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Education & British Riots in the Welfare Society

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

I am passionate about Parenting. I know for certain this is the thing, if done right and seriously, would elevate society and solve many of the serious problems we face today in our schools, work force, and political structure. I have been frustrated at my inability to express this idea in a way that would communicate the problem, its origin, and the results we face on a daily basis in our classrooms, social structure, and political ideology.

Fortunately, I read an article this morning by Max Hastings, who writes for Mail Online, a British newspaper. He expresses the underlying social problems so well that I thought I would provide excerpts in this post. All emphasis in the article is mine.

MR. MAX HASTINGS:

“A few weeks after the U.S. city of Detroit was ravaged by 1967 race riots, in which 43 people died, I was shown around the wrecked areas by a black reporter named Joe Strickland.

He said: ‘Don’t you believe all that stuff people here are giving media folk about how sorry they are about what happened. When they talk to each other, they say: “It was a great fire, man!” ’

I am sure that is what many of the young rioters, black and white, who have burned and looted in England through the past few shocking nights think today.

If you live a normal life of absolute futility, which we can assume most of this week’s rioters do, excitement of any kind is welcome. The people who wrecked swathes of property, burned vehicles and terrorised communities have no moral compass to make them susceptible to guilt or shame.

Most have no jobs to go to or exams they might pass. They know no family role models, for most live in homes in which the father is unemployed, or from which he has decamped.
They are illiterate and innumerate, beyond maybe some dexterity with computer games and BlackBerries.

The depressing truth is that at the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. They do not have what most of us would call ‘lives’: they simply exist. They have their being only in video games and street-fights, casual drug use and crime, sometimes petty, sometimes serious.

Today, those at the bottom of society behave no better than their forebears, but the welfare state has relieved them from hunger and real want. When social surveys speak of ‘deprivation’ and ‘poverty’, this is entirely relative. Meanwhile, sanctions for wrongdoing have largely vanished.

When Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith recently urged employers to take on more British workers and fewer migrants, he was greeted with a hoarse laugh. Every firm in the land knows that an East European — for instance — will, first, bother to turn up; second, work harder; and third, be better-educated than his or her British counterpart. Who do we blame for this state of affairs?

Of course it is true that few have jobs, learn anything useful at school, live in decent homes, eat meals at regular hours or feel loyalty to anything beyond their local gang. This is not, however, because they are victims of mistreatment or neglect. It is because it is fantastically hard to help such people, young or old, without imposing a measure of compulsion, which modern society finds unacceptable. These kids are what they are because nobody makes them be anything different or better.

A key factor in delinquency is lack of effective sanctions to deter it. From an early stage, feral children discover that they can bully fellow pupils at school, shout abuse at people in the streets, urinate outside pubs, hurl litter from car windows, play car radios at deafening volumes, and, indeed, commit casual assaults with only a negligible prospect of facing rebuke, far less retribution.

So who is to blame? The breakdown of families, the pernicious promotion of single motherhood as a desirable state, the decline of domestic life so that even shared meals are a rarity, have all contributed importantly to the condition of the young underclass. The social engineering industry unites to claim that the conventional template of family life is no longer valid.

And what of the schools? I do not think they can be blamed for the creation of a grotesquely self-indulgent, non-judgmental culture.

This has ultimately been sanctioned by Parliament, which refuses to accept, for instance, that children are more likely to prosper with two parents than with one, and that the dependency culture is a tragedy for those who receive something for nothing.

The judiciary colludes with social services and infinitely ingenious lawyers to assert the primacy of the rights of the criminal and aggressor over those of law-abiding citizens, especially if a young offender is involved.

How do you inculcate values in a child whose only role model is footballer Wayne Rooney — a man who is bereft of the most meagre human graces? How do you persuade children to renounce bad language when they hear little else from stars on the BBC?

A teacher, Francis Gilbert, wrote five years ago in his book Yob Nation: ‘The public feels it no longer has the right to interfere.’ Discussing the difficulties of imposing sanctions for misbehaviour or idleness at school, he described the case of a girl pupil he scolded for missing all her homework deadlines.

The youngster’s mother, a social worker, telephoned him and said: ‘Threatening to throw my daughter off the A-level course because she hasn’t done some work is tantamount to psychological abuse, and there is legislation which prevents these sorts of threats. ‘I believe you are trying to harm my child’s mental well-being, and may well take steps . . . if you are not careful.’

