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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

“The complete lack of sugarcoating may seem harsh to outsiders, but students seem to appreciate the honesty”

Joanne Jacobs,

Chapter 1 of Joanne Jacobs’ “Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds” introduces San Jose’s Downtown College Prep, a charter school serving mostly Mexican immigrant families. DCP takes underperformers and develops them to succeed at a 4-year college or university. From page 9:

“”At DCP [Downtown College Prep], low achievers aren’t told they’re doing well; they’re told they can do better, if they work hard. The school doesn’t boost self-esteem with empty praise. Instead, Lippman and his teachers encourage what is known as “efficacious thinking,” the belief that what a person does has an effect. If you study, you’ll do better on the test than if you goof off. Work hard in school, and you can get to college. You have control over your future. So, stop making excuses and get your act together. The complete lack of sugarcoating may seem harsh to outsiders, but students seem to appreciate the honesty.”

Kids are the best fraud detectors alive. Honesty shows love and sincere concern. It’s no wonder that students at DCP – or anywhere, for that matter – prefer respectful honesty as they develop.

“Parents who have money can exercise school choice…” but “Nobody says…”

Joanne Jacobs,

From the introduction [p. 2] of Joanne Jacobs’ “Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea, and the School That Beat the Odds” comes the following passage. It’s sober, honest commentary on the reality of failing schools.

“Parents who have money can exercise school choice, either by buying a home in an area with good public schools or by paying tuition.

But less-affluent parents are stuck with what they get. If the local school is led by a distant bureaucrat, staffed by inexperienced or burned-out teachers, whipsawed by education fads, and dominated by bullies, parents are told reforms are on the way: Just wait a few years, and then a few more.

If the school is just second-rate, parents are fed happy talk about how everyone’s special and those nasty test scores don’t indicate the real learning kids are doing. Why, they’re going to be lifelong learners! It doesn’t matter that they’ve learned nothing so far. They can look it up on the internet.

Nobody says: “Juan can’t read or write well enough to fill out a job application; he doesn’t have the math to qualify as an apprentice carpenter, electrician or plumber. He can go to community college, because they’ll take anybody with a pulse. But he’ll be stuck in remedial classes to learn what he was supposed to learn in elementary or middle school. The odds are he’ll get discouraged and quit.” That, they don’t say.

… and when someone does say it, the victimized cry foul. Not the truly victimized, either.

Storming the CASTLE in the War on Christmas

CASTLE is stealing Christmas

‘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:

  1. Only American public schools are eligible. [sorry, international readers]
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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 "suggests that one religion's folklore is more accepted than any other"] and – brace yourselves, folks, this is the worst:

We even have a Christmas tree in our commons area with Christmas wishes for needy families written on angels that hang on the tree for people to take and grant (Nothing for our needy families that don’t celebrate Christmas).”

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:

Well done spotting the subtle suggestion that these Christian zealots want to spend December 25th beating needy pagans into a bloody pulp with their well-thumped Bibles – while passing on good tidings only to fellow believers, that is.”

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? Anyway, I know that is not going to qualify as the “most egregious,” but nevertheless I thought it was a cute violation.”

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”:

“Justin,

I’m going to parse your comment to make it a little easier.

“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.”

The Messiah is primarily a Christian/Hebrew concept as the term originates in the Old Testament. What was given was a very specific definition – if you want to take issue with that, go ahead. My guess is that it was presented this way because of time/medium constraints. How would you define “Messiah” in a 140 character tweet?

“No mention of other messiahs, no mention of other religions”

Perhaps that’s because there aren’t as many as you might think. The Jews have yet to get theirs. The Christians recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah. It would have been valuable – and an inch closer to that special goal of all-things-diversity, yes? – to mention that the Koran/Islam recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, too.

Put simply, going on about the Rastafari Messiah et al. would have covered all the bases – at the expense of time and practical concerns.

“It was a pretty clear intentional crossing of the line in this otherwise innocuous word of the day”

You have failed to make a case that there was an “intentional crossing of the line” in this example. I’ve just shown you why your argument is folly.

“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?”

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/messiah

First, peep that definition. You’ll find that what you heard – and complained about here – isn’t different than what’s found in a dictionary.

Second, that you saw it as a “definition of why you should worship Jesus Christ” is a deliberate misinterpretation. This time it’s a mix of dishonesty and abysmal comprehension. Unless there’s more to the situation than what you described, no sensible person would hear that and think it was evangelism. Highly-specific description that fails to take into account other relevant facets of the definition, such as the Jews waiting on their Messiah? Yes. Christian evalngelism? No.

You folks should have spent less time in inadequate Constitutional Law courses and more time in core Western Civilization classes. It would’ve saved all of us a lot of time.”

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:

Let’s get some more … this is fun (and educational for me too).”

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.

Great Links Curriculum for Tuesday, November 18

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 Rheetwo 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.

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