I was in line at the local Walmart and the checker was an elderly White man. When it was my turn he said to me, “can you believe Obama wants to mint a platinum coin?” I said I didn’t think the President was the one to come up with the idea. He then asked, “do you think Obama will try to run for a third term?” I told him the Constitution forbids it and he responded, “well, that didn’t stop Roosevelt.” I explained that the 22nd Amendment was passed after FDR’s presidency in order to prevent another President from running for more than two terms. He then asked why Presidents before Roosevelt didn’t run for more terms and I told him it was a tradition they all had honored.
My wife and I left and she felt he had no business talking opinionated politics with customers. I felt it was sad that he was so ill-informed about the news and the Constitution. I’ve thought a lot about it in the day since it happened. What are the lessons here?
Since I retired a year-and-a-half ago I’ve become more and more interested in the skills necessary to effectively live in a 21st century democracy. Based on my conversation with the elderly checker the first skill is to vet your sources of information, be it radio, TV, newspaper, or the internet. Who and what is the source? What bias is evident? Why would they say what they do? Are the words used chosen to push an agenda?
As for the 22nd Amendment. It appears the checker did not know his history. To be honest, he was old enough to have been of high school age in 1951 when the Amendment was ratified. Again, however, we need to educate students to question statements, especially those which sound fishy.
Educators, your work is cut out for you. With the proliferation of easy communication it is equally easy for misinformation to be mixed in with the facts. Critical thinking skills need to be at the forefront of a 21st century education.
I recently read a letter to the editor in my local paper from someone who claimed to be an ex-college counselor. The letter said that anyone who chose a college major which was not tied to the STEM areas had been steered in the wrong direction by their high school teachers and counselors and their college counselors. The lettor went on to disparage the humanities with comments such as, “a degree in poetry is a dead end in the job market.”
As an undergraduate history major I was a bit upset and angry with the tone of this letter. After all, with a bit of further education, I had become a high school social studies teacher, a career from which I retired after 35 rewarding years. My friends who had non-STEM degrees had also had rewarding careers in law, journalism, business, and sales. Yet, there is more than career when talking about the value of the humanities.
The best prose is uplifting and necessary for the human spirit. If not a poet or writer, who will produce it? While science explains a lot, knowledge of history helps us to understand who we are, why we are that way, and perhaps to predict future action. I could go on and on about the emportance of the humanities and social sciences for the human condition, but I think my point has been made.
The emphasis on STEM education is, in part, political. So many polls point out the supposed failure of American education in science and math, yet why does the USA seem to lead the world in scientific and technology development? We have always attracted the best an brightest to our universities, which often leads to these well-educated people remaining permanently and becoming citizens. Why is it we have made it much harder for capable foreigners to come to the USA to study, and in many cases next to impossible for them to stay here? Is there really a crisis in the production of science, technology and math students or is this all part of the political move to end public education?
I just read a Twitter post that made me reflect a bit about the upcoming election, the candidates, and education. It is a bit scary.
The third presidential debate was supposed to be about foreign policy, but Romney had little to say other than he agreed with Obama’s policies, and Obama simply went on to explain his policies and patronize Romney for his ignorance. Thereafter, both candidates inserted education into the debate.
Romney professed to love teachers, then state we don’t need more of them. He also said he would reduce the federal government’s role in education and return decision-making (and funding?) to the states and local levels. Let’s face it - Romney wants to privatize education.
Obama mentioned his support of education, yet didn’t mention Race To The Top this time, as he did several times during the first debate. Each time RTTT (RTTT) was mentioned, Twitter erupted with howls of derision from educators who know RTTT for what it is - a sham attempt to show educational progress through high stakes testing and tying teacher evaluation to the results.
Neither candidate understands education to a level to talk about it in more than abstract terms. Both lay claim to educational achievement (Romney in claiming Mass. schools were number one in the nation under his governorship, and Obama with RTTT) which professional educators would vigorously dispute.
We go to the polls in a few short days. Neither candidate is a strong education candidate, but the privatization of schools would be a blow to democracy in the United States. Please vote wisely!
I recently read John Tierney’s article, “AP Classes Are A Scam,” in The Atlantic and, while agreeing with all that Mr. Tierney said, I’m just not sure…
In 1955, The College Board instituted the Advanced Placement (AP) program to allow capable high school students to take an accelerated course that was to be comparable to an introductory college class in a subject, pass a standardized test at the end of the year and receive college credit. It was a good idea in 1955 and the question is whether it is a a good idea for 2012.
