Relentless Pursuit

Unlike the fall 2012 reading list, Perspectives from the Edge, my spring 2013 reading list concentrates on two groups I find generally positive: Teach For America and Knowledge is Power Program. I think they practice social justice. As those two words, “social justice”, mean very different things to different people, I should state my interpretation. I believe in the Roman Catholic definition, unsurprisingly, in the tradition of Rerum Novarum. I own a book of selections by Monsignor John Augustine Ryan, PhD, whose 1906 doctoral dissertation was published as A Living Wage. I don’t think my dissertation of teacher knowledge of conditional probability will have anywhere near that influence, by the way. It’s a different age. And I wonder what the Occupy movement would say if they knew the development of their term, which didn’t just burst forth from John Rawls’ head like Athena from Zeus.

The first book, Relentless Pursuit by Donna Foote, is about Teach For America, which burst forth from the head of Wendy Kopp, Princeton class of 1989. The book includes history, which can be found elsewhere. I want to focus on the original material of the text, the chronicle of Locke High School in Los Angeles. Originally built in 1967, by 2005 things had degenerated to the point where three employees had full time jobs painting over graffiti taggers (p. 92). About two-thirds of students were Black and one-third Hispanic, with major racial tension.
The main story focuses on four TFA teachers during the first year, Rachelle, Phillip, Hrag, and Taylor, plus their TFA supervisor Samir. Other people, including principal Dr. Frank Wells, also appear in the narrative. The TFA college graduates were part of the 12% accepted in 2005 from an applicant pool that included 8% or more of the students from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, and Amherst. Looking through my book notes, there are a lot of small records:

  • TFA has a belief-based structure like the army or missionary work. Teachers comprise the Corps, for example. There are lots of acronyms.
  • TFA engages in corporate style marketing. They advertised Millenial style like “An Army of One”, with lots of pictures of TFA Corps members in classrooms. Then they switched to look a little less corporate, because their surveys pointed to desires for positive impact and “giving back” along with challenge and personal growth. Potential corps members worried about their own ability, TFA’s organization, and individual issues of lack of money and sidetracking their own careers.
  • TFA members tended towards Battlefield relationships, including Ms. Kopp, who married a founding staff member at TFA. Rachelle begins to date another Locke teacher. Taylor and Hrag become at least BFFs, if not FWBs. (Internet slang counteracts my earlier reference to Rerum Novarum.)
  • Principal Wells thought that 35% of the teachers at Locke did not have the skills to be in a classroom, as cited on page 211. Even worse, better teachers tended to leave Locke for safer, better organized environments. The book describes one group’s departure for a Green Dot charter school. Students cried. Locke got worse. Green Dot charters took over the school three years later, in 2008. According to recent news, things have improved relative to other nearby poor schools, but overall achievement remains low.
  • Samir, as TFA supervisor, has a cold unsupportive demeanor with his charges. He definitely followed the word of Matt Kramer, former McKinsey consultant and eventual TFA President. On page 189, Kramer downplays being nice: “Civility and humility are there, but that’s not the same thing as nice. Nice is saying it matters more how people feel than how they perform, and whether they deliver results. … It’s not about you, it’s about delivering results. You don’t let your personal emotions get in the way of results.”
  • Sharita’s story on pages 159 and 160, well, is bleak. Cold cold bleakness. “The earth may just as well have opened up and swallowed her whole.” I’ve reached a point in life, through personal effort, that I don’t show outward effects from such tales. That doesn’t mean I ignore them.

After reading this book, I realized that the Teach for America organization and I do not share a vision of social justice. I detest the term “give something back” because it implies that TFA Corps members do not share community with those around Locke High. That’s not the preferential option for the poor; that’s not the righteous of Matthew 25.

I don’t oppose Teach for America, unlike much of the “Educational Community”. The book mentions Linda Darling-Hammond, now at Stanford. Reading her writing, it makes me happier that I didn’t apply to Stanford. In her 1994 argument against TFA, she claims “in 1990 graduates of teacher education programs had higher levels of academic achievement than the average college graduate.” (Phi Delta Kappan, September 1994, p. 24) Evaluating evidence becomes crucial. Looking at footnote 17 on page 34, support comes from one study, where “50% of newly qualified teachers earned a grade-point average of 3.25 or better, as compared to 40% of all graduates.” What’s insufficient about this claim?

I’ll go watch a Harlem Shake meme video to give you 30 seconds.

Grade-point averages are set by faculty. They’re not comparable across departments or schools. I have little idea how an education faculty member awards an A, though I suspect it’s at a much lower level than how Statistics, Mathematics, and other Science faculty do.

TFA was making the same error, as described on page 294. They defined mastery as 80% scores on teacher-developed and teacher-scored exams. I could make and score a test where almost everyone got 80%, or I could make and score a test where almost nobody got 80%. Neither shows much of anything. TFA eventually decided to determine performance against state tests, a metric outsiders could evaluate.
TFA administration showed other instances of improvement. For instance, this book shows how new teachers suffered from lack of support. They were not given lesson plans or much lesson guidance. After complaints, new teachers now receive toolkits and curriculum binders. As Ms. Foote writes on page 326, “New CMs were still being taught how to fish; the difference was, now they were being served some, too.” This helped address one of TFA’s problems, the lack of experience of its members. It wasn’t a permanent solution, though.

