Monday, August 13, 2012

MORE BALONEY FROM ARNE DUNCAN: schools and skilled workers

In a May 2012 speech Arne Duncan claimed that: "America's economic recovery is stymied by a lack of skilled workers. Today, something like three million American jobs are unfilled. In fact, I talked this morning with a group of small business owners. Their biggest concern is a lack of talent for them to hire. We in education have to take that challenge very, very seriously."

Is that really what U.S. educators should be concerned about? Let's do a reality check. In the first place these complaining small business owners might be able to find the talent they want if the wages they offer are competitive. Then there is a far more basic issue that becomes crystal clear as soon as we look at a particular skilled job like computer programming. This technical specialty used to be a bright spot in the employment market. There were lots of jobs. Now American programmers are being laid off. But not because they don't have needed skills or can't do the job. No, they are being pink slipped because U.S. employers now are permitted to import much cheaper help from third world places such as India.

Skilled labor is being imported from India and causing Americans to lose their jobs? Yes, believe it or not, a U.S. government program, pushed through Congress by corporate lobbyists to ease a bogus shortage of domestic programmers, is causing skilled Americans to be pink slipped. "Patriotic" businesses like Bank of America are replacing them with cheap help brought in on work permits. (Bank of America isn't completely heartless, though. They're not terminating their American talent immediately. They get to train their foreign replacements first — or lose their severance package if they refuse.)

So, while hand-wringing politicians like Arne point an accusing finger at America's schools for not training specialists, Congress has been busy enabling the firing of American specialists in favor of imported third worlders.

And let's not forget outsourcing. Previously, only back-office business processes were being outsourced to foreign lands. Now knowledge processes also are being moved offshore by "American" multinational corporations who have as much patriotism as mosquitoes have conscience. And not only has Congress been indifferent to this outsourcing, it actually has made it more profitable.

Pray tell Arne, what is the point of preparing kids for jobs that will end up in the hands of cheap imported labor or be off-shored? You've got it all wrong. U.S. schools should not be preparing kids to be knowledge workers. There are lots of bright, highly skilled people in the third world who are eager to do that work a whole lot cheaper. U.S. schools should be preparing kids to be home health aids, truck drivers, security guards, retail clerks and the like, because these sorts of jobs will soon be the only ones left for Americans.

In a top-down era of rubrics, standards, and bureaucracy, and in an unprecedented atmosphere of teacher-bashing, NEW EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATIONS will offer independent and alternative voices. Get a complimentary copy here.

Friday, August 10, 2012


U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan asserts that many, if not most, of the nation's teacher preparation programs are second-rate. He says that they attract inferior students and weak faculty. Plus he charges that colleges and universities use them as "cash cows," bleeding off the revenues they generate.

But at the same time Mr. Duncan makes these charges, he praises alternative quickie routes into teaching. Of course logic demands that if teacher education lacks rigor, it should  be made tougher. Yet Mr. Duncan has been doing the exact opposite. In addition to pushing quick and easy routes into teaching, he has even classifies interns as "highly qualified teachers" under No Child Left Behind. Surely this is the first time in history that rank beginners have been classified as experts. One is reminded of Orwell's 1984 where love is hate and war is peace.

 If Duncan really wanted to fix teacher preparation he would declare war on weak state teacher certification requirement, denounce easy routes into teaching and publicly denounce colleges that treat teacher education as a cash cow. Then he would demand the abolition of undergraduate teacher certification programs in favor of  professional graduate schools of education modeled on the training required by real professions.

 Sadly, given the present benefits of being a teacher, it remains necessary to continue making entry into the occupation cheap and easy. No one in their right mind would pay higher costs only to end up underpaid, under-appreciated and scape-goated by purile politicians. This is why, at least when it comes to teacher preparation, Duncan will just keep tinkering around the edges.

