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


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

Paradoxically, at the same time Secretary Duncan made these charges, he praised alternative quickie routes into teaching. Logic demands that if teacher education lacks rigor, we should make it tougher. Yet Mr. Duncan did the exact opposite. In addition to pushing quicker and easier routes into teaching, he actually classified untrained interns as "highly qualified teachers." to make employing them compliant with the No Child Left Behind Act.) An utterly without rigor practice President Obama quickly approved, shamelessly transforming rank beginners into experts. 

Had Duncan really really been concerned about strengthening teacher preparation, he would have declared war on weak state teacher certification requirements, publicly denounced easy routes into teaching and identified colleges and universities that exploit teacher education as cash cows. Then, had he really cared, he would have demanded the abolition of undergraduate teacher certification programs in favor of  professional graduate schooling modeled on the training that has been so successful in dramatically boosting Finland's educational ranking.

Now, as Biden's first term in office comes to an end, teacher education still is as anemic as ever. And, given the present lousy benefits of being a teacher, it is even more necessary to continue making entry into teaching cheap and easy. No one in their right mind would pay higher costs to become a teacher in order to end up underpaid, under-appreciated, scape-goated by purile politicians and attacked by ungrateful parents anxious to blame others for their incompetence.

Will sad situation change under either a Trump or Biden second term? Certainly not. Trump, famed founder of the utterly bogus Trump University, has proven to have a life-long immunity to schooling. (Though he somehow did manage to finagle a degree from Penn's Wharton School. Something Penn has yet to apologize for)  Plus Biden shows no evidence, nor particular concern, for improving teaching. Miguel Cardona, his remarkably under-qualified Secretary of Education, doesn't even have an advanced degree in Education. 

Besides, strengthening teacher education these days would be most untimely. There is such a paucity of candidates of even indifferent quality that any increase in rigor would result in even more chronic scarcity. No, politically it's time to make becoming a teacher even easier. And there's even the added benefit of increasing widespread ignorance thus making it even easier for politicians to bullshit voters.

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.
To preview a hard-hitting new education journal, click this link
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.