From the Archives: Who Are Schools REALLY For?

In theory, it’s not surprising. But it’s still always weird to see people talking so blatantly about it. InkedInsurrection 1826_LI

The latest came from my work at the Library Company in Philadelphia. A group of English “Ladies” were raising money in 1826 to educate enslaved people in the West Indies. Their pitch? Educated slaves are the most loyal. As they put it,

wherever insurrections have taken place, the instructed Negroes have invariably been found the most faithful to their masters. It is not surprising that these facts, confirmed as they have been by the reports of other individuals, and now become notorious, should have contributed to remove the prejudices that formerly existed against Negro education.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

The view from 1804 is still pretty bleak, but things in 2019 don’t look all that cheery, either. Here are some of the news stories we found when we crawled up out of the archives this week:

Will the real conservative please stand up? Prof. Patrick Deneen reviews George Will’s new book at WaPo.

Animated by a conservative skepticism of the belief in sufficient human knowledge to control circumstance, and a pessimism about the capacity of human beings to consistently act from noble intentions (or that such noble intentions are likely to lead to noble ends), Will calls for a minimalist state allowing for maximal expression of “spontaneous order.” . . . Nowhere to be found in the 538 pages of text is a discussion of conservative commitments to the unborn, the threats posed by the advance of the sexual liberation movement, and commitments to religious liberty. It is as if the book was written in 1944…

A billionaire offers a new way to give teachers a raise, at Forbes.

An interview with historian Darren Dochuk about his new book, Anointed with Oil: How Christianity and Crude Made Modern America, at R&P.

Amid jungles of derricks and refining fires, risk-filled labor and violent swings of fortune, oil-patch Christians embrace a cataclysmic view of the here and now and of life beyond, as well as a dependency on an all-powerful being who gives and takes and tests his people but is always there.

Why are radical creationists so upset about men in heels? Here at ILYBYGTH.

Ken Ham drag school

It’s not Darwin they’re worried about, it’s “Sparkle Leigh.”

Can a professor teach a class about conservative thought? Portland State says no, at IHE.

How did Teach For America get tied up with charter schools? An expose at Propublica. HT: MM

Liberty U. cuts divinity program, at IHE.

Did anyone think we were done with all this? Trump, Falwell, Cohen, and the “Pool Boy,” at NYT.

That backstory, in true Trump-tabloid fashion, features the friendship between Mr. Falwell, his wife and a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach; the family’s investment in a gay-friendly youth hostel; purported sexually revealing photographs involving the Falwells; and an attempted hush-money arrangement engineered by the president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen.

…and boom goes the dynamite. At MH.

Three photographs have been seen by the Herald, however. They are images not of Falwell, of but his wife in various stages of undress. It is not known who took the photographs or when they were taken, and the Herald was not given the photographs and therefore, has not been able to authenticate them independently. Two of the photographs appear to have been taken at the Falwells’ farm in Virginia, and a third at the Cheeca Lodge.

Curmudgucrat Peter Greene tells arrogant ed-reformers what they’ve always needed to hear:

We told you so. . . . Before you launch your next bright idea to reform education, talk to actual professional educators first. You don’t have to talk just to teachers. But talk to teachers (and not just ones that have been carefully vetted to be sure they’re aligned with your values). Every dollar and hour wasted, every fruitless crappy reform idea of the last twenty-some years could have been avoided if people had listened to actual teachers. There’s the lesson that everyone, even exceptionally smart and respectable former Presidents, needs to learn.

“Some People Just Don’t Value Education”

Teachers! Has anyone NOT heard this ugly phrase at some point? It’s everywhere. We see it in every new TV show about schools. I’m also finding heavy doses of it in the archives as I work on my new book. For hundreds of years now, the myth has not gone away. And it fuels America’s worst impulses.

insecure no students

From season 2, episode 1: No matter how good the snacks, students just don’t show up

Consider a few examples. These days, when I’m not in the archives, I’m watching Insecure on TV. It’s great. The main character, Issa, works for a non-profit that tries awkwardly to provide educational resources for low-income Black and Latinx students. In season 2, episode 1, she and her co-worker try desperately to bribe students to attend their afterschool tutoring session. At first, when the students do come, they only steal the snacks and run away. What is Issa supposed to do? She can’t help kids with their Geometry if they won’t show up.

