I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Happy December! The ILYBYGTH International offices moved this week to the Situation Room to monitor the “War on Christmas.” But we still had time to gather these stories we thought you might like:

“Education is a business.” Libertarian abandons public schools, at Reason. HT: MM.

History majors keep declining, at AHA.

Background on the missionary-killing Sentinelese at NYT.

Creationism? Evolution? Glenn Branch looks at fifty years of struggle for better evolution education at SA.

How Berkeley students are freeing speech, at IHE.

Oh, wow. The weird, wild scam history of evangelical Olivet University, at NYT. HT: MG.

Tennessee study: Big boost for students who have an African American teacher, at NBER.

Is education a civil right? Students in RI sue for theirs, at the Atlantic.Suzanne WilsonHow to avoid solving educational problems, c. 1942, from Larry Cuban.

When I think of (and listen to) current debates about problems like inequality, racism, and poverty as they influence what teachers do, how schools operate, and effects on students, I recall many times when I heard and saw school board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, and parents engage in what Diederich [described in 1942].

Creationism, eh? New poll about evolution and teaching creationism in Canada, at NCSE.


I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another week has come and gone. Here are some stories that flew by our editorial window:

More on Evergreen State: Michael Aaron argues that we should see it as a “mo/po-mo” battle, “a petri dish for applied postmodernism.” HT: MM

Why are American schools getting more segregated?

Does America need more “intellectual humility?” Philosopher Michael Lynch makes his case in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Words, words, words…

Southern Baptist Convention: Kicking out LGBTQ; wondering about the “alt-right.”

Nerd note: Drew Gilpin Faust stepping down as Harvard’s president.

Nerd follow-up: Who’s in the running to replace her? How about President Obama?

The libertarian case against public education.

DeVos continues to make long-held conservative educational dreams come true. The latest? Announcing a plan to scale-back civil-rights enforcement.

Michigan jumps in. The university at Ann Arbor announced a free-tuition program, joining similar plans in Boston and New York.

How can we improve lame and uninformative student evaluations of college classes? How about teaching partnerships?

Shakespeare takes center stage in culture-war showdown: A conservative activist disrupts a production of Julius Caesar.

Battle Map!

Where have Americans fought over public schooling?

The libertarian Cato Institute has put together a clickable Battle Map to help readers locate educational controversies.  Readers can search by state, by year, or by the type of conflict.  The Cato folks broke down school battles into such categories as curriculum, freedom of expression, gender equity, human origins, moral values, racial/ethnic diversity, reading material, religion, and sexual diversity.

Of course, the folks at Cato aren’t just providing a nerdy public service for those of us interested in studying cultural controversies.  The point of this exercise, from Cato’s perspective, is to prove that public education “divides [people], forcing them into conflict over whose values and histories will be taught, and whose basic rights will be upheld . . . or trampled.”

To this outsider, Cato’s argument seems a little strained.  After all, just because many family dinners turn into shouting matches, does that prove that dinner is a bad thing?


Libertarians and the Common Core

What’s a libertarian to do?

Will new Common Core State Standards exert a deadly centralizing impulse on all types of school?  Will independent options winnow down as private schools seek to prepare their students for new standardized tests?

That’s the worry articulated recently by JD Tuccille in the pages of libertarian flagship Reason Magazine.

Tuccille pointedly refutes the canard that the new standards are some sort of sinister conspiracy to agglomerate educational power in the hands of distant federal agents.  The problem, he writes, is more banal.  New tests aligned with the standards will likely exert pressure on independent schools to match their curricula to those of the public schools.  As he concludes,

Under the circumstances, “Waldorf,” Montessori,” “traditional academy” and “IB” risk becoming Coke vs. Pepsi brand names peddling similar products—assuming they can even survive the transition costs.

Private and religious schools, while mostly exempt from legal mandates to adopt Common Core, are also under pressure to toe the line. Some that accept tax-funded vouchers are required to adopt the standards to continue in such programs. Others find that non-Common Core-compliant textbooks are becoming difficult to find. And the biggest motivation might be the move by college entrance exams to test for mastery of Common Core standards.

Of course, as Tuccille notes, parents can always exempt themselves and their children from this pressure by opting out of institutional schooling entirely.  But for those folks who value free choices in education, it does seem palpably evident that any success for standardization will represent a narrowing of those choices.


What’s the Matter with Vermont? Nullification and the Politics of Public Schooling

Vermonters want out.  Some of them, at any rate.

In the pages of The American Conservative, Kirkpatrick Sale reviews a new volume about a surprisingly long-lived secessionist movement in the Green Mountain State.

What do the new nullifiers want?  According to Sale, the freedom-fighters depicted in Most Likely to Secede have several related goals.

Vermonters want to take back control from the federal government in such areas as food policy, gun control, marijuana laws, and, of most interest here, public education.

Learning, according to volume editor and essayist Ron Miller, can be done better in Vermont.  Learning can be liberated from costly and nonsensical federal mandates and standardized testing.

As quoted by Sale, Miller wants “holistic education . . . an educational culture that respects and encourages learning on a human scale, that supports caring and loving communities of learning.”

Such goals, Miller argues, put right-thinking Vermonters at odds with an “authoritarian educational policy” dictated by Washington DC.  Freedom will come from refusing federal dollars, so that Green Mountain schools can be liberated from the mandates of centralizing bureaucrats.

Does nullification stand a better chance in Vermont than it did in South Carolina?

When it comes to education policy, refusing federal dollars is a tall order for cash-strapped states.  This is especially true when the ultimate goal is as mushy as “holistic education.”  Conservatives of all stripes make a politically powerful argument when they advocate for direct local control of schooling, or when they fight to keep objectionable ideas out of local school curricula.

It is much harder to fight for local control when the goals of that control include a new vision of what education can be.  As historian Arthur Zilversmit demonstrated, anything new in schooling faces a brutal uphill battle.  As Zilversmit concluded, most Americans, presumably even in Vermont, share a “strange, emotional attachment to traditional schooling patterns” (page 169).

Independent schools, in Vermont or anywhere else, only stand a chance when they have independent funding.  That will not likely soon be the case for public schools in breakaway Vermont.