Family, Education, and the Government

Let me begin with a non-controversial statement: education is complicated.

The goal here will be to examine one of the components that make up the complex field of education, family.

First let me state what I have observed the, current, components of American education to be: the individual student [meaning the choices they make, their genes, and their environment with emphasis on the first!]; the family/adults surrounding that student [excluding school personnel]; individual teachers/school officials [self-explanatory]; Superintendent & School Board [self-explanatory]; the government & its bureaucrats [all levels and all types].

Most of these components are talked about ad nauseum; however, I want to zero in on a critical observation I’ve had between {MOST!} ‘successful’ schools and {MOST!} ‘unsuccessful’ schools, and that it the home situation that a significant amount of students return too.

Let me set the context for my observation and my epiphany moment.  On September 29, 2017, I attended Godwin Heights’ Homecoming varsity football game.  This was the first high school football game I had attended in 10 years.  I noticed several things about that environment, but most relevant was the large community show of support for the team.  The stadium was packed with members of the Godwin community, and a significant majority of them are related to current students.  This indicates that some/most students in GHSD have a semi-stable home situation to return to after school is out.  That being said, I have also observed that the ‘problem’ kids in the building (I currently Teacher Assist at the High School) typically have a “broken” home situation.  This has been confirmed in my discussions with my CT and other school personnel regarding those students.  What I find remarkable is the sharp socio-acadmeic differences between the individual students who have at least a semi-stable home situation vs those who do not.  While these differences cannot be fully explained by just home situation, it does indicate a (relatively speaking!!) easy area to improve via education and policy [both legal and educational] changes.

Before proceeding further, allow me to define a couple terms:

“Broken Families/homes” refers to a student either not living with a standard nuclear family [2 parents]; living with non-family members [like a friend]; living solo.

“semi-stable” refers to having at least one consistently present adult/parent in the child’s life that provides requisite care [physical & psycho-emotional] to the child.

I think it is safe to argue that 99.99% of all humans would rather be in a semi-stable home situation; however it is rapidly apparent that this is NOT the case for a significant amount of students in schools across America.

This brings me to my ‘Big’ question: Why is it that there exists a sizable minority of students [typically non-white, but not always!] who do not have a semi-stable home situation?

Based on my observation and research, I point to at least two major causes of broken homes:

  1. Stricter [sometimes unnecessarily] crime laws
  2. A higher preponderance of children out of wedlock aka “dead-beat parent (dad)

Let’s begin by digging into (1).

The rapid increase in the arrest, conviction, and incarceration of individuals [predominantly males, especially non-white males] began in the mid 1990’s when President Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. (Yes I just cited Wikipedia, sue me I hate research) While some of this law does do objectively good things {law enforcement is a proper function of government!}, the manner in which it does it and the criminalization of non-rights violating activities is a significant contributor to this current crisis of broken homes.  Here’s why: when an individual is sent to jail, that not only removes them from society, but it stigmatizes those who’re related to them in the outside world.  On top of that, those individuals, sometimes/usually, either get out after serving their sentence and return to their families without [or with] changing their choices/environment that landed them in jail in the first place or they ‘start’ a new family.  In either case, that massively disrupts or creates a massive disruption in the life of the individual student.

On the flip side, it is extremely difficult growing up in a single parent home [yes I AM speaking from experience].  The reasons for this are numerous and slightly obvious: only one income source, so that requires the one parent to {potentially/usually} either to seek out an additional income-supplier or work more to increase income supply [or both], lack of access to the sole adult in the house (family members and neighbors are nice, but there is NO equivalent for a mom and a dad {I have NO experience or knowledge of same-sex parental households and how that influences individual children, so I won’t endeavor to comment on that}), this opens up a potential for that child to be negatively influenced by outside forces.  The implications there are disturbing; combine that with the sheer knowledge [social, academic, cultural, etc.] that is lost by not maximizing parental interaction with the child.  While children are natrually curious, independent, and eager to learn new stuff, it is also true that they require supervision and guidance as they embark on their own journey through their life.  When this support/supervision is decreased/absent, then the outcomes cannot be good [clearly there are numerous factors involved, but this is a big and relevant factor!]

Basically, the removal or periodic absence of a parent is detrimental to the development of the individual child and the fact that this crime bill increased [sometimes justly sometimes unjustly] this occurrence [ONLY w.r.t the unjust cases] is evil.

A similar argument follows for the ‘dead-beat’ parent case.

One final point to make before summarizing, and that is the vital role of Free Will and cause & effect {action & reaction or choice and ‘consequence’} in the individual’s entire life.

As entities of a specific nature and governed by the laws of Identity and Causality, human beings possess a conceptual level faculty that is able to operate on the conceptual level; however a long and philosophical debate has raged dealing with whether or not all humans possess the ability to make their own choices or if everything in the course of an individual’s life is predetermined by God, Genetics, environment, Society, etc.  Without delving too deep into this debate, I assert that Free Will is real.  This can be verified through inductive observation of others and via the process of introspection.  

All that being said, what is important to note is that each individual student possesses the capacity to either focus or not on the learning at hand by choosing to engage the material and to choose to take the requisite actions to achieve whatever outcome they aim for [by reference to their value hierarchy].  This is purely internal process i.e. it is up to the individual student to decide to take these actions; external forces have minimal influence upon this process.  Thus when students are stuck in a broken-home situation, that does NOT give them the right to continuously act out and disengage and such behaviors; whether it provides that student {with support & modeling and guidance from individual teachers/school personnel} the opportunity to overcome adversity and become an even stronger individual.  Now I do have great empathy for those in this situation, but that only serves to strengthen why this is a moral and just approach to students in this situation: have an honest conversation with them about what they require to succeed in class and provide opportunities for them to minimize their time in the broken home environment.  That being said, the choices each individual makes necessarily have consequences {this is the law of Cause and Effect}.  If the student makes one choice, then a set of effects will occur due to said choice; similarly, if the student makes a different choice, then a different set of effects will occur, and it is up to the teacher to help that student think about and project the possible effects of each potential course of action via strong q&a sessions in an honest and safe environment.

The final question to be asked is this: How should an individual teacher communicate with parents irrespective of the type of home environment that the parent is in [along with the parent’s student]?

While I don’t, yet, have a definitive answer for this, I suspect the best methods include a combination of emails and phone calls to the parent communicating what is going on in the class with regard to their child and what their child is learning/doing.  On top of that, using a syllabus to clearly articulate classroom policies, expectations, rules, course objectives, etc. AND having the parent read and sign it is a great first step to initiating contact.  Beyond that, Parent-Teacher conferences, EC events, and other opportunities can be leveraged to build a dialogue with the parent.  I suspect checking with co-workers and administrators will generate additional ideas and establish some rules/principles when contacting parents.

In short, the home environment is a critical component of the educational apparatus in America.  There exist 2 primary types of home environments: broken and non-broken.  Each one presents its own unique individual student outcomes based on a host of factors; however these factors are all subordinate the fact that the entities involved are humans which possess a particular nature including a conceptual level consciousness that contains Free Will.  Communication between teachers, students, and parents is important, but can be difficult for obvious reasons.

Wow, this was a lot, so thanks for reading. Please contact me with thoughts/questions/ideas/etc. as you so decide 🙂

As always,

Choices=Reality

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American Educational Practices

“Where do these patterns [of teaching] come from, and what accounts for their apparent stability over time?” (Hiebert & Stigler 83)

This question is presented in The Teaching Gap and it serves as a brilliant focus question for this blog; however I know that my answer (and solution!) will differ from 99% of anyone anywhere.

The authors indicate that a combination of teacher-training programs and cultural trends/norms {emphasis on the latter} as being the driving forces behind certain patterns in American education.  They further note that an American math teacher will focus in teaching students skills and they might endeavor to make the activity more relevant/exciting to students by appealing to non-mathematical/non-academic contexts; conversely, Japanese math teachers expect their students to be interesting in the math itself and that their focus is on the higher thinking and relationships between the various mathematical ideas.

Immediately one might observe a lethal dichotomy forming between these two approaches to mathematics instruction: the American focuses more on the concrete or material while minimizing or ignoring the higher aspects of math; while the Japanese focus more on the material in and of itself without any relation to anything else.  This is the material vs. spiritual or soul vs. body or concrete vs. abstract dichotomy at play and in full force between these two countries.

