"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Monday, August 1, 2022

Jim Trelease, 1941 – 2022

EVERY DAY SHOULD BE TEACHER APPRECIATION DAY

No.

Today is not Teacher Appreciation Day

Or Teacher Appreciation Week

Although, every day should be teacher appreciation day. It's likely that you wouldn't be reading this if not for teachers.

Teachers help the majority of American children learn how to read.

Someone taught the programmers of this blog application how to code and how to design and construct the device on which you're reading this post.

Someone taught your dentist how to check and repair teeth. Someone taught your veterinarian how to care for animals.

...and so on...

For me, the concept of teacher appreciation brings to mind the most memorable teachers from whom I've learned. One of my elementary school teachers stands out in my mind...several of my high school teachers...and several of my college teachers. My parents, too, as my first, and most important teachers, are important...most important (You parents should remember that you are your child's first, and most important teacher).

There is one person, however, who stands above all the other teachers I've had (aside from my parents) as the man who had the greatest impact on my career as an elementary school teacher...and made an important contribution to my parenting skills.

THE READ-ALOUD HANDBOOK

In 1979, when I was relatively new to teaching, I ordered a booklet from the Weekly Reader Book Club titled, "Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook for Parents and Teachers."

I had been reading aloud to my students since I started teaching. One of my education school professors had emphasized the importance of reading aloud to our classes, so, from my first class to my last, I tried to make time every day for read aloud. Looking back on my 35 year career I can remember only a handful of times I skipped reading aloud...whether I taught Kindergarten or sixth grade, or something in between, reading aloud was always the most important part of my reading program.

When I saw the pamphlet on reading aloud from the Weekly Reader Book Club I decided that it might be helpful. Thus began my relationship with Jim Trelease's books and research which lasted the more than four decades I spent in elementary school classrooms (as a teacher and volunteer).

I've written about Jim Trelease often on this blog. In 2008 I posted my congratulatory letter to him when he announced his retirement (and I reproduced his response in the comments). In 2017 I wrote a Teacher Appreciation post about him and his Read-Aloud Handbook, now in its eighth edition (the seventh edition is the last one edited by Trelease).


LESSONS FROM JIM TRELEASE

Some of the books listed in the Treasury of Read-Alouds which comprises the second half of the Read-Aloud Handbook might be outdated, but the information about the importance of reading aloud to children and the tips on how to read aloud are still valuable.

There are so many lessons to learn from his book (get a copy of the book!). Here are just two...

Lesson #1 (quoted from the Reading Research Quarterly. See #3, here)
...how exactly does a person become proficient at reading? It’s a simple, two- part formula:
  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.
Lesson #2 (emphasis added)
The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children...It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.
The second lesson was also quoted from another source. It came from Becoming a Nation of Readers published some years after the first Read-Aloud Handbook.

JIM TRELEASE, March 23, 1941 – July 28, 2022

Jim Trelease died on Thursday, July 28, 2022. I'm glad I was able to thank him for his help throughout the years I spent in classrooms. I can't imagine what my teaching career would have been like if not for his influence.

My collection of Read-Aloud Handbook editions,
several of which have been signed by the author, Jim Trelease.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Random thoughts, July 12, 2016

THE TEACHER SHORTAGE AND MORE...

• Why don't politicians who think "anyone can teach" all become teachers?
• The nationwide shortage of teachers is likely caused by media and politicians bad-mouthing public schools and public school teachers. Legislatures are trying to find ways to increase the number of teachers, but there are fewer and fewer young people going into the profession. Diane Ravitch suggests that "The best way to increase the supply of teachers is to raise salaries and reduce class sizes."

So, I guess we're stuck with the shortage given that our legislators don't like spending money. We need to change our ways and make our children a priority.

• Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said about teaching, "Anybody can do it" and claimed that teacher training programs were "the dumbest part of every college." In his mind, it follows that "teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country." That attitude along with salaries more than 20% lower than other similarly trained college graduates, might have something to do with the teacher shortage. Prospective teachers either believe what they hear, or don't want to enter a profession whose practitioners are overworked, underpaid, and regularly insulted.

VOUCHERS: FUNDING RELIGION

• Instead of fully funding public education, legislators fund those who fill their campaign treasuries. Last school year Indiana sent nearly a quarter million BILLION dollars ($241.4 million) to private, mostly religious, schools in the form of school vouchers. But Article 1, Section 6 of the State Constitution says that "No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." Luckily for the religious schools, the state supreme court ignored the concept of church-state separation.
• Speaking of church-state separation, here are quotes from two American politicians about the topic...

