Currently Browsing: Curriculum
Jul 29, 2009
It’s no secret that if you don’t toe the philosophical line in many teacher education programs, you encounter hindrances that range from brick walls to ambushes to professional punji pits. Sometimes it’s the administration; sometimes professors; sometimes peers. And sometimes all three work together to make sure you get the message that freedom of thought is fine – as long as you think the same way as the School of Education.
It plays hell with one’s career in education.
Occasionally we hear about a student whose worldview isn’t as malleable as the EduWeenies would like.
Michele Kerr is a 40-something who applied to Stanford University’s Teacher Education Program and was admitted. After letting it be known that she wasn’t on board with every element of the Program’s ‘social justice’ tenets, the problems quickly mounted. She was threatened with having her offer of admission revoked, including planning legal action to see that through. She was railroaded into being an enemy of the program, with administrators citing that students even felt uncomfortable sitting near her in classes because of her anti-progressive stances. The final straw was when the Program demanded a login and password for the blog on which she wrote anonymously about her challenges both with the program and the school environment in which she was training.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [FIRE] – a champion of freedom in academia – stepped in. As they have so many times, they set the offenders straight and Kerr was guaranteed fair treatment. Adam Kissel of FIRE summarized the issue:
“Like STEP, too many education programs today are teaching by words and deeds that only one orthodoxy or ideology is acceptable in future teachers,” Kissel said. “This refusal to accept alternative views is no way to prepare teachers to cultivate effective citizens in our democracy. Fortunately, senior administrators stepped in to set things right for Michele Kerr.”
You can read FIRE’s press release about the case: Victory for Freedom of Speech at Stanford: Student Graduates Despite Ed School Efforts to Revoke Admission, Investigate Private Blog, and Declare Student Unfit for Teaching.
That an outfit even has to investigate an issue warranting a title like that should make you balk – and it’s more common than you think.
The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews should also be praised for swallowing that most bitter pill and highlighting Kerr’s case even though he’s on a different philosophical track. He gives a well-detailed account of Kerr’s saga in “They Messed With the Wrong Blogger.”
Too few people, both inside and outside of the education game, understand how common this is – and how pervasive social justice theories are in schools of education. But we’re not just talking about pointy-headed academics who regard 1968 as the high-water mark of American life; it shows up in everyday classes, too.
You know, like “frequently” discussing sexuality in your kid’s geometry/trigonometry class.
Taica Hsu is a 2006 alumnus of STEP. He teaches math at Mission High School, part of the San Francisco Unified School District, in the city’s Mission District. The setting:
“Mission High School has the distinction of being the first comprehensive high school in San Francisco and the first such school west of the Rocky Mountains. The first building was formally dedicated in 1897. Mission High School is proud of its rich history and we have our very own museum on campus which highlights the evolution of Mission High over the past 100+ years. Located in the heart of the Mission District in San Francisco, Mission High is proud of its ethnic diversity and we try to instill positive social values, acceptance and tolerance in our students.”
And “in [Hsu's] world, trigonometry points to justice.”
A MissionLoc@l article about Hsu’s classroom offers an inside view into how STEP students/teachers – and those in similar programs – approach education:
“On one wall, of his purple-painted classroom, posters proclaim the ills of war and social stratification. On another, algebra students’ projects statistically break down the injustices of homeless, drugs and teen pregnancy.
“My ultimate goal is to make students aware of the inequities in society,” he says. “I want to make them want to change their place in society.””
I’d rather they just learned math, but such trivialities are increasingly displaced by the pet projects of the education game’s social engineers.
“And in his class, where a rainbow flag hangs in the back of the room and the teacher wears a “No on 8? pin more than a week after the measure has passed, sexuality also comes up.
Gilberto [a student] had never met an openly-gay person before coming to Hsu’s class, he says. He thought homosexuality was “weird,” and he balked at the idea of having Hsu as geometry teacher.”
I’m pleased that Gilberto is more accepting and tolerant than he was on day 1 – after all, he’ll encounter people of all sorts throughout the course of his life. But Hsu’s efforts impinge on the authority of parents to address these issues at home. Simply put, I’d rather talk to my child about the merits and drawbacks of Prop 8 than have it woven into a lesson about trigonometric proofs.
