Saturday, September 05, 2009

New Blog?

I ain't going anywhere. However, I did want to create a second blog for Stewart the Educator. My second blog will deal exclusively with educational matters whether it's school policy, NCLB, content area issues, or politics related to the profession. For a short time I will copy those posts here as well, at least until I can develop a network of educators who will join me. So, from now on "House of Sternberg" remains a writing and all-things-absurd blog, and Sternberg's Mind Matter will be a blog for all things about the field of education.

Below...from Sternberg's Mind Matter. If you're an educator and you want to respond to this post, I welcome you to do so on the other blog. Of course, you're also free to comment here as well.

The Presidential Address

I am fascinated by the response people are having to the president’s announcement that he will make available a ‘pep’ talk on education this coming Tuesday. The concern by some individuals that this is an attempt to further a partisan agenda by attempting to indoctrinate students is a glimmer of a much larger issue —the politicization of education in America, from the left and from the right.

It’s inevitable, I suppose. Teachers have tremendous influence on students, but according to a report done not so long ago, teachers are usually third or fourth in the ranking of influence on students.

The primary influence is, of course, the family. Next, peers (although many studies have shown that as students approach adolescence that the family influence is overshadowed by peer influence). Behind family and peers? Teachers and the clergy come in a close third and fourth, but lag well behind the first and second.

So, given the role of the teacher, it’s not surprising we often become the straw man.

Still, let’s go back to the original issue—the presidential address that has several on the right crying foul. Maybe these individuals should stop and think: who is going to have more influence on their children–the wordy man on TV, whom they will listen to for less than an hour as they fidget in their seats, or the teacher who has them day after day after day?

And even then, the teacher will come in a weak third or fourth. Parents should have little concern for any furtherance of any agenda. It’s been shown that children tend to take on the politics of their parents.

Now, if Obama ever develops a really cool video game, then the right might have cause for concern.


Natasha Fondren said...

Senators and Congressmen and Mayors don't have parental permission before talking with the kids.

What's great, though, is now that a bunch of parents don't want their kids to hear what the President has to say, now that there is this BIG DEBATE, every kid is going to be paying attention. :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

What they should fear is their kids hearing them sound like airheads, loonies, and morons. What kind of influence is that gonna have?

Jon said...

Ok, I understand blogging on school policy and content and all of that, but NAMBLA? I don't know, Stew...I just don't know.

I'm're being serious. I'll shut up.

Anonymous said...

One needs to consider who writes “a report.” As with statistics, which may be used to sway beliefs, there’s an “art” to reports. Much of it involves the way questions are asked, for example, what is included and what is left out. There’s also a difference between quantitative and qualitative data gathering, who and what is given a “voice.” It’s not so cut and dry—more of a web than some linear equation. Sometimes the opposite of what is reported actually holds true AKA the Trickster in action.
“Primary,” as used with “influence” in the original post, is a curious term. It can mean “first” (as in chronological order) or “most important,” which can have multiple meanings that may/not be oppositional. For example, one can consider if the student “fits in” with the (inclusive/exclusive) ideologies of a family or other groups the individual belongs to. Strongly exclusionist groups tend to produce more “misfits,” who may seek out a place where they can fit in. One way they are channeled can be seen in Disney’s animated film, Hercules, which twisted a complex array of myths (meaning stories from various perspectives that could help one understand the goings-on in society, as opposed to the more recent definition of “a lie”) into a simplistic right way of accepting “The Gospel Truth.” Interestingly, Disney’s remake steers viewers away from even listening to the so-called old boring myth. Why open a film for children (and by extension their parents) like that? Is opening up to any Other what such a right fears?
As for marginalizing the influences of teachers, one may want to check out The influence of the teacher mentioned in the article extended far beyond the classroom because he took the time to really listen to various perspectives of individuals and underlying problems. Without having to resort to “traditional” punitive measures, he found a way to work with them, helped students find creative and constructive ways to express themselves and find passion in life, which can be done not only through music. He taught students to respect and value (not to mention laugh at) themselves, a mutual endeavor that made him a primary influence in many people’s lives. He is not the first such mentor to suddenly and mysteriously have to leave the school district “for personal reasons” (as simplistically reported by the high school principal, again) since the district has taken a “progressively right” turn with the appointment of the new school superintendent, commonly known as a Christian. It has spawned a host of controversy in the community and has prompted community members to consider that education is a crucial arm in our political/social structure.
We could ask ourselves what conservatives are trying to conserve. Curiously, many people involved in the social sciences (in not only our country) have increasingly broken taboo and drawn attention to what has been called the “invisibility of hegemonic masculinity,” making it more visible. It’s a primary umbrella under which interrelated family, peers, clergy, teachers, AND others fall. Writers, like Michael S. Kimmel, have been opening the minds of educators and students, as well as giving food for thought on YouTube, for example, Engaging discourse has been met by silencing forces, including screening what type of literature is “allowed” to be published, not unlike what happened with Carver.
Finally, it’s been shown that children tend to take on the politics, etc. of their parents if they fit in someone. The opposite tends to hold true if they don’t, as seen in various forms of rebellion, including literary styles.

Stewart Sternberg said...


What a great comment and you raise some exceptional points. I agree that teachers have tremendous potential to influence, but few, in my opinion, are able to give all that level of dedication that you allude to in your comment. If we did, we'd burn out in no time. The study I cite was the Coleman study, which upon reflection was taken some time back, but I think it is still a valid one in the ranking of influence on a student's paradigm.

I think that you are dead on about the reason for the political interest in education. However, if we look beyond the classroom, I think in addition to education being seen as a way to propagandize a group, the controversy is also an extension of the current trend throughout the U.S. to privatize when and wherever possible. Look at Blackwater.

Thanks for the comment.

NATASHA...I agree that by making this an issue, the right has brought upon itself negative attention.

CHARLES--I agree..but parents are primary rolemodels. Did you see that one woman on CNN who was sobbing because her children would be exposed to the presidential address. Poor dears. comment.

Anonymous said...

Stewart…Dedicated teachers can also (perhaps more often) burnout because of struggles with bureaucratic administrators, compounded by the fear of losing one’s job if one raises questions that stem from actively working with students and challenge the system. Students who feel they are disregarded by our system/s can be more difficult to work with, often making a teacher’s life hell.

“Privatize” is also an interesting term, as with the privatization of families that emerged when industrialization created a fissure between the public and private sphere, which largely limited the information that those who were confined to the home received or could use to engage in public debates. The complex roles of information are crucial to understand, more than many people can or are willing to learn.

The Coleman study did launch an interesting debate, even if it is dated. Access to “outside” information is easier to obtain than it was at the time the study, especially for students who have been reared on technology that their parents may struggle with. Is that one of the reasons home schooling in some sectors has gained popularity—to maintain control of a family’s ranking of influence, enforcing rigid and limiting forms of control? What a family “really” is has also been hotly debated because the notion of “family” has expanded.

As Michael Kimmel pointed out: “If the nuclear family is not exactly in crisis, then what is all the noise about? Some part of the family values debate rests on what we might call ‘misplaced nostalgia’—a romanticized notion that the family form of the 1950s (the era of many of the debaters’ adolescence) is a timeless troupe that all family forms ought to emulate” (The Gendered Society, third edition, p. 129). However, what some read as romance is a horror story for many (and vice versa?)

Stewart Sternberg said...

Okay,'ve prompted me to search for Kimmel's writings. I'll check him out through the MSU library. Perhaps you could recommend an article. Or maybe I'll just look for that book you mentioned.

While Coleman is somewhat dated, I tend to think the information contained within is still accurate. As for the growing homeschool movement, I'm not sure what the reason for that is. Perhaps a reaction to the negative press given to our schools by the politicians. Perhaps.

Finally, I agree that we need to redefine our view of family. However, I think the concept of a nuclear family, regardless of whether or not it consists of two parents, same gender or different, or one parent, remains intact. If a student doesn't have a support system, if the student isn't in an environment where education is valued, then that student, in my opinion, will more than likely not value education. Appreciation for education is cultural.

Stewart Sternberg said...

By the way, Anon...who are you? If you don't want to publish your name here, then perhaps drop me an email.

Anonymous said...

Stewart…The Gendered Society is a great starting book. The third edition was printed in 2008, so it’s quite up to date. Kimmel’s style of writing can be entertaining—not dry like a lot of academic research—and includes interesting material about families and a whole chapter on “The Gendered Classroom.” It’s used to teach educators. The Gendered Society Reader was edited by Kimmel and Amy Aronson, to accompany it—a collection of articles from educators, etc. that includes very recent research and observations, much of it tied to students and perspectives that affect/drive them, a lot of material most of us are unconscious about until someone points it out. I strongly recommend both of those books, not only for educators. You should be able to find both of them at MSU. You can also order them through the Library Network at and have books delivered to your local library, which can save you a drive. There’s a link on ibisto to MeLCat (;), which goes into university libraries throughout Michigan and the US, if you ever need to go that far to locate a book, and it’ll be sent to your local library, too. A lot of people aren’t even aware of that service.

Kimmel has received much recognition, internationally, for his work, especially on boys and men (rather than just write boys off as “more trouble.”) He realized the flip side of feminist work was, dare we say, masculinist work. Rather than simply treat it as binary opposites, he relays it as interactive. He’s also the editor for the journal “Men and Masculinities” (as opposed to “masculinity,” which implies there is only one type of masculinity.) Men and Masculinities includes an array of articles from around the world, since the US is a major player in the global society and the way we rear students affects the world. You can read the journal on JSTOR, if you have access to it from home or a university library.

As for home schooling, there are various reasons for it, including a push for it that is found in some Christian literature that I’ve researched.

I totally agree that a support system in crucial for students (and educators, too.) To put the brunt of responsibility on teachers, make scapegoats of them, doesn’t work. To simplistically insist that parents have to help their children with homework is likewise problematical, considering that many parents aren’t in a position to do that, especially with material students have to know today, not only in AP classes in high school. I agree that being in an environment where education is valued helps, but it does not guarantee the student will value education, which is why I believe we need to look deeper into our “quick, easy, fast” culture. Now if our country valued education the way it values money—an idealistic thought and I’m more of a realist than an idealist—we wouldn’t be in such a pickle today. All the same, I find it an interesting thought to consider.

And I could e-mail you if I had your e-mail address.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Well..anon, thanks for the information. I'll look it up. I like the idea of the paradigm of male and female being interactive and not binary opposites. By the way, if you or anyone else wants my email, it's

Not a really imaginative address, but I find it says all that needs to be said.

Steve Buchheit said...

But see it's the insidious nature of socialism that, through the use of sly code words, one's brain maybe altered in such a way that it'll accept that workers should control the means of production, property should be held for the common good, and central planning is a highly advanced for of government. Especially when you add in the flouride and the subliminal messages on the Fruit Loops boxes. It's all a part of the plan and works like those two ingredient poisons so popular in Victorian Literature.

Or, you know, the whackaloon continginet has found their calling and are now marching toward shobboleth.