Perhaps the most important quote comes from TFA dropout Dave, on page 140. “The TFA lifestyle is not sustainable,” he said as he left Locke to return closer to his betrothed after several months with four class preps. It’s not. It’s a stopgap to address the severe lack of teachers in bad areas, particularly in math and science. Unsurprisingly, the book notes that TFA had no problem placing people in math and science positions, but much more resistance in the over-staffed and academically easier elementary ranks.
An ideal world doesn’t need Teach For America. Monsignor Ryan’s world doesn’t, given the Catholic church’s extensive education structure. Maybe even Linda Darling-Hammond’s world doesn’t. But that’s not the current world, and as long as persons capable of high school math want to sign up, even for a little while, I want groups like TFA to find places to use them. For a potential longer term solution, perhaps my next topic, KIPP, will yield an answer.

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Teach Like a Champion

The fourth book on my fall 2012 reading list was Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. Since I work in an industry where a football game warmup, contest, and post game counts as only three hours, I figure I’m allowed to bend time as well. This book fits with the fall theme, Perspectives from the Edge, because it’s not typical. One blog writer described it as samizdat literature, passed around secretly like Emmanuel Goldstein’s book in 1984. That’s not true, since one can easily purchase the book on Amazon, but it’s not part of mainstream education school training. Mr. Lemov makes that point on page 8. “There isn’t a school of education in the country that would stoop to teach its aspiring teachers how to train their students to pass out papers, even though it is one of the most valuable things they could possibly do.” I don’t know if this statement is true, because there are a lot of education schools in the US. Somebody somewhere likely does that. Nevertheless, overall the academic centers use Freire more than tactical guides like this.

Mr. Lemov holds an ideology very different from Freire, Apple, and Constructivists. In the Lemov classroom, the teacher must have control, as responsibility and duty. This claim appears many times, such as page 167: “It’s one of the responsibilities of the job to bring order and respect sufficient to protect all students’ right to learn to your classroom.” And on page 114, about cold calling students, “One of its positive effects is that it establishes that the room belongs to you.” Teachers should have control. In this book, says page 148, “control is more than a necessary evil. It often supports freedom.” Benign, enlightened control is a very good thing, and the techniques described should help a teacher establish and maintain that control.

I firmly agree with this fundamental assumption. In a K-12 school class, parents and guardians have transferred power and trust to the school and teacher. In a college class, my students pay me to help them. (Well, they pay the school, the administrators take a huge proportion and give me only a little … you get the point.) Enrollees grant me power and authority. I believe it a duty to accept and apply that warrant. A teacher should establish enlightened control because the leader should know more about the subject and the approaches to help learners gain knowledge. If not, why does one pay money? Why send a student on a bus every weekday? I could digress into a discussion of online courses, Khan Academy, and homeschooling, where people have decided that the power transfer has failed, but that’s not the point of the book. Perhaps some other time.

The most contrary review I could find comes from Ray Salazar. Mr. Salazar contributes to National Public Radio, which has a very different set of beliefs than Mr. Lemov. Here’s the key paragraph in the negative review:

The question this researcher wants us to ask when we see perfectionist discipline is, “What are students being socialized to do?” In Teach Like a Champion, students are being socialized to be passive, mob followers. They are being taught that recall of information is all they can, should, or be expected to do. The researcher also questioned why schools must institute militaristic, penal-system practices before they believe our students can learn. My response is that the priority in these schools is control–not learning.

We have reached a fundamental dilemma. Mr. Lemov counters this idea by saying on page 157, “Certain freedoms are overrated.” While students could be let free to organize their notes and study as they think, this leads to failure, particularly in environments without lots of positive models. “Too often teachers have not taken the time to teach their students step by step, what successful learning behavior looks like.” (p. 146) The ultimate goal of strict management is not control, it’s establishing discipline, in the second definition of my dictionary – controlled behavior from training that leads to success, “the path to college”.

Mr. Salazar believes that this tactical approach establishes only low expectations. “Instead of fulfilling the expectations of meek, passive, and low-achieving stereotypes, we need to teach so our low-income black, brown, and even white students create realities that contradict the history of oppression.” Teach Like a Champion starts from a different place, increasing standardized test scores. In the conclusion on page 310, “It [this book] starts with and is justified by the results it helps teachers achieve, not by its fealty to some ideological principle.” I can’t solve this dilemma, because it’s not solvable. Like many conflicts in current America, it’s about axiomatic belief.

I want to talk about what I learned from the book. In the technique list, I saw ways I could improve my classroom leadership: not settling for partially correct student replies, since Right is Right; planning lessons around I / We / You; keeping my praise more precise and meaningful; changing pace because even 50 minutes is too long for a single tone; and planning better questions. Chapter 9 on questioning is particularly praiseworthy, as is the concept of Ratio beginning on page 93. Ratio has a bad name; I’d label it cognitive distribution. This principle summarizes the book for me. Ultimately, students should perform the tasks and achieve success, but the teacher has the responsibility to preside and manage.

A successful lesson is rarely marked by a teacher’s getting a good intellectual workout at the front of the room. Push more and more of the cognitive work out to students as soon as they are ready, with the understanding that the cognitive work must be on-task, focused, and productive.

