Archives for category: History

My youngest grandson is in second grade. His class was studying Black History, and each student was asked to make a project. He chose to create a poster about civil rights leader Bayard Rustin. I was thrilled to see his finished project, because it was not only well done, but because I knew Bayard Rustin and I started thinking about him. He was a good friend of my then-husband and me.

We got to know him in the mid-1960s. He was the bravest man I ever met. He was arrested many times for his pacifism and his civil rights activities. He was beaten many times by counter-demonstrators. He dedicated his life to standing up for others. He served prison time as a conscientious objector during World War II because he refused to fight. He told us that he realized later that he was wrong because he did not know then what a monster Hitler was.

He was very close to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was the chief organizer for the March on Washington in 1963. Bayard was a strategist and a thinker, in addition to being a fearless activist. He was a brilliant speaker and writer.

Soon after we became friendly with him, in the late 1960s, he asked if he could give a concert in our new apartment on Park Avenue and 85th Street in Manhattan as a fundraiser for the Young People Socialists League. We did not yet have any furniture other than beds and a few chairs, so we said of course. Bayard gave an a cappella concert for about 50 members of YPSL. At the time, I thought to myself that the building had never before had so many black people and Socialists at one time in its history (or probably ever). I learned that night that years earlier, Bayard used to sing with Leadbelly.

I recall a speech that Bayard gave about the Kerner Commission report when it came out. He was a great proponent of creating economic opportunity (jobs with good wages) for blacks. He proposed a Marshall Plan for economic development of black Americans so that everyone would have a decent standard of living. He said that we could expend all our energies on things that didn’t make a difference, or actually fund the changes that would make a huge difference. We didn’t.

While the Vietnam War (which he opposed) was still raging, many Vietnamese people fled to Thailand and were living in refugee camps. Bayard organized a planeload of aid, delivered by himself and other civil rights leaders, to fly to the camps. He invited my 15-year-old son to join them. I was a nervous mother and did not want to put his life in danger and I didn’t let him go. I have since regretted that caution, but knowing how fiercely protective I was of my children, I would probably say no again.

Bayard was deeply devoted to the labor movement. He helped to found the A. Philip Randolph Institute, which worked closely with the labor movement to advance civil rights and equal treatment of black and white workers. Bayard knew that the labor movement was vital to the struggle for equality because black workers who unionized were assured good wages, healthcare, and a pension, and had a voice in working conditions. He always referred to his mentor as “Mr. Randolph.”

One of my favorite Bayard stories occurred in Miami (we heard about it later). He was there at a meeting of the AFL-CIO executive council. He went to a nightclub to see Marlene Dietrich perform. He sat at a table in front of the stage. He later described her as “luminous,” wearing a shimmering silver gown. When she finished, he jumped to his feet, and tossed a bouquet of flowers at her feet. He said later, “I love that woman. She told Hitler to go f— himself!”

Bayard was gay and he was not closeted. He dressed elegantly. He wore several exotic rings. We had dinner at his apartment in a union-built cooperative (Penn Station South), and the walls were covered with beautiful pieces of African art that he had collected in his travels. We met his partner, Walter, who adored him.

There is no one quite like Bayard Rustin on the scene today. No one with his courage, his independent intellect and his fierce devotion to equality and principle. I miss him.

During the pandemic, most schools turned to remote learning as a matter of necessity. Some in the education biz think that the pandemic has created a new market for their products. Actually, most parents and students are eager for real schools with real teachers to open again. Contrary to popular myth, teachers too want schools to reopen, as soon as they are safe for staff and students.

Historian Victoria E.M. Cain of Northeastern University has written an engaging account of the hype associated with new technology in the classroom. It is a tool, it should be used appropriately, but it is not a replacement for teachers.

She writes:

The lessons for today’s enthusiasts are clear. It is wise to be humble about the possibilities of classroom technology. No one would deny that technology can provide invaluable tools to improve learning. (What teacher today would not want to have classroom access to the internet?) Too often, though, instead of being seen as a tool to help schools, new technology has been embraced as a silver-bullet solution to daunting educational crises. In desperate times, desperate leaders have clutched at overblown promises, investing in unproven ideas without demanding reasonable evidence of efficacy. 

