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

--- 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


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


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


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.

Did you see the boss’ nephew slipping money out of the cash drawer? Don’t be the sole 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.



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”


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


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Desertion? Or, Moral Assertion?

edited 5/29/20

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


-- 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

-- EGR

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mind Control in Education

edited 5/21/20

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 the 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.? (I have been unable, 2/15/20, to recover Mathew's Blog from its original Washington Post 2009 location.)


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)


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

-- 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


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


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Politics, Promises and School Improvement

edited 7/25/18

"If wishes would bide, beggars would ride"
-- John Ray (1670) Collection of English Proverbs

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


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


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