Monday, June 13, 2022

BARE BOOB OR MURDER? what's best viewing for kids?


A while back I addressed Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction.” You'll recall this brief view of her boob, a pasty covering the nipple, created such a furor that Congress, the FCC and the Supreme Court got involved. 

Complaints about the incident repeatedly emphasized, "children were watching!" So what? Why is a kid getting a very brief glimpse of a nearly bare breast so upsetting when, by the time they complete elementary school, the average U. S. child has watched some 8,000 murders on TV. Yep, that's right, eight thousand! And we're not even counting movie murders or the killings depicted in electronic gaming.

Routinely exposing children to murder as entertainment generates little to no public protest. Yet a momentary glimpse of a boob get's the nation's bowels in an uproar? What in the world is one to make of that?  Who but a moral cretin, the Rev. Franklin Graham comes to mind, thinks that feigned murder of a fellow human being is acceptable, while a very brief glimpse of a breast, with nipple covered, is grounds for outrage? Murder as entertainment generates a great deal of money for some people who count? But in what other way is this beneficial? 

Sure, kids know that TV, movie and electronic media murders aren't real.  Nevertheless, what are they learning by living in a culture where the staged depiction of murder is entertainment? Also ask yourself, what kid's learn about sexuality when a breast bared for a fraction of a second creates a national furor? Healthy that ain't.

Here's an actual incident that first got me thinking about this. One morning my wife and I were walking to our car when some young boys next door made believe they were shooting me. I know, boys often do that sort of thing. But let's broaden our view of it a bit. Suppose, instead of pretending to murder me, they had mimicked having sexual intercourse with my wife. Let's imagine they were pointing at her and thrusting their butts. Imagine how the boy's mother would have reacted if I informed her that her were doing that. She would have been mortified. But had I expressed concern about her boys were pretending to murder me, she would have thought me tetched. Why? How come kids mimicking a pleasurable act is utterly unacceptable, while mimicking murder is amusing? What sort of weird cultural values does this reflect? 

Most of what shapes a child's sense of right and wrong is caught rather than taught. By that I mean, kids absorb how to behave and what to value just by living in a certain environment. Now, what do you think they are absorbing by watching and playing at murder? Is this wise and worthy of their promise? And as for this puritanical attitude regarding human sexuality that they absorb, how wise is that? No wonder we've got all sorts of sexual deviants running about.

So, am I far out in left field on this? Or does what I'm saying make sense? Please comment.

To examine similar educationally related issues, see articles at www.newfoundations.net 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

THE WORM TURNS: let's test all political candidates


No Child Left Behind imposed one-size-fits-all standardized testing on every public high school student in the nation.  It's successor, the more relaxed Every Student Succeeds Act, still demands state established testing of all but private school students. (This insures that most powerful people's children endure no such indignity.)

Here's how we might take unexpected advantage of this federal imposition. Require every political candidate to take the same high stakes battery of tests imposed on their state's high schoolers. Should they refuse the tests, they can't run. 

To make sure no 'public servant' escapes this scrutiny, let's also require aspiring high level government appointees, such as a wannabe U. S. Secretary of Education, Secretary of State or Supreme Court Justice, to also take the tests. 

I'm not proposing they must achieve a minimum score to run. (Though I personally like the idea.) Just that they must take the tests and the resultant scores be made very public. Allow no exceptions. No matter how many terms a politician has been in office, he or she would be forbidden to run again until they are tested and the results published. 

Voters will know how the respective candidates compare. Before being allowed to run again for President, for example, Mr. Trump would have to take the Florida high school tests. Though I can't imagine this "very stable genius" not acing them. (Of course if Trump's scores were low he could immediately claim the tests were fixed.) If Biden should choose to run for reelection he too would have to take, in this case, the Delaware tests. His scores would help clarify to what degree, if any, he has been addled by age. 