AP courses were seen as excellent preparation for students who were heading to college in the 1950s. The subject which I taught, history, was primarily a lecture class when I attanded college in the 1970s. Acquisition of content was the goal and this was evaluated through regurgitation of this content on essay exams. An AP history class which emphasized content and a year-end standardized test of that content made sense. With today’s emphasis on the development of critical thinking skills, coupled with technology’s increasing access to content for anyone, knowledge acquisition seems to have been reduced in importance. To be fair, the College Board has recognized this and has made attempts to instill critical thinking to its history courses. For example, the Document Based Question (DBQ) has been redesigned to require students to examine the points of view of the authors of the various documents and use this information in crafting their essay response to the question prompt. I personally have welcomed this change in the structure of the DBQ, and it encouraged me to adapt my teaching to include more critical thinking elements in my lessons.
Another criticism made by Mr. Tierney and others is that open enrollment in AP courses dumbs them down. I have mixed feelings about this. I was always an advocate of allowing students to challenge themselves. I found students self-selected themselves into AP courses and most knew when they were over their head and moved to a more appropriate course offering. However, I certainly understand the frustration a teacher of an AP course might have if many of their students struggle with the material. I taught in a school with open AP enrollment and it worked well. When administrators mandate students take an AP course as a high school graduation requirement, then there is a problem.
A challenge for the AP program is that more colleges are not accepting AP credit. Whether this is due to courses being watered down and not meeting the rigor of an introductory college course or perhaps colleges wanting the revenue which comes with requiring students to take introductory courses, it remains that a core reason for offering AP courses is being questioned
Finally, Mr. Tierney noted that AP courses are not as rigorous as college courses, to this I partly agree. I know students who took our AP History courses and returned to say they were some of the best courses they ever had, high school or college. I also know there are many courses called AP that are merely enhanced high school courses. This became such a problem that the College Board instituted course audits to ensure proper rigor.
Will the AP program be around in ten years - probably. Will schools strive to offer it for its prestige value - probably. Will it continue to change away from an emphasis on content to include a stress on critical thinking - yes.
President Obama needs to quit mentioning Race to the top as if it is something of which to be to be proud. Teachers, myself included, have been critical of the President and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan over their support for Race To The Top. Every time Race To The Top was mentioned by the President at the debate, Twitter exploded with educator criticism of Obama and this program.
It is galling to teachers to be criticised for having a union to support their wants and needs, as well as to lobby for what teachers feel is in the best interests of themselves and their students. Tenure is another item over which teachers are unfairly attacked. It is NOT job security for life. Tenured teachers can be, and are, removed when they have been proven to be incompetent. Tenure is a guarantee of due process, so that a teacher cannot be removed on a whim, or because a student’s parent is politically influential, etc. The true purpose of tenure has been smeared by those who wish to end public education and replace it with for-profit charter schools where teachers would be without job security.
If the President wishes to have the support of educators, he needs to understand their frustrations with some of his policies, and start to include the voices of those in the classrooms when he, and his Secretary of Education attempt to make education policy.
Watching (actually having no choice) the political ads on TV, along with reading all the articles in the newspaper covering the campaign, got me thinking about a question which voters will answer at the polls - how will education look in a few years?
It seems public education has several purposes which serve to strengthen our nation: to create informed citizens, to produce workers for business and industry, and to keep the United States competitive among the nation-states of the world. If we are to be a democracy, then citizens who hold the power of electing officials need to have the tools to give them a basic understanding of issues on which they will be voting. This is the most important reason to have publicly-funded (and hopefully non-partisan) education. For the past hundred years, schools have been organized along a “factory” model to produce workers. Again, this made sense with the United States being the leading industrial country in the world. This purpose feeds into the third purpose of public education, to keep the United States competitive among the nation-states of the world. As we have moved into a post-industrial economy, education has come under some fire for not adapting to this change.
There is, however, a fourth less-publicized purpose of public education - to promote a political, social, or cultural viewpoint - and this is where things get sticky. Whose viewpoint should public schools take as their focus. The attempts to address this purpose have led to turmoil within the education community. Over the course of my thirty-five year career I was subjected to “A Nation At Risk,” “Back to the Basics,” “No Child Left Behind,” and “Race to the Top.” All of these were attempts to push public education toward a goal considered worthy by whichever political party held sway. Educators who resisted or questioned any of these policies were demonized and their unions labeled obstructionist. The anti-science movement of the past decade has led to laws and policies which try to inject religious beliefs into public education. This, contrasts with the push for STEM education from other quarters. The latest affront has been the takeover of the charter school idea by for-profit businesses and their efforts to privatize education.
Looking ahead, I foresee a bleak education landscape for public schools. On-line courses will fall victim to for-profit businesses and public schools will become less relevant. The wealthy will send their children to private schools, which will follow a curriculum selected by a private board, leaving the poor to fend for themselves in impoverished public schools. A bleak future indeed.