All posts by Joan Jaeckel

Trust in teachers, not testing and data

Why Finland’s Schools are Top-Notch by Pasi Sahlberg CNN Opinion, Mon. October 6, 2014

It might seem obvious to put our trust in testing and data rather than in teachers. It’s not practical to trust tests and data though and practical to trust teachers.  Testing acts as an “observer” which automatically skews the resulting data.  Wikipedia tells us “in science, the term “observer effect” refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed.” The instruments of observation, i.e. the tests, “by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner.”  So, the data results of testing cannot be trusted to tell us anything about the whole child.  First, the information is skewed. Second, the tests measure narrow thinking on narrow knowledge.

It’s practical to trust teachers because teachers see the whole child. Teachers look at a student from a long-term life-long perspective and can see how students integrate the whole of what they are learning into the whole of who they are.




uncertainty(2)I just read a stunning post by the very smart Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post about “A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds“. Our first reaction to the disturbing sight of teachers passively cooperating with a professional development instructor’s stone-age “teaching” methods will be shock, shock. Watch it for yourself. It’s very short. Bet you can’t watch without your jaw dropping down to your platform shoes.

How could this be happening in 21st century America? “Sick!” was a comment.


Upon reflection, we might have another response. If we look at the video again and this time focus on the instructor rather than the teachers being “professionally” “developed”, something could happen. Listen to her voice. We could let ourselves feel the pain the instructor must be in. What would have her act in such a manner towards her fellow educators? I don’t just mean, can we empathize with her because maybe she’s a single mom just doing a job to support her kids. I mean could we let ourselves feel empathy for the instructor who has herself been educated like this, for the teachers she is brow-beating who also have been educated like this, and for all of society who have been instructed like this? Assuming she is not a psychopath, doesn’t the instructor do it because she doesn’t know what else to do? Do the teachers just sit there because they are mindless puppets? No.  More likely, they can’t find words that won’t sound like they do not want to be “accountable”.

And neither can the collective we.  If we knew what else to do, federal RttT funds could not be used to kickstart a bribing scheme to get states to adopt the CCSS and create one big mammoth 50-state handy education market for corporations to exploit.

We want to save public education. Yes. And. It’s public education that said OK to taking the candy from the baby. The mindset of accountability within public education as-we-know-it let the wolf into the hen-house. This is not about individuals, it’s about a collective mindset that continues beyond its shelf-life. Long after Arnie Duncan is gone, if the mindset is still there, brain neuro-plasticity illiterate teacher education methods will continue.

We all know it’s OK to be OK with not knowing.  When we think we MUST do something, anything, we perpetuate what already always doesn’t work. Any act to further accountability furthers the myth of accountability.

If our education system is not comfortable with uncertainty then our teachers will not be comfortable with uncertainty (and we’ll continue to mentally flog them) and neither will our children and young adults (and we’ll continue to mentally flog them).  But the future will nevertheless continue to be comfortable with uncertainty. Only the human species may not have the commensurate creativity, compassion and entrepreneurial core.

For good company in the space of kicking the high-stakes accountability habit together, I applaud Sarah van Gelder’s Yes! magazine for devoting an entire issue to the topic of “Education Uprising“.  In it, Scott Nine ends a piece, “I Realized I Was Wrong” about Diane Ravitch and her book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, by proposing we take a moment to think together for a while:

Scott writes: “To meet the challenges of the present and future, we need to name and nurture these efforts [as described in the “Education Uprising” issue] in as much detail and with as much attention as Reign of Error gives to the myths of the accountability movement.”

Lets just sit with it: If high-stakes accountability makes us go out of our minds, what would make us go into our minds? What is it about public education that we want to save? What part of our concept of public education might need to change if we want to protect the neuroplasticity of children and young people’s minds and their social-emotional vulnerability from politics and commerce? What if our education system were to keep requirements for social justice and add goals higher than winning the global war for jobs and innovation? What if curriculum, learning expectations, and instructional methods had to meet evidence-based neuro-scientific standards for how children and young people learn? What if the education system had to put supportive teacher care and healthy child maturation before all else? What if the money laid on the altar of the accountability myth were to go to profession development? How to form a learning and research community of autonomous peers? Plenty of neuroscientists, psychologists, nutritionists on hand to support teachers on site? How to apply mindfulness practice to your teaching practice? How to provide an emotional safety net so students can learn and teachers can teach? What if teachers learned that play is not just a leisure activity, but the only way to be on the same wave length as uncertainty?