Every teacher could tell similar stories. How is it possible—every teacher ever has asked—how is it possible to teach kids who don’t come to school? How can we beef up resources for kids whose parents don’t come to parent-teacher conferences?

Here’s the worst news—there has never been a time when this WASN’T the case. As I’m finding in my current research, two hundred years ago African-American leaders had a very difficult time convincing African Americans in New York and Philadelphia to send their children to the cities’ free schools. As The Reverend Peter Williams preached to the African-American congregants of St. Philip’s in New York City, April 27, 1828, free public schools were available for African-American students, but only a fifth of the city’s eligible black kids attended. As The Rev. Williams exhorted,

Brethren, if any of you have children that are not at school, do send them, and if you see any coloured children in the city, that are not receiving the benefit of an education, do use your influence with their parents, to have them sent to these fountains of wisdom. By so doing you will serve the interests of the community at large, and the interests of your immortal souls. It is a work of that Divine charity, which greater than, either faith or hope, never faileth, and covereth a multitude of sins.

Even back then, there were plenty of low-income families who just didn’t seem to value school. This long and sad history has led some people to a tragically mistaken conclusion. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ll bet dollars to donuts every teacher out there has come across it at some point in our careers. We’ll be wondering how to bridge this gap between school and family, and someone will say knowingly, “Some people just don’t value education.”

The implications are clear and they are terrible. The suggestion is that lower-income families, especially non-white ones, don’t put much emphasis on school for their children. The second implication is worse. It is as if teachers are telling one another not to bother TOO much, because no matter what, some families just don’t care.

Anyone spending two seconds in the archive will see that this cynical bit of teacher lore is utterly untrue. It’s just not true that low-income people don’t value schools. Historically, African Americans have always gone to extreme lengths to provide schools and education for their children. In Providence, Rhode Island, for example, a group of African Americans banded together in 1819 to build a schoolhouse for their children. It was burned down twice, but the families persisted. As one (white) sympathizer commented,

The active zeal evinced by many of the people of colour, in the town of Providence, to provide a place for the education of their children, and the public worship of GOD, is, in our opinion, exceedingly laudable, and worthy of the liberal encouragement of all good people. . . . The people of colour in this town, raised among themselves about five hundred dollars. Their Christian friends, sensible that too little attention had been paid to this class of community, cheerfully assisted them by their prayers and advice.

The dedication and devotion of countless real-life communities like the one in Providence raises a difficult question. Namely, if parents and communities were so dead-set on providing schools for their children, no matter what the obstacles, then why did African Americans who had access to free schools in New York and Philadelphia not take advantage of them?

I’ve found a couple of clues during this research trip. Consider, for example, the conclusion of one New York African American writer. This anonymous person wrote in the African-American newspaper Freedom’s Journal (March 30, 1827) that African-American kids should stay in school, even though, as the writer put it,

Is it asked [sic], What avails it, that we educate our children, seeing that having bestowed every attention in our power to meet this end we find them excluded from patronage suited to their attainments? I answer, Persevere in your efforts, and when our too long neglected race, shall have become proportionally in and informed with the white community, prejudice will and must sink into insignificance and give place to liberality and impartiality.

In other words, African American families in 1827 were asking why they should send their children to free schools, when no good jobs awaited at the end. Why should they persevere, if there were nothing but fake promises of “liberality and impartiality” at the end? The writer hoped that prejudice would evaporate, but I’m guessing plenty of families were not so sanguine.

Moreover, they must have wondered why they should send their children to schools where the teachers often resorted to humiliating punishments, including hanging logs around the necks of children and shackling children together to march around the classroom. After all, those were the recommended punishments in the Lancasterian schools in America’s cities. As school reformer Joseph Lancaster admitted, when some people saw his schools in New York and Philadelphia, they protested that

the apparatus of logs, shackles, caravans, &c. were all implementations of slavery.

