Friday, May 26, 2017

Slate Series Unmasks Cyber School

Slate, for whatever reason, teamed up this week with Columbia Journalism School's Teacher Project, to take a look at on line education. Much of their work is focused on on line courses as a means of credit recovery-- the quick-and-easy method of letting students replace credits for courses they failed. But the series tells us a great deal about what on line "education" is really like-- and it is not pretty. This is just how bad cyber schooling is.

As always, I will include the preface that A) cyber school doesn't have to be as awful as it is and B) it is a real boon to certain students.

The series ran through eight articles, and you should not miss any of them, but here are links and blurbs for each article in the series so you can make your choices (and so that they don't disappear entirely once Slate moves on to other things). Read these:

The New Diploma Mills

Zoe Kirsch digs deep for this opening article. While focusing on how Florida has used on line courses to boost graduation rates "many school districts, including several of the nation's largest, have seen graduation rates soar"), Kirsch also looks at the policies boosted cyber-schooling and just how bad it looks on the ground to actual cyber students. This piece gives a good overview-- with well-sourced specifics-- for the problem issues of virtual schooling, like cheating and content that is far less than rigorous.

Fast. Isolating. Superficial.

After she failed English her junior year at Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania, Virginia, 17-year-old Amelia Kreck had to retake the class. It took her two days.

The title of Stephen Smiley's article comes from the answer to the question, "What are on line courses like for students?" Short reading excerpts, simple questions, work without any depth-- these themes turn up throughout the interviews with many on line course students. That and missing the interaction of a classroom, not just for social purposes, but because it helps with the learning.

I Am an Online Credit Recovery Dropout

Smiley also tried some on line courses as a student-- and found them so boring and superficial that he didn't complete them. "Boring and lonely" was his characterization. A look at how just how bad these courses are to work through.

Take These Students, Please

Francesca Berardi takes us to Chicago to look at how cyber-credit-recovery can morph into full-time cyber school for students who are far behind and at risk of not graduating and ruining a schools graduation rate numbers. It's a sad picture:

Daniel has had a lonely high school experience for the past two years. He spends four hours a day at Bridgescape, usually four days a week, and he seldom interacts with peers and teachers. When he struggles with an online test, his “best friend” is Google—something he is not discouraged to use—while teachers are a last resort. His main companions are his smartphone (for listening to music) and his Galaxy smartwatch (which helps him kill the time and stay in touch with his friends). “I can spend an entire day at school and not talk with anyone,” Daniel told me. Sometimes, he returns to visit his old teachers and classmates solely because he misses the warmth and bustle of a traditional high school.

Bottom of the Class

Berardi and Kirsch take a look at which cyber-schoolers are really awful. Odysseyware, Study Island, and A Beka Academy emerge as the bottom of the heap. Read why.

Online Education Doesn't Have To Be Isolating

Sarah Carr takes us to Bronx Arena for a look at some methods for making cyber school less isolating and awful. You'll have to decide on your own whether or not you're convinced.

Why Bad Online Courses Are Still Taught in School

Kirsch and Smiley take a look at the politics behind cybers. Florida, for instance, rates cybers, but does not do anything with the ratings. In many places, even though a cyber is rated a failure by the state, local districts can and do continue to use their services.

Why are the laws so toothless? Lobbyists and money. Cybers like K12 have dropped a bundle, and it turns out that ALEC is instrumental in making sure that the Right Connections are made to keep the laws favorable to the cyber school industry.

Just Take It Again

How easy are on line tests to game? Skipping over flat out cheating (like giving someone your login to take the test for you), the answer is "Pretty easy."

Meet Jeremy Noonan, who discovered that students doing cyber credit recovery through Edgenuity were getting roughly 37 out of 50 questions repeated on retakes of a major test. It's no surprise-- developing a larger question bank costs money. But particularly if a school district is enjoying the numbers boost that easily gameable tests provide, it's one more sign that actual education isn't really happening.

The entire series of articles is worth your attention. Read them in whatever order you like, but read them. This is the reality of cyber school.     

PA: Report Shows Charter Financial Impact

Pennsylvania's Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has released a report looking at "Public [sic] Charter Schools Fiscal Impact on School Districts." The findings of the joint committee underscore what many have already been saying-- charter schools, particularly in a badly regulated state like Pennsylvania, are hurting public schools.

The report is 105 pages long, so I'm going to be focusing on just some of the highlights here.

