“A new study shows,” Education, and the Media

As I continue to document, the mainstream media believe everyone is an expert on education (except educators, of course).

In today’s two-experts-collide, know-nothing David Brooks comes out against GPA while latching onto Angela Duckworth’s “grit” sequel that is poised to maintain her racism/classism train to fame and fortune.

As John Oliver has now confronted (see below), the mainstream media love “a new study shows,” but almost always gets everything wrong.

Educational research continues to suffer this fate in the mainstream media, where, for example, the elites maintain our focus on students struggling just need more “grit,” and the self-serving counter to that: high achieving, successful people are so because of, primarily, their “grit”! (Ahem, and not their enormous privilege.)

Don’t hold your breath, but let’s imagine a world in which Brooks and Duckworth hold forth on this truth:

If you are black/brown and/or poor, your “grit” will still get you less than those gifted white privilege at birth.

Or how about:

Instead of the fatalism of saying that life is going to be hard for black/brown and/or poor people, and thus we need to make them extra “gritty” through abusive “no excuses” schools, why don’t we eradicate the social forces making their lives suck? [1]

Nope. We’ll just keep getting the sort of breezy hokum John Oliver brilliantly unmasks here:


[1] Also, imagine a world in which we discover lead in paint is dangerous for children so we conduct a study on children who survive exposure to lead pain in order to equip all students with that quality—instead of eradicating lead in paint. That’s the “grit” research in a nutshell.

2016 Furman University Graduation Speeches

I am no fan of ceremony—especially ones that trap you for hours in a false setting of formality—and I am equally no fan of what is often a hollow part of the graduation ceremony experience, the graduation speech.

I am a fan of one of the masters of graduation speech as satire and brilliance, Kurt Vonnegut.

At the 2016 Furman University graduation, however, I witnessed two wonderful addresses—one by a student and one by a university board member. I invite you below to read the transcripts:

Read W. Randy Eaddy’s address

Regardless of the activity, the key questions are these:  Who will you call (or text) to invite?  Who will accept the invitation and come?  Who will not?  And, in each case, Why?

Will you invite, for example, any of the following people who may work at your company, or who may be enrolled with you in same graduate program, or whom you otherwise see frequently and with whom you are cordial, but who are not part of your circle for personal social interactions:  the woman who wears a hijab?  The man who speaks with a thick foreign accent and is sometimes difficult to understand?  The woman whom you saw wearing a “Black Lives Matter” tee shirt?  The guy who has a buzz cut and likes to wear cowboy boots?

Imagine the answers if you are working, affirmatively and purposefully, to achieve a deep, first hand, understanding of the self-defining perspectives of other people.

I realize that interacting with people who appear to be different makes most of us uncomfortable and uneasy.  “What will my friends think?”  “How will they react to these unfamiliar other people?”  “How will they react to me for inviting these other people?”

Read student Nathan Thompson’s address

President Davis also suggested in her inaugural address that, “maybe it’s time to progress from the idea of service and service learning to equal partnerships and mutual stewardship of place.” Put simply, we must become women and men who are not just for others, but with them. Our work and service aren’t acts of resume building and self-congratulation; they are the foundation of relationships between equals.


See Also

My Speech to the Graduates: Don’t Listen to Graduation Speakers

Not How to Enjoy Grading But Why to Stop Grading

I have spent this morning carefully placing copies of the revised edition of De-testing and de-grading schools: Authentic alternatives to accountability and standardization in envelopes to mail to chapter authors.

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It is a bittersweet task since we lost my co-editor Joe Bower during the process of creating a revised edition.

Concurrently as well, I read a post from John Warner, in which he opens with a confession: “Like a lot of college instructors, I have, from time to time, expressed my dislike of grading.”

First, let me urge you to read Warner’s blogs, especially about his work as a teacher of writing (he is a professional writer as well). But this post in particular has hit home because of my own 34+-year journey as a teacher of writing and a much less successful life as a writer as well.

