Tools for Critique
“Tools for Critique” combines elements of instructors’ materials, end-of-chapter quiz items, and a readers’ guide. This supplement to the text offers critical and generative questions that play a key role in constructing meaning from (and beyond) history, philosophy, social analysis, and empirically- based findings. The authors encourage readers and instructors to modify, add to, and select among these questions for greatest relevance.
The chapter-specific overviews, outlines, and additional resources serve as a springboard to think critically about the text, and they are especially useful when read or scanned before reading the chapters. After reading, the tools are useful for reflecting on tensions and correspondences between the readers’ own experiences and the “facts” and ideas presented.
These generative prompts might ask, for example: What memories of your own schooling or recent observations does the chapter evoke?; What, aspects of the text make you angry? What sounds reasonable, but you can’t believe it is true?; What do you imagine your acquaintances would think about the material?; Also included are suggestions for further inquiry into how education is conducted in schools which readers can access and observe.
Tools for Critique: Chapter 1
The United States Schooling Dilemma: Diversity, Inequality, and Democratic Values
OverviewChapter 1, “The United States Schooling Dilemma: Diversity, Inequality, and Democratic Values,” looks at who contemporary United States students are and what basic conditions they encounter in their lives, both inside and outside school. The chapter pays attention to the structural inequalities and opportunity gaps students experience in the educational system.
- Who Are American Students?
- Where Do U.S. Students Live and Go to School?
- How Diverse Are Students in the U.S.?
- Recognizing the Complexity of Identity
- Inequalities Outside of School
- Economic Inequality: Inequality in the Basics of Life
- Geographic and Economic Isolation
- Schooling Inequalities
- Segregated Schools
- Unequal Spending
- Unequal Opportunities to Learn
- Unequal Community and Peer Resources at School
- Gaps in Achievement, School Completion, and College Attendance
- The Struggle for Socially Just Teaching
Generative Questions and Activities
- High school social studies teacher Judy Smith argues that schooling should help students develop “critical consciousness of their potential, of their freedom, of ongoing injustice, and of the obligation to ensure our democracy.” Throughout the book, the authors develop some specialized meanings of the term “critical” (you might use the book’s Index to skim the several discussions). Briefly, a “critical consciousness” implies that we can better understand our social world when we ask some key critical questions such as these: How did our social practices come to be? Who benefits most or least from these practices? Who resists changing these practices? And so forth. Think back to your own experience in high school, or even when you were younger. Was there a teacher who encouraged you to ask these kinds of critical questions? What were the particular social or local issues that you or your class examined? What impact did this have on you? Did it feel strange or maybe disrespectful to probe deeply into commonplace ideas and practices? Report on an occasion when you were discouraged from raising critical questions.
- Some people argue that students should not spend time engaged in social critique; that it’s better to spend school time teaching and learning the required facts and skills that appear in most curricula, in textbooks, and on tests. What do you think? Consider the arguments on both sides.
- Chapter 1 introduces Ladson-Billings’ idea of education debt. This idea locates education inequality outside the school—across all society and over generations—as well as inside today’s classrooms. According to Ladson-Billings, debt and repayment of debt demand more than equality, or giving each student equal attention and resources. Equity requires that students receive all they require for their educational outcomes and life chances to match those of peers who have been spared the effects of generations of inequality. Do you think it is sufficient (fair, democratic, effective) to set our goals so that each student receives an equal amount of opportunities and resources from the school? Or do you think the goal should be to distribute school and other public resources in a way that also accounts for out-of-school conditions, resources, and histories? Why?
- The authors note that the racial and ethnic composition of U.S. public schools has changed dramatically over the past two generations. Students of color, children of immigrants, and English Learners make up an increasingly large percentage of the nation’s student population, representing a majority of the schoolchildren in many (urban) school districts. Describe this increase in student diversity at a school with which you are familiar. What different curricular and instructional approaches have been adopted? Which approaches would you recommend? On the other hand, some schools remain predominantly white and middle-class, oftentimes due to residential segregation. How should the changing demographic landscape alter curriculum and instruction in these schools?
- Elementary school teacher Michelle Calva states that, “becoming bicultural requires more than just readying the individual for the dominant society. It also requires preparing society for the minority members.” To what extent do you agree with this statement? Think about it in relation to the school context with which you are most familiar: If you teach at a school that serves mostly students of color, in what ways are you preparing them for what Calva calls “the dominant society”? If you teach at a school that serves mostly middle-class, white students, in what ways are you preparing them to interact with students who are different from themselves? If you teach at a school that serves a diverse student body, in what ways are you preparing students to live and work together in a multicultural society?
- The authors claim, “Whether diverse voices, perspectives, and languages are heard or ignored in classrooms, they are there; they will not be silenced or assimilated out of existence.” Many people think it’s acceptable or even beneficial to practice a variety of cultures in the privacy of homes or houses of worship, but they oppose speaking languages other than English or wearing culturally representative clothing styles in public places such as schools. How might they argue in favor of these distinctions?
- The authors go beyond discussing “diversity” as only related to race and ethnicity and instead discuss multiple aspects of diversity, including religion, gender expression, sexual orientation, and family composition. What opportunities have you had to develop close relationships with people who differ from you in any of these ways? How have conversations with these individuals influenced you? How might you think about fostering community in your classroom with students from diverse families and backgrounds?
- High school mathematics teacher Mark Hill comments, “I remember as a child wanting others to ‘see’ me the same way I saw myself. Because of this, I make a tremendous effort to ‘see’ students as individuals and accept them on their own terms, regardless of preconceived notions of race, gender, or age.” Consider the hybridity and dynamism of your own identity. What are the many aspects that make up who you are? What discrepancies exist between how you identify and how others perceive you? What are the implications of hybrid and dynamic notions of identity for students and teachers? How can teachers honor and learn about the multifaceted nature of each of their students?
- The authors note that economic inequality, inequality in the basics of life, and racial, geographic, and economic isolation characterize the lives of many of America’s schoolchildren. Did out-of-school inequalities impact your experiences in school? Explain.
- Low-income families are working increasingly longer hours for increasingly lower wages. What could schools do to encourage teachers to connect with families in the face of increasing work demands?
- The authors also state that many schoolchildren in the U.S. lack adequate food, health care, and housing. Again, reflect on the school context with which you’re most familiar. With specific students in mind, consider how this lack of basic social supports may impact these students’ experiences with schooling.
- Many people favor a Student Bill of Rights—an official declaration stating that all public school students in the United States should have access to the following basic educational opportunities:
- High-quality classroom teachers and school administrators
- Rigorous academic standards, curricula, and methods of instruction
- Small class sizes
- Quality facilities, textbooks, and instructional materials and supplies
- Up-to-date library resources
- Up-to-date computer technology
- Quality guidance counseling
- Consider these opportunities with respect to your own school. In a school with which you are familiar, does the absence of one or more of these “rights” relate to the broader economic and social inequalities mentioned earlier in this chapter? What can the state, the federal government, or local schools do to address this lack of opportunity? What can teachers do (both individually and collectively) to increase opportunities and improve access for their students?
- In spite of the fact that 200 members of the House and Senate once supported the Student Bill of Rights, it has yet to be passed. What political and economic interests might oppose it? Who would benefit, and who would perceive they’re being harmed if this bill were passed? Take sides in a role-play, a debate, or an email exchange in which you argue for or against this bill’s re-introduction and passage.
- Many teachers avoid the political and technical details of education policymaking, believing that these matters are so far beyond their job descriptions or their power to effect changes that there’s no point dealing with “things you can’t change.” Do teachers have a unique role (or obligation) to engage with education policy; should they devote all available energies to their students and classrooms; or is there a balance they should seek?
- Fifth-grade teacher Steven Branch describes how his class was relocated into a portable classroom without cabinets, windows, or adequate teaching supplies. Have you ever seen or experienced comparable school conditions? Consider three categories of facility adequacy: 1) clearly, so inadequate as to be harmful to learning and/or health; 2) not necessarily harmful, but also not adding much to support learning; 3) making a positive contribution to the learning environment and adding to what the teacher can provide with instruction. Describe facilities at your school in terms of these categories. There’s no need to stick firmly to a single category.
- In the California Williams case, experts for the governor and the secretary of education (who were the ones being sued) argued that trained teachers, quality educational supplies and materials, and adequate classrooms and facilities did not matter for student learning. They argued, for example, that since some good teachers were not fully certified to teach, teaching credentials were not important; that students could still learn about science even if they didn’t have an equipped science lab; and that children could overcome the discomfort of classrooms that were too hot or too cold; and so forth. The state finally settled, giving up on these arguments, but why do you think arguments like these appeal to so many people?
- Based on your own experiences (as a teacher and student) in schools, brainstorm several ways in which these basic opportunities do matter for learning. Give examples of actual cases in which these opportunities (or the lack thereof) made a significant difference in students’ schooling experiences.
- The authors assert, “It is unthinkable that the nation would tolerate a lack of textbooks in an entire urban school district . . . if its children were white and not poor.” Do you agree? Visit a “resource-rich” school in an affluent neighborhood. Describe the conditions there, paying particular attention to facilities, books, teacher qualifications, class size, how demanding the curriculum is, and so on. Focus on those elements that you think an “ordinary” or poor school might lack. Pay attention to obvious distinctions between resource-rich and resource-poor schools; but also describe subtle or even subjective differences. Jonathon Kozol writes of “savage inequalities” between the education offered to poor minoritized students and that offered to middle-class white students. What makes these particular inequalities so starkly horrifying is that they often exist within the same community—perhaps just across a street from one another. You may notice a contrast of opportunities within your own community, or one with which you are familiar. Describe this contrast. What “deficit” explanations might a person use to argue that these conditions are essentially the fault of students and their parents, rather than reflective of structural inequities and/or manifestations of prejudicial attitudes?
- The authors describe the differences in educational outcomes between middle-class white students and working-class students of color. In your view, how are outcomes such as academic achievement, high school graduation rates, and college attendance directly related to the schooling inequalities (and inequalities outside of school) described in this chapter? Again, thinking about actual students with whom you’ve worked, discuss the ways in which educational opportunities affect educational outcomes.
- Chapter One is filled with statistics and charts. Few people can carry all these numbers around in their heads, but do they “add up” to a few overall conclusions? What, among all the data, has left you with a lasting impression, perhaps left you looking at schools and teaching in ways you didn’t previously?
- Middle school coordinator Mauro Bautista defines social justice educator as “someone who identifies inequities in education, builds coalitions with others affected by the inequities, and then takes action to disrupt the reproduction of these inequities.” According to his definition, do you see yourself as a social justice educator, or on your way to becoming one? Have you met a teacher or group of teachers with whom you could relate as great teachers, social-justice colleagues, and potential mentors? Does Mauro’s definition suit you? If not, how would you modify it?
- Mauro Bautista, Kimberly Min, Mark Hill, and Judy Smith are hopeful and optimistic about the possibility of changing the world through teaching. To what extent do you share their optimism? Discuss some of these questions: Do you feel that teaching for social justice can really contribute to changing the world? What are the limits of teaching? What are the possibilities? In what ways are you engaged in the same “hopeful struggle” to which these educators are committed? How might you become engaged in this struggle?
Tools for Critique: Chapter 2
History and Culture: How Expanding Expectations and Powerful Ideologies Shape Schooling in the U.S.
Chapter 2, “History and Culture: How Expanding Expectations and Powerful Ideologies Shape Schooling in the U.S.,” presents an overview of important events in the history of schooling in the United States. The chapter sketches how expectations for schools have increased over the past 200-plus years. It also discusses two powerful and pervasive ideologies—meritocracy and racial superiority—that have shaped and continue to shape schooling in this country.
- A History of Increasing Expectations
- Common Public Schools Should Secure Democracy
- Public Schools Should Pass on and Preserve “American” Culture
- Public Schools Should Support the Nation’s Workforce and Economy
- Public Schools Should Ensure National Security and International Competitiveness
- Public Schools Should Solve Social Problems
- A Culture of Powerful Ideologies
- The Myth of Merit
- Deficit Thinking, Racial Superiority and White Privilege
- Teaching for Democracy
Generative Questions and Activities
- Third-grade teacher Kimberly Min states: “Inequality, injustice, discrimination, and racism are terms we generally do not associate with school. However, they are real. We must face and define these terms for our children and ourselves, as we try to make sense of what school is and can be.” Some people might think that except for isolated instances or locations, these “problems” are exaggerated. Consider your own experiences as a student and/or teacher. In addition to obvious prejudices (perhaps expressed in name-calling or friendship patterns,) identify overlooked inequities. Is it possible that historical injustice has become so “normal” that many people don’t see it? Are there “traditional” schooling practices that limit our perception of current inequalities?
- The authors note that public schools have faced increasing expectations over the past 350 years, as society has charged them with various social responsibilities, such as securing democracy, preserving American culture, supporting the nation’s economy, ensuring national security, and addressing social inequalities. In your view, how realistic are these expectations? For example, can schools emphasize support for the national economy and international competitiveness while at the same time support democratic participation, diverse cultures, economic security, and elimination of social inequality? In what ways might some of these expectations contradict each other? In other words, would a robust equity agenda for schools and society over-burden the economic well-being and competitiveness of the country? Explain.
- In discussing Thomas Jefferson’s views on public education, the authors note that his plan for the schooling of slaves was limited to industrial and vocational training and that he “was not confident that black men ‘could be made the intellectual equals of white men.’” It was this thinking that supported much of segregation’s legal status until the mid-twentieth century. Do you think that current disproportionate dropout rates, behavior referrals, and academic underperformance are related to this historically unequal access to educational opportunities? If so, explain how. If not, to what do you attribute these disparities?
- How did you learn about participating in a democracy? Of course, this is a complex question, but try to identify several specific experiences in democratic practice (at home, at play, in the community, at school, at work, etc.) that may have contributed to developing your democratic sensibilities.
- Consider two different emphases that schools might take to promote a democratic society: first, to teach students to change society so that it is more just and democratic; and second, to teach students to fit into a society that, if not perfect, is pretty much worth keeping as it is. Most would claim to have a vision that could accomplish both, even if they lean toward one or the other. Which position are you inclined to favor? Why? How might your position influence your teaching, either directly or indirectly?
- The authors discuss the push for “Americanization” that occurred in the Indian Boarding Schools movement and also in response to increased immigration from southern and eastern Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. Such calls for assimilation have historically coincided with significant demographic shifts. In what ways are recent Latinx immigrants to the United States viewed similarly to earlier demographic shifts, for example in the early twentieth century? How do arguments surrounding assimilation interact or mix with anti-immigrant sentiments?
