Thursday, May 24, 2007

Position Paper Rebuttle (read the previous post first)

After writing the paper, and indeed before I finished, I had convinced myself that in fact what I was writing was false. I did not belive what Joel Spring was arguing was fair and accurate. Instead I believed that there was good reason why so many groups take an interest in education. So I wrote a response to my own essay. It is not nearly as formal or even well edited. I wrote it in frustration and even a bit of anger. I hope you like it...I call it, "Breaking the Mold."

I find the statement by Neil Postman to be frivolous and near-sighted, despite having just written a paper to support it, I now decided that I am against it. He makes the claim that somehow there are too many people interested in the school and therefore too many people affecting education. I want to first submit that it is natural for many people to be interested in education since we rely on it to educate entire generations of students and have so since very early in our nations history. In fact, without public education there would likely not be much of a nation, or it would be much more factional than it is now. Secondly there is nothing wrong with equality of opportunity in this nation, at least that the problem does not lie in some institution or community, but rather in the nature of people in general. I contend that there is no chance of creating a perfect educational system from imperfect people. Lastly I did not appreciate the narrow statistics that Joel Spring uses to attack education and American society in general.
Firstly it is important to accept that education is in fact influenced by politics and rightly so. After all, it is the politicians who have ordered money to be collected from income earning people to then pay for education of this nation’s youth. This is regardless of whether a wage earner has children in the school system or not. The educational system is founded and supported by the government. What then should the government do? Leave it to its own devices? Politics birthed education, it must continue to raise it and support it. To do otherwise would be foolish. Furthermore there was complaint about patriotism and teaching citizenship in public schools. It is the American system and government offering free public education, therefore it is fair to expect a little love in return. A little patriotism never hurt anybody, and trying to make students better citizens won’t either. After all, what should we teach them? To be subversive government hating terrorists who desire to bomb government offices and kill people who support the evil system? Educators in other nations are already doing a good job of that, we need not assist them.

Who then will monitor and steer the freight train that is public education if not government? There must be an engineer or the train will derail, but whom? Should there be a committee of educators selected then set free to make decisions with no oversight? Or perhaps Spring should stage an educational coup and seize control of public education in the name of what is good and fair and right like some communist revolutionary. The point is that there is no way to separate public education from politics, they go hand in hand.

Secondly there is the issue over society influencing public education. This too seems like a ludicrous issue to discuss. Public education is meant to serve society, therefore social groups take an interest in it. It is not unnatural or wrong. Spring complains about the attempts to teach morals in a school setting. Should they do otherwise? He complains that it is difficult to find a common moral agenda to follow given the diversity of our cultural landscape. I agree with him on this point, that is why it is important to allow all school districts to develop what they feel is good and just on their own. Community schools train community children in the agreed upon standards of the community. Are there likely to be some people who descent? Of course, but in democracy the majority often prevails and in this case they should. Why should the social groups be left out of the discussion when they are the people who the schools are designed to serve? What is the alternative? Teachers who teach against what the parents of students sitting in their classrooms teach? That is more unjust than the current situation. That is minority rule, and it is undemocratic. For a few people who think they know-it-all, ala Joel Spring, to make all the decisions is not good practice. There is nothing wrong with the social structures’ involvement in education, in fact it is a facet of democratic life.

After attacking both politics and society, Spring went for the trifecta by blaming educational shortcomings on business. While this is a very Marxist thing to do, I will not go as far as to call him a pinko-commie. Instead I would like to continue my observation that his blame is misplaced. American companies rely on American students to continue to make American products and to provide American services to Americans (if you are counting I squeezed in the word American five times, oops now it is six). They should then be concerned with the public education of Americans from the top (universities) down (primary schools). After all their success depends on quality employees. Now this may seem like a selfish thing, and indeed it may be, but it is also beneficial for all Americans that American companies do well because the American economy counts on it. If public education were to only produce students who knew how to paint abstractly and write haikus then business leaders would be forced to find suitable employees elsewhere which would raise the unemployment rate, especially among the abstract painters and haiku writers now that there is a surplus of them. Business pays a lot of money in taxes every year, much of which goes to education (half of taxes in many states), so I see nothing wrong in them wanting to know how their money is being spent, and how well their future employees are being trained. It is only natural.

Finally there is the issue of inequality in education. There is a “Savage Inequality” they say and it affects everyone except the white male. Indeed this is a tremendous problem and Spring unleashes a swarm of statistics to prove his point. However, I believe in what Mark Twain when he said “there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” These numbers while no doubt they are accurate, are used to prove inequality in education and do not factor in other issues. Firstly I would like to state that I do not believe that absolute equality is possible in a fallen world such as ours. I have seen no evidence of it anywhere in history nor anywhere on the planet currently on any large scale.

