PAATA convention 2010 – Keynote

March 15, 2010 1 Comment »

Farley Flex, really?  Okay, I admire the things he’s done as a record producer, radio station manager and community activist, but we all know that the reason he’s in Prince Albert speaking to 1000 educators is that he’s a judge on Canadian Idol.  Idol and its reality TV brethren represent much of what is wrong with our culture: the promise of quick fame and fortune, and the opportunity to publicly mock those who don’t live up to our society’s ideal of what people should act like, look like or sound like.  It’s bread and circuses for the cable TV era.

Why not bring in an educator who is in the classroom, or the admin office, actually working to innovate and improve education where they’re at?  Why not bring in Chris Lehmann from SLA in Philadelphia, whose charter is to prepare students for college in a project-based environment?  Why not Vicki Davis from the Flat Classroom project, who is using technology to connect students from across the globe in collaborative projects?  Why not Dan Meyer, who is doing amazing work with high school math students in California and at Google?

While I appreciate Mr. Flex’s shout-out to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, why isn’t an educator who is making a difference speaking to a group of educators instead of a celebrity?  His first half hour was equal parts self-promotion and lambasting the present educational structure.  Are we leaving kids behind?  Probably, but what is the advantage of Mr. Flex’s solution (engagement through competitive goals) over the myriad of others that have been tried in our school district and others across the country and around the world.  Is he arguing that if only we’re more engaging than Canadian Idol, we’ll have it made in a classroom?

Buzzwords are great and all (and heaven knows, we in education are certainly fond of them), but give us some concrete ways to put these ideas into action – “Don’t do anything for a living – live for what you do.”  Great… what does that mean in a classroom?  His example of pigeonholeing students on the first day of class shows many things that are wrong with the public’s perception of what schools do.

I felt like I was being talked down to for most of the talk – I don’t listen to students’ interests?  How about you come into my classroom and then tell me that I bulldoze students’ interests by bludgeoning them with the curriculum.  How about you come into our schools to see if we are unwilling to give students more of our time.

His scattershot speech had a couple of high points, but by and large had no coherent message that teachers could take back to their classroom, and many veiled (and some open) references to the idea that teachers aren’t doing enough to engage students.  His final point seemed to be that we should be doing more to make students interested in school, without using anything about schools to do it.  There’s nothing here to Idolize.

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One Comment

  1. Trent March 15, 2010 at 7:07 pm -

    You know Ian, as I reflect back on his talk, I have to agree with you. I admired his rants and not caring what people think, but in the end, it was, as he put it, a “broad brush stroke” over what he was trying to say. It was a lot of talk, but no specifics. I didn’t think he was THAT bad, but he was fine for what he talked about, even if it grazed the surface. I agree we should have gotten those educators you mentioned, that would have been awesome… or Malcolm Gladwell himself.