We wouldn't have to use the more relaxed Every Student Succeeds standards that now prevail. We could revert to No Child Left Behind national testing and require the Common Core tests. Here we would not only be testing the candidate's math and reading, but also subjects like foreign language, economics, the arts and even physical education. I personally like this model better because voters could make national comparisons. Imagine, for example, voters could directly compare Marjorie Taylor Green' s scores with those of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Or we could lay Trump vs Biden scores side by side, should that be relevant in 2024.

Alternatively, we could design specific tests for each high office. One for aspiring Senators, one for House membership, etc. We could turn to ETS, the Psychological Corporation or what have you, to craft these tests for each office sought. Imagine, for instance, aspiring U. S. senators having to pass muster on American history, law, principles of finance, knowledge of other nations, climate change, problem solving, listening comprehension, science, social science, etc. Wouldn't that be helpful for voters?

We might also develop general questions for all office seekers based on our national experience. Imagine ones like these: 

1. Given an unprecedented federal budget deficit, the best course of action of those listed is to: a. borrow more money from China  b. cut another trillion dollars in tax revenue due from the wealthiest Americans  c. slash Social Security benefits  d. tighten the nation's belt and spend only what we have. 
 2. If an attractive intern offers sex, a public official should:  a. quickly take him or her up on it before they change their mind  b. accept, but make sure the intern's clothes are laundered afterward  c. politely decline  d. ask them what they mean by "sex." 
 3. If, as a member of Congress, you plan to have our schools emphasize “character education,” the best individual upon whom to base the curriculum would be:  a. J. Edgar Hoover  b. Richard Nixon  c. Bill Clinton  d. none of the above 
 4. If an attack on the US originated in Afghanistan, the best course of action would be to: a. invade Iraq  b. invade Iran  c. invade Canada  d. invade nobody 

We could also require every aspiring state Secretary of Education to pass the same battery of tests his or her state requires of aspiring teachers. In Pennsylvania, for example, they would have to pass separate NTE basic skills tests in Reading, Writing, and Listening Skills, (The later would be a tough one for any politician.) They also must pass a knowledge of pedagogy teaching test in their chosen area , such as elementary, math or social studies. (Here, I recommend the elementary ed exam because it focuses on knowledge of pedagogy and child development.) Why require passing scores for this battery of tests? Because any teacher who has passed them should not be required to accept as a leader someone who can't? 

Of course, in dealing with aspiring politicians, dishonesty and cheating is of urgent concern. Safeguards clearly are required. We must be absolutely certain that our subjects don't cheat. And we must keep in mind that a majority of them would be unaccustomed to doing anything honestly. 

That, in broad outline, is the plan. But it needs filling in. Assuming that you like the general idea, do you think aspirants for public office should take the same tests they prescribe for others, or a brand new tests custom designed for the position desired? And should we try to measure candidate's wisdom, rectitude, practical knowledge, technical knowledge, sexual cravings, dogmatism, or what? 

You also might like to suggest specific test items. They need not be multiple choice as exemplified in this commentary. Any type questions typically found on standardized tests are welcome. Post your thoughts and suggestions as comments. 

To examine other education policiesy issues, interesting articles are available at both  www.newfoundations.com and www.newfoundations.net. They share a common index.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

MIRROR,MIRROR ON THE WALL: schools reflect America


Mirrors reflect reality with remorseless accuracy. Exercise and watch what you eat? There it is in the mirror — flat belly, taut muscles, and all. Sit on your duff and gobble Twinkies? The consequences also are reflected with unflattering exactitude. Well, schools are our nation's mirror. What's right or wrong with them reflects what's right or wrong with America.  In the 'good old days' 'wrong side of the tracks' kids typically dropped out of school long before graduation. So those schools provided a more flattering reflection of America. These days a lot more kids stay in school. In consequence, today's schools accurately reflect what's going on in America. 

