Scholars Review the Funding of the Common Core

Diane Ravitch's blog

This post is a scholarly analysis of the funding of Common Core: Who put up the money, who benefitted. The paper (which can be downloaded here) was written by three scholars at Pennsylvania State University: Mindy L. Kornhaber, Nikolaus J. Barkauskas, and Kelly M. Griffith.
They track where the money came from and where it was spent.
The biggest problem for the Common Core standards was that they were released based on a hope, not on evidence or experience. They were never tested in advance, so no one could say with assurance how they would affect students, the achievement gaps, teachers, classrooms.
Their closing paragraph is chilling:

An analogy to the Gold Rush may be useful here: The claim stakers are the federal government and philanthropies that have staked out the Common Core for public policy. To work that stake, they incentivize states and school districts to mine the…

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Schooling’s Impact on Women’s Health

by Bryan Mann and Julia Mahfouz

A revolution in Education has thoroughly transformed human society over just a century and a half. Along with a few other major global phenomena, such as large-scale capitalism and representation democracy, schooling whole populations for ever more years changes both individuals and the institutions at the core of society. Intensifying right up to today, what is called the “education revolution” is a cultural phenomenon more than a material or political one, although it has major material and political consequences. ~ David P. Baker, The Schooled Society (2014)

The driving question of the research this team conducts is: “What is education’s impact on______.” The blank can be filled with a number of cultural and political topics of interest across a variety of subjects. While our research gets published and presented in a variety of academic venues, the purpose of this blog is to give the readers a snapshot of our current work in a less formal outlet. This first entry describes the progress of one of our papers, which asks the question: What impact does schooling have on women’s contraceptive use? With this, we seek to examine education’s impact on a health outcome by considering if higher levels of education lead to empowerment, in turn leading to a specific health decision.

The study looks at education’s effect on women’s empowerment and contraceptive use in Latin American/ Caribbean countries—Haiti, Nicaragua, and Bolivia using a pooled sample of data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). The justification and assumptions that drive this study come from the understanding that a majority of females who engaged in premarital sex in this region did not use contraceptives partially due to lack of education, and, as a result, the region saw a high number of unintended pregnancies (see also Ali & Cleland 2005).

The South American/Latin American/Caribbean region has experienced educational development but with uneven access across locations inside countries. This context has uneven access to education and variability of educational attainment, allowing the team to investigate if years of schooling attended by women led to higher levels of empowerment, improved health knowledge, and greater wealth. We used Structural Equation Modeling to determine if these pathways (education leading to empowerment/knowledge/wealth then leading to contraceptive use) increased use of contraception. See the pictorial description of this study:


The results suggest that in this context formal education is a significant social determinant of contraceptive use, focusing on the change of women’s status and its mediating impact on family planning. In other words, our findings suggest that in this region education leads to empowerment, knowledge, and wealth and this in turn leads to the outcome of more women using contraception and having unwanted pregnancies.

The researchers working on this project are Dr. Haram Jeon, Dr. David Baker, Bryan Mann (PhD candidate in Educational Theory and Policy), and Julia Mahfouz (PhD candidate in Educational Leadership). The team presented this work at the 2015 Population Association of America Annual Meeting in San Diego and won a ribbon for best poster in their session.


Ali, M. M., & Cleland, J. (2005). Sexual and reproductive behaviour among single women aged 15–24 in eight Latin American countries: A comparative analysis. Social Science & Medicine60(6), 1175-1185.

Team Wins Poster Award at Population Association of America Conference

The Effects of Education

HaramJeon and Bryan Mann presented their paper (with Julia Mahfouz 9-Bryan-Mannand David P. Baker) titled “Women’s Empowerment, Educational Attainment, and Contraceptive Use in Latin American/Caribbean Countries” at the 2015 Population Association of America (PAA) research conference in San Diego, California.  The team demonstrated that educational attainment has an independent effect on contraceptive use across several countries. The poster won an award ribbon for best poster in their session!

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The Lebanese Childhood


Lebanese Children at School in 1930

According to Mintz, childhood is far from being stable, timeless, and universal category of life; it is more of a historical invention whose meaning and social force have changed over time. This is also the case when we are to compare American childhood to other cultures. The reality of childhood varies from one culture to another. Similar to the African and Korean childhoods, the Lebanese childhood has undergone several conceptual changes over time. The idea of childhood was molded and remolded in French Mandate Lebanon (1920- 1942) upon which the Euro-American modernity was projected.

