Class Warfare Blog

August 19, 2020

Preparing Students for the Jobs of Tomorrow and Other Bogus Marketing Claims

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 9:27 am
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On Quora I got the following question directed my way and I thought to share it and my answer with you to see if you agree. Here’s the question:

Some people say: “Schools are not teaching students the skills they need for their future.” Do you agree?

Schools have never taught what students needed for the future. They have always been designed to teach what was needed for the recent past.

The reason for this is not some conspiracy of teachers’ unions or other nonsense. The reason for this is we are absolutely and pathetically awful at anticipating the skills needed for “the future.”

Think about the impact that personal computers have made upon our lives, everything from desktop computers to smartphones. Who predicted that happening? Who knew with any certainty that that would happen? The answer is “nobody.”

So, an education is designed to do just a few things. To transfer a few practical skills (although we do less and less of this, high schools used to teach woodworking, metal working, automotive mechanics, typing/keyboarding, etc.; some community colleges still do), teach people how to think (not what how), and teach people how to work together.

From that skill set, people are prepared to adapt to the future as it unrolls.

Anyone who claims to “prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow” is delivering a marketing message that has nothing to do with reality, as no one actually knows how to do this … no one!

 

 

August 4, 2020

Wha???

When I read a great deal about a topic, I am always confronted with the “the more you know, the less you know” syndrome. This is actualy “the more you know, the more you discover there is to know” syndrome, but I also begin to wonder how must respect should be paid to those scholars I am reading.

Consider the following quote: “[The Gospel of John] is written in singularly poor Greek with a very limited vocabulary; the peculiarities of the Greek suggest that the writer was at least more at home in Aramaic. Hence it has been argued that, since the writer knows little Greek, he cannot have been influenced by Greek ideas.” (Some Hellenistic Elements in Primitive Christianity by Wilfred L. Knox, 1942)

“John” is the gospel that begins “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The Greek word translated as “Word” here is logos, a concept from . . . wait for it . . . Greek philosophy.

Translating the Greek λόγος as “word” is a bit deceiving if not outright obfuscating. “Jesus is the word;” what the heck does that mean outside of Greek philosophy? Especially since logos is not used for a word in the grammatical sense; instead, the term lexis (λέξις, léxis) was used then.

Inside of Greek philosophy, logos was: a principle of order and knowledge, or reason, or wisdom, or explanation, or an argument from reason (Aristotle), or the active reason pervading and animating the Universe, or an intermediary divine being or demiurge (Philo of Alexandria), or the principle of meditation, and I assume, more things.

It seems to be logical that whoever wrote the gospel we call “John” in his execrable Greek, got his “logos” from Philo of Alexandra. Philo (c. 20 B.C.E.—40 C.E.) was a leading figure of the intellectual community surrounding Alexandria in Egypt, a hot spot in the development of Christianity. Philo was a Jew who wrote prodigiously (and note when he was alive) and his primary topic was . . . wait for it . . . wait . . . the harmonization of Hebrew scripture with Greek philosophy.

So, some scholars think that “since the writer (of “John”) knows little Greek, he cannot have been influenced by Greek ideas.” I don’t know how they support their ideas, but . . . understanding Greek aurally, or by reading is easier than knowing it so well that one can write well. It is perfectly possible for the author to have been exposed to ideas from Greek philosophy as the topic had been hot in the Jewish community for decades. Also, should we assume the writer was a lone wolf and had no organizational support behind him? This may be so, in that such support mostly came from the Jerusalem temple before, but the Jerusalem temple is no more at this point. (Plus I don’t know how much support one might have gotten from Jewish scribes when writing about Jesus.) Did the writer of “John” not have a colleague more learned in Greek who could check over his manuscript? What about all of the redactors, aka editors, who twiddled with every other part of the OT and NT? Did they leave his crudeness alone out of respect or were they just being passive-aggressive?

I wonder if the translators who thought the author of “John” had such bad Greek still felt comfortable translating logos as “word.”

Addendum
Of course, my cartoon mind always gets the last word. What was rumbling in the background of my thoughts as I was finishing this was . . .

