From over a year ago:
This past week I ejected myself from all on-line activities except e-mail and this blog. No more flteach, after 20 years plus, no more moretprs, no more Latin-BestPractices (although I couldn’t actually divest myself of it due to the intransigence of Yahoo). I had just joined to very promising sites: Eric Hermann’s Acquisition Classroom (mix up with Paypal caused me to abandon the whole project) and the CI
Fight Club (on Facebook and I wanted off as soon as I got on it).
Down the pike, I’m hoping to get back on all of them, anticipating better ability to navigate the web and having a little money to toss in to support various sites.
In the meantime, I have around seven hundred projects to keep me out of the bars. I cannot deny my focus on Urdu but I read each of 8 other languages in my Harry Potter project. With a convenient tutor for Urdu, why would I not devote an inordinate amount of effort toward that language? Beyond Harry Potter I have a couple of books to read for each language but I am captured by Harry Potter b/c there is so much useful vocabulary and I am seeing evidence that my reading in my less known languages (Greek, Norwegian, Dutch, Italian) is inching up. It will be interesting to see where I am at the end of this first Harry Potter book.
In addition to language work I am reading a great deal, still stuck in monster books like The Slave Trade and The Wise Men. I pulled Generations of Captivity off my shelf and am reading that along with The Slave Trade. As I read the evidence for large numbers of immigrants coming from the Congo I was watching videos on YouTube of Congolese music and one of my favorites, IMG 0452, could be a juke joint dance if you replace the xylophone with a piano. Look it up and listen to it. The bumping and grinding and twerking obviously is not salacious, but in this country, Christianity has rendered indigenous dance moves from Africa taboo, so people engage in such moves but not without a hint of lewdness or naughtiness. I can give you the url to a video showing two adult men dancing with each other in a manner that, if done by a man and woman, would be considered lascivious by people of the North Atlantic cultures.
At this point in our evolution on the planet, the inflow of data has to be massaged into information. That’s where people like me come in. I am not good at analysis but am very good at synthesis. Here’s an example of the sort of insight that results in a synthesis of disparate data: Trace of the Spirit, a book that traces the evolution of West African religious practices through the evolution of West African music in syncretic association with European cultures to a manifestation of religious sensibilities. The author (Robin Sylvan) senses that the mass response to music derived from West African religious practices transmuted into American Rock and Roll is the current manifestation of religious feeling in the West.
While most educated people are aware that rock and roll ultimately derives from musical practices brought to the Americas by West African slaves syncretizing their music with European forms both folk and art, few seem to discern the spiritual element in that music. My own personal experience with this music permitted me to see the connection. It happened this way: I had been in junior high school when rock and roll hit with Bill Haley and the Comets and Elvis Presley. For a while we had covers of Black artists which drained the music of a lot of its fire, Pentecostal fire we might call it, but Ray Charles introduced the Holiness style into the music and before long singer like Sam and Dave and the Isley Brothers were having hits which came straight out of Holiness churches with only the lyrics changed.
Over time, music groups all over the world were imbibing this music and borrowing as much of its fire as they could muster. Without the direct experience of possession so central to African-American and Afro-American religious experience, they might not capture the fire of being mounted by a god or possessed by the Holy Ghost, but these groups were providing their audiences with what amounted to a collective spiritual experience. With the advent of YouTube, part of that inundation of data I cited, you can watch videos of the types of music cum spirituality Sylvan discusses (hip-hop, rave, punk and metal) next to Holiness services and Vodou rites.
Those who hear in rock and roll only teen party music need to watch the crowds at concerts to understand what Sylvan means when he says they are having a collective experience similar to what religions provide in their ecstatic and collective phases. He sees these concerts and dances as fulfilling some of the yearnings that religions have provided but which are now attenuated under the wave of secularism.
I brought up Sylvan b/c he exemplifies the need for dropping the blinders of conventional categories and taking a much broader look at the forces shaping our lives. There are reasons so many North Americans are turning to Buddhism and Eastern practices like meditation. An ex-priest told me once that he saw no reason for such turnings since all those things were available within Catholicism. I agree that Catholicism contains a broad spectrum of experiences but it’s all wrapped in doctrine, something missing in the rock and roll experience.
A current obsession in our national discussion is divisions in the society. The complexity of this phenomenon dwarfs our ability to encompass our history. We take a variety of approaches. I take the historico-cultural path. Others take the dynamic view focusing on interactions among institutions and social groups, even geography; even the dynamics can be looked at on a national or regional level. Then some take an ideological point of reference and see politics, economics, warfare, diplomacy through the lens of a particular ideology.