Let’s watch “A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds” again. This time reflecting on how the video shows why children and young people are – or soon will be – going out of their minds too. Yes, corporations should not feed off of children’s brains. The goals of education should not be determined by politics. But, why alone blame the cat? When we the people, civil society, willfully nap, why would we be surprised.

We should take our quantum physics seriously especially in education.  Let’s apply something Heisenberg said, “…separation of the observer from the phenomenon to be observed is no longer possible …” to education.  If we cannot separate the apparatus of high-stakes accountability (the “observer”) from the teachers and students under the microscope (the “phenomenon”), then we know with certainty that all that high-stakes accountability so changes the teacher and the learner that … who are they?




goldfish makes quantum leap

Mindfulness in Education Holds Promise for Higher-Order Thinking, Emotional Resilience, and Creativity. 

The Common Core creators call for “higher-order thinking skills”, but teaching to the Common Core will not result in higher-order thinking. We’re learning, that child clinical psychologists, like Megan Koschnik, Ph.D. (“The Common Core is Developmetally Inappropriate“) say the Common Core is developmentally inappropriate for Kindergarten and at least up to age 8.  That’s four years – Kindy, 1st, 2nd, 3rd – of stress at a critical time in brain development.  I cite Frank John Ninivaggi, M.D. on why “biomental” development matters so much up to age 9 in another post on this site.

Developmentally inappropriate education causes stress which leads to lower reasoning capacity. Stress Matters to Brain’s White Matter“Researchers examined a population of stem cells in the brain’s hippocampus, an area critical to fusing emotion and memory, and one that has been known to shrink under the effects of prolonged acute stress.”

On the other hand, mindfulness and meditation do lead to higher-order thinking faculties according the study after study and Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Jon Kabat-Zinn. Edutopia publishes an infographic on the immediate practical results: Meditation in Education Infographic.

You can view a video of Arthur Zajonc, President of the Mind and Life Institute,  speaking about “The Heart of Education”, his keynote address at the 2013 Mindfulness in Education Network conference.  Dr. Zajonc was introduced by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.




8 minute video on the cost of no-risk-left-behind education

The only cost is risk.

And what is the cost of no risk? Find out in 8 minutes by watching The Benefits of Risk in Children’s Play posted at the Alliance for Childhood – Research and Advocacy.

So what does this imply for education reform? Seems that the word “risk” started it all down the slippery slope of eliminating all risk from education. Remember the 1983 U.S. Dept of Education report,  “A Nation at Risk”, that inspired No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core State Standards? The risk still being promoted by Lynne V. Cheney?

What all these have in common is the concept that risk is unacceptable. Judging from our risk-averse public education reform thinking, people that are too brilliant may be too much of a risk for comfort:

“Every day, they [the NSA] are learning how brilliant [Snowden] was,”, said a former U.S. official with knowledge of the case. “This is why you don’t hire brilliant people for jobs like this. You hire smart people.  Brilliant people get you in trouble.” - Snowden impersonated NSA Officials, Sources Say

I don’t think its a stretch to connect letting kids fall off a log and letting the teacher talent in our nations’s schools take charge. Children and young adults learn best by example.  Will there be the occasional mentally lazy, brutish, and unmotivated, teacher? Yes.  Do these not already exist in the normal, safe, no-risk system? Years of teacher-proofing has gotten us where exactly? Mostly, teacher-proofing has created a market for a new education industry which creates products designed to suck the risk out of education. Neither rolling logs nor brilliant thinkers are safe. Is a national education policy based on “No Risk Left Behind” putting us at far more risk than Condoleeza Rice’s worry that education failure will affect military recruitment.

New word! “Biomental Child Development” coined by Frank John Ninivaggi, M.D.

BiomentalChildDevelopmentWhat if the universal principles of “biomental child development” became the education standard? How might education outcomes change if curriculum, instructional practice, learning expectations, and methods of assessment were congruent with the biomental development standard of children and young adults? In Biomental Child Development ( in the chapter on “A Philosophy of Education”),Yale’s Dr. Ninivaggi writes, “The biomental child development perspective prefers … a program’s emphasis [be] on building social, emotional, and creative skills versus more pointedly academic skills.”

