Monday, May 10, 2021

Racial equity is important, but it doesn't trump the right to excel

 James S. Robbins is another voice of sanity in the education debate.

The intellectual nadir of the attack on achievement is the emergence of “ethnomathematics,” which seeks to “dismantle racism” by promoting notions such as math not being objective and deemphasizing the focus on getting the “right answer.” The Oregon Department of Education promoted a professional development course on Equitable Math Instruction, and the California draft Mathematics Framework document promotes these concepts.


This strain of thought would have the practical effect of giving those students who struggle with math a moral justification for not getting any better and notifying those who are gifted that there is probably something wrong with them. If this framework spreads, it could condemn a generation of children to irrelevance in science, technology, engineering and math fields, where the right answer is not a matter of opinion.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Howard University's classics department is an incubator for Black equality. Don't close it.

 I'm not sure how this got past the USA Today editors. It's by Anika T. Prather. It's sane, it's intelligent, and it goes against the current anti-intellectual "tear down Western civilization" orthodoxy. It does so using facts and logic. I wonder who was fired over this and if there will be a public apology.

The beauty about Howard University is that, since its founding, each student has at least some exposure to the works of the canon. I believe this classical foundation is what produced people like Justice Thurgood Marshall, a graduate of Howard's law school who did more than just practice the trade of his career but served all of humanity through his work. 

The list of Black scholars who have come out of Howard and been touched by the classics is extensive: Toni Morrison minored in classics; Zora Neale Hurston took classes in the field; Chadwick Boseman had classical theatre training while a student at Howard, and was taught by the actress Phylicia Rashad. I minored in theatre at Howard, and we are all well versed in Greek tragedy and Roman comedy.

Alain Locke believed so much in reading from the canon that the hall where the classics department is housed is named after him. Locke, who taught at Howard, became the first African American Rhodes Scholar and is considered the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Read the classics. They will enrich your life in many ways. Anyone telling you otherwise is lying and merely wants your intellectual world reduced so that you are forced to depend on them to learn what to think.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Helping Teen Moms

The Detroit Free Press recently ran this story: "Detroiter Tyra Moore's nonprofit assists teen moms, just like her." It seems like a hopeful article. Tyra Moore, who was a teenage mom herself, is helping current teen moms. 

Teen mothers need all the help they can get. Ideally, some of that help would come from the young men who impregnated these young women, you know, the fathers. No mention is made of fathers in the article though. They are let off the hook and are free to create and abandon more children.

As she hopes for the day when teen pregnancy will become less taboo, Moore has a message to those who encounter teen moms: “As parents, family, friends and community, we all should come together and help young girls and teen moms -- and girls in general -- who may be going through a tough time. …We should all try to reach out, wrap our arms around them, talk to them and learn from them. Being a teen mom isn’t the perfect choice, but we shouldn’t put them down. We should help them, and encourage them.”

Not a "perfect choice?" Rather that worry about the taboo against teen pregnancy, worry should be directed toward the problems mothers and (especially) children will face in the next eighteen years. The children will have a much greater chance of living in poverty. The children will most likely do much worse in school both academically and behaviorally resulting in a poorer education and a serious lack of choices upon entering adulthood. Some of these mothers will go on to allow other men to impregnate them and run off, thereby making their lives and their children's lives even more difficult. They will suffer for lack of a father's attention and input. Their children will repeat the pattern.

It's hard enough raising a child with two parents, who are outnumbered immediately upon their first child's birth. It's even more difficult for one parent, who has to do the work of two parents. Tyra Moore is engaged in an admirable enterprise, but will she be there when these new children are toddlers and they need different kinds of help, or when the children are in middle school and new sets of issues arise? 

All of the pathologies resulting from fathers' abandonment will, of course, all be blamed on society, not on the mothers' (or the fathers' choices.) Anyone suggesting otherwise is labeled as an uncaring bigot.

Since society has become much more accepting of single motherhood, damn the consequences, maybe society is now partially to blame.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - Contributing to the Dumbing Down of Math Education.

 I found this article a few days ago, and I was going to post a short diatribe, but you know how it is. You get busy. Time gets away from you, and moves on. Time cares for none of us. The article is from Fox News about a teacher program in Oregon that "seeks to undo 'racism in mathematics.'"

An ODE newsletter sent last week advertises a Feb. 21 "Pathway to Math Equity Micro-Course," which is designed for middle school teachers to make use of a toolkit for "dismantling racism in mathematics." The event website identifies the event as a partnership between California's San Mateo County Office of Education, The Education Trust-West and others. 

Part of the toolkit includes a list of ways "white supremacy culture" allegedly "infiltrates math classrooms." Those include "the focus is on getting the 'right' answer," students being "required to 'show their work,'" and other alleged manifestations.

"The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so," the document for the "Equitable Math" toolkit reads. "Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict."

The ODE, led by Colt Gill, confirmed the letter to Fox News. ODE Communications Director Marc Siegel also defended the "Equitable Math" educational program, saying it "helps educators learn key tools for engagement, develop strategies to improve equitable outcomes for Black, Latinx, and multilingual students, and join communities of practice."

Here is a link to the Dismantling Racism workbook. Going through it, I learned that "worship of the written word promotes 'white supremacist thinking' and is one characteristic of white supremacy," which apparently is rampant in American society.

• if it’s not in a memo, it doesn’t exist 
• the organization does not take into account or value other ways in which information gets shared 

• those with strong documentation and writing skills are more highly valued, even in organizations where ability to relate to others is key to the mission

Another characteristic of white supremacy is objectivity.

• the belief that there is such a thing as being objective or ‘neutral’ 

• the belief that emotions are inherently destructive, irrational, and should not play a role in decision-making or group process 

• invalidating people who show emotion 

requiring people to think in a linear (logical) fashion and ignoring or invalidating those who think in other ways 

• impatience with any thinking that does not appear ‘logical’

In the toolkit, entitled "A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction" we learn that teachers should


• Use culturally relevant, antiracist pedagogy, practices, and curriculum. 

• Cultivate mathematical identity so that everyone can see themselves as mathematicians. 

• Adapt homework policies to fit the needs of students of color. 

•Recognize and name the mathematical successes of students of color, and teach them to recognize successes in themselves and others. 

• Intentionally integrate physical movement in math classes. 


• Recognize the ways that communities of color engage in mathematics and problem solving in their everyday lives. 

• Teach that mathematics can help solve problems affecting students’ communities. Model the use of math as a solution to their immediate problems, needs, or desires. 

• Identify and challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, and racist views. 

• Teach the value of math as both an abstract concept and as a useful everyday tool. 

• Expose students to examples of people who have used math as resistance. Provide learning opportunities that use math as resistance

There are 82 pages of crazy.

Teachers already have enough to do in the classroom without adding another layer non-educational indoctrination replacing teaching and engaging in the further dumbing down of American education, especially when so few high school graduates currently are proficient in math.

Making this even worse is that this program was paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

A radical new push to purge math curricula of allegedly racist practices like showing your work and finding the correct answer is bankrolled by one of the nation's most prominent nonprofits: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation is the only donor mentioned on the homepage of A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction, a group of 25 education organizations whose curriculum states that asking students to show their work and find the right answer is an inherently racist practice.

Over the past decade, the Gates Foundation has given upward of $140 million to some of the groups behind Pathway, whose antiracist resources are the basis for a new teacher training course offered by the Oregon Department of Education.

The Education Trust, a California-based group that promoted the September release of Pathway's antiracist "toolkit," has received $86 million from the Gates Foundation, including a $3.6 million grant awarded in June.

Teach Plus, another group dedicated to creating an antiracist culture in K-12 schools, has received more than $27 million from the Gates Foundation. The group's board members include former Democratic congressman George Miller and Obama-era secretary of education John King Jr.—who is also the president of The Education Trust. 

I wonder, with these new obstructions to math education being added in Oregon, and which will surely be added to other states' math curricula, how many potential Microsoft employees will have their math skills hobbled to the point where they have no chance of performing the tasks necessary to work creating the next generations of computers, programs, phones, and other high tech gadgets. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Bad Education

 The Philadelphia public school system has decided that it's just not that important to teach children to read or do math. Other lessons are more important.

In practical terms, it is unclear how these “antiracist” programs will translate into academic outcomes. The gap between rhetoric and reality at schools such as William Kelley is almost beyond comprehension: the vast majority of the ten- and eleven-year-olds marching for the utopia of “black communism” can barely read and write. Rather than come to terms with the pedagogical failure of Philadelphia public schools, however, educators have shifted the blame to “systemic racism” and promises of “revolution.”

Based on current data, and the percentage of black students who graduate college ready, nobody can say the people responsible in Philadelphia don't know what they're doing. They're doing it on purpose, and they should all be removed from their positions.

We know however, that there will be no repercussions, and Philadelphia students will continue to be victimized by a school system that prioritizes politics over education.

Friday, January 1, 2021

An Anti-Racist Education for Middle Schoolers

 From Reason Magazine: 

District officials evidently believe that the practice of grading students based on average scores is racist and that "anti-racism" demands a learning environment free of the pressure to turn in assignments on time. As evidence for the urgency of these changes, the district released data showing that minority students received more Ds and Fs than white students: Just 7 percent of whites received failing grades, compared to 23 percent of Native Americans, 23 percent of Hispanics, and 20 percent of black students.

"This is part of our honest reckoning as a school district," Vice President Richard Barrera told a local NBC affiliate. "If we're actually going to be an anti-racist school district, we have to confront practices like this that have gone on for years and years."

These changes to San Diego schools' grading system are an excellent example of a bureaucracy citing a noble-sounding goal (who could be against anti-racism?) to justify a policy that doesn't address the issue whatsoever. After all, eliminating these kinds of grades won't eliminate the underlying inequities that produced the disparate failure rates. It may actually cover those inequities up: Given that grades are a tool for evaluating students' progress, the district is essentially announcing that it will no longer gather as much evidence as it could about negative social phenomena it would presumably like to fix. Better grades do not mean students will suddenly have a better grasp of the material. They certainly won't be better prepared for college, where traditional grades are very much still a thing.

When discussing grades though, we mustn't forget that grade inflation has been a problem for years. That, along with degraded standards and requirements, means that for a lot of students their public school education sorely lacks a lot of actual education. Even though students are receiving grades, the grades mean nothing.

When I retired, students were to be given half credit, 50%, even on assignments that were never turned in. And students had until the last week of the term to turn in every assignment, even if it was work from the beginning of the term that they had forgotten how to do - because they hadn't done the work.

"Antiracism" seems like just another way to lower standards, which hurts all students and society at large.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Turn & Talk / "Antiracist" Grading Starts with You

 The reason behind this blog is so I can rant and rave about why American public education is in such a sorry state. It saves me from annoying my wife and from stopping strangers on the street to listen to my great, terrific, stupendous ideas for improving American education.

These days, rather than merely letting things get worse, there are people actively working to make things worse. It's as if they're working toward reducing the number of children who, upon graduating from high school, have actually gotten an education that will enable them to function in society, get a job, and be able to learn and pass on the hard lessons learned from thousands of years of human civilization. Maybe "No Child Left Behind" was an empty slogan, but now were seeing the tacit promotion of - all children left behind.

Part of that promotion is "antiracist grading." I'd never heard of it before, but after reading this article, I think some alleged experts are stretching their alleged expertise into a Bizarro world.

First, I want to challenge the assumption of your question—the term "fall behind" is a social construct. This idea of where a person should be is not a naturally occurring thing. We know from child development psychologist Jean Piaget that all people develop differently and grow at different paces.

And yet, we do know that there is a certain body of knowledge that a person needs in order to navigate life. Yes, children grow and learn at different paces, but the current Covid-related dependence on online school is slowing down the learning process for a large number of children.

Instead of the absurd focus on and twisting of grading practices, how about moving that focus to teaching children to read? While you're at it, throw in lessons on writing and spelling. If you have time after those lessons, some math couldn't hurt. When I say "math" of course, I'm referring to teaching children how to DO math; computation and all that jazz.

One thing we understand from Universal Design for Learning is that there are multiple ways a kid can express their knowing. And so if you know 2+2=4, one way you can express your knowing is by writing it. Another way you can express your knowing is by discussing it. A third way is by creating a model that shows it. A fourth way is by illustrating it and a fifth way is by performing a play. But in too many schools, only one way is considered legitimate. So if you write it, you get an A and that's it. There might be 100 kids in the school who know 2+2=4, but if only two of those kids can write it, then only two of those kids will receive As. That is profoundly discriminatory.

Maybe I'm taking this argument too literally, but being able to express an idea succinctly so that others can understand it would signal that a student understands the concept. In the case of math, to me, that means being able to do the math. If you can write a play showing that 2+2=4, you can certainly figure out the equation.

The second thing I would eliminate is the ideology of transactional gratitude. In most academic spaces, there is a silent pact that teachers make with students: I will agree to teach you well if you demonstrate to me that you are thankful for it. And if you do not demonstrate to me that you are thankful for it, I will withhold quality teaching from you.

This is just insulting to every hard-working teacher who tries to reach every student in spite of all of the roadblocks set up against proper teaching. "Antiracist grading" seems to me to be one more roadblock.