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ChatGPT App: Use in Classrooms?*

A current instructional fad talked about by both public school teachers and university professors is the app called ChatGPT. In less than two months, the artificial intelligence-generated app has been the subject of many articles and predictions of students cheating when writing essays, doing book reports and preparing research studies in both public schools and universities. Some school districts have blocked access to the app on those devices they distribute to students and teachers (see here and here).

Sorting out media attention to ChatGPT from what teachers and professors do daily in their classrooms once they close their doors has been a perennial problem for educational researchers simply because so few researchers actually enter classrooms, observe lessons, and interview teachers. Figuring out how often professors, teachers, and students use this much hyped app is tricky. Anecdotal evidence is king.

The fact is that right now, no one can say with confidence how often or how much students, teachers, and professors use the app to generate written work for either homework assignments or published work. Nor can anyone say with confidence to what degree the app helps or hinders teaching and learning. Read what Professor Sarah Levine at Stanford University (and former high school English teacher) had to say about the app.

Teachers are talking about ChatGPT as either a dangerous medicine with amazing side effects or an amazing medicine with dangerous side effects. When it comes to teaching writing, I’m in the latter camp. 

First, ChatGPT may help students use writing as a tool for thinking in ways that students currently do not. Many students are not yet fluent enough writers to use the process of writing as a way to discover and clarify their ideas. ChatGPT may address that problem by allowing students to read, reflect, and revise many times without the anguish or frustration that such processes often invoke. 

Second, teachers can use the tool as a way of generating many examples and nonexamples of a form or genre. Often, teachers have the resources and bandwidth to find or create one or two models of a particular kind of writing — say, a personal narrative about a family relationship. As a result, students may come to believe that there is only one way to write such a narrative. ChatGPT allows teachers to offer students many examples of a narrative about family where the basic content remains the same but style, syntax, or grammar differ. With many examples to compare and analyze, students can begin to see the relationship between form and content. They can develop criteria for what makes a strong piece of writing, or how one verb might affect readers differently than another. For teachers, designing instruction has just become much easier — ChatGPT is essentially a tool for creating contrasting cases, and most teachers will be delighted that ChatGPT is doing a lot of the legwork for them. 

Obviously, teachers are less delighted about the computer doing a lot of legwork for students. And students still need to learn to write. But in what way, and what kinds of writing? A third side effect of this new medicine is that it requires all of us to ask those questions and probably make some substantive changes to the overarching goals and methods of our instruction.” 

Levine’s response to the app suggests ways that teachers could use the app as another tool to both generate and improve student writing.

Now, consider the experience of Christopher Grobe, an Assistant Professor of English at Amherst College. In a recent article, Grobe, acknowledged the limitations of ChatGPT but saw distinct advantages for teachers and professors who ask students to write essays, reports, and research studies.

Grobe wrote: “The things ChatGPT cannot do [cite and analyze evidence, limit claims, create logical links between claims, arrange those claims into a hierarchy of significance] are the basic stuff of college-level writing.” Grobe then prompted the app to finish what he wrote:

Grobe: ChatGPT, please finish that paragraph.

ChatGPT:

However, that does not mean that ChatGPT has no value in the classroom. In fact, I believe that it can be a useful tool for helping students to develop their own writing skills and to think more critically about the ideas and arguments that they are presenting. By working with [recognizing the limits of] ChatGPT [and by pushing themselves beyond those limits] and engaging in dialogue with it, students can learn to identify and address the weaknesses in their own writing, and they can learn to structure their arguments in a more logical and coherent way. Additionally, ChatGPT can be a useful resource for generating ideas and prompts for writing assignments, as well as for providing feedback and support during the writing process. Overall, I believe that ChatGPT has the potential to be a valuable tool for student learning and development, as long as it is used in a way that complements and enhances, rather than replacing, traditional methods of instruction. [what is unique to their thinking, and to the way that human beings think. An age of generative AI, helplessly replicating conventional wisdom and ideology, is an age that will need the uniquely, resistantly human more than ever.]

Any academic subject teacher and university professor who ask students to write an essay, do a report, or research an answer to a question will now have to more closely review their goals for the subject they teach and how they teach it in light of ChatGPT. When more professors and teachers (and I might add, students) chime in on the the pluses and minuses of this app in classrooms, its worth will slowly become clearer.

But informed observers of instructional innovations must not forget that after this initial media splash, ChatGPT may well fade away in a few months as have so many prior educational innovations.

_______________________

*I thank the weekly Marshall Memo (January 30, 2023) for including the Christopher Grobe article.

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High Performing Teachers with Low-Tech Classrooms

The title is neither a joke nor a poke in the eyes of techno-enthusiasts. Over a decade ago, journalist Amanda Ripley visited classrooms around the world and found that the best ones are low-tech. Specifically, she cited South Korea and Finland, countries that outscored the U.S. in international tests, as having low-tech classrooms. In South Korea, she quoted one student who described her room having a few old computers, an overhead projector, and few “new” technologies.

This March 2, 2021, photo shows children and a teacher having an in-person class while wearing face masks at an elementary school in Incheon, about 40 kilometers west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

A class in an elementary school in Gwangju holds a ceremony to welcome new students on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Children attend a class at an elementary school in Daejeon, South Korea, November 22, 2021. Yonhap via REUTERS

Turn now to Finland, another country that Ripley mentioned. Finnish public schools have high tech devices available to students and teachers. Moreover, smart phones are common among children and youth across the socioeconomic spectrum. While Finland’s schools vary in use of devices, available photos show many low-tech classrooms.

Finland Turku Turku – Waeinoe Aaltosen koulu (school): English lesson (Photo by Fishman/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
Saunalahti school in Espoo, Finland Photo by Andreas Meichsner for Verstas architects
Finland Turku Turku – Waeinoe Aaltosen koulu (school): maths lesson (Photo by Fishman/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Amanda Ripley quotes an expert on European schools about the lack of technological innovations in schools around the world:

‘In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms,’  says Andreas Schleicher, a veteran education analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who spends much of his time visiting schools around the world to find out what they are doing right (or wrong). ‘I have no explanation why that is the case, but it does seem that those systems place their efforts primarily on pedagogical practice rather than digital gadgets.‘ “

In the U.S., Ripley points out that when policymakers and politicians imagine schools and classrooms a decade from now “they often talk about a schoolhouse that looks like an Apple store, a utopia studded with computers, bathed in Wi-Fi, and wallpapered with interactive whiteboards.” Yet when Ripley visited a Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) school in Washington, D.C. she watched a veteran math teacher lead a fifth grade class through a lesson without a nod to the four idle computers in the rear of the room. When asked by Ripley, what would her perfect classroom be like, the teacher said: “If I were designing my ideal classroom, there’d be another body teaching. Or there’d be 36 hours in the day instead of 24.” No mention of laptops or hand-held devices or interactive white boards.

Ripley’s point and that of scores of other observers of first-rate teachers is that both low-tech and high-tech machines can surely help students learn but it is the teacher’s lesson objectives, knowledge of the subject, rapport with students, and a willingness to push and support them that count greatly in what students learn rather than anything intrinsic within the devices used.

Consider Direct Instruction–much of which occurs in KIPP schools–and a math lesson where the teacher uses an overhead projector, a low-tech tool that entered U.S. classrooms extensively in the 1930s. Nary a computer in sight. Direct Instruction gives progressives committed to student-centered instruction heartburn but its popularity among many teachers and administrators remains strong in low-income elementary schools, “Success for All” programs, Open Court Reading, and similar structured teaching strategies.

And what about those first-rate teachers whose students are surrounded by an abundance of laptops, interactive white boards, camcorders, flip video cameras, and a host of other devices? Those teachers still have to figure out the specific objectives for the next lesson, how to get students engaged, what activities will hit the desired objectives, and how will they know that students grasped those objectives. For these teachers sometimes the high-tech cornucopia gets in the way. Listen to a high school English teacher who is in a 1:1 laptop school  (I am quoting Steve Davis, a San Jose Unified School District teacher, who I interviewed after I observed a lesson he taught):

Sometimes low-tech simply facilitates goals more effectively. Take a lesson on thesis statements for example. Each student has a thesis statement prepared (in theory) and is ready to share it with their group. I would love to use my blog for students to share and critique each other’s work, but it’s not the most logistically effective strategy. Marisol left her computer at home, Jordan can’t remember his password, and Justin can login but can’t seem to figure out how to post a comment. Sure, schools should be teaching these skills, but they’re not tested on the California Subject Tests. Technology integration has left technology instruction up to content teachers, while I learned the basics of computing in my sixth grade computer class. What’s my main goal? Teaching thesis. In this scenario, technology actually impedes my main goal instead of facilitating it. It’s much easier and more effective to get out the black markers and the butcher paper and have students make group posters and present them to the class. It’s not whiz-bang, but it gets the job done.

High performing teachers use high-tech and low-tech to engage and reach their students here and abroad. Not either-or. Unashamedly, I repeat a cliche that needs to be said again and again: Good teaching is not about access to and use of high-tech machines, it is about teacher knowing their subjects, establishing rapport with students, and prodding and supporting them to learn.

Ms. Garensha John leads a first-grade class at Capital Preparatory Harbor Lower School in Bridgeport, Conn.Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Kurt Russell, an experienced high school history teacher in Oberlin, Ohio, April 2022

A seventh-grade history class at the Atlanta Classical Academy, a charter school (David Walter Banks for The New York Times)

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The Impact of Social Media on Children and Youth (Part 3)

The headline startled me: Seattle Public Schools Sue Social Media Companies for Allegedly Harming Students’ Mental Health*

“Seattle’s public school system filed a lawsuit on [January 10, 2023] against several Big Tech companies [Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube] alleging their platforms have a negative impact on students’ mental health and claiming that has impeded the ability of its schools “to fulfill its educational mission.”

Why startled? Because no school district had ever sued a social media company. I would have expected parents of a few students would have banded together, hired a lawyer, and sued as did Black families in Topeka (KN) protesting segregated schools in 1954. As far as I know, no Seattle families have yet brought suit. The school district with over 50,000 students took the leap.

What do the Seattle schools want from these companies?

According to the complaint:

The goal is not to eliminate social media, but to change how these companies operate and force them to take responsibility. We are asking these popular companies to maximize their efforts to safeguard students, who are their most vulnerable consumers.

There are a few major problems with the legal action (disclosure: I am not a lawyer but an informed observer of educational lawsuits). First, nailing down the harmful effects of social media on children and youth, given the available science, is impossible. Research on daily use of social media by children and youth is available but assessing its effects, thus far, remains speculative. The most important point about social media is that Facebook, TikTok, et. al. are only a few of the screens children and youth watch. The issue, then, is not only social media but access to all the screens that parents allow their sons and daughters sit in front of.

By screen time, I mean watching television, working at a computer, using a smart phone, and that occasional film that parents take their kids to. Taken altogether, children and youth look at screens for up to seven hours a day. When one considers that children and youth sleep around eight to ten hours a night, go to school for six hours then sit and watch screens for up to three or more hours leaves little time for non-screen activities at home or in the neighborhood.

To make that point, The Center for Disease Control published the following infographics:

While estimates of time spent viewing screens vary, taken altogether, the available evidence is that American children and teens spend many hours looking at screens once they open their eyes in the morning and go to sleep at night. So while articles and books debate social media’s influence, it is wise to consider the larger picture of how much time the young spend in front of screens both in school and at home.

So what should parents do? The available medical advice, given all of the unknowns except for the abundance of time the young watch screens, is that too much time in front of screens can be harmful. Too much screen time can:

  • Make it hard for your child to sleep at night
  • Raise your child’s risk for attention problems, anxiety, and depression
  • Raise your child’s risk for gaining too much weight (obesity)

Current expert recommendations for children and school-age teens viewing screens asks parents to set boundaries:

*Children under age 2 should have no screen time.

*Limit screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day for children over age 2.

Asking parents to set boundaries is surely reasonable since they are legally responsible for their offspring and spend up to 18 hours of each day with their children and teenagers. Just as asking corporate executives at Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube to consider children and youth being exposed to materials that make many parents blanch is reasonable. And the companies say they are doing that. They decide what content can go online and what gets taken off free from government oversight. Even more important,under federal law, these platforms cannot now be held responsible for the content that users post.

Congress passed the Communications Decency Act in 1996 that had a section releasing these companies from censoring online speech. Current federal law protects these companies from being sued for language posted on Facebook, Snapchat, et. al. that is libelous or poses real world harm to others. Unless the U.S. Congress steps in to get social media companies to monitor the content published on their platforms, little can be done.

Which brings me back to a second reason for the Seattle Public Schools suing social media companies. Seattle teachers and students have been complaining about how children’s use of social media in and out of school has bad effects upon their students’ mental health. They have pointed to the lack of school psychologists, counselors, and social workers preventing students from access to professionals trained in mental health issues. A professionally trained adult to talk in the building other than their teacher remains an unmet need, they say.

The Seattle Student Union, a newly formed youth activism group, led the charge this past academic year, calling for more mental health specialists — specifically asking for at least one counselor per every 200 students. That’s a tighter ratio than the one recommended by the American School Counselor Association, which suggests one counselor per 250 students.  

Seattle schools have one counselor for every 375 students; the Seattle Student Union has asked for a counselor for every 200 students. A district administrator says that it would take over $16 million to meet the student demand. Such money is unavailable to the district. Worse yet, even if the money became available, no one yet knows whether these professionals would have the wherewithal and knowledge to deal with the fallout from social media use.

The problem of potentially harmful effects of social media use among children and teenagers now involves the federal government, huge corporations, public school staffs and parents. It is a sticky, multifaceted problem with no simple solution.

And chances of the problem going away are nil.

_____________________________________

*Thanks to Sondra Cuban for letting me know about Seattle Public schools suing social media companies.

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Whatever Happened to Social Promotion?

Nothing.

It has been around for over a century and will continue as a crucial part of the system of schooling in America. Educational leaders who take social promotion for granted as a longstanding tradition in American schools have struck a bargain between competing values of excellence and equity that drive the age-graded, nearly two-century old system. Let me explain.

I wonder if any reader can recall President Bill Clinton’s State of the Union Address in 1999? Then he said:

… My Education Accountability Act will require every school district receiving federal help to take the following five steps. First, all schools must end social promotion (emphasis added). No child should graduate from high school with a diploma he or she can’t read. We do our children no favors when we allow them to pass from grade to grade without mastering the material. But we can’t just hold students back because the system fails them. So my balanced budget triples the funding for summer school and after-school programs, to keep a million children learning.

Or perhaps, a few readers might remember what New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg said over two decades ago: “No more social promotion in our schools.”

The President and Mayor wanted to end a traditional practice of the age-graded school. Social promotion is (and has been) a fundamental way of operating the age-graded school in America for nearly two centuries. The administrative procedure of socially promoting students (semester and year-end report cards are the mechanism that informs both students and parents) is not only basic to the age-graded school, it is also central to the task of moving children and youth through the school system from ages 5-17 in nearly all states.

This post, then, is neither a criticism nor paean to either report cards or this fundamental practice of schooling. I only want to describe and explain why the practice of social promotion exists and its remarkable longevity.

Moving nearly all students from one grade to another in elementary school (i.e., promoted from 4th grade to 5th grade) and in middle and high schools going from one level of a subject to another (e.g., English 10 to English 11; French 1 to French 2) has existed since the appearance of age-graded schools in the mid-19th century. Groups of students stay together with their age peers even if some of them fail to meet school and teacher requirements for promotion to the next grade or passing an academic subject.

So exactly how many of the nearly 50 million students in U.S. public schools get socially promoted in a given year? The answer is 98 percent. Of the two percent who fail, there were more Black students than white. These numbers suggest that social promotion has been a signal success.

The Covid-19 pandemic underscored the universality of this school practice when it was clear that students in 13,000-plus districts had wide variation in which schools closed for weeks and months which schools stayed open. School boards and superintendents had to decide on promoting students when so many school days were lost. Even amid these extraordinary circumstances, schools promoted nearly all students from one grade to another.

The reasons for social promotion then and now are social and psychological. Educational leaders wanted students of the same age to stay together as they marched from one grade to another so that situations where 14 year-olds repeating a grade would not be sitting next to 10 year olds. Very few students (were) are retained–the fancy word for flunking a grade or subject.

However, critics of social promotion over past decades see the practice as a failure to educate the nation’s young. These critics want students in key grades–say, 3rd, 5th, and 8th to meet academic standards such as passing state tests and meeting teacher requirements for the grade. If students fail to meet these standards, require that they go to summer school, receive tutoring, or repeat the grade. Retention, these critics argue, is essential to maintain academic standards. This persistent struggle over social promotion is a clash of two prized and traditional values in American schooling: excellence and equity.

Social promotion prizes equity–all students move ahead; holding back students who fail to meet academic standards while advancing those who do, favors excellence. Periodic debates over social promotion in past decades–see President Clinton’s and Mayor Bloomberg’s quotes above–are reminders that the debate won’t go away. It will continue as long as there is an age-graded school that chases these competing and cherished values of excellence and equity.

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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.

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*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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