Tag Archives: education

Please Power Down Your White Privilege Now.

Back to school special:

I’d like to note that not every teacher who “moves to a school in the suburbs” does so for bad reasons. Some of them do so after being handed a $10,000 per annum pay cut and a contract with zero chance of a raise for the indefinite future or something else along those lines. In other words, while I strongly agree with Olivia Fantini, she may have some unexamined privilege of her own in blaming teachers for their own victimization.

Taxpayers, anti-tax organizations, and the elected officials bought and paid for by them are at the root of most of our problems in education. We used to fund education nearly well enough. Since the old days, it got more expensive and the basis for paying for it became, essentially, illegal in most states. THAT is where most of the blame should be placed.

Still a great video, though.

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited Review

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is a subscription service that covers children. I normally avoid subscription services of any kind. But, I have a six year old, and suddenly it made sense.

Huxley is very tech savvy for a newly minted first grader. Last night I was reviewing a new tablet that had multiple operating systems on it. He was building a robot or something and watching me at the same time (I was projecting the tablet’s image on a big screen). I said out loud, but mainly to myself, “How the heck to I change operating systems on this?” Huxley reached over and pointed at a button that did not look like anything that would do such a thing. I pressed it. It changed the operating system that was running. After the fact, I realize that it made sense. Huxley saw it right away.

The point is, I can’t really manage the problem of putting this or that app or this or that game or this or that book or this or that video on a Kindle Fire that Huxley has more or less full access to, without actually hampering his technological development and driving myself crazy. The FreeTime Unlimited service locks down an Amazon Kindle android account, i.e., on a Kindle Fire, for use by a certain kid for access to a certain and rather large range of educational or just plain fun do-dads, books, videos, etc.

In actual fact, Huxley knows how to hack the Kindle Fire I’ve set up for him, but he also knows not to do it. He basically understands that there are safe zones and less safe zones on the Internet, and on devices, and that he actually has access to all of it but is supposed to stay in the safe area. You can get a Kindle Fire for kids and put FreeTime on it (or get a bundle with all of it together) and lock it down so the kid really can’t get out of their space. I just chose, at this time, to not take that step.

So, the subscription service, in this case, stands in for my messing around with content on Huxley’s Android device.

So, what kind of content is there and how much does it cost? First, it costs less than five bucks a month, or if you already have Amazon Prime (which I do – see “Try Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial”), then it’s less than 3 bucks a month, for one kid (more for more kids). So, if you figure one or two Kindle books a month, one paid for app every few months, or the greatness of using all those “free” games but with the advertising gone (i.e., the paid rather than free game) to the tune of a few a month, etc., then this service is underpriced if they provide enough stuff.

And they do. It seems that a very large portion of the Amazon Kindle literature for kids is available for free. Even the Harry Potter books. The number of apps and games is huge. The video offerings seem to mirror what we already have on our ROKU and other places, but the truth is, we simply haven’t explored that to any great degree. It is not so much movies, but rather, shorter things like some educational TV shows and age appropriate stuff from Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS, etc.

When I signed up two months ago, the first month was free. I don’t know if that offer is available now, but if so, it might be worth a look.

I believe it is also possible to put the entire thing on your TV via a Fire TV, and to access it on other Android devices or Kindles. I’ve not done that. I imagine that to use Android devices you have to install the Amazon system enhancement thingie that also allows you to watch Amazon prime streaming movies and such. I will be trying to put this on a tablet, within a user account for Huxley, just to see if it is possible. I’ll let you know how that goes.

To makes sure I’m being clear and accurate, here is what Amazon says about this service:

Amazon FreeTime Unlimited is an all-in-one subscription for kids that offers
unlimited access to thousands of kid-friendly books, movies, TV shows, educational apps, and games. FreeTime Unlimited offers unlimited access to over 10,000 kid-friendly books, educational apps, games, movies, and TV shows from top brands like Disney, Nickelodeon, PBS, Electronic Arts, and many more.

