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Building Relational Trust

"Making Lessons Sizzle"

Marsha Ratzel: Taking My Students on a Classroom Tour

Marsha Ratzel on Teaching Math

David Ginsburg: Coach G's Teaching Tips

The Great Fire Wall of China

As my regular readers know, I am writing from China these days, and have been doing so four years so far. Sometimes the blog becomes inaccessible to me, making it impossible to post regularly. In fact, starting in late September 2014, China began interfering with many Google-owned entities of which Blogspot is one. If the blog seems to go dark for a while, please know I will be back as soon as I can get in again. I am sometimes blocked for many weeks at a time. I hope to have a new post up soon if I can gain access. Thank you for your understanding and loyalty.

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Classical Liberal Education and Economic Meltdown

On January 30, 2009, Bill Moyers summarized the financial state of education in America:

BILL MOYERS: All across the country it's the same. State governments are staring down the barrel at $300 billion worth of deficits for the next two years. Twenty-six states already have either cut their budgets for higher education, raised tuition fees, or done both. When it comes to college affordability, this report from The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gives a failing grade of "F" to 49 of the 50 states. Tuition at public four-year colleges is up an average of more than $6,500, at two-year schools, almost $2,500. Yet even with the increases, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION reports that many college buildings are outdated, inefficient, even crumbling. So what's to be done? Some took hope when President Obama spoke up for higher education in his inaugural address.

But his guest, Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a philanthropic foundation for education and citizenship, believes the problems go much deeper than money.

BILL MOYERS: And your thesis is the pipeline of education from pre-K right on up through graduate school is broken?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Absolutely. The point I'm saying, that America should not take anything for granted anymore. We cannot afford any more mistakes. We cannot afford duplication. We have to bring collaboration and twenty-year vision, twenty-year plan, how to bring higher education of United States, both public and private, to help re-engineer, re-ignite, and keep the momentum of the United States and its progress by educating its workforce, by educating its leadership.

America has lost sight of the ball. It did not happen overnight, but gradually education as preparation for life gave way to education as job training.
VARTAN GREGORIAN: we see education as an expenditure rather than as investment. And let me just give you a couple of reasons why. My fundamental problem has been with public institutions that somehow they have come to accept the fact that democracy and excellence, public sector and excellence are not mutually compatible, that public excellence belongs to the private domain.

And what has been the result?
BILL MOYERS: You convened in August these leaders of higher education. And they came to the conclusion that, quote, "We've fallen from first place among nations to tenth in the percentage of our population with degrees in higher education." What does that mean practically?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Practically it means research universities in other countries are catching up. We're not falling behind as much as others are catching up, whether it's Singapore, whether it's China, whether it's India. And second thing is many of our students, thanks to Pell Grants and others who go to university do not finish, because of either ill preparedness or lack of resources for them. We're not talking about just educate. We're talking about how to build next generation of our youth to be able to compete globally and to re-engineer our nation's reemergence in the next phase of the global competition.
We need all the infrastructure. We need all the engineers, all the doctors, all the computer specialists, all kinds of work. So we can no longer allow 50 percent of our students not to graduate from high school or 30, 40 percent drop out from our universities, especially minorities and others. Because in the past 19th century we have industrial backbone that you could send all of this to manufacturing. We don't have it. So result, it's gone.
BILL MOYERS: Shipped abroad.
VARTAN GREGORIAN: It's a knowledge society now in which you need all the talent that you can.

How did we get into such a fix?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Well, for several reasons. I guess, first, lack of knowledge about rest of the world. Another one, media that was asleep when all kinds of decisions were made. Along with independent judiciary, executive, we need also independent media...

