Accountability; History Textbooks Receive a Failing Grade ©

A New York Times article, “Schoolbooks Are Given F’s in Originality,” caught my attention.  It stated that two of this nation’s most prominent history textbooks were virtual duplicates.  The authors were not the same; however, the words within these books were.  I was not totally surprised to see this, for I have often mused, “Who writes our history?”  We read the words within textbooks, repeat these, and recognize the specifics as fact.  Yet, how do we know that what we read is true.  According to the New York Times,  much of what is presented is not as it appears.

Authors and academician whose names appear on the textbook cover do not pen what is within.  Dead authors do.  Ghostwriters compose even more; their contributions are expansive.  These indistinct individuals construct a convention.  Then we, a trusting public, accept what these unknowns inscribe.  What most of us believe is valid is not a universal veracity.

Things change in the translation, much to the chagrin of noted authors.  When told that text within his book, “America: Pathways to the Present,” was essentially the same as that found in “A History of the United States,” written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian Daniel J. Boorstin, Brooks Mather Kelley, and Ruth Frankel Boorstin, author, Historian Allan Winkler, stated “They were not my words.”  He continued, “It’s embarrassing.  It’s inexcusable.”  Yet, he excused it.

Professor Winkler said he understood the editorial perils of textbook writing, but wanted to reach a wider audience.  He said he was not motivated by money.  Named authors share royalties, generally 10 to 15 percent of the net profits, on each printing of the text, whether they write it or not.

Allan Winkler, a Historian at Miami University of Ohio, who supposedly wrote the 2005 edition of “Pathways,” book with Andrew Cayton, Elisabeth I. Perry, and Linda Reeder, was now making history, though not necessarily writing it.

According to The New York Times, much of the text offered in the 2005 high school editions of each of these history textbooks was identical.  In discussing the September 11, 2001 tragedy or the Persian Gulf wars the verbiage was effectively the same.  We might conclude history no longer guides our textbook writings; power and money do.  Surprise!  Significant stories of eons gone by now must be short, sweet, and yes, even stup**.

The American Textbook Council reports, the problem is

what educators, critics, and journalists informally refer to as “dumbing down.”  Many history textbooks reflect lowered sights for general education.  They raise basic questions about sustaining literacy and civic understanding in a democratic society and culture.  Bright photographs, broken format and seductive color overwhelm the text and confuse the page.  Typeface is larger and looser, resulting in many fewer words and much more white space.  The text disappears or gets lost.  Among editors, phrases such as “text-heavy,” “information-loaded,” “fact-based,” and “non-visual” are negatives.  A picture, they insist, tells a thousand words.

What appears in black, white, and is read all over is not as it appears. Authors are not as noted, and facts are flimsy.

As editions pass, the names on the spine of a book may have only a distant or dated relation to the words between the covers, [it is] diluted with each successive edition.

This according to people within the publishing industry.  Authors themselves make similar assertions.

Again, the American Textbook Council states,

Textbook content is thinner and thinner, and what there is, it is increasingly deformed by identity politics and pressure groups.

Apparently, Political Action Committees produce much of the literature.  Politicians exert their power; they want those with these groups to vote for them.  Money and the market are influential. A contract with a major school district is worth tens of millions of dollars in profit.  If a State Department adopts a textbook series, the bucks will surely pour in.  Publishing is a business and we know businesses have their own self-interest at heart.

Asking academicians to document a dynamic occurrence or two can deplete profits, and that would not be economically wise.  Therefore, it is rarely done anymore.  Historians may write the first edition, from there on, no one knows who authors a text.

Professor Winkler, one of the authors of “America: Pathways to the Present,” said he and his co-authors had written “every word” of the first edition, aiming to teach American history from a sociological perspective, from the grass roots up.  But, he said, in updated editions, the authors reviewed passages written by freelancers or in-house writers or editors.

He said the authors collaborated on their last major revision before September 11, 2001, working with editorial staff members in Boston.  But he said that after the attacks, he was not asked to write updates and was not shown revisions.

“There was no reason in the world to think that we would not see material that was stuck in there at some point in the future,” Professor Winkler said.  “Given the fact that similar material was used in another book, we are really profoundly upset and outraged.”

However, this practice is not a new one.

Susan Buckley, a longtime writer and editor of elementary and high school social studies textbooks who retired after 35 years in the business, said that “whole stables” of unnamed writers sometimes wrote the more important high school textbooks, although in other instances, named authors wrote the first editions.  In elementary school textbooks, Ms. Buckley added, named authors almost never write their own text.

She said even if named authors did not write the text, they had an important role as scholars, shaping coverage and reviewing copy.

What that role might be is illusive.  It escapes many that read of this situation.

Nevertheless, the concept and customs do not go unnoticed.  The watchful eye of William Cronon, a Historian at the University of Wisconsin, Madison is aware of what is happening in the textbook publishing world.  Mr. Cronon authored the statement on ethics for the American Historical Association.

He said, textbooks are corporate-driven collaborations efforts.  The publisher governs the market.  They have well-defined rights to hire additional writers, researchers, and editors.  They may make major revisions without the authors’ final approval.  The books typically synthesize hundreds of works without using footnotes to credit sources.  The reason for these declaratory privileges is profit and a conciliatory stance to those in power.

Professor Cronon affirms,

“This is really about an awkward and embarrassing situation these authors have been put in because they’ve got involved in textbook publishing.”

