Saturday, December 31, 2022

Bill Gates Is Going To Fix Math

Bill Gates's aspirational announcements are always a good time. He swings for the fences. He announces the ends of things. He repeatedly almost takes responsibility for the floppage of large ideas.

But his new "My wish for 2023" note is unique in that, when it comes to education, his stated goal is really not huge.

There are nine goals. One is for education.

It is to raise math scores.




















The foundation is doubling the percentage of their funding that's spent on math (from 40% to 80%). How is that going to be spent?

Our funding will help develop better instructional materials that keep students interested and motivated, give teachers the support they need to deliver these materials, and make sure that each math course gets students prepared for the next one.

By "materials," Gates apparently means "software."

In class and at home, students should be able to use software that’s interactive and personalized. It should know when they’re stuck and notify the teacher that they need extra help. Teachers should be able to choose from various ways of organizing students to help each other, for example helping them identify the students who are ahead and can help out the ones who are behind. The idea is to make the most of the teacher’s time and skills. We have many capable partners; the nonprofits Khan Academy and Zearn and the startup company Mastory, for example, are doing promising work.

That's awfully close to the description of a microschool, where some students hang out on a computer and some adult is handy just in case. 

It is education via screen, a model that has not exactly gotten rave reviews during the distance learning days of the pandemic. 

As always with Gates, there are some notes suggesting that he either doesn't understand basic things about education or he's pretending not to.

Although there are many factors that affect a student’s trajectory, the evidence shows that it’s extremely important for them to succeed in math. For example, those who pass Algebra I by ninth grade are twice as likely to graduate from high school and more likely to go on to college, get a bachelor’s degree, and go on to a high-paying career. And those who don’t complete Algebra I have just a one-in-five chance of graduating from high school.

Say it with me folks-- correlation does not mean causation. If sixth graders who have a large shoe size are more likely to become basketball players, it does not follow that making every sixth grader wear big shoes will result in more hoopsters. People who come from wealthy, well-educated families are more likely to graduate high school, more likely to get a bachelor's degree, and are more likely to take early Algebra I. 

And as always with these letters, Gates wants us to know that he has Learned Things.

As I’ve learned through the foundation’s work in this field, it’s one thing to make modest improvements in a few classrooms, and another thing to spark big improvements at scale. If we’re lucky, we’ll hit some of our milestones within three years and be able to prove out these new tools within five. That will set the stage for school districts and states to make sure that all students have well-supported teachers and an engaging curriculum that makes math feel relevant to their lives.

"Another thing to spark big improvement at scale." Yes, indeed, especially if by "another thing" you mean "thing we have never successfully done." And that timeline-- hit "some" milestones, "prove out" the tools, "set the stage" for schools and states--that sounds a lot like we'll will probably be mostly ready to start beginning to prepare to launch the early preliminary versions of that thing. 

I do like one thing about this new aspiration of Gates's--compared to his previous attempts to appoint himself the Czar of Us Education, this is fairly modest. With any luck that means the damage will be minimal. 

Friday, December 30, 2022

PA: Another District Clamping Down On Reading Rights

Penncrest School District is located in the NW corner of the state, located mostly in Crawford County. It's a mid-sized (around 3500 students K-12) district that was stitched together out of several very small rural districts

Penncrest has been home to the occasional controversy. Like back in May of 2021 when a couple of board members got upset about certain books in the library.

Two board members got in a Facebook flap over a collection of LGBTQ+ books displayed at the Maplewood High School Library. Board member David Valesky posted:

Besides the point of being totally evil, this is not what we need to be teaching kids. They aren't at school to be brainwashed into thinking homosexuality is okay. Its [sic] actually being promoted to the point where it's even 'cool'.

Board member Jeff Brooks responded
 
There have always been gay students in our hallways. And unfortunately there have always been hateful voices looking to discriminate against them. Let's just be a little better today and not make kids [sic] lives worse by being hateful, bigoted and prejudiced.

Valesky later told the local newspaper that "he was against the school 'pushing' such topics onto the students," and that schools shouldn't have anything to do with "kids determining their sex or who they should be interested in." Brooks expressed his opposition to censoring books at school and that schools "need to be a safe place."

That was enough to prompt an on-line petition to remove two board members that currently has 4,899 signatures.

Then there was the time they refused a teacher's request to go present at the state Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts conference because some of the sessions at the conference sounded a little too critical race theory (her presentation was supposed to be about “Using Audio Analysis to Maximize Independent Reading Time”). 

Penncrest is once again focused on limiting the reading rights of its students. 

Back in May, Valesky held up the purchase of books for the library. In particular he singled out  the books "Global Citizenship: Engage in Politics of a Changing World" and "Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage" as promoting Black Lives Matter. Other books on the list pertaining to racism that Valesky did not approve of include "Finding Junie Kim," "Genesis Begins Again," "Apple Skin to the Core," "Downstairs Girl" and "Fat Chance."

Valesky explained at the board meeting, as reported by the Meadville Tribune:

"I don't have an issue if we're giving books that's targeting education of the Civil War and slavery and there is racism even today, but this is obviously like shoving it down every corner," he said.

Valesky said there were four books on the list that "openly promote the hate group Black Lives Matter."

"That's a group that is for destroying," he said. "They aren't protecting Black lives."

Valesky said the resource list needed to be "well-founded" and said the current version was "definitely far from it."

So in July, the board adopted new policies about library materials, including this guideline

Library materials will reflect and support the district’s educational goals and academic standards. The library resource collection will take into consideration the varied interests, abilities and maturity levels of the students served in each school. Materials will be chosen to stimulate growth in factual knowledge, literary appreciation, aesthetic values and ethical standards. Materials will be chosen to represent diverse points of view on all topics.

So just the facts, literary stuff is okay, maybe "art," and "ethical standards," though no guidance on whose ethics exactly.

But that wasn't enough. In December, Valesky, who heads the policy committee, was back with more revisions and more naughty books. 

One proposed change in policy is a ban on transgender students in sports (though nobody knows of any such athletes in the district). 

The new library policy has a proposed addition of several paragraphs:

The district Recognizes there exists a vast array of materials with rich educational value. It is the District's objective to choose material that provides such rich educational content appropriate to students in the district over material that may provide similar content but with elements that are inappropriate or unnecessary for minors in a school setting. 

Sexualized content that falls short of material prohibited by criminal laws is nonetheless generally inappropriate and/or unnecessary for minors in school. Parents/Guardians have a wide range of options outside of the district library system to introduce their child to sexualized content they deem appropriate for their child’s age. As such, the District will prioritize inclusion of quality materials suitable for educational goals and worthwhile for the limited amount of time available to students that do not contain sexualized content. 

