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.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

How I justify continuing to teach government 

It ain’t easy. This week I had a candid discussion with my AP Government students. I noted that there is something horribly gone wrong with our system if the primary discussion is how much of what the world considers to be torture we will accept as justifiable.

I also can get quite demoralized by what I see in our political discourse, and that I lay at the feet of both parties. It does not matter if it is John Ashcroft implying I am a traitor because I criticize the president in a time of international conflict or if it some on the left who far too readily violate the principle espoused by Godwin and begin to affix appellations of Nazi and Hitler to the Republicans.

I read the news reports today and see Democrats unwilling to speak out forcefully against a proposal that to me is clearly unconstitutional. I see evidence that this administration is prepared to argue - against the weight of all jurisprudence since Marbury v Madison - that it is the president who gets the final interpretation of the Constitution and not the Court. I cannot avoid the abandonment of principles such as habeas corpus and trial by jury that go back half a millenium or more before the writing of the Constitution and which are an essential part of the governmental framework from which the Constitution is derived. I reread the Declaration and Jefferson’s words about
a decent respect to the opinions of mankind
and wonder when we abandoned such a key idea from our assertion of our right to be independent, when those words became, in the ironic expression of Ron Ziegler during another constitutional crisis (for it is in such we are now engage), “inoperable”?
A Constitutional Crisis. We are in danger of losing it, ironically at the very time we by law are to teach a lesson on Constitution in every educational institution receiving Federal funds. We are to teach it as we abandon it, undercut the very principles on which it is based, which include limited government, protection of the rights of individuals, and the like?

As a nation we have prosecuted and executed others for things we are now willing to official and ex post facto grant immunity to ourselves. How is that a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, and how does that maintain the idea that we are a government of laws and not of men? Does merely passing a law justify something that the Constitution and ratified treaties which are therefore also part of the Supreme Law of the Land prohibit somehow overcome the weight of more than 200 years since Marbury that if a statute can change the Constitution then the very idea of a constitution becomes meaningless? Marshall argued that the intent of a Constitution was to limit to the power of the government. We now seem ready to abandon that idea.

I have, as regular readers know, continued to wrestle with whether I can in honesty continue to teach government and the Constitution. Perhaps this week I found my answer. I told my AP students that the reason I continue to teach is them. My generation, and the generation of their parents (for at 60 I am significantly older than most of their parents, who are usually in their 40’s) have not left them a happy situation, and it will be up to them to save the idea of a liberal democracy, a democratic republic, lest the nation that created the model finally abandon it.

I also urged them to recognize that there are no permanent coalitions in an society and political ethos as diverse as ours, which is why they must teach us again how one can disagree without being disagreeable - that the Machiavellian principle of the end justifying the means - when used to justify personally destroying one who is at this moment your opponent - ultimately results in the ability to have the support of that person when you need it on some other issue.

I find myself moving ever closer to the point of civil disobedience, even at the loss of my vocation of teaching in public schools, of my liberty, of my life. I cannot in conscience remain quiet when I see our nation’s heritage being destroyed. I will not be a frog in a pot of what was cool water remaining in that liquid as the temperature is raised until I am boiled to death.

It will not be in my name and on my behalf that torture is done, that abandoning of the Constitution is justified. I am supposed to teach the Constitution, not the distorted misinterpretations advocated by David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Dick Cheney, and George Walker Bush. I will continue to do so, to challenge my students to read the document, read the history, see the price we paid historically when we moved away from such principles, and urge them to be true patriots - to stand up for what the Constitution represents.

When I read the Preamble, I do not see as a principal reason for ordaining and establishing the Constitution the aggrandizement of one political party or another, of one individual or another, of one economic or social class or another. The last of the reasons is to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. We do not maintain that ideal by abandoning the very underpinnings of liberty, by removing oversight by Courts and Congress intended to act as a check on unreasonable or even tyrannical executives, but abandoning the principle of habeas corpus which assures some reasonableness in the decision to arrest and detain someone. The Constitution would not have been ratified without the commitment to the limits on the power of the Federal government found in the Bills of Rights. The Sixth Amendment clearly gives each accused the right to confront the witnesses against him, and since no evidence can in a criminal trial be introduced except through the testimony of a witness, that means there can be no secret evidence used, no exceptions of evidence that cannot be challenged as to its provenance, how it was obtained, and so on.

