Monday, December 17, 2007

Simon Fraser Dean Paul Shaker Supports Teacher's Refusal to Give Standardized Test

Paul Shaker, an active member of the Dewey Society and Dean of education at Simon Fraser University, has supported teacher Kathryn Sihota, who refused to administer a standardized exam to a child who appeared overly stressed by the prospect of taking it.

The teacher's refusal to administer the test has made national and even international news. Now Shaker's support for her is at the center of the storm.

Shaker stated at a college collquium that:

Teachers, having exercised due process, like other professional persons, have an obligation to act on the basis of their professional ethics, even when such behaviour requires non-violent civil disobedience and personal sacrifice by the teacher. The safety and nurturance of students is a sacred trust that assumes the highest priority.

We know that when an individual exercises the right to resist written law in response to a higher sense of morality that they assume a serious responsibility. In my understanding of the principles of our democratic social contract and moral tradition, however, I follow the convention that this option is available to us. Our democracy is an amalgamation of many individuals, making choices that matter for good or ill. Professional persons carry such responsibility to a greater extent than others due to their role in society. In and outside professions, we have seen that great issues of peace, human rights, and the environment have been advanced by courageous individuals standing up in this way, often at great cost to themselves

Google's Knol

As noted in Business Week on December 14, 2007, Google has invited a select group of 'authorities' to write authoritative articles, to be called knols, on a wide variety of topics. Google's driving idea is to create an on-line reference source that competes with wikipedia as a first go-to source for reference knowledge. Instead of a 'neutral' wiki, which can be endlessly modified by a community of readers, knols will have a single authorial slant, much like an entry in a standard encylcopedia.

Rumors are floating around that there will be opportunities to comment and initiate dialogues about knols. So maybe the knol will evolve as a genuinely new form of reference material that takes advantage of the best features of traditional published reference (authorial credibility) and the web, including next-to-no-cost space and storage, and community interaction.

Here is Google's post on knols, from VP of engineering Udi Manber, from December 13, 2007:

Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling "knol", which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. ...

The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors' names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors -- but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content.

The worry, as many commentators have already noted, is that Google the search engine may slide into ranking knols above other reference sources such as wikipedia, essentially driving web trafiic to itself!

The Dewey Society and Social Issues

Yesterday I blogged on Next Things about Google's Knol as an important new reference source. You will find this post cross-posted above because I see Knol as a useful channel for progressive scholarship on today's pressing educational and social issues: from NCLB, to Darwin and evolution in science education, IQ testing and intelligence, charter schools and public-private partnerships, school resegregation, to anti-racist education and many others.

Because Google will be inviting authoritative articles for Knol this appears to be an excellent vehicle for progressive scholars to claim and achieve credibility. Some members can probably position themselves with Google in such a way as to get invited to contribute.

I also recently blogged about the 'manifestos' published by Change This Newsletter as a kind of model for a publication series on pressing issues.

Now I want to share a vision about Dewey Society members, these issues, and this blog and other on-line publications.

Most active members of the society claim serious expertise in one of the listed issues or others. By joining the author team for this blog, Social Issues, a member can lay claim to a particular issue -- can be, in short, our main man (or woman) on IQ or NCLB or Resegregation.

In that way, when other members seek guidance on these issues, for teaching or social action (for example, when preparing letters to editors or Op Ed articles) they can find a valuable archive of informed progressive comment whether on the blog or in something like an on-line version of the Insight books published regularly by PES-GB. Further, by commenting on the blog posts of our main authors, our members can help over time to shape a clear progressive consensus where one is there to be shaped, or to establish a band width of progressive positions.

Then, by linking actively to other blogs and websites, the views of Dewey Society members can enter into a larger progressive discourse.

We will have a workshop at the Dewey Society meeting held in conjunction with AERA in the Spring of 2008. The goal will be further to develop the Society's capabilities in addressing pressing issues through this Blog, its other publications, and its meetings.

I invite comment by all members of the Society.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Letters to the Times on Genes and IQ

This is one post in an on-going series on writing letters to editors.

The New York Times today (December 16, 07) publishes a series of letters in response to Richard E. Nisbett's Op Ed article " All Brains are the Same" from December 9th. The original article and the letters focus on the relations between genetic endowment, intelligence, and IQ.

