About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

One from the Heart

This was a commentary that I published in Education Week on September 2, 2009.

One from the Heart: Helping Young People Reconnect to School
Mike Rose

It’s the real thing when the light goes on.

In the middle of his high school electronics classroom, the teacher had built the frame of a very small house. The frame is bare except for wires running across and through the beams, wires and receptacles, some wall switches, various light fixtures, and a power panel, door open. Students test their skills on this simulated residence, and on this day, two students are hooking up lights and running the wires to the power panel.

There is a group of younger students present, new boys and girls just entering the program. The teacher gets a nod from the two students that they’re ready, so he walks over to the classroom’s central power source and ceremoniously flips a switch. It works! The whole house lights up, ceiling lights, wall lights, floods. “Wow,” exclaims one of the younger students, under his breath. “Man,” he says, “that’s crazy!”

This boy was not much interested in school, but the demonstration caught him. He spoke to the teacher afterward, eager to begin.

Good teachers work hard to create such moments: some activity or object – a science experiment, a power tool, a carefully selected book – that captures the imagination of a kid who is drifting away from the classroom.

What we witness in these moments is the emergence of meaning in a young person’s school life. Whether or not that moment takes hold and leads to a student staying in school depends on a lot beyond the moment: the rest of the curriculum, continued mentoring and counseling, and the circumstances of the young person’s life outside the schoolhouse door. But without that flash of light, actual or metaphorical, the chances are that nothing much will happen.

The nation is turning its attention to young people like that boy in the group of visiting students, high school and college-aged youth – 16 to 26 is the commonly heard age range – who are “disconnected,” who are doing poorly in school, who are at risk of dropping out or have already done so, who, post-high school, can’t seem to find a viable career path. In my state of California – even during our budget meltdown – there are initiatives aimed at this population from government, educational institutions, and philanthropies.

This is good news, for this population typically is not made a top priority in public policy.

The twin driving engines of these initiatives are economic and sociological: a concern about the effect on the economy and social structure of a significant stratum of poorly educated, underemployed or unemployed young people unable to create a decent career for themselves. Therefore, the pitch to them, like the justification for the intervention itself, is an economic one: to offer a means to get young people back on academic or occupational track toward economic success.

What we miss with this appeal, however – and is missing generally from educational policy – is what that boy experienced when the lights went on. To be sure, the prospect of a good job and financial security can be hugely motivating. But it also can be a distant abstraction, something we know is good for us but doesn’t stir feeling or imagination. The economic appeal falls flat unless it connects with something of emotional significance in a student’s life: the palpable hardship of parents’ existence; a commitment to younger siblings or to one’s own new family; a burgeoning interest in some pursuit and a desire for competence in it; a sense of the future and of who one wants to become.

Because of our structural and technocratic orientation to reform, we can get the scaffold of a program in place, but neglect what is most crucial: how to create the conditions for those moments around the small house frame to arise. We don’t see words like emotion or imagination or, for that fact, identity in our educational policy. They are not the language of rigor, of education science.

But perhaps the science that drives our policy is not rigorous enough, not close enough to the real data of engagement with school. There is in the policy literature a recognition of the importance of adult mentoring in the lives of at-risk youth, but not a lot else that addresses the wider human dimension of education.

This limited focus concerns me because we have a history of conceptualizing and intervening in the school lives of disconnected students in reductive ways: solely in terms of their academic deficiencies and/or their threat to the economy and their potential economic rehabilitation. Frequently the result has been narrow academic skills and job training programs.

To avoid this trap, we will have to begin with an intellectually rich and wide-ranging definition of opportunity and occupation, offer a robust course of study, provide consistent advising and mentoring, and create institutional pathways to work and career. And to achieve these goals, we’ll need to affirm the interior as well as economic life of the students in our charge, appeal to the heart as well as to the financial calculus.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A New Book: Why School?

I just had a new book come out, Why School?: Reclaiming Education for All of Us. The book is a series of thirteen interrelated essays with an introduction and conclusion. In it, I try to bring the topics of my work over the last thirty years to bear on educational policy in our time.

Below, I reprint the Preface and Table of Contents.

I would sure appreciate it if you spread the word. 

Introduction: Why School?

1. In Search of a Fresh Language of Schooling
2. Finding Our Way: The Experience of Education
3. No Child Left Behind and the Spirit of Democratic Education
4. Business Goes to School
5. Reflections on Intelligence in the Workplace and the Schoolhouse
6. On Values, Work, and Opportunity
7. Standards, Teaching, Learning
8. Remediation at the University
9. Re-mediating Remediation
10. Politics and Knowledge
11. Soldiers in the Classroom
12. A Language of Hope
13. Finding the Public Good Through the Details of Classroom Life

Conclusion: The Journey Back and Forward


Why School? comes from a professional lifetime in classrooms, creating and running educational programs, teaching and researching, writing and thinking about education and human development. It offers a series of appeals for big-hearted social policy and an embrace of the ideals of democratic education – from the way we define and structure opportunity to the way we respond to a child adding a column of numbers. Collectively, the chapters provide a bountiful vision of human potential, illustrated through the schoolhouse, the work place, and the community.

We need such appeals, I think, because we have lost our way.

We live in an anxious age and seek our grounding, our assurances in ways that don’t satisfy our longing—that, in fact, make things worse. We’ve lost hope in the public sphere and grab at private solutions, which undercut the sharing of obligation and risk and keep us scrambling for individual advantage. We’ve narrowed the purpose of schooling to economic competitiveness, our kids becoming economic indicators. We’ve reduced our definition of human development and achievement – that miraculous growth of intelligence, sensibility, and the discovery of the world – to a test score. Though we pride ourselves as a nation of opportunity and a second chance, our social policies have become terribly ungenerous. We rush to embrace the new – in work, in goods, in the language we use to describe our problems—yet long for tradition, for craft, for the touch of earth, wood, another hand.

We do live in uncertain and unsettling times, but one can imagine all sorts of responses, and we have been taking—and have been led to take—those that are fear-based, inhumane, less than noble. We yearn for more and as a society deserve better. This yearning was one of the forces that drove the election of Barack Obama.

My hope is that the contents of this book in some small way contribute to a reinvigorated discussion of why we educate in America, maybe through a particular story, maybe because of information I can provide from my own teaching and research, maybe from a perspective that provides a different way to see.