My own historico-cultural bias, if you will, is well illustrated in Colin Woodard’s American Nations. He looks at the settlement patterns – history – of counties and the values – culture – the first settlers brought with them and demonstrates a consistency in voting over the decades, even centuries. Naturally, inroads are made by new arrivals and new conditions, but a cursory look at broad differences such as North, South, and West reveals clear patterns.
To take my geographic situation as an example, I live in an extremely red part of a generally red state, Maricopa County of Arizona, particularly the East Valley. As a Liberal Democrat, I’m very lonely. But pulling back a bit, we see that this overlies a Democratic stratum going back to the early days of New Mexico Territory. The constitution of Arizona was written during the Progressive Era and shows it; Arizona is quite different from most other states due to this Progressive influence. Great Democratic leaders like Carl Hayden, Mo Udall, Bruce Babbit, Janet Napolitano came out of Arizona.
How did Arizona change to a red state? Maricopa County. Huge numbers of traditionally Republican immigrants arrived after WW II, transforming the county and dominating the state. In the 90s, huge numbers of immigrants came in from Mexico and that is helping swing the state purple. While education in the state is in a disastrous condition, the educational level is nevertheless going up, causing younger voters to turn to the Democrats. Not to say the GOP has not had something to offer young, educated voters, but the rise in education has coincided with a catastrophic turn of the GOP away from conservative principles and toward reactionary positions. Education is the enemy of reaction.
At this point, I’d like to mention that I wrote the above four paragraphs earlier but somehow erased them permanently. That devastated me b/c while I can recapture the ideas, the wording just is not the same and that first wording was excellent.
Before we leave divisions, I’d like to point out that the major division in our society all these centuries, the one between Whites and Blacks, never particularly bothered on side of that division.
The commentators and pundits in the media keep asking when Trump supporters will tire of him or be so outraged they will quit him. That all assumes that the things he does are alien to his supporters. They aren’t. I can’t count the times people have said things to me that use “Africa” as a punch line or stand in for something bizarre, stupid, hopeless, etc. So when Trump calls African nations shit hole countries, that is nothing unusual at all. But, you ask, he is, after all, the President and Presidents don’t usually talk like that. Exactly, and that’s why they voted for Trump; they are tired not of Trump’s inanities but of being scolded for making derogatory comments like I heard Friday from my neighbor, “What’s that little faggot’s name? Oh, yeah, Michael Jackson.” I may bring it up to him at some time when it will do some good; at that moment I would simply have been, to his mind, introducing an irrelevant comment and species of political correctness into an otherwise good conversation about overdoses on prescribed medications.
No, Trump’s supporters see him as an “Alpha Male”, as ridiculous as that sounds to us. An alpha male grabs pussy b/c they are so overloaded with the testosterone that makes them hard workers and hard fighters; the alpha male president treats the Justice Department as an extension of his personal security force b/c an alpha male permits no alternative power base, anything that might serve as a check on him. Remember, Trump’s base thinks that is exactly what is wrong with the country: pussies like George Bush I and II, B. Obama, get pushed around and therefore they, Trump’s supporters, get pushed around. Clinton was an alpha male b/c of his boorish behavior but he sided with the plutocrats and became one of them, so he gets written off. Think the guy in the pick up who roars past you, passing on your left and giving you the finger as he goes by. Friday night I was crossing the street with the pedestrian signal and a left turner had stopped for me. A car was behind him and instead of stopping, swung around to the first car’s right and tried to go through the cross-walk. I still had about 10 seconds to finish crossing but this guy was in a hurry, so he cussed me out. I returned the favor but he went on. Where was he going? Nowhere. Which is exactly why he behaves that way. Was he a Trump voter. Damned right.
The Trumpsters’ notion of power is just this sort of brute, “bomb the hell out of them” way of exercising it. The idea of trying to understand what happens in Washington, in our government, doesn’t occur to them; they sat in the back of the room during Civics class drawing dirty pictures on their notebooks. They just want things the way they want them and that is exactly (I use that word a lot) what Trump does: I want this and will brook no interference. His supporters love that about him; they hate negotiators, investigators, pointy-headed purrfessurrs, experts…. anyone who tells them they can’t dump the oil from their crank case in the nearby stream or throw their meds (opioids) into the trash to leach into the aquifer. Most of all, they want to feel a sense of security which gets translated into a sense of superiority over others – other “kinds” of people (immigrants, dark-skinned people, rich people, poor people, other religions, etc. ), other nations, other life forms.
At this point it is important to note that much of what I say applies to everybody, not just White people. That whole issue of White identity requires coverage as well, but certainly plenty of Black people, Hispanics, and so on have similar attitudes. Where they part company with Whites is over civil rights.
