Why even bother with Superman?


For some time there has been much talk about “Waiting for Superman” but I now feel compelled to join the conversation.

I do believe that this movie did a lot to accelerate the dialogue about what we have done with our education system but to be honest I believe the conversation has headed down the wrong path.The problem is not charter schools vs. public schools and which is better than the other but rather what we, as adults, are doing to our children. Continue reading…

Common Cause

It was really thrilling to be invited to represent the educational part of a recent White House delegation to India, led by White House CTO Aneesh Chopra and Alec Ross, senior adviser for innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.The trip was quite informative for me, since I have not kept up with the educational system in India.


An Indian Classroom

Use of Resources

To be honest, I was expecting the “same old same old” list of complaints… we don’t have enough resources, our teachers don’t show up or aren’t truly present in the classroom, our students are not interested, etc.But what struck me the most was the use of resources:when there are resources, they are not being used in a very productive way.For the most part, the Continue reading…

Words with Friends


I am a big fan of Scrabble – I played it on a board until Facebook offered it online. So, I played it with absolute delight with my friends. Life got even more interesting when “Words with Friends” (a twist on Scrabble) was offered on the iPAD and iPhone. Now – I play with my friends, my children, with their friends, colleagues, my nephew and my sister in India.By now you should be asking “where do you have the time?” I don’t.

“Aren’t you working on your dream project?” Actually, I work all the time.

So when do I play? Whenever I have a few minutes – you don’t need hours like I did with a board. The way these online games work is that you play at your own pace. For example, if I have a few minutes between meetings, when I need something different to do, I can take a turn with whoever else has their game turned on at the same time.

Earlier this year when I was at the TED conference (I love this conference and I go every year) I was watching Jane McGonigal – a game designer – present on gaming and its value proposition. I know that there is a lot going on in this field for learning. The proposition is very simple – by the time gamers are 21 years-old they have played for 10,000 hours. Now we all know that there is literature on this concept “making of an expert.” 10,000 hours is the number of hours that people have to immerse themselves to become an expert. So, I ask what do these gamers become “experts” at?

McGonigal believes that gamers learn four main things from gaming:

  • Urgent optimism
  • Creating a tight social fabric
  • Blissful productivity, and
  • Epic meaning

I have a different view of gaming. Here’s how I think gaming and learning affect players:

  • Excitement about the process – the appealing colorfulness, friendliness and fluidity all combine to produce an exciting process
  • Unpredictability – “what’s coming next” produces endorphins that keep the excitement going
  • “Fix it” mentality – the realization that this is not final and I can always restart and do it again
  • “Face saving” – only I will see the outcome
  • “Instant gratification” – both disappointing as well as rewarding, it allows me to keep going and fix it next time or at least have the chance to fix it
  • “Repeatability” – I can do it again

The question is… is there really any learning going on?  And what does this learning look like?  Can we compromise with this kind of learning with the kind of learning that we have traditionally accepted as real learning?

Cellphoon Reapars (Cellphone Repair)


I cannot help but think about all the money that we are spending on education and educating our future generation. Often I wonder “How much?” “How much is enough?” I struggle with this question and have not come up with any answer yet. We spend billions of dollars and say repeatedly “we are the best country in the world” and yet we are falling behind many other countries in educating our children.

The truth is, people who have passion or curiosity or desire don’t stop. They want to do……. For example, I have seen students sitting in extremely hot temperatures with very little water or food and yet out of these conditions comes brilliance. I know many stories of people who came from places where they had nothing and yet they achieved much. We talk about being turned off by teachers yet there are many examples of teachers who are the “light” behind their students’ love for learning.

I would like to share this snippet from the blog of Shekar Kapur, a leading director of Indian movies. It illustrates the interesting issue of money spent not always correlating with results achieved. This blog excerpt, talks about his experience with a couple of young poor boys in Juhu Market in Mumbai:

“A greater ‘hole in the wall’ you cannot imagine.  A small fading sign on the top saying “Cellphoon reapars” barely visible through the street vendors crowding the Juhu Market in Mumbai. On my way to buy a new Blackberry, my innate sense of adventure (foolishness) made me stop my car and investigate. A shop not more than 6 feet by 6 feet. Grimy and uncleaned.

“Can you fix a blackberry ?”

“Of course , show me.”

“How old are you?”


Bullshit. He was no more than 10. Not handing my precious blackberry to a 10 year old in unwashed and torn T shirt and pyjama’s! At least if I buy a new one, they would extract the data for me. Something I have been meaning to do for a year now.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Well, the roller track ball does not respond. It’s kind of stuck and I cannot operate it.”

He grabs it from my hand and looks at it.

“You should wash your hands. Many customers have same problem. Roller ball get greasy and dirty, then no working.”

Look who was telling me to wash my hands. He probably has not bathed for 10 days; I leaned out to snatch my useless blackberry back.

“You come back in one hour and I fix it.’”

You may wonder “how the heck do these kids with no access of any kind of information know how to work out the problem with a Blackberry?” Yet, fix it they did, he and his brother. In six minutes! Where does all this knowledge or experience come from?

Where would he even get a Blackberry to learn from in the first place?

What does it say about our students and their passion?  What does it say about our constant lamenting about lack of resources?

Is lack of resources just a mindset?  What level of resources is enough to teach and learn from?  Really, is the issue that our students just don’t care about learning the way we teach or what they want to learn?

“I went home having discovered the true entrepreneurship that lies at what we call the ‘bottom of the pyramid’. Some may call it piracy, which of course it is, but what can you say about two uneducated and untrained brothers aged 10 and 19 that set up a ‘hole in the wall’ shop and can fix any technology that the greatest technologists in the world can throw at them.

I smiled at the future of our country.  If only we could learn to harness this potential.

“Please wash your hands before use” were his last words to me. Now I am feeling seriously unclean.”

Food for thought!

(Photo by Podknox http://www.flickr.com/photos/wapster/2457932446/sizes/o/in/photostream/)

Where do we go from here?

You may have noticed that I have not posted on my blog lately. I have been thinking of many things to blog about and have many blogs that I started. I have reached a point where I could not put anything down on paper ideas that I thought were great because every idea made me think about how many things needed to be re-thought.

Everyday we come across a different issue identified as “the issue” – student disengagement, lack of teacher knowledge/training, parents, funding, poor infrastructure, and our society………… The list goes on and on.

Where do you start?

What would it take to change?

Change what?

And then today my oldest daughter sent me the following:

Erica Goldson , a valedictorian from Coxsakie-Athens High School. Her speech pasted here verbatim.  What more can I say!!!!

“Here I stand

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years . .” 
The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” 
Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.”

Comment: The full passage reads: “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever pretensions of politicians, pedagogues other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.”


To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!”

Some comments from our readers…
Ed Jones says:
Neeru, for at least ten years I’ve heard various versions of Erica’s complaint, and, I must say, I still don’t buy a lick of it!
Not that I don’t have a litany of objections of my own to the efficacy of public education (if there even is such a monolith). And not that I don’t have a ton of dreams of my own for what education could be: faster, smarter, more responsive, more engaging!!!
Yet the line of thought leads us nowhere particularly positive.
Erica’s speech is a very well written piece of rhetoric. Thoughtful. Questioning. That in itself proves her twelve years were not wasted.
Just now, I re-read my own graduation speech. Believe me, I knew no words like “pedagogic movement” or “acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism”. I knew that my schooling to date had been far to easy; knew he rough road was ahead.
Does Erica? Does she feel that before she can really ‘rear a pedagogic movement’ she might get a truly balanced education? Economics. Accounting. Finance. Schrodinger equations. Enantiomerism. Law. History. Microbiology. Feedback loops and damped oscillators. Semantic networks and non-monotonic logics?
Fourier transforms? Physical, cultural, and political geography? Anthropology? Proteomics? Statistics? Military science?
Those ‘pieces of paper’ help show that you were ready to, and then did, master these difficult topics.
Every one of these adds a bit more toward making you a better citizen, helping you fall less prey to trends and demigods.
Are the foundations for these ‘brainwashing’? Teachers and other “communicators” tell me that constantly.

