Monday, April 28, 2008

Weekly Links We Like to Link to - Kansas, Hippies, and Early-Early Education

  • Carry On, Wayward Synthesizer. A ten year old girl plays everything but the vocals at a keyboard recital. Better, I must say, than even I would at my advanced age.

  • Our planet. Our resources. Our present. Our future. Our grandchildren's future. Their grandchildren's future. Too much to change. Not enough time to get it right now. Why should we bother? (NYT. May require registration. h/t to Scot McKnight.)
Some choice selections:

For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do...

Wendell Berry... argued that the environmental crisis of the 1970s... was at its heart a crisis of character and would have to be addressed first at that level: at home, as it were. He was impatient with people who wrote checks to environmental organizations while thoughtlessly squandering fossil fuel in their everyday lives — the 1970s equivalent of people buying carbon offsets to atone for their Tahoes and Durangos. Nothing was likely to change until we healed the “split between what we think and what we do.”...

For Berry, the deep problem standing behind all the other problems of industrial civilization is “specialization,”... Our society assigns us a tiny number of roles: we’re producers (of one thing) at work, consumers of a great many other things the rest of the time, and then once a year or so we vote as citizens. Virtually all of our needs and desires we delegate to specialists of one kind or another — our meals to agribusiness, health to the doctor, education to the teacher, entertainment to the media, care for the environment to the environmentalist, political action to the politician.

As Adam Smith and many others have pointed out, this division of labor has given us many of the blessings of civilization. Specialization is what allows me to sit at a computer thinking about climate change. Yet this same division of labor obscures the lines of connection — and responsibility — linking our everyday acts to their real-world consequences, making it easy for me to overlook the coal-fired power plant that is lighting my screen, or the mountaintop in Kentucky that had to be destroyed to provide the coal to that plant, or the streams running crimson with heavy metals as a result.

  • Some of these ideas have been flowing through my head for the last year (regardless of the fact that I now have a daughter that we are trying to raise well and intelligently). The Chicago Tribune has an article about recent childhood development findings and the value of early intervention for toddlers and pre-schoolers. It's worth a read and reminds me of Jonathan Kozol's contention that middle- and upper-class kids will always have a clear (and, to be honest, unfair) advantage over their poorer counterparts because they will have received intense education from an early age, whereas most minority and poor students in the US will enter school largely unaware of the relationships of letters, social relationships, or certainly the process of schooling.
My side of the argument is that we need to give parents the tools to raise their children right. The more we take kids away from the parents of the poor, the more that raising children will become the government's (and teachers') jobs. And that is a disservice to everyone involved.


  1. There's tremendous research out there that supports your contention. And it's actually worse than you suggest for a number of reasons:
    #1) Middle and upper class parents correlate with higher educations, statistically speaking.
    #2) This lack of education means that lower income parents with time, interesting, and understanding of educating their kids do so at a disadvantafe.
    #3) Middle and upper class kids have more exposure to a wider range of better educated adults. Wealtheir preschools have better educated teachers; wealtheir parents have wealtheir friends and and family; the neighborhoods are inhbitated by similarly educated folks.
    #4) Standardized testing is written by middle and upper class educators. It inevitably prejudices against inner city experiences. A suburban kid and an inner city with identical academic skills will not test the same. The use of items, examples, etc. out of the suburban experience gives the suburbanite a built in experience.
    #5) The adult stimulation and print rich environment of wealtheir children is largely economic. Kids in poor families are exposed to a tiny fraction of the speech and written words that kids in wealthy families are.

    Sorry for the long post. I'm an educator and simultanously passionate and quite hopeless on the subject. These problems are so very built into the fabric of society it's hard to know how to alleviate them. The only thing I can say for sure is that No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing are making these situations much, much worse.

  2. also an educator, and specifically an urban educator. so i often think long and hard about these issues. and you're right. but that's just a beginning (kozol of course goes into more detail about what you just touched on). and the legacy of NCLB and its phenomenal imprint of high-stakes testing is devastating, to say the least, most notably to grade school classrooms (where, again, urban, minority and poor students' disadvantages are even more gaping, b/c so much time is spent prepping for tests that little time is left to intellectually stimulate the students.)


Be kind. Rewind.