Oct 25, 2007
Eduwonk threw out some pith regarding Bill O’Reilly’s comments on the state of American History education:
“There are a lot of reasons that American kids do not know enough history and civics, but predictably Bill O’Reilly has managed to seize on an issue that is not one of them…”
And what did O’Reilly say to get tag-teamed by MM and the Wonk? According to Media Matters:
During the October 24 edition of his Fox News show, Bill O’Reilly asserted: “[I]t seems to me, and the studies indicate, that most teachers — high school and college in the United States — are left-wingers. That they bring in a anti-American viewpoint to the sense that they don’t preach about the nobility of America, they teach about the deficits. Now, I think you have to teach both.” O’Reilly made his comments during the “Culture War” segment of his show, which he introduced by saying, “[W]ith many public schools teaching diversity, tolerance, and self-esteem rather than history, civics, and geography, lots of American kids know little or nothing about their country, including what they owe their country.” O’Reilly then aired a video clip showing students answering questions such as, “What do you think it means to be an American?” After airing the clip, O’Reilly stated: “We went out random. You know, just, we didn’t do any study — just pulled the kids between 13 and 17 with target audience of my book.”
O’Reilly did not indicate which studies show that most high school teachers “are left-wingers” and “bring in a anti-American viewpoint to the sense that they don’t preach about the nobility of America.” He later said, “[Y]ou don’t have to — you can’t whitewash, OK? But when the balance goes to, it’s a bad country — and there’s no question that’s going on in the university system. I don’t know about high school, but I suspect it is as well.”
I love ya, E, but I suppose even Tiger Woods misses a 2-footer occasionally.
The funny thing here is that a staffer from Media Matters took the time today to e-mail me their condemnation of O’Reilly’s stance – I read it, yawned gently and went back to writing. It’s not that the subject isn’t interesting – it’s fascinating and hugely important. The rub? I’ve read both sides of the argument literally hundreds of times each. I didn’t need one more.
[By the way, I appreciate a great deal Media Matters sending me this - thank you. Although it happened to be something I found fallacious, the more press releases and heads-ups I receive, the better. I look forward to more.]
But when I saw the one-sentence presentation of a forgone conclusion on Eduwonk, I had to leave a comment. I wanted to reproduce the comment here so I could link some of the text.
I’ll say this in advance – what’s below is not a partisan comment in any way. It’s about scholarship.
I’m going to defend Mr. O’Reilly here.
He didn’t say it clearly and he relied on anecdotal evidence, but he could have easily supported his argument. I haven’t read a study that measured the political inclinations only of high school history teachers, but there are reams of data about the professoriate’s leanings.
And here’s an interesting Zogby release about the attitudes toward professorial bias:
We have more than a generation of public school history teachers who were weaned on Howard Zinn et alii – proponents of an individual sort of history. I was checking out an iTunes University class a few weeks ago in which the professor teaching the course [UC Berkeley, female - I've forgotten her name but that should be plenty of info. to find the course] explains very well this relatively recent shift in how we approach history.
The texts support his claim, the data leans in his favor and there’s no shortage of testimony from practitioners of history education to corroborate the both of them.
For better or worse, the everyman’s history is not the stuff of great heroes, strong leaders and a clearly-defined national identity. The ‘people’s historians’ who created this tidal wave and are now riding it are incredibly critical of how Americans should view our past and the particular guilt/pride we should feel in the present.
Compare an old US History text like Ridpath’s “History of the United States” [approx. 1905] to the recent “Out of Many: A History of the American People” – if you can say with a straight face that there isn’t a dramatic shift in how we present our country’s history to high school and college students, your will is far stronger than mine.
Again, this isn’t a partisan stance – this is the reality of a shift in the discipline. If you just can’t stomach hearing it from Bill O’Righty, hop on iTunes and listen to that Berkeley leftie prof say virtually the same thing. The only differences is that she’s not indignant about it – she’s quite comfortable with it.
MediaMatters dropped the ball on this one and Eduwonk appears to have picked up the fumble and jogged a few yards toward his own end zone. Anyone reading the MM piece should have questioned it when MM didn’t provide data to refute O’Reilly’s claims. They just portrayed him as a jerk.
