Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Coffee Stains: The Five People you meet in School

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

I’ve just finished emailing a former student and saying that I couldn’t attend her wedding reception in a few weeks. And it’s got me thinking about a previous comment that I’ve made to a student when they asked “Do you like all of your students?” To which I replied simply “No.” And I think that conversation then pushed the limits of typical classroom scripting when the same student asked “Are there teachers here that you don’t like?” And I simply said “Of course.”

And you can probably see where the script goes from there…well actually this is more improv stuff as we’ve strayed from some point about Sentence Patten 2 and making sure that the verbs are in the same tense to create balance. It’s the stuff I like about school: the unscripted things.

“What teacher or teachers don’t you like?” he asks and before I can answer he says, wisely: “You said we can ask anything…you said that you are looking for us to ask honest questions…”

(I hope you can envision that smiling, smart alecky senior boy, trying to use the teacher’s words again him). It’s a double-dog dare moment and I still answer him truthfully in front of the class.

Nope, not going to tell you my response because you didn’t ask the question. But I think it may be safe to say that teachers are as much students in school as the students are.

My mom tells me that she simply couldn’t find me and that the office would call her and say “Mrs. Judson, your son is here at the school. Will you be picking him up?” The son was me and I was 4 years old. I wasn’t in preschool and I wasn’t enrolled. And here’s how I remember it:

When my mom wasn’t looking, I would simply walk down Washoe Court, turn left on Neotomas Ave, cross Tachevah Drive and walk across the amazingly large field to Yulupa Elementary school. You’d run into the original playground first (the one with “all things metal-tubed”: monkey bars, balancing bars, swinging bars and lots of kid-smashed sawdust). The community chipped in a couple years later (I think the National Guard even showed up) and built a huge playground to the southeast out of recycled tires. Anyway, from the playground you crossed the blacktop and headed through a corridor and I decided to turn right and opened the door in the corner.

No one saw me slip in and so I waited a moment, closed the door and saw that several classes were spread out this enormous open space (California was still playing with the open classroom concept). I scouted the groups, found one that seemed interesting, and simply plopped myself indian-style (as we called it then…now it’s “criss-cross apple sauce,” so my sons tell me) and listened to the story being told.

I’m not sure how long it took, but eventually (I think it was about an hour) I was asked a question by an adult (such as “So what is your name?”). And I remember her looking at me with that look. I think the expression was a cross between the look that Julie Vogel gave me after our first kiss and the look that Lois gives me when I say something in which I am trying to cross a social line. And I think it was my response that prompted the look, because, I’m told, I had a speech problem. Apparently, as my mom reminds me, I was inarticulate and what came out of my mouth sounded more Chinese than English.

[Insert way-too-obvious student quip here such as: “Not much has changed, eh?”]

The adult then walked me to the office (sort of that “lost boy in the big mall thing” scene) and I was greeted by soothing and understanding tones (yes, I could understand English…I just couldn’t speak it very well). The secretary (that’s what we called them back then) called my mother while I got to do “real school work”: color. Mom arrives, nervous smiles/apologies/thankyou’s, driving away in the 1968 Ford Galaxie.

I don’t think she yelled at me, but I think I remember some type of “You had me worried” thematic explanation. What I do remember is that I couldn’t wait to go back…and so I did–a year later–sort of legally. My mom’s gift to me was to sort of fudge my birthday date so that I could be in school a bit earlier than originally planned. And that was okay by me, because I couldn’t wait.

And I have to say, most days I still can’t wait to get to school. And I find that what I like and hate about school is about the same as when I was a student. Under the “Things I like” list, and at the top, is one of the reasons why I keep coming back. Sorry, it’s not students. They’re probably second or third. But really, it’s the same reason why students come to school: their friends. I like the people I work with. We drink coffee and occasionally go out to breakfast and, yes, we might even sit by the same people at lunch. We have stuff in common and we know each other and they let me hang around with them. Yes, students are a big part of my day, but frankly, you people don’t stick around for very long. I’m not sure if you realized this, but we get you for maybe an hour or two a trimester and then you’ve graduated. The constant in my work are the people I work with and that’s what brings me back.

Ah, I can see the smart alecky kid ready to ask about the things I hate and to that I will list the usual suspects (and, btw, some of these are fairly universal along many career lines):

  • A seemingly endless amount of non-classroom things-to-do that simply lack cohesion, for the purpose of trying to show something that the organization is not. (Busy work)
  • A loss of vision of what we are really here for and in its place check lists from outside experts who are not even practitioners of education. (Vision)
  • A underlying, smirky and patronizing attitude from the people that make the decisions– that don’t acknowledge the teacher as professional. (Respect)
  • A society that has given into the notion that one can effectively, efficiently, and accurately quantify learning. (People as numbers)
  • A belief that all people learn the same way and the same pace and that a moving target called a “benchmark” is the trump card for whether a student passes or fails. (No achievable goals)
  • A notion that education is the magic bullet for all of societies ills. (“We can always do better”)
  • A belief that students are simply not as smart as they were back when and that schools are simply watering down the basics of a good education.
  • And, my favorite: A “commonsense” notion that education’s purpose is to turn out better workers in society (say nothing about living and thinking).

I simply hate and abhor those things; some are out of ignorance and most are simply not true.

And I take a look at the list of things that I like and the things that I hate and I think “Not much has changed from when I was a student.” I have about five or so people that I really like and, I have control issues. And, I still sometimes show up in the classroom simply speaking something Chinese…oh, that’s for next year.