In my updated chapter of our de-testing and de-grading book, I examine in detail my own reasons for and approaches to not grading student writing, but instead to focus my time and energy on giving ample feedback while students brainstorm and then draft original essays they find compelling. In part, I explain:

Along with the pedagogical and assessment autonomy I experience as a professor (now tenured), the university’s transition to first-year seminars has influenced greatly my practices and offered ample evidence about how de-grading a writing classroom works, and doesn’t. In all of my university courses, in fact, I refuse to put grades on assignments throughout the semester. Instead, I have two practices: (1) I provided ample feedback as well as require and allow students to revise most assignments until students are pleased with the work, and (2) I invite and urge students to arrange conferences as often as desired throughout the semester to discuss their grades (what their grades would be if assigned, what they would assign themselves, and what I anticipate they will be assigned at the end of the course).

De-grading the writing class and encouraging a conversation about grades instead of labeling assignments with grades have combined to lift the effectiveness of my writing instruction significantly because these practices reinforce the autonomy and agency of the students and shift the focus of the classes to the quality of the compositions and the growth of the students as writers and away from courses as credentialing.

I want to stress again here that I began de-grading my classroom while still a K-12 teacher without the protection of tenure (I have always worked in a right-to-work state without union protection) so I am not suggesting that de-grading is reserved for the rarified air of high education [1].

I urge all teachers of writing, then, to set aside the urge to grade essays, and instead, to embrace a process in which the teacher/professor is a collaborator in helping novice writers grow through drafting their own work as real-world writer do—as Warner details:

The final assignment is different. It asks them to craft an argument of their own design aimed at an audience of their choosing. Their is to use the skills they’ve practiced earlier, and I am instead reading to discover what they have learned about the subjects they’ve chosen.

Instead of a teacher, assessing skills, I am a reader, responding to ideas, and in many cases the students are presenting ideas and arguments I wasn’t aware existed.

The path to de-grading the classroom is difficult because we face traditional hurdles of teaching being inseparable from evaluating students, and then we must help our student shake off the shackles of being evaluated students in order to explore the opportunities afforded being an apprentice.

Teachers/professors too must cast off the shackles of grading. Consider Warner’s epiphany that addresses how he has taught and graded essay writing in his first-year courses versus how he has taught and responded to writing in fiction courses:

By accepting the flaws as inevitable before I begin, my fundamental orientation changes, both in how I read and respond to the work, but more importantly, my own emotional experience when grading. In fact, I’ve never even called what I do in a fiction class “grading.” It is simply reading and responding, which is a lot more fun.

Finally, then, from my chapter in the de-testing and de-grading volume, I want to share here a few “guiding principles for de-grading the writing classroom”:

  1. Reductive responses to student writing (grades, rubric scores) fail to enrich the writing process (see Gould, 1996, regarding singular quantification of complex processes). Teacher feedback must be rich, detailed, and targeted to support revision. The most powerful feedback includes identifying key strengths in a students work (“Do this more often!”) and questions that help guide students toward revision (“Why are you omitting the actual names of your family members in your personal narrative?”). To share with students the specific and contextualized characteristics that constitute an evaluation (such as an A) provides students as writers the evidence needed to build their own rubrics of expertise for future writing, and learning.
  2. Teacher and student roles in the de-graded writing classroom must be revised—teachers as authoritative, not authoritarian; teacher as teacher/student; and student as student/teacher (Freire, 1993). The de-graded writing classroom allows a balancing of power that honors the teacher’s agency as a master writer and master teacher of writing without reducing the status of the student as beneath her/his agency and autonomy, both of which are necessary for the growth of any writer.
  3. De-grading the writing classroom increases the importance and impact of peer conferencing by removing from the teacher the primary or pervasive role of evaluator. Feedback from peers and from the teacher becomes options for students as they more fully embrace their roles as process writers.

The teaching of writing, in my opinion, is not unique compared to teaching anything—so I am a strong advocate for de-testing and de-grading all education.

However, as Warner has discussed so well, the teaching of writing as authentic practice is impossible to separate from the corrosive impact of grading on both the teacher/professor and the students.

The de-graded writing classroom seeks to honor the sanctity of teaching and mentoring, the autonomy of students as writers-to-be, and the act of writing itself as essential to human liberation.

[1] Please see this post and below from my de-testing and de-grading chapter:

I want to emphasize, also, that these are not idealistic practices or claims; I do practice concessions to the reality of grades in formal schooling. The “de-” in de-grading of my classes is best framed as “delayed” because I do invite students to discuss the grades their works-in-progress deserve throughout the process and, of course, I do assign grades at the end of each course.