These letters are exemplary (with the exception of one which is flat out stupid, accusing Nisbett of political correctness). They are worth studying because they demonstrate how informed comment can cut to the heart of issues discussed in the public arena and really make a profound contribution.

Stephen Murdoch, a historian of IQ, writes:

I.Q. tests were created in the early 1900s before scientists had sufficient understanding of the brain or genetics. They were cobbled together with no real intelligence theory — and they have changed very little over time.

If we want intelligence tests, we need to devise new ones based on actual scientific theory rather than Victorian and Progressive Era puffery.

Paul Coleman, a senior Alzheimer's researcher, writes:

It is not the genetic DNA in a cell that determines what a cell is and how it performs; it is, rather, which genes are turned on and when. Turning a gene on or off can be controlled by a wide variety of factors in life: toxins, learning, disease, hormones, drugs, diet — the list is numberless.

We now know enough about the fine structure of the brain, the proteins involved and the roles they play in learning, cognition, memory and other components of intelligence to understand that the DNA of genes are, generally, many steps removed from determining these capacities.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Change This Newsletter

The Website Change This newsletter has a nice idea about how to use a publication platform to spread ideas about social change.

The site publishes Manifestos in copyright-free form, and encourages their distribution. The manifestos are well written and beautifully formatted, and are limited in length, so that they are suitable reading for policy makers and influencers.

A good sample manifesto is Change the Way to Change the World

Readers are invited (no, make that strongly encouraged) to copy them, e-mail them to everybody, put them on their web sites, print up their own editions to pass out on the street. The costs to Change This and their authors are contained: no costs for paper, ink, postage, etc.

The manifesto authors include many of the 'coolest' people: Tom Peters, Seth Goodin and their ilk. They include educational ideologues like Michael Strong and Chester Finn. However, the pages of Change This are open to many others: there is a proposal process similar to what one might encounter from a print publisher.

The Editors state their goal as follows:

ChangeThis is creating a new kind of media. A form of media that uses existing tools (like PDFs, blogs and the web) to challenge the way ideas are created and spread.

We're on a mission to spread important ideas and change minds.

This idea has a very direct relevance to the Dewey Society's mandate. Here's why:

Some years ago the Philosophy of Education Society UK initiated a publication series called Insights. The various volumes, all authored by card carrying philosophers of education, have been devoted to specific 'hot' policy issues in British education. They have been widely distributed to policy makers, legislative staff personnel, educational administrators, and the press. They have served to maintain the visibility and credibility of philosophy of education there.

Since I read the first Insight volumes I have longed for an American version. Given the mandate of the John Dewey Society, I have considered the Society to be the natural publisher of such a series. Budget limitations, however, have crimped the Society's ability to move ahead with this form of publication.

Change This offers an alternative model. Building from the Change This template, the society could move forward with web-based Insight-like publications on a limited budget.

What would this involve?

The creation of an editorial board by the Board of the JD Society or alterrnatively, byu the members of the commission on Social Issues;

An RFP (similar to that of Change This that could be distributed through the publications of the Society;

The distribution via e-mail alerts to members of the Society + a list of policy makers and staff, influencers, thought leaders, administrative personnel, and the press.

Please take a moment to look at Change This and Change the Way to Change the World then comment on this idea.

Friday, November 30, 2007

National Coalition Against Censorship

An organization that all members of the Dewey Society should know about is the National Coalition Against Censorship. Founded in 1974, NCAC is an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. United by a conviction that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression must be defended, we work to educate our own members and the public at large about the dangers of censorship and how to oppose them.

NCAC's Purpose

• To promote and defend First Amendment values of freedom of thought, inquiry and expression.
• To oppose restraints on open communication and to support access to information.
• To encourage, support and coordinate activities of national organizations in opposition to censorship.
• To encourage understanding that restrictions on the free interchange of ideas threaten religious, moral, political, artistic and intellectual freedom.

NCAC has been active in the struggle for first amendment rights of teachers and students as well as artists, writers, scientists and political activists.

Of great interest and value to educators is the NCAC toolkit on censorship in schools, providing step by step responses including boilerplate letters to administrators, and other valuable tools.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Report Cards or Lab Schools?

The New York Times today features James Liebman, the architect of the New York City Schools Report Card.

“We’re not measuring kids, we’re measuring schools. This isn’t about a child’s bad day, this is about a school’s bad year,” he said, sitting in a sub-ground-level conference room at the Tweed Courthouse.

