Why all kids should watch South Park

South Park kicked off its 17th season with Cartman’s discovery he’s being monitored by the National Security Agency.

All Kids Should be FORCED to Watch South Park!, argue Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Jim Epstein.

Virtually every episode points out the difference between legitimate authority and the abuse of power and scare-mongering. Whether it’s the show’s Jew-baiting jerk Eric Cartman going nuts as a traffic cop or former Vice President Al Gore trying to scare the boys into hysteria over ManBearPig, South Park always emphasizes thinking for yourself rather than blindly following what leaders say.

In addition, South Park respects real diversity.

Today’s kids are constantly force-fed hosannas to tolerance and diversity that ring hollow and false. But even when it’s brutally satirizing something like Mormonism, South Park actually fosters a true live-and-let-live ethos that’s sadly lacking in most K-12 curricula.

Finally, one of “South Park’s core values is taking responsibility for one’s actions,” write Gillespie and Epstein. “In the episode where Stan’s father develops a drinking problem and seeks supernatural intervention for a cure, it’s the child who lays out the case for self-control and accountability.”

Esquith’s new book geared to rookie teachers

Rafe Esquith, who teaches Shakespeare to low-income Hispanic and Korean fifth graders in Los Angeles, has come out with a new book, Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans

It includes a dialog on responsibility on the first day of class, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

A student asks to go to the bathroom. Esquith asks him whether he’ll run or slide down the stair railing. The student says he’ll walk.

Rafe: Why? Is running a bad thing? I love to run!

Student: Huh?

Rafe: There are wonderful places to run and make noise. Can anyone name some of them?

The class: The playground .?.?. the beach .?.?. the park .?.?.

Rafe: Exactly. So why are we walking quietly to the bathroom?

Student: You don’t want me to get hurt or disturb other classes.

Esquith asks the student if he’ll fool around in the bathroom, perhaps throw a wet paper towel on the ceiling or on the floor. The student says he’ll go, wash his hands with soap, throw the towel in the garbage and return.

Esquith asks what would happen if the student broke his trust by “running, disturbing the school or fooling around in the bathroom?”

 Student: I won’t be able to use the bathroom anymore.

Rafe: Nope. Of course you can go to the bathroom. But you will have to be accompanied by people to watch you, as you would not be ready to do things yourself yet. I think you are. Do you think you are?

Student: Yes.

He lets the student go to the bathroom. (Let’s hope it’s not too late.)

Missed lessons of Monsters U

A prequel to the popular Monsters Inc., Pixar/Disney’s new Monsters University is a Revenge of the Nerds ripoff featuring young Mike and Scully learning to be “scarers.” Pixar’s team “missed the chance to say something more interesting,” writes Rick Hess.

The Incredibles famously tugged on our fascination with insisting that everyone is special. In that flick, when Dash is told by his mom that “everyone is special,” he dejectedly mumbles, “then no one is,” while Mr. Incredible laments that a fourth-grade “graduation” is just a case of rewarding the mediocre and the mundane. In Monsters University . . .  it’s not clear that either aptitude or hard work has much relationship to how the cast fares at good ol’ MU.

The movie “seems to make a case that knowledge and learned expertise are fairly pointless,” writes Hess. “At a pivotal moment, Sully tries to teach Mike that all his book-learning is irrelevant to really excelling at his craft.”

Helen Mirren voices the no-nonsense Dean Hardscrabble, and Alfred Molina the “scaring” professor. With that kind of talent, you’d seem to have a terrific opportunity for the screenwriters to have some fun looking at the teaching relationship. After all, Pixar writers have dabbled in this kind of thing (in Cars or with Willem DaFoe’s wise old hand in Finding Nemo), but they’ve never really had much cause to depict what it looks like for a teacher to inspire, mentor, and instruct. I’d have loved to see them play with a teacher helping an entitled, gifted student cultivate responsibility and discipline — or a bookish, insecure student develop a sense of teamwork and self-efficacy. While Mike and Sully do mature in the movie, it happens with the faculty operating pretty much as bystanders or foils.

I like the Monsters University web site. The admissions page calls MU “a place for self-discovery, curiosity, and scholarship,” but warns only a fraction of applicants are admitted.  In addition to scaring, MU offers “academically rigorous” programs in scream energy, door technology and business, as well as “holistic training for the mind, body, and spirit.”

The message from the dean stresses MU’s diversity, which does indeed seem to be a strength.

