ZombieX: Kelly Gallagher Says Stop Readicide Now (Part 1 of an Interview)

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ZombieX-150x150According to “The Zombie Survival Guide,” there is no known way to cure an infected human. Since the creation of the “No Child Left Behind Act,” (NCLB) in 2002 the education system has been producing young mindless zombies. An entire country of zombies might be okay, even preferable, if we were in a communist country or even a monarchy.

But last time I checked, America is a democracy. In most states, when a person turns eighteen they are given the right to vote. So if our generation becomes a horde of slobbering zombies guess what that means? It means that we will likely have more crappy presidents who are controlled and bought off by greedy, self-righteous billionaires. Luckily, there are teachers who are trying to turn us kids into critical-thinkers. Critical thinking is the best vaccine for protecting ourselves from being turned into zombies. The future of America can still be saved from an invasion of the undead. And the heroes will be the teachers, people like Kelly Gallagher, author of four books including Readicide, and one of the best English teachers in the state of California.

I was fortunate enough to interview Kelly at Magnolia High School and I would like to share some of his profound wisdom. Kelly believes that the purpose of education is to turn kids on to the love of learning and thinking. Despite the fact that his students are not honors level, they do well on the standardized tests yet he doesn’t teach to the test. He teaches to the student. What does that mean?  Kelly tries to get kids to become very curious about the world around them and to be willing to pursue their interests in the world, then he gets them to write about their thoughts.

“I want my kids to be lifelong learners long after high school.” Kelly happens to be involved in an old geezer discussion group made up of 80 to 90 year-old doctors, lawyers, musicians, and other astounding people. Once a month, they sit down together to talk about a specific topic-it could be anything.  One thing he said that impacted me was, “What’s more important, the love of learning as an adult or your CST score in 7th grade?” This is much better than some of the cliché crap my teachers are forced to say like, “Do your best on the test!” Or, “If you do well we will give you a pizza party.” Do they honestly think that we don’t know what a bribe is?

An example of my love of learning is science, especially global warming. I have recently learned that massive dead zones are appearing more and more worldwide in our oceans. Many scientists are concerned that we may experience a marine mass extinction. Something of this scale has not happened for tens of millions of years! This is just one of many issues that is not taught in the classroom to us students. Think about it, if we are not educated on these things then we won’t be prepared to face them in our adult lives. We might just as well be standing around waiting for the planet and our civilization to collapse in on itself.

Hopefully, that will not occur if we have teachers and educators like Kelly running the show. But, “There is a silent curriculum of conformity.” Conformity means to be the same and not to stand out. I find this quote to be very true. After all, the system is making all students the same by testing them on the same material in the same method in the same time frame with the same extrinsic “rewards,” (a.k.a. bribery). However, Kelly mentioned that the kids who are different and are willing to question the system or think out of the box are the people that will succeed in the world. He told me a story about a business executive he met who said there are a lot of booksmart young people but very few who could think and who were creative.  I think that you should stick to your ideas and beliefs even if others reject them and they all view things in another way. Standardized tests don’t help us develop these skills.  “Conformity means for everyone to be pressured to be the same.” The kids who resist conformity, who are creative, who are different are the ones that will succeed and lead us forward. When he mentioned this I realized that he was talking about how conformity in the system creates zombies.

“There is a quiet pedagogy of drilling conformity into kids which in the long run is against their best interests; and there is an unwritten rule that schools are designed to keep you in your place.” To me and many other people, Kelly Gallagher is a true hero because he says what needs to be said about education. As I write this, our government leaders are debating the modifications and fate of education without asking us kids.  Right now, they are funding two pointless wars and giving tax breaks to the rich. Do they expect us to just keep in our place?

Recently my parents took me to see the play Les Miserables which is about how the poor are being screwed by those in power. This play made me think about how America is today. Just like in the play, the students need to rebel against the education system (not using violence of course). The young people need to take control of their future. I don’t want to be like Fantine in the play who sang “I Dream A Dream.” She wasn’t able to entirely fulfill her goals and pursuits.  I want to fulfill my dreams and live a life worth living.  Doesn’t everybody deserve that? Don’t you?

