Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Education Roundtable: Increasing Teaching Quality

Corey: Last week, we discussed how to deal with disaffected students in the classroom. One theme that emerged in the discussion was the potential influence of teachers on such students.

Here’s a timely, and relevant, piece on the subject that was just published. In the piece, Robert Pondiscio reviews the book Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov and, I think, does an excellent job. While I don’t agree with everything that Pondiscio writes, I think he makes a number of important and insightful points.

One of these is in this excerpt:

His focused, obsessively practical study of what makes teachers effective could—and should—shift the terms of our increasingly vitriolic national debate from “teacher quality” to “quality teaching.” This is no mere semantic distinction. The difference is not who is in the front of the room. The difference is what that person does. Lemov’s achievement is to examine teaching at the molecular level. By doing so, he may have rescued education reform from its implicit dependence on classroom saints and superheroes. It is an indispensable shift. If teaching effectively is something for the best and the brightest, rather than the merely dedicated and diligent, education reform is finished, now and forever.

I’m not sure that teacher quality and teaching quality are quite that distinct from one another -- a smart, hardworking, teacher will be more likely to do something worthwhile in front of a class -- but, nonetheless, I think it’s an important distinction.

We could take this discussion any of a million different ways, but let’s try to focus on the issue of “quality teaching” that Pondiscio identifies. I think he’s correct that it would be easier to train every teacher to teach well than it would be to recruit millions of superstar individuals into the classroom (and keep them there), but that doesn’t make it an easy task. Lemov, Pondiscio and others argue that we need more practical lessons that focus on day-to-day details in our teacher training programs. I agree that my program would have been more helpful to me had it done that, though I can see the other side as well -- that if we only focus on classroom management techniques, our teachers will ultimately lack the vision they need to be truly transformational leaders.

What do others think? Is Pondiscio on to something here? Is “quality teaching” something that can be accomplished in the foreseeable future? Do we know how to accomplish this? If so, how?

CEP: I agree with Corey’s assessment that teacher quality and quality teaching are not that distinct from one another. In many ways, who a person is determines what that person does or is capable of doing. To say otherwise implies that anyone can teach and all that is required is an effective, scripted curriculum that is “teacher-proof.” The current trend in education towards stricter certification requirements for teachers, a shift towards the professionalization of teaching, indicates that teaching should require some discretionary activity, rather than the constraint of a teacher-proof curriculum.

That aside, quality teaching is something that can be accomplished. Modes of teacher education and professional development are the place to start. The field knows little about what actually goes on in teacher preparation programs, be they traditional or alternative, much less how the discrete elements of preparation programs may lead to effective teaching. Conversely, we do know something about what makes professional development effective: content focus, active learning, coherence, sufficient duration, and collective participation. In spite of a growing amount of evidence to support the effectiveness of professional development when these characteristics are present, the vast majority of professional development continues to be one-shot workshops, disconnected from teachers’ perceived needs. Understanding what goes on in teacher preparation programs, with the goal of restructuring them and improving professional development to focus on quality teaching could go a long way to improved teaching practices.

ClassroomView: I like Lemov’s ideas a lot, and I agree that good teaching is done minute by minute, rather than just created as a large symphony, if you will, by a magical teacher. I will say, though, that some people are clearly better suited to teaching than others. While great teachers are made, they have to be cut from the right cloth. I think it would do teacher education programs well to follow the lead of the Teaching Fellows by requiring incoming students to audition in, if you will, to programs. I’ve seen way too many teachers simply sign up for a degree in education with absolutely no performance element required, and as a result a lot of completely uninteresting people end up in front of children. I think this is a mistake, and that we should assess raw teaching ability before we start to apply the step by step guidelines that Lemov so convincingly suggests.

Corey: I think the causes of quality teaching are more complex than we’re willing to recognize. Yes, raw ability matters. Yes, training can influence teaching. And, yes, we have a lot more to learn about how to identify both. But I think the causes go well beyond identifying and training talent. My personal theory on the former is that there are a few people who will succeed in almost set of any circumstances, and a few that will fail, but that most will perform very differently in different environments. How they’re trained and mentored probably matters, but so does the curriculum that they’re (not) given, the administrator(s) who evaluate and manage them, the climate and context of the school in which they teach, and the subjects and students they’re assigned to teach.

