Louis C.K.: Educational Activist?

Let me preface this by saying I have very little issue with the substance of the Common Core State Standards. My main issue lies in the implementation of them as well as in how they’re being used as a tool by various interest groups with hidden (or not so hidden) agendas (profit).

For an example of a citizen parent with a substantial reach who is sounding the alarm on Big Testing, check out this series of tweets from one of the most popular comedians working today: Louis C.K. He’s been unhappy with the amount of test prep and testing his daughters have endured sense the rollout of CCSS.


— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014
A huge amount of my third graders time is spent preparing for and answering questions like this. pic.twitter.com/WU5tEo8JRO

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014
This is one of my favorites. Also for third graders. Who is writig these? And why? pic.twitter.com/xUBVIxE6WU

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014
Look at 4 of part a. And the point isn’t that it’s too hard. Just read #4. Please. pic.twitter.com/5bnUlaXG5b

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014
“Why night you want each picture to stand for more than 1 balloon?” Yet again I must tell my kid “don’t answer it. It’s a bad question”

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014
Sorry. I sit with my kids as they so their HW they devour knowledge. When it’s hard they step up. Their teachers are great

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014
But it’s changed in recent years. It’s all about these tests. It feels like a dark time. And nothing is going in anymore.

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014
It’s this massive stressball that hangs over the whole school. The kids teachers trying to adapt to these badly written notions.

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 28, 2014
these questions btw were not written by her teacher. they were on a standardized test. written by pearson or whoever the hell

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) April 29, 2014
Okay I’m done. This is just one dumb, fat parent’s POV. I’m pissed because I love NYC public schools. mice, lice and all.

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
Kids teachers parents are vocally suffering. Doesnt that matter? listen to them. Adapt and slow down CCSS. Cool it with the testing

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
CCSS. It’s a new program. why defend it aS perfect? Why let poor test writers profit and tell parents and teachers they are “wrong”.

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
It’s arrogant and hurts the goals of CCSS. CCSS is not perfect. You want to teach kids to think and reason. Try it yourself first.

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
1st step to learn: Amit you’re wrong. Listen improve your understanding. Let teachers decide how to guide kids to these new ideas

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
Teachers are underpaid. They teach for the love of it. Let them find the good in cc without the testing guns to their and our kids heads.

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
I trust a teacher over Pearson or bill hates any day of the week. Don’t all be so defensive and don’t be such bullies.

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
Everything important is worth doing carefully. None of this feels careful to me.

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
The test are written to CCSS standards. The teachers are forced to deliver high scores to those tests. Why pretend that cc has zero fault?

— Louis C.K. (@louisck) May 1, 2014
Lastly these are my views as a parent. I’m sure I’m wrong about some of it. Does that mean you’re wrong about none o it? Peace.



Cutting arts and boiling frogs

Edusanity has a great writeup on the recent debacle involving an elementary in New York cancelling their kindergarten end of year musical performance to clear out time for more “professional” pursuits aimed at “college and career readiness.” In all honesty, my initial reaction to this news story was that the principal was a brilliant agent provocateur in the fight against the testing movement. What better way to attract attention to the sacrifices our children are making to the altar of Big Testing than this ridiculous decision? By pushing the gradual progression to its eventual conclusion so quickly, maybe the proverbial frog will take notice and jump from the pan instead of sitting in the gradually warming pot and getting boiled to death?

After some reflection, I reconsidered. We’ve already sacrificed recess; my children get around 15 minutes a day at their elementary. Music, art, and physical education are on a rotating basis at their school, getting one of the three a day. I’m not criticizing their teachers or school or district, as I’m they all do a wonderful job with the task their given (don’t hate the player, hate the game). Regardless, it’s clear that the water is getting hotter and hotter. With decisions like the one in New York, maybe the public will insist that the recipe be changed.


Tear down the walls

GEM Stuff
Brent tries out the electric vehicle from a recent competition while Shan likes the looks of our robots.

I’ve been lucky enough lately to start forging some  partnerships between our school and awesome organizations in the community. This morning, after a meeting with some of these partners (Brent Robinson from modthink and Shan Pesaru from Sharphue), I got to tour them around our new building.

After reflecting on the experience, I wish we had regular tours of our campus set up for community members. I think they’d be thrilled at what they find occurring on campus on any given day. Today we saw students preparing to produce a lipdub, drama kids rehearsing for a performance, robotics scholars preparing for a competition, and all of this happening during the middle of a major End of Course test in Biology.

On top of that, I saw students excited to see adults from outside our building observing them in action, and I saw teachers excited to show off their programs and work. I’m really not sure why so many school buildings seem to erect a wall between themselves and the community. Maybe it’s time we start trying to tear down those walls, move education in the community and bring the community into education?


