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Re: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act
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- Date: Wed, 16 Dec 2009 17:37:58 -0800
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Let me sound a slightly skeptical note, though with the greatest
admiration for the efforts of Kris and other sophisticated educators
to influence policy in Washington. Maybe some of these points may also
be informative for the non-US xmca-ers.
I don't really think that US educational policy is about learning. It
is a branch of SOCIAL policy. It is, for politicians and many voters,
about equity, justice, moral values, quality of the labor force.
Conservatives by and large won the battle from the 1970s-90s over the
definition of educational quality: it means knowledge and skills, as
assessed by simple, mass-administered tests. They succeeded because
what they proposed was very close to common folk-wisdom about
schooling. They proposed what they did to prevent education from
becoming about learning how to critique and change the status quo.
Within the framework they established, the liberal left looked to see
how they (we?) could still use education as an tool for social
justice. The answer basically, from Head Start to NCLB (the Bush-era
policy) was to try to insure that children from poor families got
enough extra programs to help them compete with middle-class kids in
the world of testable knowledge/skills. I think that is the course
that Obama is still on. It seems likely to me that his personal
experience would be telling him that kids in under-resourced
communities go to school relatively unprepared for its demands, and so
pre-school programs should be targeted to diagnostically specific
needs relative to predictable school demands. That how the language of
the proposed bill sounds to me.
Politicians, senators, and even higher level staff people probably
don't know much about learning theory and don't have the time to
learn. If it is theory or models that use unfamiliar ideas, all the
less likely to be able to persuade or communicate. Neuroscience
evidence for early social learning or artifact-hybridity in
development may as well be discourse from Mars in their world.
National political policy I think cannot be realistically expected to
embody advanced learning theories. That discourse should have its
practical effects far more locally, in terms of what teachers get
taught about good practice in schools, and maybe what others who are
trying to innovate new approaches to education that go beyond the
classroom-only paradigm take into account.
Apart from trying to avoid overly narrow language (and more
importantly, administrative interpretation of language) about what
kinds of programs can get federal funding, I think the core issues at
the national policy level ought to be more about goals. Equal learning
opportunity in practice is a widely shared goal; the means to it are
much debated. What is less addressed, I think, is whether knowledge
and skills acquisition should be in itself the primary educational
goal. So long as that conservative principle is maintained, social
equity goals will lead to bad educational practice for all, and
especially for those most in need.
Reading, for example, is NOT "fundamental". It is a diversion from
serious educational thinking. (R.I.F. was a slogan long supported by
the right, though not only by them.) Reading is a tool, to be learned
and used as part of larger inquiries and activities with goals that
mean something to the learners. Those could be play goals, or self-
empowerment goals, or altruistic goals. So long as what schools will
demand of kids on arrival is that they be prepared to learn
decontextualized de-coding skills (i.e. "reading"), and do well on
tests of these that are even more isolated from anything with larger
meaning, then all pre-school preparation programs will be targeted at
preparing students for mindlessness. And social equity and social
justice agendas in social policy will support this.
It's not about the means. It's about the goals.
Professor (Adjunct, 2009-2010)
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Laboratory for Comparative Human Communication
University of California -- San Diego
La Jolla, CA
On Dec 13, 2009, at 11:12 PM, mike cole wrote:
So Catherine thinks we should turn our attention to national education
policies and knows what is wrong. Michael agrees.
Peg has a different interpretation. Others have different views.
What we agree on is that we are not happy with what is transpiring.
In lieu of discussing what it means if biology and culture are
in ways that make humans hybrids, and implications of such ideas for
understanding the process of development in highly
industrialized countries, never mind the majority of human kind, it is
suggested we address this problem and stop discussion of all other
How would you who want to shift the discussion have us, in our
capacities, change direction so that we are not just purveying
drivel for self advancement? With what authority and to what effect?
This is a fine place to discuss such matters. Pick a header and lead
discussion so that it is effective. Happy to engage.
But at the same time, i *will *complete reading seriously the final
of my students, i *will* seek as soon as possible to bring us back
issues of cognitive style and education that the paper under
supposed to be addressing, I *will* continue working with my grad
over vacation to support the people without food to eat or shoes for
kids in the housing project which is the center of LCHC efforts for
two years, and I *will *continue to try to understand the
our knowledge of
early infant development and its interweaving of cultural and
wellsprings of development. In addition to, not in lieu,
Kris has asked for concrete suggestions and she is in a position to
them into the White house. My suggestions focus on collaborations
universities and their communities to address simultaneously the
higher education which break my
heart when I am on the UCSD campus and the problems of elementary
which break my heart when i work with my students in the community.
knows this line of thinking well.
Apart from lamentations, who is suggesting we do what on what grounds?
Back to work.
On Sun, Dec 13, 2009 at 9:04 PM, Michael Glassman <MGlassman@ehe.osu.edu
I really think that this legislation is, among other things,
insensitive. Do people really think, given our society's history
assessment tests, that these tests are not going to be geared
class values? Do people really think that these tests are not
going to be
used to label and differentiate groups? Do people really think
assessments are not going to be used to in some way reinforce a
model for children who don't do well on the tests? The fact that
tests are being conducted at such a young age makes these ideas
These senators Brown and Franken and Murray have their hearts in
place, but our discourse on education in the United States has
convoluted and narrow and so dominated by a faux realist perspective
(actually an unholy combination of realist and idealist) that even
legislators who mean well are I think making thoughtless mistakes.
pains me that Ted Kennedy and George Miller were major forces
There are many reasons for this I think, not the least of which is
of public discourse by a relatively small group of educators - but
because you are giving money towards education initiatives does not
that you are helping the cause of universal education.
From: email@example.com on behalf of firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Sun 12/13/2009 10:10 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Obama's Learn Act
Hi Peg and others:
Here is the specific language under section 9, e,1,c of the LEARN
SEC. 9. SUBGRANTS TO ELIGIBLE ENTITIES IN SUPPORT OF BIRTH THROUGH
KINDERGARTEN ENTRY LITERACY.
(e) LOCAL USES OF FUNDS.-
(1) IN GENERAL.-An eligible entity that receives a subgrant under
section shall use the subgrant funds consistent with the plan
subsection (c) to carry out the following activities:
(C) SCREENING ASSESSMENTS AND MEASURES.-Acquiring, providing
and implementing screening assessments or other appropriate
determine whether children from birth through kindergarten entry are
developing appropriate early language and literacy skills.
The question is, "WHO will determine what is appropriate and HOW
assess it?" This goes to the heart of Vygotsky's work.
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