Sunday, August 28, 2016

Should Special Ed. Students be Mainstreamed?

The Huffington Post has an essay here by a mother explaining that her two special ed. children--who both have intellectual disabilities--do better in small, special ed. classrooms rather than mainstreamed into regular classes.

She discusses an issue in education that is very interesting, and very topical.  It's a little discussed issue that special ed. costs are a huge part of any school budget, and are rising rapidly, especially now, I would guess, with all of the children on the autism spectrum.   The original federal law said that children should be mainstreamed whenever possible.  This was written in because years ago children who were disciplinary problems were warehoused in spec. classrooms, and didn't receive much in the way of an education.  All of that is changed now.  Most children on ed plans can be taught in regular classrooms, often with the help of aides.  But some children who have severe disabilities do better in small classrooms set up especially for them, with a special ed. teacher.  The problem is that separate classrooms are very expensive, and school districts often fight having to move children to such a classroom, especially if the district is too small to have an appropriate classroom, and has to pay to have the student educated in a private school.

Personally, I think we pay now or we pay later.  I think every child deserves the very best education possible, whether that's in a mainstream classroom, or a separate one.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

How to Have a Free Marketplace of Ideas

The New York Times has an article here describing a letter sent by the University of Chicago to incoming students notifying them that the university would not sanction the creation of "safe spaces," trigger warnings, or the cancelling of speakers who held controversial ideas.  If the comment section is a good cross-section of the readers' opinions, it seems most people agree with the university.

I agree as well, but when I taught high school English, I explained to my students that I wanted to have a free marketplace of ideas for our discussions, but to make that work, the students needed to commit to maintaining a civility of discourse, i. e. no personal attacks.

That worked very well.  I remember a time when a student told the class that AIDS was God's punishment for men having sex with apes.  She was from a very religious background.  I held my breath, but my students carefully, and clearly and respectfully explained to her what we knew about the origin of AIDS.  On this girl's class evaluation at the end of the term, she wrote that the best thing about the class were the discussions.

So yes: free marketplace of ideas.  But I really think you need a civility of discourse to make that work.  We are in the middle of a presidential election now, and sometimes debates seem to be nothing but personal attacks.  Words like "loser" and "racist" are flung about and, I think,  poison any ability to have a thoughtful discussion of ideas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Freud and ACE's

The New York Times has another article about ACE's here.   It is about the things different communities are doing to help children recover  from ACE's (adverse childhood experiences).  Some of these programs are even being run in prisons, although it has been difficult getting them established there.

I am so happy to see these programs, but puzzled that ACE's is presented as a new idea.  W.H. Auden has a wonderful poem, "In Memory of Sigmund Freud" in which he notes that Freud " . . . wasn't clever at all/he merely told the unhappy Present to recite the Past/like a poetry lesson till sooner/or later it faltered at the line where/long ago the accusations had begun."

It's sad that our culture has drifted so far from Freud's major insight, which I think was that what happens to children will influence their whole lives.  I'm so glad that the ACE movement is bringing us  back to it, but sad that it has taken so long.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Problem with Assigned Reading

A website called Read it Forward has a great essay here on why the author won't borrow or lend books.  What I loved about it was his gripe that when friends gave him books to read, he never wanted to read them because he was going along his own reading path, and this book would interrupt it.

This is what I saw in my high school English classrooms.  For my money, the most deadly thing about English curricula is all of the required books kids are given to read.  It would be so much better if they were given the freedom, and help, to start establishing their own reading paths.  Assigned reading tends to drive out all other reading, and many kids don't even do the assigned reading.  So they read nothing.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Value of Community Initiatives

There is an excellent article here in the New York Times about how community initiatives can help children with high ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) scores.  The author, David Bornstein, gives a good deal of background information on how these initiatives have been funded, and the kinds of community changes they have caused.  The heart of the programs is that local residents identify and lead these changes.  The one I loved was the community that helped their residents who were victims of domestic violence by having the entrance to the shelter go through the local police station.  This sent the message that the police were going to protect victims.  I strongly recommend your reading this whole article.

Here is my "reading" take on it:  Besides a high ACE score, the other thing to pay attention to is the rate of functional literacy in children.  There are many studies on literacy rates, but a blog article by Mike Tikkanen quotes Rubin Rosario's statistics that  show that 85 percent of juveniles who come in contact with the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate.

I don't know anything about Rosario's work, but I do know that my almost forty years in a high school classroom teaching English make me a believer in them.  The kids in trouble were so often the kids who cold barely read.  Poor reading scores ensure that kids will have trouble in all of their classes.  Kids who rarely read also lack the experience of seeing the world through the eyes of different narrators, and so become hardened in their own often dysfunctional view of how the world works.

The solution to this problem is much like the local initiative solutions that Bornstein describes:  well-funded school libraries, curricula that is shaped to be interesting to the local students, parent literacy outreach programs, etc.  National tests and curicula just throw cold water over local efforts to turn kids into avid readers.

Monday, August 15, 2016

I Love Audio Books!

Book Riot has a lament by a new mother here about the difficulty of finding time to read with a new baby. The comments offer plenty of suggestions about pillows, and using kindles, but I didn't see any that offered the really great, perfect solution.

Audio books! You can download the audible app and listen on your phone. And if you put your phone in reduced battery mode, it doesn't even drain the battery much. When you're walking the baby outside you can plug in earphones. In the house, just stick your phone in your pocket and turn up the volume. A book read by a good reader is an amazing joy. I wish I had discovered audio books when my children were babies. Now all of my household chores slide by almost unnoticed while I'm listening to one of my favourite books.

I find books that are slightly comic are the most fun--authors like Jennifer Crusie and Georgette Heyer. I'm listening to Faking It by Jennifer Crusie now, and I'm laughing out loud sometimes. Audio books are so much fun. And being able to listen to them on a phone means they can go anywhere with you--way better than the cassettes I used to use, and then the CD's.

How Do Kids Learn Empathy?

Salon magazine has an interesting article here about a practice in Danish schools of setting aside an hour every week for a classroom discussion of problems or issues, with a treat, such as cake, to enjoy afterwards.

The purpose of this practice is to teach kids to feel empathy for each other, the idea being that when they hear of each other's problems and issues they will become more sympathetic.  Many of the comments, however, noted that when they were in a group like this, the group often ended up abusing certain kids. 

I think anyone running a group like this needs special training so the group does not devolve into an abusive, blame certain kids kind of exercise.  I prefer that schools teach common courtesy, which involves being polite to everyone, and not shutting certain kids out.

I've always noticed in my many years of teaching that many of my most empathetic kids were the avid readers.  I think continually being pulled into different narrators' viewpoints enlarged their own.

Teachers are Mandated Reporters

The Washington Post has a heartbreaking story here about a seven-year-old boy who was so hungry he was trying to sell his teddy bear for food money.  When the police investigated they found four more older boys also living in the home, which was filthy, and filled with trash and empty liquor bottles.  It's difficult to read the story without getting tears in your eyes.

 As a high school teacher for almost forty years, I'm wondering how this could have gone on for any length of time.  Surely there would have been some sign of abuse or neglect on at least one of those children.  Teachers are mandated reporters.  Did no one see anything?  A couple of the boys were old enough to be in high school.  I am never surprised that abused or neglected kids don't speak up themselves, but by high school they usually have friends, and I know that I usually learned about abusive homes from friends of the victims.  Teachers out there:  Keep your eyes open!  And don't assume that if you just tell Guidance that a report will also go out to the police.  Call the police yourself.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Holding Kids Back

The Washington Post reports here on a new policy in Florida:  students whose parents refused to let them take the state mandated standardised tests in third grade will not be promoted to fourth grade, no matter how academically competent the kids are--and some are honor roll students.  I had to read the article twice this morning just to believe it.

Wow.  Talk about a really unbelievably stupid policy.  New research shows that holding back failing students just makes them more likely to fail and eventually drop out.  And this study was done with students who had trouble achieving.  Imagine how demoralizing it will be for students who have worked hard all year, gotten good grades, and are then blocked from advancing to the next grade.

Plus, of course, it costs a substantial amount of money to have many students repeating a grade.  The school district will have to hire more teachers, and build more classrooms. 

And, of course, the main point is that the best way to find out how well students are reading is to find out how much they are reading.  Only kids with a love and habit of reading acquire sophisticated reading skills.  Schools should worry about building a love of reading in their students and stand with parents on the destructiveness of multiple standardised tests.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Most Important Reason for Reading

The Washington Post has an article in their Health section here that describes that describes new research showing that readers live longer than non-readers.  I was glad to see it, although I don't think adding a few years to the end of your life is the most important reason for reading.

The best reason for reading is that it enriches your life.  And it certainly enriches your children’s lives.  Kids who are avid readers read better, write better, concentrate better, and do better in all of their subjects, across the board.  I taught high school English for almost forty years, and found that it didn’t even matter much what my students read, as long as they had a love and habit of reading.  Many of my best readers, as kids, read comic books, fantasy and romance and mystery series, and much popular fiction.  A love of reading is the best educational gift you can give to your children.

Should Grandparents Babysit?

The New York Times has an interesting article here on the kinds of issues that arise over the topic of grandparents babysitting.  Be sure to look at the comments.  Personally, I think anytime we care for someone else, our own life gets richer and more satisfying.