Future-Driven Recommendations from 1939…Seriously? Yes!

Yesterday, I posted a link to a report generated by the St. Louis Public Schools in 1942 examining the role of civics education in promoting democracy. While some of the ideas suggested would not be much of a surprise to many, there are some rather radical ideas, which would not survive the hyper-partisan nature of today’s political realm. Ideas like tolerance, “responsibility for the socially handicapped,” and conservation of resources would largely be derided as being leftist. At the same time, there was also a need for connection family values, individual participation in society, and a push for individual enterprise. Those are ideas largely promoted by conservatives. So what gives? Why have we evolved so far to the opposite corners of politics and society? Many answers can be offered.

In 1939, the St. Louis Public Schools Curriculum and Instruction Department issued a report to the community and to schools throughout the United States to outline what the future of education should look like. Ten recommendations were made early in the document to push the future of learning. Looking at these ideas almost 80 years later is really interesting to me, because we are saying some of the same things today! Listed below are the ten suggestions made by the committee to achieve a future driven school system (Bold text was made for emphasis by me):

  1.  The public schools must in truth be not only the nutrient of democracy but also the instrument through which the promises of democracy are made real in the lives of all the people.
  2. The curriculum of these schools must include experiences of highest potentiality for the good life, constantly conditioned by choices at every step and level of life that capitalize upon the heritage of mankind in the ongoing process toward a better life.
  3. The schools must not only prepare the individual to live each succeeding stage of life more successfully but must also so educate him that the here and now of life is lived as richly as possible. An estate of childhood has an integrity just as distinct as that of adult life, and no stage of life should be unduly emphasized or neglected in the educational program.
  4. While facts, knowledge, and skills are and always will be essential in the education of children, they do not represent the major purposes for which the schools are maintained. It is only as the schools inculcate worthy attitudes and ideals, develop powers of critical analysis, initiative, and resourcefulness, and encourage habits of conduct that are socially desirable that they adequately serve our society.
  5. The highest teaching is really counseling and guidance, and the ultimate objectives of education are effective citizenship and good character. Either must be positive, not passive, in nature and pointed toward active participation in a society of neighbors.
  6.  No school system is sufficient unto itself. As in St. Louis, there must be everywhere a vigorous, sometimes militant, lay demand for and support of good schools. No matter how devoted the professional staff of the schools may be, they alone can not make a great school system. No schools ever rise for long above the level of the people who maintain them. It is equally true that school systems tend to reflect in the long run the quality and statesmanship of their boards of education.
  7. The organization of a school system may either free or stifle the initiative and constructive genius of an otherwise great school staff such as is found in St. Louis. Divided administration may be the cloak that hides responsibility and prevents an efficient attack on the many-sided problems of the schools.
  8. Tradition has its values but often is the greatest foe of progress. Flexibility and adaptability must be preserved in the midst of the necessity for continuity. It is tragic to find an educational program divided against itself; informal at one level, formal at another; emphasizing the development of the child as paramount at one level and the sanctity of subject matter at another.
  9. The exigencies of existing conditions may condition school finance and support at a particular time, but the long-term considerations must never be forgotten. Enthusiasm for the next step must never blind us to the long view. The destiny of any city, and of the nation itself, is intimately related to the public schools.
  10. Finally, if the schools are to be the means through which we learn to live free, democratic lives, these schools themselves must be centers of democracy.

“St. Louis must look forward to a program for the future. With a splendid tradition of concern for the curriculum and instruction, the end product of all educational provisions, the city can do no less than face the full challenge of new and expanding needs. A general education, dedicated to the preservation and improvement of democratic life in all its aspects and complexities, is indicated—a general education reaching from the nursery school through the junior college. This program, oriented to actual problems which the people of St. Louis and the nation face, must be continuous and unified with no major breaks or hurdles.

All youth, whatever their abilities may be, must find opportunities in this program to develop social understanding and sensitivity, to cultivate individual interests and aptitudes, and to make for themselves places of respectability and responsibility in the school community. In building the program, the school must become more and more a civic center, coordinating the various educative agencies of the community in a program of community education. The school must become increasingly an agency through which the adults and children of the community organize, plan, and carry forward attacks upon actual problems of living. ” 

How interesting is it that before we have ideas like action civics, Project Lead the Way, growth mindset, the innovator’s mindset, and personalized learning…they appear right here.

I would love to hear your thoughts about these ideas from 1939. Are they attainable? If not, why? Are they “the fixes we need” in the year 2017 and beyond?


The Teaching of Citizenship in Our American Democracy (1942) #SLPSLearns #ActionCivics

I came across this link while looking up some resources on the St. Louis Public Schools. I a struck by the tone of this publication considering that it is 75 years old. I wonder how the community would receive this if it were to be released this day in age? What do you think? Also, the more things change, the more they stay the same when it comes to action civics.

