Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Education Nation: A Race Relationship?

First of all, I would like to thank both Mr. Bolos and Mr. O'Connor for this opportunity. I'd just like to say that these guys taught me to look at the media and other mediums of information much more closely and in doing so led me to become a much better critical thinker. You juniors should soak up every word in this class and use it to your advantage! But enough brown nosing already, let's get to the meat of this post: America's education system.

In Matt Lauer's interview with President Barack Obama on Monday morning, viewers were greeted with some startling statistics: 1/3 of all high school students fail to graduate, a second 1/3 are not ready for college when they do graduate high school and only 35% of those seniors are as Lauer put it, "proficient in reading."

Perhaps these statistics don't mean anything to you because you go to New Trier, where something like 98% of you guys will be graduating next year. Well, you could choose to look at it that way, or you could try to understand why New Trier doesn't fall under those statistics. I understand that you all are studying slavery and race in America currently, so why not try to find a connection here?

Brown Vs. Board of Education of Topeka was settled in favor of integrating schools back in 1954. This was a flash point for the American Civil Rights Movement. But still today, blacks are scoring lower on standardized tests than whites are. How could this be if schools are no longer allowed to segregate? A study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that:
"In statistical models that include both school and neighborhood segregation, the effects of relative exposure of black and Hispanic students to their white schoolmates are uniformly small and statistically insignificant… the neighborhood composition matters more than school composition."
So, if this is the case, why? Why does community composition matter more than school composition? What are the possible connections you can make between these statistics and the communities we live in? And other communities as well? These are all questions you should be asking yourself when presented with such information.

Below is Obama's interview and his insight into the education crisis in America:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fahrenheit 450: The Temperature at which Books Get Very, Very, Very Hot

"Rev." Terry Jones received enormous media coverage the past two weeks for his aborted plan to burn thousands of copies of copies of The Koran, the central holy book of Islam. Will he? Won't he? The media hyped the tension to the level of the Cuban missile crisis — or maybe an episode of 24 would be a more apt comparison.

Jones planned the book burning on the anniversary of 9/11 to oppose the construction of an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan and to honor the victims of that tragedy — and can you think of a better way to honor those victims than by inflaming international hatred of the U.S., particularly in Muslim-ruled regions where we still have hundreds of thousands of troops?

What bothers me most is not Jones' stunt; rather, it is the outsize coverage the non-event received. Jones is a fringe leader of a tiny church in Florida that only counts 50 families among its members. Yet the media devoured this event because of its apparently insatiable appetite for polarizing issues — easy oppositions such as liberal/conservative, right/left, military aggression/abject capitulation.

The news coverage reminded me of a book by The Atlantic Monthly's national correspondent, James Fallows (who visited New Trier last year). In Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, Fallows argues that the media corrupts political discussions by deliberately polarizing and thereby cheapening political discussions. Seeing the world in black and white terms sells ad space on TV and in newspapers, but it doesn't allow room for alternate opinion or nuanced readings of complicated events.

The spectacle of this pseudo-event was a media bonanza because it allowed for outlandish lead-up coverage and substantial reaction to Jones' decision not to burn the books. And worse: the coverage featured most of the same talking heads whose views have long since calcified in those same mindless oppositions. And so it goes.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Continuing the Conversation

Perhaps the text from this screenshot is difficult to make out. However, that's not really the point. What's remarkable about this blog excerpt is that it was created last month by one of our students from last year, who is currently a senior. What's even more striking about it is that the person commenting on the post is one of our students from a previous year, who didn't share a classroom with the author, and is currently a college student, a freshman at Iowa State!

Hopefully this will serve as an example of what Mr. O'Connor expressed during the first week of school: we as your teachers want to become "useless" in the best possible sense. Long after you leave our class, we hope you will be "continuing the conversation."