Understanding Ratio is the key to this book, where I believe Mr. Salazar misses the point. There are people that demand control for personal power. Mr. Lemov does not appear to fall into that category. The back cover of my copy describes the book’s purpose as to “unlock the talent and skill waiting in your students, no matter how many previous classrooms, schools, or teachers have been unsuccessful.” That’s what I desire, too, and why I think this book should become part of teacher training curriculum. My education school would instruct teachers on paper passing and other management techniques. Tactics are not sufficient, but good tactics are necessary to fulfill the teacher’s leadership responsibility.

Interestingly, one of the quotes on the back cover comes from Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, Knowledge Is Power Program. My original spring list focused on KIPP, so we might have another foreshadowing moment. 🙂

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2013: What’s wrong with the white knight?

Last year, it took me until late June to publish my resolution, Taylor Swift World. I’m quicker this time. Did I live life more passionately? Well, let’s first review 2012.

  • UN Member States Travelled: 7. In order of visit, USA, Mexico, Italy, Philippines, South Korea, China, North Korea. Plus two observers, the Holy See and Sovereign Order of Malta.
  • Flight Miles: 59,616 over 43 segments. This is 30,269 less than 2011.
  • CV Lines: 4. One teaching, at the Pyongyang Summer Institute. One peer-reviewed paper, How attorneys judge college mock trials as second author behind Ruth Wagoner. One conference discussant, at the IASE Roundtable which should become a peer reviewed paper in 2013. One service, as President of MESA, the mathematics education student association.
  • Class Grades: 8 A, maintaining my unsullied Georgia record.
  • Facebook Friends: 248, including 16 added in 2012.
  • Kisses: 0.

In many areas, it appears things went well. Nevertheless, one could easily argue that even though I have approximately 804,000 airline miles, 478,000 hotel points, and 120,000 credit card points, I have a zero in the most important metric. Maybe the only important metric. I aspire to use other numbers to help me modify that zero. I don’t mean the way I saw in Cebu, either. I need to build appeal to women that I find attractive as potential partners.

I thought appeal might be by virtue. Because of media decisions, when there are tales like Dawn Hochsprung and Victoria Soto, people have the idea that heroism only arises during catastrophes. That’s not true. I’ve written before, about the Stockdale Paradox and Medals and Goodness. I recall the citation written by Andrew Carnegie: “The false heroes of barbarous man are those who can only boast of the destruction of their fellows. The true heroes of civilisation are those alone who save or greatly serve them.” I still think that among the 100 channels on TV, one of them should dramatize the citations of the Carnegie Hero Medal. Instead, I get Honey Boo Boo and a bunch of “Wars”, like Storage, Shipping, Property, and Cupcake. Why are cupcakes fighting? Did buttercream insult ganache’s family?

American culture’s jaundiced disposition and loss of heroic memory has clearer expressions. Terms have become subverted, like “White Knight”. Starting about 1:45 in this behind the scenes video for The Guild. “What is this term that they’re using with such disparagement?” Felicia Day asks. Apparently, White Knighting is now a pejorative insult. Why? There is a defensible complaint, that some men think rushing to defend a woman, no matter the need or validity of position, will increase romantic chances. Maybe that happens, but I’m not interested in a woman with terrible ideas or too much unsolved trouble, waiting for a savior. Manic Pixie Dream Girl? I’ve said as much. But not a Damsel in Distress. I support, not save. And since we’re going with tropes, I’d be a Celibate Hero.

The Internet is a heartless place. It was never designed for emotional support, I know. What about other culture? Movies? With my parents, on Christmas Eve we watched The Princess Bride from 1987. On Boxing Day we watched The Dark Knight Rises from 2012. Both are well liked and have high ratings. The Princess Bride is higher on rottentomatoes, 98% to 87%, while on imdb, voters have The Dark Knight ahead 8.5 to 8.0. Both have plots related to revenge over a dead father. The difference, the shift over 25 years, was startling. Yes, I know I’m picking a light 1987 film. The book is more satirical, and I think not as good. And yes, I’m picking a dark 2012 film, though it’s not that un-representative. What about TV? Game of Thrones? Homeland? Breaking Bad? The Walking Dead? Mad Men? I have more hope than those five shows combined, and I’ve used Rihanna’s We Found Love and Kanye West’s Heartless as semester theme songs while at Georgia. Hip-pop is good for increasing my pre-test focus.

Anyway, back to my resolution. I’m changing my song. No more Heartless, even though it summarizes the Malthusian contest of academic life. Negativity pushes me towards more zeroes. I will be working harder overall, because courses are the easy part. Graduate school is not a job; it’s only the means. My advisor and I will build a plan over January and February. I want out of the penalty box. Hey, I might be able to escape before the NHL does!

What’s my new song? I don’t fully know. For now I’ll return to the opening theme to Chrono Cross, a great RPG game. It’s about adventure, and heroism, and realizing that destruction is not the best ending. I’m still going to practice the chivalric virtues, protecting the weak and testing the strong. It’s not Internet White Knighting, because I’m not looking for some sort of carnal reward. As I said, I don’t want a damsel in distress. It’s acting like the person I want to be. And then, maybe I’ll become someone deserving of more than zero.

