Friday, February 24, 2012

Policy “Reversals”: the Bane of “True Believers”

“We need creativity in order to break free from the temporary structures that have been set up by a particular sequence of experience.” -- Edward de Bono
Poor President Obama. He wants to get things done. He strategically accommodates the opposition when his own forces cannot overwhelm it. At least for the moment.

This drives his “purist” supporters crazy. Surely, they insist, you can fertilize the fields without getting your hands dirty! Surely, there must be some way of making an omelette without damaging an egg!

American public education has long served two incompatible but desirable goals: providing equal educational opportunity to all students and providing each student with an education suited to his individual needs.

At different stages in its development, America’s educational system has emphasized one or the other of these goals and generated ideology which served to celebrate the emphasis, e.g., "a thorough and efficient education for all children.”

Not too long after, a big switch happened. We were bombarded with “individualizing instruction”, that is, “different strokes for different folks,” or “fair is not necessarily equal.”

Is such “flip-flopping” a sign of weakness; or, of wisdom?

To examine these issues further, see Mechanisms for Policy Reversal


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Romantics and Idealists Promoting Service Learning: a road to civic engagement?

There's no such thing as second class citizenship. That's like telling me you can be a little bit pregnant. -- H. Rap Brown
The majority of educators I have worked with have been optimists; even more, they have been – much in the traditional literary sense of the word – Romantics.
Romantic n. A person who, rather than seeing the glass as half empty, insists on seeing it as half full; even when it is only a quarter full.
This is probably the source, not only of their optimism, but of the substantial nurturant generosity they possess.

Many, many educators are also – in common parlance – Idealists.
Idealist n. A person who is willing to forego the appreciation of a job well done for the right to complain that it was not done perfectly.
The virtue of Idealists is their continual striving for betterment.

The promoters of service learning tend to be both romantic and idealistic: service learning will bring our now apathetic students back into civic engagement. And what is “service learning?” Though there seems to be some general sense that it supports citizenship education, there is little agreement on the many variations discussed. And, in addition, there are the political problems.

Service learning is as likely to help revitalize civic commitment on the part of our children as is health education about diet likely to reverse obesity. Not that it's a bad idea, but a lot is against it.

To examine these issues further, see Romantics, Idealists and True Service Learning

-- EGR

Monday, February 20, 2012

Enthusiasm: the Devil’s Brew

Enthusiasm: a distemper of youth, curable by small doses of repentance in connection with outward applications of experience. -- Ambrose Bierce
Those practitioners of that Ol’ Time Religion weren’t too far off the mark trying to ban alcohol. It’s dangerous stuff if overindulged. But moderate use is, for many people, both physically and psychologically benevolent.

The social disasters Prohibition brought about, for example, the rise of criminal empires, the corruption of public institutions, were in many ways as severe as the problems of alcoholism. How did the good intentions of the Ol’ Timers run amok? The Prohibitionists succumbed to their own narcotic: enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm of all kinds is America’s most addictive substance. Every shyster with a hidden agenda invokes our enthusiasm; but so does almost every honorable, well-intentioned public leader.

Why just a few years back (to the strains of Ebony and Ivory) Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich, a perfect Yin and Yang, stood up in public and together came out in favor of reducing the Achievement Gap. Just what the public schools need: more enthusiasm generated by politicians who haven’t a clue as to what the problems are and are even less likely to sacrifice any of their pet projects to spend money on it.

Aw, shucks, how can I be so mean? Their hearts are in the right place, aren’t they? Forget where their brains are. Drink up!

To examine these issues further, see The Pathologies of Enthusiasm


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Bigger the Bolus, the Better the Brain: education as Trivial Pursuit

“Many a man fails to become a thinker only because his memory is too good.” -- F. Nietzsche
In the name of school reform, millions of students spend more and more of their life swallowing down and regurgitating ever larger masses of "fact." To what end?

If our knowledge of the world distracts us from our knowledge of ourselves, what good is it? Really, other than a university medievalist, who cares that Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day, A.D. 800? If our abilities at problem-solving enable us to "construct a reality" that is merely self-aggrandizing or self-flattering, what good is it?

Really, other than railroad engineers, who gives a damn about where one train starting in Chicago and traveling east at sixty miles per hour meets another starting in New York and traveling west at eighty miles per hour? In and of themselves, neither answer nor process nor "deep meaning" has any meaning at all.

