from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Another attempt at Federal control of education 

crossposted at dailykos and myleftwing

Yet again an administration that in theory supports states rights is attempting to impose its will like it tried with Oregon's assisted suicide act. We have previously seen Federal mandates in education in testing and supposed quality of teachers through the rightly infamous NCLB act. Now we find another attempt to impose, only unlike NCLB, this is not a stand-alone piece of legislation, but is instead being done almost in stealth, by sticking a provision into another piece of legislation.

You can read about this in a piece by Sam Dillon in today’s NY Times entitled College Aid Plan Widens U. S. Role in High Schools. Let me quote the first paragraph to encourage your continued reading:

When Republican senators quietly tucked a major new student aid program into the 774-page budget bill last month, they not only approved a five-year, $3.75 billion initiative. They also set up what could be an important shift in American education: for the first time the federal government will rate the academic rigor of the nation's 18,000 high schools.

Using grants of $750 to $1,300 to low income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed
"a rigorous secondary school program of study" and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields.
, but leaves to the Secretary of Education define “rigorous” given that position new and almost unlimited power to interfere with state and local prerogatives in establishing curricula. While the administration says it will consult with governors and local groups, and a department spokeswoman pointing out that participation in the program would be voluntary, note the reaction from the Higher Education community:
But Terry W. Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education, the nation's largest association of colleges and universities, said the new program "involves the federal government in curricular matters in a way that opens a new chapter in educational history."

"I'm very sympathetic to the goal of getting more students to take more math and science courses, but this particular plan has the potential to turn the Department of Education into a national school board," Mr. Hartle said.

Dillon’s article notes
Like the No Child Left Behind law, the new grants are largely an effort to take a Texas idea nationwide. The legislation is modeled on the Texas Scholars program, begun during Mr. Bush's governorship, which enlisted certain Texas high schools and encouraged their students to take a "rigorous course of study," defined to include four years of English; three and a half years of social studies; two years of foreign language; and a year each of algebra, geometry, advanced algebra, biology, chemistry and physics.

As is often the case with this administration, despite the campaign rhetoric about uniting and not dividing, little attempt has been made to consult with political opponents:
Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, responding to rising anxiety over America's economic competitiveness, sponsored legislation establishing new grants to college juniors and seniors majoring in math, science or engineering. In December, Republican lawmakers working with the administration grafted the House and Senate bills together, adding language requiring the secretary to recognize at least one rigorous high school program in each state. Democratic lawmakers said they were barely consulted.

"We were shut almost completely out of the process," said Representative George Miller of California, the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

What is interesting to note is that there have been efforts by this administration to expand the testing regimen of NCLB to high schools, an effort that has been going nowhere. In one casual conversation on that subject I heard Congressman Miller say that the administration could try but that was one proposal that was dead.

The original proposal was supposed to be done as a straightforward supplement to Pell grants for low income students. That would have been relatively simple to administer, as Pell grants are based solely on need. Students would qualify for yearly grants based on GPA for their sophomore through senior years, with grants of up to $4,000 as upperclassmen majoring in physical, life or computer sciences, mathematics, technology, engineering or critical languages. That GPA requirement will cause problems for institutions like Sarah Lawrence and Hampshire that do not give letter or numeric grades. In theory that is solvable, although for one of my generation it is very reminiscent of the requirements during the Vietnam era of being in the top half of one’s class in order to maintain a 2-S deferment from the draft.

The process of defining a rigorous high school education has been underway for some time. As was noted in the article
After Mr. Bush became president, his administration financed a Center for State Scholars, based in Austin, to spread a curriculum modeled on Texas Scholars nationwide. In the 2006 budget, he proposed supplemental Pell Grants for college freshmen and sophomores who had completed the "rigorous" curriculum outlined in the State Scholars initiative, in which some 300 school districts in 15 states are participating. A House bill closely reflected that administration proposal.

To date, only 15 of the 50 states have participated in this process. The National Governors’ Association has endorsed the idea of a more rigorous curriculum a a requirement for high school graduation, and some states
including New York, extend higher-rated diplomas to students who complete more difficult coursework. Virginia awards an "advanced studies high school diploma" to students who complete four years of English, math, science and history, three years of foreign language, and other requirements.

