Gay-unfriendly student wins speech case

In a teacher-initiated discussion on anti-gay bullying, a Michigan high school student said he “couldn’t accept gays” because of his Catholic faith. The economics teacher equated the statement to saying he “couldn’t accept blacks” and kicked him out of class, writing up a referral for “unacceptable behavior.”

In a June 19 ruling in Glowacki v. Howell Public School District, a federal district judge ruled that the teacher violated the student’s right to free expression, reports Ed Week.

U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan of Detroit awarded damages of $1 to Daniel Glowacki, who was a junior at Howell High School in the fall of 2010.  Howell Public School District, which took no action against the student and reprimanded the teacher, was not liable, the judge ruled.

“Public schools must strive to provide a safe atmosphere conducive to learning for all students while fostering an environment that tolerates the expression of different viewpoints, even if unpopular, so as to equip students with the tools necessary for participation in a democratic society,” Judge Duggan said.

Glowacki did not disrupt the class, the judge ruled. McDowell engaged in viewpoint discrimination.

When asked about the move by the remaining students, McDowell said a student could not voice an opinion that “creates an uncomfortable learning environment for another student,” according to court papers.

Imagine how lively class discussion would be if no student was allowed to make another student feel uncomfortable.

Glowacki transferred to another economics class.

The bigotry of low (teacher) expectations

Common Core Standards didn’t invent effective teaching, writes Julie Greenberg in  The bigotry of low (teacher) expectations in the National Council on Teacher Quality’s blog. She objects to step 5 in Six Steps to Teacher Development, a joint production of the Gates Foundation and the American Federation of Teachers.

Districts are encouraged to “Align teacher development and evaluation to the Common Core Standards.”

..while most teachers are adept at classroom management skills, teachers have long been taught to fit a lot of material in a short period of time, not to ask high-level questions or to engage students in rigorous discussions.

Greenberg taught secondary math for 13 years without being advised to ask low-level questions and avoid rigorous discussion. Nobody helped her improve her questioning or discussion techniques. Perhaps the new standards will do so, she writes.

But I’m also worried that districts will fall into the same old professional development trap they’re in now, paying some pricey “Common Core” consultants to portray  the need for better questioning and discussion techniques to teachers as breaking news without any follow-through on real improved practice.

Greenberg provides a caricature of teachers attending the typical professional development session. It’s all too close to reality, she writes.
 

The pull and counter-pull of teaching

Education is filled with opposing principles, where neither is absolutely correct. When you’re learning a musical instrument, you need a lot of technical exercises, but you also need to learn to play actual pieces. When you’re proving a mathematical theorem, you should be precise with your steps, but sometimes, if you have an insight, it’s good to take a leap. (Then you can backtrack and fill in the steps.) And so on. Most teachers have certain leanings, but those leanings are not the whole of their understanding or of the truth. Often I find that when I tip just a little bit against myself, interesting things happen.

For instance, my philosophy courses have focused on reading and discussion of texts—for good reasons. The texts are compelling, and the students approach them thoughtfully and enthusiastically. Yet when I give students a chance to take off with their own ideas, I find that they bring forth some of their best work. The moral is not that I should abandon the texts, but rather that I should vary the type of assignment now and then.

My ninth-grade students are studying rhetoric and logic. Most recently, they read G. K. Chesterton’s essay “The Fallacy of Success.” We examined how Chesterton takes apart the idea of success, and how his reference to the myth of King Midas enhances his argument. They did well with this.

Then I thought: why not have them take apart a concept themselves? I had them choose a word from a list, to which they contributed (the options included happiness, justice, power, friendship, solitude, collaboration, courage, wisdom, and more). They were to (a) explain how the term is commonly understood; (b) explain what’s wrong or incomplete about that understanding; (c) explain why it’s important to come to a better understanding of the term; and (d) offer a more complete definition. This began as classwork, with one sentence for each part; later, they expanded their responses into an essay.

I am reluctant to repeat or paraphrase my students’ responses, since I don’t have their permission. I can say that they were all interesting, and some quite moving. Much came out of this exercise. Yet it was informed by our reading and discussion of “The Fallacy of Success.” There need not be a contradiction between analyzing someone else’s essay and writing your own (with your own ideas). In the best of scenarios, the two support each other. Still, it isn’t just a matter of striking a “balance”; the correct proportion may be an unbalanced one.

Back to the original point: our educational leanings need something to pull against them. Very few opinions or preferences in education contain the whole truth. We may go ahead and lean—the leanings do matter–but allow for a bit of sway now and then, as it may turn out to be the best thing that happened all year.

