Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Bring Back Social Studies – From the Pages of The Atlantic

President Bush signing the bipartisan No Child...

The beginning of the end: President Bush signing NCLB at Hamilton H.S. in Hamilton, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even if you’ve said it a thousand times, it doesn’t hurt to say it again.

Mr. D’s much more industrious little sister, Dr. D (yep, she finished that doctorate!) drew my attention to this recent article from The Atlantic.  The article advocates stopping the current trend towards neutering social studies as a distinct discipline in American education.

While the article itself breaks no new ground, it encapsulates the history and status of the issue well so that newbies to the struggle get an eye opener–whilst the veterans get a refresher course in the shitstorm that is No Child Left Behind.

Jen Kalaidis opens with the decline of student time spent studying social studies, to a whopping 7.6 percent.  More importantly, she details the history of this decline–and contrary to popular belief, it didn’t happen in the Cold War.

Kalaidis does mention the 1957 Sputnik launch as a “Pearl Harbor” moment in American education.  From that point on, millions of dollars poured into math and science programs to keep up the space race against the Commies.  Yet to assume education was a zero-sum game at the time would be false: social studies did maintain its status through the Cold War, in fact peaking in 1993-1994 at 3 hours per week on average in US classrooms.

The reasoning is simple: the Cold War was more than just a technological race.  It was a battle of ethics and morals, of hearts and minds.  Social studies was at the center of that struggle, for better or worse.  At its worst, social studies channeled jingoistic American patriotism into half-truths and propaganda.  At its best, social studies provided the historical foundations, civic structure and critical analysis that helped shape a better America–one that could hopefully achieve that moral high ground against the Soviets.

The real decline came with No Child Left Behind–and here is where the article gets mundane.

To old-timers of the education wars, Kalaidis’ retread of the decline of social studies–the sacrifical lamb at the altar of Common Core, ELA, and STEM–is an old argument shouted out in hundreds of teacher lounges, conferences and workshops across the country.  The emphasis on reading, math and science pushed social studies to a secondary discipline–one that was often not subject to standardized testing.  If you couldn’t use a number 2 pencil, it wasn’t worth knowing.

We also all know how important it is to develop critical thinking and analysis skills, something social studies was designed for.  If taught well, social studies makes students take ownership of history, of civics and economics, leading them to their own ideas, conclusions and opportunities.

One aspect of this decline that Kalaidis did mention–and should be mentioned more–is the “civic achievement gap.”  The lack of civic education has created an underclass not only ignorant of their own government, but wholly unable or unwilling to vote, to participate in local politics or pursue careers in public service.   As much as we rag on the government, we need one–a competent one–and that involves competent people working in all levels.  To ignore the civic gap in low-income Americans is tantamount to disenfranchising them.

Lastly, Kalaidis does mention steps to move social studies back to the forefront.  Obama has decried the lack of civic education in NCLB.  So has Arne Duncan in a half-hearted article in the NCSS journal in 2011 (I ripped him a new one about it).  Yet most of this is lip service, or that dreaded word integration (as in subject integration, not race).

The reality is that there is no concrete move to make social studies important again in American schools.  And I hate to admit it–but the conspiracist in me thinks the decline of social studies is deliberate.

When the lunatics run the asylum, they make sure no one figures out they’re really lunatics.  Without proper social studies education, there’s no way to tell the difference.

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Democracy Distilled – an Infographic on Voting Rights produced by eLocal


Source: Democracy DistilledbyeLocalLawyers.com

In honor of Inauguration Day, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the folks at eLocal produced an interesting, evocative Infographic video about the history of voting rights in this country.  It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when even white men were restricted from the ballot box–the ones who were poor, that is.  The video follows how far we have come in the 237 years since independence, showing progress by state and demographic group.

This is a great resource for the classroom to show the big picture of American democracy, and to discuss where we need to go in the future.

Enjoy, and make sure to watch the Inauguration on Monday…even if you voted for the other guy.  The process of government is what makes us great, not the people in it.

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The FY’2013 Federal Budget Proposal–and its Implications for Social Studies

It seems the one truly bipartisan agenda in Washington today is duping the American public.

