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A sea of words
September 30, 2012 2:49 PM   Subscribe

Six years ago, New Dorp High School on Staten Island, NY, had a 40% dropout rate, and more than 80% of freshmen were reading below grade level. In spring 2013, the school expects an 80% graduation rate. What happened? New Dorp decided to teach its students how to write.

Principal Deirdre DeAngelis and her faculty discovered that their students often lacked the ability to understand or use conjunctions, dependent clauses, and other grammatical constructs. They also did not understand how to explain their ideas or persuade others. The problem was exacerbated by No Child Left Behind's focus on testing and the resulting effects on writing instruction. DeAngelis brought in Judith Hochman to guide faculty as they incorporated the analytical writing skills needed to meet Common Core State Standards, which will be implemented in 46 US states over the next two years.
posted by catlet (83 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
This article made me wonder what's going on in the local schools in my area. There was a big emphasis on acquiring reading skills in grades 1 through 3, but I haven't seen a commensurate push for writing skills.

Also, I now realize how much Schoolhouse Rock helped me decades ago. The kids in the article could've used Conjunction Junction and the other songs to figure out the context for the parts of speech and how to put paragraphs together.
posted by dragonplayer at 3:00 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why do articles about education have to center on outliers? What about reproducible interventions or controlled experiments with meaningful contrasts? This reads exactly like every education fad in the past 50 years. Not saying that there isn't more to it, but leaving out a big picture of evidence is insulting to the reader if it exists.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:14 PM on September 30, 2012 [18 favorites]


The takeaway seems to be: Given the opportunity to discuss a problem and investigate potential causes and solutions, a group of teachers and a principal were able to come up with their own effective strategy. They didn't need to be threatened with "Race to the Top" privatization, and they were able to do it while still accommodating heavy-handed standardized testing requirements.

I'm just surprised that higher-level administrators didn't put the kibosh on this program before it was allowed to function. Maybe they never got wind, or maybe (gasp) rational thinking prevailed.
posted by anarch at 3:23 PM on September 30, 2012 [22 favorites]


Thank you for this! I know (from personal experience teaching both second and sixth grades) that there is currently a BIG push towards writing, at least in DC.

That said, the sentence that really stuck out to me was this "In a profoundly hopeful irony, New Dorp’s re­emergence as a viable institution has hinged not on a radical new innovation but on an old idea done better", which I think also speaks somewhat to a robot made out of meat's point; I'm really sick of new stuff in education. There's always another new program, idea, whatever, and maybe they're neat and awesome but when they don't work immediately and perfectly in a couple of years then they are scrapped. I really wish the educational system would focus on doing things well instead of differently. I might well start incorporating some of these ideas in my classroom but I also know that there will be other new initiatives that I'm required to implement for a year and then never hear about again. Then when it happens again and again, people are going to complain about lack of teacher "buy-in". There's only so much buying in you can do when you've got your fourth program in three years and you're pretty sure this new system isn't going to be around much longer either.

I suppose part of what I'm saying is, this sounds great and I will probably implement some of it and share it with my colleagues. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if I'm required to do this (or something like it) for the first half of the year next year and then the next big thing will come around.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:25 PM on September 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


“The thing is, kids need a formula, at least at first, because what we are asking them to do is very difficult. So God, let’s stop acting like they should just know how to do it. Give them a formula! Later, when they understand the rules of good writing, they can figure out how to break them.”
This is so true - startling it has to be said. And true across disciplines.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2012 [30 favorites]


The thing that stands out, of course, is that they seem to have accomplished this without, let's see, sacking the 'bad' teachers (the article does say the principal tried that before trying to teach writing), vouchers, a charter school or any of the other things that are supposed to fix the schools.

I'm actually kind of curious whether their math scores went up, inasmuch was we can view test scores as an indicator of anything. A weird side effect of being in the gifted class was that no one ever tried to teach me some formula to write esays (I seem to recall the fad when I was in junior high was power writing, but my class didn't do it). In high school, I learned how to write a proof and every essay I wrote thereafter proceeded along those lines. (Thesis statement (got taught that much) followed by "This is true, so this is true, so this is true, so done.") I have no idea whether my calculus students can write essays, but I do know that they can't write proofs (having graded an ill-advised midterm question once) and generally have a rough time explaining how one step leads to the next. (I know there's a school of thought that says you should teach math by making the students explain their steps in sentences, but I have no experience of such a system. Is this Michigan Calculus?)
posted by hoyland at 3:31 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Outliers are what people talk about because outliers (at least in education) produce insights which are actionable. Students at non-outlier schools have results that correlate very well with parental status, and it's not especially actionable to say "what will fix this school is for its students to have book-loving parents married to one another."
posted by MattD at 3:32 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is so true - startling it has to be said. And true across disciplines.

Yes...I think part of the problem, though, is that we get a lot of urging to support creative thinking. Of course we should support creative thinking, but we need to teach students how to think before they can do so creatively. For these reasons, there is often a (legitimate) push against formulae. Students also come to rely on formulae too strongly a lot of the time.

Also, I think part of the problem is that teaching writing is really hard. Breaking down how you actually write well is immensely challenging; correcting essays and improving them is one thing, helping students create a solid piece of writing from scratch is another.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:33 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I suppose I should point out that calculus students are not generally expected (or taught) to be able to write proofs.
posted by hoyland at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're an upper class MeFite, a simple thing to do is check the local Sylvan or Kumon tutoring businesses.

Are they nearby? Are they having a brisk business?

That means there's a problem with your school district, one that's being covered up by upper class complacency and family access to alternative resources.
posted by ocschwar at 3:38 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Kumon tutoring businesses.

I have seen these in various well-to-do neighborhoods and, though I don't know how the name is actually pronounced, I always imagined an otherwise empty room with one befuddled student sitting in a too-small desk and a manic tutor in an ill-fitting shirt waving a fistful of papers while yelling, "Kumon! Learn already!"

posted by psoas at 3:45 PM on September 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Although this was a very interesting article.
posted by uosuaq at 3:47 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


lik dis if u cry evertim
posted by Xoebe at 3:53 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


If you're an upper class MeFite, a simple thing to do is check the local Sylvan or Kumon tutoring businesses.

Whereas if you're lower class or not a MeFite, it's quite difficult.
posted by michaelh at 3:55 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's always another new program, idea, whatever, and maybe they're neat and awesome but when they don't work immediately and perfectly in a couple of years then they are scrapped. I really wish the educational system would focus on doing things well instead of differently.

