education

Anaheim, California Schools Took Step onto the Slippery Slope of Eugenics

Cypress and Kennedy high schools in the Anaheim, California school district recently color coded students based on test scores. Every student was given a color coded ID card and binder. Besides creating a visible method for students to ostracize one another it also allowed the school the ostracize the students by giving the good test takers discounts and made the poor testers use a separate lunch line.

This horrific practice was instated to create an incentive for students to improve their test scores. Luckily, the Anaheim school district nixed the practice.

In a press release the school district stated:

The incentive programs at two AUHSD campuses were implemented with the best intentions. They were designed to support and encourage students to do their best on a state test they are mandated to take, but which does not directly impact their academic success in school.

If there has ever been a better indication that mandatory testing is not only useless, but also harmful this is it. Creating classes of students based on a test score that “does not directly impact their academic success” doesn’t help students. The incentive program itself is an absurd idea that is working at the problem backwards. A good grade in and of itself is a reward. Poor grades or test scores demotivate students by reinforcing low self-esteem in the students. Creating a prominent color coding system only agitates the negative feedback loop that students already suffer under.

Indeed, University of California professor, AnneMarie Conley, said that, “It goes against everything we know about student motivation and what helps students learn in productive ways.”

And while the school designed the system with the greatest of intentions, we all know what the road to hell is paved with. A system that encourages good test takers to view themselves as somehow better people, worthy of privileges and discounts that inferior students are not is an amazingly scary concept. It isn’t difficult to imagine that a color coded ID could quickly devolve into a dystopian eugenic nightmare where children can only socialize with a student of their class. There is no doubt that people at Cypress and Kennedy high schools would be aghast at the thought, but that doesn’t excuse them from steering the school system towards that darkened sky and rough murky waters.

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education

Classroom Discipline, Some Teachers Should Learn Lessons Taught in 1947

I can’t remember how I came upon this video on YouTube, but I am glad I did. It is amazing to me that a film on Maintaining Classroom Discipline made in 1947 can still be relevant. While it is true that the solutions in the video simplify things to a degree and that the issues inside and outside of the classroom have changed since then, the core idea of the video is still important and overlooked.

From my limited experience I can say that many teachers (certainly not all) have misguided approaches to running a classroom. The methods used by some teachers at a school I recently substituted at shocked me. They seemed ineffective, callous, and misguided. And my conversations with other teachers lets me know that these kinds of teachers are not only at this one school but many, if not most. However, the individuals shouldn’t be blamed. If it was one person then maybe pointing fingers would help, but it is not one person, it is many. The problem lies in the schools teaching teachers, and the administration in the schools they teach at. They need to teach, guide, and support teachers better.

Most issues in the classroom stem from the teacher, and that’s what this video gets at. Having teachers insult and bully the students leads to attitude and learning problems for students that can be nearly impossible to fix. I have listened as teachers said things to students like, “my dog behaves better than you kids” and “Billy1 use his time well? That’ll be the day, he doesn’t even know what his book looks like.”

Observing some teachers I am reminded of two studies. In the first study children were divided into two groups based superficial things. One group was then told it was smarter and superior to the other. The other group was told they were inferior. The first group excelled in the classroom, while the other group did poorly. I learned about this study in a child psychology class many years ago, it was a prerequisite for teachers, it is obviously an important study to learn from— yet it seems many teachers are unaware of how they are replicating this experiment in their own classrooms. [I learned of this study a long time ago and can’t remember who lead it, but it was fairly famous so if anyone knows of it please let me know.]

The second study is the famous Staford Prison Experiment. Sadly, there are many parallels between guard/prisoner and teacher/student dynamics. Of course, the guard/prisoner relationship is a more dramatic and cruel one, but there are similarities in the means of establishing authority, and the effects of that establishment that should not simply not exist. And yet they do.

This is not to say that every teacher is wrongheaded, mean, or provides a negative impact on students. It is to say that there are far too many teachers that are those things and they need to reevaluate the effects of their actions. But more importantly, the schools that teach teachers and the school that those teachers teach at need to support and educate teachers better. Every teacher has small failures with certain students in every class, but no teacher should fail even one student completely. It can be done.

1name changed.

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chess, education, technology

Chess Cheaters and Regular Cheaters are all Cheaters

The first time I ever heard of people cheating, it was Cyrano whispering sweet nothings into Christian’s ear to whisper to win Roxane’s love. Since then there has been a long line of people whispering answers to people in all sorts of ways. In fact some kids in China just got busted for whispering into microphones and walkie-talkies on a big exam a couple of days ago.

Chess isn’t free of these types of bad times either, in India a guy got busted for having a bluetooth device sewn into his hat, and he isn’t the only one, there are cheaters using a computers beat their human opponents everywhere (ish). But this isn’t a case of Chess getting ruined by computers, nor is it a problem of sliding ethics.

The thing is, cheaters have been around forever— if there is something where cheating is possible odds are someone will try. What’s changed are the methods, we no longer have only the low-tech cases like Cyrano whispering into an ear, or A-Rod smacking a baseball out of a glove, we also have people harnessing the power of silicon.

Confronted with the story of a jerk trying to pull a fast one with a bluetooth hat we know clearly he was cheating, we know he knew he was cheating, and that he deserves to be disqualified. So how is it that this question is less obvious when the conversation turns to the academic integrity of students? What’s more, how is it that anyone can claim the line between citation and plagiarism is even a little blurry?

Having taught at the college level for several years I can say without question that the students who cheat know they’ve cheated. They are not confused as to what is wrong and what is right. It often takes nothing more than a note asking for the student to come and talk to get an immediate and apologetic confession.

Writing about new concepts is tricky for students since they are forced to work through ideas they’ve just discovered at a fast pace, and that can lead to honest questions as to what needs to be cited and what doesn’t, or even questions as to what is their idea and someone else’s but those questions are non-existent in cases of cut & paste plagiarism. And when those legitimate questions do present themselves, at the college level, it is as much the more the students responsibility to seek guidance. Of course a responsible teacher should let the students know that this is their responsibility and go over examples of what is and what does and does not constitute academic dishonesty. Technology has changed the classroom in so many great ways, and while the methods for being dishonest have changed the rules of academic honesty have not. Students know this just like A-Rod knew he wasn’t allowed to knock the ball out of Arroyo’s glove, and just like Chess players know they can’t use a computer to tell them where to move.

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education, whatnot

Changes in Focus for Higher Education

As a culture we are moving more and more towards commodifying everything. Some of these things make sense, others might not. Education and art are examples of things that should maybe shouldn’t be commodified.

Search employment postings for an admissions rep and see what you get (emphasis added):

ADMISSIONS REP
Are you aggressive? Motivated? Strong closer? Money hungry? Direct sales rep? We are looking for you for our well established Baltimore location. All leads provided. Exp. preferred but will train.

and

Admissions Sales Representatives also facilitate the student recruitment process through intensive interviewing that includes telemarketing, personal selling, and generating leads through corporate and community outreach.

More and more schools are shifting their focus. Education is a job requirement and people are enrolling based on who will make them the most tempting to employers. Higher education once meant becoming a better person and increasing your knowledge and understanding of the world, but today it has shifted to preparing its students for work. This transition in higher education towards the vocational is often celebrated. Many schools pride themselves on teaching “job skills” and increasing “employability” and promote these qualities first and foremost. We see this shift in students as well, ask one why they are there. Wanting to find a job will come up, usually after some quick lip-service about wanting to learn.

Which is more important? Which should be? Would every student in college or at a university be there if they could get a job without going? The answer may say a lot. More importantly are we comfortable with this shift and where it will inevitably take us?

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