No one is throwing their hands up in exasperation anymore when Hitler analogies are made. We see a slow-moving tide of destructive measures – meropriyatiya in Russian – undermining our institutions. The boldness in attacking the FBI is breathtaking; early efforts to dismantle little known but essential government entities went unnoticed and were what one would expect. But to go after the premier police and security agency in the nation signals a willingness on the part of Republicans to destroy the country in order to pay back their donors and keep their base. Perhaps their plan is workable. Just add a few hundred thousand votes to their base and they might keep the White House. Bear in mind that for many Americans Joseph McCarthy’s charges against major government institutions as well as educational institutions continue to resonate. A flavor of that sense of alienation from these institutions can be drawn from a quote from The Wise Men: McCarthy ranted from the Senate floor (where he had immunity from charges of slander) about a twisted bunch of intellectuals and a State Department infested with vast numbers of Reds and espionage rings. Sound familiar? It was the Republicans then and it’s the Republicans now; it’s in their DNA.
If what has been predicted happens, however, the Republican Party will, for all practical purposes, cease to exist as a threat to the republic. The blue wave or blue tsunami we are craning our necks to see roll in like those videos from Japan around Fukushima promises much, reaching down into state legislatures as seems possible looking at recent elections. Unfortunately, a good part of the country has no inkling of what Trump and his cronies are concocting because the people in that part do not understand anything about government.
Before passing on to education as an example of an impossibly large task of reform and redirecting, I will comment on Kennedy’s response to Trump’s state of the union speech. He hit a note I had not thought of: the cynical view that it’s a dog-eat-dog world with every man’s hand turned against another, a zero sum game in which one person’s gain must be another’s loss. So you see how group dynamics play into that as well, with one group believing that when another group gets something that that entails a loss of some kind for their group. Thus Whites believing Blacks receive welfare out of tax money wrung from White people. Added to that mixture is the common belief that most Blacks don’t work and it makes sense to the aggrieved group.
In the end, this sort of thinking gets upended as when Mexicans are blamed for taking all the jobs and getting on welfare at the same time. Framing matters like this results in a volatile mix of resentment, envy, rage, and revenge. Kennedy set up these oppositions as the Republicans do and conservatives in general do (think Hunington’s Clash of Civilizations where either the West is ascendant or Islam is) and then stated simply, “We choose both.” That sums up what Liberalism has become, at least here in the U.S. James Agee wrote that it, the Atom bomb, revealed the oldest, simplest commonest, most neglected and most important of facts: that each man is eternally and above all else responsible for his own soul. I am not familiar with Agee except for the fact that he was a large figure at some point after his death. But his concern for the poor and oppressed seems clear and that distinguishes him from the current crop of conservatives – and most other crops. So how do we square this with interventionist models of social change? Don’t Liberals want to engineer society of correct imbalances and deficits rather than leaving it up to each “man” to fend for himself, to make his own decisions? The social sciences reveal to us the intricate workings of childhood and how they produce the adult. If Aristotle can say to give him a kid at age 7 and he’ll show you the man, doesn’t that argue against personal responsibility since we do not have any control over how we are raised? And yet, at some point we all have to make a decision.
Imagine a slave having survived the Middle Passage dumped onto a Caribbean plantation where it is plain he will be worked to death within a few years. What decision can he or she make? Go numb, commit suicide, run away, rebel? The latter two meant death in most cases (although maroon communities did establish themselves) accompanied by unspeakable tortures. The second also meant death and the first just giving up. Is there an alternative for this unfortunate person? What did he contribute to becoming a slave? Did even the person who sold him in Africa have any idea the sort of slow death he was condemning this person to? Anyway, as I sail into the broad area of education, we have to at some point determine how much we should intervene in a child’s life and if we do, how should we do it?
Education itself is an intervention. But all humans except feral children (I met one once but he had been raised to the age of 5 before being abandoned in the jungles of the Philippines during the Japanese invasion) have received an education, whether we call it bush school or vision quest or just working next to your mom and dad – it’s all education. However, mass society and labor needs changed all that. And I’ve read it somewhere that in France mass education became necessary so soldiers could read the instructions for ever more complex weapons. Education had started out with religious motives – the priesthood, the Protestant Bible. The Protestants in New England set the tone for our system of public education.
Diane Ravitch has traced the charter school movement (another one here in Arizona just bit the dust, locking its doors in the middle of the school year with no warning) to the White academies of the South after the SCOTUS decision ending racial segregation of public schools. Anyone who has watched the growth of these schools – and Arizona is the king of charters – has seen the few dedicated to educating minority children trumpeted on the news while vast numbers sprout that clearly cater to White families. And before we condemn conservatives for this attitude toward integration, recall the story of one mom who kept her kids in a predominantly Black school as the community gentrified only to be admonished by her “liberal” White peers that she should put her kids in a “good” i.e. private and White school. This despite the fact that the couple, both educators, had taken the measure of the local public school and found it to cut the mustard.
