Archive for September, 2016

Tennessee’s Position on Islam Amplifies Misunderstanding by Diminishing Instruction

September 30, 2016 Comments off

Huffington Post writer Antonia Blumberg’s recent post on Tennessee’s debate about the instruction of Islam offers some insights on why our country knows so little about other religions and cultures… because it’s difficult to learn about a subject that isn’t taught.

Some background. Over the summer, the Tennessee State Board reviewed it’s 7ht grade social studies curriculum on world cultures and made a decision to “…dramatically reduce instruction on Islam.” by eliminating topics that “… covered the origins of Islam and the life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad, as well as the religion’s historical connection to Christianity and Judaism… information on the Quran, the history of the Sunnis and Shi’ites, Muslim art and scholarship, and more.” So what’s left?

Muslim history that remains in the proposed standards includes sections in which students must be able to “explain the importance of the Malian king, Mansa Musa, and his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324,” and “describe the diffusion of Islam, its culture, and the Arabic language.”

It seems that at least one member of the State Board was concerned that the in instruction on Islam, which amounted to one week in the 7th grade classrooms, “…disproportionately covered Islam more than any other world religion”. Oh, and the fact that Tennessee “…state House saw fit to pass a bill to prevent “proselytization” in middle school curriculum” might have played a role in the reduction of instruction on Islam as well.

But if Tennessee students don’t understand the differences that exist within Islam how can they gain an understanding of the conflicts in the Middle East today? If they don’t understand that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all spring from the same Abrahamic tradition how can they gain an appreciation for the commonalities among these different religious traditions?

But then the Tennessee legislature that wants to prevent “proselytization” in middle school curriculum” passed a bill in 2012 that allowed for the instruction of creationism, an indication of the basis of their thinking when it comes to religious instruction.

And one last footnote: Tennessee’s Senator, Lamar Alexander, is one of the champions of ESSA’s “states-rights” agenda that would allow states to set standards for instruction instead of having a national set of standards. I know that many in my profession deplore the Common Core… but as Tennessee’s legislature and State Board’s actions indicate, allowing STATES to set standards might be a huge step backward for our country’s collective understanding of science AND history.

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Trump vs. Clinton on K-12 Education: No Contest

September 29, 2016 Comments off

NPR reporter Anya Kamenetz posted a synopsis of the two presidential candidate’s positions on education and the choice couldn’t be clearer: Hillary Clinton has veered away from the “reform” movement Presidents Bush and Obama embraced and Donald Trump has clung tenaciously to the notion that the “government school monopoly” needs to be broken. While neither candidate is clear bout how they will raise the funds to underwrite their initiatives, both have implied where it will come from. In Ms. Clinton’s case it will come from higher taxes on the wealthy and from businesses who are currently offshoring their headquarters to avoid paying the taxes needed to underwrite the kinds of infrastructure improvements she is championing. In Mr. Trump’s case, as noted in previous posts, he will use the notion of portability of federal funds and the conversion of federal funds earmarked for specific programs into flexible block grants.

If you believe universal public education is important and NCLB, RTTT, and ESSA are misguided, Ms. Clinton’s platform for K-12 schools is the best. If you believe “government schools” are the problem and you support the “reform” movement that suggests public schools should compete for market share then Mr. Trump’s platform is the best. Any reader of this blog can see where my vote will be cast.

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In the Face of the Opiod Addiction Crisis We Worry About Test Scores

September 28, 2016 Comments off

An article in today’s NYTimes describes one of the under-reported by-products of the opiod crisis effecting New England and the entire nation: child abuse and neglect. The article, by Kathryn Seelye, offers one incident as an example of the impact drug abuse by adults is having on children. The article opens with these paragraphs:

It was a horrific video — a young mother who had overdosed was lying unconscious on the floor of a Family Dollar store in Lawrence, Mass.

Adding a gut-wrenching kick to the scene was that the woman’s 2-year-old daughter, wearing purple footie pajamas, was tugging at her mother’s limp arm, trying to wake her up. The girl was wailing. The mother looked lifeless.

A store employee recorded the scene while waiting for medics. When they arrived, they revived the mother and took her and her daughter to a hospital. The video, which became public two days later, spread across the internet.

Sadly, the police said, the opioid epidemic in New England and elsewhere has reached such proportions that it is no longer a shock to see drug users collapse in public. In Massachusetts, more than four people a day die from drug overdoses.

What is new, they said, is that addicts are increasingly buying drugs, getting high and passing out with their children in tow.

The article goes on to report that Lawrence police estimate that children are present in 10% of the cases involving heroin busts and that it was a risk factor in 7.6% of the child abuse referrals in New Hampshire, up from 4.8% in previous years.

The article doesn’t describe how this plays out in schools… but the adverse affect on the children who are placed in foster care, taken in by friends and relatives of the addicted parent, or who witness their parents nodding off in a drugged stupor are obvious. A child who is taken from his home, no matter how bad the home, is not likely to be as focussed on his or her schoolwork as a child who returns home to an intact family where meals are served at predictable hours and parents are caring and nurturing. And when that child goes to school, the staff at that school will not necessarily know or understand the child’s background and, as a result, may not be able to provide the kinds of physical and emotional support that child needs.

And here’s what I find especially sad: in the face of the drug epidemic schools are measured by test scores and not their efforts to provide help and support to children who suffer the ravages of the opiod crisis or their efforts to provide help and support to children who suffer the ravages of poverty or their efforts to provide help and support to children who suffer the ravages of abuse and neglect by parents. Often the opposite is true. If a child is troubled and attending a charter school they can be removed and increasingly schools using “no excuses” policies expect children to bear the problems inflicted on them in the name of developing “resilience”. Schools need a better understanding of the nature of the problems children bring with them to class, more services to deal with those problems, and a chance to be valued for the help they provide to all children who struggle. Getting higher test scores should be the least of their problems.