Thursday, February 03, 2005

Another battle in the Culture Wars

Here's an excellent article from that puts the "Buster" controversy into historical context.

Spellings' angry letter to PBS about a children's show, designed to introduce different types of families to children, that had a marginal role for a lesbian couple, is actually part of a larger pattern of intimidation by Republicans. And PBS is not alone. The NEH and the NEA regularly are threatened with funding cuts if they don't toe the party line. And you know which party line I'm talking about. (Clue: it's the party of reactionary social policies, repression, and intolerance.)

But Spellings' direct appeal was momentous.

"I don't think we've ever been contacted by a Cabinet secretary about anything, let alone a particular [children's] episode," [PBS Senior VP John] Wilson says.

And it was her second day on the job. If this is a sign of things to come, she's going to be an awful Secretary.

Amidst all the hoopla over Bustergate, this is the first article I've seen that really goes in depth to put the incident into the larger context of the culture wars. PBS caving is a loss for those who advocate tolerance and acceptance of gay couples. But I guess we're getting used to losing lately.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

What would John Dewey do?

Jenny D. had this to say the other day:

Brink: Think harder about this. Why did Robert F. Kennedy support a testing/standards regime like NCLB back in 1965? Why do people in Utah and Idaho hate NCLB? Maybe it's a really progressive law. It's not perfect, needs tinkering. (emphasis mine)

She got one thing right: it needs tinkering. Secretary Spellings said so herself yesterday. But progressive?! A progressive law? Please.

The word progressive has many different meanings, but in education, progressive means something specific. It refers to the educational philosophy outlined by John Dewey in Democracy and Education (and later, and much more concisely, in Experience and Education).

Progressive education advocates a vibrant school with a curriculum that follows the interests of students, emphasizes active learning and deep understanding, and encourages assessment through close observation by well-trained teachers.

No Child Left Behind is not that. Curriculum has been dumbed down as the educational enterprise has been reduced to the lowest common denominator of reading and math competency. Teachers and administrators must focus single-mindedly on the tests. Or else.

Call NCLB what you want, but please don't call it progressive. It's an insult to John Dewey and to those of us who consider ourselves progressive educators.

Monday, January 31, 2005

I can't control my sarcasm--- sorry

I, for one, am shocked and outraged. Why am I shocked and outraged? Because those lefty pinko liberals at Texas A&M and the Texas Dept. of State Health Services have released a study showing that students who participated in abstinence only sex ed programs had sex at the same rate as other students! I'm outraged. Obviously they have a political agenda to subvert the president's initiatives. Those damn Aggies!

Here's the Reuters article:

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Abstinence-only sex education programs, a major plank in President Bush's education plan, have had no impact on teenagers' behavior in his home state of Texas, according to a new study.

Despite taking courses emphasizing abstinence-only themes, teenagers in 29 high schools became increasingly sexually active, mirroring the overall state trends, according to the study conducted by researchers at Texas A&M University.

"We didn't see any strong indications that these programs were having an impact in the direction desired," said Dr. Buzz Pruitt, who directed the study.

The study was delivered to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which commissioned it.

The federal government is expected to spend about $130 million to fund programs advocating abstinence in 2005, despite a lack of evidence that they work, Pruitt said.

"The jury is still out, but most of what we've discovered shows there's no evidence the large amount of money spent is having an effect," he said.

The study showed about 23 percent of ninth-grade girls, typically 13 to 14 years old, had sex before receiving abstinence education. After taking the course, 29 percent of the girls in the same group said they had had sex.

Boys in the tenth grade, about 14 to 15 years old, showed a more marked increase, from 24 percent to 39 percent, after receiving abstinence education.

Abstinence-only programs, which have sprouted up in schools across the nation, cannot offer information about birth control and must promote the social and health benefits of abstaining from sex.

Pruitt said he hoped the study would bring about changes in the content of abstinence-promoting programs.

"These programs seem to be much more concerned about politics than kids, and we need to get over that," he said.

One program technique has been to try to bolster students' self-esteem, based on the theory that self-confident teenagers would not have sex. Those programs, which sometimes do not even mention sex, have shown no effect, Pruitt said.

Other programs that focus on the social norms and expectations appear to be more successful, he said. (Emphases mine)

Hey, but who cares about research right? That's for people in the "reality based community." That is soooo 20th century. It's a brave new world, people. A world where reality is whatever Our Leader says it is. So, yes, you can get AIDS from tears. But don't put on a condom before you cry, because condoms don't stop STDs.

Are we living in an Orwell novel or what?

Fakin' it

Reading over the transcripts of yesterday's mock swearing-in ceremony of Sec. Margaret Spellings (she was officially sworn in last week), I was struck by two things:

1) This quote: "I pledge to run an open, honest and accessible department, one that operates with integrity at all levels." It's a clear indication that the kickbacks to journalists will end. Hardly a newsflash, but an interesting jab at the recently departed leadership.

2) The White House got Eugene Hickok's name wrong. Hopefully the will have corrected by tomorrow morning, but here's how it reads right now (in Spellings' remarks): "And thanks to Deputy Secretary Jean Hickock for making me feel so welcome here." I guess Gene has now been officially emasculated and renamed "Jean." Nice. Adds insult to the injury of not being named Secretary.

Other than that, a pretty boring event. But what do you expect from a fake swearing-in?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Good argument -- Bad strategy

My post from Saturday made a few people upset. Arguing for local control of education is not stupid, they said. Rather, it's a legitimate response to federal intrusion.

True. It'd be hard to argue that every decision should be made from Washington, especially in light of many of the decisions made in Washington over the last four years. But my point is simple: States are not required to participate with No Child Left Behind. Really, they aren't. Any state that votes by a simple majority of their legislature to opt out can do so at any time.

Of course, there's the catch that they'd lose the federal money. The Constitution does not mention education so it's a state responsibility. The national government supplements the costs of education and expects some things be done in return; the courts have consistently ruled that that practice is legal.

So we could argue over whether the federal government should have a role or not, but we'd be arguing only for argument's sake. The federal government will be involved in setting education policy no matter what we think. What's important is how the federal governemnt gets involved. I think NCLB -- as it exists now -- does, and will continue to do, more harm than good. I think it should be resisted. And I think arguing states' rights is a losing strategy.
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