It’s not hard for me to imagine an African American family in 1827 wanting to avoid a school that punished children in the “apparatus” of slavery. Nevertheless, as the stories from Providence and elsewhere make abundantly clear, African American families have always made incredible sacrifices—and taken incredible risks—to provide schools for their children. They just don’t want to send their children to schools that humiliate their children for no good reason. They don’t want to send their children to schools that don’t prepare them for jobs at the end.

So…are there people who just don’t value education? Probably. There have got to be parents—rich and poor, black and white—who simply can’t be bothered to care too much about their children’s welfare. But it is not true and it never has been true that certain types of people–lower-income, non-white Americans–just don’t care. To the contrary, historically African-American communities have gone to great lengths to overcome legal and extralegal opposition to their schools.

Dragging Creationism into the Twenty-First Century

At first, it might seem confusing. Why is radical-creationist pundit Ken Ham so upset about men in heels? It might seem like “Sparkle Leigh” has nothing to do with evolution or creationism or any of that. If we want to understand young-earth creationism, however, we need to understand that these sorts of culture-war standoffs are absolutely central to radical creationism itself.Ken Ham drag school

Here’s the latest: Ken Ham of Answers In Genesis has been warning about the looming threat of men in drag reading books to schoolkids. As Ham warned last year,

If you think our Western culture can’t get any more perverse than it already is, think again! In a new trend, public libraries in America are hosting “Drag Queen Story Hours,” where drag queens (generally, men who wear feminine clothing or makeup to entertain people) come and read books, sing songs, and do crafts with children in the library.

What does that have to do with the idea of a young earth, a literal world-wide flood, and the rejection of modern evolutionary science? Well, nothing, from one perspective. Accepting the power of evolutionary theory does not somehow force people to endorse drag culture. Accepting a non-literal reading of the Book of Genesis doesn’t either.

On the other hand, if we hope to understand radical creationism, we have to understand the fact that things like drag culture, changing gender norms, and even pedophilia are absolutely central. Radical young-earth creationism has always been about building walls to fend off looming cultural changes, not building labs to produce new scientific ideas.

As I’m arguing in my new book (exciting news on that front coming soon), radical creationism is not really a protest against the science of evolutionary theory as such. Rather, radical creationism is all about holding the line against changing cultural norms. Back in the 1950s, when conservative-evangelical Bernard Ramm promised his evangelical friends that science should not scare them, fundamentalists disagreed.

The radical-creationist movement was born out of a deep-seated feeling that traditional American culture was threatened. Evolutionary theory became the canary in the devil’s coalmine, but the real threats came from elsewhere. Changing sexual norms, changing gender relations, and changing attitudes about everything from proper dress to proper politics fueled the movement.

evil tree new

Why attack evolutionary theory? Let me count the ways…

At its heart, however, radical creationism has never actually been about evolution itself. Rather, as cartoons and pamphlets have shouted for decades now, evolution is only the convenient place to draw the line, the convenient place to defend against everything from feminism to abortion to communism.

So why is Ken Ham so upset about men with sparkles and heels? It’s not really about evolutionary theory, but it is absolutely central to radical creationism.

It’s Really All Over for Charter Schools

Although some smart people apparently didn’t see it coming, the writing has been on the wall for charter schools for about two years now. The final nail in its coffin might have come yesterday when former President Barack Obama endorsed a mea culpa from the “ed-reform” movement.obama tweet

As SAGLRROILLYBYGTH are sick of hearing, the remarkable success of charter schools resulted, in large part, from the diverse political coalition that backed them. Conservative evangelicals liked the idea of a refuge from the supposedly secularized public schools. White segregationists hoped charters could stave off school integration. Urban African-American activists liked the notion of a better option for low-income youth. Secular free-marketeers wanted to break the monopoly of the teachers’ unions. Ambitious young overachievers liked the idea of entrepreneurship in education, instead of slogging up the teacher-career ladder.

To be sure, the so-called “reform” movement wasn’t only about charter schools. It also included a heavy emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing. The goal was to make sure lazy teachers and underresourced schools could no longer ignore children who didn’t sparkle. Reformers dreamed of displacing the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and making sure no child was left behind.

