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Are Teachers Overpaid? By Some Standards, Yes November 13, 2011

Posted by Dindy in Schools, Uncategorized.
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A new study by conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, has concluded that public school teachers are overpaid compared to their counterparts with similar qualifications in the private sector. This is not a popular stance to take, of course, especially during this particular year when so many states have decided that one way to lower their expenses is to cut teaching jobs.

This happens to be a question that I can speak to somewhat knowledgeably since not only did I used to be a teacher, but I am a Human Resource wonk, with expertise in Compensation. In addition, I have spent most of my professional life working either in the public sector or the non-profit sector, both of which tend to have lower pay than the private sector.

So let’s look at the question of whether teachers are overpaid compared to comparable workers. When looking to see if different jobs are paid on an equitable basis, one of the things we so-called experts do is look at the level of education and experience required for the job. It is possible to walk into a teaching job with no experience, straight out of college. As long as one has a Bachelor’s Degree, one can teach.

Starting teachers in Texas make $40,000 to $50,000 a year, or even more, which isn’t bad for someone fresh out of college with no experience. It’s even better if you consider that this is for ten months of work. If you converted this to a full year salary for 12 months of work, you get $48,000, which, again, is pretty good for someone fresh out of college.

Teachers, quite rightly point to the fact that their job is not an 8 to 5  job, that they spend countless hours after school and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons, that the importance of their job should be considered when making decisions about pay, and that theirs is one of the hardest jobs in the world (well, I might actually quibble with that last one because I have been a teacher and I can tell you that there are jobs that are MUCH more difficult). They will also tell you that they spend their summers working on their Masters degree so they can move into a higher level of pay and improve their level of knowledge, so it’s not as though they are lounging around the pool all summer sipping mint juleps. (Actually, when I was a teacher, I did spend my summers lounging around the pool and playing with my kids. I did not sip mint juleps, however.)

Nevertheless, let’s stipulate that teachers have  hard jobs and important jobs, so we can look at some other public sector employees. For instance, child protective workers. Child Protective workers are a lot like teachers in some ways. You can walk into a Child Protective Services job with a 4-year degree and no experience. The jobs are certainly important, and are difficult and often dangerous. Social workers often go into some of the worst neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night and talk to hostile, possibly violent people, to determine whether the conditions are severe enough to warrant removing a child from the home. Child Protective Service workers work 12 months of the year and frequently have shifts in the evenings or weekends. They are often on call 24 hours a day. If they want to get a Master’s Degree, they do so during their off hours, and once they attain that degree, it won’t necessarily improve their pay, unless they move to a higher level position.

For their trouble, entry-level Child Protective Services workers in Texas are paid about $26,000 to $30,000 a year. It takes them about ten years to get up to $40,000. If you compare hourly rates, beginning teachers in Texas make about $23.08 per hour, compared to $12.50 an hour for Child Protective Service workers.

Librarians are another public sector employee. The average starting salary for an entry-level Librarian in Texas is $40,000, which is comparable to our starting salary for teachers. However, librarians are required to have Masters level degrees. They work 12 months of the year and often work evenings and weekends. Many of them are not able to have two days off in a row on a regular basis because of scheduling issues at their work place. As someone who practically lived in my hometown library when I was growing up, I can attest to the importance of what they do.

So if we compare the hourly rate of a librarian to that of a teacher, the librarian makes $19.23 per hour, compared to $23.08 for teachers. Ironically, many librarians pick up their teaching certificates along the way so they can work as a  school librarian and make more money than their counterparts in the public libraries, while at the same time enjoying better hours and vacation benefits.

I’m not going to compare the salaries of teachers with those of private sector jobs because I think it is apples and oranges. It’s like comparing the pay rate of a police officer to a security guard. It just isn’t a valid comparison. However, it seems pretty clear that when it comes to public sector salaries, at least, teachers don’t do too badly when compared to other pubic sector jobs.

But that is just entry-level salaries. There is a problem with teacher salaries, but it’s not what people think it is. The starting salary for a teacher is actually pretty good, but if you take a look at teachers with ten or more years of experience in the classroom, their salary is not much higher than the starting salary. In Texas, teacher pay caps out at about $60,000 a year. Whereas most people who start a job after college and stay in the same career field can expect to see their pay rate climb as they move into higher level positions, teachers see their pay rate flatten.

