Consider that Finnish children begin formal schooling, including reading instruction, at age seven. A single year before Oklahoma, Arizona and Indiana start separating out weak readers by law and labeling them unsuccessful. At age eight.

Don't we agree that children are better off learning to clean up after themselves, respect the needs of others and do their part to contribute to an orderly world? Aren't these the principles that lie under service learning--our communal responsibility to pitching in?

What bothers me most about education, schools, and teachers as cars to be chosen via Consumer Reports'-style ratings is that it reduces every place not just to a marketplace, but to a zero-sum, competitive line of rankings from best to worst.

Is it more important for principals to spend time doing complex teacher evaluations than walking the halls, talking to parents and students--or mundane tasks like bus duty?

What would happen if teacher development happened internally, entirely site-based and tailored to particular schools and populations?

Whose voice is the loudest? The researcher, the politician, the media "authority?" Or the people who are invested, who have first-hand contact with public schools every day?

Here's a radical theory to consider: Young people don't know civics because we don't teach them civics!

This never-ending tinkering with instruction and curriculum is called building an effective practice. It's challenging intellectual work, entirely dependent on teachers' commitment to experimenting, then paying attention to their results.

How do we build lessons that go deep, into the place where school learning shapes motivation?

One of the by-products of the accountability movement and high-tech data management tools--like on-line grade-books--is the elevation of filling in boxes over actual learning. The grade, the test score, the completed assignments--all physical manifestations of obedience--become the target.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land 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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