"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What Is the Difference Between a Compound and a Molecule?

My son brings home every Tuesday a folder. It often contains a newsletter from his teachers. This week's newsletter comes with a list of questions that the teachers suggest that I ask my son. One of the questions is: "What Is the Difference Between a Compound and a Molecule?" My son's response is that a molecule is composed of two or more atoms joined together while a compound consists of at least two different elements. As a chemist, I could have been excruciatingly fastidious with this question, but I simply reminded myself that my son was just being introduced to chemistry. Actually, my son's answer is not too far from what the Jefferson Lab says in its science education site:
A molecule is formed when two or more atoms join together chemically. A compound is a molecule that contains at least two different elements. All compounds are molecules but not all molecules are compounds.
The meaning of both terms, compound and molecule, needs to be learned and memorized. Once this is achieved a student can then infer that "All compounds are molecules but not all molecules are compounds." Is this critical thinking? Perhaps, it is, but only at a very early stage. This stage introduces a child to a discipline that involves rules and terms. In a way, it demonstrates the importance of giving a child something meaningful to think about. Critical thinking can not really stand without knowledge. For a fifth grader, that knowledge may be either facts or definitions. Gregory in "Discovery Or The Spirit And Service Of Science" reminds us of that morning in 1591:
"Members of the University of Pisa, and other onlookers, are assembled in the space at the foot of the wonderful leaning tower of white marble in that city one morning in the year 1591. A young professor climbs the spiral staircase until he reaches the gallery surmounting the seventh tier of arches. The people below watch him as he balances two balls on the edge of the gallery, one weighing a hundred times more than the other. The balls are released at the same instant and are seen to keep together as they fall through the air until they are heard to strike the ground at the same moment. Nature has spoken with no uncertain sound, and has given an immediate answer to a question debated for two thousand years." 
It was a question debated for so long and was settled by a single experiment. It was a perfect example of how science works.

At Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, Sam Jones uses a story of physicist Richard Feynman while teaching gravity:
"The physicist Richard Feynman liked to tell a story about how when he was a little kid, he asked his father, “Why do things fall?” As an adult, he praised his father for answering, “Nobody knows why things fall. It’s a deep mystery, and the smartest people in the world don’t know the basic reason for it.” Feynman liked his father’s answer, because his father realized that simply giving a name to something didn’t mean that you understood it. The radical thing about Galileo’s and Newton’s approach to science was that they concentrated first on describing mathematically what really did happen, rather than spending a lot of time on untestable speculation such as Aristotle’s statement that “Things fall because they are trying to reach their natural place in contact with the earth.”"
Teaching and learning are difficult because we often tend to speculate and not just describe what actually happens. We have intuition and bias, which frequently get in the way of facts. We like to give explanations that sound reasonable, yet not fully supported by evidence. After all, when we let a feather and a stone fall, we find that the stone always hits the ground first before the feather does.

General Chemistry is, of course, no exception. Chemistry: The Central Science by Brown, Lemay, Bursten, Murphy, Woodward and Stoltzfus, one of the most popular textbooks in chemistry has the following figure in its chapter on Molecular Geometry and Bonding Theories, has the following figure:


It is indeed very attractive to explain the formation of a chemical bond between two hydrogen atoms in a hydrogen molecule as a balance between attractive and repulsive forces. The two negatively charged electrons are shared between the two positively charged nuclei, making the molecule stable. Interestingly, the above is as incorrect as Aristotle's thoughts on gravity.

The above belongs to the field of study called quantum chemistry. Any one who has taken this course is reminded of some abstract models such as the particle in a box and the particle on a ring. These simple models are often applied to much more complicated systems. The particle in a box is sometimes used to explain the electronic properties of conjugated dye molecules:


 A simple conjugated molecule is given below and the similarity is indeed striking.


