Table of Contents
TEACHING AS AN ETHICAL ENTERPRISE
There is a telling passage in Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace of Desire (1991), the epic tale of a traditional family from the old quarter of Cairo swept by the storms of custom in conflict with modernism, faith in a collision with knowledge, imperialist thrust exploding upon nationalist response. Kamal, the teenage son, is invited by his father to tell him which branch of the university he would like to attend. Without hesitation, Kamal responds enthusiastically that he wishes to enroll in the teachers’ college. The father replies scornfully that teaching is "a miserable profession which wins respect from no one … It’s an occupation uniting people who have modem education with the products of traditional religious education. It’s one utterly devoid of grandeur or esteem. I’m acquainted with men of distinction and with Civil servants who have flatly refused to allow their daughters to marry a teacher" (Mahfouz 1991, 48—49).
Yet Kamal perseveres. He has faith in the intrinsic value of learning, in the life of the mind, and in the pursuit of truth. He tentatively suggests that, in advanced nations—in Europe, for example—teaching is esteemed. The father notes, "You live in this country. Does it set up statues in honor of teachers? Show me a single sculpture of a teacher" (Mahfouz 1991, 53).
The Nature of Teaching
What is teaching, after all? Anyone who has practiced it can attest that it is more than the life of the mind, more than the calm, contemplative pursuit of truth. Kamal’s vision is surely naive. Is teaching a calling to shake the world? Well, hardly. We know that teaching is excruciatingly complex, idiosyncratic, backbreaking, mind-boggling, exhausting, and wrenching. Yet Kamal is onto something in both intuitions. His idealism points—against the hard and cynical realism of his father and much of the world—to the possibility of teaching as something more. While he is nursing a dream, his illusion cloaks an unimpeachable fact: teaching at its best requires heart and mind, passion and intellect, intuition, spirits and judgment. Great teaching is an act of love.
This essential, central truth of teaching is often overlooked, many times by teachers themselves and almost always by the larger public. I sometimes find myself at parties with lawyers, for example, engaging in casual chitchat:
I seldom get that far, rarely peaking enough interest for another round. The lawyer moves on, and I am left feeling a bit like Kamal—naive, reprimanded, adrift in an indifferent world with my pathetic little dreams of teaching. Yet, like Kamal I am not entirely wrong, either. So, in what way is teaching intellectual work? How is teaching an ethical enterprise?
The Challenge of Teaching
A primary challenge for teachers is to see each student as a three-dimensional creature with hopes, dreams, aspirations, skills, and capacities; with body, mind, heart, and spirit; with experience, history and future. This knotty, complicated challenge requires patience, curiosity, wonder, awe, and humility. It demands sustained focus, intelligent judgment, inquiry, and investigation. Every judgment is contingent, every view partial, every conclusion tentative. The student is dynamic, alive, in motion. Nothing is settled once and for all. The student grows and changes in unpredictable ways. Yesterday’s need is forgotten, and today’s claim is all-encompassing and new. This intellectual task is of serious and huge proportion.
As difficult as this challenge seems, it is made tougher and more intense because teachers typically work in institutions of hierarchy and power, command and control. All too often, the habit of labeling kids by their deficits is commonsense and commonplace. The language of schools is a language of labeling and reduction; it lacks the spark and imagination of true education. The thinking teacher must look beneath and beyond labels.
Another basic challenge to teachers is to stay alert to the world and the concentric circles of context in which they live and work, Teachers must know and care about shared experiences. Their calling, after all, is to shepherd and enable the callings of others. Teachers, then, invite students to become somehow more capable, more thoughtful and powerful in their choices, more engaged in a culture and a civilization. How do we warrant that invitation? How do we understand this culture and civilization?
Teachers choose how to see the world, what to embrace or reject, whether to support or resist this or that directive. As teachers choose, the ethical emerges. Baldwin (1988,4) noted:
Teachers are the midwives of hope or the purveyors of determinism and despair. Here, for example, are two quite different teachers at work.
In Beloved, Toni Morrison’s (1987) novel of slavery, freedom, and the complexities of a mother’s love, "schoolteacher," a frightening character with no other name, comes to Sweet Home with his efficient, scientific interest in slaves and makes life unbearable for the people there. Schoolteacher is a disturbing, jarring character for those of us who think of teachers as caring and compassionate people. Indeed, schoolteacher is cold, sadistic, and brutal. He and others like him are significant props in an entire system of dehumanization, oppression, and exploitation.
Toward the end of Amir Maalouf’s Samarkand (1994, 234), a historical novel about the life of Omar Khayam, a British schoolteacher in the old Persian city of Tabriz explains an incident in which he was observed weeping in the marketplace. When the people saw him crying, they figured that he "had thrown off the sovereign indifference of a foreigner ... If they had not seen me crying, they would never have let me tell the pupils that this Shah was rotten and that the religious chiefs of Tabriz were hardly any better."
Both teachers show us that teaching occurs in context and that pedagogy and technique are not the wellsprings of moral choice. Teaching becomes ethical practice when it is guided by an unshakable commitment to helping human beings reach the full measure of their humanity and a willingness to reach toward a future fit for all— a place of peace and justice.
In A Lesson before Dying, Ernest Gaines (1993) created a riveting portrait of a teacher locked in struggle with a resistant student, wrestling as well with his own doubts and fears about himself as a teacher and as a person and straining against the outrages of the segregated U.S. South. Grant Wiggins has returned with considerable ambivalence to teach in the plantation school of his childhood. He feels trapped and longs to escape with another teacher, Vivian, to a place where he might breathe more freely, grow more fully, achieve something special. The story begins in a courtroom with his aunt and her lifelong friend, Miss Emma, sitting stoically near the front. Emma’s godson, Jefferson, has been convicted of murder. The public defender, pleading for Jefferson’s life, calls him a "cornered animal" who struck "quickly out of fear, a trait inherited from his ancestors in the deepest jungle of blackest Africa" (Gaines 1993, 78). Miss Emma is devastated, particularly because Jefferson was called an animal. She wants Wiggins to visit Jefferson, to teach him.
Wiggins resists: "Yes, I’m the teacher,’ I said. ‘And I teach what the white folks around here tell me to teach" (Gaines 1993, 13). More than this, Wiggins is shaken by the challenge and the context (Gaines 1993, 31).
Wiggins is haunted by the memory of his own former teacher, a bitter and jaded man. The former mentor’s message is that nothing a teacher does in these circumstances can make a difference. Worse, Jefferson himself is wracked with hopelessness; he is uncooperative and resistant. Wiggins begins by simply visiting Jefferson, being there, speaking sometimes, but mostly just sitting in silence. He encourages Jefferson to think of questions and write down his thoughts. He walks with Jefferson and talks to him (Gaines 1993, 191—92):
A Lesson before Dying is a teacher’s tale. Though the circumstances are extreme, the interaction is recognizable. Every teacher appreciates the irony of teaching what we ourselves neither fully know nor understand. Each can remember other teachers who counseled him or her not to teach, and each recognizes the resistant student who refuses to learn. Each can uncover moments of intense self-reflection, consciousness shifts, and personal growth brought on by attempts to teach.
Many teachers also know what it means to teach in the face of oppression, opposition, and obstinacy. When Jefferson writes in the journal, "I cry cause you been so good to me mr wigin and nobody aint never been that good to me an make me think im somebody" (Gaines 2993, 232), teachers recognize the sentiment.
Education, of course, lives an excruciating paradox precisely because of its association with and location in schools. Education is about opening doors, minds, and possibilities. School is about sorting, punishing, grading, ranking, and certifying. Education is unconditional; it asks nothing in return. School demands obedience and conformity as a precondition to attendance. Education is surprising, unruly, and disorderly, while the first and fundamental law of school is to follow orders. Education frees the mind, while schooling bureaucratizes the brain. An educator unleashes the unpredictable, while too many schoolteachers start with an unhealthy obsession with classroom management and linear lesson plans.
Working in schools—-where the fundamental truths, demands, and possibilities of teaching are diminished and where the powerful ethical core of teachers’ efforts is systematically defaced and erased—requires a reengagement with the larger purposes of teaching. When the drumbeat of our daily lives is all about controlling, managing, and moving the mob—conveying disembodied bits of information to inert beings propped at desks before us—the need to fight for ourselves and our students becomes imperative. Central to that fight is the understanding that there is no basis for education in a democracy except for a faith in the enduring capacity for growth in ordinary people.
The complexity of the teacher’s task depends on its idiosyncratic and improvisational character. The teacher’s work is about background, environment, setting, position, situation, and connection. Importantly, teaching is at its center about relationships with the person and the world. Teachers must assume a deep capacity, an intelligence, and a wide range of hopes, dreams, and aspirations in students. They must acknowledge, as well, obstacles to understand and overcome, deficiencies to repair, and injustices to correct. With this base, the teacher creates an environment for learning with multiple entry points for learning and multiple pathways to success. That environment must feature many opportunities to practice justice. Teachers must display, foster, embody, expect, demand, nurture, allow, model, and enact inquiry toward moral action. A classroom organized in this way follows a particular rhythm; questions focus on issues, problems, and action.
The question of what can be done is a daily challenge. Teachers must ask how to continue to speak the unhearable. How does self-censorship perpetuate the silence? The tension between aspiration and possibility is acute.
In her discussion of middle-class urban dwellers, Rich (1979) described three archetypes. One she called the "paranoiac"—this type lives in fear and suspicion of the world. The second she called the "solipsistic"—this type is privileged and blind to the horrors of many outside. Rich (1979,54) posited a third possibility of love mixed "with horror and anger . . . more edged, more costly, more charged with knowledge." This recognition of the importance of human connections may be helpful for those of us who believe in a future for the city, children, and schools. Can we develop loving relationships? Can we develop that love in a struggle for human possibility and life itself?
What Ought to Be
Teaching as an ethical enterprise goes beyond presenting what already is; it is teaching toward what ought to be. It is more than moral structures and guidelines; it includes an exposure to and understanding of material realities, advantages and disadvantages, privileges and oppressions. Teaching of this kind might stir people to come together as vivid, thoughtful, and even outraged partners. Students, then, might find themselves dissatisfied with what had only yesterday seemed the natural order of things. At this point, when consciousness links directly to conduct and upheaval is in the air, teaching becomes a call to freedom.
The fundamental message of the teacher, after all, is that people can change their lives. Whoever you are, wherever you have been, whatever you have done, the teacher invites you to a second chance, another round, and perhaps a different conclusion. The teacher posits possibility, openness, and alternatives; the teacher points to what could be but is not yet. The teacher beckons you to change your path, and so the teacher's basic rule is to reach.
To teach consciously for ethical action adds a complicating element to that fundamental message, making it more layered, dense, and excruciatingly difficult to enact, yet at the same time more engaging, sturdy, powerful, and joyful. Teaching for ethical action demands a dialectical stance. The teacher must firmly fix one eye on the students. Who are they? What are their hopes, dreams, aspirations, passions, and commitments? What skills, abilities, and capacities does each one bring to the classroom? The teacher must, with the other eye, look unblinkingly at the concentric circles of context - historical flow, cultural surroundings, and economic reality. Teaching as an ethical enterprise is teaching that arouses students, engaging them in a quest to identify obstacles to their full humanity, the life chances of others, and their freedom. The teacher must then challenge them to move against those obstacles. The fundamental message the teacher for ethical action passes on to each student is "You must change the world."
MULTI-YEAR TEACHER/STUDENT RELATIONSHIPS ARE A LONG-OVERDUE ARRANGEMENT
DANIEL L. BURKE
Most parents do not send their child to a new pediatrician each year. Rather, they try to arrange for a single pediatrician to monitor their child's growth and development over time. Presumably, these parents conclude that one doctor's growing knowledge of their child makes the management of that child's health care more effective.
Similarly, research on school effectiveness has consistently suggested that long-term teacher/student relationships improve both student performance and job satisfaction for teachers. Yet, despite these findings, meaningful discussion of long-term teacher/student relationships is scarce in our nation's schools, and implementation is rare enough to be regarded as exceptional.
A close look at the literature makes the scarcity of discussion and the rarity of implementation of multi-year teacher/student relationships puzzling. For example, one group of teachers who taught the same students for three years told researcher Nancy Doda that the experience had been the "most satisfying" interval of their professional lives because it allowed them "to see students grow and change over time."
Teachers in a different school using the same organizational plan affirmed those findings. Approximately 70% of them reported that teaching the same students for three years allowed them to use more positive approaches to classroom management. Ninety-two percent of them said that they knew more about their students, and 69% described their students as more willing to participate voluntarily in class. Eighty-five percent of the teachers reported that their students were better able to see themselves as important members of a group, to feel pride in the group, and to feel pride in the school as a whole. Eighty-four percent of the teachers reported more positive relationships with parents, and 75% reported increased empathy with colleagues. The reactions of students in this study were favorable as well, and they grew more positive with each successive grade level. Parents also responded positively; indeed, when allowed to request teachers for their children, 99% of parents requested the same teacher to whom their child had been assigned during the previous year.
Meanwhile, some "comprehensive" schools in what was then West Germany kept teachers and students together for six years. Ann Ratzki, headmistress of one of those schools, said that she has never found it necessary to switch a student from one teacher to another because of serious personality conflicts.
Further, Ratzki noted:
A 1990 article on students as citizens described multi-year teacher/students relationships as one means "to make sure that every child has the time to connect with the classroom, feel a part of all that goes on, and have the time it takes to succeed in school."
The fact that model and pilot programs that seek to create multi-year teacher/student relationships are starting to show up in U.S. schools is encouraging. One of the more ambitious models can be found in Attleboro, Massachusetts, a K-12 district serving 6,000 students. When he started that pilot program three years ago, Superintendent Joseph Rappa asked "26 elementary and middle school teachers to stay with a group of students for two years in an experiment he hoped would improve learning." According to Assistant Superintendent Theodore Thibodeau, by fall of 1994 the two-year teacher/student relationship model in Attleboro will have 100% staff participation in grades 1 through 8, and district officials will begin phasing in a similar arrangement in grades 9 through 12.
Mary Blythe, a middle school teacher in the Attleboro system, typifies her colleagues' enthusiasm for this concept. "It's the most exciting thing I've done, and I'm 55 years old," she said. "Seeing the eagerness with which youngsters participate and are engaged in their learning is thrilling."
Maryann Pour Previti, the principal of Worcester Central Catholic Elementary School in Worcester, Massachusetts, has a similar view of multi-year teacher/student relationships. Previti has three teachers who are spending two years with the same students, and she describes those teachers as "the happiest people in my building." She also reports that returning students "step back into the classrooms with ease" and says that the three teachers have established "excellent parent/teacher rapport." Indeed, Previti is so enthusiastic about multi-year teacher/student relationships that she plans to expand their use in her building and to make such relationships the focus of her doctoral dissertation.
District 3A in Antioch, Illinois, began piloting the two-year teacher/student relationship model in the fall of 1994, starting with five teacher volunteers in grades K-5. According to Donald Skidmore, who was superintendent at the time, "It just makes no sense for teachers and children to have to learn a brand-new set of expectations from one another every 10 months." And that is particularly true, he added, "when you consider how much quality learning time is lost at the start of each school year in the traditional single-year arrangement." In Skidmore's view, multi-year teacher/student relationships also offer tremendous potential for summertime learning, because teachers can assign reading lists and high-interest projects to students at the end of the school year and then review and reinforce their efforts when they return in the fall.
Orchard Lake Middle School in West Bloomfield, Minnesota, is currently using a three-year teacher/student relationship model. Principal Esther Peterson describes her school's initial program as a "school-within-a-school." Selected students entering grade 6 were placed with the same two core teachers for mathematics/science and language arts/social studies from grade 6 through grade 8. Peterson piloted the program in 1993 with 54 self-nominated students and two teacher volunteers. She expected the program to improve student attendance, increase student involvement in school activities, raise students' grade-point averages, and increase parents' interest in their children's education - and her expectations were realized. The program has since been expanded in response to student, parent, and staff interest.
Despite the examples cited here, multi-year teacher/student relationships are still uncommon in U.S. schools. But research findings and the enthusiasm of participants in multi-year relationships suggest that the arrangement merits serious discussion and widespread piloting. As is true of most innovations in the schools, however, educational leadership is the essential catalyst.
GAY AND LESBIAN ADOLESCENTS: PRESENTING PROBLEMS & THE COUNSELOR'S ROLE
JONNA J. COOLEY
Professional School Counseling, February 1998, Volume 1, Issue 3
(Although this article was written for counselors rather than teachers, it is still an excellent article on the problems adolescents encounter with sexual identity problems.)
Adolescence is one of the most chaotic periods in a person’s life. Anatomically and physiologically the young person’s body changes rapidly (Borhek, 1988, p. 123). Identity development is a key issue in this stage of life. Because of the difficulty in developing a healthy identity in a homophobic world, gay and lesbian adolescents are an at-risk population. While the American Psychiatric Association voted in 1973 to de-pathologize homosexuality this change did not eliminate the social stigmatization nor dispel the myths associated with homosexuality. Even after further research and much media attention, our “enlightened society” still jails homosexuals for engaging privately in homosexual practices, excludes partners from intensive care units, denies partners participation in life-or-death decisions regarding medical situations, and gays and lesbians are legally denied both public and private employment (Hildalgo, Peterson & Woodman, 1985). Homosexuals are an oppressed minority
Although homosexuals have come a long way, clearly they still have a long way to go. Both adult and adolescent homosexuals face many problems and receive little support. These problems and the lack of support exist because we, as a society, fail to understand homosexuality. As counselors today, we need to gain the necessary knowledge, understand the presenting problems, and help these adolescents.
It is important to note early on that advocating on the behalf of a group so despised and misunderstood will not be an easy task. As an advocate you may be ostracized, ridiculed, and possibly even labeled by some individuals within the school system, parents, and community members. The fact is that it is easier for most individuals to deny that there is a problem than to learn the facts and make positive changes. With the facts, we as counselors can make a difference.
I have defined five major presenting problems: (1) development of social identity, (2) isolation, (3) educational issues, (4) family issues, and (5) health risks. Following the summary of research for each problem, I have identified the counselor’s role for intervention, treatment, and/or instituting change.
Development of Social Identity
According to Erikson (1963), identity formation is the most important developmental task of adolescence. Peer group interactions and acceptance are crucial to the identity formation process. The framework of general adolescent development includes the development of self-esteem, a sense of identity, and social skills. Each aspect of development can be difficult to acquire for gay and lesbian adolescents, who come to realize that they are different from their peers (Morrow, 1993). In this development period, where pressure to conform is the norm, being different can be stressful. While their peers incessantly discuss the world of heterosexual relationships and exploration, gay and lesbian adolescents may either isolate themselves for fear of rejection or deny their sexual orientation. Concealing one’s sexual identity builds protective walls and is emotionally draining (Feinstein & Looney, 1982).
Troiden (1988) describes a four-stage model for the attainment of a healthy gay/lesbian identity.
The homosexual identity, as outlined by Troiden (1988), develops over a prolonged period of time. Not all homosexual individuals successfully complete all four stages. It is his belief that only those who do will “achieve the hoped-for fusion of sexual identity and emotionality” (p.112).
Martin and Hetrick (1988) indicated that a primary developmental task for homosexual adolescents is adjusting to a socially stigmatized role. Verbal and physical abuse from peers is a major stressor. Gay and lesbian adolescents witness the cruel comments, jokes, and name-calling (Savin-Williams, 1994). Rejection by peers need not be experienced directly in order to cut deeply. Many observe the treatment of peers and clearly understand what could happen to them if they appear different.
Gay and lesbian youth lack positive role models. They are aware of homosexual stereotypes, such as “homosexuals cannot form loving relationships … they are sexually promiscuous … they are unhappy … they prey on and seduce children” (Dempsey, 1994, p.161).
So what do these very scared and socially underdeveloped adolescents do? Many successfully blend with their straight peers and families. They may date and become sexually involved – some girls even become pregnant – in an effort to deny their sexual orientation to themselves and others. Some may become involved in academics, sports, or extracurricular activities while others may withdraw from typical teenage social experiences and activities all together.
The Counselor’s Role in the Development of Social Identity
The helping profession has historically been in the forefront of advocating on behalf of minority groups. “Counselors need to come forward in advocating for the dignity and human rights of all gay and lesbian people, particularly adolescents” (Morrow, 1993, p.658). Intervention focused on developing positive self-acceptance and building self-esteem is essential.
Counselors must become aware of their own homophobia. It is important to avoid a heterosexual bias of assuming that all clients are heterosexual. Counselors must be willing to explore sexual orientation with adolescent clients. In order to do this, there must be an understanding of the developmental stages and challenges of both heterosexual and homosexual youth (Dempsey, 1994). In addition, counselors need to accurately educate themselves about homosexuality so that they can dispel inaccurate myths and negative stereotypes. They must also educate clients.
Individuals in our society are raised as members of several groups. Some common groups include the family, religious affiliation, and race. In some cases, many times not by choice, we find ourselves in a minority group. Martin and Hetrick (1988) state that the major difference between gays and members of other minority groups stems from the fact that the gay person becomes a member of the group during adolescence rather than at birth.
For most gay and lesbian adolescents, their sexual orientation is not obvious to others and the rewards for being normal are so great that those who can pass for being normal will generally do so. This deception distorts almost all relationships that adolescents may attempt to develop or maintain and creates an increasing sense of isolation (Feinstein & Looney, 1982, p.58). The adolescent realizes that his/her membership in the approved group, whether a sports team, the classroom, or the family, is based on a lie. This reinforces the belief that he or she is not truly a member of the group even though membership is maintained.
One problem of keeping one’s sexual orientation hidden is the ever-present need to self-monitor (Dempsey, 1994). This cognitive isolation reflects the “almost total lack of accurate information available to gay and lesbian adolescents” (Martin & Hetrick, 1988, p.167). This lack of information and the lack of preparation for social identity management of homosexuals is a major differentiator between homosexual adolescents and their heterosexual counterparts in other minority groups. Dank (1971) highlighted this difference when he wrote: “The parents of a Negro [sic] can communicate to their child that he is a Negro and what it is like to be a Negro, but the parents of a person who is homosexual do not prepare their child to be a homosexual – they are not homosexual themselves and they do not communicate to him what it is like to be a homosexual” (p.181).
What happens, due to the lack of accurate information, is that the gay or lesbian will experience cognitive dissonance. The standards they have incorporated from society equip them to be cognizant to what others see as their failings, inevitably causing them to agree that they do fall short of what they really ought to be. Shame becomes an issue arising from the individual’s perception of his or her attributes as being repulsive (Martin & Hetrick, 1988). Gay and lesbian adolescents, in their isolation and with their internalized homophobia, feel that no one else is like them or that no one can love them because being gay is wrong and sick. Some even feel that it may be better to die.
The Counselor’s Role in Isolation
Gay and lesbian adolescents experiencing isolation feel that they are alone in the world and that they have no one in whom they can confide. Counselors need to be that someone. Accurately informed, unbiased counselors can begin the process to decrease isolation by undoing internalized homophobia before patterns of self-defeating behaviors are ingrained (Gonsiorek, 1988).
Coleman (Coleman & Remafedi, 1989) addresses the dissonance experienced by gay and lesbian adolescents. He states that counselors need to understand dissonance as an expected part of gay and lesbian adolescent development. They must be willing to engage in dialogue with clients about dissonance and be willing to support clients in clarifying feelings about sexual orientation (p.658). Counselors may be the only safe haven for a gay/lesbian adolescent to explore such frightening and confusing feelings.
Anderson (1994) states, “In every class in every school throughout the country there are students who are not being given an equal education…We do little, in most cases nothing, to prepare them for a world that reviles them or to support them in a school environment in which they are called faggots and dykes” (p.151). The message that he would like to see taught in our schools is “you may be gay and that’s okay” (p.151).
This unequal education spans from the classroom to the school administration. Morrow (1993) surveyed teachers and administrators asking them to respond to the needs of gay and lesbian students. The teacher respondents said that their schools were not promoting tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality. The administration respondents were confident that their schools were doing just fine; providing a fair, non-homophobic education.
Many of the school-based problems experienced by gay and lesbian adolescents are in response to the verbal and physical abuse they receive from peers. Forms of violence range from gay bashing (name calling) to physical attacks. The consequences for the victim include poor school performance, truancy, and dropping out of school. Homophobic harassment is not addressed by teachers, who fear for their own job security should they be known as supporters of homosexuality.
According to Morrow (1993) truancy and dropping out are taken as evidence that sexual minority youth are a particularly problematic population. Yet this behavior should be seen as a coping strategy, necessary because authorities fail to provide a safe learning environment. I would echo Savin-Williams’ (1994) view that “gay and lesbian adolescents are the loneliest people in the typical high school of today” (p.264).
The Counselor’s Role in Education
Education institutions, in general, must move toward de-stigmatizing homosexuality. Anderson (1994) outlines a five-step approach: (a) professional development, (b) support staff and services, (c) sexuality in the health curriculum, (d) library services, and (e) general curricula changes. School counselors, with their ethical commitment to fairness and individuality, can be instrumental in providing the training or arranging for the implementation of this approach.
Three key points to this approach include:
Family relationships are a central concern for gay and lesbian adolescents. Borhek (1988) explains that there is considerable tension and anxiety associated with two basic questions: “Should I come out to my parents?” and “If so, how should I do it?” (p.125). In families where homophobia is the norm, it is no wonder that most gay and lesbian adolescents remain secretive about their sexual orientation. With family recognition and acceptance being so important, the questions posed by Borhek must be weighed very carefully. Unfortunately, parental rejection of the adolescent, at least initially, is a common outcome (Morrow, 1993, p. 656).
As with isolation, family issues may create cognitive dissonance. This arises from knowledge of the families expectations. This sense of contradiction and failure, in turn, leads to guilt, shame, anger, and not-unfounded fear of rejection (Martin & Hetrick, 1988). Many individuals will cope with feelings of inferiority by pleasing others. This behavior often leads to loss of identity, self-neglect, disregard for personal needs, and destructive habits of care taking (Hildalgo et al., 1985).
Violence against gay and lesbian adolescents often takes place in the home, perpetrated by family members. In a study conducted by Gonsiorek (1988), gay and lesbian youth disclosed that they fear retribution more from their fathers than from their mothers. This study also found that 22% had been sexually abused by a family member following the discovery or disclosure of their sexual orientation. A study by Maylon (1981) found that nearly one-half of gay male youth and one-third of lesbian youth have run away at least once in their lives. Many of the runaway or throwaway (youths thrown out of the home by parents) adolescents left home after arguing with their parents. By leaving, gay and lesbian youth avoid verbal, physical, and sexual abuse and maintain the family secret, but they also face, in a vulnerable state, a world that is ready to exploit them.
The Counselor’s Role in Family Issues
Counselors can help gay/lesbian adolescents as well as their family members in dealing with family issues. With the adolescent, counselors are encouraged to fully explore with their clients the possible repercussions (both positive and negative) of coming out to their family (Morrow, 1993). It may be more beneficial for some to wait until they become fully self-sufficient before taking the risk. Counseling can be critical during this time of decision-making and potential family conflict.
Family members who become aware of an adolescent’s homosexuality often seek help in dealing with anger, guilt, concerns for the child’s happiness, religious issues, and the parent’s own homophobic socialization (Hildago et, al., 1985). Family members must cope with the stigmatization of having a homosexual family member. It must be recognized that families go through their own process of coming out. Families can benefit almost immediately with accurate information and education regarding research about homosexuality (Gonsiorek, 1988). Parents need to learn that evidence indicates that familial background appears to have nothing to do with the development of homosexuality or heterosexuality and that their child is still the child that they loved before (Martin & Hetrick, 1988). Once this is recognized, counselors can provide support and validation to family members dealing with normal feelings of grief over losing the image of their child’s heterosexuality.
Finally, counselors can be effective by identifying community resources. Organizations such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays can be invaluable in reducing the isolation and discomfort families often experience (Gonsiorek, 1988). Developing such a group, if none exists, would be beneficial. More dysfunctional families may require family counseling or mental health services.
Despite the widespread interest in the health of the gay community, the medical problems of gay and lesbian adolescents have not been adequately investigated (Remafedi, 1987). The research consistently identified three major health risks for this population: AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide (Dempsey, 1994; Hunter & Schaecher, 1994; Remafedi, 1987).
In a study conducted by Remafedi (1987), 53% of the gay and lesbian adolescents studied stated that they regularly had concerns regarding their physical health. Forty-five percent had a history of sexually transmitted diseases. One of the problems faced by these at-risk adolescents is where to go for help. Who will help? Will I have to discuss my sexual orientation? Will my parents find out? These are a few of the many questions gay and lesbian adolescents must ask themselves.
To date, the Centers for Disease Control reports 13,141 cases of AIDS in the US for persons aged 13-24 (Hunter & Schaecher, 1994). Given the long incubation period between HIV infection and the development of AIDS, most cases detected in young adults (20-24 years old) occurred during the adolescent years. Although most gay male adolescents tend to be fairly knowledge about HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases, Remafedi (1987) states that 44% of those studied reported never using a condom. Gay adolescents do not seek condoms for fear of being found out. In addition, many have the “it can’t happen to me,” invincible attitude. Teens are very impulsive and have a limited perspective on the future, failing to see that “today’s behaviors affect their future” (Dempsey, 1994, p.163). While our society is focused on prevention, gay and lesbian adolescents are many times misinformed, under informed and denied access to resources.
Many gay and lesbian adolescents abuse drugs and alcohol. This is done in an effort to decrease or temporarily alleviate their emotional pain (Dempsey, 1994). In a nonclinical sample of gay and lesbian adolescents, 58% reported that they regularly abuse substances (Whitlock, 1989). The consequences of substance abuse include drug trafficking and prostitution to support the habit and impaired decision making capabilities (Remafedi, 1987).
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers (Fikar, 1992). However, researchers have failed to examine sexual orientation in their inquiries about adolescent suicide, and the media often identify many suicides as accidents to avoid the issue of homosexuality (Coleman & Remafedi, 1989). A study conducted by Fikar (1992) found that while 1 in 10 heterosexual adolescents attempt suicide, 3 in 10 homosexual adolescents attempt suicide. Although the primary precipitating cause was family problems (44%), 30% identified personal and interpersonal turmoil regarding their homosexual identity as the precipitating cause. Risk factors for gay and lesbian adolescent suicide include disclosure of sexual identity at an early age, low self-esteem, running away, substance abuse, prostitution, depression, and atypical gender behavior (Remafedi, Farrow, & Deisher, 1991).
The Counselor’s Role in Health Risks
Counselors are often in a good position to address health issues and should possess the communication skills to deal with the sensitive topic. Coleman and Remafedi (1989) believe that it should be the responsibility of all counselors to ensure that their adolescent clients have sufficient information to protect themselves from HIV infection. If they are already infected, they must learn how to take care of their own health needs and protect others. Gay and lesbian adolescents need to feel safe and comfortable discussing issues such as fear of HIV exposure, the need for HIV testing, test results, safe sex practices, sexual orientation concerns, alcohol and drug use, and thoughts of suicide (Dempsey, 1994).
Hunter and Schaecher (1994) explain that “confidentiality issues are complex” (p.351). Both HIV testing and medical treatment without parental consent can be difficult issues. The gay/lesbian adolescent may not want anyone else to know about his or her diagnosis, and the counselor and/or clinician must determine whether violating confidentiality to protect third parties in sexual relationships is warranted. The relevance of the Tarasoff decision, a case in California in which a therapist failed to warn a third party of impending danger and the person was subsequently murdered, to AIDS cases has been established (Reamer, 1991). To alleviate these ethical difficulties, Hunter and Schaecher (1994) state that accurate knowledge and training are critical. Every counseling professional should have other professionals to whom he or she can turn when treatment issues become complicated or are beyond the individual’s expertise.
Counselors also need to increase their awareness of evidence, indicators, or themes of victimization; suicidal tendencies; or substance abuse in clients, particularly among those who are uncomfortable with their sexual orientation (Morrrow, 1993). The bottom line, as described by Gonsiorek (1988), is that general competence, specific knowledge of gay and lesbian issues, sensitivity, and freedom from bias are the qualities desired in someone who provides services to gay and lesbian youth. Sexual orientation of the provider is much less important and does not predict the above qualities (p.121).
Summary and Conclusions
Adolescent homosexuality is certainly, in the world in which we live, a double negative. Adolescence by itself is a difficult developmental stage, fraught with change and turmoil. It is only made more complicated by being gay and lesbian. Need homosexuality be complicated? Are the basic issues of homosexuality, the feelings, the questions, and the problems that different than those faced by heterosexuals? The answer to these questions is no. The difficulties are created by the stigmatization and myths surrounding homosexuality, perpetuated by a homophobic society. Studies have shown that homophobia is worse among people who have never knowingly met a homosexual (Anderson, 1994). It is easy to hate a population when you have no personal attachment or risk involved. What is difficult is to become knowledgeable about that population and understand that they too are people, who like all others, deserve respect and freedom.
I believe that it is not important who knows your sexual orientation, but that you can accept yourself for who and what you are and, by doing so, be happy. When you become secure in who you are, then decisions to tell others can be made. If you are not secure in who you are, then it may be that you haven’t really looked at the realities of being homosexual.
I believe that disclosure should be optional. Coming out is difficult for adult homosexuals. It seems to me that this is an unnecessary added pressure for the gay/lesbian adolescent. There is so much at risk. It would be wonderful if we could all be accepting and caring toward all people. The reality is that it is a cruel world, and homosexuals must learn the art of selective sharing to be happy and to stay safe. The counselor’s role is to help clients achieve a level of self-understanding and acceptance, regardless of their decision to tell others.
As counselors, we must examine our own values and become aware of our own homophobia and how it affects our work with clients of any sexual orientation. Being non-judgmental, accepting professionals who will maintain confidentiality is the first step. We must understand the process by which gay and lesbian adolescents are stigmatized in our society, and we must assist in the eradication of homophobia. To do so, accurate information must be gathered and made available to others who are or might be working with gay and lesbian adolescents. This includes teachers and school administrations, parents, health care providers, and other professionals in the community. In an effort to make effective referrals, contacts should be made to produce a list of community agencies that provides services for gay and lesbian adolescents.
Counselors must learn to recognize indicators of drug and alcohol abuse and suicidal risks. In addition, accurate information regarding sexuality transmitted diseases, as well as preventative measures, must be made available. Since self-esteem is often an issue, understanding self-esteem and knowing esteem building techniques would be beneficial as well.
The development of support groups for gay and lesbian adolescents is beneficial, providing opportunities for developing social skills, discussing sexual identity, finding support from peers, and sharing information. They provide a sense of universality and normalize experiences. This group could be co-facilitated by a male and a female (in order to address issues for both sexes) who could direct the group members to appropriate medical, mental health, substance abuse, and other services as needed.
Counselors must be models of respect and acceptance of diversity among people, including gay and lesbian people.
THE NEW GENDER GAP: WHY ARE SO MANY BOYS FLOUNDERING WHILE SO MANY GIRLS ARE SOARING?
DIANE CONNELL & BETSY GUNZELMANN
Picture a student in your class who is really struggling with reading and writing. This student doesn’t like to read, has difficulty sitting still and paying attention, and turns in crumpled, half-completed homework. We’ve all had students like this. But chances are, as you picture this child in your mind, you are thinking of one of the boys in your class.
More and more media reports are indicating that boys are slipping behind girls on almost all academic milestones. The latest NAEP writing tests (July, 2003) show boys scoring an average 24 points lower then girls. The results also reveal how crucial the early years of school are inlaying the foundation for this discrepancy, because a full 75 percent of this gap can already be measured in fourth grade. By the fourth grade, the average boy is developmentally two years behind the average girl in reading and writing. Boys make up 70 percent of special education classes and are as much as four times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And the gap is still significant in the college-aged population: For every 100 young men earning Bas, 133 young women do.
It is an alarming trend that is gaining wide attention in the PTA, in college admission offices, and in the business world. An article in BusinessWeek magazine (May26, 2003) argues that boys from kindergarten to graduate school are becoming the “second sex.” “It’s not just that boys are falling behind girls,” says educator Dr. William Pollack. “It’s that boys themselves are falling behind their own functioning and doing worse than they did before.”
Clearly, an alarm has been raised. But with a complex subject like gender and achievement it is difficult to identify where the problem begins. Societal expectations, log-held stereotypes, and myths about gender complicate any conversation we want to have as educators about the performance of boys and girls in our classrooms and how to help them all succeed. What we do know is that brain-based gender differences is one of the important factors at work.
Teachers know that boys and girls arrive at school with a range of different developmental strengths and weakness. Speaking generally, girls and boys seem to use different parts of their brain effectively, each gender with some stronger left-hemisphere capacities and some stronger right-hemisphere capacities. “Sex hormones may sculpt our brains as well as our bodies,” says researcher Geoffrey Cowley, preparing and “priming males and females for different styles of thought.” These differences are significant and effect how and when children learn.
Research tells us that the way young boys and girls use their left and right hemispheres is markedly different. In short, many girls have an advantage by being able to use their left-hemisphere strengths in the early grades with speaking, reading, and writing. The right-hemisphere strengths of girls enable them to feel empathy and better understand and reflect the feelings of their teachers and peers.
On the other hand, boys tend to have an advantage in their left-hemisphere by being able to recall facts and rules and categorize. Their right-brain strengths encompass visual- spatial and visual-motor skills, which enable boys to excel in topics like geography, science, and math. This is, of course, not to say that some girls don’t construct better bridges, or that no boys out read even the most bookish of their girl classmates. Rather, these are areas of general gender strengths and weaknesses.
Boys as Elementary Outsiders
Many researchers believe that in spite of their many intellectual strengths, boys as a group are at a definite disadvantage in the typical early elementary school curriculum. Most school curricula emphasize the left-brain cognitive skills of speaking, reading, and writing abilities, which usually develop at a slower rate in boys. Starting at the kindergarten and firs-grade levels, boys are expected to perform to a standard that favors girls. They are expected to sit still, speak articulately, write the alphabet legibly, work in groups, color between the lines, and be neat and organized.
Equally important, the emotional climate of the classroom seems to favor the skills of girls over boys. Researchers such as M. Kinlon and D. Thompson (Raising Cain) argue that boys lose out when they are not encouraged to understand and accept their emotions, a skill that is typically encouraged in girls. Consequently, boys appear less able to cope with their negative feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger, and to understand similar feelings in others.
Dr. William Pollack has written extensively about the “Boy Code,” an unwritten list of societal expectations of how boys should act. Boys learn this unspoken code everywhere--- from their parents, teachers, coaches, and peers. The rules of the Boy Code require boys to not sow their true feelings, to act tough, and above all else to be “cool.” In the classroom, this silent code gets boys into trouble, because they are less likely to let teachers know when they are having difficulty, feeling frustrated, or just plain not getting it. Instead, they may express their feelings in the only way they know how: They fidget, get distracted, and ultimately—they get reprimanded.
All too often, boys who have repeated difficulties in the classroom begin to believe that they do not measure up either socially or academically. They start to believe that they are “bad,” and that school is not a fun place to be. Dr. Pollack has found that many boys are developing low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety in their early years, before they have had a chance to discover their strengths.
Helping Boys Succeed—What Teachers Can Do
It is becoming clear to researchers that the egalitarian classroom model—teach everyone the same—doesn’t serve all students. Our challenge as teachers is to try to reach all of our students—boys and girls—by varying are instruction methods in ways that can reach all learners. Here are some ways to support boy (and girl) learners in the classroom:
Tap into visual spatial strengths. Tie building with Legos, blocks, and Lincoln Logs into math lessons. In language arts, have children map their own filmstrip predictions of the book’s ending.
Allow time for movement. Highly active children, especially boys, may need brief breaks built into the day to stand up, stretch, and walk around. Build physical movement into lessons when possible. For example, when teaching a lesson on punctuation, let the whole class stand up and act a period, a question mark, an exclamation point, or a semicolon.
Use hands-on materials. Allow children the opportunity to show their learning in other ways besides writing. Jennifer Muse, a kindergarten teacher in Bedford, Massachusetts, recalls a lesson in which she was teaching her students to write the letters. One little boy complained, “Ms. Muse, I don’t want to write the letters, I want to make them.” Later, following his lead, they used modeling clay to form the letters of the alphabet. This is a perfect example of teaching with boys in mind.
Incorporate technology. Increasing the use of computer-based education helps to engage the attention of boys at all grade levels, say many researchers. Computer learning games, Internet research time, and cyberhunts all have special appeal.
Provide male role models. Throughout the elementary years, most boys attend school in a largely female environment, as most teachers are female. Invite fathers into the classroom. As well as male guest speakers, such as authors or community figures, to help balance the female influence. High school boys might be a good source of tutoring for some of your struggling boy students.
Allow opportunities for competition. Some students truly thrive on the energy of intellectual competition. Occasional studying contests, spelling bees, geography bees, math competitions, and brainteasers can be a wonderful spark for learning.
Choose books that appeal to boys. Reading more nonfiction in the classroom is a sure way to capture boys’ interest. They tend to prefer books filled with interesting facts and information. Follow their interests. If earthquakes are a success, move on to tidal waves.
Above all, create a supportive classroom environment. All children need to feel psychologically safe in school. Teachers can make the classroom a safety zone for boys where they can be themselves without putting up a false front. The Boy Code rules need not apply in the classroom setting. Teachers can set an atmosphere of respect that encourages boys to let their feelings show, to feel safe to make mistakes, and to understand that each and every student is there to learn at his or her own pace, in his or own style.
and Inductive Reasoning: Boys are more likely to use deductive reasoning, while girls tend to prefer inductive thinking.
and Concrete Reasoning: Males gravitate towards abstract arguments; females do better at concrete analysis: E.g. boys tend to do better at math on the board, while girls prefer math manipulatives.
Use of Language: On average, females write, read, and speak more than males. In female groups, girls tend to speak equally often, while in a male group one or two students will often dominate.
and Evidence: Because girls tend to be better listeners, they feel more secure in conversation, and require less control of the discussion than boys. Boys will often ask for more evidence to support a claim.
Use of Symbolism: While both boys and girls respond to pictures, boys are more dependent on pictures, diagrams, and graphs in their learning process.
Boys and Girls Learn Differently, by Michael Gurian (Jossey-Bass, 2002). Why the model of “androgynous classroom” doesn’t work and how teachers can modify their strategies to reach all students.
Great Books for Girls: More than 600 Books to Inspire Today’s Girls and Tomorrow’s Women, by Kathleen Odean (Ballantine, 2002). Helpful reviews and recommendations.
What Stories Does My Son Need?: A Guide to Books and Movies That Build Character in Boys, by Michael Gurian (Tarcher, 2000). An excellent resource.
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by M. Thompson and D. Kindlon (Ballantine, 2000). Breaking the Boy Code, helping boys become more emotionally literate.
Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, by William Pollack (Henry Holt, 1999). Depression in boys and how our definition of masculinity contributes to this problem.
Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, by Mary Pipher (Ballantine, 1995). Pipher’s examination of female adolescence sparked a national interest in gender differences and their implications.
BUILDING A COMMUNITY
PETER COOKSON, JR.
Some hints to remember for fostering a positive and caring learning environment in your classroom this year
Imagine this: it’s your first day of teaching. You’ve just woke up and already you’re wondering what the day will be like. Now shift you imaginative focus to the 30 children who’ll be in your class. They’re also waking up. They come from households that are highly diverse in terms of family structure, educational background, comfort and support for children. Some students will need you as their most important source of stability. When kids are securely attached and feel safe within a group, they’re free to use their cognitive capacities in ways that are unimaginable. While there is no secret formula for creating genuine learning environments, here are a couple of ideas to get you started. You’ll create your own strategies as the year develops.
The sooner you get to know your students names, the better. Kids are very sensitive about being recognized and knowing their names is the surest indication that they are visible to you. One possibility for remembering children’s names is to create a classroom game were the children wear name tags and interact with you so that you are able to put a name and a face together.
Establish the following ground rule early: in your classroom, there will be no ridicule, sarcasm, or bullying. You’re a role model for your students. A sense of humility and support signals to them that mistakes are okay and that we are struggling learners.
Don’t raise your voice, always keep your sense of humor and never overreact. How you deal with your challenges could well set the tone for the entire year. If the challenging child and the other children see that you have the character to deal with dissent and maintain your equilibrium, you’ll have won their hearts and their minds.
Each child on your classroom should have the opportunity to speak and to express him or her self. Create visibility by assigning children classroom tasks. I’ve found that when the children have actual responsibilities in the classroom behavioral problems virtually disappear. Teaching is a performance art. There needs to be moments of action, but also moments of reflection and physical refreshment.
ADD UP THE PLUSES
JANIS LEIBS DWORKIS
Mike and Linda Milliorn of Irving are proud of their 8-year-old daughter, Susan. She has already taken three courses of sign language. What gave Susan the edge, they say, is something many people see as a negative; Susan has attention deficit disorder.
“Susan is highly motivated, eager to please and she’s always willing to go the extra mile,” Mr. Milliorn says.
“Learning sign language was her idea, and she keeps going with it. I’ve looked through her books and notes, and I can’t pick it up the way she does.”
The Milliorns are the coordinators of the Irving chapter of Children and Adults with ADD, a national organization for information and support.
Controversy surrounds almost all aspects of ADD. Some experts say ADD is a disorder of the neurochemical transmitters in the brain. Others describe ADD as just one end of a continuum of different styles of the brain wiring-not better or worse, just different.
Some experts say ADD is a lifelong genetic condition. Others say it disappears around puberty in 30 percent of cases. Some experts say it is a medical problem. Others say mentorships, family support, and tutoring can often eliminate negative symptoms without medication.
But one thing most experts seem to agree on is that along with ADD’s obvious negatives-impulsiveness, distractibility, hyperactivity in many cases, hypersensitivity –lies a host of positives just waiting to be discovered.
“Kids and adults with ADD are natural charmers. They have a sense of joyousness and they just energize their environment,“ says Lynn Weiss, author of five books about ADD, including Give Your ADD Teen a Chance. Both Dr. Weiss and one of her sons have ADD.
“They are very creative and inventive. And they tend to have a tremendous entrepreneurial sprit. They are curious, investigative, and intuitive. They treasure uniqueness and individuality. And they are sensitive people-they have the biggest hearts in the world.”
But if these are traits that characterize ADD, why are so many parents and children frustrated, angry, hurt, and just plain exhausted from trying to cope wit ADD day after day?
That’s a question Howard Morris of Ann Arbor, Mich., has pondered with his 9-year-old son, Danny. He is a vice president of the national Attention Deficit Disorder Association.
“Danny and I regularly talk about all the cool stuff he can do that his peers can’t do,” he says. “We talk about what a little wizard he is on the computer. About the fact that he can bring all these disparate things into his head at the same time. And you just can’t believe the stories this kid makes up out of the blue. They absolutely rival anything I’ve ever seen in any book I’ve ever bought him.”
“What typically happens to a lot o people with ADD is that they are so crushed by so many of the negative aspects that the positive aspects never even get to the surface,” he says.
“But when people get properly diagnosed and treated, and a lot of these negative symptoms disappear or are under control, then all of the sudden the positives can blossom,” he says.
There seem to be two main reasons, experts say. First, the very real difficulties caused by ADD can be overwhelming that people focus all their attention on coping with those negatives. There just isn’t enough time left over to focus on the positives.
“The parents at our meetings do seem to know the positive side of ADD,“ Mr. Milliorn says. “But we still spend about 75 percent of our time talking about the problems and only 25 percent of our time talking about the positives. That’s because what people really want is to get over their problems.”
And professionals find the same situation when they discuss ADD with clients.
“When I am talking to parents and giving them a diagnosis of dyslexia or ADD, I have to keep reminding myself to talk about the positives,” says Susan Fleming, director of the evaluation center of the Shelton School and Evaluation Center in Dallas.
“What tends to happen, though, is that we go immediately to ’What can you do to correct this?’ We’re trying to save everyone and keep everyone sane. And so we can fail to focus on what’s positive.”
Dr. Fleming says it’s only natural for parents, diagnostic professionals and anyone who spends time with ADD children to feel the need to solve the problems caused by ADD first and foremost.
“If you interviewed a teacher at the end of the day who had been working with an ADD child who had been up and down all day long, I don’t think she would be focusing on the positives of ADD,“ Dr. Fleming says.
The second reason that we tend to hear about the negatives and not the positives has to do with the interpretation of ADD behaviors. We haven’t been trained to see ADD behaviors in the positive light, experts say.
Consider distractibility, a common ADD trait.
DR. Weiss gives this example: Suppose a sixth-grade biology teacher is lecturing to the class about frogs. Kimberly, a student with ADD, listens to the first few words of the lecture. She loves studying about animals and she sincerely wants to hear what the teacher has to say.
But as Kimberly looks at the picture of the frog at the front of the classroom, she notices how green the skin is. This reminds her of the green dress her grandmother wore last week. And that reminds her that her grandmother had just taken a new job. She wonders if her grandmother will like it. Then she wonders if frogs can like things.
Kimberly is deep in thought about frogs, water, gills, oxygen, amphibians, reptiles, endangered species, etc., when she hears the teacher calling her name. The teacher doesn’t know that Kimberly has just developed several questions that would make for interesting class discussions. And, chances are, the teacher won’t ask her what she’s been thinking about. What the teacher does know, however, is that Kimberly has been staring out the window and day dreaming-again.
“I do understand the reality that the teacher can’t attend to every child in the room like this-ask them all what they are thinking,” Dr. Weiss says.
“But if the teacher labels that child as distractible, the teacher will have missed the point. The point is that the child is making multiple associations to everything that’s going on in the classroom.”
And that- the ability to make multiply connections and find a commonality between seemingly unrelated items-Grandma’s new job and the oxygenation of amphibians-is definitely a positive ADD trait, experts say.
“Many of our most successful business people have ADD,” Dr. Fleming says. “They can run three or four businesses and three or four homes and juggle everything and still stay sane. They hire someone else to do the day-to-day administrative work, and they just go from one creative idea to the next. They are always seeing things in new and different ways. They are cutting edge thinkers.”
Mr. Morris says he looks forward to a future when everyone will be aware of these positive ADD traits.
“Imagine the day when a manager of an ad agency advertises for creative director and he knows he wants someone with ADD,” Mr. Morris says. “Imagine a day when the positive traits of ADD are that well known.”
What’s right with ADD
There are many manifestations of attention deficit disorder that are difficult to deal with. But with treatment and support, the positive side of those traits can be emphasized. Here are some suggestions for looking at ADD in a new light.
Source: Lynn Weiss, author of five books about ADD, including Give Your ADD Teen a Chance.
HIGH SCORE EDUCATION: GAMES, NOT SCHOOL, ARE TEACHING KINDS TO THINK
JAMES PAUL GEE
The US spends almost $50 billion each year on education, so why aren’t kids learning? Forty percent of students lack basic reading skills, and their academic performance is dismal compared with that of their foreign counter parts. In response to this crisis, schools are skilling-and-drilling their way “back to basics,” moving toward mechanical instruction methods that rely on line-by-line scripting for teachers and endless multiple-choice testing. Consequently, kids aren’t learning to think anymore- they’re learning how to memorize. This might be an idea recipe for the future Babbitts of the world, but it won’t produce the kind of agile, analytical minds that will lead the high tech global age. Fortunately, we’ve got Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and Deus X for that.
After school, kids are devouring new information, concepts, and skills everyday, and like it or not, they’re doing it controller in hand, plastered to the TV. The fact is, when kids play video games they can experience a much more powerful form of learning than when they’re in the classroom. Learning isn’t about memorizing isolated facts. It’s about connecting and manipulating them. Doubt it? Just ask anyone who’s beaten Legend of Zelda or solved Morrowind.
The phenomenon of the video game as an agent of mental training is largely unstudied; more often, games are denigrated for being violent or they’re just plain ignored. They shouldn’t be. Young gamers today aren’t training to be gun-toting carjackers. They’re learning how to learn. In Pikmin, children manage an army of plantlike aliens and strategize to solve problems. In Metal Gear Solid 2, players move stealthy through virtual environments and carry out intricate missions. Even in the notorious Vice City, players craft a persona, build a history, and shape a virtual world. In strategy games like War Craft III and Age of Mythology, they learn to micro manage an array of elements while simultaneously balancing short-and long-term goals. That sounds like something for their resumes.
The secret of a videogame as a teaching machine isn’t its immersive 3-D graphics, but its underlying architecture. Each level dances around the outer limits of the players abilities, seeking at every point to be hard enough to just be doable. In cognitive science, this is referred to as the regime of competence principle, which results in a feeling of simultaneous pleasure and frustration- a sensation as familiar to gamers as sore thumbs. Cognitive scientist Andy diSessa has argued that the best instruction hovers at the boundary of a student’s competence. Most schools, however, seek to avoid invoking feelings of both pleasure and frustration, blind to the fact that these emotions can be extremely useful when it comes to teaching kids.
Also, good videogames incorporate the principle of expertise. They tend to encourage players to achieve total mastery of one level, only to challenge and undo the mastery in the next, forcing kids to adapt and evolve. This carefully choreographed dialectic has been identified by learning theorists as the best way to achieve expertise in any field. This doesn’t happen much in our routine driven schools, where “good” students are often just good at “doing school.”
How did video games become such successful models of effective learning? Game coders aren’t trained as cognitive scientists. It’s a simple case of free-market economics: If a title doesn’t teach players how to play it well, it won’t sell well. Game companies don’t rake in $6.9 billion a year by dumping down the material-aficionados condemn short and easy games like Half Life: Blue Shift and Devil May Cry 2. Designers respond by making harder and more complex games that require mastery of sophisticated worlds and as many as 50 to 100 hours to complete. Schools, meanwhile, respond with more tests, more drills, and more rigidity. They’re in the cognitive science dark ages.
We don’t often think about videogames as relevant to education reform, but maybe we should. Game designers don’t often think of themselves as learning theorists. Maybe they should. Kids often say it doesn’t feel like learning when they’re gaming- they’re much to focused on playing. If kids were to say that a bout a science lesson, our country’s education problems would be solved.
Edutopia Feb/Mar 2005
It was August four years ago when I sat down at a scratched wooden desk to begin my first teaching position. I was nervous. I knew that the job, if done right, wouldn’t be easy. There would be long hours and little pay. But I also hoped that I could inspire kids the way my best teachers had inspired me.
What I didn’t know then was that I wouldn’t make it. Less than a year after facing my first classroom of 32 fidgeting tenth graders, I walked away and never came back-to that classroom or to teaching. I became a statistic.
I entered the teaching profession full of idealism. After years of working as a journalist, covering the frenetic worlds of business and technology, I felt professionally unsatisfied. I spent my days writing about under conceived companies and overpaid CEO’s. I spent hours typing the latest gadgets.
My roommate, a high school math teacher, suggested I sit in on a few of her classes. They were raucous, open, and energetic: I was fascinated. I had always loved language, and I saw teaching as a way to help kids appreciate it - perhaps even love it - as well.
By fall 2001, I made the career switch, completed much of my licensing credential, and was hired to teach tenth-grade English at Sequoia High School, in Redwood City, California, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. By the New Year, I was gone.
Leaving So Soon?
Every year, U.S. schools hire more than 200,000 new teachers for that first day of class. By the time summer rolls around, at least 22,000 have quit. Even those who make it beyond the trying first year aren’t likely to stay long: about 30 percent of new teachers flee the profession after just three years, and more than 45 percent leave after five.
What’s more, 37 percent of the education workforce is over 50 and considering retirement, according to the National Education Association. Suddenly, you’ve got a double whammy: tens of thousands of new teachers leaving the profession because they can’t take it anymore, and as many or more retiring.
When teachers drop out, everyone pays. Each teacher who leaves cost a district $11,000 to replace, not including indirect costs related to schools’ lost investment in professional development, curriculum, and school-specific knowledge. At least 15-percent of K-12 teachers either switch schools or leave the profession every year, so the cost to school districts nation wide is staggering-an estimated $5.8 billion.
Students from the lowest-income families suffer the most. Inexperienced teachers (those with less than three years on the job) frequently land in classrooms with the neediest and often the most challenging students. Beginning teachers frequently start their careers at hard-to-staff schools where resources may be scarce-in other words, urban schools-simply because there are more jobs available there.
It’s a recipe for disaster for both teachers and students, says Barnett Berry, president of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Low-performing schools in high-poverty areas often cannot retain a critical mass of veteran teachers, says Berry. “Not only are teachers, who are new to these schools more likely to be under-prepared, they’re also more likely to be under qualified.”
The U.S. Department of Education confirms that teacher turnover is highest in public schools where half or more of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches. In California, for example, students in schools with large minority populations are five times more likely to face an “under prepared” teacher (someone working on an emergency credential or outside of the person’s subject area) than are students in schools with low percentages of minority students, according to a study conducted by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning in conjunction with California State University and the University of California.
A Frazzling First Year
Teachers quit for several reasons, but the one you would expect to be at the top of the list-salary- typically isn’t. Even though they start their careers earning roughly $30,000 (and fork out, on average, about $500 of their own money for instructional supplies0, less than 20 percent of teachers who change schools or leave the profession site salary as their primary job complaint, according to the National Center of Education Statistics.
More frequently, the reason is dissatisfaction with administrative support (38 percent) or work conditions (32 percent), according to the NCES’s 2001 survey of 8,400 public- and private-school teachers. Poor administrative support, lack of influence within the school system, classroom intrusion, and inadequate time are mentioned more often by teachers leaving low-income schools where working conditions are more stressful; salary is mentioned more often by teachers leaving affluent schools.
Many of these reasons are just euphemisms for one of the professions hardiest realities: Teaching can exact a considerably emotional tool. I don’t know of any other professional who have to break up fistfights, as I did, as a matter of course, or who find razor blades left on their chair, or who feel personally responsible because students in tenth-grade English class are reading at the sixth-grade level or lower and are failing hopelessly.
New teachers, however naïve and idealistic, often know before they enter the profession that the salaries are paltry, the class sizes large, and the supplies scant. What they don’t large, and the supplies scant. What they don’t know is how little support from parents, school administrators, and colleagues they can expect once the door is closed and the textbooks are opened.
“We don’t put attorneys just out of law school alone on their first case, yet we put new teachers alone in the classroom for their first year and expect them to shoulder the same responsibilities as veteran teachers, ”says Kathleen Fulton, director for reinventing schools for the 21st century at the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. “Our induction model creates impossibly high expectations.”
New teachers are expected to assume a full schedule of classes, create their own lesson plans, and develop teaching techniques and classroom management strategies in relative isolation. They are also expected to learn quickly the administrative ins and outs of the job, from taking attendance and communicating with parents to navigating the school’s computer network and finding the faculty bathrooms. The result: New teachers must weather a frazzling first year that many veterans come to view as a rite of passage. It’s also a recipe for early burnout. Attrition rates for beginning teachers who have not had strong teacher-preparation programs are much higher than for better-prepared colleagues.
“Not a day went by that I didn’t go home and cry,” remembers fourth-grade teacher Sue Manley of her first year. Manley, who graduated from Northwestern University with a master’s degree in education, thought she was well prepared for her first assignment, teaching at a Southside Chicago Elementary School. She had completed her student teaching the previous year at a grammar school in the same neighborhood and had spent four years volunteering as a classroom aide at another urban elementary school. Working with experienced teachers while she was still a graduate student and a volunteer had made teaching look easy to Manley. “Academically, I was prepared. Socially, professionally, and emotionally, I was not.”
Like any new teacher, Manley needed to learn her classroom management skills, but the pressures of managing a classroom solo for the first time were compounded by the lack of basic resources and administrative support. “we weren’t allowed to use the copy machine (for hand-outs), so I had to stop at Kinko’s every morning on my way to work,” she explains. “There was never any toilet paper in the bathrooms for the kids, so I had to bring that, too.” The last straw for Manley came in April, when she read a students journal entry that described violent acts directed toward her.
While Manley’s situation may seem extreme, it’s far from unusual. Other new teachers have reported similar feelings of isolation and impossible expectations.
“The amount of time I put into teaching was huge, and still I felt overwhelmed, “says Pam Zabel, a former high school science teacher in Charleston, Rhode Island. Zabel, who holds a masters degree in education, says she was assigned a mentor teacher who was theoretically there for support and professional coaching, “ but it was a very unstructured relationship-I met with him maybe two or three times during the school year. For the most part, I was on my own.” Zabel left teaching after her first year and is now a full time mom. “Mentally draining” is how Jim Treman, a former ninth-grade science teacher, remembers his induction to teaching. “I had no life for two years. I was constantly working. By the time Fridays rolled around, I was dead.”
Treman worked as an architect for ten years prior to entering the single-subject credential program at San Francisco State University. His decision to become a teacher grew out of an experience he’d had teaching English while traveling in South America. He completed his student teaching as an intern, working as a full-time teacher while earning his credential. “I was reluctant to take the position at first because I had no clue what I was doing,” says Treman. “ I was promised a ton of support, which in the end turned out to be completely untrue. I was totally on my own.”
Treman struggled to motivate his students: his assigned mentor, a physical education teacher, was unable to offer Treman curriculum guidance. Other science teachers seemed unwilling to share their materials. The school districts policy on laying off teachers in the spring and rehiring them in the fall didn’t help. After his second year of teaching, Treman returned to architecture.
It Started Out So Well
Zabel and Treman, like me, were on their own. I always chalked up my experience to a bad case of unrealistic expectations. Maybe I was too spoiled by the fat and happy corporate world. Maybe I shouldn’t have thought I would enjoy teaching my first year.
But, as a student teacher, I’d had a very positive experience. I had taught language arts to seventh-graders at a middle school in the upscale suburbs of San Francisco, and I was fortunate enough to of had a excellent mentor teacher. I designed what I considered to be fun, innovative lessons. I invited journalists friends to talk to the class about the persuasive power of writing. I organized grammar games and spelling contests. I brought in music from the 30’s to illustrate the concept of story setting. I researched yoga and breathing exercises to help students take the edge off pretest jitters. (The entire class broke up laughing as we all tried to balance on one leg before the SAT-9s.)
But when the semester was over, Taylor Middle School wasn’t hiring. Through my university’s placement program, I landed a position at Sequoia. During the interview, the principal (who would be gone by that fall, along with the vice principal) told me my limited experience teaching seventh grade was “perfect” for teaching tenth-grade at Sequoia. I was so naïve that I didn’t even ask why.
He promised plenty of support, recounted plans for a week-long new-teacher induction program before the school year started, and described the school’s recent remodel. I was given the names and phone numbers of two other English teachers willing to serve as my mentors that year.
In practice, the induction program turned out to be something of a pep rally for new teachers, not a training exercise. The mentor teachers who had promised to help did what they could but different grade levels or classes, and once the semester got under way had their own teaching concerns to address. In the end, I stopped asking for help. I was sinking, yet no one in the administration noticed. The principal, a former English teacher, observed my classes a few times and offered tips on my woefully underdeveloped classroom management style, but she seemed unconcerned by my obvious lack of experience.
She told me not to worry and that the 10th grade is the year when students who aren’t going to succeed drop out. That high school is still a novelty for them in 9th grade, and that by 11 grade, those who are left are the ones who have decided they want to graduate.
I didn’t know what to make of that. Was I teaching students who were expected to drop out? As the semester progressed and I watched students struggle through assignments that were clearly beyond their ability, I grew more anxious and disheartened. I came home at the semester break and camped out on the sofa for three days, depressed and despondent. When the semester resumed, I emailed the principle my resignation.
There are some effective ways to soften the coarseness of the first year. What made the difference for Manley, for example, was a free two-year induction program sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Center for Urban School Improvement. The New Teachers Network offers first-and second-year teachers at Chicago public schools personalized mentoring and online coaching that addresses a variety of issues, from classroom management to curriculum.
Several studies (and common sense) show that good mentoring programs can cut attrition rates by as much as half. Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a respected researcher in the field of education, analyzed statistics from ten studies on mentoring and teacher induction to sort out what works and why.
His analysis, published in the American Educational Research Journal last summer, concludes that new teachers who receive no induction as twice as likely to leave teaching after their first year as those who receive all six of the supports his study identifies. These supports include having a mentor from the same field, collaborating regularly with other teachers in the same subject, and being part of an external network of teachers.
Other successful induction methods include a program called INTIME (Integrating New Technologies into the Methods of Education), which provides teacher candidates with videos of accomplished teachers in the classroom. The teachers in the videos give lessons in a variety of context, including multiage classrooms, alternative high schools, special education students, and gifted and talented programs. Such preparation can drastically cut teacher attrition rates. For people who are changing careers to enter teaching, schools like George Washington University offer assistive programs for mid career entrants, including former military and Peace Corps attendees. One example is the school’s Transition to Teaching Partnership, collaboration with nearby Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.
But while mentoring and induction programs for new teachers are a mainstay in most states, not all programs are created equal. Of the 28 states that have state level teacher induction programs, only 10 actually provide funding for such programs, as well as mandating them, according to Recruiting New Teachers (RNT), a nonprofit organization that advocates national reform for teacher recruitment and development. That’s a big problem. “Funding is critical, because mentors need to be given the time to work closely with new teachers,” says Mildred Hudson, CEO of RNT in Belmont, Massachusetts.
The regimen of the federal No child Left Behind (NCLB) Act may help bridge the existing funding gap for some states. The first federal attempt to establish professional criteria for teachers, NCLB appropriates $2.85 billion over the next two years to help school districts recruit, develop, and retain “highly qualified” teachers (i.e., those who meet state certification requirements and demonstrate knowledge in their core subject area, according to NCLB). Indeed, last fall the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a free professional-development Web site for teachers (www2.ed.gov/teachers/dev/contedu/edpicks.jhtml). Targeted mainly at K-8 instructors, the site offers streaming video of workshops conducted by other teachers, as well as supplementary course materials.
In addition, consideration and time must be given to professional development. For instance, seminars and lectures for beginning teachers were offered monthly at Sue Manley’s school, but they were held on weekday evenings. Manley usually felt too bust and worn out after teaching all day to attend them. It’s a situation many new teacher’s-myself included-encounter. When new teachers aren’t granted release time for professional development, many end up going without. And eventually they just go.
Teachers who tough out the early years are often glad they did. Now in her seventh year of teaching, Manley has herself become a coach and a counselor for new teachers. “My advice is, “she says, “don’t take things personally, be firm, and be calm. And take care of yourself. It does get better.”
IF I WERE STARTING OUT AS A BEGINNING TEACHER
If I were starting out today as a beginning teacher – knowing what I now know – there are several things I would certainly do to broaden my window of opportunity. First, I would choose to teach in an urban school district. There are 120 such systems serving 7,000,000 children in poverty from diverse cultural backgrounds. To select the particular district, I would rely on several criteria. Does the district provide coaches or mentors who visit the classrooms of new teachers on a regular basis? Would I be working in a school building that groups its teachers into teams? Would I be assigned to a school with a nurse and a social worker available at least on a part-time basis? As a result of teaching in an urban school district, I would become deeply immersed in learning about the many aspects of African-American culture as that culture interacts with life conditions characterized by poverty. Because the majority of U.S. urban children will be children of color, and because our schools are not yet successful in meeting their educational needs, I would gain valuable background in learning first hand what works.
Second, I would plan on volunteering a few hours each week in a community agency serving Hispanic children and youth. There are two reasons for this: to learn conversational Spanish and to learn more about the daily lives of children and youth with the highest school dropout rate and lowest achievement of any culture group. The largest minority group in the United States is Hispanic, and these activities would make me a budding expert in multicultural education.
Third, I would reserve one evening each week for graduate study. My preferred major field or emphasis of study would be on the uses of technology and information systems in schools. Almost all major universities offer such programs, although they might not be housed in the department of education. Some universities offer specializations in which computer-assisted instruction is the medium for all technology studies. Achieving this task would make me one of the most sought-after teachers in any urban district, regardless of its size. I would gain insight into what will be needed in schools of the 21st century.
Fourth, I would spend the summer working in a private, profit-making business. In order to prepare children and youth for the world of work, their teachers need in-depth experiences functioning in the private sector. I would approach different forms of enterprise (manufacturing, banking, service, entertainment, or whatever) and explain that I am a teacher seeking to broaden my life experiences. Business would likely be willing to hire a teacher temporarily with the insight that he or she must learn more about the world of work in order to prepare children and youth for better functioning in society. Indeed, contacts developed in the summer would also be contributing resources to the teacher’s classroom program during the year. Pursuing this effort would ensure that I would be able to do what others merely talk about – connect the school curriculum to the world of work.
Fifth, I would initiate and stick to a sound diet and exercise schedule. The work of a beginning teacher in an urban district is an extremely wearing one. Added to these burdens are the other four tasks I recommend. Beginners inevitably contract a variety of contagious illnesses in their first year as their bodies build up natural resistance to flu and other common contagions. It is typical of failures and quitters that they experience health and physical problems in their first year. It is also typical that they did not follow a rigid pattern of exercise and rest.
Developing yourself in these five areas is the surest way I know for you to make your job meaningful and steadily move ahead in terms of salary and responsibility. Your growth is the best predictor of your students’ growth.
FIRE SAFETY AND CHILDREN WITH ADHD
from www.ideallives.com [link no longer active]
All parents worry about fire safety around the house, but when your child has special needs, extra precautions may be needed. For example, did you know that the impulsive nature of some children with ADHD may make them more likely to suffer injury due to certain kinds of burns? An Indiana University analysis of 278 children who were admitted to a pediatric burn center over the course of seven years revealed that 13 percent of the burn victims had ADHD. The study, appearing in the March issue of the medical journal Burns, showed that burn victims with ADHD had more extensive burns and stayed longer in the burn center than burn victims without ADHD. The ADHD victims were also much more likely to have thermal rather than flame burns, which suggests that they waited longer to get out of a dangerous situation involving high heat.
Here are some resources to make sure your family is never caught unprepared.
ON CREATING A CLIMATE OF CLASSROOM CIVILITY
JAMES M. KAUFFMAN & HAROLD J. BURBACH
The growing recognition of youth violence in schools is creating corresponding waves of intervention strategies to deal with the problem. Administrators’ first responses to escalating violence typically include such initiatives as installing metal detectors, implementing "zero-tolerance" programs, and increasing the number of security guards. A second set of initiatives involves teachers in implementing school-wide programs such as instruction in conflict resolution and anger management or in using what Craig Sauter calls "off-the-shelf" curriculum packages that deal with violent behavior. Although initiatives of both types may be essential to any comprehensive violence prevention program, we see the need for a third level of intervention to provide the kind of long-term reduction in violent behavior that we all hope for. We believe that one of the most effective actions teachers can undertake – and the one with the most enduring results – is to create a climate of civility in their classrooms.
In the mid-1990s civility has become a topic of enormous concern not only to educators but also to elected officials and the general public. One definition of civility has to do with civic responsibility – to be developed through training in the humanities that nourishes the exercise of citizenship. More pertinent to our discussion, however, is the definition of civility as politeness or courtesy. Concern for the disappearance of civility in this sense prompted U.S. News & World Report to feature an article titled "The American Uncivil Wars: How Crude, Rude, and Obnoxious Behavior Has Replaced Good Manners and Why That Hurts Our Politics and Culture." A survey revealed that 89% of Americans think incivility is a serious problem, and 78% believe the problem has worsened in the past 10 years. Of those responding, 91% said they think the decline in civility contributes to violence and 84% think that it is eroding values. We are all familiar by now with the problem of aggressive drivers and with the highway carnage caused by their lack of basic civility.
As educators, we, too, perceive a decline in civility and see it as a serious threat to the well being of students and teachers in school. More specifically, we contend that a major source of violence in schools is an interpersonal dysfunction that may begin with an unintended social blunder ("What are you looking at?") or an accidental bump ("Don’t you ever touch me, man!") and can end in a violent confrontation. Although a knowledge of conflict resolution strategies can be used to defuse such situations, a code of classroom civility might well prevent them from occurring in the first place. Our purpose is to help teachers understand some of the most common trigger mechanisms in youth violence and to present guidelines for inducing a higher level of civility in the classroom.
The Social Ecology of Classroom Aggression
For all that is being written on the subject of violence, many of us fail to see that we won’t solve the problem of violence unless we address the social ecology that supports and nurtures it. Of interest here are certain response dispositions that all of us are now familiar with and that provide fertile ground for aggressive behavior. We discuss four of these, which we label as ESP, GOP, STD, and HIV. You’re no doubt familiar with these abbreviations, but we give them some new meanings.
The first of these dispositions, ESP, refers to Exquisite Sensitivity to the Personal, particularly anything that can possible be construed as personal attack, challenge, insult, or disrespect. The ESP we are referring to is a quickness to bristle, almost an anticipation of offense. It’s a tendency to have hurt feelings with no evidence of malicious intent on the part of someone else, a quickness to anger a lack of generosity of spirit.
We see this kind of response among teachers and children and even among our students and colleagues in the university. A student is running down the hall and a teacher says, "Jack, slow down, please," and Jack responds, "Why you pickin’ on me, bitch?" A student makes a face when given an assignment, and the teacher says, "Don’t you get smart with me, or I’ll send you to in-school suspension." Sometimes we see it on the streets or in the shopping center. Slights so slight you’re not even sure they were slights become big deals. In this atmosphere of hypersensitivity, we all become emotionally supercharged and wonder how the next person will respond to our looking or not looking at them, including or not including them, not deferring to their wishes, reminding them of something, or forgetting their idiosyncrasies.
ESP is often hard to anticipate, but it is sometimes based on the problem of the GOP or Group Offense Patrol. This brand of offense is based on an assumption of group victimization, a demand for group compensation, and a loss of a sense of humor and perspective about one’s group identity. We see this in the preoccupation with the language used to describe nationalities, ethnic groups, disability groups, professional groups, genders, sexual orientations, religions, political persuasions – any of the many identities we might have. It’s a sensitivity to language that goes beyond mere resentment of any intent to demean. It is the demand that our group be acknowledged without the acknowledgment of the modal characteristics of group member. It’s the demand for reference to a group identity in language that is ambiguous at best and often an outright denial of group membership. It leads to taking offense not just at intentional derogation or stereotyping but at portraying a member of a particular group in a way that is less than flattering. It is a tribalism, a nationalism, a religiosity that wears its heart on its sleeve.
In A Son of the Circus, John Irving captures what we are talking about when he describes how various Indian groups responded to a movie.
Neil Postman argues that acknowledging diversity should be one of the primary goals of schools, but it must be done for the right reasons. The worst possible reason would be to use ethnic diversity to justify a curriculum of revenge – "that is, for a group that has been oppressed to try to even the score with the rest of America by singling itself out for excessive praise and attention." Further, he asserts that if everyone were to "screen" the world through his or her own ethnicity, this would inevitably lead to isolation, parochialism, and hostility. He furthers his case by citing Cornell West, who ends his book Race Matters, "We simply cannot enter the twenty-first century at each other’s throats … We are at a critical crossroads in the history of this nation – and we either hang together by combating these forces that divide and degrade us or we hang separately." Postman’s concluding point is this: schools must fashion a narrative that gives primacy to the constructive and unifying elements in diversity. And this endeavor, we believe, begins in the classroom.
ESP and GOP set the stage for STD, the Slight Trigger Disease, an impulsive response to anything that can be construed as offensive. STD is the kind of overreaction that calls for vengeance, demanding punishment for the slightest slight; it means feeling so deeply wounded that you’re ready to pull the trigger, to take somebody down. "He dissed me, so I took him out." "She offended us, so she’s not fit for public office." "He demeaned us, so let’s get him fired." "They used the wrong language, so let’s reject everything they say." Read the papers, watch TV, talk with friends – you will see and hear plenty of examples.
Slight Trigger Disease is the cause of numerous fights that erupt when kids inadvertently bump into one another or look the "wrong" way at their schoolmates in crowded hallways. This kind of hypersensitivity is as perplexing as it is troubling. Why are students so quick to take offense and so ready to fight over innocuous, everyday occurrences? One explanation is that these coming-of-age young people are simply doing what they see the adults in their lives do. They see popular sports figures who seem to be always on edge, talking trash, scowling at close calls, and flashing intimidating looks at their opponents – actions that can be preludes to violent behavior. They see politicians reflexively demeaning each other; they see their parents impulsively cursing and gesturing at traffic snafus; they see television talk show hosts encouraging guests to abuse each other verbally, often over trivial issues. They see, in short, an in-your-face, trip-wire culture that has very few face-saving devices built into its fabric. Although some might take issue with the generalizability of the foregoing example, few would deny our contention that a school where an accidental bump or a misinterpreted look can make an innocent student an instant victim of violence is not the kind of climate that will optimize learning.
The ESP, the GP, and the STD are the setup for getting us HIV – Heavy into Violence. A review of the statistics on youth crime reveals a mixed picture. Contrary to popular belief, youth crime is actually down from its high point in the mid-1970s. But while there has been a decrease in terms of gross numbers and percentages of crimes committed by young people, the kinds of crime that young people are committing are more serious in nature, and the offenders are getting younger and younger. Particularly frightening are the viciousness and casualness of the crimes youths are committing today, an indication that the civil codes of behavior that are based on a respect for life – the bedrock of a society – may well be weakening.
Here, too, we can look to the larger society for clues. Think about what violence means in our society, today more than ever. Violence is capital, a salable commodity. Think of our weapons production and our arms exports. Violence is power – not just power to coerce, but communication power. Violence is political power, physical power, moral power – witness the increasingly popular tendency to justify revenge on the part of the individual and the state. Violence gives moral power to the aggressor but even more to the victim, who feels revenge is justified.
Today we see a new vengefulness, a vindictiveness with regard to crime and misbehavior. At the personal level there appears to be a growing number of citizens who think the answer is to institute ever more punitive approaches to solving the crime problem. For example, we believe that Colonel Tibbitts, the pilot who dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima, speaks for a significant number of older adults when he acknowledges that there are too many guns in the hands of young people, but that the answer isn’t gun control; rather it is to "blister their ass and knock hell out of them." At the institutional level we see politicians tout get-tough policies over preventive programs. Witness the growing sentiment for trying juvenile offenders as adults and movement in several states, most notably Mississippi, to bring back both corporal and capital punishment. And in our own state of Virginia, our legislators are prepared to spend an estimated two billion dollars to build more prisons while committing smaller amounts to the support of public education.
Thus we are seeing the emergence of an even younger generation of criminals who are increasingly callous and a society that is responding with predominantly punitive measures. Our society seems, collectively, unwilling to face the fact that HIV is a dead-end response to dead-end behavior.
Creating a Climate of Classroom Civility
We readily acknowledge that the social ecology of aggression just described is but a small part of a larger, more complex problem, one that requires multiple strategies of intervention. We further recognize as the highest priority the need for early initiatives that are designed to protect the school community from immediate danger. But we also believe that it is time for schools to being to explore a broader and deeper range of options that promise to prevent or reduce the level of violent behavior in their environments. Creating a Climate of Classroom Civility
One such option is based on the idea that a climate of civility in classrooms might well head off a whole set of potential violence-related problems. We offer the following outline of a change process that promises to help teacher expand the reach of civility in their classrooms.
DOCTOR’S EVALUATION NOT REQUIRED FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION ELIGIBILITY FOR STUDENT WITH ADHD
Q. My child is having problems in school. I believe that he is ADHD and needs special education. I have asked his school to test him, but they say they can’t because ADHD is a medical diagnosis and that I have to take him to a doctor. The school says that state law requires that a doctor evaluate my child for ADHD. I don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to do this. Do I have to pay for testing in order to get my child into special education?
A. Your questions raises an important issue, which LDAT has brought to the attention of the Office of Special Education at the Texas Education Agency.
While the state Commissioner’s Rules governing eligibility for special education services under the Other Health Impaired category, which includes students with ADD/ADHD, do state that ”the multidisciplinary team that collects or reviews evaluation data in connection with the determination of a students eligibility based on their health impairment must include a licensed physician,” this state requirement directly contradicts federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and its regulations. In cases where state and federal laws and regulations conflict, federal law takes precedence.
The issue of evaluating students with ADD/ADHD for special education eligibility is directly addressed by the U.S. Education Department in Attachment 1 to the federal regulations implementing IDEA, which was published in the Federal Register March 12, 1999. Attachment 1 contains analysis of changes made in the law and states:
“If a determination is made that a medical evaluation is required is order to determine whether a child is ADD/ADHD is eligible for services…, such an evaluation must be conducted at no cost to the parents. In all instances, as is true for all children who may be eligible for services…each child with ADD/ADHD who is suspected of having a disability must be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status and motor abilities. (300.532(g).)
“There is no requirement under these regulations that a medical evaluation be conducted to accomplish these assessments.”
“Identifying and Treating Attention Deficit Disorder: A Resource for School and Home,” published by the U.S. Department of Education, states:
“IDEA does not necessarily require a school district to conduct a medical evaluation for the purpose of determining whether a child has ADHD. If a public agency believes that a medical evaluation by a licensed physician is needed as a part of the evaluation to determine with a child suspected of having ADHD meets the eligibility criteria of the OHI category, or any other disability category…, the school district must ensure that this evaluation is conducted at no cost to the parents.”
Rosemary Manges, who is with the Office of Special Education at TEA, confirms that schools cannot require parents to have their children evaluated for ADHD privately at their own expense in order to qualify for special education services.
“If the school anticipates that a student does have ADHD and will qualify under the OHI category, any required medical evaluation must be done at school district expense,” she said.
Manges said that parents should contact TEA if faced with a school’s insistence that they pay for their child’s evaluation by a doctor.
This question was taken from actual phone calls received at the LDAT State Office. If you have a question for LDAT, contact us at (512) 458-8234, (800) 604-7500, email@example.com
PRACTICES THAT SUPPORT TEACHER DEVELOPMENT
The current effort to reform the nation’s schools seeks to develop not only new (or reframed) conceptions of teaching, learning, and schooling, but also a wide variety of practices that support teacher learning. These practices run counter to some deeply held notions about staff development and in-service education that have long influenced educators’ and the public’s views of teachers.
Although sophistication about the process of restructuring schools and the problems of changing school cultures is growing, it is still widely accepted that staff learning takes place primarily at a series of workshops, at a conference, or with the help of a long-term consultant. What everyone appears to want for students – a wide array of learning opportunities that engage students in experiencing, creating, and solving real problems, using their own experiences, and working with others – is for some reason denied to teachers when they are the learners. In the traditional view of staff development, workshops and conferences conducted outside the school count, but authentic opportunities to learn from and with colleagues inside the school do not.
The conventional view of staff development as a transferable package of knowledge to be distributed to teachers in bite-sized pieces needs radical rethinking. It implies a limited conception of teacher learning that is out of step with current research and practice.
Learning from History: Questioning Assumptions
In 1957 the National Society for the Study of Education published Inservice Education for Teachers, Supervisors, and Administrators. The book was important not only because it was comprehensive, but also because it challenged the narrow assumptions about in-service education that had been dominant during the early 20th century. It proposed that schools and entire staffs should become collaborators in providing in-service education. This view was suggested by the growing knowledge of group dynamics that linked larger ideas of change to school problems. Because the status of teachers was rising at the time, the idea that teachers should share the work of their own professional improvement gained credibility in education circles.
The two conflicting assumptions about the best way for teachers to learn — either through direct instruction by outsiders or through their own involvement in defining and shaping the problems of practice – stem from deep-rooted philosophical notions about learning, competence, and trust, and these issues are again at the heart of discussions of professional development today.
Teachers have been told often enough (or it has been taken for granted) that other people’s understandings of teaching and learning are more important than their own and that their knowledge — gained from the dailiness of work with students is of far less value. Outside experts have often viewed teaching as technical, learning as packaged, and teachers as passive recipients of the findings of "objective research."
Because the contemporary school reform movement is concerned with such fundamental issues of schooling as conceptions of knowledge building and teacher learning, today’s approach to professional development goes far beyond the technical tinkering that has often characterized in-service training. The process of restructuring schools places demands on the whole organization that make it imperative that individuals redefine their work in relation to the way the entire school works.
Transforming schools into learning organizations, in which people work together to solve problems collectively, is more than a question of inserting a new curriculum or a new program. It also involves thinking through how the content and processes of learning can be redefined in ways that engage students and teachers in the active pursuit of learning goals, it involves a joining of experiential learning and content knowledge. Teaching as telling, the model that has dominated pedagogy and the consequent organization of schooling to date, is being called into question as professional learning for teachers increasingly connects to this reconsidered view of schools.
The ways teachers learn may be more like the ways students learn than we have previously recognized. Learning theorists and organizational theorists are teaching us that people learn best through active involvement and through thinking about and becoming articulate about what they have learned. Processes, practices, and policies that are built on this view of learning are at the heart of a more expanded view of teacher development that encourages teachers to involve themselves as learners — in much the same way as they wish their students would. But what does this actually look like in the pedagogical practice of schools? How can we understand the connections between teacher development and school development?
Learning by Changing: Teacher and School Development
This expanded view of professional learning is, of necessity, both personal and professional, both individual and collective, both inquiry-based and technical. While no definitive road maps exist that will lead us directly to our goal, we do have a growing body of evidence from some schools that have discovered the power of professional development when it is viewed as an integral part of the life of the school. By studying these schools we can deepen our understanding of how teachers acquire the experience that encourages them to grow and change in the context of school reform.
For example, some organizational and pedagogical changes in these schools (e.g., common planning periods) put new and experienced teachers together to learn from one another, to make connections across subject areas, to use staff expertise to provide leadership for ‘‘in-house’’ workshops or meetings, to form self-contained teams in which the organizational structure (a team) encourages constant staff learning, or to develop curricular changes that encourage interdisciplinary studies for short periods of time.
Numerous curricular, pedagogical, and assessment approaches to student learning also provide powerful professional learning for teachers, involving them in rethinking their role with students, even as they work to expand the way students interact with content and the problems of learning. Many instances of professional learning begin with meetings about subject-matter content, pedagogical approaches, new means of assessment, or simply discussions about learning. What makes the difference for teachers is that the content of the curriculum, the context of each classroom with in the school, and the broader context of the school itself all consider teacher participation to be central to any changes in the functioning of the school.
From Direct Teaching to Learning in School
Most of the in-service training or staff development that teachers are now exposed to is of a formal nature. Unconnected to classroom life, it is often a mélange of abstract ideas that pays little attention to the ongoing support of continuous learning and changed practices.
By contrast, the conception of teacher development that yokes student-centered pedagogy and opportunities for teacher learning, supported by favorable and durable organizational conditions, is now being tried in many locales. By constructing a continuum of the actual practices that encourage teacher growth, we see that such a continuum moves from "direct teaching’’ (the dominant mode of in-service training) to practices that involve "learning in school’’ to a variety of kinds of "learning out of school.‘‘ The change from "teaching’’ to "learning’’ is significant because it implies that teacher development opportunities must become integral to the restructuring of’ schools. This will necessarily involve strategies and mechanisms that are more long-range, that are more concerned with interactions among teachers, and that are often unique to a particular context.
This broader approach moves teachers beyond simply hearing about new ideas or about frameworks for understanding teaching practice to being actively involved in decisions about the substance, the process, and the organizational supports for learning in school – and thence to locating broader support mechanism, such as networks or partnerships, that provide opportunities for learning and innovation that involve groups outside the school.
Because "direct teaching" currently dominates much of what the public and many districts consider to be staff development, it is important that teachers, administrators, and policy makers become aware of new and broader conceptions of professional development. At present school districts have as many as seven days of in-service education scheduled during the school year. On these days teachers are introduced to new ideas (e.g., new math standards, new forms of assessment). Some districts run workshops dealing with specific themes or particular subjects, often hiring consultants to help with the "implementation" of these ideas in the schools. Although learning about new ideas that affect both the content and the processes of teaching is important, ideas that are unrelated to the organization and context of one’s own classroom have a hard time competing with the dailiness of work – even when teachers are excited about and committed to them.
If reform plans are to be made operational – thus enabling teachers to really change the way they work – then teachers must have opportunities to discuss, think about, try out, and hone new practices. This means that they must be involved in learning about, developing, and using new ideas with their students. They can do this in a number of ways:
What characterizes these examples of professional learning is that their lifespan is not one or two days. Instead, they become part of the expectations for teachers’ roles and form an integral part of the culture of a school. Learning and development become as varied and engaging for teachers as they are supposed to be for students. Drawing on experience and helping to produce new knowledge become as compelling as consuming preexisting knowledge. In fact, one process feeds the other. Being involved as a learner and a participant provides openings to new knowledge and broadens the agenda for thought and action. In important ways, such activities link individual professional learning to collegial and communal learning.
Several examples will help illustrate the kinds of connections that are possible between teacher learning and the mechanisms to support these "in-school" efforts.
Learning by observing children. The Primary Language Record (PLR), a guide for collecting evidence to aid teachers’ understanding of how students become literate in the primary grades, encourages teachers to observe students’ habits and choices as they are involved in learning tasks. As part of this process, teachers interview parents and students concerning students’ study habits and interests both at home and in school. The PLR provides teachers with greater breadth of information about their students and helps teachers become aware of and plan for student differences in learning styles. Most important, by observing children closely (with the help of a guide), teachers see that students learn differently, think differently, and engage with their fellow students in a variety of ways.
The PLR does not tell teachers what to do, but it does expand their understandings of what is possible. By focusing attention on student strengths, the "record" enables teachers to make better use of their own professional judgment to build more effective teaching programs. Networks of teachers from New York to California use this tool to support one another in their efforts to integrate knowledge of child development with observations of their students.
Adopting new approaches to subject matter. Some innovative approaches to subject-matter teaching have involved teachers in pedagogical as well as curricular changes. These include the process approach to writing, which engages teachers in writing, revising, and polishing their own work; whole-language approaches to integrating language arts that involve teachers and students in planning blocks of time for students to read, write, listen, and speak; and the Foxfire approach, which encourages teachers to use students’ interests and choices to involve them in planning and carrying out their own learning – gaining skills and knowledge as they seek information, write, edit, and produce work in a variety of subject areas. These new pedagogical approaches encourage teachers to be learners and to experience for themselves the struggle for personal and intellectual growth that is an essential part of learning. Teachers who use these approaches become sensitized to the nuances of learning and to the needs of individuals and groups.
These approaches to student learning do not downgrade the learning of basic knowledge; rather, they use the interests and abilities of students and teachers to invigorate such learning. Instead of requiring students simply to memorize facts from lectures or textbooks, these approaches involve teachers and their students in identifying and posing problems and in seeking perspectives and methodologies to help find answers. Inevitably this means increasing students’ content knowledge, because solutions to problems depend on such knowledge and on the skills and analytical tools developed in the problem-solving process.
Using strategies for learning together. The "descriptive review" process brings teachers together in a group to talk about particular students whom individual teachers find difficult to reach. In the process of understanding these difficulties, a teacher will tell what he or she knows about the child, while the other teachers suggest strategies that they have found successful in similar situations. In the process, teachers share their knowledge, learn from one another, and – by extension – take responsibility for the growth and development of all children in the school.
Learning by integrating assessment and curriculum. Through their involvement in new patterns of student assessment, teachers organize the curriculum in ways that reflect their rethinking of what students should know and what they should be able to do in order to demonstrate the breadth and depth of their learning. Portfolios – collections of a student’s work that demonstrate knowledge and skills – embrace diverse forms of expression, including science and social science research reports, constructions, multimedia presentations, original works of art, and dramatic presentations.
An important example of this integrative process is the approach taken at the Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS), where "habits of mind" are linked with portfolio assessment. "Habits of mind" are defined as a set of five principles that involve examining evidence critically, looking at multiple viewpoints, making connections, seeking alternatives, and looking for meaning. These principles serve as a foundation on which to build a pedagogy that teaches students to use their minds well so that they can live socially useful lives. The principles form the basis for ongoing discussions about breadth versus depth, and they serve to guide the development of the kinds of courses and educational experiences that will achieve these ideals. The assessment process uses portfolios as a means to involve teachers as "coaches" who serve as critics and supporters of student work, who guide students toward the completion of graduation requirements and who help them build "habits of mind" that will last beyond graduation.
The organic relationship between portfolios and "habits of mind" forms the basis for learning for teachers as well as for students. At CPESS, faculty members are continually reflecting on and redefining the boundaries of core subjects; portfolio content and measures of competence; what it means to be a coach, advisor, and supporter of student work; students’ responsibilities for creating, revising, and completing academic work; and the kind of social responsibility for learning that is shared by teachers, students and families. Although this is a particularly ambitious example, it shows how a change in the method of assessment can affect teacher learning and development in important ways.
Learning Outside of School
Although so far I have been dealing with professional learning for teachers that takes place inside the school, there is growing evidence that important and potentially powerful organizational arrangements exist outside the school as well. These networks, collaboratives, coalitions and partnerships offer teachers professional development opportunities that differ in quality and kind from those that have been available inside the school or in traditional professional development programs.
Unlike most professional development strategies with their "one size fits all" orientation, networks, coalitions, and partnerships provide opportunities for teachers to commit themselves to topics that are of intrinsic interest to them or that develop out of their work. By joining informal groups, teachers can develop stronger voices to represent their perspectives, learn to exercise leadership with their peers, use their firsthand experience to create new possibilities for students through collaborative work, and develop a community of shared understanding that enriches their teaching and provides intellectual and emotional stimulation. These important opportunities for teacher development exist more readily in environments that provide a level of flexibility and collaborative work not usually possible in existing organizations.
The following examples offer a sampling of the variety of contexts, content, and collaborative arrangements possible when teachers are "learning outside of school."
The Southern Maine Partnership. Much can be learned from looking at this nine-year-old school/university partnership between the University of Southern Maine and a group of school districts. The partnership has deep roots in both the schools and the university. The Southern Maine Partnership. Much can be learned from looking at this nine-year-old school/university partnership between the University of Southern Maine and a group of school districts. The partnership has deep roots in both the schools and the university.
Initially, the partnership brought teachers together at monthly meetings to discuss research and educational practice. The partnership justified its claim on teachers’ time by serving as a neutral forum in which teachers learned, asked questions, and talked about their teaching practices and problems in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. The impetus for organizing these initial dialogues came from a university professor who believed that both the schools and the university should collectively shape the agenda of the partnership. Eventually, teachers noted that what they believed and valued and what they practiced were not always in sync. As the partnership grew, it also helped to establish a core of committed teachers (as well as superintendents and principals) who were energized by the discussions, by the participants’ seriousness of purpose, and by the growing egalitarianism that permeated the group.
Both the substance and the spirit of the partnership were brought back by the participants to their home schools to serve as catalysts for staff learning. The partnership has gone through several different phases, moving from discussions, to reflections on the discussions, to serious work by its members in restructuring schools, to making major changes in the teacher education programs through the creation of professional development schools. Discussions, conversations, consultancies, networking on particular topics, and teacher-led conferences have all developed and changed over time. This progression indicates that a major strength of the partnership is its recognition that it must keep changing the kinds of forums it creates to match the growing and deepening needs of its constituents.
The Foxfire Teacher Outreach Network. While the Southern Maine Partnership began as a consciously created partnership between schools and a university, the Foxfire Teacher Outreach Network grew out of a teacher’s discovery that, in order to interest students in learning in his English class, he had to involve them in areas of their own interest and choice. The dramatic story of how this happened has been recorded elsewhere. What concerns us here, however, is how one teacher’s struggle was transformed into a strategy for the creation of teacher networks to provide professional learning beyond the boundaries of one classroom, one school, or one locale.
Initially, teachers were invited to a "teacher outreach" program, where they participated in classes during the summer. Because they were teachers themselves, the original Foxfire group modeled the techniques that teachers might try with their students during the school year: from encouraging students to choose their own topics to research and to write about to involving them in identifying their own learning needs, with teachers serving as guides. Understanding that meaningful learning needed to be supported over time, they started networks in a few places where a Foxfire course had been offered and where there were growing relationships within groups of teachers. Meeting throughout the school year, these teacher groups became a formal part of the Foxfire Teacher Outreach Network, which has grown from five initial teacher groups to 20. These groups now exist across the country, and they continue to be centers for professional learning created by teachers, for teachers.
The Four Seasons Network. This network was organized by the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST) to bring together teachers from three reform networks: the Coalition of Essential Schools, the Foxfire Network, and Harvard University’s Project Zero. The purpose of the Four Seasons Network was to support and encourage teacher participation and leadership in the area of assessment. It brings teachers together to learn about authentic assessment by learning from experts, by learning from one another, and by creating new modes of assessment in their own classrooms and schools.
Initially, teachers from 10 different states were brought together during two summer workshops, while year-round support was provided through the use of an electronic network. This electronic network enabled teachers to share current stories of practice, discuss their struggles related to the creation of portfolios and exhibitions of student work, and give each other support and encouragement for taking risks. Since issues of assessment are crucial to all teaching and learning, the Four Seasons Network, by involving teachers from previously existing networks, has helped them all to expand the breadth of their reform work.
These three collaborative efforts are examples of the kinds of networks and partnerships created to deal with complex educational problems that defy simplistic solutions and pat answers. By bringing groups of teachers together — whether to work on particular subject areas, to articulate principles for reforming schools, to acquire new pedagogical techniques, or to change teacher education programs in schools and universities — these networks provide access to new ideas and a supportive community in which to begin translating these ideas into meaningful action in schools and classrooms. In the process, teachers have helped to build an agenda that is sensitive to their contexts and concerns, they have had opportunities to be leaders as well its learners, and they have been able to commit themselves to goals that are broader and more inclusive than their initial concerns.
Breaking the Mold
My concerns here have been the limitations of traditional approaches to teacher development and the new kinds of learning that are informing the field. These ideas could be summarized as follows.
As opportunities increase for professional learning that moves away from the traditional in-service training mode and toward long-term, continuous learning in the context of school and classroom and with the support of colleagues, the idea of professional development takes on even greater importance. For if teacher learning takes place within the context of a professional community that is nurtured and developed both within and outside the school, then the effects may be more than just an expanded conception of teacher development. Indeed, such teacher learning can bring about significant and lasting school change.
RENEWING DEMOCRACY IN SCHOOLS
Today’s school reform efforts aim almost exclusively at increasing the academic achievement of students. Despite their narrow focus, reform efforts are usually "systemic" in that they address the whole complex – uniform and precise standards, governance, and mechanisms of accountability. But they often fall short in promoting the discourse that lies at the heart of education in a liberal democracy: What experience do students need in order to become engaged participants in democratic life? How can education develop the capacity for making well-informed choices? If liberal public discussion is a foundation for democracy, how can schools promote such discussion? What pedagogical methods are compatible with the aims of democratic education?
In contrast to systemic reform efforts, programs aimed at renewal identify the central purposes and processes of democratic education, attempt to interpret them in contemporary terms, and seek to strengthen them. I do not mean to contrast programs of reform and renewal too sharply. Many in both camps are fine programs. But the idea of renewal is different. It attends to the underlying ideals and purposes of democratic education. It takes seriously the judgment of John Dewey that a democratic society "must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control, and the habits of mind which secure social changes without introducing disorder."
In this article, I will address just two problems that we face in trying to renew democratic education. I will argue that the movement for uniform standards may actually handicap efforts to renew democracy in the schools 1) by eliminating many of the legitimate choices that students should be guided in making and 2) by failing to encourage the sort of rational political discussion that provides the very foundation of liberal democracy.
Choice figures prominently in liberal/democratic theories. Some political theorists make it absolutely central to liberalism. Others name a different theme (e.g., preserving diversity) as primary, but no liberal theorist can deny the importance of choice in liberal democracies. "Liberal," as I am using it here, is not to be understood as, in common parlance, the opposite of "conservative" but rather as reference to a philosophical/political heritage shared by both present-day liberals and conservatives. In liberal/democratic societies, the rights and privileges of individuals are taken seriously; freedom and equality are the watchwords.
It is not simply that citizens of such democracies are expected to make intelligent choices in voting; more important, they are left to their own guidance on a wide range of life choices. Educational theories that put great emphasis on preparation for voting miss the very point of that ritual. Most of us do not care terribly whether those who represent us in government are (temporarily) Republicans or Democrats, although we may work toward the election of one party or the other. What rightly concerns us is the maintenance of a form of government under which our right to make choices is held sacred. The choice of where to live, with whom to associate, what sort of work to do, which professionals to consult, which merchants to patronize, how to spend our leisure time, how to worship, what to read . . . these are choices we cherish. Voting is often little more than a powerful sign that we do cherish these choices.
Because we live in a liberal/democratic society (albeit an imperfect one), political education is a necessity. Amy Gutmann puts it this way: "We can conclude that ‘political education’ — the cultivation of the virtues, knowledge, and skills necessary for political participation — has moral primacy over other purposes of public education in a democratic society."
Most of us can give assent to this statement even though we might disagree on exactly what is meant by "political" or "democratic." Without attempting a precise definition of either term (a task far too large for this space), I want to make it clear that I am using "political education" in a very broad sense. I do not mean by it simply participation in public life, however important such activity may be. Rather, I mean an education that enhances the likelihood that students will have both richly satisfying personal lives and the willingness to promote such lives for others. It is precisely because we live in a democratic society that such a description of political education is essential. We need to have not only the knowledge and skills for public participation but also those for how to "get about" in an environment of political freedom.
Oddly, liberal theorists often have less to say about education than theorists from other perspectives. Totalitarian thinkers, for example, have usually put great and consistent emphasis on education. One reason for this neglect by liberal theorists may be that systematic education seems to require coercion, and coercion is incompatible with the liberal/democratic spirit. John Stuart Mill, for example, excluded children, dependent young, and "barbarians" from the basic liberal principle of noninterference. He seemed to believe that all those people who had not yet reached a mature rationality might reasonably he coerced for their own good.
In contrast with Mill, Dewey wrote extensively on liberalism and the need for an education consistent with liberalism— one that would provide students with the kinds of experience that would contribute to the personal interests and habits of mind needed for democratic life. A main point of contention between Dewey and traditional educators, such as Robert Maynard Hutchins, centered on exactly this issue: Are students best prepared for democratic life by absorbing a rigorous body of carefully prescribed material, or must they have actual experience with democratic processes? The issue generates a whole set of problems ranging over cognitive, affective, and social domains.
Arguments of this sort have raged in the U.S. for more than 100 years. The faculty psychology (or mental discipline) school that was so popular in the 19th century held that the mind had to be exercised vigorously and that the best materials to provide this exercise were the standard disciplines. An interesting variation on mental discipline was suggested by Charles William Eliot, the Harvard president who presided over the Committee of Ten. Eliot defended electives for students on the ground that sustained study — not prolonged study of particular subjects — is what produces the appropriate mental exercise. This theme is echoed in much of Dewey’s work. He, too, believed that engaged, sustained study of almost any topic would produce the growth and discipline we seek in education. Further, Dewey held that student involvement in the choice of topics, projects, and objectives for their own learning was an essential part of what I am calling political education.
The difference of opinion persists today, but the establishment of national standards threatens to suppress discussion. No responsible educator advocates a hodgepodge of unconnected topics as a curriculum, but many of us agree with Dewey that there should be a way to avoid coercion and still provide a rich curriculum that can be varied according to the needs and interests of individual students. Continuity is clearly important, but it can be secured by guidance and discussion; it need not be a product of coercion.
If Eliot was right in his early defense of electives (he seems to have changed his mind later), there is no sensible reason for eliminating them and moving to a "one size fits all" curriculum. However, it has been argued that allowing students to choose their own courses will encourage some to downgrade their own education. The answer to this objection is not to resort to coercion "for their own good" but to ensure that every course offered is worthwhile. An open and rigorous discussion of national standards could be useful here. Such discussion could encourage educators to think along the following lines: What goals should all courses further? Which of many desirable goals does this particular course promote? If its content is highly constrained (e.g., jewelry making, introductory algebra), is there a way that it can be expanded to include some history, aesthetics, reading, writing or other material deemed important? How will the methods of teaching and learning contribute to the growth of democratic character?
If every course the high school offers were to be worthwhile in the sense just described, we would not have to worry about students’ making choices that would downgrade their education. We would still face the problem of continuity, however, and we would be required to supply much more information about our courses than we usually do at the high school level. An adequate political education should help students to make well-informed choices. I am not suggesting that students be allowed to exercise blind desire. Indeed, it is because a free society makes it possible for people to follow their blind desires (within their means) that education in a democracy must prepare students to make sound choices. To choose wisely among even fine possibilities requires information. In addition, it requires a relationship between teachers and students that will make it possible for teachers to guide each student responsibly. The flow of information is bi-directional. The student needs information about what the school offers; the teacher needs information about the student in order to guide him or her effectively.
Another argument against a curriculum rich in electives is that students may change their minds by the end of high school and regret that they are not better prepared for college. This worry cannot be brushed aside, but it can be answered thoughtfully. Because we live in a credentialed society, students who have chosen nontraditional courses may find themselves "unprepared" for immediate entry into college, but the power they have acquired in controlling their own studies should make it relatively easy for them to gain the further preparation required. Many such students are better prepared for the actual work of college than the sizable number of youngsters who graduate now with "approved" courses that have, in fact, left them totally unprepared for the rigors of college. If we are looking for a national disgrace, it is not to be found in the fact that too few students take "rigorous" courses but rather in the fact that so many take them and learn so little from them. Responsible educators cannot simply declare credentials unimportant, and we have to be sure that students understand the likely consequences of their choices. But we can also launch a campaign to get colleges to experiment a bit by admitting students with nontraditional preparation. Democratic societies have long professed faith in sound scientific practices, and yet our educational efforts are obstinately conservative. Changing one’s mind, one’s occupation, one’s way of life is enormously attractive in a liberal democracy. Schooling should reflect this cherished privilege.
High school students should be encouraged to make well-informed choices not only of the courses they will take but also of the standards they will attempt to meet within each course. Again, teachers should not turn over the entire matter of standards to students, but it is entirely reasonable to establish several sets of standards for a given courses, each carefully constructed to match the purposes of the students who choose to take the course. The provision of variable standards does not necessitate tracking; it can be done within heterogeneous classes. The important point, from the perspective of political education, is that students understand how the standards they are working toward fit their own purposes. To urge all students to do equally well in all subjects is foolish. In addition to being impractical, it is an invitation to mediocrity.
A program of the sort I am suggesting here – one in which students get equal credit for well-done work in art, photography, or algebra – is sometimes criticized as anti-intellectual. This criticism, too, has to be taken seriously. Too often the accusation serves as a conversation stopper. Anti-intellectual? Horrors! But what do we mean by "intellectual"? If we mean that creditable school work should invite critical thought, proficient use of language, and an increase in cultural literacy, then, as I argued above, every course should be "intellectual." But if we mean that an accredited course of study must comprise a specified body of content in order to be intellectual, then what I am advocating is clearly anti-intellectual. This too is an old debate — one that may also be foreclosed by the standards movement. Instead of closing down debate with prescribed objectives for all students, a democratic society would do better to make responsible choice available within its public school system.
Liberal Political Discussion
Several writers have recently noted that democracies seem to maintain themselves and thrive in societies marked by a tradition of liberal public discourse. If this is true, democratic education should give students appropriate practice in such discourse. There is a language to be learned, a form, a whole practice. It could be argued — and has been, at least implicitly — that with sufficient knowledge, the only practice needed is that involved in debating academic questions. Examples of such questions might be: Was Jefferson a liberal? To what extent were the Framers of the U.S. Constitution influenced by economic factors? These questions are interesting to some students, and they certainly can be engaged in a way that introduces students to the forms of public discourse. But they may not matter to many students, and a mark of public discourse is that it arises around issues, things that matter to those speaking.
It would seem that best practice would invite students to discuss issues of current importance — importance to them, if possible. No one can guarantee that any particular issue will be important to every student in a given class, but educators can make an effort to share questions that are relevant both to the general public and to students.
Consider, for example, what might be done with the question of whether both evolution and creationism should be taught in public schools. This is a question that is debated by some school boards, but only the decision, in the form of a specified curriculum, is conveyed to students. Why not encourage students to investigate all sides of the question? Are there scientifically defensible objections to evolution? Is there more than one version of evolution theory? What are the issues that separate versions?
Students should also have an opportunity to learn something about the history of evolutionary theory, about the great debates – including the fiery exchange between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley, in which Huxley suggested strongly that he would rather share ancestry with apes than with Wilberforce. If students are then convinced that Wilberforce was a dimwitted reactionary, they should be encouraged to learn something about his enlightened social views and his father’s fight against slavery. Similarly, when students study the Scopes trial, they should be invited to find out more about both William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. The biographies of both men are fascinating. Reading about Darrow, for example, students may become interested in the question of determinism versus free will.
The subtopics that arise in a free and full discussion of evolution are almost endless. For example, does human language represent a limitation on the continuity hypothesis? That is, can human language be shown to be continuous with animal communication, or is it what some scholars have called a "true emergent?" students who are interested in animal behavior might choose to study this topic in considerable depth.
When creationism is discussed, students should be encouraged to examine the two creation stories that appear in Genesis. In one (1:27), God creates "man in his own image … male and female created he them." In the second (2:7-23), God first creates Adam and then makes Eve from Adam’s rib. Why has this second version been so popular among preachers and storytellers? Why have feminists objected so strongly to it? Does the first version suggest, as Elizabeth Cady Stanton insisted, that God is both female and male? Does the second lead to a Judeo-Christian endorsement of the ancient myths that equated the creation of woman with the advent of evil in the world? High school girls often need a special intellectual interest, and this set of topics may thrill many of them. It provides a stimulating introduction to feminist thought.
In addition to the Judeo-Christian creation stories, other such stories should be told. There are wonderful African, Chinese, and Native American creation stories, and these too would provide excellent centers for further study.
Many students will also be attracted to the study of social Darwinism and its pernicious effects on women and non-Europeans. The doctrines of Herbert Spencer, Carl Vogt, Paul Mobius, Edward Clarke and Darwin himself perpetuated the notions that females are inferior to males, that non-Europeans are inferior to Europeans (northern Europeans), and that most of the poor deserve their misery because of deficient character or constitution. The damage done by these doctrines is incalculable. Again, the number of subtopics that arise from the stem of social Darwinism is impressive.
Instead of battling behind closed doors over whether to teach evolution or creationism, we should bring the debate into the classroom. In doing so, we might begin to see the foolishness of separating school subjects as sharply as we do. Why fight over whether creationism should be mentioned in science class? The topics mentioned above are of great human interest. They create an opportunity for interdisciplinary study and team-teaching. But they can and should be discussed in science classes as well. Willingness to do so signals to students that science is a significant part of liberal studies – studies that initiate students into the practices of a democratic society.
Imagine how much "cultural literacy" students might gain in a unit of study such as this. Working on their own projects, listening to others, trying to fit whatever direct instruction they receive with the material they are learning on their own, they will come across names, events, and concepts that will add immeasurably to their store of knowledge. I am not suggesting that we depend on "incidental learning" for the entire curriculum, but I do think we underestimate the power and scope of such learning. Material that we "pick up" while fully engaged in inquiry is likely to remain with us longer than that which we learn for the purpose of passing a test.
The main point to be made from this example is that the practice in liberal public discourse needed for the maintenance of a successful democracy can be provided in such a way that the questions to be debated are relevant, exciting, intellectually challenging, and culturally rich. Judiciously selected topics also offer the kind of choice that students need to become self-reliant learners.
In addition to a host of questions that are current on the public agenda, students should discuss those that are directly relevant to their own condition. Why, for example, are they required to study algebra and geometry? What arguments are offered and how valid are they? Is it true that most occupations today require the use of algebra? Is it true that people who are competent in algebra and geometry make higher salaries than those who are not? If this is true, is it because mathematical skills are actually in demand or is it largely a result of a credentialing system? On a question such as this last, students should be encouraged to recognize and talk about partial truths.
If it is argued that academic mathematics should be studied because it is a great cultural achievement and might even be regarded as one of the foundations on which great modern civilizations have been built, then what about other institutions and practices that have made significant contributions? What role has been played by the development of the home as a private place? By the modern family? By changing conceptions of child rearing? Why are these topics not part of the standard curriculum? And if mathematics is so vital to cultural development, why do we not study its history, its uses in warfare and politics, its aesthetics, its appearances in literature, the biographies of mathematicians, the historical exclusion of women from its study, and a host of other topics usually identified with culturally rich material?
We have to be careful when we engage in this kind of political education. We want to encourage free and honest discussion, but we should avoid messages that destroy hope and induce cynicism. Some forms of radical pedagogy are too one-sided and leave students with the notion that everything good about their nation and their schooling is but a myth. Further, radical pedagogies sometimes assume that it is legitimate to enlist students in particular campaigns for social transformation, and some teachers become angry and resentful when students resist their revolutionary messages. In political education for democratic living, students should have the right to resist such pressure. We should want them to know that there are groups working hard for (and against) various changes in our society, and we should share with them the strongest arguments on all sides. Such pedagogical generosity should be characteristic of democratic education. It does not require us to be completely neutral. Sometimes, teachers should state frankly where they stand and why, but they should not silence voices that disagree.
Another word of caution is well taken here. Often students who have not yet mastered the standard forms of language and whose cultural practices differ from the rational discussions described there are silenced automatically. Their participation should be strongly encouraged, and classroom conversation should be extended to include this set of problems too. When students use emotional forms of rhetoric, their contributions should be accepted, but further inquiry should be prompted. Who else takes this point of view? What is the logic of the argument? What conditions induce it? What can be said in opposition? If we traded cultural positions, might you react as emotionally as I do? To accept the contributions of marginalized students does not require teachers to abdicate their responsibility for helping these students to learn standard forms. To reject some arguments as unfounded does not require us to reject the students who make them. Political education in a free society must be designed to help students achieve freedom in both their public and private lives.
When liberal discussion is used to promote inquiry, critical thinking, reflective commitment, and personal autonomy, students are likely to feel more in control of their own schooling. It won’t hurt them to hear that much of what they are taught in schools will be useless in everyday life. They need to know that they are living in a highly credentialed society and that the tie between credential and competence is thought by many to be weak. In an adequately politicized classroom, students may begin to experience school as a place to which they can bring some meaning. School will not longer be experienced as a compulsory act in a theater of the absurd.
HISTORY OF INTERCULTURAL EDUCATION IN THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, 1930s-1950s
Intercultural Education is concerned with behavior directly related to racial, religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic group conflicts. In order to work effectively in this field, the teacher should know what light scientific research has thrown on these complex problems. If he is not so prepared, the educator may find himself unable to refute, for example, such elaborately developed by scientifically fallacious theories as the one which holds that the ‘Nordic race’ is ‘pure’ and ‘superior,’ while all other races are doomed by their inborn characteristics to play an inferior role in the world affairs. (Cole and Vicky, 1943)
The genesis of a relatively unknown reform movement into an official organization dedicated to intercultural education began in 1933 at a luncheon meeting at the Town Hall in New York City attended by the likes of Benson W. Landis of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, William Pickens of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Chih Meng of the China Institute, and Louis Posner of the New York City Board of Education.
The work of the organization involved the production of curriculum materials at all grade levels, teacher in-service workshops, and college courses and community-relations projects to encourage democratic cultural pluralism and improve human relations. Perhaps most well-known was a series of school assembly programs on the cultural contributions of individual racial and ethnic groups developed by Rachael Davis DuBois and implemented in selected schools in New Jersey, metropolitan New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and suburban Boston (Davis, 1999:Pak, 2004).
Historical research conducted by the author and a colleague over the past 4 years has found that intercultural activities were not uncommon in public school classrooms throughout New York City, Detroit, Seattle, San Diego, among others, particularly during the war years. In considering how various school districts implemented intercultural education reforms, we first investigated the ways in which the main organization framed its ideological outlook.
Originally existing under the name of the Service Bureau for Education in Human Relations in 1934-the term “intercultural education” was officially coined in 1935 when the Committee on Intercultural Education was established by the Progressive Education Association (Montalto, 1982)-the Service Bureau for Intercultural Education’s major voice was its publication Intercultural Education news (IEN). This newsletter documented the work of intercultural educators throughout the nation who worked to impart education for cultural democracy and religious and racial tolerance. Renowned progressive educators such as William Heard Kilpatrick, Frank Trager, Stewart Cole, and Rachael Davis DuBois contributed regular articles addressing the general themes mentioned. Other prominent scholars such as Gordan Allport, Alain Locke, and Ruth Benedict offered their expertise through the newsletter to combat the popular stereotypes held against Jews and racial minority groups held in the 1940s.
The organization’s publications provided not only an outlet but a prominent voice in education for intercultural relations. The IEN would be the conduit for the dissemination of national and local efforts at educational reform.
A unique feature of the IEN was its devotion to issues of race prejudice, particularly during the mid-1940s. At times a reactionary effort against the Axis powers’ spreading of propaganda on the internal dissension of racism in the United States, more articles concentrated on relieving and eradicating race prejudice and anti Semitism than on examining European immigrants’ acculturation in the United States.
A content analysis of the major articles reveals that from January 1942 through January 1945, more explicit attention was paid to race than to any other major issues of the time. An examination of the IEN in forefronting racial matters underscores how previous studies of intercultural and intergroup education and the “cultural wars” (Banks, 2004: Zimmerman, 2002) during the progressive era provide limited portraits of educators’ views on race and multiculturalism.
While not abounding with the specificities of racism and critical racial reform of W.E.B. DuBois’s The Crisis, the IEN nevertheless captured the major social distresses during war time. To question the government’s motives is not providing appropriate due process to Japanese Americans at the time of their incarceration, to examine the state of Jim Crow in the segregated South, to dispel anti-Semitic propaganda, and to provide new scientific evidence on the non biological basis of race indicates the Service Bureau’s willingness to bring to bear the more unsightly scars of our society to enact a deeper form of cultural democracy.
Framing all aspects of social inequality on the basis of cultural democracy, and democratic citizenship, as an extension of constitutional democracy, made sense to intercultural educators. The challenge of e pluribus unum would require that both majority and minority rights be acknowledged.
Linking intercultural relations democratic citizenship provide the necessary outlook for some schools to broach the very topics that had plagued U.S. society from the Depression through the war years. However, many school districts were quite hesitant, even unwilling, to venture into topics that would, in their views, further deepen the schisms already present. Rather than inviting separatism through the study of individual groups, some schools opted to investigate the ways in which human relations were marked by their similarities. A national survey of selected schools conducted by the Bureau of Intercultural Education reported that only 28 schools (from the 234 that returned the survey-out of a total of 493 surveys that were mailed out) adopted intercultural education policies (Pitkin, 1947). The overwhelming majority of school officials who did not support policy measures reported that “no intercultural problems existed]” and that a focus on interracial issues in schools would “do more harm than good” (Pitkin, 1947, p. 28)
The inattention and sometimes deliberate unwillingness by some school districts to confront matters of cultural and linguistic diversity came into conflict with teachers, parents, and community members who sought to envisage schools representing the rights of all disenfranchised groups (Johnson, 2002). Where certain programs achieved a modicum of success, mounting pressure by conservative community groups often halted further reform efforts (Pak, 2002). Paralleling the tensions and conflicts that surround the implementation of multicultural education reforms in schools today, intercultural education in the past underwent struggles that do not seem altogether unfamiliar.
The research on the history of the intercultural education in public schools in increasingly convincing that in order to effectively make changes in the classroom, we must all possess greater understanding of the history and legacy of institutionalized discrimination and realize that we have always been a multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural society.
WORDS THAT HURT, WORDS THAT HEAL: HOW ADULT MORALE AFFECTS STUDENTS ACHIEVEMENT
A teacher’s words can make a parent’s day and vice versa. My daughter called excitedly the other day when her first child brought his first report card home. No, it wasn’t all A’s but it did carry a sentence from the teacher that make all the difference; “Your child is a wonderful boy.”
Oh, how these words matter…even if the teacher had written it also on other cards. I know this from long experience in the giving and the receiving ends of report cards. Education is a very human partnership. It depends on its strength, not just on the right curriculum or the right tests. It depends to a greater degree than we have known before on the how teachers and parents appreciate each other and build each other’s sense of hope.
We now know what we did not know before. We know that every home is an important partner in education. This has become almost common knowledge.
Yet, there’s another vital ingredient in this mix which has not as yet been spotlighted: Morale. It takes a hopeful adult – teacher and parent – to raise and teach a hopeful child. Hope is one of the key determiners of achievement. When students get to the point of saying, “What’s the use?,” it matters little about which curriculum and which tests are being used.
When children start school for the first time, you can smell the hope. It’s not just the new book bags and shoes. It’s the elixir of possibilities. It’s a fire that can be snuffed out or helped to burn brightly.
While I can’t put words of encouragement in the mouths of parents and teachers, I want to make the case for how important they are. When so many schools and families are being labeled as failing, now more than ever, morale is critical.
Words actually make such a big difference in building and sustaining hope for our children and their education. I think the meanest thing a teacher ever said to me happened when I brought my first child to school to register her for kindergarten. I was nervous and wanted to make a good impression. Being a teacher, I did not want to be a bragging parent. But I was also concerned that this teacher know about my child.
So I told the teacher that this youngster entering kindergarten could already read, and I asked what provision would be made for this. The teacher put her arm around my shoulder and proceeded to reassure me in this way: “Oh, don’t worry, they all even out by third grade.” Evening out wasn’t what I was concerned about. It was not what I or any parent would want to hear.
The nicest thing a teacher ever said to me came in a telephone call when my younger daughter was in fourth grade. She had been absent from school for three days. Her teacher called to ask about her. “How is she? When is she coming back? We miss her.” This teacher knew how to make students and their families feel important. The other teacher did the opposite.