- Continuing with this theme, the authors suggest that the push for Americanization was a response to both “hopes” and “fears.” Considering English-only legislation and the ban of ethnic studies in the southwest (e.g., California’s Proposition 227, Arizona’s Proposition 203, Arizona’s House Bill 1070) what hopes and what fears can you identify? Because differing views on immigration and assimilation are contentious and widely debated, they also align with political interests. To the degree you can, identify the opposing cultural and political positions on immigration and assimilation.
- View the documentary film, Precious Knowledge, which chronicles the struggle for ethnic studies—and Mexican American/Raza Studies, in particular—in Tucson Unified School District. How does the film represent the hopes and fears typically associated with Americanization efforts?
- Many observers describe schools as mechanisms to support economic stability while assuring that students are not locked into a less prosperous (or “lower”) economic social class. In other words, schools provide for upward economic mobility. On the other hand some scholars argue that the common school and common curriculum emerged to provide the working classes with an education designed to make them productive without undermining the capitalist economy or challenging its inherent unfairness. Discuss these two positions. What evidence do you see that supports one, the other (or both or neither) of these positions?
- According to the authors, schools at the end of the nineteenth century were institutions that preserved culture in addition to maintaining patterns of economic distribution. Can you relate this view to current debates about education and/or to your own experience? Add some exceptions that demonstrate a counter argument showing that schools can prepare students for full participation in a flexible, expanding, and equitable democracy.
- The authors also suggest that social conservatives’ partial answer to poor school performance (and more broadly, to a general social decline) is to provide “character education” and instill “traditional values.” Respect for authority, traditional gender expression, and Christian doctrine are examples of these values, but the full list is much longer. Develop your own list and consider whether this emphasis on character and tradition is useful for binding together a robust democratic society. Also, consider how such an emphasis be an oppressive form of assimilation, especially when applied to immigrants and diverse groups of students.
- The authors discuss the increased policy and political attention to globalization and the need for U.S. schools to prepare citizens for “international competitiveness.” How should teachers and schools contend with preparing students for an increasingly global society as part of “workforce preparation”? How might recent policies (e.g., English-only legislation; an increasingly standardized curriculum; etc.) impact efforts to ready students for a globalized world?
- School testing policies give increasing weight to mathematics and English language arts, and schools have followed by devoting more school time to these subjects. As a result, some other subjects may be slighted. Is it inevitable that literacy and numeracy must take priority over science, social studies, foreign language, arts, and so forth? What might be the effect on international competitiveness? Who might benefit or be disadvantaged by this narrowing of the curriculum?
- Have you ever wondered why children of color and children in working class communities attend schools that, generally, are not as well-equipped or don’t have teachers who are as well-qualified as schools for wealthier white students? Here are some common answers: 1) These are conscious, race- or class-based government and community decisions. 2) The unequal distribution of school resources “just happens” as a result of longstanding policies. 3) In early childhood wealthier white students grow up with enrichment activities that are well suited to school success, and therefore they benefit more from better school facilities and more skilled teachers. Add to or expand on these explanations. Pick one or more that you have heard, and discuss why you agree or disagree.
- Given the disparities of opportunity and resources shown in Chapter 1, how is it that so many people still believe in the myth of merit? Listen to someone who favors the idea of meritocracy, and try to identify the steps in their reasoning. Do they consider how success-related opportunities are distributed to different groups of children? Does their argument depend on exemplary individuals who overcome lack of opportunity and adversity, as proof that unequal opportunities don’t have to hold people back? Discuss this usually unspoken myth-of-merit conclusion: A student who does not achieve a high degree of school success therefore lacks merit (effort, intelligence, “grit,” character, or other.)
- What teaching and administrative practices have you noticed that indicate that gender stereotypes persist in schools?
- First-grade teacher Rosalinda Perez Silva describes the deficit thinking of teachers at her school: “Prior to the first day of school, I had already been told that ‘these kids are low,’ and not to worry if the students did not do as well as I hoped because ‘the entire school is low overall.’” Describe the circumstances when you heard a similar conclusion about students. Reflect on the broad public that is not “tuned in” to the problems of deficit thinking. What do they conclude when they read newspaper-published ranking and grades given to schools?
- Deficit thinking is a mode of perception and expression that is difficult for many people to avoid. When advocates for socially-just education demand that children from poor, minoritized, or immigrant families receive all the support and resources they require to achieve schooling outcomes comparable to children from middle class families, the words they choose may sound like those children have deficiencies or personal gaps that need to be filled in order to make them the equal of middle class children. Gloria Ladson-Billings’ “education debt” described in Chapter 1, helps straighten out this thinking because it transfers our focus from what underserved students lack to what society owes them for the current and historical obstacles placed in their way. Describe your own thinking or experience with deficit thinking and speech.
- The authors briefly trace some of the historical links between racism and conceptions of intelligence (and provide further background in Chapter 7). How much of this history did you already know? Is such background information appropriate for students to learn in their K-12 schooling? Why or why not? Can you think of public policies and programs associated with racist conceptions of intelligence? In what ways have standardized tests perpetuated this racist legacy? Do race-based conceptions of intelligence still influence people’s thinking about education? Explain.
- Consider the anti-immigrant measures highlighted by the authors (such as California’s Propositions 187 and 227, Alabama’s House Bill 57, and federal travel bans). As a teacher of students who might be affected by these laws, what do you see as your role in helping students make personal and historical sense of these laws? Are such discussions involving students appropriate/ professional? Are they only appropriate for a “social studies” or current events instructional unit already in place in the curriculum? Explain.
- Similar to the question just above, consider that President Donald Trump’s political and social ideology has generated much controversy. Is there a public expectation that teachers help students look deeply into his actions and pronouncements; and if not, should there be? If you viewed the documentary, Precious Knowledge, (mentioned in question 8) you witnessed how high school students and teachers acted together to resist efforts by the Arizona government to dismantle ethnic studies programs. What do you think students gained from participating in, and in some cases, leading this struggle? Are there any downsides to their participation? If so, what might they be?
- “Privileged” may be defined as possessing special opportunities that not everyone has. Perhaps this explains why, in a democracy, it is not a label that people wear comfortably when it refers to advantages that we think we ought to earn rather than something we are born with. How can being white, and/or middle class or wealthy or going to a fine school be described as privileges?
- Any exploration of racism in the United States is bound to be long, complex, and uncomfortable, requiring extraordinary patience and goodwill. Find some opportunities to talk about U.S. racism both with members of your own race and with people of other races. Report on how these conversations go.
- Describe racism that you experienced or witnessed in school. Some people tend to see a certain “equality” in racism—finding all prejudice basically alike and equally deplorable. For example, they might consider racial conflicts between African Americans and Latinx students (or teachers) and those between whites and other races to be essentially the same. Other people, while not condoning racist behaviors, believe that racist attitudes can never be separated from the relative power that groups have in society in general. People with this view would say that racist actions taken by groups with the most power, such as whites, are more serious and damaging than actions taken by less powerful groups. Do your experiences lead you to one of these positions? Why or why not?
- The authors write about Christine Sleeter’s work in tracing her own privilege through investigating her family genealogy. According to the authors, Sleeter “argues that by reconstructing one’s own history, whites can begin to cultivate the more positive aspects of their identities, while also owning up to and moving beyond patterns of privilege that limit their capacity to participate justly in society.” How might you have benefitted from historical privileges accrued by your family? What impact might a history of familial privilege – or lack thereof – have on teachers and students? Why?
- High school history teacher Matthew Eide wrestles with the history and traditions of schooling as he seeks to implement a transformative and culturally relevant pedagogy for his students. He asks himself the following questions: “How do issues of race, class, language, and gender influence what I do? How does my classroom resist and perpetuate the institutional racism, classism, linguicism, and sexism of education and society?” To what extent do such questions inform your own teaching and/or thinking about schools and students? How can an understanding of the history and traditions of U.S. schooling better enable you to provide a more transformative and socially just education for your students?
Palos, A. L., & McGinnis, E. I. (Director and Producer) (2011). Precious Knowledge. A co-production of Dos Vatos Productions, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), Arizona Public Media, and Latino Public Broadcasting, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (Disenfranchised high school seniors become academic warriors and community leaders in Tucson, Arizona's embattled Ethnic Studies classes while state lawmakers attempt to eliminate the program.)
Tools for Critique: Chapter 3
Politics and Philosophy: The Struggle over the School Curriculum
Chapter 3, “Politics and Philosophy: The Struggle Over the School Curriculum,” explores how people in Western societies think about knowledge and schooling. The chapter reviews traditional and progressive educational philosophies and the role they have played in struggles over what schools should teach, how they should teach it, and to whom. These philosophies have consequences—explored throughout the book—that show up in every aspect of public education including school policies, curriculum, teacher preparation, relationships between students and teachers, and so on.
- Basic Philosophies of Education
- The Roots of Western Educational Philosophy
- Philosophy in the History of American Schooling
- Six Philosophies of Education
- Philosophy and Politics in the Struggle for the School Curriculum
- Essentialist Mass Education in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
- The Emergence of The Common School
- The “Progressive Education” Movement
- Child- and Community-Centered Progressivism
- Social Reconstructionism
- Post–World War II Progressivism
- Back to Basics
- Multicultural Education
- Standards and Accountability
- A Call to Critique and Action for Those Who Are Teaching to Change the World
Generative Questions and Activities
- Middle-school bilingual coordinator Mauro Bautista states: “As a social justice educator, I challenge the traditional practice of excluding people of color, especially women of color, from the curriculum.” Browse through one or more mainstream social studies or literature textbook. What’s your assessment of the representation of women and people of color compared to references to and/or contributions by white people and/or men? If you have access to a curriculum library, it’s a fascinating experience to look through textbooks from the 1950s, and ‘60s. Consider that many of today’s most influential economic and political leaders learned and grew up with the beliefs and attitudes represented in their elementary and high school schoolbooks. How does looking back in time contribute to your understanding of why cultural shifts in attitudes are so difficult?
- People have typically argued that different groups’ representation in the curriculum simply reflects actual historical facts. So, “naturally” white men would be disproportionately represented when selecting the most important events and people to include. If, like Mauro Bautista, you seek to diversify school curricula, what selection criteria would you suggest for including women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups?
- The authors assert that, “teaching is always a philosophical and political act” and challenge the traditional notion of an enduring and politically neutral curriculum. How are your own teaching or thinking (opinions, predispositions, critiques) about education both philosophical and political? Identify a couple of your own strong philosophical or moral beliefs and connect them to observations you have about today’s schooling.
- What philosophical trends identified in this chapter have guided your own schooling and shaped the way you understand the role of schools? Consider the broad categories of teaching methods, classroom organization, course offerings, testing and so forth that you experienced. What do these reflections reveal about what you think of as normal and appropriate schooling; and what (about your prior schooling) feels misguided? Which of these trends, seems worth hanging on to? And what are you inclined to re-examine as part of your own philosophical growth?
- Oftentimes, working-class students and/or students of color receive different curricular programs than affluent and/or white students, and these different curricula reflect different educational philosophies. Alternatively, the authors argue throughout the book that principles of learning theory and social justice hold constant across populations: they caution that markedly different philosophies applied to different groups of students reveal remnants of questionable tradition and bias and should be closely examined. Think about schools with which you are familiar and comment on whether the schools’ or teachers’ educational philosophies seem to be aligned with particular groups of students. Are some groups likely to experience “traditional” educational approaches while others learn according to “progressive” conceptions of schooling? How do you make sense of this?
- How do you see the two traditions of “mass” and “elite” education playing out today? First, look for these philosophical differences between different schools. Then, describe evidence of differences within a single school--perhaps at the school where you are spending the most time. Look further to describe differences within a single demographic group and across groups.
- According to the authors, Noah Webster’s blue-backed speller “established the tradition of infusing political and moral content into teaching basic skills.” How has this pattern endured at the school where you spend the most time? Don’t neglect the posters on walls, announcements, conversations and meetings. Can you find components of the curriculum that are infused with political and moral content?
- Recall a class or “unit” from your own elementary, secondary, or college education. At some point you might have assumed that the class was built around “pure” facts and knowledge; however, now consider the political and cultural dimensions of that information. Ask some critical questions such as “Why this particular content emphasis?” “Why are these particular students enrolled?” “Are there students whose participation and whose prior experiences teacher seems to favor?” “What legitimate information or theories are not included?” “Are there neglected opportunities to consider socially relevant applications of the knowledge?” With a specific class in mind, what additional critical questions can you think of asking?
- The authors note that during the mid-1800s, “working-class people, immigrants, and those outside the dominant culture who lacked resources for their own private schools saw the common school as a path (a narrow one, to be sure) to the American dream.” To what extent do you think immigrants and other working-class people of color still look to public schools as a path to the American dream? (Consider your own experience, your parents’ experiences or those of people you know.) In what ways have public schools succeeded and/or failed to help people attain the American dream? What role do you feel curriculum has played in these successes and/or failures?
- In this chapter, as in several others, the authors infuse some history of education as background for the issues under discussion. However, it is important to keep in mind that this is not primarily a text on the history of education, and a professional educator will want to explore and study much more of the history and politics of the field. Why is it important for professionals—educators, scientists, lawyers, journalists, and so on—to have a knowledge of the historical context of their field? Why, for example, is such knowledge necessary to teach mathematics to fifteen-year-olds or reading to six-year-olds?
- A longstanding debate in preparing teachers to enter the teaching profession is how much education and supervision “new” teachers should have. Make an argument for the amount of “minimum” preparation you believe teachers need.
- The authors define praxis,“in its simplest expression, involv[ing] thinking and doing, theory and practice, understanding problems and working to solve them.” In the authors’ experiences, teachers with little classroom experience might disdain “too much” theory—instead seek practical methods and solutions to solving immediate classroom challenges. Yet, these teachers quickly realize that revisiting theory helps them to meet and learn from unanticipated challenges and to thoughtfully apply practices that they acquire from their mentors. Describe an experience where abstract ideas or theories did not seem relevant until you went back and forth with experience or practice?
- The authors state, “People of greater wealth and status viewed common schools as enhancing their own well-being ... Everyone would benefit, they reasoned, if schools could turn out productive workers and good citizens.” The authors suggest that social elites often support common, public schools with their own security and prosperity in mind more than the well-being of those who are less privileged. Do you think that the authors are realistic or overly cynical? Provide evidence to support your position.
- How are the emergence of the common school, the development of a standardized curriculum, and the feminization of the teaching force related to one another? How might you apply this analysis to current conditions that favor standardization and a teaching force that is predominantly composed of women? How might recent economic, demographic, and policy trends continue or change the traditional makeup of the teaching workforce?
- Some people believe that a central part of a teacher’s identity is being a force of moral and social good as well as a community leader who sets an example for all members of society. This has always been a heavy opportunity and challenge for teachers. What special challenges and obstacles would a social-justice teacher face both in living up to existing community standards and in establishing new ones—especially if the new, justice-oriented standards are not universally agreed to?
- Review the authors’ comparison of Dewey to other progressive reformers. Describe one of your own experiences with (or a recent observation of) teaching that sought to “develop in students a character that would build democratic and interdependent communities.” If you have not experienced or witnessed such lessons, select a lesson in which the teacher missed the opportunity to develop such “character.” What might the teacher have done differently? What would you do if you could go back and teach the same lesson?
- There has been a new round of calls for schools to assume many of the functions of Jane Addams’ settlement houses earlier in the century. Look for references in the text and elsewhere for “Community Schools.” If schools were to become more like community centers serving the combined social, educational, health, employment, and cultural needs of the community, what might be some of the social and educational advantages? What are some likely criticisms of schools assuming this broader role? Search out and describe a school in your own or a nearby community that is making such attempts. Also, take a close look at a community-based agency or center and describe the extent of its school-related services. Interview personnel at a community agency and ask them, in particular, whether and how their agency and local schools could work more closely together.
- The authors discuss George Counts’ Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order? and state that in this work, “Counts argued that democracy must exert greater control over capitalism, that the school curriculum must critique social institutions that did not further democracy, and that teachers must act as a militant force for change.” To what extent do you agree or disagree with Counts’ argument? As they were in Counts’ days, these are strong words for today. Can – or should – teachers act as a militant force for change in society? Can teachers and the school curriculum effect societal change? Do your answers differ if you have a time frame of a few semesters or if you are looking at an entire career?
- The 1970s saw a “back-to-basics” movement in school curriculum. The authors state that “the benefits of a back-to-basics curriculum were proclaimed most loudly for students of color, students with ‘learning disabilities,’ students who were poor, or students who otherwise did not fit in with conventional schooling.” Why do you think this was the case? Do you agree or disagree with the ideas behind a “back-to-basics” curriculum? Why? Do you see any remnants of a “back-to-basics” curriculum in the school where you spend time? If so, what are the implications for student learning and students’ academic trajectories?
- The authors clearly agree with W. E. B. DuBois’s words, “We should fight to the last ditch to keep open the right to learn, the right to have examined in our schools not only what we believe, not only what our leaders say, but what the leaders of other groups and nations, and the leaders of other centuries have said.” On the other hand, critics of this view, such as Allan Bloom (discussed later in the chapter), believe that “leaders of other groups and nations” who promote their beliefs create unhealthy tensions and divisions in the culture, and as Americans we should remain focused on our beliefs. What are your reflections on this debate?
- The authors caution teachers against providing their students with a tokenized version of multicultural education. How can you move beyond a celebration of “heroes and holidays” to embrace a critical approach to typical multicultural issues?
- In later chapters the authors address teacher collaborations, community organizing, and social activism as ways to pursue a hopeful future in spite of our unmet goal of a socially just society. Discuss whether you have thought about or participated in these activities.
- Given what the authors state about the relationship between language and cultural capital, consider the language practices of your own students (or a group of students with which you are familiar). To what extent do they use standard English in the classroom? What other languages and/or dialects do they use? More importantly, how do teachers respond to students’ use of “non-standard” languages and/or dialects? In your view, how should teachers respond to and incorporate students’ engagement in “non-standard” language practices?
- Consider some major tenets of critical pedagogy (teaching as an inherently political practice, action based on reflection, etc.). To what extent are you (have you been) “inclined” to be critical in this way? Would you say that your view of your world is now “critical?” More broadly, a critical perspective is not just about teaching, but an approach to participation in the public sphere. Do you aspire to be engaged, as a participant or leader, in public life? Why or why not?
- The authors detail the evolution of academic standards in America’s public schools, the most recent version being the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). What is the status of academic standards taken up in your state, district, or school? What are the implications for the students with whom you work? Consider potentially positive and negative effects of district, state, and/or national standards.
- Find the standards adopted by your state or a school district. Read the introductory materials and select a grade or two to read. What are your impressions?
- What is the difference between standards and standardization? Do standards necessarily require standardization? Why or why not? How do standards influence the curriculum and instruction in your school? Are they followed to the letter, kept intact but adapted for students, followed somewhat but largely ignored?
- Itemize curriculum issues at your school, and include teachers’ comments on these issues. For example, do the “official” standards give teachers leverage to argue for needed resources; do they feel that the top-down imposition detracts from their professional autonomy; do they welcome the availability of training or in-service that helps them adopt to changes; do they worry about standardized tests not being aligned with what they are expected to teach; and so on?
Tools for Critique: Chapter 4
Policy and Law: Rules that Schools Live By
Chapter 4, “Policy and Law: Rules that Schools Live By,” describes the complex education policy system in the United States. It reviews the roles and responsibilities of local, state, and federal government. It gives special consideration to contemporary accountability policies that increasingly hold individual students, schools and teachers accountable, in various ways, for closing long-standing gaps in achievement. The chapter also revisits the role of the courts—first addressed in chapter 2—in protecting the rights of the nation’s most vulnerable students.
- The Complex Education Policy System
- Three Levels of Educational Governance
- Do Policies Work?
- Cultural, Political and Economic Forces Shape Education Policy
- Schools Mirror Economic Enterprise
- Effects of Contemporary Policy and Law on Students, Schools, and Teachers
- Accountability for Results: Large-Scale Tests and High Stakes
Generative Questions and Activities
- In discussing the adverse effects of No Child Left Behind on his school, high school teacher Mark Hill describes what the authors call “the perverse effect of prompting educators to target resources and support toward students whose test scores would help the school meet its NCLB numerical targets, rather than distribute resources and support according to all students’ learning needs.” Explain in greater detail how this “targeting” can divert attention and resources from some students for no other reason than making the school “look good” to an outside observer. Try discussing this issue in a small group. Be sure to assign a person to defend this this practice.
- The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) now expects all students to graduate from high school ready for college and career. Broadly speaking, this means that high school graduates should have the skills and dispositions to benefit from college or technical training (or combined) that prepares them for a job that pays a family-supporting wage. Despite the general language, some people disagree with this goal. They maintain that graduates can go into certain jobs right after high school, that students won’t benefit from additional post-secondary education or that they can get that experience later in life, that some students want or need to start work immediately, and a host of other reasons. Where do you stand, and why?
- The authors note that, “in the last decade, mayors in some large cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. have ‘taken over’ responsibility for the schools and appointed either the board members or the superintendent.” This trend seems to be gaining in popularity. What do proponents of such “takeovers” say are the benefits? What do opponents say are the disadvantages?
- Do you think that popularly elected school boards are essential for widespread public participation in schools? Or are these officials likely to be beholden to a few influential people who helped get them elected? Explain how there can be a tension between “popularity” expressed in a democratic election and protecting of the rights of minoritized people.
- Currently, there are many types of public and privately managed “charter schools.” How do these schools fit into the mix, and are they an option for resolving thorny governance questions? Or, do charters simply leave in place current dilemmas and perhaps add new ones? Explain. Are there other ways to improve the likelihood that schools listen to and are accountable to parents and community members—no matter what the governance structure is “at the top”?
- The authors suggest that, “much of what states and local school districts do is now shaped, even controlled, by federal policy.” Describe some federal policies that affect curriculum and instruction at a school with which you are familiar
- It is very likely that your school, school district, or state is engaged in a court case that could affect the conduct of schooling. Identify any or all that you can.
- Many school reform initiatives today are driven by a belief that schools and school systems could become more effective and efficient if they adopted the principles and practices that businesses use. How could your school become more “business-like”? What effect might that have? What business-like elements of your school might get in the way of an optimal education for all students?
- David Berliner and Bruce Biddle argue that the charges leveled against schools by the A Nation at Risk report during the Ronald Reagan presidency were hostile, politically charged, and largely untrue. Over three decades later, the Trump administration brought politically charged educational issues to new heights of hostility along with assertions of untruths. Briefly outline some political/educational issues that the two administrations share.
- In describing the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the authors note that conservatives in Congress vehemently opposed setting standards for resources and learning conditions. As a result, the policies that emerged focused on setting standards for what students should learn and on developing tests of those standards, without considering resources or conditions. Why do you think conservative politicians were so strongly opposed to setting standards for resources and learning conditions? How do you make sense of this?
- Today, the whole issue of federal involvement in educational policy—including establishing standards of any kind—has become controversial, with some fearing that centralized governance intrudes on local rights, and others believing that the federal government must set basic education thresholds to protect education as a civil right available to all. Argue both sides of this dispute.
- What were some key changes that the Obama administration made to NCLB with its own education policy, “Race to the Top”? How did Race to the Top seek to “improve” NCLB, and what are important criticisms of it?
- The Coleman Report was perhaps the most influential education study in the twentieth century, and the authors address how the findings were used to support opposing policies: “Because Coleman found that academic outcomes were higher for blacks who attended desegregated schools, his findings were used as part of the scientific rationale for school desegregation … But, unfortunately, Coleman’s study was also used to provide political and scientific “cover” for those who resisted increasing resources for desegregating schools …” Restate in your own words the authors’ explanation for the limitations of Coleman’s study.
- The authors describe several examples of lawsuits that attempted to strengthen educational equity and “adequacy” legal requirements. They also assert that taking legal action is only the first step. Decisions such as 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education, for example, show both the importance and the limitations of court decisions. If there are, indeed, limitations, what needs to happen in addition to legal action? What is the role of policymakers, community members, grassroots organizations, and teachers? Investigate one of the educational equity cases from the late twentieth or early twenty-first century. Consider work at the state, school district, and community levels that is continuing or needs to continue to achieve the goals of the equity-oriented legal action.
- Given the history of racist and unjust court decisions in this country, how much justice can social justice educators realistically expect to result from the judicial process? If litigation is one component of a broader strategy to bring about more socially just education policies, what are the other components? How might litigation be integrated with more grassroots efforts to build a more powerful struggle for educational justice?
- To what extent and in what ways do voucher plans, charter schools, and magnet schools reflect free-market ideologies? How are these schooling alternatives similar and different? With a partner or in a group, prepare to debate whether each of these three plans undermines a commitment to public education. Be explicit about the political ideology that informs your respective positions/arguments. Be sure to do an Internet search of sites that support these market-oriented schooling philosophies.
- The latter half of the twentieth century and first decade of the twenty-first have seen the increasing “privatization” of many previously public services. Corporations such as Federal Express do work previously done by the Post Office; private security services guard some neighborhoods previously watched over by the police, and private prisons house the incarcerated; and private K-12 schooling is increasingly promoted as preferable to public education. What do you think of these trends? Do they threaten, enhance, or have no bearing on the common interests in a democracy? Why?
- As standardized testing increases in importance in assessing students and schools, and thus driving school reforms, all schools—public, private, and charters—are not necessarily subject to the same testing requirements or public scrutiny. Explain why this is argued to be a good thing, and whether it seems unfair to the public systems. Search further to verify the testing requirements and disclosures in your local area.
- The authors note that, “many of today’s ‘high stakes’ testing policies make students’ performance on a single test the only factor in making very important decisions, such as grade promotion, course placement and high school graduation.” Were these policies different from testing policies that were in place when you were a K-12 student? Describe. What do you suppose will be the long-term impact of these policies on students and schools?
- The advocacy organization FairTest recommends the following policies as alternatives to high-stakes testing for grade promotion: targeted support and services for students; professional development for teachers; mixed-age classrooms; continuous relationships with teachers; and the development of a variety of assessment skills and tools. (See Focal Point 4.1.) How do these alternatives for improving education for all students differ from the “exit” (graduation) exams currently being used in states including Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington? In your view, how might society arrive at a blend of holding students accountable for their school performance as well as holding schools accountable for providing the conditions students’ need for school success?
- In 1999, the National Academy of Sciences declared that accountability for school performance belongs to the whole system, from states to parents, and cannot be imposed only on students. Consequently, they concluded, high-stakes tests should only be used after changes in teaching and learning opportunities ensure that students have a genuine opportunity to learn what is tested. What if policymakers listened to the experts’ recommendations? What would policies informed by their recommendations look like? What groups do you suppose favor these recommendations? What groups would oppose them? Explain your answer.
- The authors discuss the immense pressure involved in raising test scores that can make “a testing policy decision intended for accountability purposes…become a curriculum policy that determines what students learn, not just how their learning gets assessed.” To what extent do you see “testing” policies becoming “curriculum” policies in your school? Do teachers teach or emphasize different material based on what’s on the test? Does this match or conflict with their best judgement on what and how they should be teaching? Give examples to support your observation.
- Many of the teachers cited in this chapter describe pressures to comply with various federal, state, and local policies. Interview teachers at a school with which you are familiar to see how their experiences and perspectives compare with those of the teachers featured here. What policies affect them (and their students) the most? How are they (and their students) affected? What pressures do they face with respect to these various mandates? What strategies, tactics, and practices do they rely on to confront or avoid these pressures?
- W. James Popham describes three negative consequences that high-stakes tests have on curriculum and teaching: curricular reductionism, excessive drilling, and modeled dishonesty. Consider the situation at the school with which you are most familiar. Have you seen any of these consequences there? If so, which ones have you observed? In what ways have they manifested themselves? What other negative consequences do you think might result from the emphasis on high-stakes testing? Likewise, describe instances where high-stakes tests are thought to be responsible for improved school opportunities and outcomes, and comment on these.
- The authors discuss the heated debates surrounding school closures in low-income communities that result from high-stakes accountability policies. They state that, “Even those who recognize the urgent need for improvement acknowledge that merely closing schools can put students at greater risk of educational, social, emotional, and physical harm by fracturing community ties and critical relationships between educators and students.” What do you make of these claims? What alternatives to closure can you imagine that might retain the school as a vital community resource?
- Proponents of value-added measures (VAM) maintain that teachers should be evaluated based on students’ standardized test scores, and that VAM are the most statistically sophisticated means available. Opponents of VAM argue that teachers (and students) should not be evaluated based on a single test score and cite the statistical unreliability of the measures. What do you think about value-added measures? Engage in a debate with colleagues who may have a different opinion than you (or stage a mock debate). What can you learn from them? How does understanding their point of view help to strengthen your own argument?
Tools for Critique: Chapter 5
The Subject Matters: Constructing Knowledge Across the Content Areas
Chapter 5, “The Subject Matters: Constructing Knowledge Across the Content Areas,” introduces readers to the content areas of mathematics, language arts, social studies, and science, and reviews current professional and political debates concerning these subjects. The chapter also describes how the standards movement and current emphasis on test-based, high-stakes accountability have shaped teaching and learning in each of these four major academic subjects.
- The Math Crisis
- Traditional Mathematics: Skills-Based and Sequential
- Progressive Mathematics: Meaningful Knowledge in Context
- The Math Standards: The Politics of Mathematics Continues
- English Language Arts
- Traditional Language Arts: Mastering Skills, Rules, and Forms
- Progressive Approaches to Language Arts: Developing Literacies
- National Standards in the Language Arts
- Social Studies
- Traditional Social Studies: Facts and Figures Framed by the Dominant Culture
- Progressive Social Studies: Critical and Multicultural Approaches
- The National History Standards: Seeking a Middle Ground
- Traditional Science: Topics, Subtopics, and Facts in Sequence
- Progressive Science: Inquiry and Investigation
- National Science Standards: Integrated, Socially Relevant Science for All
- Access to High-Quality Science Instruction
- The Struggle for the Subject Matter
Generative Questions and Activities
- As background for this chapter and for the questions that follow, take a look at a few “curriculum guides” used by different grade levels, for different subjects, in different schools. When you can, interview teachers or administrators to get a sense of whether and how these guides reflect what these educators think is most important in their work. Look for evidence in the guides—particular items and language or terms used to express them—showing whether sociocultural perspectives are thought to be important in the school or district. To what extent is the curricular content in these guides explicitly connected to contexts and activities that are relevant to the students and their families’ practices, histories, and positions in their communities?
- The authors discuss how the mathematics curriculum “diverges for different students” beginning in middle school, with more successful students promoted to advanced math classes and less successful students relegated to “dead-end remedial courses.” Briefly sketch the history of your own mathematics coursework. Would you identify yourself as highly competent, not very competent, or somewhere in between? Did you take calculus in high school? Why or why not? What was the highest-level math course you took? If you did take “advanced” math courses, what was the racial, linguistic, and gender composition of those classes? How do you explain that? Once you graduated from high school, was a college major in mathematics, the sciences, or engineering a realistic choice for you (assuming that you at some point had an interest in these career areas)? Do you believe it takes special talents to acquire skill in mathematics? Recount instances when someone skilled in mathematics lavished encouragement on you to study math. What was that like?
- Is the book’s discussion of progressive views of mathematics learning consistent with your prior understanding of math learning? Or have you always assumed that traditional (or progressive) approaches were the “only” way? How would you characterize your own K-12 math teachers; for example, “Highly skilled in mathematics—creative and enthusiastic? Competent to present the required math curriculum, but not especially enjoying themselves?” Discuss several across different years.
- Not all progressive approaches in mathematics education are carried out competently. And, although most students readily take to progressive approaches, some may be averse to conceptualizing, estimating, and so forth; they feel more comfortable sticking with rule-following and memorization. Are you or someone you know more at ease following memorized algorithms that lead directly to a correct answer? If so, how do you account for preferring more traditional approaches?
- Describe your best and worst math class experiences—whether traditionally or progressively taught.
- First-year teacher Zeba Palomino describes her “critical” approach to teaching high school mathematics. How are critical perspectives consistent with the constructivist and student-centered orientation posited in Everybody Counts, the mathematics report to the nation prepared by the National Research Council?
- As the authors note, the mathematics standards originally proposed by the NCTM in 1989 suggested that mathematical ideas should “be embedded in problems that are familiar and meaningful to students.” Why is this important? How might you connect mathematical ideas to contexts and problems your students are familiar with, and to other subjects that you might teach? How, if at all, did your teachers embed mathematical ideas within familiar and meaningful problems?
- Has your state adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics? If so, read the math CCSS for one grade level. What do you think of them? Do they align more with traditional or progressive approaches? Do you understand the terms and concepts? Did any other questions come up for you? Explain. If your state hasn’t adopted the CCSS for mathematics, consider these questions in relation to your own state’s standards for mathematics.
English Language Arts
- The authors contrast traditionalists’ narrow views of reading and writing (as discrete sets of skills) with progressives’ more expanded notions of literacy (as a meaningful cultural practice). Which of these conceptions of literacy most closely matches your own views about what reading and writing are and how they should be taught? Which most closely matches the way that you learned to read and write when you were in school?
- The language section of the chapter includes some new understandings of the “rich language practices” of multilingual students. Together, the concepts of “code switching” and “translanguaging” broaden our previous understanding of the cognitive processes people engage when they make use of multiple languages across various settings. The “Digging Deeper” resource for Teaching to Change the World contains additional resources to explore these key ideas, which have important implications for understanding language, for teaching multilingual students, and in everyday, informal interactions. Find one or more elements of a “deeper” and perhaps more complex understanding of bi- or multilingual learners and learning and then compare with the common, limited or naïve knowledge of bi- or multilingual learning and learners.
- New media literacies, such as texting, blogging, and tweeting, are central practices in many young people’s lives. Have you incorporated – or observed another teacher incorporate – any of these mediums in the classroom? If so, how were they used and with what effects? If not, how might you use these forms of literacy to further students’ academic learning?
- Multicultural literature is one means of making the language arts curriculum more inclusive. Why might this be important? What implications might there be with respect to student identity and motivation? What implications might there be with respect to improving communication and understanding with and across a range of students? On the other hand, some traditionalists believe that multicultural selections of literature—especially when written by diverse authors—dilute America’s literary culture and represent works of lesser quality. Explain where you stand on this issue and why.
- What novels have opened your eyes and heart to peoples of different cultural or racial backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and so on? What novels you have read by authors of color? Select one or more to comment on specifically, and discuss your overall experience reading these works. Were any of these works assigned in school? If not, what led you to read them?
- A “Balanced Literacy Approach” refers to a literacy program that emphasizes teaching phonics (phonemic awareness) and other literacy skills within meaningful contexts (e.g., while reading quality children’s literature or engaging in purposeful activities). In other words, situating the learning of grammar, spelling, decoding, finding a passage’s main point, and so on in meaningful contexts is more effective than learning them in isolation. Based on your own experience as a student and/or teacher, what are the advantages of a “balanced” approach? Compare the ease or difficulty a “new” teacher might have in taking a skills-first approach versus a balanced approach. Thinking back on your own teaching and/or learning, discuss examples of successes and/or difficulties that have resulted from using “balanced” and skills-based approaches to language arts instruction.
- Federal law (Every Student Succeeds Act) stipulates that federal funds can only be spent on programs that are proven effective in well-designed research studies. One caution about such studies is that some of the elements that went into the research may be missing from actual classrooms: needed resources may not be present; teachers may not be well prepared; the studies may be conducted with a particular group of students who don’t represent the diverse range of students in U.S. classrooms; teachers may be required to adhere to pacing calendars and other mandated curriculum, and so forth. Ask some teachers about their experiences balancing district and school mandates with their professional judgement for best serving their students. Learn about how they find ways to work around (or within) the mandated programs to infuse their professional expertise and social justice commitments.
- The authors don’t dig as deeply as they might into textbook publishers’ influence over the curriculum and the political and economic interests that can influence the publishers. Here are some key critical questions you might raise about textbooks: Who benefits when multi-million dollar contracts are signed between school districts and publishing companies? To what extent do such decisions take into account students’ needs or research-based theories about student learning? Are science and history represented according to the best scholarship and evidence, or are some topics “scrubbed” of evidence that powerful community interests find bothersome? Prepare a brief overview to present to a group of uncritical, but fair-minded community members who believe that school textbooks present inclusive, politically neutral, and entirely factual information.
- Interview one or more teachers and ask how their curricular decisions are influenced by the political climate in their school district, community, or state. Probe for specific short-term effects that result from recent legislation or school-board policy, as well as long-range influences that teachers notice taking place over many years. Be sure to ask your interviewee to reflect on trends or events that he or she sees as positive.
- Judy Smith presents social studies to her high school students in ways that encourage them to make critical connections to their own experiences and practices. What do you think about this approach to teaching social studies? Is it appropriate and/or effective to ask students to reflect critically on how social practices, including their own, relate to broader social injustices? What are the potential benefits of this approach?
- Do an Internet search to explore the differences and relationships among “social science,” “social studies,” and classes traditionally taught in schools such as history and geography. Progressive educators typically favor a curriculum that looks more to social science and one that follows the comprehensive approach of social studies. List some arguments that traditionalists might have for avoiding this broader, progressive approach.
- Conservative educators express concerns that critical multicultural approaches in school, especially as they relate to United States history, cause cultural divisiveness, pit members of racial and ethnic groups against each other, and deny students the factual building blocks necessary to ensure national unity. In your opinion, how legitimate are these concerns? What are some cautions you might have when your instruction is guided by a critical, multicultural perspective?
- Have you experienced critical multicultural pedagogy as a student—perhaps including your current courses? Describe any feelings you had of relief or affirmation of your prior views. apprehension or anger about new perspectives, and so forth. Do you ever feel intimidated or overly cautious about asking questions or expressing disagreement? Why? Given this book’s decidedly progressive, constructivist, and social justice perspective on teaching and learning, do you feel like you are “allowed” to raise questions or even disagree with these perspectives? Explain.
- The authors note that one progressive approach to teaching social studies is to “challenge students to view history from the perspective of those at the bottom of the social ladder.” Describe a time when you encouraged students or acquaintances to look at an historical event from the perspective of members of a minoritized community. Select some historical events or eras, and identify, perhaps in a group, the perspectives that guided different understandings. Examine a current social studies textbook to find privileged and marginalized perspectives.
- Review the history of traditionally marginalized peoples in your locale: Native Americans, African Americans, Asians, Latinx, and other people of color, immigrants, and/or religious groups. To what degree are these histories represented to local schoolchildren? The authors suggest that “teachers who want to press their students to think deeply and ask hard questions about the rhetoric and realities of social life” may have to find resources outside of school textbooks and state standards. Why do you suppose this might be necessary? What other resources could you draw on in order to develop a more comprehensive and critical social studies curriculum?
- Select a brief passage from a current social studies textbook that doesn’t adequately reflect the perspectives of groups who are least powerful in society. Edit or rewrite that passage so it is more consistent with your knowledge and understandings.
- Review your K-12 science experiences. Were they largely based on project and laboratory experiences, or were they largely lecture/demonstration/ reading/memorizing? If some of both, describe briefly how the two were integrated.
- Describe a course that supported you to develop important scientific knowledge, interest, and/or background. Do you recall any particular passionate science, social, or political interests of the teacher of this course? How were these interests relevant or irrelevant to your own interests? What concepts or ideas do you remember most clearly from this course? Why?
- Often, middle and high schools use students’ mathematics background or achievement as a “filter” to screen students they expect to be low achievers out of higher-level science classes. Were your science opportunities influenced (either positively or negatively) by your proficiency in mathematics? Explain/analyze the effects of linking math proficiency to science on your own course-taking and future science interest. How could this linkage have social-justice implications?
- The American Society of Mechanical Engineers reported in 2012, “Although the number of female engineers today has greatly improved since the early 1980s, when only 5.8% of engineers in the U.S. were women, it’s still surprisingly low. Currently, only 14% of engineers are women, according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.” Do your best to explain some reasons both for the dramatic discrepancies in participation and for the somewhat encouraging trend. Cite some additional data you can find along with some key reasons for the discrepancies. If you come across frequently-given reasons that have been shown to be bogus, include these in your discussion.
- Given the trend for “back-to-basics” literacy and math instruction in elementary and middle schools—especially for students of color and from poor families, many schools report decreasing time allowed to other academic subjects such as science. Summarize an example of curriculum content that integrates content areas across subject or thematic units. Note, connections between concepts, themes, and standards across language arts, math, social studies, and science.
- The authors identify the following four “new” conceptions of science content contained within the science standards, calling them “provocative and exciting”:
- The content of science cannot be placed outside of science’s unifying concepts and processes.
- Participation in inquiry is scientific content, not just process.
- Scientific knowledge is not distinct from societal challenges.
- The history of science is science content that underscores science as a human and social enterprise.
These standards are far from what most people are used to thinking of as science content. What traditional arguments would you expect to hear against one or more of these conceptions? How would you respond to these arguments?
Tools for Critique: Chapter 6
Instruction: Teaching and Learning Across the Content Areas
Chapter 6, “Instruction: Teaching and Learning Across the Content Areas,” begins with a bit of history detailing how teaching has changed—and hasn’t changed—over the past 200 years. The chapter then discusses recent advances in our understandings about learning. The remainder of the chapter focuses on instructional principles that help teachers to structure multidimensional, active, and interactive experiences that facilitate learning among culturally and linguistically diverse students.
- How Teachers Taught
- Theories of Learning and Their Implications for Teaching
- Learning Is Developmental, Social, and Cultural
- Intelligence Is Acquired and Multidimensional
- Knowledge is Constructed and Becomes Meaningful in Context
- Contemporary Theories in the Classroom
- Seeing Diversity as an Asset and Every Child as a Capable Learner
- Providing Opportunities for Active, Social, Multidimensional and Social Learning
- Building on Students’ Cultures and Languages
- No Easy Recipes
Generative Questions and Activities
- The authors note that teachers in public schools during the early 1900s were pressed to follow “scientific” and “efficient” school reforms. Today’s reform rhetoric often uses the term “innovation” but also includes terms similar to those used in the 1900s, along with “evidence-based,” “outcomes-based, “proven,” and others. Discuss what these reasonable-enough sounding concepts actually mean and how they are enacted.
- The authors also suggest that instruction has changed relatively little over the past century. Have you witnessed, received, and/or provided instruction that involves students in actively constructing their own knowledge? Instruction that is not predetermined and prescribed by school or school district policy? Explain in some detail how you learned (or hope to learn) competencies through non-traditional instruction and/or objectives.
- Summarizing the findings of research on learning over the past 40 years, the authors state that, “people learn to be intelligent as they interact with others to make sense, or construct, meaning out of the world and their experiences in it.” Describe a classroom you have seen that follows this constructivist theory and value. Did it seem like students were learning more, less, or differently from what you are used to seen in conventional classrooms? Explain.
- Drawing on the research of Michael Cole and Sylvia Scribner, the authors claim that, “competence and intelligence are context-dependent.” This might suggest that curriculum and instruction should be multi-dimensional, even fluid, to accommodate a range students across a range of contexts. Why are student-centered, experience-based lessons likely to be more compatible with sociocultural theories of learning than traditional teacher-centered or teacher-directed lessons? Observe an experience- or context-based lesson and comment on how that might have been taught in a traditional way; alternatively, observe traditionally-taught lesson and comment how the learning objective could have been made consistent with sociocultural theory.
- The authors say, “sociocultural and constructivist theories invite teachers to place inclusive and democratic principles at the center of their curricula and from that core develop daily learning opportunities.” How does this differ from placing a “learning objective” at the core of lesson planning and then inserting inclusive and democratic principles where they might be relevant?
- Instruction based on sociocultural and constructivist theories encourages movement, conversation, and complex interactions among students and teacher. Some teachers and others might gasp at the thought of 20, 30, or more students (pick a grade level!) not sitting quietly at their seats under the teacher’s observation and control. Yet most social justice-oriented teachers find that traditional discipline issues (ex., noise, unruliness, lack of attention to task, and so forth) are, like learning itself, improved with the move away from traditional instruction and discipline. Explain why this might be so.
