Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Cool Fail

When I was a young'un, we used to watch Schoolhouse Rock cartoons that taught some mini-lesson about government (the Preamble) or English grammar (Conjunction Junction) and so on.  They were the occasional interstitial material between Bugs and Road Runner episodes...and I remember waiting and hoping for them to come on.  They are so memorable, in fact, that if you ask almost anybody, they'll hum the tune from their favorite SR installment.  Even young'uns today. Somehow (YouTube, etc.), kids 40 years later know these ditties, and--maybe--a bit of the lessons they taught.  (My colleague uses the Preamble song to help his students memorize the Preamble.)

So today when we watched CNN Student News and they "rapped it up" with a bad--musically speaking--rapped summary of the content, I found that I wanted to turn it off, not listen again.  And I realized how silly it is that adults try to appropriate some sort of supposedly cool cultural form by which to smuggle some informational material into the minds of youngsters.  

That seems a dead end, to me.  If rap (or any other cultural product enjoyed by youngsters) is badly contorted to another end--especially one seen as less "cool"--it will fall flat, because it will fall much flatter than anything "organically" of the genre.

Schoolhouse Rock, by contrast, carved out its own niche, with a cultural product that wasn't derivative of an already existing form that kids connected to and thought desirable/cool already.   I liked both Led Zeppelin and Schoolhouse Rock.  But I would have hated a lesson on conjunctions set to a bad ripoff of Led Zeppelin.  It would have seemed "fake."

Schoolhouse Rock created its own kind of dorky cool, which works much more memorably and enduringly than bad cultural appropriation.  20 minutes later, I can't even remember anything about the schoolhouse rap.

Update--March 2
It's Dr. Seuss Read Across America Day today.  For a similar reason as described above--though from a different angle--I don't like this day, either.  We're trying to encourage youngsters upward in their reading, and I wonder if this encourages downward instead.  I loved Dr. Seuss when my own children were 5.  But I don't want to go to a college graduation and hear a young adult admonishing his/her class mates with Oh, the places you'll go.  


Friday, February 24, 2017

What have we done?




This snapshot--indicating the participation thus far in class surveys I am running--is part of a story about what strange things we've developed in youngsters.

I created a survey--one for each class period--to ask students about their sense of readiness and capability for the SBAC, the annual standardized test.  I emailed to both students and parents to ask that the students do the survey, and I included a link right to the survey appropriate to their class period.

Over night, I got 9 responses from the first group--which now has 15, 2 from the second, which now has 7, 1 from the third, and none from the fourth and fifth.  

12 total responses, out of 115 students.

When I told the class that had 9 (out of 25) that they had done the best, one student exclaimed, "Can we have a pizza party?"

I was despairing already--about how badly they'd done with their Parts of Speech work, so I slipped.  And my response was, "You know how many pizza parties we had when I was a student..?  NONE!"

A pizza party!?  Because barely 1/3 of the students had taken a 2-minute quiz...and they just happened to outperform the other 4 classes!?

Years ago, I asked what consequence the Wow! Effect of things like letter learning with singing birds on iPads would have.  I wonder if pizza parties for answering a 7-question survey is the answer.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll was the rock star pastor of the megachurch Mars Hill, in Seattle, until he--and then the church--unraveled in accusation and recrimination.  He's power hungry, some said.  He has anger problems, others claimed.  Plenty came to see him as something of a megalomaniac with control issues.  The leadership tried to rein him in, but he seemed to prefer to reign (or so it appeared).  So he left, and the church imploded, cutting all the remote campuses loose to do whatever they could/would.  
So last fall one of my Pierce students saw that Francis Fukuyama's arguments about how the awkward realities of personality-based organizations (states or churches, apparently) can lead to organizational (and "political") decay as helpful in understanding the spectacular collapse of Driscoll and Mars Hill.

When presenting, he said it simply enough.  

Something like this, You had to get on the bus...the bus he created and was driving.  But he lost his way and the bus broke down.  And now he's left alone, with a broken down bus.

I like that it appears to be out back, behind the building.  It's a kind of concrete metaphoric rendering of the situation...and I like the way it works.





Saturday, February 18, 2017

Lord of the Flies Art

I have said a variety of things about Lord of the Flies in the last couple years.  I lamented that standardized testing doesn't motivate us to capture some of the things that are really interesting about the book.  Likewise, here.  And here, some of the fun of the Chief-led class.

But today, some art, in the voice--as it were--of a student.  Both of these are by the same artist, and both are quite interesting and effective.



I like that we can't see faces, but can discern that the boys are mesmerized by something.  Is it the sun?  Or the hint of the "beast" barely concealed in the bushes?




The backs--rather than fronts--of heads characterize this piece, too.  I can't figure out why I like this piece so much, but I do.

Friday, February 17, 2017

More Student Art


For one assignment (in late November/early December, so after the election) in the Intro to Politics course I taught last fall at Pierce College, I offered an art option.  My instruction was to create a piece that expressed your thoughts, views, values, preferences, etc. about anything in "politics."  I use the quote marks there to indicate the fact that I told them that you could render almost anything as politics, or political.  Indeed, I noted, Marx was wrong...everything isn't economics, it's politics.  But that's an argument for another day.

This piece generated a lengthy and interesting discussion about identity, group orientation, the social politics in the US today, etc.   I can't remember all the artist even said about the piece, but I was grateful for the conversation.






Detail, from the bottom left corner.  Thank YOU, Hannah...I appreciate your work.



Post-Modern Education


I don't think I ever posted this, from last year.  It appeared in Christian Renewal last summer...screen shots from an emailed digital version appear below.

I should say that I'm still in public school, still want to be in public school...and I'm very frustrated with what is happening there.   

Indeed, I enjoy the challenge of trying to insinuate some of this post-modernity into my classes, but it's daunting challenge.









A lecture series at George Fox University last year asked participants to consider the ramifications of  Living in Postmodern America.   I was invited to give the talk on education, which caused me to ponder whether teaching, learning and school are, in fact, postmodern.  The simple answer to that is yes and no--yes, teaching and learning are postmodern activities, but no, education, as a system, is intensely Modern, and fundamentally hinders the process of teaching and learning.
Modernity is bureaucratic, which means it is organized, structured and numerated.  Postmodernity is, by contrast, situational—in other words, constructed, subjective and relational.  Education, the social and collective endeavor to deliver teaching and learning to students, is highly bureaucratic, and getting more so by the day.   The bureaucrats who populate those bureaucracies, and who organize and measure the minutiae of the activities of our lives and work, are the hallmark of Modern life.  And education bureaucrats (or, educrats, if you will) numerate and measure features of education that bear little relevance or connection to the complicated relational reality of teaching and learning.
Consider the push to create more thorough and comprehensive standardized testing.  This requires outcomes measured in numerable ways, which render evaluation and assessment both valid (that is, objectively measurable and comparable) and easy.  Along the way, of course, more standardized testing stimulates the inevitable, even if unintended, standardization of learning and curriculum, and this Modernization elevates and prefers assessment devices that can be easily compared, and numerated test results do precisely that.  And the infinite loop of bureaucracy’s self-fulfilling order runs on.
 Modernity’s impact extends beyond the practical problem of standardized testing to the philosophy of education, though.  The Enlightenment bequeathed us rationality, and a philosophy of science and an epistemology that elevate empiricism and the observable and confirmable above all other forms of knowing and understanding. If it can’t be observed (measured) and confirmed, then we don’t know it’s true.  The social science literature—from political science to organization studies—abounds with analyses of how bureaucracies fixate on concretely measurable things, which too often grossly misapprehend the breadth and depth of a situation.  This is true—and astoundingly so—of the growing education bureaucracy today.
 The culture in school is clearly that the data will show the real picture, data don’t lie, and good numbers will always be smiled upon.  So, Modernity hums along, having given us a rationalism and empiricism that tilt toward the accumulation of ever more (questionably useful) data.  And education—the social endeavor—marches in step with Modernity’s tune.
 Modernity’s grip on Education, thereby, infringes on and alters the relational activities of teaching and learning.  This reality gives (or, should give) Christian parents pause.  For people who take their children’s education so seriously, it’s no surprise that home schooling or private Christian school are so often preferred over the highly bureaucratized public school.
Christianity is about relationships—our individual relationship to God, through our relationship to Christ; our relationship to our neighbors and strangers; and our relationship to our families, not least of which is parents’ relationship to their children.  And a fundamental aspect of that relationship is the educating of those children.  


But many Christians “fear” Postmodernism, of course—it is thought to be the font of self-oriented, subjective, relativist philosophy from which flows every pathology of contemporary secular America.  But in the all too typical cyclicality of human thinking and endeavor, postmodernity’s ascendance looks plenty like a return to premodernity, and in ways that can be perfectly comfortable to Christians.
Where Modernity relies on an empiricism that repudiates truth claims that can’t be verified by rationalist science, the “Pre is Post again Modernity” emphasizes a reliance on language—not numbers.  Postmodernity’s emphasis on intersubjectivity focuses on stories, as told by people, akin to the way the Bible uses personal stories to testify to God’s and Christ’s work.
Moreover, postmodernism opens up room for a robust notion of theology, even if only unintentionally.  Where Modernity begat academic disciplines that have increasingly segregated both enquiry and understanding in closely guarded silos, postmodernity breaks down those disciplinary boundaries, encouraging knowledge and understanding to be applied across the range of human endeavor and understanding, similar--at least procedurally--to the way Christ-centeredness reaches into every domain of a Christian’s life.
The complex web of learning and thinking indicated here hearkens back to something like the classical education so many Christians have so long sought for their children.  Seeking wisdom from ancient examples (through the stories of the lives and times of those people) is something like a postmodern return to the premodern, and is completely unModern.
This brings us full circle, for the Common Core State Standards—and the accompanying testing processes—are fundamentally at odds with classical teaching and learning.  Where classical approaches value the knowledge and wisdom accumulated through the ages, the CCSS establish skills as the paramount virtue.  Finding the main idea (and identifying the passage that communicates that) is more important in the new philosophy of Education than pursuing any particular set of ideas and values.  Texts need not be prioritized for their content or meaning, rather each and all can be mined for quasi-technical elements like main point and supporting evidence…all the better for standardized tests that must be easily gradable in order to generate the required data that will tell us how Education in America is going.

As a teacher in the Modern system, I can attest that the bureaucratic endeavor called Education is going nowhere fast, especially as far as what Christians want for the teaching and learning relationships that comprise their children’s lives.  As a parent who sends his child to a classical Christian school, the possibilities for teaching and learning, which I have here described as postmodern, are still wide open, but not in a Modern public school.










Saturday, February 11, 2017

Where are US--oops, WE--going?



For one assignment (in late November/early December, so after the election) in the Intro to Politics course I taught last fall at Pierce College, I offered an art option.  My instruction was to create a piece that expressed your thoughts, views, values, preferences, etc. about anything in "politics."  I use the quote marks there to indicate the fact that I told them that you could render almost anything as politics, or political.  Indeed, I noted, Marx was wrong...everything isn't economics, it's politics.  But that's an argument for another day.

I liked several of the pieces that the artists presented, and I'll offer up some others later.  But for now, this one, which seems apropos in a particular and special way in this current political climate.

In fact, I won't even explain, interpret or analyze what you see...have what response you want.