The Algebra Project is a noble and worthy enterprise, even if it hasn't led to the radical transformation in education that was still hoped for at theThe Algebra Project is a noble and worthy enterprise, even if it hasn't led to the radical transformation in education that was still hoped for at the publication of the book.
First, however, even with no math content or research into pedagogy, this is also simply a good report of the author's experiences in the struggle for civil rights.
That he turned that experience into a revolutionary attack on the structural racism embodied in the U.S. school system is what drove this book, though, and on that it should be judged.
There, the message is split.
Moses and his Algebra Project (AP) showed that student-centric participatory learning was a viable way of educating, even with something as semantically dense as algebra. This approach, broadly speaking, has gained many adherents and now forms the primary methodology some mathematics teacher education programs use.
There are two key differences, I think, although I'm basing my assessment on this book and its appendix, not on any examination of the curricular materials.
It seems Moses discovered the AP's students could create their own curriculum once he had provided an adequate set of framing questions. That's great; this is what is now taught.
But one problem might be that he decided to use that student-create curriculum as a model, leading subsequent cohorts of students to re-use the same methods and terminology — at least that appears to be what the Appendix suggests. This curriculum was adapted for different regions (Mississippi had different landmarks than Cambridge) but appears to have been seized upon as a "better" student-created curriculum which later cohorts were nudged towards.
The second problem appears to be the substantial distance this student-created effort ended up from standard mathematical practice, leaving the students forced to also learn to bridge their own concepts back to those all other math practitioners would be using.
The equivalent techniques we're using today use the student-centric participatory model to engage students in "authentic" exercises that trigger their own latent curiosity, but a later part of each lesson plan (a few days or so later) would be to introduce "standard" terminology and practices, reminding the students that mathematics, like any language, is useless unless it can be reliably used to communicate with others. Once students have adequate mastery of the concepts and their usage in standard practice, the next lesson begins the cycle anew with a new participatory phase.
There is, unfortunately, a second explanation for why the Algebra Project didn't continue its steamroller successes and take over mathematics education. It is possible that many of the positive effects were due to the Hawthorne effect, or a variation thereof. As Moses makes clear, the children targeted by the Algebra Project were terribly neglected by the education system. They were possibly so hungry for care and attention that almost any respectful attention paid by adults may have resulted in positive outcomes. The sense of community fostered by the Algebra Project and the Young People's Project undoubtedly also helped.
Those effects shouldn't be discounted, and the second should always be fostered as a motivation for learning. But as the excitement wore off and more schools began to teach this curriculum simply as a curriculum, without the charismatic leadership and exciting sense of community, it lost much of its appeal....more
This was the second of the three books required for my teaching credential class, “Teaching for Equity in Secondary Schools”. See my review of the firThis was the second of the three books required for my teaching credential class, “Teaching for Equity in Secondary Schools”. See my review of the first book, Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students by Greg Michie, for more background on that class and my griping about it.
Noguera’s book (like the third book, “The Dream-Keepers: Successful teachers of African American children”) was wonderfully intentioned, and provides a lot of guidance and even wisdom. But also like that third book, it suffers from some fundamental flaws.
Now, I think like an academic. I like evidence laid out for my judgement without the burden of someone else tweaking that evidence as a result of their own conclusions. I respect advocacy: the world is better because people care deeply about things, and work hard to bring dreams to fruition — and sometimes that includes writing books. But the mission of an advocate and an academic are separate, at least in my opinion.
My frustrations with advocacy pretending to be academic are manifold, but two big ones kept me from appreciating Noguera’s book.
The first is that he, as a liberal/progressive activist, almost certainly lives in a liberal/progressive echo chamber, in which everyone more or less agrees on what is right and just and fair, and they universally condemn those that they don’t agree with as stupid, or greedy, or venal, or something else that makes it trivial to ignore their objections and concerns.
That is actually visible in the book’s full title: “City schools and the American dream: Reclaiming the promise of public education”. It doesn’t take too much investigating to discover there are a lot of people in the United States that don’t have dreams of public education, and there are plenty that see public education as a nightmare for a variety of reasons. So scattered throughout, Noguera points out how what he advocates will help “us” succeed in this dream of a mission, and he never acknowledges — much less accepts — that there will be people as impassioned as his is fighting to stop him to fulfill their own dreams.
So it’s a bit difficult not to groan when he speaks of increasing funding for schools, or “changing policy at the state and Federal level” as if we’ve just taken a few missteps and stumbled and need merely to stand up straight and get back on track.
My second difficulty is that split mission of advocate and academic. In chapter six he covers some research he led at Berkeley High School, and that one chapter is (mostly) a model of reasoned discourse and analysis. But elsewhere, he contradicts himself and misuses his evidence. For example, in chapter ?, he castigates other scholars for their defeatist “victimology” and describing the problem as one of an “inherited inferiority complex”, but then acknowledges that when his own son was struggling academically, he was worried about “acting white” and only succeeded when he distance himself from his former friends. The terms Noguera and his opponents use are different, but both are talking of the same thing.
The book does have these flaws, which is why I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. Many folks reading it from within the liberal/progressive echo chamber won’t see its flaws and will perhaps become more radicalized (which is, frankly, what my professor wants), while those outside that echo chamber are likely to become irritated by the advocacy, as I have, and won’t get much out of it. That’s too bad, since Noguera’s experiences and suggestions are often useful....more
This was an “auxiliary text” for my Adolescent Development class in preparation for a high school teaching credential. One I (and most of my classmateThis was an “auxiliary text” for my Adolescent Development class in preparation for a high school teaching credential. One I (and most of my classmates) realized that its content wasn’t going to be explicitly address, I blew it off. So I really only read the first few chapters.
It didn’t really belong in an Adolescent Development class, though. The techniques used are classroom methodologies and management, and we’ve got a completely different class for that. It’s also similar to Curriculum & Instruction (a/k/a “Methods” at other schools) which is yet another class.
I don’t think it’s bad, but it seemed like a collection of superficial techniques used to get students engaged, which may or may not work, depending on the course subject and teacher’s style....more
This was the required textbook for one of my classes for a certificate in Secondary Education, SED 800, entitled Adolescent Development. No one in theThis was the required textbook for one of my classes for a certificate in Secondary Education, SED 800, entitled Adolescent Development. No one in the class liked it very much, and it didn’t get much respect.I think I disliked it somewhat less than most of my cohort, and for different reasons.
It was common in discussions to dismiss the text by saying “Steinberg thinks this” or that, but I felt a great deal of what he was accused of was his reporting of what researchers had concluded. But I never really investigated; I never asked, “Wait, are you sure this was the author, and not something that was then attributed to cited author or study?” Because the book also wasn’t anything I wanted to put effort into defending.
I suspect the primary purpose of the text is for an undergraduate psychology class. There were plenty of citations, but the overall treatment of the material was mostly at a simple level. I often forget that at least some of my fellow students are barely done with their first bachelors’ degree, when mine was several decades ago. And that I’ve been reading books and academic journal articles on some of this stuff (especially cognition) for almost as long as those other students have been alive. So very little of the material we were assigned was challenging.
The class instructor acknowledge that the book wasn’t ideal for the course and would try to find a new one. What would be much, much better would be a book on adolescence as a teacher should understand it. There are peculiarities to the teacher-student relationship that really need to be addressed.
For example, some students will respond well to being gently teased, because it is a relationship modality they are familiar and comfortable with from other adult interactions. But others will recoil and retreat. Some are so sensitive to signs of hostility that even witnessing teasing can bring forth negative emotions that it is “triggering”, to use the modern lingo. In another class we studied the research done on “Adverse Childhood Experiences” and how such sensitivity develops, but that discussion was present neither in this textbook nor in the class. I should note I was reading the 10th edition of the book, not the newest (because the latter is going for well over $200 instead of the $20-40 that would buy used copies of the previous edition), but my edition was only four years old.
