Slate: Private school parents are bad people

“You are a bad person if you send your children to private school,” writes Allison Benedikt a trollish Slate piece. Parents who choose private school (and presumably home schooling) are putting their children’s welfare ahead of the common good, she argues.

. . .  if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.

. . . Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better.

If the local school is lousy, parents can raise money for enrichment programs and “get in the administration’s face when a teacher is falling down on the job,” she writes.

If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy. She may not learn as much or be as challenged, but take a deep breath and live with that. Oh, but she’s gifted? Well, then, she’ll really be fine.

Benedikt went to “terrible” schools that didn’t offer advanced classes or expect students to read. Unprepared for college, she didn’t learn much there either, she writes. She hasn’t read novels or poetry, knows little about art and is fuzzy on history. But she’s “done fine” in life without all that. “Where ignorance is bliss,” after all, “tis folly to be wise.” (Thomas Gray was not a cheerful man.)

While public school didn’t provide an academic education, it taught Benedikt other things.

Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me.

I’m sold! Sign up the kids right away!

I was educated — quite well — in public schools in a suburb settled by educated and education-valuing parents, many of them Jewish. The “level 1 crowd” did not get drunk before basketball games.

I paid a premium for a house in Palo Alto so I could send my daughter to excellent public schools with the high-achieving children of highly educated parents.

The public schools were so good that the Catholic K-8 school in our neighborhood didn’t enroll a single Palo Alto child. Its students — all Latino or black — came from a nearby town with terrible schools. Their low-income and working-class parents scraped up the tuition money to give their kids a shot at a decent education. They were not bad people.

James Taranto outs himself as a very bad person: He doesn’t have children. Not only has he failed to invest his flesh-and-blood in the public schools, he’s “depriving the future United States of taxpayers . . .  hastening the insolvency of Social Security and Medicare and increasing their burden on other people’s children.”

Teaching ‘grit’

Teaching “grit” – resilience, persistence, conscientiousness — is the topic of an Education Week roundtable.

Teaching non-cognitive skills blames the victim, writes Darnell Fine, a “multicultural educator who facilitates creative writing and education seminars, as well as social justice workshops.” Low-income kids shouldn’t have to adopt middle-class values, he argues.

The teaching of non-cognitive skills pushes a socialization process that homogenizes students into the mainstream culture if they want to “succeed.” These skills send cultural messages on how a student exhibits “good behavior.” They are built upon mainstream beliefs and values that could prove to be culturally irrelevant. Are low-income students therefore “bad” when they don’t assume mainstream society’s cultural ethos?

I hope Fine’s students enjoy being poor because they’re likely to stay that way.

Alison Wright, a math teacher, takes a more pragmatic approach to teaching her students to learn from mistakes, persist etc.

Last week, I gave a short 10-question quiz in my Algebra 2 class. Student A and Student B both received a score of 6/10. Student A looked at the paper, rolled her eyes, threw the quiz on the floor, and loudly complained that the assessment was unfair and “shouldn’t count.” Student B, on the other hand, read my comments, reworked the problems to find her mistakes, and then after class asked to set up an after-school meeting so we could go over the assessment together and discuss her study habits.

She wonders how she can help Student A “improve her motivation, self-efficacy and overall academic drive.”

“Self-efficacy” or “efficacious thinking” means the belief that what a person does makes a difference. If I do the homework and pay attention in class, I’ll learn something. If I study for the test, I’ll do better on it. Kids taught they’re the helpless victims of social injustice will see no point in working hard in school or even showing up every day. Why exhibit “good behavior” when you have no chance to “succeed.”

If Mama ain’t reading, ain’t nobody reading

Preschool can’t compensate for poor parenting, editorializes USA Today.

A few small, high-quality programs have shown enduring benefits for at-risk kids. But intensive study of Head Start, the nation’s largest and oldest preschool program, finds that the beneficial effects, which are real, wear off by third grade.

. . . Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960.

Children born to unmarried mothers usually lose contact with their father by the age of 5, researchers have found. Without a strong role model, boys “are more likely to turn to gangs and crime.”  Single mothers ”

read less to their children, are more likely to use harsh discipline and are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime.” It adds up.

What if there is nothing the government can do for low-income children to improve their educational performance?” asks David Hogberg. Parents reading to toddlers shows a lasting educational benefit, he writes. “A study in Child Development found that only about half of low-income mothers were reading regularly to their children.”  Is it hopeless?

In Reroute the Preschool Juggernaut, Fordham’s Checker Finn argues against tax-funded preschool for all children and expores which children need it, who should provide it and “what’s the right balance between socialization and systematic instruction.”

Abolish social studies

“Social studies” — as opposed to history, geography and civics — was invented in the Progressive era to socialize children for a future planned by technocrats, writes Michael Knox Beran in City Journal.  It’s become dull, vacuous and a waste of time.  Abolish social studies!

Social studies is hostile to individualism, Beran writes. A 1931 social studies book for junior high school students condemned the U.S. economy’s wasteful lack of central planning and extolled Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan, which “resulted in millions of deaths from famine and forced labor.”

In the 1940s, as social studies took root in elementary schools, there were no more paeans to central planning. Paul Hanna’s texts were designed to teach children  “desirable patterns of acting and reacting in democratic group living.”

A lesson in the second-grade text Susan’s Neighbors at Work, for example, which describes the work of police officers, firefighters, and other public servants, is intended to teach “concerted action” and “cooperation in obeying commands and well-thought-out plans which are for the general welfare.” A lesson in Tom and Susan, a first-grade text, about a ride in grandfather’s red car is meant to teach children to move “from absorption in self toward consideration of what is best in a group situation.” Lessons in Peter’s Family, another first-grade text, seek to inculcate the idea of “socially desirable” work and “cooperative labor.”

Hanna doesn’t acknowledge “individual exertion, liberty of action, the necessity at times of resisting the will of others,” Beran writes. It’s group, group, group all the time.

Today’s social studies books are big on group spirit.

Lessons from Scott Foresman’s second-grade textbook Social Studies: People and Places (2003) include “Living in a Neighborhood,” “We Belong to Groups,” “A Walk Through a Community,” “How a Community Changes,” “Comparing Communities,” “Services in Our Community,” “Our Country Is Part of Our World,” and “Working Together.”

“Social studies textbooks descend constantly to the vacuity of passages like this one, from People and Places” aimed at third graders, Beran writes.

 Children all around the world are busy doing the same things. They love to play games and enjoy going to school. They wish for peace. They think that adults should take good care of the Earth. How else do you think these children are like each other? How else do you think they are like you?

Beran prefers the “old learning” which awakened children to their cultural heritage. McGuffey’s Readers introduced  eight-year-olds to Wordsworth and Whittier, nine-year-olds to tShakespeare, Milton, Byron, Southey, and Bryant and  ten-year-olds to Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, Sterne, Hazlitt, Macaulay,  Pope, Longfellow, Shakespeare, and Milton.

In my younger days, I loved to read history. We didn’t study it till high school. Social studies consisted of memorizing the three principal products of every Canadian province and every country in Latin America. I also learned that Birmingham was the “Pittsburgh of Alabama” and the “Pittsburgh of England.” Malmo produces ball bearings.

The preschool socialization myth

Preschool won’t socialize your wild and crazy kid, writes Shawn Burns on Babble.

. . . unless your kid is already a shrinking violet, having that many other kids around just means that now your strong-willed kid has an army to lead, and new authority figures against whom to plan even greater rebellions. You know how they say prison is just a post-graduate work in crime? That, but with three year olds. And all the shivs are made of plastic spoons.

Preschool isn’t evil, Burns writes.  But parents should have realistic expectations.  “One thing preschool did not do was socialize my daughter. It turned her into a general.”

 

Socializing the virtual student

Virtual schools are adding socialization to the curriculum, reports Ed Week.

Students enrolled in Commonwealth Connections Academy, a cyber charter school based in Harrisburg, Pa., spend most of their days doing classwork on a home computer, devoid of up-close interactions with other students or teachers. But two or three times a week, a recreational vehicle converted into a science classroom parks in a different Pennsylvania neighborhood, and students from the school have a chance to get in-person lessons from their teachers and meet fellow students.