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Ideology and Curriculum

The second book on my fall 2012 reading plan was Ideology and Curriculum by Michael Apple. I read the Third Edition, which includes two post-9/11 chapters. Dr. Apple is a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where one can peruse his biography. I found this book an illustrative example of an archetype I see in academia: the Hero of Hypocrisy. Unfortunately, I don’t mean a Disposable Hero of Hiphoprisy, who in 1992 published the song Television: The Drug of a Nation. That song is more authentic than this author. To understand why, we need to consider the book’s major claims and then how Dr. Apple fails.

One major claim of the book appears on page 2, that schools preserve and distribute economic inequality and cultural capital. It repeats in many other places, like on page 41, “[Schools] teach a hidden curriculum that seems uniquely suited to maintain the ideological hegemony of the most powerful classes in this society.” Hegemony saturates consciousness and allows for a selective tradition. This causes “structural inequalities of power and access to resources,” according to page 61. Upper class children prepare to become professionals and receive different opportunities than lower class children trained for the working class. The interview expands on the forces he sees behind the control of schools, his opponents. They include economic neo liberals; halcyon neo conservatives; religious authoritarians; and “experts for hire”, researchers and evaluators who analyze and profit under the current system.
In opposition, Apple argues for collective commitment from a neo-Marxist perspective. His goal is less conservative than Rawls, “increasing the advantage and power of the least advantaged,” he states on pages 10, 149, and elsewhere. He suggests that speaking about conflict within and between groups would encourage collective commitment, bemoaning that fields like Black Studies and the history of science focus only on those that stayed within the legitimate bounds of protest, not the sharper debates.

Some of my problems with this book come from its age. Apple wrote most of the chapters in the 1970s, when academia differed. Black Studies today talks about Malcolm X. I don’t know if technical and positivistic forms had cultural status in 1975, but they don’t in 2012. There’s no positivistic ideal. Academic is predominantly negative and critical. In that way, he has triumphed; he remarks on those gains in the ending interview. (I appreciate his recognition on pages 192 and 193 that quantitative work has some benefit.)

Overall, though, I find that this book fails because Michael W. Apple pretends to have no power, when he actually has quite a lot. Earlier, I wrote about Paolo Freire. I wrote my concluding quote after starting Dr. Apple’s book and thus intentionally mentioned Madison:

I can see why guiding fully engaged learners into social change appeals to academics. It sounds exciting and rewarding. Perhaps those people in comfortable, well-paid jobs with permanent employment could move to developing places, where those conditions exist. It’s certainly not true in Cambridge or Athens Georgia or Madison.

Freire was jailed by the Brazilian military dictatorship. I didn’t agree with the hypotheses about educational control, because 2012 America is a world where almost all would classify as Freirean oppressors. But I respected him, because he made actions expressing his beliefs.

On the other hand, Dr. Apple is a professor with tenure. Since he’s paid by the people of the state of Wisconsin, we can look up his salary. Go ahead. Enter Apple as the name and select the Madison campus. You’ll see Apple, Michael W twice, because he has a joint appointment. His 2009-10 salary? $135,172. For comparison, there are three other Apples on the list, all full time positions. Their combined salary is $130,575. What type of person that wants to “contribute most to the advantage of the least advantaged” takes as much money from the public as three other workers? $135,000 could support several impoverished families. Desperate, I searched online to see if Dr. Apple had a foundation to which he contributed most of his salary, or a record of constant charity work. His CV had no such listing. I did find a reference to constant travel, including “lecturing and doing some political work in Chile.”

That doesn’t sound like true commitment. What true Marxist takes $135,000 from the people each year? An income in the world top 1%? Instead, it sounds like pretending to support the disadvantaged while maintaining one’s highly advantaged status, with lots of money and protected employment. Professors try this frequently. I refuse to let professors put on an powerless act. Professors have lots of power. Ask students like myself! Ask anyone seeking tenure in his department!

It’s easy to pretend to support the underprivileged. You can cite some story from teaching about Joseph, who was held back and went to jail and how terrible that is. Surprisingly and thankfully, the tale includes the real reason Joseph failed. Joseph didn’t participate in gym. “The things that students were asked to do in gym were, to him, ‘lame’.” (page x, introduction) In what system does fourth grade gym subjugate boys? This book does little except exploit people’s concern through big academic words, making Dr. Apple wealthy and privileged. When he takes my salary, which you can find here, then I’ll start to believe. When he fights with his administration to let him volunteer in a developing nation, like I am, then I’ll start to believe. It doesn’t even have to be North Korea. For now, though, I’m more Marxist than him. Dr. Apple becomes a Hero of Hypocrisy. After all, as the Disposable Heroes titled their first album, Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury.

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

The third book on my fall 2012 reading plan, Perspectives on the Edge, was Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Amy Chua. Yes, my perceptive frequent readers will notice that I haven’t written about the second book. Ideology and Curriculum by Michael Apple holds that position, but it’s a lot more academic. I finished Ms. Chua’s book in roughly two hours; my parents wondered why I was reading so slowly. I don’t tell them that I average 12 pages per hour in academic reading like Dr. Apple’s screed. The ideology report will come later.