For more on this go to:

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Monday, August 6, 2012

SCHOOL PRAYER: Politics vs Reality

Ever since the 1963 Supreme Court decision striking down mandatory recitation of the Lord's Prayer and compulsory Bible reading in public schools, religious activists have been trying to sneak imposed religion back in.
In Virginia and Maryland, for instance, politicians have been trying to legislate "protection" for prayer in public schools. And you can bet they aren't doing this to protect the right of Muslim school children to get out their prayer rugs in class and worship Allah in the classroom.
The Religious Right typically traces what they perceive as the accelerating moral depravity of the nation back to this Supreme Court decision. They apparently think that compelling kids to recite the Lord's Prayer (which most of them could not recite correctly, by the way) appeases God and promotes right moral conduct. Now, they charge, our kids lack this moral compass and Satan and his demons are running wild amongst them.
In the good old days before the High Court's ban I was a Pennsylvania public school teacher. As such I was required to lead the kids in the Lord's Prayer AND read them ten verses from the Bible "without comment." Since I was none too enthusiastic about forcing the Bible on non-Christians and doubters, my favorite verses were those endless "begats" from Genesis. (The kids sometimes asked "What's a begat?" To which I would reply, "Sorry, I am not permitted to comment.")
Did I notice a fall-off in the kid's behavior after the High Court ban? Of course not, and no one else without an overactive imagination did either. The whole exercise of required religion, in public school or out, is not about reality or even genuine religiosity. It's about power — the ability to impose one's will on others. And that's what these Christian fundamentalists really want to do. They want to force their beliefs and practices on the rest of us. Of course, they have every right to believe what they will. But when they seek to end that same tolerance for others, it is they who become intolerable.
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We invite outside-the-box critiques and nonstandard suggestions, ranging from opinion pieces to scholarly articles, for this online refereed journal of ideas and dialogue.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Despite the First Amendment, powerful sectarian lobbies in Washington continue to push for teaching creationism and intelligent design in public school science classes. They also insist on the restoration of classroom devotions, prayer in school, the teaching of "Christian nation" propaganda in history classes, book bannings and school vouchers.

What's behind these combative initiatives? Clearly, these true believers want all of these things, and more. But that's not the end of the story. The clever among them also are in pursuit of the hidden payoffs that result just from conducting these fights.

What are these payoffs? Well, for one thing conflicts of this nature heighten the sense of "us" versus "them," sharpening both internal and external boundaries. Half-hearted commitment is no longer acceptable. The cause is rendered in sharp blacks and whites. One is either on God's side or in league with the powers and principalities of darkness.

Public school versus old-time religion conflicts also revitalize the protesting group's traditions, norms and values. Moreover, they heighten the value of group membership. Is "old time religion" losing its appeal? Create a stink by demanding that teachers grant equal time to intelligent design. Are old-time religious traditions losing their vitality? Get into a fight over preserving the high school football team's pre-game prayer. Are church members sleeping in on Sunday morning? Start a fight with the school board about those Harry Potter books in the library — they encourage children to consort with demons, you know.

Local fights such as these also have other payoffs. They inform movement leaders if bigger fights, statewide ones for instance, might be winnable. Plus they provide very useful intelligence about the reliability of individual group members and the power of possible internal challengers. When the Reverend notices that Brother Brown is suspiciously unenthusiastic about demanding equal time for creation science and seems to be developing a following, for instance, it alerts the Reverend that Brown must be "dealt with."

Ten there is the most vital payoff to be gleaned from vs Godless public school fights: the collection plate gets fuller. When the "Reverend," or some other quasi-religous right wing rabble rouser, can make followers fearful for the souls of their children, they can be relied upon to open their wallets wider.

In sum, there is a lot more to fights about allegedly devilish library books, creation "science," classroom devotions and the like, than meets the eye. When the Religious Right launches another of their many anti-public school offensives the objective is not just to impose their faith on other people. The more clever among them also anticipate all the payoffs that will be born of the conflic,t whether or not God's own actually win the day.
In a top-down era of rubrics, standards, and bureaucracy, and in an unprecedented atmosphere of teacher-bashing, NEW EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATIONS offers independent and alternative voices. We invite outside-the-box critiques and nonstandard suggestions, ranging from opinion pieces to scholarly articles, for an online refereed journal of ideas and dialogue. For a free complimentary copy click here:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

NRC'S REPORT ON TESTING: is it trustworthy?

No Child Left Behind's emphasis on high stakes testing raises questions about how trustworthy such tests really are. In a new education journal — the first issue of which was just released — an expert named Richard Phelps details why he thinks the National Research Council's report on testing should not be relied upon to give us the answer.

