Standardized testing is the worst thing that could have happened. You're producing scientists that think every experiment has perfect answers.
- Reid Walker, Colorado biology teacher
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
When we say “John is a patriot,” we mean “John is a reliable member of our dog pack,” nothing more. The pack instinct seems more ancient, and certainly stronger, than morality or any form of human decency. Thus, once the pack—citizenry, I meant to say—have been properly roused to a pitch of patriotism, they will, under cover of the most diaphanous pretexts, rape Nanking, bomb Hiroshima, kill the Jews or, if they are Jews, Palestinians. We are animals of the pack. We don’t admire patriotism. We admire loyalty to ourselves.
The pack dominates humanity. Observe that the behavior of urban gangs—the Vice Lords, Mara Salvatrucha, Los Locos Intocables, Crips, Bloods—precisely mirrors that of more formally recognized gangs, which are called “countries.” Gangs, like countries, are intensely territorial with recognized borders fiercely defended. The soldiers of gangs, like those of countries, have uniforms, usually clothing of particular colors, and they “throw signs”—make the patterns of fingers indicating their gang—and wear their hats sideways in different directions to indicate to whom their patriotism is plighted. They have generals, councils of war, and ranks paralleling the colonels and majors of national packs. They fight each other endlessly, as do countries, for territory, for control of markets, or because someone insulted someone. It makes no sense—it would be more reasonable for example to divide the market for drugs instead of killing each other—but they do it because of the pack instinct.
Packery dominates society. Across the country high schools form basketball packs and do battle on the court, while cheerleaders jump and twirl, preferably in short skirts (here we have the other major instinct) to maintain patriotic fervor in the onlookers. Cities with NFL franchises hire bulky felons from around the country to bump forcefully into the parallel felons of other cities, arousing warlike sentiments among their respective fellow dogs. . . .
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Saturday, May 28, 2011
This spring I graduate again from high school, this time vicariously, and one of the major lessons of this return trip has been a deepened appreciation of the role that sports and other extra curricular activities play In education. I no longer think of them, in fact, as extra-curricular at all. The category seems oddly discriminatory and, despite the skill with which academia bedizens its petty prejudices in the cloak of wisdom, it is anti-intellectual as well. To suggest that sports, drama, art, politics or community service are external to the curriculum of an educated person borders on yahooism. Absent these elements, education becomes a brutish parody of what it says it is, a motley collection of facts without context, without integration either with one's own body and soul or with any human community.
I suspect, in fact, that some of the less appealing characteristics ascribed to the stereotypical yuppie are the result of a failure of this integration. The roots, in part, may be found in an education that, at best, did not value extra-curricular activities highly enough to see them other than as the first in an endless series of performances separating the successful from the not so.
For, in truth, extra-curricular activities can be a bad form of education. Micro-Lombardis of high school football have perverted the learning of discipline, cooperation and effort into a tool of self-aggrandizement. Arts programs have modeled themselves on Hollywood or Broadway. And there are campus politicians, such as the new rightists at Dartmouth, who have mainly learned the worst that polities have to offer. . . .
Such problems, however, are not addressed by "no pass, no play." Rather they reflect, in their own way, the fact that extra-curricular activities have been assigned to the slums of education instead of given the place they deserve as part of the basic curriculum.
If school activities were not so arbitrarily divided, if the relationship between what goes on in and out of the classroom was considered and respected, we might not find so many dichotomies. Academics might be enticed to face the issue, for example, of why schools teach the evils of totalitarianism in history classes and venerate it on the football field. Or why students in English class are made to read poets and novelists who lived and died in penury while encouraging show business values on the school stage.
Of course, "no pass, no play" is not new. I encountered it myself in college two weeks after I had been elected station manager of the campus radio station. I was informed that since I had also been selected for probation I was barred from any extra-curricular activities. Although I had to give up my administrative position, the invisible nature of radio permitted me (as with a good many of my similarly distressed colleagues) to continue full tilt on the air -- under a pseudonym. I spent just as much time at the station, but I got my grades up as well. The main lesson I learned from no "pass, no play" was how to buck the system.
It was not a bad lesson, but it certainly was not the one that the academic community had intended, just as I suspect that the lessons learned from the current crop of "no pass, no play" laws will not be the ones intended.