- Concept Table 6.1, lists a set of guidelines that teachers can use as they construct classroom learning communities:
- Teachers see diversity as an asset and see every student as a capable learner.
- Instruction provides opportunities for active, social, multidimensional, and scaffolded learning.
- Teaching and learning builds on students’ cultural and linguistic knowledge.
- Authentic assessment plays a central role in teaching and learning.
- Relationships are caring and interdependent.
- Talk and action are socially just.
If you have the opportunity to observe a classroom over time, use these guidelines to organize your observations. Alternatively, recall the details of one of your own classroom experiences and describe whether and how you experienced these elements. Note that these guidelines are not intended to be a “Yes/No” checklist.
- Describe a situation you experienced or observed when a public comparison undermined a student’s (perhaps your own) confidence. Be sure to speculate on the intention of the comparison. Whom was it intended to benefit, and how? Was it intended to hurt or diminish anyone’s confidence or comfort? What was the actual effect of the comparison? What might you or the teacher have done differently in order to accomplish the instructional goal, yet avoid the comparison?
- Describe how praise can be an implicit comparison, and harmful even for the person being praised. Read one or more of Alfie Kohn’s numerous popular articles and describe some perspectives to keep in mind the next time you want to say, “Good job!”
- Current high-stakes accountability policies, coupled with an emphasis on using student data to inform instruction, has led many administrators to “require” teachers to display students’ test scores on classroom or hallway bulletin boards. Sometimes these scores are color-coded; for example, students’ names highlighted in green are performing on grade level, while names in red are students performing below grade level. What do you think might be the effects of such displays?
- It’s common practice for teachers to display (post on walls or bulletin boards) exemplary student work. Posting all students’ work can expose students with fewer skills to public shaming. Competitive classroom games (with a learning objective or “just fun”) are another way to compare and rank students. These practices can result in some students being consistently identified as “best” or “stars,” and by implication, all the other students are not-best or are “less than.” Describe a classroom culture in which students can share their learning efforts without damaging public comparisons.
- Often students have not learned other ways to evaluate their own progress (or self-worth) besides comparing themselves to others. How would you explain, in your own words, to a new class of students how and why this class is different? What types of relationships, values, processes, and routines will be different? Have in mind a particular grade level, and prepare these remarks in a written one-page letter.
- By exploring Claude Steele’s concepts of stereotype vulnerability and Daniel Solorzano’s concepts of (racial) microaggressions, the authors offer a deeper look into the way race operates in schooling. How do these concepts help you understand how subtle expressions of stereotypes and prejudice work to disadvantage people perceived to be different? How might these concepts enable you to reflect on your own practices as a student or teacher? At what age do you think students can be introduced to these ideas in order to help them understand the effects of bias and prejudice on both themselves and others? How might you go about introducing such ideas to students of different ages?
- The authors mention “Universal Design for Learning” (UDL) as a promising approach to instruction, but they don’t go into great detail. The UDL website explains “UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs. Prepare a brief report on UDL and explain why (or why not) you would recommend that others explore it.
- Designing and delivering complex instruction is one way to support students to achieve high expectations. Reflect on your own schooling experience. Have you ever been in a class in which the teacher attempted to differentiate instruction but did not succeed in helping you (or others) meet high academic expectations? How might this teacher have modified his or her instruction to help you or others become a competent, valued member of the classroom community? Write a detailed example.
- The authors offer brief descriptions of small-group or cooperative learning, of scaffolding strategies and question asking. But theirs is not a book that goes extensively into teaching methods—particularly in specific school subjects. In addition to the obvious, “take a college class that promises to teach those skills,” how might a prospective or experienced teacher go about acquiring the content-specific knowledge and instructional practices to become skilled at facilitating small-group instruction, cooperative approaches to learning and scaffolding? What cautions or concerns might you have if you were invited to attend an afternoon “in-service” on cooperative groups or a one-day workshop on cognitively guided instruction?
- Effective teachers use a variety of strategies to address their students’ multiple learning strengths and needs. Describe a particular class and lesson where you might use cooperative groups and whole-group instruction.
- The authors note that teachers who subscribe to sociocultural learning theories tend to emphasize “activities and relationships that give students access to adults and knowledgeable peers.” Can you think of examples from your own schooling experience in which such activities and relationships were emphasized? What opportunities did you have to interact with adults in cooperative or mentoring activities? How might you go about implementing such experiences in your own classroom?
- Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) is slowly coming to the attention of many teachers, as well as many college instructors and researchers. What resources could you turn to pursue your interest in CGI?
- Even though well-designed cooperative grouping assures that all students thrive in heterogeneous, or mixed-ability groups, a common criticism is that “more advanced” students do all the work and have to teach “struggling” students, instead of speeding on with their own learning. How would you respond to this criticism? What rationale and data would you provide? List what you believe are four or more strong arguments in favor cooperative groups as one regularly-used classroom strategy.
- Consider the “Core Media Literacy Skills” described in Concept Table 6.4. These skills are relevant for individual teachers to keep in mind and pursue. However, like other literacies, they are acquired developmentally across all of schooling. Should these skills be learned in a “linear” way; that is, are there some that need to be learned first before going on to others? Or can they all be learned at a developmentally appropriate level even by the youngest students? Give some examples. (Consider this question even if you don’t intend to teach young children.)
- Suppose you are selected to serve on a school’s “Technology Committee.” However, other than a modest facility with a computer (word processing, social media, gaming, etc.), you do not have extensive computer technology experience. What do you think you could offer this committee as you work alongside others to learn about selecting among available technologies? What arguments would you make in persuading others that the cultural and linguistic diversity of your students should guide the overall implementation of how and what technology is brought in and implemented?
- Following on the previous question, imagine you work in a racially, socioeconomically, and linguistically diverse high school. Identify some technology aspects according to these three dimensions: (1) a normative dimension that addresses people’s beliefs, philosophies, and attitudes regarding who can and should learn what knowledge; (2) a political dimension that addresses the power structures and groups that support or resist change; and (3) a technical dimension that addresses how organizational and teaching resources and methods are arranged for optimal learning experiences. Next, find a school’s current technology plan, mission, or set of objectives and analyze the degree to which the normative, political, and technical dimensions are addressed. This can be your own, individual “exercise,” but it would work well with a partner or group.
- Important questions that intrigue adults can be equally relevant and interesting for younger students, especially when the vexing questions involve school. Consider how the question above can become the core of an engaging and highly motivational lesson involving research and discussion for students from upper elementary to high school levels.
- The authors note gender disparities in access to learning about technology. Assuming there are no official rules to exclude girls from access, how do you account for these disparities? How would you go about inquiring about gender equity in technology use and access in a school with which you are familiar? Report on whether the school or other entities keep easily-accessible records. Would you describe the school’s level of concern for gender equity to technology as authentic or as just compliance-driven?
- Consider the rapid pace of new developments in hand-held computing. Are competencies with new technologies essential for teaching, or are they optional as long as teachers are skilled in more established teaching methods? What might schools do to help teachers maximize available technology in their teaching and to stay as technologically savvy as their students?
- Review the section on “Additive” Instruction and relate the ideas there to previous discussions of assimilation and beliefs that “other” languages and cultures must be extinguished before the English language and Western (American) culture can be firmly established.
- Teachers Matthew Eide, Maria Hwang, Cindy Bell, Benji Chang, and Kimberly Min all provide examples of ways to build on students’ cultures and languages in the classroom. Think about the classroom context with which you are most familiar. What cultural and linguistic backgrounds are represented in that class? What could you do to draw on and leverage these linguistic and cultural “funds of knowledge” in order to better scaffold student learning? Brainstorm a list of specific strategies, techniques, and activities that you could attempt to use.
Tools for Critique: Chapter 7
Assessment: Measuring What Matters
Chapter 7, “Assessment: Measuring What Matters,” describes the way educators measure student learning and explores the basic ideas that underlie these practices. The chapter begins by explaining a few basic assessment concepts and reviewing the history of testing, including the nineteenth and early twentieth century efforts to define and measure intelligence. It then discusses today’s standardized achievement tests—their construction, meaning, and uses in twenty-first century education. Finally, the chapter looks inside classrooms and offers a set of principles and practices that can help teachers use assessment to foster learning and social justice.
- A Few Definitions
- The History of Educational Testing
- Testing in Early China
- Testing in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Schools
- The Development of Scientific Testing
- Contemporary Large-Scale Assessment
- Standardized Tests
- Alternatives to Traditional, Large-Scale Tests
- Classroom-Based Assessment
- Moving Beyond Traditional Classroom Assessments
- A Culture of Authenticity
Generative Questions and Activities
- High school social studies teacher Judy Smith describes different assessments that she uses to inform her daily practice. Are these similar to those with which you are familiar? Describe two assessments that you recall from your K-12 years: one, that your teacher used to help you learn, and one assessment that you can’t connect with having helped your learning.
- The authors state that without assessments teachers cannot plan next month’s or tomorrow’s lessons or tailor those lessons to suit individual students…” How do these assessment purposes differ from the ways that high-stakes standardized tests are currently used in schools? If high stakes tests are not primarily used to support student learning or inform instruction, or monitor student progress, can they still serve other purposes?
- Broadly define the differences between traditional assessments and alternative assessments. What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of each? Assuming that your school will require you to administer traditional assessments, what alternative assessments seem promising to inform you of student learning? If possible, select one or two that you especially liked when you were a K-12 student, and explain why.
- In discussing the forms of assessment that were used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the authors note: “All these forms of assessment relied heavily on behavioral theories of human learning. Recitations and written tests were the ‘end’ of a transmission process in which knowledge began with the sender (teacher) and finished with the receiver (student).” Briefly summarize how behavioral theories differ from sociocultural and cognitive theories of learning, and how these theories apply to assessment.
- Sociocultural and cognitive understandings are supported by over a half century of research during which time behaviorism has been largely discredited as a long-term guide for productive teaching and learning. How can you explain the permanence and sometimes dominance of behavioral approaches in the face of overwhelming research that challenges behaviorism?
- The eugenics movement of the early twentieth century combined scientific and scientific-sounding information to conclude that people of color were inherently or genetically intellectually inferior to whites. The movement’s intention was political—promoting public policy to diminish the reproduction of people of color, who eugenicists considered undesirable “types.” Identify contemporary examples of people resorting to pseudoscience in order to support race-based conclusions about education and other social phenomena.
- According to the authors, the racist IQ tests of the early twentieth century have “spawned large-scale aptitude and achievement tests—the SAT, ACT, and a wide array of basic skills tests that are simply variations of the IQ tests themselves.” The authors also note that these current tests “play an important role in rank ordering students and deciding what their future schooling opportunities will be.” If theories of learning have evolved over the past century, why do you think these kinds of tests are still used to assess students?
- Think about your own performance on norm-referenced standardized tests. For example, how did you score on such tests in elementary and middle school? How did you score on the SAT in high school? Do you feel that your scores on these tests accurately reflected your intelligence? Do you feel that your score on the SAT accurately reflected your aptitude for college? In what ways have your test performances influenced your self-perception or self-confidence?
- Describe a time when a particular test or test score altered the course or trajectory of your schooling and/or life experiences.
- Critics of norm-referenced standardized tests allege that such tests embody fundamental biases because they often measure students’ facility with the English language or other factors that do not reflect what students know or understand. Identify cultural practices that might give certain groups of people an advantage or disadvantage on standardized tests. What practices, values, and experiences seem to be privileged by such tests? Discuss how such biases might be related to the racist roots of IQ testing.
- In large urban school systems, such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and increasingly in smaller school districts, many of the students who take norm-referenced standardized tests are English Learners and/or students who have lived in the United States for a short period of time. In your view, is it fair to make English Learners take the same test as English-dominant students? What, if any, useful information might be gained from assessing English Learners in this way if the tests were not “high-stakes”?
- The authors note that socioeconomic inequalities are often reflected in schools attended by students of color in working-class communities, and that these schools typically provide fewer educational resources or opportunities. Explain how standardized tests could be used to potentially bring greater equity to schooling; then explain how these tests could potentially work against equity. Overall, do how these “potentials” balance out in today’s schools?
- Describe some examples of “teaching to the test.” Traditionalists argue that such teaching only makes sense—that school officials ought to specify what they expect students to learn, teach it, and test for the learning that took place. Discuss why this is a persuasive argument along with some flaws in the argument.
- The American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education conclude that “retention, tracking, or graduation, should not be based on the results of a single test, but should include other relevant and valid information.” Why, if testing experts clearly recommend the use of multiple measures for making important educational decisions, are so many education policy advocates still attached to using the results of single measures? If those who know the most about testing oppose attaching high stakes to a single assessment, who is supporting this practice?
- Work to develop new assessments accompanied the start-up of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and some states began using these assessments as early as the 2014-2015 school year. To date, has your state adopted CCSS? Are new assessments sufficiently developed? Are the assessments (and standards) widely accepted or resisted and controversial? Over the course of the past few years has reliance on traditional, standardized, “bubble-in” tests diminished, or have these tests remained key to student and school evaluations in spite of changing standards and attempts to align tests with the standards?
- Tracing the history of educational testing, the authors note that “teachers have often focused their assessments on what they can observe after learning has taken place—whether students can recall what they have learned.” What might be some of the benefits of assessing students “at the moment of learning” instead of after learning has taken place? Give an example of what this “moment-by-moment” learning and assessment might look like. What unique insights into students’ learning and into their own learning might this type of assessment afford teachers? How might it inform teachers’ instruction in a more immediate way?
- The teachers in this chapter share examples of how they have used assessment to inform their instruction at different phases or stages of a given lesson or unit rather than only assessing students at the end. Think of a lesson or unit that you have taught (or would like to teach). Now brainstorm ways that you could incorporate various forms of assessment throughout the lesson/unit (i.e., assessing prior knowledge before the lesson/unit begins, conducting formative assessments to monitor students’ learning as the lesson/unit progresses, and then using summative assessments once the lesson/unit is finished) that tap into Tomlinson and McTighe’s Six Facets of Understanding.
- Focus on a particular class in which you were recently enrolled. How did the type of test or the overall assessment program of that class affect your study and learning? Describe a “best example” of how an assessment helped you gain deep knowledge of a topic. Describe a “worst example” of how an assessment seemed to discourage you from deep and thorough learning.
- Briefly define authentic learning. What would you say to someone who criticized that concept? For example, “This doesn’t sound very scientific.” Or, “It doesn’t sound like this would help my student pass important tests.”
- Select a class that you have recently taken or one in which you are now enrolled. List several (try four) modifications that could make one of your assessments more “authentic.”
- The authors describe how interactive assessments can guide teachers as they help, explain, and provide feedback for students. What opportunities for interactive assessment are provided in the classes that you have observed? How could more of these interactive assessments be built into instructional time?