That story rings horribly true. It reflects a society in which teachers have been deprived of their traditional right to arbitrate pupils’ behaviour. Denied power, most find it hard to sustain respect, never mind control.

I never enjoyed school, but, like most children until very recent times, did the work because I knew I would be punished if I did not. It would never have occurred to my parents not to uphold my teachers’ authority. This might have been unfair to some pupils, but it was the way schools functioned for centuries, until the advent of crazy ‘pupil rights’.

I recently received a letter from a teacher who worked in a county’s pupil referral unit, describing appalling difficulties in enforcing discipline. Her only weapon, she said, was the right to mark a disciplinary cross against a child’s name for misbehaviour. Having repeatedly and vainly asked a 15-year-old to stop using obscene language, she said: ‘Fred, if you use language like that again, I’ll give you a cross.’

He replied: ‘Give me an effing cross, then!’ Eventually, she said: ‘Fred, you have three crosses now. You must miss your next break.’

He answered: ‘I’m not missing my break, I’m going for an effing fag!’ When she appealed to her manager, he said: ‘Well, the boy’s got a lot going on at home at the moment. Don’t be too hard on him.’

This is a story repeated daily in schools up and down the land. If a child lacks sufficient respect to address authority figures politely, and faces no penalty for failing to do so, then other forms of abuse — of property and person — come naturally.

So there we have it: a large, amoral, brutalised sub-culture of young British people who lack education because they have no will to learn, and skills which might make them employable. They are too idle to accept work waitressing or doing domestic labour, which is why almost all such jobs are filled by immigrants. They have no code of values to dissuade them from behaving anti-socially or, indeed, criminally, and small chance of being punished if they do so. They have no sense of responsibility for themselves, far less towards others, and look to no future beyond the next meal, sexual encounter or TV football game.

 They are an absolute deadweight upon society, because they contribute nothing yet cost the taxpayer billions. Liberal opinion holds they are victims, because society has failed to provide them with opportunities to develop their potential.

Most of us would say this is nonsense. Rather, they are victims of a perverted social ethos, which elevates personal freedom to an absolute, and denies the underclass the discipline — tough love — which alone might enable some of its members to escape from the swamp of dependency in which they live.

Only education — together with politicians, judges, policemen and teachers with the courage to force feral humans to obey rules the rest of us have accepted all our lives — can provide a way forward and a way out for these people. They are products of a culture which gives them so much unconditionally that they are let off learning how to become human beings.

My dogs are better behaved and subscribe to a higher code of values than the young rioters of Tottenham, Hackney, Clapham and Birmingham. Unless or until those who run Britain introduce incentives for decency and impose penalties for bestiality which are today entirely lacking, there will never be a shortage of young rioters and looters such as those of the past four nights, for whom their monstrous excesses were ‘a great fire, man’.

“The truth cannot be told and be misunderstood.”

TED – Ideas Worth Spreading, Deb Roy

August 7, 2011 Leave a comment

“Imagine if you could record your life, everything you said, everything you did, available in a perfect memory store at your finger tips so you could go back and find memorable moments and relive them or sift through traces of time and discover patterns in your own life that previously had gone undiscovered.” 

This is what Deb Roy did at the birth of his son, whose every moment was recorded from birth to present day. He is the Founder and CEO of Bluefin Labs, an MIT spinoff. This is Deb Roy’s TED talk March, 2011.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.

This has to be shared with my audience. It is truly one of the most remarkable video moments I have had. It takes about 20 minutes to watch but it is riveting.

Enjoy this amazing father and his amazing family. Hang in there the end is POWERFUL!

Deb Roy studies how children learn language, and designs machines that learn to communicate in human-like ways. On sabbatical from MIT Media Lab, he’s working with the AI company Bluefin Labs.

The Chicken or the Egg: Good Parenting or Good Teachers – What comes first?

“For more than forty years I’ve taught literature, history, consciousness, and writing as a senior teacher and administrator in major American and Asian universities, and in progressive preschools and schools. In part because of the subjects I teach, in part because of the ways in which we work together, students of all ages often confide in me with uncommon intimacy and trust.

I’ve learned far more than I’ve taught. In particular I’ve learned that for all human beings nothing in life is more important than our experience of parenting. How we’re parented determines almost everything about how we envision and respond to ourselves, other people, life, and the universe: how we exist, how we seek, and what we accomplish.” Peter Glassman

I too taught school and had students confide in me with ‘uncommon intimacy and trust”. There was Gloria, whose mother was having an affair with a student who was 20 years younger than her mom. The student came to Gloria’s house one afternoon and shot and killed the mother. Gloria escaped his rage by hiding under the bed. I saw Gloria once after that and then she went to live with a relative in some distant place. Then there was Zack, who sat beside my desk one day. He was a “hippie” at 15. He drew a flower on the floor with chalk and said to me, “It is not the place where you live that makes you happy; it’s where you live in your head that makes you happy.” Zack walked onto the interstate one night in a happy state of mind and was hit and killed by a truck. Billy came from a family of PhD’s. Expectations for his success were high. He had blazing red hair, a frail frame, artistic nature, and was gay. He could not bear to reveal this to his socially prominent parents. He confided some of his misery to me. He became an addict. Kathy was the only child of doting parents. She was a talented artist who loved my English class and its emphasis on the art in each child as we studied literature and composition. She came to me one day in tears describing her parent’s shame with her desire to be an artist. She ran away. I too learned more than I taught.

Despite the immense importance of parenting we do not require courses, instruction, direction, or mentoring before a man and a woman make this amazing decision to have a child. However, we do require instruction, licensing and permitting for driving a car, flying an airplane, operating heavy equipment, opening a business, or practicing a profession. But in parenting, the single most important responsibility we ever undertake as adults, we offer no preparation in what children need, how children develop, and how we best can fulfill our immense opportunities and responsibilities in guiding, guarding, and gracing our children’s lives. Faith traditions, schools, or workplaces do not and should not assume this vital work.

This is the sole responsibility of parents in the early years. They are the ones who build self-esteem, confidence, sensitivity, compassion, and intellectual curiosity in their offspring. Parents are the ones who instill manners, respect, vision, ambition, and a desire to learn and to know. Yet in every jurisdiction on earth anyone can become a parent. We can raise our children, shape their minds, or devastate their souls in almost any manner we choose. Step into your malls on any weekend to observe our nation’s parenting results.

We create voids in a child’s life with our unskilled parenting. Voids create vacuums which are opportunistically filled with one substance or another. “Children have but one work in life. They learn. Learning is all that children do. They do it full-time, and they do it with genius. They observe. They glean. From the foundation of their own experience, they employ their intellect. They interpret. They judge. They learn.” Peter Glassman

Children long to learn from their parents; they are their first example, their first love, their first hero’s. However, as we parent badly or ignorantly, the void in a child’s life slowly fills with powerful competitors, the fascinating and alluring electronic media and their peers, who are a major influence in their lives. Because they have no strength of family to sustain them, they succumb to these immensely empowered alternative forces: schools, friends, play environments, and most importantly the contemporary pop culture that form our children’s emotional civilization. Parents, who have many excuses for their haphazard parenting skills, surrender their responsibilities for their children’s soul life to televisions, computers, or iPhones. These artificial caregivers become our children’s primary companions.

In our own hurried, frantic lives we let go of the careful and necessary supervision of our schools. We let lapse the passion for our children and our basic and necessary expressions of love and care. Children will not accept this void. They need to be loved, guided, and parented. If we can’t be there for them they will do three things to compensate for their unfulfilled yearning: they will decide we do not love them; they will conclude they do not deserve to be loved; they will look for, discover, and become profoundly influenced by other persons or presences that will parent them in our place.

In the end, we send these hapless children off to our schools, where classrooms are chaotic, disruptive, and filled with children whose parents had little time for them in the early years. Teachers often teach in classrooms that are obsolete and filled with children who have no identity or purpose. We expect teachers to be surrogates when we should be expecting them to bring the intellectual curiosity of our children to life. Teachers should be setting children on fire with knowledge and exploration of their God-given abilities. This should be the most exciting adventure of each child’s life; learning and exploration. So who is to blame for the failure of our schools? For the failure of our children?

Is it the chicken or the egg?

Nation Builders; In Defense of Teachers

March 20, 2011 3 comments

“In South Korea, teachers are known as nation builders. I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect right here in the United States of  America”

President Barack Obama

The McGraw-Hill Research Foundation issued a report titled, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts.” It compared the U.S. education system to those of the highest performing countries as ranked by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). According to the most recent PISA, the U.S. was ranked on average at 19th among more than 50 countries for science, 15th for reading, and a dismal 27th in math. Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, Canadian and Finnish students left ours in the dust.

