Friday Reading List: When Violence Intrudes on Teaching, Updating Career Education, and Whither Public Trust in Our Institutions

Fredrick Scott Salyers, a New York City teacher, in in Chalkbeat, discussing how state violence against people of color affects his teaching:

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them. I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It's a powerful and personal perspective, and I won't add needless commentary.

Sharif El-Mekki is a Philadelphia-based educator whose mission it is to get more Black teachers into the classroom. In Philly's 7th Ward he's shares his confusion as to why one of his city councillors would resist that idea:

This year at my school we’ve been proud to host two teacher residents. They are both Black and have worked under the guidance of master teachers, co-planning and observing expertly designed lessons, and then practicing them. These two teachers have worked hard, attended graduate classes, delivered instruction, received coaching and feedback, practiced applying best practices, analyzed data, and developed their skills. And they are both students in the Relay Graduate School of Education ... Unfortunately, there are some people in positions of power and influence who proclaim “radical” statements and “revolutionary” thoughts, but in the end align themselves with the status quo, in spite of the evidence. Most notably I’m speaking of vocal Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym, who wants to challenge the “radical” idea that a non-traditional graduate school program can have an impact on preparing teachers for our city.

Regular readers of this blog know that I have heterodox views on education policy that don't align neatly with either the "status quo traditionalist" forces or the "reform" camp. This knee-jerk resistance to new ideas, though, is what drives me nuts about the traditionalists. As El-Mekki notes, the Relay program is trying to place 20 new teachers in a city with thousands of teachers. Councillor Gym is reacting as if this is a beachhead to destroy public education as we know it. It's no secret that teacher preparation in this country is notoriously weak; you can't claim to be for improving schools on Monday, then assail modest innovations on Tuesday. Something's gotta give.

In other news, Catherine Gewertz is in Education Week, examining the obsolescence of some high school career programs:

What's happening here in rural Tennessee reflects a growing focus nationally on building high-quality career and technical education programs. Leaders in the field are acutely aware that too many career tracks have trapped young people in low-paying jobs with dim growth potential ... In Tennessee, districts can offer state-approved programs of study within 16 "career clusters," or they can create their own, as Warren County did with mechatronics, and get the state's permission to offer them. But any program must be backed up by data proving that it meets a labor-market need and that it offers students the opportunity to pursue higher education.

The range in quality among career and technical programs is enormous. I've seen great technical programs in robotics and home healthcare that prepare students for legitimate careers ... and I've seen "apparel repair programs" that may has well have been sweat shops. As more and more Americans came to view college as the primary route to lifelong prosperity and family security, technical education fell out of fashion. But it needs to regain some credibility, because ...

... as Jon Marcus at The Hechinger Report points out, Americans are increasingly questioning the benefits of a college education:

Three-quarters of Americans think it’s easier to succeed in life with a college degree than without one, but only 43 percent say private, nonprofit universities and colleges are worth the cost, according to a new poll. Fifty-eight percent say colleges and universities put their own interests ahead of those of students, and only one in four believe the higher-education system is working well, the survey, commissioned by the foundation New America, found.

Some days I think that we're close to the absolute nadir, vis-a-vis public trust in the essential institutions that make our democracy function. I hope we can reverse the trend soon. Have a great weekend ...