Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tabling today at Crockett HS

Lynn and I had a literature table today during the lunches at Crockett HS where we were well received and enjoyed our interaction with students who came by. We happened to be set up in front of a large wall display of all kinds of peace signs, drawn and painted with images and messages about what peace meant to the students who did the art work. There were a couple of MLK quotes included, as well as environmental themes, inclusivity messages and even images of -- cupcakes! Or muffins, maybe. We're all for peace through good eatin'! The display was a perfect backdrop for our table.

Several students told us that the peace sign designs had been done as part of one of their student advisory sections, and that they also had done some conflict resolution discussion along with the art project. That was really good news!

Re restocked our literature display that is still on a table just inside the entrance of the library next to the recruiting materials and gave some more pamphlets to the folks in the Project Advance career counseling office.

At our table, we talked to some students about the College Forward program that they have at Crockett (having learned about it at a fundraiser last month), and several students said they knew about it. Some said they had 'sort of' heard about it, and when we said that it was for students who would be the first in their family to pursue college, they said that pertained to them, and they became interested. We also encouraged students to take advantage of the ACC campus located directly across the street from their school. Their Early College Start program, where high school students in the district can take college courses for no charge while still in high school is a great opportunity.

A few students who came by the table indicated they wanted to enlist in the military. One young man said he was in the DEP and was gung-ho about going to Afghanistan. He was willing to talk with us for a minute and hear another side of the story.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Social Studies texts in Texas -- and elsewhere

Here's an excellent article published yesterday on Common Dreams in response to the textbook standards much discussed in Texas. The author, Bill Bigelow, is curriculum editor of the fine quarterly, Rethinking Schools.

Those Awful Texas Social Studies Standards. And What About Yours?
by Bill Bigelow

You've probably read the horror stories coming out of Texas about their new social studies standards, given final approval in a May 21 9-5 vote by the state's board of education. As the New York Times wrote back in March when the board gave its preliminary OK, these standards "will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers' commitment to a purely secular government, and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light." The Texas board of education has rehabilitated Sen. Joe McCarthy, erased mention of the 1848 Seneca Falls women's rights declaration, and required that the inaugural address of Confederate President Jefferson Davis be taught alongside Lincoln's inaugural. And that's just a taste of more than 100 amendments that Republicans have made to the 120-page social studies curriculum standards.

No doubt, the victory of conservative ideologues on the Texas board of education is troubling and worth the attention it's getting. With 4.7 million students, the Texas market is huge and exerts a powerful influence on the whole textbook industry. As Fritz Fisher, chairman of the National Council for History Education, told the Washington Post, "The books that are altered to fit the standards become the bestselling books, and therefore within the next two years they'll end up in other classrooms."

But all this Texas-bashing implies that standards everywhere else are good and fair and true. In fact, other states' social studies standards have their own conservative biases and deserve the same critical scrutiny that Texas' new standards are receiving. Other states may not celebrate Jefferson Davis, but neither do they encourage teachers to equip students with the historical background and analytical tools that they'll need to understand and address today's social and environmental crises.

Take my own blue state of Oregon. This is no bastion of conservatism. We have a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature; both U.S. senators are Democrats, as are four of our five U.S. representatives. But our social studies standards are profoundly conservative - in big and little ways. There is no recognition of the social emergency that we confront: a deeply unequal and unsustainable world, hurtling toward an ecological crisis without parallel in human history. The standards portray U.S. society as fundamentally harmonious, with laws designed to promote fairness and progress. Today's wars don't exist. Nor does hunger or poverty.

Political Bias
The first social studies benchmark in Oregon's standards requires that 3rd graders begin a nationalistic curricular journey as they learn to "identify essential ideas and values expressed in national symbols, heroes, and patriotic songs of the United States." By the time these 3rd graders reach high school they'll "understand how laws are developed and applied to provide order, set limits, protect basic rights, and promote the common good."

Capitalism is a well-oiled machine. Eighth graders learn "how supply and demand respond predictably to changes in economic circumstances." The economics standards include not a single mention of social class. Instead, everyone is smashed together as "a consumer, producer, saver, and investor in a market economy." No owners and workers who might have conflicting interests-we're all producers.

And what about the inequality that so many students can observe on their way to school? Eighth graders should: "Understand that people's incomes, in part, reflect choices they have made about education, training, skill development, and careers." No mention of the other factors that determine income: race, gender, social class, nationality, immigration status.

Labor unions make only one parenthetical appearance. But unions are irrelevant because in Standardsland, wages and salaries are "usually determined by the supply and demand for labor"; organizing has nothing to do with wages.

In fact, in most instances, the standards do not ask teachers or texts to alert students to the power of collective action, of working in concert with others, to enhance their economic circumstances-which, in the real world, is when people's lives actually get better. Instead, students are told to get ahead by making smarter individual choices.