What is taught (and how) in our classrooms is hugely important -- nobody disputes that. Recruiting, training, and retaining good teachers is part of that equation. But it’s not everything, and I’m not even sure it’s most of the puzzle.

CEP: Are you suggesting that yet unmentioned policy-driven solutions specific to education are part of the equation or are you thinking more along the lines of the need for better understandings of cognition/ how people learn, in order to better inform what drives good pedagogy? Or, are you driving at something outside the parameters of schooling, along the lines of social policy?

Corey: Unless I misunderstand you, I don’t think I’m suggesting any of those. What I’m suggesting is that the quality of teaching to which children are exposed relies on a large number of factors. We tend to focus on teaching ability defined in two different ways when we talk about teacher quality: the first is what I’ll call natural ability (smart, hard working, charismatic, etc.) and the second is what I’ll pedagogical ability (structuring lessons, passing out papers, managing a class and many of the other things Lemov talks about). I’m suggesting that the context of the school and the class in which a teacher teaches also greatly influence the quality of the teaching to which students are exposed. Curriculum is certainly a large part of this, but even beyond that I think the effectiveness of individual teachers will vary widely depending on the particular subjects and children they’re asked to teach, the climate of the school, the support (or lack thereof) from administrators, and any number of other factors. In other words, I’d suggest that the quality of teaching students experience may have as much to do with the context of the school and classroom as it does any particular aspects of the teacher in the front of the classroom.

If I’m right, the policy ramifications would be that we should be hiring administrators who can facilitate teacher development, help create a positive school climate, assign teachers to their areas of strength, and generally design schedules and implement policies that will help teachers succeed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Education Roundtable: Dealing with Disaffected Students

Corey: Last week, we discussed who should go to college and who shouldn’t. Part of that depends on who will benefit from more schooling and who won’t. This week, we’ll discuss a related topic: what we should do with students who simply don’t enjoy school.

While we in the education world sometimes take it for granted that everybody should spend more time in school, it’s readily apparent that quite a few students really don’t like school.  A few song lyrics can illustrate this point:

Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” includes a school chorus singing the following

We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!

Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome begins:

When I think back
On all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder
I can think at all
And though my lack of education
Hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

And Dead Prez’s “They Schools" include the following lyrics:

They schools can't teach us s--t
. . .
They schools ain't teachin' us, what we need to know to survive
(Say what, say what)
They schools don't educate, all they teach the people is lies
. . .
F--k they schools

School is like a 12 step brainwash camp
They make you think if you drop out you ain't got a chance
To advance in life, they try to make you pull your pants up
Students fight the teachers and get took away in handcuffs

So, three different artists, complaining for three different -- but related reasons -- about schools. And the question is, what do we do about it? Do we tell the kids to zip it because we know what’s best for them? Do we divert them to alternate education programs? Do we try to make school more enjoyable? Do we let them drop out? And who makes these decisions? And when? To try to frame this discussion, let me ask these questions in a slightly different way. If your child echoed these types of complaints, what would you say to him/her? What if another student in your child’s class said these types of things? What would you hope that the teacher or principal would do?

Neil: Unemployed and uneducated people (defined as high school drop outs) are more likely to commit crime. They are more likely to partake in dangerous and socially expensive activities (i.e. smoking, teenage pregnancy). In short, uneducated people are more likely to cost society money. To reduce the costs that the uneducated impose, it makes sense to require members of the public to obtain an education. The State can and should fashion laws that dis-incentivize the population from dropping out of school. However, such laws should be carefully fashioned so that they do not impose more costs than benefits. For example, the law should not incentivize incorrigible children to stay in school to the detriment of students who are interested in learning. The law should not burden the State with enforcement costs that counteract societal savings that result from higher graduation rates.

ClassroomView: I think all children should be required to go to an elementary school that more or less treats all students the same. I think there should then be a split, where students have the option to attend schools with a focus on vocational training. Parents should have a lot of say over this, but not necessarily students. Some type of schooling should probably be required through age 17, but only if the education can be classified as “likely to be useful for each particular student.”

As a student, I didn’t think school sucked because I could do it in my sleep. Many students go to school for more than a decade and never feel that way. It’s not fair to them to make them do things they don’t want to do, and learn things they are often not able to learn, thereby completely wasting their time and our money. Instead, after a basic elementary education, they should have they opportunity to learn a useful trade in an environment that will not turn them into angry and isolated adults.

