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“Let the Children Play” is Developmentally Appropriate Education

25 Sep

By T. Ultican 9/25/2019

Two education experts and fathers have issued a clarion call to “Let the Children Play.” Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle co-authored Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive. These two fathers with young children were both shocked by the education system they found when the American scholar Doyle took his family to Finland and Finland’s Education Director General, Sahlberg, brought his family to the United States. Their book is a tour de force about play practices globally and the research supporting the developmental need for children to play.

The authors document the stunning reduction in authentic outdoor self-directed play children in the United States and around the world are experiencing. They share a large amount of scholarly data indicating what a big mistake it is to reduce recess and they identify the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) as the cause for that policy error. Doyle and Sahlberg report on the amazing results both physically and academically being reported from diverse schools worldwide that have reintroduced significant authentic play. The book concludes with statements by 27 education scholars from Asia to Europe about the importance of high-quality play to human development.

Let The Children Play_0002

The Authors as Depicted on the Book Cover

In 2015 when William Doyle arrived in Finland as a visiting scholar with his wife and seven-year-old son, he found a school system that sent their children outside for 15-minutes every hour to participate in self-directed play. They sent children outside even when the temperature is as low as 5° Fahrenheit below which they stay inside to play. He shares that one day while watching children go to lunch one girl did a cartwheel in the hallway and noted “these children were expected to giggle, wiggle, and squirm from time to time, since that’s what children (especially boys) are biologically engineered to do …

That same year the former Director of Finland’s Ministry of Education, Pasi Sahlberg, came to Harvard as a visiting professor. He found a school system that was increasingly “based on stress, standardization, the de-professionalization of the teaching profession, and the systematic elimination of play in childhood education, even in kindergartens.” When he attempted to enroll his 3-year-old into a local preschool, he encountered “a stunning new concept in American education – ‘preschool readiness.’”  Sahlberg had heard that Harvard University which was in the neighborhood had developed the idea of “college-readiness” which had been pushed down as far as “kindergarten-readiness” for 5-year-olds. “But applying the idea to 3-year-olds seemed downright bizarre.

Yong Zhao is currently Foundation Distinguished Professor, School of Education, University of Kansas. He is quoted a few times in Let the Children Play. I heard this noted author and extremely amusing speaker address “college-readiness” and “kindergarten readiness” during his keynote speech at the Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Chicago 2015. He said as a parent he was looking for “out-of-my-basement readiness.” Then he mentioned that he met Kim Kardashian in a Los Angeles elevator and observed, “Kim Kardashian has out-of-my-basement readiness.” He asserted that the only real “kindergarten-readiness” was if the school was ready for the five-year-old.

GERM is Eliminating Play

Pasi slide

Global Education Reform Slide by Sahlberg Presented at NPE 2018 in Indianapolis

Too often, curiosity and creativity are being sundered when children go to preschool, kindergarten or elementary school. “The global education race for ‘higher standards’ at lower financial costs have turned many schools to factories that try to produce standardized products efficiently on tight schedules.” Modern education reform is developmentally inappropriate. As Gloria Ladson-Billings, Distinguished Professor in Urban Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison states, “Anyone who fully understands child development knows that children’s ‘play’ is children’s ‘work.’”  

The Let the Children Play authors assert,

“The war against play is largely an unintended consequence of inept political attempts to ‘raise standards’ and ‘close the achievement gap’ by increasing ‘rigor’ and forcing academic demands on younger and younger children. It is a war being waged by an alliance of politicians, administrators, and ideologues, many of whom have one glaring weakness in common – they have little or no knowledge of how children actually learn. It is in effect, a conspiracy of ignorance, misguided policies, and misinformation.” (Emphasis added)

“This ‘GERM’ is … a virus spreading around the world, infecting school systems, and it is killing play in our schools.”

The book reports that according to data from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) “American children have suffered a startling drop of creativity” in the wake of recent decades of play deprivation. In 2011, Professor of Creativity and Innovation Kyung-Hee Kim of William and Mary reported on a review of 300,000 TTCT scores which had been constantly increasing until the 1980s and have been dropping steadily ever since. In the Creativity Research Journal, Kim reported “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”

There are many unsupported claims indicating that learning math and reading skills in preschool and kindergarten gives children an education advantage. Driven by people associated with GERM, these claims have led to an ever increasing academic focus for these children and a commensurate reduction in play. The advocacy group Defending the Early Years notes, “There is no research showing long-term advantages to reading at 5 compared to reading at 6 or 7.” Their founder Professor Nancy Carlsson-Paige, who happens to be Matt Damon’s mother, states,

“The research is clear. Faster is not better when it comes to early education; young children need play and hands-on interactions for genuine learning to occur.”

A 2015 study at Stanford University, “The Gift of Time? The school Starting Age and Mental Health”, found a strong mental health benefit to a later school starting age and there was also a likely academic payoff. A German study of 400,000 15-year-olds found no benefit to early entry into school. A Danish study found that by delaying kindergarten by one year, 11-year-olds saw a dramatic reduction in hyperactivity and attentions deficit. New York City University Professor Joshua Aronson shared, “I have learned that American kids don’t suffer from ‘Ritalin deficiency’; they suffer from a lack of nature, play, and freedom that their hunter-gather ancestors enjoyed. Play and exercise demonstrably boost academic achievement.”

Deeper Play is the Key

How Play Helps Children Learn and Grow

The authors warn that more play in not necessarily better. For play to provide the benefits described above it must be high-quality play. The authors call it “deeper play” and define it with five main ingredients:

  1. Self-direction: “Self-directed play means that we let children decide their own play in a safe and rich environment where they are comfortable to explore their own mind and potential.
  2. Intrinsically motivated: “In intrinsically motivated play, children behave or perform an action because they enjoy it and find inspiration in the action itself.”
  3. Use of imagination: “Sir Ken Robinson says that ‘imagination is the source of all human achievement,’ and it is therefore an essential condition for creativity and innovation.”
  4. A process orientation: “Process-oriented play is enjoyable for the sake of the activity itself, and is not concerned with an end result or product.”
  5. Positive emotions: “When children play, they should have a deep sense of enjoyment and fun, and may also feel joy, gratitude, inspiration, hope, love, and a sense of flow, or the full absorption in the process.”

In the book’s much more complete explanation of the use of imagination, the authors note how children’s habits of mind and imagination are being undermined by an overemphasis on standardization and testing which is narrowing curriculum. They claim, “Standardization has become the worst enemy of creativity and imagination in teaching and learning in school.”

An study by Professor Rebecca Marcon of the University of North Florida observed 343 preschool students at three different schools. One was academically oriented, one encouraged play-based learning and the third was a blend of the first two. In ongoing studies Marcon reported “children who were in a [play-based] preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs.”

Let the Children Play discourages digital play. A clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics stated,

“Media (e.g., television, video games, and smart-phone and tablet applications) use often encourages passivity and the consumption of others’ creativity rather than active learning and socially interactive play. Most importantly, immersion in electronic media takes away time from real play, either outdoors or indoors.”

Reporting for the New York Times in October 2018, Nellie Bowles said that in Silicon Valley there is a “dark consensus about screens and kids”. She claimed, “Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.”

A 2015 report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicates that technology in classrooms has become a net negative. OECD’s Andreas Schleicher declared,

“In most countries, the current use of technology is already past the point of optimal use in schools. We’re at a point where computers are actually hurting learning.”

Play May Be Getting a Revival

There are several “play” pilot programs going on in the United States and throughout the world. In Fort Worth Texas, Professor Debbie Rhea of Texas Christian University created a program that tripled recess from 20-minutes a day to four separate 15-minute periods. In 2014, The Let’s Inspire Innovation in Kids (LiiNK) project started as a pilot in four schools; two using the program and two not using it to serve as a control group.  By fall of 2017 LiiNK had expanded to 20 schools serving 8,000 primary students. The authors report, “So far, the early results of Professor Rhea’s LiiNK experiment are so impressive, and so rapid, that the project may have the potential to trigger something close to a miracle in American education – more recess for children.”

China’s national Office of the Ministry of Education in 2017 announced a nationwide early education initiative with the theme “Play – Sparking the Joy of Childhood,” focusing on 3- to 6-year-olds. Academic subjects are banned.

There are play programs underway in Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai and Hong Kong. New Zealand and Scotland have also started large play focused programs. A small school district on Long Island is reporting amazing results from their new play-focused program.

I encourage people who care about education to read this well documented and thorough report on the crisis of play in school.