The particle on a ring serves as a model for benzene:


Both models, the particle in a box and the particle on a ring, do not involve attractive and repulsive forces. In fact, the relevant energies in these systems are purely kinetic, how fast the particle moves. Yet, these models can be applied to molecules. These obviously suggest that the stabilization in a chemical bond may not be due to a balancing between repulsive and attractive forces. Yet, we still teach chemical bonding, as demonstrated in one of the most popular textbooks, the explanation that seems appealing to our intuition.

Richard Muller and William Goddard III in a chapter in the Encyclopedia of Physical Science and Technology provide the mathematical reason why this thinking is wrong:




Muller and Goddard III, like Galileo, are experts in their fields. This therefore truly illustrates that critical thinking is expert thinking.



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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Equity and Excellence: PISA 2015 Says These Two Can Coexist

Middle School Math teacher Barry Garelick writes in an article, "How Attempts To Force Equity In Math Classes Can Protect Kids From Learning", that current attempts to reduce achievement gaps, for instance, between poor and rich children, are eliminating achievement. The idea that equity and excellence can not coexist is a notion quite attractive to a number of people. This notion, however, is not supported by evidence. In fact, the latest results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) demonstrate that school systems can achieve excellence without sacrificing equity.

This is shown convincingly in the following graph:

Above copied from
OECD (2016), PISA 2015 Results (Volume I): Excellence and Equity in Education, OECD Publishing, Paris.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264266490-en
The x-axis in the above graph represents equity in education. A value closer to zero corresponds to school systems in which the scores of a pupil are not correlated with how poor or rich the student is. The y-axis is the score in the Science section of the test. The proof that equity and excellence can coexist in a school system is highlighted in the blue region - These are countries that score very high in the test, yet do not show very large achievement gaps between the poor and the rich. These high-equity and high-performing schools are found in Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Finland, Estonia, Canada, Korea, United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway, Hong Kong, Macau, and yes, the United States of America (It barely made the list). Worth noting, as illustrated in the excerpt shown with the figure above, is that this list includes Vietnam and Macao. These are school systems where a high percentage of students who perform well in the test (76% for Vietnam and 65% for Macao) are among the poorest pupils.

Being fair by extending learning opportunities to all children and achieving excellence in education are clearly not mutually exclusive. One might claim that Japan, Finland, Korea and the Netherlands have much lower income disparities than other countries so naturally, their educational systems are more equitable. One might likewise claim that richer countries can more easily afford equitable education systems. Vietnam shows that this is not necessarily true. Vietnam, a poor and highly socio-economically diverse country, has managed to achieve an excellent yet equitable school system. It is possible even in Science, a subject that is highly demanding on resources.


Monday, December 5, 2016

What We Could Learn from Placards

Young people need to be positively engaged in society. Their voices when pointed at a pathway forward can send a strong message to elected officials and lead to a fruitful dialogue. The placards the youth bring to a protest rally represent the views of the next generation. The signs they display however speak not only of their aspirations, but also reflect the quality of education they have received. After all, young minds on social issues are shaped either at home or school.

Presently, protests are being held against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in the United States. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is leading the protest with a lawsuit filed in court citing that the construction "will damage and destroy sites of great historic, religious, and cultural significance to the Tribe". In addition, there is concern that construction as well as future oil spills can harm the Tribe's drinking water. This past Sunday, the permit for the pipeline project has been turned down by the secretary of the Army Corps of Engineers, a victory for the protests.

The Tribe was not alone in their protest. Environmental and civil rights activists, and other Native American tribes have joined. And, of course, the youth in these tribes from as far as New York are among those who are visibly against the proposed pipeline.

NEW YORK, August 7 - Sioux youth from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota rallied with supporters in Union Square after running 2,000 miles across the United States to protest the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline.
(Photo by Joe Catron)
These youth are holding placards. They are speaking their minds on a very relevant and consequential issue. It is positive, respectful and peaceful, yet very formidable. This is clearly an instance that demonstrates that the youth are positively engaged in society.