The No Knucklerapping Doctrine: Ending Anti-Childhood Education

Learned Lessons From a Generation of Education Reform: 

Another Brick in the Wall

  • We can’t keep on treating children like an open sewer. Throwing garbage theories (i.e. “Baby Einstein” and its outcomes-based education cousin) down their open minds. That trash winds up in the ocean of the collective human consciousness. There is a human equivalent of the floating island of trash in the ocean and it is the human catastrophe of undeveloped minds, social-emotional ignorance and unskilled hands resulting from ill-conceived education. If we do, it’s Game Over for the pre-K to 3rd grade set  … and a more human future for the collective whole.
  •  # 1: There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that depends on textbooks and tests from corporations whose profit depends on the sale of those tests and texts to the system.
  • We need to build a record of ways that the collusion of bad public education policy by the left and the right corrupts childhood neuro, social/emotional and physical development.
  • The root cause of environmental climate change is oil. The root cause of childhood neuro change is unkindness.
  • Naomi Klein (love her!) builds a dichotomy between privatization and publicization. She suggests that publicization is the only way to shared responsibility. Her example of why we need to publicisize the common good is wealthy people who can buy their way out of the collective bad, for example, by hiring a private company to “turn your hurricane disaster into a vacation retreat” in the Bahamas. The social threefolding model is different. The social three folding model suggests that there is a third way besides privatization and publicization.  Social threefolding suggest that the steward of the  collective good is civil society – a hybrid between the highest ideals of government and the highest ideals of socially responsible business.  Examples of civil society and the emergence of social threefolding making society more civil abound (see, for example, Ecology of Commerceauthor Paul Hawken in his book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World).
  • We could establish a correlation between the words “renewable energy” as applied to physical resources of energy and the “renewable energy” resource of childhood for the world when children are allowed to be children in schools.
  • The bipartisan passage of No Child Left  Behind, (which got a running start through Lynne Cheney under Reagan in the 80′s) gets praise for being bipartisan. The worst thing for education is both conservatism and liberalism ganging up on defenseless children in schools. Conservatism wants education to get tough on children (Big Education-pushing NCLB under George Bush) and now to get tough on teachers (RttT under Barack Obama). Liberalism wants to protect teachers’ jobs against unfair labor conditions and to protect intellectual freedom. Since K-12 teachers have no intellectual freedom (i.e. cannot refuse to give tests to students without risking their jobs or disclose test materials without risking criminal charges for violating copyrights) what is liberalism protecting? Likewise, if conservatism promotes individual initiative, why promote rote learning in schools?
  • There is a role for collective social support for education. Education can’t just be all ad hoc and all about charity and goodwill for every school in a completely disconnected manner.  But, that doesn’t mean that education should be run by a centralized collective one-size-fits-all authority on the grounds that only one way of doing things is fair.  The metaphor for the collective movement for school-based management is a river freely flowing held in by banks that follow the natural contours of the landscape: autonomy, flexibility and accountability.
  • I have noticed that people who do not happen to have children right now or grandchildren right now saying, well I don’t have any children so education doesn’t interest me. How is that any different than saying I’m not interested in climate change because I’m old and I’m going to die in a few years?
  • The educational budget does not include the costs of incarceration, depression, unemployment, violence, war and wasted lives. Maybe we will need a lawsuit against the big testing and big text book industry for knowingly crimping the vibrant potential of childhood’s neural trees  for the sake of profit.
  • The 400-year-old dinosaur of the United States education model is at war with childhood.
  • Education officials make it very easy to talk about education. They talk about test scores, they talk about teacher accountability, they talk about access to text books, rather than talking about neuro-change.  Neuro-change is what happens to children’s minds (and, eventually humanity’s collective mind) when we expose children to toxic levels of premature cognitive overload, emotional pressure to compete and succeed in an atmosphere of no fun, and drugs when the child despairs over the overload, boredom, and pressure.


Hey, U.S. Dept of Education,

I tuned in this morning to see what’s being said at the NBC News Education Nation Summit this week.  Immediately, I noticed a talk by Condoleeza Rice about education and national security – that a bad education system is a national security matter because a poorly educated nation will not be able to keep up with the demands of the military for minimally literate soldiers.  Added to the prevalent idea that we only educate to compete globally, Condie’s words were the final straw. Nothing personal. She expresses a widely held view.

What follows is an effort to describe what I think the problem is with entangling national security and global economic competition with the education system and a thought about what to do about it.

I’m involved with writing a charter petition.  The petition instructions ask us to answer a brilliant  question.  It asks us to describe “what does it mean to be an educated person in the 21st century?”.

The system is the message.

This is the message of our education system according to its web site:

“ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access … and [to achieve] the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.” – The U.S. Department of Education, web site

This is not an inspiring message to send to kids.   The most important message an educational system should send  is … your existence as an individual self matters.  All other good things flow from that.

