Thursday, February 10, 2005

Keepin' it real

Hooray for House Dems who are taking on the Bushies' pandering to the right with a program of disinformation for young people that they dress up and call "abstinence only" education. A group of them, led by Rep. Barbara Lee, are putting forward a bill called Responisble Education About Life, or REAL.

There is no reasonable person that can honestly say that using a more comprehensive approach is bad for kids or bad for public health. It's not. As I've said before, abstinence first, but not only. Abstinence IS the only fool proof way to avoid STDs and pregnancy. But if students make different choices than we think they should -- and some always will -- they need to know how to stay safe.

This is important and I hope some of the more reasonable, moderate Republicans will vote their conscience on this one and do the right thing.

The more things change...

Consider this quote from Aristotle:

At present, opinion is divided about the subjects of education. People do not take the same view about what should be learned by the young, either with a view to human excellence or a view to the best possible life; nor is it clear whether education should be directed mainly to the intellect or to moral character...[,] whether the proper studies to be pursued are those that are useful in life, or those which make for excellence or those that advance the bounds of knowledge.... Men do not all honor the same distinctive human excellence and so naurally they differ about the proper training for it.

I think it's important to have an historical view of the arguments over education. We all need to be reminded from time to time that our debates should not be entered into with a spirit of trying to defeat our opponents, but instead to deepen their understanding-- and our own.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Courtin' conservatives

I'm very concerned. I'm hoping some of you can help me out, show me where my logic is wrong (as it so often is), because I really hope I'm wrong, but I think I figured out why the education secretary attacked a bunny last week.

I was reading this article today and came to realize a few things: (1) Democrats (e.g. Rep. George Miller) are pissed that Bush didn't fully fund NCLB; they are very likely to oppose its expansion to high schools. (2) Moderate Republicans (yes, I think there still are some, e.g. Mike Castle) are, at worst, lukewarm about the idea and will probably go along with it. (3) So who will the administration -- specifically Margaret Spellings -- have to convince to get NCLB expanded? You got it. Conservatives.

Which makes last week's tribute to absurdity a lot more understandable. That was probably the first of several overtures to the right wing nuts to butter them up before she starts cold calling for votes. But what else will she have to do, or give, to make sure that House conservatives play ball? I'll give you a hint: if you need to make a quick buck, develop an abstinence only sex ed program. And could school prayer be on the menu, too? Oooh, the possibilities are endless.

Monday, February 07, 2005

"It's a budget that sets priorities"

"President Johnson proved four decades ago that you cannot conduct a wasteful war and fund social programs at the same time."

I relayed this quote from Steven Jackson of the Boston Globe last month. It came to mind again today as I was reading this headline:

Education takes hits in Bush budget

Bush left in $1.5 billion to expand NCLB to high school but cut dozens of other programs and still has failed to address the fundamental need to fully fund the parts of No Child Left Behind that already exist.

We all knew this was coming. There's no joy in saying I called this (though I did) because (1) you know it's going to hurt schools that need the money and (2) it didn't exactly take a Nostradamus to see it coming.

"It's a budget that sets priorities," the president said. Too bad education isn't one of 'em.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Honest questions

It's very hard to be reasonable about No Child Left Behind. But that doesn't mean I won't try.

First of all, I love the back and forth happening on Jenny D's blog, and I appreciate Eduwonk's mention of our exchange-- even if one of his readers didn't appreciate it. This is an important debate and this is a perfect place to have it.

OK, now my attempt to be reasonable. Everyone who is opposed to NCLB (and generally I'm with you): don't we have to admit that every child should be able to pass a basic reading and math competency test at some point in their academic career? I honestly don't think that's unreasonable in the slightest.

And don't we have to come to grips with the fact that some schools and some teachers -- by no means all or even a majority -- have consistently failed to teach even basic literacy and numeracy? And further, is it not undeniably true that a great majority of these failed students are minorities?

To answer no to any of those questions is tantamount to absurdity. Period.

Allright, now it's your turn supporters of NCLB. Is it possible to deny that when schools and teachers are judged on the basis of a few tests they will put undue emphasis on them to the exclusion of educational goals not included? Isn't it true that if our sole focus in on outcomes, the process will usually be ignored? And is there any proof -- and please point it out if there is -- that shows that high test scores lead to increased success in college, in the workplace, or any place other than the testing room?

I hate to sound like a centrist -- really I do hate it, I love a good ideological fight -- but isn't there a middle way here? No one seems to have found it yet.

Except for (drum roll please) ... John Dewey. I know it sounds silly but here's a guy who emphasized academic rigor and intellectual curiosity, strong foundations and individual exploration, fluency in basic skills and higher order thinking. These things do not have to be mutually exclusive. The rightful desire for 100% literacy and numeracy can share space with the equally sensible wish for students to be able to explore and follow their interests without limits.
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