Education Week - January 20, 2016 - (Page 26)

LETTERS to the EDITOR Civics Courses, Political Role Should Go Hand in Hand To the Editor: While the merits of the Every Student Succeeds Act can be debated, it is important to celebrate a new priority: The law authorizes the creation of four different programs that fund civics education. In recent years, civics education has been seen as a luxury-a subject that students can take if there happens to be extra time. This de-emphasis of civics has had real ramifications. Young people want to make a difference in these increasingly tumultuous times, but despite this idealistic spirit they do not see institutional politics as the way to create change. A recent poll found that millennials overwhelmingly felt that volunteering and charity was a better way of making positive change in society than by engaging with government. This behavior leads to a vicious circle: Because young people are not actively involved in politics, elected officials do not pay attention to issues that specifically affect young people. One of the reasons that young people are not politically engaged, I would argue, is that schools are not teaching them civics. A recent National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics demonstrated that only 23 percent of 8th graders were proficient in the subject. The inclusion of civics-focused education programs in ESSA provides an opening for a serious conversation about the role of civics education in the United States. As we rethink our educational priorities, we have an opportunity to promote civics as a subject that every single young person in this country should receive. Educating young people to participate in politics cannot be seen as a luxury. It should be seen as vital for the very future of our democracy. Scott Warren Executive Director Generation Citizen New York, N.Y. Building Creativity On the Playground To the Editor: The Every Student Succeeds Act is already receiving praise, and some criticism, for letting teachers and schools decide how to test achievement ("Experts Wary of Interim Tests for Annual Score," Jan. 6, 2016). Something is still missing from how we view education, however: the role of play. Many developmental psychologists agree that active, creative play is the real key to learning. Often, U.S. education policies do not reflect this, and neither do many school grounds. If play is so important to learning, then school grounds should be seen as valuable assets. Instead, they are often covered in expanses of close-cut grass or asphalt, or extensive but relatively unimaginative jungle gyms. These playgrounds favor physically competitive activities like ball games and climbing. While these are important for students' development, what about the kind of creative play that fosters imagination, communication, curiosity, and problem-solving? Natural playgrounds- those that incorporate water, plantings (other than grass), loose objects with which to play and build, and places to explore- offer a wider range of development potential to kids who play on them. The more children can manipulate their environment, the more imaginative they can get with how they play. With props, or loose objects, children can build houses or boats, make miniature scenes, or create temporary works of art. Loose objects have the tendency to become whatever a child wants them to become. This is not always (but can be) true of larger, less movable structures. Including building materials in playgrounds also helps children learn construction skills and the properties of materials, and can foster problem-solving and cooperation. Other natural loose parts like soil, seed pods, and pine cones provide rich sensory input. Such playground elements also create interesting spaces for hands-on class-time learning, promote students' physical and mental health, foster ecological diversity and community development, and provide sustainability potential for school grounds. Natural playgrounds are a clear win for students and communities. The real question is why every school doesn't have one. Lisa Charron Madison, Wis. Gates 'Principles' Neglect Cultural Sensitivity To the Editor: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has now pledged to make another huge donation, this time to teacher-training programs that best meet its four criteria for best practices ("Gates Foundation Turns Attention to Teacher-Prep 'Transformation,' " Dec. 2, 2015). Once again, however, none of these driving principles addresses a central problem of instruction: a lack of cultural literacy and sensitivity. As long as teachers themselves are largely ignorant of the powerful impact that cultural norms have on the behavior of students, too many students will continue to fall further and further behind their peers because of learned behaviors that might be acceptable and productive within their home communities but not in school. These students will continue to be seen as problem students, underperform, and, on occasion, interfere with the performance of other students because of their alienation and resentment. In my 30 years in urban public schools, most recently coaching math teachers, I've seen good teachers flounder again and again when confronted by culturally learned behaviors that from kindergarten onward impede students learning in typical classroom situations. Teachers are uniquely positioned to model the informed and sensitive behaviors that contemporary diverse societies require of their citizens if they are to live in peace and prosperity. But first, teachers must learn more about how acceptable behavior is defined across various cultures, and how to work with their schools' specific student populations 26 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 20, 2016 | to help all their students succeed. Being a caring person, as most teachers are, is not enough. In my experience, teachers have been eager to learn about cultural differences. Where is the attention to this knowledge, which should be taught in teachertraining programs and encouraged in professional development? Cathy Wilkerson New York, N.Y. Education Must Broaden Growth of Social Infrastructure To the Editor: Is education's foremost mission to train the state's workforce? Or is it to help us improve our lives? It's the former, according to the industrial model implicit in much of the United States' current educational policies. In that model, education is just another industrial sector with the job of manufacturing skilled labor. Educators in the United States have yielded the driver's seat to this industrial outlook without giving it enough thought. Doing so keeps many educational leaders and policymakers from making decisions that further their own values and their students' needs. America's existing economic infrastructure is partially to blame for our many social, economic, environmental, and geopolitical problems. If there is cause for optimism in education, however, it is that so few people would choose an educational career that requires training students merely to fit the predetermined roles required by the status quo. Instead, we, as educators, hope our students will participate in the intelligent redirection of society. It is true that a healthy economy is a public good. It is equally true that this good is not served when students, educators, and policymakers treat each other chiefly as servants to the businessas-usual workaday world of adults. It serves the public good when our various professions, occupations, leisure activities, and on-the-ground pursuits are energized by educational institutions that are cultures of imagination and growth, regardless of their diverse aims and emphases. Every child should have the opportunity for an education that fronts growth, emotional development, imaginative engagement, aesthetic vitality, responsibility, and care. Let us hope that this idea still has the power to adjust the attitudes and practices of those determining educational policies. Steven Fesmire Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies Green Mountain College Poultney, Vt. COMMENTARY POLICY Education Week takes no editorial positions, but publishes opinion essays and letters from outside contributors in its Commentary section. For information about submitting an essay or letter for review, visit Not a Selfie CONTINUED FROM PAGE 25 they don't like (also referred to as "triggers"), not only paralyzes the free exchange of ideas, but also leads to depression. That's because if you're struggling with an issue, it's healthier to confront it than to sweep it under the rug. In other words, it may not be a good idea to run your gripes through the Perfect365 app, which allows users to "make over" or edit photos before sharing them on social-networking sites. President Barack Obama agrees: "That's not the way we learn," he said recently of shielding students from conflicting points of view. The precursor to the homogeneous ideas students will voice on campus appears to be the airbrushed essays they will write to get in. In the ones I have read, in my capacity as a former high school English teacher, I have seen much self-aggrandizement, but little self-effacement. I have come across perfect grammar, but no imperfect expression. I have rarely seen the vulnerability that is in us all. Perhaps that's because of college counselors' proclivity to play it safe. Phillip Lopate, an author and the director of the graduate nonfiction program at Columbia University, praised his daughter's original Common Application essay about her "mixed attraction to the idea of melancholy," but her college adviser nixed it out of fear that colleges would deem her a "downer." For her college essay, Sarah Lewis, the author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, wrote about the importance of failure and snuck it past her parents and college adviser because it was considered "high risk." A former student, Francesca Mileo, submitted an essay about a friendship she struck up with a girl while visiting her brother at a rehabilitation facility when he was recovering from a diving accident, but the essay's more interesting aspect was her reaction to the attention her parents lavished on her brother. For many months she felt ignored and selfishly acted out on those feelings. Her revelation of her vulnerabilities was renegade. Mileo recently graduated from Villanova University. And Lewis not only got into Harvard University, she's now an assistant professor there-and a best-selling author. Clearly, revealing imperfections can work. The college essay is, after all, a memoir. In excellent memoirs like Cheryl Strayed's Wild, Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle, and Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the protagonists are wonderfully flawed. Cheryl is a promiscuous drug abuser; Jeanette is resentful toward her parents; and Maya struggles with her looks. Lopate says that students should be pointed away from the "self-righteous inveighing" that kills honest writing. I agree. When I taught memoir, I asked students to identify a topic that took them out of their comfort zone and a side of their personality they weren't proud of. The exploration of their frailties led to revelatory final drafts. So, is there any hope for the college essay to draw out flesh-and-blood human beings? Turns out, the Common Application essay prompts have been revamped to include a question that asks students to discuss an incident when they failed and what they learned from the experience. When I met Audrey for coffee the day after she woke me up at the crack of dawn, I told her to be herself, not the selfie version of herself. I explained that when Francesca Mileo was accepted to Villanova and other great schools, she was rejected from a few Ivy League schools, which devastated her at the time. But she ended up being much happier at Villanova than she would have been in a more stressful environment. Now, she is contentedly working at Condé Nast, her first job after graduating. I suggested to Audrey that she view her essay as a rebellion against the cult of perfection and against homogeneity, and its reception as a litmus test of whether or not she is truly suited for a particular college. While she might not get into her first-choice school, a rejection could be the best thing to ever happen to her. n

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 20, 2016

Education Week - January 20, 2016
ESSA Challenges Ahead for States
25 Years In, TFA Faces Tensions, Courts Change
Flint, Mich., Reels From Water Crisis
Opt-Out Activists Eye Fresh Battlefronts
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Open Ed. Resources Get Boost From ESSA
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Book Highlights Practical Guidance For Teaching Reading
College Testing Season Marred By Score Delays, Snafus
Blogs of the Week
Unions on Defensive as High Court Hears Dispute Involving Fees
In Home Stretch, Obama Vows to Push On Education Priorities
Ed. Dept. Gets Advocates’ Views On Preparing ESSA Regulations
DONALD M. FEUERSTEIN: The ‘Inconvenient Truth’ of Student Debt
JAMES LYTLE: The NCAA’s Chokehold On Secondary Schooling
FLORINA RODOV: Your College Essay Isn’t a Selfie
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
RICHARD WEISSBOURD: College Admission 2.0: Service Over Self

Education Week - January 20, 2016