That has been the problem all along: the expectations of society. The Bush School prepped youngsters for membership in secret societies along with hunting, fishing, and horticulture. Along with the secret societies there were religious cults. Once variegated societies developed a top level cadre went into a type of schooling process most of us would recognize. In Europe in the Middle Ages, religion combined with education in the monasteries, generating a huge class of literate persons only loosely tied to the highly structured religion of that period – think Carmina Burana. In other parts of the world similar processes were going on and still leaving out the bulk of the population.
The Industrial Age changed all that. Specific skills were required of workers and literacy at least if not numeracy was needed and so universal male education came into being but only in the 20th century. In the U.S. the High School Movement put a large segment of the population on track to post-high school training and education. By the end of the century the unthinkable level of a masters degree was approaching the equivalence to a union card. But what happened to education and to students as well as teachers in the course of this explosion of education over the last century?
As with so many conglomerations of traits in our world, Faulkner’s “The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past” fits perfectly. What images come up when we think idealistically about education? The academic groves of Ancient Greece, the Roman tutors, the Medieval scribes, the great inventors and scholars of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and the locomotive of scholarly work in the nineteenth century. I recall reading the preface to Kellog’s magisterial Grammar of the Hindi Language which he had to finish in Canada where he was transferred to by his real job, head of all Anglican churches in India, then in Canada! Written in the late 1800s, it is still a major reference on the Hindi language. Not to mention Darwin, Freud, and the Junggrammatiker.
That is the ideal. Just as powerful an image is phalanxes of young people marching forth to take their place in business, industry, finance, the law, medicine, academe, and so on. The connection between this latter goal of education and the earlier one, the ideal, and the very early one, the one basic to all human groups, is preparing young people to take their place in the world. Once we accept that as the primary goal, then we have to decide if the wandering scholar and the inhabitants of the groves of academe who cultivate their highest virtues deserves the most emphasis or if it is the highly functioning person who has the abilities and flexibility to not only find a position but to take a commanding role in that position.
It is my experience that thoughtful teachers do try to balance the two sides of education: cultivation of the … what? Self? Soul? Mind? …. and preparation for what we call “the real world”. While we thoughtful types gravitate quite heavily toward the former, it is the latter service of education I want to examine, particularly in light of the glaring deficits in our education system, the main one being unequal educational access.
The roots of this situation lie in two notions: local control and the state’s responsibility for education. Conservatives are right to be concerned about the Progressive tendency to put everything in the hands of the Federal government. That’s why I don’t call myself a Progressive. Yet this presents a conundrum because states vary widely in their commitment to education in general and especially in their commitment to education for all. Behind this conservative concern lies the conservative world view that societies naturally divide along hierarchical lines into classes and castes; it is no accident that a caste system is particularly strong in the South as African-Americans are only recently out of a slave status (my wife’s great grandfather was a slave). Thus we immediately see a clash between Connecticut and Mississippi.
But is the conservative sense of hierarchy and White Southern intransigency the only things preventing an across-the-board raising of educational standards? Cost is perhaps the biggest factors. The issue is complex. Even I, as a teacher for 25 years, learned just recently that the big factor in the greater wealth of well-off school districts is not always unequal distribution of state resources but rather the ability of the district to raise money through bonds based on the wealth of the people in the district.
The wealthier districts tend to have parents of a higher educational level plus more opinions among those parents as to how their children should be taught. Right here I am not sure which route to take: the funding and administering of schools or methods of teaching. The latter is my favorite topic other than language, but the former must be dealt with. The only answer I see if greater investment in education through the Federal government with monitoring of use of funds. The idea would not be to impose methods on the schools or even specific goals but rather a nation-wide test that actually works.
There is nothing wrong with taxpayers knowing that the government, federal, state or local, is spending their tax money to good effect. The problem lies in the test itself. And there we quickly get not so much to methods as to the goals of instruction, which, in turn, get us to the initial conundrum: what are those goals? Are they Enlightenment or Worldly Success, to put it in stark terms? Both in Europe and China, the two civilizations I am somewhat acquainted with, the Big Test was writing essays. The graders were not overworked teachers picking up extra coins by matching essays to a rubric but rather thoughtful and experienced scholars deciding whether the essay met the criteria so often laid out for us by great essayists or those who study great essayists.
But our system was based on a two tiered population: cognitive workers and factory workers. The cognitive types went into the professions either out of high school/prep school or even higher education and the factory workers went into work directly for on-the-job training or into an apprentice program, union or otherwise. From what I understand, Germany’s education system divides students up pretty early into three tiers and appears to be effective in teaching whatever the goal of that tier is: factory (skilled work), cognitive (university), and general. A Wikipedia article shows five types of post high school education (starting at 10th grade, not 12th as with us) and some controversy over what looks like “tracking”.
