Tuesday, January 3, 2012


It's 8:30 AM in a middle school classroom on in the South Bronx, about 5 blocks from where I spent my teenage years. "R", a 2nd year TFA and I are in her classroom talking about her plans for the next period. We expect the kids to come up any second and get started. Suddenly, two kids push open the doors panting, trying to catch their breath. "R" and I, figuring they were just being normal unruly 13 year olds, ask why they were running. They tell us of the shooting half a block away where kids congregate before they enter the school. Then they sit and a couple of minutes later the class begins. After class "R" tells me how scared she was and how her heart was racing uncontrollably for the entire class while she is amazed at her kids calmness after the fact.
"R" is from upper middle class suburban South Florida.
“I don’t think of my students as kids. I have to remind myself everyday that they are only 12 and 13. They seem to me to be 15, 16, or maybe even 17. They keep telling me they are from the “ghetto,” the “South Side.” I am realizing more and more that they have seen more in their short lives than I have seen in twice as long and in a million more places." (M in Philly)

“One morning in the second month of school a fifth-grade girl is outside my classroom crying with family members: her big brother was shot by the police a few hours before. I was just out of “Institute” and I had no bag of tricks. How did I know what to do?” (J)

teachers (trainers) we care about "R", "M", and "J" and their kids. The TFAs I, Barbara Veltri (author of "Learning on Other People's Kids: Becoming a Teach For America Teacher"), and other teacher trainers work with are our kids. Their students are like our grandkids. We care about them all.
Theirs are human stories that need telling. They are faced with poor working conditions that need fixing. They are being sent to "save" poor kids from bad situations but they, themselves, face school based realities that TFA never properly trains them to face. Often their schools are chaotic, old buildings led by bad supervisors and fearful teachers. They are misused, misplaced, and are under inappropriate pressures. They don't need saving. They need proper training and supervision.
They (in places like NYC) also live above their means and are dependent on TFA stipends. They commute long distances and have little time for life.
Most of them are nice upper middle class suburban white kids with no bicultural literacy. They don't speak street. TFA's diversity training is a series of talking heads. They are given TFA mantras instead of real solutions. They, and the world, are told they are the solution to the problems facing education. TFA propaganda is all people see. TFA is the Emperor with no clothes.
"And it’s summer school. So, here we were overdressed, getting on yellow school busses and going into these neighborhoods where the kids were barely dressed. How odd did we look? We had no idea what we were doing. We couldn’t even connect to parents because we looked like.… They must have thought we were dumb. You know, what are you doing wearing nylons in the middle of the summer in Houston? They [TFA] put us in a bad position to begin with. We looked like little kids trying to play dress up. Really, we looked like we were out of our element." (Nan)

We need to say, "Uhhhh.. Your highness...excuse me, but!"
They are told fairy tales about their superiority. They are told to think like a "corps" member. They are sent into the trenches more like the gallant soldiers at Gallipoli than novice teachers. They are given empty slogans, not practical wisdom. They are forced into school committee work, TFA propaganda meetings, and graduate courses they have to take before they have their feet firmly planted in teaching. They have little time to properly plan, create, grade, and do all the social work teaching necessitates. Like those gallant Australians, they were recruited under false pretenses, are under heavy fire, overexposed, and overextended.
TFA mostly takes successful young college grads with no experience, and most often no desire to teach long term, who learned to succeed in their middle class suburban public or private schools. They followed the rules. They listened to authorities and practiced what their tutors gave them to do on their APs SATs. They are what we like to call our best and brightest. However, most lack the practical wisdom or street smarts to have a good chance of success where they are placed. They are taught by TFA to do exactly what they have done in their old environments. Follow. Stay in line. And specifically, to think like a corps member. Be formulaic. Do not be like those older teachers: wise, creative, independent, and spontaneous. They are taught to tell not ask. Their packaged lesson plans are "fool proof"...teacher proof.
Barbara and I propose a film to expose the public and policy makers to another inconvenient truth, this time behind TFA and it's inadequate version of teacher training.
The purpose of this film is not simply to shed light on the underside of TFA in real schools but to face real questions in education.
One of the biggest questions is teacher education and training. Teaching must be treated as a worthy profession as it is in Finland to develop an equitable education system.
This film is about how poorly we are doing in providing the kind of teaching professionals who are in teaching as a career, not a "community service project".
The purpose of this film is to show the dichotomies between TFA trained teaching and successful teaching. It is to show the error in the thought that teachers are made, not born: that any smart person can teach. Talented teachers can be better trained to be great. Untalented teachers can be trained to be mediocre or merely competent at best.
The purpose is to show how the concepts of Frederick Winslow Taylor's "Scientific Management" of the early 20th century are being used again in the 21st in a modern version of corporate control over labor. Now as then, rich and powerful leaders go to private schools and are taught by powerfully creative teachers, while the millions of poor toiling (future) workers are taught by step-by-step automatons who pass down and enforce the menial skills "needed" by the "unthinking" masses.
Its purpose is to see behind the banners and posters hung in schools. It is to see another dichotomy. Poor kids are being told they are being taught to be future leaders. The reality is that how they are being taught does no such thing.
Ultimately it is about how well we can educate all of our kids, regardless of their socioeconomic strata, if we stop following.