But back to more scientific arguments. Spring uses statistics that show that women who have the same degrees men do receive less pay. I do not doubt that this is true, but it is only the surface. If we were to go deeper I believe that we would find that there is a difference in the types of degrees and therefore the types of jobs that men and women favor. For instance, women are by far the majority in education, yet degrees in education do not net one very significant pay. Even masters and doctorates in education do not significantly increase the level of income. Meanwhile men are the majority in fields like law enforcement, criminal justice, and engineering. All of which pay better than educational jobs. Can we say then that there is a “savage inequality” because a woman with a bachelors of arts degree in liberal arts who teaches third grade does not receive the same pay as a man with a bachelors or science degree in engineering who works developing jet planes? Or perhaps Spring would like to see everyone with the same level of education receiving the same pay. Oh wait that would make him a pinko-commie, of which he clearly is not, so no doubt he would find that suggestion silly. I make more money that my wife’s stepsister who has a masters degree. I am a teacher with a mere bachelors degree. Is there an inequality? Spring would say yes. I studied history to become a history teacher. But it turns out that in my wife’s stepsister’s (Corina) infinite wisdom, she studied Chicano women’s studies to become a blockbuster video clerk. Her degree has no market, mine does. The point is that there are more factors than are being presented.
But wait! What about race? Surely there is a “savage inequality” when it comes to race and social class. The poor just keep getting poorer and the rich keep getting richer. Everyone knows this. In fact Spring again used a barrage of statistics to prove this fact (personal thoughts about statistics were already stated). But what these statistics fail to show is that perhaps it is not because of education that people are poor. Of course minorities are the ones found at the bottom, but why? Why is it that a dirt farmer from the hills of Guatemala can’t come to an advanced post-industrial society and succeed? It must be racism and a biased education system. Or maybe it is because the dirt farmer has no education. His children have no education. He does not value education, and therefore his children are not likely to become physicians. Or perhaps I am being racist and Euro-centric right now.

I love when someone brings up the quintiles. They compare bottom 20% compared to the top 20% and we are all supposed to go out and demand radical wealth redistribution I suppose. No wait that would make us pinko-commies. The truth is that over ten year periods only 20% of the people in the bottom 20% are still there. The other 80% moved up (because that was the only way they could go). These quintiles represent ever changing groups of people and are not static at all. I have always been in the bottom quintile, but hope to move out next year once I finally make some money. Perhaps the problem of poverty in this country has more to do with immigration from poverty stricken countries than any failure by America. No that is crazy talk. We are better off to blame the “system” because the “system” can’t defend itself, because no one knows how to contact it.

Anyways, that is my response to my response. I almost turned myself into Sen. McCarthy just then, but came to my senses. Seriously though, I think that instead of simply blaming everyone else, we should focus on our students and instruct them in the best manner using the best methods. I call it “one student at a time.” Cliché I know, but until I come up with something better that is what I am going to call it. Wheh! I feel much better. I suspect that now I can go back into my class and continue to complain about the “savage inequalities” that our evil country has created.

Position Paper

I had to write a paper using the textbook that we have by Joel Spring to defend or challenge the following quote:

"A school has a multifaceted agenda and many constituents to serve...each makes its demands and exacts its price. The classroom is not a place of simple teacher-student interaction--not even when the teacher closes the door. It is a place in which the claims of various interests are negotiated. The classroom is both a symbol and a product of deadly serious cultural bargaining."
...Neil Postman

This is the essay I wrote to defend this statement. I call it "Playing along."

Education today is the knot in the center of the tug-o-war rope with many groups of people pulling it in the direction they want. All are vying to control or at least influence it to fit their vision of what is important and good. Among these influences are politics, economics, and society, but the madness does not end there. Also affecting education are race matters, and immigrant issues. All of these factors together create an environment in which many people are watching and commenting on school districts, school sites, classrooms and individual teachers. Many people have ideas about what education should look like, but few can agree. This leaves the classroom teacher to sort it all out as she arrives for class in the morning and her students file in to fill their seats. What is important? What do I want the students to learn? Do they need to be prepared for the work place? The political arena? Should I teach them morals and values? Which ones? Who’s? Should I teach them to conform to the social structure or rebel? Should I support their roots or convince them to embrace the common culture of this country? There are no easy answers to these questions, but teachers face them every day.

George Orwell wrote, “In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.” If this is true it means that teachers cannot avoid the oversight and second guessing of politics, and also that any influence from politicians is likely to be close to useless. While it would be nice if education was free from the binds of politics, it cannot since its funding is derived from taxes collected by the very same political machine that seeks to manage the education of children.
One of the first purposes of education was to provide the country with “qualified leadership for a republican government,” (12). This goal, which was championed by the founding father Thomas Jefferson, would in essence create a meritocracy which is “an educational system that gives an equal chance to all to develop their abilities and to advance in the social hierarchy,” (13). Theoretically this would allow any student regardless of gender, race or religion to become the next leader of the United States. While there are obvious problems with this system that could be outlined, I believe all we need do is to look to the results of such a system. After 42 presidents (President Bush is the 43rd but Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th) there has never been a woman, a non-white, and only one non-protestant. The only figure that might be disputed is that of social and financial class, being that several presidents grew up poor, and only through education and hard work became the leader of the nation. This does not add much confidence to the meritocracy.

