Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The "Ed" Beat: Good-bye, and Why; The Weight; Play Is Good!; Have Book, Will Travel; Debunkery;

Lead With the Bad News: A good, devoted, caring teacher writes: "Dear Schools, Kids, Parents, & Colleagues
I quit! I'm done. It's over. Good-bye. With sadness! Here's why.
With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that  “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”...My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

Common Core = Dead Weight: A considerable amount of what Mr. Conti was objecting, and that which cumulatively drove him to resign is comprised by and in the assumptions (as well as the "business model") of the Common Core Curriculum. There was a recent march on the Department of Education, by teachers and student-centered activists protesting the decline of a knowing-centered approach to learning and the rise of "reform-driven," process-centered content delivery models which "...include the implementation of controversial Common Core standards as well as a the opening of more corporate-run charter schools, a "longitudinal database full of student information to track performance," and teacher evaluations based on high-stakes standardized testing."
“Reform” has become a kind of code word, referring to a specific agenda of high-stakes testing, weakened collective bargaining, and school closings that have generated massive instability for American children, particularly low-income people of color. [...]Educators today are being punished for decades of growing income inequality, an eroding social welfare system, and an economy brought to its knees by lack of regulation—factors which make work in building supportive, democratic schools and classrooms that much more important.[...][We are] demonstrating in front of the Education Department because the people working inside have ignored their message.


Data! The air is thick with busy "entrepreneurs" eager to dip their snouts in the public education money trough as long as it lasts. This blog, out of NEW JERSEY, has the right attitude: So Much to Debunk, So Little Time.  He's an exhaustively rigorous, detailed analyst, taking on the claims of "legitimately" rigged scholarship which purports to support the corporat/business culture's endorsement of charter schools and privatized education which, in turn, are becoming masks for the de facto resegregation of "minority" children and communities, as well as the eventual elimination of public schools.


Speaking of "Scholars" for Hire: One of the Koch brothers recently bought the Business School at George Mason University for a 'gift' of a couple of million dollars, with the stipulation that Ayn Rand's novels and philosophy be included in the curriculum of the school. More and more, researchers at publicly-sponsored universities are being by-passed by pre-paid, scholars-for-hire.  It, like much else which reeks of corruption in our present age, was the product or Raygunism: "the rise of the dogmatic scholar that has its roots in the 1980s, a period identified by Isaac Asimov as “a cult of ignorance” guided by a new ethic, “Don’t trust the experts.” An insider in the process, one John Holton, reported:
We met with President Reagan at the White House, who at first was jovial, charming, and full of funny stories, but then turned serious when he gave us our marching orders. He told us that our report should focus on five fundamental points that would bring excellence to education: Bring God back into the classroom. Encourage tuition tax credits for families using private schools. Support vouchers. Leave the primary responsibility for education to parents. And please abolish that abomination, the Department of Education. Or, at least, don’t ask to waste more federal money on education – ”we have put in more only to wind up with less.” Just discover excellent schools to serve as models for all the others. As we left, I detected no visible dismay in our group. I wondered if we were all equally stunned.
And so was born "A Nation At Risk, arguably the most dishonest, yet influential tome ever inscribed about Ummurkun  education .

Scholastic Astro-Turf: Via Susan Ohanian's invaluable blog; she's tireless.We're all likely familiar with how zombie-capitalists like Bill and Malinda Gates are endeavoring to leave their money in such ways as to ensure the proliferation of their psychological pecularities, and ensuring a steady resupply of Microsoft users. Less familiar may be the efforts of groups such as those FUNDED by the Gates' ghouls: The Parents' Revolution.
Take all the worst things you can imagine outfits like the Walton family, the Gates, the Heartland Institute, Michelle Rhee, and ALEC, with pub licity by FreedomWorks, and you have some idea of the clout of the idea. The key phrase is "parent triggers":
 California became the first state to pass a parent-trigger law in 2010. The law allows systemically struggling schools to be taken over if parent activists are able to get 51 percent of a failed school's parents to sign a petition. The movement received a big boost from Hollywood last year with the release of the film Won't Back Down, which tells the story of two parents (one a teacher) who use a parent-trigger type law to take over their children's failing school in a poor Pittsburgh neighborhood. The movie largely depicts the teachers' union and school bureaucracy as opponents of change. It was produced and funded by Walden Media, which is owned by billionaire Philip Anschutz, a longtime champion of hard-right causes.

Michelle Rhee, whose group StudentsFirst is one of the nation's leading proponents of parent-trigger laws and other efforts to privatize public education, sponsored a series of screenings and hosted panel discussions to promote the film and its message. Panelists included former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Parent Revolution's Austin.

While advocates claim parent triggers are intended to empower parents, critics charge that they target schools in the poorest areas with high immigrant neighborhoods, populations that are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation. The critics contend that parents may lose power once a school is converted to a charter.


Play, Damn It! Most children's school days any more are structured almost explicitly, it seems, to exclude any possibility of pleasure. Under regimes of 'standards' and 'high-stakes testing,' school has become a relentless proceeding of make-or-break competitions against odds that are stacked against a substantial minority of students.

     Our industrial model of schooling is very good at inculcating habits of workerly obedience and conformity--and dismissing the reluctant (we call them "drop-outs). Bells arbitrarily break up the day, between often meaningless/monotonous tasks, which forcibly reminds students their time is not their own., should they accidentally become beguiled. Homework ensures that kids get the idea that their work-day doesn't end when they go off the clock; extra CAN be demanded without recompense.  Endless testing prepares them for a lifetime of arbitrary and capricious assessments, and life-changing decisions that depend on them.

     But "play," even at the earliest ages, has vanished, has all but been banished.

     In Hong Kong, in '96, I visited a fairly typical, high-rise elementary school, in Kowloon, on the mainland. There were in excess o f 1500 students, grades 1-4; each grade had its own floor. The logistics were pretty staggering. During class, the children were pictures of decorum, sitting quietly, listening respectfully. But then came the local equivalent of "recess," and pandemonium would be a serious understatement: The whole building shook as a seething, swirling, churning, thunderous, shreiking, scrambling, howling free-for-all of activity erupted, for 10 solid minutes. Play! Like you've seldom seen: Exultant and loud.

     And then it was over, and everyone was back, sitting peacefully, at their desks, respectfully attending to the lessons.
     Play is not trivial, not unimportant, not insignificant. There is a lot of research on the matter, from the philosophical speculations of Huizinga's "Homo Ludens" --the playing man-- to volumes of scholarly material from universities and teachers' colleges. But let me try to put it into accessible terms:

We've all seen the "nature" show wherein the camera pans across a field, then dollies in on some activity in the undergrowth, which is revealed to be some litter of cats or canids--foxes, coyotes, lions--tussling furiously over, under, around and through one another, obviously enjoying themselves enormously, while the narrator piously intones: "These little (lion/tiger/fox) cubs appear to be playing, but do not be deceived: they are practicing for the deadly business of life."

And so do we, when we play, hone our skills at adaptation, and sharpening our attention: There's nothing like a dodge-ball up-side the head to keep you alert...

 Play ISN'T just for adults who can afford the latest toys. It's an essential tool of what is called "meta-cognition." It's how kids learn that they know needful stuff. It's hows we know we know.

Let's go play in the surf: I'll see you at the beach...

No comments:

Post a Comment