Define Education: Black and White, Well-Read All Over?

17 12 2008

I like essay questions, compare and contrast, thought experiments.

Binary questions set us up for binary answers, unless we’re smart enough to just use the question as a jumping-off point for all sorts of open-ended, fuzzy logic and systems thinking.

So my definition of education depends on good questions rather than good answers. (Binary true-false, yes-no, on-off, this-that questions and answers don’t fit my definition of “good.”) Here are some good essay questions in play this week, bonus points for Thinking Parents who integrate them into one big gloriously unclear yet inspired theme!

What does it mean to be black?

Many people insist that “the first black president” is actually not black. . .Intermarriage and the decline of racism are dissolving ancient

What does it mean to be Republican?

“You know, in all due respect to the Republican National Committee and anybody — right now, I think we should try to be working constructively together, not only on an issue such as this, but on the economy stimulus package, reforms that are necessary. . .”
McCain. . .has almost never been popular within deeply partisan Republican circles. . .

What does it mean to reform education as opposed to further defining it as school?

If we taught babies to talk as most skills are taught in school, they would memorize lists of sounds in a predetermined order and practice them alone in a closet.
— Linda Darling-Hammond

[Arne] Duncan would bring to Washington an agenda based on Renaissance 2010, which Chicago education activist Michael Klonsky describes as a blend of “more standardized testing, closing neighborhood schools, militarization, and the privatization of school management.”

Duncan’s philosophy is shared by [Joel] Klein, who is despised by educators and parents in his district perhaps more than any superintendent in the nation

. . .Duncan and Klein pride themselves on new programs that pay students for higher grades or scores. Both champion the practice of forcing low-scoring students to repeat a grade–a strategy that research overwhelmingly finds counterproductive.

Coincidentally, Darling-Hammond wrote in 2001 about just such campaigns against “social promotion” in New York and Chicago, pointing out that politicians keep trotting out the same failed get-tough strategies “with no sense of irony or institutional memory.” In that same essay, she also showed how earlier experiments with high-stakes testing have mostly served to increase the dropout rate.

. . . Darling-Hammond knows how all the talk of “rigor” and “raising the bar” has produced sterile, scripted curriculums that have been imposed disproportionately on children of color. Her viewpoint is that of an educator, not a corporate manager.

What does it mean to defend and protect purity?

We prefer to remain prisoners of purity. We’ve taught our young adults to cherish their purity and to wait until their wedding day and a ring is on their finger. That advice sounds a bit old-fashioned. And it is. But some fashions are timeless classics that never go out of style, even in the technology age. Purity is one of them.

What does it mean to be “well-educated”?

A well-educated child is one who knows and loves the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength; and loves their neighbor as themselves. That’s not proven by a standardized test score, but demonstrated daily in a life lived in obedience and service to Him.

How do you define education for your own kids, for the future rather than the past? Shall children go by the book (or Book) and prepare to carry on all our ancient tribal fights, by the ancient rules of engagement, to “defend purity” in word and deed, body, mind and spirit, to see their purpose as keeping everything separate and clearly divided, to build and guard the walls, keep the Other out and the Ours in, both under strict patriarchial social controls so we don’t get them mixed up?– or did we try that only to see it fail miserably, so now Education has switched sides and is claiming new territory, blurring lines rather than defending them?

Is home education successful because it is pure, the ancient way we defend — or because it is shattering assumptions and opening up new ways of thinking about education for everyone? When we are thrown off-balance and forced to rethink old comfortable lines of demarcation we’d previously just accepted as immutable, doesn’t that mean we’re thinking and learning and progressing in depth of understanding? Isn’t THAT the definition of education?

Debate over whether to call this son of a white Kansan and a black
Kenyan biracial, African-American, mixed-race, half-and-half,
multiracial — or, in Obama’s own words, a “mutt” — has reached a
crescendo since Obama’s election shattered assumptions about race.

Obama has said, “I identify as African-American — that’s how I’m treated and that’s how I’m viewed. I’m proud of it.”
In other words, the world gave Obama no choice but to be black, and he was happy to oblige.

But the world has changed since the young Obama found his place in it.

What will your kids learn about old definitions of purity in this new world, and about the new, not-purebred president’s place in it, and their own place in it, whoever they turn out to be and whether that identity can be reduced to short answer form for standardized testing and government reporting?

When they’ve learned some answers the public will accept, will they be “well-educated” and will they be pure, and who will they be? And where will they stand — inside the gates shooting out, outside fighting to get in, building something new somewhere else, for some other purpose altogether?



20 responses

17 12 2008

What makes Christmas morning shine?
(Like everything, it depends who’s asking the question to whom, at what age and stage of life and understanding about themselves and other people.)