On kingdoms, classrooms, and collaboration (part 3)

So here’s the truth: I don’t have the answer to how to create meaningful collaboration between the rulers of disparate educational kingdoms. If I did, I could probably start consulting and move into the real money in education. What I do have is a lot of experience in what didn’t work and a little experience in what has worked through my own experiences of trying to foster collaboration.


  • Tap and Show Potential: the rulers of the kingdoms are pretty awesome people with a ton of talent and skills. Tap into that! A collaborative leader’s job is to connect the kingdoms and try to show the potential of alliances and collaboration by facilitating, not commanding it. Try to use inspiring, successful stories of collaboration, even if you have to go outside the district to find them, to show examples of what’s possible.
  • Build Trust: rulers aren’t going to invest their precious resources and subjects with someone they don’t trust. Trust is something that is built over time. Start small and try to have success with small projects. Success will build success. Also, show that the rulers are trusted by not micromanaging them. Instead treat them as professionals.
  • Make it meaningful: even if the starting collaborative projects are small, they need to be meaningful. Collaboration is not an end in itself, something that those responsible for overseeing it (me) often forget. This means that the collaborative projects should have a clear positive impact on students, programs, and school culture.




On kingdoms, classrooms, and collaboration (Part 2)

Collaboration can be fun… right? Right?


From great Advanced Placement classes to Agricultural Programs to Debate, one common factor of a thriving kingdom at a school seems to be a great ruler for that kingdom. Often Type-A personalities,these rulers are highly organized, charismatic, and passionate.  They set up a kingdom with its own culture, rewards systems, hierarchies, and goals. The rulers are beloved by their subjects, capable of challenging them and inspiring them to excel. The program’s dependence on the ruler may be  matched by the ruler’s dependence on the program. The program isn’t just a job, it’s a passion and a calling. The teachers will spend hours after school and on the weekends working with their students: attending competitions, putting on performances, organizing events, preparing for projects. Their devotion extends well beyond the norm.

Logically, all of the above also seems to make the rulers highly territorial. Invaders in their kingdoms are often met with suspicion, if not outright hostility. Alliances with other kingdoms must be sniffed out tentatively and may be based more on the mutual friendship of two rulers than upon the natural collaborative goals two kingdoms might accomplish together. Ned and Robert loved each other like brothers and accomplished great things together, but Robert (and Ned) might have been a lot better off, if he’d allied himself with, say, Oberon Martell and the kingdom of Dorne instead of his old drinking and warring buddy, Ned.

With all of this in mind, it’s little wonder that the tricky work of trying to create alliances between programs can have disastrous results (Robert Baratheon and Cersei Lannister). Similarly, just going with one’s heart with no regard for practicality can be equally tragic (the Red Wedding). So, how does one go about trying to forge alliances between kingdoms and the rulers of those kingdoms? How do we harness the tremendous talents of these rulers toward a larger purpose without demoralizing and alienating them? This is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately, and I’ll try to make some recommendations in part 3.




On kingdoms, classrooms, and collaboration (Part 1)

On Kingdoms and Classrooms

In my time in education, I’ve come to have a lot of respect for educators who can build successful programs (henceforth called kingdoms so I can work my gratuitous Game of Thrones metaphor like Littlefinger works politics). My own school is absolutely full of exceptional kingdoms with dedicated rulers (teachers) and committed citizens (students). Film, Agri, Drama, Art, Debate; the list could go on and on. These kingdoms impact students positively daily; motivating them and providing formative life experiences that will shape them into the adults they will become. Such articulated programs are extremely valuable for our students and provide a place of belonging, a sense of purpose, and feelings of accomplishment. Today’s Drama I student may go on to become tomorrow’s TED talker. The kid who didn’t care much for regular classes but found her place in the school’s television studio may produce the world changing documentary of tomorrow. Such programs not only teach life and career skills, but they give students a sense of place in providing positive social cliques in which they can interact. Hang out with our literary magazine staff, and you’ll see a tight-knit group of students who speak their own language and observe their own social customs. Finally, all of these programs produce a product, providing intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for participation.

I don’t wish to take away from what these individual rulers, citizens, and kingdoms have been able to accomplish. But what happens when someone comes along and asks them to work together toward something bigger? Well, as anyone who has sat upon the Iron Throne can attest, the results may get ugly.

(Part 2 tomorrow).

Remembering Jason Molina

Jason Molina

As I parked at work this morning in my usual hurry, I started cramming books and laptop into my book bag only to have the sounds from my speakers wrap me up, insistently slow me down, and push me back into my seat. The story of Jason Molina came over the air from NPR and insisted on being heard.

My connection with Molina dates back to an electronic dump a music-loving buddy performed for me; laying Band of Horses, My Morning Jacket, and a host of other artists onto my hard drive for burning to CDs. I remember giving a cursory listen to Molina’s project, Magnolia Electric Co., then passing over it for other more instantly appealing artists from the music dump. Yet like the story on NPR, the music demanded to be heard.

I was driving into the Valle Caldera preserve in New Mexico for a fly fishing trip out of Santa Fe when I slotted Trials and Errors by the Magnolia Electric Co. into my CD player.  The music would become the soundtrack for the remainder of that trip to the Southwest, and it still takes me back to that specific time and place on subsequent listens.

Molina’s story is tragically common: tortured artist, alcohol abuse, dissolution, and eventual death at far too young of an age. The impact he’s made on music and important artists lives on, though. Many have recently paid tribute to him, releasing Farewell Tranmission: The Music of Jason Molina.

Flipping Literacy into the Future


The idea of the Flipped Classrooms has been all the rage in education over the last five years or so. The basic premise is to provide a lecture video online for students and use class time for exercises and work, with the teacher there as support. instead of using the classroom time for the teacher to lecture as “the sage on the stage.” I initially embraced the concept and started pondering ways to flip my classroom as I planned for the next year, but I confess that I never really reached the point where my classroom was fully flipped.

I recently had a flash of insight about flipping: English teachers (and probably other disciplines) have been “flipping” their classrooms for years. When I assign reading for a student, the assumption is that the student will do the reading out of class in order to prepare for the activities in class the next day. In class, we will spend the class period “engaged in collaborative work and concept mastery” (to borrow the phrase used by the Flipped Classroom website). So have we been “flipped” all along?

Admittedly, reading a chapter in a novel, a short story, a series of poems, or a piece of non-fiction isn’t as flashy (or easy) as watching a pithy five minute video of me explaining the material, but is that such a bad thing? I realize that students are more likely to watch a five minute video than read a passage (though I worry that many of our at risk students are equally unlikely to watch a video or read outside of class), but I worry that we’re harming literacy by this constant reduction of the reading requirements for students. We’ve gotten to the point now even our “cheat” sites like Sparknotes have video sections because students prefer to watch their summary/analysis over reading it. What’s the net effect on the ability to read difficult and complex texts when the students most in need of basic literacy skills don’t exercise them? That being said, when I need to fix an appliance in my house, the first place I go now is to youtube, not to my handy, illustrated “How To Fix Everything” manual that I was gifted with at a couple’s shower prior to settling into the married life. Maybe we’re truly moving into a post-literate society where reading comprehension isn’t as necessary as it has been in the past, but, as an English teacher, the thought disturbs me.






Cameron Herold: Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs

Since my wife left her career with another company to start her own business, we’ve found that our kids are more and more interested in the whole idea of start ups. They’re constantly talking about their business ideas. Our current favorite concept from our youngest son is “a business like mom’s except I’ll shoot all people’s stuff to them in tubes… like at the bank.” There’s something wonderful at the way a child’s mind approaches these sorts of things.

There’s some debate on whether someone can be taught to be an entrepreneur (which I dealt with when we were discussing putting “entrepreneurship” in the title of our Small Learning Community). The above TED talk and organizations like Noble Impact argue that entrepreneurship is nurture as much as nature.

Thoughts on Relevance (part 3)

After discovering that their company name, Novo Watches, was already taken, the crestfallen group of students started searching for a solution. Halfway through Startup Weekend and too far into their business model to start over, they met to plot a path forward.

Once again at this point in the vacuum of a normal classroom setting, I’d have just encouraged them to move forward with the name Novo Watches. Since the “company” would disband as soon as the grade was assigned in a class, trademark and IP issues wouldn’t apply. At Startup Weekend, though, the team fully intended to bring their company into the market and hoped to win the Startup Weekend’s fellowship and funding. As such, they needed a viable business model, which meant they had to address any trademark or intellectual property issues as they appeared.

So they decided to “pivot,” which is the idea of finding a new iteration for a company whenever it’s faced with a setback, such as shifting markets or demand. Their pivot was relatively small, as their business concept was still unique with only the name infringing on an existing business. They just needed to change the name and logo (which didn’t make the graphic designer  happy). The new name they decided on? Pivot Watches.

They also won the “Play-Doh Pivot” award for the Startup Weekend, named after the Play-Doh company which pivoted their company’s product from household cleaner to cherished childhood toy. Since returning from Startup Weekend, the team continues to meet after school in an effort to launch their startup, and they’ve continued to pivot as their concept has evolved. They have a google hangout scheduled with a mover in the watch industry and have started working on customer validation for their new ideas.

As a teacher, watching this entire event unfold was almost painful for me. I wanted to rush in and help the team out and solve their problems. I wanted to tell them the best path forward. I wanted to shelter them from the real world. In other words, I wanted to completely remove the relevance from the activity in some misguided effort to “teach” my students. Ironically, these instincts to “teach” would have the exact opposite effect and kill potential learning. Wrestling with this real world issue in an authentic way that involved real consequences beyond a grade provided my students a valuable learning experience. Just as importantly, I learned a few things about relevance as well.

Image courtesy of John David Pittman
Image courtesy of John David Pittman