ABS-CBN News in the Philippines reports "From tweets to the streets: Millennials lead Marcos burial protests". Thus, quite a number of people view the active participation of youth in these protests as a good sign. Placards can indeed carry positive messages as seen in the placards displayed by the Sioux youth, but the opposite can also happen. Katrina Stuart Santiago writes in her column in Manila Times:
A placard that says “F*ck you Marcos” has gotten the same ire. Trolls ask: Is this what being educated looks like? Is this what it means?
Many placards in fact curse at the Marcoses, some more respectful than others: “F*ck you po Marcos!” says one sign. And for a more contemporary Tagalized version: “Pakyu po.”
These signs are, of course, do not point to youth being positively engaged in society. Fortunately, the voices of the youth are not one. There are others, and a post from the Kabataan (Youth) Party List provides some much needed hope. At least, this one seems to demonstrate some intelligence.



Copied from Kabataan Party List:

Licuanan urged to quit CHED post

In the aftermath of the resignation of Vice President Leni Robredo as HUDCC head, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago said that it only reflects the growing contradictions among the ranks of the political elite.

“Vice President Robredo’s resignation signals a deepening rift inside the Duterte administration, a rift not motivated by their desire to serve the people but by each camp’s quest for absolute power,” Elago said.

“It’s primetime political drama: on one hand, you have a president who calls for unity and healing, yet resorts to unceremonious dismissals in an attempt to ease the fractious power relations in his Cabinet. On the other hand, we have a vice president hailing from the former ruling party, who is visibly maneuvering in what is unfolding to be a Liberal party restoration plan. The game is only beginning, but to make sense in all these, we must ask: what’s in it for the Filipino people?”

“In this high-level drama, the Filipino people are the real victims – for instead of having the issues and concerns of the oppressed and the marginalized take center stage, we are forced to binge-watch what is appearing to be a long-running political circus,” Elago said.

No love lost for Robredo

“To return our focus on issues that matter, we should assess the Vice President’s resignation from the lens of the people that she should have served. And mind you, the picture does not look good,” she added.

As housing czar, Robredo is tasked to improve housing services especially for the poor. Yet Elago notes that even from the ranks of the urban poor, Robredo’s performance in her short stint is found lacking.

The lawmaker noted the statement of urban poor organization Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY), wherein the group castigated Robredo’s “pro-business” inclinations.

“VP Leni Robredo’s brief tenure as HUDCC chief focused on the continuation of the pro-business trends made more prominent during the Aquino administration. She called for greater participation of the private sector in socialized housing which is as contradictory as it sounds. This policy has given rise to soaring amortization rates and inaccessible housing units for the poor,” KADAMAY said in a statement released right after Robredo announced her resignation.

“Demolitions have also remained rampant throughout the country, a fact that her late husband stood against at certain points. However, she made no fundamental or even incremental steps to address this. The Housing budget for her office was slashed yet looking towards corporations for help was never the solution but merely widening the cracks of an existing problem. Socialized housing is not socialized but commercialized. This is something Robredo did not seek to remedy,” KADAMAY added.

“Clearly, for the urban poor and the people who Mrs. Robredo should have served, there is no love lost,” Elago said.

“Thus, we join the urban poor sector in calling for a replacement that will indeed be able to recognize and fight for the housing rights of the poor,” Elago added.

Licuanan urged to quit

The youth lawmaker, meanwhile, has some stronger words for embattled Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Chair Patricia Licuanan, who was also instructed by Malacanang to stop attending Cabinet meetings.

“CHED Chair Licuanan said that she will not resign from her post despite the President’s clear rebuke. Why does she want to remain in office? Is it because she is sensing that she still needs to be in CHED to protect the interests of big profit-hungry school administrations, just as she has done in the past? Is it because she feels she still needs to be in CHED to counter the growing clamor for free public education? Is it because she thinks she needs to cling to power for her to once again approve a new wave of tuition and other fee increases this coming academic year?”

“Mrs. Licuanan, in your term as CHED chair, the higher education situation has gone from bad to worse. Your agency has become nothing but a stamp pad for tuition hikes, and the policies you introduced and supported further transformed higher education into the monstrous for-profit behemoth it now is.

“For the youth, it is better if you would resign immediately and provide space for a successor that will hopefully join the students’ clamor for affordable and accessible education,” Elago ended.###

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nutribun Versus DepEd's K to 12

I was in second grade when Martial Law was declared in the Philippines. Although my parents tried their best to shield me from some of the protests held prior to that declaration, going to school near Mendiola did not prevent me from witnessing rocks being hurled during some of the demonstrations. Martial Law lasted for about nine years. It was lifted by the time I finished high school. Most of my ten years of basic education were therefore under Martial Rule. In 1972, with the serious peace and order problem the country was facing, millions of young children were also found to be malnourished. Marcos' government was already working with researchers from Virginia to address the food problem and during the floods that devastated Central Luzon, the Nutribun, a ready-to-eat complete meal proved to be a convenient relief commodity. Nutribun contained high quality protein from soy but it could not be easily hoarded due to its high propensity to become moldy in a few days. During Martial Law, Nutribun was adopted by public schools nationwide. Any child who was less than ninety percent of the standard weight for age was eligible to receive Nutribun. The program resulted in a dramatic reduction of malnourished children in the Philippines. The Nutribun was not a lie.

Above copied from GetRealPhilippines
Placards shown in recent protests against Marcos' burial that say otherwise are therefore the real lies.

There were other reforms introduced to schools during Martial Law. In high school, there was a trial year or two to use Tagalog as medium of instruction for all subjects. That did not work. All throughout high school, I had to make sure that I had enough hours of volunteer work as part of the Youth Civic Action Program. Once in a while, we were also required to line up across Roxas Boulevard to greet visiting dignitaries. Those were the years of Martial Law that I remember. We could not hold demonstrations or protest events during that time.

Presently, rallies are held almost every week in the Philippines. Unfortunately, most of the recent rallies concern burying the dead. This is sad as the country still confronts serious issues and problems in basic education. The previous regime instituted a new curriculum designed to make public education only worse. Alan Singer sounds this alarm in the Huffington Post.

Above copied from Huff Post Education

It is DepEd's K to 12 that is a lie, not the Nutribun....


Friday, December 2, 2016

Talent or Effort?

My mother came from a town known as the "Carving Capital" in the Philippines. One of her brothers won an award from the Art Association of the Philippines for a wood sculpture called "Orasyon". The town also had a good number of musicians. My mother never thought I had any talent in music and the arts. At one point, she even had the notion that I was tone deaf and that my fingers were not nimble enough to do either painting or sculpture. Needless to say, there were really no musical instruments nor art supplies made available to me when I was young. Perhaps, my mother was correct. After all, when I had my hands on one of my uncle's tools, I ended carving my sister's elbow instead of the wood. Growing up, some of my friends were actually confused since they had the impression that I was good at math and they had this idea that if someone had a talent in math, that someone would also be good in music.

My son's principal recently shared a photo he took. In that photo, my son was being taught to play the violin.

A fifth grade strings class
All the students in this elementary school are given the opportunity to play a musical instrument and the violin is my son's choice. The principal, Brian Butler, is a firm believer in the "growth mindset", as demonstrated in one of his recent posts on Facebook.


There is a reason why there is a call for parents to focus more on effort and not on innate skills. Take Finland, for instance, the country with a very progressive educational system. Research shows that " the parents with a talent-based explanation or a combination (both talent and effort) explanation for success had a significantly higher opinion of their child's mathematical competence across the child's compulsory school years than did those parents who had an effort-based explanation for success." Another work shows "The intercorrelations of the parents’ assessments of their child’s competencies and motivation among the phases of the study turned out to be statistically significant.The assessments conducted as early as the child’s preschool tended to predict the respective assessments conducted at the very end of the child’s 9-year-long schooling better than by chance." These two pieces of evidence do suggest that parents consider talent as more important than effort. And as principal Butler cautions, "This can be hurtful to kids". After all, it can be strongly self-fulfilling.

