Cartoons about Technology in Schools and at Home

This month’s cartoons will be about computer devices used in schools and homes. Not a new subject to be sure since I have published such cartoons before. But the following cartoons have been selected to avoid repeats for those readers who look forward to this monthly feature. Enjoy!

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The Impact of Social Media on Children and Youth (Part 2)

That new media and technology has influenced children and youth is well-known. Comic books in the 1930s and 1940s (Part 1) captured the youth market swiftly. Part 2 will deal with the onset of television in the 1950s while Part 3 will describe and analyze the influence of contemporary social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok).

These historical and contemporary out-of-school influences loom large in a growing child’s life now and in the past; such influences need to be considered when researchers, pundits and politicians assess the impact of formal schooling as students march through a dozen or more school years. That assessment of TV’s influence upon Americans remains, as with effects of comic books, clouded.

Television come to American homes (1950s)

Television came to American homes in the late-1940S. Seven percent of U.S. households had a TV set in 1950. By 1957, that percentage had soared to 83. A decade later, nearly every family had at least one set in the home. American households were then watching four and a half hours daily (By 2021, that figure has dropped to about three hours daily for American adults).

Only the oldest readers of this post might recall television hits from the 1950s. Here is a sampling:

*Lassie (1954-1973)

*Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)

*The Lone Ranger (1949-1957)

*$64,000 Question (1955-1958)

*Gunsmoke (1955-1975)

*Walter Cronkite’s You are There (1953-1972)

*Steve Allen (1953-1959) and Jack Paar (1957-1962) hosted late-night talk shows

Popular as television was in the 1950s and early 1960s, programming for both children and adults came in for increasing criticism in these years. New York Times columnist Jack Gould, for example, wrote in 1950:

If radio and television aren’t careful, somebody’s going to call the cops, In their desperation to find inexpensive fillers for their summer schedules the two media have exceeded the bounds of reasonable interest in murder, mayhem, and assorted felonies. Both the kilocycles and the channels are fairly dripping with crime and it is time that a halt was called….

Or the President of Boston University in 1950 telling graduates and their parents that:

If the television craze continues with the present level of programs, we are destined to have a nation of morons.

Too much violence, profanity, and sex, and not enough uplifting, dramatic, and educational programming led critics and parents to call TV “the boob tube” and “chewing gum for the mind” with increased numbers of daytime and evening shows becoming a “vast wasteland.” Such criticism and concern for children and youth pushed both the industry to regulate itself–which it eventually did–and get authorities to do something about this powerful medium of entertainment.

In 1951, for example, Representative E.C. Gathings (D-Ark) told his fellow Congressmen: “[M]any radio and television programs, as well as certain scurrilous books and comics are corrupting the minds and morals of the American people.” He called for public hearings about this problem. These hearings in 1952 and subsequent ones later in the decade exposed the frequency of violence on television leading to calls for federal regulation including action by the existing Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an agency founded in 1934 (when fear of radio’s influence on the young was rife) to do something about television content and programming.

Regulating Television

Not until 1950, did the National Association of Broadcasters publish a Code of Practices. As had occurred with comic books, complaints from parents, religious communities, and lawmakers over violence, foul language, and sexual innuendo in programs piled up. Alarmed, The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), private operators of television networks and stations, adopted a Code of Practices that content producers had to follow. To air programs, television station owners had to have the NAB’s seal of approval.

Even having a seal of approval, however, failed to stem the growing criticism of how television was influencing Americans, young and old. Exposes of television executives rigging quiz shows to get high ratings, that is, producers providing answers secretly to certain telegenic contestants and other deceptive practices led to the U.S. Congress passing the Communications Act Amendments in 1960. The law tightened regulations making it a federal crime for television executives to give give answers to contestants on game shows or similar programs.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Newton Minow to head the FCC. A few months after being appointed, Minow’s concerns about the influence of the medium on Americans came to the fore in a headline-grabbing speech before the national Association of Broadcasters:

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

In subsequent decades, both the U.S. Congress and the FCC monitored the content television programmed seven days and nights a week. As did broadcasters themselves. To avoid further federal regulation, the industry monitored itself. Startling events such as the rigged game shows and increasing complaints to the FCC and to newspaper media about children exposed to sexual innuendo in programs soured many legislators on the content of programs. Eventually Congress, the FCC, and private groups acted after it became clear that something had to be done to protect young children who avidly watched the screen daily.