The executive branch is claiming a right to interpret - free from oversight or checks and balances - the Constitution in a fashion that unleashes it to do whatever it wants. That very notion is alien to the Constitution, and every Congressman and Senator should recognize that in acquiescing to such a position they not only abandon the Constitution to which they have committed their support by oath or affirmation, they reduce themselves, their offices, their legislative bodies to the position of rubber stamps, of becoming Potemkin Village legislative bodies, devoid of substance, meaning, power, or authority. Any legislator unwilling to challenge such an approach has violated his or her oath of office, and should be challenged and rejected for that reason alone.

Our nation is at a crisis. That is how I justify continuing to teach, so long as I can, what our nation is supposed to be. It is why I am challenging my students. I tell them that they can disagree with me. I also point out that they are being allowed a larger amount of intellectual freedom than some politicians are willing to grant their political opponents. I tell them that what matters is not the grade that they get from me, or how well they do on the AP exam, but whether they grasp how important the subject with which we wrestle is to them, to their future, to the future of this nation. If they will confront that seriously, they will do fine both as to grades and as to AP scores. If they do not, then grades and scores will ultimately avail them not.

Perhaps I will eventually be fired. That may be, but I will not be silenced. I do not tell my students WHAT to think, but I insist that they DO think, and not to accept from any authority - including me or their textbook - merely because it is an authority. Ask why, explore the possible answers, discuss, listen to one another.

Perhaps Keith Olbermann and I will be roommates at Guantanamo? Are you prepared to join us there?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mark Warner’s Pig Roast - one man’s experience 

Yesterday was the (almost always annual) Mark Warner Pig Roast. Mark and his wife Lisa Collis open up their Rappahannock Bend Farm in King George County Virginia to large crowds of people who come to eat, drink, schmooze, and let their kids play (face painting, hay rides, other activities), while the former Governor and his wife stand on line forever to greet people. Yesterday was my first time at the event, and I thought my experiences and perceptions might offer some insight that would interest others. I will also comment upon the Crashing the States phenomenon, and several key Virginia politicians who were present.

The farm actually overlooks a bend in the Rappahannock, one of the four major rivers in Virginia (the others being the Potomac, James and York). It is located in what is known as the Northern Neck, east of Fredericksburg, and perhaps 80 minutes from Washington DC. The weather was somewhat iffy yesterday, and we were hit with drizzle on more than a few occasions (more on this later) but that did not seem to suppress the crowds.

The invitation I received said the event was from 11:30 until 4, so I arrived on time. I was actually able to grab a barbecue sandwich almost right away, although I found out later that was supposed to be only for those working the event. Similarly the man running the beer truck (with multiple kegs of Miller Lite feeding several taps) asked me if I wanted to taste test after he had cleared the lines, even though it also was not to officially open until 1 PM. In fact, the only things immediately available was fresh-squeezed lemonade.

This was officially a social event - no contributions, no speeches. But obviously it was also an occasion for building political good will. At 1 PM the food line opened and there was a rush - for hot dogs, burger, veggie burgers (note the consideration for variant diets), barbecued pork, cole slaw, pickles, and so on. My mistake was probably rushing for that line first, because at the same time our hosts came out to greet people and a long line formed. The wait on that line was never less than 30 minutes, often longer, as the former first couple graciously chatted with people, stood for pictures, etc. Even when I left around 4:15, the line was still 30 minutes long. As far as I could tell Mark and Lisa had stayed with unfailing good humor for more than 3 hours. This kind of retail politicking is the kind of thing that serves one well in places like NH and Iowa - be forewarned.