I find it a bit funny that MediaMatters asks readers to “Take Action!” in the right sidebar when they themselves can’t be bothered to hit up Google for some data or even to call an academic source for comment.
The point of all this? O’Reilly’s generally saying the correct thing here. If you hate O’Reilly, fine – have at him. But don’t perpetuate an erroneous conclusion about an academic discipline because you’ve got a gripe with the messenger. It’s petty and irresponsible.
Erroneous? Maybe I should’ve used “fatuous…”
Oh, I hope someone laughed at that last line.
Oct 25, 2007
Part 2 is a continuation of Analyzing Ten Stupid Ways to Ruin Your College Application, Part 1, a closer look at Jay Mathews’ original article Ten Stupid Ways to Ruin Your College Application.
6. Use your application essay to expand upon how great your grades, scores and activities are.
One college official on Admissions 101 said a common bonehead play is to waste the application essay by telling admissions officers things “we more or less already know or could figure out just from reading other parts of the application.” This is not only boring, but it leaves the impression that your grades, scores and extracurricular activities are all that is interesting about you.
It’s a “bonehead play,” but not necessarily because it makes you appear as though you’re just a transcript.
The approach to an effective college application is the same approach I use when I work with a job seeker. The important concept here is real estate – and real estate is valuable stuff.
When you apply for a job, you get two pieces of real estate: the cover letter and a resume/CV. That’s all. The cover letter is 1 page and the resume is 1-2 pages. If one is applying for an executive or academic position, a CV will take the place of a resume – maybe 3-5 pages.
Either way, that’s not a lot of real estate to sum up one’s candidacy.
A college application can have more parts – a transcript, test scores, a resume, an essay, recommendations, etc. – but you’re still quite limited. You’ve only got a few pages to present yourself, so you can’t waste time and space talking about the same thing more than once.
If you’re a job seeker, rehashing your resume in a cover letter provides little additional value to the hiring manager. What’s the point of saying the same things the application reader can get from your resume?
A college application is no different. You need to take advantage of the real estate – don’t blow it by presenting the same material over and over.
Common sense, yes? Here’s where it gets weird:
College officials will never say this out loud, but one purpose of the college essay is to weed out insufferable people whom no one would want as a roommate. One good strategy is to write about some lovable quirk that reveals a facet of your character and lets you use some self-deprecating humor, essential to any successful college application essay.
They’re unlikely to say that out loud because it’s nearly baseless.
If I were to type out a full explanation of why these two sentences are misguided, my fingertips would wear down to the bone.
Does anyone really believe that admissions committees are so in touch with the personalities of their incoming student bodies that they can read 600 words and decide who will be easy to live with? Sure, if your essay is about how you’re an only child, have never shared a room and refuse to consider the possibility until you’re married, it might reflect badly on your candidacy. But really, worrying about what an application reader might assume about your behavior in a 15′x15′ dorm room after reading your personal statement is absurd.
I’ve read many personal statements that wouldn’t give the reader the slightest inkling about an applicant’s dorm persona. About 10 years ago I read in a book about college application essays a sample essay in which the applicant described a day on a recent vacation. He’d hiked up a large hill – it took several hours and this applicant seemed to be a stranger to physical exertion – and at the summit he took out his lunch.
In that lunch he’d packed a banana. He described in detail how that banana tasted and how he felt eating while it after such a difficult climb. He’d never paid so much attention to such a mundane thing in his life.
It was a wonderful essay that showed his ability to think, demonstrated his writing skill and gave the reader a glimpse into a side of him that didn’t appear on his transcript. I don’t know if the banana-eater was a good roommate, but he did get into Harvard.
But for the sake of humoring Mathews, let’s imagine a move-in day conversation that goes something like this:
John: “Hey, I’m John.”
Steve: “Hey John, I’m Steve. Do you like bananas?”
John: “Do I ever! Harvard selected me in part because they thought my banana-eating prowess would add to the social dynamic of Harvard Yard.”
Steve: “Wow – I love bananas! I can’t imagine living with someone who didn’t. I think we’re going to get along just fiiiiiiine.”
And they lived happily ever after. Well, until John stayed up all night playing Halo 3 when Steve was trying to rest up for his Differential Equations mid-term…
7. Nobody knows you when you are touring a college, so if you want to wear a T-shirt from a rival university or make a cellphone call, go right ahead.
