Thursday, September 27, 2007

Teacher: I was fired, said Bible isn't literal

Why did he have to proclaim his personal religious views as fact in a Western Civ course? Are atheist views privileged? I have taught many courses on many things over the years (at both secondary and tertiary level) and have never felt any need to denigrate Christian beliefs, even though I am an atheist. He must be a bitter man

A community college instructor in Red Oak claims he was fired after he told his students that the biblical story of Adam and Eve should not be literally interpreted. Steve Bitterman, 60, said officials at Southwestern Community College sided with a handful of students who threatened legal action over his remarks in a western civilization class Tuesday. He said he was fired Thursday. "I'm just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college and have a master's degree, a couple actually, have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job," Bitterman said.

Sarah Smith, director of the school's Red Oak campus, declined to comment Friday on Bitterman's employment status. The school's president, Barbara Crittenden, said Bitterman taught one course at Southwest. She would not comment, however, on his claim that he was fired over the Bible reference, saying it was a personnel issue. "I can assure you that the college understands our employees' free-speech rights," she said. "There was no action taken that violated the First Amendment."

Bitterman, who taught part time at Southwestern and Omaha's Metropolitan Community College, said he uses the Old Testament in his western civilization course and always teaches it from an academic standpoint. Bitterman's Tuesday course was telecast to students in Osceola over the Iowa Communications Network. A few students in the Osceola classroom, he said, thought the lesson was "denigrating their religion." "I put the Hebrew religion on the same plane as any other religion. Their god wasn't given any more credibility than any other god," Bitterman said. "I told them it was an extremely meaningful story, but you had to see it in a poetic, metaphoric or symbolic sense, that if you took it literally, that you were going to miss a whole lot of meaning there."

Bitterman said he called the story of Adam and Eve a "fairy tale" in a conversation with a student after the class and was told the students had threatened to see an attorney. He declined to identify any of the students in the class. "I just thought there was such a thing as academic freedom here," he said. "From my point of view, what they're doing is essentially teaching their students very well to function in the eighth century."

Hector Avalos, an atheist religion professor at Iowa State University, said Bitterman's free-speech rights were violated if he was fired simply because he took an academic approach to a Bible story. "I don't know the circumstances, but if he's teaching something about the Bible and says it is a myth, he shouldn't be fired for that because most academic scholars do believe this is a myth, the story of Adam and Eve," Avalos said. "So it'd be no different than saying the world was not created in six days in science class. "You don't fire professors for giving you a scientific answer."

Bitterman said Linda Wild, vice president of academic affairs at Southwest, fired him over the telephone. Wild did not return telephone or e-mail messages Friday. Bitterman said that he can think of no other reason college officials would fire him and that Smith, the director of the campus, has previously sat in on his classes and complimented his work. "As a taxpayer, I'd like to know if a tax-supported public institution of higher learning has given veto power over what can and cannot be said in its classrooms to a fundamentalist religious group," he said. "If it has ... then the taxpaying public of Iowa has a right to know. What's next? Whales talk French at the bottom of the sea?"


Unemployment Training (The Ideology of Non-Work Learned in Urban Schools)

For many urban youth in poverty moving from school to work is about as likely as having a career in the NBA.While urban schools struggle and fail at teaching basic skills they are extremely effective at teaching skills which predispose youth to fail in the world of work.The urban school environment spreads a dangerous contagion in the form of behaviors and beliefs which form an ideology.This ideology "works" for youngsters by getting them through urban middle and secondary schools.But the very ideology that helps youth slip and slide through school becomes the source of their subsequent failure.It is an ideology that is easily learned, readily implemented, rewarded by teachers and principals, and supporting by school policies.It is an ideology which schools promulgate because it is easier to accede to the students' street values than it is to shape them into more gentle human beings.The latter requires a great deal of persistent effort not unlike a dike working against an unyielding sea.It is much easier for urban schools to lower their expectations and simply survive with youth than it is to try to change them.

The ideology of unemployment insures that those infected with it will be unable to enter or remain in the world of work without serious in-depth unlearning and retraining.Urban youth are not simply ill prepared for work but systematically and carefully trained to be quitters, failures, and the discouraged workers who no longer even seek employment.What this means is that it is counterproductive to help urban schools do better at what they now do since they are a basic cause of their graduates living out lives of hopelessness and desperation.

