This is my second posting. My plan is to post once a week on Mondays so look for a new posting every Tuesday.
I was just contacted by a first-year New York City teacher asking for advice who feels like he has entered the bizarro world where nothing is as it seems. On Oct. 1 he received a directive with a "lesson plan" informing him that on Oct. 2 he would teach a "mandated" lesson" to all of his classes presenting the "City's discipline code to all students." He was permitted to adapt the lesson to his classes, but told the "content" must be the same.
Curiously, the notice was dated Sept. 29, 2008. It was the same lesson as the previous year and contained the same typographical error (It had two different dates for a Supreme Court case).
The aim of the lesson was "How can our actions have different kinds of consequences?" As a "do now" upon entry students were supposed to read a four paragraph description of the Tinker Des Moines School District (1969) Supreme Court decision where the court ruled that "[Neither] teachers [nor] students shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech ... at the schoolhouse gate." It is followed by six "critical thinking" questions. After the "do now" which is supposed to take five to ten minutes, the teacher was supposed to "carefully review" five pages from the Department of Education's list of "infractions" "one at a time, then explain the range of possible 'Disciplinary responses.'"
These are the problems as the teacher and I saw them.
There was no context for the lesson. Most of his classes were studying global history, not the history of the United States. If he had time, he might have designed a lesson incorporating the school discipline code into an examination of Hammurabi's Code from ancient Mesopotamia, but there was no time and they would not be studying that region for a couple of weeks.
The four paragraph long reading passage describing Tinker was beyond the reading comprehension level of many of his students, which meant it would have to be read aloud and discussed. To read the document aloud, discuss it, and address the critical thinking questions, would take more than the time allotted for the entire exercise, not the first five to ten minutes of a class period.
The teacher was trying to establish a sense of classroom community where students took responsibility for each other. The teacher felt that his reading the discipline code to them in this way would undermine what he has tried to achieve during the first month of school.
That brings us to the real issue, the purpose of the lesson. The five pages of disciplinary code list fifty-one infractions, forty-four disciplinary responses, as well as fifteen guidance interventions written in a modified legalize. The purpose of the codebook is not as an instructional device, but to cover the Department of Education in the event a parent sues charging discrimination against a son or daughter.
This lesson is not a lesson at all. It is a diatribe and a threat. If you do this, we will do that. It has nothing to do with educating students so they understand the relationship between rights and responsibilities. And if you think this list of punishments will have any positive impact, you should reread Leviticus where the Jewish God threatens death for all sorts of infractions. How many of you have changed your behavior because of Leviticus? How many of you do not face eternal damnation for your transgressions?
Mayor Mike has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get his message across to the public and to champion the success of his educational programs as he seeks reelection. Dissenting voices, even questions, have been drowned in the flood.
Meanwhile, teachers, students, and parents are trapped in Bloomberg's bizzaro world.
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