Friday, October 28, 2005

Witness

[The conversation about the ethical issues of posting this stuff has been very interesting. I'm not really sure what I think. I agree with the author who said, "if you feel you need to hide something, it probably isn't right." That gut feeling always bothers me. But at the same time, what is going on in schools is hidden and not right. Which is the greater sin? I don't know.

To clarify the situation, these quotes are from responses that the students posted on a secured website, to be read by their classmates and teacher. They knew that others, including peers, would read it, but probably did not expect that others would.]

Today's post is simple. It is a series of paragraphs written by 11th grade students in my school. I do believe that posting these paragraphs is mildly unethical. However, I think the fact that these kids are allowed to get to 11th grade and write like this is positively immoral, and I think people should know about it. These excerpts are written responses to questions about a novel on the American Revolution. Just for extra safety, I took out the name of the book when it is directly stated and replaced it with brackets like this: [Title]

  • "I like how they showed how the black people got there freedom and what white men did to the blacks I did not know black men had to go to the army to get freedom"
  • "1 thing i liked about the book "[Title]" was that she kept on fighting for freedom and never gave up no matter what happen. She stood strong even when she witness her fathers die. I really didn't have any dislike's about the book. I would really recommand this book to other 11th graders."
  • "I agree with almost everything and specially when you said that this book isn't 100% accurate because it shows at many times that [character] had escaped many times and in real life she wouldn't get away that easily so I agree. Even though this book is a fiction I still think it should have been atleast close to being 100% accurate. And I kinf of disagree with the part when u said there is no sympathy in [character] losing her parents because remember back then they didn't prison women for fun but they would prison women to take away a right of a women which is what happened to [character]'s mother but maybe the author meant as prisoning her mother for fun who knows since this book isn't 100% accurate."
  • "i think the book [title] is a book that shows the struggle of african americans during the worst time in history for us . i think that [character] was a strong girl that fought for her freedom from every one when i say that i mean that she had to prove herself to every one that she came across being that she was a freeded slave . i don't think that the war was very revoloutionary and the picture that this book painted for me made me upset so in general i didn't like the book but it was a good read for a class"
  • "in [title]. [character] has to deal with alot of racism bieng that she is a nigga during slavery. she sees her father get killed and then have to go home and find out that her mother is tooken buy the british. then will y goes to her aunt house and [character] try to put her back into slavery. then she goes to new york to have a better life and then after evry thing that happen to will she if free with the help of [character] and also help her uncle."
  • "I like the book [title]. this book changes what i thought about freedom and not getting the freedom you suppose to have. [character] went through a lot for where she at now. she gain a lot of freedom from the Revolution. In my mind and thought if [character] didnt posed as a guy she probably wouldnt be where she at today. [character] is a strong girl. even though [character] struggle so much to get frredom by hiding her idenity. she overcome her mom and dad deaths. and she got freedom for her uncle to be free by getting a white lawyer and getting a right to be free herself , cause of [character] trying to take a freedom away and being unsuccessful. [title] was a good book and got my attention some of the times. but that what afican americans need to be equal and to have the rights. my thoughts.........."


38 Comments:

At October 28, 2005 10:03 PM, Anonymous Sam(antha) said...

My brother (in grade 5) writes better than that, and he's failing English!

I would have been ashamed to hand work like that in, even as young as grade 3 or 4.

 
At October 28, 2005 11:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me may not know stuff good, but me vote Democrat. They give us things.

 
At October 29, 2005 4:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should take the post down, for the ethical reasons you allude to.

 
At October 29, 2005 7:12 AM, Anonymous het said...

Uh huh. I taught my juniors yesterday about how an "apostrophe -s," in most cases, is not necessary for making a noun plural.

As I teach this basic stuff to kids, many of whom have beards (the guys, at least) and are taller than me and plan to go to college, something in me keeps saying, "No! This can't be! Am I going to teach them 1+1 next?"

 
At October 29, 2005 1:13 PM, Anonymous Dana Huff said...

A good question to ask, for English teachers I suppose, since most people tend to think they are solely responsible for teaching writing skills, is what do you do when you have 11th graders who write like this? At that point, what do you do?

 
At October 29, 2005 6:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

me fail english?
that's unpossible!

 
At October 29, 2005 11:05 PM, Anonymous andyo said...

Please tell me none of these kids received greater than 25% on the assignment...

 
At October 29, 2005 11:13 PM, Blogger EdWonk said...