“After the Education Wars”

19 Dec

Andrea Gabor has written another outstanding book. This latest is titled After the Education Wars. In it, she makes a radical departure from the top-down models of education reform that have dominated the last two decades. Gabor, a Bloomberg chair of business journalism, has applied her expertise toward analyzing modern education policy. Through five case studies she convincingly argues that business leaders brought the wrong lessons to education when they imposed Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management and shunned William Edwards Deming’s continuous improvement.

Taylor was a mechanical engineer who became intrigued by the problem of efficiency at work. He is widely viewed as inventing industrial engineering; his 1911 Principles of Scientific Management became the most influential book on American management practices during the twentieth century. In it he wrote,

It is only through enforced standardization of methods, enforced adoption of the best implements and working conditions, and enforced cooperation that this faster work can be assured. And the duty of enforcing the adoption of standards and enforcing this cooperation rests with management alone.

Taylor was strongly anti-union. He saw them as wastefully introducing inefficiencies into the work place.

Andrea Gabor’s first book The Man Who Discovered Quality was about William Edwards Deming. That book was reviewed by Business Week in 1991. Some key statements in the review:

A trio of reverential new books celebrates Deming’s management principles. In Deming Management at Work, Mary Walton, a writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, focuses on how six organizations, including the U. S. Navy, have applied his methods. You get much of the same from both Rafael Aguayo’s Dr. Deming: The American Who Taught the Japanese About Quality and Andrea Gabor ‘s The Man Who Discovered Quality, even though their titles suggest biographical accounts. Aguayo, a former bank executive, essentially offers a schematic for putting Deming’s teachings to work.

Gabor, formerly a staff editor for this magazine and now a senior editor at U. S. News & World Report, provides far more insight into the man, which makes hers the most accessible and enjoyable of the three books. Born in Iowa, Deming grew up in a tarpaper shack in Wyoming. He earned a scholarship to Yale University, where he graduated in 1928 with a PhD in mathematical physics. He worked for the Agriculture Dept. and then the U. S. Census Bureau before the War Dept. sent him to Japan in the late 1940s to help rebuild that war-torn nation. Gabor vividly describes Deming’s early visits, using his personal diary to bring to life his rise to prominence.

The Business Week review ended with,

“How great is Deming’s influence in Japan? On the walls in the main lobby of Toyota’s headquarters in Tokyo, three portraits hang. There is one of the founder and one of the current chairman. But Deming’s is the largest of all.”

In 1979, Ford would lose a billion dollars and General Motors would lose a whopping 2.5 billion dollars. Many people blamed President Jimmy Carter. Industry leaders blamed unions and lazy workers. When out of desperation they called on Deming, he blamed management.

In the forward to her new book, Gabor highlights two key points of Deming’s teaching:

“Ordinary employees – not senior management or hired consultants – are in the best position to see the cause-and-effect relationships in each process …. The challenge for management is to tap into that knowledge on a consistent basis and make the knowledge actionable.”

“More controversially, Deming argued, management must also shake up the hierarchy (if not eliminate it entirely), drive fear out of the workplace, and foster intrinsic motivation if it is to make the most of employee potential.”

The Bush-Kennedy No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation with its test and punishment philosophy of education improvement was a clear violation of Deming’s core principles. Today, NCLB is widely seen as a damaging failure. Obama’s Race to the Top (RTTT) had a school “turn-around” strategy of hiring consultants or charter management organizations to fix schools that didn’t reach testing benchmarks. It was a consistent failure because they did not understand the cause and effect relationships starting with their completely incapable testing instrument for measuring failure.

Instead of removing fear from teacher ranks, NCLB and RTTT injected more fear into them. I am one teacher who will never forget the President of the United States congratulating the Central Falls, Rhode Island school board for firing all 88 teachers at Central Falls High School because the test scores were too low.

NCLB and RTTT were bad policy based on bad ideology. They embraced Taylorism and ignored Deming. However, there are wonderfully successful examples of schools and even states embracing Deming style continuous improvement through bottom up leadership. Gabor’s deeply researched book shares a few of their stories which demonstrate success in education leadership.

The Small School Progressives

The progressive education grassroots movement appears to have gotten its inspiration from Britain’s 1960’s open-education which had intellectual roots going back to Friedrich Froebel, John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Lillian Weber, a City College professor who studied in England brought open-education to the attention of New York’s reformers. That is where Deborah Meier became her star mentee. Sixties student activists Ann Cook and Herb Mack traveled to London in the 1960’s to observe open-education first hand. They became small school advocates consistent with Gabor’s description of the progressive leaders as “for the most part, anti-establishment ‘lefty hippies’…”

Gabor observed that surprisingly, these progressives ran schools that were lean, entrepreneurial and efficient.

One antidote from Gabor shows the stark difference between schools envisioned by the New York progressives and today’s no-excuses charter school leaders:

“As Meier, a protégé of Weber, explained it, the hallways and lobbies of schools ‘work best if we think of them as the marketplaces in small communities – where gossip is exchanged, work displayed, birthdays taken note of; where clusters of kids and adults gather to talk, read and exchange ideas.’”

In 1973, Tony Alvarado was named Superintendent of District 4 in New York City which is in a poor largely black and Latino neighborhood. Alvarado fostered an educator driven approach to school improvement. He encouraged educators to start new schools and schools within a school. Gabor notes, “Put simply, Alvarado was a master at fostering both improvements from grassroots up and creative non-compliance.”

In 1974, he heard about Deborah Meier and together they launched Central Park East which brought open-education to District 4. This was the first of what would eventually run into the hundreds of these small progressive schools across New York City. When Alvarado arrived, district four had the lowest reading score among the cities 32 districts. In ten years, it climbed to fifteenth.

Alvarado went to District 2 in 1988. It was ranked near the middle of the cities districts and in a decade it was ranked number 2.

Another important factor in the success of the New York Progressives was the support of Ted Sizer’s Coalition of Essential Schools. As the small school movement progressed, Sizer’s organization and Meier’s Center for Collaborative Education provided important infrastructure such as training, funding and political support. The pedagogic emphasis was on learning depth over quantity which is one of the stated goals of the now loathed top down imposed common core state standards.

I cannot do justice to Andrea’s well written readable and engaging account of the New York’s small school progressives. However, I wanted to share this much because I have a personal experience with two of the protagonists of this story; Tony Alvarado and Deborah Meier.

Chapter four in Diane Ravitch’s startling change of view book The Death and Life of the Great American School System tells the story of the unlikely school reform effort in San Diego, California. A non-educator and politically connected former federal prosecutor, Alan Bersin, was named Superintendent of Schools in 1998. He was given carte blanche powers to reform the district.  Ravitch noted that San Diego was an unlikely place to launch a reform movement because it was seen as “one of the nation’s most successful urban school districts.”

Bersin was a Harvard man so he went to Harvard for direction and that is where he heard about District 2 in New York City and Anthony Alvarado. Bersin brought Alvarado to San Diego to be in charge of the education agenda while he took care of the politics.

For some reason, Alvarado completely abandoned his “grassroots up and creative non-compliance” that had led to such success in New York. In 1999, two-thousand teachers demonstrated at a San Diego Unified School District board meeting to protest the administration’s top-down mandates. Ravitch reported that the Bersin-Alvarado management employed “centralized decision making and made no pretense of collaborating with teachers.”

In 2002, my first teaching job was working under Bersin-Alvarado. It was a miserable experience characterized by fear and loathing everywhere. It seemed that besides the no-input mandates, there was a quota on number of teachers to be fired. The belief among teachers was a certain number teachers were to be fired as an example for the rest.

I was a fifty-one year-old first year educator teaching five sections of physics to ninth-graders at Bell Junior High School, a poor, non-white and low scoring school. My classes actually did well on the end of course exams including my honors class being the second highest scoring in a large district with many wealthy communities.

I was evaluated as “not moving my students to achieving standards.” A designation that meant I could not even apply to be a substitute teacher.

In 2015, I was able to spend an hour talking with Deborah Meier and her niece from Denver. Both of them were discouraged by the turn events in public education. Especially the niece from Denver was seeing little hope for the future of America’s public schools. Later, I investigated the destruction of Denver’s public education and I understand why she was so down.

I asked Deborah “what happened to your friend Tony Alvarado when he came to San Diego.” She had no explanation why he abandoned the model of teacher led continuous improvement after his own twenty-five year history of successfully applying it.

Deborah had been a larger than life figure to me for a few decades. When I had the opportunity to speak with her, I was so happy to discover that she is just as warm and humble as she is brilliant.

A Tale of Two States: Michigan and Massachusetts

Brockton, Massachusetts the birthplace of Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler is home to Brockton High School (BHS) famous for its athletics. By 1993, BHS became a rallying cry for school reform in the state. Even Republican Governor William Weld’s own commission agreed that BHS was not funded properly.

