Jan 03

Power Tools in use—wear safety goggles!

Dismantling public education

photo of the front cover of the book that inspired this post, changes to back cover on hover or touch-hold

In 2008 Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson and Michael B. Horn, through Harvard Business School, published a blueprint for the disruptive innovation of education. The plan was premised on the often repeated argument that America’s schools are failing, and that the 21st century, especially the world of technology, offered new ways to overcome, “disrupt” and ultimately replace the broken system with one that would not only make American students smarter and assure American dominance in all matters of prestige, but make a lot of HBS graduates (and of course their friends and associates) very rich in the process. Writing in the euphoria of pre-meltdown sub-prime mortgage feeding frenzy now known* as the “Great Recession (also referred to as the Lesser Depression, the Long Recession, or the global recession of 2009”) they could barely contain their excitement at the imminent demise of everything they believe stands in the way of a lucrative and rewarding educational experience: unions, tenure, and if technology delivers on all its promises, potentially that peskiest anti-learning agent of all—teachers!

“What are “Tools of Cooperation and Change?”

4-item Venn-like diagram set inside chart plotting degree of agreement on cause/effect vs that on solution/way forward. Overlay suggests strategies for dealing with each situation.

Fig 1. Organizational change — Level of agreement on cause/effect vs that on solution/way forward; overlapping interests; strategies for resolution from Christensen, Johnson and Horn (2008)

Two factors of great concern to profiteers in any arena are regulation and resistance to change. In North American education, regulation is represented mainly by state and provincial standards, and teacher unions (pg. 142); resistance to change is fundamentally “entrenched” in the cultures of all established systems. Every organization at some point faces the need to implement change. Building on prior work (Christensen, Marx & Stevenson, 2006), the authors plot an “Agreement Matrix” (Fig. 1) to illustrate where various organizations can fall along two dimensions: the extent to which people agree on what they want and the extent to which they agree on cause and effect, or how to get what they want.

“Don’t force it… just get a bigger hammer!”

According to Christensen, Johnson and Horn (2008) “Different quadrants call for different tools. When employees share little consensus on either dimension, for instance, the only methods that will elicit cooperation are “power tools” such as fiat, force, coercion, and threats” (2006, abstract). Hundreds of studies of cases falling on all points of the matrix have yielded a collection of such tools that can be used to successfully implement change. For example, sometimes people disagree because they’re trying to explain things in ways the other side can’t understand. In such a case agreeing upon a “common language” can help the parties to reach consensus. The authors rightly note that education discourse in the USA today falls in the lower left quadrant, where fiat, threats and coercion are their recommended strategies for change. “Separation” is indicated if parties’ disagreement is so fundamental they can’t compromise and can’t be coerced — dividing the conflicted parties into separate groups so they can be in strong agreement with those in their own group and remain isolated from other groups (pg. 190). But walking away is a cop out in any situation. In education especially, failure to engage from the outset is a sure sign the entire lesson will fail.

Schools, say Christensen et al., most often fall in the lower-left quadrant of the model, meaning stakeholders disagree strongly both about what they want and on what actions will produce which results. “People have tried democracy, folklore, charisma, salesmanship, measurement systems, training, negotiation, and financial incentives. All have failed. We see only three possibilities: common language, power, and separation” (Christensen, Johnson and Horn, 2008, pg. 192). It quickly becomes apparent they have no further use of the first as it may pertain to education reform. But Jeff Conklin (2006) has shown that solving problems is an iterative process. He concurs with Christensen and company that a common language is fundamental to the shared understanding that must precede transformational change, but he’s more tenacious and persistent, bringing with his stronger resolve and deeper commitment to achieving consensus a tried and true method that can be called the whip and stool of would-be wicked problem tamers. Dialogue and arguments can be mapped using successful, well documented, transparent and inclusive strategies. Just as many governments have begun to recognize (see for example Commonwealth of Australia, 2007; NCCHPP, 2012) Horst Rittel said all matters of public policy—social problems where the intersecting rights and responsibilities of multiple stakeholders might challenge an ethnographer’s skills to untangle—are “wicked problems,” and thus problems that “…are never solved. At best they are only re-solved—over and over again” (Rittel and Webber, 1973, pg. 160).

Undermining democracy

Christensen, Johnson and Horn likely wouldn’t be surprised by many of the decidedly undemocratic actions and ideas their 2008 manifesto may have inspired. But sticking only to the strategies they list, not only is it thoroughly discredited and deeply cynical to say all those methods have failed—it’s an outright, bold-faced lie.

Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is built on wrong premises. … GERM has acted like a virus that “infects” education systems as it travels around the world. The infection can be diagnosed by checking the state of the following five symptoms.

First is increased competition between schools that is boosted by school choice and related league tables offering parents information that helps them make the right “consumer” decisions. Second is standardization of teaching and learning that sets detailed prescriptions how to teach and what students must achieve so that schools’ performance can be compared to one another. Third is systematic collection of information on schools’ performance by employing standardized tests. These data are then used to hold teachers accountable for students’ achievement. Fourth is devaluing teacher professionalism and making teaching accessible to anyone through fast-track teacher preparation. Fifth is privatizing public schools by turning them to privately governed schools through charter schools, free schools and virtual schools.

—Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator

Finland is among the most commonly touted successes of financial incentives, negotiation and charisma, closer to home is Ontario, where even data-positive reformers like Michael Fullan stress the need to go beyond the agreed first step of building shared understanding to consensus. Pasi Sahlberg says “To prepare young people for a more competitive economy our school systems must have less competition.” The authors of Disrupting Class encourage attitudes and approaches that have led to the vilification and dismissal of seasoned professional teachers, union busting, and legislating various degrees of privatization in order to accomplish reform.

By eliminating public schools, as Arne Duncan and Rahm Emmanuel have been doing in Chicago, and as hurricane Katrina accomplished more effectively (and honestly) in New Orleans, disruption creates new markets. We see that notion realized in the web of for profit education networks being established by such corporate operatives within education as Michele Rhee, and nurtured and furthered from within the US Department of Education by Arne Duncan. But the grassroots group Rethinking Schools says “Chicago’s model of school closings and education privatization […] The impact of those policies includes thousands of children displaced by school closings, spiked violence as they transferred to other schools, and the deterioration of public education in many neighborhoods into a crisis situation.”

Corporate solutions in education?

Today’s business and education elite …argue that a data driven management approach to oversee teacher performance should be used to reform the education system. This approach is both naive and problematic on many levels.

After a twenty year career in business, I decided to become a mathematics teacher. … I quickly learned that teaching students was far more complicated than managing adults. Why, you may ask? There are three simple reasons that I would like to share with the business intelligentsia.

  1. Your employees are paid to listen to you, your students are not.
  2. In business, employees are selected based upon a search and interview process. Teachers do not select their students.
  3. In business, an insubordinate employee is fired. An insubordinate student is merely one more challenge for a classroom teacher.
Beth Goldberg, Middle School Mathematics Teacher

Alfie Kohn (1996) exposed 4 myths of competition, finding it actually undermines individual growth and development, as well as human relationships, hindering goal attainment as it enables only one party to reach the goal at the expense of others. Christensen et al. inadvertently establish the case for holistically building consensus, a process that everyone agrees takes considerably more patience and commitment. The complex stakeholder relationships even such purposeful disrupters as Christensen, Johnson and Horn cannot deny are nothing like the employer-employee relationships to which their experience is limited. This was articulated brilliantly by Beth Goldberg, a Middle School Mathematics Teacher at Linden Avenue Middle School in Red Hook, NY and quoted by Diane Ravitch here. Teachers can not fire their students, some teachers and school administrators are also parents, schools must answer the needs of many communities of practice, not just business… “Failing to recognize the “wicked dynamics” in problems, we persist in applying inappropriate methods and tools to them” (Conklin, 2010).


As Paul Thomas points out in this article worth reading in its entirety, “The real problem with the perpetual failure of journalism and education reporting is that credible and smart analyses of educational research is now easily accessible online—for example, Shanker Blog, School Finance 101 (Bruce Baker), Cloaking Inequity (Julian Vasquez Heilig) and the National Education Policy Center.” Connected educators, students and parents must use the Internet to avoid the biased corporate narrative, which claims schools are failing and the tools or tests they’re selling are the only cure.

Christensen and his fellow disruptors are making a category error. Not all civil services need to be hyper-efficient and bargain-basement and in a state of permanent revolution… What the institutions of a democracy should do is attend to their many disparate constituents as effectively and inclusively and openly as possible without getting creatively destroyed in the process.
—Judith Shulevitz, The New Republic

Allowing corporations to lead education reform is wrong-minded from the outset. It’s completely irrational to apply Harvard Business School’s trademarked top-down disruption strategies within a sector that has no top! It’s up to students, parents, teachers, and other defenders of the Public Sphere to don safety goggles and steel-toed boots and pick up some power tools of their own. Common language and shared understanding can work both ways.

Updated: 2013-01-03. This post has been slightly edited for clarity, and to correct typos discovered after first publication. […] The (Rittel & Webber, 1973) citation was corrected: the reference was not listed but a different one, not quoted in the text, was. As the latter is available on line, rather than remove it I’ve added the link. I’ll call it ‘suggested reading.’ Updated: 2013-01-05. See Paul Thomas’s excellent suggestions for a 2014 Educators’ Agenda. [@plthomasEdD] scores EQAO Level 4 for his exemplary demo of what I mean by “donning steel-toed boots.”


* Quoting Great Recession From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The script I wrote to do the drop caps strips all the other HTML from the first paragraph—my New Year resolution is to fix it using Ben Alman’s perfect solution.

Addenda and general rambling on…
Updated: I’ve also expressed similar ideas in much the same language here and here. I’ve also written about a superior approach to going beyond mere “common language,” instead using argument mapping in search of “shared understanding,” here and here. I first wrote about this book in grad school in 2009, and I acknowledged the authors’ professed concern for children’s learning, which I still have no reason to question, just as I see no contradiction; maybe I’ve come to a deeper understanding of the solace and redemption the inherent amorality of The Market must provide its flock. Men like Christensen & Co., Bloomberg, Gates… genuinely believe they are benevolent dictators, doing good, spreading wisdom. I’ve little problem with finding and filling so-called “areas of non-consumption,” it’s their intentional and wanton creation, nearly always at public expense, that I believe must be resisted at all cost. Here I point out that Americans have always sought quality snake oil, and can discern between cunning card-sharps whom they traditionally respect, versus villainous card cheats and overdressed, know-nothing “riverboat dandies.” The difference today is too many seem willing to invite the latter back to the table. I’m calling for something quite a bit short of hanging—but let’s stop talking to the Tony Bennett/Michelle Rhee crooks and cheats, the Arne Duncan/Jeb Bush snake oil charlatans and John King riverboat dandies of education reform.

“Where-ever publick spirit is found dangerous, she will soon be seen dead.”
— Thomas Gordon, Cato’s Letter #35, 1721.

Here’s one, although I think it’s more a case of intellectual dishonesty than inconsistency. Christensen, Horn and Johnson, somewhat apologetically almost, point to Howard Gardner’s eroded Theory of Multiple Intelligences, in part I believe to support their argument for apps in the classroom (pg. 31). They do not discuss any of Gardner’s ideas for reforming education. See Gardner, Howard (1992b) Assessment in Context: The Alternative to Standardized Testing in Changing Assessments Alternative Views of Aptitude, Achievement and Instruction, Bernard R. Gifford, Mary Catherine O’Connor, editors, Volume 30, 1992, pp 77-119. Also Gardner, Howard (1995/2011), The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach, 21st Anniversary edition (2011) NY: Basic Books, 322 pages. [Read online]


Christensen CM, Marx M, Stevenson HH. (2006) The Tools of Cooperation and Change, Harvard Business School: Boston, USA

Christensen, Clayton; Johnson, Curtis W.; and Horn, Michael B. (2008) Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns New York : McGraw-Hill

Commonwealth of Australia (2007) Tackling Wicked Problems: A Public Policy Perspective, [Archived]

Kohn, A. (1996). Beyond discipline: From compliance to community. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Conklin, Jeff (2005) Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems,

Conklin, Jeff (2010) Summary of available CogNexus Institute, Web site, California USA, http://cognexus.org/id42.htm retrieved 2011-10-10. Chapter 1 available as PDF http://cognexus.org/wpf/wickedproblems.pdf retrieved 2012-03-02.

Duncan, A. (1987), The values, aspirations and opportunities of the urban underclass, Boston, Harvard University

National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy (2012) Tackling Wicked Problems in the Built Environment: Of Health Inequalities and Bedbugs [Workshop details]

Oppenheimer, Todd (2003) “The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology”, Random House. See also this Oppenheimer article, San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, February 4, 2009, “Technology not the panacea for education” HTML retrieved 2012-03-02

Rittel, Horst W. J. and Webber, Melvin M. (1973) Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, Policy Sciences (4) 1973, 155-169.

Rith, Chanpory and Dubberly, Hugh (2006), Why Horst W.J. Rittel Matters, Design Issues: Volume 22, Number 4 Autumn 2006 [Online versions].

Sahlberg, Pasi (2012) Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Shulevitz, Judith (2013) Don’t You Dare Say “Disruptive” It’s the most pernicious cliché of our time,blog post at The New Republic [HTML]

Smith, M. K. (2003, 2009) ‘Communities of practice’, the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/communities_of_practice.htm.nj

Dec 21

Can (messy) mind maps enable tidy linear strategies within messy situations?

Graphic: a very messy mind map of a complex project.My research into educational, mostly open source software tools identified ones that have proven multi-tasking abilities within “authentic” learning situations (Conole and Fill, 2005; Conole, 2008). Among these, the so-called “Mind Mapping” tools stand out for what I think are several very good reasons. The image to the right, a “mind map” of a recent research project, shows the good, the bad and the ugly.

the rules common to all information systems do not cover the messy, ambiguous, and context-sensitive processes of meaning making, a form of activity in which the construction of highly “fuzzy” and metaphoric category systems is just as notable as the use of specifiable categories for sorting inputs in a way to yield comprehensible outputs.

—Jerome Bruner (1996 in Illeris, 2009, pg. 162)

It seems under-researched maybe, but I believe I saw indications, and I certainly have anecdotal evidence, that mind maps may lack meaning to people who for whatever reason(s) must solve problems in predominantly linear ways. In at least one case I’ve seen a mind map—the one of my research project at the top of the post—elicit genuine anxiety in a person with clinical anxiety disorder!