The Ottoman era focused on religion to be the basis of the way they reared children. Although Christian, Muslim, Druze, and Jewish adults resided in the Ottoman territories which were to become modern Lebanon, they all shared the same idea of childhood. A child was expected to live by the morals depicted by the Ottoman law; boys were expected to work as porters or farmers and help their parents with financial support. Education was basically studying religion. When the British and French troops entered Beirut in 1918, the first step towards social reform was through education. Education provided foreigners with inroads into home and family life, and the school building was identified as one of the most utilitarian sites for social reform.

Similar to how “‘Friends of Indians’ launched an ambitious campaign to ‘Americanize’ Indian children and obliterate their tribal identity,” the French issued an act proclaiming the maintenance and rehabilitation of the educational system and the replacement of Turkish with French as the official language of instruction, along with Arabic (p.171). Missionary schools started opening all around Lebanon with high enrollment; the High Commission reported a total of 1,307 schools by 1933. This revealed a strong and serious determination on behalf of the Lebanese to develop and educate themselves and their children. The educational reform became a site of contestation between French Jesuits and American protestants, both of whom “sought to recast Lebanese youth in their own image” (p. 328). Lebanese critic of the 1960s and 70s, Hassan Hamdan explains that rather than promote a Lebanese national culture, the “colonists instead sought to craft children, especially the children of the bourgeoisie, into second-class citizens of their own empires, with social, cultural, and economical allegiances to the West that trumped their native ones” (p. 329). 

By the 17th Century, the Jesuits had become an accepted educational presence in the region. By early 1830s, the crusade to spread the “Good News” of the Second Great Awakening had been taken up by American missionaries dispatched to the East, hoping to convert Muslims, Maronites, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Catholics to Protestantism. Ideologies of the West were engrained in the children who carried along that legacy when Lebanon became independent–a democratic country operating on its own.

After independence, Lebanese childhood was remolded to merge the European-American ideals with non-Western national culture. It might be said that the Lebanese nationalist child-ideal combined “European and existing gender, religious, and aesthetic norms” in order to represent Lebanon as both modern but also possessing its own distinctive history and culture (p. 86). In that sense, Lebanon, unlike Syria or other countries of the Middle East that were also colonized–carried that Western culture through education of childhood that was eventually manifested in all aspects of society along with their national patriotism. Thus, until now, Lebanese’s culture can easily be detected to be similar in many ways to that of Europe: Their everyday dialect is a combination of Arabic, French, and English words all together; their perspectives advocate Western ideologies, their societal interactions merge traditional Lebanese customs with that of the West in all aspects of life. And all of that was produced by the change in the history of Lebanese childhood through education that was socially and politically molded to in itself transform a nation!


‘Amil, “Nizam al-ta’lim fi Lubnan,” 28; abu Rabi’, Contemporary Arab Thought, 329.

LeVine, “Ethnographic Studies of Childhood,” 86.

Asher Kaufman, Reviving Phoenicia: In Search of Identity in Lebanon (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), 328.

Steven, Mintz, Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood (Cambridge: Belknap Harvard,2004), 171.


Reflections on Play as Emotional Symbolizing

 Play as Emotional Symbolizing 

Engel, “Peeking Through the Mirror” (2003, 153-166)

Engel extends Vygotsky’s view of children’s symbolic play to focus on narratives that act as boundaries between secret and known. Vygotsky states that make-believe play is socially and culturally determined. Playing the roles of real life characters (for example, a mother or a doctor) children achieve a mental representation of social roles and the rules of society. In addition, Vygotsky believes that play provides a context where children learn first order symbolism through symbolic play. Children learn to move quickly representing objects for other objects and then representing objects with no objects at all. The symbols, while initially dependent on action and physical similarity for their development and expression, become less dependent as children internalize the symbols into mental images. Engel tackles fantasy storytelling as another form of children’s make-believe play to show how children use their inner thoughts as narratives, unleashing their emotional and intellectual problems by translating their inner concerns, fears, and confusions into fantasy “symbolized” play.