How PA Stacks up Against US

The committee looked to compare PA to its chartery brethren and sistern, so it looked across all forty-three states that allow charter schools. In particular, they noted some differences in charter laws.

* Twenty-two states (including PA) have no caps on schools on enrollment.

* Eleven states (including PA) require public schools to provide transportation for charter students.

* Thirteen states include "access" to local funding in charter revenue. PA is up in front of the pack on this, which makes a certain kind of sense since PA also leads the pack in requiring local revenue to fund public schools.

* PA is one of two states that has a special ed supplemental formula. That means every charter gets some funding based on nothing more than the assumption that around 16% of its student body is special needs. According to PDE data, in the 20145-2015 school year, the state gave $466.8 million in special ed tuition payments to charter schools, and roughly $294.8 million of that was special ed supplement. Actual charter expenditures on special ed-- $193.1 million. In other words, in PA and Massachusetts, it's extra-profitable for a charter NOT to take students with special needs, because they will get paid to educate those students even if those students are not enrolled at the school.

* PA is one of the the only three states that let charters appeal to the courts when they don't like the answer they get from other folks (we just saw an example of this).

* "Virtually all" of PA's pubic school districts have at least one student enrolled in a charter. However, Philadelphia accounts for about half the charter students in the state.

This chart puts the PA charter industry in the context of other states in the region. I do wonder what exactly it means that Ohio has over twice as many charter schools that handle fewer total students than PA, but that's a question for another day.

What Superintendents Say

The joint committee's staff reached out to several districts, including the "financially distressed" and charter-heavy in PA. Thirty-six superintendents responded with observations about the economic impact of charters.

Four had nice things to say, like "innovative programming," "customer-friendly," "prevents overcrowding," and "replaces the high school we can no longer afford to run."

Twenty-nine had less positive thoughts.

* When charters pull students from private schools, that shifts additional costs onto the public sector.

* Running multiple parallel systems is expensive.

* Consolidating buildings in a district often leads to charter exodus, which pressures districts not to consolidate even when it is costly to keep all buildings open.

* Transportation is expensive.

* Oversight of charters within district also costs money.

You see the pattern here. Having charter schools in your district makes education more expensive.

Policies That Add To Issues

The joint committee found that certain policy decisions by the state had an impact on how much charters could hurt local districts. Which-- well, yes. I look forward to the commission to study where the sun will come up tomorrow. Pennsylvania has several policies that make charters more damaging.

For instance, the state used to reimburse local school districts for part or all of the charter tuition that they handed over. In 2010-2011, that was $225 million. Currently, the figure is $0.00, a de facto funding cut to public schools.

PA has also opened up the field to "regional" charters. Originally, a charter had to have the approval of the district from which it would poach students. Now students can travel across district lines, meaning that the public district hands money over to a school over which the public district has no oversight at all.

And as many education observers in PA note repeatedly, our charter tuition formula is not related at all to the actual costs of running the charter. This is particularly striking with cyber schools, which have no bricks-and-mortar expenses, and yet receive the same tuition money as a bricks-and-mortar school.

Why Do Parents Choose Charters

Choice proponents like to fancy a world where parents "shop" by checking out academic indicators like Big Standardized Test scores. The BS Test scores aren't really academic indicators, but that's okay because parents aren't worried about academics anyway.

The joint committee looked at both national and state-level studies and found many curious things. There's the Indiana study where parents say they go looking for academics, but actually switched their children to lower-performing schools. Of the New Orleans study where parents said they go looking for academics, but actually choose based on location. And although the committee doesn't connect these dots, some studies show parents choosing charters for smaller class size, less emphasis on testing, and more specialized programs-- in short, they want a school like the public schools we had before the test-centered reformy juggernaut hit.


Let financial impact count. Current law doesn't allow a district to consider financial impact when approving (or not) a charter application. This is crazy-pants, like saying you are only allowed to choose not to eat something based on appearance, and not on whether it's poisonous or not. Districts should be able to say, "No, we can't afford this." Also, applying charters should provide a detailed financial plan, including "the proposed actions the charter school will take to protect the school districts (and the Commonwealth) from financial liability in case of charter school bankruptcy or other illegal acts."

Permit the public school district to negotiate per-pupil costs. Instead of letting the state set a required tuition rate, let the local district work it out with the charters. At a bare minimum, the committee suggests revisiting the flat rates for cyberstudents and students with special needs.

Fix the transportation piece. PA requires districts to provide transportation services for charter schools that they do not provide for their own district's students.