Gabor takes the reader through the motivation for Massachusetts’ education reform and its bottom up development.  She notes there was broad-based leadership from the governor, from business, from legislators, from the judiciary, from teachers and their unions. They created “a clear vision of what education reform should look like.”

There was a “grand bargain” to increase spending in exchange for increased accountability. A “collaborative, transparent, and iterative approach to developing both a new curriculum and a standardized test that became the graduation requirement” was carried out. Gabor writes, “… Massachusetts reforms grew out of a deliberate, often messy and deeply democratic process…”

Much of the story of the Massachusetts reform is told through the transformation of the giant 4,000 plus students BHS. It was the story of home grown reform led by locals who themselves attend BHS. They proved a large school can succeed. Gabor shares,

“Within a little over a decade, Brockton would go from one of the lowest performing schools in the state to one of the highest and, in 2009, it would be featured in a Harvard University report on exemplary schools that have narrowed the minority achievement gap. Today, 85 percent of Brockton students score advanced or proficient on the MCAS, the state’s standardized tests, and 64 percent score advanced or proficient in math.”

In 2010, Massachusetts abandoned parts of their successful education reform agenda in order to win a $250 million dollar RTTT grant. They abandoned their state standards and curriculum to adopt the Common Core State Standards. The result looks bad. It seems that after more than a decade of continuous improvement, progress has slowed or possibly reversed as suggested by National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data.

Mass scale data

Graphs Created Using the NAEP Data Explorer

In the late 1990’s, Michigan and Massachusetts chose opposite paths of education reform. Michigan embraced school choice while Massachusetts rejected it. Massachusetts increased school spending. Michigan did not.  Michigan imposed school reform in a top-down fashion with little educator input. Massachusetts embraced educator contributions to education reform. Eighth grade math NAEP results provide stunning evidence for which choices were better.

Comparing Mich and Mass

The Nations Report Card Provided the Data

Conclusions

Gabor found a school district in Texas that embraced Deming’s quality ideas thirty-five years ago. Leander school district is non-urban and is in a right to work state in the middle of a mostly white Christian and Republican community. I find this all important, because it shows that the continuous improvement model led by educators, students and parents works in any political environment. It is not a red state – blue state or union dependent thing. It shows Deming’s leadership principles are sound and perhaps universal.

I met Andrea Gabor in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Network for Public Education conference of April, 2016. She had come there from New Orleans accompanied by friends she made there while researching this book. For a guy like me who grew up in rural mostly white Idaho and then moved to pluralistic California to serve in the integrated US Navy, the story of profound and continuous racism in New Orleans were beyond my ability to apprehend. There was a conscious centuries long effort made there to limit education among the black population!

When all of the black professional educators in New Orleans were fired after hurricane Katrina and replaced with mostly white college graduates from Teach for America, it was a continuation of that same centuries of racial injustice.

In Raleigh, Andrea made it clear that she was not anti-charter school and in her book she presents the story of one particularly successful school, Morris Jeff, that exemplified the Deming approach. Morris Jeff is one of the few mixed race schools in New Orleans and their students are outperforming the cities “no-excuses” charters.

Bottom line, this is a special book and I encourage you to read it. It’s ideas are both thought provoking and promising.

Democracy’s Schools: A Good Read

21 May

The unprecedented development of a pan American public education system arose between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginning of the Civil War. In Democracy’s Schools, Johann Neem explains the origins of the egalitarian spirit manifested in the uniquely American system, the system’s rapid development from the bottom up and he presents evidence about ideological debates that are still unresolved in the twenty-first century. These explanations are informed by impressive scholarship.

Cover Photo_05192018

The Cover Art for Democracy’s Schools Employs Charles Frederick Bosworth’s Oil on Wood Painting, “The New England School” (ca. 1852)

Massachusetts philosopher and Unitarian church minister, William Ellery Channing, had a profound influence on egalitarianism in public education. He believed that within each person were “germs and promises of growth to which no bounds can be set.” Everyone was seen as inherently equal and deserving of education that develops the capacity for creating “self-culture.” Neem paraphrases Channing, “To educate some for work and others to appreciate beauty was to commit a crime against human nature.”

Neem states, “Nobody made the case for self-culture more strongly than Horace Mann.” Mann trained as a lawyer after graduating from Brown University. “In contrast to Democrats like Andrew Jackson, Whigs like Mann believed that the state had an obligation to improve individuals and society by developing their moral, intellectual, and economic potential.”

Mann’s wife of two years died in 1832. His deep depression caused good friend Elizbeth Peabody to introduce him to Reverend Channing. The reverend had a profound influence on Mann’s understanding of education. When Massachusetts established a board of education in 1837, Mann became its first secretary.

The establishment of public high schools exposed deeply held difference about education. The common schools which educated through the equivalent of middle school were rapidly embraced. With Mann leading the charge, they were adopted in one community after another. However, many Americans did not trust reformers calling for the establishment of public high schools. They wondered if higher education wasn’t just a way to justify elite privilege.

To reformers, public high schools would expose the most talented children to the kind of education that had been the exclusive heritage of the wealthy. However, their arguments did not prevail, and the public high school development advanced slowly. Neem reports, “by 1890, only 6.7 percent of fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds were enrolled.”

Writing about the “overlapping consensus” for public education, Neem says,

“Since its inception, American public education has served many masters. It sought to educate citizens, to promote self-culture, and simultaneously to prepare people for success in the workplace. The public schools reflected the complicated aspirations of policy makers, education reformers, citizens, parents, teachers, and students. In America, schools benefited from an overlapping consensus in which the various stakeholders did not always agree on why schools existed but agreed that they ought to exist. This overlapping consensus fueled the dramatic growth in public school enrollment between the Revolutionary and Civil War.

“But since Americans did not always agree on the purposes of education, public schools also generated intense political conflicts. Perhaps for most Americans, schools were practical institutions. They gave young children basic skills, reinforced the community’s morals, and prepared them to be citizens and productive members of society. But to reformers, public schools would also elevate the human spirit. To do that, the following chapters argue, reformers sought to transform the content of curriculum and how teachers taught and ultimately, to make public schools free and universal.”

Jackson to Trump 200 Years; Same Dynamic

I agree with Newt Gingrich (a politician named after a salamander), the first Democratic President, Andrew Jackson, and today’s insurgent Republican President, Donald Trump, have commonality. In 1828, Jackson, one of the largest slave owners in Tennessee, became the champion of the common man against elites. In 2016, Trump, the wealthy New York real estate developer, cultivated the aura of a champion of the common people fighting against elite privilege.

In 1818, education reformers were pushing for liberal education for all free children. University of North Carolina President, Joseph Caldwell worried that many Americans had “become avowed partizans of mental darkness against light” who were “glorying in ignorance.” Jackson’s supporters did not trust elites and thought classical liberal education was old fashioned and elitist. They wanted just the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. These sentiments and concerns are still heard today.

Channing taught that the purpose of education was to develop human beings in God’s image. His protégé, Horace Mann, was attracted to the new “science” of phrenology. Phrenology conceived of the brain as malleable which gave Mann added confidence concerning the value of universal education. In some ways, today’s standards and testing are the modern equivalent of phrenology; uninformed, potentially harmful yet a policy guide.

An enduring tenant of American public education was championed by Ohio’s superintendent of schools. He argued that both girls and boys were endowed with the faculties “of memory, of reason, of conscience, of imagination, and of will” therefore, school must ensure “all of these are to be developed” in both sexes.

It was widely believed that self-control was the key for education to cultivate the best within us. “Otherwise, people would not be free, or self-made, but remain an unformed bundle of impulses with no ability to resist immediate temptation.” There were to be no excuses. Discipline was the precondition to freedom and a key purpose of education.

The first development in a new American community was invariably the establishment of a school. Community members naturally accepted that their religious beliefs would be reinforced at school. Neem described the understanding, “A good education required shaping character, and this required religion.” However, efforts to accommodate all faiths meant eliminating those ideas that were not common. The American Sunday School Union questioned the public schools’ determination “To Diffuse Knowledge without Religion.”

In a heated debate with Frederick Packard, American Sunday School Union Corresponding Secretary, Horace Mann upheld non-sectarianism. Packard responded that Mann’s non-sectarianism reflected the sectarian principles of his own Unitarian church.

Neem shares, “The Sunday school movement emerged in order to ensure that young Americans would receive the religious education that they did not get in common schools.”

The belief that Christianity belongs in the public education curriculum is still strongly    embraced by some sectors of today’s pluralistic society*. In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering where Dick complained that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.”

*Betsy DeVos while channeling Margret Thatcher claimed there in no such thing as society.

