Walk on the bewildering side

Image result for harvard social justice placemat

College should be where things “get more complicated, not less,” writes Lyell Asher, a Lewis & Clark English professor, in The American Scholar.  Yet many students — and their teachers — avoid complexity and embrace “simplifications.”

Feeling offended implies an offense, and where there’s an offense there must be a culprit guilty of having committed it. No need to bother with the complexities of  context and intention—it says here that “impact” is what matters, that how I feel is what counts. No need to wonder whether an expression of hatred is real or a ruse, isolated or endemic—assume the worst and take the part for the whole.

But of course that’s the problem with homophobia, racism, sexism, religious extremism, and any other “ism” you care to mention. They’re shortcuts. Tell me your skin color, or your gender, whom you want to sleep with or marry, what god you worship or deny, and I’ll fill in the rest.

Last fall, before students went home on break, some Harvard staffers distributed Holiday Placemats for Social Justice in a campus dining hall: The mats offered talking points for family discussions on “race, student activism, and the refugee crisis,” writes Asher.

 . . . combining the proselytizing confidence of a fundamentalist religious tract with the marketing opportunism of McDonald’s, those placemats suggested that you could bear witness to the truth about everything from the Halloween costume controversy at Yale to the Syrian refugee crisis, all without missing a bite.

. . .  No need to think through these issues yourselves—we’ve done the thinking for you. Besides, it’s what everyone else will be thinking this fall.

Diversity talk is “long on the differences between groups, but short on the differences within them, and within each one of us,” writes Asher.

Yet these last differences—the “multitudes” and contradictions that Whitman found within himself—provide the surest route to human connection and regard, because only when we recognize and admit just how mysterious we are even to ourselves, can we begin to relate to one another with open attitudes of humility and uncertainty, rather than closed attitudes of judgment and fear.

Students need to learn the value of being frustrated and confused, writes Asher. Walk on the bewildering side.

All equity all the time: Something’s missing 

Education’s center “is two standard deviations to the left of the American public,” argues Rick Hess in Education Next. Most people in education don’t engage with conservatives or even see them.

“Equity” is “the organizing principle of K-12 school improvement,” he writes. Other virtues, such as “liberty, personal responsibility, and community,” which can conflict with equity, are ignored.

“The fierce conflict between the reform’ camp and the union-establishment” is really “between two wings of the Democratic Party,” he writes.

The “reformers” have mostly been passionate, Great Society liberals who believe in closing “achievement gaps” and pursuing “equity” via charter schooling, teacher evaluation, the Common Core, and test-based accountability. And their opponents have been the Democratic Party’s more traditional, New Deal wing. Other than occasional guest appearances by the likes of centrist Republicans such as Jeb Bush and Lamar Alexander, this has mostly been an intramural fight.

The key to making sense of this is that when Republicans have gotten into the ring — by overhauling collective bargaining (in Wisconsin) or passing universal Education Savings Accounts (in Nevada) — it’s generally been met with unified opposition from reform and union Dems.

Those on the left “frame every policy and debate in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender,” writes Hess. They see “talk of colorblindness or religious freedom” as “an excuse for implicit bias and oppression.”

Those on the right “experience calls for diversity and inclusion as efforts to police speech, suppress religious freedom, and condemn dissent,” he warns.

Underestimating the other guys — or not even knowing they’re out there — can have bad consequences.

Ed reform, race and ‘social justice’

Most education reform leaders are white, notes Education Next in Education Reform’s Race Debate.

Image result for rising number of latino students

“Nearly everyone agrees that education reform would benefit from having more leaders of color, to better reflect and include the communities it aims to serve.”

But some advocates believe that “true school reform must be part of a broader social justice campaign led by people of color, which calls for progressive changes to health care, housing, immigration, and economic policies, as well as education.”

Is this a bold call for real social justice or a case of successful, bipartisan reform being overrun by identity politics and left-wing political agendas?

Education reform must discuss issues of race, class, and power, argues Ryan J. Smith of Education Trust-West.

Over the past year, the blogosphere has lit up with thoughtful commentary on this from Chris Stewart, Marilyn Anderson Rhames, and others. And EdLoc, launched by leaders of color across the country, is charting an inclusive third way to advance change in the polarized reform debate.

However, it’s important for education to “retain its collection of strange bedfellows,” he writes. “Recognizing race, class, power, and privilege isn’t a ploy to drive out white liberals or even social conservatives; rather, it is an attempt to help the movement mature.”

Jason Crye of Hispanics for Choice says his five children “don’t have time to wait for Utopia” before they get quality schools.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is trying to woo Hispanics, writes Crye. However, he believes “Latinos are ill-served by being treated as an accessory to a black-led movement.”

Perhaps this is why just one in three Hispanics expressed support for BLM in a Pew Research Center survey earlier this year, compared to two out of three African Americans. The history and needs of Hispanics are distinct.

One in four U.S. students is Latino, while blacks make up 16 percent of students, he points out. The Latino share is growing, while the black and white share of enrollment is shrinking.

Whites who think people of color should lead should step aside and let people of color lead, writes Robert Pondiscio. “Closing the achievement gap will take decades. Closing the leadership gap can be done this afternoon.

Embedding ‘diversity’ in forestry

Many colleges require all students to take a class that exposes them to another culture: Often they can learn American Sign Language, read gay literature or study jazz, Native American archaeology sites or labor history without focusing on the priorities of social justice advocates.

Few colleges “require individual courses with curriculum designed specifically to foster cross-cultural exchanges,” writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

Now, some colleges are trying to get professors to embed “diversity” in all classes, she writes. That includes everything from statistics to forestry to engineering.

Hamilton College in New York recently adopted a plan that will require professors across all disciplines to discuss diversity and inclusion in their classes.

St. Edward’s University, a progressive Catholic school in Texas, is revamping a series of standalone diversity- and social-justice-focused courses it has long required in an attempt to urge professors across campus to work such conversations into a wider array of classes.

When Thomas Easley interviews people who want to teach statistics at North Carolina State University (NCSU), he asks how they’d integrate diversity into the curriculum.

NCSU’s U.S. diversity requirement includes myriad courses that don’t require “interactions between people from different backgrounds,” Easley tells DeRuy. As diversity officer for the College of Natural Resources, he is trying to train professors “to integrate conversations about diversity into curriculum.”

Calculate and catalog valuable forest metrics such as tree height, canopy cover, stem density, and crown area for individual trees in both forest and urban settings. Quantum Spatial has developed cutting-edge methodology that generates forest metrics directly from LiDAR points, which produces an accurate, detailed tree databases for entire study areas. Credit: Quantum Spacial

Foresters can use colors to analyze tree height, canopy cover, stem density, and crown area. Credit: Quantum Spacial

His example is that foresters “need to secure the trust of landowners from all backgrounds, and the process of earning that trust varies depending on who the landowner is.”

So, how much time should a forestry professor spend trying to teach the cultures of the various landowners a forestry graduate might encounter?

I worry about academic freedom. What if a forestry prof thinks students should focus on the diversity of trees, not the diversity of people?

Perhaps the statistics professor could ask students to analyze African-American males’ risk of stroke. Would that be enough? Is it necessary to discuss whether statistics is inherently patriarchal and heteronormative?

Years ago, a Cuban-American told me his father had been a professor of French at the University of Havana when an edict came down requiring all courses to incorporate the thought of Fidel Castro. That was ridiculous in courses focused on French language, literature and culture, the professor said at a department meeting. He served eight years in prison.

TFA drops social justice training


Michael Darmas, a Teach for America corps member, “high fives” a student at Holmes Elementary School in Miami. Photo: AP

Teach for America‘s Education for Justice pilot, which trained would-be teachers in social justice and cultural competency, has been canceled, writes Stephen Sawchuk in Ed Week. College students took courses for a year to prepare to teach in low-income, minority communities.

TFA is cutting 150 positions, including its national diversity office, notes Sawchuk. “Still, this is somewhat surprising news. After all, the pilot was one that TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard announced in 2014 to great fanfare.”

After nearly a year of E4J, Kailee Lewis, a future TFA corps member, believes telling teachers they’ll show low-income students “what’s possible when they work hard and dream big” is a false and dangerous lie.

This idea that ‘hard work’ can create something out of nothing neglects the fact that often in low-income communities there are multiple forms of oppression stacked against a child even before birth.

Education 4 Justice was teaching future teachers . . . to recognize their privilege and their oppressions.

I don’t see how this prepares someone to teach. If you think your students can’t succeed, even if they “work hard and dream big,” then what’s the point? Give the pobrecitos hugs and recess, but don’t bother them with fractions, grammar and photosynthesis.

TFA is expanding recruitment efforts among college juniors, rather than waiting till students are about to graduate. It will offer training for future teachers that takes “the best practices from E4J and other pre-corps pilots,” said an official statement.

Harvard serves up ‘social justice’ mats

Harvard has laid an egg with “holiday placemats for social justice,” with talking points for students to use on their families on winter break.

The Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion distributed the mats at dining halls “to provide a framework to help first-year students with potentially difficult conversations during their first visits back home.”

For example, if Mom or Dad asks why black students are complaining about racism on campus, the placemat suggests: “I hear young people uplifting a situation that I may not experience. If non-Black students get the privilege of that safe environment, I believe that same privilege should be given to all students.”

Pajama Boy is back

Pajama Boy is back

Except for the section on Syrian refugees and “Islamaphobia,” the content was taken “word-for-word” from a holiday placemat by Showing Up for Racial Justice, pointed out Idrees M. Kahloon in the Harvard Crimson.

Giving students “poorly written, straw man questions followed by seemingly official and definitive ‘responses’” stifles debate, argued Kahloon.

In response to complaints, two deans apologized for the mat’s suggestion that “there is only one point of view” on these issues.

Harvard “has the First Amendment right to try to politically indoctrinate students, and to indoctrinate them in how to politically indoctrinate others,”  responds Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.  “But that doesn’t make political indoctrination a good idea, at a university ostensibly committed to teaching students how to think for themselves.”

Oberlin students are complaining that the Asian food isn’t authentic — General Tso’s chicken is steamed rather than fried, sushi rice is undercooked — and is therefore culturally appropriative.

Black students want fried chicken on the menu every Sunday night at Afrikan Heritage House, an on-campus dorm. They also want more vegan and vegetarian options.

College ‘diversity’ event excludes whites

A ”diversity happy hour” was canceled at a Washington state community college, when the emailed invitation said white people were not welcome. “White folks” were urged to meet separately to “work on racism, white supremacy and white privilege.”

The program coordinator at South Puget Sound Community College’s Diversity & Equity Center, Karama Blackhorn, who helped write the email, said the center “is not for white people. That space is for people of color.”

Blackhorn, who’s part Native American, was studying for a degree in Queer Studies and Social Justice at Evergreen State College when she won a 2009 scholarship, reports Jim Miller. Now we know what kind of job a person can get with a degree in Queer Studies and Social Justice.

Two math pathways in high school?

Most community college students don’t need Algebra II, but do need mastery of middle-school math, concludes What Does It Really Mean To Be College and Work Ready?, a recent report by the National Center on Education and the Economy. In his Top Performers blog, NCEE’s Marc Tucker explains why he supports Common Core Standards, which require Algebra II content, but doesn’t think Algebra II should be  graduation requirement.

Algebra II prepares students to take calculus, which fewer than five percent of U.S. workers will use on the job, writes Tucker. Why require it of everyone?

Some students, including many who will go on to STEM careers, should study Algebra II and beyond, including, if possible, calculus.  But many others, going on to other sorts of careers, should study the advanced mathematics that is appropriate for the kind of work they will do.  Homebuilders, surveyors and navigators might need geometry and trigonometry, whereas those going into industrial production or public health might want to pursue statistics and probability.  We argued not for lowering the standards but for creating pathways through advanced mathematics in high school that make sense in terms of the kind of mathematics that may be most useful to students when they leave school and enter the workforce.

Phil Daro, who headed the team that wrote the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics, also co-chaired the NCEE study’s math panel. Daro writes that the Common Core math standards include “college ready” and STEM goals. The lower “college ready” standards are not as rigorous as a traditional Algebra II course, though they are “more demanding than the NCEE study found was necessary for success” in community college.

 In writing the CCSS, we were charged with articulating one set of standards for all students that would be sufficient preparation for 4-year college programs.  . . . we could not customize different standards for different students with different destinations.  The principle behind this is social justice, but it has a cost.  One could argue that it would be better to have the common standards end earlier, and specialized standards start sooner.