Phelps maintains that his own ten year long examination of over 3,000 different research projects on testing clearly reveals that the NRC's report is biased and ignores a century of research on standardized testing and accountability.

Check out Phelp's article in a complimentary issue of the new journal and see what you think.

AFFIRMING DIVERSITY: are you serious?

Sonia Nieto's celebration of "multicultural education," has become something of an educational classic. Even now, over 30 years later, many professors of education think she urges something worthy. This, despite her prescription relying on two obvously false assumptions. First, that cultural values can be successfully married despite often irreconcilable differences. And second, that the world's cultures all are enthusiastic about tolerance. Many aren't. 

Professor Nieto urges educators to "affirm diversity?" She tells them that "cultural, ... differences can and should be accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching." At first blush, that sounds good. We can learn much from one another. But for the professors prescription to work, it requires every culture to be tolerant of the practices and values of every other culture. Trouble is, in the real world cultures often clash. And, more specifically, many clash with cultures like ours, that have been heavily influenced by the renaissance and humanism.

Consider the intolerant and dogmatic Wahhabi sect of Islam. The religious view that dominates Saudi Arabian culture. These folks see the world as divided into the good guys who subscribe to their hard right version of the Sunni school of Islam, and Godless apostates and heretics.  So how do they think they deal with unbelievers? They believe they must be silenced. And if they must be flogged, jailed, or even liquidated to silence them, so be it,.

Think this an exaggeration? Not at all.  In 2004 a Saudi royal study group found that the kingdom's religious studies curriculum "encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the 'other.'  Embarrassed by this finding, high ranking Saudi officials promised to eliminate such intolerant dogmatism from their curriculum. But years later, when the Washington Post analyzed "reformed" Saudi religion texts, they found the self-same, intolerant preachments. After all, if you are in possession of the absolute immutable truth, what earthly - much less heavenly - reason is there to tolerate error? 

Let's imagine Professor Nieto teaching in Saudi Arabia and following her own prescription. She not only accepts and respects all religious points of view, but makes affirming their right to exist a basis for all her teaching. What do you think her fate would be? And before you decide, consider that in 2005, a Saudi teacher cautiously suggested that Jews and the New Testament could be viewed positively. He was not only fired, but sentenced to 750 lashes and sent to prison. (He was eventually pardoned, but only following intense international protests.) 

If Professor Nieto actually "affirmed diversity" in a Saudi classroom  she would doubtless suffer an even worse fate. Perhaps a thousand lashes, then beheading. And since this is a misogynistic culture and Professor Nieto is a woman, a more severe outcome would be especially likely. One wonders, would the good professor still "affirm diversity" if she found herself teaching in some intolerant pesthole? Would she stick to her prescription if it put her own neck on the chopping block? 

Perhaps you're thinking Saudi Arabia is unique. That it is an island of intolerance in a tolerant world. Think again. In the real world intolerance is so common that tolerance is a novelty. And this is especially true where broad masses of people are poor, ignorant and believers in one or another religion that asserts that it, and only it, commands THE truth. 

Also, let's not forget that cultures sometimes define themselves, at least in part, by their rejection of, hatred of, and aggression toward other cultures? For instance, if we really want to affirm diversity how shall we incorporate a culture that practices hatred toward homosexuals. Even puts them to death? Consider the Iranian couple who were accused of having premarital sex. They were sentenced to death, buried up to their necks, then stoned to death by enthusiastic participants. Shall we affirm that sort of diversity? Or how about cultures that condone selling one's own daughter into prostitution, throwing battery acid in the face of girls who merely want to go to school, hiring amateurs to carve out the clitoris of little girls with razor blades, forbidding female's inclusion in wills, inflicting women with second rate legal standing, ad naseum? Should these differences be accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching?

Professor Nieto's prescription makes no sense in the real world. And educators who try to embrace her silly prescription are not embracing tolerance. They are either revealing ignorance or participating in a charade.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


The Obama administration is quietly abandoning No Child Left Behind by granting states waivers from numerous aspects of the law. For example, six additional states—Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, and South Carolina and the District of Columbia, were approved for waivers, bringing the approved total of applicants to 33. And still more are in the works.

