Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Curriculum Director’s Cautious Interpretation of Texas’ Anti-CRT Law Should Send Legislators Running for Cover… but Will More Likely Embolden Holocaust Deniers

October 15, 2021 Comments off

In a state where tipsters are paid $10,000 for reporting on anyone who abets an abortion it is not unreasonable for teachers to be concerned about their future employment should they fail to meet the standards regarding the “balanced” presentation of history. When asked about how to tell students about the Holocaust, then, it was not surprising to read that a curriculum supervisor suggested that teachers might consider offering both sides of that issue. In a state where the Governor has ignored the truth about vaccines and masks and denied the existence of systemic racism it seems likely that Holocaust deniers might get a sympathetic ear should “their side” of the narrative be withheld. Given this cautious interpretation of offering “balance” it seems that someone in the Texas GOP might step forward to make it clear that the Holocaust DID happen and should definitely be included in the curriculum of ALL high schools. Oh… and while they are at it they might make certain that the science of climate change is also taught. I fear that both announcements are not forthcoming.

Does Your State Have a GOP Legislature and Governor? If So…. Get Ready… ALEC Has a Civics Curriculum Ready to Mandate!

September 29, 2021 Comments off

I read an AP article in today’s NYTimes education newsletter describing a recent law enacted in the Wisconsin House that mandates a statewide civics curriculum. According to the report,

A statewide civics curriculum would be created that all Wisconsin public and private schools would have to follow under a Republican-authored bill the state Assembly passed on Tuesday.

The measure would also require all public school students to take at least a half credit in civics education in order to graduate.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos introduced the bill, saying the country faces a “civics education crisis.”

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards says nearly all school districts are already providing civics education and if the bill were to become law, they would hope those districts could continue using the same curriculum.

The measure is also supported by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

Under the bill, the required civics curriculum would have to include teaching the history and context of the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights and “a sense of civic pride and desire to participate regularly with government at all levels.”

Living in a state led by a GOP governor and governed by a GOP legislator, I fully expect a similar bill to be headed are way. Why? Because I assumed that ALEC— the American Legislative Exchange Council— was the force behind the bill… and a quick look at their web page confirmed my suspicions. Here’s ALEC’s (ahem) thinking on this issue:

Americans take personal pride in the diversity of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds. However, as a nation, we possess a singular political heritage based on the principles of life, liberty, justice, and equality of opportunity as defined and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, codified in the Constitution, and defended in the Federalist Papers. Thomas Jefferson, recognizing the future need to protect America’s political heritage, prescribed a general education for all citizens, “to instruct the mass of our citizens in these their rights, interests, and duties, as men and citizens.” However, today, and for too many years, our students have been denied the basic education required to develop a command of and commitment to the ideals essential to a democratic form of government. The extent of civic illiteracy in America is large and growing. The results of various surveys have confirmed the lack, especially among young Americans, of even a basic knowledge about our Constitution and the structure and function of our government…

Nevertheless, a reversal of this trend may take place only if legislators enact new laws, which provide clear and detailed instructions about (1) curriculum and other related matters, and (2) sanctions and appropriate enforcement mechanisms.

And in ALEC’s world, even though they do not support any kind of mandates or regulations for businesses and even though they view public schools as “failing” they want those “failed public schools” to require their students to learn about civics. To that end, they have developed a curriculum that will accomplish the seemingly high-minded goal of inculcating today’s youth with “...a singular political heritage based on the principles of life, liberty, justice, and equality of opportunity as defined and expressed in the Declaration of Independence, codified in the Constitution, and defended in the Federalist Papers.”

All of this will be accomplished with guardrails, though… because ALEC’s think tank expects teachers to provide students with an interest in government without engaging them in any controversial topics… like the topics regarding slavery, prohibition, the expansion of the number of eligible voters, and the number of terms a president can serve— you know, those things that led to amendments to the constitution. And should a teacher fail to follow the “clear and detailed instructions” about curriculum and other related matters, I’m sure that some bill will pass providing a bounty for those who report such a failure and “…sanctions and appropriate enforcement mechanisms” will be put in place so that such deficiencies can be addressed. After all… we wouldn’t want our students to believe that independent thinking was valued by the Founding Fathers….

Categories: Essays Tags: ,

John McWorter’s Focus on Phonics Overlooks Biggest Problems Facing Reading Instruction: Failed Funding

September 4, 2021 Comments off

I recently subscribed to education columns written by NYTimes columnist John McWorter and received his first op ed piece yesterday. Here’s what I wrote in response to his column, which exhumed the zombie arguments of phonics-versus-whole-language:

Your recent article on reading instruction was a sad reminder of past experiences I had as a graduate student and school administrator.

As a graduate student at Penn in the early 1970s I encountered an example of how the left ignored evidence for irrational reasons. I had done research on the effectiveness of Head Start as part of a course on public policy and gave a presentation that presented evidence that the Bereiter-Englemann preschool DISTAR program was effective, particularly when combined with explicit instruction on how to meet the expectations of classroom conduct. Some members of my class were appalled at my willingness to support an educational approach based on behaviorism (e.g. one woman cited the “fact” that B.F. Skinnner used Skinner boxes to educate his own children as evidence that ANY methods he advocated were untrustworthy). Others in the class were upset because I was advocating an approach that supported the educational status quo as opposed to many of the new progressive approaches that were emerging at the time. Others saw DISTAR’s emphasis on behavioral expectations as reinforcing the current White culture as opposed to the African-American culture…. and no one was pleased that my findings included a reference to the Moynihan Report in describing the various factors that contributed to poverty, a report I mistakenly thought was universally accepted.

As a school superintendent in the 1990s our district became embroiled in the “Reading Wars” which pitted phonics against whole language. We had some board members who believed phonics was the “one true way” to teach reading while others saw that approach as stifling. My attitude (and that of the 24 elementary Principals and the reading specialist in our district) was that one-size-does-not-fit-all: different children needed different approaches to reading instruction. We expected teachers to adjust their approach based on those unique needs.

Dogma in reading approaches, like dogma in any area, leads to “war” and the time and energy spent fighting those wars too often becomes a means for political leaders to avoid facing to the real underlying problems facing public education: a lack of resources. Until all schools have the same resources as the most affluent school districts any debates on instructional approaches are immaterial. As of two years ago, 12 states had active suits against the funding formulas and several others (including NH where I live) have legislatures who LOST suits but failed to provide the funds needed to fully implement the agreed upon settlemnets. In my state, mandating phonics would provide no help to districts who could not afford the reading materials needed to implement the program… and it is no surpris that those districts are the ones with the lowest reading scores. THAT is scandalous and needs to be fixed first.