Is 25 the new 15?

Twenty-five is becoming the new 15, argues Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old.

Young people who’ve grown up in a responsibility-free “bubble” don’t know how to find a job, manage money, cook or care for themselves, write Joseph and Claudia Allen. They’ve been socialized by their peers, not by adults.

We’ve done away with “competition (too masculine, I suppose) and real-world feedback (kids need high self-esteem!),” writes Dr. Helen, a psychologist.

Young people spend more time as college students, often taking five or six years to earn a degree. If it’s a non-technical degree — or they never actually complete it — they’re likely to be living at home at 25.

It’s your education

In reading about Mt. Everest, Ric00chet encounted a quotation from nick Heil’s Dark Summit.

Ultimately, no greater responsibility exists than that which falls on each individual climber – whether he or she is an expedition leader, guide, Sherpa, or paying client. Too much has been written, said, filmed, and photographed for anyone going to Mount Everest not to be fully aware of the risks of climbing to 29,035 feet. Only a fool would put complete faith in someone else to guarantee their safety, or bail them out of trouble if a problem arises, though certainly the mountain continues to attract its share of fools.

Education is like that too, she writes.

I tell my students it is their education and they are responsible – I have learned as much from horrid teachers as good ones – sometimes more because I had to work a lot harder to pull the information out of the stratosphere. If you are an active learner you will learn. If you are waiting for someone to deliver it to you, make it “relevant”, make it fun – you will be left behind.

In an earlier post, Ricochet remembers sage advice: At work, at home or at school, be where you are. Many of her students are present physically, but not mentally.

They talk, sleep, text, do homework for other classes, read novels. I believe that you learn math by doing math. I do math. They are not there. They take a test and bomb it. Somehow it is up to me to come up with something to fix it. They were in class when I taught the material. They were in class when I asked them to do work. They were in class when I reviewed the material for a study guide I created by going over what was taught. (remember doing that?) They were in class when I asked if there were any questions.

“Eighty percent of success is showing up,”  Woody Allen once said. Mind and body.

No math, no job

Weak math skills disqualify would-be workers, manufacturers say.

High school graduates applying for jobs at Tacoma’s General Plastics Manufacturing have to take a math test. The company makes foam products for the aerospace industry.

Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.

They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).

One in 10 pass the math test. And it’s not just a problem at General Plastics.

“Manufacturers are willing to train people about the specifics of their machines and technology,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of Work Force Central, a partnership of government, business, education and community organizations that trains workers in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County. “But they can’t afford to hire someone who needs to relearn basic math.”

Math teachers know their students will need math knowledge in the real word, writes Darren, a high school math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast. But he’s turned off by the story’s “drooling over Common Core Standards. Many teachers  ”doubt . . .  the so-called cure.”

Having students write about math isn’t a real cure.  Group work isn’t a cure.  Collaboration requires everyone have some background knowledge on which to draw so everyone can contribute.  I wouldn’t mind cutting a few topics out so we had more time to cover the remaining topics more deeply, but to insist on so-called discovery learning is an exceedingly inefficient use of instructional time.

Instead of trying to make math “fun” or “applicable”, perhaps we could consider instilling in students, or insisting on, some perseverance and a sense of responsibility, and maybe even some delayed gratification.

Employers would value those traits too, Darren believes.

Many students who slid through high school without really learning math enroll at community colleges with hopes of training for a job or eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. Placement in remedial math is the single biggest dream killer.

Learning irresponsibility

Managing classroom misbehavior takes up way too much time, writes Ilana Garon, who teaches English in a Bronx high school. Students know they can get away with talking in class, hitting each other, walking around the classroom and then talking back to the teacher.

. . . these kids are 16, not six. At some point, no matter how difficult their upbringing, how uninvolved their parents, or how dry the material . . . high school students have to be held accountable for their own behavior. . . .  many times the kids can’t be engaged by even the most fascinating lesson–and, with virtually no consequences for non-violent infractions, teachers’ hands are tied.

New York City’s new discipline code will make it harder to suspend students for “disorderly behavior,” such as swearing and lying to teachers. Instead, principals will use reprimands, parent conferences and lunchtime detentions.

Calling home sometimes helps, but not for long, Garon writes. The school can’t afford supervised detention. Suspension “is often treated as a vacation by the kids.”