Development and Pedagogy

There was a divide between those who supported the reformers’ programs and those who wanted just the basics of reading and cyphering. Better-off farmers were generally in favor of liberal education including studying the classics. Poorer citizens had a tendency to embrace the less costly and more practical basics only. Neem reports, “Because of their political power and the way the tax burden fell largely upon them, slaveholding elites spread an antitax gospel to convince ordinary whites that taxes were a bad thing.” Today that same gospel is advocated by wealthy elites in America’s two major political parties with a more determined effort coming from conservative funders. (emphasis added)

America’s schools were a battlefield. Violence was used as both a method of discipline and motivation. Lessons were almost exclusively memorization and regurgitation. If the recitation was incorrect students were regularly struck across the cheek, ear or bottom. Students often had their hands struck harshly and repeatedly for minor infractions. Harsh discipline combined with drill and skill pedagogy is still practiced in modern “no excuses” charter schools.

Reformers were convinced that authoritarian pedagogy was ineffectual. They started looking to innovations in Europe for guidance. As early as 1817, Archibald Murphey of North Carolina was informing the state legislature about new approaches to education in Europe. In 1819, a New York school teacher, John Griscom, published A Year in Europe. Both Murphey and Griscom praised the schools of Prussia and the Swiss educator, Johann Pestalozzi.

In 1843, Horace Mann married Mary Peabody and for their honeymoon they toured schools in Europe. Mann recognized that schools in democracies could not promote “passive obedience to government, or of blind adherence to the articles of a church.” On the other hand, he was enamored by the organization of the Prussian schools. Schools were divided into age-based grades to facilitate age appropriate pedagogy. Most of all Mann was impressed by the teachers of Prussia. He called for improvement in the status of the teaching profession in Massachusetts and improvement in training.

A popular alternative to the Prussian model and Pestalozzi’s views on pedagogy was Lancasterianism named for its originator, Joseph Lancaster. Neem explains the popularity of Lancaster’s approach,

“This approach had several advantages. First, it was cheap because Lancaster relied on older students to teach. Second, some considered Lancaster’s emphasis on repetition and competition to be effective. In groups of ten or twelve, led by a monitor, students drilled in reading, spelling, or arithmetic. Each day, every student was ranked publicly, motivating students to excel or, at least, to avoid embarrassment. Students received “merit tickets” for behavior and performance.”

Mann worried that Lancasterianism taught students to compete for external rewards and glory instead of developing appropriate moral character. He felt the system deprived students the benefit of a qualified well-prepared teacher. Mann wrote, “One must see the difference between the hampering, binding, misleading instruction given by an inexperienced child, and the developing, transforming, and almost creative power of an accomplished teacher.” Reminds one of Texas businessmen paying cash rewards to students for passing AP exams, the push for scripted education and Teach for America.

Mann was so taken by his European experience, that he wrote in official reports of the inspiring, engaging, loving classrooms he observed in Prussia. Boston’s schoolmasters replied that education “amateurs” like Mann rarely cared about what actual teachers might think. Neem notes, “The teachers felt insulted by Mann’s tone, which suggested that Prussia’s teachers were doing great things while back at home every teacher was incompetent.”

Reformers believed that by tapping into children’s curiosity and interest they would become independent learners. Experienced teachers knew that students also needed discipline, or they would only engage in what they liked. Educators felt that though nice to appeal to children’s moral sense still “Massachusetts was not some prelapsarian Eden.”

Maybe the blindness to practical classroom reality explains some of Bill Gates’s serial education reform failures.

Charter Schools and America’s Curriculum

After the Revolutionary War, states recognized the need for an educated citizenry and schools, but they lacked the capacity to develop and fund public education. Concurrent with building public schools, state governments also encouraged citizens to create charter schools called academies. By 1855 there were more than 6,000 of these state-chartered schools operating compared to almost 81,000 common schools. Neem observed,

“But American leaders ultimately concluded that academies were unable to meet the nation’s need for an educated public and worse, that they exacerbated the division between the haves and have-nots. In the post-Revolutionary era, Massachusetts governor Samuel Adams asserted that academies increase inequality because well-off families who sent their children to academies would be less willing to pay taxes for the state’s common schools. ‘Citizens,’ Adams argued, ‘will never willingly and cheerfully support two systems of schools.’”

So, charter schools were not an invention of Ray Budd in a 1970’s paper. They had existed since the time of the American Revolution, however, nineteenth century politicians and reformers concluded they were not a good fit for democratically sponsored education.

Reverend William Holmes McGuffey was a stern task master in the classroom. He expected good behavior and would tolerate nothing less. He also disliked rote memorization and recitation pedagogy. In the 1820’s, McGuffey wrote the first edition of his reader. Its readings were laced with moral lessons and Biblical verses. It taught a protestant ethic. Between 1836 and 1920, the reader sold as many as 122 million copies and most of these copies were used by several students. It has been said that McGuffey was responsible for “making the American mind.”

In post-revolutionary war America, large numbers of Catholic Immigrants arrived, and they did not like the anti-Catholic lessons taught in common schools. Protestants viewed Catholics as antidemocratic because of their allegiance to the Pope who opposed democratic reform in Europe. Catholics did not want their children abused in common schools. They started developing their own school system and wanted government support for their schools. This was just one of multiple pressure points creating the “Bible wars.”

The fight over religion in school became so intense that in 1876 President Ulysses S. Grant declared:

‘“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. … Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

I have touched lightly on just a few of the early developments in public education chronicled in great depth by Neem. My main take away from this read is that in developing universal free public education in America the foundation for democracy was forged. That foundation is under attack today. Read this book and you will deepen and reinforce your own need to protect America’s public schools.

A Horror Story by Steven Singer the Gadfly

23 Dec

Steven shares a hoary story that has become a national crisis. Unlike a Steven King novel, this book, Gadfly on the Wall, is not a fantasy. It is impossible to overstate the damage being done to America and its children by the greedy, the self-centered and the stupid. They are set on destroying free universal public education in America.

Billionaires be wary, Steven says he is ready to kick your sorry asses.

Many people were disheartened when Donald Trump became president and installed an evangelical who despises public schools as Secretary of Education. Her agenda seems to be ending public education and creating a system of government financed Christian schools. Here, I really love Steven’s attitude. He says,

“We lived through administrations that wanted to destroy us and actually knew how to do it! We can take Tiny Hands, the Bankruptcy King any day! This is a guy who couldn’t make a profit running casinos – a business where the house always wins! You expect us to cower in fear that he’s going to take away our schools. Son, we’ve fought better than you!”

I first met the author of The Gadfly on the Wall at Chicago’s Drake Hotel almost three years ago. Educators, parents and others were arriving for the National Public Education (NPE) conference. The Drake’s lobby waiting area is at the top of a short flight of stairs next to the room where hi-tea has been served since the 19th century. It was here that I met Karen Wolfe from LA, Larry Profit from Tennessee, Steven Singer from Pennsylvania and many others.

My Singer Collage

Steven Singer Collage by T. Ultican

That evening the tall Anthony Cody was at the top of the stairs greeting new arrivals; many of whom gathered in the elegantly appointed waiting area. It was a conducive atmosphere for my first conversation with a humble bespectacled somewhat chubby Steven. I had been reading Steven’s new blog and really liked it. Later, I made some notes about the evening’s encounters intending of write about it when time permitted. Steven beat me to it. In the morning our arrival scene was covered by a wonderful post in his “Gadfly on the Wall Blog.”

I have learned that Steven is disciplined, efficient and a very hard worker. He is emblematic of the teacher blogger. His opinions are sometimes hyperbolic but when he states a fact it is well sourced and the source is readily available. I have often used sources Steven provided when doing my own writing.

Unlike education journalism in commercial and non-profit media, teacher bloggers show more integrity because their peers in the profession demand it. Also, billionaires are not underwriting their blogs. Teachers are providing unvarnished truths about the attack on public education. The Gadfly on the Wall is a compilation of three years of blogs calling out the perpetrators of the attacks on public schools for their false narratives about failing public schools, their often-racist agendas, and their manipulation of data used to justify charter schools, testing and vouchers.

I met Steven again at NPE2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was the same humble likable guy but much busier. I had limited opportunity to talk with him, because he had become a central figure in the Badass Teachers (BATs) Association and he was in demand.

Teachers and their relationships with students are critical. Phony “personalized learning” sold by technology companies and “no excuses” charter schools run by amateur educators are not good enough. Heart and commitment are required. In the article called “Killer in My Classroom,” Steven tells the story of an 8th grader, Tyrell:

“Almost always calm and in control. He was well above the others academically. When one of the others lost his cool, Tyrell would help talk them down.”

Tyrell was moved out of Singer’s remedial classroom and back to regular classes. In his last conversation with Tyrell, Steven tried to convince him that he had better options than “making a stack on the street.”

