Thursday, December 29, 2011

School Textbook Controversies

The remarkably heterogeneous nature of American society makes it very difficult to establish consensus concerning anything of consequence. And nowhere is this lack of a agreement more obvious than when we select public school textbooks.  Consider the example of states like California or Texas which establish a list of approved textbooks.

When public hearings are conducted on this matter a farrago of fundamentalists, feminists, European origin ethnics, New Agers, native Americans, African-Americans, gays and lesbians, Latinos, Chicanos, pacifists, civil libertarians, tea party true believers, fundamentalists, pro-lifers, pro-choicers, Asian-Americans, environmentalists, animal rights activists, Muslims, even vegetarians (not to be confused with ovo-lacto vegetarian crowd) lament bias and register non-negotiable demands for the insertion of their values and a  favorable depiction of their cause and heroes.

This is how textbooks are neutered. There are so many competing demands that in attempting to meet them publishers end up with sterility. So be it. Textbooks debates, even textbook sterilization, are an unavoidable part of the rough and tumble of life in a heterogeneous democratic society. The alternative is domination by one group or another.

Verbally duking it out over textbooks, or the entire school curriculum for that matter, is a very American process. This is not my concern. My concern focuses on the elements who short-circuit this diaglogue by un-democratic tactics and by their absolute refusal to even consider that those who oppose them are operating in subjective good will. No, these true-believers will never concede that their opponents might be doing what they think to be right. Those who desagree with them are always immoral, perverted, licentious, atheistic, agents of Satan, pornographers, child molesters -- perhaps even traitors.

Because their cause is so urgent, so patriotically holy, true believers of every stripe commonly assume that their ends justifies any means. This is how anonymous hate mail, terroristic phone calls, unsigned and untruthful pamphlets, acts of vandalism, even death threats become standard features of true-believer textbook campaigns -- particularly at the local level. 

This is how textbook content campaigns, and curriculum content campaigns for that matter, come to feature character assassination, half truths, outright lies and non-negotiable demands. Tactics such as these destroy communication and make democracy impossible. Colloquy becomes confrontation when the compromises necessary in choosing a text are transformed into the politics of the end-time. In this realm everyone is required to reveal their "true allegiance" by choosing between God and Satan, America and treason.

The concern here is NOT with legitimate expressions of difference within the democratic dialogue. It is with those who enter this process with a very real intent to subvert it because they are in possession of THE TRUTH. To maintain an exchange -- whether it be about texts, curriculum or politics -- truth and values must be dealt with in a tentative and tolerant fashion. Reason and evidence must not be subordinated to any group's ideology. Opposing points of view must be accorded the same respect you expect for your own and not be ignored, surpressed or subverted.

Granting any religio-political view a special exemption from these obligations is not only ruinous to public schooling; it places the entire democratic process in danger. Our democracy has never required the celebration of common ends; but it does  require respect for common means such as compromise, tolerance and civility.

See http://www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Textbooks.html for more on this topic.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top-Down School Reform: Trashing Teacher Morale

One of the most troubling aspects of the recent wave of school reform is that the would-be reformers never bother to ask teachers what they think. Instead, these would-be reformers imagine they can just ram change, however unrealistic, down gagging teacher's throats.

The chief problem with this approach is that it doesn't work. As far back as the 1970's a Rand Corporation study clearly demonstrated that successful introduction of innovations requires willing, highly motivated participants.  And this is particularly true of teachers because their work is done beyond immediate administrative control.

Why do those in charge ignore this reality? Maybe they are so remote from day to day realities that they no longer have the sense they were born with. In any case their insufferably arrogant style of management is time-honored. It dates back to the era when classroom teachers were long-suffering females and the power holders were smug, self-satisfied males.

Some say that teachers stand in the way of needed reforms, and that requires the imposition of non-consultative change. But resistance to change is hardly restricted to teachers. In fact, such resistance is an inevitable response to major change in any organization. And when those changes are being pushed by the same people who look down on you, ignore your hard-won knowledge and experience and can't tell their pedagogical behind from third base, resistance is sensible.

Regardless, teacher resistance to change so frustrates policy makers that if ever they thought about soliciting teacher consent and cooperation they think about it no longer. Instead they  become ever more controlling, autocratic and disrespectful while ratcheting up coercion via so-called "merit pay."