Messiness: the face of authentic learning

It’s certainly true that mind maps can get confusing. Connections become interwoven in admittedly “messy” ways—which, I argue, makes them particularly suitable to solving exactly the types of messy problems we increasingly face—although they often appear in ways that can understandably throw self-identified “linear thinkers” quite literally for a loop. It’s small wonder many people believe mind maps don’t, won’t, will never work for them. However, the same solutions cartographers have applied for centuries work in these maps too (Buckingham Shum and Okada, 2007), and are available in free tools with powerful multitasking abilities. Messiness is a fact of authentic learning situations (Collins, Joseph & Bielaczyc, 2004, pg. 19). Clinical settings and attempts to eliminate messiness can even be counter-productive (pg. 20). Describing the linear step pattern shown below in Fig. 1 (red line) Patricia Seybold says, “…we keep trying to shoehorn” Wicked Problems into that linear approach” (2013, pg. 3). I think what I’ll call linear imposition, the imposing of a linear framework or template on a non-linear situation, is at the root of Jean Lave’s “paradox” she says often causes institutionalized learning to fail (Lave, 1993, pg. 78). I believe ethnographers such as Lave have had an important impact on design thinking in education research and instructional design because of their “attempts to characterize relationships and events that occur in different educational settings. …ethnographic research produces rich descriptions that make it possible to understand what is happening and why” (Collins, Joseph & Bielaczyc, 2004, pg. 21). By “rich” descriptions Collins, Joseph & Bielaczyc mean “‘Thick,’ as in Geertz,” and by mapping these connections we contribute to the design of ‘thicker’ learning situations we hope result in deeper learning.

designVUE: lining up the non-linear

The problem is, while we may place things on lists and in lines to organize and sequence an approach, those things may have their own interconnections and internal organizations, especially if the “things” are groups of people with competing rights and interests. And so the line we draw prior to achieving full understanding of a problem is actually an imposition that changes the nature of the existing problem and causes new problems to arise. As Conklin has shown, solving problems is an iterative process.

How Humans Solve Opportunity-Driven Problems

graph plotting a linear step by step solution (red) overlayed by a process actually observed in practice (green)

Figure 1: From a 1980’s study at the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) that looked into how people solve problems. Each peak in the green line can be understood as heading “back to the drawing board,” yet each return to the drawing board carries all the experience of the previous attempts. Source: Conklin, 2006 ©2006 John Wiley & Sons, 2013 CogNexus Group. For an excellent discussion, see also Seybold, 2013.

Mitigating Mind-Map Anxiety

Mind-map anxiety might be mitigated by applying well understood principles of cartography. Buckingham Shum and Okada (2007) say the analogy to cartographic representations of physical space is valid, providing “…an ‘aerial view’ of a topic by highlighting key elements and connections,” and calling mind maps “vehicles for summarising and negotiating meaning” (pg. 27). designVUE is one college design department’s enhancement of another university’s contribution to the open source software world and visual understanding. I think designVUE’s quick formatting tools and presentation mode lets us do some of the things map makers do. Some of these things are, or should be, in grade-level curriculum requirements—perhaps giving students hands on access to free tools like designVUE might support the teaching and learning of many.

Map coloring is the act of assigning different colors to different features on a map. There are two very different uses of this term. The first is in cartography, choosing the colors to be used when producing a map. The second is in mathematics, where the problem is to determine the minimum number of colors needed to color a map so that no two adjacent features have the same color.
—Wikipedia article

There’s nothing more linear than a time-line; as the first image shows, a mind-mapping tool makes it easy to display linear progression, so if this is the only objection, it soon crumbles. In designVUE you choose the colour scheme (“fill,” “line,” font “style”) and shape.

With the Quick Prototyping tool draw a line of bubbles in a quick succession of clicks…

mind map bubbles in a line

Image 1. In VUE you can use the Prototyping tool to draw a line of bubbles with a directional arrow between, or with standard tool place the thought bubble on a line or arrow.

Any individual “bubble” in the map may consist of much messier activities. Brainstorming, for example, is a spiral of ideas, questions, answers, and arguments. In designVUE you can use colour to visually set an activity apart, but you can also create pathways that hide and reveal specific sets of bubbles—overcome cognitive overload. Or group bubbles within each other as I’ve done here with a question, answer and pro/con set that illustrate IBIS1, a system that often goes hand-in-hand another highly successful application of mind-maps: “dialogue mapping2.”

mind map bubbles of a new color added in a spiral

Image 2. Part of a brainstorming session suggesting a circular and iterative process, shown in a different colour. With “Pathways” you can hide entire sections and choose different sequences.

But wait! Yes, there’s more! In these days of collaboration linear thinkers and their strategies are as important as ever. designVUE has a presentation tool that allows teams to construct linear pathways through maps of even the most complex dialogues, in order to gain clarity, reach consensus, and explain decisions to others. designVUE also does metadata in OpenCalais, allows you to store resources and documents in the bubbles, share maps as interactive HTML documents, reuse the same maps in multiple other maps… I’m only scratching the surface.

Image 3. Showing Pathways in the workspace. Also shown are the IBIS icons for question, idea, pro and con arguments.

The Pathways panel allows you to create standard (linear) PowerPoint-like slides and bullet points, though not as effortlessly as the commercial product. VUE’s true power as a presentation tool takes some time to appreciate and master, but if your goal is to enhance a learning situation by creating memorable and meaningful visual connections between the content, and then using the same tool to convey those ideas to an audience this tool might be what you’re after.

mind map bubbles of a new color added in a spiral

Image 4. The Pathways panel allows you to show and edit more traditional PowerPoint-like slides. In effect VUE’s “Pathways” can be separate but related presentations, or audience-specific variations on a theme.

Panel closeup. The images can be sized, additional ones and text added to each slide that need not be shown in other views:

Image 5. Closeup of the expanded Pathways Panel. The order and whether it’s shown is determined here.

In Presentation mode, hitting Enter can shift to yet another view of the groups of ideas in the presentation. There’s definitely a learning curve but my early impression is this can potentially change the way you do presentations. I highly recommend this VUE tutorial for ideas and examples.

Image 6. In Presentation mode, hitting Enter can shift to yet another view of the groups of ideas in the presentation. See this VUE tutorial for examples (note the PDF for download beneath the video player).


The types of 21st century problems we increasingly understand need taming—as they defy solving by their very nature—are “wicked problems.” This necessarily includes nearly all matters of public education, indeed of public policy as a whole, where the conflicting and intersecting rights and responsibilities of multiple stakeholders is always …messy! Governments are coming to recognize this. See the Australian Public Service Commission site for one well explained example (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007). In Canada Quebec and New Brunswick have already discovered the importance of understanding certain problems’ ‘wickedness’ in these ways. “As distinguished from problems in the natural sciences, which are definable and separable and may have solutions that are findable, the problems of governmental planning—and especially those of social or policy planning—are ill-defined; and they rely upon elusive political judgement for resolution. (Not “solution.” Social problems are never solved. At best they are only re-solved—over and over again.)” (Rittel and Webber, 1973, pg. 160).

Mind mapping, undertaken thoughtfully and with purpose (see Jeff Conklin’s video: The Limits of Conversational Structure), has proven its value in all aspects of teaching and learning. As a teacher I used it much as John Budd did here, and as an instructional designer I use it as a graphic organizer. When mapping strategies are used to both record, and then map dialog to describe real situation, and when that’s done openly and collaboratively as in situations such as Conklin has described and reproduced in practice for years it can lead to shared understanding and conflict resolution.

I don’t think it’s fair, or rational, to presume that everyone is going to instantly drop PowerPoint and buy into a mindmap-based workflow, and that’s not what I’m suggesting. While dialogue mapping can handle wicked problems, it can also do meeting minutes, so consensus can be achieved and documented by the most mutually comfortable and practical means—and the cartographers have a single one stop tool to gather and document the entire process, or to communicate it to others.


If we embrace all the 21st century models, or “competencies” seen emerging, the primary and inescapable one at the base of many others is asynchronous collaboration via digital networks. Can it not simply be that the divergent thinkers map their thoughts in collaboration with linear thinkers who further delineate the why and how of their musings? Taking up perhaps the next most agreed upon 21st century learning objective, critical thinking, it seems likely we can seek solutions to simple problems and taming strategies for wicked ones, discerning the difference. Mind mapping tools are web enabled and metadata ready. A strategy for taming wicked problems that uses mind maps, argument mapping or Conklin’s trademarked Dialogue Mapping, keeps track of pros, cons, and rationale, and documents decisions making around simple problems, but offers a powerful tool for the building of the shared understanding that must precede consensus around the taming of wicked ones. Formal training can be found, but the VUE, designVUE and various Compendium software sites themselves, Conklin’s and YouTube are probably the place to start—to get an, ahem… visual understanding of what mind maps and mind mappers might bring to which ever debate you’re having.

Maybe “Can messy mind maps enable tidy linear strategies within messy situations?” isn’t the right question. In my experience it still requires steps and sequencing to deal with the issues, but the graphic organization—the visual understanding—provided by maps in programs like VUE and Compendium, in the right hands, can really help you get a grip on the situation. It very well may need both types of thinking, and that well may require collaboration. Maybe the question to be asking is, “Are there any concept and conversation cartographers in your workplace or your PLN?”


Read more about mind maps


  1. Issue-Based Information System (IBIS) was invented by Werner Kunz and Horst Rittel as an argumentation-based approach to tackling wicked problems – complex, ill-defined problems that involve multiple stakeholders. (more)
  2. Dialogue Mapping™ is trademarked by Jeff Conklin & CogNexus Institute, who describes it as “…a radically inclusive facilitation process that creates a diagram or ‘map’ that captures and connects participants’ comments as a meeting conversation unfolds. It is especially effective with highly complex or “Wicked” problems that are wrought with both social and technical complexity, as well as a sometimes maddening inability to move forward in a meaningful and cost effective way.” (more) [Demonstration PDF]


the assumptions proposed here amount to a preliminary account of what is meant by situated learning. Knowledgeability is routinely in a state of change rather than stasis, in the medium of socially, culturally, and historically ongoing systems of activity, involving people who are related in multiple and heterogeneous ways, whose social locations, interests, reasons, and subjective possibilities are different, and who improvise struggles in situated ways with each other over the value of particular definitions of the situation, in both immediate and comprehensive terms, and for whom the production of failure is as much a part of routine collective activity as the production of average, ordinary knowledgeability.
—Jean Lave

More VUE

The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is an Open Source project based at Tufts University

VUE is very well documented. The English user guide is here.

designVUE is a branch of VUE. It is an open source project based in the Design Engineering Group of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Imperial College London.

CompendiumLD is either fierce competition… or you can do as I do and use both! See the Learning Design-specific “stencils” in the screen shots. They’re easily ported to other Compendium flavours, and you could apply the concept in VUE with your own icons and very little extra trouble.


Bruner, Jerome (1996) Culture, mind, and education in Contemporary Theories of Learning – Learning theorists … in their own words, Knud Illeris ed., 2009, NY: Routledge; Edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2009.

Buckingham Shum, Simon and Okada, Alexandra (2007). Knowledge Mapping for Open Sensemaking Communities. In: Researching open content in education – OpenLearn 2007, 31 Oct 2007, Milton Keynes, UK.

Collins, Allan & Joseph, Diana & Bielaczyc, Katerine (2004), Design Research- Theoretical and Methodological Issues, The Journal of the Learning Sciences, Vol. 13, No. 1, Design-Based Research:Clarifying the Terms. Introduction to the Learning Sciences Methodology Strand (2004), pp.15-42

Commonwealth of Australia (2007) Tackling Wicked Problems: A Public Policy Perspective, [Archived]

Conklin, Jeffrey (2006) Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons., Ltd., 242 pp.

Conklin, Jeff (2006b) Dialogue Mapping Demonstration, [unspecified journal, citation incomplete] CogNexus Institute, pp. 249-251 [Demonstration PDF].

Conole, G. and Fill, K. (2005). A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2005(08). [PDF: jime.open.ac.uk/2005/08]. Gráinne Conole and Karen Fill, University of Southampton. Page 1 Published 26 September 2005 ISSN: 1365-893X [uses CompendiumLD]

Conole, G. (2008). Capturing Practice: The Role of Mediating Artefacts in Learning Design. Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects. (Eds.) Lockyer, L., Bennett, S., Agostinho, S. and Harper, B. ISR Press. [Pre-print of learning design chapter on using compendium].

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning. Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, Jean (1993) The practice of learning in Contemporary Theories of Learning – Learning theorists … in their own words, Knud Illeris ed., 2009, NY: Routledge; Edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2009.

National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy (2012) Tackling Wicked Problems in the Built Environment: Of Health Inequalities and Bedbugs [Workshop details]

Rittel, Horst and Melvin Webber (1973) “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Policy Sciences 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing, Amsterdam, pp. 155-169.

^ Seybold, Patricia B. (2013) How To Address “Wicked Problems” – Use Dialogue Mapping to Build a Shared Understanding and Evolve a Group’s Thinking, book review, [HTML | PDF]

Nov 24

What makes “social learning” authentic?

Graphic. Social learning theory inside an equilateral triangle. Arrows imply interaction between the three points, which are labelled ‘modeled behaviour,’ ‘innate person,’ and ‘learning environment.’Educators everywhere agree that learning is social, but what does that mean—what does it look like? To a large degree it means we can learn by watching and emulating others who already do the things we wish to learn and have in some way demonstrated mastery. It also means we can learn from others at and around our own level—in fact there’s substantial evidence that we need this element of peer-to-peer engagement. It’s my especially good fortune, and not a day in my life has passed that I haven’t felt grateful, to have been born with at least some degree of musical talent, raised in a household that valued it, located in a time and community that enabled it (middle-class Bethlehem, PA, 1960s). So my learning, especially early on, has largely been situated amongst family and friends who also play and love music. The social aspect always looked a lot like hanging out with good friends figuring out parts we held in high regard, jamming our own music and other people’s—or “busting some licks.”

[learning music] …always looked a lot like hanging out with good friends figuring out parts, jamming our own music and other people’s …“busting some licks”

In every topic there’s also a vital social element in agreeing upon the criteria that make up what we call a “good,” “better,” or even a “magnificent” performance. When it comes to curriculum-based planning and performance criteria, I’ve again been thankful my main teaching field is music. While the sequencing and relative importance of day-to-day content is widely open to creative license, people generally agree on what sounds “good.” As yet another bonus, to a large degree we can explain what we’re thinking and doing (or not) when it sounds good.

