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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Former Yale Professor Warns: Don't Send your Kids to the Ivy League

All parents want what is best for their kids. In the United States of America, that means that parents tend to buy or rent in a place with the best public schools they can afford. We send our kids off to school and hope that the yellow school buses will get them safely to their classrooms, and their classrooms will lead them to a future filled with happiness, joy, the ability to think, to question, and to do whatever it is that they want to do when they grow up.

Recently, I received an email from Vice President Joe Biden, with the subject, "Good for business, good for workers, good for the economy." Apparently, big business and community colleges are informing our politicians. Biden writes, "We’ve heard from businesses that many jobs in today's brightest sectors go unfilled because there simply aren't enough people with the skills to do them. That's not good for businesses, it's not good for workers, and it's not good for this country." Wait, what? Many jobs are going unfilled? What businesses? What workers? I can't help but reflect on the term "workers." The word proletariat comes to mind, as I was educated before the Common Core Standards and we read a lot of fiction. Remember George Orwell's classic, Animal Farm?
"Boxer and Clover, two hard working animals, are used to represent the proletariat. They believe anything they hear and don't really think they're slaves. Since Squealer is such a good talker, the proletariat are drawn to Napoleon's ideas because they sound like they're beneficial. Also, they're kind of unintelligent, so they're very easily persuaded." defines the term proletariat:

pro·le·tar·i·at [proh-li-tair-ee-uh t] 
1.  the class of wage earners, especially those who earn their living by manual labor or who are dependent for support on daily or casual employment; the working class.
2. (in Marxist theory) the class of workers, especially industrial wage earners, who do not possess capital or property and must sell their labor to survive.
3. the lowest or poorest class of people, possessing no property, especially in ancient Rome.
Who are the proletariats to today's politicians? Maybe they are not who we think they are. Maybe they are our kids, public school kids. While we are sleeping, state governments cut public school funding, then claim our schools and our children are failing and unsuccessful. Though this started in the cities, it has now sprawled into the suburbs. Have your local taxes gone up? Don't blame the schools, blame your Governor. So what does a former Yale professor think of our dream to send our kids to the "best" colleges, perhaps even the ivy leagues? You may find yourself rethinking your American dream.
In this New Republic article, William Deresiewicz, opens our eyes about the real deal at America's Ivy Leagues. He is the author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life, which comes out August 19 from Free Press. He taught at Yale from 1998 to 2008.
Deresiewicz warns, "These enviable youngsters appear to be the winners in the race we have made of childhood. But the reality is very different, as I have witnessed in many of my own students and heard from the hundreds of young people whom I have spoken with on campuses or who have written to me over the last few years. Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it."

The following resonated with me: smart, talented, anxious, timid, lost, little intellectual curiosity, stunned sense of prupose, great at what they are doing with no idea why they are doing it. I see this in my own community. Great families, great kids, all caught up in a game in which they are unaware that they may be mere pawns.

Deresiewicz continues, "When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from themthe private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education."
I can't help asking myself how deep we are into the cogs of this machine? Are we so unaware that we are allowing our kids to be crunched in the gears without even knowing it?
Deresiewicz shares that he, "... taught many wonderful young people during (his) years in the Ivy Leaguebright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from. But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them. Very few were passionate about ideas. Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development."
Thomas Jefferson knew the importance of public education, and it is not to color within the lines. It is not to be dispassionate about ideas, and it certainly was not to go through the motions and simply get a job.  Jefferson stated, (to George Wythe) "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." 1786 August 13.
He also knew that education brings the light of happiness when he added,
 (to C.C. Blatchly) "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource to be relied on for ameliorating the condition, promoting the virtue, and advancing the happiness of man." 1822 October 21.
The article by Deresiewicz makes us question the jargon forced on public education today. Perhaps the most widely used being, "college and career ready" and "rigor." On rigor, he shares a story:

"The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion. There are exceptions, kids who insist, against all odds, on trying to get a real education. But their experience tends to make them feel like freaks. One student told me that a friend of hers had left Yale because she found the school 'stifling to the parts of yourself that you’d call a soul.'” (Emphasis mine.)

Do we want our children to be cogs in a machine, even an ivy league one? Do we want them to get mindless A's, to be afraid of taking risks, to not have the time to think about what they are learning due to "rigor"?

Deresiewicz  brings up a business term that has become fashionable to use in education today: Return on Investment. "... that’s the phrase you often hear today when people talk about college. What no one seems to ask is what the 'return' is supposed to be. Is it just about earning more money? Is the only purpose of an education to enable you to get a job? What, in short, is college for?"
These are the questions we must ask ourselves today, as politicians from both parties take special interest money from people trying to profit off of our tax dollars and tell us what we want for our children's educations. Read the whole article here and see what you think.