This is another problem with which I was unfamiliar. I am not entirely convinced that it is an issue, but Connolly and other experts insist it can hurt you. They think tour guides in some cases have the names of the people in their tours and will report unseemly behavior. A college tour guide told Admissions 101 that his supervisors encouraged him to tell them about tour participants who did GOOD things, such as ask insightful questions. So, I suppose, bad news can also get back to the people who are deciding your fate.
I’m not sure why he’s unfamiliar with the erosion of courtesy – anyone who’s been to a movie theater in the last 10 years could write a dissertation on it.
But he and Connolly are right – people notice when you’re rude. And not only that, but you shouldn’t be rude to avoid losing points in the application process. You shouldn’t be rude because, well, it’s rude.
Use common sense. Conduct yourself respectfully for your sake and that of the others touring. At many schools, tour guides/hosts are advanced undergraduates who either volunteer or get paid peanuts for their service. Don’t make their job tougher.
Does it really matter what you wear on a tour? I think such a concern is outrageous and wholly insignificant, but it’s not that tough to avoid putting on a Boston College t-shirt when you’re touring Boston University. But if you want the truth, I find it both naive and offensive to think that a Duke University tour guide is so petty that he docks points on your application because you showed up wearing a UNC hat.
Remember, admissions reps aren’t that dumb and childish. And if they are, do you really want to spend four years there?
8. Let your parents do whatever they need to do to help you get admitted.
Helicopter parents, always hovering, have become a part of modern American folklore. They exist, of course. Students who let mom and dad get too involved are likely to suffer.
Helicopter parent folklore exists because the media loves the concept and the stories are entertaining, but I digress.
Parents need to respect the admissions process as much as students do. If parents and students don’t deviate from the application process, #8 won’t an issue.
Students, especially now, are busy people and sometimes parents have to follow up for them. If you’ve got a question about a college, financial aid or anything else related to applying, a parent can call and ask. Just remember that admissions reps/committees are likely even busier – ask your question, let them do their job by answering and leave it at that.
There’s just no reason to try to lobby aggressively on your child’s behalf. A good application lobbies strongly enough.
9. Colleges are attuned to all the latest fads, so when e-mailing them, it is fine to use text- message abbreviations.
Connolly said: “OMG, this is annoying for us non-texters and IDK why students do this to us adults when we are not their BFF.”
Conduct yourself like a professional at all times. Does that sound overly formal? It shouldn’t – high school seniors are professional students.
And if a student just can’t grasp the concept of behaving like an adult, at least convince them to behave like a veteran of childhood.
10. Don’t proofread your application carefully and don’t bother to check to see if the envelope in which you placed the application or letter of recommendation for College A might actually have the address of College B.
Keep your papers organized and work on applications one at a time. Problem solved.
Proofreading is a necessity. Again, it’s about self-respect and professionalism. If your eye for mistakes isn’t terribly keen, find others – at least 2 – to proofread for you.
I’m reminded of something I wrote months ago about a college counselor who suggests that applicants make mistakes on purpose to show that they’re real human beings.
Dumb. Don’t do that. And if you want to know why, you can browse that old post – it starts halfway through this article.
We’ve taken a closer look at ten ways you may or may not ruin your college application. I’ll leave you with a snippet from that article I just linked – it details a careless blunder that really didn’t have much of an impact on an applicant’s candidacy:
… when I was in high school, a friend of mine applied to SUNY Binghamton. He mailed his application on the deadline during 6th period lunch. After our physics lab the next period, we talked about his essay. He had a copy in his notebook and passed it around. I noticed that in the heading heâ€™d written â€œBinghamptonâ€ – itâ€™s spelled wrong but mimics the pronunciation. He never bothered to check.
He wasn’t a stellar applicant. He spelled the university’s name wrong on his essay. He still got in.
The moral of that story? Relax. This process isn’t as perilous as Mathews and some others make it out to be.