Those who abhor NCLB may view its death by waiver as grounds for celebration. But that is overly optimistic. While Arne Duncan and company are quietly dumping some of NCLB's more preposterous requirements well before the law's 2014 drop-dead-date, they are not backing off from their more general stance of officiously telling state and local school people what to do.

Therein lies the problem. Federal school officials are neither wise enough, nor well-informed enough to take this stance. Confined to the Olympian heights of our nation's capital, these politicians and bureaucrats are so far removed from local realities that their persistent meddling provides little but comic relief. Nevertheless, like the party apparatchiks who crafted the former Soviet Union's ridiculously optimistic Five Year Plans, they persist in imposing still more "reforms."

Most of these new impositions will disintegrate into farce in the face of day-to-day realities. But before they do they will distract and dismay thousands of competent educators. The only good this federal tinkering is really likely to accomplish is keeping state school officials too busy to develop "reforms" of their own.

Meanwhile the best government money can buy will persist in allowing, even creating, the social and economic conditions that breed school failure like garbage breeds rats.

For a complimentary copy of a new hard-hitting education journal click here.

Friday, July 27, 2012


A study by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, using data submitted from 38 medical centers around the country, found that Rising home foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies have contributed to an increase in child abuse.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports, "Every 1 percent increase in 90-day mortgage delinquencies over a one-year period was associated with a 3 percent increase in children’s hospital admissions for physical abuse and a 5 percent increase in children’s hospital admissions for traumatic brain injuries suspected to be caused by child abuse."

No doubt these same rising home foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies are also linked to an increased number of kids failing to learn in school. But who in power is interested in researching such questions? Instead of facts, educational policy is based on political feel-good fantasies like No Child Left Behind.

Check out for a complimentary copy of a new, hard-hitting education journal.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


As the November elections approach, both President Obama and Mitt Romney have jumped aboard the charter school train. They both promise ever more of them. 
Charter schools are already a very big business. More than $12  billion is spent on them annually.  The trouble is a lot of larcenous people are wetting their  beaks in this vast lake of public money. Consider that  there are   about six thousand charter schools in the  United States. Yet a Googlsearch for charter school fraudyieldan astonishing  2,890,000 hitsCharteschool corruptiontriggers another 1,850,000, and charter  school  scandals results in 1,060,000 more.
Maybe it will be worth the inevitable increase in fraud and corruption to gain the advantages charter schools offer. But research reveals that consistently superior academic results will not be one of them. Sure,  some  charters get  better results than  some  traditional public schoolsat  least  as measured by standardized tests.  But some  tradtional  public  schools  test  better than  some charter schools  too.  And when we compare overall test  results for both  type  schools, there is no clear-cut winner.10 So whatever advantages the increase in charter schools  offers,  do not count on improved learning being one of them.
What, then, can we count on as charter schools proliferate? Well, if the past is prologue (and in this case it almost certainly is) we can count on a proportional increase in public corruption and cronyism and a brighter future for unemployed relatives of wellpositioned politicians, assorted bunko artists, flim-flam men, confidence tricksters, and  defrocked storefront preachers. 

For more on this in a free download of the New Foundations of Education Journal click here

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND: solemn but never serious

No Child Left Behind seems to be quietly fading away. Since Congress cannot, or will not, reform this reform, President Obama is killing it off with waivers. Do this and that and we'll let you sidetrack NCLB.

I, for one, am not surprised. I never took NCLB seriously. The very name of the act indicates a preposterous goal. Given the resources available to schools and all the non-school factors that impact educational success, achieving this goal would require altering the whole of American society.

No Child Left Behind indeed. Such a goal is plainly preposterous. How, then, was it arrived at? The late Paul Goodman noted that Americans are solemn about schooling but seldom serious. And there isn't a better example of that than this preposterously ambitious "reform."

Imagine applying a similarly ridiculous goal to something we take seriously — let's say professional baseball. No Team Left Behind. We all know that to be successful in baseball requires a delicate balance of defensive and offensive capabilities. We also know that putting such a balance together requires resources. To get a first-rate pitcher you either need a ton of money or you have to trade a first-rate something else. Trying to get a twenty game winner by trading your utility infielder would get you laughed out of the game. Baseball is serious business.