The problem is that their job remains pretty much the same no matter how many years of experience they have. After the first three or four years, a teacher with five years of experience is doing pretty much the same job as a teacher with ten years of experience, who, in turn, is doing the same job as a teacher with 20 years of experience. If anything, their job has become a little easier because they can recycle their lesson plans each year instead of having to create them from scratch, and the more familiar they become with the material–  by virtue of teaching it over and over again–  the easier it is to teach it.

Sure, after a few years they might become a “Master Teacher” or they might pick up some additional certifications which they can use to boost their pay a little, but they are still teachers. If they want to make more money, they need to change their jobs: move into administration, for instance, or go into another profession.

Librarians are in a similar situation, but they do have some upward mobility in their jobs– they can become head of a section of the library, or specialize in a particular subject area. Child Protective Service workers rarely stay around for more than a few years, but the ones who manage to stick it out will generally move up into higher levels of administration and will see their pay increase accordingly.

Most teachers say that they want to stay in the classroom, that they went into the field because they wanted to teach and that there are rewards beyond money to what they do.  Having been a teacher, I can agree with that– not only did I love working with the kids and imparting knowledge to them, but I enjoyed being home when my kids were home, having summers off and two weeks off at Christmas. I never expected to make a lot of money as a teacher, and I didn’t.

Yes, in an ideal world we would pay teachers a salary that is representative of the intrinsic value of what they do. In the real world, however, their salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars and in this particular day and age especially, taxpayers are loath to part with those precious dollars to increase wages for those who work for them.

So back to the original question– are teachers overpaid? Well, looking at it using standard compensation practices, yes they are when compared against similarly situated public sector employees. However, I would prefer to say that the problem is not that teachers are overpaid, but that social workers and librarians are underpaid.

Despite what those of the American Enterprise Institute would have us believe, there is an intrinsic value to the services provided by teachers that is seldom matched in the private sector. They may not be underpaid, but most of them deserve every penny they get. To paraphrase the song, “They work hard for the money so you’d better treat them right.”

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Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry

and

“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.

“Yes.”

“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.

Smarter Activism March 18, 2011

Posted by frrobins in activism, communication, critical thinking, Current Events, iraq, Memories, Personal, Politics, Schools.
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It might seem ironic that I went through a crisis of faith as a college student. That’s the best way my husband and I could describe it. I went through this even though I was and am an atheist. Born and raised. Yet while some atheists run away in fear from the word ‘faith’ there are things I did and still do have faith in. For me this came from my Humanistic philosophy. I believe that people are mostly good and will do the right thing. And this was where the crisis in faith came in.

The invasion of Iraq and subsequent re-election of Bush were what caused it. I knew that we had no valid reason for invading Iraq. I felt it was morally wrong. And I could not believe so many people supported it. I protested, wrote letters, pestered my acquaintances with anti-war rhetoric. I did the stuff that reformers before me did that lead to progress. No one ever told me that those reformers experienced more failures than successes in their life. While Susan B. Anthony secured some property rights for women, she fell way short of her big goal of earning the right to vote. And the setback were numerous.

It was bad enough that Iraq was invaded. It was worst that Bush was actually re-elected. I wore my CD player out with Green Day’s American Idiot and went through a period of several years where I gave up on activism all together. People were idiots and it was useless trying to reason with them. It was a small comfort that shortly after his re-election people woke up to their mistake, and that long term Iraq has been considered a fiasco. It doesn’t change the fact that many have died unnecessarily and that things are worse now.

Eventually I got back into activism, though not the way I did before. I hope I’m doing it smarter. How? Well, trying to figure out how to repackage my message.

This is hard. Studies have shown that when people are entrenched in a position, reading evidence against their position only strengthens their previously held beliefs. Then there is the confirmation bias, where people seek out information that confirms their beliefs. Making it unlikely they’d even read what I have to say anyway.

So, how to reach across the aisle and convince people of the validity of my viewpoint? This isn’t an “I’m smart and right, you’re an idiot and wrong’ thing. For instance, I really don’t care about your religious beliefs, so long as you don’t try to impose those beliefs on me. What I’m talking about is stuff that does affect me. Such as global warming. The evidence supports that it is occurring and we need to do something about it. This affects me. How do I make people see the reality of the threat here and, more importantly, get them to see the importance of eco-friendly planning? Fear mongering works. People are irrational creatures. Rather than think rationally we think with our emotions. Even the most logical person will think irrationally in the throes of fear and anger. Hence, how we found ourselves in Iraq.

