Saturday, November 07, 2015

America's schools don't suck, scary ideas (again), and an inspiring teacher

The bad rap on American education
Many Americans just assume that our education system is terrible, and that our students run the risk of being overtaken by students in India and China. The Wilson Quarterly disagrees:
Our best public schools are first-rate, producing more intense, involved, and creative ­A-­plus students than our most prestigious colleges have room for. That is why less-known institutions such as Claremont McKenna, Rhodes, and Hampshire are drawing many freshmen just as smart as the ones at Princeton. The top 70 percent of U.S. public high schools are pretty good, certainly better than they have ever been, thanks to a growing movement to offer Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate ­courses.
Our real problem is the bottom 30 percent of U.S. schools, those in urban and rural communities full of ­low-­income children. We have seen enough successful schools in such areas to know that many of those children are just as capable of being great scientists, doctors, and executives as suburban children are. But most ­low-­income schools in the United States are simply bad. Not only are we denying the children who attend them the equal education that is their right, but we are squandering almost a third of our intellectual capital. We are beating the world economically, but with one hand tied behind our ­back.
The article makes a compelling case that the statistics we get from China and India are greatly inflated. Read the details here.

Life is a trigger
I posted last week about college students requiring that their schools shield them from scary ideas. Students' desires to be protected from things that make them uncomfortable seem to be an epidemic. A professor teaching a course on the evolution of the representation of sex in American cinema (I want to take that class!) laments that some students requested that she send emails every day giving advance trigger warnings for possible hurtful material before every class. She did as she was asked, but it was a daunting task. The exercise led her to the conclusion that:
Colleges are the new helicopter parents, places where the quest for emotional safety and psychic healing leads not to learning, but regression.
She goes on to argue that asking for trigger warnings is:
promoting a culture of extreme privilege, because I’m pretty sure that the trans women who are being murdered weekly, the black men who are victims of police brutality daily, and the neighborhoods in America that are plagued by everyday violence, aren’t given any trigger warnings. Let’s be honest: life is a trigger.
Obviously her words are controversial, but her argument is a valuable one. Read her story here

What the best teachers can do
George Saunders is one of the most well-respected writers in America. In a recent New Yorker, he recalls how he became a writer, but more importantly, he remembers the life-lessons he learned from his teachers. One lesson he learned from is professor to "be kind, pay attention, err on the side of generosity" -- a lesson we all would be wise to remember. His piece also reminded me of the power we teachers have as potential role models, when he writes of his professor: "This, of course, is what a ‘role model’ is: someone who, by gracefully embodying positive virtues, causes you to aspire to them yourself." This odd little "memoir" is positive and inspiring and it made me smile. 

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