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Everyone is a genius
but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole
life believing
it's stupid. There I was working with a student, Natalie, on solving equations
she had to multiply two times nine and got stuck
and this happens all the time I'm used to it but I decided to go for the
teaching moment
all she had to do is count by 2's 9 times
Now, she tried and failed 4 different times on her fingers on paper in English
and Spanish
2, 4, 8, 12? Natalie was 16 years old
and in the ninth grade and she's not alone not by a long shot.
I teach at a high school with a student population of near 3000
it's one of thirty thousand high schools across the US, so you have to imagine
how many natalie's are out there? Now i've seen the best of our school system
and I can say that our best students can compete with the best students from around
the world. In fact,
when looking at the PISA results that compares our students to other countries
we currently ranked in the twenties yet if we desegregate
our results by district poverty level it compare the US District to those top
countries by poverty rates
it is clear that our students are at the top.
But our best students are only a small percentage of the overall population
even in the honors classes and then what about the Natalie's?
I specialize in teaching algebra to the bottom 25 percent of high school students
and I work mostly with those
students now the best of those students want to do well but when they
realize what they're capable of
their either stuck in a path of academic mediocrity
or they're so close to graduation they just need a credit to pass.
Its almost like a scene of wasted potential. Now the worst of those
students have had no education of character common decency
appropriate language appropriate behavior they barely know right from
These are the students who are at risk of dropping out
incarceration or abusing social welfare. Now what's out there waiting
for those students jobs, college?
They're in an education system that says if you don't go to college
you have no worth so their only alternative is to be
underemployed to find illegal work or to abuse social welfare.
Those students are marginalized by what I call
a toxic culture of education.
It doesn't matter if this student is a gifted artist a loving caretaker
talented musician
or poetic writer those students are the fish being judged on how they climb
trees because we say the
end-all be-all is college or we're leaving students to the lowest
skill level work. Even in the honors classes the students are so wrapped up about
grades and answers they're afraid
to learn and thats impacting how they're performing at college but I am NOT here
to talk about the current student loan debt crisis. They have to understand I
don't place the blame
on them yes they can take credit for who they are but this is about something
much bigger than the students.
Our toxic culture of education begins with a classic
super villain archetype. I focus on Syndrome from The Incredibles
the super villains plan is to unleash a doom on to the world that
only the supervillain can stop thus gaining all the desired power.
Now this is exactly what happened in education in the nineteen eighties and
it culminated in No Child Left Behind. Private education companies realized
they can use public education a multi-billion dollar industry
to create a nearly endless stream of taxpayer money.
They channeled millions of dollars into lobbying
efforts and focused on two words, rigor and accountability
and put everything into place. State statutes were passed
district rules were enforced and then finally No Child Left Behind became the
national standard.
Don't get me wrong about politics these efforts were underway long before they
were passed so both parties get to take full credit
for their disastrous results especially the race to the top.
We somehow took the education system that produced the individuals who put a
man on the moon
with technology less powerful than the phone in my pocket
and characterized that education system as a failure
using the word accountability. We only have one way to address
accountability, standardized testing. So we implemented standardized testing
and then a 1983 publication called "A Nation at Risk" showed
standardized tests proved schools were failing
teachers were failing students were failing, and when everything is
failing guess what we need? New text books, new workbooks, new resources, new
training accountability systems, new schools
private schools, charter schools and who is it that creates
all of these things that all of a sudden we need? Our super villain:
private education companies. The only way to feed a business
model in this toxic culture of education
is to perpetuate a picture of failure. I would love to meet
any education company that has a business model
that is built upon long-term student success.
There simply is no money in long-term student success.
Now, how is it that we can believe that a standardized test is what accurately
student achievement? How can we believe that it measures
student growth, that moment when a student's light bulb
is finally lit, "ah ha!" That moment when a student says
"thank you" for helping him graduate with a 2.0 GPA.
How can we attach a number to that moment when a third grader finally has
the ability
to write his own name who, by the way, has been labeled a
failure for himself, his teacher, and his school.
Yet we crave education standardization we believe we need these high-stakes
because we eat up the misinformation provided by these companies and policies
using a false validity of their testing results.