Although this review covers educational issues, because this book had popular notice, most importantly a Wall Street Journal excerpt, I’ll include a popular review. It’s a middling book. In some writing, Ms. Chua (law professors do not generally have PhDs) mentioned that she felt the book was mostly tongue-in-cheek. I disagree. There’s not enough humor or softness to make it sound consistently that way, though there are humorous parts. She does acknowledge her faults, like a tendency to exaggerate consequences, which sometimes lead to those humorous parts. In the end, though, I can’t see the general reader gaining value from reading this book. I rate the book a 2, out of 5. Instead, I would suggest the free excerpt and Ms. Chua’s USA Today op-ed in May 2011. These describe her attitude more succinctly. Sophia wrote a reply to the New York Post, but Lulu has not. The younger daughter is under 18, but that doesn’t preclude authorship. Her silence speaks loudly.

What about the book for education? Primarily, I saw the effects of SES and genetics. The Rubenfeld-Chua family has lots of resources, a factor not really acknowledged in the book. The family was able to take frequent international trips. They employed expensive private tutors, including bringing an instructor and her holidays on a multi-day trip. Even finding those high quality instructors requires access that many people don’t have. In the lottery of birth parents, Sophia and Lulu drew winning tickets.

But, before you think I’ve become one of those academics that pretend to preach about equity while zealously maintaining their own superiority, let me talk about genetics. Offspring from a Berkeley professor grandfather and two Ivy League professor parents have lots of good genes. The American Enterprise Institute author summarizes this issue.

They would be really smart if she had put them up for adoption at birth with the squishiest postmodern parents. They would not have turned out exactly the same under their softer tutelage, but they would probably be getting into Harvard and Princeton as well. Similarly, if Amy Chua had adopted two children at birth who turned out to have measured childhood IQs at the 20th percentile, she would have struggled to get them through high school, no matter how fiercely she battled for them.

Having established means and opportunity, it’s good to ponder the author’s motive, asked on page 148 of the hardcover library edition, in the chapter “Blowout in Budapest”.

Here’s a question I often get: “But Amy, let me ask you this. Who are you doing all this pushing for — your daughters” — and here always the cocked head, the knowing tone — “or yourself?” I find this a very Western question to ask (because in Chinese thinking, the child is the extension of the self). But that doesn’t mean it’s not an important one. My answer, I’m pretty sure, is that everything I do is unequivocally 100% for my daughters.

That’s not true. Ms. Chua took a job at Duke Law School while her husband already had a position at Yale Law. The family “made do.” Splitting a household is not 100% for daughters. It was not for economic reasons, since a Yale Law professor makes plenty of money. So it’s for career, but Connecticut has Quinnipiac and UConn law schools. New York City has Cardozo, Fordham, St. John’s, New York Law School, plus others. If she was truly concerned about her daughters, she would have ensured a two parent household. She would have taken less business trips, since every flight represents missed dinner and family time. She might have even not worked! I’m not saying that women should always become full time child raisers. I’m saying that not everything was 100% for her daughters.

Lulu confronts her mother on page 205, “Everything you say you do for me is actually for yourself.” Ms. Chua needs to order and control others. It shows with Sophia and Lulu, Pushkin and Coco, and most obviously with Katrin. Instead of waiting, she bombards her sister in chemotherapy with voice messages. As page 195 states, “Well, now I couldn’t help myself. I was too anxious to care about being annoying.” That’s not Chinese self-control. That’s very self-centered. And very American.

The author’s major personal flaws detract from her message about development, which I find appealing and informative. She argues that children should be assisted to develop skills and capability instead of passions. Adults should assume their children have strength, not fragility. The “Chinese” approach has higher regard for children in the sense of knowing how much they can take. Rote repetition is underrated in America, because “nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” (p. 29) That’s not true, but many things become better once they become more routinized.

The USA Today article notes that the book “is being marketed the opposite way in China, as a story about the importance of giving kids more freedom.” In American media, kids have snappy backtalk and independence. The book reminds us that in the US, “typically, it’s the parents who need to be taught a life lesson — by their children.” (p. 24) There’s disdain for age and experience, that knowledge might be transferable. Instead, American media promotes individual self-discovery. Mathematics education demonstrates this through Radical Constructivism, the theological doctrine that knowledge cannot be conveyed or instilled by perception or communication. The adult’s role, the leader’s position, the parent’s control, has become weaker and weaker. That weakens the system, the community, and child development.

In most cases, representations of individual self-discovery do not promote discipline, focus, and determination, fundamentals that underpin creative thought. In the media, inventions just happen, despite what Thomas Edison claimed, 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. The emphasis on perspiration is the strong point of the “Chinese” approach. As Ms. Chua writes in the newspaper, “If in their early years we teach our children a strong work ethic, perseverance and the value of delayed gratification, they will be much better positioned to be self-motivated and self-reliant when they become young adults.” We see the effects of hard work in many places, including East Asian good test results and individuals like the Chua family. It is a shame that this positive message is obscured by the tyranny of the author.

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Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The first book on my fall 2012 reading plan, Perspectives on the Edge, was Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire. This book appears on the reading lists of many American education programs, as detailed by Steiner and Rozen in a 2003 book chapter. The problem is not what Freire wrote. His work differs little from other left-wing revolutionaries. It sounds tempting, the intermixing of freedom of authority, but has this terrible practical result of revolutionaries becoming the new oppressors. Luxuries and power seduce most. For instance, Freire looks fondly upon Cuba.