But what really spells success, talent or effort? Of course, effort counts a lot. In mathematics, I did spend a lot of time and effort on it when I was young. I did not spend as much time on playing a musical instrument. In fact, I did not spend any time at all on playing music. However, talent does count and there is evidence from research:


From the above paper, the following figure shows that talent (represented on the x axis by working memory capacity) provides an independent contribution on performance:

Practice (or effort) does improve significantly performance but individuals with high working memory capacity (representing talent) have an advantage. Educators, however, are correct to recognize that emphasis must be made on effort. Schools cannot change the genes we have inherited, but schools can definitely provide the opportunities to learn. Individuals who have talent but do not work hard, the upper tip of the blue line, are not even close in terms of performance to those who are not talented yet work hard, the lower tip of the red line.



Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What an International Standardized Exam Is Telling Us

Emma Brown of the Washington Post shares in "U.S. students still lag many Asian peers on international math and science exam" results from the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS. The article cites David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, who says, "...he is now hopeful that new science standards that have been adopted by a growing number of states — and that push students to solve problems and learn about science by doing science — will make a difference, prompting bigger gains in the coming years." Such observation, of course, naturally comes if one only looks at the average scores, and not considering what the exam is all about. It is always easy to point one's finger at the curriculum or how a subject is being taught. But this is wrong. The TIMSS exam is content-based and curriculum coverage is more or less similar across the countries participating in the exam. The curriculum is the least important factor in this exam.

But one does not need to look deeper into the exam results. One simply has to assume a wider perspective. First, it is not just the average that counts, the distribution is very important. For example, below is the distribution of scores for the 4th grade science test.

Above copied from TIMSS 2015
The United States has a wider distribution than Finland does. From the above chart, one can see that countries with wider distributions also have lower average scores. Equity is therefore important.

The TIMSS report also comes with an analysis of scores that provides correlations with various factors. The following are factors observed to correlate strongly with 4th grade science scores. Similar conclusions are reached with the math scores.

First, socio-economic status correlates with scores:


Second, scores also correlate with resource shortages in textbooks, supplies, classrooms, heating and cooling systems.


Third, scores correlate with student attendance.


Fourth, when students' basic needs (nutrition, sleep, disability needs, classroom management) are not met, scores likewise are lower.

Lastly, preschool education also correlates with scores.


It is not the curriculum. And it is not technology:


We may never be able to tackle the challenges of education if we keep ignoring what is actually important. It is equity and it also requires meeting the basic needs of every student.





Monday, November 28, 2016

Why Equity Matters in Education

I need not drag my daughter in the morning to go to school. She always looks forward to spending time with her friends and teacher. School is definitely a second home for her. The LA Times also talks about another young girl, Giuliana Tapia. This girl became scared of school after finding out that she was among the few who could not sing the ABCs in her class.

Above copied from the LA Times
Academic gaps can be seen as early as kindergarten. In the case of Giuliana, with a dedicated and thoughtful teacher combined with parents who recognize what the situation needs, the child appears to be able to catch up. The photo above says it all. Giuliana finds welcoming arms in teacher Maryellen Whittingham. It should be obvious that it is necessary for a school climate to be inviting to young children. Otherwise, a lot of effort and time are going to be spent just to start a lesson.

Children learn with other children inside a classroom. It is sort of an ecosystem, no child is really isolated from the others. A child who is left behind may easily take away time and attention from a teacher, preventing that teacher to do other things like teaching the class. Giuliana is lucky that in her school there is a literary specialist, Maryellem Whittingham, who can spot students who are in need and can provide additional support. This is often not the case when there are not enough teachers to address all the needs of the students. This is one reason why equity matters in public basic education.

