Saturday, April 5, 2014

Really? It is 2014, isn't it?

Dumbfounded, I don't know where to start with this other than this ill-considered comment by someone from my class regarding a fairly old essay, "Social Change Education: Context Matters," by Kathryn Choules:
I am not sure how social justice is something positive.  It fosters a workforce that suggests inferiority and suggests a person protected by affirmative action does not have the ability to compete on his or her own terms.  It suggest (sic) preferential treatment which is unfair. Affirmative action takes away merit and in a way undermines the individual by not allowing the individual to reflect on their own competence but rather blame it on social discrimination.  I think the best way to help individuals is to motivate and educate.  Affirmative action is a political demoralizer (sic) and it is harmful to those who are at a disadvantage in the first place.
Well, I couldn't leave well enough alone, responding,
You make some interesting remarks, Linda. However, I'd like to see evidence for what you've said "... social justice ... fosters a workforce that suggests inferiority ..." doesn't appear to supported by any research that I'm aware of, it just seems like opinion. As well, when you add, "... suggests a person protected by affirmative action does not have the ability to compete on his or her own terms," I am also unaware of any social research to back that claim up. However, you equate "social justice" with "affirmative action" and the two are not the same thing (although AA can be one agenda of an overall social justice scheme). Nonetheless, the two are not synonymous.

You also say, "Affirmative action takes away merit...," but you don't explain how it is taken away by AA. Again, I'd lie to see the evidence. Likewise, when you say, AA "... undermines the individual by not allowing the individual to reflect on their own competence but rather blame it on social discrimination." If it "undermines the individual," why have so many succeeded as a result of it? Don't those people feel empowered rather than undermined? Additionally, are you saying that discrimination has had no effect on racial disparity and economic opportunities? If so, you're arguing that some races are inferior and that would be an interesting statement, especially in this class.

Finally, your statement, "Affirmative action is a political demoralizer and it is harmful to those who are at a disadvantage in the first place," is made without any support but appears to be just an opinion.

I'd really like you to read my "Affirmative Action," post and make your own observations regarding my stance and the supporting references I use for my statements.
That post is below the fold:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Aging out of the foster care system

My wife has recently returned to working on a project that she had to abandon for a few years: mentoring foster children who are ageing out of the system. I'll let her video speak to the importance of this issue:

I'll address this issue in detail in later posts as I think, for now, posting this video is sufficient for getting my readers to think about what can be done for young adults who are trying to figure out what their lives look like after foster care.

In the meantime, please go to YouTube and give a shout out for the great job my wife did!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

In response to the dumbed-down and out of touch

A classmate called on me today to comment on Common Core State Standards (CC) due to the fact that she'd seen my ninja act in an online forum regarding the issue. Although I was tempted to take a pass (mostly because I feel that CC has the momentum to become fully implemented within the next few years), she included a link to a really wretched post on an anti-CC site by Ben Velderman.

At that point, I was compelled to respond to Velderman's piece since it really says nothing about what CC is or will do - I'll address that in a moment - but mainly focuses on the term "czar" in relation to an unfounded fear that CC is a totalitarian move by the Obama administration to seize control from states and local school districts in order to pursue some kind of liberal zombie agenda. That is not just the main argument conservatives have had against CC, it is pretty much the only argument. Unfortunately, that argument doesn't address the purpose or benefits (or lack thereof) but posits that, if we accept CC, then states and local school districts will accede power to Big Brother (Veldermans focus on the term "czar" is revealing given the term's visceral power) and will forced to accept a federal agenda of tolerance, socialism, anti-Christian values, etc., etc.

Of course, that is a "straw man" argument, an informal logical fallacy that invalidates that portion of the argument. I hasten to add that, in their gift with tending towards toxic rhetoric, CC is referred to as "Common Core Standards" and conveniently leave "State" out of the nomenclature. As with the focus on "czar" and its power of meaning, opponents really have nothing other than logical fallacy and scary words.

However, what is truly bothersome is that opponents propping up that straw man do so from a position of states' rights, a dog whistle for institutionalized racism since the 1950s when the civil rights movement was first mobilized. It's difficult for me to ignore the ugliness of that position especially since various politicians on the right have recently spoken out in opposition to terms of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying that business owners should have the right to refuse service to someone based on the color of their skin, all in the name of individual, local and states' rights (the primary argument against integration in the 1950s and 60s).

