Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sharia? Not to Worry. It’s Evangelical.

Dictionary definition eu- good + angelos messenger -- American Heritage Dictionary, College Edition (1981) p. 453
You can’t tell from the standardly capitalized title above, nor from the centuries-old Christian practice of appropriation, that “evangelical” can be understood to mean “good messenger” or “good message” without requiring a commitment to the content of that message. Indeed, most practicing American Christians of various sects recognize this possible neutrality when they forego challenge of their competitors who use the term “evangelical” to describe their own competing, likely specious, possibly heretical, efforts at proselytizing.

What every zealot worries most about is another zealot -- who is not a member of his own camp. This holds for religionists, their apostates -- e.g. Hitler and Stalin, who were brought up in religion -- and secularists, examples of which are available at any and many a TV talk show, think tank, corporation, laboratory or university.

Just as other businessmen are wary of new competitors, so have competing Peoples of the Book begun a very likely futile campaign to have sharia “outlawed” in legal practice (NYT, 7-31-11). They appear to be worried that Muslim American jurists, trained and sanctionable by the American Bar Association and higher courts, would somehow be able to permanently upset American traditions of Law. One need only note that even Christian jurists and legislators, despite many an attempt, have not managed to do that for very long:
a. Jim Crow lasted about 100 years.
b. Prohibition, 14 years;
c. exclusive heterosexual marriage rights are dissolving; and
d. removing tax exemptions from churches can now be discussed without camp followers threatening violence.
Even the public schools have been dragged into these conflicts via the path of curriculum controversy. The “intelligent design debate” has brought both zealots and their camp followers to the public stage trying to foist off the argument that their particular position is the unique and correct depiction of the role of Science in Education. As the public schools go, so -- they seem to think -- will go the culture.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Religion, Intelligent Design and the Public Schools: serving God to Mammon?

--- EGR

Friday, July 29, 2011

Looking for a Teaching Job? Think hard (and twice) about it!

“Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.” -- Albert Einstein

I have enjoyed -- most of the time -- being a teacher of some kind or another for 45 years. But I have met many, many people who have not enjoyed being a teacher. Some have hated it but struggled on for no reason that was beneficial to their students.

Teaching as a profession has one of the highest drop-out rates in the United States: 12-13 percent per year. If you are a new to the profession, the probability is that you will not be a teacher after three years. The main reason given by public school teacher drop-outs for leaving is not salary. It is for lack of administrative or parental support.

If you consider that there are three main types of school in the US, private, parochial and public, each type has its own unique blend of problems. Money tends to be tight almost everywhere. Private and parochial schools can maintain social barriers in a way that is illegal for public schools. Academics, which receive mostly lip service, are maintained -- even in public schools -- by carefully selecting students who are subjected to difficult curriculum.

If you’re going into teaching only because you love children, forget it! You’ll end up in twenty years or so being a monster out of frustration that real kids are not what you -- or your professors -- imagined them to be. Or out of frustration that your job depends upon your keeping happy people who care little for kids and know even less what makes them really tick. Or out of frustration at the wide gap that exists between what is preached and what is practiced in schools.

If you are interested in pursuing this further, see
“Cannonfodder: Preparing Teachers for Public Schools”

-- EGR

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What’s Culture? Bias and Discrimination.

“Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized” -- Benjamin Haydon (1786-1846)
Educators, businessmen and politicians worry about cultural conflict -- it fouls up their agendas: it interferes with schooling, commerce and government. The primary cause of cultural conflict they have fallen into the bad habit of characterizing as “bias and discrimination.” They have taken two good words and transformed them into muddled slogans.

Their real concerns are with “unjust bias” or “unjust discrimination.” By trying to dodge a discussion on what constitutes such injustices, they undermine real solutions to the problems they face. Or perhaps the real issue is that they want to ram their particular, self-serving “solutions” down our throats.

