January 30, 2006

The boys fight back

I was wondering when this day would finally come:

At Milton High School, girls outnumber boys by almost 2 to 1 on the honor roll. In Advanced Placement classes, almost 60 percent of the students are female. It's not that girls are smarter than boys, said Doug Anglin, a 17-year-old senior at the high school. Girls are outperforming boys because the school system favors them, said Anglin, who has filed a federal civil rights complaint contending that his school discriminates against boys.

Among Anglin's allegations: Girls face fewer restrictions from teachers, like being able to wander the hallways without passes, and girls are rewarded for abiding by the rules, while boys' more rebellious ways are punished. Grading on homework, which sometimes includes points for decorating a notebook, also favor girls, according to Anglin's complaint, filed last month with the US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

No one should get points for decorations outside of art class.

Joanne notes that the teaching field is predominantly female. I think that having more male teachers would help with male students. My guess, though, is that the education programs would have to become a lot more rigorous and a lot less political in order to attract more young men to the teaching profession. I, for one, can't think of any guy who would want to endure a Ph.D. level class that punishes students for stepping over the "lines." (Dr. Helen has more on this topic, too.)

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December 19, 2005

Public Schooling vs. "Unschooling"

A fascinating viewpoint on "unschooling" in the Canadian system can be found in today's The Tyee. The article opens with a thick layer of anti-public-school attitude from the mother of a little genius:

Bashu Naimi-Roy is a smart kid...At age 12, Bashu was the youngest student ever to enroll at Malaspina University-College. He's 13 now and still studying there...

"...His mother has never been afraid to think, and act, outside of society's imposed norms. None of her three sons were enrolled in elementary or high school, being educated instead by Roy and her husband. "I believe in education," she says, "I don't believe in schooling"...

Roy and her sons are part of a growing community of what they call "unschoolers": parents and students who feel that the pedantic structures of the public school system are stifling kids by starving them of creativity and passion.

Unschooling, also known as "independent learning" or "experience-based learning," differs from conventional homeschooling, where a student will generally follow a set curriculum, which is often based directly on the public school system's program. Instead, unschooling students are encouraged to find the path that works best for them, and empowers them to choose their own intellectual destinies...

Public school students "are told when to be creative, and when to be excited about something," Roy says. "[Teachers] say, 'Now you have to be excited about the ABCs,' and an hour later, 'now you have to be excited about the color red.' What happens if the kid's not? Or what if at nine o'clock she is excited about the color red, and not what the teacher wants her to be? It's always their agenda, and that kills the creativity. The message the kids get is 'your creativity isn't as important as our schedule.'"

Roy says that creativity, above almost all else, is vital to our growth as humans.

Whew! What parents like Roy never seem to notice is that very few kids would actually do well in such an unstructured environment. Do hers? Great! - then give her the option to homeschool, or open a charter school, or spend her vouchers on alternative schools. But I always find myself scratching my head when critics of the public school system say the problem is that the system is too tough, that the environment is too regimented, that the problem is that students shouldn't be expected to be able to learn on anyone's schedules except their own.

Based on what I've heard, the problem is students who don't seem willing to learn at all, who don't have any rules at home and don't expect any at school, who are unfamiliar with the concept of valueing education, or whose parents don't really give a damn (or expect everyone to dance to the child's wishes). Those types of kids aren't going to make it in the real world unless someone helps them focus their intellect and understand that you can't always do what you what when you want.

The wonders of unstructured learning are all well and good for the Bashus of the world - assuming he does at some point learn that other people's agendas matter as well - but for those kids who aren't like that, it's easy to see that what works best is a system which encourages creativity while stifling the undisciplined behavior and thought processes that are problematic in the real world.

Be sure to read all the comments, too.

Update: In the comments, Liz notes:

Yes, it would be nice if I was always excited about exercise, but the discipline (desire for extrinsic reward and to avoid extrinsic punishment) carries me through on those mornings that I'm just not at all intrinsically interested in exercise! Either way, I'm exercising, which gives me more of a chance to learn to love exercise than if I sit around trying to find the motivation first!

That's a very good point. The idea that creativity is stifled when children learn on an external agenda is making the assumption that children do not benefit at all when taught that way. But as with exercise, when the action depends on the state of the motivation, the action probably won't get done.

Another analogy is the concept of good deeds in the Jewish religion (which I studied for two years, but if I get this wrong, please correct me). What's better, to feel charitable or be charitable? From what I recall, the Jewish religion teaches that a man who regularly gives money, regardless of whether he feels charitable towards mankind in his heart, does more good for the world than a man who has to wait until he feels like giving money before doing so. There is no need for the feeling to predate the action; the action is what matters in the end.

Likewise, the kid who learns that math and science and writing are important for him to learn whether or not he feels motivated to learn them may experience a great benefit when he grows up and understands the importance of such knowledge. The very smart little kids might understand all this earlier, but I bet the majority need a push.

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October 18, 2005

A big grant to examine a big topic

The Center for Disease Control announces the award of a grant studying the factors that lead to positive and negative social development in students:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded a $900,000 grant to researchers at the University of Georgia for a three-year study of high school students to help identify factors that lead to positive social and academic development, as well as factors that may contribute to aggressive behaviors and school dropout...

The new study, called "Healthy Teens," is a continuation of a previous grant that followed the same students through middle school. "Healthy Teens" will study factors that protect students from violence-related behaviors, including aggression toward peers, delinquency, dating violence, weapon carrying, drug and alcohol use, suicide thoughts and attempts, and school dropout...

The study will require that: the high school students to complete a computer survey every spring for the next three years; teachers complete a standardized and nationally-normed student behavioral rating; data be collected on student attendance, standardized test scores and discipline records; interviews be conducted with students who drop out of school; and focus groups are conducted with students to better understand the meaning of violence-related behaviors and of protective factors.

I wonder how brave the researchers will be in reporting any data that aren't politically correct (for example, if girls turn out to be worse bullies than boys, or if sexual harassment isn't related to poor performance, or if racist bullying occurs less often in white students than for other groups)? And I wonder if this research will miss the homeschooling revolution entirely and fail to notice if homeschooled youth are protected from some of the more obvious negative social influences?

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August 24, 2005

Wheels are turning

Those school buses don't run on air, you know:

In an informal survey of school business managers by the Association of School Business Officials International, 62 percent said rising fuel prices were hurting their districts. The business officers have varied strategies to keep budgets in line: ordering more central pickups of students, expanding conservation, experimenting with other fuels.

"I think everybody, first and foremost, is trying to find ways to buy cheaper gas," said Michael Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation. Most buses use diesel fuel, which has jumped about a dollar a gallon since last year. School districts now pay an average of $2.25 to $2.40 a gallon.

To offset the costs, districts are stripping money from classrooms, trimming bus routes, cutting field trips, and raiding cash reserves. Some are considering charging fees for bus service or asking children to walk longer distances to school.

Why not let private companies take over? Only 2 trips a day means they can lower the cost to each rider, and they can probably afford security for each bus so that students can ride in peace. Students could pay a pittance for bus fare just like they pay a pittance for school lunches now. I don't know if there are any companies out there that would already have the infrastructure for this, but it's a thought.

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June 22, 2005

A question of history

A brilliant editorial in the LATimes by Dr. David Gelernter is in part about Senator Dick Durbin's recent idiotic remarks (The Sundries Shack has a great timeline of events), but the take-away message is a plea for better history education in our schools:

Not knowing history is worse than ignorance of math, literature or almost anything else. Ignorance of history is undermining Western society's ability to talk straight and think straight. Parents must attack the problem by teaching their own children the facts. Only fools would rely on the schools.

My son told me about a high school event that (at first) I didn't understand. A girl in his English class praised the Vietnam War-era draft dodgers: "If I'd lived at that time and been drafted," she said, "I would've gone to Canada too." I thought she was merely endorsing the anti-war position. But my son set me straight. This student actually believed that if she had lived at the time, she might have been drafted. She didn't understand that conscription in the United States has always applied to males only. How could she have known? Our schools teach history ideologically. They teach the message, not the truth. They teach history as if males and females have always played equal roles. They are propaganda machines...

To forget your own history is (literally) to forget your identity. By teaching ideology instead of facts, our schools are erasing the nation's collective memory.

Dr. David Gelernteris a well-respected Yale professor (of computer science), author, contributing editor (for The Weekly Standard), columnist, and scientist who has experience in criticizing politicians who don't understand their economics or teachers who view history as something to be revised and reviled. A Republican who proudly defends Western culture - and often wonders aloud why public schools should be allowed to exist - he's a voice that ought to be listened to by eduators and parents.

Regardless, something tells me Durbin's hysterical, ignorant remarks will be latched upon by those with little or no understanding of the historical meanings of the words "Nazi" and "gulag," while Gelernter's reasoned pleas will be ignored. And if the media really did start agreeing that history lessons ought to be improved, my guess is that everything currently wrong with history classes would be blamed on NCLB (all that testing of other subjects leaves no time for history, you know).

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February 23, 2005

Mistaking criticism for bullying

I haven't blogged much about the brouhaha going on in California with the Governator on one side and the educational establishment on the other. For one thing, I think keeping up with the whole saga would be full-time job in and of itself, with Arnold taking on the sacred Proposition 98 and tackling the thorny issue of merit pay. Not surprisingly, a group of educators have formed to protest the Governor's wide-ranging reforms.

And some of Arnold's critics are sounding pretty whiny:

Could Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (news - web sites) have another "woman problem" on his hands? Schwarzenegger made headlines in recent months by deriding political opponents as "girlie men" and ridiculing a group of nurses at a women's conference. Now, an effort to paint the state's teachers as little more than a balky special interest group has angered many critics, who have begun to question why constituencies dominated by women have been subjected to such tough talk.

"He behaves like an arrogant patriarch with respect to women's occupations," said Rose Ann De Moro, executive director of the California Nurses Association. "Nurses, teachers, home health workers it's vulgar how he's run roughshod over them. He's arrogant, and he's a bully."

Wow, they're great spokeswomen for female-dominated fields. Are we supposed to conclude from all this that women can't be expected to take tough talk, at any time? Tough talk like the following?

In December, a small group of nurses gathered at a state women's conference to protest Schwarzenegger's decision to side with hospitals and delay changes to the state's nurse-to-patient ratio. With Shriver in the audience, Schwarzenegger responded to the protesters by saying, "The special interests don't like me in Sacramento because I am always kicking their butts."

Yeah, that's really...evil. And demeaning. Or something. Obviously, women should be expected to cringe and fold when faced with such violent language.

Last week, some 300 nurses and their supporters disrupted a movie premiere in Sacramento, booing Schwarzenegger as he posed with actors Vince Vaughn and The Rock. "A mass movement is developing, and it's fascinating to see women coming together," DeMoro of the nurses union said.

Uh, is it a surprise to DeMoro that women can congregate and protest? Are we supposed to be amazed about this? And are we supposed to be impressed that their "coming together" was nothing more than a public ruckus? Are we supposed to mistake that for an intelligent rebuttal to the Governor's criticisms?

Thank God at least one woman in the article makes an intelligent statement:

"To say that women voters perceive Arnold Schwarzenegger as a bully because he's taking on a reform agenda belittles women," said Karen Hanretty, a spokeswoman for the California Republican Party.

"This is not about any individual profession. It's about exposing organized labor unions who have used their influence and set policies that have created multibillion-dollar deficits both statewide and nationally."

C'mon, ladies. If Sarah Connor had been such a wimp, the Terminator might still be out there terrorizing LA.

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November 30, 2004

Running out of funding

Why is an elementary school that consistently has among the highest test grades in its district facing closure?

Massive fund-raisers and sponsorships may be necessary, but the Van Buren school district should keep Haggerty Elementary School open, a parent told the school board Monday...In addition to closing Haggerty next year, the district is considering $420,000 in cuts for this year.

Among the cuts are the layoffs of about 25 people, including about 10 teachers, social workers and counselors. The cuts would occur in the middle of the school year. The mid-year reductions would be to cope with a possible mid-year cut in the state funding, which could range from $50 to $150 per student...

After the meeting, Board Treasurer Keith Johnston said he would support some mid-year cuts but would not support closing Haggerty. "Why are you going to penalize a school for being successful?" Johnston said. Haggerty has consistently had among the highest standardized test scores in the district.

I guess it's all about the money:

Superintendent Pete Lazaroff...said the district learned last week that the state may cut the per pupil foundation grant by $100 per student for this school year. To deal with the reduction, which would cost the district about $607,000, Lazaroff is recommending about $420,000 in cuts to take effect during the middle of the school year. These include eliminating 10 certified staff positions and about 15 other positions and eliminating three high school classes.

For the 2005-06 year, Lazaroff said the district would save about $615,000 in custodial, food service and utilities by closing Haggerty and redistricting the school's students throughout the remaining five elementary schools.

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July 02, 2004

Bill Cosby takes no prisoners

I always enjoy it when a celebrity who is rich and powerful enough to take the heat gets into the kitchen to cook up something seriously politically incorrect. We got to see this, for example, when Mel Gibson bypassed the Hollywood chain-of-command and delivered The Passion of the Christ to an eager public.

And we're seeing it now, because beloved and filthy-rich entertainer Bill Cosby is angry and vocal about the cultural and educational deprivation from which many young black kids suffer - or bring upon themselves:

Bill Cosby (news) went off on another tirade against the black community Thursday, telling a room full of activists that black children are running around not knowing how to read or write and "going nowhere." He also had harsh words for struggling black men, telling them: "Stop beating up your women because you can't find a job."

Cosby made headlines in May when he upbraided some poor blacks for their grammar and accused them of squandering opportunities the civil rights movement gave them. He shot back Thursday, saying his detractors were trying in vain to hide the black community's "dirty laundry."

"Let me tell you something, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it's cursing and calling each other n------ as they're walking up and down the street," Cosby said during an appearance at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund's annual conference.

"They think they're hip," the entertainer said. "They can't read; they can't write. They're laughing and giggling, and they're going nowhere"...

Cosby elaborated Thursday on his previous comments in a talk interrupted several times by applause. He castigated some blacks, saying that they cannot simply blame whites for problems such as teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates...

Cosby lamented that the racial slurs once used by those who lynched blacks are now a favorite expression of black children. And he blamed parents. "When you put on a record and that record is yelling `n----- this and n----- that' and you've got your little 6-year-old, 7-year-old sitting in the back seat of the car, those children hear that," he said...

Cosby also said many young people are failing to honor the sacrifices made by those who struggled and died during the civil rights movement. "Dogs, water hoses that tear the bark off trees, Emmett Till," he said, naming the black youth who was tortured and murdered in Mississippi in 1955, allegedly for whistling at a white woman. "And you're going to tell me you're going to drop out of school? You're going to tell me you're going to steal from a store?"

Cosby also said he wasn't concerned that some whites took his comments and turned them "against our people."

"Let them talk," he said.

Bravo.

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