Friday, August 26, 2011

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut

It would appear that my quest to read a less than awesome Kurt Vonnegut book must continue. Damn it, man, can't you write something that isn't enjoyable and poignant? What the hell? Why not just write a book that is only great? Do they have to all be awesome? Doesn't this get old to you?

This here is a satire of the American class system and Western capitalism. As usual it is hilarious, and honest, and well-conceived, and blah blah blah isn't Vonnegut just one of the best American writers ever. I mean, he really is. This book also rules. I liked it a whole lot.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dr. Ackerman leaves Philly district and takes a lot of useful money with her.

Here's the article.

I don't like to think about how long it will take me to earn $905K teaching in the Philly district. If Ackerman cared so much about the students she'd agree to sever her contract w/out legal action so we don't have to pay her for work she didn't do. Also I'm not into the "at least she'd gone" argument. We don't know who will be chosen to replace her. Philly's track record isn't great in that department.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Feed by M. T. Anderson

Amazon link

I can't wait to teach Feed this coming school year. This book is one of those examples of fiction that leaves the reader off-kilter and a little unhinged at the end. Very powerful, very visceral, and very well attuned to popular concerns about American culture. I look forward to seeing whether actual young adults respond to this young adult novel. This old fogey thought it was pretty excellent!

Yeah, YA dystopias!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Teaching as if Life Matters by Christopher Uhl with Dana L. Stuchul

Amazon link

I am a sucker for hubris, especially when it concerns thing about which I care a lot. Christopher Uhl would like to suggest some foundational changes in the way that we educate each other as a species. He does this so that we can have a new paradigm in the very way that we conceive of ourselves and the cosmos around us. Also, he has some practical suggestions about how this work can be started in our classrooms today.

Uhl does a wonderful job engaging teachers where they are at philosophically and then taking commonly held principals (like encouraging students to ask questions) and taking them to the utmost logical extreme (like restructuring the way that information is gathered and spread in a classroom that has questioned the teacher's authority and found it insufficient) where many of us are no longer comfortable. Pretty heavy stuff, but an honest look at why many teachers believe in democratic processes, but do not enact them in classrooms. Uhl presents ways thinking and practicing that will make these democratic processes more attainable for the teacher, and less confusing for the student.

At no point does Uhl shy away from his political agenda. While I do not agree with the dude 100%, I respect the hell out of an education theorist who has the courage to admit that he or she has opinions and that those opinions do effect the way they think. Most of them pretend to be aloof, lying to themselves and their audience, and generally causing me to toss their book aside. Uhl admits it from the outset and reminds the reader of it at regular intervals. Nice work!

This is a refreshing bit of work with a bibliography that I plan on mining for further reading. I don't know whether or not it will change the human race and the universe in a fundamental way, but it has already changed the way that I do some things in my classroom. That's good enough for me.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Further Reporting on Standardized Tests and Cheating Rates

The New York Times published an article in reference to the article to which I made reference a few posts ago.

I am interested in seeing where this is headed. The pressure for schools to demonstrate continually higher scores on standardized tests from year to year from their students his done nothing but increase since NCLB became the law of the land. Yes, I agree that schools in general and teachers in particular should neither fix statistics, nor help their students cheat. Yes, I agree that accountability to the public helps to ensure a higher quality of service from a school. I just think that we are going about this the wrong way. In Pennsylvania the state standardized tests are created by a private company that is in no way held accountable to the public (yeah, yeah, I know the state government could not renew their contract but that does not happen in practice and they have a de facto monopoly anyway).

The tests do not necessarily reflect anything that is actually taught in any classroom in the state. They do not report on the amount of information learned by individual students as they progress (scores for each grade are compared to scores from the same grade from previos years, not the same students as they advance). The PA state standardized tests do not assess what their creators say they assess and public policy creates situations where cheating is easy, easy to get away with, and very beneficial. Going after "these teachers" who cheat will not fix this problem as they will simply be replaced by more teachers who will be similarly encouraged to become more of "these teachers." If the policy does not change, the problem will persist.

What if we trusted continually trained and licensed professionals to create assessments tailored to determine whether the students learned the presented material? What if we did this on a local level? What if we reported the outcome of these assessments on a bimonthly basis directly to the parents of the students? What if we set time aside for parents to come in and speak directly to these trained professionals? What if parents could contact these trained professionals via phone or email whenever they wanted? The system exists. We've had public schools, quizzes, report cards, parent/teacher conferences, and open sharing of teacher contact information for many decades. It would only require trusting us teachers to do the thing that the public already trusts us to do.