the homework battle: Shanghai, China edition

Peng Yijian, the missing boy. 
(Photo/ Shanghai Daily)
Shanghai police issue appeal for missing boy, 12 : "The boy's mother, surnamed Liu, told Shanghai Daily that Peng ran after being scolded for getting into trouble at school. 
"He was very upset and I feel guilty that I shouted at him," Liu said. Liu said she received a call from Peng's school on Monday morning. "A teacher told me he hadn't done his mathematics assignment and as a result would have to go home," she said.  "At home he got more upset, and then he fled," she said."
Blogs considered it a case of a bad mom who told off her son and the interesting thing was that he was found in IKEA. It is true that IKEA stores in China work differently than in other places. And the mother apologized.

Overlooked is the call from the teacher, pressuring the family about homework and virtually asking the family, if only by the implicit institutional nature of contact,  to take some kind of action. That's the way it works: family life is supposed to support the institution, not the other way around. The mother may have felt a huge pressure to conform to the schools' demands after punishment of her son. Accepting that kind of social pressure is not easy.

Peng Yijan was a student at Longyuan Middle School, a massive place that sounds well equipped, a school that supports students whose families have emigrated to the city from around the country and whose abilities are ranked and graded and found wanting and weak:
About our students:
At present, our school hosts nearly three quarters of students whose parents are non-native Shanghai residents, who are largely from other provinces and are looking for better job opportunities in Shanghai. Our school enrols all children nearby. Most of the students in our school are simple, natural and fond of sports. However, due to their poor family background and lack of educational support at home, many of our students face more difficulties in learning especially in English learning. For these reasons, our teachers are encouraged to give more care and love to each student and communicate with their parents regularly. Meanwhile, the teachers are encouraged to try their best to cultivate students' learning potential by setting practical teaching and learning objectives and working out effective teaching strategies in their daily teaching practice. Furthermore, we have also tried varied instructional strategies to cater for students’ different learning needs at different learning levels, in addition to individual tutoring.
About our teachers:
Most of the teachers in our school are, on the one hand, young, hardworking and energetic, but, on the other, they still lack experience in teaching and are in need of professional support and advice for effective teaching strategies, methods and techniques. Besides, the students' low competence and achievement in learning add to their difficulty in teaching and helping the students. Thus they can hardly enjoy a sense of achievement.
Mass schooling, a partner of industrial capitalism, removes a great deal of initiative, weakens families, and attenuates talents and gifts with its top-down imposition of a 12+-year curriculum that works to preserve class status in the long run. There is a big bump as the credential industry gets underway creating many get jobs within itself. But once in place, as the US system so clearly shows, this design can only grow top-heavy especially in large nation-states that will have trouble with the deep integration that supports families that smaller nation-states can sometimes achieve (Finland) and even these small states have issues.

In building a cob wall, one must grasp that it needs to breathe to be stable. This same concept applied to school systems that work from the top-down without the flow, the give-and-take between the people using the system. If this service were viewed as a way of providing services that families choose, we would have a very different outcome and we could avoid much of the huge, unmeasured waste and harm to a greater extent. Families would still be driven to choose economically viable paths but the decentralized decision making would allow far more flexible movement.

If we viewed the credential industry as a combination mass daycare, training whose ill effects are completely unmeasured, and a jobs industry, a highly centralized companion to our flagging industrial model, then we would see it more clearly. It is an industry that supports a small fraction of people and harms a great number to do that. We increasingly see the effects of peer orientation, easy acceptance of authoritarian structures, physical and mental health issues, poor quality social lives, fragmented community life, and immense amounts of wasted time.

And as we look around our polluted cities, misshapen buildings, traffic snarls, and lack of coherent public and private space, we see that the many human talents and gifts we ignore, warp and mangle, these vital talents and gifts are lost to us all. It is written on the very shape and design of our lives.

how net neutraility works ...

moving beyond mass socialization

by Ryan M (Flickr) under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license 

Three Ways Homeschoolers Socialize Differently Than Schools Kids
I’ve been in the depths of back-to-school preparation on multiple fronts, and I’m continually astonished that people still bring up the old “socialization” thing with respect to homeschooling. So let’s be blunt: Homeschoolers do not socialize the way school kids do.
It’s a spectrum, of course. There are many school families that don’t get sucked into the assembly-line socialization rut, and thus teach their kids to cultivate a mature social life long before graduation. There are likewise homeschooling parents who cling so happily to their middle school social skills that they pass them on to the second and third generation. [...] 
Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses
This week my daughter leaves home for the freshman Red Zone. While I will be there for her in so many ways, I will not be able to scan the environment continually, watching for predators. My absence will be one factor that places her at risk for sexual assault. Another will be the impulse, refined through millennia by evolutionary pressures, to find a new attachment figure.
It is time to discuss how we can begin to build healthy social lives and the importance of a society that acknowledges this primal need of human beings. If our society does not support healthy social lives for all citizens, and the US system does not, it will be very costly in a myriad of ways. The growth of mass schooling and its extension into decades impacts the social nature of our lives in ways few societies have lived through. Attachment theory is one tool that helps us grasp some aspects of the problem and move toward positive change.

The first post above discusses the ways homeschoolers socialize differently than kids in the mass system. Many homeschoolers have spent years fending off the concerns of other parents about socialization even as schools are filled with bullying, peer pressure, grading, and extracurriculars and special programs that filter students but also have harmful social impact. It isn't just other kids who cause the problem (though studies about class size should focus also on the social aspect of large class sizes in societies that have very large numbers of weak or fragmented families, like the US) but the very structure of school itself works against human social instincts and needs. It isn't just a matter of having a good anti-bullying course: the very nature of being compared and ranked fights human social instincts in ways we should consider more deeply.

Building a healthy social life for children and young people isn't easy for any family and, surprise, money really helps. Families with money (whether homeschooling or in school) can counter a lot of the peer pressure and bullying with special trips to build family team spirit, gifts that buoy low spirits, and clean, outfittted homes with adequate transportation that provide venues for alternative social experiences. Sometimes even less wealthy families have extended family members or some other situation that helps. And for many decades in the US, neighborhoods provided more social capital for families as neighbors knew neighbors and often lent a hand.  Kids could roam widely and play in open spaces for free. 

