Ron Wolk’s ideas for a new grading system that would include points for behavior and extracurricular activities [“Multiple Measures,” April] demonstrate a belief that public school teachers should be raising other people’s children. Parents should not expect schools to raise their children for them. I pulled my kids out of government schools and now homeschool them because teachers’ unions and the media are filled with notions like Wolk’s. There are still fine teachers in government schools, but their hands are tied by regulations that prevent real education and assume parents’ responsibilities for teaching values. If there’s any need for government schools at all, it’s to provide good, solid education—not parenting.
A Good Twist
I would like to commend you on “Plot Twist” [April], the article about Michael Flynn. It is refreshing to see an educator who really cares about students’ development in a manner that enriches their lives and gives them the foundation to be productive citizens in their communities. Please pass along a genuine thank-you to Michael Flynn for his insight into what students really need.
Jefferson County, Colorado
No Room For Music
The picture of band teacher Lew Cole and his students in April’s “Current Events” brought back many memories. This could have been a shot of me during the ’60s and ’70s. I remember teaching in hot little rooms with buckets and wet mops standing nearby, the children sweating, and me trying to feel like a professional. It was demeaning then, as it is now. This gives both the teacher and the students the message that this class is as unimportant as a broom. While student learning is taking place in other brighter atmospheres— computer labs buzzing, gymnasiums resounding with the bouncing of balls—the music class is assigned a spot where it cannot be seen or heard. What a sad commentary.
Apparently, things have not changed much. Despite research on what the arts do for children, administrators still tolerate situations like this one. Is it any wonder that the arts in American education are in a terrible state?
John Anthony Venesile
North Royalton, Ohio
The idea of merit-based teacher pay [“Under the Microscope,” April] is being debated all over this country. It’s proposed as a tool to promote teaching excellence, improve the quality of our children’s education, and pacify those demanding that teachers deserve more pay and respect. Merit pay will not accomplish any of these objectives. True across-the-board pay increases and respect for all teachers is the correct first step toward promoting teacher excellence and improving the quality of students’ education.
There is no question about the severity of our teacher shortage, but merit pay is not the answer. Who will decide whom the “merit” teachers are? Should the school principal, vice principal, or superintendent measure teacher quality? Can we be assured of objectivity? Should parents and students help with the decision? Should teachers have to add yet another task to their workloads and rate their peers? Most importantly, would merit-based pay for teachers improve the quality of our children’s education?
Salary, benefits, and professional respect often play a part in attracting quality applicants to any occupation. We have to begin with an adequate base salary for all teachers. Incentives should then be offered for clearly defined accomplishments: working in low-performing schools, for example, completing professional development, and taking on extra responsibilities such as peer mentoring.
These steps would attract quality individuals into the profession and ensure that our students have access to one of the most important tools necessary for a quality education: exceptional teachers.
Facts And Foibles
I read with dismay “Picture Imperfect” [March]. I was disappointed that so extensive an article was given to a project that seems overrun with possible misinterpretation. Researchers like Eric Margolis should deal with the facts and know that, at times, inferences can be made from an accurate reading of these facts. However, Margolis states that the Native American students were subjected to a curriculum designed “to convert Native American children into white people” and dressed in uniforms that made the kids look like the cavalry who defeated Indian warriors. Is this his interpretation of the school’s intent or a modern reading into the purpose of uniforms?
Margolis, it appears, falls prey to that unfortunate trap of modern academic writers: appraising history through contemporary sentiments. In this time of upheaval in our nation and world, wouldn’t it be more productive to learn from history, rather than berating those of the past for their foibles? Perhaps the collection would have been better served with some research into the actual circumstances of each picture, rather than an attempted analysis of American education policy from photographs pulled from a government-funded archive.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
I hope, in the future, current photographs of schools, teachers, and students are viewed with the same critical eye with which Eric Margolis examines school photographs from the past. Somehow I disbelieve the authenticity of the countless pictures of students merrily waiting to learn that populate the likes of teacher-preparation textbooks today. Perhaps Margolis should alter his thesis to reflect how mendacity continues to impact the photography of educational establishments.
I read with interest “Picture Imperfect,” especially the caption at the top of Page 27, which dates the photo “circa 1895.” However, the Albuquerque Indian School students pictured are holding flags with 48 stars. Arizona, the 48th state, was not admitted to the union until 1912. It would seem that the picture is not as old as the caption suggests.
Rye, New York
The circa 1895 date is, indeed, incorrect: The flags in the photo contain 48 stars, and in 1895, there were only 44 states. Our information came from the National Archives.
Kudos to Bob Moses, his children, and the other leaders of the Young People’s Project who are getting students excited about mathematics through games and physical activities [“Do the Math,” March]. For more than 10 years, I have been creating math activities that engage students’ natural love of storytelling, music, magic tricks, riddles, and puzzles. Such activities not only motivate students, but also increase their in-depth understanding of key concepts by placing math in meaningful, intriguing settings.
