The Power Of Ideas

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With this issue, Teacher Magazine begins its second publishing year. In the inaugural issue last September, we wrote: “Teacher Magazine is based on the assumption that teachers are thoughtful, caring professionals who value information and understand the power of ideas.” We still believe that. Our first issue also promised that we would “not treat teachers as just tall children.” And we haven't. If there were ever a time when teachers need to be treated as professionals and to understand the forces shaping the nation's schools, it is now.

America's public education system is under siege. For a host of reasons—some external to the system, some internal—too many of our schools are falling short of the public's expectation and society's need. The national debate has raged for nearly a decade—longer than any previous period of concern over schools. And it has involved virtually every segment of society at every level.

The debate has produced countless—often conflicting—analyses of the problems and proposals to solve them. But as the 1980s dwindled down, nearly everyone agreed on one point: No significant and enduring improvement in our schools is possible without the leadership and commitment of the nation's teachers.

Very little in the professional lives of teachers, however, prepares them for the role of educational leaders on a larger stage. Most teachers enter their first jobs without knowing the power structure of education, how money moves, or the political implications of vital and complex educational issues. And once in the classroom, they have little time, energy, or incentive to learn about such matters. The structure of the typical school and the nature of teachers' work day afford neither the time nor the opportunity for meaningful professional development or the exchange of ideas and information with colleagues.

Moreover, education has been very much a local enterprise, and there has been little incentive or occasion for most teachers to look beyond their own classrooms, schools, or communities.

In short, the system has largely denied teachers any real say in the important decisions about their professional lives and the direction of their schools. The system traditionally confines teachers to their classrooms where, once the door is closed, they are more or less in charge. Outside the classroom, the clear, if unspoken, message has been “keep your head down and your mouth shut.”

We find that an appalling situation. So we created Teacher Magazine to serve as a national communications network, linking teachers everywhere, at all grade levels, in all disciplines. Our objective: To give teachers well-written, well-illustrated articles on educational developments, issues, and trends; to let them share professional experiences with their colleagues across the land; to encourage them to lead their schools into the next century.

It is sometimes difficult to fulfill this objective without appearing to be negative. In this issue, for example, each of the three features reflects a dissatisfaction with the status quo in public education. The cover story is about a veteran teacher in Vermont who finally gave up trying to change his public school and decided to start a private school from scratch. The story beginning on page 54 is about a school system so close to collapse that it agreed to turn its operation over to a private university—a unique event in the history of public education. And the article on page 48 is an open letter from an Indian father to a teacher, imploring her to be sensitive and accommodating to the cultural differences that his son brings to her classroom.

Some readers have let us know that they prefer only “good news” and “how to” articles. For example, the writer of the letter to the editor on page 65 finds Teacher Magazine too negative and says, “We need a magazine that uplifts our profession.” The people we write about in this month's features are trying to uplift the teaching profession. Whether one agrees or disagrees with what they say and do, we would argue that the motivation of the Vermont teacher, the Chelsea and Boston University educators, and the Indian father is essentially positive, and we hope the vast majority of our readers will agree. All share that uniquely American conviction that education is the key to individual and societal success and fulfillment. And they are doing what they are doing because they want education to be as enriching and as effective as it can be for every child.

The first step toward achieving that ideal is to acknowledge the problems and understand them. Then we can try to find ways to solve them. What could be more positive?

Vol. 02, Issue 01, Page 3

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