Steven still wonders if he could have made a difference for Tyrell if given more time, but he will never know. He also has no way of knowing how many children he may have saved. The Tyrell saga still haunts Singer. He shares,

“And Tyrell? About a year later, I read about him in the newspaper.

“Police think it was a drug related hit. Tyrell was in the backseat. He put his gun to the driver’s head and pulled the trigger.

“Bam.

“No more future for either of them.

“Except on restless nights when Tyrell’s face keeps coming back to me.”

School Choice

The Gadfly on the Wall is organized into five sections: Introduction; Racism and Prejudice; School Choice; Testing; and Teaching. I particularly recommend the article from School Choice, “Top 10 Reasons School Choice is No Choice.” Reason number 10 identifies the root problem. Singer does not mince his words:

“10) School choice is not supported by grass roots movement. It is supported by billionaires.

“The proponents of school choice will tell you that they are only doing the will of the people. This is what parents want, they say. Baloney. … They want to steal the public system and replace it with a private one. They don’t care about your child. They just want to steal the hundreds of billions of tax dollars we pay to educate our children. This is not philanthropy. It is a business transaction meant to screw you and your child out of your rights.”

The Brown versus the Board of education decision spurred “choice.” Singer describes the uncanny resemblance charter schools have to the mid-1950’s scheme hatched by Georgia’s then Governor, Herman Talmage. He said, “We can maintain separate schools regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision.”

The Madrasa schools of the middle east are often cited as fomenting terrorism by indoctrinating students. In his book, Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner also criticized these schools for employing – almost exclusively – rote memorization, which he said circumscribed creativity.

The modern voucher school movement is making tax money available to Christian oriented school systems that are using a similar pedagogical approach to the Madrasa schools.

This December, Rebecca Klein wrote an article in the Huffington Post, “Voucher Schools Championed By Betsy DeVos Can Teach Whatever They Want. Turns Out They Teach Lies.” She reported, “In Indiana, about 4,240 students received over $16 million in scholarships to attend schools that use the Abeka or Bob Jones curriculum, according to 2016-2017 figures from the Indiana Department of Education.”

Singer writing about the same issue, “These books include the following gobsmackers:” He lists seven gobsmakers. Here is number seven:

“7. Brown v. Board of Education is described as social activism by the Supreme Court: ‘While the end was a noble one – ending discrimination in schools – the means were troublesome … liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution.’

“Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999 (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1998), p. 34”

Steven goes on to say of school choice,

“The bottom line is this – voters don’t want school choice. It does nothing to better children’s educations. It is a product of segregation and racism, and even in its modern guise it continues to foster segregation and racism.”

Testing

Singer makes the argument that when comparing test scores from the US to other countries we are “comparing apples to pears.” The December 12 Washington Post reported on the latest dismal international testing results in reading by US fourth graders. A few days later, Diane Ravitch posted an analysis of these scores by David Berliner. Score on the paper and pencil version of PIRLS 2016:

  • USA 549
  • Singapore 576
  • Hong Kong 569
  • Finland 566

Berliner looks at some demographic information and says “First, we can note that Asian Americans scored 591. That is, our Asians beat the hell out of Asian Asians!” Some more US data shared by Berliner:

  • White Kids (50% of our students) – 571
  • Upper Middle-Class Schools with 10% to 24 % Free and Reduced lunch – 592
  • Schools with 25% to 50% Free and Reduced Lunch – 566

Berliner draws the conclusion, “It’s our social and economic systems, not our schools, that cause lower scores than is desired by our nation.”

Singer asserts,

“By any fair measure, America’s public education system is simply stunning. But the media perpetuates the myth that we’re failing.”

The post called “Standardized Tests Have Always Been About Keeping People in Their Place” was an eye opener for me when I first read it. I have often referred to Singer’s sources showing eugenics is the genesis of standardized testing.

Carl Brigham was one of the original pseudo-scientists claiming that their intelligence tests proved that white people possessed superior intelligence to non-whites. Singer shared this gobsmaking information:

“Brigham created a civilian test of intelligence that could be used to sort and rank students …. He called it the Scholastic Aptitude Test or S.A.T.

“Yes, That SAT.”

Page after page, Steven’s book takes on the forces working to control curriculum, and teacher professional development. His points are powerful.

Racism and Prejudice

This section begins with the article “I Am Racist and (If You’re White) You Probably Are, Too.” Other than a short introductory piece, this is how the book begins. I think that is unfortunate.

I am a white guy who grew up in Idaho, one of the whitest places on the planet. I remember my Asian stepdaughter looking for another Asian face in a busy mall in Boise and it was some time before she saw one. I was seventeen before I talked to a black person, because I had never met one. However, my teenage heart was thrilled by Martin Luther King and his fight for justice.

Racist is a word and it has a dictionary definition. Miriam Webster says, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” and Dictionary.com says a racist is “a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”

I have heard the claim that minority peoples in America cannot be racist because they lack the financial and political power to oppress the oppressors. However, the word racist does not mean oppressor and to use the term for that meaning invites miscommunication. Racism is a sensitive subject and if miscommunication alienates people, they will not apprehend your message.

I am convinced that Steven’s central point is correct, but the implication of the opening article is if you are white; you are a racist. That cannot be true. Racism is a human problem akin to tribalism and is a worldwide plague for which white people hold no dominion.

The rhetoric about failed public schools normally refers to schools in minority communities. Based on years of ingrained racial prejudice and at best benign neglect, schools for “those people’s children” were not properly funded.

For example, a parent from New Orleans told me about sitting in middle school classrooms with 55 students and no air conditioning. Plus, the fan could only be run 10-minutes each hour. She said that students would watch the clock like a hawk for their 10-minutes. So, when charter schools came to New Orleans, many black parents were enthusiastic about someone finally promising to spend money on schools in their neighborhoods.

In this section, Steven makes many important points. He writes, “If you are not careful, being a public school teacher can be an act of colonization.” For the past more than a decade, I taught in a high school dominated by Mexicans. I was often the only white guy in class. As my experience grew, I became more and more cognizant of how important it was that instead of implementing my culture, I assimilated and venerated their culture.

I was particularly moved by Singer’s treatment of educating refugees. He noted,

“Some may shudder or sneer at the prospect of giving shelter to people in need, that is the reality in our public schools. In the lives of many, many children we provide the only stability, the only safety, the only love they get all day.”

He concluded the article on refugees:

“So if we’re considering letting in more refugees, don’t worry about me. Send them all my way. I’ll take all you’ve got. That’s what public schools do.”

I have tried to give a flavor of this wonderful book along with some of my own views. The bottom line is that Gadfly on the Wall is entertaining, informative and provocative. Thank you, Steven.

American Style Taliban Invading Public Education

26 Oct

Christian soldiers have been marching off to war and elementary school is the battle ground. Writer Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club, The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children provides the disturbing evidence.

The Good News Clubs are after school programs, sponsored by evangelical Christians, in elementary schools across America. Stewart begins her narrative by describing how the 2001 arrival of a Good News Club in Seattle’s Loyal Height’s Elementary School splintered the community and created enduring angst.

Some parents reacted by removing their children from the school. Stewart quotes one dispirited parent as saying:

‘“Before, we were all Loyal Heights parents together,’ sighs Rockne. ‘Now we’re divided into groups and labels: you’re a Christian; you’re the wrong kind of Christian; you’re a Jew; you’re an atheist.’”

The wrong kind of Christians include all New Age churches, United Methodists, Congregationalists, Catholics and Episcopalians. We Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims can just forget about it.

The episode in Seattle conjures images of the nineteenth century religious riots in America.

Horace Mann, a Unitarian, became Massachusetts’s secretary of education in 1837. He resolved the conflicts around religious ideology being taught in school by restricting religious teachings to commonly shared Protestant values.

Stewart informs about the result, “Representatives of a number of sects immediately and vigorously attacked him, but large majorities agreed with this policy, and it soon became the norm in the ‘common school,’ or public school, movement.”

She continues, “Common school textbooks at the time were filled with racist characterizations of the Irish, and the Pope and his clergy were described as ‘libertine, debauched, corrupt, wicked, immoral, profligate, indolent, slothful, bigoted, parasitical, greedy, illiterate, hypocritical, and pagan,’ according to … Professor of History, David Nasaw.” Of course, the growing immigrant Catholic population did not like it.

  • In 1844 religious riots broke out in Philadelphia.
  • In 1859 Boston had its turn for rioting. A Catholic boy refused to recite the Protestant version of the 10 commandments and was beaten for thirty-minutes.
  • In 1869 a Bible War raged in Cincinnati when the school board tried to assuage sectarian conflict by banning reading the Protestant Bible in school.