I don’t like fear mongering. I respect its power and I don’t like it. I don’t want to scare people into making decisions…it tends to lead them into making the wrong ones. I want people to look at the evidence rationally and make informed decisions.

So people don’t make decisions about important things rationally. I’m against using irrational means to spread information even if it benefits my cause. How do I get around this? I know! Teach kids critical thinking skills while they’re young!

Consider that a lot of people don’t know how to make informed decisions because they were never taught how. I’m going to use Shirley Sherrod as an example. An edited video came out showing that Sherrod, a black woman, discriminated against a white farmer. Or did it? When the full video was seen, it was obvious that Sherrod had done no such thing. By that time it was too late. Her reputation was damaged and she had lost her job.

What if, rather than judging Sherrod by a few video clips, people had watched the full tape from the beginning? It is ridiculously easy to manipulate sound bites or take written words out of context. What if people looked up the original source of a quote/video/sound bites, etc?

All of this can be taught. It’s not difficult to learn. Kids can learn it in history class. What if, instead of memorizing dates of events they will forget during summer break, we teach kids skills that historians use to determine what happened in the past? What if we explain the difference between a primary and secondary source and have kids find examples of each. What if we show how information can be corrupted, either intentionally or unintentionally?

Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” In Antonia Frasier’s biography of this infamous queen, she details how this quote had been attributed to many an unpopular queen through history, and how with Marie Antoinette it stuck. This misinformation pervades our past, present, and will be out there in our future. How do we inoculate our kids against it?

What if we showed how words and information can be manipulated by governments and other groups of people and taught children how to check their facts, think critically, and question what they see and read?

Of course, this would require a major overhaul of how we see education in America. It would require letting go of our standardized testing fetish and introducing a more difficult curriculum into the classroom. It would mean teaching kids that may be our government wasn’t always all good. And I live in a state that wants to use history class as a propaganda machine for saying that the reason the south succeeded was a state’s rights issue that had nothing to do with slavery *sighs*.

So how to reform the schools to teach critical thinking? How to convince people that this is needed? Especially when giving out harmful standardized tests is a big money maker for some people and the current broken system benefits some politicians? I can already hear cries of liberals wanting to brain wash children into godlessness, when in reality I could care less about their religious beliefs and just want people to think critically about issues that affect us all (we’re not on this rock alone). Heck, critical thinking is the opposite of brainwashing. I use it even with sources I trust or things I want to believe.

For instance, Jon Stewart once made the comment that Sarah Palin made rape victims pay for their rape kits. Alarmed, I went the check and found that while her chief of police did this, whether or not Palin supported it is undetermined. Now, I dislike Palin. I think she is harmful to the women’s movement and like to collect ammunition against her. But if I start passing around misinformation, then I look like a fool.

So, to get people to think critically about issues we need to teach these skills in school, which means reforming an educational system that favors rote teaching and blind acceptance, which means convincing people that changing it to teach critical thinking is a worthy goal without using fear mongering. Whew! So ladies and gents, how do I pull that off? Well, if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them. Because I haven’t figured it out yet.

Thoughts on Tiger Mom February 20, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Books, Parenting, Schools.
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As promised in my previous post, I am now writing my thoughts about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. Like many people, I was horrified when I read an excerpt from her book titled Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. Later I read another article maintaining that Chua’s book was not a how to manual but a memoir and that the article strung things together to make the book seem worse than it really was. I thought of recent events such as the unfair persecution of Shirley Sherrod when her words were deliberately taken out of context and decided to read the book for myself.

Honestly, the first article gave a pretty good overview of what you will find in the rest of the book. Yes, it was a memoir and Chua’s methods did blow up in her face, yet her conclusion seemed to be more that her draconian methods worked well for her older daughter, Sophia, but not for her younger daughter, Lulu. Then it changed to that her methods worked for Lulu, but in a round about way.

Throughout the book Chua employs abusive, torturous methods to ensure that her daughters succeed. When she sits down with three-year-old Lulu to teach her to play the piano, and Lulu acts like a typical three-year-old and bangs away at the keys, Chua throws her outside in New England in the dead of winter in the snow. The girls had to practice their instruments every day for many hours a day. Chua reported that if they were sick, they still had to practice. One girls had dental surgery and she still had to practice. Chua would be over their shoulder the whole time screaming abuse (Sophia’s lists of what Chua said when she was practicing was disheartening to read). Even on vacations, they still had to practice. For her birthday when four-year-old Lulu and seven-year-old Sophia give her homemade cards, Chua rejects the cards saying the girls put little thought into them and she expected better.