The last term, “tracking”, has negative connotations for most Americans b/c it smacks of an elitist view of education contrary to the American “dream” of climbing the ladder of success via hard work. Education has now become the hard work. Tracking by ability assumes the selection process accurately rates students and that students cannot change. Given our history of eugenics and racism, the notion of a person not changing clangs with resonance of deterministic views of people not consonant with this American dream. Frankly, in schools today we see tracking done unofficially as students are tracked into neighborhood schools reflecting the education level of the feeder community. Once in, behavior tracks students by third grade into a system that may exist only in the teachers’ and administrators’ minds, but they know which kids can “make it” and which can’t. So we have the AP classes filled with White students and the Black students can be found in the detention room. While stark and a bit unfair to school staff struggling with barriers to their own success, most of us familiar with education know that all over the country this sort of stratification can be found.
The ephemeral success of charter schools is owed in part to results obtained by such schools in promoting higher test scores in just those student populations that are often tracked into lower schools and classes. It looks wonderful. But after a few decades of this, even earlier proponents like Diane Ravitch have turned totally against the charter movement. The answer lies in good public schools for all children. However, we soon get back to funding because it is not that easy to find young people willing to spend the ten to twenty years in the classroom at the relatively low salaries and poor working conditions offered them by underfunded schools. Recently, students in a West Baltimore (Black) classroom were videoed being asked how they felt and they all said, “Cold.” And this sort of uneven distribution of basic brick and mortar facilities has been documented for over five decades now. The prior decades don’t count for one simple reason: integration. These bad conditions existed before for many children, but applied to Black children it was not seen as an issue. Once integration was mandated by the courts, then public schools attended by Black students came under scrutiny and it was seen that White children in poor neighborhoods suffered, too, and now Hispanic children are educated under the same poor conditions. This is how the huge public concern over education arose; before that it was assumed White kids were either rich or poor and so went to appropriate schools and the same for Black kids who were all assumed to need little education.
The post-WWII era witnessed the unforeseen rise of nuclear science, including nuclear medicine, computer science and cybernetics, and the secularization of European culture. Finance latched onto the computer revolution and turned trading into sets of instantaneous transactions, all but untrackable and therefore out of control by slow calculating humans. The military technology kept pace, delivering casualty rates pretty much unheard of in the past, at least in European wars. Give the slow growth of diplomatic and political maturity, those casualties fell mostly on people without the technology. Nevertheless, the need for natural resources motivates highly developed societies to seek allies among less developed areas in Asia and Africa, leading to developmental efforts shorn of concerns over sovereignty and rights. For that reason, it seems to me we are on the brink of seeing whether direct command government turns out to be more effective than democracies, and democracies themselves are under siege from powerful financial overlords who control elements of the media in order to convince voters to favor command and control political strategies. We see that now with Trump’s meager victory. The GOP may be swept away in 2018 and Trump at any time, but the forces that give command and control political forces like the one third support Trump and the GOP get are not going away. They are there to be harnessed. Scholars and pundits have noted this phenomenon of populism in many parts of the world. The Age of Revolution turned the world upside down. The first half of the twentieth century saw the richest place in the world, Europe, torn apart. A pack of Americans established a world order that, despite the racist views prominent among Euro-American leaders, overtunred the colonial order, throwing those parts of the world up for grabs. Right now China is doing a better job of grabbing as America watches the post-war order fall apart.
As we grapple with all this, how do we educated our children? As an example we can look at the Trump phenomenon. Having taught high school Civics/Government, I can assure my readers that a good deal of what makes our democracy tick does not get through. That may or may not be the teacher’s fault and it may or may not be the student’s fault. We’ll talk later about those two parties to the interaction. What presents an obstacle is the very meaning of what political leaders do. Kids think roads, police, hospitals, schools, power lines, airline routes, weather reports, municipal zoning, grocery stores, and so much more, all of it, just happen. They are generally quite bored with an explanation of how the government makes sure we are not given food or water such that we have to be careful about ingesting it as we have to be in other countries. Not all, but a good many kids, believe other countries are like that b/c that’s “the way those people are.” It’s like the guy who I took to Mexico and, as we passed through a town with a rusted water tower, he exploded in contempt for “any people who would let their facilities erode like that.” No amount of explanation of public versus private money in Mexico would assuage his outrage and contempt. Many of our children come into our schools with such attitudes toward other countries and many of our teachers share those attitudes.
