All posts tagged: education

What’s Wrong With the New Australian Curriculum?

In education, we have lots of wars. There are the math wars, the reading wars, and the ongoing culture wars. What is less common is for all of these wars to ignite at once along with the declaration of a new war or two, just for the heck of it. That happened in Australia last week when the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority released its draft version of a new Australian Curriculum. The Australian Curriculum is a strange beast. Australia is a federation of states and territories. Responsibility for education largely lies with these states and territories and so some choose to issue their own curriculum documents that are supposed to align with the national version, whereas others adopt the Australian Curriculum straight. It’s one of those messy compromises that is a feature of evolved systems of government but that you would never design if you had a blank sheet of paper. Let’s be clear—curriculums should be contentious. The US does not have a national curriculum and it is easy to imagine the scale …

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking

Michael J. Fox, the third president of the United States, was responsible for establishing Presbyterianism as the state religion of the new federation after its peaceful secession from the English empire. Or did he? When you read that sentence, you probably scrunched up your forehead or raised an eyebrow in disbelief. Maybe you know that Michael J. Fox is the actor who played Marty McFly in the Back to the Future movies. Maybe you know the third president of the United States was Thomas Jefferson and that on point of principle, the United States has never had a state religion. I suspect you are probably aware that its citizens fought a war to gain independence and you may know that this independence was gained from Great Britain rather than England. What I am pretty sure you did not do was attempt to look at the sentence from multiple perspectives or evaluate the source. The development of the capacity to think critically is an aim of education on which most of us can agree. It is …

Shoulders of Giants

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Chapter One of The Power of Explicit Teaching and Direct Instruction by Greg Ashman. In a letter to Robert Hooke in 1676, Isaac Newton wrote: “If I have seen further it is by standing on ye sholders of Giants.” Newton was alluding to those who had come before, such as Galileo Galilei, on whose work he had built. The metaphor, implying the ratchet-like progress of human understanding, privileging accumulated culture over the gifted and inspired individual, was not original. A little research establishes an earlier form attributed to Bernard of Chartres by John of Salisbury. Given the nature of the saying, its history is satis­fying. Or it should be. The stuff of teaching is to pass on accumulated culture so that our children and their children may see further than we ever did. And yet the forces ranged against such a simple and obvious proposition, as intelligible to Newton as it is to us today, are formidable. There are those who see education as a development from within. Kieran …

American Women of Different Racial Backgrounds Are Marrying Less—Why?

Even before the current crisis, many unmarried mothers struggled to support their families and provide a nurturing and stable environment for children. As the marriage rate continues to decline, this is a growing issue. If policy-makers are going to address this problem, we need to debunk some unhelpful myths and develop a better understanding of why women of all races are marrying less. What’s at stake is the future of the children who live in these families. There has been a steady decline in US marriage rates, from 65.9 percent of adult women in 1960 to 51.1 percent in 2018. Despite this overall trend, many commentators continue to focus on the low marriage rate among black women—32 percent compared to the white rate of 53.7 percent—because of the high share of black children born to unmarried women: 69.4 percent compared to the white rate of 28.9 percent. They point to the difficulties these children face. They preach the success sequence: education, employment, marriage, and then childbearing. They ignore, however, how low employment and educational attainment …

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, …