While delaying grades, however, I am increasing the quality and quantity of feedback my students receive and of student engagement in learning for the sake and advantages of learning

Cinco de Mayo 2016: A Reader

Let us hope we can resist the urge to trivialize and appropriate the wonderful history, traditions, and people of Mexico because of the silliness that is making a holiday another way to churn up crass commercialism (a redundant term). [Also, lost in the shuffle, today is the birthday of Karl Marx.]

So below, please read a gathering of important articles, somewhat loosely connected because they have crossed my path.

First, let me note that since I have relentlessly criticized edujournalism of late (and it is well deserved criticism), I start with an edujournalism unicorn—a very good piece on NAEP.

Read on:

The simple truth is that NAEP is not designed to provide causal explanations. It’s a test given every two years to a representative sample of students who happen to be in fourth, eighth, or twelfth grade that particular year. It does not follow students over time, so it’s impossible to say that a policy or practice “caused” the results….

Put together, the findings paint a picture of unequal opportunities to learn challenging content. Low-performing students spend less time explaining their reading or doing projects, and more time on test prep. Once again, these are correlations: they do not suggest that these patterns caused the low performance. But why do they exist? What can be done about them? That’s the challenge for educators and policy makers.

Clinton has been a card-carrying feminist for decades, she started her career doing advocacy for children and women, she’s famous for her UN speech about women’s rights are human rights, she’s been reliably pro-choice and so on. So if that all fits into this sort of recognition side, she’s been there, and in a more explicit, and front-and-center way than Sanders. But, on the other hand, What kind of feminism is this? Clinton embodies a certain kind of neoliberal feminism that is focused on cracking the glass ceiling, leaning in. That means removing barriers that would prevent rather privileged, highly educated women who already have a high amount of cultural and other forms of capital to rise in the hierarchies of government and business. This is a feminism whose main beneficiaries are rather privileged women, whose ability to rise in a sense relies on this huge pool of very low-paid precarious, often racialized precarious service work, which is also very feminized that provide all the care work

It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.

Black students will always underachieve when they are perceived as needing fixing.

The irony is that black students aren’t the ones who need fixing.

Deficit thinking corrupts the potential effectiveness of even the most competent teachers.

White folk must unlearn their negative expectations. That’s the only way we’re ever going to change the structures that really hold students back.

And now, a musical extra:

Outliers Never Evidence of Normal in Education

In Money, Race and Success: How Your School District Compares, the NYT, like most of mainstream media, is begrudgingly coming to admit that race and class inequity in the U.S. has a profound impact on the education of children—and that simply tinkering (badly) with school policy is not enough to change that reality:

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

But then there is this:

The data was [sic] not uniformly grim. A few poor districts — like Bremen City, Ga. and Union City, N.J. — posted higher-than-average scores. They suggest the possibility that strong schools could help children from low-income families succeed.

“There are some outliers, and trying to figure out what’s making them more successful is worth looking at,” said Mr. Reardon, a professor of education and lead author of the analysis.

Well, no, if we find outliers—and virtually all data have outliers in research—we should not waste our time trying to figure out how we can make outliers the norm.

The norm is where we should put our efforts in order to confront what is, in fact, not “puzzling” (used earlier in the article) at all; the data are very clear:

What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.

Our great education reform failure is one of failing to rethink our questions and our goals.

Let’s stop trying to find the “miracle” in a rare few schools where vulnerable students appear to succeed despite the odds against them. With time and careful consideration, we must admit, those appearances almost always are mirages.

Let’s instead put our energy in eradicating the poverty, racism, and sexism that disadvantages some students, vulnerable populations easily identified by race and social class, so that we can educate all students well.

And while we are making efforts at social policy, let’s end the in-school policies that we know “exacerbate” inequity: tracking, teacher assignments (and TFA), high-stakes testing, grade retention, discipline policies grounded in zero tolerance and “no excuses,” and segregation through school choice (including charter schools).

Education reform, as was highlighted in the original court case examined in the South Carolina documentary The Corridor of Shame, is obsessed with playing the hero by seeing who can pull the most babies out of the river.

And then examining the ones who survive the potential drowning in order to “make” all babies survive the trauma of being cast down stream.

But no one seems interested in walking upstream to stop babies being thrown in.

Life and learning do not need to be something children survive—and we must confront that we have decided that this is exactly what we are willing to accept for “other people’s children.”