No Material in District libraries shall contain: 

• Visual or visually implied depictions of sexual acts or simulations of such acts, 
• Explicit written depictions of sexual acts, or 
• Visual depictions of nudity- not including materials with diagrams about anatomy for science or content relating to classical works of art

Valesky came to the meeting with examples of what he wants gone, including Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants," the basis for a 2011 Reece Witherspoon film; "Looking for Alaska," a John Green bestseller I've seen carried by umpty-gazzillion teen readers; and "Angus, Thong, and Full-Frontal Snogging" by Louise Rennison. Also on the list was "Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out," the book that helped prompt his "totally evil" Facebook post. Valesky even offered a McCarthy-esque presentation, according to the Tribune:

"I have a list of books here in my hand, if anyone would like to look at them, of books that are in our libraries that promote this garbage and absolute trash to students," he said before wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

So, no sexy stuff, no nudity. It doesn't have to rise to the level of porn, and Valesky has made it clear that any depiction at all of LGBTQ persons is over the line. And if parents object to the school district banning these works for everybody's kids, they can just go get the stuff on their own.

Valesky is the point man on all this LGBTQ panic, but it would be a mistake to imagine that he is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. He was successfully re-elected in 2019. The December meeting featured many speakers objecting to the policy, but it also included some folks standing up to speak in favor, noting that "good people" wouldn't object to it. A speaker also notes that this language has been used in "many districts." (And if you want more, just check the comments).

The proposed changes should be up for a vote at the January 12 meeting. Expect some noise before then.

It's a small district far from big press and big city concerns. The selection of books for a school library is an issue that will always spark discussion and concern, but when a board considers erasing LGBTQ persons entirely or trying to convince young humans that sex is a big secret that they should never hear anything about or allowing the concerns of the most conservative members of a community to limit the right to read for all members--well, it's not just a local issue, and it is troubling. This story is being enacted all over the country; we'll see how this one plays out. 

For The Last Time

In my corner of the world, another young life has been lost.

Car accident this time. High school sophomore. I didn't know her, but I taught her mother, and she was on the yearbook staff now handled by the colleague who stepped up when I retired.

The loss of a young life happens with depressing regularity, enough that a teacher learns the recognizable and repeated arc of student reaction. 

There is a shock that runs through the whole school. My district is small-ish and rural, so everybody knows everybody, and so the shock travels swiftly, even to those who weren't necessarily close.

There is a shock of loss, the phantom limb of the heart where the person used to be attached. There's the replaying, the reeling back memory. When the last time I saw her? What was the last thing I said to her? There's the shock of confronting mortality, of understanding at the bone that any day may contain some last times.

It's a hard thing for teens, whose default setting is to believe that they are immortal and indestructible. 

In the immediate aftermath, the students are remarkably tender. You find yourself in a community in which everyone walks around interacting with every person they meet as if it's the last time. Jerkish behavior drops by, like, 75%. The most sensitive students are haunted by the sense of being fragile vessels, always at danger of damaged, ended, and not in a gloriously dramatic way.

It's not sustainable, and it fades, usually within a week or so. The sense of connectedness, of fragility, of the looming lasts of life--those all fade away. It is a marvel of human life; despite all evidence to the contrary, we prefer to live as if we have infinite chances, an endless supply of days that we can squander without care or consequence, the certainty of our passing reduced to a background hum as we sleepwalk through life. 

It's tragic that we are most commonly broken out of our sleep by the worst, the very worst, of events. 

Right now, dozens of students from my old school are grappling with the fact that when they said goodbye on the last day before vacation, they were saying goodbye to one classmate for the last time. That's a heavy lift for a teen. 

Heck, it's a heavy lift for adults. We are wading through lasts every day, and mostly we don't know they're lasts until it's too late to treat them with the kind of importance we lay on them once their lastness has been revealed. 

It is (stay with me here) like teaching. The teaching day is filled with moments, decisions, choices, and some of them will disappear without a ripple and some will turn out to be hugely important. Every teacher has that story-- years later a student tells you about something you said or did that was hugely important and you don't even remember doing it. 

Some moments turn out to carry great weight, and others, not so much, and the trick is that we can only tell the difference in hindsight. 

So why not treat each moment as if it's an important one.

Why not treat each time as if it's a last time?

Okay, to go 100% on this would be exhausting. But we can try harder, more often. Because once again a young person is gone way too soon and there's nothing to do about it except maybe be a little more kind and thoughtful about the people who are left with us today on this ball of dirt spinning through the universe. Or as Vonnegut put it

Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”



Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The American Teacher Act: Pay Raises and Other Shiny Things

Just before Christmas, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson and Congressman Jamal Bowman proposed the American Teacher Act that most notably establishes on the federal level a minimum teacher salary. I don't know Congresswoman Wilson, but I've been in a room with Congressman Bowman and he is a heck of a human being. Randi Weingarten (AFT) likes this idea. Becky Pringle (NEA) likes this idea. Even folks like Teach for America, TNTP, and the Education Trust like this idea, though plenty of other reformster crews do not. 

I don't like this idea.

You don't have to convince me that teachers are underpaid, and that low pay is not helping recruit and retain teachers. But you'll have to do a lot of work to convince me that the solution lies in DC. Here are my issues:

Paying for it.

The bill reportedly authorizes the funding of four year grants. Four years is not a long time. What is supposed to happen in year five? Nobody can kick a can down the road like the federal government (remember NCLB and "all students will score above average a decade from now, somehow--look, we'll figure it out later"). But what happens then? Does the salary floor stay in place and suddenly poor districts are locked into teacher costs they can't afford? Because that will mean cuts out the wazoo.

And that, of course, assumes that the thing is fully funded in the first place. IDEA is a great concept--but the federal government has never actually funded it the way they promised they would. Discussions of this act include troubling phrases like noting that local "agencies" with a mostly low or medium income students would be "prioritized." Well, wait-- you only need to prioritize the money if you don't expect to have enough to cover everyone. 

Negotiating

My local contract is up. Do I now have to negotiate with DC for my next pay scale? The state? Which brings us to...

Local control

There's this line from Wilson's PR release about the bill:

Grantees would be required to establish a statewide teacher salary schedule or otherwise with a minimum threshold of $60,000 and annual increases congruent with the inflation rate.

There are states that have state-wide teacher salary schedules; I'm not convinced there are any benefits at all. In a state as demographically varied as Pennsylvania (aka "all of them"), it's nuts. Teaching in my rural area and teaching in a wealthy Pittsburgh suburb and teaching in central Philly are different animals, especially in terms of cost of living. Could Pennsylvania, where state funding is already inadequate, come up with--and fund--a functional state teacher salary scale? I would not bet my lunch money on it.

Unmanageable details.

Wilson explains that salary schedules and structures have to remain in place; when the first step is boosted up to $60K, all the other steps must rise accordingly. This, again, makes this act hugely expensive. Is the federal money going to fund all of those step increases, or just Step One? 

Who is going to monitor local districts to determine that they have complied? And if they haven't, what happens next? 

The bill has a "maintenance of effort" that is supposed to ensure that states won't use the federal money to replace state money ("since the feds are funding this increase of salary to $60K, we're going to cut our original $50K step to $40K") which is one of those aspirational regulations. 

We've been down this road in Pennsylvania. Governor Smilin' Ed Rendell took our slice of 2008 Recession Relief stimulus money and totally used it to supplant ed spending--when that money ran out, Governor Tom "One Term" Corbett was left holding the responsibility for a $1 billion "cut." 

