Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Arne Duncan means for educational policy--the view from Chicago

(Cross-posted on Education Policy Blog)

President-elect Obama's choice of Arne (pronounced "arnie") Duncan for education secretary startled me a bit, because I expected Obama to name either an accomplished academic to the post (like Linda Darling-Hammond), or someone with broader experience in the trenches of education, that is, involving more than being a capital-fund-supported educational "reformer" or CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Duncan has never taught in a K-12 school--other than tutoring...attended the U of C Lab Schools and Harvard (and so has no experience being a student in a public school)...and lacks an advanced degree (even a master's degree) in education. Plus, while some credit Duncan with righting a sinking ship in Chicago during the last seven years, I think in fact any "improvement" in Chicago Public Schools has been primarily in terms of the public perception of the schools and some tinkering around the edges of accountability and choice.

So what are Duncan's qualifications to be education secretary?

1. Duncan is a consummate diplomat. Since the primary job of the education secretary is to "sell" federal programs to the public at large and other constituencies such as teachers unions, this is the primary reason he was chosen. He's well-spoken without coming across as aloof. He sounds like a regular guy, even though he's a Hyde Parker through and through, son of two well-respected University of Chicago academics. (I think perhaps Duncan's basketball career has given him a visceral connection to people who lack an academic bent: "I've been fortunate to go to some of the top schools in America...but I can tell you, without a doubt, that some of the best lessons I've learned in life are from playing basketball on Chicago's inner-city playgrounds. There's nothing like it", Chicago Tribune, July 11, 2001.) Like Obama, he has a huge natural smile that disarms his critics. I've heard Duncan speak in public a number of times, and while he advocates reforms (mostly along the very moderate lines of improved teacher training, replacing enormous failing high schools with small schools, more charter schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and using better data for decision-making), he NEVER says anything particularly upsetting or polarizing (in contrast, say, to Paul Vallas). Duncan is also not adverse to defending his boss (Richard Daley, for example), and he does so in a masterfully tactful manner that leaves even critics of that boss nodding their heads at Duncan's defense.

2. Duncan is smart. He listens. As mentioned above, he pays attention to data. Educationally-oriented academics (such as Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Initiative of the University of Chicago (and my former boss) love him. Duncan is persuadable. He doesn't think he knows it all, and is willing to let smart, dedicated professionals do their jobs within broad policy constraints. He's an excellent executive.

3. Duncan is a pragmatist. One thing about Barack Obama that strikes me--especially in terms of educational policy but perhaps more generally--is that he seeks pragmatic solutions to policy problems, while adhering generally to the consequentialist belief that the best policy is that policy that benefits the most people. ("Arne has always seen education as a civil rights issue." — Phyllis Lockett, CEO of the Renaissance Schools Fund, a non-profit that works with Chicago schools, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 16, 2008.) Duncan shares this pragmatism. Neither man, despite being Hyde Parkers, U of Cers (in some sense), and Democrats, is an idealogue. They will not pursue policies (such as the Bush program of "evidence-based" programs) that are merely screens for tactics in the culture wars.

4. Duncan is not only pragmatic, but he is also independent. He is not beholden to any political or entrenched interest. He's not "pro-union"; nor is he "anti-union." He's not for privatization of public schools, but he's not opposed to outsourcing when it improves results. He's also not opposed to closing underperforming schools. (When he first started doing this in Chicago, he raised a tremendous outcry of opposition from teachers, students, and community organizers. He learned from this experience and changed his tactics. Now, you hear almost no sustained opposition to this policy.) While he's surely a Democrat, and likely a liberal in his personal political views, he exudes a kind of beneficent concern for all stakeholders that will play very well in Washington policy circles.

5. He plays basketball....very well, and Obama likes to play with him.

6. His kids go to the same public school as my son does and daughter did. It's pretty much the best urban neighborhood school in the country. Will this continue? Hmmm......

So what are the implications?

1. NCLB will be drastically restructured to focus on supports for improvement rather than negative consequences for failure.

2. Opponents of charter schools have lost a huge battle. Their expansion will continue dramatically.

3. Urban school districts will receive special attention from Washington.

4. Washington will now begin to push a longer school day and longer school year, and the public will be gently pressured to force the unions to accept this without getting higher pay.

5. Funding for educational research will no longer be tied to ideological criteria such as "evidence-based" practices. Rather, research will be judged in terms of its likely benefit to generalized issues of educational practice.

6. The bowling alley in the White House will be replaced with a Basketball Court.

7. Barbara Eason-Watkins, who has been the quiet but effective and resolute Chief Education Officer of the Chicago Public Schools for the past 6 years, will become Chicago Schools Chief. Barbara (who was also my boss for about 3 months before she took her current position) is smart, friendly, tireless, effective, and has deep experience at all levels of the system. Expect Eason-Watkins to make news within the next few years, most likely by saying things that no white man could say in that position. She may shake things up a bit in Chicago (which would be quite welcome).

While I was startled that Obama made this pick, I think it was a good one. Duncan will do Obama's bidding without even having to be told what that is. He will be well-liked by pretty much everyone. And he will work to generally increase federal involvement where such involvement can make a difference, and will advocate strongly for "investment" in education in a way that will be convincing to most Americans.

(Direct quotes above are from,8599,1867011,00.html)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thoughts on Obama's "Consensus Choice"

Here are links to the two statements representing the opposing “camps” in the current educational policy debate. First, the “Education Equality Project” (the Joe Klein camp):

Second, “A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education” (with signatories well known to educational progressives such as Linda Darling-Hammond, Pedro Noguera, James Comer, and Debbie Meier:

It’s interesting that Obama has chosen Arne Duncan, the Chicago schools superintendent “known for taking tough steps to improve schools while maintaining respectful relations with teachers and their unions.” What we might expect from this “centrist” choice is a focus on improving the educational outcomes of poor students, a goal that virtually all progressives can certainly support. What is especially useful about the “Broader, Bolder” policy statement is the recognition that schools alone can not be held responsible for the achievement gap, and that a broad range of health and social policy commitments must accompany any school reform proposals. I also appreciate the focus on quality early childhood education, in order to eliminate the need for later remediation. And at least the “Broader, Bolder” statement nods to the fact that NCLB is responsible for a “narrowing of the curriculum,” although we need a much broader, deeper , and well-defined public discussion about what this means and what we should do about it.

If Obama and Duncan lean towards the “Broader, Bolder” approach and there is every possibility that they will, we might expect a different kind of conversation about educational reform than we have had in the public sphere to date. The best thing that could happen is that the feds make a broad commitment to policies that will really level the playing field for all students in public schools and work to provide national resources to do this. But let’s not put all our faith in the federal government for the specifics. Too much centralized power over the day to day workings of schools leads inevitably, I respectfully submit, to standardization, homogenization, and further bureaucratization of educational decision-making. States and local communities have historically been the actors most involved with setting more specific educational policies and I believe that in the context of national platforms on equality and justice, and the appropriate federal level of financial commitment to ensure these broad goals, we should return real control over curriculum and instructional practices to those closest to the site of learning: teachers, parents, communities, and - yes - students!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Duncan a Consensus Choice: Obama Retains Tension between Competing Policy Camps

The Associated Press today reports in an article that Arne Duncan, selected to lead the Education Department in the Obama administration, is a consensus pick whose selection avoids picking sides between the two educational policy reform camps.

Obama managed throughout his campaign to avoid taking sides in the contentious debate between reform advocates and teachers' unions over the direction of education and the fate of President Bush's No Child Left Behind accountability law.