She justifies this by saying that when the girls’ grandmother died they composed beautiful speeches for her funeral because she made them give her good birthday cards. Never mind the fact that the girls were grieving and said they didn’t want to write and give a speech. And never mind the fact that Chua made 12 year-old Sophia throw out her first draft, saying it was no good, and insisted on a better one.

The litany of abuses is long. And while the book is a memoir as opposed to a how-to manual, you never get the sense that Chua regrets her methods. When Lulu completely rebels (gee, who saw that coming?) by throwing glasses in a restaurant in Moscow Chua finally backs down and lets Lulu quit the violin. Lulu decides she doesn’t want to completely quit (ie, playing thirty minutes a day instead of 5 hours) and that she wants to play tennis as well. When Lulu’s tennis instructor comments that he’s never seen anyone improve as fast as Lulu and that she knows how to drill, Chua seems to take this as proof that her methods worked in a round about way, that she taught Lulu how to work hard and that she just needed to let her have some control.

Like myself, a lot of Western readers were also uncomfortable with the contempt she had for Western parenting techniques. Though she plays lip service to the idea that anyone can be a Chinese mother and Western parent, it’s obvious that she doesn’t really feel that way. Now, I think some of it is reactive. She most likely grew up hearing people criticize her parents for how she was raised, and then as an adult met with criticism about how she raised her daughters. As a result, she criticizes the “lax” Western ways that lead to kids playing Wii all day. She really doesn’t do herself a lot of favors, though.

Especially because as she stereotypes Western parenting methods as weak and permissive, she stereotypes “Chinese” ones as strict and abusive.

I remember when I first started watching a lot of Japanese anime. I was surprised by how many focused on a character who didn’t do well in school. Used to be when I thought of Japan I thought of a place where everyone must make straight As. Turns out, like in the west, there are students who make straight A, students who make Bs, and those who fail school. There are some who drop out of school all together. Like students in the west they run the gamut, even though as a whole they test better than us. I imagine the same is true for China.

And from the studies I’ve read the higher test scores do not result from abusive parenting, but from other factors, some of which Chua does employ but doesn’t seem to pay much mind to. In the West, people’s abilities tend to be seen as fixed. When a kid does well on a test, we tell him/her that s/he is so smart. In the East, parents tend to remark that s/he worked hard studying for a test. The difference is subtle but leads to startling results when the child has a hard time with a subject.

In the West, when a child has difficultly with a subject s/he tends to assume it’s because s/he isn’t smart or that s/he is no good at the subject and gives up. In the East, s/he assumes that s/he isn’t working hard enough and puts more effort into it.

The other thing they do in the East is use preschool as a time to learn about how to be a student. In the West we tend to see preschool as a time for kids to get ahead by learning their ABCs and how to do math. The thing is, sitting and listening, developing skills, taking notes, doing homework, etc are not things that children instinctively know how to do. Like ABCs and 1, 2, 3s, they have to be taught…preferably before you get to the ABCs. Hence children in the East are given lessons on how to be a good student while in the West we throw our children into the water without teaching them how to swim.

Chua employed both of the above methods with her daughters. Which is great. And along the way she threw in a good deal of torture and abuse. Which isn’t.

And you see plenty of it with Western families. I remember riding in a car with a friend while her mother berated her for not getting As. My friend was humiliated, especially to have it happen in front of an audience. I’ve seen my fair share of Western parents employ authoritarian techniques on their children. And throughout the book I was reminded of the concept of the stage mother, a western concept.

Like plenty of Western parents, Chua believed erroneously that she could force her daughters to do anything she wanted them to do. At least Chua came to realize that she couldn’t. Most authoritarian parents never do. It’s unfortunate that she only came to this realization after spending seventeen years of Sophia’s life and thirteen years of Lulu’s utilizing harsh, draconian techniques.

Oh Those Teachers! February 16, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Books, Memories, Personal, Schools.
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I’ve been reading the infamous Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. For those not familiar with the book, Chua caused quite a stir when an excerpt from her book was published maintaining that Chinese parenting methods are superior. To many readers, Chua’s methods didn’t seem superior, they seemed authoritarian and abusive. Later another article was published saying that Chua’s words were taken out of context to be far worse than it actually was. So I decided to read it for myself and see. I’m almost done and will have more thoughts on that later. One thing that really jumped at me in her book, though, is her criticism of “Western” parents for siding with their children rather than teachers.