As to my support for CC, I'll keep my argument brief. Essentially, CC is nothing more than a national standard for learning achievement. In the past, states evaluated educational achievement by their own standards (through standardized tests) to the effect that students from some states underperformed in various content areas relative to students from other states. Thus, a seventh-grader moving from one state to another might find himself far behind in math, reading, science and other content areas (or, conversely, find himself far ahead and bored with instruction he had mastered previously).

In response to the straw man, what opponents fail to mention is that the standards are not a federal mandate in the way that NCLB was (A George W. Bush initiative that, IIRC, these people did not oppose in the way they are vocal against CC) but an initiative left wholly up to the states. As I pointed out earlier, CC is not a federal mandate but an agreement among a consortia of states that see a real need in having their graduates prepared for 21st-Century market demands. Indeed, the concept of CC was developed in response to universities and employers recognizing that many schools weren't graduating students with the skills or education needed for meeting minimal requirements. The standards were drafted with the intention of keeping the US and its students competitive in a global market. States jumped on board because, if they were going to produce a product meeting specification limits, they needed to know what those specs would be.

Having said that, considering the dearth of opposition the anti-CC groups expressed towards NCLB, one has to wonder if the opposition isn't really just an anti-Obama position and, if CC had been proposed by a white Republican, there would be this level of dissent. I tend to think not. Shrouding their racism in an empty suit (QED, there is no issue of states' rights), opponents continue to brandish their straw man and scary words, basing an argument out of fear but not offering a single, positive alternative.

Would states and local districts lose a degree of control over their curriculum due to CC? The answer is yes but, if that means CC would neutralize attempts to ban the teaching of evolution or global warming, reverse right wing attempts to write revisionist history (calling the slave trade "The Atlantic Triangular Trade," claiming that many African-Americans were better of under segregation, lionizing Joseph McCarthy, etc.) or prohibiting critical thinking (part of the Texas GOP platform in 2012), then I for one welcome our CC overlords.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Critical thinking about so-called critical thinking

No, I'm not about to get all 2012 Texas GOP platform on you, just a reaction to an eHow article on teaching critical thinking because, I guess, all critical thinking instructors are Googling "teaching-critical-thinking" in order to determine how to tackle that particular challenge.

Having said that, a useful list (more pedagogical than andragogical, however) but there is a glaring omission that, IMHO, has much to do with the gutter level of discourse in our society.

Whenever I talk to a kid about to enter college, I invariably advise them to take a course in elementary logic at their first opportunity, telling them, "If you master the art of the syllogism, the basis for all rhetoric, you have the fundamentals for writing a perfect paper. Word will correct your spelling and your grammar but can't judge the merits of your argument. If you can construct a sentence, a paragraph and a thesis from logic, you're assured an 'A' every time."

Although I think there's value in free-associating ideas and concepts, without a basis in logic, that exercise is frivolous. Without basing a conclusion on the validity and dependence of the major and minor premises, a thought or idea is baseless, groundless. Lest you think I'm being militant with this, consider that all science and mathematics (the language of science) rely on logic. Without logic, you wouldn't be reading this because, not only have science and mathematics made your computer manifest from a hardware standpoint but every single line of coding that makes this interface possible is written with impeccable logic.

Unfortunately, logic seems to have been supplanted by an ideology of "every argument has merit" promiscuity of concepts that supports a false equivalency of ideas. Thus, for example, in the face of all available evidence and a consensus of climate scientists, climate change deniers are not just given equal time but can use the often-illogical results of democracy to suppress arguments that do not adhere to their world view (e.g., several states have recently refused to fund any programs - educational or otherwise - that maintain climate change is real and man-made). What has resulted is a primacy of belief over logical scrutiny, the subjective over the objective.

If we are truly interested in teaching critical thinking, we need to lay the ground rules for what is acceptable and what is bogus, a process that can only be applied through a grasp of elementary logic. That is not to judge the ideas presented by learners (brainstorming is an extremely productive method for generating ideas, after all) but to ask students to examine the validity of their own arguments. Emphasizing quantity over quality isn't teaching critical thinking but encouraging running off at the mouth for no purpose other than negating the positive with vacuous bloviating.

Teaching elementary logic is not propositional calculus but a matter of "2 + 2 = 4" or more appropriately, "If P, then Q; P, therefore Q." Although the exercises in the article seem fun and useful, to a degree, they miss the essential truth (the entire focus of logic) that, without the tools to back up a statement, what passes as critical thinking is merely encouraging baseless assumptions and erroneous beliefs.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The natural presenter

From a shy child to a ham (almost to the point of being a Narcissist), my adult life has never found me shy in addressing groups. It comes naturally to me, especially if I'm asked to share some knowledge.

