March 1994

This Issue
Vol. 05, Issue 06

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Like miniature billboards, the office doors of college professors advertise the person who works on the other side. Among the long rows of offices at the University of IllinoisChicago's Department of Education, Bill Ayers' door stands out for its cheerful iconoclasm.
A Ticket To Ride On 'Information Superhighway'

In a move that could dramatically change the way schools use technology, two leading telecommunications companies in January announced a partnership to link a quarter of the nation's schools to the sophisticated electronic networks they are building. If completed, the proposed plan will provide millions of students and teachers with free access to the much-publicized "information superhighway.''

It's 9:30 a.m. at James J. Ferris High School in Jersey City, N.J., and as the bell rings for a change of classes, a river of students washes by me in the hallway. Some of the students move in pairs, laughing about a joke or some teenage embarrassment. Others walk alone, eyes straight ahead, already thinking about, or worried about, the next class. Two friends coming from different directions slap hands in greeting and stop to talk. Another couple, clearly boyfriend and girlfriend, walk with arms wrapped around each other, their backpacks knocking. Some lope by in the "urban gangsta'' slouch. Others push through the doors to have a cigarette outside.
Truth And Betrayal

It is ironic that the photograph on page 27 in the January issue of Teacher Magazine could be the print of the photograph of Eliot Wigginton that I took at a conference in Athens, Ga., on July 21, 1991. Wigginton was keynote speaker, and I was impressed with his eloquent words about teaching and the profession. I bought a copy of Sometimes a Shining Moment, brought it home, and read every word.

The English/language arts curriculum is lost. It has wandered into marshy wetlands of feelings and introspection. Its traditional subject matter, literature, has been pushed aside and been replaced by subjectless reading and writing skills.
Late last September, as Russian troops and anti-reform hard-liners faced off in the streets around the Russian White House, I found myself in the safety and quiet of a Moscow school. The experience was symbolic in a way. Struggling to build a fledgling democracy out of the ruins of Communism, the Russian Federation teeters on the edge of anarchy. It staggers under the weight of spiraling inflation, searing ethnic strife, and fierce political infighting, sometimes bordering on civil war.
A Delaware Superior Court judge has ordered the Indian River school board to take another vote on whether to dismiss Adele Jones, the mathematics teacher whose firing last year attracted national media attention. [See "The High Price Of Failure,'' October 1993.]
Likewise, the producers of CBS's Beakman's World, another science show for the MTV generation, pay homage to Mr. Wizard with two wisecracking penguin puppets named Don and Herb. Don Herbert first appeared on NBC's Watch Mr. Wizard in the early 1950s, and the latest incarnation of his show, Mr. Wizard's World, still appears on the Nickelodeon cable channel.
The drafts Aieta read covered the study of history, geography, and civics. In all, they contained 439 pages.

Aieta read them for two reasons. First, because he feels it is part of his job as chairman of the social studies department at Hamilton-Wenham High School in Gloucester, Mass. But he also read them because he is wary of those outside his profession telling him what to teach.

As Feynman's mother obviously knew, knowing how to ask questions is essential to learning. But it presumes that there is someone available to listen and respond. As a teacher at Mary McLeod Bethune School in Central Harlem, I've learned a lot about the value of listening. One experience stands out.
Students could learn from her books, for example, that Queen Elizabeth I of England brushed her teeth with sugar or that Spain's Queen Isabella passed a law forbidding Indians from taking too many baths. Some of the stories would be humorous; others would be adventurous. And along the way, young readers would learn history. "We shouldn't make kids read any books we wouldn't want to read ourselves,'' says Hakim, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va.
As I watched my son, James, board the school bus for his first day of kindergarten, I thought of a boy named Tony.