Losing the war? It’s our own fault. Part 1

In the Foreward to Educational Courage: Resisting the Ambush of Public Education (EC: RTAOPE) Deborah Meier wrote:

And we need resistance to the continuing assault on public education that reduces schools to market-driven factories that select and sort our students, distorting visions of communities of learning and growth and activism. We can’t internalize the norm that’s out there and can’t accept that this is “the way things have to be.” We mustn’t adjust to injustice, losing our visions, our hope and our active resistance. (pp. x-xi)

I’m on the side of resistance because I agree with Meier.

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Are we “educated” or “schooled” in schools?

Here is a 3-question quiz.

1.    If a person with college degrees spills coffee in a public restroom, will he/she clean it up?

a. Yes      b.  No      c.  It depends on what was learned in school.

2.     If a person, who scores high on standardized tests, spills coffee in a public restroom, will he/she clean it up?

a. Yes      b.  No      c.  Not enough information.

3.   If an “educated” person spills coffee in a public restroom, will he/she clean it up?

a.   Yes      b.  No     c. It depends on how you define “educated.”

“C” is the correct answer for all three. Here’s why. Continue reading →

What makes a good teacher?

According to PBS’s American Graduate project, this is a “simple question at the center of almost any discussion on education reform.” Hari Sreenivasan does not answer the question, presumably because:

. . . the answers are many and often complex, and the question can lead to highly polarizing debates over exactly how and how often teachers should be evaluated on their job performance.


Cut the Crap

The answer is simple, if you know the six virtues of the educated person.

PBS doesn’t know the six virtues, so they broadcast a program about teacher evaluations at a charter school in Connecticut that goes through extensive evaluation procedures. The school has a 360 degree evaluation process and a five-stage career path. Does anybody else think it strange that they go through so much, but they don’t know “What makes a good teacher?”

Maybe I shouldn’t pick. So what if the question was posed and never answered? So what if they broadcast a story about a charter school that does not answer the question?

At the end Jeffrey Brown invites us to go online:

There’s much more online, including a video about Bridgeport Academy’s strict rules, uniforms and college expectations. Plus, tell us what you think makes a great teacher.

Dear Jeffrey:

Good teachers are understanding, imaginative, strong, courageous, humble and generous. But don’t take my word for it. Remember your own “good teachers.” Did they bring the six virtues into their classrooms, or were they ignorant, unimaginative, weak, fearful of truth, proud or selfish? Why don’t you come to this website and answer that simple question. I love irony.

Report on “educated” #1 of 4

The following is an unedited report from a Western Carolina University MAED student in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

What It Means To Be Educated

Marcia Mungo

Acting Vice Principal, Cambridge High School

     In a world which thrives on competition in every aspect of our daily routine, there will always be comparisons and standards for almost everything possible. The reality is that especially in areas where some type of formal training takes place, persons will always develop yardsticks to measure the effectiveness of the various programmes. Similarly in education, competence will always be measured in terms of excellence versus average and inefficiency. It is within this context that the terms educated and schooled must be analyzed as many people will admit that there is a difference between being educated and being schooled. The difficulty which they may have is in distinguishing between the two, that is ,who is educated and who is schooled. There are however some common threads which surface once the debate intensifies, one of which is that being schooled is not as comprehensive as being educated. Another point is that the educated person is seen as being superior or socially more desirable than a schooled person. The educated person is perceived as being more articulate, congenial, sensitive and in short more sociable than the schooled person. The educated person is often admired and emulated for his poise, confidence and charisma which set him apart from the arrogant, proud and conceited individuals who are merely schooled. Continue reading →

One “success in life” lesson schools don’t teach

The headline reads:

5 Lessons Our Kids Don’t Learn in School For Success in Life

The author is Jennifer Owens. According to her LinkedIn summary, she has never worked in K-12 schools, so I am not sure how she knows kids don’t learn these 5 lessons in school. I suppose, like most people who write about improving education, she is working from a sample size of one — one family, one type of school, one period in history.

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Politics on an education blogsite?

Why do I blog about politics here?  It’s because those who work in public schools know that education is directed and controlled by elected officials. As explained in TSVOTEP, however, that does not mean teachers and principals should wait for policy makers to steer public education in a positive direction. Whenever my graduate students say their superiors should read TSVOTEP, I remind them that, if we wait for central office administrators or politicians to define the educated person in six-virtue terms, we will wait forever.

Richard Elmore argues a similar point from a different angle.

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Teachers define “educated”

Educators at Western Alamance Middle School (WAMS) in Elon, NC, recently discussed their definitions of the educated person.  As part of that activity, forty-eight (48) school personnel answered the following three questions on a half-sheet of paper:

1. What do you think it means to be educated?

2. Which of the six virtues (understanding, imagination, strength, courage, humility and generosity) do you feel are the most important and why?

3. How do you try and incorporate these in your classroom?

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Teacher views opposite mine

Although I am sympathetic to teachers, many of them disagree with me because I look at their situations from the opposite perspective.

For example, they look at the need for education reform, and they immediately want administrators, school board members, and state legislators to lead the way. I look at education reform by first looking at the history of public education. Then I conclude that governing elites will be the last people to lead reform.  They have benefited from our current system — they are administrators, school board members, and state legislators. Continue reading →

Is self-interest virtue or vice?

Ancient and Medieval philosophers didn’t debate whether self-interest is a virtue or vice because they didn’t have to contend with economists.  Many libertarians and capitalists think self-interest is a virtue. According to them, self-interest drives prosperity and creates so much good that it is a virtue, not a vice.

For example, Mark Ruscoe wrote the following in response to my 2003 column in the Asheville Citizen-Times:

Every once in a while, an opinion on the AC-T editorial pages reaches out and grabs me in a way I can’t explain at first. The June 8 column by Casey Hurley, professor at WCU, was one.

. . .  the really thought-provoking parts for me were his comments regarding “self-interest,” which came in for quite a bit of criticism. He said, “Civilization depends on rejecting the belief that self-interest is the dominant motivation.” And that “norms of civilized societies are based on the opposite belief — that humans often rise above self-interest.”

Ruscoe went on to say capitalism is “based on self-interest.”  His concluding paragraph elaborated:

But enlightened self-interest [italics added] is what will let us fashion a society and world that works, exactly as was envisioned by our founding fathers. Not by cloying appeals to selfless, liberal groupthink, which to me has the faint, but unmistakable odor of collectivism.

Ruscoe said enlightened self-interest because few people would argue that plain self-interest “will let us fashion a society and world that works.”  My guess is that many of Ruscoe’s “enlightened” self-interest situations involve rising above self-interest.  Anyway, in Ruscoe’s response I hear more Milton Friedman than founding fathers.

Debating the virtue of generosity

Friedman’s theories about free markets and competition are the basis for the “choice movement” in public education. Magnet and charter schools are now widespread, and vouchers and home schooling are often discussed in school board meetings and state legislative sessions. Furthermore, allowing parents to move their children out of so-called “failing schools” is a centerpiece of the No Child Left Behind Act. But magnets and charters don’t go far enough for Friedman and the foundation he and his wife founded.

Self-interest is at the heart of Friedman’s economic theories and his argument that a free-market education system should replace public education as we know it.  At the 21-minute mark of an interview with Phil Donahue, he explained why.

According to the interview, “self-interest” and “separate interests” are a good thing.  Therefore, they should not be considered vices:

1.  Friedman — “Is there some society that does not run on greed?”

2.  Friedman — “What is greed?”

3.  Friedman — “The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests.”

4.  Friedman — “The record of history is absolutely crystal clear — that there is so no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by the free enterprise system.”

5.  Friedman — “And what does reward virtue?  . . .  And where in the world are you going to find these angels that are going to organize society for us?”

There is much to agree with here.  There is also much to challenge:

1.  Does he ask the first question to point to a universal truth — that all societies run on greed?  Is that true?  According to Friedman, it is.  I am not sure.  I have not looked at all societies.  Has he?

2.  He does not answer the question, “What is greed?”  Economists aren’t philosophers.  If Friedman were a philosopher, he would know greed is the vice opposite the virtue of generosity.

3.  He claims the world runs on individuals pursuing their own separate interests. Is there no place for cooperation? Friedman exaggerated, and I think he would agree. His point is that self-interested people make things happen in the world, not government bureaucrats. He mentions Albert Einstein and Henry Ford. I did not know either man, but apparently Friedman knew that both were motivated by their own separate interests. He is not saying, however, that self-interest was their only motivation.  Since both men are dead, we will never know how much of their achievements were driven by self-interest and how much by generosity.

The point of the six-virtue definition of the educated person is that the extent to which Einstein and Ford were generous (and not self-interested) reflects the extent to which they were “educated” men. I think Friedman would see no connection between generosity and being “educated.”

4.  Speaking about the free enterprise system, Friedman said “there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people.”  I agree.  And I agree that the record of history is “absolutely crystal clear” on this matter.  But the key to this statement is, “so far discovered.”  Educators, are driven by the ideal of what it means to be educated — but not only in the ways humans behaved in the past, but in the hopes of how we can teach humans to behave in the future. Education balances (1) teaching about the past, (2) preparing students for the future, and (3) creating a better future. Friedman might agree, but he might be so unimaginative (the second virtue) that he can only imagine what happened in the past, not what is possible in the future. I love irony.

5.  Friedman says we don’t have enough “angels” to drive the world in ways that are more generous and less self-interested.  Again, up to this point in history, this is true.  But isn’t the point of educating young people to help them become more virtuous, to help them become the “angels” Friedman is so sarcastic about?

Friedman and I disagree about the essential purpose of education.  I believe it is to model and teach virtue, but there is nothing about the six virtues of the educated person in his discussion of the role of government in education.  So, further discussion is fruitless.  We don’t agree on what it means to be educated, so we don’t agree on what we should teach our young people.

I conclude with a brief history of the “public goods” provided by public education over the last 150 years.  Public education provided “public goods” that served the country well during (1) waves of immigration — public schools “Americanized” immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, (2) two world wars — public schools graduated the literate, loyal soldiers who were essential to victory, and (3) the Cold War — public schools educated mathematicians and scientists in the battle to show the world that capitalism is superior to communism.

Today, choice advocates and those who regard self-interest as a virtue, want public education to provide more “private goods.”  Just as the historical record favors capitalism over Russian and Chinese Communism, so the historical record favors “public goods” provided by public education over a privatized system of public education.

When we confuse economic theories for educational ones, we confuse vices for virtues.  Self-interest is not always bad, but it is not a virtue. Generosity is the virtue capitalists, libertarians and conservatives should model for their children.  If they don’t, their behavior is too convenient — too self-interested.

Learned watching cable news, #7

Week of March 5, 2012

According to House Speaker Boehner (“Now with Alex Wagner,” 3/10/2012), some of the dumbest and raunchiest Americans are in Congress.  (After the annoying commercial, move the slide bar to the 6:15 mark.)  Evidently, we elected people to Congress who are like the dumbest, raunchiest of my classmates in high school and college.

Boehner said “raunchiest” because he wants his colleagues to have strong characters and generous spirits. Members of Congress who received diplomas may be “schooled,” but if they have not developed character and spiritual virtues, he calls them “raunchy.”   His language is colloquial, but I can see (smell) it.