Smorgasbord: Books and Expanding Minds


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Education for the incarcerated

“Incarceration is supposed to be about rehabilitating those who may have lost their way in the past,” Mr. Cuomo said. “And it’s time that we get back to embracing that principle as a society.”

Cuomo to Give Colleges $7 Million for Courses in Prisons, NY Times

How to get affluent white families to send their kids to local public schools

Market the schools to realtors.

This School District Asked Real-Estate Agents To Help Rekindle Its Reputation, NPR

Aren’t we all Americans?

‘Rethink who is the curriculum, who is the teaching, centered on?’ Souto-Manning said.”

…’I wanted to get away from that story of the people in power,” said Salas, who works at P.S. 75 on the Upper West Side. ‘Story acting is a culturally relevant teaching tool because it helps students develop empathy and understand multiple perspectives.’

This Chalkbeat story, which paints “culturally relevant” teaching in glowing terms, gave me pause. Some of the suggestions made in the piece, such as knowing your student’s backgrounds and experiences or how to pronounce their names correctly, are just simply common sense. One would certainly hope that your son’s teacher knows his name and who he is as a person and treats him with respect and provides him with individualized attention. That this doesn’t happen in all classrooms speaks more to the quality of our ed preparation and people that are coming into the profession than a problem with curriculum.

The idea that we need to rethink our curricula to center them more on specific populations of students seems questionable to me for two reasons.

One is that this progressive rethinking of curriculum has been going on for a long time now. So take a look at actual curricula used in NYC schools and tell me how it’s not developing student understanding of multiple perspectives. Avoid vague platitudes and let’s talk actual content.

For example, one of the teachers mentioned in the pieces gives an example of a lesson on Christopher Columbus that challenges the “story of the people in power.” Yet if you examine the NYC social studies scope and sequence, which one would assume this teacher should be drawing from, here is the essential question for European exploration and colonization:

“How do issues of power, wealth and morality influence exploration and colonization?”

Such a question hardly seems to close off multiple perspectives on the topic. Arguably, therefore, this teacher is simply paying heed to teaching history the way curricular guidelines ask her to teach it.

Second reason is that I see the fundamental problem with our education system, especially in regards to integration and diversity, to be exactly the reverse as what is laid out by the notion of “culturally relevant” curriculum. The problem, as I see it, is that we don’t spend more time laying out what it means to be an American citizen, and the common values and principles we all share. And this problem is further compounded by the utter lack of coherency and consistency in the way we teach any content.

What New York City students learned about Christopher Columbus when their own classroom was ‘discovered’, Chalkbeat NY

This teacher argues that teaching to the textbook can still be more relevant–and more effective

“I’ve learned how to leverage my understanding of my students WHILE implementing a curriculum designed by someone else.”

Teaching From a Textbook Makes My Class More Student-Centered, EdWeek

Speaking of curriculum. Florida conservatives craft a law to allow anyone to challenge school textbooks

“’We found [school books] to be full of political indoctrination, religious indoctrination, revisionist history and distorting our founding values and principles, even a significant quantity of pornography,’ he says.

The pornography, Flaugh says, was in literature and novels such as Angela’s Ashes, A Clockwork Orange and books by author Toni Morrison, which were in school libraries or on summer reading lists.”

Uh, dude, that’s not pornography. Has he ever read literature before? It’s not like Lady Chatterly’s Lover is being recommended for summer reading. . .

(While we’re on the topic, here’s an op-ed from the Lemony Snicket author arguing that boys need to be given books that have more sex in order to pique their interest: Want Boys to Read? Easy. Give Them Books About Sex., NY Times)

“He found more than 80 places where he believes the textbook was wrong or showed bias, beginning with the cover. Its subtitle is ‘Our Democracy.’

‘We’re not a democracy, we’re a constitutional republic,’ Flaugh says.”

Actually, both of these assertions are problematic. We’re a democratic republic. Flaugh needs to read Federalist paper #10.

In any case, this law is a whole lot of sound and fury that will lead to nothing, except maybe some further fragmentation and incoherency in curriculum in Fla. What the Florida Citizen’s Alliance fails to recognize is that few schools and districts utilize any given set of textbooks anymore. Like I said before, the overriding principle of the U.S. school system is its complete lack of coherency. Most districts and schools use some amalgamation of books, resources, and materials supplied by various vendors or individual teachers.

New Florida Law Lets Residents Challenge School Textbooks, NPR

Tim Shanahan on when to teach decoding and when to scaffold grade-level texts

A pervasive problem teachers face in teaching literacy are the increasing gaps between students’ reading abilities and the complexity and difficulty of the texts they are supposed to read at grade-level.

Shanahan provides some useful advice for teachers on this core issue:

“It doesn’t make sense to me to try to scaffold over any appreciable distance when a youngster is trying to figure out how to decode basic text. With those kids, I would teach phonics, I would engage them in reading easy texts, and I would read the seventh-grade texts to them with all of the scaffolding needed to keep their heads in the game about the ideas in those texts.

If it is the former of those queries—the one about scaffolding a great distance, like 6 or 7 grade levels, then I have a different answer for you. In fact, it is possible to scaffold that kind of distance, as long as the readers aren’t beginners. I’m saying that It is possible to scaffold the reading of an eighth-grade book for a student who now can only read at second-grade level, and there are benefits to doing this (though I’m certainly not claiming it to be an easy way to go).”

Scaffolding the Reading of Seventh-Grade English Learners: How Much is too Much?, Shanahan on Literacy

This chart on violence and bullying in schools is no surprise to anyone who has attended or worked in a middle school

What Bullying Looks Like in Today’s Classrooms: 3 New Charts That Explain Changes in School Violence, The 74

Smart piece from a Republican senator on the need for teens to engage in hard work

“…meaningful work for kids is less about any particular task than the habits the hours teach. The effort involved and the struggles, once overcome, become the scar tissue of future character.”

What to do with the kids this summer? Put ‘em to work., NY Times

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