[Marxism] America No. 1?

louis kontos louis.kontos at liu.edu
Sun Mar 6 14:08:30 MST 2005

sorry for the (re)posting -- i guess i hit reply instead of delete 
after reading it.

On Mar 6, 2005, at 12:45 PM, louis kontos wrote:

> On Mar 6, 2005, at 9:19 AM, Mike Friedman wrote:
>> My two cents... As of now, I've pretty much taught at every grade 
>> level from k-undergrad, and I agree with Mark wholeheartedly. 
>> Teaching comparative vertebrate anatomy at Lehman College, an upper 
>> level biology course, I found that most of my students -- most! -- 
>> had problems with basic math (percents and decimals) and couldn't 
>> write coherently, much less write an organized research paper. I've 
>> been teaching biology at various CUNY schools, and the levels of 
>> ignorance regarding basic biological concepts are astounding. I'm not 
>> even talking about evolution, but spontaneous generation! Yes, I've 
>> had students who believe that flies are generated from rotting meat! 
>> This IS a field that is regarded as viable for students in the job 
>> market!
>> And going upstream, I taught high school science for ten years and 
>> have taught in middle and elementary schools (as a sub) for the past 
>> five. I've found U.S.-born students at these grades to be 
>> academically behind peers born and educated elsewhere. Most of my 
>> contact has been with Latin American kids, but they are inevitably 
>> two or three grade levels ahead of U.S.-raised students in 
>> mathematics and science. The reasons are not hard to find. At Seward 
>> Park High School, a colleague's niece came up from Honduras and 
>> wanted to register for physics. Algebra or pre-calc was required for 
>> that course, I don't remember, but she had already had calculus. The 
>> Science Department chair adamantly refused to admit her into the 
>> physics class, asserting that coming from Honduras (I doubt he even 
>> knew where it was), it was impossible that she could have the 
>> necessary math. This is a school that had me teach science to classes 
>> of ESL 1 Chinese students (we basically smiled and made gestures at 
>> each other), while leaving four or five Spanish-speaking science 
>> classes without teachers (I'm bilingual Spanish), whatsoever. In a 
>> nutshell, the reason was that the inflow of Hong Kong dollars at that 
>> time had given the Chinatown community considerably more clout in the 
>> education system than the thoroughly marginalized Lower East Side 
>> Latino community. More generally, the high schools I've taught at 
>> have all suffered from excessive class size and resource 
>> impoverishment, products of our apartheid education system (and I use 
>> this to refer to class and racial inequality). In all cases, students 
>> have been offered a "least-common-denominator" education in a system 
>> in which academic tracking still prevails.
>> And my son's elementary school, where I've also taught and been 
>> otherwise involved for seven years, an alternative public school, is 
>> producing students with some of the same deficits in math and writing 
>> that I have observed at high school and college levels. Beyond the 
>> peculiarities of this school (which are major factors, no doubt...), 
>> I would place the blame largely on two specific factors: first, 
>> budget cuts, which have raised class size to "mainstream" levels and 
>> left the school bereft of resources and second, increased penetration 
>> of standardized testing and test-centered teaching (now, 
>> second-graders have to be traumatized by these tests!). And one 
>> ubiquitous general,  factor: racism. Besides the fact that our school 
>> district is marginalized, within the school (a "progressive" school), 
>> I have seen countless instances of Black and Latino kids and their 
>> parents being treated differently or mistreated. In curricular 
>> matters, the educators' attitude is often the standard "head in the 
>> sand." Three years ago, in a unit on New Amsterdam in my son's class, 
>> the kids all developed ambitious multimedia projects -- with the 
>> singular problem that virtually all identified Native Americans as 
>> aggressors and savages, while the teacher sat blithely by and 
>> applauded their work. To their credit, several students (3rd graders, 
>> all) criticized this. But, the list goes on...
>> Having painted a rather unflattering picture of public education, I 
>> also want to state that I don't share Joaquin's disavowal of public 
>> education. "RR" is correct in his assessment of the proper 
>> orientation to public schools, as social institutions on a par with 
>> social security or national health care. Privatization of schools 
>> merely leaves our children's education at the mercy of corporate 
>> profiteering. Over the past two decades, creeping or galloping 
>> privatization has been the tendency in public education, and it has 
>> done anything but better the schools. Private schools or "voucher" 
>> schools, for most working class youth would NOT be Montessori, as the 
>> experience of the Edison Schools has shown. These "experimental" 
>> privately-run schools were promoted by the Giuliani administration in 
>> N.Y. Guided by a business mentality, they were total failures and 
>> were driven out of the oppressed communities in Brooklyn where they 
>> were set up.
>> Mike
>> At 10:19 PM 3/5/2005, you wrote:
>>> Message: 4
>>> Date: Sat, 5 Mar 2005 14:25:59 -0500
>>> From: "Mark Lause" <MLause at cinci.rr.com>
>>> Subject: RE: [Marxism] America No. 1?
>>> To: "'Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition'"
>>>         <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
>>> Message-ID: <000001c521b9$29668c60$d41bb941 at yourkf1y8xksrv>
>>> Content-Type: text/plain;       charset="us-ascii"
>>> To my comment that "the level of ignorance is astronomical," Carrol 
>>> Cox
>>> wrote, "This is greatly misleading. There has been a long thread on
>>> lbo-talk on this topic."
>>> I'd be the first to admit that much of my evidence is anecdotal and
>>> personal, based on many years in the classroom teaching in a very
>>> specific field.  The problem is not innate student stupidity but
>>> institutional contempt for my own field, along with others which have
>>> been described as unprofitable to students in the job market.
>>> At one point in my long career as a adjunct brasero, I found myself 
>>> in
>>> hot water for giving a student an "F" on an essay in which she 
>>> explained
>>> how Columbus had mistreated the Indians by taking them to America.  
>>> She
>>> appealed the grade on the grounds that she had mentioned Columbus,
>>> Indians, and the former's "mistreatment" of the latter.  The
>>> administrators also made it clear to me that they agreed that it was
>>> unfair for the student's ignorance of history to burden her quest 
>>> for a
>>> degree....  I have scores of these kinds of anecdotes, all reflecting
>>> what seems to me to be the institutional nature of the problem.
>>> That said, the results are quite obvious.  For many years, I measured
>>> this by testing the basic knowledge of incoming freshmen about 
>>> politics
>>> and history.  I stopped this when I was coming up for tenure because 
>>> the
>>> administrators objected to it as a violation of the students' 
>>> privacy.
>>> However, I also stopped when the results reached a point where as 
>>> many
>>> freshmen as could correctly approximate the time frame of the Vietnam
>>> War were confusing it with one or the other of the World Wars.
>>> Solidarity!
>>> Mark L.
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