By Dennis Myers
This article was published on 08.13.15
I once had a paper rejected by the publication The English Journal because, the editor said, it was very well written, it was too critical of teachers. The following is my reflection on why the rejection rationale so angered me.My little riff with NCTE has been predicated on the notion that I am somehow unappreciative of teachers, that my words hurt those who struggle hard to do well by students under oppressive conditions. Indeed, teachers do work under oppressive conditions and the best of teachers suffer the worst for that oppression because they are regularly prevented from doing what they know is good for students. These are the thoughtful teachers, the teachers who are so thoughtful in their lives that they understand the importance and the rough-edged joy of being thoughtful, the joy of knowing and the satisfaction derived from struggling mindfully to get meaning from the things they encounter, to do what is necessary to get as close to the truth of things as they can so that their decisions are based on something other than the dictates of others, on ideologies or guide books for living. So engaged in the process of getting the meanings of life, of getting at those meanings, they know implicitly that one cannot hand another what they achieve through the work of thinking, that what they achieve is an personal achievement, the achievement of an individual, a unique being with a unique mind that processes the universe in unique ways and, for it, has both the right and obligation to share what is discovered and be heard by others for the sake of the growth of individuals and the human race.What bothers me about teachers is that teachers remain oppressed, the nature of their work so often frustrated by those who want them to teach only what those others wish to have taught. Teachers are too regularly controlled by forces that sensible people would never give in to, never agree with, never work for if they had a choice. The result of capitulation, of willingness to work within the boundaries of what is allowed is a school system that has and continues to be influenced by those who are for control rather than liberation, truly unpatriotic people who fail purposely to understand the tenants of democratic society, results in a citizenry that, to a large degree, opts out of the decision making process of democracy, often because people are convinced that they do not understand things well enough, not as well as certain authorities who they become dependent upon for the truth about things.The existence of “news” outlets such as Fox and MSNBC, amongst the most popular of “news” media entities, rarely report news; instead they digest the news and pass on the “truths” derived to those who watch and listen to know what they should think. And this parallels the process of education as it is manifest in this democratic society, teachers the receivers of digested materials in the form of textbooks and teacher’s guides, resource kits and media extras but conduits for stuff someone else, corporate producers of educational materials, want others to think of as knowledge. Curricula are built around the materials available and students learn what the books contain without even being asked to discuss who produced the stuff or why, what biases might exist in the material and its presentation, or whether or not their own experiences tell them that the stuff they with which they are confronted makes sense or not.Recently, a group of teachers made news by refusing to teach to a curriculum that a particularly conservative school board was going to make them teach. Students joined in the protest and this was a most wonderful thing, all involved making a statement of being fed someone else’s bullshit, someone else’s warped world view disguised as proper knowledge with the proviso that teachers not encourage questioning of the truths students were to be fed, no skeptics, no critique, no criticism.This was a radical moment, a radical move for both protagonists and antagonists, the school board willing to be blatant in its desire to use schools for spreading unadulterated propaganda, the students and teachers making a radical move in resisting the dictums of the wacko school board.What is troubling to me is that such protests, refusals to accept bullshit as wisdom, is so rare that the Colorado teachers and students have come to be seen as special, special enough to get the kind of attention they are getting. And the attention is deserved because such response to bullshit is a rarity, too many teachers going along with the mandates that are regularly issued for the purpose of controlling people, their thought, their teaching, and what is learned for purposes that are anything but good and wholesome and in the least bit for democracy. What angers me, though I understand, I think, the reasons for teachers accepting the role of purveyors of someone else’s bullshit, it is difficult to accept acceptance as a sensible way to respond to what so many tell me they outright, and rightly so, hate, being told what to do by people whose agenda is not one that has anything to do with liberation of human minds, the development of truly critical thinkers who can assess the trappings of their world and come to sensible conclusions regarding what stuff means so that they can made sensible decisions that lead to right action.We, educators, have lived forever, it seems, with the dictates of idiots and done their work without much public outcry. The history of the Texas schools textbook committees and the Gablers, true lunatics, and the power they have wielded over the content of the materials used to teach in most schools in this country should cause any sensible and well intended teacher to protest on a daily basis and that protest could come in the form of discussion about how the texts and other materials from which they are being made to get their information are created, by whom, and for what purposes.The effects of teachers’ willingness to go along with the program are so transparently evident in the society our educational system has done so much to help create that only the blind would not be aware of them. But blind are most to critical aspects of our history, of the means by which science produces its theories, and why the findings of science are held as theory rather than truth, how truths are derived from the kinds of inquiry that allow one to get somewhat closer to truth, but really never to absolute truth, how people in democracies are obligated to constantly work toward truth, test things for their truthfulness and base decisions on the best truths available based on good information and its processing into something that can stand as knowledge until whenever.