Such differentiated diplomas are nothing new -- I graduated from high school in NY in 1963, and already there was a distinction between a Regents Diploma and a regular diploma. However such differentiation does seem at least in part counter to the concept of NCLB, even if it at least implicitly recognizes that the educational needs of secondary students are not uniform.

There are political problems with this proposal , which the article identifies. There are perhaps 20 states with no participation in the State Scholars program, and even in some states that do, the proportion of high schools participating is fairly low: 35 of 300 in NJ and only 4 of 180 in CT.

But of even bigger concern is the requirement that applicants have completed a
"program of study established by a state or local educational agency and recognized by the secretary." The bill "would inadvertently exclude over 5.3 million private K-12 school students," the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents some 1,200 private schools, said in a letter to senators last month. The same legislative language may also exclude parochial and home-schooled students.

And of course there are conservative groups that do not want ANY federal involvement in education, as the education policy director of Phyllis Schlafley’s Eagle Forum made clear:
Michael D. Ostrolenk, education policy director of the Eagle Forum, called the proposal "more meddling" by Washington.

"If people in Congress really want to improve the educational system in the United States, they should start by abolishing the federal Department of Education," Mr. Ostrolenk said.

I find myself in a an awkward position on this topic. I do not wish to appear as the abominable No-man on educational issues. For one thing, I absolutely believe that we need to rethink how we do education in this country. That however, does not mean that my answer would be the imposition of more and more requirements, the approach in which the catchword always seem to b e “rigor” or “rigorous.” Look at 80 pound students attempting to walk down a hall with 35 pound backpacks - that is one element of “rigor” that somehow we seem not to ever discuss.

I also worry that the approach contained herein is reproducing the worst of what we have seen recently in educational reform. It seems premised on the idea that more content is the solution. It is not clear to me how increasing requirements will result in greater understanding or applicable skill.

But those are issues that can and should be discussed openly, and would include a variety of stakeholders. Having an issue like this put into non-relevant legislation without consultation with the minority party or with major organizations with expertise and whose lives will be affected is pretty far from the democratic ideals of self-governance that in theory are supposed to be part of our system of government.

Whatever else one can say about NCLB (and believe me, I have probably said it), at least MOST of the provisions were publicly discussed and debated, with an opportunity for input to Congress from a variety of sources. What most bothers me about this proposal is the lack of such debate. I try to follow educational policy issues fairly closely, and this one had not really appeared on my radar screen - I had seen a few mentions in passing on several education policy lists to which I subscribe, but no in depth discussion. Given how little most policy makers understand about education, as is evidenced in the real flaws of NCLB, doing education ‘reform” this way is downright frightening.

To my mind, before we start adding layer upon layer to an already overburdened education system, we need to step back and try to get a clear picture of what we really want from our schools. Unfortunately, education is one of the easiest areas of policy on which to bloviate - everyone thinks s/he is an expert.

I teach social studies. Our lack of historical understanding and true appreciation of the structure of our governmental system makes us more vulnerable to the kind of demagoguery by which the current administration has maintained its control on power. As an undergraduate I majored in Music. I worry that we are moving in a direction that devalues anything that cannot immediately be defined as a profit-making venture, or which cannot be included in some person’s definition of national security. To me a nation without a soul is a great a danger as a nation with insufficient scientists and engineers.

And that raises another point. The intent of this program seems to be to increase the number of people in science and technology, yet this is occurring at a time when many jobs for those with such educational background are being exported - thanks to the availability of broadband capacity it is now possible to perform the tasks done by such people far from the US in much lower wage nations. Will we be educating people for jobs that will not exist? Or is the intent to create a glut of applicants for such jobs in order to drive down the wages received for such work?

I do not believe that educational policy can be made in a vacuum. It certainly should not be made via under the radar legislative action. And to give the power to the SecEd to define rigor ... it would not matter if the SecEd actually had a background appropriate to the task, which Spellings does not .. it is a distortion of the idea of the people having meaningful participation in the making of laws and rules that govern their lives. It is about as undemocratic as anything I can imagine. I would say that it was setting a dangerous precedent, except it is of a piece with this administration’s idea that the Executive knows best, and should the maximum, even unfettered and unlimited, power to implement its policy ideas, anything from the Congress notwithstanding. I would not have given such power to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. I surely do not wish to do so to George W Bush and his Texas cronies, among which I include the current SecEd.

Enough. I have made you aware, in case you were - like me - not aware. Do what you will, but do something.
Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What is the value of a life? 

crossposted at dailykos and myleftwing

What is the value of a life?

