Saturday, July 31, 2010

Same-Sex Marriage: yes or no? A Hypocritical Confrontation?

You might just recall that someone once suggested, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. Render unto God that which is God's." Following that advice we Americans might really separate Church from State and stop confusing two different situations: civil union and Holy Matrimony. Following the example of other countries we might leave Holy Matrimony up to the individuals concerned and to the (religious) community willing to recognize their bond as such.

Civil union should be solely a secular affair: let it deal with legal responsibilities, property, and privileges of worldly association. Whatever responsibilities and obligations Holy Matrimony entails should remain solely within the community that recognizes it and not involve the State in their enforcement. What the State should enforce is whatever the laws with respect to civil union entail.

Americans, like citizens of many other countries, should be required to go through an independent process of civil union, if they want the legal benefits of civil union for the matrimony their religious (or other) community recognizes.

So what's the argument about? It is little more than a distraction that diverts our attention from the fact that many Churches in the United States have traditionally used their secular influence to dip into the public treasury -- and into the pockets of others outside their congregations -- particularly by avoiding paying taxes, even when their "religious" activities compete with secular businesses. The way things work today, the State grants civil union privileges to the participants in matrimonial ceremonies of some -- but, prejudicially, not all -- religious communities. In the name of justice, that should be stopped. And those privileged denominations should be made to pay taxes besides.

If the Power Player churches who have traditionally exercised secular privileges would be forthright enough to say, "It is a truth of our Faith that those outside our congregation are rightly compelled to render their worldly possessions for our support," we might look less askance at their hypocrisy, even though such has been the Faith of every oppressor humankind has had the misfortune to experience.

For more on State-Church issues see, Religion, Intelligent Design and the Public Schools: serving God to Mammon?
.


Cordially,
-- EGR

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What Does a Consensus Mean, Anyway?

It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. – Baudelaire

We might be inclined to agree with Baudelaire. In many situations, people caught up in the enthusiasm of a crowd or hypnotized by the rhetoric of a ceremony claim to be in agreement with one another -- and, they often fervently believe it to be so. The bride and groom at a wedding ceremony may agree to "love, honor and obey." But question them privately afterwards and you will find discrepancies between what each of them explains is their understandings of those words. If no discrepancies initially turn up, ask them after the honeymoon is over.

However, what Baudelaire seems to overlook is that an agreement is often little more than an expression of concession or acquiescence. Faced with a potential impasse, parties may make concessions or acquiesce in a formulation of mutual responsibilities that none really find optimal.

Why would they do such a thing? Because, by conducting a cost-benefit analysis parties to a negotiation find out that concession or acquiescence is less costly than disrupting relationships with their opponents by, say, walking away from the bargaining situation. You don’t sever relations with someone you might need to depend on in the future, even if, for the moment, you might strongly disagree with them.

To examine these issues further, see The Indeterminacy of Consensus


Cordially
--- EGR

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Looking for a Principalship? Come “Reform” a School!

The Philadelphia Inquirer of Wednesday, February 18, 2009, reported that the superintendent of the School District of Philadephia intended to “reform” 30 to 35 of its “worst-performing” schools by shutting them down and possibly outsourcing their administration and teaching staff to whoever want to try to make a go of it.

Does anyone remember the great fiasco of the 1970’s and 80’s called performance contracting? Has anyone ever heard of “grab the money and run?”

Aside from the School Board’s avoiding its responsibilities under the contract with the teachers’ union, does anyone think pumping fresh blood into cadavers will bring about their resurrection?

But just think of the job opportunities – there will be quite a few!

Just think again!

During the period of my employment with the School District of Philadelphia, 1965 – 1992, recruiters invariably embellished or downright misrepresented job conditions to seduce new staff into the schools, particularly after 1970. Administrators as well as teachers suffered a rude awakening when problems came up; they were offered little support from a governing body who could not tolerate even a mention of any of “elephants” that inhabited the boardroom, for example, political hacks receiving salaries as “ghost” teachers; a high level of violence in many schools; theft of equipment right under the noses of the “security” staff, contracts with local universities in exchange for quickie administrative certifications, etc.

School administrators, whose top officer had no experience as a principal, even joined the Teamster’s Union to protect themselves! ( to little avail since they were reluctant to take any action, even when they were being punished by forced transfer for resisting the whims of the Superintendent.)

School reform is unlikely to come from the top down, especially when it is taken for granted that the political structures that really govern the district are not to be disturbed.

But when is “reform” really needed? And possible?