An argument for the goodness of the CCSS English standards.A way at the new standards that enhances the study of literature while helping students become effective readers of the world and the media that reports the world.Cliven Bundy: The other day I thought what a good thing it would be to bring Cliven Bundy into the classroom as a narrative, a character study, a study of critically important themes in the literature, particularly American literature, themes of rights and responsibilities, democratic process, the individual or individualist and his or her relationship to a society the government of which is dedicated to preserving rights while providing for the good of the whole, the common good, justice and injustice, law and human freedoms (law curtailing freedom for the cause of the most freedom possible for most, and with a concern for the freedom of all), and a host more, themes so rich as to be of the sort that places the focus of a classroom right on the things that really count. And then the setting and the setting and its effect on the characters in play and the plot, a delicious one that instantly leads the literate American to writers such as Thoreau, Thoreau the impossible made wonderfully possible by virtue of the relevance of “Civil Disobedience” to the Bundy case, the courts and justice, the unjust elements of justice necessary for the existence of a civil society.I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, — “That government is best which governs least”;(1) and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.Wow! And then Bundy brought in issues of race that led me to consider the whole idea of the Tea Party, self proclaimed patriots who do not like the government or the processes of government that are at the heart of the American democracy, patriots loyal to another country, of some sort, that they envision to be somehow more American than the country that is the United States of America. Irony! A nation that would insure that, so it seems, people are free to know their place in society as prescribed by these patriots, amongst them the Bundys who are about the Posse Comitatus, sheriffs enforcing the laws because the law of the whole of the land isn’t the kind of law Southerners wanted enforced, refused to obey following the end of the Civil War!Bundy opens up with his vision of people better off in slavery doing their job, picking cotton without complaint and getting along with those in charge, the good slave holders who kept those people focused on their work, work that kept them out of trouble and out of jail, on the right track, wholesome beings who would do what the master said and not get out of line because getting out of line meant out of wedlock births and jail time because those people, as Bundy and his ilk know, simply cannot handle freedom, freedom getting them into a whole bunch of trouble, unchristian kinds of trouble.So, for the cause of proving the goodness in slavery and the good treatment of these people by good Christian people like Cliven Bundy, what is needed is a government that does not stick its nose into the people’s business and schools that tell it like it should be sans the likes of Richard Wright and those other angry and misguided Negros, especially the radicals like Baldwin and especially those the likes of Baraka and Clever.All of this becomes the topic of classroom discourse, the teacher bringing in the initial stuff, the students bringing in other stuff, their participation in the discourse creating more stuff and more stuff to feed the discourse.And somehow, not really miraculously, a student, in such a course, having discovered the resources of the internet, brings in the Donald Sterling Clippers story and the teacher brings in Langston Hughes poem about the landlord and it gets even more ugly and revealing when the discourse comes to include that Wright Poem “Between the World and Me” and maybe “Sonny’s Blues,” and articles about the plight of the many groups of people who are disenfranchised and scorned for not adaption properly to the good society that has, historically, denied access to the society, access to a decent education to so many for cruel and stupid reasons made to seem sensible so that the Clivens of the world and the Sterlings can hold onto power that, for the sake of democracy, would be in much better hands if given to those who understood well the meanings found in works by the authors so far mentioned here, who understood how those meanings can and should be allowed to color the people’s thinking so they can understand what the newspapers and television programs and the Twitter and Instagram, and Facebook memes are about and how they should be taken when one is going about making important decisions that really do affect the lives of others.I bet that if I go back and read those CCSS goals, read them well, I can begin to understand not only how they hold potential for growing citizens who have what they need to grow a better society. And, I can begin to discover why it is that so many, many the likes of Cliven and his friends in the Oath Takers and the Tea Party, folks supported by good Americans like Hannity and Rush and the editorialists at the Washington Times, hate those new standards.The use of non-fiction in the English classroom, it seems to me, is a real brainer or, as the terminology of the day would have it, a no-brainer. Huh?
A note to those who evaluated the worth of my work when I taught in the teacher education program at the University of Nevada, Reno.I just had a student in my office, Richard, who received a grade of “C” on his final project for my course, the project that would become an artifact in his portfolio. Richard told me that he had done the work in my class with great difficulty because the comments on his work throughout the semester had been so in depth and valid that the criticism hurt. He had never been evaluated in such a way and he had never had to work so hard to rethink the work but, when he did, new understandings of the concepts taught across the spectrum of his education had begun to develop; he now was working to make sense of things rather than taking things in for the sake of repeating what he had heard to pass a course.Richard had bouts of anger along the way because he did not know how he could satisfy me. When he stopped trying to satisfy me and, instead, think through the problem before him and its relevance to the work he would do as a teacher, he had an epiphany that led him to rethink the way he goes about learning, a set of realizations that will, he said, change the way he thinks about teaching others.I wish that the conversation that I have just had with Richard or the communications I have had with several students like Richard were somehow recorded so that I could prove to those who evaluate me that I do know what I am doing, that I am not, as has been charged, disorganized or unclear in