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Notes on EduCon 2.1 Opening Panel Discussion: What is the Purpose of School?

The "Official" opening to Educon 2.1 featured a panel discussion on "the purpose of school" at the Franklin Institute.

Panel Members included:

  • Joel Arquillos-Executive Director of 826LA (Writing workshops) -his boss has now started “Once upon a School”, a program paring classroom teachers with adult community members.
  • Dr. Molefi Asante-Professor, African American Studies, Temple University (1st African American Studies program in U.S.)
  • Kendall Crolius-Founding Partner, The Sulevia Group, also affiliated w/Heifer International
  • Jeff Han-Founder, Perceptive Pixel and inventor of the Multi-Touch Screen (iPhone users were genuflecting in his presence!)
  • Prakash Nair-Co-Founder, Fielding Nair International-Archetects and Change Agents for Education
  • Dr. Steven Squyres-Principal Investigator, Mars Exploration Rover Mission
  • Diane Castelbuono Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education PA Department of Education
  • Moderator-Frederic Bertley-Vice President of the Center for Innovation in Science Learning, The Franklin Institute

I’ll try to get down exact quotes or main ideas as it goes along. Packed house at the Franklin Center.

Jasmine, the student leader of SLA started off welcoming us to EduCon.
Bertley introduced all of the participants noting that it is a very diverse panel of experts.

We interrupt this program for a commercial for the Franklin Institute!

They are partnered w/SLA. In 1984, after "A Nation At Risk" came out, they spearheaded Professional Development for the School District of Philadelphia. The Director wanted to start a Science HS, they hired Chris Lehmann, and the rest is history!

Part I: They started by giving their answer to the question of the purpose of school:

Ran the conference division at Forbes Magazine. Much of her thinking informed by the conversations with Business Leaders. It’s not to turn out a finished product. It’s to prepare young people for a life of learning.
-One of the biggest challenges is innovation, to generate new ideas to advance business. Come at problems in a new way.
Collaboration-It’s always been important, but more so now. Any endeavor is going to require teamwork. If they can’t they won’t be successful. Appreciation of cultural diversity: in a global economy, we must not only tolerate but appreciate the strengths of other team members.
Courage-Not just to accept change but to embrace change, and be confident moving forward. Courage to challenge the status-quo.

There is a huge disconnect between what we say in the D.O and the actions. Just look at the “cheap” chairs our kids have to sit on.
Look at classrooms today, can they really collaborate, do Project Based Learning, distance learning?
40% of the money spent on building schools is wasted.

1. Social Anchor-Meeting place/Hub, continuing
2. The Place to Be-Outliers talks about Gates having a computer, Internet 2, Gamers, developers, Better Tech than anywhere else
3. Generate Ideas, not Regurgitate them-
4. Idea Harvester-Test ideas and make them authentic
5. Network Hub-Make school part of the real economy
6. Builder of Social Capital-Creating a social infrastructure
“Community feeds the School and the School Feeds the Community”

Complex problem. The purpose given for school has always changed.
Initially: Train young white men to be leaders-Boston Latin School
Now, an enormous reach.
What SHOULD be the purpose?
Inquiry-That’s it. It’s not the transmission of values. An openness to question.
Because we have a multi-cultural heterogeneous society, we should have an appreciation that all cultures have a contribution to knowledge in society.
Right now, we have a Euro-centric view of knowledge.

Just when we think we are set, we should inquire even more!


Taught for 8 years, tried to inspire his students, but started to wear on him, with constraints on budget, policy
Purpose: To build community and respect all the diverse aspects of the students.
To learn to respect and listen to each other. His classroom would be a microcosm of the world.

826 was a space where students could come get writing help after school. Pirate shop at the start, to get people’s attention and get them in the door. Get’s volunteer tutors to pair up with students needing assistance. Got people connected and interacting. In LA it’s a Time Travel store! “Past Port” for time travelers. Write collaborative stories for 2 hours and take a book home with you. Schools can be these bigger communities.

I’m not an educator, liked school growing up. Classic math/science kid who had issues with attention. Lot’s of equipment in the classroom for experimentation.
Communication: To get together to learn how to communicate with each other and collaboration on learning and present learning. See SLA values in earlier post!
Calibration: Staff should help convey which problems are important (Authentic). Is this learning really going to be meaningful? What can I contribute to (How not to get a Ph.D.)

Wants to talk about the reason for Science education
Open Students Eyes to What is Possible.-The school he went to had good teachers, who were hamstrung by the facilities. Growing up, Space Exploration was something on T.V. not something he thought he would do. Not until college where he was around people who actually did space exploration. This has to happen sooner. (Middle School and High School) Expose students to what is possible. “I can do this too!”
Allow People to Understand How Things REALLY work-Hard not to look at Science as a static body of knowledge in his frosh Astronomy course. Now, the first 5 to 10 minutes of class is “What happened on Mars today?” Authentic, (Bertley-“He’s talking about Mars like it’s his backyard garden!”) Understanding what we don’t know, is as important as what we do know!