Politicians dabbling in school reform, on the other hand, settle for merely being solemn. They hatch plans so simplistic it is embarrassing to rebut them. Let's remember some previous solemn "educational reform"goals. For example, that the United States must lead the world in science and mathematics education by the turn of the century? Well here we are twelve years after that due date and nothing of that sort has happened. Instead, the whole imperative was quietly shelved in favor of leaving not one single child behind. Why? Because no one was seriously committed to gaining this preeminence to begin with. It was just political theater.

No Child Left Behind is like that. The enormously complex tasks required to even approach this ridiculously ambitious goal were never even laid out. Worse, the prodigious resources required were not even been brought up for serious discussion.

Is this an exaggeration? Consider that NCLB requires that all teachers be "highly qualified." But actually achieving that goal required major, and expensive, changes that none of these solemn politicians were prepared to back. So, by time of the Obama administration, this solemn goal had turned into a laughable farce as thousands of teacher interns, rank beginners mind you, were placed in that category. Beginners as "highly qualified." What could be less serious?

In the fulness of time NCLB will be gathering dust with all the many other solemn, but not serious, reforms of yesteryear. But because of the disruption it has spawned, this particular bit of political theater will have so disassembled public schooling that, like Humpty Dumpty, we will never be able to put it together again.

For a more detailed consideration see

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Teacher "accountability" is the latest thing among politicians of both stripes. Democrat or Republican they both want to insure teachers are held accountable. But held accountable for what?

No doubt teachers should be held accountable for their technical skill, subject matter knowledge, effort, fairness, personal integrity and helpfulness. But holding them accountable for student outcomes as measured by high stakes test results is far more problematic.

That is because teachers typically do not control all, or, in some cases, even most, of the things that influence these test scores. Teachers do not control the effort students put into learning, for instance. Sure, a skilled teacher can increase the motivation of some students and hopefully, as a result, increase their effort. But even the most skillful teacher cannot motivate every student to do his or her best — or even just try. This is especially true if one teaches in a school that serves a community torn apart by violence, unemployment, poverty, drug addiction, dysfunctional families, etc. Even the most skillful teaching cannot reach kids who are sufficiently scared, angry, impoverished, malnourished, high, drunk, neglected, or abused to care about school.

Teachers do not control the general school climate not the amount of backing they get from central administration and the building principal when it comes to maintaining the discipline necessary for learning.Teachers do not control the overall physical condition of the school nor the degree of clerical support they receive. Teachers do not control the amount of time they are required to spend on non-instructional tasks; nor do they control how fairly students with instruction disrupting problems are distributed. Teachers often do not control which teaching materials are chosen nor the fairness with which they are parceled out. Teachers typically do not control the equity of room assignments with some getting stuck in classrooms that are ovens while others are in freezers.

Most important of all, teachers cannot control the quality of parenting kids go home to. Are those parents supportive of the teacher's efforts? That is up to the parent(s.) Do they read to their kids, teach them their letters, numbers and colors when they are young? That is up to the parent? Do they even try to set a good example for their youngsters? That is up to the parent.

O.K., you say, but can't all these things be dealt with by only comparing the results achieved by teachers of the same grade in the same school? No, because no two classes are the same. But what about comparing these teachers over several years? Won't that deal with this problem? No it won't. Suppose, for example, 7th grade teacher A gets an unfair share of students with problems because 7th grade teacher B is friends with the secretary who makes up the class rosters. This favoritism could last for many years. Would it be fair to compare their student test scores? Suppose the school secretary does not like first grade teacher A, but is buddies with first grade teacher B? MIght that not determine who gets supplies and photocopying? Suppose the principal does not give teacher A what she needs because she is old and unattractive, while being overly generous with teacher B because she is the young and hot? These sorts of things can also last for years.

The plain fact is that before we decide to hold teachers accountable, we first have to determine what they can fairly be held accountable for. We also have to consider increasing their control over key variables that influence teaching outcomes. But most of our politicians prefer skipping those sticky steps. They just want to hold these overpaid public servants feet to the fire, hoping all the while that no one carefully considers how fair or wise that might be.

