WHY DO WE STILL TREAT EDUCATION LIKE IT’S 1906?

Why do we still use a 19th-century invention— The Carnegie Unit—to determine if our kids are ready to graduate in 2019?

Also, what the heck is a Carnegie Unit?

Watch the latest video in our #AskWhy series  — a series that has now been viewed by more than ten million of you — to find out.

The same way may not be the best way.

Diverse by Design: Episode 3 (Never Teach Alone)

Powerful learning is a relational act; it never occurs alone.

Why, then, do we expect our teacher to hone their craft in isolation?

In episode 3 of the six-part series, Diverse by Design, we meet two of Crosstown High’s inaugural class of teachers, and learn why they believe that co-teaching is the only way to go. So be prepared: their perspective may change the way you think about the future of learning — and what it will require.

Diverse by Design: Episode 2 (Project Based Learning)

How active should learning be? How relevant? And what is required of adults if they are serious about expecting that kids will have a different experience — and a different feeling — in that thing we call ‘school’? 

In a new six-part series from 180 Studio, we witness one community’s efforts to answer those questions.

In the city of Memphis, in a formerly abandoned Sears warehouse, a new school, Crosstown High, is aspiring to model something that hasn’t been seen before — a version of school that looks nothing like the schools most of us attended or experienced, and an explicit commitment to weave together a community of young people who embody the full range of Memphis’s social, economic, and ethnic diversity.

This is Diverse by Design.

Diverse by Design: Episode 1 (The First Day of School)

How do you reimagine something that has looked the same for generations? And what does a diverse society require — and need — in order to support a shared commitment to the common good?

In a new six-part series from 180 Studio, we witness one community’s efforts to answer both questions.

In the city of Memphis, in a formerly abandoned Sears warehouse, a new school, Crosstown High, is aspiring to model something that hasn’t been seen before — a version of school that looks nothing like the schools most of us attended or experienced, and an explicit commitment to weave together a community of young people who embody the full range of Memphis’s social, economic, and ethnic diversity.

This is Diverse by Design. I hope you’ll watch, share, & comment . . .

This film about a public Montessori school in Memphis says everything about who we are, who we were, & who we aspire to be

I am so proud of our newest film for 180 Studio.

At its most literal, A Little Piece of Something is a story about a public Montessori school in Memphis that is changing the way people think — about their community, about public education, and about the best way(s) to foster a healthy identity in young children.

At its core, however, it’s a story of how we come to understand who we are and why we matter. It interweaves three different narrative threads: the inextricable relationship between the health of a community and the health of its schools; the impact of structural racism on our individual and collective sense of identity; and the mission of public Montessori programs, which offer a radically different model of healthy child development than the conventional “reform” approach (i.e., KIPP, Success Academy, etc.) to educating low-income children of color.

I hope you’ll watch and share — and if you do, we hope you’ll join me in considering some larger questions worth wrestling with:

What assumptions have we made in America about children living in poverty that this school is directly challenging?

In what ways has structural racism impacted the ways we see public education, child development, and one another?

And finally, what have we become as a country, and what do we wish to become?

#thisisamerica (to me)

Whatever side of the culture war you’re on — and, unless you’re really not paying attention, you’re on one — this much seems clear: America is having an identity crisis.

We the people occupy different worlds. We read different newspapers, watch different TV shows, and hold up different heroes. We see one another as objects to be avoided or crushed, not reasoned with or understood. We feel increasingly certain of the other side’s madness. We have begun to lose hope, check out, and give up.

So it may surprise you to learn that a new 10-part documentary series about an Illinois high school is the Must-See TV of the moment. And yet three questions at the center of America to Me — which are literally posed at the start of the school year to a group of students still shaking off the languorous hold of the summer — strike at the root of our ongoing identity crisis:

Who are you? Who does the world think you are? And what’s the difference?

For the students of Oak Park River Forest, a diverse public high school of 3,200 students located at the edge of Chicago’s West side, these are the questions that contain multitudes. And for Oak Park’s students of color in particular, they are the questions that reveal the extent to which even a community like theirs, which was shaped by progressive housing and social policies, remains burdened by America’s original sin.

“Much of our contemporary thinking about identity is shaped by pictures that are in various ways unhelpful or just plain wrong,” explains NYU professor Kwame Anthony Appiah in his new book about identity, The Lies That Bind. And when it comes to issues of race, “not only did European racial thinking develop, at least in part, to rationalize the Atlantic slave trade, it played a central role in the development and execution of Europe’s nineteenth- and twentieth-century colonial projects.”