Among the lessons that may be learned will be how society discriminates against those who do not fit its mold - either because of ethnic background, economics, physical or mental idiosyncrasies, or inclination. And since extra-curricular activities are too often used as early imprimaturs of success, the very student who is failing in the classroom will be forced to fail a second time outside the classroom as well.
If, on the other hand, one views these activities as part of the core, of education, then barring participation becomes as stupid and futile an act as banning students from English because they are flunking math. Further, one begins to see the connections between these activities and the conventional academic subjects, connections that can be exploited to make both more valuable. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of extra-curricular activities is that they provide a rare course in applied knowledge. The student in the classroom is tested primarily against a single criterion: the judgment of the teacher. Despite the enormous utility of this, it is hardly a typical example of how knowledge is used in adult life.
To take a simple case: consider a problem that you as a parent perceive at a school. Now think, truthfully, how you would describe and argue your feelings about that problem with the principal, a teacher, your child, another student, your spouse, a friend who has a student at the school, a friend who has a student at another school, a friend without children. The same knowledge you possess, the same feelings, must be translated in a variety of different ways to have either meaning or effect.
It is in the extra-curricular activities more than in the classroom that this sophisticated use of knowledge occurs. In the classroom, knowledge is organized according to a curriculum and in this sense the term extra-curricular is quite right. For in out-of-class activities, knowledge is acquired or transmitted much as in adult life -- in a random, unorganized fashion that provides both excitement and frustration to that life. Learning to deal with this disorderly flow is an important part of becoming an educated adult. Further, extra-curricular activities provide training in what some psychologists have come to call social intelligence, which can include not only understanding the information that words give us, but the enormous variety of non-verbal data available to us ranging from interpreting the mood of a group to comprehending the meaning of a turn of the lip. To train students to only understand words and printed symbols is to cheat their education.
For the parent, there is a special virtue of extra-curricular activities: they permit the parent to enter the school life of the student in a manner no academic course offers. The parent relies on report cards, an occasional term paper and teacher conferences for some feeling of the what happens in the classroom. If my experience is at all typical, further investigation into the academic environment tends to produce curt, glib or over-generalized responses. But with extra-curricular activities, the interest of the parent is actively sought, whole dinner-table discussions can actually occur, and feelings can be truly expressed. Thus the extra-curricular activity becomes a rare experience that both parent and student can share, especially at a time when words on other subjects may be hard to come by. To a school administration this virtue may not seem a high priority; to parents, and even students, it can be priceless.
Further, I think many parents presume a broader and less rigid limit to education than some educators do -- certainly more so than do many school boards and system administrators. Parents often define education in a non-curricular way -- blending academic, social and cultural goals and values. It may sound vague to a professional but it is really only an amateur's holistic vision. And it is a form of fraud for professional educators to suggest that these goals can be met without the aid of extra-curricular activities.
My own experience of late has been with drama and sports. I have found in them advantages that are either absent or weak in my childrens' classroom learning or which have supplemented or strengthened what has occurred in the classroom; advantages that have led me to regard these activities not just as a source of sharing or pride, but as evidence that my sons' schools are doing what they claim. As in the classroom, not always has the the lesson been learned, or learned well, but at least it has been taught.
In sports, my sons have learned to work in a group, to cooperate, and to understand and value their peers for a variety of reasons. In some cases this appreciation may come from their peers' skill, in other cases their determination, helpfulness, or supportiveness. They have learned that in real life the penalty for failure of effort may not merely be a bad grade and annoyed parents and teachers, but the disappointment of a whole group whose respect and friendship you seek.
While learning to try harder, they have simultaneous learned how to fail. I watch my sons' teams go down to defeat and think back to Little League years when a bad loss could cast a pall on the house for a whole day. No longer. They have also learned that success may not be an individual triumph at all, but a joint mystery, as with a soccer team that won its league championship not because it was blessed with stars but because this highly individualistic group of players developed a remarkable ability to make each other do better than they normally would and to become one for a common goal. It was more than a championship; it was a priceless lesson in the power of a community. to raise itself up collectively.
Sports also teach the importance of concentration; they require the absorption and use of a wealth of small data under extreme stress and time limits. They teach respect and understanding of the human body. And at a critical time of learning about one's self, they can provide a confidence that may not be so easy to come by in other arenas.