According to her, if a Western child gets poor grades, parents blame the teacher. If a “Chinese” child does, then the parents work that much harder with the child. You never criticize the teacher. Ever.

I do know of parents who seemed unable to believe that their child was anything less than perfect and did, as Chua maintained, unfairly blame the teacher. Yet they were in the minority. If anything my experience has been that sometimes parents aren’t complaining enough.

There are a lot of good teachers out there. And there are some teachers that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a classroom. When I was in junior high, there were several teachers who fit the bill. Perhaps the worst was the one I was fortunate only to hear about as I was not in his class. Though I knew to stay far away from his classroom. You were liable to be hit by a flying book traveling out of the classroom through the door and into the hall. I wish I were joking.

Yes, he threw books. He threw pens, pencils, chalk, erasers, papers, anything on his desk, anything he could find. He was known for manhandling students in a fit of anger. Anger management was apparently something he was quite unfamiliar with. What’s amazing is that for two of the three years I was at that school, he was there. During my last year in junior high, either the school wised up to the fact that he was a law suit waiting to happen or a parent did finally complain, because he was gone and good riddance. Last I checked, students don’t learn well in an environment where the teacher could physically harm them at any minute.

Another teacher, Coach H., was one I was not so lucky to miss out on. Supposedly, the class I was taking from him was Texas history. I say supposedly because I learned very little about Texas history in his class. On the first day of class he talked about actors, actresses and athletes who were from Texas (half of whom he just happened to know and be friends with, of course). And we had to memorize trivia about these famous people because there would be a quiz on them. Yup, Texas history of the modern rich and famous.

Then there were the movies. He showed us The Birds. No, this was not a nature documentary about the native birds of Texas, but the Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s a good movie. I have no idea what it has to do with Texas history. May be one of the actors was from Texas. Another movie we watched was The Bad Seed. Once again, no idea about how this movie relates to Texas history.

He showed us Dallas Cowboy football games. While I see the connection, I somehow doubt that the school board this in mind when drafting the curriculum.

When he wasn’t showing us movies and sports games, he was using the classroom as a pulpit to expose his views on just about everything. He talked about how school prayer should be allowed and how the horrible liberals would take the pledge away. He maintained that a woman could be as ugly as hell, but if she was a good cook she would be able to bag herself a man. After flaunting that bit of sexism, he then asked “How many of you GIRLS can cook?” and went around the classroom interrogating each girl on what she could cook and giving disapproving looks to the ones who couldn’t cook much. He then asked the ones who could cook to demonstrate their knowledge by taking everyone step by step on how to make spaghetti with homemade sauce. If someone can see the connection to Texas history, please let me know because I can’t.

Now while I think it’s important for children to be exposed to other points of view, the teacher should not act as the arbiter of the “correct” view vs “incorrect” view. There’s a difference between facilitating a discussion between students and spouting off your own views while disparaging other points of view. Let’s just say I was often very uncomfortable in his class.

The closest he came to talking about Texas history was when he talked about the hard life of a cattle rancher. And his idea of teaching was, after the whole class had failed a test, having us spend a class period reading and re-reading the same chapter over and over.

For another assignment he wanted us to draw a map of the United States. Why, I don’t know, but he gave a long speech on how he didn’t want a rush job (though he only gave us a few days to complete it). Well, I can’t draw. It’s something I REALLY wanted to be able to do. I took classes when I was in elementary school and practiced a lot. However, I have a spectrum of learning disabilities, several of which affect my fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. I never got good at it. I spent hours drawing the map. I worked really hard on it. I thought it turned out well all things considered.

I guess he didn’t. He turned it back into me with “Rush job!” written across it. Which smacked. He had no way of really knowing how long I spent on it. And it still didn’t have anything to do with Texas history.

My grades suffered. Usually history was one of my best subjects. And my grades in other courses remained good. From what I related to them, it wasn’t too hard for my parents to believe that I had a dud teacher. They complained and asked for me to be placed in a different class.

I remember the skepticism directed at me by my new history teacher. She believed I was the problem, not Coach H. I actively participated in her class. I got good grades. Half way through the sixth week grading period when progress reports were sent out, I had an A in her class. She wrote on the report that my grades were based on daily work only, no tests. When I was finally tested it didn’t matter. I still had an A. And for the rest of the year I made an A in her class. I don’t know what she eventually made of me, but I do know I was lucky to be out of his class. One of my friends wasn’t so lucky.