To examine these issues further,
see The Need for and Possibilities of Educational Reform

Cordially
-- EGR

Friday, July 23, 2010

Maintaining Safe Schools: How? Metal Detectors? Zero Tolerance?

Metal detectors alone will not keep the school safe. People can find ways around them. If some schools are so bad that zero tolerance is necessary, we suggest that the central office should consider closing them entirely.

Just as Erasmus of Rotterdam suggested that a pupil who really requires corporal punishment probably doesn’t belong in school, we suggest that a school which really needs zero tolerance policies probably shouldn’t have children.


We propose the following criteria for distinguishing desirable from undesirable risks in schools: we think schoolteachers and administrators can approve
1) intelligent risks for which there is a
2) reasonable likelihood of success from an application of
3) realistic effort, and in which there is an
4) acceptable loss if failure does happen, a
5) charitable opportunity to recover, and a
6) worthy reward when they do succeed.


To examine these issues further, see Safe Schools: weighing the options

Cordially
-- EGR

Thursday, July 22, 2010

$100 Billion for Ejikashun: Fix What Ain’t Broken and Break the Rest?

The New York Times of Tuesday, February 17, 2009, reported (p. A1) that our new education czar had $100 billion at his disposal to do something with. If he wants to show something for the money he had better put it into repairing old school buildings and building new ones; or feeding kids who come to school hungry.

Any other goal, for example, “reforming education,” “producing effective teachers,” “preparing students for lifelong learning,” “strengthening the connection between school and the world of work,” is a wild bet on a mostly empty slogans. Pursue such goals and damage will result. Not only will there be wild disagreement as to whether they have been achieved, but the credibility of educational planners, already low, will suffer yet more skepticism.

If real and necessary improvement is wanted, then what has to be done first is to recognize what isn’t the matter with public schools – they are generally far better in most ways than the ones I attended a half century ago.

The so-called “problems” of public schools are the consequence of misplaced expectations and the carefully incubated dementia (called “teacher education”) that brings public educators of all sorts to believe two major falsehoods: 1) Science is on their side; and 2) happy faces and high expectations bestow them with Omnipotence.



To examine these issues further, see Public School Reform: Mired in Metaphor

Cordially
-- EGR

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hard Wired Choice?

Intelligence, wisdom, circumspection, delay of gratification, strategic skill: it looks like it all might be a matter of neural growth. What, then, about our practices of reward and punishments for the choices people make?

Or, to take it from the other end, what if supporting healthy development in children is crucial? Can we continue to pretend that one person’s poverty is not our general concern?

But maybe we are just mechanisms, generating text and uttering sounds, living in the delusion that we are in control. We do what we do and we don’t what we don’t. End of discussion. Permanently.

To review the article which prompted these conjectures , see Separate Neural Systems Value Immediate and Delayed Monetary Rewards

For practical application, see PAIN VERSUS ANGUISH:
Is There No Need For Corporal Punishment?


Cordially
-- EGR

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How to Plan, Set Up and Run a Conference

Is your organization thinking of running a conference? And have you been “honored” with the task of planning, setting it up and running it? If panic is your first thought, calm down. Help is at hand.

If on the other hand you think, “No problem,” you have a problem: hubris. Unless you are very experienced and somewhat lucky, something will come up that makes the situation much less than pleasant.

The two basic rules of the Universe that govern conference planning, etc. are

a. Murphy’s Law – If something can go wrong, it will; and

b. The Lost Utopia Rule -- you can’t satisfy everyone, ever.


But you can still get a pretty good conference going, despite these axioms.

To examine these issues further, see HOW TO RUN A CONFERENCE: 
Headache Relief for Planners

Cordially
-- EGR

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Still Rushing to Nowhere; Still Competing for ...?

Two years after the 2008 TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study), little of educational note has changed. Particularly missing is the cataclysmic impact that study was supposed to predict for our society.

US eighth graders (average 508) were beaten out on math tests by eighth graders from South Korea (597) , Singapore (593), Hong Kong (572) , Japan (570), England (513), and Russia (512). So, what did TIMSS top-rankers win? And what did the U.S. lose? The greatest damage done in the United States has been by people, bankers and speculators, who, you can bet, would themselves be top-rankers on the TIMMS.

If you worried about these scores, did you ask yourself, “What do these numbers mean?” Anybody who claims to know whether they justified anything but the mildest concern – along the lines of “Will my tomatoes yield better next Summer?” – is bluffing.

Of course you will hear the eternal, “Down the road,” or “in the future,” or “in the long run this lack of (what?) could hurt us.” Chicken Little with a crystal ball. Where was this crystal ball when the economy was falling apart?

