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Archive for September, 2008

I had a wonderful, fantabulous birthday that I shall tell you all about later as I believe I only got about 6 or so hours of actual sleep last night (which, though enough for some people (*cough* el boyo */cough*), is not nearly enough for me!) and thus must to bed early tonight to make up for it especially since I have an appointment tomorrow morning which means I can’t sleep in as late as I want/need, for, as you may be able to tell, a lack of sleep does adverse, though potentially interesting, things to my sentence length and copius usage of commas to craft said sentences.  Ok, I’m done now.  To bed!

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As Joel Spring nears the end of his book, he comes full circle to the idea of the dominance of the Protestant Anglo-American culture: “For better or worse, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition was for two centuries – and in crucial respects still is – the dominant influence on American culture and society” (Arthur Schlesinger Jr as qtd on 421).  Unlike Schlesinger, however, Spring posits that multicultural education in public schools is a positive thing and is in fact the right thing to do morally.

While I don’t want to get bogged down in a debate about multicultural education vs. Protestant Anglo-American (PA-A)education (though, for the record, I support the former when done properly), I do want to look into the issue of single-culture schools in general.

I find it ironic that parents who don’t want their children to be assimilated into the dominant PA-A culture decide that the best choice is to instead send their children to a school that centers on their previous home’s culture.  I don’t understand how it is appropriate to have Afrocentric or Mexican-American-centric or Native-American-centric schools and yet it is inappropriate to have PA-A schools.  I understand the issue of public schools vs private schools, and how private schools can be whatever-centric they so desire, but I still don’t see how using the same tactic, yet with a different culture, is going to fix the primary issue that made parents so upset in the first place.

There is no one culture that is superior than the others.  I believe that most people who discuss this issue, no matter what race or culture, would agree with me on this.  Yet it seems to me that any school that is centered on one specific culture is indeed claiming that that culture is indeed superior to others.  Spring cites claims that “moving away from a white Anglo-American Protestant-centered curriculum will completely change a student’s view of the world” (444).  Not to be too blunt or curt, but: duh.  The problem is that this new perspective isn’t necessarily better.  Just different.  And different does not automatically mean different.  This is why a multicultural education is so important.

A multicultural education would also go a long way in working towards the goal of teaching students to think critically, a goal I have mentioned many times before.  Teachers need to present students with examples of many different ways of thinking and looking at a problem or issue or subject, then to think critically about that problem/issue/subject, and draw their own conclusion.  A multicultural education works perfectly towards this goal.

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I was just looking over my blog and, while I knew that I hadn’t posted in a while, I didn’t realize that the last time I posted, I was still in France. A lot has happened since then.

First and foremost, I did end up leaving France. I was in Europe for almost exactly a week. I talked to my parents and my home university in the US, and was able to convince them that coming home would be the best thing for me. It took a lot of talking on my part to manage this, but as I have an extremely good track record of making the right decisions in my life, they decided to accept my decision and not try to force me to stay in France. Thus, I contacted professors, arranged planes, trains, and automobiles (literally! I needed a taxi to get from my dorm to the train station, a train from Lille to London, a taxi from the train station to Heathrow, and a plane from London to home), made a great many phone calls all over the US, London, and France, and was on my way home within 48 hours.

Long story short, I was in France on Friday, London on Saturday, home Saturday night, and back at school Sunday night, with three classes arranged for Monday. I am fortunate enough to be interested in classes that no one else is really that keen on, and so was actually able to get into classes that I think I would have enrolled in had I not made the detour to France first. I started a week behind everyone else, which my professors were a bit worried about, but my academic advisor apparently assured them all that I am a good student and would be able to catch up. And so I have! I think. Barring any implications in that last post I wrote…

In terms of a social life, I have one friend and el boyo here on campus to hang out with. I don’t think I have ever actually tried to make friends with people, it usually just happened through proximity of some sort, so I’m really not sure how to go about expanding my social circle during this semester, even though that is a goal I have set for myself. I’m just really not a social person, so it’s not like I’m going to go to parties etc. I’ve been trying to branch out a bit and do more things around campus, but I keep returning to my old anti-social ways. Bad habits are seriously hard to break. Any ideas?