How about the Internet as a source of independent media? First, many internet journalists are not independent. Many openly have an agenda, which to their credit, they make abundantly clear to readers. But there is another problem.
BILL MOYERS: Well, some people would say they're on the internet, that the internet has become the great conversation of democracy.
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Well, let's hope so. Let's hope so. But internet has to provide common vocabulary. I don't want to be picking a piece here, a piece there, and so forth, construct my own hut. I want to have a national significance.
BILL MOYERS: You want an editor?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Editor, national editor
BILL MOYERS: I'd like to be your editor.
BILL MOYERS: You're saying you want a professional class of disinterested people who help you assemble how the world looks like every day?
VARTAN GREGORIAN: Well, the synthesis you mentioned is missing. What I want is the institution of journalism, institution of news, institution of education, institutional values, the ones that promote to be a durable, predictable tying tradition, past, present, and the future...

One approach would be to reject the current market philosophy of education and return to the discipleship philosophy. Maybe America needs to decide just exactly what it is we want from our education system.

VARTAN GREGORIAN: I want us to accept, consciously, things, not to be manipulated in acceptance. I still believe in intelligence, in knowledge, independence, should not be just reserved or elite but for the public, too. We should educate the public what's in the public interests. They may like it or not. They may accept it or not. But my conscience I want to be clear that I did my duty as an educator while you did your duty as a journalist to educate the public. That's our obligation.


BILL MOYERS: There is an argument today that colleges and universities should continue to turn out generally educated, liberally educated, critical thinkers. But that we should take the people who want to be mechanics and electricians and plumbers and let them go to vocational school and not pretend to want to study "Beowulf" or "Macbeth."
VARTAN GREGORIAN: I think you'll have two sets of problems. You'll have a well-educated private university, some select, and they're the cultured ones. And the others are specialists who can only do. And that will be terrible in my opinion because even the plumbers should know about American history. Not "Beowulf" necessarily. They should know about Constitution. They should know about American history. They should know about Civil War. They should know about Depression.
I mean, we live in a country we cannot just say we're citizens but we don't know anything about our country. Yet we're the greatest country in the world. Well, on what basis? Just economy does not make that right. We need also values. We need also to participate as citizens in the fate and future of our country. So we cannot have a democracy without its foundation being knowledge, in order to provide progress. And knowledge does not mean only technical knowledge. But also you need to have knowledge of our society, knowledge of the world. If we're a superpower, world's greatest power, we should know about the rest of the world.

The stakes are high.

VARTAN GREGORIAN:Education is different because you're investing human resources that are necessary to change a society, a system. Even retraining some of these people who are let go, is through education. Education is very central to our democracy. You can neglect it, you can get it on the cheap, and you get what you pay for. And if you think education is costly, try ignorance, because that will be far more costly.

But the economic meltdown and the war on terror and all that is an national emergency. Education will just have to wait its turn, right?
VARTAN GREGORIAN:Since President Obama is fond of Abraham Lincoln, so I'll start with Abraham Lincoln. In the middle of the Civil War, worst tragedy that happened to America, Abraham Lincoln signed Morrill Act, established land grant universities. Imagine now any president doing that in the middle of all the calamities we have, Afghanistan, Iraq, economy, and Iran and the Middle East, somebody spending that much effort on - because he wanted to see the future of America.
In the middle of Civil War, Lincoln established a National Academy of Sciences, 1863, because he wanted to see the future of America. In the middle of Civil War he established a commission to study the merits of metric system for America. Because he wanted to see not one year, one to four year; he wanted to see 20, 30, 40 years...

Education and economy are Siamese twins joined at the heart. Severing them kills both.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Are You Stuck in the Rut of Education Preconceptions?

The biggest obstacle to education reform is preconceptions. As President Obama said in his inaugural address, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” Same goes for education. The adversarial frame of public school versus everything else must also give way to what works. The shackles of preconceptions prevent creative thinking. We need people who have seen it all. We need people who are willing to be heretics, for whom the conventional wisdom may be foolishness. Maybe small classes are not that important. Neither “voucher” nor “lecture” are necessarily dirty seven-letter words. What is genuine self-esteem anyway? How about those unions? Certification does not guarantee quality. And maybe technology is not all it's cracked up to be.

