Phi Delta Kappan, May 2001

I'd immediately drop my membership in Phi Delta Kappa, an educators' honor society of sorts, except then I'd lose my subscription to its eponymous monthly magazine, and that would mean losing touch with the conventional wisdom that I sometimes need to orient myself. With rare exceptions, you can count on this for education geo-positioning: you want to be pointed approximately 180?? from where the Kappan is headed. This is especially true of Anne Lewis's monthly "commentary" from Washington and Gerald Bracey's absurd "research" column. These are entirely predictable and utterly tendentious (though at least Ms. Lewis doesn't have the gall to also name an annual "report" after herself!) So are the editor's letter and the appalling monthly report from Canada by a left-wing teachers' union activist. But even after ignoring the regular chaff, one must contend with the articles. Occasionally there's something worth reading. (As former Senator Russell Long remarked, even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then.) In May, for example, we find a decent piece by Michael Kirst and colleagues on some unintended consequences of California's sweeping class-size reduction program. But then we also find a dismaying essay by the eminent (and usually sensible) education telejournalist, John Merrow on the inherent fallacy of high-stakes testing; an anti-standards tantrum by Donald Thomas and William Bainbridge (of SchoolMatch); a loving interview with Linda Darling-Hammond; and an essay by Perry Glanzer on character education that may represent a new low in moral equivalency. He argues that, because the former Soviet Union used character education for nefarious political purposes, Americans should beware of using schools to inculcate specific virtues in children. Among the virtues he thinks we should shun (due to their "political" quality): patriotism and tolerance. Good grief. Why do I keep paying dues to this outfit? For the same reason I sometimes travel to places I don't like: it's necessary to know what's there. In the Kappan's case, it must also be said, the cartoons are often swell. At the Kappan's website -- http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/ktoc.htm --  you'll find a table of contents for the May issue as well as links to some of the articles.

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