Saturday, June 04, 2011

Don’t nationalize education

A number of educators, academics, and political figures recently signed a statement released by the Albert Shanker Institute favoring a “common content core curriculum” for all public schools in the United States. The idea has an obvious appeal: Simply select what students should learn and tell the schools to teach it. However, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” There is no single best curriculum for all students in all districts, and any attempt to create one at the federal level opens the door to political meddling in educational content.

Across the country, there is widespread disagreement among educators, politicians, and the general public about what constitutes a good curriculum. Even within districts, conflicting interest groups fight heated battles over curricular changes.

On April 26, a group of students took over a board meeting of the Tuscon Unified School District, protesting a proposal that would change the district’s Mexican American Studies program from a social studies credit to an elective. Student supporters of the program chained themselves to the board’s dais and could not be removed by security. Under a national curriculum, disputes such as this would have to be resolved at the federal level. Congress would determine what students should learn. Allowing Congress to serve as the custodian of truth in the teaching of history, social studies, and other subjects is asking for trouble.

In fact, our current system is already too centralized, with state legislators and boards of education committing new crimes against veracity every time curriculum design comes up for debate. Last spring, conservatives on the Texas State Board of Education pushed through a new social studies curriculum. Among other changes, the new curriculum required a greater emphasis on the “conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s,” and excised the insufficiently religious Thomas Jefferson from a list of thinkers who inspired revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries, replacing him with overtly Christian figures such as John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas. The left plays this game just as much as the right. California’s guidelines forbid textbooks to “cast adverse reflection on any gender, race, ethnicity, religion or cultural group.” That sounds well-meaning, but it has led to a whitewashed version of history for fear of offending any interest group.

We should return decisions about educational content to the local level. That would not make these arguments disappear, but it would give parents the greatest opportunity to find a curriculum that suits their educational preferences.

Furthermore, localized curricula would give teachers more flexibility in meeting students’ individual educational needs. When I pursued teacher certification, I encountered repeatedly in my coursework the idea that every student learns in different ways. Good teachers must vary the information they present and how they present it in order to appeal to the different aptitudes and interests of their students. A national curriculum may not completely strip teachers of the ability to tailor lessons for the particularities of their students, but every new mandate from on high removes a little more autonomy from the educators who know their students best.

Many American schools are in desperate need of reform, but more federal micromanagement is not the solution. We need more autonomy for schools to innovate and serve the individual needs and interests of their students, and greater choice for parents to hold those schools accountable. A national curriculum would take us in the opposite direction — toward heavily politicized subject matter and no alternatives for students whose needs are left out. Reforming education in this country is not one large problem — it’s millions of small ones, and a national curriculum would only make them harder to address.


Florida teacher who punched student won't be charged

Sandra Hadsock clenched her teeth, balled up her right fist and closed her eyes. The 5-foot-5 art teacher's first punch was a wild haymaker, just glancing the towering student's right cheek.

Then, as she drew her arm back again, Hadsock gripped the boy's jacket collar and leveled a right cross, catching him square on the jaw. His head snapped to the side and his mess of orange hair blew back.

Now, three weeks after the incident was caught on a student's cell phone videocamera, the State Attorney's Office has decided not to file criminal charges against Hadsock, who had been arrested on a single count of child abuse.

Hadsock landed at least one punch on the student's face, causing a minor cut on his lip, authorities said. But the video doesn't provide conclusive evidence that the 64-year-old veteran teacher wasn't acting in self-defense when she swung at the student who called her vulgar names, prosecutor Brian Trehy said.

Students who witnessed the incident said the teen made contact first and the teacher was responding to that, Trehy said.

"You couldn't put a piece of paper between them," Trehy said. "You can't tell if he actually made contact, but it's certainly reasonable to believe that it could have happened."

In a phone interview Thursday afternoon with Hadsock and her attorney, Ty Tison, she expressed relief that the criminal chapter is over.

