Category Archives: Schools

Campaign 2016: The presidential race rated NSFS

As in Not Safe for Schools.

From the Washington Post:

Social studies teachers have long used presidential elections to provide engaging, real-time lessons about democracy, helping them bring to life what students read in textbooks about American politics, history and civics.

But this election cycle, unique in so many ways, also has proven to be a dicey challenge for classroom consumption, with teachers struggling to explain and dissect developments that have at times been far too lurid for young minds. Just the language of the campaign — including allegations of sexual assault, lewd comments about women, attacks on each candidate’s supporters — would be the kind of talk that would land a child in the principal’s office.

“This is the first time I’ve really said to myself, ‘I can’t cover this election like I want to because it’s not school-appropriate,’?” said Kris Goldstein, who teaches government to seniors at Tokay High School in Lodi, Calif. It was a realization he had after Republican nominee Donald Trump attacked a critic by urging people to watch her sex tape. “There’s certain things I don’t want to be talking about.”

Many teachers say they have shifted their lesson plans to keep things G-rated and to ease anxiety among minority and immigrant students, some of whom feel like they are in the line of fire. Some teachers have avoided classroom discussion of the election altogether; others say their students are too captivated to avoid it.

They want to assign students to watch the third presidential debate scheduled for Wednesday night, but they also fear what their students may see and hear.

Studies reveal music’s big impacts on growing brain

We’ve always been passionate believers in the value of music and art ecducation starting at the earliest years.

Gowing up in Kansas in the 1950s, we were the beneficiary of musical education that started in elementary school, where we participated in both singing and band programs, acquiring a love of music that has lasted throughout these last seven decades.

Our paternal grandmother was an elementary school teacher in Abilene, Kansas, and music was a critical part of her daily teaching. After her death in 1959, we received a letter from one her colleagues, telling us that one of her students had written that he still found inspiration in songs he had learned in her first and second grade classes.

The pupil was Dwight David Eisenhower, then serving as President of the United States.

Music and fine arts programs slashed as testing rises

But today, in classrooms across the country, education is music and the fine arts has fallen prey to a combination of budget cuts and the relentless imperative of the standardized test, a regime designed to turn out cogs in the machine rather than well-rounded, independent-minded individuals.

As the journal of the National Education Association reported in 2014:

Across the nation, the testing obsession has nudged aside visual arts, music, physical education, social studies, and science, not to mention world languages, financial literacy, and that old standby, penmanship. Our schools, once vigorous and dynamic centers for learning, have been reduced to mere test prep factories, where teachers and students act out a script written by someone who has never visited their classroom and where “achievement” means nothing more than scoring well on a bubble test.

“NCLB [No Child Left Behind] has corrupted what it means to teach and what it means to learn,” explains NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “Teachers have to teach in secret and hope they don’t get into trouble for teaching to the Whole Child instead of teaching to the test.”

A Google search for the words “music education elementary schools eliminated” turns up more than a million hits, a tragic litany of stories reporting slashed programs across the nation and throughout much of the Western world.

Musical training improves standardized testing scores

Ironically, music education actually improves children’s test scores, as the Children’s Music Workshop notes:

Music education programs increase children’s cognitive development. Also, research shows that “preschoolers who took daily 30 minute group singing lessons and a weekly 10-15 minute private keyboard lesson scored 80 percent higher in object assembly skills than students who did not have the music lessons,” as reported in a 1994 study by Frances Rauscher and Gordon Shaw at the University of California, Irvine (Harvey, 1997). It is clear that music education programs dramatically stimulate a child’s learning capacity, as shown in drastic increases in the scores of children who participated in music programs. Music education programs can begin as early as preschool and should continue for the greatest results.

When music education is sustained throughout the elementary years, children continue to learn better through the clear connections between music and other areas of study. For instance, a 1999 study presented in Neurological Research reveals that when second and third-grade students were taught fractions through basic music rhythm notation, they “scored a full 100% higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner.” This study shows that the students who learned about the mathematical concept of fractions related their music knowledge of the relationships between eighth, quarter, half and whole notes in order to fully understand the material.

Students in music programs consistently score better on tests, as also exemplified in the 2001 study compiled by Music Educators National Conference, which exhibits that “SAT takers with coursework/experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 41 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework/experience in the arts.” It is obvious that when students have experience in music education in both the elementary and high school level, they perform considerably better in other important subjects as well. Music education programs in the elementary school level are necessary for the future success of students in all subject areas.

