Posts Tagged 'Education'

To Answer Her Question…

dialogue1By Claudia Felske — If you’re anything like me, you frequently have the perfect come back…twenty minutes too late.

In this case, was 24 hours too late.

Friday night, my husband and I were at a banquet where we knew no one, so when we noticed a couple searching for a seat, we welcomed them to our table, hoping for some scintillating conversation from strangers.

Conversation inevitably led to “What do you do?” and when she found out I am a teacher,  she asked me what I thought of Governor Walker and all that’s happened in Wisconsin on the educational front these past few years.

“Do you really want to know what I think?” I asked/warned her. “Yes,” she said with sincerity.

I told her budgets are tight, red tape is thick, and morale is low. I told her that I’m not typically one for conspiracy theories, but with the educational legislation being passed (like course choice) it’s hard not to believe that the powers that be are attempting to dismantle public education, to privatize it.

Her response was “And what do you think of that?”

I was  a bit taken aback her question. Was she suggesting privatization would be a good thing? I was about to ask her to clarify when the emcee chimed in and our conversation ended.

And so, now, 24 hours later, I’d like finally to answer her question.

What do I think of privatizing public education?  

  • It’s exclusive. The aim of public education is to benefit all; the aim of privatization is profit for the few. Many charter schools, online academies and for-profit colleges have demonstrated this phenomenon by accruing enormous profits at the expense of their students (high dropout rates and astronomical student debt).
  • It’s elitist. Privatizing education would increase the already existing problem of inequality among schools: the wealthiest areas have greater per student spending and superior resources for their schools. Privatization would exacerbate this problem: the have’s will have the means to attend the best schools and the have-nots will not. Marketplace 101: businesses cater to their wealthiest clientele.
  • It’s dehumanizing. Progressive movements in education strive to individualize the learning experience of each student; for-profit institutions are likely to treat students as widgets and strive to turn out the greatest possible quantity of widgets at the lowest possible cost.
  • It invites corruption. Privatization could result in an increasingly biased and unbalanced curriculum:  Should evolution be taught? the holocaust? human growth and sexuality? religion? All this and more could be decided by the highest bidder, the most influential corporate voice.
  • It’s dangerous to our democracy.  James Madison said “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Taking the public out of public education will jeopardize a knowledgeable electorate and the foundation of our democracy.

It’s true that public education needs reform, but privatization is not the answer.

So don’t throw the baby out, just the bathwater.

And that, 24 hours later, is my answer to her question.

Incredible or Idiotic? Turns Out, It’s Somewhere Inbetween.

resultsBy Claudia Felske — You may recall dear reader, (or more optimistically, dear readers) back in September, I was embarking on a classroom experiment called the 20% project. Here’s the whole sordid ordeal: “Incredible or Idiotic? You Be the Judge.”

In a nutshell, I was following the progressive corporate model Google and 3M use in allowing employees to spend 20% of their time experimenting with ideas that interest them, resulting in some of their most innovative products. My classroom version had students spending 20% of their time (1 day per week) doing the same: exploring an interest or curiosity. At the end of my initial blogpost, I concluded:

Time will tell…we’ll see if 20% time turns out to be “wasted time” or “an incredible experience.”

Well, the results are in…and reviews are mixed. Things didn’t go as swimmingly as I’d hoped or they had hoped. In general, and students didn’t achieve as much as they had planned. But beneath it all, some learning (both theirs and mine) did happen.

Their final presentations showed a variety of results: the budding linguists, attempting to create a new language, were not yet finished; the pair who intended to create a documentary on lucid dreaming never really left the research stage; the 365 Club had loads of ideas, but never got the membership it had hoping for. Yet, the equestrian website was live, the cancer patient bracelets were made and distributed, the Sports Drink was developed. A mixed bag of success, kind of like real life.

What was also evident to me that although a central part of the project from the start was embracing the unknown and learning from failure, these accelerated students felt inadequate with anything less than certain success.

Three themes emerged in their reflections:

  1. It’s their fault (public education, that is)
  2. It’s our fault (human nature)
  3. It wasn’t all bad (we did learn something)

1. It’s their fault.

With what seemed to be wisdom beyond their years, a number of students pointed directly at the institution of public education to explain their shortcomings on the 20% project:

“All we have been taught in school is how to fill out worksheets and do specific assignments. We never get independent thinking time which is crucial in the word. In real life, our bosses aren’t going to be sitting behind us and being back seat drivers in the workplace.”

And another: “In school, the answers are all in our books, and the questions are all written out.  With this project though, we had none of that.  We had to create our own questions to find answers to and make up our own goals and deadlines.  This style of learning was very hard for me, as well as many other people, because were just not used to it.”

Another student came up with a top 5 list:Ken Robinson

“There [are]  5 things public school teach.

  1. Truth comes from authority
  2. Intelligence is the ability to remember and repeat
  3. Accurate memory and repetition are rewarded
  4. Conform: intellectually and socially
  5. Non-conformity is punishable.”

Interestingly, students drew the same conclusion as Sir Ken Robinson in the TED Talk which inspired the 20% project: our educational system simply does not give students enough opportunities for problem solving, creativity and discovery. Therefore, such opportunities are foreign, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable for them.

2. It’s OUR Fault:

Others pointed inward, blaming themselves, and perhaps even human nature.

“The biggest problem I encountered in this project was procrastination.   Although this is a big problem, it is hard to fix because it is just part of human nature.”

Another, said it’s not procrastination, but rather the general harried pace of school to be blamed: “the biggest reason why I didn’t achieve as much was because I really didn’t have an extra 20% of my time. During the school year, everything is fast paced, set in stone routines. Wake up, get ready, school, home, family, homework, chores, homework, dinner, shower, more homework, and then off to bed; it is life of a 21st century teenager.”

Others said that when it’s “work,” it’s joyless. That perhaps anything that’s assigned becomes drudgery: “At first glance, 20% seems like a creative, fun idea, but as time dragged on, being forced to use fun for school sucked the joy right out of what was once fun.”

3. It wasn’t all bad.

failure_successOnce blame was passed around, students admitted to learning among the “failing”:

“I learned a lot about different syntax. Before I wasn’t aware that there was so much diversity in languages.”

“I learned a lot about myself, such as that I get off track fairly easily and I am a huge procrastinator. It helped me kick the problems I had with my behavior a little, which will hopefully help me in the long run for other projects.”

“This shows me that I am self driven and that I don’t need to be nagged so that I can complete something by a deadline.”

“I learned from this project that I am a more hands-on type of person, and I don’t prefer the textbook and desk style.”

              “I learned that to be more realistic in setting goals, managing time and being more strategic in planning.”

“It’s disappointing to think I failed to do what I had imagined, but as a young teenager I can learn from those mistakes. You can use this knowledge throughout your life to take one step at a time, and soon you will be able to look back and see how far you have come. Hopefully, the distance will make you proud.”

So what’s my overall take on all this?

Was it “their fault” (public education?), “our fault” (human nature), or  was it “not all bad” (did they learn?)

Yes, yes, and yes.

One of my more persistent students commented at the end of her reflection: “Perhaps in my future blog posts when the weather starts to warm up. I may be able to report a bit more on this project. Even though the classroom aspect of this is over, I don’t plan on giving up.

Me neither.


Delightfully Awkward: Those First Few Days of Freshman Year

ready-or-not-freshmanBy Aubrey Murtha — I am a volunteer in admissions here at Marquette, and I had several students ask about MU’s Freshman Frontier program—a summer opportunity for incoming students to live and learn on campus for a few weeks.

They thought that maybe enrolling in the program would help them avoid embarrassment during their first few weeks of school come the fall.  I was honest with them: “Freshmen Frontier gives you a great opportunity to explore the campus and get a better feel for the MU environment. Will you still embarrass yourself next year? Obviously! That’s the nature of being a freshman. Been there, done that, times a million.”

This got me thinking about my first days on campus.  I can’t even comprehend how incredibly fast this academic year has flown by.  I know it seems cliché, but I remember my orientation week as if it had taken place just yesterday.  I remember that queasy feeling that came over me as my mom, my sister and I were driving the ten minutes from my house in Wauwatosa to my new residence—Abbottsford Hall on good ole Wisconsin Ave.  The night before, I had spent several hours picking out an outfit for the next day, ensuring that I had every little necessity gathered and packed away for the big move, and stalking and re-stalking my two roommates on Facebook (sorry Maddie and Nicole).

When we finally reached our destination, campus pretty much looked like a movie.  Bubbly upperclassman O-Staff leaders greeted us with giant, cheesy smiles.  New Golden Eagles dragged massive loads of junk to the end of the elevator line that wove around the lobby in zig-zags.  Girls giggled as they surveyed the male population of the floor above them.  A set of first time college parents got misty eyed as they watched their son collect the keys to his new home.

We made our way up to the fourth floor.  It was probably a solid 90 degrees that day, but it felt like 120 up there in room 409.  I shook hands with my roommates.  We lofted the beds, unpacked our clothes, organized our new home, and finally, said goodbye to the people who had lived with us for the past 18 years and loved us anyway.

And thus the most hectic week of our young lives began.  We played nice with as many people as we could because, after all, we had no idea who our best friend would be for the next four years.  We attended an exorbitant number of meetings.  We threw ourselves into terribly awkward situations.  Some attended their first college party.  Others uh…enjoyed their first McCormick meal.  If you’re like me, you got lost on campus two, three, four, maybe ten times during that first week.  We asked seniors for advice.  We did service in Milwaukee for the first time.  We attended the first of many Tuesday night masses at Joan of Arc.  We bonded with our floors.  We got excited about MU basketball.  We went to class and learned some stuff that we probably don’t remember now.  We explored the city that we would call home for the next four years.

Wow, what a beautifully precious time that was when we freshmen were awkward and excited and nervous and phony and fresh.  I’ve got one tip for this incoming class, the Marquette University Class of 2018.  Cherish those silly times.  I am a young freshman and still relatively naïve compared to my friends of MU senior status.  Some of you might be thinking, what does this kid know anyway? But take it from me for whatever it is worth: a Marquette education has truly been the best thing that’s ever happened to this homegrown Midwesterner, and you will make irreplaceable memories during those first few weeks if you are open to the many opportunities that this campus and these people have to offer.  Not sold just yet?  Call me, text me, write me.  Instant Messaging, anyone?  Heck, fax me if that’s the mode of communication you prefer.  I’ll convince you.        



By Claudia Felske — I’m generally one to abstain from conspiracy theories. I’m generally one to see the glass half full, I’m generally one to see both sides of an issue, but I’m having a hard time with this one.

Say you’re a kid, 12 years old. Your Dad sends you to the store.

“Go get us four ribeyes, a couple pounds of shrimp, chocolate milk,” he smiles, “and ice cream, any flavor you want.”

This sounds great to you as he just rambled off all of your favorites.

You wait for him to give you the money.

But there’s no money.

You look at him.

He looks at you.

“Go on, you heard me,” he glares, raising his voice “And don’t come back without ‘em!”

You scurry out the door and make your way toward the store without a clue as to what you’ll do when you get there, much less where you’re going to sleep tonight.

Ludicrous? Yes.

Abusive parenting? Without a doubt.

But perfectly analogous to what the Wisconsin State Legislature has done recently to its Public School Districts. State Statute 118.52 (known as Course Options) allows any student enrolled in a Wisconsin public school district to take up to two courses per semester at any other public or charter school or any public or private college while their school district foots the bill.

Sure, it’s a great learning opportunity for students—steak, shrimp, chocolate milk AND their favorite flavor of ice cream—but absolutely unaffordable for local school districts.

Wisconsin legislators are sending districts to the store with no money.

Since Act 10, since public funding of Charter Schools, since Youth Options, Wisconsin legislation has continued to financially devastate local school districts resulting in reduction of teachers, larger class sizes, and decreased programming.

And now, by law, districts will need to pay up to two classes of college tuition ($2902 at UW Milwaukee, $5730 at Marquette, for example) for any student who requests it. Multiply that  by 10 students, 20, 30 or more per semester, and the declaration of bankruptcy by school districts across Wisconsin isn’t far behind.

I’m generally not one for conspiracy theories, but with a mandate that is as ludicrous and wholly unsustainable as Course Options, it’s hard not to believe that there’s an agenda out there, alive and well and powerful, trying to defund and dismantle public education.

Tuesday Trivia: Win a collectors edition of Insurgent

We’ve got two collectors editions of “Insurgent,” the second book in the Divergent Trilogy to give away.  And since it’s Tuesday, we thought a trivia question might be the appropriate way to give you a chance to win it!


For your chance to win a copy of “Insurgent,” post your answer to the following trivia question in the comments!

What is Four’s real name?

Claim your chance to win by leaving the correct answer in the comments section below anytime today between 7am – 6pm. And don’t be afraid to play, even if someone has already posted the right answer! One winner will be randomly selected from ALL correct answers after the close of business and announced the following day.  The winner will be posted on our Facebook page and notified by email.  Please note that you must have a valid email address listed in your comment or WordPress profile to win.

Yes they can, thankyouverymuch. And here’s the evidence.

tamingshrewBy Claudia Felske — Tired of reading articles and hearing commentary about how far behind our students are, how they can’t read or write, I feel compelled to share two papers I just corrected from my Freshman English class here at  East Troy High School. That’s right, FRESHMEN in the PUBLIC school system. 

After reading Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, students were asked to explore a question or theory they had about the play. I was humbled by the results. Here are just two of them, unedited, with names removed.

No doubt you’ve heard the “failing schools” bullhorn booming from all directions lately. If you believe the notion of equal air time, give these two student essays a read—and remember them when you hear about our “broken public schools.”

Shakespeare’s Observation: The Battle of the Alpha and Omega
A Shrew or a Modern Woman?  A Shakespearean Identity Quandary

That is all. 

Q&A with Molly O’Neill

bnr-loveMolly O’Neill grew up in Houston, TX, and chose to attend Marquette in part because she wanted to see snow. (She saw a lot of it!) She majored in Writing-Intensive English and Elementary Education, graduating in 2000.

Since then, she has worked in various roles in the children’s/young adult publishing industry, including stints at Houghton Mifflin and at HarperCollins, where she acquired and edited the current #1 New York Times bestselling Divergent series by Veronica Roth. Today, she is the Head of Editorial at Storybird, a hybrid tech/publishing platform and community based around visual storytelling. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, and you can find her on Twitter as @molly_oneill.

1.    What is your favorite Marquette memory or place on campus?

Like many MU students, I have a deep affection for the Joan of Arc chapel–both its outer beauty and the peaceful masses held inside. I was back on campus this spring and went to a mass at the Joan of Arc and it was like stepping back in time–every part of the experience felt so familiar and unchanged that I almost expected to look over and see my old MU friends, all of us somehow at age nineteen or twenty again! I also have a great memory of the little hilly area between Lalumiere and Coughlin Hall during the winter of my freshman year: it’s the first place I ever made a snow angel, with a bunch of friends after class one day, and as a kid from Texas, that was an enormous thrill.

2. Could you recap for us how your time at MU helped lead you to your career?

At Marquette, I double-majored in Writing-Intensive English and Elementary Education. I spent lots of time in the Hartman Center and in the little Education Resource library in the Education Building, and doing clinical teaching placements in schools all over Milwaukee, and I assumed I’d have my own classroom somewhere after graduating. But I’d always had a deep love of stories, in particular for children’s books, and various professors and mentors in both the Education department and in the English department encouraged me to nurture and explore that passion and curiosity. Eventually, doing so led me to understanding more about the book-making process, and learning that one could actually have a career in publishing.

I hadn’t even known that such jobs or an industry based around them existed when I entered college, but Marquette helped me get an internship with a small publisher in Chicago my senior year that helped me get a taste of the field and what the work in it looks like. I student-taught that year, too (2nd grade at Cass Street School), which was also a great experience. When I stepped back and asked myself what I wanted to do for the next several decades of my life, though, I realized that helping authors and artists create stories was a sort of magic to me, and I just wanted to do more of it. But would I have found my way into the publishing industry without the MU professors who helped me see a potential career in what I’d always dismissed as a silly side interest? Probably not, and for that, and for them, I am immensely grateful.

After MU, I spent two amazing years doing post-graduate volunteer work in youth ministry with an organization called NET Ministries, and then I moved to NYC, the hub of the publishing industry, to see if I could “make it.” For the first few years in my career, I worked on the marketing side of the industry, sort of by accident because it was the first job I could get, but that marketing experience proved an invaluable background when I eventually shifted over to my long-sought-after “dream job” of being an editor. I worked at venerable old publishing houses like Houghton Mifflin and HarperCollins, and expected that my entire career would be at publishing houses like those. But a lot in publishing is shifting and changing due to technological disruption, so when I was offered a chance six months ago to take an executive role at a hybrid technology/children’s publishing start-up called Storybird, it was too interesting an opportunity to pass up, and so far, I’m loving it! (Aside: Storybird is a great classroom tool with a lot of cool features for educators–if you’re a teacher or teacher-in-training, check it out!)

3. What role do you think young adult literature plays in the classroom?

The best young adult literature opens up the world in honest, compelling, sometimes-challenging, often transformative ways, and at a time when its readers are shaping themselves into the people they will be for the rest of their lives. YA literature can certainly help young people to think deeply, and to appreciate the power of strong, evocative writing and masterful storytelling. But perhaps even more importantly, these stories can help them understand the world through eyes and perspectives and experiences different than their own. It cultivates empathy, solidifies personal beliefs, and makes its readers think deeply about how the vivid immediacy and compelling “what-ifs” (both a common hallmark of YA storytelling) of the characters’ lives and experiences relate to the readers themselves.