For an undergraduate adolescent psych text, I don’t think it’s horrible, but for anyone curious about current research it’s probably too superficial....more
Let there be no doubt: a "skilled" minority person who is not also capable of critical analysis becomes the trainable, low-level fu
Chapter 6 epigraph:
Let there be no doubt: a "skilled" minority person who is not also capable of critical analysis becomes the trainable, low-level functionary of the dominant society, simply the grease that keeps the institutions which orchestrate his or her oppression running smoothly. On the other hand, a critical thinker who lacks the "skills" demanded by employers and institutions of higher learning can aspire to financial and social status only within the disenfranchised underworld. —Lisa Delpit, Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom
I don’t know what is taught in other universities, but here in the San Francisco Bay Area, all four teacher prep programs I’m aware of (CSUEB, SFSU, Stanford and USF) have some variation of “Teaching for Equity in Secondary Schools”. As the subtitle of the syllabus puts it, “The Right to a Free Public Education is the Most Pressing Civil Rights Issue of Our Time.” The class was interesting, and sometimes fascinating, although the professor has trouble connecting with many of the students, so there was frequently an undercurrent of frustration and even hostility.
That wasn’t one of my problems.
What was a frustration was the emphasis on the African-American aspect of the problem, to the almost complete exclusion of other ethnicities and cultures. I will certainly acknowledge that the history of the United State makes this problem loom larger and more tragic than others, but that is a societal problem, and the focus isn’t helpful to, for example, a teacher dealing with a class full of Latino English-language learners — or many other cultures or peoples who face inequities
But this book “Holler if you hear me: The education of a teacher and his students”, was a pleasure. That’s probably because it isn’t intended as advocacy, but as a very interesting memoir. For anyone who read the much earlier “Up the Down Staircase”, this serves as a good sequel, informing the reader what conditions a teacher sometimes faced in an impoverished urban school.
Of the three books we read for class, it was also the one that didn’t focus on African-Americans, but Latinos in Chicago. As a textbook for how to teach in a highly diverse school, it doesn’t really work. But as an eye-opening look at one teacher’s life, it’s wonderful....more
Gotta study to remember math I've long since forgotten, such as matrices or hyperbolic trig. Luckily, it looks like I remember almost everything, so IGotta study to remember math I've long since forgotten, such as matrices or hyperbolic trig. Luckily, it looks like I remember almost everything, so I should be able to move on to calculus sooner rather than later....more
Check out Politics, Odors and Soap by Nicholas Kristof, over at the New York Times. He writes a very enthusiastic little review of yet another bookCheck out Politics, Odors and Soap by Nicholas Kristof, over at the New York Times. He writes a very enthusiastic little review of yet another book on the intersection of cognition and politics. No big surprise, it's by Jonathan Haidt, who's doing the pioneering research into how the brains of liberals and conservatives are wired in fundamentally different ways. Oh, also see the review in the Wall St. Journal, Conflicting Moralities. The longer, "official" Ney York Times review is at Why Won’t They Listen?, and explores the book in more detail.
Steven Pinker certain ranges widely in intellectual circles. Although he is nominally a professor of psychology at Harvard, but even with specialtiesSteven Pinker certain ranges widely in intellectual circles. Although he is nominally a professor of psychology at Harvard, but even with specialties (per Wikipedia) in experimental psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, he somehow dove into history to present one of the best TED Talks, back in 2007: Steven Pinker on the myth of violence (watch those nineteen minutes, if you haven't already).
Wonderfully, he has now followed that presentation up with an entire volume.
Peter Singer wrote the glowing review of this book for the New York Times, and that somewhat lengthy essay is itself well worth reading: Is Violence History?.
Update — the Autumn 2011 issue of the excellent pop sociology quarterly The Wilson Quarterly also enthusiastically recommends the book (with minor caveats) in Peace on Earth.
Update — Just got this from the library; must read within three weeks since the number of holds will prevent me from renewing. Curiously, the podcast I was listening to on the way to the library was on a related topic. The U.C. Berkeley School of Law professor (and socioologist) Franklin Zimring wrote an article back in August on the precipitous decline in crime in New York City, and was interviewed by the charming SciAm editor Steve Mirsky, The City That Became Safe: What New York Teaches about Urban Crime and Its Control. Check it out!
Just after last year’s autumnal equinox I started an 80-or-so-mile backpacking trip down in King Canyon National Park, in the southern Sierra Nevadas.Just after last year’s autumnal equinox I started an 80-or-so-mile backpacking trip down in King Canyon National Park, in the southern Sierra Nevadas.
I’m sure people that don’t hike or backpack wonder what one does on such a trip besides strain and sweat and get tired and dirty. Well, one of the things I do is study the world around me. The high Sierras exposes a lot of geology that becomes quite fascinating once one starts looking closely, asking questions, and learning a bit. For example, the famous domes of Yosemite aren’t replicated in too many places — why? Well, it has to do with the kind of rock they’re made of, which depends on where and how that rock was formed, how quickly it cooled, etc.
I’ve spent plenty of time in Yosemite, but that last trip was a few hundred miles south, and I soon realized the geology was different in some intriguing ways. The rock around me had a lot more variation in color than I usually see in Yosemite, with green and beige as well as a wide range of grays. And quite a bit of pure quartz. I started wondering if King Canyon’s granite had a less pure chemical mix than Yosemite’s, which might also explain why it spalls and exfoliates differently, creating needle-shaped peaks instead of domes.
Now, just a few days ago, I finished a novel in which several of the characters spent a short time backpacking just a dozen or so miles north of where I had been, and one of their party was a geology geek, explaining that they were hiking to one of the purer portions of the Sierras, granite-wise. Specifically, he explained they were going up the Cartridge Pluton, which was one of the many plutons the Sierra Nevada batholith was composed of.
Well, we geeks love our technobabble, and I resolved to learn how to use this new terminology better — especially since I hope to hike the JMT in the next year or two.
So I figured there might be a book on the geology of the Sierra Nevada, and lo-and-behold, what I found was this book, Geology of the Sierra Nevada. That wasn’t so tough, it seems. It’s by the University of California Press’ California Natural History Guides, which is really nice: I’ve got half a dozen of their other guides, and they’re good stuff.
Well, there’s a lot of information in here, and I very much enjoyed devouring it, but it was too much to gulp down in one read. Much of the information is still in a jumble in my brain, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell a coherent version of very many of these stories of my favorite mountains.
It covers the elemental side of the geology, of course, without getting into any deep detail regarding chemistry. Oh, sure it is mentioned that one kind of lava is higher in silica and another in iron, but I’m embarrassed to say that stuff just dribbles out of my brain. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy chemistry, I just have no pre-assigned place in my brain for the chemistry of rocks, so it isn’t staying put.
But then there’s the history of the geology. When did those tectonic plates do their thing, and how were volcanoes involved, and how did all those huge chunks of granite — er, “granitic rock” get there? And that tale is a good one, and helps explain the relationship between igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rock. I’m still a bit unclear on where “granite” fits into that triad — sometimes it seems to be described as metamorphic, other times igneous. I think the answer might be that there are wide gray zones at the boundaries of igneous and metamorphic, and then again between metamorphic and sedimentary. But I’d have to get a real geology textbook to clarify that.
Oh, yeah, it turns out “granite” isn’t a word geologists use much, because it isn’t precise enough. The Sierras seem to contain at least half-a-dozen different kinds of different “granitic rock” in different locales, and they are what cause the different behavior.
The tales of John Muir and the other men (yeah, at that point and in this scope, pretty much all men) were also fun. We tend to think of John Muir as the old guy with the long gray beard, so it was a bit startling to discover he was the sheep-herding non-expert underdog in the Sierra’s geological debates (which were a rip-roaring topic of conversation back then).
Other folks interested in hiking or backpacking (or skiing, river rafting, rock climbing, etc.) should consider reading this. Hey, get too copies. One for the glovebox and one for the bathroom.
The rest of you who don’t know what you’re missing in the Sierras, well, you probably don’t need to bother. ...more