Video: Founding Pennsylvania

I’ve seen a few videos lately that show how Xtranormal can be used to critique the administrators of various schools (not mine, fortunately), who are so wrapped up in the idea of high test scores that they can’t see how damaging that is to students.  An example of one of these videos is below; I think John Spencer’s are hilarious, but there are certainly others.

Tasers and Math

But it occurred to me that this problem — of individual idealists embedded in complex systems that have other goals in mind — is not new.  It’s probably ancient, but thanks to my seventh graders, I’m particularly aware of the problem of William Penn.  Penn intended to found a “holy experiment” of a colony in America.  Yet between the English disdain (horror, really) at Quakers and their beliefs, and their genuine need for cash in a time of war, his experiment was gradually transformed into something else.  And his experiment took place in a context of other activities (like the settlement of a penal colony in Georgia), which negatively impacted his own efforts to make a successful colony where tolerance was the norm.  So, I made this video to express John Spencer’s problem in a slightly different fake-historical context, but also to assist my students in ‘grokking’ a new technology.

I think a lot of us more idealistic reformers tend to forget this.  We don’t operate in a vacuum, and there are other ideas about how power should be used (perhaps to our minds, ‘abused’).  Our reforms aren’t always scaleable, our intentions are not always followed to our best ends.  It’s a worthy reminder that a lot of things outside our classrooms really aren’t under our control.  Sometimes, even the things IN our classroom aren’t under our control.

On the other hand, as a colleague of mine at another school suggested recently, sometimes a barely-containered chaos is a great place to learn.

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