“…In his books The Disappearance of Childhood (1982) and Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), Postman makes the case that as society moves away from print culture–wherein knowledge is amassed in stages, sequentially, forcing greater levels of rigor, maturity, and comprehension upon the reader–and toward mass media, we begin to lose the mechanism for civic life. Indeed, Postman contends that greater literacy is inextricably linked with the core defining traits of adult cognition and discourse: ‘A child evolves toward adulthood by acquiring the sort of intellect we expect of a good reader: a vigorous sense of individuality, the capacity to think logically and sequentially, the capacity to distance oneself from symbols, the capacity to manipulate high orders of abstraction, the capacity to defer gratification,'”
Excerpted from: Natasha Vargas-Cooper. “Childhood’s End: Which Disney Princess Is Neil Postman?” The Baffler No. 35 (Summer 2017)
Elsewhere on this blog, I have written and commented on the issue of poverty and cognition. Friends and colleagues of mine across the country have complained that this is a forbidden issue in professional development sessions in their schools; administrators don’t want to hear about the struggles of poor kids in the classroom, preferring instead to flog the issue of educators’ “accountability.” If you been subjected to this (it happens, alas, in the institution in which I currently serve, as it has in others in this city where I’ve had the misfortune to work), you probably agree that the best thing that can be said about this discourse-ending trope is that it is tiresome.
It is also ignorant.
In any case, reading NEA Today, the magazine of the National Education Association over the past couple of days, I came across the union’s offer of this handbook on teaching children living in poverty or surviving trauma. I haven’t had a chance to look at it in depth, but it’s something I want to get out to readers of this blog. If you are working with struggling learners, there is a strong possibility, if not a strong probability, that they have been subjected to these social pathologies. We owe it to our students and ourselves to understand these challenges, and to use that understanding to improve practice.
Here’s something from Diane Ravitch’s Blog that is an issue of concern at Mark’s Text Terminal.
Diane Ravitch's blog
This is a very interesting and important graphic about “The Quantified Student.”
If you are concerned about data mining of your child or yourself, you are right to be concerned.
Our government and the corporate sector wants to know everything about us. They want to quantify our lives and use what they know to create Big Data.
Big Data can be useful in tracking public health trends and needs, but it can be destructive in defining solely as our data.
We are humans. We are not robots. Take a look at the graphic.
We must protect our privacy, our individuality, our voice, our uniqueness as human beings.
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Now that screen technologies have achieved ubiquity, it is surely time (actually, that time has long since passed in my estimation) to take a critical look at the way they are shaping our lives. My fascination with gizmos has never extended beyond their utility to help me manage my complicated workload. My smartphone is off a significant portion of the week; besides basic productivity applications, I only have word games on it, and I only reach for those in moments of ennui, or when I am stuck on a train.
Perhaps the most important place to apply critical analysis of these devices is in their use by children and adolescents. I don’t think these devices exactly do wonders for kids who already have short attention spans. Late last week, to my relief, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its guidelines for appropriate use of digital devices for children. I recommend a look; it’s long been clear to me that kids are spending too much time with this technology and not enough in parks, and in their own imaginations.
Here’s something from Arthur Goldstein’s blog, NYC Educator, by way of Diane Ravitch’s blog (I couldn’t find a “reblog” button on his site). Mr. Goldstein is a teacher of English language learners here in New York City, and therefore a distant colleague of mine. He does a very nice job in this post of exposing the inanity we are dealing with in our professional roles as educators in the five boroughs.
Diane Ravitch's blog
Arthur Goldstein has taught ESL students in New York City for decades, and he has one of the best blogs in the city, state, and nation, written from the view of a teacher.
In this post, he lacerates the administration of the New York City Department of Education for a grading policy that further diminishes the discretion of teachers to make judgments about what their students need and how they are progressing. I can’t help but think about the paradigm of all national systems, where teachers are carefully selected, well prepared, treated as masters of their profession, and trusted to do what’s best for their students.
The new NYC rule, Arthur says, is “you will differentiate instruction the same way for everyone.”
“That seems to be the main thrust of the new grading policy. A big thing, for me at least, is the policy on what is…
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I’ve been working my way slowly through Ross Greene’s books, If you teach struggling learners, I encourage you to take a look at his work. At the moment I’m reading The Explosive Child (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), in which Dr. Greene has this to say about homework (I prefer to use the term “independent practice”) and the inflexible child:
“Many parents, teachers, and school administrators believe that homework is an essential component of a child’s education. Which is fine, except that many inflexible-explosive children find homework to be incredibly frustrating because they don’t have any brain energy left after a long day at school, their medication has worn off, they have learning problems that make completing homework an agonizing task, or because homework–especially long-term assignments–requires a lot of organization and planning. Thus, it’s no accident that these children often exhibit some of their most extreme inflexibility and explosiveness when they are trying to do homework.
Do these difficulties render some children incapable of completing the same homework assignments as their classmates? Yes. Is it always possible to address these difficulties effectively? No. Does having a child melt down routinely over homework help him feel more successful about doing homework? No. Are these difficulties a good reason to alter or adjust homework assignments? Yes. I’ve yet to be convinced that the best way to instill a good work ethic in a child–or to help his parents become actively or productively involved in his education–is by inducing and enduring five hours of meltdowns every school night. The best way to instill a good work ethic is to assign homework that is both sufficiently challenging and doable in terms of quantity and content. Achieving this goal, of course, takes a little extra effort by the adults who are overseeing the assigning and completing of homework.”
Well, the month of September 2016 has passed us by, never to be seen again. I’ve been so busy getting the school year up and running that I barely noticed.
For the past two weeks, and for the next two weeks, Mark’s Text Terminal is featuring readings and reading comprehension worksheets in observance of Hispanic Heritage Month. In the process of preparing these posts, I’ve learned a lot about this celebration. If you teach in a school district that is as diverse as ours here in New York City, you are very likely working with a number of students of Hispanic descent. If so, you and your students might be interested in both the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and its Youth Awards program.
For my part, I offer as this week’s Text a reading on author and Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as well as a comprehension worksheet to accompany it. And now I must get back to work on planning.
As always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.