Textbook publishing is an industry like all others; the driving force is the desire to increase earnings.  Publishers must be innovative, imaginative; yet, they need not be truly instructive.  It is assumed educators will do that.  The printers of textbooks create a market regardless of a need.  Publishing houses know they have a captive audience.  Curriculums change little from semester to semester.  However, the text is altered regularly.  The publisher must create a demand so that they can offer a supply.  They have bills to pay.

In a recent Washington Post article, Textbook Prices On the Rise, journalist Margaret Webb Pressler reported,

the California Student Public Interest Research Group found that the average release time between textbook editions is 3.8 years, regardless of whether the information has changed since the previous version.  Of the textbooks surveyed, new editions cost 58 percent more than the older version, rising to an average cost of $102.44.

Publishing corporate bigwigs cut corners as they relate to production and quality; however, they never lower the prices.  School districts know this, as do college students.  Again, according to the Washington Post,

The National Association of College Bookstores says wholesale prices of college textbooks have risen nearly 40 percent in the past five years.  And students are finding that many of the same books are sold overseas at much lower prices.

Yes, textbook publishing is quite beneficial.  The printer of these volumes realizes great earnings.  Textbook writing can also be quite a prize; authors satisfy their yearnings.  A textbook writer may achieve fame and perhaps, further his or her fortune. Allan Winkler acknowledges this.

“I want the respect of my peers,” Professor Winkler said.  “I’ve written monographs, biographies,” but these reach a limited audience.  “I want to be able to tell that story to other people, and that’s what textbooks do.”

Schoolbooks do tell a substantial story, though it may not be the tale Mr. Winkler or we expected.

Thus, I ask again, “Who writes our history?”  The answer is, publishers, guided by profits, politicians promoting favorable policies, pressure groups, then historians.  After all, Historians seeking acknowledgment from their peers do submit their anecdotes; however, these contributions are less important.  Over time, historical accounts will be lost, just as our past is.  Apparently, profits and power are our only presents [presence.]

• Author and Professor, James Loewen was kind enough to visit Be-Think and read this exposé.  He offered his reflections, and I realized I was remiss in acknowledging Mr. Loewen in my missive.  Now, I wish to present this prominent researcher and writer.

With thanks to James Loewen, the staff of the New York Times became aware of the conundrum existing in our schools.  Dr. Loewen disclosed the fact that high school Social Science textbooks are not as they appear to be.  It was his awareness for the sad the state of affairs that enhanced the knowledge of others.  I wish to publicly acknowledge a wise and wonderful scholar, James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, Lies Across America, and now Sundown Towns.  Please visit the James Loewen webpage and ponder further.

Read What is Written, if you choose . . .

Schoolbooks Are Given F’s in Originality, By Diana Jean Schemo. The New York Times. July 13, 2006
“America: Pathways to the Present,” By Andrew R. L. Cayton, Elisabeth Israels Perry, Linda Reed, Allan M. Winkler
“A History of the United States,” written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Historian Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, Ruth Frankel Boorstin
Allan Winkler, Organization of American Historians
Daniel J. Boorstin 1914-2004 The Library of Congress
America: Pathways to the Present, This Prentice Hall “History” Text Is Essentially a Propaganda Tract By John Fonte. The Textbook League.
Widely Adopted History Textbooks American Textbook Council.
American Textbook Council.
Testimony of Gilbert T. Sewall, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. American Textbook Council. September 24, 2003
Doing It by The Book, Textbook Publishers Profiting from Students’ Loss. By Tim Paulson. Corporate MOFO.
Textbook Prices On the Rise, Frequent New Editions, Supplemental Materials Drive Up Costs, By Margaret Webb Pressler. Washington Post. Saturday, September 18, 2004
California Student Public Interest Research Group
Frequently Asked Questions About Textbooks The Association of American Publishers (AAP)
Directory of Publishers and Vendors, Education Publishers, AcqWeb.
Getting Started Creating A Textbook, By David A. Rees, Southern Utah University. Society of Academic Authors.
When Government Writes History, A Memoir of the 9/11 Commission. By Ernest R. May. The New Republic. May 16, 2005

Isolation. Insulation. The Go-Go Garage Society and Its Islands ©

copyright © 2006 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink. or BeThink.org

Originally Published on Monday June 26, 2006 at 10:00:00 AM EDT

Days ago I was scanning My Left Wing and saw a diary that drew me in, “I Look at All the Lonely People.”  The author, Eugene, stated “I’ve never been one to have many close friends . . . I am very, very choosy with who I care to spend my time with, who I open up to.”  I thought, “Me too!”  I have been very selective all of my life and it has served me well.  Eugene’s words peeked my curiosity; thus, I continued.

As his article expanded, I discovered that he was discussing a recently released study, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades.”  This report revealed people in America no longer have the close ties they once did.  A quarter of the population has no one they confide in.  Most persons are fortunate to have one close friend, perhaps two.  Intimacies within families are not what they once were, or at least they are not as they were once believed to be.  People in America feel alone and isolated.  Interesting; now, I am among the “norm” and yet, simultaneously, still far from it.

  • People have a smaller number of confidants in 2004 than they had in 1985.
  • In 1985, most persons claimed to have three close friends; now they have two or less.
  • Twenty-five percent of the respondents said there was no one that they would turn to in times of trouble.