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The Return of ZombieX: Rob Gaudette Teaches Beyond the Test

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In 2011, ZombieX was a middle school contributor to the education news and advocacy site K12NewsNetwork.com. His posts are reprinted with permission.

ZombieX-150x150Greetings all students. Are you dreadfully bored with school? When your teacher lectures and blabbers about God knows what, what do you do? Do you sleep the period away or space out? Or do you pretend to listen, pretend to take serious notes and learn to play the game?

I have been reading “The Zombie Survival Guide” and I enjoy imagining the teachers as zombies attempting to infect our innocent minds. I daydream about the movie “Shaun of the Dead” and I recall a hilarious scene where Shaun wrestles an old zombie in a bar while his girlfriend tries to help him by chucking darts at the zombie, but she misses and hits Shaun square in the head! I sometimes feel that schools have become test taking prisons and are making mindless zombies out of us.  What we need is to be hit in the head with darts to wake up. That’s what I want to do with this blog.

If schools have become prison-factories, then principals have become wardens and teachers are prison guards, making us learn to obey. But not all teachers have sold out.  Many have not and are actually on the side of the human race. They came into the profession to teach us something about the world and want to continue to inspire us to learn.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit one such person. I watched a class taught by Rob Gaudette, one of the best junior high teachers in the state of California. He was named middle school Teacher of the Year and  is currently an 8th grade U.S. history teacher at Dale Junior High School in Anaheim.  I saw him teach and  was impressed by his skills and how he was able to excite his students about learning.

When I interviewed Rob about his beliefs on education, I found his answers to be quite profound. For example, he shared this quote by John Thornton relating to education, “We are preparing you for our past and not for our future.” I think this was meant to criticize education in the United States about how backwards, awful, boring, and ineffective it has become. Test taking prisons  don’t do anyone any good except for the companies who make money scoring the bubble in scantrons.

When I asked Rob what he thought about standardized tests and how they were affecting the students and teachers, he said the the tests were forcing the teachers to teach to a “rigid blueprint…Standardized tests take the fun out of learning. In my class I try to make it a place where learning is fun, relevant and a place where you want to be.”

What a concept. Learning can actually be interesting and fun. Has anyone ever thought that the reason many kids are dropping out of school is that they are “educated” to the point of extreme boredom?

Unlike in my school (a.k.a. Guantanamo Bay 2), I noticed right off the bat how Rob talked to the students more like human beings instead of inmates. He actually asked the students about their lives and what was going on. Rob began the class by providing the opportunity for the kids to earn some extra credit since school was almost over. Unfortunately, you never see this kind of generosity at my current school (a.k.a. zombie infected hell).

While we’re on the subject, in my school we earn credit for our homework assignments based on whether we turn it in or not. The homework policy at my school for Zombies also supports the practice that if a student turns in an assignment with full credit (10 points) and another with no credit (0 points) then they receive the average of both which is five. Now, 5 out of 10 points is equal to 50% and according to the homework policy that’s an F. Wait a second, wouldn’t the average between an A and a F be a C? You would think so, but remember in prison test factories the entire system doesn’t care about individuals.  It doesn’t care about excuses, about whether a kid is poor, or whether his dad’s in prison and mom’s away at work. It’s the school-wide score that matters.  And what matters is doing the homework.

I honestly don’t blame the teachers because they work hard but are constantly pressured by the system to do well on the standardized test. Otherwise they may be in for some trouble, demoted, or they could be fired if brand new.  I do blame some of the administrators though because too many are suck ups to the system.

The assignment Rob gave his class was about the Sand Creek Massacre which occurred in Colorado in 1864. Most history textbooks barely have any information on Sand Creek. The textbook that Rob is supposed to use contained only one paragraph for the entire event of the Sand Creek Massacre. Apparently these textbooks really don’t give a crap about stuff that makes America look bad.

Rob doesn’t teach to make America look bad though.  He teaches kids to be critical thinkers so America can be a stronger democracy.

Rob extended this topic into a four day lesson with collaboration from the English teacher. What occurred in 1864 was that a tribe of Cheyenne indians was told by the U.S. government to relocate to place called Sand Creek. The reason for this was that some more hostile Indians were in the surrounding area and were being targeted by the military. By taking this action, the Cheyenne indians would be out of harm’s way when the U.S. attacked.

The Cheyenne tribe made their move and arrived at Sand Creek. They gratefully flew an American flag and remained very peaceful.  Unfortunately, the Americans, led by an over-zealous guy named Chivington, thought that the Cheyenne were the hostile tribe and opened fire on them. In the end, over 100 Cheyenne men, women, and children were massacred.

After Rob  had the students digest this information, he assigned them the task of analyzing a handful of primary documents related to the Sand Creek Massacre in small groups of four. They were to identify whether a document was or wasn’t in favor of Chivington’s actions by placing certain marks on sentences that helped them make their conclusions. Once this was completed, the kids would later be asked to write a letter to Congress as people who could have existed during the time period of the massacre.

Rob later explained to me that this was an example of “document based questioning” or D.B.Q where students have hands-on opportunities to apply their knowledge. The letter would make arguments as to whether or not compensation should be given to the remaining Cheyenne indians for their losses. Rob’s main reason for using this teaching method was not to just throw out the information for the students but to also teach them how to form their own opinions based on analyzing primary documents.

Based on what I have described so far, you might think that Rob teaches an honors class. I certainly did. Surprise — I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t there but this class is for students who are basic and below basic on the standardized tests. Doesn’t that just blow you away!? In Rob’s class, I participated in the activity along with the kids who were analyzing primary documents. I noticed that many students, and one in particuular, Jorge,  was seeing the same patterns I was with the documents. I assumed he was a top honors kid. However, what really shocked me was that Jorge was a special education student!

All of this just goes to show that every student can learn, think, and succeed regardless of his or her test scores.  Yes, the teacher does make a lot of difference but we must allow them to teach. The more we try to standardize the teaching, the more we will are also standardizing and creating zombies out of the students.  I don’t know about you, but I would rather be treated like a human being instead of a mindless zombie.

What are your thoughts?

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Introducing ZombieX: No Zombie Left Behind

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In 2011, ZombieX was a middle school contributor to the education news and advocacy site K12NewsNetwork.com. His posts are reprinted with permission.

ZombieX-150x150Hello all students! My name ZombieX, I am twelve years old and I am in seventh grade. The purpose of this blog is to allow our generation (a.k.a. America’s future) to express ourselves on the issues of education in the United States and to be informed on this topic regularly. Have you ever noticed that whenever the subject of education is brought up, only the adults have done all the talking? Don’t you think they have done enough blabbering? And they say we talk too much. Wait a second, aren’t they the ones who screwed things up for America? Think about it: global warming, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crisis, the energy crisis, and of course the downfall of education. All of this happened on their watch. Aren’t we the customers of education? Shouldn’t we have a say in our future and America’s future? If you ask me, this isn’t democratic.  I don’t know about you but, I value my education very much. It’s about our future.  Ask yourself, “Is it worth fighting for?” I say yes! Let’s hear from the kids for a change. What do you think? Please, read my blog and get involved. Enjoy!

I have been in public schools for seven years.  That means that I have been oppressed all my life by “The No Child Left Behind Act” (NCLB) signed into law by President Bush in 2002. But really, what does “No Child Left Behind” mean? I think there is something missing because it implies, “left behind what?”  A great education?  One would assume that’s what they were talking about but I seriously wonder. Personally I believe that all students should be given great opportunities in school for them to learn the knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in their lives, jobs, families, and relationships. School should ignite the passion for knowledge.

Learning this stuff should also be enjoyable, exciting, and fun for all students in order for them to stay motivated in school.

But what NCLB really means is that no child should be left behind in two subjects based on a multiple choice standardized test. And while we’re at it, let’s make school as boring and as prison like as possible. That’s it. And I can’t believe we’ve made such a big deal about it. We rank schools and teachers–all based on students’ memorization and test taking abilities on mostly Reading and Math. The current book I’m reading is called, “The Zombie Survival Guide.”  It should be sub headed, “How NCLB is creating a generation of Zombies.”

So year after year, I participate in the ritual of passing the California Standards Tests (CSTs) in school and every year the format of the tests and testing schedule are the same.  The teachers give us candy and pizza parties if we do well. Point of information, Zombies don’t eat candy or pizza.  They eat human flesh.

This year though for 7th grade something unusual and remarkable occurred before testing. My principal decided to give a speech that he believed would compel us to do even better on the test telling us about external and internal motivations that we should all have in order to do well. I couldn’t help thinking that this is what my parents’ taxes go for. Near the end of the speech, my principal  talked about some test taking strategies and I will never forget what he said:  “When you get stuck on a question, guess the letter C.”Are you serious? This is the pearl of wisdom that I ‘m supposed take away from my time at junior high?

Well it does make me think about twelve years in the future when I have a research job on the Hadron Collider and I am about to discover the Higgs Boson particle a.k.a. the “God particle.”  So, when I am stuck on a complex formula that may be the key to finding the Higgs Boson, I’ll know what to do; choose the letter C!  Yeah right. No wonder America is so messed up. This is what standardized tests are doing to our education, to my generation, and America’s future.

More words of wisdom that my principal shared with the students was called the “process of elimination.” This is a strategy where when you are given a number of answers, you must eliminate answers that are obviously illogical until you have narrowed it to two answers. For example, let’s say there is a math question; 20 times 20 with the following choices: A: 4, B: 400, C: 4000, and D: 50. We can eliminate answers A and D because they are way off., leaving B and C. Luckily, we have my principal’s ultimate technique so we just choose the letter C! It’s that simple!

Now, let’s apply process of elimination to real life. Take the war on terror for example. Thus far, we have eliminated Saddam Hussein, a handful of terrorists, thousands of enemy insurgents, probably tens of thousands of civilians, and of course any chance for democracy. However, we also recently eliminated Osama Bin Laden. We hit the Jackpot.

I suppose the experts would say that this is proof that the process of elimination does indeed work. Maybe we do live in a multiple choice world after all. For those who believe we do and want to test us to death, I choose “none of the above.”

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Welcome, Caifornia P21 “Summer Class of 2013”

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On July 27, 2013, more than two hundred students from Orange County will join together to explore, define, and exchange information on P21 learning.

What is Partnership for 21st Century learning? It’s a national movement with 18 states as partners. It’s a set of principles that guide learning. And it’s also a series of approaches like project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, or design-driven learning that in turn need new ways of measuring what’s learned.

4csWordle

It’s youth, increasingly diverse, starting to shape the world we see through the questions we ask.

It’s new forms of literacies: financial, health, environmental, civic, media, and artistic.

And it’s partly what Orange County high school students gathered at Cal State Fullerton will articulate for ourselves, based on our visions of what we see of the present and the future.

The July gathering follows on a ground-breaking visit of California State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson’s May 2013 visit to Savanna High School (above) to see what P21 learning principles look like in action.

As the cohort of kids who’ve experienced P21 learning is still growing, the July meeting will be a way for these early path-breakers to reflect on best practices and build momentum student-to-student to help spread adoption of P21 in the rest of Orange County and the state.

Onward to July!

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“Collaboration,” Hiep Nguyen

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hiepnguyenCollab

This beautiful painting is by the students in Hiep Nguyen’s art class at ???? High School in Orange County, California.

So fitting that the Partnership for 21st Century Education’s 4Cs would be represented by one of the C’s — Collaboration!

The others are Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Communication.

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