Please support us.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

BERNIE #6: I Might Be Wrong, But…

I tell my students, if you are going to lie, (and of course, you shouldn’t), never lie to people who know you are lying. In other words, if I am looking at you talking and I ask you if you are talking, don’t tell me you aren’t talking. I know you are talking – I see you! This is analogous to the DOE’s treatment of ATR’s. Their treatment of ATR’s is discriminatory, dehumanizing, unprofessional and impractical. There- somebody’s said it!
The DOE demands professionalism of its teachers, and that’s not a problem. The problem is that when you ask someone to be a professional, you need to do the other part of that equation- the part where you treat the person as a professional. No professional treatment I know of embraces or espouses discrimination, lack of professionalism and impracticality.
From the very beginning of Mayor Bloomberg’s “reign”, he has treated teachers in general, and ATR’s specifically, with disrespect. At NO time did he ever meet with teachers, the people he was going to lead, (like many, if not most CEO’s do in the “business model”), -not the UFT or their representatives- the teachers- the people he has vilified and demonized, the people whose work ethics he has questioned, the people he has called failures and has used the word inept to describe them- those people. At no time did he even attempt to access their knowledge – if he had, he would have know long before his statistics in 2011 informed of the fact that college is NOT for everybody, that while the opportunity and the option and the access to attend college needs to be available to everyone, not everyone should go or needs to go to college. Even in the world we live in today, we still need computer technicians, auto mechanics, pilots, etc. (Although I guess it’s a lot easier to vilify and dehumanize people when you don’t talk to them so you don’t have to see them as people).
Many of the ATR’s are people with over two decades of teaching experience and they are in their late forties and older. They are the only people being shuttled and shuffled back and forth from “pillar to post” on a weekly basis, with little or no concern for their ability to get to the site to which they are being sent or that person’s individual circumstance. (I would think that since they are ATR’s through no fault of their own, and since the DOE has taken it on as its responsibility to close schools and thereby create these hardships, it would only be logical that some such consideration be afforded to the people they have inconvenienced and taken out of their jobs).
For example, suppose the school to which you use public transportation. Every week you are assigned to a different school. What if it takes you two or three fares and two hours to get to your site? You didn’t pick this site, but the cost of traveling to it is being imposed upon you. What if instead of leaving your house at 6:30 AM like you usually do, now you have to leave at 5AM or 5:30 AM. What if you have children to get ready for school or take the school? Did anyone think of that? Did anybody care? Are you getting the picture? Are you seeing how this is an arbitrary and capricious decision, made with little or no humanity or concern for others? Clearly, this behavior on the part of the DOE is unprofessional, dehumanizing, discriminatory and impractical. In fact, since many of the ATR’s are not only older, more experienced and make the most money, they are minorities as well, the discrimination exists on two fronts!
Since we live in the technological age, (and the mayor spent millions, and maybe billions to computerize the DOE), how hard would it be to assign all those who live in Manhattan to Manhattan schools, those who live in Queens to Queens schools, etc. The mayor will tell you that the ATR plan is a good one, that it limits the sites to which you can be assigned only to schools in the district in which you originally worked. Unfortunately, this is not true. I spent my career in district 8 In the Bronx, but of the 10 or 11 schools to which I’ve been assigned, only two have been in my former district
Since we live in the technological age and we are supposedly following the business model, which presumably is designed to be both practical and cost efficient, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to do the following? Since there are so many school buildings with four or five or even eight schools in one place, wouldn’t it make sense to assign ATR’s to one building and simply rotate them between the schools in that building on a weekly basis as needed? While you’d still be moved from one school to another, you’d have a better chance of developing some sort of consistency as it pertains to recognition as a member of the building’s community. While you, (and the mayor), may not like this plan, one thing is indubitably certain- their current plan is not working! Anyone you talk to, from taxi drivers to students who walk the halls and do not attend classes, will tell you that the way ATR’s are being used makes no sense. (In fact, it seems like the only people who don’t understand this are the folks at the DOE- the people who are supposed to know!).