For quite some time after my arrival I saw no familiar faces and was wondering why I was there. The first familiar face I saw was Jerome Armstrong, who arrive around 12:20. I greeted him (he now works for the Forward Together Pac that is the vehicle for keeping Warner visible as he explores running for the presidency), he introduced me to his wife (who does not blog) and daughter. As we were chatting others were arriving, including Ben Tribbett - Not Larry Sabato, who broke the Macaca story on his blog. I later ran into a number of other Virginia bloggers, including PhriendlyJaime from Richmond and her significant other Thaddeus Toad, and Virginia Paige from the Tidewater area.

Hekebolos and Reality Bites, who are doing the Crashing the States project, showed up a bit after 1. They had been unable to schedule an event for the evening with DC area bloggers, so after some chit-chat they decided they would do some interviewing at the Pig Roast. They set up under a large tree shooting three Virginia bloggers, with Governor Warner greeting people in the background. I was in the middle,with Jaime on one side and NotLarrySabato on the other. We were questioned for perhaps 20 minutes. They were interested in how we got into blogging, how we saw the role of bloggers in campaigns, comparing progressive bloggers to bloggers on the right, how we thought the party establishment viewed bloggers ... How much of our footage will make it into the final documentary after editing is of course up to them, and will depend on the other video they obtain.

While we were being filmed, Jim Webb arrived. He began by greeting Mark and Lisa, and then began working his way down the line greeting people. As Dante (Hekebolos) and Gary (Reality Bites) and their cameramen had just finished with us, Ben and I were able to get Jim to come over for a few minutes, although he declined to be wired up with a microphone, so I’ m not sure how good the sound on it will be (he will be interviewed again in his headquarters later this week).

The CTS group got a number of other interviews, including with Jessica Vanden Berg, Jim’s campaign manager, and with Brian Moran, Democratic leader in the House of Delegates (also brother of Congressman Jim Moran, and himself quite possibly a candidate for statewide office in 2009). I will return to Virginia statewide politics anon.

The one congressional candidate I saw was Phil Kellam, running against Thelma Drake in the 2nd CD down in Tidewater, and at this point holding the edge in the race. It was interesting that a number of people who greeted him started talking about his role as Commissioner of Revenue - people were asking about licensing and tax requirements and he answered graciously and knowledgeably.

Let me talk about Jim Webb. I watched him work the crowd, and chatted with him briefly at one point. I think he is an introvert, which can make this kind of campaigning somewhat difficult. he has gotten much better at it. he was gracious, his handshake was firm, like Warner he willingly posed for pictures. He had on a tie, perhaps the only person there so dressed -- he had come from another event and had not changed. While he was working the line it began to rain. Realizing that he could really not greet people while seeking shelter, he surrendered to the elements. In the process I saw him loosen up, and begin to smile quite a bit more. There was a real positive response to him. Yes, this was a Democratic crowd, so people were inclined to be positive. But remember, his first ad had focused on his relationship with Reagan, which annoyed some Democrats who did not understand why this was an important part of how he expands his voting support to defeat an incumbent Senator who is also a former governor. That Jim stayed for over 2 hours when he needed to get home and rest and prepare for today’s debate was a sign of the recognition by the campaign that he also needs to make contact with Democratic activists to ensure their enthusiasm.

Here I might note that Webb was the subject of some of the questions with which we three Virginia bloggers were confronted, especially as bloggers had a great deal to do with getting Jim into the race. We were asked about supporting someone who was a conservative Democrat. All 3 of us agreed that that was hardly the issue - we knew Jim was absolutely straightforward, and that while he was strongly supportive of the military, there were many progressive Dems whose experience in the military had been an important part of shaping who they were. Also, Jim’s focus on seeing government as working for all Americans is hardly a conservative position, is very much a traditional democratic position.

Let me return to an instate focus for a moment. Brian Moran knew that he had met me, and when I reminded him about the book event he sponsored for CTG he immediately remembered. Brian is charismatic, and would have a real shot for statewide office should he decide to pursue that route. I am hoping that he does not decide to challenge the other important figure there, Creigh Deeds, who lost a heartbreaker for Attorney General in 2005. I had met Creigh several times before. When I introduced myself as Ken Bernstein who had met him among other places at Don Beyer’s house, he immediately went ‘Teacherken, right?” showing an awareness of blogging. This was also demonstrated when he came by when I was talking with Jaime and Thad. He knew them, and was chatting, but when I pointed out that they were PhriendlyJaime and Thaddeus Toad, he lit up. He explained that he had been at events where they had all bee present, but had not made the connection with their blog names. He understands the importance of blogging, although he acknowledges that it is not something that is natural for him (we will work on that).