It would not be so if we believed and acted upon that “they’re all our children.”


The Allegory of the River

How Good Is the Best Edujournalism?

A recurring theme running through my blog posts—one that could be addressed daily—is that education journalism is almost always significantly misleading and way too often completely inaccurate.

Mainstream media and journalists are trapped in false but compelling narratives about schools, learning and teaching, children, poverty, and race. Journalism itself fails education as a field because of a simplistic “both sides” to a rather cartoonish “objective” journalism.

As I have detailed too often, media coverage of education includes primarily voices and perspectives of people with no or very little experience or expertise in education, but when a few contrary perspectives are offered, those are typically framed as “some critics”—with no effort to establish which claims are credible or not.

Sadly, the best unmasking of the essential failure of the media has been by one of our faux-media comedians, John Oliver, who highlighted that even if there are two sides to an issue, one can be overwhelmingly credible while the other is mostly baseless; therefore, placing them as one-versus-one misleads the public on the weight of the arguments.

So when I received yet another email from the Education Writers Association (EWA)—who is extremely proud of itself—announcing their top award for education reporting, I wondered: How good is the best edujournalism?

The EWA Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting was awarded for Failure Factories (The Tampa Bay Times), written by Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner and Michael LaForgia. The series includes the following:

Without question, this series is comprehensive and it confronts some incredibly important issues about public schooling: the significant relationship between race/poverty and student achievement; the plague of segregation and resegregation in public institutions such as schools; and the huge inequities of education faced by racial minorities and impoverished students such as teacher assignments, school safety, funding, and discipline practices.

And while the series does a solid job of raising these issues, my first response is that these are all old news—I mean very old news.

That our public schools have failed poor and black/brown students is a recurring message over the last century—little different before or after the Civil Rights movement.

Therein lies a real problem with even the so-called best edujournalim—journalists without a historical lens afforded those with expertise in a field are ripe to fall prey to the lens of a novice.

One such failure of this series and then how the EWA praised the series can be found in the quoted judge’s comment:

Bravo to this team and the paper for taking an all-too-common story (low achievement in a high-poverty area) and digging past the excuses to reveal a shameful history of indifference and, most troubling, willful neglect. I was awed by the dogged reporting, the sheer volume of interviews and data-crunching, and the courageous analysis that put the blame exactly where it needed to be. But the true brilliance of this work is found in the stories of the children who were robbed of an education they deserved. How many other school districts in America might have the same story to tell?

The series title “Failure Factories” is but one of many triggers for the pervasive and ugly “no excuses” narrative that is all the rage in the U.S.

You see, once again, this series oversimplifies the story of educating vulnerable populations of students: racism and classism are merely excuses for the schools charged with high concentrations of vulnerable students.

And as the judge notes above, this is all about “blame”—and keeping the focus on those damn failing schools.

The shame is that without this corrosive and ugly framing, there is an incredible amount of work in this series that does deserve praise. We should be asking: Why do we need yet anther round of test scores to admit and confront race and class inequity—especially when high-stakes standardized testing itself is racist and classist?

The truth is that schools in the U.S. have never been, are not now, and never will be anything other than reflections of our society—unless we do things different in both our social and educational policy.

Yes, public schools almost entirely reflect and perpetuate the race, class, and gender inequities that remain powerful in our wider society, and much of that is embedded in the very reforms being championed in the media and among political leaders: accountability, standards, high-stakes testing, grade retention, zero tolerance policies, “no excuses” practices, charter schools, school choice, Teach For America, school report cards, value-added methods of teacher evaluation, and the worst of the worst—”grit.”

That is not simply a fact of the schools targeted by this series. That is a fact about public education across the entire country.

And many educators as well as education scholars have been yelling that for decades; that’s right—decades.

Possibly the most telling problem with the series is the end, where the condemnations of Arne Duncan and John King are treated as if they are somehow credible.

If this weren’t so tragic, it would be laughable—nearly rising to the level of an article in The Onion.

Therefore, here is a little message about the best of edujournalism.

Dear EWA:

Public schools have been reflecting and perpetuating the worst aspects of our society for over 100 years. People in power really don’t care, and politicians in the last three to four decades have learned that education policy is a powerful political football.

Since the Reagan administration, public schools have failed students even more significantly because of inane obsessions with accountability, standards, and tests.