"Maintenance of effort" requirements are great, but in practice, they're nearly impossible to prove and largely unenforceable. There are a million reasons the district or state might "need" to make some cuts that happen to coincide with the arrival of federal grant money. And then the grant money runs out and you're in a financial mess.

Also, is this going to apply to charters as well as public schools?

Weasel language

A lot of the language in Wilson's PR is about "supporting" and "prioritizing," both distinctly different from, you know, "doing." It smells like a lot of bureaucratic fiddle-farting around. I don't bureaucratic fiddle-farting around. Maybe the actual bill will look better (text is not available yet).

Other aspiration puffery

Wilson also throws in "Invest in a national campaign to expand awareness of the value of teaching and encourage secondary and college students to consider teaching as a career." The feds have tried this sort of thing before. I suppose it's better than, for instance, having a secretary of education who sneers at teachers and calls public education a dead end, or one who insists that poverty is caused by teachers who don't expect enough from their students, but a federal PR campaign is unlikely to move the needle much. 

I am sure this is well meant. I am sure that it's aimed at a real issue. And I'm sure that it will be opposed by some folks with whom I disagree about practically everything else. But I also think that trying to fix the condition of state and local teacher pay from DC is like trying to trim your bonsai garden with a chain saw tied to the other end of a ten foot pole. 

I'd be happy to be convinced I'm wrong (you know where to find me), and people I trust are pointing out that it is a step in the right direction, which, yes, it is, but this just seems like a really bad idea. 



Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Public School Threat Assessment

It's been a while since we looked over the general landscape to see what threats to public education, so let's do that. Of all the various forces arrayed against public education in this country, which pose the greatest threats? Which are more noise and distraction? Which should we most worry about in the coming year? If we could wave a magic wand and get rid of just one, which one could do the most good by disappearing?










We'll take these in no particular order, and rate each with up to five bombs (the more bombs, the bigger the threat). 

Book Bans and Gag Laws and Culture Wars Etc Etc Etc πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£

Historian Adam Laats has been working with this stuff for a while, and I appreciate his insights that A) this has been going on for a century and B) the reactionary forces lose every time. The last election cycle is a reminder that the US electorate actually has a limited tolerance for this American Taliban baloney. While there are some serious state and local outbreaks of this kind of repressive right wingnuttery, large chunks of the country have remained quietly untouched. and where people have stood up to these bullies, the bullies have been restrained. It's bad, and it needs to be shut down, but I also think it's doomed to burn out. Also, the whole focus on books-and-never-mind-the-interwebs is just dumb. 

The banning and gagging and culture warring, however, are useful for another larger threat.

The Don't Trust Schools Movement πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£

Chris Rufo and Jay Greene and some other folks had an idea--what if we just took every possible opportunity to convince that this building is a louse-ridden, evil-soaked den of iniquity. What if we just kept yelling "Fire!' or "Flood!" or "Satan attack!!" in every room of the building? We could do two things--we could get people to leave the building, and we could get them to put us in charge of the building. It would be awesome. 

This is MAGA writ school-sized, and like the MAGA "Trust nobody but me" principle, it is being deployed with zero attention or concern about what sort of damage is being done to critical institutions or society as a whole. "I'm sure there's gold in this house somewhere," says this nihilistic opportunism. "Let's burn the place down and then we can sift through the ashes for the gold nuggets." 

It's the large-scale version of "Let's just keep saying that schools are failing until people just start repeating it as an 'everybody knows' thing despite all the evidence to the contrary." It may or may not yield short term profits and power for all the privatizers and culture warriors, but it will weaken public education in the long run, and once you smash enough of the foundation of the house, it's really hard to rebuild. 

When Rufo says, "To get universal school choice, you really need to operate from a place of universal school distrust" he's talking about sewing distrust as a means to an end. But whether he gets his goal or not (I'm betting not), the "universal school distrust" part will still be out there, just like anti-vax driven disease and anti-election lawsuits. It will not make education, or our country, any better.

Charter schools πŸ’£πŸ’£

Before the pandemic hit, charter schools seem to have about maxed out. But the pandemic sent many parents into the arms of cyber charters, and the courts have been slowly eroding the First Amendment so that churches are more and more able to operate charter schools. So we may see a shift coming.

Charter's biggest problem has always been that they cannot deliver on the promises made in their name. They can't magically lift students up extra levels of accomplishment, they can't save taxpayer dollars, and they don't know anything about education that public schools don't already know. What they can do successfully they can't do at scale, nor are they inclined to try. And the magic of the free market doesn't do squat for education. On top of that, the charter industry in most states is so woefully underregulated that the industry is a large attractor of frauds, charlatans, and just plain in-over-their-heads incompetents.

The end result is that charter schools repeatedly disappoint their customers, and that remains a limiting factor on charter growth. And since they insist on pretending to be public schools, they have a vested interest in keeping the public system from being completely dismantled.

Charters don't have to suck. They could be regulated and required to operate with transparency and accountability. They could be made to function as a useful addition to the public system instead of a leech on it. But until that day comes, they will keep leeching away--not quite an existential threat to public education, but definitely a drag on it.

Vouchers πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£

A chunk of the pro-choice sector was inspired by the pandemic to drop the foot-in-the-door tactic of charter school support and just go whole hog for vouchers. Specifically, education savings accounts, which give folks a bundle of taxpayer dollars to go spend on whatever.

Vouchers are really only good for two things--getting public funds into private hands (most specifically, religious private hands), and getting government out of education. To call voucher supporters privatizers doesn't really capture the whole picture, because these folks don't just want to privatize then providing of education, but they also want to privatize the responsibility for educating children. Vouchers are a means of turning education into a commodity that parents must shop for on their own, a commodity that the government neither provides nor oversees. When these folks call public education "government schools," that's very much on point because they would like schools not to be connected to the government at all. Well, except for some of the paying. 

The voucher movement is very much a movement to end public education as we know it. It remains an existential threat, and as the courts find ways to erase the wall between church and state and legislatures find ways to implement voucher programs without needing voter approval, the movement is a credible threat. I fully expect that at some point we'll see backlash as taxpayers say versions of, "You spent my tax dollars on what??!!" But that is as likely to fuel defunding campaigns as it is to spark reform.  Mostly we'll have to depend on things like the Kentucky Supreme Court figuring out that tax credit scholarships are illegal.

Data Mining πŸ’£

Just because it's gotten quiet doesn't mean it's going away. California is still resolutely building a cradle to career data pipeline. And that's before we get to all the software companies, large and small, that are finding ways to turn every school-used program into a data harvesting monster. And school surveillance that's just for everyone's own good. It's no way to run a free society.

Common Core and the Standards Movement πŸ’£

I include this partly out of nostalgia. Like many folks, Common Core anger was what brought me into this blogging and bitching space to begin with. And truth to tell, in most states the Core is still right there, like a witness protection program client living under an assumed name and sporting unfamiliar facial hair. But as I pointed out for years, the standards are ultimately rewritten by classroom teachers who quickly learned that it was primarily a paperwork exercise--teach the way you know you should and just stick those standards labels on lesson plans. 