Social Studies Update: NCSS Edition

Greetings Social Studies Teachers and Friends of Social Studies!
I returned last night from 5 days in San Francisco attending the National Social Studies Supervisors Association meetings and National Council for Social Studies Conference. As usual, there is an overwhelming amount of information to share and update on, so I will focus in on some trends I was able to see. Kudos to the team from Yeatman-Liddell who presented alongside me (we presented against Stanford History Educators Group, so I missed their session). Lots of good feedback and networks developed from this experience. Next year, the conference will be in Chicago, and I hope some of you will join me in the trek up I-55 to experience all this event has to offer.
  1. Literacy in Social Studies:  No matter who I talked to from well to do districts, to large urban districts, literacy in the social studies is such a huge focus for everyone. So much attention is being spent on Tier 2 vocabulary development. At the same time, finding resources that are student friendly, or lexiled by reading levels is also important. Several resources and strategies were presented to us. One resource I was not familiar with was the Digital Public Library of America, which has free primary source sets available for teachers, along with teaching guides. Pay resources to help with reading and contextualizing resources would include Teacher Created Materials and One World Education. Gilder Lehrman also has some resources and online training to help in this area.
  2. Source Analysis:  Taking an image or resource and guiding the students to engage in contextualization is really important. Get students to place themselves in images and gain a sensory experience from what they may see, hear, feel, smell, etc. The National Archives have document analysis worksheets for varying grade levels and resources available for download. Also, the work presented to you by Dr. Monte-Sano in October was also profiled at NCSS. The Bookmark method, along with her other resources are being utilized with great effect. The group from the University of Michigan will return in February.
  3. Inquiry Design Model: Be sure to join in order to participate in this process. This model focuses on Questions for study, tasks to complete as a means of exploring the question, and sources to find information to answer the question. This is a method of students developing arguments and eventually engaging in action. Their IDM Generator and pre-planned IDMs are a great resource to utilize.
  4. Action Civics: Much of the conference was focused the concept of “action civics.” Do our students have the opportunity to engage in the action of being citizens in our schools or community? Are there issues or concerns where we can get our students involved in the process of promoting change? I see this happening at some of our schools, but not all. Considering the social studies standards we are implementing, action civics and application of knowledge is a very important part of this process. When we look at next generation social studies assessments, our students need to move away from rote memorization to application of knowledge.
  5. Articles:  I also wanted to attach a couple articles for some personalized PD. These highlight and encapsulate many of the sessions and ideas I was hearing at NCSS. Going to a conference of this magnitude can be very overwhelming with the amount of content being shared (over 500 sessions of varying degrees) and the amount of people attending (over 4,000 educators). Following #ncss17 on Twitter will allow you to see some of the thoughts and resources available, even if you did not attend.
If there is something I did not cover in this and you would like more information, please email me and I will try to help you.

A Quick Message to My Teachers

The last few weeks have been filled with a lot of struggles and chaos for many of us and our students. Seemingly, there is a never ending stream of news which just keeps punching at us in a variety of ways. The hurricanes in the Gulf and Caribbean, the protests happening locally, and the tragedy in Las Vegas. Just as we struggle with our feelings and emotions surrounding these events, as some of us have been directly impacted by them, our students are also experiencing that confusion in their own lives.

Chapter 17 of Kids Deserve It! focuses on the need for strong relationships with our students This is THE key to success in the classroom, not test scores. Now, I am not suggesting that you be their “friend,” but I am suggesting to forge authentic relationships. Smile at them and with them. Ask for their opinions. Listen to them. Celebrate small successes. Believe in them. Give fist bumps or dabs. Be present for them when they need it. Tell them that they are appreciated. Think about the quiet kid who is distant and hard to reach. Think about ways in which you can improve your relationships with your students. Start with empathy and patience.

I love seeing the relationships some of you are in the process of building. Keep going, as those relationships keep us sane in a world which sometimes lacks any kind of reason. I appreciate you and thank you!


Reflections On Civics in Action

tina fey quote.jpg

The past couple of weeks have been filled with images and thoughts which are devastating. A week and a half ago, the first images of Hurricane Irma damaging St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands reached my computer screen. About 95% of an island, I have spent a lot of time visiting the last five years, has been destroyed. My family and I are unable to find friends of ours who live and work on St. John or St. Thomas. All of this came on the heels of seeing the devastation of Hurricane Harvey a week prior.

Last Friday, residents of of St. Louis started their morning off with an ominous cloud hanging over their head and that was the decision of the judge in the Stockley Case. At 9:30am, I was at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School looking in on my social studies teachers when the verdict reached social media and finally reached the students. Many sat stunned. Others were in tears, as they see injustice in the decision (I will reserve my personal opinions in this case). Just as teachers did in August and November of 2014, they confronted another uprising.

cnn protest
Photo by Jeff Roberson, Associated Press

Teachers and administrators started performing triage on hurting students, who themselves had been affected by negative encounters with the police. Some students wanted to walk out as opportunists to miss class, but the vast majority of students wanted to organize their protest and become united in a cause. They did so. After spending time honing their message and identifying the leaders and having the full support of the administration and superintendent, the students started their protest. Lining both sides of Kingshighway, a very busy thoroughfare, students chanted, marched, and solicited support for their understanding of social justice. They protested for over an hour. Cleaned up the area in which they protested and went back in the building to debrief. How awesome is that?

Photo by Glenn Barnes

So much of the change which can take place within our society happens when we empower our young men and women to become agents of change. When I attended Central VPA from 1991-1995, we were not allowed to speak out on the injustices we saw at the time. We were silenced.

I am so very proud of the teachers, students, and administration for taking a bold stance…even when it is unpopular among many others.

We need to help our students find their voice and be agents of change. For far too long, we have marginalized this voice of optimism and of hope…for a better tomorrow. The actions of these students may not always be quantifiable in a test score right now; it will be quantifiable in their likelihood of voting, their likelihood of participating in community organizations, and their likelihood of joining organizations they feel oppressed by right now. These change agents will reform systems from within, so long as they hold true to their values and understand their role as a citizen in this city, state, and country.

A Letter to My Son On His First Day of Kindergarten


Dear Noah,

I am writing this letter to you to remind myself years from now of the wisdom I hope you have decided to commit to. Over the years, you have grown so much. Eleven inches in the past year alone! Your passion for all things Minecraft, Fizzy Toy Show, and YouTube Kids is rather humorous to me. How does a 5-year old kid find these things? We have moved through phases of paper ninjas, trains, and stuffed animal “friends.” Through all of these phases in your very short life, I am proud of the fact that you are compassionate, caring, and a supportive friend to others.

As you start your formal educational life, there I so much your mom and I aspire for you. We share in the dreams of having a successful child. Success in this manner is not based on how much money you will make in the future. Instead, how well did you help others who needed help? Did you stand up for the kid who couldn’t stand up for themselves? Did you gravitate to the kids who make wise choices? Were you respectful to your teacher and others in the school? I believe in you…

There is always a time to fight for what you believe in. I want you to fight intelligently. Use your words effectively. Communicate. Smile. Say “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Address adults as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” I believe in you…

As a teacher, I know you will face a lot of tests. Tests in the classroom and tests in life. All I ever want you to do with either of these situations is, “Do the best you can.” When you become frustrated with a situation, don’t ever give up. Quitting is not an option. You will learn that in our world, you have to work ten times harder than everyone else. Your mom and I will help you as best we can every step of the way. You will fall and we will help you get right back up and encourage you to keep going. Practice those spelling words. Keep trying with your handwriting. Embrace a good book and share some stories with us. I believe in you…

Maintain your innocence for as long as possible. We spend a lifetime being jaded by issues which should have been solved long ago. Your mom and I have tried to raise you to be independent and proud of who you are. Again, be the one who stands up to bullies. Be the one who gives encouragement to those scared or upset. Celebrate others success with a high-five. I believe in you…

Work on not beating up your sister, or leaving Legos out on the floor for me to step on. Step away from the tablet and enjoy the outdoors, even if there are bugs and it is a little warm. Always remember, there is more to life than peanut butter waffle sandwiches with syrup and Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets and Wendy’s bacon cheeseburgers. Believe it or not, I believe in you finding alternatives in the future…

Noah, you are an awesome kid! As I write this, I am choking back tears thinking about the first time we met in the hospital in Tampa, Florida. Keep on being awesome. Know this much my son…You are loved more than you know and I believe in you!

Love you, buddy!



Question of the Week

Change is a Process

With the state testing and school year winding down, I wanted to reflect upon how things are going. Teachers are notorious for their “armchair quarterbacking” skills. “If the principal had only done this, or had the curriculum team done this…” You know what I am talking about.  How many missed opportunities for change did you allow to fly by? How many second chances did you get to make an impact? More important, how many second chances did you grant someone to make an impact?

As I reflect upon this year in my new position, I am keeping mental notes of the successes and challenges I need to improve upon for the next year. However, I am reflecting upon the opportunities I had and judging whether or not I was able to capitalize upon them. I am thankful to take up the many challenges this year, both personally and professionally. Moving into a new house, taking on a new job, having my parents move in with my family, driving a textbook review and purchase for elementary schools, co-leading #EdCampSTL (made especially difficult on the day of when I was sick), facilitating a design thinking challenge, continuing work on my doctorate, being a husband, a dad, a son, a brother, an uncle, a colleague, a teacher…being a friend…Seems overwhelming when looking at these roles, but those things mean nothing, unless I have invested myself wholly into those roles to make a difference in the lives of those folks I encounter.

I cannot be the same person I was as a 20-year old college kid. To be perfectly honest, I don’t care for that person. I cannot be the same teacher I was in 1999, fresh out of college. My methods are obsolete. I am not the same person Julie Stafford married on November 12, 2005. I have evolved. I have changed (mostly for the better). We cannot be stagnant in our development and hope everyone conforms to us. Instead, we need to be the agents of change in the world. For me, this starts as an educator. So I ask the following of you as teachers and school leaders:

“How are you being the change in your school or district?”

Leave me some comments and let’s continue the conversation.