But many families today have far less today in terms of economic power, social capital is low as neighborhoods decay, people work longer hours and commute, women work away from the home, and extended families are growing less common. Open and common spaces are few, and curfew laws and police limit children and teens ability to play and police in schools criminalize youthful behavior. As Ferguson shows, many poor communities are under police siege by a predatory capitalism that feeds it.

And wealthier schools, often exploiting the public system by adding funds to their own public-private school, also learn that the soft authoritarianism and grading/sorting that does not deeply affect their lives making it seem a valid way to manage society. The impact of mass socialization in the factory system on those who fare well is less talked about but perhaps even more important. 

All of this means that mass socialization of schooling, where compulsory attendance has been extended into many long years, provides an increasingly negative social life for children and teens. The second post above presents a brief discussion of attachment theory but it doesn't have the space to pursue a deep discussion of the aspect of college social life that greatly impacts the sexual assault discussion: the need for adult attachment figures. The referenced Atlantic link on fraternities did discuss the ending of in loco parentis though they did not really acknowledge the transitional nature of social life at these ages (and they blamed young people for doing it, unlikely).

Young adults still need attachment figures and the hand-off to college the author discusses really works best for wealthier parents who can use colleges as marriage sorting institutions as well as credential programs. When even the well-tended campuses of liberal arts schools are struggling, you can imagine how tough it is for those in local community colleges or state universities. Recognizing the necessity of strong social relationships that are not only intergenerational and striving to conserve the family relationships that children already have will have to become a conscious focus of schooling because that's how human beings are built. We can easily extend schooling but we can't easily change our inborn natures. This isn't a limit of money or political will power or organization: schools are up against the limits of human nature itself. 

A Learning Services Model Would Support Families 
Creating healthy social lives for all citizens should mean a stronger economy, if the numbers were honest. Changing the social life within mass compulsory schools means:
  • allowing families to choose courses and paths within their neighborhood schools
  • networking kids across district lines to open up segregated social spaces even as families and kids remain in control of their social lives by having course and activity choice
  • Knowing that supporting families' social strength helps kids, too
  • allowing families to create courses and help build out more services
  • allowing schools to provide so-called non-educational services like: bikes and classes, gardens, play areas, parent support meeting spaces, cooking classes, music lessons, martial arts, chess, etc.
  • ensuring schools are community centers providing space for friendships and activities for families whose homes cannot easily accommodate these
The factory model wants to ensure each child is installed with the same content. An open model, like that of the 1970s, is completely possible. as are schools without walls. Indeed, homeschoolers have shown that accessing college can be done outside the factory model. The failures of alternative approaches all happened before homeschooling. Homeschoolers have created awareness of the nature of the system by having families experience learning outside of the system. And homeschoolers get into colleges and a wide variety of training programs and other credential programs right now, with alternative credentials.

This means the factory model can and must change to a learning services model. In fact, there is no other way to go in a nation-state as large as the US. Stealth standards, tied to corporate curriculum, and foisted on all 50 states will not replicate Finland, as the entire structure is not only imposed from without but lacks the deep connections and coherence that national systems in smaller nation-states achieve.  Test-based accountability is an attempt at enforcement that wants to to make change across the entire nation (since it is illegal to have a national curriculum). But this effort also makes the Federal role not only a very negative one, chief enforcer, again unlike Finland, but because it is not deeply rooted within states, it is also a structure dangerously authoritarian in nature. We need to have change that is feasible and a model that allows states and communities to move forward and help build on it.
"The ability to build communities of people committed to lead change within their environments is the shift of focus from reaction to response." Kenneth Chomba, Tatua
There is no other way to change mass schools except to move toward a learning service model. The very fact that the high school degree is widely acknowledged to be worthless only proves how zombie-like the factory model is in reality. A learning services model supports families and brings them into the fold by allowing them deep choices as well as access. Accountability has to come from below as it cannot be imposed from above in a nation-state the size of the US without winding up in an authoritarian nightmare (and a major asset grab by corporate players).

No, the answer isn't school boards, but the actual users of the system itself: families. Families need to have some power in a system that has completely shut them out through compulsory attendance laws and the insularity they created. Parents and families tend to care about their kids and if they were deeply involved, we would have the best shot at accountable systems that are responsive to the people in them.

It is important to note that it is a false choice: local control versus national control. We need families with real power and we need systems that allow local schools to network across wider areas in new ways. This would build neighborhoods and lessen segregation while allowing individuals to build social networks that make their lives and neighborhoods better. We need a healthy relationship between local schools, districts and states as well as on the national level. And that will start with a healthy relationship with families.

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movement building: Scott Nine at Homeschool+ 2014

Recordings of all the Homeschool+ 2014 conference sessions are up now. A great session is available to listen to  Scott Nine of IDEA. This session is called From protest to politics: A provocation about the future of learning in the US. Grasping the Bayard Rustin reference in the title and mentioned in the talk is essential to understanding IDEA and Nine's work in movement building and connection.

I agree that we need to expand beyond our individual solutions and situations and I think homeschooling's legacy isn't just that families with money can be happy. I've blogged about how creating exemptions to compulsory attendance laws are a key contribution of homeschooling and should be seen as a way to change the power base of education away from the factory model. Partial transcription:
This ...educational paradigm is dying. It hasn't been realized yet. You can watch the current common core dialog and narrative .... The reality is that [the idea that] we are going to use high-stakes tests ... to narrow and compete is done. But its a mess of future possibilities and there's not much coherence in terms of public discussion of what we want. ... What's core ... is the understanding that learning has left the building. [...] 
IDEA's view of the world is that over the last twenty years progressive educators have gone into hiding. And for this particular conversation, I would say many students and parents opted out of the system completely. They went home. And I wouldn't say people shouldn't go home. I believe every parent and young person has the right to decide where they want to learn best and if they have the ability or capacity to do it, I'm not going to argue against that. But often people have done that because they felt trapped, broken, scared, it wasn't working for them, they wanted to do something different. Sometimes with an ideological bent ... a Christian ethic ... people have all kind of reasons for doing what they do. IDEA's story is that ... people ... because of these conditions, went into hiding in some form. For some people that meant doing some great work inside their classroom ... for some people that's building alternatives, or charter schools or independent schools. ... But people who share a lot of values about what really healthy learning environments can look like, ran away ... and they're in some outposts, and in some isolation. And we're at a unique moment when people are trying to tip back and beginning to find one another and lots of new ... connections are being made.