The short video below is a music lesson I learned in the early 80s from my friend Reggie Evans, who was also my room-mate and, as he is to this day, a superb musician and songwriter. His main instrument is the drum kit, and one of the performance criteria by which I choose the word “superb” is his sense of meter. This means you can hear and feel the evenness of his beat, even in the parts (subdivisions) of each beat when he plays, and he doesn’t speed up or slow down the tempo (unless he wants to—in which case listeners remain convinced he’s in control the whole time). Reg wanted me to play a simple three-note motif on a 4-track cassette demo of an idea he had. We both expected it to take 2 or 3 minutes. But then he told me I was playing it wrong. We didn’t have a woodshed but we had a back deck.

The first image below is the funky lick, after which I’ve transcribed how Reg was able to illustrate his thinking about beats, and I was able to transfer that “picture” from drum sticks (or hands) to guitar pick. This lesson was among the most important anyone ever gave me when I was “coming up” as a musician. Why? Because it solved a problem I was having at the time and I’ve been able to apply it, in both teaching and learning, over and over since, in multiple contexts.

music and text describing what to do.
“Melody” works best with Firefox. MIDI requires plugin

Sometimes among aspiring musicians informal social learning—especially any in which the the word “wrong” is said out loud—looks a lot like an argument. When it comes to interpreting a passage of 16th notes, bands have probably split over far less! Fortunately Reg just wanted to hear the part played well, and I just wanted to be the one to play it. That’s called “intrinsic motivation.”

more music and text describing what to do.
“Handclap” works best with Firefox. MIDI requires plugin



Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Thickening the learning situation

…or, “practising what I preach.” This is the long-overdue first instalment of blog-post metaknowledge. My intention is to develop something analogous to “the making of” chapter on your favourite DVD. It sounds like a project that needs a database and template, but doing it manually will give me great insight on what will go into a database.

The video has been updated since publishing, links and link info added, and some sentences have been edited for clarity.


Nov 24

JavaScript the least of (my) hurdles with MIDI.js

On #musedchat Monday Nov 18 I saw an opportunity to mention an open source Scoring/Engraving tool and was soon encouraged to send more links to open source resources. I’ve been collecting such links in the bookmarks of various browsers for years, and I’ve followed through on my initial interest to various degrees, so in some cases I found myself checking links along with my memory. In one case—MIDI.js—I said a big “Oh yeah! I was gonna try installing that, wasn’t I?”

How easy it is to try out any of the hundreds of thousands of interesting and potentially useful JavaScript offerings one can find on the Internet depends a lot on how much documentation the developer and interested community have provided and good examples of the code in (ahem) “authentic situations.” No matter how good it is, if you want it you’ll soon have to view source and dig in. The code behind MIDI.js looked to me daunting, but on closer inspection it turned out the biggest hurdle was recognizing the playlist of MIDI files is an array of Base64-encoded strings hard-coded in the file. If you know what that is, and if you can encode your MIDI file as a Base-64 string then copy/paste it over the ones in the original example—and if you set up the folder structure identically to the original (clone the Git repository straight into /xampp/htdocs if you work with a LAMP setup like mine)—it just works! But it looks just like the author’s.

The design is not responsive1 and doesn’t fit my blog or mobile device. The colours are very cool but I don’t need them. The note display has so many pedagogical applications my brain is exploding—but it doesn’t fit on my pages, same goes for the player and buttons. The JavaScript knowledge I need is “just enough” to identify where to safely slice and dice the code and recognize the very few places I might change something. It was more important I knew Base-64 encoding is something I’d likely find a web site to do. The highest-level skill needed here is actually CSS. I need to restyle the player so it fits my pages in the contexts I expect it to be viewed. And I want those notes to play along exactly as they do now, just in a completely different layout.

Here’s what it looks like today. (It’s not worth listening to in anything but Chrome).

An undefined error originally came from this line, but I haven’t found where MIDI.lang is supposed to be defined, and the sentence really doesn’t tell me anything I care to know if I define it as “English.” I made sure the page has a title and I even gave it a language attribute but no luck only by hard-coding it as shown below could I stop it so far. Will dig in [to the MIDI object, its properties and methods] later.

// I added...
// Quick suppression of undefined
MIDI.lang = MIDI.lang || 'en-ca';
/// above...
// this is the language we are running in
var title = document.getElementById("title");
title.innerHTML = "Sound being generated with " + MIDI.lang + ".";
// I also added at line 108
pausePlayStop(true);  // Sorry Gasman. Autoplay is just wrong!
// Just above that I see <code>song[songid++%3]</code>, the '%3' implies something hard-coded that applied to the fact there used to be 3 midi files. To be continued... 
Nov 09

Thinking “tanked…” the riverboat dandies of education reform

ABSTRACT: “Think tanks” can mean a large number of a wide range of advocacy groups. They advocate causes that might be of interest to groups large or small, powerful or weak. They vary by ideological perspective. In a critically thinking democratic society, education has been seen as an underlying necessity, a prerequisite to matters of character, citizenship and civilization. Education must be geared to differentiate between ideologues who engage in wishful thinking, and those who form opinions by rational, dialectical synthesis of opposing arguments based on their merit — those who engage in what we call critical thinking. Critical thinkers owe it to themselves, their neighbours, and their fellow citizens to engage in good faith within the public sphere. Serious educators, devoted to research-based learning and teaching, have at least a 4-decade head start in the learning theory department. That’s roughly as long as “free market” neo-liberals and neo-conservatives have been building a powerful anti-public rhetoric. But there’s simply no point engaging with ideologues who may be science deniers and the people we can refer to as free-market “fetishists” or “obsessionists.” Milton Friedman’s conflation of Freedom and Greed contributed to the immense disconnect from traditional Revolutionary values that typifies the “unfettered free markets” discourse. The Founders and the People shared a love of science, the arts and learning—and a deep understanding of its vital role in democracy—that underpinned a 300-year commitment to public education.

“Tanked” thinking — 100 years, 4 waves (makes and models)

photo of two old riverboats, fades into two tanks

Diane Stone [Marie Curie Chair & Head of the Public Policy Program, Central European University] in her 2005 report “Think Tanks and Policy Advice in Countries in Transition,” prepared for the Asian Development Bank Institute says the term ‘think tank’ originated at the RAND Corporation. She presents a 100-year overview, and tells us they are not the same in the East and West. We in the west regard think tanks as “…relatively autonomous organizations with separate legal identity that engage in the analysis of policy issues independently of government, political parties and pressure groups” (Stone, 2005, pg. 3). Over roughly the last century they have presented in at least 4 waves of growth: think tanks prior to WWII, were predominantly Anglo-American [e.g., Brookings Institution, the Russell Sage Foundation. In the UK, the Fabian Society…]. These “…First generation think-tanks were responses to practical problems spawned by urbanization, industrialisation and economic growth early in the 20th century” (pg. 3).

From WWII to the 1970s think tanks spread throughout the liberal democracies of Europe. The New Deal and the Great Society were, “…a boom-time for ideational actors…” among them the Urban Institute. These tanks were characterized by “…the proliferation of foreign policy institutes, centres for the study of security and development studies institutes, in an era defined by the Cold War, superpower rivalries and the emergence of Third World issues” (pg. 3).

Since the 70s think tanks have spread across the globe in response to economic and political changes and turmoil. They’ve become an industry, drawing increasingly on corporate funding and, quite predictably, advocating and developing policy that entrenches those interests. Says Stone, “The rise of the so-called ‘New Right’ think tanks also illustrates how policy uncertainties provide a window of opportunity for these institutes to help execute the paradigm shift away from Keynesian policy making to what is regarded in other parts of the world as elements of the Washington Consensus. That is, privatisation, financial liberalisation and deregulation” (pg. 3). The Heritage Foundation and various Charles and David Koch activities belong to this opportunistic group.

The 4th Wave is qualitatively different. It is characterised by “…new modes of interaction that are propelled by the forces of globalisation and regionalisation” (pg. 4). This doesn’t imply an entirely new set of players. It means those with the most practice—and dollars—can focus and refine a message padded by decades of ground work, while there’s no shortage of snakes in suits willing to read any script.

In the tinkle of “Trickle Down”

Think tanks are a profitable industry. “Western style think tanks emerged in large numbers and many have prospered. The challenges of transition to build viable economic and political systems in the wake of communism and the increased complexity of governance created real opportunities for young policy entrepreneurs in the new think tanks…” who often framed the demise of Soviet communism as the total triumph of unfettered market capitalism.

Others might call that wishful thinking on the part of those positioned to turn fast profits. Stone continues, “…Too quickly western analysts have equated the rapid development of independent think tanks with teleological assumptions of ‘transition’ towards democratic institutions, pluralism, healthy civil societies, market competition, liberalism, privatisation and consumerism. Instead, the communist legacy persists in the organisational structures, values and research ethos of old institutes alongside the transition think tanks.” (Stone, 2005, pg. 6). This just means we can’t tell the players without a program.

I won’t attempt to provide a Who’s Who of think tanks. I pay special attention to two I think exemplify a particular type of fourth-wave behavior, and put considerable energy into influencing the debate on education reform. We see this involvement increasingly characterized by the use of what Christensen et al. (2008) call “Power Tools.” The Heritage Foundation promotes the “parent trigger” and vouchers approach (updated); the Cato Institute prefers to tout the benefits of “choice.” As we’ll learn shortly, the authors of the genuine Cato’s Letters would quickly recognize this as some of the “worst of things recommended by good names” (Trenchard, 1721, more below).

Think tanks have widely diverse methods and motives. “Some think tanks are ‘academic’ in style, focused on research, geared to university interests and in building the knowledge base of society. Other organizations are overtly partisan or ideologically motivated” (pg. 6). It makes sense to know who is seated across from you at any table. When you’ve got cards in the game it’s also good to know if the dealer has a reputation for stacking the deck.

The Round Table, the poker table, and those seated at the Education Reform table

Antique photo: Cowboys in the west playing poker in a saloon.

King Arthur’s Round Table was created, as it was believed in the 12th century, to prevent quarrels among those who wouldn’t accept a lower place at the table than others (Kibler, 1991). Over centuries came about habeas corpus and what became known as common law, and we’ve generally come to see these ideas as fundamental aspects of civil society. In the Old West, cheating at the card table could be fatal, the stuff of legends. The pros pretended to be one thing in order to take advantage of a “sucker,” but charlatans and cheats, once caught, often did not get second chances. Why then, in our era, do we sit at the table with those we’ve caught cheating and hiding the truth?

While perhaps one suspects a careful reading of Samuel Johnson is the appropriate lens through which to inspect their patriotism, in genuine American tradition (Weiser-Alexander, 2013), the lucrative think tank industry continues to foster charlatans and “dandies”. In 2013 The Heritage Foundation tapped a white supremacist to do policy and number-crunching with predictably dishonest results. The Cato Institute works Twitter, spinning current events, working with others to discredit climate scientists, spreading partisan acrimony. Machiavelli has written, “But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived” (1532, Ch.XVIII, par. 2). John Trenchard called it, “The Arts of misleading the People by Sounds” (Trenchard, 1721). He said, “Yet even in countries where the highest liberty is allowed, and the greatest light shines, you generally find certain men, and bodies of men, set apart to mislead the multitude; who are ever abused with words, ever fond of the worst of things recommended by good names, and ever abhor the best things, and the most virtuous actions, disfigured by ill names.” George Orwell called it, “doublespeak”. He wrote 1984.

Cartoon from 1940s, snake labelled Standard Oil and and Oil can, destruction and pollution pictured in background.

The Heritage Foundation is a think tank founded by corporate CEO Joseph Coors, of the Coors beer empire, and Richard Mellon Scaife, heir of the Mellon industrial and banking fortune. It’s considered among the most influential 3rd wave think tanks pioneering 4th wave ways and means. Kochs, Coorses, Heritage and Cato are by no means the only ones clearing their new unfettered markets wilderness; they are exemplary, and their behaviour is worth scrutinizing. The Heritage Foundation stands accused of ties to Asian espionage, they’ve supported tobacco interests for decades, and support the privatization agenda in education reform, promoting vouchers as the best strategy to “dismantle” public education (by stealth) spelled out in 2002 in a speech given at the Heritage Foundation by Dick DeVos. While far right columnist Jennifer Rubin may be concerned Heritage’s recent lurches even further right under Jim DeMint might blow its cover, it’s already hard to reconcile Heritage’s influence with its unabashed bias.

The Cato Institute is another 3rd wave think tank with a clearly emerging set of 4th wave tactics. Whatever their beginnings, their current mission is apparently nothing short of the redefinition of libertarianism itself, and a rewrite of its place in early American political thought in order to support the unfettered-free-markets agenda. As I’ll show in the paragraphs that follow, this likely has more to do with the thinking of the Institute’s corporate donors than the colonial Americans with whom they wish to associate their image. Cato’s executive vice president David Boaz’s book provides a distorted take on the subject; it’s a study in Locke et praeterea nihil, “Locke, and nothing but,” which I will unpack shortly. Ironically perhaps, a better description of Cato’s mission is hosted on their own discussion forum/blogging network, Cato-Unbound. See Corporations versus the Market; or, Whip Conflation Now, by Roderick T. Long, a “…self-described Aristotelian/Wittgensteinian in philosophy and a left-libertarian market anarchist in social theory” who, as a founder of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, is also a genuine preserver of libertarianism’s true heritage.

“Cato Cato bo-Bato, banana fana fo-Fato…” …the What’s in a Name? Game

Founded in 1974, the Charles Koch Foundation primped in 1976 by tapping John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon’s once significant, as it turns out dangerously forgotten Cato’s Letters (1720-1724). The Institute performed no contract research and did not accept government funding (Cato, 1977; 1994; 2001); The Kochs provided about 4 percent of Cato’s revenue during the past decade (Forbes, 2012-03-11).

In Vicksburg, Mississippi, the citizens rage had become so increased by 1835, five cardsharps were lynched by a vigilante group. It was soon after this that many of the gamblers moved onto the riverboats, benefiting from the transient riverboat lifestyle.

—Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2013

Just as in 1720 the authors of the genuine Cato’s Letters called for the South Seas “stock-jobbers” to be trussed up and hanged (Gordon, 1720), citizens of Vicksburg, Mississippi, lynched five “cardsharps” in 1835 (Weiser-Alexander, 2013). Thus present day Cato and other corporate-financed, ideology-promoting think tanks have spent decades, working the riverboats as it were, stealthily establishing credibility, prepping the narrative. They produce public filings, testimony and legal briefs, a canon of pseudo-scholarly literature, devoted to a meme, which they use to sway legislators and influence the Supreme Court.

Photo: antique bottles of snakeoil.

What I’ve referred to asLocke-jawed” free-market ideologues, often holding PhDs and other credentials provided by the think tank that employs them, have generated reams of articles and books, such as those of James A. Dorn and others, dubiously appropriating history, even taking the title “Cato’s Letters.” Dorn’s 1996 Cato’s Letter #12 is an archetypical example of what Robert E. Shalhope (Shalhope, 1972) labelled Locke et praeterea nihil, “Locke, and nothing but,” which he called the “orthodox” position on American republicanism. Dorn declares Locke the single Authority on property rights on page 7 of neo-Letter #12. Every neo-letter from Cato acknowledges Trenchard & Gordon’s genuine Cato’s Letters’ influence on Revolutionary thought (pg. ii) but you’ll have to actually read them to appreciate Cato Institute’s truly Orwellian reversal of their meaning. You might turn to genuine historian Clinton Rossiter (1953) (or a Wikipedia article that cites him) to learn their greater importance relative to Locke’s: “No one can spend any time on the newspapers, library inventories, and pamphlets of colonial America without realizing that Cato’s Letters rather than John Locke’s Civil Government was the most popular, quotable, esteemed source for political ideas in the colonial period” (pg. 141). Robert Shalhope provides many more names. Dorn’s premise is questionable from the outset, but I’m only just getting started.

Shalhope points to the work of such historians as Neal Riemer and Caroline Robbins as exemplifying what has slowly and steadily nudged the literature towards a deeper understanding of American Revolutionary thought. “The origins that Neo-Whig historians Bernard Bailyn, Richard Buel, Jack Greene, and Gordon Wood have discovered are not simple and Lockean, as once believed, but complex and atavistic growing out of the rich English intellectual traditions of the Dissenters, radical Whigs, Classical Republicans, Commonwealthmen, Country party, or more simply, the Opposition” (Bailyn, 1967).

… corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
—Abraham Lincoln, letter to Col. William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864

The fourth-wave think tanks that promote free markets have Locke-jaw. The Charles Koch Foundation/Cato Institute’s name game grounds a one-sided retelling of history in faux-intellectual relevance. They use incendiary language, demagoguery, a feigned and self-righteous piety, and deceptively simple rhetoric (“talking points” or “sound bytes”) framed in moral imperatives. Dorn’s oft-republished Cato’s neo-Letter #12 (Dorn, 1996), academically trite and historically vapid, is an example of a canon of free-market propaganda that, one naïve to the role of unfettered money in public policy might think ‘quite astonishingly,’ has gone virtually unchallenged. Seeking to vilify the Progressive era while romanticizing a mythical predecessor, “The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality” offers an incomplete picture of turn of the century social safety nets, tells a viciously dishonest distortion of the history of Baltimore, and reinvents the Polish-American immigrant in the author’s own free-market image. These are deceptions. The media and academics have failed their duty, which is to expose such lies. As Sheldon Richman, a senior editor at Cato Institute wrote at American Conservative (in an article demonstrating Cato also knows (or once knew) how to write in a genuine academic vein, keepers of those I believe a good reading reveals to be the historically genuine “libertarian”—Trenchard and Gordon Whigs by another name (other than rejecting “a Manichean division of the world into light and dark” as do Whigs)? They describe their line of thought as “freed market anti-capitalists” who “…see post-Civil War America not as a golden era of laissez faire but rather as a largely corrupt business-ruled outgrowth of the war, which featured the usual military contracting and speculation in government-securities” (Richman, 2012). See my fuller analysis of Dorn’s snake oil, further corrections and citations here.

This is but one example of over 4 decades of literally manufacturing legitimacy, cherry-picking historical fact, juxtaposing it with emotional appeals, wielding agenda biased rhetoric, many by now perhaps believing it themselves. Where Richman (2011) uses regular and left libertarian, I suggest neo and classic may be better (I’m not planning to compare Trenchard & Gordon’s economics to the Austrian school touted by Rothbardian left libertarians any time soon, but you’ll find neo-Whigs and neo-libertarians are compared by The New Independent Whig here; regardless, genuine libertarians descend from leftist/anarchist origins). Perhaps in response to a perception that liberal education and universities would lead to a democratization of property and wealth, those who had the most of those things already created a counter-knowledge production factory—attacking science itself if it suited their purpose. Corporate funded think tanks like Cato and Heritage took an ideology and turned it into a library of talking points and “sound bytes” to be mixed and matched by snake-oil salesmen far and wide, an American tradition older than the Constitution.

Neo-libertarianism as a front for lobby groups, dynasty-building

Recent revelations, therefore, that the junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, is a serial plagiarist should be no more a surprise than the source of his material: the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. Note well, the link Paul copied from is self-proclaimed ‘fuzzy’ and/or anecdotal research to begin with, stating, “…This book is not an investigative book. Many of the stories told and information reported represent work already done by others. Rather than endlessly noting multiple sourced items mixed in with personal conversations and research, we have included here other sources of information for the stories presented.” (par. 17).

In March, and again in April of 2012, the Koch’s sued the Institute and attempted to reverse “what they called a ‘board-packing scheme’ to weaken their influence.” (Bloomberg, 2012-04-10) This more than irked Robert A. Levy, chairman of Cato’s board, who knew well that skewing brand-name research and scholars in support of political advocacy groups is what the Kochs do (NYT, 2012-03-06, par. 4). Think tanks began taking extra care publicly to distance themselves from Koch influence, even as they take Koch money.

dem·a·gogue also dem·a·gog US (dm-gôg, -gg)     n.
1. A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned
    appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace.

In 2012 the Koch’s infamously funded then-climate-change-skeptic Richard Muller’s Berkeley Earth Project, apparently thinking it would provide evidence to back their long time assertion climate science is a fraud, a conspiracy, a hoax. Have they changed their minds? A genuine look at the threat of climate change by the academic think tank, the Miller Center of Public Affairs (University of Virginia), concluded the solution is to “Take Federalism Seriously. The remarkably diverse body of state experience gives the federal government a unique opportunity to fashion policy on the basis of real-world lessons, including models of best practices. It also establishes a foundation for an intergovernmental partnership on climate change in the best traditions of American federalism…” (NCCG, 2008, pg. 9). The Cato Institute Store still appears to be peddling climate denial literature “by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace” [1, 2, 3].

fet·ish·ism also fet·ich·ism (ft-shzm, ft-) n.
1. Worship of or belief in magical fetishes.
2. Excessive attachment or regard.

Cato’s message of free-markets, as antithetical to the values of Trenchard & Gordon the Whigs as it is to those of Franklin and Paine the Patriots and Lincoln the Republican president, is fetishistic. The mechanisms of which the genuine Cato’s Letters warned almost 400 years ago saying “…under every government, particular men may be too rich,” which we see in the plain light of day result in wealth disparity and poverty, will somehow magically create prosperity and growth? Maybe, but only for those positioned to benefit, those who fund the think tanks and provide the amplification.

Advising the British Parliament in 1744 Dr. Samuel Johnson said, “…disseminating discontent, and propagating reports of secret influence, of dangerous counsels, of violated rights, and encroaching usurpation. This practice is no certain note of patriotism.” The post-Muller Institute hounds “Obamacare” and affirmative action (the latter employs a straw man argument in doublespeak: ‘trickle down civil rights’), derides the president and his office, and hawks their annotated versions Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States—the same tired demagoguery as the TEA party, the 112th and 113th congresses, Freedom Watch, and other Koch ventures, which led to multiple pointless votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, brinkmanship around the debt ceiling and a government shutdown that has already cost Americans taxpayers at least $24 billion as of late October 2013.

infographic, The Wealth Gap and One Approach to Fixing It

In her “Brief Audit of Bill Gates’ Common Core Spending” Mercedes Schneider tells us, “In total, the four organizations primarily responsible for CCSS — NGA, CCSSO, Achieve, and Student Achievement Partners — have taken $147.9 million from Bill Gates. “This first post also includes a list of think tanks and major education organizations that received funding from Gates to promote the CCSS. Although “libertarian” think tanks like Cato have philosophical differences with Common Core, ironically the policies they promote benefit men like the Kochs, Gates and Coors (Microsoft has donated to Heritage Foundation).

Riverboat dandies of ed reform

Riverboat dandies of ed reform, such as DeVos or Cato operative and one-time climate science-denier Neal McCluskey, whose brief career as an English teacher led to a long record of ideology-driven conjecture on the subject of education. McCluskey came to my attention Tweeting about about scary “government schools” and “choice,” but never answered when I asked if he also walks in “government” parks, borrows books from “government” libraries, and drives on “government” highways? Trenchard and Gordon, in the genuine Cato’s Letters of US history, used the word genuine people still use today, although they spelled it, “publick.” They were opposed to one who “…sets up an interest of profit, pleasure, or pomp in himself, repugnant to the good of the publick…” (No. 37. Saturday, July 15, 1721). While I’ve not read Mr. McCluskey’s book, the promo reeks of the same disconnect from fact and history displayed when Charles Koch Foundation appropriated the name of Trenchard’s & Gordon’s famous pre-Revolutionary pamphlet for their Cato Institute.

The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by wise Men in all Ages, as the surest Foundation of the Happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the Publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.
—Benjamin Franklin, 1749

McCluskey implies Thomas Jefferson hated government, or maybe “big” government, an assertion that fails† US History 101. Jefferson, in his first inaugural address said, “We are all republicans — we are all federalists;” genuine historian Peter S. Onuf would say Mr. McCluskey is a writer “…complicit in an interpretation of [Jefferson’s] political career generally that systematically discounts and misrepresents his principled commitment to the American experiment in federal republican government. …and we certainly continue to draw inspiration from Jeffersonian conceptions of the natural and universal rights of individuals. But when Jefferson called himself a “federalist,” he meant what he was saying. …Jefferson did not privilege “republicanism” over “federalism” (as we may), nor would he be willing to distinguish or dissociate these “principles.”” (par. 10) and reminds us “Jefferson’s obsessive fears of “power,” “corruption,” his notions of “liberty”, “virtue”, personal and political “independence”, and “equality” were all embedded in a view of the world astonishingly unfamiliar to modern readers…” Onuf argues here “…that “federal principles”, the preservation of the framers’ “more perfect union,” was as important to Jefferson as vindicating republican government”. McCluskey claims the Founders voted down public education. Even Christensen’s lazy summary of Jefferson’s long-known and deeply held belief in public education correctly places the blame on Virginia plantation owners and their anti-tax allies of the day (Christensen, Johnson & Horn, 2008, pgs. 52-53). It’s either legend or myth that some wanted to make George Washington king. They were sternly rebuked: “If you have any regard for your Country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your Mind, and never communicate, as from yourself, or any one else, a sentiment of the like Nature,” was the response, says a PBS lesson plan. Joyce Appleby (1973) tells how Adams found that in France the populist constitution of Franklin’s Pennsylvania was compared to his own aristocratic one. Yet they both lost. It’s yet another irony of the day that our self styled tea party patriots still support the aristocrats and do the bidding of the would-be king makers. Virginia’s Miller Foundation explains, “…Washington’s balanced and devoted service as President persuaded the American people that their prosperity and best hope for the future lay in a union under a strong but cautious central authority. His refusal to accept a proffered crown and his willingness to relinquish the office after two terms established the precedents for limits on the power of the presidency.”

“Jefferson recognized the supreme importance, for a democratic government, of universal education. And this education must above all things teach men to think clearly and independently, for only by so doing will they be able to perpetuate a democracy.”
—Norbert Sand (1943)

Norbert Sand (1943) says much more about Jefferson and education in fewer words: “Jefferson recognized the supreme importance, for a democratic government, of universal education. And this education must above all things teach men to think clearly and independently, for only by so doing will they be able to perpetuate a democracy.” Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Paine all wrote at great length of their belief in education and its role in American democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville spoke of American sense of community and warned of individualism’s—not government’s—ill effect on morality: “…it is difficult to foresee to what pitch of stupid excesses their selfishness may lead them; and no one can foretell into what disgrace and wretchedness they would plunge themselves lest they should have to sacrifice something of their own well-being to the prosperity of their fellow creatures.” There was only one antidote. “Educate, then, at any rate, for the age of implicit self-sacrifice and instinctive virtues is already flitting far away from us, and the time is fast approaching when freedom, public peace, and social order itself will not be able to exist without education” (de Tocqueville, 1840).

Before any great things are accomplished, a memorable change must be made in the system of education and knowledge must become so general as to raise the lower ranks of society nearer to the higher. The education of a nation instead of being confined to a few schools and universities for the instruction of the few, must become the national care and expense for the formation of the many.
John Adams,

Men like Dorn and McCluskey are disingenuous. They work for Cato Institute and the neo-liberal agenda, thus we can’t expect their representation of American history to be genuine. Think tanks employ mostly white men, help them pursue PhDs and relevance, and continue quoting from the reductionist script. They employ hyperbole and loaded language (“[scientists] proclaiming the sky falling…” “a desire to sponge off of others”) and euphemisms (great federal slimdown of 2013…,” emph. mine), paint all scientists everywhere as whiners. Completely oblivious to the outside world’s view of the miscreants McCluskey praises for shutting down the government, he links to Canadian Kate Allen’s article calling it an example of researchers ‘sponging’, even while proclaiming a love of science and its many benefits (elsewhere McCluskey article).

Frank Luntz is described as “a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message.” Luntz is responsible for changing “taxing” the rich, which Americans support, to “taking from” the rich. Luntz has been largely successful in removing the word “entrepreneur” and substituting it with “job-creator.” At the Republican Governors Association in 2011 Luntz feared, especially after Occupy Wall St., that Americans were changing their views on capitalism, seeing it as “immoral.” “I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market,’ ” Luntz said. Is there any reason at all to expect Neal McCluskey’s Luntz-scripted “Feds In The Classroom: How Big Government Corrupts, Cripples, and Compromises American Education” (2007) to be qualitatively or substantively different from James A. Dorn’s Luntz-scripted “The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality” (1996)? One wonders if these are educators or salesmen.

