Letters to the Editor
Lou Romano did the teaching profession a favor by retiring. After reading "Start The Revolution Without Me'' [May/June], I got the feeling that Romano retired years ago but just kept showing up at school.
The last thing we need in this profession is a teacher who is not a learner. Romano was not! He scorned every idea that would have made him a better teacher. More importantly, he scorned ideas that would have helped his students learn more. For Romano, the thrill and excitement of discovering something new died long ago, so how could he develop that thrill for the students in his class? When we stop practicing what we preach, we'd better stop preaching.
I am very concerned that education students or people who may be unfamiliar with the high stan- dards most educators hold might read Gene Maeroff's article and think that Lou Romano represents the average teacher when, in fact, he does not. I was enraged as I read through the article. In my opinion, its worthiness lies only in the fact that it highlights a major part of what's wrong with education: teachers who have stayed on the job too long. My criticisms are harsh, reflecting the increasing anger and frustration I feel with teachers like Romano, who have allowed themselves to stagnate in their positions, unconscious of their responsibility to children. Is Romano a "traditionalist?'' No. I say he is a "nonprofessional'' whose lack of commitment to kids and lifelong learning should be reason enough not to call him "an average teacher.'' In my experience, socalled "traditionalists'' like Romano are modern-day dinosaurs on the verge of becoming extinct.
Romano is correct in stating that discipline is a problem. However, if he would read the research, he would learn that classes and schools in which active learning takes place have fewer problems with discipline. He might even pick up a few new (God forbid!) methods for involving kids in his classes. He laments that "teachers don't have clout any longer.'' If he wants clout, maybe he should do us all a favor and become a policeman or something else that might make him feel more powerful.
Romano has let his true colors show: He sounds bitter, angry, and disappointed in his career. He seems stale, the epitome of the "difficult'' teacher we as administrators have to deal with; these teachers stonewall our efforts to be dynamic and to pursue excellence. I wonder if it ever occurred to Romano that he could have changed careers? I reflect on whether he thinks this article is a great piece and shows it off to his friends or if he is embarrassed by the portrait it paints.
To Romano, I say, "Get a grip. Retire now and save our children from another appalling year of negativism about school.'' To the writer, I suggest some kind of appendix that makes a less ambiguous statement about this "traditionalist'' type of teacher and, instead, highlights his growing obsolescence as educators continue to pursue excellence.
Barbara Rado Mosseau
I will be surprised and disappointed if you do not get a lot of complimentary letters about Gene Maeroff's article "Start The Revolution Without Me.'' Like Lou Romano, the subject of the article, I am 61 years old. Three years ago, after 30 years of high school science teaching in the Buffalo, N.Y., public schools, I took early retirement. Romano's experience and general opinions are so much like my own and those of many of the teachers I've worked with that I could barely believe the article actually found its way into an education publication.
From my perspective, the article was an accurate and nonjudgmental description of what a lot of teachers know and feel. I would like to believe that if the knowledge and attitudes of the Lou Romanos were given a little more consideration, we might get some school reforms that both work and last longer than two years.
I take exception to Teacher Magazine Editor Ronald Wolk's critique of the articles about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards ["Test Pilots''] and veteran teacher Lou Romano ["Start The Revolution Without Me''] in the May/June issue. I, too, am a candidate for national board certification, which means that I am, as Wolk states in his "Connections'' column, a "pioneer, part of a vanguard that is seeking to make teaching a true profession.'' At the same time, I find myself identifying with Lou Romano. I am in my 21st year of teaching, and I have "endured'' many education "reforms'' that were promoted as educational panaceas but turned out to be educational busts.
When I volunteered to help field-test the national board's assessment for "generalists,'' I strongly believed that teaching is a profession that deserves national certification. After surviving the ordeal, I do not feel that the assessment was a reliable indicator of teaching excellence. I totally disagree with national board vice president Valarie French's statement to writer Ann Bradley that the assessment center wasn't intended to be an instructional situation. This was not what I was led to believe. French also told Bradley that the point of the written assessments was to see what teachers could do under time constraints, responding to a question they hadn't seen before. I wrote for two straight days, six hours a day, and used up two and a half BIC pens. I left feeling frustrated--frustrated not because of how I felt I performed but because I was becoming aware that it was all just another public-relations game under the guise of educational reform. Excellence in teaching (or mediocrity for that matter) cannot be determined by a written test! It must be based on instructional situations, observations, and evaluations over a period of time--months not weeks.
Wolk's disparaging assessment of Romano was equally unsettling. As I stated, I have taught for 21 years, but I would quit tomorrow if I could. I am an excellent teacher; I have been recognized as such by my peers through various awards and, more importantly, by my students and their parents. But I am fed up with administrative interference and harassment in my classroom by people who have either never taught a day in their lives or take pride that they taught for "X'' number of years before going into administration 20 or 25 years ago. I also am tired of serving on committees to help set school policy, only to be told that my board of education wants it done differently.
Maybe the Lou Romanos of public education--the older career teachers--have part of the solution. We should listen to what they have to say before we rebuke them as unread and unaware.
Name withheld by request
I just received my May/June issue of the magazine, and I am probably not calm enough to write coherently. "A New Equation,'' by Steven Leinwand, advocates insanity. By publishing this article without comment, you contribute to that insanity.
If the schools are to produce calculator operators instead of mathematicians, then our country will never develop new mathematical machines. It is impossible to separate mathematics from number operations, and students can only learn to perform such operations by doing them.
This article is DANGEROUS. Someone will be foolish enough to believe Leinwand's ideas and inflict them on our children. It is your moral duty to write a detailed editorial to attempt to reverse the damage that has already been done.
Monte Sereno, Calif.
Eric Bohnet ["Letters,'' May/ June] urges tax support for private schools, overlooking the fact that that would mean compelling all taxpayers to support sectarian private schools that practice forms of discrimination and indoctrination not allowed in public schools. Bohnet evidently sees nothing wrong with using public funds to separate children by religion, class, ethnicity, or ideology.
The constitutional, public policy, and common sense objections are enough to easily fill a book. In fact, there is such a book: Church Schools and Public Money: The Politics of Parochiaid (Prometheus Books, 1991), by Albert Menendez and myself.
Further, common sense, the Constitution, and our nation's rich religious pluralism all require that our community-controlled public schools be religiously neutral. Our whole system should not be overturned because a few malcontents cannot have the public school curriculum tailored to their narrow measure.
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.
Just Do It
I've just finished reading "Creative Maladjustment'' by Herbert Kohl [April]. How refreshing! I can't thank you enough for publishing this article. Kohl is speaking my heart and soul; why shouldn't teachers simply be thinking adults and do what is necessary to engage and enlighten their students!
Also in this issue of Teacher were pieces on Madeline Hunter ["Current Events''] and Jaime Escalante ["Jaime Escalante's Second Act'']. Certainly Escalante brought a Kohl-like approach to his teaching. He ignored the system, did what worked for him in his classroom, and got results. Also, Madeline Hunter, in a more sedate style, did what was right for her in her classroom. The mistake of the educational community is in trying to mimic the methods of these master teachers.
Over the years, public education experienced a slow paradigm slide that has left us with elaborate systems devoid of relevance. Kohl is simply saying: Forget all that and just DO IT!
The schools Herbert Kohl describes, the schools we all teach in, do indeed function according to his self-satisfied and messianic narrative. They function, or dysfunction, and suffer from all their manifold diseases, precisely because that is what society wants. Society, of course, does not "want'' anything clear or specific; rather, a multitude of complex and conflicting demands produce schools that are diseased. Or rather, schools are symptoms of a diseased society that, over the past 40 years, have turned into nearly chaotic experiments in social engineering.
It is perfectly true that a great number of students are lost, depersonalized, dehumanized in the process. And this happens to a multitude of students that do not fit the "victim'' groups--Hispanic, deaf, etc.--that Kohl describes in his anecdotes. I specifically repudiate Kohl's implication that the individual will ever be liberated by the achievement of a group identity.
And what of the society beyond? Does Kohl suggest that some brave new generation of children, prepared by the schools for true brotherhood, all multi- culturalized, multilingualized, with a true respect for whales and a major in tree-hugging, is going to rush out of the schoolhouse and find a world in which their newly converted selves will be at home? I think not. All such persons, in the world in situ, will become only a new wave of victims and the enslaved. The world as it is will quite readily and easily exploit them. This is the central fallacy in all utopian schemes, and in particular of those that seek to change society via the schools.
All of Kohl's concerns are quite valid. I disagree with much of his educational philosophy, but that is really beside the point. After nearly a quarter of a century in the classroom, with six 50-minute periods a day and more than 150 students, I am light-years beyond even cynicism toward education reform movements, however expressed. Visit any wellstocked public library, and you will discover literally dozens of books pointing at schools with alarm and dismay, of which Kohl's will be one of the most recent. None, so far as I can tell, has had any effect whatsoever. How many of today's teachers are prepared as individuals to under- take Kohl's admonitions to swim upstream against the currents of today's schools? To paraphrase Sir Arthur Eddington: In my career, I have met perhaps three; I am trying to think of a fourth.
Kohl's premises run aground on the assumption that a large number of today's teachers are intellectually or morally capable of doing what he describes. If they were, the schools would be different than they are. I in no way disparage the notion--and to all those who are willing to engage in such a struggle, good luck-- but in my experience, most human beings are not so existential. Neil Postman describes a similar, and I think better, approach in his recent book Technopoly, where he speaks of a "loving resistance fighter.'' Each person must interpret what actions need to be taken in order to be effective, for only individuals will win this struggle. The only defensible educational goal is our directive of more than 25 centuries: "Know thyself; nothing in excess.''
John Avelis Jr.
Mahomet-Seymour High School
Teacher Magazine welcomes letters. They must include your address and daytime phone number and may be edited for length and clarity. Mail them to: "Letters,'' Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008, or fax them to: (202) 364-1039.
Vol. 05, Issue 09, Page 1-24