Archive for December, 2020

Another Pandemic Positive: The Expansion of Outdoor Education

December 31, 2020 Comments off

Students in Portland, ME may not be getting the academics they need but, as AP’s David Sharp reports, thanks to an expansion of outdoor education, they ARE getting a great education on nature and an imaginative means of coping with the challenges posed by the pandemic. 

Portland ME is offering outdoor education in December? What happens when it is cold and it snows? When Mother Nature gives you cold you learn how to bundle up and when it gives you snow, you study snowflakes! As Mr. Sharp notes, Portlands littlest students, the Pre-K and Kindergartners, take their naps “…in hammocks in wool-lined sleeping bags filled with hot water bottles” and the teacher are finding that the students are begging them to go outdoors. And why not? 

“It’s the healthiest, safest place for us to be right now. Anything that we can do to get kids outdoors for longer periods of time is vital. This is where we need to be right now,” said Anne Stires, an outdoor learning consultant and advocate in Maine.

And what happened in a recent snowstorm? 

Cindy Soule’s fourth graders in Maine’s largest city have studied pollination in a community garden. They solved an erosion problem that was damaging trees. They learned about bear scat.

Then came a fresh layer of snow and temperatures that hovered around freezing — but her students were unfazed.

Bundled up and masked, they scooted outside with their belongings in buckets. They collected their pencils and clipboards, plopped the buckets upside down in the snow, took a seat and went to work.

The lesson? Snow, of course, and how snowflakes are formed.

As Mr. Sharp’s article indicates, Maine is not the only State embracing outdoor education no matter what challenges the temperature or weather presents. Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and— based on personal knowledge– Vermont are all offering support for outdoor education… and Portland found that the public enthusiastically provided warm weather gear for their neediest children when they put out a call. 

What will happen when the pandemic ends? If the experience of Portland educators is any indication it will remain:

This is Portland’s first widespread use of outdoor learning, and the goal is to keep it going even after the pandemic.

Teachers are encouraged, but not required, to take their classes outdoors, and a school survey shows about half of teachers doing so.

Soule said her students will never forget the pandemic’s hardships. But she hopes studying in nature will be among their good memories of 2020.

They’re seeing the outdoors around them and it brings relevancy to what they’re studying,” Soule said. ” They will remember that forever.”

Given Portland’s daunting weather it doesn’t seem like bad weather should be an excuse for ANY school district… and given the relative ease of maintaining social distancing and mandating masks (what student ISN’T willing to cover their face in sub-freezing weather?) it seems like a natural way to return to school AND learn some practical life long skills. It seems far more energizing and memorable than starting at blank boxes on a screen! 


Wait! What? Betsy DeVos Wants Schools to Emphasize Freedom, Founders Without Emphasizing Slavery?

December 30, 2020 Comments off

Thankfully we have only three weeks of Betsy DeVos left, but she is making the most of her waning hours behind the bully pulpit. In a Fox News editorial she decries the 1619 Project, champions President Trump’s 1776 Project, and makes her last ditch effort to promote vouchers. I’ve blogged frequently about the flawed thinking behind vouchers and a couple of times on the fact that testing has marginalized instruction in all areas of the curriculum outside of reading and math skills. Before she and her boss leave office I want to provide an overview of the 1776 Commission and why it is preposterous to use it as a counterpoint to the 1619 project. Here, Ms. DeVos offers her description of the 1776 Commission:

The 1776 Commission, which President Trump launched recently, will help focus the national conversation on the great American story and the importance of ensuring the rising generation understands the values of our founding, the contents of our Constitution and the critical need to be engaged citizens.

Until now, I haven’t given much space in this blog to critique the 1776 Project, but I might as well give a short one now in light of Ms. DeVos’ continued efforts to promote it even though I am hopeful that the Biden administration will make any detailed analysis moot.

The roots of the 1776 Project was the widespread publicity and dissemination of the NYTimes 1619 Project, which looked at American history through the lens of slavery. It asserts that our nation’s founding and initial economy was predicated on existence and continuation of slavery, a political and economic reality that has been whitewashed in history books. Since its publication, several historians have questioned the facts cited in the document and because of those inaccuracies they have contended that the entire premise is flawed.

From my perspective, the entire study of history should be viewed with a degree of skepticism because it inevitably reflects the assumptions of the individuals writing the history and the culture that the history brings from. It should be clear to any politician that history is a subjective curation of facts. The “history” most of us learned in school is necessarily limited by the time allotted to instruction and tends to tell the same story with nuance and perspective added as children mature. A third grader can understand the stories of history while a tenth grader should be able to understand the way those stories can be changed based on a different perspective. The 1619 Project offered a different curation of facts and, therefore, a different perspective on the stories we grew up with. It is not the last word on our country’s history any more than the 1776 Project will be.

My perspective is that history instruction should make it clear to students that everyone has a different perspective when it comes to interpreting events and that we should be able to look at each other’s perspectives and the facts used to reach those perspectives. The 1619 Project may have presented some flawed facts, but it could still reach some sound conclusions.

As for the 1776 Project, the purported antidote to the the poisonous information being spread by anti-American history teachers, it seems that it overlooks some inconvenient truths in the story it wishes to tell. most importantly the fact that may of the “values of our founding” are clearly unacceptable today. We don’t allow slavery;  we do allow women to vote; we allow those who do not own land to vote; and, we have made several adjustments to the documents of the founders to reflect the changes in science and technology.

And last but nearly not least, we “anti-Americans” who are open to reading and teaching about slavery and the union movement presented in Howard Zinn’s texts, DO value freedom. And because we value freedom, we find it completely unacceptable to have the government defining an official narrative that every child needs to commit to memory. As long as we are free to think for ourselves and develop our own narratives to explain events we are free. Once there is only one way to look at history, Freedom is Slavery and we all love Big Brother.

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As the Clock Ticks Down Trump and DeVos Heave a Hail Mary

December 29, 2020 Comments off

After four years of trying to funnel public funds to private schools of all kinds, with weeks left in his term of office Donald Trump has issued an executive order that would do just that.

Like many of the Presidents efforts to circumvent what Congress failed to support this act of desperation is short on details and full of hot button political issues that will please his base and enrage his opponents. Oh, and one of the details that the outgoing POTUS overlooked is whether his mandate is Constitutional… but no matter: it accomplishes his overarching objective of embroiling the voters and widening their divide while keeping him front and center. January 20 can’t come too soon!