Feb 5, 2008

I Heart Jonathan Kozol

Just finished Letters to a Young Teacher by Jonathan Kozol. He's so good. It's a great reminder that the kids are the thing, no matter the bureaucratic hassles, and no matter the craze for high-stakes testing* that is so harmful to kids' learning. Right on.

When he gets political in the 2nd half of the book, he takes on the offensive push to privatize schools via charters and vouchers, and champions the needs of kids and teachers and learning against the emphasis on high-stakes testing. And he does it without the myth of the SuperTeacher. SuperTeacher is the guy in Stand & Deliver, or the guy in Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire. Oh we love our superteacher stories in this country, but are they the basis for a successful education system? Why not allow our teachers to have a personal life instead of working 11-hr days 6 days a week (and for peanuts)? Doesn't the fact that it takes a SuperTeacher tell us that something's broken? Mr. Hair's On Fire needs a weekend, for crying out loud.

Or at least I do. I'm totally committed to my students, but I'm also totally committed to my wife and my life away from school. Superteacher is a fun tale, but it reveals a dysfunction. Our system ought to allow teachers to do well without requiring that they work themselves to death.

So thanks, Jonathan Kozol for saying it like it is, for encouraging teachers to keep kids the main thing even when the gov't is mandating kid-hating. And for giving us a mature alternative to SuperTeacher.

* From what I can tell, No Child Left Behind [which a friend calls "No Teacher Left Standing"] is an attempt to de-democratize education. Schools have always had the purpose of sorting our kids into high achievers and low, so that we know who is destined for great things. And our socioeconomic system keeps the right people in the high achiever group and keeps the group small. Woodrow Wilson spoke of the need for our schools to sort kids into a small group of leaders and a larger group of followers.

I think our leaders are attacking public schools so that their kids can stay the elite, few and segregated, with the widest gap possible between them and, well, you know, those other kids. So they tie the high-stakes testing to funding as a way to further penalize already undersupported disadvantaged students. They already have the fewest resources, the most inexperienced undertrained teachers, the crowdedest classes with the brokenest heating, and on and on. Now their schools get defunded. Add it to the top of the pile of ways our leaders hate the people.

1 comment:

Willy said...

My take on NCLB is that it was a cynical attempt to defund the Education Department. Begin with goals that are unattainable (a goal of 100% of all students must meet or exceed grade-level standards by 2013 is not attainable, bell curve and all that) so that the districts play and lose...when you don't meet the AYP for a number of years, they dissolve the teacher contract essentially firing all the teachers, get rid of the local board of education, and withold funding. That will happen with all districts by 2013, even in Lake Woebegon.

IF you don't play (and you have the option of not playing the NCLB game) you have just turned down all your federal funding, including pass-thru grants like ones for transportation. (Only the Richie Rich-est districts can afford to turn down those Fed dollars.)

Notice that either option results in the defunding of federal dollars for K-12 education.

On the plus side NCLB has driven districts to pay attention to their low performing students, since getting the district's AYP is easier when you move the bottom up vs. getting the bright to be brighter.