Duncan and King are the personifications of all that is wrong with education policy: lots of soaring rhetoric masking policy cures that are part of the disease; thus, the accountability movement is intensifying race, class, and gender inequity—not overcoming it.

Racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia are never excuses, but facts, and these burdens are more than micromanaged and technocratic in-school only policies can address.

Yes, we need much more equitable school practices and polices—but none of what politicians are doing now meets those standards—and those alone will never accomplish what we seem to want without concurrent changes to public policy that also addresses equity.

Edujournalism, as well, is part of the problem because it remains trapped in false narratives, committed to simplistic “both sides” frames of issues, and unwilling to listen to the voices of the practitioners and scholars in the field of education.

Nearly everything addressed in “Failure Factories” was raised by novelist Ralph Ellison in a 1963 speech to teachers. Your best journalism is old news wrapped in a false frame and too often fumbled badly with good intentions.

I remain concerned that education-bashing journalism has become so lucrative for your flailing field that it is in fact as pressing that we address the journalism crisis as we do the need to significantly reform our public schools.

As agents of the public good, journalists and educators have a great deal in common that is being squandered; neither can afford as a field or in the name of that public good to remain the tools of those who have interests other than the public good.

We both can and should do better.

Today in More Hokum: How to Read Op-Eds on Education

You open your local, regional, state, or national newspaper of choice on your laptop or tablet to see a headline such as We need great teachers.

Well, you went to school and you pay taxes on schools, and you either had teachers you loved or loathed—so, sure, you read the Op-Ed.

My career in education has included almost two decades teaching public high school and coaching, another decade-plus as a university professor in teacher education, and more than two decades writing scholarship and public pieces on education. Thus, I want to suggest reading that Op-Ed on education isn’t as simple as it may seem.

Step one is to scan down to the information about who wrote the piece and how she/he is connected to the topic of education.

In our example above that is key because the Op-Ed is just another propaganda piece out of StudentsFirst, a collection of people who smile a great deal so maybe you won’t notice that the organization is about self-promotion and political ambition and not students. StudentsFirst was founded by Michelle Rhee, discredited former TFA recruit who has formed as many organizations as she can on the backs of students in order to market her brand: her.

“We need great teachers” is penned by Bradford Swann, smiling a bit less ambitiously than Rhee. Swann, you see, has no background in education, but a series of partisan political stops that are pretty clearly a way to build a political resume—not put students first.

Swann cranked out “better teacher” Op-Eds while working at StudentsFirst Georgia also.

And while we must never stoop to ad hominem attacks—you may be asking, so what about his arguments and claims?—at the very least, Op-Eds coming out of StudentsFirst deserve a great deal of scrutiny if not skepticism since there is now a long track record of Rhee’s organizations shoveling manure and claiming it is roses.

Swann’s single and brief nod to proving his claim about the importance of “great teachers” is this:

According to a recent study published in the Economics of Education Review, an excellent teacher can produce up to a year and a half of student learning in a single school year—a phenomenal result!

Along with wondering about the juvenile use of an exclamation point, we must ask two important questions: (1) What is this journal?, and (2) does this study represent in any way the body of research on teacher quality?

The Economics of Education Review is an open-access journal that seems to have a review process for publishing work. But I cannot find the research Swann mentions because he fails to give us enough information. I don’t know if the study is credible or if any outside reviewers have investigated the claims or methods.

What is an excellent teacher, even?

In my work as a scholar on education, I can note that the research base on making claims about “great teachers” is one that is mostly hokum. The race to prove high-quality teacher impact on measurable student outcomes is at the very best a jumbled mess.

One paragraph with one cryptic nod to a single study (with an exclamation point!) does not an argument make—but it does signal someone is hoping no one pays attention.

The rest of this is about the hollow sham that is the business mantras of “innovation!” and “outside-the-box thinking!”—more red flags that there is nothing to see here; please move on.

Educational researchers, teacher educators, and K-12 classroom teachers know about teacher quality, and can offer a wealth of complex arguments about how to identify and cultivate teacher quality. Why are almost all the Op-Eds, then, by people who have never taught or done any real research or studying of the field of education?

When you read an Op-Ed on education, then, take note of who is making the argument and for whom.

Education over the last 30-plus years has become a playground for people with partisan political aspirations.

