Monthly Archives: June 2012

Teaching in Black and White: Thoughts on Race and Education Reform

Notebook blogger Samuel Reed and I go toe-to-toe on issues of race and education reform.  

Yesterday, public school teacher Samuel Reed (who wrote a very insightful review of my book The Village Proposal) published a blog post on the Notebook headlined, “Education reform sparring match with Christopher Paslay.”  Although the two of us have corresponded via email over the past several years, I finally had the pleasure of meeting Sam in person at a recent teacher leadership event; it was there that Sam pursued his idea of having an honest and friendly education reform “sparring match” between the two of us. 

Here is an excerpt of Sam’s post covering our discussion:  

I finally had a face-to-face chat with Christopher Paslay at an end-of-the-school-year celebration with the Teacher Leadership Professional Learning Community (PLC). We agreed to put some padded gloves on and have a sparring match on education reform.

Samuel Reed: Chris, in your response to my review of your book, The Village Proposal, you state, “To my chagrin, not a whole lot of people gave a crap.” Why should people care about education reform?

Christopher Paslay: Schools and education do not exist in a vacuum.

Everyone is part of schools and education — teachers, students, parents, administrators, community members, business leaders, clergy, lawmakers, etc. Yet somehow our society seems to think schools are cut off from all this, that they are some free-floating entity that operates independent of all these factors.

Politicians talk of “broken schools,” as if they aren’t the ones writing the policy.

Parents speak of “low achievement,” as if they have nothing to do to with helping their children complete assignments and practice new skills.

Community leaders speak out against “school violence,” as if the drugs and crime in their own neighborhoods do not carry over to their schools.

The fact is, everyone is part of schools and education, which is why everyone should care; schools stem from communities, not the other way around.

Reed: I received many comments offline responding to our discourse about social justice. Some folks are not buying that we should strive for a color-blind society. What’s wrong with confronting the impact race and class issues have on teaching and learning? . . .

Click here to read our discussion in its entirety.

Thanks for reading.

Christopher Paslay

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Filed under Multiculturalism, Parental Involvement

‘It’s constitutional. Bitches.’

by Christopher Paslay

Patrick Gaspard’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare can be a teachable moment on profanity and the appropriate behavior of public officials.   

“It’s constitutional.  Bitches.”  This was the tweet sent out by Patrick Gaspard, the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee and former Director of the Office of Political Affairs for the Obama administration, after learning of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare.  Although Gaspard eventually sent out a follow-up tweet acknowledging his excitement got the best of him, some may argue the tweet was in poor taste.

According to a report on The Blaze, Gaspard prepared an additional tweet:

The current DNC Executive Director, Patrick Gaspard, reacted in an astonishingly profane way to the recent Obamacare ruling of the Supreme Court. And while many are reporting on it, we have the actual tweet: “Take that motherfuckers!”

He later deleted it.

Are words like “bitches” and “motherfuckers” befitting a man of Gaspard’s position and stature?  Should high profile public servants be held to a higher standard?  Was this a responsible reaction from the Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee?  Who are the “motherfuckers” Gaspard was referring to?

Food for thought, and a possible springboard into a lesson on responsible behavior of public officials.

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Filed under Free Speech

Is being ‘on time’ a matter of cultural perspective?

by Christopher Paslay

America’s future career counselors are being taught that meeting deadlines and showing up on time for appointments is a matter of cultural perspective.

Last December I received my master’s degree in multicultural education from Eastern University.  In my Urban Education class our professor gave a mini lesson on “time orientation,” and explained how being “on time” was culturally relative.

“In some cultures,” she said, “‘on time’ means arriving 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  In some cultures it means coming fifteen minutes after the scheduled time.  And still in other cultures, ‘on time’ means you arrive at exactly the time scheduled.”  She was serious and not being facetious in any way.

The first thing that struck me after hearing this was the term “Black Time,” a slang and racially insensitive phrase used by people (including some African Americans) to describe a person who shows up late for something.  One of my best friends in high school was African American and his father used to say to him jokingly, “Be home in time for church—and I mean on time, not Black Time.”

The idea that time orientation is culturally relative, outside of multicultural education programs,  is absurd.  Time, unlike many other subjective entities, is one of the few things that is objective and fixed.  For those like my Urban Education professor who don’t believe so, try arriving at a train station 15 minutes after the train is scheduled to arrive and see if you catch the train.  Or, come back to your car 15 minutes after the parking meter runs out and see if you get a ticket.  Or, show up for a job interview 15 minutes after the scheduled meeting, and see if you get the job.

Time isn’t a matter of cultural perspective.  Those who believe this are in for a lot of pain and suffering.

Yet this reality doesn’t stop progressive multicultural theorists from teaching impressionable young minds that time is culturally relative.

This summer, I’m back at Eastern taking a class in Career Counseling as a requirement for my School Counseling Certificate.  The book we are using in class is called Career Counseling: A Holistic Approach, by Vernon G. Zunker, the acknowledged guru in the field.  In chapter 9 of his book, titled “Career Counseling for Multicultural Groups,” he gives a blueprint for counseling African Americans, Asian and Pacific Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and Whites, pigeon-holing each group with generalized stereotypes—all the while warning future counselors against the dangers of stereotyping.

Zunker goes on to say that different cultures have different “work values,” and different ideas of “appropriate behavior” and “appropriate dress.”  Zunker states, “Thus, it is not surprising that one cultural group may generally view a behavior as being appropriate, but members of a different culture may view that same behavior as gross or insulting.”  Interestingly, Zunker gives no examples to back up his premise; so much for teaching future counselors that they should help students and clients to speak, dress, and behave in a professional manner on a job interview or in the workplace.

Back to the notion of time orientation.  Zunker states:

Among some cultures, differences in time orientation from the dominant society can present barriers to effective career planning and other time commitments that are normally assumed in career counseling.  In traditional career counseling, the client is expected to be on time for appointments and abide by a set of time rules to complete certain counseling interventions.  In many collectivist cultures individuals are not as obsessed with being on time and maintaining a strict time commitment.  A Navajo Indian woman asked me if the next meeting would be “Indian time” or “American time.”  She explained that “Indian time” is “whenever we get together that is convenient.”  Being on time for most counselors is viewed as a positive value, and lateness is often misunderstood as a symptom of indifference or a lack of basic work skills.  In this case, I learned firsthand that time orientation has different meanings for different cultural groups.

Zunker’s theory on time orientation stops here.  There is no follow-up advice or instruction to future counselors about how to address the problem of lateness or missed deadlines by clients who have an “alternative orientation” to time.  Zunker is mute on the issue, and his silence is his own approval.  In other words, by not stating that these behaviors are faulty (they are, in his words, a “misunderstanding”) he is signaling to America’s future counselors that it would be racially intolerant or culturally insensitive to expect clients to conform to the dominant culture’s definition of being punctual and meeting deadlines.

So how do we explain the misfortunes that happen to clients whose time orientation is culturally relative?  Why is it that people with alternative perspective on time habitually miss trains and buses, get parking tickets, are hit with late fees by the IRS and credit card companies, get their utilities shut off, and never get hired for jobs?

According to social justice advocates who embrace a multicultural theory, these people are caught in the throes of institutional racism and the cultural oppression of a dominant white society.

In short, these people are all victims, and future counselors are being indoctrinated by theorists like Zunker to expect as much.

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Filed under Counseling, Multiculturalism

Is your college degree worthless? Blame your career counselor

by Christopher Paslay

Progressive career counseling theories may be contributing to high unemployment rates among Americans aged 16 to 24.      

Unemployment rates for our nation’s youth are at an all-time high.  So is student-loan debt among recent college graduates.  Town Hall columnist Victor Davis Hanson summed-up the situation in his article “The New American Helots”:

Ancient Sparta turned its conquered neighbors into indentured serfs—half free, half slave. The resulting Helot underclass produced the food of the Spartan state, freeing Sparta’s elite males to train for war and the duties of citizenship.

Over the last few decades, we’ve created our modern version of these Helots–millions of indebted young Americans with little prospect of finding permanent well-paying work, servicing their enormous college debts or reaping commensurate financial returns on their costly educations.

Student-loan debts now average about $25,000 per graduating senior. But the percentage of youths 16 to 24 who are working (about 49 percent) is the lowest since records have been kept. The cost of a four-year college education can range between $100,000 and $200,000 depending on whether the institution is public or private. Only 53 percent of today’s college students graduate within six years. Student time spent writing and reading in college has plummeted.

Simply stated, Americans are spending more money on higher education and getting a smaller return on their investment.  Too many young adults graduate with impractical degrees like those earning a bachelor’s in Women’s Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst or those getting a master’s in Ethnic and Multicultural Studies from Minnesota State University (any college major that has the word “studies” in it is an indicator of its worthlessness—for example, majoring in “Math Studies” instead of simply majoring in Math).         

There are those folks, however, who believe practicality has nothing to do with education, that knowledge is its own reward.  Although there is some validity to this argument, young men and women should graduate college with at least some marketable skill or training that puts them in a position to find meaningful employment. 

Unfortunately, over the past decade, too often this has not been the case.  College grads are not finding jobs, and have amassed over one trillion dollars in student loan debt.  The Great Recession is partly to blame, but is not the sole culprit.  Underneath the rocky economy is a bigger, more worrisome problem perpetuating youth unemployment and obscene student loan debt: disgustingly progressive career counseling theory.    

Here’s a brief history of career counseling in America:       

In 1909, a guy named Frank Parsons, the father of career counseling, formulated the conceptual framework for helping a person choose a career.  His approach, known as Trait-and-Factor Theory, was straightforward and had three steps.  First, a person seeking a career took a test to indentify his skills, abilities, and interests.  Second, the person was given a list of career opportunities that matched his skills and interests.  Third, the counselor helped the person find the best fit between the two.  Trait-oriented theories, for the first half of the 20th century, worked well.  People found careers, paid taxes, and contributed to society. 

In the 1960s, career counseling theories began to expand into a new direction; finding a career was no longer simply about working to pay the bills, but to express yourself.  A guy named Donald Super pioneered “Developmental” career theories, which taught that career aspirations, like a person, develop over time.  Self-concept was the central principle of Super’s new career theory.  According to Vernon G. Zunker, a noted scholar on career counseling, “The major practical application here is that individuals implement their self-concepts into careers as a means of self-expression.”     

In the late 1970s and early 80s, “Social Learning” and “Cognitive Theories” came to the forefront.  It was around this time that John Krumboltz proposed his Learning Theory of Career Counseling (LTCC).  This theory developed the idea that making career decisions is a learned skill—that simply matching a person’s interests and abilities with available jobs is archaic and limited—and that each individual’s unique learning experiences over the lifespan are what lead to proper career choice. 

Finally came the 1990’s and the height of cultural diversity and political correctness (and the birth of identity politics in career counseling).  The new career counseling perspective was that the values of the dominant white culture were broken and oppressive.  According to Zunker, “The point to consider in this context is that individuals from different cultures develop their own set of values and work needs that were shaped in their unique environment.  Values that differ from those of the dominant white culture are to be recognized and appreciated.”  Apparently, universal human values—such as respect, work ethic, honestly, personal responsibility, etc.—do not cross cultural boundaries. 

Zunker goes on to say that “Career choice, for example, may be driven by goals of family as opposed to individual aspirations.  In the individualistic cultures of Europe and North America, great value is placed on individual accomplishment.  In the collectivist cultures of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, the individual focuses on the welfare of the group and its collective survival” (his choice of the word “welfare” is curious, no pun intended).  Zunker does a nice job of stereotyping every race and culture while warning future counselors not to stereotype.  He also says that white counselors “are to increase their awareness of their own culture in order to change their racist behaviors.”

So where has 100 years of progressive career counseling theory gotten us?  Besides $1 trillion in student loan debt and a 51 percent unemployment rate among youths aged 16 to 24, not very far.  Today’s career counselors might want to consider going back to the basics of Frank Parson’s good old Trait-and-Factor Theory.  Work isn’t always about self-concept and self expression, but about the dignity of having a job and making a meaningful contribution to society.

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Filed under Counseling

Pedro Ramos is not Scott Walker, and Pennsylvania is not Wisconsin

by Christopher Paslay

SRC Chairman Pedro Ramos may be emboldened by Scott Walker’s recent victory over Big Labor, but the Keystone State is a far cry from the Badger State.       

It appears that Philadelphia School Reform Commission chairman Pedro Ramos is suffering from Scott Walker Syndrome.  His recent attempt to push legislation that would extend the SRC’s power to nullify union contracts and unilaterally dictate salary and benefits to School District employees is curiously timed.  You’d almost think Ramos has become emboldened by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s Assembly Bill 11, also known as his “Budget Repair Bill,” which limits collective bargaining by public-sector unions, caps salary increases, and forces workers to pay more for their pensions and health benefits.

Members of the Philadelphia Democratic House delegation, however, do not seem to be as enamored by Scott Walker’s recent victory over Big Labor.  Walker may have survived Tuesday’s recall election, but this hasn’t inspired Pennsylvania state legislators to get on board with the SRC’s surprise legislative amendment that would further cripple School District unions and their bargaining power.

Although Pennsylvania’s Act 46 already strips the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers of their right to strike—giving the SRC the power to unilaterally impose contact terms and limit collective bargaining—Ramos feels he needs even more power.

According to Kristen Graham’s 6/8/12 Inquirer story:

State Rep. Michael H. O’Brien (D., Phila.), who was at the meeting, said Ramos admitted the SRC was attempting to sell a legislative amendment Ramos needed because current law “didn’t give the SRC enough juice,” in O’Brien’s words.

The SRC’s new ploy for more power was apparently an unpleasant surprise for many, including Mayor Nutter and members of the Philadelphia Democratic House delegation.

Someone, perhaps Nutter himself, needs to tell Pedro Ramos that he’s not Scott Walker.  And while he’s at it, he needs to explain to the SRC that Pennsylvania (and for the purposes of this argument, Philadelphia) is not Wisconsin.  For starters, Pennsylvania has a balanced budget (although the Philadelphia School District is still facing a deficit, but this deficit was created by the SRC itself).  Second, Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System was just overhauled in 2010, cutting pension benefits and increasing member contributions.  Third, collective bargaining by the largest teachers’ union in the state—the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—has already been severely limited for over a decade by the passing of Act 46.

Here’s a comparison between Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on three hot button issues: collective bargaining rights; retirement; and health insurance.

Collective Bargaining

Massive protests broke out in Wisconsin last year when Governor Scott Walker passed his Budget Repair Bill, which limited the collective bargaining power of public-sector unions.  According to the Greenbay Press Gazette:

The bill would make various changes to limit collective bargaining for most public employees to wages. Total wage increases could not exceed a cap based on the consumer price index (CPI) unless approved by referendum.

Contracts would be limited to one year and wages would be frozen until the new contract is settled. Collective bargaining units are required to take annual votes to maintain certification as a union.

Employers would be prohibited from collecting union dues and members of collective bargaining units would not be required to pay dues. These changes take effect upon the expiration of existing contracts.

But when you compare this to the restrictions imposed on the largest teachers union in Pennsylvania by the passing of Act 46 over a decade ago, it is relatively small potatoes.  According to an article in the University of Penn’s Journal of Labor and Employment Law:

The state takeover of Philadelphia city schools will obviously have an effect on Philadelphia teachers’ ability to bargain collectively for contract rights. . . . While the system is under the control of the SRC, teachers are prohibited from striking in order to secure contract rights. . . . For example, teachers could be faced with a significantly lengthened school year, less preparation time, and larger classes, all without the opportunity to bargain for any compensation for these impositions. . . . Also, the district would not be required to discuss “decisions related to reduction in force.” This allowance for the district, coupled with the fact that, under Act 86, the SRC may make decisions to suspend professional employees without regard to tenure protection has potentially dire consequences for the professional security of educators. In a situation involving layoffs, for instance, teachers who have years of experience could be suspended before new hires.

In effect, under Act 46, the SRC already has the power to unilaterally impose contract terms, overhaul traditional schools and turn them into charters, lengthen the school day and year without compensating workers, layoff teachers regardless of seniority or tenure, and takes away the union’s right to strike, among other things.

As for union dues: Philadelphia public school teachers can opt out of joining the union, but they are still required by the state to pay something called “Fair Share,” which basically means that they have to pay union dues anyway, which is about 1 percent of their salary.

Pensions and Retirement

Until Scott Walker passed his Budget Repair Bill, state, school district, and municipal employees in Wisconsin paid little to nothing for their pensions.  Now members of the Wisconsin Retirement System must contribute 50 percent of the annual pension payment, which means public school teachers have to start contributing about 5.8 percent of every check toward their pensions.

Since 2001, Philadelphia school teachers, who are members of Pennsylvania’s Public School Employees’ Retirement System, were required to pay 7.5 percent of every check to their pensions.  Legislation passed in 2010 now requires new teachers to pay 10.3 percent of every check toward their pensions if they want to receive the same pension as those hired before December of 2010; those new teachers who agree to accept a modified pension multiplier (smaller pension) can continue to pay at the 7.5 percent rate.

Health Insurance

Before the Walker bill, Wisconsin state employees paid about 6 percent of their health insurance costs.  Now they will be forced to kick in double that—about 12 percent of the average cost of annual premiums.

Philadelphia public school teachers have excellent benefits, and at little cost.  According to the current contract between the PFT and PSD, teachers have to contribute at most 3 – 5 percent of annual premiums, and many teachers pay nothing.  Co-pays do continue to go up, but teachers are in a good position here; it’s inevitable that in the future, sacrifices will have to be made, and employees may have to kick in more money.  This, of course, can be agreed upon at the bargaining table, and there is absolutely no need for new legislation to be proposed by the SRC to get this done.

The SRC’s recent attempt to push legislation to further cripple School District unions is uncalled for.  The SRC has already sent layoff notices to 2,700 service workers who are SEIU 32BJ union members, and is planning to privatize neighborhood schools and cut unions by turning 40 percent of District schools into charters by 2017.

Some can argue what Walker did in Wisconsin was justified; unions in the Badger State needed to be reeled-in to keep Wisconsin from falling off an economic cliff, which is why 30 percent of union workers voted in Tuesday’s recall election to keep Walker in office.  But the situation is a bit different in the Keystone State.

Pedro Ramos is no Scott Walker.  Shame on him for trying to use Walker’s momentum to push his misguided and unnecessary legislation to further cripple organized labor in Philadelphia.

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Filed under PFT, School Budget, SRC