June 2008 Archives

Blaming Teachers

Dear Diane, You've caught me remembering what wasn't there. I reread A Nation at Risk, and—you are right-- it didn't claim that teachers were the enemy within. It even gave a few kudos to hard working teachers. It's interesting (to me) that I should misremember it. So how did we get from 1983 to 2008? I think that, in some ways, the argument put forth by A Nation at Risk is part of the problem. First. The enormity of the crisis that they perceived and the sole focus on schools as the cause and solution eased the way into ...


Reports, Reform, and Hype

Dear Deborah, I can’t believe that we are debating the message of A Nation at Risk in 2008, a quarter century after it appeared! We have been agreeing so much lately that it is useful that we remember that we do have plenty of differences. That way, we can continue to try to bridge them. This is one issue where we definitely disagree. The reason that the commission that wrote Nation at Risk focused on schools was because the name of the commission was “The National Commission on Excellence in Education.” Its charge was to “present a report on ...


Challenging the 'Longer Hours,' 'Try Harder' Wisdom

Dear Diane, "We live in interesting times." A statement generally said more in sorrow than joy—and that's how I've felt this week over the coverage of the two contrasting reports to which you referred. Probably not many folks will read either, but many will notice the gist of each. David Brooks's interpretation is the oddest. It's probably the first time in my life I've been labeled part of the status quo on education! I've almost given up on the word "reformer" anyway—given the company it too often puts me in—so that wasn't the shock. It was the straight-out...


Is More Testing the New Civil Rights Agenda?

Dear Deborah, To answer your question, “How come, since there are more teachers than policymakers,” the policymakers get to run the show? Easy. Public education is controlled by laymen, not professionals. Decision-making power is placed by law in the hands of the local board of education, the state board of education, and the federal department of education. Lots of others influence policy, including teachers’ unions, business groups, and foundations. I find myself getting really annoyed when people rage against the teachers’ unions, because they are the organized voice of most of the people who work in schools. The same people ...


Seeing Like a State

Dear Diane, You've put it neatly—whose expertise is running the show? Except for one flaw. How come, since there are more teachers than policymakers, we give up and not them? There are lots of reasons, of course, including the fact that teachers (and parents) tend not—as we noted once before—to "see like a State" (ala James Scott's wonderful book). Policymakers seem to do it naturally. But, of course, it's also because they represent people who are more powerful. And also people who, alas, take themselves more seriously. When I first got into being a kindergarten...


If You Can't Measure Joy and Wonder, What Good Are They?

Dear Deborah, On Sunday morning, as I was pondering my reply to your last blog about “making sense of our differences,” I picked up The New York Times and read a shocking story. It seems that in Tanzania, albinos are being hunted down and killed by people who believe that their skin and body parts have magical powers. This story reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in a nation where we constantly struggle to teach acceptance, tolerance, and mutuality and to judge people as individuals, not by the color of their skin or their accent or their ...


Making Sense of Our Differences

Dear Diane, NYC’s decision—for budgetary reasons—to forego mandatory intelligence testing of 5-year-olds this fall is worth celebrating. But it’s a dangerous idea that will be back again. The earlier the testing culture starts, the more it erodes the resilience of all children, but above all those raised in a different culture and language than such tests rest their norms on. Some natives, hearing the accents or dialects of foreigners, treat them instinctively with disrespect. A good friend of mine, Florence Miller, had a talent for joining other cultures and languages. We traveled together to France, ...


What Good are Tests?

Dear Deborah, Tests inevitably gauge a student’s fund of knowledge and experience, not just what was taught in school. If a student comes from a family where he or she hears a large vocabulary, where there are many books in the home, where reading and learning are valued, where there are excursions to the library or the museum, the tests will reflect that huge amount of social capital. Tests of math and science are more likely to reflect what was taught in school because most students learn those subjects almost entirely in school. The same is probably true, I ...


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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