Drama, like sports, requires a concentration equal to anything in the classroom. Like sports, functioning within a group is critical. Like sports, the lessons learned are not only applicable to traditional academic courses, but to becoming an educated adult.
One of these lessons is the ability to memorize. It is remarkable that, given the repeated need to memorize in school, so little time is spent developing the skill. One of the few places in school where one can learn how to memorize is during the production of a play.
Further, good drama teachers can introduce their students to sophisticated forms of character analysis that one would find in professional theatre schools. One of my sons was given an exercise that involved figuring out what the characters were really thinking while they were saying their written lines. This sort of study not only produces better actors and actresses but better English students. Once you have seriously acted a part in a play, whole new understandings await in your reading of other literature.
Drama also requires a level of perfection that can only come after one understands the importance of failing over and over again until you get it right. Even the brightest student, used to skimming material and spewing out the correct answer, can be brought to earth by this requirement. A good drama teacher will make even the best try to be better.
Finally, drama encourages the development of self-confidence at an especially timely moment. For both psychological and practical reasons, being able to "perform" may be one of the most useful things one learns in school.
Of course, extra-curricular activities can be abused by both students and school. But often this is because of a tendency to use them as a form of star-shopping, a tendency that "no pass, no play" only accentuates. If one is conscious of the danger, however, it is not hard to avoid. At my high school, there was not one spring play but a whole series of them. Every senior who wanted a significant part in a play got one, indeed was urged to take one. Every year, there would be surprises, as someone not considered a "drama type" turned in an especially good performance. I think many of us who were not "drama types" are glad today that someone pushed us into tryng it at least once.
As I await another high school graduation, I think back about the teachers who were the real influences of the last twelve years. And the names that come to mind include, far out of proportion, coaches and drama and music teachers. I can't conceive of those 12 years without them, nor without them would I have considered that my son had received a decent education. Those school boards around the country that think otherwise are not raising educational standards, but lowering them by removing a part of what should be the basic curriculum of any student whatever their grade in math or English.
Friday, May 27, 2011
THE CASE AGAINST HOMEWORK
BOING BOING - Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish 2006 book "The Case Against Homework" is a fine and frightening explosion of the homework myth: that giving kids homework improves their educational outcome. The authors start by tracing the explosion in homework since the eighties, and especially since the advent of the ill-starred No Child Left Behind regime, which has teachers drilling, drilling, drilling their kids on math and reading to the exclusion of all else.
Kindergarten kids are assigned homework. Kids get homework over the weekend. Over vacations. When they're away sick for a day.
What's more, all the credible research on homework suggests that for younger kids, homework has no connection with positive learning outcomes, and for older kids, the benefits of homework level off sharply after the first couple assignments.
Not that most teachers would know this -- homework theory and design isn't on the curriculum at most teachers' colleges, and most teachers surveyed report that they have never received any training on designing and assessing homework. . .
One thing the authors keep coming back to is the way that excessive homework eats into kids' playtime and family time, stressing them out, contributing to sedentary obesity, and depriving them of a childhood's measure of doing nothing, daydreaming and thinking. They quote ten-year-olds like Sophia from Brooklyn, saying things like "I have to rush, rush, rush, rush, rush, rush through my day, actually through my seven days, and that's seven days wasted in my life."
No Child Left Behind has to shoulder some of the blame here. No Child Left Behind and standardized testing not only turns your child into a slave to her test-scores, but they can even affect your property values: a school with low test-scores brings down the neighborhood property values. That means that whatever your approach to your kids, the chances are that the other parents in your neighborhood are busting their asses to get their kids great test scores, drilling them, sending them to tutors, helping them with assignments that they were meant to complete themselves. If you don't do the same, your kids will suffer by comparison.
The authors report on an elementary school in North Carolina where at least twenty standardized test books have to be replaced after their use because the stressed out elementary school kids working to them have vomited on them.
The stories go on and on, and just when you're ready to throw in the towel and send your kids into the woods to be raised by wolves, the authors supply several long chapters of strategies and sample dialogs for convincing your kids' teachers to ease off on homework, for changing the homework policies in your school district and for rallying other parents to their cause.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
With later starts, brilliant children stay brilliant (after all, it was the home environment that made them that way in the first place) and the lesser-gifted ones succeed much more often, rather than being singled out for "special attention" and labeled as slow learners at an early age (and, predictably, becoming frustrated and disruptive as a result of being asked to do what they are not yet developmentally ready to do).
