Category Archives: Articles of Note

Gordon Wood

So I found this article a few days ago, a brief essay by Gordon Wood describing the “choices” made by historians about writing analytic vs. narrative histories. And it got under my skin a bit…he writes:

“Instead, most (new historians) have purposefully chosen not to tell stories; that is, they have chosen not to write narrative history.”

While I have great respect for Professor Wood’s work, he’s not really being fair here. There are many graduate students and scholars who would love the opportunity to chose to write narrative history. But those sorts of books will not get you tenure at many, if not most, places. The initial choices made by “new” historians are those that will best serve them if they want to remain university based historians. He’s also fails to acknowledge the historians who can do both — write a book within an analytic framework that still offers a compelling narrative. Two recent books, Lisa Levenstein’s A Movement without Marches and Hilary Moss’s Schooling Citizens, manage this quite well. And both books are written beautifully.

Either way, why isn’t there at least a paragraph on the ways in which scholarship is evaluated in the university? And why isn’t there a paragraph asking why senior historians, who have tenure, don’t chose to write larger narratives? Or why those that do are not always successful?

what does this mean?

quote from Superintendent Ackerman, cited on the KYW1060 site:

“And I think we need to support them more in what they do really well, not ask them, one size fits all, so you’re an EMO, and you have to all do the same thing. I think that we build on their strengths and expertise. And as I’ve been talking to some of the EMOs, they really, really like that. They sort of cut for themselves an area or a sphere of expertise. And I think we should open it up for all schools.”

Arlene Ackerman on facilities

Arlene Ackerman, reflecting on her first year in Philadelphia, seems ready to take on teachers and principals, playing the “tougher standards” card in this article.

What struck me was her description of the school construction process:

One example is the way new facilities have been built, she said. In the past, school advocates got new buildings or renovations based on meetings and promises from administrators. She wants a master facilities-planning process, with some kind of formula to determine which schools get built, and when.

“People don’t go to the superintendent, have a meeting, and get promised a school when there are schools that have been waiting for years and decades to get needed renovations,” Ackerman said.

Now I don’t doubt that there are political subplots to which schools get built and repaired and which ones don’t, but a bit more evidence here would be helpful. This suggestion plays into conspiracy theories–some of which are undoubtedly true–but a simple follow-up question asking for an example would have helped.

I would love

to read this essay with a group of teachers, to discuss its relevance/irrelevance.

Favorite quote:

A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.

Crawford, Matthew B. . “The Case for Working with Your Hands ” New York Times, May 24 2009, 36-41.

Sciences vs. Arts

Teaching about adolescent literacy, I often encounter students who will cheerfully declare that they hate math or science. Occasionally, though, I get a student who will shamefully declare how little they like reading.

This sort of split extends all sorts of places and certainly the gap between the humanities and the natural sciences seems to be growing. I like this idea, though, as a way of giving students a chance to genuinely connect across disciplines.

Testing writing

Good article in the Globe today describing the written part of the SAT. These ‘grafs are money:

Les Perelman, director of MIT’s writing program, disagrees. He became so frustrated by what he believed were formulaic essays that freshmen were turning in after the SAT essay was introduced that he conducted an experiment: He trained three high school students, who had taken the SAT once already, to insert some factual errors, use big words, and ignore logical thought on the SAT essay, and each received a near-perfect score.

“They’ve learned to write paragraph essays where they don’t care whether the facts are correct,” Perelman said. “We have to spend a year in freshman composition deprogramming them.”

Bunin and other College Board officials contend that Perelman’s findings are inconclusive, since he only worked with a few students. But they acknowledge that factual accuracy was not crucial in the scoring.

What the essay portion is about is a student’s ability to express himself in writing,” Bunin said. “This is not a research paper.”

I can’t think of another context where content would be irrelevant to one’s writing.

Ghetto Film School

This sounds like an awesome program. I like how honest the kids were:

“One said, ‘I don’t want to come into a place and find out someone is trying to raise my self-esteem,’ ” Mr. Hall said. “Another said, ‘Yeah, it’s not like we want a ghetto film school.’ Everyone started laughing, and I thought, ‘What if we could co-opt a negative term and throw it back out there, do the exact opposite?’ ”

Enough of these half-baked programs — the kids know immediately whether it’s a fake or if real resources have been committed.

Advanced Placement “Brand”

Yesterday’s Times featured an article addressing the AP brand and detailed the ways in which teachers who are offering these courses must submit a syllabus for approval.

One of Paul Vallas’ supposed accomplishments was the vast increase in the number of AP courses offered. I would like to see a story exploring both the eventual test scores as well as the College Board’s response to the syllabi.

I’m sure that the folks at the magnet schools are not experiencing difficulties and I would imagine there are some pretty impressive scores. But what of the comprehensive high schools where these courses have been offered for the first time ? What has their experience been like? Have students done well? Poorly?