Monthly Archives: August 2009

Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality

According to The 41st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 75% of parents gave their local school an A or a B.  But when it came to the nation’s schools as a whole, less than 20% gave a similar high grade. 

 

Why is there such a difference in perception between “your school” and “the nation’s schools”?  Gerald W. Bracey, a longtime Kappan columnist, explains the reason for the disconnect: 

 

Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years just before Sputnik in 1957, Bracey writes in a commentary in the September 2009 issue of Phi Delta Kappan.  Negative information flows almost daily from media, politicians, and ideologues. During the 2008 presidential campaign, a $50 million project, Ed in 08, inundated Americans with negativity through its web site, TV ads, and YouTube clips.

 

Our leaders don’t help matters much. “The fact is that we are not just in an economic crisis; we are in an educational crisis,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan in February. He’s said it repeatedly.

 

The President repeats the mantra. “In 8th-grade math, we’ve fallen to ninth place,” Obama said in March. That’s factually true, but those students were still ahead of 36 other nations. More important, when the test was first given in 1995, American 8th graders were in 28th place. They’ve been busy falling up.

 

On the other hand, parents use other sources and resources for information about their local schools: teachers, administrators, friends, neighbors, newsletters, PTAs, and their kids themselves; and they’re in a much better position to observe what’s actually happening in American schools.

 

Bracey expands this idea in his new book, Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality (Educational Research Service, 2009).  Here is the description of the book:

 

Are America‘s schools broken? Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality seeks to address misconceptions about America‘s schools by taking on the credo ‘what can be measured matters.’ To the contrary, Dr. Bracey makes a persuasive case that much of what matters cannot be assessed on a multiple choice test. The challenge for educators is to deal effectively with an incomplete accountability system—while creating a broader understanding of successful schools and teachers. School leaders must work to define, maintain, and increase essential skills that may not be measured in today’s accountability plans.

 

Is Dr. Bracey saying the glass is half full?  Marvelous!  It’s refreshing to see educators giving the public an objective looking glass from which to view America’s school system.        

 

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Filed under Arne Duncan, Standardized Testing

Advocacy group that promotes terrorist William Ayers will train Miss. school teachers on Civil Rights Movement

 

 

 

by Christopher Paslay

 

Last spring, as part of my master’s degree in education at Eastern University, I took a course called Multicultural Education.  I enrolled because I wanted to learn new methodologies that would broaden my teaching repertoire and help me better educate students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.  Granted, I grew up in Philadelphia (and still currently live in the city), but I hoped a course on diversity would fill in some of the gaps. 

 

In particular, I hoped to learn about the various learning styles of different cultures—which groups prefer cooperative over independent work; which groups are kinesthetic learners as opposed to auditory learners; etc.  I also wanted a crash course on world culture, and some supplementary materials I could use to help diversify my lesson plans.        

 

Surprisingly, I received almost none of this.  What I did get was politics—one-sided, left-leaning ideologies that had little to do with education or teaching strategies. 

 

Here was the required reading for the course:

         

1.  Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum.  The underlying premise of this book is that all whites in America have a “privilege” that is systematically denied all blacks.  In addition, the text talks about “Institutional Racism,” and how ALL whites are guilty of this simply because they exist inside a “privileged” society.  The book also lobbies for Affirmative Action, and suggests that anyone who opposes it is a racist by default.              

         

2.  A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki.  This book was quite interesting, but was also quite selective.  The author chooses only to include information that exposes America’s sinful past—all the ways society and government mistreated immigrants and people of color.   

         

3.  We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers, Multicultural Schools by Gary R. Howard.  This book is all about “Western White Dominance” and how to put an end to it through education.  It suggests, among other things, that the racial achievement gap in America is the fault of white teachers who don’t embrace or strive to understand their students of color.    

         

4.  Cultural Diversity and Education: Foundations, Curriculum, and Teaching by James A. Banks.  This book is the most objective of the four.  It gives a history of multicultural education and thoroughly explains the movement’s principles, ideologies and foundations. 