Neil: I agree that students should have the option to enter vocational school or traditional school, and that parents should make the ultimate decision regarding which school a particular student will attend. I also agree that the state should require students to attend school until they graduate (17 or 18).

I disagree that our expectations for students should depend on intelligence (except in exceptional circumstances - i.e. moderate to severe retardation). You seem to conclude that forcing less intelligent students to attend school will turn them into angry and isolated adults. I have a hard time believing that the act of being challenged in school will turn a student into an angry adult. I also don’t agree with your conclusion that school is a waste of time and money if a student does not want to attend or if the student is unable to learn certain material. Education is valuable, particularly when students struggle with material.

CEP: I agree that students should have more options than our current system’s focus on preparing all students for college allows for. One problem I see though, which ClassroomView touches on, is that school-age children may not have any idea what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Based on that, it seems that providing a high level of general education for all students will benefit them in the future when they do have a better idea what direction they want to take, or even what directions they want to take. Kids just don’t always know what’s best for them. They may think that what they’re learning will have little impact on their future, but they really don’t know the full story. Therefore there is a degree to which they just have to deal with it. I don’t want to say in any way that all standards are good and that what all teachers choose to teach is appropriate or how they teach is engaging, but there is a degree to which kids need to be educated and they just need to deal with it. I offer no critique of the system/ process through which we determine what they actually need to know

Taking this in another direction, teachers factor in to a large degree in at least 2 of these 3 lyrics, indicating that teachers have a large degree of control over students’ perceptions of school. My own experiences as a teacher in an urban public school confirm this. A teacher taking a genuine interest in a student, showing they care about more than just their academic progress, can go a long way in a kid’s engagement in school. It’s all well and good to want students to learn for the sake of learning, but if I can get a kid to learn for my sake, because they know I care about them, then wonderful, they’re learning!

In answering the question of what to do with students who don’t want to be in school, I live in this tension between thinking yes, we need to expand our school structures and pedagogy to make school more engaging for all students and thinking that the adult world functions in a specific manner and part of the role of schooling is to prepare students to function and thrive in that world. As such, many alternative ways of education may not accomplish that.

Really, historically, what have schools done to engage students? Very little: things are shifting in that direction in response to the attitudes espoused in these lyrics, but this is a relatively new trend. The things we need to change are teachers and our pedagogical methods. Teachers who care and make some attempt at connecting learning to real life would be good places to start.

Neil: The type of teaching practices you discuss cost money. Smaller class sizes cost money. Retaining experienced teachers costs money. Given that states and municipalities are in serious financial trouble, I don’t envision those changes being implemented. However, I do agree that teaching methods need to be more personalized and engaging if we are to keep kids in school. I think the answer is software. My hope is that technological innovations will allow states and municipalities to provide students with a quality education on the cheap. I think that better quality instruction might put a dent in the drop out rate.

Corey: If we think it’s important that teachers engage students and form personal bonds, then we should hold them accountable for such. If a teacher is being evaluated only on students’ test scores and academic progress, it’s tough to fault a teacher when they don’t spend a lot of time “showing they care about more than just [students’] academic progress”.

It also seems dangerous to me to expect that teachers can and will do anything and everything. If a student is genuinely unhappy with their schooling, then asking the teacher to try and fix it is fine -- but only to a certain point. At some point, structural changes need to be made as well. Either we give teachers the time and resources necessary to form these types of bonds, recruit and evaluate based on these bonds, or remove the student from the class and assign somebody else the task of trying to engage them while we let the teacher focus on the other 25 or so students.

CEP: Neil, you seem to contradict yourself. I’m curious as to how software and technological innovations will create more personalized teaching methods and what sort of innovations you mean? And, Corey, we should hold teachers accountable for engaging students academically, and even hire based on such personality characteristics- other industries certainly do. Who wants a crusty old pediatric nurse who lacks compassion? Problem is, the teacher pool may not have enough of such teachers. And there’s certainly a distribution: I know that every teacher is not going to be able to personally engage with all their students in the manner I’m describing. What is important though it to not have teachers that deride and belittle their students and make no effort to engage them. I’d like to imagine that such teachers are not in classrooms, but my experience is to the contrary.