He said he devised “from scratch” the system that yielded the citywide school report cards: the Achievement Reporting and Innovation System is based not only on test results, but also on surveys of 600,000 students, teachers and parents.

He insists no school is being asked to produce results its peers have not already achieved, and he doesn’t rule out that the reports may eventually represent a death sentence for some of the 50 schools stigmatized by a grade of F. Ninety-nine floundering schools received D’s. Around 60 percent rated A’s or B’s

He says he isn’t innovating anything John Dewey didn’t figure out in the 1890s.

“The purpose of grading these schools and making those grades public is not because we want to give them a whack on the knuckles, it’s to generate pressure to get them moving forward, to improve,” he said. “We’re looking for innovators and problem-solvers among our educators, but there has to be accountability.”

It may be useful for Mr. Liebman to consider that John Dewey argued, in The Ethics, The Public and its Problems, and elsewhere that public institutions could not reform themselves, and that innovators would have to do their pioneering work beyond it. Public schools, he felt, would eventually adjust to new societal requirements by emulating and adapting that work. Significantly, he did not develop any report cards for the public schools of his day; he developed a model alternative outside the system.

(Note: The Lab School of the University of Chicago is pictured above.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mind the Gap (s)

Philip Kovacs at the Educational Policy Blog has this important post which all readers of Social Issues could keep in mind. Philip has added links to data sources for each of the gaps on the original post.

Reducing the “achievement gap” to what goes on inside of schools has proven to be an effective way for policy makers to ignore all of the other “gaps” outside of America’s classrooms.

While researcher after researcher has shown that outside influences contribute to student performance and achievement, proponents of high-stakes, standardized reforms continue to press for more “rigor,” as if harder work alone will mitigate every outside factor influencing children’s lives.

Rather than focusing exclusively on the “achievement gap,” policy makers and educational reformers might consider policies that help reduce other “gaps” that exist within our country. Gaps that could be narrowed in order to improve the lives and schooling of all students include but are not limited to:

The incarceration gap, where six times as many African Americans are behind bars compared to their white counterparts;

The homeowner gap, where 72.7% of white Americans own their homes compared to 48.2% of African Americans;

The healthcare gap, where 71.4% of white Americans are insured compared to 53.9% of African Americans;

The earnings gap, where white Americans average over $20,000 more a year than African Americans;

The poverty rate gap, where 8.7% of white Americans live at or below the poverty line while 24.7% of African Americans do so;

The unemployment gap, where 5.7% of white Americans are unemployed while 13.2% of African Americans are without work;

The happiness gap, where 72% of white youths say they are happy with life in general compared to 56% of their African American counterparts;

The murder gap, where 49% of murder victims in the United States are African Americans, who make up 13% of the population.

Close one of these and I warrant the "achievement gap" shrinks.

Monday, November 12, 2007

NCLB Leading to Rising Applications at Alternative Schools

According to the New York Times, Alternative schools such as the Village School in Great Neck New York, are experiencing a rapid rise in applications as parents and students seek to escape from the madness of high stake test preap regimes.

The Village School accepts a maximum of 50 students, about one half in need of special education services, but is getting three times the number of inquiries it received just a few years ago.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sample Letters on Report Cards for Schools

From time to time Social Issues will select passages from letters that can be used as models in writing to editors

Sample Letters to the Editor in the New York Times on Report Cards for Schools

November 10, 2007
A School Is More Than an A, B or C

1. To the Editor:

Re “50 City Schools Get Failing Grade in a New System” (front page, Nov. 6):

Grading schools is as absurd as grading students. The criteria for both are equally detrimental to achieving the goals of a truly useful education: self-awareness, an engaged citizenry and the skills necessary to generate meaningful, dignified work.

Until we address the core societal conditions that now make such goals unattainable for the vast majority, there is little hope that obfuscating parlor tricks like high-stakes testing, free cellphones for every child and schoolwide report cards will serve as successful incentives.

Roland Legiardi-Laura
New York, Nov. 6, 2007


2. To the Editor:

Why use an A-to-F format to grade an entire school, when educators are moving away from that kind of a report card for our children because it is insufficient? Why use more high-pressure tests that don’t really gauge the students’ ability or the quality of the school?