Is an American inherently valued more than people of other nations? Is such a comparison valid? Is it even moral? Why is a teacher writing about this?

I am going to urge everyone who reads this to read today’s column by the incomparable Derrick Jackson of the Boston Globe (and when oh when will he finally win a long overdue Pulitzer for commentary. It is entitled Making Enemies in Pakistan and in part addressed the question I raise. Here are the figures Jackson offers us

an Iraqi killed by the US Military $393

an American killed on 9/11 $1.2 million

an American injured on 9-11 $400,000

Jackson is such a superb writer it is exceedingly difficult to extract from the piece without in someway distorting the flow of his writing. I will offer a few selections, in the hope that if I have not already enticed you to read the entire piece, you will now be so inspired.

The piece is a response at least in part to the recent raid on the border of Pakistan in which in theory we targeted high Al Qaeda commanders. Please note what I have BOLDED in the first selection I offer:
Let us assume that we got some of the key commanders and weapons experts in Al Qaeda. The incident remains bloody proof that we are repeating the Vietnam mistake of destroying villages to save them. If the current reports hold up, we still killed three times more civilians than terrorists in the attack, a ratio we would not accept from our local police, no matter how desperate we are to curb youth violence or organized crime. That is a gruesome parallel to conservative estimates that American forces killed at least three times as many innocent civilians in invading and occupying Iraq than were killed on our shores on Sept. 11, 2001.

Jackson connects the impact of this attack with our failure to win hearts and minds in Vietnam by referring to the attitude of the most infamous of the US Commander’s in that theater, William Westmoreland:
The late American commander in Vietnam famously dehumanized civilian slaughter in our 10-to-1 kill ratio of enemy soldiers by saying, ''The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner . . . life is cheap in the Orient."

Jackson notes that an independent analysis of the US compensation for the deaths of Iraqi civilians has paid less than 1/4 of the claims filed with the U S military. And since I quote figures used by Jackson, let me offer those the two statements from which I drew that data:
According to a 2004 report by Newsday, the US military had given out an average of $393 to Iraqi families whose loved ones were killed or maimed by our bombs and bullets.

Contrast that to the Sept. 11 Victims Compensation Fund. It gave out an average of $2.1 million to families of 2,880 people who were killed and an average of $400,000 to the 2,680 people who were injured.

To provide us with a proper context, Jackson then compares these awards to the payments made for improper deaths caused by U.S. police:
Boston made a $5 million settlement with the family of Victoria Snelgrove, the woman who was killed by a pepper pellet during a rowdy Red Sox victory celebration. New York City made a $3 million settlement with the family of Amadou Diallo, who was hit with 41 bullets when police mistook his wallet for a gun. Riverside, Calif., made a $3 million settlement with the family of Tyisha Miller, who was hit in her car with 12 of 24 shots, accompanied by racist comments.

I would note, although I cannot currently provide a direct reference (The Washington Post search facility is currently unavailable) that one set of illegal arrests of protesters in Washington DC (they were not first ordered to disperse) has resulted in payments many times larger than the payment to the families of each killed by the U.S.

Jackson closes his piece by referring to VP Cheney’s remarks on Thursday where he again conflates 9/11 with Saddam and the Iraqi’s non existent WMD. Let me offer the last few lines without further adieu:
Cheney said again that we face ''a loose network of committed fanatics . . . enemies who hate us, who hate our country, who hate the liberties for which we stand." His response is fanatical acts of needlessly invading countries and destroying a village to kill a terrorist.

Soon, it will not be just our enemies who hate us.

I am aware of the economic arguments that are tendered in loss of life lawsuits in U.S. Courts -- we tend to value lives based on the remaining earning capacity of the individual killed. Thus since I approach my 60th birthday in May, I would presumed to have approximately 10+ working years left, and that at the earning capacity of a teacher, making my death valued far less than a rookie NFL or NBA first round draft choice, who even over the limited professional sports career eliminated by his death would be worth multiple millions of dollars.

Whether or not our economic comparisons among Americans are an appropriate way of measuring life is one problem. Would anyone here be prepared to argue that the life of Jack Welch, formerly head of GE, , or your average rap star, was of greater value than that of Martin Luther King junior, or perhaps that of the Dalai Lama? Based on earning capacity of each individual, we would value Welch and the rap star at a higher rate. That is a problem for our society.