In all of this they show a complete disregard for the negative impact their actions have on teacher morale and the recruitment of anything but sheep into the profession. In short, these would-be reformers have lost all concern for the actual consequences of their "reforms" on those who must carry them out. And that may well guarantee the long-term failure of their reforms.

For more on this subject go to http://www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Domination.html

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Public Schooling and the Tragedy of the Commons




You Want What? 

I recently came across a flyer that an Islamic group was  handing out to public school administrators. It described allegedly urgent “problems” facing Muslim public school students and outlined what school administrators must do about them. Here is an excerpt:

“In view of the teachings of Islam, Muslim students in your school should not be required to:
(1) sit next to the opposite sex in the classroom,
(2) participate in physical education, swimming or dancing classes. (Alternate meaningful educational activities should be arranged.)
(3.)  attend coed physical education and swimming classes. (These should be held separately for boys and girls in a fully covered area — no glass doors or windows without curtains.)
(4.) have opposite sex physical education instructors.
(5.) wear swimming suits that fail to cover all the private parts of the body down to the knee.
(6.) take group showers — they should be provided with separate and covered individual shower facilities
(7.) participate in plays, proms, social parties, picnics, dating, etc. that require free mixing of the two sexes,

It isn’t only Muslims who demand special accommodations. All sorts of  groups demand one or another adjustment. Conservative Christians, including former President George W. Bush, require that the biology curriculum pay obeisance to creationism. Some black parents urge that schools strip allegedly racist novels, such as Huckleberry FInn, of all things, from the curriculum. Evangelical Christians demand the elimination of school Halloween celebrations because they allegedly provide Satan and his minions  with access to the kids. Italian-Americans insist that Columbus still discover America in history books, even if he didn't. Polish-Americans would have Thadeus Kusiusko

Taken collectively, there is an astounding range of parental expectations that public educators are expected to satisfy. Of course, the chances of accomplishing this in any meaningful way are zilch. But when school authorities keep trying, bad things happen.

In his classic, “Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin argues that free access to common resources brings ruin to all. The classic example is an open access public pasture where everyone is permitted to graze his or her animals. To preserve this commons, all participants must agree not to overgraze it. If even one of the users insists on adding more animals than the commons can support, this public pasture is ultimately destroyed. 


Restraint by all is required. The trouble is, it is seldom achieved. It is in each farmer's interest to put more cows  onto the common land, even if, in the long run, the land is ruined.

The nation’s public schools are similar to Hardin’s public commons in that they are an open access resource. And school time and  the curriculum are the equivalent of the forage in Hardin’s pasture in that when special interest groups fail to restrain themselves they are, in a sense, “overgrazing” our schools by placing excessive particularistic demands on them. 

Even school board members should recognize that infinite accommodation is impossible given finite resources. Yet over and over again they try to accommodate special pleading. The result is a down the rabbit hole with Alice world where even those who clearly recognize there are limits, act as if there are none. 


For public schooling to be viable, everyone has to limit his or her demands and adopt an ethic of restraint. If all cooperate in this, everyone gains. Unfortunately, participants who, out of moral obligation or naiveté, moderate their demands while others remain immoderate, loses.This leads to a situation where it seems logical to keep pressing for one's particularistic demands even though everyone's benefits would be greatest if all restrained themselves. In game theory this type situation is called the "prisoner's dilemma."

If, as is likely, mutual restraint fails to materialize, school administrators can (1) continue to pretend there are no practical constraints on accommodation and ultimately reduce education to a farce; or (2) start saying “NO!” to special pleading.

To examine this issues further, see http://www.newfoundations.com/EGR/Conjecture.html

Sunday, October 30, 2011

This Schooling Is Brought To You By ...




Well we've taken another giant step down the road to the commercialization of public schooling. School boards have begun selling ad space in their buildings. Pennsylvania's Pennsbury School District, for instance, is selling advertising spaces as large as 5 by 10 feet in all of their 16 schools. Ultimately 218 ads of various sizes will appear on walls, floors and even shrink-wrapped over lockers and cafeteria tables. One wonders, if the Superintendent happens to be female, has the school board considered marketing the space across her behind. Instead of the ever popular "Juicy" or "Pink" the message might read "Post-It Notes!" or "Dick's Sporting Goods!"

