Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Getting that desire to flee again?

It seems like a lot of folks are, these days, and it’s showing up in all the usual US ways—hipster fantasies of “living off the grid” and lefty dreams of “moving to Canada” and artist rants about the new hot place they have to be (is it Joshua Tree or Berlin, these days?) and newbie grads planning their exits via extended study abroad (MBAs in St. Petersburg!), the Peace Corps (mosquito nets in Belize!), and fellowships (anywhere away from here!).

I get the vibe, I’m not immune. School closings, teacher firings, fees at every public museums, and on and on—I see why getting out is a seduction for those who have options.

Education is hard ground to work right now. It’s painful to care about these days, if what you really love is the public part of it, all the places and structures—schools, museums, libraries, art, archives—that we have created and cared for and benefited from in the US. And then there’re the people who work in those places—I mean, I’m a geek for librarians who can find anything about everything; I love teachers who crazy-love what they are teaching; I am thankful that someone hired every WPA muralist who ever painted something sublime in a post office for me to look at…for a very long time…while I wait…to buy stamps.

Because I love public education, public art, and public cultural institutions, and think that public dollars should support all this, I am not interested in the recent re-drifting toward “un” and “open” schooling. To clarify—of course I am in favor of self-education, but that’s like saying I’m in favor of breathing. People just learn; we are all engaged in self-educating, whether we think we are or not. What I find irritating isn’t this constant, albeit often haphazard exploring that we do, but the opting out of public education structure-work by the privileged. Re-warmed 1970s impulses seem to be resurfacing: leave “the system” and make your own! It’s a “private ideas as salvation” agenda, which is a lot like what the neo-liberal right has been offering up—I’m thinking of the impact of Bill Gates and the Walton family on public education policy, presto-change-o, privatization all around!—so why does the left seem to like it so much? I don’t want to spend much time thinking about making a new private university or elementary school with all the families and intellectuals that think pretty much like me, even if our schools are going to be hipper and cooler than the old ones down the block.

I get that making your own everything might make it all feel more controllable and thus, better—though I’d also dispute that in control is always better. And when it comes to education, I think that surprise, proximity and accident is how we learn the most.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

An Open Letter to Harvard Graduate School of Education

Pasted below is a powerful letter by teachers to Harvard's Graduate School of Education (reposted with permission). As they point out, the assaults on teachers and public education now are intense, and must be countered with reminders like this one. The writers' contact information is at the end of the letter, but why not contact Harvard or, even better, your own College of Education with a similar demand.


JANUARY 4, 2010


The Harvard Graduate School of Education pursues the goal of training leaders in the field, and will soon offer a new degree in educational leadership. The school’s website mission statement reads as follows:


To prepare leaders in education and to generate knowledge to improve student opportunity, achievement, and success.


Education touches every aspect of human activity. At the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), we believe studying and improving the enterprise of education are central to the health and future of society. Since its founding in 1920, the Ed School has been training leaders to transform education in the United States and around the globe. Today, our faculty, students, and alumni are studying and solving the most critical challenges facing education: student assessment, the achievement gap, urban education, and teacher shortages, to name just a few. Our work is shaping how people teach, learn, and lead in schools and colleges as well as in after-school programs, high-tech companies, and international organizations. The HGSE community is pushing the frontiers of education, and the effects of our entrepreneurship are improving the world.


As veteran public school teachers, we are disappointed that the HGSE has not shown the leadership it professes by speaking out against the unprecedented attack on public education. To be sure, there have been courageous voices on your faculty who have defended public schools and the endangered idea of educating the whole child. We know that a thoughtful faculty does not think with one mind, and that there will always be differences about what constitutes the most effective pedagogies or curricula. But we have not heard the HGSE as an institution speak out on issues fundamental to the educational well-being of children and their schools.

These issues include:

• The over-testing of students, beginning as early as 3rd grade, and the misuse of single, imperfect high- stakes standardized assessment instruments like MCAS;

• The expansion of charters through funding formulas that divert resources from those urban and rural public schools charged with educating our most challenged children;

• The stripping away of art, music, critical thinking, creativity, experiential learning, trips, and play periods—of joy itself–from schools so that they might become more effective test preparation centers;

• The use of state curriculum frameworks–and soon, possibly, national standards–to narrow and standardize our schools, an effort that only encourages increasing numbers of affluent middle class parents to seek out for their children the same private schools that so many “reformers” have already chosen for theirs;

• The cynical insistence that all schools be equal in a society whose social and economic policies make us increasingly unequal;

• Merit pay proposals that deny and undermine the essentially collaborative nature of teaching;

• And finally, the sustained media vilification of hard-working, dedicated public school teachers.

These depressing developments have intensified over the past fifteen years. They violate the first principles of humane and progressive education, as we understand them.

We are proud to have served as teachers in the commonwealth where public education began a century before the country itself was founded and where Horace Mann reinvented it a century and a half ago. We have many wonderful public schools in Massachusetts that can serve as models for all schools. No child in our state deserves any less. Certainly all deserve more than a parched vision of standardization and incessant testing. A global economy demands more than multiple-choice thinking. Most importantly, human beings require more.

HGSE administration and faculty, we need you to speak out in defense of our public system of education and against abuses that have been allowed to pass silently as reforms. We need you to remind our leaders, administrators, parents and students–all of us–what it means to be educated.

As young teachers, we were inspired by the words of John Holt, Herbert Kohl, Joseph Featherstone, A.S. Neill, and Paulo Freire. Later, we would read the works of Deborah Meier, Diane Ravitch, Ted Sizer, and Jonathan Kozol. These were powerful voices to encounter. Now we need to hear your voice.

The time for *Veritas* is now.

Thank you.

Larry Aaronson, Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, 37 years (retired)
Teacher of the Year (Class of 2007)
Recipient, Key to the City of Cambridge for “Outstanding Service” (Mayor)
Recipient, Special Cambridge City Council Citation
Mentor, Student teachers from the HGSE, 1985-2005

Ann O’Halloran, Boston & Newton Public Schools, 30 years (retired)
Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year, 2007 (DOE)
Finalist, National History Teacher of Year, 2007
Honorable Mention, Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year, 2006 (DOE)
Friend of Education, 2009 (Newton Teachers Association)

Bill Schechter, Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, 35 years (retired)
METCO Recognition Awards, 2001-2005 (L-S METCO Program)
“Outstanding Educator” Award, 2002 (Cornell University)
Faculty Recognition Award (Class of 1992)
Finalist, Lucretia Mott Award, 1986 (DOE)
Horace Mann Grant, 1984 (DOE)