July 2007 Archives

Dear Diane, One nice thing about writing you regularly has been that it sharpens my daily reading! Here’s some of the stuff I’ve been reading about lately that seem critical to future educational policy, in no particular order of important. What does it mean that so many policy makers seem content to have teachers who only teach for 3-5 years, not to mention those who accept it as inevitable? How important is it to really figure out whether the alarmist talk about the connection between America’s economic future and schooling is true or false? Myth or reality? ...


Dear Deb, Your discussion of knowledge and trust sounds right to me. We are likely to accept statistics on topics far from our own field, but be skeptical about claims made in areas where we are better informed. This new world of 24/7 news, information, and opinion can sometimes seem overwhelming. We know so much more than we did in the past about happenings all over the world, yet our understanding of this constant flow of information does not appear to be especially deep. It is a constant source of frustration to me, which I have vented in our ...


Dear Diane, The level of trust required for any society to sort of work is an interesting question. Because you are surely right that we cannot literally check out everything we're told in the media. What I tend to do is trust the data on matters about which I have profound ignorance, and be skeptical about what I know well (because I can check it out). But I know there are risks in this survival habit. So the other thing I do—when I'm beyond my depth—is rely on "my" experts in each field—the folks in each field...


Dear Deb, Don't worry about our agreeing too much! If we are really going to "bridge differences," then we should constantly seek common ground. I like small schools, but I also like middle-size schools. About ten years ago, Valerie Lee of the University of Michigan did a study in which she asked what was the ideal size for a high school, and she concluded that the ideal school was small enough for kids to be known by the teachers, but large enough to mount a reasonable curriculum. The best size for a high school, she decided, based on a review ...


Dear Diane, We better be careful, or we'll too often think alike! In 1989 I wrote an op-ed for The New York Times entitled "Small is Sensible." I love big cities, I began, but not big schools. I still feel the same way—about both. "Critics worry," says a NY Times editorial (July 6th) that the "new small schools...handpick the most desirable and most easily educated students". True or false? "It may be true", the editorial continues. Still, "given the improvement," full speed ahead. Duh? The same issue is arising now in Boston. It worries me—because not only...


Dear Deb, You raise important questions about the trustworthiness of the data that government agencies release. I would hope that every math course, not just advanced courses, would teach students how numbers can be interpreted in different ways for different purposes. I have always thought that one of the truly impressive qualities of athletics was the honesty of the numbers. If the score at the end of nine innings in a baseball game is 9-2, you know who won the game. In a basketball game, the basket is set at a certain height, and the ball has to enter the ...


Dear Diane, The disturbing comments in your final paragraph deserve a wide audience. It is always hard to know when we are being alarmists, and when we are understating a dangerous trend. Maybe schools were once less worrisome because they simply played a much smaller role in our lives and life itself was a teacher of common sense. But all roads lead to Rome, so while it may appear that I'm switching subjects, Diane, it leads to the same place. I read the story a few weeks ago about Carol and Joe Reich's struggle to retain control over the public ...


Dear Deb, The promise of this blog “Bridging Differences” was that (is that?) we would acknowledge our disagreements and from time to time discover issues where we agree. We aim to keep that promise! This is an issue—spotting the nonsense and naming it—where we are on the same page. A few days ago, I watched a movie made in the 1930s, in which there was a crusading newspaper editor. In his office was a sampler that said, “Tell the truth.” These days, we recognize that the “truth” may be elusive, and we may not even agree on how to...


Dear Diane, As I was watching the Democratic party presidential wanna-be's the other night, I thought about our misuse of language. Was that a "debate"? But worse, what does it mean to ask serious potential presidents to talk about important matters—in 30 seconds? So, in answer to: why educate? So that someday we might have a public that would be embarrassed to watch such nonsense and a media that knew better. I turned off the TV at last and started reading my cousin Judith Larner Lowry's book on restoration gardening in California—"The Landscaping Ideas of Jays". After reading...


Dear Deb, Now that our mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is readying himself as a potential candidate for the Presidency, it is clear that education will be one of his signature issues. Sadly, he knows no more about education today than he did when he became mayor in 2001, based on his latest plan to pay poor kids to get higher test scores. That strategy seems to me to be an abject admission of cluelessness: When you don't know anything about teaching or curriculum, then just pay for results. I understand your frustration about the historical amnesia that you encountered. It seems ...


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