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ASCD SmartBrief Needs a World War II History Lesson

SmartBrief is ASCD’s [Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development] daily e-mail newsletter of all things school-related. Their links point mainly on policy and research news, but SmartBrief also includes a listing of new education jobs and the occasional ad.

Summary: SmartBrief is a bit like the Metamucil of education media; it isn’t tasty, but some folks still have to consume it each day.

Today’s SmartBrief includes this inspirational quote:

If you can’t see the image, here you go: “I have learned to use the word ‘impossible’ with the greatest caution.”

Having spent a few years reading subscriptions from hundreds of ed-related blogs, newsletters and discussions, one iron-clad guarantee each day – really, it’s as sure as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West – is that few will include any useful information we’d call part of one’s “education.” Casual ed-writers rarely mention anything of substance; it’s all process, or commentary on process, and no content. The ed-tech writers are the worst abusers. You can read 10,000 words about “collaboration,” “conversation” and “skills” and never get a scintilla of real academic content.

But sometimes they try. They struggle and strain – listen closely as you read and you can hear the grunting! – to throw in a quip, quote or factoid that, in their mind, echoes timeless meaning from the pedestal on which their education degree has placed them. Boy, do they try.

And that posturing without any real education to back it up is how we get the insertion of inspirational quotes like the one above. Wernher von Braun, the quote’s author, is described simply by ASCD as “German-American rocket scientist.” Short shrift, kids.

Wernher von Braun wasn’t just a wildly-intelligent scientist; he was the Nazi creator of the V-2 rocket that wrought destruction and thousands of civilian casualties upon London, Antwerp and other European cities during World War II.

von Braun’s story is intriguing and filled with fantastic nuance. It’s a mix of suspicious situations, claims both supported and refuted, and guesses about human nature as it relates to addressing opportunities. He claimed to have been forced to join the party in 1937, but has ties to the Nazis going back to 1933; he said he was most unwilling to hand-select and oversee slaves from the Buchenwald concentration camp, but there are testimonies of severe mistreatment of these prisoners at von Braun’s direction; by some accounts, he was a genius in the wrong place at the wrong time, and by others, a Nazi fanatic.

Wernher von Braun, young

Despite the lack of clarity in assessing von Braun’s life, we can agree that he was a brilliant opportunist. He surrendered to American forces in 1945 and was given special immunity – the US had their eye on von Braun for some time, recognizing his past contributions and those likely to come. By year’s end he was living in the US with a clean record and working as a foundational piece of Operation Paperclip, the United States’ program to employ former Nazi scientists after the end of the war. [Side note: The operation is rumored to have been given the name "paperclip" because of the new work histories and background reports, minus black marks like Nazi party and military affiliations, attached to their files.]

von Braun was made a full US citizen in 1955; his work with NASA in the 1960s was of great value to the US victory in the race to put a man on the moon.

Was von Braun’s commitment to his life’s work so stringent that he would willingly collaborate with the Nazis for the sake of advancing his research? To what extent did his knowledge of, and potential participation in, human atrocities and targeting civilians in war factor in to his decisions – if at all? Was his willingness to work for the Americans after Germany’s defeat part of a true commitment to aiding a more just power, or was he simply carrying anyone’s water as long as it came with research funding?

… and all of it distilled into “German-American rocket scientist.” Why so lazy? Because the Oprah-style inspirational quote sounded good.

That’s the state of the education media, folks – lots of media, not much education.

If you want to know more about Wernher von Braun as badly as ASCD needs to, the Wikipedia entry isn’t a bad place to start.

*** Can’t help but point out – ASCD chose an “inspirational quote” by a Nazi SS officer on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

World Trade Center and Pentagon Terrorist Attacks, 2009 Update

Last year we were winning 7-0; now it’s 8-0.

I show no mercy – none – to the folks in education who say that NCLB, various teaching/administrative/reform initiatives, etc. inspire “terror” in children or that their practitioners are “terrorists.” On this point, I am almost entirely alone in terms of vocal, specific criticism.

Watch the video embedded in my re-post below – you’ll see why I never, ever let it slide.

[Originally posted in September, 2008]

We’re winning 7-0, and I’d like to go for the shutout.

I don’t really use the phrases “9/11″ or “September 11.” Instead, I refer to the events 7 years ago today as what they were – a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the United States. I understand that “9/11″ and the like are shorthand; it’s a convenient way to refer to a complex event. But I don’t bother with the day for the same reason I don’t say “December 25″ when I really mean Christmas.

Mark Steyn has reprinted his September 12, 2001 column called “A War for Civilization” and added a bit of perspective – it demands a careful read, and should be read annually.

