Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Apparently history teachers don't know history

I swear to god, Joanne Jacobs (on my blogroll) is becoming the Drudge Report of the Op-Ed education related blog-o-sphere.  I'm fairly certain that she not only detests public education, but is positive that public education teachers are fat slobs that would love nothing better than to screw over little children.

One of her latest pieces is regarding history teachers who apparently don't know history.  Apparently Jacobs gained her knowledge from the Lexington Institute, a (big surprise here) conservative social reform group that pushes a platform straight out of a hardcore Republican handbook.
. . . history is often tucked under the umbrella of social studies – a mishmash of everything from global studies to sociology, in which critical figures and lessons from American history are often overlooked. Indeed, in some cases, it is possible to gain certification as a social studies teacher without having studied any history.
 I really don't know what colleges the Lexington Institute was looking at, but I'm pretty sure that every one of them requires at least General Education credits in history.  Mine sure did, since Dale Ostrander at Butte College kicked my ass with Early U.S. History and I have not forgotten that at all. 

This is a gross exageration at least, and more dangerously, a narrow minded vision of what History really is.  The Lexington Institute wants Founding Fathers, Constitutional values, and patriotic views of U.S. History.  That's fine, except that our history doesn't stop at Antebellum America.  And guess what?  I'll tell every single new teacher that they better NOT just major in History.  They better get a Social Studies degree or credential. 

Thanks to Ty Benoit, my 8th grade History and J.C. professor at Butte College, I majored in what was then called Bachelor's of Art in History/Social Science.  It was the best choice I made in my early education.  Because of that degree, I can teach any Social Science classes, from Government to Economics to Geography to Sociology to any of the History classes.  I ended up teaching three Gov/Econ classes and two World History my first year, and was hired mainly because I could teach Gov/Econ.  Now that No Child Left Behind has come around, it is even more vital to be varied in the coursework, because those people with History only degrees are very limited to what they can teach within the department.  New teachers take note, know more of everything, it gets you a job.  Not only that, knowing Government and Economics makes you a better History teacher.  Period.

It seems to me like Joanne Jacobs and the Lexington Institute have a very narrow minded view of what History really is.  U.S. History is taught in 5th, 8th, and 11th grades, and in their Junior year you are supposed to start at Reconstruction.  The other years are a much broader scope of history and the world.  Let's remember, kids don't know much about Social Studies period, and I don't think it's a lack of instructor knowledge as much as it's a lack of those same things that are missing in all education; good instruction, accountability at all levels, good parental support, and a true drive at making education a priority. 

A side note on the mentioned Teaching American History Grant Project.  I just got done participating in the 3rd and final year of the project, and I decided not to really comment on it out of respect for the hard working teachers in the group.  Let me simply say this about project.  It was very, and I mean very, liberal leaning (enforcing a bad sterotype).  Teachers were not treated as professionals.  And this year, when my wife and I spoke up and asked "How is any of this connected to the State Standards", we were mocked.  Multiple times.  However, there were good teachers there that wanted to learn not only about History, but how to teach it well.  And this idea that History teachers don't know History is just wrong.

Avatar (possible spoilers)

My wife and I saw Avatar in 3D last night.  Here's a little review.

First of all, you need to go to the theater and see this movie.  My wife doesn't even like going to the theater, yet she will tell you that you need to go to the theater and see this movie.  Perferabley in 3D.  The movie takes visuals and bumps it up to a scale that is basically unprecedented in film.  Remember that feeling you got when you watched the graphics in Star Wars for the first time?  Well, welcome to the next generation of theater cinematography.  Yes, it is really that good.  But is isn't just landscapes.  It's details.  The native creatures (Na'vi) are lifelike and the textures and expressions are done with amazing precision.  The depth of detail into the forests of Pandora (the location for the film) are stunning.  James Cameron did the right thing waiting 20 years to make this film because his use of technology to create such images is precedent setting.  I wouldn't usually say it, but this movie is good enough to see based on the visuals alone.  And yes, go to a theater.

The story is your basic "corporation vs. native population" situation.  There is a lot of "Mother Earth" tones to the flim and the ideas around interconnectivity, all of which play out fine.  Think of it like Wall-E.  The message was obviously there, but it didn't spoil the movie.  Unfortunately Cameron had to get his War on Terror digs in there as well, and did it without being subtle at all.  That's where it started to get a little preachy, which I don't need in my films entertainment films.  James Cameron would have done better to watch some Battlestar Galatica episodes to learn how to get effective social messages across to the public, instead he just blurts out the politics.

This movie is better than Titanic, but also similar in its scope.  The visuals are what carries it (and carries it well) while the story is fine and lightly entertaining.  The film should win just about every technology based Oscar in existence, but a Best Picture nod should not be future.  I'd give the film an 8.5 out of 10.   

Monday, December 28, 2009

Staff Member of the Month for December

Student government voted me Staff Member of the Month for December.  Believe it or not, I like this better than a monetary bonus at Christmas.  I teach cynical Seniors and I'm considered "tough", so it means a whole lot to me that students find me a valuable teacher.

What I find interesting is my union's opinions of Staff Member of the Month type of things.  In two meetings that I've attended this year, conversation has came up that certain elementary school faculties refuse to participate with Staff Member of the Month functions because it makes some people feel bad.  The reaction from high school teachers when this argument comes up is one of soft amusement and pity.  "It pits teachers against teachers" is a crap excuse, one that demeans the profession down to the lowest common denominator.   Want to know why we get a bad rap from society?  Calling all of us totally equal is a start.

