MONDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2023
The Furies discuss public schools: On the front page of today's New York Times, we find a report which starts by mentioning one teacher in one British school.
His students are being exposed to garbage. That said, is this the best way for a teacher to teach? We can't say the answer is clear:
BUBOLA AND KWAI (2/20/23): As the seventh graders settled into a lecture hall at a school near London, the topic at hand was not human rights, historical events or different religions. “Andrew Tate,” a teacher said, pointing to a photograph projected on the wall. “What do you know about this man?”
Some boys giggled at the mention of Mr. Tate, a social media influencer famed for his misogynistic comments. One boy said he liked him because “he has a strong masculinity,” fast cars and a fit body. The teacher projected some of Mr. Tate’s claims, among them that women who are raped should bear some responsibility. A few boys agreed.
“He is wrong,” said the teacher, Jake White. “That is a load of rubbish.”
In schools across Britain, educators are mobilizing to fight back against Mr. Tate’s messages...Mr. Tate gained a following of millions with videos glorifying wealth and a particularly virulent brand of male chauvinism, before being barred last summer from many mainstream social media sites.
Assuming the accuracy of the reporting, it's sad to think that seventh grade boys living near London are being exposed to such garbage.
That said, will their teacher's approach be helpful? Is there any good way to respond to such garbage? We can't say the answer is clear.
In the Letters section of today's New York Times, four letters appear beneath this heading: "What’s the Best Way to Teach Reading?"
The first letter strikes us as technically accurate, though perhaps a bit dogmatic. That said, also this:
Almost surely, there is no single "best way" to teach reading. But given the fact that reading is in part a culture, we would say that the third letter makes an excellent point:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (2/20/23): Experts grapple with phonics and “effective reading instruction,” but the best way to encourage kids to read is to read to them. It’s a win-win when parents, grandparents or caregivers snuggle up with a child and turn the pages of board books or picture books or alphabet books or singalongs at whatever pace the toddler prefers.
“Goodnight Moon,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom”—I loved reading these classics to my daughters, and I love reading them now to my grandsons.
Librarians can help you pick out ideal age-appropriate books—our tax dollars at work. Going to a baby shower or birthday party? A bookseller can help you select something perfect that will outlast bibs or clothes. Books are gifts that children can open again and again.
In short, if we want our kids to read, let’s read with them, and make it joyful. And let them see you reading too.
Reading is, in part, a culture. There's no single way to teach reading in schools, but that letter makes an excellent point about the way reading can be passed on in the home if appropriate conditions prevail.
There's no perfect way to teach values. There isn't even a perfect way to teach reading! And as if that wasn't enough uncertainty, now we're involved in a great civil war, testing the way American history, or major parts of American history, can best be taught in the public schools.
When you turn to a daily newspaper—when you subject yourself to "cable news"—you may find that you're meeting on a great battlefield of that war.
We refer, of course, to the current discussion, or pseudo-discussion, about the way important parts of American history will be presented in a new Advanced Placement high school course in African-American studies.
More specifically, we refer to the discussion about the way such history will be taught to the higher-performing kids who qualify for the course, with the rest of our public school kids once again being left behind.
This morning, in the Washington Post, Nick Anderson presents a fascinating report about some of the ways that Advanced Placement course was changed by its authors, the College Board, in the course of the past year.
When the final version of the course was released, some topics were IN and some topics were suddenly OUT. Anderson starts like this:
ANDERSON (2/20/23): A politically charged adjective popped up repeatedly in the evolving plans for a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies. It was “systemic.”
The February 2022 version declared that students should learn how African American communities combat effects of “systemic marginalization.” An April update paired “systemic” with discrimination, oppression, inequality, disempowerment and racism. A December version said it was essential to know links between Black Panther activism and “systemic inequality that disproportionately affected African Americans.”
Then the word vanished. “Systemic,” a crucial term for many scholars and civil rights advocates, appears nowhere in the official version released Feb. 1. This late deletion and others reflect the extraordinary political friction that often shadows efforts in the nation’s schools to teach about history, culture and race.
As Anderson notes—he presents a list of actual word counts—several other key words were basically OUT in the final version of the course, which was released this month.
For better or worse, the word "womanism" is totally OUT. By Anderson's count, it was reduced from 15 uses in an earlier version of the course to the current none.
Also for better or worse—there's no ultimate way to reach such judgments—the word "reparations" is basically OUT, reduced from 15 uses to one (1).
What isn't gone is the political fighting about what should be IN and what should be OUT, and about why such changes were made. We are now engaged in a great tribal war about this important general topic and—as routinely happens at times of war—an unhelpful Babel has rather quickly emerged.
As matters stand, there are some basic things we don't understand about this Advanced Placement course. (To review the College Board's "official course framework," you can just click here.)
For better or worse, the course seems to have reverted to a course in African-American history, rather than to the advertised course in "African-American studies." That said, we'll leave the basic things we don't understand for another school day.
What we do understand is this:
When we lapse into "a great tribal war," tribunes from all warring camps may tend to behave somewhat poorly. We'd say that's happening in this case. We don't think such conduct helps.
Now we're engaged in a great civil war, producing a bit of a Babel! And as you know:
When a journalistic / political Babel emerges, it's amazingly easy to see the bad faith and errors on the part of the Others. It can be hard to see the various ways our own tribunes may have misstepped.
We're inclined to regard Ron DeSantis as a demagogue and a bully. That said, we regard the journalists and professors within our blue tribe as being somewhat unreliable, if not perhaps a bit more so.
Beyond that, we regard the College Board as a profit-based, and somewhat political, corporate nonprofit entity. When a Babel breaks out among that array of parties, a whole lot of things can go wrong.
There's no perfect way to teach school kids values. There's no single way to teach reading.
There is also no one way to teach higher-performing high school students the basic components of our sprawling and frequently brutal history. But when a Babel starts to emerge, warring parties will tend to insist that perfect wisdom can be found on the side of their own infallible tribe.
It's very hard for a very large nation to function at a time of Babel. For better or worse, democracy struggles at such times, major experts will sometimes insist.
Tomorrow: Professors Gates and McWhorter and Ron DeSantis and the upper-end press corps oh my!