Tuesday, November 02, 2004


More superb and scathing thoughts from Professor Plum on the state of education in this country.

Then there's his personal intro, which is scathing and hilarious:
I did graduate work in sociology at Washington University--where around 1969 we had a school for autistic children. The next 25 years I was at a large university in New England (actually, I went home after work) developing curricula for children with disabilities. One freezing night in April, 1990, as I trudged to the parking garage with snow accumulating on the north slope of my face, I realized I’d better go south before I got Bell’s Palsy. Besides, I always wanted a cuisine rich in hog by-product. So, I signed on at a school of education at a medium sized university south of the line drawn by the comedy team of Mason and Dixon, who always ended the show with “A little song. A little dance. A little seltzer down your pants.” [Actually, that was from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Still funny. Seltzer down your pants. Ha Ha. Who does THAT?]
Everyone was nice to me—and I was nice back. [Harmony.] One of my new colleagues—a young woman who taught the computer course--said, "You know, Plum, they teach whole language and only whole language here." [Instigator!] I asked, “What’s the alternative? Half language? Three-sixteenths language? Sounds squalid to me.”

I then read about wl. Its “theory” of reading and its methods of instruction seemed way past the expiration date. Definitely the fruit of minds gone bad. THEORY of reading?! Who needs a theory? You can SEE reading! Theory of brushing your teeth? Theory of taking out the trash?

But I was a newcomer. I suspended judgment. I looked for data.

Then I did something really perverted--at a teleconference. All the ed schools in the state were watching big shots from the department of public instruction tell us that new teachers would no longer be evaluated by their principal but by a portfolio read by two consultants. I thought, “How come? Talk about expensive! Ho, boy. Another useless ‘innovation.’”

Well, this was a “conference,” so I figured I’d do a bit of conferring. I had a cold and my voice came out like the little girl’s in Exorcist. Pea soupy, if you catch my drift.

I asked, “Do you have any data showing that portfolio assessment results in better judgments of teacher quality than the judgment of a principal and mentor who see a new teacher all year?”

The images on the screen began to cough and look at each other. [Actually, I believe they looked first, then coughed.] I heard whispering on the screen and all around me. The colleagues were restless. Then the screen images offered a detailed and informative answer.

“Ahem ahem oh yes yes yes oh indeed yes, and so forth.”

The wheels came off pretty quick after that, and we were told the show was over. Afterwards, four or five of my collards accosted me and said, “That was inappropriate” and “You were not respectful.” I replied, “Nice hat,” or something equally charming.

That was my first lesson in the politics and intellectual dishonesty in education. Forced consensus. Shut up and go along. After stupification, the underlying power relations become invisible. Indeed, desirable. Ed perfessers come to like Big Brother. He takes care of them. Defends them from the wolves who are onto the game.

Over the next few years I read the websites and syllabi from hundreds of ed schools. I reviewed the literature in whole language, constructivism, “authentic assessments,” learning styles, and multiple intelligences—and other “pedagogies” that struck my cynical nature as weird beyond belief. I even tried to figure out what “brain based learning” was—because, I reasoned, “What OTHER organ WOULD be involved? Before brain-based learning was there BUTTOCKS based learning? Sure they ARE similar. Two hemispheres. A nearby segment of spine. A division down the middle. An apparatus for speaking your mind. But usually you can tell which is which. Just look for a hat!”
And there's this post, which is even more invaluable:
Why Kids Can't Read, And What You Can Do About It

Imagine an epidemic of smallpox. If your child is not immunized, odds are 50/50 he or she’ll get smallpox and suffer life-long damage. Luckily, there’s an effective vaccine. The Public Health Center in your town has the vaccine but the staff won’t use it. Why not? Because everyone in the Public Health Center believes immunization is a bad thing. They say,

“Using the vaccine is against our philosophy.”

You say, “But how will children become immune to smallpox!?”

They say, “Children naturally become immune to smallpox. They don’t need a shot. In fact, the shot is bad for them—even if gives them immunity.”

You say, “But half the children who aren’t immunized will get smallpox!”

They say, “Well, not everyone naturally becomes immune. Some children don’t become immune because they don’t get enough support from their families. And sometimes it’s a cultural thing. In other words, if children get smallpox, it’s not our fault.”

This sounds bizarre to you, but you figure, “I’m JUST a parent. What do I know? They’re the experts.” So you put your child’s life in their hands. And your child gets smallpox. Then you find out that Public Health Centers in other counties and other states DO immunize children, and almost NONE of these children get smallpox. In other words, YOUR Public Health Center has destroyed your child.

How does THAT make you feel? What are you going to do about it? It’s too late, though, isn’t it?

This is exactly the situation in reading. Anywhere from 25 to 50% of children do NOT learn to read well. In fact, children struggling at the end of FIRST grade continue struggling in fourth grade and in eighth grade. In other words, poor readers at the end of first grade are very likely to remain poor readers. And this means low-self-esteem (“I’m a dummy.”), shame (“Something’s wrong with me. I have dyslexia.”), and failure to learn other subjects that require skillful reading—math, science, history, getting into college, filling out job applications. Whole lives (and our nation) are damaged when children are not TAUGHT to read well.

I should say, They are TAUGHT to read poorly.

It would be a tragedy. It would be malpractice. And maybe it would be considered a crime, if children got smallpox because health providers didn’t BELIEVE in immunization---when the data clearly say what happens when you don’t give the immunization. The same way, it ought to be seen as a tragedy. It ought to be considered malpractice. And maybe it ought to be considered a crime, when children are MADE illiterate because teachers do not know (or refuse to use) the effective methods for teaching reading, even though 50 years of research show EXACTLY which methods—simple methods, commonsense methods—work with 99% of children regardless of family support, income, ethnicity, or anything else.
There's lots more in that post. Read the rest.



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