Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Perusing the Web

During the school year, I spend hours a day at the computer, responding to e-mails from students, colleagues and organizations, reading and responding to student forum posts in my on-line classes, and grading papers. I also use Google, every day, to find ideas and materials for my courses.

Now I'm on vacation, but I'm still spending hours a day at the computer, because there is just so much to read, see and hear on the Web.

I decided that I needed to get more systematic in reading the news on-line. [Although I still spend a couple of hours a day skimming news on television and cable, the quality of "news" available on the tube has severely deteriorated]. So I created a Google home page, and pulled in lots of news feeds.

And I learned, once again, why it is that I don't keep up with the news on the Internet all the time -- every time I read one news story, I end up following a link to something else, which links to something else, which reminds me of something that I want to Google, which leads to new pages that have links that cry out to be followed. Three hours later, I am still sitting in my nightgown with cold coffee, and have not yet read all the news I wanted to read because I fell down a rabbit hole into Wonderland.

On this particular trip down the rabbit hole, I discovered something called City Journal (the city in question being New York of course). What led me there was an article by Sol Stern
"Radical Math at the DOE" -- which refers to the Department of Education (in NY), not the Department of Defense, which had been my first thought.

Stern was decrying a conference which provided opportunities for math instructors (from elementary through high school) to learn ways of incorporating social justice issues in math lessons. Aside from the fact that I heartily approve of inserting lessons on social justice where ever one can, as someone who teaches statistics to unprepared and math phobic students in college, I consider any approach to teaching math in public schools that might actually engage students interest in the subject and make them desire to learn math all to the good.

What I was particularly intrigued about in Stern's article was the following:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has won plaudits from business leaders for his corporate-style reorganization of the school system, and for supporting market-oriented education initiatives such as charter schools and merit pay for teachers. But the mayor’s supporters have been reluctant to acknowledge the downside of this new approach. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor have also taken a laissez-faire stance about what gets taught in the city’s classrooms....It’s ironic that while Bloomberg extols the benefits of the market in education, his schools are becoming rife with radical teachers using the classroom to trash the American system.
First, I thought that "laissez-faire" was the absolute essence of market capitalism. If laissez-faire is appropriate for business, and one wishes education to emulate business, then it would seem appropriate for education. [Note I say "if" one wishes education to emulate business. Be assured that I, as a left wing radical certainly do not wish that, but Stern seems to heartily approve a market approach to education.] Secondly, if in fact one does wish education to emulate the capitalist market, then it would be for the consumers of education to determine the appropriateness and/or desirability of what happens in the classroom. Has it occurred to Stern, that perhaps social justice is what the people want?

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