What is keeping people down? Is it The Man, or those who struggle against The Man? Arguably, those who struggle against The Man, by virtue of being completely deluded, are keeping their intended beneficiaries down.
Greg Kane, Baltimore Sun
What was the reason for abandoning the no-social-promotion policy? Our peerless leaders - peerless because there's not another group like them, and other school systems should be thankful for that - discovered that the policy meant not only that some students would have to repeat a grade once.
They might have to repeat a grade - horror of horrors! - twice. Oh, the humanity!
So rather than hold students back a second time, school officials promoted them. But they had a plan. Because the schools were unable to teach them what they were supposed to know in nine months, our leaders provided flunking students with summer learning packets, so they could master the material in a mere six weeks.
So social promotion is now "in" again in Baltimore. Apparently, it never went out of vogue in High Point. What drives it?
It's what some conservatives have called "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It's more like the hard bigotry of no expectations. Most of Baltimore's students are black, as is Fantasia. Can you imagine officials in a predominantly white system tolerating the social promotion of thousands of white students?
There are a number of culprits responsible for this hard bigotry of no expectations, and black leaders aren't exempt. Black students are passed not knowing anything because some school leaders figure - correctly - that black leaders will accuse them of racism.
There's also what I call the self-esteem racket. Students are promoted without knowing anything because, some folks figure, flunking them will harm their self-esteem.
Ok. So then we read a very inflammatory article about the "pedagogy of poverty." I won't go into it, because it was another one of those "our public schools are trying to control the students' minds. We should let them be free!" Really this is not the issue. Also, the guy says that if you want a highly disciplined school, you may or may not be a bigot. He actually used the word bigot.
We got onto the topic of cultural advantages that middle class kids have, such as listening to their parents discuss different issues, going to museums, having more books, etc. Everyone was decrying the fact that poor kids don't have the same things, and that they come into pre-K already behind. When they continue falling behind, middle school and high school teachers complain that "there just isn't enough time" to teach them, particularly with the mandated curriculum dictated by state exams.
I pointed out that, if what people were saying was correct, then that would mean that urban kids should have more time in the classroom, longer school days, and longer school years. This would allow them to catch up and give their teachers the chance to cover everything they wanted. I provided the KIPP schools as an example of a school system that does this, and gets amazing results. It works. More time in school and good instruction works.
My instructor was not pleased with this, though. He thought the idea was too "militaristic." He said, "I mean, what's the end goal?" I was flabbergasted, once again. Doesn't anyone get it? The goal is to give kids the skills and knowledge they need to choose the kind of lives they want to live. Period, end of story, I no longer want to talk to you, stupid idiot. But he has this whole notion of making people "good citizens" or getting them to "think critically" about the world. Ask yourself, what would you want for your child? Would you want her to get a great academic education and be able to do whatever she wanted, or would you want someone to teach her "how to be a good citizen" or "how to think critically"? I know, me too. And if the chips were down, my instructor would admit the same thing. The fact is that schools like KIPP are vaulting kids OUT OF POVERTY. They're giving them a fighting chance. And the concept of the schools is not that complex. Their motto is: Work hard. Be nice. And everything boils down to that in the end. There's no magic curriculum bullet. It's just hard work. This guy, this instructor, he so decries poverty and "keeping poor kids poor" and "the pedagogy of poverty" but it is HIS reluctance to accept WHAT WORKS FOR KIDS that keeps them where they are.
I really don't understand. And I'm so angry about it.
Researchers who study the issue of racial disparities in academic performance say that even they have to be careful how they present data.
Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, and his colleagues wanted to look at factors, including race, that affected student achievement several years ago. "We were nervous about how people would react, that we'd be accused of being prejudiced," he said. "There's nothing nice you can say about this that's going to make people feel good."
Steinberg and his colleagues found that even after economics were controlled for, Asian and Asian American students performed better on tests than any other racial group. Latinos and African Americans performed the least well.
Steinberg's research further suggested that an "attitudinal profile" influenced academic success, and that Asians tended to have the most students that fit the profile.
The first variable wasn't parental involvement, as Zhou concluded, but something more subtle: parental expectation. Steinberg asked students what was the worst grade they could get without their parents getting angry. For Asian children, it was a B-plus; for Latino and African American children, it was a C.
