Category Archives: raising children

During Pandemic, More Parents Come To Appreciate Teachers and Understand Teaching

Teacher Appreciation Week begins May 3rd. With school closures over a year ago and the onslaught of remote instruction, many parents have come to appreciate not only what teachers do in classrooms (and now on screens) than ever before (see here) but also how complex the act of teaching is.

Celebrities sport T-shirts asking that teacher should have higher salaries. Actor Ron Farrell who has three children being home schooled was seen in his neighborhood picking up garbage.

Celebrity parents calling for higher salaries only mirrors now more than ever that Moms and Dads sitting in kitchens and bedrooms hovering over their children have a deeper understanding (and appreciation) about teaching being not only a complex activity but also a relationship built on trust and respect.

That appreciation and understanding were too often unconsidered by many parents prior to the pandemic some of whom, unaware of the organizational and political realities of district operations and funding, criticized teachers for assigning too much homework, having short work days and two months off during the summer.

What many parents working with children at home during the pandemic have come to fathom is how much student learning–no matter how expert the teacher is–occurs because of the emotional bonds between teacher and student. And those bonds make teaching and learning an intricate dance between two partners who depend upon one another for success.

So the act of teaching is complex either in the kitchen or school classroom. That complexity begins with non-educators grasping fully the central fact of effective classroom teaching: It is built on teacher expertise and emotional connections that fuel student learning.

Consider the basic triangle that seemingly captures what happens in classrooms.

Seems simple enough. The teacher teaches content and skills to the student who learns both. But what appears simple is hardly so when each part of the triangle is unpacked and then analyzed for what is contains and too often omitted. Then, complexity blooms.

Student

In a fifth grade class of 11 year-olds, they are all the same age but, oh, do they differ from one another in capacities, motivation, and home experiences–all of which shape their responses to the teacher and the curriculum. The interactions between each student and the teacher are influenced by what the student brings to the classroom from home (e.g., prior learning, attitudes toward school) that shape classroom behavior from paying attention to teacher directions to connecting to classmates. So complexity begins with many factors, many of which the teacher has little control, that impinge upon student academic and classroom behavior.

Teacher

Like students teachers vary in experience, training, background, capacities, and motivations. Novice teachers tend to focus on behavioral and academic rules, textbooks, and managing groups of students as they wend their way through six hours of elementary school or through a handful of hour-long classes in secondary schools. Experienced teachers, especially those who have taught in the same school for five or more years know well the content and skills that have to be taught and how to manage group and individual behavior during lessons. But variations in expertise and classroom lessons are evident.

Skills and Content

Students learning to parse words and understand what is read, write clear sentences, master math operations, grasp the concept of evolution, and consider the many factors that contributed to World War I cover a partial hop, skip, and jump through the elementary and secondary curricula teachers teach as students climb the school ladder toward graduation.

Hard as teachers try, some content and skills prove too easy for some students, just right for others, and too hard for the rest. Differences in capacity,motivation, and achievement pile up as students move through their school careers. Students appreciate those few teachers who fueled their learning while coping with indifferent teachers or those teachers simply putting in the time.

Of course, teachers vary greatly in their grasp of the content and skills that they must teach at each grade level. Teachers learn that some classes have a personality unlike other groups they have had. Those teachers in secondary schools who face four or five different groups of student daily, for example, may genuinely look forward to the third period class and dread the first period group of students. Nonetheless, most teachers manage to bond with most of their students. Thus, in age-graded schools, teachers differ not only in their grasp and execution of content and skills as students move from one grade to another, from one subject to another but also in how well they bond to individual students and classes.

Like students and teachers, much variation exists in schools because of the one-teacher/one classroom, age-graded segregation of classrooms, and the constant press for teachers and students to firm up personal relationships that are at the core of schooling

All of these differences make teaching a complex act in an intricate and elaborate organization called the age-graded school nested in an even larger organization called the school district. That complexity exists in teaching shows up during a daily classroom lesson as surely as it does in schools with 400 to 2000 students where 30 to 100 teachers teach and equally as certain when moving up another step to the district school board making curricular and instructional policy for both students and teachers. The concept of complexity nested at every level of public schooling becomes apparent.

Context

And awareness of this larger system of schooling may be the blind spot for parents during the pandemic. In their growing appreciation and understanding of teachers and teaching, they may miss the other links in the chain. Parents surely see the complexity of teaching when going through lessons with even one or four of their kids at home; they may even marvel at the simple fact that teachers teach 25-30 students at a time in one room. But each classroom is part of a larger more complex system that many parents may not see or fully grasp.

Consider that a classroom is one small part of a school; the school is one part of a district; and a district may be one of hundreds in a state. That means that classrooms, schools, and districts are filled with hundreds of moving parts, scores of players of varied expertise and independence inside and outside the system yet missing a military or police “mission control” that runs all these different parts within an ever-changing political, economic, and societal environment.

And the last part of the previous sentence gets at where schools and districts are located in a neighborhood, community, and state. Going to school in Johnstown (PA) is surely different from going to school in Jackson (MS). Suburban Chicago New Trier high school offers parents a different menu of classes and services than those parents who send their children to Senn High School in Chicago.

And these varied contexts is why many parents who want to make schools better get aggravated. Blueprints, technical experts, strategic plans and savvy managers simply cannot fully grasp complex systems (i.e., classrooms nested in schools that are nested in districts that are nested in communities that are nested in states which make policy and distribute funds) with thousands of reciprocal ties between people to operate effectively in such constantly changing and unpredictable environments. These web-like complex systems of interdependent units adapt continuously to turbulent surroundings (e.g., hurricanes, pandemics, economic depressions) but seldom move in the intended directions that reformers desire.

The above analysis of the student/teacher/content and skills triangle is a mere slice of this larger complexity within which students, teachers, administrators, parents, and policymakers inhabit daily.

What’s missing from the core triangle of teacher/student/content/ , then, is the context. The community and neighborhood in which the school is located, the families who send their sons and daughters to each school, district size, leadership, and organization, and how much the state and district spend per pupil.

The school context for what content and skills teachers teach and students learn is simply one part of the complex factors outlined above. All of this is a reminder just exactly how classrooms, schools, and districts are intricate organizations nested in one another thereby explaining why parents and reformers often see their well-intended plans go awry or get adapted and adopted making their precious reforms unrecognizable.

