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Has the Dept of Education Co-Opted Our Spaces?

Written by Kevin Hodgson
August 04, 2012

(this is reposted from my blog)

The other night, on Teachers Teaching Teachers, host Paul Allison asked a pointed series of questions of Darren Cambridge, one of the organizers behind this month’s Connected Educator events. Allison wondered out loud if Cambridge’s work as a consultant with the US Department of Education to bring more teachers into conversations about connected spaces might also be infringing on what makes those spaces so special to begin with. That is, Allison was wondering what the presence of the DoE does to teachers who, on their own, are making connections that are meaningful and situated with personal inquiry, without the overarching directive from administrators and government agencies.

Let me just say that I like the idea of dedicating time to invite more colleagues into connected spaces and conversations, and Cambridge seems like a smart, thoughtful facilitator of the effort. (The research group that he works for — American Institutes for Research — has been hired as a consultant by the Department of Education to oversee the Connected Educator initiative). I liked how Cambridge talked about the idea of nurturing experiences for connected teachers so that they hopefully bringing those experiences back into the classrooms to impact students, and how the Connected Educator might be a starting place for some teachers not sure of where to begin.

But Paul Allison made an important point about government intrusion, and it is a worry that we need to keep in our minds.

If our spaces and connections are sanctioned and coordinated from a government body (or, even in the case of a school district, by a superintendent or administrative team), doesn’t that take some of the agency out of the teachers who are searching for a space to connect and follow their own paths of inquiry? We even noted how many publishers are now marketing their materials with “blended learning” and other tags that liberally borrow terminology from a real movement in education, and then package it up in expensive programming that is watered-down learning experiences for students (but makes school administrators feel good because they have invested money in technology-infused learning).

Fellow TTT participant and NWP colleague Paul Oh likened Paul Allison’s line of questioning to past discussions about blogging in the classroom, and what happens when teachers (as an official voice of adulthood and authority) validate online writing that young people do outside of school by making it a school writing assignment? Does that make the blogging less meaningful for young writers? (I say, yes, but agree with Paul Oh that this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try).

On TTT, after thinking about what Paul Allison was asking, I responded that we should consider this an opportunity to use the networking power of the DoE to showcase ways that teachers can learn from each other. We can use it, as it may be using us, even though that feels uncomfortable. The alternative is that we have a government system that ignores the powerful learning and connections that can transform teaching, and we don’t want that, either, do we?

A larger question in my mind, too, is: Given the Department of Education’s role in Connected Educator, are they gathering data of those connections and sharing of teaching for some larger analysis of teaching culture? My guess is that this is probably the case, given the money they are investing in the effort (see some initial reporting already underway) and the fact that Cambridge’s group is a research organization.

Peace (in the wondering),

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