But when we offer so little compensation for the “collateral damage” of lives of those in other nations, we give a clear message that we consider the lives of those people as far less worthy than those of our own people.

Using merely the injury compensation from 9/11 and figures for compensation in Iraq, an injury to an American is 1,000 times as important as the death of an Iraqi.

Whether or not you think I have made an odious comparison, or you agree with me that that imbalance is inherently immoral, be clear on this -- how that disparity will be viewed by others is that we do not care about any except our own. And that will also shape their interpretations of all of our actions.

I welcome your responses to this posting.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Rotten Apples in Education Awards 

Researcher Gerald Bracey has for years run an annual feature in Phi Delta Kappan(for whom he writes a research column) on the state of education.  In the past he made positive and negative awards, in the form of Golden and Rotten apples, for the best and the worst of what he had seen in terms of educational policy in the pas year.  PDK got nervous about the rotten apples, so Jerry has distributed them on his own, via various email lists, and posted a pdf on his EDRRA website (at which you can see previous editions, as well as a link for the Annual report in education.

I think it worthwhile to read the report on the condition of education.  But I absolutely recommend reading ROTTEN APPLES IN EDUCATION - 2005 EDITION (this link will download a PDF file).  You may not agree with Jerry, but he lays it out quite bluntly.  Below you can see the list of awards, as Jerry summarized them in his email.

The "Jimmy Carter Amphibious Killer Rabbit" Award: Margaret Spellings.
The "This Turntable for Hire" Award: Armstrong Williams and the U. S. Department of Education.
The "Co-Mingling of Science With Comparative Religion" Award: The Dover (PA) School Board and the Kansas State School Board.
The "Yes, You Really Can Gather Empirical Evidence to Support or Refute Intelligent Design" Award: Pat Robertson.
The "Chutzpah Only a New Yorker Could Love" Award: Joan Mahon-Powell.
The "Game the System? Moi?" Award: Jeb Bush.
The "Notes From a Distant Planet" Award: Human Events.
The "Big Brother Wants to Watch You Even More" Award: Walter Jones, Dennis Baxley.
The "I'm Not a Researcher" Award: Diane Ravitch.
The "The Enemy of My Enemy Might Still Not Be My Buddy" Award: United Federation of Teachers.
The "Delusions Die Hard" Award: Amy Wilkins.
The "Mike Cohen and Matt Gandal Memorial Confusion of Rates with Scores Award:" The Achievement Alliance.
The "George W. Bush-Style Accountability" Award: Chester E. "Checker" Finn, Jr.
The "Literacy is Vastly Overrated" Award: The State of California.
The "Arbeit Macht Frei" Award: Dan Doerhoff.
The "This is What's the Matter With Kansas" Award, or, "Prima Emienda Derecho? En Kansas, No" Award, Jennifer Watts.
The "Our Lousy Public Schools Really Do Turn Out People So Dumb We Can Skunk the Pubic With Any Story We Want" Award: The Bush Administration.

Please note, I am distributing this for those who may be interested. While I agree with Jerry on most of his assessments, in posting this I am offering no endorsement in the diary of any particular point, although I will be happy as time allows to converse on list with anyone so inclined. This is offered simply for your elucidation. Read the piece (remember, it is a PDF) and then react as you see fit. But remember, on this on Teacherken is merely the message delivery boy, and not either the messenger nor the message.


Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Bring teachers to the Table 

lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, entitled Bring Teachers to the Table . As a teacher, I have long believed that teachers should be part of any attempted reforms of our public schools and educational practices. And as I quoted educational historian Larry Cuban in my ”Blueberries” diary,
Policymakers and others who set out to overhaul schools encounter a fundamental paradox:  teachers and principals who block changes sought by reformers are supposedly the problem, yet these very same educators -- almost three million strong -- are the people who connect with more than fifty million children daily and do the essential work of schooling,  Inescapably, therefore, they also have to be the solution

Thus when addressing the need to react to schools that are identified as in needs of help I saw Reville write
Which approaches to turning around school performance are most successful? Which are practical and affordable?
, I hoped his answer would include teachers. It did.

I will offer a selection that gives the main import. As usual I urge you to read the entire article. And my commentary today will be minimal, as I am running a bit late this morning for our 1st day of our 2nd semester. I need to get to school to turn the heat on!