If you are going to pull your child out of private school to send her to a charter, you should register with the district that will be paying the tuition. This and a provision for changing how PDE "intercepts" funds is more bureaucratic streamlining than cost saving. The report also recommends that local districts be relieved of their duties as attendance watchdogs for charters, and that charters operate with considerably more financial transparency.

Other Thoughts

The report is perhaps a bit narrow in scope and context, given that Pennsylvania has 500 separate public school districts. But while the report focuses on PA, its attempt to give a national context to charter policy means it gives an interestingly broad picture of the charter industry across the nation. For that reason alone, you might find this interesting reading.

But for those of us in PA, anything that can put a little more weight behind any real attempt to fix our terrible charter laws would be great. Our legislators keep trying to come up with bills that can be sold to parents, taxpayers, school districts, and the general population, but which keep the deep-pocketed friends of the charter industry happy and the results, like this most recent attempt, don't really fix a thing. Pennsylvania taxpayers and students deserve better.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

DeVos Still Anti-Accountability

As she's spent time in the public eye this week, Betsy DeVos may have enraged, but she hasn't surprised. She continues to be what we always thought she was-- and that includes her attitude about accountability.

She's against it.

Here's a critical CNN clip from today's hearings:

If a school wants to use federal money to discriminate on the basis of race or religion or sexual preference or gender orientation, DeVos thinks that's between the parents and the state. She literally refuses to imagine a scenario in which the federal government would hold a school accountable for the way it used federal dollars. The issue is perfectly captured in this exchange. DeVos is dodging a question about whether or not she would allow federal dollars to go to a school that was discriminating against African-American students:

DeVos: But when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of--

Clark: This isn't-- this isn't about parents making choices. This is about use of federal dollars.

At another point in the day, similarly pressed on whether or not she would require voucher schools to comply with IDEA, DeVos took a similar stance.

Her long answer is thank you for asking that question about [insert good standardized testing technique of restating the question--sort of--in your answer] and  states should get to set the rules and parents should get to make the choices.

Her short answer is, no, she's not going to hold anybody accountable for anything.

If a state wants to bring back Jim Crow schooling and funnel federal dollars to a school that only accepts white kids, she's okay with that. If a state wants to funnel federal dollars to schools that refuse to adequately serve students with special needs, she's okay with that.

No reframing of the issue budged her in the slightest. DeVos really does bear an infuriating resemblance to Dolores Umbridge, except that J. K. Rowlings ultimately gives audiences the pleasure of seeing cracks in Umbridge's self-righteous calm. DeVos shows no such cracks. It's the kind of calm that comes from absolute righteous True Belief, of knowing that your enemies can't hurt you because you are armored in Righteousness and Truth. It's also the kind of calm that comes from an empathy deficit; you don't feel sympathy or empathy for your Lessers because they have chosen their path. You can watch the world burn because you know the fire will never touch you, and the people who burn are people who are lesser beings who deserve to burn.

But enough armchair analysis. What we know is what we've known since the days that DeVos beat back attempts at accountability measures in Michigan-- she opposes anything that might in any way tie the hands of the Right Kind of People, the people who deserve to set policy and create schools and profit from all of it.

I can understand how liberals are bothered by this policy. What I don't quite understand is where the conservatives are. Where are all the people who built up the education reform wave in the first place with rallying calls for teacher accountability and school accountability and don't just trustingly throw money at schools and where the hell are our tax dollars going, anyway? Oh wait-- they are off in the corner, counting up all the money they aren't going to pay in taxes under the GOP plan.

As my college ed prof told us in the seventies, the accountability needle keeps swinging back and forth-- but this time it has gone so far in the accountability direction that it has come out the other side in a place so unaccountable that the federal Secretary of Education cannot imagine a situation in which she would deny federal dollars to any voucher school, ever, for any reason. This isn't just throwing money at schools-- it's lighting the money on fire and throwing it off a cliff. This is wrapping all the money around a big club that will be used to beat anybody who's not white and wealthy and healthy.

Charters and Open Books

My school district's board of directors held their regular meeting two days ago and passed a tentative budget for the coming year. I could link you to the newspaper report of the meeting, but it's behind a paywall. So let me just copy out the two important paragraphs:

Now that the tentative budget has been approved, members of the general public have an opportunity to review and/or comment on the spending plan until June 26, which is the day the board is slated to vote on the budget.

