Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Benefits of Cursive Go Beyond Writing

I agree with this article by Suzanne Baruch Asherson so I'm reprinting it. It's from long ages ago - 2013 - but it's still valid.

Putting pen to paper stimulates the brain like nothing else, even in this age of e-mails, texts and tweets. In fact, learning to write in cursive is shown to improve brain development in the areas of thinking, language and working memory. Cursive handwriting stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the left and right hemispheres, something absent from printing and typing.
The College Board found that students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed.
As a result, the physical act of writing in cursive leads to increased comprehension and participation. Interestingly, a few years ago, the College Board found that students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed, which experts believe is because the speed and efficiency of writing in cursive allowed the students to focus on the content of their essays.
Some argue that cursive is no longer relevant because it isn't included in the Common Core State Standards. But these standards only include those skills that are testable and measurable in the classroom; they don’t address basic foundation skills, like handwriting or even spelling. That said, the Common Core emphasizes the importance of expository writing to demonstrate understanding of key concepts, and fast, legible handwriting is the technology universally available to students to facilitate content development. Cursive, therefore, is vital to helping students master the standards of written expression and critical thinking, life skills that go well beyond the classroom.
With all this said, does cursive need to be fancy with slants, loops and curls? Absolutely not! The emphasis should be on simplicity and function when teaching children cursive.
Regardless of the age we are in or the technological resources at one’s disposal, success is measured by thought formation, and the speed and efficiency in which it is communicated. Because of this, students need a variety of technologies, including cursive handwriting, to succeed.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Statistics on Fatherless Children

From "The Fatherless Generation" come these statistics. They're from 2010, but they are still valid.

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
  • 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
  • 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.  (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (National Principals Association Report)
Father Factor in Education – Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are 40% less likely to repeat a grade in school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are 70% less likely to drop out of school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are more likely to get A’s in school.
  • Children with Fathers who are involved are more likely to enjoy school and engage in extracurricular activities.
  • 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes – 10 times the average.
Father Factor in Drug and Alcohol Abuse – Researchers at Columbia University found that children living in two-parent household with a poor relationship with their father are 68% more likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs compared to all teens in two-parent households. Teens in single mother households are at a 30% higher risk than those in two-parent households.
  • 70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 1988)
  • 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)
Father Factor in Incarceration – Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds. A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39% of jail inmates lived in mother-only households. Approximately forty-six percent of jail inmates in 2002 had a previously incarcerated family member. One-fifth experienced a father in prison or jail.
Father Factor in Crime – A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency. Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families were at higher risk of status, property and person delinquencies. Moreover, students attending schools with a high proportion of children of single parents are also at risk. A study of 13,986 women in prison showed that more than half grew up without their father. Forty-two percent grew up in a single-mother household and sixteen percent lived with neither parent
Father Factor in Child Abuse – Compared to living with both parents, living in a single-parent home doubles the risk that a child will suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect. The overall rate of child abuse and neglect in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, whereas the rate of overall maltreatment in two-parent households is 15.5 per 1,000.
Daughters of single parents without a Father involved are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 711% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth and 92% more likely to get divorced themselves.
Adolescent girls raised in a 2 parent home with involved Fathers are significantly less likely to be sexually active than girls raised without involved Fathers.
  • 43% of US children live without their father [US Department of Census]
  • 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes. [Criminal Justice & Behaviour, Vol 14, pp. 403-26, 1978]
  • 71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999]
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
  • 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. [Center for Disease Control]
  • 90% of adolescent repeat arsonists live with only their mother. [Wray Herbert, “Dousing the Kindlers,” Psychology Today, January, 1985, p. 28]
  • 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. [National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools]
  • 75% of adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes. [Rainbows f for all God’s Children]
  • 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions have no father. [US Department of Justice, Special Report, Sept. 1988]
  • 85% of youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home. [Fulton County Georgia jail populations, Texas Department of Corrections, 1992]
  • Fatherless boys and girls are: twice as likely to drop out of high school; twice as likely to end up in jail; four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems. [US D.H.H.S. news release, March 26, 1999]