I will leave you with this quote:

"College is not the only chance to learn to think, but it is the best. One thing is certain: If you haven’t started by the time you finish your B.A., there’s little likelihood you’ll do it later. That is why an undergraduate experience devoted exclusively to career preparation is four years largely wasted."

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Good Grief.

This post goes out to those of you who have been subjected over the past 2+ years to my constant stream of disbelief and current event updates on the attack on public education, public school teachers, and the government's interference with the educational experiences of our children. I can't explain how it took me so long to get a clue, but once I did, all bets were off. I became obsessed with reading and verifying facts and so called "facts." My conversations with family, friends, and neighbors were, let's say, extremely limited. I wanted everyone to learn what I was learning. I am a teacher after all. But for someone who has dedicated her life to children (her own and other people's), this was too much to bear. Without knowing it, I became deep in the grief of watching my three daughter's educational experiences tainted by overtesting, joyless pressure and "rigor," as well as legislation that was being pushed by both political parties on them.

 I was recently out to dinner with a dear friend and she shared an observation that prompted me to write this post. She told me that she had been sad and concerned about me for the past year or so. She told me that I seemed like I was finally doing better. I felt terrible that I had been at such a bad place for so long.  I shared with her that I felt like I had gone through the stages of grief. It sounds a little strange that I would mourn an institution, and an imperfect one at that, but that is what happened.

My husband is the person who initially encouraged me to start blogging. Writing became important to me in a new way. I was able to report and share what the news and media weren't. My oldest daughter wrote an editorial about her personal experience taking the Algebra 1 Keystone in 8th grade, and our city's paper wouldn't publish it. We were shocked that they wouldn't give an articulate child a voice. Fortunately, education activist, Diane Ravitch did.

So, it has been really frustrating because our"high performing" schools are good schools. Our teachers and principals want to focus on what really matters, but are being derailed by bureaucratic interference with the intention to privatize. But you know what?  I am getting back on track and focusing on what I love—my family, friends, and teaching. This summer I have been working hard, letting creativity infuse new ideas into my plans for the upcoming year, and recapturing my love of life. I have been in shock. I have sat in disbelief. I have felt pain & anger. I have tread through hopelessness. And now I feel acceptance—not acceptance that we will forever lose public education (though we may). But I feel acceptance that though this is actually happening, my energy and passion for public education and for joyful, high interest learning for all kids (not just private school students) cannot be stopped.

I want to thank you, my family, friends, and readers for hanging in there with me these past years. It will not be an easy fight, but fight we must. Can grief be good? Getting through it sure is... and good grief, it can be difficult! I suppose that like Charlie Brown, I see that a lot is worrisome, but know that a compassionate dreamer with perseverance can get through a lot.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We must learn to stand together.

Paul Horton is a History teacher at the Chicago Lab School - an amazing private school which the Obama girls once attended and where our esteemed Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is an alumni. Horton is an advocate for all children and has dedicated a lot of time, energy, and passion in writing about the very real attack on public education.

Morning drop off back in the day at the Chicago Lab School.

He explains it in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Horton has written profusely on this topic and the toxic damage it does to our children and our society. Read more here and here. You can search his name yourself and read and read, if you'd like. You will certainly learn a lot if you do.

Kids and parents usually look forward to breathing a sigh of relief when high school graduation arrives. The kids are ready to move on and move out. They are excited to have a voice in what and how they learn, and are thrilled to get out from under the government's hand in their education. Sadly, the US government is using a legal loophole to create a K-20 (Yes, not K-12, but kindergarten through grad. school) open market in education. The US Department of Education claims that individual states elected to adopt the Common Core Standards. Due to this claim, they believe they are not breaking the "three federal laws that prohibit federal departments or agencies from directing, supervising or controlling elementary and secondary school curricula, programs of instruction and instructional materials." No longer is learning about children, about developing a love and passion for knowledge, developing intrinsic motivation to read and learn on one's own, or about gaining confidence as kids grow. Nope. It is now a business opportunity.

Horton writes, "A recent Washington Post article using a well-placed source within the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation essentially confirmed what many critics have suspected: that Bill Gates effectively controls the Department of Education in the United States through his former employees who serve in leadership positions within the Department of Education. Our education secretary also does a lot of listening to Michael Barber of Pearson Education. Although Mr. Gates and Sir Michael, as well as other reformers, are doubtless well intentioned, they view the colonization of K-12 education in this country and elsewhere as a 'win-win.' In their view, the quality of education will improve with greater accountability, and they will make billions creating and delivering accountability for students, teachers, and education schools."

