kitchen table math, the sequel: Liberals and Pearson...(thinking out loud)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Liberals and Pearson...(thinking out loud)

After my musings about "real conservatives" versus "real liberals" and their respective (and hypothesized) reactions to Pearson, Hainish's comment  cracked me up:
Liberals hate Pearson. Teachers hate Pearson. Anything that ties Pearson with CC is going to result in those groups of people hating CC.

So, quick follow-up: I have no business talking about "true conservatives" and "true liberals"!

But since I did....

The feeling that political conservatives 'have to leave public schools' came over me so forcefully, as I read Moore's chapter on The American Experience, that I sallied forth.

What I was trying to say but not saying (because I was beating around the bush) was that I think Pearson's American Experience textbook would be offensive to conservatives in an immediate and visceral way that it would not be to liberals -- except for liberals who are much better educated than most Americans, including me.

That is: an American like E.D. Hirsch. E.D. Hirsch, a political liberal, would find The American Experience appalling.

I'm not saying conservatives are better educated than liberals!

I'm saying that the values informing The American Experience (assuming Moore's analysis is accurate, which I do) are pretty much anathema to conservatives but not to liberals.

(A lot of liberals I know would find the values annoying. But annoying is not anathema.)

Liberals are going to dislike the content (Hainish is right on that one!), but conservatives are going to dislike the content and the values -- and at some point people reach a tipping point.

That said, the fact that I had such an intense, visceral reaction reading Moore on Pearson tells you more about the quality of Moore's book than it does about conservatives and liberals. The book is a tour de force.

Disciplinary specalists redux

Public education would be a lot less fraught if disciplinary standards were written by disciplinary specialists.

Here's an example.

Terrence Moore, a political conservative, has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Edinburgh.

My husband, a liberal, is a historian at NYU.

Moore's explanation of why it's wrong to base an entire discussion of the Declaration of Independence on the observation that when Thomas Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" he really meant "all white men are created equal" was pretty much a revelation to me. It was a revelation to me because I know next to nothing about the debates and politics that surrounded the founding of our country.

The next morning I mentioned Moore's chapter to Ed, who proceeded to give me the same reasons why it's wrong to base an entire discussion of the Declaration of Independence on the observation that when Thomas Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" he really meant "all white men are created equal."

History is a discipline. You can be conservative, you can be liberal, doesn't matter. If you're a historian, you're against anachronism and presentism. You also possess -- and remember -- knowledge about the specific circumstances surrounding the finding of our country.

I do realize that politics can affect scholarship. (And I can't tell whether literary studies are or are not a proper discipline at all these days).

Nevertheless, not only do I personally want my disciplinary standards written by disciplinary specialists, I think that if disciplinary specialists wrote disciplinary standards, we'd have less education wrangling than we do now.


kcab said...

Does anyone like Pearson?

I don't know of anyone who does, except maybe district office folks. I'm not certain about that either.

Hainish said...

kcab, Everybody hates Pearson!

Allison said...

I can't think of any counterexamples either...

To the larger point, current conservative hatred of Common Core is actually because conservatives had given up, over 40 years ago, on fighting any actual content battle in public k-12 schools. they lost the battle of school prayer, and then largely walked away from trying again. Maybe here and there, they complained about sxe ed or some such, but they had no ideas, and paid no attention to the core disciplines at all.

So when they were woke up by loud bellringers shouting "Common Core!", what they saw was, for them, an unmitigated disaster, as if a hurricane had blown in.

But the hurricane blew in 40+ years ago. They just hadn't been paying attention. And had offered no content based ideas or reforms in that time.

SteveH said...

I'm not sure why anyone would want to identify themselves as politically anything. I once thought I was liberal, but I decided I was not going to climb on anyone else's bus. It might be fun learning and singing their songs, but I didn't want to be used. Isn't that what this is all about, being co-opted by others? I specifically remember Charlie Rangel from New York once talking about "his people" on CNN during election commentary, and I saw the flash of recognition in the interviewer's eyes. I think Rangel saw it too.

Educators love to co-opt poor urban kids as justification for whatever they want to do. This gets comical and tragic when they end up fighting against urban parents who are desperate to get their kids into charter schools.

When people say that they are a liberal, conservative, socialist, or libertarian, what are they trying to do? Are they clearing things up or are they just setting things up for a vague argument or a love-fest? Perhaps it's the idea that one submits oneself to the greater power and good of the political agenda or party slate.

My getting off the bus started back when Phil Ochs sang about liberals. We need more people who are issue focused rather than party or philosophy focused. Education is polarized by politics even though many who fight for good education come from both sides of the aisle. We've seen over the years many rabid bloggers who can't seem to deal with that idea.

froggiemama said...

History, aka social studies has been badly taught as long as I can remember. I went to school in the late 60's through late 70's and mainly remember social studies as a combination of American mythology, rabid conservatism (The Commies are coming!) and swoop-in multiculturalism. This was largely in a very conservative state, but the younger teachers were liberal in that late 60s way, so we got an odd mishmosh.