It is, of course, hard for the people who sell educational materials to make a buck off of this, however.

I have no idea whether my calculus students can write essays

I wouldn't want to lay serious bets on calculus students being able to write sentences. So many engineering students can't.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:57 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think this is a spectacularly good idea. Learning to write effectively covers so many educational bases: it teaches logical thinking, it teaches organization, it plays on young peoples' desire to express themselves, and the process is a great ongoing lesson in problem-solving.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:59 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am wondering if part of this is related to that english is just so difficult language for "Catch method" beyond basic syntax. The parts interact so weakly that there isn't much grammar to learn in examples they cited, just phrases that have to be used correctly. Compare to languages with more case agreement and other effects that are caught automatically when learning them as first language. The case system can work as an internal validator and can, for example, distinguish between negative and positive statements, even if the exact meaning of conjunction is not familiar.
posted by Free word order! at 4:02 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suppose I should point out that calculus students are not generally expected (or taught) to be able to write proofs.

Seriously? I could probably still remember some of the proofs they made us learn in high school, starting well before calculus. What do they do in math class if they're not learning how to write proofs?

I think I'm lucky I was taught by nuns who did not care one bit about creativity.
posted by fshgrl at 4:10 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I recently looked into learning Rhetoric, as in the ancient classical education art of rhetoric. It seems really similar to this, from what I've read so far.

I was lucky enough to be formally taught spelling and grammar, and had lots of essay practice in high-school. It wasn't as detailed as at this school, but was really useful.

Even this late in life (late 30s), I'm finding that formal drills, like in the article, are really helpful. Somehow alternate ways of expressing a thought are made available with this process, and having to write things down exposes gaps in my logic; gaps you don't think are there when it's all in your head.

Anecdata, I know. But I'll be teaching my kid the fundamentals, like scales, so he has the tools to write his own beautiful music.
posted by But tomorrow is another day... at 4:13 PM on September 30, 2012


Seriously? I could probably still remember some of the proofs they made us learn in high school, starting well before calculus. What do they do in math class if they're not learning how to write proofs?

I think what you mean by 'proof' and what I mean by 'proof' must be different. There are those two column proofs in geometry in high school, but that's basically it until upper level math classes taken only by math majors (okay, I remember a proof on a linear algebra midterm). As far as I know, that's roughly how it's been for a long time, except that there used to be more proofs in college calculus classes. (That said, I have a calculus book from the 1970s (Lax/Burstein/Lax if anyone cares) kicking around my apartment. The exercises are not substantially different than in current calculus books, but books now have way more exercises. The big difference is that exposition requires more of that ever nebulous mathematical maturity than current books and more things are actually proved in the book.)
posted by hoyland at 4:23 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This makes a great deal of sense because what you are basically teaching is how to think. Kids who come from homes where language is restricted and life is chaotic will not get the constant instruction in this that those who come from calmer, more linguistically rich homes do. By kindergarten middle class children have had literally millions more words directed at them—and many more of these words encouraging— than poor children have. This makes their vocabulary and ease with language and logical thought much greater, in general.

Once you can think clearly enough to write a persuasive essay, you are likely to do far better at virtually every other subject because you will be able to structure the way you think about them better and that will improve your memory as well as your reasoning.
posted by Maias at 4:25 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


The thing is, kids need a formula
This works well with kids who don't already know what they are doing. For those that do, this leaves years of mind numbing education resulting in the students losing faith in education altogether.
posted by niccolo at 4:34 PM on September 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Interesting article. Reminds me of my 6th grade Language Arts teacher, who used English textbooks from the 1950s to teach us grammar and sentence structure (this was in the late 1980s). She explained her choice as "I just don't like a lot of what's being published now for teaching English, and these are old but the information is just as good." Being a visual learner, I still see the corny illustrations in my mind when I'm trying to figure out some rule of English or other.
posted by Rykey at 4:35 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


...In spring 2013, the school expects an 80% graduation rate. What happened?

My guess was that they removed reading and writing from the graduation requirements.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:40 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


“I always wanted to go to college, but I never had the confidence that I could say and write the things I know.” She smiles and sweeps the bangs from her eyes. “Then someone showed me how.”

"I always wanted to" is the best part of that. How many kids want to better their situations but don't know how? It's staggering that all the money we throw at public education has resulted in kids with dreams that go unrealized because we didn't give them the tools to make those dreams happen.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:48 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't say too much due to an NDA, but I'm currently scoring standardized math tests at high school level. Yes, kids are expected to write proofs, both two-column and paragraph proofs. There is emphasis on writing in all the math and science tests, they're not multiple choice, they're all essay tests. The theory is that you can know a lot of math and science but if you can't explain it to other people, your skills are useless to you.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:54 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


This works well with kids who don't already know what they are doing. For those that do, this leaves years of mind numbing education resulting in the students losing faith in education altogether.

Not only that, it leads to kids who just want to know the formula, not how to figure anything out for themselves. This year, in fact, I've started putting the answers on everything to convey the message that 'I don't care about the answer--I know how to get it; I want to know you can figure it out.' We'll see how it works.

Being able to write a simple persuasive essay is good, and I'm sure it has done wonders in this school, but it isn't The AnswerTM, and I worry every time I read one of these things that it will show up in my classroom next year as a mandate that ignores the local and subject-specific realities.

So much of the B.S. shoved down our throats started as an idea that was really good and helpful for one teacher or one school, and was popularized via a NYT article or an educational theory book, and signed onto without any critical thought by administrators looking to make their mark.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:58 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do schools actually not teach writing? I seem to remember getting a lot of writing instruction in my primary and secondary education, starting with spelling and penmanship, then to parts of speech and sentence structure, then paragraph structure, and then lots and lots of five-paragraph essays (introduction with thesis, three paragraphs each presenting one major concept in support of the thesis, conclusion with summary) and a few longer research papers (we're talking five or six pages at most) toward the end.

