Education: Radicalizing middle schoolers Posted by: McQ
on Friday, July 21, 2006
What ever happened to the three "R's", get a job and be a good citizen?
Sol Stern makes the point that in the past, public schools did the necessary basic education well and in addition helped assimilate students into the broader civic culture.
But he's seeing more and more of what he calls "social justice" education popping up in NY public schools. His description:
It starts in teacher preparation programs, where rigorous training in math, science and literacy takes a backseat to theories about victimization and inequality. Teachers-to-be are told that conventional instruction is an outgrowth of capitalist oppression; "true" education helps students see the unfairness all around them and challenge society to change.
He points to these examples:
El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice in Brooklyn, led by Principal Héctor Calderón. After being chosen for the job, Calderón told an interviewer that he is a dedicated follower of Marxist Paolo Freire, author of "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." (A sample from the book: "Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students.") His school, Calderón says, now fully incorporates the idea of "education for liberation."
The School for Democracy and Leadership in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, led by Principal Nancy Gannon. "We are incredibly steeped in activism," Gannon says. "We encourage the students to pick something in the world or the community they want to change and then act on it together." Students have put out a brochure saying that they are "committed to fighting against the injustice and inequality within our education system." They call for "mandatory African-American history classes in all New York City public schools."
Leadership Institute in the Bronx, led by Principal Ron Gonzalez. This school is the brainchild of the radical Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and its youth branch, Sistas and Brothas United. When I visited recently, it was already clear that the idea of democratic empowerment for the students was subverting any hope for a rigorous education. Kids wore ghetto garb, chewed gum, and drank soda in class.
There's a propensity among educators to reinvent education every decade or so. I'm not sure why except each decade a new generation of educators are in the position to make changes and feel compelled to do so. There has also been a movement away from what previously worked - in terms of providing a student with the basic tools needed to be literate as well as assimilate into our civic culture - and more toward exactly what Stern notes. I don't know a thing about these three schools except what Stern writes, but in each, I don't see much of a focus on education, or at least not what I consider education. It's almost like the cart is before the horse. What good is an understanding of activism and "social justice" if you can't read the poster announcing the next peace rally?
Again this seems a logical outgrowth of the multiculturalism movement who's basic premise is the need for "social justice". But probably a larger and more important need than hearing one side of the social justice story is that of getting a good basic education. The school day is a finite amount of hours. The more "social justice" finds its way into the curriculum, the less time there is for math, science, reading, literature, writing and other core subjects necessary to enable someone to maneuver successfully in this society.
Want to radicalize kids? Wait till they get to college. Seems to have worked well for us so far. In the meantime, leave the public schools out of the "social justice" league and do what we did 100 years ago, successfully ... teach the three "R's" or the modern equivalent and do it equally as successfully.
"There has also been a movement away from what previously worked" "teach the three "R’s" or the modern equivalent and do it equally as successfully. "
Maybe it’s just me, but the schooling I had failed quite miserably. The only schooling I found to be of much value, including College, was my Jesuit H.S., which covered social justice and morality issues as part of an overall demanding curriculum. Of course, I don’t think it was the same kind of "social justice" courses as are mentioned in the article.
Of course we cannot wait until college. By that age, people can think for themselves, reason through arguments and positions, and generally make all kinds of trouble. If you get them while they are small, you form their very fabric of what it means to live, to learn, to relate to others. What use is reading and writing and such beside that power? Forget convincing college students: you can form primary schoolers.
Dewey and Gramsci were geniuses. Evil geniuses, to be sure, but geniuses nonetheless.
I’m not even going to touch on the radicalization of college campuses and professors. I’d spend all night writing this comment for one and also I have a personal stake in the issue so I’ll recuse myself as our lawyer friends MK and Mona would say.
As for the secondary and junior high systems, well this kind of goes back to the debate over what direction we want to take with pre-college education. We can adopt the Japanese system which theorizes that children should take comprehensive tests at certain stages in their education in order to show their academic progress and potential. Kids are then assigned to schools based on the results of those tests. The brighter kids go to more prestigious, college prep schools, while the sub-standard go on to more trade schooly type institutions. It puts enormous pressure on the kids, but it does produce fantastic results.
We could go the British way which lets your kids go to whatever school they want until they graduate from high school, then they take A levels (sort of in-between high school and college) and the higher scoring students are offered shots at Cambridge, Oxford, etc. The rest get to compete for what’s left.
Or we can sit down and decide what we really want out of schools today. Do we want all kids, everywhere to be in college prep curriculums? Is the whole goal in life to get a college degree? I’ve got two grad and one post-grad and my father-in-law and brothers-in-law (all skilled tradesmen) make more than double my salary. So what I’m aiming at here is the idea that maybe schools should specialize. There should be excellent schools designed to prepare students for the rigors of a college education. There should also be excellent schools designed to prepare students for the working world and maybe the trade schools. The idea being that college prep programs would not be designed as terminal schooling (and thus wouldn’t necessarily have to focus on life skills and real world training), whereas the non-college prep schools could design their curriculums around the idea that high school will be terminal education for some students.
Still another idea is to go the way of the command economy and design all schools (university and secondary) to produce a certain segment of professionals. India and China, for example, have been focused on training their populations to become engineers of all types. Computer programmers, physicists, and mathematicians are also highly desired. The result is the ability to rapidly address industrial needs, but at the cost of producing a glut of certain professions and letting the rest of the economy suffer. I don’t favor this route, but it has been proven to be successful.
I don’t think that many in the American teaching profession have really given much thought to the concept of radical change. They spend too much time on the nonsense that McQ has pointed out and too much time on politics. They forget that their primary duty is to the student. Does that mean all teachers are terrible? No, of course not, many are very dedicated professionals, but far far too many are nothing more than political hacks trying to brainwash the next generation into becoming good little leftist sheep.