Disrupting Class

The Book of the Week is “Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” by Clayton Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson, published in 2008.

All three of the authors– educrats– pushed education solutions that were mostly software-centric and charter-school based. The educrats made no distinctions between teaching and learning, but indicated that students would learn from software, if schools adopted their recommendations. It is difficult to see how students who are unwilling to learn, would learn from software, though, without supervision.

Nevertheless, one point the authors got right, was that a wrench in the works that is hindering their push to convert the American education system into a machine-dominated one– is teachers’ unions across the country. One other uncertain aspect of the whole kit and caboodle is the competition between the two current software operating systems– Windows and Apple. So, due to all this political patronage and profiteering, America’s education system will remain a patchwork, most likely.

Anyway, in 2004, one school district’s (demographically similar) students in Kentucky had 26% better state standardized test scores than another; the latter had three times the funding. There are usually three major reasons for such a discrepancy: the former district prepped the students for the test, and /or they cheated, and / or students possessed the basic skills and fundamental knowledge to do better than the competition.

The authors admitted more research was needed to determine the reasons for the discrepancy. They did however, declare that their recommendations for bettering the American education system through customization of teaching would help all students improve, regardless of funding.

The authors then presented a hypothetical scenario which would defy reality in most underfunded, understaffed and /or poorly staffed schools. In the scenario, a star athlete was attending that kind of a high school. He was having trouble understanding a concept in science class. The teacher wasn’t explaining it in a way the student could understand it. If the student didn’t keep his grades up, he wouldn’t be able to play in the big soccer game. The student’s father, an engineer, was more than happy to, was available to, and was able to, successfully tutor him so he could still play. The student lived happily ever after.

First of all, subpar schools tend to coddle their star athletes– allow them to pass their classes, or provide them with extra tutoring. Secondly, such schools have a significant number of students in overcrowded classrooms, who are discipline problems– disruptive to the class (sort of like the software-based learning that would be disruptive to the industry that the authors seemed to think the American education system is becoming).

The anecdote said nothing about: the classroom’s learning environment (which in subpar schools is frequently noisy and / or hostile) or what proportion of the other students were truly interested in learning, etc. Thirdly, it would be very unlikely that the student’s father would be an engineer, never mind available.

If there was only a handful of students who truly wanted to learn, then the authors should have suggested that those schools assign those students to do software-based learning. Those students deserve better! But the authors didn’t suggest that.

It stands to reason that live, experienced teachers should know their students and thus know how to customize teaching or customize extra help for each one. The inconvenient realities that prevent them from doing so, include but are certainly not limited to:

  • limited class time;
  • overcrowded classes;
  • classes with students who are disruptive the entire period; and
  • lack of resources for helping students learn the way they learn best.

The authors complained that American schools developed ways to lump kids together efficiently in classrooms, but in ways that have hindered their learning. But– there are reasons other than efficiency: individualized learning is expensive; face to-face social interaction is good for the kids; and they learn from each other. In isolation (with software-based learning), they don’t.

The authors then compared customized teaching to products in corporate America. This was not a very accurate analogy. For, students, teachers and resources aren’t product parts; corporate America runs on the profit motive. Education shouldn’t. Nevertheless, that is the direction it’s heading, with more and more commercialized visual education resources.

The authors explained that two recent American federal education laws would lead to growing pains and chaos in the short term, but [italics, theirs] “schools have actually been improving.” Yes, and so has the United States: a meaningless generalization. One of the laws, No Child Left Behind, a can-of-worms, was obsessed with raising standardized test scores across the board, for all students. It caused schools to (besides go crazy) lie with statistics.

The authors failed to elaborate on the aforementioned “improving” with specific examples. Instead, they went on to briefly describe the evolution of the American education system, mentioning a few influencers in early curricula, trends that prompted changes to those curricula, and changes to student populations due to other federal laws, through the years.