A-well-a ev’rybody’s heard about the bird
B-b-b-bird, b-birdd’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, b-bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well-a don’t you know about the bird?
Well, everybody knows that the bird is a word . . .
(Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen)

But I was hearing “. . . a bird is the word . . .”

June 10, 2020

Is “Learn at Your Own Pace” Even a Real Thing?

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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In one of the many newsletters I get, there was an ad for “Online Courses” with the subtitle “Learn at Your Own Pace.” Is this a real selling point? Do we all have our own learning pace?

I was a classroom teacher for going on 40 years and I did some major experiments with “self-paced learning” and came to the conclusion that “self-paced” means “slow.” That is slow by any definition you want.

Now teaching in a school or college is a special case: students presumably are “learning” as a full-time or at least major part-time job. “Reformers” of education, i.e. people with ideas to sell or people who didn’t navigate the current system at all well and blame the system, often point to the strengths of educations and declare them to be weaknesses. No one seems to take a step back and look at the whole picture in a cost-benefit type of analysis.

Since I was a college teacher, I will frame my comments in that context. Others who taught elsewhere can comment on their situation.

In colleges there is a workload system in place, it is generally referred to as the unit load system or some such similar name. Most commonly the Carnegie system is used where a unit of load is equal to . . . on average . . . three hours of work per week, both in and out of the classroom. So, a typical load of 15 units of credit, taken over four years of study results in a bachelor’s degree (if the correct courses are taken and passed, of course). At the 3:1 ratio, a full-time student has a 45 hour per week “job” he/she is undertaking.

Now, the step back. The college/university is providing: a classroom with chairs, wall boards, AV equipment, computers, etc. at a particular time or times during the week and a qualified instructor/professor to guide the learning. The student only has to show up at the time and place to take advantage. Of course, specialized classrooms also abound: theatres, photography labs, chemistry labs, swimming pools, gymnasiums, etc. So, a great deal of infrastructure has been built and is being made available, in most cases for fairly little cost.

The economies of scale are large. The rooms get utilized well, the teaching faculty get utilized well, the specialized equipment gets utilized, and the student’s time is organized well.

Imagine the chaos if at the beginning of every term, each group of students and their teacher has to run around trying to claim some space to meet and the equipment needed to do the work.

A number of universities collect the course requests of their students, then assign professors and classrooms based upon demand, and send out class schedules to one and all. But the same economies of scale exist.

But . . . learning at your own pace?

What if you find you can’t keep up? What if everyone else in the class you are in seem to be racing away and you are falling father and farther behind? Surely you are a candidate for converting the entire system to self-paced instruction. Ah . . . no.

So as to not throw the baby out with the bathwater (the baby being an education system that was and is world-class), your first option is to work harder. The 3:1 ratio of workload to units of courses, is an average. Some people will need to invest more time, others less. Students will need more time in some subjects and less in others (nobody ever confused the workload of a three unit PE course with a 3 unit Chemistry course), so there are some trade-offs and the additional time doesn’t have to come on top of the 45 hour weekly work plan. It can be shifted around. But if more time is needed beyond the normal, a 50 hour or 60 hour workload is available to you (been there, done that, done more).

If, somehow, your other responsibilities prevent you from exceeding your 45 hour (or whatever) commitment, there are other alternatives. One is to withdraw from one of your courses and use the time committed to that subject to make the time needed to catch up in the problematic one (been there, done that . . . once).

Bottom Line
Education is a social process. It is not the acquisition of knowledge as so many seem to think. Getting an education involves learning how to learn from others (teachers, classmates, etc.) and learning how to work with others, and most specially learning how to learn and learning how to think (how not what). This requires other people to be involved, to communicate with, to work with. I, like many other students, found study groups to be invaluable. You meet somewhere (library, empty classroom, somebody’s apartment, etc.) and work together. Sometimes this was simply sitting in silence doing homework exercises. Just having someone else in the room in the same boat, as it were, whom you could ask questions of is reassuring. Having a classmate say “I don’t understand that either” somehow makes it more normal to not understand something and empowers one to ask questions when one is back in class. (In one of these sessions I learned how to use slips of paper (this was before Post-It Notes) in my textbook, so if the professor asked “Are there any questions, I could raise my hand and turn to a slip and start “On page xyz, the book says “ . . ..” and ask my question. If he/she continued to solicit questions, I had additional slips.)