 

Needless to say, I was taken aback when I began the reading.  What disappointed me wasn’t that the course was dripping in politics and had little to do with practical, hands-on teaching strategies or methodologies.  The frustrating part was that the course was so one-sided

 

Once during class, after watching the PBS documentary, Race: The Power of an Illusion, I questioned the idea that the G.I. Bill was the primary reason why so many of America’s big cities are filled with poor blacks.  I admitted that the G.I. Bill was part of the problem, but tried to explore other causes in an effort to find a solution.

 

“What percentage of the problem has to do with personal responsibility?” I  asked the professor, who was an African American woman.  “I agree that the G.I. Bill had an impact, but what about trying to find solutions from within the community?  What percentage of urban blight is brought on by bad personal decisions?”

 

The professor looked at me like I had five heads.  “What are you saying, Chris?”

 

I repeated my question in a very respectful manner, and explained that I was simply trying to look at all sides of the issue and think outside the box.

 

“We’re not going to talk about that, Chris,” she said with a tone.  “We’re focusing on the G.I. Bill.”  And that was it.  End of conversation.  She moved to the next topic, never bothering to answer my question. 

 

Unfortunately, my experience at Eastern is not an isolated case.  After talking to fellow educators and graduate students—and after researching reading lists at other universities—I’ve come to realize that multicultural education courses are often more about politics than education.  There is real indoctrination going on in America’s colleges—professors are forcing their personal politics on their students (while holding them hostage with their grade) and pawning it off as free thought.        

 

Tragically, this indoctrination disguised as “free thinking” is starting to trickle down into America’s K to 12 public school system.  Recently I read an article in Teacher Magazine headlined Miss. Making Civil Rights Part of K-12 Instruction that I found rather curious. 

 

So far, four school systems have asked to be part of a pilot effort to test the curriculum in high schools, the article explained. In September, the Mississippi Department of Education will name the systems that have been approved for the pilot. By the 2010-2011 school year, the program should be in place at all grade levels as part of social studies courses.          

 

Advocacy groups such as the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and Washington-based Teaching for Change are preparing to train Mississippi teachers to tell the “untold story” of the civil rights struggle to the nearly half million students in the state’s public schools.

 

I took a closer look at Mississippi’s effort to teach its public school children the “untold story” of the civil rights struggle and found something very interesting.  The Washington-based Teaching for Change, one of the advocacy groups that will be training Mississippi public school teachers, is a lot like the multicultural education course I took at Eastern University.  On the surface, the group claims to provide “teachers and parents with the tools to transform schools into centers of justice where students learn to read, write and change the world.” 

 

But upon further inspection of their website, I found Teaching for Change promotes a very controversial individual named William Ayers.  It’s ironic that an organization dedicated to training educators how to denounce the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church promotes the work of a domestic terrorist who bombed New York City’s Police Headquarters in 1970, the Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972.  It’s true.  Go check their website.  What kind of “untold story” will Teaching for Change train Mississippi educators to tell our children? 

 

Teaching for Change also endorses Ronald Takaki, author of the glass-is-half-empty, victim-centered multicultural historical text A Different Mirror, which I came in contact with during my class at Eastern and summarized above. 

 

As free-thinking Americans, we must scrutinize the curriculum being taught to our children.  We must strive to analyze all sides of an issue, and make sure our education system is truly a platform for free discussion. 

 

We must also be aware of trendy buzz words such as “change” and “social justice”.  Sometimes “social justice” isn’t justice at all, and sometimes “change” isn’t about equal rights but rather a shift in power, where the victim becomes the perpetrator and vise-versa. 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Achievement Gap, Free Speech, Multiculturalism

Chalk and Talk celebrates 100th post

 

 

 

 by Christopher Paslay

 

 Today’s blog post is a special one—it’s the 100th on Chalk and Talk since this site was launched on September 28th, 2008.

 

In just under 11 months on the internet, this site has received 20,650 views.  The exposure and reach of this blog is steadily growing.  In June, Chalk and Talk generated 2,995 views—an average of 100 per day for the month.  July was almost as busy: 2,811 for the month, an average of 91 per day.

 

On a grand scale, these numbers are small potatoes, but on a local level they are significant.  The Philadelphia Pubic School Notebook, a publication that’s been covering education in Philadelphia for 15 years and was recently awarded a $200,000 grant by the Knight Foundation, launched a new website in February. 