I feel like this has served me well, and while of course I like to think that I've broadened and diversified my repertoire somewhat over the years, I think I got a good solid framework in how to do analytical writing. Now, I had a mixture of private school and exceptional-quality public school education and I'm not a parent or a teacher so I have little idea of what goes on in most public schools, but I didn't think that this kind of stuff was particularly revolutionary and it's surprising to me that no real effort is made to teach writing in most public schools. Is that really the case?
posted by Scientist at 5:02 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Whereas if you're lower class or not a MeFite, it's quite difficult.

not to mention if you are a lower case mefite....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:03 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was lucky enough to have writing teachers that taught us how to write in ways that made sense but were not too formulaic. We had plenty of room to be creative. I always enjoyed writing in school and I still do. I don't think learning skills means that everything needs to be rote and I don't think skills and creativity need to be opposed.

In fact, there is significant research that shows that teaching grammar in isolation does not make kids better writers - it has to be taught in a context that makes sense and forces kids to use what they learn rather than just memorizing rules and never applying them.

It sounds like this school found some great ways to incorporate more complex language and writing skills across the curriculum, which seems like the key to their success.
posted by mai at 5:06 PM on September 30, 2012


wow, now it's a whole new dorp!
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:15 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


My colleague (now business partner) and I have taught writing along these lines in Seoul for seven years and have seen how powerful such a process can be. This article reads like a summary of every writing-related rant I've gone on in the last seven years, in fact.

The problems are simple, after all.

1) Most schools use writing solely for evaluation, without actually teaching the skills required to do it well.

2) Writing is thinking. Systematic, methodical, organized thinking. So learning to write well has a ripple effect across the curriculum and beyond school years altogether. This second point also means that students who haven't been taught any proper writing skills are also often sloppy, inchoate thinkers.

3) We're so reflexively opposed to anything "rote" that grammar (including the rhetorical grammar of syntax and rhetoric) is barely taught at all anymore, and that's deeply problematic, since grammar is tremendously empowering.

A fourth problem, less frequently acknowledged, is that it takes a lot of time and effort to teach writing well--you have to assign a lot of writing, provide a lot of feedback (and quickly! If students don't get an essay back before the next essay is due, you've missed a chance!), and endure a shit ton of awful, awful prose before you start seeing stuff that doesn't make you want to murder people.

This is the most uplifting article I've read in a long time. It just really means a lot to me to see that other people are noticing this problem and finding the right solutions. Hats off to New Dorp High School. Really.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:16 PM on September 30, 2012 [21 favorites]


I seem to remember that diagramming sentences taught sentence construction and the use of various forms of grammar. It may be old fashioned but it does provide a good basic understanding of communicating ideas. I don't seem to remember much time given to it in the 80's/90's when our children were going to elementary and secondary schools. Vocabulary is essential as well, the more words you understand the easier it is to express your in writing and speaking.
posted by pdxpogo at 5:17 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


and to mai: true, "learning skills" doesn't mean "that everything needs to be rote," but avoiding ANYTHING rote is as pathological as relying entirely on rote learning. There's a time and a place--think multiplication tables, huh?
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:18 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't say too much due to an NDA, but I'm currently scoring standardized math tests at high school level. Yes, kids are expected to write proofs, both two-column and paragraph proofs. There is emphasis on writing in all the math and science tests, they're not multiple choice, they're all essay tests. The theory is that you can know a lot of math and science but if you can't explain it to other people, your skills are useless to you.

when students try to answer university calculus problems using 'paragraphs' the results are painful and embarrassing. also, calculus students are actually kind of terrible at following rules. one rule maybe, but following three rules where they may have to make a choice between them, terrible, no good...

reducing everything in education to an exercise in artificial intelligence i.e. following a set of formal rules to achieve a human judged outcome is an often appealing total philosophy but misses a lot. you need to already have a lot under your belt before you can even know how to follow rules. point being, school administrators might be puzzled to find that this "writing" cure-all somehow doesn't scale past one school; what could they be missing? going from 63% to 80% graduation might have come from just intensively focusing on the cohort of "well behaved students." and it's a little nebulous just what you need to do to graduate from this school...

but sure, take the writing cure-all...
posted by ennui.bz at 5:44 PM on September 30, 2012


going from 63% to 80% graduation might have come from just intensively focusing on the cohort of "well behaved students." and it's a little nebulous just what you need to do to graduate from this school...

Well, the school's in New York, so if I understand things correctly, it's pretty clear.

If you've gone from 63% to 80% graduation rates by concentrating on the 'well-behaved students', that suggests that at least you're no longer failing that population. I think it's hard to argue that's not progress.
posted by hoyland at 5:51 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


but sure, take the writing cure-all...

I think a "cure-anything" in education is a step forward, and your apparent suggestion that improving student outcomes and skills by focusing intensively on writing is taking the easy way out or whatever is kind of baffling.
posted by clockzero at 5:53 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


My instinct says that language is a really complicated thing, and when we focus on improving it and perfecting it and communicating and really working at it, other highly evolved parts of our brain come alive and we're better thinkers because of it.
posted by entropone at 5:56 PM on September 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


entropone: my experience agrees with your instinct.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:05 PM on September 30, 2012


My guess was that they removed reading and writing from the graduation requirements.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:40 PM on September 30 [+] [!] No other comments.


Is this...what I think it is?

The most important statement in this whole article is one that is true in every aspect of life, and which makes worries about stunting "creativity" kinda dumb: You have to know and understand the rules before you can break them. Ignoring rules or just trying random shit because you're special rarely, if ever, leads to good work in any discipline.
posted by maxwelton at 6:10 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Like Joseph Gurl, this is what I do, though for a junior high school in Japan. The students are exposed to English (in English, which is rarer than you'd think) every day from the first year. By second year, they are writing paragraphs, and by third year, they are writing (short) essays. It's not easy, and it's a hell of a lot of work. I'm glad you posted this, and I'm going to take a look at the Hochman Program to see if there's anything there that we could use to make it easier.

I can tell you that there is a marked difference in the abilities of our students who've grasped conjunctions and relative clauses and those who haven't. Not just that, but writing ability does affect speaking ability. We tell our students in the third year writing class that the habits we are teaching them in their English writing class are habits they can use in any class. It's an uphill battle, but when you come across a well-written, well-thought-out essay from a fifteen year-old who's only been studying English for three years, it's incredibly rewarding.

One thing, though, that stood out to me in the article, kind of a slap to the face that woke me up this morning on the train:

“Most teachers,” said Nell Scharff, an instructional expert DeAngelis hired, “entered into the process with a strongly negative attitude.” They were doing their job, they told her hotly. New Dorp students were simply not smart enough to write at the high-school level.

