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.

53 comments:

  1. I hope you enjoy that moralistic high horse you're riding on, because it's trampling on the students in America. Merit pay is the ONLY innovative thing I've seen from any administration in the last twenty years. How is that not innovative?

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    1. Being anonymous doesn't hide the fact that you personally are so wrong. Merit pay will never work so don't put this in the mix to further destroy public education. Look at what motivates people according to Daniel Pink. Merit pay will add an additional layer of administration not to mention never being able to define what it takes to earn the merit and that it will cause teachers to compete and be less willing to share what works for them. We must be all in this together. I bet you are not a teacher.

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    2. Right, Shawn, Anonymous likely isn't a teacher. If he is, he must be from Teach for America. No educator in his/her right mind believes in merit pay. Put a name on your posts, do some research, then write something thought-provoking.

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    3. Here is the Daniel Pink video Shawn referenced. http://hoosier-teacher.blogspot.com/2012/02/merit-pay.html

      I blogged about this merit pay idea a while back as my state latched onto it. Here's another problem with merit pay. There is only so much allocated for merit pay. This will isolate teachers and close the "sharing gates" with teachers that need to share what works.

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  2. wow. nicely done. mine took three pages. :)

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    1. Thanks! By the way, we need to hang out here today and meet up between sessions.

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  3. Well said. Education reform in the US is a massive undertaking, but currently it's being handcuffed by politics and inequitable funding. We could learn a lot from other countries - then we'll have to be prepared to actually make changes and accept that there is a lot to change.

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    1. So true! Why is it that so many teachers know the truth about Finland and yet so few media outlets have reported on it?

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    2. In no small part because the lessons to be learned from Finland aren't what the education deform crowd in the US wants to hear. Almost everything about the Finnish system is about equity, being child-centered, minimizing the notion of cut-throat competition as the driving force for achievement, respecting teachers and doing lifelong professional development after giving very serious training to candidates who are viewed as excellent potential educators rather than losers who couldn't find something higher-paying to pursue. Their rise on international test scores is of much less interest to them than it is to us. And appears to mean far less to them than the actual quality of what goes on in schools and classrooms there.

      In sum, the US is an anti-Finland. We look for the trappings without understanding what the substance of real education is. We don't understand the purpose of education. And we want to find a dirt-cheap solution that doesn't rock the social boat too much (despite the enormous lip-service paid to "closing the achievement gap," which is just another slick rhetorical trick the educational right wing employs to undermine public education).

      Arne Duncan is a soulless corporate drone who understands nothing about what it means to teach under the best of circumstances, let alone to do so in, say, inner-city Detroit or rural West Virginia. His appointment by Obama was the first sign that we weren't getting any "socialist" or "Marxist" or "progressive" when it comes to education. Should Duncan still have his job in 2013 following an Obama win, and I see no reason at this point to think he won't, teachers had better realize that they're not going to get a lick of help from Washington, DC when it comes to staving off the forces of corporate-driven deform of public education. In fact, they should expect quite the opposite. As for Finland, I'm certain that if someone did an analysis that showed how the US could make test scores sky-rocket by adopting holistically not just Finland's educational policies, but larger parts of its social framework, the White House staffers and members of Congress who haven't already walked out of the room would be in a coma.

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  4. My thoughts exactly. I also braced myself for the hisses and boos when Duncan appeared onscreen. Any time my coworkers complain that our students are incapable of critical thinking or creativity, I tell them it disappeared around 2nd grade when high-stakes test scores became the measure of their academic success. They all look at me like I'm crazy. They usually agree with me, they are just shocked that I say it it loud.

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    1. That's awesome that you are so transparent with them!

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  5. John, this is great. Like I said in my tweet, I think teachers are still trying to find our voice. But, I do think it is coming sooner rather than later. But, we need to do so in constructive ways, and not just out of outrage. Reactionary approaches will only increase thedivide,.

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    1. I could see that for sure.

      Speaking of voice . . .

      I still haven't seen you here. Rumor has it that you're at #iste12

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  6. in the end, the problem with these conferences and educators, is that there simply aren't enough people doing progressive work with students which balances the creativity and the needs for minimal testing.

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    1. I can certainly see that and I'm not sure if more autonomy would let people get over the fear and just do or if it would degenerate into something worse.

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  7. Nice reflection, John. I think we should do an Occupy movement to make school different. As Seth Godin says...what are you willing to get arrested for. Making school different is something I am ready to make a ruckus and get arrested over. Anyone else?

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    1. Not sure I'm willing to be arrested. I still love teaching too much to lose my job over something like that. Ultimately, there's a coward within me that doesn't let me stand up too loudly and risk too much.

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    2. I don't think we would lose our jobs for being passionate about what we believe in, do you? If that's the case...I would have to pick a different school to work in. What a message we would be sending to parents and our students....that we weren't afraid to take a stand and fight for what matters...making school different! :)

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    1. Doyle, I wish you didn't delete your comment. Yes, I booed and yes I tweeted. And a few people chuckled.

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    2. now i want to see doyle's comment..

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  9. I couldn't agree more. I'm glad to know there is a little anger and resentment outside of my head--I'm shocked too that there wasn't more outrage during Duncan's speech. Too much commercialism? Is the edtech community going Yuppy?

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    1. Ha ha! I doubt that it's gone yuppy. I think a few teachers nailed this in their comments on Twitter. We're work down. We've been beat down to submission. We've been taught to play nice.

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  10. While I'm not at #ISTE12 and I am disappointed there wasn't a bigger pushback on Duncan, I guess I'm not surprised. Was it last year or two years ago that everyone was chastised for tweeting negatively about a keynote speaker who didn't know his audience well enough to actually prepare appropriately. I remember a significant backlash to the backchannel and everyone was scolded "to be nice." I'm wondering if perhaps that played in to the lack of pushback.

    I want to see Doyle's comment, too.

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    1. He just asked me (politely) whether I booed. I did. That's me, though.

      I think the social norms in conferences are really strong. People are expected to play nice. I just don't do well at that.

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  11. John,
    Thank you so much...I do hope you will lead the beginning of a very important movement!! Start by teaching everyone how fake our media is. They are our countries #1 source of information and news, thus education and exposure to life outside of the US. I'm appalled that no one here has heard about the student strikes in Canada, drawing hundreds of thousands of protesters and going on for over a month now. Our media has given it no coverage; no need to show our ignorant citizens what democracy in action looks like. Philadelphia is almost all privatized now, with charter laws rewritten to make it easier for rich investors to funnel public money into their swelling profits, ever widening the economic gap.
    Equity is a huge issue in my evaluation system. When can we evaluate equity in society. Should all of society be held to the same standards?

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    1. My favorite mainstream news outlet is NPR. However, they are so misinformed and toss out such softball questions to Arne Duncan that it's infuriating.

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  12. Hi everyone:

    ISTE hears you. We take feedback seriously. Thank you for being provocative and willing to state your opinions in such a transparent way. We cannot always control what Keynoters say on stage, but I can tell you this, the teacher voice matters to ISTE. It's what drives us every.single.day.

    Respectfully,

    Deborah
    Senior Director, ISTE

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    1. I want to clarify something: I really, really liked Sir Ken Robinson's points. I am a big fan of his work. I was, however, disappointed that Arne Duncan had a voice in this conference - and such a powerful voice as well. To me, that's the big issue. My advice for next year: don't include a politician who actively advocates policies that stifle creativity, innovation and student autonomy.

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    2. Deborah thank you for taking the time to respond I understand that you cannot always control what a keynote says on stage but you can control who is on the stage and what videos they show or what message they bring or they shouldn't be there.

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  13. Good thing I wasn't ther this year.
    I probably would have used a laser pointer to spell out some remarks behind him and been throw out

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  14. Reminds me of the Macworld keynote where Steve Jobs announced a partnership with Microsoft and put Bill Gates on the screen. The main difference: Apple fans found their voice.

    http://bit.ly/QdsXCE

    I wonder if the contention between politicians like Arne Duncan and some educators is due to a lack of a common language? It seems like when he uses the term "innovation" he means for educators to think differently/creatively about the same model of education or to think of new ways to get the same outcomes. While others see innovation as introducing a new model entirely.

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    1. I love your point about language. Almost every Socratic dialogue began with a conversation about language. I wonder what that would mean to start with language before thinking about reform.

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  15. Nice post, John. I am not at ISTE, but am following on the #.
    Duncan equals Obama equals GW Bush equals Romney on education.
    This began when we silently accepted that student achievement equals standardized test score.
    Now, we are accetpting that VAM equals teacher&principal effectiveness.

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    1. It is becoming a form of collective craziness.

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  16. I sat here and contemplated the comments that were mamadani it the keynote and the video. Looking at the video from Arnie Duncan I sat there and was amazed as well but no one spoke up or commented on the fact that the department of Education has single-handedly stifled creativity and innovation by cutting funding over the past three years. I also tweeted about how the fact that people sat still and actually clapped after his message was irritating to me.

    I was blessed in 2010 to be able to be on that stage as keynote in Denver and understand planning and preparation of what goes into a keynote but the issue I have with the keynote is it's difficult to do a panel when you have such a large audience but also the fact that there was no real conversation started or thought-provoking question. The keynote panel should have included students asking questions and definitely should've included a teacher on the panel or someone that was a teacher in the last 30 years.

    I did see a few things that could come out of ISTE that I am very optimistic about one being the fact that we have someone like Mayim who is advocating for what we are a more scientifically and technologically literate society and to Brian Lewis who I had the pleasure sitting down with him for about 20 minutes. He understands Washington DC has a grasp on what needs to be done and I believe will press to make the changes that we want to see around educational technology and the future of ISTE.

    This is just my two cents and I want to make sure I thank everyone I've worked with collaborated with or spoken with over the past few years and I look forward to those who I will meet will work with and will collaborate with in the future.

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    1. Just to clarify: I agreed with much of the keynote and the panel discussion. However, I still think a teacher voice speaks volumes about ISTE's priorities.

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    2. Just to add a monkey wrench into the panel discussion. What is one of the most critical components of true lasting change in any school or organization? The bold leader, teachers in general want to be creative and challenge their students. The leaders follow through with policies and systems that do not allow teacher autonomy. My point is the panel should have included both a teacher and a site or district leader that has supported change.

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    3. I agree, Chad. Both would have been nice.

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  17. John, I don't think advocating censorship is the answer. (Yes it is censorship to not invite others with differing views because you disagree with them. #justsayin') It seems to me, who admittedly is not in attendance this year, that the keynotes did lead to push back and conversation. Personally I would rather listen to someone I disagree with who will make me think over someone who I agree with who says things I already know. My ego is plenty healthy.

    I think it is the nature of the big conference to be rather impersonal. Even the sessions that go on through the day tend to have huge attendance which makes conversations difficult. Maybe the panel is just a reflection of that truth.

    Finally, what would have happened if the whole room booed Duncan? Would that have made any difference? What you write here has much more value and opportunity for starting real change than a 'feel good by acting bad' moment in San Diego.

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    1. You have to "censor" speakers whenever you do a conference. It's not a matter of who you disagree with. Some pushback is in place. However, I wouldn't invite a member of the Aryan Nation to speak for a conference on racial reconciliation and I wouldn't want Paula Dean to speak for a health food convention. Whether rational or not, members of a conference will get the sense that the speakers are representative of the values the institution holds.

      I had no problem with the panel beyond the fact that there was no teacher voice included in it. Just one teacher speaking up honestly about context might have made a difference.

      With regards to booing Arne, I think the Obama administration would get the message that the innovators and teachers do not respect him. And more importantly, it could have been a simultaneous act of spontaneous solidarity.

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    2. I agree - there were no teacher voices - on any level. I felt uncomfortable with a big part of ISTE and this blog said it all - thank you for voicing your thoughts regarding this.

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    1. Great post John. I have a saved post that I never published out of free for my job. I didn't want to piss the wrong person off as they reform the Hoosier State.

      One of my biggest gripes with education reform is that the people farthest away from education are the ones attempting to correct it. Yes, we have all experienced education as students, but it is a different perspective from our point of view.

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    2. Excellent point! I think that sense of perspective is an important one.

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  19. Well speaking first hand I spoke out and got laid off. In this economy and the growing number of Charter schools with yearly contracts a seasoned professional speaking out is an easy cut.

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  20. This is a nice point of view of ISTE. Much more critical than others I've seen. Anyway, what I liked the most was the overwhelming exposotion of educational tools available for teachers to try. In fact I firmly stand next to Nearpod, I've been using it for months and none of the other tools I saw there caught me they way nearpod did. If anyone's still there I really recommend taking a look, this is their website and their apps are free: www.nearpod.com .
    I am totally looking foward to restoring, transforming and improving education! Thanks for this opportunity to express myself!

    Karen White

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  22. Bravo! I just said the same thing myself! I am passionate about using tech in the classroom, but what good is it when 50% of my "grade" is based on test scores! I will not bow to that pressure and "teach to the test", but imagine how many teachers will?
    "I Have to Stop Reading Diane Ravitch's Blogs" http://oldschoolteach.blogspot.com/2012/06/i-have-to-stop-reading-diane-ravitchs.html talks about what you just said, we can't separate the two, we can't be silent!
    I also wrote "Merit Pay:We Don't Need No Stinkin Bribe!
    http://oldschoolteach.blogspot.com/2012/06/merit-paywe-dont-need-no-stinkin-bribe.html

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  23. I was severely disappointed with the whole keynote on Sunday. Every time i heard a plug for a book, a calculator, or some other commercialized product I felt as though education was more about selling something than helping someone. As an inner-city teacher in Baltimore, MD I have seen billions of dollars spent with no real outcomes for students. For a democracy dependent on education and an economy dependent on innovation, this is tragic -- for a student dependent on this for a way out of the ghetto, this is tragic. I was repulsed by what I heard Sunday and am glad to hear that I was not the only one. Tuesday's keynote restored my faith in ISTE's ability to promote more

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    1. ... promote more than just the next thing to buy that will solve our educational problems. We don't need another commodity--we need a new approach, one that puts current teachers at the heart of it all. They are the ones, after all, who give the most -- it is time for them to get more back.

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