Tuesday, November 8, 2016

O. Really.


           Why are so many children doing so poorly when learning to read?
            Funny you should ask. But as long as you did, let’s take a quick look at one letter, the letter “o”.
            If we place the “o” after the letter “t” we have the word, “to” (which rhymes with “do” but not with “go”.) Two letters, each making a different sound, create a word. If we add the letter “m” to the end of “to”, we have the word (name), “Tom. The “o” is making a different sound. Add a final silent “e” to create the word, tome, and what do you know? The “o” makes a third sound (the same sound it makes in “go”). What if instead of “m”, we add “ss” for the word “toss”? Yep, a fourth sound. Use the letter “n” instead of “m” and you get the world “ton”, and we’re treated to the schwa sound.  What other words begin with t-o? And what do they sound like? In tow, town, toy, tough, and toil, the “o” is combined with other letters to make various other sounds.
            So what does this all mean?
            First of all, we adults know, there are many more opportunities for the young reading student to become fall into a ball of confusion, especially if they’re expected to figure all of this reading and spelling on their own. This is especially true for children who have been raised in poverty, or in a home where education is ignored or reviled. The child who’s been raised in a literate home has a huge head start in this quest and can sometimes figure this mess out with nominal help.
            For children born into the previously mentioned less than advantageous surroundings, wouldn’t it make more sense to give them a proper phonetic education so that the confusion can be, if not completely eliminated, at least minimized? There are reasons and rules for many (but not all) of the English language’s seeming inconsistencies. Sometimes, as in the case of “ton” it’s due to changing (some would say slovenly) speech patterns. Some are due to specific word origins. A knowledgeable teacher can turn these different sounds and spelling patterns into many “teachable moments” delving into history and literature and increasing student knowledge.
            Very few teachers are taught how. Most teachers are not knowledgeable about the workings of English. They flounder, miss opportunities, try to add a bit of “phonemic awareness”, try some useless interventions, and another generation of illiterates passes through their classroom.
            It’s  time to teach teachers to teach reading correctly, that is, phonetically.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Walter Williams agrees with me. There is no "right to literacy." He expresses it from a different but still valid (since he agrees with me) point of view. Yes, I am a Walter Williams fan. I have been for a long time, and I would be even if he didn't agree with me on this matter. Below is a taste. You can read the rest yourself.
In terms of per-pupil expenditures, the state does not treat Detroit public school students any differently than it does other students. According to the Michigan Department of Education, the Detroit school district ranks 50th in state spending, at $13,743 per pupil. This is out of 841 total districts. That puts Detroit schools in the top 6 percent of per-pupil expenditures in the state. Discrimination in school expenditures cannot explain poor educational outcomes for black students in Detroit or anywhere else in the nation. Let's look at routinely ignored educational impediments in Detroit and elsewhere.
Annie Ellington, director of the Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, reported that 87 percent of the 1,301 Detroit public school students interviewed in a survey last year knew someone who had been killed, disabled or wounded by gun violence. According to an article published by the American Psychological Association, 80 percent of teachers surveyed nationally in 2011 had been victimized at school at least once during that school year or the prior year. Detroit public schools are plagued with the same problems of violence faced by other predominately black schools in other cities.

Read more at http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/williams101216.php3#TgxYrkqGz2XHqfVl.99

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Right to Literacy


Some Detroit Michigan students are suing Governor Snyder “charging that the State of Michigan has violated their right to literacy.” Right to literacy? How? Who is ultimately responsible for a person’s literacy? Even if a teacher is forced at gunpoint to teach children to read, will they all learn? Will they even show up to class? Detroit Public Schools has a truancy problem with almost 50 percent of its students chronically absent. Can’t learn if you’re not there.

And education is not something you’re born with or can be given to you. It’s something you build or develop – or not. Going deeper, how does one have a right to the gathering of knowledge, the cultivating of ability, the development of skills? There is no right to an education. There is only a responsibility to get an education, to work for an education, to teach your children so that they will value education and work for their own.