When I had chatted with Creigh, he pointed out that he had spent a millions dollars on advertising in N Virginia in the last 9 days, but that had he been able to start his advertising one day earlier he could have one. He was frustrated with how expensive such campaigns had been. When I explored with him whether he might consider the US Senate in 2008 if John Warner didn’t run again, he said it was not on his radar. He felt that you could get far more done at the state level in a executive position than as a national legislator. he also said that his heart has been focused on doing something at the state level for years and he has to see that through. In my mind the only question is if he runs again for AG or instead goes directly for Governor.

It was a fascinating 4+ hours on the Northern Neck. The age ranged from high school through very senior citizens. As a sign of how much change there has been in the Old Dominion in the past few decades, the crowd was thoroughly integrated, including some interracial couples - remember, this is the state that gave the nation Loving v Virginia on the subject of interracial marriage, which used to be a felony here. I saw a fair number of South Asians, predominantly but not exclusively younger.

And Mark Warner remains a phenomenon. He is a man who is quite wealthy from his cell phone endeavors. But he did not grow up rich, he went to George Washington before going to Harvard Law. He recognized his limitations when he matched himself against his law school classmates. He is not a dynamic public speaker, although he is more than adequate.

But the key is his ability to connect with people, all kinds of people. As a successful businessman, he knows how to talk to businessmen. But he is equally comfortable with workers, and college students, and farmers, and they ar comfortable with him.

There were a number of people with buttons advocating his presidential run. He might not have the financial resources Hillary does (yet), but he is a star in his own right, and should not be underestimated for 2008, especially if he can help Jim Webb take down George Allen.

Well, that is one man’s experience. If anyone reading this also attended, I hope you will add your perceptions in the comments. Now I have to get back to my real life as a school teacher, and grade some papers.!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A moral question for Christians (and others) 

Please note, I do not consider myself a Christian, although I did spend 17 years of my life in overtly Christian denominations, the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox Church in America (in which I held national, diocesan, and local elected and appointed positions),and I have a master from a Catholic Seminary. Thus I can only speak now now from the perspective of an outsider, albeit one with a certain amount of knowledge.

How in good conscience can you support the charging of usurious interest rates by credit card companies, rates that now often exceed those charged by the Mafia loan sharks of New York when I was growing up? Do you not read your Bible?

I realize that this subject will probably not draw much attention tonight given the focus on the forthcoming "documentary" from ABC.   But it is the issue on my mind today.  We have `reformed" our bankruptcy laws in favor of lenders many of whom are predatory.  We have alllowed states to compete in permitting lenders to have effectively unlimited power to raise interest rates.  We tolerate predatory lending practices, especially to those most in need of financial assistance, at a time when we are also cutting the safety net of social support programs.  

I realize that most of the Biblical texts that address usury are from the Hebrew Bible. But then, many choose to make parts of that collection binding on their behavior (although I will not go into how selective they can be in what they ignore even as they take other parts literally).  Further, one can find at least some of the principles espoused in those texts reinforced by the words and actions of Jesus in the Christian Bible, especially in Matthew 25.

We live in a time where our government is tilted ever more so in favor of those who have versus those who have not.  How can anyone who seriously reads the words of Jesus or of the Hebrew prophets accept such a course of action?  How can we legalize tilting the economic scales even further, by tax policies and by spending policies?

It would take far too long to explore all the biblical texts that come to mind, and it would take even longer to fully describe all the political decisions that I think violate the spirit of those texts which cover a period of over 3,000 years of human history.