"It was the right thing to do," Hadsock said of Trehy's call. "I was defending myself, and he made the right decision."

Hadsock and Tison offered previously unreleased details that led up to the incident outside Central High School's classroom D102.

The student licked a classroom window and left saliva, Tison said. Hadsock and another teacher asked the boy to clean the window, and he refused. Hadsock told him to go to the principal's office.

At that, the student launched a verbal assault, calling her a "f---ing c---" as he walked across the room toward her in what Hadsock felt was a menacing manner, Tison said.

"Step back right now!" Hadsock shouts. But instead of stepping back, the student steps forward. Hadsock punches him twice, and another boy pulls him back.

"Oh my God!" a girl exclaims. "He didn't do anything. You can't punch him in the face." "He pushed into me," Hadsock, visibly shaken, says.

"I didn't touch her," the student responds. "You guys saw that, right? I didn't touch her."

Tison said the video "speaks for itself." "If she would have done nothing, you might have been talking about some very severe injuries to a 64-year-old teacher," Tison said. "She wasn't going to wait to find out."

The student was suspended but not arrested.

A married mother of two grown daughters, Hadsock started with the district as a substitute teacher in 1985 and became a full-time teacher three years later, a faculty member when Central opened in 1988. She has a clean disciplinary record and was voted by students for the school's Teacher of the Year award last school year.

She said she hopes school officials will consider the facts of her case and her record, and allow her to return to the classroom, but it's still unclear if that will happen.

She was suspended with pay after her arrest and will have a predetermination hearing this summer as the school district conducts its own investigation, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt did not return messages Thursday.

"I've been doing this for 22 years, and it's part of who I am, a teacher who makes a positive influence in kids' lives," Hadsock said. "I'm a very optimistic person so I'm seeing a near future where I'm back making lesson plans and getting my room in order for next year and doing the job that I do so well."

In the meantime, she is not allowed to have student contact, which means she won't be able to attend Central's graduation ceremony tonight.

Hadsock's story touched a nerve with readers. Many who posted comments on cheered her for sticking up for herself. She said she has received correspondence from strangers throughout the country offering words of support.

The writers agreed that bad student behavior is an epidemic, she said, and it's causing good teachers to leave the profession.

"For a solution, I think you need well-trained teachers, but you also need good parenting and students who want to learn and who understand the need for, and are grateful for, a good education," she said. "Our values have gotten backward somewhere, and we need to reassess as a nation what's important."


CA: Parents defenseless against gender 'diversity training'

As teachers spent May 23 and 24 using all-girl geckos and transgendered clownfish to teach gender diversity lessons, a California school has raised concerns with teaching that there are more than two genders.

Students in all grades at Oakland's Redwood Heights Elementary School got an introduction to the topic on Monday, as teachers told them there are different ways to be boys and different ways to be girls. In the lesson called "Gender Spectrum Diversity Training," documents released by the school say that students were taught that "gender is not inherently nor solely connected to one's physical anatomy."

Another document from the school advises parents that "when you discuss gender with your child, you may hear them...exploring where on the gender spectrum and why."

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), says it is difficult to imagine the liberal indoctrination endured by elementary students.

"No child in kindergarten should be introduced to the question of whether or not they really are a boy or really are a girl," he contends. "That has no place in public schools, and these schools are engaging in an area that without question results in children having problems that they likely would not have had otherwise."

He questions the legitimacy of the topic. Meanwhile, legal counsel is being offered to parents who oppose gender-diversity lessons.

"Legally, there is no right under California law for parents to opt out from this kind of outrageous pro-transgender indoctrination," Dacus laments. "Nonetheless though, as legal counsel, we are giving them advice as to how to protect their children."

Some of the reading list includes Boy, girl or both? and My Princess Boy for grades K-1, What is gender? and 10,000 Dresses for grades 2-3, and Three Dimensions of Gender for grades 4-5 -- the age group that was also introduced to the song, "All I Want to Be is Me."


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