And this gets to the real point - social studies in K12, in most countries, is NOT about the study of history, at least not in the way historians would understand such study. It is about passing a national vision onto the young. That is why state legislatures take such inordinate interest in social studies. Here in NY, the Irish potato famine must be taught. Illinois mandates "genocide education". Utah mandates that students read the original text of the Constitution and the Mayflower Compact. And judging from the outcry from the Chinese over the way that WWII is taught in Japan, we are not alone in this. My experience of history class in a French high school was the same - it was all about celebrating French accomplishments. So, I do not think we are ever going to get to the place where history is taught in K12 in a way that historians would understand as history.

Kai Musing said...

Hainish and Kcab -

Pearson used to publish Hirsch's Core Knowledge History Texts... so that's one plus among a million minuses.....

Hainish said...

SteveH: I think they're simply attempting to *describe.*

(Of course, the idea of a spectrum from left to right is really a sort of map that bounds the territory...but that's a whole other issue.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Allison - love your description of conservatives waking up and discovering an unmitigated disaster.

(I say that with affection for conservatives!)

Steve H & all -- since I'm in the husband-quoting business today, I'll deliver Ed's view on the parties, which is that you have to have them -- and that, historically speaking, two-party systems are better than more-party systems.

I'm sure he's right about that.

Here in NY, it's actually illegal for the parties to field candidates for school board. Everyone has to run as his or her own person, taking the issues as s/he sees them.

The result is a disaster across the board.

We'd be far better off if Democrats and Republicans debated school issues.

Of course, we don't have a lot of Republicans in New York, either, so ..... that's another issue.

Nevertheless, the absence of political parties doesn't result in the presence of individual thinking and advocacy.

It results in run-away superintendents and Writing Workshop.

Catherine Johnson said...

The triumph of social studies over history was one of the first victories of progressive education, right?

Didn't that happen in .... gosh. When was it?

I'm thinking the first half of the twentieth century.

Catherine Johnson said...

In the Pearson American Literature book, English is social studies, too.

Catherine Johnson said...


We run into this problem when social studies educators have the final say on standards. Within the debate among social studies educators, the focus has been the tension between the inquiry approach and the content coverage approach. The inquiry folks dominated from the sixties to the mid eighties, when the content folks responded to the Bradley Commission Report. NCHE, AHA, and OAH have pretty much come down on the content side until now, but with Common Core and C3, the inquiry folks are making a well-funded comeback. (For an excellent summary of the debate see David Jenness, Making Sense of the Social Studies, 119-164).

Catherine Johnson said...

Ok, I remembered!

It was the first half of the 20th century.

Here's Ravitch: A Brief History of Social Studies

Hainish said...

"Here in NY, it's actually illegal for the parties to field candidates for school board. ... We'd be far better off if Democrats and Republicans debated school issues."

I'm going to make a radical suggestion: We'd be better off if we didn't have school boards.

Replace the current system with: Site-based school administration, school choice (no more strict geographic boundaries), and funding allocated to each student through state or federal, not local, means.

(That last one has been proposed by a conservative think tank - Cato or AEI, I think.)

Hainish said...

I thought the Pearson book was a history text until I looked it up on Amazon! (I wonder if it's 50 percent informational text... the intention of CCSS is that the informational text be presented as part of social studies and science courses, not that they invade literature.)

Hainish said...

"We both agreed that multiple-choice questions measured short term memory rather than than historical thinking skills."

But not long-term memory? I'm not sure what to think of this guy.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm going to make a radical suggestion: We'd be better off if we didn't have school boards.

You won't get an argument from me on that one!

Catherine Johnson said...

Hainish - who are you quoting? (On multiple-choice...)


His take on teaching & liberal education is verrry interesting --- not what I expected at all, but tremendously compelling.

I'm going to post passages on the purpose of education---

He's not a multiple-choice guy, that's for sure.

And his discussion of "two-bit lit crit" made me cringe (because two-bit lit-criti is about the best I can manage...)

Hainish said...

The quite is from Peter Horton (I think), from the Living in Dialogue blog.

Now I'm curious who I *would* get an argument from. And I don't mean to just school boards, but to the whole package (no locally-funded school districts, no district boundaries, but lots of choice). I'll add to the package: external assessments that matter a whole lot, but are fully optional.

ChemProf said...

I would take Hainish's deal.

I will say in my own district, conservatives and libertarians are mostly opting out of public schools. My own local school is actively hostile to conservatives, not that there are many of us around here. One reason my kid will be driven 35 minutes to a charter (admittedly a homeschooling charter so we only have to do it once a week) rather than walk the block to our district school is so I don't have to be that mom who argues that "I am a citizen of the world" is not a nice non-ideological title for the winter (of course not Christmas) concert.

However, I don't think that's the problem locally with common core. I am in an 80% Democrat area and don't talk politics with local parents (unless they are also out as homeschoolers who tend to run more libertarian). I'm seeing a lot of complaints about "common core math" that is really about reform math, but Californians haven't seen reform math in the last decade and it is being sold as Common Core. That's where I'm seeing the resistance, not in terms of the politics (which yeah, I find appalling -- some of the second amendment materials are jaw dropping, but if the local high school teachers wrote their own materials, the material wouldn't differ much anyway) but in terms of weird math and too many math drawings.