Here is the guts of that which I wish to bring to your attention
Naturally, the policy discussion migrates away from state bureaucracies. In Massachusetts, conversations on interventions and poor performance have focused on management prerogatives, turnaround partners, and chartering or privatizing failed schools. These strategies, like many others, have little or no research evidence to support their effectiveness.

Conspicuously absent in the debate on intervention has been the role and voices of teachers and teacher unions, arguably the front line troops in any ''turnaround" strategy. There seems to be a belief in some policy circles that school improvement can be accomplished in spite of teachers rather than with them.

Some of the assumptions embedded in the prominent strategies, management prerogatives, turnaround partners, chartering, and privatization imply that teachers are the problem rather than part of the solution, that the source of expertise on fixing school problems is external rather than internal or that current leadership is highly competent. Although each of these assumptions is sometimes true, none is always or typically correct.

Teachers and, certainly, unions don't have all the answers either. They are also sometimes the source of problems, but it is folly to shape school intervention and turnaround plans without extensively consulting teachers on policies and practices.

A common flaw of educational policies is that they take a ''one size fits all" approach to solving problems or meeting challenges. Not all failing schools fail for the same reasons. Therefore, not all successful school interventions will look alike. Our intervention policies will need to take into account the substantial variation in context: communities, leadership, curriculum and teaching, resources, students, demographics, mobility and a host of other factors. Our intervention policies will need to be strong but flexible and responsive to local circumstances. Above all, we will need policies and practices that those charged with implementing see as worthwhile and likely to succeed.

Reville also discusses how to get the unions involved as organizations, and lists some possible interventions. He closes with the following
We don't have much evidence to support any of the most prominently mentioned strategies, but this doesn't absolve the state of the obligation to get involved in helping educators improve teaching and learning in the Commonwealth's most challenged schools.

We already face a shortage of teachers. We can make those changes we do need if we do not include teachers as positive contributors. And there is little reason to assume they will participate positively if our approach to them is hostile and punitive.

Read the piece. Ponder it, offer your remarks. I will be waiting for them.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Ten wishes for Education in 2006 

(crossposted at dailykos, myleftwing, teacherken.blogspot.com)

A few days ago I received on one of my educational lists an email with the author’s Ten Wishes for Education in 2006. I decided for today’s diary to go through the suggestions, one at a time, offering some commentary of my own where appropriate. I have the permission of the author Peter Majoy, to do this, so I will begin by introducing him, using his own words, where appropriate.

Peter is both an English teacher and a published author. As he informed me,
(1) Been teaching since 1965 with a few years in there of related work but not directly teaching in a school system, so I guess I have somewhere around 35 years direct teaching experience; (2) I have written and had two books published through Zephyr Press (a. Doorways to Learning, and (b) Riding the Crocodile, Flying the Peach Pit. Both are about what is phrased "whole brain learning". (3) I am an English Teacher
at Nashua High South in Nashua, New Hampshire.

I will offer some more of his remarks about himself later, after we go through the wishes. You will want to know more, and he is an interesting guy.

10 Wishes for Education in 2006
1. That the trap of "either-or" thinking about educational reform be consciously trimmed. Where there is something of worth on either side of the aisle, so to speak, it ought to be acknowledged. For example, the charter school discussions sink too quickly into this form of rhetorical dis-ease. Many charter schools and their proponents have made wonderful strides in serving student and community needs. Many have just taken advantage of the failures of public schools and like neo-liberal globalists have tried to appear interested in the "indigenous" local populations only to suck the life out of those communities to serve ulterior capitalist interests.

Peter raises an important point. There are, s he notes, charters and then there are charters. it can be the difference between something founded and run by Deb Meier, or a school that provided means of continuing Hmong culture in Milwaukee, or it can be some of the atrocities I have seen, such as the afrocentric school in DC whose founder claimed a doctorate from a “university” she had founded, or it can be the corporate profit-making places run by various organizations about which you may have read. If we wish to make a difference in education, not everything can be viewed through a lens that provides only dichotomous thinking. I have been keeping an eye on a new public charter high school that is dedicated to peace, and later you will read about Peter’s own involvement with charters, part of the reason for this first point.
2. That data be treated with enormous skepticism from wherever it originates. The reductionistic temptation to come to simplistic conclusions about educational phenomena poisons and roadblocks conversation about the vision and practice of reform. Those visions and their accompanying practices are either destroyed or romanticized by data. For example, the "data driven" nature of NCLB both destroys the much larger context in which education takes place as well as romanticizes its salvific effect on those very  students whose lives it has ignored in the first place. Surfing its concern to lift all children and teens to a level of achievement equity, proponents of NCLB have had to obsess on their romance with NCLB without having to address all the attendant issues that crush, maim, ignore, and repress whole classes and segments of society. NCLB data is ironically racist, sexist, and classist. On the other hand, opponents of NCLB do the same thing from their side of the sword fight. Public schools somehow become sacred cows and "public school education" is cast as victimized by pressures to privatize. From this back against the wall position, data is spit out along with anecdotal stories of the anxiety producing effect NCLB has on kids via standardized and high stakes testing. Such proofs become scandalously manipulated to support an equal dose of denial regarding open and authentic dialogue on "what is best for kids?"

