Journal of Educational Controversy


Thursday, December 31, 2009

Essays on Ecologically Sustainable Educational Reforms

One of our authors in our current issue on "The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty: Rethinking Poverty and Education" has announced his new online book that is available for downloading as part of the "cultural commons." You can find the book, Essays on Ecologically Sustainable Educational Reforms by C.A. Bowers, by going to Also check out Chet Bower's article in our journal entitled, "Rethinking Social Justice Issues Within an Eco-Justice Conceptual and Moral Framework."

Below is the table of contents for the book:

Essays on Ecologically Sustainable Educational Reforms
By C.A. Bowers

Chapter 1 Making the Transition from Individual to Ecological Intelligence: The Challenge Facing Curriculum Theorists

Chapter 2 The Limitations of the Daniel Goleman/Wal-Mart View of Ecological Intelligence

Chapter 3 The Hidden Roots of Cultural Colonization in Teaching English as a Second Language

Chapter 4 Reflections on Teaching the Course “Curriculum Reform in an Era of Global Warming”

Chapter 5 University Reforms that Contribute to the Revitalization of the Cultural Commons

Chapter 6 The Environmental Ethic in Three Theories of Evolution

Chapter 7 Educating for a Sustainable Future: Mediating Between the Commons and Economic Globalization

Chapter 8 The Imperialistic Agenda of Moacir Gadotti’s Eco-Pedagogy

UPDATE: For readers who have had difficulty finding the book, here is a direct link:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Even Diane Ravitch has Now Changed her Mind

Diane Ravitch, who was once the great advocate for test-based accountability and other reforms so favored by our current Secretary of Education, has come to see the realities of these reforms once they are implemented in the schools. Her forthcoming book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, brings into question many of her earlier commitments. In a recent talk, Ravitch says, "Where once I had been hopeful, even enthusiastic, about the potential benefits of testing, accountability, choice, and markets, I now found myself experiencing profound doubts about the same ideas.” In explaining her change of mind, Ravitch says, “What was the compelling evidence that prompted me to reevalute the policies I had endorsed many times over the previous decade? Why did I now doubt ideas I had once advocated?” she asked. “The short answer is that my views changed because I saw how these ideas were working in reality.”

Here is the link to her recent talk that I found on the Paul Thomas' blog.

The Journal of Educational Controversy is planning an upcoming issue on the topic, "Schools Our Children Deserve." We hope to begin a more substantive national discussion on the purposes of our public schools. Some of today's most progressive thinkers will be contributing to the conversation.


For an interesting review of the book, see: the Sunday, February 28, 2010 post,
The Death and Life of the Great American School System, on the Education Policy Blog.

If you are interested in reviewing the book for our upcoming issue, e-mail us at:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Zinn Education Project

Our readers may want to check out a new website called, Teaching a Peoples History -- the Zinn Education Project.

It is a collaborative effort by Teaching for Change and Rethinking Schools.

Influenced by Howard Zinn's classic book, A People's History of the United States, as well as his other works in revisionist history, this website provides educators and viewers lessons and resources for teaching a fuller, broader perspective on the history of the United States. Check it out.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

“American Indians in Children’s Literature” Blog

I have been following a very informative blog that would be helpful for teachers who are trying to understand the rich cultural lives of an increasingly diverse student population in our schools. Called, “American Indians in Children’s Literature,” it helps teachers to grow in their understanding, appreciation and discernment of Native American literature. It also corrects so many of our misconceptions. Actually it goes beyond just books and says its mission is to provide "critical perspectives of indigenous peoples in children's books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society-at-large." As always, we try to bring our readers multiple perspectives on issues.

If you are aware of other resources that would expand our understanding of the cultural diversity of our students, please let us know in your comments to this blog and we will share them.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Today’s New York Times Editorial on the “Over-Punishment in Schools”

Here is a link to some follow-up information from the media to our new You Tube posting below on the “School to Prison Pipeline.”

Entitled, “Over-Punishment in Schools,” today’s New York Times editorial talks about the concern we raised over the increasing criminalization of our students that has resulted from school policies and practices that channel students from the public schools into the juvenile justice system.

The editorial alerts its readers to the increasing awareness by social justice advocates of policies put into place in the last decade in schools across the country:

“… juvenile justice advocates across the country are rightly worried about policies under which children are sometimes arrested and criminalized for behavior that once was dealt with by principals or guidance counselors working with a student’s parents.

“Children who are singled out for arrest and suspension are at greater risk of dropping out and becoming permanently entangled with the criminal justice system. It is especially troubling that these children tend to be disproportionately black and Hispanic, and often have emotional problems or learning disabilities.”

One of the problems identified has been the overpolicing in the schools. The NY Times editorial talks about an attempt to address this issue by the New York Council that has drafted a bill called the Student Safety Act. One of the goals of the act is to bring greater accountability and transparency to the issue.

The editorial describes the goals of the act as follows:

"The draft bill would require police and education officials to file regular reports that would show how suspensions and other sanctions affect minority children, children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Detailed reports from the Police Department would show which students were arrested or issued summonses and why, so that lawmakers could get a sense of where overpolicing might be a problem.

"Most important, the bill would create an easily navigable system under which parents, students and teachers could file complaints against school security officers. This provision comes in response to a 2007 report by the New York Civil Liberties Union, which said students were being roughed up for minor infractions like talking back or walking the halls without a pass.

We would be interested in sharing actions taken in other states. Readers who have information on their state are encouraged to share it with our readers on this blog.


Here are links to a December 14, 2009 op-ed from the New York Times entitled, “Judging our Children,” and a December 16, 2009 editorial entitled, “De-Criminalizing Children.”

Both articles continue the conversation. The latter article urges Congress to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act of 1974. The act had required the states to humanize their juvenile justice policies in order to receive federal funds.

Another op-ed article from the NY Times on March 5, 2010: Cops vs. Kids

From the March 18, 2010 issue of the NY Times: School Suspensions Lead to Legal Challenge By Erik Eckholm

The latest from a NY Times editorial of September 18, 2010: One Strike and They're Out

Monday, November 23, 2009

New YouTube Clip Now Online! "School to Prison Pipeline"

In the excerpt below, ACLU staff attorney Rose Spidell discusses "The School to Prison Pipeline." This term describes a disturbing national trend in which school policies and practices are increasingly pushing students out of the public school and into the juvenile justice system. It refers to the current trend of criminalizing our students rather than educating them and the disproportionate effect it has on different student populations, especially, students of color. Spidell also describes some case studies out of Washington state. The excerpt is taken from the 2009 Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum held at Western Washington University on April 29th. The forum is an annual event sponsored by the Journal of Educational Controversy. Readers can view the entire forum on our journal's website.

View the full video of the forum here:

To learn more about "The School to Prison Pipeline," visit the ACLU's website here:

Education Policy Blog: Creating a Democratic Learning Community

Education Policy Blog: Creating a Democratic Learning Community

Check out the link above from the Education Policy Blog for more on Sam Chaltain's new book that we discuss in the post below.

Friday, November 20, 2009

American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community

Many of our readers will remember Sam Chaltain’s article, “Ways of Seeing (and of Being Seen): Visibility in Schools,” that we published in our winter 2008 issue of the journal on the theme, “Schooling as if Democracy Matters.” Sam is the National Director for the Forum for Education & Democracy. In his article, he describes the current state of invisibility so many students experience in our schools and lays the groundwork for rethinking the role of school leadership. “The central challenge in any organizational culture," writes Chaltain, "is to help people become more aware of the inner place from which they operate." Chaltain has now developed his ideas further in a new book, American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community, published by Rowman & Littlefield Education and featuring a foreword from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. If you are interested in reviewing this book for a future issue of our journal, please contact We are thinking about experimenting with a new video review format. If you have the expertise and would like to try this new format, let us know.

