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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Educational NewSpeak

Hate is Love. War is Peace --1984 George Orwell

Schooling in the U.S. is compulsory: kids are constrained to be in school. If you’ve got money, you can buy more or less comfortable incarceration for your kids between the ages 6 to 16, unless you school them at home – in which case you share the constraints.

The big pretense of course is that everyone, just everyone, down to the last child, wants, nay, ardently desires to be in school, even if it means getting up at the crack of dawn and riding a bus for an hour just so you can begin pretending to show interest whilst you tighten your sphincters until such time as permission is given to permit nature its course.

This is why we school people talk funny. Basically, we force a happy grin to keep from breaking down into tears. Any difficulty or impediment a child bears, no matter how insurmountable, is renamed, “a challenge,” as if autism or spina bifida were little more problematic than an invitation to a tennis match.

When the number of assaults in a school district drops 10%, whatever the reason – usually unknown – somebody rushes to give the superintendent a raise, or at least a good newspaper headline touting his or her “Administrative Acumen.”

School bullies, if even recognized as such, are forced to sit still for a few hours while “experts” chatter at them about “conflict resolution.” The result is predictable: when their teachers complain that the bullying has not stopped, they are told that it has, but the kids have adapted it to their particularly – perhaps even “culturally distinctly” – assertive manner.

Eduspeak smokescreens do serve a useful purpose on many an occasion. For example, when a parent comes in to complain that his or her child’s grades are “unfairly” low, or that a disciplinary action imposed on poor “fruit-of-the-loins” is not "fair" (read, “fair” to mean, “to be imposed on other kids, not mine”).

To respond to such a complaint, teachers and administrators can invoke school “policies” which “the law” or “the school board” compels them to follow, despite the fact that they, the teachers and the administrators, too, recognize the sterling nature of the child victimized by such rules and regulations as an “inadvertent mishap.” “We understand that your son was just ‘playing around’ when he bumped his classmate down the stairs. But once the ambulance was called, our hands were tied.”

To examine these issues further, see COOPERATION AND COERCION


Cordially
--- EGR

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What is Special Education Supposed to Accomplish? Are Our Expectations Reasonable?

Let’s consider two forms, extreme, no doubt, of state sponsored education:
Type A: every person gets exactly, precisely, the same education; they are treated as if they were in no way different; or,
Type B.Every single person is treated as if he or she were in all aspects different from all others -- educational plans would individualized down to the individual.
Some further explanation:
1. Type A will provide 10,000 (or, whatever) hours of a fixed curriculum to the student, irregardless of that student’s age, sex, religion, physical condition, or social background.
2. Type B would consider all the things disregarded by Type A and include also so things as student likes, dislikes, desires, preferences, moods, memory, inclinations, knacks, whims, etc.
Note the following things:
a. for neither type of education would there be “special education.”; type A rules it out; type B goes far beyond what special education would do.
b. Type A would probably be quite cheaper than Type B.
Type B would not only be very expensive but it is far from clear where the instructional services would come from or what would count as a curriculum.
c. People would probably reject both types as undesirable but for very different reasons.
What would some of those reasons be? Could you flesh out these two types so as to make it more obvious what their good or bad points are?

What is so good about our schools now that type A or B would be unacceptable? What is so bad about them that special education is necessary?

To examine these issues further, see Special Education: misgivings and reconsiderations


Cordially
--- EGR

Monday, December 13, 2010

Family and School: an underlying conflict?

I was born during WWII into a highly ethnic, religious, working class, immigrant family. That speaks for my father’s side. My mother was from a bourgeoise, -- as they saw it – temporarily dispossessed, small business family, waiting—vainly through two wars – to return to the homeland to begin again the enterprise misfortune had taken from them.

Here was the first conflict: my paternal homeland was not my maternal homeland. My father’s people were entertained with church-sponsored movies promising that their homeland would rise again. (So it has, some fifty years later.) My mother’s family was interested in having their kids become “American.” They insisted that English be used even in the home.

For my parents, individually, Cupid won out, over the strong objections of both sets of in-laws.

This personal preface is just to set up the generalizations I will suggest about the relationships of social class to schooling. I grew up in working class neighborhoods. I attended public schools run by middle and upper class women. And I rubbed elbows with the scions of the “elite” – not “elite” merely by recently acquired wealth, but by long social pedigree – as I went through higher education.

Here is the scoop: caricatures, somewhat, no doubt, but generalizations which capture certain persistent norms.
Working Class Perceptions: school, like church, is all right for girls. But real men stick to their own kind and don’t get much involved. Those who do are are unmanly (“faggots,” “fruits”) or weak and obsequious (“brown-nosers,” “apple-polishers). Even if' ey’re geniuses 'n' ya gotta respect ‘em ‘cuz 'ey know all'e sports stats, they’re still nerds. Maybe they’ll “grow a pair” later. You grow up into the family business or trade – legal or not – or you make your bones in the military, if not elsewhere.

Middle Class Perceptions: School is a wonderful opportunity for everyone. Educators, like church people and parents, only want what’s best for the child. You have to avoid hanging out with the wrong kind of kids. You learn to do as you’re told. You learn to work with all kinds of people, even women. You study and your success, financial or professional, is (all but) guaranteed if you get good grades. (It does help to know the “right people.” School – especially college -- is where you meet them.)

Upper Class Perceptions: You get along and ahead (if you are that close to poverty to worry about achievements) by knowing the right people. School is a place your parents put you to get you away from overly interesting individuals and into the company of those who are “right-thinking,” that is, not inclined to worry about so-called broader problems. (There is enough in the family garden to be cultivated.) So called “higher education” is for fun and having sex with people you wouldn’t dream of marrying. Don’t get seduced into involvement with academics. (You were born on third base. No harm in telling people you hit a triple even if you don’t give a damn about making a home run.)
Perhaps such family ties have become outmoded. Perhaps schools have so, too.

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


Cordially
--- EGR

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What Can Schools Do For Our Children?

As parents, we want a lot for our kids. And we expect school to provide some (sometimes, a great deal) of what we want.

We want what is desirable, not undesirable: an interesting classroom; not, boring repetition. Warmth when it’s cold and coolness when it’s sweltering; not, the reverse. Teachers who are patient and know their stuff; not, easily annoyed incompetents. Classmates who treat each other with respect or care; not, bullies or bad-mouthers. Schools that children are eager to get to and stay late at; not, ones that destroy interest, or make children wake up in the morning with a feeling of dread or leave with a feeling of relief.

In a galaxy long ago and far away I attended various schools with some of those positives. We had time for music and art more than occasionally; but even math drills or penmanship practice was focused and limited. We had recess or gym for some physical activity. We had class or school plays which were not considered a waste of academic study time.

No one imagined that as schoolkids we had to be prepared to Improve the World or national economic standing in the decades to come. (Too bad, perhaps. Maybe if I had been forced to do more long division problems back there in 1953, the bank failures of 2008, or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, might not have happened!)

Not all was happiness and light. Schools also replicated the prejudices of the wider society albeit in a somewhat reduced form, especially since our teachers, who were almost all women with decades of experience, saw themselves to some extent as social reformers.

What schools can do for our children depends upon what we can come to agree on is desirable. But not all desirable things are compatible; they may only be had as exclusive options.

Some benefits may be available to all. Others are self-restricting. Time, money, student interest and teacher expertise, for example, are necessary but not limitless. This is true no matter what the state of the economy or World politics.

To examine these issues further, see Dissecting School Benefits: a typology of conflicting goals


Cordially
--- EGR

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

From non-Science to Nonsense

Here is a question to test your “faith” as an educator: Can All Children Learn?
Don’t rush to answer it. It is a trick question. Let’s see how.

In the February 25, 2008 issue of Time Magazine an article appeared titled, "How to Make Great Teachers." In it a teacher-training "expert" reveals that public education, so-called secular education, should be in fact a peculiar kind of faith-based education.

The expert is quoted as saying that "Anyone without this (article of faith) has no business in the classroom!" The article of faith referred to is "an unshakeable belief in children's capacity to learn." This required article of faith for people in our secular public schools -- is a variation on the commonly encountered, and easily mouthed mantra: all children can learn.

Suppose someone offered as an article of faith, "All vegetables can cure." Suppose, in addition, that our proselytizer insisted that unless a person professed this faith in the capacity of vegetables to cure, that person didn't belong in any hospital, pharmacy, restaurant, farm or whatever place vegetables are handled.