The next anecdote told of a student doing online research. The problem is that, sadly, the World Wide Web has been largely taken over by political propagandists and profiteers.

A subplot of the above anecdote (which was ongoing) was that a dedicated high school student got permission to take an online course in Arabic through the local community college. This, because her school didn’t offer Arabic. In a later chapter, the authors claimed the course was free (!) but didn’t specify whether course materials were free, or what kind of financial arrangement, if any, was made between the high school and college. They also weren’t clear whether the course fulfilled a graduation requirement for the student.

The student was allegedly going to chat with a native Arabic speaker halfway around the world. However, there are all different dialects of Arabic spoken in different Middle Eastern countries. The authors explained nothing about this inconvenient fact in their fanciful anecdote.

Further, the authors wrongheadedly compared the disruptiveness of online classes to that of innovations in consumer goods. But those are apples and oranges. Consumer goods’ innovations are driven by the profit motive. Childrens’ educations are driven by their parents’ belief in education and legal requirements that children attend school. The parents see the connection between education and success in life.

There are millions of complications of all sorts in connection with preparing children to become mature, responsible adults. Consumer-goods innovations are applied to inanimate objects. The only similarity is that costs of software-based learning and innovations will both fall as time goes on. But for students: at what price?? Especially if their chemistry class, as has happened at Brigham Young University (according to the authors)– was turned into a video game??

The authors thought that the large amount of money spent for universal free pre-kindergarten could be more wisely spent on parenting classes. But, once again, they failed to elaborate, and instead, ended the chapter. (For more extensive info on the myriad of subjects covered above, see this blog’s entire category of posts, “Education”).

Read the book to learn: the four major aspects of the American education system that, according to the authors, constrained students from learning; why the authors thought extrinsic motivators would force schools to rethink their services; the four ways the authors contended that technology would assist with customized learning; other comparisons with corporate models; charter school methods; and other imaginary “learning” scenarios that are likely to remain imaginary.

Educated – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Educated, a Memoir” by Tara Westover, published in 2018.

This was an emotionally jarring autobiography of a female whose dysfunctional family members were the major influences in her life. Born in 1986 in rural Idaho, the author was the youngest of seven children. Her father– a fanatically religious Mormon– home-schooled his children, asserting that public school would brainwash them. The author’s mother taught her basic reading and math, but little else academically. Three of her older brothers rebelled, and left home as soon as they could. One of those– who had a thirst for knowledge– worked his way through college, and inspired the author to do so.

Morbid curiosity will keep the reader in suspense throughout this ghastly book that recounts a series of life-threatening injuries, traumatic and violent scenes of family strife, interspersed with anecdotes that spur the reader to cheer the author on during her journey toward self-awareness, healing and profound insights about her life and her family members. Read the book to learn all about it.

ENDNOTE: It took the above author a long, long time. Just as when someone has a lifelong dream, it isn’t usually achieved immediately. He or she is not going to change their mind about it. They’re going to pursue it relentlessly. In an ideal world, the one who prepares for it properly deserves to get it more than others. However, in the world of United States politics, an infinite number of factors complicate the process.

See Nothing and Nobody – BONUS POST

SEE NOTHING AND NOBODY

DOWN BY THE SCHOOLYARD

sung to the tune of “See Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” with apologies to Paul Simon.

President Trump said reopen schools.

So did the czar of education.

When the teachers found out they began to shout,

which started the litigation.

Teachers said naw! Teachers said naw!

A lot of sick we saw.

There ought to be a law.

Florida’s gov stood his ground, said we’re not bound

to conform to the convention.

Other govs said you must open schools or we’ll legally quash your dissension.

We’ve lost our way.

Don’t know where we’re going.

We’ve lost our way.

Law takes its time. Don’t know where…

Goodbye democracy, via the scourge of Corona.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

Oh oh, people are saying they’re going to take school away and have online and home education.

