a complicated argument

It’s going to take many posts to make the argument about why teacher education is “failing.” See my post from yesterday

The first thing I want to say is that I respect one of the impulses that drives people to support Trump, that is, the feeling that corporations are completely in control of government. This is at least partially true. There are also people who will do anything to stop abortion, and are willing to support an unhinged, mentally ill, sociopathic, narcissistic fascist who probably has been responsible for any number of women getting abortions, and for all I know has paid for them. To those people I say, if you think abortion is wrong, don’t have one. Leave the rest of us alone.

I also say, “Be careful.” Democratically elected, unhinged, mentally ill, sociopathic, narcissistic fascists have, in the not so distant past, brought down on the world the fires of  tyranny, genocide and other unspeakable horrors of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Probably the last obviously mentally ill president was Richard Nixon. His paranoia led to Watergate. Perhaps even worse, he actively prolonged the end of the Vietnam War so that he could have political advantage. Thousands of people died so he could be president. His sociopathic, narcissistic behavior led to  his ‘’enemies list,” damaging the lives of people who opposed him.

There are also the persistent and reliable reports that DJT studied Hitler’s rise to power as a model for his campaign, and has done so for many years.

The point is—It is possible to support Trump if you are ignorant of history; otherwise the red flags and warning whistles are overwhelming and truly frightening. And why are people ignorant of history?

Teacher education.

The New York Times says that the US teacher pool is filled with the not very bright. They compare us unfavorably with Finland, which allows only applicants from the top quarter of university students to apply to become teachers. Something the Times doesn’t talk about: Teachers in Finland are well enough paid, have good working conditions and  have the respect of society. But the Times doesn’t talk about that, because bastion of corporate America that it is, it doesn’t support adequate funding for education.

If Americans want good teachers, they have to pay for them.

First Donald Trump, Now This

My good friend Charles texted me that he had read about how Finland has much better teacher education, and the NY Times had an editorial stating that low quality teacher education in the US is the cause of well, I don’t know, monumentally STUPID people? (That’s not exactly what the Times said. That’s what I say.)

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You can read it here.

When I read Charles’ text, I laughed bitterly, anger surging through my body. So the New York Times wants to improve teacher education. Well, well, never mind all the years of editorials urging competition and charter schools as the cure for low achievement, and all the years pressing for schools to be run like businesses. Schools are getting steadily worse since the 1990’s because corporate America has discovered the profits to be made from education. See the critique of the Times education positions here.

Americans are just batshit crazy. We have a perfectly good country and are throwing it all away. Okay, so the education debacle predates the DJT debacle and probably is part of the cause. I just don’t know where to begin.

Spring Valley High School and group-work

Okay, the events at Spring Valley High School are going to hijack the blog a little. I am so saddened by the way that discipline was hablack kidsndled in this case. That is, the case of a teacher managing his or her classroom so poorly that a policeman entered and arrested the student.

The adolescents in the photo are respectfully and interestedly taking part in a science lesson. The lesson was designed to engage students, connect to their lives, and allow them to learn from each other. This happened to have been a high-poverty, rural school, and the students in question were in a low track class.

Getting back to Spring Valley, I’m not really complaining about the violent way the student was thrown to the floor and injured, nor the way in which she defended her personal space by striking out at the person, who happened to be a policeman, who was attempting to drag her out of the seat. I’ve seen this called “punching” on television. That is ludicrous. This event is horrendous. But it begs the question. I’ve been in two schools in the South where policemen came into classrooms and removed African-American youth from the class in full view of all, and without consulting the teacher. This display of authoritarian power is unacceptable.

Don Lemon commented on the air that he doesn’t know the whole story and therefore can’t judge. Fair enough, but why is no one asking, What is going on with our schools that policemen are required to enforce order? This is crazy! And it’s totally unnecessary.

Misbehavior in school increasingly is becoming a criminal offense, resulting in a criminal record for the young person in question. I object to the practice of discipline being enforced by law officers.