In general, a bias involves a deviation from an expectation, a standard or a point of reference. It need not be an injustice or even undesirable. For example, a dress designer may want a certain cloth cut “on the bias.” Or, the aim of Special Education is to get us to accept certain biases in favor of persons with disabilities.

Discrimination involves, most generally, making a distinction. Again, it need not be an injustice or even undesirable. Driving safely requires us to discriminate between red and green lights.

Different cultures exist because the histories of various peoples are different: they are brought up with different expectations, standards and reference points. These may, in practice, lead to conflicts. They needn’t always do so, if approached with a serious mind.

For references and to examine these issues further, see The Limits and Possibilities of Multiculturalism

--- EGR

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is Reform Really Needed At Your School?

A preoccupation with the future not only prevents us from seeing the present as it is but often prompts us to rearrange the past.
-- Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983), The Passionate State of Mind, 1954

Almost anything can be changed into what someone thinks is “better.” But at what cost? And to whom? A lot of school reform has created more problems than it has solved. Workable programs have been sacrificed to the pursuit of something “better.” Usually, those who were enthusiastic about the “better” program are no longer around to help pick up the pieces of school programs they destroyed.

There are some questions you might consider before jumping into school reform. Don’t just do it because someone says it needs to be done. Consider the following questions:
a. Is the so-called reform's goal something nebulous and subject to different interpretations, e.g. "getting an education that will enable a student to compete in the 21st Century?" Whose crystal ball should we consult? Unless this "goal" can be tied down to specific testable goals, forget it. It's political puffery! (Or a sales pitch!)

b. Do you need something new to reach a particular goal? (Or will a modification in a present program likely serve as well?)

c. Someone says a dire situation threatens: you have to do something! But, is the threat imminent? Is it probable? Is it real?

d. Is there agreement among the powerholders in your community that the proposed reform should be implemented?

Unless you can get a substantial number of yes-es to the questions above, you might as well relax. Read a good book. Or go fishing.

To pursue this line of thought see The Need for and Possibilities of Educational Reform

-- EGR

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Does Prohibiting Corporal Punishment Prevent Abuse?

Where there's a will, there's a way. -- Proverb
In the public schools, people seem to be rabid partisans on the issue of corporal punishment: the Pro’s salivate contemplating the wonders they imagine spanking will wreak; the Con’s worry, worry, worry that any physical contact initiates a very short walk to the torture chamber.

The Pro’s seem to see punishment, of all sorts, to offer a convincing argument for conformity. The Con’s are indisposed to entertain the possibility that non-physical punishment may easily reach the level of torture, even though every grade school bully knows this in his (her?) bones.

And cyberbullying opens a new dimension in which the infliction of anguish has little to do with physical contact. So long as adults delude themselves that merely forbidding a mode of infliction will suffice, cruelty will out.

To pursue related considerations, see School Violence, Punishment, and Justice 

-- EGR

Monday, July 25, 2011

Multicultural Education: enlightenment or degradation?

I say tomato (to-may-to) and you say tomato (to-mah-to) -- George and Ira Gershwin (1937) Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off
Would you eat horse steak or dog? How about jellyfish? Would you let your kids swim naked at the beach? Would you let your teenager and his or her friend of the opposite sex sleep over? Would you want people to move into your neighborhood who worshipped a goddess of death or practiced animal sacrifice as part of a religious ceremony? What about eating peyote as a religious practice?

These are all practices tolerated, encouraged even, by literate people of highly developed cultures from around the world. You personally might be willing to tolerate them. But would your neighbors?

It’s easy to go on enthusiastically about multiculturalism as they do in public schools and elsewhere as if it were a case of just trying a taste of a new kind of food like kielbasa, or pepperoni, or knishes or jambalaya or anything else not too different from “the norm.” But deviant stuff? Not likely!

