Thank you for such a thoughtful post. While the adoption of the Common Core Standards has sparked a much-needed revaluation of instructional resources — and while the internet has made it easier to find alternatives to the expensive but largely mediocre textbooks which have dominated for so long — I share your concern about the increasing reliance on disparate tasks. Attempting to create a curriculum from a multitude of different sources seems a bit like trying to lay the foundation for a skyscraper using pebbles and Elmer’s glue; even if a few of the pebbles are diamonds, the structure is inherently unstable. Evidently Pinterest is the leading source for classroom lessons. Breathless headlines notwithstanding, that’s terrifying, and bravo for making the case.
Still, schools and districts across the country are in the process of making curriculum decisions now that will last for years. Many are turning to crowdsourced tasks from around the internet, and it’s worth considering why. While many institutions may like the flexibility that comes with such resources, I suspect most are simply tired of writing checks to corporate publishers for mediocre textbooks and see open educational resources as a viable alternative. That seems reasonable.
However, I think it’s also very risky, and think the benefits of a crowdsourced curriculum may be much less compelling than they appear. When I was a classroom teacher, I taught largely in a silo and wrote most of my lessons from scratch. After seven years at Mathalicious, I’ve developed a much different understanding of the role that curriculum plays in education: whom it serves, what it requires, and how it’s sustained. In addition to your own cautions about curriculum in the era of open educational resources, I’d like to add three questions which have helped frame my thinking around the potential for (and prudence of) OER, and which I hope may be valuable to others pondering the same.
Spring has sprung! It’s baseball season, the most wonderful time of the year. Football’s fine. March Madness has its moments. But they all just seem like appetizers to me: warm-ups to baseball’s main event.
As you know from living in DC, much of the talk is on Bryce Harper, the 23 year-old wunderkind who’s expected to sign the biggest contract in baseball history. “Forget $400 million,” the Washington Post demands. “Harper should be worth more than $600 million.” I laughed when I read that. $400 million. $600 million. If these numbers sound crazy…
I heard a story on NPR not too long ago about how John Deere has locked down its tractor software, preventing farmers from making tweaks and repairs. I find John Deere green one of the most beautiful colors on the America landscape and am sure the company has its reasons. Still, my overwhelming reaction to the story was, “Screw those guys.”
I enjoyed your recent blog post, then, about the virtues of open resources in education. As important as copyrights and paywalls are for encouraging innovation, I share your concern about how they restrict access and stifle downstream creativity, and I appreciate why you and others so thoughtfully advocate for open content that allows users to engage in the “five Rs:” retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. If our goal as a community is for instructional materials to have maximal impact, it seems reasonable that we’d want them to be as accessible and as flexible as possible.
However, let me push back on that a bit.
I was so happy to read in July that you’d won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. That’s an incredible accomplishment, and I know I was but one of many friends who proud of you and proud to know you.
I was a bit surprised, then, to receive your email four months later saying that you were thinking about leaving the classroom. “20 years,” you wrote. “I’m tired. I’ve done a pretty good job of it for a long time, but I feel like I need a change.”
A bit surprised…but not entirely.
I left Greece in early December and returned stateside on Christmas Eve. I’ve done some more traveling since, but I continue to think about what you asked me when I was still volunteering in the refugee camp:
How do you reconcile being so privileged among such a terrible situation?
Groton. Stanford. UVA. I have an old Land Cruiser and a new bike. I own a nice watch that I gave myself as a gift two years ago. My mom has season tickets to the Nationals, and I’ll fly back for the home opener. You’re right: I am privileged. And your question is a good one: how to reconcile that?
There’s a strong wind blowing in from the south. This could make the seas choppy for inbound refugees, many of whom don’t know how to swim. In addition to illness and injury, drownings are a big problem here. I attended a burial yesterday of twelve bodies, and evidently there are sixty more at the morgue. Weather like this complicates what is already a difficult situation, and the volunteers on the northern beaches may be in for a long night. I’m further south, where our immediate concern is how the cold and rain will affect conditions in the camps.
You asked about the camps.
Thank you for your note on Instagram. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I’m glad that you like my images, and I agree with you that the refugee crisis has been “devastating to watch.”
I’m volunteering on Lesbos, the Greek island where many of the refugees land. I was talking to a journalist who said that the previous week the seas had been rough, and she’d help gather the drowned bodies that had washed up on the shore. A few days ago there was a protest in Mytilene, the main port city here, in which Muslims were demanding space to properly bury their dead. (When a Muslim dies, you’re supposed to bury him with his head facing Mecca.) Imagine fleeing your country, watching your mother or brother or child drown, then having to go through that.
We need to chill out on the Eva Moskowitz bashing. I understand that the “got-to-go” list is controversial and agree that the question of expulsions is an important one. However, it seems that we’re treating Success as a proxy for much larger issues, and I fear that it’s naively distilling difficult questions into an overly simplistic narrative.