To Smil's point, real improvement is not going to fall like "manna from heaven" into our schools, nor is it going to come from "fairy-tale solutions," no matter how many apps we can access. For all schools, independent, private, public, it's going to take real effort--better policies and more thoughtful and intentional practices--to move education forward.

What is the influence of Big Money on education, even at places like Yale, where even a giant gift represents only a relative drop in a $20.8 billion endowment bucket? Put more edgily, don't big gifts tend to come with agendas and expectations, even if the expectations are carefully masked by words of openness and pure intention?

If there are able, invested kids whom the College Board's efforts to aid with fee waivers and information can propel to the next level, then I'm a fan. If all of their initiatives to support underrepresented and underserved populations are going to become the full focus of their attention, then I'm a fan.

Coleman even said, the head of the outfit that gave the world mass standardized testing (and the idea that a test can be a singular measure of something important, like a kid's worthiness to be a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist), "We don't need more tests [for kids], we need more opportunities." Wow. Huh.

The Maker Movement, it strikes me, is a kind of glorified acknowledgment, often without the actual acknowledgment, that human children--and adults--need to be handling things and actually doing things physically every bit as much as they need to be thinking about them, talking about them, exploring them on the internet, or figuring out ways to sell them via social media.

We don't want to be in competition with one another, but we do want to be our best, each in our own way. As much as we have traditionally valued our autonomy, we know that we will grow the most in professional communities characterized by collaboration, cooperation, and just plain sharing. Excelling is not competing; it's doing the very best by our students in the fullest expression of the aims and values of our schools.

Perhaps in schools of the future, with experiential learning and creative problem-solving at the heart of the curriculum, kids will await the end of summer as a time to return to an experience that will so honor their needs and nature as to make the prospect of school actually seem better than vacation.

I think many of my generation of male teachers, with varying experiences navigating the waters of what the news magazines assured us was a Feminist Revolution, had been chastened more than a little on the meaning of masculinity and manhood, and so we tried to help our male students exchange bluster and boisterousness for an occasional listen and maybe even the occasional tear. I don't know how well it worked, but we felt we were doing our small part to win obscure battles in the most remote fields of that revolution.

We sometimes forget, and the media and our politicians tend to forget even more quickly, that "schools are for kids;" my school head's maxim for teachers is the essential truth of our work. This type of school or that type of school isn't better, although it might serve one kind of kid more effectively. But it's not about competition, not about winning, for God's sake--it's about diversity of opportunity for a diversity of learners.

Schools that have truly transformed faculties and practice have been really good at reaching out, at engaging even skeptics in the collaborative work of understanding where the school must go and why. This work is about conversation, exploration, even debate and occasional dispute.


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