Like lying to people who already know you are lying, the DOE claims this system will help ATR’s to find permanent employment and thereby help schools, but the truth of the matter is no one hires anyone he/she has just met for a week, who he/she has never had the opportunity to see teach a lesson or sit down to speak with. Under the current system, by the time you get your bearings about where everything is in the building you are in, or get a key to the bathroom, you are moved to another school. Not only is this inconsiderate of and disrespectful to people who have given one-fourth or one-third of their lives to the teaching profession, it is in no way pedagogically sound. In no way does it provide the consistency that students require in order to succeed.

I teach students not to criticize a situation unless they can provide a solution or an alternative to the issue, so here is mine. What the DOE is saying to the public about the treatment of ATR’s sounds good, but it’s saying one thing and doing something completely different. There is no question that the actions of the DOE are purposefully designed to harass, humiliate, debase, dehumanize and annoy ATR’s. The mayor and his chancellors would deny this, but if you look at how they are being treated, it is crystal clear that their treatment is unprofessional. It is clear that with the technology the DOE has on hand a much more human and practical program could have been devised -if the intention was to treat ATR’s as teachers, experienced professionals with much to offer. Given this did not occur, the only logical conclusion is that the latter solution was never intended. When you move people like cattle form one place to another, you take the human element out of the equation. You dehumanize them; they become little more than things to be placed, like so many Lego blocks, instead of thinking, rational experienced educators. To treat them in this way cannot be an accident – it has to be deliberate, planned, intended. It has to be something you designed for a specific purpose, something you set out to do, as opposed to something that just happened to occur. Whether it was to break the union or to just get rid of people who knew what life was like B.B. 9before Bloomberg) so no one could question or challenge him, it is obvious that the plan was to eliminate those who have fallen into the ATR category.

There is no defense fore dehumanization. The mayor and others argue that what is being done is not only not dehumanization, but that it is being done for the “greater good”. What greater good? A 20% college acceptance rate – a rate lower than many of the schools the DOE closed and labeled as failing? The graduation of thousands of students who cannot read or write on a college level despite the fact they received 80’s and 90’s in their classes, in schools created and evaluated by the mayor or by and through his vision, a rating system that rated top schools like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant with F’s and rated others with A’s that were closed by him three or four years later, ratings that changed all the rules to tilt the scales in his favor, and still failed to win him the game? The closing of schools the mayor and his administration opened in order to replace the dropout mills, which were eventually closed by the same mayor who created them and claimed they were the answers and they had the answers to turn things around? What greater good? The principal’s institutes that “created” principals who were CEO’s and managers, but NOT educators, who could neither improve or enhance the education and/or the quality of those assistant principals who worked for them, nor improve or enhance the quality of the skills of those teachers who were sent to work in their schools? How was this a cogent, viable, responsible, professional, logical approach to the problems we are facing in education today? Let ask a question? Would any firm on Wall Street hire a fireman who knew nothing about investment banking or derivatives to serve as its CEO? Would you? Do they have a CEO institute for General Electric? Morgan Stanley? Chase? Citibank? Exxon? The aforementioned businesses are Fortune 500 companies and all of them, I presume, use the business model, so the question is, if we are following the business model, why are we doing it differently? If we are not using the business model, that’s okay, but then we need to stop saying it’s the business model!

Like I tell my students, if you’re going to lie, never lie to people who know you are lying. I’d pass this piece of advice on to the mayor and those who, like him, keep trying to tell us that we see what we see. I see a system that seeks to separate, not unite, that seeks to provide grades, to emphasize tests rather than to teach skills such as thinking and writing I see a system that can’t possibly work because the people who can make it work are being disenfranchised, dehumanized. Discriminated against and treated unprofessionally. I see a system that discriminates not only against age, experience and maturity, but also against students who are in the lowest third. I see a system that says that everybody is the same- that they all HAVE to attend college, when the reality is that one-size does not now, nor has it ever- fit all. (See Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and high school dropout Sam Walton!).