Even though the standards for EduBlogging continue to evolve, I believe that as long as you've edited enough material from the work so that the author(s) cannot be readily identified, you are on firm ethical ground.

One of the most positive aspect of EduBlogging is the fact that it greatly facilitates the free exchange of thoughts and ideas regarding best educational practices.

Before we can effectively propose and debate solutions to the challenges that we face as educators, we must first identify the concerns that need to be addressed.

Protecting the confidentiality of our students should be at the forefront of EduBlogging ethics. I believe that you've accomplished that objective.

 
At October 30, 2005 12:04 AM, Blogger EdWonk said...

We've linked this post with one of our own.

 
At October 30, 2005 3:26 AM, Anonymous Anna said...

Here through EdWonk, which I clicked to from somewhere else, which I clicked to because of a History Carnival.

I is linked!

Anyway...

What gets to me is when you hit university, and they are *still writing like that*.

Due to a complicated series of events, I ended up taking a first year English course when I returned to top up my three year degree to a four year one. I signed up for the hardest first-year English class I could, because I knew it would avoid most of the "this is how to write an essay" crap.

Boy was I wrong. We did peer reviews of some of the essays, and I never could get myself past the awful writing to talk about the content of the essay.

What gets to me is the ones who don't care. I work in an office right now, and my boss religiously edits and re-edits her memos, emails, and anything else she attaches her name to, often consulting other people to make sure she's made the right choices in her wording. And guess what - she's well respected.

So much for "grammar doesn't count in the real world".

As for ethical - do your students know about this blog? Do your coworkers? Does anyone at the school know? If they don't (and you're certain they dont), it shouldn't be a problem. If they do... I'd take it down.

Wow, that was long.

 
At October 30, 2005 7:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahz graduated from uh baltimore county public school two years ago, which is when daycare ended and education began.

 
At October 30, 2005 8:04 AM, Blogger Instructivist said...

It's absurd to take down the post.

There are no names revealed and thus there is no ethical issue.

I have the suspicion that those who advise you to take down the post would prefer that this educational scandal not receive public exposure.

 
At October 30, 2005 9:15 AM, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

The students may be able to identify themselves (if they have the wits to use a search engine), but I do not see how any third party could identify them unless they post their own hideous writing (and thus self-identify).  This eliminates most if not all ethical concerns, IMHO.

I think that it's important to have "halls of shame" like this one.  These problems exist because they are allowed to fester.  If we can't point to hideously inadequate writing skills in 11th graders, how are we going to get K-6 teachers to start correcting improper usage?

Perhaps we should have qualification tests for all teachers which require them to be fully fluent in all basic skills to a 12th-grade level, including but not limited to English spelling, grammar and writing structure, mathematics from arithmetic through algebra, geometry and trig, civics and the like.

Math-phobes will teach students to be math-phobic.  Semi-literates will teach students bad writing.  Such people should not be in front of classrooms.  Getting them out of classrooms requires us to show the consequences.  I thank Newoldschoolteacher for posting this example, and hope she'll leave it up for reference.

 
At October 30, 2005 1:07 PM, Blogger Paul Chenoweth said...

Of course, if you fail any of these students, you may be taking college scholarship money away from families who can't afford a college education for their children. (snark)

 
At October 30, 2005 1:13 PM, Blogger GrumpyGringo said...

The irony is that many will go on to college and become education majors.....

 
At October 30, 2005 2:00 PM, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

IMHO, they should not be allowed in to college with such abysmal writing.  And every one of them ought to know the meaning of "abysmal", too (or be thrown into the abyss when they say "I don't know" ;-).

Is it terribly difficult to machine-check grammar and the like?  It would be good to have regular testing for these skills so that students who are doing poorly learn to shape up before embedding their bad habits ever-deeper.  Ideally, bad writing should be rooted out and selected for improvement no later than the beginning of the 7th grade.  The less human labor needed to make these evaluations, the more likely we are to perform them and the less likely anyone will be able to allow mediocrity to slide by.

 
At October 30, 2005 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liz here from I Speak of Dreams.

In my view, you have protected the students' identities adequately, and should leave the post up.

The temptation here is to be angry and frustrated with the students, who give the appearance of failing to learn. But learning to write well and clearly is hard, hard work, of a type that has been denigrated by the ideologues in the schools of education.

Sandra Stotsky presented a paper at the Courant Initiative for the Mathematical Sciences in Education on October 2, 2005 in which she outlined the roots of the problems in the education of teachers. Full Text at Education News

The money quotes (I added emphasis and broke up a few sentences):

"....the problem today is the identification of each theory and the pedagogy that best implements it with a political preference.... Phonics instruction was not aligned with any political party or label until the late 1960s and early 1970s. Advocates of a subject-centered education like Richard Hofstadter, Albert Shanker, and E.D. Hirsch were political liberals, not conservatives.

"Phonics instruction was one of the first areas of pedagogy to be politicized, and by the author of Reading: A Psycholinguistic Guessing Game—Kenneth Goodman, with the help of his educator wife, Yetta Goodman. They were the founders of the whole language movement. In an attempt to ascribe the low reading achievement of low-income children to language differences, not language deficits, Goodman claimed that phonics instruction

*imposed standard forms of speech on dialect-speaking children through the teaching of conventional sound-letter correspondences;

*led to a lack of motivation to learn to read; and

*[led to] the failure of these children to connect what they decoded with their native language.

" Because these children could not associate the words they identified with the language they spoke, he argued, they could not read with meaning. Phonics instruction, he also implied, was the preferred strategy of Christian fundamentalists, darkly hinting that it was favored by conservative parents because it fit in with attempts at controlled literal understandings of a text. In effect, Goodman made phonics instruction a civil rights issue and smeared it as a tool of both white middle class oppressors and white fanatics.

"Goodman’s colleagues in education schools across the country took up this argument with eagerness and further support from Paulo Freire’s influential Pedagogy for the Oppressed, first published in 1970 and now available in a 30th anniversary edition. A Brazilian educator and a Marxist, Freire, too, ridiculed phonics instruction as an oppressive strategy for teaching illiterate Brazilian fishermen and farmers how to read, advocating instead a whole language approach... Although Freire has been judged one of the most influential educators of the 20th century, I have been unable to locate independent evaluations of his work in Brazil or elsewhere....

"Phonics instruction was a civil rights issue—beyond theory, research, and the scientific method. Moreover, the English language itself was now being portrayed as the language of imperialists—and even literacy was being dismissed as the tool of oppressors dating back thousands of years to the very inception of writing systems. ...

"Just about every pedagogical strategy was lined up politically in the following decade. Also identified as “conservative” were a specified curriculum, direct teaching, assigned expository writing based on reading, assigned literary texts (especially if they were by dead white males), grammar study, specific writing skills, and indeed, anything requiring teaching, correction, or a teacher’s judgment about content.


Fifty years on from Mrs. Park's refusal to stand, politicized educators who insist on using these ineffective approaches to instuction are doing more to damn the poor to permanent poverty than anything in the arsenal of the worst kind of racists and segregationists.

 
At October 30, 2005 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One suggestion -

when a character in the book is named, change it to [character].

That will make the book even more difficult to identify. And if the book is hard to identify, the kids will be too.

(Is there anything on your blog which gives away in which state you teach? If so, you may want to take this down. Otherwise, I say leave it up.)

 
At October 30, 2005 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Engineer-poet, you can't just blame the K-6 teachers for not doing their jobs. As an elementary teacher, I was not permitted by my supervisors to teach subjects that were not on the state test for large chunks of the year. When I taught 5th grade, the tested subjects were reading, math and science, so I was actually not allowed to teach writing. The problems that lead to 11th graders writing like this are systemic, and cannot be attributed soley to incompetent elementary school teachers.

 
At October 30, 2005 2:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leave it up. This is reality. I read work like this every day and it drives me insane that these kids made it to high school. What I want to know is, how do I even begin to help them improve their reading and writing skills? And how do I help them become serious thinkers?

 
At October 30, 2005 2:47 PM, Anonymous Charles Breiling said...

There is exactly one reason why you should take the post down: it exposes the illiteracy of several anonymous 11th grade students, several of whom can be inferred are African American.

If one agrees that we, the readers of this blog, should not be exposed to such a shocking level of illiteracy, then the post should be censored.

If on the other hand, one believes that one of the best ways to help improve education is to shine a light on the problems, sunlight being the best disinfectant, then by all means the post should remain intact.

There is NO "ethical" question here. You did not name any student, and to my knowledge you haven't even revealed your name or the name of your school! Where's the ethical breach?

Please keep the post online.

 
At October 30, 2005 3:24 PM, Anonymous ChrisC. said...