Yes, the Pennsbury school board recently signed a contract with a national advertising agency that should boost their annual budget by as much as $424,000. All they had to do was sell access to the 10,950 children and teens entrusted to their care.

To be fair,  the great recession and massive cuts in state aid, caused the district to be $6 million in the red. Those cuts were initiated by Republicans, by the way — the very same political party whose most "conservative" elements plan to eliminate "government schools" entirely. (They're socialistic, don't you know?)

These same die-hard "conservatives" assure us, there is nothing the government can do, that private enterprise can't do better. I can't wait until MTV Networks takes over our public schools. Lady Gaga could teach home economics! Lil' Wayne could teach poetry. Hell, even their CEO could get into the act. He could introduce the youngsters to the principles of American government — corporate style.

For similar considerations see http://www.newfoundations.com/Carpenter/SchoolChoice.html

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Sorrows of an Old Teacher Educator

I have been preparing future teachers for forty two years and have belatedly concluded that I'm in the wrong line of work. Absolutely no one of influence gives a crap if this job is done well or not.

When I began my career I chose to teach at a Catholic college run by a religious order allegedly devoted to teaching. I reasoned that this bode well for teacher education at the school. Unfortunately, I failed to adequately consider that it was a liberal arts school. In that environment the education department was Thursday's child. Plus filling our classrooms with far too many marginally committed halfwits was more profitable than allowing us to restrict entry in the same way as any professional school does as a matter of course.

Nearly half a century later the Education Department has won some credibility. But the resources we have to work with are embarrassing. Most of the revenue we generate disappeared into the general fund. Proportionately little was reinvested in properly equipping our programs. Consequently, I teach in a classroom equipped in exactly the same way as my first grade class was in 1946 except the desks are bigger.) It lacks even a bulletin board. Imagine teaching in a medical school lacking every feature of modern medical practice. Well I teach in the equivalent.

I really shouldn't fault the college though. They would be foolish to invest more heavily in teacher education than their competitors. Besides, few give a damn about teacher preparation to begin with.

This indifference is aggravated by meddlesome state education officials who, without any meaningful consultation, seek to idiot proof the process. For instance, they mandate literally hundreds of provisions that must be met before a college can secure middle school teacher program approval.  What is the result?
It's as if some crazed bureaucrat with delusions of grandeur was given several reams of paper, locked in an office and given the following instructions, "We are dealing with nuckle heads who haven't a clue about preparing teachers. Idiot proof the process by creating hundreds of requirements that leave them no latitude whatsoever."

You might think, "Well, at least they are getting tough." Oh yeah? Then why, at the same time are these half-wits  also creating pathetically easy "alternative routes" into teaching at the same time?

Oh, and lets nor forget President Obama and his totally unqualified Secretary of Education. When it comes to teacher preparation the two of them just jumped down the rabbit hole with Alice. How so? They recently decided to classify teacher interns as "highly qualified teachers." Why would they do a crazy thing like that? So that states like California, who use hundreds of interns to fill classrooms in their educational Calcuttas meet the No Child Left Behind requirement that all teachers be "highly qualified." Surely this is the first time in human history that interns have officially been declared "highly qualified." It's 1984 all over again!. War is peace! Love is Hate! and Interns are Highly Qualified." What a joke!

If I could start my career over I would choose something the American people really care about. Perhaps I should have learned how to make napalm stick more tenaciously to babies, or something of the sort. The nation has long been eager to invest in that sort of thing. But like I said at the beginning, absolutely no one of influence gives a crap if teacher preparation is done well or not.

For more on this subject see www.newfoundations.com/EGR/Cannonfodder.html

Preparing Truly Competent Teachers


Professional Teacher Preparation: The Essential Step Toward Better Schools

“When one considers in its length and breadth the importance of a nation’s young, the broken lives, the defeated hopes, the national failures, which result from the frivolous inertia with which (education) is treated, it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage”

Alfred North Whitehead
The Aims of Education and Other Essays (New York: Macmillan, 1929) p.22.

Really want to improve American schooling?  Recognize that better teachers are the key ingredient. And also realize that real school reform will not happen until we greatly strengthen their preparation.