Clearly, it would occur to anyone with the wits to fog a mirror that we would want to know which vegetables, under what conditions, could cure what illnesses. Not only that, we would want to know what evidence was there to support such claims. We would not be surprised if -- indeed, we would expect -- to discover that some vegetables, prepared in some ways, do not cure any known disease.

But even more suspicious is the way the issue has been presented. Why in such vague terms, "all vegetables," "can," with no circumstances mentioned and "cure" without saying what is to be cured? And why would someone need "unshakeable belief" as a condition for employment? Isn't practical knowledge acquired through experience, rather than being absorbed unshakably in advance as an article of faith?

Let's do the drill we would use with vegetables: Which children do we mean, in what conditions, under what circumstances? What can they learn, to what degree, in how much time? Suppose we could establish that 99.9% of children could learn something, somewhere, somehow, after some period of instruction. This would still be far from encouraging to parents, and, especially, to educators who must teach those very specific children assigned to them, in the classroom to which they are assigned, in the time allotted, the specific, complex subject matter imposed by the school.

Not a few people seem to believe that in order to improve American public schools, prospective teachers must be first indoctrinated with the opinion that all children can learn. I humbly offer some counter-suggestions:

1. Use the belief that all children can learn as a litmus-test for stupidity.

2. Cull out any teachers whose hold it "unshakeably" prior to any real experience in the classroom. You don't want such bubbleheads experimenting on your kids.

3. In addition, close down any teacher-training programs which employ the sloganizing indoctrinators, the frauds and the charlatans who waste the time and money of prospective teachers insulting their intelligence, denying their commonsense and undermining their morality with such drivel. Disregard their babbling about what "research" proves. No real scientist makes vague claims about "all" of anything.

4. Finally, if you are involved at the university level, disassociate your teacher-training program with any so-called "accrediting agency" (there are several) that requires adherence to the doctrine. Let us struggle to maintain education -- to the extent it is possible -- on a scientific, scholarly foundation.
Kids, one might hope, are, after all, at least as important as vegetables.


For more on muddled thinking in education, see Illogic & Dissimulation in School Reform

Cordially
-- EGR

Friday, December 3, 2010

School Bullying: in memory of Phoebe Prince

Entirely too much bullying goes on in US schools. According to a 2006 survey funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, bullying is widespread in American schools, with more than 16 percent of U.S. school children saying they had been bullied by other students during the current term.

Despite its prevalence, bullying is easily overlooked. It usually is covert and both victims and witnesses often are coerced into silence. So busy educators often either fantasize that bullying doesn’t exist in their school, or cynically pretend that it doesn’t. Consequently, in classroom after classroom, kids sit with knots of fear in their stomach because bullies are making their school lives miserable. Even kids not directly assaulted or threatened are victimized by such bullying because they know they might be next.

It should be self-evident that students who have reason to fear for their safety experience a very different learning environment than kids who feel protected. And because of bullying the very weakest school kids can lead a hellish existence that scars them for life.

Educators who don’t stop that sort of thing are failing in their most fundamental obligation, to protect those in their charge. After all, the kids are required by law to attend whether they want to or not.

Bullying not only ruins individual lives and retards learning, it also sows the seeds of general school disorder and rebellion. Just as it is foolish to maintain allegiance to a government that fails to protect its citizens, so it is senseless for students to cooperate with educators who permit their victimization by bullies. Most kids know that and act accordingly.

Lamentably there is a melancholy similarity between schools where bullies operate with impunity and out-of-control prisons. Savage victimization goes on in jails when warden and guards look the other way; and victimization also takes over in schools when educators fail to exercise due diligence.

When inmates are victimized at least there is the modest consolation that most of them did nasty things to get themselves into this predicament. In the case of school children, however, innocents are sentenced to daily misery just because they have the misfortune of living in a neighborhood served by a bully dominated school.

To examine these issues further, see School Bullies

-- GKC

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What’s So Bad About Bullying? Isn’t It Just Part of Life?

At long last there seems to be some kind of general crusade against bullying warming up. Why now? Bullying has been around for … forever, its seems. In schools and in the workplace. In life. You can read about it in very old books. Or you can just ask some victims!

Why the big fuss about it now? Because it has become, for many, an organizational problem. Because people who fancy themselves leaders, or who are fancied as such by others, are challenged by circumstances to prove they have some skill at something; that they merit the deference and income they are given.

When it comes to recognizing bullies in organizations, the motto has long been “Ignorance is Bliss.” This is why whistleblowers are treated like some kind of traitor, subject to shunning or dismissal.

A bully is not just someone who persistently insults or humiliates others, or physically abuses them, or causes them hurt or harm. Our society recognizes many occupations in which people legitimately cause distress, even pain, sorrow and suffering, to others. Such persons are bullies only if they have no recognized authority to inflict distress on others AND no one wants to step up and take them to task for it.

Why does bullying occur in schools and in the workplace? Because higher-ups in the organization keep teachers or other front-line staff from dealing with it effectively. Boats cannot be rocked. It is not good for careers.

Those who do not personally suffer from bullying seldom see any reason to interfere with it, unless they have had some moral education. But not just any moral education will do. I had a relative whose childhood moral training taught her to accept all kinds of hardship and unpleasantness, no matter how extreme, as expiation for her sins, as a purge for her stained, immortal soul. “Offer it up,” she would be told, no matter what the abuse was that she was subjected to, or who the abuser was.

There are people, who, in spirit, have calloused knees and a permanent pucker, who avoid most bullying by pre-emptively serving bullies. And so they become abettors to the abuse, enforcers of evil.

To examine these issues further, see THE ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEM: ILLUSION AND REALITY


Cordially
--- EGR

Monday, November 29, 2010

What Can Public Schools Teach?

What did you learn in school today,
Dear little boy of mine?
I learned that Washington never told a lie.
I learned that soldiers never die.
I learned that everybody's free,
And that's what the teacher said to me.
-- Tom Paxson (1964)

The last lynching in the U.S., involving victim Michael Donald, happened on March 20, 1981 in Mobile, Alabama. I was 38 at the time and never heard of it. In fact, until I looked it up in order to write this blog, I never knew of it. I was a school teacher at that time in the Philadelphia School District, working in an inner city junior high school. I never heard a peep about any lynching.

While I was growing up, attending public schools, I never heard in school of Japanese American internment during WWII, or of Pogroms in Europe, or of Harriet Tubman, or of the Trail of Tears, or of the Homestead Strike or of attacks on Catholics in Philadelphia by “Nativist” Americans. Why?

American public schools developed in a culture in which the following values were considered superior by most of those who supported the schools:
Whiteness, Maleness, Christian, Protestant, European, (particularly English-speaking), and Being of wealthy or professional parentage.
These values defined a group of people who were taught – as many still are -- to consider themselves innately superior to those outside the group, even to the point of using civil and military power to subjugate and even annihilate resistant outsiders. Superiority justified even brutal domination. (Of course, lacking power and being White, male, Christian, etc. in other parts of the globe would have likely made one receive, rather than give abuse – since brutal domination has never been unique to the U.S.)

Times have changed. The voices of former “inferior people” cannot be so easily suppressed. We, those of us historically privileged who have the guts to look and see, have recognized that our esteemed forefathers, our beloved parents and relatives, were mere humans, also. No more or less greedy, hateful, brutal, grasping and hypocritical than many of us are today.

And yet there is a vast disagreement on particulars: both about facts and about values. Who provoked the Battle of the Little Bighorn? Who massacred whom? Who was rightfully defending themselves?

Where there is profound lack of consensus, the public schools have no place teaching as though that consensus existed. To insist otherwise is also to practice domination.

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


Cordially
--- EGR

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What? No More Brownie Points! It’s … It’s UnAmerican!

The Sunday November 28th, 2010 New York Times, Week In Review p. 3 reports that because some kids with B+ and A averages cannot pass standardized tests, and because other students with F, E, and D averages do pass them, that awarding grade points for homework done (and other not directly academic activity) will be tightly curtailed in certain school districts.

This is dangerously revolutionary! It threatens to invert the pyramid of scholastic honors by giving top rank to hard-scrabble, lower-class NERDS, (and too many Asian students)! Such a policy fails to appreciate the social graces hard-won by students from Middle Class and Elite families who know how to show appreciation for the (often, very subtle) humor, insights and wisdoms of whoever is in charge. A “Yes, sir!” or an “Of course, ma’am!” is worth a hundred solved quadratic equations.