Maybe I’m wrong, but this is no way to operate or correct an educational system. When you are dealing with lives, you need to be sure; your plan has to work. It is clear, even by its own statistics, that what the DOE is doing simply isn’t working. You can spin it, “byte” it or flat out lie- but that won’t make it work
Part of who I am and who I became as a teacher, was nurtured and developed by my parents, brother, (a teacher), my colleagues and my supervisors. All of them contributed, each and every one of them added something to the mix.

If I were a betting I’d bet a lot of money that people who had done this job for twenty years or more, people who had had success with thousands of students and thousands of graduates, just might know something. If I was betting, and I wanted to win, I’d ask them. Maybe they couldn’t all help me, but somewhere in that group there are centuries of knowledge and I’d want to tap into and utilize that knowledge.

But then, that’s just me.

Friday, November 11, 2011


The current trend in education is not living up to its “hype”. The rhetoric is powerful, and it sounds good, especially in sound bytes, but like the phone commercial says on television, “It makes sense if you don’t think about it.” Think about it. In New York City, the graduation rate is “higher than it’s ever been”, but the dropout rate for the first year in college at CUNY schools compared to the high school graduation rates are higher than they’ve ever been , too. Advocates for the reform of public education, specifically in New York City with people like Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott, owe their foundations for success to the very system they claim is irreparably broken. That’s funny because it worked pretty damned well for them WITH LIFO, with tenure, with seniority, with appreciation for what experience can add to the educational arena, with no charter schools or four to eight schools jammed into one building.
Look at the idea of charter schools. Ignore the fact that for one dollar they can “hijack” space in already space challenged venues, ignore the fact they can choose only the best and the brightest, ignore the fact that although they are public schools, they receive greater funding and have access to better resources than other schools. Look instead at the number of students they turn away. The purpose of public school is, after all, to include, not exclude, to provide access to education, not to limit that access. Here’s something else to think about. If, as the experts claim, charter schools have the “formula” for educational success, we would all best be served by those schools “saving” the students who are the most challenged educationally: the lowest third, the ELL students and the special needs students. Why are the charter schools accepting only those students who would probably be successful with mediocre teachers or no teachers at all?
Why are students chosen by lottery, where there are so very few winners and so many “losers”? Here’s another thing to consider. If, as the educational reformers claim, education is at a higher level today than it has ever been, why are AP classes, honors classes and challenging classes such as trigonometry, calculus, physics, (and in some cases, foreign languages) form this reform’s “educational plate”? When I attended a New York City high school in the 70’s, those classes existed, and in 2009, when the school I had worked at for 35 years was closed for being a “failing school” in its final year, (and had throughout the thirty five years), offered these types of classes. Let me get this right. My school was bad, so it was closed, but it had these classes. Newer, smaller schools are better, but they lack these courses. The rhetoric says closing bad/failing schools says money and suggests that simply by closing a failing school failure will disappear. Sounds good, but the fact is the only way to get rid of failure is to identify the cause of failure and come up with a plan to address it.
As a basketball coach, when I realized my team wasn’t going to score a lot of points, I taught my players to play tough defense which required their opponents to work harder and use more time on the clock. That plan, along with working hard to limit the number of rebounds of the opposing team, limited the number of times the opposing team touched the ball, which in turn, limited the number of points scored by the opposing team. I didn’t “close” my team or shut it down. I identified the problem, created a plan to address it and executed that plan. It is important to note here that while the plan was a good plan, in order for it to work, the players had to “buy into it.”
Closing schools isn’t a plan, getting rid of teachers with seniority or getting rid of tenure, is not a plan, creating a cookie cutter, one-size fits all system in which college is the only option, then not funding that system adequately, is not a plan. Plating with statistics you spout and using “rubrics” even mathematics cannot figure out in order to obfuscate examination and analysis, is not a plan. Treating the education of children as if they were nuts or blueberries on a conveyor belt is not a plan. Ignoring the knowledge, wisdom and success of proven educators and listening instead to business people, theorists and educrats, is not a plan. I have spent thirty-five years teaching English and I dare say, I have won more than I have lost. I wasn’t perfect, the system wasn’t perfect, but people graduated, people learned and people graduated. Students I taught became teachers, doctors, college admission officers, lawyers, Wall Street workers, professional athletes, assistant principals, consultants to the DOE, surgeons, West Point graduates, service men or women, civil servants, responsible members of society and parents. Obviously, not everyone succeeded. No system will ever ensure that, but no one can refute the fact that these people succeeded and they succeeded without the “reforms and the small schools and the charter schools and the demonization and the vilification of teachers.
It was not easy, but when teachers worked hard and when students “bought into the plan”, and parents supported schools and others who may have meant well, but realized if they could not lead or follow, they had to get out of the way got out of the way, it worked. I know it worked because I not only saw it work in the lives of my students when I and my colleagues taught, I saw it work in my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters, and cousins and uncles and aunts, and nieces, and nephews, and colleagues. I had the privilege and the opportunity to see it work with, as well as in, the lives of people of people like President Barack Obama, his wife, former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, current chancellor of New York City schools, Dennis Walcott, former chancellor Joel Klein, Denzel Washington and a whole host of others.
Nothing is perfect, and anything can be improved and bettered, but simply making changes or saying the changes are making things better, doesn’t make things better. I taught, and continue to teach my students, they have a responsibility for their own education and their lives, and I like to think that when you look at those who have graduated from the school where I spent three decades teaching, (along with my colleagues), even though we weren’t perfect and the system didn’t work perfectly, we succeeded.