In the current pandemic, it might be tempting for education leaders to hope that if only we can find the right balance of learning management systems, home Wi-Fi access, and teacher training, we can continue to provide the same education we always have, virus or no virus. But it is not that easy, and it never has been.  

If we have learned anything from the past two centuries, it is this: New technologies provide assistance, not solutions. Whether it was Lancasterian school buildings in the 19th century, television in the 20th, or Zoom classrooms today, new technology will not solve our problems on its own. In the past, overhasty investment has wasted millions of dollars. Perhaps more pernicious, it has given well-meaning reformers false confidence that they have taken care of the issue. It is far better to take an approach that might not be popular or simple, one that acknowledges the scope of the crisis and the variety of solutions we will need to address it. We need to avoid the temptation to grasp too quickly at a single technological response. 

Wise counsel. Hope and hoax are both four-letter words that start with the same two letters. Hype is also a four-letter word.

This is a wonderful and well-deserved tribute to Angela Merkel, who recently stepped down as leader of Germany and (for now) leader of the western world (Trump abdicated that position). Angela Dorothea Merkel has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005. She served as Leader of the Opposition from 2002 to 2005 and as Leader of the Christian Democratic Union from 2000 to 2018. A member of the Christian Democratic Union, Merkel is the first female chancellor of Germany. (Not sure why the post says 18 years; she was Chancellor for 16 years.) She was born in Hamburg (in West Germany) but moved as an infant to East Germany when her father, a Lutheran clergyman, had a pastorate there. She earned a Ph.D. in quantum chemistry, then worked in research until the democratic revolution of 1989, when she became involved in political life. The story below about her domestic life reminds me of what Harry S Truman said, when a reporter asked what he would do when he got home to Independence, Missouri. He said he would carry the empty luggage to the attic.

Paul Thomas, an experienced high school teacher who became an experienced college professor at Furman University in South Carolina, writes here about the ongoing controversy surrounding claims for “the science of reading.” As he notes (and as I wrote about in my book Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform), the “crisis” in reading instruction and literacy has recurred with stunning frequency over the course of the past century, plus.

Debates about how to teach reading can be traced back to the early 19th century, when Horace Mann derided the teaching of the alphabet and advocated learning whole words. Warring camps argued over the best way to teach reading. In 1955, Rudolf Flesch published Why Johnny Can’t Read, denouncing whole-word instruction and insisting on a revival of phonics. In 1967, literacy expert Jeanne Chall published what was supposed to be the definitive work on the teaching of reading, called Learning to Read: The Great Debate; she recommended phonics in the early grades and a rapid transition to worthy children’s literature. In the 1980s, the whole-language movement swept through the reading field, deriding phonics as Mann had. In the 1990s, the National Reading Panel emphasized the importance of phonics. No Child Left Behind absorbed the conclusions of the National Reading Panel Report and included a large grant program called Reading First, requiring that schools use “scientific methods” of teaching reading. The program, however, was marred by scandals and self-dealing. Some consultants hired by the U.S. Department of Education recommended programs in which they were coauthors and stood to profit.

Thomas writes:

The SoR [Science of Reading] movement is a bandwagon with its wheels mired in the same muddled arguments that have never been true and silver-bullet solutions that have never worked.

My conclusion: There is no one best way to teach reading. Experienced teachers have a toolkit of methods, and they use whatever method works best for their students. All reading teachers should know how to teach phonics, and all reading teachers should understand when it is appropriate to teach phonics. All reading teachers should prioritize the joy of reading and the love of literature.

In time, almost everyone learns to read, regardless of method. John Dewey, it should be noted, recommended that children begin reading instruction at the age of 8. Currently, many states punish students who have not learned to read fluently by the age of 8.

On Wednesday February 10, I will host a Zoom discussion with Raynard Sanders about his new book, The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power, and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System.

Sanders was the principal of a public school in New Orleans before the takeover of the district in 2005.

As you might guess from the title of his book, he considers the takeover to be illegal. It’s “results,” he contends are disastrous for the children of the district.

Listen in to hear the other side of the story.

Open the link and register to join the Zoom.

Blogger Dave Pell describes what happened in Protection, Kansas, in 1957, and compares it to what is happening now. What has happened to us? Why are there so many people who don’t trust science? How can we end the pandemic if significant numbers of people refuse to be vaccinated?

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
“Sixty-four years ago, residents of this tiny town in southwestern Kansas set a public health example by making it the first in the nation to be fully inoculated against polio … Protection’s Polio Protection Day took place on April 2, 1957. Families, many dressed in their Sunday best, lined up in the high school gym to get shots from nurses dressed in starched white uniforms. That event, sponsored by what was then known as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (now the March of Dimes), received widespread media coverage.” The success and leadership back then makes Protection an interesting place to revisit during the rollout of another vital vaccine. Times have changed. NPR: In Tiny Kansas Town, Pandemic Skeptics Abound Amid False Information And Politics. “‘A lot of people still believe it [COVID-19] is made up and that it’s not as bad as the media is saying,’ says Steve Herd, a 72-year-old farmer who was in the third grade on the day that virtually every resident of Protection under age 40 got a polio shot.Today, some in the town of about 400 people insist that the federal government ‘invented’ the coronavirus so that it could force people to take a vaccine containing a microchip that could track their movements … In 1957, Herd says, ‘We didn’t have people who believed such crazy stuff.'”

North Carolina adopted a new social studies curriculum, despite the efforts of the newly elected Lieutenant Governor to remove any references to “systemic racism.”

(CNN)The North Carolina State Board of Education has passed a new standard for teaching social studies that will include a more diverse perspective of history.

The board added language for educators to teach about racism, discrimination and the treatment of marginalized groups. But due to pushback from some lawmakers, the new standard does not include the word “systemic” before racism and discrimination or the word “gender” before identity. 

The new standards passed in a 7-5 vote on Thursday, but only after State Board Superintendent Catherine Truitt removed the two words. 

“For nearly two years, the Department has worked to create consensus among hundreds of educators and stakeholders statewide over the history standards. I’m disappointed there was not a unanimous vote on these standards today because the Department of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education created them to be both inclusive and encompassing,” Truitt said.

Truitt also added a preamble stating, “The North Carolina Board of Education believes that our collective social studies standards must reflect the nation’s diversity and that the successes, contributions, and struggles of multiple groups and individuals should be included.”

According to the preamble, this means teaching the hard truths of Native American oppression, anti-Catholicism, exploitation of child labor and Jim Crow.”Our human failings have at times taken the form of racism, xenophobia, nativism, extremism, and isolationism. We need to study history in order to understand how these situations developed, the harmful impact they caused, and the forces and actors that sometimes helped us move beyond these outcomes,” the preamble said.

The measure was opposed by several Republican members of the State Board who said the new standards presented an overly negative picture of the nation’s history.Among those opposed was Mark Robinson, the first Black lieutenant governor of the state.

“I do not believe we live in a systemically racist nation, nor have we ever lived in a systemically racist nation,” Robinson said. Robinson voted against the standards even after the word “systemic” was removed and said that enough people in the state have questions and concerns about the standards and they needed to go back to the drawing board.

Stuart Egan, an NBCT teacher in North Carolina, was upset by the statements made by the newly elected Lieutenant Governor’s claim that “systemic racism” is a myth, and that anyone who teaches otherwise is wrong. In other words, writes Egan, the Lt. Governor wants to indoctrinate students into a fake version of history, in which people of color were never discriminated against as a matter of law and custom. That’s fake history.

This is the story of Marga Steinhardt. She was born in a town in central Germany in 1927. She was a young child when Hitler came to power. Friends urged her parents to leave Germany for France or Palestine or the United States, but her father didn’t believe the warnings. He thought they were exaggerated.

“I remember overhearing talk between my parents, and my father said, ‘You worry too much. It’s not going to get that bad. Hitler talks a lot. The world will not tolerate for Hitler to do what he’s saying he’s going to do.’ He just couldn’t believe it. Even later, when we were already deported, he would not accept that there were mass killings. He’d say, ‘Have you seen it? Can you prove it?’ ”

When they finally sought an exit visa, there were 27,000 people ahead of them. No one wanted them anyway. The world closed its doors to Jews.

Marga and her family went through the worst of the Holocaust. Labor camps, concentration camps, forced marches.

The story she tells is a microcosm of the experiences of European Jewry, most of whom perished (including every member of my family who had not migrated to the United States in the 19th or early 20th centuries).

The same day that I read her story, I responded to someone who asked why the public was so unmoved by 400,000 COVID deaths.

Typically people are unmoved by mass deaths. A number like 400,000 or six million deaths does not touch people’s emotions. The story of one person’s suffering does. The particulars matter. People remember Anne Frank because they know her story. Read Marga’s story.

The SAT is in trouble. Its business model is threatened by the more than 1,000 colleges and universities that no longer require it for admission. Many more higher education institutions dropped the SAT due to the pandemic. The SAT is big business. It collects more than $1 billion each year in revenue. Its CEO, David Coleman, was architect of the Common Core standards, with a background at McKinsey. His salary is about $1 million a year. He achieved notoriety when he promoted the Common Core and came out against personal essays; he told an audience of educators in New York State that when you grow up, no one “gives a sh—“ about how you feel. They want facts. His Common Core curriculum insisted on the study of more non-fiction, which drove down the teaching of literature.

Some relevant history: The SAT was created in the 1920s as a replacement for the traditional College Boards, exams that were written and graded by high school teachers and college professors. The leaders of the College Board decided to adopt the SAT on December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day, when it was clear that the nation was entering the War. The author of the standardized, machine-scored SAT was a Princeton psychologist named Carl C. Brigham. He wrote a notoriously racist book called A Study of American Intelligence, in which he used the I.Q. tests of World War 1 to compare the various races. Brigham was a pioneer in the development of I.Q. testing; like most psychologists at the time, he believed that I.Q. was innate, fixed, and inherited, rather than a product of environment and .educational opportunity

Coleman’s latest move to protect profitability involved scrapping subject tests and the essay question.

Critics saw the changes not as an attempt to streamline the test-taking process for students, as the College Board portrayed the decision, but as a way of placing greater importance on Advanced Placement tests, which the board also produces, as a way for the organization to remain relevant and financially viable.

“The SAT and the subject exams are dying products on their last breaths, and I’m sure the costs of administering them are substantial,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, the vice provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University...

In recent years, the SAT has come under increasing fire from critics who say that standardized testing exacerbates inequities across class and racial lines. Some studies have shown that high school grades are an equal or better predictor of college success.

More than 1,000 four-year colleges did not require applicants to submit standardized test scores before the pandemic, and the number rose — at least temporarily — as the coronavirus forced testing centers to close and made it difficult for many students to safely take the test.

Perhaps the biggest hit came in May, when, following a lawsuit from a group of Black and Hispanic students who said the tests discriminated against them, the influential University of California system decided to phase out SAT and ACT requirements for its 10 schools, which include some of the nation’s most popular campuses.

The College Board acknowledged that the coronavirus had played a role in the changes announced on Tuesday, saying in a statement that the pandemic had “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce the demands on students.”

But David Coleman, the chief executive of the College Board, a nonprofit organization that in the past has reported more than $1 billion a year in revenue, said that financial concerns were not behind the decisions, and that despite the growing number of schools making the SAT optional, demand for the test was still “stronger than some would expect.”

He said the organization’s goal was not to get more students to take A.P. courses and tests, but to eliminate redundant exams and reduce the burden on high school students. “Anything that can reduce unnecessary anxiety and get out of the way is of huge value to us,” he said.

Some experts, though, said eliminating the subject matter tests could have the opposite effect, increasing pressure on students to take A.P. courses and exams, especially in their junior year, so credits can be submitted in time for college admissions decisions.