Well, there are two issues with doing this; anonymity and confidentiality.

Most everyone agrees that the writers are anonymous, so there doesn't seem to be a problem there.

Confidentiality is another issue. Is there an expecation of privacy? Was there any disclosure that their writing would be shared? Did they (or their parents, which matters more) give permission for their work to be examined and discussed outside of the school context?

It's an interesting question that will undoubtedly come up again among teachers who talk about their work this way.

 
At October 30, 2005 3:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ethical issue is simple. Teachers should not put examples of student writing on line without permission. The students should expect that their writing won't be passed along. We adults would expect the same thing. If you have to hide the fact that you are doing something, it might not really be right.

 
At October 30, 2005 4:32 PM, Blogger k8 said...

I have to agree with others who raised their concern about whether or not students were able to give permission before these paragraphs were posted. As someone who both teaches composition at a university and researches the teaching of writing, I would be required to go through an IRB board before even getting permission from students to post their writing - regardless of whether or not those students are identified in any way. It isn't the issue of 'exposing' what is really out there that is the problem as much as it is our ethical responsibility to our students.

Having said that, I was wondering what the actual assignment was. Was this part of an in-class exercise? Or was it part of a take-home assigment that students would be able to revise?

Either way, I would still expect more thoughtful, critical prose, but that isn't just an issue of the students' writing skills. It is also a result of the degree to which these students have been taught to think critically and reflectively about their work.

My question is: How are you addressing their writing in the classroom? What will you do to let students know the type of responses you expect from them and what will you do in your teaching to actually teach them to do this? Complaining only goes so far. You can't change the fact that these students have reached eleventh grade with these skills. What you can do is address the issues you have to work with and help these students as best you can.

Still, a tough situation.

 
At October 30, 2005 7:13 PM, Anonymous Chris C. said...

The ethical issues are complicated because taking a post down after two days really doesn't accomplish anything.

First, web pages are frequently cached. Additionally, pieces of posts like this can spread throughout the web.

I think posting actual student work can lead to some very good discussion. I just don't want to see anyone get in trouble for doing so...

 
At October 30, 2005 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a veteran teacher of "Honors"-level students, I have encountered many responses similar to the ones that you posted. The reason is simple and clear: Poor writing skills are now reinforced and institutionalized in our elementary schools ("grammar" schools -ha!). Students are instructed to write daily in "journals" that are NOT graded on grammar and spelling! You heard correctly. Most elementary school teachers have gullibly accepted the notion that correcting the students' writing is going to "discourage" or stifle the students' desire to write. This idiotic prescription heavily reinforces poor writing by making children jot down the equivalent of IM chatroom blurbs. In other words, write poorly and make sure that you do so frequently! Furthermore, the writing/grammar skills of new elementary school teachers are poor to mediocre (I wonder why).

p.s. There is NOTHING unethical about posting those anonymous little blurbs from the students. Your ed. class is probably making you paranoid. Try to block out EVERYTHING that they try to jam down your throat; better yet, do the OPPOSITE of what they try to foist upon you- that's what I did and I have always had the best results in my department. The parents love good results, too.

You are going to be fine. Do not reveal your true thoughts in class. Do not ever betray your true emotions in class. Be a good cooperative-constructivist monkey/automaton and get your degree. I can't even say that you can do what you want to once you start teaching your own classes. It's too late: there is an army of idiot administrators who un-critically accept everything that your ed. "professor" preaches; they will judge, hire and fire you based on how well you play the coop-constructivist game. I put on a show whenever I am observed and then I get back to real teaching (i.e. TEACHER-CENTERED!!! I know, get the smelling salts for those of you who just fainted) which my students immediately recognize and are thankful for.
Good luck to you!

 
At October 31, 2005 3:25 AM, Blogger GrumpyGringo said...

While it's possibe to infer that the writers are African-American, I see similar writing from my remedial college freshman, the vast majority of whom are middle-class whites. And I've seen much worse writing from Hispanic AP English students when I was teaching in Laredo, TX. Face it, illiteracy is not confined to ethnic ghettos.

 
At October 31, 2005 5:10 AM, Blogger HaloJonesFan said...

Don't take it down. This is as much about the system that produced these kids as it is about the kids themselves.

IRB? Whatever. IRBs exist as a hedge against lawsuits by opportunistic lawyers.

 
At October 31, 2005 7:55 AM, Blogger Ms. Smith said...