Census Fatherhood Statistics

  • 64.3 million: Estimated number of fathers across the nation
  • 26.5 million: Number of fathers who are part of married-couple families with their own children under the age of 18.
    Among these fathers –
    • 22 percent are raising three or more of their own children under 18 years old (among married-couple family households only).
    • 2 percent live in the home of a relative or a non-relative.
  • 2.5 million: Number of single fathers, up from 400,000 in 1970. Currently, among single parents living with their children, 18 percent are men.
    Among these fathers –
    • 8 percent are raising three or more of their own children under 18 years old.
    • 42 percent are divorced, 38 percent have never married, 16 percent are separated and 4 percent are widowed. (The percentages of those divorced and never married are not significantly different from one another.)
    • 16 percent live in the home of a relative or a non-relative.
    • 27 percent have an annual family income of $50,000 or more.
  • 85 percent: Among the 30.2 million fathers living with children younger than 18, the percentage who lived with their biological children only.
    • 11 percent lived with step-children
    • 4 percent with adopted children
    • < 1 percent with foster children
    Recent policies encourage the development of programs designed to improve the economic status of low-income nonresident fathers and the financial and emotional support provided to their children. This brief provides ten key lessons from several important early responsible fatherhood initiatives that were developed and implemented during the 1990s and early 2000s. Formal evaluations of these earlier fatherhood efforts have been completed making this an opportune time to step back and assess what has been learned and how to build on the early programs’ successes and challenges.Whilethe following statistics are formidable, the Responsible Fatherhood research literature generally supports the claim that a loving and nurturing father improves outcomes for children, families and communities.
  • Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.
  • Studies on parent-child relationships and child wellbeing show that father love is an important factor in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults.
  • 24 million children (34 percent) live absent their biological father.
  • Nearly 20 million children (27 percent) live in single-parent homes.
  • 43 percent of first marriages dissolve within fifteen years; about 60 percent of divorcing couples have children; and approximately one million children each year experience the divorce of their parents.
  • Fathers who live with their children are more likely to have a close, enduring relationship with their children than those who do not.
  • Compared to children born within marriage, children born to cohabiting parents are three times as likely to experience father absence, and children born to unmarried, non-cohabiting parents are four times as likely to live in a father-absent home.
  • About 40 percent of children in father-absent homes have not seen their father at all during the past year; 26 percent of absent fathers live in a different state than their children; and 50 percent of children living absent their father have never set foot in their father’s home.
  • Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.
  • From 1995 to 2000, the proportion of children living in single-parent homes slightly declined, while the proportion of children living with two married parents remained stable.

So yes, part of the solution to today's educational failure does lie with absent fathers.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems

This article from 2017 is funny in a sad, sick sort of way. But it gives an interesting view of the absurdity of current standardized tests. The thing is that they want to make the tests more rigorous, but they aren't teaching students the skills they need in order to pass the more rigorous tests.


Dose of reality: test makers are for-profit organizations. My poems are a whole lot cheaper than Mary Oliver’s or Jane Kenyon’s, so there’s that. But how would your vulnerable, nervous, number two pencil-gripping seventh grade self have felt opening your test packet to analyze poetic lines such as this: I’m just down with a sniffly case/of sudden-self-loathing-syndrome…an unexpected extra serving/ of just-for-now-self-hate.Seriously? Hundreds of my poems in print and they choose THAT one? Self-loathing and self-hate? Kids need an extra serving of those emotions on testing day?
I apologize to those kids. I apologize to their teachers. Boy howdy, I apologize to the entire state of Texas. I know the ‘90s were supposed to be some kind of golden age, but I had my bad days and, clearly, these words are the pan drippings of one of them. Did I have a purpose for writing it?
Does survival count?
Teachers are also trying to survive as they are tasked with teaching kids how to take these tests, which they do by digging through past tests, posted online. Forget joy of language and the fun of discovery in poetry, this is line-by-line dissection, painful and delivered without anesthetic. One teacher wrote to me last month, working after 10 p.m., trying to figure out the test maker’s interpretation of my poem MIDNIGHT, This poem isn’t quite as jarring as A REAL CASE, simply symptomatic of aforementioned neuroses: It’s about insomnia.
“Hello Mrs. Holbrook. My name is Sean, and I’m an 8th grade English teacher in Texas. I’m attempting to decipher the number of stanzas in your poem, ‘Midnight’. This isn’t clear from the formatting in our most recent benchmark. The assessment asks the following question:“Dividing the poem into two stanzas allows the poet to―A) compare the speaker’s schedule with the train’s schedule.B ) ask questions to keep the reader guessing about what will happenC) contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and MondaysD) incorporate reminders for the reader about where the action takes place.The answer is C) to contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays.How many stanzas are in this poem? Where are they located? I would appreciate your help. Thank you so much!”Oh, goody. I’m a benchmark. Only guess what? The test prep materials neglected to insert the stanza break. I texted him an image of how the poem appeared in the original publication. Problem one solved. But guess what else? I just put that stanza break in there because when I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there. Note: that is not an option among the answers because no one ever asked me why I did it.
These test questions were just made up, and tragically, incomprehensibly, kids’ futures and the evaluations of their teachers will be based on their ability to guess the so-called correct answer to made up questions.
Then I went online and searched Holbrook/MIDNIGHT/Texas and the results were terrifying. Dozens of districts, all dissecting this poem based on poorly formatted test prep materials.
There is a lot of insanity coming from a lot of directions toward public schools to be inflicted on teachers and students. This is only part of it.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