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Recently I have noticed a disturbing trend within myself in that I am extremely proud of myself when I actually finish all my homework properly. I mean, shouldn’t I be doing that all the time? The answer to that of course is yes, but for some reason, in never seems to happen anymore. I find myself crunched for time or completely overwhelmed by the fact that I’m supposed to read about 100 pages of dense material – each – for all three of my Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes just about every night, not to mention the 3 or so hours it takes to translate 60-80 lines of Latin for my Tuesday/Thursday class. Thus, when I actually read all 300 pages or take the time to translate a poem so that it makes sense, I feel a great sense of accomplishment followed almost immediately my a great sense of shame.

The worst part about it is that I am truly interested in all of my classes this semester and would love to read everything, highlighter in hand. Yet when I am prepared to engage in the material via my highlighter, I know that it will take 3 times as long to read it. Yet when I attempt to read it without said highlighter, I find myself wanting to highlight so many interesting pieces that I end up starting over again, highlighter in hand, and so spend even more time on the reading! That, and the fact that flipping through a school book that I have read every single page of and highlighted all the interesting parts sends shivers up my spine because I am so happy. Seriously, if you ever think that you’re not accomplishing anything in school, simply flip through a book that you have somehow marked up in the course of your studies, and you shall instantly be amazed at how much you did with that book. It’s astonishing really.

But this wasn’t supposed to turn into a love note to highlighters. Though I’m sure I could manage to write copious amounts of materials on that subject. But I won’t. For now.

To resume our scheduled programming, I feel I should mention that as I write this, I should be diagramming the Ara Pacis Augustae for class on Monday. Yet somehow, that is just not happening. Surprise, surprise. I know that come Monday, I will have it done, yet I can’t seem to bring myself to do it now as it will take way too much time that I simply do not have the concentration for. And you can thank the mint mocha I just drank for that. Can’t wait for cider season to start. Wow, is caffeine bad for my work ethic. And focusing my mind. Prepare for more posts to come your way this weekend as I try to work off this caffeine and make up for the long time it has been since last I posted (my sincerest apologizes, by the way!).

Ta-ta for now!

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Much of Spring’s book talks about the never-ending quest for “equal education”, which is indeed a theme for this class.  In this chapter, he focuses on the “War on Poverty” and the attempts to use education, in all forms, from schools to television (Sesame Street!) to fight poverty and give everyone in America the opportunity to realize the American dream of self-sufficiency.  While I commend this goal, I do have to raise one question concerning “equal education”: what is equal?

By “equal”, do we mean equal distribution of resources?  Or equal levels to reach?  Or equal opportunities?

Equal distribution of resources, I feel, would be unfair.  As has been discussed many times in class, richer communities are able to contribute more resources to their schools than poorer districts.  Thus, having an equal distribution of government wealth/resources would not help the situation, especially considering the “War on Poverty”.  Thus, if this is to be the definition of “equal education”, then I feel that this is not the goal we should strive for.  I feel that more resources need to be poured into those schools that need it most.  Districts that are currently thriving will most likely continue to do so despite any fluctuations in government resources.  Schools that are on the opposite end, however, need to have more resources, more funding, so that they can do all possible to improve the quality of education they provide their students.

Defining “equal education” as one in which everyone strives for the same goal seems to be the definition that the federal government is currently working with in terms of No Child Left Behind.  Again, this is an issue which has been much discussed in class.  While I think that such a definition could work, I don’t feel that NCLB is achieving it simply because of the nature of the goals that they set.  If we set goals based on a set curriculum of information to memorize, then I feel education suffers.  If we set goals based on achievement and independence, then we may be able to move closer to an equal educational system (though of course the nagging question of how to accomplish such unquantifiable goals shall continue to rear its ugly head).

Finally, we have the definition of equal opportunity.  Like the goals I suggested in the last paragraph, this is such a vague goal that it most likely can never be used as the foundation for education policy.  Yet I think it should, and it goes hand-in-hand with my previous suggestion of the goals of education.  Students should be able to come out of our schools with the opportunity to do whatever they want and the skills to achieve it.

In a perfect world…

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NB: The following was written as a response paper for an English class I am currently taking.  I am posting it here, verbatim, because I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts on the matter.  So have at it!

[The page numbers refer to the exact edition linked to on Amazon]

In the middle of the first volume of Wuthering Heights, Catherine confesses to Nelly her love for Heathcliff, but she tempers it by saying, “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff” (81). Nelly then notices that Heathcliff had overheard their conversation, but “had listened till he heard Catherine say it would degrade her to marry him, and then he staid to hear no farther” (81). Though Heathcliff comes to realize that Catherine loves him passionately, her comment here stays with him for the rest of his life. Indeed, his later actions seem to be Heathcliff attempting to prove himself worthy of Catherine. Through such reasoning, Heathcliff becomes lord and master over not only both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, but also over all the people connected to Catherine.

First, Heathcliff marries Isabella, Catherine’s sister-in-law, to spite Catherine (112). Then he becomes master of Wuthering Heights essentially by force of character, with Hindley “on the verge of madness” (140) in his rage over Heathcliff’s doings. Even Joseph calls Heathcliff “t’ maister” (143). In this sense, Heathcliff is enacting his revenge over Hindley for his rejection of Heathcliff as a child and a young man, as well as proving himself to Catherine to be worthy of acquiring her family’s holdings.

After Catherine’s death, Heathcliff becomes even more aggressive in pursuing his goal, as if he feels the need to prove even more in order to be worthy of her in the afterlife and not just in life. Thus, rather than consenting to achieve superiority through trickery and force of character, Heathcliff moves to actual force in kidnapping young Catherine and Nelly, forcing them to stay until young Catherine agrees to marry his son, Linton (272). This must be accomplished before young Catherine’s father, Edgar – Catherine’s husband – dies, in order that Heathcliff might become master over Thrushcross Grange, which was Catherine’s domain after marrying into the Linton family.

Accomplishing both of these goals – his son marrying young Catherine and gaining control over Thrushcross Grange when Edgar died – Heathcliff seems to finally start to come to peace. We see his iron-fisted control start to slip as he grows older and there is nothing more to achieve in his quest. Indeed, he begins to avoid anything that would evoke the memory of Catherine, such as avoiding eating with Catherine’s daughter at mealtimes (326), perhaps wondering if everything he had accomplished will not be enough for him to be reunited with Catherine in heaven. Finally, he appears to achieve a sense of contentment after a night walk where he returns with the “appearance of joy” for he feels he is “within sight of [his] heaven” (328). We cannot know what he saw on that walk but it appears as though he realizes that he has realized his goal and will soon be with Catherine, having proved himself worthy. Thus, it follows that he soon dies, and Nelly notices that “he seemed to smile” (335).

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Throughout much of The American School, and particularly in chapter 11, the lack of trust placed in the hands of teachers astounds me.  I mean, teachers are expected to teach the next generation, but are not trusted to do it appropriately.  The differing views of administrators and teachers highlights this to the greatest extent.  Even the National Teachers’ Association was renamed the National Education Association and “[a]lthough the professed goal of the organization was to improve teaching, teachers had a difficult time gaining power within the organization” (336).  Spring fills these pages with example upon example of changes in education that could have resulted in more power for the actual teachers, but ultimately led to less.  This continues into his section on political changes in the early-to-mid 1900s.  There rose a battle between professional educators and the federal government. This battle is still going on with such policies as No Child Left Behind.

To a certain extent, I can understand the concerns that people have about teachers.  I mean, most people understand how much of an impact a teacher can have, for better or for worse, on their children, on the next generation of Americans.  I can understand that they want to make sure that their precious bundles of joy are taught only subjects that they approve of.  But at the same time, we have to trust these people to do the jobs that they were hired for.  This goes back to my previous discussion about the incredulity of suggesting that business or political leaders should be the ones the President turns to on matters of education policy.  Where did America get the idea that teachers shouldn’t be the ones deciding how to teach?  And how in the world did it become so ingrained in our collective conscience?

I understand that Spring is writing this book as an attempt to explain how certain things came to be done the way they are in the education system, but for me, it raises so many more questions.  The big one is why?  I can appreciate his explanations of how, but I wish there was an answer for why these things happened the way they did.

On an unrelated note: am I the only one who sees the sad irony in this statement: “Unlike the public relations professionals, these educators were operating on the assumption that the U.S. public was able and willing to engage in rational political discourse” (349)?

Actually, maybe that’s not so unrelated.  Maybe the irony in that statement is the answer to my above question of why.  I’m expecting the U.S. public to act rationally, as I always try to do.  But this is an irrational assumption on my part.  So that’s why the education system is the way it is.  Mob mentality.  God bless America.

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