The factory school model has many, many sins, but the worst is the way it turns children into failures with such skill.
Worse, the push in America has been to start the process at ever younger ages, continuing the American tradition of deciding that, whatever you're doing, from Vietnam to Iraq, from highway congestion to the war on drugs, whenever it's failing, the only possibility is to do it more and harder.
There is a huge class bias apparent whenever you suggest starting kids in school later--the kinds of people who sit around and talk about ed policy (upper and middle class) inevitably agree that their children would not be harmed by keeping them out of the factory schools longer, but that we need to get the 'at risk' kids into those schools as early as possible, to counter the "educationally deficient" environments they experience at home.
This is perverse--it leaves kids in precisely those environments during the most formative years (0-3 years) and then starts them on the failure track in schools before they've had the extra years needed to catch up and have a chance to succeed. What we need is to bring more resources into those homes without taking the children out of them and putting them in institutions until they are ready to succeed.
WHY DO FINLAND'S SCHOOLS WORK?
[This is a long but consistently interesting report on the Finnish educational system, especially for those struggling with the hypocritically named No Child Left Behind and other peculiarities of American public education. A major difference is that Finland is a much more homogenous culture than the U.S. but there is still much to learn.
SIX DEGREES, FINLAND - Finland has repeatedly been rated top of the class in international comparisons of educational standards, even though spending on education is low, and Finnish children spend much less time in school than kids in other countries. . .
Foreign educationalists are particularly interested because Finland's success does not seem to be related to money: OECD statistics show that Finland spends just 6.1% of its gross domestic product on education, significantly below the OECD average of 6.3%, and well below spending levels in many similarly wealthy countries.
Another factor to discount is the amount of time children spend in the classroom. For a start, Finnish kids only graduate from the kindergarten sandpit to the primary school at age 7. Their schooldays remain short, often ending as early as midday or one o'clock, and their 10-week summer holidays must be the envy of kids all over the world. All in all, Finnish pupils spend an OECD record low total of some 5,523 hours at their desks, compared to the average of 6,847 hours. . .
The results of Finland's brightest students are not significantly above those from other successful countries, but where Finland really shines is in the scores of the lowest performing students. This means that very few Finnish schoolchildren are falling fall through the educational net. . .
Looking after low achievers The Finnish system is designed along egalitarian principles, with few fee-paying private schools, and very little streaming of pupils into different schools or classes according to their exam results. . .
Another factor behind Finland's success could be the narrow focus of the PISA tests. Levels of reading literacy are extremely high in Finland. Many children learn to read before they even start school. Although many foreigners find Finnish hard to learn, the language is so phonetically logical that words are always simple to read and write correctly. . .
The atmosphere in Finnish schools is generally informal. Teachers are given considerable freedom to teach as they see fit, without overbearing supervision or bureaucratic reporting. . .
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Lamenting Children's Lack Of Unstructured Imaginative Playtime
March 28, 2007
Several months ago, I answered a question from a parent who was bemoaning that in her community, structured activities for preschoolers have become the standard by which a mom is measured - that is, the more activities a preschooler is enrolled in, the better the mom. My petitioner specifically mentioned Kindermusik and Gymboree, and I responded that while none of those activities were harmful per se, the harm was in the fact that today's children are not obtaining the benefits of sufficient unstructured imaginative play. The villains are well-intentioned adults who believe they must micromanage everything children do in order for children to obtain full benefit.
I pointed out that kids seem to have gotten along fine before adults decided they could not figure out how to play on their own. In the process of directing their own play, they learned social skills, including negotiation and conflict resolution, that today's kids miss. I also mentioned that no one has yet demonstrated what disadvantage there is for a child who doesn't have those activities in preschool years. Although I did not mention Kindermusik in my reply, the nerves of Kindermusik teachers nationwide were scratched. Nearly 100 of them sent me e-mails (of which half looked suspiciously similar).