The bailout, the modest job increases, the upswing in the NASDAQ and the Dow Jones, even the rebound in the mortgage bond market are all spun to make it seem that things are actually getting better for average Americans.

The same is true for American education, and no more so than social studies—the sacrificial lamb to the altar of “interdisciplinary” or “integrative” studies.

Back in 2011, the federal budget for the fiscal year 2012 saw hatchet-like slashes across federal agencies, cracking off limbs where pruning would suffice.   In education, the ax fell on programs that were needed for its stated mission of a literate citizenry by 2014.  Suffice to say the boughs that needed most attention were left untouched (boughs with branches in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example).

The Teaching American History (TAH) Grant program, of which I am a big fan, lost its funding for FY 2012, signaling to one and all Washington’s contempt for a quality education for our citizens.  In the 2013 budget released on February 13, the program’s woes would continue—the lost funds would not return.

Furthermore, most of the 2012 cuts have remained in place for 2013.  Although the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) would receive a modest $8.2 million boost, most agencies saw a leveling off or a reduction in funding. 

The real insult, however, is how the Obama administration’s Department of Education views the role of social studies in future national plans.

Once again, the DOE proposes to scrap traditional K-12 history education and fold it into this new educational Leviathan named “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education.”  According to the National Coalition for History, the program aims to:

“support competitive grants to States, high-need LEAs, and nonprofit partners to develop and expand innovative practices to improve teaching and learning of the arts, foreign languages, history, government, economics and financial literacy, environmental education, physical education, health education, and other subjects. There would be no dedicated funding for any of the disciplines.”

To add insult to injury, this boondoggle has also felt the sharp edge of Obama’s ax: from $246 million in FY’12 to an astounding $90 million in this current budget.  Even the Administration has lost faith in their own proposal, to the tune of an over 63% reduction in funding.

If the federal government doesn’t even believe in this idea, why should educators buy into it?

In this endeavor, social studies educators should be joined with science faculty, teachers in foreign languages, physical education teachers, athletic coaches and others in common cause.  As much as integration is a valuable tool in the classroom, it is not a silver bullet for the ills of education—any teacher will tell you that. 

There are certain skills, concepts and facts that require the concentration, focus and expertise of a dedicated subject.  Thus, funding should also reflect the continued necessity of subjects/content areas by allocating monies to science, foreign languages, the arts and especially the social studies.

This program is dependent on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which governs K-12 education.  Since it’s an election year, and the ESEA is mired in Congressional deadlock, then nothing much can be done on this in the coming session.  Yet that gives that much more time to express our opinions on the matter.

Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of collective action—too much of the Beltway cynic in me.  However, this can be driven in the right direction given the right buttons are pushed. 

Here is the link to the members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.  Also included is the members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (phew, that’s a mouthful).  Take a little time to let them know that “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education” is nothing but a front to destroy our educational system.  It will make a mockery of our system, dragging us even farther behind other countries in every category.

Furthermore, even the Administration has shown its reluctance by slashing its funding—so Congress should devote those funds to more worthy educational endeavors.

Please contact your local Congressman, at any rate…and as usual, make sure to let him/know the Neighborhood sent you.

House Committee on Education and the Workforce

John Kline, Minnesota
(Chairman)
Thomas E. Petri, Wisconsin
Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California
Judy Biggert, Illinois
Todd Russell Platts, Pennsylvania
Joe Wilson, South Carolina
Virginia Foxx, North Carolina
Bob Goodlatte, Virginia
Duncan Hunter, California
David P. Roe, Tennessee
Glenn Thompson, Pennsylvania
Tim Walberg, Michigan
Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee
Richard L. Hanna, New York
Todd Rokita, Indiana
Larry Bucshon, Indiana
Trey Gowdy, South Carolina
Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania
Kristi L. Noem, South Dakota
Martha Roby, Alabama
Joseph J. Heck, Nevada
Dennis A. Ross, Florida
Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania

George Miller, California
(Senior Democratic Member)
Dale E. Kildee, Michigan
Donald M. Payne, New Jersey
Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey
Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Virginia
Lynn C. Woolsey, California
Rubén Hinojosa, Texas
Carolyn McCarthy, New York
John F. Tierney, Massachusetts
Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio
Rush D. Holt, New Jersey
Susan A. Davis, California
Raúl M. Grijalva, Arizona
Timothy H. Bishop, New York
David Loebsack, Iowa
Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii
Jason Altmire, Pennsylvania

Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions

Tom Harkin (IA) – Chair
Barbara A. Mikulski (MD)
Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Patty Murray (WA)
Bernard Sanders (I) (VT)
Robert P. Casey, Jr. (PA)
Kay R. Hagan (NC)
Jeff Merkley (OR)
Al Franken (MN)
Michael F. Bennet (CO)
Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Richard Blumenthal (CT)

Michael B. Enzi (WY) -Ranking Republican Senator
Lamar Alexander (TN)
Richard Burr (NC)
Johnny Isakson (GA)
Rand Paul (KY)
Orrin G. Hatch (UT)
John McCain (AZ)
Pat Roberts (KS)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Mark Kirk (IL)

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Video for the Classroom: Electing a US President in Plain English

Happy New Year!

We just rang in 2012 and amazingly, the Iowa Caucuses are tonight, beginning another presidential election season. 

Eventually, someone will ask about that 18th century enigma, the Electoral College.  This nifty video from CommonCraft.com explains the process in a straightforward way, so as to avoid those uncomfortable questions…

such as “Why the fuck do we need an Electoral College anyway?”

That’s for another class.  Enjoy.

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Thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street Movement

As a born and bred 99%-er, I have spent an inordinate amount of time among the 1%.

Going to college with many of the sons and daughters of the top tier, I absorbed many of the traits, both good and bad, that go with a life of privilege. Exposure to both plenty and want gave me a window into two worlds—and allowed me to view two sides to every social issue.

On the other hand, their carefree and blasé attitude about the world also wormed into my psyche—along with a stiflingly boring Brooks Brothers wardrobe.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement ends the month as a worldwide phenomenon, my two sides are more at conflict than ever.

Usually, throngs of people camping out, chanting, beating bongos and whatnot brings out the 1%-er in me (or at least the 99%er that became a cop). I have an inherent distaste for public disorder, and enough exposure to the powers-that-be to realize that (a) many of their suggestions probably will cause more harm than good; and (b) real power, at least in the 21st Century, rarely lies in the will of the people anymore.

Those who feel that way, mostly on the right (even the Tea Party, which I personally despise) have a point.

Then again, our country was borne out of civil unrest. Disorder was the soil that bore the fruit of the American Revolution. Protest movements have affected American policy from abolition to prohibition to civil rights. Many of the protesters today see an economic situation out of control, spiraling unemployment, and an illogical degree of political power at the hands of a precious few; negating the will of the people.

Those who feel that way, mostly on the left (even the loony Left, which I also personally despise) also have a point.

Yet the headline-grabbing slogans—the ones doing the most damage to the movement—largely do not have a point. Their pointlessness is making a legitimate movement look like a proscribed series of malcontents that habitually pop up upon every bear cycle.

Sorry to burst your bubbles, both Moonbeam O’Ganja and Reverend Cletus Killjoy, but the following will not (and should not) happen:

1. The End of Capitalism – Those who advocate the end of the market system haven’t been looking around lately. Everyone is getting into the capitalist game, for obvious reasons: it is basically how goods and services were exchanged since the beginning of time.

It even goes back to the Bible. As Moses delivers his people to their Promised Land, this new piece of real estate comes with a catch: obey the wishes of a deity that sometimes gets a little too heated for his own good. You can figure out how many times the Israelites broke the contract.

Even the Bolshie stalwarts—old reds like Cuba and new ones like Venezuela—are getting in on the act. Yes, a Cuban can be as capitalist as Daddy Warbucks: simply refusing to do business with American companies does not a Communist make. The capitalist system, in its basest form, is here to say.

2. The Return of Unfettered Capitalism – Let’s get one thing straight: in our country, there never was, nor will there ever be, an absolutely free market. Even Adam Smith himself, the supposed father of modern capitalism, argued that a completely free market was not only dangerous, but theoretically impossible.