Miss,

The discussion on here is pretty interesting. You have everything from anonymous censorship (why hide?) to standard blame-shifting ("my supervisors didn't let me teach English blah blah blah"), also anonymous.

Here's my $.02: I want to cry. I want to scream and rage and cry at the systemic injustice that allows 11th graders to write like this. Instead of throwing a chair through the nearest public school window, I work my ass off in a place that actually does teach students how to write.

Action over words, people...

 
At October 31, 2005 8:02 AM, Anonymous Reader from Quebec said...

If you were posting these samples for pure shock value, I would find it distasteful. But clearly you're not. Clearly you mean to use them to back up your overall message with proof, provoke discussion and, potentially, prompt action amongst your readers. I'm not an educator, just a parent whose first child starts kindergarten next year. She already has dedicated parents who will help her with homework. I hope she also gets teachers like you. Keep up the good work!

 
At October 31, 2005 8:40 AM, Blogger Superdestroyer said...

Something that no one has talked about is how proficient are the children at spoken English. If they cannot speak English at the high school level, then how can anyone expect them to write at the high school level.

 
At October 31, 2005 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I read your blog, I was in no way worried about the ethics of it all. The first thing that came to mind was, this is what our youth is encountering. Why? Why are students in the 11th grade writing like this? How did this happen? You can blame everyone from the students to the parents to the teachers to the school administration all the way up to the man of the year George Bush Jr. The only question that really matters when we look at the writing of these students is what are we going to do about it?
I have been teaching high school in the South Bronx for 3 years and I would say that those students paragraphs is right on. This is not just happening in one school or to just one group of people it is happening all over the United States and to all students in american public schools.

 
At October 31, 2005 12:28 PM, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

I see that the main text has been further anonymized to remove clues to the book used, eliminating one of the last excuses for removing it.

Sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant.  And a whole lot of P.C.B.S. needs to be dumped out in the sun after a serious dose of Chlorox and a scrub brush, including but not limited to:

- The idea that speakers of "dialect" (an obsolete term for "Ebonics", apparently) cannot learn standard morpheme/phoneme associations and thus cannot learn to read by phonics.
- The notion that "dialect" is sufficient for getting by in American society, and school should not teach anything else.
- The fact that our tax money is going to perpetuate a system (built around an ideology) which is designed to make children into dysfunctional readers, writers and thinkers.

The more examples of this are out there, the quicker this scandal will be recognized and corrective measures will begin.  Silence = assent.

 
At November 01, 2005 9:00 AM, Blogger Jerry Moore said...

Suppose I found some horrible student writings from newoldschoolteacher's 11th grade writing class and posted them online, noting that they came from this particular class. Any problems?

IMHO, I think school boards ought to adopt a policy that deems all student work to be copyrighted by the student unless the student waives the right. That may not prevent student writing samples from appearing on blogs, but it may give a student leverage to have his/her sample removed, should the person in possession of the sample be reluctant to do so (which I doubt would be the case here).

 
At November 01, 2005 9:09 AM, Blogger Jerry Moore said...

To clarify my hypothetical, suppose I found some horrible writing samples from newoldschoolteacher's 11th grade writing class from when s/he was in high school and posted them, noting which class they came from. Any problems?

 
At November 01, 2005 4:27 PM, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Two words:  fair use.

Since the use is for excerpts, non-commercial, educational and anonymous, Newoldschoolteacher's students wouldn't have a leg to stand on in a copyright case.  On the other hand, you might be sued for invasion of privacy if you posted anything identifiable.

 
At November 09, 2005 3:49 AM, Blogger Karlos said...

A friend pointed me to your site and I am as pleased as a pig in shit.
There is, in my opinion, nothing unethical about what you’re posting.

What is unethical is the fact that our elementary schools, high schools and universities are graduating students with such poor understanding of writing, spelling and English grammar.

My son attends a private, college preparatory high school. He is a junior and has received absolutely no grammar or writing training. The last time any of that was taught to him was when he was in the 8th grade. Now that is unethical.

 
At May 30, 2006 3:16 AM, Blogger Foreign Devil said...

Keep this post alive, please! As an English tutor at the University of Nevada, I see writing like this all the time. Not only are we encouraging illiteracy in the high-schools, but we are rewarding it by admitting them to college. Then, the graduate schools of education teach us not to teach but to allow this kind of sloppiness, lest we commit some kind of crime against social justice or other anti-leftist hate crime. For ethical reasons, these posts should remain.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home