- Brainstorm with a classmate some ideas for student-assisted assessment or even “self-generated” assessment.
- One way to conduct a formative assessment of students’ progress in a given area is to have students keep portfolios of their ongoing work. This allows you to examine students’ progress over time, while also allowing students to monitor their own progress. What criteria should apply to a portfolio, beyond collecting all work inside a folder? Describe your portfolio use with your own work, your students’ or portfolios you have seen used.
Tools for Critique: Chapter 8
Classrooms as Communities: Developing Caring, Democratic Relationships
Chapter 8, “Classrooms as Communities: Developing Caring, Democratic Relationships,” surveys the legacy of management, discipline, and control that many teachers still rely on to organize classroom life. It also examines a second tradition—creating child-centered, caring and democratic classrooms—that, while less common, also has deep American roots. The chapter concludes with attention to the contributions of critical theorists, whose insights can help teachers respond with agency to issues of power and domination as they strive to make their classrooms socially just.
- Caring and Democratic Classrooms
- Management, Socialization, Discipline, and Control: Lasting Legacies
- Classrooms as Well-Managed Factories
- Classrooms as Places to Socialize Youth
- Using Behavioral Psychology to Discipline and Control
- Prevent Disruption with Consistency and Attentiveness
- Child-centeredness, Caring, and Democracy: A Second Set of Legacies
- Child-Centered Schooling
- An Ethic of Care
- Socially Just Classrooms: Doing Democracy
- Creating Classroom Communities Is an Ongoing, Emancipatory Struggle
Generative Questions and Activities
- Some teachers favor well-honed, traditional techniques for motivating students to behave well including the use of rewards, punishments, and rules. Third-grade teacher Kimberly Min believes that learning “rights and responsibilities” in the classroom requires the same careful, democratic learning processes as those required to effectively learn the course content. “I have never had a list of ‘rules’ in the class posted on the door before students have walked in. I think it is important to listen to their ideas and incorporate what I want to see and what they want to see in the class.” Is there a fundamental difference in how students acquire the norms and habits of a productive classroom community and how they acquire content knowledge? How are the two the same or overlapping? (Review discussions in the text of behaviorist approaches to learning and constructivist approaches.)
- In a 10 minute “quick write” define/discuss “school discipline” as most people think of it.
- Sixth-grade teacher Amy Lee shares an anecdote about a student named Hector, whose behavior had initially frustrated her, and her attempts to create a caring and respectful classroom community. She describes how Hector “blossomed” as she persistently sought to develop a caring relationship with him. Can you think of a student who reminds you of Hector? List several obstacles that could (or do) get in the way of your establishing a caring and respectful relationships with students. For each of these obstacles, identify some ways to overcome or work with these obstacles. Try doing this exercise as a shared challenge with others in a group.
- Throughout this book the authors highlight teachers’ (like Amy Lee, above) mostly successful struggles to overcome classroom challenges—or at least to cope with those challenges while continuing to work for education justice in their classrooms and schools. Do you tend to see these teachers as exceptional or as professionals simply doing their job? Explain.
- Because most students have been “taught” appropriate classroom behaviors from the earliest grades (i.e., raise your hand before speaking, do not chew gum, come to class on time), many teachers believe that students should possess these “good” or “correct” learning-appropriate classroom behaviors. Generate a list of reasons for classroom “misbehavior” other than the explanation that students have not learned a firm list of non-negotiable behavioral expectations. Here, you may want to draw on elements of sociocultural learning theory.
- Consider the class in which you are now enrolled. List your own class misbehaviors. With a group or partner, discuss why you are not a “discipline problem” or why you are. Could any of your behavior be considered an act of resistance--designed to negotiating an appropriate balance between your autonomy and the authority goals of the class or school?
- What do “equitable learning communities” and conventional notions of “correct” or “good” classroom behavior have to do with one another? What’s the difference between a classroom or school rule and a norm?
- The authors offer a mixed view of William Glasser’s “Choice Theory.” In his favor, Glasser’s program avoids typical “overtly behaviorist classroom management.” On the other hand, Glasser neglects “many of the mediating factors” within the whole school and community social environment, and his theory locates all problematic behaviors squarely within the individual student. Typically, consultant-provided and commercially available classroom management programs over-promise solutions for teacher-control of classrooms. Briefly (try for one paragraph), develop a list of critical questions you would want to ask about any such program. Conduct an Internet search for “classroom management strategies,” browse through the offerings, and comment on how they stand up to your critical questions.
- The authors refer again to early nineteenth-century schools as trying to match the organizational efficiencies of factories. These factories placed a high priority on workers who would labor dutifully within the factories’ systems. Why, when school personnel and policymakers are dissatisfied with school climate—discipline or attention to study and achievement—do so many still long for the efficiencies of a well-run business? Is there some merit in getting policies, practices, and rules aligned to produce greater student outcomes? Can the factory (or business) model align with key elements of sociocultural and constructivist theory? Give examples from schools with which you are familiar.
- Describe how a teacher can create a caring, respectful, and democratic classroom community within a school that runs (or tries to run) with factory-like efficiency? Have you seen an example of a caring community of teachers that supports one another’s social justice goals, even when those goals are not a high priority for the school generally? If so, describe it.
- Kindergarten teacher Javier Espindola describes the positive impact of removing the Assertive Discipline program from his classroom. Do you suppose that his decision was simply a matter of deciding that one approach didn’t work and replacing it with another? Why could it be difficult for a “new” teacher to reject an officially approved program? What steps might teachers take if they wanted to try alternative practices, routines, and structures?
- Imagine you worked at a school with a strict “zero tolerance” policy. What short-term and long-range actions might you take to address the consequences of such a policy for one of your students and for the school as a whole?
- The authors imply that effective instruction and classroom management cannot be neatly separated. If possible, observe a classroom where the teacher seems to have relatively few “discipline problems.” (If not, recall classrooms from your own past.) What is the relationship between management and pedagogy? Alternatively, observe in a classroom that has considerable disruptions due to students’ “misbehavior.” What does the instruction look like in this classroom? How is the teacher attempting to “manage” the class?
- Bilingual coordinator Mauro Bautista describes how he responds to students’ “misbehavior” by reflecting on his teaching in order to determine how he might make instruction more engaging. Reflections such as Mauro’s are more likely to result in deeper, cumulative understandings than a lightning-bolt insight into a grievous teacher error. Instead, reflections “pay off” over time and “on average.” What are some ways that you might structure systematic reflections on how your classroom practices influence student behavior? This might be done on your own or with others.
- Consider two opposite views on classroom behavior “problems.” The first is that misbehavior resides entirely within the student(s), and students must change their actions or attitudes to correct the problem. The second is that nearly all misbehaviors can be addressed and corrected by a caring teacher who offers “interesting” or engaging lessons.
- Have you ever seen a school that reflects some of the legacy of care and respect established by the “socialized education” movement of Addams and Dewey and the humanistic education movement of Rogers, Maslow, and Lawrence? Describe what these schools have in common with these historical movements.
- Social and emotional learning (SEL) has gained increasing attention since it emerged in the 1990s. Have you observed or been a student in a classroom that focuses on social intelligence and SEL? Describe some of the features.
- Consider Nel Noddings’ view of care as a “continuous search for competence.” How does this view both encompass and extend your previous view of what it means to care? Think about how the search for competence might guide a teacher’s relationships with one’s children, parents, friends, colleagues, teachers, and students.
- Describe an example of the co-construction of competence in a relationship that you have experienced or observed. This chapter draws on the work of Noddings, Fogel, Howes and Richie, Noblitt, and other psychologists, researchers, and theorists. But do the authors and other progressives offer a compelling alternative to behavioral methods? Why or why not?
- The authors cite some questions that Alfie Kohn proposes in order to “turn classrooms into places where discipline problems rarely happen.” (“What makes school awful sometimes?” “What can we do this year to make sure things go better?” “Suppose you hurt someone’s feelings, or did something even worse. How would you want us, the rest of the community, to help you then?” and “What if someone else acted that way? How could we help that person?”) What do these questions have in common?
- Kindergarten teachers Cicely Bingener and Vivian Gussin Paley approach community building in much the same way as Alfie Kohn. This approach is time-consuming because it involves having real discussions with children about real issues. Have you witnessed or experienced “community meetings” or discussions that teachers use to build a caring and respectful classroom community? Describe what you saw. Who could you ask to point you to classrooms where you could observe community meetings?
- Write (or present orally) a brief summary of Restorative Justice. Imagine your “audience” is a group of experienced teachers who are unfamiliar with the concept. Next, edit your remarks to make them suitable for students at the age or grade level you teach, or might teach.
- Identify several ways (both obvious and subtle) that your current class is responsive to you—your background, history, language, everyday experiences, ideology, and so forth What changes in your current class (for which you are reading this text) could make this course more culturally relevant for your own experience and/or for students you are likely to teach?
- The authors mention Antonia Darder’s call for classrooms to be “apprenticeships in democracy.” Often, democracy is taken to mean, exclusively, a decision-making practice with voting or consensus building as the primary mechanisms. Expand this conventional conception of democracy to include many of the ideas presented in this chapter: care, cultural understanding, sociocultural learning, and so forth.
- Ramón Martínez discusses how he aims to counteract his young students’ resistance to school: “Group discussions, weekly ‘sharing time,’ and interactive journals are three ways that I have attempted to validate my students’ lived experiences. I have tried to communicate to them that their thoughts, ideas, and experiences are important and worthy of discussion in the classroom.” These “activities” might be seen as technical hints or ideas to achieve a productive classroom culture. But they also reveal the teacher’s norms (beliefs, values, priorities) for a classroom culture he hopes to nourish. Lastly, there is a political dimension to Ramon’s approach as he steps back from the conventional power and authority teachers hold and he democratizes relationships between himself and the children in his class. Observe a class and comment on some technical, normative, and political dimensions you see enacted.
- Create a list of considerations that would go into a year-long management/community building plan for the grade you teach or would like to teach. Be sure to include details such as seating plans (or whether or not you would include seating plans), everyday procedures (pencil sharpening, attendance, going to the bathroom, going to lunch, changing classes, etc.), the development of classroom rules or community agreements, office referrals, and home contacts. Next, identify for each of these considerations (when possible) one “Potential for Good” and one “Potential for Harm.” What theory supports your assessment of these potentials for good or harm? After weighing the pros and cons of each issue, decide which rules to include and which to exclude. Thinking back to Kimberly Min’s decision to let her students co-create the classroom rules with her, how might you incorporate your ideas from this plan into a co-constructed set of rules? Would you assert your ideas before listening to students’ suggestions, during the discussions, or not at all? Would establishing your “year-long” plan occur in the first week or month of school, or might it take longer? How long?
* Alfie Kohn, Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community (Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1996), pp. 114–115.
Tools for Critique: Chapter 9
School Culture: Where Good Teaching Makes Sense
Chapter 9, “The School Culture: Where Good Teaching Makes Sense,” identifies characteristics of schools that support democratic teaching and learning. The chapter describes several current reform efforts aimed at establishing healthy learning environments. The chapter also describes “inquiry”—a kind of dialogue that supports members of the school community to ask questions, reflect, and take action to improve the school’s culture and ensure socially just learning.
- Schools as Cultures
- School Cultures Shape Sense-Making
- School Cultures Where It Makes Sense to Teach All Students Well
- A Press for Learning and Social Justice
- School Cultures Where Learning Is the Top Priority
- School Cultures Where Everyone Succeeding is the Norm
- School Cultures that Foster Multicultural, College-Going Identities
- Access to Learning Opportunities and Resources
- Access to Adequate Resources
- Access to High-Quality Teaching
- Access to a Rich, Balanced Curriculum
- Access to Extra Help When It’s Needed
- Access to Equitable Learning Time
- Access to Caring Relationships and Practices
- Schools as Places Where Every Student Is Known by Name
- Schools as Safe Zones
- Schools in the Post-Columbine Era: Care in a Violent Culture
- Schools in a Post-9/11 World: Care in a Culture of Fear
- Schools in a Post-Katrina Context: Care in the Face of a Broken Social Contract
- Professionalism, Collaboration, Inquiry and Activism
- Teachers as Participants and Professionals
- Teachers as Partners in Teaching and Learning
- Faculties as Inquiring Communities
- Creating a Culture of Critical Inquiry
Generative Questions and Activities
- One high-school teacher featured in the text (who withheld her name) contrasts the supportive and collaborative culture at her first high school with the “dysfunctional” culture she encountered at her new school. Reflect on the culture at the school where you work (or plan to work). How does it compare to the first and second schools she discusses? Why? Give specific examples.
- The authors note that when one is immersed in a culture, he or she may hardly be aware of the culture’s characteristics or effects. Because the culture represents what is “normal,” most K-12 students (as well as most adults) pay little conscious attention to how the culture affects them. In fact, the cultural value for independence, for “being my own person,” and for rejecting peer pressure is so strong that young students and teenagers will often deny that the culture has any effect on them at all—proclaiming themselves immune from fads, school values, or other cultural influences. Reflect and comment on your own experiences within different school cultures—paying particular attention to those times when you felt somehow at odds with what the school culture seemed to value and encourage. Looking back, how do you think school culture shaped your academic and social trajectory?
- Imagine addressing your students’ parents at “back to school night.” Briefly explain “cultural or academic press” as it exerts influence in your class and school, or the one you imagine working at if you’re not there yet. Include advantages and obstacles that such press presents.
- It is not uncommon for a school to have different presses for different students—perhaps according to the academic “track” into which they were placed. Comment on whether the press for high achievement was applied similarly to all students at your high school—and in particular, on whether the press for high achievement extended to all students across racial, gender, and economic lines.
- Some classes seem to spend a lot of time in activities that have little to do with meaningful learning. With a group of colleagues, write and perform a 5-minute skit that incorporates as many as possible of the ways that students and teachers—intentionally or not—keep the class occupied with nonacademic activity. Over a few days at a school site, document specific adult behaviors (including exact quotes and campus activities) that reveal high or low levels of press for academic achievement. Pay attention to contradictions that pair messages emphasizing hard work and achievement with others that work against those goals.
- With a particular school in mind specify one change in each of the following categories that would strengthen the school culture and press for learning: student behavior policies, curriculum offerings, student scheduling, extracurricular activities, facilities and campus “layouts,” or any others. Explain how the proposed changes align with sociocultural learning principles, and how they are sensitive to social-justice concerns.
- In describing the powerful influence of the school culture, the authors state: “Low expectations are not simply inert beliefs. They exert their own kind of press; they press educators to take actions that align with those expectations—to translate low expectations into practices that make it impossible for students to succeed.” Describe examples of teachers’ expressions or communications of low expectations for students, and what it would take to invert those expectations and their expressions.
- Describe how a well-meaning teacher might confuse care and consideration with low expectations. Similarly, how might “high expectations” serve as an excuse for disregarding key sociocultural understandings of a classroom or school culture?
- Brainstorm a list of activities or classroom routines that could, over time, help students believe that college is for people who look like and speak like them. Some of these might be a single event such as a guest speaker, but describe or develop longer range experiences that extend across semesters or years of schooling.
- The authors assert that, “Americans have a high level of acceptance for obviously unequal school resources.” Have you heard people give neutral, benign, non-racist, or even progressive reasons for unequal distribution of school resources? Perhaps you have some similar explanations yourself. What are some of these arguments you have personally or have heard from others?
- How do poor or inadequate school facilities such as science laboratories, recreation areas, textbooks, and so forth, influence school culture and student learning?
- Can schools be both unequal and good? Consider how the authors emphasize equity and race in their discussions of the school culture and other topics that are addressed in this book. Other reform-minded educators may be more inclined to emphasize “quality” or “adequacy” when considering what makes for good teaching and good schools. Discuss your own views about the challenge to achieve the dual goal of equitable and high quality schools.
- The authors observe that teachers often are “tracked,” too. That is, teachers with less status, less training, or lower reputations are assigned to teach students enrolled in lower level classes, whereas highly qualified teachers with strong reputations are more likely to teach higher-performing students in higher-level classes. Describe your observations of and/or experiences with this phenomenon. Is this a practice that is openly discussed at schools with which you are familiar? What do you suppose (or what have you heard) are the most common reasons given for teacher tracking? What could be done differently to ensure equity?
- With a particular school in mind, identify a particular teacher who has had a profound impact on the overall school culture. Identify the specific ways in which this teacher has provided mentorship and inspiration. What specific values, beliefs, and practices can you pinpoint?
- While small schools have gained popularity in various places, many public schools remain large. How can teachers and administrators work together to make large schools more caring places? Brainstorm a list of ways you have seen individual teachers and the entire school show care for students, especially in large and underresourced schools.
- Answer the question above for class sizes, too.
- Kate Castleberry and Kimberly Min both describe ways that they have confronted issues of race and racism at their schools. How should teachers and schools raise these issues? List some caveats, precautions, and considerations that teachers should take into account as they plan lessons or activities with these matters in mind.
- In the authors’ discussion of a study surveying middle- and high-school students, they report that “nearly 9 out of 10 LGBTQ respondents reported experiencing verbal and/or physical harassment at school in the past year, nearly two-thirds reported feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation, and nearly a third reported skipping at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.” Bullying, and bullying due to a student’s gender expression and/or sexual orientation, is a serious issue with grave consequences. Have you observed or created specific spaces for LGBTQ youth in schools? What can teachers do to combat bullying and ensure that LGBTQ youth feel safe and are safe in school? How might you help decrease homophobia and heteronormativity in your school? Create an inventory of in- and out-of-school resources and groups that are available to support LGBTQ students and their teachers.
- Via traditional and social media, students have exposure to a wide range of content. On a single fall morning in 2017, such media brought news of destruction and suffering following three devastating hurricanes; a current president saying about a peacefully protesting athlete, “Get that son of a bitch off the field”; a former U.S. congressman being sentenced to prison for “sexting”; and a North Korean diplomat stating that the US president’s threats were “a declaration of war.” Select 5 prominent events from “today’s” news and write an age-appropriate prompt that would engage your students in meaningful discussion.
- A common criticism of team teaching is that one teacher teaches twice as many students while the other teacher simply has some “free time.” Then they trade. However, the authors point out that team teaching is at the heart of many teaching reforms. List the benefits of team teaching, especially team-taught classes you have experienced or observed. How are these benefits consistent with sociocultural perspectives on teaching (and learning)? List multiple “types” or different configurations of teamwork among teachers.
- The authors describe inquiry as a process of “becoming informed about one’s own and others’ practices, connecting practices with theory, and developing trusting relationships with allies.” Have you ever had the opportunity to engage in such a process? Have you seen other teachers engage in this process? Describe what you saw.
- Think about how you might go about initiating an informal inquiry group once you begin teaching. What steps would you need to take? What cautions would you recommend or anticipate when getting started with an inquiry activity?
- This chapter ends with several questions that educators can ask themselves about their school culture, guided by the principles of the Stanford School ReDesign Network. Begin compiling a list of answers to questions like these: “How well do we really know our students? What are we doing to support them all to meet high expectations? How do we ensure that our students don’t fall behind? Where in our curriculum do we give students opportunities to make “real-world” connections and to take socially just action? Are we making the very most of the resources we have for learning? Are we doing enough to collaborate with one another—as well as students, families, community members and so on—to provide the most rigorous, responsive education possible?” At this point, just get started with these questions—ideally, in collaboration with colleagues. Over time and together, add new questions and observations.
Tools for Critique: Chapter 10
School Structure: How Grouping and Tracking Shape Students' Opportunities to Learn
Chapter 10, “School Structure: How Grouping and Tracking Shape Opportunities to Learn,” deals with the often-controversial ways that schools respond to differences in students’ abilities, achievements, and behaviors. The chapter explains how the categories and labels schools assign to students reflect social and cultural constructions, rather than natural “facts,” and how labeling and sorting students became part of American schooling. We then review some of the evidence showing that these practices often do as much to create differences as they do to meet students’ special needs. Finally, we describe the work of educators who attempt to give all students the attention and resources they need without isolating or alienating them.
- Labeling and Sorting, and Grouping in Today’s Schools
- Sorting by Academic Ability and Achievement
- Sorting by Postsecondary Prospects
- Sorting by “Giftedness”
- Sorting by Disabilities
- Sorting by English Language Competence
- Why Do Schools Label and Sort Students?
- The Social Construction of Difference
- The History of Biased Sorting
- Grouping Dilemmas
- The Arbitrariness of Labels and Sorting
- The Illusion of Homogeneity
- Race and Social Class Bias
- Ties to Behavioral Learning Theory and Transmission Teaching
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and Processes
- Disappointing and Enduring Outcomes
- Controversy Surrounds Homogeneous Grouping
- To Change or to Fix
- Accommodating Diversity Without Sorting
- Implementing Heterogeneous Grouping
- Technical Skills, Norms and Beliefs, Politics and Power
- The Struggle for Heterogeneous Grouping
Generative Questions and Activities
- Mauro Bautista describes how he worked to increase the number of “reclassified” students (i.e., students whose designation changed from “Limited English Proficient” to “Fluent English Proficient”) at his middle school. Think about the English Learners at the school with which you are most familiar. In what ways do students’ language designations help teachers meet students’ instructional needs? In what ways do students’ language designations limit their access to equal educational opportunities? In your opinion, do the “pros” of this type of labeling outweigh the “cons” for these students? Try to give some specific examples.
- The authors discuss how students are often sorted by academic ability and achievement, postsecondary prospects, “giftedness,” disabilities, and English language competence. First, explain the logic behind these “common sense” ways of grouping students. Then, discuss whether or not you agree with such sorting. Is it “sensible” to you? Why or why not? Do some of the reasons for sorting students make more sense to you than others? Explain.
- The authors note that schools are legally required to teach students with special needs within “the least restrictive environment,” which encourages schools to “mainstream” such students through “inclusion” plans or programs. How might ideas such as mainstreaming and inclusion apply to students designated as English Learners, “gifted,” etc.? Why might teachers of these “special” groups resist mainstreaming? Why might teachers of classes without mainstreamed students resist students’ inclusion? Why might parents object?
- Observe a “special education” class and interview the teachers or talk with a parent of a child in a “special education” program. Ask which characteristics tend to distinguish children with “special” needs from their peers, how schools determine which children have such needs, how “special education” differs from what other children receive, how the school judges whether “special” efforts are successful, and how special education is held accountable (and by what standards).
- Observe a class that has “mainstreamed” special education students and interview the teachers or talk with a parent of a student in the classroom. Seek answers to similar questions (as above). Also ask those interviewed about the experience of mainstreaming as it impacts both the children “being mainstreamed” and those “in the mainstream” already.
- Observe a “gifted” class and interview the teachers or talk with a parent of a child in a “gifted” program. Ask a similar set of questions (as above).
- Keeping in mind responses to the questions above, assume the role of a school principal and identify types of actions you would take to help teachers, parents, and students implement mainstreaming school-wide.
- Review your own personal history with labeling and/or grouping—what you experienced and/or observed. Focus on your specific experiences/observations and how they made you feel. Did you, your parents, or anyone at school ever question or challenge labels or grouping decisions? Did you have friends or siblings who were labeled or grouped differently? Was “your” label or group inclusive of a cross section of the school, or did you notice that it (or other labels or groups) reflected over- or under-representation according to race, gender, or ethnicity? How did you make sense of this at the time? How do you make sense of it now, given what you know about these practices?
- The authors note that African American and Latino students are disproportionately identified as less capable and placed in lower-level groups and classes. Because of this, they argue, “no discussion of grouping can take place without paying careful attention to the racial and social class characteristics of the resulting labeled groups.” Given the racist history of intelligence testing, what aspects of contemporary grouping do you find problematic? In your view, to what extent do current practices comport with or challenge historical patterns of inequality?
- Some teachers prefer, feel comfortable, and derive a sense of success from teaching heterogeneous or mixed group classes. Other teachers do not, and some can’t imagine feeling successful in such arrangements. How do you interpret these differences? What kind of teacher do you strive to be, and why?
- Schools that recognize racial inequities across academic tracks make an effort to recruit talented students of color into “top” tracks (e.g., honors, gifted, AP). What makes this an inadequate approach to addressing the underlying issues?
- The authors take pains to place the practice of grouping students in an historical context. Is the historical context important? Explain your thinking.
- Examine one school’s grouping practices. First, track down or request any public documents (e.g., course descriptions, grouping policies, waiver policies, etc.) that have bearing on grouping practices; then interview school personnel (e.g., counselors, administrators) regarding the types or examples of exceptions to placement criteria. Pay attention to patterns of exceptions according to race, gender, language, or economic status. Take note of potential flaws in the system including the reliability and usefulness of placement methods; parents’ and students’ relative agency (i.e., their own influence and activism in shaping outcomes); and structural constraints such as limited resources and scheduling problems.
- Many advocates of ability grouping and gifted programs argue that these practices make sense much like selecting the “best” athletes for competitive sports teams and the “best” musicians for the concert band. What assumptions underlie this analogy?
- The authors share an example of one West Coast school district in which “white and Asian students with average scores on standardized tests were more than twice as likely to be in ‘accelerated’ classes as Latino students with the same scores.” Examine the tracking in place at the school with which you are most familiar. What patterns do you see there? Interview teachers and administrators at that school. How do they explain those patterns? How do you interpret them?
- Put yourself in the position of a teacher or administrator at a school such as the one described in the question above. What might be your reaction(s) be to a college student such as yourself asking about “patterns” in course or track placements?
- Compare the patterns described by the authors with the educational opportunities available to “lower track” students at your school. In what ways does placement in a lower track affect their access to equal educational opportunities?
- When might it make sense for students in heterogeneous (mixed abilities) class to be re-grouped for a particular instructional purpose? Describe how a teacher might utilize flexible and temporary groupings to target students’ instructional needs.
- Identify a school or school district that has reduced, modified, or eliminated tracking. Were the efforts successful? What were the successes and difficulties? Can you find provisions that preserve some of the “privileges” of high-track placement?
- View the video, Off Track: Classroom Privilege for All, clips of which are available online. As you watch, consider the features of the detracked classrooms that seemed to have the most positive impact on students’ learning and overall experiences. What had to happen in the school and community in order to make detracking a possibility in these classrooms? What role did teachers play? Administrators? Parents and community members? Why, after only one year, do you think the school opted to return to tracked classes, even after seeing how successful students from detracked classes were? What would it have taken to sustain the detracking? How might teachers apply lessons from this “experiment” to their practice, even in schools where tracking is the norm?
- In earlier chapters, the authors address the history of race-based segregation in American public schools. In what ways are detracking and desegregation efforts, as well as responses to them, alike and different?
- The authors note that, “efforts to move away from [ability grouping and tracking] nearly always engender resistance from those whose children are advantaged by them.” As a new teacher, what would be a first step that you could take toward working with parents, administrators, and other teachers to “make common cause around serving all students well”? What cautions would you keep in mind?
Fine, M., Anand, B. T., Jordan, C. P., Sherman, D., & Hancock, M. (Creators/Directors and Producer) (1998). Off Track: Classroom Privilege for All. Hancock Productions, 1998. New York: Teachers College Press [Distributor]. One videocassette (30 min), ISBN: 0807737860. (Tracking in schools, or the practice of segregating students by "ability", has long been an issue of debate among educators and researchers alike. As shown in “Off-Track,” the practice of tracking raises fundamental educational questions about how we define intelligence and who we deem to be intelligent. The setting of the video is an untracked World Literature course in suburban Montclair High School in New Jersey.)
Tools for Critique: Chapter 11
The Community: Engaging with Families and Neighborhoods
Chapter 11, “The Community: Engaging with Families and Neighborhoods,” first considers two dominant (and contradictory) complaints about parents—that they participate too much or not enough. The chapter then examines four traditions that inform relationships between parents and schools. Finally, the chapter argues that school cultures that work well to support all students engage families and communities as partners. Teachers can pursue such relationships individually, as they teach and care for their students; and they can act collectively through their own and others’ organizing.
- Removing Barriers to Constructive Parent Engagement
- Common Complaints about Parent Involvement
- Relationships Between Families and Schools: Four Traditions
- Parents Supporting the School’s Agenda
- Schools Meeting Families' Needs
- A Legacy of Services in Low-Income Communities
- Comprehensive Services in Today’s Schools
- Service, Power, and Deficits
- Bridging the Cultures of Schools and Families
- Learning with and from Communities
- Bridging Students’ "Multiple Worlds"
- Bridging Through Community Liaisons
- Partnering with Families and Communities in Educational Activism
- A Tradition of Parent Activism
- Contemporary Organizing for School Reform
- Whose Agenda Is It?
Generative Questions and Activities
The Community: Engaging with Families and Neighborhoods
- Mauro Bautista describes wanting to “move beyond monthly parent meetings and teacher-parent conferences.” Have you witnessed examples of parent involvement that go beyond typical parent-school interactions? Have you observed teachers or administrators going out of their way to promote meaningful and authentic forms of engagement with families and communities? What made these examples meaningful or authentic?
- Not all families want to be “engaged” with the school in the same way. What were your own experiences with family “engagement” like? What do you hope family engagement will look like in your classroom and school, and why? Consider how your personal background and accumulated knowledge of schools shape your perspective.
- What can schools do to encourage more involvement and engagement from parents and caregivers? Propose actions for a small “team” or department, or for an individual teacher or principal.
- Who else in the school system, the community, and the policy-making world could play a role? What are some actions they might take?
Removing Barriers to Constructive Parent Engagement
- The authors explain that school “failure” is often attributed to cultural or genetic deficits in students, or to deficits in parenting or family commitment to education. Describe a school program that espouses a commitment to engagement and yet reflects “deficit” attitudes about students, families, or communities. In what ways might deficit thinking be understood as both a cause and an effect of non-constructive parent engagement?
- Although some schools might perpetuate deficit thinking about students, deficit attitudes also emerge and are reinforced from beyond schools. Why do so many people find deficit thinking a compelling explanation for education gaps and patterns of opportunities?
- Imagine you are a teacher in a school where many of the teachers maintain deficit views about the students and their families. How might you model an alternative approach to parent involvement for other teachers? Describe some interpersonal attributes or ways of relating to colleagues that you’d want to keep in mind.
- Consider this common expression: “I’m not good at learning a second language.” Analyze this self-assessment from a sociocultural and constructivist perspective. How might you explain to a “language-phobic” person that she can achieve useful proficiency even if she doesn’t gain the skills of a native speaker? Do a “quick write” reflecting on your experience (attitudes, struggles, etc.) with languages other than Academic Standard English.
- If you are multilingual, describe how your languages “work” for you. Alone or with other others, share the most salient aspects of speaking, understanding, and thinking in more than one language.
- If you were teaching in a school with many students from Spanish-speaking families, would you embark on a program to learn Spanish? Would your answer be different if the students’ language were Vietnamese, Armenian, Dari, or Tagalog? How might learning the language of your students’ families—even if you do not become proficient—affect family engagement and why? (Also, think back to Chapters 2 and 3 and contemplate why it is that many people in the U.S. seem reluctant to learn more than one language when learning multiple languages is considered “normal” in many parts of the world.)
- Interview one or more teachers who are fluent in the first language (other than English) of many of their students. Ask them about the advantages of being bilingual/multilingual. Interview one or more teachers who are not fluent in the first language(s) of many of their students. How do these teachers’ views and attitudes differ?
- Brainstorm ways in which your school can ensure low-income parents, parents of color, and non-English-speaking parents to feel welcome at school. What resources would help make this a reality? What practices could teachers implement (both in and out of the classroom)?
- Describe a situation in which affluent parents have exercised power and privilege to advantage their children. Brainstorm ideas for how schools can protect against this and also respond in ways that bring “best” learning opportunities to all students.
- In arguing for more family empowerment, do we open the door for “overbearing” or self-serving involvement? What challenges might increased empowerment pose, and what might schools and teachers do to strike the “right” balance? And what is the “right” balance, in your view?
- It is worth examining whether schools seem more concerned with pleasing or placating parents versus involving them. Begin a list of what schools do in the name of parent involvement (e.g., hold parent teacher conferences). Then critique some of the ways in that schools might undermine or diminish the potential effectiveness of these activities. For example, is the typical “open house” a good way to engage parents? Why or why not?
- In this chapter, one first-year teacher describes a situation in which a white parent asks the teacher to move her child’s away from a Spanish-speaking child. Even when our beliefs are clear, such situations can be challenging to handle. With trusted colleagues, experienced observers, and ample time to debrief and discuss, set up a role-play in which one person acts as the teacher, and another as the parent. Run it through a few times, allowing for rehearsal and role reversals.
- Do you believe that in a democratic school environment the parents with the skills and gumption to make themselves heard deserve to have greater influence than those who are less engaged? Sometimes these more efficacious parents resent the schools’ efforts to represent (or favor?) students whose parents are less able to assert their children’s interests. Where do you stand on this, and why?
- The authors argue that schools have a “public responsibility” to serve as resources so families in low-income communities can gain access to health and other social services. Does this expanded, community-oriented role of schools make sense to you? Discuss why you would or wouldn’t want to teach in such an environment.
- Promise Neighborhoods, modeled after the Harlem’s Children Zone, have received considerable attention and funding. If possible, visit a school in a Promise Neighborhood. Report on what you find. Does the school seem noticeably different than a “regular” public school in the same or a similar community? If so, in what ways?
- The authors advocate a “bridge-building” model as opposed to a “service-providing” model. Show segments of the film Women of Summer about Bryn Mawr’s Depression-era summer school for working women. (See reference below.) How does this film provide examples of bridge-building? What about service-providing?
- Discuss Luis Moll’s concept of “Funds of Knowledge.” Draw comparisons between Addams’ 1900-era ideas about visiting the homes and workplaces of community members and Moll’s ideas about teachers conducting home visits. What similarities do you notice? What differences? What historical conditions might account for these similarities and differences?
- Read the introduction to Angela Valenzuela’s Subtractive Schooling, where she attributes the academic struggles of Mexican-American students to their feelings of not being cared for at school (see reference below). W. E. B. DuBois’ statement that a proper education includes a sympathetic touch addresses a similar point. Think about schools you have experienced. Did you feel cared for? If so, what aspects of the school accounted for this? Do you think this affected student learning? Be as specific as you can.
- The popular image of higher education is built on middle-class, largely White preferences and experiences. Mariana Pacheco discusses attending higher education with parents who have limited information about college. What are some strategies for helping all families understand that college can be a reality for children of varied backgrounds?
- Zeba Palomino discusses her success at getting parents to attend Back to School Night by calling to invite them and communicating with them in Spanish. What are some strategies that you might use to make parents feel welcome in your classroom? What if you do not speak their language?
- Benjamin Chang refers to a curriculum that reflects family and community values. Sketch a lesson or unit that incorporates family knowledge and expertise. Since this might require cooperative efforts with parents or community members, describe how you might approach someone you’d like to consult as a resource or collaborator. How would you explain to your administrator why this lesson or unit is worth teaching to your students?
- Why do you think the PTA and many other parent organizations seek to “improve” schools as they are, rather than challenging schools to undertake transformative reforms that are more consistent with social justice ideals? Can and should teachers try to affect the goals of parent organizations? In your view, is it possible to work both within such official organizations and on a more grassroots level?
- Attend one or more evening meetings of a parent or community group that deals with community issues that are not necessarily school issues; for example food security, homelessness, etc. If school representatives or people with a special interest in the community’s schools are present, what roles do they play? Does the group seem to be working with schools to greatest advantage? What are members doing to accomplish this work and what might they do differently?
- Describe a project for engaging parents at a school where you attended or work(ed). Were the three elements of the Ganz model (relationship, common understanding, and action) employed? If so, how? If not, how might they be?
- The authors propose engaging low-income families and community members in critically examining their kids’ schooling opportunities and taking action to promote change. What challenges might this pose for different teachers? What would be the best way to confront these challenges?
- Who, at a school with which you are familiar, is most responsible for involving parents? Interview that person (via phone or e-mail exchange if distant) to determine how that person views his or her responsibilities. Does that person go beyond the expectations associated with his or her job description? If so, why? What strategies and practices has that person successfully used to involve parents? What advice would that person give a beginning teacher who wants to promote parent involvement?
- Multicultural education finds its roots in the Civil Rights Movement, Afro-centric schools, and social activism. Examine a lesson or unit (or design your own) that incorporates social action while emphasizing academic rigor. What opportunities are there to ensure that the learning is embedded in social action and reflects the needs of the community? How can you balance state-mandated standards and content frameworks with community input?
- The authors argue that an important part of reaching out to parents is emphasizing the idea that parents should focus their efforts towards ensuring an excellent education for all children rather than just their own. What can teachers do to promote this attitude among parents? Among other teachers?
- The Parent Empowerment Law (PEL), also known as “The Parent Trigger,” allows parents to petition to make major changes in their children’s school. Research the current status of “parent trigger” laws. What groups (e.g., parents, teachers’ unions) are involved in the debates? Who has the power? What are the issues with the policy and/or its implementation? What other options would give parents’ voice and agency in their children’s schools and also foster collaboration among stakeholders?
VIDEO AND BOOK REFERENCES
Bauman, S. & Heller, R. (Producers and Directors) (1986). The Women of Summer: The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, 1921–1938. New York: Women of Summer, Inc.; Filmmakers Library [distributor], 1985. One videocassette (55 min.): sd., col. with b&w sequences. (A history of the Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers (1921–1938) as seen through the eyes of its alumnae and other participants fifty years later, using unearthed diaries, letters, and historical film footage along with oral histories.)
Valenzuela, A. (1999) Subtractive Schooling: U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Tools for Critique: Chapter 12
Teaching to Change the World: A Profession and a Hopeful Struggle
Chapter 12, “Teaching to Change the World: A Profession and a Hopeful Struggle” provides an overview of the teaching profession today and describes some of the pressures that teachers face as they begin their careers. The chapter and the book conclude with five strategies that teachers use as they teach to change the world. These include making a commitment to hope and struggle; building a learning community; becoming a social justice activist; expanding your professional influence; and finding satisfaction in the everyday.
- Teaching: A Powerful and Vulnerable Profession
- The Challenge of Learning to Teach
- Professionalism in the Face of Limited Professional Support
- Teaching in a Changing America
- Teacher Shortages and Budget Shortfalls
- Teacher Retention and Attrition
- Teachers’ Salaries and Working Conditions
- What Is a Good Teacher? A Professional and Political Question
- Teachers’ Unions
- Strategies for a Career to Change the World
- Becoming Part of a Learning Community
- Becoming a Social Justice Activist
- Expanding Your Professional Influence
- Committing to Critique and Hope
- Finding Satisfaction in the Everyday
- Welcome to the Hopeful Struggle
Generative Questions and Activities
- The authors address teachers who enter the teaching profession in part because of their commitment to social justice. How has your understanding of social justice evolved over the past months and years? What about understanding of teaching for social justice?
- The authors state that, “navigating toward socially just teaching and education requires a full and unblinking understanding of … the education status quo.” Why do you suppose the authors choose the expression, “navigating toward” rather than “achieving” or “demonstrating”?
- The authors refer to the popular belief that teaching requires little training or preparation and that great teachers simply have a “gift.” Do you agree with this belief? Based on what you know about teaching, give concrete examples of how this is and/or is not true.
- Repeated (and predictable) economic recessions have led to budget cuts in schools across the country. Not everyone regrets these cuts. Identify cuts to school programs, courses, and services that are lamented by some and welcomed by others. How do you interpret differences in opinions in regards to these programs?
- In describing teacher attrition, the authors comment that “teachers are leaving the classroom at rates close to or above the rate of new teachers entering the profession,” noting that three quarters of those leaving are doing so for reasons other than retirement. Why are teachers leaving? What are your thoughts about the reasons they give? How long do you see yourself staying in teaching? Why?
- Research suggests that salaries are less important than other factors when teachers are deciding to leave teaching. As a prospective teacher, how important is salary to you, and why? Interview some teachers at a school that you’re familiar with. How important is salary to them? What about their working conditions? What would they want to improve?
- Ask teachers what they like best about teaching. Try to probe beyond quick answers such as, “the kids,” or “my colleagues.” What stands out to you?
- Talk to some current teachers who seem disappointed in their career. Ask why and listen without judgment. After making clear that you are committed to teaching, ask what advice they might have for you. Report on your findings.
- Determine the status of value-added measures (VAM) for evaluating teachers in your state. Give reasons for VAM appeal to different stakeholders. Discuss key reasons that teachers and leading research organizations oppose VAM.
- Search a local or national newspaper for stories about teachers’ unions in the past year or two. How are the unions portrayed? What about in your own education—have unions featured? Have you had the opportunity to talk to members or leadership of teachers unions regarding their views of the challenges ahead in teaching? What do they say are the advantages of your belonging to the union? Keep track of the praise and criticism you hear about teachers unions. What claims resonate most with you, and why? Which ones seem most and least supported by evidence?
- The authors discuss the importance of teachers’ working conditions, including support and recognition from administrators. Think of the accomplished teachers that you have observed. How were these teachers recognized and supported by their administrators, school district, or community? Where or from whom did these teachers receive recognition and support? Explain.
- The authors address some of the daunting challenges faced by teachers. In the spirit of educators such as Freire and Dewey, they also suggest that many teachers persist and eagerly participate in the ongoing struggle for democracy. What challenges do you look forward to confronting and how do you intend to take them on?
- The authors emphasize the importance of becoming part of a learning community. Have you ever seen a school that functioned as a supportive learning community? If so, what characteristics and practices made it successful? If not, what characteristics and practices would you have liked to see? How will you help build a supportive learning community wherever you work? What might your personal contribution be?
- The term “social justice advocate” is used throughout this book to describe educators who (1) counter deficit thinking with community strengths, (2) engage in critical dialogue about the challenges and possibilities in students’ lives, and (3) act for change. Do you know teachers who you consider to be social justice advocates? If so, how do they embody those three criteria? How might you?
- The authors argue that teachers who combine their commitments to student learning and social justice are more fulfilled and less likely to leave the profession. Oftentimes, this commitment to social justice is manifested through activism and alliances forged with community members. Consider a school where you might work. Who or what social action resources are available to families that live and work there? Are these resources you could engage with, too? How can relationships you develop with allies in the community benefit your work with students?
- Ramón Martínez states, “Critical educators must . . . step up and take a stand. In defense of educational justice and sound pedagogy, we must engage in forms of individual and collective resistance. If we truly seek to empower our students, we must begin to challenge the educational policies that serve only to harm them.” Do you believe this to be true? Why or why not? What are some educational-related issues that might motivate you to take action?
- Specifically, what might Ramon Martínez be referring to when he refers to “resistance?” Consider that resistance need not alienate colleagues or administrators. In fact, describe a situation (not necessarily school related) in which you took a principled position different from colleagues or your “group” and without losing others’ respect.
- Freire emphasizes the role that hope plays in the struggle for social justice, yet he asserts, “the idea that hope alone will transform the world . . . is an excellent route to hopelessness, pessimism, and fatalism.” How do you make sense of this paradox? In addition to hope, what else do you suppose Freire felt was required to bring about social transformation?
- The authors argue that many of the teachers quoted in this book are committed to a “hopeful critique,” which they compare to Cornel West’s “prophetic pragmatism” and Paulo Freire’s “pedagogy of hope.” As you embark on a career in teaching, what aspects of schooling are you prepared to critique, denounce, and struggle against? What gives you hope that these things can be changed? How will you nourish that hope in difficult times so that you can continue teaching to change the world?
- This chapter has many quotes from practicing teachers – some first-year teachers and other more experienced educators. Which quotes from this chapter (or the book) are particularly salient for you, and why? How will you take these teachers’ words and incorporate them into your own practice?
- Herbert Kohl’s words at the end of this chapter encourage teachers to struggle against educational inequality and injustice; they also encourage us to struggle for what we believe. Think about your philosophy of education. What do you believe? What will you struggle for?
Teaching to Change the World: A Profession and a Hopeful Struggle