Anyone who would like to see a copy of the budget can access one either at the school district's administrative building or online at

Just to be clear. For a month, any citizen in the area can look at the proposed budget. They could then attend a board meeting or call a board member or stop a board member when they encounter them out and about in the community, and that citizen could express an opinion about the budget. Any citizen, parent, voter or taxpayer can both see the budget and offer feedback on it. That's a thing that can happen here in our public school district.

This is different from the charter school business world, where budgets are proposed and passed in private and where the people who create those budgets may not even live anywhere nearby at all. It's different from the charter business world, where some charter operators fight hard, all the way to court, to keep their budgets secret, and where state regulations do not require the charter operators to reveal anything at all.

This is just one of the reasons that charter schools are not public schools. Funneling tax dollars to charter schools and private religious schools (as Trump and DeVos propose to do) is shoveling taxpayer money into a black hole. It's the very definition of taxation without representation, a policy that does away with accountability to taxpayers.

That is not how public schools in a democracy work. Push that policy if you like, but at least be honest about it. A school district with closed books and an unaccountable board in charge of those books-- that is not a public school system.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Dear Jeb Bush:

Today you put in an appearance at Betsy DeVos's American Federation for Children, a group very much in tune with your goals in education. I can see why you and DeVos have always gotten along-- wealthy children of privilege who feel a righteous need to remake your home state according to your own beliefs in competition and battle and a system that sorts people into their proper places.

Reporter Matt Barnum tweeted this quote from you this afternoon:

The simple fact is when you create a marketplace of school choice ...the children do better ... It defies logic to suggest otherwise.

That's consistent with things you've said in the past. Just a month ago you sent an op-ed out to New Hampshire newspapers in which you wrote

When public schools face increased competition, they get better and kids learn more.

Now, your assertions don't really hold up to any sort of scrutiny (Politifacts ruled your NH line "mostly false") and I've burned many bloggy bytes arguing that. If you like, you can amble through this blog, but I'm not going to wade into that argument here.

No, what I want to do is ask a question, addressing your belief in the power of competition and the marketplace. This is going to sound like a snotty gotcha question, but it's really not. I find that all of us do better at grappling with these kinds of abstract ideas if we look at how they really play out in our own lives, and so I'm going to ask you this--

Do you think that marketplace-style competition for the job of President of the United States created a better outcome?

Do you think competition among the many candidates made each one better, resulting in the very best one being elevated to the White House? Do you think that competition got us the most excellent President that we could ever hope for?

Do you feel that you personally became a better man, a better person, a better candidate, a better politician through your competition with the other GOP candidates, including and especially the eventual winner of the office?

Can you imagine yourself calling the White House to say, "Mr. President, I want to thank you for making me a better person by competing so well with me?"

I suspect that your answer to all of these questions would be something other than "yes," and I would actually agree with you. You might be inclined to explain that all sorts of extraneous factors like a tilted playing field or a hugely imperfect transmission of information to the voters interfered with the "proper" outcome, and I would say to you, how do you imagine that the marketplace of schools would be any different?

I truly am not trying to rub your defeat in your face. But I do want to point out that while your imagined version of competition in the marketplace may work flawlessly to bring about awesome outcomes, the Presidential election that ate years of your life is a far better real-world example of how a competitive marketplace can actually work, particularly when applied to something that is supposed to be a service for the public good and not just a chance for personal profiteering.

See, I believe that the Bush family, in its own way, really does have a heritage of service and a sense of responsibility to the country as a whole. But you got smoked by a scam artist, a huckster who's far more interested in personal profiteering than the good of the community at large. And that is about as perfect a real-life metaphor as we could find for how school choice and competition is working in the real world. Charters and choice are the Trump family of the education world.

So I'm hoping that you can take a step back, clear your head, and see that your logic is confused-- competition and the marketplace, particularly in matters of public service, does not get us excellence. There is no reason to believe that it will improve schools, and even less reason to believe it will provide good results for students. Of all the conservative fans of this philosophy, your unique personal experience makes you especially positioned to see this. I hope some day you will open your eyes and stop spouting nonsense about the wonders of competition and the marketplace. Feel free to give me a call when you're ready to see the light.

Religious Voucher Schools

Like everyone else in the education universe, I was talking vouchers on line, and in the midst of a conversation, this tweet popped up:

Remember that question, because it's going to be part of how this debate is framed-- mean old flat-Earth public education advocates trying to deny poor families their choices. This carefully constructed question gets one things right, and several things wrong, all worth remembering in the days ahead:

Vouchers are about private religious schools.

