Posts Tagged ‘CCSS’

Debating Divisive Topics Denies Opportunity to Find Common Ground Needed for Democracy to Thrive

May 7, 2021 Comments off

This is a revision of an earlier post that I am submitting to our local newspaper as an op ed. 

As countless articles and letters in the Valley News indicate, HB 544, the ”divisive concepts” legislation proposed by GOP legislators in New Hampshire is accomplishing it’s intended mission: it is dividing us instead of bringing us together. A recent NYTimes essay by Michelle Goldberg described the rationale for bills like HB 544. The GOP senses that President Biden’s legislative proposals have widespread support. To thwart the President’s agenda and keep his initiatives off the front page, eight GOP State legislatures are proposing bills like HB 544 designed to keep contentious cultural issues like anti-racism instruction in the forefront. By persuading their base that “woke” liberals “want to make their kids hate their country and feel guilty for being white” the GOP can dominate the news cycle, spread lies, and initiate divisive debates.

HB 544, which includes the word “race” 47 times, is a by-product of former President Trump’s ill-starred effort to re-write the social studies curriculum in public schools. The ex-President alleged public schools were teaching children to “believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but rather villains,” thereby creating a “radicalized view of history” that “lacked perspective, obscured virtues, twisted motives, ignored or distorted facts, and magnified flaws”. To address this deficiency, Mr. Trump created the 1776 Commission with a mission developing a “patriotic curriculum” that would emphasize “the history and principles of the founding of the United States in 1776”.

Both HB 544 and Mr. Trump’s executive order creating the 1776 commission assume one’s perspective on history is based on a compendium of unarguable and unassailable facts learned exclusively in school. If that were the case, my perspective on the world would be identical to that championed by the 1776 Commission, for the history I was taught in the public secondary schools I attended in West Chester Pennsylvania mirrors the history advocated by the January 2021 report issued by the 1776 Commission. During my school years I learned that the Founding Fathers were patriots who declared their independence from the British, revolted against a government that imposed taxes without representation, and, after defeating the British, wrote a Constitution whose precepts and laws are timeless and inviolable. I learned that the Union army won a Civil War that preserved our nation and put an end to slavery. I learned of our nation’s westward expansion, how settlers conquered the wilderness, built new towns and farms, and heroically fought off savage attacks by Indian tribes who roamed the countryside.  I learned that in the early 20th Century we joined our European allies to win the First World War and that in the 1940s we joined our European allies to defeat Hitler and the Japanese who attacked us at Pearl Harbor. In the current events units in high school I learned of the laws that would end racism and poverty and our entire school gathered to I watch rocket launches that would ultimately place a man on the moon. I also learned of our nation’s efforts to prevent the spread of communism by taking a stand against the placement of missiles in Cuba, by sending troops to defend freedom-loving nations across the globe, and by creating the Peace Corps. The history curriculum I experienced was precisely the kind advocated by the 1776 Commission though my sense of history now is markedly different than it was in 1965 when I graduated from high school. It changed not because of courses I took in college, but because of the events that took place over my lifetime and my life experience.

The events during the decade immediately following my graduation led to serious questions about the well-being of our country. The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy, the riots that ensued, the turmoil surrounding the 1968 election, and the expansion of the Viet Nam conflict all led me to question the narrative about our country I learned in high school. The events that followed were even more troubling; the Watergate break-in, the release of the Pentagon Papers, and the misbegotten ending to the Viet Nam conflict all led to more questions. If we couldn’t believe what our leaders were telling us now how could we believe the stories our history teachers told us?

My perspective on history was affected most by my personal experiences. I chose a career in public education instead of a career in the private sector. Instead of remaining in my home town I chose to move to different states, live in different kinds of communities, and attend different kinds of churches, and participate in wide range of civic activities. These choices all affected my views on the events of the day and altered my views of history.

Donald Trump and I grew up during the same time-period and witnessed the same events over our lifetime. So did Bill and Hillary Clinton, and so did many other contemporaries of mine reading this essay. Our perspectives of history are all different and all informed by our personal experiences have more than what we were taught in high school. Some who witnessed or read of the events that occurred over the past 60-75 years might conclude the current system is racist, misogynistic, unfair, and in dire need of improvement. Others who witnessed the same events might conclude the current system as fair and just. If thousands of individuals draw different conclusions about the history we witnessed together, how can we expect to reach agreement on impact of events that took place during earlier decades and centuries?

If we hope to end divisiveness, we need to acknowledge that we all see the world differently and accept those differences. I we continue to contend that our beliefs prove that WE are right and OTHERS are wrong we will never achieve the mutual understandings needed to make democracy work. If we hope to end divisiveness, we should look for the areas we can agree upon and build on those. By enumerating the topics that are divisive and attempting to ban them from debate HB 544 does just the opposite. For that reason, it should be opposed by those who hope to seek the common ground needed in a democracy.

Categories: Essays Tags:

History Standards Impossible When Math And Reading Standards Elude Us

September 17, 2020 1 comment

I am a member of the local Rotary club and our speaker yesterday bemoaned the fact that whenever he speaks about his experience flying WW II replica planes to HS students they display an astonishing ignorance of the war. I didn’t push back at the meeting, but as the author of the weekly newsletter I intend to share a link to this Time Magazine article by Olivia Waxman which offers a good explanation of why this is true. In a nation where educators have been unable to determine standards for math or reading it is unsurprising that we have been unable to set standards for history where the facts are more numerous and the interpretations far less clear cut. In the final analysis, Ms. Waxman’s quote from Adam Laats, historian and author of The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education offers the best insight into why history standards are elusive:

One reason K-12 history education controversies continue to crop up is because of the “unanswered question about what history class is supposed to be for. Is the point of history class to introduce young Americans to their heritage of heroes, the glories of American history? Or is history class supposed to make young people into critical examiners of their society, a true civic education that teaches American young people to question every bit of received wisdom and be ready to change what needs changing?”

Ms. Waxman notes that 71% of the respondents to a Pew poll see history as a means of developing critical thinking about their society… but if 36% of those folks want schools to examine how capitalism contributes to systemic racism and 35% want schools to focus on the benefits of capitalism as compared to socialism you can see where the problems begin. And, as Ms. Waxman infers, history classrooms have been the venue for continued debate over slavery, communist influence, and politics.

The result is that some states, like Florida, ban certain topics altogether because they are too contentious, and those bans are easy to put in place in the name of “teaching the basics” so that all children can learn the fundamental skills like reading or mathematics. HOW those topics are taught, and what those topics ARE in mathematics are STILL contentious… but at least everyone agrees that knowing the alphabet and being able to count from 1 to 100 are important.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Peter Greene on Why Bill Gates is a Very Bad Choice to Help NYS Schools

May 9, 2020 Comments off

Education writer and public school teacher Peter Greene offers a clear eyed and objective analysis of Bill Gates’ failures as a school reformer. He cites several major flops, all of which have been detailed in this blog over the years: the small schools initiative: a VAM initiative in FL; several tech-based initiatives; and the Common Core. But Mr. Greene rightfully identifies Bill Gates’ biggest failure in this single sentence near the end of the article:

It’s not quite correct to say that Gates has always failed in his educational projects; he has managed to infect much of the education establishment with his belief in a narrow definition of success and a thirst for “data.”

Bill Gates’ Foundation has done good work on many fronts, particularly in the field of international public health. But after reading Peter Greene’s analysis one wonders why Governor Cuomo is making him the face of his Redesign Team… that is unless the team intends to use some form of standardized testing to determine the success of students on a structured curriculum that avoids the inclusion of any content that cannot readily yield data.