There shall be no perforated cardstock exchanged today at Salemwood Elementary School in Malden, Massachusetts: the school has banned Valentine’s Day in the interest of cultural equality:
David DeRuosi, superintendent of Malden Public Schools, defended the principal’s decision – explaining that with new residents and new mandates “certain traditions we have to modify and adapt.”
If you’re scoring at home, that means they are sending and receiving Valentines anyway. That’s even more ridiculous than the idea of cancelling Valentine’s Day altogether. They’re doing all the same stuff, just calling it something else. It’s a lot of motion but no progress.
There are four really ridiculous points here:
1. Cultural Equality through NO CULTURE FOR ANYONE
The administration at Salemwood has a tough task, and no doubt they try their best to deal with a diverse student body. Still, how does one arrive at the conclusion that the best way to be multi-cultural is to be non-cultural? The best way to include outsiders isn’t to eliminate customs; inclusion means including them.
This is an American cultural holiday, even if it has its roots in a religious celebration. This is about large corporations influencing buying decisions through heavy media inundation, and there is nothing more American than that. If you’re new to the nation, this is a good lesson.
In the interest of the good ol’ American melting pot, it’s also a good idea to reach out to parents and ask the ones who may be able to do so to buy an extra pack of Valentine cards in case someone in the class doesn’t have the extra scratch to buy those precious perforated cards. And of course, such transactions need to be on the down-low.
Also with inclusion in mind, teachers aren’t out of line to send every student home with a full list of his or her classmates, so that he or she can sit there the night before and write out all their names on those cards. This mode of torture will ensure that every child gets a card, and that every child practices their penmanship.
2. Valentine’s Day cancelled. EDUCATION CRISIS SOLVED!
The whole episode conjures the mental image of a principal or any other educational official, struck with insomnia staring at the ceiling of his or her bedroom. Nationally, our school are struggling, math and science scores are through the floor, and any improvement will have to come on a shoestring budget.
Which problem to address first? Apparently, holidays are the major impediment to learning, and must be restrained. The answer to why our students aren’t keeping up? They must feel uncomfortable in the classroom.
(By the way, who is more uncomfortable at school than the nerds? And they get awesome grades.)
Truthfully, these folks may sit around for six days out of the week thinking of brilliant new ways to get kids to suck less at math, and we’d never hear about it because the national media wouldn’t cover it. (And if they did cover it, no one would retweet it.) With that grain of salt taken, this is one of the ideas from a brainstorming session that ought to be swiped off the white board as quickly as possible.
And note that Valentine’s Day is not being eliminated so that the students can spend more time doing multiplication tables. Actually, if you talk to the principal, it isn’t being eliminated at all…
3. Wait, they aren’t using this extra time to learn more?
How is Salemwood using all the time saved by passing out Valentine’s Cards?
[Principal Carol] Keenan said they were not cancelling Valentine’s Day. Instead, the elementary school is going to celebrate a modified version.
“Every student is making a friendship card for another student,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that every single student is given the opportunity to get a card and to also give a card. I didn’t want some students feeling left out.”
So it’s just a rebranding deal? It sounds like Salemwood is in cahoots with Carlton Cards, trying to cut into a Hallmark Holiday.
It isn’t clear how much though, effort, and study went into trading out Valentines for Friendship Cards, but it was too much. Cancellation of classroom celebrations in favor of more time doing multiplication tables might sound less fun, but at least there would be a clear rationale.
4. Watch your language!
The most disturbing aspect of Salemwood’s reasoning?
Keenan also addressed the language barrier – noting there are 400 students in the school who don’t speak English.
She feared they “wouldn’t understand the concept of having to bring a card or get a card.”
Read that again: There are 400 kids in the school who don’t speak English. That’s not just a big hurdle to communicating with their peers, it’s a potentially huge impediment to finding a well-paying job and establishing a successful life in this country.
Cancelling or rebranding the concept of Valentine’s Day doesn’t help these students, but devoting some time to teach them English probably would.
Two stories that have been floating around in the last week haven’t really been connected in most media coverage, but they should have been.
The first is the US Department of Education’s website designed to “increase transparency” by providing prospective students with information on college costs – including tuition and fees and rates of increases over the past few years. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the hope is to keep students from being “saddled with unmanageable debt.”
Another story is the ongoing effort to exterminate for-profit colleges – the Strayers and Phoenixes of the world. Last month the Obama Administration promised new rules on for-profits; earlier this week several Democrat Senators pounded their chests and released a statement condemning schools that exploited GI Bill benefits after they saw a story it on PBS. (Of course, now that a statement has been released, the problem is sure to be cleared up.)
As a sidebar: When did seeing something on TV become a reason to make a statement? Shouldn’t there be more study and consideration that goes into an official statement?
The Senators’ statement comes a few weeks after the Obama Administration promised to regulate for-profit colleges. These so-called educational institutions, it seems, receive large amounts of federal funding through student aid programs and other grants but often leave students with student loan payments and questionable career prospects.
If that sounds familiar, it should, because that’s how just about every other institution of higher learning operates.
Tuitions and fees at saintly non-profit colleges have skyrocketed in the past several decades precisely because the cost of education has been so subsidized – from easy student loan programs to Pell grants to federal work study programs that pay two thirds of a student worker’s wage. (Another sidebar: It just dawned on me that, due to the Federal Work Study program I once ran a snack bar with federal aid. That means federal tax dollars went toward making sure people in Coolidge Hall at UMass got exceptional grilled cheese sandwiches served to them. Suddenly, the existence crippling deficit makes a little bit more sense.)
How much have tuition rates risen? Enough to motivate the Department of Education to launch a website so that students could keep score and avoid overpriced schools. It’s a good thing those schools aren’t making money, too, or they’d be facing new regulations, too.
My latest post over at Pundit League talks about the Obama White House’s attempt to shift the focus on budget debates from the money to the benefits. This month, they’re talking about education as a sacred cow; future budget battles are sure to treat other programs similarly. As difficult as budgets are, it’s still a tough sell to cut back on government programs everyone is used to.
But what if those programs, for lack of a better-refined and focus-group-tested term, suck? That reality may be the best arrow in any small government Robin Hood’s quiver.
The Heritage Foundation points out that a boom in education spending has not bought higher performance in America’s public schools. Thomas Sowell made a similar point this week, when he wrote about the allegedly ecologically friendly policies of urban liberals in San Francisco pricing low- and middle-class blacks out of the city. Private unions – who represent workers who actually have to worry about their jobs – are concerned that the EPA would cause layoffs from companies forced to spend extra complying with extraneous regulations.
For each of these programs and others like them, there’s always talk about the benefits. But as Speaker Boehner said this week, “Talk is cheap.”
The other night, I got to witness first hand some of the hard work being done by the Oakton High School robotics team. Two teams of high school students build machines to accomplish certain tasks, controlled by both pre-programming and direct remote controls. It’s pretty amazing stuff to say the least.
What struck me about the room was the presence of community volunteers. There were parents and teachers, of course, but also folks with no children or job at the school. I spoke at length with one mentor, who had retired from his career, and gave some of his free time to the robotics team. Several encouraged me to become a mentor as well. When I joked that I doubted I could match the students’ knowledge of the subject matter, the reply was an only half-joking suggestion that the important thing was asking a lot of questions anyway. The students don’t need people to teach them knowledge, just someone who can help them think through problems.
This became apparent when watching the students – tinkering with sensors, motors, nuts, bolts, and computers with a mix of determination and invincibility. Whatever challenge they saw in their robots – a program not performing as expected, a misfiring sensor, or wheels failing to grip an incline – there were never questions about whether solutions existed, just an eagerness to find where they were hidden.
(There was a corporate sponsor too, which is good because the competition can cost a team up to $8,500 just to build a robot.)
It’s interesting that some form of the gizmos these high school students were building in a near-deserted school may one day exploring Mars. It’s also interesting that few of the participants were getting paid any money to turn an unused high school shop class room into the staging are for the next generation of technology. Even for just a few hours, it was nice to see a place where commitment to education was not measured in dollars and cents.
Two guys who got rich when people lost their homes are telling anyone who will listen about the possible insolvency of for-profit education. Steve Eisman and Manuel Asensio point to the fact that colleges like the University of Phoenix rely heavily on student loans, thus inflating their revenues and stock prices.
It seems like a straight business argument – that a market financed by personal debt would go the same route as housing and auto sales did in the last few years. But flipping through Eisman’s presentation on the issue tells otherwise. Eisman complains of placement stats and advertising practices with anecdotal evidence of nurses working as hospital janitors and billboards lining homeless shelters. His speech reads like a hit piece on for-profit education; Asensio’s organization piled on by asking the Department of Education to investigate the industry’s business practices.
Some of the points are fair, and it deserves the question: why has enrollment in for-profit education jumped so markedly that it necessitates these altruistic crusades from people who profit on falling stocks? It might have something to do with the fact that a college degree from a traditional school isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.
This puts the questions about Elena Kagan’s Ivy-league background – and the prospect of an all-Ivy high court – into perspective. It’s not (as some critics suggest) that she and the rest of the court went to schools that are “elite”; rather that they all went to one of two or three schools. Whether the schools are Harvard, Yale, and Brown or UMass, UConn, and URI. We know that the idea of the elite school is a crock – the problem is the lack of diversity of thought.
My former employer, the Leadership Institute, is collecting information on college commencement speakers through its Campus Reform blog. And, instead of emailing their contacts and scanning the internet looking for that information (as we used to do back in my day) they’re relying on the wisdom of crowds to help them fill in information. Users who don’t see their school or alma mater on the list can email the information, presumably to LI Worldwide Headquarters in Arlington, Va.
The list, predictably, shows a leftward bias, so LI further helps out by sharing tips on how to take action and provide a counter to the speakers.
Hopefully LI’s call to action will result in student-filmed user videos of the commencement speeches themselves. Most of the big speakers – such as President Obama and other national politicians – will have their comments on C-SPAN, of course, but that won’t be the case for everyone. Wouldn’t you be interested to see the things discussed during commencement season?
USA Today points out that fewer than 2% of all teachers nationwide lose their job due to poor performance, thanks in large part to teachers’ unions.
In Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont — states in which fewer than half of fourth-graders are proficient at reading or math — the average school district did not remove a single tenured teacher in 2007-08. It’s no wonder: Dismissing one teacher can cost upwards of $100,000, and the legal struggle can drag on for years.
In a related note, the California Teachers Association leads the Golden State in campaign contributions. And Michelle Rhee has been publicly lambasted for her successful efforts to improve DC’s public schools.
The tragedy, of course, is the creation of a system which rewards bad teachers and fails to reward the best teachers. But then again, for teachers unions, is education really the point?
Google has released their 2009 Zeitgeist report – a summary of popular search trends along various topics. Lists like this are usually predictable – the most-searched-for baseball team was the Yankees; the alphabet soup of AIG, GM, and TARP led bailout-related searches.
But search results can also give a good concept of popular thinking on key news topics. For instance, the top term used in healthcare-related searches is “Obama.” That seems to indicate that, for better or worse, people are closely identifying the President with the health care reform issue. Also interesting is that the Heritage Foundation was the #5 search term in this category – which could mean that Americans are open to hearing alternatives to what has been circulating on Capitol Hill.
Google also looks at localized search topics for several major cities. Movie theaters and school websites dominated the results, especially colleges. In DC, the top term was “fcps blackboard” – the portal for the Fairfax County public school system. This actually says a lot about the Washington, DC workforce and commuting patterns. (I knew I had company on my daily commutes into and out of Your Nation’s Capital from Merrifield, but had no idea it was enough to alter search results; Metro clearly needs more trains.)
That education websites are so popular also notes another trend. Around the Thanksgiving table this year, my soon-to-be brother and sister in law commented that they hadn’t seen their daughter’s recent report card, despite the marking period having ended. They explained that they just check her grades online.
Pollsters can call voters, ask questions, track answers, and get a pretty good idea of what folks are thinking. Still, there’s an element of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in that method – that the very act of measuring could affect the responses to poll questions. Internet searches are somewhat anonymous.
As the old saying goes, you are who you are when no one is watching.