Make the World Better and Not Worse

Nashville skyline in 2009 (public domain)

When I was young, I attended private schools affiliated with small evangelical churches.

These were not the kinds of elite private schools most people think of. They were tiny institutions paying expenses with bits of wallet lint. I think the last of them had about 120 students across all grade levels, from kindergarten to twelfth grade. I was accustomed to learning in spaces that were clearly Sunday school classrooms and church sanctuaries on the weekend, except for the year I spent in a school that was basically a little trailer park. My teachers made maybe half of what public schools would have paid them. My principal was usually a pastor.

So earlier this week, when a former student targeted the Covenant School, a small Presbyterian elementary school in Nashville, and murdered three children and three adults there, the news meant even more than usual to me. It was far too easy, in an unusually specific way, to imagine being one of those nine-year-olds the shooter targetedโ€”or one of the adult victims, for that matter.

But another thing hit home for me: the toxicity of the rhetoric that came immediately from people across America who weren’t directly affected.

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Week Links in Education: Mar. 25

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A ๐Ÿ•› symbol indicates a metered paywall.

Near Los Angeles, a high school teacher was sucked through the doorway of her classroom by wind associated with a small tornado. (She’s fine.)

In Los Angeles itself, workers in America’s second largest school district (with more than 400,000 students) held a three-day walkout.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans in the House of Representatives issued subpoenas to Stanford University, the University of Washington, and Clemson University, as part of their investigation into the theory that Republicans are too quiet on social media.

To get some of its lessons on the civil rights movement approved for use in Florida elementary schools, a curriculum publisher deleted the civil-rights-movement part.

A co-sponsor of Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law faces up to 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges related to fraudulently obtaining pandemic relief funds.

Also in Florida, the directors of a so-called classical charter school fired caused the resignation of the principal after sixth graders in an art history class were exposed to unexpected pornography, i.e., a picture of Michelangelo’s David. The school board chair insisted it was more complicated than that, but also said it’s a Florida thing and you probably wouldn’t understand.

At the University of Houston, two students have died by suicide at the same ๐Ÿ•› campus building in the space of one month. A third student died at the same building in 2017.

Meanwhile, the University of Houston apparently deleted its English department’s anti-racism statement after a tenured professor denounced ๐Ÿ•› it by claiming that Black people are intellectually inferior to whites and Asians.

In the same city, a Liberty University employee who also heads the American Association of Christian Counselors was sued by Houston Christian University for failure to deliver on a multimillion-dollar contract to develop its mental health programs.

Six hundred miles away, the president of West Texas A&M University ordered the cancelation of a drag show, claiming it would be misogynistic.

In Denver, a high school student reportedly shot two administrators in front of the school, then died near his own vehicle.

America’s current teacher shortages are complicated (not to say contradictory). NPR took a look at the complexity, reporting on a teacher job fair in Mississippi.

Week Links in Education: Mar. 18

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A ๐Ÿ•› symbol indicates a metered paywall.

For now, Florida’s “Stop WOKE” educational gag law remains blocked ๐Ÿ•› in state colleges and universities (but not K-12 schools) by a federal court injunction.

As expected, Palm Beach Atlantic University, an evangelical Christian college in Florida, fired Prof. Sam Joeckel and banned him from campus after a parent complained that he was teaching a unit on racial justice.

In January, a predominately white middle school near Dallas attempted to subject a Black student to a drastic, life-altering punishment for being afraid of a school shooting threat.

Colleges apparently are responding to student mental health needs by firing ๐Ÿ•› their counseling center directors.

Between May and December 2020, Berkeley researchers found, school disruptions weren’t harmful to the mental health of American 10-to-13-year-olds, but family financial anxiety was.

According to a new research working paper, the teacher-evaluation reforms initiated by the Obama administration didn’t work.

The Great Migration brought Black students almost one full extra year of schooling in the early 20th century.

When law students at Stanford shouted down a judicial clown, wrote Ken White (known to the Internet as “Popehat”), there were no heroes anywhere in the story. But the “pantomime” was perfectly designed to confirm conservative narratives about universities.

The number of first-time graduates completing bachelor’s degrees at American colleges and universities fell by 2.4% last year, and the number completing associate’s degrees fell by 7.6%.

Learning How to Teach: Beyond Recipes

Advertisement in the Ladies Home Journal (1925) (public domain)

An article published by the Chronicle of Higher Education last week is still making its rounds on social media. “Changing Your Teaching Takes More Than a Recipe” ๐Ÿ”’ is also circulating under the subtitle “Professors Have Been Urged to Adopt More-Effective Teaching Practices. Why Are Their Results So Mixed?”