Online courses can be good, to a point. But if you want an education, it requires a village. And it requires time. The general progress of any class as a whole is a social force, a force that says “Keep up!” In the absence of that push we get in the process, we all (and I do mean all) tend to slow down. Slowing down from a pace one could have met means that either less will be learned or fewer courses will be completed or one’s school years will be extended.

Keep up, Grasshopper, keep up.

And, if you cannot, there are adjustments you can make so you will have the time you need and it does not mean changing the whole system into one in which you are the only one at the spot in the process you are in. If you keep up you will have fellow travelers.

When we get out of school, not keeping up is not an option in any case. If you are slow to weed and feed your garden, you may find more weeds than anything else in it. If you do not pay your taxes on time, there are penalties. If you dawdle and not express your true feelings to a loved one, they may move on to someone else. If you don’t meet deadlines or quotas at your work, you will be looking for another line of work.

Keep up, Grasshopper, keep up.

Postscript As a purveyor of online instruction, the main selling points we see are: that you can do the course when you want, even 2 AM, dressed as you want, even in your pajamas, and you don’t have to wait for the course to be offered (it is a one day course in person), travel to that place taking time off of work, using time to travel, eating on the road, etc. No one . . . ever . . . mentions: “I really liked being able to learn at my own pace.”

An especially useful point is that if you missed the one and only face-to-face class being offered this year, you still have the opportunity to qualify for a job, etc. (I thought it was next Tuesday! I missed the training! When can I take the class?) So, such courses do have their reasons, but a need for “self-paced learning” doesn’t seem to be one or if it is, it is a small one.

January 22, 2020

Further Thoughts on Public Funding of Religious Schools

Filed under: Culture,Education,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:11 am
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One thing I thought of after my previous post on this topic was our experience with the State Lottery in California. As it was constructed 50% of the proceeds was to go to public education in the state, with the prize money and overhead to come out of the other 50%. Opponents to the lottery law said that “lottery funding will displace state funding and the schools will be back to square one with no net increase in funding.” Well, the law passed and lottery funding for schools was disbursed and . . . guess what happened.

I am also reminded that promises made by politicians mean absolutely nothing. Consider the promises made with regard to the recent Trump tax cuts. Our experience from the past told us that corporations would take the tax money saved and buy back their own stock with it, which would line the pockets of their stockholders and their executives who were being remunerated with stock options (who were responsible, btw, for making the decisions as to what to do with the windfall). The politicians promised instead: capital investment in productive capacity, higher wages, more jobs, better wages. Are you aware of what did happen? yes, it was stock buy-backs and none of those other things.

With regard to funding religious schools, what I hadn’t considered is what displacements would occur. If the funding from the public coffers replaced private tuition and contributions by the established religions, where does that money go that was being provided before? For the religious institutions, it goes back into their budgets so this is not direct support of a religion, but is one small step removed from that. It is a bank shot rather than a direct shot in the corner pocket. And believe you me, the parents who are no longer ponying up tuition to have their students educated at a religious school are going to receive a marketing campaign from their church like no other as to what to do with their “windfall gain” in prosperity.

One really needs to question the motivations of people sending their kids to a religious school when the options are public schools and secular private schools. Why a religious school when those other options are available for the same or even much less money? The quality of schooling might be an issue but that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. If the local public schools are ramshackle and underfunded, a private option if one can afford it seems reasonable, but why a religious school over a secular private school?

For those who argue that the religious schools aren’t really religious, why would those school not incorporate as secular schools and, what benefit would there be to have the religious label, other than to sucker believers into thinking your school is better when it isn’t or are they just trying to avoid the regulations that come with being a truly public school. (We created those regulations to make sure our kids were safe and receiving a decent education, not some red-tape factory like ALEC.)

So, this is a direct violation of the Constitution because state funds would be taking the place of funds provided by the religions or the religious for religious purposes.

I’m ag’in it.

January 6, 2020

Academic Writing

Filed under: Education,Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:41 am
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The Conversation web site ran an interesting article on the third of January (Academic Writing Can Be Boring – But There Are Good Reasons for That) which gave some history of academic writing and why it tends to be dry and, well, dull.

