Schools Attuned

I am going out of town tomorrow with two colleagues to a Schools Attuned workshop in Charlotte, NC. I will be gone for a whole week. I will have a laptop with me, so I will be able to keep up a little bit, I think, but I don’t know for sure how much time I’ll have to update — I might have plenty of time, but I just don’t know. I should be able to check e-mail and respond to comments, however.

I need to go ahead and finish getting ready for the workshop. I am supposed to bring some lesson plans, and I have to dig those up. I also need to do some laundry. It was about 10 degrees cooler here in Georgia today than it’s been in a week, so perhaps I won’t be sweating if I run the dryer! I live in a house that’s about 100 years old, and the central air conditioning doesn’t work that well. I don’t know if it’s the house’s age or it’s odd you-can-tell-where-it-was-clumsily-added-onto feel.

Well, I’d better get to work.

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Do Faith-Based Schools Adequately Prepare Students for College?

In my grand tradition of being out of the loop, I missed what seems to be an interesting controversy between Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, California, and the University of California system. The school was told that its biology, physics, and three humanties courses would not be counted for admission to colleges in the system. According to Charles C. Haynes writing for the First Amendment Center,

UC claims that these courses can’t be counted because they don’t meet the university’s academic standards. ACSI [the Association of Christian Schools International, who is partnering with Calvary Chapel in a lawsuit] argues that the courses and textbooks in question adequately cover the required subject matter — and were only rejected by UC because of their Christian viewpoint.

Probably the most questionable text selection for the school is the biology textbook, published by Bob Jones University Press. I have not seen the textbook, so I cannot describe its stance on the thorny issue of creationism vs. evolution, but one would expect that at an evangelical school, the text would present creationism as accepted doctrine and perhaps dismiss evolution entirely. I should note that Mike Weiss, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, stated that the rejected book was published by A Beka Books, not Bob Jones UP, but the school’s web site states that the BJUP book is used in their biology classes.

The physics text was also cited as problematic because of biblical verses preceding each chapter. This confuses me, because according to Calvary Chapel’s web site, they use Prentice Hall’s Conceptual Physics for their physics class. Prentice Hall’s many textbook series are often used in public schools; I would be extremely surprised if there were Bible verses in this textbook, though I admit I haven’t examined it. I think perhaps there has been some confusion in the coverage of this issue — I believe it might be the physical science text that is in question, also published by Bob Jones UP. I used the “Look inside this book” feature to examine the physical science text, and I can see why UC would have a problem with the stance taken in the first chapter about the veracity of evolution vs. creationism. There is a difference between the physics and physical science. However, it may be that the school wanted to adopt a new physics text instead of continuing with Prentice Hall.

I do wonder about UC’s rejection of the history class on the basis that it is “too narrow.” According to Haynes,

Especially troubling to me are the rejections of literature and history courses taught from a Christian perspective. For example, UC claims that “Christianity’s Influence on American History” was disallowed because the focus was “too narrow/too specialized.” Yet courses from other schools that sound just as narrow or specialized (e.g., “Race, Class and Gender in Modern America”) have won approval.

What I want to know and haven’t been able to discover is whether this class would replace a comprehensive U.S. History class. Even if that is so, it might not be “too narrow” in scope. I think discussion of American history under this lens might still be comprehensive and perhaps even unify the study of history thematically. What isn’t clear is whether or not classes approved by UC, such as “Race, Class and Gender in Modern America” are history electives. If this class is the American history class for some other school rather than a comprehensive class, then UC’s ruling doesn’t seem fair.

UC also rejected “Special Providence: Christianity and the American Republic” and “Christianity and Morality in American Literature.” None of the three humanities classes is currently being taught “because of the dispute,” according to Mike Weiss. Weiss notes that the literature class would have included writings from many major writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne and J.R.R. Tolkien. Why Tolkien would be taught in an American literature class, I’ll leave you to puzzle about. I couldn’t figure out how to look at A Beka’s literature series from its web site, so I cannot attest to whether or not, as UC decided, it “is not appropriate.”

I am not sure how I feel about this issue. I do feel Americans have the right to choose to educate their children within a certain faith. I suppose it is also within the public universities’ rights to reject certain courses which do not meet their standards — and I believe that all applicants should be required to meet those high standards. Despite UC’s arguments to the contrary, it will be difficult for Calvary Chapel’s students to get into UC schools because these courses are rejected. If these courses are what is offered by their school and required for graduation from that school, but not accepted by UC’s regents, who decide which classes students should be required to take for entrance, then the students will have trouble getting in, even if they try to be admitted “by exception” or through high standardized test scores. I can’t imagine that courses like biology and American literature would not be required by UC, and taking a class that fails to meet their requirements would mean that students would be considered to lack those credits, thus be unable to go to UC system schools.

