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Tag: ny times (Page 2 of 3)

Recovering From Failure

The New York Times Learning Network blog has an interesting lesson on the topic of failure, with some good examples from sports, business, the arts and other fields.

It also asks students to consider some interesting questions about failure in their own lives and those of people they know.

Can failure be useful? Can you think of examples, from your own life or someone else’s, when it has led to something positive?

How is failure defined and dealt with in your family, your school, the activities you do outside of school, among your friends and in your community? Which of those definitions and responses to failure seem fairest or best to you? Why?

What can be done to avoid failure? Should people try to avoid it?

What is “failure” and what is “success”? Who decides?

Missing, however, is any real consideration of failure as it applies to school. What happens if you fail the midterm in English 7? What recovery options do you have for getting a bad score on the SOLs?* Suppose you get a 1 on an AP test?

We really don’t deal well with the concept of failure in school, especially in helping students learn from it and discovering options for recovery. Maybe in sports, possibly the arts or other “non-academic” contests. But for most kids, failing a class or a grade means they will repeat it.

But the most likely scenario is that they get to cover the same content, often using the same materials and teaching techniques, often in the compressed time frame of summer school. And usually with only slightly better results, not anything we might call “success”.

Doing the same thing in the same way hoping for different results.

Is that how people recover from failure in real life?


*For those outside of Virginia, that’s the acronym for our spring standardized tests.

We Need Something More Than “Heroes”

As we approach yet another national holiday that the media will imbue with a military undertone, an “essayist and critic” writing in the New York Times asks if “heroes” in various styles of uniforms are really what the country needs at this point in our history.

“America needs heroes,” it is sometimes said, a phrase that’s often uttered in a wistful tone, almost cooingly, as if we were talking about a lonely child. But do we really “need heroes”? We need leaders, who marshal us to the muddle. We need role models, who show us how to deal with it. But what we really need are citizens, who refuse to infantilize themselves with talk of heroes and put their shoulders to the public wheel instead. The political scientist Jonathan Weiler sees the cult of the uniform as a kind of citizenship-by-proxy. Soldiers and cops and firefighters, he argues, embody a notion of public service to which the rest of us are now no more than spectators. What we really need, in other words, is a swift kick in the pants.

That’s the last paragraph. The whole piece is well worth your time to read.

This is all part of our national tendency to spend far more time and effort memorializing the past than we do in planning for and constructing the future.

A Little Homework Wouldn’t Hurt

In her Answer Sheet education blog at the Washington Post site, Valerie Strauss* tells Tom Friedman a few of the things he got wrong in a recent column about the importance of education.

Starting with Arne Duncan’s big money game show, praised as energizing reform by Friedman.

First of all, Race to the Top funding didn’t go to states with the most innovative reforms to achieve the highest standards. It went to the states that promised to make the reforms that the Education Department liked most. A comprehensive analysis of who won the money concluded that winners in the first round (and the same process was used in the second) were chosen through “arbitrary criteria” rather than through a scientific process.

Besides, the “reforms” aren’t exactly innovative. Education historian Diane Ravitch has written that merit pay schemes have been tried repeatedly since the 1920s but never worked very well.

And then there’s the matter of Finland and Denmark, the countries whose teachers and education systems Friedman (and others) write so glowingly about as a point of comparison with the US.

But on that topic, he also manages to miss one glaring point of disparity.

Friedman never mentions the issue of poverty, which today’s education “reformers” see as an excuse for poor teaching even though the research on what living in poverty does to children and their ability to learn is overwhelming.

Finland, it should be noted, has a poverty rate among children of under 3 percent; the United States, 21 percent.

Anybody who doesn’t think that doesn’t affect student academic performance in a big way is deluding themselves, as is anybody who thinks teachers alone can make up for the effects of hunger and violence and sleep deprivation and little early exposure to literacy.

So, does anything Friedman says, right or wrong, in his column or on his appearances on the talking heads channels, really matter?

Yes.  Because many readers of the so-called “paper of record” take him seriously, and have the right to expect opinion/analysis based on research.

In this case, Friedman didn’t do his homework.


*Why doesn’t the Post retire Jay Mathews as their lead education writer and put Strauss in that position?

Lack of Vision

From Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, comes this sad but far too accurate observation.

We are no longer the nation that used to amaze the world with its visionary projects. We have become, instead, a nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term, narrow-minded selfishness.

That same lack of vision is also on glaring display in most proposals for improving American education.

School Choice

It could be this year’s graduation time meme, or simply that many outlets are reproducing a single AP article, but there currently seems to be much discussion of whether sending every high school graduate off to college is really worth it.

Is a four-year degree required to learn the skills necessary for success in one of the professions most likely to have openings?

Professor Lerman, the American University economist, said some high school graduates would be better served by being taught how to behave and communicate in the workplace.

Such skills are ranked among the most desired – even ahead of educational attainment – in many surveys of employers. In one 2008 survey of more than 2,000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to “solve problems and make decisions,” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.”

Yet despite the need, vocational programs, which might teach such skills, have been one casualty in the push for national education standards, which has been focused on preparing students for college.

However, as the Times article points out, suggesting that some students might be better served with a post-high school education that doesn’t involve greeks bearing drinks doesn’t go over well in this country.

Politicians and education “experts” repeatedly drill home to parents in the US that their kids will be failures without a college degree.  And in many schools here in Lake Wobegon East, discussing vocational programs is almost grounds for dismissal.

Maybe instead we should provide some clear options for high school students and then help them understand their alternatives so they can make realistic choices.

But Ms. Williams [a counselor at a high school in suburban New York City with a student body that is mostly black or Hispanic] said she would be more willing to counsel some students away from the precollege track if her school, Mount Vernon High School, had a better vocational education alternative. Over the last decade, she said, courses in culinary arts, nursing, dentistry and heating and ventilation system repair were eliminated. Perhaps 1 percent of this year’s graduates will complete a concentration in vocational courses, she said, compared with 40 percent a decade ago.

Of course automatically advising any student away from considering college is serving them just as poorly as making college their only post-secondary option.

We need to return to offering kids some middle ground.

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