Hacking School

12 thoughts on “Hacking School”

  1. I have mixed feelings about this approach to education. I used to be a union rep for teachers so I have good idea of the silliness that is involved in large school districts where thousands of educators toil away at teaching tests and taking care of academic paperwork. Not sure if “scripted educational programs” are still around but in the early 2000s I used to spend time defending teachers who went off script and got behind in the lesson plans that were tailored to meet the testing regime and the No Child Left Behind Act.

    So yeah, I understand that bureaucracy gets in the way of education but public schools also represent a public good and a forum for public ideas. If we take things into our own more personal realm we will lose the public good aspect and we may also become a victim of our own echo chambers were our children increasingly reflect each other and our current bias.

    Fundamentally I also question the whole point of endless day in day out education until you are in your mid-twenties. Not sure if even the best system could make that worthwhile. If it is worthwhile I’d like to know to why and to what purpose? Having some idea of the goal of the education seems important. In my current incarnation in higher ed I teach union side labor relations and I actually think we get it wrong. You could approach this or most subjects as a liberal art, asking questions about the meaning of collective and individual action, the value of work and democracy et al. You could also spend your time teaching students how to handle witnesses for administrative hearings, something that comes up a lot for union reps, but I dare say it difficult to do both. And that is exactly what we are tasked with. Students end up with very little in the way skills while also not developing any real depth of understanding of the history or philosophy of the left or unions or collective action.

  2. Johnny, as a public school teacher in an “inner city” school, I think you’ve touched on a really important point. I see some of the brightest and most talented kids. Having previously taught in a suburb, I love the culture and diversity of this school. Many people have left the city in search of “better schools” but at what cost? Both parents commuting long distances, less contact time with their kids and more time spent driving to and from far-flung activities.

    The key element of what you are seeing is engaged parents. Schools are fine but they only get you so far, the rest is parenting. What else happens in your life? What is the context you bring to learning and how do you take what you’ve learned into the real-world? This all happens with engaged parents who are not in their car for most of their child’s productive free-time.

    1. Over the years I’ve known several people who spent a year teaching (some urban, some suburban, some rural) but never went back for their second year. Ever. I wonder how many young smart people might go in to teaching if it was a better experience than the usual teaching to the standardized test, babysitting, and jumping through bureaucratic hoops.

      The other thing I need to mention is that the silver lining of benefits for teachers who patiently hang in there is about to go away. Low pay? Nasty working conditions? No respect? People can sometimes manage all that so long as there’s a solid pension and good health insurance as part of the package. That’s simply not going to hold up in the years to come. The writing is already on the wall.

      1. Teaching is a difficult profession, especially in the first year. Like other jobs where you are entertaining a room full of people (public speaker, comedian, actor) you get better with time. It is too bad your friends didn’t go back for their second year, it is such a reward for the first year.

        I think there is a larger point that I would love to see investigated which is, how much better are suburban schools? Many people leave the city when they have kids for the promise of better schools. Since parents are commuting longer, they are spending less time with kids. Is there an amount “better” that a school would have to be to offset this?

        Reading baby books doesn’t make you a better parent, being the type of person who reads baby books you are likely to be a good parent. Does being the type of person who would move away from your job and the benefits of the city for potentially better schools mean that your kids are going to be successful in any school? I think that many engaged, caring parents would be pleased with the education their child gets at most city schools.

  3. My children are ages 17 to 30. The oldest is an assistant state attorney general, the second a police officer, the third a math-psychology major in college, the fourth a high school senior. We spent many years in a top-ranked (for our state) suburban school district and then many years in a top-ranked (for our state) rural school district. The problems with school rarely had to do with the actual curriculum but with things like bullying, favoritism, athletics over academics, i.e., working with my children on how to get along/resist the current in a world filled with individuals who think they are entitled. As for academics, I had grown up in a poor rural school district with a less-than-stellar education. What saved me was the fact that I was a voracious reader. (It’s amazing what is in books! :^) ) We did likewise with our children and kept video games out of the house and handed them books instead. Then we would talk about what they read. (My husband and I would also read a lot of what our kids read.) That is my advice to parents regardless of how they choose to educate their children. Read, read a lot, and then discuss. Everything else will fall into place.

  4. My wife and I home schooled our two sons on the north side of Chicago, one for 12 years, the other for eight. The oldest is a nurse, graduated honors in Biology from a small liberal arts college and then got an MSN. His brother is a network administrator. Worked well for us in a neighborhood where the local elementary school, at the time, was troubled. But my wife took nearly 7 years off work to make this happen.

  5. Thanks for the story! Home schooling is great for those who can do it. It worked great for us for a year when our son was in 2nd grade. In retrospect it was also partly a at for us privileged folks to keep our kid away from the problems of the underprivileged–but I’m still totally grateful we could do it in a pinch!

  6. More evidence that “open source learning” really works, on both educational and community levels. My kids and I used to belong to something like this when we lived in a small city. Our group tried to support the businesses run by parents (knitting, photography, computer classes, etc.) so that there was a real financial benefit to the community as well.

    I’m curious, how did the neighbours feel about having a giant camera in the road?

    1. The camera was only parked on the street for a couple of days. It was built on wheels elsewhere and was parked in a normal parking spot just like any other vehicle. It was also part of a project for kids who live on the block so if anyone was bothered by it (not to my knowledge) it was defendable as a community good not just random crap taking up space. I strongly suspect that this sort of thing would be unacceptable in a gated community.

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