As a Quaker I of course oppose war and state violence except when absolutely necessary to truly defend, a category in which I do not include the actions of the current administration in Iraq and elsewhere in its so-called war on terror.  But I also must oppose those things which while they might not represent the violence of military action nevertheless represent violence to the humanity of others.  If the Geneva Conventions and other treaties ban inhuman treatment and we are rightly outraged by waterboarding being done in our names, can we in good conscience profit from the misery of others?  Do we own stock in companies that apply usurious interest upon the poor by placing their credit card operations in states like Delaware and South Dakota?  Do we object strongly to those Democratic politicians (which unfortunately includes my own congressman Jim Moran) when they vote to allow more depredation by credit card companies and banks either through lifting limits on the interest that can be charged and the conditions under which rates can be raised at the same time as they restrict the traditional access to bankruptcy protection?  Do we realize that ordinary people have lost access to much bankruptcy protection at the same time as corporations still maintain their access, and that nwelathy people can in certain states protect most of their assets in bankruptcy by placing all of them in their luxury homes, even protecting assets effectively obtained by ripping off customers and stockholders from settlement agreements?

This might not seem like that much of a moral issue right now, but to me it is symptomatic.  If we cannot get our politicians to honestly address things like this, we will know that the canary in the coal mine of responsibility for our entire society is dying.

Uncontrolled interest rates on credit cards, on payday loans, hit those least able to escape from the crushing effects such interest imposes.  

Loss of access to bankruptcy proceedings hits most heavily on people impacted by unpredictable events such as medical crises not covered by insurance (and remember that 1/7 of our population lacks any medical insurance), or by death of a family wage earner who lacks sufficient insurance, or similar things.

So I ask?  If you consider yourself a Christian, why are you not outraged by such things?  Is it not a moral issue for you?  If it is not, I do not understand.

if we do not address such issues, we will continue our slide into something previously unknown in the past century of our history - we will continue to move in the direction of a 3rd world nation, where the rich and the elite have protections, politically, legally, and financially, and where increasingly the rest of us are pushed into a permanent underclass whose sole purpose is to provide for the comfort and luxury of elite.  Somehow I do not think that Jesus of Nazareth would approve. And I know that the Hebrew prophets would have some very strong words as well.

I do not apologize if my question offends - I mean to challenge.  What say you?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I think we have lost our way 

this was drafted to be posted at THE WALL - a group educational blog. However, I had major problems with getting html links to work on that blog, so the version posted there is slightly different. I hope people here will find this of some value.

I have wrestled for quite some time with finding a topic on which to focus for this, my time to be the official poster. I thought I had decided last night, and then I opened up my Washington Post this morning to read a story by my friend Jay Mathews entitled National School Testing Urged with a subtitle of “Gaps Between State, Federal Assessments Fuel Call for Change”. After some reflection I decided I would address this as evidence of my larger argument, and would do so by referring to something I had previously written.

Recently I had occasion to be the only teacher in my district (Prince George’s County Public Schools) to testify before a blue ribbon committee established by our County Council because of concern about the impact of Maryland’s High School Assessments. These will “count” for the class of 2009, and based on scores so far seem to indicate that our graduation rate will drop significantly. The County Council is involved because the implications of such a drop go far beyond the schools, to things like property values, willingness of employers to locate within the county, and so on. I was asked to testify for several reasons, among which are that I have some knowledge of educational policy matters and thus could provide some information comparing Maryland with other states. I am known to be an opponent of an approach which is effectively a reliance upon a single high stakes measure even if students are allowed multiple opportunities to pass the test (we begin given them the exams in 9th and 10th grade, depending upon the subject), and I have a track record of success in preparing my students to do well on the tests even as I refuse to “teach to the test.”

I began my presentation by talking about context, specifically the three recent major efforts at educational reform, beginning with A Nation at Risk, proceeding through Goals 2000 and finishing with our current focus coming out of No Child Left Behind. I then included the following paragraph (and Dr. Tompkins is the Assistant Superintendent for Accountability):
One definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result. Santayana once wrote “Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” I prefer to describe what we are doing using something one of your panel taught me. When I was at Kettering Middle School, Dr. Tompkins, you told teachers they always needed to have a plan B, because - and I quote - “if the horse you are riding has died, beating it won't make it go any faster.” I believe what we are doing with HSAs is beating a dead horse.

This leads in to what I had originally intended to write today. I think our entire approach to education needs to be reexamined, nay, REPLACED. The model upon which we have been imposing generation after generation of reform is, in my humble opinion, badly flawed, cannot be fixed by simply adding more and more and stricter and stricter requirements. In the process of claiming that we need to leave no child behind we increasingly rely upon measures that of necessity are unfair to some children whose brains work differently, we narrow the curriculum so that the intellectual stimulation of our children is being diminished, and then we wonder why even the measurements we impose seem never to demonstrate that what we are doing is succeeding, beyond raising scores on tests whose measurement is of a limited nature.

My perspective is perhaps somewhat idiosyncratic. I am now in my 12th year of classroom teaching of secondary social studies. Four of those years were at the Middle School level teaching American History. The rest have been at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt MD, where for all except one year when we were changing our sequence of courses I have taught Government, a course which is a subject of the state-mandated tests for which passing is now a requirement for graduation. I have taught classes that were multi-level and for the second year I am teaching Advanced Placement to a group that is predominantly 10th graders. I believe I have sufficient experience across a range of abilities and previous success to draw some conclusions. For those who do not know me, I am also ABD in Educational Administration and Policy Studies at Catholic U, with a concentration of the policy side, although I have withdrawn from my program with my dissertation proposal almost ready to be defended. While in that program I was a co-author (with another student and Iris T. Rotberg of George Washington) of a monograph on the Bush education proposal before it was introduced into Congress to become the law we now know as No Child Left Behind (if interested, you can download a PDF of the work at No Child Left Behind. Since leaving my doctoral program I have achieved National Board Certification.

I am also someone who participates extensively in online discussions about education. I was a regular participant in the old Bulletin Board of educationnews.org, am a longtime participant in the Assessment Reform Network of FairTest. In the past two years I have written extensively on education for various blogs, most visibly at dailykos (where as you can see many of my diaries are on subjects other than education). I organized the panel at the convention in Las Vegas last June for Yearlykos2006 (which you can read about here and here).

Much of what I have posted online about education has been in an attempt to help people understand the nature of education and teaching. At times it has been anecdotal, at other times I have tried to make people aware of some of the issues about educational policy that perhaps they did not understand. Underlying all of this was an effort on my part to defend public schools from being further undermined by those hostile to the idea of public education as a public good. But I am reaching the point where that is insufficient. I recognize that there is much wrong with our approach to schooling, and I would like to posit that we reconsider starting over.

I am not a scholarly researcher, nor am I that well versed in the history of education in this country to call myself an educational historian. But I believe that for far too long we have made a mistake in approaching education. We have had an insistence on a cohort approach, usually divided into discrete subjects, and - pace Frederick Taylor - at the secondary level using a model of fixed periods and the like derived from the “scientific” study of management in the early 20th century which to my mind over emphasize ‘efficiency” in the delivery of education versus efficiency in learning. Our periodic efforts at reform have all been rooted in such models even as we have evidence of other models that may be far more effective for at least some of our students, if not the vast majority (and here I acknowledge that there is insufficient data to draw conclusions as broadly as I might want). We have seen wars on educational policy that are as highly charged as those elsewhere in the political environment. And yet we seem unwilling to reexamine our basic assumptions.

We have a wealth of knowledge about alternative approaches. These include the early childhood model of Reggio Emilio, the extensive experience of a Montessori approach, the experience of Hungary in organizing much of their education around music using the work of people like Carl Orff. We have in our own country the evidence now more than half a century ago of the Eight Year Study that “progressive” approaches to secondary education seem to be at least as ‘effective” in preparing and evaluating students for post-secondary education as were more traditional methods.