Television for the Young

In the 1950s, television executives targeted children ages 2 to 12 for programming. All programs then generated revenue for privately-owned TV networks and individual stations by selling time to advertisers to market their products. Preschoolers and older children viewed numerous ads in every program they watched. Few readers today can remember Ding Dong School (1952), Romper Room (1953), or Captain Kangaroo (1955). All of these were studded with short commercials.

Under law, some channels were set aside for educational and public television programming. Some readers, may recall Sesame Street (1969) or for older children, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (1968). The latter two programs were commercial-free. That American preschoolers and school-aged children spent two or more hours a day in front of television is hardly disputed.

Like comic books, television as an entertainment medium affected children in various ways depending upon how much time they spent in front of the screen, who they watched programs with (e.g., alone, with siblings, parents), and the content of those programs (i.e., cartoons, educational television, network shows). Whether these programs and similar ones, however, shaped children’s likes and dislikes, their behavior at home and school positively or negatively (or both), current researchers and policy experts continue to be divided.

Uncertainty among researchers and some parents over effects of children and youth watching TV in the 1950s and 1960s comes close to the inconclusiveness of the effects of social media used by American children and youth in the third decade of the 21st century. Part 3 takes up that point.

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The Impact of Social Media on Children and Youth (Part 1)

Fear of new technologies influencing children and youth has a long history. From comic books in the 1930s to television in the 1950s to computers in the 1980s and now social media in the 2020s, many parents, teachers, and pundits railed against the negative influences of these new media upon children’s. This multi-part series deal with the forerunners of the present concern over social media shaping children’s minds and actions.

Consider the popularity of comic books between the late-1930s through the mid-1950s.

According to some researchers, the 1930s and 1940s were the “Golden Age” of comic books. Well before television entered American homes, comic books were immensely popular with the young, especially boys. For example, in 1945 “the Market Research Company of America found that about 70 million Americans, roughly half of the U.S. population, read
comic books.”

Criticism of Comic Books

Many parents then saw comic books much as later generations of parents in the 1950s and 1960s saw television. Salty language, sex, violence were pervasive. Urban and rural parents organized committees and protests in various urban and rural sites to condemn comic books. Some even went to the extreme of publicly burning comic books.

In Binghamton, N.Y., Students of St. Patrick’s parochial school collected 2,000 objectionable comic books in a house-to-house canvass, burned them in the school yard (1948).

In 1954, responding to growing antipathy to comic books, publishers adopted the Comics Code in 1954. The code has had a checkered history, according to Wikipedia but it exists today.

To obtain this seal of approval after its adoption, comics entrepreneurs had to follow these rules:

  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
  • Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, the gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the words “horror” or “terror” in its title.
  • All scenes of horror, excessive bloodshed, gory or gruesome crimes, depravity, lust, sadism, masochism shall not be permitted.
  • All lurid, unsavory, gruesome illustrations shall be eliminated.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Profanity, obscenity, smut, vulgarity, or words or symbols which have acquired undesirable meanings are forbidden.
  • Nudity in any form is prohibited, as is indecent or undue exposure.
  • Suggestive and salacious illustration or suggestive posture is unacceptable.
  • Females shall be drawn realistically without exaggeration of any physical qualities.
  • Illicit sex relations are neither to be hinted at nor portrayed. Rape scenes, as well as sexual abnormalities, are unacceptable.
  • Seduction and rape shall never be shown or suggested.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to same is strictly forbidden.
  • Nudity with meretricious purpose and salacious postures shall not be permitted in the advertising of any product; clothed figures shall never be presented in such a way as to be offensive or contrary to good taste or morals.[16]

The code has been amended many times since 1954.

The point of the Comics Code was to regulate content. Researchers didn’t need to tell parents what that influence was since American moms and dads saw negative behaviors they attributed to their children reading comics. Yet exactly how much influence comic books actually had on children and youth insofar as their engaging in aggressive behavior, violence, and sexual acts, researchers then and now are (and have been) divided (see here, here, here, and here).

With television sets appearing in living rooms across America in the 1950s, a similar surge of confidence in the new technology occurred followed by a slow growth of fear for what the new medium does to the minds and actions of young children and teenagers. I take up television in Part 2.