Lauren Boebert said in a speech last month,
I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk — that’s not in the Constitution. It was in a stinking letter and it means nothing like they say it does.
Thomas Jefferson wrote this in 1802 -- the letter that Boebert says "means nothing,"
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Does the phrase "separation of church and state" mean nothing?

NO MORE STALE IDEOLOGIES

• It seems that the Florida legislature wants to keep tabs on the number of post-secondary students and faculty who believe in a "stale ideology." Does the new law, approved and signed by Governor DeSantis, define what a "stale ideology" is, or who decides what's stale and what's not? Stale colleges and universities might be punished by funding cuts. What's next? Loyalty oaths? A Florida House Un-American Activities Committee?

Does this mean that the funding from the right-wing Charles Koch Foundation to various Florida universities (see here for example) will have to end? Does it matter that Governor DeSantis gets campaign contributions from Koch Industries?

CIVICS EDUCATION

• Sheila Kennedy wrote about the lack of civic knowledge in the United States.
America’s political culture is the most toxic it has been in my lifetime– and I’m old. There are lots of theories about how we got here—from partisan gerrymandering and residential sorting to increasing tribalism to fear generated by rapid social and technological change and exacerbated by dishonest partisan media. But our current inability to engage in productive civic conversation is also an outgrowth of declining trust in our social and political institutions—primarily government. Restoring that trust is critically important —but in order to trust government, we have to understand what it is and isn’t supposed to do.
I would add that we've also lost the ability to see things from the "other's" point of view which makes coming to a reasonable compromise impossible. We have allowed ourselves to fall into a Gingrichian, all-or-nothing mentality that defines compromise as impossible. Currently, the loudest politicians in the country are those who see winning or losing as the only options. They see governing as a zero-sum game, a false dichotomy, a "my way or the highway" mentality. They don't understand that a free society cannot function without cooperation and compromise (think traffic laws, for example). We don't have to agree with each other, but we need to open our minds and at least listen to other points of view.
AND A COUPLE OF TRIVIAL THOUGHTS

• I love baseball...and don't care that it's a "slow" game. The pace of baseball gives fans time to do something that doesn't happen often enough -- engage in conversation -- and specifically, engage in conversation about the game. The digital revolution has damaged our attention spans. We're losing the ability to concentrate for an entire baseball game to social media like TikTok, Twitter, and texting. IMHO, the length and speed of a baseball game is a feature, not a bug.

Watch your dog when you yawn...chances are he'll yawn, too...and vice versa.
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Friday, July 1, 2022

2022 Medley #2 - SCOTUS Gets First Amendment Religion Guarantee Wrong


Kennedy v. Bremerton School District
All of today's Medley articles address the June 27 Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. The court found in favor of the football coach (Kennedy) who was praying at the 50 yard line after games. The coach claimed that he just wanted a quiet place to pray after the games. The school system tried to accommodate him, but he decided that the center of the football field was the necessary location...and he was anything but quiet as you will read below.

The coach also claimed that he was fired because of this. The truth is that his contract expired at the end of the year and the school system decided not to renew it...plus, he didn't reapply. There is some disingenuous information in the court's ruling about this.

THE CASE

We can begin with a news report from the Religion Clause Blog which includes a link to the ruling. If you read the entire post you'll learn that the ruling explained away ignored the "establishment" clause in order to promote the individual "free exercise" clause. The First Amendment says, in part, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." The Lemon Test, which the majority repudiated, has been used for more than half a century to balance the two clauses of the Amendment.

Supreme Court Upholds Football Coach's Prayer Rights; Repudiates the "Lemon Test"
In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, (Sup. Ct., June 27, 2022), the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, held that a school district violated the First Amendment's Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses by disciplining a football coach for visibly praying at midfield immediately after football games. Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion...

Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justices Breyer and Kagan, filed a dissenting opinion, saying in part:
Official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents, as embodied in both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The Court now charts a different path, yet again paying almost exclusive attention to the Free Exercise Clause’s protection for individual religious exercise while giving short shrift to the Establishment Clause’s prohibition on state establishment of religion.

SCOTUS ONLY ACCEPTS HALF OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT

The coach wasn't satisfied with the accommodation offered by the school system. He wanted to proseletize and that had to be done loudly...immediately after the game so that everyone could see.