Below are some of the advance reviews of the book:

"Our country's ongoing commitment to democratic principles can only be actualized if democracy lives in our public schools. This book reveals how schools can help students and teachers see and hear one another, create a strong community, and develop the sensibilities and skills for democratic life. It provides a framework for democratic leadership that is accessible, actionable, and grounded in good pedagogy."—Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University

"Sam Chaltain expects schools to do more than merely give their students knowledge of the world. By helping them to make themselves known to the world, he believes that they will be able to meet the democratic goal of taking responsibility for it. This book offers ideas and practical examples."—Ted Sizer, founder, Coalition of Essential Schools and former Dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education

"A powerful concept provides the organizing theme of this refreshing book: our nation's school leaders must strike the right balance between freedom and structure in order to create healthy, high-functioning learning environments. But there is a pervasive, more subtle one that slips along with the turning of the pages: the curriculum provides knowledge and skills relevant to daily functioning, but the persona of the teacher powerfully shapes the becoming of each unique being."—John Goodlad, president, Institute for Educational Inquiry

"Sam Chaltain has written a provocative, daring book, one that tangles with how best to create community and tolerance within the walls of a school. Chaltain is on to something - that an understanding of freedom is essential to creating active, engaged citizens, and that supporting individual freedoms need not negate an orderly, structured environment. I urge you to read American Schools."—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

"I want to thank Sam Chaltain for writing this book. I wish I had the guidance of his ideas when my colleagues and I created our own network of public schools. Sam explains through personal stories and case studies how the visible can become visible, how the disengaged can become engaged, and how structure and freedom can complete a well-rounded education. Sam shows education leaders how student achievements can be enhanced, how teachers can be supported to use their talents and interests to learn from one another, and how the larger community of parents and citizens can be mobilized to become part of the ongoing creation of powerful schools. What separates this book from others on school leadership is its clear set of doable practice focused relentlessly on the public purpose of schools. Sam is a much talented writer; lyrical in his descriptions, humorous in his candor, and greatly respectful of educators who try each day to be true to their larger calling."—Carl Glickman, professor at the University of Georgia

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Friday is the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: When will the U.S. Sign On?

In our first issue of the journal, Nadine Strossen, the former president of the American Civil Liberties Union shared the following concern with our readers in her article, ” Keeping The Constitution Inside The Schoolhouse Gate--Students' Rights Thirty Years After Tinker V. Des Moines Independent Community School District.”
She wrote:

“Most importantly, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,[7] which the United Nations General Assembly adopted unanimously in 1989, broke all records as both the most rapidly ratified and the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.[8] Out of all 193 nation-states in the world, only two have not ratified this convention.[9] It recognizes broad rights for minors….
“Alas, though, of the two countries in the entire world that have not ratified this convention, one is our very own United States.[11] The only other country that is our companion in this tiny category of non-ratifiers is Somalia.[12] And that is only because Somalia does not have an internationally recognized government, so it is literally unable to ratify-an excuse that is not available to the United States![13] The United States Government's refusal to ratify this international convention protecting minors' and students' rights in part reflects our country's longstanding general isolationism concerning international law.[14] But it also reflects the recent subversion of young people's dignity and rights throughout our domestic political and legal systems.[15]”

This Friday, November 20th, will mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The United States has still not ratified this treaty in which the world community recognized the universal human rights and protection needs of children. During his presidential campaign, President Obama recognized the need to review our treaties in order to ensure that the United States resumes its role of global leadership in human rights. This Friday, on its 20th anniversary, would be a good day for the Senate to finally ratify the treaty. (It had been signed by President Clinton in 1995 but never ratified by the Senate)

For more information on the Convention on the Rights of the Child , go to Unicef website.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Education for Liberation Network Launches New Online Community Forum

In an effort to keep readers of the Journal of Educational Controversy informed on the widening conversation about education across the nation and the globe, we will be using this blog occasionally to update you on other movements. Tara Mack has just announced a new online community forum established by the Education for Liberation Network that I mentioned in an earlier post. Check it out at

From Tara Mack:

Dear Educator,

I am excited to announce that the Education for Liberation Network is now launching an online community that includes discussion forums, member profiles, online chats, groups, an events calendar etc. Please check out this exciting new tool for bringing our community together and register today (

This new forum also offers the network an opportunity to share the latest news from the fight for a more just education. You'll find recent headlines on the Community Home page in the Just Ed and More Just Ed Headlines section. I will be gathering news items and updating that section once per week. But I need your help to make that site a rich source of information.

Over the coming weeks and months please send me timely articles, blog posts, videos etc. related to liberatory education, both in the classroom and in the wider community. More specifically the items should be education, education organizing and youth organizing related news that prioritize the perspectives, needs and concerns of marginalized communities. This site could be great resource for our community, but only if lots of people contribute. I will publish as many of them as I can.

I hope you will become a member of this online community!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Paideusis Recognizes Editorial Board Member William Hare with Special Issue

The current issue of Paideusis. an International Journal in Philosophy of Education, published by the Canadian Philosophy of Education Society, has just published a special issue with papers from their last year's conference in celebration of the retirement of Professor William Hare from Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Professor Hare is a member of our editorial board and published the article, "Ideological Indoctrination and Teacher Education," for our summer 2007 issue.
Check out the articles in Paideusis.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Alfie Kohn to Speak in Bellingham

Author Alfie Kohn will speak on the topic, "Schools Our Children Deserve," on Friday, October 9th at 7pm at the Syre Auditorium, Whatcom Community College. The event is sponsored by the Whatcom Day Academy and the Explorations Academy in conjunction with the Journal of Educational Controversy.
The journal will be publishing a special issue on this theme in the future that will be dedicated to Alfie Kohn, who has agreed to write the prologue. Kohn's concerns and progressive ideas for schooling are exemplified in our partner school, the Whatcom Day Academy. The Academy partners with the journal and the Woodring Educational Institute for Democratic Renewal that houses the journal in an effort to highlight a vision of the kind of school all children deserve and to engage the public in a national dialogue on this topic.
Stay tune for videos and articles as we create this vision.
Alfie Kohn's website.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Reflections from a Freedom Writer Teacher

Editor: The next issue of our journal will be on the theme of "Art, Social Imagination and Democratic Education" and will appear soon. We have interpreted art in that issue very generically to include visual art, music, performing art, and theatre as well as literature and poetry. Kirsten Jensen, an English teacher at the Nooksack Valley High School here in Washington state, has joined a very interesting movement started by Erin Gruwell called the Freedom Writers. Some of you may be aware of Gruwell's foundation and her earlier book, The Freedom Writers Diary. A graduate from our own MIT program here at the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University, Kirsten wrote of her experience teaching reading and writing workshops in Gruwell's latest book, Teaching Hope: Stories from the Freedom Writer Teachers." In the Bellingham Herald recently, she described her goals, "Often (teachers) try to control what students do, and I think it's hard to step away from that...The whole Freedom Writers experience ... has been one of the most impactful professional development activities for me." Kirsten joined other freedom writer teachers along with some of her own students at Village Books, our town's independent bookstore, to share her experiences with teachers and others in our community recently. In her post below, Kirsten describes her use of "memoir" writing as a way of helping her students find their own voice. We thank Kirsten for sharing with our readers another innovative way to create a democratic classroom.

The Power of Memoir Writing, Relevant Literature and Diversity Education in a Fight for Educational Equity; A Freedom Writer Teacher’s Experience

by Kirsten Jensen
Teacher, Nooksack Valley High School

Every year a new stream of students enters through our classroom doors, each with his or her own story that either supports their educational success, or makes it all the more difficult for them to make it a priority in their lives. Over time, some of these students have experienced moment after moment of disappointment and failure and are beginning to give up on the possibility of achieving a passing grade or even graduating from high school. I have these students in each of my classes in a Washington State rural, low-income school.