So not only do I believe that YA literature can sometimes engage students in the classroom in a profound academic way, I think it can help them consider important parts of what it means to be human–and to me, that is the whole point of great work of art or storytelling. It shapes us, it stays with us, and we are perhaps never quite the same for having encountered it.

4.    Which of the three Divergent books was your favorite and why?

Working on the first Divergent book was probably my favorite–watching the story transform through the editorial process from the original submitted draft into the book it is today was amazing, and I have so much respect for how its author, Veronica (who herself was still in college when she wrote the first draft!) was able to craft a story that was simultaneously epic in its action and plotting, provocative in its themes, and also a deeply personal tale for its main character. The book-making process is a slow and complicated one, so during the year or so between my acquiring the series and the publication of Divergent a tremendous amount of exciting things happened–the movie rights sold! It got some of the most amazing early praise I’d ever seen for a book! Rights sold to a huge number of foreign countries before the book even came out! A fan community started growing organically, just based off of early advance copies of the book, before it even was for sale in stores!–all this is once-in-a-career type stuff for any editor, and the fact that I was still fairly early in my editorial career when it all began made coming to work everyday just thrilling.

I look back now and think, “Wow, millions and millions of copies of the series have now sold in record-breaking numbers all across the world, and in March it will be a movie in theaters, but I remember when Divergent was just a big stack of paper on my kitchen table in my little studio apartment in Brooklyn, and I was one of only about five people who had ever read it!” It’s still phenomenal to think about, and a privilege to have been a part of of bring that story–and so many others, too–into the world.

5.    What are your top three book recommendations?

Wow, this is a hard question for a book-lover. Are you sure you don’t want my top three hundred recommendations? But actually, the folks at the Marquette Magazine just asked me for a list of recent favorites for holiday book-buying, so I will link you to that as my answer.

6.    What part of your education degree do you use today?

I learned so much about the developmental side of childhood in my Education coursework–the psychology of childhood and the adolescent and teenage years, and methodologies of learning and self-expression–and that knowledge has absolutely helped me to publish and stories that ring as true as possible to what it authentically feels like to be a small child, or a pre-teen, or a teen in the world today. I also learned first-hand the challenges and joys that educators face daily in their work, and so I often have them in mind when I’m thinking about a story’s potential audience.

Teachers and librarians are some of the best advocates that books and their creators have–they are often the “gatekeepers” who help the exact right book and the exact right reader find each other at the exact right moment for a story to have a lasting, sometimes life-long impact. They also help students fall in love with reading and nurture their own creativity: they’re growing the next generation of storytellers, really. So they are enormously important to those of us who are in the business of storymaking! We’re different faces of the same goal, in a sense–helping students grow into thoughtful human beings, and into people who value stories and the way words and art can help reflect our experiences and expand our horizons.

7.    What is your perspective on the quality of YA lit today? It seems be more popular than ever with Harry Potter,TwilightThe Hunger Games, and now Divergent. What do you think is driving this popularity?

There are sort of two different categories of YA books right now. There are the extremely commercial, popular ones like you mentioned, and for many readers–whether teen or adult–those books act as gateways to discovering how great storytelling can be. Those books have cinematic plots and intensely relatable main characters and there’s an immediacy to the story and its telling that makes it something people want to talk about and discuss endlessly with their friends. The anticipation of waiting for the next book in the series to see what happens next just adds to the excitement around them. But if you dig deeper into the genre of young adult literature, or even its little brother/sister, middle grade literature (books for late elementary/middle school students), there is an incredible depth and breadth to the sorts of stories being published, about really meaningful topics. Sometimes people want to be dismissive of YA literature as frivolous or silly or less important “real” grown-up books, but I think they’re usually the ones who have only encountered the top-most layer of the genre, and I hope for them that they’ll keep reading deeper, too, to discover the many, many incredible books and authors beyond the commercial bestsellers.

Adults are enjoying YA books lately, too. I think these stories remind them of their younger selves and the sense of possibility that you feel when you’re a young adult, and the world is opening up around you, and it’s constantly thrilling or terrifying or sometimes both at once! And a hallmark of the children’s/YA book genre is that, no matter how grim or real or challenging the subject matter of a story may be, there’s always a sense of hope, too–not an unrealistic one, like in an after-school special, but the sort of hope that keeps us all alive and striving. And as humans of any age, I think we’re drawn to hope.


Now it’s your turn to share your thoughts on how YA literature can be useful in education today: the College of Education has 15 copies of Divergent to give away! In order to win, just leave a comment letting us know how you would use young adult novels in the classroom. And check back in January for a chance to win one of two collector editions of the second book in the series, Insurgent!

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