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  • Making The Case For Multidisciplinary Sex Ed

    by Emilee O'Brien on January 30, 2020

    Assuming you lived in a state that provided access to sex education, which of your courses would deliver this information? Most sex education is taught in biology or physical health classes with one or two lesson units between middle and high school. One compelling argument that I have found recently is a case to teach sex education in a multidisciplinary approach spanning several years of a student’s education in both social studies and physical science courses. Doing so could drive down teen pregnancy, empower youth about their own sexual health, and change the narratives and misinformation teens receive about sexuality. 

    Leaders in sex education have begun to incorporate lessons on health as early as preschool. Early childhood sexuality education standards from The Future of Sex Ed include discussions on parts of the body, touching, and relationships with family members and friends. Middle school curriculum covers gender, puberty, relationships, and sexual orientation. High school students then receive content on sexual health, contraception, consent, and gender and sexuality. Sustained, age appropriate lessons are crucial to developing healthy teens, and it’s time to rethink the traditional academic delivery of content. 

    Maryland, for instance, has implemented a sustained approach to teaching sexuality education throughout middle and high school.  A recent article in the Washington Post explains one health educator’s approach to presenting seventh graders with information about consent. Courtney Marcoux uses contemporary analogies to connect with her 7th grade students, but this is not the first time they have been exposed to the term “consent.” As of July 1, 2018, students in Montgomery County, MD are exposed to lessons on consent in 5th, 7th, and 10th grade. This is because the state passed legislation requiring these discussions in middle and high school. In response to the #MeToo movement, the bill ultimately aims to teach consent in sex education classes as a tactic to reduce sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses.

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  • Where Al Shanker Stood: Disciplinary Learning

    by Shanker Institute Staff on January 24, 2020

    In this column, published in the New York Times on February 5, 1995, Al Shanker argues that, although interdisciplinary units can be done well, there is value in the deep knowledge that the disciplines of history and math and science and literature can offer.

    Interdisciplinary learning is a big educational fact these days, and it's no wonder. It's a very attractive idea. The world is not divided into disciplines so why should school be? Why not integrate what kids learn -- and show them how math and biology and history fit together --­ instead of putting these things into separate boxes? A holistic approach, advocates tell us, will make learning far more engaging for students. It will also be more stimulating for teachers, who will be encouraged to make new connections and see things in new ways.

    But throwing away disciplinary learning for youngsters who have not yet mastered the disciplines creates serious problems. It constrains what teachers can teach -- and, therefore, what kids can learn -- instead of enlarging it. That's what Kathleen Roth, a science teacher and teacher educator, found when she participated in an integrated science and social studies unit (Roth 1994). The theme of the unit -- 1492 -- was a real grabber, and Roth and her colleagues planned something far more ambitious than learning the names and customs of various native American peoples and, perhaps, how to build a bark house or a canoe. They organized the year-long unit around themes of diversity, change and adaptation, and questions about how the people and land have changed since 1492 and how they might change in the next 500 years. They believed that these themes and questions would be powerful vehicles for teaching and integrating basic concepts in science and social science.

    What Roth found was something quite different. The interdisciplinary focus made it difficult for her to teach scientific concepts at all. For example, because the anchor point was 500 years in the past, the kids were pretty much limited to learning from books, and Roth was unable to give them practice in the basic scientific activities of observing things, trying to explain these things and making predictions about their behavior -- as she had done with previous classes. The interdisciplinary approach meant that her students learned less science, not more -­ some new names and facts but little if anything about how scientists raise questions and resolve them.

    This could have been a limitation in Roth's teaching, but a recent article by Howard Gardner and Veronica Boix-Mansilla (1994) suggests a different explanation. Disciplines are not impediments to real learning, Gardner and Boix-Mansilla say; they are powerful tools. And we are making a big mistake if we discard or ignore them in educating our children.

