Monday, February 20, 2006

New to blogging

Hello. I want to introduce myself as a newcomer to blogging but someone deeply interested in and committed to an open discussion about the pressing education/cultural/political issues we are facing in the US these days. I hope that our collective intelligence will be a force for thoughtful, philosophically informed progressive change.

Currently I teach philosophical foundations of education and other related courses in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions at Fairfield University, a Jesuit campus in Connecticut.

I am looking forward to the dialogue.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Aaron Schutz

I'm looking forward to the dialogues on this blog. Too often, we send academic papers out for publication and then never hear another word about them. I'm hoping this will be a venue for teasing out the tensions of our ideas as well as for arguing through our areas of agreement and disagreement.

I teach philosophy of education, community organizing, and community education, among a smattering of other things, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Our foundations department is, I think, unique in the nation in that many of our students are not planning to be teachers, but instead are envisioning work in a range of non-profit and government positions addressing community issues. One of the issues I'd like to explore is how this different focus allows my department to approach questions about the relationship between schools and communities somewhat differently than more traditional "teaching" focused programs.

I've been working on a range of different topics, recently. At some point I'd like to present what I am thinking about on these issues and see what other people have to say about them.

These projects include:

--An extensive review of the literature on community-school relations in impoverished urban areas. This review focuses on the extent to which different models for fostering school-community interaction are actually able produce even slightly equal relationships between school and community people.

--A wide-ranging, interdisciplinary examination of differences in the cultural practices of the middle and working classes. Unlike much of the work in this area, this project is less focused on "theory", per se, instead bringing together the historical and empirical evidence available on how this split between classes emerged in the last half of the 19th century, and on the current status of these differences today. My aim is to show how the pervasive middle-class culture of academia has almost completely blinded us to forms of democratic empowerment more relevant to the conditions of working class life.

--An analysis of an effort to teach skills for collective social action to inner-city high school students. This last semester, myself and about ten graduate students each facilitated a small group of students, trying to help each group to develop their own social action project. This semester, a colleague of mine and I are working with this group of graduate students to analyze the detailed fieldnotes collected from each meeting of each group, among other data. This is very much an exploratory effort, since there is little or nothing (that I know of) in the literature that discusses, in detail, how one successfuly fosters such efforts (or even on what "success" might look like).

I also have a range of other issues I'd like to put out there for general discussion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I am Jim Horn. I teach Foundations of Education at Monmouth University, and I fume about the weakening of our democratic aspirations by an unrelenting and unrestrained greed that threatens the integrity of being a human being.

Sailing helps--but there is nothing like blogging to keep the spleen healthy.

Today's Valentine rituals

I'm Sherman Dorn, an associate professor of social foundations at the University of South Florida, in Tampa.

February 14 is one of those days of sentimental ritual in schools—the stuffing of semi-stale sugar candies into fragile envelopes, the circulation of valentines, and high-stakes test prep. Only two of those are well-remembered by today's older adults. But this afternoon, my children will explain to me not only about the hearts won and lost that day but what they consider to be boring sample tests and hints about how to score high [sic].

There is no real instructional value in the circulation of sugar hearts with BE MINE and YOU'RE SWEET stamped on one side. They're ritual glue, a comforting fiction that schools connect some imaginary community, whose members share a set of values and for whom these small rituals promise ... well, something. Friendship. Togetherness. Common purpose.

There is also no real instructional value in the preparation for high-stakes tests that are now our annual regimens from grades 3-8 (3-10 in Florida). We can disagree about the purposes of testing for accountability, but I don't think there's any question that the type of extensive, hours-long test prep that teaches a third-grader how to fill in bubbles, how to cross out wrong answers, how to "beat" a test is simply an abandonment of educational responsibility.
I disagree with much that Tom Fisher, the former head of Florida's testing program, holds in terms of the value of high-stakes testing. But we both think that extensive test-prep is simply obscene.

In some places and ways, test-prep has real results (higher test scores) with real consequences for adults in the system. In others, it is the educational equivalent of holding a rabbit's foot: good luck, superstition, hope for some good outcome. But test prep for the purposes just of higher scores has no benefit for students who are being cheated of real instruction in reading, science, math, history, music, art, etc.

When this madness hit Florida schools some years ago, and my older child hit the lower grades of testing, I carefully explained that some things that went by the name of test prep were really relabeled lessons, identified as FCAT to satisfy parents who did care about the test results for their individual children. I usually said, "I don't care if it says FCAT at the top; did you learn something?"

But as the years have gone by, the school system here in my neck of Florida has spent more money and time on test-prep. It is a waste of time and resources, and it is an abuse of my children and their peers. Like the exchange of valentines, it is a late-winter ritual full of anxiety for students with little real meaning. And worst of all, it is all too rational for the adults in the system.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Hello from A. G. Rud

Greetings, I am one of the contributors to this new group blog on education, and have had a blog on higher education, Moo2, since December 2004. I teach cultural foundations of education at Purdue University.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Hi, I'm Craig A. Cunningham

Hi! This is Craig, from National-Louis University in Chicago. I'll also be contributing to this project.

I direct the program in Technology in Education, but I'm actually trained as a philosopher of curriculum. My philosophical work centers around the concept of the "Self" in theories of moral development. I am especially interested in the attempt to define a concept of "self" that is not based on religion--that is, that could become the basis for moral education in the public schools.

My work in technology in education focuses on the professional development of teachers, helping them to use the Web and other digital resources more effectively. I am motivated in this work by dissatisfaction with traditional models of education in which students merely mimic or regurgatate the processes or ideas of their teachers. I would like to help schooling to become more thoughtful, and for teachers to feel more comfortable introducing their students to the messy, open-ended problems of real-world inquiry.

I am especially troubled by the underlying assumptions of the attempt to increase the quality of American schools by stressing the importance of standardized tests. The so-called No-Child-Left-Behind Act, it seems to me, is aimed entirely on the schools of lower-income communities, and its primary effect is to take those schools away from a focus on the real problems of those communities and place it on arbitrary "academic" skills that would be better conceived as the product of highly-engaging shared problem-solving. Higher-income communities, where the test scores are already high, are pretty much exempt from worrying about the requirements of No-Child-Left-Behind (except for their special populations, which are subject to the same pressures to teach-to-the-test that the lower-income schools are), and so in those higher-income communities, schools are free to engage their students in higher-order problem-solving. Thus, the primary effect of NCLB is to widen even further the huge and growing gap between rich and poor, thus undermining one of the primary purposes of the public school system.

I will, to be sure, be saying more about all of these things here on The Wall!

This is Nicholas C. Burbules

This is Nick Burbules, from the University of Illinois College of Education -- another of the co-conspirators behind this project.