my expectations. I do change the plan, on occasion, but this should not be taken to be about my being disorganized or unclear as to my expectations for students. I change things in response to what I gauge my students to be thinking and where that thinking is in regard to where the course needs to take them if the course is to teach what it is intended to teach.I am not interested in students learning terms and content unless the terms and content are attached to meaningful concepts that can be applied to the problem of teaching in such a way as to help students grow knowledge wise and as thinkers who can discover knowledge when it is needed, distinguish knowledge from information and translate information too knowledge while considering how that knowledge is to be applied to making sense and decisions regarding the nature of the world in which they live.For years I have been penalized, punished, and harshly critiqued by students and, as a result of their criticisms, by those who evaluate my work, by those who, in reality know nothing of my work because they have no idea as to what I do. Over the past 26 years, visits to my classes by those who evaluate me number no more than three. The number of times I have been asked to explain the rationale for what I do in my courses is zero, even when I have written long explanations as to why it would be worthwhile for those who care to understand my work and its value to those I teach and those they will teach, those explanations offered in hope of meaningful discussion about why I do what I do as a teacher.In recent years I have submitted copious amounts of material relevant to my teaching and the results of my teaching and never been helped to understand if or how that material figured into the evaluations I received. Last year I submitted hundreds of pages of student work to show how I worked with students to help them grow by the evaluation of their work over the course of a semester. I received no response that would cause me to believe that the material had been read, let alone considered for the purpose of fair and meaningful evaluation. I have spent a career trying to offer my students the education they deserve, one that comes of instructor involvement with their thought processes, instruction that is based in my deep reading of their understanding by requiring them to engage with assignments that offer them the opportunity to apply what they have learned so that the concepts taught are understood to be relevant to the kind of work they will do when they enter the field as teachers, the kind of work they would do if the were to excel in their chosen profession. I have watched others rewarded for their mediocrity, teaching courses in which little is asked of students and little is really done to gauge that growth of students, in regard to the kind of thinking that is necessary for truly successful teaching. I have read hundreds of graded assignments required in other courses, several of which are part of the sequence that leads to the senior levels courses I usually teach and I have found many of these assignment to be wanting for thoughtfulness on the part of the instructor and the student. I have read too many an assignment made so easy for the student to complete that it is impossible to see how the work produced reflects any kind of important learning. There are few assignments that I have seen from colleagues that require meaningful engagement in the thought processes that allow a professional teacher to distinguish between meaningful means of instruction and those that simply fill the hours that have to be filled in the school schedule.Many of these courses, the instructors who teach them, receive decent evaluations from students because the work does not take up much of their time. Whether or not they really learn things of value is only rarely a concern for students and I know this from comments my students make when we talk about topics of meaningful work that leads to learning. Good numbers of my students have told me that they cannot take the time to do what they are asked because they find themselves pressed for time because they did not take into consideration the workload that the course they were taking from me placed upon them. In recent years I have asked that my work be evaluated against a stated criteria for the quality of the work. I have drafted a number of documents that offer means for what I understand to be fair and reasonable evaluation, none of which have received fair consideration. I have been highly critical of the very program in which I teach because I do not see it providing students with the kind of education they need to become even good teachers, in good part, because the program does not demand that they understand what it means to be truly engaged as students, something rarely required across the scope of their educational experiences. Indeed, I am saying that I have been correct in my assessment and others have been wrong and I am not saying this out of arrogance, not at all, but out of a legitimate assessment of what students do, what they understand they need to do, to receive diplomas and licensure that allow them to teach. For once, look at the work.When ever I point to the fact that our work does not do much to affect the quality of education students in our state’s schools, every kind of reason is given for how it is not at all our fault, that we teach but a small fraction of those who have teaching positions in schools in the states, that our work, somehow needs not be judged against the kind of schools that exist in the state or our region of the state or in the school district that surrounds us. I am consistently told that we do excellent work, we, not me, and we reward our faculty for the things they do, even though there is no evidence to show that the work done has much positive effect on the lives of those who attend the schools in which our graduates teach. The state in which we work is consistently rated, by almost every measure of quality of education a state delivers, to be the worst or among the worst. Articles such as the one below and report after report pointing to the irrelevance of colleges such as ours appear with great regularity and, for the most part, are ignored by colleges of education, ours touting the value of research and willing at every turn to ignore the research that reflects negatively on our endeavors. [http://www.washingtonpost.com/…/a-warning-to-college…/This is not to say that I can in any way prove that my work has done anything to better the situation. I can say that my work has been dedicated to doing exactly this, mostly through trying to help my students understand what it is like to engage a process of education that provokes thoughtfulness and produces meaningful discussion amongst people concerned with making the world a better place to live. To this end, for many, many years, understanding