Our public schools are full of highly motivated, creative teachers. They are often beaten down by large class sizes, lack of support, and more and more testing.

I urge all parents to ignore these report cards.

Ray Franks
New York, Nov. 6, 2007

3. To the Editor:

Report card grades are based mainly on test scores. This means progress is measured by a single score on a single test on a single day.

Parents want more. We want to know if our children are reading more books; if their understanding is deeper; if they ask intelligent questions; if they are curious and creative; and if they can work cooperatively. No test score will give us this information. Learning is complex, and assessments should be, too.

Jane Hirschmann
New York, Nov. 5, 2007

Friday, November 9, 2007

Libertas: An On-line Outlet for Public and Policy Commentary

Professor Liam Kennedy, Clinton Institute for American Studies, University College Dublin, sends this along:

Dear colleagues

I would like to draw your attention to Libertas (, a website linking scholars, the media, and the general public in engagement with and interrogation of US foreign policy past, present, and future. We seek not only to study US policymaking but to explore its roots within the American culture from which it emanates.

Libertas will feature timely commentary with daily podcasts and briefings, weekly analysis, and a discussion board. This will be supported by associates in the United Kingdom, Dublin, New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Bologna, Beirut and Tehran and more links will be made in the near future. We welcome contributions from all in the media and in the academic community to ensure the liveliest and most productive exchanges.

For more information, contact Bevan Sewell at, or Scott Lucas at or
Catherine Carey at


Liam Kennedy

Professor Liam Kennedy
Clinton Institute for American Studies
University College Dublin
Dublin 4
tel 00353 1 716 1561

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Draconian Measures Against Student Anti-War Protesters

Walter Feinberg Sends along the following:

High school is a fertile recruiting ground for the military, yet high schools often neglect to engage students in serious discussions of pacificism, the principles of just warfare or acceptable and unacceptable behavior of soldiers in time of war. While many districts have little difficulty with military recruiters on campus many are reluctant to allow peace activist to provide a counter message.

In one school, Morton West High School in Berwyn, IL (a suburb of Chicago)over 37 school students face either expulsion or suspension over an Antiwar Sit in on November 1, 2007.

The Superintendent has refused to back down as of this writing. Hence instead of teaching students about their right as citizens to protest, the school has decided to take the most Draconian measures available against a group of peacefully protesting students.

The failure to teach students about their basis responsibilities in times of war is a professional failing on the part of teachers and administrators. Soldiers and civilians in Iraq have paid a high price for this neglect. There is a need for professional and educational bodies to establish clear standards that can protect students' basic rights. There is also a need for those students who are inclined to enlist in the military to understand what international standards of behavior will and will not permit.

Those interested in the Morton West High School case can call or write.

Dr. Ben Nowakowski, Superintendent
District 201
2423 South Austin, Cicero, IL 60804
(708) 222-5702

Mr. Lucas, Principal
Morton West High School
2400 S. Home Ave.
Berwyn, IL 60402

The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought Since September 11

Here's a provocative and thoughtful review from Powell's Review a Day of John Brenkman's book, The Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought Since September 11.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hello from Democracy

Just to follow up on Leonard's post, we are very happy to be in touch with the Dewey Society and its members. Democracy was founded in part to provide a connection among progressives in the academic, journalistic, political, and think-tank worlds, as well as the broader reading public. Our belief is that while conservatives have built a strong system of interdisciplinary bridges - the Public Interest, Commentary, the American Enterprise Institute - progressives have not kept up. Our hope is that we can interest some of you to write essays and book reviews for us in the future, and in doing so help bring ideas and perspectives brewing in the halls of academe to a broader audience. Please feel free to email article proposals - optimally a one- or two-paragraph precis - to me directly at

Columns and Blog Posts

One aim of Social Issues is to help readers express themselves in public and policy-oriented forums.

Dewey Society members are mostly teachers or professors. They can all write coherent sentences. Their school or college newsletters and newspapers are looking for fresh voices. Same for the newspapers in their towns. Same for Blogs like Social Issues, and many other vehicles aimed at public or policy communities.

From time to time Social Issues will recycle good 'how to' advice about writing for non-academic audiences.

In this entry the controversial BBC and Observer columnist Andrew Marr (pictured above), winner of Columnist of the Year in the British Press Awards, offers some useful advice on writing columns.

A good column and a good blog post share many virtues.