So while many parents have come to appreciate and understand the complexities of teaching during pandemic-induced school closures, most have yet to grasp the organizational and political intricacies of classrooms embedded in schools, schools in districts, and districts within states–the entire chain of compulsory schooling that educates children from age 4 through 18.

* KAL refers to “knowledge of language”

No easy task for even those who work daily in the system of public schooling, much less Moms and Dads.

In subsequent posts, I will elaborate further on these cascading complexities that extend from the classroom to the school to the district and state superintendent of instruction who sit atop this world of cross-cutting ties, politics, under-resourced schools. And I will connect those policy complexities to that 3rd grade teacher who, building relations with her students, constructs daily lessons that get her 30 nine year-olds to learn their times tables and fractions.

Advertisement

4 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, raising children

Parent as Teacher during the Pandemic

Renee Enyart, 28, was across the room from her sixth-grader when it happened. She glanced over and saw her daughter Emi, who was virtually attending science class at their home in Winter Haven, Fla., reaching for her laptop’s power cable. Suddenly, a sharp voice rang out from the speakers. “It was just an instant scolding: ‘I told you to look at the screen. You know what you’re supposed to be doing. I shouldn’t have to tell you guys,’ ” Enyart recalled.

Tears sprang into Emi’s eyes. “I didn’t know she was unmuted, and I just told her, ‘Go ahead and let it die.’ Because it just annoyed me — she was still paying attention. She was grabbing our charger, trying to be present in the class,” Enyart said. “I was actually kind of glad that the teacher did hear it, because for a second it was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ She instantly apologized.”

From a survey of parents six months after schools closed:

*In the early days of the pandemic, the majority of parents (78%) were educating their child at home.

Only about half (55%) of parents felt prepared to educate their child at home and 50% of parents felt overwhelmed by responsibilities to educate their child at home.

Two out of every five parents met the criteria for major depression (40%) and criteria for moderate or severe anxiety (40%).

Nearly 1 in 4 parents (24%) indicated that their child was fearful or anxious.

Over half of parents (58%) who utilized free/reduced-cost breakfast or lunch programs reported that they were no longer able to receive them during the pandemic.

090220 Riverdale, Ga. – Asia Mitchell (center), mother of seven, hairstylist, and soon-to-be tech support agent for Sprint, plays a game with her eldest daughter, London (upper left), 10, while on lunch break from virtual school at their Riverdale, Ga. home Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Siblings Paris (lower left), 7, and Sydney (right), 4, look on. PHOTO BY BITA HONARVAR

The worn but useful cliche that the parent is the first teacher who a child encounters remains true for those months that U.S. public schools have been closed. The research showing the strong influence of parental engagement with their children over schooling pays off in higher academic achievement than those parents who are less engaged (see here and here).

And then suddenly in March 2020, parents, uncles, aunts, adult cousins were drafted into an army of unpaid teachers to carry on remotely on screens what paid teachers were earnestly trying to deliver over laptops in kitchens, bedrooms, and living rooms.

So what have we learned about parents as teachers in the past year?

*For the most part, they are stressed over the additional responsibility of not only parenting but also making sure that their sons and daughters are learning the required content and skills that teachers would ordinarily deliver in classrooms.

*Parents have learned teaching even one, two, or three children ain’t easy. They have increased respect for the act of teaching and expertise that teachers have in teaching individuals, small groups, and the entire class of 25-35 students.

*Teaching and parenting are emotional labor. Parental authority and children compliance with teacher-directed work delivered via screen has the potential to stretch and fray the emotionally charged parent/child bond, one that is the very basis for trust which is basic to all human relationships.

Thus, when Mom asks Tiffany to complete the worksheet that the teacher has on the screen and instead Tiffany gets on the couch and picks up the iPhone to check messages, friction erupts. And then adding pandemic math problems or reading assignments requiring students to do further research on the Internet further stretches the emotional bonds between child and Mom. No surprise that stress over home schooling has increased during the pandemic.

And many teachers have realized the new roles that parents have to play when instruction is remote.

Listen to Natasha, a 36-year-old high school science teacher in Nashville. She told a Washington Post reporter that she used to have a say in whether a student slept through class or not. Now, she said, she doesn’t.

“Since the kids aren’t in the classroom, [we’ve had] to rely on the parents,” said Natasha, who asked to be identified only by her first name to protect her career. She said it can be difficult for teachers to know whether kids are working. “If a student doesn’t have their camera on, I don’t know if they’re taking notes, if they’re laying across the bed asleep.”

Natasha knows that it is am adult’s job to enforce rules. Because students are now learning in their homes, parents have to enforce rules. And not every parent is either prepared or around to do it.

“As parents, when we send our kids to school, we feel assured that, you know, [teachers are] professionals, and they’re going to get the job done,” Natasha said. “But now, a lot of things that typically parents don’t have to be concerned about in the education process, they now do have to deal with.”

Natasha summed up well the shift in the parent/teacher role that occurred during Covid-19 closures of schools.

Pandemic or not, teachers need parents.

2 Comments

Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach, raising children, technology

Photos on Schooling during the Pandemic

Meghan Gallagher at The 74 Million gathered photos that capture some of the effects of the pandemic year when schools were shuttered and then slowly reopened. I have selected a few of them for this post. All 52 can be seen here.

Children play in front of a school in Orlando, Florida on March 20, 2020 that was closed due to the coronavirus but will begin distance learning on March 30. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A teacher from P.S. 124 in New York City conducts remote classes on her laptop from her roof. (Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – APRIL 1: High School language arts teacher Emily Olin held her three-year-old daughter Genevieve on her lap as she distance taught her classes from her home in Minneapolis, Minn., on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Olin never imagined life like this “u2013 teaching her students virtually while tending to her own kids at the same time. There is joy, but also great anxiety in making sure everybody gets what they need daily. (Photo by Renee Jones Schneider/Star Tribune via Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – MARCH 29: A child dribbles a basketball at Waterfront Park in downtown on March 29, 2020 in Louisville, Kentucky. Out of the concern of COVID-19 all of the city’s playgrounds are closed until May. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 22 : A young girl sits inside a painted circle for social distancing on May 22, 2020 In Madison Square Park in New York City. New York City is currently in its ninth week of lockdown and governmental guidelines on wearing a mask in public and social distancing are in effect. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA, UNITED STATES – 2020/07/28: A protester holds a placard that says Keep Educators Off Of Ventilators before the Monroe County Community School Corporation school board meeting in Bloomington,Indiana is experiencing a 73-percent increase in new Coronavirus infections, but local schools were due to resume in-person classes next week on August 5th. However, while some want their kids back in school, others fear schools will be a daily super spreader event, and asked the local school board to delay classes until more data is available on the spread of the virus in the community. (Photo by Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Seventh graders (from L) Mia Friedlander, Ella Kingsrud, Taylor Credle, Hannah Cooper and Bella Rocco follow instructions online by tutor Robin Lorch from an iPad placed on a ladder in a home garage on August 27, 2020 in Calabasas, California. – As parents across the United States come to terms with remote learning this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, many are opting for so-called “learning-pods” to help their kids, and themselves, get through the school year. Also known as “pandemic pods”, they are popping up all over the country and consist of small groupings of children typically living in the same neighborhood who gather at each other’s homes to learn together with a tutor or teacher. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
Students wearing protective masks have their temperatures checked before entering Logan Jr. High School in Princeton, Illinois, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. The Illinois State Board of Education has “strongly encouraged” a return to full, in-person instruction in the fall, as long as the regions are in Phase 4 of reopening. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
MILFORD, MA – SEPTEMBER 11: School children are spaced apart in one of the rooms used for lunch at Woodland Elementary School in Milford, MA on Sept. 11, 2020. Milford is one of the first school districts to re-open in the state, with a hybrid model, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – OCT. 13: Students wear masks while participating in an activity with their dance pod organized by Dance Mission Theater in the Mission District of San Francisco, Calif. Tuesday, October 13, 2020. Several arts pods have popped up in San Francisco, funded by foundations for low-income kids since COVID-19 pandemic has shut down regular in-person schooling. (Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)
CALABASAS, CA – NOVEMBER 09: Guadalupe Duran at Lupin Hill Elementary School sprays a electrostatic disinfecting solution in the school library between the morning and afternoon “cohorts” at Lupine Hill Elementary School in Calabasas as one of the first elementary schools to open up under in L.A. County. This in the Las Virgenes Unified School District, which was the first public school system in Los Angeles county to win waiver approvals. Lupine Hill Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020 in Calabasas, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
PASADENA, CA – NOVEMBER 12: Karen Carter teaches 4&5 year olds at Bushnell Way elementary school in Highland Park. Carter has turned her dinning room into a classroom. Carter holds an online class from home on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 in Pasadena, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Reiffton, PA – December 11: Exeter High School basketball cheerleaders in the stands wearing masks. High School Boys Basketball, the Berks Catholic Saints vs. the Exeter Eagles at Exeter High School in Reiffton Friday night December 11, 2020. Exeter won 60-49. Everyone, including the players coaches and officials, wore masks as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19 / Coronavirus. At midnight on Friday Pennsylvania will impose statewide restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, including the suspension of high school sports until January 4th. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA – DECEMBER 17: Parents and students protest at the Santa Monica – Malibu Unified School District on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 in Santa Monica, CA to demand that the children be let back to school as soon as its safe. They are protesting the decision by the district to not reopen the schools this year even if the COVID-19 case rate drops later this year. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – FEB. 6: Hundreds of people rally outside City Hall after marching to SFUSD, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021, in San Francisco, Calif. People protested against remote education and demanded schools to reopen in-person education. (Santiago Mejia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

4 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, leadership, raising children, technology use

Black and Smart: Stop Using Black Children as an Excuse to Open Your Schools (Gloria Ladson-Billings)

From the National Academy of Education: “Gloria Ladson-Billings is the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was the 2005-2006 president of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Ladson-Billings’ research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with African American students.” This post appeared February 4, 2021 on the National Education Policy Center blog.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog. The Corona Virus has forced me to address so many things virtually, that the last thing I’ve had the energy for was sitting down in front of the computer for yet another thing. I didn’t even want to think about an Op-Ed. However, the current chatter about returning to schools has me thinking about how Black children are once again being used to serve the needs of Whites. This is not a new slight-of- hand—claim something serves the needs of “the least of these” but in reality, the rich continue to get richer.

The current conversation regarding re-opening school is all about how closed schools are hurting the most vulnerable students—Black students, Latinx students, English Language Learners, poor students, and students with disabilities. But, in truth the parents clamoring the most about opening schools are the parents of the most privileged children. They are concerned that their children’s resumes are being tarnished by missing all of this school. They are comparing their children’s progress with that of their private school peers who they perceive to be moving ahead of them. They are concerned that their kids’ inability to participate in varsity sports and athletics may be hurting their scholarship chances. They are recognizing that having their kids at home and having to plan for each and every hour of their school day or perhaps having to sit beside them and assist with their virtual learning does not help one climb the corporate ladder. Actually, none of these reasons for wanting schools to be opened is a bad one. Just say that’s why you want schools to open!

Don’t pretend you have some deep conviction to the education of Black children. If that’s your motivation, where was it last year when school was in session? Weren’t Black children struggling then? Weren’t they over identified for special education placement? Weren’t they more likely to be suspended and expelled? Weren’t they least likely to be placed in honors or Advanced Placement courses? Weren’t their high school graduation rates lower than other students? The rush to open schools “for Black children” is disingenuous and merely a way to cover up the desires of the more privileged students.

I decided to write this blog because I was contacted by 2 different reporters who said they heard that Black parents were leery of sending their children back to school and they wanted to understand their rationale. The first reason Black parents are reluctant to have their children return to school is health and safety. More Black children are likely to live in multi-generational homes. This means that even though children are less likely to manifest COVID-19 symptoms, they can still contract and shed the virus and infect a grandparent or parent with underlying conditions. Given the high rate of COVID infections and death in the Black and Brown communities, Black families are not willing to take the risk of transmission. Also, many of the schools our children attend are in buildings that have problems with their HVAC systems. What evidence do Black families have that their children’s schools have been retrofitted with upgraded filters and proper air circulation systems? What is the evidence of improved cleaning and disinfecting in the buildings? Who is monitoring PPE in the schools?

Second, Black families are keenly aware that school was not the haven of comfort and safety that some professionals try to pretend they are. Yes, some children live in unsafe and unstable homes, but rather than solve their problems, some students find that school exacerbates their problems. School is the place some students are stigmatized by standing in the “free lunch” line or being pulled out of class for special services. School is the place where their academic struggles are magnified and what they don’t have (i.e., two parents at home. new clothes, fancy school supplies) is on constant display. School is a place where adults yell at them for not knowing an answer or not completing an assignment or project. No, school can be a place of a special kind of violence.

I understand the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages students to return to school to address their social emotional needs. However, what has your local school said or done that suggests students’ social emotional needs will be a priority? How have Black students’ teachers conveyed that to them? Indeed, I have heard from a number of Black parents that their children are less stressed and less anxious in virtual school. Some Black parents indicate that the school has reached out to them more during the pandemic than they ever did when students attended face-to-face school. Many Black parents are finally having a school year that does not involve constantly running up to the school to deal with school personnel.

The decision to return to in-person school is deeply personal. We all have our own reasons for why we think it’s a good idea (or not). Just don’t pretend you want schools opened for those “poor Black kids” when what you want is school opened for your own kids!

Stay Black and Smart!

2 Comments

Filed under raising children, school reform policies

The “Little Soldiers” of Chinese Education

The second day of school, Rainey came home with a story. Four times he found egg in his mouth. He hadn’t placed it there himself; instead, his most hated food made its way past his teeth by the hand of the fearsome Teacher Chen.

She put it there,’ Rainey told me, mouth wide, finger pointing inside. Then what happened,? I asked.

“I cried and spit it out.”

Then what. She did it again,” Rainey said….”I cried and spit it out again.”

Rainey is three years old and enrolled in one of the best Shanghai kindergartens in the city. Lenora Chu, Mom, journalist and author of Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve,(2017) from which this incident is taken, decides to meet with Teacher Chen to discuss force-feeding egg to her son. Chu describes the conference with Teacher Chen:

“We don’t use such methods of force in America,” I blurted in Mandarin, my son clutching my hand. (I was born and raised in America but grew up speaking Chinese at home.)

“Oh? How do you do it?” Teacher Chen challenged.

“We explain that egg eating is good for them, that the nutrients help build strong bones and teeth and helps with eyesight,” I said, trying to sound authoritative. “We motivate them to choose…we trust them with the decision.”

“Does it work?” Teacher Chen said….

“Well, not always,” I admitted.

Chen nodded. “Rainey needs to eat eggs. We think eggs are good nutrition, and all young children must eat them….”

Later, Teacher Chen pulled me aside for a lecture. “In front of the children, you should say, ‘Teacher is right, and Mom will do things the same way,’ OK?’ ” (pp.22-24, 27.)

Through the seven years that Rainey was in public Chinese schools, Chu uses his experiences in kindergarten and public primary school grades as a template for describing and analyzing Chinese education in Shanghai and the rest of the nation over the past decade. And it is a fascinating, eye-opening journey that she captures in an easily read, clear, description of children, schooling, and a top-down, state-directed system deeply anchored in the Confucian tradition of teaching and learning while exerting strong political control of what and how teachers teach.

Every country’s system of schooling mirrors the basic values in the culture that both the state and parents want to see in the behavior of, and school outcomes for their sons and daughters. Where in the U.S., a core value is the individual’s growth and development and belonging to a community comes second, in China, the collective comes first. And so does obeying the teacher.

The 28 kindergartners in Rainey’s class learned this song the second day of school:

I am a good baby

Little hands always in place

Little feet refined

Little ears listening well

Little eyes looking at the teacher

Before I speak, always raising my hand (p.64)

The principal granted permission to Chu to observe her son’s class. With three year-olds, incidents invariably occur. She describes what she saw occur during a lesson. Teacher Wang had difficulties with a little boy a head taller than the other children and filled with inexhaustible energy. For observer Chu, it was easy for her to remember Wang Wu Ze because the two teachers had yelled his name repeatedly over the first week of school:

Wang Wu Ze, sit down! Wang Wu Ze put your two feet side by side! Wang Wu Ze, what is wrong with you? Do you want your mommy to come and get you today?

One day, while Teacher … was talking, three-year old Wang Wu Ze left his seat and wandered over to a few toys in a corner . Chu writes that the teacher “lost her temper.” Teacher Wang said: “Wang Wu Ze, you don’t get a chair. YOU WILL STAND!” Chu describes the teacher moving quickly to where the boy was standing and “swatting his chair away. It fell over, clattered against the floor a few times, then lay still….” The boy looked at the “toppled chair and tears came to his eyes….” He went to the teacher and threw his arms around her waist and she said: “Bu bao–I won’t hold you…. Do you want a chair now?”

“Yes, yes, I want a chair.

“Then you sit in it,” Wang said. “If you don’t sit in it, I won’t give it to you. And your mom won’t come get you after school.” (pp. 66-67)

Conformity to the group, obedience to the teacher, and constant attention to mastering content, skills, and behavior begin early in both how and what teachers teach, according to Chu.

Consider the curriculum standards, the Ministry of Education sets for learning to read Mandarin.

Chu reports that:

“First- and second-graders should recognize 1,600 characters and write 800 of them from memory. By fourth grade, the level is 2,500 characters, and by the sixth grade it’s 3,000 characters and writing almost as many….Full literacy requires an astonishing 3,500 frequently used characters to be committed to memory, according to the Chinese curriculum standards for full-time compulsory education.” (p. 86)

And competition within and across classes is both fierce and public. Testing is constant and student-by-student scores on tests and performance of tasks are publicly displayed. Chu describes the large bulletin board outside Rainey’s kindergarten classroom.

Big Board might post teachers’ assessment of each child, a report card displayed for all to see. Who clocked in timely arrivals at school? Which child greeted the teacher with a smile? Who finished every lunchtime grain of rice? Star stickers and happy faces were pasted next to the name of each child who’d made the grade….As the months passed into the first year of school, Big Board began to display information that directly compared performance and ability…. With each presentation, parents gathered eagerly. and I could always tell when Big Board posted new information by the number of bodies gathered around, heads bobbing with anticipation.

The following year, the Big Board would display prowess at recorder play [a small woodwind musical instrument] for all to see:

The ring finger of Student No. 20 is not stable

Student No. 30 doesn;t cover the old hole while changing to a new one.

Student No. 16 doesn’t blow out enough air.

Student No. 3 doesn’t cover the holes properly.

Chu says that Besides Rainey’s number, No. 27, the teacher had scrawled the same punishing diagnosis as that for No. 8

Doesn’t follow rhythm. (pp. 98-99)

Chu visited schools elsewhere in China including rural schools, and describes their classrooms. She speaks with education experts at universities and Ministry of Education officials. Yet China has over a quarter-billion students (yes, over 260 million) taught by over 15 million teachers housed in more than a half-million schools (2014). The numbers stagger the minds of non-Chinese educators. *

Obviously, Chu can only include so much in a book that focuses upon her son, two Shanghai teenagers in secondary schools, visits to a handful of schools, and interviews with various teachers and educators. Fortunately, Chu provides the necessary context for the Shanghai and rural schools that she visits by describing the state-directed system of schooling

As a centralized state where policy is controlled by a Ministry of Education imbued with Communist doctrine, top down curricular and instructional mandates provide a constant flow of regulations to each province’s schools. Ministry officials are well aware of the internal criticisms of rote memorization, disciplinary norms, and inequalities between rural and urban schools insofar as available resources, teacher experiences, and difficulties in getting teachers to alter their daily lessons. Top officialas have looked to other countries, including the U.S. for reforms to improve Chinese education.

Part 2 will take up some of these reforms as Chu identified them and difficulties of implementation.

____________________

*OECD, “Education in China: A Snapshot, 2016”, p. 9

Leave a comment

Filed under how teachers teach, preschool, raising children, testing

As More Students Head Back, Here’s What We Now Know (And Still Don’t) about Schools and COVID Spread (Matt Barnum)

This article appeared in Chalkbeat, October 22, 2020. Matt Barnum is an education journalist.

Two months ago, Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, was something of a school reopening skeptic. In places with relatively high COVID rates, like Florida and Texas, K-12 school buildings should stay shuttered to protect the health of teachers, students, and their communities, he argued.

Now, his view is changing.

“The evidence so far suggests that we can likely open schools — especially K-5 — pretty safely in most parts of the country,” he said, as long as those schools take precautions like requiring masks. “I’m getting slowly but surely persuaded that I may have been too cautious.”

That’s because where schools have reopened, things have gone relatively well, as least as far as scientists and public health officials can tell right now. Many European countries have reopened schools with apparent success, too. That consensus is pushing more schools to reopen buildings, even as case counts rise across the country, and is driving increasingly confident claims that there is little or no relationship between schools and COVID spread.

It’s also true, though, that the existing evidence is still limited, and some epidemiologists say it’s simply too soon to reach firm conclusions.

There has been no effort from the federal government to systematically track school openings and COVID outbreaks. That means we are often relying on data from those who volunteer it, and lack good information about how schools that have reopened might differ from those that have not.

Then there is the inherent difficulty of the project: It’s tough to isolate the effect of a single factor like school reopening on community COVID spread, particularly when testing data is also limited.

That tension — more data, but all of it limited — is at the heart of the school reopening debate right now, several epidemiological and education researchers suggest. Jha, for one, is optimistic.

But, he cautions, “The strength of the evidence here is shaky.”

The case for school reopening

As more and more schools across the country have reopened their buildings, many local officials say they haven’t seen a strong connection to COVID spread in their communities and that outbreaks have been relatively rare, unlike what’s happened at many universities.

In New York City, random tests of over 16,000 staff members and students turned up only 28 positive results.

In Colorado, 43 schools — out of more than 1,900 in the state — have experienced outbreaks in which public health officials documented transmission within the school building since schools began reopening in late August.

Nationally, among over 1,000 schools voluntarily reporting data, test positivity rates are very low: 0.14% among children and 0.36% among staff.

“A lot of people expected, oh, we would have 100 cases of COVID day one — and places aren’t seeing that,” said Preeti Malani, the University of Michigan’s chief health officer, referring to K-12 schools. “They’re not closing down. They’re able to find a way to continue on.” That’s pushed her to believe that schools generally can and should reopen.

A national study of childcare providers showed that those who continued working were just as likely to say they had contracted COVID as those who stayed home.

Reopenings seem to have gone well in many European countries, too. In Germany, one of the most rigorous studies on the question found reopening schools was actually linked to lower, not higher, rates of COVID spread.

It’s also clear that children are less likely to suffer severe symptoms from COVID, and deaths among children are very rare (although Black and Hispanic children have been disproportionately affected).

A recent overview of research from around the world concluded that “widespread transmission can occur among school-age children, but that there is very little evidence, at least in the context of relatively low community transmission, that schools have been a driver of transmission.”

Jha says the growing collection of data points has swayed his opinion. “I’ve got eight or 10 pieces of data, every one of which is super weak — but they’re all pointing in the same direction,” he said.

There is also largely undisputed evidence that school closures do major harm to students, academically and otherwise.

“Not only are there benefits to being in school, there are also risks of not being in school,” said Sarah Cohodes, an education researcher at Teachers College at Columbia University.

Instances of child neglect have likely gone unreported. Children are more socially isolated.And they have missed months of in-person instruction, with uneven remote learning. One recent study out of Belgium, using actual student test scores, showed sharp declines in learning.

“The evidence in terms of learning is clear — that learning is better in person, especially for younger children,” said Cohodes, who has compiled research on a number of aspects of COVID and education.

Alicia Riley, a postdoctoral scholar in epidemiology at UC San Francisco, goes further, noting that some prior research has even found that more education helps people lead longer lives. In other words, keeping schools closed may have its own long-term deleterious effects on health.

“Our concepts of safety — we’re only calculating in the COVID risk,” she said. “But if we’re thinking about the real long-term health harms, schooling is protective for health.”

The case for reopening caution, and better data

Some epidemiologists view the same data with more wariness.

“I think it’s premature to say that school reopening has been successful. For a start, it’s an ongoing process linked to what’s happening in the community generally,” said Zoë Hyde, a senior research officer at the University of Western Australia. “If community trans mission rises, then you will see outbreaks in schools. This has become very apparent in Europe as they battle their second wave.”

A number of experts are concerned that we’re not getting a full picture because of incomplete testing. “While we know we are only seeing part of ‘the iceberg’ of all infections, we don’t know exactly how much of that iceberg we are seeing,” said Kim Powers, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina.

That may be particularly concerning with children, who are often asymptomatic and thus less likely to be tested. “It’s quite likely that we’re not spotting a lot of the infections which are occurring in children,” said Hyde.

“If we’re just doing symptomatic testing and we’re only counting cases in which kids are symptomatic, it’s kind of impossible to trace this adequately and to really understand what’s going on,” agreed Riley.

Meanwhile, there’s general agreement that existing data is insufficient, and that it can be difficult to generalize the conclusions.

The tracker of COVID test results from schools being compiled by Brown researcher Emily Oster and others, for instance — the most comprehensive national database available — is only able to include the fraction of public schools that voluntarily provide information, with results that may not be representative. The study of childcare workers was also based on an online survey that the researchers described as “not fully representative.”

Other international research acknowledges that it simply cannot disentangle the effect of school reopenings from many other factors. Pinning down how outside factors — low rates of community spread, many students staying home, mild temperatures allowing for open windows and good ventilation — might have contributed to success stories could guide school officials elsewhere.

There is also some evidence on the other side of the ledger, though it comes with its own caveats. Data compiled by the American Academy of Pediatrics show that the number of children with new COVID cases has been rising slightly in recent weeks, though that doesn’t mean cases are necessarily linked to schools.

Idaho has seen upticks in cases among children and adults, with the governor saying reopened schools has been one factor. In suburban Salt Lake City, a school district saw cases rapidly emerge at some of its schools, forcing a shutdown of three high schools and a middle school. In different parts of the country, reported COVID cases in schools or among school staff have continued to tick up, though the numbers appear relatively low overall.

A recent Swedish study found evidence that COVID infection rates were higher among teachers (and their partners) whose schools didn’t close this spring, compared to teachers whose schools did close. (Notably, mask use in schools did not appear to be widespread at the time.)

“The overarching message is that the evidence is still evolving and pretty scant,” said Rebecca Haffajee, a health policy researcher at RAND.

Meanwhile, reopening buildings right now comes with its own often unacknowledged trade-offs. Since many districts are still allowing students to learn from home, and some only allow students in a few days a week, teachers have had to divide their attention between students who still learn virtually and those who are in person. It also means time and energy is being spent on building safety rather than improving the online instruction that many students will still rely on.

Ultimately, there is widespread agreement among experts that more and better data is needed to help school leaders make decisions.

Cohodes described it as “absolutely ridiculous” that researchers have been left trying to collect data on their own. “The federal government should have set out guidelines for collecting this and worked with state departments of education,” she said.

“All of this is frustrating to me because we’re in such a weak data zone and we should have much better data,” said Jha.

Just this week, though, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos described this as not her job. “I’m not sure there’s a role at the department to collect and compile that research,” she said.

4 Comments

Filed under leadership, raising children, technology use

Parenting during the Pandemic

With the closure of U.S. schools in March of the infamous year of 2020 and the desperation-driven reform of distance learning, Moms have become teacher-in-charge. The cartoon below offers a glimpse of a traditional and familiar style of parenting. Less than a decade ago, a Yale Law professor categorized the Mom in this cartoon as exhibiting one historical patterns in rearing children.

In 2011, Amy Chua wrote an international best seller about her tough-love parenting of daughters in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She must have laughed all the way to the bank at the fuss she kicked up about her tough-love parenting of daughters.  Time magazine reported that her Wall Street Journal op-ed garnered over a million readers and 5000 comments.

For educated, financially comfortable non-Tiger Moms, however, the thought of giving up “Baby Mozarts,” chants of “well done” to build self- esteem, and, yes, even sleepovers–was too much.  In response to Tiger Moms, Ayelet Waldman says, developing empathy in children, nurturing them, and giving them room to decide things for themselves, while still achieving high grades and gathering awards, are traits that she and other non-Tiger Moms want to develop.

Competing ways of rearing children, of course is nothing new. Since the 17th century, ministers, mothers, and, later, physicians, and psychologists have written manuals to guide parents in raising children. Historians have analyzed these advice manuals. What they have found are basically two child rearing models that are similar to Tiger Moms and Guilty, Nurturing Moms.

I label them Strict Parent vs. Nurturing Parent. Of course, these models span a continuum and are not mutually exclusive. Many parents use hybrids of the two in their families.

Strict parent model teaches children right from wrong by setting clear rules for their behavior and enforcing them through punishments, typically mild to moderate but sufficiently painful to get attention. When rules are followed and children cooperate, parents show love and appreciation. Children are not coddled since a spoiled child seldom learns  proper behavior. Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant by following the rules and listening to parents.

Nurturing parent model teaches children right from wrong through respect, empathy, and a positive relationship with parents. Children obey because they love their parents, not out of fear of punishment. Parents explain their decisions to children and encourage questioning and contributing ideas to family decisions. Children become responsible, self-disciplined, and self-reliant through being nurtured and caring for others.

No surprise that these competing models of child rearing have entered schools. Parents want their schools to be extensions of what is taught at home. Nor is it a surprise that the ideological and practical conflicts in schools today are anchored in these rival approaches to child-rearing.

In the early 19th century, for example, taxpayers, parents, and public officials saw public schools as proper places for the tenets of Protestant Christianity, steeped in Biblical views of parental authority, where teachers would teach that disobedience was a sin. Thus, raising children to respect authority, be self-disciplined, and know right from wrong–the Strict Parent model– was expected in one-room schoolhouses and, later, age-graded elementary schools. This dominant Strict Parent model of raising and schooling children was viewed as natural and, best for children and society before and after the Civil War.

In the late 19th century, another view  (history of progressivism schools PDF)  emerged challenging the religious-based popular model of child-rearing. The onslaught of industrialization, rapid urban growth, an emerging middle-class, and massive immigration spurred reformers to advocate a more “progressive” view of how best to raise and school children. Confined initially to manuals for middle-class parents, readers were urged to cultivate the innate goodness of children rather than dwell on their potential sinfulness. Parental love and example, not punishment, would produce respect for authority, self-discipline, and moral rigor in children.

For post-Civil War urban reformers who saw hard-working immigrant parents living in  slums, traditional schools were inadequate. They got schools to expand their usual duties and take on nurturing roles that families had once discharged. Schools offered medical care, meals, lessons to build moral character including respect for authority and job preparation. Teachers were expected to develop children’s intellectual, emotional, and social capacities to produce mature adults who acted responsibly. This rival ideology became the progressive model of schooling.

By World War I, then, these competing progressive and traditional ideologies constituted different faiths in the best way of raising and schooling children. These beliefs had become embedded in educators’ language and school programs thus creating a platform for subsequent struggles over what “good” schools were and should be. The “culture wars” since the 1960s over teaching reading, math, science, and other content in schools are variations of this century-long see-saw struggle of ideas over what ways are best to raise and school children.

The media hullabaloo over Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom a few years ago and angry rebuttals from many parents (and grandparents) are at the root of the traditional vs. progressive cyclical conflicts that have ebbed and flowed over what reforms work best in U.S. schools.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic when most schools have re-opened using remote instruction, more Moms than Dads home school their children.

I would guess that under the pressure of children underfoot all day long, there is a scrambling of Strict Parent and Nurturing Parent styles. And when it comes to remote instruction, the very nature of the medium reinforces from afar traditional rather than progressive teaching practices.

6 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, raising children

3 Lessons From How Schools Responded to the 1918 Pandemic Worth Heeding Today (Mary Battenfeld)

Mary Battenfeld is a Clinical Professor of American and New England Studies at Boston University. This appeared in Pocket. Thanks to Hank Levin for sending it to me.

Much like what has happened in 2020, most U.S. schools closed during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Their doors were shut for up to four months, with some exceptions, to curb the spread of the disease.

As a professor who teaches and writes about children’s history, I have studied how schools responded to the 1918 influenza pandemic. Though wary of painting the past with the present’s favorite colors, I see three main lessons today’s educators and policymakers can draw from how schools and communities responded to the last century’s pandemic.

1. Invest in School Nurses

School nurses were transformative when they were first introduced in 1902.

Rather than simply send sick students home, where they would miss school while receiving no treatment, nurses cared for children’s illnesses and provided health information to their families.

After a study showed that nurses cut student absences in half, more and more cities funded them. Within 11 years of the first nurse being hired, nearly 500 U.S. cities employed school-based medical professionals.

In 1919, nurse S.M. Connor, while apologizing for not doing more “owing to the handicap of the influenza epidemic,” submitted a report to the Neenah, Wisconsin school board of her work. Connor made 1,216 home visits, took children to doctors and delivered community health talks, in addition to conducting school-based examinations and follow-up.

In November 1918, New York City Health Commissioner Royal Copeland underscored the role of school nurses. Being under “the constant observation of qualified persons” gave students “a degree of safety that would not have been possible otherwise” and “gave us the opportunity to educate both the children and their parents to the demands of health,” he said in a report titled “Epidemic Lessons Against Next Time.”

2. Partner With Other Authorities

In a version of the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” a study of schools in 43 cities during the 1918 pandemic identified “planning that brings public health, education officials, and political leaders together” as key to successful responses.

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Rochester, New York, school and health officials combined forces with organizations representing immigrant communities. In Los Angeles, the mayor, health commissioner, police chief and school superintendent collaborated to monitor infection rates, provide teachers additional training, and create and deliver homework for 90,000 schoolchildren.

Such cooperation also helped schools as they reopened.

In St. Louis, while schools were closed, police cars became ambulances, and teachers worked in health agencies. Students returned to school November 14, but by the month’s end the city saw a new influenza surge, leading to another school closure.

Political, health and education leaders designed a gradual reopening that saw high schools open first, followed a month later, once cases in younger children had dropped, by elementary schools. Thanks to these collaborative efforts, St. Louis had 358 deaths per 100,000 people, among the best outcomes in the country.

3. Tie Education to Other Priorities

In 1916 the U.S. Bureau of Education proclaimed that the “education of the schools is important, but life and health are more important.”

Reformers of the period, known as the Progressive Era, took that notion to heart. In addition to school nurses, they established school lunch programs, built playgrounds and promoted outdoor education.

They attacked societal barriers to child health and welfare by enacting child labor laws, making school attendance compulsory and improving the tenement housing where millions of children lived.

By the time the pandemic hit, President Woodrow Wilson had declared 1918 the “Children’s Year.” Schools stood ready to deliver not only lessons but food and health care.

When schools reopened, children could learn in what Copeland described as “large, clean, airy school buildings” with outdoor spaces.

Children playing on a Boston rooftop in 1909. Credit: Lewis Wickes Hine / Library of Congress.

Heeding Those Lessons in 2020

A century after Americans learned the importance of investing in school nurses, fewer and fewer schools employ them. Only 60% of schools have a full-time nurse, and about 25% have no nurse at all. A recent analysis concluded that reopening safely will cost an additional US$400,000 per district, on average, to hire more school nurses.

These figures are higher for urban schools that educate more students of color, poor students and immigrants, and come as the pandemic’s economic fallout is already causing districts to cut budgets.

Even so and despite the federal government’s sometimes divisive response, local communities, as in 1918, are fighting this devastating pandemic with teamwork. In Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Sacramento and elsewhere, city councils, school districts, nonprofits, and labor and business groups are working together to meet their communities’ needs.

And a movement, spurred by anger over the death of George Floyd, police brutality and widespread concerns about systemic racism, is demanding that all jurisdictions spend less on the police especially now, when the challenges brought about by the pandemic make funding for public schools more essential than ever.

2 Comments

Filed under leadership, raising children

Graduating High School in Birmingham, Alabama during Covid-19 (Emma Goldberg)

This article appeared in the New York Times, June 23, 2020

Growing up, Ashley Reynolds grew accustomed to marking rites of passage in the shadow of her older brother’s ghost.  
Her brother, Jeff Jr., named for their father, was shot at a house party when he was 18 and Reynolds was 3. On every birthday and holiday since, Reynolds has felt a sense of grief mingling with her joy, because she knows her parents wish that Jeff Jr. could be there to celebrate too. (He would have now been 33.)
But high school graduation was supposed to be Reynolds’s day alone. She would be the first of her mother’s children to cross that stage. She imagined that her parents would be cheering, and she might start to cry. She started counting down the days at the start of her senior year. Then coronavirus came to Birmingham, Ala. — and just like that, her graduation ceremony was in jeopardy.  
“You ever just feel like giving up?” Reynolds, 18, said, in an interview in early May. “I feel like I’m letting my family down by not walking across the stage because my brother never got a chance to.”   Reynolds is one of the 3.7 million members of the class of Covid-19, America’s high school seniors who saw much of their season of festivities canceled because of the coronavirus. Throughout the early months of the pandemic, she was also one of the country’s 24 million front-line workers.

More than half of the essential work force is female, and more than a third is African-American, like Reynolds. While Reynolds’s senior year was upended, her daily shift as a fast food worker at McDonald’s, working 30 hours a week, remained.    

When the stay-at-home order took effect in Alabama, Reynolds watched with disappointment as events were taken off her calendar. School turned to remote learning. Prom was up in the air. The course she was taking to become a certified nursing assistant was suspended.   But because she was deemed an essential worker, she could not quarantine, like most of her friends and classmates. She commuted daily for her shift at McDonald’s, sanitizing her hands in the car and showering the minute she got home.

The McDonald’s was at a truck stop, primarily serving drivers making deliveries throughout the state — 300 customers a day during the height of the shutdown and 700 per day as businesses began to reopen.   The normal stresses of work — irritable customers, messy co-workers — were all amplified during the pandemic, she said. And many of Reynolds’s customers refused to follow social-distancing guidelines. They came close to Reynolds when ordering, and some of them entered without wearing masks. “They’re not understanding how serious this is,” she said. “Customers do not want to follow directions. They don’t believe in the six-feet rules.”    

She was paid $8.25 an hour and was not given hazard pay. “I felt we needed a raise working under the coronavirus,” Reynolds said. “But they didn’t give it to us.”     In April, one of Reynolds’s co-workers fell ill and left work early. The facility was closed for the day and sanitized. But Reynolds felt a pit in her stomach all day. She worried that she, too, could get sick and expose her mother, father or younger half sister, who is 7. Reynolds was relieved when she was told her co-worker did not have Covid-19.  

Reynolds worries for her parents, because their essential jobs also bring them out of their homes daily, risking their health. Her father is a car salesman, which is classified as essential work. Her mother works as a janitor at a day care system. As the virus was beginning to spread, one facility where Reynolds’s mom works her day job had to close because of a coronavirus case. “She puts her life on the line,” Reynolds said.    

Reynolds has closely followed the news on the spread of Covid-19 and its disproportionate impact on senior citizens and black people. Before her nursing course was canceled, she volunteered weekly at a local nursing home, helping the residents bathe and listening to their stories. She worries for them now as the coronavirus sweeps through the country’s nursing homes. In Alabama, 35 percent of the state’s death toll is made up of residents in long-term care facilities.    

In a happy twist, Reynolds is back to caring for the elderly: This week she began a new job, making $10.71 an hour as a nursing assistant at the home where she used to volunteer, providing comfort to the elderly who cannot receive family visits because of Covid-19.   “It’s horrible for the elders,” Reynolds said. “I can talk to my grandma tonight and if she steps outside tomorrow she can get sick.”    

And another unexpected twist: Reynolds did get a graduation after all. As Alabama began to reopen in late May, her school held a ceremony, smaller than originally planned. “It wasn’t the best thing but it was something,” she said. And she did get to celebrate with her family.     “Every child deserves a chance to be able to feel celebrated in their accomplishment,” she said.    

Now, Reynolds keeps her eyes trained on a post-pandemic future, hoping to tart classes on campus at Talladega College in the fall. She is hellbent on saving money so she can be financially independent, and buy new clothes and dorm furniture for her freshman year. She plans to study social work.   But the uncertainty still looms: whether her classes will be remote and whether that will make them tougher because she won’t be able to easily ask teachers questions about challenging material.                                              

Leave a comment

Filed under raising children

Schools Closed for Five Years: The Prince Edward County Story (Part 1)

Natural disasters have closed schools over the past century. Earthquakes and hurricanes destroyed Christchurch, New Zealand (2011) and New Orleans (2005). The Influenza pandemic in 1918-1919, polio epidemics in the 1940s, and currently the coronavirus-19 have achieved the same result in country after country across the globe.

In a nation were supreme faith in the power of schooling to produce individual success, where getting an “education” is the first item on the to-do list of native-born and immigrant families, sudden and sustained school closures carry huge psychic and social costs for both students and their families.

Short-term effects on children and youth range from “summer loss” in academic achievement to distaste for online instruction to angst and depression from prolonged lockdowns and absence of contact with friends. Effects on students and families are unrecorded for previous epidemics and are just now becoming apparent, particularly for single Moms and families with two working parents.

Long-term effects of these natural disasters remain unknown. And this is why the five year loss of public schooling for black students in Prince Edward County as a result of a man-made disaster–while far longer than school closures flowing from the pandemic–becomes relevant as a historical instance of learning what happens later to children and youth when they have lost five years of their schooling.

Background

In 1951, in rural Prince Edward County, Virginia, Robert Moton high school student Barbara Johns led a walkout of black students protesting the conditions in the overcrowded building (housing 450 students rather than less than the 200 it was built for). This neglected, racially segregated high school in Farmville–the County seat of about 8500 residents–was not only at double its capacity but also lacked a library, science labs, and cafeteria.

“We held two or three classes in the auditorium most of the time, one on the stage and two in the back,” former Moton principal M. Boyd Jones told journalist Bob Smith in 1961. “We even held some classes in a bus.” Some classes met in tar-paper shacks, which the school board funded rather then build a new school. When it rained those shacks leaked, and when it got cold the potbelly stoves failed to keep children warm.

Teacher Vanessa Venable recalled students searching the woods before class for kindling to use in the shacks’ stoves to heat the buildings. In an interview Venable said, “I remember asking the Superintendent for toilet tissues for the outdoor john. He looked at me as if I was crazy and said, ‘Mrs. Venable, they don’t know how to use it anyway. Get a Sears catalogue.'”

The high school was indeed separate but hardly equal to the all-white high school also located in Farmville.

After the walkout, civil rights lawyers convinced the black parents who had sued the all-white County school board to join black litigants in Topeka, Kansas and other jurisdictions in a case that was moving toward the U.S. Supreme Court called Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Brown that state laws establishing separate schools on the basis of race were unconstitutional. While the Court urged states to desegregate schools “with all deliberate speed,” many Southern states (including Virginia) where de jure school segregation and Jim Crow laws had been in existence for over a half-century did little to nothing in the aftermath of the decision (see here and here).

Virginia’s response orchestrated by Democratic Senator Harry Byrd’s political machine, a long-time advocate of segregated schools, launched “massive resistance” to the court decision. The Virginia legislature, controlled by the Byrd machine, threatened to stop funding any county or city district in the state that desegregated its schools.

In 1959, federal and state courts declared “massive resistance” to the Brown decision unconstitutional. For the first time, a Democratic governor refused to support pro-segregation bills moving through the legislature. Then a federal district court judge ordered the Prince Edward County school board to move students from the all-black Robert Russa Moton high school to the nearby all-white high school. The all-white County school Board of Supervisors joining the state movement toward “massive resistance” refused to fund the public schools. The School Board then closed all of its schools and funded and built a private all-white academy. On the first day of the fall semester, yellow school buses took nearly 1500 white students to the private academy and left 1700 black students without a school to go to.

The public schools did not re-open until 1963.

Part 2 deals with the effects on black students of no public schooling for five years.

5 Comments

Filed under raising children, Reforming schools, research