Other political goals of education include: educating students to be good citizens, teaching the common goals of Republican government, to instill patriotism, and to promote community service. With regard to citizenship it was believed that education would promote cohesion amongst the populace and “curtail political violence and revolution, and maintain political order,” according to Horace Mann, (14). While this seems like a noble goal it is not without its cost. The government, interested in its own survival, is likely to focus on its positive attributes and underplay or ignore its stains. Mann knew this and even “argued against teaching politically controversial topics because of their potential for destroying the public school,” (15). The problem with this method is that students are likely to encounter controversy every where they go. Few topics in today’s political world are not controversial. Immigration, health care, war, marriage, religion, and poverty are just some of the topics that consistently arise in political dialogue; all are controversial.

When it comes to patriotism and community service there is yet again more questions than answers. While nationalism (patriotism’s father) is often a good thing if a nation is to be united, it can also lead to problems such as wars, civil chaos, hate crimes or even genocide. The issue with patriotism in the United States is that, “teaching patriotism creates problems for a society with a variety of religious, ethnic, and political groups,” (17). How does one convince such a diverse people that there is one common culture among the people of this nation? How does one find common ground amongst such a diverse group? This was a similar issue when requiring students to conduct community service. Students have a variety of values and morals, therefore finding community service for them to do is a challenge because conflicts are likely to arise. With all of this diversity and conflict, how can there be consensus on what political goals should be met in the classroom?

Besides politics there are other contributors to the educational tug-o-war. Among them is economics. It is a well accepted adage that money makes the world go round. Conversely the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “money is the root of all kinds of evil.” What then is the influence of business on education. Just like politics, business is self motivated. It is interested primarily in improving its profits and competing in an ever growing world economy. Will American students be capable of competing against those of Japan, South Korea, China, or Singapore? The corporate community wishes to ensure that they will. Therefore, business leaders push the human capital theory which “contends that investment in education will improve the quality of workers and, consequently, increase the wealth of the community,” (24). This seems like a good goal except that it is not likely to benefit the entire community. Maybe by “community,” they really mean the business community.

This model calls for a system of sorting students into groups in which they are likely to succeed and contribute to the greater “good” of the nation through work. It is intended to close any gap between education and labor. A school would become the testing ground for student occupation, and the training center for a business owner’s newest employees. I wonder then what a curriculum based on this model would look like; or perhaps I have already seen it. Such a model would demand literacy and math skills especially along with any other courses that would further assist a student into a given field. For most students then, there is no need for arts or even history for that matter. What difference would it make after all if an employee was familiar with the Spanish American War, Women’s Suffrage movements, Emancipation of slaves, or the Declaration of Independence for that matter. It wouldn’t. No, only useful things should be taught. Things that will help students to be better employees, which should in turn make workers “happy because of the close tie between the schools and the labor market,” (25). While the motives of business may seem honest in their rhetoric, it would be catastrophic to ignore the fact that business is all about making money and increasing profits. There are several ways to increase profits, and not all of them include employee welfare. In fact business may increase profits by creating a labor surplus which would allow an employer to lower wages and replace workers more easily. It turns out that “the ideal situation for hiring is a large pool of applicants that will allow business to pay the lowest wages and select the best workers,” (29). With this in mind, we should not trust the interests of business with regard to the education of our youths.
Along with politics and economy, society also seeks to influence the schools. Just as politics seeks to further its cause, and businesses their causes, society seeks to train students to conform. One of the most interesting and difficult aim of education is the instruction of morals and values through the classroom. Few people would suggest that students should not have morals and values, but the questions that must first be settled are: is the school the place to learn such values, and what values should be learned? These are not easy questions to settle. Horace Mann decided that it would be best to “teach moral values common to most Protestant denominations,” (19). While it would be difficult even for Protestant denominations to agree on a set of principles, it is even more difficult to convince non-protestants that this is the best solution. There is a plethora of religious groups in this nation today that may take exception to the agreed values, not to mention the growing number of people who claim no religious affiliation or belief.

One of the issues that is currently one that schools are looked to for solutions is sexual activity among youth. Figures suggest that high percentages of teens are engaging in sexual behavior and the schools are seen as the place to solve this issue. With AIDS slowly becoming more common in our nation, the pressure is on for schools to do something about it through education. But what? Teaching abstinence is one solution through education but “those who believe in the right of free sexual activity between consenting adults,” disagree with this approach, (23). Instead they advocate for “educational programs that teach safe sexual procedures and advocate the dispensing of condoms in public schools,” (23). Who is right?