StudentsFirst is one such organization, and the Op-Eds they crank out are about their political resumes, not children or education.


Just a Reminder

Everyone’s an Expert on Education (Not!)

 

Christopher Emdin Confronts “White Folks’ Pedagogy”: “whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student”

In his For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too, Christopher Emdin confronts “classroom colonialism” (p. 14), and clarifies earlier in his Preface:

What I am suggesting is that it is possible for people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to take on approaches to teaching that hurt youth of color….

I argue that there must be a concerted effort…to challenge the “white folks’ pedagogy” that is being practiced by teachers of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. (pp. viii-ix)

978-080700640-5

Among K-12 educators and the general public, terms such as “colonialism,” “critical pedagogy,” and even “racism” may seem merely academic—ideas teased out among scholars in their ivory towers. However, as Emdin carefully details and interrogates, vulnerable populations of students (mostly black, brown, and poor) as well as the teachers charged with serving those students experience daily the realities of “white folks’ pedagogy” that demands assimilation and compliance from those students.

For vulnerable populations of students, formal schooling at the K-12 levels, Emdin argues, is stunningly similar to “[t]he Carlisle School [that] employed a militaristic approach to ‘helping’ the Indigenous Americans assimilate to the white norm” (p. 4). Then and now, many educators participating in education-as-assimilation were and are motivated by good intentions (consider Teach For America core members today).

Emdin focuses his work on how all educators (including white folks who teach in the hood) should reconsider their views of race and social class while teaching the “neoindigenous,” his term for students of color and living in poverty who are currently the target of re-segregation in “no excuses” charter schools.

For White Folks arrives as more voices are pushing against education reform that claims to serve vulnerable populations while mis-serving them. Zoé Samudzi argues We Need A Decolonized, Not A “Diverse”, Education because “diversity agendas are hindrances rather than stepping stones to justice and equity.” And Joanne Golann explains about her extensive research embedded at a “no excuses” charter serving mostly black and poor students:

In a tightly regulated environment, students learned to monitor themselves, hold back their opinions, and defer to authority. These are very different skills than the ones middle-class kids learn—to take initiative, be assertive, and negotiate with authority. Colleges expect students to take charge of their learning and to advocate for themselves. One of the students I talk about in the article learned to restrain herself to get through, to hold herself back and not speak her mind. She ended up winning the most-improved student award in 8th grade for her changed behavior.

Golann also makes connections similar to Emdin’s:

Bowles and Gintis wrote this famous study where they were looking at the history of mass public education in the US. They argue that schooling expanded in large part to quell social unrest. You had these immigrant populations coming into the cities in the mid-nineteenth century, and Bowles and Gintis basically make the argument that factory owners and the professional class wanted a docile workforce. They wanted people who would be obedient and man these factories, and so they used schools as a way to socialize children to follow rules and show deference. Looking at the school I studied, I found the same behaviors but with a very interesting twist. In a new era of accountability, instead of creating workers for the factories, schools are creating *worker-learners* to close the achievement gap. Schools are emphasizing obedience because they need to create order to raise test scores and they see that as the way to social mobility. It’s the same behaviors but for a different purpose.

At the core of Emdin’s experiences as a student of color, a teacher of color, and a scholar as well as teacher educator is his antidote to the failures of both traditional education and the recent thirty years of education reform, reality pedagogy:

Reality pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning that has a primary goals of meeting each student on his or her own cultural and emotional turf. It focuses on making the local experiences of the student visible and creating contexts where there is a role reversal of sorts that positions the student as the expert in his or her own teaching and learning, and the teacher as the learner. (p. 27)

Echoing and refining Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy concepts of teacher-student and student-teacher, Emdin carefully walks the reader through his own journey to embracing and practicing reality pedagogy while detailing in very concrete ways what this looks like in real classrooms with real students and teachers.

I could argue that Emdin’s book is a wonderful critical pedagogy primer, and that could mislead you into thinking his is just more of the “merely academic”—but this book certainly is not that.