For those of you who don’t yet read Evan Coyne Maloney’s Brain Terminal, start with his brilliant, harrowing ‘Hell on Earth’ essay. Then watch the video memorial Crystal Morning, edited from David Vogler’s footage:

I got a package in the mail from my brother about two days after the attacks [it was beef jerky and apple cider]. It included this note:

world trade center attack note

Public Education Discussion on RFC Radio, Wednesday, June 17, 10pm EST

There will be an hour of talk radio dedicated to discussing the general state of public education in the US airing tonight, Wednesday, June 17th, at 10pm EST on RFCradio on Dr. Melissa Clouthier’s “The Right Doctor” show.

The Right Doctor has an exciting guest for the evening – me – and we’ll be talking about all sorts of topics related to education: a bit of legislation, some teaching, some local school administration/governance.

You can listen to the show by going to www.rfcradio.com and clicking ‘Listen.’

There will also be a live chat as the show airs – I’ll be in the room, along with the Doctor and many others, to discuss elements of the show or any related topic that comes up. You can access the chat by going to www.rfcradio.com/chat .

See you there – and if you can’t make it, I’ll link to the podcast [which includes about 15 minutes of additional content] when it’s available.

RFC Radio - Radio for Conservatives

Scoundrel Al Sharpton, the Bad Penny Happily Spent By EduWeenies

Yes, yes – ‘education is the civil rights issue of our time.’ If the 40,000 variations on that theme didn’t sink in during the 2008 campaign season, I get 140-character reminders often enough via Twitter.

And when was the last time we saw any sort of civil rights crowd that didn’t have a well-coifed Al Sharpton at the front – or trying to muscle his way to the front – with one eye searching for the media and the other eye searching for a mirror?

Get used to Al in Education, folks. That ‘Strong Schools’ bit last year was the calm before the annoying, prolonged, ineffectual drizzle that’s a Sharpton storm.

Here’s a press release/e-mail I got the other day. I’ll parse it.

Hi Matthew,

Did you see that Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg, and Newt Gingrich came together today — and at the White House of all places?  The meeting was to discuss education equality and how to improve our nation’s schools.  It was a remarkable gathering and you can read about the event here: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/44/2009/05/07/gingrich_bloomberg_and_sharpto.html?wprss=44

Trios are good. Sometimes individually great men combine to make something greater – like the Three Tenors, or even Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart and Sting singing “All for One [and All for Love]” on The Three Musketeers soundtrack.

This combination – unlike the two cited above – has a weak, embarrassing link. Gingrich could be a classic Kenny Rogers and Bloomberg one of those successful but ever-evolving David Bowie types. Sharpton, however, is not to be taken seriously. He’s a bit like the ukulele player Tiny Tim, God rest his soul.

Can you imagine what song we’d get from Kenny Rogers, David Bowie and Tiny Tim?

And you can see footage of the event here: http://www.politico.com/politico44/perm/0509/unlikely_trio_at_the_w_h_444542bd-4539-431b-abf6-f06fca3f1f77.html or here http://www.edequality.org

I’d rather hear the song.

The meeting was in advance of education equality day, which will feature thousands of people coming together to demand education equality in Washington DC on May 16th:  http://edequality.org/page/s/eepday

Let me know if you have any questions.

Here’s one: Why does anyone in education take Al Sharpton seriously? How quickly we’ve forgotten his actions in the Tawana Brawley case, his outright racism and his lifelong defense of his actions. Don’t bother Googling for Sharpton’s apologies to Stephen Pagones, the others he accused of rape, defilement and hatred, New York State or the public. He’s never uttered any.

And how spineless we’ve become, especially in public education, not to hold a man like Sharpton to account. Sharpton’s prominent involvement in education issues shows how weak the field of education leaders really is – and how badly we need some respectable, heroic leaders.

I’m getting tired of scoundrels like Al Sharpton, but I’m more tired of the milquetoasts who let it slide. I’ll pass on “Education Equality Day” in lieu of celebrating “High Standards and Integrity Day.”

Some of us celebrate that one every day. Do you?

Wishing the Forum for Education and Democracy’s “Will We Really?” Campaign a Short Life

A teaser:

“If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education instead of an ideological pow-wow, I would likely participate.

Again, thanks for the heads up – and I look forward to any more announcements you might have. Please tell Ms. Darling-Hammond, Ms. Meier and Mr. Noguera that I said hi.”

I receive many e-mails a day with press releases, requests for exposure, requests for help/organization/administration/web design – lots of things. I can’t always oblige, but I appreciate them. They keep me informed and alert me to blips on the massive radar of public education that I might otherwise miss.

And some of these notices are garbage. Well, not the notices/press releases themselves, but the events and initiatives they describe. The PR firms almost always do an excellent job.

Consider the following from the Forum for Education & Democracy, which is introducing a campaign called “Will We Really?” My e-mail response is after the jump.

