Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Critical Assessment: are educators trained to do it?

Many of the parents who allow their children hours of TV and who read little, if anything, besides the newspapers contribute nonetheless vociferously to that chorus that decries the schools for failing to turn out readers. This irony is seldom lost on educators.

But even among educators, “criticism” is generally taken to mean “rebuke,” or “expression of dislike” lined up along partisan, usually political, differences. The ancient honorable notion that criticism can be non-antagonistic critique, an objective comparison to some commonly recognized standard, is, more often than not, forgotten.

The deepest, most pathetic irony in education is this: a conference of educational leaders will more often than not turn into a celebration of non-communication, a values-clarification workshop writ large, each person revealing his or her "philosophy," neither expecting nor offering criticism, incapable of even simple rebuttal or defense, respecting each other's right to his or her own opinion, indeed, respecting each other like crazy.

Exercises in civility and understanding "where everyone is coming from" complete the ritual; critical examination is foregone and people finally got down to political "brass tacks."

Are we surprised that our educational leaders, professed "change agents", uplifters and reclaimers, ultimately engage in but one perennial pursuit: bandwagoneering?

To examine these issues further, see CRITICAL ASSESSMENT AND VALUES IN EDUCATION


Cordially
--- EGR

Monday, August 30, 2010

Killing at Columbine. Why?

In 1999, when I first heard the news about Columbine I thought immediately about the movie, “Heathers” and how disappointed I was, watching that 1988 movie, that Christian Slater’s character failed in his attempt to bomb his high school. No doubt my “savagery” is a consequence of my religious and patriotic upbringing; consider: the Wages of Sin is Death, or the Sins of the Fathers shall be visited upon their Children, or Death before Dishonor!.

On my first day in junior high school, VJHS, in 1955 I observed a trio of thugs – officially, “students” – run the hand of a fourth student into a bandsaw in a woodshop. That set a tone.

Until I graduated to high school I and my buddies paid a nickel a day each to the same thugs just to sit in the lunchroom. After every gym class we ran a gauntlet of wet towels coming out of the showers. The weaker, unaffiliated, among us were made to perform fellatio. Stories abounded of gang rapes, broken fingers and worse used to remind us who really was in charge. (Luckily I had “connections” because I helped members of other gangs cheat on exams. I was generally left alone.) Many of our teachers treated our in-house hoodlums with deference. That set a tone.

While all this nastiness was happening the teachers “never saw or knew anything about it;” even those who were standing by when it happened. The principal told me years later that VJHS had been “a wonderful educational experience.” Many of the teachers from VJHS rose to become major administrators in the system. Such were the good old days before American education became “watered down.” (Today the official story is that even though the schools have deteriorated both in academics and safety, things have gotten better!)

What the killers at Columbine had was access to heavy weapons. At VJHS all we had was shanks and zipguns and an often forlorn hope for a better future. Patience and suffering were the strategies that, luckily, helped us escape. But as a teenager, an AK47 would have been more than a temptation. Gimme that Ol’ Time Religion!

To examine these issues further, see Bad Apples or Sour Pickles? 
Fundamental Attribution Error and the Columbine Massacre

Cordially
EGR

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Math Wars? A Tempest in a Teapot? Or a Serious Struggle?

As an ex-math teacher (Jr. High and High School, basics through algebra and the calculus) I can only look at the jousting between enthusiasts of different pedagogical approaches to mathematics with wonderment. My experience has been that no matter how people learned math in school, most reach adulthood knowing little mathematics and liking it even less. (See John Paulos’ Innumeracy for extended discussion of this point.)

Debra J. Saunders in the April 9, 2009 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle reports on a conflict in Palo Alto between proponents of, what they call, “solid math” and those who appear to be “unified-theory” advocates, who, among other things, reject teaching alternative algorithms for arithmetical processes.

This debate has been around for a long time: I, myself, participated in the “revolution” of the New Math back in the seventies where it was very apparent that enthusiasm for the New Math varied directly as the distance from the enthusiast and ordinary school kids.

Can this “war” be decisively won? And even if it is “won”, will more people turn out being competent in some kind of mathematics?