Saul Geiser, a senior associate at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, said the move would “worsen the perverse emphasis on test prep and test-taking skills at the expense of regular classroom learning…”

At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, officials dropped the SAT essay requirement in 2016 because they saw it as an undue burden on students, including an added fee, said Mike Drish, the university’s director of first-year admissions.

Mr. Drish said the university evaluated students’ writing preparedness based on their grades in English classes, as well as teacher recommendations and essays submitted as part of the admissions process.

For more on the uncertain future of the SAT, read this story in Inside Higher Ed.

Scott Jas him, a veteran reporter about higher education, writes:

Many observers — some of them long-standing critics and others sometime fans — say the College Board will be smaller and less influential in the future. And they expect most colleges that went test optional this year to stay that way, further eroding the board’s influence...

Although there were an increasing number of schools adopting test-optional admission policies, in this area, as in so many others, the pandemic has accelerated what will come to be permanent changes in the functioning of our society,” said Steve Syverson, a retired senior admissions official at the University of Washington at Bothell and Lawrence University.

“Lots of colleges didn’t really even need to require the SAT, as they were already admitting everyone who was admissible, but they didn’t want to eliminate it as a requirement because they felt it would devalue them,” Syverson continued. “In a sense, the pandemic — and the pervasive adoption of temporary test-optional or test-blind policies — gave them permission to eliminate the requirement. And I believe a large number of institutions will not return to requiring it. So I think there’s no going back.”

Syverson was the co-author of a 2018 report that found colleges that are test optional generally get more applications and more diversity among those applicants and among students...

Pat McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, which does not require tests for admissions, said, “Eliminating the SAT essay and subject tests is an admission of some problems in the SAT system, but hardly enough of an overhaul.”

She added, via email, “If the College Board really wants to save itself, it would eliminate the SAT entirely and, instead, become a leader in working with institutions to develop innovative strategies for assessing student strengths and competencies, not only in high school but across the life span, thus helping higher education do a better job of matching students and programs more effectively. More effective matching of student talents and interests would reduce attrition and wasted credits, save students money and increase completion, a win-win for everybody. But as it is right now, the SAT is simply a high barrier that funnels students without much concern for what happens to them once they get through the barrier.”

A high school counselor who asked not to be identified said, “My small-d democratic side says, goodbye tests, good riddance to chasing a test score, goodbye to a zillion-dollar test prep industry, goodbye to a built-in advantage to resourced kids and schools.” She is quick to add, though, that even if that happened, and the role of the College Board shrank, there would still be a need for changes in admissions to bring students from diverse backgrounds into higher education.

The other side for her is that “tests give the illusion of a meritocracy,” and that parents — at least of the wealthy — love tests. Eliminating the SAT would be very difficult in that environment, she said.

Nancy Flanagan was a music teacher for many years. After teaching and singing the National Anthem thousands of times, she has come to the conclusion that we need a different one.

She says that the National Anthem is a disgrace.

The tune is an old British drinking song.

The lyrics are archaic and almost impossible to remember.

The message is warlike and not reflective of our democratic values.

That’s just a few of her reasons.

She suggests some other songs that would be more appropriate and easier to remember and to sing.

She writes:

I taught and performed the national anthem every year I was in the classroom. At first, I just taught the notes and rhythms, but stressed the importance of playing it well. My personal preference is a straightforward instrumental version, played at a rapid clip. The longer the song drags out, the more restless the crowd. The meaning shifts from a desire to appreciate our common values to a distraction from whatever it is the audience came for.

Later, I turned learning the national anthem into a humanities lesson, studying the drawbacks to our current anthem and exploring other options to the land of the free and the home of the brave. There are lots of picture books that present Francis Scott Key as noble patriotic hero, quill in hand as the battle rages in Baltimore Harbor, but his backstory as a slave holder from a wealthy American family added complexity and honesty to a classroom discussion with the mostly white students I was teaching.

I polled my students—what could replace the Star-Spangled Banner? It’s a great lesson for music teachers, K-12, vocal and instrumental—but also those who teach literature and civics. You can analyze the musical elements as well as the lyrics and cultural genesis of any number of potential anthems.

What do you think?