To consider other aspects relating to the evaluation of teachers see

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Years of dumping on teachers, blaming them for outcomes that are beyond their control and throwing them under the bus have taken their toll. Teacher job satisfaction is the lowest it's been since the Reagan years.
The 28th annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, found that 44 percent of teachers are "very satisfied" with their jobs. That's down from 59 percent in 2009. The last time job satisfaction dipped this low was in 1989 — which was the final year of Ronald Reagan's teacher-bashing Presidency. Worse still, 29 percent of teachers say they are likely to leave the teaching profession within the next five year. That's up from 17 percent in 2009.
Simpletons compare superior standardized test scores from nations such as Finland with weak kneed American scores and blame the deficit on US teachers. They never bother to compare Finland's superior social environment with that of the US. Nor, more importantly, the stringent requirements for becoming a teacher, Yet when this is done the unhappy comparisons are striking.,
Another reason U.S. teachers leave the profession is that that they often are only casually committed to begin with. The entry price is so low that casually committed candidates make it all the way through. In Finland only the best and brightest are selected for training and then it takes years of graduate study to qualify. Here you're in if you can wet a hole in the snow.
For more on U.S. teacher preparation see

Monday, February 6, 2012


Educators are repeatedly urged to prepare students for the world of work. I too think this is imperative. Far too many kids emerge from school with unrealistic expectations. Let's get these kids ready to face reality. For instance, when CEO “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap fired 11,000 Scott Paper employees, sold the company to its chief rival and walked away with 100 million dollars, a ton of people believed “Chainsaw” was behaving despicably. They thought he had obligations beyond enriching the stockholders and himself. One newly fired thirty six year veteran of Scott even whined on national television that Dunlap, “... took my life and put it into his pocket ...”. That's self-pitying nonsense. Realistic public schooling would have prepared whiners such as him for the real world of work. That would have brought them to realize that Chainsaw was simply exercising competent corporate leadership.

It is very important that school kids learn to admire leaders like “Chainsaw Al” and the actual world of work that he represents. We must create school policies that thoroughly inculcate Mr. Dunlap’s guiding principle: “The meek shall NOT inherit the earth; and, for sure, they won’t get the mineral rights!” In that spirit we should, for instance, we must immediately eliminate the socialistic practice of encouraging grade school kids to share. Kindergarten and first grade teachers, for instance, must stop urging kids to share crayons. Let them compete for them. Then conduct mandatory coloring classes in which the victors are encouraged to sell crayons to those that haven't got the needed colors — provided they can somehow pay for them. If not, tough.

We also must end all this communistic folderol about “inclusion.” Students in inclusive classrooms can actually begin helping and caring for their less fortunate classmates. We all know what would happen in the business world if a helping camel got its nose under the tent. End inclusion now!

To enhance profits and boost stock prices, corporate leaders also order “involuntary separations from payroll” — often right before employees are eligible for pensions. This clearly aids corporate well-being. Are public schools adequately preparing kids for this corporate necessity? No, they are not. Otherwise there wouldn't be such whining about right sizing. What's needed is corrective action. We could, for instance, allow them to progress to, say,12th grade. Then, when they are nearing graduation, "right size” the school by imposing “involuntary severance” on a random selection of seniors. This will exemplify corporate reality and better prepare youngsters for the real world of work. 

Well-run corporations can sometimes legally wet their beak in employee pension funds. Employees react negatively to this if they lack proper preparation for the real world of work. What can schools do to help alleviate that? They could encourage students to start school-based savings accounts. Then have central administration randomly confiscate the kid's money. Do this two or three times and you won’t have all this kvetching every time a pension fund is lightened to fortify the corporate bottom line.

Here's another world of work problem the schools must help solve. Corporate execs find it increasingly desirable to ship American jobs abroad. But American workers whine about that. Sometimes they even vote for political candidates who pretend they're going to do something about it. What can be done to get them to be more accepting? 

The best practice probably would be to export the kids to, say, India, and school them there.  But that's just not practical. So the next best thing is to fire their American teachers and import new ones from one of the emerging nations. India comes immediately to mind due to the supply of English speakers. We would save a ton of money and kids who see their teachers displaced by this competition will come to understand the necessity of this sort of free trade in humans.

In fairness, public schooling already does already meet some of the  fundamental needs of corporate America. After a few years in elementary school, for instance, kids learn they have to go along to get along. That’s really solid preparation for corporate life. Twelve years of public schooling also teaches kids to live with mindless rules, red tape and managerial double talk. This is basic preparation for the world of work and must continue.

