Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Empathy Training – Link and Ruminations

I don't have a new essay ready, but I want to post this link. It's a New York Times blog post on a Canadian empathy training program for elementary- and middle-schoolers. The article speaks for itself, but just so you don't think I'm being lazy, here are three reasons why I think Roots of Empathy is a great program. (but please read the article first! The following discussions are more ruminations than well-researched essays. Many of the claims I make are supported by nothing but my own experience; their validity as arguments must rest ultimately on the extent to which the reader's experience and intuition coincides with my own. Cave Skeptic!)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Waiting for Superman

Well, I finally saw Waiting for "Superman." There's a lot to dislike about the movie, but the ultimate impact is difficult to parse out. I try to avoid writing about things I don't like, so I'll make the critical part of this post short and to the point.

A number of journalists have already taken the film to task for the many ways in which it misrepresents and overlooks data. The best of these, though I don't agree with everything in it, is probably Diane Ravitch's article for The New York Review of Books. The quickness with which the film has been attacked reflects not only its journalistic shortcomings, but its combative, simplistic approach to the discussion, its vilification of the teacher's union, its disparagement of the public school system. All these individual flaws, however, have distracted critics from the fundamental vagueness of the movie.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More on Mensch Prep: "Shave and a Haircut" Like You've Never Seen It Before

[On September 27th, I posted a description and analysis of the first hour of the first day of school at Mensch Prep Charter School (the name, like all other identifying details, is invented.) This post picks up where that one left off.]

After breakfast is cleaned up at each table, there are a series of coordinated bathroom visits. Then, Mensch Prep's principal[1], Nonyameko Pertinax (if I have to invent names, I'm not going to invent boring ones), announces that they're going to learn a song. The teaching of the song, which turns out to be "Shave and a Haircut" (sung without lyrics) provides another opportunity to reinforce habits of when to speak and when not to speak in class, and it is a rigorous exercise in that most fundamental component of discipline and maturity—self-control.

The song is taught as a call and response: Ms. Pertinax sings the "shave and a haircut" part, and everyone else sings the "two bits;" but first the kindergartners have to listen to the song with "teachers only," i.e. Ms. Pertinax sings the call and the rest of the faculty sings the response. That's harder than it sounds, because like any well-constructed song "Shave and a Haircut" begs for its resolution. When Ms. Pertinax sings "dum da da-dum dum," many children are compelled to sing "dum dum!" along with the teachers.