I think of myself as a loner.  I have very close friendships, many have lasted a lifetime. I am interested in people, anyone, and everyone.  Still, I am discriminating.  I want a genuine closeness or I want none.  I am extremely independent, autonomous, and some say I am a free spirit. I need no one.  I am not a leader; nor am I a follower.  I believe in communities; yet, I do not seek them.  I accept that I am a part of a universal village.  I am I; I think that is best or at least it is best for me.

However, social scientists and authors of this recently released study might disagree and they have reason to, Professors, Lynn Smith-Lovin, Miller McPherson, and Matthew E. Brashears are concerned that Americans no longer have a sense of community, neighborhood, or kinship.  We have become fragmented.  These sociologists state a lack inclusion hurts our social and psychological well-being.  I agree with this creed.

Still, I prefer my dichotomy of an existence, a separation between seeking support for emotional matters and not for physical.  I recognize that each is necessary.  I acknowledge community and connections are vital, even if, at times, I do not engage as completely as I might.  Communities provide in ways that nothing else can.  I share my story to illustrate this belief.

Throughout my life, whether, I had someone to support me when I had a physical need or not, I would not ask for assistance.  As I stated, during times of emotional crisis, I would turn everywhere.  I absolutely will engage when I am feeling confused.  Fortunately, I have cultivated true friends for such occasions.  However, physically, I prefer taking care of myself.

Twice in my life, I experienced an injury.  On each occasion, I needed the assistance of others.  This was difficult for me.  I rather not ask for help; nor do I wish to accept it.

I do not believe in accidents.  I think everything happens for a reason. At the time of these incidents, I chose to accept that I needed to learn from these experiences of asking for and receiving help.  I thought I had, at least a little; however, it took months for me to assess the rationale for this next event.

Years ago, I moved into a condominium.  It was my first experience of “home ownership.”  I could not afford much and I wanted to stay in the community I loved.  I had lived in an apartment in Irvine, California for eight and one half years.  I purchased my new home exactly one mile down the road.  Prices are high in Orange County, California, particularly in a desirable city such as Irvine.  The place I purchased did not have a garage.  In this garage-society, I wanted one.  Still, I knew, for a time sacrifices must be made.

Shortly after I moved in the Association passed out a poll; it asked whether we, as residents wanted a garage and what would we pay for it.  Thirty-nine percent indicated they did want more than the pre-existing carports and the price proposed seemed reasonable.  I was among these, the minority.  Fifty one percent said no and they had their reasons.

Among my nearest neighbors, most of whom had lived there for well over a decade, the vote was no.  We were told that in three years, we would be polled again.  Aesthetically, the carports were ugly; nonetheless, I grew to love these.  Each day, accidentally, and on purpose, those in the neighborhood would met and greet each other in the carports.

Many of us were on similar schedules.  Mike would sit curbside and have a smoke throughout the day.  Our homes were on walking paths and did not face a street per se.  Therefore, it was natural to use the door closest to the car as an entrance or exit way.  Children did this; they brought their friends in through the back door.  Neighbor did the same.  If they wanted to share a thought, converse of the day, or borrow a cup of sugar, they approached from the rear.  The alleyway was a busy thoroughfare.

It did not take long before I appreciated being garage-less.  Though I never felt truly close to my neighbors in those first two years, we were far more than cordial.

Then, while less than a mile from home, I was hit hard.  I was in a very serious car accident.  The Great-Gray-Girl, what some think of as an automobile lost her life, as she worked to save mine.  [Oh, the tears flow.  She was truly my friend and we were connected.]  I was badly injured.  I broke my sternum, four ribs, and I reluctantly say there was great damage to my heel.  I will not share the details.  I do not want that thought to be part of my reality.

What is part of my reality is, I am among the 44 to 50 million, depending on whose numbers you prefer, that does not have health insurance.  Nevertheless, I spent days in the hospital.  This was an experience in itself and though I was eventually released, I was told I would not be allowed to walk for approximately six months.

Those that know me recognize that my lying in bed was not likely.  Still I could not apply any weight to my foot, leg, or heel, and crutches gave me no stability.  With the abdominal injuries, the pain was too great.  I elected to crawl.

I was housebound and extremely restricted.  I lived alone.  My father did fly out from the Midwest to help me; however, he could only give me a few days.  We wondered; what would I do.

For those not familiar with California, particularly in the megalopolis that is Southern California, people are known for being impersonal.  Neighbors do not know those living adjacent to them.  I recall at work one day co-workers mused, the only time they saw their neighbors was during an obligatory Christmas gathering.  I knew that my experience was different, though I never expected what occurred.

While still in the hospital I contacted a friend of mine.  We swam together, almost daily for years; I knew she would miss me if I did not show at the pool.  She visited me in the hospital and offered her help.  She was more than there for me.  Helen took me to the doctors, did all my food shopping, as a retired nurse she was able to teach me to walk again when I was more able.  She did so much to assist me in my recovery.  However, I would never ask her to play nursemaid in my every waking moment.

My father worried, how would I care for myself?  Who would make my meals, feed the kitties, change the litter, just help me to make my life work.  One day, just before he needed to return to his home, he was out in the carport.  He was on his way to run an errand.  My father was entering his car when my neighbor Laura approached him.  She asked of me.  She knew something was wrong.

While I was in the hospital, Laura noticed friends of mine had come to feed the kitties.  My car was gone.  She saw me return to the house and observed I was not in the best of conditions.  My vehicle never returned; my father stayed, she was concerned and expressed this to my Dad.

