David L. Kirp’s 2013 book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools, shows us that the average urban school system can be a great one–but that takes a lot of doing. Kirp offers a case study of Union City, NJ, a small but heavily urban district comprised largely of first- and second-generation immigrants from Latin America. While many urban school districts languish, Continue reading
Author Archives: Chris Thelen
Friday 5: Finland, Swim Class, Sod Schoolhouses
The one-room schoolhouse is the stuff of legend in modern-day North America, and in an era when 4,000-student high schools are not uncommon, it’s easy to forget that one-room schools still exist. In “Lessons to be Learned from a One-Room Schoolhouse” from CBS News, we hear about how in some towns across the country, education is still flourishing the old-fashioned way. Continue reading
The Capitol Dome and Its Two Cities
For a year after I graduated from college, I worked as an educator in the shadow of one of the weightiest symbols in the world, the embodiment of all of the ideals that make up the great ideological experiment that is America. The Capitol Dome feels omnipresent when one travels around Washington, DC, and the city planners have made sure of that Continue reading
25 Years After Tiananmen, We’re Still Learning
“In darkness dwells a people which knows its annals not.”
–Ulrich B Phillips
So much of what happened at Tiananmen Square in 1989 is still unknown to the Chinese people and the rest of the world as a result of the active information suppression and distortion by the Chinese government.
They don’t want their people to know of the atrocities that the government committed there, but they also don’t want their people to know about the 7 weeks of non-violent, student-led demonstrations that preceded the bloodshed. Continue reading
Identity Impacts Education, and Vice Versa
There’s a growing body of scholarship around how students’ social identities impact their educational experiences, but it’s so important to consider how education affects their identities as well. In fact, I think it’s entirely possible that identity and education interact with each other as a cycle, or even a series of them, in which identity and our experiences in education feed into each other in different and overlapping ways. For some students and teachers, that cycle plays out every day and in some unexpected (and challenging) ways. Continue reading
Gordie Howe and the Voyageurs Sparked My Love of History
I really liked school when I was a kid, but in 4th grade, I discovered that history was my first great love. It all started with my Michigan state history class, when I learned that my goofy-shaped home was a pretty great place to live.
The textbooks we used—some of the first that I had encountered in my young educational career—had worn-out brown covers and were Continue reading
LeVar Burton Was My First Black Friend
You might say that LeVar Burton is one of the first black people I ever met. And that’s exactly how the producers and executives at PBS wanted it.
I grew up in a very white bread town in Northern Michigan. With the exception of a handful of Native American residents whose families lived on that land long before the voyageurs ever showed up, the vast majority of folks in that town and for hundreds of miles around were white. Despite that, I still felt like I knew people who looked and lived differently than I did, Continue reading
Friday 5: Adult Napping, Diversity, Graduation 2014
I’m not in the habit of throwing around free advertising, but this new Google Search commercial is a fantastic tribute to 2014 graduates. It showcases the terrors of being a freshman to the triumphs of senior year and everything in between. It’s worth your 90 seconds.
Education Week Teacher put out a call a couple of weeks ago Continue reading
“The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever”: A Whole Lotta Wisdom in One Place
According to NPR, I’ve been present for 3 of the best commencement speeches ever given.
Every once in a while, I have a moment when I discover yet another reason why I am exceedingly lucky. It usually sneaks up on me. A good friend sent me this link the other day to an NPR compilation of over 300 of the best commencement speeches ever given in America. It’s so well-indexed that you can search it by name, school, date, and theme. Of course I searched for my Alma mater, the University of Michigan. But I was surprised to find that I’ve attended 3 of the speeches on this list. That’s probably more than almost everyone in America. Continue reading