To examine these issues further, see The "Math Wars" 
A Short Analysis of the Controversy

Cordially
EGR

Saturday, August 21, 2010

How to Make a Bundle in the Ed Biz

Americans have several traditional terms to stigmatize questionable sales practices. People who engage in such practices are called, among other things, hucksters, hawkers, side-show barkers, pitchmen, mongers, or used-car salesmen. Seldom are these terms meant to imply trust in the seller. Any faith entrusted to such people is taken to be misplaced.

A more recent addition to American culture is the term, guru. Although there may be no more evidence of credibility than for hawkmen and the like, what “guru” is supposed to invoke is well-placed trust. Gurus, are – as everyone knows – good guys, especially if they have university degrees.

For years, gurus of different kinds have been peddling panaceas to educators and public officials alike; cure-alls for what ails the supposedly moribund public schools. You may have heard of some of them: Essential Schools, block scheduling, outcomes-based education, national standards, looping, constructivism, National Board Certification, multimedia, full inclusion, interdisciplinary teaching, detracking, Writing to Read, character education, and on and on. These may have lit an occasional candle. What is forgotten is that they promised a conflagration of enlightenment.

Besides, nowadays public schools have little spare cash once federal funds have dried up. Smart gurus have moved into broader pastures onto TV. There, either on paid advertising channels, or public television, you can get advice on myriad ways of becoming healthy, wealthy and wise. It’s a good thing they’re gurus and not just hucksters!

Why not share the benefits, the fame and fortune of these gifted people. It’s easy enough to become a guru yourself. The skills that worked to mine public funds for a payoff work just as well in the new open arenas of life-coaching.

To get the skills needed to become anyone’s and everyone’s guru, see How you, too, can write best sellers and become an Education Guru in your time.

Cordially
EGR

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Extend the School Day! Why Not Just Wear Red Suspenders?

9News.com of Denver reported over a year ago that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proposes that schools lengthen their day, their week and their year. Was this a serious suggestion? This year the same dismal refrain is echoed by David von Drehle in the July 22, 2010 issue of TIME magazine under the title “The Case Against Summer Vacation.”

Duncan’s comments are more interesting for their lack of coherence with other complaints:
"Go ahead and boo me," Duncan told about 400 middle and high school students at a public school in northeast Denver. "I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short." 

"You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year," Duncan said.
Boo!

Really, does this proposal make sense given the loud and tediously repeated claim that it is the teachers alone who are falling down on the job? It’s as if, in the face of complaints at NASCAR races that too many vehicles were underperforming, Duncan suggested the track be lengthened, instead of looking to improve the mechanics.

The second issue , the so-called competition, is so silly it boggles the mind. Pick a school kid. Fix him or her in your mind. Now tell me which Indian or Chinese kid he or she is competing with. Competing in what? When and where is the contest being held? What are the prizes or the penalities? Get specific. Can you? Every school kid “knows” that his or her competition comes from other students right in same class; not, from across the globe in Asia. (What economists and politicians “know” to the contrary is no less speculative!)

Do any adults, outside of Duncan’s Department of Education, imagine that they have lost their job because they failed to measure up to “foreign competition” when they were students? Could the present recession have been avoided had I and a million or more students like me, 50 years ago, spent more time in school?

Before we compel parents to submit their kids, at public expense, to the further detriment of their health and idealism, to incarceration in a school building with a longer school day, week or year, we had better get clear about several important things.

During this extended school day, school week or school year:
a. What’s supposed to happen?
b. Why is it needed? and
c. Is it cost effective?

To examine these issues further, see What Works? Under What Conditions? And Who Really Cares?

Cordially
EGR

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Measuring Educational Outcomes: truth, tricks and hype

It sometimes seems that the only real result of math education is to convince its worst students – and a substantial number of us mediocre ones – that numbers are magic. “Anything can be measured,” goes the myth; and, once a number is associated with something, it becomes much more real, much more defined. All problems are soluble once they have become mathematized – even TV pushes this philosophy on the dramatic series, Numbers.

This hocus-pocus has some startingly impressive roots. Psychologist Edward L. Thorndike – unskilled in basic algebra -- wrote: "Whatever exists at all exists in some amount. To know it thoroughly involves knowing its quantity as well as its quality." Heavy philosophy!

But what is the quantity of a chess game? Or of the relation "<>"? Do chess games or "<>" not exist? Do chess masters wait with bated breath for someone to mathematize a chess game so that they can “know it thoroughly?”