I teach at a Jewish school, and I would venture to guess that most of our students’ Judaics courses are accepted as elective credits, if they are accepted at all, by the colleges they apply to. However, students also study a rigorous academic curriculum, including math ranging from algebra to AP Calculus, science ranging from biology to AP Physics and AP Biology, English ranging from standard 9th grade English to AP Language and and AP Literature, and history, ranging from humanties (world history) to AP European History and AP U.S. History. They also are required to take four years of Hebrew and may choose to take Spanish. I do not think that we necessarily teach the academic courses solely from a Jewish perspective, but we do discuss those topics within the context of that perspective.

I suppose the case has already been heard, but I don’t know what the verdict was. Let me know if you do, and I’ll post an update.

Here are some related posts/articles to read covering a variety of viewpoints:

You might also want to try some of the other many articles that came up in this search.

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Attention Controls

As Liz pointed out in my comments,

One of the difficulties of the Schools Attuned approach is that it does not map directly onto [IDEA] [NCLB] [DSM-IV-TR] (pick your poison). As a parent of a child with a specific learning disability, I think that Levine’s approach is more beneficial for the child — but the flaw is the conflict between the various laws and Levine’s non-labelling, discrete approach.

She probably right. I teach at a private school, which makes things easier for us. We are not beholden to the same entities as public schools are; however, we do still have an obligation to provide the services necessary to students we accept. To that end, I do think we can adopt this approach if we get everyone on board. Asking the faculty to read Levine’s book, All Kinds of Minds, would be a start. I know that I have been guilty of assuming laziness on the part of students whose performance is inconsistent. I doubt I am alone, and education might be key to changing some perceptions.

As I read the chapter on the Attention Controls System, I wondered what Levine’s take on medication was, as he didn’t mention it until the end. He feels that medication may help, but is not the whole solution and that often kids’ attention problems are addressed through medication when they also had other problems that didn’t get properly addressed. I think he’s probably right on both counts, but I was glad to see he was in favor of medication. I think too many people dismiss its effectiveness for kids who do have attention problems. Perhaps it is overprescribed. I don’t know. I have never suggested to a parent that his or her child needed medication. I don’t feel qualified to make that decision, since I’m not a doctor. However, I have encouraged parents who are concerned to have their child evaluated for problems (attention, LD, whatever) with their doctor. I have heard stories of teachers actually recommending medication, and I find that shocking.

I am concerned with one assertion Levine makes in this chapter. He chides secondary schools for their “frenetic” pace — timed tests, deadlines, etc. He explains that at this point in an adolescent’s brain maturation, it is ideal to teach them to “work slowly.” Well, he’s the doctor, and I’m most definitely not. However, I have students who lollygag on purpose, and he doesn’t address that. Students will be given plenty of time to complete a task and procrastinate. He also advocates not timing tests and letting students finish later. What about cheating? What about the fact that whether we like it or not, students will take timed tests in the form of college entrance exams and AP? Are we helping them by reinforcing the idea that they always have as much time as they need to complete tasks? I think teaching deadlines is fairly important, especially with adolescents. Teachers are competing with so many other things that I don’t see how anything would get done if they took Levine’s approach to teaching high school (at least where deadlines and timed assignments are concerned).

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MySpace Seeks to Protect Teen Users

In the midst of public debate over the safety of MySpace users, MySpace is addressing concern with new restrictions (free registration or BugMeNot). MySpace users over 18 cannot friend users 15 and younger unless they know the user’s full name and/or e-mail address. As the AP article points out, however, MySpace (and for that matter, almost any web site) has no way of determining whether information submitted is accurate. Predators can lie and say they’re 14, and kids can lie and say they’re 22. Besides, kids are often not very protective of their personal information. The gesture is hollow at best, but I’m not sure it’s really MySpace’s responsibility to make sure its users don’t put themselves in a position to be victimized or victimize other users. The only thing that’s going to keep kids safe online is parents who watch what their children are doing. Allowing your child to trick you into getting a passport, which she uses to attempt to meet a man she came in contact with through MySpace in Jordan, is a perfect example of poor parenting.

Update: Check out this related article from SignOnSanDiego.com.  It’s a shame that schools feel they have to take measures to protect children because their parents won’t do it otherwise.

