Public School, Pedagogy and Social Justice
Social justice in the classroom has been going on a long time, but when I began to intensely research it in the late-1980s, it was confirmed first-hand. I got myself into a big controversy in the Dallas schools, the Richardson Independent School District when I showed up for a school board meeting. The debate was whether to eliminate honors classes. That seemed ludicrous. That was my entrance to social theory behind public school pedagogy, and my children’s exit. Here’s what I learned:
The Pedagogy of the Public School
After the meeting, I gathered all the documentation for this “new restructured” middle school concept. It was based on a middle school report by the Carnegie Foundation. We didn’t have the Internet, so all my research had come come from the Dallas Public Library’s card catalog. Within six weeks, and after personal calls to the researchers and educators cited in the literature, I had a good grasp on what was happening.
All the parents were told was that the research showed that we were behind the times – students needed to know how to learn (the process) rather than told what to learn.
The research also showed that the gap could be closed to benefit all when students were heterogeneously grouped, with peer mentoring. A psychological counselor would be assigned to a group of students that would meet regularly to discuss “life issues.” Competition is a bad thing, and harms young people, so there would be no competitive sports, only intramural.
I showed up six weeks later and delivered a five minute zinger in front of 1,200 parents packed into the room and TV cameras from all the major stations. I exposed the truth: that the faster students (children of the “haves”) were being used to help the slower students (children of the “have nots”), and it would come at the expense of the faster students. We won the day. Honors classes were retained, but until without a long fight.
A group of parents asked me to run for the school board. But no one knew me in politics, and the TEA AND PTA put up a candidate as my opponent. So it was an uphill battle that I lost, but we were able to keep the district from eliminating honors classes and adding school based clinics with abortion counseling without parental consent.
Closing the Gap: Common Core Pedagogy
The pedagogy that surrounds the “outcome based education” movement and it’s new label “common core” was – and continues to be – a strategy to “close the gap.”
Most would think closing the gap would be an admirable goal. But when I interpreted the literature, the parents were up in arms. I showed how the faster students were being used to help the slower, and by so doing, the faster students slow down or plateau while the slower catch up.
That’s when we began using the analogy of “lowering the basketball standard so all can shoot the basket.” The truth is, in a public school classroom setting, this is about the best that can be done. I don’t recommend it for anyone that wants their child to have the best education possible. That belongs to a private independent school that has no ties to government stimulus, subsidy, or grants.
Tracking Is Taboo
The tracking I refer to is different from tracking students into a vocational or college track. That belongs in the School-to-Work bucket. A separate discussion, although part of the whole system.
For this discussion, tracking is also how students are grouped by skill level in a math or reading class. My philosophy as a former teacher is that every student should have access to the same high quality literature and curriculum, but to give it at a pace that the student can manage, while expecting a higher standard. It’s amazing how children can rise to the occasion when a teacher expects more.
To label a slower student as one who needs a vocational track and a faster student as one that must pursue a college track, and to make that determination at a young age is wrong. All students should be tracked in the same rigorous curriculum (a liberal arts approach is best) to teach them the basics of reading and writing and computation, as well as the principles of a free society.
In this context, tracking and homogeneous grouping (the concept of putting the faster students in an honors class) was taboo because in Dallas, the black students weren’t getting into those honors classes nor getting scholarships. It was said that they were given a different curriculum altogether. That I would not support, but all tracking was considered racist and stigmatizing (Slavin).
The school district had to show that as many black or underprivileged children were succeeding as white and upper class. RISD was guilty of being racist by these standards. To combat this disparity, the district implemented heterogeneous grouping and divided kids into cooperative learning groups (Johnson & Johnson). These were strategically combining the slower and faster learners with race, ethnicity and socio-economic balance in each group. (Parents: hint here, that’s why it’s so difficult to request the teacher or the friends you want your child to have).
The kids would work together on assignments and group projects. The group could be manipulated by giving an individual grade and then assigning either the best grade to the group or the worst grade.
I called it “redistribution of the brain” and “affirmative action” in the classroom. It was appalling. This is sheer collectivist/communist pedagogy and theory.
What was the outcome of this configuration? It intentionally created resentment and “class warfare” right in the classroom. The kid that got the worst individual grade, given to the entire group, was resented by all the others that had worked so hard and got good individual grades.
And… conversely, the kids that were a slower – or not as motivated – learned that they could sit back and let the higher achievers do all the work while they would get a good group grade.
This social meddling harmed everyone, but astounding as it is to comprehend, that was the goal. And it is a standard practice in the classroom.
Many students got caught in the cracks of this lunacy. One such student was “flunking” math in this setting in 5th grade. The parents were told he needed to meet with an educational counselor to be evaluated. They followed through. But they were alarmed to learn that as parents, they were not allowed to know what was discussed in those meetings with the counselor. They were outraged, and told the school they wanted nothing to do with this counseling unless they were allowed to be a part of the process. No deal. They were done.
They removed him from the school, and that was the beginning of his turn-around. The parents did learn that he had tested out beyond 10th grade in abstract reasoning and math skills. The goal was to turn around his abysmal 28th percentile math score, and to teach him self-reliance and motivation.