The harm done with this exaggeration is that it creates the expectation that when and only when a technical, measurable solution to a problem can be devised, can that problem be solved.

So it is that problems must be left to mathematical geniuses, since their solution is beyond the ken of most people who can only stumble through math counting on their fingers.

To examine these issues further, see Measurability and Educational Concerns

Cordially

---EGR

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Teaching in the Public Schools Fails to Promote Scientific Literacy!

My first exposure to the formal study of physics was in high school in 1959 -- you know, back in the good ol’ days when American public education was just absolutely wonderful! My absolutely worst teacher was my physics teacher, who insisted we think of electric current as flowing from positive to negative, despite the fact that electron flow was from negative to positive. We were burdened, it seemed, with the task studying science in order to maintain a tradition that asserted what seemed to us to be a factual falsehood! Not so much confusing as bizarre, a pointless ritual!

In college, my freshman honors physics course was “taught” by a person of research repute, who filled the blackboards with equations and explained nothing. In special “recitation” sessions, physics grad students attempted to make connections among the notes we had copied in order to give the material a semblance of coherence. Those were the good ol’ days of high quality instruction and scholarship.

The Houston and Texas News of April 11, 2009 quoted Nobel Prize winning physicist Leon Lederman as saying, “We’re not doing well. Meaningless testing is a bad thing. If we want scientific literacy, then we want teachers to teach the beauty of science, the fun in it, the humor in it, and to bring examples of modern science into the classroom.”

No doubt. But are there enough physics teachers in high schools who know how to teach it this way? Are there even enough physics teachers in American colleges who know how, much less care, to teach it this way?

And what about the “meaningless testing,” the standard regurgitation, that has become a nationally recognized standard, as it were, for determining scientific knowledge acquired by high school students? Is there any wiggle room for inspired teaching to be crammed into already overcrowded high school curriculum?

To examine these issues further, see Establishing Nationally Recognized Educational Standards

Cordially
EGR

Monday, August 16, 2010

Teaching Values? Or Training Parrots?

Go to the following webpage of the April 5th, 2009 New York Times to see a picture of 8th graders in Scarsdale Middle School in a “Empathy workshop.”

Gossip Girls and Boys Get Lessons in Empathy
(Was this the best picture the photographer could get? Very likely.)

Don’t the students just look so happy and interested? They don’t.

Observe how the kids are sitting; see how their heads are turned, especially behind the teacher. The author of the article tells us that “The privileged teenagers at Scarsdale Middle School are learning to be nicer this year, whether they like it or not.”

Are we supposed to think that because Scarsdale kids are – according to the reporter’s lights – “privileged” that they are getting their deserved comeuppance?

Would the New York Times publish such a photograph – would school administrators permit them? — if the location were an inner city school in a poor neighborhood?

A not small part of the problem is that some educators (parents and other leadership types, too) suffer from delusions of grandeur. Open a dictionary. Find a word that provokes someone’s concern. Lead school kids into a discussion about it. (Often similar to the way police lead suspects into the precinct headquarters, that is, “whether they like it or not.”) Mission accomplished!

Who needs to grow up? Who needs to get real?

To examine these issues further, see WHAT IS WORTH KNOWING ABOUT VALUES?

-- EGR

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pursuing a Career in Education. It Ain’t About Student Achievement.

Just like many a big private or parochial school, big public schools are bureaucracies. And many have come to be run by administrators – escapees, often, from the classroom -- for whom career takes precedence over place. “Be true to your school!” is preached to students, few others.

A principal looks to become superintendent; a superintendent, mayor, perhaps, or state commissioner of education. “Don't rock the boat,” “Suffer fools gladly,” “Go with the majority opinion – no matter how blatantly uninformed,” are rules for getting ahead. So it is that really dealing with problems in today's schools places one's career at risk. In many places around this Home of the Brave and Land of the Free, principals (and teachers) have been removed for being too concerned with student achievement or well-being.

Consequently, some principals will deal with the problem of student misbehavior by refusing to allow it official recognition. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. Tough kids aren’t bullying: they’re just “fooling around.” Girls who complain of sexual harassment are merely “flirting.” School suspension rates will be reduced by some administrative procedure – “in-house” suspensions which do not affect attendance rates, -- rather than by trying to deal with the reason for those suspensions -- an iffy if not overwhelming task.