The Bremerton Football Prayer Ruling Has Nothing To Do With Protecting Religious Freedom
Coach Joe Kennedy is no hero of religious freedom. The Bremerton school district was more than willing to accommodate his desire for a post-game prayer. Officials offered Kennedy space where he could have prayed privately. It wasn’t good enough for him. He insisted on being on the 50-yard-line, with students, right after the game. There’s a reason for that: Kennedy sought to make a public spectacle of his religious activity, and he clearly hoped to draw students into participating alongside him. The photos don’t lie, and they show Kennedy, surrounded by football players, students and others, holding what looks like a revival service on the field. That’s a private prayer? Compare Kennedy’s actions to the kind of truly private, non-coercive religious expression in public schools by staff that has always been legal – a private prayer over lunch, crossing yourself before an important meeting or spending a few minutes of free time seeking solace from a religious book. None of that puts pressure on students nor was it threatened by the district’s actions.
The following blog entry by Mercedes Schneider explains how the coach promoted his post-game prayer. This was one step in coercing his players (and others) to pray with him. Student players might have though "Coach wants us to pray...if I don't do it will I get to play as much?"

In “Private Personal Prayer” Ruling, SCOTUS Bias on Full Display
On its face, the SCOTUS supermajority’s version of events leads one to believe that once the district discovered that Kennedy was praying and offering a sort of catechism with his football players in the locker room before games as well as leading a prayer midfield immediately following games, again surrounded by his players, Kennedy stopped praying all together, then hired a lawyer and decided he needed to pray alone on the 50-yard line following games, once his players left the field. Aside from what SCOTUS majority paints as students from the opposing team just coming up to pray with him of their own volition, Kennedy complied with praying alone, yet in 2015, the district recommended that his contract not be renewed, that the district was singling Kennedy out for his “private, personal” prayers.

The SCOTUS majority does not mention Kennedy’s active role in a publicity campaign in which he announced his plans to pray midfield following a game; that he did so immediately after a game, while students were still on the field; that he invited the coach and players from the opposing team to join him. Instead, the SCOTUS supermajority errantly and conveniently disposes of the greater course of events surrounding the Kennedy debacle.

In the SCOTUS dissent, Justice Sotomayor offers details conveniently and narrowly omitted from the supermajority decision. (More to come on this.) However, those familiar with the history of Kennedy’s case in the courts need only read excerpts from the Kennedy’s case with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In July 2021, the Ninth Circuit decided not to rehear the case en banc (that is, all judges hearing the case as opposed to one or a few; usually happens when a case is deemed particularly significant).

Peter Greene at Curmudgucation, explains how the majority ignored the "establishment" clause.

SCOTUS Okays School Prayer Based On Alternate Reality
In other words--and stay with me here--a prohibition against religious speech is discriminatory if it's only applied to religious speech. I'm not sure--after all, I'm not a fancy lawyer--but I think Gorsuch is suggesting that the First Amendment's Establishment clause is invalid because it only applies to religious speech. At any rate, since the District's policies "were neither neutral nor generally applicable," they don't hold. Because the District admits that they didn't want to allow "an employee, while still on duty, to engage in religious conduct," they lose.

Gorsuch acknowledges that "none of this means the speech rights of public school employees are so boundless that they may deliver any message to anyone anytime they wish" because they are still government employees, which is a nice try, but I still will cross my fingers for a bunch of teacher lawsuits claiming "My sincerely held religious belief require me to teach about systemic racism and regularly say gay."

I'm not going to try to capture the whole of Gorsuch's next point, but it boils down to something like this-- Kennedy's speech must have been private because it has nothing to do with doing his job, and therefor the District has no business firing him for engaging in speech that has nothing to do with his job."

Gorsuch goes on to acknowledge that those who say teachers and coaches are leaders and all that "have a point."
But this argument commits the error of positing an “excessively broad job descriptio[n]” by treating everything teachers and coaches say in the workplace as government speech subject to government control.
If you listen, you can hear the sound of school administrator heads exploding all over America, as they realize they will now be responsible for figuring out exactly which words that teachers say count as workplace speech.

THE LOGICAL OUTCOMES

Will this decision give teachers more opportunity to pray with their students during school time? Would this case have been decided differently if the coach had been a Muslim and put down a prayer rug on the 50 yard line after each game? What are a teacher's responsibilities as an "agent of the state" when it comes to prayer? Does the document, A Teacher’s Guide to Religion in the Public Schools have to be changed?

Rachel Laser, President & CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, responds to the ruling in this video. I'll give her the last word.

