Who Owns America

Read the following keeping in mind that I’m outraged  at the treatment that Israeli have imposed on Palestinians.

I’d feel more sympathetic with the academics’ boycott of Israel if they decided to boycott every nation with a similar history of colonial abuse, etc etc. We might start by boycotting ourselves. We actually are living on land that is not, as in Israel, strictly speaking “ours.” We occupied the land from coast to coast by might of force, and never have had any intention of returning it to its original owners. We claimed it because—we could. Or because we were fleeing from oppression and needed a place where we could be free (and sometimes that meant free to be just as oppressive to others not like us). We murdered off or imprisoned in reservations the previous natives. And unlike the Israelis, Europeans had no ancient claims to the Americas, nor were there any Europeans with long distant and continuous roots in the land.

Would we seriously consider that Whites should go back where they came from? After all, it is not the Native Americans’ fault that they were mistreated elsewhere. Nor is the Native Americans’ fault that African-Americans were brought to the Americas against their will.

While I want us to respond morally to the Palestinian’s just arguments, I’m not willing to select the Israelis as the target—among all the villains—of my righteous indignation until I face squarely how I might react to giving all of my land back to its natives much less all of it, “from sea to shining sea.”

We White Americans are not alone in being the victors of a colonial adventures. There are probably very few nations today with a history of continuous occupation of “their own” land—rather than dispossessors of one after another natives. But, I’m still stuck siding with the “losers”—and wish that there was a way that allowed both Native Americans and European settlers to more fairly co-exist, as I wish the people now residing in the land of Palestine could find such a solution before their rights too are a matter of distant memory, if remembered at all. And I applaud putting pressure on the Israelis, but….  But righteousness doesn’t sit comfortably on my shoulders given how unwilling I am to spend a lot of energy making things right for those “I” displaced (at the time, my ancestors were in parts of Poland and the Ukraine, but then that’s another whole story.)

The Tyranny of the Minority: How 11% of Americans blocked the extension of Unemployment Benefits


To see full post, click on the link.

Originally posted on Roger Meier:

The U.S. Senate had a vote on February 6th 2014 to extend Unemployment Benefits, and the vote was 58 in favor, 40 opposed with 2 abstentions.  Actually the vote was for Cloture, required to pass before sending a piece of legislation to the floor for a final vote.  All legislation in the U.S. Senate need to go through Cloture, and Cloture requires a Super Majority of 60 Yea votes before a bill can proceed for a final vote.  This means that if 41 Senators are opposed to a piece of legislation they can block it from coming up for a vote by denying Cloture.  So while the vote was solidly in favor of extending unemployment benefits 58-40, without the support of 60 Senators it did not achieve Cloture and the Unemployment Benefits were not extended.

For most of history voting to reject Cloture was only used by the minority…

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Enter the Alternative School


Alia Tyner, a graduate of Central Park East Secondary School, has written a book about the schools history, practices etc based on her dissertation at NYU. The book, called Enter the Alternative School, is published by Paradigm. It was released a couple of weeks ago and appears to be at least available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and from the publisher. Its only in hardcover right now and, as an academic book, its kind of expensive. The cheapest option seems seems to be Barnes and Noble or the “other options” on Amazon.

Critics of education: Nostaglia for a time that never was

This is letter to the editor by Stephen Krashen is reblogged from Schools Matter http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2014/02/critics-of-education-nostaglia-for-time.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+schoolsmatter%2FSISc+%28Schools+Matter%29

Sent to the Los Angeles Times

Nicholas Meyer (“Better history through storytelling” (Feb. 2), thinks that “no one learns history (of civics …) anymore” and blames the”dismanteld” school system.

The same complaint appeared in the New York Times, Sunday, April 4, 1943, in an article with the title “Ignorance of US History shown by college freshman.” The article said that only 25% of the students knew that Abraham Lincoln was the president during the civil war, and only 15% knew where Portland, Oregon was.

In 1930, Thomas Briggs of Columbia Teachers College, who reported that high school students had no idea who Solon was and were unable to define the Monroe Doctrine.  They were also deficient, according to Briggs, in math and writing.

Complaints about school quality go back at least to the 1830′s, and even then, as now, critics called for a “return” to higher standards .

Stephen Krashen

Source for Briggs, studies in the 1930′s: Hostadter, Richard. 1963. Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.  New York: Vintage Books


Follow the Money

I’m returning to my roots! Marx occasionally had it right. Along with Horace Mann, John Dewey et al.

This whole “new reform” movement in education is being fueled (the $$$$) by ordinary greed. Or second-hand greed—seeing a chance to destroy the political power of an already waning labor movement by undermining the two teacher unions. This is being done by fooling folks who mistakenly saw their own longtime critique of the public bureaucracy in the “radical” sounding idea charter schools. Afraid of being part of the “status quo” some genuine school-based reformers thus provided cover for a shift in power quite the opposite of what they had in mind. Most of those genuine school and educational people, including of course Ravitch, have been abandoning that ship and returning to their roots.

