Mom and Apple Pie

Dear readers,

New Year’s eve is also a time for looking back—a bit of nostalgia is appropriate.

So how many of you remember “American as mom and apple pie.” But I would like to suggest that public schools* were almost up there in the short list of what defined us as Americans.** So, maybe mom and apple pie are also on their way out.

Change isn’t always good. The odd fact, for someone like me, is that the CEO’S of the world have become the biggest boosters of globalism, internationalism, and as a result, probably less jingoistic than the average American. Folks like me were always presuming that internationalism would be a characteristic of the working classes of the world (who had nothing to lose but their chains). We could not have been more wrong. The internationalism of the corporate elite surely has however had revolutionary implications. It changed the relationship of corporations to their local, state or national communities— why be concerned with them when a company can easily up and move?

As a result, corporate leaders are not easily taken in by nostalgia. But they do recall some features of the “good old days” when there was no welfare state, no social security, no labor movement, no 40 hour work limits plus overtime pay, and African-Americans were officially second class…. sort-of citizens. It is hard to remember, however, that not so long ago we all also openly admired the idea that the rich pay a higher proportion of their wealth to the common good. Or that when we had wars, everybody had to make proportionate sacrifices. A draft army, as well as higher taxes during wartime, not to mention rationing etc. were deemed “obvious.” The contemporary corporate world do not however have any nostlgia for such features of the good old days. We all pick and choose.

But private education—except for urban Catholics—was rare until almost yesterday and pretty much limited to the wealthy “snobs” of the Northeast (Philadelphia, Boston, New York, plus New England boarding schools). Apple pie, Mom and Public Education stood for all that was America at its best when I was growing up.

I am still for all three, but as we begin to lose public education I fear for the other two also.

My New Year’s wish is that more of my fellow citizens wake up to realize what is at stake and demand that we cherish all three. A toast to “apple pie, motherhood and public schools” of America. ***


*Note: public schooling (American style) has always referred not just to who pays for it, but who has a voice over it. All taxpayers pay for the armaments industry, but they don’t assume that they have much voice in the decisions made by Boeing.

**Yes, yes–“democracy and all that” counted as America too—but on another list of conceptual ideas/ideals of a quite different order. Some might claim they overlap—is there another nation that celebrates Mother’s Day and eats as much apple pie?

***Life these days often seems to be a satire on itself, so I hope readers realize that there is some “tongue in cheek” in this New Year’s reflection.

Why all the ranking?

Have you noticed how the media insists on ranking everything?  Are they responding to a public interes or to their own?  Or some combination.
Must we rank colleges, for example? There is a difference between transparency, and even “comparing” versus ranking and the difference is fundamental.  The vey idea of “the best” involves risks, above all in a democracy where we are trying to honor, not rank, differences.
Ever since my daughter chided me on warm summer day for leaping into my pond and shouting out, “This is the best pond in the world,” I have been getting more cautious.  I now shout it only when I’m alone.

The Rich Get Richer

Over the last two decades the bottom 90 percent of the economy has lost ground while the richest 1 percent captured 70 percent of the income growth. Yes, 70 percent. To achieve this, every major policy – taxes, investment, monetary, trade, finance, regulation – had to be fixed to favor the few.

Even educational policies.

This fable tells the story:

A group of pioneering Americans wanted a way they could, through children, identify their parents SES (social-economic status). Absurd, yes?  But several enterprising companies decided to try to do it. Like ETS, MacMillan, McGraw-Hill etc. At first they called them IQ tests, and then over time they renamed them achievement tests.

And lo and behold they found that they could develop test items that precisely differentiated children by their families net worth.  And they could do this while simultaneously providing test items and alternative answers that were more or less within the domain being tested.  There would be some measurement error, of course.  But probably considerably less than if they sent home a form asking parents to provide this information.

Yes, that is what we have.  It is an amazing feat.

And in yearly pre-tests they make sure that the items continue to fall in the same pre-determined way, providing the same information about SES (and thus sorting the children as early as 4 and 5 years old, into their proper slots).

Good Morning Mission Hill encore showing in Boston

The two screenings in Boston of Good Morning Mission Hill last week were well attended and very satisfying.  One more in the Boston area is coming up, so if you know anyone who might want to see it, the Cambridge Citizens for Public Schools (a local chapter of Citizens for Public Schools) is showing it Wednesday, January 21st at 6pm at the main branch of the Cambridge Public Library.

How? (Guest Blog)

-This guest blog by MIssion Hill teacher Jenerra Williams originally appeared on her Face Book page.



How do I write report cards, when I should be writing a new manifest destiny for our country?


How can I talk about literacy progress and math understandings, when I myself don’t understand the injustice being done and excused?


How can I write about science experiments and history lessons when I feel like people who look like me are involved in an unethical experiment being conducted by the police and our government and we as a country have not learned our own lessons from history?


How can I give grades to students for their behavior when our behavior as a society – as a human race – fails to meet the mark over and over again?


How can I talk about what each student contributes to our community, when our communities aren’t safe and the contributions of the communities they come from are not appreciated, undervalued and ignored?


How do I report on the academic progress of my students, when I feel so deeply that progress is not being made in the just and fair treatment of their fathers, brothers, uncles, and cousins.


How can I write report cards…when there is so much pain written on my heart?

Jenerra Williams

Emotional Intelligence

Originally posted on Nicholas Meier:

I am writing this from the Fall Forum of the Coalition for Essential Schools. I just attended a workshop by Kathleen Cushman on “Learning by Heart: The Power of Social Emotional Learning.”

She stated in one of the bullet points of her slides of how building social emotional learning supports academic learning. I think there are very few people who would disagree with this, though it is true that many teachers feel unequipped for, resentful toward, or object to being expected to deal with this aspect of teaching. However, what I notice here, is that often as educators we feel the need to defend anything we do in schools not as valuable for itself, but for how it will help raise test scores, or at least help academically. I have seen this in defense of the arts, in defense of physical education, in defense of good nutrition, etc.

dumb question


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The Progressive Populist

just received a publication in the mail that I’ve never seen before, although it claims to be Vol. 20, No. 22.  It is called The Progressive Populist.  It includes shortish columns from everyone I like, plus a few new voices.  It’s put together by a family–named Cullen–from Texas and Iowa.  So it comes by its sub-heading A Journal From America’s Heartland honestly.  $18 for half a year (11 issues).  Call 1-800-732-4992.

I’m signing up.