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Hard to Dispel Myths

The latest, but already “well-established” myth is that more time spent in school equals better test scores.  The Center for Public Education checks the claim out and discovers: “The data clearly shows that most U.S. schools require at least as much or more instructional time as other countries, even high-performing countries like Finland, Japan, and Korea…..  the U.S. does not require schools to provide less instructional time than other countries.”  In fact, in Finland the hours spent in school is considerably less.  And in China I wouldn’t believe a word they report–many kids are not in school at all, etc.

Will the facts have an impact on “policymaker”? Unlikely.  Like Bush they operate in an alternative world of their own creation for their own
purposes.

Unions and Industry Responsibity

A thought.  Why do we assume that teacher’s unions have a responsibility for the state of eduction?  As one who is a believer in unions as a force for social good that seems like an odd question.  Of course they have a responsibility!  On the other hand do we hold the policemen’s union responsible for the state of crime in America?  Or the mineworkers union for the problems caused by coal?  Surely their voice on these matters has special interest given the work their members do, but do we expect them to justify their existence on the basis of the “industry’s” state of health?  Isn’t that management’s job.  Isn’t it precisely what the Mayoral control people promised–the buck stops here (with the Mayor). Isn’t it what the CEO’s job is all about?  But I shouldn’t be surprised–after all I did hear grumbling at the time of the decline of the US auto industry that perhaps it was the United Auto Workers fault.

In short, the history of the rise of trade unions, in contrast to early craft associations, was to protect workers with relatively little power over their workplace from the unfairness of the owners–in terms of wages, working conditons, and due process.  Such goals were, and remain, sufficient justification for unions and represent the universal desires, wishes and longings of all working people.  We still need such mutual protection

Recent Books to Read About Schools! Part III

On Purpose Before Twenty, by Adam Cox (Four Corners Press).

A fascinating and deeply moving account of the author’s unique interviews with boys and young men as part of a two-year study on the subject.   His focus is on “life purposes”—or, as he puts it, work.  It’s a powerful examination (that applies as well to girls, he suspects) on the impact of disrespecting work, viewing it as “necessary” but unworthy of high ideals.  It goes well alongside Mike Rose’s Minds at Work.   Cox raises a core problem—while play is (he agrees) the essential work of childhood,  that does not mean that the work of adults is the opposite of play—dull drudgery which requires justification.

Recent Books to Read About Schools! Part II

Here’s book number two.

Trusting Teachers With School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots, by Kim Farris-Berg, Edward Dirkswager, with Amy Junge. (Rowan and Litlefield)

The authors describe the how-tos at ten schools they view as operating collectively, run by teachers. They take up key practices, one by one and describe different ways these ten have approached teacher autonomy, and why it so vital to do so. Mission Hill is one of the ten—which of course leads me to wish they had referenced In Schools We Trust, a book I wrote about our work.  I wish more was said by the authors about how families and communities fit into these stories.  But it’s a subject rarely (if ever) talked or written about, so I’m hoping for a follow-up.  They have raised the critical issues in ways that everyone should be thinking about, because there’s something absurd about educating for democracy in schools that don’t at least try to practice it!

Of course, it’s important to read books that come from another viewpoint entirely.

Fortunately The Heartland Institute of Chicago sends me a monthly Policy Brief. November’s is entitled: The Parent Trigger, Justification and Design Guidelines, by Joseph Bast and Joy Pullmann.  In an odd way it agrees with the last  sentence of my review above. It makes both an infuriating and informative read into the futurist ideas of the right, about which I had surprisingly little knowledge. I didn’t know—nor dream of!!! We need to all understand what the authors of this report lay out as the future as they see it. Like me they see schools as representing the values of “democracy”  as they interpret it.  The trigger laws, for them, are the way for us to practice what we preach:  the free market itself as a form of democracy.

Recent Books to Read About Schools! Part I

I’d like a moratorium on publishing any more good books—so I could catch up.  Even if restricted to books on current educational dilemmas from my viewpoint, I can’t catch up.  So over the next week I plan to share four books I’ve been reading about schools and reform, and one “booklet”.  .   There are at least a dozen others that I probably also should read—and will soon.

In no particular order, I’ll start with:

The Failure of Corporate School Reform, by Kenneth Saltman (Paradigm Publishers) brings one up to date on what has been happening in five clear and easily read chapters, the last offering a different path—neither the status quo nor the orporate reform path, but instead what it would take to bring up-to-date an old idea—the common school.

a “NED talk” direct from a teenage brain

Here is something from someone I admire greatly,  Kathleen Cushman.
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Good morning! Here’s what I’ve been working on lately–a “NED talk” direct from a teenage brain. Hope you’ll take a look (it’s short and pithy!) and also pass it along to others who might find it both funny and useful.
Meanwhile, we’re working on a website that will link “Ned’s Gr8 8” with teacher-friendly resources that should make it even easier to spark discussions with Ned at the center. I’ll keep in touch, and please do likewise!
Kathleen Cushman

Let’s Close Prisons Instead of Schools

“Message to President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: the nation would be a lot better off if you concentrated on closing prisons rather than closing schools” from Mark Naison’s blog.
Thank you, Mark.
Every time I go to Chicago I’m reminded about by obsessive fear and fascinating with imprisonment.  My friend, Amanda Klonsky, has spent her adult life on the issue of juvenile imprisonment, in part as a teacher of imprisoned juveniles.  On returning from Chicago I was confronted once again with it over Thanksgiving,  when I met a cousin twice removed (or something like that) who is now in college and considering going into this field.
I think I try to avoid the question of prisons as much as I do because  I’m already claustrophobic, a bit of a hermit, and have trouble being “obedient”.  It terrifies me.  But, for the same reason,  I’ve been involved over the years in one or another prison-related cause.  And then I run away from it.
About decade ago I got involved with some faculty at Bard College who were teaching the liberal arts to high-security prisoners.  I went to their graduation ceremony in prison.  And then I dropped it.  The Devil’s invention of Hell and our American invention of modern prisons are eerily similar.
The recent legalization of some drugs–which are the primary excuse we use for imprisoning so many black people–brought it to the fore once again during the election campaign, as well as reading Michelle Alexander’s compelling The New Jim Crow.
There is no nation on earth that comes close t us in rates of incarceration.  We outdo them all by an incredible ratio.  Why why why?
And why is it not only not at the top of our national agenda–but not on it at all.  No, schools are not to blame.  Of course, more humane schools–that are not themselves “prison lite” could help.  But there are many nations with worse schools and less imprisonment.  In fact, all.
It’s not a popular issue.  But I’d forgive Obama for compromising on almost everything else–almost, you’ll note–if he’d tackle this one.
I just had to get this off my chest.