So for two weeks, his mother thought they had made a big mistake. They put the books in front of him, gave him instructions, and he just sat there refusing to do anything. “I thought I was destroying his life and ruining him,” the mother said. “You know, We’ve all been taught to believe that learning happens at a desk in a classroom.”
But then something kicked in. The mom was patient and encouraged him, letting him know that his future depended on him, not a teacher to tell him what to do. He had to take responsibility. “Do you want to be uneducated or do you want to be able to become what you dream of being?” she told him.
With time, he was opening the math book and by the end of the school year – only 4 months later – he scored in the 86th percentile in math! He did it himself, and the poor self-image that the public class setting had given him, was in the past. He learned he could educate himself and that he could succeed, and that he was indeed smart.
He returned to high school and was placed in the Honors English class. One day the class was given a reading assignment that repulsed him. He described it as a “sick” story about a woman who had a sexual attraction to dead men (necrophilia) and who kept her lover’s corpse in the bedroom. It was William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, a metaphor of the South not wanting to let go of racism and its old ways. He stood up and told the teacher the story was gross and immoral and he thought it was an inappropriate assignment. His classmates agreed!
That summer, he was recognized anonymously on the LDS Church’s Tabernacle Choir Music and the Spoken word for his courage and integrity.
But the school didn’t view it that way at all. The teacher was fuming. The principal called the parents in to talk to the teacher who told them, “His writing and thinking is too immature for this class because he doesn’t understand the use of metaphor.” The parents knew differently.
This teacher was the most popular teacher in the school who had been there for years – all the parents loved her. The school attempted to corner the parents. How could the parents possibly find anything out of line?
Nevertheless, the parents asked to remove their son from the class and to place him in concurrent enrollment at the junior college where he eventually earned his first years’ college credit early.
Meanwhile, his parents encouraged him to enter the Freedom Festival Speech Contest. The theme was “A Republic, If You Can Keep It.” They sent him in the right direction on all the research and they secured a good speech coach. He did the rest, and won. When he delivered his winning speech at the Patriotic Service to nearly 22,000 in the arena on the college campus, he got a standing ovation.
A popular church leader followed him and spoke about the virtues of democracy. By the next day, 100s of calls to request the speech were received in that church leader’s office.
This student is only one of many students whose minds are being manipulated toward a different social structure for society. It is unfortunately having great success, with the media’s assistance.
Granite School District Training for Cooperative Learning
In the mid-1990s, we traced the origin of “outcome based education” to Utah and once again TH Bell. The pilot program for the nation was conducted in Utah. I have a copy of the grant request.
We went before the State Office of Education who told us they were doing no such thing. The legislature believed them. Until we produced the copy of the grant, that is. That’s when we were able to craft a protection of privacy and to require parental approval for any testing, evaluation or assessment of values, attitudes and beliefs.
I was convinced that Utah was teaching its teachers the pedagogies we had fought in Dallas. So I requested to attend the Granite School District professional training in the mid-1990s. Indeed, they were teaching them how to set up the classroom for group, “cooperative learning.”
The example used was of Michaelangelo when he was painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The patrons were complaining that he was taking so long, and so they asked him to hire apprentices to speed it up, which he did. Due to what he considered inferior work, he fired them shortly after. The moral? According to the trainer, “He was a loner and didn’t know how to get along with the group. We just have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians in the classroom.”
I challenged that comment, and the room stared me down. I said, “Wait, I put my children into school so they can learn to be smart and to be good leaders, not good followers. The real story here is how Michelangelo was a singularly creative and gifted man, that everyone has some gift or talent that is unique to them. This was Michelangelo’s mission. Some things in life cannot be done as well in a group. Some of the best contributions to our civilization came from ONE individual, and ONE talent.”
But that would not be treating everyone as equals nor creating a collectivist mentality, would it?
Where did this pedagogy come from? In the mid-1980s the US Department of Education, under the direction of Utah’s Theodore H. Bell, Soviet-American education exchange agreements were made. I recently learned that the US also had a similar agreement with China. I have copies of these authorizations.
American schools began to incorporate the USSR’s techniques in the classroom. Even the director of assessment in Utah had gone to the Soviet Union and extolled the virtues of Soviet education. This has been the psychology of the classroom for many years now. It is the philosophy and the way of thinking for all good little socialists.
Is there any wonder so many socialists are emerging from public schools and entering politics as adults – even Republicans with socialist mindsets?
However, few found that connection to be believable back then. I would wager that few of our elected officials in the Utah legislature – or any state legislature – or Congress – would find it credible either, even if you put the evidence in front of their faces. I know, because I have done it many times.
A Utah Senator that was testifying in an education committee hearing before I was slated to testify against the International Baccalaureate program said, “My bill’s not about communism and the new world order. That’s the next one.”
I had never called it communism, nor had I ever referenced a new world order. Such mockery from useful idiots is what an uneducated electorate gives us and we deserve what we get.
At the end of the Utah legislative session on March 14, 2013, the House staged a mini-multimedia production to roast everyone. One of the legislators brandished a t-shirt in “honor” of Representative Brian King that said, “Communists have no class.” Everyone laughed.
But these are the people that are the elected guardians of our children’s education.
It was all in jest, but it was all true.