And that's the message of the standards in a nutshell: in the United States we wend our way through society as individual choice-makers. Grade 5: "Identify and give examples of how individuals can influence the actions of government." And then in Grade 8: "Identify the responsibilities of citizens of the United States and understand what an individual can do to meet these responsibilities." In the standards, individuals may have social efficacy, but for the most part, only as individuals, not as members of organizations or social movements. Not surprisingly, the standards' pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap message is never complicated by concepts like race or racism, which make no appearance in the standards.

And, in these times of ecological crisis, the standards include no mention of human-caused climate change-only a line about how climate change can affect human activity. The standards encourage students to view the earth as a playground and a source of wealth. By grade 5, students will: "Understand how the physical environment presents opportunities for economic and recreational activity."

Pedagogical Bias
There is also a crucial pedagogical bias in social studies standards that was evident as far back as 1994, with the publication of the first National Standards for United States History by the National Center for History in the Schools. Those standards required coverage of such an enormous amount of material that teachers could succeed only if they adopted a stand-and-deliver rush through the ages. This academic weightlifting lives on. For example, Oregon's high school World History standards require students to learn about: how the agricultural revolution contributed to and accompanied the Industrial Revolution; concepts of imperialism and nationalism; "how European colonizers interacted with indigenous populations of Africa, India, and Southeast Asia and how the native populations responded"; Japanese expansion and the consequences for Japan and Asia during the 20th century; the impact of the Chinese revolution of 1911 and the cause of China's Communist Revolution of 1949; causes and consequences of the Russian Revolution of 1917; causes and consequences of the Mexican Revolution of 1911-1917; causes of World War I and why the U.S. entered; World War II; the Holocaust; the Cold War; the causes and impact of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

I'm not joking. In one year. And that's only a sampling of what students are expected to learn. There's more. Obviously, the only way a conscientious-well, obedient - teacher could handle such a curricular task is to start talking fast in September and not stop until sometime in June. And rely on a huge textbook. Sorry kids, no time for role plays, trials, simulations, imaginative writing, small group discussion, short stories, poetry, or anything else that will slow us down. It's December, and we haven't even gotten to Mao's Long March.

Social studies should help students grasp knowledge and tools of analysis so as to make the world a better place. Social studies should help students name and explain obstacles to justice, peace, equality, and sustainability. Instead, social studies standards like Oregon's are simply about covering material.

What Do Your State Standards Say?

This is merely my own state's standards. A few years ago, California State University at Monterey Bay professor Christine Sleeter wrote a fine article for Rethinking Schools, "Standardizing Imperialism," (Fall 2004) analyzing how the California state social studies standards endorsed a curricular Manifest Destiny that celebrates "explorers" and "newcomers" who "visit" and "settle." Sleeter found that "California's curriculum folds students into a ‘we' that is Western, Judeo-Christian, and has a democratic government with a capitalist market economy. These are juxtaposed to ‘them': non-Western, not Judeo-Christian, and totalitarian (or not free). . . . The standards have difficulty incorporating as ‘we' those whom the United States had previously colonized."

The real Texas standards story is not that the state has become some curricular outlaw. Yes, Texas has adopted some especially obnoxious standards-e.g., celebrating right-wing icon Phyllis Schlafly while scrapping United Farm Worker leader Dolores Huerta. But, as historian Eric Foner pointed out in a recent article in The Nation, Texas harms its students not so much by inserting or erasing particular facts or individuals, but in its overall framework-one that uncritically endorses "free enterprise" as it "ignores those who have struggled to make this a fairer, more equal society."

And in this respect, the Texas standards more likely resemble than depart from other states' social studies standards. So by all means, let's monitor, critique, and organize against Texas' reactionary standards. But let's also revisit our own state social studies standards and not just shake a scolding finger at Texas.

Bill Bigelow ( is the Curriculum Editor of Rethinking Schools magazine. A version of this article will appear in the summer issue of Rethinking Schools,

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maryland says ASVAB must not violate student privacy

This good news was published on Common Dreams last week:

Maryland First State to Bar Schools Releasing Tests to Military
by Kathleen Miller, Associated Press, May 13, 2010

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - A first-of-its-kind law bars public high schools in Maryland from automatically sending student scores on a widely used military aptitude test to recruiters, a practice that critics say was giving the armed forces backdoor access to young people without their parents' consent.

School districts around the country have the choice of whether to administer the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam, and ones that offer it typically pass the scores and students' contact information directly to the military. Topics on the test range from math and reading to knowledge of electronics and automobiles.

The Maryland law, the first in the nation after similar California legislation was vetoed, was signed last month and bars schools from automatically releasing the information to military recruiters. Instead, students, and their parents if they are under 18, will have to decide whether to give the information to the military. The law takes effect in July. One other state, Hawaii, has a similar policy for its schools, but not a law.

Roughly 650,000 U.S. high school students took the exam in the 2008-2009 school year, and the Department of Defense says scores for 92 percent of them were automatically sent to military recruiters. In the fiscal year that ended in September, 7.6 percent of those who enlisted in the military used scores from the test as part of their applications.