Since I taught academic writing to my chemistry students I have some interest in this topic and I think there were a few things left out, at least as they apply to serious writing about chemical subjects.

Academic journals all set their own formats so that topic will not be covered but in addition:

  • Chemists are writing about their experiments which all occurred in the past, so they use past tense. In fiction writing exclusive use of the past tense is a manuscript killer because it implies that everything already happened, and so no change can occur. So, some history can be covered but there is no tension as to what might happen next because everything has already happened.
  • The only “actors” are the chemicals, so everything is written in passive voice, e.g. “water was boiled, chemicals were mixed, heat was applied.” They do not write “I boiled some water, etc.” because it doesn’t matter who boiled the water, just that it was boiled, so passive voice–impersonal (no pronouns other than “it,” etc.) is the rule of the day. This adoption would be lethal in fiction writing because there are no actors in the writing, so no characters.
  • There is no suspense because all formats start out with an abstract, which tells all regarding the article. This is so very busy scientists can read a synopsis of what was done to decide whether reading the details is worthwhile. (There is even a publication called “Chemical Abstracts” which published just the titles and abstracts of all of the chemistry articles appearing in the other journals. There is way too much stuff published to not supply these tools. (Of course, with the advent of computers and the Internet, there are tools that automatically search journals for a set of key words you supply, and many others.)

As a consequence, chemistry journal articles are dry and lifeless, exactly the way we want. The focus is on the chemicals and what they did . . . when . . . etc. The names at the top of the article tell you who did it, and there is no other mention of them otherwise. (Although this “rule” is breaking down somewhat.)

An Anecdote As a teacher of freshmen chemistry to freshmen, part of the lab portion of the course involved writing formal reports. Just before I retired, I got the number of such required reports down to exactly two. All students were supplied with written instructions as to how to do this. They even got a lecture going over these things. If something egregious showed up in the first set of reports, a “grade killer” provision was made for the second one. As an example, students seem to be addicted to formatting titles as if they were sentences (first word capitalized, period at the end). Since I was a part-time editor I made an attempt to figure out how this came to be and I believe it was from a practice of modern magazine ad formatting. The ads in magazines used to have “zingers” at the top, which were essentially titles, to attract attention. At some point, magazines figured out that having a sentence at the top of the ad implied something was being said and made it more read-worthy. Since students read a lot of magazines and very few books, this “format at the top” became their exemplars of “titles.”

In any case when this started showing up, it became my first “grade killer.” After leading a discussion of title formats (which resulted in the meta rule “If in doubt, capitalize all of the big words.”) I told them that if they instead formatted their title as if it were a sentence, they will have effectively killed their chance of getting an A on the report. (The grade being killed was the possibility of getting an A, not an automatic F on the report. I was not an ogre. If they formatted their report title as a sentence, the max grade they could get was a B.)

The first time I imposed this rule, the percentage of reports with titles formatted as sentences was ____ ? What do you think? I though it should be 1-3 percent. If you guessed 40% you hit the mark. I was shocked. What happened to all of the grade grubbers that were supposedly filling our college classrooms?

I tried all kinds of things, like supplying them with checklists of things to look over before submitting their reports (and lots more). The effects of these were small. (This ineffectiveness on my part fueled my early retirement to some extent.) End of Anecdote

Scientists have to learn how to write for other scientists. Even non-scientists (and I assumed the vast majority of my students would not become scientists) have to be able, from time to time, read something written for scientists and be able to decipher it, just as all U.S. citizens need to be able to read the Constitution and be able to decipher it . . . usually with some help.

I like my chemistry writings like I like my Martini’s “dry, shaken, not stirred” or some such.

Having said all of the above, I absolutely love the writings of gifted science writers. These are people who make science come alive for lay audiences. This is another gift altogether.

 

 

October 25, 2019

How to Study

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 9:49 am
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A recent article on The Conversation web site (How to avoid distractions while studying, according to science) addressed several studies that showed which things are distractions for studying students and which are not. For example, listening to songs being sung is a distraction, listening to orchestral music is not. Some of these studies were surprisingly simple. In one they took the usual apparatus for monitoring eye movements and monitored students reading while people nearby were speaking to one another (“irrelevant background speech” in science-speak). They found that people reading under these conditions had to go back more frequently to re-read passages . . . because they were distracted.