Mere technical skills are not what move a person up in the corporate world. Technicians, accountants and engineers are just hired help. A head full of facts is not necessary, or even desirable to achieve even the highest political office! Schools that serve the fetish of skills and facts are schools that will graduate workers destined to suffer resizing!

To examine these issues further, see Productivity, Politics and Hypocrisy in American Public Education


Cordially
--- EGR

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What Does a Diploma Mean? Just Another Sheep Skinned?

Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple. --Barry Switzer, US football coach (1937 - )
We’re very proud of ourselves when we, or those we love, earn an educational certificate or degree. It’s just so coooool, great, wonderful, awe-inspiring, etc, to parade up onto a stage to be handed a diploma – or reasonable facsimile thereof – whilst wearing a medieval gown with accompanying mortarboard or tam and multicolored hood. Even kindergartners do it.

The diploma is supposed to represent skills achieved, attitudes inculcated and knowledge acquired – or some reasonable facsimile thereof. We don’t really look too hard.

But would you choose to go to, or take your loved ones to, a licensed physician who got through school by cheating, sleeping through classes, copying other’s notes, and memorizing test preparation booklets the way that a large minority – I am being optimistic here about numbers – of students in higher education do? (In ancient times when I went to high school we read Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis: a source, no doubt, of my worries.)

Everyone “knows” that where you go to college gives you a status advantage in the competition for jobs. But do you really get more from third-base universities? Does status indicate anything more in the practitioner in skills achieved, attitudes inculcated and knowledge acquired?

To examine these issues further, see Educational Assessment: 
confusing status with achievement.


Cordially
--- EGR

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Productive Schools? Who Will Judge?

What is mathematics? Professional mathematicians disagree. For schools, school boards decide the question.

What is history? Professional historians disagree. For schools, school boards decide the question.

What is political science? Professional political scientists disagree. For schools, school boards decide the question.

What is language? Professional linguists disagree. For schools, school boards decide the question.

Questions that the most practiced and learned professionals have difficulty agreeing on are usually decided in the United States of America by the least practiced and least knowledgeable of people.

This is crucially important in understanding a major development in American schooling: institutionalization.

Efficient productivity requires agreement on clearly defined goals and an organization’s activities must be prioritized to serve these goals.

Institutionalization occurs when concern in an organization shifts from efficiency to formality. From another point of view, institutionalization is the sacrifice of productive activities to political pressures.

To examine these issues further, see Controlling the School: Institutionalization


Cordially
--- EGR

Monday, November 22, 2010

Poor Teaching: What Is It Exactly?

Both Arne Duncan and Bill Gates seem to agree: an important cause of student failure is poor teaching.

Some advocate higher education for teacher candidates. Does this make sense considering that Ph.D.’s don’t seem to make university professors better teachers?

Bill Gates, as well as Arne Duncan, doesn’t think teachers should get bonuses just for getting higher degrees. Such bonuses, comments Gates, “don’t help kids.” But will kids be helped if the incentive of such a bonus, when removed, dissuades people from going into education in the first place? The dropout rate of teachers, even given the bonus, is high enough to vacate the profession in six years.

What is a poor teacher? Was it my 10 Grade English teacher who failed us mercilessly for minor, academically unrelated infractions? Or was it my 10th-12th Grade Spanish teacher who never tested us and gave us A’s for chatting amiably with her?

Many an elite private school has poor teachers; boring, daydreaming, off-topic chatterboxes. But there is little complaint so long as the kids get acceptable grades.

But there are many cases in public schools where teachers tried to enforce standards and were penalized by administrators as “poor teachers” when parents complained. (See postings on this blog on Plagiarism or Cheating, for example.)

As a private-school headmaster, I refused to renew the contracts of persons I considered to be poor teachers. (Members of my governing board were irate: after all, these teachers were such "nice people" and gave free tutoring to the board members' own kids!)

As a public school teacher I have seen zombies, ignorant, inarticulate, scared stiff, unresponsive, standing in front of classrooms – zombies certified by major universities to be worthy of teaching credentials.

But sometimes “poor quality teaching” is really (Dare we name the elephant in the room?!) a matter of “poor quality students.”

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


Cordially
--- EGR

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Diagrams: Show me how you think schools influence on-the-job success

In the United States of America educators have been told for years and years that it is they who have to prepare students for the “World of Work.” It is they who have the major responsibility to get kids ready for a job.

Unfortunately, educators have accepted this burden without thinking it through. It is clearly nonsense! What responsibility does your ninth-grade English teacher have for the fact that you got laid off 25 years later because your company is "resizing" because it overexpanded?

In a world of commerce – “free enterprise” it is misleadingly called – in businesses that can’t even keep track of legal records, that can’t and won’t police its own pirates, whose stock markets are vulnerable to arbitrary manipulations, exactly how is a first, or second, or for that matter, an eleventh or twelfth grade teacher supposed to influence his student’s future success on the job?

Diagram it! Let A -> B be read “A influences (causes) B.” What in-school-A's influence on-the-job-B’s? Watch out here that you don’t step in any fresh cowpies! There are two basic rules to follow:
1. Every effect, B, has more than one (contributing) cause.
2. Every cause, A, has multiple effects.

When you start diagramming all the possible causes influencing any B, you soon see that school influences may be a weak contribution to the total.

To examine these issues further, see Moral Responsibility in the Education Industry: 
how much can school reform enhance a student's occupational fitness?


Cordially
--- EGR

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Counterfeits, Forgeries, Fakes, Shams:
How Are They Possible?

That person over there. He looks like someone from your fifth grade elementary school class, but older. Is he that person? How would you find out? What can you tell from just observation?

Suppose, when you ask him, he says he is your fifth grade classmate and excuses himself from further conversation because he is in a hurry. Would you be satisfied that you have identified him?

Suppose, instead of walking away, he says he has lost his wallet and asks to borrow some money to buy a train ticket home. Are you willing to lend him $20? How about $200? Are you still feeling good about his identity? Would you ask any further questions?

Is every watch a Rollex? Is every Picasso an original? Is every “friend” a real friend?

What makes things the same? Or different? Is every difference significant? How do you judge that? Where do we learn such things? Does schooling improve the process?

To examine these issues further, see The Things We Recognize


Cordially
--- EGR

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Treadmill. Why Not Just Forget About The Public Schools?

A lot of people can’t just forget about them. Why not? There are three obvious answers:
1. Parents are compelled by their State – not by the Federal Government -- to provide some kind of education for their kids.
2. So, parents worry because they have kids in those schools.
3. Different people, who may or not be the parents of public school kids, have different expectations about what schools should be doing and what they should cost.
School people make an effort to deal with the different expectations people have of them. These expectations often conflict with one another. This conflict is a major source of school controversies. It motivates most of the school reform efforts that break out every fifteen years or so in the United States.

To examine these issues further, see School Image: Expectations & Controversies


Cordially
--- EGR

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Knowing What You Don’t Know. Is It Possible?

What do you know that has never entered your mind? Quite a lot, it seems.

Consider some thoughts that have never entered your mind: Pythons in yellow tutus cooked into a devil’s food cake! Obsidian nostril hairs that vibrate to the frequencies of your favorite R&R radio station! I’d bet these ideas have never before entered your mind. But just thinking about them doesn’t mean you “know” them. They’re just strange thoughts.

But consider this: have you ever thought about George Washington’s grandmother? (If you’re a historian who has, pick a grandmother from the 18th Century you haven’t thought about.) Think about this, too. Washington’s grandmother was born before yours! You know this to be true! In addition, you know that Julius Caesar’s grandmother was born before both grandmothers already mentioned. But it is highly unlikely that you have ever entertained such thoughts before in your life.

Isn’t it true then that there are billions, possibly, of things that have never entered your mind but nonetheless you know them?

To examine these issues further, see Conditions of Knowledge


Cordially
--- EGR

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Student Teaching: Just Another Hoop to Jump Through?

The student teaching experience is a real mixed bag. If you are lucky, your supervising teacher will be a real mentor, who not only passes on skills, but gives you insights into the crucial social and political factors in your school building that can impact on your ability to be a good teacher.

If you are unlucky, it is a different story. You can tell if you’re one of the misfortunate ones if your supervising teacher disappears after your first meeting. That teacher will tell you something along the lines that the best way to approach teaching is by the “sink or swim method” which you can only “work out for yourself.”