The problem arises when academics see the word Pedagogy and decide that Freire’s ideas apply to K-12 education in 2012 America. They do not. Sol Stern of the Kapitalist Fundamentalist Manhattan Institute provides one critique. Mine differs, because I don’t believe that markets can solve all problems. Instead, I want to talk about Freire’s experience. He wrote in the late 1960s based on his life in Brazil. Back then, roughly 40% of Brazilian adults were illiterate. Even though Brazil now has mandatory voting, with some enforcement, back then Brazilian illiterates could not vote. Reading and writing literally meant power. He worked with adults, trying to ensure what almost all Americans today – even the Kapitalists – would call a right. We might also recall that many US states had literacy examinations, including this 1958 Georgia version. Southern states enacted alternative methods for white illiterates; not until 1965 did the Voting Rights Act eliminate the tests.

Strongest evidence of change appears on page 39 of the 20th anniversary edition. Freire writes that the oppressed “did not eat, had no clothes or shoes, neither studied nor traveled, much less listened to Beethoven.” I can’t listen to Beethoven right now. Since I don’t own any Beethoven recordings, instead I’m listening to Bach. Am I oppressed? Joking aside, almost all Americans meet those standards. That’s a wonderful development. Brazil has also markedly improved, with the sixth largest world economy, though their adult illiteracy rate remains 10%. The remaining illiterates can vote now, by the way.

Freire also had a very different political situation. In 1964, Brazil’s generals had deposed a popular socialist President. The USA supported the generals, including sending an aircraft carrier just in case they needed one. The generals put him into jail for 70 days. Rather sensibly, he left the country. He didn’t come back for 15 years. The military dictatorship continued for 5 more, until 1985. I see his perspective. I see its origin. I understand that. There is no large scale American citizen situation remotely like Paulo Freire. To claim otherwise, that schools resemble 1960s Brazil, insults his actions and the Brazilians during that era. Under Freire’s standard, we Americans are almost all oppressors.

Academics point to criticism about the banking concept of education, such as pages 53-54. “In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those who they consider to know nothing.” Interestingly, sometimes peasants in educational projects defer to the teacher. Freire considers them trapped in the current system. Instead, praxis of reflection and action must prevail. People must become Subjects, co-investigators, not Objects. They become owners of their own labor (p. 164). Dialogue replaces Domination. “Only through communication can human life hold meaning.” (p. 58) Instead of banking, education proceeds through problem posing.

Freire had two advantages that do not appear in much of education: verbal ability and intrinsic motivation. Adults speak better than six year olds, just from development. It would be very challenging to implement this approach with young children. On the other side, young children generally like school. Older pupils frequently do not. Mandatory schooling makes students Objects, having structure imposed. That’s not Freirean revolution.

I can see why guiding fully engaged learners into social change appeals to academics. It sounds exciting and rewarding. Perhaps those people in comfortable, well-paid jobs with permanent employment could move to developing places, where those conditions exist. It’s certainly not true in Cambridge or Athens Georgia or Madison.

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Pieces of Me

No, I’m not listening to Ashlee Simpson or Ledisi. There are two other online references which I thought I’d add to the blog.

First, I spent some of July teaching in the DPRK, generally known as North Korea. Here is the
Pyongyang report with links to pictures.

Second, I was asked to write a profile for the front page of It’s called an
Amazing Student Profile, though I don’t think I’m amazing at all. Plus, if that picture was the best of the 300 taken, no wonder I’m single.

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Taylor Swift World

Even though it’s the end of June, and The End might be near (key sign: Harvard in NCAA men’s basketball tournament), it’s not too late to announce 2012 resolutions. After all, half the year remains. I resolve to live life more passionately, like screwball comedies and Taylor Swift songs. What might be wrong with that? Well, lots of things.

First, I have to defend the concept, because it’s not common culture. It was in the past, in highly regarded films like The Philadelphia Story or Roman Holiday or Casablanca. Would the ending of Casablanca be the same today? Likely not, nor would it be as memorable. There used to be guidelines, the Hays Code. Not every suggestion was wonderful, like the embargo on race mixing. Many were, though. Here’s an illuminating quote from the code:

Mankind has always recognized the importance of entertainment and its value in rebuilding the bodies and souls of human beings. But it has always recognized that entertainment can be of a character either HELPFUL or HARMFUL to the human race, and in consequence has clearly distinguished between:

(a) Entertainment which tends to improve the race, or at least to re-create and rebuild human beings exhausted with the realities of life; and
(b) Entertainment which tends to degrade human beings, or to lower their standards of life and living.

I’m tired of degrading things. I’ve got a thesaurus, so let’s add synonyms. I’m tired of watching people be humiliated. I’m don’t want to walk around Evanston and see profane swear word note paper displayed in a store window. I’m tired of undignified attitudes rewarded. I’m tired of cheapness and brutality. Looking at the 2011 hotel top movie rentals, Bridesmaids? Hangover II? No Strings Attached? Though I might laugh, how am I re-created and improved by those offerings?

I’ve been searching for some version of culture rebuilding. It’s been tough, because creation and establishing and general policy aren’t fashionable. At least in the United States, it doesn’t sell well. In academia, instead of building and creating, philosophies such as post-this and critical-that are negative and destructive. It amazes me that well-paid, safe, job-protected professors don’t consider themselves part of the Power. It drives me crazy. The University is not my cultural model. No matter how many times I subvert an assignment, like to write about the year 2017 by scribing a note to my unborn child, I won’t make it lyrical.

Perhaps as guidance, I had a powerful fantasy image on my Thanksgiving trip. You might want to put away any cupcakes you have out.

She – my wife – and I are in the black car, traveling through Hong Kong on our way to Sha Tin. It had been a good flight from the States, a long flight, but comfortable in business class. We’re anticipating our holiday … We arrive, and the club offers drinks, then we head to the suite … There is this gorgeous giant bathtub, easily sized for two. We soak in the warm tub, cuddling, caressing, canoodling together. Then we rest, smoothly, in the king bed. … When we waken, it’s just after sunrise, with fog over the mountains. And as the day brightens, we express our love.
Sha Tin View

Now that you’ve recovered from a saccharin-induced blackout, I warned you! I realized that I had basically written a Taylor Swift song. It was a little worrisome. Was I being silly, like from about 2:00 to 3:00 in this Jimmy Fallon clip? Speak Now? Was I following a bad path?

On TV, Ms. Swift has tea time with young girls. It’s rare to see her even in a bikini, let alone something salacious. This is her typical elegant look. And it’s very attractive. She accepts being a role model:

If you’re choosing to put out music and be out there in the public, you have to be conscious of the fact that you are a part of the raising of the next generation and you do have an impact on that. So, choose your outfits and your words and your actions carefully. I think it matters. I think it really does. You can pretend it doesn’t, but it does.

Is Taylor Swift a desirable role model? Or, as someone wrote (with profanity, of course)
at, is she a Feminist’s nightmare? She’s followed her dream from an early age. She left her first record label in order to gain creative control. She writes her own songs, including passive-agressive stabs at people that hurt her. She has millions of dollars and Nashville songwriting credibility. If that’s not power to a female, I’m not sure what is. It’s a lot more complicated than white knights, as the Village Voice writes: “One of the two fairy-tale songs on Fearless mocked a guy for trying to white-knight her, and the only mention of such things on Speak Now is ‘I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you’ — note the tense.”

Yes, love stories and Hong Kong fantasies are part of Taylor Swift world. The string trio playing in Seoul Incheon airport live there. They degraded nothing. I envisioned a slow waltz in front of the band.

Some fantasies are fine, perhaps even necessary. Without hope, what is there? Post-modernism? Nevertheless, just thinking about things doesn’t qualify you or me as a resident of the passionate world. That’s the tourist visa. Living there takes effort. For example, if Ms. Swift performs 100 shows a year, that’s 100 times preparing the stage, setting the song list, adjusting the sound mix, and other stuff. Dozens of stagehands work behind the scenes. Passionate living is hard work, much harder than sitting around waiting for America’s Got Talent.

We’ll see how I do. Today, I awarded myself one point for stopping to listen to the string trio, and two points for literally skipping through the transfer area at Incheon. Of course, like Whose Line is it Anyway?, the points don’t matter. Passion, mission, and rebuilding have consequence. For those I strive.

Posted in Mass Media, Musings After Midnight | Leave a comment

Penn State and the media’s Freudian complex

I have 2 credits from Penn State. During summer 1990, I attended a summer computing institute for high school students. To acquire dorm housing, one had to be an enrolled student. The people in charge made up a course; I’m pretty sure I received an A. Until I finish this semester at Georgia, Penn State is the only BCS school for which I have credits.

I’ve never been abused, sexually or otherwise. I’ve dealt with sexual abuse consequences, tangentially and centrally. Tangentially, my childhood priest from western Pennsylvania, Father Elwood Figurelle, went to jail for child porn. In 2005, sexual troubles became more central. While I was graduate fellowship leader at U. Chicago Catholic campus ministry, we had a sudden pastor change. A past incident of adult sexual misconduct resurfaced, and Father Mike Yakaitis resigned. Six years ago, I wrote an emotionally raw page about the situation. As part of the UC situation, I agreed to comment upon a draft video from the SNAP network. In the video, victims told their sexual abuse stories and detailed personal consequences. Yes, it was thoroughly miserable.

The current Penn State situation is tangential to my life. It appears that former Penn State defensive coordinator Gerry Sandusky engaged in sexual acts with underage boys. Almost all the cited acts occurred after he was asked to resign from coaching.

Penn State has been known for a well run football program. It helped improve the school’s image. It has no NCAA violations and good graduation rates. Coach Joe Paterno had just become the leader in Division I victories. After donating multiple million dollars for a LIBRARY, he was likely to retire a well celebrated role model. Now that won’t happen. In 2002, he received an abuse report about Mr. Sandusky from an assistant coach. Mr. Paterno fulfilled the legal requirement by promptly informing his supervisor. The supervisors failed in their duty by not conducting a thorough investigation. They, not Mr. Paterno, face potential criminal liability.

At my current school, for cases of sexual violence Mr. Paterno did what I am told to do: Inform my supervisor and/or the Non-Discrimination/Anti-Harassment Officer. I am not told to notify the police, though I am for things like bomb threats. Let’s say I didn’t have past experience with sexual abuse cases. Why should I believe I need to do more? Why should I not trust the people who wrote the guidelines?