Children during play may start narrating their silent inner stories out loud when they are alone. These narratives tell us how children use fantasy storytelling as a psychological medium that merges (Engel, 2003), “What is wild and private” with “What is orderly and public” (p. 154). Thus, the narrative becomes symbolic as children manipulate it to communicate their inner private selves through factual rule-governed stories. By doing so, children form a connection between the self and society.

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On the rational side, the narratives help children understand their society. Psychological research shows how children acquire the mechanics of storytelling to express their cognitive understanding of the values of culture, and shaping their representations of experience. They become able to use storytelling as a means to interact with the people around them. In addition, these fantasy narratives help children develop their language skills. In that sense, fantasy storytelling during play help children think logically, construct organized sequential streams of thought that communicate their reality and their relationship with the world around them–which comprises of another reality.

On the wild side, the narratives allow children to explore their inner “secret spaces of childhood–the child’s inner thoughts and fantasies” (Engel, 2003, p. 155). Whether written or narrated out loud, these stories seem to be conventional and follow the rules and organization of a narrative. However, if we analyze them psychologically, we find out that children communicate their inner emotions, thoughts, needs, and concerns that they cannot express forthrightly. Instead, they use language as a form of play to structure and create images in words to “fulfill their impulse to construct and transform reality” (p. 157). This id-governed primary process thinking draws on modes of symbolization to cover up the child’s thoughts and feelings that cannot be expressed bluntly due to societal constraints. Hence, children utilize the medium of language as means to express themselves, make meaning of the world around them without being judged. In that sense, play can be considered as a ‘safe place’ within which inner tensions can be explored in the outer world through make-believe symbolic play and storytelling.

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Engel states that these stories “serve as the curtain between private and public realms, what is allowed and what is not allowed, what is real and what is imagined, what belongs in a story and what does not” (Engel, 2003, p. 158). This symbolic process of storytelling helps children construct different spheres of reality and provide them with a way to explore the relationship among these spheres. They make sense of the world through storytelling.

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The spoken conscious narrative, just like play, helps children develop their emotional, cognitive, and social selves. It acts as a shield that enables children to let out their unconscious feelings and thoughts that cannot be openly conveyed through embedded symbols merged with the ordinary story line accepted by society. In addition, these narratives act as “a cooling vessel” that gives the children a chance to understand themselves, by distancing themselves from the loaded feelings embedded in such narratives.

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According to the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, these fantasy stories “provide children with a perfect vehicle for exploring sex, satisfying their curiosity, and seeking pleasure” (as cited in Engel, 2003, p. 163). The story form allows children to think, peek, investigate, imagine and explore their desires. It also connects the mind with the body as children construct their mental thoughts into concrete words, merging along the physical and sensuous with the affective and mental.

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Children could explore through fantasy storytelling themselves on different levels. In addition to communication and expression of their inner needs, feelings, and thoughts, children form their own identity through narratives. They are in control of what they want to reveal and what they want to hide. They undergo the process of negotiation between their inner and outer life.

Storytelling plays an important role in the children’s development and can be considered as another form of play that children indulge in to create an understanding of themselves and their society.

Seminar III: Make-Believe Play

Social Learning, Online Virtual Environment, and Discussion Forums: Technological Tools Fostering Aristotle’s Good Society

” Of the three lives Aristotle speaks of, the life of action, the life of contemplation, but we lack the other, contemplation. That, I thought, is why ours is a violent city.”         ~ John Donne


 According to Aristotle, a culture can be judged based on how it pursues three lives: the life of activity and productivity, the life of enjoyment, and the life of contemplation. In an English classroom, for example, I could translate these three lives to writing, reading, and thinking about what one reads and writes respectively. As our society ineluctably transitions from a print-based to a digital culture, it is important to examine these three ‘lives’ of the learning 2.0 classroom in their technological forms–social learning, online virtual environment, and ‘learning to be’ platforms.

Social Learning–Life of Activity and Productivity:

Brian Morgan and Richard D. Smith in their article, “A Wiki for Classroom Writing,” discuss the use of wiki in literacy education as a means to improve writing. They show through a project done by Mr. Smith’s classroom how wikis are great tools that help in writing instruction. In his class, Mr. Smith had students conduct research at the library, and students composed first individualistic writing drafts. Students shared their drafts by uploading them on their group wikis. Each group collaborated together through the wiki to revise, edit, proofread, add sections, and ask questions about revision and grammar. In that sense, the collaborative wiki format “makes revision an integral part of the process” (p.81).