NEW NATIONAL CAMPAIGN URGES OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AND THE PUBLIC TO IMPROVE PUBLIC EDUCATION

January 6, 2009 (Washington, DC) – Just days before President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, a major education group is launching a national web-based campaign that challenges all Americans to transform the optimism of the election season into the promise of collective action to improve public education.

“Our goal is to build on the “Yes We Can” hopefulness of the Obama campaign, address the shared anxiety about our uncertain future, and channel both sets of feelings into actions that will help support our nation’s schools,” said Sam Chaltain, National Director of the Forum for Education & Democracy, which is sponsoring the campaign.

A short web film, an homage to the “Yes We Can” will.i.am-produced video that has been viewed nearly 15 million times on YouTube, sets in motion a national petition drive, available at www.willwereally.com, in which all signers commit to work with President Obama to honor four promises that must be fulfilled if we are serious about supporting young people and public schools:

1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education.

To honor America’s ongoing commitment to a democratic way of life, we must provide all young people with a high-quality, free education in schools that are designed to help students develop the skills and abilities they need to exercise a powerful voice in shaping their own lives — and our nation’s future.

2. Every community deserves an equal chance.

To honor America’s founding promise of “liberty and justice for all,” we must provide equal access to a high-quality education to all young people, regardless of their family’s money, race or power.

3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher.

To honor America’s commitment to its public schools, we must ensure that all young people have the same opportunity to learn from well-prepared, well-supported teachers, who are in turn empowered to exercise their professional judgment, and not just follow a script, when it comes to helping students learn.

4. Every child deserves high-quality health care.

To honor America’s responsibility to take care of its youngest citizens – and to acknowledge the myriad out-of-school forces that impact a child’s capacity to learn – we must ensure that all young people are free from want, and have access to high-quality health care.

To encourage action on the local level, the Forum provides a list of easy steps people can undertake individually and at the community level in support of each promise.

There’s more, but I’ll spare you. What I pasted above is the tofu and soy-flakes [meat and potatoes didn't seem appropriate]. Here’s my e-mail response:

Thanks for the heads-up here, I appreciate it a great deal. It’s not easy to stay in the loop – even with the internet – without being in one of those policy centers like New York City or Washington.

But I’m going to pass on this one other than posting the press release [and this e-mail] on my website. This initiative is tripe.

Please share that, along with the following opinions, with the folks at the Forum for Education and Democracy.

Here’s a bullet-point review of the initiative’s four core principles:

1. Every child deserves a 21st Century education. The rhetoric in support of that point is baseless, useless and unclear. FfE&D hasn’t a clue what a “21st Century education” is – and hot air about a “powerful voice” means even less.

Stop that.

2. Every community deserves an equal chance. That’s one we all agree on, and I’ve yet to meet a serious thinker in education, on a large or small scale, who thinks otherwise.

The bit about “power” may work well in a college freshman’s Sociology 101 paper – or perhaps in an introduction to a Teachers College Press book, if we throw in a few typos – but it’s not to be taken seriously outside of either. If you want to talk about failed pedagogy [Whole Language or 'Investigations'-style math], abysmal teacher education programs and the fiscal mismanagement that keeps so many communities from the equality we’d all like to see, I will welcome the discussion [provided that the conversation doesn't include will.i.am videos].

Not “power,” though. Take that one up with Maxine Greene, a third-rate grad student or one of the distinguished conveners.

3. Every child deserves a well-supported teacher. Agreed. Nothing in the description, however, suggests that this Forum will take a hard look at teacher preparation programs – or the realities of teacher practice. I won’t join you folks in railing against ‘scripted’ curricula because some of it is very good, and some teachers desperately need it. These points are tendentious rhetoric, not critical analysis of pedagogy or administration. When the Forum cares more about objective analysis than the storybook dignity it’s invented for practitioners in public education, perhaps we can talk.

4. Every child deserves high-quality health care. Again, we agree – though points about keeping children healthy are low-hanging fruits. Unfortunately, this has almost nothing to do with education. The failures that have necessitated the Forum’s examination of points 1-3, albeit a misguided examination, don’t bode well for our ability to solve healthcare problems short of increasing already-bloated per pupil expenditure by an obscene amount.

I’d go into more detail on that point, but the fiscal responsibilities and the financial realities on which points 1-4 depend were not elements of the proposed discussions.

If I thought for a second that this Forum was an objective, non-partisan opportunity to discuss problems in public education instead of an ideological pow-wow, I would likely participate.

Again, thanks for the heads up – and I look forward to any more announcements you might have, and I hope the next one will be for a fairer, higher-quality initiative.

Please tell Ms. Darling-Hammond, Ms. Meier and Mr. Noguera that I said hi.

Best,

Matthew
mktabor@gmail.com
www.matthewktabor.com

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