Most of the things they discovered were not at all surprising to me (no TV, no ear buds in an iPod unless you are listening to classical or jazz music with no words), etc. But as I have argued before, none of this makes any difference unless students want to implement such things.

When I got serious about studying (didn’t happen until in college) I developed a routine. While I did study in the library during lulls between classes, I saved the hard stuff for the evening. Since basketball practice went until 6 pm and then I either had to travel home and eat or go back to the dorm cafeteria and eat, I usually didn’t get to my studies until late. (I was committed to a consistent sleep schedule, so “lights out” was at 11 pm.) My final routine was to turn off all of the lights in the room and turn on my desk lamp (creating a small zone for my attention). There was no music playing, no TV, no food, no drink, as few distractions as I could find. Then I worked my way through assignments until they were completed. (All my study tools were at hand: pencil, pen, slide rule . . . hey, this was before personal computers; heck, it was before handheld calculators.)

As a teacher I encountered more and more students who claimed they could multitask (they can’t, this has been shown to be just an illusion of task-switching), they could study with music playing, the TV playing, etc. This, I think is a consequence, an unintended consequence of “grade inflation.” One could participate with all of those self-imposed handicaps and still get Bs and even As.

I tended to cruise on my native smarts. But over and over I ended up with the highest scoring B in my classes. (this pattern was observable all through high school and into college; observable to anyone who looked . . . I didn’t). I eventually decided that I wanted to do better, which is when I addressed my studying deficiencies. It wasn’t just those which were the causes of my lack of better performances. I was attempting a difficult major and playing a sport, so I had three hours of basketball practice daily for six months out of the nine month school schedule on top of taking class work loads above normal. My program was a four and half year program and after four years, I had only three course left to take . . . and I had run out of basketball eligibility. As luck would have it, of those three courses, two were “Fall term only” and the other was “Spring term only,” so I decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble to try to graduate mid year. I tool a 12 credit hour load in the Fall and nine credit hour load in the Spring (“normal” is 15 hours and I was used to more than that). This year felt like a vacation and my new study habits and the lightened load and no basketball allowed me to get all As save one B.

Now, I am telling you this, not because it is exceptional; it was not, but that this was normal. Each and every serious student has to “personalize” their education so that it suits themselves. This is not something that can be done for them, they have to do it themselves. It starts with “wanting to” and includes “being challenged” and some ability at introspection. This where I think we have been failing our youths to some extent. We keep thinking of an education as something we “do to them” as if it were some industrial process. Feedstock goes in here, then flows through converters A, B, and C and voilà, the finished product comes out there. But this is wrong, just as we do not want our doctors to just work on us as a veterinarian would, we want to be included in the process of maintaining or regaining our health, we feel the same way about our being educated. Teaching is what teachers are responsible for, learning is what students are responsible for. Figuring out how to learn most effectively is the responsibility of students, with teachers being, I hope, helpful.

I saw so many young people being cheated out of a good education by low expectations . . . by teachers, and teachers are at fault here—for giving out above standard grades for below standard learning, students do not end up being pushed to “trying harder.” Students have part-time jobs, study distracted if at all, and are sleep walking intellectually. Do not get me wrong, the best of our students are better than they ever have been, but those students check off all of the boxes (high expectations, high standards, and they “wanna”). I am talking mostly about the mass in the middle.

By the way, as an aside, it is well-known that Asians students perform better than other cohorts in college. Various conjectures have been offered as to why and the one that stood up to scrutiny? It was time on task, nothing else, they work harder, the “work ethic” that supposedly made American great.

I used to ask my classes “If you are taking a course and the teacher says, “Just chill, you’ll get a good grade” what do you think of that class? Most of the comments were along the lines of “Sign me up!” So, I continued “So, you like being cheated? Cheated out of a good education?” I said “I would immediately withdraw from that course and sign into one I could learn something in.” Education was apparently that rare thing that people wanted less of what they already had paid for.

I also went to the trouble (eventually) of clearly specifying what the expectations for the course were. Examination question examples were provided, with answers that would be given max scores, that sort of thing. Some students didn’t twig to the fact that all of these objectives, sample test questions, topic summaries (Chemistry 1A Cliff Notes, they were), etc. were provided until the very end of the course. One student asked in the final exam prep session whether it was worthwhile to read the syllabus I had been referring to all semester, to bewildered looks of the other students. These are things that frustrate teachers, but we all knew that students had to go through making such mistakes . . . and suffering the consequences . . . to wake up and smell the coffee/roses/etc.

So, I applaud the researchers who have identified things that work and things that don’t but the application of these can only be made by students. And I can’t tell you how many times I recommended them to turn off the TV, iTunes, etc. while studying, only to have them look at me as if I were an idiot and say “But I have been all along and getting As. . . .” but it was a great many times. (Students obey the Real Rules™ religiously. These are not the rules claimed to exist by most teachers.)

I must say, however, that when the light came on for a student, it was glorious. I told students that a study observation of mine that was really helpful was that Miller Time™ started on Friday at 6 pm. Since most of the college kids had no classes after, say, noon on Friday, the weekend started at noon. They would go home and watch reruns on TV or . . . whatever. So, I told them that in that Friday 12 Noon to 6 pm slot, their goal should be to get their homework for the weekend done. If they accomplished that, then their weekends would be truly free. There would be no nagging thoughts of “I gotta do that reading” or “I have to start that paper.” They would be done for the weekend and would start every week prepared.

I was coming back to my office one Friday afternoon to find a former student sitting at the table in the hall outside of my office door. He jumped up and shook my hand, smiling, and told me that he remembered what I said about using Friday afternoons and he had taken it to heart (He was doing it right then!) and that his grades were skyrocketing. I was so happy for him and while this wasn’t a frequent occurrence, it happened enough to keep me going and trying.

 

August 8, 2019

What, Kids Not Allowed to Pray in School? Poppycock!

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Republican, commenting on the El Paso mass shooting seemed to place most of the blame for mass shootings on violent video games but also threw in the lament that “we won’t even let our kids pray in our schools.”

WTF? Really? “We won’t even let our kids pray in our schools?”

It has been a long time since I was in school, but we were given multiple opportunities to pray every damned day. We received almost ten minutes per hour prayer time while in high school, plus a one hour prayer break mid-day.

Now these were called “class change times” and “lunch period,” but how much time do prayers take? In a seven period day, like I had in high school, along with lunch there were five breaks when I was not in class I could have used for prayer. This was almost two hours of time! If that is insufficient, then I have to ask what those children are doing in their before school and after school times.

And, any child who showed up only to find an algebra test they were unprepared to take will tell you that you can also pray right there is class . . . as long as you do it silently.

Now, if the esteemed Lt. Governor is talking about ostentatious group or mass praying, well that is strictly forbidden by scripture.

Prayer
5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:5-15

Now I suspect that the honorable Lt. Governor is actually one of those hypocrites, wanting public displays of praying as part of a marketing plan to expand his religion. I am sure that God would not approve (God is Love, etc.).

June 2, 2019

I Went Through Childhood Never Having Been Asked What I Wanted for Dinner

Filed under: Culture,Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:10 pm
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Last night I saw a TV commercial in which a bright and chipper Mom asked everyone what they wanted for dinner. Each kid chimed in with a different idea (pizza, spaghetti, whatever) and then Mom miraculously whipped up food that met all of these requests! I do not remember what the commercial was for (Miracle Whip?) because I had a moment of reverie trying to remember if I had ever been asked what I wanted for dinner. (When I reached a certain age it became very important for me to remember things. I have gotten to the stage in which I can remember that I once knew something but couldn’t remember what it was and sometimes I can then wrestle mightily with age and actually come up with what I thought I knew but had feared I had forgotten. Other times, of course . . . <cricket, cricket, cricket> memory gone!)

The best I can recollect, I can’t remember being asked what I wanted for dinner, at home. In very rare visits to restaurants (McDonald’s was considered a restaurant) I was allowed to select certain things but at home, nada.

In no way do I feel deprived. I had a loving and protected childhood. It took quite a while but I finally discovered that this was not the norm, TV shows like Leave It To Beaver, and Father Knows Best to the contrary. We ate dinner seated around the dining room table every evening. TV viewing was restricted to after dinner and Saturday morning cartoons. (We had but one set and it was black and white.)

I remember family meetings, around that self same table, in which we discussed where and when we were going on vacation. Us kids were not asked where we wanted to go or what we wanted to see but we still got excited about going on a trip. (I do remember being 14 and not wanting to go on vacation as it would gut my summer baseball season and I was allowed to stay home by myself for two weeks. Today that might be considered child abuse but I felt very trusted (and I got $20 to spend on groceries that, yes, I cooked myself).

It seems possible that children are now asked more often what their preferences are for such things. I don’t really know, but I suspect that this came about (if it did) based upon advertising.

In my world as a youth print and TV ads were generally not directed at children. The first of those in my recollection were Saturday morning commercials for breakfast cereals and toys. This was a time period where the audience was rather well defined (adults didn’t get up early on Saturday to watch Beanie and Cecil or Kukla, Fran, and Ollie) and it was felt that kids had some leverage in asking for sugary breakfast cereals and toys. Of course, enough whiny kids begging for such things resulted in editorials in newspapers decrying the adverts directed at children.

Soon to follow was fashion for kids. (Every boy I knew in my youth wore teeshirts and jeans or chinos, except the Catholic school kids who wore the current school uniform.)

I do not take my oft taken stance of the grumpy old man chasing the kids off of his lawn in this case, but I do wonder about consequences. Kids seems to be more focused on money and acquisitions than when I was young. My main source of income was scrounging soda pop bottles in the creek, taking them in for the deposits. (In high school I had a $2 week allowance (for dusting and vacuuming the house every Saturday on top of doing my normal chores and I felt quite flush.) Kids now seem to have more disposable income that some of their parents. They also seem to have more of everything that did we as kids.

Things change . . . often for the better and often not. Handling such changes should be given more room in our educational curricula as, for example, our political stances toward long-term phenomena, such as climate change, show we need better tools in this area.

March 20, 2019

Watch the Test Scores, Watch the Test Scores, You Are Getting Very Sleepy

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:24 pm
Tags: ,

In the age of Trump, distraction has become the primary tool of many politicians. This also applies to charter school advocates.

One reason charter school supporters and promoters dogmatically fixate on pedagogically meaningless test scores is because they do not want to draw any attention to the real underlying problem with charter schools, which is that they are privatized, marketized, corporatized, deregulated, deunionized, non-transparent, pro-competition, political-economic arrangements that siphon billions of public dollars from public schools every year and make rich people even richer while drowning in fraud, corruption, waste, arrests, scandal, and racketeering.

Shawgi Tell

January 14, 2019

Why Would Teachers Strike?

The teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) are going to strike. Why would they do that? As all union officials know (I was one previously), strikes are “lose-lose” propositions, so their only justification is that without one, the losses will be much greater.

In reasonable school districts, teacher strikes just do not happen, that is because of mutual understanding and respect. On the other hand LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, who came to the job with no background in education, commented to a reporter regarding the strike that “There are ways to educate kids that don’t rely on a physical body.” In other words, teachers are not necessary.

I wonder if the good superintendent would have the same attitude were he to need a substantial surgery, or were facing a threatening lawsuit, or whose tax forms were in terrific disarray? Would he have said “There are ways to operate on people’s bodies that don’t rely on a doctor.” or “There are ways to defend yourself in court that don’t rely on a lawyer.” or “There are ways to straighten out accounting messes that don’t rely on accountants.”?

Were this gentleman a skilled negotiator he would have realized that uttering such a statement, especially to a reporter and no matter how much he believed in it, had no “up-side.” It not only doesn’t produce any positive effect for “his side” but it mobilizes those on the “other side” against you. If you want labor peace, start with respect (it is easy to grant, not so easy to earn) and understanding (The rule for negotiators is: “seek first to understand before being understood.”).

I am not totally opposed to non-educators being selected for these positions, but I am against stupid people being hired for such positions.

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