Unfortunately, most of the new government-mandated math series (in my state, at least) take a hands-off, minds-off, plug-it-into-the-formula approach. Too often, new textbooks ignore the developmental needs and natural interests of children. They attempt to teach concepts by showing pictures of manipulatives and activities rather than by having students handle materials themselves. These programs promise the worst of all possible worlds for many students: math instruction that is boring and difficult and fails to support real understanding.
Calistoga Elementary School
The 12-Hour Rule
Ronald Wolk’s “Sacred Cow” [March] illustrates the unfortunate attitude of many parents and grandparents toward homework. But while homework is inconvenient for caregivers, it’s beneficial to children. As the principal of an urban, K-5 school serving almost 400 students, I believe Wolk needs some new information.
He says children spend six or seven hours a day in school, listening to teachers talk. At our school, after taking into consideration the breakfast program, lunch, one scheduled recess, and transition and bathroom breaks, children have about four hours of learning. During this time, we must teach reading, language arts, writing, math, social studies, health, and science. This means that on a given day, a topic is introduced, and because there is not enough time to practice and strengthen the skill in class, homework is sent home.
Although the reason for a given assignment may not be clear to a parent, for that parent to undermine the process is detrimental to the student. Parents have many styles of raising children. Teachers have many different styles of teaching children. Different doesn’t mean wrong. Brain research indicates that those who revisit a newly learned skill within 12 hours of its introduction remember much of it. Good planning at home allows students to complete assignments and also participate in those activities Wolk mentions. As a matter of fact, many students excel in school and somehow participate in a host of wonderful activities.
Iditarod Elementary School
I am the “now-retired chair of history at Scarsdale High School in New York” referred to in Will Fitzhugh’s, “The Making of a Relic” [March]. I admire Fitzhugh and his commitment to the Concord Review. His argument for research papers at the high school level is a powerful one that all thoughtful teachers should take seriously. That said, he did not have to make his case at my expense.
Fitzhugh writes that I “never submitted student papers for consideration.” I did submit papers to the Concord Review. The first tied the thought patterns of Jefferson and Adams to Newton. The last, titled “The Little Apple,” focused on New York City in 1830. Neither was published.
His idea that I “no longer assigned papers” sent one of my recent students into hysterics. She offered to share her efforts, 15 by her count. Had Fitzhugh charged that I no longer assigned term papers, he would have been correct. Over the years, I found that they were the 500-pound gorilla that ate my course. Instead, I assigned a variety of papers, many based on reading primary sources in microfilm or on the Internet. Like Fitzhugh’s students, many of my charges experienced the joy of doing history.
Finally, Fitzhugh claims that after the A.P. exam, I would hold a trial of Buchanan. In 34 years of teaching, I never tried Buchanan, and his statement that I would do so in mid-May misses how I think about teaching. I always played simulation games at key points in the year, not after the exam. Incidentally, any simulation game would require two papers, one of which called for research.
Scarsdale, New York
As a teacher who’s labored to teach research writing, I was interested in Will Fitzhugh’s “The Making of a Relic.” I, too, would like to have my students producing impressive and monumental history research papers. I agree that it’s a valuable task and probably in danger of extinction. However, though Fitzhugh makes a good case for the history term paper, he doesn’t delve into the reasons for its ailing health.
Part of the reason for the term paper’s bad rap are teachers and schools who taught only “the research process” and reduced it to a pedantic, pointless exercise in cutting and pasting. Proper note-card form became paramount. To avoid killing research, teachers must approach it as something alive and exciting. Ordering and assigning the topics so they are tidy and manageable also makes them lifeless and dull. We must allow students to choose questions that we don’t know the answers to—and then do the very hard work of helping them find those answers.
What is really at issue here, underneath the seemingly innocuous topic of history term papers, are the fundamental problems of school design, education reform, teacher training, and curriculum planning. Hopefully, a new alliance between the traditional aims of the rigorous history term papers and progressive pedagogy will create new life and learning opportunities for a time- honored academic task.
Franklin Road Christian School
Tell Brian Crosby, author of The $100,000 Teacher [“Crosby, Bills, and Cash,” March], that there’s a reason for the culture among teachers that says, “You shall not rise above any others.”
In our hearts, most of us know that teacher success depends, in large part, on one’s school, community, teaching assignment, and class composition. When I taught chemistry and physics in my old school, I was definitely among the top 5 percent—a $100,000 teacher—and everyone else thought so, too. Now, in my new school, with a different teaching assignment, community, and mix of kids, I am only a mediocre teacher—and, again, everyone else agrees. It is patently unfair to pay one teacher twice as much as another just because one is lucky enough to have the good assignment and the other is not. And that’s what would happen.
Port Angeles, Washington
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