    Gardner and Boix-Mansilla acknowledge that disciplines necessarily change with changing knowledge. And disciplines are murky around the edges -- where does biology leave off and chemistry begin? But a discipline is not an arbitrary set of restrictions that keeps us from seeing the whole picture. It is an essential body of information, built up over the centuries, about how to explore a particular area of knowledge. The discipline of biology, for example, provides the tools, the vocabulary and techniques for asking questions about life and living organisms and trying to answer them.

    Gardner and Boix-Mansilla do not think that disciplinary knowledge is optional: Without it, "human beings are quickly reduced to the level of ignorant children, indeed, to the ranks of barbarians." And disciplinary knowledge is not interchangeable. How far would a medical researcher get if he threw away the techniques of his discipline and used those of a historian to find out why one group of people stayed healthy while another got sick?

    Children are not born with disciplinary knowledge. They develop it as they learn what questions they can ask in history and math and science and literature, and how they can answer them. And the K-12 years are essential to this process. It is then that teachers need to use what Kathleen Roth calls the "powerful lens" of the various disciplines to focus the facts that kids are learning. It is then that teachers begin to help children learn that you don't look at the structure of a leaf using the same tools you use to examine the structure of a poem about trees -­ even though both could be part of an interdisciplinary unit about nature.

    If the schools are failing our students, it is not because we are burdening them with disciplinary knowledge or are failing to provide them with holistic learning experiences. It is because we are satisfied with the shallow kind of knowledge that comes from insufficient grounding in the basic disciplines -- history and math and science and literature. Trying to give students this grounding would be a lot harder than simply grabbing for the latest fad, but at least it would get us somewhere in the long run.

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  • The Past Is Prologue To The Future

    by Stan Litow on January 10, 2020

    Our guest author today is Stanley Litow, Professor at Duke and Columbia Universities, where he teaches about the role of corporations in society, and the author of The Challenge for Business and Society: From Risk to Reward. He formerly led Corporate Social Responsibility at IBM, where he was twice selected as CEO of the Year by Corporate Responsibility Magazine.

    It was thirty years ago this month that Joseph Fernandez began his tenure as the New York City Public Schools’ Chancellor. Born and raised in New York, Fernandez led the public school system in Miami prior to assuming leadership of New York City’s schools, the nation’s largest school system. Even before becoming Chancellor in NYC, Fernandez had already been acknowledged a premier leader of a large city school system.  Over nearly four years under Fernandez's leadership in NYC, the schools accomplished a great deal despite significant challenges.  In fact at the end of his first six months on the job, Joseph Berger wrote a story in the New York Times that claimed that Fernandez had “enjoyed a string of triumphs as he maneuvered to gain control of [the school] system.”

    Among his many reforms, Fernandez championed the creation of dozens of new, innovative small schools across NYC, many of which ultimately spread across the nation. Decades later, the evaluation results of these innovative schools performed by MDRC as part of a set of longitudinal studies have documented significant gains in achievement.  His successors, who have disagreed sharply about many other things, have all continued to support and sustain the NYC small schools effort.  Fernandez also championed the first diversity curriculum in any US school district. That reform, Children of the Rainbow, attempted to assist early childhood and elementary educators in addressing the challenge of providing equity and excellence for students whose families might be nontraditional, including a book in its appendix titled "Heather Has Two Mommies." In the midst of the AIDS crisis, he began a structured way of providing students in New York City high schools with access to condoms, helping to provide health safety and security for students.

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  • Happy Holidays From The Shanker Institute

    by Shanker Institute Staff on December 12, 2019

    We at the Shanker Institute are taking a break for the holidays.
    We wish all of you a very happy holiday season.
    Blog posts will resume after the new year.

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  • The Structure Of School Segregation In The D.C. Metro Area

    by Matthew Di Carlo on December 12, 2019

    A few weeks ago, the Shanker Institute published an analysis of segregation by race and ethnicity in D.C. metro area schools (including D.C. proper, Alexandria City, Arlington and Fairfax County in Virginia, and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland). 