Kimberly Lippman says:

As a mother of both a 20 year-old college student and a 3 year-old, I am seeing a rubber-band of intellectual curiosity and inventive thinking. I’m also witnessing a great dichotomy in “compliance to form” – in that my college student knows the drill; the process; the game. And when she chooses, she’s good at it, just as Erica was good at it. My three year old is still feisty enough that the world is complete open – and that there are many, many roads to pursue.
Understanding systems is a critical component to allowing one’s self to determine to what degree one wishes to adhere or dissuade. I hope that Erica will take her fear and realize that just as she has mastered an incredible amount already, she can by choice alone choose to put her formidable intellect towards anything she wishes, and probably come out smelling like a rose. For many, that degree of freedom and latitude is considerably smaller.
I find myself supporting my 20 year-old and cheering her recent decision to take another leave of absence to pursue experiential learning opportunities in the organic farms of Italy. Her father is considerably less amused. And I cheer to quirky, independent and passionately pursued interests of my 3 year-old. As an older parent, I am less interested in moulding her in any traditional sense, and instead really plan on letting her drive her learning process, with guidance, support and a lot of fun stuff to get into – iPad at the ready.
Thanks for all that you do.

Best, Kimberley

Why the objections?

I believe the re-authorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is going to be the defining moment of the American educational system. Either it will become realistic and move us towards teaching and learning that will improve our educational system or it will continue on its backward slide into quicksand.

Everyone has something to say about this Act, as they should. I, too, have my recommendations based upon my experience as an Open Educational Resource (OER) provider.

1. Maintain and improve existing technology programs in ESEA, providing direct funding for innovations that benefit students and teachers.

Set aside funds for a national pilot program for non-profits, districts, states, or a consortium of school districts to partner in providing free, high-quality, standards-aligned digital textbooks and related materials for K-12 classes. Ensure effective implementation through rigorous professional development.

2. Expand the Investing in Innovation (i3) program and the Race to the Top Fund and use them to drive increased usage of OERs.

Include a priority for projects devoted to developing and implementing OERs, including proven digital online textbooks and related materials.

3. Authorize the STEM program proposed in the President’s Blueprint and give priority to developing and implementing high-quality OERs.

Give priority to the creation and implementation of quality instructional materials with language clarifying that they include developing and implementing OERs.

4. Ensure that all programs in ESEA support increased innovation, quality, and efficiency through the integration of digital solutions in instructional materials, complete with professional development for effective implementation.

Allow funds to be spent on the development and implementation of high-quality OERs in the following areas:

  • Title I
  • Teacher effectiveness and quality programs
  • Technology programs
  • STEM programs
  • Anywhere textbooks and related materials are addressed

As you may have figured out, I am asking for more OERs as well as more technology support. In my own defense, I am not advocating excluding anyone from this support. Let me share with you what the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA), of which most publishers are members, has to say about re-authorization:

Support the availability of a variety of educational resources, including through funding and incentivizing private research and development investment into innovative solutions such as digital content, software, assessments, and other interventions.

Do not limit such public-private partnerships only to open-licensed educational resources that remain unproven, may be unsustainable, and discourage investment. Provide policies and processes, including public comment requirements, to ensure that the U.S. Department of Education will not directly develop and deliver such resources unless there is compelling need, including that: (1) it is an inherently governmental function and/or delivers inherently governmental information; and (2) there does not exist a non-federal entity currently providing, or best positioned to provide, the same or similar product.

This kind of action creates confusion and fear. OERs are not about discouraging businesses. On the contrary, openness allows you to create your own marketplace – taking open material and developing it. In fact, we are giving you the material on a silver platter. So what exactly are we talking about? The amount that was put on the table by the Federal Department of Education (DOE) was only $50 million for ten years. Compare that to the billions made available through national organizations (NIH, NSF…) to produce content that eventually become the property of the publishers when they publish these findings.

OERs are not unproven – would anyone call MIT’s work unproven? Would anyone call Wikipedia unsustainable? On the other hand, have textbooks been wildly successful? Is the textbook model sustainable without the handouts from the federal government?

OERs provide one more option while co-existing with, NOT REPLACING, other options.

Unfortunately, in this discourse we seem to be forgetting about the children – and, in the end, it is all about the children. So why the objections?

Change is coming

My four kids who have never lifted a finger to help in the kitchen and have very diverse interests provided me a day that I will always remember.  May 8th, 2010, a date I will always remember, because that became a very special Mother’s Day. They finally got the norms as laid out our society for mother’s day – do something special and meaning full for mother on her day (and hopefully the same for father’s day).
I still remember the day all four of them climbed on to my bed to wish me happy mother’s day – the youngest one was just couple of years old.  The four of them were born 5 years apart.  We should have bought stocks in diaper companies! Alas.  The joy of getting the same treatment as others get on this special day makes us feel at peace with ourselves.  In doing so we feel as if we are part of the society and not outsiders.  All of these years my wonderful husband was doing this for them – sending beautiful flowers and making dinner reservations, although always at the same resturant.  This year it was business as usual – flowers arrived and I was all set for going for dinner except at the last minute.  I saw that magically bags of groceries had arrived.  Yes, they were going conventional and were going to cook a dinner for me.  I couldn’t help but wonder who was going to get hurt first!
So you may ask what does this have to do with education?  Great question.  So let me tell you my perspective.
Somethings just make sense and have value that is hard to deny.  In Eastern culture there are some things that you “just do” because there is sense that it has “value”.  Here is a short list pertaining to education:
  • You belong in a family and there is a value to this belonging which becomes clearer and important as you age
  • As a family unit your value system is your own to adher to
  • You are expected to respect each other especially the older members
  • You always help each other
These are some of the things that are a given and most people live with these kinds of rules.  There is another value that easterners hold very close to our hearts – You will get an education, no matter what.  No excuses, no choices……..

Perhaps, I state it more strongely then I should.  The bottom line is that the pay-offs, not just financially, of a good education are huge.  When ever parents are involved with their young ones the young ones tend to be better off.  All the lucky ones whose parents are involved with their education, tend to do well and get good education.  And, a good life.

There is an underlying premise here – that culture, caring, and commitment are all important.  If the students preceive that people in their lives and in their culture value education then that becomes the norm parallel to the norm that says “do something meaningful if you want to show your mother that you care about her and value her”.  If each child sees and values something that is part of their family unit then that value system becomes strong and becomes part of their and their peers world.
What are the value systems we want to for our children?

Olympics and TED conference

I had a very grueling yet exhilarating experience.  First, I was at the “Olympics for the mind” – The Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Conference – followed by a week of Winter Olympics Games for the soul in Vancouver. Never assume that the audience is “just watching.”  It is quite hard work to attend these events.

These two events represent a strange but widely accepted truth.  There is a difference in striving to be your best in sports vs. striving to be the best in intellectual abilities.

During the Winter Olympics, I saw a very contagious spirit.  Those Canadians sure are a kind and welcoming group, and they sure know how to party.  Their  celebratory spirit acknowledged and embraced the hard work put into the performances of the athletes.  The whole place reverbrated when someone performed well.  It is a testament to the human spirit.  The athletes are admired for their accomplishments.  The accolades, award ceremonies, media coverage, and the big dollar endorsements – celebrate the athlete.  Hundreds of thousands attended, with many more millions interested and watched these terrific feats real time on TV or on the web.

TED on the other hand, holds a very different atmosphere 3 1/2 days of people shared their work, creativity, accomplishments, hardships, and their dreams for humanity.  From Al Gore to Bill Gates to Jamie Oliver – all of whom want to impact humanity in some way while applying their intellectual abilities.  These speakers are equally as awesome as the athletes in the Olympics, as both groups are examples of dedication, hard work, and pure excellence.  Yet the numbers of people who celebrate and appreciate the accomplishments of the TED celebs are far fewer than ones celebrating the Olympics athletes.  Why?

Why do we celebrate the athletes?  Why do we not openly celebrate and embrace intellectualism?  Is developing the muscle more valuable than developing the brain?  Intellectualism feels like elitism, yet sports do not.  In reality, sports are also an “exclusive club.”  Many people work all their lives trying to be the best in their sport.  Only a few make it to the coveted famed level.  One persons intellectual abilites do not diminish the intellectual abilities of others or should even be perceived as such.

Let me give you an example, two of my children ski competitively.  Whenever I am around them and their fellow skiers.  I cannot help but feel the atmosphere of free abandon.  They “enjoy” their passion.  Watching a three or four year old youngster, new to skiing, go up the ” carpet” so that they can ski down, it occured to me that the parents who push these young ones are not seen in the same light as those parents who strive to stretch the limits of their children’s intellectual abilities.  They are accused of being “pushy” and depriving the children of their childhood.  Have you ever seen a child practice to get to the top of their sport?  All the figure skaters at the Olympics are very young and have done nothing but spend their entire young lives at practice, practice, and more practice.  Why is that acceptable?  Why do we celebrate these athelese and not equally celebrate the children who dedicate their hearts and souls to reaching their intellectual aspirations?

We can do better

Never let schooling interfere with your education”

– Mark Twain

The problem of education is not a new problem. It was present in Mark Twain’s time and it is now still present in the 21st century.  How many Einstein’s have we lost in this mode?  During my life I have the privilege to have had several educations, the one that was issued to me by the schools that I attended, the one that I sought out on my own when I found the one I was issued was lacking, and the one that came along with my role as a parent as I watched and participated in my children’s education. And, like most of you, I paid close attention, most of the time and came away with knowledge, ideas, opinions, and a perspective on the process.  The most compelling perspective that I had and we probably all saferly agree on is that we can and must do better.

The educational system upon which we are building our future is inconsistent and inefficient and the result is that we quite literally waste a substantial number of our most valuable natural resources, our children.

When we do it well and there are many examples of this, we can deliver an outstanding education that understands the needs of the students, keeps them engaged and excited, and the results can be breathtaking.   The tragedy of education is that, for most students, this is simply unavailable, and when we do it wrong, they can be irreversibly damaged and many will never recover.   Our failure to do the best job possible with the education of all children everywhere has global implications.

We can and we must do better.

To Warehouse or not to warehouse?

The old Roosevelt warhouse on the edge of Corktown has the aura of a graveyard.  It’s as if this is the place where knowledge went to die.
Detroit Public school warehouse fire
Thus read the editorial story of the Detroit Public school Textbook depository that was abandoned after a fire on the third floor of the building on March 4th, 1987.  The building was sold as is with all the books, many in their original wrapping.  The official estimate of damage was estimated at several millions of dollars for the content alone. Not at all clear how many millions of dollars.
According to Reginald Ciokajlo, then superintendent of support services, the district was lucky that most of that year’s textbooks and materials had already been delivered and none of the prinicipals had placed their orders for the next year’s textbooks.  School and student records going back to 1918 were destroyed.
It dawned on me that there is another world in content production that we don’t often think about.  For the buying institutes there are more issues than just buying and adoption of the content.  This world involves – large expensive spaces to “house” textbooks, people to manage the processes involved, ensuring that we have redundancy in textbook orders – just in case…….. These kinds of requirements add another huge dimension to the cost of our education system.
How many of us think about all these things? What is the reason for such redundancy?

Shelves for books for subject and grade level
How much money are we going to accept as spending for “redundancy”? “How could this have happen?” “Because of the fire how many children had gone without textbooks in the city?”
You may argue that this is a rare event that it does not happen very often.  However, this example still gives us food for thought.  It is unbelievable that, although our dependence on print may not go away, we do not take avail of the technologies that allow us to create redundancies that afford us protection from such disasters.
One can argue that there are weaknesses on both sides – the books can be destroyed easily; computers have their own problems – what happens when the computer crashes or the light goes out. It is by far easier to provide redundancy in an online system rather than the paper-based solution.  For that reason alone we have to get our content online.