Every day, business leaders tell her that they have to retrain workers and that schools aren’t meeting their needs.
Legislators say schools are failing
Students say schools aren’t meeting their needs

The system is failing our kids and our teachers.
15 miles away in Lower Marion, $17,000 per student, Philly $9,000 per student
In a classroom of 25, $182,000 difference. What could we do with that money?
We’re not keeping true to what public education is supposed to be about-The great equalizer.
We need to get back to what public school should be!

(Later, SLA students grill her!)

Part II
Question and Answer session:
Mario from Quebec-Is school the best place for this purpose?

Nair-right now, it’s not. What he talked about is being done around the world, even in Tasmania, where unemployment is very high. Schools are needed and can be, but right now they’re not.

What made you successful? School?
-Some special feature, each educator brings their own passion to the process. Important to let your personality and passion shine through! For me it was that one teacher, who sparked me to fall in love with what I was going to do the rest of my life!

Who generates the inquiry, the school or the student?
-There was the teacher who led me in to the whole issue of African culture. He raised questions, he didn’t give answers!!! “He was a good provocateur!” School cannot do everything. There is a part that family and community members have to play as well, discipline, desire to succeed.
Crolius-It was one teacher. It’s a calling. Igniting a passion!!! The balance between exposing students to “the canon”, do we miss the opportunity to ignite a passion?
Aqullous-The connection with a teacher who helps inspire confidence, who speaks to you at your level, and make positive interactions are what makes kids successful. Yesterday, working on a 5 paragraph essay, he asked for the toughest kid. The student didn’t feel challenged in the class, and yesterday there was a spark.
Asante-A teacher hasn’t talked until a student has learned.
Castlebuono-Anecdote about rural school district negotiation. How many had life changed by a doctor, lawyer, …teacher. All stood up. Reminds people.
Han-I also had great peers for interacting. Competition, mentoring, discussion. How is that culture created? Need a reason for that interaction…

Audience member-It’s teams of students and teams of teachers that make things excellent. How do you create those teams in schools, where you are dealing with so much bureaucracy?
-No one person knows all of the Mars rover. Small groups collaborate on small parts.
Find people united w/ a common passion.
Nair-I worked for NYC schools, so I know something about bureaucracy! If what you are doing isn’t enhancing student outcomes, then it shouldn’t be done. Everyone should know the mission and be moving in the right direction.
Asante- Most often, the principal is the generator of the passion! In most schools, he/she could generate this. If it’s a “bad” principal, know one can break the malaise!

What is the tipping point to get our schools more relevant?
Aquillos- The academy model, limits extra-curriculars, but Galileo-Academy for Information Technology, Authentic, Problem based learning, Teacher inspired, but ignite students. Sitting down and planning out interdisciplinary projects. We know that there are skills that are not tested that are valuable.

Jasmine (Student)-For CastleBuono: How does the system teach students that they are in a no-win situation?
Castlebuono-It’s about organizing, sharing, collaborating. Some work with busing kids to other districts to see what they have. This shows that their world isn’t the way it has to be or should be.

Bud Hunt-Relating to purpose of mind: How can educators trapped in the system be the hope they want their kids to see?
Talent is a combination of passion and hard work. People just need to say, “I’m just going to do it!” Each of the kids have the ability. They are just lacking confidence. Every student has something about them that makes them unique that can make them successful.
Crolius-Courage to challenge the status quo is the key to success in anything! If the American education system were a business, they’d be out of business! If a big corporation wants to innovate, they need to set up a separate entity, whose mission is to squash the mother ship! Changing within the system is going to be difficult!!
We as a society need to want this!

Squyers- I can’t tell you how many “Oh, my God, we’re hosed!” moments during the construction of the rover. Everyone believed in what they were doing, and that if everything worked it was going to be awesome! We knew exactly what it was we were trying to do. The entire mission of the rover project fit on ½ a sheet of paper. You always have to allocate resources. Is it necessary to achieve the mission? Keep it. If not, drop it!
Asante-Revise the way the system operates to eliminate/lessen the bureaucracy. Too much paperwork right now!! David Saxon-“What I like about you, is when you say you’re going to write a book, you do it.”

Student-What are some elements that can make school purposeful and how can they be integrated into our curriculum?
Castlebuono-need clarity of purpose. For some kids, it’s the need for a safe place. The teacher can’t get them to read, until that basic need is met!

Is there a point to studying Shakespeare in the 21st century?
Crolius: YES-Everything you need to learn in life and leadership is in Shakespeare!

Note: There were a few “Amen” comments in the audience, though a few S.T.E.M. people afterwards complained that Shakespeare wasn’t relevant!

It was an eclectic mix of people on the panel, and led to interesting discussion afterwards at the reception, and at local watering holes after that! A great kick-off to the conference!


Brunsell said…
Mike -- I posted video of the opening comments on my blog.

Stay warm-

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