  • A world of content for kids to explore within a completely kid-friendly environment
  • Promote reading and math with educational apps and thousands of books
  • Best-in-class parental controls – choose what content each child sees, and set educational goals and time limits
  • Personalize each kid’s experience with profiles, and let them watch where they want to – on Fire Tablets, Kindle eReaders or Fire TV
  • Great for kids between 3 and 12 years old

In FreeTime, the background color changes to blue, letting parents know at a glance that their child is safe. Kids only see titles that have been selected for them. Younger kids can search before they know how to type by using Characters – for example, tap on “Cinderella,” “Dinosaurs,” or “Puppies”.

Personally, I think the entire search capabilities of FreeTime kinda suck. Don’t get it for the ability to search for things. Use Google for that!

While in FreeTime, kids do not have access to social media or the internet, and they can’t make in-app purchases.

FreeTime lets parents set daily time limits, or restrict certain categories – like games and video – while leaving unlimited time for reading.

FreeTime Smart Filters ensure that your child sees age-appropriate content within FreeTime Unlimited. We use input from Common Sense Media and from parents like you to ensure that pre-teens don’t get the baby stuff and little kids don’t see the scary stuff. Parents can also adjust Smart Filter settings to tailor the experience for each child.

With Learn First, parents can block access to games and cartoons until after educational goals are met. Using Bedtime, parents can control when FreeTime shuts down for the day.

Parents can create up to four individual child profiles, customize each child’s access to content from the parent’s library, and decide which FreeTime Unlimited titles will be viewable in each profile. It’s like giving each kid their very own, personalized tablet. Kids can’t exit FreeTime mode without a password.

If you have more than four kids within the age range of this product, it is possible that you are reproducing too fast. Slow down please.

Fairly new is the “child safe camera.”

Kids can take pictures and edit them by adding stickers, drawings, and more. Parents can view photos and videos taken by their children in a separate photo gallery, and have the option to auto-save to Amazon Cloud Drive.

This is not the kind of thing I normally do, but I tried it. It is not the kind of thing I normally like, but I like it. I wasn’t sure if it would go OK but we have been using it for a couple of months, and it has gone great. So, I’m telling you about it.

I bought a Kindle Fire and a kid proof case and then subscribed to the service. You can be less stupid and get a Kindle Fire with a kid proof case and the service at a massive discount.

I should note that FreeTime Unlimited has been around for several years. If you google around to investigate it, as I did, you’ll find a lot of old and out of date information. Make sure you are looking at recent discussions.

And, finally, I just want to say that Curious George is an ape, not a monkey.

Electronics for Kids: Great new book for kids and their adults

The simplest project in the new book Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! by Øyvind Nydal Dahl is the one where you lean a small light bulb against the two terminals of a nine volt battery in order to make the light bulb turn on.

The first several projects in the book involve making electricity, or using it to make light bulbs shine or to run an electromagnet.
The first several projects in the book involve making electricity, or using it to make light bulbs shine or to run an electromagnet.
The most complicated projects are the ones where you make interactive games using LED lights and buzzers.

Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! does almost no electricity theory. Thankfully. It simply delves in to messing around with electricity (and in so doing, provides basic theory, of course).

This is a book about how to play with electricity, not how to get a Masters Degree in electricity. In other words, any kid, the ones who seem destine for a career in electronic engineering and the ones who don’t, can get along in this book because it does not assume itself to be a building brick to a greater career. Yet the projects are interesting and informative and educational, and any kid who does a dozen of these projects is going to learn.

This kind of activity, which should involve parents for most kids, is the cure for the sense of depression you feel when you go to the toy store and look at the “science” section and everything you see is crap. Just get this book, order 50 bucks worth of parts, and get to work-fun. Then order some more parts, probably.

No kids' book on electronics would be complete without a batter made from something you get in the produce section.
No kids’ book on electronics would be complete without a batter made from something you get in the produce section.
This book for kids is very kid oriented, as it should be. One of the first practical projects you build is an alarm system to keep your parents the heck out of your room. You can make a noisy musical instrument. You can make a device that makes sounds some humans can hear (the kids, likely) and some can’t (parents).