Musical training reshapes the brain

A major study by scientists from Harvard and McGill University and published in the Journal of Neuroscience [open access] used brain imaging to map changes in children’s brains resulting from musical study concluded with this summary:

M]usical training over only 15 months in early childhood leads to structural brain changes that diverge from typical brain development. Regional training-induced structural brain changes were found in musically relevant regions that were driven by musically relevant behavioral tests. The fact there were no structural brain differences found between groups before the onset of musical training indicates that the differential development of these brain regions is induced by instrumental practice rather by than preexisting biological predictors of musicality. These results provide new evidence for training-induced structural brain plasticity in early childhood. These findings of structural plasticity in the young brain suggest that long-term intervention programs can facilitate neuroplasticity in children. Such an intervention could be of particular relevance to children with developmental disorders and to adults with neurological diseases.

And yet another study proves the power of music. . .and dance

And now comes yet another study revealing the direct impact of education in music and dance on the brains of growing children.

From Concordia University in Montreal:

Endless hours at the barre. Long afternoons practising scales. All that time you spent in piano lessons and dance classes as a youngster may have seemed like a pain, but new research now confirms what your parents claimed: it’s good for mind and body.

In fact, a recent study published in NeuroImage ($35.95 to access] by a team* of researchers from the the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research, proves that dance and music training have even stronger effects on the brain than previously understood — but in markedly different ways.

The researchers used high-tech imaging techniques to compare the effects of dance and music training on the white matter structure of experts in these two disciplines. They then examined the relationship between training-induced brain changes and dance and music abilities.

Continue reading

Headline of the day II: Coulrophobia fears confirmed

From USA Today, validation for all you coulrophobes:

Clown threats close Ohio schools after woman reports being attacked

Reading schools are closed Friday after a woman reported being attacked by a male dressed as a clown. The woman told police the attacker made a threat against students.

Racial profiling begins in America’s pre-schools


Continuing with today’s theme, a sobering new study reveals that institutional racial profiling begins in the nation’s pre-schools.

From the Yale Child Study Center:

Preschool teachers and staff show signs of implicit bias in administering discipline, but the race of the teacher plays a big role in the outcome, according to research [open access] conducted by the Yale Child Study Center. The results help explain why black students tend to be suspended at much higher rates than white students, the authors say.

Release of the findings has been requested by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is scheduled to be presented to federal and state officials on Sept. 28.

Researchers used sophisticated eye-tracking technology and found that preschool teachers “show a tendency to more closely observe black students, and especially boys, when challenging behaviors are expected,” the authors found.

But at the same time, black teachers hold black students to a higher standard of behavior than do their white counterparts, the researchers found. While the study did not explore why this difference in attitude exists, the researchers speculated that black educators may be demonstrating “a belief that black children require harsh assessment and discipline to prepare them for a harsh world.”

White educators, by contrast, may be acting on a stereotype that black preschoolers are more likely to misbehave in the first place, so they judge them against a different, more lenient standard than what they’re applying to white children.

“The tendency to base classroom observation on the gender and race of the child may explain in part why those children are more frequently identified as misbehaving and hence why there is a racial disparity in discipline,” added Walter S. Gilliam, director of The Edward Zigler Center in Child Development and Social Policy and associate professor of child psychiatry and psychology at the Yale Child Study Center.  Gilliam is one of five researchers who conducted what is thought to be the first such study of its type.

Findings suggested that when the preschool teacher and child were of the same race, knowing about family stressors led to increased teacher empathy for the preschooler and decreased how severe the behaviors appeared to the teacher. But, when the teacher and child were of a different race, the same family information seemed to overwhelm the teachers and the behaviors were perceived as being more severe.

“These findings suggest that teachers need support in understanding family struggles, as they may related to child behaviors, especially when the teacher and child are of different races,” Gilliam said.

Primary funding for the research came from the WK Kellogg Foundation.

Chart of the day: Partisan views of institutions

Given the relentless endorsement of the Republican agenda by the nation’s leading news network, the GOP view of the press is rather ironic.

From the Pew Research Center:


Peña plans massive Mexican education budget cuts

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, apostle of Bushist bneoliberal educational “reform,” will make drastic cuts in the national education buget, reports teleSUR English:

The administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto plans to deepen contested education reforms, by cutting spending for facilities improvements, equipment access, and teacher training, the Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported Sunday.

The Mexican government proposes federal-level cutbacks in 19 out of 23 programs for children and youths next year,

According to data from Mexico’s Center for Economic and Budget Research, also known as CIEP, spending earmarked for education in the 2017 budget is set to fall by 4.2 percent. Total educational spending represents 14 percent of the federal budget and 3.3 percent of GDP, which represents a reduction in educational investment historically. According to World Bank statistics, Mexico dedicated 5.1 percent of GDP to education in 2011, which was, at that time, more than the worldwide average of 4.53 percent of GDP.

According to numbers reported by La Jornada, some areas will be hit harder than others. Funding for the Education Reform Program is set to plunge by nearly 72 percent, while the Program for Professional Development for Teachers.

Other programs on the chopping block include initiatives aimed at bridging the digital divide, improving early childhood education, and developing infrastructure in the education system, among others, La Jornada reported.

Peña’s move is certain to spark more unrest among his country’s increasingly militant teachers.

New Politics reported Sunday on the factors driving the increasingly militant teachers to take to Mexico’s streets, actions all too often met with deadly gunfire:

Mexico’s dissident teachers have been engaged in a strike against the Education Reform Law since May 16 of this year–four months! Their strikes of tens of thousands, led by the National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE), a caucus within the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), have also engaged in protest marches, the blocking of highways and railroads, the commandeering of government vehicles, and the occupation of government buildings.

The government has responded by docking teachers’ pay, firing them, sending the police to beat them, and issuing warrants and arresting teacher leaders. One can only call what has gone on in Chiapas and Oaxaca and to a lesser extent in Guerrero and Michoacán class war.

Now there also appear to be death squads carrying out executions of teachers and their allies. So far at least three assassinations have taken place: a teacher, a parent, and a lawyer for the union. This is an ominous and very dangerous escalation of political violence.

  • One teacher, Jorge Vela Díaz, was shot and killed and his wife Lorena Antonio Sánchez, was wounded on Sept. 14 when two armed men men on motorcycles attacked them at a public school in the town of Ocotlán, Morelos. Both were teachers and members of Local 22 of the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE) of Oaxaca.
  • At the same time, another man, 19 year old Eder Zuriel Gonzen Mosqueda, a parent, was shot and killed in front of the “Juan Enrique Pestalozzi” primary school in San Juan Bautista Textepec, near the border of Veracruz. His relationship to the union is unknown, but the fact that he was shot in front of a school suggests this is related to the union.
  •  On Sept. 15, Agustín Pavia Pavia, a founder and leader of the MORENA party and  defender of the teachers movement in Oaxaca was shot and killed in front of his house in Oaxaca City, the state capital. He was the fifth member of the Oaxaca MORENA party to be assassinated in 2016; no one has been charged with any of the deaths.

Adam Zyglis: A case of flagging enthuisiasm

From the editorial cartoonist of the Buffalo News:

There’s nothing as idiotic as pledging allegiance to a flag.
The Seventh-day Adventists have rejected it ever since the pledge was introduced in 1887 and revised into the present form five years later, save for the two words “under God” added during the Cold War.

Incidentally, the the 1892 version was written by a socialist, Francis Bellamy, which should be enough for wingnuts to reject it.

The Seventh-day Adventists regard the pledge, rightly, as a form of idoltry.

Here at esnl, we haven’t recited the pledge since 1964, when we stopped pledging allegiance to a nation that was slaughtering tens of thousands in Southeast Asia, and we haven’t recited it since.

We might recite a pledge of allegiance to humanity and the planet e inhabit, but we can’t hold to the “my country, right or wrong” logic embodied in the pledge. We have more compassion for a single innocent child dying from a drone strike than we do for a piece of colored cloth.

Reciting the pledge became a major issue during the Vietnam War days, but had died out.

We don’t sing the Star Spangled Banner, either. Even those who try to sing it can’t save for a few gifted singers. [The way most folks sing it, the song should be better titled the Star Mangled Banner.] But as a journalist, we would stand for the song, mostly because to not do so would call untoward attention of the sort that might’ve interfered with our reporting assignments. But we have great respect for folks who don’t.

Anway, it’s been years since we attended an event where the song was sung. But if we went today, thanks to the actions of a San Francisco 49ers player named  Colin Kaepernick, we wouldn’t stand.

Kaepernick created a major flap when he knelt rather than stood before the 1 September game between the Niners and the Green Bay Packers, sending Right wing media and pundits into predictable paroxysms of outrage.

Afterwards Kaepernick, an African American, gave his rationale to a National Football League media representative:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick’s actions have also sparked similar moves by other NFL players, and the movement has also spread to players at the nation’s high schools.

All we can say is more power to you all.

As for the pledge, one California teenager has been refusing to say the words for years, CNN reports.

Leilani Thomas is a member of the Elem Indian Colony in Northern California and a student at Lower Lake High School.

She’d been sitting out the pledge for several years, but when she sat it out after Kaepernick’s protest made headlines, her homeroom teacher told her and another Native American who sat it out that they were making “bad choices”:

“She told us that we didn’t have a choice not to stand up for the pledge,” Leilani said. “We told her we have the right to do so. And then she told us that we only have child’s rights.”

“I was dumbfounded,” Leilani said. “She pretty much told us that she could control us. She was forcing everyone in the class to stand up.”

A few days later, Leilani recalled, the teacher met with her privately.

“She decided to lower my grade for my lack of participation, supposedly for not standing up for the pledge,” said Leilani.

Actually, Ms. Thomas was participating, and in a most exemplary American fashion, her punishment also delivered a powerful lesson: In a nation which supposedly prides itself on dissent, actual acts of dissent aren’t tolerated.

Turns out the student was the real teacher in that classroom.