"Duncan's selection may satisfy both factions. Reform advocates wanted a big-city school superintendent who, like Duncan, has sought accountability for schools and teachers. And teachers' unions, an influential segment of the party base, wanted an advocate for their members; they have said they believe Duncan is willing to work with them.

Duncan deliberately straddled the factions earlier this year when he signed competing manifestos from each side of the debate."

Arne Duncan to be named Secretary of Education

According to Lyne Sweet, in a column for the Chicago Sun Times, President-elect Obama will name Arne Duncan, head of Chicago's Public Schools, to be Secretary of Education.

According to the article in Wikipedia, Duncan is the son of Starkey Duncan, a psychology professor at the University of Chicago, and Susan Morton, who runs a Children's Center on the city's south side for African American youth.

He attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in sociology in 1987. At Harvard, Duncan was co-captain of the basketball team and named a first team Academic All-American

Duncan played pro basketball for three years after graduation while also devoting himself to children's issues. 1998 he joined the Chicago Public Schools, where he became Deputy Chief of Staff for former Schools CEO Paul Vallas. Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed Duncan to his current post on June 26, 2001.

He plays in pick up games with Obama, and is close to several members of Obama's advisors and transition team members.

Duncan, according to various reports, has demonstrated a good deal of savvy in dealing with his various constituencies. His appointment may be viewed as avoiding some of the divisiveness that would have resulted from the selection of Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford or Joel Klein of the New York Schools, though he would appear to be somewhat closer to Klein as both are big city school administrators.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

More on Obama and the Battle of the Education Reformers

The split in educational policy frameworks within the democratic party that was discussed last week by David Brooks is widening and getting nastier. According to a new article in the Times "there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation’s schools that his selection will reflect."

As characterized by Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, one camp, led by Linda Darling-Hammond, and supported by the teachers unions, advocates improving teacher training and teaching conditions. Darling-Hammond (a graduate of my department at Temple), is the Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education at Stanford.

The other side, led by "efficiency" reformers such as New York school Chancellor Joel Klein, favors merit pay and limits to tenure. The efficiency reformers say that the Darling-Hammond camp, though clever at hiding it, is opposed to significant reform. The Darling-Hammond camp say that the efficiency reformers are tough love --- without the love.

So far, no hint from President-elect Obama about which camp will dominate educational policy in the new administration.

Both sides considerable negatives when viewed from the progressive point of view. The Darling-Hammond side may be too entrenched in status quo institutions and approaches. The Klein camp is much more experimental, but its experimentation is driven by considerations of narrow efficiency.

What do others think about this choice?

Friday, December 12, 2008

David Brooks on Tough and Tender Educational Reform

In an important column in the New York Times on December 5th David Brooks surveys the educational policy frameworks competing for President Elect Obama's sponsorship.

With the Republicans out of the loop on educational policy, the key issues will be decided by Democratic party in-fighting, so it is essential to follow these internal squabbles.

Brooks says,

On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards.

On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms.

The stakes are huge. For the first time in decades, there is real momentum for reform. It’s not only Rhee and Klein — the celebrities — but also superintendents in cities across America who are getting better teachers into the classrooms and producing measurable results. There is an unprecedented political coalition building, among liberals as well as conservatives, for radical reform.

But the union lobbying efforts are relentless and in the past week prospects for a reforming education secretary are thought to have dimmed. The candidates before Obama apparently include: Joel Klein, the highly successful New York chancellor who has, nonetheless, been blackballed by the unions; Arne Duncan, the reforming Chicago head who is less controversial; Darling-Hammond herself; and some former governor to be named later, with Darling-Hammond as the deputy secretary.

Brooks thinks that Darling-Hammond in the deputy secretary role would be the worst outcome, as she can maneuver against his preferred brand of reform under the radar while a political celebrity secretary of education offers sweet nothings to the press.

What do you think?

Academic Capitalism Watch: More Gold Standard Research

The New York Times reports that Wyeth, the big pharma company, has developed a novel system for producing medical research. The Times article states that Wyeth hires out the research to a ghost writing firm, DesignWrite. That subcontractor takes the idea from Wyeth, drafts the article targetted for a particular journal, and then recruits a prominent "medical researcher" to sign it.

The Times states:

One article was published as an “Editors’ Choice” feature in May 2003 in The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, more than a year after a big federal study called the Women’s Health Initiative linked Wyeth’s Prempro, a combination of estrogen and progestin, to breast cancer. The May 2003 article said there was “no definitive evidence” that progestins cause breast cancer and added that hormone users had a better chance of surviving cancer.

The issue of ghostwriting for medical journals has been raised in the past, involving various companies and drugs, including the Merck painkiller Vioxx, which was withdrawn in 2004 after it was linked to heart problems, and Wyeth’s diet pills, Redux and Pomdimin, withdrawn in 1997 after being linked to heart and lung problems.

One top medical researcher with more than a thousand articles to her credit, when confronted with evidence gathered by Senator Grassley's senate committee that she had signed on to ghostwritten articles plugging Wyeth drugs, said "It kind of makes me laugh that with what goes on in the Senate, the senator’s worried that something’s ghostwritten. I mean, give me a break."

And that's the gold standard in attitude!

Media Shenanigans in Québec?

Last month, I explained the origins of Québec's new ethics and religious culture course, and I noted that it seemed to be on the cusp of becoming a significant issue in the provincial election campaign. I also pointed out that Mario Dumont, a right-wing politician, had tried to take advantage of public controversy surrounding the new course (it was alleged to be overly secular), and I promised that I would give an update on whether the issue caught fire. Interestingly, the issue did not prove to be to M. Dumont's advantage at all--the general public was, apparently, not interested in his criticisms. On Dec. 8, Dumont's party, the Action Democratique de Québec (ADQ), was crushed at the polls, and was reduced from 41 seats to 7. Dumont immediately resigned from the leadership of the ADQ as a result of this poor showing.

In the previous (2007) election, Dumont had profited politically from a media frenzy (which he helped to incite) surrounding the question of reasonable accommodations for immigrants and religious minorities. This controversy resulted in the formation of a traveling commission chaired by philosopher Charles Taylor and historian Gérard Bouchard (see photo above). In May of 2008, Bouchard and Taylor released their final report on the matter of reasonable accommodation, entitled Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation.

In a previous post, I commented on the role of the media in representing the views of people who attended the public hearings of the commission. As it turns out, one of the most interesting aspects of the final report examines the media's systematic misrepresentation of the reasonable accommodation controversy. Bouchard and Taylor analyze 15 separate incidents in which they feel the media distorted the account significantly. In each case, the commissioners present two versions of events: the media's account and the story that they gathered through their own investigations. I've quoted one exemplary account at length:
11. The Mont-Saint-Grégoire sugarhouse (March 2007)

([The media account]) Muslims arrived one morning at the sugarhouse, which can accommodate 750 people, and demanded that the menu be altered to conform to their religious standard. All of the other customers were therefore obliged at noon that day to consume pea soup without ham and pork-free pork and beans (this prohibition was apparently subsequently extended to other sugarhouses). In the afternoon, the same Muslims entered the crowded dance hall and interrupted the festivities under way (music and dancing) to recite their prayers. The customers in the dance hall were expelled from the sugarhouse.