If we shift the focus to a topic of interest, like border security and immigration, the emotions go through the roof. Two examples of egregious attitudes expressed on the part of very sweet young girls are approval of the carpet bombing of Mogadishu and the execution of a retarded man (I think that was the one who left part of his meal behind when he went off to die so he could “have it tomorrow.”) Recently we saw a man in a focus group tell a serving U.S. soldier that his daughter, born here, could stay, but his wife had to go back to Mexico. Please keep people like this in mind as we discuss what teachers are up against. Some teachers simply never touch anything considered “controversial”, like human rights.
What about how a bill “gets through the House.” Eye rolls. Frequently we see pieces on some teacher who presents material in a fashion that captures students’ attention and enthusiasm. A teacher looks at those and thinks: what does he do the next week? In my experience, teachers have not the will, the knowledge, the time, the wherewithal, to invent such activities to match every major element of their subject. On top of that, the teacher has to make sure various standards are met and documents are kept plus adhering to a variety of formats for lesson plans. My school instituted a plan whereby teachers could earn a significant extra amount of money by planning and implementing some sort of improvement. I called it color coding binder material. A high level admin wanted to go in with me and suggested we set a “goal” of 100 new words in a foreign language class FOR THE YEAR. That was to make sure we “reached our goal.” Nonsense.
My point here is that the b.s. level in education is very high. I recorded a cspan program on charter schools and as soon as the interviewer and guest began speaking, I heard the lies and cover-ups used by charter proponents. Arizona is the champion of charter schools, particularly here in the East Valley. My son has worked in several of them and interviewed at many others. Are a few good? Of course. But there have always been good private schools. What we have to get away from is stereotyping like we find with Catholic schools. Every time someone intones somber and sober praise of Catholic schools based on some experience forty years ago, I mention I worked in one for five years a short time ago. Good school in some ways with shortcomings. Other Catholic schools in the Valley were not as good and some were better. We were close to the top. But it took extreme dedication on the part of a whole lot of people, including alumni, church leaders, parents, educators, and so on. Public schools seldom enjoy that boost the schools with an ideological orientation get. And that’s where charters often get their supporters, from people with an ideological agenda.
Understand that the word ideological is not pejorative. I have friends who put their kids in private schools when the good public schools in their city just did not have the services their children needed. Many religious people prefer that the values of their faith be a part of the education their child receives, a kind of bedrock. What is wrong with that? It is just that public schools cannot be partisan or have a specific non-educational agenda and private schools fill that gap. Charters can, too but often fail due to malfeasance, lack of proper funding, lack of a professional staff, and other factors. IOW, nothing will replace public schools.
And that is just the agenda of the Right and why charters are their darlings. They would be perfectly OK with public schools if they provided a class and caste segregated environment, a religious thrust in terms of world view, and a chauvinistic take on patriotism excluding the warts our country bears. That is what the charter movement is really about and not the reasonable concerns of some parents. Public schools locally controlled go back to the earliest days of our country and have served us well. How do we continue that tradition?
And that is where we started.
Even more destructive of education than the charter movement with its underlying dual motivations of greed and class and caste segregation is the dominance of technology. How many times have you heard the old saw “a computer is just a tool”? Yes, and like a chain saw, it can be overused and misused. Being old enough to recall the pre-computer days, I snickered at the misplaced enthusiasm for putting everything on a disc or in a program. In fact, I’m so old I remember teaching machines, desks outfitted with a device that allowed the learner to scroll through a series of questions whose answers guided the student’s next step. But technology won and now we have on-line schools.
Why is this a problem? Let’s narrow our focus a bit in order to home in on the essence of learning. While it is possible for one to learn how to navigate the forest on one’s own, only feral children do this. We learn socially. People either teach us directly or we learn by associating with others, what is called modeling. In formal, classroom education, one subject that we assume involves a lot of modeling is foreign language instruction. The learner hears the teacher and begins to speak in the same way. The biggest controversy in foreign language instruction, one I won’t go into here b/c I treat it in many entries on my blog, is how much direct instruction can teach a foreign language. The last method usually involves explaining how the language works, giving word lists, and practicing. Teachers using the direct method of instruction [not to be confused with the Direct Method of foreign language teaching, quite the opposite of direct instruction in pedagogy] see progress in learning as a matter of building blocks, gradually mastering one element of the language before going on to the next. The association or modeling method relies on interaction between the teacher, who knows the language, and the student, who does not. This latter method tries to emulate the natural way in which people have always acquired another language, with suitable modifications.
So if we broaden our view and look at all the many subjects students need to learn or learn about, we can compare direct instruction and modeling. Most people would agree that a foreign language can be modeled. Non-interventionist methods which have arisen to prominence in the last 40 years (e.g. Krashen) stress this aspect of language instruction. How about physical education? How about writing, as we see it taught in English classes? We think of science and math as being pure direct instruction: theorems, axioms, formulas, etc. Yet we have labs in which students follow procedures mapped out by others but first demonstrated.