Extracurricular clubs and events provide opportunities for students to go beyond rigid academic disciplines – and for Hsu to extend a social justice program that includes fostering a ‘them vs. us’ strain of victimization:
““He knows what it’s like to be discriminated against, just like us,” Gilberto says, with “us” meaning all undocumented immigrants. “He relates to us. He understands. So even though it doesn’t look like it, we both have something in common.”
Discrimination is everywhere – perhaps Mr. Hsu would allow me to come in and talk to the kids about Southwest London’s contempt for American, George W. Bush-supporting Republicans who enjoy country music and operate with a decidedly-rural panache?
It’s not all serious, thoughtful curriculum, though – sometimes he and the kids just dress up in drag:
“Hsu encourages awareness of queer issues on campus. He is the faculty sponsor of the gay-straight alliance, which hosts a drag show to honor the Day of Silence in the spring.”"
Surely Mission High School has so much time and so many resources for these forays because they’ve outperformed every other school in the SFUSD, routinely topping the charts in academic performance?
No. Mission High is one of the lowest-performing schools in the District, having received a rating of 1 out of 10 – with 1 being the lowest possible score – in the 2008 Academic Performance Index Report from the California Department of Education. The June Jordan School for Equity competes with Mission High for that last rung on the SFUSD ladder. And the problem isn’t that Mission High has a large population of non-native English speakers and English Language Learners [ELL] – Moscone Elementary, which, according to Mission Loc@l, has a majority population of ELLs, scored a 9 out of 10.
It isn’t necessarily Hsu’s fault – we have no idea how his efforts contribute to those scores. What we do know is that STEP and its graduates would do well to re-evaluate their priorities if they want to institute the fairness and commitment to academic achievement that they purport to uphold.
Or they can marginalize the Michele Kerrs of the education world, mix homosexual marriage rights with Euclidean geometry, dress in drag and retreat from abysmal test scores. Our students won’t be prepared for college, but at least they’ll be ready for the Folsom Street Fair.
Dec 22, 2008
‘Tis the season, folks. For family, friends and joy, some say.
Others seize the opportunity to hoist the banner of the Establishment Clause to persecute those who dare to recognize any bit of Christmas in public schools.
Over at Dangerously Irrelevant, Dr. Scott McLeod, Director of the Center of Advanced Study of Leadership in Education [CASTLE], announced a game called “Spot That Holiday Violation!” The contest, judged by McLeod, Jon Becker and Justin Bathon, is meant to highlight egregious violations of that delicate religion/public institution balance.
Here’s their pitch and explanation of the rules:
SPOT THAT HOLIDAY VIOLATION!
Here are the rules:
- Only American public schools are eligible. [sorry, international readers]
- Identify a possible violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution in your local school system. The Establishment Clause requires that schools not favor a) one religion (e.g., Christianity) over another religion, or b) religion over no religion. Government-sponsored religious displays or activities are pretty much always unconstitutional.
- Leave your description of the possible violation in the comments section of this post. If you’re not sure if it’s a violation or not, leave it anyway and we’ll chime in as needed. Possible violations may include teacher- or school-sponsored activities, displays, or other actions.
- The most egregious violation [as judged by myself, Justin Bathon (at CASTLE’s brother blog, EdJurist), and Jon Becker (of Educational Insanity)] wins a yet-to-be-determined prize!
- Deadline for entries is December 23, 2008.
Violations of the Establishment Clause are not to be taken lightly. We’ve got a unique setup here in the United States – though founded clearly on Judeo-Christian/Western principles, we aren’t a thuggish, iron-fisted theocracy that forces the minority to join the mission of the majority.
Some, however – and this includes the CASTLErs with this initiative – interpret the Establishment Clause as it relates to public schools to mean that the ‘freedom from’ is near absolute.
I described this particular contest as “glib, ideologically-driven tripe” – and at least one good soul in the blogosphere appreciated that. If you read the comments, you’ll see why the “Spot That Holiday Violation!” contest exhibits twice the zealotry they’re working so hard to point out.
And, to co-opt a fashionable education term, this contest facilitates that anti-Christmas zealotry.
One of the first gripes details public school religion horrors that include Christmas trees, reindeer on the walls [that "
It’s sad that one approaches the world in this way – that the holiday season is such an offensive encroachment on liberty as to become mean-spirited and exclusionary. I replied:
That well-wishing for the needy was directed only to the Christian needy is about as plausible as “don we now our gay apparel” actually referring to a costume appropriate for the Folsom Street Fair. But this is the reality of how progressive educators and their torch-bearers view the intersection of religion, Western culture and our schools.
Not a terribly constructive tone, I’ll admit, but at the time I posted that comment, I didn’t think anyone would take the initiative seriously.
Here’s another protest from a teacher forced to endure a faculty talent show at which performers sang some Christmas-themed songs:
“Yesterday, our faculty was forced to sit through a 2-hour luncheon, during which our administration hosted an open-mic talent session. 7 different faculty members sang religious Christmas songs (and not all of them very well.) During the singing, the cafeteria frequently broke out with “Amens” and “Tell it brother/sister.” It was really painful;; I felt like I was at church. My snarky colleagues and I joked about volunteering to sing the Dradle song.”
How she managed to survive is beyond me. I replied to “ms”:
“The setting she describes is an open event – presumably any show of ‘talent’ would have been acceptable. The free responses were not coerced and were of the audience’s own volition.
ms jokes that she could have given a rendition of “I Have a Little Dreidel” – a song which I learned as a child in my rural, public school, and a song which I otherwise would not have encountered. She could have performed it but she chose not to. Instead, she joked with colleagues and then, as we can see above, posted about it on the CASTLE blog. That she was held against her will without any chance to opt out could have been challenged – and likely upheld.
There are egregious examples of political and religious coercion that exist in public schools. We’ve got urban legends, trusted testimonials and, in some cases, video evidence. No one denies that.
But the examples cited above – including CASTLE’s bizarre, intellectually/socially misguided mission here – fail to recognize the difference between the indoctrination of values and common cultural literacy.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that spending time on songs of the American Civil Rights movement and its social protest is a violation of the Establishment Clause even when those songs are heavily religious [and Christian, no less!]. Take, for example, “We Shall Overcome,” a staple of that era. Our jurists here fail to protest that such demonstrations of our culture are really religious evangelism. In that example they recognize a difference between culture and indoctrination – and they’ve reached the proper conclusion. Even so, there’s no reason to pretend that their selective discrimination is not based on their political and social preferences.
They are, in a phrase, intellectually dishonest. If they were truly committed to tying these commonplace celebrations of Christmas to that list of Establishment Clause violations, they’d plop Joel Osteen and Rosa Parks in the same category.
Mr. Anderson and the CASTLErs – as well as future commenters, surely – seem to suggest that celebrating, or even recognizing, these cultural elements constitutes a rejection of all others. This simply isn’t true. That suggestion isn’t any more valid than if one attempted to make the case that our celebration of American Independence Day every July 4th carried with it a contemptuous attitude toward countries with different histories or forms of government.
There’s a reason that most calendars include the Commonwealth countries’ Boxing Day, and it isn’t because we’re filled with hate toward celebrations that aren’t our own.”
That’s the beauty of holiday celebrations – and all celebrations, really. Talk show host and religious scholar Dennis Prager likens it to a goodwill celebration of another’s birthday. It isn’t our own day, we really have no stake in it. We celebrate with him, nonetheless, because we share that joy. It’s common decency, it’s common culture. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in another country [or even in a different part of the United States] has likely had great fun – and increased their appreciation of that culture – by sharing in celebrations that weren’t their own.
One issue was troubling to a CASTLE judge – “messiah” being the ‘word of the day’ in a school district:
“A public school here has a word of the day, which is a definition of a particular, pre-chosen word. Well, a couple weeks ago the word was “Messiah.” The definition for Messiah was something to the effect of “in the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ, who is their savior and redeemer. Who came to Earth and was born in a manger and Christmas, and died to save the world’s sins.” No mention of other messiahs, no mention of other religions. It was a pretty clear intentional crossing of the line in this otherwise innocuous word of the day. My question was, Messiah is fine with me to define, but why not just use an actual dictionary definition instead of making one up that turned into a definition of why you should worship Jesus Christ?
