Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

Puerto Rico’s Template for Regulating Athletics Makes Sense… Having Fun is Ultimate Goal

January 11, 2020 Leave a comment

This past weekend I attended a family gathering where I learned that one of my wife’s extremely talented great nephews had decided to quit soccer completely, turning his back on a sport he played since he was a young child. Why? His mom said he wasn’t experiencing any joy in playing.

Yesterday I read a story in the New York Times by Tom Farrey, a journalist, director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, and author of “Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children.” In the article he reported on how Puerto Rico is reining in youth sports… and how the parents are in despair. The reason for the government initiating a limit on participation in sports?

The catalyst was the death of Roberto Quiles Jr., 15, who collapsed during a five-day Junior Olympic basketball tournament sponsored by Jeep. His father, Roberto, said that the cause of the heart failure had not been determined, but that his son had been “exhausted” from year-round play and that medical attention was slow to arrive on site.His death elevated island-wide concerns about pressures placed on children and families by a youth sports system that had been transformed — industrialized — over the past decade or so.

As in the United States, the emphasis on travel teams had taken over. There were expensive basketball and volleyball tournaments at the Puerto Rico Convention Center for hundreds of teams from all over the island, at ever-earlier ages. Teenagers were playing eight games a week between their club and school teams. Children were kept at practice past 10 p.m. on school nights. Family dinners were sacrificed. There were overuse injuries and occasional fights in the stands. Abuse from parents was directed toward referees — or their own children.

In short, the joy of sport had been taken away from children and replaced by the grim fear of failure. Instead of encouraging their children to play among themselves in self-regulated games on playgrounds Puerto Rican parents were pushing their children to compete for slots on travel teams who played in stadiums full of angry adults screaming at referees and children whose every mistake was magnified.

So who would complain about restrictions limiting the number of games per week and the intrusion on family life?

Some private schools have objected. So has the Olympic committee, whose annual funding from the department has been slashed in recent years amid the island’s economic troubles and worries about its ability to train athletes who win medals. “Our federations have autonomy, and that’s not to be negotiated,” said Sara Rosario, the Olympic committee’s president. Basketball has also taken that position…

The argument in favor of sustaining these soul crushing athletic leagues is that some excellent athletes might not have a chance for the Olympics or athletic scholarships. But Mr. Farrey offers a different and healthier perspective:

But the most effective sports systems in the world don’t produce athletic talent as much as prevent it from being ruined before it ripens. It is less about spending money and more about spending time getting the youth model right, committing to build the base and being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests. In Puerto Rico, it’s just government taking the lead and dragging the sports organizations along.

The phrase that jumped out at me in this paragraph was this:

…being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests.

Patience with children is clearly NOT a virtue in our culture, and our lack of patience is reflected in the way we measure learning in children, the way we compel them to compete with each other at ever earlier ages, and the way we emphasize unyielding standards based on the assumption that all children mature at the same age. If we organized schools and structured learning based on the premise that we needed to be patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests we would not force them to compete with children in the same age cohort, expect them to learn at the same rate, or track them into courses and schools when they are long adolescents. In our country,  instead of being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests we seem to be committed to sorting and selecting them based on standardized test scores at ever younger ages, rating the effectiveness of their schooling on their earnings as adults, and training them to accept their position in a “race to the top” based on how quickly they mature intellectually and score high on tests administered to the competition in their age cohort.

 

Data Gathering Without Financial Support is Worthless… or Worse

January 9, 2020 Leave a comment

This article from a periodical touting the benefits of technology suggests that the mere collection of data can help schools address mental health issues, a notion that implicitly assumes that teachers have the time and training to intervene. Unless schools are able and willing to take on mental health issues as part of their mission and the public is willing to provide the funding to make that possible there is no way that data collection will help. Indeed, If the data is collected in schools and reported to the public it will be viewed as one more area where schools are “failing”.

Assuming Higher Taxes on the Rich is a “Solution” Also Assumes that “Markets” Are Acceptable and Just… and Markets are Neither

December 31, 2019 Comments off

The title of UMass-Boston economics professor emeritus Arthur MacEwan’s recent Dollars and Sense article that was reposted in Common Dreams poses this question:

Are Taxes the Best Way of Dealing With Inequality?

The subheading of the headline elaborates on the framing of the question and the article itself. It reads:

Taxes can redistribute income, but relying on taxes means we are accepting the way the system works—the way markets operate—to create inequality in the first place.