All laudable goals, and all goals that attracted support from across the political spectrum. Until, that is, Hurricane Betsy swept into town. As we’ve discussed in these pages, Secretary DeVos’s reign as educational Trumpist has changed the nature of the ed-reform discussion. Instead of a broad movement open to both Democrats and Republicans, charter schools and the rest of the “reform” movement have now become the signature ed policy of Trump-wingers.

Democrats have fallen over one another rushing for the exits. Leading 2020 contenders such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke all have significant histories as charter supporters and they’re all scrambling to find ways to deny it.

Yesterday, when St. Obama tweeted his agreement with a recent Atlantic article, the handwriting on the wall received its final punctuation. As President Obama wrote,

This is worth a read: a thought-provoking reminder that education reform isn’t a cure-all. As a supporter of education reform, I agree that fixing educational inequality requires doing more to address the broader, systemic sources of economic inequality.

By throwing his enormous party prestige into the mix, President Obama has surely spelled the doom of charter-schools and other “reform” measures among the Democratic Party. And when any reform becomes the signature issue of only one political party, it is surely doomed to deadlock, decline, and defeat.

From the Archives: The Bad Old Days of Educational Entrepreneurship

More proof, if more were needed, that today’s bold claims to “free” education from the cold dead hands of bureaucracy are not an innovation, but a step back into the ooze from which public schools evolved. As I argued recently in the pages of the Washington Post, Secretary Betsy Devos’s plans for public education mostly consist of returning schools to the bad old days of the early 1800s. In yesterday’s archive dig, I ran across a sad reminder: Entrepreneurship just doesn’t work when it comes to public education.arthur donaldson school announcementSAGLRROILYBYGTH need no reminder, but here’s a little historical background anyway: Before the mid-1800s, most towns and cities had a mish-mash of school options. In places such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City, there were tax-funded schools that were free to attend.

In most towns and cities, there were church schools or entrepreneurial “dame” or “master” schools. The former usually charged some kind of tuition but they also usually raised money to pay for lower-income students. The latter were businesses run by a teacher. These teachers survived by attracting pupils and charging tuition. All in all, it was a fine system for people with money or lucky people without money, but it left a lot of people out.

In 1810, Arthur Donaldson hoped to fix the situation. He was a teacher in a Quaker/Friends-run school for African-American kids. He hoped to broaden the school options for low-income African-American kids by raising more funds from wealthier people to open new schools for students who couldn’t afford to pay tuition. As Donaldson advertised, he wanted

to build a School-house, to admit of two schools, for the accommodation of Children of Colour, males and females separate. And as soon as the income arising from said school will admit (or other means obtained) to procure a well qualified person, to assist him therein. He also has it in view, as the school increases, to reduce the price of tuition, so as to make it more easy to parents of children. . . . he solicits the aid of the Benevolent minded, in hopes that he will meet with encouragement in his undertaking; believing it will be a means of laying a foundation for that which may be of lasting benefit to this neglected class of the community; whose welfare he has sincerely at heart; and is disposed to devote his whole time and attention, without any view of any thing more to himself than a reasonable and moderate living.

Hooray for Donaldson, right? Sounds like good news for the lower-income African-American children of Philadelphia. The catch was, these schools never opened.

Eventually, in 1822, the emerging public-school system of Philadelphia opened a tuition-free school for African-American kids on Mary Street. In 1826 Philly opened a second, the “Gaskill St. School for Negro Girls,” and the Mary Street School became boys-only. In 1828 they added another segregated tuition-free African-American school on Lombard Street.

The take-away? Let’s assume Mr. Donaldson had a pure heart and good intentions. He was a Quaker, a member of the Society of Friends, and he already worked as a teacher in the tuition-charging church school for African-American kids, so he doesn’t seem like a bad guy. As he stipulated, let’s assume that he only wanted to make a “reasonable and moderate living.” He thought the market could support a school for African-American kids. He thought Philadelphia’s wealthy elites could be cajoled into coughing up some of their money to pay for it.

He was wrong. Philanthropy wasn’t enough. Good intentions weren’t enough. Vim, vigor, and smarts weren’t enough. When schools are left to follow market forces, only people with money benefit.

