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Final 50 Selected for Book of Learning Stories

Nine months ago, the Rethink Learning Now campaign launched a national storytelling initiative by asking people to reflect on their most powerful learning experiences, and/or their most effective teachers. Since then, the campaign has received hundreds of insightful and illustrative submissions from people across the country –from students to social workers to the Secretary of Education himself. And this past month, I’ve had the difficult challenge of selecting just 50 of those stories to be collected into a book that will be released next spring. My work has been so difficult because the stories people have submitted are all so good, and so varied. Some are about teachers who changed their students’ lives. Some describe the moment when a person first discovered how to ask the right questions, or found what they were most passionate about.  Others are about making art, or going on a challenging hike, or studying everything from Morse code to Macbeth to Kung Fu. But all of the stories in the campaign – and, ultimately, the book – are about one central thing – learning, and what it feels like to discover one’s purpose, passion, and capacity for greatness. And so, I’m proud to officially announce

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Education and… National Security

I see that President Obama listed education as a core aspect of his overall National Security Strategy. It reminds me of a great piece my former boss and mentor Charles Haynes wrote less than three weeks after the September 11 attacks. As Charles wrote: “Over the course of this long struggle, the most effective answer to training camps of hatred and terror will be schools of freedom and democracy. While Osama bin Laden and his ilk use tools of indoctrination and propaganda to teach blind obedience, our schools must use democratic principles to instill an abiding commitment to universal human rights.” This is, of course, as true today as it was then. And yet I wonder — in what ways are our current policy prescriptions addressing this particular challenge, either implicitly or explicitly?

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Teacher Money Will Have To Wait, Senate Democrats Say

Yesterday, Congressional Quarterly reported that Senate Democrats have abandoned efforts to add $23 billion for saving teachers’ jobs to their chamber’s supplemental war spending bill, acknowledging they don’t have the 60 votes to block an expected Republican filibuster. Republicans have criticized the White-House backed proposal as a “bailout” that shouldn’t be attached to an emergency war spending bill. Supporters of the education jobs measure say that it would stave off the loss of tens of thousands of education positions at a time when state budgets are stretched thin and funds from the 2009 economic stimulus law are running dry. I’m sorry — I realize that teachers have become the face of our dysfunctional education system these days (which is another story), but could there be anything more essential to our national interests than ensuring that our schools remain well-staffed in the midst of numerous state budget crises?

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The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand?

In case you missed it, Steven Brill wrote a relatively balanced piece in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine about the national education reform landscape — and how teachers unions are truly facing a sink-or-swim moment of reinvention. As someone who feels neither allegiance nor antipathy toward either of the increasingly polarized camps (I actually like and respect both Linda Darling-Hammond and Jon Schnur), I see the partial truths in each side’s argument. On one hand, for example, it’s clear that K-12 teachers should not be granted lifetime tenure so easily — tenure, after all, was originally designed to protect the free-expression rights of college professors, and since the First Amendment barely even applies to public employees anymore, that point is moot. So I say bring on this reform. It’s also clear that teacher evaluation systems need to be dramatically retooled. When educators can only be scored ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory,’ that’s a huge problem. So again I say yes to any reform that results in a new system that creates a reciprocal flow of feedback and helps educators improve the quality of their professional practice. However, I see one massive problem — and it’s a problem that no one, Brill

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Many Faiths, One Truth

In today’s New York Times, the Dalai Lama writes about his own spiritual journey and how he has come to believe in the primacy of helping people of different faiths find common ground. Although he doesn’t speak about education, I read it through that lens (surprise surprise), wondering how our current policy recipes might differ if we shared the Dalai Lama’s sense of urgency for helping all people cultivate this most fundamental of human skills. Take a few minutes to check it out yourself and see what you think.

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