I remember the first time I began teaching Memoir writing. One day I asked students to leave their composition books for me to read. That night as I flipped through the pages of each notebook, I found myself shocked and saddened by the obstacles many of them faced. That same week a fellow teacher left the book The Freedom Writers Diary in my box in the teacher’s lounge. That night I read through entries written by Erin Gruwell’s 150 students from Long Beach, California. Students who were dealing with homelessness, drug addicted parents, avoiding deportation, teenage pregnancy, and abuse at home, I couldn’t help to see some similarities between these students and my own. I contacted the Foundation to find they were starting a teacher-training program to train 150 teachers in the methods that helped Gruwell’s students achieve educational success. The vision of the Freedom Writers Foundation is to publicly and systematically promote an educational philosophy that honors diversity and gives all students the opportunity to reach their full potential. The Foundation empowers students and teachers through curriculum, outreach and scholarships to help break the cycle of inequity that still continues in our educational systems. This was the reason I entered the teaching profession.

As I got off the plane in Long Beach I was greeted by teachers from around the country and Canada, all with a similar visions and passions for teaching. We learned ways to engage students in meaningful and relevant curriculum, teach students to write, read and listen to each others stories and experiences, teach Holocaust education and diversity awareness, and most of all, form relationships that allow all voices to be heard in a safe classroom community.

When I returned to my students, I witnessed some that seemed to have become "failure-acceptors" experience moments of success and begin to see that with motivation and work they could feel a sense of accomplishment. By getting the right book in the right student’s hand at the right time, a student was able to actually read a book for the first time, read more books, and perhaps become a life long reader. By getting students to develop some sense of empathy through diversity awareness teachings, the safety in my classroom increased and more students felt comfortable and willing to share their personal writing and experiences with others.

Every student has the potential to contribute something positive to our community and world. By finding ways to reach students that often fall through the cracks and help them experience success, more students will graduate high school with the skills they need to become contributing citizens to our world. These citizens may one day have their own children that they will be able to support and help to experience this same success. Education has the power to help affect the social inequities that exist in this country. Helping all students find voice and relevancy in their education may be the first step.

The Freedom Writers Foundation is still accepting teachers into its training program in Long Beach. For more information visit

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Blog on Poverty and Education

For our readers who would like to continue their understanding of issues on poverty and education that was the focus of our Winter 2009 issue of the journal, "The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty: Rethinking Poverty and Education," I came across a new blog this morning that might be very helpful. It is called, "Living and Learning in Poverty." According to the blog, the blogger, Paul Thomas, is an associate Professor of Education at Furman University, who has taught high school ELA in North Carolina for eighteen years at a rural school with "significant poverty issues."

This is his description of the blog's purpose and goal.

"This site is dedicated to storing and exploring all available research and resources related to poverty as it impacts the lives of children and the learning of children....Our society and our schools are failing our children, but not in ways often popularized in our wider discourse about schools. Our free society is still plagued by social inequities related to gender, race, and affluence—all of which are accidents of birth placed upon children. Our schools remain reflections of our social inequities, but in order for those schools to help children attain the empowerment that is also their birthright, society must lay a more solid and level foundation for children before school and during their education.This site is dedicated to housing the best possible data available for all stakeholders in the lives of children—including the children themselves—in order to overcome the plague of poverty in the lives and learning of children."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Where are the Voices from the Grass Roots?

One of the purposes of this blog is to promote serious discussion between educational professionals and the general public. In reading much that is printed in the mainstream media like today's editorial in the New York Times - "Accountability in Public Schools," one constantly hears accounts and perspectives from the voices of those who are in power. Where are the voices from the grass roots about their concerns, frustrations, hopes, and challenges to what passes as educational reform in this country. I recently came across a website and a listserv that provides our readers with this alternative perspective. For readers interested in educating themselves on other perspectives, check out the following website and join the listserv of the Education for Liberation Network.


To join the listserv: go to

Description and Purpose: The Education for Liberation Network is a national coalition of teachers, community activists, youth, researchers and parents who believe a good education should teach people - particularly low-income youth and youth of color - to understand and challenge the injustices their communities face.

Teachers may also be interested in their recent publication of a new kind of plan book that is called: Planning to Change the World: A Plan Book for Social Justice Teachers 2009-2010. You can find it at: I am told that the first printing is already sold out, but more are being printed.

(Cross-posted on Social Issues)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Obama’s School Choice: Shouldn’t the education that Malia and Sasha receive be available to all?

Our colleague David Marshak has just published this provocative piece for the August 3rd issue of Education Week and has permitted us to reproduce it on our blog. David is professor emeritus at Seattle University and our colleague here at Western Washington University. In his article, he describes the Sidwell Friends School that President Obama's children attend and asks why all children don't have this kind of education available to them. In asking this question, David exposes the wrongheaded direction that the public school is taking today. All children may not be able to attend this kind of elite private school, but all children ought to attend a public school system that is guided by the enlightened philosophy that shapes this school's vision. In reading David's description of the school, I saw many similarities with our partner school, the Whatcom Day Academy, that I talk about in a post below where we describe the creation of the new Educational Institute for Democratic Renewal that houses the Journal of Educational Controversy. To read about the philosophy of our partner school, the reader can go to the link on our Institute's website. Also check out our YouTube video below and hear teacher, Vale Hartley, describe her classroom at the 2008 Educational Law and Social Justice Forum.


Education Week
Published Online: August 3, 2009

Obama’s School Choice

Shouldn’t the education that Malia and Sasha receive be available to all?

By David Marshak

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants to intensify the industrial, modernist character of American public schools. He wants a longer school day, a longer school week, and a longer school year. He wants national subject standards, which will inevitably lead to one national test. And he wants to institute merit pay, which is a euphemism for paying teachers to produce higher test scores. And this sort of merit pay, combined with national academic standards and one national test, will inevitably result in even more public schools becoming test-prep factories. Thus, more and more of the same.

Every one of these putative remedies grows from a belief that intensification of the command-and-control, modernist, factory model of production is what schools need to improve their performance.

Arne Duncan seems to have no understanding that the most effective organizations in our society, both for-profit corporations and nonprofits, have evolved beyond command-and-control cultures. The author and business professor Peter M. Senge describes these new entities as “learning organizations,” which are built on the foundation of systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning.Senge explains why Duncan’s desire to intensify the factory model of schooling is destined for failure. “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s ‘solutions,’ ” he says. Factory-model schools, though always flawed by racism and classism, worked reasonably well when America was primarily an industrial society. But given our evolution into a more postindustrial culture, the industrial elements of schooling—mass production, rigid time and curricular structures, simplistic age-grading, and depersonalization and alienation—have become the problem, not the solution.

A postindustrial society requires postindustrial, post-modern schools. We could find a good example of this kind of education by following President Barack Obama’s two daughters to school one morning. Since their move to Washington, Malia and Sasha Obama have attended the Sidwell Friends School. It is both private and expensive, but these are not its essential characteristics. Sidwell Friends is more profoundly defined both by the values that it rejects—and by those that it embodies.
Sidwell rejects the modernist, industrial paradigm of schooling that makes school like an assembly line engaged in mass production, that claims all children should learn the same stuff at the same time. It also rejects the modernist claim that children’s individuality and inner knowing are irrelevant to education.
Sidwell embraces a post-modernist paradigm of schooling defined by the following elements:

• Sidwell is a prekindergarten through 12th grade school, with 1,097 students. This is about 84 children in each grade, a small enough number so that no child is lost in the crowd. If Sidwell had a free-standing high school, it would have all of 336 students.