Actually, the sink or swim approach is good for people who already have the skills and enough strength of character to deal with a classroom full of kids. Few do.

Student teaching, like mentoring, are two ideas which sound good in theory. However, in practice they are easily subverted into something else. Student teaching becomes, for example, free time for the "supervising" teachers. Mentoring becomes ingratiating oneself with the principal who “needed” to find “someone” to take on student teachers.

Principals often take as many student teachers as they can get because they themselves are taking courses for the superintendency and the student teachers come out of the same department the administrator’s professors are in. Getting student teachers placed has higher priority than making a good student-mentor match.

To examine these issues further, see Mentoring: Are We Serious?


Cordially
--- EGR

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who Benefits From School Reform? A Trick Question.

Who does benefit from school reform? Don’t say, “Everyone.” You don’t know everyone. And even if you mean that everyone should benefit, that is a different story. If should’s were does’s, we’d all be rich, happy and beautiful.

Who benefits from school reform? Don’t say, “the kids.” This may make you feel warm deep inside, but that’s where the warmth stays. Expect to be asked, “Which kids?” “Whose kids?” “Where, when, how?”

Does this mean that the idea of benefits from school reform is romantic nonsense? No. It just means that it is highly relative. And in our pluralistic democracy, “highly relative” means “politically difficult to achieve” and when publicly talked about, “likely little more than B.S.”

Certainly, nothing is a reform unless it is a change. And no change is a reform unless it is for the better, that is, the ratio of benefits to costs increases as compared to the status quo.

So, can we recast our “trick question” as “Who receives an increase in benefit/cost ratio when schools are changed?” That’s getting somewhere.

Now we have to tackle the reasonable distinction between benefits (or costs) as perceived in contrast to actual benefits (or actual costs). And who makes those judgments?

To examine these issues further, see Pursuing Educational Targets: 
What is the Collateral Damage?


Cordially
--- EGR

Monday, November 8, 2010

Granola-Bar “Knowledge”: a healthy diet?

You can bring a horse to water, but he’ll only drink it if you add Kool-Aid
– Boethius, Jr.

Preparing for the Scholastic Aptitude Tests has long been a big business. Twenty years ago 1 in 9 high school students paid for private SAT coaching. And almost half of all high schools back then offered SAT preparation. It has grown into even more of a frenzy.

What is knowledge? Some item is knowledge if it is being tested by the SAT’s.

Is this item true? Is it useful? Does it really matter? Will it change your life? Can you build on it? Will it expand your perspectives? … Is someone asking a question?

Some item is knowledge if it is being tested by the SAT’s. Regurgitating it will help you get into college where you will acquire a degree of questionable market value. And unless your parents have a lot of money, you will also acquire a huge debt needing to be paid off.

Once you are in college, you will learn that knowledge is whatever items professors put on their exams. Or whatever state boards will test you on. Are those items true? Are they useful? Do they really matter? Will they change your life? Can you build on them? Will they expand your perspectives? … Is someone asking a question?

To examine these issues further, see Knowledge as a Commodity

Cordially
--- EGR

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Academic Formalities: Just Making Teacher Clones?

A pedant is someone – often a teacher – who insists on form, whether it helps or not. I had an elementary teacher who insisted that we pronounce the word, piano, as pee-ah-no. She gave up on that one once a couple of boys started pronouncing it as a question and answer: “Pee?” “Ah, no.” Or as a command and refusal: “Pee!” “Ah, no!”

But it is not unusual to judge a performance in different ways depending on the situation. That is why people who are generally competent outside of the classroom can appear so inept inside it. "Can you read this text?" is not merely a demand to make some sense of it, but often, in school, to identify plot, and character, author intent, etc. in the manner of a “schooled” that is to say, academic, person.

Another example of academic formalism doing dubious work is this: kids who can solve math problems in their heads are told they are wrong unless they can “show the work,” that is, pretend that their brain works the same way as their math teacher’s. That is probably why the majority of American adults suffer from mathematical phobias.

Any individual competence can be recast as a display of weakness if we restrict the manner in which it is performed. Formalisms are the “manners” we display when we present our individual achievements. Some formalisms may be necessary. Many are controversial. Others are pernicious.

To continue this discussion see Evaluating Learner Strengths and Weaknesses: 
the Impediments of Formalism

Cordially,
-- EGR

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Can You Trust Yourself? Searching for certainty, a needle in a haystack.

Suppose you are listening half-attentively to a speech. Suddenly the speaker says something that catches your full attention. It sounded like, “I’m for every school child learning to practice cannibalism.” Wouldn’t you ever ask someone, “Did I hear him right?”

If you were absolutely sure of your senses, our most basic means of connecting with the world, why would you ask such a question? It’s because we know from experience that even our eyes and ears can fail us. We are not infrequently unsure of what we have seen, heard, felt, tasted smelled. (Remember that first time you smelled something you found out later to be cheese curls spilled into your sofa?)

The situation gets worse when we have to rely on another person’s eyes and ears (or tongue, skin or nose). Our senses can’t literally lie to us. But other people can.

And as the group gets bigger, the more a message gets garbled, unless we take great care to set up a method of verification. Most of the time we get our information from whispering down the lane, or newpapers, TV and other contaminated sources.

Here is where a lot of people make either of two mistakes:
1. They shrink back from action for fear of doing wrong; or

2. They confuse the very useful distinction between intellectual doubt and commitment.

It is one of life’s many tragedies that we sometimes, quite unintentionally, do wrong. But, to paraphrase Immanuel Kant, the only good thing is a good intention. So intend well, and act!

Intellectual doubt is the main tool of the intelligent person. Doubt because you can. It can help you avoid the common, everyday kind of mistake. But don’t let it contaminate your commitments, if overall you find them to be of value to you. The best of commitments allows you your doubts and offers you more to come back to. Nothing’s perfect.

To examine these issues further, see Questionable Assumptions in Social Decision Making


Cordially
--- EGR

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trust: Disease or Drug? The American Tragedy

In an election year we find many parallels between how Americans deal with “the schools” and how they deal with their “government.” Americans suffer from a persistent ailment: Untargeted Suspicion. This free-ranging suspicion then gives rise to free-ranging Doubt, an almost universal symptom. They then try to “cure” the Doubt with overdoses of Faith, either Faith in a System; or, Faith in a Person, or ultimately, Faith in Themselves, individually. This “Faith” is generally as well-founded as the “Doubt” that gave rise to it. And by focusing treatment on the symptoms, the basic causes remain untouched.

You can’t really blame most of us for our habits of suspicion. We grow up in a culture where we learn early in life that the following are very practical advice:
a. caveat emptor, i.e. Let the buyer beware!
b. Don’t give a sucker an even break!
c. Life is Struggle.
d. Charity begins at home.
e. Everybody’s in it for himself.
The daily experiences of many, if not most, adults bear these “wisdoms” out, while opposite opinions, such as “Love Thy Neighbor,” or “Blessed are the peacemakers” are encountered only in special, sheltered situations, for example, ones in which we told to look to a future after-earthy life for their realization.

It is hard to evaluate the information that confronts us on a daily basis. It takes some education to do it consistently well. But if we reject the value of what we learn in schools, or what we get from other information sources, for example, private as well as governmental media, how can we address our doubts, or allay our suspicions?

Most people I have ever met do it this way: they rely on those they trust; and ultimately check it out against their own experience. But those whom we trust can disappoint us; and our own experience is normally very narrow. So it comes down to this: we go towards (anticipated) Pleasure and run from (anticipated) Pain and rely for guidance on what “insights” pop into our heads: ultimate, hard-kernel Individualists, like every creature on Earth, down to the very viruses.

To examine these issues further, see Personal Liberation Through Education: do public school – religious school differences matter?

Cordially
--- EGR

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Consensus is Like Orgasm: soon dissipating, leaving no guarantees

How we Americans love our leaders and hate our politicians. What’s the difference? Leaders are public servants, legislators, whom we esteem, even, trust, maybe, perhaps, amen. Politicians are those legislators who pretend to be public servants. We DO NOT LIKE them. We know anything they say is a lie, lie, liar; pants on fire!

How can you tell them apart? Learn from Yoda, “Trust your feelings, Luke”: every spasm is an orgasm, a guarantee of true love.

The New York Times of Thursday, October 28, 2010, reports that the “Coalition That Vaulted Democrats Into Power Has Frayed, Polls Find.” Coalitions form by the often momentary consensus among people who are otherwise adversaries. They may evoke deep feeling; for example, “Yes, we can.”

