Saturday, January 31, 2009

Impressed by Abigail Thernstrom Interview on BookTV

Last weekend Abigail Thernstrom's interview reran on CSPAN's BookTV. It was recorded in 2003 and was part of a book tour for the book she co-authored with her husband Stephan Thernstrom, "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Education".



Unfortunately as of today the video is not available for free viewing on the BookTV site. (See this page on BookTV to see if it will rerun in the near future if you want to watch it.)

The program ran for an hour and had many good quotes. The things said about learning, attitudes toward learning, education in general apply to people of all races and are inspiring and informative to home educators as well. As well the book and interview was about education reform and charter schools.

The book is about racial inequality in public education in America but in order to discuss the topic at all some general statements and common goals about the aim of education must be the starting point for the discussion. The authors feel that all children can gain when the same basic principals are applied (regardless of their race or ethnicity).

The book examines charter schools serving minorities in cities with limited budgets that are doing well. This book explores the idea that lots of money given to (traditional) public schools is not the main thing that is required for a high quality education and often other ways of schooling that cost less are more effective.

Near the end she says she doesn't place much stock in IQ testing and that she believes a lot of other factors can help a person become educated (i.e. quality teaching and quality schooling).

I want to share some quotes and notes I jotted down:

Progressive education, one idea is to not learn the times tables because it is rote learning or learning what you want to learn when the child is ready to learning "is an educational disaster as far as I can tell".

Discusses teacher Rafe Esquith and the Hobart Shakespeareans. These are inner city English as a second language students in fifth grade who learn English through the study of Shakespeare. He created his unique program despite other teachers saying these children could not learn Shakespeare. This is a special class within a traditional school. When asked if other teachers emulate what he does, Thernstrom said the ones she spoke to said the program was impressive but they had no desire to change their regular ways of teaching despite the kids not doing nearly as well at learning. Read the official site of Rafe Esquith's Hobart Shakespearean program here.

Since Thernstrom's book was published, Esquith has published his own book, "Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire" (which has been on my wish list for a long time and I really should commit to buying and reading it).



Rafe Esquith also teaches his students how to take tests and the tricks on testing and how to do well at being tested. She said he also teaches SAT prep classes to his former students. His students do well on standardized tests.

When asked why Asian Americans outperform all other races in school, she says this. "Culture matters." Thernstrom says that Asian families teach their children that hard work and self-discipline are necessary to have success in America. When Asian children are asked what their good grades are a result of they say hard work and NOT based on luck or based on who their teacher is.

Thernstrom says that TV watching is an issue for children. The more TV they watch the worse they do in school. She said there are good statistics that correlate to hours of TV watching by race and school performance. Black children watch two times as much TV as any other race of children, whites and Asians are about the same. She tells a story of how she banned TV on weekdays with her own children and they watched very little cartoons on Saturday morning. She said there was a price to pay with her kids being out of the loop with pop culture but she felt it was worth it for the education they received.

"The extraordinary thing about Asians is not that they tell their children to do their homework but that they listen to their parents. An Asian mother said that her child's (non-Asian public school) teacher told her 'you need to be a friend to your child' but the Asian mother said 'that's not my way -- we're not friends of our children we are their parents'."

Asian parents are strong and clear. They say to do well in America they have to work hard and study. Compared to the blacks (her term), the blacks are depressed about their outlook for opportunity in America. The two attitudes held by Asians and blacks in America, toward learning, working hard in school are completely opposite.

In colleges, the numbers of Asians compared to other races is much higher despite the Asian population in America being only 4% (a table was shown with statistics). "The Asians work their way into those schools" by their hard work and good grades. A mention was made that some colleges now are worried of having too many Asians and not enough of other races so there is starting to be an anti-Asian discrimination in some college admissions offices.

Abigail Thernstrom also said that some people are against her views and that some interviews and shows she has participated in when doing a show with other people, the views of she and her husband have not always been accepted or liked.


Abigail Thernstrom did other interviews as part of this book tour. Here is one I found on YouTube. This is no where as interesting as the BookTV interview.

Here is an interview introduction from The Hoover Institution and the video is below, embedded video from YouTube. If the poor resolution video bothers your eyes try just listening to it as the audio is better.


MIND THE GAP: The Racial Gap in Education
Filmed on May 03, 2004

More than fifty years after the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. the Board of Education, there is still an unacceptable gap between the academic achievements of white and black students in America. In fact, by some standards, black students today perform more poorly than they did fifteen years ago. Why? What role does culture play? Does culture explain the disparate performance of Hispanic and Asian students? And just how should we go about trying to close this gap? Peter Robinson speaks with Bernard Gifford, Abigail Thernstrom, and Stephan Thernstrom.




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1 comment:

Crimson Wife said...

I watched a documentary on Rafe Esquith that was fascinating. He really struck me as an extraordinarily talented educator- too bad there aren't teachers like him in every school.