How can this be done? The vast majority of undergraduates are too immature and unmotivated for serious teacher training. What is required is thorough preparation in a post-graduate professional school similar to that required of lawyers, medical doctors, veterinarians, opticians and other occupations we actually respect.

Highly motivated and mature students in a demanding graduate environment could become the kind of teachers we need to begin tranforming our schools. But state and federal officials are not only ignoring this opportunity, they have been fostering lax, disempowering short cuts into teaching instead. The Obama administration even classifies interns as highly qualified teachers to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind.

Forget quickie teacher preparation alternatives; close marginal teacher preparation programs at profiteering colleges specializing in cut-rate certification; and require truly professional teacher preparation. This is what is required.
Of course, we would have to pay higher salaries and actually respect teachers in order to attract the best and the brightest to such demanding training. And the average American isn’t willing to pay this tab — particularly while we are squandering trillions of dollars on no-win wars


What is more, truly professional preparation would really strengthen the teaching profession — a primal fear of politicians. Who could they blame if the teachers could really fight back?


Yes, what needs to be done is obvious. But it is not going to happen any time soon. Meanwhile, our politicians will keep tinkering with high stakes tests, charter schools, vouchers and any other "reforms" that can be accomplished on the cheap.

To examine this issue further, see http://www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/FirStep.html

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Unfair Teacher Accountability

In today's America most of the responsibility for learning is hung around the neck of teachers. In cultures that haven't lost sight of the obvious, a majority of the responsibility for learning still rests with the student and their parent(s).

Suppose a student refuses to even try? The teacher is still responsible. Suppose a student is a chronic truant and absent a third of the school year? The teacher is still responsible, Suppose the student refuses to do any homework? The teacher still is responsible. Suppose an African-American student is convinced that learning is "acting white?" Suppose a youngster's parents are abusive and neglectful? The teacher still is responsible. Suppose the student is a junkie or alcoholic. That doesn't matter. The teacher still is responsible. Suppose the student is dumb as a bag of rocks? That doesn't matter. The teacher still is responsible. Suppose slack administrators have allowed the school to become a madhouse? That doesn't matter. The teacher still is responsible. Suppose instructional resources are utterly inadequate? That doesn't matter. The teacher still is responsible.

This sort of "accountability" would be regarded as insane in any serious context. Imagine holding a swim instructor responsible for a student's inability to swim even though the youngster absolutely refused to go near the water. Imagine holding a piano teacher responsible for a child's poor playing even though the kid is tone deaf and has no piano to practice on. Imagine holding a ballet teacher responsible for a student's inability to dance when the she skipped a third of the lessons and is morbidly obese.

If posturing politicians don't stop trying to heap unfair accountability on teachers, no one with an IQ over 90 will choose the profession.

Friday, July 1, 2011

When Home Schooling Goes Wrong

Did you ever wonder what sort of things parents teach their children in the private space that home schooling provides? The fact is that the curriculum can be downright scary.

For instance, some children are taught to embrace white supremacy. They learn that the white race created civilization and that they should loath sub-human mud people. That includes everyone of non-white ancestry — most especially Jews. History lessons consist of heroic accounts of Nordic conquests, British imperialism and the enlightened accomplishments of Nazi Germany. They also are taught about the coming race war when whites will rightfully gain mastery over all of society.

Other kids are taught that their Christian zeal should match the fanaticism of the Taliban. They learn that evolution is unBiblical bunk, that global warming is a fantasy and that homosexuals were stoned to death in the good old days when Godly values ruled. Non-believers are presented as deluded or possibly even knowing agents of Satan. And they are assured that anyone who doesn't believe exactly as their parents tell them to will roast forever in the white hot fires of hell.

There are no practical limits on the kind of screwball ideas inflicted on home-schooled kids.  Sure state home schooling standards theoretically must be eet. But effective control over what is taught in the privacy of the home is impossible.

It doesn't follow that home schooling should be eliminated. Some parents just push quirky but harmless things like vegetarianism or karmic consciousness. Others do a truly responsible job. And sometimes homeschooling helps kids escape from truly hellish situations in public schools.

Besides, just because kids are taught dangerous, intolerant things doesn't mean they will subscribe to them as adults. In fact,  one of the best cures for fanaticism is to have it inflicted on you when young.