If you're a teacher, and you're thinking that your students are not smart enough to grasp what you're teaching, you're part of the goddamn problem. Students will live up, or down, to the expectations the teacher puts on them. I've had low, low level students before. I've had students that seriously didn't know basic concepts of social interaction. They're still students, they still need to be taught, and they don't need an asshole assuming they're too dumb to learn. If that's your attitude, maybe you need to find a new job.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:29 PM on September 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


^teachers who think their students aren't smart enough to learn are teachers who aren't smart enough to teach.
posted by entropone at 6:51 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I literally remember the day I learned to write an essay: it was in high school and the teacher had a formula you followed: an intro that ended in a thesis with a number of major points, typically three, followed by a paragraph detailing each point you were making and a conclusion that summed it all up. The trick was to pick the three most solid points of all the potential ideas you had so you could write a lot and use the most examples. Then she timed us. I thought it was genius and have quite literally written everything since following that formula, including my masters thesis and lots of scientific papers. I should thank my lucky stars I took that class.

And heyland I took two years of calculus in high school and we definitely did proofs. And I kind of suck at math, I wasn't doing more than most college bound kids at all. I think the expectations were just totally different.
posted by fshgrl at 7:06 PM on September 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


This article has finally taught me the method ('catching') by which we were raggedly marched through English classes and writing exams for years and years in my district. How frustrating to learn that it was education fads that caused my generation to be socked with both 'reform math' and this 'catching writing' method and neither one of them helped us learn worth a damn.

I had years of writing instruction--literally years--in K-12 classes and it took until 10th grade for someone to finally teach me grammar beyond simple nouns and verbs. I knew how to write a five-paragraph essay before I knew what a conjunction was. I passed our district's writing exam before I could diagram a sentence. Yet it wasn't until that revolutionary 10th grade English class that it all started to come together.

Mrs. Basmaji was an old woman and we were her last class before retirement. She gave us a quiz at the beginning of the school year and that was the first time I'd ever failed an English quiz. By the end of the year, she had every one of us diagramming complicated sentences. We didn't learn a lot about literature that year, even though we were an honors class and plowing through novels that would be on the AP test was part of our ostensible goal. We learned how to construct a proper sentence and what the parts of speech were.

Between that class and the valiant efforts of my Spanish teachers/professors/instructors, I got by. Wonder what happened to the students one year behind me, after Mrs. Basmaji retired? She had been the last one in her department still teaching grammar. Apres moi, le deluge?

So yes, I read this article with a distinct sigh of relief. Education is ridiculously fond of fads--embarrassingly so--and consistently teaching grammar and basic writing skills would be a lovely fad for it to latch on to.
posted by librarylis at 7:29 PM on September 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


This works well with kids who don't already know what they are doing. For those that do, this leaves years of mind numbing education resulting in the students losing faith in education altogether

Absolutely true. I taught English for several years at alternative high schools, mainly for drop outs.. My students seemed to be divided between those who never really "caught" on to writing and those who were bored silly from the latest rote learning method they were forced to participate in.
Individualized instruction is so important in writing, whether that be workshopping or one on one. A classroom of 30 students is not conducive to this at all and my district has cut back on teachers and made classes larger because voters will not raise taxes to pay for teachers.
And writing instruction MUST be across the curriculum. I had constant disagreements with Science. Math and Social Studies teachers who wanted to grade essays only on content.
posted by Isadorady at 7:38 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


This sounds like an excellent approach. I do wish, like others, that it were possible to write about education and innovation without relying on straw men and vast overgeneralizaton:
About 25 years ago, in an effort to enliven instruction and get more kids writing, schools of education began promoting a different approach. The popular thinking was that writing should be “caught, not taught,” explains Steven Graham, a professor of education instruction at Arizona State University. Roughly, it was supposed to work like this: Give students interesting creative-writing assignments; put that writing in a fun, social context in which kids share their work. Kids, the theory goes, will “catch” what they need in order to be successful writers. Formal lessons in grammar, sentence structure, and essay-writing took a back seat to creative expression.
That's not actually what was happening in most classrooms (having trained as a teacher, eep, starting 20 years ago). It's an oversimplification that makes that generation of teachers look like hippie idiots. In fact, what was going on was that people were, for the first time, starting to practice evidence-based teaching based on cognitive science, and were extrapolating from observations of kids who had early independent literacy. Methods that they were using, on their own and with the guidance of their literature-rich families, were derived from their settings and translated into elements of teaching practice designed for all kids. The idea was to learn from what works, not lean on a presumption about what doesn't. This was meant to be the strategy to spark early literacy. Not to be carried through all of the educational attainment levels.

Creative writing and writing workshop were introduced into elementary and middle schools in the 1980s and 90s to replace what had before been a pretty narrow offer of writing essays, "book reports," or "themes" with a predictable, insipid structure. These were actually pretty robust strategies that included personalized lessons in grammar, spelling, structuring, editing, peer review, and critical reading, and emphasized a variety of genres.

The movement formerly known as Writing Across the Curriculum is what appears to be having a moment of reinvention on Staten Island - but again, it's not new. It's from the 80s as well.

Since most of these ideas (a) are really productive and (b) originated during the last 25 years, a period the reporter seems eager to set up as the negative contrast, I think that the research behind the article is a little shallow. If asked why literacy teaching had gotten so poor, I would say it's the disempowering of teachers that's been associated with school-performance obsessions going back to Reagan's demand for education reforms and the scaremongering A Nation at Risk. It was all back-to-"basics" all the time, and "basics" did not mean "intensely focused writing experiences and feedback" but skill-and-drill, especially in math and science.

I absolutely agree with those commenters who are saying that the dramatic turnaround is not actually a student achievement turnaround. It's a reflective teaching practice turnaround. Teachers were empowered to observe, critique, and make changes in their practice. They were led in a process of examining an intellectual shortfall in the existing curriculum and addressing it through strategies that worked for them, and as a team, in real classrooms.