Our testing culture begins in elementary school.
Colleagues of mine work with third-graders third-graders who suffer
anxiety from high stakes testing from a one day one shot four hour computer
based test
the future path of a student is set, an academic identity is established, and
a message is delivered loud and clear either you can or you can't make it!
And no matter what the teacher tells the student about how good they are
or what talents they have, if the student doesn't score well on that high-stakes
test the third graders know exactly what it means
and begin to define themselves. It's starting to happen now
in kindergarten. So we continue this barrage of standardized tests and the
students continue failing
in the districts have to continue the next initiatives
that can solve the problems who is it that manufactures these products? Who
creates these
solutions? Our super villain: private companies like Pearson and McGraw-Hill
who operate off policy and legislation written by non-profit organizations and
lobbying groups like ALEC,
the American Legislative Exchange Council. Buy the next text book! Buy the
next workbook! Buy the next digital software package,
the next teacher evaluation system. I have been through three
algebra one text books in seven years and still we stick
to the standardized tests. Guess who makes those?
In this toxic culture we illogically attempt to compare
education to business we completely ignore the impact of poverty
and hunger on student achievement and we pay no attention
to the non cognitive factors like personal habits and personal values
that are the realistic measures and predictors of student achievement. And that
we can place the blame on the schools and on the teachers
to continue the cycle. And because we have a toxic
culture of education, the teachers and the schools
have accepted this accountability for all students even those
students. We take the blame for a student who can't focus in class
because she hasnt eaten since yesterday's lunch. We take the blame for
a student who's always in trouble in school
because he doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. We take the
blame for a student who can't stay awake in class
because she spends her nights on a different couch depending on which
friend takes her in.
And when these students don't score well,l it's about to get worse
the Common Core will do even more damage because it's emphasis on high-stakes
testing matched
with its myopic standards that are disguised in critical thinking.
I've seen my daughter's kindergarten and first grade assignments
this isn't critical thinking, this is developmentally inappropriate
rote. You think they can fool me with this stuff?
Any education reform that doesn't address high-stakes testing
and the non cognitive factors of true success like character
and integrity is a complete waste of time and it's killing our kids.
Right now the public narrative in education is all about curriculum,
all about schools, all about teachers. We need to start paying attention
to our students and who they are. If a student fails
algebra one in their ninth grade year, I can tell you chances are that it's not
because it was too hard
or they didn't get it. Chances are that its not because they had a bad teacher
or were at a bad school. If a student fails
in the ninth grade year the chances are it's because the student was missing some
type with intangible characteristic a non
cognitive factor that enables them to succeed.
Things like perseverance, initiative, social skills, communication skills,
curiosity, sometimes a full belly or a good night's sleep.
Yet none of these things are considered our definitions accountability.
None of these things are considered in our policies so all the talk about failing
and failing teachers and how we need to improve the teachers and the schools
needs to be shifted to include failing students
and how can we help the students. How can we help them be
better students better people how can we help them with these non cognitive
like work ethic and character? How can we make sure that they're getting enough
that they're getting enough to eat, that they're showing up for class? Its the
public narrative
that has to be shifted. We must talk about what is happening in the lives of
our students.
Even our honor students, because we're simply creating a massive population of
future citizens
who are afraid to attend anything challenging, unable to read or think
or unable to find a way to turn a meaningful income, I'll get to that in a
Right now in this toxic culture all students are forced
to study abstract classes in order to be
college-ready and we throw around buzz words like "rigor"
and "STEM" and the public loves it! We eat it up, we think it's fantastic but we're
missing the point that "rigor"
has replaced the word "relevant." I met with our district and I pitched the idea
to bring back home economics but this time as a math credit
First words in the response, "That's not
rigorous." So forget teaching students about measurement,
taxes, discounts, loans, credit, debt, retirement planning because it's not as
as factoring trinomials and graphing logarithmic functions
so it can't fit. There's no room for that in this toxic culture of education.
There's also no room for the arts and for imagination which are being
systematically removed from our public schools
because I don't think anyone profits from those things. Now we have already
felt the
impact of our education policies there are thousands of highly skilled jobs
right now. There's opportunity for small business development and innovation like
never before. Yet where are the majority
our students and graduates? There is an enormous opportunity
in this economy for our students but we just don't
enable it in the schools because we're so focused on accountability
and standardized testing and rigor and college-ready.