Her mother complained, but for whatever reason she had a harder time getting her daughter out of Couch H.’s class. And Coach H. started to target her in class, playing himself as a victim of her persecution. What is ironic is that while he was targeting my friend for having a parent who complained about him, he spent quite a lot of his class time talking about how his childrens’ teachers were so unfair to them and how he had to constantly go up there and correct those errant teachers!

Yes, Coach H. was a piece of work. Eventually we learned that he got transferred to another school…one where the parents would be less likely to complain.

As I mentioned above, I’ve seen teachers unfairly singled out by the irate parent who thinks that his/her precious darling couldn’t have possibly gotten a failing grade. And I’ve seen parents stay quiet when they should complain. Me and every other student in Coach H.’s were not learning about history. And without our input, nothing would have changed.

I find myself wondering what Tiger Mom would have done if Coach H. had taught one of her daughters. I doubt that she would have been thrilled with her girls watching football games when they should be learning about Stephen F. Austin. I wonder if she would have asked for them to be moved to a different class or if she would have told them to suck it up and memorize which cities Phylicia Rashād and Nolan Ryan are from. And if the latter, I wonder what would have been gained.

Better Late Than Never February 9, 2011

Posted by frrobins in atheism, Christianity, Memories, Personal, Religion, Schools.
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Like many people, I always think of the perfect comeback long after a discussion has subsided. I’ll usually be driving home, replaying the conversation in my head when the perfect response will come to me. Well, this one came about ten years too late. It’s such a good one that I felt the need to share.

Way back in high school, I was sitting in my physics class, waiting for the bell to ring to signal the start of class. Beside me, one of my peers was reading outloud from a Bible. From her self-righteous bearing I know she was just daring someone to tell her to stop. I didn’t take the bait.

Yet now it occurs to me I should have said, “Hey, can you read Gen 19:30 for me please? It is one of my favorites!”

The Choices We Make in High School April 12, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Current Events, Family Values, Gay Lesbian Issues, Schools, Uncategorized.
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There has been a great deal of wholly justified outrage at the “separate but equal” prom the parents and students of Itawamba Agricultural High School in Itawamba, Mississippi, held to avoid having to attend the prom with lesbian teenager Constance McMillen. Facebook pages and websites have sprung up to voice support for Constance and to castigate the citizens, students, administration, teachers and schoolboard of Itawamba. When some mean spirited students posted pictures of the private prom on a Facebook page called “Constance, Quit Yer Cryin’ “, McMillen’s supporters overtook the page, flooding it with messages of support for Constance and setting up their own page to support her.

To recap, when  Constance McMillen sought to attend her senior prom, wearing a tux and accompanied by her girlfriend, the high school  canceled the prom.  The judge who issued a preliminary ruling that McMillen’s rights had been violated failed to require the school to reinstate the prom because he was told that parents were already planning to hold a private prom. What the parents neglected to tell the judge, however, was that they actually were planning two proms– one for Constance and once for everybody else in the senior class– with the exception of some students with learning disabilities who evidently did not meet the standards to attend the secret prom.

The rhetoric has reached such a high pitch that Constance purportedly issued a message asking people to stop emailing students from the high school and begging everybody just to chill. She added that she had a lot of friends at the high school who supported her and who did not deserve the hatred being showered upon them. My first thought upon hearing this was that Constance is showing a whole lot more maturity and sensitivity than most of the people involved in this sorry saga. My second thought was to wonder about the choice her friends made, because at some point they CHOSE to exclude someone who was supposedly their friend from one of the most important events in a high schooler’s life. They CHOSE not to go to the prom to which Constance was invited. They CHOSE to go to the secret prom.

What thought processes were going through their minds, I wonder? Everyone wants their prom to be very, very special. The students who were faced with the decision of which prom to attend probably had a lot of things going through their minds– whether to go to a prom with almost all the other members of their class or to go to one attended by only 7 people? Whether to face the heckling and hatred of their other classmates if they went to the fake prom or whether to follow the crowd and deliberately hurt Constance and the learning disabled students who attended the fake prom?

Knowing how strong peer pressure is, I don’t suppose I can get too angry at Constance’s friends who went to the secret prom rather than standing by their friend against such blatant persecution. Constance doesn’t have a choice about being who she is, however, but the students with whom she goes to high school had a choice about which prom to attend. I can’t help but wonder, twenty years from now when Constance’s friends are looking at their high school prom pictures, will they wish they had made a different choice?