Where vouchers have been put into effect, the effect has been to funnel all sorts of public money into religious school coffers. Take a look at this piece from Jersey Jazzman's website. It breaks down exactly what schools are receiving voucher money, and in all cases, we're talking overwhelmingly about private religious schools. In Indiana, 97% of vouchers go to religious schools. In Milwaukee, 93% of vouchers go to religious schools. In Louisiana, 93% of vouchers go to religious schools (75% Roman Catholic).

So Petrilli is correct in making this about religious schools-- because vouchers are by and large about private religious schools. But everything else about his question is wrong.

Private Religious Schools Choose

There is no system that would allow poor families to choose religious schools. Well, I take that back-- a system in which government regulation forced religious schools to take any and all students. But I suspect some religious schools would have an issue with that (we'll get back to this).

For right now, private religious schools do the choosing. Whether it's the private parochial school that suggested to my divorced friend that her children might not be a good fit, or the private school that just says "No" with no explanation at all, or the private school that says, "You don't really want to send your child here because we will not make any accommodations for her special needs," it is private religious schools that do the choosing.

And that's before we even get to the question of whether or not that voucher will cover more than a fraction of the cost of the private school.

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Vouchers direct public tax dollars to private religious organizations. While the Supremes have conditionally blessed this sort of transaction, there are still problems. Vouchers disenfranchise taxpayers who don't have children (no kids-- no vote on what kind of schools serve your community, but you still pay). And the exclusive nature of private religious schools means that taxpayers with children could end up paying tuition to send a neighbor's kid to a school that would refuse to educate their own child.

And vouchers are not exactly "rescuing" poor children from failing zip codes. In Indiana, a whopping 1% of voucher students are leaving a "failing" school, and more than half have never set foot in a public school to begin with. Poor students in failing public schools make great poster children for voucher programs-- but that's not who's getting served. Some parents are getting a rebate on the private school tuition that they were going to pay anyway.

The New Entitlement

When Bernie Sanders wanted to make college free to everyone, their were howls of outrage over a "new entitlement" funded by taxpayer dollars. I have never quite figured out why similar howls have not greeted voucher programs, which are also a new entitlement for (some) students to attend a private school at taxpayer expense.

Un-hiding the Costs

I would be more willing to consider the above issues if the funding of vouchers were handled honestly. But to do all of the above at the expense of public schools is dishonest and not okay. As most states handle vouchers, the real question is "Why do you have against letting families send their children to religious schools at the cost of educating students in public schools?" If you want vouchers, fund them with something other than money stolen from the public school system.

I would love, just once, to see a voucher proponent get out in front of the taxpayers and say, "We believe that this new entitlement to private religious education is so important that we are proposing a tax increase to fund it." Tell parents-- including poor parents-- "We want to raise your taxes so that the McGotrocks family can more easily pay for sending their child to a school that would reject your child in five seconds flat." If that's the system you want, be open and honest, not only about where the money is coming from, but which families are benefiting.

Show the Courage of Your Convictions

While we're being open and honest, let's talk about all the reasons that smart conservative religious schools should want nothing to do with vouchers.

Just up the road from me is a small religious conservative college named Grove City College. It made the news recently because the college president invited his old friend Mike Pence to speak at commencement. Protesting ensued. 

But GCC has been in the news before, as a leader in the vanguard of conservative colleges that don't take any federal money at all. The college pursued the matter all the way to the Supreme Court back in 1984, and it has kept itself federal-dollar-free all along, because it understands one simple rule-- where government dollars go, government strings follow. And what might be a friendly government today could easily turn into a Follow Federal Guidelines Or Else government tomorrow. Why would a private religious school sign up for that, unless it was desperate for money?

If you are going to take taxpayer money, you must expect to be accountable to the taxpayers.

And if there's a lot of money involved, like millions and billions of dollars, with little accountability-- well, we already know what happens. Before you can say "antitheistic cynicism," you will have more fly-by-night folks pretending to be religious educators than you can shake a crucifix at. 

So That Question Again...

What do I have against letting poor people choose religious schools?

