To the Editor:
Three items in your Sept. 8, 2004, issue do a wonderful job of identifying some inherent weaknesses in our profession. Taken together, the interview with Theodore R. Sizer (“Sizer’s Red Pencil Chides Establishment for ‘Silences’”) and the two Commentaries by Dennis Baron (“The President’s Reading Lesson”) and James M. Banner Jr. (“‘Teachers of Ambition’”) do an excellent job of framing the core issues facing the demise of the American system of education. I am not sure, however, that even collectively they go far enough.
I tend to agree with all three as I understand them: Mr. Sizer, who identifies good educators as “rebels”; Mr. Baron, who characterizes the nation’s reading instruction as robotic, boring, and unstimulating; and Mr. Banner, who says the nation’s teachers do not see themselves as personally responsible for their own growth and development in their particular subject areas. I would add to their comments a thought derived from the writings of Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his interesting book on human evil entitled People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil.
Our society has decided that to function we need what Dr. Peck calls “specialized groups.” Educators fit nicely into the three general principles that define these groups: (1.) The group develops a group character that is self-reinforcing. (2.) Specialized groups are prone to narcissism—that is, experiencing themselves as uniquely right and superior in relation to other homogeneous groups. (3.) And finally, the society at large employs specific types of people to perform its specialized roles.
It is imperative that more and more educators do as Mr. Sizer suggests: rebel against these group norms that have been both formally and informally established. If we are to survive as a culture, teachers, who have, after parents, the most influence on our young, must, as Mr. Banner says, think of themselves as members of a larger world. In my opinion, teachers need to quit trying to “think outside the box” and get outside the box and think. And if we are going to make our youngest students prisoners, as Mr. Baron suggests, to mindless mediocrity, we will continue to recruit educators from those most successful in that mediocrity and thus perpetuate the system we have created.
I am hoping that Neil Howe and William Strauss, who wrote Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, are right: This generation of young people coming up will lead us out of the morass we have created.
Fort Wayne, Ind.