I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

31 July 2010

Tenure: I Have It.

Or: While I Admit the Persistently Problematic Issues Underlying Cat Macro Grammar, I Find Cat Macros Funny Enough to Borrow Their Structure; Alas, I Remain Unable to Utilize Their Non-Standard Grammar.

For all the alarmist rhetoric around tenure, one thing that's really really really really awesome about tenure (which I totally have...as you can see, I have not one whit of a problem with Valley Speak) is that it means I don't feel any particular need to keep my smart mouth shut.

Realistically, the number of Kindergarten teachers in SFUSD is not enormously large; the number of Kindergarten teachers in SFUSD at high-needs schools is even smaller.  It would not be that difficult to find out who I am, and it's not like I'm hiding my identity or the school at which I teach.  And why do I feel free to do that?  I have tenure!  La la la la la.

Teacher free speech rights are constrained within the classroom and without it as well.  Moreover, I have actually witnessed vindictive administrators moving against high-quality teachers because those teachers had the very bad idea to explain that Open Court had some issues.  (This did not happen in SFUSD.)

If you teach Open Court (California Edition) to the manual in Kindergarten, the kids get their last letter sound at the end of May.  This is utter insanity.  By the end of May, students will have finished off many of their End of Year assessments, and unless they picked up the last letter sounds on their own, they will have a lot of Open Court-caused misses on their assessments.

Additionally, Open Court's literature selections are...well.  Let's just say that an Open Court trainer told me once that the purpose of reading these selections was not that students would enjoy them; no, it was to practice reading strategies.  After all, we all have to do things we don't enjoy, right?

Dorothy Parker wrote a review of an A.A. Milne play wherein she claims to have shot herself in the head during a particularly twee scene.  This is where I wanted to do likewise.  I mean, this idea is wrong on so many levels I can't even begin to unpack it without instruments of self-harm near at hand.

And I'm not even getting into the Massive Flaw of Open Court: that it was written by Louisa Cook Moats, a woman who believes in the Language Deficit Hypothesis.  You know, a hypothesis absolutely destroyed by William Labov in the 1950s.  (Fun Fact: Vocabulary Deficits Don't Exist, Either...Unless You Don't Know the Difference Between 'Difference' and 'Deficit'.)

Okay anyway, so this teacher I knew questioned Open Court in front of an administrator.  Her comments were pretty mild and had teachers nodding all over the place.  When the administrator moved to shut her up, I also said some anti-Open Court things, and another teacher commented that the Louisa Cook Moats article we had just read had an underlying racist ideology of language.  (Teachers are smart.)

The administrator blew a gasket.  The kind where everybody in the  room gets a letter in the file and the principals of the offending teachers get a phone call.  (This administrator ended up working for SCOE and warned a trainer I had later about me and wanted to check my homework for that trainer.  This backfired astoundingly, but I digress yet again.)

So we have three naughty teachers.  Two of the naughty teachers have tenure and full credentials.  One of the naughty teachers does not.  That naughty teacher is laid off at the end of the year.  When it ends up that her position still exists and she is the most senior person laid off, she is not offered her job back because she was so naughty they fired her for cause (mouthing off to administrators).  Since we shared a room doing AM/PM Kindergarten, this means I teach two classes a day until they come up with someone to fill the position: a first year, uncredentialed newbie who is so low-functioning that she cannot bother coming to school before 10:30am.

Anyway, without tenure I sure wouldn't have a not-very-secret blog and I sure wouldn't be mouthing off to the BoE.  But I have it.  I suppose I should worry about anti-tenure forces and caches and all that, but honestly?  The Jeremy's new arrivals email looked promising and that's far more interesting than playing hide-the-opinion on the internet.


Rachel Norton said...

Interesting. Tell me more about Louisa Cook Moats. I have heard about her in glowing terms from parents of students with learning disabilities, (here's a typical link) so it's interesting to read an opposing view.

E. Rat said...

Honestly, I think the biggest problem with Louisa Cook Moats is that she's not a linguist. Her work on literacy depends overwhelmingly on pseudo-linguistic research and badly-designed studies.

Moats is a repeat offender in bad vocabulary studies. I read one she did with picture cards to elicit lexical items. Her pictures included things like wheat and sewing machines. Urban children did not perform so well on this vocabulary test. She diagnosed them with a vocabulary deficit.

That conclusion is not justified! We know that the children didn't have words for those pictures. We also know that these items are not hugely common in urban areas. We don't know what lexical items the children do have.

I could go to rural Kansas and show pictures of a laundromat, a clover-leaf interchange and a self-check stand to children. Under this methodology, I'm pretty confident I could diagnose most of these children with vocabulary deficits, too.

So her vocabulary tests really end up testing cultural exposure. They might argue for more vocabulary teaching over a wider range of topics, but they don't argue for significant intervention. We don't get anywhere by assuming children have deficits.

Also, she is either not willing to accept or not aware of phonetic differences between varieties of English. She has diagnosed phonemic deficits in cases that are clearly dialect or language difference.

For instance, AAL speakers often simplify word-final consonant clusters (so that 'test' is realized 'tes', etc.). For linguists, this is a straightforward application of phonetic constraints or rules. The cluster exists for the speaker, but their language prefers C# to CC#. Linguists can show this by eliciting further examples (say, 'testing') where a constraint against word-final consonant clusters would not apply. Since the 'st' does appear mid-word, the cluster exists and its production is governed by constraints.

For Moats, this is a deficit: the speaker does not hear, produce or even have an underlying representation CC#. End of story. This perspective is insanely reductive and problematic in practice (since speakers of non-standard Englishes apparently all have phonemic deficits.

Phonemic awareness is certainly important; every linguistic culture plays sound games with language, and anything that universal must have some clear value to speakers and learners. Phonics is also important. But Moats' work is not evidence for their primacy.