Corey: There’s no doubt that there are some teachers that are bad in every which way imaginable. What I worry is that if the answer to “what should we do with disaffected students?” is simply “expect teachers to form personal relationships with them” that this would be taking the easy way out. Our current accountability system is based on test scores, and there’s evidence that principals in urban schools tend to hire those who can manage a class. These are both true for good reasons -- too many kids don’t have basic knowledge of academic subjects, and too many classes are overrun with discipline problems.

While I agree that a great teacher should be able to raise test scores, manage a classroom, and form relationships with their students all at once, I’m not sure what we accomplish by arguing that. Other than heaping blame on struggling teachers, motivating principals to heap blame on struggling teachers, and avoiding the implementation of any structural changes.

Wrap-up: If we agreed on anything, I think it's that there's no easy answer here. Alternative schools, tracking, warmer teachers, and other changes could all be potential solutions depending on the exact situation. The subject is too broad to address in one post, so for next week we're going to turn our attention the teacher quality argument that began in this post.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Education Roundtable: Who Shouldn't Go to College?

This is the first installment of what I hope to make a recurring series of education roundtables.

Corey: EdWeek just ran an article on a new report from some Harvard researchers.  In short, the report argues that we need to focus more energy on preparing students for careers that don’t require college diplomas.  As such, students should have more opportunities -- even as early as middle school -- to “chart an informed course toward work” (quote from edweek).  

Why?  “For too many of our youth, we have treated preparing for college versus preparing for a career as mutually exclusive options.”  By this logic, those most harmed by our “college or bust” (my quote) viewpoint are those who want to go into vocations with good wages (plumber, electrician, etc.) that don’t require diplomas.  In other words, why go to college when you get a steady, stimulating, and reasonably well-paying job without wasting time sitting in lecture halls.

To argue that some students would benefit from more vocational training is all well and good, but it seems like a slippery slope to me.  Yes, not everybody needs to go to college -- but I don’t think we’re anywhere near the point where too many students are going to college.  And until we reach the point where there are somewhere close to as many steady vocational jobs as there are adults without a college degree, I remain unconvinced that expending more time and effort on vocational training will benefit our students or our economy.  Until that point, this type of argument seems like a convenient way for some upper-class families to justify expecting less from others’ children than they do from their own.

TofuLover: I agree that there is a danger of reifying social stratification that comes along with this argument, but I don’t know how you can say we don’t have too many people going to college.  Why isn’t 40% more than enough?  Let us not confuse the racial/socioeconomic breakdown of that 40% with the overall value of the 40%.  Do I wish that 40% had many more children of color and children from low-income backgrounds?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean the number needs to get bigger, it means the proportions need to change.  

What is your argument for the value of college?  And what about the expense?  According to the Project on Student Debt, the average student graduated in 2009 with $24,000 in loans.  That’s an outrageous amount of money to repay, and for what advantage?  Where are your stats that there aren’t enough jobs for people without college degrees?  It seems to me that while the education industry has been convincing kids to take out larger and larger loans, many other industries have been quietly replacing highly-credentialed workers with cheaper ones with smaller pedigrees (medical assistants, who are not college educated, doing blood work instead of nurses, e.g.).

I learned amazing things in college, but I didn’t learn facts that would make me better at Jeopardy and I most certainly did not acquire any skills that made me more employable (the credential made me more employable, but not the skills).  I also learned invaluable lessons about citizenship, community, honesty, ethics, and how I wanted to create myself in the world and mold my world to suit my values.  While I wouldn’t trade these things or try to put a price tag on them, I am also confident that they all could have been accomplished by a really good high school.  

I also once had a plumber with an MBA from Wharton -- he got it and then went back to plumbing because he realized he could make more money, be his own boss, and do a service that few could argue isn’t absolutely crucial to our society’s function.  

The bell curve is shaped like a bell, kids.  This isn’t Lake Wobegone.  Some people are cut out for highly specialized careers that require college educations, and some people aren’t.  And we do a disservice to kids and our society when we beat them over the head with a) tasks that are really hard for them, often prohibitively so, 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, and b) the notion that they are bad people because school is hard for them.  Between teaching 2nd and 4th grades, I saw the light go out in so many children’s eyes because they were just confronted with things that were too hard for them, and that’s not right.  There should be legitimate, valued options for kids who don’t naturally excel at academics.  Education could and should lead the way in changing how society treats its most important members -- its plumbers, mechanics, farmers, trash collectors -- those without whom we (whose skill set amounts to being able to think for a living; let’s see how far that gets us in the post-peak-oil world) would be in serious trouble.

ClassroomView:  Corey, you lost me at the slippery slope.  I agree that we want to be careful about what kinds of skills we teach all children, because we don’t want to short circuit future opportunities.  However, I don’t think that shuttling me off the intramural basketball team in seventh grade was a bad thing, even though it effectively ended my hopes to get a scholarship to a great basketball school, like say, Kentucky.  I feel kind of cheated, I must admit, because I really could have been the next John Wall.  OK, maybe this is a stretch, but the thing is, it’s an apt analogy for a giant percentage of our kids who are continually browbeaten with “standards.”

As a currently practicing teacher who doesn’t work in a particularly failing school, I can say without reservation that our relentless focus on standards and college is one of the worst ideas to come out of our hapless nation that seems to be full of bad ideas these days.  You said it yourself with the term “College or Bust”: kids will make it to college, or they will have their souls crushed while trying.  But the crazy thing is, that’s not even the worst part of it.

The worst part of it is maybe they will get to college.  Let’s not forget that the major downside of everyone going to college is that its competitive value drops significantly.  How many of these kids get to a mediocre school, turn out mediocre grades, and then enter a work force chock full of other BAs who simply can’t find a job because our educational system expanded way too quickly under an educational industry bubble fueled almost exclusively by federally-backed loans?

I’m not going to cite any figures because I’m too lazy to look for them right now, but there is an entire generation of 20-somethings who can’t find work despite the our nation’s incessant boasting that “education is the key to a better future.”  Well here’s the thing: an education may very well be a prerequisite for a middle class living, but it is certainly no guarantee of one anymore; there are simply too many people with college degrees competing for a disappearing pool of jobs.

Which brings me to vocational education...of course we should have it...and a LOT of it.  There is an entire private industry of tech schools that train high school graduates (and college drop outs) to do useful things that can’t really be outsourced.  From air conditioning repair to medical technology, there are all sorts of jobs that graduates can do and earn a living at that require no college whatsoever.  My question is this: Why do we make people wait until after they’ve wasted years in high school to pursue these fields?  Wouldn’t it be a lot more honest, to say nothing of efficient, to allow these students to learn something useful in high school?  It would save them from debt later on (which I can personally attest, sucks) and it would keep them interested in learning during a pivotal of their lives that is now completely going down the tubes for large populations of our students.

Let’s not forget the end goal of K-12 education should be creating happy and productive citizens for our democracy.  Any path that gets five-year-olds to this point by their 18th birthdays is fine by me, and should be actively pursued.

Corey: In 1975, about 22% of 25-29 year-olds had a bachelor’s degree.  For the last decade, that number has hovered around 30%.  Hence, my lack of alarm at the skyrocketing population of young adults with useless bachelor’s degrees.

70% of adults do not possess a bachelor’s degree.  I’m neither a demographer nor a labor economist, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that this means two things: 1.) There are far more non-college-educated adults struggling to make ends meet than there are underemployed college grads staggering under a burden of debt; and 2.) There are nowhere near enough skilled jobs to employ everybody without a college degree; even if they all receive top-notch vocational training.

How many of those 70% should earn college degrees?  I don’t know.  But the reality is that we’re nowhere close -- and won’t be at any point in the near future -- to a population where 100% earn bachelor’s degrees.  Heck, at the current rate it will take us until about the end of the century to reach the point where the majority do.

Now, for the large number of students who enroll in college but never graduate (if over half of students enroll in college, and only 30% graduate, this is a pretty big number), we can certainly find some who would do better with vocational/technical training.  But this isn’t the only option: there are any number of ways in which we might help this population instead successfully graduate from college.  So, no, we shouldn’t dismiss vocational/technical training outright, but I think we should think long and hard before steering somebody away from college.

Part of this is because college attendance benefits people in numerous ways.  I don’t have time to look up all these statistics, but those with a bachelor’s degree are less than half as likely to be unemployed as those with a high school degree; earn substantially more money per year; are less likely to smoke; are more likely to vote, and the list could go on.  Some of this is correlational (more skilled people tend to go to college), but some portion is certainly what is learned and who one meets in college.  For these (and many other) reasons, I would encourage my child to to go to college regardless of which type of employment he/she wished to pursue.  And I think quite a few parents out there feel similarly.