Introverts, speak up!

Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up at School, writes Jessica Lahey, an English teacher, in the Atlantic. “The parents of introverts complain that I am not meeting their child’s unspoken educational needs, or that I am causing serious emotional trauma by requiring their child to speak up in school.”

Class participation is factored into students’ grades.

. . . we spend a large percentage of our of class time in dialogue. How does Pip change once he receives his Great Expectations? What does Edmund mean when he says, “Thou, nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound”?

After reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Lahey “made a number of changes to my classroom in order to improve learning opportunities for my introverted students.”  But she’s not dropping the class participation requirement.

As a teacher, it is my job to teach grammar, vocabulary, and literature, but I must also teach my students how to succeed in the world we live in — a world where most people won’t stop talking. If anything, I feel even more strongly that my introverted students must learn how to self-advocate by communicating with parents, educators, and the world at large.

Are these kids introverts — or very, very shy?  Or do they have nothing to say about Pip or Edmund?

E-texts will read students

In a year or so, when students read e-textbooks, the books may be reading students’ “engagement” and study habits.

Community college instructors are “flipping” — putting lectures online to use class time for discussion, coaching and collaboration.

An empty pail lights no fires

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” the saying goes. Robert Pondiscio hates it. Without a bucket full of knowledge, kids can’t think critically (or uncritically) or solve problems, he writes on Core Knowledge Blog.

On the Washington Post’s “Answer Sheet” blog, educator Carol Corbett Burris cites the homily to attack the Relay Graduate School of Education, which trains teachers primarily for “no excuses” charter schools. In a Relay video on “Rigorous Classroom Discussion,” the teacher “barks commands and questions, often with the affect and speed of a drill sergeant,” Burris complains.  This “better prepares students for the dutiful obedience of the military than for the intellectual challenges they will encounter in college.” She writes:

I worry that the pail fillers are determining the fate of our schools. The ‘filling of the pail’ is the philosophy of those who see students as vessels into which facts and knowledge are poured. The better the teacher, the more stuff in the pail. How do we measure what is in the pail? With a standardized test, of course. Not enough in the pail? No excuses. We must identify the teachers who best fill the pail, and dismiss the rest.

The “high-energy, tightly structured teaching techniques” used in no-excuses charters can seem militaristic, Pondiscio concedes. But the would-be arsonists need tinder.

(Burris) badly and broadly misstates the critical role of knowledge (the stuff in the pail) to every meaningful cognitive process prized by fire-lighters: reading comprehension, critical thinking, problem solving, etc. Dichotomies don’t get more false than between knowledge and thinking.

The damage done by those who denigrate the importance of a knowledge-rich classroom—especially for our most disadvantaged learners—can scarcely be overstated.

“You can’t light a fire in an empty bucket,” he concludes.

Study: Group discussion lowers IQ

Many people can’t express their intelligence in group discussions, concludes a Virginia Tech study.

If we think others in a group are smarter, we may become dumber, temporarily losing both our problem-solving ability and what the researchers call our “expression of IQ.”

Women and people with higher IQs are the most likely to clam up, according to the report.

I wonder if this holds true for students in middle and high school, when kids are conscious of their status within a group.

Teaching students to argue about politics

Students should learn how to discuss controversial political ideas in class, says Diana Hess, a teacher turned University of Wisconsin education professor, in Discussions That Drive Democracy.

“A lot of parents want schools to reflect their own ideological views,” Hess tells The Cap Times.

“I argue that parents shouldn’t want that. If they do, they need to rethink why they have their kids in school.”

. . . “It’s not to suggest schools should be working against parents’ values,” she continues, “but we want schools to be ideologically diverse places. That’s how we educate citizens.”

“Many teachers I have watched are good at getting kids to listen to viewpoints that are different from theirs, and that’s a good thing,” she says. Young people tend to be open to new ideas.

Will teachers develop students’ minds? Or indoctrinate students in liberal ideology? asks Ann Althouse, a UW law professor.

. . .  it was specifically teachers who were at the core of the Wisconsin protests, vilifying conservatives.

And as for parents needing “to rethink why they have their kids in school.” Let’s be clear: Schooling is compulsory. . . . Teachers should never forget that they have their students trapped in their classroom by the force of law.

We want students to learn how to discuss “controversial issues, support their arguments, and listen to divergent opinions respectfully and critically,” Althouse concedes.

But it takes a certain level of trust — which is in short supply.