My father shared the situation and voiced his fear for my being home alone once he left.  Laura said to fear not.  She immediately contacted all my neighbors and drew up a plan.  The entire block coalesced.  For the first month someone fed me breakfast, another lunch, a third gave me dinner.  Laura sat with me for hours every evening so that I might bathe safely.

I need to add; I do not eat processed food, none at all.  Therefore, preparing meals for me was more than dashing off to McDonald’s.  People cooked, cleaned fruit and vegetables.  They worked.  Laura’s daughter gathered my mail and emptied my trash.  Others did other tasks.  Each day was an event, a never-ending chain of care.  By the second month, I could prepare some meals though not all; dinner was too complex.  Mike a noteworthy chef was there to create gourmet delicacies, just for me.  Laura retained her post at bath time for three and one half months.  Evening time with her family was devoted to me.  Heels do not heal quickly.

During my time of need, many of my friends and neighbors did much to help me.  They were there for me each and every day in ways I never imagined. Their giving of themselves meant and still means so much!  There are no words to express how significant and magnificent this was and is to me.  Again, the tears flow.

My father flew in every five or six weeks to assist and relieve others temporarily.  There was no money exchanged.  Actually for a short time, I tutored Laura’s daughter in math so that I might earn money.  I was unable to walk or drive for five months.  For all that time, people assisted me.  There was never a complaint.  Years later, the neighbor experienced another grief.  A young man passed; it was unexpected.  Again, we all reached out and were there for each other.

I discovered as this study concludes, when people are more connected, as a whole, they feel safer and more secure.  Oddly, coming from me, a person can receive comfort without loosing one’s independence.  You can still say, yes, please help me, or no, I need to do this myself.

People enjoy helping others, they do not necessarily feel a need to overpower or overwhelm another.  From my experience, we all want to give and receive help; however, we may not know how.  As society changes, we have fewer exemplars to teach us.

Since 1985, the number of family members in the paid labor force has increased.  Women are working in larger numbers.  Many children are also employed.  So much time is spent away from home; there are few opportunities to form genuine, true, and life long relationships even with family members.

Familial togetherness seems to be a thing of the past.  Divorce is pervasive.  Children are shipped from one household to another.  They do not have a single bed to call their own.  Bedtimes and even siblings may vary from week to week.  “True” friendships are viable on screens. This takes a toll on the psyche of a young mind.  It would weigh heavily on me at any age.

The concept of dinnertime is antiquated.  Families no longer feast together daily; some are not even doing a weekly meal in the company of their kin.  Rarely do we witness a once traditional pattern, parents, and siblings sitting together while enjoying a meal and each other’s company.  This is sad and troublesome.  Much can be learned from our relatives when we slowly dine and discuss life together.  We glean a sense of who they are; trust grows.

Meals are now eaten on the run, at work, at a desk, while driving; often people eat alone, not necessarily because they want to, but because they feel so alone.  Gone are the days when a meal was cooked at home, many sharing in the preparation.  Even when a family shares a space and a time for dinner, the menu differs for each individual. Unity is lost.  It may seem a little nuance; however, I wonder if it is a reflection of a broader issue.

The character of conversations has changed and this might be another reason Americans perceive a distance between themselves, their blood relatives, and their neighbors.  Cell phones, e-mails, and the Internet dominate, in this culture of connectedness.  Yet, these might contribute to the disconnect we experience. Tête-à-tête are chatty.  Substance is missing.  People have little to no time or experience for genuine friendships.  They are flying from one situation to another.

Parents are working.  It takes two or more incomes to survive.  Thriving is rarely a consideration in today’s workforce.  Jobs are at a premium; they are hard to find, and it is a challenge to keep them.  Your neighbor or your associate is no longer a friend or a confidant.  They are the person that might “steal” your not too well-cemented position at the company.  For the most part, be it in friendships, within our families, or even at work, Americans do not have a sense of security or stability.  All they know is an overscheduled life style.

We, as Americans sense a need for something.  We search.  We seek; rarely do we stop long enough to discover, what we longed for all along was there, right in our backyard.

  • I am so conflicted; I want to share the names of all those that helped me.  Yet, I was hesitant to verbalize the names that I did offer.  There are so many of you that gave months of your life to me.  I cannot begin to thank you enough!!!  I love you all.  You are very special beings.

    The Initial Inspirations For This Writing . .

    Listen to an Interview with co-author of the study, Lynn Smith-Lovin of Duke University…

  • Social Isolation: Americans Have Fewer Close Confidantes, Debbie Elliott All Things Considered, National Public Radio. June 24, 2006
  • Read One of My Personal Favorite Writings on Balancing Work and Family…

  • My Family Leave Act. [Op-Ed] Robert B. Reich. New York Times. November 8, 1996
  • References For Reflection. . . .

    Failing Children, Accountability and Testing [FCAT]

    © copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    Dear reader, as you review this treatise, please consider, the parallels.  Pedagogy and poverty are poignant concerns in Florida and throughout the United States.

    The results were announced; Florida students overwhelmingly failed the science portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT].  More than two thirds of the population tested below grade level.  Science instructors are looking at the recent test results as an opportunity.  They have a chance to improve their curriculum.  The Science studies departments are planning more hands-on instruction.  They intend to attend seminars on how to best prepare students in the summer.

    J.P. Keener, the supervisor of secondary science education for Broward County promotes the positive.  This official says, ????we’re in a good position to line everything up to attack this exam seriously.”  Then, the administrator adds, “Now, the last part is the kids, and that’s the unpredictable part.”