What I am moving toward is not an academic argument over teaching methods, whether chemistry can somehow be “modeled”, but rather how much MORE modeling can play a part in instruction. In history and civics we see only the top students trundle off to camps where they enact the events of history and the steps to a law, with debate figuring largely. In economics classes, students play the stock market. From mock U.N.s to Boys’ and Girls’ State, students model their behavior on that of adults.
Now here’s the punch line, the lesson to be learned: most people will tell you that their greatest learning experiences were those classes where activity allowed the learner to participate in the process, even to create. Did I forget the arts? Drama, music, chorus, dance, painting and sculpture? While I enjoyed lecture classes very much and we do hear people wax enthusiastic over a lecture, I am a nerd and I suspect others who enjoy lectures might be nerds, too.
If you are with me so far, then let’s discuss how to inject and implement a more participative teaching policy which will permit the sort of modeling young women and young men have always found themselves doing unconsciously as they followed their parents around. We won’t forget the Bush Schools and the Vision Quests where direct instruction might take place, but let’s stay with the modeling just now.
No state except the very wealthiest have the resources to provide what teachers need. A national resource center is required. It needn’t be a function of the Federal Government but will probably wind up being just that simply b/c no other actors have the will or the ability to implement such a major resource. The purpose is to provide an endless and variegated menu of approaches, methods, techniques and theory that teachers can access, everything from “what can I do Monday morning” to a series of instructional videos in teaching methods. Some axes along which this menu will be constructed: methods of instruction; instructional material; subject areas; topics; across the curriculum materials; classroom management techniques; human growth and development; specific activities and resources to tailor these activities to a specific student population, grade level, teacher knowledge and personality.
Today, Feb. 15, the day after Valentine’s Day and another mass shooting in a school. And the demands and questions pour in. Legislators, now Republicans and scared Democrats for the most part, read the 335% of Americans want background checks, 399% want assault weapons banned, 6000% want expanded mental health services, yet are terrified of a tiny number of people at the head of the gun-manufacturer funded NRA b/c their utterly stupid followers will vote anyway they’re told. Remember the idiots screaming at the Army spokesman (see blog item July 6, 2017) preparing them for Jade Helm 15, denouncing him for trying to confiscate their guns? Why aren’t we profiling those people on national news? Why not show the country how stupid they are? Perhaps the fear of being shamed would calm some of these morons down. We have no problem shaming Harvey Weinstein and other predators, why don’t we see the proliferation of assault weapons as even more dangerous and so shame those who not only press for ownership of such weapons but glorify it by publicly displaying the weapons, trying to intimidate the rest of us, as in hashtag you’re a menacing idiot if you own an assault rifle? But no, these people want lots of man-killing weapons to protect them from the rampaging Blacks and Mexicans.
After watching a lot of the news coverage today, my wife and I both feel there is something different about this. A lot of people on the scene as well as politicians and even commentators are speaking forcefully about the lack of action and the vapidity of “thoughts and prayers” tweets in the face of inaction after every shooting since Columbine. I remember that horrible mass shooting at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, CA., 1984, 44 years ago, 21 dead, including an 8-month old baby. Nothing. The guy had an Uzi. Was he in the Israeli defense force? So why did he have an Uzi? To kill people. How did he get it? Probably walked into a gun shop and bought it. Easy Peasy. Still happening….. 44 years later.
The pillars of reducing gun crimes like this are 3: guns, security, and access to mental health just like we have access to physical health.
Feb. 21 I am happy to see more and more commentators and others, esp the kids, focus on gun safety rather than mental health issues. An article by a psychiatrist recently discussed the inadvisability on relying on identifying potential killers. The people who think that will work believe that those who will kill are the same as the people walking down the street talking to the birds. “Well, of course he’s a risk. Look! He’s crazy! Don’t crazy people kill people? We always say, “He’s crazy” when someone guns down people.” No understanding.
To return to an equally daunting question: education. Gun control would have been just as good a question to take up as an example of how to approach a question. Any of these questions of moment call for basic approaches: look at the totality, not just one part; plan for follow-through; take all stake-holders into account; be realistic; compare and contrast in a holistic way. Just to look at these for a second: the totality in education means starting with the purpose, then the resources. A mismatch between purpose and resources must be resolved before heading off to school, e.g. you cannot set up a vocational education program without up-to-date methods and equipment to train on. Follow-through means that students are actually prepared for the next step, e.g. high school teachers believe college professors are looking for students crammed full of facts but the professors say the facts are the easy part and they can provide those, it’s thinking that’s needed, what educators now call critical thinking skills. All the stake-holders will obviously include all citizens with special attention to the students, the teachers and staff, the governing institutions, the tax-payers and their representatives, the receiving institutions whether higher education or employers. To be realistic means all stake-holders, not just the ones that fit easily into existing institutions. Given the history of segregating students by class, ability, and race that still dogs us, it is necessary to emphasize this aspect of educating the populace. An example of what is called thinking outside the box would be to question the efficacy of segregating students by age; grouping could be done on any of several bases, not just age.