Martin Wolf (2010) unmasked the “political genius” and economic voodoo of supply side economics some years ago, quoting Alan Greenspan and George Mankiw. But in the free-market fetish business thinking has tanked, and in business people say anything to close the deal.

Don’t engage with disingenuous ideologues

“The system of unfettered capitalism doesn’t work for the ordinary citizen,” says Chris Hedges, he continues [it…] “means they’re all back to these speculative games, and that’s what they are, they don’t produce anything, they bet against things…” Now they bet parents and teachers can be overwhelmed by dollars and a discourse that is false. James L. Huston (1993) points especially to seventeenth-century republican theorist James Harrington and says, “…Americans believed that if property were concentrated in the hands of a few in a republic, those few would use their wealth to control other citizens, seize political power, and warp the republic into an oligarchy. Thus to avoid descent into despotism or oligarchy, republics had to possess an equitable distribution of wealth…” (pg. 1079).

Drawing of snakeoil salesman, fades into Rand Paul

They produce phony research, subvert and suppress report after report showing their assertions of American public school failures are damned lies, and their ideas for fixing them are snake-oil. Chris Christie gives the public’s money to his campaign donors and says openly he “doesn’t care what the community thinks.” Parents should return the tests, teachers should defy their principals, principal should stand with students, teachers and parents against their boards and the corporations invading children’s classrooms, testing their marketing ideas on children, building customer lists for their products, collecting numbers and destroying learning.

I would like to find reformers who share common ground with me and with the nation’s teachers on the issues of child health and nutrition, on the issue of the malevolent effects of poverty on children’s lives. I would like to find reformers who want to collaborate–not compete–with the community public schools.
—Diane Ravitch, September 15, 2013

Diane Ravitch presents some strong arguments for excluding the disingenuous and the self-interested from the debate in this impassioned rebuttal to Sam Chaltain’s (frankly patronizing and condescending) review of her book, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Having tweeted my overall support for Ms. Ravitch’s response I’m very appreciative Mr. Chaltain tweeted to me that he was not suggesting sitting with ALEC, I’d like to know if he thinks Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, The US Chamber of Commerce, Bill Gates, or even Arne Duncan is any different, and if so, why?

A prince, therefore, ought always to … be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener concerning the things of which he inquired; also, on learning that any one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should let his anger be felt.
—Niccolò Machiavelli, 1532

Those who seek profits in education are disingenuous at best but when they claim to put children first, many of them are lying to themselves and others. When think tanks deny the consensus of research they are channeling the card sharks and snake oil sellers of the Old West. “What they have amply demonstrated if they don’t care about poor kids or closing the achievement gap, only maintaining the status quo,” says Ravitch.

The free-market dogma of the Cato Institute is distantly removed from the spirit of the Cato’s Letters of Trenchard and Gordon, which are widely regarded as representative of pre-Revolutionary Colonial American political thought (Bailyn, 1967). Philosophically and politically, the Fathers of the American Revolution were nothing like the so-called Libertarians of 21st century North America, who have much more in common with the “tyrants” “boasters” and “knaves” Trenchard and Gordon regularly disparage for their greed and lack of “publick spirit” (e.g., #35). They did not despise government, only tyranny of the minority, and factions that would divide the people against each other for their own gain. The “publick spirit” of which Trenchard and Gordon wrote inthe 1720s was a fundamental piece of American political thought in the early United States of America, as Thomas Paine wrote in Agrarian Justice:

The rugged face of society, checkered with the extremes of affluence and want, proves that some extraordinary violence has been committed upon it, and calls on justice for redress.
—Thomas Paine (1797/1894)

American revolutionaries thought long and hard about limiting government—it should be in the people’s hands. They thought a great deal about limiting the accumulation of wealth. They thought a great deal of associating together, to lift all the people up, and very little of taking personal gain at the expense of the weak. They believed in education, and all who knew them acknowledged its importance to maintaining the American experiment.

I do not think that the system of self-interest as it is professed in America is in all its parts self- evident, but it contains a great number of truths so evident that men, if they are only educated, cannot fail to see them. Educate, then, at any rate, for the age of implicit self-sacrifice and instinctive virtues is already flitting far away from us, and the time is fast approaching when freedom, public peace, and social order itself will not be able to exist without education.
—Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835


When it comes to America’s 3 centuries of commitment to public education, the riverboat dandies, card sharps and snakeoil salemen (and women) of ed reform prefer that you know less than half the story. They want you know the first paragraph of this famous de Tocqueville quote, but not think critically about the implications of the second, and probably prefer you not read his summary of his feelings on the matter in the two paragraphs that follow, which he reported as the American experiment in progress, at all:

The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent …they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, … it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

[…] This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience. I do not deny, however, that a constitution of this kind appears to me to be infinitely preferable to one which, after having concentrated all the powers of government, should vest them in the hands of an irresponsible person or body of persons. Of all the forms that democratic despotism could assume, the latter would assuredly be the worst.

[…] when the sovereign represents the nation and is dependent upon the people, the rights and the power of which every citizen is deprived serve not only the head of the state, but the state itself; and that private persons derive some return from the sacrifice of their independence which they have made to the public. To create a representation of the people in every centralized country is, therefore, to diminish the evil that extreme centralization may produce, but not to get rid of it.

—Alexis de Tocqueville, 1840
emphasis mine

The Education Reform movement must learn to differentiate between ideology-driven strategists serving corporate interests, and life-long educationists who form opinions by rational, dialectical synthesis of opposing arguments based on their merit — who engage in what we call critical thinking. Critical thinkers owe it to themselves, their neighbours, and their fellow citizens to engage in good faith within the public sphere. Serious educators, devoted to research-based learning and teaching, have at least a 4-decade head start. There’s simply no point engaging with ideologues who may be science deniers and the people we can refer to as free-market “fetishists” or “obsessionists.”

De Tocqueville is also famously quoted as saying, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money,” and it may one of the few times his usual prescience failed us. American democracy endured until corporate-industrial-military complex discovered it could buy the government outright with the public’s money.

—Richard Fouchaux



Appleby, Joyce (1973) “The New Republican Synthesis and the Changing Political Ideas of John Adams”, American Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 5.

Abowd, Paul (2013) Koch-funded charity passes money to free-market think tanks in states, The Center for Public Integrity [HTML]

Bailyn, Bernard (1967), The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Harvard University Press, reprinted 1992, 396 pages.

Cato Institute (1977) Articles of Incorportion, archived at D. B. A. Press retrieved 2012-06-22.

Cato Institute (1994) Restated Articles of Incorportion, archived at D. B. A. Press retrieved 2012-06-22.

Cato Institute (2001) 2001 Annual Report http://www.cato.org/pubs/papers/25th_annual_report.pdf retrieved 2012-06-22.

Christensen, Clayton; Johnson, Curtis W.; and Horn, Michael B. (2008) Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns New York : McGraw-Hill

Conklin, Jeff (2005) Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems,

Conklin, Jeff (2010) Summary of available CogNexus Institute, Web site, California USA, http://cognexus.org/id42.htm retrieved 2011-10-10. Chapter 1 available as PDF http://cognexus.org/wpf/wickedproblems.pdf retrieved 2012-03-02.

Dorn, James A. (1996) The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality, online, Cato Institute [PDF] retrieved 2012-06-23

Duncan, A. (1987), The values, aspirations and opportunities of the urban underclass, Boston, Harvard University

Gordon, Thomas (1720) in Vol. 1. Chapter: NO. 2. SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 1720. The fatal Effects of the South-Sea Scheme, and the Necessity of punishing the Directors. [HTML].

Johnson, Samuel (1774), The Patriot, Addressed To The Electors Of Great Britain, [HTML].

Huston, James L. (1993) “The American Revolutionaries, the Political Economy of Aristocracy, and the American Concept of the Distribution of Wealth, 1765-19000” The American Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 4, pp. 1079-1105.

Kibler, William W. (1991). “Round Table.” In Lacy, Norris J. (Ed.), The New Arthurian Encyclopaedia, p. 391. New York: Garland.

National Journal (Chris Frates, 2012-06-19/20), Koch Brothers, Cato Institute Ending Dispute [HTML].

National Conference on Climate Governance [NCCG] (2008) Climate Policy Blueprint December 11–12, 2008 Charlottesville, Virginia Presented by the Report of the National Conference on Climate Governance [PDF]

New York Times (Eric Lichtblau, 2012-03-06) Cato Institute Is Caught in a Rift Over Its Direction [HTML].

Oppenheimer, Todd (2003) “The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology”, Random House. See also this Oppenheimer article, San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, February 4, 2009, “Technology not the panacea for education

Richman, Sheldon (2011) Libertarian Left Free-market anti-capitalism, the unknown ideal, blog post, American Conservative, February 3, 2011 [HTML].

Rith, Chanpory and Dubberly, Hugh (2006), Why Horst W.J. Rittel Matters, Design Issues: Volume 22, Number 4 Autumn 2006.

Rothbard, Murray (1998) The Ethics of Liberty, New York University Press. [HTML]

Smith, M. K. (2003, 2009) ‘Communities of practice’, the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/communities_of_practice.htm.

Powell, Jim (2012), The Cato Institute Controversy: Why Should Anyone Care What Libertarians Think?, [ Op/Ed]

Saez, Emmanuel (2013) Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (Updated with 2012 preliminary estimates), UC Berkeley [PDF]

Sand, Norbert (1944) The Classics in Jefferson’s Theory of Education The Classical Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Nov., 1944), pp. 92-98.

Shalhope, Robert (1972) Toward a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiography,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 22 (1972) 49-80.

Stone, Diane (2005), Think Tanks and Policy Advice in Countries in Transition, Section 1, Think Tanks: Definitions, Development and Diversification, Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI)

The New Independent Whig (2012) On Libertarians, Progressives & Whigs The Problem, blog post, Thursday, February 9, 2012 [HTML]

Weiser-Alexander, Kathy (2013), Gambling in the Old West, Legends of America, website, www.legendsofamerica.com/.

Wolf, Martin (2010) The Political Genius of Supply Side Economics, blog post [HTML]

Yahoo News (Moody, Chris, Dec 1, 2011) How Republicans are being taught to talk about Occupy Wall Street [HTML].

Some site JavaScript tweaks


HTML, CSS and JavaScript iconsI noticed the previous article, in which I begin to elaborate on what I mean by “thick” learning “situations,” was jumping to the iFrame that contains an audio clip. I knew why right away—the JavaScript plugin that syncs the audio and images is the first jQuery plugin I ever wrote (2011), I was trying to make sure the user could press the space bar after the page loaded, and the audio would play. It works until you load it in an “inline frame,” the < iframe > tag you may have noticed if you’ve ever copy/pasted YouTube “embed” code anywhere. I’d like to rewrite the entire routine “knowing what I know now,” but the jumping was annoying me and likely confusing others, if not turning them away. So I opened the plugin source file I haven’t opened in over a year. Then I remembered another problem, so I “fixed” that too.

The plugin itself is an example of what can happen when someone who had never taken a formal computer science course or even a programming class, but is reasonably good at finding the right documentation and making some sense of it, gets an idea and digs in, for better or worse. I came up with an approach that’s, well, completely different than Mozilla’s Popcorn, for example. The fact it works as well as it does must have at least as much to do with the power of computers and browser javascript engines as with anything I did (intentionally), but I’ll talk about that another day.

When good code goes bad

I think, but haven’t tested it, that I got away with this where the iframe is on another site because scripts don’t normally run if they’re on separate domains. It seems the “focus()” command was “bubbling up the DOM,” which is a bit like SCTV doing a 3D movie skit in your browser window, if that means anything to you. [I didn’t “embed” that in an iframe because it’s more entertaining than this post, you’d watch it and I’d probably lose you. Don’t click it now… oh shoot, that probably won’t work either.] I just meant to post news of the two tweaks and get back to the next instalment on making learning situations “thicker” using mind mapping tools.

Problem 1 was the jumping focus. I searched for the function I used, which was ‘.focus()’ and thought of two ways to approach it. The good programmers at jQuery have created a function named “stopPropagation()” but that’s not as much fun for me because I don’t really know how it works, I know when to type it in non-iframe-embeded code to make specific types of problems stop happening, then I go do something else. That’s always tempting, but the deciding factor was I wanted to turn it on and off. Plugins are supposed to make that easy. It was. I added a new variable ‘jswmAutoFocus‘ set it true by default (so it doesn’t break my old stuff all over the blog) and then wrapped focus() in an IF statement, so it only happens “if jswmAutoFocus is true.” The only trick is you have to look for it as settings.jswmAutoFocus once you set it false, which you now do in the blog post, not the plugin code. (I’ll go back and experiment with stopPropagation() too, it’s probably called for here and these aren’t mutually exclusive solutions.)

 // snipped code that preceded this...
		methods = {
		init : function(options) {
			 * These styles enable you to change nearly 
			 * anything about the appearance. You can 
			 * also quite easily add your own. 
			 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  */
			var /* The first group need to be declared before the 
			     * "defaults" object, because we use them inside it
				jswmAutoFocus = true, // New line
				jswmTitleId = "jswmTitle",  /* etc... */

The IF statement looks like this. ‘===’ means “deeply equals,” (not just the word ‘true,’ but boolean type true) (setTimeout(code_delayed_by_number_of,milliseconds) is a function that delays whatever code on the left of the comma by the number of milliseconds on the right:

if (settings.jswmAutoFocus === true)
        setTimeout("$('.jswm audio:first').focus();",250);

Problem 2 was that I used old fashioned User Agent detection, not recommended feature detection using modernizr. The thing is I wanted the old method because I knew how to “spoof” it and pretend to be something I wasn’t, and that let me test some things more quickly. Not recommended for “robust” “scalable” applications, but the only harm for me in using it was that I knew all along it was deprecated and would one day produce an error. I saw the error a few weeks ago when I updated the jQuery on my site to 1.9, I’ve since installed 1.10 so it was time to deal with it.

jQuery released a “migration” plugin that returns this feature and others. I don’t need the others right now, only this one. It’s very likely I could download the “debug” version and extract just the right bits, but this seemed like a challenge within my grasp. I know the original was a property of the global jQuery object and was itself an object. I knew from jQuery dicumentation it had 4 “keys.” I knew it returned only true, false or undefined, and the latter would be written in red text in the error console of Firebug. I know that in JavaScript you can return an object from a function, and you can assign a function to a variable name. So I knew if I could write a function, that produces an object, that returns value of true or false (and is more discreet about advertising its errors) and assign it the same name I gave the old one ($brwsr), it should work and the error should go away. With Firebug open as my scratch pad I wrote the function shown below. The dot in the old code, $brwsr = $.browser, means ‘browser’ is a property of ‘$’ (which is jQuery itself), I gave it my own name so it will come when I call it and not sneak away and pick up other properties somehow when my back is turned, and so it wouldn’t have to travel through the entire jQuery object every time I call. It just happens to begin with a ‘$’ because in 2011 that’s how I reminded myself it’s a nickname for a piece of the jQuery object.

I used this list of User Agent strings (and I don’t care about versions tonight). You make a “regular expression” in JavaScript by using ‘/‘ where you would have used “'” or ‘"‘ and you have to know the secret code. Then you can call a “method” (a function that’s already built into an object straight “out of the box”) of regular expressions, called test(), on the User Agent, which you called ‘ua’ like so: /myRegularExpressionPattern/.test(ua). I used a couple different regExp abilities just for variety and to demo, see the comments beside them.

var getBrowser = function(){
 var ua = navigator.userAgent,
     brwsrObj = {browser:"unknown"}
 if (/firefox|konqueror/i.test(ua)) // the 'i' means case-insensitive
    brwsrObj = {mozilla:true}; // key : value
 else if (/ MSIE /.test(ua)) // the MSIE is upper case between spaces
    brwsrObj = {msie:true};
 else if (/AppleWebKit/.test(ua)) // case sensitive
    brwsrObj = {webkit:true};
 else if (/Opera[\/ ]/.test(ua)) // the backslash \ prevents JS from thinking this / is the end of the regExp
    brwsrObj = {opera:true};
 return brwsrObj;
$brwsr = getBrowser(); // The old name now stores the function, which returns a similar object. 

I don’t think for a minute this is as comprehensive as what I’ll find in the migrate.js source when I eventually open it. It is what it is: a quick fix to overcome a deprecated property in an alpha version of a script I wrote 2 years ago. It just needs to hold up until I install the beta… which I just need to write first.


Oct 08

Learning situations can be thick—as in ‘Clifford Geertz’ thick.

Clifford Geertz knew how to make people understand the importance of symbols and the way they “map,” as we say, to other pieces of the human condition. “Thick” descriptions don’t stop at describing clothing, or the actions being performed in a ritual. “Thick” descriptions try to get to the meaning of the clothing and gestures within the culture and context, to convey the impact the ritual has on the life of the ritual performer.

…between what Ryle calls the “thin description” of what the rehearser… is doing (“rapidly contracting his right eyelids”) and the “thick description” of what he is doing (“practicing a burlesque of a friend taking a wink to deceive an innocent into thinking a conspiracy is in motion”) lies the object of ethnography…
—Clifford Geertz (in Denzin & Lincoln, 2003, pg. 147)

His colleague Robert Darnton recounts an example of the power of Geertz’s thick description:

…I enumerated esoteric details about the connections between cardinal directions, color symbolism, and mythological motifs. By the time I got to initiation rites, I realized that everything was falling flat. I was making a worldview sound as mechanical as the directions in a tool kit.

At that point, Cliff intervened. He described the scenario. Adolescent boys sleeping in the familiar comfort of their beds are awakened unexpectedly in the middle of the night. They are dressed in a ritual breechclout (a kind of loincloth) covered with a blanket and made to climb down a ladder into a windowless antechamber of a kiva, the deepest, most secret room in the pueblo. Then they are told to shed their blankets. A terrible thump occurs over their heads. Elders cover the ladder with a blanket; and when they remove it, there stands the chief deity in a terrifying mask. He announces that he has come from his dwelling place beneath the lake and asks the boys if they are prepared to be “finished” as men. After they agree, he flails their bare torsos with a yucca whip, striking with all his might and raising huge, red welts on their rib cages. Finally, when they are reduced to terror, he pulls off his mask, and they see the face of a relative or neighbor laughing at them.

…Like all the students, …It made me think of the child who pulls the beard off the department store Santa Claus.…

Not at all, Cliff explained. The boys had learned that uncle x was a god, not that a supposed god was only uncle x. Suddenly we were staring into strange territory.

—Robert Darnton
Princeton University

As a teacher, Geertz delivered equally thick learning experiences. He was everything one might expect from the somewhat dishevelled, “Beware! Genius Inside” look he’s said to have sported (Darnton, 2008, par. 12).

Cliff had the students dashing around the hermeneutic circle like runners stealing bases. … as a teacher, he was exhilarating. When his eyes lit up and the words poured out, he infected students with the excitement of the chase. They, too, could penetrate another world. The game was difficult, but anyone could play. And in Cliff they had an example of a hunter-gatherer who blazed his own trail through the jungle of cultures.
—Robert Darnton

“Thick” Learning Situations …enriched by technology

It’s my experience that mind-mapping software, specifically Compendium and VUE, and their promising offshoots CompendiumLD (Learning Design), CompendiumNG (Next Generation?) and designVUE (VUE with Issues Based Information System support for dialogue mapping to solve wicked problems, available in Compendium but not the original VUE) have great capacity to help those who make learning situations, make them “thicker,” in the Geertzian sense.

Which one should I use

Well, the short answer is, I still use both. I’ve gravitated towards CompendiumNG in recent days, but I’ve also seen that designVUE’s a powerful presentation tool. The designVUE site says, accurately in my opinion: “[designVUE] enables users to capture sources of inspiration, integrate supporting evidence and visualise design decisions.” When I did my major research project last spring I found Compendium’s Web export to be old-fashioned looking but rock solid, and VUE’s to be wonderfully true to the original but including some types of information, HTML code for example, broke the output. designVUE adds Compendium’s ability to nest maps in creative ways, which is a benefit to me, but I’ve noted not all keyboard shortcuts available in the parent VUE seem to be hooked up in designVUE. CompendiumLD has icons and stencils specially for Learning Design, and CNG has a sleek updated look with very mature toolbar, workspace, almost an IDE? for learning design.

I’ve written here about student mind maps as classroom exercises, here about VUE and designVUE’s amazing non-linear presentation abilities, and my preliminary exploration of CompendiumNG here. I’ve written about mind mapping in general here, here, here, and here, and I intend to write much more about all 5 of these programs as I continue to use them and apply them in my own work—planning lessons and doing storyboards are among the things I’m trying. I wish I could put together all the best features of all 5 strains of Compendium and VUE. In the meantime any of them can perform similar basic concepts, you just have to adapt slightly to each tool. Here’s a 52-second presentation showing just one novice’s approach (mine) to a project design using CompendiumLD. I hope it’s enough to intrigue you to explore further.

Some features and benefits of CompendiumLD for project design

This is an HTML5 audio player I made that synchronizes the display of images and text to audio or video. Press play. I apologize for the audio quality, I’ve been having some problems with my setup… I used Audacity to remove noise and other problems, but wasn’t able to completely “fix it in the mix.”

Please make use of my comments section and follow me on Twitter @theFooshShow



Budd, John W., (2004) Mind Maps as Classroom Exercises, The Journal of Economic Education, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Winter, 2004), pp. 35-46. [Available on line but missing accompanying graphics
www.legacy-irc.csom.umn.edu/faculty/jbudd/mindmaps/mindmaps.pdf, retrieved 2012-12-10]

Conole, Gráinne and Fill, Karen. (2005), A learning design toolkit to create pedagogically effective learning activities, Journal of Interactive Media in Education 2005(08). [jime.open.ac.uk/2005/08].

Conole, G. (2007-draft) Using Compendium as a tool to support the design of learning activities [PDF], retrieved 2012-11-11.

Conole, G. (2007), ‘Describing learning activities: tools and resources to guide practice’ in Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age, H. Beetham and R. Sharpe (Eds), Oxford: RoutledgeFalmer.

Conole, G. (2008), ‘Capturing practice: the role of mediating artefacts in learning design’, in L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, and B. Harper (Eds), Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies.

Conole, Gráinne; Brasher, Andrew; Cross, Simon; Weller, Martin; Nixon, Stewart; Clark, Paul and Petit, John (2008). A new methodology for learning design. In: Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (EDMEDIA), 30 June – 4 July 2008, Vienna.

Darnton, Robert (2008) From the In Memoriam column of the February 2007 Perspectives, This essay first appeared as “Cosmology in the Classroom: Fieldnotes on Clifford Geertz,” in the New York Review of Books, January 11, 2007. It is reprinted with permission [HTML].

Denzin, Norman K. and Lincoln, Yvonna S. Eds., (2003), Turning Points in Qualitative Research — Tying Knots in a Handkerchief, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 505 pages.

Oct 06

How did you learn how to learn?

Two chimps, one watching the other doing something with a stick.When we hand children “tablets” and walk away it seems they intuitively learn how to use them. But should we really be surprised, if we consider dedicated researchers in computer-human interface design poured roughly 40 years of knowledge and experimentation into their making (Baeker, Grudin, Buxton & Greenberg, 1995)? On The Agenda with Steve Paikin: The Classroom of 2030 Oct 9, 2013 (hashtag #Learning2030), video evidence of this was shown and it was said, “The absence of the teacher becomes a pedagogical tool.” But what do our observations of children’s intuition tell us about what they’ve learned, or about learning how to learn? In the preface to the 21st anniversary edition of his 1995 The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach (1995/2011; I cite the 20th anniversary reissue, 2005, reprinted 2011), Howard Gardner revealed that, prior to its publication in 1983, he had believed the Theory of Multiple Intelligence (MI) was a contribution to mainstream psychology. He said he wasn’t thinking about pedagogy at all (1995/2011, pg. xiii). Yet the theory, whether one believes it or not, impacted pedagogy greatly, and continues to inform the debate on education reform. This post is for everyone who joins me in respecting Gardner’s contributions, and also finds recent evidence of kids’ intuition when mastering computerized tablets remarkable and encouraging. Howard Gardner found something about children’s intuition “troublesome” (1992, pg. 5). In the Peterson Lecture he presented in Geneva in 1992, Gardner reminded all of us: as children, and perhaps even as “educated” adults, when it comes to the big things, most of our intuition is just plain wrong.

Gardner and the Arts

Piaget believed that if you studied children you had to know what they were going to become—what the end state of development is. Piaget thought it was to be a scientist; that is what Piaget was. However, …I felt that there was something wrong with a theory that only talked about the mind of the scientist as being the endall of a child’s development. So I began to explore what development would be like if one thought of participation in the arts as an artist, or a critic, or a performer or a connoisseur as being a viable end state for human development. This is not to say that human beings should develop to become artists any more than they should develop to become scientists but rather that we can develop many different kinds of human beings.

—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 1)

By 1992 Gardner was celebrating Project Zero‘s twenty-fifth anniversary. Compared to its early years, PZ “…was much larger; more empirically oriented; extended well beyond the arts; and had a strong applied division, which worked in the schools, museums, and other educational institutions.” It was actually educators’ response to MI and the publication of the influential report, “A Nation at Risk” the same year that turned his lens, and that of his Project Zero, on education. The project was conveniently housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, but had been “philosophical and conceptual” in the 1970s and by the 1980s was doing “primarily psychological research funded by governmental grants” (Gardner, Perkins, Quense, Seidel, and Tishman, 2003, #3, par. 1).

For Gardner, that ‘to be a musician/artist/performer when I grow up’ is “a viable end state for human development” was a radical departure from Piaget (1992, pg. 1). By this time the seven “intelligences,” the word’s very definition and implications an area of criticism then and now (see for example, Morgan, 1992 or Willingham, 2004), was beginning to morph into five “minds,” introduced around the time of his (post-Peterson lectures) 1995 The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach. In the introduction to the 20th Anniversary edition he summarizes them. “The first three,” says Gardner, “can be reduced to three words: depth, breadth and stretch” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The fourth and fifth minds Gardner feels are “…not cognitive in the traditional sense” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The Respectful Mind brings tolerance and acceptance, and the Ethical Mind, while he labels it (too rigidly, I think) “outside the ken of children” (the youngest children, yes, but I think not some tweens, even pre-tweens I’ve known, as he concedes on pg. xxv). I’m inclined to assert that Howard Gardner’s divergence from Piaget has some elements of another extender of Piaget’s work, the moral theorist Lawrence Kohlberg (see Table 1).

On the ridiculous notion of replacing teachers in learning environments

Gardner rejected conflation of MI with “learning styles” (1995/2011, pg. xix), although H. Morgan (1992) points out strong parallels with “cognitive styles” (esp. pp. 4-12). He was coming to see the practical strength of apprenticeship, also uncovered by the “cognitive apprenticeshipframework posited by John Seely Brown, Allen Collins, S.E. Newman, Ann Holum et al. (Collins, Brown & Holum, 1989; Collins, Brown & Newman, 1989), and their work that stemmed from the ethnography of Jean Lave and computer science of Etienne Wenger (Lave & Enger, 1991), which as I’ve pointed out (Fouchaux, 2013) has especially promising and well-documented associations with technology-enhanced pedagogy.

In the early 90s, Gardner’s other source of excitement for the future of learning was the emergence of children’s museums like the Exploratorium in San Francisco, or Toronto’s Ontario Science Centre. Gardner developed a vision of school reform that included the expert/apprentice model: Modeling (expert performs a task, verbalizing/illustrating their knowledge and thinking) Coaching (expert observes and facilitates) Scaffolding (expert provides support(s)), Articulation (expert encourages learners to verbalize/illustrate their knowledge and thinking), Reflection (expert enables learners to compare their performance with others) and Exploration (expert invites learners to pose and solve their own problems) (Collins, Brown and Hollum, 1991, pg. 3). While he enthusiastically acknowledged these pieces of all learning situations can all be supported and enhanced by technology, Gardner seems already to have had a feeling for the importance of what is now known as “face to face” (sometimes abbreviated F2F) or “blended learning.”

Like Gardner, devotion to the study of learning and passion for its improvement drove his peers in the 1980s cognitive apprenticeship school to dig below the surface, beneath first impressions. “There are three important distinctions between traditional and cognitive apprenticeship: in traditional apprenticeship the process is easily observable; in traditional apprenticeship the tasks arise and emerge in the workplace; in traditional apprenticeship the skills to be learned are inherent in the task itself. To translate the model of traditional apprenticeship to cognitive apprenticeship, experts need to: identify the processes of the task and make them visible to students; situate abstract tasks in authentic contexts, so that students understand the relevance of the work; vary the diversity of situations and articulate the common aspects so that students can transfer what they learn” (Collins, Brown and Hollum, 1991, pg. 3).

Highly trained, highly respected, “reasonably competitively” paid professional educators

The benefits of training life-long teachers well and elevating the profession are proven and quite replicable. The idea of literally replacing teachers with prerecorded experts, virtual database curators guiding us through virtual museums and so on may sound very futuristic, but it is not one commonly held by serious trained educators who have devoted a life-time of study to understanding how the learning process really works. It’s more the realm of venture capitalists wielding “power tools,” dazzled by dollar signs, trying to take shortcuts past the wicked problem of obtaining consensus, and dismiss the roles poverty and privilege, equity and inclusion play in building a competitive, free and democratic society. Teaching and learning environments will adapt and adopt technology—I fully expect teleconferencing with experts to play a bigger role, experts who probably should have demonstrated superior communication skills and a concept of instructional design up front and/or work in tandem with the advanced preparation of those who do. I’ve seen indications and suspect recordings of live Webinars can retain enough genuine human interaction that they may have some vicarious benefit when observed after the fact. I’ve little doubt we’ll one day see self-driving cars, with speed and safety limits enforceable at the system level providing safe navigation of accident-free highways, travelling on auto-pilot. I ask, is “auto-pilot” a good model to pursue for the education of our children?

Whatever role we see for technology, we all do generally agree that schools fail because of the gap between what we expect them to do, and what we’ve actually designed them to do. Standardized testing, and moreover the purposes to which it is put, is the nemesis of authentic learning—not simply vinegar to its oil, more like a cancer in need of white corpuscles. Gardner has demonstrated the utter and complete failure of the tell and test model to build the kind of critical thinking skills required to connect the dots once we leave the classroom. No amount of technology will ever change this until we rethink and reframe schooling itself, in fact they may only entrench the problems. But to abandon the public social element of schools is to deny the essentially socially situated condition of learning itself (Apple, 2005; Reid, 2005).

What is Schooling?

…five-year-olds do one thing that is troublesome: they form intuitive conceptions or theories—theory of matter, theories of mind, theories of life. Every normal five-year-old develops these theories. And it is very good for getting along in the world. However, the theories are wrong. School is supposed to replace the erroneous theories with better theories.

—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 5)

Gardner believed in 1992 that the role of schooling is to provide “Christopherian encounters,” perhaps similar to what others have called “threshold concepts,” (see for example Meyer & Land, 2010) in order to replace childhood misunderstandings with understanding, which he he says elsewhere is easier to demonstrate if people have more than one way of representing a skill, and use their multiple ways deftly (their repertoire or tool kit, as some might say) in response to their audience or situation (1995/2011, pg. 14).

In the case of misconceptions, in the celebratory year 1992 I recommend Christopherian encounters, named after Christopher Colombus. If you believe the world is flat, but every day or every year you travel around the world and you come back to where you started before, that tends to belie the notion that the world is flat. In a Christopherian encounter you expose your theories to disconfirmation. If your theories are consistently disconfirmed, you will slowly abandon them, and hopefully construct a better theory.
Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 10)
[Emphasis mine. Of course we know
this isn’t always what happens.
Please see his arguments, which follow.]

Why even the best students in the best schools do not understand

Most of the elements elaborated upon in his 1995 recommendations for schools were already part of his 1992 guest lecture in Geneva. Subject by subject he reveals how only experts master the subject matter, while many (most) of the the most highly “educated” fail to make the connections they’ve invested years in education presumably to be able to make. He said it affected all disciplines and documented its impact on each, developing terminology where necessary.

Pure and applied sciences: Aristotelians, Rigid Algorithms

“Most people remain five-year-olds or Aristotelians even though they studied physics,” says Gardner (1992, pg. 7), and gives examples from astronomy and other sciences, as well. 23 out of 25 Harvard astronomy graduates ignore everything they’ve just studied and regurgitated on tests to do with the earth’s seasons or axis, and state the earth is warmer in summer because it’s closer to the sun than in the winter. Students “…who have taken not one, but two or three courses in biology focusing on the topic of evolution, still do not understand the basics of evolution. They still believe that something in one generation can be passed on to the next, even if it was acquired in that generation.” What he encounters in mathematics are not so much misconceptions as “rigid algorithms,” learning to plug numbers into a formula, by rote (pg. 7).

Problems in Economics and Statistics

Economics presents a bridge area between mathematical thinking in the social arena. “College-educated subjects outperformed those without a college education, but there was little difference between those college students who had studied economics and those who had not. […] Misconceptions or stereotypes were found across both groups. […] Such primary rules seem to occupy a place similar to a rigidly applied algorithm: When in doubt, invoke the rule triggered by a word like interest or inflation” (1995/2011, pg. 181). Gardner tells of a well-known set of studies by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and their colleagues asked students to answer questions calling for the use of statistical principles, and gives only 5 of their astonishing examples. In one, given a sample in which they’re told up front the ratio of engineers to lawyers is 7:3, and asked which a particular subject who just happens to be good at debate is more likely to be, trained statisticians abandon their schooling and go with the stereotype (pg. 183).

A favourite script is the restaurant script. Every four-year-old knows that if you go to a restaurant, somebody comes and seats you. You are given the menu; you order. Food comes. You eat it and then you call for the cheque, and you leave. If you go to McDonald’s you pay first but that is an exception to the script.
—Howard Gardner (1992, pg. 8)

The Arts and the Humanities: scripts, simplifications and stereotypes

The Star Wars script is one very powerful script we develop as children, it goes, “it’s good to be big; you should be big yourself; if you’re not big, align yourself with somebody who is big. If you look like that person, you will be good and people who look different will be bad.” But history majors who write papers on the complex nuances of WWII approach current events in what some might call Manichaean terms of good guys vs. bad guys (1992, pg. 8). Gardner’s unschooled mind presented quite embarrassingly in the arts in a much earlier 1920s study by literary critic and poet Ivor Armstrong Richards. He removed the poet’s names from classics by John Donne, Gerald Manley Hopkins and others and “…found that the students did not have a clue about which poems were good (according to the critics) and which were bad” (1992, pg. 8) Gardner tells us “…you have very, very good students who have studied literature, who, when the book clue is removed (namely this is by a good poet, this is by a bad poet or by a non poet), display the same kind of taste that someone with no education in literature would exhibit” (pg. 9).

Schools presumably seek to present three kinds of knowledge across disciplines: notational sophistication, concepts within the discipline, and forms of exposition and reasoning within the discipline (1995/2011, pg. 143). Gardner has ideas on how to address the failings that lead to each type of misconception, some of which I’ve outlined already.

A repertoire and toolkit for repair

As I said earlier, Gardner speaks of deftly using multiple ways to represent, practice and experience skills and knowledge. He offers “…five different “windows” into the same room.” They are 1. Narrational—basically the story mode. 2. A quantitative, logical rational way of dealing with numbers, principles, causality. 3. A foundational way, asking who? what? where? when? how? …why? 4. Aesthetic—looks, configurations, impressions. 5. Finally, hands on—“What is it actually like to be this thing, to do this thing? …what is it like to breed drosophila? If you are studying democracy, what is it like to be in a group that decides by consensus as opposed to one that decides by autocracy, oligarchy or some other political principle” (1992, pg. 12)?

John Seely Brown’s Institute for Research on Learning (IRL), a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from anthropology, education, linguistics, computer science and psychology found Seven Principles of Learning: “Learning is fundamentally social; Knowledge is integrated in the life of communities; Learning is an act of membership; Knowing depends on engagement in practice; Engagement is inseparable from empowerment; “Failure to Learn” is the normal result of exclusion from participation; We already have a society of lifelong learners” (Collins, Brown, and Holum, 1989; Collins, Brown, and Newman, 1989). This project in particular led to the cognitive apprenticeship framework, with immediate recognition of its potential enhancement by technology (Fouchaux, 2013, Appendices B, C, & D).

The social media boom, the rise of Facebook and Twitter and their inevitable entrance into discussions about teaching and learning have not created new knowledge, nor caused a spontaneous eruption of stunning new ideas. They have only increased the number of people with access to what we have been learning about education and technology since the emergence of these technologies. We have amplified and expanded a conversation we educators have been having for decades. The first Apple Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs) were disrupting the console driven mainframes and finding their ways into the homes of relatively ordinary people and their work places in the 1980s. Nearly 40 years ago they defined the study of systems usability, and they established the practice of watching users use systems, and then measuring the results with the focused aim of making the systems more usable. Children’s “intuitive” adoption and uptake is not magic (Baeker et al., 1995).

Assessment in Context: The Alternative to Standardized Testing

Gardner says “ongoing assessment” or “assessment in context” means “…assessment is taking place all the time by students and by peers as well as by the teacher” (1992, pg. 12). It may be surprising to some readers that Howard Gardner, the man at the centre of the orbit of some of the most highly-esteemed education researchers and projects at Harvard and the private sector, was in 1992 so matter-of-fact in his vehement disapproval of the types of standardized testing that still dominate, and some, especially in the USA, say should be expanded (Gardner, 1992b). It was indisputable to Gardner, just as it was to Xerox CEO John Seely Brown and the set of top-notch educationists, researchers and scholars he used his corporation’s influence to assemble (see Fouchaux 2013, Appendix A), to empower, to enable—but not to dominate nor simply to exploit—in the collaborative communities of practice that characterized experimentation in education of the 1980s and ’90s.

Diane Ravitch has now made clear that, contrary to the claims being made, public school test scores and graduation rates in the USA are the highest they’ve ever been, and dropout rates are at their lowest (Ravitch, 2013). Discourse to the contrary is a concerted effort to destroy public schools in that country, disrupting a 325 year commitment embedded in the Constitution (Dennis, 2000).

Therefor it can not be more plain that those who promote more testing have a different purpose. To say in the 20-teens that one believes eliminating fully trained and accredited professional educators, and all the “thickness” years of exposure to the ideas of men and women who like Gardner, Collins, and Brown, have devoted lifetimes to improving children’s learning bring to the learning situation, can be nothing but an attempt to wrench the helm onto another tack by fiat and coercion. Children’s intuition, as Gardner showed decades ago, isn’t good enough. “Absence” of the teacher is not the same as “removal.” We’ve agreed to dispense with the sage on the stage, but if you don’t have guides on the side who know the ropes, the waters, and the weather, you will certainly get lost. You may run aground, sink and drown, or simply drift away forever upon doldrums no different than the Ancient Mariner’s, you’ll just be taking a more expensive cruise.

Educationists from across the decades and around the world concur. We must re-design schools from the ground up to be highly inclusive public spaces, purposed to build and share learning experiences in collaborative settings. We must cultivate critical discernment and expose would-be apprentices to experts who are themselves students of pedagogy. We must understand that learning is continual and there is no single learner or teacher where 2 or more humans coexist (Collins, Brown and Newman, 1989; Gardner, 1991; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Lave, 1996; Meyer & Land, 2010; Salhlberg, 2011). We must not narrow instruction to rigid algorithms and formulaic responses in science and math, but design situations where experts and novices engage and interact in practice. We must let them create performances of their understanding that convey the internalization of the concepts, awareness of critical connections to prior learning and available information. We must find cohesion and build shared understanding to solve the wicked problem of education reform collaboratively, not authoritatively.

In short, we must learn how to learn, with, not just from, people whose passion it is to understand how learning takes place and what that looks like. We must learn to recognize and celebrate the hard work that’s gone before. Stop experimenting with disproven methods and apply the results of a century of experimentation we’ve already done. Make sure the people driving the school bus want to get the kids where they want to be… not drive certain kids to a certain part of town to park and sell them junk food, not to scrap the bus, nor to sell it for parts.


Watch: The Agenda with Steve Paikin: The Classroom of 2030

Watch: TVO on the Road: Learning 2030


Table 1: Lawrence Kohlberg’s three levels and six stages of moral reasoning.

Level Age Range Stage Nature of Moral Reasoning
Level I: Preconventional Morality Seen in preschool children, most elementary school students, some junior high school students, and a few high school students Stage 1: Punishment-avoidance and obedience People make decisions based on what is best for themselves, without regard for others’ needs or feelings. They obey rules only if established by more powerful individuals; they may disobey if they aren’t likely to get caught. “Wrong” behaviors are those that will be punished.
    Stage 2: Exchange of favors People recognize that others also have needs. They may try to satisfy others’ needs if their own needs are also met (“you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”). They continue to define right and wrong primarily in terms of consequences to themselves.
Level II: Conventional Morality Seen in a few older elementary school students, some junior high school students, and many high school students (Stage 4 typically does not appear until the high school years) Stage 3: Good boy/girl People make decisions based on what actions will please others, especially authority figures and other individuals with high status (e.g., teachers, popular peers). They are concerned about maintaining relationships through sharing, trust, and loyalty, and they take other people’s perspectives and intentions into account when making decisions.
    Stage 4: Law and order People look to society as a whole for guidelines about right or wrong. They know rules are necessary for keeping society running smoothly and believe it is their “duty” to obey them. However, they perceive rules to be inflexible; they don’t necessarily recognize that as society’s needs change, rules should change as well.
Level II: Postconventional Morality Rarely seen before college (Stage 6 is extremely rare even in adults) Stage 5: Social contract People recognize that rules represent agreements among many individuals about appropriate behavior. Rules are seen as potentially useful mechanisms that can maintain the general social order and protect individual rights, rather than as absolute dictates that must be obeyed simply because they are “the law.” People also recognize the flexibility of rules; rules that no longer serve society’s best interests can and should be changed.
    Stage 6: Universal ethical principle Stage 6 is a hypothetical, “ideal” stage that few people ever reach. People in this stage adhere to a few abstract, universal principles (e.g., equality of all people, respect for human dignity, commitment to justice) that transcend specific norms and rules. They answer to a strong inner conscience and willingly disobey laws that violate their own ethical principles.

Sources: Colby & Kohlberg, 1984; Colby et al., 1983; Kohlberg, 1976, 1984, 1986; Reimer, Paolitto, & Hersh, 1983; Snarey, 1995.
Excerpted from Child Development and Education, by T.M McDevitt, J.E. Ormrod, 2007 edition, p. 518. in article Kohlberg’s Three Levels and Six Stages of Moral Reasoning


Apple, Michael (2005) Are markets in education democratic? Neoliberal globalism, vouchers, and the politics of choice in Apple, M. W.; Kenway, J.; & Singh, M. (Eds.). Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics. (2005/2007) New York: Peter Lang.

