Of Note: Battleground of the New Progressivism

    When the Culture War Comes for the Kids by George Packer
    The Atlantic, October 1, 2019

    This meandering, provocative, and complex personal piece explores George Packer's own experiences, fears, misgivings, and concerns about contemporary education. Essentially, he grapples with what seem to him the ironies and contradictions of meritocracy and what he senses is a loss of direction. He writes about sending his own two children to various schools, public and private, in New York City and applying, with and without success, to others, in a climate of intense anxiety. "The system," he opines, "has hardened into a new class structure" whereas the original, admirable, and worthy purpose of common schools in the U.S. was to teach democracy. He questions the indignation and rage of what he calls "a new progressivism" that, in his view, has begun to interfere with children's learning and early experiences of diversity and democracy. He writes, "the battleground of the new progressivism is identity," pointing to affinity groups, studies of genocide and slavery, and emphases on activism, privilege, wokeness, and injustice as a monoculture, or unrelenting single truth, that has taken over our curricula. Packer ultimately fears that it is "harder to retain faith" in our democracy, something essential in the education of our young people. In the end, Packer raises an essential question: "that pragmatic genius for which Americans used to be known and admired, which included a talent for educating our young – how did it desert us?"

    Submitted By Meghan Tally, Windward School, Los Angeles, CA


    All the Ugly Details

    True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality by Kunhardt Film Foundation
    June 26, 2019

    Equal Justice Under Law. That is the phrase engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. However, as American history has shown, and as Bryan Stevenson has further uncovered in both his 2014 book, Just Mercy, and his 2019 documentary, True Justice: Bryan Stevenson's Fight for Equality, these words do not equally hold true for people of color, for children, and for the poor. In a September 2017 Klingbrief submission by Christopher R. Mizell, summarizing Just Mercy, readers were urged to "get proximate" in order to connect to a larger purpose and be courageous and persistent in the fight for equitable justice. True Justice provides a visual and aural narrative to Stevenson's book and life's work. The documentary gets to the core of why he has dedicated his personal journey to the plight of those who have lacked resources and access to quality legal services and fair sentencing. Additionally, True Justice dives deeper into the historical context of how racial hierarchy has biased judicial systems and tells a moving story of how we can overcome these obstacles by "understand[ing] all the ugly details so we can one day claim something really beautiful."

    Visit for free educator resources and the documentary.


    Submitted By Stacia McFadden, The Lovett School, Atlanta, GA


    Unmuddling the Middle

    Why Is Middle School So Hard for So Many People by Alia Wong
    The Atlantic, October 7, 2019

    In her article, "Why Is Middle School So Hard for So Many People," Alia Wong helps us understand the prevailing skepticism about middle school. She articulates the importance of the middle school years, why people are so quick to dismiss it, and steps that can be taken to bolster and nurture "the middle child." The article proposes that adults want to control things, and this could be a reason why they can't sufficiently serve middle school students. Young adults have all the same feelings that older adults do but with fewer coping mechanisms. Wong describes the history of separating out the middle school years, and how the social hierarchy can impact our middle school students. She addresses the conflicting forces weighing on these students, such as the need for independence, on one hand, and guidance, on the other. Middle schools can infantilize students via over-control and hinder risk taking and exploration. Wong cites a number of steps that can help: breaks for snacks, arranging situations in classes that promote socialization, and budgeting for air conditioning, to name a few. A main takeaway is to remember that students are bringing to school ample amounts of emotional context and teachers need to meet them where they are.

    Submitted By Stephanie Haaz Behrens, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Bronx, NY


    Still Betting on the Hare

    "Puzzle Rush" and "The Tortoise and the Hare" from Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell
    June 1, 2019

    In the first two episodes of season four of the Revisionist History podcast, Malcolm Gladwell looks closely at the ways that American educational meritocracy is skewed to favor speed over deliberation. Gladwell describes the weighting that top law schools give the LSAT, in combination with other factors like grades, as they consider applicants. The result is that prospective law students who read and process quickly are deeply advantaged by the LSAT and those who are wired to be slower readers are effectively shut out. Ironically, the kinds of minds most prized in, for example, supreme court law clerkships, are actually those people who read slowly and who are deeply attentive to nuance, detail, and complexity – and commas. Gladwell contrasts the American system with the Canadian system; Canada does not rely on standardized tests and additionally does not artificially limit access to prestigious law schools or colleges. Through his outsider lens, Gladwell underscores both the arbitrary nature of our system and the way that it is inherently and unnecessarily biased against students who are more deliberative thinkers. These podcasts are important for educators at any level because the inherent unfairness Gladwell underscores in the legal education space is equally true at every level of schooling. Additionally, standardized tests, including admission tests independent schools administer to young applicants, highlight our pervasive cultural bias against the "tortoise" and for the "hare." Considering the ways in which we participate in this bias is a fruitful endeavor in any educational setting.

    Submitted By Stephanie Lipkowitz, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, NM


    At Risk

    Students in high-achieving schools are now named an 'at-risk' group, study says by Jennifer Breheny Wallace
    The Washington Post, September 26, 2019

    A study comparing affluent youth to some of the most at-risk students in the country is not one to be taken lightly. In a striking statement, Breheny Wallace references a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which concludes that "excessive pressure to excel" is one of the "top environmental conditions harming adolescent wellness." (In the study, other factors include poverty, trauma, and discrimination.) Wallace highlights the challenges created by the growing pressure to get into a top college and then to attain a lofty career. She reminds us that activities that historically brought us joy, such as athletics and art, now serve as check marks on a resume and another chance to outshine one's peers. The study also shows that certain mental health issues are arising at high-achieving schools at a rate that is higher than the national average. Wallace concludes that "students have been fed the myth that there is only one, narrow path to success – acceptance to a prestigious college." In an effort to provide a corrective, she notes the importance of setting priorities for children that value and support qualities of good character over academic achievement, as well as the need for a commitment to a balanced life.

    Submitted By Molly Swain, Milton Academy, Milton, MA


    From Collision to Enhancement

    Natural Allies: Hope and Possibility in Teacher-Family Partnerships by Soo Hong
    Harvard Education Press, October 1, 2019

    In her new book, Soo Hong engages readers in a commitment to finding a better way for schools to partner with parents. First, Hong exposes the problem: that schools, often unknowingly, define roles and create structures that distance parents from the genuine relationships with teachers that are proven factors in a child's school success. With intelligence, compassion, and optimism, she encourages a deep understanding of how race, class, family history, and teacher capacity affect family engagement. She introduces new perspectives on common missteps and outlines specific strategies for improving relationships by telling the richly detailed stories of five of the teachers she followed in her multi-year research on family engagement in schools. It is not possible to change the fact that educators and parents may find themselves vying for power over who knows best how a child should be schooled. This book helps readers to understand the struggle, and to shift it from collision to enhancement, from talking to authentic discourse. A belief that parents and teachers are natural allies is an essential pillar of an inclusive school culture.

    Submitted By Elizabeth Morley, Kobe Shinwa University, Kobe, Japan


    Leading with Voice

    Personalized Professional Learning by Allison Rodman
    ASCD, May 1, 2019                                                                                 

    In Personalized Professional Learning, Allison Rodman calls for the need to change our existing ideas about what professional development looks like. Passive, all-school professional development sessions for teachers are a common practice in schools. However, these types of experiences do not typically improve teacher performance or school-wide success. Rodman's goal is for school leaders to use her book as a guide for planning more meaningful training for teachers and administrators. She outlines four attributes of professional learning to keep in mind: voice, co-creation, social construction, and self-discovery. Listening to and proactively planning around teacher voice is instrumental to the creation of a positive learning culture at a school. Rodman encourages school leaders to establish a vision for professional learning through working to align school goals and teacher goals. Teachers and leaders can then work to co-create more personalized sessions, with an emphasis on them being supportive, social, and hands-on. The ideas and skills that come out of the sessions should continue to be used and developed, promoting a sense of self-discovery and continuous growth. Personalized Professional Learning is a helpful roadmap for school leaders looking to inspire their faculties through cooperative learning experiences.

    Submitted By Julia Calantone, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York, NY


    Which Internet Person Are You?

    Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch
    Riverhead Books, July 23, 2019

    In her new book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, linguist Gretchen McCulloch good-humoredly explores the changing landscape, cadence, and tone of informal writing in the digital age. Refreshingly, McCulloch does not bemoan these changes but instead celebrates them, reminding readers of the good (and inevitability) that lies in evolving linguistic practices. Specifically, she sees the increase in informal, written communication today as a net positive: "The internet [has] brought us an explosion of writing by normal people. Writing has become a vital, conversational part of our ordinary lives... We write all the time now, and most of what we're writing is informal." Exploring questions like "how do new words catch on?" and "when did people start saying this?" and "where do people say that?", McCulloch engages educators in a deep-dive into some of the more disruptive hallmarks of digital writing including the use of lower-case letters, ironic punctuation, acronyms, abbreviations, gifs, emojis, and memes. In eight fast-paced, example-packed chapters, McCulloch highlights many fascinating characteristics of the geography we "internet people" inhabit, along with our languages and cultures. Educators may especially appreciate McCulloch's analysis of the population she calls "Post Internet People" – aka today's students – that explains how they manage and harness the social tools they have been given. Because Internet is a readable must-read for teachers, many of whom are likely what McCulloch calls "Semi Internet People" – those who use technology sparingly and hold on to "vivid memories of what it was like to maintain relationships via letters and phone calls."

    Submitted By Jessica Flaxman, 120 Education Consultancy, Belmont, MA

KlingensteinCenter Teachers College Columbia University

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