I am revisiting that column to make perfectly clear that I stand firm on the issue. I don't really care how supposedly valuable any given preschool activity is; I am continually and permanently disturbed that so few of today's kids are being allowed to just play. Instead, their discretionary time is organized and directed by adults who believe they are on an anointed mission to "improve" them. The unintended consequence is that these children are being deprived of the full benefit of childhood. As they grow, the problem of adult over-involvement only worsens until the teen years, by which time kids don't know how to make creative use of their time, so they turn to such mind-numbing activities as video games.
Shortly after that column appeared, psychologist David Elkind's ("The Hurried Child") latest book, "The Power of Play" (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2006, $24), hit the shelves. I don't generally review books because I don't want publishers inundating me with requests, but I'm going to break with policy in this case. I think every parent should read this book. In fact, I'm making it an assignment.
Elkind says play is being "silenced" by adult-organized activities, television, video games, and an over-emphasis on academics that has led to the shortening (and in some cases elimination) of recess and physical education. He makes a coherent, readable and altogether fascinating case for adults who are childhood-friendly instead of focused on making sure their kids participate in every "advantage" available.
What it boils down to is that most adults no longer possess a sense of proper boundaries where kids are concerned. They seem to believe that the more involved they are, the better. By contrast, when I was a child, it was my job to keep my parents from getting involved. If I accepted and properly discharged my academic responsibilities, they didn't get involved, and what a wonderful thing that was for them and me both. If I conducted myself properly outside the home, they didn't get involved, and what a wonderful thing that was for them and me both. If I did my chores properly and on time, they didn't get involved, and what a wonderful thing that was for them and me both.
Low adult involvement is still a wonderful, liberating thing for both adult and child. In the most compelling way possible, David Elkind recommends that you give it a try, and I second that emotion.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website, www.rosemond.com.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Pride & Praise
A choral celebration of who we are, praise for life, and the power of music to make you smile, help you heal, tap your feet, and rock out, all in one concert. The program ranges from the opening Buddhist mantra “Gate Gate” to “Somewhere” from Westside Story, and includes “I Want You to Know Who I Really Am,” “Gloria” from the Misa Criolla, “Acclamation” from The Gospel Mass, and Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There."
We will have a raffle for a weekend at the Wave Catcher condo in Waldport, convenient to Yachats and Newport. Tickets will be sold at all three concerts with the winner announced on Sunday, June 5. Tickets will also be available from chorus members. You need not be present to win. Go to http://www.wavecatcherbeachrentals.com/ for details.
Tickets (general admission seating):
Tickets are available in advance ($15 adults/$12 students & seniors) from chorus members or online at http://www.confluencechorus.org/. Or buy at the door ($18/$15).
Tickets purchased online up to noon on Sunday March 13 will be held at the ticket desk.
Times and Locations
- Friday June 3, 7:30— Salem, First Congregational Church, 700 Marion St.
- Saturday June 4, 7:30—Portland, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 1244 NE 39th Ave.
- Sunday June 5, 4:30—Corvallis, UU Fellowship of Corvallis, 2945 NW Circle Blvd.
Confluence: Willamette Valley LGBT Chorus
Building Bridges Through Song
Like to sing? Ask any chorus member about how much fun they have singing with Confluence. Next term starts September 11.
So my first comment: we should drop the zone residency requirement that prevents qualified candidates from running for school board unless they live in one particular zone. The challenges schools face are fearsome; we cannot afford to limit candidate pools with district maps that put two high schools in some zones, no high schools in others, while families often enroll kids in schools outside their “home” zone anyway. I felt compelled to file in this election because no one else had. Luckily, we did have a contested race, but I don’t think it’s any insult to me or Jeff to say that we would have benefited from a wider, more diverse pool of candidates. Schools are where we should most discourage thinking about “my area” first. We need board member who think about what’s best for the whole district, not a particular area; we make policy at the whole district level, not the “zone” level. So we should allow candidates for all seats from the whole district too.
My second comment is that our greatest challenge is that the much-touted link between education and lifetime economic security has always been deceptive. That is, just like the rooster who likes to think that the sun comes up because the rooster crows, schools got used to thinking that they caused, rather than benefited from, the rising general wages and prosperity of the US economy, which covered a multitude of educational sins and mistaken beliefs about the schooling.