This recommendation and review cannot adequately cover everything Emdin accomplishes—and I really don’t want to take away from educators and anyone who cares about education and children, especially vulnerable populations of children, reading carefully Emdin’s own words—but I want to highlight a few key reasons to consider carefully For White Folks:

  • First, Emdin’s reality pedagogy is both a call for embracing culturally relevant education with the neoindigenous and a powerful argument for the essential elements of how all teachers should teach all students.
  • This book in total is an outstanding entry point to confronting stereotypes about race and class while also stepping away from deficit perspectives about neoindigenous students as well as teaching and learning in general.
  • Emdin speaks to a possible revolution in education that rejects accountability built on standards and high-stakes tests in order to embrace holding everyone responsible for teaching children; this is about authentic and challenging student-centered education in the name of individual and community liberation.
  • Reality pedagogy seeks ways in which students and their teachers can form a classroom and school cosmopolitanism that is unlike the inequities of their surrounding communities, states, and country: “cosmopolitanism is an approach to teaching that focuses on fostering socioemotional connections in the classroom with the goal of building students’ sense of responsibility to each other and to the learning environment” (p. 105).
  • The many practical aspects of Emdin’s work forces teachers to reconsider daily practice with the neoindigenous and all students: instruction, content, evidence of student learning, technology, pop culture, and social media. I could also say this is a great methods primer, but again, that could be misleading.

Emdin’s For White Folks is often a confessional memoir in which Emdin speaks to his own experiences as a black male student rendered invisible, but who became an agent of “white folks’ pedagogy” when he began to teach. Much of this book is about his transformation that has become teacher education and teaching as activism—activism in the name of neoindigenous and all students.

In his brief conclusion, Emdin shares his own touchstones for teaching, and in one he strikes a note we cannot, we must not ignore:

The way that a teacher teaches can be traced directly back to the way that the teacher has been taught. The time will always come when teachers must ask themselves if they will follow the mold or blaze a new trail. There are serious risks that come with this decision. It essentially boils down to whether one chooses to do damage to the system or to the student [bold emphasis added]. (p. 206)


Recommended Companion Texts

Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap (Teachers College Press, 2013), Paul Gorski

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times, Howard Zinn

NOTE: As I read, I found myself stuck at the beginning of Chapter 1 because my copy of For White Folk is an early printing that names the narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as Bigger Thomas, who is actually the main character in Richard Wright’s Native Son. After I posted about Emdin’s book on the NCTE Connected Community, I heard from another ELA teacher concerned about the error. I reached out to Emdin, who explained this was an editorial error to be corrected in newer printings. Please don’t let this mistake distract from Emdin’s great work and scholarship.

Once Again, Zero Tolerance for Corporal Punishment

NOTE: While the research is compelling that there is no safe or effective kind of spanking/corporal punishment, that isn’t necessary for grown humans to reject hitting children. There is a better and more compelling argument based on basic human dignity and kindness. There is also a strong case to be made that if grown men should not hit grown women (seemingly an obvious stance) because of the inequity of power between genders, no adult should hit a child. Ever. Period.

Here’s What Getting Spanked as a Kid Did to Your Personality, According to Science, Jordyn Taylor

If you got spanked as a kid, it probably didn’t do you any good. In fact, it may have made your behavior even worse, new research suggests.

The more kids get spanked, the more likely they are to “defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties,”according to experts at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan.

Their study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, analyzed five decades of spanking research representing around 160,000 children, according to a news release.

Risks of Harm from Spanking Confirmed by Analysis of Five Decades of Research

“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” says Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses, Gershoff, Elizabeth T.; Grogan-Kaylor, Andrew

Whether spanking is helpful or harmful to children continues to be the source of considerable debate among both researchers and the public. This article addresses 2 persistent issues, namely whether effect sizes for spanking are distinct from those for physical abuse, and whether effect sizes for spanking are robust to study design differences. Meta-analyses focused specifically on spanking were conducted on a total of 111 unique effect sizes representing 160,927 children. Thirteen of 17 mean effect sizes were significantly different from zero and all indicated a link between spanking and increased risk for detrimental child outcomes. Effect sizes did not substantially differ between spanking and physical abuse or by study design characteristics. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)

Recommended

Follow Dr. Stacey Patton on Twitter and Facebook; and see Spare the Kids.

Everyone’s an Expert on Education (Not!)

So an assistant professor of finance references a physicist from 1974 in order to advocate for the research of a current Harvard economist—what do you imagine the field is that this assistant professor of finance is addressing?

Well, of course, it is A tutorial on improving education by Noah Smith, who is also a freelance writer for Bloomberg.