Nancy Grasmick, Maryland Superintendent of Schools, said in a letter to lawmakers that the test and score analysis are "free services that public schools often utilize as part of their ongoing career development and exploration programs." Grasmick took no position on the legislation in her letter and did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said the data is used both to screen students' enlistment eligibility and to determine their interests and skills for nonmilitary careers. Asked about criticism that the military is going around parents, Lainez said in an e-mail that "parents and other influencers are in the best position to help advise students of various career opportunities, and the pros and cons associated with each of the choices."

Members of the Maryland Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, which pushed for the legislation, argued the military isn't upfront about the test's real purpose. Coalition member and high school teacher Pat Elder said he became involved in the issue after volunteering on a phone hot line for troubled soldiers. Many told him they hadn't considered the military until a recruiter who'd seen their scores contacted them.

"I've spoken to 'C' or 'D' students who are called by a recruiter and told 'Dude, you're really good at this kind of stuff,' and that's what it takes for them to join," said Elder, who teaches at the Muslim Community School in Potomac, Md. "There is an insidious, psychological element to these tests."

While Maryland is the first state to pass a law prohibiting the automatic release of scores to military recruiters, some individual school districts elsewhere, including the Los Angeles school system, have policies to the same effect. Hawaii's Department of Education implemented its statewide policy last year. Four Maryland counties - Howard, Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George's - also blocked the direct release of scores to recruiters before the state law was passed.

State legislators in California passed a similar measure in 2008, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

School districts in Maryland have had different policies for when and how they administer the roughly 3.5 hour multiple-choice exam. Some school districts, like rural Allegany County, only offer the test to students at a technical high school, while individual schools in the Baltimore City district can choose whether to administer the exam.

Maryland state senator Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said he sponsored the bill partly because school districts' approaches varied. He said constituents also told him they didn't think local school districts knew their options.

"They thought they had to turn over information to recruiters," Raskin said.

Some argued that the measure was antimilitary. Baltimore County Republican Sen. Andy Harris said the legislation gives students the impression that they should be skeptical of military careers.

"I think sending any message while we're at war overseas that the military in any way is not an honorable profession is the wrong message to send," Harris said.

Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, sponsored the bill in the House, bristled at that argument.

"For me, it wasn't the military piece, it was the parental permission," Hixson said. "Parents didn't know what was going on and children didn't realize what was going on."

Toria Latnie, who now lives in Michigan, said a counselor at her son's Florida charter high school told seniors in late 2008 that the military aptitude test was a requirement for graduation. Latnie researched the exam online and refused to allow her son to take the test.

"I was angry, very angry," said Latnie, a mother of five. "I felt lied to, deceived, like people were trying to go behind my back and give my child's private information to the military."

Monday, May 10, 2010

IF I HAD A TRILLION $: a video contest

This announcement just came in from the National Priorities Project. All you videographers, check it out!

If I Had A Trillion Dollars - Video Contest

A Call to Artists, Activists, Students

The money that is being spent on the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will reach $1 trillion within the next five months.

This money could be spent in our communities on many things that now face cuts, like after school programs, art and music programs, and summer jobs.

You can spread the word. The American Friends Service Committee and National Priorities Project are sponsoring a youth video project to help young people (high school and college age) enter the cost of war discussion. Share your ideas about what you would do - for yourself, your family and your community - with $1 trillion.

If you are age 13-23 (or work with young people), this is a chance to get involved by making a video with the theme "If I Had a Trillion Dollars..."

Videos should be short (1-3 minutes) and must be submitted by July 31, 2010.

You can download our Outreach Packet and Curriculum by going to:
IHTD Outreach and FAQ (
IHTD Curriculum (

First Prize - $500 and trip for 2 to Washington, DC to show video to
home legislator

Second and Third prizes - Flip video cameras

For more information contact, 312.427.2533.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Return to Bowie HS and Austin CAN! Academy

Over the past couple of weeks, we've tabled at Bowie HS and at an all-day career fair at the Austin CAN! Academy. Our table at Bowie was a return visit after we, with the help of AISD's school district attorney, were able to assure the Principal that we have been tabling in the high schools for over a decade now and that we're legit! See this earlier blog post for a recap of our truncated visit to Bowie in February. It was good to be back at the school and all went well.

Today, the career fair at the Austin CAN! Academy also went well. We were busy! Lots of students came by for literature and to check out the Peace Wheel. The school staffpersons were very welcoming, as they were when we participated in their fair last year. And the students were great -- very amiable.

One of the organizers of the career day was an Americorps member who is doing her service as part of the "Collegiate G-Force" initiative of the TX Higher Ed. Coordinating Board which places Americorps members in schools to help students navigate the college application and financial aid process. She also is an ACC student herself.

We have noticed many Americorps members who do their service in the high schools -- such as the College Forward coaches mentioned in the previous post and Communities In Schools workers. It's inspiring to meet these motivated young people who are helping students just a little younger than they figure out how they can go to college. I have to say, I wish the other arms of the federal government did as well by our students. That is, if military spending was cut and wars ended, college grants could go way up and college costs could go down. And the world would be much greener, too.