Student achievement rates will be raised by pressuring teachers to grade less stringently. Plagiarism is accepted as a research method. Parents, especially in middle-class neighborhoods, collude in this chicanery. After all, it helps their kids get into “good” colleges (where they continue to cheat their way through advanced degrees and professional certificates). None of this, of course, helps students learn or adds to human knowledge or well-being, but such machinations can do wonders for an administrator’s career.

To examine these issues further, see Opting Out of Public School: Eluding the Bureaucracy

Cordially
EGR

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Making Effective Teachers: engineering or wishful thinking?

“Every child deserves an effective teacher,” says Brian Armstead, director of civic engagement at the Philadelphia Education Fund. (Reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 31, 2009 B4) What Armstead said sounds good; and it’s so very heart-warming. But it’s not only wrong; it’s misleading. What someone deserves depends importantly, not on some magic pill, but on how they personally contribute to the process of their own betterment.

Consider the idea, “Every patient deserves effective medicine.” Would a patient who mixes Tylenol with alcohol, or who skips doses have a valid complaint should they not improve? Only if the effectiveness of a medicine were to be misjudged by not considering whether every patient actually took the medicine prescribed for them in the manner indicated. Effectiveness of a medicine is judged on the assumption that it will be properly used by the patient.

Also consider the idea, “Every driver deserves a safe car.” Would a driver who speeds in and out of dense traffic, or who fails to have safety checkups for his car have a valid complaint should he get into trouble? Is the basic safety of a car to be downgraded because its owner is a bad driver?

The best of teachers will not be effective with a student who comes to class unprepared, who does not do his homework, or is disruptive or inattentive. Learning is not merely a teacher effect on a student, but the outcome of a cooperative effort between teacher and student (and often parent).

Armstead’s group, as well as Philadelphia School Superintendent Ackerman, talk as if they or someone else can determine the effectiveness of teachers in advance and apart from the kinds of students they are assigned to teach. This is clever politics – it tells parents and an uninformed public what they want to hear. But, it is wishful thinking.

To examine these issues further, see Increasing Teaching Efficiency

Cordially
EGR

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Chance to Play God: simulation experiments with character vs situation

Many human problems are seen as the result of bad character or bad situation. Accordingly simple “cures” – usually in the form of organizational policy -- are offered to deal with them: improve individual character or improve the individual’s circumstances.

Is a child misbehaving? Then punish him for what is objectionable or reward him for doing something different.

Is vandalism increasing in poorer neighborhoods? Then increase police presence or open recreational centers or schools.

Are some people subject to ridicule or abuse? Preach God’s common Fatherhood in the churches; or, teach brotherhood in the schools.

But what if you can’t treat things in isolation? Suppose different influences have different effects depending on how they are mixed together? (Technically put: suppose the causal factors interact.)

If you can play checkers, you can play God – at least in your imagination. You might want to play with populations whose characters and situations you can control to see how different mixes turn out. You do this through simulation.

If this thought interests you, see RANPOP Simulation Experiment #1

Cordially
EGR

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Strip Searches, Reason and Ethics

On April 21st, 2009 the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments concerning Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding, the case of a 13-year-old eighth-grade girl in Arizona who was strip-searched in the hunt for non-narcotic, normally legal ibuprofen pills. No such pills were found. School authorities suspected that the pills had been brought into school in higher prescription-only strength: one pill was believed to be as strong as two Advils. The girl’s parents sued the school district.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that school officials had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. The school district carried it to the higher court.

The Supreme Court, in an 8-to-1 decision in June 2009, Justice Thomas dissenting, found that the Arizona school authorities did indeed violate the student’s constitutional rights.

What kind of mentality authorizes a strip-search to find pills which any kid, especially menstrual adolescents, can carry for relief? To be sure, the school district of Safford, Arizona had a no-tolerance policy against the possession of controlled substances in school. But what kind of ethical genius sees himself following a categorical imperative by broadly interpreting a policy which itself undercuts the moral independence of its administrators?

To examine these issues further, see The Ethical Miseducation of Educators

Cordially
EGR

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Functional Analysis in Education: Science or Just Plain Old B.S.?