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Teachers I Know Who Made a Difference

Some years ago, educator and writer Mike Rose wrote a post about his high school English teacher. It is a beautiful piece that captures the ineffable moment 40 years ago when Rose was ready–he did not know it at the time–to dig deeper into literature.The pushing and prodding he got from Jack McFarland, his young English teacher, Rose said, changed “the direction of my life.”

Rose’s post reminded me of letters I had received from former high school students, teachers I had trained in Washington, D.C., and from doctoral advisees at Stanford. A glow of satisfaction would come over me whenever I read such letters that asserted my influence in their lives. I suspect that Jack McFarland might have experienced such a glow when reading Mike Rose’s post.

As I read the compliments and how much the student attributed to me in shaping his or her life’s work, however, a shadowy doubt, surely no more than a speck, came over me. That shadow of doubt had to do with the tricks that our memories play on us in selectively remembering what we want to remember. There were many students, for example, who failed to learn in my classroom. Moreover, it is easy to forget how important the concept of “being ready” to learn, is.

For example, I cannot forget many teenagers and young adults who I could not reach. That is, students who sat in class (or attended sporadically) and eked through the course without ever connecting to the content I taught, the questions I asked, the projects I assigned. Seldom did any of those students write me a note years later. So I might have been a fine teacher for some students who wrote me years later but I had to remind myself that there were many others who saw me as, well, just another teacher whose assignments and class activities ranged from inane to boring and had to be tolerated to get the high school diploma or the doctorate.

And there is even another reason for doubting my memory. Consider the tendency to give credit to others you admire and respect as human beings for your accomplishments. We give credit to parents, siblings, dear friends, and yes, teachers. Much of it is deserved. And much of it is sheer gratitude for the shared experience. So doubts arise also from the gracious but nonetheless false attribution of results to someone else.

Having given reasons why I enjoy those glowing letters written by former students but still entertain doubts about whether I made the difference in their lives that they attribute to me, I want to briefly mention a teacher I had who I believe did shape my thoughts and actions at a particular point in my life. Sounds like a contradiction but bear with me.

While I did have elementary and secondary teachers who, at different times, inspired and motivated me, I am thinking of the time when I went to graduate school. I was in my late-30s with a wife and family and wanted to get a Ph.D in order to become a district superintendent.

In an earlier post I had written about David Tyack and his influence upon me as a scholar, teacher, and human being while I was a graduate student and, later, as his colleague for two decades (see “Becoming A Superintendent: A Personal Odyssey, February 9, 2011).

Now I would like to remember Jim March. From Jim March, I took courses on leadership and organizations. Eventually, I asked Jim to serve on my doctoral committee.

At first, I found Jim intellectually intimidating. He was a theorist of organizations who drew from the disciplines of psychology, sociology, and political science. By the time I met him, he had authored books with Herbert Simon and Richard Cyert, then giants in the fields of organizational sciences and statistics. Jim was also a poet and a wonderful conversationalist. Although March had never taught in public schools, he knew them as organizations and helped me make sense of nearly two decades of teaching and administering programs in school districts. From Jim, I  learned the importance of seeing organizations from multiple points of view, of learning to live with uncertainty, of the tenacious hold that rationalism has upon both policymakers and practitioners, and understanding that ambiguity, conflict, and randomness is the natural order of organizations. Those two years at Stanford, working closely with Tyack and March turned out to be first-rate preparation for the next seven years I served as a superintendent.

And life ever after.

Am I over-attributing what I have achieved to particular teachers? Perhaps. But so what.

The points I make are straightforward:  What we learn in and out of school that sticks with us comes from  an intellectual and emotional joining of minds and hearts with adults who we respect and admire when we are ready to take in who they are and what they teach. Although we live in a culture that worships the independent individual, we learn that each of us is  beholden to others–family, friends, and, yes, teachers from infancy to the day that the coffin is lowered into the ground. We learn that we stand on the shoulders of others. Giving credit to those people who have helped us along the way, even attributing to them powers that rest within ourselves, simply reminds us that we are forever dependent upon others.

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School Reform Again, Again, and Yet Again

For U.S. readers of this post* think for a moment about your time as students for 13-plus years in elementary and secondary schools and as parents of sons and daughters now attending school. Such a look backward I suspect would establish clearly that at different times you were the object of school reforms as a student. If you are (or have been) a teacher and administrator, you helped put school reforms into practice. If you are now a working parent and taxpayer, you have experienced school reforms and now can observe current ones.

Should you be a reader in their 20s to 40s, you experienced varied curricular changes, pumped-up graduation requirements, and many standardized tests as you proceeded through a dozen or more years of schooling. You went to school at a time when state and federal reform efforts (e.g., new math and science standards, charter schools, No Child Left Behind and Every Student Succeeds Act) sought to prepare graduates to enter jobs in an information-driven economy.

If any 40-something readers are now public school teachers or administrators, they are implementing such standards, tests, and accountability in their schools. If these readers are also parents, then they can see the results of those reforms preparing their own sons and daughters for college and career.

For those readers in their 50s and 60s, as students you have experienced the aftermath of Sputnik and rivalry with the Soviet Union, the Civil Rights movement, and Back-to-Basics as they spilled over schools in the 1960s and 1970s. New science and math curricula and Advanced Placement courses gave way to a new round of reforms aimed at reducing segregated schools. Increased federal funding (e.g., Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, No Child Left Behind, 2001-2015 and Every Student Succeeds Act, 2016) sought to improve low-income children’s academic performance.

Those 50-something readers who are now mid-to-late career teachers and administrators are beginning the fourth decade of reforms triggered by A Nation at Risk report (1983). In most schools and districts, changes stemming from the above reforms continue to be implemented. Middle-age parents today have experienced the steady patter of school reforms including current ones targeted on getting every student into college and starting a career.

I am much older than nearly all of my readers. As a result, I have experienced the above reforms and even earlier ones. For example, I attended Pittsburgh (PA) elementary and secondary schools between 1939-1951, the tail end of the Progressive Era. I taught high school history in Cleveland (OH) and Washington (D.C.) public schools between 1956-1972 during the Civil Rights movement. I was a superintendent in Arlington (VA) between 1974-1981 as reforms to stiffen graduation requirements, increase testing, and send high school graduates to college rippled across the nation.

Since then I have moved from a participant to an observer (while being a parent of two daughters). As a university researcher I have gone into schools to watch teachers teach every year prior to the pandemic while also publishing articles and books about the present and past of U.S. schooling. Overall, I have been a public school student, teacher, administrator, and researcher/writer for nearly three-quarters of a century.

Over those decades, reform after reform spilled over U.S. public schools. As students, professionals, and parents, I and most readers have experienced, implemented, and observed reforms in the 20th and early 21st centuries. School reform, then, is not something distant or far removed from our lives. For me, it has been as normal as breathing and eating.

_______________________

*I began writing this blog in 2009. International readers of my posts have ebbed and flowed over the years. In 2023, about one-third of my readers live outside the U.S.

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An Instructional Innovation That Lingers: Team Teaching

Team teaching made a huge splash in the 1960s (see Ngram viewer for the popularity of the phrase). Teachers volunteered to work together during the school day in teaching their classes. Many versions of team teaching appeared in both elementary and secondary schools (see here). Yet over time, the innovation faded. No surprise since the historic way of organizing teaching in age-graded schools–one teacher in one classroom–remains dominant. While team teaching is an option for teachers to embrace, it now occupies only a narrow slice of the pedagogy U.S. teachers use in 2023.

Still, it remains a viable option for teachers in elementary school grades and middle and high school academic subjects. The highly heralded innovation of the 1960s continues in many classrooms as a way for teachers to collaborate, it is uncommon enough in schools that The New York Times recently described a Mesa (AZ) school where a teacher team worked with 135 students in a Mesa, Arizona school.

What is team teaching? In brief, team teaching is collaborative planning and enactment of lessons among two or more teachers in a building; sometimes called co-teaching it can happen in elementary schools at the grade level (e.g., three sixth grade teachers combine their classes and divide instruction among themselves) while in secondary schools team teaching occurs within and across academic subject departments (e.g., history and English, science and math, art and English). In some instances, teachers are responsible for large groups of students as in open space elementary schools once popular in the 1970s. These teachers decide when to have all students together for lectures, small discussion groups, and independent work. So there are many variations in the form and content of teach teaching (see here and here).

What problems did team teaching aim to solve? Promoters of the innovation in the 1960s and since saw team teaching as a way of breaking down the organizational barriers embedded in the age-graded school organization such as each teacher with her own classrooms isolated from peers in the same grade or department. Isolation of teachers from one another in comparing and contrasting approaches to lessons prevented collaboration that, in turn, limited students’ exposure to different ideas and ways of teaching and, at the same time limited teacher growth in subject matter, pedagogy, and managing students. Both critics of and advocates for public schools noted how little collaboration occurred between professionals in schools.

Did team teaching work? Anecdotal evidence from teachers more often than not underscored increases in job satisfaction that team teaching brought to participants. As to whether team teaching produced gains or losses in student academic performance, well, research findings are mixed (see here, here, and here). Because the concept of “team teaching” can take many forms in schools–and does–determining students’ academic outcomes as a result of teacher collaboration is largely futile. The literature, as scarce as it is, comprises dissertations, studies of particular teams in a school, and similar case studies (see here, here, here, and here)

As to solving the problems of teacher isolation and insulation within the age-graded school, I have not yet found any such evidence. To look for evidence, researchers have had to document  the situation in schools prior to introduction of team teaching then whether schools modified their schedules sufficiently to give teams of teachers adequate time to plan and coordinate teacher schedules, especially in secondary schools, as well as insert into weekly schedules back-to-back classes so the team teaching could be enacted. Again, such studies I have yet to find.

Have I team taught?

Yes, I have taught high school social studies and university courses with colleagues. I found the planning and execution of jointly made plans both exciting and exhausting. It was a lot of work including intricate scheduling glitches that had to be worked out but, overall, I found the experiences rewarding as a teacher, ones from which I learned a great deal from my collaborators.

For example, Roberta Rabinoff Kaplan and I taught English and social studies at Cardozo High School (Washington, D.C.) in the mid-1960s. And in Stanford University’s teacher education program in the 1990s, I team taught a social studies methods course with Lee Swenson, then an Aragon High School history teacher. Historian of education David Tyack and I teamed up to teach “History of School Reform” between 1987 and 1998. Out of that collaboration came our book, Tinkering toward Utopia.

I enjoyed very much the planning together and actual teaching that I and my team-mates did. Sure there were conflicts over choice of content, which materials to use, who would do what and when during the lesson, and similar decisions. More often than not, we negotiated compromises in order to collaborate and conflicts eased. It was a great deal of time and work to teach with someone else and (there is no “but”), it stretched me both intellectually and pedagogically.

What has happened to team teaching?

Both formal and informal team teaching continues in U.S.schools. No longer an attractive slogan, elementary and secondary school teachers of like mind and with a cooperative principal work out arrangements to team teach for a few years and then return to their teaching alone as they had for years. With the ubiquity of classroom technologies and the buzz around “personalized learning,” team teaching has become a way of teachers (both special education and regular classroom teachers) working together as coaches of teachers, teams working at grade level responsible for large groups of students, and the like (see here). And there are schools that rediscover team teaching and crow about it (see here).

Finally, other variations of teaming have emerged over time such as teacher residencies where a beginning teacher (akin to medical residencies in hospitals) is paired with an experienced teacher and both work to teach students cooperatively. Over a two-year period, the neophyte gains important content and skill knowledge as well as techniques to manage classrooms when they become full fledged teachers (see here, here, and here).

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Kindergarten Teachers as Policymakers (Part 2)

Watching a policy travel from the White House, a state capitol, or a big city school board to a kindergarten teacher in her classroom has been compared to metal links in a chain, a children’s game called Telephone, and pushing spaghetti. Classroom teachers at the end of the iron-forged links in a chain convey military images of privates saluting captains and duties getting snappily discharged. The telephone game suggests miscommunications that ends up in hilarious misinterpretations of what was intended by the original policy. Pushing strands of wet spaghetti suggests futility in getting a policy ever to be put into practice in classrooms. Which metaphor, then, best describes going from adopting a policy to putting it into practice?

The truth is that for each metaphor actual examples of policies do fit the image. Yet other instances of teachers implementing policies fail to fit. There are other metaphors that better match the wide variation among teachers when they put policies into practice–and variation is a stubborn fact of organizational life. One is the street-level bureaucrat.

Street-level bureaucrats are police officers who decide whether or not to give a traffic citation, social workers who determine what kind of help a client needs and where to find that help, emergency room nurses who decide which sick and injured need immediate attention and which ones can wait. I include teachers because they decide whether to stick with the lesson plan or diverge when an unexpected event occurs. They decide which student to call upon to answer a question.

All of these professionals work within large rule-driven organizations but interact with the public daily as they make on-the-spot decisions. Each of these professionals are obligated to follow organizational rules yet have discretion to make decisions.  In effect, they reconcile the dilemma of how much obligation they have to the institution that pays their salary and how much autonomy they have in ignoring, amending, and following decisions handed down by superiors.

Consider kindergarten teachers. Most primary teachers have been trained to see young children holistically as growing human beings needing work, play, and nurturing as necessary ingredients to develop into educated and healthy youth. Teaching the whole child has been a guiding principle central to early childhood programs for nearly a century. Since the early-1980s, however, the standards-based curriculum, increased testing, and accountability policies have flowed downward pressing early childhood educators to make kindergartens into boot camps for 1st grade and preschool programs into learning the alphabet and counting numbers–according to critics (see here and here)

In the policy-to-practice metaphor of the linked chain, one would expect that most kindergarten teachers, feeling strong obligations to school superiors, would have altered their child-centered pedagogy and embraced the new policy by relying on direct instruction while completely abandoning learning centers, sand boxes, comfy reading corners, and free choice time.

For the metaphor of the telephone game, one would expect most kindergarten teachers to have received instructions on implementing standards-based and testing policies from top officials, district supervisors, and school principals. Those instructions and guidance on their journey to kindergarten teachers would have gotten increasingly distorted. These distortions would result in huge variation among kindergarten teachers in implementing these policies ranging from major shifts in pedagogy to minimal alterations in daily lessons to outright mistakes.

The metaphor of pushing wet spaghetti raises different expectations for kindergarten teachers. Because of the futility of the task, adopted policies meander in and out of schools occasionally entering classrooms. Here, kindergarten teachers are fully autonomous and once they close their doors, they do as they please.

None of these metaphors from complete military-like attention to rules to complete freedom to implement a policy capture most kindergarten teachers’ practice at a time when they must cope with dilemma-filled tensions arising from reconciling their obligations to implement state standards-based policies and their beliefs in child-centered practices. And here is where Lisa Goldstein’s research on four kindergarten teachers in two high performing urban schools within a Texas district comes into play.

Goldstein details these four teachers’ different actions in coping with state curriculum standards stressing academic preparation for first grade, annual tests that specifies what kindergarteners were to have learned, and their professional and personal beliefs about what five year-olds should be doing and learning.

What did she find out after observing and interviewing the teachers for two years?

“From Ann’s refusal to use the language artsworkbooks to Liz’s holiday celebrations
unit and from Jenny’s either/or literacy block to Frieda’s commitment to her
students’ self-esteem, all of these teachers’ curricular and instructional decisions
were actively shaped by personal understandings of the state standards and DAP
((Developmentally Appropriate Practices derived from the National Association of Early Childhood Education), informed by strategic knowledge and careful thought, and considered in relation to the needs of the particular children in the class and other contextual
factors. Every policy decision was unique and deliberate and reflected attention
to obligations, desire for autonomy, and the use of professional discretion.”

These kindergarten teachers blended developmental practices they had done for years while attending to what their district and state standards required five year-olds to learn by the end of the year. They translated their beliefs in the whole child and many experiences with primary children into hybrid practices that mixed “developmentally appropriate” activities with direct instruction. In short, these four teachers in two schools made policy by creating mixes–they were street-level bureaucrats that hugged the middle.

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The Morphing of an Innovation into Classroom Practice: Kindergartens in U.S. Schools (Part 1)

School reformers, mostly middle-class white women, invented kindergartens in the late-19th and early 20th centuries. The innovation of the “Kindergarten” was an import relying on the ideas and practices of a 19th century German reformer named Frederich Froebel. Using his ideas, civic-minded women created kindergartens in response to concerns about so many urban children left on their own daily as immigrant parents worked long hours in factories and sweatshops.

By the 1920s, many school districts had installed this innovation into their grammar school thus converting the 1-to-8 age graded school into the now familiar K-6 elementary school.

The history of kindergartens revealed tensions between play and learning basic academics such as reading, adding numbers, following directions, working in a group and treating one another well. These tensions unfolded in training kindergarten teachers how they should teach. That debate over whether kindergartners should spend more time on play or academics continues in 2023.

While many districts adopted kindergartens, in 1920 just over 10 percent of eligible five year-olds entered kindergartens. by 2020, eighty-four percent attended kindergartens. No surprise, then, that this innovation has become a familiar experience for five year-olds in the U.S.

The 1879 Grand March of Boys and Girls in New York City’s Free Kindergarten, established by the Society for Ethical Culture. Credit: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Granger.

Free Kindergarten for Colored Children of New York City, 1901. Credit: Free Kindergarten Association for Colored Children, Sixth Annual Report.

From these beginnings of an innovation, throughout the 20th century, school districts added kindergartens to their elementary schools. Nearly 85 percent of five year-olds attend public kindergartens in 2020.

Current kindergarten rooms in the U.S. look like this:

Kindergarten students in Robin Bryant’s class are learning how to add and subtract (SanFrancisco Bay area school)

Kindergarten in Penn Manor School District (PA)

Paraprofessional Kristina Wilcox, left, and instructor Marissa Reitan, second from right, work with kids in a preschool class at East Ridge Elementary in Ogden (UT) on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022.

Kindergarten classroom in Albany (NY) elementary school

What does a day in kindergarten look like to both teachers and students. Following examples offer partial answers to the question. You Tube videos of kindergarten teachers in across the country follow.

I apologize in advance for the ads that accompany these videos and descriptions. As anyone who uses the Web knows, ads are part of the territory within which researchers work.

One school district describes what a typical school day should be like for kindergartners. Here is the URL since the description is too long for this post: https://www.scasd.org/Page/21

With the introduction of the innovative kindergarten nearly a century and a half ago, going to school in the U.S. in 2023 means that five year-olds enter the wider world beyond the family. And it is in these spacious rooms with colorful furniture, rugs, chairs, and learning centers (including a bathroom) that the nation’s children face the continuing tension between how much time in a day should be devoted to play vs. how much time should be devoted to learning to count, read, and time teaching children how to behave in groups.

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Teaching High School and Using Technology (Jerry Brodkey)

This post is a “golden oldie,” one that has garnered thousands of viewers. I republish it because the issues Jerry Brodkey raised in 2010 about teaching and machines continue in 2023.

Jerry Brodkey taught social studies and math at Menlo-Atherton High School in Menlo Park, California. Brodkey began teaching in 1975. Recently, he has been teaching Algebra and Advanced Placement Calculus in a Palo Alto private high school. He continues to find teaching to be challenging, enjoyable, and always intense. His undergraduate degree was from Rice University (BA 1974), and graduate degrees from Stanford University (MA 1976, Ph.D. 1987).

A front page New York Times article on January 20, 2010 was headlined: “If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online”. The article details the results of a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation that the typical 8 to 18 year-old spends more than 7.5 hours a day on electronics, plus another 1.5 hour texting and another half an hour on the cell phone. Students are immersed in their electronic world.

Many schools are integrating more and more technology into the curriculum. At the school where I teach, many teachers are switching to “Smart Boards”, a sophisticated piece of technology that looks like a white board but is actually linked to a computer and the Internet. Our school district has invested heavily in technology and the trend is exploding upwards.

As a veteran teacher, the trend bothers me. In my opinion, what should happen at schools, what can makes school valuable and unique, is to provide young people experiences they can’t get anywhere else. Instead of more technology, let’s use less. Instead of emphasizing technology that is often expensive and soon outdated, perhaps schools can take a different, newer (really older) approach.

Schools offer teachers and students an opportunity to do what is almost never done in society. In schools we can gather together a group of twenty to thirty people and have them listen, discuss, analyze, and share differing points of view. Schools provide a rare chance to read, debate, write, and quietly think. We don’t need expensive technology to learn how to ask excellent questions, articulate ideas, and be forced to defend our thoughts.

School hours are precious. My students and I need to learn and consider and develop together. This is what makes my students’ and my school experiences unique. This is what makes my calculus class in room D-10 at Menlo-Atherton High School different than a calculus class students could easily take online. In the classroom the students interact with me and with each other. My students see what happens when people are frustrated, or tired, or thinking creatively. They see what happens when people laugh together, learn together, are confused together. They spend real time with friends and individuals who are like them, and also different than them. They listen to me and to each other, they ask questions, they have to communicate clearly in a real setting. They respond directly to me and to each other and see the effects of their words, the power of their tone of voice, the inflection of a comment or question

Technology can, of course, do amazing things. Any tool can be used properly or improperly. Unfortunately, with devices like Smart Boards, images come and go, and the teacher is often looking at a computer screen for part of the class. Smart Boards and similar technologies reinforce the idea that knowledge resides in things. We don’t need Smart Boards, we need smart people. Answers to all questions do not reside in the Internet, even if it is just a click away.

In my math classes, starting at the Algebra II level, we use graphing calculators to graph functions. They are a remarkable tool, a mini-computer students hold in the palm of their hands. Graphing calculators can graph complex functions in an instant. I do use them in my calculus classes, but I use them sparingly. When I use them, I like to slow down and ask students the following:

What does this graph represent? Is this a good graph? What makes a good graph? How could it be made better? Why are we even bothering to make a graph of this function? What are the limitations of this graph? What are the assumptions? How much data do we need to make a good graph? If we have a certain number of data points, can we assume the rest of the data follows this pattern? What are the limitations of the electronic graphing calculators we use? Do these limitations come into play in this problem?

If all goes well, we have a very good discussion.

We don’t need more technology in my classroom. I have a precious 50 minutes with them each day for 180 days. That is time when real, not virtual, relationships may grow. Each moment I am looking at my computer screen or Smart Board takes away from the time I am directly interacting with my students. Each time I walk down the hall and see a teacher at a computer, or each moment when I am at mine, I feel it is an opportunity lost. For me, more technology is not the answer. It only detracts from what I am truly trying to achieve as a teacher.

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This Will Revolutionize Schooling!

I needed to write a post yesterday morning. I had on my desk a few ideas from articles I had cut out of newspapers, suggestions that friends and family had sent to me, and some older posts that I had revised and updated (I began writing twice-weekly posts for this blog in 2009).  

Before I decided which of these items I would publish, I checked my website to see how many views I had overnight, what comments had come in and whether they needed responses from me, and, of course, dumping the spam that had collected overnight. I also checked to see who had clicked onto the site for that is a way I find out who is reading posts and a chance for me to pick up different ideas. And that is how I found today’s post.

One reader had downloaded my monthly cartoon feature on technology for kids and adults to her website and also gave me a link to a video called “This Will Revolutionize Education.” Done by Derek Muller,* that title caught my eye. I watched it. And I was pleased by Muller’s accuracy, brevity, and elan in taking apart that common phrase used time and again by wannabe school reformers eager to put the next new device, teaching method, or curriculum into classrooms. Yet in a few years, those eager reformers’ plans have led to no “revolution” in teachers’ classrooms. More often than not, the innovation has disappeared and is mercifully forgotten.

As a historian of school reform, I have written more than I want to remember about those rose-colored, feverish innovations that appear time and again promising to transform teaching practices. That fads occur and recur in schools is certainly obvious to informed observers of U.S. schools. Historian Diane Ravitch wrote about faddishness in American schools two decades ago.

This video is seven minutes long and it vividly captures the hollowness of previous boosters’ claims that a particular innovation “Will Revolutionize Education.” But far more important the video zeroes in on the centrality of the teacher to student learning beyond conveying information which new technologies are superb in doing.

At a time when blended learning, flipped classrooms, student use of computer devices, and “disruptive” innovations are reported in media about U.S. schools, what Derek Muller presents is worth seeing.

So here’s the YouTube video: “This Will Revolutionize Education:”

Click on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEmuEWjHr5c

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*For more on Derek Muller, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derek_Muller#:~:text=Derek%20Alexander%20Muller%20(born%209,Saves%20the%20World%20since%202017

Also—https://www.afr.com/work-and-careers/management/move-over-dr-karl-veritasiums-derek-muller-has-you-in-his-sights-20180718-h12u8o

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