The coming elections in November 2010 are not about facts: who can accept as fact something that leaks through the lips of a politician. The elections seem to devolve around philosophical issues, to judge by the vocabulary being used, “socialism,” “free market,” “liberty,” “liberal,” “conservative” and the like. And the average (even, above average, college-educated) American citizen seems to be about as adept at examining philosophical issues as the average American squirrel. A louder voice does not mean a truer statement. Enthusiasm is not a substitute for logic.

When “I am not a witch” becomes as important to a voter coalition as the traditional smoke-and-mirrors of “liberal” versus “conservative”, it not only shows that our educational system has long been substandard, but that any “leader” or “politican” who depends on such consensus might as well have gone into the business of school reform.

Love’s pleasures last but a moment;
Love’s sorrows, your whole life long.
Plaisirs d’Amour, Jean Paul Égide Martini (1741-1816).


To examine these issues further, see The Pathologies of Enthusiasm


Cordially
--- EGR

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Links: Wishes,Visions, Illusions, Delusions

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride. --- English Proverb

In the teacher-training programs I taught in for more than 20 years, I would ask the students in my classes what they thought they would be doing 10 years hence. Almost unanimously – and overly vociferously, to my mind – they would answer “teaching!”

I would mention that a high (thirteen per cent per year in 2001) drop-out rate seemed to indicate that teachers are not well-prepared in college for the reality of their jobs in schools. (See Richard M. Ingersoll, (2001) Teacher Turnover, Teacher Shortages and the Organization of the School available at http://depts.washington.edu/ctpmail/PDFs/Turnover-Ing-01-2001.pdf)

I pointed out that at that rate of loss, it would take a little over five years to vacate the profession, were it not that new, eager faces were funneled into the breach.

Their unhappiness at my observation provoked a great deal of discussion, lead some students to articulate interesting insights, and undoubtedly lowered my ratings at the end of semester student evaluations.

One of the counterproductive habits my students would develop in their program was an inclination to link any two items of interest to them into some kind of cause-and-effect chain. Are students doing poorly in school, provide them with breakfasts! (Pay no attention to the fact that the kids dump the eggs or cereal and eat only the sweet buns!)

Is there too much loitering in the hall? Adopt a school rule which forbids loitering! Or, even better, adopt a hall pass system. As everyone knows, kids with hall passes can’t possibly loiter; just as people who swear oaths cannot lie; nor, people who wear uniforms, commit crimes.

Actually, this kind of “controlled-permission” thinking is nigh universal. In my township people have to pay to get a permit to fix their sidewalks. Rather than ‘fess up that selling permits is a source of income – perhaps necessary, or not – for the township, official documents would have us believe that “ a permit is required so that Township specifications are met and uniformity is assured.” (The contractors who do the work ignore the specs, so the inspectors who check it out ignore the lack of uniformity. Sounds like every school I ever worked in.)

A common experience that drives away teachers from schools is so-called “Staff Development.” Its purpose seems to be to take enthusiastic, intelligent, skilled people and make them listless, stupid and incompetent. Staff development works not infrequently to strain their credulity, stultify their normal critical abilities and undermine their capacities for reasoned judgment. When staff development becomes a ritual – Wednesday afternoons, 1:30 to 3:00 PM – then you know there is little shared thought on how the school is supposed to be productive. Have you ever heard of engineers, farmers, or orchestra musicians holding “staff development” sessions?

Much staff development in education is dedicated to the examination of mission and vision statements, such as Empower each student to succeed in life and contribute to society -- from an affluent school district just outside of Philadelphia.

There’s an image for you! Educator as Omniscient and Omnipotent:
O! Beautiful! For Teacher’s dream
That sees beyond the years.
Thy high school slackers faces gleam,
Untouched by sweat or tears!

For more on this see Mission, Vision & Delusion in Schooling

Cordially
--- EGR

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Can Excellence in Education Be Achieved in a Democracy?

It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. – Baudelaire
Suppose money were no problem. Then what could we do? Could we fulfill the aspiration expressed in the education codes of many states: “… to provide each child with a thorough and efficient education”?

Certainly we could have schools, seminars, and (in the language of Ed Biz), “information delivery systems,” that bring some children to be adults with high degrees of skill, or who have stored within them piles of facts which they know how to make use of. If people would be satisfied with this much – and even this is a lot – we could very likely approach some reasonable standard of excellence in education.

But some children are still not all children. And, more importantly, what about nurturance and values? Aren’t these crucial elements in what we understand to be “education” as opposed to “training” and “indoctrination”? We might want our daughter to grow up to be an architect, but not at the cost of her sanity or health. Our son we might envision as a medical doctor, but not at the cost of his religion or morality.

And how much agreement do you think Americans from all walks of life, from all religions or none, from all kinds of commitments to conflicting philosophies and values, will be able to find when it comes to supporting a common school in the hope of promoting a common education?

But isn’t there already a lot of consensus on basic values? Or is it just the sloganeering of those oblivious to their mutual misunderstanding?

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


Cordially
--- EGR

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tracking in Schools: myth and rhetoric

…with work which you despise, which bores you and which the world does not need… This life is hell.
-- W. E. B. DuBois (March 2, 1958)

In every kind of organization, failed expectations tend to be disguised and buffered with a kind verbal magic, formulations that express the triumph of hope over experience.
A nation's "Department of Justice" may have little to do with justice, being occupied merely with the enforcement of laws that many see as unjust.

A school's "disciplinary" procedures may have little to do with developing discipline in the students, relying mostly on incarceration in a special room or expulsion to maintain order.

"Tracking," too, is an example of such educational rhetoric, sometimes a façade for social class or racial segregation. Where goals are uncertain or indeterminate, the term, "tracking," gives the appearance that someone, somewhere, knows something about where the whole show is going, or, even, that it is going somewhere.

Some people like to say that study in school is "work" for kids. But aimless, boring "work" is indeed hell.

To examine four fallacious arguments for tracking, see Tracking in Public Schools

Cordially,

-- EGR

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Social Promotion Scarecrow:
Feeding the Convenience of the Machine.

At Harvard College, founded 1636, social promotion was the rule. Students were admitted in groups (classes) and they graduated with their classes. “Deficiencies” in learning were dealt with by private tutoring and if the tutor -- paid directly by the student -- said you passed, you did. You were not expected to be a scholar; but, a “gentleman.” Universities today try to maintain this tradition since it makes for “classmates” who are more reliable donors.

According to Sheena Dooley in the Des Moines Register of October 18, 2010, local middle school principals are considering, pondering, even, adopting a proposal to end social promotion, that is, the practice of moving students along from grade to grade regardless of their academic performance.

For those who think that academic performance is the end-all and be-all of school, this must be a welcome prospect. Such adults have usually forgotten how very individual kids can be. But if academic performance is so important, why aren’t kids admitted to school initially, whether kindergarten or first grade, or in later grades, on the basis of scientifically established academic predictors?

They aren’t usually: not in public school, seldom elsewhere. They are put in grade on the basis of their age. (Sometimes on the basis of their size.) Why? Because its suits the convenience, not to mention the illusions and the pocketbooks, of parents, teachers, administrators, board members, and general public.

Here we meet the great machine: Politics, that is, competing public and private demands, which constrain state and local budgeting. Budgeting constrains school governance decisions. School governance constrains curriculum and resources. Curriculum and resources constrain academic demands. No constraints, so long as they are not physically or behaviorally very obvious, are considered if they come from the kids.

Many kids are misplaced by age. Astrology would do a better sorting: after all there are twelve signs of the Zodiac, but usually only two “admissions periods” for schools.

Age placement creates many false positives, that is, kids who are assumed to be academically prepared for “grade level work” but who are most likely not. The so-called “failure of the public schools” is most likely to be the consequence of traditionally promiscuous admissions practices as anything else.

To examine these issues further, see Classification Error in Evaluation Practice: 
the impact of the "false positive" on educational practice and policy


Cordially
--- EGR

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mental Meringue: conjecture as educational theory

Two groups abet the destruction of our public schools as educational systems: boards of education and professional educators.

Board members -- pursuing megalomaniac visions and frequently not understanding what it takes to run a real school with real warm bodies in it -- are too often ready to sell out to any political interest that assures them continuity of office.

Professional educators -- through their formal and in-service education -- have been so stuffed with flatulent conjecture, minimally substantiated, often contradictory, sketches of theory, mental fluff that passes for science, that they cannot deal effectively with simple organizational and classroom problems.

