Week Links in Education: Feb. 4

Some stories and essays, especially related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A đź•› symbol warns about a metered paywall.

Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History has accepted the donation of Bobbi Wilson’s collection of spotted lanternflies. At nine years old, Wilson was also honored by the Yale School of Public Health for her efforts to control the invasive insect in her neighborhood.

Pandemic funding helped drive schools’ student-to-counselor ratio to its lowest level since statistics began in 1986.

In New York City, school workers struggle to support nearly 9,000 children who have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19.

A faculty committee report blamed đź•› the University of Arizona for failing to act effectively on months of warnings about an expelled graduate student who allegedly murdered a professor on campus.

A judge in Denver ruled that a philosopher who was followed to UCLA by “a trail of red flags” from students at Duke and Cornell is unfit to stand trial for violent threats.

Despite resigning in disgrace during their schools’ sex abuse scandals, the former Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon and the former Penn State president Graham Spanier never really đź•› went away.

In the United States, it is presumably legal for neo-Nazis to homeschool their children.

The disgraced former president Donald Trump apparently called for the creation of a national credentialing organization to certify that teachers are politically correct.

North Dakota is considering a bill đź•› to grant state university presidents the unilateral power to fire any faculty member.

The Florida governor continued working to weaken the independence of his state’s higher education system.

Kati Kokal, an education reporter for the Palm Beach Post, explained in a Twitter thread how she reported on Florida’s new requirement that student athletes turn over their menstrual history to their schools.

To understand why Florida banned AP African American studies courses, wrote Dean Obeidallah, look at opinion polls of potential presidential primary voters.

The College Board, however, insisted it’s only a coincidence đź•› that revisions to its AP African American studies curriculum, released this week, look like a response to partisan political pressure.

Meanwhile, three Black academics—Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, and E. Patrick Johnson—spoke with Democracy Now! about the revisions.

Last year, the Jesuit theologian Ryan Duns, who taught high school in Detroit before becoming a professor at Marquette University, offered 21 pieces of advice đź•› for new teachers.

Teachers and university employees were among hundreds of thousands of public workers who went on strike in the U.K. on Wednesday.

Six college students talked with Open Campus about what the pandemic cost them in high school and how it has shaped their first year as undergraduates.

As he prepares a sequel, the author of Visible Learning has some regrets. đź•›

To get students to pay more attention in class, college teachers need to pay more attention to them.

Eastern Washington University unblocked a history professor on Twitter after more than a year. The school’s communications director admitted it had blocked Larry Cebula for criticizing its athletics programs.

PotosĂ­, Then and Now

This week, in my modern world history survey course, we discussed 16th-century empires in America and Asia. In the week’s second lesson, we focused on the role of silver—and especially silver production controlled by the Spanish empire—in early modern Asian history.

To bring clarity to the concept, I played about half of a 2014 BBC News short film about the miners who still work in the mountain at PotosĂ­. Cerro Rico was the most important site of silver production in human history, as well as a crux of Spain’s imperial power:

This film is a good way to make a contemporary connection. And it’s a good way to humanize an abstraction. Viewers get to see and hear extensively from actual miners at PotosĂ­. That means this film is also a good way to get students thinking about the ethics of historical narrative, including the “presentism” question.

For my purposes this week, it’s a good thing that this film—while acknowledging the mine’s early modern history—is mostly about Bolivian society and politics in the 21st century. I had already assembled plenty of ways to talk about the 16th and 17th century; I wanted to add a story about our own world. Then we talked. I trusted my students to be willing to think about the right and wrong ways to connect these stories.

Week Links in Education: Jan. 28

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week.

In New Delhi, officials at Jawaharlal Nehru University ordered students to cancel the “unauthorized” screening of a documentary criticizing the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi.

In Iowa, a state representative appeared to blame the murder of a high school Spanish teacher, allegedly by two students, on the school district’s COVID-19 mask mandate.

In Florida, state Senator Shevrin Jones warned that the education department’s ban on AP African American Studies, together with other educational gag laws, could create “an entire generation of Black children who will not be able to see themselves represented in their own state or in education.”

In New Jersey, a 29-year-old woman enrolled in high school and attended for four days.

After the conservative activist Christopher Rufo targeted an Appalachian nonprofit called Sexy Sex Ed, harassment forced it to suspend its work.

Lloyd Morrisett, who co-created Sesame Street, died at the age of 93.

The Wharton-educated founder of a startup promising to get college students more financial aid was sued for fraud by JPMorgan, which bought her firm for $175 million in 2021.