• Sidwell offers “a rich and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum designed to stimulate creative inquiry, intellectual achievement, and independent thinking in a world increasingly without borders.” It does not limit its curriculum to the antiquated 19th-century subjects, as does every set of state curriculum standards—or the new national standards that Arne Duncan is pitching.
• Sidwell encourages its students “to give expression to their artistic abilities.” It does not cut the arts out of the curriculum to focus only on math and reading, as so many schools have done in our testing-obsessed era, but understands that the arts need to be an integral element in every child’s education.

• Sidwell Friends School is a community that values “the power of individual and collective reflection.” It values not only knowledge that is outside the child or teenager, but also what children and adolescents know within themselves. Sidwell encourages reflection and inner knowing, neither of which are acknowledged in any state’s academic standards.

• Sidwell promotes “an understanding of how diversity enriches us,” recruits a diverse student body (39 percent of its students are persons of color), and offers a global and multicultural curriculum.

• In its curriculum and communal life, Sidwell emphasizes “stewardship of the natural world” and engages its students both in learning the science of ecology and in developing the ethics that are at the core of the concept of stewardship: that every individual has a personal responsibility for ecological health and sustainability.

• Sidwell also promotes service, and its curriculum and communal life engage its students in understanding “why service to others enhances life.”

• Sidwell explicitly acknowledges multiple forms of accessing knowledge and truth: “through scientific investigation, through creative expression, through conversation, … through service within the school community and beyond.” All state standards are far more simple-minded.

• Sidwell recognizes that schooling is about both individual learning and learning how to work together well with others. “Work on individual skills and knowledge is balanced with group learning, in which each person’s unique insights contribute to a collective understanding.”

• Sidwell is a school that focuses on personalization of learning and on educating the whole person. “Above all,” its literature declares, “we seek to be a school that nurtures a genuine love of learning and teaches students ‘to let their lives speak.’ ” Sidwell’s central ambition is “to recognize and nurture each person’s unique gifts.”

Yes, Sidwell Friends is an expensive private school; the tuition is about $29,000 a year. And it has one teacher on staff for every seven students—plus small classes and expensive facilities.

But Sidwell’s commitment to implementing a post-modern paradigm of schooling based on the personalization of learning, a global and multicultural curriculum, an emphasis on ecology and environmental stewardship, service to others, multiple forms of knowledge, and personal responsibility and excellence has little to do with money. It’s driven primarily by the value of educating the whole person, and any school in America could enact a program founded on that same value.

If Barack and Michelle Obama have abandoned industrial-paradigm, modernist schooling and have chosen to send Malia and Sasha to a post-modern school focused on the personalization of learning in the context of a caring, responsible school community, isn’t it time for every family in the nation to have the same opportunity?
And if President Obama sends his own kids to such a school, why are he and Arne Duncan advocating policies that would intensify the most defective features of industrial schooling, rather than trying to transform schools to make them more like Sidwell Friends?

David Marshak is a lecturer in the Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University, in Bellingham, Wash., and is a professor emeritus at Seattle University.

First published in Education Week on August 3, 2009.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall Too Radical for Our Students?

Having just posted (below) Nino's song honoring the death of Agustin Gudinon, the farmworker who died of a heat stroke in the fields, we happened to notice this petition on the website of the United Farm Workers. In their petition, they alert the public to a debate taking place over the adoption of new social studies curriculum standards before the Texas State Board of Education. Why are figures like Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall even being challenged?

To read the concerns of the United Farm Workers in their own words, go to their website and see their petition: "Tell Texas not to remove Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall from school books." You can also find news clips on the subject at their website also.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Nina's Song: Honoring a Farmworker who Died

Editor: Nandini Gunewardena, author of "Pathologizing Poverty: Structural Forces versus Personal Deficit Theories in the Feminization of Poverty" that appears in our winter, 2009 issue on "The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty: Rethinking Poverty and Education," sent in this e-mail. Dr. Gunewardena gave us permission to reproduce it on our blog. The author can be reached at: Nina’s song, in commemoration of the life and death of farmworker, Agustin Gudino, gives a human dimension to our articles.


This is to share the poignant song composed and sung by twenty-year old Nina Marie Fernando, my niece (Ramani's daughter), a junior at Redlands University, in memory of a farm worker Augustin who died in the Grape fields due to heat stroke on July 21st, 2005 in Kern County.

She sung this at a prayer vigil last week in downtown L.A. for all farm workers who have died in the fields, including the pregnant teen who died recently - part of her work as an intern at CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), Los Angeles.

The words are below. Click on this link to listen to Nina's haunting voice, and enter "Nina Fernando" in the search field to get to the song. [Or go directly to:

Agustín’s Song

by: Nina Marie Fernando

Escuchanos en los campos
Nuestro dolor y nuestro sueño
Queremos ver los colores
De justicia y unidad

Remember us at your table
How each fruit was plucked with a dream
How we thirst to be acknowledged
How we hunger to be seen

I became a sacrifice
To the sun that gives us life
We are lost, apathetic, in darkness
Shine a path toward what is right
I came here with nothing in my hand
But I had strength in my heart
My voice was silenced, my strength exploited
Now hear my plea
As I stand, take my hand

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Call for Reviewers

The Journal of Educational Controversy is in the process of building a pool of reviewers to assist in evaluating future manuscripts. If you would like to be considered as a reviewer, please e-mail a vita indicating your discipline and areas of interest to: Please include "Potential Reviewer" on the subject line.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Supreme Court Decides Student Strip Search Case

The U.S. Supreme Court decision on the student strip search case was announced today. The ACLU , who represented April Redding, the mother of the Arizona student, Savana Redding, calls it the first victory for student rights in the last twenty years. The High Court ruled that the search that took place when honors student Savana was 13 years old was an unconstitutional violation of her rights. The search was done by school officials on the basis of an uncollaborated accusation by another student that Savanna had ibuprofen in her prosession. Now nineteen years old, Savanna wrote about her experience and her court victory on the ACLU blog today.

Read Savana's own words about her court victory from the ACLU blog:

Civics 101
by Savana Redding

"People of all ages expect to have the right to privacy in their homes, belongings, and most importantly, their persons. But for far too long, students have been losing these rights the moment they step foot onto public school property -- a lesson I learned firsthand when I was strip-searched by school officials just because another student who was in trouble pointed the finger at me. I do not believe that school officials should be allowed to strip-search kids in school, ever. And though the U.S. Supreme Court did not go quite so far, it did rule that my constitutional rights were violated when I was strip-searched based on nothing more than a classmate's uncorroborated accusation that I had given her ibuprofen. I'm happy for the decision and hope it helps make sure that no other kids will have to experience what I went through.

"Strip searches are a traumatic intrusion of privacy. Forcing children to remove their clothes for bodily inspection is not a tool that school officials should have at their disposal. Yet, until today, the law was apparently unclear, potentially allowing for the most invasive of searches based on the least of suspicions. Every day, parents caution their children about the importance of not talking to strangers, looking both ways before crossing the street, and following directions at school. But I imagine they never think to warn them that a school official, acting on a hunch, may force them to take their clothes off in the name of safety. And now, thankfully, they won't have to.

"Our fundamental rights are only as strong as the next generation believes them to be, and I am humbled to have had a part in preserving and promoting the Fourth Amendment to the Bill of Rights."

Readers can read the U.S. Supreme Court decision here.

Editor: The journal recently published some articles on another student rights case, Morse v. Frederick, decided by the U.S Supreme Court in 2007. Readers can read two articles on the case in our Winter 2008 issue on "Schooling as if Democracy Matters."