The standards people are still around, still believing that if we could just make everyone teach the same way, we could have universal educational awesomeness. You can see everything you need to know about them by watching the first Lego movie; they're just looking for their educational Kragle. How much damage they inflict depends on your local administration.

Post Pandemic Learning Loss πŸ’£

While there is little doubt that the pandemic set many students back, the whole Learning Loss thing is a bunch of hooey. Specifically, marketing hooey deployed almost exclusively by people who want to sell something. People are shocked--shocked!!--to discover that non-wealthy and non-white students were often ill-served during the pandemic's height, and they would like to discuss any number of solutions as long as those solutions do not include "fully fund and support all schools." Pro tip: anyone who tells you that the pandemic Learning Loss can be measured in days, weeks, months, or years is absolutely full of malarky. If they start talking about how today's students are going to lose mountains of lifetime earnings, it's double malarky. As yet, nobody has come up with a technique better than "meet student where they are and help them move forward."

Science of Reading πŸ’£

Here's my prediction. Teachers will sit through whatever training they're made to sit through, go back to their classrooms, and do whatever, in their professional judgment, works. They will not worry about what it's called exactly; that kind of stuff is for policy wonks and amateurs with platforms and salespeople.

Deprofessionalization of Teaching πŸ’£πŸ’£

As I've said many times, it's not a teacher shortage--it's a failure to attract and retain people in the profession. Unfortunately, many states and districts are taking the opportunity to attract and retain the best people, but to change the definition of "teacher" to "any warm body that will accept my terms of employment." While I appreciate the crisis caused by unfilled teaching positions in a school, the Any Warm Body approach is the opposite of a solution. It is noticing that your living room is on fire and addressing the problem by closing the door to the room and drawing the blinds so that people won't see (and eventually the whole building burns down).

If you already have trouble recruiting and retaining staff because of low pay and lousy working conditions, adding "And you get to work side by side with people who don't know what they're doing (but who still get paid much as you do)" to the mix will not help.

Regional Issues πŸ’£πŸ’£

Many of the threats discussed above are more acute in some states than others. There are other issues in education that fit this description. Right now, for instance, North Carolina is the only state trying to implement a half-baked teacher merit pay system. These kinds of issues require local response and organization, even as they demand national attention because North Carolina is the only state trying this right now, a couple of other states are poised to follow.

But this splintering of attention on issues and threats means that public education is being hammered by very many directions at once, and that in itself makes responding trickier.

High Stakes Testing πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£πŸ’£

Yes, five bombs.

It saps enormous amounts of time and piles of money. It warps the whole shape and focus of education. It allows folks to cite numbers and pretend they are talking about "student achievement." High stakes testing has fueled more educational bullshit in the past couple of decades than anything. 

There's an old saying--the devil has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all. Well, in education, the Big Standardized Test scores are the lie, and they have been used as the handle of a hundred tools used to hack away at public education. Poorly designed, invalid, used for a dozen different purposes for which they were never made, and universally deployed, a toxic dump straight into the veins of every public school--they are worse than nothing.

Think of how much better education would be if the tests were eradicated tomorrow. Or even just stripped of all stakes. Think of a school with no pre-tests, no practice tests, no test prep, no weeks and weeks or dedication strictly to getting those scores. Think of a school in which "But is it on the BS Test" is never used to assess the usefulness of an educational or policy choice.

The BS Test remains the biggest, most useless, most damaging piece of policy inflicted on public education in this country. Eliminate them today. 


Because I gave each of these a number, you know it's totally scientific. I may have missed a couple. You can tell me all about it in the comments.





Monday, December 26, 2022

ICYMI: Boxing Day Edition (12/26)

Due to the No Work On Christmas policy here at the Institute, we have postponed the weekly digest until today, when some of you will need to sit and recover from yesterday anyway. Here's some reading from the previous week.

Beware of the so-called parents right movement

A local school board member warns about the rise of certain extra-noisy parents.

Culture Wars at Schools Increase: Undermine Educators, Block Respectful Dialogue, and Make Students Feel Unsafe and Invisible

Jan Resseger takes a deeper look at some of the forces behind the culture wars, and the unhappy results.


Speaking of culture war baloney. In Texas, a community decides to just trash the local library because there were Naughty Books seen there. 


It just takes one of these folks, and this one is an actual teacher. Judd Legum at Popular Information has the story.


And when a librarian has finally had enough of these shenanigans? She has some words, in public.

Education and “Aligning with Industry Demands”? Enough, Already.

Lots of folks had some thoughts about Secretary Cardona's string of ill-considered tweets, and the indispensable Mercedes Schneider really nailed what was wrong with them.

Who is Education For?

Steven Singer answers the age-old question (spoiler alert: it's not for corporations).


Rann Miller looks at the New Jersey law requiring media literacy to be taught in school, and looks at what such literacy must include.

Texas greenlighted a felon to train school board members. Now education officials are examining their rules.

This is what happens when you hire the same folks that Florida uses. You get crazy fraudsters running your education training programs. What could go wrong? The Texas Tribune has the story.

The FBI’s Warning About ‘Sextortion’ and Kids: What Schools Can Do

From Ed Week, a problem that hasn't been on most peoples' radar but which the FBI says is getting worse. 


At Forbes.com this week, I was busy. A reminder to Josh Shapiro that PA already has a seriously unregulated an unwatched voucher program. The education chief in New Hampshire is getting sued over their education savings account program. Which comes on the heels of Kentucky's tax credit scholarship funding system (on which their ESAs depend) getting thrown out by the court. 

And you can still sign up for free to get my substack, which includes everything the Institute cranks out.




Sunday, December 25, 2022

Merry Christmas

The annual tradition here at the Curmudgucation Institute is to share the updated version of the Christmas Youtube playlist. The selections are chosen to be a hair off the beaten path, because by now the beaten path is really beaten, and the list also reflects my appreciation of jazz and brass. I also like to think that's a nice reminder of what a varied species we are. And this year, I also skewed more toward the perky, because lord knows we could use a little perk these days.






For those of you who like listening to the Spotify, here's the listening list that my extended family came up with for Pandemic Christmas. 






And if you want a real challenge, here's an hour and fifteen minutes of various versions of Jingle Bells. Jingle Bells has nothing to do with Christmas at all; it's more a 19th century precursor of "Little Deuce Coupe" or "I Get Around," a musical tribute to the awesomeness of fast cars and cute girls. It's a song that I believe persists, as some songs do, because musicians like to play (and play with) it.




So if Christmas is your thing, have a wonderful day. If it's not, have a wonderful day. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

FL: Another Shot At Teachers Unions

Ron DeSantis doesn't have time for victory laps. He's busy continuing the project of remaking education in his own image, or at least the image of a political base for conquering the state and, who knows, bigger things. (Okay, everybody knows.) 

With that in mind, DeSantis hosted a star-studded Right Wing Pallooza (Betsy DeVos, Manny Diaz, Richard Corcoran!!) a "Freedom Blueprint" (as always, "freedom" is short for "freedom for the right people and not Those Icky People over there"). 