As a classroom teacher and as a former school student I wonder about our insistence upon all students moving through curricular material at the same pace. I was ready to some subjects much earlier than my cohort fellows but in other domains I lagged (especially in writing, in which I did not become skilled until at least my late 30s). I was ahead of myself in school, and thus attempting AP Calculus when I was 15 in a day when it was exceedingly rare even for 17 year old seniors. I look at my students today and I see students like me, for whom math is easy but for whom written expression is something that seems more like torture.

Please note - I accept the idea that we have a responsibility to ensure that our students can read accurately a variety of kinds of texts and express themselves in a variety of written and spoken formats. But not all will achieve that by going through the same sequence of instruction, nor will all move through that or any other domain at the same speed. I believe that there is some validity to the work of Howard Gardner on multiple intelligences, and have found that students strongly oriented in one intelligence can use that strength to assist them when required to work in another intelligence. I watch as students who are not by nature either verbal-linguistic nor logical-mathematical struggle in a school environment in which perhaps 90% of their instruction and assessment in core subjects is the former with most of the rest being the latter.

I am not yet at the point of proposing a particular model or series of models of what education should look like. First, I am not sure having one model makes sense, given what we know of learning and of the differences among students. Part of what is wrong with our current approach to education is that we seem to be narrowing the choices of instructional models available for most of our students. I would argue that the approach we have been taking has been leaving many of our children behind, that the very idea of a national test will inevitably mean a national curriculum which will have several very important deleterious effects. First, such a national test will inevitably lead towards what will effectively be a national curriculum - anything not covered by such a test will increasingly be excluded from the instruction of many students, and the narrowing will be most profound for students of more limited backgrounds - we have already seen this to be the case with both the state tests that came from earlier rounds of reform and with the current round of testing due to NCLB: in the latter case I note that since Social Studies is NOT part of the testing scheme, I am increasingly seeing students arrive in high school with diminishing prior instruction in history and related subjects, even as they are now required to pass a test at the high school level in order to receive a diploma.

We will also see test scores used to further undercut support for education as a public good. And more and more of the financial resources will be shifted to for-profit organizations who will provide curricular and test-prep materials geared specifically to those national tests - we are already seeing this with the testing mandates imposed in the two most recent rounds of reform.

Ultimately I think we need a real discussion of the purpose of education and schools. If the purpose is to prepare a compliant workforce for large employers, perhaps we might be able to justify SOME of what we have been doing to our schools, although I would also note that such employers are increasingly moving knowledge-based jobs offshore for lower wages (employees being viewed increasingly as a cost rather than as an asset) so that there is ever less motivation for students to persist in their educational endeavors). But if our focus includes the value to and empowerment of the students, our instruction would of necessity be far different. We would not be eliminating instruction in the arts, for example.

I wanted in this posting to provoke some thoughts by others. This was not intended as a scholarly argument, for I am not a scholar, either by temperament or background. I am a classroom teacher who chooses to engage in discussion derived mainly from the experience of the classroom, and perhaps shaped around the margins by reading and participating in discussions of policy. One reason I wanted to participate in this forum is because I wanted voices from the classroom to be part of the discussion -- far too often our discussions about educational policy lack the voices of classroom teachers and of the students upon whom we impose our mandates. That may be one reason why many of our efforts at reform have not met our high expectations.

Let me close this far too long - and unfocused - presentation using the words with which I closed my presentation to the Blue Ribbon Commission, and then invite your responses.

The political reality is that those of us in public schools have to accept that there will be some external mechanism to evaluate what our students have learned. The best that we can currently hope for is to ameliorate the otherwise deleterious effects of such mechanisms, to apply them in a framework that gives the greatest hope and encouragement to our students. We need to recognize that often what persuades a student to remain in school and keep struggling with core courses is the excitement they have in their elective courses or their school activities. We need to be very careful that we do not so narrow the curriculum and the opportunities that we discourage our students. Math and science and English and social studies are important, but are not the only things that interest our students, or our adults, nor should they be. To that effect, let me end with words from our second President, John Adams, in a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail in May of 1780, a variant of which you may read on the wall of the JFK Center for the Performing Arts:

I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.

Thank you for letting me speak with you today.

And I thank you for letting me participate in this forum, and to offer my inchoate thoughts on education.

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