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.

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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.

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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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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?

Affirming Diversity, Sonia Nieto's 1992 celebration of multicultural education, has become an educational classic. Yet her bold prescription for public education is based on a false assumption. Namely, that cultural values are mutually inclusive and will support tolerance.

What, specifically, is Professor Nieto prescribing for our schools? She advocates "Affirming Diversity." What does that imply? She says it, "... implies that cultural, linguistic, and other differences can and should be accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching."

But the values of other cultures are sometimes completely at odds with the very tolerance Nieto's prescription requires. Consider, for example, the dogmatism of the Wahhabi Islamic sect that dominates Saudi Arabia. These chaps divide the world into good guy true believers — those who subscribe to their version of the Sunni school of Islam — and bad guy unbelievers whose beliefs must be suppressed or, preferably, eliminated.

Think this is an exaggeration? Well the Saudi's themselves don't think so. 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 when in enlightened company, Saudi education authorities promised to extirpate this intolerant dogmatism from their curriculum. But when the Washington Post analyzed recent Saudi religion texts they found them to be as hate filled and intolerant as ever.

How is this pertinent to Professor Nieto's recommendation that we affirm diversity? Well let's imagine her teaching in Saudi Arabia. And lets further imagine that as she does so she not only accepts and respects other religious points of view, but makes them a basis for learning and teaching. What do you think her fate would be? But before you decide consider that in 2005, a Saudi teacher who merely suggested Jews and the New Testament could be viewed positively was fired, sentenced to 750 lashes and given a prison term. (He was eventually pardoned, but only following international protests.)

Since Professor Nieto doubled down on this Saudi teacher's minor league tolerance, it seems reasonable to conclude that she would suffer a far worse fate. Would she still "affirm diversity" when her own neck was on the chopping block?

Then there is the little matter of cultures defining themselves in part by their hatred for and aggression against others. Shall we affirm a culture that hates homosexuals and sometimes puts them to death? How about cultures that condone selling one's daughters into prostitution, throwing battery acid in the face of girls who want to go to school, sexually mutilating baby girls with dirty razor blades, cutting girls out of wills and otherwise inflicting them with second rate legal standing? Then there is the Iranian couple caught in unapproved copulation. They were sentenced to death, buried to their necks and stoned to death by eager participants. Shall we affirm that sort of diversity?

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