As for the connection to group-work, when skillful teachers design engaging and challenging tasks for students, tasks which have some connection to their lives, and which they care about, the need for police intervention is 0. In the case of the girl being arrested for not obeying, there are many unanswered questions. The first is why did the responsible adult, the teacher, not have a relationship with the young person, which would have made calling a policeman unthinkable? It is the teacher’s job to connect with the student. That is the first and most important duty of a teacher.

teaching about race and social class

This semester I’ve been teaching “the diversity course” to MAT students. My goal has been to facilitate students’ development of insights into how differences that appear natural, such as smartness in school, are actually socially constructed. It’s been tough at times, because while it’s not polite to talk about race publicly, it’s really not polite to talk about social class.

Last week a White teacher candidate, one of the more outspoken class members,  remarked, “You really don’t like White people do you?” To which I replied, “I don’t like privilege.” What I don’t like is that the ideology of whiteness denies access to social goods to people of color. Facing America’s long history of privilege for some made possible by oppression of others is painful. We still have to talk more.

But the cool thing that happened is that one of the African American students wrote me an email this weekend saying this class has really opened her eyes to what has been going on. I want to find out what she means  when we meet this week. We still have to talk more.

The sequence of readings and activities I hoped would scaffold examining of assumptions about schooling seems to be working,  although I need more evidence to say this definitively.

  • critical place-based curriculum readings
  • focused observations of classroom interactions around race, class and gender in practicum placements
  • reading the classic Ray Rist article
  • talking about it over and over
  • reading The Children in Room E-4 by Susan Eaton
  • learning about and doing Complex Instruction

We still have to talk more.

Diversity Conference Forum

The Middle Georgia Diversity in Education Conference will be held at Georgia College on March 24, 2014. Dr. Thomas M. Philip of the UCLA Graduate School of Education will be the keynote speaker:  Beyond Disaggregation: Examining
and Addressing Racialization in Classrooms and Schools. The url for  conference information and registration is http://diversityconference.gcsu.edu. 

At Georgia College we are moving forward in our efforts to prepare teacher candidates for diverse learners. We face many of the same challenges as other selective teacher colleges in rural areas: predominantly Caucasian and female cohorts of teacher candidates, schools for field placements which are lacking in resources and serve high-poverty populations. Click here for our diversity conference  forum.

what’s up with this?

How am I going to write about this topic which makes me so very angry? What is it we think we’re doing as educators? This is for real, it affects children’s lives. If teachers don’t do the best for kids, they are harmed, and if a ghetto child gets poor teaching 3 years in a row, well, you know. It’s practically set in stone.

My friend Konny asked me if I would be willing to diagnose reading difficulties of her bookkeeper’s daughter. This isn’t my field of expertise, although I learned some things about literacy in grad school. Plus I taught first grade. So I said I would see if there was anything I could do. I suggested the child bring two books with her, one that was easy for her to read, and one that was difficult.

The girl I will call Jamila arrived at my door, with her mother,  quiet and downcast. I had been expecting an 8 year old, but Jamila is 10. Konny remembered her as a lively, creative, happy child with a wonderful spark.

Well, it quickly became apparent that Jamila could decode but wasn’t comprehending. I did a short reciprocal teaching session and discussed with her mom that Jamila was perfectly smart, she just didn’t know that reading is thinking. The kinds of problems she was having, not reading longer words correctly, was due to her not knowing that the words were supposed to make sense in the sentence, or even that sentences are supposed to make sense. If you don’t know that, then any long word is as good as another. Somehow, her reading instruction in school had missed this point.

Konny saw Jamila shortly thereafter, and the child proudly told her, “I’m not stupid!”

Wow, how many other kids in Jamila’s public school think they’re stupid not because they are, but because their teachers don’t know what they’re doing? These are schools where kids are tested every week, do benchmark tests every 9 weeks. But nobody is teaching.

So that’s what I mean, I’m really really angry about this. We have known about reading as thinking for at least 25 years—this research was done in the 1980’s. What kind of education leads an intelligent 10 year old girl to think she is stupid?