Another factor was that Asian children in the study were more likely to associate with peers who valued high marks in school, whereas Latino and African American students were more likely to have friends who put less stock in good grades.
Steinberg found two other differences that seemed linked to success. Asian children were much more likely to attribute their grades to hard work rather than aptitude. They also were more likely to believe that doing poorly in school would harm their chances for success in life.
"If you have these four things, it doesn't matter what ethnic group you're from, you'll do well in school," Steinberg said. "It's just more common among Asian kids and less common among black and Latino kids."
Pedro Noguera, a sociologist at the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University, believes class plays more of a role than Steinberg does. He points to a mostly Asian high school in San Francisco with a high dropout rate. "They're not dropping out because they're not sufficiently Chinese, but mainly because their parents put an emphasis on work."
Noguera also suggested that Latino parents may be less adept at navigating the American school system and advocating on their children's behalf.
"It's not that they don't value education," Noguera said. "They're putting too much trust in the schools. That's a big mistake."
I would like someone to guess the approximate grade level of the book the 11th graders in my school's humanities class are reading.
No, guess lower.
Barnes and Noble dubs it a "book for young readers," appropriate for 3rd-6th graders.
I wonder: are there colleges nowadays that use books for young readers, or in the case of the more academic colleges, books written for grades 7 and 8? We should look into that.
An understanding of the mind as a complex system shaped by evolution runs against [The blank slate, the noble savage, etc.] The alternative has emerged from the work of cognitive scientists such as Susan Carey, Howard Gardner ,and David Geary. Education is neither writing on a blank slate nor allowing the child's nobility to come into flower. Rather, education is a technology that tries to make up for what the human mind is innately bad at.... Because much of the content of education is not cognitively natural, the process of mastering it may not always be easy and pleasant, notwithstanding the mantra that learning is fun. Children may be innately motivated to make friends, acquire status, hone motor skills, and explore the physical world, but they are not necessarily motivated to adapt their cognitive faculties to unnatural tasks like formal mathematics. A family, a peer group, and culture that ascribe high status to school achievement may be needed to give a child the motive to persevere toward effortful feats of learning whose rewards are apparent only over the long term.
They are open to my suggestions, up to a point.
For example, the [11th grade] kids' writing is terrible. I mean scary terrible. One essay I just read was almost unintelligible, in that the students' words seemed to have been scattered randomly throughout the "sentence," which went on for like four lines and counted as a paragraph. The girl is bright and articulate, and to my knowledge does not have any type of learning disability.
I suggested I could do some mini grammar lessons in class, and my teacher thought it was a nice idea. She does support the idea of grammar, and recognizes that the kids are pretty weak writers. Although I don't think she has the same fear in her heart that I do for them. But the thing is, she won't let me give any grammar quizzes. The school as a whole is sort of "against" quizzes, although some teachers use them I guess. It's difficult to assess whether the kids have learned the specific principle you taught when you can't quiz them on it specifically. Also, there is every reason for the kids to tune out when I try to teach it to them, since they are not really accountable.
The themes for this unit (colonial founding through the early American period) are roughly as follows:
- the racialization of savagery
- race as a social construct
- what freedom means to different peoples
It's difficult to find room in there for things like a) the development of the colonies, b) events leading to the revolution, c) ideas leading to the revolution, d) dissent regarding the revolution, e) the war itself.
I would imagine that the kids have had many classes based around themes like this. One girl said in class today, "how come we always have to learn about race?" Not that it isn't an important topic, especially in American history, but I think the sentiment stemmed from theme overload.
Another hint that they haven't really learned a great deal of content, in the past or so far this year, is that they don't know a lot of content. I'm pretty sure a lot of them don't know what "Europe" is, or at least the difference between "Europe" and "England." When I talk to them, they try to reconstruct the facts of history logically, from the themes we learned about.
My teachers and others want kids to understand the "big ideas" in history, rather than memorizing facts and details. But I just don't think you can teach these big ideas directly. They are empty and meaningless by themselves. You teach the small stories, the facts, the dates, the chronology, the events, and then out of these, patterns begin to emerge. That's the beautiful part, when the students start to see them. It's like giving them tree after tree after tree, and suddenly they realize it's a forest. Or it's like that painting, by...Seurat? The one with all the little dots. There is no picture without all the dots!