My own interest in the topic is admittedly limited, as I'm planning to expose my kids to as little common core (as practiced in California) as I can get away with, given changes to the SAT, etc.

ChemProf said...

I also tend to think Allison is right about conservatives waking up with Common Core. Most conservatives have done what most parents do: figure that education in this country in general is messed up but that their local school is good. Suddenly, that formulation was challenged and they really looked at what the local school was doing, which is described as "Common Core" even though it wasn't really any different before Common Core came through.

Hainish said...

Chemprof, it just makes me wonder what those parents were looking at before they noticed CC. Didn't they notice the bad math teaching? (Or did it just not register, because it didn't have a label attached to it?)

kcab said...

I'm not sure if this fits better in the Terrance Moore comment thread or here, but I know Hirsch has written about the term "progressive" education before. I'm able to find this:
but am still looking for another column on the topic that I recall reading.

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ChemProf said...

Hainish, I'm not sure why people didn't notice the bad math. It may just be that having a label and having it associated with government (instead of the school district which seems like something an individual should be able to impact, as untrue as that may be). However, with my daughter starting kindergarten this year, I'm spending a lot of time talking schools with other parents, and am amazed at how few parents really care about curriculum in general. When we ask about the middle school, which academically is a mess, all we hear about is the after school musical program, the band, and the cross country team. I think it takes a lot to get beyond "my kid loves her teacher."

Auntie Ann said...

Think about what it takes to understand the quality of your kids' math curriculum.

First, I think you have to have done pretty well, or at least were average, yourself. If you were indifferent towards math, you might not have any higher expectation for your own kid. Their math might look just fine to you.

You also have to have been taught well yourself. Someone who had a bad math education and sees their kid getting a bad math education will have a hard time figuring out that there is a problem.

Next, you have to not only be able to remember what you were taught, but roughly in what grade it was taught. Was I taught common-denominator fraction addition in 4th or 5th? If I can't remember the year, I can't tell if my kid is behind.

You also have to stop and think about the path your kids are on an where they will be at the end of high school. If you never stop to think that universal 9th grade algebra (which apparently is the Santa Monica, CA schools' position--no advanced tracking for anyone) means your kids will not be able to take calculus in high school, you can't protest it. Our kids were in an Everyday/Chicago math school, and we are probably the only parents who pulled up the curriculum's website and looked at the yearly sequence. We were thus the only parents who realized that the school's sequence was so slow that kids would top off at pre-calc in high school. If you never stop and think about it, you don't know what's wrong.

You also have to get beyond the "trust the experts" mentality that I find keeps parents in ignorance and teachers in power. We were actually told, at one point, that the school were the experts and we had no right to an opinion--and we probably knew more about the issue at that point than they did, because we had spent weeks on Google Scholar pulling journal articles.

Finally, you have to have the time and energy to fight the fight.

Hainish said...

"am amazed at how few parents really care about curriculum in general."

Yup, they have no idea.

What amazes me is how few *teachers* really care about curriculum.

ChemProf said...

I think the "trust the experts" problem is huge. I was talking with another mom at swimming. She was talking about going to her second grader's school for "common core" meetings. She was the one frustrated by the requirement that he draw things after he knew his math facts.

Now, her math is pretty good - she's an accountant - but still when she asked my opinion she explained that I must know something about the math curriculum because I taught college science (so was a completing expert). She wasn't willing to trust her own gut, even though the teacher wasn't grading her kid's homework and she thought the assignments were a waste of time.

Allison said...

Auntie Ann is right, but it goes further.

First, just to extend how little parents can see, even id they had any way to evaluate what they saw:

What do you get to see as a parent? In K, the students count. They eat chocolate chips after they count them ho hum, who cares.
In grade 1, they learn some adding and maybe subtracting. What do you see? Textbooks? Not a chance a book comes home anymore--a strong belief it won;t come back if it does. In Everyday Math, there was no book to come home anyway, and that was on purpose. Homework? Practically none.

You get papers on Friday, after it has been taught, too late to intervene. Then the spiral changes the subject before you can see what was or wasn't learned.

But that largely continues through all of elementary, and you don't see how terribly your child is doing until middle school. And then, who but the best versed in what should be taught, would ever guess that the Problem is US curricula, and ed schools AS A WHOLE? No, you first guess it is your kid who is the problem. (the school does nothing to dissuade this viewpoint.) Then maybe you surmise the problem is a teacher. How many years is it before the pattern emerges for a given family that the problem is beyond a school, beyond a principal, but actually the national instruction?

Allison said...

k-5 teachers didn't care about math curriculum because by and large, they were the ones least successful in math in the first place. It was a field that never made any sense to them.

So what appealed were the textbooks that emphasize sense-making over procedure and mastery, except the sense making only worked because of their massive procedural background knowledge. Knowledge, note, that their kids didn't and don't have.

So the vast majority really believe that fuzzy math was and is better than kill and drill.

And they were right, because the meaning behind the procedurally heavy texts had been removed by the 70s too. There wasn't anything written that was competent anymore. And so the remaining slide down accelerated.