The McGraw-Hill report found four key differences between the United States and the most successful countries:

1.    In successful countries, teaching is held in much higher esteem as a profession than in the U.S. Entering the profession is difficult, and candidates are drawn from the top of their university classes. These countries provide more resources for teacher training and professional development, and they give teachers more responsibility for leading reform.
2.    High-performing nations establish rigorous student achievement standards, premised on “the proposition that it is possible for all students to achieve at high levels and necessary that they do so”.
3.    The U.S. spends more money per pupil than almost all countries studied but lavishes resources on the more economically advantaged schools. In high-performing nations, budgets are often much smaller and extra resources go to disadvantaged schools.
4.    The U.S. is no more stratified socio-economically than the average country studied, but class differences have a much more pronounced effect on educational achievement here than in high-performing nations.

How can we change the results we are NOT achieving in our public schools?

First, we can upgrade how we value teachers. As a profession, education is not held in high esteem in the U.S. It is noteworthy that countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. Perhaps more important than boosting pay, we should create methods which place teachers in charge of policing the standards of their profession. We need to give them resources for professional development. Principals should be chosen from the ranks of the most successful teachers. Testing and assessment should serve not to punish schools, as in the U.S., but to assess which students and classrooms need more attention, as in high-performing countries. When teachers are given both resources and responsibility to help under performing students, even school systems with strong teachers unions, such as Ontario, Canada, perform at a high level.

Most high performing countries have developed world-class academic standards for their students and these standards are responsible for the overall performance of their education systems. The approaches to standard-setting in countries range from defining broad educational goals up to formulating concise performance expectations in well-defined subject areas. Most of these countries have also incorporated their standards into systems of high-quality curricula and external examinations at the secondary school level. For example, our son’s attended school in England where they took their GCSE exams (our high school equivalent) prior to their admittance into their A-Levels. The GCSE exams are used to construct clear gateways for students either into the workforce and good jobs or to the next stage of education, the A-Levels and universities. Children meet your expectations because they don’t know any better. If we think they are stellar they will believe it because we believe it.

PISA results show that the amount of money a nation or state spends on education is not a decisive factor in achieving high scores on student assessments. Despite spending more money per student than other countries, neither Luxembourg nor the U.S. has managed to break into the ranks of top PISA performers. The U.S. hovers in the middle ranks, along with countries such as Estonia and Poland, each of which spend half as much per student as the U.S. New Zealand, one of the highest performing OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, spends well below the OECD average. The number-one ranking Shanghai, with top scores in every category, illustrates forcefully what can be achieved with moderate economic resources in a diverse social context. In about half of OECD countries, disadvantaged schools tend to have a lower teacher/student ratio, on the assumption that children from less economically advantaged neighborhoods and cultures should have more and better teachers. High-performing Singapore sends its best teachers to work with students who are having the most difficulty. That pattern is reversed in the U.S., Israel, Slovenia and Turkey, the only four OECD countries to favor their economically advantaged schools with more teachers on a statistically significant basis. In the U.S., this is partly due to school systems that are locally financed with tax rates based on the value of local homes and businesses. This allows people who are better off financially to form a school taxing district that can raise more money for hiring the best teachers and providing other desirable resources.

Most importantly, and above all, the top countries in the world value their teachers and the human capital for which they are responsible. Finland regularly tops global comparisons of national performance. In 2010 it was ranked Number One in educational achievement in a Newsweek magazine survey of “The World’s Best Countries”. In Finland, it is a tremendous honor to be a teacher. They are afforded a status comparable to what doctors, lawyers, and other highly regarded professionals enjoy in the U.S. Only one out of every ten applicants makes it into the Finnish training pool for teachers. Despite their high status, teachers in Finland are not paid much more than teachers are in the U.S. on a comparative basis keyed to per capita GDP. However, they do enjoy tremendous respect and regard from both the general public and their nation’s political leaders. One teacher who was asked what made him want to be a teacher, replied that, “It is the most honorable of all professions; it is a patriotic, and a national calling to be a teacher”.