Although soldering is done, it is minimal and, frankly, can probably be avoided by using alternative techniques. But really, it is not that hard and one should not be too afraid of it.

A lot of the projects use and develop logic circuits. Kids actually love logic circuits, I think because they end up rethinking a bit about how tho think about simple relationships. And, it is good to know this stuff.

Unlike many electronic kits you can buy (which can be quite fun and educational in their own right) this approach does not rely on ICs (integrated circuits) that produce magical results with poorly described inputs and hookups. There are some basic ICs, including gates, an inverter, flip flops, and a timer. These are very straight forward circuits that are mostly (except the timer) really just very fancy switches.

The web site that goes with Electronics for Kids: Play with Simple Circuits and Experiment with Electricity! gives you a list of all the parts used in the book, with enough information to find them easily on line or at a hardware or electronics store. The book suggests a multimeter, which is probably the most expensive thing on the list. (this one is perfectly good and is about 35 bucks.) Other tools include a soldering iron and related bits, a wire cutter, some scissors, tape, etc.

Many of the parts, including a breadboard, LEDs, hook up wires of various kinds, and pretty much all the resistors, capacitors, etc. etc. can also be used with the more sophisticated Arduino projects, should you end up going in that direction.

This is a really fun book. If you have a kid of the right age (maybe from six to 12, with 100% adult involvement under 10 years) get it now, secretly, get some parts, and work your way through several of the projects. Then, make it (and the parts) a holiday present. Then look really smart.

This chapter-end section give you an idea of the level of the projects.  There is a lot of stuff in here. All doable, but it will take a while to get through it all.
This chapter-end section give you an idea of the level of the projects. There is a lot of stuff in here. All doable, but it will take a while to get through it all.
Here is the overview table of contents (the book is much more detailed than suggested by this top level TOC):

PART 1: Playing with Electricity
Chapter 1: What Is Electricity?
Chapter 2: Making Things Move with Electricity and Magnets
Chapter 3: How to Generate Electricity

PART 2: Building Circuits
Chapter 4: Creating Light with LEDs
Chapter 5: Blinking a Light for the First Time
Chapter 6: Let’s Solder!
Chapter 7: Controlling Things with Circuits
Chapter 8: Building a Musical Instrument

PART 3: Digital Electronics
Chapter 9: How Circuits Understand Ones and Zeros
Chapter 10: Circuits That Make Choices
Chapter 11: Circuits That Remember Information
Chapter 12: Let’s Make a Game!

Appendix: Handy Resources

Jihad Engineers

A disproportionate percentage of Islamist radical actors, including suicide bombers, come from an engineering background. Why?

Right wing and Islamist extremism seem to share this and other traits, while left wing extremism is more commonly associated with individuals from the humanities and social sciences.

This is what we learn from “Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education“, by Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog.

An obvious reason that engineers may be more often associated with groups that carry out bombings is that such groups recruit engineers because they would be the idea bomb makers. This, however, is not the case. Indeed, many of the famous goofed up bombing attempts of recent years were carried out by those with engineering backgrounds, while many of the more competent bombers were did not come from an engineering background.

Also note: We keep seeing the term “engineering background” because many of these individuals are not engineers. Many are students who studied, or even got degrees in, engineering, though they may not have ever worked as such. And many are civil engineers, or other kinds of engineers, or studied these professions, rather than some sort of bomb-oriented engineering (though civil engineering might be helpful in designing a bomb-based attack on something).

The basic explanation works something like this. In the Arab/Islamic/Middle Eastern world, there are two professions that men often aspire to for status. Medicine and engineering. Getting a BA or BS is a status symbol, but if one gets a BA or a BS in engineering, that is a better status symbol. Men get this degree, disproportionately, even if they are from a background, and embedded in a family or subculture, where they are not likely to ever work in that profession.

