Thursday, January 24, 2008

Atlantic Monthly

As reported on Kottke.org, Atlantic Monthly now allows you to read all of its content for free on the web.

This means you can now read the faboo article David Foster Wallace wrote a while ago on talk show hosts: Host. (Click the colored boxes to read the footnotes.)

4 comments:

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

I love the Atlantic. It makes me feel like an adult conversing with adults, and not a housewife with the children and pets (this btw was a great insight from Caitlin Flanagan in her column in the latest issue).

Read this month's article on national standards for school reform, if you have an interest in things educational. Straight talk that's abhorrent to both left and right: as the author says, the problem with getting the national standards we so badly need is that the right hates the word "national" and the left hates the word "standards."

Anonymous said...

"national standards we so badly need"

One big problem there: local control of public schools, as the article notes, is an American tradition that goes back to the very beginning. What the article doesn't note is that there are good reasons for it. For example, many rural midwestern public schools as recently as the 70's would take a week off in the fall so all the farm kids could work on the corn harvest. In such areas it was (and sometimes still is) typical for the schools to focus more on vocational programs and less on college-prep stuff. Educators in nice suburban schools would be appalled at this, but would farm kids really be better served by a school that requires three years of math and a foreign language? I'm not saying yes or no, I'm just saying it's debatable.

It's also worth noting that we already have de facto national standards for kids who intend to go to college. These standards are known as "college entrance requirements", and to about 40% of high school students they are far more important than their schools' graduation requirements.

Finally, attempts to raise standards in schools often have unintended effects. I was teaching HS Math in Indiana when the state proposed increasing the graduation requirement in math from two years to three years of coursework. I and my fellow math teachers were unanimously opposed to this - in spite of the obvious job-security benefit to ourselves. The college-bound kids were already taking three (or four) years of math; most of the slower students wouldn't be able to handle Algebra II (the third year of the mainstream curriculum); and so the only real difference in the curriculum would be that the topics now covered in two years of remedial math would need to be spread out over three years. We saw no benefit to the students in such a proposal.

The reason why so many students in the US are being poorly educated have more to do with broken families, cultural indifference to learning, and poverty, than with anything lacking in the schools' curricula. The fact is, schools in prosperous suburbs are usually top-notch, mainly because families there a) care about education; b) are willing to pay taxes to support education; and c) make sure their own kids do their homework. Schools where these factors are lacking will fail, regardless of whether the school has high standards on paper.


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In short, I would have to give the Atlantic a mixed review. The "Host" article is indeed excellent, but "Kill the School Boards" is a real stinker.


Joel (former teacher)

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Joel,

I appreciate your input, especially given your firsthand experience as a teacher.

I have to disagree with some points, though. Since my thoughts on this threaten to become lengthy, let me say that I honestly find shivers running down my spine at the suggestion that there are some kids on whom an academic, college preparatory education is wasted, and that we can spot who they are by high school and need not provide them an education beyond what we think they need for their future. I know that that's not what you were trying to say, but it's what it always seems to come to when we start saying "Do you think any of *these* kids are ever going to need...?"

I do think the Atlantic article doesn't provide a panacea; you're quite right that a lot more things will have to change before education is set to rights in the U.S. But I think national standards are part of that; and I think a commitment to providing a college-preparatory education to *every* child in the U.S.--not just the ones we guess will need it--is fundamental to that.

More on my blog.

Yahmdallah said...

For those interested, here's the direct link to OHS's post/continuation.