Friday, April 20, 2018

NC Legislator Suggests Arming Educators: Gun Worship Continues in the Tarheel State

In February, in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas, I posted my opinion about the idea of arming educators. (Arming Educators: A Bad, Smelly Idea That Won't Go Away) Now, even with two month's perspective and email exchanges and personal discussions with both proponents and opponents, it still smells as bad as it did then. Turning our schools into armed camps just isn't the answer. Yet, one of our very own North Carolina legislators is still sounding the call for gun-toting educators roaming the halls of our buildings. What's worse, he's saying that if they (the legislators) don't arm our teachers, administrators, and others within our schools, then "their blood will be on the hands" of the state legislators (see "NC Legislator Says Children's Blood 'Will Be On Our Hands' If State Doesn't Allow for Armed Teachers").

I can think of several things that could happen if guns were suddenly a prominent appliance within the school buildings, and none of them are good. One of these possible scenarios seems even more probably after a Stoneman Douglas teacher was arrested for leaving a loaded gun in a public restroom (see "Stoneman Douglas Teacher Arrested After Leaving Gun in Public Restroom"). I can only imagine an absent-minded and distracted teacher doing the same within a school by leaving a loaded gun on their desk or in a restroom. Or, a student wrestling away a gun from a teacher in anger, then unloading it on that teacher and anyone else standing by. The bottom line is that the potential for harm is greater than any possible deterrent value that gun might have.

But I honestly didn't mean for this post to get back into the argument about arming teachers; what I really wanted to point out that this NC legislator's argument and call to arm teachers points actually to the cause of all this violence in the first place.

It may be rather simple: We Americans put all our faith in the ability of firearms to solve all or most of our problems. After all, when our forefathers settled the score with the British, and when developing our Constitution, they made sure that if a pesky tyrannical government every arises again, "We'll be ready for'em." Our guns, with this way of thinking, are a necessary deterrent for anything seen as our enemy. That's often the spoken and unspoken rationale for the 2nd Amendment too. But perhaps at heart, we as Americans have settled so many of our differences with guns, and naturally, like Mr. Pittman, our North Carolina legislator, arming more and more of our populace is the answer. This kind of thinking may also provide some explanation for why we like words and phrases such as "Shoot first and ask questions later," or "Go ahead, make my day." We simply have an infallible faith in the power of Smith and Wesson as the means to solving our societal problems. That thinking will probably be the end of us though.

But getting back to Mr. Pittman's call for arming educators. It is still a "trainwreck" of an solution. It is also amazing how he can try to make a "moral" argument for carrying a weapon, but then again, that seems to be how we solve our problems.

The bottom line is that until we begin to see that our real enemy is ourselves, none of this gets resolved. Having a bunch of gun-toting teachers and administrators isn't the answer, unless, of course, your want to turn out schools into battlefields.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

How 21st Century School Leaders Can Tell If They Are Infected with "Metric Fixation"

"Metric fixation is the seemingly irresistible pressure to measure performance, to publicize it, and to reward it, often in the face of evidence that this just doesn't work very well." Jerry Muller, The Tyranny of Metrics

Metric fixation is the incessant and unending belief that you can only tell if you've been successful if there's a measurement. In other words, results that are quantifiable are the only measure of success. If you're wondering whether or not you have the metric-fixation disease as a school leader, take a look at your present actions. If, at this time of year, you find yourself speaking of "Test-Prep Rallies" and of climbing on the roof of your building and eating chicken manure if all your students give their best on 'the tests', chances are you're badly infected. You have the metric fixation disease or what Muller (2018) simply calls "metric fixation." 

Actually, there are other symptoms too. First of all, if you believe that it is possible to replace entirely, professional judgment based on experience and talent with "numerical indicators of comparative performance based on standardized data," chances are, you are fully in the clutches of the disease of metric fixation. If you are in the fatal stages, numbers actually matter more than people do, and if the numbers conflict with reality, then you inevitably always go with the numbers.

Secondly, you're infected with metric fixation, you believe that by simply making metrics, or test results public, you can improve schools by just being accountable. This symptom of the metric fixation disease has been widespread since the days of No Child Left Behind. Your thirst for accountability and transparency is insatiable; you simply can't get enough, because you just can't have too much accountability.