The goal is not a free market, but a fair one: a market where everyone plays by the same rules and is governed under similar regulations. If we played by the same rules—and were governed by fair and efficient referees—there would have been no speculative bubbles, no bailouts, no “too big to fail.”

What happened was that the free market forgot how free it was, and decided that it needed to be “freer.” This is a fundamental flaw of the concept: the more freedom you have, the less freedom for those around you. If I had the complete freedom to beat the shit out of someone, that invades the other guy’s right to live peaceably—even if the other son of a bitch deserved it.

Starting in the 1980s, the largest financial and commercial interests in America decided they wanted to beat the shit out of everyone in sight. Certain companies, brokerage houses and banks were allowed to skirt the rules—often by the very governing bodies that made them.

In 2008, we all paid the price. I’m still feeling sore.

3. The Redistribution of Wealth – If the 20th century has taught us anything, it’s that the redistribution of wealth is an inherently bad idea for all involved.

For the wealthy, it means picking up sticks (and Swiss bank accounts) and heading to places where butlers, monocles and teacup poodles are more appreciated (like Greenwich, Connecticut, Bermuda, or certain parts of Switzerland).

For the poor who took the wealth, it means attempting to use the wealth for “the good of all” without succumbing to the inevitable need to line ones pockets. Sure, when you leave a bag of money in a room and you tell everyone “take what you need and leave enough so we can pay the rent”, there’s bound to be problems.

Furthermore, the theft of wealth negates any need to actually create wealth from (gasp!) work. Why do we have to make a profitable business when Mendoza’s old mansion (and his liquor cabinet) sits empty for the taking.

4. The End of Corporations – Here I speak from an all-too-personal experience. My father is the head of a corporation: a corporation of one. If he didn’t incorporate his little upholstery business, my parents would fear for their lives in every down cycle. If he didn’t incorporate his business, that slow year of 2008 could have cost my parents their house and their possessions.

Not every corporation is a multinational Leviathan bent on devouring everything in its wake. In fact, most are struggling to get by along with the rest of us.

If Moonbeam thinks stopping corporate protections will finally kill off Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers, she’ll also be killing off any vestige of innovation and entrepreneurship in America. The idea of a corporation, a separate entity apart from one’s personal assets, is what makes risk-taking and progressive thinking possible.

Again, this doesn’t mean every corporation acts in our best interest. Nor do corporations always innovate for the better. Henry Ford would probably have preferred paving the streets of Dearborn with the bodies of unionized auto workers (along with some Jews, too, apparently). Always smell for brimstone when making a deal with Donald Trump, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. This leads to the next point:

5. Complete Privatization of our Government and Society – I have many friends who are Libertarians. I also have many friends who lean towards the Tea Party. They all say the same thing: government is an inherent hindrance to the productivity of business and the entrepreneurial spirit of America. Overheated government spending has produced a debt that seems impossible to pay off. Other countries with fewer scruples than us are surpassing us in all categories. Thus, we must strip our government bare so that the borders are secure, the mail runs (only five days) and the roads are kept up (as long as construction is done on off-peak hours).

I agree that government can be a hindrance to business. The debt is, to be sure, spiraling out of control. However, the complete gutting of our government is not the answer.

Like I said before, the goal is a fair market. That fairness relies on a government that makes and maintains rules that promote growth while buttressing the general needs of society. Someone has to keep the greedier aspects of business in check, while at the same time making sure they don’t go out of business.

This requires a careful balancing act, and to be fair, neither the Tea Party nor the Occupy Wall Streeters are interested in balance. The Tea Party wants a gutted government that supposedly will allow everyone to be rich and buy a McMansion and go to a megachurch to piss away the money we make so the pastor can buy a bigger McMansion far away from us. Of course, this is done while a top-notch military (that accounts for every bullet) patrols every inch of our border while the world blows itself up.