The dropout problem among urban youth--as catastrophic as it is--is less detrimental than this active training for unemployment.We need be more concerned for "successful" youth who graduate since it is they who have been most seriously infected.They have been exposed longest, practiced the anti-work behaviors for the longest period, and been rewarded most.In effect, the urban schools create a pool of youth much larger than the number of dropouts who we have labeled as "successful" but who have been more carefully schooled for failure.

The fact that this ideology is not a formal part of the stated curriculum but caught in school does not make urban schools any less accountable for its transmission.These anti-work learnings are inhaled as youth participate in and interact with school policies, administrators, teachers, safety aides, and the entire school staff.Community and religious watchdog groups who seek to control the values taught in schools focus on prayer and sex education.They are oblivious to the actual values caught in schools.Following is a brief description of the beliefs and behaviors which comprise this unemployment ideology.

Nowness.(What is the unit of school learning time?)In urban schools learning is offered in disconnected jolts.The work of the day is unconnected with the work of preceding days or subsequent ones.Life in urban schools is comprised of specific periods and discrete days each of which is forced to stand entirely on its own.If homework is not done, or books not taken home (behaviors which are universal for males and almost so for females by the completion of the upper elementary grades), everything students are taught must be compressed into isolated periods of "stand alone" days.Teachers and principals, as well as students, survive one day at a time.

By focusing on what can be learned in one period or in one activity educators claim to "meet the needs of students" who are frequently absent and would always be playing catch-up.(In some urban schools there is 100% turnover between September and June in some classes.)Another rationale for this disjointed curriculum is the number of pull out and special programs which legitimize youngsters missing classes.But the most common reason offered for teaching "Nowness" is the claim that students seldom remember anything they have been taught before.The introduction of any new concept or skill inevitably requires an extensive review of everything that might have preceded the concept.For example, an eighth grade teacher tries to give a lesson on election results.S/he quickly discovers that most of the class cannot explain the difference between the city, county, state, or federal levels of government.The teacher can either back up and spend the period trying to teach these distinctions or offer the lesson to the few who might understand it.Some youth have learned to play dumb in order to keep teachers from ever offering their planned lessons.In most cases, however, students are genuinely ignorant of the most elementary concepts teachers must assume they know in order to offer the required curriculum.

Nowness is the operating norm of the urban school.A successful period or activity is one in which students are expected to prepare nothing and to follow up in no way. In the absence of connections with what students have already been taught (several times) and should already know, and with little certainty that the students will remember today's lesson tomorrow, much of what goes on in urban classrooms resembles daytime television; brief, jejune activities which may generate a superficial passing interest but which require no real involvement.One can tune in to a program such as Jeopardy any day without falling behind.There are always new words so that viewers need not remember the previous day's words.And best of all, the rules are quickly given anew each day.The person who tunes in for the first time knows as much as the person who has been watching every day.Anyone can show up and play the game.

Teachers promulgate Nowness because, like their students, they are trying to simply get through each day with the least hassle.But there is no way to learn any ideas of any consequence or develop skills to any level of proficiency if Nowness controls the conditions of learning.Education is a process of building connections and this process is hard work, hard work for students and even harder work for teachers.By "going with the flow," teachers and schools support the students' misconception that the unit of time in which anything can be taught and learned is something less than one hour.

Showing Up.(What is the minimum standard of satisfactory work?)"The Deal" in urban schools refers to a tacit working agreement between students and teachers. The student does not disrupt the class.In return, the teacher ignores his/her doing nothing.Simply attending is thus transformed from passive existence into a virtue.Being there is all that matters.Work is not expected, merely the absence of negative behavior.Teachers purchase this peace with a passing grade of D- to answer the student who says, "If I never showed up I would get an F.I showed up.I deserve better."By passing students for just being there, school policies and teacher behaviors systematically teach youth that existence is an action.In effect, that if you do nothing bad you deserve something.While attendance is a necessary condition for learning, it is not a sufficient condition.By rewarding inaction, uninvolvement and a detached presence, urban schools promulgate the dangerous myth that the minimum standard for "doing" satisfactory work is showing up.