Meanwhile, there seems to be an association with something we might broadly describe as failure to meet one’s own expectations, and getting all cranky and jihadi. You think you are cool. You are cool. And smart. And going up in status. You get you degree. You try for an engineering degree, and maybe you barely get past the hurdles and achieve it. But, you are entering a world where more than just an engineering degree, or your own massive coolness, is enough to succeed. The global Bush-Cheney Recession is upon us, and everyone is suffering.

But the thing is, you are not supposed to be suffering. You are cool. You are from a good background. You have a degree. In engineering!

So, you experience what psychologists of yore called “Relative Deprivation.” It is kind of a first world problem. You should be father along, higher up, better situated, than you are. But the system, the economy, the government, the godless infidels of the west, have kept you down.

So you get all cranky and jihady and blow them up.

I don’t mean to make light of this idea or its consequences. Rather, my snark leads to another point. The people who set bombs and kill innocent bystanders in airports and such are not “cowards” as is often said by Secretaries of States and Presidents and such. Why are spoiled brats. Not that this matters a lot, but one needs to get these things right.

Anyway, Engineers of Jihad: The Curious Connection between Violent Extremism and Education is a very interesting academic treatment of the question of the link between engineering and jihad. Since it is rooted firmly in data, the book serves as well as an interesting historical account of much of the terrorism of the last several decades. More importantly, it is one of the rare full treatments of the nature and psychology of this sort of behavior.

I noted that “relative deprivation” is a concept of yore, and it is. The authors have, dangerously perhaps (because this sort of thing is dangerous in Academia) pulled out and dusted off an old concept that was found wanting in its earlier incarnations. But they have modified it and applied it well, so it is more of an homage to earlier workers to call it this. But the name is appropriate. Relative to your life long expectations, you are screwed. So you react, at out, victimize someone else. And you happen to be male and muslim (both traits of the patriarchal fundamentalist islamic world) and maybe you know somebody who knows somebody, and next thing you know you are in a training camp in war torn Syria.

The set of jihadists examined in this study is not everybody, but rather, a subset with common defining characteristics. So, for example, this study does not pertain to ISIL.

And, other extremists may have a similar pattern of association with certain areas of study and their radical decisions, but come from different backgrounds. There is a vague association between being a Nazi in the early days and being in law, history, or economics. Indeed, the pattern of extremist behavior, historical context, and educational or work background is very complicated, not very well understood, and there is no way I can give it justice here. Must read Chapter 5.

Education (of one type or another) does not cause extremism. This is not nearly so simple of a situation. But the link between academic orientation, educational effort, a few other things, and extremist views and action is not random, and does make sense, in the context of the revised and updated theory of relative deprivation. Have a look, I think you’ll be convinced.

Chaos in the classroom and how to replace it with learning

Can we replace Classroom Chaos with Learning-Centered Education?

K–12 education can be better. One of the most effective changes that could be made is to reduce the amount of chaos in the classroom and replace it with learning.

I spend several hours a year in various schools giving presentations on Anthropology, Evolution, Brainzz, and other topics. Plus, I know some teachers and have taught seminars specifically for teachers. For these reasons I have a sense of what happens in high school (and to a lesser extent middle school and elementary school) classrooms. What I am about to describe – “classroom chaos” – is found in every school that I know of, and it is appalling.

You might think that classroom chaos is the product of out of control students, or class sizes that are too large, or escaped animals (all of which are problems, of course). But that is not what I’m talking about. The following is a short list of the causes of classroom chaos:

  1. The Principal
  2. The Yearbook
  3. The Congress of the United States of America
  4. State Legislatures
  5. The College Board and other similar entities
  6. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion

The following is a complete list of entities that DO NOT cause classroom chaos:

  1. Teachers
  2. Students
  3. Guest Speakers

What are some examples of events that when they occur cause classroom chaos?

Imagine that a teacher is five minutes away from the end of the third class for the day (i.e., the same “prep” i.e. “AP Chemistry” being taught three times). The intercom system comes on because the principal has decided to make a school wide announcement about something. Everyone sits and listens to the principal and then class ends. The students in that class don’t get the learning that happened in the other classes for that last five minutes, which depending on the class might be very important. Also, the teacher is left to figure out how to adjust for this, which can be difficult because the three classes for this prep are now out of sync.

