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Internationally Acclaimed Educator Michael Apple Visits the UNCW Campus

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Educator Michael Apple

Internationally Acclaimed Educator Michael Apple Visits the UNCW Campus

Internationally acclaimed educator and prolific author Michael Apple was the featured speaker at the Watson College Public Speaker Series event held March 17 at the Lumina Theater.

Apple is an educational theorist who has worked for more than three decades with educators and governments throughout the world on democratizing educational policy and practice.  He has authored 25 books. His most recent works include Can Education Change Society? and Knowledge, Power and Education. Apple gave a presentation titled, “Is this Really Democratic? Understanding and Challenging Misguided Reforms in Education.”

Apple opened his remarks by saying, “I’m here to talk about real people, real circumstances and the vicious attacks on many of us in this room.”

He explained his concerns about the standardization of education in the U.S. He acknowledged this isn’t new and quoted from the diary of a teacher who worried in 1898 about student performance.  At that time, students’ requirements included having the ability to point feet at a correct angle, hold a book at the proper height and speak in a loud voice when called on in the classroom.

The current trend toward standardization is dangerous because it’s occurring at the national level, influential groups control it and the groups are united in a quest for accountability measured almost solely by test scores, Apple said. This doesn’t bode well for students, teachers or society, he said, because “we teach human beings” and they can’t be reduced to a number.

Michael Apple visits UNCW Campus Common Core is better than No Child Left Behind because it is conceptually rich and extends well beyond the narrow focus of NCLB on reading and math, Apple continued.  But, he expressed strong concerns that the new standards are being put in place with an excessive focus on performance pay linked to test scores. Asked why that’s the case, Apple advised audience members to “follow the money,” adding that more dollars in education are spent on accountability than anything else with much of it flowing to for-profit organizations.

So what can educators and concerned citizens do?

Apple advised audience members to talk with teachers. He also encouraged educators to put out as research the narratives of people succeeding.

“We need more teacher stories in the media,” he said. “The stories can’t just be about numbers.”

Educators must work hard not to be cynical and find ways to turn ‘I’ into ‘We,’ he said.  Apple cited Murray Middle School as an example of how teachers collectively can make a difference. In response to a new state requirement for performance pay for the top 25%, Murray teachers united behind a petition that none of them would accept it. Apple said group actions like that send a powerful message, and teachers should find more ways to do this.

Educators must learn to speak in a plain, simple voice; something current school critics do very well, he added.

“Part of our responsibility is to make our case in a way people can understand,” Apple said. “We are teachers, and we must find our voice.”

Apple said a “climate of fear has been built so educators don’t engage.”

“Without engagement education isn’t education. It’s training,” he said. “So, we must find a way to engage.”

Apple met with 26 Watson College faculty members on March 18 for an open discussion. The discussion was moderated by Konstantine Kyriacopoulos. The meeting was followed by open discussion with WCE students, which was moderated by graduate student Michael McGovern.

WCE professor Janna Robertson, who attended the student discussion, said Apple has been one of the leading voices for democratic education her entire career.

“I was happy to discover Dr. Apple as intelligent, likeable and approachable in person as he is in his books,” she said. “He shared inspirational stories about educational progress all over the world.”

Promoting scholarship through research and the sharing of knowledge and ideas is central to WCE’s mission. In 2013, Dean Teitelbaum established the Watson College Public Speaker Series to bring top scholars to campus.