Class Field Trip

The progressive private school considers the visits to be one of the most radical things it does. “We knew we needed to talk about social class,” said Lois Gelernt, the teacher who came up with the idea. “It was opening up a can of worms, but if we were never going to talk about who we are and where we come from, the sense of community wasn’t going to be there.”

At first glance, Manhattan Country School seems like an unlikely place to be having that conversation. The school, which starts with the pre-K-aged children and goes through eighth grade, occupies a giant townhouse on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, just steps from Central Park. The name evokes clenched-jaw accents and competitive horsemanship, though in reality the older children milk cows and gather eggs on a school-owned farm upstate.

“For Lessons About Class, a Field Trip Takes Students Home.” Ron Lieber

I think this is both a very good idea and a very limited one. The problem is that it is so difficult to go from an experiential ethnography of class to a critically aware analysis. We cannot expect young children to be critically and intellectually developed enough, of course, to understand that in many cases what they are seeing amounts to systematic inequality and injustice. Even older students struggle to understand that inequity isn’t natural but a product of human society. One can hope, of course, that these sorts of lessons can help to combat the reification of class and lay the foundation for a more profound understanding.

Love is a Drug

It’s a variation on a theme that has developed alongside “quit lit”—the notion that the humanities Ph.D. is a multitool, and it will serve its holder well in any number of nonacademic jobs. The idea that frustrated humanities Ph.D.’s should abandon the broken adjunctification of higher education in favor of the alt-ac path is even picking up institutional steam: The American Historical Association recently received a $1.6 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support its efforts to expand career tracks for history Ph.D.’s.

Encouraging people to think creatively about their career paths is, of course, just fine. And humanities Ph.D.’s can and do find jobs outside of the academy all the time. But we shouldn’t start pretending that that’s what we’ve been training them for all along. Turning a solution that may work for some individuals into a systemic fix isn’t easy—and it’s not necessarily appropriate.

“Alt-Ac Isn’t Always the Answer,” Jacqui Shine.

I suppose it’s a sign of aging or something but I really dislike “Alt-Ac.” It’s one of those ugly instant clichés that obfuscate far more than they reveal. Let’s hope it dies a quick and well deserved death. That said, I think this is a nice piece. My only issue with it is that it– or the writer– seems to have no sense of teaching as a compelling vocation. Perhaps it is simply that she doesn’t want to seem sentimental or soft.

Many of us stick to teaching, not simply because it is what we have trained to do, but because we love it. It’s our great strength as teachers and our great political weakness. The U.S. higher education system works because there are so many of us– the majority– who are willing to fight one difficult uphill battle after the other, again and again, year after year, to pursue what we feel we were born to do.

Right Turn: Let’s Get Back to Cheap!

WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 28, 2014 –

It’s no secret the president’s health care law is making life difficult for working families. Many of the ObamaCare problems plaguing the nation’s workplaces – lower wages, loss of existing coverage, higher costs – are emerging in classrooms across the country as well. To learn more about the consequences of the health care law on the nation’s schools and students, the Education and the Workforce Committee launched the #YourStory initiative.

via Left Turn: Schools and Colleges Continue to Struggle under ObamaCare’s Burdensome Mandates | Education & the Workforce Committee.

I follow Congressman Kline’s committee to get a sense of this strain of the U.S. right-wing, which seems unwilling to do more than to offer rhetorical fodder for the most paranoid. This is a particularly cynical line of reasoning. Obviously, school districts, thanks to three decades of right-wing government bashing and budget cutting, are struggling for funding. One of the ways they have saved money over the years is by cutting out full-time positions. (Another way is to privatize the schools and so beat back the unions.)

We have an odd ethical principle in the U.S. that says that part-time people don’t need benefits; workers without benefits are very cheap. This was bad for everyone. In a minor way, the ACA is trying to turn that around. Is there a great outcry for adequate pubic school funding? Not a peep. Is there an outcry about the over use of part-time people in education? Not a peep. All of our problems are caused by the ACA. We just need to get rid of it and get back to the good old days when schools could rely on cheap labor.

The Science of the Obvious

Are your lectures droning on? Change it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques and more students will succeed, researchers say. A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods.

“Universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050 and lecturing has been the predominant form of teaching ever since,” says biologist Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle. But many scholars have challenged the “sage on a stage” approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, arguing that engaging students with questions or group activities is more effective.

Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds,” Aleszu Bajak

We know what works and what does not work in education. We know standardized tests don’t work. We know that lectures don’t work well. We know that we need small classes and well paid full-time teachers. Our problem isn’t knowledge, it’s money. It won’t be research that solves these problems.

Wiki Academia

The study provides some interesting findings regarding academics’ view of the benefits of Wikipedia-style peer review and publishing. Most respondents (77 percent) reported reading Wikipedia, and a rather high number (43 percent) reported having made at least one edit, with 15 percent having written an article. Interestingly, as many as four respondents stated that they were “credited for time spent reviewing Wikipedia articles related to their academic careers” in their professional workplaces. The more experience one had with Wikipedia, the more likely one would see advantages in the wiki publishing model. Most common advantages listed were cost reductions (40 percent), timely review (19 percent), post-publication corrections (52 percent), making articles available before validation (27 percent) and reaching a wider audience (8 percent). Disadvantages included questionable stability (86 percent), absence of integration with libraries and scholarly search engines (55 percent), lower quality (43 percent), less credibility (57 percent), less academic acceptance (78 percent) and less impact on academia (56 percent).

Survey of academics’ view on Wikipedia and open-access publishing,” Wikimedia Research Newsletter, Vol: 4 • Issue: 4 • April 2014

I’ve always thought that the only way for Wikipedia to build its credibility is for it to become a part of academic writing and research. I don’t think encyclopedias will ever replace peer-reviewed articles, but Wikipedia can only benefit if academic scholars are involved in the writing, reviewing and editing of articles. I wouldn’t want Wikipedia to be swallowed by academia; everyone should be able to contribute. I tell the teachers that I teach that the best way to understand Wikipedia, and develop a policy on it, is to participate.

Too many academics are suspicious, even openly hostile about the online encyclopedia. One professor I knew used to plant false information in Wikipedia and then ask students to research this information for homework. When they came back to class with his answer, he’d scold them for using Wikipedia. This is a professor, by the way, who sailed through tenure, despite his very open– even proud– advocacy of dishonesty towards students. The good news is that I don’t think his nasty little lesson would work anymore.

Right Irony

Americans are highly attuned to the abuse of government benefits. Yet the larger scandal is that people don’t use these benefits enough. Programs such as the earned-income tax credit, SNAP, child care subsidies and health insurance can pull people out of poverty. But only 5 percent of low-income families with children use all four of them. Of working people below the poverty level, one in four receives no support at all. A McKinsey analysis done for Single Stop estimated that $65 billion in government benefits for low-income families goes unclaimed every year.

For Striving Students, a Connection to Money” Tina Rosenburg

This might be one of those stories that an English teacher could use to teach irony. Or, rather, to show students that the richest forms of irony are like onions, you can peel away layer after layer after layer. Right wing ideology insists that the poor are poor only because they lack enterprise and that they are overly dependent wards of the state robbed of their agency by an over-reaching Nanny state. As it turns out, the welfare state is so oblique and confusing– that’s no accident– that billions of dollars go unclaimed. Single Stop sets up shop at places where they can reach the poor– in this case at the Borough of Manhattan Community College– and helps them figure out what sorts of aide they can get. A simple, smart idea.