River Deep, Mountain High

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 27 2012

Stop! In The Name of Logic.

July has been a slow month for blogging. This isn’t because I don’t have a lot to say, quite the opposite really, but I’ve been so busy transitioning to a new job that it has been difficult to keep abreast of my writing. That said, I’ve come very close to saying a few things about the various articles and blogs I’ve been reading recently. There’s one thing in particular I wanted to say in reference to the unsolicited advice of Joel Klein, former NYC schools chancellor. Read here.

“The Success schools are performing at the same level as NYC’s gifted and talented schools that select kids based solely on rigorous tests.”

-1.) where’s the data? 2.) based on what metric? 3.) can you please be more specific?

-if the low-income, minority children actually performed “at the same level” as the students at NYC’s most selective schools, don’t you think there would be a uproar from the wealthier parents? Based on my experience living and working in NYC and speaking with classmates who went to such selective schools, I highly doubt the social order of New York would tolerate such sub-par performance from the “top” schools. If disadvantaged kids are truly matching the more privileged ones, then either the top schools are complacent or the low-income children are geniuses. In the case of the former, the wealthy are getting ripped off- this is a bit absurd. If we can then turn to the latter, these child prodigies deserve to be in the best schools- given that they’ve succeeded despite the many additional challenges.

“During the eight years I served as chancellor of New York City’s public schools, the naysayers and the apologists for the status quo kept telling me “we’ll never fix education in America until we fix poverty.”

I always thought they had it backward, that “we’ll never fix poverty until we fix education.” Let me be clear. Poverty matters: Its debilitating psychological and physical effects often make it much harder to successfully educate kids who grow up in challenged environments. And we should do everything we can to ameliorate the effects of poverty”

-Mr. Klein, with all due respect, please stop with the straw man* arguments! Critics of people who are skeptical of the current direction of education reform absolutely LOVE to dismiss all arguments by setting up this simple tactic I first encountered in college. in 2012, no one^ is going to credibly say: “poor kids can’t learn.” The quickest way to “win” an argument against the likes of a Diane Ravitch or Randi Weingarten, for example, is to claim they believe poor kids can’t learn and therefore are evil women who want to protect the status quo. Maybe they do want to protect the status quo in some form (perhaps with sound logic), but this type of argument is NOT the way to demonstrate this. Joel Klein is merely using a logical fallacy to feign acknowledgment of an opposing perspective, while actually only seeking to further bolster his own point of view. C’mon now- say it ain’t so, Joel!

We desperately need to engage in intelligent debate if we are ever going to make progress for the benefit of all children- not just a select(ed) few. I’m hoping Teach For America’s new blog, Pass the Chalk, will contribute to the goal of fostering an open dialogue; right now, it’s more of an echo chamber cleverly designed to channel readers away from the most popular blog on this site (that of Gary Rubinstein). When everyone is entitled to not just their own opinions, but also their own facts, society suffers. As for me, I refuse to take sides in the ongoing debate, but I hope to take part in constructive communication that results in real change for the children and the communities I serve. If you ain’t about that life, you need to find somewhere else to make a profit.

Stay tuned. ~The ARBritter

*Def. a sham argument set up to be defeated.

^certain members of the GOP might, but I can’t vouch for those geniuses.

8 Responses

  1. Gary Rubinstein

    You’re a brave man TonyB. Keep challenging both sides, as you have been doing, and I think you will really make an impact.

  2. UrbanLad

    I found you via @DIaneravitch Nice shout out. Blasted to 31K+ followers. Not bad.
    But more to the point. What a refreshing read. Listen to Gary, others, and us old-time vets. You’ll go far and will truly make a difference.

    From William Henley’s Invictus
    Remember.

    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.

  3. UrbanLad

    I forget the person who you should listen to the most….your head and heart.