December 17, 2008

Toy joy has faded, but Christmas still shines
By Gerald Ensley

When I was 9 years old, I woke up Christmas morning at 3 a.m. But my parents had said we couldn’t wake them until 5 a.m. So I sat for two hours watching the hands of the clock slowly move to 5. For two hours I barely blinked.

That’s how excited I was about Christmas presents.

I’m not like that now. Which is probably good. And a little sad.

A week from tonight is Christmas Eve. And I haven’t even thought about what awaits me under the tree. My wife has asked me several times what I’d like for Christmas, as I have her. Neither of us has had many ideas. As the cliché goes, anything we need or want we’ve bought for ourselves.

Oh, we’ll have presents for each other. And we’ll love what we receive.

But it’s weird how little we care about gifts at Christmas anymore. Because when we were kids, that’s what it was all about.

As a kid, you’re only a bystander in the consumer society. You’re full of desire for things but you have no money. That’s why your birthday and Christmas are so important then: Twice a year, you get stuff. And it’s thrilling.

So why does Christmas shine as a holiday for older folks like me?

Christmas comes and everybody takes a deep breath. Friends and co-workers throw parties. Offices have holiday potlucks. Old friends exchange Christmas cards and photos. You go shopping.

It’s a way of pausing and saying, “Hey, I’m glad to be alive and know people.”

And that’s a great gift.

17 12 2008

Here’s my definition of a good education: 1. My children will learn how to learn, so that they’ll be able to learn any time they want, and anything they want, not just when and what someone tells them to learn. 2. My children will learn to love learning, so that they’ll continue to learn their entire lives, not just until the reach the end of compulsary education or when they need to learn something for the jobs.

As far as the race thing is concerned, well, it’s pretty silly. He considers himself black. I consider myself white, although, legally, I’m a Native American. In fact, I’ve stopped checking those race boxes. I just prefer to think of myself in other terms. It’s not important to me. Hmphh.

17 12 2008

And, do you consider yourself “homeschooling” and if so, what is that based on? The law in your state? Your being with the kids all day and them learning at home? Your independence from any government or public accountability? – etc.

What would it take (in your own mind) to change that?

17 12 2008

Is Caroline Kennedy very public, or very private? (And for that matter, is she still a Kennedy at all now, or has she become wholly Schlossberg?)

Is the private money she raised for the NY public schools public, or private? And now what, if she becomes a US Senator –still whoever she was before, or someone else?

Famously private, Kennedy nonetheless emerged during the Obama campaign as a political force of her own. Along the way, friends and colleagues say, she discovered that she had a higher tolerance than she thought for public appearances and a long-dormant desire for public service.

Now, Kennedy, 51, the only surviving child of former president John F. Kennedy, is the front-runner to assume the Senate seat in New York once held by her uncle Robert F. Kennedy and soon to be relinquished by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

. . .Trying to explain the political ambitions of Kennedy, who was sheltered from the glare of publicity after her father’s assassination in 1963 and has rarely emerged from it since, several people close to her said yesterday that she had long expressed a desire for a more active public life.

Joel I. Klein, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education and a Kennedy confidant, said he had a conversation with her eight years ago in which “it seemed to me she was now ready to start moving back into the public sector.” The Obama campaign, he said, “was obviously a major turning point,” adding that it “probably surprised” Kennedy how much she enjoyed the campaigning.

. . .Most of the country has caught only occasional glimpses of Kennedy’s evolution from a young girl, shielded by her mother after her father’s death, to a poised, intellectual mother of three who is devoted to quiet reflection and philanthropic causes. Her life, led mostly in New York City, has been marked by her family’s tragedies, including the death of her brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., in a plane crash in 1999, and her uncle Edward M. Kennedy’s battle with brain cancer.

A lawyer and the author of several books, Kennedy is perhaps most acclaimed for raising tens of millions in private money for the New York City school system. She works with multiple foundations, playing an active role in the Kennedy library and the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. She has dipped in and out of the public eye over the years; she was sometimes referred to by her married name, Schlossberg, and at other times just as Kennedy, which, an aide said yesterday, is what she prefers.

18 12 2008

I suppose I consider myself homeschooling because I am teaching my children the way I want to, and with what I want to. It’s not just that I am teaching them. If I did not have the ability to chose what and how to teach them, I would only be doing the school’s work for them. This is different, I think, than the argument that doing a charter school at home (eg the K-12 program that many states now offer) is not homeschooling. I believe that if a parent decides this is how they want to homeschool, then it is homeschooling. If they are forced to do it, it is not homeschooling. Does that make sence?

