kitchen table math, the sequel: Thoughtworld

Monday, June 2, 2014


I had just dipped back into Hirsch's The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them when Lisa J. posted a link to a lecture by Terrence Moore, whose book The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core turns out to be a barn burner: a barn burner and a tour de force, take your pick.

Reading Moore, I have the recurring perception that "real" conservatives, conservatives of the heart, simply have to leave the public schools because the gap between Pearson and a "conservative of the heart" can't be bridged. Not on the ELA side. (I say "Pearson" because the most appalling section of Moore's book is  Chapter 7, a lengthy analysis of Pearson's Common Core literature textbook for high school juniors.)

My sense of "liberals of the heart," at least where Pearson is concerned, is much less clear. Any liberal who is well-educated in history or literature would be appalled by The American Experience Common Core Edition, but how many Americans are well-educated in history and literature these days? Certainly not me. If you don't know anything about the Declaration of Independence, you also don't know why it's so wrong to base an entire discussion of the Declaration of Independence on the breezy assertion that when Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal," he really meant all white men are created equal. (I didn't know.)

So I'm guessing that, for many politically liberal parents, textbooks like Pearson's will seem not-completely-horrible, superficially at least.

Then again, Moore's sobriquet for the powers behind Common Core is "the arch testers." He is no slouch in the anti-testing department, which I had heretofore assumed was the province of parents voting for Democrats. And here in New York, of course, the parents who actually are "opting out" are largely left of center (I assume), if only because the population is largely left of center. The gap between liberal and conservative parents looks pretty small to me.

But who knows? I can't get a clear read on the politics of Common Core. But, more importantly, I can't get a read on what is happening inside the institution of public education. All I can come up with is that someone, at some level of decision making, has messed up very badly. Very badly.

Which brings me to the reason I opened up my Blogger window in the first place, which was to post a quote from sociologist Diane Vaughn in the Times video on the Challenger explosion:
"We can never resolve the problem of complexity, but you have to be sensitive to your organization and how it works. While a lot of us work in complex organizations, we don't really realize the way the organizations that we inhabit completely inhabit us."

Diane Vaunghn (The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA)
Major Malfunction: Revisiting Challenger | New York Times
"The way the organizations we inhabit completely inhabit us": Exactly!

She could be speaking of Hirsch's thoughtworld:
Why do educators persist in advocating the very artifact, anti-rote-learning, antiverbal practices that have led to poor results--persist in urging them, indeed, even more intensively than before?

The basic answer is this: Within the educational community, there is currently no thinkable alternative. Part of essential American educational doctrine has consisted of the disparagement of so-called "traditional" education. The long dominance of antitraditional rhetoric in our teacher-training institutions has ensured that competing, nonprogressive principles are not readily available within their walls. No professor at an American education school is going to advocate pro-rote-learning, profact, or proverbal pedagogy. Since there is only one true belief, expressed in one constantly repeated catechism, the heretical suggestion that the creed itself might be faulty cannot be uttered. To question progressive doctrine would be to put in doubt the identity of the education profession itself. Its foundational premise is that progressive principles are right. Being right, they cannot possibly be the cause of educational ineffectiveness.


In sum, since progressive doctrine cannot be at fault, the only proper cure for our ailing schools is homeopathic "reform," that is, even stronger doses of progressive principles administered even more intensely. E.D. Hirsch 
There it is. There is the explanation for why the Common Core reading standards, in spite of their references to the importance of knowledge, are turning English into social studies.

Review of The Challenger Launch Decision by Samudra Vijay


Anonymous said...

You know that ED Hirsch is a democrat, right?

palisadesk said...

The long dominance of antitraditional rhetoric in our teacher-training institutions has ensured that competing, nonprogressive principles are not readily available within their walls. No professor at an American education school is going to advocate pro-rote-learning, profact, or proverbal pedagogy.

That is definitely a great exaggeration, and undermines the validity of the writer's POV. Sure, the so-called "constructivist" approach is dominant, but it is far from ubiquitous. The ed school I went to was very pro-explicit teaching, pro sage-on-the-stage, pro rote learning (in its place), pro mastery of a body of knowledge and skills. The education department was small and not a big moneymaker for the school so perhaps that was a factor, but that university was and is far from alone. You may have to look around but there are programs that have a fairly rigorous introduction to teaching via empirically proven approaches etc.

Their value is great, because there is evidence the orientation a teacher candidate takes from his/her preservice training stays throughout his or her career. In my case (and others I know say the same) the initial thorough introduction to explicit teaching practices was virtually an inoculation against the fads that came after.

froggiemama said...

The reason you can't get a read on the politics of Common Core is because you are looking at the wrong thing. Really, everyone is.

There are really three things going on: the move to standardized testing, and evaluating teachers based on tests, which happened BEFORE Common Core, the Common Core standards themselves, and the efforts of the K12 education world to turn Common Core into whatever they wanted it to be. The reason the anti Common Core folks are so incoherent is because they do not understand this, and are unable to separate the components from each other. This is why you see liberals screaming that Common Core isn't progressive enough, and has too much test-prep. They are confusing Common Core with the testing movement. They really need to focus on the testing movement and stop conflating that with Common Core. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to be objecting mainly to the way that the education establishment is implementing the standards, and also simply to the fact that Common Core is a national standard, and conservatives are inherently allergic to anything that is national. Conservatives tended to like the testing part, at least they did when it was George Bush pushing testing.

In my rather progressive opinion, the testing part is horrific, and in particular, using tests to evaluate teachers is horrific and leads to the kind of teach-to-the-test that many of us deplore. But this ALREADY HAPPENED. My oldest kid spent his entire 4th grade year doing test prep packets, years before Common Core. This is what people do not seem to get. The testing pony left the barn years ago, and it will still be out of the barn if we get rid of Common Core.

I really like the Common Core standards. My district has dramatically improved instruction since they went to it 2 years ago. They have eliminated many (not enough, IMHO) of the time wasting arts and crafts projects. My youngest did not have to spend first grade math drawing pictures of math facts like 2+3. My oldest, in 8th grade, is now being held to a writing standard far above what my current college students are capable of. I am really hoping that I will see improvements in my college students skills as we move to a generation who has actually been taught to use evidence from the text when writing about it. I am hoping I might finally get students in my CS1 course who actually understand placevalue and have some number sense. We will see.

Hainish said...

Liberals hate Pearson. Teachers hate Pearson. Anything that ties Pearson with CC is going to result in those groups of people hating CC.

Catherine Johnson said...

Testing is intrinsic to C. There were 14 members in the CC ELA "Work Group"; 6 of them were from testing companies.

I was peripherally in touch with 'policy makers' back when Common Core was being thought up, and the focus was entirely on tests.

The thinking (this is from memory, obviously) was that NCLB had produced a race to the bottom, with state tests being dumbed down, so what was needed was a set of harder tests that would prevent that.

The tests had to be national so the states couldn't cheat.

The initial impulse, at least in the precincts I frequented, was entirely about testing.

Catherine Johnson said...

palisadesk - the change to strict constructivism happened .... mid-1980s? Maybe around 1990?

It happened after you attended ed school.

Catherine Johnson said...

Pearson is a serious Bad Actor! yikes! (The longest chapter in The Story-Killers is on a Pearson textbook.)

Catherine Johnson said...

froggiemama - The business of evaluating teachers on the basis of their test scores has SO not worked out.

I would like to see value-add flipped and applied to the KIDS.

Did each student in the school make at least one year's progress in one year's time?

That's the question that matters.

Students who did not should should be caught up.

Catherine Johnson said...

Did I say something that implied Hirsch wasn't a political liberal?

If so, sorry for the confusion.

Hirsch began life as a socialist.

Catherine Johnson said...

Which ed-school programs are dominated by an explicit instruction philosophy?

It would be great to have a list.

I have the sense that there aren't any --- based in people I know who've attended ed school & in the various journals and articles I read coming out of ed schools.

My **impression** is that when ed-school professors focus on explicit instruction they do so somewhat apologetically and without a lot of reference to research in cognitive psychology and learning theory.

Catherine Johnson said...

I also have the sense that David Steiner wants to move Hunter's ed-school in the instructivist direction -- and that it's not easy.