Tagged: Education

In the New York Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg Gets It Wrong

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Verlyn Klinkenborg has written an op ed called The Decline and Fall of the English Major in which he starts with his students' inability to write and winds up discerning a "literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities". The apparent goal of the article is to defend the value of the humanities. However, the editorial has two weaknesses that undermine that goal.

The first weakness arises in the attempt to define that value. The author reduces what the humanities offer to mere writing— to clear composition. "They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing," explains Klinkenborg, who also asserts that undergrads do not know "how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature."

So the value proposition of the humanities is reducible to clear thinking, clear writing, and a literary hobby. If that's all the humanities can offer, then why not eliminate every humanistic discipline other than composition and informal logic?

The humanities must be defended, if at all, on a much broader and deeper basis than this. To defend them merely because they build communication skills is to provide a tacit argument for superseding them with more efficient means toward that goal.

This fault in the editorial is joined to another. Klinkenborg writes: "…a certain literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities… suggests a number of things. One, the rush to make education pay off presupposes that only the most immediately applicable skills are worth acquiring…. Two, the humanities often do a bad job of explaining why the humanities matter. And three, the humanities often do a bad job of teaching the humanities. You don’t have to choose only one of these explanations. All three apply."

Whether these are genuine faults or merely perceived ones hardly matters in view of one overriding concern: if the humanities are so excellent at developing clear thought and clear verbal expression, then why do "the humanities… do a bad job of explaining" their value, and why do "the humanities… do a bad job of teaching the humanities"?

It seems reasonable that if the value proposition of the humanities consists of "clear thought and expression", then explaining the value of, and teaching, the humanities should be a slam dunk (and should be perceived as such). But if "the humanities" do a poor job of explaining their value and communicating their methods, then why believe in the first place that effective communication is a likely outcome of humanistic education?

Note– I'm all in favor of the humanities. Because of my humanistic education, I look askance on weak arguments and outright contradictions. For this reason, I don't like to see the humanities defended by a reduction to "clear thinking and writing" on the one hand and, on the other, by a contradiction of their efficacy at precisely that juncture.

Lesson Plan And Syllabus For Second Semester Seniors, Princeton High School

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Week 12.

Period One: Advanced Placement English. Discussion continues on Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Students will consider the moral ramifications of Adolf Eichmann's defense that he participated in genocide on orders from higher authority. The instructor is expected to question students on the distinction between lawful action and moral action, with emphasis on agency and personal responsibility. The lesson should lead into issues raised by the following reading assignments, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and Franz Kafka's The Trial.

Period Two: American History. The study of the life of George Washington continues. Having concluded examination of Washington's policies as President, students will discuss the popular history and lore surrounding our nation's founding father. Parson Weems' story of the cherry tree, in which Washington honestly admitted to wrongdoing, will be discussed. Questions students should consider include: Was Washington's father right to forgive his son for cutting the cherry tree in light of the son's forthright admission? Is Washington to be admired for his integrity and honesty, or to be condemned as a tree killer? And how did this episode affect Washington's  future development as a general and statesman?

Period Three: Advanced Placement Mathematics. Symbolic logic is introduced. Through word problems, students will reduce complex concepts to mathematical formulae, with allowance for variables and contingencies. Sample problem:

North Carolina General Statute 14-269.2 makes it a Class I Felony to knowingly possess a weapon on school property. However, the charge shall be reduced to a Misdemeanor when the weapon is unloaded, is in a vehicle, and is kept locked. Cole mistakenly brings an unloaded shotgun to school after a weekend of sport shooting, in a vehicle which is locked. When Cole discovers his mistake, he confesses and asks for permission to return the shotgun to his home. Explain, in logical terms, why it is appropriate to charge Cole with a crime at all, and why it is appropriate to charge Cole with a Class I Felony, rather than a Misdemeanor?

