Ron Wolk's January column ["Trivial
Pursuits," January] is about as close to an admission of wrongdoing
by standards advocates as we are likely to get. Nonetheless, it was
heartening to see it.
For nearly two decades, reformers have kicked schools and teachers around like old tin cans in a game of street hockey, using standards and high-stakes testing to publicly humiliate teachers and demand that they change. Most teachers know by now that the steady improvement in student learning in the past 20 years was achieved in spite of, not because of, the standards movement, which only made teaching more difficult. Given more money and better working conditions, most educators would voluntarily learn the skills they need rather than be driven to do so by the recertify-or-die approach that has forced them to waste dozens of hours on motivational meetings and professional- development sessions of little value.
Determining standards became a marketplace competition among subject-matter experts, each vying for their share of the elementary and high school curricula pie and demanding that their discipline be supported by future teachers seeking certification in the diploma-mill, college-fee cash cow of the future.
Reformers opened the door for rethinking; they got poor thinking by brilliant specialists who have no idea how a 3rd grader works, thinks, or relates. The standards writers refused to listen seriously to a wide variety of classroom teachers because they were not hand-picked by school administrators to "represent" their colleagues. Experienced educators who tried to tell reformers that it is silly to teach geometry to 3rd graders were scoffed at and belittled as old traditionalists who refused to change.
Many reformers are now admitting that standards have not worked, that schooling is complicated, and that imposing new structures on a smoothly running system may do as much harm as good. It's too bad that teachers had their careers marred by such a system and that students were treated as a lab-rat experiment by experts who had no personal relationship with them and no stake in their futures.
The acknowledgement that standards have failed comes too late for many of us, but it is a hopeful sign that other powerful people who have wrung the passion out of teaching may finally back off.
I love Joy Hakim's technique for teaching history ["Must-See History," January]. But if her books really tell the hideous truth about how slaves in the American South were beaten, killed, degraded, treated like animals, denied claim to even their own offspring, and made victims of countless other atrocities, then I'm sure [students] would choose poverty over causing these things to happen to another human being. We don't hold back describing the horrors of the Holocaust, even though many Germans saw it as the only option vs. poverty—and we shouldn't, because illustrating it may prevent its recurrence. Descriptions of slavery in the United States deserve the same.
Was it too difficult to find some balance in the chart "Stumping for Schools" [November/December] by including at least one union endorsement of a Republican or Independent candidate? Or was it actually impossible, since there weren't any? In that case, the chart was nothing more than a blanket endorsement for Democratic candidates, despite questionable proposals such as installing slot machines at racetracks to provide extra cash for public schools. For shame.
I read "Start the Presses" [November/December] with much interest because I run my own publishing company. I began to self-publish a little more than six years ago and only wish that I had started 16 years ago, when I first had the idea.
After 10 years of creating my own teaching materials and sharing them with local educators, I wanted to see if I could distribute my work to teachers in other school districts and maybe even make a few dollars for my efforts. During one summer, I gathered together enough of my materials to create 10 different titles. Being a bilingual teacher, I created Spanish versions as well as English ones. I headed to the local photocopying store and ran off 100 copies of each. I spent the next few days binding them to create 30page booklets. I drew up and photocopied a one-page catalog, and my company was born.
I signed up as a vendor at a statewide bilingual teacher conference, filled my old van with the books, and drove south four hours to San Diego. After three busy days, I had sold more than $8,000 in books!
I spent much of the next few weeks photocopying, binding and mailing out booklets since I had sold out at the conference and had taken orders. Districts sent in purchase orders, individuals sent in checks, and teachers called on the phone wanting to order using their credit cards. I didn't know how purchase orders worked, I still needed to open a checking account for the business, and I had no idea how to go about accepting credit cards. My books are now sold in teacher supply stores across the country, carried by many national educational catalogs, and offered by major educational companies such as Scholastic.
Through it all, I have kept teaching. This is my 16th year as a teacher. I am currently teaching a dual-immersion kindergarten class in the Vista Unified School District and would like to stay in the classroom for as long as possible. If any of your readers are contemplating self-publishing, listen to the television commercial and just do it!
Dwayne Douglas Kohn
It is irresponsible to discuss teen sex ["Book Reviews," November/ December] without consideration of the unavoidable danger of infectious diseases, including AIDS. Teen pregnancies also should not be ignored. Condom use alone will only decrease the degree of risk.
Toeing the Line
As an Arizona native teaching and living in Saudi Arabia for the past 12 years, I was struck by the inclusion of two closely related briefs ["Speaking Out" and "Saudi Arabia: English Patience," October] on opposite sides of the controversial issue of second- language instruction at the elementary school level.
The issue is contentious, and I believe a case can be made either way. My objection does not lie in the reporting about second-language instruction per se, but in the irresponsible use of the phrase "hard-line Muslim activists" to describe those community members in Saudi Arabia who spoke out against the introduction of English in the lower grades.
The Arizona piece has no such emotionally loaded terms to label those who opposed curricular change. Why are they not "hard-line Latino activists"? What is "hard-line," anyhow? What is an "activist"? Why not say, "Saudi educators argued against the policy..."? Furthermore, I find it remarkable that a U.S. government agency holds policies to restrict young students from learning another language, while the Saudi government is attempting to do just the opposite and to open their students' minds to another culture through the most basic of instruments: language.
The continual use of thinly veiled stereotypes and negative labels is pervasive in today's sound-bite-loving, sensationalist media. But as an excellent publication intended for educators, I would ask that you pay special attention to avoid such generalizations in an effort to eliminate racism and hatred. In a post-September 11th atmosphere laden with bigotry, xenophobia, and blind nationalism, we all can contribute by consciously choosing those terms which promote open understanding of one another. If politicians cannot lead the world to peace, perhaps we educators can.
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
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Vol. 14, Issue 5, Page 4