It is no coincidence that the broad critique of education as a system in crisis (epitomized by the “A Nation at Risk” grenade thrown during the first Reagan administration) came about a decade after the US lost its ability to control and limit the price of oil in 1970, far ahead of the conventionally understood schedule. Once the US could not control prices for oil and energy – in a country where our historic and unprecedented wealth depended more on abundant cheap energy than any other factor -- our economy began wrenching, painful changes. Where we had enjoyed steady growth rates, rising wages, and rising profit rates throughout the postwar era, we soon suffered a downward ratchet that was just as powerful. Few understood what had changed, but all experienced the discomfort of it.
And schools became a convenient scapegoat for that discomfort. Schools enjoyed undeserved credit for the booming postwar economy; now they get equally undeserved blame for the struggling state of the US economy. The reason this is crucial is that we appear to be embarked on an effort to destroy the best parts of our schools in an ill-advised effort to chase “achievement” scores on standardized tests in the hope that goosing those numbers upward will bring back the economy. And we will find out that, like King Canute at the seashore ordering out the tide, schools are simply not as powerful as we believed.
While schools are far from perfect, it’s critical not to blame schools and teachers for failing at what they never could do anyway -- even if, like the rooster, they used to like taking credit for it. The bottom line is that, when the pie is generally bigger, everyone gets a little more, and schools look pretty good, basking in the rosy glow of that prosperity. But when the economy contracts – as the US economy will likely do for years or decades to come – schools get interrogated under a much harsher light. Parental anxieties, particularly in the middle class, shoot to the fore. The whole “competition” language that dominates education discussions today is telling; the more uncertain and anxious parents feel about the world their children will inherit, the more they lash out at schools.
The key challenge for the Salem-Keizer district will be helping organize support for those programs and activities that define the difference between an educated person and a trained one, and helping everyone recognize the importance of helping students become successful as people, not just as economic units.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Looking for a fun, inexpensive family activity for Father's Day? Buy a ticket to the very first Capital City Chicken Coop & Garden Tour. Just $7 for the whole family!Tickets go on Sale May 15! Get your tickets for Salem's Capital City Chicken Coop & Garden Tour at these fine establishments:
CITY has teamed up with Friends of Salem Saturday Market to host a Chicken Coop and Garden Tour. Fifteen backyards in Salem will be showcased featuring a variety of different coop and garden styles and an assortment of chicken breeds, including bantams (miniature chickens).
You’ll also see composters, greenhouses, and even a backyard beekeeping operation. This is a great way to learn how to transform your traditional yard, no matter how small, into a thriving ecosystem where you can produce your own eggs, vegetables, fruits and honey and at the same time, reduce waste and mitigate the need for pesticides.
Spend as much or as little time as you like at any or all of the stops along the way on this self-guided tour and chat with folks about coop construction, hen-keeping, gardening, etc. Feel free to ask questions and take pictures.
Tickets are 16-page color booklets (see picture on the right) that include photographs of each yard, along with full descriptions and addresses. You can visit the sites in any order you like, or travel the suggested route on the provided map. Kick-off activities begin at 10:00 at Coop Tour Headquarters - 1580 Roosevelt Dr NE, Salem OR.
Please help us get the word out about this event by posting in your blogs, on your Facebook pages, twitter, etc. Email me if you'd like a copy of the Press Release and/or pictures.
- 13th Street Nursery;
- Champion Feed;
- Pet Etc;
- Salem Saturday Market (at the Friends of Salem Saturday Market booth)
Keizer: Copper Creek Mercantile
Dallas: Old Mill Feed & Garden
All proceeds go toward promoting backyard chicken-keeping.
Friday, May 13, 2011
The 4H programs and Future Farmers of America programs are especially vital now that the world is learning, to its dismay, that there is no magic pixie dust that allows us to keep adding people to a finite planet without having to search harder for resources and fight over them more.
Our agricultural ignorance is what allows us to be sold policies that starve people in poor countries so that we can squander vast resources while pretending to create "renewable" fuels by turning petroleum-based agricrops into ethanol (while exhausting and depleting the soils and damaging rivers and the atmosphere).
In the future, one of the most important skills will be knowing how to manage food crops in harmony with the natural local cycles and traits. The 1500 mile salad is likely to be as long gone as the dodo bird -- we will, perforce, whether we want to or not, be "locavores" to a great extent. Our schools should be doing a lot more to make sure that we can actually thrive while doing so.