Visions of Public Education In Morse v. Frederick by Aaron H. Caplan

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus”: Have students’ First Amendment rights to free speech been changed after Morse v. Frederick? by Nathan M. Roberts

(Cross-posted on the Social Issues Blog)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Announcing the new Educational Institute for Democratic Renewal

Talk is one thing; action is another. We hope to engage in both. We believe that action without reflective talk is mindless and talk without action is an opportunity missed. Talk is not empty, however, as proponents of the practical and critics of theoretical knowledge sometimes charge. It is merely an opportunity awaiting reflective action. It provides the interpretive frameworks for new ways of understanding, new paradigms for restructuring our experiences, new challenges to older ways of thinking. Sometimes it adds to the growing body of knowledge that has been provided by those who went before us and on whose shoulders we stand. Other times, it confronts the entrenched orthodoxies that blind us and make parts of our experience of the world invisible to us. That is perhaps why John Dewey believed that there was nothing more practical than a good theory.

The journal is a place for talk, a place to look deeply at the tensions, perplexities and controversies of our time. But we also have an activist, progressive arm. In 2004, the Woodring College of Education and the Whatcom Day Academy entered a partnership to explore the role of schooling in promoting and sustaining a democratic society. Our work is affiliated with the League of Democratic Schools, a project initiated by John Goodlad. Our newly formed Educational Institute for Democratic Renewal incorporates our work in developing the journal and our work with the League. In a special section of our website, we share ideas and innovative practices for democratic schooling. Readers can also view our YouTube clip below of Whatcom Day Academy educator Vale Hartley as she discusses democratic practices in her classroom at the 2008 Educational Law and Social Justice Forum that was sponsored by the journal. Vale wrote the article, "The Elementary Classroom: A Key Dimension of a Child's Democratic World," for the winter 2008 issue of our journal.

On our institute's website, we write that "Our goal is to provide an alternative voice for research and scholarship on the educational controversies and initiatives that arise in teaching and learning in pluralistic, democratic societies." One might ask: an alternative to what? We believe that the language of education today has lost its bearings and its moorings. As I mentioned in my posting of March 27th below, silent assumptions underlying our language have controlled the national debate for decades. The language of the market place has become the language of education. Students are talked about as the human capital that keeps the national economy competitive. Although we give lip service to the democratic purposes of education, the language of the market place prevails and all other discourses are on the edge. In a public school system that serves both democracy and capitalism, the public deserves a deeper conversation of the tensions that exist between these two forces. And educational professionals need more public space to create a learning environment that takes seriously the democratic purposes of our schools.

The Educational Institute for Democratic Renewal at the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University is an attempt to achieve both the goal of talk and the goal of action. It is the home of both the journal and our work in creating a laboratory for democratic practices. The Institute is in its early stages and we will be sharing our progress with our readers of this blog in the future. In the meantime, we would appreciate thoughts and ideas from our readers on what they would like to see from such an Institute. How would it be beneficial to you. Please add your comments to this posting and let us hear from you. Also, does anyone have ideas of Foundations and other organizations that would be interested in joining our efforts and working collaboratively with us?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

New YouTube clips online!

We have four new YouTube shorts from our April 30, 2008 Educational Law and Social Justice Forum, "Schooling as if Democracy Matters."

Clip 1: ACLU Staff Attorney Aaron Caplan discusses the history of legal decisions leading up to the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Morse v. Frederick, also known as the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case.

Go to the video on YouTube.

Caplan's original article, "Visions of Public Education in Morse v. Frederick," first appeared in our Winter 2008 issue, "Schooling as if Democracy Matters."

Clip 2: Whatcom Day Academy educator Vale Hartley discusses democratic practices in her classroom as part of the academy's participation in the League of Democratic Schools.

Go to the video on YouTube
Hartley's original article, "The Elementary Classroom: A Key Dimension of a Child's Democratic World" first appeared in our Winter 2008 issue, "Schooling as if Democracy Matters."

Clip 3: Western Washington University Professor Bill Lyne discusses his article "Beautiful Losers."

Go to the video
on YouTube

Lyne's original article, "Beautiful Losers" first appeared in our Winter 2008 issue, "Schooling as if Democracy Matters."

Clip 4: Our panelists respond to audience questions in a brief Q & A session.

Go to the video on YouTube

View the full forum here.

Come back in a few weeks for clips from our 2009 forum, and the latest installment in our "Talking with the Authors" series!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Call for Submissions deadline approaching

Now that we're already over a week into the month of May we thought it would be nice time to remind everyone that the deadline for our most recent call for submissions is rapidly approaching.

THEME: What is the Role of Professionals in the Public Square

Professionals in all fields -- education, business, law, medicine, journalism, social work, engineering, etc.-- bring a special expertise to the discussion of ideas in the public square of a democracy. At times, democratic decisions or views widely held by the public conflict with sound professional knowledge and other imperatives faced by the professional, and challenge the integrity of the choices that a professional must make in a particular case. Under those circumstances, the professional is left with a decision about the ethical path to follow. This issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy invites authors to compose a dilemma that pits a democratic decision or widely held view against the expertise of professional standards or other imperatives faced by a professional, examine the choices that would have to be weighed, and consider the most ethical position that should be taken. This issue of the journal invites authors from all professions to look at the dilemma from within the context of their own professions.


Please direct your submissions to:

Monday, April 20, 2009

What was the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case all about?

We have posted our second teaser interview from our "Talking With the Authors" series on YouTube.

In it, ACLU staff attorney Aaron Caplan discusses the Morse v Frederick case, in which a student in Alaska held up a banner titled "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" during the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay, and was subsequently suspended for 10 days.

Frederick, who argued that his right to free speech had been violated, took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 2007.

Go to the video on YouTube.

Caplan's original article, "Visions of Public Education in Morse v. Frederick," first appeared in our Winter 2008 issue, "Schooling as if Democracy Matters."

To view Caplan's full interview, visit:

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Journal is now on YouTube

In the interests of getting these educational issues to the largest audience possible, we have begun posting excerpts from our "Talking With the Authors" series. First up is former Ballard High School principal David Engle.

In the fall of 2000, David Engle became the principal of Ballard High School in Seattle. At the time, the Seattle School was implementing an integration plan that allowed families to choose which high school they would like to attend. In the event of high enrollment at a particular school, the district had made provisions for a "racial tiebreaker" to be used, giving minority groups priority over the substantial population of white students in the area. When, after the protests of many of the white neighborhoods in the Seattle area, the 9th Circuit Court ruled against use of the "racial tiebreaker," Engle resigned his position in protest.

Stay tuned for excerpts from our interview with Aaron Caplan, and our forthcoming interview with Bill Lyne.

Go to the video on YouTube.

David Engle's article, "As Our Students Watched," first appeared in our Winter 2007 issue "Jonathan Kozol's Nation of Shame Forty Years Later."

Click here to watch our full interview with Engle.

Monday, April 6, 2009

"American Indians in Children's Literature" Comments on a Recent Article in our Journal

This morning, I came across what looks like an interesting and informative blog called: "American Indians in Children's Literature." On the April 5th posting on the blog, Debbie Reese, a member of the Nambe Pueblo in northern New Mexico and a former school teacher who currently teaches in UIUC's American Indian Studies program, talks about an article that the Journal of Educational Controversy just published in its current issue. Our article was entitled, "Examining Images of Family in Commercial Reading Programs," and it was written by Judith Dunkerly and Frank Serafini. While generally favorable to the article, Debbie Reese raises some interesting questions about the author's account of Native American students in their study. We reproduce the post from her website below, so our readers can consider the concerns expressed and respond with their own thoughts.

Update: Our authors have notified us of an error in their article. The figure for Native American representation should be .9% and not 9%. We will make the correction in the article.

From the American Indians in Children's Literature Website:

Basal Readers
by Debbie Reese

Earlier today I read an article about a research study of basal readers (textbooks used to teach children how to read).

The researchers wanted to see how families are presented in the readers. Here's the citation. Click on the title to go right to the complete article.