Talking the Plane Down March 16, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Current Events, Schools, Uncategorized.
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You all have seen the movies. The jet airliner full of passengers and the pilot and co-pilot suddenly stricken with food poisoning and unable to fly the plane. The hapless passenger who gets plucked from his seat and handed the controls of the airplane while on the ground a grizzled old war pilot with a hundred years of experience– usually one who is undergoing a “what use am I to anybody now that I am 150 years old and no longer able to fly?” type of crisis– talks reassuringly to the erstwhile pilot and guides him step by step through landing the plane.  As the relieved passengers leave the plane, the beautiful flight attendant kisses the hero and tells him that he saved everybody’s lives and he replies, “No, I couldn’t have done it without the help of Old Jake,” while the grizzled old veteran blinks a tear out of his eye and rides off into the sunset.

The passengers of that plane were lucky that they don’t live in Texas because if the Texas State Board of Education had been in charge, instead of getting Old Jake to talk the plane down, they would have pulled a minister in to pray with the passengers of the plane after a banker made sure they understood the benefits of the free enterprise system.

Far fetched? Not to anyone who has been following the escapades of the Texas State Board of Education in adopting the standards for Social Studies textbooks in the State of Texas, a process that will have ripple effects throughout the rest of the United States because of the clout Texas wields over all the textbook publishers because of its size.

In a process that was so acrimonious that one member walked out of the meeting in protest, the right wing faction of the BOE succeeded in passing such measures as requiring students to describe how “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” (I suppose twenty years from now a similarly situated panel will be directing students to learn how the search for WMD in Iraq provided justification for the Iraq War.)

Plenty of other columnists have lambasted the individual measures of the proposals– and there is plenty of fodder to lambast– but I have to ask, why are we letting a group of politicians make decisions concerning what will be taught in public schools to begin with? If your car is broken down are you going to call up your local school board member and ask him how to fix it or are you going to take it to a mechanic? If you need to have a tooth pulled are you going to go wait for a member of the Board of Education to have a chance to yank it for you or are you going to go to a dentist? Oh- wait a minute! One of the members of the Texas  BOE IS a dentist, so lucky you can actually get someone there who is qualified to pull your tooth!

But my point is, why aren’t experts in the subject area making determinations about what should be taught? Among the members of the Texas State BOE we have 4 teachers, 1 school administrator, 1 substitute teacher/instructor/test monitor, 2 attorneys, 2 realtors, 1 investment banker, 1 businessman, 1 dentist and a couple of professional volunteers. Very few of these members would be qualified to be hired as a teacher in a Social Studies classroom, yet they are making decisions about what will be taught in those classrooms?

We cannot hold teachers accountable for poor outcomes if the standards are stupid to begin with. If we want to improve education in the United States, we need to look at the top and evaluate the processes whereby curriculum decisions are made– and I do not believe that allowing a group of people who have little to no specialized education or expertise in the field of
Social Studies is the best way to determine what should be taught in such classes.

The United States – A Secular Government, a Christian Culture March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Religious Right, Schools.
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In Texas we have had our Texas School Board discussing what our social studies and history curriculum should be.  Given that this standard will stay for 10 years and that as one of the largest consumers of textbooks this decision could have a national impact. 

 Needless to say, since this is Texas, the religious conservatives have a nice majority on the Education Board.  Which means that this is not going the way that I think it should. 

 For example, there was a proposal to teach students about why our Founding Fathers considered the separation of church and state of such importance.  It was promptly shot down since the majority of the School Board considers the separation of church and state a myth and the United States a Christian nation founded to be so by our Founding Fathers.

 As evidence they point to several utterances of various Founding Fathers supporting the virtues of Christianity or their actions in supporting religion.  However there are three historical facts that to me shout out very loudly that these people are wrong:  our Founders meant for the United States government to be secular and not a Christian one. 

 The first of these facts is that nowhere in the Constitution, other than a dating convention, is there a mention of God.  There is no mention of Christianity or Jesus.  Nowhere.  This is especially telling since there was a motion to mention Christianity or at least God somewhere in the Constitution.  This motion was not acted upon.  Rather a strange thing to do if they had intended for the United States government to be a Christian one.  Especially considering the fact that every state constitution at that time did mention either God, Jesus, or Christianity. 