Stewart apprises her readers of how seriously America’s leaders took these disputes, “In 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant declared that if a new civil war were to erupt, it would be fought not across the Mason-Dixon Line but at the door of the common schoolhouse.” Stewart says concerns over religion in public schools continued growing and prompted another Grant speech in 1876:

‘“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions,’ he said. ‘Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.’”

Great landmark decisions on the relationship between religion and school were decided by the Supreme Court in the 1962 and 1963 with eight to one decisions banning formal prayer in school. Stewart observes that these decisions received three votes from the four conservative judges on the panel. She explains the reasoning:

“This approach drew principally upon the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which, according to Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation, erects ‘a wall of separation between church and state.’”

Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia Tear Down that Wall

The evangelical Christian movement gained prominence beginning with Jerry Falwell’s moral majority in 1979 and the arrival of in 1977 of Pat Robertson’s 700-Club on ABC. These two movements developed large followings and generated huge sums of money. A significant portion of that money was spent on legal activism.

Stewart quotes Clarence Darrow who is famous for among other things representing John Scopes in Tennessee’s “monkey trial.” Darrow declared:

“I knew that education was in danger from the source that has always hampered it – religious fanaticism.”

In the same vain, when discussing the legal strategy of the Christian right, Stewart asserts:

“It is an attempt to use the principles of tolerance to secure a place for intolerance, discrimination and religious bigotry in the public schools and elsewhere.”

A significant figure in the tearing down of the separation of church and state is Jay Sekulow, who as general counsel for the “Jews for Jesus” began arguing cases before the Supreme Court. Sekulow was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn. He converted to evangelical Christianity while attending Atlanta Baptist College (now Mercer University).

In 1990, Pat Robertson brought Sekulow together with a few other lawyers to form the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).  Stewart conveys:

“The new outfit lined up alongside the Liberty Counsel, which was founded in 1989 by Mathew and Anita Staver and became affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in 2004. In 1994, the Alliance Defense Fund, or ADF, added its name to the growing roster of Christian legal defense organizations with the backing of a group that reads like a Who’s Who of the new Christian Right: Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ; D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries; Larry Burkett, founder of Christian Financial Concepts; James Dobson, founder of Focus on Family; Marlin Maddoux, President of International Christian Media; Donald Wildmon, founder of American Family Association; and more than two dozen other prominent Christian ministries and organizations.”

In 2001, this massive legal artillery succeeded in undermining the separation of church and state most significantly with its victory in Good News Club v. Milford Central School. The upstate New York K-12 school denied a Good News Club’s application to run an after-school club. The denial was based on school policy and concerns about violating the Establishment clause. Stewart laid out the history and arguments for this case and concluded:

“The explosion of school-based church-planting in New York and across the nation that began in 2002 did not reflect a spontaneous eruption of religious enthusiasm. It was simply the direct consequence of the Supreme Court’ decision in the case of Good News Club v. Milford Central School in 2001. An alien visitor to planet First Amendment could be forgiven for summarizing the entire story thus: Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, together with a few fellow travelers on the Supreme Court and their friends in the ADF and ACLJ, got together and ordered that the United States should establish a nationwide network of evangelical churches housed in taxpayer-financed school facilities.”

Church-Planting

 On Sunday Morning in San Diego, California if you are driving up Genesee Avenue toward the University Town Center mall you will pass the Grace City church. Most residence would think of it as University City High School, but starting in 2015 it became the domain of an evangelical Christian sect on Sundays.

UC High_Grace City

University City High School/Grace City – Photo by T. Ultican

Originally proposed in 1962, bonds to build University City High School were not passed until 1976. Legal roadblocks delayed the construction until 1980. The schools web site concludes its history of the school’s founding:

“In September 1981, the school opened. Twenty years of effort finally bore fruit. In every phase of the battle, the crucial factor to success was the willingness of the concerned, active and involved University City community who gave time, effort and money to carry the project through to its successful conclusion. A grassroots effort to build a community high school resulted in the beautiful, well-equipped complex.”

It is certain that many of the community residence who worked for and paid for University City High School would be shocked that the facility is now in regular use to advance a particular religious sect. Even more disturbing, that sect did not originate from within the community but was “planted” by non-resident proselytizing evangelicals.

Grace Citie’s founding family is Randall Tonini who served in the Compassion Christian Church of Savannah, Georgia and his wife Laura who met Randall at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee. Johnson University is a private Christian University. They left Savannah to come to San Diego on a religious mission.

The Grace City web presence states, “We are a part of a larger network of churches planted with the partnership of Stadia to bring the Gospel throughout San Diego County.”

Stadia’s “who we are” statement proclaims:

“Stadia began in the fall of 2003, when leaders of the Northern California Evangelistic Association (NCEA) met with leaders of the Church Development Fund (CDF) to create a nationwide church planting organization called Stadia. Since then, Stadia and our partners have planted almost 289+ U.S. churches and 189+ global churches and has mobilized sponsorship of over 25,000 children in impoverished communities.”

And about children they state:

“Children are close to the heart of God. So they are close to the heart of Stadia. “And whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.” 85% of those who make a decision to follow Jesus do so between the ages of 4 and 14.”

Luis Bush, a Christian big picture strategist, was the first to call it the “4/14 Window.” Stewart discusses this issue at length and adds profound context and insight. One of her many paragraphs on the subject reads:

“Bush’s ideas lit up the skies of the missionary community like a bright flare in the night, illuminating the path for evangelicals worldwide and missionaries in particular. ‘Political movements (like Nazism and Communism) trained legions of children with the goal of carrying their agenda beyond the lifetimes of their founders…. Even the Taliban places great emphasis on recruiting children,’ wrote Dr. Wes Stafford, president of Compassion International, one of the largest worldwide missionary groups, in an introduction to Bush’s 2009 book, The 4-14 Window: Raising Up a New Generation to Transform the World. ‘May God inspire you to join us in His battle for the little ones!’”

In discussing this ominous ideology towards other people’s children, Stewart’s thoughts resonate:

“It is easy enough to dismiss these new missionaries on account of their extremely narrow notion of what constitutes Christianity. It is easy to disdain them in the same way that they disdain United Methodists, Roman Catholics, and U.S. Episcopalians. It isn’t hard for most observers to detect the authoritarian impulses and undercurrents of hostility and aggression that drive them to seek ‘spiritual’ authority over others and embolden them to pit children against children, children against schools, children against their own parents.”

Fellowship of Christian Athletics

For the past few decades, I have been seeing more and more athletes at every level pointing skyward when they hit a home-run or score a touchdown. As a kid, I saw BYU players joining in public prayer after games, but now I see public high school kids doing that. From Stewart, I learned that this did not just happen. It is a result of a well-funded campaign led by a group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

With funding from people like Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-Fil-A, and non-profits like the Bradley Foundation, FCA has infiltrated sports programs at all levels, marketing their version of “muscular Christianity” to impressionable young men and women. FCA leaders imbed themselves in teams and form sports “huddles.” Thus a peer pressure forms that indicates not precipitating in the prayers and the overt religious gestures means not being a team player. Stewart shared:

“In San Diego, California, a long-serving vice principal who wishes to remain anonymous observes that thirty years ago, prayer played a peripheral role in high school sports. Now, he says, there are FCA huddles at nearly every high school in the region.”

Conclusion

Katherine Stewart’s book is written in an enjoyable and fascinating fashion and her personal research is extraordinary. The account of witnessing the infamous Texas school book wars of 2010 or her telling of attending evangelical missionary conferences or her description of the misinformation being disseminated to teenagers in the now federally financed “abstinence-only” sex education programs are illuminating. All Americans concerned about – freedom of religion; Shielding children from unwanted religious indoctrination at school; and protecting public education – should read this book. Reading this book has been an eye-opening experience.

U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos is a devout member of an evangelical church, Mars Hill Bible Church. It is a widely held view within the evangelical movement that public education is a godless secular movement that provides an opening for Satan. That explains why so many evangelicals home school their children. It seems likely that our education secretary has an evangelically based anti-public education agenda. Arguing the relative merits of school policies misses the point.

It is more likely that religious ideology is the point.

Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB

19 Oct

By T. Ultican 10/19/2017

What if the education reform ideology is wrong? What if the ideology of reform was based on an incorrect understanding of developmentally appropriate pedagogy? In a 2006 hearing before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Assistant Secretary of Education, Henry Johnson testified, “We believe that the Advanced Placement program offers a proven, scalable approach to raising expectations and increasing rigor in America’s high schools, particularly those with high concentrations of low-income students that typically do not offer such curricula.” What if that belief is ill-founded?

I taught AP physics and what a treat that was for me. I always had the highest performing students in the high school. This year both the salutatorian and the valedictorian were in my class. It was way more interesting than teaching a concepts oriented class in physics designed for the general student. Of course, I enjoyed teaching AP Physics to the school’s elite students, however, I perceived a dark side. The more I pondered it, the more I concluded that the AP and IB programs were developmentally inappropriate.

Physics Lab 2

Mar Vista High School – Picture by Thomas Ultican

IB stands for international baccalaureate. People who worked in embassies or other out of country assignments put their children in international schools. When they move from one country to the next, the school curriculum tended to be significantly different. IB developed to standardize curriculum from one country to the next. The IB program is unnecessary in America. Local communities who pay for schools deserve input into the curriculum and locally developed curriculum vetted by education leaders at local universities is more meaningful to the community.

AP stands for advance placement. It is a product of College Board, the testing giant that produces the SAT tests. College Board is organized as a “non-profit” but it has hundreds of employees making six and seven figure incomes. AP is being heavily promoted by technology companies, politicians and other corporations. There is a push to make AP the leader in curricular development and teacher training. AP employs the teach to the test strategy of pedagogy.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is now putting pressure towards the expansion of AP courses in high schools across the nation. A teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District wrote me this week saying teachers are under heavy pressure to participate in NMSI/AP sponsored training and AP class promotion.

Both AP and IB, allow students to earn college credits that are accepted by most universities. But is it developmentally appropriate? Are we harming students?

“Sicker Not Smarter”

Paraphrasing an observation about American public education students between world war II and the publishing of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983:

“They were not serious about learning. They went to dances, participated in sports and performed in plays. They hung out with friends and listened to rock music. They seldom studied and were consistently average performers when compared with foreign students. They graduated from high school and three months latter a miracle occurred; they became the top college students in the world.”

Throughout the history of American education there has been a constant healthy debate about pedagogy. It would be difficult to find any professional educator that does not believe education in public schools can be improved. However, education reform that is not developmentally appropriate is many times worse than the derided status quo.

The 1983 polemic “A Nation at Risk” marks a transition from education guided by professional educators to education guided by powerful business leaders, politicians and famous scientists. Convinced that education in America was failing, their solution was education standards, testing and competition. The famous education writer from Harvard University, Alfie Kohn characterized modern education reform in his 2001 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve: “The dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of saying, in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.’” (page 16)

Two years ago, Vicki Abeles published her book Beyond Measure, Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation. She opened chapter 1, “Sicker, Not Smarter” by quoting Stuart Slavin, a Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician. He shared,

“My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. … It is even more profoundly disturbing when one considers that there is absolutely no evidence that this educational approach actually leads to better educational outcomes.” (page 15)

Abeles quoted Donna Jackson Nakazawa, “There’s a perception that constant high demands will make kids stronger says Nakazawa, ‘“but biologically that is not the case; it’s actually breaking down the brain rather than creating resilience.”’ (page 31) Abeles continued:

“We think of the years from zero to three as the critical period for brain development, but Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg underscores that adolescence is another one. ‘[T]he brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk,’ writes Steinberg. ‘If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.’” (page 36)

Writing for the New York Times Magazine this month Benoit Denizet-Lewis addressed the deteriorating mental health manifesting among America’s teens. She reported,

“… Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who has studied distress and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged teenagers, has found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America. ‘These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,’ she says, but there’s ‘contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting.’

“For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they “never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,’ Luthar says. ‘There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”’

AP Like Common Core is not Age Appropriate

 I taught my first AP physics class in 2004, my first year at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, California. All my AP students were taking multiple AP classes and four of them were taking five. I was shocked! They were high school kids not college kids but were allowed – no encouraged – to take a heavier academic load than most college students take.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post creates an annual ranking of America’s high schools. He explained the ranking criteria with this year’s rankings:

“America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranks schools through an index formula that’s a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year. A ratio of 1.000 means the school had as many tests as graduates.”

Today, we actually have AP classes for ninth graders and non-profit organizations pressuring public and charter schools to accelerate moving college education into high school. Like the inappropriate efforts to make kindergarten the new first grade, and move advanced mathematics into 7th grade, college classes in high school are not developmentally appropriate.

History Teaches that Breaking the AP Hold in America Will Not be Easy

 By the 1980’s, an education philosophy popular among the titans of industry started dominating. This ideology posits that standards, high expectation, increased rigor and accountability are the keys to improving k-12 education. In 1994, the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner wrote in his book Reinventing Education:

“Schools must meet the test any high-performance organization must meet: results. And results are not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are achieved by meeting customer requirements by rewards for success and penalties for failure. Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form of accountability.”

Gerstner started and led a non-profit called Achieve Inc. Achieve wrote and holds the copyright for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have wide financial and political support; however, they are so poorly written, that California re-wrote their version of the NGSS.

In 2010, Bill Gates, who also became an advocate of standards and testing, instigated the writing of the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-one people working in secret wrote the standards. Nineteen of the twenty-one writers came from the testing industry including fifteen from College Board and ACT.

I am not saying there is an evil conspiracy here. I believe that people like Peter O’Donnell the wealthy businessman and political activist from Dallas, Texas, who poured personal wealth into promoting AP are totally sincere in their desire to improve the plight of education in America. I have the same view of Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner. The problem is they have great financial and political power, unfortunately, they do not know what they don’t know about human development and good pedagogy.

Today, colleges throughout the nation are giving college credit to incoming students for successfully completing AP courses. In addition, they are giving extra weight towards admissions to applicants with multiple AP courses on their transcripts. This system is well established and ubiquitous. Chinese history teaches how difficult it is to mitigate this kind of culture.

Two years in a row, representatives from the Chinese ministry of education came to observe classes at Mar Vista High School. They even contracted with one of our math teachers, Mark James, to go to China and teach a model class. In China, there is general agreement that their high-pressure test centric education needs reforming. It is harming the youth.

In Young Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon there is a chapter titled “The Witch That Cannot Be Killed.” In it he wrote:

‘“Thus, more than a decade’s history of prohibition orders from educational departments has been a history of ineffective orders,’ notes a report in China Weekly after reviewing numerous attempts to curtail the power of testing in Chinese Education. How is it possible that in such a tightly controlled, authoritarian society, the omnipotent government has been unable to kill the witch of testing?” (page 151)

Professor Zhao’s answer to his own question is a warning for us. If we ever recognize the wrong educational path we have taken, changing course will be difficult. Zhao explained:

“In the effort to lessen academic burden and reduce testing, Chinese parents, students, teachers, and schools are all playing the prisoner’s dilemma game. Knowing or assuming that others will continue to do more homework, seek private tutoring, and prepare for tests, very few parents, children, and schools would choose to voluntarily reduce the work load for fear of losing the game. Most schools, knowing that others will continue to use exams to select better students and gain an advantage, will choose to continue to use exams to admit students because the school’s reputation is on the line and will be judged by how well its students score in the future. Essentially the dilemma dictates that everyone must continue to behave in the same way. No one can afford to cut back first, for fear that the others won’t follow suit. Consequently, although new policies might bring a better education for all, no player in the education game is willing to take the risky first step.” (page 155/6)

There are many factors that would improve education and they are well know; smaller class sizes, integrated schools, well maintained modern facilities and teachers certificated in the subjects they teach are four such positive reforms. Surprisingly, increasing rigor and driving expectations down to younger students are counter-productive.

Kindergarteners should receive lessons such as don’t eat the clay and it’s not nice to pull hair. Academics are developmentally inappropriate and likely unhealthy for them. Teaching Newton’s laws of motion and principles of algebra in fourth grade will surely cause more harm than good. The nine-year-old brain is not ready for symbolic reasoning. And, teenagers are dealing with natural biological stress; they need a safe low stress environment for healthy development. Rigor and high stakes testing is the wrong recipe.

It is time to rethink AP and roll it back.

Two but Not Two Frauds: STEM and Education Technology

19 Sep

By T. Ultican 9/19/2017

Last year, IBIS Capital produced a report for EdTechXGlobal stating, “Education technology is becoming a global phenomenon, … the market is projected to grow at 17.0% per annum, to $252bn by 2020.” Governments in Europe and Asia have joined the US in promoting what Dr. Nicholas Kardaras called a “$60 billion hoax.” He was referring specifically to the one to one initiatives.

An amazing paper from New Zealand, “Sell, sell, sell or learn, learn, learn? The EdTech market in New Zealand’s education system – privatisation by stealth?” exposes the promoters of EdTech there as being even more bullish on EdTech. “The New Zealand business organisation (they spell funny) EDTechNZ, indicates on its website that educational technology is the fastest growing sector of a global smart education market worth US$100 billion, forecast to grow to US$394 by 2019.”