'Boy crisis' threatens America's future with economic, health and suicide risks

None of the money being demanded in order to improve public education is going to make a damn bit of difference until fathers stick around to raise their children. As much as I rant about the need for reading to be taught phonetically, there is another reason for the steep decline of public schools and for the general lack of academic skills in today's children and young adults - missing fathers. And this tragedy of absent dads is not confined to inner city United States schools.

Boys are falling behind girls in the 63 largest developed nations. As developed nations developed solutions to surviving, they allowed more permission for divorce and for children to be raised with minimal or no father involvement. A great solution — less fear of starvation — created a new problem: dad-deprivation.
I discovered that the boy crisis resides where dads do not reside. For example, The American Psychological Association found that father absence predicts the profile of both the bully and the bullied’s poor social skills, and the bully’s poor grades and self-esteem. According to a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family, every 1% increase in fatherlessness in a neighborhood predicts a  3% increase in adolescent violence. 
It starts early. Before six months of age, the less interaction a boy has with his dad, the lower his mental competence
And dad-deprivation is a significant predictor of the increasing rate of male suicide, drug overdose, obesity and withdrawal into video game addiction. It even predicts by age 9 a shorter life expectancy as determined by shorter telomeres, protective end caps of chromosomes. Aggregately, this leads to my predicting that the biggest gap between boys who are successful and unsuccessful in the future will be the gap between those who are dad-enriched versus dad-deprived.
As Powell points out, America exacerbates this problem by falling behind every developed nation in preparing our sons for the changes in technology. In contrast, Japan has extensive vocational education programs, with 99.6% of their graduates receiving jobs after graduation. A boy who is not academically inclined may be bored by physics and chemistry until he learns that to be a highly paid welder, he needs them. Then he sees purpose, and his motivation changes.
The important role of fathers in their children's lives is being ignored or downplayed by a huge number of public policy and citizen organizations from the public schools to Black Lives Matter. They will pull every reason imaginable out of their collective asses for children's failure to thrive except for the most important reason - no dad.
I lived that reality for the 29 years of my teaching career. I spoke to mothers constantly and fathers occasionally. Too many children had that hole in their lives. Nothing will change until policy makers become brave enough to stop subsidizing and encouraging fatherlessness. Currently, and to no one's surprise, the communities in which fatherlessness is normal and accepted are also the ones having the worst schools.

Guess what - there is a connection.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Student files bias complaint against dorm roommate for watching Ben Shapiro video

There is really nothing to add to this:

One evening last September, a Michigan State University student awoke from his nap to see his roommate sitting at his computer. There was a video playing, and the student realized his roommate was watching a video of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.
The newly awoken student then took to his own computer to file a complaint with the administration’s bias reporting system against his roommate for watching the Shapiro video.
“Ben Shapiro is known for his inflammatory speech that criticizes and attacks the African American community,” the student wrote in his report against his roommate. “I thought hate had no place on MSU’s campus yet MSU has roomed me with someone who supports hate speach [sic].”
Shapiro is a popular conservative pundit whose appearances on college campuses are frequently accompanied with protests by liberal students.
In response to the complaint, the university tasked an investigator to look into the matter, who was told to work for a “room change if the claimant would like one.”


