to Sir Ken about innovation in schools. Although they advocate for things like creativity and intrinsic motivation, I still think they have it all wrong.

Where is the teacher voice?

Where is the voice of democratic education?  Why do I keep hearing "digital citizenship" defined through the notion of  "don't put up stuff that will piss off employers" rather than "use these tools to advocate for social change?" Want transformation? How about members of the Arab Spring who used social media to topple dictatorships? 

We Stayed Silent
Then it hits me. We let it die. The teachers politely and silently sat on their heads when Arne Duncan spoke. The professional organizations that we are a part of have nodded politely to merit pay arguments while our unions who should work like pit bulls to save public education have contributed to a president who applauded the mass firing of a teacher and remained silent when the LA Times published value-added scores. Even "progressive" organizations are pushing for policies that demonize teachers and strip away local civic institutions.

I'm not suggesting we push into an Occupy ISTE campaign. I didn't bring my bongo drums and I can't grow a beard. However, I want to see teachers stand up and speak as passionately about democracy, social justice and critical thinking as they do apps and iPads. I want to see teachers tell stories, not just about student projects, but about how standardization is getting in the way of authentic learning. I want to see us recover a vision of education as the development of critical thinking citizens rather than the kickstart campaign for a lagging economy.


John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler.
He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard
and the co-founder of Write About .

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