Imagine that all of the sophomores in the school are scheduled at the same time to take a test offered by a major testing agency. They must take the test as part of their overall high school-to-college tracking. So, sophomores, as part of their effort to demonstrate their learning, don’t get to learn what the other students (who are not sophomores) were learning in their mixed grade class that morning, and the teachers have to figure out a way of adjusting for this, possibly by spinning wheels for a while. But it may be quite difficult to make that adjustment, and it may just be the case that those sophomores have lost a learning opportunity. Ironically, that lack of learning may show up later in other standardized tests that they will, in the future, be pulled out of class to take.

Standards-related state-wide or national tests are scheduled for an arbitrary time of year that has little to do with when students learn the material being tested. This disrupts the entire schedule at a large scale. It is very common, for example, that an AP exam is scheduled nation-wide by the College Board to occur near the middle of the third of three terms in a school year for a particular school district. This means that either the students take the test several weeks after the end of their AP class, or before the class has ended, rendering the final weeks of the term moot in relation to that AP test. This actually costs students and their families money because AP tests are a way to avoid paying for some expensive college classes the students will be required to take later, and the grade one earns on the AP test determines whether or not the student can opt out of the required class. Also, the test itself takes up valuable teaching time. Certainly, taking an AP test is a very worthwhile endeavour, but state-wide standards-related tests are not worth the student’s time. Those tests are not there to challenge or educate the student, and are generally not used to evaluate the student, but rather, to measure and control the quality of the schools the students are in. These tests are the byproduct of a system of education that knows something about the problems it has but tends to find the clumsiest way to solve those problems. More to the point, the cost paid to improve education is unfairly borne by the students and teachers, and the cost is paid as lost learning.

There are a lot of tests that students are required or encouraged to take, including (depending on the state and district) a PLAN test, PSAT test, a state-wide test such as the MCA given in Minnesota, and AP tests), so the total amount of time taken away can be rather large. I’m not arguing against testing. That would be a different topic. But even if we assume that evaluation is important (and this could be the case) evaluation should not be done at the cost of damaging the learning environment.

In many schools, three or four students in every single classroom in every single class all day have to leave to get their ID photos taken, visit a guidance counselor for a mandated meeting, or get their yearbook picture taken. In one school I know of, over a period of several days each term, students are called via the public address system in small numbers based on the alphabetical position of their last name to attend a group guidance meeting, so for the entire day virtually every class is randomly interrupted and at any given moment there are students missing from the classroom. Imagine the equivalent disruption caused by the student. For example, imagine that two or three students put their ear buds in and ignore the teacher for half the class. They would not get away with that. Why does the yearbook or the administration get away with bringing students out of the classroom randomly like this?

In some schools, all the senior are excused from one class so that a senior picture can be taken out on the lawn. Some students leave their classes behind for extended periods for college visits at a career center. In many cases students are allowed to leave their last class early for extracurricular activities, such as debate team or sports. Then, there are the fire drills, tornado drills, and lockdown drills. (Corresponding to that sort of disruption, I could have added “Terrorists, spree killers, and arsonists” to the above list of causal agents!)

Pepfests shorten the schedule so that students can cram into a less than adequately sized auditorium to hear each grade level try to yell louder than the other (which really does nothing but create division between the grades), watch silly games like relays where kids hop in gunney sacks across a slippery floor, all while students increasingly show riotous behavior that quite frankly intimidates many teachers. (Note to parents: you should be able to send a note to the school excusing your offspring from this sort of event. Check it out.)

Less chaotic but still a time sink are shortened schedules or substitutes employed to bring teachers out of the classroom. Some schools have a “late start” day where all the class schedules are shortened so that some regular event like an advisory meeting can happen in the morning. Or, teachers are pulled from classes en masse and replaced with substitutes so they can attend to administrative functions. This category of disruption is actually a better solution to classroom chaos in some cases because all of the students and teachers are affected similarly and simultaneously, but it is still the case that when adding up days of instruction over the year, this should not be ignored.