A positive highlight regarding wikis is that in addition to the skills of writing that students acquire in their regular classrooms, in wikis, the writing process is “more visible to the students and teacher” (p.81). Hence, the writing process was emphasized and revision consisted of continual process of slight collaborative modification. This, as we know, strengthens the students’ abilities to engage with the text as writers and readers. The environment “provided immediate, contextualized feedback,” thus strengthening the relations among audience, purpose, and structure of the writing” (p.81).

In addition, the use of wikis allowed students to participate more frequently and freely. They could post their brainstorming ideas, preplan through graphic organizers or mind maps, and restructure their draft as the project progressed. Wikis, as we see, can be considered strong tools that enhance the writing instruction through the collaboration of writing–highlighting the phase of activity and productivity in the English classroom.

This shift in which students study in groups and collaborate together transforms the learning into another level of life of activity and productivity in which the premise of “I think, therefore I am” becomes “We participate, therefore we are” as Brown and Adler explain it in their article “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0” (p.2).

Online Virtual Environment–Life of Enjoyment:

 Online research, reading, exploration is another tool that brings forth a gift of easily accessible, readily available, rich information, and active interest to reading. In their article, “The Best of Both Literacies,” Margaret Weigel and Howard Gardner capitalize the strength of online reading as they encourage this new digital media of literacy. They show how students now with the unlimited access to information “can pursue a myriad of personal interests through digital media. For virtually any interest you can imagine, you can probably find a website” (p.40). Thus, teachers can use the new media to incorporate students’ interests into the formal curriculum and by doing so, learning becomes “more interesting, personal, and relevant” (p.40).

Students could work with a series of text based and multimedia materials that will make them able to assimilate information and be able to distinguish what is considered important and what is trivial. For example, Wikipedia “involves process of legitimate peripheral participation that is similar to the process in open software communities” allowing students to participate in the critical reading process (Brown and Adler, p.20).

Through such activities, the online virtual environment offers students powerful incentives and joy to engage with materials and learning. It’s “affordability, ease of access, and breadth and depth of compelling content provide powerful resources that educators have at their disposal in today’s classroom” (p.41). Thus, it becomes another technological tool used that can instill the phase of enjoyment in the classroom culture.

Online Discussion Forums–Life of Contemplation: 

 The life of contemplation can be reflected through the deep discussion, critical thinking, and exploration of complex ideas that technological multimedia offers for students. With online wikis, message boards, facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other social networks, the potential for creativity, learning, and discovery encourages deep thought, deeper reflection, and a better understanding as students become are involved in extended discussions, debates and study sessions and connections.

Implementing Socratic-type discussions in online discussions and engaging students in this level of discourse are motivated by curiosity that springs from questions. This curiosity brings forth more questions, which create a cycle of curiosity that leads to deeper understanding and thus, to a higher level of thinking. The Decameron Web is a great example that illustrates the resourcefulness of the web leading to a life of contemplation as students are allowed to try out the “scholar’s” stand on issues as they debate in open source communities their thoughts.

Students may become more engaged in their interests and may start thinking about them even beyond the classroom sessions as they get to reflect on others’ ideas and critiques which leads to “learning to be.”


 Online literacy through social learning, online virtual environment, and online discussion forums prove to meet the needs of different individuals within a culture and foster all three dimensions of Aristotle’s good society. The implementation of such technological tools can help shape the development of an analytical, probative approach to knowledge in which students view the information they acquire not as an end in itself, but as the beginning to deeper questions and new further articulated thoughts and thus shift happens from learning about to learning to be…


 Adler R. P.  & Brown, J. S. (2008). Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0. Educause Review, 43 (1), 16 – 32.

Koopman, B. L. (2011). Socrates to Wikis: Using Online Forums to Deepen Discussions. The Phi Delta Kappan, 92 (4), 24 -27.

Morgan, B., & Smith, R. D. (2008). Technology in Literacy Education: A Wiki for Classroom Writing. The Reading Teacher, 62 (1), 80 -82.

Weigel, M., & Gardner, H. (2009). The Best of Both Literacies. Educational Leadership, 66 (6),