Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Houghton Mifflin, prescribed automaton education and then some

By now you may notice Houghton Mifflin and I are foes; mention of H.M. leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's not that other textbooks are necessarily better, just that my experiences with HM have been anything but positive.

Do excuse me for any repetition of previous post content. I have probably 100 post ideas in my mind, a few dozen half-composed on my laptop, and a few dozen already posted and it is hard to keep it all straight. When my mind gets going, it doesn't stop.

RESEARCH BASED- If HM Reading First programs are research based, I live on the moon. (Actually I live in a neighborhood called Valley of the Moon so perhaps my analogy should change.)John Hopkins University did a study of the validity of research (statistical validity of the effectiveness/effectiveness claims) and guess what? HM did not appear in their list. Perhaps their research is invalid (i.e. "a study of three students proves... or, our own independent research done by our own people proves....) HM claims their program is scientifically-based. The progressives, many educational pioneers, and eugenic-supporters wanted to manage the population through science-based methods. Leave it to the experts, who use science (often racially and class biased via test scores and junk science) to tell you what to do. And based can mean, well, based....have you ever watched a movie "based on the true story" where only about 10% is actually based on the true story? So is HM "based on science...well....kind of...."? Well I do know this "science" is based on Prussian reading methods of "whole language" which I will explore momentarily. If only I could recall what I just did with my notes from my HM Reading First training, which stated learning modalities are a bunch of hooey, among other "gems". If I find my notes, there will be a post!

"WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO TEACH?" Yes, I was once asked this. During my first year of full-time teaching, my administrator actually asked me this. I am not self-righteous or vain but really? I was asked this because I would not follow the HM scripted curriculum to a "t". I would occasionally deviate as I saw fit because, well, I did go to school to obtain a credential and I did learn about learning styles, pedagogy, Piaget, etc. In fact, in my program we had to create an entire unit of 10 lessons without using/referencing a textbook. So suddenly here I am in HM hell and have to throw out everything I learned and "trust" what the textbook tells me? I spent $15,000 on a credential, only so I could have a piece of paper that tells me, follow the textbook? Why even teach? I could just have one of my more proficient readers come and teach the class. Heck I could outsource the book to India, have then orally transcribe it, and play the tape in class while I read the newspaper, paint my nails, go out for coffee.... Where did I learn to teach? Somewhere where they TAUGHT ME TO TEACH. Not to become some automaton slave to the textbook company.


The volkshulen(see my Prussia post) initiated a reading program, one that arguably taught not to read, or at least not very well. If you’re an educator, you have certainly heard about the “whole language” verses “phonics” debate to teaching reading, and have probably concluded that neither is effective but a combination of both, with a little more focus on phonics, is best… or so the research says. The whole language method originated in Prussia and was brought to America by none other than Horace Mann. Since Mann began “teaching schools” (such as those at the University of Chicago or Columbia) for teacher training, he ensured “whole language” was the only method used to teach how to teach reading. In addition, the reading programs in both Prussia and America encouraged age/developmental level appropriate sight words and prescribed vocabulary and sentence length. Such practices continue today in America, as can be seen in the Houghton Mifflin reading series and likely other textbooks as well. One can argue (myself included) that this could be part of “dumbing down” education. I might be going out on a limb here, but controlling language is like “newspeak” in Orwell’s 1984, which would be and was exactly the purpose in Prussia doing so.

UNABLE TO READ ON THEIR OWN I recall as a child having "SSR" or "DEAR" (Silent Sustained Reading/ Drop Everything and Read). An avid reader, this was the only part of school I really liked, and was probably the only part of school where I had choice and control over what I was to learn. unable to read on own. So of course Reading First/HM, or at least the school I was at, rid of that completely. I even asked why we went to the school library, if students did not have SSR. I also inquired why they not only were denied SSR, but why every story/textbook chapter etc was to be "read" to them on a CD instead of my reading to them, or, imagine this, they read it. I was told "the program dictates they be read to, and in Language Arts they can only do HM lessons, no supplementals such as books for pleasure. Besides, they can't read on their own, they don't know how". So we were not allowed to teach them to read independently, or even encourage it. Sounds like Prussian control to me. And they wondered why their test scores were pathetic? Conspiracy theory nut job (me) says: if they read on their own, they might learn, and learn beyond the bounds set forth for them, and they could be a threat to the system.

MY ACTUAL EXPERIENCES: I do recall mentioning these in a previous post but here I go again....word for word from my own prior post, "In the 2004-2005 school year, I taught fifth grade in Montclair, CA at a Title-1, Program Improvement, Reading First school. The student population was low SES (100% free lunch), with over 75% ELL students (in my class of thirty-some, I had one native speaker and two FEP). As many schools have experienced, we were under pressure from NCLB to raise test scores and implement recommended programs in a regimented manner to assure success. I gained many valuable perspectives from this job, as I sometimes felt powerless to teach when I had to be on the same page at the same time as the next door teacher, and had to teach word-for-word from the textbook. Certainly, low SES students whom are more likely kinesthetic learners (not to mention the language barrier interfering in linguistic activities) will benefit from a spelling lesson where they discover the patterns, similarities, and differences and then categorize them accordingly- in place of the rote-learning lesson where I as the teacher dictate the spelling terms and write them on the board in the proper categories! Oh my…I was much too innovative and wanted to change the system to help the students as that’s why I became a teacher! Besides, my brain was chock-full of ideas from my credentialing classes which taught me great differentiation skills and motivational activities "
I recall the spelling-lesson moment. Here I was to write the week's spelling words on the board in columns under the pattern(i.e. ed or ing endings), tell the kids the pattern, hand out a worksheet. I was to point to the A i sfor apple B is for ball posters to help them recognize the beginning sound of the word (I never used those posters but they made a decorative wall border). I recall rather dramatically the hum of the not-so-cool air conditioning, the buzz of a fly, the sleepy mid morning sun seeping through the tiny slit windows, and this sweltering stillness. My class was behaving (and being one often told to better control my classroom, this was a golden moment)...they all stared blankly at the board and no one peeped or shuffled. I knew better- this was not a golden moment where I'd finally managed behavior. This was a crux of scripted (Prussian) curriculum- control. They were like drones, almost hypnotized, they were so disengaged. I HAD to save them. With precious seconds ticking away, I dashed to the printer, printed out a few copies of the words, and like a magical fairy complete with a wand, I pranced around passing out scissors, words, and tape and shuffled my students into groups. They were to, get this, find the pattern. On their own. I felt like a rebel, disregarding the silently screaming words of the teacher's guide and forging my own path of resistance. I felt liberated. The students actually talked about the lesson and worked cooperatively. My goofiest boy (of whom the school had lost hope in) decided to tape the words to his shirt and laugh while shouting out the pattern. It was the most fun I'd had in a most boring curriculum. And I was hardly the rebel I felt I was since I was still using the curriculum, the newspeak vocabulary/spelling words. I got in trouble for this. I was never sent to the Principal's office as a child but I sure made up for it.

I also recall a HM math lesson on averages, mode, etc. My class just wasn't getting it, so I spent an extra day reviewing division concepts. My neighboring 5th grade teacher confronted me and ratted me out for being a page behind her class. I was then reprimanded by the principal for "teaching division, a 4th grade standard, to 5th graders". She was not so keen to my comment that if they didn't know the 4th grade standard, they surely couldn't master the 5th.

Our classrooms were to be prescribed clones....like the song, "little boxes made of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same". One wall for spelling words which remained up all year and had to be a certain size and placement. Another for vocab and pre-assigned pictures to represent them. Another for those ABC posters of which spelling and vocabulary also go under. I spent hours a week "decorating". (A book by Thomas Alexander called The Prussian Elementary School echoed my "all look just the same" classroom. See my Little Boxes post) I even got written up for having a word which was velcro-ed to the wall cut a little crooked- instead of a 90 degree corner it was say 100. I am not kidding about being written up for a crookedly cut word. In my "improvement plan" (HR lingo for "you're fired") it said "sloppy classroom."

Also, I had noticed in our little clone classrooms that they were devoid of student work, which depersonalizes the classroom, as well as making it...not praiseworthy. I always remember the pride I felt when my work was displayed on the wall. It is such trivial nonsense, but I liked it. I was told that there was no room for student work (true) and that it might look sloppy or contain errors, and students without their work up would feel bad. I cheated the system the system yet again, or at least circumvented it by having my students work on making posters for the story themes, or writing the spelling-pattern headings for my stupid (did I say that out loud) spelling wall. And surprise surprise I got written up for that because one student wrote "co-operation" instead of "cooperation". Any word-nerd may know, Co-operation is acceptable especially in British English, but that is besides the point.

And quick mention of Elwood Cubberly who was editor of many HM textbooks of his time, and he directly influenced many educational policies and methods still in operation today.

Although anyone who knows me will say, wait, you work with Data Director (part of HM) and student data and assessments and yet you're claiming all these things are evil? Yes. Keep your friends close and your enemy closer, know your enemy, and take it down from within.

But yes I am my own worst enemy...using HM DD. dialectrobly opposed to ability testing but oh well. know your enemy, keep your enemy closer.

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