In most schools, the pledge of allegiance must be recited every day at the beginning of one class, meaning that for this class, one of several in a prep, is always short. That’s like every fourth car in the car wash not getting it’s back end washed, or every fourth customer at the grocery store getting one item lifted from their packages on the way out the door. If it was really a “pledge” the students should be fine taking it once, perhaps on the first day of first grade. (Not to mention the fact that in many classroom many students are not American citizens, so pledging to the US flag may be a felony in their own country, but I digress….)

I’ll leave it to the reader to match the above list of causal agents to their various chaos-causing disruptions.

If we count the disruption for standards based tests, AP tests, and other non-test-taking disruptions, far more learning time is lost to classroom chaos than to snow days in a northern state during a very bad winter. School boards will have meetings at which they’ll belly-ache about snow days, and whether or not to extend a school year because there were too many of them, but the numerous systematic yet chaotic disruptions approved by the the school boards or required by the state are never or rarely discussed as a negative impact on learning. Also, consider this: Most, probably all, states mandate a certain amount of classroom time per year, but the policy makers who put these rules in place seem oblivious to the fact that there is no cap on the amount of classroom disruption. If, indeed, a particular state happens to mandate a minimum number of days of “learning” (instead of just a minimum number of “school days”) then there may be grounds for some sort of lawsuit. A state that mandates 180 days of learning time (explicitly stated as such) but then mandates several days of interruption of that time may be liable for breaking its own rules.

I teach college. Nobody interrupts my class but me. The idea of an administrator showing up in my classroom and making an announcement would be outrageous. I determine when the tests are scheduled and the manner of their administration. Over many years of teaching, I’ve had the police show up to talk to (or in some cases, take away) a student about a half dozen times. Even then, the police officers know to wait patiently until after I’m done with class before they move in. This happened to me just a couple of weeks ago. The police, these days, seem empowered to demand your ID on the street, search your house or car with rather bogus “probable cause,” have by their policies have de facto made dissent and assembly illegal, and have taken to using numerous novel forms of violence such as pepper spary and tasers on ordinary citizens exercising their constitutional rights. But they don’t mess with a teacher in the classroom … in college. But in high school? Anything goes.

Many of the reasons for the disruptions I’ve mentioned above are valid. Perhaps we need tests. Extracurricular activities are good, I assume. Advising is important and, if anything, there should be more of it. College visits are probably a good thing (though the methods colleges use to market themselves to students are highly questionable, but that’s also a topic for another time). But there is a problem with the way all of these things are implemented. It is is indubitably and demonstrably true that learning in the classroom is prioritized last and everything else is prioritized above classroom time. Students are not very subtly being taught a very significant negative lesson, or perhaps several such lessons. Learning is not as important as administration and bureaucracy. Learning does not require or involve continuity or focus. Society claims, and tells the students, that education is very important, yet learning in the classroom, a central part of education, is clearly not a high priority. This teaches the students that a central pillar of society is built on a lie. Educators and administrators would very much like society to respect education more than it does, to hold it in high regard and view it as a funding priority. This may be a difficult argument to make if we demonstrate to our students on a nearly daily basis for over a decade that everything is more important than learning. It should not be a surprise that so many citizen-taxpayers are cynical about education. The system of education was cynical about their learning day after day and year after year.

What is the solution? It is probably not possible to fully address these problems, but I have two specific suggestions that I think would go a long way. These suggestions are general and would need to be implemented thoughtfully and creatively.

First, make the classroom a sacred space, and classroom time sacred time. Those PA systems should only be used for emergencies. Only the teacher should be allowed to decide what happens in that room. Students are required to make the case that they have to pee, and thus get a bathroom pass; everyone else in or near a school needs to make the case for disrupting the classroom, and the expectation should be that they’ll be routinely denied. This may require that schools change the way they arrange their schedules. For example, guidance counselors could routinely have a late day. If classes are run from 7:30 onwards, guidance counselors can start their day at 9:30 and concentrate almost all of their activities that directly involve students during the time after classes are over. This will require creative solution for busing but educators and administrators are creative people. Figure it out. Another pragmatic solution is to routinely include a study period in each student’s schedule. This is the time that the student can carry out many of the various activities for which they are typically called out of class. This will require administrations to change the way they serve those student’s needs. Instead of students being called out of class for their ID photo, they are required to go to the photo ID office during their study period. And so on.