We need people who have thirty years of experience, not one year thirty times. We need people who can ask the right questions. I read about an education initiative for underserved students. The organizers did not ask, ”How should we publicize the program?” as much as they asked, “Where are the people we want to reach?” Instead of sending out press releases and building a beautiful webpage, they put up flyers in laundromats.

We need people who understand the both the importance and the dilemma of opportunity. For example, I know a middle schooler who caught the attention of a university tennis coach. For many months, the youngster, along with other promising middle-schoolers, gratefully received the benefits of coaching. But his budding tennis ambitions were cut off when his single mom could not afford the expenses of his first tournament. Maybe the coach thought she should sacrifice more, but the $300 tennis racket had already overstretched her means. An opportunity was lost.

The importance of social economic status (SES) is opportunity. Children who grow up in higher SES homes simply have greater exposure to opportunity and savvy parents who can help their children leverage that opportunity. Children who grow up in lower SES homes cannot afford to take advantage of what few opportunities come their way.

The keys to creating a world class education system begin with the umbrella concepts of relational trust and access to opportunity. During my first year of teaching, I was able to inspire high levels of relational trust among my students in an inner city school. They worked very hard for the hope of future opportunity that no one could anticipate. But some students were pessimistic. One boy said, “My father was a janitor all his life and that's all I'll ever get to be. So what do I need with school?” We came to an understanding. No one knows the future, and although I could understand his outlook, he agreed not to disrupt class. He cared deeply about his classmates, so he was willing to cooperate with my program on what he considered the slim chance it might pay off for him or any of his classmates.

I care nothing for ideological positions. I welcome the opportunity to confront my own preconceptions when they break through to awareness. Clearly entrenched interests within education benefit from perpetuating the dysfunction. We need to identify those interests and overcome them. Is is possible to institutionalize relational trust as the Japanese have done? Maybe, but we need to know much more about Japan than we do. We need people with true international education experience.

Monday, January 19, 2009

School an Unhappy Place

Students Unhappy at School. Not exactly a breaking headline, but California takes it seriously with their Healthy Kids Survey.

The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) is an anonymous, confidential student and school staff report of attitudes, health risk behaviors, and protective factors...Used by California schools since 1997, the CHKS consists of age-appropriate survey instruments for students in grades five, seven, nine, and eleven and is designed in a flexible, modular format that can be customized to meet local district needs.

The survey consistently finds that students feel alienated at school at all age levels. Some of the factors included in the survey, especially harassment, depression and connectedness, can perhaps be considered proxies for relational trust. Relational trust is emerging as a useful umbrella concept for predicting academic achievement. Relational trust subsumes other popular variables such as teacher quality, parental involvement and socio-economic status.

Relational trust is not just some warm and fuzzy psychobabble. Relational trust does not mean that everybody likes each other. Relational trust means students, parents and administrators respect and esteem the knowledge and ability of teachers. Relational trust means that teachers believe that parents and administrators support them, especially in discipline matters. For example, Japanese teachers have no reputation for being warm and fuzzy, but relational trust so characterizes the relationships between teachers, students, parents and society as to be a presumptive, defining feature of Japanese education.

Statewide in California, whether urban, suburban or rural schools, middle school students report 42-54% moderate or low levels of school caring and connectedness. High school is worse, with 59-71% of students reporting lack of connectedness and caring.

Interestingly, middle school and high school students often put forth a facade of indifference. Being “cool” often masks a desperate desire to experience relational trust. Middle school students form especially strong bonds with their teachers, and their loyalty can be magnificent. Yet school authorities may mistakenly believe that students do not care. Students are diligently searching for adults to trust. Frequently, student misbehavior is a test of the adults. If the adult caves in the face of a student's nonsense, how can that adult be trusted in times of real trouble? Once students become convinced of the reliability and steadfastness of a teacher, they will work incredibly hard for that teacher.