In the end, not allowing good workers to be recognized breaks about every workplace efficiency and management rule on the books.  It assumes that every worker is the same, when in actuality, they are really quite different.  "Every teacher works hard" is the excuse that is given in unions regarding equity.  It's bullshit of course.  Not every teacher works hard, and not every teacher is a good teacher.  And no, I'm not talking about the rooks that are trying to find their way in the profession, I'm talking about the "cash it in, I want to be on the golf course for twilight rates" kind of teacher.  With all due respect, I don't like to be on par with those types of teachers, it demeans me.


So what's a teacher to do during vacation?  Well, I'm trying to do nothing but it isn't turning out too well.

Basketball season is at a pause, and I happen to like the pause.  Since the first week of November, basketball has dictated so much of my life that I'm actually enjoying the break away from it.  I actually get to sit on the couch not exhausted from my long days, and just relax.  I love basketball, but the other things that surround the sport are draining.  I took the team to Alameda for a three day tournament.  It went off without a hitch, but the planning, the execution of having a dozen kids away for a few days, and the expectations become very tiring.  I left my Tuesday game (a game in which a 20 point lead ended up a 3 point win) with nearly no voice.  I'm also sick.  Ahh, hoop season.

My holiday has been in the car for the most part.  Between Wednesday and Saturday, my wife and I traversed 17 counties and travelled over 1,000 miles in the car.  It was necessary of course, and thankfully my wife and I travel well.  Santa was good to me this year.  Lots of cooking stuff (my new hobby), some good books, and more importantly, time alone with my wife.

School is weighing on me.  I just started to grade papers (stock market projects) and the bad news at the end of Finals Week was that the scantron machine broke.  That means that the first day back of the second semester will be grading Finals, because I'm not going to spend days grading 150 scantron tests.  So besides the projects, I have Econ curves to grade, APUSH essays to read, and a first few weeks of semester two to plan for. 

Also this week; Avatar in 3-D, wine tasting in the Dry Creek Valley, a nice dinner with my wife, and more relaxation. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

"English Language Learner Training", a fantastic method of making political correctness a part of your classroom atmosphere.

We have teachers and district employees that insist that the reason the scores for English Language Learners aren't at "proficient" is because the teachers don't know how to teach using a variety of techniques that address a variety of modalities.  While this might be somewhat true, it is clearly (unless you are one of the ELL nuts) not because of issues surrounding cultural sensitivity.  It's simply bad teaching. 

Now the rumor has come out that some at our district want teachers to attend yet another culturally sensitive English Language Learner session.  For me, it would be the fourth time that I would have to learn this crap in a nine year span.  I mean "crap" not because it is bad, I mean "crap" because it isn't about good teaching to ELL students, but it is cleverly hidden to make it out to be.

The first time I dealt with ELL instruction was in the credential program, where every professor seemed to make it a mission to enforce the doctrine of SDAIE Instruction.  SDAIE stands for "Specially designed academic instruction in English".  On the surface it is specifically geared towards teaching Second Language Learners the material in a variety of styles at a more deliberate pace.  Underneath all the politically correct crap, it's simply good teaching.  You use different techniques to address different styles of learning, you use different assessments, you slow down and focus on positive reinforcement, you model good practice, blah, blah.  The problem is that SDAIE, or CLAD, or any other stupid ass acronym that is associated with Second Language Learning isn't just about instruction, it's about teaching Spanish speakers, and therefore being more sensitive to the needs to Spanish speaking students.  A full quarter of my CLAD (which allows me to teach ELL students) class work wasn't about teaching, it was about multi-cultural issues that have little to no relevance to practices within the classroom.  Add to that another ELL training about five years ago, and an ELL training that was advertised as a Content Area Literacy course a year before that and all this ELL instruction talk makes me want to kick my cat.

A good teacher told me yesterday that even the best teachers will only get so far with certain ELL students.  "I know a great way to raise test scores for ELL students; teach them in English or teach them in Spanish, and stop fucking around with it".  We both shared the same frustration of being told that our teaching was problem when dealing with a student that can hardly speak the language.  Guess what?  We don't know Spanish.  Another training that attempts to address asinine cultural concerns will not make the situation any better.  In fact, it makes me resent the hell out of people that have basically decided that all kids aren't worth the trouble of making good teachers, just the Spanish speaking ones.  Why is it that I had to learn about teaching modalities constantly associated with English Language Learners, not simply used in the context of good teaching?  And finally, when did the kiss ass approach to cultural sensitivity suddenly become a component of good teaching?

I think part of the reason that students enjoy my class is that I'm culturally insensitive to everyone.  I could care about race or culture or sexual orientation or height or weight or gender or religion.  When students walk into the classroom they pocket some that culture of the outside world and replace it with a bit of creativity, passion, work ethic, and humor.  In my class (Seniors in high school), culture comes out as a benefit to problem solving, not as an excuse not to complete an assignment or work hard.  From what I've seen, English Language Learners are still kids that want to see relevant information in their class work, be given high expectations, and the opportunity to function in a legitimate classroom environment.  In the eyes of cultural hounds, cultural sensitivity needs to be offered up to every student that enters the classroom.  In my eyes, the students need to be exposed to a successful and opportunistic atmosphere instead, eventually making some of my classroom habits a permanent part of their personal culture.