Indeed, as someone who played in bands for over 10 years, presenting was never a problem for me. Although the context is different (from chapter 5 of Robin Fogarty's Staff Room to Classroom: A Guide for Planning and Coaching Professional Development), the principles spelled out ("(1) capture the attention of the audience; (2) keep them attentive, captivated, and interested; and (3) close the session with a recap of important points.") was, um, pretty much the whole point, especially if I wanted my band to book more gigs. That was especially evident when the authors wrote, "presenters know only too well that the sooner they get the audience in sync with them, the easier things are going to go and the smoother the session will be."

As to capturing the attention of the audience, I knew that my band had to start our show with a "Wow!" kind of song, something that totally rocked and would even have the dead rising up and dancing. To, "keep them attentive, captivated, and interested," was about the only formula we had for being asked back by the bar for another job. The encore was, of course, "close the session with a recap of important points," which was, basically, getting the audience members to remember us and, when deciding what to do on a weekend night, see us listed at another bar and decide to go out to wherever we were playing.

And yep, "presenters know only too well that the sooner they get the audience in sync with them, the easier things are going to go and the smoother the session will be," We had one of those "Blues Brothers playing at the Country bar" experiences (the result of an idiot agent booking us in the WRONG place) where we became immediately aware that we were out of our element when the bar owner said (probably judging our hair cuts), "I hope you boys know a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd." Fortunately, band rehearsals entailed many classic rock songs and we were not only able to finish the gig without any beer bottles thrown at us, we got calls for encores (not hard to do with a bunch of drunk GI's, on payday), even if we played "Free Bird" twice that night, a song we learned only for the sake of complete irony.

Useful principles for the novice presenter, I guess, but nothing to be learned from the strutting showoff that I was apparently meant to be.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Standing on the shoulders of giants or on a roll of Nickels?

I saw this and I had to repost it (H/T to sboucher):

Teachers' hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work nine or ten months a year! It's time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do -- babysit!
We can get that for less than minimum wage.
That's right. Let's give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and planning -- that equals 6-1/2 hours).
So each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day...maybe 30? So that's $19.50 x 30 = $585 a day.
However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.
LET'S SEE....
That's $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).
What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master's degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6-1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.
Wait a minute -- there's something wrong here! There sure is!
The average teacher's salary (nationwide) is $50,000.
$50,000/180 days = $277.77 per day / 30 students = $9.25 / 6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student -- a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)
WHAT A DEAL!!!!
Make a teacher smile; repost this to show appreciation for all educators.
It never ceases to amaze me that there are those who howl about what we pay teachers but have no problem with the fact that the Wall Street criminals who tanked a global economy have never been jailed (much less indicted) and continue to make obscene amounts of money from essentially producing nothing of any tangible worth.

In the Netherlands, teachers are paid nearly on par with doctors, lawyers and business professionals. The fact that they've led in education for almost two decades should say something.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bloom's Taxonomy, for laughs

I love this video... not sure how effective it is as a learning module (not much, I suspect) but it is clever, albeit with some too-obvious clips. Learn, enjoy!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Critical Questioning and Simulations

Although Wlodkowski and Ginsberg (2010) say that to, "Use critical questions to engage learners in challenging reflection and discussion," is a long-term strategy, I have employed it as a short-term strategy, to great success. Not only am I convinced that it does indeed, "promotes high-level cognitive processing," in my experience it has also led my learners to move beyond a mere surface understanding of a concept, encouraging a deeper, more authentic grasp of the material. What I appreciated from the reading, however, was the list of question starters for guiding critical questioning (in table 6.1), many stems that I hadn't considered in attempting to motivate critical thinking regarding a particular topic or concept. I concur with the authors that critical questioning provides, "opportunity to infer, analyze, compare, contrast, and apply ideas as well as take other perspectives."

Looking forward to my role as an adult educator and instructional designer, I was really excited about, "Strategy 36: Use role playing and simulations for new learning and adaptive decision making in realistic and dynamic contexts," especially the simulations component. I can see that as an intense learning exercise/project and really hope I have an opportunity to use it (Indeed, I did to some degree in a recent instructional plan). Additionally, I believe simulations will become more and more important as the "gamification of education" becomes widely accepted. In fact, I believe simulations are a perfect fit for gamification.