Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Monday, June 28, 2010

Better Basics

Another school year has concluded with a grand graduation ceremony and celebration. As happens annually at this time of the year, I reflect on my year and begin constructing the next year.

More than ever in these times of uncertainty in schools, lack of direction and no clear policy of leadership from the federal, state, or local educational offices; we are left to find our own way in this perpetual darkness. For me that means Better Basics. Not back to basics, but Better Basics.

Better Basics is using commonsense, sound pedagogy, and proven methodology to deliver instruction. It means using that which has proven effective and combining it with new technologies and with new and improved pedagogical theory. Simple force and demand as presented by the federal, state, and local governments has proven misguided, useless, and a waste of money.

As our schools become more and more diverse and the divide between the have's and the have not's widens, we have to devise better ways to provide basic services and education to all of our scholars. Technology is certainly a way, we know this and yet schools of education and teacher preparedness programs have still not met the challenge of training our teachers to use technology efficiently. We have a more mobile student population than we had ten years ago, fifty years ago and yet we have done little to use the technology to help them catch up or even have their transcripts catch up. Technology is being used in pockets of every state on a very limited basis with positive results. The technology is helping fewer and fewer students from falling through the cracks. The saddest part of all of this is that our students who have such a genius for technology are essentially technology illiterate when it comes to using it effectively for their advantage in business and life after high school. That is because the schools have still not figured out how to use the technology because they are inundated with useless and mindless forms of assessment that tell us nothing about the student and in the end remind us how useless those tests are when these students leave high school. The skills of high school graduates is not improving because of the current policy of assessment as begun by the federal government and then followed blindly by the states. Race to the Top is just another example of state acquiescing to the federal government for funds. If the states were dressed in pretty clothes and walked the streets, they would be arrested for prostitution. There is no research showing the federal government knows what it is doing in the area of education, but lots of evidence to show they are clueless.

Better Basics is having the schools determine what is best, since they care more for their students, know them better, and are the front line. When educational policy is absent of local input it is time to throw off this tyranny.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. Declaration of Independence
This passage has always reminded me about our duties as citizens. It is posted in my classroom by my desk to remind me of this duty as a teacher. Teaching is a political act.

Some of the basics I am rethinking for next year are Vocabulary that uses Latin and Greek roots as the foundation to language acquisition. Continued use of HTML as the language my scholars use when building webpages to write and publish their essays. Using more online resources for reading and to promote Wikipedia as the voice of the people. Books will become fewer and I will probably drop Catcher in the Rye since it is not digitized. Better Basics means moving forward with that which is worthy of being carried into the future and shucking that which refuses to move forward and progress. If that which I wish to use complements the digital world than it is worthy of being used in the future. If something does not play nicely with the digital world, than leave it behind, because it is dead weight. Better Basics is not Back to Basics, because Better Basics looks forward and moves forward.

I am looking forward to recharging this summer while I refine my skills in summer school and prepare for the next school year.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Educational Change takes Time, lots of Time.

Recently I was rereading Frank McCourt's Teacher Man when I was suddenly stopped while reading about his encounter with Mr Bibberstein on pages 108 - 110.
Mr Bibberstein, the guidance counselor, said if I had any trouble with any kids to let him know and he’d take care of it. He said new teachers in this system were treated like dirt, or worse. You sink or swim.
I never told him about any difficulties with students. The word gets out. Yeah, man, that new teacher, McCourt, he’ll send your ass to the guidance counselor and next thing he’s calling your dad and you know what that means. Mr Bibberstein joked I must be a great teacher, getting along so well with the kids I never sent one to his office. He said it must be my Irish charm. You’re not much to look at but the girls love your accent. They told me, so don’t waste it.
When we went on strike with the new union, The United Federation of Teachers, Mr Bibberstein, Mr Tolfsen and Miss Gilfillan, the art teacher, crossed the picket line. We called to them, Don’t go in. Don’t go in, but they went in, Miss Gilfillan weeping. The teachers who crossed the picket line were older than the ones outside. They may have been members of the old Teacher’s Union, which was crushed during the McCarthy witch-hunt era. They did not want to be hounded again even though we were striking mostly for recognition as a union.
I felt sympathy for the older teachers and when the strike was over wanted to say I was sorry for the way I shouted at them. On our picket line, at least, no one called out, Scab, the way they did in other schools. Still, there was tension and divisions at McKee High School, and I didn’t know if I could be friends anymore with the people who crossed the line. Before I became a teacher I hit the picket lines with the Hotel Workers’ Union, the Teamsters and the International Longshoremens’ Association, and was fired from a bank merely for talking to a union organizer. Cross the line, pal, and we know where you live. We know where your kids go to school.
We could never say things like that from a teachers’ picket line. We were professionals: teachers, college graduates. When the strike ended we gave the scabs the cold shoulder in the teachers’ cafeteria. They ate together on the other side of the room. In a while they stopped coming to the cafeteria altogether and we had the place to ourselves, loyal members of the United Federation of Teachers.
Mr Bibberstein barely nodded to me in the hallways and there were no more offers of help with difficult kids. I was surprised when he stopped me one day and barked, What’s this about Barbara Sadlar?
What do you mean?
She came to my office and said you encouraged her to go to college.
That’s right.
What do you mean, that’s right?
I mean I suggested she go to college.
I’d like to remind you this is a vocational and technical high school, not a feeder school for college. These kids go into trades, son. They’re not ready for college.
I told him Barbara Sadler was one of the brightest students in my five classes. She wrote well, read books, participated in class discussions, and if I, myself, licensed teacher, could go to college without a scrap of high school education why couldn’t Barbara think of it? No one said she had to be a beautician, secretary or anything else.
Because, young man, you’re giving kids ideas they shouldn’t have. We’re trying to be realistic here and you’re coming in with your crazy half-assed ideas. I’m gonna have to talk to her and set her straight. I’d appreciate it if you backed off. Teach English and leave guidance to me. He turned to walk away but turned back again. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Barbara is a god-looking blonde, would it?
I wanted to say something mean. Scab jumped into my head but I kept silent. He walked away from me and that was the last time we ever spoke. Was it the strike or was it really Barbara?
He left a greeting card in my mailbox with a note: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, but you better make sure they have something to grasp. Don’t create impossible dreams. Regards, Fergus Bibberstein.”
This was an encounter McCourt had in the 60's. (Can't you just hear him reading this outloud with his distinctive Irish accent?)

During my days in the 80's & 90's at a NYC public high school for business careers, where I developed CyberEnglish because of the presence of computers in this vocational school, college was the goal for our graduates, I made posters to display on the walls that proclaimed: "I will graduate from high school; I will graduate from college."

On Tuesday, February 24th, 2009, President Obama encouraged all students to achieve more than just a high school diploma in his Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery Address to Joint Session of Congress.
"It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world."
Now let's jump from McCourt's 60's to Mike Town's today.

Recently, in a blog, Bridging the Gap: High School College Prep and Career/Technical Education by Claus von Zastrow, von Zastrow writes about Mike Town, who teaches environmental science at Washington's Redmond High School. He told von Zastrow, "I teach AP [Advanced Placement] environmental science. I also teach a course in environmental design and sustainability. And I'm a CTE teacher -- both of these classes are CTE. CTE is career and technical education." von Zastrow's reaction: "I was shocked. When I was in high school, CTE and college-prep were completely different tracks. "Smart" kids did not take CTE courses. And, vice versa. Kids who were considered "not smart" did not take AP courses."

Why haven't ideas about education expectations changed much since the 1960's, 1860's? Will we finally realize the ideals of the Frank McCourts of the world for our scholars in 2020?