What is going on? One of the most striking developments is that the U. S. has the most uneven distribution of wealth in the world. The Aspen Foundation reports that the wealthiest 1% of American families hold some 40% of all the wealth. The bottom 90% of share less than 25%. This disparity profoundly impacts the lives of millions of children. Teachers wrestle with the consequences every day.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that 18% of all children in America, a total of nearly 13 million (1 in 5) live in poverty. They all go to school. Plus more of our citizens per thousand are imprisoned than any where else on the globe. This means hundreds of thousands of dads are locked up. So were 57,700 mothers. In fact in 2021 some 626,800 fathers of minor children were incarcerated.  And the Casey Foundation reports that more than 5 million American children, 1 in 14, has had a parent imprisoned at some point in their lives.

The destructive effects of massive inequality and mass incarceration flood into classrooms with devastating effect. And this is especially true in the poorest school districts, where teachers have inadequate resources while the children have major problems. 

Meanwhile in more affluent areas with financially secure, well-educated parents, plus functional families, safe streets, a rich tax base and a general respect for learning, good school outcomes are much, much more likely. And teachers here are better paid and have far more resources. It's a case of "them that has, gets," 

Let's also briefly consider how the quality of parenting fits in here. Is quality parenting reflected in school outcomes? "Is the Pope Catholic?" The requirements for becoming a parent are distressingly lax. So a host of people gain parental responsibility who simply can't or won't meet the mark. Far too many are too stupid, selfish, cruel, frightened, impoverished, mentally ill, emotionally needy, foolish, addicted, ignorant, etc., to responsibly raise a child. And our schools reflect this melancholy reality every hour of the day. 

I know a first grade teacher who for 13 years was very successful, winning many plaudits. Then she was hired to teach kindergarten in the School District of Philadelphia. She quit before the year was up to preserve her mental and physical health.  Her comment upon quitting was, "I don't know what I was supposed to be doing in there, but it sure wasn't teaching. Then she added, "And I'm tired out caring more for other people's children than their parents do." Hyperbolic and spoken in disgust? Sure. But there's still is a strong element of truth.

Of course politicians, many bought-and-paid-for via campaign "contributions," find it expedient to interpret the situation differently. They maintain, some of them might actually believe, that poor school outcomes are the fault of educators. Sometimes they are. But most of the time they aren't.

Let's reprise. Our schools mirror the nation. So if you are disturbed by what you see reflected, it is unlikely to be the mirror's fault. And if you like what you see, don't give the mirror much credit either. 

Does that mean educators are essentially powerless and can do little or nothing to improve learning? Of course not. But what they can do is limited when poverty, crime, lousy parenting, social disorder, dysfunctional families, etc., create an avalanche of problems, indifference, even opposition. Of course, when the opposite prevails what they can do is vastly enhanced.

Perhaps you can remember when, in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama era, school reform was all the rage and the federal government spent billions of dollars, and a lot of hot air, on various schooling improvements. Now we know that those initiatives were largely worthless. In retrospect it seems as if these politicians were buying new mirrors because they weren't  satisfied with what the existing mirror reflected. Were they aware that's what they were doing? Who knows? But we do know that appearance matters more than reality when you're playing politics. And we also know that Barrack Obama could not have been serious when he officially ruled that folks only training to be teachers were already "highly qualified" to be one. ("Highly qualified" was a standard that the federal law required.)

If any so-called  'public servant' should really wants to improve school outcomes, here's three things they must do: 
1. reverse the growing disparity between the rich and the rest of us
2. quit locking up so many parents without regard for what that does to their kids 
3. offer free, high quality, parent training (plus follow-up support) to anyone who wants it. 

Positive results will take far longer than a typical term in public office, a great deal of money, and more rigorously selected, much better trained, and better paid teachers. Do that and school results will gradually improve. But it seems there's virtually no chance of that happening.

For more on this see www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/PSMirror.htm  

Saturday, June 4, 2022

FEEDING THE MONSTER: "woke" professors nourish MAGA


Many of today's colleges feature strident demonstrations of "woke" self-righteousness. Holier-than-thou faculty demand speakers be canceled and fellow professors fired should any of them harbor an opinion different from theirs. Censorious students often inspire or join in these inquisitions. And craven administrators sometimes cave in to this intolerable intolerance. 