    The report, written with my co-author Bilan Jama, presents multiple measures to characterize segregation within each of these six districts and across the entire metro area, but it also focuses on segregation between districts. This is a very important distinction for understanding segregation, particularly in large metropolitan areas. Put simply, students may be systematically sorted into schools within each district (e.g., white students may be concentrated in some schools while African American students are concentrated into others), but they might also be sorted between districts (e.g., some districts may serve mostly black, white, Asian or Latino students, while others serve very few such students). Both of these factors affect the racial and ethnic composition of schools, and so both contribute to or attenuate segregation in the metro area as a whole.

    The D.C. metro area is an excellent context for this kind of analysis because it is so racially and ethnically diverse, with relatively strong representation of white (26.5 percent), black (34.7), Hispanic (27.2), and Asian students (11.6). This diversity is the “raw material” for truly diverse schools. Unfortunately, we found this not to be the case, and the underlying reasons why are interesting.

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  • Trouble In The Neighborhood

    by Randall Garton on December 3, 2019

    Our guest author today is Randy Garton, former Director of Research and Operations at the Albert Shanker Institute. He retired in 2015.

    I recently went with my oldest son, a young adult on the autism spectrum, to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” a movie featuring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. It is a grown-up movie, inspired by real events. It tells the story of a reporter (played by Matthew Rhys), who is assigned to do a profile of Rogers. 

    The reporter, Tom Junod, is depicted as a cynical, angry, but honest man who endeavors to find the “real” Mr. Rogers — who he supposes is much different from the kindly figure seen on TV.  Instead, he discovers that Rogers is a complex, kind, thoughtful and brilliant artist. He was certainly not a saint, but a decent man who tried to live his life by the values he taught on the show and, by and large, succeeded. 

    The acting was top notch. As expected, Hanks was great in the role and was the perfect guy for the part. Junod’s  wife was played by an African-American actress, adding an extra layer of complexity. I don’t know whether or not the wife of the real journalist was Black, but it struck me as important in the film. She was depicted as very strong and smart. Junod was portrayed as a man in pain due to his father’s actions at the time of his mother’s death. He didn’t know how to deal with those feelings, and Mr. Rogers helped.

    I believe that many people left that movie wanting to be a better person. I certainly did.

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  • Consent In The Digital Age: Lessons From Katie Hill

    by Emilee O'Brien on November 21, 2019

    Earlier this year RedState and Daily Mail published nude photographs of Congresswoman Katie Hill (D-CA) without her consent after her husband leaked the photos to those platforms, also without her consent. I will not minimize the serious implications of other allegations facing Hill about the ethics of a relationship with a former staff member, but I am not here to dissect every angle of this story. 

    There are many lessons to learn from Katie Hill, about gender norms, ethics, power dynamics, victim blaming, and consent. Katie Hill is the first prominent female politician to experience this nonconsensual cyber exploitation, but she won’t be the last in the digital era. The former Congresswoman has since resigned, releasing a statement to her constituents explaining her departure. After a brief digital hiatus, Hill was back on Twitter, vowing to continue the fight against revenge porn and to call attention to advocacy efforts on cyber exploitation. I would like to explore what consent in the digital age means for students because what happened to Katie Hill on the national stage can happen to youth in schools.

    We know that students engage with social media platforms every day. With ease and wide accessibility, communicating through social media and photo sharing is the norm for the so called “iGen.” The jump from digital communication to full blown “sexting” (Sex + Texting) among adolescents is overwhelming school leaders who are trying to confront sexting among high school and even middle school students. Sexting includes sending or possessing written, audio, or visual messages with explicit sexual content. Washington State schools include the act of viewing sexually explicit content in their definition of sexting found in the 2019 student conduct booklet titled “Rights and Responsibilities in the Digital Age.”

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  • Russia-gate Still Matters

    by Eric Chenoweth on November 11, 2019

    Our guest author today is Eric Chenoweth, director of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe.

