To the Editor:
Thank God for David Denby (“Q&A With Author David Denby: A Quest for ‘Serious’ Reading in the Digital Age”). He is again helping return the soul to teaching and learning.
In an era when well-meaning reformers seek to transform great teachers into data drones who are encouraged to fill passive student minds with test-prep bites of information in a manner reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ infamous utilitarian reformer Thomas Gradgrind, we need the eloquent voice of David Denby to remind us what we are losing in the data-driven reform process.
Denby’s Great Books, published 20 years ago, provided a similar morale boost for beleaguered teachers trying to keep the relevance and love of great literature alive in classrooms across the country. Today’s test-obsessed reformers rarely mention, much less cite, the great writers, thinkers, teachers, and philosophers of the past, including Aristotle, John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, Robert Maynard Hutchins, and Theodore R. Sizer. These names seldom enter the current debate about how to raise scores and improve graduation rates. This sin of omission is a profound loss for teachers and students.
Denby’s celebration of New York City’s Beacon School English teacher Sean Leon recalls Kipling’s comment in his autobiography about how one can learn more from “a good scholar in a rage” than from a “lucid but laborious drudge.” Leon confirms that a good scholar in a rage with a passion for teaching can motivate the most reluctant student in the most difficult environment, but only if the teacher has the freedom to teach creatively rather than being required to mindlessly follow a scripted module.
Clifton Park, N.Y.
The writer is a retired teacher.
A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2016 edition of Education Week as Reader Applauds David Denby’s ‘Morale Boost’ for Teachers