We’ve got to learn civics before it swims up and bite us on the ass!

Americans seem to have no idea how their government functions, who is running things, or what it’s founding documents even mean. How can we effectively participate in this system without understanding it, or caring in some cases. If we really want to improve our communities and get people involved again the best way to do that is through education. This is a topic I have covered here at The Maine View in the past (here and here.) Well now the cause has a celebrity backer. Richard Dreyfuss.

In recent years Dreyfuss has been touring spreading his passion for civics education. Dreyfuss pursued various avenues to spread his message including a two hour television show. Next fall Dreyfuss plans to have a civics curriculum he developed in use on Martha’s Vineyard.

from Boston.com:

Years ago, Dreyfuss began contemplating ways of teaching schoolchildren the fundamentals of citizenship in a modern democracy. His first notion, a two-hour TV show, never got off the ground. His Oxford studies kept the idea alive, though, and last year Dreyfuss began work on a public-school civic s curriculum. He hopes to have a pilot program up and running on Martha’s Vineyard next fall.

The Vineyard connection harkens back to “Jaws.” A mutual friend who worked on the film with Dreyfuss introduced him to Robert Tankard , a local teacher and school administrator. The two struck up a friendship that deepened over time.

“We talk about government and education, not acting,” says Tankard, currently a Vineyard school committee member. “Richard is extremely passionate. He loves this country but feels it can do a better job educating our kids how to become better citizens.”

Dreyfuss will be speaking this Friday in Bar Harbor, Maine. He will address the Maine State Bar Association on his civics projects.

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Class Disruption – One bad apple can spoil the bunch

I read this post by Clay Burell at Change.org this last night. After reading the post I decided to let my thoughts marinate for a while. Clay wrote on a study showing how detrimental a single disruptive student can hold back a whole class.

from Change.org:

Obviously, if Teacher A has one or more disruptive students in a class, and Teacher B doesn’t, this study suggests that the effects of the disruptors in Teacher A’s class will degrade their grades come test time – and lead to Teacher A being labeled a “bad teacher.” Teacher B, meanwhile, by the luck of the draw, will suffer no such handicapping come test time.

I wrote recently about the French film, The Class, which follows a class containing a disruptive student for months, and then shows the same class after that student had been expelled. The night and day difference in time-on-task and learning atmosphere is enough to make any democrat uncomfortable: we believe in equal education for all, yet a single troubled troublemaker can create unequal learning opportunities for his or her classmates, while the neighboring classrooms have no such handicap.

I had such a situation last year. A couple of students who, when they chose to come to class, sometimes came on time, sometimes with their course materials and homework, sometimes not. I finally decided to bar them from the class and send them to the principal’s office for the duration, until they decided they could get their act together. I’m not saying it’s the perfect solution, but it at least let me and the rest of the class learn in peace.

Wow! That was my first thought that night. This study totally turns a lot of what I believe on education reform on its ear. Those who read my blog know that I favor clear expectations and goals for teachers and students, accountability for those goals, and flexibility on how we get there. Literally one bad (maybe disruptive is a better word) apple CAN spoil the bunch.

If we base teacher, school, and district assessments on student testing (or grades) alone one disruptive student can skew scores dramatically. This “domino effect” as Ed Week put it can drop a whole classroom’s scores, sending out a damaging ripple. That ripple can hit everything from a teacher’s pay and or retention to a district’s funding or a school’s chances of being open.

Aside from it’s association with testing, how do we solve this issue so that the kids who want to learn can? Some schools have become almost afraid to discipline children. Of course there is some well placed fear behind this. The real threat of being gunned down or knifed still exists in some schools. Let’s continue with the assumption that this threat as been dealt with and the school is already safe in that respect.

What lasting consequences are there of disciplinary actions? Is detention really punishment? Having had a few in my school career I would say no. You do you homework, read a book, brood quietly for an hour or so. Then you go home. Big deal. And anything save a Saturday detention or a suspension did not follow you along.

To begin, we must be clear with students what behavior is expected and what will not be tollerated. The punishments for inappropirate behavoir must be clear as well. Exceptions should not be made and the same punishments should follow the crime each time disruption occurs.

Punishments must carry weight. I’m going months back to a subject I advocated for a solution, civics education. Community service should be a primary way to pay for disruption. That could be within the community at large, or the community of the school. This would serve a few purposes.