And when the special interest groups have total control,

we’re gonna have an airheaded nation.

We’ve lost our way.

Don’t know where we’re going.

We’ve lost our way.

Law takes its time. Don’t know where…

Goodbye democracy, via the scourge of Corona.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

Embattled Wall

The Book of the Week is “Embattled Wall, Americans United: An Idea and a Man” by C. Stanley Lowell, published in 1966.

Separation of Church and State requires a zero-tolerance policy, lest little things open the floodgates to bigger things, one thing leads to another, and those little things eventually lead to the Spanish Inquisition, or some other theocracy as is seen in many countries in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Besides, there are other reasons for separation of Church and State:

  • Religious entities that pay no taxes have a competitive advantage if they provide goods and services the same way tax-paying capitalist entities do. This includes private education services, and
  • Citizens probably don’t want their taxes to financially assist institutions associated with a religion other than their own.

After WWII in the United States, the power of the Catholic Church was on the increase. Beginning in 1947, the Church began to aggressively request government subsidies for its parochial school system. The author wrote, “…The National Catholic Welfare Conference… [were] like professional lobbyists… actually assisting in the drafting of legislation… cajoling, promising, threatening.”

Protestants felt that money was earned through work, not subsidies, so initially, they were against public funding for their schools. Thus, when over-achieving attorney Glenn Archer founded the group, Americans United— which litigated for separation of Church and State– Protestants assisted him.

The actual full name of the organization was “Protestants and Other Americans United For Separation of Church and State” (hereinafter referred to as “AU”). Other groups that supported them included Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Scientists. Jews mostly avoided the fray, but they were offended that the group had the word “church” in its name.

The Catholics launched a smear campaign against Archer and AU. Catholic publications trotted out the usual righteously indignant accusations, “bigot, religious prejudice, Ku Klux Klan, Communist, racist,” etc. The language in Jesuit propaganda was open to multiple interpretations (among many other examples):

“Freedom of choice in education”

which, in AU’s words, translated to:

Canon Law 1374 denies freedom of choice in education to Catholic parents, ordering them to send their children to Catholic schools.” In other words, the Catholic Church strongly believes that its worshippers should follow religious law before civil law whenever there is a clash between them.

Jesuits: “Justice for children”

AU: “Subsidies for Catholic schools”

The author also described a Catholic rabble rouser: “His posture of outraged purity impressed the majority who had no understanding of the real issues in the case.”

When American president Harry Truman proposed the appointing of an ambassador to the Vatican, AU protested that this was a violation of separation of Church and State, as the leader of the Vatican (the Pope) was a worldwide religious leader. AU and a sufficient number of individual complainants helped put the kibosh on that appointment.

The State Department was peeved because it could have used the Catholic Church (which had many houses of worship around the world) to assist with espionage– er, uh, fostering friendly relationships with nations that had Catholic citizens.

In 1958, the world got a new Pope, thanks in part to votes cast by Catholic cardinals in America. AU cited 8 U.S. Code 1481 of the Immigration and Nationality Act as a reason to revoke the citizenship of those cardinals. For, any American citizen who votes in a foreign country could be stripped of his citizenship.

The Church weakly counter-argued that the Pope is primarily a religious leader, and secondarily a national leader. However, AU produced support for its own arguments in the form of a few previous legal cases of citizenship revocations, plus American government documentation that showed the Vatican to be a political entity.

During the 1960 presidential election between Richard Nixon and the Catholic John F. Kennedy, AU asked questions to determine JFK’s positions on separation of Church and State. The U.S. Supreme Court, AU and JFK were all in agreement.

A few different laws were passed through the years, that granted subsidies pursuant to state laws, in addition to ongoing student loan programs:

  • 1948, the Taft Bill
  • 1958, Defense Education Act
  • 1963, Higher Education Facilities Act (which allowed a university– even that run by a religious institution– to acquire property at a fire-sale price from the government, and then to get permission to construct campus buildings with public funds), and
  • 1965, Elementary and Secondary Education Act

During those years, in effect, federal taxpayers were financially aiding Catholic education more than that of any other religion, as 95% of religious schools were Catholic.

