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Technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The fact that [technology] offers enormous benefits is not enough to guarantee that it will be embraced by the public schools and its potential fully realized. Technological change will run into the same political roadblocks that all major reforms have run into, and for exactly the same reasons. Powerful groups will try to block it. (pp. 29–30)

It is a fact that the teachers unions have vested interests in preserving the existing educational system, regardless of how poorly it performs. It is a fact that they are more powerful – by far – than any other groups involved in the politics of education. And it is a fact that in a government of checks and balances they can use their power to block or weaken most reforms they do not like. To recognize as much is not to launch ideological attacks against the unions. It is simply to recognize the political world as it is. (p. 54)

If anything is stone-cold certain about the current structure of power, it is that technological change is destined to be resisted by the teachers unions and their allies. This is “their” system, and they are compelled by their own interests to preserve and protect it. They will go to the ramparts to see that technology does not have real transformative effects. (p. 55)

[Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education]

Previous posts in this series

  1. Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

  2. It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

  3. Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

Technology will free learning from the dead hand of the past

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The American education system faces much more than a performance problem. It also faces a political problem that, in the grander scheme of things, is more fundamental than the performance problem itself – because it prevents the performance problem from being seriously addressed and resolved. . . .

What sets technology apart from other sources of reform is that . . . it also has a far-reaching capacity to change politics – and to eat away, relentlessly and effectively, at the political barriers that have long prevented reform. Technology, then, is a double-barreled agent of change. It generates the innovations that make change attractive, and at the same time it undermines the political resistance that would normally prevent change from happening. . . .

This will mean real improvement, and real benefits for the nation and its children. It will also mean something still more profound: the dawning of a new era in which politics is more open, productive ideas are more likely to flourish – and learning is liberated from the dead hand of the past. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. 10–12]

It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and NOT have transformative implications for how children can be educated

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

Even today, with educational technology in its earliest stages:

  • Curricula can be customized to meet the learning styles and life situations of individual students.
  • Education can be freed from geographic constraint.
  • Students can have more interaction with . . . teachers and students who may be thousands of miles away or from different nations or cultures.
  • Parents can readily be included in the communications loop.
  • Teachers can be freed from their tradition-bound classroom roles, employed in more differentiated and productive ways, and offered new career paths.
  • Sophisticated data systems can put the spotlight on performance [and] make progress (or the lack of it) transparent.
  • Schools can be operated at lower cost, relying more on technology (which is relatively cheap) and less on labor (which is relatively expensive). . . .

Information and knowledge are absolutely fundamental to what education is all about . . . and it would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and not have transformative implications for how children can be educated and how schools and teachers can more productively do their jobs. . . .

Precisely because technology promises to transform the core components of schooling, it is inevitably disruptive to the jobs, routines, and resources of the people whose livelihoods derive from the existing system. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. 7–9]

Education’s resistance to technology will be overcome

Terry Moe and John Chubb say…

The revolution in information technology is historic in its force and scope: reshaping the fundamentals of how human beings from every corner of the globe communicate, interact, conduct their business, and simply live their lives from day to day. Education has so far resisted this revolution, as we could have predicted. But . . . we believe the resistance will be overcome – not simply because technology generates innovations of great value for student learning (which it does), but . . . because it is destined to have surprising and far-reaching effects on politics and power . . . . Technology will triumph. But the story of its triumph is a political story. [Liberating Learning: Technology, Politics, and the Future of American Education, pp. xi-xii]

Two thoughts about President Obama’s speech tomorrow (and my own speech the day after)

Much ado about nothing

I just read the text of President Obama’s hotly-contested speech tomorrow. I encourage you to do the same. Could it be any more innocuous? Whatever happened to waiting to see what happens first and THEN hollering about it? A lot of crying wolf has been going on lately…

If only these opportunities actually existed at scale

I was pleased to see this passage:

What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.

You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

I just wish I had more faith in our current schooling system to nurture the problem-solving and critical thinking skills and creativity and ingenuity that the President mentions. Right now I don’t think we’re doing so well in these areas…

On Wednesday I spend the day with 80 or so high school students (juniors and seniors, mostly) in Northwest Iowa. What should I be saying to them about their schools, technology, globalization, and their futures?

Laptops and the Social Web are dangerous!

A while back I shared one of my two favorite passages from Pamela Livingston’s excellent book, 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work. Here's the other one:

[W]e need to make “The Shift.” The Shift: to classrooms that are not solely teacher-centric, with the teacher as lone disseminator of knowledge and the children in the awe-stricken and lesser role of recipients of the knowledge. The Shift: where the teacher sometimes has the central role when he or she explains and coaches and elaborates on work to be done … but not always. The Shift: where the learners sometimes have the central role, either individually or in groups. The Shift: where the roles of teacher and learner are fuzzy; sometimes the teacher learns from the students; sometimes the students learn from one another; and, yes, sometimes the students learn from the teacher. The Shift: where sometimes it’s hard to know who has the central role, where activities are buzzing along, learning is happening, dynamics are shifting, and no one is “looking up” to anyone as the sole source of knowledge.

Nothing jumpstarts The Shift quite like 1–to-1. Because when every student in the room has a [laptop], he or she does not have to look “up” to the teacher for resources or ideas – the student has resources at his or her fingertips. There is no distribution or retrieval of materials, no sole purveyor of information, and no firm start or stop to learning because it can continue beyond the classroom into the library, or home, or anywhere.

Some find The Shift dangerous. And in a way, it is. It’s dangerous to the educator who controls the classroom with an iron fist and wants all the answers on the test to be things he or she said in class, repeated word-for-word. It’s dangerous to educators who have assigned the same report on Gandhi over the past 20 years and haven’t started to require synthesis or analysis of information. It’s dangerous to teachers who physically stay in one place – the front of the classroom – and move only to write on the chalkboard or whiteboard. It’s dangerous to educators who don’t want anyone to “read ahead” or to “think ahead.”

It’s dangerous to educators who view themselves as the most knowledgeable person in the room and are personally invested in staying that way. It’s dangerous to teachers who haven’t paid attention to their unengaged students and keep covering the material anyway, they way they think it ought to be covered, believing students should adapt to their approach.

If you haven’t checked out Pamela’s book, it’s well worth the read. I give it 4 highlighters.


Locus of control

Here’s a great quote from Jim Collins’ new book, How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In:

Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.

Do most educators believe this or are they instead inclined to point fingers at the world around them? 

[By the way, if you’re a school leader and you haven’t read Collins’ other books, Good to Great or Built to Last, you need to make an immediate trip to the bookstore!]

Laptops empower students to get to the thinking faster

I have two favorite quotes from Pamela Livingston’s excellent book, 1-to-1 Learning: Laptop Programs That Work. Here's the first one:

If it takes 40 minutes for an environmental science class to gather weather data from atlases and almanacs and turn it into pencil and paper charts, how much time is left to think about what the chart is saying? How much time is there to consider “what if” scenarios, such as, “What if the mean temperature rose by ten degrees?” Equipped with a laptop computer, access to the Internet, and a spreadsheet/graphing program, however, students can quickly find and analyze current data. They can plug that data into spreadsheet templates and prepare charts for half a dozen different “what if” scenarios in the same amount of time it would take to make a pencil and paper chart. [Laptops] allow students to get to the thinking faster. [emphasis added]

We waste so much time in school doing things on paper that are more efficient on the computer. One of the primary reasons that adults use computers instead of paper is enhanced productivity. What could teachers do with all of the time that we’d free up if schools made a significant shift away from paper and pencil?

If you haven’t checked out Pamela’s book, it’s well worth the read!

Book Review – Education and Learning to Think

Here are two quotes from Education and Learning to Think, an interesting little research-based book published by the National Research Council way back in 1987!

Higher order thinking is nonalgorithmic. That is, the path of action is not fully specified in advance.

Higher order thinking tends to be complex. The total path is not “visible” (mentally speaking) from any single vantage point.

Higher order thinking often yields multiple solutions, each with costs and benefits, rather than unique solutions.

Higher order thinking involves nuanced judgment and interpretation.

Higher order thinking involves the application of multiple criteria, which sometimes conflict with one another.

Higher order thinking often involves uncertainty. Not everything that bears on the task at hand is known.

Higher order thinking involves self-regulation of the thinking process. We do not recognize higher order thinking in an individual when someone else “calls the plays” at every step.

Higher order thinking involves imposing meaning, finding structure in apparent disorder.

Higher order thinking is effortful. There is considerable mental work involved in the kinds of elaborations and judgments required. (p. 3)

The seventh item on the list, self-regulation, is one that I think is particularly lacking in many K-12 schools because the teachers “call the plays” so much of the time…

Here’s what I think is the money quote:

The goals of increasing thinking and reasoning ability are old ones for educators. . . . But these goals were part of the high literacy tradition; they did not, by and large, apply to the more recent schools for the masses. Although it is not new to include thinking, problem solving, and reasoning in someone’s school curriculum, it is new to include it in everyone’s curriculum. It is new to take seriously the aspiration of making thinking and problem solving a regular part of a school program for all of the population . . . It is a new challenge to develop educational programs that assume that all individuals, not just an elite, can become competent thinkers. (p. 7)

I liked this book. It's very short, but it made me think. I give it 4 highlighters.


School is tests and credits. Learning is ‘getting it.’

Seth Godin is one of my favorite thinkers. I’ve learned a ton from him. Here are a couple of quotes from his post today on education.

School was the big thing for a long time. School is tests and credits and notetaking and meeting standards. Learning, on the other hand, is ‘getting it’. It’s the conceptual breakthrough that permits the student to understand it then move on to something else. Learning doesn’t care about workbooks or long checklists.

For a while, smart people thought that school was organized to encourage learning. For a long time, though, people in the know have realized that they are fundamentally different activities.


If you think the fallout in the newspaper business was dramatic, wait until you see what happens to education.

Happy reading!