The members of the Oregon State Fair Foundation would be honored to have you attend the ribbon cutting for the Oregon Youth Village. We want to take this time to thank our supporters, past board members, donors, and grantors. We also want to welcome the public to come and find out about the Oregon Youth Village.
Please join us for the all day celebration...
7:00 am Public Tours Start
12:00 Ribbon Cutting Ceremony - with Mayor Anna Peterson
7:00 pm Public Tours End
The Oregon State Fair Foundation is pleased to announce the official ribbon cutting for the first of 25 Oregon Youth Village Cabins on the Oregon State Fair Grounds. These cabins will house the 4H and FFA youths during State Fair each summer. OSFF would be honored if you would join us on Friday, June 24th 2011. Public tours of the cabin start at 7am. We have featured speakers, and several legislative and other community leaders in a video presentation throughout the day. Cabin tours for the public will continue until 7pm.
For more information please see our website at www.oregonstatefairfoundation.org.
Please call 503-779-4152 for more information.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
1) ARE states permitted to require voters to have identification and show it to poll workers?
2) SHOULD they?
3) Why might that be a good idea? Or a bad one?
4) What might be the unintended (or unstated, intended) consequences of doing so?
5) Is there any need to do so?
This single question could be the focus of a year long inquiry that might well travel under the title "History," "Civics," or "Social Studies," take your pick.
- Another: Was the American Civil War about slavery or not? If so, which side won?
- Another: Should Obama be impeached for refusing to prosecute or continuing to engage in torture, unconstitutional imprisonments, and unconstitutional warmaking?
- Or "Does the absence of conscription make it too easy for politicians to wage war?"
- Or "Gun control neither reduces crime nor makes the populace safer. True or false."
In schools, we go about it all wrong -- we presume that if we drag kids through "the curriculum" (the agreed-upon, inoffensive, politically correct cartoons about history that make it through the smoothing process designed to ensure that no one, anywhere, is ever offended) enough, they'll be able to engage questions like this, using evidence and analogies to history. Of course, what actually tends to happen instead is that most American students turn into Americans adults, people who are frighteningly ignorant about their own history, and (to within a tiny fraction of one percent) 100% ignorant of any other history save that which makes for good viewing on the History Channel.
If reproduction had to be taught and we taught reproduction the way we teach history, I'd fear for our ability to maintain our own numbers -- we'd have a nation far more interested in watching it on video than in participating.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
But it is certainly true that the mania for standardized testing has caused a huge wrong turn in the curriculum -- we've removed a great deal of emphasis on the subjects for which one would most want to (or be enticed to) read.
The bottom line is that we seem to be asking schools to produce a class of people different from their parents, and that is never going to happen. And since Americans are, on the whole, far too allergic to math, scientific reasoning, and critical thinking about social issues and history, we've painted ourselves into a box; we cut, cut, and cut the classes most likely to be successful in helping kids see why they might want to know more math than arithmetic or actually study difficult questions in history, claiming that we have to "get back to the basics."
But "teaching the basics" is like making blind people memorize the eye chart -- sure, you can beat them and bore them and berate them enough that some will do it, and if you make a big enough deal about it, some will feel good about having done it. But it's essentially useless. If you want to succeed in teaching "the basics" then you need to be teaching something that's inherently interesting and that relies on those "basics" -- history without all the interest removed, for example, history taught as if kids were going to take their place in society as voters rather than take their place in SAT prep courses.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Sunday, May 8, 2011
At 8 p.m. a week from Tuesday, we will have elected two new members to the Salem-Keizer School Board, responsible for overseeing Oregon's second-largest school district.
In Zone 6, an incumbent is running unopposed; in Zone 4, Jim Green is running against a nominal opponent who actually filed for three different races and has only campaigned for transit board.
An in Zone 2, the only actually contested race, one of the two candidates is your LOVESalem HQ editor, who suggests these two pieces as important food for thought on the state and direction of our schools: "Dear Secretary Duncan" and "The Testing Machine," a vital warning about what happens when standardized "achievement" tests dominate thinking about school performance.
The local paper's endorsement (and link to the one-hour joint interview) is here.
A gloss on the contested races here.