It's hard to imagine more repulsive academic behavior. "Stupid" also applies. Particularly if these zealots teach at, or attend, a public college of university. Why? Their intolerance further undermines public funding given already shaky public confidence in higher education. 


These days attacks on higher education pay big political dividends, particularly if you're a MAGA politician. The Pew Foundation found that two-thirds of today's Republicans already have only “some” or “little” confidence in colleges as institutions. Indeed a lot of them have come to believe that higher education is little more than “woke” indoctrination.  Today's"woke" shenanigans simply feed this monster.  


Republican led defunding has already been devastating the aspirations of lower income kids who want to go to college. It's getting less and less affordable. In 1958 I, for one, was able to go to college because government funding covered, on average, 75% of public higher ed costs. Now, after more than 60 years of paring down, average public funding is 25%. . 


We can thank Ronald Reagan for modeling this tactic and demonstrating it really pays off in votes. As Governor of California, Reagan ended free higher ed tuition for California residents; annually demanded 20% across the board cuts in higher education funding; repeatedly slashed college construction funds for state campuses, and imperiously declared that the state “should not subsidize intellectual curiosity.” (Something largely absent in Reagan himself.) 


And, while he was at it, Reagan, and Republican legislators, slashed funding for California’s basic education. These cuts ultimately resulted in overcrowded classrooms, deteriorating schools, more poorly paid teachers and, of course, increased local taxes. Nevertheless, Gov. Reagan was reelected despite the fact that California's public education system has never fully recovered from his despoliation.


When he was governor. Reagan took particularly advantage of the anti-Vietnam war movement by vitriolicaly denouncing student peace protests. Whenever these students demanded an end to this ill-conceived adventure, much less had the audacity to protest the possibility of being dragooned into it, Reagan was scathing in his criticism. He called them: “brats,” “freaks,” and  “cowardly fascists.’ (Reagan, himself, spent his war, WW 2, safe in Hollywood making Army propaganda films.)


Gov. Reagan was even more severe when it came to the campus disorder that student peace protests generated. He publicly proclaimed, “… if it takes a blood bath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement!”  A few days later 4 kids were shot to death and nine others wounded with one paralyzed, when Ohio National Guardsmen spontaneously opened fire during an anti-war protest on Kent State University’s campus. (A number of the murdered kids were simply on their way to or from class.) No one has ever been indicted, much less convicted, of these homicides. A Reagan spokesman hastily assured the public that the governor’s "blood bath" comment in no wise provoked the shootings.


In summary, when Ronald Reagan became governor, California’s basic and higher educational systems were both the nation’s best. When he left, they weren’t, and haven't been since.


Subsequently, in his two terms as U. S. President, 1981 to 1989,  Reagan continued his now time-proven tactic of criticizing educators and budget slashing public education budgets. His administration's bloviating spokesman for this effort was Secretary of Education, William Bennet whose "accomplishments" require a blog of its own. President Reagan's congress also slashed federal spending on every kind of education. In fact at Reagan's urging they cut that federal spending on education in half. When he entered office, federal funds paid 12% of the nation’s public schooling bills. When he left they were paying just 6%. (It's still just 7%.)


Sure, the Republican campaign against public education exploits America's historic distrust of learning and the learned. But the current extremism of the most strident “woke” creates an unprecedented opportunity for right wing politicians to enact more censorious legislation, foster know-nothing parent's distrust of their kid's teachers, further cut financial support for “government schools, and so forth.” For some of these politicos the final goal — besides being reelected, of course — must be total privatization of public education. After all, in 2022 government funding for K-12 schooling alone tops half a trillion dollars. And what self-respecting champion of free enterprise wouldn’t want to bulldoze that enormous mountain of cash every year into the private sector? 


“Woke” extremists doubtless see themselves as righteous campaigners for all that’s holy. Knights errant in a irreproachable crusade for justice. And there's no question that many of the injustices they seek to cure are real. But Trump style demagogues are hoping and praying that these zealots just keep on overdoing what they’re overdoing. The opportunities this creates for these right wind rabble rousers are priceless.