Finnish teachers take great care to protect and maintain the status of their profession. They regularly stay after school, uncompensated, and work together on each others professional development. They set their own performance standards. The Finnish government establishes some achievement guidelines, but as a general rule there are few attempts to enforce performance, and there are not many measures taken to ensure accountability. Government education leaders trust their teachers to do their jobs well. Precisely because Finnish teachers enjoy that level of trust from education officials, they accept the responsibility and reciprocate by excelling in the classroom every day.

The examples set in the best-performing PISA nations show so decisively that the U.S. needs great teachers to once again be a great nation when it comes to educational development and achievement.  We must do our best to both develop exceptional teachers and raise the level of professional regard in which the job of teacher is held by the public and officials.

Last, in countries where teachers are respected and valued we see parents raising their children to have high regard for education and educators. Their incidence of teacher abuse and disrespect is nearly nonexistent. Their classrooms are orderly and serious. When we value teachers as professionals in the U.S. we will find a return of respect, order, and seriousness to our classrooms. Teachers are NOT baby sitters. They do NOT teach Values. They teach our children how to reason and become creative problem solvers. Parents teach values, respect, behavior, and a desire for knowledge. Parents should do what they do best and teachers should be allowed to do what they do best.

Education in America; Wisconsin – The Real Story

February 23, 2011 5 comments

Here’s what we know that will make our schools better:

1.    Improve the quality of teaching.
2.    Personalize the educational experience of children to meet diverse needs and interests.
3.    Treat schools as unique, organic communities, not standard same-for-all institutions.

What do we have?

1.    We have “No Child Left Behind” that places enormous importance on standardizing instead of a more personal, organic, and creative experience for each child.
2.    We have president Obama’s recent State of the Union speech emphasizing that the only disciplines of importance are math and science. This message tells our children that if they are not good at either one of these subjects they are not smart and they will probably not be as successful as those who are accomplished in math and science.
3.    We continue to believe that if everyone is good at math and science, we’ll be fine. Meanwhile, creativity, innovation, lateral thinking, and the treasures all our children house in their minds are wasted as we are commanded to focus on math and science.
4.    The entire model for our education system is built on Industrial Age beliefs regarding supply and demand. This no longer holds true. The rapid acceleration of technology, population growth, and the shifting of power throughout the world make it impossible to predict what our society and economy will have even 2 years from now.

Here is what is true:

1.    Education is extremely personal. Everyone is unique and different in their interests, talents, and learning styles.
2.    Human talents are buried deep within us and teachers must be adept at identifying and nurturing our children’s aptitudes.
3.    It will take more than competency in Math and Science for America to prosper and grow in the future.
4.    It is NOT about money!

Now let’s look at money and what it has accomplished in Wisconsin, since it is in the news for leading the charge in education:

1.    Wisconsin’s per pupil spending on public school students increased from $6,517 in 1996 to $10,791 in 2008.
2.    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator the $6,517 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in 1996 dollars equaled $8,942 in 2008 dollars. That means that from 1996 to 2008, Wisconsin public schools increased their per pupil spending by $1,849 or 20.7% in real terms while adding only one percentage point to their average eighth grader’s math score. (Terence P. Jeffrey)
3.    The $10,791 that Wisconsin spent per pupil in its public elementary and secondary schools in fiscal year 2008 was more than any other state in the Midwest.
4.    In the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests administered by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009, the latest year available, only 31% of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned a “proficient” rating while another 8% earned an “advanced” rating.
5.    The other 61 % of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders earned ratings below “proficient,” including 40% who earned a rating of “basic” and 21% who earned a rating of “below basic”.
6.    The NAEP tests also showed that the mathematics test scores of Wisconsin public-school eighth graders have remained almost flat since 1996 while inflation adjusted per-pupil spending had significantly increased.
7.    In fiscal 2008, the federal government provided $669.6 million in subsidies to the public schools in Wisconsin.

I don’t mind paying teachers what they are worth. I don’t mind paying them for results, but NOT these results! If Wisconsin teachers, their unions, and teachers all across our country call the above statistics “Results” then they have lost their way.

We have placed our most precious treasures, our children, in the hands of impostors who cannot deliver. They are stealing the nation’s future. We are doomed. They cannot produce. They cannot be fired. They have TENURE, a job for life. The laugh is on us; we pay their salaries with our property taxes. They take our money and dull the minds of our children.

It is easier to get rid of a Predator Priest than it is to fire an Incompetent Teacher.

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