 Still, we shouldn't be surprised if some home-schooled true believer blows up a synagogue, chains a "mud-person" to the back of their pick-up and drags him to death or even kills our "mongrel" President. When fanaticism is applied to the young it sometimes sticks to their soul like super-glue.

For more on a related topic please visit: http://www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Charters.html

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Alleged Power of Higher Teacher Expectations

Educators are repeatedly told that raising their expectations is the key element in successful teaching. Students will learn more when they expect more.

At best this is political theater. At worst it is advise from nincompoops. More often than not, school failures are a consequence of bad school management, parental incompetence and economic injustice. If a school is persistently dangerous, for instance, how will higher teacher expectations remedy the educational consequences? And will higher teacher expectations cancel out the negative impact of cruel, uncaring or incompetent parents?

What about the fifth of all U.S. children who live in poverty? Will higher teacher expectations overcome its deleterious impact? Consider, for instance, that hundreds of thousands of U.S. youngsters literally don’t have a home to do homework in. On an average night in D.C., for example, 1,300 youngsters are in shelters for the homeless. If a teacher expects them to do their homework anyway, will that suffice?

No matter how elevated teacher expectations might be, learning still is stifled when children are scared, hungry, malnourished, abused, neglected, homeless, sick or enraged. In fact this "just raise you expectations" nonsense trivializes the misery that many children suffer in America. It also insults every teacher who already expects, or at least hopes for, as much as they dare.

Even if every teacher in America becomes a pollyanna, kids living in misery will still rarely see the point of learning to do algebra, appreciate Shakespeare, conjugate verbs, or balance chemical equations. In fact, some are too busy surviving to even learn to read.

Only numskulls expect quality schoolwork from desperate children. So let’s stop urging teachers to be stupid.

To further examine these and similar issues, see

--- GKC

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The "Highly Qualified Teacher" Farce

The No Child Left Behind Act (“NCLB”) became law in 2002 “to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments.” To that end the law  mandates that all teachers must hold "full state certification" and be "highly qualified."

That sounds great, but what does it mean in practice? That depends on which side of Alice's looking glass you are on. In 2008 the Bush administration followed Alice through the mirror when they decided that tens of thousands of teachers in training, interns for example, were "highly qualified teachers." Then, ruling that black is in fact white, a federal court upheld that definition.

In other words, we are talking about rank beginners, students or recent graduates who are gaining, practical experience being highly qualified. In other words. Only in the Wonderland of public education could such jabberwocky be taken seriously.

It is some consolation that, in an uncommon turn of events, the three-judge panel reversed itself and invalidated the Bush adminitration's regulation. In effect, they ruled that whatever "full certification" may mean in a particular state, a teacher is  NOT highly qualified before they have obtained it. But the Obama administration figured out a way to sidestep the court and has continued using the logically indefensible Bush definition of "highly qualified" as rank beginner.

in other words, the Obama administration is so dismissive of teacher quality as an issue in school reform that they are unwilling even to insist that public school teachers meet state certification standards that are undemanding to begin with. So Americans, particularly poor Americans, will continue to make do with teachers who often are so far removed from "highly qualified" that it is a joke.



For more such considerations please visit Highly Qualified Teachers: misgivings

Monday, May 30, 2011

Charter School Scandals


Philadelphia is the site of nearly a dozen recent charter school scandals. Is the City of Brotherly Love just particularly fertile ground for such corruption? Or is this sort of thing common?

There are only 5,400 charter schools in the entire United States. But if we google “charter school fraud” it yields an astonishing 1,080,000 results. “Charter school scandal” triggers another 519,000 and “charter school corruption” 480,000.

Further investigation reveals a broad and deeply troubling nationwide pattern of charter school scandals. And we’re not talking about stealing chump change either. Well over $12 billion was spent on charter schooling in 2010; and a lot of larcenous people are wetting their beaks.

Here are a few examples of what's going on. In Houston Texas the Prepared Table Charter School had its charter revoked and four administrators  (a pastor and three relatives) indicted on 26 counts including the embezzlement of millions of dollars in federal and Texas funds. Apparently the table was a little too well prepared in this case.


