Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brave New Blogs

Just wanted to bring your attention to a couple of blogs I've discovered recently:

a terrific new blog written by a teacher:

Teaching: Let's Roll Up Our Sleeves

and, for a much needed dose of humor:

Billionaires for Educational Reform

Grading for Learning

A recent NY Times article describes a school that is taking the radical step of issuing grades based on material learned, rather than good behavior. From the article:

About 10 percent of the students who earned A’s and B’s in school stumbled during end-of-the-year exams. By contrast, about 10 percent of students who scraped along with C’s, D’s and even F’s — students who turned in homework late, never raised their hands and generally seemed turned off by school — did better than their eager-to-please B+ classmates.

...“Over time, we began to realize that many teachers had been grading kids for compliance — not for mastering the course material,” Ms. Berglund said. “A portion of our A and B students were not the ones who were gaining the most knowledge but the ones who had learned to do school the best.”

Speaking as one of the kids who knew the material but flunked the class anyway, I think this is progress.

I really liked this comment from "Glen" at kitchen table math:

Near monopolies often forget who works for whom. It's easy for teachers to start thinking of themselves as bosses and the kids as employees. Bosses usually "grade" employees based on how much their behaviors and attitudes benefit the boss and "the team".

Of course, if students aren't employees, then grades shouldn't be employee evaluations.

Brilliant! Thanks, Glen, whoever you might be!

This discussion reminds me of a math class I took once. I walked in on the first day and the teacher went right over my head -- I had no idea what he was talking about. Fortunately, there was a young woman sitting next to me who was watching the teacher intently, and nodding and smiling as he made his points. I thought, "great, I'll just ask her to explain it." After class, when I asked her what the lecture was about, she said, "I don't know -- nobody understands a word that teacher says. We just look it up in the book later." She, of course, was a straight-A student.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Harlem Success vs. Private Schools

From an Anonymous comment regarding Harlem Success schools:

I don't see how this "authoritarian" (which is a bit of an exaggeration) approach is any different than most private schools. A lot of (rich, lily white) parents do choose this environment.

Au contraire, Anonymous, there are big differences between Harlem Success and private school. Here's 3 to start:

1.) Class size.

Eva Moskowitz brags in "The Lottery" that her class sizes are even larger than those in zoned public schools, and quotes a kindergarten class size of 27 kids. I've never heard of a private school with such a large kindergarten class. (For comparison, my younger daughter's first grade class at a private school has 11 kids, one full-time teacher, and an assistant.)

Once you've got 27 kindergarten kids in a class, you're pretty much stuck with an authoritarian (euphemism: "structured") environment. There's a real limit to how child-centered and progressive you can be with that many very young kids in a room. There's also a limit to how much attention any one child can receive.

2.) Instructional time.

Private schools generally have less instructional time than public schools. Many parents say, "the more money you pay, the less time the kid spends at school", and in my experience, that's true. I actually see this as an advantage to private school. I want my kids to have time for friends, family and leisure; I don't want school to eat their young lives.

By contrast, Eva Moskowitz seems to expect her "scholars" to be workaholics just like her. The difference is that she's middle-aged and has chosen to devote her life to work; the kids are, well, kids, and they don't get to choose. At Harlem Success, there is apparently no limit to the number of hours kids can be forced to spend at school. According to an article in New York Magazine, Harlem Success kids only got two days off over the winter break, Christmas and New Year's. In addition, the lowest-scoring third-graders were kept doing test prep until 6:00 p.m. four days a week, for six weeks before the standardized test.

3.) Treatment of parents.

As I've noted before, one of the biggest differences between private and public school is that the public schools treat parents with utter contempt, while the private schools treat parents as the customer. Harlem Success stands firmly in the public school tradition with regard to parents. From the same article I quoted before:

Parents must sign the network’s “contract,” a promise to get children to class on time and in blue-and-orange uniform, guarantee homework, and attend all family events. “When parents aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Fucaloro says, “we get on their behinds. Eva and Paul Fucaloro are their worst nightmares.” Infractions can range to the trivial: slacks that look worn at a child’s knees, long johns edging beyond collars. Recidivists are hauled into “Saturday Academy,” detention family style, where parents are monitored while doing “busy work” with their child, the ex-staffer says. Those who skip get a bristling form letter: “You simply stood up your child’s teacher and many others who came in on a Saturday, after a long, hard week.”

