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Thanksgiving Wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut… and Thanksgiving to My Parents

November 26, 2020 Comments off

A Facebook friend posted this wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut, who clearly understood that the competition implicit in public education works against the well being of children… and create a constant sense of ill-being that is hard to shake as an adult: 

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”

If only we could emphasize the enjoyment that comes from mastering a skill, from learning how something works, to look at things from a different perspective instead of trying to “win”…. On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful my parents accepted my decent but unexceptional schoolwork, valued the work ethic I developed under their guidance, laughed appreciatively at my jokes— even the bad ones, and patted me on the back every time I did a little better on something than I did the day before. 

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President-Elect Biden Needs to Follow NPE Recommendations if it Hopes to Restore REAL Public Education

November 25, 2020 Comments off

Common Dreams writer Kenny Stancil uses the White Paper from the Network for Public Education (NPE) as the basis for his article that offers a clear direction for the Biden administration to take if they hope to undo 20 years of “accountability driven school reform”. Calling on President Biden to fulfill “promised commitment to our nation’s public schools”, NPE Executive Director Carol Burris offered five clear objectives that will do just that:

  • Rebuild our nation’s public schools, which have been battered by the pandemic, two decades of failed federal policy, and years of financial neglect;

  • Reject efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via vouchers or charter schools;

  • End the era of high-stakes standardized testing—in both the immediate future and beyond;

  • Promote diversity, desegregation (both among and within schools), and commit to eliminating institutional racism in school policy and practices; and

  • Promote educational practices that are child-centered, inquiry-based, intellectually challenging, culturally responsive, and respectful of all students’ innate capacities and potential to thrive.

In the White Paper Ms. Burris also calls for sufficient funding to re-open schools in a fashion that ensures that the physical and mental health of students is addressed and the lost funding is restored. Most importantly, NPE wants schools to be governed by democratically elected officials and all programs designed to provide tuition to private and religious schools ended:

“Neighborhood public schools governed by their communities are essential to the health of our democracy and the well-being of children,” NPE noted. “We need a public education champion in the Department of Education who rejects efforts to privatize public schools, whether those efforts be via private school vouchers or charter schools.”

…the Biden administration “must oppose any congressional attempts to institute tax credit programs designed to subsidize private and religious school tuition,” which siphons much-needed resources from underfunded and unequal public schools…

Mr. Stancil’s article elaborates on the consequences of implementing the five objectives, the most far reaching of which would be the end to any and all standardized testing.

The pandemic MAY have a positive by-product: the de facto closure of school-as-we-know-it opens the door for a reinvention of public education, a reinvention that would be well served if it met the five objectives NPE sets forth…. and in doing so he could create jobs in construction and human services, empower locally elected officials to meet the unique needs of the children in their community, and build democracy back. The only losers in all of this: the venture capitalists who seek efficiency over creativity.

Until We Address Inequities of Wealth and Race, Public Education WILL Be Part of the Problem and No Solution Whatsoever

November 24, 2020 Comments off

A few days ago, Erica Pandey wrote an article for Axios on the inequities in public education that is as timely now as it was on November 14, 2020. Indeed, the facts and assertions in Ms. Pandey’s article are identical to those I read in the 1970s when I attended graduate school in Philadelphia. And what are those facts?

The big picture: Family income is perhaps the strongest determinant of student success, and low income becomes an even higher barrier when it intersects with race.

  • Even when Black students from poor families start kindergarten with above-median test scores, 63% test below the median by the time they’re in the eighth grade, a recent Georgetown University study found.

  • Among Latino kindergartners in the same high-achieving, but lower-income category, 36% did worse by eighth grade, as did 39% of white students and 18% of Asian students.

  • High-achieving students of color are too often overlooked by teachers and administrators: The odds of Black and Latino children being referred to gifted programs are 66% and 47% lower than white students, respectively, per the Fordham Institute.

And the reason for this disparity in performance is as clear now as it was in the early 1970s: “Decades of redlining and exclusionary zoning practices have segregated our neighborhoods and, by extension, our public schools.”

Ms. Pandey goes on to note that children of color are disproportionately disciplined and that the internet inequities have made all of these situations even worse.

She ends her article with this sobering message:

The bottom line: “The idea that this is about who’s smart and who’s not is just not true,” says Anthony Carnevale, founder and director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “In the end, the system pretty much places you where you were as a child. Education is the problem. It is not the solution.”

Unless we change our minds and hearts about race segregation, about taxes and funding equity, about having a TRULY level playing field I fear that Mr. Carnavale is right: Education IS the problem. It is NOT the solution.