Christina Sommers is not the typical target of attempts to suppress speech on campuses

This morning, New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait tried to address the question of political norms on the left in response to several academics and a few journalists who have pushed back against the idea that there is a free speech crisis on college campuses. The headlines of some of the pieces Chait is reponding to:

The common theme of these and other recent articles is that whatever one thinks of individual examples of efforts to deny platforms to external speakers on a campus or harass faculty and students for their views, those individual incidents are swamped by broader trends in favor of free speech, and moreover, that young adults are more tolerant about free speech than older adults.

Continue reading “Christina Sommers is not the typical target of attempts to suppress speech on campuses”

How the “industrial era schools” myth is a barrier to helping education today

Betsy DeVos got slammed on Twitter Tuesday after posting a tweet from SXSWEdu that included the following:

Everything about our lives has moved beyond the industrial era. But American education largely hasn’t.

Last time that I checked, that tweet had 629 likes, 194 retweets, and about 5200 replies, most of which read something like the following:

Don’t you know that stock photos aren’t real? How many classrooms have you visited in the past year? Classrooms don’t look like that anymore. Students don’t work like that anymore. I would think that as Sec of Edu you would be celebrating us, not putting us down. #Bye

Ouch. I recommend you scroll through a few dozen responses, because there is no way I can do justice to how a set of classroom teachers are explaining how they work. And how viscerally classroom educators are alienated by DeVos.

At this point, comments by both Audrey Watters and me on the terms factory education and industrial-era education are showing their age, and I wish to make somewhat different points. To put it bluntly, efforts to improve educational practices are not helped by bad history.

Continue reading “How the “industrial era schools” myth is a barrier to helping education today”

The missing methods section: Origins of the dropout problem

A quarter century ago, the History of Education Quarterly accepted my first article, on when and why people in the United States began to use dropping out as the dominant term for people who left school without a high school diploma. Spoiler: we started using the term not because dropping out was a growing problem in the 1960s but the reverse. When graduation became expected for teenagers, we needed a term for those who violated the new norm.

Like many history articles and books, it had no formal Methods section, and if I had tried to write one, I suspect HEQ editor Bill Reese would have nixed it. So: in the spirit of tech publisher O’Reilly’s The Missing Manuals series, whose motto is “the book that should have been in the box,” I present to you the missing methods section for that article, with a postscript and a personal note.

Continue reading “The missing methods section: Origins of the dropout problem”

When Sherman went to prison

This afternoon my wife, daughter, nephew, and niece toured Taliesin West, the Scottsdale campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, where Wright set up shop for the winter months in the 1930s through his death. I’ll have some things to say about it in a post I want to write, and it reminded me of another time my family went visiting an historic site, about a decade ago. It wasn’t technically a school but its history had lots of connections with the history of school reform, and I ended up behind bars. So, a re-run of a post from July 2006:

Continue reading “When Sherman went to prison”

College admissions news stories are weird

The Washington Post‘s Nick Anderson has a story in today’s paper about the holistic, committee-driven process of college admissions at the University of Maryland-College Park campus, where approximately 30,000 applicants vie for half as many admissions slots. As with most college-admissions news stories, it’s richly-detailed at the micro-level, and absent some important context. We are so familiar with this type of story that we forget how weird it is that every year, a few hundred thousand applicants submit more than a million applications to flagship universities, in a process that tries to separate the pretty-well-qualified applicant from the slightly-less-pretty-well-qualified applicant. We focus on the admissions process and the very specific aspirations of applicants to the University of Maryland, Berkeley, or the University of Michigan, when the most important question for the future of these applicants is not where they start college but whether they finish.

In our forgetting the broader context, we miss the fact that the competitive college admissions process has far higher stakes for the competitive-admissions colleges and universities than for applicants. Yes, an applicant to Harvard, Princeton, or Stanford has a low probability of gaining admissions to any one of those universities, but graduating high school students will be admitted somewhere, while the University of Maryland-College Park and its peers face a prestige game in some high-visibility ranking systems, rankings that reward low acceptance rates. At the same time, the finances of many colleges and universities depend on recruiting enough students whose parents can pay tuition. Yet the process is generally portrayed as high-stakes for the applicants.

Continue reading “College admissions news stories are weird”