Even though “historical record indicates that moral instruction has not reduced crime, controlled teenage sexuality, or ended substance abuse, society still turns to public schools as the cure for many social problems,” (23). It is certainly important that children has a sense of right and wrong, or a moral compass, but is the school the place to learn such things? If not in school where? More than a hundred years ago sociologist Edward Ross declared “the family and church were being replaced by the school as the most important institution for instilling internal values,” (20). Can the school house fill a void vacated by family and church? Should it? It is a bad idea to attempt to instruct morality through public schools, and as evidence shows so far, it is not effective anyways.

What has all of this outside interest in education achieved? Has it achieved an equal school system in which merit is the measure of a student as Thomas Jefferson and others hoped? Hardly. Instead women, minorities and poor continue to lag behind the dominant white, male and protestant majority. This bias can be noted in that “at almost every level of educational attainment, “white, non-Hispanic” had higher estimated work-life earnings,” (44). This means that white people will earn more money no matter the educational level of minorities. Is this fair? Hardly. This problem is circular. Poor children go to schools in poor neighborhoods. Schools in poor neighborhoods have a “lack of a regular teaching force,” which causes there to be a lower quality of education, which means the students there will be less likely to go to college and finally earn less income (51). Because of all of that they are likely to stay in that neighborhood and have children there to repeat the process.

Besides that there is the issue of immigrant children. Is the US educational system fair to the immigrant children who speak another language? Education in the United States is Eurocentric, which means that it is comfortable for the children descended from European parents alone. For everyone else it is something different. Some people suggest that we widen the ethnocentricity of schools to include other ethnicities. This will help students from the dominant culture to accept children from other cultures, and also help students from a non-European background to feel comfortable in school because their culture will matter. Meanwhile NCLB legislation essentially proved to everyone that the US is Euro-centric in that all of the students must pass a test in English. This means that their home language is not viewed as important to the rest of society. Is that fair?

These issues is what the political, social and economic influence has achieved. Instead of equality and fairness, we have division and inequality. Every new legislation, every new program and every new lobby takes more away from the classroom by adding to the burden that students and teachers must endure. All of the tugging and pulling causes education to remain where it is; hovering over the mud hole. There will be little progress as long as outside influences continue to meddle in schools. I say let the legislators legislate, let the business leaders conduct business, let social leaders socialize, but let teachers teach, and most important, let learners learn.

Sorry I have been MIA

I have been very busy lately trying to get a job and teaching and going to classes at night, that I have not posted in two weeks now. It is far too long, but I have been writing (even if it is for a class). I did find a job and I am excited to start in August. I am half way through my summer courses already, but I have a lot of work still to do. Also I have been teaching my students philosophy. It has been really rewarding actually and most of the students have gotten into it. I have had them start to develop their own philosophy which I plan to put together as a class collection before school ends. We have already studied Ecclesiastes, Plato, Confucius, Chuang Tzu, Hon Fei Tzu and Buddha. Next week we are getting into Marx and Engles, as well as Locke. It has been very fun for me as well as the students. Anyways, I have some things to share with you and I am just going to post all of them because I cannot always remember to post them later.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Magical Kigndom

I have not posted for a while, but have been very busy. I wrote a 23 page report which was required for my credential. I read three books, which I will blog about when I get the chance, and I went to Disneyland with my family. It was fun. Really. I had not been in a few years, and everything is pretty much the same, but the real fun was that my daughter got to meet the princesses. That is Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Snow White, and Jasmine. There was some discussion about whether all of these qualified and then if there should be others, but these are the official princesses. I personally thought that princess Fiona should be included, if for no other reason, but simply because she is fat and ugly and therefore little girls who are not skinny and beautiful could have a princess to relate to. This is the genius behind Fiona and Shrek in the first place, and I advocate for her to be included in the princess line.

Anyways the real thing that I thought was interesting was that I went to "California Adventure" for the first time. It had been there the last time I went to Disneyland but I did not go in it for lack of good reviews. The reviews have not improved much, but because our tickets automatically got us into the park Brandi and I went. Apparently it is supposed to reflect some sort of California theme, but to be honest I thought that it was pretty weak. The main connection is that they built a mini golden gate bridge, named a rapids ride grizzly canyon, built a boardwalk, and made a Hollywood section. I feel that this is all pretty weak and could have been done much better. I have come up with my own list of "California adventures" which I will be sharing when I get the chance. These will be really Californian and really adventurous. I plan to market them to Disney in the hopes of making a few bucks from my brilliant ideas. I am going to use my knowledge of history and creative engineering to build some attractions that will be entirely unique. Wait and see. You are going to like these.