There really is great education going on all over the country. Sometimes in living rooms, sometimes in classrooms, sometimes in whole districts. And we don't have to take a position that is ideological about one of those environments being superior to the other but instead try to look at what's fundamental to those conditions and who should have access to more and more of them. ... How do we put people together in coherent, politically powerful ways? ... What would it look like to build a network that has real political and social influence in thinking about the future of learning? ... And it is our analysis that we need to try to convince numbers of people coming from very different perspectives, that it's a time to move from protest to a political engagement and strategizing together ... trying to find where there's a common set of values...

(Nine talks about working with Dr. Vincent Harding) .... you can't make a movement but you can prepare for one ... my provocation ... is that as we think about pursuing learning alternatives .. or even stop using the word alternatives but we pursue learning ... what we're preparing to help happen ... on behalf of whom and with what values are we working?

... my last provocation we have to hold two tensions. We're at a time of incredible promise ... the very beginning of the tipping point that will change quite significantly I believe in the next ten years .. we're also at a time of tremendous peril: we have tremendous gaps in equity in our country, there's tremendous injustice, there is huge amounts of social poverty, and the reality is that for many communities of color and for poor people, what their kids experience as a learning environment and what they feel like their families can provide looks very different than what other families. .... and the history from the 1960s and 70s ... it is not enough to have a progressive or a unschooling movement that is filled with middle and upper-class white people. And that if we are going to have something powerful happen in the country to unfold, it has to be something that joins with and weaves with some of these tensions and ideas and tries to think about a public purpose for learning and how to hold and stitch those things together. ... what I am advocating or proposing ... how those realities are showing up in your own work or life and what kinds of structures ... might begin to weave and stitch together...

Q&A (partial)
Steve Hargadon asks a question about how we deal with organizations that have power structures in place ...
Nine answers ... and I believe passionately, from a strategic perspective going back to that Bayard Rustin article that we are at a similar moment, we have to be able work on multiple fronts, we have to be able to have authentic conversations, .... we have to play strong ... how to be powerful advocates ... being comfortable with some of the structures, recognizing all structures are inhabited by people ... we choose the title Executive Director ... we know that that will make much of the educational world be able to see us and to potentially allow access ... there is a political consciousness ... that we have to decide that we are not just going to resist ... how we build the capacity in ourselves and how we network in ways that step forward ... if we don't work at both levels, where we are connecting all the parents and young people and community groups and also playing at that macro-level [with power structures]... we are doing a disservice to the possibility of the moment ... we need to be building those muscles. [...]

Steve H: ... I always think of that Bible verse, Scott gentle as a dove and wise as a serpent
Scott: Dr. Harding's expression to me was to be like love and iron fused together

Steve: Pasi Sahlberg ... GERM ... a virus spreads because its good at spreading ... how do you think about spreadability and stickiness .. Gandhi's spinning wheel allowed people at all levels to get behind an idea...

Scott: ... I'm of two thoughts about it. I want to leave room and excitement ... there is already emerging a huge movement ... I'm also really aware of the fact that we have 40, 50, 60 years of [great works in all media on learning] ... some moment, an expression will happen ... let's spend time trying to understand [our differences] ... being able to control the relationships, the networks, the pathways, the muscles, to be able to have a moment become viral ... when the Chicago teacher's unions was first striking in Chicago ... [Scott discusses how they were able to get early responses to the Chicago teacher's union strike out by having relationships in place that enabled communicators to move at great speed and get a frame in the media]...

the decline of play & rise of mental disorders

An important talk by Dr. Peter Gray about the deep and necessary need for play by human beings to grow up smart and happy. Children need to play to be mentally, physically and emotionally healthy. Partial transcription.
I'm a researcher who studies play from a biological, evolutionary perspective. I'm interested in the reasons why play came about in the course of evolutionary selection, I'm interested in the evolutionary function of play. So I'm going to start with animals. Young mammals of essentially all species play. In play they develop fit bodies, they practice physical skills that are crucial to their survival, and they also practice social and emotional skills. By playing together, they learn to cooperate with one another, they learn to be in close vicinity with one another without losing their tempers, very important for social animals to develop. In risky play, they learn to take risks, to experience fear without losing their heads, a lesson that can save their lives in the course of a real emergency.

Researchers have conducted laboratory experiments in which they have deprived young animals, usually this is done with rats but sometimes with monkeys, of the opportunity to play as they're grow up and they've developed ways of doing this without depriving them of other social experiences ... The result is that when these young animals develop, they are socially and emotionally crippled. When you place one of these play-deprived animals in a somewhat novel, somewhat frightening environment, they overreact with fear. They freeze in the corner, they don't adapt to it, they don't explore the environment .... If you place one of these play-deprived animals with an unfamiliar peer, they alternately freeze in fear and lash out with inappropriate, ineffective aggression, they don't learn to respond to the social signals of the other animal. ... those mammals that have the largest brains and that have the most to learn are the ones that we find play the most ... human children, when they're free to do so, play far, far more than do the young of any other mammals.

A few years ago ... conducted a survey of anthropologists who had observed hunter-gatherer cultures in various isolated parts of the world and we asked them questions ... . Every single one of these ten different anthropologists ... told us that the children in the cultures they studied including the young teenagers were free to play and explore on their own without adult guidance all day long from dawn to dusk essentially every day. The adults in these cultures ... say, we have to let them play because that's how they learn the skills they need to acquire to grow into adulthood. Some of these anthropologists say that the children that they observed ... were some of the brightest, happiest, most resilient children ...