There is a cyclical aspect to American education that's not unlike its political cycles. Progressive reforms like this one were all the rage in the 1880s and again in the 1920s-30s. Periods of conservatism and narrow, testing-based focused returned in between. This is nothing more than an indication that the pendulum is swinging back to more serious and productive, if more complicated, less directly quantifiable, and more autonomous, teaching practices than we've had under No Child Left Behind...or after Sputnik...or during the expansion of high-school-level education in the early 20th century.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on September 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


I cab clearly remember being in French class, aged about 11, when the teacher started talking about teaching us the past participle. I thought to myself, what on earth is the past participle? I guess I had one of those "caught not taught" educations in English, and it's a shame. I was reading the Atlantic article, and I had to google "appositive". I don't think my education failed me exactly; I got a bachelors, I am relatively successful in life. But I can't help thinking that it could have been a bit better.
posted by Joh at 9:46 PM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's quite possible that this is not The Answer For All Time. But still, as a English professor in a good provincial university in flyover country, I think it's a damned useful Answer For Right Now.

One problem is that schools have been focusing on math and science to the exclusion of higher-level literacy. The result is a world where students aim at STEM fields and make strenght in math and science the focus of their study time. Any material that has writing at its heart -- English, History, Philosophy (fill in the Humanities blank) -- is seen as a bird course that any fool can do. Engineering students, in particular, assume that a paper on any literature is an extended exercise in opining and fluff: there's no knowledge or skill involved.

At the same time, the same students say that writing an essay is incredibly difficult, time-consuming and frustrating. So it's very hard, but only the very stupid can do it. And it's only a frill, so why bother. You can always plagiarize. And they do, repeatedly, to the extent that they're unable to even verbally argue a point.

This is how intelligent, opinionated students wind up in my first year classes unable to write a fucking PARAGRAPH, let alone an essay. Anything that combats this tendency is a good and useful thing.
posted by jrochest at 10:06 PM on September 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


"Strength", of course.

Bloody hell, how embarrassing.
posted by jrochest at 10:07 PM on September 30, 2012


I wasn't formally introduced to grammar until I took a Latin class. I have never been exposed to grammar in my writing or reading classes.

This works well with kids who don't already know what they are doing. For those that do, this leaves years of mind numbing education resulting in the students losing faith in education altogether.

As a kid who was pretty darn gifted in the reading/writing schtick, at least compared to my peers (e.g. got a 5 on the AP English exam in 8th grade), I was still bored to tears in the "creative", "less formulaic" courses. Only on top of being bored to tears I was unable to identify nouns and verbs in sentences.

There is something to be said for the role of rote memorization in building the base of knowledge necessary for more complex thought. For example, it is terribly tedious to memorize the structures of monosaccharides, amino acids, RNA, DNA, etc. But if you're in biochemistry and you don't have the inkling of the difference between the structures of aspartic acid and glycine then you are going to find it very difficult to have a fluid discussion of even the most basic topics, much less come up with interesting research ideas. It is the same for reading, writing, and math. Not everything can be about "feeling" information.
posted by schroedinger at 11:09 PM on September 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seriously? I could probably still remember some of the proofs they made us learn in high school, starting well before calculus. What do they do in math class if they're not learning how to write proofs?
How to find the answer to various math problems? Calculus is pretty important in engineering, and lots of other sciences, but you don't need to do a lot of proofs.

We had proofs in geometry, never had to do it again in any other math classes afterword,
The theory is that you can know a lot of math and science but if you can't explain it to other people, your skills are useless to you.

Knowing basic physics can be pretty useful if you want to get into engineering, regardless of whether or not you can explain it to people.
This works well with kids who don't already know what they are doing. For those that do, this leaves years of mind numbing education resulting in the students losing faith in education altogether
Or worse, it can make kids absolutely hate whatever subject they're learning this way. This is exactly why people "hate" math, not because math is actually bad, but because they have bad memories of mind-numbing rote work. A big part of it, IMO is the fact that people were taught math in a way that would have been required to use it in the era before calculators, but which is unnecessary today.

It probably depends a great deal on the student.
One problem is that schools have been focusing on math and science to the exclusion of higher-level literacy. The result is a world where students aim at STEM fields and make strenght in math and science the focus of their study time. Any material that has writing at its heart -- English, History, Philosophy (fill in the Humanities blank) -- is seen as a bird course that any fool can do. Engineering students, in particular, assume that a paper on any literature is an extended exercise in opining and fluff: there's no knowledge or skill involved.
That really isn't the problem this is trying to address. The goal here is just to teach kids to write grammatically. They would be pretty happy to have their students opining fluffily, so long as said fluff was grammatical.
posted by delmoi at 1:56 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The above stated facts lead me to conclude that this is a good idea.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:25 AM on October 1, 2012


Six years ago, New Dorp High School on Staten Island, NY, had a 40% dropout rate, and more than 80% of freshmen were reading below grade level. In spring 2013, the school expects an 80% graduation rate.
I can't speak for anyone else, but if you play these sorts of number games with me, I assume you are a lying liar and that I should not believe you if you say the sky remains blue.

I am referring to the "clever" expansion of 63% to 80% into 40% to 80%, with bonus lack of information about the change in reading level.

Let me be clear that I don't think anyone's actually lying. Just that the writing style has the complete opposite of the desired effect.
posted by effugas at 2:34 AM on October 1, 2012


Delmoi, I'd actually agree with the post you've quoted inasmuch that low quality writing instruction for children leads to undereducated adults. It's nearly infinitely frustrating to try and explain a thesis statement to an 18 year old who can barely manage a grammatical sentence. I've wondered so many times how any given 18-21 year old I've seen in my office hours made it through elementary school (let alone how they managed to get into college!)
posted by zinful at 4:25 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


*facepalm*

people still wonder why i homeschooled my children until they were able to read, write and do basic arithmetic. the fact of the matter is that you cannot have one teacher help 25+ children t do this efficiently.

this country needs to stop pretending parents aren't equipped with the basics to teach their children how to read and write before entering school. in NY state you do not have to send your child to school until the age of 6. if a parent is zoned in an area with no pre-schools and they dont have enough private ones due to greed (that happens to a lot of people here in the NYC who end up not having any pre-schools under $15-20,000/yr), then the most logical thing is to empower parents with a simple know-how: if you can read and write --at any level-- you can teach your child to do so just as you are teaching them how to speak.

but that would allegedly "disempower" teachers' unions, yaddayaddalotsofbullshit.

the US is fucked up when it comes to families. let's take women's rights away and force them to have babies! let's treat women like morons for having babies! let's treat babies like a fetish! let's treat parents like morons who can't raise & teach their own children! et cetera et cetera.

the fact of the matter is that children learn how to read & write in a myriad different ways. you can't be prescriptive about it. teaching the fundamentals of grammar is nice, but having lost SIX GODDAMN YEARS of practice because you keep telling parents they are too stupid to teach their own children how to read & write is not going to "improve the numbers" no matter how many kids you say you dont want to leave behind.

writing has to start at home, not at school. if your child can fingerpaint, they will transition into writing. let's treat writing as part of fingerpainting.
posted by liza at 4:56 AM on October 1, 2012


this country needs to stop pretending parents aren't equipped with the basics to teach their children how to read and write before entering school.

But some parents actually AREN'T equipped, either in terms of time or actual knowledge. I've had meetings with parents who literally could not read their child's report card. There are parents for whom education is a huge priority but they have enough kids and or/jobs that they can't really devote that time. I agree with you that writing should be more emphasized at home but not everyone has the resources you do. I'm not saying that families who can manage this should be punished, I'm saying that children from families who don't have this support shouldn't be punished either.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:25 AM on October 1, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sorry, I'm still thinking about this although I can't say much because in about five minutes I'll have "25+ children" entering my classroom (and you're right, I wish class sizes were smaller, but disempowering teachers' unions is NOT the way to accomplish that).

I totally agree that "the US is fucked up when it comes to families", but I also think that what you're proposing requires that one parent stay home to teach their children. Historically this is probably going to be the mother (not definitely and I'm not saying it can't or even shouldn't be the father) and that's a pretty fast way to disempower women right there, to say that they can't get jobs because they have to stay home and take care of the kids. I really do emphatically think it's awesome that you could raise your kids the way you wanted and it sounds like it worked really well for you but I have to emphasize that not everyone has those opportunities or even desires. There really are reasons we have schools and empowering teachers' unions is not particularly high on the list.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:31 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


But some parents actually AREN'T equipped, either in terms of time or actual knowledge. I've had meetings with parents who literally could not read their child's report card.


and you and everybody else should be measured by their (1) lack of English-language skills (they may be geniuses in their own languages) (2) reading disability?

this is really a red-herring and you and i know kids should not be entering school w/o any reading or writing skills whatsoever. AS A TEACHER YOU ARE JUST MY PUBLIC SERVANT. you aren't superhuman and you aren't ultimately the person defending my children's interests. let's stop pretending most parents are too stupid to teach their own the basics.

but it goes further: we throw kids who are most of the time not equipped to thrive in a school because ultimately it's childcare. too many parents have to work to make ends meet. do you think i was rich enough to homeschool? you have no idea the sacrifices & the professional punishment i've had to contend with by decision. i will never recover financially from all those years of not working F/T.

school is just childcare for a lot of parents. that's the #1 problem with the whole system. you can't have real education when the priority for a lot of families is to have their kids take care of while theyre working to put food on the table. if we still had wages at 1970s buying power, we wouldn't have so many stories of schools where kids can't even write their own names.

but even so, i know a lot of working class families whose parents did the same like us. they couldn't homeschool F/T but did so at every other waking moment they were with their kids. why? because they were those parents who were acutely aware they were only sending their kids to school because they couldnt pay for childcare.

stop talking about ALL parents like we're morons or with learning disabilities. the fact of the matter is that the vast majority arent --but are shamed and treated poorly for daring to school on their own.

kids dont have to write essays by the age of six, but for crying out loud, waiting until then to start teaching them writing skills IS JUST BANANAS. and the fact of the matter is that schools systems like the NYC wash their hands by treating pre-K as discretionary, aka, a luxury only afforded to those lucky enough to get into a pre-k program.

basics of reading, writing & math start at home, not school.
posted by liza at 5:52 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Historically this is probably going to be the mother ... and that's a pretty fast way to disempower women right there

and that right there is my problem with US "feminism". it isn't. it's just patriarchy with a vagina.
posted by liza at 5:57 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


AS A TEACHER YOU ARE JUST MY PUBLIC SERVANT. you aren't superhuman and you aren't ultimately the person defending my children's interests. let's stop pretending most parents are too stupid to teach their own the basics.

Funnily enough, I'd hazard Mrs. Pterodactyl might have some professional qualifications that suggest she, oh, knows how to do her job? And, given that she likely puts up with more than a few people shouting how she's 'just [their] public servant', she might think her job is important enough that she hasn't quit the public schools or education entirely?

stop talking about ALL parents like we're morons or with learning disabilities. the fact of the matter is that the vast majority arent --but are shamed and treated poorly for daring to school on their own.

No one did. You were called on having gone on a rant from a position of privilege and have taken that as an insult to your intelligence.
posted by hoyland at 6:06 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


to go further with the patriarchy bit: historically "womanly" jobs are also those on the lowest end of the pay-scale: teachers, nurses.

who ends up getting all the responsibility of "educating our future leaders"?
in a hospital, who really ends ups healing you?

women are too stupid to have sex
women are too stupid to get pregnant
women are too stupid to to give birth
women are too stupid to to care of their babies
women are too stupid to teach their kids to read & write
women are too stupid to become "profesionals" so they are teachers
women are too stupid to become doctors, so they are nurses

and the list goes on.

the irony is that, as i consider myself more of an immigrant than an american, i see how within immigrant the attitude towards mothering as education is completely different. particularly for latinamerican@s --teaching of spanish is pretty much consistent across the board within the region and we are stuck learning grammar & orthography from a very early age. we have 42 different conjugations in spanish and learning them by rote is still the rule in schools.

you spend so many years learning the greek & latin radicles of words, all the different pluperfects of verbs and the preposition song that no one who knows how to read & write in latin america will say, "i can't teach the basics to my kids". they might say they wont because they dont have the patience, but not the knowledge? it astounds me that americans with not even high school, but BA's and & MA's would consider themselves too unprepared to teach their kids how to read and write.
posted by liza at 6:12 AM on October 1, 2012


The thing is, kids need a formula, at least at first, because what we are asking them to do is very difficult. So God, let’s stop acting like they should just know how to do it. Give them a formula! Later, when they understand the rules of good writing, they can figure out how to break them.
This is so true - startling it has to be said. And true across disciplines.

Absolutely. I was a pretty awful writer in high school, even though I tested pretty well (you don't actually need to know how to write to score very well on standardized tests. Or at least you didn't ten years ago), until I finally hit an English teacher who was openly disgusted with the class' inability to write essays correctly. So he gave us a rubric. Literally: a piece of paper explaining the five-paragraph essay. Then, for three weeks, he made us write one every night about awful and/or mundane things, with topics selected especially for how easy they made it to wander off into tangents and tangled prose if you didn't follow that damned rubric. It took maybe four or five of those before I finally wised to the fact that there was no trick to this; it was literally an algorithm, and it was really easy to follow, and if you did it right, the structure of your writing dictated its organization, and then you just had to avoid run-on sentences and make sure you conjugated your verbs properly. It was like a smack to the head, and it still resonates I everything I write. I have no idea why this doesn't get taught in middle-school English class right next to "this is a thesis statement" and "these are nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adverbs."

He spent the rest of the year yelling at us about correlative conjunctions and describing the depths of alcoholism to which our horrible writing drove him. Man, I miss Doc Duni sometimes.
posted by Mayor West at 6:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


AS A TEACHER YOU ARE JUST MY PUBLIC SERVANT

Whoa.

Yeah, I think if you really believe that everyone would have just as easy a time of this as you do, you're out of touch with the daily reality of most people. A lot of people really can't educate their own children. A lot of people, for valid reasons, also don't want to.

You're right that early literacy training happens at home. That's the philosophy behind Head Start. I'm certainly behind expanding those programs.

What's insulting is to hear people denigrate teachers like this. Not all teachers excel. But (again, as a trained K-8 teacher) I have a background of specialized coursework, training, knowledge, practice, and experience. It's an entirely different skill to efficiently and effectively bring 25+ kids in one group through an increasingly sophisticated and cross-disciplinary set of outcomes than it is to teach a few children, who are your own, and whose total environment you control. I've no doubt that children with that kind of education sometimes achieve very good outcomes. But it's not scalable.

As with everything in education, it all comes down to class issues. Without a group of teachers with the focus, intention, and administrative support of the school in this story, which comes from challenging class expectations, you don't get transformed outcomes. The trick is not to produce a bump, but to sustain high performance for a general population over time. We'll see about that.

Incidentally, I corresponded on Facebook with my writing teacher from the 80s about this article. She was a pioneer of writing across the curriculum and says it's occasioned much discussion on the related listservs, and that people who have been working with this philosophy for decades found the story frustrating in part because the reporter didn't know who to interview. The few scholars quoted are not those who've done the most intensive or most respected long-term work on writing in American education. That explains that shallow, skewed view.
posted by Miko at 6:19 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


to go further with the patriarchy bit: historically "womanly" jobs are also those on the lowest end of the pay-scale: teachers, nurses.

Right. So my reaction to that is typically not to denigrate them as unprofessional, but to seek to reinforce and improve the stature of the profession.
posted by Miko at 6:21 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


@hoyland

am paying the consequences of having stayed at home. you can say my kids had the privilege --and they are very aware of it, btw.

am very passionate about schooling because i see it as an unsolved problem for feminism. more than just reproductive rights, i feel that all the socio-economic issues around schooling are what's keeping women down, actually.

housing kids in a school as a form of childcare while women are paid cents for every man-earned dollar is the core to a lot of these learning issues. pay equality and pay equity wouldn't necessarily fix problems related to learning disabilities, but it would change the dynamics on how we run schools & how kids learn in them.
posted by liza at 6:21 AM on October 1, 2012


Even if we solved pay equity, as long as adults want to pursue professions other than home teaching, we are going to need educational institutions. There's a lot of flexibility as to what those institutions can/should be, but I think it's exceedingly unrealistic to imagine that all children will, or should be, educated by a stay-at-home parent.

And especially beyond early training, that's not in the interest of children, who need a disciplinary variety, access to specialization, and range of communications styles to develop their own strengths and learning interests.
posted by Miko at 6:25 AM on October 1, 2012


Later, when they understand the rules of good writing, they can figure out how to break them.

Funny thing is, I learned the general principle in art class, in third grade. Yet another example of the headstart my parents gave me with the fancy private school.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:31 AM on October 1, 2012


What's insulting is to hear people denigrate teachers like this.

am a former teacher. as teachers, we are public servants. we do what we can. we are passionate about our kids but, in the end, they come and go. you remember some, you forget many. that's a fact.

i love my kids' school staff. the teachers, the administrators absolutely rock. it's one of the most diverse crews in NYC --a rarity still at this day & age. and they are the first ones to tell parents "you are better at this than us". sure, i am not better at chemistry than my kids' chemistry teacher, but they know kids wont be able to outperform if the parents arent involved. and this has been proven time and time again: you can throw money at schools but without parents, the kids will only do so much on their own.
posted by liza at 6:35 AM on October 1, 2012


you spend so many years learning the greek & latin radicles of words, all the different pluperfects of verbs and the preposition song that no one who knows how to read & write in latin america will say, "i can't teach the basics to my kids". they might say they wont because they dont have the patience, but not the knowledge? it astounds me that americans with not even high school, but BA's and & MA's would consider themselves too unprepared to teach their kids how to read and write.

When we say "Parents don't have the skills" we are not talking about college-educated parents who had extensive experience in Latin grammar. We are talking about the majority of parents who did not have that experience. If you are coming from a place where you assume parents have this knowledge, or are even close to this knowledge, then you are coming from a place of privilege indeed. When Mrs. Pterodactyl talks of parents who cannot read their kids' report cards, she means parents who literally cannot read their kids' report cards. The adult literacy issues in America are very real, especially among the poor who may not have had access to quality education growing up.
posted by schroedinger at 6:48 AM on October 1, 2012


Although a "fuzzy" outcome, writing engenders self-esteem. Being able to communicate well, to tell your story, is one of the most empowering and therapeutic of all skills.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:33 AM on October 1, 2012


I agree with you the critical success factor for students is parenting. Kids who aren't ready and supported in learning have many more obstacles to learning in their paths than those who are. Learning begins and birth and most of it takes place outside school hours.

Teaching is still a skilled profession. I don't disagree that teachers are public servants (well, not in a private school where they're more akin to hired help, but in public school). However, when people say that - especially in all caps - to police officers, librarians, road workers - they seem to be mistaking the relationship. A public servant isn't by default a servant to any single particular member of the public. It is a person, employed on behalf of the broad, diverse public, who is pledged to uphold a set of standards and principles that are arrived at by public agreement. There's a very important difference between its opposite, "personal servant," and "public servant."
posted by Miko at 7:34 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also: I went through school in the 60's and 70's, with far more than 25 students in a class.