Anyway, as I write at 2:30 PM on Remembrance Day, we know Mr. Paterno took no further steps, no moral actions. Seizing the opportunity to sully someone while feeling self-righteous, media vultures pounced. Thanks to cable and American’s desire for sport, we now have sports “reporters”. They desire to be like “real news”, so any time something sounds remotely like a non-sports story it becomes overblown. It embarrasses me that I once watched sports reporting shows. Now, I use sports talk as my radio alarm, because it’s so annoying that I wake up quickly. It works better than Mexican mariachi bands.

After pondering for an hour Tuesday night, instead of doing algebra, I realize my sorrow follows from seeing the Virgin-Whore reaction. In Freudian psychoanalysis, men view women in a simple dichotomy. A female can only be saintly or debased, not a complex organism with positive and negative qualities. Mr. Paterno and the Penn State program had the Virgin reputation, particularly after the 1987 Fiesta Bowl against Miami for the top poll ranking. Now, apparently the talking heads need to feel better by making him a Whore.

People label this the worst scandal in the history of college sports. It is bad. Let’s compare. Last decade, there was a murder coverup at Baylor. Last year, the Notre Dame football program asked a student assistant to film practice from a scissor lift during high winds. That day, he tweeted “Gusts of wind up to 60 mph today will be fun at work … I guess I’ve lived long enough.” The lift toppled, killing him.

  • Notre Dame: The football coach had direct responsibility, committed an illegal act of neglect, and someone died.
  • Penn State: The football coach did not have direct responsibility, committed the correct legal act, and nobody died, even though child sexual abuse is extremely bad.

At Notre Dame, no one was disciplined and the university paid merely a $42,000 fine. The university even fought to have the fine reduced. Coach Brian Kelly received no rush of calls for his dismissal.

Mr. Paterno never was the idealized Madonna. People were naive. Mr. Paterno was in college sports, and as the Atlantic Monthly explained, somewhat corrupt by definition. Failing to act doesn’t make him the Whore now. It makes him a person who has done many virtuous acts, and now a disgraceful one. He is mixed, like almost all of us.

Once the university trustees took the craven act of firing, over 1000 students protested. They have been condemned, assuming the students cared only about football. That’s not true. Read carefully. The students condemned Mr. Sandusky. They criticized their trustees for cowardice and overturned news vans. This is not putting football first. It’s realizing who acted without dignity, as opposed to those who just failed. As an actual reporter noted, “There was an overwhelming sense from many people who believed the media and the nation were making this entire scandal all about Paterno. Not Sandusky, the real villain in this whole tragic mess.”

The students are correct. We must seek justice against those like Mr. Sandusky who exploited young children. Our system should investigate legal responsibility. Also, we are allowed to speak about moral failings, in a balanced way. When we start enforcing moral codes to make us feel better, we’ve progressed to a very dangerous situation.

Will the sports “reporters” donate the extra money from higher ratings to victim support charities? Will they volunteer with organizations that seek to reduce partner and sexual abuse? I’ll believe it when I see it. Maybe, if we’re lucky, a few people will fulfill moral duty by checking on a suspicious situation, and end a few sins. Most likely, though, we will just have more Freudian screaming.

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35 Courses, 636 Letter Grades

My last adjunct contract at Bellarmine ended at 11:59 PM Wednesday night, August 3. I’m now unemployed until the University of Georgia begins on the 15th. What should I do (well, besides packing)? I’ve got a spreadsheet of my instructional assignments, the grade distributions, and my student evaluation summary marks. Hmm…

Student comments are a large and touchy subject, so even though I learned a good bit about them, I’ll defer comment for now. Perhaps for ever. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to look over my grade summary. Well, maybe it’s interesting just to me, but I’m going to do it anyway. This won’t be very granular, because I don’t want to get near FERPA restrictions. However, it would be impossible to find any specific student in this pile of 636. That’s my total count of non-withdrawn marks at Bellarmine. Unfortunately, I don’t have my grade distributions from Chicago. I had 6 courses, and a total of about 119 students, plus or minus 2.

The grades of C-, D+, and D- only became available in Fall 2010, so they are relatively infrequent. The grade of A+ is rare, because according to the official course catalog, they are “For truly exceptional work; to be awarded rarely.”

A grades: 143, 22.5%. 1 A+, 97 A, 45 A-.
B grades: 294, 46.2%. 49 B+, 175 B, 70 B-.
C grades: 153, 24.1%. 65 C+, 85 C, 3 C-.
D grades: 30, 4.7%. 2 D+, 27 D, 1 D-.
F grades: 16, 2.5%.

My median grade was B. My mean grade, using Bellarmine’s 4 point scale, was 2.81. This is significantly below the Bellarmine average grade, which is somewhere between 3.10 and 3.20. My GPA distribution should take into account the natural sciences adjustment, because hard sciences tend to have harsher grading policies than humanities. According to the paper on the grade inflation website, a 2.8 in natural sciences is equivalent to about a 3.0 in social sciences and a 3.2 in humanities. Given Bellarmine’s mix of courses, I was harder than expected, but not that much harder – about 0.1 GPA points.

According to, Bellarmine’s GPA is near the mean for all schools, and below the private school mean. It is a little stricter (0.0 to 0.1 points) than average for a private institution of its rank.

Since the purpose of this post was to provide facts, not hypotheses or explanations, I won’t add commentary here. Of course, you can feel free to do so.

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