But how different is deviant? How very deviant is deviant? When should “deviance” be discouraged? Schools tend to stifle deviance a lot sooner than many a household. Where can you talk loudly and whenever you please, where can you go around in your bathing suit, and when can you slap your little brother for misbehaving? In lots of homes, in many, if not most, public places, but, not in a public school.

What kind of reception would some of the “out of the ordinary” behavior described above likely receive if it were suggested as part of your child’s multicultural education? Would it be welcomed and practiced? Or merely discussed as an example? Or disregarded. Or even condemned as disgusting, immoral or UnAmerican?

For a chart and examples and to examine these issues further, see Evaluating Cultural Practices for Inclusion in the Public School Multicultural Curriculum

--- EGR

Friday, July 22, 2011

Disregarding Disagreement: rituals of misdirection

updated 11/5/19
I never met a man I didn’t like. -- Will Rogers

It is by universal misunderstanding that all agree. —Baudelaire
We Americans pride ourselves on being friendly. Americans have tons and tons of “friends.” Some people use Facebook to count the “friends” they have. Hardly anyone refers to someone they know as an “acquaintance.” That sounds so off-putting, so unfriendly.

Want to be my friend? Just don’t get too serious. Talk about sports; show you’re a fan. That way, if we disagree, I can appreciate it as team loyalty.

Don’t bring up religion. You go to your church, I go to mine. (Weirdoes don’t go to any church, although some OK people might not go because they’re pissed off -- for understandable reasons -- with the clergy.) I’m OK; you’re OK. Enough of that.

Do you really want to talk about politics? (Did you miss last night’s game?) Well, OK, provided you stick to vague, fuzzy labels like liberal, conservative, libertarian, Republican, or Democrat. Maybe even socialism, or capitalism,progressive, or independent. Don't ask, "What do you mean?"

Don't talk about anything too technical, or too heavy. Otherwise, you begin to sound like a “wonk” or a “squint” and you get into serious altercations. Everybody knows that wonks and squints are just one step away from being “weirdoes.” Just remember some of our newer words of wisdom: Let it be, let it be.

Fellowship is based on entertainment value. Even news broadcasters -- you might say, “especially news broadcasters” -- know this. Much more than compromise and tolerance -- which put demands on our emotional, intellectual and moral strength --, it is memories of good feelings, presumably shared, that hold us together. (We still love Uncle Harry, the lecherous, drunken slob, because he’s attended family dinners forever.)

This is why we don’t study history or geography in school: too much of old, bad memories and other times and places. Out of sight, out of mind, out of existence. Our reality is found in the here and now of “reality shows.” If misfortune happens there, we know it’s just acting.

Planning for the future? We listen to those who make us feel comfortable, unchallenged, and we keep our fingers crossed.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Getting It Together: 
the nature of consensus

--- EGR

Monday, July 18, 2011

More Hocus-Pocus With Uniforms: solving Education’s problems the easy way

Disbelief in magic can force a poor soul into believing in government and business. -- Tom Robbins
Most people believe in some kind of magic, no matter how strenuously they protest that they are faithful adherents of one set of religious doctrines or another. Millions of Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc believe in luck. Check out the lotteries and casinos around the world. (Perhaps this is why anti-governmental rhetoric is so popular among some politicians and their camp-followers in this country, particularly in “the Bible Belt.”)

And just listen to people get angry and swear, invoking the name of one deity or another to confront an annoying or frightening situation, as though Jesus Christ or Allah would make an appearance in order to kiss a stubbed toe or repay a lost bet.

Their children don’t consider themselves to be Muggles, either. Kids don’t want school uniforms because they don’t want “anyone” telling them what to wear: it takes away -- as if by magic -- their freedom. What freedom is that? The freedom to avoid ostracism. The freedom to cave in to the advertising and peer pressures that set the uniform standards for kids of their age and social station. Fashion is a talisman against rejection.

