Monday, October 31, 2022

PARENTS DECIDING WHAT SCHOOLS TEACH: a good idea?





Remember when Democrat Terry McAuliffe was competing with Republican Glenn Youngkin in the tightly contested Virginia gubernatorial race? They were facing off in a final televised debate, and were discussing school curricula and library books related to race, gender identity and sexuality when Youngkin charged that school systems were “refusing to engage with parents.” That's when McAuliffe made the mistake of countering “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” That might well have cost her the election.   

Should parents be "telling schools what to teach?" That certainly depends on whether parents can be relied upon to make wise pedagogical decisions. So let's recollect what it takes to become a parent. The qualifications are, to be charitable, very minimal. And this lax selection process leads to a goodly number of parents who are unqualified to decide much of anything. There are an abundance of ignorant, stupid, closed minded, fanatical, bigoted, dogmatic, and just plain incompetent parents. So it's pure fantasy to expect these kinds of parents to make reasonable, or responsible, decisions concerning what their kids are taught. 

Moreover, from a practical point of view, when such parents make a decision, let's say it's to rule out the teaching of evolution in biology class, their choice won't just limit what is taught to their children, but to every child in the class. Why? Because it is a practical impossibility to individualize each child's instruction in the factory-like setting that is our public schools.

Let's also ask if we should entrust individuals who can barely read with deciding what schools teach? Is that relevant? A Gallup analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals that about 130 million adults in the U. S. have low literacy skills. More than half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 (54%) read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. Many parents actually are borderline illiterate. Shall we entrust such individuals with deciding what is taught in school? That seems hard to defend.

Let's also remember that for children from dysfunctional families school is often a refuge. And the very last thing these children want or need is to give their deplorable parents a bigger role in the life of the school. What these particular kids actually need is for their biological parents to have less of a role in their life. That's why every two minutes in the United States, a child is removed from their family and placed in foster care. 

Besides, parents already do have a significant say regarding what schools teach. That's because our public schools are the most democratically and locally controlled arm of government there is - bar none. The vast majority of our 13,000 plus school districts are run by locally elected boards. So every parent has some say at the most local level. They can even run for school board should they so choose. (Though let's nor forget that a lot of parents don't even bother to show up on meet the teacher nights.)

Public schools are governed in this hyper democratic way to try to balance a myriad different, often competing, parental priorities, try to balance various non-parental concerns, and also shelter educational policy from the most irresponsible extremism. With all it's faults, this system works pretty well. And one reason it does so is that parents have always been included, though not allowed to totally dominate, the process.

After all, public schooling has never had a direct parental controlling intent to begin with. From it's inception, public education has always been about ameliorating parental upbringing in order to insure each youngster's socialization is not only parentally acceptable, but acceptable to the rest of us. If, for example, Mom and Dad are Qanon wack jobs, that's their business. But if their kids can only view the world through Qanon eyes, that's our business. After all, the rest of us have to live with the consequences of such distorted vision. 

I can't imagine any candidate being unaware of the practical impossibility of every parent setting their individual youngster's school curriculum, readings, and so forth. And, unless they are a complete jackass, every politician also knows parents shouldn't have the only say. But promising to achieve what's impossible still might get them elected. It certainly helped Glenn Youngkin.

Enough said.

  -- GKC ------

See also, "Merit Pay for Teachers?" 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

MULTICULTURALISM: probing the limits



Much obeisance is paid to the need for "multiculturalism" in the school curriculum. How else, ask earnest disciples, can educators promote a sense of empowerment and worth in all Americans? How else can they truly engage the many communities they serve? How else can they run schools that are strong and accountable community institutions? 

All that is true enough. But this comprehension and valuing will not change the fact that groups, be they clans, tribes or nations, compete for limited resources. And to the extent that these resources are limited, they do so at one another's expense. For instance, geographic territory is limited; and the demand for it exceeds the supply. It's a zero sum game. Consider the nearly three quarters of a century struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs over land. Think the Palestinians are going multicultural and recognize Jewish holidays anytime soon? Or how about Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Far from honoring Ukraine's culture, Putin alleges it doesn't even exist. Are the Ukrainians going to go for that kind of multiculturalism?

This competition for limited resources is one thing that strictly defines multiculturalism's limits. Why? Because it is difficult to even tolerate, much less honor, another group when that group's gain has been your group's loss. Competition for resources, be they jobs, desirable territory, natural resources, and so forth, has existed for all of recorded history. And, be assured, that this competition will continue, "... for as long as grass should grow and water flow.

Now, in polyglot nations like the U. S., Canada or Australia, token recognition of the other guy's culture is de rigueur. For example, despite the vitriolic distrust and outright rejection that greeted Irish immigrants when they first arrived in the U. S., lots and lots of folks now wear green on St. Patrick's Day, perhaps eat a couple of those horrid confections, Irish Potatoes, or watch the parade. But that's only because the Irish have been so absorbed and intermarried that their presence is no longer the threat it once was seen to be. They now are a part of us.  And social science reveals that it is expressions of difference that result in negative appraisals.

