Friday Reading List: Real American History, Teacher Preparation, and Educational Redemption

I have a bunch of articles to share today, so hopefully you've cleared a significant portion of your weekend for reading.

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RiShawn Biddle of Dropout Nation wants our schools to teach actual history:

... what we need now, more than ever in this time, is an honest discussion of how America’s legacy of slavery, segregation, and oppression continue to shape our politics and society. That begins with providing all children with honest, unflinching knowledge about what people like Sampson went through, from slavery to Reconstruction to Jim Crow ... The consequences of this failure to fully educate children can now be seen everywhere, including a White House occupied by a historical illiterate embracing the kind of White Supremacy that would have been respectable in the 19th century. Even respectable discourse about matters such as reforming schools are clouded by the inability of some to fully understand why it is critical to transform systems that are living legacies of deliberate decisions by past generations of White people to deny liberty and freedom to enslaved and oppressed Black people.

Biddle's piece provides an example of what this sort of discourse might look like, through a long examination on one particular enslaved family. One of the most important things to keep in mind about American history is that oppression of Black people didn't end with slavery, and that EVEN slavery was not all that long ago. At the same time that many contemporary White American families were building generational wealth, Black families were excluded from economic opportunity.

For a more contemporary narrative of how our systems disenfranchise people of color, here's Eli Hager from The New York Times:

Michelle Jones was released last month after serving more than two decades in an Indiana prison for the murder of her 4-year-old son. The very next day, she arrived at New York University, a promising Ph.D. student in American studies. In a breathtaking feat of rehabilitation, Ms. Jones, now 45, became a published scholar of American history while behind bars, and presented her work by videoconference to historians’ conclaves and the Indiana General Assembly ... N.Y.U. was one of several top schools that recruited her for their doctoral programs. She was also among 18 selected from more than 300 applicants to Harvard University’s history program. But in a rare override of a department’s authority to choose its graduate students, Harvard’s top brass overturned Ms. Jones’s admission after some professors raised concerns that she played down her crime in the application process.

Jones's story is extraordinary, and it demonstrates the unforgiving nature of our criminal justice system. While other countries think of incarceration as way to administer justice and foster rehabilitation, this country continues to treat imprisonment as permanent retribution and punishment. 

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In other news, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at a potential tension in teacher preparation policy:

Education advocates and policymakers want to have it both ways: they want more teachers of color and to “raise the bar” for the profession with measures that disproportionately screen out certain groups. The two aims, both widely popular in the education policy circles, aren’t just on a collision course. They’ve already collided. In Baltimore, for instance, a highly-rated black teacher may lose her job because of a licensing exam. But there has been only limited discussion of the fact that these two objectives — diversifying the profession and making it harder to enter — are often at cross purposes, although certification rules are hardly the only reason for limited diversity among teachers.

Barnum is writing a series on teacher preparation, and you should read his other entries.

Elsewhere, Stephen Sawchuk of Education Week wants to eradicate the myth of "learning styles," which has no scientific grounding.

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Emily Hanford of American Public Media takes a long look at how classrooms deal with dyslexia.

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Ad finally this week, Erika Christakis is in this month's edition of The Atlantic, lamenting the "war" on public schools. Most of the article is unoriginal and repetitive, but I appreciated the conclusion:

We ignore public schools’ civic and integrative functions at our peril. To revive them will require good faith across the political spectrum. Those who are suspicious of public displays of national unity may need to rethink their aversion. When we neglect schools’ nation-binding role, it grows hard to explain why we need public schools at all. Liberals must also work to better understand the appeal of school choice, especially for families in poor areas where teacher quality and attrition are serious problems. Conservatives and libertarians, for their part, need to muster more generosity toward the institutions that have educated our workforce and fueled our success for centuries.

Christakis avoids the pitfalls of other education historians by acknowledging that there was never a golden age of American schooling. That said, the biggest problem with the analysis is that she doesn't address race and/or the history of social division. It's baffling to me that education historians continue to hand-wave the fact that this country was built on a racist caste system.

Our schools are an inevitable reflection of our original sins as a country; race isn't the only lens through which to view social change, but it's a pretty f'ing important one!

Have a great weekend!