So from a biological, evolutionary perspective, play is nature's means of ensuring that young mammals, including young human beings, acquire the skills that they need to acquire to develop successfully into adulthood. ... Now here's the sad news, here's what I'm here to talk about. ... There s been a continuous erosion of children's freedom and opportunity to play, to really play, to play freely ... I've seen it in the course of my lifetime. ... In the 1950s .. we had ample opportunity to play. We had school ... Some people may not remember but the school year then was five weeks shorter than it is today. The school day was six hours long but at least in elementary school, two of those hours were outdoors play. We had half hour recess in the morning, half hour in the afternoon, a full hour lunch, we could go wherever we wanted to during that period. We were never in the classroom more than an hour at a time, or for four hours a day. It just wasn't the big deal. And homework, for elementary school children, was essentially unheard of. There was some homework for high school students but much, much less than today. Out of schools, we had chores, some of us had part-time jobs, but for the most part we were free to play for hours after schools, all day on weekends, all summer long. ... I like to say that when I was a kid, I had school but I also had a hunter-gatherer education. At that time, you could walk through any neighborhood in America, almost anytime the school wasn't in session, and you would find kids playing outdoors without any adults around. Now if you walk through most neighborhoods in the United States, what you find, if you find kids outdoors at all, is they're wearing uniforms, they're on some kind of manicured field, they're following the directions of adult coaches while their parents are sitting on the sidelines cheering their every move. We call this play sometimes but it isn't by any play researcher's definition, its not really play. Play by definition is self-controlled and self-directed. It's the self-directed aspect of play that gives it its educative power.

Here are some of the reasons why play has declined. One, of course, is the increased rate of school, but an even more important reason ... has been the spread outside of the school walls of a schoolish view of child development. The view that children learn best, everything, from adults. That children's own self-directed activities with other children are wastes of time. We don't often say it that way but that's the implicit understanding that underlies so much of our policy with regard to children. So childhood has turned from a time of freedom to a time of resume building.

Another reason, of course, has to do with the spread of fear, really mostly irrational fears, spread by the media, spread by experts who are constantly warning us of the dangers out there if we don't watch our children every minute they are out there. Many people recognize the absurdity of some of these extreme fears but yet once we get them in our heads, its hard to shake them. ... In addition, there's a kind of self-generative quality to the decline of play. Once there are fewer kids out there playing, the outdoors becomes less attractive. It also becomes less safe. So that kid who does go outdoors, finds nobody to play with and goes back inside.

Now I don't want to romanticize the 1950s, there's a lot of ways in which we're a much better world today than we were there but we are a much worse world for kids. Over the same decades that play has been declining, we have seen a well-documented increase in all sorts of mental disorders of childhood. ... [...] based on such [clinical assessment questionnaires] assessments, 5 to 8 times as many children today suffer from major depression or from a clinically-significant anxiety disorder as was true in the 1950s. This has been a continuous, gradual, roughly linear increase over the years, very well documented. Over this same period, we've seen among young people 15--24, a doubling of the suicide rate. We've seen among children 15 and under, a quadrupling of the suicide rate. ... We've become a worse world for children. Not necessarily a worse world for adults ...

We've also seen a decline in the sense, of young people's sense that they have control over their lives. There's a questionnaire called an internal/external locus of control scale and there's a version of this for children as well as for adults, given since about 1960. Ever since its been given, we've seen a ... continuous decline in children's and young adults' sense that they have control over their own lives. They have more and more of a sense that their lives are controlled by fate, by circumstance, by other people's decisions. This is significant in terms of the relationship between anxiety and depression because one thing clinical psychologists know very well is that not having an internal sense of control sets you up for anxiety and depression. ... We've also seen ... a rise in narcissism in young people and a decline in empathy. And most recently ... a gradual decline in creative thinking ... since about the 1980s. ... any social scientist will tell you, correlation doesn't prove cause and effect. But in this case, I think that there is good reason to believe that the decline in play is the cause of these deleterious changes. For one thing, the correlation is very good, especially the correlation between the decline in play which seems to be roughly linear beginning around 1955 until today correlates very well with the roughly linear increase in anxiety and depression. .... Children are more depressed today than they were during the Great Depression, they are more anxious today than they were during the Cold War when they were continuously being warned of the threat of nuclear holocaust that could happen at any time. In addition, everything we know about play, tells us that these are the effects we would expect of children are deprived of play. They are analogous to the effects in animals when we take play away from animals. Play is where children learn that they're in control of their own life, it's really the only place they are in control of their life, when we take that away we don't give them the chance to learn how to control their own life. Play is where they learn to solve their own problems, they learn therefore that the world is not so scary after all. Play is where they experience joy and they learn the world is not so depressing after all. Play is where they learn to get along with peers and see from others' points of view and practice empathy and get over narcissism. Play is by definition creative and innovative. Of course, if you take away play all these things are going to go downhill. And yet the hue and cry that we hear everywhere is for more school not for more play. We've really got to change that.

So I'm told its always good to end on a positive note. ... Let's admit this is our fault. ... But then let's say we can do something about it. .... Once we've recognized its a problem, then we need to figure out a way to solve that problem. ... We have to.. examine our own priorities ... develop neighborhood networks ... establish places for children to play ... we've even taken away sidewalks ... we need to open up ... school gymnasiums after school for free play ... we need to put supervisors in the park so parents will feel its safe enough to leave their kids there to play, a supervisor who knows how to keep things safe enough but not intervene ... we need to ... close off city streets at certain hours ... develop adventure playgrounds, relatively common in Europe ... We need to be brave enough to stand up against the continuous clamor for more school. Our children don't need more school, they need less school. Maybe they need better school but they don't need more school. ... Thank you ....

state socialization to build grit and perseverance

Statistician and blogger Mark Palko compares the hyped push for higher standards with the push for New Math, a program that finally eliminated arithmetic as an underlying focus of elementary mathematics:
New Math would seem to be an almost ideal starting point for a discussion of the current Common Core and Common Core-related education programs (the former being a relatively small part of the overall initiatives). It is perhaps the only precedent of similar scale. Its ties to concerns over Sputnik are analogous to today’s concerns over PISA. Its underlying assumptions about taking a more scientific approach to education are similar. Add to that New Math’s relatively high name recognition and generally agreed upon outcome (there’s not much point in bringing up something no one remembers). [...]

"Perhaps Feynman’s most cutting criticism was that, after dragging students through painfully rigorous presentations, the textbooks did not get the rigor correct: 
The reason was that the books were so lousy. They were false. They were hurried. They would try to be rigorous, but they would use examples (like automobiles in the street for ‘sets’) which were almost OK, but in which there were always some subtleties. The definitions weren’t accurate. Everything was a little bit ambiguous — they weren’t smart enough to understand what was meant by ‘rigor.’ They were faking it. They were teaching something they didn’t understand, and which was, in fact, useless, at that time, for the child."
Mass compulsory schools undertaking extensive character education inside state standards is an extension of the original mission of schools that should be frightening to citizens in a democracy. Math educators, anxious to see better quality teaching and texts, would do well to be informed of how the educational-industrial complex can take their desire for students to wrestle longer with well-constructed mathematical problems and expand that straightforward need, that could be accomplished with peer-to-peer collaboration, into a comprehensive agenda of developing psychological traits in children such as grit, tenacity, and perseverance. (see Susan Ohanian’s post)

Grit research doesn't even know much but that hasn't stopped this report from being put out:
In this accountability-driven climate and in communities that place extremely high expectations on students, grit, tenacity, and perseverance may not always be in the students’ best interest. For example, persevering in the face of challenges or setbacks to accomplish goals that are extrinsically motivated, unimportant to the student, or in some way inappropriate for the student can have detrimental impacts on students’ learning and psychological well-being. Little systematic research has investigated this. Researchers need to explore the different reasons for demonstrating grit and what potential costs may be. [...]
The shocking invasiveness of this approach signals that the educational-industrial complex needs deep change. The report has character report cards (from KIPP) that do not even allow for different character types, introvert and extrovert, much less for the ongoing development of these characteristics. The educational-industrial complex, under the guise of helping under-achievers, plans to socialize children in ways traditionally thought to be the role of the family and community.

A focus on grit and character-building for the poor isn't a new thing:
Why Adam Smith Advocated Controls Over Workers: "Molding personal behavior to fit the needs of the market was not the only thing Smith had in mind. It was also crucial in terms of national defense, which Smith considered more important than opulence (Smith 1789, IV.ii.30: pp. 464 65). In fact, on at least two occasions, Smith equated opulence with effeminacy _ looking back favorably at a time of “rough, manly people who had no sort of domestic luxury or effeminacy” (Smith 1762 1766, p. 189; see also p. 202). [...]

"To remedy this situation, Smith called upon the state to transform the people, correcting their personal defects and making them into upstanding citizens. To his credit, Smith did called for educating the poor, while others at the time feared that widespread literacy could make them more dangerous. However, Smith, the reputed libertarian, suggested that education be mixed with compulsion:"

The public can impose upon almost the whole body of the people the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education, by obliging every man to undergo an examination or probation in them before he can obtain the freedom in any corporation, or be allowed to set up any trade either in a village or town corporate. [Smith 1789, V.i.f.57, p. 786]

Coercion would force the poor to submit to education. The penalty would be that potential merchant workers would be limited in the kind of merchandise (their work) that non compliant people could bring to the market. [...]
The US lags far behind its peers in providing families with the maternal and parental leave (even when it is good for business), health care, and wages/resources to help their own children develop strong character, traditionally the job of families and communities. That the educational-industrial complex will happily step up to move beyond teaching specific skills like reading, writing and computation, and specific curricular content, history, sciences, etc., into the well-paid work of developing psychological character traits is an extension of institutional power that citizens in a democracy should view with alarm.

Socializing Children in the Education-Industrial Complex
Poor and working-class families have no lobbying arm and no organized way to counter the education-industrial complex, comprised of wealthier professionals who themselves benefit from the culling out performed by grading and ranking in the education industry. The educational-industrial complex is armed with extended compulsory attendance laws that not only actually harm families, but completely remove accountability from the users of the system. Even progressives stumble with union issues. This is because the other set of workers within schools are children, or else they are products, either way the factory model shows its problematic nature. (There is a progressive movement to democratize unions and enable union members to work more closely with communities and families.)

But who represents the child? It can only be the parents but the schools have extended in loco parentis to build character education across K-12 in ways that take state socialization to a new level and replace families. Will we fund programs that fully support families or will the money be funneled instead to highly-paid professionals who want to expand the functions of schools to psychologically socialize children on a scale we have not before attempted so explicitly?

Schools must get more porous and flexible even as they expand services to ensure that families' needs are what schools support, and not the needs of corporations or the education-industrial complex that has grown large using compulsory attendance and legal means to exclude families from power within the system itself.

Could the state actually succeed in developing character education and thereby replace the family? Wealthy plutocrats would be happy to ensure the work camps run smoothly, can they succeed at this? Not if you read the literature on attachment theory and the inherent need for human beings to become attached and develop deep relationships with long-term adult figures. Note that Sweden, where wall-to-wall daycare after one year of age without the home care provisions allowed by Finland and Norway, is now grappling with psychological problems among young people. Discussions of fostering grit must ensure they are built on a foundation that grasps attachment theory and the human need for attachment within relationships that are family-based. Ultimately, the state cannot replace the family even if it does create jobs.

We Could Support Families to Help Kids
We could provide parents access to services that utilize research into character development and the demand for such services would be large in some areas. We could ensure that families controlled access to these services if we restructured schools to begin moving away from the factory model (ensuring every child gets the same thing poured into their head) and move toward a learning services model, whereby families can choose services and goals. That's how homeschooling works, a truly grassroots movement of families.

Some think that poor families and students will not make good choices. There is no reason to think that poor parents will make worse choices than other families. But there is ample historic evidence that poor families will not be given the same choices to make nor will they be supported in ways that those with more resources are helped. If poorer families are truly given choices, they will do what most parents do and try hard to help their kids. In my experience, poorer families will want strong academic content more than many others.

The educational-industrial complex, or the upper professional classes, have shown complete willingness to extend state socialization in ways that give pause to every citizen. The intense drive and monied resources put into this effort versus the lack of such drive and resources to support the policies that would actually help families themselves shows a side of this problem largely undiscussed in media. Families have no lobby, no paid professionals, and no billionaires who champion a social structure that has been decimated for poor and working-class people.

Poor and working-class children have suffered as their families have been decimated by wage decline and productivity theft, privatization of colleges, low growth of public services like transportation, mass incarceration, and the public school system’s focus on test-based accountability, an outgrowth of a the now defunct factory model. Schools themselves must develop a learning services model to ensure that all services will be in the hands of families who have the power to choose for their children.

See also:

Maya Angelou and schools

Maya Angelou, February 2009
I saw Maya Angelou twice and she was a force of nature, a joyous warrior for the human spirit. I will add these brief clips and links, focusing on her experiences with schools, to the river of recollections and celebrations being shared worldwide.

The remarkable Maya Angelou first attended school in Stamps, Arkansas where a teacher shared works of literature that played a part in helping Angelou speak again after a deep trauma, chronicled in her first autobiographical novel. Maya Angelou's leadership and tenacity became clear at the school (
Her life in Stamps helped to mold her both in a spiritual and activist manner, as is evident in her rebelling against the black principal of her elementary school when she refused to heed his warning not to sing the “Negro National Anthem” (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”) rather than “God Bless America” during the graduation assembly when the white superintendent of public schools and other white officials were present. She was appalled that the superintendent spoke to the class about their learning trades so that they might remain in servitude to the majority race. She was insulted at the inference that those were the only kinds of job opportunities available for educated African Americans. Soon afterward, the two children once again moved to be with their mother, Vivian—this time to San Francisco, California. 
Life in California was far different from their experiences in rural Arkansas. More educational and job opportunities were available. In 1944, Johnson dropped out of high school to become the first black cable car conductor in San Francisco; then she returned to Mission High School and earned a scholarship to study dance, drama, and music at San Francisco’s Labor School, where she learned about the progressive ideologies that may have served as a foundation for her later social and political activism. However, after only one sexual encounter for experimentation’s sake, earlier in the year, she gave birth to her son, Claude (who later changed his name to Guy) three weeks after graduation. This was to be her only child and the conclusion of her only educational endeavors as a student. Henceforth, she has been lecturer, teacher, professor, analyst, but never a student in any educational institutional setting. 
More about the California Labor School  supported by 72 unions and later classified as subversive and eventually closed. The school was founded to:
The School's program promised to *analyze social, economic and political questions* in light of the present world struggle against fascism. Dave Jenkins was the founding director and continued until 1949 when he was succeeded by Dr. Holland Roberts, the School's educational director.
Another teacher would also influence her:
En 1945, un événement important est survenu dans sa vie. L'éducatrice a reçu un coup de téléphone dans la classe puis elle s'est mise à marcher de long en large avant de s'adresser aux élèves. « Jeunes gens, jeunes filles. » Elle a demandé aux élèves de quitter la classe en silence et de rentrer chez eux. Maya Angelou entend encore ses paroles. « Vous ne parlerez à personne et vous penserez à votre pays. Parce que aujourd'hui, votre président est mort. » Franklin Roosevelt venait de s'éteindre à Warm Springs, en Géorgie. « Pour la première fois, dit Maya Angelou, il est devenu mon président. » Les élèves ont fait exactement ce que leur avait dit le professeur, comme s'il s'était agi de leur propre grand-père. « Je n'ai parlé à personne, j'ai pris le tramway, reprend-elle. Et ce jour-là, je suis devenue une Américaine. Pas seulement quelqu'un qui vit dans ce pays. 
Maya Angelou taught her son to read herself and was a lifelong learner herself:
In 1985, she told Essence, “The greatest gift I ever received was my son. . . .When he was four . . . I taught him to read. But then he’d ask questions and I didn’t have the answers, so I started my lifelong affair with libraries. . . .I’ve learned an awful lot because of him.”
Dr. Angelou would go on to become the Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and be awarded over 30 honorary degrees among many other awards. A teacher for over 30 years at Wake Forest University, she was a philanthropist and mentor, often teaching small classes in her own home:
Angelou died Wednesday morning at her home in Winston-Salem, where she had been a professor of American studies at Wake Forest University for more than three decades.
Maya Angelou supported public charter schools that provided an alternative for youth but she was also a critic of current ed reform policy and she criticized excessive testing:
“Race To The Top feels to be more like a contest … not what did you learn, but how much can you memorize."
Dr.Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson, recollects:
Johnson said the main thing he learned from Angelou is that "life's complexity cannot be taught in a classroom."
Below: DJ Boss Player has a brief one question interview with the legendary Dr. Maya Angelou at her event fundraiser for the Maya Angelou Schools at the National Theatre in Washington, DC.

blaming students

Official portrait of Mark Twain in his DLitt 
(Doctor of Letters) academic dress
awarded by Oxford  University
It's wall-to-wall in the media: students are whining, picky or elite. It is blame the students time in the media. I could not find a single post blaming the faculty and administration or fully supporting the students as they protest prominent figures in the military-industrial and financial-industrial complex.  A look at some posts on the commencement fuss:

Vox has a problematic post structure: they open with three cancelled commencement speakers but Goldberg focuses on academic freedom and says little about commencement speakers and so the piece achieves harsh judgement on student actions through structural means rather than direct criticism.

Why are students forcing out commencement speakers? - Vox"Goldberg spoke to Vox about the swinging pendulum of anti-liberal leftism and why it's most evident on college campuses — as well as about whether the uproar over commencement speakers really fits the trend. The conversation has been condensed and lightly edited and rearranged."

The Nation even quotes the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization that seems to be quoted by almost all these commencement-speaker-cancellations-are-a-problem posts. Why the Nation would want to quote this group is hard to fathom.
Protesters force IMF chief to cancel speech: "Such reversals have become more common in recent years, said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, referring to this time of year as “disinvitation season.” What has changed is not so much the protests themselves, but the willingness of colleges and speakers to give in, adding that many apparently voluntary withdrawals are made at the college’s urging."
The Chronicle of High Education also makes sure to snip at this cancellation. The destruction of higher education in Greece by misinformed austerity isn't covered in this publication, it seems.
IMF Chief Withdraws From Smith College’s Graduation After Protests – The Ticker - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education: "“An invitation to speak at a commencement is not an endorsement of all views or policies of an individual or the institution she or he leads,” Ms. McCartney wrote. “Such a test would preclude virtually anyone in public office or position of influence. Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion. I remain committed to leading a college where differing views can be heard and debated with respect.”"
The Wall Street Journal actually quotes someone in support of the students though they, too, quote FIRE's Greg Lukanioff. 
IMF's Christine Lagarde Won't Speak at Smith, Part of a Growing List - "Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors, defended the rights of students and faculty to protest, petition and otherwise make their voices heard. "There's a long history of protests in the United States; that's what we were founded on, and I think student protests are partially an introduction to democracy," Mr. Fichtenbaum said."
Lukanioff is quoted wall-to-wall in these various pieces perhaps because he recently penned an op ed published in Time. Lukanioff comes out squarely in favor of a marketplace of ideas where presumably we can each buy the idea we can afford, or rather, speakers can sell their ideas. It's an apt metaphor for Christine Lagarde.

That college administration, itself a cause of exploding tuition, may see speakers differently than students is not something a single post has even delved into. The students are blamed, they have not been taught well, they are foolish or intolerant but the administrations are without error and wise.
Christine Lagarde Withdraws From Smith College’s Commencement Speech - TIME: "Christine Lagarde withdrew as Smith College's commencement speaker under student pressure, but a true “marketplace of ideas” must be open to hearing from people from different walks of life, professions, experiences and philosophical and political points of view." [...]
A scholarly community should approach speakers with even radically different points of view as opportunities to be engaged, not as a political loss that must be avoided at all costs. Exercising a little intellectual humility might lead students and faculty away from asking “what can I do to get rid of the speaker?” and towards “what might I learn if I hear this person out?” After all, if you’re only willing to hear from people with whom you agree, it’s far less likely you will learn new things.
Smith College economics faculty protested the withdrawal of Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund and the students mounted a petition. Ms. Lagarde declined.
Smith College: Economics: "May 13, 2014 As faculty members of the Department of Economics at Smith College, we are very disappointed that Christine Lagarde has decided to withdraw as this year’s commencement speaker. Many of our students share in this disappointment. There was a great deal of excitement on campus at the prospect of hearing from Madame Lagarde, who has achieved the rare distinction of becoming a female leader of a global economic intitution. We acknowledge the controversy that surrounds International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies and, as individual economists, hold a range of views on these policies and the complex, difficult problems they seek to address. We also recognize the evolving nature of the IMF as an institution and in that context, looked forward to hearing Madame Lagarde’s remarks. The withdrawal of Madame Lagarde as our commencement speaker represents a lost opportunity to hear directly from the leader of this influential global institution and to use that address as a valuable input into a well-informed, multi-faceted, and nuanced discourse on our campus about crucial issues facing the world."
Petition Reconsider the Smith College 2014 Commencement Speaker: "Even if we give Ms. Lagarde the benefit of the doubt, and recognize that she is just a good person working in a corrupt system, we should not by any means promote or encourage the values and ideals that the IMF fosters. The IMF has been a primary culprit in the failed developmental policies implanted in some of the world’s poorest countries. This has led directly to the strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide. At Smith College, a school with a campaign called “Women for the World”, we are taught how to stand up and fight against inequality and corruption. We are taught to speak up when something is unjust, and we do not wish to be represented by a system that doesn’t support us."
But this economics professor thinks its all about problems decades ago. That whole global financial meltdown that might better be described as a purge, astronomical student debt load, continuing austerity, and international student protests to reclaim the economics curriculum have nothing to do with student problems with this speaker. None at all. It's all about points of view. Students ruined the chance of the economics department to meet and greet an IMF leader.
Smith College economics professors cite ‘lost opportunity’ with IMF head Christine Lagarde’s withdrawal from grad talk | “American universities thrive on debate, on disagreement, on openness, on exploration,” Zimbalist said Tuesday. “You can’t learn if you’re closed to other people’s point of view.”
"Roisin O’Sullivan, associate professor of economics, said she thinks the objections mostly relate to IMF policies that were put in place in the 1980s and 1990s, and she believes the institution has shown itself willing to evolve in the time since. "
A Harvard op ed earlier this year found that academic freedom is perhaps too thin a support for these policies. Justice also matters.
The Doctrine of Academic Freedom | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson: "Yet the liberal obsession with “academic freedom” seems a bit misplaced to me. After all, no one ever has “full freedom” in research and publication. Which research proposals receive funding and what papers are accepted for publication are always contingent on political priorities. The words used to articulate a research question can have implications for its outcome. No academic question is ever “free” from political realities. If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?"
Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.
I'm with the students. After all, everyone agrees they are old enough to go into debt servitude just to be there.

the true cost of juvenile justice to families

Families are being charged steep fees for the juvenile justice system interctions including investigations to determine guilt or innocence. And if the child dies, the fees continue. Listen to the story here: Double charged: The true cost of juvenile justice |  

mother's pensions

From the National Child Labor Committee Collection in the Library of Congress. Public domain. Attributed to Lewis Hine, c. 1914.  This photo is estimated to have been done in 1914 which would sync with this: 
"During the period from 1902 to 1915, child labor committees emphasized reform through state legislatures. Many laws restricting child labor were passed as part of the progressive reform movement of this period. But the gaps that remained, particularly in the southern states, led to a decision to work for a federal child labor law. Congress passed such laws in 1916 and 1918, but the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional." Child Labor

historic children pics at White House Easter egg rolls

Children at White House Easter Egg Roll, 1898 (above)
From the attribution info: Two children (one black, one white) hold hands on the front lawn of the White House during the 1898 Easter Egg Roll Date 10 April 1898 Image: By Frances Benjamin Johnston, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cabinet Children at White House Egg Roll, 1922 Children of Cabinet members photographed at the Easter egg roll at the White House, April 17, 1922. Left to right: front row: Dorothy Sawyer, grand-child of Gen. Sawyer, John Davidge, Marion Davidge, grand children of Secty Weeks, Marion and Edwin Denby, children of the Secty of the Navy, Teddy Roosevelt Jr., Quinten Roosevelt, Grace Roosevelt, children of the Asst. Secty of Navy, back row: Marion Schweitzer, John McLean and Edwin McLean, children of E.B. McLean.