As the Talmud says, “Anyone who does not teach his son a skill or profession may be regarded as if he is teaching him to rob.” (Talmud Kiddushin 29a) Teach them as much as you can so that when they are not only ready but willing to do the difficult, sometimes tedious, but always rewarding work of learning.

A right? No. No one can give and no one can take away an education. There is only on way to get one: work for it. Spend the long hours at study or practice. There is no “magic bullet.” There are no short cuts. Turn off the TV, the video games, Facebook, etc. Pick up a book, a pencil, paper, and get busy. Do you have any books in your dwelling? Or do you spend your money on expensive gym shoes and electronic toys? Put your money where your “rights” are.

Can teachers and schools help? Absolutely. But don’t mistake going to school for getting an education, even if that school is a big time university. Millions have gone to school without getting an education. Some have spent their school days actively fighting against getting their own, and interfered with others who wanted to learn, thereby robbing them of needed learning. You may have met some of these idiots. Can they be sued for infringing on my children’s rights? (Of course, mostly my kids were in AP courses and didn’t have to deal with the idiots. The one class my one child had to take because it was the only one that fit into her schedule that wasn’t AP and that had some of the afore mentioned idiots, left her repeatedly angry until she figured out how to ignore them.)

Ray Bradbury said in a 2013 interview, “I didn’t go to college, but when I graduated from high school I went down to the local library and I spent ten years there, two or three days a week, and I got a better education than most people get from universities. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years old.” Entitlement? Doesn’t sound like it to me. It’s funny how people who actually achieve something in life don’t wait for it to be handed to them because they’re “entitled” to it.

Eric Hoffer, another great mind who, rather than demand that he was entitled, worked as a longshoreman as he wrote his philosophical tracts. He too, spent many hours in the library and reading outside of the library. From his biography on The Eric Hoffer Project, “Through ten years as a migratory worker and as a gold-miner around Nevada City, Hoffer labored hard but continued to read and write during the years of the Great Depression. The Okies and the Arkies were the “new pioneers,” and Hoffer was one of them. He had library cards in a dozen towns along the railroad, and when he could afford it, he took a room near a library for concentrated thinking and writing.”

So go ahead and insist that you have a right to an education. Attack the government with lawsuits. Give statements to the newspapers. Protest. Seethe. Scream. Stamp your feet. Hold your breath until you turn blue. You will still be ignorant. Or you can pick up a book. Meet with friends to read and discuss the same book - not some trivial best seller, but maybe a classic or two. Explore the questions that have baffled mankind since the beginning of rational thought. Attach yourself to people who have the knowledge and skills that you want to learn. Then you can start your education.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dorothy Sayers on Education - 1947

I had planned this blog to be all me, me, me, nothing but me. I'm the one who's been teaching in an urban district for the past 27 years. I'm the one who's watched and fought against the district slide further into failure year after frustrating year. I'm the one who decided to start this blog. But then I found this piece by Dorothy Sayers from 1947. It's long. It's scholarly. It's worth reading. I've reproduced a snippet below. I'm not going to waste anyone's time by critiquing or commenting. Go read the whole thing. It's worth it.
Is not the great defect of our education today--a defect traceable through all the disquieting symptoms of trouble that I have mentioned--that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils "subjects," we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning. It is as though we had taught a child, mechanically and by rule of thumb, to play "The Harmonious Blacksmith" upon the piano, but had never taught him the scale or how to read music; so that, having memorized "The Harmonious Blacksmith," he still had not the faintest notion how to proceed from that to tackle "The Last Rose of Summer." Why do I say, "as though"? In certain of the arts and crafts, we sometimes do precisely this--requiring a child to "express himself" in paint before we teach him how to handle the colors and the brush. There is a school of thought which believes this to be the right way to set about the job. But observe: it is not the way in which a trained craftsman will go about to teach himself a new medium. He, having learned by experience the best way to economize labor and take the thing by the right end, will start off by doodling about on an odd piece of material, in order to "give himself the feel of the tool."
Let us now look at the mediaeval scheme of education--the syllabus of the Schools. It does not matter, for the moment, whether it was devised for small children or for older students, or how long people were supposed to take over it. What matters is the light it throws upon what the men of the Middle Ages supposed to be the object and the right order of the educative process.
The syllabus was divided into two parts: the Trivium and Quadrivium. The second part--the Quadrivium--consisted of "subjects," and need not for the moment concern us. The interesting thing for us is the composition of the Trivium, which preceded the Quadrivium and was the preliminary discipline for it. It consisted of three parts: Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order.
Now the first thing we notice is that two at any rate of these "subjects" are not what we should call "subjects" at all: they are only methods of dealing with subjects. Grammar, indeed, is a "subject" in the sense that it does mean definitely learning a language--at that period it meant learning Latin. But language itself is simply the medium in which thought is expressed. The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to "subjects" at all. First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself--what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument. Dialectic, that is to say, embraced Logic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language-- how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.
At the end of his course, he was required to compose a thesis upon some theme set by his masters or chosen by himself, and afterwards to defend his thesis against the criticism of the faculty. By this time, he would have learned--or woe betide him-- not merely to write an essay on paper, but to speak audibly and intelligibly from a platform, and to use his wits quickly when heckled. There would also be questions, cogent and shrewd, from those who had already run the gauntlet of debate.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Creating Monsters


I wrote this near the end of last school year. It went up on my Tumblr blog, which I'm not going to link to because it isn't about education. Yes, I was frustrated, not at the kids, but at a few of the parents. It is the parents who create the monsters.

Hello parents. How are your children doing in school? Does your child complain that their teacher picks on them? Does your precious flower always seem to get caught by the teacher doing things that other kids get away with - according to your precious flower? Are you convinced that the teacher has it out for your lovely snowflake, because you know - you are absolutely certain - that all of those other students are doing the same things and being ignored? Are you positive that you are the only parents who have to leave work and take time to shlep over to the school because your innocent babe is sitting in the principal’s office? Are you getting tired of the repetitive phone calls and demands to come to the school because it can’t be all and entirely your beloved jewel’s fault? Are you convinced that your tiny sweetness is (almost) never like this at home? Do you consistently let the teacher, the principal, and anyone else who will listen, know that you have no idea where this alleged misbehavior is coming from, and the school had better stop messing with your misunderstood genius?

Well guess what - being an elementary school teacher in an “urban” school district, I am qualified to tell you that you are full of shit. And you are creating a monster. Chances are that the teacher gave your snookums more chances than anyone should have to give an intelligent child to straighten out the idiot behavior. And your poopsie took advantage of the teacher’s not wanting to call you, in order to become a bigger, more disruptive, more self-serving idiot. Kids will do that, you know. They know what they can get away with. They also know if they will be punished and how severe the punishment will be. They are able to judge whether the upcoming (if it’s coming or if it’s just talk) punishment from mom (most likely) or dad (if there’s one around) is worth it compared to the fun they get to have cutting up in class and hampering everyone else’s education. Yes, your little chickadee has you, and the teacher, and the principal, and the entire system figured out. That few minutes of yelling, screaming, and scolding from you is worth it in exchange for a few days or weeks of goofing off, harassing students and teachers, throwing tantrums, and being a general nuisance. It’s small payment for some solid, long-lasting self-entertainment. Go ahead. Throw in a “whooppin’ ”. Who cares? Certainly not your puppy-dog-eyed sweetheart. Or sure, there will be crying and yelling along with some tears, but only for a few minutes. Once it’s over, it’s back to being an asshole. Because young Norbert or Norbertella knows that after one round ends, the next one begins. And that means it’s time for that next round of many more days or weeks of troublemaking fun.

And that’s for the young scholar whose parents pretend to care about education. If you really think that your miniature intellectual’s teacher has the time or the inclination to single out your kid, you are a dumbass. And you are creating a monster, who, because they will, thanks to you, develop no marketable skills, will want to live with you, in your house long into their 20s and 30s. They may even want to have you raise their children while they go out and party with money that they will demand from you. And you, idiot that you are, might not even then be able to figure out what went wrong.

Keep in mind that your child’s teacher wants your child to do well in school, if only for the simple, selfish reason that the more the students learn, and the better they do in school and on the dreaded standardized tests, the better the teacher looks. Then there are the teachers who want your wee beastie and the rest of the class to succeed because that’s why they went into teaching. Either way, success is better than failure, and it benefits everyone, especially your youthful, emotional cripple. And rather than battle teachers in order to protect your fragile, pampered babe from the emotional distress that comes with the continual concerted effort that one needs to build an education, it is in everyone’s best interest for you to side with the teacher. Release your child from their protective hothouse. Let your child grow up to be a productive member of society rather than a parasite on you and on all of us. Stop creating monsters and leeches. Stop increasing the dependent class. We’ve got enough of them. Allow your miniature Tasmanian devil the chance to grow as a human being. Let them develop the tools they need to win their own personal struggle. You owe them that.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself


            Back when I was a new, young, na├»ve teacher, I assumed that it was in the best interests of everyone involved; teachers, administrators, teachers’ colleges, publishing houses, and the government that students succeeded. Over the last 27 years, I’ve learned how wrong I was.
I don’t want to be wrong. I would rather think that everyone who says they are concerned with American education really was concerned with American education. But they’re not. They’re concerned with keeping their jobs, with making more money, and with establishing a reputation (which leads to more money and prestige). Whether they do it consciously or through rationalization, they’re invested in failure.
            It’s failure that brings in the big money from government and from charitable organizations. It’s failure that allows crusaders to crusade and bring out their NEW! and IMPROVED!! resources and curricula for school districts across the country to adopt (especially the “urban” districts with classrooms full of children being raised by single mothers, grandparents, foster parents, or nobody)*. It’s failure that allows each generation of “gurus” from Columbia Teacher College to ride to the rescue with this generation’s child-centered, research-based, data-driven method that the nation’s teachers must learn in order to insure this generation of students graduate with even lower skills and knowledge than the previous generation, which graduated with fewer skills and less knowledge than the previous generation, which, etc. Of course, that’s not how they phrase it. We’re supposed to ignore the reality of the past 80 or so years and concentrate on the soothing buzzwords; “child-centered”, “progressive”, “data-driven”, “researched-based”, “higher order thinking skills”, etc.
And even though each generation is less knowledgeable and less scholastically competent than the previous one, none of the Columbia College gurus, textbook publishers, or politicians are ever held accountable, nor do they pay any price for their failure. It’s the students who pay the biggest price, and it’s the teachers and administrators who are held accountable (sort of**).
It’s the teachers who are mandated to put the latest rehashed theories into practice by using the methods foisted on them by the teachers’ college. When these methods fail, as all of them have, the method must not be questioned. The method, after all, is flawless. It’s research based, for heaven’s sake! It can only be the teachers’ fault. They did something wrong. I was hounded and threatened once until I allowed a carpet to be put in my classroom because Lucy Calkins insists that the class be given mini-lessons on the carpet. How can they have a mini-lesson on the carpet when there is no carpet?
And then there are the new bureaucratic paper work requirements. We need data walls, written daily objectives for all to see, lesson plans with differentiation, depth of knowledge, 5 Ds (or something like that) and daily common core standards. All of this new and improved paperwork will, of course, lead to greater student achievement because . . . because . . . because we are told that it will.
I’ve been a teacher in a small “urban” school district for the past 27 years. In that time I, like every other teacher, have been subjected to everything that has come down the pike. Before things became completely regimented and tightly conformed, I was allowed to learn and teach a phonetic language arts program for a very limited number of years. My students actually learned to read and comprehend what they read. I was able to read Shakespeare with fourth and fifth graders. I will be writing about these experiences and about things that are happening today in “urban” education. Stay tuned. There is a lot to write about, and I will get to as much as I can as often as I can. Comments are welcome.

*Notice that I didn’t refer to “minority” children. Skin color and ethnicity have nothing to do with their academic struggles. They are struggling because of poor and selfish choices their parents made and continue to make. You bet I’ll have more to say about that.

** Yeah, accountability, another post