Immigrants from Jamaica and Ghana are “often appalled at the behaviors of American-born kids,” who take  education for granted. High school is free in the U.S., so it’s not valued, a Jamaican told her.

Garon dreams of “hard detention” (cleaning the school), suspension and “the threat of expulsion for the toughest repeat offenders.” If there are no consequences, students are taught that “even in their teenage years, they are not responsible for their own behavior.” That’s a dangerous message that will undermine their academic future and their employment prospects, Garon writes.

Teaching students to control their impulses and take responsibility for their actions should start in elementary school.

Teaching math to 11th and 12th graders who’ve failed the seventh-grade-level graduation exam, Michele Kerr has to manage “vortex” and “driftwood” students.

The quintessential disruptive vortex, Deon could single-handledly destroy half the class’s productivity if left undisturbed; his absence or isolation always left most of my “driftwood” students open to the idea of getting some work done.

(Yet) Deon was a math-solving machine who worked fiendishly once I isolated him from all other entertainment.

“Good” kids and “bad” kids “aren’t useful distinctions,” she writes on Larry Cuban’s blog.

Group projects in the real world

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From Awful Group Projects at 11D.

Parents, let your kids fail

Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Thirteen years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, stumbling around my classroom on wobbly legs, I had to call a students’ mother to inform her that I would be initiating disciplinary proceedings against her daughter for plagiarism, and that furthermore, her daughter would receive a zero for the plagiarized paper.

“You can’t do that. She didn’t do anything wrong,” the mother informed me, enraged.

“But she did. I was able to find entire paragraphs lifted off of web sites,” I stammered.

“No, I mean she didn’t do it. I did. I wrote her paper.”

Overprotective parents are raising their children without “the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure,” writes Lahey.

It’s hard to teach children who’ve been shielded from frustration and failure. Kids can’t learn from their mistakes if their parents never let them make any.

. . . teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.

Her students who are “happiest and successful in their lives” are the ones  who were “allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.”

 

The path out of poverty

A 15-year-old from a poor U.S. family asks you, “What can I do to escape poverty?”  How would you answer? Bryan Caplan poses the question on EconLog. A number of readers suggest: graduate from high school, stay out of jail, don’t get pregnant (or get someone pregnant).

Education Realist agrees with “don’t get knocked up or locked up,” but adds more advice.

First, don’t let your family’s needs drag you down.

No, you can’t stay home to babysit because your little sister is sick. No, you can’t go pick your father up at work at 2 in the morning. No, you can’t drop your niece and nephew off at school and be late to class.

Stay away from people who don’t share your goals. This is a tough one for kids who grow up in lousy neighborhoods, but it’s critical. Your brother, cousin or best friend from elementary school can get you arrested (or shot).

It’s not enough to graduate from high school: Find a mentoring program that helps at-risk youth prepare for college. There’s a lot of support out there. Ask your teachers for help. Work hard to improve your grades.

If you’ve worked hard and still aren’t doing well, “start thinking in terms of training, not academics,” Ed Realist advises.

Whatever you do, don’t lie to yourself about your abilities, and don’t let anyone else lie to you. . . .  Find the best jobs you can, and build good working relationships. Put more priority on acquiring basic skills, and find the classes that will help you do that. Tap into your support group mentioned above, tell them your goals. This doesn’t mean college isn’t an option, but it’s important to keep your goals realistic.

Finally, “do not overpay for college.”

Years ago, I volunteered to help sort donated books for a Christmas giveaway at a library in a mostly Hispanic community. Eighth-grade tutors were supposed to be helping, but only Jorge showed up. The library had hired middle schoolers to tutor elementary students. Despite the pay, most tutors were unreliable, said the librarian. But “Jorge always shows up,” she said with pride. Even when the bus didn’t show up at the middle school, Jorge found a way to get to the library.

I worked with Jorge for a few hours. He made sensible suggestions on which books would be appropriate for which age groups. He was as useful as any of the adults.

Jorge must be in his early to mid-20′s now. I’d guess that he’s earned a college degree. I’m certain that he’s working. He may not earn much yet, but he will not live in poverty. In addition to Education Realist’s advice, I’d add: It’s your life. Show up.

Matt Miller thinks poor kids are buffeted by gale force winds (it’s a Hurricane Sandy metaphor) beyond their control and would get more help if we all realized that everything is determined by luck, including the propensity to work hard. Jorge probably was lucky in his parents. They taught him that he wasn’t a victim of forces beyond his control.