Swedish preschool bans ‘him’ and ‘her’

At a government-funded preschool in Stockholm, teachers avoid “him” and “her”, reports the New York Times. There are no “boys” and “girls,” only “friends.”

Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun “hen,” an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.

In the little library, with its throw pillows where children sit to be read to, there are few classic fairy tales, like “Cinderella” or “Snow White,” with their heavy male and female stereotypes, but there are many stories that deal with single parents, adopted children or same-sex couples.

Girls are not urged to play with toy kitchens, and wooden or Lego blocks are not considered toys for boys. And when boys hurt themselves, teachers are taught to give them every bit as much comforting as they would girls. Everyone gets to play with dolls; most are anatomically correct, and some are also black.

Blurring gender lines will “theoretically, cement opportunities for both women and men,” Swedes believe. Or there could be some confused “friends” in the future.

Can schools raise social mobility?

Can schools spur social mobility? asks Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

No way, says Charles Murray, who visited Fordham to promote his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray sees a growing division between well-educated elites, who marry college classmates, and a semi-educated class who are less likely to marry at all.


New York Times columnist David Brooks worries about “the opportunity gap.” College-educated parents spend more time with their children — “reading “Goodnight Moon,” talking to their kids about their day and cheering them on from the sidelines” — than working-class parents. Affluent kids are more active in sports, theater, yearbook, scouting, etc. They’re more likely to go to church and to volunteer. It all adds up.

What to do? asks Petrilli

Our argument, as it goes, is that we’ve never really tried. Because of low expectations, mediocre teachers, a lack of options, ill-designed curricula—name your poison—poor kids have never had a chance to see their talents flourish. Put them into the right educational environment, surround them with supportive adults, and (if you’re of the broader/bolder persuasion) provide them with all kinds of social supports too, and we’ll see our elite college campuses—gateways to the new Upper Class—democratize before our eyes.

But academic ability isn’t evenly distributed. Whether by nature or nurture, successful parents are raising successful children.

“We’ve gotten really, really good” at identifying talented children from low-income and working-class communities and providing scholarships to good colleges, Murray says. Petrilli thinks online learning could provide more access, but there are limits to how many diamonds will be found in the rough.

 The second strategy is to be more realistic about the kind of social mobility we hope to spur. Getting a big chunk of America’s poor kids into the New Elite in one generation might be a fool’s errand—our meritocracy has put them at too great a disadvantage. But getting them into working -class or middle-class jobs isn’t so impossible. Here’s a question for the KIPPs and YES Preps of the world: Would you be happy if, ten years from now, your middle schoolers were working as cops, firefighters, teachers, plumbers, electricians, and nurses? This would be a huge accomplishment, it seems to me, as most poor kids will go on to work in low-paid service jobs a decade hence.

Rewarding people based on “real merit” — skills and performance — rather than credentials — SATs and degrees — would mean less social equality, writes Mickey Kaus. “Web-schooled winners” who rise without a university degree are likely to be smart people who have smart children who do well in school and out. “The social centrifuge separating the meritorious from the less meritorious won’t have stopped spinning. In some ways it will be spinning faster, with greater precision. Sorry.”

 

Study: Education doesn’t liberalize views

Highly educated whites and minorities are no more likely to support workplace affirmative action programs than are their less educated peers, according to a new study in Social Psychology Quarterly.  Education does increase support for race-targeted job training, said Geoffrey T. Wodtke, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Michigan, who wrote the study.

“I think that some of the values that are promoted through education, such as individualism and meritocracy, are just much more consistent with opportunity-enhancing policies like job training than they are with redistributive or outcome-equalizing policies like affirmative action.”

While educated blacks and Hispanics are believed to be the most likely to benefit from affirmative action, they don’t support it.  They may feel stigmatized, speculated Wodtke.

Educating everybody

Some countries do a good job of educating everybody — rich and poor — but the U.S. is not one of them, writes Dan Willingham, a University of Virginia cognitive scientist, on The Answer Sheet.

Some countries have successfully minimized the disparity in educational outcomes between rich and poor. According to the PISA, the countries doing the best job include Iceland, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Canada, and Finland.

America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, Willingham writes. But the poor don’t have an equal opportunity to get a good education.

I don’t know how other countries have addressed this problem. It may be curricular. It may lie in how they fund schools. It may be that social services are better distributed so that, despite the large wealth disparity, kids don’t come to school hungry, or with a toothache because they’ve never seen a dentist.

I don’t know how they are doing it, but I think we would be wise to learn how other countries teach poor kids because they do it better than we do. And we can’t wait until poverty is eliminated.

Most Latino children start kindergarten with the same social and emotional skills as middle-class white children, concludes a new study. However, they fall behind “if they attend low-quality schools and live in low-income neighborhoods,” reports Mary Ann Zehr in Education Week.

(Researchers)  looked at several social areas: self-control, interpersonal skills, approaches to learning, and internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors.

Children from Mexican families start school better prepared than Puerto Rican children. Black children start with weaker social skills.

Update: The Education Department is opening up competition for Promise Neighborhoods grants. Modeled after Harlem Children’s Zone, the idea is to provide a web of social services to needy children to help them do better in school and life.

II Doesn’t Always = II

Algebra II Doesn’t Always = II, reports the Washington Post.  To prepare students for college and for technical careers, 20 states and the District of Columbia now require students to take advanced algebra. But the course content and standards vary significantly from school to school:  One school’s Algebra II is another school’s Remedial Math.

“I want to make sure that if a student takes a course, it’s really a significant course, not a watered-down version,” said Ronald A. Peiffer, Maryland deputy state superintendent for academic policy.

Peiffer said that when the state made Algebra I a graduation requirement in the early 1990s, many schools began offering two versions, the traditional course and one some teachers called “baby algebra.” The state tried to rectify the disparity later, mandating an end-of-course graduation test for Algebra I that students are expected to pass to receive a diploma.

Ninety percent of Virginia’s Algebra II students passed the end-of-course Standards of Learning exam. Students need the course for an advanced diploma, but skip it if they’re content with a regular diploma.

Achieve worked with a group of states to design a national end-of-course Algebra II exam with both open-ended and multiple-choice questions.  It was tried last year in a dozen states. “In some states, only one in five students passed,” the Post reports.