In the new book Outsmart Your Brain, the psychologist Daniel Willingham explains to students why their intuitions about learning may be misleading.

Week Links in Education: Jan. 21

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A đź•› symbol indicates a known metered paywall.

The BBC World Service’s Witness History program looked back at the “house schools” that Albanians in Kosovo created in response to Slobodan Milošević’s repression during the 1990s.

The Cardiff University psychologist Nic Hooper published a short introduction to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxious university students.

During the 2021 pandemic year, women of color made up a disproportionate share of the nearly one million Americans who went back to college.

Some experts believe 2023 will be a rocky đź•› year for U.S. college closures.

Amanda Peet, the show’s co-creator, confirmed that the Netflix series The Chair won’t get a second season. (I wrote about the show here.)

Another Theme for Spring: Presence

Surveying the smoldering ruins of academic Twitter this week, one thing I observed several times (not that this is anything new) is that pedagogical main-character-of-the-day controversies—e.g., a controversy this week over whether it’s ableist for a professor to refuse to distribute a full course syllabus before the first day of class—rarely seem to be examples of useful good-faith disagreement about actual teaching practices in a complex emergent environment. These controversies tend instead to feed on sloganeering and hyperbole. They exemplify mainly how people want to be seen publicly as teachers by other academics who will never know anything about their real-life teaching or its results.

Artist’s impression of a collection of academics examining each other’s tweets for signs of carceral pedagogy

Last week, I wrote briefly about my struggle to identify potential adjustments to my teaching approach that might best help several dozen specific students during the new spring semester. Well, as of yesterday, all my in-person classes now have had their first meeting, and based on those meetings, I’m optimistic that my changes will be effective—on balance. But I have no illusions about it being easy to implement these changes well.

Above all, what’s going to be necessary is that I put in the work of responding creatively, week after week, to the needs of the students who are actually in the room—including, by the way, needs that may well be contradictory. Such contradictions are typical in a real-life classroom, not exceptional.

So in addition to seeking simplicity this semester, as I wrote last week, I’m also seeking a greater sense of presence. I’m trying to be better at adapting to what’s actually happening for my students—specific people in a specific time and place—rather than adhering to what I had planned or to any abstract ideological prescription somebody tries to impose on others’ classrooms. And, to some extent, I hope my students will be able to see that this is what’s happening.

Week Links in Education: Jan. 14

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A đź•› symbol indicates a known metered paywall.

Quinta Brunson’s ABC sitcom Abbott Elementary, set in a Philadelphia elementary school, won the award for best comedy series (among other honors) at the 2023 Golden Globes.

Seattle Public Schools sued the parent companies of TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat for creating a public nuisance.

At age 33, the TikTok literary celebrity Oliver James started preparing for fatherhood by learning đź•› to read.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council issued a statement supporting the adjunct art history instructor who was fired by Hamline University for showing students a Muslim artist’s painting of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the annual real wages of experienced teachers in England have declined by ÂŁ6,600, or 13%, since 2010.

British schools are trying to counteract the influence of Andrew Tate, the celebrity misogynist who is currently jailed in Romania on sex crimes charges.

Keenan Anderson, a 31-year-old high school English teacher who was related to the Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, died after being held down and repeatedly tased by Los Angeles police officers after a traffic collision.

The Florida governor has appointed đź•› six conservative ideologues as trustees of New College of Florida, aiming, according to his chief of staff, to remake the public liberal arts college in the image of an influential Christian school.

(For more on NCF, see my earlier post on how a prominent white nationalist was deradicalized there.)

A legal advisor in Donald Trump’s coup attempt has been named đź•› as the founding dean of High Point University’s new law school. He is currently the dean of the law school at Regent University, another Christian college.

A deputy campaign manager for the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, emailed an unknown number of Chicago public school teachers, asking them to encourage their students to volunteer for Lightfoot’s reelection campaign in exchange for class credit.

My Theme for Spring: Simplicity

This photograph is from a year ago.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit America in early 2020, teachers here have spent each academic term trying to catch up to an evolving disaster. That is, we have carefully planned every term based on what happened during the previous term, only to encounter new problems. Sometimes the new problems resulted from our (necessary) attempts to mitigate the old ones, which is especially annoying.

During these years, every topic that pundits and armchair pundits have treated as the issue confronting American education—remote learning! mask mandates! vaccine mandates! ableism! flexibility! testing! kindness! learning loss! self-censorship!—has turned out to be just one more dimension of a much larger problem, and that problem is that pandemics suck.