I don't know a lot of parents who would be willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to be treated this way.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some Thoughts about "The Lottery"

So, I just finished watching "The Lottery" (streamed on Netflix). For those who haven't heard of it, it's a documentary (though not a balanced one) that follows several families as they apply to get into a charter school called the Harlem Success Academy.

I have mixed feelings about the movie, and charter schools in general. On the one hand, I increasingly feel that parents should have choices about where to school their children, and everyone should be able to vote with their feet, as I did. Surely one of the worst ideas in education is that one size fits all.

I don't criticize the parents who applied to the Lottery in hopes of getting into a charter school. The zoned public schools where they live are terrible, and a decent charter would be a big step up. The parents in the movie are dedicated to their kids and want to give them a chance to succeed in adult life.

On the other hand, the Harlem Success Academy, like KIPP, runs schools that I would never willingly send my kids to. Now, as a white, upper-middle-class, left-of-liberal type, I'm not their intended audience. But I wonder, if someone opened a Montessori charter in the inner city, what kind of results could they get? Would parents be interested, or do they prefer the authoritarian model?

There's an interesting article about Eva Moskowitz, the founder of Harlem Success Academies, here. Here's an excerpt which convinced me that my kids would never attend such a school:

New students are initiated at “kindergarten boot camp,” where they get drilled for two weeks on how to behave in the “zero noise” corridors (straight lines, mouths shut, arms at one’s sides) and the art of active listening (legs crossed, hands folded, eyes tracking the speaker). Life at Harlem Success, the teacher says, is “very, very structured,” even the twenty-minute recess. Lunches are rushed and hushed, leaving little downtime to build social skills. Many children appear fried by two o’clock, particularly in weeks with heavy testing. “We test constantly, all grades,” the teacher says. During the TerraNova, a mini-SAT bubble test over four consecutive mornings, three students threw up. “I just don’t feel that kids have a chance to be kids,” she laments.

Noguera, too, has reservations about the “punitive” approach at Harlem Success and other high-performing charter networks. He thinks it grooms conformists, and that middle-class parents would find it anathema. “What concerns me are the race/class assumptions built into this,” he says. “If you’re serious about preparing kids to be leaders, you have to realize that leaders have to think for themselves.”

Also, the sight of classrooms full of dark-skinned children being taught and supervised by lily-white teachers and administrators is troubling. How about training some of the parents to become teachers in the school?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Are You Thankful For?

I'm thankful for the chance to share my thoughts about schooling on this blog. I'm thankful for the fabulous Guest Post writers. I'm thankful for everyone who has taken the trouble to write comments, whether I happen to agree with them or not. I'm thankful for all the readers of this blog. They also serve who only sit and lurk.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Who's Qualified?

"We're planning on sending him away to be reared by experts."
(from The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker.)

Guest post: What does it mean to be well educated?

[From Chris; originally posted at A Blog About School]

So much of educational debate focuses on how to assess whether our schools, teachers, and kids are meeting certain goals, but the goals themselves seem very narrowly defined. It sometimes seems like we are letting assessment itself drive the goals -- as if we’ve concluded that there’s no point in pursuing any goal if it can’t be measured on a test.

That strikes me as impoverishing our conception of education, so I wanted to open up that topic here. In one recent post, I described one quality that I hope education will instill in my kids: healthy skepticism, by which I mean not just being able to evaluate other people’s claims about the world, but being inclined to do so.

What qualities do you think a good education would instill in a person? How do they break down between acquired knowledge, skills, behavioral traits, mindsets, and values?

(The title of this post is borrowed from a book by Alfie Kohn.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guest Post: New Report Cards

(re-posted from Parenting is Political.)

New Report Cards—Progress?

Readers of this blog may recall that several months ago, I reviewed the Toronto District School Board's new, purportedly jargon-free, parent-friendly report card, piloted in 19 schools last June. (See post here.) This November we are seeing the results of yet another reform of the report card system, this one a province-wide initiative to replace the fall graded report card with an ungraded "Elementary Progress Report Card." The progress report was spearheaded by teachers who complained that November is too soon to come up with letter grades for students. According to ministry of education literature, the advantage of the progress report is that it provides, in a greatly expanded section, detailed information about a student's work habits—for instance, Responsibility, Organization, Collaboration—skills which the ministry considers to be more reliable indicators of student success (or lack thereof) than grades in the early part of the year. The brochure accompanying the new report card explains that with respect to specific subjects, the progress report offers personalized comments about a student's "progress towards" (as opposed to "achievement of") grade-level curriculum standards. Thus, in the subject section of the new report, grades are replaced by three categories: "progressing with difficulty," "progressing well," and "progressing very well."