"Indiana Plan for Digital-Age Learning” fails on logic and pedagogy

Friday, 6 April 2007

As sometimes I do when I have extra time on a Spring Break where it is snowing outside, I cruise on over to the Indiana DOE site to see what is “coming down the pipe” from Indianapolis. I know that 7 Habits encourages us to not concentrate on the Circle of Concern that is not within our Circle of Influence, but I still think what I say about an educational matter still has merit.

So today found me looking at the “Indiana Plan for Digital-Age Learning” (Jan 2007) publication and apparently final report. I know that I read it looking for the key words that gets me a bit keyed up (heck, I’ve begun a separate blog just for technology and education), but here are some things that will still be there when I go back and do a closer read (and my apologies to twitter readers for my ranting):

The makeup of the committee that brings the recommendation are truly shareholders in education: they are mostly business owners or administrators in the technology field. The only “educators” are either school IT people or school administrators. The only active teacher is Jan Weir, a high school chemistry teacher. My bet, and I pick this up from the report, that most of the data to support their recommendations came from other sources rather than real knowledge within the classroom.

The “proof” data itself is based upon projections and even if you didn’t like it, the book Freakanomics should be a lesson for us that those who try and forecast trends and especially educational ones are merely just giving a guess and not prophecy. You know this because there is little “here’s the other side of the story” discussion. About the only concession you’ll get on reports such as these are the obligatory “technology alone is not the magic bullet” and “technology is a tool” comments. But the rest of the report will sing the glories of the report’s conclusions.

Speaking of “proof” you always need an “edge” in scaring those who might disagree with your recommendations, and in Indiana it is “the brain drain.” All of our brightest kids are leaving the states to go elsewhere. Don’t you think that it might have something to do with the weather in Indiana (hey, it’s snowing today…and it’s Spring Break!) Bring in the woes of the economy and then use it as proof that you as taxpayers need to spend more money on computers. This is a logical fallacies because nowhere in the report does it give proof that if we spend more time and money on computers and this approach to how we do school will our kids be “more competitive” in the workplace (and btw, what about actually learning?)

My favorite part is the survey of teachers, because they come across as, well, a bit technologically dumb in the results (represented by handy Excel-generated bar graphs). And this is my favorite because it’s the most true: teachers are cautious because each 7 years, someone says that that “THIS IS THE BEST WAY TO DO SCHOOL” and teachers are human and pretty smart and will know that if it is as promised, there will be proof. For technology in the classroom (all the new whiteboards and snazzy software to make Johnny finally appear to be reading because of the report at the end of the session) the proof is not there.

So, all of this on a quick read. I fully admit my lack of close read and will do that later. My gut feeling is that my instincts are right: people love the new stuff and want a magic bullet, but rarely want to talk in depth about the relationship to pedagogy. Education as a whole has been the whipping boy of public discourse and politics for too long (you realize that the “Nation at Risk” document in 1983 is responsible for most of this and, surprise, may based on faulty data and conclusion).

Sure, we do things differently now than we did when I was in high school (1984); so, as we try and infuse some of these ways of communication into our classrooms, ask a teacher first…and pull up a chair and take note, because it’ll take awhile to see how solid pedagogy directs technology’s usage.

Prior Review or Review a priori

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

I’ve been following the local case of a school newspaper staff being reminded of the rules of prior review by the principal. The high school is Woodlan Jr/Sr High School (outside Ft. Wayne, IN) and the adviser is Amy Sorrell–a teacher with 7 years experience and also teaches AP English Language and Composition.

The story’s conflict begins (or, at least heats up) when a student writes an editorial about homosexuality and is trying to reason with her audience (and perhaps herself) of being a bit more tolerant of one another. Sorrell, who usually runs “controversial” stories past her principal, Ed Yoder, but she thought this particular editorial wasn’t that controversial. Yoder instructs for stronger prior review and student newspaper staff contacts the SPLC.

(Here is a copy of the initial news report with the editorial in question).

The student newspaper decides to not publish anymore after a delay in prior review in early March. And that’s where I thought the story would stop.

But today, the local news (along with being sent via AP wire) states that Sorrell has been put on “paid leave.”

This will–most likely–open the debate of the provisions of the Hazelwood decision and the allowance of prior review by school officials and what exactly that means.

Resource Officers

Friday, 1 December 2006

Following a “natural trend” because of perceptions: (From PEN)

Milwaukee police officers will be assigned for the first time to full-time duty inside city public schools under an agreement between police and Milwaukee Public Schools leaders. The effort to improve school safety will begin small — with two pairs of officers in the spring semester, which begins in late January — but all involved hope that it will grow by next fall, provided that money can be found to do that. Mayor Tom Barrett said the pilot efforts to have police work as “resource officers” in schools should help curb school violence and are a step in the right direction. “Students, staff, parents and the community all want kids to feel safe going to school and want the schools to be safe,” Barrett said in an interview. An opinion poll shows strong public support for safety measures, reports Alan J. Borsuk. Asked what services were important for MPS to provide, city residents in the poll put three things connected to safety at the top of the list. The services — violence prevention, drug and alcohol use prevention, and improved safety and discipline — were each rated as “extremely important” by more than 80% of all people surveyed.

Honest Advice for Tuesday’s Election:

Sunday, 5 November 2006

From a well-read blogmost of the references for this graphic has something to do with “things you’ll find on your car after church.”

Last-minute mailer from NH Republicans on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

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Wasn't this said of the Post by Nixon?

Thursday, 29 June 2006

New York Times Unofficially Accused of “Treason”

George Bush and Dick Cheney are calling The New York Times a disgrace. Republican congressmen say it is guilty of treason and demand the prosecution of the Editor, while a right-wing radio presenter suggests most of its readers must be “jihadists”.

God and Politics

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

A Weak Reed

Why Christian conservatives are souring on the GOP.