In the late 1950’s, Franklin County in Missouri won a great legal victory against the Catholic Church. The court ruled that, “…schools were not in fact free public schools and were not entitled to be supported by public school money or public funds.”

In a Burlington, Vermont lawsuit, AU cited the First and Fourteenth Amendments because the vague language of the Vermont Constitution regarding separation of Church and State allowed for loopholes.

Read the book to learn about the practice of “captive schools” and a wealth of additional information on the tenor of the times in connection with legal fights over public funding for religious education.

The Unicorn’s Secret

The Book of the Week is “The Unicorn’s Secret, Murder in the Age of Aquarius” by Steven Levy, published in 1988.

Born in 1940 in the Philadelphia area, Ira Einhorn was, according to his mother, God’s gift to the world. A control freak, he was used to having his own way. He was later described by a friend of his as “… a hippie Jew wearing a dashiki with sandals, with body odor… fat… a weirdo…” He taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Free University” in 1966. The educational entity offered classes that encouraged exchange of ideas without the pressures of graduation requirements or grades. The most unconventional aspect of Einhorn’s courses, however, was that he taught students about LSD and pot. Like Timothy Leary, he believed that acid and pot generated good brain chemicals, while speed caused bad drug trips, and paranoia.

In addition to teaching– Einhorn dealt drugs on the side, wrote articles for counterculture publications and did event-planning to support himself. He used “The Unicorn” as his pen name. In January 1967, the predecessor to Woodstock took place in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. It was called the Human Be-In, and was attended by about 25,000 people. In April 1967, Einhorn co-arranged a similar event in Philadelphia. Only about a thousand people showed up.

Critics charged that Einhorn was a talker, not a doer. He wasted the time of real activists with his “… sloth, bad poetry, quasi-academic babble, and chemical fantasies.” He would help plan a protest and not show up. But he got all the press attention. The reason he was tolerated was that he had a magnetic personality, knowledge and fundraising contacts. In 1970, during the very first “Earth Week” on “Earth Day” on April 22, he hogged the stage when Ed Muskie was scheduled to deliver a speech. When forced to cede the spotlight, Einhorn gave the impression it was his show and Muskie was merely a bit player. He rewrote history to say he was the sole creator of Earth Day.

Einhorn ingratiated himself with top executives of major corporations like General Electric and Pennsylvania Bell, a subsidiary of AT&T. He was a long-haired freak while the latter were clean-cut suits. But he got fancy, free lunches with them. In the early 1970’s, he sent articles on paranormal phenomena to an expanding network of people who would eventually number in the hundreds. His contact at Pennsylvania Bell had the company pay for the copying and postage of the twice-weekly mailings, and did the envelope-stuffing. Einhorn’s goal was to save the world via the Peace Movement and the Earth Movement.

Beginning in the early 1970’s, Holly Maddux– who was born in 1947– had an off-and-on relationship with Einhorn. When he was too physically abusive, she moved out of their Philadelphia apartment into a commune. But he treated her like a doormat all the time. In March 1979, her corpse was found in his apartment. The aforementioned friend of Einhorn’s said that a jury of Einhorn’s peers would convict him for killing “… a little, blond, shiksa cheerleader from Texas!”

Unsurprisingly, Einhorn had hubris syndrome. The current president of the United States shares a few other personality traits with Einhorn. Two stark differences, however, are that Einhorn loved reading, and oozed charisma.