Check out these familiar names who are working hard to end public education as we know it:

1. "The Murdoch newspaper chain, the Tribune chain, The Washington Post (now run by a neoliberal libertarian), and The New York Times."

2. PBS and NPR
Interestingly, " Money is funneled into NPR and PBS by organizations that support privatizing school reform in the name of 'support for education programing.' "

3. "A Gates-funded Washington consulting firm, GMMB, works 24/7 to sell the Common Core Standards and all other elements of the Race to the Top mandates that call for more charter schools, a standardized-testing regime, and value-added assessments of teachers based on this testing regime."

4.  "Representatives of the Washington-based Fordham Institute work together with GMMB to send weekly talking points to major editorial boards and education reporters to ensure that representatives from an 'independent foundation' are relentlessly quoted. Not surprisingly, the Fordham Institute is hardly independent, and is heavily subsidized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Michael Bloomberg, and the Broad Foundation, and many more funders of privatizing education."

Horton bravely extols, the Common Core State Standards "is the tip of a corporate iceberg that amounts to corporate control of education policy with very little participation of classroom teachers, parents, or school boards. The idea that the Common Core Standards are the product of a democratic process is simply misrepresentation of fact—a big lie that GMMB, our education secretary, Bill Gates, Pearson Education, and the Fordham Institute propagate.

I must be naive, but I had no idea that our government hired PR firms to manipulate us into believing that their desire for an open market in education actually has anything to do with improving learning for our children.

On the impact of testing, Horton continues, "Whatever one may think of the Common Core Standards on paper, because they are tied to a standardized testing regime, they will fail. The literature on this issue is voluminous, but our current educational-policy makers simply ignore it. Teaching to standardized tests narrows the curriculum and results in teaching to the test. Administrators will encourage drill-and-kill exercises to increase test scores and will be forced to allocate precious resources and time to preparing for standardized tests."

 As an English teacher, I found Horton's reflections on the limitations of the CCSS writing approach interesting. When we teach children to write so an algorithm can easily score a response, we are creating a genration of writers who will not only dislike writing, but who will have no human audience willing to read their work. Would you want to read a collection of that formulaic writing? Didn't think so.

Horton wisely observes, "The Common Core Standards seek to teach literacy, but in doing so, they neglect developing essential tools of critical and contextual analysis that are predictive of college success, the development of the ability to produce a complex essay or research paper (a paper that goes beyond what an algorithm can assess), and the development of ideas about social or civic responsibility that run counter to the core value of neoliberalism: 'get what you can for yourself, nothing else matters.' This notion simply does not jibe with what I am hearing when I am visiting colleges with my rising high school senior son where the emphasis is all about service. What I have heard at every college visit is that admissions officers have determined that standardized testing does not predict college success. The challenges that a student takes on and is able to overcome and the rigor of the courses that a student takes are much better predictors of college readiness. "

If standardized tests are not even perceived by colleges to predict college success, why are we playing their game? In my community, I often hear parents concerned about their children being ready for the next stage. Is junior ready for middle school? Is he ready for high school, and is high school getting him ready for college? Is college going to get him ready for life? A job? A career? Being a parent does involve a lot of worrying, because no one wants our kids to have a good life more than we do. However, if we are just receptacles that a PR firm (hired with our own tax dollars!) dumps fears and thoughts into, then are we really doing what is best for our kids?

Horton shockingly reveals, "The Common Core Standards prepare students in areas that experience issues with literacy for work at the community-college level. Applying this one set of standards to all American students represents a national policy error of catastrophic proportions."

Keep an eye out for MOOCs as your kids venture towards their college days. You may or may not have heard of MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses. These classes are a way of delivering online content with no limit on class size. Sounds like a dream for a business person, and a nightmare for a student or teacher. Horton ventures a guess that colleges are next in the Gates plan of open market domination in education. He states, "The reformers seek to reduce the costs of teaching to create a profit margin for potential investors and markets for big education vendors. This is the brave new world that all K-20 educators face. We must learn to stand together."

Wisest line ever: "We must learn to stand together." Parents, grandparents, teachers, professors, and all who care about children, learning, and the future of our country. Urban, suburban, rural. Wealthy, middle class, poor. Private school parent, private school teacher. Public school parent, public school teacher. We must stand together.