Recently I stood in front of my class, observing an all-too-familiar scene. Most of my students were covertly—or so they thought—pecking away at their smartphones under their desks, checking their Facebook feeds and texts.
As I called their attention, students’ heads slowly lifted, their eyes reluctantly glancing forward. I then cheerfully explained that their next project would practice a skill they all desperately needed: holding a conversation.
Several students looked perplexed. Others fidgeted in their seats, waiting for me to stop watching the class so they could return to their phones. Finally, one student raised his hand. “How is this going to work?” he asked.
My junior English class had spent time researching different education issues. We had held whole-class discussions surrounding school reform issues and also practiced one-on-one discussions. Next, they would create podcasts in small groups, demonstrating their ability to communicate about the topics—the project represented a culminating assessment of their ability to speak about the issues in real time.
Even with plenty of practice, the task proved daunting to students. I watched trial runs of their podcasts frequently fall silent. Unless the student facilitator asked a question, most kids were unable to converse effectively. Instead of chiming in or following up on comments, they conducted rigid interviews. They shuffled papers and looked down at their hands. Some even reached for their phones—an automatic impulse and the last thing they should be doing.
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Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, the schools in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, show how separate and unequal education is coming back.
Meet the students and staff at Tuscaloosa’s all-black Central High School in a short documentary film by Maisie Crow.
Minority participants aren’t just debating resolutions—they’re challenging the terms of the debate itself.
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Marcus Burke, author of Team Seven and a former college athlete, learned from Carter G. Woodson that teaching yourself is just as important as being taught in the classroom.
The trend in instilling the importance of healthy relationships and mutual respect, not just how to use condoms
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Nothing is more American than the belief in second chances. But the latest College Board/National JournalNext America Poll suggests that the choices young people make as they complete high school echo with surprising power throughout their lives.
Underscoring the stakes of the next step teenagers take after completing high school, the poll found that those who advanced immediately to some form of postsecondary education—either to a two- or four-year college or to vocational training—were more than three times as likely to report ever having obtained a degree than those who moved from high school straight into the workforce. Even counting those who are still seeking but haven’t yet obtained a postsecondary credential, the ratio remains 3-to-1.
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In 2011, Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler highlighted poll results showing a striking phenomenon: About half of the Americans receiving federal assistance in paying college tuition or medical bills believe they have never benefited from a government social program. The results are evidence of what Mettler has termed “the submerged state”—a series of policies, like tuition tax credits or federally-guaranteed student loans, that are practically invisible to citizens. That invisibility, she argues, erodes public support for the very idea of government playing an active role in people’s lives.
Now in a new book, Degrees of Inequality, Mettler reveals how, over the past 60 years, American higher-education policy has gone from being visible and effective (the GI Bill and the Pell grant program) to being invisible and inefficient ($32 billion in federal funding for for-profit colleges with abysmal graduation rates). Congressional polarization along party lines, it turns out, played a major role, as did plummeting federal and state support for four-year public universities.
I spoke with Mettler about why Republicans and reform-minded Democrats switched positions on for-profit colleges; why the liberal arts are underrated and MOOCs (massive open online courses) are overrated; and why corporate lobbyists are able to achieve so much influence in Washington for relatively little money.
Read more. [Image: Butch Dill/AP Photo]
Are college athletes university employees? It’s a question that has gripped the sports world since January, when a group of Northwestern University football players petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to form a union. The debate has only intensified since March 26, when a regional director in Chicago surprised many by granting the players’ petition.
The backbone of regional director Peter Sung Ohr’s 24-page ruling that the players are employees and thus have the right to form a union was the exhaustive description of the responsibilities and time-consuming demands of Northwestern football players. The judge said the evidence put forth by the team members, led by former quarterback Kain Colter and the College Athletes Players Association, showed that football “student-athletes” at Northwestern spend 40 to 50 hours a week on football-related activities for the duration of the regular season and bowl season, and have a virtual year-round commitment to the program. Thus, they are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, Ohr concluded.
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In 1965, when Mary Beth Tinker was 13 years old, she wore a black armband to her junior high school to protest the Vietnam War. The school promptly suspended her, but her protest eventually led to a landmark Supreme Court case: Tinker v. Des Moines. In their verdict, the court vindicated Tinker by saying students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” The 7-2 ruling ushered in a new era of free speech rights for students. First Amendment advocates basked in the glow of the Tinker decision for decades.
However, the Internet has since complicated the meaning of the ruling, and those same advocates now worry students’ rights to freedom of speech are again under attack. Schools regularly punish students for online comments, even if those comments are made away from school property and after school hours. Although some administrators target cyber-bullies, others punish students whose only offense is posting an online comment that the school doesn’t like.
The situation has inspired Tinker herself to tour the nation’s schools to revive student speech rights, nearly 50 years after her famous protest.
Read more. [Image: Adam Hunger/Reuters]