([The commission's account]) One week before the outing, a representative of Astrolabe, a Muslim association, met with the sugarhouse’s owners to discuss certain changes to the menu, which would apply solely to the members of the group. The modified menu excluded pork meat but included halal sausage and salami provided and paid for by Astrolabe. This arrangement having been made, the association reserved one of the four dining rooms in the sugarhouse for its exclusive use. On the appointed day, after the meal, members of the group moved several tables and chairs in the room reserved for them for a short prayer. The management of the sugarhouse wanted to free up the room as quickly as possible (business was brisk and nearly 300 customers were waiting to be seated) and proposed to the 40 or so individuals who wished to pray that they use instead the dance hall, which can accommodate roughly 650 people. Thirty or so customers were then in the room, some of them waiting to be seated in the dining room. Several young girls were dancing to popular music. The management of the sugarhouse interrupted the music so that the Muslim customers could say their prayers, which took less than 10 minutes. The music then resumed. According to the management, no one was expelled from or asked to leave the dance hall.

See Building the Future: A Time for Reconciliation (Québec: Gouvernement de Québec, 2008), 72.
In the report, Bouchard and Taylor discuss what they call the media's "Fabrication of Perceptions," and they note that there was a significant amount of public outrage about the role of the media, both from the general public as well as from individual members of the media. Clearly, Bouchard and Taylor have some of the same concerns about the shaping of public perceptions that preoccupied Dewey and Lippmann during the 1920s. Books like Public Opinion (Lippmann), The Phantom Public (Lippmann), and The Public and its Problems (Dewey) still shed a great deal of light on these kinds of issues.

Obviously, this is an issue that extends far beyond the Québec context, and which poses an ongoing and difficult (albeit fascinating) educational challenge.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rousseau's children in Nebraska

A couple of weeks ago, Nebraska revised its “safe haven” law. ( Nebraska Revises Child Safe Haven Law: NYTimes) Nebraska was the last of the 50 United States to pass such a law, which allows parents to hand their children over to the state without fear of prosecution. These laws are generally intended to prevent what the media nicknames “dumpster babies”: newborns abandoned in out-of-the-way places by desperate young mothers. When it passed its law, however, Nebraska left open the possibility of handing over children up to the age of 18. Legislators were soon dismayed to find a surprisingly high number of teenagers handed to the state for safekeeping, including children from other states.

Why? This law coincides with rising health care costs and decreasing governmental support for parents. In an article about the revision to Nebraska’s law, the New York Times focuses on the mother of three children, two of them bipolar, one of whom was uncontrollably violent, who could not afford the health care her son needed. She is shown weeping, and says she cries every night but abandoned her son to the state because it was the only way for him to get the care he needs – and for her to take care of her other two children.

About a year ago, President George Bush vetoed plans to expand S-CHIP, the government program that provides health care to children of the working poor and middle class. He argued that this expansion would have provided a safety net to people who did not really need it. The surprising turn of events in Nebraska strikes me as powerful evidence (for anyone who still had doubts) that this argument is nonsense.

Referring to events in Nebraska, a recent editorial in the New York Times pointed out missing social safety nets and called on the government to provide them. I agree with the editorial but think that more than financial resources are at stake here. The stories from Nebraska highlight some troubling issues that are also raised by the problem of child abandonment more generally. Why are young women so ashamed to bear children that they leave them in dumpsters, bathrooms, wherever they can hide them? Why is it made so difficult for women with children to finish school, find good jobs, make a good place for themselves and their children in the world? Why is having a child the end of freedom and possibility to many women? Why do we arrange the lives of children such that their parents bear so much, too much, of the weight of their happiness? Surely it could be otherwise.

Thirty years ago, in Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich addressed the despair children can bring even to mothers who love them dearly. Rich’s words are brave and worth thinking about. Children are often romanticized as a constant wellspring of delight; they are not always so. If we could acknowledge that, and find ways to provide moral and social, as well as financial, support to parents (especially mothers, but fathers too), children would be less threatening and less threatened. In Nebraska and elsewhere.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau abandoned his 5 children to foundling hospitals, where they likely died soon after. There are plenty of parents (mostly fathers) abandoning children wrongly, selfishly. Rousseau regretted his decision after the fact, and the experience inspired him to write Emile (a book which plays no small part in the romanticizing of childhood, it must be said). But Therese Levasseur, Rousseau’s lover and companion and the mother of those children, is the parent who most comes to mind. The story would be less heart-wrenching if it had been possible for her to keep those babies. Times have changed, but as long as motherhood is an experience of entrapment (not for all, but for too many), times have not changed enough.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

JuJitsu for educators?

It's interesting from time to time to see what thoughtful non-educators (as opposed to the many non-thoughtful non-educators that fill the letters-to-the-editor section of a lot of daily newspapers) have to say about education.

This writer discovers a lot of Deweyan themes (not that he has, as far as I know, read Dewey) in his jujitsu classes:

Here's one quote:

Learning is an active process. You can not make someone learn. Sure, you can convince students to want to learn by threatening them with bad grades and extra work. ...Until you convince students to actually WANT to learn, you’re fighting a losing battle. And the quickest way to make someone NOT want to learn is to force them.

That could have been lifted from Democracy and Education.

There are a few things in the post that'll probably make you wince, but I'll let you find those for yourself.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution

irvington_statue_of_rip_van_winkleOn November 4, voters in the US made a momentous choice, not only by taking another step towards racial equality, but also by demanding new ways of relating to other countries, to injustice, to the environment, and to truth itself. As of today, that is only one step; nothing has changed except the direction we are pointed.

Where the path leads next depends even more on the rest of us than it does on President-Elect Obama. The great challenges of globalization, racism, poverty, and violence are unaffected by a single election. Yet, there is a risk that we can fall asleep, lose sight of those challenges, and begin to think only of narrow issues, such as many that surfaced in the campaign.

We have the opportunity now to respond to the challenges posed 43 years ago in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s excellent speech, Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution. In his talk, he relates the story of "Rip Van Winkle," who slept 20 years. But he reminds us that when Rip went up to the mountain, the sign on the local inn had a picture of King George III of England. Twenty years later, the sign had a picture of George Washington. Rip had not only slept 20 years; he had slept through a revolution. As King says, "Rip Van Winkle knew nothing about it; he was asleep."

King saw that we are experiencing a scientific and technological revolution, one that challenges us to remain awake, and to develop a world perspective. It's more imperative than ever to eradicate racial injustice and rid the world of poverty, and to find an alternative to war and bloodshed. Long before talk of flat worlds, King saw that our destinies were intertwined:250px-martin_luther_king_jr_nywts
All I'm saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be - this is the interrelated structure of reality...And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.

Remaining awake means looking beyond government as usual and recognizing that children in Haiti are in our "garment of destiny," as much a part of our world as the person next door. It means knowing that justice is an ongoing project that needs to be defended wherever we hear of abuses of human rights, not seeking ways to justify them. It means finding an end to wars, not simply moving from one venue to another.

Can we do any better now at addressing King's great challenges?


King, Jr, Martin Luther (1965, June). Remaining awake through a great revolution. Commencement address for Oberlin College, Oberlin Ohio.

Cross-posted from Chip's Journey

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I've been missing in action on this blog for a couple of months because I've been in Portugal, learning a new language, figuring out how to live in less than convenient conditions (quite an enjoyable adventure actually), and generally absorbing Portuguese culture and the Portuguese approach to education.    And after two months I think I'm beginning to understand, and I have quite a lot to share.

For today, the focus must be on the protesting teachers.   The very centralized government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates (how about that name?!! for the philosophical among you) and Education Minister Maria de Lurdes Rodriques has put into place a new system for the evaluation of teachers and the teachers are in the streets  protesting it.   And the protests are getting widespread press coverage -- including regular TV spots.