Sojourner Truth said, “It is the mind that makes the body. This concept is applicable in just about any area. Even in law enforcement when you want to destroy a criminal organization, you don’t worry about its soldiers or followers, you take down the boss, the head, the “brain”. If she is right, and I believe she is, then we’ve got a big problem. That problem is that “education” today isn’t spending a lot of time on the development of the mind. There is very little examination or analysis (better known as thinking). Lessons are designed to fit into ten minute “bytes” in which very little, (if anything at all), can occur. Don’t believe me, let’s look at the 2008 presidential campaign. Throughout the campaign, McCain and Palin billed themselves as “the candidates of change”. When pressed on this issue in debates with Biden, she’d preface her remarks to Biden and the audience by saying that there was no need to talk about the past if you are about the idea of change. With all of the coverage of the campaigns by the campaigns by talking heads and political experts, not one of them examined, (thought about), the inanity of her statement. Not one of them made the point that, in fact, there can be no change without the past. Of necessity, whenever change occurs, something different is occurring now than whatever it was that occurred before –that would be the past! In addition to the previous point, here’s another point to consider (think about). How can anyone identify or tell that change is taking place without any knowledge of what had previously occurred?
Perhaps this “criticism” is picayune or unimportant, but I think it speaks to the issue loudly and clearly that analysis and examination are not seen as important or vital to the society at large and to education specifically. It was important to Thomas Jefferson who contended that in order to have a successful and a strong democracy, the electorate had to be educated. I didn’t live in the time period of Jefferson, but given his potency as a writer and speaker, as well as the fact that he was quite a philosopher, it is safe to infer that Jefferson’s use of the word education includes examination and analysis.
The present day concept of education as a test driven, statistics based situation fails to do what education is supposed to do. Cornell West, the preeminent scholar, speaks of paideia when he speaks of education. To me, paideia is the blueprint for education’s role, for education’s purpose is not only to instruct (so tests can be passed), it is also to inspire, to drive, to challenge, to ask one to reach for his/her best and then to pour that best back into the society. Passing tests and amassing knowledge is only a part of education’s role or purpose.
This may be news to business people, politicians or the “experts” who believe that everything can be quantified by some percentage or number, but educators know this fact. Marva Collins, Mary McLeod Bethune, Benjamin Mays, Dr. Lorraine Monroe, Frank Mickens, Joe Clark, Professor Fred Bornhauser, Harold Wright, Harold Keller, Jr. and a long list of other educators I have had the privilege to work with throughout my career know that education is much more than just a grade or passing tests. They understand that the ability think, to weigh ideas that are different, to break them down, to explain them or add to them, to inspire , to challenge, to ask someone to rise higher than he/she ever thought he/she could rise is the what education’s role must be if education is to work and succeed.
Very simply put, until and unless we return to Sojourner Truth’s axiom as it pertains to education, nothing else we do, no other configuration we create, no other philosophy we embrace, (i.e. smaller schools, charter schools, horseshoe shaped classrooms, etc), will allow education to do what it was designed to do- create analytical, incisive people who can think for themselves and who can improve their society through the utilization of that ability.