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Week Links in Education: Mar. 11

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A ๐Ÿ•› symbol indicates a metered paywall.

The parents of a Black teenager attending a predominantly white school in South Carolina are suing after she says a teacher assaulted her for declining to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance.

In the United States, no agency has the authority to regulate indoor air quality, but controlling infectious diseases in schools may depend on nothing more than that.

In Ontario, two professors who were laid off when Laurentian University burned 76 programs called for a criminal investigation of the school’s financial arrangements.

Responding to the latest New York Times opinion piece about supposedly “puritanically progressive campuses that alienate conservative students,” Henry Farrell explained what social science research actually reveals about the differences between conservative and liberal students at college.

Pennsylvania has eliminated the college degree as a required credential for 92% of state government jobs.

David Palmieri examined Catholic dioceses that have adopted policies excluding gay and trans students as well as workers from their schools.

Charles Kenneth Roberts observed that academia’s supposed “quiet quitting” phenomenon is just a manifestation of a deeper crisis in the way academic work is (or, more likely, isn’t) rewarded.

According to the latest “autonomy scorecard” ๐Ÿ•› published by the European University Association, governments across 35 European countries or regions are finding a variety of ways to undermine the independence of their public institutions. Hungary is no longer included in the scorecard at all.

After only 927 years, the University of Oxford has banned its employees from pursuing sex with students.

Two Reflection Activities for the Age of Revolutions

For the past two weeks, my world history survey course has covered the revolutions that made modernity. Last week was about politics in the Age of Revolutions. This week is about the Industrial Revolution.

Impressionist image of boats, workers, and possible factories along an industrial waterfront, with the center of the city rising in the distance
J.M.W. Turner, Dudley Castle from Tipton Canal (c. 1830)
Image courtesy of Black Country Museums (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Over the weekend, coincidentally, I caught the latest episode of the Harvard EdCast. It’s a conversation with the social psychologist Geoff Cohen on the “crisis of belonging” among American youth. In this conversation, Cohen spoke about the wide-ranging educational benefits of inviting students to discuss their values together:

And in a number of studies that my colleagues and I and others have done, we found that the simple act, for instance, of just asking students to reflect on, what is core to you? What are your most important values? What would you stand up for? What would you die for? What is really dear to your heart? Giving students the opportunity to write about their core values in the classroom has been found, under some circumstances, to have these wide-ranging benefits, closing achievement gaps in GPA, even after just a few sessions of doing these kinds of activities, improving health and well-being, leading to greater retention throughout high school and college. And this has been replicated in several studies. 

It doesn’t happen all the time, but in schools and classrooms where there are resources and pathways to success, if I now feel like this is a place where my whole self is accepted, I’m more likely to seize those opportunities. So these are just examples of many of little things we can all do to make the situations a lot better. 

This comment helped nudge me to plan the activities with which I began each class this week.

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Week Links in Education: Mar. 4

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A ๐Ÿ•› symbol indicates a metered paywall.

In a deadly rail disaster in Greece, the dozens of victims included many university students, returning to Thessaloniki after celebrating Carnival.

Iranian authorities are investigating strange reports that girls in dozens of schools across Iran have been poisoned with unknown substances.

In 2020, during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the former British education minister Gavin Williamson sent WhatsApp messages complaining that teachers’ unions “just hate work.” British educators are not amused.

The campus revival at Asbury University took a new turn this week when Kentucky officials announced ๐Ÿ•› that an unvaccinated attendee may have exposed 20,000 people to measles.

In Manhattan, the tiny but well-connected evangelical Christian institution The King’s College appears to be in severe ๐Ÿ•› financial distress. Its journalism chair, Paul Glader, explained that the crisis may be connected with the role of a Canadian billionaire.

The FBI says a former systems administrator for the University of Michigan’s college of arts and sciences threatened to kill Jewish officials in Michigan, including the attorney general, as well as various university employees and public health figures. He said he was fired for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

A jury took less than two hours of deliberation to find a sheriff and detective liable ๐Ÿ•› for $5 million’s worth of damages after they violently arrested a Virginia high school teacher on false charges of sexually abusing a minor.

In The Nation That Never Was, Kermit Roosevelt III argues that the real American founding happened not in 1776 but a century later. Jamelle Bouie argued ๐Ÿ•› this week that Florida’s higher education censors should take note.

Three teachers running the pilot version of AP African American Studies spoke with NPR about its contents and effects.

As news organizations focused on the Supreme Court’s imminent decision about affirmative action in college admissions, Julie Wollman and Jacqueline Wallis begged them to pay attention to the colleges that educate 95% of American students, for whom the ruling may be “largely inconsequential.”

