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.
Today’s NYTimes has an article by Elizabeth Harris describing the philanthropic approach being used by Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs widow. After reading the article I came away with a favorable impression. The idea of inviting individual schools to submit proposals for changing the HS paradigm makes a lot more sense than paying billions to create top-down reforms like the Common Core… but then Apple was always more imaginative than Microsoft… even though their imaginative tax sheltering is reprehensible. I’ll be eager to see how this small bore reform works as compared to the blunderbuss approach of most “reformers”.
As the campaign slogs along it is clear that public education is not likely to be a front burner issue, in large measure because the bi-partisan ESSA bill made it through Congress and was signed by the President. As noted in earlier blog posts, this is most unfortunate because ESSA did little to derail the test-and-punish reform movement and even less to prevent privatization… and, President Obama’s stand against supplanting notwithstanding, it does little to stem the inequitable funding in public education. And having looked at the stark differences between Mr. Trump’s perspective on public education and that of Ms. Clinton, it is even more urgent for the public to understand why public schools should be an important consideration in casting votes.
From everything I’ve read there is no evidence whatsoever that Ms. Clinton would change the “reform” course her husband, President GW Bush, and President Obama set. I would expect more testing supported by the bogus civil rights arguments advanced by the hedge funders who want to make a profit from the operation of public schools and no effort to take power away from the States even though the centralization was launched to prevent states like KS, TX, LA, MI, IN, and others to countless to list to starve districts serving poor children in order to save money.
But the policies and curriculum Mr. Trump wants to advance based on articles in Education Week The Daily Kos are both laughable and scary. According to Education Week writer Andrew Ujifusa the centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s eduction policy is going to be an expansion of choice. Ujifusa reports that Mr. Trump as selected Rob Goad, a staffer from Indiana Congressman Luke Messer’s office to head his K-12 policy team. Ujifusa writes:
Trump has largely neglected K-12 during his quest for the White House, aside from brief statements supporting school choice, attacks on the Common Core State Standards, and a pledge to end gun-free school zones. But Goad’s shift to the Trump election team coincides with a new emphasis on K-12 choice in particular for the Republican presidential nominee.
Each of these issues will do nothing to improve schools serving children raised in poverty. Choice is a cheap, fast and ineffective panacea when children in underfunded schools are prohibited from entering affluent schools because they are overcrowded or in another jurisdiction. Mr. Messer’s idea of choice involves transportability of Title 1 funds to religiously affiliated schools and de-regulation and privatization of public schools.
The abandonment of the “Common Core”, the bogeyman of those who want local control, would allow some districts to teach bogus science like creationism and allow some states to regress to the low standards they had in place before testing was nationalized.
As for gun-free school zones: As a former urban middle school teacher and high school disciplinarian for six years I cannot imagine a more appalling idea than allowing guns in or around school. Arguing that armed adults should be on school grounds when gangs are prevalent in many areas and schools are spending millions of dollars to protect themselves from “shooters” is preposterous.
And if those ideas were not ludicrous enough, Mr. Trump’s latest idea for Making America Great is to require that all schools teach patriotism. The quote from the Daily Kos:
“We will stop apologizing for America, and we will start celebrating America,” (Mr. Trump) said. “We will be united by our common cultures, values, and principles, becoming one American nation, one country under the one constitution, saluting one American flag—always saluting.”
Presumably Mr. Trump and his supporters do not see this new requirement as yet another unfunded federal mandate. Nor do they see the possibility that some people may choose to attend a public school that holds a different perspective on patriotism: maybe one that views dissent as a necessary and important element of democracy. Nor do they appreciate that tolerance is a cornerstone of our culture…
Given the choice between Ms. Clinton’s desire to continue the “reform” movement and Mr. Trump’s desire to have us “always saluting” I think I’ll reluctantly support “reform”. At least my grandchildren won’t be required to pass a multiple choice test on a Common Core curriculum designed by those who want to allow tax dollars to go to religiously affiliated schools.
Modern Learners, a weekly email newsletter, offers many links to insightful and thought provoking blog posts ad articles. Yesterday’s “issue” of the on-line newsletter was no exception, featuring a link to Harold Jarche’s blog post titled “The Future of Human Work”. In the post Marche, who is a management consultant based in Canada, opens with this paragraph:
People can never be better at computing than computers. We cannot become more efficient than machines. All we can do is be more curious, more creative, more empathetic. The fact that automation is taking away jobs once designed for people means that it is time we focus on what is really important: our humanity. Service delivery will gradually improve as machines take it over. Accidents will diminish with self-driving cars. Errors will be reduced with robotic surgeries. Many human jobs will fade away.
While Jarche doesn’t say so in the post, many futurists believe the jobs that remain will fall into two broad categories: low-level service work and high-level intellectual work. In neither instance, though, will mastery of the common core be important since those skills measured by tests designed to measure learning of common core skills are unimportant to any of the work that will be available. Jarche elaborates:
We are on the cusp of being a digitally networked and computer-driven society and it seems we are throwing away the only thing that will enable people to have a valued role in it. Common core education standards are useless for this world of work. So are standard academic disciplines, as well as standard job competencies. These are all for machines, not humans. The future of human work is complex, creative, and unique.
So instead of preparing students to pass tests that measure skills that prepare students for tasks a computer can do more effectively and efficiently— work that is “routine, procedural, and standardized”, we should be preparing students for work that is complex, creative, and unique.
Jarche is not concerned with how public education might address this change in the workplace. Indeed, the balance of his post describes workshops he offers to adults who already have a slot in today’s work force. But it is impossible to envision schooling that prepares students for a complex, creative and unique future that remains stuck in age-based grade-level cohorts where students are homogeneously batched by “ability levels” to facilitate the routine and procedural learning that takes place to prepare students for standardized tests that measure whether or not the students have mastered the Common Core. Mr. Jarche’s workshops feature peer-to-peer learning and focus on collaboration as opposed to competition. Maybe schools need to look at where the workplace is headed instead of where the workplace is today…
The NYTimes was among many news outlets that published articles covering a recent report issued by the National Center for Science Education, who surveyed 1,500 teachers from high schools and middle schools in all 50 states on the way they approach the teaching of climate change… and the news was distressing. According to the study, as John Schwartz reported in his lead paragraph:
Most science teachers in the United States spend some time on climate change in their courses, but their insufficient grasp of the science as well as political factors “may hinder effective teaching,” according to a nationwide survey of the profession.
When those conducting the survey probed to determine the “political factors” that might “hinder effective teaching” here’s what they found:
Close to a third of the teachers also reported conveying messages that are contradictory, emphasizing the scientific consensus on human causation and the idea that many scientists believe the changes have natural causes.
The authors of the paper suggested that those teachers “may wish to teach ‘both sides’ to accommodate values and perspectives that students bring to the classroom.” The survey also found, however, that only 4.4 percent of teachers said that they had faced overt pressure from parents, school administrators or the community to teach about climate change.
While it is heartening to see that less than 5% of those surveyed “faced overt pressure” to teach about climate change, it is distressing to read that one third of the teachers essentially fail to report that climate change is settled science. There are not “two sides” to climate change any more than there are “two sides” to evolution or Einstein’s Laws of Relativity. But the most disheartening piece of information about the instruction of climate science was this paragraph:
Climate change is still not often part of a formal curriculum, so the instruction in one year rarely can add to the previous year’s work, Professor Plutzer added. And teachers feel pressured to focus more intensely on topics that appear on “high-stakes tests” that define much of today’s educational process, he said.
Clearly our priorities are skewed when we need to push climate change out of the classroom so that test scores can climb… along with the temperatures…