The headline making part was DeSantis talking about how he's going to continue to do his best to push out school board members who aren't loyal to the correct values (especially the ones that dared to defy him on masking etc). And if you think he plans to be sneak or subtle about this, let me direct your attention to Broward County schools, where he used a technicality to declare a seat "vacant" (the duly elected guy didn't get sworn in in time because he was late getting his civil rights restored after his felony conviction--oh, Florida). 

DeSantis appointed Dan Foganholi to the seat. Foganholi was a previous DeSantis appointee who led the charge to fire the superintendent. Foganholi didn't run for the seat because--fun fact!-- in Florida you can be appointed to a board if you live outside the district, but you can't run for it. He was available because he ran for a commission seat in his actual home area, but lost.

All of that is the marquee stuff, but another part of Freedom Pallooza was to announce a push for teachers to have "paycheck protection." Teachers from other states will recognize this anti-union baloney that forbids districts from doing any automatic deduction of union dues from their paycheck. 

No, nobody ever argues to cut out other paycheck deductions, and the rhetoric with these bills never really explains what the paycheck is being protected from. The more honest complaint is "I don't want my tax dollars paying some employee of the district to do the work of making these deductions work," which in all fairness probably does burn up five or ten cents of taxpayer money each year. Or there's the DeSantis explanation:

“We don’t want to play a role in deducting anybody’s money, so you write [your check] every month for the dues and you do it that way,” DeSantis said. “It’s more of a guarantee that the money is actually going to go to teachers and not be frittered away by interest groups who get involved in the school system.”

Because teacher pay is leaking out of their checks somehow?

Paycheck protection is just about making dues payment a PITA, a technique more effective than ever since most people under 40 don't write more than two or three checks a year because automatic bank drafting is so much easier. Ot maybe the unions will start doing auto bank drafting and DeSantis et al will have lost a golden opportunity to run the old "Look at how much bigger your check would be if dues weren't taken  out of it" for nothing. 

It's just one more small way that state leadership can make teachers' lives a little more irritating, one more stupid piddly thing that happens because your leaders would rather attack you than support you in even the smallest, simplest ways. 

Just remember--when Trump collapses, this is the kind of guy just waiting to pick up the MAGA mantle. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Cry and Pout If You Damn Well Want To

I am really so not a fan of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."

Is there anything less in tune with the meanings of Christmas-- both secular and religious-- than the whole "You'd better be good, or Santa won't bring you anything" trope?

Jesus was born to wash away the sins of the world, to offer redemption and salvation, even though no human actually deserves it. God extends grace to us, regardless. But Santa says, "If you're naughty, there's no goodies for you."

Secular christmas is big on the Spirit of Giving, of giving freely to those we love and appreciate (or maybe just work with). We are supposed to give without hope of return, a sort of store-bought grace. But Santa's spirit of giving is "I'm waiting to see whether you earn it or not."

I'm a bit tetchy on this subject because an endless parade of people, some barely acquaintances, some complete strangers, choose this idea to communicate with five year olds at random moments, as if the only thing for a child to understand about Christmas is that this is the time of year you must be good or else. I understand that communicating with children is a challenge, but plain old "Are you excited for Christmas" or "Did you pick out a present for someone special" or pretty much anything other than raising the possibility that, per some obscure inscrutable adult rules, they may discover they are a bad person. And that Santa is a judge who rules on their worth as a human being. 

It finds its roots in another problematic notion--that children are "good" or "bad" based on how mush adults find them compliant or inconvenient. 

The Board of Directors, as newborn twins, required feedings every two hours, and they mostly, but not always, allowed themselves to be synched up for those. It was torturous and exhausting and mighty inconvenient, but it would never have occurred to us to say they were bad babies, yet I have heard the phrase used for similar reasons. Yikes.

This does not mean that I am in favor of raising or teaching students free of all social constraints and rules and considerations for fellow human beings. Be kind. Learn lots. No, you can't have that cookie just because you're crying about it. No, it's not okay to scream and kick because you don't like what your brother just did. 

Same for school. Let me tell you a story about one of my formative experiences. I was sitting in back of music class in fifth grade, and I was waving my hands around, mocking the conducting the teacher was doing. I was, in short, being kind of a dick. She lost her cool, called me up front, and paddled me (with something like a magazine or otherwise floppy device, making her look kind of ridiculous). And then it never came up again. Never. I was not forever marked as a bad kid, and she never treated me as if dickishness was an immutable part of my character. Even gave the me plum assignment the following year of MC of the talent show.

I took two things away from that. One is don't lose your damn mind over students acting naughty. The other was don't confuse behavior that you feel the need to correct with judgments about the student's value as a human being. "Please stop doing that" does not have to be confused with "You're a bad person." But I digress.

If Christmas is going to be about anything, please let it be about grace and love, not fear and extortion. And I don't know if this McSweeney's piece ("Santa Claus Is Coming To Town Edited by Twenty-First Century Parents") is meant to mock those parents, of which I am one, but I consider it by and large an acceptable and entertaining substitute for the original. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Today In Surveillance State News...

Kelly Conlon wanted to go see the Rockettes with her daughter and the rest of her daughter's Girl Scout Troop. She did not get to. All of following reported on CNBC.

She did not get to, because Madison Square Garden Entertainment recognized her via facial recognition software scanning, apparently, everyone passing through security. She was flagged because she is an attorney at a firm that is working on a lawsuit against a restaurant currently under the MSG umbrella. They just loaded the names and faces of all the folks at that firm into their facial recognition software, and then barred them from entering any of their properties. Note that she does not work on their actual case or practice in their actual city--she just works at the same firm.

MSG says, hey, it's just policy that nobody involved in a case against them can be on any of their properties. A partner at Conlon's firm says, “This whole scheme is a pretext for doing collective punishment on adversaries who would dare sue MSG in their multi-billion dollar network.” And supposedly the courts have already decided on this issue with a different blacklisted firm, making it clear that MSG can't do this. 

The possibilities here are endless. Imagine if you just loaded the information of every LGBTQ person you could to keep them from entering your building and thereby infringing on your right to freely exercise your religion (by, I don't know, filling the air you breathe with LGBTQ cooties). 

And let's put this together with Kansas City schools, where the board is contemplating spending its COVID relief funds on putting a camera in every classroom. This is a district with a teacher shortage, with multiple classes taught via livestream distance teachers, which is the story they're using here--we just want to tape lessons so that we can play them back in classrooms that don't have teachers.

Which is its own kind of nuts. My first question is, will teachers whose recorded lessons are used be paid some sort of royalty for the use of their likeness and recorded work? 

Teachers feel disrespected and students feel policed. Because, well, they are.

“A lot of us, maybe a lot of us minorities because we come from Black and Mexican households, we’re going to feel like, even though they’re telling us this is to learn, they’re actually trying to watch us. They’re trying to monitor our behavior,” said Damarias Mireles, a 2020 Wyandotte High School graduate. “So it kind of adds to that stigma, even if it’s not the intention.”

While Stubblefield said surveillance could be a “byproduct” of having the cameras, she said the purpose would be for learning. She said video footage is currently only reviewed when a specific incident is reported.