Once again, we are treated by mainstream media to the drumbeat that everyone’s an expert on education (not). [1]

Alas, if truth be told (and it shan’t about education from the flurry of so-called media-darling experts on education among whom none have any experience or degrees in education), Smith’s op-ed is mostly a jumbled mess of hokum.

Smith opens by citing from 1974, a practice virtually no one would accept in academia within the hard and social sciences since we tend to expect research, o let’s say, within the last decade at least.

Ironically, Smith is simply highlighting that there has been a long-standing false narrative about educational research among those outside the field of education.

Like sociology, education has suffered under the nonsensical “scientific” mantra as long as people have been doing educational research (easily for over a century, in fact, establishing a robust and powerful foundation of what we do know about teaching and learning).

Smith frames his op-ed with “physicist” (o, physics!) and the concluding smug-a-thon:

Finally, education research is becoming more of a science than a pseudoscience.

The answers we get from experiments may be less bold and confident than the answers we’d get from simply stating convictions or doing sloppy, compromised research.

But in the end, if anything will lead us to truth, it’s careful science.

That’s right, please note the headline; this is a tutorial by an assistant professor of finance citing a physicist and endorsing the research of a Harvard (Harvard!) economist.

Stupid educators! Stupid educational researchers!

But the real kicker in all this is the whole lovefest over the work of Roland Fryer; Smith argues: “Fryer’s paper is a gold mine for education policy makers, and anyone interested in school reform.”

Well, about all this sciencey gold mine? Bruce Baker has some insight on the brilliance that is Fryer on education:

A series of studies from Roland Fryer and colleagues have explored the effectiveness of specific charter school models and strategies, including Harlem Childrens’ Zone (Dobbie & Fryer, 2009), “no excuses” charter schools in New York City (Dobbie & Fryer, 2011), schools within the Houston public school district (Apollo 20) mimicking no excuses charter strategies (Fryer, 2011, Fryer, 2012), and an intensive urban residential schooling model in Baltimore, MD (Curto & Fryer, 2011)….

The broad conclusion across these studies is that charter schools or traditional public schools can produce dramatic improvements to student outcomes by implementing no excuses strategies and perhaps wrap around services, and that these strategies come at relatively modest marginal cost. Regarding the benefits of the most expensive alternative explored – residential schooling in Baltimore (at a reported $39,000 per pupil) – the authors conclude that no excuses strategies of extended day and year, and intensive tutoring are likely more cost effective.

But, each of these studies suffers from poorly documented and often ill-conceived comparisons of costs and/or marginal expenditures. [bold emphasis added]

It seems that, gosh, Fryer is rolling out quite a bit of bad science, bad research on education—what Smith calls a “gold mine.” Baker ends with this note in fact:

NOTE: I would caution however, that we have little basis for asserting that a 20 to 60% increase in per pupil spending would be more efficiently spent on these strategies than on such alternatives as class size reduction and/or expansion of early childhood programs. These comparisons simply haven’t been made, and Fryer’s attempt at such a comparison (NYC “no excuses” study) is woefully inadequate. [bold emphasis added] Pundits who argue that class size reduction is an especially expensive and inefficient alternative seem willing to ignore outright the substantial additional costs of the strategies promoted in Fryer’s work, arriving at the erroneous conclusion (with Fryer’s full support) [bold emphasis added] that class size reduction is ineffective and costly, and extended school time and intensive tutoring are costless and highly effective.

And what? Smith makes a case during his lovefest for Fryer that class size reduction is effective, and Fryer says otherwise?

O, never mind. Smith’s op-ed proves to be the thing that is jumbled, the thing that we should not heed in any way—unless we see this op-ed like the hundreds before and hundreds yet to come: nonsensical pseudo-expert commentary from any field other than education offering their smug (and flawed) pronouncements to us lowly educators and educational researchers.

At the risk of being smug myself, please, o please, all you experts out there compelled by the media to hold forth on education, stick to your field and extend the respect we deserve to those of us who have spent our careers in education in the same way you would like your own expertise and field to be treated.


See Also

My Next Book Project: The Psychology of Fixing the Economy through Better Public Policy

[1] My refrain here is a purposeful allusion to e.e. cummings since we sit still in National Poetry month—his “pity this busy monster, manunkind,/not.”