Having failed time after time with vouchers—direct public funding of private schools, the new reformers saw a way around it. Their instincts also suggested that history favors reforms that make repeal difficult, almost impossible. So the motto is: move fast and thoroughly.

Reading back about the fall of the Soviet Union, the big question was what would happen to all the state-owned enterprises. It seemed a tough puzzle. But before one could seriously think it through they were all sold off—to friends and allies with money. Deed done. While I write this the same thing is happening to our public schools. This was not the plan in Minnesota which began the charter movement with the best of intentions, Nor the idea of dear friends like Ted Sizer who started a great little school as a charter. Or even of Al Shanker who once proposed something he labeled charters—small schools under the initiative of a group of teachers who wanted to try out some of their very different ideas, entirely under the aegis of the public system. The ideas of those reformers when they used the term charters was much like what was done in District 4 in New York City in the 70s and 80s, and in Pilot Schools in Boston in the 90s where I started several small schools.

However, the idea of Charter Schools opened the eyes and ears of folks with quite different intentions. They saw that there was money to be made right and left and center. Buildings were “sold off” for nothing or nearly nothing. Public funds were used to start schools whose principals and leaders were paid a half million and more. Publishing companies and private tech companies saw $$$$$ everywhere. By the time we wake up to what is happening we will no longer have a public education system in reality. Some charters will be legit—truly serving public purposes with public money and boards made up of educators, community members, etc. But most will be in the hands of folks with no other connection to the schools they “serve”! Meanwhile… that their revolutionary ideas will have demonstrated no significant improvement in the situation facing America’s poor children in terms of test scores is just fine with them.

They did this with language resonating with the valiant words of “borrowed” from the civil rights movement. Except they seemed to have left out terms like “equal funding” or “integration.” They did it despite the cost in jobs to teachers of color, as the lowest performing schools were closed (where teachers of color tend to work), despite the cost to public unions which Martin Luther King Jr. died defending. And on and on. They did this by adopting noble words (mea culpa) like choice and autonomy and self-governance and small scale and on and on. They did this by playing with data to confuse our judgment.

Shame on us for being duped.

Yet, I still believe–how can I not?—that some, if not many, of those who have gone along meant well, and were not influenced in any way by their moneyed interests. Sure, it’s easier to believe what seems compatible with one’s other interests. I’ve done that. And then there are many many others who have simply been naive, confused or not paying close attention.

Enough. We must fight this back quickly before they’ve bought out the whole shebang.

Some resources and organizations helping in this fight:

The Network for Public Education

The Forum for Education and Democracy

Save Our Schools

Starting Early

From the Alliance on Childhood:

Students May Be Disadvantaged by Starting School at 5 Years Old

“An Australian newspaper reports that the countries that did best in the much-respected PISA test started formal teaching at 6 or 7, not 5 as we increasingly do in the U.S. The article quotes David Whitebread, a Cambridge University expert in the cognitive development of young children, saying ‘overwhelming evidence suggests that 5 is just too young to start formal learning.’ He adds that children should be engaged in informal play-based learning until about age 7.”

Worth considering–but in fact most nations do have activities for younger children that they purposely don’t call school.  That’s why I wish we hadn’t gotten into the habit of calling it “pre-school”.  Kindergarten actually just means a kind garden.  It has now become or becoming first grade.  So I guess pre-K could maybe be our last chance to build-in the kind of playfulness that all schools should later honor.

And on another form of gobbledeegook language

“It’s important that we teach the new 21st Century skills of critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving.”

The quote above is just one of many like it that I run across daily in the literature of reform.
New skills?  What were they doing in the 18th and 19th century?  Or the lst century–B.C. I’ll bet cave men used these skills to solve their problems.  The new 21st century skills of critical thinking, problem solving are even practiced by infants. But, at best,  the phrase may be directed at schools.  It’s worth noting that the poorer the children the less such skills have been honored in schools, for as long as formal schooling was around and in the new “deforms” too. Fortunately, kids have always had plenty of time to practice these in the real world. Especially the poor. But they rarely feel comfortable bringing in the “habits of mind” they’ve been using outside of school into the schoolhouse. Except to solve the problem of how to “stay out of trouble” and sometimes “how to get into trouble” without losing face.

If I were in charge…


Another blog my my son Nicholas!

Originally posted on Nicholas Meier:

People sometimes ask me what I think needs to be done with the schools. This is really a two part question for me. One part is the policy side—what should or should or should not be required. The other part of the question is what are my ideas of what a good school and good teaching look like, which does not imply I believe in mandating those ideas even if I could. For this blog I will look at the former, and discuss the latter in my following blog.

miketest4What I would change is the mandating of curriculum (so called Standards). The mandating of standards for education in a democracy can only be justified in the case of an overwhelming consensus on such standards. There is no evidence for such a consensus, and lots of evidence that these is considerable controversy over both what such a curriculum should look like…

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