Adults want uniforms because they’re magic. Kids can be unruly, disrespectful and obnoxious and many adults, particularly our “leaders,” don’t know how to handle it. So adults plump for school uniforms. In some school districts, Philadelphia’s, for example, school dress codes are minimal. There are no uniforms. So, when kids are unruly, the Philadelphia school board places its magic spell on adult employees. The Monday, July 18, 2001 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that school district policemen are being made to standardize their grooming, to make their uniforms more uniform.

Why? To make them more disciplined and effective. Hocus-pocus jiminy-okus! The kids won’t obey school police now, so their uniform uniforms will make for a stronger spell!

Should we be surprised? When it comes to public schools, magic formulae abound. For example:
a. Removing principals and teachers will bring the lowest 3% of the students in a school up to par, academically. (NCLB magic.) 
b. Cutting school budgets will help make schools more efficient. (Political magic) 
c. Increasing graduation standards for high schools will rectify the economic effects of corporate and governmental misfeasance. (More politician magic-think!)

Considering how well dress codes work, is there much hope that these broader spells will work?

 For references and to examine these issues further, see SCHOOL UNIFORMS: Does What Students Wear Really Make A Difference?

--- EGR

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sacrificing Public Education to “Pursue Excellence”?

There is no excellence without labor. One cannot dream oneself into either usefulness or happiness. -- Liberty Hyde Bailey, American Botanist (1856 - 1954)
There are two “impediments” to achieving excellence in American public schools: diversity and compromise. The problem is that both diversity and compromise both contribute positively to our pluralistic, democratic society.

Diversity is a fact, an historical development. Luckily, it has been for the major part -- tightly shutting our eyes to slavery and aboriginal annihilation -- benign. As the United States of America has grown and become more “free,” so have we become more diverse: in religion, culture, gender roles and ethnicity. Indeed, it has been the result of the struggle of minorities, all kinds of minorities, to have our Constitution protect their citizenship rights, which has brought about the extension of our liberties.

The mechanisms have been de facto segregation and compromise. People who really hated, or were hated by, their neighbors could move out into the vast frontiers and isolate themselves for protection. Those who could not escape suffered and had to struggle, with the help of majority members, to bring about the legal articulation of their constitutional rights.

But many people, even those who have benefitted, have little tolerance for diversity and compromise. You’ll hear them complain about diversity as “conceding too much to those people.” You’ll hear them put compromise down as showing a “lack of standards” or as “a sellout.”

The reason public schools have not been able to “achieve excellence” is that there are diverse and often incompatible ideas about what schools are and what “excellence” is supposed to be. And the reason we Americans can’t reach a compromise on this issue is that compromise is not seen as a win-win situation; but, as a sellout, a yielding, an inferior position.

Private and parochial education has long been able to live, thrive, even with the opposite of diversity, a sort of “cultural multi-unitarianism.” It remains to be seen whether public education can survive with diversity. More than a hundred years of recurrent school reform suggests that it is unlikely.

For references and to examine these issues further, see School Image: Expectations & Controversies

--- EGR

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Teaching (School) in the 21st Century: watching the demise of a profession?

edited 10/15/18
Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. -- Jacques Barzun Teacher in
 America (Boston, 1945), p. 12.
Despite loud, sentimental declarations opportunistically promulgated, the situation Jacques Barzun apprised sixty-six years ago has not improved. Cheating, plagiarism, low class attendance and grade inflation are reported to be common in colleges. In some universities a professor’s winning an award for excellence in teaching presages failure to obtain tenure. After all, given all the administrivia a faculty member is expected to spend time on, he or she can’t be doing much research, much less adminisration-related committee work, if more than a smattering of energy is devoted to teaching!

Many private and parochial school teachers describe rampant cheating, plagiarism and drug usage easily on a par with what the general public imagines goes on in public schools. Parents care more about their kids’ grades than what they represent. School board members stand and salute whatever banner the most vehement ideologues in their community wave.

What informed person, of sound mind and good character would go into teaching anymore, given the widely accepted doctrine that teachers are the major, if not the sole cause for students’ failure? (Compare your job options with a self-survey. See Comparing Teaching to Other Occupations)

Who would pledge their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor to work in many of the madhouses that are our schools and colleges? (See for example, Cannonfodder: Preparing Teachers for Public Schools )

What is the foundation of a rising career in education? In the very first course I took for my principal’s certification -- at a university of some “repute” -- I was told, “a principal’s first principle is CYA -- “Cover Your Assets.” God help the teachers and students under the leadership of such a “principled” person! (No doubt superintendents and their bosses observe the same maxim.)

In the good (?) old days before No Child Left Behind, K-12 public school teachers quit their jobs at a rate of 12-13% per year due to “working conditions.” Were it not for replacements from the ranks of the under-informed, the saintly, the gullible and the mislead (see Cannonfodder, above) the public school teacher population would disappear after five to six years! Are the incentives for entering the teaching profession -- at any level -- getting better?

 For references and to examine these issues further, see Who Controls Teachers’ Work?

--- EGR

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What Can Be Learned? By Whom? Under What Circumstances?

“Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results” -- Albert Einstein
Is the push for academic achievement in American schools a pursuit of useable knowledge? Or is it little more than an ego-gratification activity? Will having more “college-educated” people make us, as a nation, wealthier, stronger, wiser? Or will it merely contribute to the pointless, evanescent conflicts generated by simpering celebrity spokespersons.

We Americans have long rushed to solve problems without considering what exactly the problems were. Americans in the Armed Services have, through many a battle, suffered mightily from hastily under-planned, under-resourced military campaigns based on false, or outmoded assumptions. (Watch the Military Channel on TV for many an example forthrightly described as such.)

American public schools have been being “reformed” for over a hundred years. Each “reform” has been much the impetus for the next. But who wants to be bothered with “philosophical questions” such as those given above in the title of this blog entry?

The danger of such inquiry, I suppose, is that if we were to examine those questions carefully, we might come to conclusions that bring us to reject proposals and programs dear to the hearts of many an ideologue, or “entrepreneur.”

 For references and to examine these issues further, see Models of Learning

--- EGR

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Good Education: substance or symbol?

... people can engage in trade-off reasoning. They do in all the time -- every time they stroll down the aisle of a supermarket or cast a vote ...We expect competent, self-supporting citizens of free market societies to know that they can't always get what they want and to make appropriate adjustments. -- Philip E. Tetlock (1999) "Coping with trade-offs: Psychological constraints and political implications."
Public schools face conflicts that both private and parochial schools, so long as they have sufficient budgets, can avoid. These conflicts are based in religious and other value differences.

Religion is always a controversial item in the public school context. Although religious indoctrination is officially not permissible in a public school, what constitutes religious indoctrination is often vague. Consequently, school practices are not uniform from one district to another.

Public schools give lip-service to pluralisms of various kinds, preaching equality of treatment across ethnic, religious, racial, sexual, gender and, even age boundaries. This often bumps up against local, and even broader, traditions. (See Trading-Off "Sacred" Values: 
Why Public Schools Should Not Try to "Educate")

In spite of these problems, public schools are expected to provide each child in them a good education. What this consists of is often highly controversial. So it is, in our pluralistic society, that perceived employability and status become the common yardsticks of judgment.

What counts, in public education, as a school benefit, or cost, is a matter for debate. This debate is dampened to a great extent by informal agreements to understand every school undertaking as being “preparation for the world of work.” Even the honorifics of academic achievement are lead back to some notion of “developing intellect in order to enhance economic productivity.”

Not that it has been working! Grade inflation, wide-scale academic dishonesty, graduate unemployment and an “over-qualified” workforce are four indicators that something is amiss.

To find further references for exploring these issues, see Dissecting School Benefits: a typology of conflicting goals

--- EGR