Moral Education

It appears the Texas State Board of Education has taken up work with Russian textbook reviewers:

A Russian news site, znak.com, also reported last week that a popular series of math textbooks would be dropped from an official list of recommended educational texts because it used too many non-Russian fairy tale and other characters in its illustrations.

“What do we see from the first pages? Gnomes, Snow White — these are representatives of a foreign-language culture,” an expert of the Russian Academy of Education, Lyubov Ulyakhina, told the site in a question-and-answer interview. “Here’s some monkey, Little Red Riding Hood,” Ms. Ulyakhina continued, “of 119 characters drawn here only nine are related to Russian culture. Sorry — no patriotism — this is not funny; this is our mentality.”

Definitely sounds familiar.

Keeping with the education theme (and my regular bashing of my Sunday The New York Times), I wanted to point out the op-ed by Keith Robinson, an assistant professor of sociology at UT, and Angel L. Harris, a professor of sociology and African and African-American studies at Duke, entitled, “Parental Involvement Is Overrated.” They claim their research shows that controlling for socioeconomic and other factors, parental involvement in schools plays little to no role in student achievement. This, of course, is contrary to what we all consider common-sense – something that no study could find otherwise.

It’s surprising to read the short list of actions the authors say will improve student achievement.

As it turns out, the list of what generally works is short: expecting your child to go to college, discussing activities children engage in at school (despite the complications we mentioned above), and requesting a particular teacher for your child.

The complications they refer to are:

Regularly discussing school experiences with your child seems to positively affect the reading and math test scores of Hispanic children, to negatively affect test scores in reading for black children, and to negatively affect test scores in both reading and math for white children (but only during elementary school).

At this point, one starts to think, “Okay. This is one study. But it’s definitely not replicable. There are probably other studies on it they don’t mention.” That may all be true, but I’m going with this as being true. So where does that leave us? If parental involvement doesn’t really help, what else do we need to do to improve students’ learning?

Well, the op-ed fronting the section, titled, “Raising a Moral Child.” Raising a moral child would, it seems to me, be even more difficult to do than raising one who values education, right? So what are the author’s prescriptions for raising a moral child, and how can we use those same approaches to inculcate a love of learning in students?

Adam Grant writes,

The message from this research is loud and clear: If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.

So modeling moral behavior – even more than just talking about it – has a positive effect on children’s sense of generosity. Thus, modeling interest and love of learning by his or her parents should increase a child’s interest in learning, right?

But going further in melding the two op-eds, wouldn’t a parent being involved in a child’s school show their valuing of education (modeling interest)? That’s where the argument, to me, short-circuits and becomes less-than-explanatory.

Is my interest in education and education policy due to my mother having been in college during my youth? That she became a teacher? Or did the latter have a negative effect on me, according to the study discussed in the first op-ed? Misty asks me why I’m so interested in education policy when I have no personal connection to it: No kids, no plans for kids, no association with an education group or organization, not a teacher, et cetera. I still don’t have a good answer for that one.

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