that my students would not be ready for a truly rigorous course, I allowed them to resubmit work that I would read and grade again, this producing a workload for myself that did prevent me from doing other things that might have helped me move up in rank and up the pay scale.Again, I wish to stress the reality of the world in which I work, a world that, as a result of innovations that I have resisted, to my own determent rank-wise and pay-wise, has made my job considerably more difficult because students’ sense of their obligation as students, and their sense of what teachers should do for them, has, to say the least, caused them to become terribly irresponsible and they have learned that to do what they are told is enough to get them through. The push toward a standard answer on a standardized test, the common thrust of most classrooms, the many still operating on the bad principles that underpin No Child Left Behind compliance, has left students without any sound sense of their own role in the learning process. When students complain about my being disorganized or my not properly explaining course requirement, what they are asking for is a map to a high grade that doesn’t require them to understand much or do much of what is necessary to get to the learning outcome. I have asked, and I will ask again, that those evaluating my materials look closely at what my syllabi contain and that, in the future, they monitor my courses so that they can understand the help I provide students in regard to their understanding what is expected of them. Evaluators might even want to query about what they heard said in one of my courses and compare it to what actually was said, my prediction being that too many did not hear much of what I’d offered on any particular instructional occasion. Since this will not happen in this evaluation cycle, nor will any kind of classroom observation reports be available, I ask that evaluators do consider carefully the information provided in the syllabus and the comments I have made on student work, taking the time to look at some of the student work to see how, for instance, students are provided abundant information on how to proceed with subsequent work in the comments they receive on work submitted earlier.I will challenge any evaluation of my teaching that is lower than an excellent. I also demand that the amount of work I have to do in my courses to help students receive the education they have not received, that they should have received through participations in our programs, be considered in light the lack of abundance of the kind of work that is normally considered for evaluation of one’s research. On the evaluation of my research, I ask that it be treated in relation to potential effect and its efficacy rather than on the basis of whether or not it was published in the traditional places for academic work. As everyone in the College must know by now, I write regularly to inform my colleagues of my thinking on issues of all kinds that are relevant to the state of the College, its relationship to the other institutions and individuals who are our “stake-holders,” this to include the students who are being taught by those who graduate from our programs.I ask that the copious amounts of writing I publish through e-mail postings to the College chat room be considered as well as the hundreds of pages of writing that I publish on my blog site as www.lafered.com. These electronic postings are peer reviewed, but not in an official manner which, I contend, makes them no less valuable than those receiving approval of those who run the journals that few ever read, that do not really play a role in informing those who make decisions affecting schools or the public that pays and sends their children to schools. Look at my contribution to various Linkedin conversations, the ones sponsored by AERA, for example and on the conversation boards of the National Council of Teachers of English, particularly the one title “Twentieth Century Literacies” and look at the quality of thought as well as the quality of the writing. I ask that my evaluators goto the blog site that Diane Ravitch [http://dianeravitch.net] operates and examine the many posts I have made to that site as well as my older postings on other blog sites such as firesidelearning.ning.com/profile/StephenLafer that are accessible by web search on Google. I ask that consideration be given to the quality and value of the thinking behind my writing and the quality of the writing rather than where the writing was published. I write to inform and persuade and not to appease those who only care about the academic game, a game that, even when well played, has won the field of education little respect while, at the same time, done little to improve the quality of education and forced educators to spend far too much time away from activities that may contribute something truly meaningful to the world and its people.
An exercise to teach teachers that I thought was indicative of a good assignment.EXERCISE INTRODUCING THE CORE CURRICULUM STATE STANDARDSCCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.8Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).Task: Over the course of the next week, become familiar with the Core Curriculum State Standards for the English Language Arts. Once you know their purpose and intent, analyze the standards assigned to your group in the following manner:A. Break out skills, knowledge and attitudes essential to mastery of the standard.B. In light of the skills, knowledge, and attitudes delineated in the standard, what would constitute adequate learning in terms of the nature of the skill when properly acquired, the definition of knowledge as it must be if the intent of the standard is to be met, and the attitudes toward literacy that must be established if the skills and knowledge learned are to be applied in useful and meaningful ways in the lives students live.C. What kinds of classroom activities are appropriate for helping students acquire the skills, knowledge, and attitudes essential to proper and adequate achievement of the goals specified in the standards you have been asked to assess.When you come to class next week, allow each person in the group to describe the results of his or her analysis. Ask each other questions as necessary to gain sound understanding of each other’s analyses.Find in the discussion the areas of agreement that can be used to develop a convincing presentation regarding the findings of the group in terms of what students must learn, how they must learn, and what the teacher must do to insure that they learn properly what the standard demands they learn.BE READY TO PRESENT THE GROUP’S FINISHED ANALYSIS FOR THE WHOLE OF THE CLASS ON SEPTEMBER 9. FOR SEPTEMBER 2, SEND ME YOUR NOTES VIA WEBCAMPUS AND, FOLLOWING THE PRESENTATIONS EACH GROUP MEMBER WILL RECEIVE UP TO 50 POINTS FOR WORK DONE ON THIS PROJECT.