So, do these progress reports, sent home in our case on November 16, actually represent "progress" for parents and students? My answer, and that of my kids, is an ambivalent yes and no.

Initially, my daughters were opposed to the ungraded report cards; in their view grades, and grades alone, tell you how well you're doing at school. I've always told them that marks don't matter all that much, that learning is what is important. In fact, although they've always been excellent students, I did not even let them see their report cards until Grade 3 (when they put their foot down and demanded to read them). But while I was attempting to de-emphasize grades, the school and teachers were succeeding in teaching them a different lesson: grades do matter, they matter more than almost anything else. For the past three years, virtually everything my daughters have produced for school, both in the classroom and at home—including notes in their workbooks, artwork, math desk work and homework, grammar exercises, and dramatic performances—has been graded. In my opinion, this mania for grading has several deleterious effects, not the least of which is the way it discourages children from experimenting or trying new things. But that is a subject for another post. For the moment, suffice it to say that given teachers' penchant for grading everything they do, my daughters could be forgiven for concluding that grades are indeed the point of education.

So the girls' initial disappointment with the lack of grades was understandable. Interestingly, however, as they read through the new report cards, they seemed to enjoy not seeing letter grades. It was a change, a relief perhaps, and it led them to the comments, which previously they had dismissed as irrelevant.

But, being savvy readers-between-the-lines, they immediately noted that the new categories—"progressing with difficulty," "progressing well," and "progressing very well"—could be easily correlated to grades, and that the comments, while marginally more personalized, still had a cookie-cutter feel to them, and were consequently not particularly revealing of their specific strengths and weaknesses.

My own take on the new report cards is nearly as ambivalent as that of my daughters. I do find the "progress" reports, with their detailed comments in both the work habits and subject sections, slightly more helpful than graded reports in conveying a sense of how my daughters are doing. I've heard parents complain that grades give them a truer picture of how their child is faring academically, and prevent any potential surprises come February, when the first graded report card is sent home. I don't think this is a valid concern: in our school, and I suspect in a majority of schools in the TDSB, practically every quiz, assignment or test, has to be signed by the parent and returned to the teacher, so how could there be any surprises?

My problem with the new report cards is, on the contrary, that they do not, in the end, constitute an alternative to graded reports. I think the ministry of education is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand it seems to be trying to de-emphasize grades, and direct parents' attention to what it deems most important at this point in the school year: work habits. But on the other hand, the new "progress" categories in effect re-introduce grades through the back door. It is also somewhat disingenuous to proclaim that grades don't matter in the first term, but are useful and necessary in the second or third terms. I'm sure I'm in a minority here, but I'd be happy if there were no grades in elementary school, full stop. Then perhaps it would not be an uphill battle to convince my daughters that learning—challenging oneself, thinking critically, experimenting—is the point of education, not grades. But if the ministry and school boards are going to commit to grades, I see little point in committing to them two thirds of the time, as they have chosen to do.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hyperdubious Disorder

My younger daughter has an interesting habit of needing to verify ideas with different people and in different situations. 

For instance, she investigated whether the prohibition on nudity in kindergarten also extends to her best friend's house (yes) and to her mother's artwork (confusingly, no.)

When she was about 5, she asked me out of the blue, "where is God?"  I explained that God is mysteriously everywhere.  I told my husband about our conversation later and he said, "Good, I told her the same thing when she asked me yesterday."  She often asks my husband and me the same question at different times, as if to check that our stories line up.

In her case, I think her sudden adoption from an orphanage to our family at the age of sixteen months left her feeling that the world is a random and arbitrary place, and she's always trying to figure out what truths are universal.

I wasn't adopted, but I had a similar approach as a child.  In my case, I lived inside my own head a lot, and I thought that the rest of the world did the same.  I assumed that most things were fictions that others had dreamed up.

For instance, I was astonished, when, on a trip to Washington, D.C., I discovered that the White House was an actual building, and that it looked just like those backdrops I had seen behind the anchor on the evening news.  I had supposed that it was just a symbol.  

Later, I had a social studies teacher who was always gassing on about the caste system in India.  Naturally, I figured that he had just made the whole thing up.  I was astonished to discover later that the caste system was real.

In general, it never occurred to me that the things teachers said at school had any utility, or even any parallel, outside. 