Rev. Dr. Barbara Austin Lucas often invokes renowned sociologist Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot when she discusses the relationship educators must have with their charges. Lightfoot said, “You can’t educate anyone unless you can see your future in their eyes.” This means there has to be some connection, some investment, some sense that your future’s success is tied inextricably to the success or failure of the person sitting before you. That is a powerful statement, but more importantly, it is a true statement. You can’t teach “at a distance”. You have to be in the trenches, with your sleeves rolled up, not standing on the sidelines pointing out every mistake or theorizing about what might work. You’ve got to be a problem solver in addition to being the problem finder.

Any successful reform or change, particularly as it pertains to education, must have some sense of humanity, some sense of connection one to the other if it is to work. From where I am sitting, the educational reforms are lacking in this element. You gotta love the rhetoric; “No Child Left Behind”, “Children First”, “Rigor”, “Students First”- problem is, it’s only rhetoric. It has no humanity, it has no soul. As a poet, (and I am sure musicians and artists would agree), when I write, if the words have no humanity, nothing to connect the reader to the experience being captured on the paper, then the words are just words- they do not move or inspire, they just sit on the page. The same is true in education. If the changes or the words are just about making the numbers look good or making them fit a particular bottom line or paradigm, then they are devoid of the “connective tissue” that makes them more than just changes or catchy phrases. Many of the reformers’ children do not attend public schools, (and if they do, they do not attend those that are ravaged by the rhetoric driven reforms), many of them apparently did not attend public schools, (or have forgotten that those schools gave them the foundation to be where they are today), many, if not all of them, do not value or respect public schools, nor do they believe in, trust or respect public schools, public school students or those who work in the public schools.

I have always believed in public schools and their power to transform lives, and when it came time to put my money where my mouth was as it pertained to that belief, instead of choosing to enter a career that would have garnered millions of dollars for me, I, like a lot of others who had the same belief), became a teacher. Where would President Barack Obama or Colin Powell have been without a public school education? What about Barbara Streisand, or Sandy Koufax, or Al Davis? Or James Baldwin, or Garry Marshall, or Dr. Ben Carson, or the young men from Newark who wrote The Pact, or former New York City schools chancellors Harold Levy and Joel Klein, or Mets owner Fred Wilpon? Oh and these people, (and many more such as my brothers and sisters, many of my friends and many of the people I taught and worked with over the course of my thirty plus years career), attended public schools long before all of the reforms

and the rhetoric of reform. If the reforms and the rhetoric are so vital and necessary, if schools were such failures, how did any of these people even survive, forget become successful?

One thing I learned as a coach is that you have to trust your players. You have to believe they can do what you need done. If you trust them and believe in them, there is nothing they will not do for you. If you don’t trust them and believe in them, you won’t get anything from them at all. Teaching works the same way. If you believe in and trust the students you teach, most of the time, they’ll “play hard” for you. If you don’t, they will give you nothing. The New York City DOE and many of the other reformers do not value, trust respect or believe in either the schools or the students who attend them. I have always believed in and trusted the students I taught, even when they did not believe in or trust themselves), until and unless they gave me a reason not to, (which happened from time to time if we are being honest).

You can’t successfully reform education unless there’s some value placed upon it, and you can’t value anything you don’t believe in or respect, anything that is devoid of a “connection” to you, that if it fails, it weakens or hurts you, too. You can’t reform from the outside. You have to get in and move the rocks and the boulders, too. You have to be willing to do some of the heavy lifting and not just stand on the sidelines and tell everybody elsewhere to move things.

I know that someone reading this right now is saying, “This is just the rantings of a bitter, burned out, should-have-been-retired-years-ago-don’t-wanna-teach-no-more-teacher.” If the person thinking that is you, let’s take a little test. Remember science class when you were in school? Remember the litmus test?
That was the test where you took a coated strip and touched it to a liquid to test for the presence of acid and if the strip turned a certain color, that told you acid was present. Well, for me, this issue has a litmus test, too. For me the litmus test is the answer to this question- “Which one of the reformers would send their children to the schools their reforms have created?” Which one of them would send their children to a school that housed 6-8 different schools, with 6-8 different philosophies, that shared one library, auditorium, gymnasium, (that is if they have a gymnasium or library), that promote separation rather than collaboration, (by virtue of the fact that each school inside of each building is encouraged to “brand” its space), that have principals who cannot train teachers or teach them to become better teachers because they have taught only 2-3 years, (if they have taught at all), that have teachers who are only in teaching because the dot com companies bottomed out or Wall street collapsed, or schools that focus only on students passing tests rather than the students learning to analyze and critique philosophies and concepts, and challenge themselves, expect more of themselves, or schools that do not offer students

challenging, competitive classes such as AP classes, honors classes, calculus, physics, trigonometry, etc., (although those same students are supposedly
receiving “a world class education”), or schools that use technology as a solution rather as a tool to help students to succeed, or eschew the use of experience and experienced teachers whose methods and philosophies have been tried and tested? I am certain beyond any doubt; the answer will be “No.”