Here is another strict limit on multiculturalism. Often one culture's values are diametrically opposed to those of another. Thus, they are utterly incompatible. And that leads us to the biggest problem of them all. The very tolerance required for a group to be multicultural is not only absent, but utterly rejected in many other cultures. Consider Saudi Arabia, for instance. They are so sure they are right about all sorts of things, religion for example, that they make no accommodations for difference whatsoever. Yet this fundamental incompatibility of multicultural tolerance for an intolerant culture is seldom, if ever, recognized by right thinking multicultural advocates. 

Sure, if another group's culture has been thoroughly adulterated by elements of the polyglot host culture, modest tolerance toward that other group's culture is likely. But even a long-resident group will still catch a world of crap if they remain sufficiently different. For instance, recent unprovoked assaults on Asian appearing citizens demonstrate that these Americans are sometimes punched in the face, beaten up, sometimes even killed, just for looking different. And if a group who wants to enter is really different, say, Middle Eastern Muslims, one quickly sees how minimally "multi-cultural" the rest of us are prepared to be. Remember Trump's attempted muslim ban? What kind of multiculturalism did that amount to? Then there is his border wall welcoming "the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free."

Can one group's culture be enriched by welcoming another group and adopting, or at least respecting, aspects of their culture? Sure, it happens all the time. Nevertheless, due to the dynamics just described, this adoption will often be limited to the dominant group gingerly granting mere token recognition. For instance, deciding that their vittles are tasty.

So, to be realistic, advocates of multiculturalism, in education or out, must limit their ambitions and recognize the limitations. Too frequently that's not happening because of virtue signaling and imbalanced zealotry. Yet this is far too important an issue to address so thoughtlessly. The very growth, enrichment, coherence and stability of our society are at stake. 

For a more detailed treatment of this subject see: http://newfoundations.net/?page_id=303 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

TRASH HIGH STAKES TESTS: instead use "leading education indicators"




Way too much is made of high stakes test scores. They measure relative trivialities and tell us nothing whatsoever about the impact schooling is having on the way people actually make decisions and live their lives. 

 Many admit the weaknesses of these tests. But most still argue for their administration. “We need some measure of school effectiveness,” they say. Sure we do. But there already are widely available ways of measuring educational success that do not require wasting instructional time, teaching to the test, or inadvertently fostering teacher and administrative dishonesty. All we need do is identify and assemble measures that already exist. 

Economists call them "lagging indicators" and have long used them to compile their index of "Leading Economic Indicators. Here they combine already existing economic measures to construct an overall picture of the health of the economy. And that's precisely how we can and should evaluate schooling. Assemble an index of "Leading Educational Indicators." Here are some candidates to consider for that index:  

  • THE NIELSON RATINGS What folks watch on TV could be one indicator of the success or failure of their schooling? Count the number of adults regularly viewing "The Celebrity Dating Game,"for example, and we might be mostly counting people that schooling somehow failed. So, the fact that ABC cancelled that wretched show after just one season would be good news on the school front. Similarly HBO's "House of the Dragon" has soared to 2022's number one spot for both cable and streaming. Rotten Tomatoes says, "The story, the casting, the acting and the set, all superb." So the popularity of that show could be a plus for schooling. Do you think the Nielsens might be helpful in evaluating schooling's success or failure? 
  • MUSIC SALES Perhaps we should check the sales figures for various musical artists and genres. Like the enduring popularity of paintings of Elvis on black velvet, they might well reveal \ information about schooling's success or failure. We could, for example, compare gangsta rap sales with those for classical music. Don't you think schooling has surely failed those who prefer Snoop Dog to Mozart or Ice Cube to Chopin? Presently lots of consumers are buying unmelodious, disharmonic trash accompanied by primitive, vulgar verse. Do those who prefer that, constitute a black mark for their schooling? 
  • CULT MEMBERSHIP Should we use the popularity of cult membership as a measure in our index? Did every Jonestown resident who drank cyanide laced Cool Aid represent a schooling failure? How about the men in David Koresh's cult who permitted that saint to sexually service their wives and daughters because, as Koresh patiently explained, he was the only man pure enough for the job. Were they well schooled? Then there's the  Heaven's Gate crowd who, in conformity with "Bo" and "Peep's" teachings, "left their containers" to rendezvous with that space ship concealed behind the Hale-Bopp comet. Don't all such cults seem to have been schooled deficiently? And let's not forget the most enthusiastic members of the Trump cult. 
  •  SUPERMARKET TABLOID SALES Do the sales figures of these grotesque gazettes provide a more valid measure of educational progress than anything ETS could dream up? I'm talking about those tabloids that headline things like "WOMEN COMMITS SUICIDE IN DISHWASHER!", or "HALF BOY, HALF DOLPHIN WASHES UP ON BEACH!" What do you think? Should we regard tabloid sales as an inverse measure of educational progress? 
  •  THE POPULARITY OF CON-ARTIST TELEVANGELIST'S Their income is available from the IRS Tax Exempt Branch. And that might be a measure of schooling's effectiveness? Perhaps the more money these charlatans make, the less well our schools have done? Consider, for example, the Reverend Benny Hinn's television ministry. Hinn, the subject of a devastating CNN expose, is the chap who claims to lapse into "trances" while conducting worship services. Then, according to the Reverend, the Holy Spirit uses his vocal apparatus to speak to the congregation. Should the incomes of this type of shameless con artist be added to our index? 
  • THE CREDIBILITY OF CREATION "SCIENCE"  An astonishing number of Americans believe that our 4.6 billion year old earth was born a mere 6,000 years ago. They even believe that Noah assembled mating pairs of every animal on the planet, evidently including dinosaurs, loaded them on his ark, and fed and housed them for over a year. Does the enduring popularity of this mythology constitutes proof that schools aren't getting the job done — at least when it comes to logical reasoning and science? What do you think?
Who needs high stakes testing when we have such well-established measures to choose from? Presently this index is just an idea. You probably have your own thoughts about what measures should and could be included. But the point is that this sort of lagging indicators index would be much more powerful than anything Educational Testing Service or Psychological Corporation could possibly contrive. An Index of this sort surely would better reflect the real life results tax payers are getting for their average total expenditure of $163,000 per child.

