Thursday, September 29, 2011

Preaching Against Violence: Band-Aids on a Dirty Wound?

We are apt to forget that children watch examples better than they listen to preaching. -- Roy L. Smith, American clergyman

The sincerity and urgency with which a proposal is promoted is no indicator that it will be useful and lasting. Indeed, one may suspect the contrary to be true.

If you’re an educator who has worked for some years, you might remember some items on the following list: teaching machines, 4-MAT, mastery curriculum, Writing Across the Curriculum, Transcesence, Chisenbop, Values Education, Behavioral Objectives, Life Adjustment, Great Books, Competency-Based Learning, Teacher-Proof Curriculum, the Junior High School, Performance Contracting, Industrial Education, Suggestopedia, the Project Method, Computer Literacy, The New Math, The Paideia Proposal, America 2000, or the Open Classroom.

They came and they went, leaving little trace but crippled or wasted school budgets. These items were, in their day, promoted with a zeal and a printed output that required the sacrifice of vast forests to support that literature.

Educational reform has, like a 20-year locust, crawled once again to the surface of the public consciousness. Americans have been “reforming” the public schools cyclically for over a century. The list of “fads” given above is some indicator of the past successes enjoyed.

There is a scene in an Agatha Christie mystery where Hercule Poirot ponders the meaning of the various clues he has gathered when his client thunders impatiently, “Don’t just stand there thinking, do something!”

There’s the rub! Americans, (and Brits, apparently, too) especially those considered to be “leaders,” are so imbued with being “proactive” that they and their supporters imagine that quick action, any random flailing out, will make up for shoddy thinking, misapprehension of the problem, and sloppy communication. Dealing with “violence,” in the schools, in the streets, or among nations, provides more than ample example of these faults.

Ancient wisdom cautions us against charging ahead armed only with good intentions. It also counsels us to moderation, because all actions produce costs as well as benefits.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Doing Violence to 'Violence'

Cordially -- EGR

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Perplexing Educational Decisions: what you'd like vs what you must

You can do anything, but not everything. — David Allen
Why aren't the best teachers assigned to teach the worst students?
Why do many schools spend more money on landscaping than on salary increases?
When school budgets are cut, why is it more likely that a music teacher rather than a football coach will lose his job?

The answers to these questions are all cut from the same cloth: it depends on the distinction between what a community can agree that:
a. it would be nice to do; and,

b. what needs to be done.
Like many organizations, schools are run by decision-makers who are very concerned with who pays the costs, and who gets the benefits. And what keeps them, the decision-makers, employed.

For more on this see Mission vs. Function: Limits to Schooling Aspiration
-- EGR

Friday, September 23, 2011

Top School Leadership: fooled or fools?

Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with the important matters.
-- Albert Einstein
Is there any more telling evidence of the failure of American education than the blather promulgated by Harold O. Levy, New York City school chancellor from 2000 to 2002 and trustee of several colleges (New York Times, 6/8/09)?

Every child should attend school until age 19 because, Levy says,
The benefits of an extra year of schooling are beyond question: high school graduates can earn more than dropouts, have better health, more stable lives and a longer life expectancy.
This is a clear confusion, at best, of correlation with cause. Besides, Levy compares kids who might take an extra year of school with dropouts, when the much more important comparison should be between those who graduate with the present limit of 18 years and those who might take an extra year. Why incur the costs of an extra year of school if it makes little difference as to who graduates?

Is this so deep that even a chancellor can’t understand it? Or is another agenda at work here?

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

Cordially
EGR

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Must Conflict Be a Negative Process? Sometimes, it’s all for the better.

Happiness is a byproduct of function, purpose, and conflict; those who seek happiness for itself seek victory without war. -- William S. Burroughs
Reflective people are often dismayed that the leaders of opposing factions profess the desire for peace, even as they wage war. Union and school board leaders express severe misgivings about closing down the schools as they wrangle themselves, inevitably, it seems, into a strike. To the uninformed eye, this looks like blatant hypocrisy. It is not.

Public expressions of desire are not merely a method of disseminating information. "I sincerely wish to put an end to this conflict" is not meant to inform the public about some leader's state of mind. Rather, it is a move in a negotiation process that may well result in peace. But there is a hidden proviso.

What "I sincerely wish to put an end to this conflict" has to be understood as saying is "I sincerely wish to put an end to this conflict provided that the costs of ending it do not outweigh the benefits of prolonging it." (And all parties generally want to avoid examining who it is that benefits, or who it is that pays the costs for either alternative.)

Wars could be avoided if one side would agree to accept the aggression of the other. School strikes could be avoided if teachers would accept lowered salaries, staff cut-backs, increased class sizes and arbitrary administrative decisions. But wise negotiators understand that every unresisted encroachment on the prerogatives of a group invites additional ones. Conflict cannot long be avoided by capitulation expediently rebaptized as “cooperation.”

To examine this issue further, see The Functions of Conflict in the Context of Schooling

Cordially,

--EGR

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sacrificing the Kids. For What?

Do not permit any of your children to be offered as a sacrifice to Molech, for you must not bring shame on the name of your God. -- Leviticus 18:21 (New Living Translation ©2007)
There are public elementary school principals who have cut recess out of the schedule so their pupils can spend more time on the things that really give them joy: test preparation and eating kale.

Actually, kids hate both testing and kale. But the adults in their lives, whose convenience governs all, push the kids to it. Why? To enhance National Competitiveness! Or to meet those all important program goals: “Every Child a Scientist!” or “Every Child a Candidate for a Harvard medical degree!” Elementary schoolkids lose recess and high-schoolers are tracked, so that the Children who are Not being Left Behind don’t infect the rest with whatever it is that prevents the NCLB-ers, too, from being a Left Behind. Ambitious parents could hardly be more supportive.

The New York Times of February 24 2009 (D5) reported research supporting the notion that recess is as important for a child’s learning as are test-taking drills. To quote an ancient maxim, “Ipso est, du-uh!” (See also School: It's way more boring than when you were there)

No adult would put up with the boredom and pointlessness – especially if they received no pay for it -- of much of what adults inflict on school kids. When it comes to thinking things through many, many people, adults as well as kids, find themselves in dire straits. In that case, how can you tell the adults from the kids? A simple rule of thumb: inflictor → adult; sufferer →kid; good sense →none.

To examine these issues further, see "Tracking" in Public Education: preparation for the world of work?

Cordially
-- EGR

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Really Important Things That Schools Teach

After you have been out of school -- say, 20 to 40 years -- when you have pretty much gotten a handle on who and what you are, think back to your early school days and ask what it is that you remember. Unless you are a specialist, it probably won’t be what a tessellation is; or, whose wigwam sat on the shores of Gitcheegoomee; or, how to do synthetic division; or how to fold a crane out of a square of paper.

None of the things so heavily emphasized in standard tests, things used – with panting solemnity to rationalize the random tortures of schooling -- will matter much, if at all.

Other, at the time only superficially appreciated things will turn out to be – in the long run -- of far greater moment.

To examine these issues further, see What We Don't Assess


Cordially

-- GKC (EGR)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Speak English or Else! Keeping the dice loaded.

Don't know nothin’ ‘bout history.
Forget about biology!
Hardly opened up a science book.
French, I never gave a second look.

You may be a doctor with a fine degree
But If you can’t speak English
Just like me,
You’re nobody I need to see.


Native speakers of English have a huge, unearned social and business advantage over those who come to it later in life. Many do not want to give up that advantage. You may have gone through school learning little, yet have a communication skill, a tone of voice, merely, learned as a child, that gives you an edge in the US over the most educated person who learned English as a second language. To a similarly uneducated American ear, you sound "natural."

No wonder you’re afraid to recognize another language besides American English as official: you’ll lose your undeserved competitive edge in many arenas of life.

To continue this train of thought see Cultural Domination and the Teaching of ESOL

Cordially,
-- EGR

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hey, Teacher! Become an Education Guru!

Nothing is so easy to fake as the inner vision. -- Robertson Davies
Tired of being blamed for what distracted, lazy, illiterate or undersocialized kids can’t do? Tired of being told you’ve got an easy job with too much time off? Close to being one of the 13% of teachers that quit the field every year? Tired of sitting through pointless “staff development” sessions where some here-today-gone-tomorrow guru shovels it deep and hard with a half-baked panacea for all that ails education?

Take control of your destiny! Fight back! You can’t lick ‘em, so join ‘em! (No, I don’t mean work on becoming an administrator or board member -- that only gets you in deeper.) Write a best seller and become an education guru in your own time!

To avail yourself of this opportunity see Lurpofactsomosis: Reinvigorating American Education

Cordially
--- EGR

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Education for a Democratic Society: where does this happen?

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. -- Winston Churchill
Those things that individuals in a democratic society need to know are just not taught in the public schools; for example, the basics of law, techniques of organizing groups, or basic modern economics. History, which used to be selectively and biasedly taught, is now a multicultural mishmash that emphasizes victimization rather than the overcoming of difficulties. And what negotiation skills kids get are picked up under duress as "conflict resolution."

What about the results? The general public demonstrates its satisfaction with the status quo by resisting change in the content and form of public education. And what are they satisfied with? Check their reading matter: tabloid newspapers that tell us that gorillas have mated with humans, that Presidents have met with extraterrestrials and that space aliens control higher education (on that last point I am tempted to concede some credibility).

We have communities with a concept of public morality which brings them to pass laws increasing punishments for prostitutes -- no doubt, a major social threat -- while licensing gambling establishments in which they can fritter away their own and their children's sustenance. (A typical casino in Atlantic City takes in more money per week than the yearly budget of all but the biggest school districts.)

To examine these issues further, see Education for Democracy:
Is this more than rhetoric?


Cordially
--- EGR

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What is School For? Honors or Knowledge?

Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them. -- Aristotle
Kindergartners “graduating” in caps and gowns to first grade are just so cute! High-schoolers in caps and gowns, too, are “cute” even though they may still be reading on pretty much the same level as the little tykes.

Too many people see the point of schooling to be the collecting of gold stars, trophies, diplomas and the like, irrespective of whether these are indicators of practically useful or self-transforming knowledge acquired and retained.

Parents want their kids to get high grades no matter what; cheating and plagiarism are frequently thought of as just techniques for “getting through.”

A billion-dollar industry exists to help parents place their darlings in the “highest-ranked” colleges; little does it matter what the students will do once they get there.

What does all this cost? What is all this worth?

To examine this issue further, see Educational Assessment: 
confusing status with achievement

Cordially,

---EGR

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why are Public Schools Test Crazy?

At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst. -- Aristotle
Over the last seventy years, increasing numbers of public school people in the United States have come to tell a story in which they express deeply felt concerns. That story goes something like this:
For some children and not others to have their needs met by the schools is unfair. It is only just that we meet the needs of all children. How do we determine those needs? By comparing what children can do with what they can learn to do. Any discrepancy between achievement and potential is an indicator of need. How do we determine such things as achievement and potential? By adequate testing.

This rationale supports many well-intentioned attempts at upgrading American schools. But it is chock-full of questionable assumptions seldom examined even when repeated tries at improving schooling practice have failed. -- EGR

To see the full story go to Justice Through Testing


Cordially
EGR

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Violence, even in school, is not necessarily wrong.

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. -- George Orwell
There is no firmer evidence that people are morally befuddled than when you have to argue for what should be painfully obvious. To condemn violence as immoral, is like condemning spicy food as inedible.

Most educators will readily and strongly assent to the follow statements:
a. Schools are no place for violence.
b. Violence causes violence
c. Violent acts are morally wrong
.
They react generally as strongly, but negatively to the following:
d. Some violence is acceptable.
e. Schools may permit a certain level of violence.

Despite these initial reactions, it takes not very much discussion to bring them around to understanding that statements a, b and c are generally false; and, that d and e are true.
To get down to the reasons, see Permissible School Violence

Cordially,
-- EGR

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

New Teacher’s Troubles? Old Teacher’s Memories

This too shall pass -- Abū Hamīd bin Abū Bakr Ibrāhīm (1145-1146 - c. 1221; Persian: ابو حمید ابن ابوبکر ابراهیم)
So, you’ve been on the job less than a year or two and it’s not as entertaining as you thought it would be. You may be seldom happy; or worse, you dread going into school everyday; but, a paycheck is hard to throw away.
On top of it all, you hear some older teachers and almost everyone who doesn’t work in a school tell you how much better it used to be twenty, thirty even forty years ago when
a. kids did what their teachers told them;
b. parents invariably supported teacher decision, even to the point of corporal punishment;
c. administrators backed up the teachers; and
d. there was general agreement among educators, school boards, politicians and public as to what the schools were about and what could be done in them.

These conditions made teaching a fulfilling profession – heaven, almost – unlike the vale of dissapointments it has become. Cheer up, or, at least, don’t feel singled out by fate to languish in a doomed profession.
To begin with, nothing was ever as good as anyone says it was;
Secondly, statements a to d above are generally false owing to either selective memory or ignorance of school history. There was a time in American history when male schoolteachers had to beat the school bullies, as well as their fathers and brothers, into submission in order to keep their jobs.

To read about a new teacher’s experience in 1964, see My First Classroom Teaching Experience

Cordially
-- EGR

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cultural Difference? What Should Multicultural Educators Try to Deal With?

I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stifled. I want all the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. -- Mohandas K. Gandhi
There is no scarcity of proposals for what should be added to an already overloaded public school curriculum. It is easy to get carried away with enthusiasm for a favorite item. But is it possible to evaluate a proposal with minimal bias?

Also, it is important to distinguish what might be ideal as opposed to feasible in the circumstances you find yourself it. There are many cultural practices around the world that would be considered “too strange” to be acceptable in some American communities.

For example, eating cats, dogs or horses or insects. Should public schools adjust their lunch menus to reflect such practices? What about killing animals for religious sacrifice, or entertainment? What attitude should school boards adapt toward these practices?

But more than attitude adjustment may be at issue. Don’t forget that anything put into a public school curriculum is using taxpayer money to support it.
To examine these issues further, see Evaluating Cultural Practices for Inclusion in the Public School Multicultural Curriculum

Cordially
-- EGR

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The “Democratic” Process: an illusion?

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. -- Winston Churchill
Talk is just that: talk. When we try to get past it, to get down to “getting things done,” it is our American custom to vote on alternatives. Being “democratic” -- what we have been taught since childhood -- is to “give everyone a voice,” to lay out the alternatives and to vote to award our commitment to the majority choice.

Here we run into the first illusion: we think we agree because we have picked a common word or phrase to identify our goal. But words are notoriously ambiguous and vague. In a situation where we can’t take the vote over again when we change our minds, this becomes a real problem. Majority vote may settle nothing.

Even when we achieve an overwhelming consensus, a landslide vote, we may proceed into butting up against the second illusion: that a common goal has only one path to realization. In fact, the hardest part in achieving anything is, often, to get some kind of agreement on how to work together to reach it. Majority vote on a goal may still mean disagreement on means.

Finally, even if we agree on goals and means, we may yet delude ourselves that obstacles are minor. People have different priorities. There may be a landslide majority vote on a goal, say, higher employment, and even on the means to achieving it. But higher employment many not rank the same for everyone when they consider national defense, clean environment, or education.

It is difficult to put democracy into action with real results. This leads some who tire or distract easily to wish for dictatorship or something similar, for example, a “ruling class.”

But dictatorship or aristocracy does not avoid these dilemmas. It just restricts the power to act to a smaller group. And “power to act” should not be confused with “successful results.”

To examine these issues further, see The Indeterminacy of Consensus: 
masking ambiguity and vagueness in decision


Cordially
--- EGR

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Best Practices? Don’t Bet On It!

The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding. -- Albert Camus
In a profession pressured to looking for Answers, Now! to age-old human problems, nothing raises the hopes of the terminally optimistic than the prospect of a list -- short though it be -- of items baptized with the name “Best Practices.” But can we trust that so-called “best practices” have been tested adequately?

Real research in education is difficult, expensive, time-consuming, and consequently often near impossible since any involvement with human subjects requires restraints that school districts and, particularly parents are not interested or willing to meet.

Nonetheless, public school students -- one of modern America’s answers to the problem of getting experimental guinea-pigs -- are subjected to any of a number of “best practices” depending upon the inclination of their teachers and the ambitions of their school administrators. This is not necessarily anywhere near inhumane considering the boring curricula many students face in the name of academic achievement or international competition. But do the gains meet expectations?

To continue this discussion see Are "Best Practices" Good Enough?

-- EGR

Friday, September 2, 2011

Will Technology Make Schooling More Efficient? Or Just Waste Time and Money?

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. -- Stephen Covey
The day-to-day activities in American public schools are particularly open to criticism from both parents and politicians. Curriculum “innovations” come and go as public fervor changes on topics of interest. The computers bought in a burst of school board enthusiasm one year sit underutilized the next because no budget has been provided to keep them apace of changes in technology.

However, to the extent that schools perform what are widely recognized as needed technical functions they can hope to resist political pressures. The promise of educational technology has been the promise of educational decision-making based solely on consideration of pedagogical efficiency: the development of a true Factory of Learning.

But are public schools in their essential character very much like factories? And can teaching be focused only, or even mostly, on widely recognized “productive” outcomes?

To get a perspective on these questions see The Teacher as Technician: Will Technology Improve Schooling? -- EGR

-- EGR

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Giving Students an Education That Meets Their Needs. Who’s to say what they Need?

A state arises, as I conceive, out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. -- Plato
What do students need? Do they all need the same thing? Who determines who needs what? What if what some students need costs very much more than what others need? Is fairness an issue here?

Surely some students need what they don’t want; others want what they don’t need. Who decides this?

Such questions seldom get intelligent, honest answers. Instead schools and the adults involved with them give the same monotonous response -- but not in so many words:
“The kids 'need' what we are ready and willing to give them. Period. Do not waste our time with wishful thinking!”
Some educational planners claim to have a scientific approach, called “needs assessment” which tries to answer the questions above. Is this just more wishful thinking?

To continue this discussion see Needs Assessment: a fraud?
-- EGR