Nothing, really-- as long as they get to do the choosing and as long it's funded honestly and not by stripping money from public schools and as long as we're honest about creating a new entitlement for any and all students to attend private school at public expense and as long as we're actually talking about poor families and as long as there is real accountability for taxpayer dollars and as long as it's handled in a way that doesn't violate the Constitution and as long as "religious schools" means all religions and as long as private religious schools are sure they actually want to go through with this.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Education's Existential Crisis

No, it's not the possibility that Betsy DeVos's DeVoucher program may gut public education with the goal of replacing it with privatized school by and for the People Who Matter. Nor is it the policy goal held by some that the whole concept of "school" can be replaced with an array of modules geared to different competencies that can be accessed and completed on line at the time and place of the student's choosing. It's not even the steady clamping shut of the pipeline that provides actual trained professional teachers, without whom a school is difficult to put together.

No, the biggest existential threat strikes at the very foundation of education, the foundation of knowledge itself.

Plenty of bytes have been burned discussing a post-fact society, a culture where truth no longer matters. And that nibbles at the edges of what we're talking about.

This Vox piece by David Roberts (Vox's climate and science reporter) is long and thorough, but here's the key idea. He sets it up by recapping a classic Rush Limbaugh rant from 2009, in which Limbaugh claims that we live in two universe, and one is a universe of lies (he was talking about climate science, but at this point, it could be just about anything):

Over time, this leads to what you might call tribal epistemology: Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. “Good for our side” and “true” begin to blur into one.

"Epistomology" seems like a scary word, but it's actually pretty simple-- what does it mean to know something, and how does that knowing something happen?

Over the course of human history, we've had many different answers for how we know things. Because the approved priests told us so. By way of divine revelation. Because some currently-dead guys once wrote it down. We don't all know things, because only people with power and money are entitled to know things at all. Or even, we don't, we just make shit up.

But eventually we arrived at some collective standards, some shared agreements that pieces of knowledge would be written down and presented as Known Things once they had been tested and certified. New knowledge would be gleaned by some version of a scientific method, bolstered by some agreed-upon techniques of proof.

It hasn't been perfect, but it has worked pretty well for a while. And we teachers and our schools had our place in that, working at the job of passing on a solid core of widely accepted Truths on to young humans. And public education added the notion that all citizens should be given access, early and often, to the same shared body of knowledge.

But if we submit to tribal epistemology-- if we slide into a world where people are, Daniel Patrick Moynahan notwithstanding, entitled not only to their own opinions, but only to those facts that their tribal leaders certify, then what job is there for public education or teachers?

If the only thing that's true is what my Beloved Leader says is true (and only what he says is true today, because the past carries no weight in such a system), then what is there for a teacher to do except pass on the latest reports from the Truth Bureau? Well, there would be one other task-- to help students erase the sharp edges of their own intellects that want to perk up and say, "Hey, wait a minute---"

Another effect-- and this one you've probably already noticed-- is that when the world runs on tribal epistemology, everything-- everything-- is political.

If Beloved Leader and the tribe say that the sky is green, then making an observation about the color of the sky is a challenge to Beloved Leader, a political act. If Beloved Leader says that we ate soup yesterday, then digging through the trash to find yesterday's lunch scraps is a political act. If Beloved Leader and tribal elders define truth in all matters great and small, then any attempt to search out truth on your own, great or small, is a political act. And teaching, which we've come to see as apolitical, an act where it's "inappropriate" to impose your own political views on your students-- in the land of tribal epistemology, teaching is the most political act of all. Like many teachers, I have always avoided being overtly political in my classroom, and yet that seems increasingly impossible.

What is the role of teachers and education in a society that does not know how to know, a society led by a man who, as George Will put it, "does not know what it is to know something."

The most useful thing I learned in college (and what many of my professors  explicitly copped to teaching) was how to teach myself, how to learn things. But in times of tribal epistemology, the very act of believing that one can construct meaning and understanding using impersonal, objective standards and techniques-- well, that's just crazy radical stuff.

This is the most existential crisis we face. It may not be the most immediate, and I can certainly see many opportunities to turn back the tide. But we are living intermixed with a great tribe of people who think all wisdom is received from Beloved Leader and not by inspection, reflection, logic, reason, or just plain using your brain to consider evidence. Human beings are sloppy enough about this stuff as it is-- we do not need to have the prevailing winds shift against knowing. So, no-- I don't worry that this is going to wipe us out tomorrow, or the next day. But it is still a terrible thing to contemplate-- a world in which a "teacher" has no job but to pass on the tribal "facts" of the day, and squelch all independent inquiry and thought.

It's not that we've been perfect on this issue, but we have at least maintained the means of finding better paths. Maintaining, building, nurturing and supporting such means of finding one's own way to a truer understanding is then most important job of a teacher, and the mission we must defend at all costs