Period Four: Film Criticism Elective. This week's material is Spike Lee's controversial 1989 film, Do The Right Thing. Parental consent is required to view the assignment. Matters to be explored include Lee's use of contemporary hip hop music as a leitmotif, Lee's cinematography as an exemplar of the early "New York independent" school of film editing, and the moral implications of the death of Radio Raheem and the burning of Sal's Pizzeria. Students should discuss how these tragedies could have been avoided, had the characters embraced the spirit of neighborhood and compromise that formerly characterized relations between the people who inhabit this city block.

Lunch Break: This week's cafeteria offerings: Monday, Salisbury Steak. Tuesday, Stuffed Cabbage. Wednesday, Ham Loaf. Thursday (in honor of National Sweet Potato Week), Yam Surprise. Friday, Salisbury Steak.

Period Five: Physical Education. Dodge Ball.

Period Six: Student Assembly and Study Hall. This week's assembly will feature an address from Principal Kirk Denning, on the topic, "With Actions Come Consequences." Principal Denning will also discuss our school's longstanding "zero tolerance" policy toward drugs, as applied to cough syrup.

Period Seven: Earth Science. Students will study metals, and their uses in technology and industry. The instructor will discuss the characteristics of iron as an exemplar metal, explaining its properties as the most rigid, unbending, inelastic, unyielding, obdurate, stern, unchanging, obstinate, stubborn, unswayable, hard, inflexible, and stupid of metals.

Point of order

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Concerning the higher education bubble and employability, John Leo writes:

Employers, because they realize that many college graduates aren’t really educated, now routinely quiz job seekers on what they majored in and what courses they took, a practice virtually unknown a generation ago. Good luck if you majored in gender studies, communications, art history, pop culture, or (really) the history of dancing in Montana in the 1850s.

He implies that those who major in the five disciplines he mentions, or in kindred areas, will need luck since their training and capabilities will not be adequate to pass muster. In short, they "aren't really educated." Well, maybe. But one of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong here….

Art history isn't one of the fashionable new disciplines, along the lines of <noun>-studies, that arose in the academic turmoil of the 20th century's latter half. As an academic endeavor, it has historical roots similar to those of psychology and economics: rumblings of inquiry and analysis in the late 1700s, disciplinary differentiation on the continent in the later 1800s, and finally a blossoming between the wars. Even in the United States, the PhD in art history (to say nothing of the undergraduate major) has been around since the 1940s. On a broad definition, art history as a systematic learned endeavor traces back to the monumental 16th-century labors of Giorgio Vasari.

Art history requires facility with languages, engagement with intellectual history, an understanding of evolving technologies of representation and communication, and a grasp of the rich interaction among methodologies and social forces underlying creation, distribution, consumption, and analysis. Maybe some who choose art history desire to look at and laud the pretty pictures — a practice better understood as art appreciation — but many who pursue it do so because doing art history well is hard, and there's pleasure in doing hard things well.

Perhaps the foregoing is true, too, of "gender studies, communications, …pop culture, or …the history of dancing" but I can't speak to that question with authority. (As for the broader anti-humanistic trend, I've called it out before). This much seems true: thinking that the study of art history doesn't provide a "real education" (including, but not limited to, skills valuable to employers) betrays not just ignorance of the particulars but a contempt for the humanistic endeavor in general.

John Leo isn't alone in his trench; it's not hard in excavating the word hoard of today's techno-intellectual cultural backlash to find other examples of sneering disdain. Standing with one foot in the humanities and the other in STEM, I'm disappointed to see complex, mature, and deeply rooted disciplines trashed alongside academic novelties and questionable latecomers, all in the service of a monolithic, pragmatic vision of education as mere job training.

Good luck if your pedagogical vision is limited to empirical and procedural questions of what and how. Why and whether and what to do with paradox and gray– these also matter.

If Tomorrow I Tell The Press That, Like, A Fat Kid Will Get Humiliated, Or A Nerd Will Be Slapped, Nobody Panics, Because It's All "Part Of The Plan." But When I Say That One Little Bully Will Get His Ankle Broken, Well Then Everyone Loses Their Minds!

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The video below is disturbing. It shows a poor child suffering a broken ankle and a probable concussion. Right-thinking people, and those who care deeply about children in general, should turn away in horror.

