Sunday, August 5, 2012

An ally in the White House?

I have been reading Herman Melville and it's August--so, yeah, this needs editing....

Sir Ken Robinson is a superstar in the education world--he wows audiences with his humor, his wisdom, and (no small thing) his alluring accent. He's quite entertaining, and earns a comfortable sum making the rounds at various conferences.

I just returned from a wonderful conference, the Siemens STEM Institute held at Discovery Education in Maryland. We didn't see Sir Robinson, but we did see Dr. Steve Robinson, who will ultimately have a much larger effect on my classroom.

There's a subtle schism in Federal education policy, subtle enough to survive, big enough to give me hope.


A lot of teachers are losing hope, or at least say as much--a teacher without hope is like a frog who can't hop, and survives about as long.

Arne, Bill, and Eli got me gnashing a bit, but long as I got more than a handful of quahogs left to rake on Richardson Sound, despair shuns me. Clamming lets you see things you forget you care about. Clams are in no hurry to escape; the only urgency is the rising tide.

Even the madness of Arne Duncan's edutheocracy fades as the edge of the sea licks my toes--no evangelists on a mudflat. Still, teaching pays a bit more than clamming around here, and as much as "educators" complain, we have a pretty good gig.

The other Robinson (Steve) has not been knighted, a plus here in the States. Unlike his counterpart Arne, Dr. Robinson was a high school science teacher and taught in a real classroom for years,  because, it seems, he wanted to. (He earned his Biology degree at Princeton, his PhD at Michigan (GO BLUE!).

The Siemens STEM fellows got to spend an hour with Dr. Robinson in the Indian Treaty Room--he's brilliant, he's nuanced, and (I think) he gets it. He used to work under Arne, now he has a more direct pipeline to the President sitting on the Domestic Policy Council. He and Mr. Kumar Garg explained the President's STEM Master Teacher Corps, then took comments and questions.

Kumar Garg and Steve Robinson--our best hope?

And here's where it gets interesting--the current push to improve STEM education in the lower grade levels competes with time dedicated to enabling kids to pass tests prescribed by various Race to the Top programs adored by Arne and his cronies.

I pointed this out to Dr. Robinson, perhaps a bit bluntly, and got an intelligent, nuanced response that acknowledged the concern without tipping his hand, which, after years of inane soundbites from Arne, was enough to get me a tiny bit excited. This guy, at a minimum, gets the issues. He's not an evangelist.

Robinson pointed out that trying to transform science education from the Federal level is like trying to perform surgery with big mittens. He demonstratively held out both of his hands--he's still got the teacher in him--and I thought (and this may be an over-read) that his expression was asking for a little breathing room. He's in a tight spot--he would not be feeling it if he was comfortable with Arne's action plan.

 It gets better--I looked up this Robinson guy when I got home. He used to work under Mr. Duncan, but moved from Education under Duncan to the White House closer to Obama in 2009. Folks noticed:

What's interesting about Robinson's shift is that it further signals that STEM is a really big issue for President Obama, but perhaps not as significant for his education secretary.
Michele McNeil, Politics K-12, Education Week, September, 2009

Oh, Ms. McNeil updated the article after getting some noise from the DOE, and she added some updates, but she saw the same thing I see now. She even calls Robinson a "STEM guru".

I now got hope for the change that needs to happen if Mr. Obama is serious about transforming education in this country. I have hope that Mr. Obama sees the inanity of trying to implement mutually exclusive goals.

But I'm not naive. An hour with my Chatham scratcher working a back bay flat reminds me of what matters, and so long as I can rake clams, I can teach. Mr. Robinson, you're welcome to join me--just don't tell Arne.

Ken Robinson photo and quote from his website here.
The clam chart is from the State of NJ.


Luann Lee said...

Thanks for speaking for us. I now have hope that someone is listening. And I'm looking for more.

Kyle said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective of our meeting!

doyle said...

Dear Luann Lee,

I've had a few wonderful opportunities now to help folks at the state and Federal level see the chasm between government policies and how it translates in our classrooms.

Not sure how much we're being heard, but we can't let our responsibilities cede to our cynicism.

Dear Kyle,

Again thanks for giving us this great opportunity to help shape policy, and for everything else!

What a fantastic week!