Examining Images of Family in Commercial Reading Programs
Judith Dunkerly, M.Ed., Doctoral Student, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Dr. Frank Serafini, Ph.D., Arizona State University
Journal of Education Controversy, Volume 4, Number 1, Winter 2009

The study is definitely worth reading. Texts they studied are:

  • Harcourt Trophies
  • MacMillan-MacGraw Hill Readers
  • Scott Foresman Reading

What stands out for me is the content related to American Indians. In the Findings section of the article, this is under "Ethnicity."

"Ethnic diversity within the basal anthologies more closely mirrored the face of American society statistically. Nineteen (40 percent) of the basal anthology selections depicted Caucasians. Characters of Hispanic and African American descent were portrayed in eleven selections (24 percent) and nine selections (20 percent), respectively. There were seven stories featuring Asian or Pacific Islanders, which made up the other 16 percent. Comparatively, the student population of the school district under study is 9 percent American Indian, 6.6 percent Asian, 28.8 percent Hispanic, 13.8 percent African American, and 49.9 percent Caucasian, figures that are closely aligned with state and national statistics (Population Reference Bureau, 2000).

"While the percentages of race representations in the basal anthologies do favor Caucasians, they are at least comparable to the statistical composition of both national and local populations. However, it is worth noting that while overall portrayals of different ethnicities are fairly representative, 45 percent of children under the age of five are minorities. Coupled with data showing that Hispanics continue to be the largest and fastest growing minority group at 42.7 million people followed closely by African Americans at 39.7 million (U.S. Population, 2006), the comparatively representative portrayal of minorities in basal anthologies will not be so in the near future, if both publishing and population trends continue along the current pattern."

I read that first paragraph several times. None of the stories portray American Indians.

The researchers say the diversity in the readers "more closely mirrored" national statistics. And, they say, the local school district (unnamed) is "9 percent American Indian."

Again, none of the selections in the readers reflect American Indian families.

American Indians are absent from the readers, but, American Indians are absent, too, from the researcher's discussion. They give us that statistic (9 percent) but don't comment on it. To be fair, Dunkerly and Serafini were not looking at Native representation. Perhaps they've written about that elsewhere, and for the purpose of this particular article, it seemed to them unnecessary to note the lack of Native people. I hope, in fact, that they've written about it somewhere, because Serafini teaches in Arizona.

Many stories in readers like the ones Dunkerly and Serafini used for their study are drawn from children's literature. In their discussion of socio-economic status, for example, the researchers refer to Cynthia Rylant's story, The Relatives Came. There's a lot of books like The Relatives Came that publishers can use to portray Native families. One terrific example is Cynthia Leitich Smith's Jingle Dancer. I should head over to UIUC's school collection to see what the basal readers we've got available look like.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Author Bill Lyne Responds To Teachers on "Beautiful Losers"

Bill Lyne, author of the controversial (naturally) article "Beautiful Losers" in our 2008 issue on "Schooling as if Democracy Matters," met with teachers, both university and secondary, and students at Bellingham High School on February 17th, 2009, to talk about the article.

The article is one of the most thought-and-argument-provoking, that we've ever published. I disagree with some of it, and I help to edit the journal. Yet I can't help but see the wisdom of his argument. Lyne's urge to "give up hope to give up despair" created quite a stir with this group of teachers and potential teachers here at BHS. Read on to see what they said.

Bill Lyne, Bellingham High School, 2/17/09

BL: I’d like to start by saying, with some sense of humility, that I hope to learn as much from you all as you might learn from me or more. I don’t know much about teaching high school. I did it for a year and I was fired. (laughter)

This article was written in response to an article by a man named Henry Giroux, in the same issue of the JEC, and it also was in response to the topic “Schooling as if Democracy Matters.” Part of my article began with this question: is there is actually democracy to be had? The other part of the article was in response to Giroux’s notion that now is the time for us to take back our schools from what he saw as mind-numbing corporate influences. I tried to pose this question: we understand that we want to take this back to something democratic, but what are we taking it from? From Dick Cheney? What is it that he imagines us taking it to?

He poses some sort of utopian path where democratic schools are the place where liberation takes place. It seems to me that American history calls that into question. I wanted to at least complicate the idea that schools have ever been that kind of place.

In the line of work that I’m in a lot of people peg me as a professional pessimist. I go around saying “everything is bad bad bad and if you think it’s good this is really bad." So often I get this question: “What do we do?”

It seems to me there are two ways to answer that. One verges toward this kind of romantic utopian thing, you know: “we must feed the children, we must live our lives honorably.” The other answer is “really, I don’t know.” And that is the more honest answer. If you look at the history of the United States, especially under a capitalist arrangement, and if you choose to work in a place like this, or the place where I work, or any public school in this country, you must recognize that these are institutions of the state. Especially in the earlier grades, the job of institutions of the state is more about indoctrination than opening minds. It’s about teaching kids the Pledge of Alliance, Columbus discovered America, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and we used to have a race problem but we don’t anymore.

You deliver some sort of usable and marketable skills, reading and writing and arithmetic, but generally speaking, what institutions of the state, a state that is designed to create a class society, are going to do is continue to reinforce the inequalities of a class society.

Working at any public school, we have to recognize that the possibilities of genuinely or fundamentally changing the society through teaching are really pretty low.

What we’re doing is bound by those restrictions and we probably get into more trouble when we deny that than admit it. Paraphrasing James Baldwin, “We can’t possibly solve all the problems that we face, but we aren’t going to solve any of them if we don’t face them.

Now, the frustration that comes with being unable to have those answers shouldn’t be turned into, “well, those answers aren’t really there.” The first shot is to articulate. That was the problem with Henry Giroux’s article: he was imagining a history of past schools that just didn’t exist.

He gave a lot of exhortation to take back our schools, but had very little practical advice about how to do that, and very little recognition of the kinds of punishments and restrictions that would actually greet anyone who might try that.

Q: There’s a lot of research hush-hush that says that the NCLB and Title 1 and basically what we’re doing isn’t really changing the gap, but is more like obscuring the world and keeping people in misery. I’d like to think that what I do here is good for the world. And now, with this article, I’m feeling rather dejected, and that’s what’s bothering me the most.

BL: Yeah, I get that a lot.

Q: Because I do believe I’m doing good. I do believe I’m making a difference.

BL: And certainly I think that’s probably true. I think that by and large, most people who choose to take jobs where you don’t get paid very much and teach people in public schools are doing really good.

I think that absolutely everybody here in any kind of school is doing good work. The point is to recognize where that work is. We might inspire individual students. We might create opportunities for individual students. But the work that we do is not going to fundamentally rearrange the gap that you’re talking about, not in terms of the gap in access to rewards in society that are created along race lines and class lines.

Which is not to put down the goodness of the work we all do, but also not to over-imagine or over-dramatize about it.

Q: That’s discouraging, but I don’t disagree with the truth of it.

BL: You know, I like to think of myself as an upbeat and cheery guy, yet everywhere I go, people say, “wow, you’re a drag.” (laughter) I think that part of what’s been beat into us is that if we can’t, as teachers, imagine that we’re changing the world, we should feel like failures. Admitting to ourselves that “look, this is a job, it’s got certain rewards and does things for me personally and I feel like I’m helping some people,” but in terms of revolutionizing the world no, I’m not doing that,” well, that can be a liberating realization. We don’t need to feel guilty about telling that truth.

If a truly revolutionary method of teaching becomes too successful it often gets crushed. When the Black Panthers were slaughtered by the state in the 1960s, it was in response not to their guns but their schools. They were incredibly successful with a lot of their programs, many of which were later adopted by the state of California, but in terms of educating the children of black inner-city America, and educating them outside of the curriculum sanctioned by the state—well that became incredibly threatening to the state, and they had a storm of fire raining down on them.

