Friday, August 29, 2008

Quick Hit: Biden

"Countries that out-teach us today will out compete us tomorrow" ~Democratic VP Candidate Joe Biden

Why are there not more schools that require foreign languages in elementary school?? When we know for sure, from decades of research on the subject, that kids acquire language best under the age of 12?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Isn't that Goldie Hawn?

With a new school year, a new convocation, and I'm pleased to say that I heard some of my most deeply heard concerns about standardized education at least addressed (in words) by the new Superintendent and....wait, isn't that Goldie Hawn next to him?

It certainly was. Turns out that she has a foundation intended to bring what she called "mindfullness" into the classroom. With all the warmth and likability you might expect from her, she spoke as a mom worried about the violence, suicide, drop out rates and disengagement that I have written about repeatedly here. I loved most of all that she explicitly argued that addressing qualities like empathy and caring in the classroom is a learning outcome. That is, she argued that such character traits support student learning since, as teachers have been saying for decades now, kids learn better when they feel safe and when whatever they may be dealing with in their personal lives gets addressed instead of ignored. I would push her argument one step further, though, and say that we must begin thinking of skills (yes, SKILLS) such as empathy, communication, problem solving and compromise as learning outcomes in and of themselves, rather than needing to "justify" them by noting that kids' reading and math scores will go up, too. Yes, the will go up and yes, that's crucial. But in a country with such high rates of violence, with a prison population at an all time high, clearly we neglect such ideas as ethical reasoning and empathy at our peril. It's good to see someone with Hawn's charm, fame and money money money getting involved. I've visited her website and look forward to perusing the curriculum it offers.

The above said, though, I did have a concern or three about what she may have thought of as an offhand comment but which I felt was very problematic, especially from my viewpoint as a teacher in a juvenile jail. She stated (perhaps with statistical accuracy, I don't know) that our affluent kids are the ones most "at risk". Because she didn't elaborate (at risk of violence? suicide? dropping out? addiction?) and I haven't yet seen a transcript of her speech, it was worryingly unclear what she meant. Does she think we overlook our rich kids ("oh, they'll be fine, they're rich")? All the evidence I've ever seen is that middle class and rich kids go to schools with better trained, happier teachers, are more likely to graduate and more likely to go to college. They are also less likely to be the victim of violence. In fact, if memory serves, just this past school year a study came out showing that suburban kids are far more likely to graduate as urban kids. Social justice as I understand hardly suggests that more resources (financial and social) need to go to affluent schools. Yes, it may be true that rich kids sometimes have disconnected parents with jobs that demand they travel and work constantly, and no doubt there is an impact from that. But what about the kids who show up here in my classroom whose parents are sometimes themselves illiterate, have themselves been incarcerated, themselves didn't graduate high school? Remember, Mom and/or Dad's level of education is still one of THE best predictors of how a kid will do. The invisibility of these kids is dangerous, which is why I had such a strong objection to that aspect of what was otherwise a very worthwhile talk by (wow!) one Ms. Goldie Hawn.