Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Report Cards, Politics, and Citizen Research

Last week I attended the social hour at a two-day conference in Hertzlia for academics, journalists, and bloggers. In keeping with my retired status and my general preference for conversation over rhetoric, I managed to avoid the panels and presentations, just showed up for the sushi, hummus, and chitchat, sponsored by Pajamas Media (photos here).

Afterwards I was curious enough to read conference reviews from some of the Israeli bloggers who were there, and many interesting comments (79 so far, and still counting) on Liza's post. As a result, now that my computer has been repaired, I have to read more blogs. All of which has got me thinking. (It happens.) Both the conference and blogs are great examples of free speech. Those of us raised in Western countries take free speech for granted and use it to inform and to rally support for the issues we care about, without fear of bodily harm.

My own public education included the mantra, "No freedom without responsibility," but it's clear that in some places people confuse freedom with license, and they confuse democracy with elections. No, I don't mean the conference erupted into physical violence. But it got me wondering how people are educated to be responsible citizens in a democracy? Back in the 1940's there was a subject in elementary school called History and Civics. I know because I have my report card from 4th grade. Later the subject was renamed Social Studies. I wonder why? And how do report cards get created anyhow? I don't mean the grades on them, but the subjects that are deemed important enough to be graded and reported?

From what I understand of the No Child Left Behind program in the USA, it is intended to promote literacy and basic competence in math and science from the earliest grades, so that even the most underprivileged American children will at least get the tools of economic survival. An admirable goal, regardless of whether this particular initiative will accomplish it. Being a citizen of two countries, I often wonder about children's education not only for literacy and numeracy (?), but also for citizenship, both in and beyond the USA. What are they being taught? I realize that in some countries, going to school at all is a privilege and a hardship for families, and those children are in school to get as much reading, writing, and arithmetic as they can absorb as quickly as possible. However, in those situations, the children are also learning something about society and politics. Sometimes their parents even have to bribe the teachers to allow them into the classroom, and I suspect the kids know it.

My older granddaughter's public school (my daughter calls it the Smartypants Yuppie School) has individual class web sites, where I (and her parents) (and anyone else in the world who looks) can see her class's weekly homework assignments and photos of her in class, and I'm sure there are strictly enforced rules about gifts for teachers. I'm waiting for the day they put webcams into the schoolroom, although I imagine that would conflict with public privacy (??). I haven't yet seen what her report card looks like (she just began first grade), but I suspect it will have plenty of social behavior categories.

What do Palestinian children get graded on? Iraqi children? Egyptian children? I don't even know what an Israeli school report card looks like! Here's the deal: how about using the Internet to collect actual sample report cards from all countries and especially countries in the Middle East, to investigate educating for democracy in the early grades? I'm not a statistician or a trained researcher, but I know you first have to collect sample data before there can be any analysis, so I just started a social network, prosaically named ReportCardCollection, for collecting the data. To prime the pump, I've posted my own 4th grade report card (1946) and my mother's 5th grade report card (1907), both from the New York City school system.



If you can find a report card for an elementary school child (you can edit out the name, this is not about you or your family or friends), and want to contribute a digital photo of it to the Report Cards group, please email me (savtadotty {at} gmail {dot} com) for an invitation to join the group. The group is private to exclude irrelevant photos. If your report card is not in English, please include a translation into English before you post it, and indicate the country/state, school year (e.g., 3rd grade), and the year it was used. It would also be useful to include whether the school charged tuition (like British "public" schools) or was paid for by the state or a religious institution (or if a bribe was involved!).

Here's a little Report Card Checklist:
Year (e.g., 1975)_____________
Grade (e.g., 4th grade)__________
School System (e.g., New York, Church, Hamas, Shas)___________________
Town/City (e.g., Manhattan)____________________________
State/Country ___________________________
Tuition Free? (e.g., Yes/No/explanation)___________________
Photo owner (e.g., Savtadotty {at} gmail {dot} com)___________________________

Even if your report card is from the fifties or sixties, or earlier, it will be interesting to compare it to more recent ones from the same country/state.

Consider yourself tagged!

12 comments:

claude said...

So your computer is back ;)
What an interesting idea. I think I threw away all my report cards when I moved some seven years ago. When I was a kid, we had a civic education class in which we discussed morals and stuff like that. That is deemed old-fashioned these days, but kids' behaviour is not getting any better either

Tamar Orvell said...

You consistently make me think, ponder, remember, and reframe questions and assumptions. I am a tosser so my only report card memory (from Ramaz, a private orthodox Jewish day school in nyc -- with plenty of non-orthodoxies in attendance) is the letter N, for Needs Improvement (in behavior). I liked that grade then, and I still do.

Your research project sounds useful, and I urge you to consider incorporating it into your retirement program. I would be happy to help think and do w you and others.

By the way, No Child Left Behind was a bunch of words and expenditures serving no child of chronological age. I worked briefly on one of the projects and instantly found it yet another in the long list of farces and bilking of the current USA administration.

Keep contributing thought, sanity, and humor to the blogosphere and thus, to our lives.

Udge said...

Good idea. My mother could give you two complete 13-year sets for my sister and I, she keeps everything. I know that we took History and Social Science, but the only discussion of freedom/responsibility/privilege/duty that I can remember came in English class in 10th grade.

No, actually we had a perfect example! During Watergate, we had a TV running live tuned to the courtroom. We watched it happen, I remember what seemed like a week of John Dean's testimony, seeing him pushing tiny, exquisitely sharp knives into Nixon. Now THAT was a history lesson.

Savtadotty said...

Claude - Do you have just one of your daughter's report cards to contribute?

Tamar - "My retirement program" makes it sound like I have a plan! I am totally about improvising, but your help is most welcome. All of us get grade N constantly.

Udge - Any chance of just one or two digital images of those report cards? I don't want to be greedy, and take your time.

Udge said...

Sure, I'll ask my mother to scan a few.

Lioness said...

How interesting indeed! But I don't think I have any left, unless my mum saved some. And Udge, I'm jealous!

S., I rarely show my face these days but I've been thinking abt you a lot, you were so amazing on the kibbutz. I remember the swings fondly! Thanks again, can't wait to repeat it, but sane this time. And have a fabulous 2007!

Savtadotty said...

Lioness - Don't wait for sane to return! I get an edited selection of your news through a backchannel (Noorster) ;-)

samirah said...

savta! hello! i've missed you!

so i have all my report cards from going to school here (brooklyn) and also for the two years i spent in school in northern ireland. i'll try to find them for you.

happy new year!

Savtadotty said...

Samirah,
I've missed you! Happy New Year! Yes, of course I want your report card! Elementary school, if you have one.

MotherPie said...

Freedom does come with responsibility and interesting about your thoughts on civics. In Texas, where Bush came up w/ No Child Left Behind, the illiteracy rates where so horrendous that they were unpublishable -- something like 60% of the state population couldn't function at a sixth grade level (the level where a citizen can fill out tax forms, employment forms, etc.). The prison rates were high and the idea of teaching everyone to read and write rather than the automatic promotion to the next grade regardless of mastering literacy skills was deemed to be a huge problem. Now we are in NYC and I'm just glad I don't have to go through the process of trying to get kids into pre-school here.

What makes a good citizen and what does it mean to be educated? These are important questions to ask and think about.

Thanks for the b-day wishes!

Hadar said...

Excellent idea, savtadotty! We could probably learn a lot from report cards in different countries - or even from different periods, in the same country.

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