Undisciplined conjecture, expanded through leaps of logic and magnified by fear or fervent hope generates the bulk of topics of discussion not only in Education, but also in the world at large

Public schools, especially, are vulnerable to political meddling, to intrusions by ideologues of all kinds, for whom conjecture is a way of life, so long as others bear its consequences.

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


-- EGR

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teaching, Parenting and Learning: what are the connections?

You have probably seen the cartoon about a teacher-parent conference:
Frame 1-- Teacher and parent think about their successful student’s achievements.
Teacher: It’s good teaching.

Parent: it’s heredity!

Frame 2: -- Teacher and parent think about their failing student’s failures.
Teacher: It’s heredity!

Parent: it’s bad teaching!
How does what teachers and parents do connect with what students learn? Do teachers really influence the future like the slogan has it? Is parent influence really so important?

Bad teaching, so we are often told in the mass media, has helped bring about the trade deficit, increase in juvenile crime or other calamities. And parents are to blame as well.

But why not blame someone or something else? Why should educators, and parents, even, be held even partly responsible?

Can we clarify what it is reasonable to hold teachers and parents accountable for? A clearer idea of what notions like cause and effect are might help.

To continue this discussion see Causal Fallacies in Education

---Cordially

EGR

Monday, October 11, 2010

C’mon, Charlie Brown, Kick the Ball!
School Testing, a Disappointment

Charlie Brown, the protagonist of most of Charles Schulz’ Peanuts cartoon strips, allows himself, time after time, to be duped by another character, Lucy Van Pelt, into trying to kick a football she is holding in place for him. Inevitably, she snatches the ball away at the last second and the momentum of his failed kick dumps Charlie Brown on his back.

Two practices in United States Education have gone on for a long time, leaving mostly disappointment as their residue:
a. new school superintendents are hailed in the media as saviors and their possible future school successes are treated not as aspirations but as fait accompli accompanying the superintendent’s arrival.

b. People in high places accept and celebrate, even, school self-reported gains in school test results even though external testing experts caution all not to make too much of what they are seeing. (The New York Times, A1 (10/11/10) reports on another set of footballs snatched away before they were kicked. See “Warning Signs Long Ignored On New York City’s School Tests.”)

These two habits are no more than another manifestation of an in-grained American cultural tic: the triumph of hope over experience. And these persistent attempts to kick the-football-that-wasn’t-there may be the best explanation why the kids’ achievement in school seems so low.

To examine these issues further, see Justice Through Testing


Cordially
--- EGR

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Secret of a Successful Charter School? No Secret!

The secret of running a “successful school” -- known by all “successful” private and parochial school administrators -- is very much the same as running a “successful” business. It is not necessarily superior teachers (technicians), superior curriculum (planning) or superior administration (management) -- although these all may help. Rather, it is quality control over the raw materials: the ability to turn away or get rid of those students not up to or who interfere with school procedures. It is also control of the evaluation processes or of the subsequent publicity.

Show me a charter school that is academically “successful,” and I’ll show you a charter school whose staff knows how to persuade, seduce, intimidate or coerce students (and their parents) to fall into line; and, which, blatantly or surreptitiously, rids itself of “problem” children. It is also a school which doesn’t wash its dirty linen in public.

There is no magic to Charter Schools, just less oversight to interfere with doing what is necessary to achieve school goals – or the personal agendas of the proprietors.

Running a school of any kind is often tough, thankless work; work with little economic yield in the short run. The appeal of charter schools to the entrepreneur is much reduced oversight by governmental agencies.

To examine these issues further, see Deregulation and Charter School Swindles


Cordially
--- EGR

Monday, October 4, 2010

Attention, Earthlings! How Strangely You Educate Your Young!

I have sent agents to observe your activities. Particularly interesting were those things you Earthings call “the elephant in the room.” Since our cultures differ greatly – “culture”... I am being extremely gracious -- our observers were directed to follow the Objective Observers Handbook for Earth Explorers. Here is a peek into that handbook:
HandBook for Understanding Observed Earthling Behavior:
a. what Earthlings do is more important than what they say they’re doing: effects impact more than do intentions.

b. The discrepancy between what’s said and what’s done is a measure of reliability: perfect overlap measures sincerity. Its inverse is hypocrisy.

d. Look for what serves the personal interests of Earthling individuals. Note whose interests get sacrificed: this establishes a kind of “food chain.”

c. observe if individual Earthlings consider other individuals’ concerns;

d. note how Earthlings talk to give the appearance of community.

e. If you can get Earthlings to discuss any of these rules, note who is most “offended” by mention of the “elephants in the room.” Is there a correlation with their position on the food chain?
Many interesting observations were made.

If you wish to examine further a report from our agents,
see Schooling vs. Parenting on the Third Rock


Cordially
--- Big Giant Head

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Are There Experts in Education? Should There Be?

In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King. -- Erasmus.
What makes an expert? Two things: Can-Do and “Proper” Interest.

Interestingly enough, Can-Do is not necessary. In a community of ignorant people, the least ignorant might be identified as an expert, provided someone has sufficient and “proper” interest in what the “expert” supposedly can do. The dilemma of expertise is this: only a real expert knows enough to recognize others as real experts. The “experts” of everyday life are usually those whom influential ignoramuses designate as such.

“Proper” interest is most important because “really trivial, disgusting or shameful” things – things your Mom and Dad warned you against – are supposed not to invite us to admire “expertise.” For example, there are, amongst “well-brought-up” people, no recognized experts on sniffling, or on growing toenail fungus. Nor are there “experts” at musical flatulence.

The 'gator hunting expert of Flamingo, Florida is an almost nobody in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Schlegel expert from Cambridge is not anyone special in Flamingo. Such are the joys of diversity.

An important corollary: people seen as threats are not usually recognized as “experts” by those who feel threatened. Annoyers, disrupters and damagers are usually not bestowed with the honorific title, “expert,” no matter how skillfully they annoy, disrupt and damage.

Should schoolteachers strive to be experts? Maybe not. Let's just focus on the teachers, who, because of their skills, actually cause the learning they intend. In the minds of some, such truly expert teachers would have a potential for disruption. They could affect the demand for goods and services. If they convince their students not to smoke or to watch less TV, in the long run they might undermine whole industries. Such teachers might expose children to "dangerous" knowledge!

Students might come to realize that their sex appeal is not enhanced by imbibing quantities of Coke or Pepsi, or by paying twice as much money for designer labels sewn conspicuously on their clothing. Profits might fall and jobs might be lost.

In addition, truly “expert” teachers would be in a position to communicate radical ideas, for example, respect, or concern, for persons different from oneself, that might -- in someone's opinion -- "take us down the path to (whatever)ism." In short, the more expert teachers are, the greater the possibility for both economic and social upheaval. So many people might want to forget about developing teacher expertise. It is safer to let them muddle along and leave the real world to its own devices.

"Education is a weapon whose effect depends
on who holds it in his hands and who is struck with it."-- Joseph Stalin

To examine these issues further, see What Can a Teacher Do?


Cordially
--- EGR

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reforms in Public Education: continual cycles of failure or fashion?

When we have no great wars to divert our attention and no major social calamity to lift the spirits of the pundits and media talking-heads, we Americans entertain ourselves by finding something wrong with the public schools and picking at it.

What is usually wrong is something that was the outcome of an educational reform some ten to twenty years earlier. I grew up when “Life Adjustment” was the motto. Kids were given a smattering of a variety of subjects, including trade skills, to prepare them for “real life.”

But in the middle of my high school years, 1957, the Russians “beat us into space.” Immediately it was discovered that public school curriculum was flaccid and unfocussed, especially in math and science. Everybody knew that Russian kids, when they were not turning their parents in to the authorities for treason, were busily stuffing their brains with calculus and physics.

Ten years later, it was discovered that the schools were joyless factories pushing to manufacture automatons in the name of science, the economy and national defense. So the public schools were “reformed” once again to become “greener.”

Ten years later, the pendulum swung back: America was found to be in 1983 “A Nation at Risk.” Schoolpeople accordingly had to (pretend to) dance to the new tune.

With America 2000 (and, later, No Child Left Behind) the school reform entrepreneurs were doing better than ever. Reform training materials, books, seminars and in-school staff development were sold at an astonishing rate. Foresight, intelligent action, and careful judgment continued at an all-time low.

