Sunday, March 16, 2008

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.

Respect.(On what basis does one gain or give respect?)The naive or uninitiated might assume that schools teach students to respect those who know a lot, or can learn a lot or who at least try hard.In urban schools these values carry such little weight with students that they are unobservable.Indeed, in many schools trying hard or demonstrating initiative is regarded as a negative--a form of toadying to authority.The basis of gaining or giving respect is power.The critical question is "Who can do what to whom?"Between the system and the students, as well as among students, the issue is couched as respect--respect for the power to hurt indirectly or directly.

In response to the question, "When is it o.k. to hit people?" urban middle school youth provide an interesting array of being "dissed."Included on their list is, 'He talked crazy" and "He looked at me funny" (Haberman & Dill, 1995).There is no question that urban youth believe that words or glances which they perceive as provocative require a physical response.They use being provoked as a justification for hitting or even killing the offender.

The issue here is not the students' street value per se but how schools reinforce those values rather than teach, or even try to teach, any alternatives.The concept that one "earns" respect by doing good things is unheard of among urban youth and requires explanation.Respect is something they extend to the powerful--as toward the Godfather??and something one is afforded by virtue of simply looking at a person and knowing his/her potential to inflict physical harm.

School policies and educators who try to respond to youth in terms of power are doomed to failure.There are no legal means for schools to really hurt the students.And once students reach the age or size when parents can no longer control them, the school is perceived as powerless by the students (i.e., schools can no longer report them and get them beaten up at home).Once this age when no power consequences can be administered is reached, the schools and teachers have no basis for being afforded students' respect.

The option open to schools is to not accept the power value and from earliest grades upward to never use it (Haberman & Dill, 1995).It is only by seeking to relate to and control by internal and gentle means that the school has any hope of contravening this power value (Haberman, 1994).Admittedly, it is harder work to try to relate to youth in mutual rather than power terms, but to continue present school policies actively teaches youth that school is no different than the street--just less effective.It's all a question of who can do what to whom.

Much more here

British schools pander to Muslim thuggery

Schools in areas feared to have high rates of forced marriage are refusing to display posters on the issue because they are too hard-hitting, according to a government report. Headteachers are unwilling to put up the posters for fear that they might offend some parents. The disclosure came in findings from the Department for Children, Schools and Families showing that 2,089 pupils were absent from school without explanation in 14 areas of England believed to have a high incidence of forced marriage.

A paper from the department released by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee found that in Luton cards had been issued rather than posters while in Derby most schools were unaware of the poster produced by the forced marriage unit. “In Birmingham, the poster had not been displayed as schools felt that the graphics are ‘too hard-hitting’. “Some schools in Leeds are displaying the posters but others are concerned that they may offend some of their parents,” the paper said.

The areas highlighted by the forced marriage unit as having a “high incidence” of forced marriage are Derby, Leicester, Luton, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford and Lancashire. The report found that 2,089 children were “not in receipt of suitable education” including 250 in Birmingham, 155 in Bristol, 121 in Derby, 520 in Leeds, 294 in Leicester, 385 in Manchester and 66 in Luton.

But it is not clear how many of these children might have been taken out of school and forced into marriage. Some are being educated at home, some families have moved without leaving a forwarding address and other children are truants. MPs on the committee are now to seek extra information.

Margaret Moran described schools’ resistance to displaying the posters as shocking. She said: “People just don’t want to talk about it. “This can involve violence, rape, kidnap — what more important issue can there be? The cultural thing is just a big smokescreen.”

Martin Salter, another Labour member of the committee, said that the problem was “much bigger than people realise. There has been a culture of silence for far too long. There are far too many local authorities being lily-livered about addressing this issue.”

The department said that it was up to schools to decide what posters to display depending on circumstances but urged them to make such material available. “Posters are just one mechanism to get the message across.”


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