Comparing and contrasting in a realistic way is the academic side of all this. Any step toward an evaluation of purpose and resources requires deep and scientific study of the situation we are currently in, including the seemingly impossible task of shifting our standards, practices and priorities away from what we have been doing, but we must do it if we want different results. More on that below.
Comparing and contrasting often involves looking at foreign education systems. We frequently examine Finnish, Japanese, Singaporean, and German systems. Here, culture looms large: can Americans fit into a foreign approach to education? Germans have a tiered system that looks much like the ill-advised tracking practiced here, but it is more flexible than the American way of slotting a student into one track and leaving him there.
Our own system does tend to isolate each component and deal with it with little regard for its connection to other levels of education or to the broader society, e.g. complaints come from business that students’ diplomas, degrees, and certificates do not match the demands of the business world. Surveys, studies, and polls would give us a picture of the world around education so planners could better fit education into this broader society. This is follow-through. It would also include how students are to pay for their education; the current system of loans that fatten banks is not working.
The most complex of all the tasks facing planners is taking all stake-holders into account. The squeaky wheel gets the most oil is apt here. Wealthy and influential segments of society tend to have the most say, and yet the mass of underserved students do not come from that sector of society. One example: here in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area we have West Phoenix, much like Los Angeles has East L.A. Largely Hispanic, with huge numbers of students for whom English is a foreign language or a second language, the area is one of high poverty and not much opportunity. One district, the largest (and one my son works in), has 20,000 students. Just how does the superintendent organize his resources to deal with this in an effective manner, and what is “effective”? Again, academic work is essential to ferret out the strengths and needs of this community. As a foreign language teacher, I know that some schools have classes in the Spanish language that take into account that these students do speak Spanish and therefore do not struggle with issues like tense and mood in the verbs, the bane of students foreign to Spanish, but their Spanish is homey, very colloquial, and does not at all match the Spanish used in business in Latin-America. The commercial links between the U.S. and Latin-America are vast and require Americans whose Spanish is up to the task, but most schools do not provide for tapping this great resource. The same might be said for areas of heavy Russian, Arabic, and Chinese concentration. Years ago I read that Miami International Airport freight business is conducted 90% in Spanish. One time I went through the cafeteria line there and got my breakfast for several dollars less than the others in my party who did not speak Spanish. I even asked if there was anyone behind the counter who spoke English and the lady said she thought there might be a guy in the back who did! Most top-flight educators have no idea this world exists.
My POV relies a lot on academic knowledge, research. That is different from what educators nowadays call “data based”. That bothers me b/c it seems to leave out the human factor. What are the effects of poverty, of wealth? Does de facto segregation always present an obstacle or can it be neutralized as a factor? In shifting our standards, practices and priorities to become more effective we face obstacles, to be sure. In this dive into one institution of our society two points must be made: it has to all be done, no half measures. Half measures result in chaos. And the second point is that it all takes political will, i.e. those in the polity willing to devote themselves to the betterment of the polis, all of it.
A number of bets are being placed on the young people overturning a major Republican plank, gun “rights”, meaning the “right” to own any sort of weapon whatsoever. As I stated before, my own intuition is that this goes back to the Indian wars and fear of slave rebellion. No other country has such an obsession with being armed at all times. Just as I was starting the section of Max Boot’s book Invisible Armies about guerrilla warfare that treats the Indian wars I went to see the movie Hostiles. Lots of violence but that was the theme of the movie. The part I liked was when the old Cheyenne chief says to the Comanche raiders, “They’re crazy”, meaning they are not warriors fighting for their lands and people but just a pack of outlaws bent on mayhem.
How much of our gun obsession has to do with that and how much of it comes from watching such movies, Bruce Willis and Clint Eastwood movies, not to mention John Wayne, I don’t know. But the idea of someone shooting a deer with an AR15 is ludicrous. As the science teacher from Douglas H.S. said, if you can’t kill a deer with a hunting rifle you need to get another hobby.
I’m now, Feb. 27, shifting to a new entry titled What looms ahead?
April 21, 2019 Back on the much-changed listservs. Very little action, traffic, etc. Too bad.
I had no idea this entry was so long.