Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The election is over; the clean-up begins.

The Election is Over; The Clean-up Begins

The election is over and the man who won said many threatening things during the campaign.   His supporters say he meant those things figuratively.  His detractors believe he intended them to be literal.  Therein lies the great divide.  But if you are a Muslim, Hispanic, have a disability or are a woman it is hard to parse the literal from the figurative. 
Children in these groups are in our schools.   Many are terrified of their futures or the futures of parents and other loved ones.  Will children who were born in our country be “”sent back” and if so back to where?   If the President-elect can say the things he said, even if only meant figuratively, does that give me license to taunt a fellow student who is wearing a headscarf?   Has the “N” word now become acceptable in polite speech?  Is being a diverse culture with many ways of sharing the same values now a bad thing?  Does sharing the same American values mean we need to demonstrate those values in the same way?  And most importantly to this discussion, how does all this play out in our schools?
There are essentially three issues here.   First of all, in order for children to learn they need to feel safe and protected.   Harassment of any kind cannot be tolerated.  Bullying and degrading others is antithetical to what we believe in our schools.  The pervasive nature of social media makes it difficult for schools to protect kids and keep them feeling safe.  And even if we can keep them safe at school, how do we remove the worry that a parent or other loved one is going to be “sent back”.  Somehow learning a short vowel sound loses its importance if you think your mother is going to be assaulted for wearing a headscarf.
The second issue is what to do with the merchants of hate who may feel they have been given license to spew their opinions into our schools.  We can certainly take the hard line and suspend kids who behave in ways that are unacceptable.  And I am not arguing that we should not do so in egregious cases.  However, although harsh consequences for hate speech and ignorant behavior may give us a sense of satisfaction for punishing the wrong doers, as educators it does not fulfill our primary function which is to educate.

That brings me to the third issue and that is one of education.  It is time we double down on teaching our students about American values and to help all kids to understand the value of differences among us.  Just as most business leaders will tell you they do not want to be surrounded by yes people, so our society and our schools are enriched by seeing the world through the eyes of different beholders.  That means we must make time for classroom dialog, restorative justice, and dyads and triads of kids talking to each other.   “Now hear this” assemblies won’t do the job.  It is hard to hate someone you know or someone with whom you shared a video game.  The election may be over but the fall-out and clean-up are just beginning.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Promise Made is a Debt Unpaid

A Promise Made is a Debt Unpaid

President Elect Trump made many promises during the campaign.  Many of which, even as President, he does not have the authority to keep.  One of those promises is to get rid of Common Core.  The problem with that is Common Core is not a federal program.  It is a curriculum established by the various state governors who saw the need for a common curriculum throughout the country.  Unlike some European countries, education has always been a local matter in the U.S.  As our society has become increasingly mobile and children move around the country with their parents, the issue of extreme differences in curriculum has become more of a problem.
Common Core was not the first attempt to create a shared curriculum throughout the land.  About thirty years ago, E.D. Hirsch sounded the call for a common curriculum in his book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.  Hirsch’s thesis is, and was, that more than skills and strategies, students need knowledge.  In his 1987 book he included an appendix of 5000 dates, places and ideas that students should learn in school.  He has argued that this shared knowledge base would lead to more equal opportunities for all students.  His 1987 book was a best seller.  At 88 he has published a new book.  Once again he is arguing that knowledge not process matters.  He notes that racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps remain.  Reading scores of 17 year olds have declined significantly since 1988.   Hirsh and those in the campaign, Knowledge Matters, argue that students do not bring enough knowledge to what they are reading in the higher grades and without that knowledge their comprehension of text drops. 
No Child Left Behind placed significant emphasis on math and reading, often to the exclusion of the arts and social studies.  The Every Student Succeeds Act places a much greater emphasis on a well-rounded education and lists subjects outside of reading and math that students should be studying. 
Hirsh argues that reading comprehension should be tested based on content knowledge that the students have been taught rather than teaching these skills in the abstract.  Because the framers of Common Core took the politically feasible way out, demanding skills but not content, there is no subject matter curriculum that all students learn.  Hirsch likes to cite the example of France.  Between 1977 and 1989 France had a national elementary curriculum that was content specific.  When that curriculum switched to a locally determined curriculum that focused on general skills such as “critical thinking” achievement declined across all demographics and social stratification increased. 
Then there is the question of the age of the internet.   Many teachers argue that teaching cultural literacy and knowledge based curriculum is not only boring but a waste of kids’ time especially given their digital access to knowledge.

So would it be good to dump the Common Core even if a President Trump could do that?   Would a curriculum based on cultural literacy be better?  And if so, whose culture would that be?  We have promised our children an education that will provide them a future-when will we pay up?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Together we Can Save the World

Together We can Save the World

Based on the results of the last election, it appears that most voters think our country and the world need saving.  We may disagree on what the right approach is but  we do seem to agree there is much to do.

Now that the voters and electoral college have chosen, there is still work to be done.  So if you are not willing to vote and then sit and let your voting do the working, here are some ideas for how each of us can do our part to save our country and the world.

First do justice.   You know the old Superman slogan, Truth, Justice and the American Way.  Remember that the American Way is justice.  Essentially that is looking at the world with a sense of fairness.  Innocent until proven guilty.  Treating others as we would like to be treated.   Give people a fair chance to show what they can do and contribute.  Don’t prejudge based on race, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation.  Decide by the behaviors of each individual person.

Be righteous.   I am not suggesting any religiosity.  To be a righteous person is to be a good and moral person.   Morality is not aligned with any one religion or necessarily with any religion at all.   It means to live in a principled and honorable way.   Treat each other with honesty and decency, respect each individual’s humanity.  Don’t be over impressed with yourself so that you begin to believe that what you believe and how you act defines righteous.

These behaviors are critical for the success of our country and the world.  But since our time on this earth is time limited, the most important task is to teach these traits to our children.  We must raise good children.  They are our gift to the future.   Raising our children with good character in our schools, our homes and our communities can send forth a wave of change that can indeed change the world. Schools cannot hide in the corner of academics only.  Families cannot delegate this responsibility to schools.  Communities must count success as character not an accumulation of material wealth.   In this season of thanksgiving,  we need to be grateful for every child who demonstrates that he or she has learned these lessons.