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The IDEA Blog

Charting a new path forward in education by sharing positive stories of change, providing perspective on key issues, and giving you the news and analysis you need to take action.

My letter for the Campaign for Our Public Schools

Dear President Obama and Senators Webb and Warner,

I am a professor of education who helps prepare individuals to be licensed VA school teachers, and who also provides professional development to in-service teachers. I myself have 5 years of public school (and one year of private) middle school teaching experience in NC schools starting in 1996. I write to you today as part of a letter writing campaign (Campaign for Our Public Schools ) to urge you all to reconsider the direction that the current presidential administration and Congress seem to be continuing along regarding education.

Four years ago, when President Obama was elected, I was overjoyed for I was certain that we would now...

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Posted on Oct 15, 2012 - 05:58 AM by Kristan Morrison

Is Educational Choice a Good Thing? Yes, if….

I am caught in a weird place.  I am a public university professor in a teacher education program who prepares people to be state-licensed teachers in our public schools.  Thus, some critics would argue that I am a tool of the public school/government monopoly over education.  But I am also an advocate of many other types of schools - free schools, homeschooling (especially of the unschooling variety), Montesorri schools, Waldorf schools, Quaker schools, etc.....pretty much any school along the progressive end of the spectrum.  My support of the latter types sometimes causes some to perceive me as an enemy or traitor to public education.  
I have had many conversations with people...

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Posted on Sep 15, 2012 - 08:32 PM by Kristan Morrison

Could Vouchers in Louisiana Be the Crowbar Needed to Get Progressive Alternatives Widely Accepted?

This morning, one of my graduate students sent me a link to a fascinating article about Louisiana's new voucher program. In a nutshell, starting this fall, families with incomes of $58,000 or less, whose children now attend a public school where at least 25 percent of students test below grade level, are eligible to get a voucher for each child. This voucher can be used as a sort of coupon at various private schools to cover part of the tuition (or all of it, depending on how high the school's tuition is and how much the voucher is worth). Not only will these vouchers/coupons cover private school tuition, the article continued, but next year, "students of any income will be eligible for...

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Posted on Jun 02, 2012 - 06:49 AM by Kristan Morrison

What Am I to Say to Aspiring Teachers?

At my university, I serve as the Graduate Program Coordinator for the Masters in Education program. Part of this job entails serving as an advisor/recruiter to people who already have a Bachelor's degree in some other field, but who wish to now earn a Masters in Education simultaneous with earning a state license to teach. Last week, a prospective student sat in my office, eager for a change from her stressful current job as a case worker in a community service organization. She plied me with questions about what it is like to be a teacher, is this a good time to be going into education, is the work stable, etc.

What was I to say to her when so many negatives were swirling through my...

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Posted on Apr 12, 2012 - 05:27 AM by Kristan Morrison

Opportunistic Parasites in Our Schools

This weekend, my husband was at a bar watching an ACC basketball game.  He struck up a conversation with a fellow watcher and found out that this guy was a doctoral candidate in education.  He further found out that this man supported his graduate studies by being a "coach" to teachers in schools that were facing NCLB-related sanctions.  Under NCLB, as many of you know, if enough students in a given school do not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), then that school undergoes increasing sanctions  (see this chart for the levels of sanctions).  
One of the sanctions that kicks in very early on is that a school must develop an improvement plan in consultation with parents, school...

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Posted on Feb 17, 2012 - 03:09 PM by Kristan Morrison

My Love/Hate Relationship with Educational Numbers

A few months back, I wrote about how my college was going through the NCATE accreditation process. The outcome of that long event was a report about how we are doing. One area in which we were “dinged” was in our assessments of our graduate programs. This report finding means that as director of one of our biggest graduate programs, I am now under the gun to create quantitative assessments to determine the effect our Master's program has on its students (are we teaching them anything, are their dispositions and behaviors changing toward sought-after ends as a result of our program, etc?).

While such info can certainly be useful in some ways, I cringe at how there is an assumption...

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Posted on Jan 11, 2012 - 11:59 AM by Kristan Morrison

Is Our Education System Broken?  Maybe Just Its Definitions


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  In honor of tomorrow, I thought I'd try to tie in my post to the holiday in some way.  It might be ham-handed, but I saw a connection!  More on that later.

I have been having some lively discussions lately with a valued colleague at my university regarding American schools.  He argues that my assertion that schools are broken is not accurate; rather, that only some schools are broken (those that serve the poorest children/families).  He is essentially, in my view, railing against the inequity that exists, but is satisfied that the kids not in circumstances of poverty are actually doing very OK (hence, he argues, the high number of Nobel laureautes who...

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Posted on Nov 23, 2011 - 10:08 AM by Kristan Morrison

Wastes of Time in Education: Do I Need an Accreditation Attitude Adjustment?

What does the phrase “waste of time” mean to you?  To me, it is when I spend time doing something that seems to serve no majorly useful purpose.  The “seems to” is a subjective qualifier here - what one person views as a waste of time may not beseen as such by others.  For example, spending time reading for leisure might be viewed by some as a waste of time (or a time killer), but to me, it wouldn’t be a waste of time because it serves the purpose of helping me relax or unwind.  However, doing paperwork that never is substantially used for anything would be, in my mind, a waste of time.  Why am I thinking about wastes of time and paperwork?  Because I am involved in my college’s NCATE...

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Posted on Sep 22, 2011 - 10:26 AM by Kristan Morrison

Finding the Courage to Work for Change

Classes start for me next Monday and I am filled with my normal, beginning-of-the-year existential angst: am I doing a job that is making a difference or not? I believe I have touched on this concern of mine in past posts, but for some reason I'm really weighed down with it this year. It's not completely that I think my current teaching lacks potential to make a difference in the world of education; rather, I have been preoccupied lately with thoughts of "Is this the most I can do? Be a college professor? Or could I go beyond writing and talking about paradigm change and actually start my own school that fully operationalizes my educational vision?"

I look at a person like Debbie...

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Posted on Aug 25, 2011 - 05:41 AM by Kristan Morrison

Education Superheroes Coming to Your Town Soon! Review of Yaacov Hecht’s Democratic Education

One of the things I love about summer is going to a nice air conditioned movie theater to lose myself in fantasy, drama, comedy, etc. for a couple of hours. I've been excited to notice that this summer there are a lot of superhero movies out there (Xmen, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, etc.) because I just love superheroes -- as a kid I tried to turn myself into Wonder Woman after watching Lynda Carter do it on TV. My spinning around never resulted in any transformation, but a girl can dream, can't she?

I've been thinking lately about how superhero stories are so popular and wondering what this says about our collective cultural psyche. Do we somehow, deep down, desire to save the...

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Posted on Jun 20, 2011 - 12:21 PM by Kristan Morrison

What is the Point of Theory When Seeking to Change Education?

I recently finished reading and reviewing a book for a scholarly journal. I believe I was asked to review this particular book (Radical Education and the Common School by Fielding and Moss) because of my own work in the area of democractic education, and so I was expecting to be very positive about it. I ended up writing a mixed review, though. While I totally agreed with what the authors were arguing for (more democractic forms of education, ethics of care and encounter, seeking to make education an enjoyable, lifelong endeavor focused on making the world a better place, e.g. more sustainable, caring, just), my criticisms centered on the fact that the work was way too theoretically dense...

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Posted on May 16, 2011 - 07:07 AM by Kristan Morrison

“Being Real” in Life and Learning

The town in which I live has recently suffered damage from two tornadoes that touched down on April 8. Luckily, no lives were lost, but extensive destruction to homes and other property were the result. Much of this devastation occurred on the other side of town (literally the other side of the tracks) in this already suffering community (see this week's Washington Post article on how Pulaski, VA is under tremendous economic strain). Not only are my husband and I incredibly fortunate to not have been in town to witness what must have been a terrifying storm, but our property also received no damage. In fact, the only damage I've seen firsthand was a gas station that lost its roof....

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Posted on Apr 20, 2011 - 10:58 AM by Kristan Morrison

Brainwashing vs. Advocating an Agenda - A Very Fine Line

Back in September, I blogged about how I had trouble hiding my viewpoints when teaching. This topic has arisen again lately for both myself and colleagues in my department and so I have more to say on the issue.

This past fall, I was fortunate to have a number of students in my classes who felt comfortable enough to openly engage me in debate on various issues. They challenged my choices of readings and my all-too-obvious philosophical leanings toward a more democratic and socially just form of education. Some of the students just plain disagreed with me, while others, one of whom had just completed law school and was thoroughly trained in Socratic discussion, mainly wanted to raise...

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Posted on Mar 09, 2011 - 11:43 AM by Kristan Morrison

Resisting Temptation: Staying True to Your “Prime Directive”

I missed my January posting because I temporarily lost my vision; not literally, for I still had my eyesight, but my philosophical vision of what I am trying to do with my life in the field of education.

In mid-January, an announcement was circulated at my university that an Associate Director position was opening in the school's Honors Academy. As at many universities, students with high GPAs are invited to take special honors courses, engage in independent research, develop deeper relationships with faculty, and, if all requirements are met, graduate with special honors. The position caught my eye in part because I like working with students on research; but if I am 100% honest, I was...

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Posted on Feb 10, 2011 - 07:56 AM by Kristan Morrison

Treasure the Fruits of Your Labor - No Matter How Small They May Seem

It is the last day of 2010 and, as usual, I am spending some time reflecting on the year. Last year around this time, I was sitting in the office of the pastor of the church I have been attending discussing with him the concept of "a calling." I had been going through a mid-life assessment; not a crisis necessarily, just a wondering if I was doing what I was meant to be doing in this life. I turned 40 last year (2009), and really struggled with whether or not I was wasting my life - was my work as a college professor making any real changes in the field of conventional education? Or should I try to, in the words of Gandhi, be the change I wanted to see in the world by starting my own...

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Posted on Dec 31, 2010 - 06:40 AM by Kristan Morrison

My Vision for a Transformed Education

Sometimes the universe really comes together, doesn't it? I had been planning on writing my blog entry today, but wasn't sure what to write on. Then just yesterday, I got a notice about the National Day of Blogging for Real Education Reform and the question of "how should our country transform education to engage all learners?" This totally connected to a topic I have been discussing with my graduate foundations of education class. In this class, we have been reading a book by noted educational researcher Gene V. Glass entitled Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips. In this book, Glass argues that the academic crisis we are supposedly experiencing in education is a manufactured one...

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Posted on Nov 22, 2010 - 09:57 AM by Kristan Morrison

Why Am I Weird?  What Causes People to Reject Society’s Assumptions?

As I commute to work some days, I turn the radio to an AM station broadcasting the "Dave Ramsey Show." This is a financial advice show with a strong libertarian feel. While I am definitely not a libertarian, I do agree with much of the host's financial advice - he's a huge proponent of not going into debt, living within one's means, taking responsibility for oneself financially, etc. He has a step-by-step process for helping people get out of debt and he encourages listeners to call in when they're gotten themselves debt free. When individuals do this, he invariably asks them, "How does it feel to be weird? To be going against everything society tells you about spending, instant...

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Posted on Oct 20, 2010 - 01:55 PM by Kristan Morrison

Should We Hide Our Viewpoints?  Developing Criticality in the Classroom

The past couple of semesters, I have had some students in classes whose political stances are diametrically opposed to mine, and this makes me a nervous wreck. I will admit it - my stomach gets all churned up when having a disagreement with someone and I feel like I get shrill and exasperated when trying to express my point of view. Having such conversations in my everyday life often brings out the worst competitor in me - I look to score points and don't deeply listen to opposing views, I just wait for my next chance to jump in with a “zinger.” But these are not good practices for a person in my profession! As the teacher of seminar classes on the politics, economics, sociology,...

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Posted on Sep 15, 2010 - 11:07 AM by Kristan Morrison

Ambiguity about Online Teaching

I missed my July posting due to being buried up with summer teaching along with trying to grab some moments of R&R (I know, excuses, excuses), but as George Costanza on Seinfeld would say, "I'm back, baby, I'm back!"

There's a TV show on this summer that I have caught a few times called "Minute to Win It" in which there's this sort of computerized voice narrating various challenges and counting down to the start time (hear example here). For some reason, this voice irks me. I suspect that it is truly a person speaking, but it has this computerized monotone sound that rubs me wrong. It's as if the creators of the show felt like it would be "cool" to have this semi-human-sounding,...

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Posted on Aug 18, 2010 - 06:57 AM by Kristan Morrison

Is Chaos a Bad Thing?

I am teaching two summer classes this year (my "summer vacation, ahhhh" was actually just for one week!) and in one of them we have been talking a lot lately about free schools. Of the 18 students in my class, I would say that about 75 percent of them reacted extremely negatively to the idea that kids should have freedom to learn what they wish, how they wish, and when they wish. Now, my students are definitely not in favor of our current conventional, very constrained system of education, but they seemed pretty appalled by the level of freedom that kids have at places like Summerhill, the Albany Free School, and the Sudbury Valley School. The most oft-cited opposition to these schools...

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Posted on Jun 10, 2010 - 06:06 AM by Kristan Morrison

Summer Vacation, ahhhhh

When I am discussing with others my thoughts about how our conventional education system should change, I am sometimes asked, in exasperation, if there Is anything about our existing approach to education that I do agree with. This past week, I have re-encountered one thing that I really do love about schools and their traditions -- and that is the rhythms of the academic year. Work, work, work, break; work, work, work (thinking about break), break. Right now I am in a break between the spring semester and the summer and am fully enjoying it. I just love summer time (not because of the heat, mind you!) and even though I am working and teaching throughout the summer, there's just...

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Posted on May 27, 2010 - 09:17 AM by Kristan Morrison

Raining on My Students’ Parades

My graduate students tell me that I am depressing them - that I am the unfunny version of Saturday Night Live's Debbie Downer . Well, they didn't actually call me that, but that's sometimes how I feel. I teach the foundations of education course at my university. This is the class where American education is looked at through a critical lens - comparing the historical, Jeffersonian democratic citizenship purpose of education to the social mobility purposes that seem most paramount in schools today. We explore and critique different philosophies of education, deconstruct our society's current politicization of education, examine the injustices of our education system's funding practices,...

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Posted on Apr 12, 2010 - 06:31 AM by Kristan Morrison

Lessons from Piano Lessons:  Musings on Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators

I am going to deviate this month in my blog from my usual teacher perspective and instead discuss things from a student perspective. Why? Because I have recently been inhabiting the role of a student and it is making me re-examine some assumptions I have had about motivation to learn; specifically - are extrinsic motivators wholly bad (as somewhat suggested by Alfie Kohn in his book Punished By Rewards)?

I have always wanted to play the piano - especially after seeing the movie The Piano (don't get me started on Harvey Keitel - hubba hubba, rrrrhrahwrrr). I finally told my spouse that for a holiday gift I would like piano lessons. So, he bought me ten lessons with a local teacher. I...

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Posted on Mar 10, 2010 - 08:17 AM by Kristan Morrison

Can Democracy Be Disembodied?

This semester, I am teaching one section of my graduate-level foundations of education course as an online class. It is a synchronous class, meaning we use the Adobe Connect software to meet in a virtual classroom from 6-9 pm each Wednesday night. It is like a conference call on steroids -- we can hear one anothers' voices (assuming the technology is working for us, which, so far, has not always been the case), we can see visuals (such as documents I post, things I write on the whiteboard, videos, etc.), and we can do written chat.

This is a new teaching format for me and is one that I resisted for some time before capitulating. My main objection initially was that I could not see how...

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Posted on Feb 01, 2010 - 08:15 AM by Kristan Morrison

Challenges and Opportunities of the Semester System

Like Alison Bagg Brink (see her latest blog post), I, too, am gearing up to return to teaching after my university's winter break. Unlike Alison, though, I will be getting a whole new set of students this semester. Teaching at a university on a semester schedule in which classes start anew at least two times a year has both its challenges and advantages for a democratically-minded educator.

For example, I love getting to meet whole new sets of students each semester. I always get that "butterflies in the stomach" excitement of thinking about the possibilities of good things to come in terms of helping to create communities of engaged co-learning. But I also hate those butterflies, too,...

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Posted on Jan 08, 2010 - 07:58 AM by Kristan Morrison

Is Education Meant to Be Easy? And other ruminations on required assignments

The semester is winding down for my teacher education students and me. We are all filled with that sense of anticipation that comes when you see hard work reaching an end. It is at this time each semester that I start gathering my thoughts about changes I want to make to my courses for the new semester, and it is at this time when I ask my students to give me advice and feedback on how things went for them in my class. Inevitably, the conversation comes around to the reading responses -- the weekly written assignments where students give evidence of having read and processed the assigned texts.

Each week, I give students anywhere from 25 to 50 pages to read for class and I ask them to...

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Posted on Dec 04, 2009 - 10:51 AM by Kristan Morrison

Where’s the Line?  Putting Democratic Teaching Ideals to the Test

In my efforts to model democratic practices to pre-service teachers, I ask my students at the beginning of each class, "Are there any questions, comments, concerns, suggestions, complaints?" Usually I am met with silence or with just basic housekeeping-type questions (e.g. when do we have to take Praxis II? etc.). Occasionally, though, a student will offer a concern or complaint about the work load or impending due dates, or they'll propose a change to a grading rubric item. For example, in the last month, I had students request to be able to pre-record their Pecha Kucha presentation (a sort of slam poetry form of powerpoint presentation -- 20 slides in 20 seconds each to explore an...

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Posted on Nov 11, 2009 - 08:41 AM by Kristan Morrison

Posts by Kristan Morrison

Kristan Morrison

Dr. Kristan Accles Morrison taught for seven years at conventional middle schools in North Carolina, which drove her to research alternative forms of education based on critical pedagogy and social justice. She earned her Ph.D. in the Cultural Foundations of Education from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and is now a professor in a teacher education program at Radford University, where she makes a point of introducing her students to educational alternatives.

Kristan reflects on her attempts to bridge the worlds of conventional and “alternative” forms of education. She considers how to bring more democratic and freedom-based practices into the realm of standard education, and how to discuss educational alternatives with a conventional audience. She explores the paradox of many teacher educators: preparing her students for teaching in the schools as they are, while also preparing them to help create the schools that could be.