Finally, you are infected with metric fixation if you stubbornly hold on to the idea that you can motivate teachers and administrators by rewarding for having more acceptable test scores by giving them more pay and/or higher status. Merit pay lives on despite its never working in education al all. If you suffer from this symptom, you spend your time trying to dream up new ways to bribe and manipulate or penalize teachers in order to get the test scores you want, in spite of repeated evidence showing that such measures just doesn't work.

There is absolutely no doubt that many 21st century education leaders (and politicians) are infected with the metric-fixation disease. The mad illness persists in spite of the fact that no achievement gaps are closing, and no miraculous gains (in their own standardized tests) has occurred.  Perhaps its time find a cure for this persistent disease that is distorting education. The only vaccination against this malady is a sudden jolt of common sense and the realization that not everything worthwhile in this world is measurable. 

Muller, J. (2018). The Tyranny of Metrics, Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Liberal Arts & Humanities vs Science,Math and STEM: What If Educational Leaders Are On Wrong Side of History?

What if we as education leaders are wrong about all this hype about the supremacy of math and science as being the keys to our future and the futures of our students? What if all this STEM hype ends up being just another one of those fads that takes hold of education from time to time?

It's true that education leaders have been wrong before. Just tour some of the open education buildings constructed during the 60s and 70s, when well-meaning education leaders took the idea of open education to mean that education should take place in a physical environment without walls. What did they do? They built school buildings that did not have walls between classrooms. There are other times too when educational leaders have gotten it wrong as well, that's why the never-ending cycle of fads continue unabated. But what if we are also wrong about the current utilitarian fetish with all things math and science? Could it be that we are providing our students with plenty of technical skills, but also leaving them soul-less and unable to to even ask the bigger questions about our existence?

In his book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, William Deresiewicz makes a powerful argument for the value of the humanities and a liberal arts education. This argument is needed now, more than ever, as recent events in Wisconsin demonstrate. There, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, has plans to drop 13 majors in the humanities and social sciences (see article here.) They are doing so to address declining enrollment problems and budget deficits. The real reason for dropping these majors? According to the Washington Post article, "The push away from the liberal arts and toward workplace skills is championed by conservatives who see many four-year colleges and universities as politically correct institutions that graduate too many students without practical job skills--but with liberal political views." In other words, these liberal arts programs are graduating students who engage in thinking that is found objectionable. Instead, what is desired are unthinking workers who will simply go their jobs each day and unquestioningly do as they are told.

There is real danger when educational leaders start talking just about employability, science, mathematics and utilitarian education. Our education system, from pre-kindergarten to the doctoral level needs and must have the humanities and liberal arts. As Deresiewicz points out, "In the liberal arts, you pursue the trail of inquiry wherever it leads. Truth, not use or reward, is the only criterion." Liberal arts and the humanities are important so that we do have individuals who can think beyond the existing boundaries and ask the tough questions about our lives, our society, and our world. If you want graduates who will simply engage in "inquiry that leads to pre-determined outcomes," then the answer is to make all education instrumental and utilitarian, where the focus is technical and on immediate employability.

I think Deresiewicz offers us powerful reasons to critique and not unquestioningly fall in line with the adoption of STEM and all that hype over math and science. He makes the case for a liberal arts education and its importance to the souls and well-being of our students, and our future. We do need both, and his words below are worth repeating at length:
"Practical utility, however, is not the ultimate purpose of a liberal arts education. Its ultimate purpose is to help you to learn to reflect in the widest and deepest sense, beyond the requirements of work and career: for the sake of citizenship, for the sake of living well with others, above all, for the sake of building a self that is strong and creative and free. That's why the humanities are central to a real college education. You don't build a self out of thin air, by gazing at your navel. You build it, in part, by encountering the ways that others have done so themselves. You build it, that is, with the help of the past. The humanities--history, philosophy, religious studies, above all, literature and the other arts--are the record of the ways that people have come to terms with being human. They address the questions that are proper to us, not as this or that kind of specialist, this or that kind of professional, but as individuals as such--the very questions we are apt to ask when we look up from our work and think about our lives. Questions of love, death, family, morality, time, truth, God, and everything else within the wide, starred universe of human experience." (p. 155-156, Excellent Sheep)
I can't but help but wonder that the hype over math and science, and especially STEM and the desire to devalue the humanities and liberal arts is all connected. No one is talking about teaching students to think critically and for themselves any more. No one speaks of asking students to inquire in the greater questions about our world--such as the environment, justice, morality--instead we simply want them to be able to solve 'technical problems" using science and math. We want them to be "good workers." Whatever happened to wanting them to be exemplary humans?