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Classroom Purchases

My daughter Maggie and I went shopping today, and I made some interesting purchases for my classroom:

Each book is a collection of 180 class activities that can be used as warm-ups, homework, or extra credit.  I plan to use most of them as warm-ups, but I think some of them will be good full-lesson assignments on their own.

Here is a sample from the Spelling & Grammar book:

Where in the Whirled?

In the next five minutes, brainstorm as many words as you can that contain the letters, w, h, and e.

What is the longest word you came up with?  How many words did you think of that contain w, h, and e, but don’t begin with any of those letters?

This series is published by the makers of SparkNotes.  They also have vocabulary, test prep, and math books.

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Child Molestors in the Classroom

Like EdWonk, I guess I’ve read or heard about too many cases in which teachers, the people who are charged with helping students to learn and protecting students while they are under the school’s supervision, have betrayed the trust of their students, the students’ parents, the community, and their colleagues by victimizing children. I am not prepared to say this is happening more now than it used to, because it could be that it was underreported. My husband commented that he felt that boys realize that the attention they receive from female teachers is not “cool” when I asked him what he thought. He added that “any sexualized relationship between a child and an adult is pathological on the part of the adult.” Before you ask yourself what kind of an authority he is, I should add that he writes about true crime and has made extensive studies of criminal behavior. He spoke to students at my school about the danger of revealing too much about themselves online and being safe on the Web. His presentation was very well-received by both faculty and students.

I can well believe that teaching would be attractive to child molestors. The opportunity to meet potential victims must be unparalleled for teachers. Our ed schools have got to tackle this issue head-on. I am not blaming them. However, as this issue increasingly erodes the public trust America has in its teachers, it needs to be addressed by the institutions responsible for creating new teachers. I’m not exactly sure how. I know I wanted to address it when I was in education classes.

I actually had a student sexually harass me when I was a student teacher. I reported it to his assistant principal, who disciplined him, and I had no further trouble. The problem is that high school students who are not much younger than some of our teachers look like adults sexually. We did weekly “think pieces” in our English education program that were designed to discuss issues that concerned us. We wrote two pages on the issue, passed our think pieces around the classroom, and our peers commented on them. I broached the subject of writing a think piece on the issue of this line that too many teachers seem to be crossing. My friends in class advised me against it, as they were afraid it would be misunderstood by my professors as an indication that I was attracted to students. I wanted to be careful, so I didn’t write it. Now, I wish I had. I wish we had had that dialogue about “the line.” I don’t believe necessarily that any of my classmates went on to molest a child. Nor do I necessarily believe that my think piece would have prevented it. I just think discussion of the issue is critical.

I remember years ago, Eliot Wigginton, who founded the Foxfire method of teaching in Rabun Gap, came to speak at our Foundations of Education class. He was well-known at the time — one of those celebrity teachers like Jaime Escalante, Harry Wong, or Ron Clark. He took a group of disadvantaged kids in the Appalachians and worked miracles with them. He was a teacher I admired. Then it was discovered that he was a child molestor. He spent one year in jail for this crime and was sentenced to nineteen years probation. He also had to resign from teaching. I can’t tell you how upset I was when I learned the allegations against Wigginton were true. A cursory Google search for Eliot Wigginton reveals you have to dig a bit to find references to his crime. How does one reconcile the good he did as a teacher with the evil he did? To my way of thinking, it really can’t be done. I think victimizing a child in this way is one of the most evil things a person can do, and in my view, it overshadows… perhaps even obliterates the good he did.

Teachers who victimize their students erode the public’s already shaky esteem and respect for teachers. They are the worst ambassadors for our profession. I echo Ed’s sentiment:

There’s got to be some way to put an end to this type of behavior and expel these monsters-masquerading-as-teachers from among the ranks of educators once and for all.

But what is it?

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Restoration Continues

I have restored all the of the posts that were originally on this blog before my former host went down in February. I am in the process of restoring comments. Because I didn’t make a good back up file before the host went down, I was unable to simply export the posts from Movable Type and import them into Word Press. Still the process is much less painful than it would have been if I’d had to restore the posts using MT. MT requires a lot of rebuilding, which takes a lot of time. Also, I can’t recall whether or not you can edit the timestamp of comments made on MT blogs. I can easily do so with Word Press. Since I have all your comments to this blog, I can simply re-post them, then edit the timestamp to reflect the time at which they were actually posted. At any rate, with the constant rebuilding that would be necessary in order to see the changes made, I shudder to thinkk how long this process would take in MT. All of this makes me very glad I switched to Word Press.

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