Data by itself is not necessarily meaningful, and usually requires understanding, analysis and interpretation. How was the data gathered? Why was this data gathered and not other data? Is there anything in the measurement or data gathering process that can provide a misleading or distorted portrayal of the phenomenon the data purports to represent? These are only a few of the questions that one might consider. After all, I could provide, as I once noted to my students, a group of people with an average net worth of 40 billion. That would be a group that consisted of Bill Gates and a street person.
3. That more conversationalists/debaters/ideologues should put their money where their mouth is: act.  In the end, all the delicacies, both scrumptious and distasteful depending on which banquet one prefers to attend, have to ultimately incarnate themselves in what goes on in schools. If you bark and bellow or howl and hawk from wherever you (and me) proselytize your gospel of educational redemption, you ought to put your money where your mouth is and do it in the schools. The problem is that so much hot air fills so many of these discussions by people, good intentioned or otherwise, who don't do any of it. This reality was most recently brought  home to me at a November 17, 2005 presentation by Jonathan Kozol who spoke of the many days he has spent in classrooms and understood how utterly removed so many politicians and educational rhetoricians are from what real life is like in classrooms and how incredibly intelligent kids are and how responsive they can be when intelligence and love are present in their schools and in their teachers.

This is a key point. Meaningful educational reform will have to include more than it has the voices of those who are responsible ultimately for the implementation of such reform, and whose lives will be affected. I think it somewhat embarrassing then when Governors gathered for a session on education each brought a businessman, but none brought a classroom teacher, or even better, a student whose life is affected by the decisions theorists and politicians think should be imposed. To Kozol’s credit, he hs spent significant time in the schools about which he writes. And although I do read fairly widely in research literature and general publications about educational policy matters, much of what informs my understanding is shaped by my experience as a classroom teacher.
4.  That one's opinion about what is best in education pass the personal test: would you like to go to the school where the practices you prescribe take place? Sometimes I wonder about this. I imagine that should this be the litmus test, many of the differences would dissolve into simple truths. School should be a place where I am known, where I am challenged, where I am safe, where I am not cookie cuttered into easily manipulated data bits where I disappear into the void, and where I can explore and experience as much of the universe so that I mature and develop a confidence to be both an individual as well as a vital part of the community.

I would add another question to Peter’s and that would be much more pointed -- would you be willing to send your child to such a school? If not, why would you propose imposing on the children of other people?
5. That Santayana's statement that "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it" becomes a daily mantra for all those truly committed to the education of all our children. What has succeeded and what has failed? Is NCLB just another apparition of a hydra headed monster come back to divert our attention from the real work of education? Does NCLB have its roots in anything at all successful in the history of education?

Here I think I can answer -- the supposed basis of NCLB was the Texas “miracle” - the experience of supposed success in educational reform under Bush as Governor. Only there was no such miracle, and competent scholars attempted to point it out at the time. Unfortunately, some Democratic politicians who are strongly supportive of public education signed on to the program because they thought it would mean more funding for schools from the Federal Government. We are now seeing the results.
6. That  educational demogoguery, clothed in the language of whatever,  be exposed more often by the following question: Would you please tell me a story from your life or from the life of someone that you know that will prove your point?  When that story is told, discuss it, investigate it critically and with an open mind. Then return the favor with a story of your own......and so on.