On “proper usage.” Offered to those who may want to teach students how to write well.In several of the conversations about language arts education in which I am presently engaged, questions and concerns regarding language mechanics have arisen and much of what is being said has been said again and again throughout the history of language arts education, that students to often do not know the basics and, for this, continue to, grade level to grade level, course to course, at the job site or in the college classroom, make the kind of mistakes they should have been taught not to make.Punctuation and spelling errors, paragraphing problems, poor choice of words often attributed to limited vocabulary, organizational errors, bad diction, and so on and so forth, problems arising from lack of knowledge or lack of will related to correct use of language mechanics. Many of the suggestions for curing the ill call for drills and more study of the conventions, approaches that have been employed forever to little meaningful effect.Proper usage is something that is rarely spoken about in a proper manner, the notion of proper residing in a set of rules rather than in familiarization through experience with the function, the rhetorical functions of language mechanics. Too many students understand the reason for correct to be punishment of some sort, by teacher, for incorrectness, the real consequences of incorrectness never really understood, the response most often coping to correctness rather than thinking about the functional value of correctness.So the problems linger through the generations. The abandoned student-centered, whole language approaches, when properly used by teachers understanding the real basic principles of language and language use, did offer some sensible curatives to these eternal problems with usage, all based in the notion that those with a purpose will find a way to achieve that purpose or, at least, while in the process of trying to find a solution to a problem (in writing this would be the problem of creating a rhetorically sound solution to a rhetorical problem) and, along the way, if conventional tools, tools already available offer solutions, a problem solver will find those tools and work to discover how to use them to affect the situation as he or she wishes.In response, then, to the many comments voicing concern for student errors and the attitudes that allow students to resist instruction in the conventions, I offer this set of principles for the teaching of the language arts that may help to both change attitudes and lead to the production of relatively error free, thoughtfully worded, writing.Basic principles of a viable conceptualization of the process of writinga. Students need to discover, through classroom activities or experiences in their lives, things they wish to talk about to audiences that are outside the range of their voices–physically distant, removed in time.b. Theses are, most often, not sought out for the particular purpose of writing a paper. They usually result from observation, experiences, and interactions that cause one to come to a conclusion of some kind that they, for some good reason, is a valid conclusion for others to share. With this in mind, a writer has a rhetorical goal that is real, meaningful, and already backed by the evidence and reasoning that caused the writer to conclude as he or she has, the thesis the end product of a thought process and not the beginning.c. Theses most naturally come from interaction with the world that cause one to catch on to something that, for some reason, is compelling enough to ponder long enough to discover the meaning of the something, meaning in that something. It is that meaning around which is formed a thesis, any thesis of worth.d. The body of a piece of writing is formed of and generated by an author’s desire to be understood. Without such desire, without a sincere desire to be understood, the writing process corrupt to the point that the exercise is not only meaningless and worthless, but an exercise in futility that is, perhaps, one of the primary reasons for so many writing so poorly. Because, as so many have pointed out over so many years, much of what students write, particularly in their language arts courses, are “dummy-runs,” written for the sake of assessment of writing skills and not for the purpose of getting across meanings expressed in order to affect another’s mind, another’s thinking, many, most never really experience true engagement in the writing process, never get caught up in the dynamics of a process that exists so that an individual can, through language, influence the minds of others. e. Without engagement in authentic communication activities that make necessary the proper use of the rhetorical elements and mechanical devices because they do not understand the relationship of function to form, the meaning of elements and mechanics in the context of making meaning and making meaning meaningful for others. Correct usage is correct only if it works to achieve rhetorical ends one wishes to accomplish.f. The paragraphs and sentences within them are written, each after the other, with audience sensibilities in mind, the writer gauging an audience’s thinking at a particular moment in their reading of a piece, such assessment providing the vital information necessary for deciding what needs to be said next.g. Choice of words, decisions regarding application of language mechanics, for the engaged writer intent on effectively conveying his or her meanings to others, are based upon a sense of the rhetorical effect a particular will have on readers.h. Choice of genre, medium, style, tone, language and dialect, even color and weight of paper and the choice of paper clip or staple, are dictated by the author’s sense of what he or she wishes to have happen one a reader receives the document created.i. Because the thesis is the end product of a thought process, the writer, for the most part, engages in the task of replicating for the sake of a reader understanding the legitimacy of the thesis, the thought process that lead the writer to the conclusions that form the thesis. Thus, the production of a written draft comes near the end of the though process that produces the ideas a writer wishes to convey.j. Because the process of developing text for the purpose of bringing others around to see the legitimacy of ideas, of theses the writer understands not to be ideas or theses held by the others being addressed, the writing process acts as a powerful means for clarifying for oneself the meaning and the value of thoughts related to the topic under consideration in the piece he or she is developing. The writing process, engaged properly and adequately is a powerful engine for critical thinking as the writer must constantly check his or her meanings against the meanings others are assumed to hold in order to provide for those others whatever it takes to convince them that the thesis being presented and argued is sensible enough and good enough for them to, at the very least, change their minds.
A proposal for work to be submitted for review of application to teacher education program: rejected.Questions for the Essay for Admission to Teacher Education Programs1. You have decided to become an educator, to teach a particular subject matter for which you understand there to be a meaningful purpose. First explain your understanding of the purpose of education in a society such as ours and then, the purpose of instruction in your chosen discipline(s). From your experience as a student and an adult living in the United States of America, answer the question of whether or not your own education has prepared you well for dealing with the contingencies of life in the 21st century, what you received from your education that helps you to live life effectively, and deficits, if any. Discuss what was done right and what could have been done better and how you will do what is necessary to insure that your students receive the education they need and deserve.2. Below are three elements of the Common Core State Standards. Read them and discuss how learning required for meeting any one or more comports with the kind of learning required of you as a student. Did the education you received prepare you in such a way that you would be able to meet these standards? How so and how not? Should students be educated in such a manner as to be able to meet standards such as this? In your piece discuss your sense of whether and how these are important goals or not and how you think teachers can and should respond to the requirements of these standards (either in their teaching or their advocacy for or against the standards).Elements of the Core Curriculum State StandardFrom the Mathematics Standards:Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.Mathematically proficient students understand and use stated assumptions, definitions, and previously established results in constructing arguments. They make conjectures and build a logical progression of statements to explore the truth of their conjectures. They are able to analyze situations by breaking them into cases, and can recognize and use counterexamples. They justify their conclusions, communicate them to others, and respond to the arguments of others. They reason inductively about data, making plausible arguments that take into account the context from which the data arose. Mathematically proficient students are also able to compare the effectiveness of two plausible arguments, distinguish correct logic or reasoning from that which is flawed, and—if there is a flaw in an argument—explain what it is. Elementary students can construct arguments using concrete referents such as objects, drawings, diagrams, and actions. Such arguments can make sense and be correct, even though they are not generalized or made formal until later grades. Later, students learn to determine domains to which an argument applies. Students at all grades can listen or read the arguments of others, decide whether they make sense, and ask useful questions to clarify or improve the arguments.From the English Language Arts StandardsCCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.8Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.9Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.