In fact, public schooling has been “ahead of the curve” in at least one aspect of world of work preparation. Business only belatedly “densified” their world — that is moving employees out of  offices into a warren of public cubicles. Public schools have been even more densified since their inception. The kids have always been on top of one another and the teachers have never had any privacy. So school kids are well prepared for corporate densification. Yes, I know, Covid temporarily messed this up. But even here schools took the lead in working remotely so kids are also prepared for that world of work.

Here's another area where schools are actually ahead of the curve. Corporate bosses have only recently begun to enthusiastically lurch from one management reform fad to another. Happily, reform manias have erupted regularly in public schooling for more than a century. By the time a youngster reaches twelfth grade, he or she has already survived two or three "improvement" crazes. That’s more than enough to prepare them for corporate America.

Despite these strengths, though, preparation for the world of work requires much school improvement. Here we've made a few suggestions as a starter. But there are lots and lots of other opportunities for our schools to more throughly prepare students for the world of work. Now let's get busy!

To examine these and similar issues further, see

-- GKC

Saturday, January 14, 2012

THE LITTLE RED MADHOUSE: Should Corporal Punishment Be Revived?


Paradoxically, kids from less 'humane' cultures than ours often long for the relative safety of their homeland. They are more terrorized by the disorder in their inner-city American schools than they were by the threat of corporal punishment in schools back home. 

A teacher recently told me that her elementary ESOL students are uniformly repulsed and frightened by the disorder in their Philadelphia elementary school. One day, when the sound of cursing and fighting grew so loud in the hallway that her ESOL kids could barely hear their teacher, a quiet little girl from Ghana suddenly said, "These kids are just so bad. In my room (meaning her every-day classroom) I cannot learn!" 

She paused, then said longingly, "In Ghana they hit you if you're bad." The ESOL teacher asked, "Did that make Ghanaian kids behave?" "Oh yes," the girl replied, "it wasn't anything like this place!" "Do you think kids in this school would behave if they got hit?" the teacher inquired. "Yes!" the girl replied, momentarily brightening, "Oh yes, I'm sure they would!" Then her smile faded as she realized this was not going to happen.

When we compel children to attend school we incur a non-negotiable obligation to insure that they are safe and that those who want to can learn. This must take precedence over everything including well-intentioned social reclamation efforts, racial pride building, condom distribution, and the thousand and one other non-academic things schools are unwisely charged with doing.

Similarly, teachers must be free of the threats and assaults of disturbed or malevolent youngsters. Likewise, no one should be allowed to destroy their lessons. In short, serious disruption, threats, bullying, extortion, and predation, simply must not be tolerated if schools are to fulfill their function.

To restore order, however, school officials must command meaningful sanctions that tough kids respect. If this can be accomplished without inflicting physical pain on bullies and budding sociopaths, so much the better. But what if resources are inadequate for a more refined approach? Or what if we can't find a more refined approach that works reliably? Should we continue to compel well behaved children to attend unsafe schools where they are bullied unmercifully and denied the opportunity to learn? Should we continue to prate about holding teachers accountable when they are not even safe in their own classrooms?

In the "good old days" if you made other people's lives miserable or learning impossible it cost you a red behind and a one way trip out the door if you persisted. Today, these options have pretty much been ruled out. What has taken their place? Pious sermons, ineffectual detentions, suspensions that the kids view as vacations, forced transfers that spread the chaos, and, more recently, structured efforts to persuade sociopaths not to use the violence that pays off so handsomely for them. All of this is well intentioned. But all too often sneering recipients of these social services continue to lay waste to everyone's safety and learning.

In the best of all possible worlds, pain would never have to be inflicted on anyone for any reason. And a lot can still be done to make schooling more palatable and more effective for a broader range of kids. But the world is far from perfect, school resources are strictly limited and order is necessary for any reforms to take hold. Tough penalties, then, are still required. 

Educators relied on corporal punishment for nearly 6,000 years. Must we now revive what has only recently been set aside? Is there an affordable alternative that tough kids won't laugh at? Perhaps. But in the meantime far too many children — good kids who would dearly love to learn — are compelled to attend mad houses rather than school houses.

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