Make Me.(Who is accountable for what students learn?)Urban schools are conducted as authoritarian institutions.Principals are not replaced because their students are not learning but because the building is out of control.The need for safety from the surrounding neighborhood as well as the need to create an internally safe environment are, of course, understandable and desirable.Unfortunately, this perceived need for authoritarianism also controls the conditions of offering the curriculum and the learning environment of the school.Urban youth believe that the principals, teachers, and staff run everything; that school is essentially "their deal not ours."They see endless rules, a prescribed curriculum, and the pedagogy of poverty (Haberman, 1991).This directive pedagogy supports the students' perception that it is not only the teacher's job but his/her responsibility to see to it that they learn.Students describe good teachers as the ones "that made me learn."

Urban schools reinforce the student perception that teachers bear final responsibility for what they learn.By allowing passive witnesses, the schools support these student perceptions that all relationships are (indeed rewarding) students for being essentially authoritarian rather than mutual.As youth see the world, they are compelled to go to school while teachers are paid to be there.Therefore, it is the job of the teacher to make them learn.Every school policy and instructional decision which is made without involving students--and this is almost all of them--spreads the virus that principals and teachers rather than students must be the constituency held accountable for learning.In a very real sense students are being logical.In an authoritarian, top-down system with no voice for those at the bottom, why should those "being done to" be held accountable?

Excuses.(How often can you be late or absent and still be passing?)Of all the unemployment values urban schools teach, they teach this one best!Students believe that they can be late or absent as much as they want provided they have a good excuse, someone's permission, or a written note.What is taught or what is missed is of little or no consequence.What matters is the quality of one's excuse.And if one has valid excuses, there is no limit to the number of "excused" latenesses or absences a student may have and still be "passing."The value says, "if it's not your fault you are absent, then it's as good as being there." And "being there" passes.

In a recent survey urban middle school students were asked the questions, "How many times can you be late (or absent) in a month and hold a regular job?"Over half the students responded you could be late as often as you had a good excuse.Almost half responded you could be absent any time you had a good excuse.

In discussing these responses with urban youth, none has ever suggested that students have the responsibility of making up for missed work--or even finding out what was missed.If the issue of missed work is raised, students seem only able to respond with the validity of their excuse.It is beyond the realm of their consideration to deal with the issue of the missed work itself.If reviewing missed work is raised as a direct question (i.e., "How do you learn what you missed?"), students respond, "Review is what teachers do."

Non-Cooperation.(Should you have to work with people you don't like?)Urban youth typically respond to differences with their peers by threatening or using force.Any body language or verbal interaction is brief and merely an initial preface to the escalation process.The value students bring to school is one of "might makes right."Indeed, "might is the only determinant of right."Schools seek to teach nonviolent options, peer mediation, and even engage in negative reinforcements as a consequence of overtly aggressive behavior.But in spite of the large number of suspensions, expulsions, and other authoritarian school responses, most of the day-to-day behavior of students is not dealt with by teachers and principals in terms of detention or suspension.The overwhelming response of the school to students' inability to get along with each other is to separate potential combatants.If this were not done, the urban schools would resemble the floor of the Roman Coliseum.Efforts of urban teachers to use cooperative learning in urban schools require heroic, consistent efforts to contravene the street values students bring to school.It is easier and more common for principals, teachers, and safety aides to simply separate students than it is to teach them to get along.

Students come to expect segregation from rivals as a prevention to the problem of fighting.They do not practice peaceful coexistence or improved communication as an alternative to violence.This is because they have been taught the street values of power and control and the school has done nothing to disprove the efficacy of these values in their daily lives.Teachers and principals can't be there when students need them in the everyday situations they encounter outside of schools.Students (and their parents) believe therefore that they must learn to take care of their own "business."The problem is that, in school, where educators do control the environment there is no systematic training regarding alternatives to violence.The easy way out is for educators to pretend that violent behavior is irreversible in urban youth and the simplest strategy is the best one:separate potential combatants.

The effect of implementing this strategy--consistently for 13 years--is to solidly reinforce in youngsters the ideology of noncooperation; that is, you should never have to work with anyone you don't like or can't get along with.

Much more here

Expensive pre-schools

If you're like many new parents, nothing's too good for your little genius, including $30,440 for preschool so your 4-year-old can occupy a few hours each day playing with blocks and finger painting in an organized setting. Think that's a typo? Think again. That is the price of admission to the preschool program at New York's Ethical Culture Fieldston School. Other private schools in aren't much better. Bank Street, also in New York, will set you back $27,450; pre-K at Washington's Sidwell Friends runs $26,790. Compared to that, The Center for Early Education in Los Angeles, with its $15,400 tuition, seems like a bargain. hunted down the most expensive preschools in the biggest urban areas across the country using local school guidebooks, Web sites and experts to compare tuitions and programs. There is no central database that tracks tuition trends, not even locally, says Deborah Ashe, director of admissions in the lower school at New York's Trevor Day School, where preschool tuition is $24,200. And there are a lot of variables. Some schools that are preschool-only programs have comparably lower tuitions than preschools affiliated with elementary schools, and some schools get funding from the government.

Tuitions have been rising at an 8% clip across the board, according to some experts. That's more than the annual tuition increase at Ivy League colleges. But there is something to be said for the hefty premiums, according to Victoria Goldman, author of preschool guidebooks for New York and Los Angeles and mom of two New York private school kids. "You get what you pay for," she says.

Mostly what she means is facilities. The elite Episcopal School on Manhattan's Upper East Side, for example, which costs $14,500 a year, is housed in an elegant seven-story townhouse. Seven years ago, Boston's nearly 100-year-old Tenacre School (pre-K tuition is $16,000-plus) built a new gymnasium, library and multimedia center.

Washington, D.C.'s Sidwell Friends School gutted a few buildings and built a new "green" middle school. "Many of the older schools are antiquated and in constant need of upkeeping," says Georgia Irvin, author of a schools guidebook for the D.C. metropolitan area.

But paying the tuition is easy compared with getting in. Entrance to an exclusive private preschool is a painful right of passage for thousands of upscale New York moms every year, kicking off with a mad rush of speed dialing early in the morning the day after Labor Day to secure applications before schools run out of them. The way the game works, at least for many top private nursery schools: You call to get the application, rush it back to the school and wait anxiously for word you will be granted a tour and your child will be invited to an on-site pseudo-interview the schools call a "play-date." Some schools dispense with the play-date and just meet with families individually. Some ask for essays. Some just want to know where you live and work. (Presumably much information about your potential as a big donor can be gleaned from your address and employer).

Then there is the bone-chilling, mind-bending wait during which you agonize over your kid's performance during the play date and handicap her chances vs. the others (including that kid who went fishing in the classroom fish tank). While the process starts in September, it doesn't end until early March, when the notifications are mailed.

After conquering the application process and winning a coveted spot, no small feat in itself, the reality hits hard. Preschool, for most just a few hours a day in the mornings, can cost more than studying for an engineering degree at Michigan, and much more at some very selective schools. Of course, the lure for many is the program itself. At the 92nd Street Y, a school that gained a fair amount of notoriety for its role in the Wall Street research scandal a few years back, kids are engaged in an archeology "dig" and sculpture projects, among other things. At New York's Horace Mann, where educating a 4-year-old sets you back $26,880, kids are taught reading and computer readiness. At Chicago City Day School, tuition $17,000-plus, instruction in foreign languages, drama, music and science begins in the junior kindergarten.

Many parents view private preschool as a necessary step in the even more stressful process of securing a place in a private grade school, the process for which has been chronicled recently in the documentary "Getting In" on the TLC cable channel. In truth, the other thing pushing parents to send kids to preschool is the cold reality that kindergarten has become the new first grade, with parents pushing academic learning earlier with the fear that their kids will fall behind if they don't meet major milestones like reading well before what is considered normal. That makes preschool the new kindergarten. And that's a whole other story.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just came across you site when I was grazing the Google listings for the current boycott of high school diplomas issued by the Vancouver School Board. The VSB is accused of using political psychiatry to suppress free speech. Here's the link to the news article:

The VSB was also in the news recently for introducing a controversial course on "isms" into high schools. Students will learn about heterosexism, agism, specism...the list is too long for me to remember.