To examine these issues further, see KNOWLEDGE IS GOOD: some misgivings

---- WAC

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Are You A Free Individual? Or Just Deluded?

But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.-- Edmund Burke
“If only I didn’t have to work!” is likely said a million times a day.

The reality is that you don’t have to work, if you are willing to accept the consequences of not working. You don’t have to do anything, if the consequences of not doing it are no concern of yours. This is an obvious kind of freedom we all have. This is why some religions preach giving up all connections to other things to achieve Nirvana. But what "sane" person can just stop being concerned about all consequences, all connections?

If you think you can, just try this practice for a day. Deal with your bodily functions the way you did as an infant. See if you can keep that going for very long.

Now, suppose you don’t want to give up connections. Someone might say, “I’m free. I can do what I please. I can just follow my whims and impulses!” This is another kind of freedom, perhaps, but what if other people or things can control what you please? What if things like advertising, or expressions of approval, disapproval, like or dislike, can be used to constrain your whims or impulses? Would you call that “freedom?” Or is your “freedom” a delusion that makes your obedience, your submission to external authority, tolerable?

You have been through years of schooling. You have probably forgotten most math, foreign language and social studies. But you have not forgotten how to raise your hand, to keep your opinions to yourself, to stand in line, to wait until a person in authority is willing to recognize you, and to not contradict what that authority says.

Can you control these responses? Can you extend your internal locus of control over those things that you respond to as authority?

To examine these issues further, see PERSONAL LIBERATION THROUGH EDUCATION

--- EGR

Friday, February 17, 2012

Correcting Error? Or Manipulating Opinion?

Party Doctrine: War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. -- G. Orwell, 1984

Andrew Butler, a post-doctoral researcher in Duke's Department of Psychology & Neuroscience, led a recent study (2012) of how students “correct” their opinions. In an article called ”New insights into how to correct false knowledge” he comments, "Errors that are deeply entrenched in memory are notoriously difficult to correct. Providing students with feedback is the first step because it enables them to identify the error and learn the correct information."

Actually, there are three prior steps Butler missed. Students should have been assessed on issues of Care, Trust and Power. Butler should have grouped them according to their responses to the follow questions:
For each item of information presented students should have been asked
a. Do you care whether this item is right or wrong?
b. Are you willing to accept what the experiment leader says is right or wrong?
c. Do you have the power to publicly disagree without fear of reprisal with what the experiment leader tells you.

Butler’s experiment is about the efficacy of techniques of persuasion. It offers no guarantees to the subjects of his experiment that what he is giving them is knowledge.

For references and to examine these issues further, see PERSONAL LIBERATION THROUGH EDUCATION

--- EGR

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Misleading Attractions of Competency-Based Education

Between falsehood and useless truth there is little difference. As gold which he cannot spend will make no man rich, so knowledge which he cannot apply will make no man wise. -- Samuel Johnson
I bought a PC in 1985 that had 256K installed memory. As I was about to leave the store, the salesman asked what I would use the computer for. I mentioned an array of tasks I would be needing it for as headmaster of a private school.

He suggested I get more memory, since my usage would be heavy. In fact, he suggested that I, at least, triple it to be “safe.” At substantial cost, I had the memory quadrupled, and picked up the machine for work the next day.

It was several weeks dealing with beginning of the term issues before I could get around to use the computer to automate record keeping. It was with no little dismay that I turned on the computer and got a message that it could only access 512K of memory that was installed. The extra turned out to be a wasted investment.

Education Week reports that New Hampshire Schools are embracing Competency Based Education (CBE). Students will only “move on” if they demonstrate competency in what they’ve studied. This sounds good on the face of it, but is the school system willing to accept the costs of adjustment to take full advantage of what it promises? Or will it just be “unaccessible extra memory”?

For example, will students be able to “move on” not only IF they show competency, but WHEN they show it? If you’ve never done rostering, you can’t imagine the headaches involved with changing schedules in mid-flow of the school year. But if you don’t change schedules, what do the students do? Stay physically in place and get harder material and additional instruction? Or sit around bored? Ask yourself which of these options are cheaper, and you can predict what will likely be the default response.

But there are many practices and programs that will need modification (read “incur increased costs”) if CBE is to be “embraced.” What about Special Education or instruction attempting to meet the individual needs of each child?