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If you’ve got questions about college admissions or have an interest in having me speak to your class, company or organization, feel free to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oct 24, 2007
Much has been made of the AP’s recent expose of sexual misconduct in the teaching profession. Though I won’t discuss it in this post [and probably not at any length later], I commend it to you in full:
AP: Sexual Misconduct Plagues U.S. Schools
Also, check out Scott Reeder’s report at The Hidden Cost of Tenure. His long-running investigation of misconduct in Illinois schools is one of the finest education journalism pieces I’ve read in years.
Illinois Does Poor Job Dealing With Teacher Misconduct
But I wrote this post to discuss a troubling statement I read on Dave Saba’s blog.
Saba, the President of the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, says that sexual misconduct in the classroom is a byproduct of a shallow talent pool and strained human resources departments.
In The Shallow Pool he writes [emphases mine]:
Here is an analogy for the AP report on sexual misconduct plaguing schools. It is the unfortunate consequence of not having enough applicants for all the job openings in our schools. When the talent pool gets shallow, school districts end up hiring whoever is available. When HR spends the bulk of their time running around filling jobs at the last minute, the wrong people are going to slip through and get into a classroom.
It is going to get worse and that is an outrage. I was presenting at AASPA and met with numerous district HR people. Some are hiring from overseas and end up being immigration lawyers, housing specialists and cultural integrators – which sucks up so much time that they cannot do the rest of their jobs and the teachers don’t work out and leave anyway. Others are venturing far from their state to recruit – costing time and money. For math and science teachers they are lucky to have one qualified applicant for the job and when you only have one applicant you don’t have a choice. They are desperately seeking ways to fill jobs and taking what they can get. Is that what our students deserve? Or do they deserve a teacher selected from many great applicants?
Being desperate creates a perfect situation for some of the people listed in the AP article. We have got to increase the talent pool so that our districts do not end up getting the sludge.
It isn’t negligence by hiring managers and school officials, says Saba. The problem is that HR is forced into that negligence because they aren’t inundated with enough incredible candidates to make their job easy.
This stance is indefensible.
I left the following comment on Saba’s blog. I decided to reproduce it here in part because it is subject to moderation before posting and may never appear on his site. It sums up well my thoughts:
I find several parts of this post to be problematic.
You start by saying that schools are forced to hire suboptimal candidates because the talent pool necessitates it. If true – and that can be argued – it only addresses those who have offended and been disciplined in a former district. That’s only part of the problem. Or would you say that a deeper pool would allow you to avoid the would-be offenders, too?
If HR spends their time “running around filling jobs at the last minute,” that’s a problem with HR and it’s one that can be fixed. Schools aren’t the only organizations who: a) hire and b) are forced to draw from a talent pools that aren’t terribly appealing.
You’ve also implied that HR is forced to do a shoddy job with hiring – if they’re filling jobs quickly at the expense of proper background checks, they’re not just doing a disservice to us all, they’re putting students in harm’s way.
Can you genuinely excuse a district – even if rushed or dealing with a single qualified applicant – for failing to investigate properly a teacher’s professional past? And can you excuse a district who knows of a teacher’s sexual misdeeds and hires him anyway out of professional necessity?
There is no excuse for hiring a teacher with a criminal or school-level disciplinary record pertaining to sexual misconduct.
And if you think otherwise, I’ll let you explain to parents that their child is in a classroom every day with a teacher who has been disciplined for sexual misconduct but that the district hired anyway.
You can explain to them that the real problem is a shallow talent pool that strains district resources and results in negligence that puts their children at risk for sexual abuse. You can tell them that it’s unfortunate, regrettable, and if there were just more applicants, you wouldn’t have to hire predators. You can also ask the community for more money to augment staff so you wouldn’t be forced into such irresponsible hiring practices. Accepting the abhorrent, blaming others and asking for more money? An unpopular trifecta indeed.
Again, you can give that presentation communities across the country. I’m not going to do it.
If you find that difficulties with hiring practices result in suboptimal – and in this case dangerous – hires, by all means suggest that state laws get tougher, discipline for offenders is more swift and/or more serious or that graduate/licensing/certification for administrators includes effective HR training. Those would all be sensible solutions.
But don’t justify the negligence of hiring those guilty of sexual misconduct by pointing a finger at the applicant pool. That’s the hiring equivalent of, “Dressing like that, she was asking for it!” and it’s nothing short of shameful.