Does byproduct surveillance feel less intrusive than when the surveillance is the primary objective? Is it reassuring that the school says the footage is reviewed when administration feels the need.

Place your bets now on how long it will be until some authority shows up at school saying, "We have some footage of a teenaged suspect, and we'd like to run your videos through some facial recognition software to see if we can find the suspect in one of your classes." How long until somebody says, "You know, as long as we've got this video feed going, let's attach it to one of those cool software programs that assesses potential threats by measuring eyebrow twitches."

How long until someone says, "Heck, let's just use facial recognition to run all outstanding warrants or people on our Suspicious Person list against everyone who sets foot in the school--not just students, because we might catch a miscreant picking up their kids at school." How long until some kid ends up in serious trouble only because the facial recognition software screws up. 

It is easy to dismiss this kind of thing with sentiments like "Yeah, now parents will see their kids messing around in class," but the sheer power of surveillance software, the many many things that can be done once your privacy is violated, is too scary. And how far does this road stretch. "Sorry, but we can't offer you the job. Facial recognition connected you to some shenanigans at school when you were 15." 

The security team at MSG knew Conlon's name, where she works, and presumably everything else connected to her record, and they made choices about her life and ability to move freely based on what the facial recognition software kicked up. I shudder to think what this could do in the wrong hands, and I struggle to imagine what the right hands could even be.


Kevin McCarthy Has Some Thoughts About Education

Kevin McCarthy has some thoughts about what priorities of the GOP-controlled House should pursue in the 188th Congress, and that includes education (and, no kidding, Hunter Biden's laptop). They're worth a quick look, just to see where those folks are headed next year. 

Tucked amidst the concerns like the swamp's bureaucracy is a section on "Education & Woke Ideology." It's a short rant and a list. First, the rant. For starters:

Schools should educate not indoctrinate. Unfortunately, the classroom has become a battlefield where competing political ideologies, gender theories, and junk science wage war against the well-being of children across the country. Worse, the Biden administration has promoted harmful policies pushed by the far-left teachers unions that have restricted learning and funded radical curriculums that poison the minds of children across America.

Far left teachers unions. Poisoning the minds of children across America. Sure.

But I do like this one--

Students should be learning in the classroom – not over Zoom.

Other than the small percentage of students who actually do prefer distance learning, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees with this. Well, also except all those people who spent the last couple of decades arguing that with computers students can learn anywhere and innovative charters like the Rocketship chain where students bat away at keyboards in front of screens all day are awesome. Folks are going to have to get their story straight on that one.

The next line is a dumb one.

Schools should focus on raising test scores.

No, they shouldn't. No parent in America sends their kids off to school--any kind of school--with no aspiration higher than "Just get a better score on that annual standardized math and reading test." 

There's one more sentence, but I'm going to save it. 

Next comes the list, and it tells us something about where the Republicans are that it is a list of things they oppose, not a list of things they propose. They should know better, having watched the Democratic party sit back on its heels reacting and rarely acting, but no, here they are, stuck waiting for Democrats or liberals or the Great Woke Monster to do something so they can leap up and say, "We don't like that!!"

The list of Things We're Agin' is familiar. Federal promotion of Critical Race Theory. Legality of Biden's loan debt plan. Department of Education attempt "to erase scientific definitions of gender" (which is, well, not what they seem to think it is). Promoting transgender surgery and puberty blockers. Violating religious liberty by making people do things they don't like. Oh, and they still want to relitigate "scientific justifications for school closures" (though schools weren't closed for long--just the buildings) and mask mandates.

The final sentence in the opening graph is this one:

House Republicans are committed to empowering parents and ensuring the best education possible for America’s children.

Are they? Because while some of the issues raised here deserve some serious discussion, McCarthy's document sounds like a weak attempt at rank political opportunism rather than an attempt provide high quality education for US children. Not that I'm holding my breath waiting for the Democrats to come up with a serious attempt to support public education in this country, but they certainly won't get there by following the GOP example. 



 


Monday, December 19, 2022

MA: Looking For Charter Cash

Worcester, MA (that's "wooster," not "wor-chester") is under charter attack once again.

Back a decade or so, the Spirit of Knowledge charter school opened, over plenty of objections, primarily that their financial plans were seriously flawed. Within just a couple of years, Spirit of Knowledge closed up shop, because of--surprise--financial problems. So the Worcester public school system absorbed the abandoned students, and life went on. 

Not a school bus.

But now somebody new wants a shot at this market. Old Sturbridge Village wants to open up the Worcester Cultural Academy, a proposed school that is already accepting applications despite only being a proposed school at the moment. 

Old Sturbridge Village is a historical recreation, a living museum where folks portray colonial settlers (an old friend of mine worked summers there as a candlemaker). If you're now asking, "What the heck do they know about running a 21st century school," the answer is that they are "partnering" with EL Education who will actually run the school for them. EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) emerged from a collaboration between the ever-reformstery Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound USA.

So why would an outfit that runs an 1830s recreation village want to run a charter school? Well, the answer is in print in the FY2022 Annual Report letter from the president. Noting that they already have one academy, he writes:

Our Academies are key to the future of the Village and expanding into Worcester will allow the Village to impact a greater number of students in an entirely new geographic area. The Academies will provide reliable, contractual revenue to the museum, safeguarding us against fluctuations in uncontrollable futures that impact admission weather and public health.

In other words, we're not opening a school to meet educational needs of the community or address some educational element of our mission--we just want to get our hands on a reliable revenue stream in case another pandemic kneecaps our gate receipts. 

The idea of another charter in Worcester has not been greeted with delight. The Mayor is also the chair of the Worcester School Committee, and he asked city council to pass a resolution "disapproving" the creation of the proposed charter. Mayor Joseph Petty noted that the opening of a charter school would be a real blow to Worcester's work getting funding for the district.

The proposed school, which would be connected to the Old Sturbridge Village Charter in Sturbridge, would operate using money from Worcester Public Schools — about $7 million, according to Petty. That would eat up a majority of $12 million in new state funds coming to Worcester through the Student Opportunity Act.

"We worked too hard as a community to get that funding back to WPS," Petty said. "That equals 100 teachers or educators in WPS."

School committee member Tracy Novick, in a blistering post, notes that the folks proposing the charter don't seem to have a grasp of some basics, like how much a school bus costs, or that you need money to put fuel in it. 

In Massachusetts, unfortunately, local districts, taxpayers, and voters do not get the final say on whether a charter school can fasten itself, leechlike, to the district in which they all live. The state has a committee to give that final word. Here's hoping that they don't consider "provide steady revenue for a historical reenactment" sufficient cause to saddle the taxpayers of Worcester with a new set of bills. Or maybe they could support Old Sturbridge with steady revenue by taxing the people of Worcester directly, and leave the children or Worcester out of it. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

ICYMI: It's Almost Winter Edition (11/18)

Wednesday officially kicks things off for the next season of the year, and we're getting the snow this weekend to set the scene. Hope you've got your shopping mostly done. Here's the reading for the week.

Lessons from stopping Stop WOKE

Little bit late on catching this, but it's worth a look. The ACLU lists its main lessons to be learned from putting the brakes on Florida's Stop WOKE Act.

