June/July 1990

This Issue
Vol. 01, Issue 09

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T
In Charles Dickens's novel Hard Times, manufacturer Thomas Gradgrind warns young Cissy Jupe, "You must discard the word Fancy all together....In this life, we want nothing but Facts.'' Like modern-day Gradgrinds, many critics of education are pushing a back-to-basics approach to school reform that emphasizes drumming in "facts, facts, facts'' and inculcating traditional values. They are nostalgic for the way subjects were taught during the "good old days'' in the idealized school that Beaver Cleaver attended. They claim that these traditional methods will better prepare our students for the "real world.'' Not only is this claim false, but it also could set back some of the genuine progress that has been made in American education. It is time for educators to challenge such critics and let them know what teaching in the "real world'' really is.
Seated in her mother's lap, an infant turns reflexively to the TV. Long before she encounters books and printed letters on a page, the growing child attempts to make sense of the glowing images on the screen. It becomes her first "reading'' lesson.
The conventional wisdom has it that no one could look hard at the particulars of human behavior and be pleased with what he sees. So deeply held is this view that if some extraterrestrial intelligence were to talk about us the way we talk about us, there would likely be an interplanetary war.

When it comes to finances, many teachers are disciplined savers. They protect what they already have by contributing regularly to their tax-sheltered annuities through payroll deductions and banking money each month for future needs. Fewer teachers make the leap into the world of investing, perhaps because they believe they have neither the money nor the skills to operate in the realm of Wall Street wizards. But even people with average paychecks and modest fiscal know-how can benefit from investing--using the money they already have to make more.
James Comer's success in educating poor, minority children in New Haven, Conn., has attracted attention and praise for quite a few years. Now, the Rockefeller Foundation is providing the money needed to encourage the adoption of his ideas far beyond New Haven and the seven other districts Comer works with directly. Rockefeller officials expect to spend roughly $3 million a year over the next five years on the project, according to foundation Vice President Hugh Price.
If you are a junior high or high school teacher, the health of your students is under attack from a deadly combination of ignorance and illness. One in seven of your students will contract a sexually transmitted disease by the time he or she is 20. Most of these infected adolescents will contract one or more of the relatively common STD's. But AIDS, the newest such disease, is also spreading with frightening speed among teenagers.
The superintendent of the public school system I work for recently banned a book that told the story of an African king who was captured and sold into slavery. The banning occurred after an African-American parent complained that the book made her child feel uncomfortable about himself and his heritage because the book discussed slavery and used realistic racist language. Although I can sympathize with parental or student discomfort about these topics, the banning of the book was wrong. My own experiences have convinced me that it is critical not to shy away from discussing slavery and racist language in the classroom.
"Leave your inhibitions at the door," Heather Smith yells as teachers slowly enter the large, empty room.