Ensuring equal access to all, adopting “high standards” and “believing that all students are capable of learning” is not enough.    If our problem is underachieving, meanness, and dropping out/not finishing college then we cannot solve this problem at the level it was created.  Department of Ed, you need to level up.

Students can sense they are being used and condescended to. They know when they are cajoled to “achieve”, “succeed”, “stay in school”, and “go to college” for some ulterior agenda.  These goals are motivated by economic and political reasons: “American competition in the global marketplace”, “a failing education system is a potential threat to national security”, or “[beating] other countries in college graduation rates”. Finland first served its students and its teachers and parents and THEN, as a result, they also looked good to the world. U.S. Dept. of Ed, your goals don’t land because they do not speak to the students at the existential level where young persons live – at the level of the intention of the individual self.

While all schools should be a perfect as possible in every way, of course, there are endless examples of people who succeeded in life who got bad grades in school (Einstein, Malcom Gladwell couldn’t get accepted into grad school), who dropped out of college (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Ted Turner, Mark Zuckerberg), who had miserable and abusive parents (John Lennon, Oprah), and who went to segregated schools (Martin Luther King).

U.S. Ed, your (unintended) message is: You, kid, as an individual self, don’t matter

The interest of the individual self is laundered right out of your, the U.S. Department of Education’s system, according to your mission statement. The logic is that the global competitive/national security good of the whole trumps the presumed ignorance and selfishness of the individual as soon as tax money is in play. Everyone must be modest and selfless so that the system can be outrageous and self-serving.  In effect, our educational system says to kids in school  “we are educating you for the sake of U.S. global economic competition and national security”.

I see that one could argue that if the state/taxpayers are paying for your education, kid, then we expect you to give back by making us economically competitive and/or at least learning enough in school so you can qualify to join the military and protect our national security.

The problem with this argument is that the system sends the message to the kids that ” you, as an individual self, don’t matter”.   Because you don’t matter as one person – you only matter as part of a mass – we have the right to enact on a daily and hourly basis the most extreme form of psychological and philosophical insult and minimalization against your individual self : In return for your “free” education, (1) we assume the right to limit what school your ignorant, selfish parents can send you to, (2) to evaluate your worth and that of your lazyass teacher based on copyright-protected testing instruments of the multi-billion “K-12 industry” which neither you, your parents or your teachers can ever see under penalty of law, and (3) to determine what you “should  know and be able to do” through national standards that ensure the multi-billion “K-12 industry” steady textbook sales as elected school boards “adopt” their products – shifting tax dollars into corporate pockets – so that teachers, who matter as little if not less than you, can teach to the standards using books whose dubious literary merit ensure kids will hate reading them and then be accused of not reading and, thus, creating more potential for profit.

So, here’s a proposal, U.S. Dept of Ed:

Whereas, the goals of the U.S. Department of Education constitute highly subjective beliefs about the purpose of the individual self of the student that do not comport with the individual self’s purpose for their own existence, (i.e. (1) Although we now live with global awareness, competition rules: the existential purpose of the individual self is to promote economic competition for one country over another, (2) a democratic, “public” education exclusively means ensuring equal access to a standardized one-size-fits-all curriculum, teaching methods, and assessments and (3) military readiness is a fundamental purpose of K-12 schooling.)

Whereas these beliefs – even though they do not mention “god” – are godlike in their power to determine how public resources are allocated. Belief in the above violates the principle of separation of church and state. The state, through these beliefs which are highly subjective, self-serving, and dictate what others should value, be, and do, is not acting as a state but as a church. A state provides equal opportunities for diverse views, ways of being, and multiple options options.

Therefore, since education, in contrast to the limiting mission statement above, is an existential necessity for the individual self, a right of the human species, and a civil responsibility, we need to think about a 21st Century Vision Statement for the U.S. Department of Education. It could go something like this:


For the 21st Century the U.S. Department of Education has a vision of equal access to a differentiated system of education as an existential necessity for the individual self, a fundamental right of our species, and a shared civil responsibility.  The Department exists to support, serve, and protect schools and systems of schools offering programs that further the human individual self to grow in knowledge, social empathy and playfulness, and initiative and innovation.  Ed schools set for their students and the world an example of what it means when the human species cooperates, collaborates and learns together.

That’s it.  Mr. Duncan, your thoughts?

PS This stream of thought today was inspired by something William McDonough said at a DWELL show: “What is the intention of our species?” – William McDonough/Cradle to Cradle and by thoughts shared with me about gene manipulation of Craig Holdredge and Steve Talbott/The Nature Institute