Indeed, my own view is that there should be two mathematics pathways to college readiness that split after grade 9: one for students with STEM ambitions and one for students with other ambitions.

To avoid “social justice risks associated with different pathways,” Daro suggests making both pathways qualify for college admission without remediation.

By 10th grade, students would have to decide whether to take the easier non-STEM path or tackle college-prep math courses that keep the door open to a career in engineering, math and hard sciences.

Now, many students wander through years of middle-school and college-prep math without understanding what they’re doing. If they’re assigned to remedial math in college, the odds are they won’t earn a degree or a job credential. Is that social justice?

‘Converted’ school fires activist teachers

Half the teachers at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles were fired this month as part of the latest plan to turn around the low-performing school, writes Dana Goldstein. The “conversion” got rid of Alex Caputo-Pearl, an activist teacher and reform leader. One of the first Teach for America recruits in 1990, Caputo-Pearl taught in high-poverty Los Angeles schools for more than two decades. He helped design the Extended Learning Cultural Model, which drew federal and philanthropic dollars to the troubled high school. He led Crenshaw’s Social Justice and Law Academy, a small school within the school with high expectations.

For their final project, (10th graders) had to analyze a data set that included test scores at various schools; neighborhood income levels; school truancy rates; and incarceration rates.

In math, students graphed the relationship between income and social opportunity in various south L.A. neighborhoods. In social studies, they read conservative and liberal proposals for school reform and practiced citing data in their own written arguments about how to improve education. In science, students designed experiments that could test policy hypotheses about how to improve education. And in English class, they read Our America, a work of narrative non-fiction about life in the Ida B. Wells housing projects on the South Side of Chicago.

Some Crenshaw students were placed in paid community-service internships. Others worked with local colleges to conduct research in their neighborhoods.

With 30 different administrators in seven years, Crenshaw relied on teachers to lead the reform effort. Test scores began to grow, especially for African-American and disabled students, Goldstein writes. But the district has rejected teacher-led reforms at Crenshaw.

Superintendent John Deasy announced in November that Crenshaw would be reconstituted with three new magnet programs on the arts, entrepreneurship, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). There will be more Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings and no Social Justice and Law Academy.

Teacher had to reapply for their jobs. Cathy Garcia, the teachers’ union chair, charges the district targeted reform leaders, Social Justice teachers and experienced black teachers who live in the neighborhood. She lost her job too.

Cities are breaking up large comprehensive high schools across the country, Goldstein writes. In New York City, the small specialty schools are superior to the big high schools, according to research from the New School. But who gets to go?

. . . students whose schools close may not end up enrolled in those better schools; instead, a significant number of them will be enrolled by default in the nearest large high school that is still open, which itself has extremely low test scores. That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a “domino effect,” in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.

. . . only 6 percent of students whose schools are shut down end up enrolled in a school within the top achievement quartile, and 40 percent of students from closed schools ended up at schools on academic probation.

Smaller, themed schools seem to be better for kids, Goldstein writes. But the transition may leave behind the students who need help the most.

At Crenshaw, a “politically and intellectually challenging” themed school-within-a-school reform was dumped and its leaders dispersed. That’s “discouraging,” Goldstein writes. It certainly doesn’t encourage the remaining teachers to become leaders.

Reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and revolution in Denver

“Students in the Denver Public Schools need to know reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, but what about the fourth “r” — revolution? asks the Washington Times.

New teacher-assessment criteria described a “distinguished” teacher as one who “encourages students to challenge and question the dominant culture” and “take social action to change/improve society or work for social justice.” The district’s “Framework for Effective Teaching” also said teachers would be scored on whether “[s]tudents appear comfortable challenging the dominant culture in respectful ways.”

After critics complained, the district eliminated references to the “dominant culture” and “social change.”

The updated language says a top teacher “encourages students to think critically about equity and bias in society, and to understand and question historic and prevailing currents of thought as well as dissenting and diverse viewpoints,” and “cultivates students’ ability to understand and openly discuss drivers of, and barriers to, opportunity and equity in society.”

Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the “real intent” was to produce students who are “critical thinkers.”

But what if they want to think critically about the meaning of “social justice” or question the prevailing definition of “equity?”