    The Broward County Director stresses the science test is not and will not be tied to graduation.  He extrapolates; students will have little incentive to excel.  However, even when an assessment test is attached to the ultimate reward, students in Florida still fail repeatedly.  Pupils that were unable to pass the mandatory FCAT high school exit exam after one or two trials are allowed to take the exam again.  Reports reveal that even when students have taken the tests on multiple occasions; a large number do not demonstrate mastery.

    The Miami Herald reports, “Only a small and shrinking fraction of students who retook the state’s graduation test managed to pass.” 

    Statewide, about 11,600 students — 8 percent of the state’s seniors — are expected to miss out on a diploma solely because of failing the exam, according to Education Commissioner John Winn.  Last year, that number was about 7 percent.

    Just 12 percent of seniors and 14 percent of juniors passed the reading test in Miami-Dade County, continuing a steady decline.  In Broward County, 13 percent of seniors, and 19 percent of juniors passed.

    Results on the math test were slightly higher, with passing rates ranging from 20 percent to 35 percent in South Florida.


    Danielle Boyer, Chairwoman of the Social Studies Department at Miami’s Edison Senior High suggested, ????they’re worried a lot and stressed a lot.”  In her school, there is a large foreign-born population.

    Ms. Boyer spoke of how they struggle.  She said, “They want to obtain their high school diploma; they understand its vital importance.”  Nevertheless, these students still are unable to pass a test they have taken before.  Chairwoman Boyer then offered, ??many students in the high-poverty Little Haiti neighborhood must work or care for siblings, which cuts into their studying.’

    However, I wonder if all those that fail are new immigrants.  I have personally observed and experienced many new émigrés excel.  Education is important to them and they see this as a path towards prosperity.  I offer this recent New York Times article as evidence of my contention.

  • Immigration Math: It’s a Long Story, By Daniel Altman.  June 18, 2006

    Within the text David Card, a Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley says, “You can expect a child of immigrants whose parents have 10 years of education to do a lot better than a child of natives whose parents have 10 years of education.”  Card continues, being a child of immigrants, “sort of boosts your drive.”

    My suspicion is the country of origin may play a role however, as Professor Card and others note the structure of the family definitely influences what will come.  Experts contend, as I too experience and believe, a more important factor is poverty.

    Currently, nineteen percent of the children in Florida live below the poverty line.  They have not seen prosperity in their personal lives, and many struggle to imagine that it could be real.  Approximately ten percent of Florida families are defined as poverty stricken.  Close to five percent of married couples are at or below the poverty line.  Life in Florida can be grim.

    I have lived in this state for seven months, and sadly, the results of these tests do not surprise me.  I had reason to spend time in some of the schools and on each occasion, I was astounded.  Granted, thus far, I have only been in the public schools and a large portion of the population in this South Eastern state receives their training in private institutions; nevertheless, there is an attitude here that seems pervasive.  I will identify it by quoting the oft-heard statement, “Welcome to Florida.”

    Each time I struggle to locate a product or a person to assist me in completing a project this declaration is uttered.  This sentence is rarely recounted with a sense of sincerity; it is delivered sarcastically.  People here accept that if you need a service, supply, or a solution to any problem, you are not likely to find these here in Florida.

    In schools, from what I have witnessed, there is an assumption among many students, “school is just” a stomping ground, a weigh station; it holds no real worth or value.  Pupils empathically assure me, “kids will be kids.”  Learners I spoke with assured me they have no interest in being treated as wise and thinking individuals; they rather be thought of as “children.”  They say aloud, there is far less responsibility if others think of you as a youngster, a teenager, or an adolescent.  Few have serious expectations for them selves.  They do not want others to “require” “too much” of them.

    Within the framework that is their life, they cannot truly imagine more than what is.

    “I am still young,” is an oft-heard mantra.  The inference is I will have time to learn later, “maybe when I am in my thirties,” said one student.

    A few students discussed their education with me; the consensus was it is not that important in their lives.  Many learners expressed a lack of opportunity.  Others wanted none.  They majority assumed they would work in a trade.  Few aspired to attend college.  A four-year degree was unthinkable.  Numerous pupils were surprised when I broached the subject.  Among those planning to enroll in a University, there was an amazing pre-occupation for play.  They said college and academics would come later.  For now, it seems, class lessons are not to be taken seriously, little is.  The future is too distant to consider.

    Fortunately, I did meet a lovely high school student on the Tri-Rail.  She was planning for her career and looking forward to college; she knew exactly where she wanted to go.  However, she was not as I typically encountered in this state.  Interestingly, she is among the masses that attend a private school here.  I strongly suspect the private pupil is another class of student.  Still, I worry.  Was the FCAT test given statewide; were private and public school students included in the results.  This possibility troubles me and I would hope it troubles those residing within this state.  I have spoken to a few and again I am told, “Welcome to Florida.”  Florida seems to think itself different and in some ways, it is.  However, I fear that it is not.

    In Florida, poverty and apathy may be more insidious, more obvious; yet, no less invasive than it might be elsewhere.

    Florida, with its triple “A” [AAA] credit rating is among the poorest states in the country.  The state has mega-money; the people living here do not.  This, I believe is among the many reasons that students in Florida struggle.

    According to A Research Report by Bruce Nissen and Jen Wolfe Borum, titled Working Poverty: Low Wage Workers in Florida,

    Florida is a low wage state and many in Florida are working full-time and still poor.  Women, minorities, and immigrants are all more likely to work and still not escape poverty.  Florida has an unusually high percentage of low-wage jobs, due to its tourist-related economy.  Even more children live in poverty. Fully 19% of Florida children lived in officially-defined poverty in the year 2003.

    The overall poverty rate for persons in Florida as measured in the 2000 Census was 12.5 percent.  This rate is slightly lower than in 1990 when 12.7 percent of the state’s residents lived in poverty.

    Despite a decline in the poverty rate, the number of persons living in poverty increased by nearly 22 percent during the decade and totaled just under 2 million persons in 2000.  The number living in poverty in 1990 was 1.6 million persons.

    Poverty rates varied greatly by age and by family composition.  While nearly one out of every five children in Florida lived in poverty in 1999 (17.6 percent), less than 1 in 10 of Florida’s 65 and older population had income below the poverty threshold (9.1 percent).  Older children, ages 5 through 17, had a poverty rate of 17.2 percent in 1999–lower than Florida’s youngest children but substantially higher than the elderly population.

    Poverty rates vary greatly by race.  Individuals who reported that their race was black alone were more likely to be living below the poverty level at all ages.  Black rates ranged from 2.3 times the white rate at ages 18-64 up to 3.6 times the white rate at ages 65-74.  Poverty rates for persons of all other races (including individuals who reported more than one race) fell between the rates for whites and blacks.

    “Florida has performed badly for quite some time.”  This from a report titled “Is Florida’s Economy Underperforming?” by Dr. Bruce Nissen of Florida International University, Center for Labor Research and Studies

    In March 2004, Nissen wrote

    It [Florida] is a low wage state by any standard.  Depending on the measure used (hourly wage, annual wage, median wage for a family of four, and so on) the state pays wages somewhere between 85% and 95% of national averages.  This usually places the state somewhere in the thirties out of the fifty states.

    Money in Florida is a beguiling dynamic.  There are those that have ample amounts of dough and those that do not.  The disparity is astounding.  Eighty-percent of workers are employed in low income, service jobs.  Twenty percent do much better.  Many of the wealthiest persons, nation-wide retire here; yet they do not have school age children and therefore may demonstrate little interest in education issues/funding.

    If a student comes from money, they receive more.  Money buys.  A pupil marinating in poverty will drown in it.  The rich will receive a richer education.  The poor will plunge further into oblivion.

    In Florida, in inner cities nation-wide, and other poverty-stricken areas educators are distressed; however, in Florida, the accepted and expected apathy looms larger.  Many have given up, students among these.

    Still, experts do as they do.  They evaluate the system and the science scores from a pedagogical point of view.  They look at the superficial, the tally, and teaching solutions.  Some of this talk is good and necessary.  I agree; we, as educators must look at the validity of standardized testing and teaching to the tests.  We must assess the systems within Florida.


    Academicians must study the notion that says, providing students with a two-tiered testing system is optimal.  We must wonder whether Florida is the model it is purported to be by those that support uniform testing.  Are two types of testing, low and high stakes examinations enhancing understanding; do they advance test-taking skills.  Is teaching to these [silly] tests worthwhile?  Are students learning lessons that will last a lifetime if curriculum is rote?

    Educators must continue to promote creative curriculums.  Obviously, those that are not imaginative, inspired, and inventive are not working.  Still, I think the science scores must be evaluated more broadly.  we as a society must be honest with ourselves.  Education does not begin or end in our schools.  What happens in our nation’s homes does matter.  Parents and poverty teach more than professional educators might.  To be truly effective, I think we, as a society must evaluate education as a whole.  What an individual learns at home, on the streets, from proprietors, and from social order teaches more than we might think. Florida’s culture teaches its students to not expect much.  What happens in the students’ world cannot be separated.  The sum is far greater than the parts.

    Plunge Into Pedagogy and Poverty . . .

  • Dreams Live and Die

     

    Another Student, Similar Vision or Lack Thereof. Matt Belin in Iowa. Photographer, Chris Coudron

    &copy copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    He was young, relatively speaking, and old, so old, he had already given up on his future. Nevertheless, the flame flickered brightly as he shared what he wished it would be with me.  He stood close.  He was turning in his project.  He was not the first to complete his work. Actually, he was among the last. The students had been working on this assignment for days. It was due in ten minutes.  Work not turned in on time, would be considered late.  Grades could drop.  Yet, that was not his deepest concern.  In that moment, he worried about my future.

    This gentle man was housed within a class that had been a thorn in their teacher’s side.  I was sitting in for the regular classroom Instructor on that day, the last day to complete the project.  During this final workday, students had  an opportunity to dream.  If the work was done, they could watch a video, an adventure film, and immerse them selves in a world of fantasy.  If the task was not yet finished, work, work, work would be the agenda.  However, the Teacher had said to me, that once most were done, the video could be played.  The others would be required to continue their endeavor while the hum  was heard in the background.

    In this group, none of the options was appreciated.  They wanted to walk, to talk, and to play; however, this was not in my plan.  Commotion is not my vision for a classroom.  Nor was chaos what I needed.

    I wanted quiet order.  I stated this aloud before class began.  For me, active, productive, and creative minds are as I crave.  I give pupils the time and space to flow, to self-actualize, as Social Scientists’ might say.  they can gel in the inner sanctums of their minds.  I shared with the students, though they personally may not wish to excel, there are those that do.  I want to ensure that they can.  In harmony, the class grumbled.

    This crowd voiced no desire to shine.  Should one exist, it was well hidden.

    Since these students were not ones I had a lasting relationship with, I felt that I had very little time to influence what was in their minds.  I could only guide behaviors and introduce possibilities.

    It was the last period of the day.  As the movie played, I quietly did my own work.  I brought my power-book from home.  I watched the pupils, not the pulp-fiction, as I typed away.  I did interact, though there was little to interact with.  Some students were, finally, working.  Others were indeed viewing.  The room, at last was void of noise, with the exception of the sounds coming from the screen.  Time passed and then it occurred.

    The period was coming to a close.  Learners turned their projects in slowly yet surely.

    He approached.  He handed me his papers and I offered my thanks.  He stayed close for a while and then said, “I like your computer.”  His words did not seem as envy, as much as understanding.  I told him of how I had wanted this laptop for more than a decade.  I could not spend the money, or would not.  Then circumstances demanded the purchase.  A long distance move had necessitated and my arrival in town after a tumultuous storm had postponed the possibility of my move into a home I purchased months earlier.   I took up occupancy in a hotel and would reside there for two and one-half months.  My life was in boxes, in storage.  Me, without a computer to meet my daily needs was unthinkable, not do-able.

    He said that he could relate. We chatted. I shared my dream and why the workstation seemed a must to me.  I told him of my passion for writing and my dream to do this exclusively.  I shared my fears.  He smiled.  Apparently, he had the same.  He told me of how his words could and did bring readers to tears.  He had scored among the best in the writing portion of the Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT.]  I asked; what was he planning to pursue in college to make his dream come true.

    He responded quickly, with little thought. He had already thoroughly assessed this decision.  He said, “I am not college material.”  He continued, “Possibly, I will to attend the community college and learn a trade.”  Then shyly he added, “I may work for the school newspaper.  I would like to do some sports writing  . . . and maybe more.”

    Not college material?  I expressed my doubt of that.  There was a quizzical look; it disappeared.  He became animated though still certain that furthering his education was not in the plans.  His eyes lit the room.  His skin sparkled.  His voice reverberated.  He began to tell me how much he loved to read.  He was working on a paper for one of his classes.  He researched much.  He was writing on the career of J.K. Rowlings’.  He recounted her life story, in depth and detail.  He spoke of the hard times she faced, her divorce, her children, and that she had been on welfare, all the time working on her books.  He was joyous for her success.  He read each of her books.

    He continued discussing her trials, tribulations, and tales.  The rejection she received, her perseverance, and his thrill that she thrived.  He was living her life as he told her story.  This sweet man was absorbed in his loves, his reading, and his writing.  Yet, he had no hopes, or at least he was told by some older and wiser adults not to.

    I was sad and happy.  I attempted to encourage him.  The irony is, earlier, he was cheering me on, telling me to believe in my dream and myself.  He wanted me to pursue my passion; perhaps he wanted this for each of us.  He and I were together, fearful, while willing and wanting to take on the world.  However, we both had been wounded by the words of others.  What people had said to us then and now advanced our uncertainties, quelled, or delayed our desires.  Those doubting statements were once or twice said to us; now, they were the ones we told ourselves.

    “Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”~ James Langston Hughes

    References for shared realities . . .

    Schools, New York Offers Housing Subsidies, Bribing Educators ©

    copyright © 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    Sadly, our schools and districts mirror the shortsightedness that permeates our society.  Solutions are simple and never novel.  We, as a people, rarely learn from our mistakes.  We repeat what was done, even if it did not work well in the past.  New York City Schools are an example of this.

    Today, the New York City School District offered “experienced” educators a gift; they are giving those that are willing to teach math or science in the inner city schools, a home, or at least the down payment on an abode.  New York City schools are in crisis, and are taking action.  Actually, they are reacting.  For I believe that actions are expressions of love, we react when we fear.  New York Schools, the Teachers Union, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg are running scared.  Thus, they seek solutions, shortsighted as these may be.

    Currently, New York City schools are experiencing a shortage of trained teachers. Science, Math, and Special Education instructors are badly needed.  The lack is greatest in the city’s most challenging schools, those in the inner city.  Trained personnel considers urban institutions far less appealing, therefore they go elsewhere.  Mayor Bloomberg is trying to change this.  He, the District, and the Union agree, offer trained personnel money and they will teach in our schools.

    As parents, we learn bribing a child does not work.  Children do not grow greater when rewards are superficial, financial, or external.  Enticements might excite a child, an adult, or an educator initially; however, ultimately reality sets-in.  What was once a bonus becomes a burden.  Expectations are tied to these and they do not feel good.  Early on, we may be willing to do what we disdain for a dollar; later we will not.

    As educators, we witness the short-lived stimulation of an external incentive.  Some of us realize that intrinsic rewards are authentically valuable.  Nevertheless, society teaches us tokens are attractive.  Even teacher education seminars spew this “truth.”  Vouchers may be appealing for a moment or two, and then the novelty wears off.  We conclude if we must suffer to receive a reward, it is not worth it.  If our minds, bodies, and hearts are overwhelmed while doing as we loathe, then any prize is not enough.

    However, in a district that spends $15 Billion a year, money may seem the only answer.  This district may be as an absent parent. They offer material possessions to their offspring to compensate for the fact that emotionally, they are not there for them.  This District, as many if not most, is not there for the teacher; nor is it available to the students.  Education no longer considers genuine learning; it focuses on administering, teaching to, and the taking of tests.