Equipped with computer workstations and microscopes, Internet connections, and interactive whiteboards both inside and outside the vehicle, the RV takes Commonwealth Connections’ lessons from cyberspace to face-to-face.

The school also offers clubs, field trips and service projects. Some virtual schools have organized proms.

The online education company K12 Inc. commissioned an independent study by Interactive Educational Systems Design Inc. The May 2009 report compared full-time, online students in grades 2, 4, and 6 with students in traditional schools.

. . . cyber students were rated significantly higher by both parents and students themselves in various areas of social skills, though teacher ratings for those students did not differ significantly from those for students in traditional public schools. Problem behaviors among online students, as rated by the parents, teachers, and students themselves, were either significantly lower or not significantly different when compared with national norms.

Homeschooling parents usually get their children involved in sports teams, church choirs, art classes or other activities. I suspect parents of cyber-students do the same.

The ‘college experience’ without academics

More than 250 programs help intellectually disabled youths go to college, AP reports. That’s up from four programs eight years ago. Now, as I wrote here, federal grants and work-study funds will be available to students with intellectual disabilities, even though few are  pursuing a degree.

Generally the aim is to support the students as they take regular classes with non-disabled students. Professors sometimes are advised to modify the integrated classes by doing things like shifting away from a format that relies entirely on lectures and adding more projects in which students can work in groups.

What if the college professor thinks group projects aren’t the best way to teach college-ready students?

Disability advocates think college training will allow mentally retarded adults to qualify for better jobs than cleaning, flipping burgers or working in a sheltered workshop. But the story stresses socialization, not vocational training. At University of Central Missouri, intellectually disabled students live in a dorm, eat in the cafeteria and enjoy the “college experience.”

(Gabe) Savage, a 26-year-old from Kansas City, is grateful for it all — new friends, the chance to try out for a school play, brush up on his computer skills and even take a bowling class with non-disabled students looking to earn a physical education credit.

Is this a good use of the university’s resources? Perhaps I’m just a hard-hearted grinch, but I keep thinking of the students who want to take classes (and get a spot in a dorm) so they can get a college education, not just an experience.

Bricks, clicks and civics

In a post on “hybrid schools” that combine “bricks and clicks,” Larry Cuban warns that efficiency isn’t the only goal: Schools are not “information factories.”

In some ways, the new hybrid schools are fulfilling progressive educators’ dream of student-centered learning, he writes. Digital lessons are “hand-crafted to fit students for part of or most of the day,” while teachers coach students on what they’ve learned or teach a few traditional lessons. There are fewer teachers and therefore lower costs.

But techno-enthusiasts’ view of public schools is too narrow, Cuban argues.

They equate access to information with becoming educated – more of one leads to more of the other.  These very smart people ignore other crucial and purposes public schools have served historically in a democracy. . . What can be as important as students acquiring information? Try socializing the young, developing engaged citizens, moral development, and, yes, even custodial care of the young.

Schools have never been solely information factories; they have been and are social, political, and moral institutions whose job is to help children and youth acquire multiple literacies, enter the labor market well prepared, vote, serve on juries, contribute to their communities, think for themselves, and  live full and worthwhile lives.

That criticism may apply to click-only education. While home-schooled children often participate in youth soccer, Little League, the church choir, art classes and other group activities, some parents may let their children grow up as loners.

However, it’s not likely that bricks-and-clicks students will go to the same building to learn but never socialize. Do students need to be grouped into classes to learn to be good citizens? Are they more likely to be independent thinkers if they’re taught in a group? What do traditional schools do to develop morals that a brick-and-click schools couldn’t or wouldn’t do?

San Jose’s Rocketship schools, charters with a hybrid model, are rated #5 and #15 in the state among schools with 70 percent or more low-income students. Students, predominantly from Mexican immigrant families, significantly exceed state performance goals. These children will be just as able to “live full and worthwhile lives” as traditionally educated children with weaker reading, writing and math skills.