– Working in a community builds a sense of community. You are less likely to be disrespectful to your community when you have worked to keep it up.

– Others will see that you have broken the rules. Peer judgement is a huge factor to school age children. Few children will want their peers to see them being punished.

– You will get the community kept up. The improvements disciplined children are doing will help keep schools clean etc and encourage things to be kept up.

Is this a blanket solution? A magic discipline potion? No, I would never argue that about any reform. It is however a necessary step in the right direction.

For Those Stat Lovers – 2008 Ed stats galore

Well, it’s here. You’ve all been waiting for it. The Digest of Education’s Annual Statistics Report! Is it summer yet because this feels like Christmas in July!

The report is gigantic. The pfd is 728 pages. Needless to say I wont be reading the whole thing.

Some stats of interest:

Teacher to student ratio is down to 15 per teacher

Most of New England and the northern Midwest have seen decreases in enrollment. Could this point to school quality, economy, or some other factors?

About $9,000 dollars is spent per child each year. That’s more than I spent for my undergrad.

Average reading score in 2007 for 4th graders was 221 out of 500.

74% of 12th graders are at or above basic writing levels

66% of 12 graders understood US Civics. That scares me. We should be closer to 75% and upward if we want a functional society.

There are a slew of other states ripe for analysis. Being a statistical junkie I could rattle numbers off to you for ages. Unfortunately I don’t have the time or resources to really go in-depth on the meanings behind these figures like I would like to. Feel free to check them out on your own.

For Those Stat Lovers – 2008 Ed stats galore

Well, it’s here. You’ve all been waiting for it. The Digest of Education’s Annual Statistics Report! Is it summer yet because this feels like Christmas in July!

The report is gigantic. The pfd is 728 pages. Needless to say I wont be reading the whole thing.

Some stats of interest:

Teacher to student ratio is down to 15 per teacher

Most of New England and the northern Midwest have seen decreases in enrollment. Could this point to school quality, economy, or some other factors?

About $9,000 dollars is spent per child each year. That’s more than I spent for my undergrad.

Average reading score in 2007 for 4th graders was 221 out of 500.

74% of 12th graders are at or above basic writing levels

66% of 12 graders understood US Civics. That scares me. We should be closer to 75% and upward if we want a functional society.

There are a slew of other states ripe for analysis. Being a statistical junkie I could rattle numbers off to you for ages. Unfortunately I don’t have the time or resources to really go in-depth on the meanings behind these figures like I would like to. Feel free to check them out on your own.

Great Respect – The Genius of Colin Powell

Frederick Douglass, Booker T Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama; all powerful uniters. On the day of the most historic inauguration in our Country’s history, I find it pertinent to write on a uniter in the black community that I admire most: Colin Powell.

In the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, Powell wrote a plea for Americans to work together toward renewal. Government can only do so much. The Government can give a stimulus check to all Americans, but it still cannot force us to make smart decisions with that money. Nor can the government know how best to promote each individual communities needs best. As Powell states, “Particularly in hard times like these, we are charged with living up to our shared responsibility to one another.”

Colin Powell calls us out of our bunkers. Now is not the time to duck and cover. We’ve got to put on our boots, pick up our shovels, and dive in the shit. No one will do it for us. In times of true need, Americans have always come out in droves to help their neighbors. Powell notes this in the article: “It is the time to give more, to step forward and serve our fellow citizens, and to reach into the reservoir of this nation’s unrivaled capacity for good.”

Powell also goes further than many Republican and Libertarians are willing. Powell calls for those with more to give more. “Those of us with the power to ease or eliminate that suffering should come forward”, He says. I am a huge advocate of personal responsibility. I believe you can create, or destroy just about anything you want in your life despite circumstances. However, as humans we band together for mutual prosperity. The main point of government is to preserve that prosperity. So to deny your neighbor money or time when you have and they don’t is morally wrong.

Powell points out that Obama’s call for service to our country does not only extend to those in uniform. Like John Kennedy’s “ask not” speech, Powell reaches out to all Americans. We all have something to give in this time. “You don’t have to wear the uniform of this country to serve others. You don’t have to work in government. And you don’t have to start a foundation. At a time when so many of our countrymen are in need, everyone has the power to help.”

I have already had a profound respect for Colin Powell. I expressed to my wife on many occasions that I would have voted Republican had Powell run for President. I was disappointed for a while that he didn’t run. I know that he will continue to be a powerful voice of reason and moderation in his party and for the country. I would pray that Americans will heed his call to action, putting aside party and ideology. I can already feel a fire alight in the heart of this country, an electricity sparking. Americans are already marching down the path that Powell, Obama, and others have proposed. My heart will undoubtedly fill with pride tomorrow. Over the next months and years, after Americans band together to conquer hardship after hardship and my heart will grow ten times. I hate to be cliché, but all I can say is YES WE CAN!

The clip is almost a half hour. Powell comes in around 2 minutes.

Great Respect – The Genius of Colin Powell

Frederick Douglass, Booker T Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama; all powerful uniters. On the day of the most historic inauguration in our Country’s history, I find it pertinent to write on a uniter in the black community that I admire most: Colin Powell.

In the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, Powell wrote a plea for Americans to work together toward renewal. Government can only do so much. The Government can give a stimulus check to all Americans, but it still cannot force us to make smart decisions with that money. Nor can the government know how best to promote each individual communities needs best. As Powell states, “Particularly in hard times like these, we are charged with living up to our shared responsibility to one another.”

Colin Powell calls us out of our bunkers. Now is not the time to duck and cover. We’ve got to put on our boots, pick up our shovels, and dive in the shit. No one will do it for us. In times of true need, Americans have always come out in droves to help their neighbors. Powell notes this in the article: “It is the time to give more, to step forward and serve our fellow citizens, and to reach into the reservoir of this nation’s unrivaled capacity for good.”

Powell also goes further than many Republican and Libertarians are willing. Powell calls for those with more to give more. “Those of us with the power to ease or eliminate that suffering should come forward”, He says. I am a huge advocate of personal responsibility. I believe you can create, or destroy just about anything you want in your life despite circumstances. However, as humans we band together for mutual prosperity. The main point of government is to preserve that prosperity. So to deny your neighbor money or time when you have and they don’t is morally wrong.

Powell points out that Obama’s call for service to our country does not only extend to those in uniform. Like John Kennedy’s “ask not” speech, Powell reaches out to all Americans. We all have something to give in this time. “You don’t have to wear the uniform of this country to serve others. You don’t have to work in government. And you don’t have to start a foundation. At a time when so many of our countrymen are in need, everyone has the power to help.”

I have already had a profound respect for Colin Powell. I expressed to my wife on many occasions that I would have voted Republican had Powell run for President. I was disappointed for a while that he didn’t run. I know that he will continue to be a powerful voice of reason and moderation in his party and for the country. I would pray that Americans will heed his call to action, putting aside party and ideology. I can already feel a fire alight in the heart of this country, an electricity sparking. Americans are already marching down the path that Powell, Obama, and others have proposed. My heart will undoubtedly fill with pride tomorrow. Over the next months and years, after Americans band together to conquer hardship after hardship and my heart will grow ten times. I hate to be cliché, but all I can say is YES WE CAN!

The clip is almost a half hour. Powell comes in around 2 minutes.

Bring Civics to Civilization – Why Americans Ought To Know How Government Works

Civics education, or government class to some, has all but disappeared from the curriculum. Knowing how our government functions became synonymous with indoctrination during the 60s and 70s. “Teaching about our democracy imposes values on our students”, many activists of the time shouted. As it became apparent Americans were woefully lagging behind other industrialized nations in math and science, curriculum planners gave civics a near deathblow.

The results have been dangerous. On a recent civics quiz the average score was 49, meaning we failed. Less than half of Americans can name all three branches of government. Only 27 percent of Americans know that the Bill of Rights prohibits the government from establishing an official religion in the U.S. 54 percent do not know that the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war, not the president. Founding Father James Madison who said, “A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.” is surely rolling over in his grave. Unfortunately too few people know enough about the document Madison helped create to be too concerned about some dead president’s hurt feelings.

If a “better informed citizenry places important limitations on the ability of public officials, interest groups and other elites to manipulate public opinion and act in ways contrary to the public interest,” then what does an ill informed public allow. The past eight years proves just how far the public will allow our government to go. And thank God it was only eight.

Not understanding civics could be the downfall of America. A boost in civics education will reduce voter apathy, increase pride in our communities, and allow citizens to properly keep elected officials in check. Americans love of democracy unites us. In order to continue in that beloved democracy we must insist on educating our citizenry in its history and major documents.