We learnt how to write. It's not impossible.
posted by jrochest at 8:15 AM on October 1, 2012


AS A TEACHER YOU ARE JUST MY PUBLIC SERVANT
What a load of privileged elite bullshit!! I went into teaching after careers in two different fields, including the "other" feminine field,nursing, and also after home schooling my children when we lived overseas. I am NOT your servant in any way. I am a professional who knows my field and pedagogy and I do my very best with the pittance that my state (one of the most "educated" for adults) and city allocate for educating children.

let's stop pretending most parents are too stupid to teach their own the basics.

Many of my parents were NOT able to teach basics. My state allows parents to home school with very little supervision. I had students who were home "schooled" because parents simply didn't want to get them to school. Really. And parents who home "schooled" rather than expose their children to the very diversified population of my school. And parents who home "schooled" when they wanted to teach that dinosaurs walked with humans. And parents who could not read or write in their native language, let alone English.

it astounds me that americans with not even high school, but BA's and & MA's would consider themselves too unprepared to teach their kids how to read and write.

Well, keep astounded, because there ARE Americans, both native and non, who CANNOT teach reading and writing. Guess what? I am college educated and I can't teach math, but I can teach reading and writing better than many. I know my limitations and my ego doesn't need massaged by saying something as broad as "everyone can do yadda yadda."

I grew up in a large working class family. My parents DID teach me to read and write early, but they couldn't do the same with all of my siblings. Why? Not because they didn't try, but each child was very different. One of my sisters did not learn to read until third grade. She is now a voracious reader and mayor of her small town. My brother had dyslexia and struggled for many years with basics. My teachers , back in the ancient 60s, did their best with the knowledge they had gained in experience and schooling, to help each of us.

we are passionate about our kids but, in the end, they come and go. you remember some, you forget many. that's a fact.


I remember my students. I go to their weddings and their funerals. I go to court for them years after they called me "teacher". I do not think I am unique among educators.

I need to stop, because some of the privileged,elitist,classist ranting on this thread will simply set off more ranting on my side and,as a rhetorician and a good teacher, I know that that is when learning ends.
posted by Isadorady at 9:16 AM on October 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Back to the thread topic, I do think that though serious teaching of writing is not a new idea, we have not done it proper service across the board. Over the summer I taught a portion of a college seminar for incoming freshmen in my museum . We had really deep, fascinating and nuanced discussions about works of art and their political and social contexts. The students were wise, insightful, and expressed themselves quite well verbally. I was quite surprised to read the writing they produced on a single, chosen art piece as part of their culminating project. It was so much less well developed than their thinking; it was clear that their development across all dimensions of literacy (oral, reading comprehension, written) was extremely uneven.

I think that the STEM emphasis, standardized testing, and reduced teacher autonomy have been factors. But I'd also nominate as a factor the utopian tripe we've seen circulating for a couple of decades about how we're evolving into a "postliterate" visual culture. It's actually our choice whether to evolve in that direction, and it would be a poor choice. What's interesting about literacy - both reading and writing - is that they are not intrinsic abilities developed through evolution, but recent technologies which have shaped our minds more profoundly than most technologies. People from nonliterate cultures think differently than people from literature cultures. People who are semiliterate in a literate culture are at a serious disadvantage in self-expression, access to opportunity, and even the ability to think in ways which writing and reading train into us. It is great that we can enhance education today with fantastic video and audio actualities. It is great that in my work I center learning on 3D objects and our responses to them. But none of that is a sufficient replacement for literacy and the sophisticated levels of asynchronous and elaborate communication it allows.
posted by Miko at 9:35 AM on October 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


let's stop pretending most parents are too stupid to teach their own the basics.

Maybe not, but think of this a different way: What kind of teachers will the parents be who are, in fact, really stupid? You can't be suggesting that there aren't a bunch of total morons out there. Morons with school-aged kids, even.
posted by Rykey at 4:36 PM on October 1, 2012


AS A TEACHER YOU ARE JUST MY PUBLIC SERVANT

What a load of privileged elite bullshit!

You are misunderstanding liza and getting hung up on the word "servant". She only means to say that the teacher is just part of the process and is ultimately an employee (teachers can be called public servants like other public-sector employees although it's not common) of the state and not a super-human who can do it all themselves.

Actually it's you who seems to be the privileged elite, why are you so offended by the term public servant? Too privileged for servitude, eh? I'm joking, but that's the problem with calling "PRIVILEGE" on people you don't know in online fora, it's quite easy to get it wrong and have turned right back 'round.
posted by cell divide at 5:20 PM on October 1, 2012


She only means to say that the teacher is just part of the process and is ultimately an employee (teachers can be called public servants like other public-sector employees although it's not common) of the state and not a super-human who can do it all themselves.

I'm pretty sure that's not what was meant.

I'm joking, but that's the problem with calling "PRIVILEGE" on people you don't know in online fora, it's quite easy to get it wrong and have turned right back 'round.

She was suggesting that all 'good' parents should be doing x, y and z that are a tall order for many parents through no fault of their own. I'm not sure how you can dispute having the resources to teach your kid to read (for instance) is related to privilege.
posted by hoyland at 6:17 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


She only means to say...

Yeah, I don't really think she meant to say what you said. She said one thing and you are saying a different thing with some of the same words in it.

It's a dangerous thing to try to interpret for other people who are already speaking in the same language as the rest of us. If you have a point of view, share it. But let's not play "campaign surrogate."
posted by Miko at 8:13 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


She said one thing and you are saying a different thing with some of the same words in it.

She said something, and you interpreted it one way by being offended by the term "public servant". She also said she's a former teacher, and calls herself a public servant. I don't see what is pejorative about that term. She didn't say 'servant'.
posted by cell divide at 1:00 PM on October 2, 2012


What was pejorative was its context. Also, when you're saying something non-incendiary and perfectly reasonable YOU DON'T DO IT IN ALL CAPS.

I stand by my interpretation and believe it's much closer to what she seemed to mean than your shined-up-for-company one.
posted by Miko at 1:25 PM on October 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should have said more - I'm not at all offended by the term, as you could see if you had read my comment about other public servants. I'm offended by the frequent misunderstanding, based on ill will, of what the term means.
posted by Miko at 1:26 PM on October 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fucking annoying derail into homeschooling. Too bad.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:47 PM on October 22, 2012


I agree.
posted by Miko at 6:03 AM on October 23, 2012


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