The Clare Spark Blog

September 19, 2012

Bullies

Harvard Gr.School of Ed. magazine

[A note to the reader: Bullying is indeed a social problem, but the most prestigious education school in the land has nothing to recommend but nostrums that have been in place since the 1960s, and that have never worked. Nowhere does this article stress the search for truth as the highest value. There are only “points of view.” I don’t remember such a line being taught when I attended this school, holding the only Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship for projected leadership in science teaching. They offered me another full fellowship in Guidance, but I got married instead. It took me many years to begin to vindicate my fellowship, even as it brings me into conflict with Harvard as it currently exists. OTOH, the school may always have been progressive, and I didn’t recognize the regnant ideology as a science major.]

The Harvard Graduate School of Education devotes six pages in its Fall 2012 issue of Ed to what it sees as the all-consuming problem of bullying in the schools. Their solutions exactly mirror the prescriptions of “socially responsible capitalists” and multiculturalists, all of whom have focused on the affective side of public education: We are too focused on intellectual achievement (measured in standardized tests) to the neglect of “empathy, perspective-taking, and mindfulness”.  They have nothing more to offer other than the names of Lady Gaga and her friend Oprah Winfrey, who agree with them that we are Born This Way.

And yet their first example of the bullied student was not Born This Way. I quote their opening paragraph: “High school student Zachary Kerr didn’t know what to do. As a sophomore transitioning from female to male, he was met with comments in the classroom from whom one might least expect it: a teacher who voiced his disapproval of Kerr’s gender change. ‘It was hard to figure out what to do because it was a teacher,’ Kerr, now 18, says about his experience. ‘Do I complain about it? This teacher was responsible for grading me, and [his] was one of my favorite classes. Do I let it go and be uncomfortable? My decision was to let it go.’ He spent the rest of the year not speaking in the class about his transition.” [No mention in the article of any rebuttal by the teacher. I am pro-gay rights, but wonder why this particular example of unconfirmed bullying was the LEAD item in a six-page article.]

Skip a few paragraphs (one mentions a suicide, with no explanation as to the cause) to the meat of the article: Lecturer Richard Weissbourd, Ed.D.’87 explains his remedy for this apparently intractable problem: “’It’s a window into our failure to develop empathy in kids, or caring and responsibility in kids,’ he says. ‘It’s an opportunity to talk about social-emotional learning, moral development, responsibility for others, standing up and having courage, and also an opportunity to talk about the ways schools function and what we are doing and not doing to prepare adults to connect to students and to be helpful to them around peer troubles. You can’t prevent bullying without doing most of these things.’”

Next, Harvard tries to find the right balance: Headline: SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE. “In the era of standardized testing, incorporating these aforementioned lessons in the classroom isn’t easy. Across the board, experts and educators agree that with an increased focus on academic achievement comes an inadvertent decreased focus on social-emotional learning—the process for recognizing and managing emotion and how to develop concern for others.”

The author gives an example: a five-year old grabs a toy from another child. The [badass] kid is asked, how would you feel if someone took your toy by force?  Dear reader, this article I am quoting from was not written by Republicans but by the Democratic Party education establishment, or as I like to call them, the moderate men.

Note that Harvard educators of educators are not worried that our young adults cannot read or comprehend Shakespeare or Milton (say Hamlet, King Lear, The Tempest, or Paradise Lost), let alone such American classics as Moby-Dick). It is not bullying to throw out the masterpieces of civilization as written by dead white males, but it is bullying for a teacher to express disapproval of a sex-change operation, assuming that the interaction even took place as reported by “Zachary Kerr.” (The teacher was not given a platform to respond.) Victims never lie or exaggerate. (For more on the smashup of the old literary canon see https://clarespark.com/2010/06/10/herman-melville-dead-white-male/.)

When I was briefly a student at P.S. 13 in Elmhurst Queens, right after the war, a gang of boys and maybe girls chased me home, as they brandished a knife. (I was the only Jewish kid in the class, and was perhaps resented as a teacher’s pet.) My mother went to the school and complained, only to be told by the principal, one Lillian Eschenbecker (of German descent?), that “Clare is like an apple: beautiful on the outside, but rotten at the core.” She really said that, and my mother told me about it. Perhaps she even believed this authoritative principal. I don’t know. Maybe I was Born This Way.

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