To see why change was inevitable for a particular reform, see AMERICA 2000: An Education Strategy. The Artifact of a Society Past


Cordially
--- EGR

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stop Trying to "Win" Their Hearts and Minds! Offer People Fair Choices!

Trekkies search for someone to meld minds with. Would-be soul mates imagine their souls mating. Newly-weds hope for a nirvana beyond genital stimulation. Yet the divorce rate climbs.

Getting along or making things work doesn’t require a “meeting of the minds” or a “surrender of heart and soul.” Anyone who tells you this is a fraud; or, a would-be dictator. This is so if only because we can never really be sure that our minds have melded or that the surrender is complete. The strongest vows can be broken.

Instead, try this: offer people what they understand to be rational and fair -- from their perspective. If it disagrees with your own vision, tell them so and invite them to negotiate a compromise -- or live with the consequences! Many people lack either the power or the moral courage to take this path.

To examine these issues further, see The Indeterminacy of Consensus

Cordially
EGR

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Is Getting “Tough” with the Public Schools the Answer?

Everyone loves justice in the affairs of another -- Italian Proverb

Bullies in the schools? Get tough on the bullies!
Low student achievement? Get tough on the teachers!
General chaos in the school building? Get tough on the principal!
Students have a bad attitude? Get tough on the kids, all of ‘em!

We seldom hear:
Get tough on the parents!
Get tough on the School Board!
Get tough on the local (State, federal) politicians!

Why not?
And what is “getting tough” supposed to mean anyway?

Perhaps we prefer the more refined, less “confrontational,” version: “Hold … accountable” For example, “Hold the parents accountable!”

And what does this accountability mean when it comes as well to bullies, students, teachers, principals, school boards, and politicians?

And who is to do it? On what authority?

And whom can we trust to do it right?


To examine these issues further, see Power in Schooling Practice:
The Educational Dilemmas


Cordially
EGR

Sunday, September 19, 2010

One Foundation Stone of American Educational “Science”: wishful thinking

Thus, he comes to the conclusion,
The whole experience was but illusion.,
Because, he argues -- razor-witted --
That cannot be which is not permitted.
***** Galgenlieder – Morgenstern (trans.W. Kaufmann)

And, now, another quote. But this time from someone you are more likely to recognize.

Science is a willingness to accept facts even when they are opposed to wishes. Thoughtful men have perhaps always known that we are likely to see things as we want to see them instead of as they are, but thanks to Sigmund Freud we are today much more clearly aware of "wishful thinking." The opposite of wishful thinking is intellectual honesty -- an extremely important possession of the successful scientist. -- B. F. Skinner,Science and Human Behavior, (New York: Free Press, 1953) p.12

It’s easy to preach.

To examine these issues further, see A Critical Review of B.F. Skinner's Philosophy

Cordially
EGR

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bad Actors in Organizations: an illusion?

One of the deep, dark secrets of American organizational life is this: it doesn’t matter how someone talks or acts -- name your nastiness! -- so long as no one higher up perceives that behavior as making them personally run a risk.

The converse is this: it doesn’t matter how innocent or justified an action is, say, by policy, law or tradition; if higher ups interpret it as a personal risk to them, e.g. shaking the boat, then the fury of “the organization” will descend upon the actor.

You saw the boss’ relative taking money out of the cash drawer? Don’t be the messenger of that event! You’ve seen your CEO sexually harasses other employees? Forget it, or forget about a promotion! Your superior officer wants you to “acquire” special materiel and change the books to cover your tracks? Do it, or request a transfer, or resign! Your dean or president wants something shady done? Will you be seen to be “accommodating to administrative intention?” Decide now if you want to get on the administrative “money track” or remain forever a lowly paid technician.

Organizations have rules, regulations and policies. But there is a basic Existence Rule: X only happened if X was duly noted and recorded by authorized persons. Out of sight, out of mind. Out of mind, out of existence.

So, it still takes courage to make a complaint. Spinelessness is a precondition for survival and growth in many an organization, whether corporate, military, governmental or educational.

Educational institutions, in particular, prefer the spineless for promotion. Until that situation changes, all talk of improving schools, at any level, is pure gas.

To examine these issues further, see THE ORGANIZATIONAL PROBLEM: ILLUSION AND REALITY

Cordially
EGR

Friday, September 17, 2010

Living with False Assumptions

Never ASSUME, for when you ASSUME 

You make an ASS out of U and ME. 

-- Benny Hill

Like fat, sugar and other additives in our foods, the following “principles” are so deeply embedded in our culture that in most situations we unthinkingly fall back on them, although, under even casual consideration, we would find them far from certain. These principles are
The Principle of Command: To command is to control.
The Principle of Accepted Value: What we value, everyone should value.
The Principle of Objectivity: Facts are facts.
How do such principles control our thought processes?

To examine these issues further, see Questionable Assumptions in Social Decision Making”

Cordially
EGR

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How to Control School Kids (and anyone else you want to)

Having management problems in your classroom? Or is it that you have a “friend” that has such problems?

What you are looking for is probably:

Effective Techniques for Getting Students Motivated to Learn!
But why not go whole hog? Learning classroom management “secrets” is as likely and as easy as:

Sure-Fire Techniques for Getting People to Do 
Whatever You Want, Whenever You Want It!
Now, that’s really something! But, do you really want this kind of power? You can have it, if you can live with it. And how you get it is really not so secret.

To examine these issues further, see The Deep Secrets of Motivation

Cordially
EGR

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Desertion? Or, Moral Assertion?

Superintendent Ackerman of the School District of Philadelphia had “never seen anything like it.” 100 teachers who signed contracts to teach in the school district were deserters, no-shows who had given no-prior notice of their leaving. (Philadelphia Inquirer of Sept 4, 2009)

Chorusing her esteemed leader, Human Resources Chief for the District, Estelle Matthews, who “comes from the corporate world” claimed that “You don’t run a business like this.”

Stuff and Nonsense. First of all, if Supt Ackerman had never seen “anything like it,” she wasn’t looking hard or long. In many of the twenty-five plus years I spent in the School District of Philadelphia, we often started the year short of teachers; or, lost new teachers by the dozens after the first month of school. Secondly, corporate practice is a strange thing to try to chasten educators with; it normally involves no little abandonment of responsibility as convenience dictates.

Ackerman and Matthews indulge in much huffing and puffing expressing dismay about “desertion” alluding to such notions as the sacredness of contract and the like. Three considerations reveal their hypocrisy:
a. even though the teachers’ union, PFT, negotiates the contract, individual teachers are induced (seduced) to sign up for a school placement on the basis of misinformation spread by principals whose main concern is to capture enough warm bodies to cover their classes;

b. in that “corporate world” that Matthews invokes, a contract is only as strong as the willingness of an injured party to assume the expense of taking it to court.
Administrators’ lies morally vitiate any “sacredness of contract” that might exist.
.
c. Administrators in Philadelphia public schools have long been rewarded for practicing a kind of “leadership” that involves stultifying, undermining, frustrating or disregarding the teachers’ contract when it suits the administrator’s desires. This, too, vitiates, the moral force of the contract.
For practical purposes, each individual teacher must shift for himself or herself, when it comes to deciding whether to stay or go. Stay in a bad situation and you give the school district everything it wants – a warm body in the classroom that satisfies legal necessities.

Ignore that balderdash about providing children with an education! That is all-too-often political hyperbole for public consumption. Anyway, in a bad situation education of any kind is very unlikely to be doable. Or, instead of asserting yourself, you can suffer and make kids suffer with you by going in to work and putting in official complaints which the union, normally swamped with such, will take weeks or months to handle.

Walk out and you save your dignity and your sanity, at least, and very possibily spare the kids the ministrations of a teacher who is unhappy being with them.

To read more about this situation see Cannonfodder: Preparing Teachers for Public Schools

Cordially,

-- EGR

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Are Public Schools Committed to Teaching Scientific Fact? Or Secular Dogmas?

Religious schools, we would expect, indoctrinate certain things as truth which they persist in asserting in the face of counter-evidence. Public schools -- so we are told -- teach Scientific Knowledge which changes as new discoveries are made. Scientific knowledge is self-correcting.

But the self-correcting aspect of science in the field need affect neither the school curriculum in any timely manner; nor, the life experience of an individual student. The biology I remember from my high-school studies fifty years ago was outdated by the time I entered college four years later. I found out about that decades later since I studied no biology in college.