Pathologizing Childhood

From Peter Gray's blog, here are the official diagnostic criteria for  ADHD:


1. Often does not give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities.
2. Often has trouble keeping attention on tasks or play activities.
3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
4. Often does not follow instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions).
5. Often has trouble organizing activities.
6. Often avoids, dislikes, or doesn't want to do things that take a lot of mental effort for a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
7. Often loses things needed for tasks and activities (e.g. toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools).
8. Is often easily distracted.
9. Is often forgetful in daily activities.

Hyperactivity & Impulsivity

1. Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat.
2. Often gets up from seat when remaining in seat is expected.
3. Often runs about or climbs when and where it is not appropriate (adolescents or adults may feel very restless).
4. Often has trouble playing or enjoying leisure activities quietly.
5. Is often "on the go" or often reacts as if "driven by a motor".
6. Often talks excessively.
7. Often blurts out answers before questions have been finished.
8. Often has trouble waiting one's turn.
9. Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).

Peter Gray asks "who is surprised that so many boys have been diagnosed as having ADHD?"

I don't really know about boys, but I can see that each of my daughters fits these criteria perfectly.  My older daughter is a  textbook case of "Inattention", and my younger daughter is a textbook case of "Hyperactivity & Impulsivity".   Actually, I'm amazed that, at least so far, nobody's tried to label either of my kids "ADHD".  Perhaps school personnel can predict my likely response?

And here's the Onion's take on it: More US Children Being Diagnosed with Youthful Tendency Disorder.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Old School

"It's always 'Sit', 'Stay', 'Heel' — never 'Think', 'Innovate', 'Be Yourself.'"
(from The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Social Conformity is Overrated

(Another response to Chris' post at A Blog About School.)

I've often heard it said that conforming to the peer group is a natural developmental phase, especially for teenagers.  I can honestly say that this is one stage I missed entirely.  I can't remember a time when I wanted to be just like my peers.  There were certainly times when I wanted to be accepted by them, or at least not actively shunned.  But to fit in and be indistinguishable from the others?  Never.

Back when my older daughter was starting at her previous private school, I had a silly conversation with the then Head.  I said that I didn't want my daughter to be scolded or punished for unfinished or forgotten homework.  The Head said, "that's OK, when she sees that everyone else has done the homework, she'll feel left out and she'll want to do it too."  Likely story, I thought. 

A few days later my daughter told me how she had started school that day with unfinished homework and a note from me stating why.  One of the other kids asked her about it and she airily said, "oh, I've got a note from my Mom -- she doesn't believe in homework."  The other kid said, admiringly, "that's great!  I wonder if my Mom would write a note like that?"  From that moment my daughter's reputation among her peers soared.

Similarly, at my recent meeting with my younger daughter's teacher and the new Head at the same school (if you think you're confused, just consider my plight!), they started taking the line that they didn't want my daughter's behaviors to continue, because "she'll start to notice she's not like the other kids, and she'll feel bad."   Really?  I think my daughter is pretty comfortable being different, as she should be.  She's Asian in a majority white environment, so blending in isn't really an option for her.

Kids used to be told to resist peer pressure, on the theory that it led to drug use.  Now educators hold up conformity as the ultimate goal that everyone agrees to.  What gives?

Cultural Change

(This is a partial response to Chris' posts about conformity and compliance at A Blog About School.)

I grew up in a time when Americans were encouraged to see themselves as rugged individualists, living in a country whose gift to humanity was the freedom and independence of each person.  Unquestioning obedience and conformity were associated with our enemies, like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.  People in power were looked at with suspicion. 

What happened?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mirabile dictu

If someone had told me when I was a child that I would be even more opposed to school as an adult, I would have said "No, that isn't possible."

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Thought Balloons

Apparently my family can't go six weeks without a school problem. I'm just back from yet another fun meeting, this time with the Head of School and my younger dd's first grade teacher. Now, younger dd can be genuinely impossible, and there are real problems that need to be addressed. But, as always, I come away feeling that I'm not really on the same planet as the people who work in schools. I'm so glad they couldn't read the thought balloons that kept popping up over my head.

Teacher: Sometimes she's upside down in her chair!

My thought balloon: Wow, she's even more athletic than I realized.

Head of School: She doesn't respect authority.

My thought balloon: I'm so proud! *sniff*

One strange development was that it turned out they hadn't even told us about all the behavior problems that were going on. I had to specifically request that they tell us about the problems as they happen, so we could talk to our daughter about it. Instead of telling me about the problems, the teacher's strategy was to pressure me to take the kid to a psychologist. Is that the usual process these days, to bypass the parents and go right to the army of psychologists and "experts"? Is it a private-school thing? What?

A Valedictorian Speaks Out

I just came across this wonderful speech by a valedictorian, Erica Goldson of Coxsackie-Athens High School. Here's a couple of highlights:

I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system.

...When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Homework Helpers

A recent article in the NY Times described a $100-an-hour homework tutor.

Some of the comments were predictable:  "bad parent, spoiled kid, back in my day, arf arf arf ...", "I did everything right as a parent and my kids are perfect!" But there were some comments that asked the questions that the reporter should have asked:  what is this homework, is it worth doing, and why is it beyond the organizing capacity of many kids?

I excerpt some of my favorite comments below.

As a school administrator ... I see ridiculous and superfluous homework assignments given to students. Students know it is waste of their time.

... I am sure this young man is experiencing the death by homework routine, He knows that is is worthless and is failing to engage ... Some parents give no support some give too much. Many times what gets graded are the efforts of the parent.

So, will homework make students smarter and brighter..NO.

It seems like the purpose of school is to assign homework. This is another failure, not only in teaching, but in the concept of education. Why go to school? Why not just stay home and do homework? This is a facet of the greater problem of designing schools around tests instead of learning.

If Benji can't focus on his homework on his own, he probably has too much of it, as is all too common these days. He should be outside doing sports or seeing his friends after school, not extending his school-day ...  Kids need downtime, not to mention sleep, so their brains can absorb what they learned earlier in the day from short-term to long-term memory.

I look at the avalanche of homework my child has, and cringe at how much is pure busywork. The teachers never hand it back, there is no opportunity to learn from mistakes. It's a very poor system. We spend ALL of our free time after school and many hours on the weekend on useless assignments. It is a waste of everyone's time. I home schooled one of our children last year. We spent a fraction of the time, and accomplished so much more, fantastic test scores also. I think the tyranny of homework is a cop out on the school system's part.

... schools lay on the homework beginning in kindergarten. This inevitable stack of work sheets - torn from some publication - is supposed to make us (parents) believe that the school is really serious about educating our kids. This pile of annoying, boring, stultifying busy work is absurd and an abdication of responsibility by the teacher - or at the least, an admission that he or she cannot get the work done during the school day - which are now longer and more numerous. And still, after this onslaught of drills and projects, American kids still fall well down the charts for literacy and numeracy. And parents and kids are now moving up the charts for neurotic behavior. Let's keep THIS up.

At the parent-teacher conference, the teacher sadly reported that although my child demonstrated her mastery of the curriculum well on tests and in-class assignments, she was doing poorly on assessment because she didn't complete her homework. So why, I asked, did she need homework if she'd mastered the curriculum and demonstrated it already? No satisfactory answer was ever forthcoming - just a lot of twaddle about personal responsibility, time management and organisational skills, parental involvement, "fairness" to the other kids who do do their worksheet, blah blah blah. Nothing about actual learning. 

This whole homework nonsense is an invasion of a family's personal space. I taught for 30 years in elem and high schools and was embarrassed to assign homework. School is school and home is home. Let's allow kids and parents to interact in their own creative ways and banish this homework thing that makes so much trouble. 

Maybe we ought to stop assigning so much homework?

Kids are already at school for 6-8 hours a day easily, the busywork from X-number of subjects can quickly pile on into 8-12 hours when it's "Crunch time", approximately every 3 months.

This is insanity. Most adult jobs aren't that long, and they involve getting paid and not having homework. Let kids be kids. As an adult, I certainly don't want homework without any form of renumeration, and I think the attitude among kids is pretty much the same.

StopHomework, we need you!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bullies and Babies

There's an interesting article in the NY Times today about a program that tries to increase empathy by bringing babies to the classroom.  And it even increased empathy in the teachers!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Resources for Decelerated Math

Forced March:  PTA Meeting Reveals Math Trail of Tears << The "More" Child

Is An Accelerated Math Course Appropriate For Your Gifted and Talented Student?

Wayside Parents Raise Concerns about Accelerated Math

Accelerated Math Classes Leave Some Students Playing Catch-Up

DC Urban Moms Forum:  MCPS is Ending Math Acceleration?

Accelerated Math Challenge, For a Kid and Her Mom

Jay Mathews ... Live! << The "More" Child

More on Accelerated Math from Mathews << The "More" Child

"Montgomery's Math Miscalculation" -- Read It. << The "More" Child

Montgomery Back to Basics in Math Classes

Decelerated Math

Faithful readers of StopHomework will remember that accelerated math was a big factor in our decision to take our older daughter out of public school.  Now there's word that Montgomery County, Maryland has come to the conclusion that they've been pushing accelerated math too hard.  Good.

I hope this is the beginning of much-needed change in our affluent school districts, including the one I live in.  In my experience these districts are all about achievement at the expense of learning, and at the expense of our children's health.  The result is kids with killer college applications who wind up needing remedial classes in their elite college, or have a nervous breakdown in their first semester.

It is astonishing how much schoolwork a child can do, and how many honors she can rack up, without actually learning anything.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Eye Contact?

Some years ago there was a Teletubbies episode that featured a young boy having a drumming lesson.  He and his teacher each had a set of bongos; his teacher would drum out a riff, and then the boy would respond on his own drums, often repeating what the teacher did, and sometimes adding a little riff of his own.

When my husband saw the video he remarked that at first he thought the boy wasn't really paying attention, because he didn't look at the teacher while he was drumming.  But it was clear to me that the boy was listening intently to everything the teacher did, while looking at the floor.

I'm the same way myself.  I find it difficult to look at someone and simultaneously listen closely to what they're saying, especially if it's complicated.  I need to look at something neutral, or even close my eyes.

So how would someone like me, or the boy in the video, function in a classroom that insists that the students look at the teacher every moment (e.g., KIPP)? 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I interrupt my regularly scheduled blog with a few political remarks.

I'm listening to President Obama's press conference after the Republicans took back the House in yesterday's midterm election.  He claims that Americans are frustrated because his administration was in such a hurry to get things done that they didn't clean up how things are done in Washington.  He promised to take another look at earmarks (the process by which Congressmen add little sweeteners to legislation.)

Wrong, wrong, wrong!  People like me are frustrated because Obama didn't do enough in that magical 2-year window when he had a governing majority.  Does anyone outside Washington spend their time worrying about earmarks?  I doubt it. 

He promises to work harder for consensus, a lost cause if there ever was one.  The Republicans have no interest in reaching consensus, and Obama just looks like a weakling for attempting it.

Neither Obama nor any of the press mentioned what I believe to be the central problem of our time:  the concentration of our country's wealth in the hands of a very few Americans.  No search for consensus or yapping about preparing our children for the future can ameliorate our regressive tax structure and government policies that funnel even more money into the accounts of the filthy rich.

And now, back to our blog ---

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Overt Curriculum

We've all heard of the "hidden curriculum", the stuff that schools genuinely care about teaching: conformity, unquestioning obedience, the surrender of family life to the demands of the institution .  I believe it is no longer accurate to call this curriculum "hidden".  We should call it the "overt curriculum", or, in some schools, the "only curriculum".  We  should let kids major in the important subjects like "Sleep Deprivation", "Busywork Completion", "Erasure of Personal Life",  and "Random Factoid Upchuck".

I've noticed that teachers increasingly make no distinction between learning actual subjects and learning how to do school.   Getting Mom's signature has the same importance as working actual math problems.  Classroom rules are included on the science (!) test.   You know you're in trouble when the teacher claims to teach "responsibility" and "time management".

What would school look like if the goal was to teach actual subjects in the most efficient, streamlined way possible?  I'd like to find out.

Monday, November 1, 2010

conversation with an advisor

So I had a conversation this morning with DD's advisor, Mr. A.  I explained that my big concern is that I don't want DD to get depressed again, and I don't want her to be overworked and stressed out.

Mr. A:  Well, we meet every week as a team, and we do try to coordinate the work.  For instance, we try to have each subject have their own test day, so you don't  have to study for a lot of tests at once.

Me:  she's supposed to study for tests?

(I have never seen DD study for a test.)

We talked a bit about the science assignment of writing an outline of a paper they've read, which as I tried to explain has put the emphasis on the writing of an outline rather than understanding the paper, and got the time-worn response:

Mr. A.:  Well, sometimes in life we all have to do things that don't make sense.

Me:  That's not what school should be about.  School should be better than that.

On the whole, though, I'm encouraged by the conversation we had.  For one thing, he said one of the assistant principals actually got out to see Race to Nowhere and was impressed. 

Mostly, I hung up the phone thinking that they clearly want to keep DD at the school, and they want to work with me enough to make that happen.  I think it's a surprise to them to hear from a parent of a high-achieving kid, whose number one priority is said kid's mental health.  I hope they'll be hearing from many more of us in the future.