We do hurt each other. And it’s not just teachers ganging up on parents. As a teacher, I have seen a wide variety of parental anti-school behaviors. Among them:
All this isn’t to imply that parents should not criticize teachers and vice-versa. Constructive criticism is essential. But destructive attitudes are worth recognizing and discarding
One step I would take right away is to get rid of those dull, computerized comments appearing on more and more school report cards. Computers may be more sophisticated than ever, but they don’t convey the human touch. Comments made by a computer count for very little.
Human comments can be off the mark, too. One year, when teaching a group of, as they say, “challenging students,” I made out report cards and added a comment to each one. I found myself writing on each card words to this effect: “This student needs encouragement.” I didn’t seem to know what else to say. The principal, reading over the cards before distributing them, suggested that I was the one who needed encouragement. She was right.
Words do matter. The beauty of this is that in this age of accountability when it is really hard to know for sure what we can be accountable for, we know for sure that we can be accountable for our own words.
IDENTIFYING LD IN ADOPTED CHILDREN
When you made the choice to adopt a child, you took a leap of faith at least one bound beyond that taken by other parents. And, if you child is challenged by learning or attention problems, your parenting path may now seem strewn with “speed bumps” caused by these overlapping issues.
Learning Disabilities (LD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are certainly not unique to adopted children. But, as an overlay to adoption, they present unique challenges and questions. For example, where does your child’s pre-adoption history fit into the mix, along with genetics and her current environment? And how can you begin to interpret her personality or learning style when so much of her history is missing or incomplete?
Still, remember this: as the care-giving parent, you know your child best. Many highly capable adoptive parents who encounter LD and/or ADHD for the first time often doubt their own parenting abilities until they understand the complexities of these disorders. Combine your intimate knowledge of your child with the information that follows. This may help you better identify, understand, and manage any learning differences your child has.
High rates of LD and ADHD among adopted children
The Barker Foundation, the nation’s first cooperative adoption agency, conducted a 1996 survey with the parents of 500 adopted children. Thirty percent of these children had some type of learning or attention problem. A 1991 New Jersey study by Brodzinsky and Steiger also looked at the high numbers of adoptees in special education. Adopted children made up about 5 to 7 percent of the children studied with neurological, perceptual, or emotional problems. Yet, they presented only 1 to 2 percent of the general population of children.
Could these kinds of numbers partly reflect a hawk-like vigilance common to caring adoptive parents, who are likely to follow up on any apparent problem? Possibly. Another reason may be that adopted children tend to have “externalized,” or more visible, types of psychological problems. These might show up, for example, in the hyperactive and impulsive behavior often seen in ADHD. Because parents find such behaviors more Texas Key challenging, they often seek professional help sooner.
Potential Contributors to Learning Differences in Adoptees
Studies like those cited above have led researchers to further speculate about the causes of learning and emotional challenges in adopted children. Any of the following factors may contribute:
Your child’s pre-adoption history:
Your child’s post adoption history:
Early experiences that can lead to attachment disorder may also have a profound impact on a child’s learning. That’s because the brain pathways responsible for social perceptions, emotion, and empathy are the same ones that regulate communication and organization of memory. Higher levels of certain brain chemicals caused by chronic stress or trauma can damage a part of the brain called the hippocampus, making it hard to create and retain memories needed for learning.
Of course there are several factors other than adoption that may contribute to learning problems. Genetics may play a crucial role, particularly when it comes to ADHD; there is a five-fold increase in the incidence of ADHD among first-degree relatives. And don’t overlook a broad range of other potential factors, including your child’s current school situation, home or social life.
Sorting Through the complexity of Adoption Issues
It may be a challenge to sort out how all of these things affect your child’s learning and development. You may want to start with some basic questions such as these:
Your child’s pre-adoption history:
Your child’s post-adoption history:
Answering these questions may help you begin to identify your child’s main challenge and provide helpful information if you go ahead with a professional assessment. From time to time, also try to determine what issue-adoption or learning-is having a greater impact on your child. But remember that dealing with adoption may be the burning issue for your child, even when it remains a quiet, internal process. Following are some other approaches that may help you both.
Helping your child Cope with Anxiety
Fears about the future are not uncommon in adopted children, particularly in those who were older when they were adopted. For this and other reasons, an adopted child may find times of transition trying. That’s because the routines and structures that provide a sense of security are suspended. Fear can emerge around major changes like adjusting to a new teacher, or smaller ones like moving from one activity to another during the day.
An adopted child with a learning disability may worry that her birth parents placed her for adoption because she’s “stupid.” Intensifying things even more, children often become aware of these two differences-adoption and learning problems-at about the same time, at around age 6 or 7. Anxiety about all of this can further interfere with learning. As one first-grader put it “The worry takes up to much of my brain, and then I can’t think.”
Here are a few ways you can help reduce you child’s anxiety:
Ease transitions, such as the beginning of the school year, by taking your child to tour her new classroom and meet her new teacher.
Focus less on academics early in the school year and more on your child building relationships with her teacher and peers.
Alert the teacher to times and places that might trigger painful memories in your child. Provide information about patterns observed at home. Share bits of your child’s history (from before and after adoption) that you think the teacher might find helpful.
Encourage your child to succeed, and show satisfaction with her progress. Balance this with realism so she does not get the message that perfection is a prerequisite for being allowed to stay with her “forever family.” You may have invested a lot to create this family. Don’t let that overburden you or your child with unreasonably high expectations.
Let your child know that you understand learning it not easy, but that you value and love her for who she is; tell her specific things you appreciate about her often.
Celebrate small achievements and redefine success as “doing your best,” rather than getting the highest grade.
Helping a Child with Attention Problems
If your child struggles with attention problems, you can try a few management strategies that will help you both a great deal. Establishing solid, clear communication with your child early on will help her both at school and at home.
Seeking Educational Evaluations
How will you know if your child needs extra help in school? First of all, trust your instincts. If you feel something isn’t quite right, it won’t hurt to seek advice. Early intervention is best. And having the problem identified may help you to stop taking things personally, while helping your child to become less frustrated. The first step may involve a pre referral process through your public school.
If additional assessment is needed, you can request either a school or private assessment. You may find referrals to private resources through community adoption support networks, your adoption agency, or a local mental health agency. If possible, find a trusted person who is knowledgeable in both assessment and adoption.
Keep your Chin Up
By now, you know that the parenting path is not always easy. Yours may have a few more twists and turns than most. And you may find it frustrating that usual sources of support-family and friends-lack sensitivity or understanding about adoption and LD or ADHD. But a wealth of resources awaits you, including support groups for adoptive parents of kids with learning differences.
Once your child has received a diagnosis, you can make progress in obtaining the support she needs, whether that’s special education services or accommodations, tutoring, medical care, counseling, or a combination of these interventions. Even though there are some “speed bumps” in your path, just knowing where they are will allow you and your child to develop skills to navigate them safely. Just slow down, keep your destination in mind, and enjoy the journey.
WHAT HAPPENS TO A FAMILY WHEN A CHILD IS DIAGNOSED LD?
BERT KRUGER SMITH
George and Lydia celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary with a dinner party and an announcement. They were going to have a baby-their first. Lydia was taking leave from her executive position with an oil company for a year. They were moving into a larger home with space for a maid’s room and nursery. Both of them beamed.
There was no party on their 20th. No smiles and no congratulations. The little boy, George, Jr., so long wanted, turned out not to be the miniature replica of his successful father. On the contrary. From early child hood on this blue-eyed, lean youngster was distractible, hyperactive, quick to move and slow to learn. He was held back in the first grade and was last chosen on the baseball team.
By the time of their 25th wedding anniversary, Lydia and George were separated, their dreams as fragmented as their relationship. They had taken George, Jr. to numerous experts and had paid for tutors. However, no experts could turn the boy into a highly achieving youngster. Neither George nor Lydia could cope with parenting a child so ill equipped for executive living, and each of them blamed the other for injecting poor genes into the child.
Dot and Artie’s wedding anniversary fell close to the date of George and Lydia’s. They, too, had a little boy about the age of George, Jr. He exhibited similar traits. He, too, repeated first grade. But there the resemblance ends.
When Dot and Artie had Melvin tested, when they learned he had a disability with his reading capability, when they discovered that he would need special techniques to help him through school, they worked together to find out what resources were available in their town. They concerned themselves not only with Melvin, but with other children who needed special help. They invited other parents to meet with them and to share experiences, successes, and resources.
George, Jr. and Melvin may seem similar, but their lives are very different. George will add guilt to his list of negative emotions, since he will grow up feeling that he was partially to blame for the break up of his parent’s marriage. On the other hand, Melvin has been able to rely on the strength of his mother and father and to draw sustenance from their belief in his worth.
The two boys exhibit the extremes of Family reactions to having a “different” child. Every parent dreams of having a perfect youngster. Each mother and father wants to brag about the offspring’s outstanding ability in school, sports, and social situations.
Every parent’s dream is tempered by reality. The dreamed-of angelic, brilliant, gorgeous child often fails to measure up in one or more of the categories. Relationships between the parents may be strained by stated or unstated accusations. “My husband’s uncle had a hard time reading.” “My wife’s family never stays still.” “No wonder the kid can’t do math. His mother has never balanced a checkbook.” And on and on.
The natural tendency of people faced with such gigantic disappointment is to cast blame somewhere. Or to feel anger. Or to withdraw. But wise people soon realize that such negative actions can only do harm to all the people caught in the circle of disability engendered by the child.
Family members who are mature recognize their initial hostility for what it is-a human reaction. However, instead of getting “stuck” in negativism, they make peace with the fact that what has happened cannot be changed. How they handle the situation can effect change.
Then they take the next step. They acknowledge their anger and their hurt. They turn to one another for sustenance. If they cannot provide or obtain it from those closely allied in the family, they seek outside help. In other words, they act. They refuse to remain immobilized. They agree that what happens to one is not as important as how a person handles that happening.
Dot and Artie had their problems. They had moments of despair and of mutual blame. They became discouraged and depressed. However, they also rose above their despair and their blaming to act together on behalf of Melvin.
A “futures” expert might predict that Melvin will serve as Master of Ceremonies at his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration. His wife and children will enjoy the event as much as he does. George, Jr., on the other hand, will have wandered through two marriages and dozens of jobs.
Clay hardens in fire. Wood is consumed. George and Lydia are destroyed by the fires of adversity. People like Dot and Artie are tempered by trials. They demonstrate the positive side of how families can respond to the knowledge that a child has a learning disability.
STUDY REVEALS CONTINUING PROBLEMS WITH POST-SECONDARY TRANSITION FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
The following is excerpted from the 2003 Texas Effectiveness Study conducted by the Region 11 Education Service Center. Twenty former high school students, 13 of whom who have learning disabilities, participated in the study. These individuals graduated or left high school in 1999 and 2001 and are now ages 19 to 26. The complete report is available at www.esc.net/Depart/instruct/txeffstudy/default.htm
Previous research has shown that, “Overall, youth with disabilities face a very uncertain future that holds little promise of improvement as they age.” A study conducted by Rabren, Dunn and Chambers showed that:
There was a high probability (.87) that persons with disabilities would be employed one year after graduation from high school if they held a job when they exited high school.
Male students and students with learning disabilities (compared with students with mental retardation and other disabilities) had a higher probability of holding a job one year after graduation from high school if they had a job when exited high school.
Students with milder disabilities (e.g. learning disabilities versus mental retardation) had a higher probability of post high school employment.
Paid work experience in high school (having two to three jobs) increased post high school employment chances.
Academic achievement was significantly to competitive employment. Students with high reading, writing, and math skills were two or three times more likely to be employed than those with lower skills.
Graduation with a standard high school diploma was strongly associated with employment.
Good social skills, job search skills, and work experience during high school also increased chances of employment.
Studies reinforced these findings by concluding that successful transitions result from careful and long term (K-12) transition planning; career preparation, especially work experience ) both paid and unpaid) and community involvement; forming and safe and supportive educational environment; collaboration among students, parents, school, and community; and the attainment of a standards based diploma.
The Texas Effectiveness Case Studies project generally supports these conclusions. The 20 individuals selected for case studies represent post high school outcomes in the areas of post-secondary education, employment, social integration and independent living. Yet, by looking at post high school outcomes, patterns can be discerned across these variables.
Although the primary purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living,” the quality of services provide to the 20 former high school varied widely. While some of the former high school students and parents believed that they or there children received a good education from caring and compassionate staff, several of the former high school students and their parents criticized the education that they have experienced difficulties in finding information about assistance and support services that are available to individuals with disabilities during transition. They reported that such schools do not provide such information as part of the transition planning process. Only one parent commented that a representative of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission was present during the transition planning meeting.
Parents, regardless of their educational level and their knowledge of special education, had difficulty finding information sources and getting information about services. Parents reported that the best source of information about these services were other parents of students with disabilities. Parents were also unaware of legal guardianship issues. Parents complained about the amount of time and level of effort it takes to get this information.
Parents lack information about resources available to individuals with disabilities when transitioning from high school. Schools do not provide such information or avenues for initiating linkages to resources, supports, and services agencies necessary for successful transitions beyond high school. The lack of information may explain the relatively low use of some available resources, both while in high school and after high school.
Districts should provide more information regarding available services and advantages and disadvantages of accepting these support services. Districts should invite representatives of state agencies that offer services to individuals with disabilities, such as the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, Mental Health Mental Retardation, Texas Commission for the Blind and Texas Workforce Commission, to give presentations to parents and students with disabilities. Schools should also have information packets for parents on available resources and how to access them. Adult service agencies should avail themselves to the population of transitioning youth. Cooperative experiences involving schools, agencies, service organizations, parents, and students are a necessity to successful transitions.
Post-high school quality of life of individuals with disabilities is typically measured by the degree of integration into the community, the number and/or closeness of friends, dates and intimate relationships, and independence and autonomy in making choices. To a large extent, the quality of life of case study participants depends on their parents.
All but two of the case study participants still live with their parents. The two case study participants that do not live with their parents attend college out of state or in a different city and live in a college dorm or apartment. Some case study participants are contemplating or would like to get an apartment but either do not have the financial means to do so or have not found the appropriate apartment. Parents who were trying to find appropriate housing for their children wanted to make sure that their child would not be lonely and isolated when he or she lives independently. Safety is also a concern to these parents.
Overall, case study participants have few friends. Most typically have one friend. In some cases, lack of transportation or ability to drive limits their interactions and frequency of meetings with their friends. Former high school students with more severe disabilities do not have friends. Their parents and siblings constitute their closest social circle. Some of the case study participants reported that they have had or have boyfriends or girlfriends. One participant is engaged. To most, marriage is an event that they relegate to the distant future.
Case study participants typically are not involved in volunteer activities. Even those who were inactive in volunteer and community activities when they were in high school, decreased significantly or ceased their activities after they graduated or left high school.
In addition to preparing students with disabilities for post-secondary academics or employment, it is important to also develop their interpersonal and social skills. Teaching these students how to use computers and electronic communications will not only help prepare them for the demands of a high tech society, but also give them additional channels for communications with friends and family members who are not in close physical proximity to them. It may also help them to expand their social relations by keeping in touch with school friends through electronic means. Having access to the Internet may also ease their sense of social isolation and make them feel a more integral part of the community.
Only a few of the former high school students participate in organized recreational and leisure activities in the community or are involved in volunteer activities, regardless of their level of activity when they were in high school. The transition planning process should put greater emphasis on developing post high school recreational, leisure, and volunteer objectives for these students. The transition planning process should also inform parents on the importance of their children’s participation and involvement in such activities post high school.
TEACHING CHILDREN WITH ADHD: INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES & PRACTICES
The following is excerpted from “Teaching Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Instructional Strategies and Practices” published by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special education Programs, Washington, D.C., 2004. the complete document is available at www.ed.gov/teachers/needs/speced/edpicks.jhtml?src=1n.
Effective teachers of students with ADHD individualize their instructional practices in accordance with different academic subjects and the needs of their students within each area. This is because children with ADHD have different ways of learning and retaining information, not all of which involve traditional reading and listening.
Effective teachers first identify areas in which each child requires extra assistance and then use special strategies to provide structured opportunities for the child to review and master an academic lesson previously presented to the entire class. Strategies that may help facilitate this goal include the following (grouped by subject area):
Language Arts and Reading Comprehension
To help children with ADHD who are poor readers improve their reading comprehension skills, try the following instructional practices:
To help children with ADHD master rules of phonics, the following are effective:
In composing stories or other writing assignments, children with ADHD benefit from the following practices:
To help children with ADHD who are poor spellers, the following techniques have been found to be helpful:
Students with ADHD who have difficulty with manuscript or cursive writing may benefit from the use of the following instructional practices:
Numerous individualized instructional practices can help children with ADHD improve their basic computation skills. The following are just a few:
Solving Math Word Problems
To help children with ADHD improve their skill in solving word problems in mathematics, try the following:
Use of Special Materials in Math
Some children with ADHD benefit from using special materials to help them complete their math assignments, including:
Organizational and Study Skills Useful for Academic Instruction of Children with ADHD
Many students with ADHD are easily distracted and have difficulty focusing their attention on assigned tasks. However, the following practices can help children with ADHD improve their organization of homework and other daily assignments:
Assisting Students with ADHD with Time Management
Children with ADHD often have difficulty finishing their assignments on time and can thus benefit from special materials and practices that help them to improve their time management skills, including:
Helpful Study Skills for Students with ADHD
Children with ADHD often have difficulty in learning how to study effectively on their own. The following strategies may assist ADHD students in developing the study skills necessary for academic success: