Because I will be out of the country and away from internet access for the next 23 days I will be posting a series of “Timeless Posts” beginning tomorrow and running for the first 23 days of June. Upon return on June 24 I MAY need a day or two to get back into regular posts. In the meantime, I hope you will find some of these “re-posts” engaging and thought provoking.
We experienced budget crises of varying degrees in over half of the years I worked as Superintendent, and invariably when the budget got tight we debated the worthiness of field trips. The headline of Washington Post Jay Matthews’ most recent column,”Children Learn Much from Field Trips That They Can’t Get from Lectures, Textbooks”, describes the argument administrators and I would try to roll out whenever Board members would argue money spent on “frills” like field trips would come out of “essentials” like textbooks or materials of instruction.
I learned one indelible lesson in 7th grade when the Junior Geographers Club stopped at a large public dining facility in Delaware on a field trip to the Air Force Base in Dover. The sign above a drinking fountain read: “Whites Only”. Reading about segregation later that year was an abstraction… witnessing segregation was far more striking.
The NYTimes most emailed article today is falsely titled: “Is College Worth It? Clearly, New Data Say” The story leads with this compelling chart to prove in one quick view that college IS worth it. The chart shows the RATIO of college earnings (the top line) to the earnings of those with SOME college (the bottom line) since 1975.
What the chart DOESN’T show is that since 2001 the earnings of those WITH a college degree has stagnated. Why the increasing divide?
The pay gap has grown mostly because the average wage for everyone else has fallen.
Basically, the corporate race to the bottom in wages AND total compensation has resulted in stagnant salaries among college graduates and a LOSS of wages for everyone else. The headline of this should have been “RACE TO THE BOTTOM” because that’s what is really happening here for everyone except the very top .01%. The bottom line:”Get a Degree to Earn Stagnant Wages”.
I read with interest today’s editorial in the NYTimes regarding the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision to deny the execution of a murderer because of the inexact legal definition of a defendant’s “diminished capacity” to reason. It seems that FLA law defined “diminished capacity” based solely on one test score: IQ. Writing the majority opinion Justice Kennedy opined:
…the state’s “rigid rule” violated the Constitution because it “disregards established medical practice” by taking a test score as the final word on a defendant’s intellectual capacity, and by refusing to consider the imprecision inherent in such tests.
“Intellectual disability is a condition, not a number,” Justice Kennedy wrote. His opinion relied heavily on the consensus of mental-health professionals that a diagnosis of intellectual disability depends on both “significantly subaverage” intellectual functioning and major deficits in adaptive behaviors like self-care and interpersonal skills. I.Q. is, they say, an approximate measure of intellectual function, and people can be disabled even if they score above 70. Florida, Justice Kennedy noted, did not cite a “single medical professional” who supported the strict cutoff.
So… when the day comes that a teacher sues a State over VAM, will the state be able to “…cite a single professional statistician” who can attest to the “precision inherent” in the tests? If the highest court in the law recognizes that IQ tests are inherently imprecise, how can the advocates of VAM hope to make their use of standardized tests stand up in court?
Timothy Egan’s column in yesterday’s paper, Lost in the Past, describes the rampant ignorance about history among today’s politicians, voters, and students. After citing the citizenry’s lack of knowledge about fundamental historical facts like the cause of the Civil War and it’s placement in the 19th century, he turns to Ken Burns and his co-author David Duncan for an explanation:
Burns said it’s because many schools no longer stress “civics,” or some variation of it. Why? Students complain that it’s boring, or the standards are too demanding. Civics, said Burns, is “the operating system” for citizenry; if you know how government is constructed, it’s no longer a complicated muddle, but a beautiful design.
Duncan said that Americans tended to be “ahistorical” — that is, we choose to forget the context of our past, perhaps as a way for a fractious nation of immigrants to get along. Right after the Civil War, the South was allowed to promote the inaccurate narrative of “the Lost Cause” — all about states’ rights and Northern aggression. In fact, slavery was enshrined into the very first article of the Confederate Constitution; it was the casus belli, and the founding construct of the rebel republic. That history may hurt, but without proper understanding of it, you can’t understand contemporary American life and politics.
He also mentioned how immigrants may know more about history than fifth-generation natives. To pass a citizenship test, they are required to learn things about the glory and infamy, the power and abuses — the operating system — of this democracy. It’s not too onerous to ask the same thing of 18-year-olds across the land. You can’t fix stupid, as the comic line goes; but you don’t have to teach it.
After reading these explanations, I was compelled to offer my own:
Public schools do not foster democracy or welcome it in any way… Teaching and testing “civics” while imposing a “no excuses” environment on students will not result in an engaged citizenry even if it improves the basic knowledge of history…. If we hope to increase participation in our democratic process we need schools to operate openly and democratically and we need to demonstrate to students that their voice matters and will be heard… As it stands now the voters in our country behave like the students in our schools: they acquiesce to whatever rules the leaders set for them so long as they can be entertained and allowed some degree of freedom on the weekend.
Conformity and compliance are an implicit part of the “beautiful design” of school… but not part of the “beautiful design” of a democracy. We need to encourage free speech and the questioning of authority in our schools if we hope to restore an operational democracy in our country.
This could just as easily have been the title of Canadian Jonathan Gatehouse’s Macleans article, which was more politely titled “America Dumbs Down”. The article, which offered several examples of legislation designed to deny scientific truths dealing with evolution, climate change, and gun control, had one paragraph that jumped out at me:
The term “elitist” has become one of the most used, and feared, insults in American life. Even in the country’s halls of higher learning, there is now an ingrained bias that favours the accessible over the exacting.
Nowhere is this “accessible over exacting” bias more evident than in public policy regarding the rating of education, where state after state has succumbed to single letter rankings for schools… or magazines that develop seemingly exact rankings of colleges based on mathematical formulae… or value added ratings for teachers based on the comparative scores of tests administered once a year to students. Instead of a complicated means of evaluation that includes human judgment, everything in education is increasingly reduced to a single number or rating that is “easy to understand” but muddled. Our desire to make everything “easy to understand” is making us all simple.