About that Florida plan to put vets in the classroom

From Military news. Turns out the big hot idea to get armed forces veterans and spouses into classrooms has underperformed. Number of military teachers under this plan? 7.

Missouri school district votes to adopt 4-day school week

From the "Yeah, that's a thing that's happening out there" file, one more district goes for the four day week.

There’s a Reason There Aren’t Enough Teachers in America. Many Reasons, Actually.

This New York Times op-ed has changed headlines a few times, but the point remains the same--hammering teachers may not have been the best way to improve the profession. By Thomas B. Edsall.

Perry Township board unanimously votes to end school choice in district

Not really choice exactly--just choosing schools within the district. But it was buses. It came down to a shortage of bus drivers. 

A critique of a GAO report on charter schools

The GAO had issued a report on the federal charter grant program, and it wasn't a very good look for charters. Turns out that the reality is even worse than the GAO showed. Carol Burris at Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet at the Washington Post.

Does diversity training work? We don’t know — and here is why.

Also at the Washington Post. Not exactly education-related, except that it is. Diversity training might not be changing the world (also, sun expected to rise in West tomorrow).


From The Progressive, a look at how one North Carolina district dealt with their right wing candidates.

Thousands of Teens Are Being Pushed Into Military’s Junior R.O.T.C.

From the New York Times, a look at how the military have upped their recruiting at high schools (spoiler alert: not the ones in wealthy neighborhoods)

A well-informed citizenry: fact vs. fiction in American media, then and now

Derek Black, lawyer, scholar, author (Schoolhouse Burning), and friend of the Institute, gave a TED talk. Check it out.

At Forbes this week I wrote about the hot net chatbot.

And as always, you can subscribe to my substack as another way to keep up on all the Curmudgucation Institute stuff.It's free.



Saturday, December 17, 2022

Miguel Cardona's Terrible, Very Bad, No Good Tweet

So this popped up on Twitter.




It was swarmed, "This is not education," said many posters. "This is a bad tweet, and you should feel bad for writing it." And "Our children do not exist to serve." And "This sounds like the Chamber of Commerce, not the Department of Education."

Some were dipped in a bit more acid. "At this point, why not just send kids back to the mines" and "my parents always told me when i was growing up that i could be anything that tomorrow's global industrial workforce demands."

All of which are on point. 

Look, it is important that children be able to support themselves when they grow up, and that they have a set of skills that can be marketed. We would do a huge disservice to students to send them into the world unemployable.

But to imagine that education is simply a means of providing employers with a full supply of useful meat widgets is such a sad, narrow, meager vision of education. It is certainly not what wealthy parents send their children off to school to learn. 

Education should align with student needs, not industry demands (and why is it that industry gets to make demands). Education is about providing choices for students, not employers. It is about helping young humans figure out how to be their own best selves, about learning how to be fully human in the world. That certainly includes figuring out what work they are here to do, but if all you are is your work, then you have a problem. 

And that should all be true for all children. It is not okay to say, "Well, those poor kids don't need a real education--they just need something that will get them a good job." This is the old idea, popular in certain Democratic administrations, that education is the only thing we need to fix poverty (and so we don't have to do other things). This is the old idea that poor people don't need rich lives or choices or the kind of deep, enriching education that not-poor kids get. And that is just all kinds of wrong.

So, yes, this was a terrible tweet, and I hope that whatever social media intern wrote it feels bad. Because this is a lousy thing for the United States Secretary of Education to put out there.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Profiteering Does Not Mix With Human Service

The line that jumps out in the story is this one:

“I feel like this is not being ran as a school but as a business,” the parent told Washington’s education department. “Kids seem to be a paycheck.”

The story is a ProPublica piece about United Health Services, a Washington state company that hoovered up $38 million in taxpayer dollars to provide special education services. And, unsurprisingly, parents and former teachers charge the company with cutting corners, short-changing students, and just generally failing to provide the services it promises to provide.

The company runs private companies like Northwest SOIL, Washington state’s largest publicly funded private school for children with disabilities, where one administrator quit after banging her head on a corporate brick wall that would not provide the resources necessary to fulfill its promises. After being required to cut staff hours, she banged out a resignation letter.

“It is truly like living in the dark ages,” she wrote about the school, detailing its cost cutting at the expense of students. “I cannot ethically or morally be a part of this any longer.”

UHS, ProPublica notes, 

is one player in a small but growing market of special education and disability services, as investors recognize the potential for profit from insurance, public education funding and other sources. A February report by a private equity watchdog group noted a flurry of recent corporate acquisitions of autism service providers. One national broker marketing the sale of a special-needs private school group touted it as a good investment and “extremely profitable.”

There's a lot to unpack in this article, but I want to note two important things here.

One--this is yet another reminder that profiteering and human services don't mix.

Two--what the article describes is a school voucher system. This one is for special ed, but this is how any school voucher system works.

This is school choice in action. The money is following each child, equipping each child with a backpack full of cash, and that turns each child into a courier, a conveyance, a cash cow. This is a system (and it is a system, no matter how much choicers insist that we should fund students, not systems) in which a child's function is to carry money to the profiteers operating the "schools." 

As one expert puts it

“There’s a lot of money at stake here,” said Kathleen Hulgin, a University of Cincinnati associate professor who studies the funding of private special education schools. Companies know they can depend on steady revenue with a “stable, publicly funded system.”

In a school choice system that is wedded to the marketplace, the interests of the owners of the education-flavored businesses will always conflict with the interests of the children. Always. And the main means of maximizing profit will always be to find ways to spend less and less serving the "customers." 

The defense offered by UHS and its various wholly-owned subsidiaries is a familiar one-- we haven't broken any laws, we provide exactly as much as the law requires. 

And in many states, that's particularly alarming because the law requires very little. 

Corner cutting is the least of the terrible outcomes. We have only to look at the privatized health care industry to see the worst cases in action, like this story about a hospital in Pennsylvania.

Or rather, what used to be a hospital, because the private equity company that bought it judged it too hard to make profitable, even after stripping away various services. The problem was that the hospital served too many poor people. So they shut it down.

As I've said repeatedly, the goal of making a profit is not inherently evil. But it does not mix well with human services. 

I can opt out of certain commercial transactions for a variety of reasons. I might not buy a velvet widget because I don't like it or because I can't afford it. But I can't opt out of needing to have a broken leg set, a disease treated, or emergency treatment for a sudden medical issue. I can't opt out of an education for my child, especially if my child requires special accommodations to get it. That gives these sorts of operations a built in customer base, but if the service is provided by someone in search of profit, they have no incentive to provide anything but the least they can get away with and still make money. 

Venture capitalists, hedge funders, private equity owners-- put them in the education business, turn loose children carrying backpacks full of cash, and the business focus will be on collecting those backpacks. Those who believe in economism might shrug and say, "Well, yes. What else would possibly motivate people other than the chance to collect cash?" But for folks who believe in bigger things, the problem is obvious. If you're going to take care of people, you've got to have your eyes on their humanity and needs, and not the cash strapped to their backs. 


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Why "Just Teach The Facts" Doesn't Work (A Message from the Past)

I want to direct your attention to an old article--forty years old--that provided a valuable and even-handed look at Mel and Norma Gabler, a couple that became the driving force in Texas behind pushing a conservative bent to that state's textbooks, and thereby the textbooks of much of the nation. Because this article, though old, speaks loudly to our current situation.

The article (from Texas Monthly's November 1982 issue) is a reminder that the grievances of today's "culture warriors" are not new (the group they founded, Education Research Analysts, is still operating), but in taking a close at the Gablers (who really were a couple of ordinary citizens who ended up running a major activist movement out of their home-- Norma Gabler was an actual grandmom), writer Wiliam Martin offers some important insights into the problems with the Gabler world view.

The Gablers’ views are straight-forward and comprehensive. They believe that the purpose of education is “the imparting of factual knowledge, basic skills and cultural heritage” and that education is best accomplished in schools that emphasize a traditional curriculum of reading, math, and grammar, as well as patriotism, high moral standards, dress codes, and strict discipline, with respect and courtesy demanded from all students. They feel the kind of education they value has all but disappeared, and they lay the blame at the feet of that all-purpose New Right whipping boy, secular humanism, which they believe has infiltrated the school at every level but can be recognized most easily in textbooks.

Yeah, it was secular humanism forty years ago, the critical race theory of an earlier age.

But the Gablers also feel that even those students who learn to read through intensive phonics, memorize their “times tables,” diagram sentences perfectly, and win spelling bees and math contests must still cope with an educational system that is geared to undermining their morals, their individuality, their pride in America, and their faith in God and the free enterprise system. Much of this corrosive work is accomplished through textbooks in history, social sciences, health, and homemaking.

I'm going to remind you that the article was written in 1982.

The Gablers seem to believe not only that the proper subject of history is facts rather than concepts but also that all the essential pertinent facts are well known and should be taught as they were in older textbooks, in a clear chronological arrangement with a tone that is “fair, objective and patriotic.”

They were also upset about the elevation of certain Civil Rights movement figures, what they saw as attacks on religious thought, and as to sexual issues, "their view of the family falls into the Father-Mother-Dick-Jane-Spot-and-Puff mold, with no doubt as to who does what." Women who want equal pay, the Gablers argued, were abandoning their highest profession--motherhood. Sex education = bad. They helped push the rules that said evolution had to be clearly labeled in texts as "just a theory.

Values? Martin quotes from a Gabler pamphlet:

“To the vast majority of Americans,” it asserts, “the terms ‘values’ and ‘morals’ mean one thing, and one thing only; and that is the Christian-Judeo morals, values, and standards as given to us by God through His Word written in the Ten Commandments and the Bible….After all, according to history these ethics have prescribed the only code by which civilizations can effectively remain in existence!”

And they bristled at the invasion of privacy in asking students about opinions of, well, anything.

Where the article gets really interesting is where Martin starts to consider the effects of the Gabler point of view (which contains more familiar moments)

A major result of the Gablers’ misunderstanding of a humanistic approach to learning is a stunted and barren philosophy of education. In a manner typical of those distrustful of the intellectual enterprise, they take pleasure in scoring points against the professionals; Norma says she has read so many textbooks that “I figure I know enough to be a Ph.D.” It is clear, however, that they have little appreciation or understanding of the life of the mind as it is encouraged and practiced in many institutions of learning. They tend to cite the Reader’s Digest as if it were the New England Journal of Medicine and to regard a single conversation with a police chief or a former drug user as an incontrovertible refutation of some point they oppose.

And this next part really gets at the essence of why this "just teach the facts that are the One True Thing that has never changed" approach doesn't serve human beings well:

In general, they know precisely where they stand but have difficulty dealing with a question that originates from different premises. Norma showed me a ninth-grade history book that observed that the route most likely taken by Israelites in their exodus from Egypt would have been across a swamp known as the Sea of Reeds. The book adds: “IT may be that the Sea of Reeds was later called the Red Sea by mistake.” Norma found this highly amusing: “Can you just imagine pharaoh’s army, with all his horses and all his men, completely disappearing into a swamp? Now, that’s a miracle!” I pointed out to her that many scholars feel the biblical story may be an embellished, rather than strictly accurate, account of Israel’s escape from slavery. I noted that there is no record in Egyptian history of such a catastrophic event, and that the Hebrew Bible does indeed say “Reed Sea,” not “Red Sea.” She faltered, then said: “But still…okay…what happened to pharaoh’s army?”

In similar fashion, questions posed by members of the textbook committee at the August hearings characteristically received oblique answers or a puzzled “I don’t think I understand the question.” That, of course, is the point: when one regards education as simply the ingestion of facts and not the investigation and analysis of ironies, ambiguities, uncertainties, and contradictions, one will be far less likely either to understand the question or to provide a useful answer. And that kind of trained incapacity will endanger the vitality and ultimately the survival of treasured forms of religious, political, social, and economic life.

Emphasis mine, because yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Too long for a t-shirt, but I'd gladly put a poster of it in classrooms across the country. You can object to the narrow Gabler view on moral or ethical grounds, but there's also a practical problem--it's a very ineffective way to engage with the world.

The Gablers were a piece of work--

Norma Gabler’s difficulty with unanticipated questions is a communicable disease, and she is working to spread it. “What some textbooks are doing,” she has complained, “is giving students ideas, and ideas will never do them as much good as facts.” Further, in her view students should apparently not show any interest in facts not found in their textbooks. Norma objected to a fourth-grade book that urged students to verify facts by consulting other sources, on the grounds that “it could lead to some very dangerous information.”

On their failure to understand how history works.

The shortcomings of the Gablers’ view of education — as a process by which young people are indoctrinated with facts certified to be danger-free, while being protected from exposure to information that might challenge orthodox interpretations — can be seen by looking at three areas: history, science, and the social sciences. One may or may not agree with the particular objections the Gablers make to various history books, but it is clear that they are oblivious to the idea that the writing of history has never been, nor can it ever be, factual in any pure sense. Those who provided eyewitness accounts and other records with which historians work were engaged in interpretation, not only in adjusting the light under which they chose to display the materials they assembled but even in their selection of events, dates, and people from the infinite possibilities open to them. And to imagine that they or anyone else engaging in the historical enterprise does so free of the influence of his or her values, perceptions, and ideological biases is to believe something no reputable historian has believed for generations.

Nor did they accept that a textbook could contain any criticism of America ever. They were Young Earth creationists. 

There's lots more. This article is worth a read; it's thorough, thoughtful and fair. I'd never run across Martin before--he spent 54 years teaching at Rice and has a variety of other accolades--but he wrote a profile that turns out to have resonance across the decades. It shames the christianist nationalists and astroturf culture panic artistsof today. I'll leave you with his final paragraph of the piece.

It may not be possible to prove that an open mind is better than a closed one, or that the proper antidote to a bad idea is not censorship but a good idea, or that a society in which some questions are never answered may be preferable to one in which some answers are never questioned, but I believe these things to be true. I not only believe them; I have bet my life on them.