Marr says:

A column is not just an opinion – it has elements of reporting. Unlike news, columns can contain context, analysis, metaphor, historical analogy and humour, but consider telling the reader something new they may not have read. Look at the facts again to bring a fresh angle to a story. It’s the ‘actually’ bit that makes a good column sing.

Like any argument, a good column is something that can be expressed in one sentence. If you can’t, then it’s likely to be dull. If you have problems with this, use a colleague to sound it off against.

Tackle something different. A feminist will provide an interesting take on hooligan boys.

Invitation from Democracy Journal

Clay Risen writes:
Dear Leonard:

I am the managing editor ( We are a quarterly progressive journal with an interest in both foreign and domestic policy, and our contributors hail from academia, journalism, think tanks,and the non-profit world.

In the same way that your group (The Commission on Social Issues of the John Dewey Society) is committed to getting academics into the public and policy spheres, we believe there are many people who would like to make that crossover but are at a loss for outlets.

We hope to provide precisely that opportunity.

Please consider this email an open invitation to you and your colleagues to send ideas for essays and book reviews to me.

I will drop a copy of our latest issue in the mail to you so you can get a feel for the sort of thing we're looking for.

And be sure to check out our upcoming issue, due out in December, which has a decidedly historical bent: an essay on the WWII-era Office of Civil Defense, a piece on the lessons of Vietnam for the Iraq debate, and book reviews on Albert Shanker, the 1972 McGovern campaign, and the history of black power.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From Scholarship to Public Policy at the American Studies Association

The American Studies Association (Philadelphia, October 11-14) organized a session called Democratic Vistas: How Can American Studies Scholars Engage with Public Policy. Here is a summary of the talks.

1. Nicolas Bromell, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and The History Democracy Project.

The right has its think tanks, which serve as direct channels for conveying scholarly ideas to policy makers. You all know these think tanks; they are constantly in the news. The think tanks on the left are less effective and hardly known.

Nick wrote to John Podesta, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for American Progress and former Chief of Staff to President Clinton, who said that no academics were doing much of policy relevance on the left; the right is able to draw on its scholars but the left is not.

Why does this gap exist? Nick suggested several reasons, including these:

(a) While left-oriented scholarship has been successful in transforming the intellectual view of the USA, it has been presented only to other scholars and students. No attempt has been made to give it a policy handle that policy people could grab hold of. One thing that progressive scholars could do is ask the question "what are the policy implications of this work?"

(b) The left has been thrown off base by the onslaught from the right during the last decade.

Nick then described the History Democracy Project. This project grew out of a conference at the Organizagtion of American Historians in 2006. The project has started with "baby steps": a conference scheduled for January on history and policy, bringing together historians and policy people focused on foreign policy, and another one planned for the future on immigration policy.

2. Mae Ngai, Columbia University

The right flourishes because of money, funding from the government, from private foundations. The democratic party has been in the hands of neo-liberals; few democratic policy makers have any interest in the left's point of view. Progressive knowledge production has also been inefficient; many topics are studied, few are politically hot at the moment. The question is how to parley scholarship into a current policy conversation.

Mae used her own work to illustrate this problem. She is an historian of immigration to America through 1960. Even to start being able to make her scholarship public, she had to teach herself about current immigration policy. Her point was that even those in the most relevant scholarly fields still have a lot of extra homework to do just to be able to talk about current matters.

Mae has done three things to make her scholarship public:

(a) Workshops for school teachers wishing to teach units about immigration and its connection to multiculturalism;

(b) Talks to policy groups. She spoke at a symposium on guest-workers sponsored by the Farm Workers; many congressional staffers were invited but none came. However, more than 50 people from inside-the-beltway NGOs showed up. Her takeaway from this was that it was naive on her part to imagine herself speaking directly to policy makers, but it was possible to speak to lobbyists for NGOs that do speak to policy makers.

(c) Op-ed articles for the press. Being a historian gives you a good angle for writing op-ed pieces. Editors want a usable past. But editors also want ideas that are not too radical. History can help generate the right sorts of ideas. For example, with all the hysteria about amnesty for illegal immigrants, a historian can say "we used to do things like that, it didn't work out so badly, its not off of the national bandwidth." Still, it is not easy to get op-ed pieces placed. Her university press office has been helpful. Her agent helped her place an op-ed in the LA Times. She's also had articles in The Nation.

3. Patrick Bresette, Demos (A progressive 'Action-Tank')

Demos was founded in 2000 in response to Bush v. Gore. Its first issue was naturally election reform. Then it took up the issue of expanding economic opportunity: how people can get into and stay in the middle class.

Demos then took up the issue of the loss of faith in "public knowledge" -- the distrust in government, in regulation, in taxation. So the question was "how can we change the anti-government image that neo-liberal groups have instilled in the public? In addressing this Demos has partnered with other advocacy groups.

Patrick has become impressed with the power of what he calls "deep cultural narratives" in shaping public thought. He has pulled back from the idea of "the informed public", the idea that a better informed public will make wiser decisions. Citizens need a better story, a better deep cultural narrative, not better information. As examples of current narratives in the media, Patrick
mentioned the story lines about "bickering politians" and about "wasting government money". Such narratives give publics pegs upon which to hang current news events.

The current consumer orientation of citizens, the question "what's in it for me?" places civic argument on the wrong track. Even public advocates fall into this trap, employing arguments of the form "this is good for you because . . ." But whenever progressives buy into this story line they lose, because the story further entrenches the idea of individualism as opposed to solidarity in the public interest.

Progressive scholars have to study and come to understand how this kind of consumer citizenship thinking arose. And they need to look at alternative cultural story lines that have actually brought people into the public as citizens not consumers. In thinking about this Patrick has been assisted by the work of former labor secretary Robert Reich.

Comparing two generic story lines, "the benevolent community" and "triumph of the individual" we need to find and build narratives based on the former. This will take conscious activity, identifying current topics where scholars know the history and can convincingly create such narratives.

The John Dewey Society, through the Commission for Social Issues and in other ways, can make common cause with organizations like the History and Democracy Project and Demos. And it can also partner with other scholarly societies like the American Studies Association in keeping questions about scholarly contributions to the public alive in the academy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Payday for NCLB?

NCLB has entered its fifth year, the year that its draconian sanctions are scheduled to take effect.

But almost all of the schools serving poor children in the nation's largest cities are still failing.

The schools are now scheduled for closure or other drastic remedies. But nothing seems to be happening.

So far, education experts say they are unaware of a single state that has taken over a failing school in response to the law. Instead, most allow school districts to seek other ways to improve.

“When you have a state like California with so many schools up for restructuring,” said Heinrich Mintrop, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, “that taxes the capacity of the whole school change industry.”

As a result, the law is branding numerous schools as failing, but not producing radical change — leaving angry parents demanding redress. California citizens’ groups have sued the state and federal government for failing to deliver on the law’s promises.

Read more here:

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Pod People

Schools are struggling with students who bring their iPods to school. But some schools are joining the iPod generation rather than fighting it.

These schools are employing iPods as tools to increase bi-lingual abilities and as adjuncts to lessons in just about all subjects. The schools purchase iPods in bulk and load them with video and audio lessons. Some buy the devices for all students; others buy enough to hand out in classes. Some are finally allowing or even encouraging students to bring their own iPods to school, so that the lesson files can be loaded.

In one recent class at Jose Marti school in New Jersey, Spanish speaking eighth-grade students mouthed the words to the English language rock song “Hey There Delilah” by the Plain White T’s as they played the tune on the iPods over and over again. The braver ones sang out loud.

“It speaks to me,” said Stephanie Rojas, 13, who moved here last year from Puerto Rico and now prefers to sing in English. “I take a long time in the shower because I’m singing, and my brothers are like, ‘Hurry up!’”

Grace Poli, a media specialist at Jose Marti, said her Spanish-speaking students — known around the school as Pod People — have been able to move out of bilingual classes after just a year of using the digital devices, compared with an average of four to six years for most bilingual students.

Read about it here

Sunday, October 7, 2007

"Howl" too Hot to Handle: NPR Pulls Plug on Reading for Fear of FCC Smashdown

"Fifty years ago today, a San Francisco Municipal Court judge ruled that Allen Ginsberg's Beat-era poem "Howl" was not obscene. Yet today, a New York public broadcasting station decided not to air the poem, fearing that the Federal Communications Commission will find it indecent and crush the network with crippling fines."