    A majority of Americans support the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. With each witness’s testimony, they learn the extent to which Trump risked America’s national security and betrayed his oath to the Constitution to extort Ukraine’s new leader for his own political benefit. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has described the issue as having “clarity.”

    A narrow focus on “Ukraine-gate,” however, ignores another grave issue. If the U.S. Constitution demands Congressional action to prevent manipulation of a future election by an incumbent president, it similarly demands action against a foreign power’s past manipulation of  a U.S. a presidential election that the incumbent used to gain power in the first place. Oddly, even as evidence has mounted of this original crime against American democracy, the media have generally ignored  a connection with Ukraine-gate. But it is an issue that also has “clarity.”

    Since November 2016, we have known three things: the Russian government interfered in the U.S. presidential elections; Trump and his campaign solicited and used Russian help; and Trump won his Electoral College victory by a total of 77,000 votes in three states while substantially losing the national vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton. The response (as I wrote in the Washington Post) was to look away from the inter-connection. Although, in Russia, the consensus was that “Putin has won,” here it was that Trump’s unlikely election was determined by domestic factors.

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  • Social Identity Development In The Age Of Accountability

    by Emilee O'Brien on November 5, 2019

    According to a recent NPR article, the “majority of parents” do not talk to their children about social identity, which refers to group membership based on characteristics such as religion, gender, national origin, race, family makeup, and socio-economic status. The article presents results from a report, co-published by The Sesame Workshop and NORC at the University of Chicago, called the Identity Matters Study. The study includes survey responses from 6,000 parents about their children’s sense of identity at home and in the classroom, as well as results from a second survey of 1,046 educators’ perspectives on identity development in school. 

    Many readers were quick to respond that NPR’s headline was misleading, pointing out that the wording should have been, “White parents rarely, if ever, discuss ethnicity, gender, class or other identity categories with their kids…” This objection has merit. The report does show parent responses by race for just five survey questions, but the data confirm that White parents are far less likely than Black parents to talk about identity with students, with 6 percent of White parents and 22 percent of Black parents answering that they often talk about race. Nevertheless, the study concludes that, overall, 60 percent of parents rarely or never talk about race, ethnicity, or social class with their children. In the second survey, which queried educators, the study found that one third of teachers had a student affected by a negative comment targeting their social identity, but that most teachers feel unprepared or uncomfortable when it comes to navigating conversations on the matter. 

    It is clear that we need more comprehensive survey data, including more questions broken down by race and other demographic indicators, in order to have a better understanding of how children are developing a sense of social identity at home. In the meantime, what we can gather from this article is that many students, particularly White students, do not develop an awareness of their own complex social identity until they get to school, and that this awareness often comes via negative comments.

    How can schools do better?

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  • A Problem Hiding In Plain Sight

    by Natalie Wexler on October 10, 2019

    Our guest author today is Natalie Wexler, an educational journalist who is a senior contributor to forbes.com and whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and other publications. This article is excerpted, with permission, from THE KNOWLEDGE GAP: The Hidden Cost of America’s Broken Education System—And How To Fix It.

    In 1987, two researchers in Wisconsin, Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie, constructed a miniature baseball field and installed it in an empty classroom in a junior high school. They peopled it with four-inch wooden baseball players arranged to simulate the beginning of a game. Then they brought in sixty-four seventh- and eighth-grade students who had been tested both for their general reading ability and their knowledge of baseball.

    The goal was to determine to what extent a child’s ability to understand a text depended on her prior knowledge of the topic. Recht and Leslie chose baseball because they figured lots of kids in junior high school who weren’t great readers nevertheless knew a fair amount about the subject. Each student was asked to read a text describing half an inning of a fictional baseball game and move the wooden figures around the board to reenact the action described.

    Churniak swings and hits a slow bouncing ball towards the shortstop, the passage began. Haley comes in, fields it, and throws to first, but too late. Churniak is on first with a single, Johnson stayed on third. The next batter is Whitcomb, the Cougars’ left-fielder.

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