Two weeks ago, 120,000 of Portugal's 140,000 teachers gathered in Lisboa to protest a plan in which the Ministry selects "titular teachers" within each building to evaluate other teachers (without additional compensation by the way).  Nobody's very happy with the plan nor with the way it was imposed.   That's both clear from the numbers above who protested that first Saturday and in line with the politics of this small nation that has embraced participatory democracy since overthrowing Salazar in the 70s.

The following Saturday about 70,000 teachers were back in Lisboa, but the Ministry continued to insist that the evaluation plan would be implemented as written.  There is one hitch.  The "titular teachers" are out protesting with the others, so it's not clear who's going to do the observing, etc.

On Monday, the Ministry hinted at "greater flexibility" in implementing the plan.   That might be because each day this week, teachers in one of the five political regions of Portugal are taking to the streets (as the TV just put it) for evening protests.   From the image I just saw on the morning news, lots of them showed up in Porto last night.

I have mixed feelings about this -- as do some of the teachers with whom I have talked.   An evaluation system seems reasonable.  I find myself wondering why there has never been one.   But in a system where school directors were teachers elected by their peers and where literacy has traditionally been very low, evaluating teachers was not high on the list of priorities.    But globalization and the European Union have changed all that.  Portugal, perhaps the most parochial of the EU nations, is experiencing all kinds of changes -- from much needed new roads to (perhaps not so needed) an educational system of surveillance.

But to see the teachers -- massive numbers of them -- in the streets demanding control of their own work and their own profession, ah, this is heartwarming!  Imagine if 75% of the teachers in the US gathered in their state capitals on one day (or 50 days in a row) to say that the testing regime that NCLB has bequeathed us is too punitive and too miseducative.   Imagine if those teachers offered an alternative that includes accountability and peer evaluation, heck even parental evaluation,  and took the case directly to the public as the teachers in Portugal have!!   

(Here are some hints for future posts:  The university professors are up in arms and so are the secondary students -- for different reasons.  They too are making noise and protesting.    Also, there is a network of educators in Portugal, part of the Modern Education Movement, that are implementing progressive educational models with success at all levels from infância to secundária.  And I might comment on the 16 years drinking age about which I chatted with several groups of 16 year olds -- or the 9th grade/14 years old compulsory school law that lets students leave school at 14 but not enter the work force until 15.   Lots of grist for the mill here.) 

Monday, November 24, 2008


“The current sad state of ‘arts and education’ as a specialty in philosophy of education, a discipline itself shrinking and potentially extinct on this continent”—This seldom considered circumstance “in the era of No Child Left Behind” was the thought-provoking “backdrop” for Deanne Bogdan’s George F. Kneller Lecture to the American Educational Studies Association in Savannah on October 30. Just one year earlier, AESA had celebrated Maxine Greene’s 90th birthday in Cleveland with accolades for her many inspiring, radical contributions to the arts and education specialty in philosophy of education, including her John Dewey Lecture The Dialectic of Freedom (1988). In Spokane two years earlier AESA had mourned the tragic death of a much younger radical philosopher of arts and education, Landon E. Beyer, whose last work was The Arts, Popular Culture, and Social Change (2000). Having authored Re-Educating the Imagination (1992) and having taught philosophy of literature and literature education, aesthetics and education, musical aesthetics, and women’s studies for over two decades, Bogdan noted that her arts and education position at OISE/University of Toronto was eliminated following her retirement and that “massive arts funding slashes” in Canada “were recently made by a federal government that believes support for the arts [should] be left to the marketplace (Smith 2008, R1-2).”

I cannot even begin to do full justice to her finely nuanced lecture here, "Betwixt and Between: Working through the Aesthetic in Philosophy of Education," which soon you can read in its entirety in Educational Studies if you did not hear it in person. Her eloquently theorized "betwixt and between" is at risk of becoming nowhere--that is not Bogdan's thesis, it is mine, albeit this is a fear that I suspect she shares. Therefore I want to respond to her lecture selectively here, to its office as “a memoir of one dying breed—the arts—within another—philosophy of education—in Educational Studies,” since it bears witness not only to her specialty’s “sad state,” but also to its potentially transformative significance for cultural politics and social issues.

Composed in three “movements,” her memoir recounts the subtle and dramatic phases of her journey through study of both Plato’s and Northrop Frye’s educational and literary thought and of feminist thought, within the context of disputes over censorship and curriculum, to construct an original theory of “embodied” reading and pedagogy. With this theory developed through reflection upon various exhilarating and troubling events that occurred within her own teaching practice in higher education, she has aimed to resist that same moral and spiritual destructiveness of “professionalization” which so deeply concerned both Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Virginia Woolf in Three Guineas—without falling into the domesticating, sentimentalizing, trivializing trap that arts education became as training in “female accomplishments” in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bourgeois culture.

Bogdan’s own journey sets out from an education in philosophy, literature, and music—which she calls mousike techne—into and through philosophical studies of literature and education. After a richly provocative engagement of feminist thought and pedagogy, gradually she reaches an impasse of paralyzing silence familiar to many millennial women—in Bogdan’s case wrought by that critical stance which Shoshona Felman has called “self-subversive self-reflection,” within a professionalized postmodern intellectual milieu that felt to her like an “emotional desert of discursivity.”

Without mentioning John Dewey’s Art as Experience, Bogdan stands out among recent philosophers of arts and education as one whose artistic performance and creativity inform and deepen her thought no less than aesthetic appreciation does, as one for whom the Deweyan dialectic between “doing and undergoing” is fecund indeed. For, confronting her own post-feminist impasse, she perseveres to reclaim the differently embodied but significantly wordless voice of the piano. Her pianistic voice becomes her resilient means for deepening her study of embodied reading and pedagogy as a simultaneously spiritual, social, political, and educational practice. While playing in domestic solitude and local nursing homes as well as at conferences, both at home and abroad, and in various master classes, she thinks about Glenn Gould, Marshall McLuhan, Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Jane Campion’s The Piano, and complex questions that music inevitably raises for educators concerning its inflections and invocations of race, nationality, ethnicity, and sexuality, as well as (implicitly here, but explicitly elsewhere) what Lucy Green has called “musical patriarchy.”

Bogdan’s narrative concludes logically—with her post-9/11 reflection upon music’s educational and philosophical significance for the democratic projects of social justice and nonviolence, in light of her recent participation in Tanglewood II, an international symposium “charting the future” of musical learning in the twenty-first century. Inspired by Bogdan’s journey, I will return next month to this blog to invite you to revisit with me Jane Addams’s Hull House and its descendant, Myles Horton’s Highlander Center, while thinking about the Tanglewood II Declaration—about what education in music and other arts has done and may yet do as education for social justice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A New Course Proves Controversial in Québec...

In the United States, the question of the place of religion in public schools is a familiar one. In Quebec, the historical and social context is significantly different, but there is still a great deal of controversy about religion in the classroom. In fact, a new, mandatory course that combines moral and religious education may be on the cusp of emerging as a significant issue in the upcoming provincial election.

The churches have, historically, played a major role in the Québec education system; until recently, almost all Québec public schools were denominational. In keeping with this, classes in religion were offered in all public schools. Québec secondary school students could choose between Catholic Moral and Religious Instruction, Protestant Moral and Religious Instruction, and Moral Education, which was a secular course. However, this year, the government introduced a single new course--Ethics and Religious Culture--which has replaced these three courses.