 I'll bet you are thinking that schools are not exclusively, even mainly, responsible for the state of affairs such measures reveal. You might even be thinking that dumb is the essential problem. Okay. But so what? Educators aren’t chiefly responsible for standardized test results either. For one thing, no allowance is made for the fact that a little less than half of the kids taking those tests are below average in intelligence. As a matter of fact, 25% of them are far below average. And we're not allowing for the large number of kids who are average or above in native intelligence, but far too lazy or emotionally damaged, to evaluate evidence and think for themselves. Plus we're not even figuring in their attendance record. Educators currently are even being blamed for not producing good test results from kids who are rarely there.

Then again, maybe it really doesn't matter that high stakes tests aren't fair and do a horrible job of measuring anything of enduring value. Perhaps what matters most is simply blaming somebody. And since educators neither fight back effectively or don't fight back at all, they're an inviting target. 

What do you think? Is creating an Index of Leading Educational Indicators a good idea?

 To further examine issues of this kind, see www.newfoundations.com and www.newfoundations.net

Thursday, October 6, 2022

TEACHING THE FINE ARTS: a road to heartbreak



It's especially hard to teach the fine arts. In fact, it can suck the joy out of life. Unlike more practical subjects, such as math or science, for example, the value of music, dance, painting, literature and other fine arts is almost exclusively intrinsic. In and of themselves the arts are intensely worthwhile, but much less so as a means to other ends.

Of course, fields such as mathematics or engineering can have intrinsic value. For some, a well-solved equation is just as beautiful as a Van Gogh painting. But that is not the only reason, perhaps not even the principle reason, these subjects have value. They serve as a means to other ends. Even if one has no intrinsic interest in algebra, for instance, it is still can be useful for solving a variety of problems, getting into college and making a living. So are chemistry, physics, and so forth.

So, when students take such subjects they have at least two reasons to learn:

• the subject can be intrinsically interesting,

• the skills learned offer practical advantage.

Those teaching the fine arts cannot rely on extrinsic practical advantages for motivation. There is only the intrinsic joy of appreciation. Let's say one is teaching students about baroque art, for instance, and he or she shows the students images of Bernini's The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa. What practical advantages, what vocational leverage, does knowing about it offer? Very little. So, should the students remain unmoved by the beauty and breathtaking craftsmanship of this sculpture, what is the teacher to do? They have led the horse to water, but ....

Student indifference can suffocate the fine arts teacher. Imagine a musician who finds the only way she can make a reasonable living and still stick to what she loves is to become a music teacher.  After investing and working to earn her teaching certificate, she lands a job at St. Mediocritus High School teaching Music Appreciation 101. Semester after semester, year after year, she tries vainly to share what she loves with classes dominated by pimply, horny boys and vacuous preening girls both of whose only reason for enrolling in her course is that it is required for graduation.

She tries and tries to engage their interest using this method and that. But in spite of the music's wondrous beauty and her various tactics, most of the class remains comatose. Some are even annoyed because of the earnestness of her efforts. About all she can get out of them is, “Will this be on the test?” Finally our teacher gives up trying to convey what makes her love music. To spare herself pain and fury she starts just going through the motions and handing out work sheets. The students, being dutiful Catholics, fill them out and pretend to listen. When the semester ends and the principal reviews our defeated teacher's course evaluations, he is pleased to discover that the student's think she has finally hit the mark.

It's especially hard to teach the fine arts.

For other observations concerning motivation for learning, see http://www.newfoundations.com/Carpenter/ProblemSolutions.html