On Twitter and other media, I’ve been candid about the CASTLE attitude toward Establishment Clause violations screaming of ignorance. I said, in a tongue-in-cheek Tweet, that “3 JDs < 1 BA” with an implied reference to our three judges. Here was my response to Mr. Bathon regarding “messiah”:
I didn’t touch on his use of messiah vs. Messiah, but I should have.
These, folks, are the education leaders’n'lawyers who are determining what you can and can’t do in public schools. Unfortunately, they know precious little about religion, Western culture and tradition. In a response to my comment, Mr. Bathon continues:
It isn’t fun for me.
It’s depressing to see such deliberate misinterpretation and misapplication of Constitutional principles with regard to public schools. It’s even worse to see it injected into one of the happier times of the year – especially for kids. It’s zealotry mixed with fearmongering, and at the foundation is a profound ignorance of Western culture.
A commenter suggested in a not-so-subtle way that this was a personal issue for me. It isn’t. One of the few things my local school does right, assuming it hasn’t changed much, is the holidays – that’s why I’ve got a neat dreidel story.
I’d like every kid to share in the joy of the holiday season even if the celebrations aren’t his own. It’s far healthier than a deranged protest that one be entitled to a freedom from all things that aren’t dear to him.
One approach is selfish, arrogant, and narcissistic. The other rests on tolerance, shared joy, diversity and community. You decide which is better.
So, in that way, I suppose it is a personal issue for me. Healthy kids and healthy, diverse communities that recognize and share one another’s traditions are the communities we need.
And though I consider threats to that climate largely irrelevant, I do consider them dangerous.
UPDATE at 3.26pm, 12.22.08:
An astute commenter suggested privately that the CASTLErs heed Matthew 7:3:
“”Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye?”
A good, applicable question.
UPDATE at 4.17pm, 12.22.08:
Dr. Becker has given me some heat on Twitter because of my following tweet:
@[name removed] also, i’ll be damned if i’m going to let some dolt who has to look up the word “messiah” profess to me on “ceremonial deism”
Yes, Dr. Bathon, I called you a dolt because you had the gall to dictate what does and does not pass for overt religious displays when you showed ignorance of Christianity and Western tradition – and then giggled like a schoolboy at the fun of the debate.
Here’s the rest of the exchange:
jonbecker @matthewktabor Sir, I wll NOT stand for you referring to my friends/colleagues as “dolts.” That’s absolutely offensive and wrong!!!
matthewktabor @jonbecker jeering those who celebrate Christmas in schools is fine, calling someone a dolt is horriffic? i guess i see it differently
jonbecker @matthewktabor YES, calling someone a “dolt”, especially in a space where they can’t reply, is horrific.
@jonbecker you’re welcome to forward the message to him – actually, hold, i’ll update my blog, he can respond there
… and here we are, folks.
Dec 4, 2008
I‘m part of a discussion group that shares and analyzes all sorts of education-related information. When a good article comes up [or a particularly bad one, I suppose] we talk about it.
Dan Willingham, whose work I think is top-notch, has a piece on the Britannica Blog called “Education for the 21st Century: Balancing Content Knowledge with Skills” – and it’s worth reading. He makes the case that there’s a conceptual pendulum that swings between content knowledge and skills [which I prefer to call 'process,' so consider the terms interchangeable here]. I’ll go along with the ‘pendulum’ imagery because I can’t think of an example that expresses the push/pull dynamic that I think is appropriate – and a ‘tug of war’ doesn’t fit [vectors in physics? Maybe...].
I’ve pasted below a note I wrote this afternoon that exposes some of my thoughts on the issue. Parts are tangential because it was in the context of a broader discussion. I edited out a few sentences for clarity.
Food for thought below the scroll.
re: “Speaking about the pendulum, Dan Willingham was talking about the pendulum of content and critical thinking and how it always seems to sway too far one way or the other. We need both content and the ability to analyze it… Anyway, we are now, clearly, at the analyze it – without any content knowledge stage which is terrible.”
I think this pendulum, if there is one, is driven by the lack of talent in the prospective teaching corps and the dolts who run the ed schools… over decades we’ve gradually moved toward process and away from content in a way that matches perfectly the abilities and limits of those involved in education. This is why I rail on about GRE scores and the like – if we get more highly-capable, talented people in education, they’ll a) come with more content and b) be able to handle even more.
Then ed schools and professional development can focus on effective ‘process’ – and I mean actually focus on it in a transparent, accountable way. Fill their halls with students who at least have solid content knowledge and we’ll see more accountability for some of these useless, baseless ideas in ed.
Poof! Process/content pendulum balanced. [BTW, "poof" is Olde English for "over 3 decades, several professional wars and depending on a cultural shift."]
I find some faults with Willingham’s piece here, but it reminds me of how I like to explain how content matters with ‘critical thinking.’ I use movie critics. How can a Kyle Smith or an Ebert critique movies meaningfully? They’ve seen hundreds, thousands. They’ve got a mass of content knowledge that allows them to *gasp* think critically about the subject. No content, no criticism, no analysis, no value.
It takes about 13 seconds to explain this to a kid and see the light bulb go off. Play them some new song, whether it’s a rap song or Britney Spears’ new album [the song "Womanizer" is surprisingly catchy, btw] and ask them if they like it. It’s awesome, it sucks, whatever – ask them why and they’ll tell you in a sentence or two.
Play them… the Hee Haw Gospel Quartet or Kenny Rogers and ask them to evaluate it. They can’t go beyond “HAHA THAT SUCKS” because they’ve never heard the genre. They retreat to the ‘process’/analytical side because they simply have no content knowledge to reference.
Britney or Lil Wayne? They can compare it to thousands of similar songs and evaluate it accordingly. That’s using content knowledge along with process/analytical ability to get a result.
No content knowledge, no worthwhile result.
No “21st century skills” here, either.
Nov 18, 2008
If you aren’t already following me on Twitter, you ought to start. I link to and comment on education stories ’round the clock.
And if you’re new to Twitter or aren’t sure how to get started, check out TwiTip’s 10 Easy Steps for Twitter Beginners. Give it a whirl!
Now for the Great Links… and some real stinkers that also deserve attention.
Via EIA, Andrew Sullivan and Michelle Rhee – two peas in a pod? Believe it or not, yes. I suppose even Sullivan gets to be sensible every once in a while. Blind squirrel, broken clock, etc. etc.
There aren’t too many men teaching K-12, reports Eduflack. In MA, fewer than 25% of K-12 teachers are men. And it’s everywhere, too – in April 2007 I wrote a post about male elementary teachers in NY dropping to 9%, a 40-year low. Some folks like MenTeach have been trying to raise awareness for a while now. Check them out and subscribe.
Ted Tedesco of Woodbury, Vermont is a hero. He’s worked to restore the Pledge of Allegiance in that small school district. The admins’ solution to his request is ridiculous, but at least everyone sees it. That, and a generation of kids in Woodbury knows how important it is to defend their country and their culture. As I wrote in the comments of the Core Knowledge post:
“A few months ago I attended a reunion banquet for a tiny, rural high school that closed shop during the consolidation efforts of the 1950s. Their meeting included the Pledge of Allegiance. When the Pledge came up in the agenda, all of the ~100 in attendance rose – and some with great difficulty, as they were in their 80s and 90s – to recite it.”
You know where I stand on this issue, and there’s a reason why I call the Green Mountain State “The People’s Republic of Vermont.” [Sorry, Jessie.]
Across the pond, here’s why I like the Tories. They’ve got a plan to re-introduce a bit of rigor to GCSEs and A-levels. The GCSEs in particular have been gutted – remember this physics teacher begging the government via petition to return mathematical rigor to secondary physics?
“Hot Boys”? I’d prefer that EdSector’s Quick and the Ed bloggers had a bit more self-respect. I already have trouble taking them seriously – these post titles don’t help.
Schools suing bloggers? You betcha. PRO on HCPS links to a libel case against an unhappy parent. Well, if “libel” means “a school district seething when held accountable by the public.” Guess who won? [UPDATE: PRO on HCPS gives us a better link for schools suing bloggers.]
Litigation is expensive when you’re trying to fire a teacher, administrator or school employee. In nearby Utica, NY, Craig Fehlhaber’s hearings have cost the Utica City Schools $250,000 – and counting. If Fehlhaber wins, the district will likely have to reimburse his attorney’s fees as well. We went through the same process in Cooperstown several years ago. If you ever wondered why schools tend not to dismiss bad employees, now you’ve got one reason.
Dave at ‘Friends of Dave’ – a very sharp blog, subscribe with all deliberate speed – highlights some recent irony in California. The California Association of School Business Officers have a conference at which they’ll discuss our tough economic times and how their districts can cope. And that conference is at a hotel/spa/golf course in Newport Beach. Dave has a sensible take on it all, but c’mon, CASBO. He says, “It is a bit ironic that the people who are typically the ones telling their co-workers that they can’t have an extra ream of paper are the ones having a really nice time at a Hotel and Spa on the beach.” Agreed.
Victory in Iraq Day – November 22, 2008. ZombieTime has declared 11/22/08 VI Day and I’m with him 100%. Read his post to see why it’s appropriate to declare VI Day and you’ll see why I support it, too.
“Building a GREAT teaching workforce,” described by American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence’s Dave Saba. Saba/ABCTE sing the praises – rightly – of a new report on the effectiveness of alternative certification programs.
Nov 13, 2008
Thank God for Google Reader. At this point, I follow ~500 blogs, view ~12,000 items a month [about 85% are education related] and highlight/distribute about 2% of those posts in a host of ways.
And then there’s the education blog…
… and Twitter, an excellent, free PR tool. If you aren’t following me on Twitter already – or using it yourself – sign up for free, check my profile and click follow. There’s always a good conversation to have or a good link to click.
That triumvirate of e-media makes it easy to do a roundup of interesting stuff I’ve read, so give a warm welcome to the world premier of the Great Links Curriculum.
The British are one baby step ahead of us in self-destruction. DailyWritingTips brings us a story from the Telegraph about banning “elitist” and “discriminatory” Latin phrases – like bona fide, vice versa and et cetera. Fancy book larnin’s a 20th century skeel, it seems.
“Why Parents Get Angry When They Learn the Truth,” from Motel Special Ed.
“Quantifying Greatness” - Greg Forster debunks an unfounded gripe about the Great Books.
Exhibit 1036a: Perfect example why normal people don’t take educrats seriously, courtesy of Salon. Really, that diagram could be drawn for just about any topic on Earth.
The Carnival of Education is up at the Core Knowledge Blog. This Carnival’s scripting took some real effort – well done.
Flypaper with some sober common sense. Want to retain great teachers? Remove the bad ones.
Obama celebrated in the World of Warcraft? Good Lord, there are so many factual errors in this testimony as to make me want to call the poor kid out. We’ll see.
Having solved every problem in New York public education, the State Education Department decided to buy a ton of fruits and vegetables.
Racial taunts in class for supporting John McCain? You betcha. This ideological intolerance happens a bit more than people realize, and sometimes – as in this case – it can get ugly.
Really, really, really, really smart to get into law school? George Leef at Phi Beta Cons drags that argument back to reality.
Head over to eMailOurMilitary and drop a quick note, even if it’s just a quick thanks.
Bill Gates?!?!? Making curriculum?!?! Relax, mouth-frothers. Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Pondiscio will calm you down.
… and another political candidate in the education world whines while laying bare her ignorance on blogs, media and technology. Advertising, too, I suppose. Well done, Ms. Gallucci of Pinellas County. Perhaps the problem isn’t your makeup or wardrobe, but the woeful inadequacy you bring to the job.
In New York State, the education budget cut spin begins. Give it a day or two, you’ll want to throw money at NYSED just to get this circus to stop.
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