Politics and Culture in the Era of Self

David Brooks: Politics and Culture

David Brooks

Image via Wikipedia

While the entirety of this hour long video is excellent, I will only be focusing on the time between about 24:30 to about 31:30 (if you use the chapters, it begins with Chapter 8: Self-Importance in the National Psychology).

So I understand that this doesn’t fit perfectly into an education issue but I feel it has many truths to it that are reflective in our classrooms. David Brooks gives a great analysis of the current trends in America. He will touch on everything from generational self-esteem to consumption based on how we view ourselves to the gridlock caused by this movement of self-promotion.

One fact that jumped out at me was the Gallop Poll of high school students and if they saw themselves as a very important person. I happen to grow up more towards the end of the shift as he states it but I was lucky that my Mother kept me humbled and ensured that I never thought greater of myself than I needed to. I believe it was her who made me who I am today. While I know I am special in her eyes, she has always been quick to knock me back down whenever my head got too big. She keeps me grounded to this day and it is her influence that makes me reflect on all aspects of life which leads me to be more accepting of those around me and the beliefs they have.

Finally there is one other key point that I think needs to be discussed more in this nation. It is the identity of what type of society we are, a Republic or a Democracy. I see it year after year where when asked, the students in unison will say a Democracy. This is even moments after studying the Greeks and the pure form of Democracy. What gets me is that even by 10th grade they have never taken the time to really listen to the words in the Pledge of Allegiance. Daily they will pledge to the Republic, for which it stands, and never make the connection.

I believe that Mr. Brooks gives a great explanation of the difference. He will discuss the shift in the national identity from the Republic to the Democracy as we also saw a shift in the culture of self. As he explains, in a Democracy the role and purpose of government is to give the people what they want, when they want it. It is in this ideal that we see the culture of self where we want to know what the government can do for us. A nice reversal from Kennedy’s famous quote. Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) made a point of this as well in a talk where he discussed his experiences on the Deadliest Catch boats. He noticed that ideas like safety were not the priority of the captains. Their priority was getting their men back rich and if those men wanted to get back safe, that was on them. It was a shift away from expecting others to look out and provide for us all the time to us taking on that role and becoming more self reliant.

So what is the role of government in a Republic then? It is to restrain us from what we want. Our founding fathers, Enlightenment thinkers in their own light, knew the arguments of the role of government and people from Hobbes, Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau. They understood that historically the masses left unchecked will bring themselves down. With that in mind, they created a government that would protect us from ourselves, that would require us to follow a process to evaluate the actions we take so that we don’t find ourselves turning against our own principals and priorities of liberty and justice against any man. As Ben Franklin famously said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

I showed this 7 minute clip to my classes to see what their view of his ideas were and ended up in a half hour class discussion of our nation and historical trends we have studied. I believe his message of humility is one that we have rebelled against but need to begin to revisit. Has education become lost just as politics has in this Era of Self? With IEPs, a litany of educational awards for mediocrity and trend of parents siding with students over teachers, have we already lost the battle? As many teachers are all to familiar with, every child we have is special and somebody and all have the potential to do anything they want, just as long as they have a better teacher. It is then the teachers fault if they couldn’t turn what could have been a great artist or pipe fitter into a Rhodes Scholar.

Just some ideas to think about.

As always, if you comment the blog, please rate the blog. If you rate the blog something good, please subscribe. This is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

PBL for the history classroom…

Oh, what to talk about, what to talk about…

I should be sleeping.

Tonight I get to stay up late with hundreds of Key Clubbers to rendezvous with thousands of others for their Fall Rally at Magic Mountain. A yearly tradition where I get to not sleep for a couple days but otherwise I always come back with a story. (In 3 years I have had 2 rainy days, a fire and a bus where the door wouldn’t close all the way and froze us for the ride back.)

So here I am, trying to kill time until it is time to leave. Seems like a perfect time to rant.

So for the past two days (Block Scheduling) I have been watching student presentations. A couple years ago I began looking for real world projects for the social studies classroom. I wanted to translate the material into possible future situations. After an exhaustive search I finally found a base idea for some.

Prentice Hall, in their new Modern World History series, came up with a collection of WebQuests. Here is an example of two:

You are political scientists. A group of people who are establishing a new country have come to you for advice. They are interested in learning more about how political systems have risen, developed, and declined throughout history, so that they can make the right choices in governing their country. You have been asked to prepare a comparison study of political systems, including the advantages and disadvantages of each.