Image: Public domain. In album: Washington, D.C., 1 April 1922 to 29 April 1922, v. 4, Herbert E. French, National Photo Company, p. 24, no. 18520. Forms part of: National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress). Original glass negative may be available: LC-F8-18520, via Wikimedia Commons

inside Japanese schools

By Aka Hige from Denton, TX, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

NY1 Online: "Looking For Answers: Inside Tokyo Schools" [Full Program]: Education Reporter Lindsey Christ traveled to the Far East to produce the hour-long special report, Looking For Answers: Inside Tokyo Schools, a look at what New York City schools can learn from schools in Japan. [48 minutes]

An interesting (48 minutes) documentary on Japanese schools from an NYC reporter. It is mostly about Japan but there's a bit about NYC, too. My notes:

Japanese schools encourage older kids to interact with younger kids. Compulsory education actually ends with 9th grade even though 95% go on to senior high, which clearly shows how compulsory attendance is not the only driver of education policy. The Japanese also wants to shift their schools away from producing industrial workers and are questioning the factory model. They are moving slowly toward more problem-solving and process-oriented preparation.

The impact of changed test results in Japan have harmed many reforms and many want a return to the 6-day week to get test scores back up again. A look at class sizes is also interesting: NYC cares a lot about this while Japan does not. The jukus, or test prep classes are shown and the closer interaction with students in these is examined. In fact, the cram schools allow more questions and interaction with teachers. Japan students face fewer standardized tests and school promotion is automatic. But there are three important exams that are gatekeepers to good schools though there is a reform aiming to lessen this until the end of "high school."

A fascinating part is a look at how Japan handles food in the schools. They give the kids very extensive information on the food every year, every school has its own nutritionist, and every meal is prepared from scratch at the school. The food is brought into classrooms and eaten there: the kids serve each other, learn portion sizes, and try new flavors often after a mini-lesson on the new food or taste. Then they wash their hands, brush their teeth and cleanup the classroom after food is served. And the Japanese get kids moving, with daily stretching and running. Every school has a pool and every student learns to swim.  Japan has recently added traditional martial arts, archery, drumming, and dance to school requirements. Schools also do complete health checks and the video notes that Japan saves extensive money in healthcare.

An interesting look at Japanese school refusers comes toward the end of the video. School refusal is not considered truancy but an opt-out and there were over a 100, 000 school refusers in a recent count.  Japanese parents are often frustrated by this and there is a new school that allows school refusers to attend a "free school,"  Japanese-style. Homeschooling isn't on the radar according to this report. But the problem of hikikomori, those who will not leave their apartments, is also a factor in this very group-focused society. Bullying is a growing issue and the documentary examines that issue as well.

A look at teachers concludes the documentary. The overall emphasis on the group and a stunningly thorough program of equitable resources among schools are base points for the Japanese approach to schooling. This well-made documentary gives a unique glimpse of Japan.

sal khan at carnegie mellon: reimagining education

Salman Khan talked at Carnegie Mellon recently (he received the Heinz Award in Pittsburgh), about Khan Academy and how it begins to move the mindset created by the factory model. In the Q & A afterward touches on work on accessibility, identifying and sharing best practices, classroom formats and changing STEM formats & focusing on creativity, the Bank of America partnership & financial literacy, MOOCs & college & creating multiple paths.

From the video:
…a school using it in Oakland where a class used it to good effect … [teacher Peter Macintosh] views it as a mindset changing tool … a lot of these students historically came into classroom already thinking they were no good at math and also being very passive , alright teacher what do I do next? …. they would only engage in a problem for 5 seconds … before giving up … as soon as they turned things around where the students were in control, it was meeting them where they were, they were allowed to build their foundations even if it was an algebra class, if you had trouble with decimals you were allowed to work on decimals so that you could build that foundation and not get frustrated. .. you could peer tutor each other… you realize that you’re trying to reach your goals for yourself, the teacher's there to help you, the tools are there, your peers are there … that improved their scores across all their subjects … out of the 120 million people using the site every month, about 10% are in formal settings … the bulk are just random people who are trying to tap into their potential [video of a high school dropout] .. I actually dropped out of high school twice, both in my freshman year, … and I was able to skip two years of math just by using the site … [went on to get high scores in math, graduate and go to Princeton] … more about the partnership with College Board and free test prep “not just video but … interactive …examples of global use of Khan Academy … launch of Spanish and other languages … video montage of Khan videos in other languages … even today one of our most popular videos is on credit-default swaps ... If I were to re-architect K-12, I would ... argue that the law ... accounting ... computer science ... statistics should be included...

alfie kohn on standardized testing

Alfie Kohn's keynote at Regina Teachers Convention 2014 in Saskatchewan, Canada. Lots of laughs and humor amidst discussion of standardized testing (and some about project-based learning). From the video:
..."To reach an important goal (like meaningful teaching and learning) it is sometimes necessary to actively oppose practices that get in the way (like standardized tests and a one-size-fits-all provincial curriculum) ... the US offers a cautionary tale, not an exemplary model, for school reform ... legal cheating ...[is] teaching to the test ... let's talk about when higher test scores are not merely meaningless but unfortunate ... *standardized assessments simultaneously overestimates and underestimates students* ... there was a statistically significant negative relatioship between test scores and depth of thinking ... it may be troubling to hear about high scores ... the wuestion becomes, at what cost have we raised those scores ... please learn from the US ... scores on various tests are jacked up by turning whole schools into test prep factories ... do our children get enough recess and time for play? ... don't be misled by language just because they call it formative ... educate and organize the parents ... but what we have learned is to make parents your ally ... one interestig study came out of Colorado ... very traditional parents ... thought well, great, let's have some accountability ... and then the parents were shown not only standardized tests abut authentic forms of assessment that are not standardized ... [they changed their views] ... what should be called the 'every child left nehind act' ... the more we're focused on testing. the less we're focused on learning ... what happened in Japan years ago ... the teachers ... [refused] because they're bad for children ... now I want to suggest a possibility you may find more unsettling ... some teachers ... may have accepted the same sensibility .... I want to suggest five things that should give us pause ... even teacher-designed tests are not a good way to [test] ... the most talented teachers almost never give tests ... because they don't need them ... classrooms are not corporations that produce widgets ... the more focused we are on measureable outcomes, the more trivial the teaching will become ... measureable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning ...