QOTD: Paulo Freire and False Charity

“True generosity consists precisley in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.”

                                                           — Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

This quote is for the folks who both: 

a) send their children to schools that provide small classroom settings, individualized attention, a plethora of academic, athletic and  social activities, and 

b) at the same time, push for public school students to follow a strict and mind numbing standardized testing agenda, at the expense of the more engaging, stiimulating and sometimes beneficial activities they insist their children receive.

Civics Education, Everyone!

How often do we engage students in the communities they live in?

How often are they given opportunities to play a role in changing local community policy?

Do educators and community leaders actively seek student involvement?

What happens to student engagement and core skills, such as writing and public speaking, when students play a role in local reform?

Jessica Lander’s recent Usable Knowledge post on the positive educational and social benefits of effective civic education outlines the ways in which the field of civics can demand that the players in the game master some of the skills that we deem most valuable in today’s society.

A friend of mine, who taught high school statistics for nine years, asked me, “What are professionals actually doing during the work day? The answer to this question may give us direction as to what students really should be learning.”

Some of the common work activities me and my friend both engaged in were drafting material, explaining next steps, and the status of projects via email, conducting and creating clear, concise and well organized research reports and giving presentations, short or long, on either our own ideas or research results.

I now often ask myself this question and have noticed that some of these daily tasks seem to have a common denominator:


This makes perfect sense, considering people don’t usually work in a bubble. But the jeey point here is we’re being asked to master various forms of communication, both written and verbal, throughout the work day. Knowing one skill, say verbal communication, isn’t good enough. We need to know how to effectively communicate with others in a concise manner. More importantly, we need to know that our written and verbal communication is to the point where we can confidently communicate with any member in or outside the organization.

So when Lander’s recalls her students rewriting and drafting emails, proposals and material for their presentations, when she recalls them going over their presentations for people who are the gatekeepers of change, it seemed to have given her students a realistic opportunity to want to put those skills to use. It gave them real reason to put those skills to use. It seemed act as an inside look to what being an active and engaged citizen looks like. Or rather, they were, in fact, being active and engaged citizens and that level of engagement opened their eyes to that democratic right.

Lander’s can clearly see the enormous potential civic education has. She notes throughout the post how what her students were doing was very hands on and practical, how it requires them to go beyond the five paragraph essay, as she says, and how it would take more than just a creative, dedicated, and passionate teacher in a classroom for students to really reap the benefits of this kind of engagement. It would take community involvement. In order for students to get the most out of civic education, they would need to leave the traditional classroom, so to speak.and actually emerge themselves in the issues of the community and then work on communicating why those are issues and how best to solve them.

What was troubling, but not surprising, was how the students had to go up against bureaucracy in their own school system:

We found, to our frustration, that our school’s administration barred us from asking for a meeting or otherwise directly contacting a number of district and state officials.

Relinquishing even small amounts of control can be difficult. But if school systems are committed to fostering civically engaged young people, they must be ready to take seriously the voices and ideas of their students.

The schools administration, in this case, proved to be stopping real education. More confusing is if district and state officials aren’t willing to speak with students in the neighborhoods they cover, who are they speaking to?…I digress.

The reality of this assignment is what makes it so successful and beneficial. Lander’s assignment is not like most assignments, wherein a student asks a teacher why an assignment needs to be done and the teacher says something along the lines of “it will make you a better writer” but there’s no real context, there’s no real vision attached to the assignment. Therefore, to some students, the purpose doesn’t seem real. As the title of the post suggests, the students’ presentations were being reviewed by real people who had the power to make real change and could really possibly take the students’ views and arguments into consideration. More than anything, the students were interacting with local leaders and business professionals in the same way those leaders and professionals would interact with one another.

Talk about preparing students for the future!

I’ll end with this well said nugget from the post:

When successful, civic education should be transformative. After all, civic engagement is about seeing needs in the community, knowing how to make change, and believing you have the power to do it. On that day, my students came away sure in their voice and confident that their voice was heard.

School Finance, Testing, Evaluations and Funding

School Finance 101 is a blog by Bruce Baker, a Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education professor. The blog’s focus is exactly what the name suggests: analysis of policy surrounding, and the impact of, school finance. 

Some students and their collective school’s academic performance is tied to wether a school gets more funding, a teacher gets a raise, bonus or gets removed from her current school. Compound this with the fact that there’s no thoroughly accurate way to calculate this link, and you have a door that opens itself to so serious flaws.

VAM, or the value added method, is said to be the closest algorithm that can determine how much impact a teacher has on her students. Some districts, states and the Department of Education (under programs, such as Obama’s Race to the Top initiatives), place heavy weight on this factor. But this is flawed for the obvious reason that there are far too qualitative factors that challenge students that can’t possibly be effectively quantified.

Some of these qualitative factors, such as a student’s personal, social, behavioral and mental issues, are different from student to student. Some of these issues can be so granular, I find it hard to believe that the data accurately can tell us something about how good or bad the teacher is.

But Bruce Baker takes this view to the next level by spelling out why high-stakes testing evaluations are untelling, troubling and ineffective.
In summaring a previous post, Baker writes:

The gist of the post was to explain that when we have estimates of student achievement growth linked to teachers, and when those estimates show that average growth is lower in schools serving more low income children, or schools with more children with disabilities, we really can’t tell the extent to which these patterns indicate that weaker teachers are sorting into higher need settings, or that teachers are receiving lower growth ratings because they are in high need settings. The reformy line of argument is that it’s 100% the former. That bad teachers are in high poverty schools, and that it’s because of bad teachers that these schools underperform. Fire those bad teachers. Hire all of the average ones waiting in line. 

There are teachers being labeled “weak” when they really aren’t weak but they’re in a weak system. Why is it so easy for people to believe that in order for a teacher to be “great” she must trascend her students issues? Why can’t people who have this view not see that we are far more complicated than that, and, our systems are far more complicated than that. A “great” teacher can be working with very troubled students, or even a small group of troubled students who interrupt the education and learning process of a larger group of students. These distractions take a way from the acquisition of knowledge (or rote memorization) time of the class as a whole. This in turn very well can make the classes average score lower than the score could have been if academically or behaviorally challenged students, who are young, inexperienced and fragile, didn’t sucumb to negative factors outside of the classroom.