A plea (ignored) for studies emphasizing the sane and the humane over the technical, the quantifiable.I know that people find philosophical discussions in meetings in the college to be a waste of time and I do not attend many meetings these days because my thought is primarily in the realms of philosophy and theory and this causes me to take time and, in the context of college sensibilities, waste it. So, instead of attending meetings, I put my thought into writing and invite those who wish to decide for themselves if they want to waste time or find for themselves that there is some value in thinking about the ideas I put forth.The reason I write now is because I came close to wasting people’s time in a meeting regarding the diversity and equity master’s degree program and my first utterance had more to do with philosophy and theory than it did with anything that could be considered concrete, but substantial enough to deserve an attempt at making the philosophical and theoretical useful to the conversation, here, trying to evoke discussion of the need for inclusion of the term “empirical” to define the kind of research in which students would have to engage in order to earn a doctorate in the program.How one talks about the issue and its ramifications necessitates visiting realms of thought that have the scent of philosophy and theory, it being impossible, I think, to consider whether or not research in a doctoral program in diversity and equity need be empirical in nature. I wished for it to be understood that there is a good amount of very good and very important work done across the social sciences, in education that does not reflect empirical research but, instead, mental concentration, deep, deep concentration on a problem to understand its meaning, the meanings discovered sometimes serving the discipline well by defining its goals, the nature of the outcomes to be sought by educators, the reasons for the educational problems that exist, that have existed over time, investigations into the nature of the thought that caused the problems to arise, and the nature of the solutions as understood in terms of how they might affect people’s growth and development as intellectual beings.I have it in my head that there are many aspects of education that cannot be measured well using the tools that are used in empirical research but that do deserve consideration—the historical and economic forces that influence the way in which education works in a particular society, the reality behind the attitudes that empirical studies can find to exist but cannot begin to explain in terms of what they are or the effects upon persons and people they may and do have. Histories, autobiographies, biographies, even fictional narratives hold answers to the questions that should be considered in education that are not and will not be if the field insists that those who work and think as biographers, historians, and writers of fiction be excluded or forced to study in substantial ways aspects of research in which they have little interest. Yes, they need to know and know well how the research of the type in which they may not be interested works and knowledge of the results such research produces and how those results should be read. But to insist that they understand the empirical to be superior to the non-empirical and that their dissertations include empirical research is to send a very bad message, the message that has been sent to students over the years that has caused a good many with very good minds to find other places to discover ways to unlock the meaning of life as human beings, the meaning of life well lived, as a human being, and how to design educational programs that help people to find ways to the good life, the life of liberty in pursuit of happiness.I just borrowed, of course, from the Declaration of Independence, a document that in many ways is about education that makes no reference to empirical data. Its writers are so bold as to say that there are certain truths that are self-evident, that some things are known to exist because any conscious being know of such things to exist because they are living life and using or being influenced constantly by those things. For example, one cannot prove empirically that freedom of thought is a good thing but one can understand that to think about whether freedom of thought is a good thing is to engage in free thought. One can surmise that hunger is not something good simply by experiencing hunger or observing the suffering of the hungry. One can argue that informed choice is better than choice made of ignorance and one can say that living without fear is a considerably better way to live than living with fear. One can say that decisions based on good information and sound thought are better than decisions based on little or bad information and little or poor thought. And sensible people engage in discussion about such qualitative aspects of life as the goodness of things, the thoughtfulness behind an idea, the nature of good sense, the nature of good information, and the nature of sound thought and even the amount of fear a thoughtful person will hold if well informed and sensible.I know many a work that has taught me to think the way I do about life and education and most of these are not based in empirical research. The empirical research I do read is research that helps me to understand the world I know mainly in terms of theory and philosophy, theory and philosophy derived from living and from reports on lives not mine lived by others. Story gets at the human aspects of existence, things not measurable by application psychometric instruments or even qualitative study of the kind sometimes acceptable in our field, contrived studies that have to push aside huge portions of the reality surrounding that interfere with getting at the particular problem under consideration.I strongly believe that it is a truly stupid thing to do to denigrate a particular approach to understanding the world by having programs in higher education, particularly that branch of higher education, that explain to students that empirical research is superior to research that does not qualify to be empirical under the force of the currently used definitions. Empirical is about evidence and evidence comes in many forms, most of which, the most important of which, are not reducible to clean variables that can be extracted from the realities that give them their real meaning. The ridiculous claim that theoretical or philosophical study is not data based is to not understand what data is, to reduce notions of data to insignificance because so much is excluded from the pool as to make the pool so dry, so bereft of the human stain (thank you Philip Roth) as to be antiseptic, a cure for our humanity rather than a healthy elixir that serves or passions, our creativity, our inventiveness, and our ability to mingle with others, to share with others, to enrich others with that we possess that is original and, therefore, life enhancing, vivifying, and yes, satisfying.The tragedy of our field, education, a field that is not very well respected, that is constantly criticized for not producing much that is good, helpful, meaningful is that it may be what the critics say it is and this because the field has failed to define itself in meaningful terms, terms that would allow it to pursue means to discovering means of education that do educate for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Instead, what we have done is tried to discover ways to force students to conform to norms that few wish to unpack for their inhumanity, norms that tell students who they should be and force them to do things that will help them become someone who others have designed. We fail because we fail to look at the question of who the designer should be and how we get to designs for human existence that are worth the cost of education, designs that are of philosophy and theory, theory and philosophy that comes from study of data that comes from living the life of a human being, as an individual, an individual who, at his or her best is unpredictable, to others and to self, and this is what our empirical approach to education cannot accept for fear that we may be called unscientific.We cannot live this way. The new an innovative field of education, if there is a field of education, will be accepting of narratives, of philosophy and theory, of stories and of thought that works to define societies fit for human life. We are not there and we are not even considering there and we are disrespected for the way we have gone about and continue to go about trying to make others in academia respect us.
A soundly ignored plea: I would really like to get back to the work I want to be doing but the current situation in our college has come to be, for me, of overriding importance because our problems are symptomatic of problems that exist throughout the realm where teacher education programs reside, a realm in which educationalists are the dominant party and educationalism the political ideology that is the dominant force in the decision making process. Educationalism is based in the notion that education, the process, is best carried out by those who are trained in education, in methodologies and psychologies that allow the practitioner to deliver curriculum in a manner fitting the needs of the learner, a learner who is assumed to be understood in terms of capacities and needs because of the psychological profiles the professional educators have been able to develop.Educationalism is, by educationalists, understood to be a science and, from this science evolves proper methods of teaching. In the college of education, research is carried out, at some expense, using the science of educationalism, to both describe the patient—student—and prescribe the proper educational treatment for what ails him or her. Indeed, there is a clinical feel to the operation, the educationalist able to assess the maladies that somehow interfere with students’ educational health and having in hand the research tested elixirs that will cure.The problem with this approach is the assumption that the student is a patient and that there exist those who know of the proper remedies for solving the learning problems the students is assumed to have. Colleges of education would like to be seen as schools of educational medicine and, in posturing as such, they work to destroy education. If one were to look at the typical college of education he or she would find that a preponderance of faculty have little expertise in the disciplines in which the schools are supposed to help students attain high levels of understanding. For lack of background in the disciplines, the educationist develops methodologies that are discipline neutral, what amounts to teaching tricks that have little relevance to development of truly meaningful understandings of what the disciplines have to teach.A reading specialist can, supposedly, teach those who will teach methods that will work in any subject area. And, the research will be worked to show that the methods really do work. The problem is that they do not work to teach students what they know about how to go about reading for deep understanding, reading to get at the critical meanings that are conveyed through the literature that contains the concepts that make up a discipline and understanding of how those concepts are applied to make sense of things so that human beings know how to deal with the contingencies with which human beings have to deal.Every discipline carries a body of information but that information is of little use unless one understands how one is to think about that information in order to make good use of it. The disciplines have their structures and their deep structures and these structures are applied to create knowledge, knowledge that stands as knowledge because the ideas have been tested and tested again for their truth-value. It is knowledge of the process by which disciplinary knowledge becomes knowledge that allows one to truly understand the real meaning of disciplinary knowledge.Educationists know little of this process but they do know techniques of reading and even of techniques for thinking that can be proven to be effective using tests they have developed that can measure reading ability, perhaps, but reading ability primarily in the sense of being able to hear in the head what is being said on a page. What is not really tested is whether or not the reader can think about the concepts discussed in such a way as to get at their real meanings imbedded in the material they are reading. Of course, what students read, in the textbooks, is often washed of the deeper meanings so that the discipline is made accessible to those with relatively low levels of real reading ability.I use reading as an example and I ask that those concerned with education consider the implied claim here that colleges of education have contributed mightily to the dumbing down of education. And I ask that people who care about this democracy consider the consequences of this dumbing down. Does the American public, educated in American schools, really know how to go about reading the world well enough to make the kinds of decisions a democratic people in the 21st century are required to participate in making? Can students really show their ability to do what is necessary to participate in such decision making by bubbling in circles on standardized tests?Yes, many in colleges of education do find the current system to be problematic and many do rail against the standardized test and reform movements that work to take away teachers’ power to make decisions regarding curriculum and methods. But, what too many in such colleges wish to do is replace one brand of pre-packaged decisions (made for teachers, not by them) for another and, these packages of research based curriculum and methods, inadequate in the obvious because new ones appear regularly to replace the previous batch that failed to produce the results advertised and arguments in colleges of education are regularly about which new package is the best, which holds the best tricks for teachers to learn to perform, few if any, of course, related in any truly meaningful way to students attaining truly meaningful understandings through the courses in which the tricks are performed.On a personal note, I have failed miserably in doing what I needed to do. I have tried over the years to have the conversation with colleagues that would cause a change in the way curriculum and methods in our college of education are developed. For the most part, the curriculum and methods discussions are dominated by the interests of educationalists who want to do the next series of research studies that will lead to the new set of trick that make our students comfortable and content, the assumption being that we can teach anyone how to teach because those teaching do not need to be able to think for themselves. The wizards of the college can tell people what they need to do and, truth be told, the wizards have failed and I have failed to block their interference in the creation of a teacher education program that develops the talents of the capable so that the new teacher could go into the school and thoughtfully work with real people, not statistically developed notions of people, to help them learn something far more important than tricks, the ability to think for themselves and think well.Indeed, there are, as I have said before, students who need more help than others. The farce that has been playing out in colleges of