If diplomas are to be counted on as indicators of reliable information, regular updating ought to be required for maintaining a high school diploma or undergraduate degree, much in the way of CPR certificates. Without such updating, last year’s “scientific fact” may be this year’s indoctrinated dogmas.

But any social studies teacher can attest to, there is substantial indoctrination in public schools in the name of Patriotism, Law and Social Stability. In my twelve years of public schooling I never once heard of Harriet Tubman, Wounded Knee, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Grange movement, Robber Barons, or the AFL-CIO among many, many others.

No less pernicious is the inculcation of prospective teachers with nostrums heavy on hyperbole as though they were based on scientific fact, e.g., All children can learn, Protect self-esteem, Consider learning style, Education for Democracy, International Competitiveness, etc. Because such indoctrination is not based on religious sectarianism, public schools are not protected from, indeed, they have become inundated with, dogmatic ideologies imposed with totalitarian rigor.

To examine these issues further, see Personal Liberation Through Education

Cordially
-- EGR

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mind Control in Education

I grew up during the Cold War, being told by media, by teachers and by parents about the kids in communist countries having to wear red scarves, to salute pictures of their leaders and to memorize as solemn truth the doctrines their political masters deemed it necessary to impress into their minds. Deviants suffered, if not prison, unemployability.

Today, in this United States of America, Home of the Free, anyone who would be a teacher runs the risk of being submitted to similar brainwashing. The more prestigious the university, "secular" though it may be, the more likely it is that professors will forego dialogue of any sort and merely try to intimidate freethinking (uh, excuse me, “deviant”) students into accepting their kind of wishful thinking as science.

(See my article subtitled Do public school-religious school differences matter?)

Deviants can be denied a teaching license, irrespective of their earned grades or certificates and without explanation from those who have judge them to be “unsuitable for the profession.”

The children of this United States of America, Home of the Free, who are to learn and grow up to be citizens free to vote their consciences, are to be taught only by apparatchiks who are not free to question their university masters.

To read about a far from unusual case of attempts at intimidation to enforce orthodoxy, see Jay Mathews’ “They Messed With the Wrong Blogger”

Cordially
EGR

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Do Warm Hearts and Gentle People Promote Violence? You Betcha!

A great many people worry about the abuse of authority and the misuse of power in our society; and, well, they might. There is more than enough abuse and misuse.

But it is all too easy to rush to the rescue of people who makes themselves out to be underdogs, particularly if they have given someone with power some justification to use it.

It is not difficult to put those who work on the front lines into a bind. Administrators or other power holders in an organization tell them, for example, that they have to keep order and get things done. Then these big mahoffs tell them that, even in severe circumstances, they cannot use physical force, or coercion to maintain that order. This allows “leaders” of all stripes to appear “humane,” “benign,” and “gentle.” It pushes the dirty work off on those who take orders from them.

In the military, in the police, in government service, in hospitals and in schools, the general rule is this: Do what your superior tells you: period. Get it done, come Hell or high water. This is what justifies your holding the job. This is what shows you have what it takes to be promoted: that you are “sensitive to administrative intent”!

Don’t let anyone know if you have to violate policy, law or morality to get it done. But if you get caught, you and you alone will hang! (Or as they used to say on TV on Mission Impossible, “The secretary will disavow any knowledge of your activities.”)

Many of the warm hearts who make a show of concern to prevent abuse, sanction it for expediency’s sake, so long as they can maintain plausible deniability of their own involvement.

To examine these issues further, see A Letter to the School Board of the School District of Philadelphia
About School Violence (circa 1993)


Cordially
EGR

Friday, September 10, 2010

Are Kids Crazy? Is their patience pathological?

What adult would sit through the boredom and the trivia of most basic education if they could avoid it?

My son, age 11 at the time, once complained to me that there was too much to think about in his elementary school, too many subjects. And just when things got interesting, the topic would be changed. So, you ended up memorizing a lot of things that didn’t really hang together because you had to take tests. (Sounds like college education to me!)

The reality is that you can’t blame classroom teachers for this. Certified educators are trained and expected to follow standardized curriculum developed by people who are a long distance from any classroom. Of course, the classroom teachers are supposed to “make it interesting.” This is like trying to feed oatmeal to a cat.

Adults will sit through boring, even incoherent classes. But not if they don’t see a more-or-less imminent pay-off. Kids are supposed to love “education” for its own sake, or for the sake of some very distant and improbable future reward.

Kids aren’t crazy. They are just immature, overly trusting and intimidated.

To examine these issues further, see Problem Solutions: 
uncommon schooling, amateur teaching and paying students to learn

Cordially
-- EGR

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Opposition to Charter Schools

Teacher-candidates are preparing themselves to enter a field that will place staggering demands on them to outdo all previous generations in evoking student achievement. But there is a blatant contradiction that though having such high expectations for our teachers, American political leadership hasn't valued the public education system enough to adequately and equitably fund it, as though they care not a whit as to the conditions under which teachers teach and students are expected to learn.

It's as though a silent agreement has been made to let the public education system die so that, as with the sell-off of other government owned properties and agencies such as prisons, parks, and military services that began in the 1980s and early 90s, a new, privatized system can take its place.


To examine these issues further, see Ohio: Birthplace of Charter Education ... and Opposition to It

Cordially
TAP

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Power Failure: Losing the Series; Blaming the Bat Boys

Employee productivity was down, along with employment. Both inflation and deflation threatened. Some rabblerousers pointed to Bushian taxing policies that, in effect, shifted critical wealth from middle to upper class households. Other malcontents criticized arbitragers who dismantled viable enterprises to make profits at the expense of employees and stockholders.

Luckily, persons of deep insight and loud voice, realizing that corporate America could never be held responsible for the state of the economy, exposed to public view the real cause of America's decline to an n-th rate power. The public schools were at fault!

Administrators didn't know how to administrate; teachers didn't know how to teach; and, students didn't know how to study. Besides, there was an achievement gap between students of different ethnic groups which was the major blockage to continued economic development.

And it all came down to leadership, educational leadership, in the schools, in the lunchrooms, in the locker rooms, in the showers, in the broom closets, …

To examine these issues further, see Educational Leadership: The Interesting Profession

Cordially
EGR

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Politics, Promises and School Improvement

It is easy to make promises about improving schooling; especially, on the campaign trail. However, realities are complex. Talk is said to be cheap; but, only for those who do not have to pay the costs of easy political rhetoric haphazardly implemented.

Educators suffer the tensions of conflicting expectations. They face the frustrations of having to use mandated methods that are seldom highly effective. Suffering insult upon injury, they are offered resources so sparse as to suggest a serious belief in magic.

But there are others, also, for whom talk is not cheap. They are parents and children who are led to expect so much, perhaps too much, from schools begrudgingly supported in their tasks. Their dreams wither, ultimately unsustained by those sloganizers who enjoy the fruits of elective office while avoiding its responsibilities.

But do our political leaders really have that much control? Does the very nature of our democratic pluralism complicate matters?

To examine these issues further, see Politics, Consensus and Educational Reform

Cordially
EGR

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sure, it May Hurt. But is it Harmful?

Imagine a meter that ranks sensations from “pleasurable” through “uncomfortable” to “hurting.” For many people, lying in the sun is pleasurable whereas a dental checkup might be uncomfortable. An inoculation might really hurt. Are these sensations any indicator of whether the experience is harmful or not?

No, they aren’t. Sun exposure, like smoking, may be pleasurable; it is also harmful. It can damage your body permanently in the long run. A dental checkup won’t normally leave permanent damage. An inoculation won’t, either.

But this is no great news. Anyone who works out in a gym, or is an athlete can tell you that many uncomfortable things, even painful things, are good for you: they improve your stamina, strength and skill.

Consider now the following things felt to be hurtful: insult, bullying, ridicule, stress and social pressure. Many people are concerned that they are harmful, also. But are they?

Can an experience only be healthy if it is comfortable? Is discomfort necessarily unhealthy? Does school have to be fun to be good?

To examine these issues further, see Hurt, Harm & Safety

Cordially
EGR

Friday, September 3, 2010

Education is a Battlefield; Rarely, Just About People Learning

A long serving, well-respected educator in the Pennsylvania State Department of Education tended his resignation in April 2009 rather than continue serving in a department where he found competence to be scarce and delusion in abundance.

To examine this situation further, see Respected Educator 
Resigns Penna. State Department Position

Cordially
EGR

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