Instead of saying, “Johnny’s bad behavior comes from his parents’ being too strict,” we can put on the appearance of being highly learned, a scientist, even, by saying, “Johnny’s behavior is a function of the way his parents punish him.”

Rather than teachers’ being asked what might provoke disruptive behavior in their classes, they are instructed to look for “functional relations” in environmental variables, as though formulating it this way would make it any less speculative

Then there is Euler’s argument for the existence of God: "(a+ bn)/n = x, therefore God exists." (Maybe God is supposed to equal x.)

Educational research abounds with formulas and statistics. Are they meant to be informative or merely impressive?

To examine these issues further, see The Functional Analysis of Informal Models

Cordially
EGR

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Merging School Districts: Benefits and Costs

Edward Rendell, Governor of Pennsylvania, wants to reduce the State’s 501 school districts into a substantially smaller number. One reason he gives is that this will reduce duplicated and top-heavy administrative costs of public schools. But what are some other costs and benefits?

The Digest of Education Statistics reports that in 1939-40 there were 117,108 school districts distributed among the then 48 states. In 2005-6 there were 14,166 school districts distributed among 50 states. What educational benefits were gained, what costs suffered by this substantial consolidation? Clearly, the more localized the governance, the easier it is to suppress diversity. And if there is some – or, even, a lot -- of private dipping into the budget – this is Pennsylvania, after all -- fewer people are likely to find out and even fewer to get something done about it.

But consolidation also brings about an extension of resources to more kids: access to libraries, gymnasia, science labs and exciting daily bus tours of the school district on the way to and from school.

In addition, consolidation expands the target of curricular possibilities, superstitions and fads, always more or less fresh from University or governmental theorists, e.g. brain-based learning, Suggestopedia, language labs, computer past-times, learning styles and other Proposals to uplift our Paideia, leave no child behind and prepare them to excel in the global economy of future centuries.

And what is the Charter School movement about, if not deconsolidation? Every charter school success provides evidence that consolidation is the wrong direction to move in.

To examine these issues further, see Really Want Change? Deconsolidate the Schools!

Cordially
EGR

Monday, August 9, 2010

Talking About Evil: does it help understanding?

The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones. – Shakespeare, Act III, scene 2, Julius Caesar
Are spiders evil? Are mosquitoes evil? Spiders catch and eat mosquitoes, preventing them from biting humans. How about lice? They do humans no good, so far as we know. Are they evil?

Are the members of street gangs evil? Gangs often control the behavior of individuals who otherwise would be very dangerous. But such gangs, also, may sell addictive drugs. Is this evil? What if the laws are changed to decriminalize such activity? Would such “evil” suddenly become “not evil?”

Employing the word "evil" is either very sectarian theology – a resurgent Manicheanism --, hyperbole, an "inquiry-blocker," or all of the above. It does not help clear thinking; serving, perhaps, at best, to rationalize anger and our excessive reaction against those designated as evil. To put it another way: “evil” is not an explanation; it is a condemnation and a dismissal: it makes the “evil-doer” a member of the Unredeemable Other, rather than a member of Our Community.

Talk of “evil” traditionally postulates a personal interior characteristic of the person, a “demon seed,” ignoring, for example the work of such people as Phillip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram. The point of their work is that so-called “evil” is an intensification of the ordinary under special circumstances; not, a quantum leap into the diabolical. Hutus slaughtering Tutsis is a variation on the same theme as Americans “targeting” Afghanis -- only the justification differs. Do you think that there are Afghanis who believe Americans are evil?

How do we identify evil? Associating evil with the willingness to inflict pain and the enjoyment thereof is too narrow. Doctors and dentists inflict pain. So long as they cure us we are not concerned about their personal enjoyment during the procedure. Pain is dispensible: terrible harm can be inflicted with the softest spoken lie. Or by refusing to show concern for others.

The state of mind -- and social situation -- of someone like a Laventy Beria or a Jeffrey Dahmer is generally too complex to reasonably attribute it to children. It takes a special developmental history to become the kind of monster they were.

However, there are young children locked away in mental hospitals in these United States who are killers and are believed to be too dangerous to let out into the general population. I have talked with some of their caretakers. The story is not one of demonology. As one nurse put it, “What these kids need is a decent parent.” And a way to turn off much of the outside world.

To examine these issues further, see Pain versus Anguish: is there no need for corporal punishment?

Cordially,

-- EGR

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Micromanaging Teachers: Is Boredom the Goal?

Back in the sixties, my high school newspaper quoted a fellow student: "There comes a point when boredom becomes a mystical experience." Now that I'm approaching my own sixties, I find myself revisiting that quote more and more frequently.

Unfortunately, I revisit it most often when I am out in the schools. And it's especially sad that many of those teachers know their teaching is usually boring -- sometimes pointless and even unjustifiable. They are just doing their jobs as instructed. Most, clearly, will not last long.

That's sad enough, but I'm even more upset when I run into new teachers who actually believe that the intellectually stultifying teaching which has been imposed on them is a good thing, or at least "normal."

To examine these issues further, see Trivializing Teaching

Cordially
-- WAC

“Tickets to Success” and Other False Guarantees

Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Gerald L. Zahorchak in a news release of March 4, 2009 described the promotion of “stronger” high school graduation requirements in the following way:
Whether or high school graduates go on to college or enter the highly competitive global workforce, they deserve the assurance that a diploma is a ticket to success.”

What is success? Is a high school diploma a ticket to it? Is such a diploma even necessary for success, much less a guarantee of it?

Certainly no one outside of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Education imagines that a bachelor’s diploma is a ticket to success; so how can a high school diploma be one?

By what kind of hocus-pocus does raising standards bring about success in the world?

To examine these issues further, see Illogic and Dissimulation in School Reform

Cordially
-- EGR

Saturday, August 7, 2010

In Education, Bright Ideas Most Likely Are Not

It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. —Baudelaire

Americans tend to believe that the right kind of politics – whatever that is – will help improve schools – whichever they are. But politics in the United States most often pushes for bare majority consensus resting on fuzzy slogans and seldom specified commitments. Think politics will improve education? Would you trust it to improve teen-age (or anyone’s) clothing styles?

Colleges each year turn out a glut of teacher candidates. Special “alternative track” programs expand this glut. It is only because on-the-job teachers quit in such great numbers (12 to 13% per year) that those surfeits are transformed into a “teacher scarcity.” No number of transfusions will save a patient with multiply severed arteries.

Then there are the Teacher Board Certification people, replacing seriousness with solemnity, whose first and second pretenses are that the concerns mentioned immediately above, politics and job-abandonment, are of little consequence. These are not their last pretenses.

To examine these issues further, see Political Support, Smaller Classes & National Board Certification:Three Good Ideas?


Cordially

--- EGR (for WAC)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Improve a School? If It’s Not Perfect, Throw it Away!

Suppose we found out that a local hospital cured only 97% of its patients who had skin cancer. What would we do? Close it down because it had failed with 3%? Transfer out the staff and tell the patients to go find another hospital? Of course not. We would celebrate that hospital for the good that it does and be thankful it did as well as it did.

Suppose we found out that a local prison rehabilitated only 97% of its inmates who had committed non-fatal felonies. What would we do? Close it down because it had failed with 3%? Transfer out the staff and ship the prisoners to some other prison? Of course not. We would celebrate that prison for the good that it does and be thankful it did as well as it did.

But what are we supposed to do with public schools who fail to teach 3% of its students sufficient math or English? According to federal law, we are to close them down or replace their staff, destroying the relationships and support that have been successful with 97% of its students. Then we scatter the kids to the four winds, disregarding their sorrow at having lost friends, teachers and other adults who are crucial to their well-being.

What kind of people write laws like this? Do they have children? Or is it more likely that these law-makers send their kids to schools, parochial and private, that are exempt from the demands that public schools are subjected to?

To examine these issues further, see No Child Left Behind: An analysis of the controversy


Cordially

--- EGR

Thursday, August 5, 2010

If Only Educators Were Rocket Scientists…

It has long been taught by professors, professed by teachers, and parroted by politicians that most teaching is learned on the job, not in college. Well, one could argue, if trial-and-error teacher education is adequate, why not make it the law of the land? One of H.L. Mencken's zingers applies here, male chauvinism notwithstanding:

When the American pedagogue became a professional, and began to acquire a huge armamentarium of technic, the trade of teaching declined, for only inferior men were willing to undergo a long training in obvious balderdash.