To how many should this “college or bust” attitude be applied?  This is where we hit a slippery slope.  We’re not going to have 100% of students graduate from college, nor (probably) should we aim to.  So where do we draw the line?  This is where I worry that we start to hit a slippery slope.

I say that because we already know what happens when we track at any level: poor and minority students tend to end up in the bottom tracks while the wealthy and White (and Asian) students tend to find their way to the top tracks.  By encouraging those who may want to enroll in college, but are perceived as unlikely to graduate, to instead complete a vocational or technical education, we will probably save some students from being debt-ridden college dropouts.  But we’ll also prevent a number of students who otherwise would have finished college from doing so.  And these students will largely be poor and/or minority.

It seems to me that Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” applies here.  If you had no idea how successful your child would be in school, at what point would you object to them being placed in remedial English, the vocational track, or being advised not to attend college?  Would you be ok if this happened if they were in the 70th percentile?  I wouldn’t.  50th percentile?  I wouldn’t.  30th percentile?  I might start to consider it.

The practical ramification of the argument that we don’t need any more college grads and should, instead, focus on vocational education, is that 70% of parents should encourage their children to skip college.  

And I worry that it’s easy for those of us among the educated elite to pretend that would be acceptable.  We’re pretty sure our kids will end up among the top 30% (no matter how many times we have to go meet with the principal, how many hours we have to spend helping with homework, or how much we have to pay for private tutoring or a private school), so what do we have to worry about?  We have more friends from college who end up working as a secretary than we do friends who are unemployed, jailed, or working a series of low-wage jobs.  So, knowing that my child isn’t the one skipping college, I can sit here in the ivory tower and declare that too many people are enrolling in college and would be better off aiming lower.  And then I can take comfort in the fact that my child won’t have too much competition for the top positions in society.

TofuLover: I prefer not to think about some being “top” positions and rather to focus on the dignity in any kind of work.  I had a college classmate who dropped out to become an auto mechanic.  Do his parents love him less?  Is he less valuable to society than I am?  Hardly.  I also don’t think pushing to get more kids to the point where they can step on others is a goal to be proud of.  If the point of education is to “get ahead,” I have to ask, ahead of whom?  That’s the problem with this way of thinking about jobs and pay, someone always has to be at the bottom of the ladder in order for others to climb is.  I’m more interested in making this a society where we learn to respect and remunerate jobs based on their importance (an auto mechanic is considerably more useful to us than I will be with my PhD) and where we learn to appreciate the amazing bounty even the poorest of us has.  This takes my efforts outside of the educational arena, but not exclusively.

Corey's wrap-up: I think it's fair to say that there's no easy answer to the question of who should go to college and who shouldn't.  The "college or bust" attitudes of many parents often seem to benefit their children, but there's legitimate concern as to whether a society-wide "college or bust" attitude ends up hurting those who don't attend or graduate from college.  While those with college degrees lead lives that are empirically "better" in numerous ways (see the recent Economist article on the rising returns to a college diploma), it's unclear whether the goal of a college degree should be to "get ahead" of others.  Should the goal, instead, be simply to better oneself and one's life?

If that's the case, it seems likely that some would prefer the outcomes of pursuing a vocational or technical education than a bachelor's degree, but determining who should make that choice -- and when, is tricky, if not dangerous.  That will be part of next week's roundtable discussion.

New Feature: Education Roundtables

Starting this morning, I'm going to introduce a new feature on this blog: education roundtables.  The basic premise is that I'm going to collaborate with various people I know from around the world who are working in education.  One of us will post a discussion starter at the start of the week and, as time allows, others will post responses that build on the previous post.  The goal is to foster critical discussion amongst ourselves and push each other to think through things in new and deeper ways.  I hope that readers from the web will enjoy the conversation.

For now, many of the collaborators will be using pseudonyms.  As self-appointed moderator, I'll do my best to avoid allowing people who represent a specific interest from advocating for the interest anonymously.  If there are background or contextual factors that you should be aware of about the person writing one week, I'll try to make sure they get included.  If you need more information about somebody, feel free to post a comment or e-mail me.

For now, the schedule will be to post the previous week's discussion each Monday morning.  I'll to stick to that for at least this first month, and then we'll re-evaluate.