The Occupy Wall Streeters—at least the loudest, most extreme ones—want to gut the top 1% of society to take care of a whole laundry lists of rights and wrongs, from unemployment, national health care, solving urban blight, rural blight, illiteracy, crime, immigration, migration, pollution, carbon footprints, fingerprints, handprints, and a diverse workplace. This while balancing the budget, paying down the debt and maintaining the smallest of military forces that will prop up any democratically “elected” dingdong in any putrid corner of the Third World.

A true solution to our problems—and we do have them—is (I hate to say it) a middle ground between Moonbeam O’Ganja and Reverend Cletus Killjoy. And it’ll be so middle that it pisses off the both of them.

That involves a tax code that makes sense, that makes sure everyone (including the big corporations) pay their fair share.

That involves a painstaking review of our national expenses to see exactly how we spend our money—and take it like a man when the truth isn’t pretty.

That involves regulatory agencies and rules that are fair, balanced, do not stifle the market.

That involves a government that has the balls to do all these things, plus secure our borders and maintain our missions abroad—the ones that actually matter.

If that can’t happen, we’re in for a royal clusterfuck of a future…and no amount of signs, slogans or pack of dirty hippies can stop it.

 

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Occupy Wall Street Videos for the Classroom

The Occupy Wall Street protests are obviously on many peoples’ minds lately.  In my scotch fog (more like cheap Bourbon, in my case) not only did I not take into account my lack of activity on this blog, but also my lack of real analysis of these protests.

So here’s some video to share with your students–hopefully with as little editorializing as possible.

The YouTube channel OccupyTVNY provides a pretty good snapshot of the various protests in New York, where the movement began (obviously…does anyone really want to occupy Wall Street in the middle of Montana?).  Furthermore, the Manchester Guardian’s Teacher Network provides a cool set of stats and classroom resources for teachers covering the protests.

Given the Guardian’s slant, its pretty even handed.

I’ll be giving my own take on these protests shortly.  If you read my reports on the Save Our Schools March in July, you probably get a sense of where I’m going with this.

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Calling out all Teachers “converted” by Public Education!

Like St. Paul on the way to Damascus, many of us undergo a “conversion” experience.

We enter the world full of lofty goals, high-minded principles and some complex vocabulary. Sometimes, we even attempt to make those goals real, entering the “real world” to “inspire young minds” and “do some good in the world.”

Yet when the cold backhand of reality comes crashing across our faces, the sting often exposes a greater truth—a truth often masked behind the rhetoric.

I am not immune to this. When I began as a teacher, visions of gleaming charter schools and smiling faces with vouchers to private academies danced in my head. I couldn’t sing the praises of privatization and Teach for America loud enough—as well as shout my disdain for veteran teachers “not doing their job.”

It didn’t take long into my first year for reality to sink in. The magic bullets, the fab theories and the rhetoric of the NCLB crowd were smoke-and-mirrors in the everyday grind of an inner city classroom. The handbooks—TFA, NYC Teaching Fellows, or otherwise—had no answer for the problems I faced each day in that place. The best help I got was from (Surprise, surprise!) veteran teachers who long ago discarded the guidebooks to best educate their students.

My mind changed when I encountered the realities of public education. And I am sure I’m not alone.

At the recent Save Our Schools Conference, I had spoken with fellow blogger James Boutin about our experiences, and we got to thinking about people like us—people who “crossed the floor” as it were on public education. One workshop we attended involved two Teach for America alums. They quit the organization over their tactics and approach in regards to teacher training.

Surely, we thought, there are many others like them—and us—who also had an epiphany about education and the real problems in our public schools.

There’s a very public example of this “epiphany” in Diane Ravitch, the former assistant Secretary of Education and co-author of No Child Left Behind who saw the dangers of the monster she helped bring to life.

However, what could be even more powerful are the stories of everyday teachers—be it from TFA, Teaching Fellows, or anywhere else—who had once bought into the rhetoric of education “reform” and have been transformed by their experiences in today’s classrooms.

James and I are collecting stories of similar individuals, those with similar transformative experiences as us. If you have a story to share, please contact James or myself. Include your contact info, as we’re not sure how to best use your information, and we want to keep in touch with you.

Finally, please send this to anyone whose life was changed by teaching in a public school classroom. Your stories are important and incredibly valuable. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

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