First there were charter schools and high stakes testing, and now we are entering a whole new realm of corporate education that treats students as commodities and views schools and teachers as obstacles to profits. Education corporations are pushing computer-based learning on students and crowding out classroom-based instruction, even though studies show online learning is less effective. On top of that, new education tech also monitors students’ eye movements, vital signs and emotional state. It is mining data on students from preschool on up that can be sold to marketers and used to determine a student’s future. We speak with Morna McDermott, an educator and mom who co-founded United Opt Out of the opt out of testing and has launched a new campaign, “Classrooms, Not Computers.”
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Morna McDermott is a professor of education at Towson University and a founding administrator of United Opt Out. She has worked in and with k-12 public schools for 25 years.
As an educator devoted to the preservation of PUBLIC education as a fundamental right for ALL children, she focuses on writing essays, mad rants, and research based articles that address the concerns, fears, hopes and imaginings she shares with others. Alchemy is key. Common lore describes alchemy as the work of madmen attempting to change base metals into gold. But true alchemists know that the art of alchemy is about transformation of self and world in tandem with one another.
Known traditionally as a pseudo-science of turning lead into gold, alchemy is also according to many scholars (Jung, 1968; Highwater, 1996; Briggs, 1985) the belief in and practice of “self” as a creative aesthetic process with the aim of transforming “self” into a relational being that connects the alchemist with the world; using the sensory world of “prima materia” (the elements of earth, fire and water) as a metaphor for empathetic and socially responsible action. As an educational practice that “works from within,” alchemy uses metaphor to access and express the ineffable knowledges emerging from the complex and shifting relationships between self a other, and between our inner self and acts of social change within the world. Based on the premise that “what is within is also without,” alchemy as inquiry taps into changes within “self” to spark change within our socially constructed systems of meaning-making. As such, those of us dedicated to transforming public education, not “reforming” it, know that “the work” is the highest goal. Profit cannot be the motivation to drive meaningful, equitable, and sustainable educational practices. Nor can glory, fame, or self-gratification. As people like Michelle Rhee make $30,000 a speaking engagement and Pearson bilks 45 billion dollars from educational coffers while public schools starve and communities struggle. This is unacceptable. The alchemist knows that the work and the self are directly intertwined. The purpose must be greater than the self alone. Creativity and the arts have the power to provoke change in the hands of communities inspired by socially responsive purposes. Because “art enables us to glimpse a reality that lies outside the realm of what we are normally aware of” (Highwater, 1996, p. 116) alchemical inquiry draws on art from within the self to create more socially responsive modes of aesthetic meaning making.
The self becomes an agent of change only by changing the self. Using alchemical processes in arts inquiry we forge visions rather than findings, inviting others to tap into their own creative reserves and draw out other ways of seeing the world. How might we access sensory and artistic conceptions in inquiry so that they might in turn help transform our work and worlds?