18 12 2008
Crimson Wife

I have a problem with a U.S. Senate seat being treated like an heirloom to be passed to someone with no elected political experience simply by virtue of her family connections. At least with most political nepotism here in the U.S. (the Bushes, the other Kennedys, Mitt Romney, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, etc.) the voters do at least get the final say. If Caroline Kennedy wants to be a senator like her uncle is and father was, let her run for election like everybody else has to. None of this backroom dealing…

18 12 2008
Nance Confer

This is a very difficult idea for many new homeschoolers to grasp, Kristina — that we don’t have to do it any particular way in order for it to “count.” I have a lot of contact with ps parents leaving ps to hs and they are almost always concerned with what they “have” to “teach” rather than what they are now free to learn.

It takes some reassuring before they begin to realize they don’t have to follow a curriculum or match what ps is doing in order to do homeschooling the “right” way.

They seem to be reassured anyway. Who knows what they revert to once I’m done yapping at them. 🙂


18 12 2008

Sure makes sense to me, Kristina!
I think it’s pretty obvious that no matter what we call it or how we try to control it, learning is still all in the mind. . .

18 12 2008

ROFL! Sorry, that wouldn’t be so funny if I didn’t have such a vigorous defense from CW seared into my brain, of Sarah Palin’s “qualifications” for national office. Yes, she did manage to get herself elected a time or two.

Other than that, there are lots of important considerations imo —

Hmmm, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Caroline Kennedy as prominent women willing to serve the US in Washington DC. How would we go about evaluating each one’s unique qualifications and temperament to compare and contrast them?

18 12 2008

And what “backroom dealing” are you complaining about? You must have New York confused with Illinois or Alaska. . .

18 12 2008

Hanging over most other questions, of course, is the question: what does it mean to be Christian, especially evangelical?

Barack Obama says he’s a Christian who came to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in his mid-20’s. But does he consider himself “evangelical?” That question was posed to him recently by Cathleen Falsani, the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. Here is Obama’s reponse:

“Gosh, I’m not sure if labels are helpful here because the definition of an evangelical is so loose and subject to so many different interpretations. I came to Christianity through the black church tradition where the line between evangelical and non-evangelical is completely blurred. Nobody knows exactly what it means.

. . .”My faith is complicated by the fact that I didn’t grow up in a particular religious tradition. And so what that means is when you come at it as an adult, your brain mediates a lot, and you ask a lot of questions.

19 12 2008
Crimson Wife

Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Palin both came into office because they received a plurality of votes. That’s the way a democracy works- not some wealthy socialite deciding that she wants to bypass the whole bothersome process of persuading voters that she’s the best person for the job and using her connections to be handed a Senate seat on a silver platter.

I feel sorry for Representative Carolyn Maloney, who has held elected office since 1982 and has been serving in Congress since 1992. She was apparently the early favorite for Mrs. Clinton’s seat, having received endorsements from NOW among other groups. I don’t agree at all with Rep. Maloney’s politics, but she appears to be very qualified for the position. Unfortunately, it appears that celebrity and connections are more important than 25+ years’ worth of elected political experience…

19 12 2008

Or more accurately, it appears the state’s established appointment procedures in case of midterm vacancy, are worth more than the individual opinions of those who don’t live there and couldn’t vote even if the state DID hold a special election. (CW and me both) 😉

I am assuming Maloney has her shot in that process, if she was considered an early favorite? I felt pretty sorry for R women who had proven themselves over the years in Washington such as Whitman and Snow, when Palin came from nowhere with NO knowledge or experience there, just “picked” by one man with no good reasons I could see for the VP slot, but oh well . . . It wasn’t my call. I sure would like to see election reform, and even constitutional reform, and a change in the Supreme Court appointment process while we’re at it — not elected! Just appointed by the elected, right? Kinda like midterm senators?

p.s. Hillary Clinton had never been elected when she got the NY Senate seat. If Kennedy gets it, she’ll need to approximate the same public acclaim and estimated fundraising prowess that Hillary demonstrated on the stump. I frankly don’t see much difference as long as they aren’t selling it outright as if this were Blogo’s Chicago or Medvedev’s Russia.

20 12 2008
Nance Confer

It feels like we are so far into the weeds here that we really can’t know what to think about this. Like the whole Rick Warren mess. I know how I feel but then I think there must be more going on than I see. It’s very confusing.


21 12 2008

When was the last time we didn’t have a Kennedy in national elected office in this country? I wish the Kennedys, the Bushes, and the Clintons would find an honest way to make a living.

I have nothing against Caroline Kennedy, and she is probably as qualified as anybody else to be in the Senate. So let somebody else do it.

22 12 2008

Another way to look at it is that between those dynasties (and many others we just don’t think of so readily) all major political storylines are pretty much covered and the tension remains pretty much taut no matter who all’s in office or what their last name is, or isn’t.

Maybe we the people really do get the government we deserve and this is it??

22 12 2008

A current unschooling discussion on copyright law profit-motivated moralizers versus file-sharing freedom fighter rebels, prompted me to post something that for different specifics but the same principle, could apply here too:
This American Life broadcast a wonderfully nuanced collection of real people stories on our personal choices about rules and how we hurt ourselves and others, yesterday morning on PRI, titled “Ruining It for the Rest of Us” — one of which applies to an issue homeschoolers and unschoolers know well, the anti-vax dilemma for individuals and society.

Then the last story of the hour relates to the legalistic, rule-following mindset of the “Quiet Car” concept on northeast Amtrak trains. The whole program is worth listening to just for this progression of one woman’s thoughts as she rides in the car week after week and sees the self-righteous passengers (especially herself) as a microcosm of society legalistically trying to make each other follow the morally superior rules they’ve all agreed to! 🙂

Another story is about research on three behavior types that “ruin it for the rest of us” whatever the focus, in school or at work, in social groups and in society at large — the attacker-insulter, the off-task slacker and the depressive-pessimist. Basically the worst team member affects the way everyone in the group winds up treating each other. It’s contagious.

I think this insight is most useful when we turn it on ourselves (am I the bad apple?) rather than judging and attacking others for it — which just makes things worse for everyone — and it applies to unschooling issues and unschooling discussions as much as any. The researcher’s next project is testing the hypothesis that one group leader can change that dynamic simply by asking questions and listening for real understanding to the answers, almost like talk therapy, so others experience that too, instead of just feeling ill-used by the bad apple — the idea is that this can defuse bad behaviors, sort of inoculate the group against catching the poison effects.

Finally, I would suggest that beyond “information” on laws and models so desperately behind the curve that we all know it isn’t working and can’t be sustained without reform (like schooling!) we can look forward instead, imagine new solutions that can be legal and moral and practical, models that will actually WORK after the revolution! So for something specific to lawful and moral profiting from entertainment copyright versus big business ripping us all off with exploitative protectionism, we could discuss for example this radio interview about a whole new (legal) model for music distribution, TuneCore.
(second segment)

26 12 2008
betty malone

We had the moral discussion, or opinionated dispute..:) , between my computer savy sons around the Christmas game table yesterday- spurred by my dear husband presenting me with DSL wireless for Christmas instead of our very outdated dial up connection! 🙂 The kids, all young adults, were tossing out their fav download sites, legal and “illegal”, and the discussion ventured into the morality of sharer sites and on and on and on…..And even they had some “moral” conflicts about what was the right thing to do..Two sons are writers and musicians of more than just casual interest..and all three are technically proficient, including two dtr. in laws who work as web designers and programmers in their careers, so..definitely a subject they know a lot about…and basically they reached no clear agreement on the issue..but lots of interesting view points..

30 12 2008

COD suggests above that others are just as well-qualified as Caroline Kennedy without the dynastic downside and here’s evidence, a baker’s dozen of fascinating New Yorkers from Henrick Hertzberg in the “The New Yorker”. At least one of these should tickle COD’s personal fancy — Joe Torre. Betty and Sons may like the words-and-music artistic bent to several others?
(Then go here for Hertzberg’s elaborated thoughts on Caroline Kennedy.)

The Senate was originally conceived as a sort of chamber of notables, but most of its members over the years, have been notable mainly for their mediocrity. New York is full of interesting people. Want some suggestions? Try these, collected from an informal canvass. . .

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, thoughtful and scholarly, would give the new President someone to shoot hoops with.

. . .Christiane Amanpour would be a slam dunk for the Foreign Relations Committee.
. . .Paul Krugman would provide ornery economic smarts.

Arthur Laurents, conveniently, is already in Washington, directing the National Theatre revival of his “West Side Story.” If you doubt that Lou Reed knows politics, listen to his album “New York.”

Felix Rohatyn is as senatorial as you can get without wearing a toga. Ed Sanders—poet, Pentagon levitator, classics scholar, founding member of the Fugs—is a political force in Woodstock, New York.

Toni Morrison’s majestic voice would warm the Senate chamber.

No one who ever spent the equivalent of two Senate terms in a complex, ceaselessly scrutinized job in New York has ever done it better than Joe Torre did as manager of the Yankees. . .

24 03 2009
What’s Up With Fightin’ Mad White Women?? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Here’s a 24-year-old with a real gun in her hand as her blog’s intro, belligerently fighting for the only common ground I find anymore — we all fear dangerous ideas from alarming enemies, no surprise, but now it’s our fellow citizens who we see robbing us of our rightful freedoms and ruining this country. And it’s white women ready to shoot first and ask questions, well, never. […]

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