You are a curator at the Science and Technology Hall of Fame. The museum director has asked that you nominate an invention or technological innovation from the last fifty years to be considered for induction into the Hall of Fame. You will then design a virtual museum exhibit—An Invention That Changed Your World—to demonstrate why your invention or innovation deserves to be included in the Hall of Fame.

I love these so far because they address possible situations a historian, political scientist or any type of social scientist might find themselves in. It brings a real world feel to the material.

Now, this has just been my first presentation and I have already come up with many tweaks to make it run smoother. Even the students have seen a multitude of improvements to make, taking bits and piece of what has worked in other projects and what hasn’t.

One of the major parts to all this that I am finding to be vital is the debrief. Even the small debriefs after each presentation and another at the end of the day is adding a new level to everything. Getting them past the worry of grades and criticism are the two hardest parts but once free of that, it opens them up to take risks and to think outside of the box.

I think that final part is the most important skill I hope they develop from this. For too many of my students, they have been trained to follow the directions to the letter. They are obsessed with keeping it safe. For the political system project, most gave what could only be described as a government lesson but for a couple, they threw out the “rule book” and just talked and displayed some showmanship. They had fun with it instead of keeping it rigid out of fear it would hurt their grade.

A photo of the Shake Weight product for sale i...

Image via Wikipedia

The same was true for Science and Technology. Most students went with the expected (iPhone or cell phone, video games, etc…) but for one group; the Shake Weight. They had fun with the assignment and I find that selling the Shake Weight will be much more difficult and require more creativity.

The ultimate goal of these projects is to get them to find their creativity, to utilize more than one skill to create something and to become more comfortable with presenting information in a variety of ways to a group. Also, along the way they are getting some content too.

I like the direction and we will have to see where this all leads to in the end.

As always, if you comment the blog, please rate the blog. If you rate the blog something good, please subscribe. This is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

News I find: Putting skills before scores

News I find is a series where in my travels I come across articles that I find interesting and relevant to the current education debate and I want to share them with you all. This episode we look at the goal of education verse the quantifying of a student or teacher.

Putting skills before scores

While this article comes from Ireland, I still find it is relevant. Ireland and the United States score very closely on the PISA evaluations and they are also going through the same debates we are currently going through. While I know there are many factors in the education debate, this might shed some light on if we are going in the right direction.

A highlight from the quick article was a quote from Sir Ken Robinson where the author says:

Robinson argued that education systems were geared not towards producing rounded individuals but college professors, a relentless conveyor belt “educating people out of their creative capacities” starting in preschool and ending at the top of a university department.

Read more: http://www.techcentral.ie/article.aspx?id=17731#ixzz1dQEunuHH

My view is that we have become too obsessed with this idea that every key stroke and every table visit a teacher does needs to be logged and tracked. We are wasting countless man hours on data collection, evaluation and dissemination that it has made us lost to the real goal of education; preparing the children for whatever path they choose to take.

As I have said repeatedly, my job isn’t to make them into mini historians upon completion of my class. If they want to do that, they should go to college and major in history. My role is really to give them the critical thinking skills they will need for life and to help them develop other skills that we have dubbed the Big 11.

  1. by utilizing text reading strategies.
  2. by applying writing strategies.
  3. by responding to historical text/literature.
  4. by utilizing and/or creating maps, graphs, and diagrams.
  5. by conducting research.
  6. by utilizing and/or interpreting primary and secondary sources.
  7. by seeking information from varied sources to develop informed opinions.
  8. by collaborating with peers.
  9. by presenting information orally, in writing, and/or through technology presentations.
  10. by utilizing technology resources.
  11. by providing contemporary examples.

So what is the content? It is just a tool for the above goals. I want them to become better citizens and more well rounded individuals and it is my belief that by studying world history and utilizing the above methods, they will become more successful in life.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

Glitch in the Matrix: The journey begins.

Glitch in the Matrix is an ongoing saga of one teachers adventures to become more technologically incorporated. This episode we look at the back story that brought us here.

Image representing Google Apps as depicted in ...

Image via CrunchBase

For years I have wanted to become more of a technology teacher. For the most part I am considered the younger teacher by both my peers and students. I’m the teacher who loves Facebook, sees the potential for twitter and supports the idea of smartphones in the classroom. I also have seen how more and more jobs require a degree of technological understanding.

So with that I have been pushing my classroom more and more towards this endeavor. In my first year I made a class website through our district but it had great limits. It was held back in what creative control we were allowed and it had few tangible uses. In my next year I pushed the limits of that website, attempting to go a little more paperless, only to find failure but a learning experience.