education, and in the schools, as a result, is that those who do not need “special” help are getting what they need even when a good amount of what teachers have been conditioned to do is discover the problems all students have with learning and attend to the problems at the expense of giving proper attention to the concepts the disciplines have to offer, robust concepts that, when taught well, over come problems so often discussed in educationist circles such as motivation, inattentions, and reading disabilities. The cause of most of these effects is teaching that is done without enthusiasm because too many of the teachers, enough so that they hold sway in the decision making processes, have not been taught in such a way as to understand what it is that is exciting, even glorious about the disciplines and what they have to teach.Schools are run, for the most part by those who have been deemed good teachers by those who have developed schools into places where the majority can be comfortable working, working with the teacher proof materials that are parts of the packages provided by administrators, at the behest of school boards, to individuals who are malleable, who are willing to cope with the kind of real problems created by the bad decisions made, the purchase of texts about the most interesting ideas every to be generated by human beings made dull and boring, about methods that cause students to want to sleep or text when lessons are in progress. Shouldn’t it be curious to people that students, surrounded by others, their peers, being exposed to concepts that, when properly understood are mind-blowing, have to go to their cell phones to converse about interesting things with those they find to be interesting??? Or to Google to sources of information that provide information they care to access????The current reorganization of my college of education, the one in which I work is exactly the kind of place that Arnold Duncan has been criticizing, a college of education that consistently claims to be doing the good work necessary to make schools the kind of places they need to be in order to educate students well, but with little to show for the time and energy and resources expended except numbers of publications in journals that few read and conferences attended where educationists can pat other educationists on the back for the good work, the goodness of which is never really considered.Duncan has told those in the nation listening that colleges of education are not producing whatever it is that would help to provide students in our schools with a good education, going so far as to argue, and rightly so, that teachers with master’s degrees from colleges of education are no better at educating students properly than are those without the education master’s degree. I don’t know of the studies, but I will begin to look for them, that show how teachers with advanced degrees in their disciplines differ from those with only the baccalaureate degree. My hypothesis would be that, if they stay in teaching, they do much better at helping students understand the structure of the discipline and its methods for knowledge production because they have spent time doing the kind of thinking they should be helping their students to be able to do.
A great many educators rejected the current sets of standards. Here are statements from the standards that are intended to explain the basic notions of meaningful outcomes in the disciplines. I find them to be compelling.What do you see in these standards?Math: These Standards define what students should understand and be able to do in their study of mathematics. Asking a student to understand something means asking a teacher to assess whether the student has understood it. But what does mathematical understanding look like? One hallmark of mathematical understanding is the ability to justify, in a way appropriate to the student’s mathematical maturity, why a particular mathematical statement is true or where a mathematical rule comes from. There is a world of difference between a student who can summon a mnemonic device to expand a product such as (a + b)(x + y) and a student who can explain where the mnemonic comes from. The student who can explain the rule understands the mathematics, and may have a better chance to succeed at a less familiar task such as expanding (a + b + c)(x + y). Mathematical understanding and procedural skill are equally important, and both are assessable using mathematical tasks of sufficient richness.English:As a natural outgrowth of meeting the charge to define college and career readiness, the Standards also lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century. Indeed, the skills and understandings students are expected to demonstrate have wide applicability outside the classroom or workplace. Students who meet the Standards readily undertake the close, attentive reading that is at the heart of understanding and enjoying complex works of literature. They habitually perform the critical reading necessary to pick carefully through the staggering amount of information available today in print and digitally. They actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens worldviews. They reflexively demonstrate the cogent reasoning and use of evidence that is essential to both private deliberation and responsible citizenship in a democratic republic. In short, students who meet the Standards develop the skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening that are the foundation for any creative and purposeful expression in language.Science from Next Generation Science Standards:1. K-12 Science Education Should Reflect the Interconnected Nature of Science as it is Practiced and Experienced in the Real World.“The framework is designed to help realize a vision for education in the sciences and engineering in which students, over multiple years of school, actively engage in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields.”1 Currently, most state and district standards express these dimensions as separate entities, leading to their separation in both instruction and assessment. Given the importance of science and engineering in the 21st century, students require a sense of contextual understanding with regard to scientific knowledge, how it is acquired and applied, and how science is connected through a series of concepts that help further our understanding of the world around us. Student performance expectations have to include a student’s ability to apply a practice to content knowledge, thereby focusing on understanding and application as opposed to memorization of facts devoid of context. The Framework goes on to emphasize that:“…learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K–12 science education.” 1 2(2011). A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. (p. 10). Washington, DC: The NationalAcademies Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=131