I have barely scratched the surface of my reading/viewing list from the Schools of Conscience meeting. The quick and easy bits were… well, quick and easy, and led me to such tangents as Benjamin Zander’s “The transformative power of classical music” (which is not only about classical music, but still was mostly for fun).
Slightly more time-consuming, but still fairly light and fun, has been Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. His arguments match Dave’s and my own experiences, which we’ve discussed extensively (we’re very interested in why we do what we do, and often have conversations along the lines of “I was watching myself react to such-and-such today, and I noticed…”). So although I wasn’t aware of most of the specific research he cited, some of it was familiar, and his overall conclusions were enjoyable but not surprising to me. I wish I’d read that book back when I was taking my Software Engineering (i.e., project management) class in grad school, for the professor’s notions of human motivation were decidedly old-school.
(Drive did make me think a lot about homeschooling, for that’s the endeavor in my life where my motivations are trickiest. But that’s something I’ll need to chew on a bit more.)
I also recently finished A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century. That had been a general homeschooling read, not something I got from the Schools of Conscience meeting, but it connects in via one of its major points: that teachers do not educate; students educate. The fundamental work and drive come from the student, and if we ignore that we can fall into the trap of thinking that teachers have all the power, and students just passively receive information. My own experience is that learning something, regardless of how challenging it is, feels natural and enjoyable as long as I can find my own intrinsic motivation for doing so. If I’m only doing it to please someone else or to pass a class… well, I can still learn it long enough to write it down on the test, but it isn’t fun and the information gets shuffled out of my brain almost immediately.
This is not to say that teachers can’t be great mentors, for they can. One of my greatest mentors (after my parents) was an English teacher named Miss Smith, who was so good at opening up the world of literature to her students that I still enjoy Shakespeare and remember the power of The Grapes of Wrath. In Thomas Jefferson Education, mentoring is a critical process; but learning still relies fundamentally on the student. If we believe that model, though, it makes you wonder about systems where a teacher is “graded” based on how well his students do on a test…
What I haven’t made much headway on has been the charter school information. Don Berg was kind enough to point me toward reports on various aspects of the charter school system in this state and nationwide, and I’ve been trying to get a handle on how different states manage charters and how well the system works. (In New Orleans there are apparently only charter schools, which I find fascinating but have not yet looked into.) I went into the Schools of Conscience meeting all fired up to learn about the system and work on how to change it, but Don seems to feel that isn’t the nearest-term goal; and I’m starting to agree with him.
There’s a fun graphic at the Center for Education Reform that touches on charter schools. They have what they call a Parent Power Index, which takes into account various things like charter schools, transparency, etc, and by which they rate each state. Oregon and Washington both get D’s. I take their analysis with a grain of salt; their perspective on Teacher Quality definitely does not follow a Thomas Jefferson Education perspective!