Tuesday Required Reading

  1. Girls flag rugby. Beautiful lead picture. Of course the red-head is kicking ass.
  2. UCLA reverses course and will pay the adjunct professor after all. HR clown show.
  3. How much do the best pro cyclists make? “. . . pocket-money compared to some of the world’s wealthiest sports.”
  4. Right on. My Covid guy gets the top job. Everyone has a Covid person or team that affirms their preconceived notions about all things ‘rona. Ashish Jha is mine.

Schools Remain Sites Of Joy

Hey school principals, pay even closer attention to positive emotions and experiences.

Applies to leaders of all sorts. Scratch that, people of all sorts.

From Education Week, “Rx for Principals: Take in the Joy”.

“. . . almost 45 percent of principals said they had considered leaving their jobs or sped up their plans to exit the principalship because of COVID-related working conditions.

Yes, working conditions for principals have been tough. But that’s only part of the story. Even in the current circumstances, schools remain sites of joy. Principals regularly experience this joy, and it could make a big difference in how they perceive their working conditions.”

Let’s start asking principals. . . and others. . . about their most positive experiences.

“If you ask principals about their positive experiences, you will hear a steady stream of stories and see their faces light up with smiles. For example, an elementary school principal in an urban district described being moved to tears seeing an English-learner student, after a difficult year of transition, reading in two languages. Another principal talked about how meaningful she found coaching a novice teacher who was struggling but also improving by the day. Such experiences too often go unnoticed and unshared.”

What have been your most positive recent experiences?

The United States Free Fall Starts Here

With a decline in public support for public education and a concomitant decline in quality.

George Packer in The Atlantic argues that we’ve turned schools into battlefields, and our kids are the casualties.

“It isn’t clear how the American public-school system will survive the COVID years. Teachers, whose relative pay and status have been in decline for decades, are fleeing the field. In 2021, buckling under the stresses of the pandemic, nearly 1 million people quit jobs in public education, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. The shortage is so dire that New Mexico has resorted to encouraging members of the National Guard to volunteer as substitute teachers.

Students are leaving as well. Since 2020, nearly 1.5 million children have been removed from public schools to attend private or charter schools or be homeschooled. Families are deserting the public system out of frustration with unending closures and quarantines, stubborn teachers’ unions, inadequate resources, and the low standards exposed by remote learning. It’s not just rich families, either, David Steiner, the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, told me. ‘COVID has encouraged poor parents to question the quality of public education. We are seeing diminished numbers of children in our public schools, particularly our urban public schools.'”

Packer states what’s increasingly obvious:

“The high-profile failings of public schools during the pandemic have become a political problem for Democrats, because of their association with unions, prolonged closures, and the pedagogy of social justice, which can become a form of indoctrination. The party that stands for strong government services in the name of egalitarian principles supported the closing of schools far longer than either the science or the welfare of children justified, and it has been woefully slow to acknowledge how much this damaged the life chances of some of America’s most disadvantaged students. The San Francisco school board became the caricature of this folly last year when it spent months debating name changes to Roosevelt Middle School, Abraham Lincoln High School, and other schools with supposedly offensive names, while their classrooms remained closed to the city’s children. Republicans have only just begun to exploit the fallout.”

And then concedes he’s “not interested in joining or refereeing this partisan scrum.” Poignantly adding:

“Public education is too important to be left to politicians and ideologues. Public schools still serve about 90 percent of children across red and blue America. Since the common-school movement in the early 19th century, the public school has had an exalted purpose in this country. It’s our core civic institution—not just because, ideally, it brings children of all backgrounds together in a classroom, but because it prepares them for the demands and privileges of democratic citizenship. Or at least, it needs to.

What is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution. “The original thinkers about public education were concerned almost to a point of paranoia about creating self-governing citizens,” Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told me. ‘Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.'”

Packer and Pondiscio nail it.

Can Sound Judgement Under Pressure Be Taught?

In college, in “The Sociology of Education” more specifically, I found “The Gospel According to the Harvard Business School” a fascinating read.  As a result, this article caught my eye, “What is Harvard Business School’s Secret Sauce“?

The author asks whether or not sound judgement under pressure can be taught. The Harvard Business School definitely thinks so. How?

“Students study about 500 cases during their two years at the school. . .”

Case studies are one of my all-time fave teaching methods, but I have to believe students reach a point of diminishing returns well before Case #500. I suspect fewer, more in-depth cases would yield better results.

