I must apologize for my tardiness as my second letter is being written almost two weeks after my first one. A new job can definitely lay waste to your carefully laid personal plans. More on that in a bit. Currently, I’m writing this from New Orleans where I’m visiting for a conference.
I have followed your Mexico trip (stay?) posts and can imagine it was a wonderful experience. The best way to experience a new place is to immerse yourself in it and make it part of your daily life even if it’s for a short while. I think even the locals then start accepting your presence and opening up unlike a tourist who is just passing by.
Professionally speaking, I stumbled into education and definitely hadn’t planned on working in it. I come from a family of teachers though and my now-late mom thought it even further by having her own preschool that literally started in our living room and soon expanded to three different locations with 450 kids at its height. Being around teachers and seeing the early childhood education firsthand, for a while after my Masters, I even contemplated moving back to India and “expanding” her school to a full primary and secondary institution with an emphasis on “how to learn” rather than “what you should learn”. But setting up an educational business in India is not easy considering the bureaucratic hurdles, the greasing of palms (yup), and raising capital just to buy land.
Anyhoo, I guess those thoughts never left me as I found using my graduate degree in working in education research. Initially, on the data side and then working in the policy and academic research. I share your concern about deteriorating conditions surrounding education but I wouldn’t call it a crisis of confidence as I still feel that education is your best chance at improving your life outcomes, regardless of the personal anecdotes that people often cite against it. However, I do believe that how you learn TO learn is pivotal instead of just going through the motions of focusing on test scores and assessments. While I was raised in a very STEM-or-nothing environment, I have come to appreciate the long-term benefits of a liberal arts education. The role of critical thinking and reasoning skills has never been more important, I believe, in differentiating between what kind of education or degree you received and from where.
I would love to expand more on these thoughts in our letters. Now I regret not saving the blog posts I had written nearly 20 years ago during the time I was thinking of moving back to India to set up that school.
I was the beneficiary of a liberal arts education, which took me from a chemistry degree (and pretty close to a Judaic Studies degree) to a master’s in urban education policy. I still think that learning how to learn was one of the most important skills I developed in college. And by attending a school with an Open Curriculum, I think I also learned how to pull together connections across fields and domains in a pretty unique way. While serving as a student representative on a college committee, we often discussed that the “inter-curricular”– the connections students made between the courses they took– was actually often the most important.
While I believe in all that, and I see entirely how it improved my own life, I am also uncertain how much of that view is an elite view, from an elite, competitive school, where I was a strong fit for their philosophy. I find it difficult to generalize from my experiences, which tends to push me much stronger toward the program evaluation/econometric side of education research. I just don’t trust myself, but I’m reasonably willing to trust (primarily, but not solely) quantitative research (with all of its flaws). I find that in the data, I can see more clearly the lines of someone’s argument, the strength of their case, and the obvious weaknesses. Maybe some of my nihilism is feeling like studying social systems has only generated certainty in my uncertainty.
I miss being connected to a university. I never did that final degree– it just always made absolutely no financial sense and felt too risky to do for the love of it– but for a long time I was still connected to academia. I stayed and worked in the same state, in the same city as my university, roughly a mile and a half away, when I went to work for the state department. I came back and worked at an education research center that was apart of my university through a multi-year fellowship after that first state department job. For a long time, I felt like I was doing the work that people with PhDs did who didn’t get a coveted tenure track offer. But those jobs were only the first 5 or so years of my career. For the last 9, I’ve worked with school districts but at a technology startup. And while it’s a wonderful fit, incredibly rewarding, and, I think, more impactful than just about anything I did prior, I miss having that connection to the academic world.
I am the classic dweeb that could have circled back around and gone through my undergraduate years 10 times with 10 completely different course of study and still I’d ask for an 11th shot.
I’m curious what are some of the foundational ideas that guide your thinking on education. Are there books/texts/scholars/philosophies that have shaped your future thinking? For myself, I constantly come back to a few things. I think about the long conversations we had in the one pedagogy course I took about E.D. Hirsch and Ted Sizer– who had it right and are their ideas even in opposition? I think a lot about the famous Harvard lecture course, Justice, which was released on iTunes U in… maybe 2007? 2008? I’m pretty sure I listened to it on my original iPod Nano walking around Brown’s campus. There was an education policy and history class I took that marched through the major movements in America, from Horace Mann to today, but primarily focused on the major Supreme Court cases that have shaped education in the US. I think a lot about Paul Manna’s books on federalism in Education as well. Oh and Daniel Koretz on assessments.