To examine these issues further, see U.S. Students Reported to ‘Lag’ in the TIMSS: another bulletin from Chicken Little?


Cordially
-- EGR

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Specialist Positions: does your school really need a kluge-maker?

A very common misconception in many organizations is that creating a special position means getting something special done: a confusion of role with function. Clearly role and function are not the same. A principal who picks up a piece of trash does not thereby become the janitor. But not everything, if anything, a principal does is some special kind of “principal-activity” that couldn’t be done by anyone else.

Public school systems tend to be top-heavy with administrator roles whose functions could often be better served by distributing them among staff closer to the arena of action. Only political taboos would be violated.

To examine these issues further, see
On the Viability of a Curriculum Leadership Role: avoiding confusion of role and function

Cordially
-- EGR

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

“Sacred Values” in US Public Schools: pretending there is no conflict.

In a pluralistic, democratic society, important values will be frequently thrust into conflict with one another. It is here that the question, "Whose important values?" arises. The desire to dodge this question, generates avoidance behavior of the following sort -- I give slogans typically associated with such strategies --:

a. slow recognition, if any, that core values clash -- "We all want what's best for our kids!";

b. methods of reckoning and comparison that gloss over or miss differences among options -- "Preparing students to be life-long learners";

c. "dissonance-reduction" strategies to cope with values clashes they do recognize -- "A manifestation of a disability" --;

d. decision-evasion tactics such as buckpassing, procrastination or obfuscation -- restructuring the system, re-"visioning" outcomes, or reconceptualizing purposes.

Are schools unique in dealing with such problems in such ways? No. All large or pluralistic organizations do likewise.

Controversies over sex education, evolution, and religious symbols represent such conflicts among different constituencies of the school community. There is a deep issue here: sacred values from different communities may be incommensurable.

Just as it makes no sense to ask how many pints there are in a mile; or how many pounds there are in an acre, so does it approach nonsense to ask, "How many First Holy Communions are equivalent to a Briss?" or "How many dollars is salvation worth?"


To examine these issues further, see Trading-Off "Sacred" Values: 
Why Public Schools Should Not Try to "Educate"

Cordially
-- EGR

Sunday, July 11, 2010

School Improvement: Will Parental Involvement Help?

They say that it takes a village to raise a child. To be what? Village idiot? Village prostitute? Village drunk? Village ne'er do well? These are not failures of village education but roles integral to certain kinds of community life. Without the fallen, the at-risk, the tempted, those we celebrate as moral leaders would have little to do in a village.

Comfortable educators purveying their wares to an increasingly comfortable clientele sentimentalize beyond historical recognition the outcomes of village life. These outcomes were usually not very good for the majority of village dwellers.

The modern school is desperately seeking the glue to hold it together. What were previously the byproducts of achievement -- self-esteem and other good feelings -- are now directly pursued, independently of any concerns for merit. But there is a consequence: the loss of self-esteem and other good feelings as motivators. If you can get the pay-off without doing the work, why do the work?

We have seen a great unwashed skepticism become the moral substrate of our society: Everything is not only suspected of selfish contamination, but is often celebrated for it. "Deferred gratification" -- the driving force of the famous Protestant Ethic -- is now an oxymoron; indeed, a threat to the very economic stability of our credit-card civilization.

Involving parents in schooling sounds positive at face value, but before calling for a mass parental march into schools, should we not examine the values parents bring with them to determine if school-parent partnerships are really a good idea?

To examine these issues further, see School and Family: A Partnership for Educational Success?

Cordially

Friday, July 9, 2010

Teachers: to make things clearer, talk less, much less and, instead, …!

In the course of his or her professional preparation, every teacher has had the experience of having to listen to a long lecture on the evils of lecturing. Lecturing is a high status activity: not only do professors do it almost exclusively; but, generally so do teachers down through middle school.

Why do teachers at all levels talk so much? Isn't a picture "worth a thousand words"? Not only do teachers tend to underutilize visuals in their teaching in the middle and high schools, but university faculty (and students, too) tend to react to the use of visual aids with hardly disguised condescension. Rapid-fire loquaciousness is mistaken for profundity of thought. Lips move and heads bob and understanding remains untested.

We are trapped in antique metaphor. For example, when we understand something, we say that we "see" it. As teachers we chatter away to make things "transparent" to our students. We take joy in a "bright" student, who is a "clear" thinker. But these visual metaphors are misleading, the rubble of ancient philosophies. Something else is needed.

To examine these issues further, see The Mind’s Eye and Pedagogical Practice

Cordially
-- EGR