I saw a good example of such balderdash at a teacher education workshop awhile back. After an interminable series of (presumably) unpaid advertisements for inferior software and spurious online services, we were compelled to play cutesy motivational games that supposedly enable limited-English children to learn, all of which ended in a bizarre kind of group hokey-pokey. I'm sorry, but if we are denying teaching certificates to intelligent young people because they refuse to submit to four years of that kind of . . . balderdash, Mencken is right and we are wrong.

To examine these issues further, see Highly Educated Teachers: is this what we need?


Cordially

-- WAC

Dishonor Awards: a national society expands accessibility

Three juniors in a local high school were found to have downloaded substantial parts of papers for two different classes and submitted them without citation. When the teachers brought this to the attention of the academic dean, she punished them by giving them detentions, which they accepted without protest. The matter was then dropped. One of the three students was her daughter.

The sponsor of the school chapter of the National High School Honor Society removed the plagiarists' names from the list of nominees for induction. Their parents complained and hired a lawyer who informed the School Board that the criteria for plagiarism were so vague as to make them vulnerable to lawsuit. Exhibiting the courage of capon, steer or gelding the Board caved in and directed the sponsor to submit the students' names for induction.

Those of us who in our own time were inducted into the National High School Honor Society can no doubt be proud that we now belong to the National High School Plagiarism Society.

To examine these issues further, see Conjecture Pollution: Poisoning Educational Practice


Cordially

--- EGR

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Teacher Education: if something isn’t worth doing, it isn’t worth doing well.

Take a moment to think of all the things you and I are knocking ourselves out to do well that aren’t really worth doing at all. A colleague in Early Childhood Education recently remarked: “History is social studies done badly.” Somewhat irritably, I shot back, “Yeah, and social studies is the fluff of history.”

As they are both generally taught, of course, we were both right. But it’s not just a methods problem or a personnel problem; it’s also a curriculum problem. If a teacher is supposed to teach 120 to 150 students the history of the human species coherently, a process delineated in most state curricula for 180 hours (minus intercom time, so let’s say 150 hours), the teacher will use lecture more than even the most traditional scholar would like and rely on the textbook more than even the authors would like.

And yes, under those circumstances, Joe the Jock really is as adequate a teacher as the finest history scholar or the most inventive social studies talent. Then we wonder why only one in four Americans can name more than one First Amendment freedom, but more than half could name at least two members of the Homer Simpson family, and 12 percent of us think that Joan of Arc was married to Noah!

As it is, if I were asked to list all the things in this world that I don’t care a rat’s bottom about, my best single reference source would be my state’s curriculum guidelines.

To examine these issues further, see Accountability: some misgivings


Cordially

-- WAC

Education for Citizenship in a Pluralistic Democracy

The existential questions confronted repeatedly by each of us in becoming an adult define a locus of authority for each relevant aspect of our lives. These questions are:
1. What authority should I retain for myself (Over what?);
2. What authority should I concede to others (Over what?); and
3. What authority am I forced to surrender? (Over what?)

It is the mission of religious and many secular organizations, e.g. the State, to convince, persuade, seduce, coerce or dupe us to concede authority over certain aspects of our lives to them: these are then called duties and obligations. As children, dependent and ignorant, we willy-nilly concede authority to those who importune us. However, as adults we ought to question -- as Thomas Aquinas reminds us -- whether the faith we concede as a child is appropriate as a free adult.

To examine these issues further, see PERSONAL LIBERATION THROUGH EDUCATION


Cordially

--- EGR

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

“Making Kids Learn” and Other Twitter-Worthy Superstitions

A good deal of TV airtime is spent showing talking heads talking to other talking heads chosen by mysterious persons for obscure reasons to fill-in time between commercials. The economy is the hot issue right now so we get “experts” – who somehow managed not to see the crash coming – telling us how it should have been avoided and how it can be fixed. Ah! The Science of Economics!

Another favorite topic for talk-show wheezes is how to “fix” the public schools. Taking time away from their spells and potions, assorted “authorities” present their latest encantations to ward off or invoke obscure, ill-defined “effects” by manipulating even vaguer “causes.” Ah! The Science of Education!

To examine these issues further, see
Causal Fallacy in Teaching and Learning


Cordially

--- EGR