Blogging On History, Science, and Education
September 28, 2014
Should we have elected or appointed school boards? Common sense says elect them. But track records say appointed boards usually (but not always) perform better. I live in Denver right next to Jefferson County where a recent election brought new members to the school board; along with some already on the board they created an ultra-conservative majority--with an agenda. They fired the superintendent who, by most measures, had outstanding achievements. Then they decided to change AP history instruction making it more patriotic by teaching "respect for authority" and by eliminating the teaching of civil disobedience. Some teachers called in sick in protest. Then school students got involved, staying out of school and marching. The Denver Post called it "A lesson in civics." The College Board sided with the students saying they would not give course credit to less than factual history. The Post's editorial page editor, Vincent Carroll, wrote, "History is not a morality tale. It does not exist to make us feel good or bad, although it often does both... let's keep the politics--left and right--from tainting its presentation." By the way, Thomas Jefferson, for whom Jefferson County is named, once wrote, "Truth is great and will prevail if left to herself."
September 18, 2014
Those on the bottom rungs of the money ladder often eat fast food, which leads to those national scourges: obesity and diabetes. We who know better and can afford it have wild salmon and fresh vegetables for dinner. Something like that is happening at our schools: in the tony suburbs and at elite independents, children read whole books, often classics, good books that appeal to young readers. If they are lucky, they do research projects and write papers. In many inner-city schools, especially where there are big adoptions, it is endless paragraph analysis. Sometimes there are lesson plans that attack a subject through snippet reading and mind-numbing test-prep questions. A whole nonfiction book? No time for that. Which means no time for big ideas. Boring. You bet. Our children know that. Something else: no one makes big money selling those classic books that we know work. So...
September 9, 2014
The history/social studies wars have impacted learning mightily says Kieran Egan in a book titled, "Children's Minds, Talking Rabbits & Clockwork Oranges." If you can only read one ed book this year, I suggest this one published in 1999. Egan says the dominating social studies curriculum is flawed, then he explains why, and also why we should return to a curriculum that focuses on concrete knowledge. My thoughts: history is conveyed in stories, an approach that works with readers (of all ages). Social studies is about forming attitudes: tricky, hard to find agreement on, and...usually boring. History is about what has happened in this world of ours. As a ten-year-old said to me, "Knowing history makes you smart."
Can educators come together on this? If we can get past the terminology, yes. Good history is broad and inclusive, it doesn't just focus on political events. In the parlance of the time, good history is BIG.
September 8, 2014
If one defines corruption broadly to include acts by public officials to be taken for purposes other than in the public interest (e.g., for political or personal purposes) and to include acts by private individuals and companies that corrupt public officials for the private gain of those individuals and companies, we see currently an extremely high level of corruption throughout our society. This corruption threatens our democracy, our society and all manner of things we are concerned with, including our education system. What you describe in the textbook field is an example of the corruption of the part of the education system where the power and influence of monied publishers dominates the selection process; these are acts not in the public interest, but in the interest of publishers' profits. Sadly, the media is generally supportive of the powerful, rich, Establishment interests which control the decision making. It is not at all clear whether the level of corruption at present is simply a cyclical phenomenon or a more worrisome indication of an ultimate decline from a peak in the American experiment.
September 3, 2014
See: LAEP NewsBlast 9.3.14, email@example.com. It' tells the story of what amounts to insider trading in school materials and technology. This, an iceberg's tip, is a story that, with variations is pertinent to schools across the country. School materials are costly, adoptions are ripe for exploitation. The system as we have it doesn't work. Our schools are filled with expensive books and programs that have failed our children. Why? Because of the big money involved. Can the system be fixed? Easily. Just stop the one-publisher-provides all huge adoptions. Why can't each teacher in a school district chose his/her own materials from an approved list?
September 2, 2014
As an investigative reporter I usually got to pick my subjects and then it was up to me to do something with them. As an author I've been doing the same thing: writing about subjects that I want to know more about. First it was American history, then physics, now it is biology. Each time, it has seemed as if I'd fallen down Alice's rabbit hole into a world of fascinations. Right now, it's genetics and evolutionary biology that have me in their thrall. I'm convinced that reading (and then writing) about serious subjects is a key to breaking the literacy glitch in some of our schools. Who wants to read easy stuff?
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