The Jesse Jackson Academy (with campuses in both Houston and Fort Worth) closed in 2008 when it was charged that school officials had misappropriated $3.2 million in federal funds.


 In April the founder of the now defunct California Charter Academy, a chain of 60 charter schools serving 10,000 students around the state, faced 113 felony charges related to misappropriating $23 million in state and federal funds.  The charges include 56 counts of grand theft, 56 counts of misappropriating public funds and 1 count of failing to file a tax return. He faces a possible 64 years in prison.


Another California Charter Academy official, who also is a California city councilman, faces 15 counts of grand theft, 15 counts of misappropriating public funds,  counts of failing to file a state tax return and one count of filing a false a false tax return


An Islamic movement also has been charged with using their nationwide chain of charter schools to illegally finance the teachings of Turkish Islamic leader Tehuyllah Gulen with US taxpayers money. The FBI is investigating the GUlen schools for illegal use of education funds, criminal conspiracy, extortion and violation of immigration laws.”  It is alleged that they have been laundering money  through generous “consulting contracts” with Gulen front companies and sending it back to Turkey.  The scheme is alleged to also feature prearranged salary kickbacks to the movement by 1,851.

This is just a representative sample of a nationwide Niagara of charter school corruption that is receiving insufficient attention. Most of it is a consequence of weak federal, state and local oversight. Greg Richmond, the President & CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers — an organization made up of the agencies that approve charter schools — testified to the House Committee on Education and Labor in February 2010 that:

 “Over the past fifteen years, the federal government has allocated $2 billion to support the creation of new charter schools. … Yet during that same time, the federal government has invested almost nothing, less than $2 million, or one-tenth of one percent, to ensure that those schools are held to high standards and properly monitored by a competent authorizing agency. It is as if the federal government had spent billions for new highway construction, but nothing to put up guardrails along the sides of those highways.” 

How has this slapdash approach to supervision come to pass? It has its primary origin with ideologically exuberant politicians who uncritically embrace the self-perpetuating worldview that free market economics is the only possible salvation for allegedly lousy “government” schools and everything else. Their conservative political beliefs have evolved into a self-sealing worldview that has its own gods, heroes, and myths. The central idea is that the cleansing fire of free enterprise, unfettered by regulations, is all that is needed to keep things in order. 

Admittedly, an unknown number of these free market politicians aren’t really true believers. They just pretend to be to get the votes of those who are. But this doesn’t make any difference when it comes to casting their votes for the unregulated, prone to corruption, free market approach.

It's time to  get back to reality. Let's cool the free market hype and crack down on charter school thieves by setting and enforcing high standards. And this should begin with the Obama administration. They too have fallen uncritically in love with charters. But they had better get the regulatory equivalent of a condom in place before they get too intimate. 

Visit newfoundations.com for similar commentary.




Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Teacher Education is a Joke?

Compared to what is required to enter any serious profession, teacher education is a joke.

A cursory comparison illuminates this reality. Let's match up the preparation of podiatrists with that of teachers. Before admission to a four-year college of podiatric medicine, potential feet fixers must complete at least three years of demanding pre-medical study at an accredited college or university and also score well on the rigorous medical college admissions test.

Should they be admitted they must satisfactorily complete two years of tough classroom instruction,in courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, biomechanics, pathology, pharmacology, and physiology. This is followed by two years of clinical training and practice. Graduates earn the degree of Doctor of Podiatric Medicine; but the majority continue their training for from one to four years in hospital residency programs.

Now let's take a  look at teacher preparation. Aspiring teachers merely must complete high school and then gain admission to any one of the hundreds of colleges and universities, many of them third or fourth tier, that prepare teachers. Here they experience underfunded, weak kneed, undergraduate teacher preparation programs that serve as school cash cows. After their often weak-kneed course work there is a semester of student teaching with a supervising teacher whose primary qualification is their willingness to put up with it. Pass a couple of state required tests and a brand new teacher is born. Does this  seem too demanding? Be of good cheer, there are alternative routes that require far less effort.

It's not that teaching is easier than podiatry. There is at least as much to be known about teaching, learning and human development as there is about bunions, hammer toes and plantar warts.  As a matter of fact, there may be a good deal more to know. But we don't value our kids as much as we do our foot comfort . End of story.