With respect to testing and the disruption this causes, large scale changes will need to be made. If we decide as a society (at the national or state level) that there will be tests given across many school districts, then we need to end our worship of “home rule” whereby every school district determines its own schedule. School boards may be unaware of this, but major calendric events such as Thanksgiving and the various religious holidays such as Christmas actually happen on the same exact schedule in all states, counties, towns, and districts across this great land of ours. Summer is simultaneous, it turns out, no matter where you are in the Northern Hemisphere. Child labor laws have almost entirely eliminated the requirement to let youngsters out of school to help with the seasonal harvest or work in the mills while the hydro power is strongest with the spring floods. We can have a national (or at least, state-wide) schedule, and in so doing, we can have things like AP tests and other tests administered in a sensible way. In addition, some tests can be given multiple times. It is difficult and costly to create multiple versions of a given test each year, but it is not impossible to have two or three AP tests to accommodate two or three different schedule paradigms among which school districts choose nation-wide.

Sports are a problem. Notice how many disruptions occur to classroom time. Are there similar disruptions that occur to sporting schedules? I don’t think so. It is apparent that sports trumps learning. This, I suspect, is a funding and community relations effect. When was the last time an irate parent beat up a principal because his child did not get to make up a physics lab she missed during an illness? I can’t remember that ever happening. When was the last time a parent assaulted a coach or threatened another parent over a perceived bad call on the playing field? I believe this happens almost daily in this country, now and then in a manner sufficiently spectacular to become a form of newsertainment. This prioritization of sports reaches across high school and college and life in general, with some high schools viewed as sources for top amateur athletes for various colleges, and those colleges viewed as sources for top professional athletes. Students with high athletic potential are each unlikely to become a professional athlete, and if so, are unlikely to do well in that profession, given the severe culling that happens as we breed or gladiators. But those students may be given a pass on their learning anyway, increasing the chance that they do poorly in life so that a very few may take the very important role in making a lot of other people rich and/or happy.

The fact that this appalling system of trafficking and exploitation also takes a higher priority in high schools is unacceptable. But even more unacceptable is the fact that sports takes a higher priority over education in high school than it does in college. In high school, a teacher is at the mercy of the sports teams, with students being excused (not by the teacher but by the administration) from class, and in many cases, being away from all of their classes especially if their team is doing well and enters playoffs. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing because it represents student success in an area important to them.) I’ve taught at a handful of different colleges including two with major commitments to sports. In the college setting, the athletic schedules are managed in such a way that they don’t interfere with the classroom schedule (though some classes, i.e. those taught late in the afternoon, are not taken by many athletes) and it is possible to not even know that you have an athlete in your class, with two exceptions. First, it is the case in both high school and college that when a particular team does very well and enters playoffs, they may be gone for several days. This is probably not avoidable, but if most of these other problems were fixed, it would be tolerable. Second, as a college teacher, I am actually asked to give permission to the student to continue engagement in athletics! If you don’t do well in class, you can’t play on the field. I’m asked, politely, by the administration or individual students to certify on a form that each athlete in my class is doing well enough academically to participate in sports.

So, the first thing to do to handle this problem is to prioritize education, learning in the classroom, the classroom time itself, the teacher as the effective monarch of the classroom, and then re-examine all the other needs from guidance sessions to photo shoots to sports and, especially, tests to have those needs be met in a way that does not cause classroom chaos. Figure it out.