 

According to the paper’s editor, Paul Socolar, the site gets about 400 visitors a day.  And that’s with a large staff of professionals generating material—photographers, editors, reporters and bloggers. 

 

Chalk and Talk’s staff is a bit smaller.  The entire operation is basically run by Yours Truly.

 

That’s not to say Chalk and Talk doesn’t generate dialogue and spark reaction, because it most certainly does.  On September 29th, 2008, I posted a commentary on this blog that I had originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer titled How about the teachers?  It suggested the Philadelphia School District was treating its educators less than professional, and called for a fair contract with them. 

 

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman responded in a letter to the Inquirer headlined Taking Exception, explaining that the School Reform Commission was working hard to rectify the problems facing the District, and that there were “no easy answers”.

 

Shortly thereafter, I received a personal letter from Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President, Jerry Jordan.  Mr. Jordan thanked me for my article, and for bringing to light the concerns of Philadelphia public school teachers, whose voices are often ignored or marginalized in the media as a whole (on a side note, the PFT has revamped its website, and now includes Jerry’s Blog.  Click here to visit).

 

Chalk and Talk has also gotten feedback from Paul Socolar, editor of the Notebook.  Those that follow my “Eye on the Notebook” series are familiar with the dialogue here (to read the exchange, click on Eye on The Notebook under “Categories” to the right).  Although some feathers were ultimately ruffled, I believe my month-long encounter with Paul was positive.  He taught me some things about journalism, and I enlightened him on the realities of teaching in a Philadelphia public school classroom, and made him more aware of the limited scope of his newspaper, and the fact that it isn’t always teacher friendly. 

 

I’ve received comments from the Philadelphia Student Union when I suggested that they needed to do more to hold their peers accountable for bad behavior; last fall I got a comment from Jonathan Stein, general counsel of Community Legal Services, when I challenged his notion that the Universal Feeding program should be application free.

 

There’s been feedback from other bloggers, such as Samuel Reed of the Notebook and Ken DeRosa of D-Ed Reckoning; from parents and community groups, most notably Moving Creations, a non-profit arts mentoring program working with area youth; and of course, there’s been hundreds of replies from Philadelphia public school teachers, the dedicated men and women who work miracles with our city’s children on a day-to-day basis (thank you Susan Cohen Smith for your witty commentaries). 

 

Some days I wonder if running this blog is worth the effort.  When it comes to the public’s perception of education in America, the glass is always half empty.  We are constantly being bombarded with words like broken and failing.  More than ever, teachers and schools are being made the scapegoat for just about everything, and the other significant pieces of the education equation—such as parents, educational policy writers, politicians, professors, and society as a whole—are consistently ignored.

 

There is a lot of negative energy wrapped up in the politics of education.  I make a conscious effort not to get pulled too far down into this muck, but some days, after I crank-off a 700 word article rebutting some point made by some know-it-all who’s never taught a day in a classroom, I find myself becoming cynical.  I apologize for this.  My intent is not to sling mud or call names. 

 

I write because I want to make things better, because I want the public to see a more accurate version of the objective truth, if there is such a thing. 

 

I hope the next 100 posts on this blog are just as meaningful and engaging.  I hope they continue to inform as well as entertain, and provide readers with new insights.    

 

Thanks to all of you who have contributed or commented.  Chalk and Talk is an open forum for all points of view on education.  Feel free to email the address above, or to post your thoughts on any of the articles directly on the comment board.

 

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Filed under Eye on The Notebook, Free Speech, Holistic Education, Meal Programs, Philadelphia Student Union

Shakespeare and the Constructivist Learning Theory

 

 

 

 by Christopher Paslay

 

I’m currently working on a Masters in Multicultural Education at Eastern University.  This summer I just finished taking a course on teaching English as a second language.  As a culminating project for the class, we were required to pick a strategy or an idea that stood out during the six week seminar, and highlight it by writing an essay, song, poem, PowerPoint, etc.  It was an open genre assignment, with no minimum or maximum page limit.

 

I chose to write a Shakespearean sonnet on the Constructivist Learning Theory.  This philosophy teaches that learners construct knowledge for themselves—each learner individually constructs meaning as he or she learns.  In other words, teachers do not overwhelm students with a lot of facts and information, but rather act as a guide, allowing students to make connections and build knowledge on their own.    

 

Here is my sonnet, a bit clumsy at times, but adhering to Shakespeare’s strict form nonetheless:

   

The Constructivist

 

Shall I compare thee to a bank teller?

Depositing useless facts into a night slot;

Treating students like a cave-dweller,

Force feeding their brain a lot of rot.

Information must be relevant and true,

In context, meaningful, and connected;

Tying together the old with the new,

Making sure all cultures are respected.

Teachers should focus on critical thinking,

Allowing students to learn on their own;

Using past experiences while linking,

New facts to ones already known.

Constructivists make students active learners,

And help them become money-earners.

 

Thanks for reading. 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Differentiated Instruction, English Language Learners, Multiculturalism

Can better marketing stop teacher bashing?

This week I came across an interesting article written by Cindi Rigsbee, a reading and literacy teacher at

Gravelly Hill Middle School in Durham, North Carolina.  Rigsbee is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network, a frequent contributor to Teacher Magazine, and was named North Carolina’s 2008 Teacher of the Year.      

 

 

 

In a blog post headlined Marketing Ourselves as Teachers, Rigsbee explained that she recently attended a conference on education policy hosted by congressmen and professors from America’s most prestigious universities. 

 

A group of teachers were there, too, Rigsbee states on her blog, and I was honored to be among them, hopefully there to advocate for my profession and represent what’s going on at the school level in our country while at the same time learning some innovations that I could share with educators in my state.

 

We weren’t there long before we started feeling uncomfortable and fidgeting in our seats. Many speakers who stood before us repeatedly uttered phrases like “bad teachers” and “fix teaching.” Soon we felt defensive…and even angry…and wondered what all the “teacher bashing,” as one of my colleagues put it, was about . . . .

 

. . . A congressman who sat in a breakout session with me mentioned the inequities of technology. He said, “I saw a classroom that had only five laptop computers…not very effective, but more effective than a teacher in the room.”

 

One presenter said, “There are schools where the principal doesn’t do all the leading; the teachers actually work together, and that’s the nature of the work.” I thought DUH! Does the world outside of our school buildings not know that we’ve been collaborating like that for years?

 

So after I calmed myself from the range of emotions I felt at this conference I had to ask myself why these seemingly important people were so misinformed. I also wondered why all of the answers seemed to be relative to teachers instead of directed toward other stakeholders in education. Here’s what I came up with:

 

First, all of the research points to the teacher as being the most important factor in whether a child learns or not. It’s not the parent, or the school administration, or the football coach, it’s the teacher. So because so much is focused on there being a quality teacher in every classroom, that’s where the finger gets pointed when things go wrong.

 

And while I do agree that there should be a highly qualified teacher (as No Child Left Behind mandates) in every classroom, I can tell you that I can’t deliver quality instruction without the support of the parents, the instructional leadership of my school administration, and the collaboration I have with other important individuals in my students’ lives – like the football coach and the band director.

 

Another reason those who aren’t in the school buildings point to “bad teachers” is because we, as a profession, don’t market ourselves well . . .

 

. . . just today I read this “status update” on a Facebook page – “Another long day at the pool. Being a teacher in the summer is hard work.” Last week I read this one – “Summer – the reason I teach.”

 

Although most teachers spend their entire summers “off” at trainings and planning with other teachers (I’ve seen half the staff at my school this week), those bragging about their leisurely summers are not getting any points with the policymakers who work all year. No wonder they don’t want to raise teacher salaries.

 

In addition, the teacher “venting” that occurs in our communities most likely indicates to others that we are not committed to doing whatever it takes to teach our children. It probably sounds like we’re only committed to whining about how difficult our jobs are.

 

So teachers, it is up to us to change the thinking of legislators, higher ed representatives, and policymakers. It is up to us to market ourselves as professionals who can make a difference in the lives of children, instead of “bad teachers” who are uncomfortable with technology.

 

The last session I attended at the conference included presenters who were working on a report outlining the qualities of a teacher leader. At the beginning of the presentation, the participants were given a handout listing the members of the committee working on the report. I immediately scanned the list to see how many teachers had been included. I wasn’t surprised to see that there were none.

 

I guess they figured we were all at the pool. 

 

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Filed under Teacher Bashing