If we focus our attention on getting students what they need to find their
in this economy, all students, especially those
students would value education more highly, use their time more wisely
and make better decisions outside of school.
Now we gotta keep the college-bound students going to college. We gotta
continue that path.
However, we need to be more successful and more innovative.
But what about the Natalie's? I've got students that want to be tattoo artists,
mechanics, barbers, they want work. Some want to open their own businesses but they
are those
students. They constantly failed their classes they're always in trouble in
school they may not even graduate
so I say let's scrap algebra for them let's teach those students some tangible
work skills that can help them in the future the same way we used to do in the
system before
it was labeled as a failure! Why not get students out there making a living for
rather than us spending another ten thousand dollars in taxpayer money for
another year of school for them to learn how to factor trinomials?
Why not get them into the economy? How do we deal with all these issues
on a grand scale? I believe in Horseman's
eighteen fifties vision of an education system that can improve man kind.
In public education we've got an amazing opportunity to mold a better tomorrow,
yet what we are currently doing is so incredibly toxic.
I have two solutions that would be better. The first idea I am not a big fan
in fact I don't like it. We could completely
defund public education give back the 750
billion dollars into our pockets, no more taxpayer money
going to private companies and nonprofit organizations
in the name of public education and on the heads our public school children,
because let me tell you that money's not getting to them or to the classrooms
it's certainly not going to teacher's... My second idea which I am in favor of
is to double down on public education we've got to eliminate these toxic
policies, eliminate
this focus on high-stakes testing, eliminate the corruption
in the cash flow. Get the resources more directly to the students
focus on them, on their abilities, on their non cognitive factors.
Train and allow the teachers to develop relationships with their students
and assess them on what they truly need to know: thinking,
reasoning, and learning. I believe in the potential greatness of a public education
done right. And so do my colleagues
but speaking of my colleagues, the public narrative
on teachers, thanks to education reformers like Michelle Rhee and
Bill Gates, is that our public schools are teaming with horrible teachers.
The reality is that most teachers are accomplishing amazing peaks of human
achievement and motivation with their students
every day and what they're able to accomplish is being done to spite
a professional environment of questioning, belittling,
and self-doubt due to accountability measures and evaluation systems we had no
stake in even creating.
And teaching used to be called the noble profession,
so why not make teaching a profession once again?
Why not train and allow the teachers to develop their own assessment systems
that can better fit their students needs?
Why not encourage teachers to collaborate with one another
or at least have a peer review system like in other
professions. Why not involve teachers in the policy-making decisions at the
school level, the district level, the state and national level?
The truth of education policy is that it is written and enforced by people who
have spent either little or no time in the classroom with the students
these very policies are affecting. Take a look at the makeup
of any boards of education, including local school boards
and secretaries of education. Why not involve the individuals in direct
contact with the students to help mold and shape the environment
of the students. Education is the only industry,
and its a 750 billion dollar industry,
that is developing a product without any valid market research
from its end users. Students aren't asked what they want or need,
the teachers in the schools aren't asked would work for their students the public
has to be shifted. The schools and the teachers are not the enemy.
It is the private corporations like Pearson that pay the lobbying groups like
ALEC to write these policies and laws that get passed over steak dinners
and campaign contributions because the words like "rigor"
and "accountability" to perpetuate a bottom line on the heads of our public school
Simply follow the money of all the public tax dollars going to public education
how much of that money is going to private companies and nonprofit
for materials, training, resources, vouchers, accountability systems
and the education bureaucracy because the policy support that? Simply,
follow the money. So we have to fight this toxic culture of
education we have to change the public narrative away from the curriculum
away from the school's even away from the teachers and we have to focus on our
We have to teach them how to think and how to learn and how to
innovate, not how to take tests these are human beings!
Why not stop judging the fish on how they climb trees?
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【TEDx】Toxic culture of education: Joshua Katz at TEDxUniversityofAkron

1984 Folder Collection
Max Lin published on December 29, 2015
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