Historically, we see the problem in changing education as an “inside-outside” thing. The metaphor for that is the voting for Ralph Nader. “I’m going to vote for Ralph Nader.” You know, it just made me the nut that my friends suspected I was.

And yet, if you can’t break the status quo and put someone like Nader in office, you must start asking what the point is of voting at all.

Well, the big difference there was that we got George Bush.

This dynamic of inside and outside is one that people in our position struggle with all the time. When I taught high school—for a year in South Central LA, the students 98% black and 2 % Hispanic, with exactly one white kid—I showed up there a freshly scrubbed white boy from the suburbs there to tell them about the history of oppression.

Well, my students knew more about that stuff from the time they were four years old than I ever could. They were actually very patient with me, you know, they said: “That’s very interesting, but right now we have to get paid. You need to teach us how to read or how to do this other job skill. It’s a white man’s world, and you have to show us how to behave in a white world so that we can survive.”

That seems to be a genuine demand to be making. “I need you to deliver to me the kind of skills that were delivered to you as a matter of your birthright that will allow me to make progress within society as it’s arranged. I do not need you to be here talking to me all day about how badly society is arranged. I’ve lived that.”

Speaking again on that whole inside-outside thing, there was one brief exciting moment where I was chair of my department at my university. For years I walked around my department saying, “When I’m chair, I’m going to do this or do that,” and within days I found myself being compromised.

That’s the world of being chair. There was a very carefully circumscribed area. And if you stepped outside of that, your ability to be effective for your department became diminished. If I started screaming about what was wrong, that just made the dean and the the other chairs stop paying attention to me and my department suffered. So I had to be there making deals within the rules.

More to come from Bill's presentation.

For a Progressive President, a Very Nonprogressive Educational Policy

(Cross-posted on the Social Issues blog)

The progressive language implicit in many of President Obama's programs was no where to be found in the educational policy that he unveiled recently in his speech on education. Rather than an imaginative vision on what we need for public schools in a complex 21st century democracy, President Obama fell back on the language of neoconservatives for things like rewarding teachers and more school choice at least through more charter schools. Essentially, his proposal for new mechanisms for making changes in the educational system lacked any discussion on what these changes were meant to accomplish. For example, a recommendation for more charter schools is a rather neutral suggestion. The real question is: for what purpose and to what end? That requires a much deeper conversation about the public purposes of education for a democracy that is constantly reinventing itself. For some, it is an opportunity to introduce new ideas and innovative approaches. For others, it provides an avenue for choices within our public school system that can meet the diverse needs, aspirations and talents of our children. For still others, charter schools have been seen as a path to privatization and the dismantling of the public schools and teacher unions.

But more importantly, lurking behind President Obama's educational policy are the silent assumptions that have controlled the national debate for decades. A genuine national discussion on educational reform requires that we start to discuss that which has been undiscussable, namely, that the language of the market place has become the language of education. Students are talked about as the human capital that keeps the national economy competitive. But, as educational critic, John Goodlad, has constantly pointed out from surveys taken to determine parents' desires for their children, parents' visions are not limited to seeing their children as human capital or workers for a competitive market force. They consistently say that they want their children treated as whole human beings, nurtured in their growth, inspired in their dreams, and empowered in their civic voice. Of course, the usual retort here is that such goals are not inconsistent with the goal of producing a working force for the labor market. That is true. And so is the response by parents whose children have been marginalized in the schools. They very rightly are demanding that their children succeed in a competitive labor market at the same level that the children of the more privileged have succeeded. Both of these responses are legitimate. But the force of the arguments is to silence the national conversation that we should be having. In a public school system that serves both democracy and capitalism, the language of the market place prevails and all other discourses are on the edge. It is that conversation that the public needs to have. Nations are guided by the stories they tell about themselves. What story are we telling ourselves about the public purposes of our schools?

Readers who are interested in looking at the issues associated with "Schooling as if Democracy Matters," may want to read our Volume 3 Number 1 issue of the journal.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Scholar and a 14-Year-Old Take on the Issue of Poverty

With our winter 2009 issue on "The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty: Rethinking Poverty and Education" now being read and discussed by our readers, we thought we might add two more sources that we recently found on the web. One is by a scholar, the other by a 14-year-old on YouTube. We invite your thoughts.

David Berliner's report, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success

14-Year-Old Student, John Wittle, looks at his school's invitation to Ruby Payne on YouTube, Ruby Payne Does Not Understand Poverty

Check them both out.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Obama Effect?

At the Journal, we have long been concerned with the effects of race and poverty on NCLB test scores. Our current issue addresses this theme in depth, while Jonathon Kozol, subject of our second issue, has famously criticized NCLB and its relation to economically and racially disadvantaged areas--and criticized leadership that ignores those findings. See his book The Shame of the Nation (267)

Famous Harvard and Princeton studies on race and performance backed up Kozol's criticism with an even more surprising finding that “it is the targets of a stereotype whose behavior is most powerfully affected by it. A stereotype that pervades the culture, like "ditzy blondes" and "forgetful seniors" can make people painfully aware of how society views them--so painfully aware, in fact, that knowledge of the stereotype can affect how well they do on intellectual and other tasks.”

The effects of these findings, when regarding African-Americans, may see a drastic change from President Obama’s election.

In this article, researchers at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management administered a standardized test to a mixed group of blacks and whites four times during the process of Obama’s run. The further the president got, the better the minority subjects of the study did. They were told that the exam was “created by the Massachusetts Aptitude Assessment Center, and is used as a diagnostic tool to assess verbal problem-solving ability”—a ruse meant to activate the stereotype that blacks don’t do as well as whites on aptitude tests.

After Obama’s election, among students who watched the speech, the achievement gap was roughly equal.

The possible consequences of this study, though it will require follow-up studies to confirm the hypothesis, are incredible. Obama’s example as a black man in power might serve as a psychological reinforcement to the black children of America who disproportionately attend underfunded, poverty-ridden schools that underperform on standardized tests. A picture of a black President might be worth a thousand motivational words. In the spirit of the Obama campaign, we will hope.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Creative Lessons by Woodring College of Education Students

In our winter 2008 issue on Schooling as if Democracy Matters, we published an article on the curriculum developed at Teachers College, Columbia University around the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. Using the HBO documentary by Spike Lee, Margaret Crocco and Maureen Grolnick developed a curriculum called Teaching the Levees: a Curriculum for Democratic Dialogue and Civic Engagement. The goal was to use a contemporary social issue in order to help students engage in a democratic dialogue that the event raised.

Students at the Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University have created lessons that bring content from their own discipline (English, social studies, science, art, music, math, physical education) to the democratic discussion that they are trying to generate. We have created this public space for students and teachers to share their ideas. We also invite teachers and students from other parts of the nation and around the world to enter into our conversation. We will keep adding to this post over the years as more and more people share their comments.

Here's a more fundamental question to reflect upon as well: Can we imagine a high school experience that integrates the disciplines around major social issues and engages students in democratic dialogue and civic action? Our very fragmented approach to the study of high school subjects is deeply entrenched in our system. Does this approach prepare all students adequately to participate in a 21st century democracy that is constantly reinventing itself? Can our schools create a public that is capable of sustaining this republic in an increasingly complex and global world? Add your thoughts.

Example from student, Brook Landers:

Dawn Sodt, Lucy Castro and I, MIT students of the Woodring College of education created this integrated curriculum, which combines fine arts and foreign language studies in order to teach the film "When the Levees Broke."

Featured Lesson:

All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men

What is the culture of New Orleans, and can it be restored after Katrina?