Miss Manners on College Deadlines

A few days ago, Miss Manners (Judith Martin, Nicholas Martin, and Jacobina Martin) fielded an AITA-style question from a reader who teaches college. It was a doozy.

The reader complained ๐Ÿ•›:

First, the students have been unmotivated, coming to class unprepared (if at all). โ€ฆ What really gets me, however, is their constant stream of emails: ‘I wasn’t feeling it, so I didn’t come to class today, sorry.’ ‘I needed a mental health day so I skipped our discussion.’ ‘I was too hung over, so I slept in this morning instead of coming to class.’

Finally there was this one: ‘I’ve been in a funk all weekend so I didn’t manage to do the assignment on time, but can I still turn it in?’ This email is the subject of my second issue.

This student has known about this short assignment since the first day of class, 14 weeks ago, thanks to the syllabus. She was not doing well in class even before this incident. But when I complained about this email, some of my fellow instructors pushed back and said I should have offered her information about counseling services. (That information is also in the syllabus, and available through many other means around campus.)

I suggested that it was assuming too much on my part, and that a ‘funk’ is not a serious conditionโ€”it sounds to me like a pity party being held by a freshman experiencing her first finals week. โ€ฆ

What I found rude was my colleagues’ pushing so hard against me. I’ve spent an entire semester with this student, and I’ve already made many accommodations for her, despite my displeasure at the excuse-making.

Miss Manners was not having itโ€”neither the criticism from the instructor’s colleagues nor the poor email etiquette of the students.

“And what has [your flexibility] taught them?” she asked, rhetorically. “Your concern,” she continued, “should not be whether your students come to class but whether they master the material and fulfill the assignments. Unless they are exhibiting bizarre behavior that should be reported to mental health experts, the rest of their lives are not your business.”

She complained, though, that “sadly, you may not have the support of the university in grading students according to their achievements or failures to perform.”

As you might imagine, I have thoughts.

But my thoughts are complicated.

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Week Links in Education: Feb. 25

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A ๐Ÿ•› symbol indicates a metered paywall.

A two-weeks-long evangelical revival on the campus of Asbury University has moved ๐Ÿ•› off-campus, more or less. It’s been a lot for a small college to handle.

Palm Beach Atlantic University, an evangelical Christian college that does not have tenure, allegedly ๐Ÿ•› initiated the possible firing of a full professor for teaching “works from Black authors and civil rights activists” in a unit on racial justice. The provost ambushed him after class, then went to prepare for the arrival of the Florida governor on campus.

In spite of overwhelming opposition from students, faculty, and community members, Marymount University’s board of trustees voted unanimously to eliminate nine majors in the humanities and social sciences. Students at the Catholic university will no longer be able to major in religion.

The first Black superintendent of Virginia Military Institute, Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, is facing ๐Ÿ•› an organized campaign of opposition, led by another alumnus whose racist radicalization over the past decade has surprised some who knew him as a student.

The just-arm-teachers approach to preventing gun violence is going well at Rising Star Independent School District, near Abilene, where a third grader found ๐Ÿ•› a gun the “beloved” superintendent accidentally left in the bathroom.

Meredith Draughn, the American School Counselor Association’s school counselor of the year, offered advice for helping children shift to “post-pandemic” life.

Week Links in Education: Feb. 18

Stories and essays, particularly related to education in the United States, that caught my attention this week. A ๐Ÿ•› symbol indicates a metered paywall.

Since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, at least 338,000 ๐Ÿ•› Americans have lived through shootings at their schoolsโ€”almost half since the attack at Parkland five years ago. Last year was the worst yet.

At Michigan State University, Prof. Marcoย Dรญaz-Muรฑoz described what it was like to have his class on Cuban literature targeted by the gunman who would kill at least two of his students: Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner.

Avery Thrush explained why Teach for America made her leave teaching.

Other kinds of schools care about building moral and civic virtue, Johann Neem wrote; what makes a real college education different is its focus on intellectual virtue.

The FBI conducted searches at the University of Delaware as part of its investigation of Joseph Biden’s handling of classified documents.

Phil Murphy, the governor of New Jersey, contrasted his position with that of the Florida governor when announcing ๐Ÿ•› that 25 public schools in New Jersey will offer AP African American studies next year.

A meta-analysis by researchers in Switzerland and Australia cast doubt on the effectiveness of many “flipped” classrooms.

The chief science officer of the American Psychological Association testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the effects of social media on adolescent development.

Stanford University’s student newspaper reported allegations of research misconduct and a coverup by the current Stanford president when he was an Alzheimer’s researcher in private industry.