Friday, September 15, 2006

A Response to Comments on My Rosy Rhetoric

There were a lot of comments on my last post, and I apologize for not responding to them earlier. But I've been very busy lately--it's the beginning of a new school year, so I think that any teachers can probably understand my tardiness. Also, I've learned that when you have people like KDeRosa lurking in the blogging woods, you'd better think before you write. I did want to respond to some of the comments that were made on my last post, and I wanted the original commentators to see that response, but I know how I am--when I make comments, I'll check for responses for a couple of days, and then I move on. I thought the best way to handle this was to make my response on a new post.

First of all to JettyBetty: Your comment was the most positive of the bunch, and I appreciate your appreciation. I really do mean that.

Next, to my great admirer, KDeRosa. You say that I should put a warning label on my posts: "Infested with strawmen." Quite frankly, I would have hoped that labeling the post, "Rosy Rhetoric" might have been enough for you. You are truly a harsh taskmaster!

On a more serious note, you closed your comment by saying that I am making way "too many excuses." I re-read the post, and I can't find the excuses that you're talking about. Saying that I think we're doing a much better job than you do, and giving examples in an attempt to support my point aren't excuses. They are arguments. I am very impressed with your knowledge of research and numbers and teaching methods. You are obviously an intelligent man and a very articulate opponent of public education as it is today. But I will say this again: your portrayal of public schools simply does not square with my thirty two years of experience. When I was taking classes to earn my Masters, and we would have some of those progressive teaching philosophies pushed on us that you disdain, I would would make it clear to my professors that those ideas did not square with my experience. I am making that same statement to you again here.

To both KDeRosa and Rory regarding the students coming out of our high schools that need to take remedial classes, I have this to say. In an earlier comment, I had said to KDeRosa that I was not aware of any of our high school's students who had to take remedial classes when they went to college. I was wrong. I talked to our math people, and they told me that we have had a number of kids who had to take remedial math classes when they went to college. The reason for this was that the kids quit taking math classes at our high school by their junior or senior years. That's partially their fault for their selection of classes, but it is also OUR FAULT for not requiring more math. We have now changed that so that kids can no longer graduate without at least three years of math. KDeRosa, I recognize that this is anecdotal evidence. I have no idea what percentage of the remediation in colleges is the result of this type of problem, but I would guess that we are not the only high school for whom this is the case.

To Steven, I want you to know that I completely disagree with you. But I also want you to know that I respect your honesty. Many supporters of public education complain that critics of public education and supporters of vouchers actually want to destroy public education entirely. You certainly are not guilty of pretending that you don't. You are saying exactly what you think. We all know where you stand, and I look forward to arguing with you in the future.

I do want to point out to you that most critics of public education take the opposite argument of the one that you are making. Prominent critics like E. D. Hirsch argue that we should have a national curriculum. Whatever is being taught in Los Angeles, California, is the same thing that should be taught at the same time in Boston, Massachusetts. They say that local control of schools is the problem. You are arguing that there should be no government control at all.

To Laura and Elementary History Teacher. Your two voices of reason and sanity in the blogosphere are like cool breezes on a hot sunny day. I wish I could be more like you.

And finally to TMAO. When I read your second comment, I literally felt sick to my stomach. I remember saying that someone was either "stupid or ignorant" in one of my comments on somebody's blog, but it was a while back, and I have no recollection what it was about. It is so easy to make statements like that when you have no idea who you are talking about. Obviously, I disagreed with something you said or did, but I wish I would have put it differently. Laura is right. Avoiding the harsh attacks and name-calling is a very good idea. I don't know if you'll accept it, but you have my apology.

8 Comments:

Blogger KDeRosa said...

Dennis, it is admirable that you are approaching these issues with an open mind.

But I will say this again: your portrayal of public schools simply does not square with my thirty two years of experience.

But it does seem to comport with the hard stats coming out of your school (if I'm reading the back and forth between you and Rory correctly). The fact that you continue to rationalize that performance away by blaming academic failure on the students just means that my work here is not yet done.

We seem to agree that there is a lot of bad pedagogy being practice in most schools and that student failure does in fact exist. But, what you are not yet willing to connect is that the bad pedagogy is causing most of that student failure. Once you finally make that connection it's only a hop, skip, and a jump to my side of the aisle.

The reason for this was that the kids quit taking math classes at our high school by their junior or senior years. That's partially their fault for their selection of classes, but it is also OUR FAULT for not requiring more math. We have now changed that so that kids can no longer graduate without at least three years of math.

This is faulty reasoning.

The kids you in the past stopped taking math as soon as you let them were most likely poor performers in math. I bet if you gave them a rigorous test of fifth grade math skills (like this one) most would not pass it. This is your problem. making them endure a few more years of math classes that are well above their ability isn't going to improve their math skills or your school's remediation rates.

