Jan 162013

These people in Vermont get a Leviathan Ankle-Biter award for trying to keep their local school local.

The group that led the privatization effort praises the school, which performs well on state achievement exams, but sees the move as a way to ward off a state push for consolidation that the group says could lead to a merger of the school.

via New Spur to Take Vermont School Private –

Nov 152012

It’s all about critical thinking – teaching students to think for themselves. Education vs indoctrination.

Frankly, I have a hard time getting my mind around this story. A teacher in a 6th Grade “journalism” class at a public school in Southern California distributed the materials below to students. The materials are highly critical of ALEC, The American Legislative Exchange Council, a membership organization of conservative state legislators. The students were assigned to use the materials to write news articles critical of the organization. Did I mention this was for 6th graders?

via 6th Grade Class Given Assignment to Write Stories Against Conservative Organization.

Oct 092012

In the below quote I’ve italicized the best phrase in Joseph Epstein’s article from The Weekly Standard. It states a problem that applies not just to higher education, sad to secondary and elementary education as well. And it’s a problem not just in the teaching of history, but in the teaching of science, too – especially ecological and environmental science.

It is sometimes accompanied by talk about teaching young people to think critically.  But in practice, teaching them to think critically usually consists of indoctrination rather than education.  But if students are given lots to think about, they often WILL learn to think critically.  But they need to have in their heads facts about who did what to whom, and when, or information about natural histories of organisms.  If they have their heads stuffed full of facts, then they have some of the raw material necessary for critical thinking about higher-level interpretations of history and of ecological systems.

Another advantage of giving students detailed information to work with is that it’s interesting.  Broad generalizations about history or about ecological systems tend to be boring unless they are accompanied by detailed factual knowledge.

I just now realized that I didn’t practice what I’ve been preaching. I gave some broad generalizations without providing specific examples. I guess I’ll let it stand for now.  Make of it what you wish.

Soon, the guys in the next room, in their hunger for relevance and their penchant for self-indulgence, began teaching books for reasons external to their intrinsic beauty or importance, and attempted to explain history before discovering what actually happened.

via Who Killed the Liberal Arts? | The Weekly Standard.

Jun 172011

Some of my fellow conservatives at the  Conservative LiveJournal community like Chris Christie’s reply to a question about where he sends his kids to school.

Hey, Gail, you know what? First off, it’s none of your business. I don’t ask you where you send your kids to school, don’t bother me about where I send mine. Secondly, I pay $38,000 a year in property taxes for a public school system, predominantly in Mendham, that my wife and I don’t choose to utilize because we believe – we’ve decided as parents – that we believe a religious education should be part of our children’s everyday education so we send our children to parochial school. Third, I as Governor, am responsible for every child in this state, not just my own, and the decisions I make are to try to improve educational opportunities of every child in this state. So, with all due respect, it’s none of your business.

I think Christie could have done better.   And by that I mean Christie is just the person who could have done better.     My response:

I dunno.   I wish he’d save the “none of your business” reply for a question he’s not going to answer.

Is it the business of citizens to ask politicians why they are comfortable with high taxes to support public schools that they themselves choose not to inflict on their own children, when those taxes deprive thousands of other families of the ability to make that same choice? Yes, it is our business to know that. So I don’t think “none of your business” is a good reply for a turnabout-is-fair-play question.

But the part about improving the educational opportunities of every child in the state is excellent. He could also point out that by giving people economic choices, he will do more than most other politicians to help public schools become better, and to become places where teachers will be prouder than ever to work, and where parents will be glad to send their children instead of being compelled to send them. It will result in increased public support for education, and restore public school teachers to a place of honor in our society.

Nov 292010

Excellent article by Diane Ravitch at the WSJ, on “The GOP’s Education Dilemna.”

In addition to reminding us of all the usual bad things about George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” act, she tells us that it’s also causing the closure of community schools.    I wish she had given us some examples of how that works, but it’s not surprising.   Every time you centralize more authority (= funding) you tend to wipe out some of the smaller players.

Way to destroy local communities, Mr. Compassionate Conservative.

Sep 212010

Once upon a time the President’s cabinet had a separate Navy Department and War Department. Two different departments. After World War II they were very sensibly combined into a single department, the Department of Defense.

So why is it that we have a separate Department of Labor and a Department of Education? Isn’t it time for them to be combined into a single entity, too?

Jun 122010

As a teacher, what words do you use to describe how to indoctrinate students rather than educate them? The task is made more difficult if you’ve received the remnants of a liberal education by which you’ve learned that your job is to educate rather than indoctrinate. So under those circumstances, how do you get students to parrot your ideology?

Teacher Elizabeth Collins found a way. She calls it “modeling a speech.”

Read about it in Best of the Web Today, in an article titled, “Those Who Can’t Teach, Blog

Mar 062010

Some of the letters in Wednesday’s WSJ respond to an earlier article by saying the problem with schools isn’t tenure. Several of them mention the parents. We’ve all heard these things before, but let’s hear them out again:

More important determinants are parental support…


Your editorial really should be about “No Parent Left Behind.” Why are the parents not being held responsible for their children’s lack of will and motivation in wanting to learn? If we go back half a century and review why schools were effective, we see that the majority of parents supported the schools in their quest to educate future generations. … Get the parents on the ball as they were in the past.


at the minimum, parents also need to receive the baton their children’s teachers pass them every day after school, and work to return eager, prepared learners to the classroom the next morning.

Good points, all of them. But if the parental role is so important, why is it that we have removed schools further and further from the control of parents over the past several decades? We used to have local control of schools. Then we consolidated into bigger districts where the parents’ voice counted for little. Then we went to state control voice where it counted for even less. And now we’re moving to federal control, where the Governor of Michigan is spending her time, not looking at how schools can help children learn, but with what’s wrong with the state’s application for federal funds. Is it any wonder that parents join in expecting ever more centralized governmental authorities to do something about the lack of learning?

Dec 102009

Headline in the Battle Creek Enquirer: “MI lawmakers continue squabble over schools money

My response (posted as a comment on the BCE site):

Squabble? Why do you use that word? It disrespects the democratic processes of disagreement, debate, and deliberation.

And if Andy Dillon says the Republican plan has provisions that would cost us federal matching funds, couldn’t some intrepid reporter have asked him just what provisions those are? They may or may not be something that speaks well of the federal funding. We need to know.

Feb 162009

Tonight at the dinner table I was informed that Diether Haenicke, president emeritus of Western Michigan University, has died. I am glad to be alone now with the news, behind a closed door where the others can’t see me.

He was one of the best public university presidents, ever — certainly the best one I’ve known of. He never stopped being a professor and a man of learning when he became an administrator. I don’t work at his university, but Haenicke’s influence has benefited us all.

We don’t live in Kalamazoo, but for a few years I picked up a copy of the Kalamazoo Gazette once a week — on the day his column was published. I now just went to my bookshelf and took down his published collection of columns, “Wednesdays with Diether,” so I can re-read it.

Here is the opening paragraph of an article titled, “Revisiting books of youth may lead to a rediscovery of self.”

One of the great luxuries which I currently enjoy is having time to read for pleasure. For over twenty-five years, I held academic positions which forced me, day in and day out, to peruse financial statements, office memos, funding requests, general office correspondence, or accreditation reports. Although their respective authors undoubtedly put great effort into these communications to the president, none remain memorable or trigger the wish to re-read them. These days I read exclusively what I want to read, not what I must read, and the treasure trove of history, biography, poetry, and novels again lies open before me.

In “Musings on bans, censorship, and biased rationale,” he gave twenty examples of things that people requested to have banned on his campus. He ended with:

Finally, for good measure, my all time favorites:

19. Do away with the outdoor sculptures on campus. They are so abstract, no rational being can figure out what they represent. This is not art.

20. Do away with the Bronco sculpture in front of Athletics. It is so representational, everyone can see immediately what it is. This is not art.

If one ponders the list, one will no doubt find one or more items that meet one’s own biases. But who would still want to be on our beautiful campus and in our intellectually rich university if all the above requests had been granted? Certainly not I.

Immediately following that article in the book is one titled, “A tenured radical visits Kalamazoo.” It was Bill Ayers. Haenicke responded to Ayers’ self-justification:

I beg to differ. While I strongly support political protest and free speech, I fail to see any “merit” in throwing bombs, no matter how itsy-bitsy they are. And the argument that America’s alleged violence abroad deserves to be countered with bombing federal buildings sounds too much like the hollow justifications of our radical Muslim attackers.

And just now I found the most memorable paragraph in all of his articles. I’m not sure why it was so hard to find. Perhaps it’s because I couldn’t make myself just scan titles and paragraphs — I had to stop and re-read. But my copy has an orange sticky-note at the location of this one, so it shouldn’t have been hard to miss. It’s in an article titled, “Indoctrination is a crime against children.”

I was deeply affected. Just a few weeks earlier, I had come across a class photo taken in my elementary school in Germany in 1941. My first grade teacher smiles benevolently at her forty little charges, all of them with soft, beautiful children’s faces. I took a long look at myself, a nice, pleasant looking little boy sitting in the front row right under the big photograph of a stern, watchful Adolf Hitler on the wall above me. The classmate behind me, slightly mentally retarded, later unexpectedly died of pneumonia. Actually, he had been murdered through the euthanasia program for the ‘eradication of unworthy life.’ What a class photo!

I never met Dr. Haenicke. I once sent him an e-mail, and he responded. He had written about his trepidation at driving through Alabama to get back to Michigan, which matched some of my feelings about preparing a bicycle ride to Alabama.

Only once did I see him in person. A few years ago he was at the opening of a history exhibit at the WMU library, milling around with the other attendees. It seemed that he was an accessible enough person that I could have walked up and introduced myself, but I didn’t know of anything worthwhile to say to contribute to his evening. He has had much to say to us, though.

Here is the Kalamazoo Gazette news article about his death.