Read about it

More here

Okinawans Protest Cover-up of Mass Murders and Suicides in History Textbooks

Japan is revising its school social studies textbooks to cover up mass murders and suicides of Okinawans imposed by the Japanese military before the American invasion of Okinawa in 1945.

The Okinawan protests against this cover-up have rocked the new government.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Albert Shanker, The Little Rock Nine, and More

Jennifer Jacobson, Assistant Editor of the American Educator, writes:

I came across the blog of the Dewey
Society's Commission on Social Issues
and thought the fall 2007 issue of
American Educator, a quarterly
publication of the American
Federation of Teachers, might be of interest.

It includes a book excerpt from Richard Kahlenberg's new biography of former AFT president, Albert Shanker, as well as articles on the Little Rock Nine, and the importance of teaching Plutarch in high school humanities classes.

Here is the URL:

Five Rules For Bloggers

The Primary Task of Social Issues is to encourage scholars and educators to communicate with concerned publics about social, cultural and educational issues, and to assist them in so doing.

OK. How do you do that??

We will seek useful guidance from our experience, books, and the web and other blogs

In this post entrepreneur guru Tim Ferris (The Four Hour Workweek) offers five useful tips for bloggers

1. Decide how you’re measuring success before writing a post—what’s your metric? Form follows function.

2. Post less to be read more.

3. Define the lead and close, then fill it in.

Decide on your first or last sentence/question/scene, then fill in the rest. If you can’t decide on the lead, start with the close and work backwards.

4. Think in lists, even if the post isn’t a list.

5. The best posts are often right in front of you… or the ones you avoid.

Frederick H. Burkhardt, 1912-2007

Frederick H. Burkhardt, a pragmatist philosopher who served as the general editor of the collected works of William James and co-editor of The Correspondance of Charles Darwin, died in September at the age of 95, the New York Times noted today.

Burkhardt, one of the most distinguished of American scholars, was professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, and later served as president of Bennington College. When he became head of the American Council of Learned Societies in 1947 the council was struggling. Under his leadership (he reitred in 1974) it became an important coordinating agency for learned societies, Burkhardt was also influential in founding the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Memory Business

"Bud the Teacher" is a wonderful and widely viewed education blog.

Many teacher blogs link to it, so "Bud" is able to influence a lot of people.

In a recent post Bud quotes Ken Burns, who says:

I'm in the memory business, and each time a person dies, it's a whole library of memories that leave.

Bud adds: I hope we're all just a little bit in the memory business.

All scholars and teachers are in the memory business -- research of all sorts is our link to collective memory and teaching is our way of bringing it to conscious awareness.

Progressive scholars contribute to that awareness through memory-gathering research and teaching, but also through communications in the public media and, like Bud, through blogs.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Diane Ravitch Urges Major Overhaul of NCLB

Diance Ravitch has an op-ed article in the New York Times today urging major overhaul of NCLB.

Her proposal is first, to abandon the silly rhetorical goal of 100% proficiency, and second, to abandon the flawed state level tests.

In place of the tests she proposes that the federal government collect all statistical data, in line with the national assessment of educational progress or NAEP, and then support the states in providing local solutions for the specific problems the tests reveal.

See her article at:

Ravitch's article can be a good jumping off platform for further thoughts on NCLB. Please consider offering a comment about it.

The Commission on Social Issues

The Commission on Social Issues is a committee of the John Dewey Society.

John Dewey (October 20, 1859 – June 1, 1952) was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, whose thoughts and ideas have been greatly influential in the United States and around the world. He was one of the founders of philosophical Pragmatism, and the father of functional psychology. He was also the leader of the progressive movement in U.S. schooling, and his thought continues to inspire educators and influence contemporary educational projects.

Founded in 1935, the John Dewey Society exists to keep alive John Dewey's commitment to the use of critical and reflective intelligence in the search for solutions to crucial problems in education and culture. The Society subscribes to no doctrine, but in the spirit of Dewey, welcomes controversy, respects dissent, and encourages the responsible discussions of issues of special concern to educators. The society also promotes open-minded, critical reconsiderations of Dewey's influential ideas about democracy, education, and philosophy.

The Commission on Social Issues exists to encourage and support communications among members of the John Dewey Society and concerned publics on current social, cultural and educational issues.

The web log 'Social Issues' is one avenue of communication for members of the Commission for Social Issues and the John Dewey Society.

Members of the John Dewey Society are encouraged to join the Social Issues team.