The second thing to do is simpler but very important: Apologize. Humble the disruptions in relation to the learning. Stop assuming that anything the administration of a school, or a school board, or a state legislature, or any other entity wants to happen can happen at the expense of learning in the classroom, and when such a thing must happen at the expense of learning in the classroom, the entity causing the chaos must do so in a contrite manner and in parallel with a sincere effort to not let it happen as much, or at all, in the future. In other words, change the culture.

All we need to do to fix our system of education is …

… well, actually, you can start by shutting up.

Then, while you are sitting there quietly read this: Why Teaching Is Harder Than It Looks.

Then, add your advice about how we can fix our system of education to the comments below. But each suggestion must be paid for (with money) and fit into the schedule (by paying someone to do what you suggest instead of what they are at present required to do).

Which means, ultimately, there is one fundamental answer to improving our system of education: Throw money at it. For starters, stop taking money away from it. The, put more in.

Discuss.


Photo Credit: chrissuderman via Compfight cc

NCSE’s Genie Scott will Retire

My friend and colleague, executive director of the National Center for Science Education’s Genie Scott, will retire by the end of the year. She’s been director of the NCSE for 26 years. Genie is a key player, perhaps the key player, in the battle to keep science in the classroom and other things that are not science out of the classroom, in public schools. She’s gotten piles of awards and has done a huge amount of great work. While a lot of people have been involved in this fight, I think it is fair to give Genie top billing in such major and momentous efforts as the fight in Dover (which sealed the fate for creationism in public schools forever). She is author of Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction and Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools.

Genie was Julia’s grandfather’s undergraduate advisee, and back in the day, was a key influence on my personal interest in creationism (and the fighting thereof). Thank you Genie for everything.

She’ll be missed. Although maybe she’s not really going away, just doing other great things.

There are more details here, as well as info on the job announcement, in case you were looking for something new!

The Teachers are Revolting!

In a good way!

This is a very interesting story; I’m going to pass along the press release without modification:

NEA PRESIDENT SUPPORTS SEATTLE EDUCATORS WHO REFUSE TO GIVE FLAWED STANDARDIZED TEST

***Standardized test takes away from student learning***

WASHINGTON—National Education Association (NEA) members at Garfield High School in Seattle, Wash., voted to not administer the district-mandated Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) standardized test that is not aligned with state standards or the district curriculum. NEA has long urged for the careful consideration of the fact that these tests are being used to make decisions about students’ and teachers’ futures, and have corrupted the pursuit of improving real learning and effective teaching.

A rally event organized by the Seattle Education Association in support of Garfield High School educators will be held in Seattle on Wednesday, January 23, 2013, at 4 p.m. PST at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence.

The following is a statement by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:

“Today is a defining moment within the education profession as educators at Seattle’s Garfield High School take a heroic stand against using the MAP test as a basis for measuring academic performance and teacher effectiveness. I, along with 3 million educators across the country, proudly support their efforts in saying ‘no’ to giving their students a flawed test that takes away from learning and is not aligned with the curriculum. Garfield High School educators are receiving support from the parents of Garfield students. They have joined an ever-growing chorus committed to one of our nation’s most critical responsibilities—educating students in a manner that best serves the realization of their fullest potential.

“Educators across the country know what’s best for their students, and it’s no different for our members in Seattle. We know that having well-designed assessment tools can help students evaluate their own strengths and needs, and help teachers improve. This type of assessment isn’t done in one day or three times a year. It’s done daily, and educators need the flexibility to collaborate with their colleagues and the time to evaluate on-going data to make informed decisions about what’s best for students.

“If we want a system that is designed to help all students, we must allow educators, parents, students and communities to be a part of the process and have a stronger voice in this conversation as they demand high-quality assessments that support student learning. Off-the-shelf assessments that are not aligned with the curriculum or goals of the school are not the answer.”

Can Missouri Students Skip Evolution Assignments If They Don't Believe In It? I

Two days ago, according to the NCSE, Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2 which protects the right of citizens to pray and express religious beliefs, which was already the case because of the US Constitution. However, the Amendment will have other effects that were not mentioned at the voting booth. For example, “no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs.” What do you think THAT is going to lead to?