 The second fact is that the Constitution barely, and I mean barely, passed.  It was voted on by conventions in every state and in each and every state it was a political battle; one that was lost in some and won in others.  One of the criticisms of the Constitution brought up by many who were against it was that it did not include a mention of God or Christianity.  Yet despite the closeness of the vote and the importance they placed on enacting the Constitution none of the Founding Fathers tried to modify it to gain a few votes.

 The third fact is the Treaty of Tripoli.  This treaty was signed on Nov 4, 1796.  After having been read in its entirety on the Senate floor it was unanimously (23 or the 32 Senators were in attendance) ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797.  The treaty was signed by President John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, on June 10, 1797. 

 Of interest here is article 11, which states:

 “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

At a time when George Washington, Thomas Jeffereson,  James Madison, and many of the other founders were still alive this government document explicitely states that the “Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.   It passed without protest, without debate, and unanimously.  And was signed by another of our Founding Fathers, President John Adams. 

When you put these three facts together it is very hard to see how it could be claimed that we are founded as a Christian government.  Especially when you toss in a couple of other supporting facts:

–         There is no religious test for public office.  In fact it was explicitly prohibited.  And this at a time when the state constitutions often did require a religious test to hold public office.

–         The state governments over the years gradually dropped those religious requirements and also mention of God and Christianity; following the lead of the United States Constitution.

–         That there were several attempts to change the Constitution to include a mention of God or Christianity.  There was a large push during President Jackson’s Presidency as well as again after the Civil War.  All failed.  

 Then how can the quotes and actions those who oppose the seperation of church and state be reconciled with these facts.  There are several items to keep in mind here:

–         Not all of our Founding Fathers thought alike ( After all, one did present a motion to include God in our Constitution even though it was not acted upon).  In fact they often disagreed with each other with a ferocity that makes it even more amazing that they managed to find compromises that allowed them to create our Constitution. 

–         There is a difference between a nation’s culture and its government.  While it is undoubtedly true that our culture is Christian it is also undoubtedly true that our Founders set up a secular government as the best way to protect the religoius rights of all.

–         At the time of our Founding the states were not required to follow the Bill of Rights.  That was a limitation on the Federal government and not on the State governments.  What would be proper for a State official to do would not for a Federal one. 

o       This can be most clearly seen in regards to the abolition movement.  Many of the southern states outlawed any books or tracts promoting abolition and arrested those who spoke out against slavery.  Free Speech only applied at the Federal and not the state level. 

o       It was the passage of the 14th Amendment after the civil war which changed this and made the Bill of Rights apply to the State government as well as the Federal government. 

In summary then our Founding fathers did indeed set up a secular government amidst a Christian culture. 

The reason why? 

That is my next blog “What Most Have Forgotten”

If It Takes a Village, Why Fire Only the Teachers? March 11, 2010

Posted by Dindy in Current Events, Schools, Uncategorized.
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In Central Falls, RI, seventy-four teachers and nineteen staff members at the high school are being fired because of chronic low performance by the students.  I have to wonder why it is only the teachers and front line staff who are being fired. Why not fire the administrators who make up the rules under which the teachers perform? Why not fire the parents for not making sure their children come to school prepared to learn? Why not fire the members of the legislature for putting politics over substance by implementing Teach to the Test policies that don’t actually improve education? Why not fire the local government for failing to turn the town economically so that forty-one percent of the town’s children live in poverty?

To say that the teachers at Central Falls High School are by themselves responsible for the failure of the students to learn is ignoring all the other elements that go into educating students. Teachers don’t teach in a vacuum– they use textbooks that are approved by the state and teach to curriculum guidelines set by the state. They work in conjunction with special ed services provided by the district, oversight from the district, supplies provided by the student, the parents, the school district, the state or private donors. The students themselves come to teachers through the courtesy of previous teachers who were responsible for ensuring that the kids finish the school year ready to tackle next year’s material. The teachers operate under discipline policies set by the district under the auspices of the School Board. They teach students that come to them each day with hungry bellies because their parents can’t afford to put dinner on the table and who seldom see their parents because of the long hours they put in at work. Yet, the teachers at this school are expected to be held accountable for the failures of an entire community.

Firing teachers is the kind of thing politicians like because it makes it look as though they are holding educators accountable, but in reality all they are doing is making the teachers scapegoats for failures that are endemic to the system. If students at Central Falls High School are failing to learn, it is because the entire system has failed them, not just the teachers.