Once I transferred to my new school, I came into a situation where I wouldn’t have a classroom to call my own so I needed to rely on a virtual classroom more and more. I went to Weebly to create that classroom and I found some success, especially for being a free site. I was able to upload files, create class discussions through a blog option and post resources and classroom announcements.

Unfortunately I was also hit with some security issues. I didn’t like that my student’s names were just published for the world. It was a great start and another great learning experience but it still lacked something. I had many questions and even more ideas than I was able to do. I was also limited in how much I wanted to spend for this, which was a whole $0. Back to the drawing board.

Over the summer I revisited some of the resources I used back in college to start a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute at UNLV. I am currently advising some students on creating the nation’s first high school version and while planning it out, came back across Google Docs and all the new apps they have been creating. Feeling this might be the answer I have been looking for, I dug deeper.

About a month ago I went to a conference on 21st Century Skills where I was able to talk to many teachers who had already gone through the same trials and tribulations and were able to answer my concerns, help with some hurdles and clear up some of the confusion I was having. I’ve also begun to work with a fellow teacher who is currently completing a master’s degree in Educational Technology.

This whirlwind of resources has caused me to drop my Weebly adventures and I am currently pushing through bringing in many Google apps into my classroom such as Sites, Docs, and Groups. As I venture into the unknown I will continue to keep you all updated on my progress, failures and successes. I will also be evaluating the different elements to see what works in all schools or just certain schools. My goal is to come up with a basic list that would work in all schools.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

The GOOD Sheets


Create Jobs in U.S.A. by Starbucks

My students all know I love my Starbucks Iced Coffee. It’s the only thing I really drink from there. Hate their hot coffee, don’t need the coffee shakes and why is a panini press messing up the great smell of coffee at my wonderful locations. However, for me, nothing beats a nice cool overcast morning with my iced coffee and a paper, sitting by a window or outside, watching the world pass by.

Back to the point. As I frequent Starbucks I also am aware of most of the campaigns they have taken on over the past decade. Recently Howard Shultz has taken on our political system and quickly pulled back, realizing that fixing Washington would be like fixing the Israel-Palestine disagreement. So instead of fixing D.C., Starbucks began teaming up with other organizations and has been pushing the Create Jobs in U.S.A. program. With this, they have pushed out two products; one being a bracelet to wear and the other a pamphlet on news paper from the Opportunity Finance Network.

What caught my eye was the latter which was designed just like a series of discussion topics they pushed out back during the 2008 presidential campaign. The previous pamphlets in question were called the GOOD Sheets and were a partnership with GOOD Magazine. I loved these not only for their intended purpose of getting more Americans to talk about important issues affecting all our lives but because the inside of the sheets had a great spread on the topics in question. These could be about anything from health care to national service to the economy. At the time I was collecting these to display in my classroom. I got about 3 of them before life got in the way and I forgot to get the rest to save.

I had forgotten about these until this year when I gained a classroom instead of floating at my new school. Needing things to hand in my room and lacking anything from my last school, I came across the few I had in a random box, laminated them and posted them up. However, I still wished I had the rest but again, life got busy again and the idea got pushed back again. That was until the above program was started there a couple weeks ago. Upon seeing the new sheets on job creation, I was motivated to find the rest. At the time I didn’t even know that there was a GOOD Magazine or that those pamphlets were known as the GOOD Sheets.

However, after much searching and many dead ends, I finally figured it out and found them so I decided I would share with all of you.

Well, until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

Image representing GOOD as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

We don’t need no stinkin’ grades. Part II

And now for the dramatic conclusion.

So you don’t grade you say?

Well, I do but not in the typical fashion. Lets begin with AP courses and summer homework. I’m still not sold on the overall value of these but I agree to it primarily because I know many of my peers teaching AP World History across the nation (especially those with high passing rates) have two years and/or see their students every day. Being on a block schedule, I have about 60 days to get my students ready for a competitive test where the competition has had double or more of the time to prepare.

So what I assign for the summer is material that will help bring them up to speed on content, like an online condensed world history textbook. I also assign a writing sample, just to see where they are at, and I assign a geography assignment so they can become familiar with this world. However, I grade none of this. The first assignment is for their own good and it’s value or completion will be evident throughout the year when they either struggle with the amount of knowledge they are learning or if some of the text is familiar from the reading. I do not grade the essay because how can I grade them on an assignment I never taught them how to complete. Either they did it or they didn’t. 100% or nothing. Simple. The last assignment I give a timed quiz on but I never tell them that it will never enter the grade book as an assignment. I just want them to become familiar with the stress of a timed, high pressure test. Again, what do I grade by handing out failing grades from the beginning?