Last month, the Chamber of Commerce asked candidates a series of written interview questions and promised that the questions and answers would run in the local business monthly. Oddly enough, with no warning, that didn't happen for some reason. So I am publishing the questions and my responses here:
1) Very specifically, what do you feel is the greatest barrier to the school district helping students achieve their full academic potential?
Our greatest achievement barrier is our failure to specify and publish detailed learning and measurable intermediate and final performance objectives for all K-12 subjects and our failure to link annual student progress and ultimate grad standards to meeting those objectives rather than to endurance of classroom hours.
Failing to provide detailed learning objectives and performance standards makes it hard for students and families to check their own progress through the curriculum; it also makes students depend on teachers rather than allowing motivated students to progress through the curriculum at a pace that maintains interest. It also makes it hard for students and families to create and implement an individual education plan tailored for each specific student.
But with those learning goals published, parents and teachers can meet annually (joined by the student when older) and agree on their child’s specific goals for the year, targeting the specific objectives to be tackled that year. The job of the district is then to help the family choose and then provide the optimal instruction methods and experiences for the agreed learning, given the student’s learning style, the family willingness to take responsibility for helping the student, and the specific goals selected.
2) How would you create a system to reward high performing teachers for their positive impact on student success?
Students are not widgets. Teachers cannot be ranked like factory workers applying a uniform coating to widgets.
The costly, wasteful, and ineffective fixation on standardized testing is driven by the misconception that you can get better results by ranking individual teachers, giving greater rewards to some and punishing others, as if teachers just don’t care to do a good job now.
Reality: ultimate student success at graduation (or dropping out) appears largely determined before school begins, probably before age three. Teachers whose students enjoy the necessary success attributes in life win awards; the same teachers, with too many students lacking the success assets, will struggle heroically against these deficits, but be labeled failures.
We need measurement not of teachers but of the district. We need long-term monitoring tools to tell us how well we helped families prepare their students for healthy, successful lives. It will be hard to learn to do, but we need to get and use as much data as we can on these real-world outcomes, so we can continually improve our results. Hard, but not impossible, and a crude measure of something important is better than a precise measure of something irrelevant, like standardized test scores.
3) How can you give parents a voice in helping quantify the performance of teachers?
By instituting a system of annual individual education plans for all students, where parents and teachers (and the older students) jointly plan and commit to the goals for the upcoming year, we create the opportunity for accountability, not just for teachers but for all the parties essential for educational success.
Letting parents play a bigger role in selecting learning objectives each year will enhance opportunities for and the commitment to parental involvement and support for the agreed learning program. Critically, an agreed set of specific learning and performance objectives for each student each year lets parents monitor the school and the student both, assessing student learning and identifying specific problems and weaknesses.
Then, as part of the planning for the following year, the parents and the district review the student’s performance against the agreed goals, including how well the parents thought the student did, how well the teachers thought the student did in mastering the learning, and the reason for any discrepancies. Where results have fallen short of expectations, the most important question is whether the school let the partner student and parents know early enough to respond or not.
The following gardens have rental plots currently available for the 2011 Season. Prices vary, and some gardens are free. Please contact the listed coordinator to sign up or get more info!
Calvary Chapel Community Garden
1550 Hoffman Rd. NE, Salem
John Knox Community Garden
452 Cummings Ln., Keizer
Mary Jo Emmett
590 Elma St. SE, Salem
Our Savior’s Lutheran Community Garden (1 plot left!)
1770 Baxter Rd. SE, Salem
Orchard Heights Community Garden
Orchard Heights Park, West Salem (5 left)
Southeast Salem Neighborhood Garden
410 19th St. SE, Salem
West Salem Boys & Girls Club Community Garden
925 Gerth St. NW, West Salem
Whittam Community Garden
5205 Ridge Dr. NE, Keizer
Planting Communities! Gardens Network (Woodburn)
Gardens at: Downtown Woodburn, First Presbyterian and Farmworker Housing
Patchwork Community Gardens Project (Silverton)
Mill City Community Garden (Mill City)
St Joseph’s Community Garden (Mt. Angel)
925 Main St.
Grande Ronde Community Garden (Grande Ronde)
825 Grande Ronde Rd.
Also Northgate Forgiveness and Peace Garden (503-949-8062) as well as Southeast Keizer Community Garden (503-390-2715) do not give individual plots, but are seeking volunteers to get involved. They are group run, and produce is shared with volunteers.