Has the HBS or anyone else studied their graduates’ judgement relative to other non-HBS grads? How would one create a baseline of HBS grads pre-HBS judgement under pressure from which to compare? More generally, how would one conduct such studies?

Messy at best.

In other Harvard news.

Not Proof Of The American Dream

The best thing you’ll read today. “I Am Not Proof of the American Dream”. As a general policy, if Tara Westover writes something, you should read it.

Upon receiving a $4,000 Pell Grant, Westover writes:

“In those desperate years a few thousand dollars was enough to alter the whole course of my life. It contained a universe. It allowed me to experience for the first time what I now know to be the most powerful advantage of money, which is the ability to think of things besides money. That’s what money does. It frees your mind for living.”

How on earth does the Right, with their knee-jerk complaints of Big Government waste and social program dependency make sense of the Tara Westovers of the world?

A Writer Threads The Needle

As a writer, there are some impossible assignments. Where the degree of difficulty is just too great to put pen to paper.

You can’t write anything sympathetic to Republicanism in The New York Times, just as you can’t write anything sympathetic to the Left in The Washington Times.

If you identify as male, you can’t write about the “female experience”. If you are rich, you can’t write about the poor. If you’ve never had kids, you can’t write about parenting.

I mean, you can, there’s a First Amendment after all, but good luck to you.

And if you’re on “the tenure track”, or a tenured professor, you can’t complain about anything higher education-related without understandably unleashing the growing army of adjuncts who struggle to feed themselves and make rent. They. Aren’t. Having. It.

Unless you were an adjunct before you landed your tenure-track position? And you acknowledge your good fortune. More than once. Then, just maybe, you can pull off the rarest of feats.*

Cue Sarah Emanuel’s essay, “The Deflating Reality Of Life On The Tenure Track” with the provocative subtitle—”Walking dogs helps me make rent.”

Props to Emanuel for her hustle and her risk taking as a writer. And her good humor.

Historical footnote. The Good Wife and I started our journey in a one-bedroom Venice apartment.

*I haven’t read the comments yet. Kinda afraid to.

Monday Required Reading

There is no vacation from reading. Indeed, some take the view that there’s no vocation, but reading.

The rich vs the very, very rich: the Wentworth Golf Club rebellion. The makings of a great novel.

The very, very rich vs the Mormon church. I’d read that novel too.

It’s time for car companies to shut up about electric vehicles and just ship them. Amen.

Norway’s most popular cycle route. Yes please.

Here’s what schools are doing to try to address students’ social-emotional needs. Shame on me, I shoulda lead with this.

How To Make A Positive Difference

A fall semester postscript.

When evaluating their progress at the end of the semester, my first year writing students say the same thing over and over. “In high school, all we ever did was literary analysis. Intro. Three body paragraphs with supporting details. A conclusion. I learned the formula, but it was mind numbing.”

Why are secondary teachers stuck in literary analysis mode? Is it as simple as teaching to Advanced Placement tests? If so, maybe we should risk the ire of parents determined to pass their privilege on and ditch Advanced Placement altogether.

Why not ask students to occasionally write about themselves in the context of big questions? To be introspective. To dare to be personal. To be philosophical. It takes some of my students longer than others to pivot to first person “I”, but eventually everyone sees value in it. Some experience an immediate awakening. For example, in one final paper a student wrote, “I don’t think I truly understood myself until this class because I never contemplated my biggest motivators. Why doesn’t my mom love me? Why do I feel so insignificant? Am I enough?”

K-12 teachers might reply that they’re not therapists so why venture into personal rabbit holes. I’m advocating for public, group-based community; not private, individual therapy.

Another student explained the difference especially well:

“Even on the days with the best attendance, our classroom does not exceed twenty people. This has allowed us to know each other on a deeper level than that of just classmates. I feel as though each person in class is now someone I can call my friend. Through group discussions, the sharing of intimate parts of our lives, and just laughing together in general, we have discovered all the similarities each of us share. As a group, we have formed our own sort of community, filled with people of all different majors and parts of the country. I can confidently say that I have learned just as much from talking to my classmates as I have from the assigned class readings.

Despite the different reasons for each student being placed into Writing 101, we are each leaving the class with one commonality. We formed a special little community built on finding our footing in a new place, trust, and compassion. . . . We made connections that could last a lifetime and learned lessons from one another that changed our perspectives.”

Since classmates don’t assign grades, students are socialized to pay attention exclusively to their teachers. Watch for yourself, in the vast majority of classrooms, students completely tune out one another.

Dig this paradox. My teaching is most consequential when I fade into the background and get my students to listen to, and learn from, one another.