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Teachers Are Not Learning to Teach

I stumbled across two articles. One, from City Journal, is pretty short. The other one, from Quillette, is pretty substantial - at least by internet standards. It must have taken at least 15 to 20 minutes to read - an eternity in today's fast-paced world.

The City Journal article is about the American Education Research Association. The Quillette article is about the teacher training program at the University of Washington's Secondary Teacher Education Program, aka STEP. Neither the AERA or STEP program are truly interested in teaching teachers to teach. Rather, they're both concerned with creating social justice warriors. Who needs to teach reading and math when you can teach children their proper spot on the "victim hierarchy pyramid?"

From City Journal:

A symposium called “The Interrogation of Whiteness in Progressive Public Schools” promises to explore “the experience of teachers and education leaders who work to undo whiteness in public schools.” A featured paper in that session is “Trust, Community, and Dismantling White Dominance.” Another, “Critical-Race Elementary Schooling: Teacher Change Agents are Undoing Whiteness in Elementary Schools,” celebrates teachers who “actively resist elements of Whiteness.”
 “Marking the Invisible: Articulating Whiteness in Social Studies” promises that participants will “call out the strategies deployed by white supremacy and acknowledge the depths by which it is used to control, manipulate, confine, and define identities, communities, citizenships, and historical narratives” in order to “promote justice-oriented teaching and learning.” Conference-goers can then attend “Whiteness at the Table: Whiteness and White Racial Identities in Education,” which features an academic exploration of student participation in “The Whiteness Project,”  in a paper titled “Whiteness as Chaos and Weakness: Our ‘Abnormal’ White Lives.” The author of that paper laments that “with complex theory, it feels impossible, on some level, to interrogate whiteness, to suggest that it is something less violent than it is.”
From Quillette:

This focus on ideology comes at the cost of studying the craft of teaching or how to productively deal with difficult social problems on a small scale. Much of the practical teaching guidance we were given has no demonstrable efficacy or validation in the peer-reviewed literature. Most of the classes at the UW require little if any academic work and they often resemble group therapy sessions along with activities like personal journaling, which I tried to undertake with an open mind, despite my sense that these tasks are far removed from the vocational demands of teaching. STEP is a travesty in its disservice to its own students and, because the program neglects the practice of teaching in favor of pontifications on social justice, it lets down the disadvantaged children it purports to serve. Each year it sends out a cohort of graduates who, due to a lack of preparation, are likely to become overwhelmed in a profession already suffering from alarming rates of attrition, particularly in high-needs schools.
One of the more peculiar and psychologically manipulative requirements in STEP is called “Caucusing.” The 60-student cohort is divided into smaller caucuses based on race, sexuality, and gender. In the first quarter, students are segregated by race to discuss their place in the intersectional hierarchy of oppression. White students are required to demonstrate contrition for their privilege with examples of how whiteness, latent racism, and America’s institutionalized racism has benefitted them personally. Essentially, in these classes white people are asked to sit around to free-associate and express how badly they feel about race relations in America. Students of color are put in a separate caucus and at the close of the first quarter the two groups are united into one caucus and, convening in a large circle, are asked to stand up and pat their thighs, rub their palms together and click their fingers—to create the sound of a thunderstorm, for some reason. If my experience is anything to go by, the students of color then regale the group with their painful experiences and excoriate the white students, making accusations of racism and subconscious marginalization. After many tears and public apologies, my caucus finished with everyone being asked to hug one another. The consequences of this acrimony were realized in the following quarter, as the students of color instigated walk-outs in one class to protest about the insensitive manner in which a white instructor and various white students had chosen to discuss the fatal police shooting of Charleena Lyles, a black woman who had been living close to the university campus. This, inevitably, led to further apologies, crying, hand-wringing, mandatory contrite letter-writing for white students, and a deep sense of foreboding each week as the class descended further into chaos and uncertainty from which it never recovered.

Yes, I read both articles in their entirety and concluded that it's going to be difficult to change the current anti-intellectual SJW position. I did disagree though, with the Quillette article author's assertion that

"Additionally, teachers should work to cultivate catholic tastes, and in light of demographic changes, white Americans shouldn't expect the literature and old-fashioned narrative history of Europe and the United States to be considered the normal curriculum with a few token "diverse" authors alongside Shakespeare and Hemingway."
While teachers should work to encourage students to broaden their intellectual horizons, the rest of that statement is pure SJW and is a step toward focusing on the victimhood hierarchy instead of focusing on a solid education. The United States' cultural, legal, and philosophical underpinnings were created over centuries of European and American history by European and American thinkers. That will remain true no matter the students' skin color, and it would be a terrible disservice to not introduce these cultural icons to students.

Sadly though, it seems that the mission to create new generations of activists will continue. There will be little to no push-back because the social justice warriors are in charge and they tolerate no dissent. On the other hand, it's clear from the Quillette article that in most cases social justice warriors end up battling each other over victim status and end up eating their own. So there might just be hope after all - depending on who arrives to pick up the pieces.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Why Elites Dislike Standardized Testing

This was an interesting article from Quillette. We know that everyone hates standardized tests. And with good reason. The reality is that there is a good reason for them. They do tell us things about students and eduction.

Universities have gotten away from only using SATs and ACTs in accepting students preferring a more "holistic" approach. Of course, we know that this move to "holistic" judgements is based on creating quotas for students, making sure that the campus is more "diverse." Too many Asian students  and students from wealthy families were excelling on these tests, thereby creating a monochromatic campus.

As Thomas Sowell points out, many students who have been accepted on this holistic basis, and who have poor test scores end up flunking out. Had they gone to a less prestigious, less challenging school, they may have excelled. But students aren't the point. It's all about virtue signaling.

When some children of big Hollywood stars needed a bit of extra help, some of their parents applied it in the form of hefty bribes. They got caught and exposed. Oops!

Opponents of tests like to argue that tests primarily measure socioeconomic status and parental resources, but it’s not true that rich parents unfairly distort the college admissions process by outspending other people on test prep. There’s not a clear causal relationship between income and test scores, and there’s no evidence that expensive test prep gets better results than cheap or free alternatives.
According to data released by The College Board, the median SAT test taker in 2013 scored a 496 on the SAT’s critical reading section and a 514 on the math. The median student whose family earns less than $20,000 will score a 435 on the critical reading section and a 462 on math, considerably below average. Students from families earing $60,000-80,000 perform similarly to the overall distribution, and median scores continue to rise about 10 points for every marginal $20,000 of family income. The median student from a family earning more than $200,000 per year scores a 565 on critical reading and a 586 on math. The richest students perform a little more than half a standard deviation above average, while the poorest perform a bit more than half a standard deviation below.
But while it’s true that higher-income students get better scores on average and lower-income students do worse, it doesn’t necessarily follow that money raises test scores. This is a mere correlation, and, as anyone who did well on the SAT knows, correlation doesn’t imply causation.
SAT scores correlate strongly enough with IQ that the SAT is interchangeable with IQ as a test of general cognitive ability. Cognitive ability is highly heritable; the single strongest predictor of a child’s IQ is the IQ of the child’s parents. There is also a correlation between income and IQ. That means smarter than average parents are likely to have smarter than average kids and higher than average incomes.
The educational attainment of an SAT taker’s parents is about as strongly correlated with higher scores as high income is; the median student whose parents hold graduate degrees scores a 560 on critical reading and a 576 on math, only slightly lower than the richest students in the dataset by income, and a full standard deviation higher than students whose parents hold only high school diplomas.
There’s also little support for the contention that inequalities in access to test prep is the mechanism by which richer students secure their advantage.
It is true that prep can help; working practice tests can help students get comfortable with the tested concepts and get familiar with the test format and the way the test writers reason. Practicing can also improve the speed at which testers can work the problems, and help them become more confident and comfortable taking the test.

There is much more. Daniel Friedman shreds some of the more popular anti-test, white privilege arguments and argues for a meritocracy in higher education.

Besides, if rich people are trying to buy their unqualified children's way into prestigious schools, admittance cannot primarily be based on privilege. In fact, doing away with testing would certainly open the door to privileged students being able to buy or cajole their way in.