Mr. MacEwan then demonstrates that markets are neither natural nor just, illustrating how regulations and legal constructs undermine the natural impact of markets and, in doing so, distort the way the economy works in a way that contributes to inequality. I agreed almost entirely with Mr, MacEwan’s analysis, but differed with his conclusions about schooling. Here is the section he wrote on that topic:

Schooling and the labor market. Schooling, from pre-K through college, shapes the labor market. The U.S. school system is a multi-tiered system, preparing people for different levels in the workforce. Certain areas of education receive attention—which means funds—according to the needs of employers, as demonstrated by the emphasis in recent years on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. The structure of the school system, good or bad, is not a “natural” phenomenon, but it greatly affects the operation of the labor market and the distribution of income.

Mr MacEwan’s belief that “certain areas of education receive attention” in the form of funds misses an important reality. It is not certain academic disciplines like STEM that receive additional funds, it is certain school districts that receive additional funds… and it isn’t the districts serving poverty stricken areas that receive the additional funds, its the affluent districts. And that reality plays into the conclusions he draws about the difficulty faced in making changes:

…Financial institutions, fossil fuel firms, pharmaceutical companies, software giants, and many others use their wealth and power to see that markets are constructed in ways that work for them… They get the rules made the way they want, play by the rules, and then claim they deserve what they get because they played by the rules. Nonsense, yes, but effective nonetheless.

Of course, it is difficult to fight these powerful firms and the individuals who reap their fortunes through these firms. They are quite powerful. But there is no reason to think it is more difficult than raising their taxes.

A first step is to establish a wide understanding of the fact that markets are social constructs and that they can be constructed differently.They have been structured differently in the past, and they can be structured differently in the future… Even if little change comes in the short run, it is important to send the message that just because firms and rich people play by the rules of the markets, this does not lead to the conclusion that the results are just. (And, of course, they often don’t play by the rules!)

Schools have been structured differently in the past… and not necessarily in ways that helped address inequality. Until child labor laws were passed at the turn of the 20th century education was limited to the elite. Until Brown v. Board of Education our social construct of “separate but equal” schooling for minority students was deemed acceptable. We ostensibly offer an equal opportunity to all children and yet the evidence indicates that systemic change is needed if we want to truly offer such an opportunity to all.

Mr. MacEwan is right in his assertion that the “winners” in our system “…get the rules made the way they want, play by the rules, and then claim they deserve what they get because they played by the rules.’ The school district boundaries are social constructs as surely as the markets and the “sorting and selection” structure of our education system whereby students compete with age cohorts is a construct as surely as the “separate but equal” structure was a construct. Until we change the mental models we use to construct the rulebooks that favor those who claim they deserve what they got we will continue reinforcing the economic system we have in place… and the rich will continue to get richer.

Little Libertarian Home Schooler on the Prairie and Cato Homeschooler in Cambridge

December 25, 2019 Comments off

Earlier this month, the Foundation for Economic Education, a libertarian economics site dedicated to promoting the ideals of Milton Friedman and his acolytes, posted an article by Kerry MacDonald extolling the virtues of home schooling based on the mid-20th Century works of Rose Wilder Lane. Ms. Lane, whose mother Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House on the Prairie series beloved of children (including my two daughters) and the basis for a TV series of the same name, was a staunch opponent of any and all government coercion, including public education. Ms. Lane’s views on public schooling, written in 1943, are quoted in Ms. MacDonald’s article:

American schooling is now compulsory, enforced by the police and controlled by the State (that is, by the politicians in office) and paid for by compulsory taxes. The inevitable result is to postpone a child’s growing-up. He passes from the authority of his parents to the authority of the police. He has no control of his time and no responsibility for its use until he is sixteen years old. His actual situation does not require him to develop self-reliance, self-discipline and responsibility; that is, he has no actual experience of freedom in his youth.

Surprisingly, I find myself concurring with Mr. Lane on this perspective, particularly given the increase in surveillance and the introduction of “good guys with guns” in schools. And Ms. Lane’s observation that:

…this type of American education, imported from Prussia by 19th-century education reformers, “is ideal for the German state, whose subjects are not expected ever to know freedom,” but it is “not the best preparation for inheriting the leadership of the World Revolution for freedom”

But I was a bit unsettled when I read her ultimate thinking about schooling, which effectively sought to eliminate all compulsion:

(Ms. Lane) laments the “substitution of compulsory State education for the former American free education,” saying that formerly “American children went to school because they wanted to go, or because their parents sent them,” not because it was mandated of parents under a legal threat of force.

