All posts tagged: education

Progressive Education Works—But Only for Those Who Need The System Least

In the latest OECD student-evaluation rankings, Australia performed dismally. Average benchmark PISA test results for the country’s 15-year-old students have declined more since 2003 than those for any other developed country except Finland. In mathematics proficiency, Australian students are now below the OECD average. And they are a full year behind in scientific and reading literacy compared with those who sat the test two decades ago. Of course, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is not the only measure of progress. And outperforming other countries is not the goal of our education system. According to a 2008 declaration from the country’s Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, the real goal is that “all young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens,” so as to produce a “democratic, equitable and just society…that is prosperous, cohesive and culturally diverse, and that values Australia’s Indigenous cultures as a key part of the nation’s history, present and future.” But notice that these are social goals, not educational standards. Unsurprisingly, Australia …

Australia’s PISA Shock

Last week, the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. These were based on tests taken in 2018 in reading, mathematics and science by a sample of students from each of the relatively wealthy OECD member countries as well as a range of other partner countries. Importantly, PISA researchers also surveyed participants on everything from their social media use to classroom climate. The results have rightly produced a great deal of comment in Australia because they are further evidence of the country’s long-term decline in education. Mathematics and science have both continued their relentless downward drift and although reading held steady since the last round of testing in 2015, it has slid a long way since the first round in 2000. In the context of Australia’s PISA results, it is tempting to look to the results from other countries for ideas on how the country can get out of this rut. Over the last decade or so, the region most cited by educationalists as an example to follow is the small Northern …

The Knowledge Gap—A Review

Let me lead you through a portal created in the basement of some secretive and sinister government laboratory and into the Educational Upside Down. The Educational Upside Down is a parallel dimension where elementary school children are captivated by street signs and bored rigid by myths and tales of heroes. It is a dimension where early readers work out the relationships between the sounds of English and the letters that represent these sounds largely by being immersed in anodyne, specially written story books. Yet, weirdly, it is also a dimension where children have to be explicitly taught ‘comprehension strategies’ to understand what they read, such as activating their prior knowledge or deciding which sentence is the most important, and then must practice these strategies for the greater part of the school day. This is a dimension where knowledge of the world—that same prior knowledge that needs activating—is the last thing that it would occur to anyone to actually teach children in schools. The Educational Upside Down is frightening and surreal, not merely because it denies …

What They Don’t Teach You at the University of Washington’s Ed School

Having decided to become a high school teacher, I was excited to be accepted to the University of Washington’s Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP), which awards a masters degree in teaching and bills itself as a 12-month combination of theory and practice. Cognizant that in just over a year I would be responsible for teaching students on my own, and because of the university’s laudable reputation, I expected the program to be grounded in challenging practical work and research, both in terms of how to develop academic skills in young people, and also in the crucial role public education has in overcoming some of the most grave and intransigent problems in society. I am not interested in politics or controversy, and I derive no pleasure in creating difficulties for the UW out of personal resentment. But whenever family and friends ask me about graduate school, I have to explain that rather than an academic program centered around pedagogy and public policy, STEP is a 12-month immersion in doctrinaire social justice activism. This program is a …

What New York’s Public Schools Could Learn From Stuyvesant

The class of students who will enter Stuyvesant High School in 2019 include only seven black students. This isn’t particularly unusual; Stuy, which is the most academically selective public school in New York City, typically admits only a handful of black students each year, and every year there are a few op-eds and some social media outrage about the school’s demographics. This year, however, criticism of the school seems especially intense following a call by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to dismantle the city’s elite specialized high schools and during a period of renewed focus on admissions policies in the wake of the Varsity Blues college corruption scandal. Echoing de Blasio’s 2018 condemnation of the specialized schools, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declared Stuyvesant a “system failure” and an “injustice” in a tweet that received over 50,000 likes. New York Times education reporter Eliza Shapiro tweeted that these “grim statistics” would force officials to confront “segregation” in the elite schools, and Atlantic writer Vann Newkirk tweeted that Stuy’s demographics discredit the idea of an American meritocracy. …

