October 01, 2000 3 min read

Not-So-Ordinary People: “The Teacher as Hero” is the somewhat bland title of a wonderful little essay that appears in the September issue of the American Enterprise, the magazine of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Author John Rodden, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, argues that “the great teacher liberates the spirit, awakening and enflaming a passion for truth, and a student so touched is never quite the same again.” Rodden’s own most influential teachers—several of whom he lovingly describes—weren’t necessarily the ones with the longest résumés. He writes: “My great teachers have been teachers who teach students, not just subject matters; teachers who remember they were once students and know that they still can learn from students. These are teachers who do not succumb to the notion that they are simply dealing with ideas or words or numbers in class; they know that they are dealing with people, and with principles, too.”

Return Of The Rod: Corporal punishment is alive and well in the Miami- Dade County public schools, even though the practice was officially banned in 1989. At least that’s the conclusion of “Cruel or Usual Punishment?,” a September 7 article in the Miami New Times (, an alternative weekly. According to author Ted Kissell, “a small yet significant number” of district teachers continue to spank troublemakers, often with the blessing of parents. The teachers tend to work in schools located in predominantly poor black neighborhoods where, sources tell Kissell, paddling is an accepted practice.

One such educator, 1st grade teacher Mariefrance Milhomme, was arrested on child-abuse charges last year after police were told that she was spanking her students with a wooden paint stirrer she had named “Mr. Stick.” Many black parents rallied to her defense. Criminal charges were later dropped, but administrators concluded that Milhomme did indeed violate the district’s ban on corporal punishment. (The teacher no longer works for the Miami-Dade County schools.) Kissell reports that some district teachers lament the good old days, when spanking—and the threat of spanking—was a potent weapon in their arsenal of student-discipline measures. One teacher tells him, “Teaching in the ‘70s, when you could hit a kid, if a kid was acting up, you could put the fear of God in him. You really did have better discipline. Now the kid puts the fear of God in the teacher.”

Testing The Test: Abby Goodnough covers the New York City schools for The New York Times. Curious, she decided to take the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, the state’s main certification exam for teachers. “I had signed up for the four-hour test on a whim,” she writes in the August 23 edition of the Times’ weekly “Lessons” column, “but when my alarm clock blared at 6:45 a.m. on July 15—a Saturday, no less—I rued my bright idea.” Goodnough had previously reported in the Times that nearly a third of New York City’s teachers had failed the exam at least once. But several teachers had also told her that the test was “ridiculously easy.” For Goodnough, it was a bit more complicated. She found the exam to be “tedious and long ... and more than a little frustrating.” Some questions, she thought, seemed to have more than one correct answer. “For other questions, I was convinced that none of the supplied answers was right.”

When she got her scores in the mail, however, Goodnough had passed with flying colors, receiving a 284 out of a possible 300. (To pass, prospective teachers need at least a 220.) “But on closer examination,” she writes, “my results made little sense.” For instance, on the math and science portion, she received a perfect 300—"bizarre, considering that I failed pre-calculus in high school and never took another science course after 10th grade chemistry.” Meanwhile, Goodnough was mortified to see that her worst score—a 260—was for the essay. Searching for an explanation, she writes: “What all this says about the state certification exam, I’m not sure. If my experience is any indication, it is not the best measure of someone’s academic strengths and weaknesses. . . . Still, it’s not a bad idea to make sure teachers can figure percentages, form a scientific hypothesis, recognize symbolism in a short story and, yes, write a well-organized essay.” In the end, Goodnough concludes that the exam, though far from perfect, “seems a necessary gatekeeping device for a profession whose purpose, after all, is imparting knowledge.” If anything, she would make the test harder. “There is just no excuse for someone like me to get a perfect score in math,” she writes.

—David Hill