See ”Teach for America" at Teach for America

Friday, April 22, 2011

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking



There are more than 16,000 school districts in the United States and just about all of them boast that they foster ‘critical thinking. Check out school mission or vision statements, for example. Thousands include heart-warming affirmations like this one from the Lordstown, Ohio School District: “We believe in the development of critical thinking skills.” Then there is the Calvin Wiley Elementary school in North Carolina. They assures all and sundry that their vision, "is to engage in critical thinking and inspire lifelong learning for 21st Century success."


These, and the thousand. of others like them, are commendable commitments. But what would happen if school kids
 actually were taught to think critically? We're not talking about mere logic chopping here — the usual “these are the premises” and “this is a conclusion,” sort of thing. Such so-called ‘critical thinking’ is both harmless and useless because it rarely results in serious considerations of anything of consequence.  No. by critical thinking we mean systematically reconsidering the deep assumptions that most of us take for granted. We also mean questioning basic authority — including sacred and semi-sacred documents and those who interpret them. When "critical thinking" fails to include that sort of things it is hardly thinking, much less critical.


Imagine encouraging kids to consider what would have happened if the American Revolution had never happened. We could ask them, "Would we still be a colony of Great Britain?" The obvious answer is no. No doubt we would have gone through the same process as Canada, New Zealand and Australia and today would have long been a fully independent nation. But try encouraging that critical thought and see where it gets you. Or suppose students were taught how to truly, seriously and boldly scrutinize traditional religious beliefs? We might encourage them to ponder, for instance, why a supposedly loving God permits so much physical suffering in the world. If God loves us, what's with things like hare lips, cerebral palsy and spina-bifida? This question of physical evil has engaged critical thinkers, including brilliant Christian ones, for a great many years. But should educators  encourage this sort of critical thinking they would have to flee a rampaging mob of angry, torch-wielding villagers.

Some might argue that it isn't necessary to tackle such controversial issues head on in order to teach kids to think critically. They maintain that by teaching generic methods, learners will, sooner or later, bring these methods to bear on critical matters. T
his is a forlorn hope because all sorts of things can interfere with this sort of transfer of learning. If we really want young people to  think critically, they must be provided with a direct, well focused and conspicuously relevant opportunity to do so.  Teachers should just be prepared to find another job should when they do so. 


See http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/ISMS.html for another dimension of this inquiry.l

Sunday, March 27, 2011

CHARTER SCHOOL SWINDLES: RAIDING THE PUBLIC PURSE FOR FUN AND PROFIT


Charter schools have become quite fashionable of late. Liberals even have joined conservatives in promoting them. But in what ways are charter schools actually better than traditional public schools?

Are charter schools better academically? No, they don’t consistently deliver superior results. Some do better than traditional public schools — at least as measured by standardized testing. But some traditional public schools also test better than some charter schools. In short there is no clear-cut winner.

We’re assured that  charter schools better expose the public schooling process to the cleansing fires of competition. But what sort of competition? Charter schools  operate with relative freedom while traditional public schools remain hemmed in by volume after volume of of government regulations? So competition between charter and traditional public schools  is like a race between a free running and a hobbled horse.

Charter schools do offer more curricular variety than traditional public schools. But there again, traditional public schools are limited in what they can offer. Plus some of the variety allegedly offered by charter schools is bogus. What is one to make of inner city charter schools claiming to emphasize architecture and design, folk arts or global leadership, for example? In practice that surely amounts to very little. After all, a lot of these kids can barely read.

If over-regulation is the problem, why didn’t public officials first try easing their regulatory choke hold on traditional public schools and then decide if we needed charter schools? Maybe that was less attractive because it wouldn’t open the public purse to as many private interests — some of whom could be counted on for handsome campaign contributions or jobs for the worthless relatives. 


We’re not talking about chump change either. More than $600 billion (Yes, well over a half a trillion dollars) is spent annually on public schooling. All sorts of people are eager to wet their beaks in this vast lake of public money and charter schools provide that opportunity. In fact, this is the one way in which charter schools are clearly superior to traditional public schools. They open the public purse far wider for private interests. That’s why the movement  attracts a disproportionate share of bunko artists, flim-flamers, shady politicians and a host of their work-shy relatives.