These initiatives are fraud based agendas because they focus on advancing an industry but are sold as improving schools. Unfortunately, good education is not the driver; money is. Speaking this month to a class at MIT, Audrey Watters shared insights into the phenomena,

“But I do believe we live in an age where technology companies are some of the most powerful corporations in the world, where they are a major influence – and not necessarily in a positive way – on democracy and democratic institutions. (School is one of those institutions. Ideally.) These companies, along with the PR that supports them, sell us products for the future and just as importantly weave stories about the future.”

As Trevor Noah explains in this short video this influence is not called bribery.

STEM Fraud

I was the head “tribologist” (study of things that rub together) at Sunward Technologies in San Diego, when in 1995 it was purchased by Read Rite Corporation of Milpitas (Silicon Valley). Three years earlier, every interview for graduating engineers at San Diego State University was cancelled because of the downturn in demand. In 1993, our personnel department screened more than 100 resumes before I was asked to interview five candidates for a job opening in my lab. The final decision was difficult because all five were well-qualified.

When I arrived in Silicon Valley in 1996 there did not seem to be any difficulty hiring engineers, but corporations were cannibalizing each other. As soon as a company made a technical advancement, their engineers were being pursued by competitors. This looked to be a significant motivator for hi-tech corporations lobbying for H-1B visas. H-1B visas tied the worker to the company that sponsored the visa.

In January of this year Congresswomen, Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill to reform the H-1B visa abuses. Her press release said,

“My legislation refocuses the H-1B program to its original intent – to seek out and find the best and brightest from around the world, and to supplement the U.S. workforce with talented, highly-paid, and highly-skilled workers who help create jobs here in America, not replace them,” said Lofgren. “It offers a market-based solution that gives priority to those companies willing to pay the most. This ensures American employers have access to the talent they need, while removing incentives for companies to undercut American wages and outsource jobs.”

To me this is the same malarkey she was spreading in 1996 when I arrived in the bay area. In 1998 the Tech Law Journal Congressional Scorecard rated Lofgren, a Democrat from Silicon Valley, in the top ten for supporting the high-tech industry. The Law Journal explained its ranking metric,

“All 100 Senators and all 435 Representatives were rated on a 0 to 100 scale on the basis of their support for high tech.  The scorecard utilized five objective criteria (roll call votes on, and sponsorship of, bills pertaining to encryption, Internet tax moratorium, securities litigation reform, H1B visas, as well as membership in the Internet Caucus.” [emphasis added]

Before the H-1B visa program, when a technology change eliminated a function, the engineers and technicians effected would be transferred to other departments. After H-1B, they were laid off and hiring firms would find ways to claim that only an H-1B applicant could fill the jobs in those other departments. The corporations gained indentured servant like control and wages stagnated.

By 2001, I was in graduate school at UCSD where I first heard about the need for schools to help train more STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) professionals. Like most people, I drank the Kool-aide. But, we were all victims of a misinformation campaign being waged by leaders in high-tech. As Jay Schalin observed,

“The real facts suggest that, in many STEM specialties, there is a labor glut, not a shortage.”

“The apparent misinformation continues to this day. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been particularly vocal about supposed shortages of skilled labor in the computer industry.”

By 2004, a Rand Corporation study was already questioning these claims.

“Concerns about the size and adequacy of the U.S. scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematics workforce have grown amid fears of a dwindling labor pool and concern that this may erode U.S. leadership in science and technology and could complicate mobilization of appropriate manpower for homeland security. In the past, such fears have failed to materialize, and surpluses have been more common than shortages.”

In a 2014 Atlantic Magazine article, Michael S. Teitelbaum reported,

“No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more.”

The trumpeting of a “STEM shortage crisis in America” is and always was a hoax. This same con is deforming public education. The new Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards were motivated respectively by Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Louis Gerstner (IBM). As a result they devalue humanities and glorify science and engineering based on this same fraudulent STEM claim. There must be a thousand charter schools that advertise themselves as STEM academies.

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Here in California this same lie is being used to promote yet another attack on local control of public schools. In July, Raul Bocanegra (D-San Fernando) announced new legislation that would create a State authorized STEM school for 800 students. It would be privately managed and sited in Los Angeles county.

The news organization Capital and Main stated, “For a district that is already the largest charter school authorizer in the nation and is still gun-shy after recently fending off a takeover attempt by billionaire school choice philanthropist Eli Broad, any scheme that promises further stratification is an existential threat.”

Diane Ravitch claimed, “LAUSD already has STEM schools, but this is Eli’s STEM school, and he really wants it.” The billionaire real-estate mogul and insurance salesman is widely believed to be the driving force behind this legislation.

The proposal would be an end run around local control. Instead of local school districts supervising the new charter school, the state board of education would be the authorizer and supervisor. It is an extreme idea that perverts further an already perverted state charter school law.

Strangely, that did not stop the two most important newspapers in southern California from supporting it.

The LA Times which gets $800,000 a year from Eli Broad wrote a really strange editorial in which it admitted that the law would be problematic and undermine local governance. But it fell back on a favorite billionaire inspired reform reason for supporting the law, “But right now, the overriding concern should be providing as many great public schools for low-income kids as we can manage.” Those billionaires just love love love poor and minority children.

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial page gushed over the idea of creating a new privatized school based on the fraudulent STEM premise and thwarting local control. The main beguiling point was delivered in this paragraph;

“So it sounded like a great idea when two San Fernando Valley Democrats — Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra and state Sen. Anthony Portantino — introduced a bill to build a pioneering state-run STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) middle and high school in downtown Los Angeles. The idea is even more appealing because it called for educating talented minority students from poor communities without the same opportunities enjoyed by students in wealthier areas. The cherry on top was that deep-pocketed Angelenos with a desire to make the California tech world more diverse are behind this concept — that could be a model elsewhere — and are eager to provide supplemental funding.”

It seems the fourth estate no longer ferrets out fraud and corruption but is instead complicit in these nefarious plots.

Unfortunately, Education Technology is Greed Driven

Hi-Tech and digital initiatives are careening down a dark road. Because of the extreme power of hi-tech corporations like Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and many others, the development of education technology is being driven by their needs and not the needs of students. Students have become their guinea pigs as they release one untested technology after another into America’s classrooms.

Technology has a potential to enhance education but it also has the potential to cause great damage.

A century ago, there were people taking correspondence courses and getting great value from them. Today, the modern equivalent of the correspondence course is the online class.

However, students at screens like correspondence students will never achieve equal benefit to students with a teacher, because the teacher-student relationship is the most important aspect in education.

Teacher-student relationships are different than those with friends, parents or siblings. My personal experience was that I felt a genuine selfless love for my students and we communicated about many things; often personal but mostly academic. I also felt a need to protect them. In America’s public schools, a student might have that kind of close relationship with more than 40 adults during their 12 years in school. This is where the great spark of creativity and learning leaps from teacher to student.

I have put students at screens in my career, but I never found great benefit in the exercise. I found technologies like graphing utilities to be highly beneficial, but it was the interaction with my students that was of most value for deep learning, enhancing creativity and developing a love for learning. If technologies destroy these relationships then they become a net evil.

I quoted Audrey Watters speaking to an MIT class about hi-tech corporations and the stories they weave. Here is her description of those stories:

“These products and stories are, to borrow a phrase from sociologist Neil Selwyn, ‘ideologically-freighted.’ In particular, Selwyn argues that education technologies (and again, computing technologies more broadly) are entwined with the ideologies of libertarianism, neoliberalism, and new forms of capitalism – all part of what I often refer to as the “Silicon Valley narrative” (although that phrase, geographically, probably lets you folks here at MIT off the hook for your institutional and ideological complicity in all this). Collaboration. Personalization. Problem-solving. STEM. Self-directed learning. The ‘maker movement.’ These are all examples of how ideologies are embedded in ed-tech trends and technologies – in their development and their marketing. And despite all the talk of ‘disruption’, these mightn’t be counter-hegemonic at all, but rather serve the dominant ideology and further one of the 21st century’s dominant industries.”

A faculty colleague of mine said, “the last thing 21st century students need is more screen time.” I believe Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen would enthusiastically agree. She recently wrote an article for Atlantic magazine describing the dangers of screen time to the current teen generation she calls the iGen. Based on her research she said,

“Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.)”

“The results could not be clearer: Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy.”

“There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.”

“In 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate.”

Obviously, many of our institutions have been corrupted by the immense power of concentrated wealth and especially by hi-tech industries. The money being chased is enormous, but there are more of us. If we educate ourselves, our families and our neighbors we can reform these greed driven forces into forces for good, but we need to pay attention.