Peering into the future, I’m certain of only one thing: We’re going to be dealing with the pandemic’s fallout for years, and it’s a problem much bigger than any teacher’s or institution’s choices, however good or bad those choices may be.

Anyway, here’s my current attempt to fight last semester’s battles: I’m trying to help minimize student anxiety by simplifying my courses, especially at the outset.

For classes that meet in person this spring, I’m getting back to basics with the most predictable weekly schedule I can arrange. I’m drawing up each course calendar in the form of a checklist to maximize transparency and encourage students to track their progress. I’m assuming that class time will mostly be spent on really basic concepts. And I’m stripping down my syllabus, grounding every design choice in the need to make it less intimidating.

To some extent, this is taking me back to my earliest days as an instructor, when I was much more anxious in the classroom. But now simplicity is about helping students in crisis find their footing.

I can’t wait to find out how completely this, too, ends up missing the mark.

Week Links in Education: Jan. 7

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A đź•› symbol indicates a known metered paywall.

The secret to success in college, wrote đź•› Jonathan Malesic, is almost too obvious to mention.

Professors in Florida, especially scholars who don’t have tenure, talked about the specific chilling effects of that state’s educational gag law, which was enacted in 2022.

The “‘godfather’ of human rights” reportedly was blocked đź•› from a position at Harvard’s Kennedy School last year for his criticism of Israeli policy.

The man who organized the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scheme was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

The chair of the history department at Annapolis, Tom McCarthy, explained đź•› why every student at the U.S. Naval Academy takes at least three history courses.

What is #ReceptioGate, and why does it have medievalists in an uproar on social media? This week, Charlotte Gauthier tried to explain. Peter Burger posted a more detailed account in Dutch.

Many museums have followed the lead of the Museum of Modern Art in developing programs especially for visitors with dementia.

Joan Steidl discussed what it’s like to return to college at 65 years old.

The U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office received almost 19,000 đź•› discrimination complaints during the last fiscal year, an all-time record.

Curriculum publishers face newly restrictive state laws as they try to develop more inclusive materials.

In Houston, a study of 16,000 students tallied the benefits of making schooling less hellish. Improved access to arts education had no short-term effect on math, reading, or science scores—but did correspond with improvement in student engagement, academic ambition, and disciplinary records.

By the time students arrive in college, their tendency to choose friends and study partners based on ethnic and gender similarity is already engrained.

Postmodern Gradgrindification

In the great pantheon of Charles Dickens characters, one of the lesser lights is Thomas Gradgrind—that’s Mr. Thomas Gradgrind, sir. You may be familiar with him.

In the opening chapters of the Dickens novel Hard Times (1854), Gradgrind operates an experimental school. There, in the polluted northern British industrial city of Coketown, he sees to it that young pupils are trained according to the best principles of modern utilitarianism and empiricism.

Gradgrind’s poor students—typically “poor” in more than one respect—will not waste their time daydreaming. They will be prepared with absolute efficiency to enter the adult middle-class world of the industrial nineteenth century.

Continue reading “Postmodern Gradgrindification”

Week Links in Education: Dec. 31

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week.

The former pope, Benedict XVI, died last night. NPR’s obituary includes an early controversy of his papacy, when Benedict delivered a lecture on faith and reason at the University of Regensburg (where he had worked as a professor) that became a major diplomatic incident.

In Pennsylvania, a Ph.D. student in criminal justice was arrested for the murders of four University of Idaho undergraduates. Meanwhile, a history professor is suing a TikTok tarot reader for falsely accusing her of involvement.

During the pandemic—consistent with existing knowledge that young people are more likely to die by suicide during the school year—local schools’ returning to in-person instruction was associated with increased suicide rates among teenagers.

Seasonality may also account for the mixed evidence about whether teen suicides rose after the release of 13 Reasons Why in the spring of 2017.

In 2014, a policy shift at Wellesley College provided data suggesting that pass/fail grading modestly reduces undergraduates’ effort compared with traditional grading.

No, Stanford University didn’t ban the word American.

Sometime during the last decade, millennials became old. But “millennial cringe” is just as much about changes in the way Internet communities form.

The professional misogynist Andrew Tate, who apparently was arrested this week in Romania on charges of operating a sex-trafficking ring, has an international following among radicalized school-aged boys. A business survey this fall named him the top influencer among U.S. teenagers.

Zahra Joya, who dressed in boys’ clothes to attend school in Afghanistan in the 1990s, lamented the drastic denial of educational freedom under renewed Taliban rule.

When a man in suburban Buffalo broke into a school and raided the kitchen and nurse’s office, he was publicly hailed as a hero.