Quote from Marc Bloch

“I can conceive of no higher praise for a writer than to be able to speak in the same tone to savants and schoolboys alike, but so noble a simplicity is the privilege of the select few.”

Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1954), 3.

Harry Potter and Reading

The NYT has a brief “let’s talk to some teachers, some students, and some experts” article about the impact of Harry Potter.

The ability to find an educational expert to back up every possible opinion is demoralizing. To wit:

Some reading experts say that urging kids to read fiction in general might be a misplaced goal. “If you look at what most people need to read for their occupation, it’s zero narrative,” said Michael L. Kamil, a professor of education at Stanford University. “I don’t want to deny that you should be reading stories and literature. But we’ve overemphasized it,” he said. Instead, children need to learn to read for information, Mr. Kamil said, something they can practice while reading on the Internet, for example.

This vision will be happily embraced by any and all who are ready to gut whole language and who want to emphasize reading as a skill rather than a love or a vocation. I know I’m a romantic but “reading for information” can’t be the starting point for teachers seeking to inspire their students or for kids learning to read.

Death by Bureaucracy

This article from Friday’s Times describes the plight of a teacher buried by paperwork.

Nothing new there.

What’s most impressive, though, is the way in which the high-level administrators respond, as if nothing could be more natural than five weeks of paperwork to prepare to teach.

End result: new teacher, with lots to offer, departs for another position.
Bureaucrat in nice suit: promoted.

Capstone Seminar for Student Teachers

What if this course was taught as a recapitulation of all the other courses necessary for certification?  In other words, it would begin with the issues raced in “Schools and Society,” proceed through the research highlighted in “Educational Psychology,” and then consider questions of special education, literacy, and the specific content area pedagogy?

Not bad as an organizational tool.  And it would ask students to reflect on coursework that was relevant but probably forgotten.


John Street was right !?!

Not a big fan of Mayor Street, but his adamant refusal to allow police officers into Philadelphia public schools was the right call. The columnist, Bob Herbert, from the New York Times, has been steadily documenting the abuses perpetrated by New York City Police Officers on schoolchildren in NYC.

Today’s article — here

LBJ urging passage of the Civil Rights Act, 1965

My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast and hungry. And they knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them, but they knew it was so because I saw it in their eyes.

I often walked home late in the afternoon after the classes were finished wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that I might help them against the hardships that lay ahead. And somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.

Many Children Left Behind

Reading this collection of essays; particularly striking were several of the assertions in Deborah Meier’s piece on democracy:

We need school where strong cross-generational relationships can be built around matters of importance to the world. Schools cannot do it alone — kids also need other non-school communities — but creating such schools is a necessary start. These schools can exist only in communities that trust them. There is no shortcut. The authority needed to do the job requires trust. Trusting our schools cannot be a long-term goal in some utopian vision. If you don’t trust the babysitter, no accountability scheme will make it safe to leave your child in her hands tonight. The only alternative is to stay home.

The business world offers little guidance in this task (to build trust/community/democracy). The ways of business hardly work for business, where “buyer beware” is the primary response to demands of accountability.

There will be acrimony and there will be local fights (if we can return democracy to schools). Hurrah, not alas. It is the habits of mind necessary for practicing and resolving disagreement — the mental toughness that democracy rests on — that kids most need to learn about in school. If we all agreed about everything, we wouldn’t need democracy; we wouldn’t need to learn how people work out differences.

Meier, Deborah. “NCLB and Democracy.” In Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging our Children and our Schools, edited by Deborah Meier and George H. Wood. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.

Terrific Stuart Ewen letter to NYT 06242007

To the Editor:

I’ve never had a problem with the idea of merit pay for teachers, just the way that it is too often distributed. In many institutions, monetary rewards are the outcome of obedience to administrators rather than excellence in teaching and scholarship.

With academic leadership increasingly falling into the hands of politically appointed micromanagers rather than serious well-qualified educators, this problem will only continue, posing a threat to academic excellence.

If administrators, trustees and legislative overseers are willing to acknowledge that they may not be the most competent arbiters of academic “merit,” then a meritocracy may be able to work.

In an environment where petty martinets are in a position to make decisions about merit, excellence will be sacrificed at the altar of subservience. This is not good for education, or for the future of a well-educated America.

Stuart Ewen
New York, June 18, 2007