Baeker, Ronald M.; Grudin, Jonathan; Buxton, Wiliam A. S.; Greenberg, Saul (2d. ed., 1995) Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000, San Francisco (1st ed., 1987): Morgan Kaufmann, 950 pgs.

Colby, A., & Kohlberg, L. (Eds.). (1987). The measurement of moral judgment (Vols. 1 and 2). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S., and Newman, S.E. (1989). “Cognitive Apprenticeship: Teaching the Craft of Reading, Writing and Mathematics! In L.B. Resnick (ed.) Knowing, Learning, and Instruction: Essa in Honor of Robert Glaser Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, and in Brown, J.S., Collins, A., and Duguid, P. (1989). “Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning.” Educational Researcher, 18(l), 32-42.

Collins, Allan; Brown, John Seely; and Holum, Ann (1989), Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible, American Educator [1991 reprint PDF].

Dennis, Russell (2000) The Role of the Federal Government In Public Education In the United States [HTML]

Fouchaux, Richard (2013), Thick Situations: Paths towards a framework for 21st-century learning design, research paper submitted to the Graduate Program in Education, York University, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education [PDF]

Klein, Perry D. (1997) Multiplying the Problems of Intelligence by Eight: A Critique of Gardner’s Theory, Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 377-394.

Kohlberg, Lawrence; Charles Levine, Alexandra Hewer (1983). Moral stages : a current formulation and a response to critics. Basel, NY: Karger.

Gardner, Howard (1992) The unschooled mind: why even the best students in the best schools do not understand, [PDF]

Gardner, Howard (1992b) Assessment in Context: The Alternative to Standardized Testing in Changing Assessments Alternative Views of Aptitude, Achievement and Instruction, Bernard R. Gifford,
Mary Catherine O’Connor, editors, Volume 30, 1992, pp 77-119.

Gardner, Howard (1995/2011), The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach, 21st Anniversary edition (2011) NY: Basic Books, 322 pages. [Read online]

Gardner, Howard; Perkins, David; Quense, Cynthia; Seidel, Steve; and Tishman, Shari (2003), Ten Years at Project Zero: A Report on 1993-2002, [HTML]

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp 149-164.

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Meyer, Jan H. F.; Land, Ray; Baillie, Caroline eds., (2010), Threshold Concepts and Transformational Learning, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, 2010.

Ravitch, Diane (2013) Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools

Reid, Alan (2005) Rethinking the democratic purposes of public schooling in a globalizing world in Apple, M. W.; Kenway, J.; & Singh, M. (Eds.) Globalizing Education: Policies, Pedagogies and Politics. (2005/2007) New York: Peter Lang.

Salhlberg, Pasi. (2011). “The Professional Educator: Lessons from Finland,” American Educator 35, no. 2. (PDF)

Willingham, Daniel T. (2004), Reframing the Mind: Howard Gardner and the theory of multiple intelligences, Education Next, Vol. 4, No. 3 http://educationnext.org/reframing-the-mind/ retrieved 2012-10-10.

N.B. This post has been edited several times—to improve clarity, correct the TVO broadcast date, to fix a broken internal page anchor, and to correct grammar and spelling.

Oct 03

Where learning happens, there shall ye find teachers

It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing that the digital age, social networking, animation, other event timing software (from Adobe Captivate to Mozilla’s Popcorn & Butter) and 24/7 access won’t change—haven’t already changed—the way teaching, learning, and schooling are done in the 21st century. But I’m becoming increasingly vexed by those suggesting technology will replace teachers, that for-profit social networking platforms will replace professional development—or that either of those propositions is a good idea.Wordle including 21st Century Skills and other current terminology

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

I’ll dispense with the obvious semantic argument right away: even in self-guided learning there is a teacher—we say “I taught myself!” If informal learning is truly “a spontaneous process of helping people to learn” and it really “…works through conversation, and the exploration and enlargement of experience…” if its “…purpose is to cultivate communities, associations and relationships that make for human flourishing…” then not only do I hope we all find and fill that role almost every day—I shake my head in bemusement at the eagerness with which many, perhaps even TVO’s perspicacious and typically uber-informed Steve Paikin, seem to be anticipating teaching’s impending doom.

Screenshot of Hypercard from a 1980s era Macintosh Performa

Screen shot of 1980s era Macintosh Performa and Hypercard, technology that “changed the way we learn” over 30 years ago. Source: Stanislav (2011)

Fortunately, I don’t believe the host, nor any of the panel members in this thought provoking series actually believe this rhetoric; in places like Canada where the commitment to public education is for the time being less precarious than many other places, this can still be said with tongue-in-cheek. Overall, throughout the musings of this panel the vital role played by teachers, mentors, coaches, and guides was implicit. The skills, creativity and imagination professional educators bring to the situations they design and create for the purpose of conveying the knowledge they need to share, was celebrated openly. Overall there was full recognition of the approach most strongly suggested by the literature and research—and who can be seen to have been doing the “thickest” (à la Clifford Geertz1) research for decades. [Update: yours truly on Geertz.] I was schooled in the public school system of Bethlehem, PA, USA in the 1960s. My teachers sat us in circles, let students lead reading groups while they circulated giving individualized instruction, we split into groups and did jigsaw investigations, returned and taught our classmates how to put the pieces together. Tropes and talking points, pompous assertions around “industrial” or even “agrarian” paradigms notwithstanding, throughout history educators, including teachers in the trenches, have always led the search for ways to improve and enhance the process of helping people to learn.

The Cognitive Apprenticeship framework of the 80s identified elements of the mentor/apprentice relationship (e.g., “scaffolding“) that have been essential to teaching and learning for centuries, and educators ever since have been mapping these to specific strategies and the software that supports them.

A tool such as Twitter can be a useful tool, even a powerful one in the right hands. But it’s absurd to think a platform limited to messages 140 characters, blocked by governments and firewalls, adopted thus far by a trivial percentage of teachers would be a good pick to “replace professional development,” as one person on the #Learning2030 hashtag asked Wednesday night. Leave alone the fact Twitter’s priority is making money for its shareholders, and that we don’t know what this corporation may do, or not, to protect privacy. About 80% of messaging on Twitter is self-promotion—researchers coined a new term for such Tweople, “Meformers,” in contrast to “informers” (Naaman,Boase,& Lai, 2010). While I agree teachers should try Twitter, I see Twitter being used as a hub, the water cooler in the staff room around which informal learning happens, contacts, connections and preliminary plans to make plans. Just like pencil and paper, Twitter’s the right technology for many jobs. Use it for what it does well.

Several panels have noted how kids “intuitively” adapt to new technology, but I heard none remark that human-computer interface designers have been striving to design “intuitive” interfaces since there have been computers to design interfaces for. A book written on the topic in 1987 was still in use in 2010.

It’s wonderful to be in Ontario having important and fruitful conversations with genuine reformers, so sincerely devoted to student engagement, deep learning and the new possibilities awaiting discovery by all of us. There’s no need to believe we are the first to have these conversations, nor will we be the last.


  1. For many decades, forward-thinking, innovative educators have been engrossed with the exploration of applications technology. See, among many examples, posts in my own Cognitive Apprenticeship category and the various works in their reference sections. For evidence of the extensive range technology-enhanced-learning-focused 20th century collaborations across disciplines, look no further than R. G. Segall (1989), Thick descriptions: a tool for designing ethnographic interactive videodiscs, ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, Volume 21 Issue 2, Oct. 1989 pp. 118 – 122. While doing so please remember, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Further reading

Ghefaili, Aziz (2003) Cognitive Apprenticeship, Technology, and the Contextualization of Learning Environments, Journal of Educational Computing, Design & Online learning Volume 4, Fall, 2003.

Harkinson, Josh, (September 24, 2013), Here’s How Twitter Can Track You on All of Your Devices, Mother Jones, retrieved 2013-10-03

Junco, Reynol; Elavsky, C. Michael and Heiberger, Greg (2012), Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success, British Journal of Educational Technology (2012) 1-15. (Wiley Online Library)

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp149-164.

Lowe, Tony & Lowe, Rachael (2012) Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review (webducate.net)

Stanislav (2011), Why Hypercard Had to Die, blog post, http://www.loper-os.org/?p=568

Naaman, M., Boase, J. & Lai, C. (2010) Is it really about me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, February 6-10, 2010 in Savannah GA (PDF).

Webducate [‘webducate.net’ website/blog] (2012), Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review http://webducate.net/2012/08/twitter-in-learning-and-teaching-literature-review/, retrieved 2012-12-03

Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of practice, a brief introduction, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/, HTML retrieved 2011-11-03 or http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf, PDF retrieved 2011-10-03.

Richard studied music as a teenager with Trevor Payne at John Abbott College and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed across Canada with full-time rock bands since the early 80s. He’s been a teacher of rock, jazz & classical guitar, first as a sub for his own private teacher, formally at the now defunct Toronto Percussion Centre, and taught at The Arts Music Store in Newmarket, Ontario, for 6 years. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts Music (Special Honours), Bachelor of Education, and Master of Education from York University, plays guitar and trombone, and taught grade 6-8 band, math and computers (HTML and yes, Hypercard!) at the Toronto District School Board and North York School Board.

Sep 30

LilyPond with Frescobaldi: open source music engraving

LilyPond is open source music engraving software. LilyPond “…was designed to solve the problems we found in existing software and to create beautiful music that mimics the finest hand-engraved scores.” It produces some of the finest looking scores you can imagine, and almost any style of note or notation you can imagine. But it’s a scripting language—which for many people makes it very difficult to learn, and much too tedious to use. Enter Frescobaldi.

Frescobaldi is an open source editing tool for LilyPond. I won’t pretend there’s no learning curve, but if you want to print absolutely stunning music scores and enjoy learning technology it’s worth it, and I’ll help you get started. And if you’re a music educator I’ll make some suggestions about how I might use this in teaching, albeit at a high school level or higher, with students who have already learned the basics of reading. Thanks to Frescobaldi’s built-in MIDI player I see applications to ear training, as well as more obvious help with general notation problems. I’ve also screen-recorded some of my first explorations, and I intend to edit them down and add audio, and continue with a video tutorial, hopefully in just a few days.

Both programs run on Windows, Mac or Linux, but there’s no Mac or Linux installer for Frescobaldi, so if you’re not running Windows you may need some extra skills there. First, download and install both programs using the links below. You will not need to launch LilyPond. You’ll launch Frescobaldi, tell it where to find LilyPond and Frescobaldi will take it from there.

Software links

LilyPond is a music engraving program, devoted to producing the highest-quality sheet music possible. Download

Frescobaldi is a LilyPond sheet music text editor. It aims to be powerful, yet lightweight and easy to use. Download

  1. On first launch Frescobaldi opens an empty document. You type and insert LilyPond code in the left Editor panel and then press the LilyPond icon ion the toolbar to render a gorgeous PDF in the right, or Music View panel. hide image Screen shot
  2. Choose EditPreferences… show image
  3. Set path to LilyPond show image
    Windows default: C:/Program Files (x86)/LilyPond/usr/bin/lilypond-windows.exe
  4. Choose ToolsPreferencesSetup New Score… (Ctrl+Shift+N) to open the Score Setup Wizard show image
     Other items on this list will be of great interest soon… I used the Quick Insert tool and the MIDI Player early in my very first score.

    The Score Setup Wizard lets you set the following up front—especially recommended your first time, as once you create the file you’ll need to get code snippets from the documentation, the other tools in the Tools menu, another file, or know what to type.
     You might even want to fill in all the fields and save a MasterSnippet.ly file for later reference. Frescobaldi also has its own built-in Snippets manager.

    1. Titles and Headers show
    2. Parts show
    3. Score Settings show
       Be sure to try the Preview button!

To get started I just picked 8 bars of a Stevie Wonder tune I happened to have loaded in iTunes. You can see the first 2 bars of the lick on the right of the screen shot below. The script on the left side, which you’d have to write from scratch without an editor, demonstrates rather aptly I think, why a tool like Frescobaldi can likely make LilyPond more useful to a much larger community. What will be much easier to demonstrate in a video tutorial is how I copy/pasted a snippet of code from the documentation into the editor and then tweaked it until I got what I wanted. The notes you see on the right are formed entirely by this part of the script on the left. 'is' as a sharp is not intuitive (unless you speak Dutch), but now that I’ve told you perhaps you can see the 4, 8 and 16 that sets note values, ‘r’ for rest, and the lower case note names, key of B Major. The tildes (~) create the ties, and I entered staccato and accents using the Quick Insert tool shown in the left panel of the final screen shot below.
 All your music goes immediately after the % Music follows here. and before the closing curly brace (}) that lines up flush left with the instrument name above it and the code \score below it (see both screen shots beneath the following code snippet).

// You can group and nest notes in curly braces for readability.
// Here I've grouped each beat within each measure on its own line.
{b4-.} {r16 b16 dis cis-&amp;gt;~}  {cis-. cis16 gis' fis-&amp;gt;~} {fis8-. fis,16 gis}
{b8-&amp;gt;-. cis16 cisis16} {dis16 fis gis b-&amp;gt;~}  {b16 cis16 cisis dis-&amp;gt;~} {dis4-.}

Screen shot

By the time I’d finished I’d opened the MIDI Player to check my work. You need to press the Engrave button to refresh the output on the right (there are further options under the LilyPond menu). Frescobaldi supplies the bar lines based on the time signature in the score settings, and plays audio—I feel those two facts have pedagogical implications. I slowed down my 8-bar passage using Audacity, played them side by side, and by refreshing the output was able to see and hear what I had right and wrong along the way.
Screen shot
I hope this is enough to pique your interest. There’s another LilyPond editor I plan to try soon too, Denemo, highlighted with even more on the LilyPond site. It looks quite sophisticated, but I can tell I’ve barely scratched the surface of Frescobaldi, which was intuitive enough out of the box to keep me intrigued and progressing—getting this far was fun! Please use the comments section and stay tuned for some video tutorials as I get in further.


Richard studied as a teenager with Trevor Payne at John Abbott College and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed across Canada with full-time rock bands since the early 80s. He’s been a teacher of rock, jazz & classical guitar at the now defunct Toronto Percussion Centre, and at The Arts Music Store for many years. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts Music (Special Honours), Bachelor of Education, and Master of Education from York University, plays guitar and trombone, and taught grade 6-8 band at the Toronto District School Board and North York School Board.