The new course has drawn fire from both religious and secular critics. Protestants and Catholics are unhappy with the fact that the new program takes a more cultural approach to the question of religion, while the Mouvement Laique Québecois (Québec Lay Movement) is unhappy that religious instruction has become mandatory. In October, parents protested in the streets of Montreal. Last Monday, things heated up even more when Mario Dumont, a conservative populist and the leader of the official opposition in Québec, suggested that the new course should be stricken from the curriculum. In his speech, Dumont remarked, "The people who thought up that course are the same people who fight through all kinds of roundabout ways for there not to be Christmas trees in classes. They are the same people who fight to make words like Easter disappear from classes."

If you would like to find out more about the new course, an explanatory video and some curriculum documents can be found here. It will also be interesting to see whether the controversy dies down or escalates to become a major election issue. I will keep you posted.

Friday, November 7, 2008

RINO Watch #2

Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly that the social conservative wing of the Republican party is initiating "Operation Leper" to identify and cast out those so-called Republicans whose loyalty to Governor Sarah Palin in the recent presidential election was not absolute.

Benen reports that Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, has predicted that, after the election, there would be a "bloodbath." Nuzzo explained, "A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?"

Brooks, Frum, and Noonan are all bright people, but to put it bluntly, they are not Einsteins. We attend to people like this not because they have earth shattering insight, but because they sit astride a mountain of power. The Republican party is that mountain.

The question is: where do these influencers and their sponsors go if they are lepers, or "dead people" in the Republican party?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Where will all the RINOs Go?

The Republican party as we have know it for the last third of a century is dead. It was always an untenable coalition of groups with antagonistic views: libertarians who wanted to do away with government to protect individual freedoms, theocrats who wanted to take over government to limit individual freedoms, and free-market corporate liberals who wanted to buy and sell government to feather their own nests. Anyone outside of that triumvarate was a RINO: a Republican In Name Only. Eisenhower, Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller -- all just RINOS.

What happens now? The libertarians fade back into the woodwork as essentially a marginal group of innocuous kooks; the theocrats look to attach themselves to some other, larger political coalition like a parasite or cancer, the free market corporate liberals buy and sell government in more strategic, retail politics.

As for those RINOs, like Colin Powell, Chris Shays, Richard Lugar: many will gravitate, like Jim Webb, into the Democratic party, alongside of Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, and others, to bolster the centrist pragmatist group. These folks will counter-balance the progressives like Russ Feingold and John Conyers. Obama as president will no doubt straddle the centrist -progressive divide. The near term future of American politics will be inside the Democratic party, with Obama holding the internal balance of power.

As a result, the issues on the table for education will be somewhat different. I suspect we will be hearing less about faith-based institutions, anti-science curricula, or voucher plans. For those looking for a key to decipher the future federal policy agenda, I suggest taking the likely proposals of both of these groups within the Democratic party and figuriug out their ideological synthesis.

Charter schools and other choice-within-the-system plans, networked technologies, and provisions to increase the educational attainment levels of minorities are likely to loom large.

For "the next big idea," look for a formula that bring these three themes together.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Follow Up: Election Fraud

The Register UK reports this week, Vote- Flipping in the US Election is the term used to describe the most recent case of malfunctioning Electronic voting machines. 

Democracy Now also reported of machine malfunctions and voter intimidation tactics. 

In my blog entry from Oct, 7, I mentioned concerns about the case in Ohio, where thousands of registration forms from absentee voters were almost thrown out. 

Now, closer to the election, there are even more serious concerns about electronic voting machines switching your vote to the opposite candidate after you punched it in. This was shown in early- balloting cases in various states using iVotronic voting machines. ES&S, the makers of the machines, have blamed researchers for the malfunction, saying they maliciously removed security protections on the machines. 

Even if the removal of security protections is to blame, shouldn't it also be a major cause of concern that security seals can be removed!!!!

With the fears running high and the vote rapidly approaching, some citizens are planning to stand outside poll stations ready to speak with any voters reporting legitimate concerns about voter fraud and will be posting the videos on You Tube.  

I am not sure what the best method of ensuring accurate voting for the coming election should be or if it is even possible, but if anyone has heard about fraudulent activity in the coming election or what people are doing to avoid it, I 'd be interested to know...


Friday, October 24, 2008

An Early Modern Prophet?

“From the respect paid to property flow, as from a poisoned fountain, most of the evils and vices which render this world such a dreary scene to the contemplative mind.”

Thus wrote Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) in 1792—expressing a radically critical outlook that could hardly seem more appropriate to study this month. She merits inclusion in school social studies curricula, for which purpose I strongly recommend Miriam Brody’s beautifully illustrated, well researched, and engaging Mary Wollstonecraft: Mother of Women’s Rights, published by Oxford with a washable cover!

Most famous for having written A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, thanks especially to Jane Roland Martin’s acknowledgment of that work’s significance for philosophy of education in Reclaiming a Conversation (1985), Wollstonecraft authored also various educational novels, treatises, manuals, and stories—collected by Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler in seven volumes. The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft (1989). Scarcely schooled herself, Wollstonecraft advanced one of the most substantial early modern arguments in English for universal, government-funded, sex-desegregated day-schooling, and initiated a substantial tradition of thought on coeducation by authors such as Louisa May Alcott, Anna Julia Cooper, John Stuart Mill, Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Dale Spender, Martin, and bell hooks. Indeed, John Dewey’s 1911 argument for coeducation reiterates the main points of Wollstonecraft’s plea to educate children through the “jostlings of equality.”

Emma Goldman once observed that even if Wollstonecraft had never written a line, “her life would have furnished food for thought.” Janet Todd’s massive, thorough, and candid Mary Wollstonecraft: A Revolutionary Life and Lyndall Gordon’s more recent Vindication: A Life of Mary Wollstonecraft both make clear that Goldman was right, as do her letters collected by Todd. A survivor of child abuse in an unstable alcoholic home with six siblings, she resolved early to live as an independent woman, educated herself with help from generous neighbors, and tried the few means other than prostitution by which women might work for their living in Georgian England. Her husband, philosopher William Godwin, has written a rich Memoir of their remarkably egalitarian friendship, from which men and women may learn much even today. Their daughter Mary Shelley, orphaned just a few days after her birth, educated herself by reading her mother’s works, whose influence upon her own mythic educational novel Frankenstein is unmistakably strong.

The fifteenth volume of the 25-volume Continuum Library of Educational Thought, edited by Richard P. Bailey (2008)—Mary Wollstonecraft: Philosophical Mother of Coeducation—introduces her life and ideas to educators. In it, I have chronicled her revolutionary self-education as a woman-loving woman, a teacher of children, and an early modern writer; I have formulated also her critical concept of monarchist miseducation and her normative concept of republican coeducation, traced her work’s reception and influence on subsequent thought about coeducation, and examined the contemporary relevance of her as yet incomplete philosophical project. Researching and writing this book with the purpose of inviting a new generation of educational thought on Wollstonecraft, I have thought especially about what we might learn from her about how to approach a comparable coeducational critique of global-corporatist miseducation—a critique that recent events make all too obviously necessary. For she seems almost prophetic in her 1796 Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, regarded by literati as her best work:

“A man ceases to love humanity, and then individuals, as he advances in the chase after wealth; as one clashes with his interest, the other with his pleasures: to business, as it is termed, everything must give way; nay, is sacrificed; and all the endearing charities of citizen, husband, father, brother, become empty names . . . These men, like the owners of negro ships, never smell on their money the blood by which it has been gained, but sleep quietly in their beds, terming such occupations lawful callings; yet the lightning marks not their roofs, to thunder conviction on them, ‘and to justify the ways of God to man.’”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Teachers with Guns

Classes have begun in a school where teachers are allowed to carry guns. As some may have read about a few months ago, a small Texas School District has allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons beginning this school year (Reuters reported on this in August of this year). 
The Texas School District justified their actions by saying that they were keeping the school safe and further that this was all "common sense," and parents didn't question them. I'd like to think that for most Americans this isn't common sense. 
After my initial shock and horror upon hearing about this,  a lot of questions came up. What have our schools become if this is allowed? What have we made of the teaching profession? And dare I ask, are teacher education programs in Texas going to start a course in weapon training? While for now this is an isolated issue, it has made international headlines, and all over the world there have been instances of school violence from disgruntled students.