Cambridge University’s Shameful Treatment of Jordan Peterson

On Wednesday, March 20, the Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge sent the following tweet: Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship at the Faculty of Divinity, and an initial offer has been rescinded after a further review. — Faculty of Divinity (@CamDivinity) March 20, 2019 The circumstances around this event bear careful examination. For they reveal not only a betrayal of the university’s fundamental purpose, but also the loss of something far more wide-reaching, something without which no higher civilization can survive: a shared understanding of ourselves. First, a little background. Jordan Peterson is an academic and clinical psychologist who has taught at two of North America’s most prestigious research universities (Harvard University and the University of Toronto), and whose academic work is prominent, widely-cited, and non-controversial in his field (see a list of his research publications here). His courageous and articulate defense of free speech, of our political, cultural and religious inheritance, of unpopular but incontestable truths of science—especially biology—and his radical opposition to identity politics of any kind, including that of …

Harvard’s Flawed Response to Ronald Sullivan Joining Weinstein’s Defense Team

The criticism of Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan by some student activists for his decision to join the defense team of Harvey Weinstein, and the ongoing response of Harvard University to that criticism, raise important concerns about the ability of Harvard to maintain an intellectual environment of high integrity. This still evolving story weaves together four themes that are hardly unique to Harvard: the #MeToo movement and how universities should respond to it; the conflict between that movement and some fundamental principles of American jurisprudence; the approach of universities to the education and emotional comfort of their students; and how university leaders should respond when threats are made to their core institutional values. The concatenation of these issues in the Sullivan affair threatens to create a toxic brew. The story begins with Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., a man of remarkable accomplishment. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School (HLS) where he served as President of the Harvard Black Law Students Association. Following graduation, he directed the Public Defender Service of the District of Columbia, …

Liberal Orthodoxy and the New Heresy

I teach college in a small city in Arkansas, deep in the American Bible Belt. I am a historian of Africa and in my department that means that I also teach a world history survey. I always start with the expansion of modern humans out of Africa and their encounter with other types of humans: Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Denesovians and what seems like an ever-growing list of newly discovered human-like creatures. It’s less the case now, but when I started twenty years ago this part of the course was initially met with polite but firm resistance, which gradually gave way to a sort of furtive curiosity. I eventually realized that even my cleverest students knew very little about human evolution except that it was false and that they were supposed to reject it. They came to the university having been taught that evolution was part of a larger attack on their faith and values, but they had never really been exposed to anything but a sort of parody version of it. A small number of …

Correcting ‘Youth’s Eternal Temptation to Arrogance’—One Bedtime Story at a Time

“We almost never take this out because it is really fragile,” said Christine Nelson, a curator at the Morgan Library in New York. I was sitting across from her, in her office. She drew out a small navy-blue case and opened the lid. Inside, its glossy red leather binding embossed with gold, was the earliest surviving volume of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault. This beautiful object had been created in 1695 as a gift for the teenage niece of Louis the Fourteenth, a girl known as “Mademoiselle.” Nelson opened to the frontispiece (illustrated above), revealing a charming little painting. A plain-faced woman in a linen coif and rustic dress sits before a fire, holding a spindle of wool. She seems to be telling a story to three young people in elegant clothes, one of whom leans forward, touching the storyteller’s knees in her eagerness. Curled up by the fire, a plump little cat listens, too. On the wooden door behind the spindle holder, a sign reads: Contes de Ma Mere l’Oye. (Tales of My …

The Future of Our Ancient Past

This is part one of a four part series on the Classics. Part two will be published tomorrow. Australian National University’s decision to reject a large donation from the Ramsay Centre has brought the topic of Western civilization to the forefront once again. For me, the most pressing question is about the future of classics, the discipline that has long claimed to deal with the foundations of Western civilizations. I’ve previously helped teach a course called “Origins of Political Thought,” and I’m preparing to teach another with the title “Foundations of Western Political Thought” next year. But should anyone still be teaching courses on “Western Civ”? My answer, in a word, is yes. There’s nothing wrong with teaching Western Civilization or the Western classics alongside other cultural traditions. At the same time, the way Classics used to be taught is gone for good. In many ways, that’s a good thing: the traditional classical education was astonishingly narrow, and often gave the impression that the tradition it dealt with was the only game in town. Luckily, …