Friday, February 23, 2007

Hot Town, Summer and the Wiki!

We are failing our students. I don't mean we are giving them "F"s. I mean we are not teaching them what an authoritative source is. I tell my kids that ANYTHING they find on the internet will get strict scrutiny from me. Much better to have some original source. And if they even USE wikipedia, and I found out about it: D for death is their fate. Obviously, citing wikipedia would be an admission of guilt, so I have never seen it. Apparently, it happens, tho. The apocalypse.

Still, I am of good cheer. In fact, this story from the NYTimes....

When half a dozen students in Neil Waters’s Japanese history class at Middlebury College asserted on exams that the Jesuits supported the Shimabara Rebellion in 17th-century Japan, he knew something was wrong. The Jesuits were in “no position to aid a revolution,” he said; the few of them in Japan were in hiding.

He figured out the problem soon enough. The obscure, though incorrect, information was from Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, and the students had picked it up cramming for his exam.

Dr. Waters and other professors in the history department had begun noticing about a year ago that students were citing Wikipedia as a source in their papers. When confronted, many would say that their high school teachers had allowed the practice.

But the errors on the Japanese history test last semester were the last straw. At Dr. Waters’s urging, the Middlebury history department notified its students this month that Wikipedia could not be cited in papers or exams, and that students could not “point to Wikipedia or any similar source that may appear in the future to escape the consequences of errors.”


....moved me to song: (with apologies to the ever tuneful Lovin' Spoonful)

PLAGIARIZE THE WIKI

Verse 1
Hot link, research and the wiki!
Finding real cites is so darned tricky.
Due next class, I just need a quicky
Doesn't seem to be a problem with the wiki

All around, people looking half dead
Walking to the library, wonderin' what Rousseau said.

CHORUS:
But at wiki it's a different world
Go out and find that URL
Cut-paste the text, then dance all night
Prof won't check, it'll be alright

And babe, you can't be too picky
When real books are too real for the wiki
Doing research...on the wiki!
Doing research...on the wiki!

Verse 2
Cool kids, writing for credit
Using a source even morons can edit.
In the library, real journal pieces head it--
But then you'd have to look up who said it!
Till you're reading 20 pages
Going up and down stairs, learning from dead sages!

REPEAT CHORUS

Verse 3
Hot link, plagiarize the wiki!
Writing things yourself is so darned tricky.
Due in two hours, I just need a quicky
Haven't been taught how NOT to use the wiki

All around, GOOGLE showing matches;
I think it's past time kids learned just what a "source" is.

REPEAT CHORUS

(Nod: Return of the Anonyman)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hard to Soar With Eagles When You Go to School with Buzzards

So, I have this friend. (He's not from North Carolina, btw). Sends his kid to quite a pricey private school.

And he (let's call him "Frank") is having a war with the school. His point is that the school represents itself as offering a very high quality education, and in fact works with each child.

Now, Frank is a bright guy. And his wife, with the exception of marrying Frank, is also as bright as they come. Their child is very, very smart. And he is now in the third grade.

(A personal note: my own sons, both of them, found third grade very difficult. The older one, Kevin, came home crying every day. "They just tell me things I already know, and they won't let me read!" Second son, Brian, was so bored that he got in trouble a lot. Not good. Fortunately, both went to public charter school the following year, and both have gotten challenging interesting lessons from teachers who want them to succeed ever since. SO, third grade is tough all over).

Frank's kid is acting out a bit, at this elite school where he is bored. He makes only a desultory effort at math problems, and if they are told to read a chapter in a book he reads the whole book and then goes on to something else.

School says there is a "problem." Frank says, "There sure is! You are not giving my kid any sort of challenging math questions, or letting him read on his own."

And Frank is right: it seems the school is more interested in imposing social control than in educating. And they are pretty honest about this. Frank goes to visit teachers and principals. All tell Frank that their main "mission" is to foster social equality. Part of that means paying extra attention to the weaker students, including those from the community who get "scholarships."

Now, these scholarships are money taken from Frank and other people (it's a private school, remember!), and given to people who could not send their kids to the school. I think that's a little strange, but okay: you could go somewhere else. If you sign up for this school, you must want to be part of this forced redistribution.

But here's the thing: the refusal to take a little extra time and give the top student some extra work, or different work.....THAT IS THE REAL STRATEGY FOR LEVELING. Not enough to help the weaker students. We have to hold the strong students back! Ayn Rand's ANTHEM was supposed to be just a story, not a documentary.

My man Frank sometimes thinks he is a liberal (he is NOT a Republican, that's for sure), but this is making him crazy. Why would a private school try to achieve social justice by withholding a quality education from THEIR BEST STUDENTS, THE ONES WHO PAY THE FREIGHT?

The final straw was when Frank got this email from someone at the school, which I reproduce verbatim below. It was in response to Frank's question about allowing students to go forward at their own paces:

I actually think the ability grouping hesitation is a philosophical one. Not wanting to have a group of eagles, hawks, cardinals and then buzzards. Easy to want the grouping when our children are eagles, less so if they are to be labeled buzzards. Huge topic in education but am happy to discuss.
[name redacted to protect the idiotic]

Childhood is a journey, not a race.

Wow!

My own view? If you trap eagles, and make them live with buzzards, you end up with some pissed off eagles and frightened buzzards. And why add the pejorative labels anyway. All children are different. They learn at different rates, in different ways. Public schools might be constrained to try to make things more even by putting mental handcuffs on the smart kids. But why would a private school do that?

A final note: Frank claims that one of the other parents asked a school official, in quite a confrontational way, "What is THIS SCHOOL doing to improve public education in ?" Even the lefty-squishy school official was thrown by that one. Here is a wealthy white woman, who has chosen to pull her kid out of the public school and send him to the most expensive private school in the area. And she demands, from an official of THAT PRIVATE SCHOOL, an explanation on how the private school is working to make public schools better.

I'm afraid I would have answered, "Not enough to offset the damage that people like you are doing by sending their kids to private schools, I'm sure. But, thanks for doing it! We need the dough!" Talk about tracking! If all the parents who can afford it send their kids to private schools, we lose money, support, and diversity in the public schools. As I have noted, both my boys went to public schools, 4-12 grades. But we are lucky enough to live in North Carolina, which has pretty good public schools generally, and excellent charter and magnet schools, at least near Raleigh.

Boy, it just occurred to me. We should identify the best 20% of high schools in the state, and close them, right? Don't want any eagles around to make the buzzards feel bad.