If we look to Hegel, Herbart, Dewey and others, we can envision the school as in some way a place for expanding the learner's horizon of thought and experience beyond the immediate realm of their private sphere. 

Perhaps one might argue that a certain amount of safety is needed to enact this vision. But what kind of agreement are we asking students to enter into when they have to come to school all the while knowing that the authority figures may have guns? The threat to stop whispering to your friend in the back of the class, or not to criticize your teacher's beliefs becomes that much more serious when the teacher says, "stop acting up (and by the way I have a gun!)".

Monday, October 20, 2008

John Dewey in Turkey: Lessons for today

The Republic of Turkey was proclaimed on October 29, 1923. As its first President, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk sought to establish the modern Turkey as a "vital, free, independent, and lay republic in full membership of the circle of civilized states." He recognized the need for "public culture," which would enable citizens to participate fully in public life, and saw the unification and modernization of education as the key. Accordingly, one of his first acts was to invite John Dewey, who arrived in Turkey just nine months after the proclamation.

In this endeavor, the ideas of Atatürk and Dewey were consonant. Dewey's words above ("vital, free, ...") could have been written by Atatürk, just as Dewey might have talked about "public culture." Both recognized the need to institute compulsory primary education for both girls and boys, to promote literacy, to establish libraries and translate foreign literature into Turkish, and to connect formal schooling, the workplace, and government.

Today is John Dewey's 149th birthday. Back in 1924, he was nearing the age of 65, when many people think of retiring. But his three-month-long study in Turkey was an ambitious project. He addressed issues of the overall educational program, the organization of the Ministry of Public Instruction, the training and treatment of teachers, the school system itself, health and hygeine, and school discipline. Within those broad topics, he studied and wrote about orphanages, libraries, museums, playgrounds, finances and land grants for education, and what we might call service learning or public engagement today.

He laid out specific ideas, such as how students in a malarial region might locate the breeding grounds of mosquitoes and drain pools of water of cover them with oil. In addition to learning science they would improve community health and teach community members about disease and health. Workplaces should offer day care centers and job training for youth. Libraries were to be more than places to collect books, but active agents in the community promoting literacy and distributing books. In these ways, every institution in society would foster learning and be connected to actual community life. As Dewey (1983, p. 293) argued,

The great weakness of almost all schools, a weakness not confined in any sense to Turkey, is the separation of school studies from the actual life of children and the conditions and opportunities of the environment. The school comes to be isolated and what is done there does not seem to the pupils to have anything to do with the real life around them, but to form a separate and artificial world.

Atatürk saw the need to unify Turkey into a nation state, despite its great diversity. Dewey supported that but emphasized that unity cannot come through top-down enforcement of sameness (p. 281):

While Turkey needs unity in its educational system, it must be remembered that there is a great difference between unity and uniformity, and that a mechanical system of uniformity may be harmful to real unity. The central Ministry should stand for unity, but against uniformity and in favor of diversity. Only by diversification of materials can schools be adapted to local conditions and needs and the interest of different localities be enlisted. Unity is primarily an intellectual matter, rather than an administrative and clerical one. It is to be attained by so equipping and staffing the central Ministry of Public Instruction that it will be the inspiration and leader, rather than dictator, of education in Turkey.

This was realized in many ways. For example, the central ministry should require nature study, so that all children have the opportunity to learn about and from their natural environment, but it should insist upon diversity in the topics, materials, and methods. Those would be adapted to local conditions, so that those in a coastal village might study fish and fishing while those in an urban center or a cotton-raising area would study their own particular conditions.

Many of Dewey's ideas were implemented and can be seen in Turkey today, as we come upon its 85th birthday next week. What's even more striking to me is how relevant they are to the US today. Many of our problems can be traced to the "separation of school studies from the actual life of children and the conditions and opportunities of the environment," but also to the separation of work from learning, of health from community, of libraries from literacy development, or of universities from the public. Dewey would be the first to argue that we need to re-create solutions in new contexts, but his report from long ago and far away still provides insights for a way forward today.

Ata, Bahri (2000). The influence of an American educator (John Dewey) on the Turkish educational system. Turkish Yearbook of International Relations (Milletlerarası Münasebetler Türk Yıllığı), 31. Ankara: Ankara Üniversitesi.

Dewey, John (1983). Report on Turkey. In Jo Ann Boydston (ed.), The Middle Works: Essays on Politics and Society, 1923-1924. Vol. 15 of Collected Works. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press.

Wolf-Gazo, Ernest (1996). John Dewey in Turkey: An educational mission. Journal of American Studies of Turkey, 3, 15-42.

Cross-post from Chip's Journey

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Robert Slavin and Rip Van Winkle

At a recent seminar I attended, a presenter used the following quote from psychologist Robert Slavin:
If Rip Van Winkle had been a physician, a farmer, or an engineer, he would be unemployable if he awoke today. If he had been a good elementary school teacher in the 19th century, he would probably be a good elementary school teacher today.
(Educational Researcher, Vol. 31, No. 7 (Oct., 2002), p. 16)
Although this quote was only a minor element of the talk, I found it startling. I'm not at all convinced that Slavin is correct. In the 19th century, a number of practices that we would currently find to be unacceptable were viewed as elements of good teaching. When I teach my classes, I use a variety of examples to illuminate this point for the students.

One of my favorite examples comes from Country School-Houses, an 1866 book on school design by James Johonnot. In addition to offering some interesting discourses about the importance of outhouses and some intriguing designs for octagonal schoolhouses, Johonnot tells us of a new seating system, the "J. Homer French Method of Seating." I would ask you to read the text accompanying the graphic carefully.

Needless to say, in the J. Homer French system, non-compliant posture had serious consequences!

Another of my favorite examples comes from William Mowry's Recollections of a New England Educator. Mowry was a prominent educator--a journal editor and a former Superintendent of Schools in Salem, Massachusetts. In the book, he proudly tells us of a lesson he designed based on the first four lines of Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." The first four lines of the poem read as follows:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
Mowry's lesson featured a list of 200 questions on the four lines quoted above. One can only imagine how stultifying this exercise must have been for the students. And this was a practice that Mowry viewed as normative!

It would be possible to cite several other examples of this kind (Other wonderful texts include the 19th century spelling book, The Only Sure Guide to the English Tongue, as well as Warren Burton's account of life in a rural school, The District School as it Was). However, the point here is that Slavin is asking us to believe a proposition that is false, namely, that there has been very little educational progress between the 19th century and today. In fact, a great deal of credit is owed to progressive educators like Dewey who helped to transform elementary education from a system that emphasized rote learning to one that is both more effective and far more pleasant for students.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Election Fraud? : Let the Games Begin...

What is the potential for election fraud in the coming election?

While everyone is so busy worrying about who will become President (as they should be) it is increasingly more difficult to worry about how the elections will be run. Although the US is not yet in the situation of some countries where citizens vote in a pseudo-election with only one candidate on the ballot, I often wonder how far off we really are from that. If our democracy is based on the right to vote shouldn't we be concerned about whether or not the votes are being cast?

Are electronic voting machines secure and accurate? Will paper ballots be misleading? Will ballot boxes be stuffed or will voting cards be discarded? 

Recent election history in particular the last 2 presidential elections has proven that this is a real concern.

While the republican side is worried about fraud by single voters (e.g. voters not really being legally eligible to vote), the more serious concern is regarding large-scale intentional election fraud which involves systematically manipulating the votes after they have been cast. 

A blogger on WordPress. com reported in January that the biggest concern is electronic voting machines:
"Elections in this century will be digitally, not physically stolen, unless and until our election procedures and laws effectively and quickly address this reality. And they certainly won't be stolen by the few people who mistakenly or foolishly try to cast a ballot when they can't legally do so. Without precautions in place against computer election fraud, a inevitable 'Titanic' shipwreck of democracy may occur without the public even being aware."

Last week on the Brenner Center for Justice website, a center that has tracked election fraud, a fellow blogger warned that the Election fraud games seem to already have begun:  Thousands of absentee ballot request cards were going to be thrown out by the Ohio Secretary of State, due to them being deemed "invalid" because although the person registering signed the card, they did not check a misleading check box saying they were a legal voter. 
Strangely enough the registration cards were developed by the McCain team.
Fortunately the Ohio Supreme court ruled to allow the absentee requests!

How many more of these cases are still to come? Is there action we can take now to prevent fraud in November? 

At the very least I would say, let's keep our eyes and ears open for cases of injustice...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Academic Capitalism Watch: Corruption in Medical Research

The New York Times reports that high profile, influential medical leaders have hidden from their universities their incomes from high-pay consulting contracts with leading pharmaceutical companies.

The Times reports that Howard Nemeroff, one of the nation’s most influential psychiatrists, earned more than $2.8 million in consulting arrangements with drug makers from 2000 to 2007, but failed to report at least $1.2 million of that income to his university and violated federal research rules.

Dr. Nemeroff signed a letter dated July 15, 2004, promising Emory administrators that he would earn less than $10,000 a year from GlaxoSmithKline to comply with federal rules. In fact he earned $170,000 that year from that company — 17 times the figure he had reported.

Senator Charles Grassley, Repoublican of Iowa, said that “after questioning about 20 doctors and research institutions, it looks like problems with transparency are everywhere . . . The current system for tracking financial relationships isn’t working.” His report suggests, says the Times, that universities are all but incapable of policing their faculty’s conflicts of interest. It adds that "almost every major medical school and medical society is now reassessing its relationships with drug and device makers."

I find this incoherent. If they are really incapable of monitoring the situation, how could any re-assessment of their policies make a difference?

It is more likely that universities have been turning a blind eye to gross violations of academic ethics and federal law in order to profit from the lavish contributions of big pharma to so-called medical reasearch -- which is really the marketing program of the industry.

No wonder they call medical research the "gold standard".

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Aesthetic inequality?

At the moment I'm re-reading Democracy and Education, something probably worth doing every few years. I came across the following passage, regarding the aesthetic-educative influence of one's environment.
good taste and aesthetic appreciation. If the eye is constantly greeted by harmonious objects, having elegance of form and color, a standard of taste naturally grows up. The effect of a tawdry, unarranged, and overdecorated environment works for the deterioration of taste, just as meager and barren surroundings starve out the desire for beauty. Against such odds, conscious teaching can hardly do more than convey second-hand information as to what others think. Such taste never becomes spontaneous and personally engrained, but remains a labored reminder of what those think to whom one has been taught to look up.
This just speaks of one's surroundings; it doesn't get into curricular issues like how much art and music students can or do get. I don't need to say much about the different visual experiences one gets from a poor, run-down school versus a well-financed, well-kept-up one. There's even a vast difference at the college level, between the campuses of Princeton and Stanford, on the one hand, and some urban community colleges, on the other.

Addressing the issue of aesthetic inequality may just give conservatives another excuse to see educators as unacceptably effete liberals. Yet if the capacity to appreciate and create beauty is one of the fundamental human capacities--as I'm sure that it is--then aesthetic inequality involves a pretty basic violation of human rights. Thus, it's something we should address.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Obama: The Education Radical?

Today's Wall Street Journal published an op-ed entitled "Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism on Schools" by Stanley Kurtz, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  The EPPC says on their website that they are reinfocing "the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate over domestic and foreign policy issues."  And he's got a bone to pick with Barak Obama's education record.  On August 19, The National Review published another one of his pieces on this topic, "Chicago Annenberg Challenge Shutdown?"

The basic claim in these articles is that (1) Obama is a "radical"  because he's tied to Bill Ayers, and (2) his campaign is covering this up.

Obama led the Chicago Anneneberg Challenge from '95-'99 and sat on it's board for another year or so.  During that time of Obama's association, the CAC funding lots of Bill Ayers' educational projects, or so says Kurtz, who has been examining the records.  Kurtz claims that these projects were "radicalism" at its worst, combining community organizing with resistance to (get ready for this) racism.  Here is how Kurtz puts it in the Wall Street Journal:
"The CAC's agenda flowed from Mr. Ayer's educational philosophy, which called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and which downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism.  In the mid-1960s, Mr. Ayers taught at a radical alternative school, and served as a community organizer in Cleveland's ghetto.  In works like City Kids, City Teachers" and "Teaching the Personal and the Political," Mr. Ayers wrote that teachers should be community organizers dedicated to provoking resistance to American racism and oppression.  His preferred alternative?  'I'm a radical, Leftist, small 'c" communist,' Mr. Ayers said in an interview...about the same time Mr. Ayers was forming the CAC."

If Kurtz and the far Right can cast Obama as a radical with clear connections to Ayers, they believe that they can "prove" to America that he's a small-c communist and "radical" who stirs up trouble and is un-American.  

Schools working with communities, educators fighting racism -- this is radicalism?  As far as Obama's campaign downplaying the links between Ayers and Obama, this is perhaps an unfortunate but necessary spin, given what a contentious figure Ayers is for the Right, and how far they'll go to run his name and his work through the mud.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

“I Came a Stranger” by Hilda Polacheck

I Came A StrangerI just finished reading I Came a Stranger: The Story of a Hull-House Girl, by Hilda Satt Polacheck, and edited by her daughter, Dena J. Polacheck Epstein (University of Illinois Press, 1991). It's a fascinating account of Polacheck's journey from Wloclawek, Poland to Chicago, and the role that Jane Addams of Hull House played in her life.

The book is interesting on many levels: Hilda's life is filled with many compelling, poignant, and humorous stories; she makes the immigrant experience in late-19th, early 20th century Chicago come alive; and she shows what Hull House meant to a girl like her, who "came a stranger" to Chicago, knowing no English and learning to survive by doing. The labor and feminist politics of the era have immediate meaning for her, and she recounts stories about Emma Goldman, Eugene V. Debs, Clarence Darrow, Alice Hamilton, and other great figures of that time. She describes her struggles, romance, triumphs, and tragedies.