As for first quarter. Still no “grading”. Either they did the assignment or they didn’t. For instance, my students take notes and make note cards (both AP and Honors). As for their notes, I never read the actual work. Why would I? The notes have to be useful to the student, not myself so as long as they can read and understand it, I’m happy. I only grade them on if they have questions (I teach them Cornell), do they use the right formats and editing, are they attempting abbreviations, did they put summaries and are the notes selective and paraphrased. Otherwise, I could care less about them. When they do begin to turn them in, I never mark them down for being done incorrectly, I just tell them what they need to focus and improve on.

However, as we move through the material, my bar begins to raise and the level of acceptability goes up. If something falls below it, I just make it unacceptable and have them fix it. Soon, the work load alone is motivation for them to get better. My goal though, is to get them to take risks, try things and attempt everything without the fear that going outside of the box is somehow going to hurt them in their grade. I try to remove the pressure of the grade from the goals of my classroom. I don’t want them to just follow a recipe. They need to think for themselves.

The same with essays. I have always tried to give out full credit for completed essays at the start of the year. I would also just focus on grading one aspect of the essays like thesis or structure. I would have them fix the mistakes from the one part to focus their efforts. The idea was to not overwhelm them with a multitude of errors which could cause them to become deflated and defeated. While in the beginning I wouldn’t ask for a rewrite. I was more concerned with quantity because I feel that writing is a process that needs to be completed repeatedly to get better. However, by the middle of the year I felt they had written enough to now begin improving on their abilities.

Recently I was introduced to a new way of grading essays which has begun to replace the previous system. I still give full credit during the first quarter for attempt but now I only give full credit during the second quarter if they fix the errors, otherwise I give them a 75%. By third quarter it will be to the scale. The scale though is set up on a 25 point system (easily changed to 100 points by simple multiplication). It gives 16 points just for a good faith effort (64%) and the other 9 follow the AP World History rubric for their essays. While the rigor is lowered for honors, I still use it.

What this does though is it gives a C to getting just 3 points (16+3=19=76% or a C as each point is worth 4%). The average paper I get had between 3-5 points so the average grade is 76% to 84%. A paper that does all that is required gets 7 points or a 92%. The final 2 points are reserved for those papers that go above and beyond on some or all of the basic 7, just like the AP Test. However, that is my end of the year goal so how can I grade them in November for something I expect mastery on in May? Until that time, I have decided that I will begin with full credit for trying and over the course of the year, slowly raise the bar.

So the issue then is how am I getting them to think outside the box when I am building them towards fitting into the box by May and their grade is reflective of that? Well, my answer are that there are some limits to everything but it is also that essays aren’t my only grades. An essay needs some structure for clarity and organization but there are still great opportunities for creative thinking and I take those into account if my students can defend their reasoning for the risk. Also for just attempting these they still get a D and when factored in to a grading system where I categorize and essays are only 20% of the grade, a D only moves a grade 6% overall.

Same with tests. I have begun to ban multiple choice tests. When I do give them, I just let them collaborate on them. I find the chaos that ensues to be hilarious as they form into camps over question 6’s answer being either C or D. But even my written, short answer, inquiry or any other kind of test is done to a different scale. I am not a fan of the idea that a kid gets an 92% on one test and then a 12% on the next so their grade averages out to a 52%. Is that truly reflective? Where as if the grade was a 92% and a 50% then it would average out to a 71%. If the child consistently scores low, it will show regardless but by not placing a floor on the grade at 50, it seems to only hurt those who score a C or above.

In the end, my tests and quizzes only count for 30% of their grade so even getting all 50% on tests only changes their grade by 15%, still in the B range.

In the end I have to ask myself, what is my end goal, what am I trying to accomplish. I have pushed back further and further on this idea that school is somehow a punishment and we need to reprimand students for making mistakes. I want them to take the chances and when it doesn’t work out, come and see me to find a solution. I want them to know that they always have a safety net to catch them when they take risks or have a bad day. I want them to challenge the system without feeling like that challenge will cost them the year.

Maybe I am on the wrong track but for me it just fits.

Until next time, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.

We don’t need no stinkin’ grades. Part I

I guess I should start by saying that I do not grade.

What is the purpose of grades? I find myself questioning them more and more. At their heart they are supposed to show ability levels of above average to below average, with the majority of grades for an assignment being around a C. This makes our coveted bell curve that we are taught is ideal.