A recent publication in Child Development shows that when quality preschool education is provided to children in low-income families, scores in reading and math improve. And the improvement is seen throughout the elementary years.

Above copied from
Dodge, K. A., Bai, Y., Ladd, H. F. and Muschkin, C. G. (2016), Impact of North Carolina's Early Childhood Programs and Policies on Educational Outcomes in Elementary School. Child Dev. doi:10.1111/cdev.12645
The above data include a million elementary school pupils in North Carolina. The state has two preschool programs: Smart Start and More at Four, both are intended for low income families. The important thing to note is that the above graph corresponds to all students, not just those who have gone through either Smart Start or More at Four. The improvements are seen in schools where these programs have been funded. And all children based on average scores appear to have higher math and reading scores.

Equity, unlike competition, lifts everyone up. It enhances the school climate and allows for every child to grow and progress.



Thursday, November 24, 2016

What Solves Poverty

Quite a number of people believe that education is a vehicle for upward social mobility. And it is not difficult to cite specific cases to prove this point. Anecdotes, however, can be quite far from the entire picture. Take, for instance, the suggestion that the reason why Asians are doing well compared to other minority groups in the United States is the Asian's high investment in education. Asians study hard and do well in school. Indeed, such a thought is quite inviting especially when so many specific cases can be easily cited. Careful research, however, points to a different reason. Asians are doing well in the United States simply because this group is no longer on the receiving end of discrimination. Nathaniel Hilger of Brown University shows this convincingly in his working paper, "Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans".

The reason why Asian Americans are doing better then African Americans becomes very clear in one of the figures Hilger presents in his paper:

Above copied from Nathaniel Hilger, Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans
The graph above includes only data from US-born individuals. In this manner, the effects of an immigration policy that often favors highly educated individuals are removed. Clearly, in 1940, Asian Americans are paid as much as African Americans, and both are paid much less than Whites, regardless of educational attainment. After 40 years, Asian Americans are now paid as much as Whites across the board. And the gap between Whites and Blacks remains large especially for those who have not finished high school.

There is likewise a great income divide between the rich and the poor in the Philippines. Clearly, from the lesson above, what cures poverty is not education, but fairness. Unskilled labor and even skilled labor wages in the Philippines fall far below those of professionals. Adding two years at the end of high school can not really reduce the income gap in the Philippines as long as minimum wages are kept low.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Black Friday Is a Big Sales Event in the US

Apparently not in the Philippines. Instead, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers is encouraging the education sector to join in a day of protest against the recent burial of former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos.




#MarcosNoHero Education Sector to join the November 25th Black Friday Protest, 4pm at Luneta!
The education sector is one with the Filipino people and victims of Martial law in denouncing the Supreme Court Decision allowing a hero’s burial for the fascist, plunderer and tyrant Ferdinand Marcos. We have not forgotten and will continue to resist attempts to rehabilitate the Marcoses.

“This direct act of contempt against the historic judgement of the Filipino against the Marcos dictatorship must be stopped at all costs,” Mr. Benjamin Valbuena, President of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said. President Duterte’s open support for the Marcoses and rants against us seeking justice reeks with contempt for the people who suffered under martial law dictatorship. He is fulfilling his promise to the Marcos in exchange for financial and political support last election. We resent President Duterte’s decision to do so and this created a blackened spot on his term. 

“Let the Marcoses bear the wrath of the Filipino people and victims of Martial Law for refusing to even acknowledge Marcos’ tyrannical rule. That fateful day last November 18th, the people have spoken for justice and not even a President in power can stop the flames of rage, “Mr. Benjie Valbuena stressed.
Justice have eluded the Filipino people for the crimes of the Marcoses and their cronies under the Marcos fascist regime. But the academic sector also denounces the inaction of every regime since 1986 for accommodating the Marcoses and their cronies. Because the Aquino’s and in-between regimes are equally contemptible for the continuation of graft and corruption, servility to US and IMF-WB impositions that made our country to a perpetual state of backwardness. 

“We call on the education sector to join the protest rallies on November 25, 4pm at Luneta. For those outside of Metro Manila, organize protest action centers and/or coordinate with BAYAN chapters who are also organizing protest actions, Mr. Benjie Valbuena ended.



Worth a closer look in the above statement are the following sentences:
But the academic sector also denounces the inaction of every regime since 1986 for accommodating the Marcoses and their cronies. Because the Aquino’s and in-between regimes are equally contemptible for the continuation of graft and corruption, servility to US and IMF-WB impositions that made our country to a perpetual state of backwardness. 
It is unfortunate that one cannot distill the above into a short hashtag such as #MarcosNoHero. And it is very likely that most would miss the point of the above wordy but quite important message. The Marcos regime is clearly not orchestrated by one person, Ferdinand Marcos. Herein lies what is often missing in protest actions against Marcos and history. The country has always been under an oligarchy with an extreme degree of patronage politics. The country has long been on the receiving end of global forces such as the Cold War, rise of neoliberalism, and foreign aid. Thus, to reduce what happened over thirty years ago to a burial is extremely reductionist. We often prefer to see things in black and white. The danger here is we always miss the gray.


Monday, November 21, 2016

We Want Our Youth to Become Engaged Citizens

Children are indeed introduced to Social Studies even in elementary school. When we study the past and current events, we are, of course, bound to stumble upon troubled incidents. Although unlike films or television shows, these issues do not come with ratings such as PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned, a rating in the Voluntary Movie Rating System indicating that some material may be inappropriate for children under 13). Children are still very much in early stages of development both socially and morally. Children are very much impressionable. After all, being easily influenced is a sign of youth. Children could be easily used to channel our own biases and judgments. For these reasons, teaching children how to become engaged in civic matters is particularly challenging.

Back in 1979, Nancy Eisenberg-Berg wrote a research article in the journal Developmental Psychology. She found that elementary school children think quite differently from those in high school. She wrote:
Elementary school children's reasoning tended to be hedonistic, stereotyped, approval and interpersonally oriented, and/or involved the labeling of others' needs (concern with others' needs reasoning).
Metzger and coworkers also recently found out significant differences between grade school children and adolescents. In "How Children Understand Civic Actions: A Mixed Methods Perspective", published in the Journal of Adolescent Research, elementary school children are found not likely to associate civic actions such as voting and environmentalism to purposeful actions. Metzger and coworkers wrote:
Overall, the age findings revealed a pattern that supported our general hypotheses. In particular, as suggested by the purpose finding, older adolescents may be better able to see a complex or higher order strength such as purpose as useful for a broader array of civic actions. Furthermore, the humility finding illustrated that older youth may be able to apply a broader array of related, yet less obvious, skills to a particular civic action. In fact, certain character strengths are seen as higher order qualities, meaning that they grow in correspondence with gains in abstract thinking and other cognitive skills.
The previous post in this blog, "There is a difference between education and indoctrination", is an invitation for all of us to examine how we introduce our children to active citizenship. DepEd Asec. Umali recently stated that sanctions may be imposed if students were obligated to participate in a protest rally. Umali also reiterated that participation in a protest rally can not be used as an extracurricular or out-of-school activity.

Above copied from PTV News
The previous post in this blog also mentioned an exercise done by second graders in the elementary school that my children attend. I was using this as an example of an activity that introduces young minds to democracy in an innocuous manner. Here is another example. This one goes much further than making a choice between "pajama day" or "crazy hair day", however, one must note how thoughtful this exercise was done. The activity is described in Social Studies and the Young Learner November 2011. The following page shows that the teacher is aware of developmental concerns:

Above copied from
Social Studies and the Young Learner November 2011
The choice, Marian Wright Edelman, likewise demonstrates how much effort teachers made to ensure that this lesson in social studies in indeed age-appropriate. Edelman is the founder of the Children's Defense Fund and has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans.