April 1995

This Issue
Vol. 06, Issue 07

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Harold Lang and Bill Mills can't complain. Their season tickets for Muncie Central High School's basketball games put them on the eighth row off the floor, almost dead-on center court. In a gym that holds 6,576, theirs are some of the best seats in the house.
It took only one of Consuella Lopez's journal entries to convince me that multiculturalism belongs in every American classroom.
When we talk about reforming schools, the goal is not choice, school-site autonomy, more resources, or more authentic forms of assessment. The goal is educating, and that means knowing what we're educating for. Purposes must be decided upon. As long as we avoid defining "why,'' our educational talk rings hollow. Even on the most practical level, until the kids know the destination, getting there will be hard. And there's no way they can know if their parents and their teachers don't know. Too often we don't.
Ruben Perez will forever divide his life into two periods: before Dec. 1, 1994, and after. Prior to that date, Perez was a little-known assistant principal at Denver's Horace Mann Middle School, which sits in a quiet residential neighborhood just northwest of the city's booming downtown. During his two and a half years at the school, the 41-year-old New Mexico native had taken his job as chief disciplinarian seriously. He had started a "Crimestoppers Fund'' to reward students who snitched on troublemakers. He was known to suspend students who were caught fighting or talking back to their teachers. And if he didn't always see eye to eye with Horace Mann's principal, Martha Guevara, Perez felt he had strong support from the school's 50 teachers when it came to matters of discipline, and he was proud of his track record. "Things have changed since I stepped into this building,'' he told me.
In the battle for the hearts and minds of America's public schoolchildren, old-line traditionalists and reform-minded progressives are embroiled in a seemingly endless knock-em-down brawl. The traditionalists tend to favor order, strong-headed teachers, and exacting standards. For progressives, on the other hand, learning is like the blooming of a flower: It can never be compelled, only tended by nurturing teachers. The former talk of structure, time on task, and drill and practice. The latter speak of freedom, student-initiated projects, and authentic assessment. In newspaper columns and educational journals and books, the two sides snipe at each other, insisting that their view is better than the other's.