Maybe Ms. Lane’s 1943 memory of “American free education” was untarnished based on her prairie experiences, but urban children who three decades earlier worked in mines, mills and factories probably appreciated compulsory education as compared to compulsory slave labor. And, while Ms. McDonald, who resides in Cambridge MA is able to provide her curious and well educated children a robust curriculum outside the conventional classroom, it is unlikely that some of her neighbors who are working two jobs in the gig economy can do the same thing for their children. But in the rarified atmosphere of the Cato institute these discrepancies probably don’t matter.

 

In China CAI Disrupts Schools. Displaced Human Interaction

December 1, 2019 Comments off

apple.news/A9wixAsL_SbO834O6a0d_2w

China is ripe for disruption through CAI because of their test-based admissions to higher education, their many remote and overcrowded schools, and the desire of parents to help their children get into high paying jobs in the future. The question is, what kind of education are children getting when they have limited interaction with other children and teachers. An algorithmic based education designed to prepare students for a single test might be delivered more efficiently by a computer… but it is soulless and devoid of humanity.

“Personalization” Exacerbates Loneliness… and Loneliness Undercuts Our Well-Being

November 10, 2019 Comments off

Nicholas Kristof’s NYTimes op ed piece today describes England’s War on Loneliness, a national effort to address a phenomenon that adversely impacts their culture— and one that also impacts ours. As Mr. Kristof acknowledges, the root causes of loneliness are complex and may defy the reach of government intervention. In describing how England is attempting to address the problem by creating a minister for loneliness, Mr. Kristof sidesteps a description of how our country is making things worse. I left this comment to underscore how skewed our spending priorities have become in terms of education spending:

I fear that our schools are not helping the situation. Instead of spending money to fund counselors who might help those children who are lonely we are instead spending money on good guys with guns, surveillance cameras, and ways to “harden” schools. When it comes to measuring the “effectiveness” of schools we focus on things that are easy to measure like standardized test scores, per pupil spending, and the number of computers. Since it is difficult to measure the happiness or connectedness of children and even more difficult to address the underlying causes of those problems they are ignored. And worse, in the name of personalization, we have students spending more time isolating themselves on computers and less time interacting with each other. If we want to improve our connections with each other, we might start by disconnecting from technology in classrooms and re-engaging in dialogue.

Is the SAT About to be Abandoned? If So, Will Standardized Tests Follow?

October 15, 2019 Comments off

A recent PBS New Hour segment reported that many colleges are giving serious consideration to abandoning the use of the SAT as a primary metric for admissions. Why? Here’s one reason:

Critics of the tests have long argued that they reflect income more than ability, a chorus that is growing louder. And this year’s notorious Varsity Blues admission scandal — in which parents, through an intermediary, bribed test administrators to change test scores or let students cheat — reinforced the idea that the tests can be gamed, legally or illegally, by families with enough money.

My hunch is that there is another reason: the SAT score, viewed as a proxy for “academic excellence”, is the basis for lawsuits contending that colleges who use the test as the basis for entry are screening out many Asian-American students who attain higher scores on the tests than either African-American or legacy students.

The so-called “competitive colleges” have many high scoring students to choose from and, in some cases, more than ten times as many applicants as they need in order to sustain themselves. These schools have the luxury of picking and choosing who they want and, consequently, they select based on “diversity”. In many cases “diversity” provides a means for the colleges to avoid affirmative action challenges from African-Americans by accepting students-of-color with SAT scores that are below those of rejected Asian Americans. But “diversity” also provides a means of appeasing graduates who are large donors and whose children SAT scores are middling, a means of fleshing out orchestras, athletic teams, and a means of “creating” geographic and economic diversity in each class.

As the PBS report indicates, when “competitive colleges” ignore SAT scores it does not dilute the academic strength of the school. It DOES, however, undercut any argument that these schools are denying access to “less qualified” students at the expense of one group who consistently scores high on those tests. For Asian-Americans this abandonment of tests is, arguably, bad news. But for those who are born into poverty, who attend public high schools outside the affluent suburbs or college towns the abandonment of the SAT as a basis for entry is good news… for it forces college admissions officers to look at their applications and determine if they have what it takes to succeed in higher education.

From where I sit, the faster SATs are abandoned the better… and with any luck at all those who measure the “quality” of public schools based on standardized test scores will follow suit. If that happens, instead of defining individual “excellence” based on a single test 8th grade students seeking entry to NYC’s “competitive” public schools will be examined in a more wholistic fashion. If that happens, instead of schools receiving a “grade” based in any way on a standardized test they will be carefully assessed using a wholistic accreditation process, one that involves a self-assessment as well as an external one. Would such a system cost more money? Yes— but it would be fairer, more focussed on each student’s individual needs, and would greatly expand the opportunity for students to engage in creative activities. Here’s hoping it happens soon!