But even more fundamental is the long-established practiced of age-grading. This ignores competencies altogether and places kids in classes according to their birth-dates. By imagining that kids are developmentally and intellectually more or less equal, it addresses the social and disciplinary needs of the school organization that are the primary concerns of the community, parents and school administration -- pious lip-service to “academics” to the contrary notwithstanding.

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

--- EGR

Saturday, February 11, 2012

GoodSpin: The Basic Rules of Public School Hyperbole

edited 8/16/18
The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made. -- Groucho Marx
Because public educators must deal not only with their students and colleagues, but also with parents, reporters and assorted busy-bodies, in other words, with the wishful thinking, the ill-informed and the near-delusional, they, the educators, tend to adapt that maxim so eloquently articulated by Thumper's mother in the movie, Bambi: "If you can't say something nice, don't say it at all." In the name of motivation, tact or good publicity, we become casual liars.
There is, in addition, an aspect of advertising culture that has been picked up by the hyperbolists of American public education: the reversal rule, parts A and B
The Reversal Rule, part A is this: if it's true but unpleasant, treat it as false. Better yet, don't even mention it.

The Reversal Rule, part B: if it's false but pleasant, say it anyway.
Thus rather than recognize the ancient maxim, "Impossibility negates obligation," we are encumbered with "All children can learn!" or "No child left behind!" The santimoniousness of this blather is supposed to make us forget, perhaps, that the concerned public servants who have foisted off over-exacting special education legislation on the schools are the very ones who have reneged on their promises for adequate resources.

To examine these issues further, see What Works? Under What Conditions? And Who Really Cares?

-- EGR

Friday, February 10, 2012

Forget Vision, Forget Mission: the Devil is in the Details!

revised 1/21/19
Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny. -- Thomas Jefferson

The fish rots from the head down. -- Proverb of contested origin.

A basic tendency of organizations is to fulfill the rule: “The Organization Comes First! Long Live the Organization!”

A second basic tendency within organizations is to fulfill the rule: “The Leadership Comes First! Long Live the Leadership!”

There is no organization so dedicated to benevolent goals, so committed to sacred purposes that it cannot be corrupted from within by the very persons trusted to keep it, day-to-day, on the paths of righteousness. (See why at Mission versus Function.)

The leaders of the great institutions that strongly influence our lives, School, State and Church, instead of pursuing Nurturance, Openness and Truth, can hide behind their organizations’ noble façade to pursue Hugger-Mugger, Skull-Duggery, and Buggery.

There are those dedicated people within the organization who recognize these bitter truths and struggle against them. The great remainder of others, the naïve, wishful faithful, if not cannoneers, are just cannon-fodder.

To see how these tendencies work in public and religious organizations, see Religion, Intelligent Design and the Public Schools: serving God to Mammon?

--- EGR

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The University as Rumpelstiltskin

And when the girl was brought to the King he took her into a room which was quite full of straw, gave her a spinning-wheel and a reel, and said, "Now set to work, and if by to-morrow morning early you have not spun this straw into gold during the night, you must die." -- Rumplestiltskin, Brothers Grimm.
David Leonhardt in “Colleges Are Failing in Graduation Rates” (New York Times of September 9, 2009 , B1) tells us that universities are failing in their “core mission”: to turn teenagers into college graduates, (straw into gold?) The evidence? Highly selective, usually private, universities have a higher graduation rate than open-admissions or non-competitive, usually public universities. As a result, Leonhardt claims, social inequality has “soared” and productivity growth has slowed down.

But is “turning teenagers into college graduates” really “the core mission" of universities? And has social inequality increased since the beginning of the 1900’s when very, very few of middle and working class students were able to get into college?

A third question: has economic productivity over these last 110 years fallen also?

Answers: no, no and no.

Leonhardt based his column on an article by Mark Schneider, a political scientist who is a tad more circumspect about making broad claims. (See Schneider,M. The costs of failure factories in American higher education. Educational Outlook. No. 6. October 2008. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research)

Although Schneider’s title contains the rock’em-sock’em hype, “failure factories” to characterize public universities, he hedges his bets: what he actually says is, if we worry about students not graduating from high school and attempt to coerce high schools with low graduation rates into doing something about it, then why ignore the public university “failure factories” whose graduation rates are significantly lower than our public high schools?

Why, indeed? But why hold high schools, with their compulsory attendees, more responsible for outcomes than are public universities? Those that attend public universities are not forced there by law.

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