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

--- 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

--- 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?

--- 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

--- EGR

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

From non-Science to Nonsense: Can all children learn? It Depends.

updated 12/20/20

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, we would want to know which vegetables, under which conditions, are claimed to cure which 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

-- 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 very new newspapers. 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 may be treated like some kind of traitor, subject to shunning or dismissal. Or why organizational leaders who bully may be treated with submissive disregard.

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 not only in schools; but, in corporations and, even, in the highest realms of national government? Because leaders -- or their sponsors -- in organizations keep subordinates from dealing with it effectively. Boats cannot be rocked. It is not good for careers. But where bullying occurs is critical. Bullying in schools is less likely to be widely damaging than in the workplace. And workplace bullying is less likely have serious effects than if it occurs in upper tiers of government.

Those who do not personally suffer from bullying seldom see any reason to interfere with it, unless they have had education in and pursue some ethical precepts. 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, suffering 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.

But 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 and dispersers of evil.


--- EGR