Here I offer a caution. I first acknowledge that when Joe Thomas and I had our conference call with Tom Vilsack and he asked for how to help Governors and others communicate about education, we said to tell stories. I am a firm believer in the power of the illustrative anecdote or even extended story. The danger is that one can often find an example that is not representative, thus the risk for partisans of any point of view, including those which I support, could unfortunately be acting here as those in this administration who cherry-picked data in order to make a case for war in Iraq. I do not object, but I do offer these cautionary words.
7. That assumptions which dull true listening be placed on hold and that the sign of true listening replace it as early as possible in the dialogue, i.e., ask questions that clarify another's opinion so that the wheat of another's position be separated from the chaff. Education is of such utter importance that our disputes ought to be quickly focused on what each of us is really saying. This can only be done by asking questions so that the disputes clarify rather than run the vicious circle of stubborn, willful deafness.

We all need to avoid MEGO syndrome (my eyes glaze over) lest we lose our audience when we are the speakers, or our focus when we are the listeners.
8. That each of us become socially engaged with the suffering of those around us. I don't know one teacher or administrator who has become committed in this way for whom this commitment does not temper in some way his/her take on educational issues.

I will limit my remarks to this - as a classroom teacher there are many things going on in the lives of my students that outweigh the importance of my rules and deadlines. Unless I am willing to engage my students on this level, I risk the probability that I will lose the ability to keep them interested and focused on what I can offer them academically.

9. That we realize that education is a political issue and cannot/must not be separated from our views on capitalism and democracy. Those who stress democratic principles favor progressive ideas about educational reform. Those who stress capitalism favor privatization and elitist survival of the fittest  educational structures and practices.  These are the extremes. Everyone mixes their own drink here.

Please, before you criticize Peter for falling into the trap of the dichotomous thinking about which he warned us above, note the last two sentences. This point provides a lens through which to analyze how people -- including ourselves -- approach educational issues.
10. That we not forget our own childhoods and teen years as we fashion our educational agendas.

Ah, if only!! But besides not forgetting, I would add that we need to be humble enough not to attempt to universalize our own experiences and memories, but rather use them as a starting point to try to understand the possible impact of what we would propose as policy upon those who we claim we are trying to help.


If you do not already realize how dedicated and thoughtful Peter is as a teacher, I will conclude this piece by quoting without comment most of the rest of his biographical explanation to me. I do so because it is an example of story telling. And were more policy makers willing to take the time, they would find the lives of teachers are full of such stories. Since I offered so much of Peter’s insights above, let me share with you what he has to say about the life from which they stem.


In June of 2003, a program, about which I had been the prime mover, ended. It was called NESA, Nashua Essential School Academy. We were affiliated with the Coalition of Essential Schools and were a school-within-a-school non-tracked program which survived for 7 years until a huge 150 million dollar re-building effort peripheralized us and we decided to end it. It was, in many ways traumatic, but we ended it with great dignity, peace, and self respect. We had over 200 students, a team of 10 teachers, and were recognized for all the reform structures we brought to local education. In our final year, we organized "NESA in November" during which time (a) our incredibly forward looking drama program put on "The Laramie Project", (b) we brought 20 panels of the Aids Memorial Quilt which we displayed for 10 days and which was visited by over 2000 people, and (c) we brought in the Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Drepung Gomang and under the rubric of exposure to world cultures through our social studies program, the monks constructed the Mandala of Compassion in the foyer/entrance of one of our new high schools at which locus one witnessed one of the most incredible displays of silence, wonder and respect on the part of thousands of students and adults. (4) Currently, I continue to teach in Nashua, but am part of the Ashuelot Valley Academy Planning Committee which is trying to bring a progressive charter high school to the Monadnock Region. Because we are progressive, we have chosen what is called the local route in our process of bringing the school into being. It involves grassroots political work and bringing two warrant articles up for a vote. Our first article will be subject to our Town Meeting ballot this March 14. A year later, assuming we get a "yes" vote this March and we get two more approvals, we present a second warrant in March of 2007. If we get a yes at that time, we hope to open our school in the Fall of '07. It is a long journey but it is the essence of the democratic process and if we open, we will truly be a public school. Much more to say about this, as you might imagine. (5) I am married to T...., also a great teacher of a mixed 5/6 grade classroom, and like myself has been doing it her whole life. We have 4 adopted children whom we first fostered. One is now 23 and the others are 18, 17, and 16. So, we fully experience the drama of adolescence here at home, believe me. From a first marriage that ended many years ago, I have two sons. One is a teacher and one is finishing Veterinary School at Tufts.....

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