Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Teach the Test

Yesterday I read a cover story on a Teacher attempting to recruit, change minds or ostensibly teach Environmental Science in a high school in the shadow of coal country.

When I read the article I placed my own bias into reading it.    I read about another young ill trained, ill prepared recruit who he himself agreed to the gig to get free education.  And in turn his frustration, his lack of support and isolation means that once that agreement is fulfilled he will go onto the work he finds both fulfilling and rewarding.

I immediately thought that each afternoon at the end of the day this poor man goes, "I teach Trumpkins, we are fucked.  How long do I have left living in this place. Is this where Hillbilly Elegy took place?"  And then I thought how little he knows about kids, teaching and cares about either.  

 It also explains why teaching the test may be the future of education. A test written and prepared by distant companies that have no vested interest in the Students, the Schools, the Teachers and the Community in which it was sold to as the future.  A test that if you do well on will succeed in life.  What that means depends on numerous factors often decades away but we know better and can tell whose smarter by this and which Teacher is shitty and doesn't know how to teach you testing materials.   Now you also see why recruiting Teachers and retaining is equally challenging.

What the article did show was that yes teenagers are just like the adults they will become.  By high school it is fairly clear the kind of adult you will be and that is often a reflection of the adults in your lives.   It takes years of living away from that environment, opening a mind via higher education, traveling and living with others not like you.   And it takes work a conscious effort and guess what you will still become a shadow of those larger trees that seeded, grew and shaded you in that forest.  And despite all the best efforts it can often cement a point of view rather than evolve it.   Case it point:   Ben Sasse.   Two, not one degree,  from Ivy League schools, meeting and playing sports and thinks field work builds character.   Despite Bill Maher's ill worded reference he was right to mock it.

What I found interesting was that it was just the obstinate angry teen who was the focus of the profile as it to say "future Trump voter" and in turn reflects the idea that bias and angle of the story affects how we see a certain subject and in turn also denies us a full picture of what the Times reporter saw and heard.

And today this was in the paper: An actual impression of what the reporter did see and hear and it provided a better insight into what rural kids of red states are like. And they are like America - a milieu.  Shame that the same kids don't know what that means.

Student Opinions on Climate Change? Unpredictable


When I arranged to visit Wellston High School for a story about how the culture war over climate change was erupting in science classrooms, I had a pretty good idea of what I would find.

Jackson County, Ohio, where Wellston is located, is a former coal and manufacturing hub where jobs have evaporated and President Trump received seven in 10 votes in the November election. I would encounter a high level of hostility toward climate science among the students there, James Sutter, the environmental science teacher, had told me.

As a national reporter who covers the intersection of science and society, I was prepared to be troubled by it. But I found myself instead being troubled by what I hadn’t expected to find — and the preconceptions that had shaped my original notions.

As I spent time with Gwen Beatty, for instance, one of the most vocal of the skeptics in Mr. Sutter’s classes, I found myself admiring her spunk in the face of a hostile world.

“I don’t see the enjoyment in burning yourself up on heroin and pills,” she told me when we discussed the bike path near the school building students call “heroin highway. “I like to work hard and take pride in being a good person.”

For Gwen — who makes money laying concrete and weeding lawns after school and plans to enlist in the military to pay for college, if she goes — climate skepticism has been wired into a sense of her own self-respect. Why would she willingly let it go?

And as soon as I’d wrapped my head around that came the realization that this school I had chosen as a haven for climate skeptics was also a hotbed of budding climate activists.

Dalton Teasley, a student in Mr. Sutter’s class, likened his newfound environmentalism to music and photography, two passions he had conceived early in life. “In this class I realized,” he said wonderingly, “there’s a third thing like that.”

One student attended the Science March this spring in nearby Athens, Ohio, against her father’s wishes, she said.

Another closet climate activist asked me not to use her name. “I would be disowned, honestly,” she said. “As much as I would love to voice an opinion, I have to have a home.”

A sophomore, 15, who was receiving an “F” in Mr. Sutter’s class and rarely speaks, made a point to address me. “You’re here because this school teaches about the environment and climate change,” he said.

I said that was true.

“I want to say that this school is very good at its job for doing that,” he went on. “I like thinking about helping the environment. When we learned about the ice caps melting, that’s when I started caring about it.”

Kerrigan Cox, a junior, said she thought having been bullied in middle school left her more open to alternative viewpoints — which in Wellston includes the overwhelming scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is dangerously heating the Earth.

And Phoenix Antis, 16, told me he became convinced humans were causing the planet to warm one day when was so bored at home — “I don’t control the remote” — that he started researching some of the ideas Mr. Sutter had discussed in class.

Gwen remained firmly in the skeptical camp. For students like her, the class could set off what Mr. Sutter said he came to think of as “a crisis of being.” But the transformation of many of her friends had occurred over the course of just a few months in a science class.

My article on Wellston, which ran on Monday’s front page, ended up focusing on both what I’d expected to find — the vigorous opposition Mr. Sutter faced when teaching his environmental science classes — and what I didn’t: the students whose beliefs proved malleable, after all.

When I left Ohio, I felt chagrined for not having anticipated the full breadth of what I found there. But then, that’s why you go.

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