For High School Students

Disciplines: Art, Language Arts, Theatre, Music

Our respective disciplines are Spanish and Art. In this context, our approach to this assignment is based on the culture of New Orleans. What struck us after watching Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke, was the strength of the cultural connection each of the inhabitants had to New Orleans regardless of their socio-economic background. This made us curious about how this culture evolved and what made it so strong. There might be lessons here for all of us as we continue to struggle with assimilation into our own increasingly multi-cultural society. Therefore, we posed the question:

Is it important to put New Orleans back together again?

There are many perspectives from which to approach this question. Among them are political, economical, ecological, and sociological perspectives. However, all of those disciplines fall under Cultural and we want students to realize the complexity of the people involved which is important as a prerequisite in any discussion from any other angle. We want students to come to feel the sense of identity each of the New Orleanians expressed in Lee’s movie.

Our Unit on the Breaking of the Levees involves Language and Art, both outcomes of a culture and both considered to be major characteristics of New Orleans life.

First, students will engage in a simulation exercise to understand how new languages form when cultures and languages collide. Students will be asked to combine two versions of the same poem, one written in English, and one written in Spanish. Unique translations of the poem in “Spanglish” will evolve out of the exercise.

The second project for our unit plan is a group inquiry project that culminates in a reader’s theatre production using visual and audio components. We have produced a product similar to what students could produce to give you a sample.

This exercise is sure to raise more questions than it answers. In fact, we do not expect the students to actually answer the above question. We want them, as explained above, to describe a portrait of what New Orleans as a culture represents and to consider what it means to them as citizens of a country in which such a culture exists.

Objective 1.1
o In pairs, students will research one of the four “roots” of New Orleans culture. They will collect images and facts, quotes, and salient ideas that they find interesting while researching.
o Students will understand that the Creole culture of New Orleans has been influenced over time by four main root cultures: 1. French, 2. African American, 3. Spanish, and 4. Native American.
o Students will present knowledge gathered through research in the final reader’s theatre.
o Bloom’s taxonomy: Knowledge

Objective 1.2
• Students will watch selected excerpts from the HBO documentary video: When the Levees Broke. Students will record quotes that stand out as particularly meaningful or poignant.
• Students will understand the main historical, social, and cultural effects of Hurricane Katrina.
• Students record poignant quotes while watching the documentary. These quotes will be incorporated into the final reader’s theatre.
• Bloom’s taxonomy: knowledge

Objective 1.3
• Students will create and perform a reader’s theatre including art and music that will symbolize the complex and unique New Orleans culture. Information gleaned from student research and the HBO documentary video: When the Levees Broke will be incorporated into the reader’s theatre.
• Students will be able to address the overarching questions:
Why is it important to put New Orleans back together?
Would we want to build it back in the same way?
What would you leave out if you were to rebuild New Orleans?
• Students will complete a written response to the questions posed throughout post-reader’s theatre discussion. The response should incorporate emotional responses to the reader’s theatre and include supporting information gathered while listening to the students-directed presentation.
• Bloom’s taxonomy: Evaluation

Objective 1.4
• Students will be given a poem in English as well as Spanish. The task will be to combine the two languages into a new language just as the Creole language is a mixture of different languages.
• Students will understand how languages and cultures collide and are combined to form new cultures.
• Students will turn in a unique poem that presents a unique language formed by combining Spanish and English.
• Bloom’s taxonomy: Understanding, Synthesis

1. Context:
In the Spanish classroom, students have just finished a unit on Chicano culture. Students understand the way in which Hispanic cultures mix with the American culture to form a new “Chicano” culture within the United States. In the same way, multiple cultures have blended together over time to form a unique Creole culture in New Orleans.
In the art class students have just completed a unit on contemporary socially responsive art work and artists. In this unit, students will collaborate and create their own socially responsive piece of artwork.

2. Purpose:
Millions of American citizens where uprooted and labeled “refugees” after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Who was affected? How did the United States respond to the disaster? Why is it important we rebuild New Orleans? Motivated by the quote, “You can’t embrace the branch if you don’t know the root,” we will work to understand the precious culture unique to New Orleans.

3. Teaching/learning activities:
a. Presentation of excerpts from Spike Lee’s HBO Documentary: When the Levees Broke:
Students will view footage of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of the storm through this documentary. They will listen carefully to the citizens of the 9th ward present opinions, observations, and emotions. While watching the film, students will record phrases, ideas, and salient quotes. After viewing selections from the film, students will each select five quotes from the interviews and narration. Students will write out a sentence or two for each of the quotes explaining what issue it is related to and how it is an important issue to address for the future of New Orleans.

b. Exploratory Research of Creole culture:
Students will be divided into pairs and assigned one of the “roots” of Creole culture: 1) French culture, 2) Spanish culture, 3) Native American culture, or 4) African American culture. Students will be asked to research their assigned aspect of New Orleans life and collect images, quotes, and ideas that represent Creole culture. Information and images gathered through research will be recorded and incorporated into the final reader’s theatre project at the end of the unit.

c. Language creation simulation:
Students will read a poem relating to Hurricane Katrina in English. They will read the same poem in Spanish. Their job will be to creatively combine both poems in order to present the same poem in a new language (“Spanglish”). The activity will simulate the way in which a new language or for that matter a new culture is born.

d. The Reader’s Theatre:

1. Students will brainstorm to come up with ideas of creating a readers’ theatre from these ideas and how to incorporate visual and audio components for a production of the readers’ theater. They will take a vote on which ideas to work on together for a single class project.
2. Students will divide the work for the project up into pieces to be assigned to smaller groups within the class.
3. Students will devise a timeline in which work must be done with the culminating production time determined by the teacher.
4. Each group will write a plan with a calendar listing goals for each day and a list of tasks they expect to complete to reach those goals in the form of a check list. Each student will get a copy and one copy for each group will be turned in to the teacher. A copy of each will be posted on a board for all to see so that all groups are aware of the progress of each.
5. The teacher will check in with each group each day to determine their progress, to keep them on-task, and to aid them with any difficulties they encounter. It will be likely that a group will become sidetracked by information they discover so the final goal and product must be kept firmly in their minds.
6. Students will present their final product as a readers’ theater at an assembly or in front of an audience of their choosing within reason and possibility.
7. A class discussion and review following the presentation will be very important and might well take a full day. Begin with asking questions regarding their performance and any comments they received from the audience. Then ask questions to elicit comments and feedback about the process of a whole class project: – How well did it work? Did everyone feel involved? Did everyone feel they had a meaningful part to play in putting the project together and performing? Next, ask the students how their perspective on New Orleans has changed as a result of their work on this project? Follow this up by asking if they have thought of relating this new perspective to how they think about their own community culture. How important is their own community culture to them? If a natural disaster happened to (Bellingham) and they were dispersed across the country would they want to come back? Why or why not? These are just some of the questions that you might ask but, providing adequate time for closure is important. You might do this by asking for a written response to some of these questions.
Questions will percolate out of the discussion. Example questions include: 1) why is it important to put New Orleans back together? 2) Would we want to build it back in the same way? 3) What would you leave out? 4) How much is racism and poverty a part of the culture that evolved? 5) Why do the residents of New Orleans feel so rooted to their home?

4. Homework Assignment:
Students will complete a written response to the reader’s theatre questions posed during the class discussion. The response should incorporate emotional reactions to the reader’s theatre and include supporting information gathered while listening to the presentation.

5. Assessments:
The checklist provided by each group within the class can be used to evaluate each student’s participation by determining to what level they are engaged in each of the tasks listed. Formative assessment is very important and should be tracked carefully. Much student involvement in this project can be pretty subtle so it is important to interact with students asking what they are thinking and how they are proceeding all along the way. The culminating presentation is another source of assessment information. Finally, a written reflection answering some of the questions posed during the Closure will provide individual indicators of involvement, engagement, and how well the lesson provoked further thought and questions.