9/16/2006 5:36 AM  
Anonymous Steven said...

Dennis,

I would prefer to use the terms "transform public education" rather than "destroy public education."

Thank you for your comments.

9/16/2006 7:48 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Steven, I want to assure you that I wasn't trying to put words in your mouth. I was going by these two statements that you made:

1. I would go farther than Rory and ask whether we should even continue to operate our public schools, or should we find another solution.

2. How can anyone justify the government's right to determine what people will be taught? Giving the government that right seems like a very dangerous proposition to me.

That sounded to me like you want to get rid of public education. Would you mind explaining what your vision is? You definitely have me curious.

KDeRosa, regarding your statement that I agree with you that there is a lot of bad pedagogy in most schools, I have to say that I don't know. And no, that is not a cop-out. Much of your emphasis is on the lower grades, and I don't teach there. I do question some of the philosophies and methods that are being pushed on teachers by the "experts," especially when they are taken too far by "true believers." Within the next week, I plan on doing another post that I hope will better explain where I agree with you on this and where I'm not sure.

As you know, I work with high school kids. Because of cuts our school made, this year I have a Basic American History class for the first time in three years. I actually developed the class about ten years ago, but they gave it to another teacher when I took over our A.P. American Government class. Believe it or not, if you saw the way I run the basic class, I think you'd approve. But even you must agree that students must bring some degree of openness to learning if they are going to be successful. It is very difficult to find that openness among some of those students.

I know what your argument is. You would say that bad attitudes of high school kids are the result of poor instruction in the earlier grades. Because I don't see those kids in those earlier grades, I can't say with certainty that you're wrong, but I am a long way from being sold that you are right.

On the subject of college remediation, once again we are talking about a subject that is not my specialty. I can tell you what our math people tell me. They argue that if a high school kid takes a year off from math, and then goes in to take a test, that student is going to be in trouble. That makes sense to me. I took the upper level math classes all through high school, and then got an A in the only math class I took in college. But when I saw the test the state gives our juniors, I have to admit that I would have been in the hurt-tank. Math is like a lot of other things in life--if you don't use it, you lose it.

9/16/2006 8:52 AM  
Blogger KDeRosa said...

I can tell you what our math people tell me. They argue that if a high school kid takes a year off from math, and then goes in to take a test, that student is going to be in trouble.

Right. Unless they never had it in the first place which is most likely the case.

If the material was originally mastered it will be retained for many years. Even if it is partially forgotten, there will be much savings reteaching it. I haven't done algebra problems seriously in fifteen years, yet I still can do many algebra problems that I come across because I mastered the material in high schol and undergrad.

9/16/2006 10:07 AM  
Anonymous Steven said...

Dennis,

I didn't intend to accuse you of putting words in my mouth. What I meant was that "transform public education" is how I would term it.

I'll talk to you later. The football games are calling to me.

9/16/2006 10:20 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

KDeRosa, you might be interested to know that I went over to California Live Wire last week and invited Ms. Teacher to give me some feedback on my Direct Instruction post. She responded that she intends to be doing her own post on it soon. I am looking forward to that, because if I understand correctly, she is a teacher who is using it for the first time. It will be interesting to see what she has to say.

Steven you go and enjoy those football games. Maybe you and Rory should start a college football blog.

9/16/2006 10:49 AM  
Blogger rory said...

Dennis, I think it’s sort of unfair for all of us to keep piling up on you. I would guess that the majority of us "alarmists" would point to elementary through middle schools as being the main focus of our frustrations. Additionally, your state and your school are ethnically representative of the nation at large. Your school district probably does a better than average job of educating children, but even with 26% of your schools 11th graders don’t meet state reading standards and 32% don’t meet math standards. (See reference below).

Additionally it occurs to me that most defenders of public schools work for public schools, while it’s us parents and outsiders that tend to be critics.

Only 56% of public school parents rate their schools as above average (grade A and B). This isn't a great number considering that most parents are probably ignorant of what decent schools are capable of, since they themselves attended the same sort of schools.

Actually I am more of a USC fan than a College Football fan.

On a final note, I love that you are open minded but skeptical. If you weren't open minded, it would be pointless debating with you. If you weren't skeptical, it would be way to boring to debate with you. I suspect... ok hope that we have gotten you curious. It will be interesting to see whether we can convince you of our point of view. You have to admit that KDeRosa does make some great well documented arguments.

http://www.greatschools.net/modperl/achievement/mn/2205

9/16/2006 2:37 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

We cool, baby. We cool.

9/18/2006 10:01 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home