Of course I can't stop watching the video, because I'm not right-thinking, because I don't care about children in general, and most importantly because the little shit had it coming.

According to the Facebook page where this video originated (it's since been removed because it graphically depicts violence against children), the fat kid, a sophomore at a high school in Sydney Australia, had been bullied by schoolmates such as the kid depicted slapping him, for years. Some time in the past week, the fat kid "snapped," as the media put it, or decided he'd had enough of this shit, as I'd put it, and treated himself to the justice his school had denied him.

And well everyone loses their minds!

Commenters on Facebook numbered in their hundreds and sided overwhelmingly with the older boy.

"I think it's great that he's standing up for himself. It just sucks that schools don't even try and stop bullying," said one. "This kid is my hero," said another.

One said they knew the older boy personally and that he had been a victim for some time.

"I find it disgusting that he was suspended for it," they said. "I understand why he was but he still shouldn't [have] been."

Their triumphant response to the older boy's retaliation surprised seasoned experts.

Of course it surprised seasoned experts.

It surprised them because seasoned experts in schoolyard violence lack common sense.

We've built a society in which, under the doctrine of zero tolerance, seasoned experts and school administrators have lost all perspective: They have autistic children arrested for wearing a hoodie. Kids are prosecuted for denouncing scientology. Girls are strip-searched by the ibuprofen police. Boys are suspended for opening the door to help a lady whose hands are full. "Good students" and "nice children" are arrested for carrying nerf guns to class. If our schools are an asylum, the inmates are truly running it.

Meanwhile, somewhere right now, a fat kid is being slapped. And no one will do anything about it. Because it's all part of the plan.

[P]olice and bullying experts are concerned by the video's publication on Facebook and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the older boy's retaliation against his attacker.

"We don't believe that violence is ever the answer," [seasoned bullying expert John] Dalgleish says. "We believe there are other ways that children can manage this." …

"The longer term way is about developing better relationships between kids in the school, that will then empower young people to not be passive bystanders when these acts occur but to stand up and say 'this is wrong'," Mr Dalgleish says.

"The short term solution is to have individual counselling with each of the children."

Don't you see, fat kid? When that little monster threw a jab at your chin, you were supposed to explore alternative paths of conflict resolution. You should have dialogued with him, as seasoned bullying experts would say, and tried to understand what made him punch you in the face:

In other words, that he's a bully, and you're a fat nerd. And that's what bullies do to fat nerds. Because our teachers, and seasoned experts, have more important things to do with their time than to stop bullies who know just where to step, close to, but not quite over, the line.

Or you can take your chances with the invisible line youself, but if you step over it, you'll be the one who's "snapped." And you'll be the one who goes to jail.

St Marys Police duty officer Inspector Jason Green said posting the video had the effect of glorifying violence in schools.

"…Whether it causes other incidents or not I don't know but it seems to be a trend of late," Inspector Green said.

"It may incite other violence but that's something that we can't comment on." …

"But we have to deal with them as there still is some criminality with regards to their actions," he said.

Why? If this had happened in a bar instead a schoolyard, no jury would convict the victim for what seems a measured, appropriate response to being punched and slapped in the head.

Why not leave the fat kid alone? The bully who slapped him certainly will. If something must be done, why not give the fat kid a stern talking to? Why not give him individual counseling, as seasoned bullying expert John Dalgleish suggests?

Or why not give him a medal?

Via Crime and Federalism.

Inappropriate Touching Leads To Molestation Claim

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We previously covered the story of Evelyn Towry, a 54 pound eight year old girl who refused to take off her cow hoodie and was denied cake.  Now Ms. Towry and her parents are suing the Lake Pend Oreille Idaho School District and the Bonner County Sheriff's Department.

Not for the denial of cake, but because Evelyn was hauled to jail in handcuffs and charged with criminal battery.

Evelyn was a third-grader at Kootenai Elementary School last year when she was handcuffed and arrested. School staffers say she spit on and inappropriately touched two instructors.

Evelyn and her parents say their rights were violated.

The school and county plan to defend the claim by demonstrating that Evelyn's disruptive behavior made her arrest appropriate.  54 pound Evelyn, pictured below, suffers from Asperger syndrome, a relatively high functioning form of autism.   So it was right and proper to deny Evelyn a slice of cake for refusing to be a good little girl, and remove her cow hoodie.  And it was wrong and evil of Evelyn to throw a tantrum, indeed, to molest and assault her teachers.

So deputies had no choice but to lead the half-pint hooligan to jail.

Cow Hoodie Criminal

Of course the policeman has a hard job, something that selfish autistic children don't seem to appreciate, especially where cake is concerned.  While it must have been difficult for two deputies to arrest this terrorist tot without resort to a Taser or OC spray, Evelyn doesn't seem to appreciate the kindness she was shown.

Indeed, Evil Evelyn should be grateful that her teachers aren't suing her, for her inappropriate touching.  Sadly, it seems the school has failed in its efforts to teach Evelyn that big girls don't cry, or sue.

Should Arizona Schools Teach "English As A First Language"?

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It's may too late for some, such as State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tom Horne:

Horne began fighting in 2007 against the Tucson Unified School District's program, which he said defied Martin Luther King's call to judge a person by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Horne claimed the ethnic studies program encourages "ethnic chauvanism," promotes Latinos to rise up and create a new territory out of the southwestern region of the United States and tries to intimidate conservative teachers in the school system.

To combat this menace, Horne is supporting a bill passed by the legislature to remove funding for all "Ethnic Studies" [shouldn't that be "Fnick"? – ed.] programs in Arizona.

Specifically, the bill would:

make it illegal for a school district to teach any courses that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, promote resentment of a particular race or class of people, are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or "advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

The bill stipulates that courses can continue to be taught for Native American pupils in compliance with federal law and does not prohibit English as a second language classes. It also does not prohibit the teaching of the Holocaust or other cases of genocide.

I will say this for traditional, 3 Rs education.  When I was in school, we were taught that correct spelling was important.

That quibble aside, I call bullshit on the need for this bill, which is designed either to combat non-existent threats, redmeat for rednecks (Arizona schools are promoting treason?  AT LONG LAST, ARIZONA, HAVE YOU NO SHAME?), or to make the objective teaching of history impossible.  As a white southerner, I will be the first to concede that fair teaching of, for instance, Jim Crow and the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s promotes resentment of white southerners.  As a white American, I will concede that that fair teaching of the history of white American dealings with American Indians promotes self-loathing. One of the goals of a good education is to force students to look into the mirror.  Sometimes the mirror shows us warts.

To take that analogy further, Arizona wants to legislate a wart-free mirror.  But they cann't make the warts go away.

There'll be plenty of time for the youth of Arizona to learn that everything they were taught was a lie, when they get out of high school.

Not Illegal. Not Immoral. Just Hypocritical.

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The mission statement published by the Duke University Board of Trustees proclaims the school's object as follows:

the mission of Duke University is to provide a superior liberal education to undergraduate students, attending not only to their intellectual growth but also to their development as adults committed to high ethical standards and full participation as leaders in their communities; to prepare future members of the learned professions for lives of skilled and ethical service by providing excellent graduate and professional education; to advance the frontiers of knowledge and contribute boldly to the international community of scholarship; to promote an intellectual environment built on a commitment to free and open inquiry; to help those who suffer, cure disease, and promote health, through sophisticated medical research and thoughtful patient care; to provide wide ranging educational opportunities, on and beyond our campuses, for traditional students, active professionals and life-long learners using the power of information technologies; and to promote a deep appreciation for the range of human difference and potential, a sense of the obligations and rewards of citizenship, and a commitment to learning, freedom and truth.

Unfortunately, the university's conduct often undercuts that noble statement, even toward students who don't play lacrosse.


"The Nearest One Could Come To Doing So Would Be To Swallow The Whole Passage Up In The Single Word: Crimethink."

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Contra what I last wrote on these pages, it appears that George Orwell's ghost is restless.  These days, he haunts Menifee California:

A parent complaint that a dictionary in her son’s classroom at Oak Meadows Elementary contained the term and definition for “oral sex” prompted school officials in the Menifee Union School District to pull all copies of the book from its fourth and fifth grade classrooms last week.

Lest defenders of morality question the inclusion of some scurrilous sex book in the fourth grade curriculum, it should be noted that the dictionary in question is Noah Webster's.

[W]hen the parent — who was volunteering in her son’s classroom when she came across the word — complained to the school’s principal about the explicit language, curriculum officials with the district made a decision to temporarily remove the books.

Next, according to school board’s policy, a committee consisting of site and district representatives will be formed to “determine the extent to which the challenged material supports the curriculum, the educational appropriateness of the material, and its suitability for the age level of the student.”

This is what we've come to.  One idiot can have the dictionary removed from schools, by complaining that it includes a dirty word.

On second thought, the ghost to invoke isn't Orwell's.  It's that of his countryman C. S. Lewis:

The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.

The parent who filed this complaint should be named and ridiculed across the entire internet.  Since I can't do that, I'll have to link to the profile of Menifee Union School District Superintendent Linda Callaway.

Doctor Callaway, you've banned the dictionary.  Is this what you went through the trouble of getting a doctorate in education to do?

H/t: Chris Berez.

The Ezra Denney Chair of Useless Knowledge

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City College in San Francisco is struggling, as are many schools in this challenging economic climate. There is the possibility that 800 classes (ranging from staples like Biology or Photography to more esoteric fare like Advanced King Fu and, my new favorite class, Psychology of Shyness and Self-Esteem) will be cancelled.

How does one start to address this issue? Well, if you pay $6,000 they will save the class and name it after you. Imagine the possibilities here. Instant Academic credibility, for only $6,000. How impressive would having a class named after you be? And, even better you get to pick the class. The list of available classes is here.

I propose we take up a collection, and sponsor a class. Perhaps Advanced Kung Fu, or something in Comparative religion? Maybe Motorcycle Engine Overhaul? I love the idea of Popehat Presents Water Aerobics…

In all seriousness, these cuts really are tragic, and they aim at those who need the help the most. Our community college system is one of the few opportunities for those who fall between the cracks, either financially or academically, to get a degree or transfer to a better school. In many ways, it is the lynch pin of our public education system. These cuts will have some pretty ugly ripples a few years from now.

Predators Stalk Our Children

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What sort of monsters would abduct an 8 year old girl with Asperger's Syndrome, chaining her and leading her away from her friends and family?  You can tell where this is going.

Yes, the police.  And her teachers.

The mother of an 8-year-old autistic girl who was arrested after a scuffle with her teachers said it was horrifying to watch her daughter be led away in handcuffs from her northern Idaho elementary school.

Police in Bonner County, Idaho, charged the girl, Evelyn Towry, with battery after the arrest Friday at Kootenai Elementary School.

Even though prosecutors dismissed the case Tuesday, the family is considering legal action against the school. They say their daughter was physically restrained to the point of causing bruises and is now tormented by memories of the incident.

I'll bet she is.  Asperger's is a "high-functioning" form of autism, characterized, in place of the truly bizarre behavior that often accompanies autism, by mere inability (without intense training) to understand group dynamics, social rules, and an inability to distinguish physical contact that is appropriate from that which is not.

In this case, Evelyn Towry's Asperger-induced transgression was that she did not wish to remove her "cow hoodie" (a white hoodie with ears and black spots) before joining fellow students for cake at a party.  So the teachers restrained her and isolated her.  There is no indication, at all, that Evelyn's fellow students objected to the cow hoodie.  No, the individuals behaving like children here were Evelyn's teachers.

And, as Scott Greenfield points out, the Bonner County police, who when called to arrest this 54 pound menace to society, charged her with battery and led her off in handcuffs.  An adult, to say nothing of a responsible policeman, might have exercised his discretion, not, as Scott suggests, to avoid arresting Evelyn, but to tell her teachers to grow the fuck up, give the girl her cake, and don't call again unless it's a Columbine.

Sadly for the Towrys, if they wish to sue on Evelyn's behalf, the odds don't look too good right now.  We've invested teachers with such authority, in the name of protecting children, that they can get away with the sort of misconduct that would get anyone else arrested.

Big News In The War On Ibuprofen

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The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in an appeal by the Safford Arizona Unified School District, on the question of whether school officials were justified, under the Fourth Amendment, in strip-searching thirteen year old Savana Redding.  The goal of the search was to determine whether Ms. Redding had smuggled contraband ibuprofen into the school, in violation of a "zero tolerance" drug policy.  An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier held that a civil suit filed by Ms. Redding could proceed.

Many moons ago, in reviewing this case, I stated the following:

This being the Ninth Circuit, and this being America, it would not surprise me at all if the Supreme Court were to grant certiorari and reverse this holding. While the Circuits might divide on a case as revoltingly silly as this one, if there is a general rule in American jurisprudence on the rights of children suspected of drug possession in school, it is that they have none.

The question boils down to, may adults strip and humiliate a thirteen year old girl for possessing a legal product, so long as the adults are protected by their status as school employees?  Is membership in the American Federation of Teachers the equivalent of a badge?

I stand by what I wrote earlier: If this had happened anywhere but school, they'd all be in jail.

How About A Little Something, You Know, For The Effort?

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Texas A & M professors are protesting a plan to award merit bonuses for teaching based on, gasp, student evaluations.  Because it's not as though their students are in a position to know who's a good teacher and who's not:

Martha Loudder, an accounting professor and a former speaker of the faculty senate at College Station, questioned the fairness of basing the awards “solely on student evaluation.” Ms. Loudder, who has received the university’s most prestigious teaching award, said she feared that “some very good teachers will be left out.”

Since the pilot program limits bonuses to the top fifteen percent, of course some good teachers will be left out:  every professor who fails to make the eighty-fifth percentile.  But I think Ms. Loudder doesn't give her students enough credit.  At a top flight university like Texas A & M, most students are there to learn, and may be best situated to determine who is doing a good job in that category.  Moreover, most good American universities follow the "publish or perish" model, where tenure, to say nothing of pay, is a question of scholarly citation rather than whether a given professor's students are learning, that is when the students aren't being taught by a doctoral candidate TA to whom the task has been delegated.

The Texas A & M professors complain that it would encourage some to "pander" but I can't tell what that means.  When I was a student I appreciated a good comedian, but if I wasn't learning something from the class, I was a heckler when the time came to give anonymous feedback.  I could also tell who was in the university because he was a scholar who disliked teaching (Hello, Professor "My passion is the law of the sea, and I really don't enjoy having to teach this Civil Procedure small section") and who was there to teach (Best wishes, Professor "I would probably be facing a Senate confirmation hearing right now, but when I left the DOJ I decided to go academic because I enjoy teaching").  If the concern is grade inflation, well that appears to be a nationwide problem with or without merit teaching bonuses.

Could it be that some Texas A & M professors don't want any feedback at all?  Good-looking people don't dread mirrors.

Via TaxProf Blog.

English Education: A System The World Must Imulate

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The high quality of British state schooling is demonstrated by the fact that since 2001, out of an estimated population of 374,000 teachers in England, only 10 have been dismissed for incompetence in the classroom.

Most of England's 150 education authorities have not referred a single teacher to the General Teaching Council for alleged incompetence since the disciplinary body was set up in 2001.

"We have had a variable pattern of referrals from employers for cases of alleged serious professional incompetence with multiple referrals from some local authorities and none from others," said Keith Bartley, chief executive of the GTC. He said he could not give an accurate number of incompetent teachers still in classrooms.

Obviously that's because there are none.  They've all been dismissed.  Oh, there are probably a few in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which aren't covered by this report, but I'm sure that the Labour government is equally vigilant there.

This report is of special significance to Americans, looking to improve education in the wake of the Bush Administration's disastrous "No Child Left Behind" policies.  Why, in Illinois alone, which has a population only a quarter that of England, an average of two tenured teachers are dismissed for incompetence each year.  That means that in the United States as a whole, we must dismiss dozens of incompetent teachers on an annual basis.

Here's hoping that the incoming administration looks to our friends across the pond for guidance in formulating education policy.