Fueling this false dichotomy is the author’s correct interpretation of the views of teachers of individual variability within a given classroom:

“Many U.S. teachers believe that individual differences are an obstacle to effective teaching… Japanese teachers view individual differences as a natural characteristic of a group [emphasis in original]” (ibid 94).

The irony and sadness of this quote [backed by research cited in the text] is not lost on me.  That American teachers in America, the land of the individual and the first nation founded on the moral principle of individual rights, hold the opinion that differences between individuals are a problem!!!  Compounding that with the expected view in Japan as the individual is a member of the larger group and what matters is the group, and one immediately sees a clear and present trend [read: danger!] in education in both countries {and around the world!}.  Even more perfect, from my perspective and within my philosophical analysis, is how the lesson itself is viewed in these cultures:

“In Japan, classroom lessons hold a privileged place… it would be exaggerating only a little to say they are sacred. They are treated much as we treat lectures in university courses or religious services in church” (ibid 95).

“In the United States, lessons are… more modular, with fewer connections between them” (ibid 96).

The approach one can observe from this is clear: either the lesson plan is treated as an end in itself and everything is mis-integrated around the lesson or the lesson is viewed as a disparate thing dis-integrated from everything else.  There is no integration between the higher abstract content in the mathematics lesson and the concrete application of the mathematics lesson to a specific context.  Hence the material or spiritual dichotomy between American and Japanese classes.

Lastly the fact that teaching is ingrained in a wider culture is true, but the word ‘culture’ is really a smokescreen designed to obscure the true nature of over 90% of all K-12 schooling in America {I suspect similar numbers in Japan and Germany, but I don’t know} is GOVERNMENT schooling.  Thus any attempt to reform the educational system in America must run through the local, state, and federal bureaucracy, which is similar to hoping to find gold at the end of the rainbow.  Plus, any ‘reform’ that might occur at any level in education can easily, relatively speaking, be ‘reformed’ back or worse in the next administration.

What then is the solution?  Simple: make all education private.  Get the government out of the realm of dictating what ideas can and cannot be taught in a school.  This opens the entire field to the wonders of a dynamic free market in which the product [educated individuals] has a nearly infinite demand, yet the supply can be distributed across a wide swath of schools that produce said product in different manners according to various educational practices and philosophies and according to a particular market’s unique demands for the end product’s form.

I’ll end with these 2 quotes:

“The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life—by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past—and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort” (Ayn Rand in Return of the Primitive “The Comprachicos” pg 88)

“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law. But a government that initiates the employment of force against men who had forced no one, the employment of armed compulsion against disarmed victims, is a nightmare infernal machine designed to annihilate morality: such a government reverses its only moral purpose and switches from the role of protector to the role of man’s deadliest enemy, from the role of policeman to the role of a criminal vested with the right to the wielding of violence against victims deprived of the right of self-defense. Such a government substitutes for morality the following rule of social conduct: you may do whatever you please to your neighbor, provided your gang is bigger than his.” (Atlas Shrugged)

Thanks for reading, as always

Choices=Reality

Disclaimer

Thoughts on Classroom management

In my EDI 331-09 content seminar, one of the articles I’ve read is this one in which the author articulates his journey from a pure traditional lecturer to a more student-focused instructional pedagogy.  I find myself torn, because some of the author’s points and recommendations are ones I find myself in agreement with, yet there are a couple that I find disturbing and wrong.  In particular:

  1. “Try not to repeat students’ answers”;
  2. “Be nonjudgmental about a response or comment”

 

WRT 1, a great tool I use to check to make sure I and other students [including the speaker!] are following along is for me to restate the student’s response in my own words and check back with them to see if I am understanding them.  This serves as a quick formative assessment so I can check to see if that particular student understands the material by presenting it to them in multiple fashions [my original presentation, their presentation, and my parroting of their presentation]; while I’m unsure on the research on this (I hate researching and I suspect it’ll be “mixed”), an observation and experience I’ve had on both sides of the desk is that it is best to receive information in multiple forms.

WRT 2, while I haven’t [as far as I can recall] explicitly written about judging, I am confident in asserting that it is right and vital to judge, as long as that judgment is made on valid grounds and by appeal to a legitimate standard of evaluation.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen and heard far too much of this in recent times about the need for individuals to “not judge” other individuals.  Let me say right here and right now that this is a blatant lie and a destructive evil.  Now, in a MTH classroom this comes to the bear immediately, because to judge something is to make a determination of whether or not a particular existent is right or wrong i.e. whether a particular thing is in agreement or disagreement with the facts of reality.  Since math is about reality [math is the science of measurements], then it follows that math must consistently be right i.e. in agreement with reality.  Hence to not be judgmental of a student’s response [especially when it is wrong] is to both encourage them that defying reality is okay {providing a moral sanction} and that lying to a student is somehow acceptable {it’s not}.  Obviously (to me, at least), a teacher shouldn’t be a complete jerk to the student when informing them that they are wrong [this defeats the purpose of promoting student discourse and developing self-esteem {yes I’m mildly pandering to emotions of students; however it is within the context that my students will understand that in my classroom, their emotions are equal to Euler’s equation}]; rather the teacher should ‘gently’ inform the student that they are wrong, but identify where their given answer could be correct and thank them for sharing.

In short, there are plenty of good practices employed by this author; however I fundamentally disagree on a couple of them.

 

Education, DACA, and teaching

At the onset, here’s my generic disclaimer; beyond that, all I can say is feel free to read and comment as you so choose, and I’ll go from there.  Here I go!

Recently, President Trump announced that the DACA program will be ending early in 2018 unless Congress takes action to legalize that program.  That program has enabled ~800,000 young individuals to receive citizenship.  My own views on DACA, immigration, and the proper relationship between government and education are not what I’d like to discuss here; rather it is important to understand what these changes might mean to an educator and how a teacher might consider discussing this issue in class.

First the end of the DACA program will have some type of impact on the children beyond the immediate psycho-emotional issues currently assailing them.  There does exist a very real potentiality that all DACA recipients will be unable to have that renewed and be subject to deportation proceedings.  This will remove those students from the class/school environment and definitely create massive disruptions in the school due to the friendships that those students had formed in their time in the school.  On top of that, the decrease in students in the school will directly impact the amount of money some schools receive due to Count Day rules.

Beyond that, it is vital for an educator to remain neutral in any discussion regarding ANY potential discussion of social-political events.  Remember, an educator’s role is to provide information to students to enable them to think independently and reach their own conclusions NOT to reach a conclusion because their teacher said so.  Hence if/when a discussion of this {or any other!} issue arises, it is important that the teacher be informed on ALL facets of a particular issue in order to provide accurate and objective information to the students.  When facilitating a discussion amongst students on a topic, it is vital to set/maintain the expectation that the discussion remain civil i.e. no insults and no ad hominem attacks are to be tolerated.  Simultaneously, an instructor should serve as a proper moderator to facilitate higher level discussion amongst the participants.  Specifically, any discussion of this nature must be held at an intellectual, not emotional level (generally most/all discussions should be non-emotional!); while it is true that students are apt to get emotional about subjects that influence themselves or those they care about (which is natural!), it is not acceptable to have a discussion that is fueled by emotion.  The reason emotions must be kept in check [irrespective of the individuals talking] is that productive arguments are made when rational cases are made and ideas are explained in an open and reasoned manner.

To close, I leave these words from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as a way to drive the point home about the import of reason and the consequences of abandoning it:

“Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others.

To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival; to force him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight. Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man’s capacity to live.

Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins. When you declare that men are irrational animals and propose to treat them as such, you define thereby your own character and can no longer claim the sanction of reason—as no advocate of contradictions can claim it. There can be no “right” to destroy the source of rights, the only means of judging right and wrong: the mind.

To force a man to drop his own mind and to accept your will as a substitute, with a gun in place of a syllogism, with terror in place of proof, and death as the final argument—is to attempt to exist in defiance of reality. Reality demands of man that he act for his own rational interest; your gun demands of him that he act against it. Reality threatens man with death if he does not act on his rational judgment; you threaten him with death if he does. You place him in a world where the price of his life is the surrender of all the virtues required by life—and death by a process of gradual destruction is all that you and your system will achieve, when death is made to be the ruling power, the winning argument in a society of men.

Be it a highwayman who confronts a traveler with the ultimatum: “Your money or your life,” or a politician who confronts a country with the ultimatum: “Your children’s education or your life,” the meaning of that ultimatum is: “Your mind or your life”—and neither is possible to man without the other.”

The potential uses of blogging

I don’t think having students creating a blog has any useful impact on their learning of math.  I also don’t quite see how a blog could follow any of the RAT model components with regard to student assignments/work.

Rather I think a blog is a great tool for any individual to use as a means to write out, reflect, and {potentially!} receive feedback on whatever they are writing about.

Specifically, a teacher could easily use a blog to reflect on a particular lesson.  Within this reflection, there might be several different factors at play; such as: a gut-check on how the lesson went, pro’s and con’s of the lesson, comparing initial expectations/anticipations to how lesson actually went, asking for advice, and to show success points.

Beyond this, I find blogging useful as a platform to share my thoughts on various events, both in my personal life and those in the world around me.

In short, blogging is great for an individual to use as a means of communicating on a wide scale; however I do not see a direct application to a lesson or unit [aside from a specific class dealing with writing or online writing]

MTH blogs on the internet

http://misscalculate.blogspot.com/

This blog features a teacher who provides lots of insight into her experiences as a high school math teacher.  While the majority of her blogs appear to deal with in the classroom experiences, ideas, and advice, some of them do pertain to interacting with students and thinking about the field of education and math education.

http://function-of-time.blogspot.com/

Here one reads lots of blogs pertaining to extremely unique connections between mathematics and a variety of ‘real-life’ activities.  While some of the connections I don’t grasp nor do I particularly care for, the fact that this blog makes a case for making connections between math and the real world [because math is about the real world!] is awesome.

http://math4teaching.com/

This is one that provides immense value because it provides concrete and theoretical advice on how to lesson plan and incorporate ‘good’ activities into one’s own classroom.  On top of that, the reflective blogs on how the actual lessons/activities went enable others who utilize those resources to consider how those things have already gone in a particular context.

http://blog.mrmeyer.com/

The fact that this individual has given several quality TedTalks on education and other topics makes his resume top notch.  The extra fact that his posts deal with a wide array of issues in education, both in the classroom and the philosophical, socio-cultural, and political, make this a must read.

http://blog.heartland.org/category/education/

this blog really gets dives deep into a pro-freedom, pro-school choice perspective on government schools.  Combine that with the strong research supporting the claims made by the “new-Abolitionist” movement, this is a superb place to be intellectually challenged on one’s preconceived notions regarding public aka government schools.

Quality People on the Internet

@coolcatteacher

A prominent teacher who provides numerous posts and resources and blogs for others to utilize.

@realsabijoy

Someone who has some education experience, but whose views on political events and the role of government are [unsurprisingly!] way different from my own.

@mrteacher

An interesting Twitterer who has a great sense of humor and some interesting insights into both the theory and practice of education, both in the classroom and the legistator.

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@AngelaMaiers

Someone who works outside the formal education system, but still offers excellent support and advice to educators and students and policy-makers to make education better!

@MathIsMyLife

This is someone who helps students form the very basics in MTH, numbers.  A great person to follow to gain new ideas on helping students learn various math topics.

@NCTMIllum

Lacking resources to lesson plan or a great activity to tie a lesson together? Look no further than here!

 @OnThisDayinMath

A good place to start to get students more interested in the MTH content.  This presents them with concrete historical moments that they might be vaguely aware of; while allowing for the instructor to make more meaningful connections.

@benorlin

Applies an accurate stereotype of most math people by applying some great comedy.  Worth looking into just for the LOL’s

@AlgebraFact

Another place to get some content specific facts that can serve to inspire students to dig deeper into math.

@GeometryDad

Makes a passionate case for connecting geometry to real life and provides lots and lots of examples for why geometry [and math more broadly] connects to real life