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“Data Craziness” (aka The Other Education: Part Deux)

Earlier this week, I responded to a column by New York Times columnist David Brooks, who constructed an artificial divide between our “formal education” (aka school) — which he indifferently described as linear, objective and ordinary — and our “emotional curriculum” (aka life) — which he approvingly described as nonlinear, subjective and transformational.

In fairness to Brooks, he’s hardly alone in this misconception — in fact, it’s probably inaccurate to call it a misconception, since this is how it works for too many of us: formal schooling is what you endure, and informal schooling is what helps you discover what really matters to you, what your personal strengths and weaknesses are, etc. But just because that’s the way things have been doesn’t mean that’s the way they should continue to be — a particularly relevant point for folks like Brooks, who are supposed to help light a better path, and for reform-minded cities like Washington, DC, where I now live. And yesterday I read something that gives me hope our city may be slowly adjusting its course to a more fruitful strategy for school improvement.

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The Other Education

I’ve always liked David Brooks as a columnist. He often takes stands I disagree with, but, generally speaking, he also approaches his role as a public intellectual with inquiry and openness, not orthodoxy and attitude.

In his education columns, however, Brooks has become a dangerous and myopic mouthpiece for a particular set of reform ideas that, without much prodding, turn to dust. And after reading a weekend column of his, I think I understand why.

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Education’s Blockbuster Moment

A few New Yorkers ago, financial columnist James Surowiecki wrote a short piece about the downfall of Blockbuster video, and why it failed to anticipate the rapid rise of Netflix in its own backyard. Why, he postulated, did Blockbuster not read the tea leaves quickly enough to colonize the web the way it had colonized suburbia? Already blessed with a deep reservoir of customer expertise, a sophisticated system of inventory management, and a nearly ubiquitous and identifiable brand, Blockbuster was well placed to shift its business model from “bricks and mortar” to “clicks and mortar,” yet it did nothing. Which makes me wonder, what might Blockbuster’s downfall augur for the future of public education reform in America? Click here to keep reading.

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Searching for Schools

My wife and I have begun the search for our son’s first preschool, which means a steady stream of weekday open houses, packs of adults warily sizing each other up, and crowded tours through classrooms of tiny people. It’s an anxiety-producing process, especially since, in DC at least, the most desirable preschools all attract far more applications than they can accept. It’s also a revealing process in terms of what we value most, and least, for our children based on how old they are.

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It’s the Development, Stupid

Two years ago, my wife and I signed up to receive monthly emails charting our son’s development. When he was still in utero, the emails began with visual markers of his growth – he was the size of a grape at one stage, the size of a kumquat at another. Now, as he toddles his way through the world, the information is more focused on his behavior, reassuring us, for example, that a recent rise in meltdowns actually means that his development is “right on track.”

Across that same period, I’ve been part of a founding group that will, in August 2011, open a new public school here in DC (a school my son will one day attend). And what I’ve learned is that, for reasons I can’t fully understand, most of our country’s pre-schools maintain this evaluative focus on child development – and most middle and high schools abandon it altogether.

Why is this?

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