To me, if you would not be willing to trust this type of school/reform with your child/children, it is criminal to create schools with these elements/constructions for other children. It’s like you inviting me over to your house for dinner, you cooking all of the food, preparing a heaping plate of food for me and then refusing to eat the food you are offering me to eat. Somehow, that’s just plain wrong.

As a teacher, I have always taught my students the same way I’d want my children or my nieces or nephews or godchildren to be taught I’d want my nieces and my nephews or my children or godchildren to have teachers who are diligent and who teach them to analyze, think for themselves, to challenge themselves, to expect more of themselves. That is exactly what I have tried to do in every class I have taught for over three decades. For me this is the school’s role and this is the purpose of education.


Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without demand; it never has and it never will.” Douglass also said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” While his statements were meant more for the sociopolitical arena as it pertains to the responsibility of the disenfranchised to help themselves instead of simply waiting to be saved or rescued, it is most certainly appropriate as it pertains to students in the educational arena. While the system, schools and even some teachers may not be serving students as fully as they should be, that does NOT excuse students from applying Douglass’ wisdom.

In the first quote, Douglass states that power won’t just do what is right or just- justice must be demanded. I like to tell my students that people don’t accumulate power to give it away or share it with others. One must demand that power utilize its power responsibly and fairly. This same attitude must be displayed by students in their educational walk. I tell my students they have a responsibility to and a role to play in their educations. Just like every player on a team has a job or role, so, too, does EVERY student have a role or a part to play in his/her own education? That means that instead of saying, “Yay”, or “Okay” when a teacher tells you there is no homework, the student has to request an assignment. It means that instead of accepting a teacher’s statement that you did a good job or that you did all right because you passed with a 65, the STUDENT must learn to ask for extra help to raise that 65 to an 80nor 90. It means that instead of asking for a second, third or fourth chance to pass, or some “package” that will allow the student to make up work he or she CHOSE not to do, the student MUST begin to DEMAND his/her best effort from him/herself the FIRST time.

The second quote is also applicable to students and their educations. Progress doesn’t just happen in anything. From Blacks escaping slavery, to gaining the right to vote or to enjoy equal access to education, to the first airplane flight, to the first man on the moon, to the first African American president of the United States, progress didn’t just happen. Death, failure, and disappointment had to be overcome for progress to occur. You can change the names of schools, fight over charter or non- charter schools being better or worse, add pages and pages to the evaluation process to make the acquisition of tenure more difficult, close schools or work like hell and disenfranchise teachers with seniority and experience, but I assure you that nothing you do will ensure progress until and unless STUDENTS are willing to struggle, to work to acquire their educations. Period. For like progress, education doesn’t just happen. You don’t just waltz into a classroom, sit down and “Presto Change-o” education happens! You have to do something, you have to fight for what you want to know, you have to struggle. No matter what you want to accomplish, if you want to move forward, it’s going to take work, it’s going to take struggle.

Douglass’ statements are most certainly appropriate and pertinent to the sociopolitical arena, but its pertinence is NOT exclusive to that area. In fact his statements can apply to everything from helping the disenfranchised to become enfranchised to winning a championship and everything in between, and one of those in between places is the role students MUST play in acquiring their educations.

Inspired by Gil Noble and Adelaide Sanford on the “Like It Is” program
re-aired August 7, 2011.

Stories from my Friend Bernie #1.

“Ain’t Nothin’ New Under The Sun”

Many of the reformers and educrats speak and act as if education and its problems are brand new, as if they have never existed before now. The fact of the matter is,”Ain’t nothin’ new under the sun.” As long as I’ve been teaching, students have cut classes, failed tests, not done homework and dropped out of school. These things didn’t just start now. As long as there have been schools, these problems have existed. The solutions to these problems are not new. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented. All we need to do is to use and apply the solutions that already exist, that have been tested and tried, and in those cases where the older problems don’t work, you can create newer solutions. Take the problem of bullying for example. This is a major problem today, but its solution already exists in a simple thought which has been around for thousands of years. It’s called “The Golden Rule.” I sincerely doubt that anyone likes to be bullied- including bullies. Given this point, it would seem logical that if one doesn’t like being bullied and if one treats others the way he/she wants to be treated, and then no one would bully anyone. This also applies to the shootings that take place in so many of our communities. I am sure that none of the shooters would appreciate or want to be shot; therefore, if those people treated others the way they’d want to be treated, there’d be no shootings. After all, aren’t tolerance and cultural diversity based on or related to The Golden Rule as well? Think about it. Can you have intolerance if people are treating others the same way they want to be treated? Can diversity not exist if people are treating other people with the same respect they want/expect form others? The words and the terms are new world, 20th and 21st century, but the ideas that address them are old school old world. I like to tell my students that there is nothing new under the sun. After all, new ideas don’t just spring up out of nowhere. New ideas are instigated and inspired by ideas that already existed. Someone may add a new twist to it or build on it, but even a “brand new” idea isn’t completely brand new.
To prove this idea, look at the rules listed below. Which, if any of these rules would you say would be valuable or vital in the 21st century?
• The love of learning
• The pursuit of knowledge
• The ability to think for 20 oneself (individualism)
• The ability to stand alone against the crowd (courage)
• The ability to work persistently at a difficult task until it is finished (industriousness, self-discipline)
• The ability to think through the consequences of one’s actions on others (respect for others)
• The ability to consider the consequences of one’s actions on one’s well-being (self-respect)
• The recognition of higher ends than self-interest (honor)
• The ability to comport oneself appropriately in all situations (dignity)
• The recognition that civilized society requires certain kinds of behavior by individuals and groups (good manners, civility)
• The willingness to ask questions when puzzled (curiosity)
• The readiness to dream about other worlds, other ways of doing things (imagination)
• The ability to believe that one can improve one’s life and the lives of others (optimism)
• The ability to believe in principles larger than one’s own self-interest (idealism)
• The ability to speak well and write grammatically, using standard English
I’m just guessing that you picked all of them, and if you did, that’s funny because these rules which you picked as vital for the 21st century, were actually the rules in a schoolroom in the 19th! Not only does this “experiment” prove there is nothing new under the sun, it proves the elements needed to enjoy success today are the same rules that were needed 150 years ago, and probably long before that, that what was true then, is true today, because truth never changes.
Today so much emphasis is placed on technology when people speak about education: Smart boards, calculators, laptops- these and many more things are indispensable if students are to succeed academically. The problem with this is that technology changes almost daily. When they made the wheel, that was technology. Today, technology is the iPhone and the iPad, and the computers that can fit in the palm of your hands, (when at one time a computer would take up a whole room). Unlike truth, technology never remains the same, it always changes- it has to- that’s why I tell students not to depend on it.
Today educrats and reformers argue that students must have access to technology if they are going to succeed. Truth be told, not only do many of them have access to it, they are experts at it. IPhones, twitter, Facebook, iPads, texting- trust me, they are experts. Believe me, they know how these things work. They get technology! Here’s the problem. Their use of technology isn’t academically based. They are using it, they are experts at it, but their use of it has little or nothing to do with anything they are learning in school. This means that in and of itself, technology will not change anything. Only if its use is directed to facilitate or to complement learning can technology have any positive impact on education.
The simple fact is that no matter what the technology is or how it changes, the basic things, the truths are still the same. Students still have to be willing to acquire knowledge, have a love of learning, consider the consequences of their actions, recognize higher ends than their own self interest, comport themselves appropriately and ask questions when they are puzzled. Schools still must do what schools were created to do which is to provide access to education and knowledge, and to afford students the opportunity to obtain the education and the life they are willing to work to achieve, not do what parents and society are responsible to do, they must still offer their students challenging and competitive subjects and courses of study in order for them to successfully compete in the world in which they live.
For most of the problems that exist in education today, the answers are already available. You do not need visible signs of “impact” demonstrated on the classroom walls, or proficiency ratings of 80% for the whole class, or multi-paginated, multi-tiered evaluations and assessments. All you need are the solutions that have been tested and tried since the beginning of time, and the will to put them into practice, even though they are not as sexy or as exciting as the “new” technologies and ideas.