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A Signature Shift?

Last week, I was asked by CNN to comment on the news that most states will soon phase out cursive writing in order to give students more time to hone their digital skills. Initially, I wondered why the issue was receiving national coverage – there are bigger fish to fry, after all – so I posed a Facebook query to that effect.  A torrent of comments followed, and I received several long emails from viewers who saw the segment and felt compelled to share their thoughts. Everyone, it seemed, had an opinion, and a strong one at that. Why were so many people so upset about this seemingly small development on the gigantic landscape of K-12 education reform? This morning, as I watched my two-year old son make distinctive colorful swirls on his drawing paper, I realized what was going on: not only were we inching toward a new understanding about what each child must learn; we were also moving away from a deeply held belief about what makes each of us unique – the distinctive imprint of our handwritten signature. The first issue is the one I tried to address last week – the powerful influence that memes have

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The Three Most Important Questions in Education

It’s graduation season again – yet nobody seems to be celebrating. On college campuses, graduates are entering an economy in which the stable career paths of yesteryear are disappearing – and the specialized job opportunities of tomorrow have yet to appear. And in communities across the country, parents and young people are left wondering what exactly those past four years of high school were in service of – and how much, if any, truly transformational learning occurred. Something’s gotta give. The Industrial-Age model of schooling, which benefited 20th-century generations by serving as a legitimate ticket to the middle class, has clearly run its course. In its place, we need a model for a new age – the Democratic Age. And we need strategies for ensuring that young people learn how to be successful in the 21st-century world of work, life, and our democratic society. We can get there, but to do so we need to start asking – and answering – the three most essential questions in education reform:   1. How do people learn best? Over the past several years, a slew of research from a range of fields has helped illuminate a much deeper understanding of what powerful

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Sam Chaltain’s TEDx Talk: The Freedom to Learn

I hope you like it!

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Let’s Scrap the High School Diploma

This month, schools across the country are hard at work preparing auditoriums, printing programs, checking commencement speeches, and readying for the arrival of one of our society’s most cherished rites of passage – the high school graduation ceremony. Perhaps by this time next year, we can do our students an even greater service and scrap the high school diploma altogether. OK, maybe not next year, but soon. After all, almost every component of today’s traditional diploma reflects yesterday’s traditional thinking – if by yesterday we mean the 19th century. It was 1893, to be precise. That’s when the first blue-ribbon commission was assembled to study the nation’s schools, which, at that point, were still largely decentralized. Among its findings, the ten-person committee recommended that “every subject which is taught at all in a secondary school should be taught in the same way and to the same extent to every pupil.” Not long thereafter, the College Entrance Examination Board was established in order to create a common assessment and set uniform standards for each academic subject. Couple those developments with the rise of the Industrial Era, the exponential growth of immigration, and the need to move an unprecedented number of students

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Is a Free Education a Fundamental Right?

Should your zip code determine your access to the American dream? Or is the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee to provide “equal protection” a principle we have silently agreed to uphold in theory – but not in practice? I’m starting to wonder after reading about Tanya McDowell, the Connecticut mother facing felony charges for lying on her five-year-old son’s registration forms so he could attend a better school. McDowell’s story is painfully reminiscent of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Ohio mother who made a similar choice earlier this year – and is now a convicted felon. These two stories of civil disobedience come against the backdrop of an ongoing national conversation about our public school system – and how it must be improved. They also provide an unsettling irony in lieu of tomorrow’s 57th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s historic victory in Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that triumphantly reaffirmed a core American principle: “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” If Marshall were alive today, he would urge us to stop celebrating our symbolic victory in Brown, and start accepting our actual responsibility for tolerating a public education system that

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