But what is average? Average compared to what? To just the other kids in their class? To all my students? All students in the school in similar classes? Or are we talking compared to state or nationally? In the end, what is the point in the larger context?

I am torn in far too many directions on this issue. I hear and understand the arguments of grades reflecting the ability level of students when compared to a rubric, especially a widely used one like an essay writing rubric. However, isn’t the goal of education to bring all students to mastery level? If so, why are we using a scale that claims average is a C. We argue this idea of mastery and approaching standards, while grading them on a system that argues average vs. above average.

I read an argument on this from Penn State where they had changed the definition of grades from the “average” scale to the “achievement” scale. In the view of the authors, it was still acceptable to receive a grade of C and students should still be considered for masters programs for a 2.00 as they had fulfilled the objectives of the previous courses to an acceptable level. Their goal was to limit the number of high achieving students who were making it onto deans lists due to watered down grading policies. The exclusivity of these lists was diminishing.

This argument reminded me of a class I had last year. In one of my AP World History classes, my sophomores were going through credit checks and one of the many excellent students I was blessed to have, came walking back in cheering how she was Ranked #1 for her class. It helps to know some about this student as she is usually never very openly confident in her abilities, even if everyone around her knows she is an excellent student and tries to remind her.

However, when she came in singing her joy of her accomplishment, another student in the class, a friend of hers and a very blunt child that I love, announced to her and the class, without hesitation, that she was in a class of #1s and they were all tied for #1 so she wasn’t special. While this scene was hilarious, as the laughing response from the now deflated child was to let her have her 5 minutes of happiness, it did speak to a larger issue of what exclusivity was there to rankings or honors distinctions.

Looking into this, I found that many school districts have begun the process of eliminating the valedictorian and salutatorian distinctions and replacing them with the cum laude system. Reading many of these articles, the common theme was that it allowed for more students to achieve some type of top honors to help them in their collegiate pursuits and the competitive nature of the former system placed too much pressure on students. Is the goal then just to get all students into college or to inflate the abilities of students, making them feel smarter or more prepared for the future than they really are? As a colleague once said to me, we are no longer educators, we are now graduators. It seems that the end goal of education is to not only get the kids through the hoops to get a diploma but to get them all through with higher honors and GPAs, even if the ability level isn’t there.

Proof of this can be found in remediation rates of students entering into college.

Before I get into this, I want to make it clear. I DO NOT think it is the goal of primary and secondary schools to get students into college. College is not for everyone in my opinion and many successful, wealthy people either never went to or dropped out of college. I will get into this more at some other time though.

However, what the results show is that remediation in college is increasing. In 2001, the average percent of high school graduates that attended college who needed remediation was around a 33%. By 2010, the number has grown to about 50%. Two important places where remediation has skyrocketed are New York and Florida. Under the guidance of Gov. Jeb Bush and Joel Klein‘s data driven accountability education model, remediation rates rose to upwards of +70% (I wonder where DC schools will be once the dust settles from Michelle Rhee).

So what does this all mean? For me it means that grades are less and less important or even irrelevant. What do they really say? One view of this is the College Boards use of the AP test scores. The AP Board is very active in explaining that their scores and pass rates are not indications of standards assessments. They also adjust their results year to year as the tests themselves are not designed from one textbook or state curriculum. There just isn’t enough time to teach all the facts of world history in one year. It is not a test of facts and details. It is a test of critical thinking and analysis. It is a competition with fellow students and the AP Board strives to balance the successes of students on the exam while still keeping it difficult to promote exclusivity and rigor. The AP Board knows that if everyone who took the test and ended up passing the test, then colleges would devalue it more and stop accepting it.

In the end, this is only a fraction of the national debate over grades. Universities have been in deep discussions over these issues and others, such as grade inflation or course rigor from discipline to discipline. There are other issues of community, culture, necessity, political motives of leaders both inside of and outside of education and countless others factors adding to the complexity of this issue. From a simple A-F system of 50 years ago, we have created a monster where the image of a student or a school trumps the integrity of the assessment and the true ability levels of our children.

Next post I will further discuss this issue and explain how I have begun to approach this Goliath in my own classroom. Until then, if you like the blog, please subscribe on the right and share it with your friends and family. Please comment and share your thoughts, questions, ideas and feelings on this or any post. Also, send any topic ideas to me as well as i am always looking for things to spark a conversation about. As always, this is Joshua Murphy and I am out.