...Justice Alito opened and shut the decision with a reference to morality. That is disguising what is really a conservative narrow belief system that says, "My religious freedom demands that I take away yours."
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Sunday, June 19, 2022

Father's Day 2022: A Reminder to Read Aloud to Your Children

A Father's Day post...with updates and additions from last year.

READING ALOUD

I read aloud to my students from the very first day I taught at an elementary school beginning in January 1976. I had caught the read-aloud bug from the late Lowell Madden, one of my Education School Professors (NOTE: when I was in Education School it was part of Indiana University at Fort Wayne). That bug was reinforced by Jim Trelease, whose Read Aloud Handbook (recently updated by Cyndi Giorgis) is a treasure of information for anyone who is interested in reading aloud to children. [I've referenced Jim Trelease quite a few times on this blog.]


I read aloud to all my classes because reading aloud is simply one of the best tools we have to help children learn to read. Reading is, arguably, the single most important skill a child learns in school.

In The Read Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease wrote... [emphasis added]
In 1985, the commission [on Reading, organized by the National Academy of Education and the National Institute of Education and funded under the U.S. Department of Education] issued its report, Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among its primary findings, two simple declarations rang loud and clear:

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

The commission found conclusive evidence to support reading aloud not only in the home but also in the classroom: “It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”
In its wording—“the single most important activity”—the experts were saying reading aloud was more important than worksheets, homework, assessments, book reports, and flashcards. One of the cheapest, simplest, and oldest tools of teaching was being promoted as a better teaching tool than anything else in the home or classroom. What exactly is so powerful about something so simple you don’t even need a high school diploma in order to do it and how exactly does a person get better at reading? It boils down to a simple, two-part formula:
  • The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.
  • The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow.
Reading aloud to children is an activity that entertains...it strengthens personal bonds, it informs and explains...and, according to Trelease, when you read aloud to a child you also:
  • Condition the child’s brain to associate reading with pleasure
  • Create background knowledge
  • Build vocabulary
  • Provide a reading role model
Reading aloud is more beneficial than standardized tests or worksheets. It is more important than homework or flashcards. It is the single most important thing a parent can do to help their children become better readers. It is the single most important thing teachers can do to help their students become better readers.
My collection of Read-Aloud Handbook editions,
several of which have been signed by the author, Jim Trelease

FATHERS AND READ-ALOUD

In the seventh edition of his book (2013 - the last one edited by Trelease), Jim Trelease devotes an entire chapter to fathers and reading aloud. He focuses on fathers reading aloud to sons because fewer fathers than mothers read aloud to their children, and sons are the ones, according to statistics, whose academic achievement could use the read-aloud boost. Obviously, this does not mean that fathers should not read aloud to their daughters. The point is to get fathers to read aloud to their children.

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease: CHAPTER 9: Dad—What's the score?
In case you’ve been off the planet for the past several decades, let me bring you up-to-date on our boys and their school woes.
  • In a 2008 study of reading tests in forty-five states, the girls exceeded the boys at every grade level.
  • Unlike four decades ago, it is now common for girls to dominate a high school’s highest academic positions (valedictorian), class leadership positions, advanced placement spaces, and school activities. While the girls are assuming responsibilities, the boys are playing sports or video games.
  • For the first time in history, women exceed their male counterparts in most collegiate achievements, from enrollment and graduation to earning advanced degrees, and the gap is widening annually. About the only significant area in which males dominate in college is “dropout,” where they lead by a 3:2 ratio.
(ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Click for an excellent, printable pamphlet with important information specifically for dads....Fathers, Sons and Reading. Find other pamphlets HERE.)

Boys, Trelease says, need their fathers to read to them. The relationship between fathers and sons has changed over the years, and not necessarily in a good way. Over the last few decades America's "male" culture has been dominated by politics, sports and television, and boys watch their role models carefully. Among those men in important cultural and political positions in America are abusers, racists, and misogynists. It's more important than ever that fathers exert positive role-model influence over their sons.
The landscape of the American male’s attention span was being dramatically altered and boys were soaking up the changes.
"Is there a connection," Trelease asks, between the "decline in boys’ interest and achievement in school and the behavior of the male culture?"
Can a father play catch in the backyard after dinner and still read to the child that same evening? Can they go to a game one day and to the library the next? You betcha.
The question is...do they? Do fathers take part in their children's, and specifically their sons', intellectual development? Reading aloud to your child is an easy, fun way for fathers to have a positive academic influence on their children.
Dad—what have you done for your son’s head lately?

Make a Father's Day resolution. Read to all your kids every day.

Need more convincing? Check out the following online resources...




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