It's a pity then, that the book wasn't published in her lifetime, as there was no interest in the life of an "obscure woman." But I was drawn in by her honesty and commitment to the ideals she saw in Jane Addams. I also gained a deeper understanding of the remarkable role that Hull House played in the effort to, as Addams says, "make the entire social organism democratic."

[Cross-posted from Chip's Journey]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Teachers in Portugal

It’s back to school time in Portugal where I’m spending the semester at the Universidade de ‘Evora as a Fulbright scholar. I just arrived a week ago, but have learned enough about the national system to learn that individual teachers are not hired by local district administrators; instead, the (central) Ministry of Education places teachers throughout the country. Until this year, teachers were given a one-year placement, subject to change every year. Starting this year, teachers are guaranteed to remain in the same place for four years. I’ve been pondering the implications of both the one year and four year policies.

Let me acknowledge right off the bat that I don’t know the history of these policies, and would welcome clarification from those who know more. I am told that Portugal has more than enough teachers. I am also told that people in Portugal don’t like to move (unless they emigrate to another country). It’s a lot like Pittsburgh, PA (or at least how Pittsburgh used to be); when you grow up, you move in down the street from your mom! You don’t leave the old neighborhood – or region. I can only guess that these policies are intended to give the Ministry the flexibility to place teachers in all the regions of the country, no matter what their place of origin or preference. I doubt that teachers are moved willy-nilly each year, and I assume that Ministry officials have good reasons for doing what they do. Still, it’s seems that school directors (principals) – and students – can’t count on working with the same teachers year after year.

Because I side with educational scholars and practitioners who view relation as central to pedagogical possibility, I am perplexed by any policy that impedes continuity of relation between teacher and student. Continuity (suggests Nel Noddings among others) is one of two elements in the development of positive pedagogical relationships (the other is engagement). If some critical mass of teachers does not remain in the same school for any predictable period of time, the possibilities for relation and community, i.e. for caring, diminish. It takes time and attention to construct and nurture generative relations. Policies that move teachers around for the sake of bureaucratic convenience seem to be counter-productive to creating the relationships that can foster learning.

So the cast of characters changes. Children come back to interact with adults they’ve never seen before, adults who don’t know their names or the siblings or their histories. Sometimes that’s a good thing – past histories can complicate any relationships, but more often, it is good for children to know teachers by reputation if not personally, and for teachers to recognize the children with whom they will work. (It’s even better when teachers can work with children for more than one school year!)

And what of the teachers? Educational research over the past decade in particular has made it clear that good teaching is context dependent. That is, how “good” a teacher you will be depends on where you are and what and whom you are teaching. If I am moved from pastoral Evora to urban Lisbon to the sunny Algarve, will I be supported as I spend the time and effort to come to understand the ways that life in that place pushes and pulls each student? Again, I assume that those in the Ministry who make the placements try to be respectful of teachers’ background and talents. And a change of location can be a very good thing for a teacher, heightening one’s sense of self and the rhythm of a teaching life. But to be reassigned regularly seems to be an assault on a teacher’s professionalism as well as a drain of energy that could be devoted to the practice of teaching.

I am a guest in Portugal where I have found only hospitality and welcome. I confess readily that I don’t know enough about the system to make any judgment. I write not to criticize a particular system but to raise questions about the relations between teachers and students, and about relations between teachers and the administrative structure that determines their professional positions.

Anti-Intellectualism in American (and Canadian) Life

I first read Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life a few years ago. My initial interest in the book stemmed from the fact that Hofstadter had accused Dewey of having unwittingly promulgated anti-intellectual trends in education. However, Hofstadter’s book has been on my mind lately because there is an epidemic of anti-intellectual discourse in the current American and Canadian election campaigns.

In the opening pages of the book, Hofstadter offers the following definition of anti-intellectualism:

“The common strain that binds together the attitudes and ideas which I call anti-intellectual is a resentment and suspicion of the life of he mind and of those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life.” (Hofstadter, pg. 7)

Readers of this blog who have been observing the American election probably already know that anti-intellectual rhetoric is playing a significant role in the campaign. For example, after the Obama campaign pointed out the number of houses McCain owned, McCain spokesman Brian Rogers offered the following statement: “"In terms of who's an elitist, I think people have made a judgment that John McCain is not an arugula-eating, pointy headed professor-type based on his life story." Notably, Hofstadter’s analysis informs us that this particular pattern of attack has a long history. During the campaign of 1800, attacks against Jefferson focused on his allegedly dangerous intellectual tendencies. Contemporary commentators argued that Jefferson’s “shewy talents” and dangerously French “theoretic learning” made him unfit for the presidency. Historian Charles Lerche commented on the effectiveness of this particular aspect of the campaign against Jefferson:

"Another persistent avenue of attack upon Jefferson was the charge that as a man given to abstract speculation he was automatically disqualified from holding the office of President. This was a shrewd strike, for the average American was (and is) profoundly suspicious of formal learning in politics, particularly when it is of a theoretical or speculative nature."

More than 200 years later, we are apparently in the “information age” and are participants in the “knowledge economy.” Yet despite this seeming valorization of knowledge, the anti-intellectual card is still just as powerful as ever, and politicians do not hesitate to play it.

Now, some American readers might be tempted to think that the Canadian political scene is too civilized to permit the brazen use of the anti-intellectual strategy. However, a recent web campaign by the Conservative Party of Canada has arguably gone farther down this road than any previous American efforts. Stéphane Dion, the current leader of the Liberal party of Canada, is a former professor at the Université de Montreal. Determined to use this fact to their advantage, the Conservative party has created a parody website, the main interface of which features “Professor Dion” standing in front of a blackboard, looking puzzled. The “Bio,” which is titled “From Professor to Weak Leader,” utilizes every available element of the anti-intellectual strategy. The text of the site reads as follows:

Dion has an unusual propensity to combine politics and pets. He named a turtle after the communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky. After the Liberals lost the 2006 election he bought a dog that he named after the environmental treaty, Kyoto, that he promised to implement as Environment Minister but failed to deliver on. He even once taught a parrot to say “ideology”.

Mr. Dion graduated from Université Laval with a B.A. in 1977 and an M.A. in 1979, both in political science. In 1986 he received his doctorate in sociology from the Institut d'études politiques in Paris.

Dion is especially proud of his educational background. He claimed in July 2008 that, if elected Prime Minister, he would be the first Prime Minister to hold a Ph.D. In fact Canada’s longest serving Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, had a doctorate from Harvard University.

Professor Dion lectured at the Université de Moncton in 1984. He left Moncton after a few months, complaining that it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, and went to the Université de Montréal where he taught from 1984 to 1996.

The various conclusions which we are meant to draw from this “bio” are (a) that Dion has dangerous radical tendencies, (b) that he is eccentric, (c) that he is unduly proud of his educational background, (d) that despite his intellectual pretensions, he is ignorant of Canadian history, and (e) that he is a snobby intellectual who would never be content with a small town like Moncton.

As an academic, I have to admit that these anti-intellectual attacks infuriate me. As an educator, however, I try to think somewhat more constructively; I wonder whether there is anything we can do to lessen the effectiveness of anti-intellectualism. In School and Society, Dewey spoke of knowledge becoming liquid, and he suggested that “a distinctively learned class is henceforth out of the question.” Needless to say, the continued potency of the anti-intellectual strategy indicates that this prophecy has not been entirely fulfilled. Perhaps this points to a need on the part of educators to redouble our efforts to demystify and to circulate our work. At any rate, I would certainly be interested to hear others’ thoughts about anti-intellectualism and what we can do about it.