Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Lost Class of 1959 Prepares for Their Fiftieth Reunion

Over the last couple months I have been trying to engage the readership in an exploration of the many agents of education obstructionism in society. One reader asked me to address the strange case of the lost class of 1959. In the true spirit of promoting racism at any cost, the political powers of the day chose to close schools wholesale. The idea of letting black students attend these schools was so repugnant to them that they preferred to sacrifice a whole senior class. This class will celebrate their [fiftieth reunion] this year in Norfolk,VA.

Perry Library prefers to call 1959 the fiftieth anniversary of desegregation of Norfolk public schools. Shall we celebrate or mourn? The Supreme Court may have found segregation unconstitutional in the famous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, but Norfolk had no intention of coming into compliance with the law of the land. In 1955 more than 200 black citizens petitioned the school board. The school board ignored the petition. The school board was sued in 1956 and subsequently ordered to integrate.

The school board accepted the decision but rejected all 151 black applicant to the public schools. On appeal the school board accepted seventeen students, admitting them on Sept 28, 1956. In a breathtaking display of education obstructionism, the aptly named Massive Resistance campaign, organized by the Byrd Machine sought to neutralize the Supreme Court decision with a set of delaying and obstructing laws passed in 1958. Even the Civil War was long over, legislators cited States' Rights as the rational for the laws.

In an extreme and perhaps desperate act, in September 1958, Gov. J. Lindsay Almond, with the authority of the General Assembly, ordered all schools to be closed and removed from the public school system, displacing 10,000 students for five months. Churches and other organizations opened ad hoc schools to in order to minimize the traumatic interruption of the education of so many students. Nevertheless, many students dropped out of school entirely. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the school-closing law. The General Assembly responded by repealing the compulsory school attendance law. School were closed five months before the governor reopened them in February 1959.

Where is the lost class of 1959 now? Some landed on their feet. One (maybe more) is a dentist. Another went on on to medical school. Most of the women married, had kids, and now, grandkids. Most of the men got jobs and raised families. Some never recovered the lost opportunity. At least sixty have passed away. The lost class plans to get together, and in the words of their organizer, not to mourn, but to “rekindle old friendships.” They are looking for their lost classmates who may be scattered across America and even the world.

If you know any of these people, please contact the reunion organizer at the email listed in the link. Maybe these yearbook pictures will help you recognize members of the lost class you may be among your friends and acquaintances.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Who are the Education Obstructionists?

Carl Wieman, 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics winner, wants to fix science education in America.
We are now at a watershed in higher education. We are faced with the need for great change, and we have the yet unrealized opportunities for achieving great change. The full use of the research on teaching and learning, particularly as implemented via modern IT, can transform higher education, and allow it to do a far better job of meeting the higher education needs of a modern society.

We know how to teach.
While there has never been a shortage of strongly held opinions throughout history regarding "better" educational approaches, there is now a large and growing body of good research, particularly at the college level in science and engineering, as to what pedagogical approaches work and do not work and with which students and why. There are also empirically established principles about learning emerging from research in educational psychology, cognitive science, and education that provide good theoretical guidance for designing and evaluating educational outcomes and methods. These principles are completely consistent with those pedagogical practices that have been measured to be most effective.

But “the bulk” of American society does not benefit from science education research. Prominent among education writers is John Taylor Gatto, who counts no less than twenty-two education obstructionists with entrenched interests in the maintaining the status quo.
At the most fundamental level “Indeed, it isn’t hard to see that in strictly economic terms this edifice of competing and conflicting interests is better served by badly performing schools than by successful ones. On economic grounds alone a disincentiveexists to improve schools. When schools are bad, demands for increased funding and personnel, and professional control removed from public oversight, can be pressed by simply pointing to the perilous state of the enterprise. But when things go well, getting an extra buck is like pulling teeth (emphasis in original).”

Mr. Gatto goes on to list some obstructionists, but there may well many more than twenty-two. What are the entrenched interests that make an education stakeholder an obstructionist?
I would like to propose a collaboration to answer the question. Please pick your favorite obstructionist and tell us how the obstruction is happening and/or why.

FIRST CATEGORY: Government Agencies
1) State legislatures, particularly those politicians known in-house to specialize in educational matters
2) Ambitious politicians with high public visibility
3) Big-city school boards controlling lucrative contracts
4) The courts
5) Big-city departments of education
6) State departments of education
7) Federal Department of Education
8) Other government agencies (National Science Foundation, National Training Laboratories, Defense Department, HUD, Labor Department, Health and Human Services, and many more)
SECOND CATEGORY: Active Special Interests
1) Key private foundations.2 About a dozen of these curious entities have been the most important shapers of national education policy in this century, particularly those of Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller.
2) Giant corporations, acting through a private association called the Business Roundtable (BR), latest manifestation of a series of such associations dating back to the turn of the century. Some evidence of the centrality of business in the school mix was the composition of the New American Schools Development Corporation. Its makeup of eighteen members (which the uninitiated might assume would be drawn from a representative cross-section of parties interested in the shape of American schooling) was heavily weighted as follows: CEO, RJR Nabisco; CEO, Boeing; President, Exxon; CEO, AT&T; CEO, Ashland Oil; CEO, Martin Marietta; CEO, AMEX; CEO, Eastman Kodak; CEO, WARNACO; CEO, Honeywell; CEO, Ralston; CEO, Arvin; Chairman, BF Goodrich; two ex-governors, two publishers, a TV producer.
3) The United Nations through UNESCO, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, etc.
4) Other private associations, National Association of Manufacturers, Council on Economic Development, the Advertising Council, Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Policy Association, etc.
5) Professional unions, National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, Council of Supervisory Associations, etc.
6) Private educational interest groups, Council on Basic Education, Progressive Education Association, etc.
7) Single-interest groups: abortion activists, pro and con; other advocates for
specific interests.
THIRD CATEGORY: The "Knowledge" Industry
1) Colleges and universities
2) Teacher training colleges
3) Researchers
4) Testing organizations
5) Materials producers (other than print)
6) Text publishers
7) "Knowledge" brokers, subsystem designers

Here are some more stakeholders: parents, students, teachers, school administrators, real estate agents, real estate industry, law enforcement, construction, contractors, computer vendors, bus companies, local planning commissions, (more?) Could any of these stakeholders be obstructionists? How?