Schooling Monsters

Here’s another dark and dusty item from my draft closet.

I’ve been engaging in a little approach/avoidance dance with Sue Klebold’s new book “A Mother’s Reckoning”, trying to decide if it is in my best interest to sit still and look it square in the face.
I point no blame at Sue Klebold, just as I have never felt Nancy Lanza was to blame for what became of her son. It’s just that I’m afraid reading her book will raise intense feelings that may batter my sensibilities without leaving me any better equipped to move forward. Continue reading “Schooling Monsters”

labeling experience as disease

Here’s another one written a long time ago. This is like cleaning out a closet. Publish!

I was so shy in kindergarten that I didn’t talk to anyone all year. The comments on my report card expressed concern. For most of my childhood it wasn’t unusual for me to change my course, like taking a detour around the back of a building, to avoid being seen by another person. Being seen hurt. Continue reading “labeling experience as disease”

The School Choice Misnomer

I wrote this quite a while ago, but the topic of school choice is bound to come up a lot now that Trump is president, so I hit the Publish button. This topic of popular discussion, School Choice, is misnamed. People discussing school choice are usually discussing nothing more than a change in limitations, a redefining of the mandated options, not free choice.
Some number of years ago (my way of saying my memory is shot and I have absolutely no ability to judge time anymore) I listened to research showing that children self-regulate their diets when they’re consistently offered a variety of foods and allowed to eat only what they want. A lot of anxiety over food is created by interfering with that self regulation and trying to control what children eat. The concept of school choice is kind of like giving the child who continually balks at the overcooked broccoli in front of them a chance to choose steamed cabbage and forcing them to eat one or the other. Meanwhile, some kid on the other side of the tracks gets to choose between cherry tomatoes and buttered peas. They both have a choice, so what’s the problem? Continue reading “The School Choice Misnomer”

The Spurious Value of Intelligence

Intelligence is a dangerous concept…

For many years I had a nagging feeling that I was living a contradiction. I truly wanted to teach our children to see things from different perspectives, and I truly wanted them to understand that everyone is worthy of respect and love – but that message was in conflict with the life we were leading.

Don’t get me wrong; we weren’t doing anything unusual. In fact, we were model citizens – two parents working ourselves ragged with good jobs, children devoting all their energy to school and sports, homework discussions every night, meals at the kitchen table, soccer practices, after-school care, summer camps…We were doing everything expected of upright American parents raising good, successful children.

We were excelling. Continue reading “The Spurious Value of Intelligence”

Authoritarianism at School…and Trump.

Authoritarianism and Status-ism – these are the enemies. My attacks on public schooling are not against education, they are against compulsion, and the prison of authoritarianism and status-ism that compulsion has locked us into.

My family has spent a good deal of time watching the Republican and Democratic National Conventions during the last several weeks. I am one of those people who has concerns with both sides – one side is too authoritarian, and the other is too elitist. I know which side I will support, but I will support it with misgivings. Trump’s tendency toward authoritarianism is too dangerous for me to even flirt with. Continue reading “Authoritarianism at School…and Trump.”

The Ugly Contempts that Guide us

In conversations about my objections to the compulsory nature of public school I often stare into reflections of my old self. It goes something like this:
I’ll say that I am completely against school attendance being compulsory and my friend, relative, acquaintance, or polite enemy will take a few seconds to think then say,
“Yeah, but….you and I would still make sure our children were well-educated – what about all those other people who wouldn’t?” The words vary, but the message is incredibly consistent. The message is that you and I can be trusted with our children, but those other people can’t be trusted with their children. Continue reading “The Ugly Contempts that Guide us”

Diane Ravitch and Whitney Tilson are Irrelevant

I just read this post about the places where Diane Ravitch and Whitney Tilson actually agree…and disagree.

I spend very little time reading posts like these because they seem beside the point to me.

Their main disagreement, or one of them at least, appears to be about school reform. Tilson is for school reform, supporting charter schools, vouchers, and school choice. Ravitch is against school reform, believing charter schools, vouchers, and school choice are harmful to public schools. Tilson seems to think reformers (experts? politicians? academics?)  should be allowed to come in and radically change schools. Ravitch believes educators should be given control over schools.

I’m not too concerned with the nuances of their positions because both arguments seem moot to me. I’m concerned with a much more basic flaw in the entire debate. It reminded me of an argument I once had with a coworker. Continue reading “Diane Ravitch and Whitney Tilson are Irrelevant”

The Lessons Schools Teach

I’m hesitant to quote John Taylor Gatto for several reasons, but I am doing it anyway…

Anyone who has looked into alternative views on public education has run into the work of John Taylor Gatto. Gatto was New York City Teacher of the Year three times, and New York State Teacher of the year once. One thing he makes very clear, though, is that his teaching success had nothing to do with the system that employed him, and everything to do with his willingness to defy it. The methods he used to help his students, many of whom were already labelled as defective and inferior, were not sanctioned by the school system. He has proudly admitted that he did things that were actually illegal, because that’s what real learning required.

None of that bothers me, but I have some disagreements with Gatto’s political and social hyperbole. I agree with a lot  of  his criticisms, but they often lead me in a different direction. So, while I am less than sure about some of his historical and political arguments, I am quite in agreement with his practical assessments of our school system based on his classroom experiences. Those observations strike me as dead on accurate. Continue reading “The Lessons Schools Teach”

Measuring Worth

I had a casual conversation in the dentist office a couple of years ago with a woman in the waiting room. She was reading a book I recognized and we fell into talking. It turned out that we had come to similar conclusions about our town’s gifted program, and she was very eager to talk about it. She was especially interested in the fact that I agreed with her even though my children had been a part of that program – for a time, anyway. The whole concept felt wrong to both of us.

The book she was reading was Mindset, by Carol Dweck – which has become so well-known at this point that “growth mindset” has been reduced to a meme. (Here’s a link to Carol Dweck’s TED Talk.) Even Carol Dweck is worrying that it’s been twisted into something less than productive when bandied about in the context of school performance. (Here she revisits the ideas to clarify their use in schools). In any case, there’s a lot of truth in the ideas, and they made a big impression on me when I first read it in early 2007.  I think about it often. In any case, my new dentist office friend was finding it extremely relevant to her arguments about the gifted program.

She thought the town was sending the message that some kids are inherently different from others, and not just different, but actually better.

It pissed her off. Continue reading “Measuring Worth”

Responding to NPR Stories

Two stories I heard on NPR during the last couple of weeks made the bells in my head ring loudly enough that I need to respond…at least briefly to silence my brain.

The most recent one, about gifted minorities, clanged painfully inside my skull. As a suburban white woman who has butt up against this idea of “giftedness” and rejected it as damaging; I hate hearing about its growth in any sense.

I expect the idea of identifying minority children as gifted will be embraced by a lot of people I know, but the whole concept of gifted versus non-gifted education leaves me feeling like I stepped in dog shit. So I’m not including a link to that story. I’m just getting its ugly clanging  out of my head so I can focus on a much happier note… Continue reading “Responding to NPR Stories”