All of these ner-do-wells are intent on mining the charter school mother lode by fair means or foul. An exaggeration you say? Then explain this: Google “charter school fraud” and you get 1, 080,000 results! “Charter school corruption” yields 480,000. “Charter school swindle” produces 67,300 results. Consider these astonishing numbers and then realize that there are only about 5,400 charter schools in the entire nation! Enough said?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Wicked Children

Can children be wicked? That depends on what you mean by wicked. There are a variety of definitions; but let's keep it simple. We'll define wickedness as deliberately causing gratuitous pain or harm to others for personal pleasure.

Why do people do that? There is the orthodox Christian explanation that everyone, children included, has a fallen nature. Is that adequate? 

Deficiencies in a child's family also are blamed. But kids who come from hellish families sometimes turn out kind and considerate and some seemingly nice families produce savages. 

Some argue that no one actually chooses to be evil. Their behavior is simply the absence of good. Others offer a therapeutic explanation. What appears to be evil, they say, is really just heredity and environment combining to form a disorder that then is "acted out."

The problem with these explanations is that they fail to do the wickedness in the world full justice. Do Hitler, Himmler, or Eichmann, for example, represent the mere absence of good. Were Stalin, Beria, or Saddam Hussein simply acting out? Weren't at least some of these people consciously, knowingly, torturing and destroying people simply because they enjoyed it?

OK, adults do that, you say, but children? Perhaps you don't remember James Bulger? He was the two year old who was lured away from his mother in a Liverpool shopping mall by two ten-year-old boys. They then proceeded to bash James to death with bricks and leave him on train tracks to be run over. If this wasn't wicked, what is?

The fact is that every sadistic monster who ever existed once was a child. And when did they become evil? Did Jeffrey Dahmer, or John Wayne Gacey, or Ted Bundy, or Richard Speck or Gary Heidnik suddenly metamorphose into monsters when they became adults? That seems unlikely. 

So are some children evil. Do they deliberately cause gratuitous pain or harm to others? Of course they do. And they enjoy it. The puzzling question is, why?  

-- GKC

Friday, February 25, 2011

What's Behind The War on Teacher Unions

Remember A Nation at Risk, that Reagan-inspired denunciation of America's public schools. It charged that they were so bad they undermined our international competitiveness and endangering the entire nation.

This international competitiveness angle conceals another agenda. These overblown charges set the ground work for making hitherto public school money available to private interests and castrating teacher unions in the process.

The charter school movement is a second step in this process. Research reveals that, on average, charter schools are not any better than traditional public schools. But they do open the public purse to private business interests. Plus charter schools are notoriously hard to unionize.

Voucher plans are a third step in spreading public school money around and gutting teacher unions. Vouchers rip the public purse wide open for the fingers of private interests. Unrestricted by the modest government oversight visited on charter schools, privateer's ability to mine the public treasury is limited only by their imagination. With respect to gutting teacher unions, private schools are even harder than charters for unions to organize. This means the more vouchers the less unionized teaching will be.

Now to a fourth step of this process — killing off teacher's collective bargaining rights. Seizing on the sea of red ink created by the great recession, Republican politicians in numerous states, most notoriously Wisconsin, are trying to administer what they hope will be a death blow to teacher unions by eliminating their input into the terms of their contracts. If teacher unions have no input in this process, what's the point of joining?

These unions are a major source of support for public schooling. So weakening teacher unions furthers the disestablishment of public schools. Once that is accomplished more than five hundred billion dollars will be available for private exploitation each and every year. No wonder the foes of public education have been busy.

Sadly, both the unions and public school leadership set themselves up for these attacks. Faced with dehumanizing, top-down, factory style public school administration, union leadership gave in to the temptation of reacting like any other industrial union and forgot all about the kids. This short-sighted, if understandable, response has exacted an enormous cost in public sympathy and support that teacher union enemies are exploiting.

For their part, most public school administrators have yet to figure out that their actions provoked the union's folly to begin with. Far too often they still treat teachers with the sort of contempt and condescension that characterize labor/management relations in badly managed coal mines.

Meanwhile Republican attacks on teacher unions and public schooling amp up while businessmen and private school interests kick in campaign money and lick their chops in anticipation of ever bigger wads of tax payer dollars.

What about educating the kids? That's just a side show.

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