Perhaps the problem with the public schools is that they are not public

You know when you stop to think about it we’re secretive about so many important things, be it the conversation of a sinner with his confessor, the surgeon’s actions in the operating room, the discussion between a husband and wife about to separate, the chain of events that took down Bin Laden in Abbottabad.

In fact as a general rule those things most easily seen by the public are of little or no importance, and probably of little interest. This situation, when so much that is important is kept from us, explains the great attraction of stories and now films, for in both the authors and producers are making what are usually private things public.

People have always wanted terribly to see behind the walls, the closed doors, and stories well told most of all satisfy this craving.

But you might say that more and more the public is being given access. And to some extent it’s true. Televisions in the court rooms, visitor balconies in the operating rooms, open borders between more and more countries, although the conversations between lawyers and clients, priests and parishioners, husbands and wives are still privileged and private.

And I’m probably not advocating that even these walls be taken down, or am I?

It is a generally accepted truth that people behave more responsibly when in the public eye. For don’t we all change our behavior when we know we are being watched. I know I do, and that in public situations I try to adopt more carefully considered, more responsible behavior.

Shouldn’t this fact alone about who we are push us even more to make more and more private goings on public? Wouldn’t the result be right away greater civility?

Do the lower creatures hide their actions from one another? I don’t think so. Among our closest simian relatives touching, fighting, sex of course, and defecation, all such acts are done in full public view. Does our hiding these acts somehow make them more responsible, more respectable?

I don’t know. I do know that we have managed to hide from our own children while in our care most of our own inescapably bodily functions, and as a result these functions have probably taken on in our children’s eyes an undue importance. An importance they don’t have, not only among the lower orders, but even among some of our fellows, as in the slum neighborhoods of Bombay and other cities where there are no facilities.

What got me going on this subject was Michael Goldstein’s blog today. He is speaking of teacher evaluations —a subject much in the news since first George Bush’s and Ted Kennedy’s NCLB, and then President Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan as secretary of Education.

Michael as usual talks all about and around his subject, not failing to use, as he often does, a sports analogy, the one today taken from professional basketball. For Michael is not afraid to look in any direction for solutions to the problem of teaching and learning.

In this blog he is suggesting that it would be helpful if we could somehow see inside the classroom, if the interaction of students and teachers in the up until now privacy of the classroom could become to some real extent public.

For then it would mean, and I believe he is correct about this, that the sheer numbers of people, all kinds of people, not just educators, seeing for the first time the inner workings of our classrooms, would be sure to come up with a wealth of useful suggestions as to how both learning and teaching could be improved.

In other words, in so many teaching situations what keeps real change from happening is that there is no discerning public to comment and give new life to the too often lifeless routine of the classroom.

Here is what Michael actually says, go to “Starting an Ed School.” to see the entire Blog post.

I will explain my idea in a future post. It involves putting lots of teacher video on the web. But only with explicit permission of teacher and kids for each clip.

Essentially, we’d create a game that allows anyone to try to predict student learning by watching teachers in action.

My belief is some new insights would emerge that move our field forward. Whether those insights will come from a retired calc teacher in Omaha, an off-Broadway actor who knows something about performance, a psych grad student in India, or a security guard at a pork and beans cannery, I have no idea.

But I’d bet a lot that someone would move us forward if we made the raw video easy to play with and think about.

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