From the Archives: The Best Name Ever

Found this fellow in 1825:

InkedSir Manly Power Malta_LI

…that’s SIR Manly Power to you.

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Just because I’ve been stuck in the 1810s all week doesn’t mean you have to be. Here are some of the top ILYBYGTH-themed news stories from 2019 for ya:

NPR podcast on the history of evangelicals and politics.

Yes: Schools can’t FIX America, schools ARE America. At The Atlantic.

Where are all these school-Bible bills coming from? Mark Chancey digs into the “Project Blitz” playbook. At TBaI.

How do parents feel about the creepy no-excuses style of discipline? At EdWeek.

The Black and Latino parents we interviewed in a no-excuses middle school valued discipline, but viewed it as more than rule following. They wanted demanding academic expectations alongside a caring and structured environment that would help their children develop the self-discipline to make good choices.

Student protests get expensive: Oberlin ordered to pay $11 million for libeling local bakery as “racist,” at IHE.

  • Will the punishment make cautious university presidents re-think their support for student activism? Here at ILYBYGTH.oberlin protest real

I’ve been deep in the 1800s all week. What have you missed from the archives?

InkedAnti Vaxxers had no rights_LIOuch. So this principal totally copied his graduation speech from—you guessed it—Ashton Kutcher.

Teaching evolution without alienating creationists, at TC. HT: AP.

It is not the role of educators to forcefully convert doubters into accepting evolution, but to build an inclusive classroom that encourages those less comfortable with the concept to willingly engage with it. What is important is that all students can explore and understand the theory in a context that doesn’t force them to choose between science and their religious beliefs.

No big surprise: Cutting funding hurts students, at The Economist.economist test scores smaller

From the Archives: When Did We Stop Expecting School to Be Violent?

It’s an awkward thing to say, but I’ll say it: schools have always been violent places. Since the Columbine shootings, it has become traditional to mark 1999 as the start of an era of school violence. Historically, though, there has never been an era in which schools have not been violent.InkedSchool Violence Was Expected in 1830_LI

I understand that we’re talking these days about a grim new form of school violence–the mass shooting. And please don’t get me wrong: I abhor school shootings and school violence of any kind.

As I claw through the archives today doing research for my new book, though, I came across another bit of evidence that school violence has always been an expectation. When Louisville set up its free public school system in 1830, it created a short list of rules to handle expected problems. One of them was student violence. As the Louisville rules stipulated,

For violent or pointed opposition to his authority in any particular instance, or for the repetition of any offence, the instructer [sic] may exclude a child from his school.

Between 1830 and now, we seem to have lost the expectation that students will occasionally be violent. We seem to have stopped saying out loud that when we coop students up together for long stretches of time, some amount of violence will be likely. Why? Is it just politically expedient to pretend that schools could be violence-free?

I’d love it if schools could be violence-free, but it seems to me we gain nothing by pretending to be shocked that schools experience violence. Like our forebears, let’s assume the worst and hope for the best.

From the Archives: Mandatory Vaccines Are an American Tradition

I admit, I don’t ever actually talk to anyone who opposes vaccinating their kids. But if I did, I can imagine they might protest that mandatory vaccinations are somehow un-American, that people are free to do what they want in America. Or maybe they would insist that their religious liberty to avoid vaccines is a constitutional right. Or something.InkedAnti Vaxxers had no rights_LI

In the archives today I came across a little vaccinatory surprise. In either 1827 or 1830, Philadelphia set up a society to establish “infant schools.” These were schools for young children, under six years old. Even back then, Philadelphians assumed that women would be running these kinds of pre-schools.

They also assumed that only vaccinated kids could attend. As they stipulated,

Children, male and female, under the age of six years, may be received into the Infant School, or Schools, provided they be free from all contagious disorders; but no child shall partake of the benefits of the institution unless it shall have passed regularly through the vaccine disease, or whose parents or guardians will not consent to its immediate vaccination upon introduction to the establishment.

For Philadelphians, at any rate, the notion that kids could be subject to mandatory vaccinations was as American as apple pie.