For more insight into the personality of the accused, see the following posts:

  • how to rig an election
  • Indecent Exposure
  • The Rabbi and the Hitman
  • The Strange Case of the Mad Professor
  • Blood Will Out
  • Safe Harbor, A Murder in Nantucket

To be fair, thousands of elected officials in this country have lost their way as public servants. Excuse the cliche, but the fish rots from the head down. Trumpolitics is a new thing: “trickle down politics” (ironically– the opposite of Reagan’s trickle down economics, because most lower-level authorities– governors and mayors, are enjoying additional power; some more than others.). The president, Congress, governors and mayors have shown depraved indifference to millions of innocent people by ruining their livelihoods, saying, “If we can’t get what we want, then no one can.” And to top it off, failing to admit wrongdoing and apologize.

The Democrats are afraid that in 2020, Trump’s propaganda machine will be superior to their own, again. That’s why they’re taking the low road to oust him via the COVID conspiracy instead. The Republicans have thrown in with the Democrats because they never liked Trump either, and they feel obligated to maintain party unity, while taking the opportunity to bankrupt as many Democrat donors as they can. It also kills some of them to admit that they really do want national healthcare.

Anyway, read the book to learn more about Einhorn, including everything you ever wanted to know about his sex life, and of his fate.

BONUS POST

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http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/books/the-education-and-deconstruction-of-mr-bloomberg-sally-a-friedman/p/9781450099028I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:

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BONUS POST

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Lewis Carroll – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Lewis Carroll, A Biography” by Morton N. Cohen, published in 1995.

Born into a family whose children eventually numbered eleven, in January 1832 in Cheshire (England), Carroll was given the name Charles Lutwidge Dodge. His father was curate of the local parish.

The headmaster of “Rugby”– the boarding school Carroll attended (which gave rise to the eponymous sports game), couldn’t “… rid the school of drunkenness. The boys were served beer with their meals– water was unsafe– and from beer to strong libations is not a long leap.” Rugby was considered England’s best public school (in America this means an elitist private school) at the time.

Carroll endured the usual abusive hierarchy (frat boy behavior) that occurred at such a place for nearly four years. Later, he was accepted to Christ Church, at Oxford University. Students from wealthy families brought their hunting dogs to school, and continued their shooting and riding, as they had at home. Academics were way overrated.

Carroll, however, majored in and got high grades in mathematics. After graduating, he became a math tutor and lecturer. But he got upset when he saw freshmen who were ignorant of material he thought they should have already learned.

In an attempt to cover up this embarrassing truth, in April 1864, the school administration proposed lowering its standards, and finally succeeded in doing so in February 1865. In protest, Carroll resigned as Mathematics Examiner.

On another topic, of course, Carroll became best known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It started in July 1862, as an extemporaneous story he made up about Alice Liddell, one of the middle daughters (about twenty years his junior) in a large family full of them. He became quite close with the girls socially, accompanying them on walks, picnics, boating outings, in playing croquet, etc.

Nearly a year later, he rode a train alone with the girls– who were without their usual adult supervision. Shortly thereafter, their mother forbid Carroll to see them. Wild rumors swirled around the mysterious incident; the page on which Carroll wrote about this in his diary was removed– lost to history– by his niece.

As an amateur photographer, Carroll had been taking photos of his aforementioned unnaturally close friends, as well as daughters of other families in his community. In spring 1867, he began taking photos of girls in the nude.

Read the book to learn of all of the details about the above, other highlights of his life, and how the “Alice” stories evolved into an enduring piece of work.

ENDNOTE: Curiously, the author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, befriended a family of sons. He took an especial liking to a middle son, Peter, about which he made up stories at the dawn of the twentieth century. Both Alice and Peter Pan have been enjoyed in various incarnations internationally for decades and decades. Parallels can be drawn between their authors. The stories must therefore delve into the deepest, truest universal aspects of human nature. That must be why they are still classics.

BONUS POST

I am pleased to announce that my book: “The Education and Deconstruction of Mr. Bloomberg, How the Mayor’s Education and Real Estate Development Policies Affected New Yorkers 2002-2009 Inclusive” is available through the following online channels:

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