  4. Nice. Thanks for the encouragement and wise words. All about balanced, open dialogue.

  5. Laura

    You’re on to something, here, as there has been way too much dialogue squelched in the increasingly ugly debates about ed reform. And while there are plenty of examples of the accusation you mention being used to shut down conversation, I’d argue that you can’t credibly go so far as to outright dismiss the argument (“in 2012, no one^ is going to credibly say: ‘poor kids can’t learn.’”). Nobody may come out and say it quite so baldly, but it is a longstanding cultural assumption in the U.S. that many of us, myself included, detect as an undercurrent in debates about education.

    Please don’t get it twisted: I’m NOT saying that Diane Ravitch or any particular person involved in education believes that poor kids can’t learn. You’re right to call people out on accusations like that, and I’m with you all the way.

    But language carries echoes of the past, and when we talk about things like the “thirty million word gap,” for instance, or research that poverty causes brain damage, we can slip into a narrative in which the underlying theme is, indeed, that “poor kids can’t learn,” or at least they will never be able to learn as well as rich kids.

    Does this mean we should stop talking about it, or ignore that research? Of course not. There’s tons of evidence–which Klein alludes to–that poverty does, in fact, create obstacles in the path to academic success, and we need to understand those in order to remove them. At the same time, and this is really my point, it means we must not dismiss the reality of an influential strain of discourse and belief in our nation that imagines the poor as less intelligent, less motivated, less “educable.” And this belief, often operating beneath the surface of our discourse, is indeed another one of the obstacles we need to remove–and we can’t remove it by saying it’s not there.

    Two great books trace our cultural beliefs about poverty, if you’re interested: Robert Asen’s _Visions of Poverty_ and Alice O’Connor’s _Poverty Knowledge_.

    Amen to the call for constructive communication; I hope my comment will be taken in that spirit.

    • Definitely! I appreciate your comment and book suggestions.

    • Are you asking What is the beefint of packaged curriculum vs creating one?I think that would depend on each family. Some parents want to take the time to teach their kids, but don’t know where to start, and they order the packaged curriculum and really like it.Some of boxed plans, plan the curriculum and lay everything out for you. They are a LOT less work and some people are comfortable working with them.Some get the boxed curriculum and supplement because they don’t like all of the content. Some of us prefer to do the extra work and plan our own curriculum. I don’t know that I would say it’s just teaching out of books, because they all basically work the same way. The boxed stuff just provides the books for you. You still utilize the library and other books just like you would if you didn’t have the packaged curriculum.Again, the choice is an individual one. To say that one method is any better than the other is the same as suggesting that teaching all children using the same method will reap the same rewards. That has been proven to be wrong. We all have different learning styles. We just have to figure out what works for us individually.Hope this answers your question.Good Luck!

  6. Don’t discount the books! My kid can sit there with a stack and arsbob more than they could ever pound into his head in a classroom, with all the comprehension tests and spelling quizzes and grammar exercises! That’s how the great men (and women) used to learn before the professionals got ahold of the process a big ol’ stack of books!One child might thrive with the routine and regularity of a day-to-day program, and one might need the excitement and autonomy of self-directed learning. We are currently in a program with the Superintendent of Schools office in which they provide some textbooks and a monthly meeting to make sure we haven’t been goofing off, and we do everything else. Now, I know a lot of homeschoolers do not want any government control of what their child learns, but we satisfy the regulations very easily by exposing him to the curriculum standards for his grade and then we can go to town and do whatever else we want and the Super’s office looks over our work and approves it for credit so that he could transfer to another school or graduate. It saves me the bookwork of registering as a school and documenting every moment, because sometimes we take a day to run around and explore and other days we might feel like churning out paperwork by the ream. It took a certain amount of conformance, I suppose you could call it, to earn the trust of our resource specialist, so that she could let me have a free hand in his education. Check around and see what your state or county allows.I’ve also checked into (but didn’t pursue, as we’re happy the way we are) a virtual school which provides a computer, printer and materials for your student. It seems more restrictive than our current program, but that free computer was tempting!

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