Monday, June 27, 2016

CHRONIC ABSENTEEISM: what's the real problem

Gary K. Clabaugh
Emeritus Professor of Education, La Salle University

According to the Education Department's new Civil Rights Data Collection about 13 percent of all U.S. students — more than 6 million—missed at least 15 days of school in the 2013-14 school year. The survey includes a variety of often-neglected reasons including excused or unexcused absences, truancy, suspensions, illness, or family issues.

Utilizing this new data the Associated Press found that "of the 100 largest school districts by enrollment, the Detroit City School District had the highest rate of chronic absenteeism. Nearly 58 percent of students were chronically absent in the 2013-2014 school year." Numerous other big city districts, such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, were close behind.

Secretary of Education John King says that, "Chronic absenteeism is a national problem. He then emphasizes the obvious, namely that, “Frequent absences from school can be devastating to a child's education. Missing school leads to low academic achievement and triggers drop-outs. Millions of young people are missing opportunities in postsecondary education, good careers and a chance to experience the American dream."

Predictably the Secretary wants educators to address the “root cause of this problem.” But the root cause is neither schools nor education. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature knows youngsters are chronically absent in such prodigious numbers because they are hungry, sick, scared, angry, alienated, indifferent or think they have no future worth worrying about. So how, pray tell, are educators supposed to deal with all of this?

 Brown points to the “American dream” without recognizing the all too real American nightmare. What is that? Dysfunctional family life, deteriorated neighborhoods, below poverty level wages, chronic under or unemployment, drug addiction, alcoholism, fatherless families, the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, the massively unfair distribution of our national wealth, and politicians who are bought and paid for.

Secretary Brown’s solemn hogwash is just one more example of the disingenuous bullshit we have come to expect from federal officials. Consider their latest intrusion into public education, the inanely named Every Student Succeeds Act. Every student will succeed when pigs fly! These fools and charlatans should spare us their silly posturing and get serious for a change.

See "Solemnity and Seriousness,"

Thursday, June 23, 2016



by Gary K. Clabaugh 
Emeritus Professor of Education, La Salle University

Explicit definitions mirror ordinary usage and are fully and clearly stated; leaving nothing implied. For instance, The Medical Dictionary explicitly defines abortion thusly:

abortion [ah-bor´shun]
termination of pregnancy before the fetus is viable. In the medical sense, this term and the term miscarriage both refer to the termination of pregnancy before the fetus is capable of survival outside the uterus. The term abortion is more commonly used as a synonym for induced abortion, the deliberate interruption of pregnancy, as opposed to miscarriage, which connotes a spontaneous or natural loss of the fetus. 

In contrast Pope Francis recently declared abortion to be a "crime" and an "absolute evil." If we accept this definition, we embrace the Roman Catholic program of action that underlies it. While that may have merit, it violates ordinary usage. Presently abortion is not a crime. Nor do a majority agree that it is an absolute evil. This violation of ordinary usage and popular consensus is what makes the Pope's definition programmatic. 

Programmatic definitions are particularly troublesome because they tend to delegitimize debate and stifle discussion. Accept the Pope's definition, for instance, and we need not wonder if a girl who has been forcibly raped by her father should have the option of abortion. If she chooses that, no matter how desperately, she is, by the Pope's definition, a criminal choosing an "absolute evil." Moreover, according to the Pope, this would be true even if the abortion is performed before the fetus is capable of independent survival outside her uterus.

The practical force of programmatic definitions is that their acceptance has consequences far exceeding mere linguistic preference. Accept Pope Francis's definition, for example, and there is no room for argument or contrary evidence. The choice has been made for us.

A handy, though by no means infallible, method of identifying programmatic definitions is the presence in the definition of adjectives such as “true “ or “real.” For example, "A true conservative is one who ...:". You can fill in the rest.

Now, those who offer programmatic definitions do not necessarily intend to deceive or slip us a linguistic Mickey. Individuals offering programmatic definitions often sincerely believe that the meanings they propose are the only “true” or “right” ones. 

Sincerity and good intentions, however, are not enough. To avoid being programmatic, definitions must mirror ordinary usage,  stand against contrary evidence and surmount informed disagreement. Mere assertion will not do.