This is the toxic legacy under which we labor today. It’s what makes people see Colin Kaepernick as either a hero or a villain; it’s what sparks the messianic fervor at each new Donald Trump rally; and it’s what leads one of America to Me’s many student stars, a charismatic senior named Charles, to observe ruefully that “this school was made for White kids because this country was made for White kids.”

Yet the series outlines more than one set of truths. Its title comes from a Langston Hughes poem, Let America be America Again, in which Hughes writes that “America never was America to me.” Throughout the same poem, however, Hughes yearns for the other side of the American story, the one where “my land [can] be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.” And in the same episode in which we hear Charles bemoan the racialized design of his school, we also hear a teacher tell a group of incoming freshmen that “when you come to this house, represent who you are.”

Which is it?

Is Oak Park the rare example of a multiracial community in which all people can represent who they are in equal measure? Or is it just another example of how our country’s intractable, deeply ingrained ways of thinking about race (and one another) have yielded two opposite realities for White and Black families, and a schizophrenic message of which parts of oneself are truly welcome, and which parts are too dangerous, misunderstood, and feared?

The beauty of America to Me is that its answer is always “both/and.” The complexity of the problems we face are allowed to hang there for us to wrestle with, unresolved.

In its window into a modern American high school, for example, we see cringeworthy examples of unaware teachers, uninterested students, and uneasy reminders of the ways in which American schools remain unchanged by the tectonic shifts of the wider world. But we also see what makes schools like Oak Park so magical — the sheer variety of what you can explore and experience, the quality and commitment of the master teachers among us, and the ways in which each day can leave a student feeling seen or ignored, heard or silenced. As one teacher puts it, “I don’t think people understand how life and death this job can be.” And as another points out, as if to clarify the source of the stakes, “In this community, when we mention race, all hell breaks loose.”

Of course, they’re not alone. The shadow of America’s racial legacy is at the root of how we see ourselves and one another — all of us, no matter our color, our politics or our age. And in their willingness to courageously confront the third rail of American civic life as the cameras roll, the students, families and teachers of Oak Park have provided the rest of us with a precious and timely gift — an extended window into how far we remain from having the confidence and clarity to honestly confront, and then answer, the only questions that matter:

Who are you? Who does the world think you are? And what’s the difference?

A new episode of America to Me airs each Sunday night this fall on STARZ, or online at starz.com/series/americatome.

What are the sacred cows of American schooling?

This year, 180 Studio joined forces with ATTN and Education Reimagined to produce a four-part video series challenging mainstream thinking about some of the “sacred cows” of American schooling.

Our goal was to spark reflection on two fundamental questions: How should we continue to think about the structure and purpose of public education? And which rituals and habits from our collective past should we hold onto — and which should we let go of, in order to reimagine teaching and learning for a rapidly changing world? 

As of today, I’m pleased to say that more than five million of you have watched, shared, and/or commented on our examinations of 1) our love of letter grades, 2) our overreliance on rote memorization, 3) our dependence on classrooms, and 4) our habit of grouping kids based solely on their age.

If you missed an episode, here’s how to watch and learn more.

Episode 1: Memorization

Episode 2: Classrooms

Episode 3: Ages

Episode 4: Grades

And if we do additional episodes, and tackle additional sacred cows, which ones would you most want us to explore?

To Remodel American Education, We May Need to Slaughter Some Sacred Cows

Watch this video. What do you see?

 

Literally, of course, it’s a sacred cow. And what strikes me is how everyone around it unconsciously adjusts what they do, to the point that the cow has become all but invisible to the chaos of a morning commute — and how ridiculous that is.

We have sacred cows here, too — but whereas in Nepal they literally block traffic, in America they block our ability to think in new ways. And I can think of no aspect of our shared public life with more sacred cows than America’s schools:

Grades. Bells. Schedules. Credit Hours. Classrooms. Tests. Transcripts. Homework. 180 days. Age-based cohorts.

And the list could go on.

For that reason, 180 Studio and ATTN are partnering on a new series, Ask Why, that is designed to help us reflect on a fundamental question:

How should we continue to think about the structure and purpose of public education? Which rituals and habits from our collective past should we hold onto — and which should we let go of in order to reimagine teaching and learning for a rapidly changing world?

So stay tuned for the first few episodes in the series — and keep your eyes open for sacred cows. They’re everywhere.