    Requirements for President Bush’s infamous, No Child Left Behind program amplify this.  These have taken a toll on scholarship.  Mr. Bush speaks of accountability.  In determining this, he and his comrades have created a structure that is void of learning and ignores the parameters that exist within our poorer and better schools.  Memorization, rote, and rules are the agendas in a kinder and gentler, benevolent Bush school.  In most educational establishments, students and teachers no longer experience a joy in teaching or learning. City schools suffer more severely.  Nevertheless, this strategy persists.  However, I digress, somewhat.

    No Child Left Behind is magnifies what we as a society have done to our schools.  We have made them into prisons. We corral our students into a “classroom” and then discourage them from learning.  Curriculums are “standardized.”  School buildings are often locked down, computers locked up, pupils and instructors are locked in.  Creative, productive minds are left with little stimulus.

    Books are often outdated, dry, and not readily available. Learners rarely relate to the material or the mentor. Teachers tend to be remote; some feel they have to be.  In truth, a genuine relationship between student and teacher is frowned upon.

    In “good” schools and in those that are not, classrooms are crowded.  Discipline might be merely a concept.  Chaos is all too frequently the norm; some call this cooperative learning.  Individual learning styles are usually ignored.  There is too little time; teachers must teach to that basic skills test.  Success on these is vital.  Teachers’ jobs are on the line.

    Parent involvement varies greatly.  To educator, administrator, and pupil, it can feel as too much or too little.  Instructors do a delicate dance and students’ needs are often lost in the shuffle.  For an empathetic tutor, this only adds to his or her frustration.

    Resentment, dread, antipathy, apathy, and antagonism fill the schoolhouses.  Everyone inside is on edge.  Staff, students, and teachers long to be free; they desire the luxury of thinking, feeling, and doing what brings them pleasure.  Ultimately, they are liberated.  They pass their classes, dropout or burnout.  All are outcomes of a system gone awry.

    An estimated 50 percent of all new teachers nationwide leave the profession within five years.  According to the Teacher Support Network,

    “In a survey of head teachers by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in May 2000, 40% of respondents reported having visited their doctor with a stress-related problem in the previous year. 20% considered that they drank too much and 15% believed they were alcoholics. 25% suffered from serious stress related health problems including hypertension, insomnia, depression and gastrointestinal disorders.”

    “Stress impacts greatly on teacher retention. A study conducted for the Times Educational Supplement in 1997 found that 37% of secondary vacancies and 19% of primary vacancies were due to ill-health, as compared to 9% of nursing vacancies and 5% in banking and the pharmaceutical industry.”

    A career as an educator is a dichotomy.  The respect is little, the responsibility great.  American society shows its teachers little understanding.  This profession is interesting to say the least.

    While it is nice to think as the New York Times article espouses, teachers are finally being honored and valued for their worth, this is not the case.  The incentives and stipends have strings, three years of service.  In other districts that have tried the same, monies must be paid back.  Service might be considered the same.  If the New York teachers leave before their contract is up, there are repercussions.

    This plan will cost the New York City Schools have a $15 million, a drop in their $15 billion budget.  I can only wonder why they never think to spend their dollars on improving conditions.  Physical structures remain in a state of disrepair, more importantly; effective educational practices are not adopted.

    Every endeavor in this District as in most seems a Band-Aid.  School districts, Administrators, Instructors, and parents focus on symptoms, short-term solutions and do not consider what truly caring for their progeny might look like.

    I believe that a thoughtful education considers the love of learning.  This is not encouraged or promoted in most classrooms.  Advancement is to the next grade is the goal.  We do not train our young to progress from factual repetitions of rote; nor do we allow our teachers to evolve.  We, as a society, and within our schools do not applaud the creative, productive, and imaginative mind.  We do not reward independence or innovation in our educators or pupils.  We want these bodies to just exist and do as they are told, even if we have to bribe them.

    Do I think that these “experienced” teachers that New York is now recruiting for their inner-city population will work effectively, will be happy in their new positions, or will serve the students well? No, I do not.

    Just as the student population, the teachers will want to fly, to feel fulfilled, and to grow.  They cannot do this in a system that is stuck in what does not work.  People are as plants; they do not grow healthy, wealthy or wise when they are locked in, locked down, locked up, and rarely see the light of day.  Money cannot motivate an instructor or a student more than a moment or two.  Three years in a school or a system that imposes improbable standards, isolates, and insulates intelligence is a very long time!

  • Predicting the Need for Newly Hired Teachers in the United States to 2008-09 Institute of Education Sciences
  • A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools Are We Losing the Dream? By Erica Frankenberg, Chungmei Lee and Professor Gary Orfield. The President and Fellows of Harvard College.
  • Teacher Burnout By Tanuja Surpuriya and Mark Jordan. Memphis Flyer. October 27, 1997
  • Teacher stress: a critical review of recent findings and suggestions for future research directions. By By Matt Jarvis. Teacher Support Network
  • No Child (except those who are part of statistically insignificant racial groups) Left Behind by Maria Luisa Tucker. Alternet. April 19, 2006
  • New York City Will Add Schools to Ease Overcrowding, Klein Says Bloomberg.com April 18, 2006
  • Q and A, In the spirit of cooperation David and Roger Johnson
  • City Will Offer Housing Subsidy to Lure Teachers, By David M. Herszenhorn New York Times. April 19, 2006.

    We destroy the love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty rewards–gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists or Phi Beta Kappa keys–in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else. –John Holt

  • Education. Empty Heads, Full Hearts

    © copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

    I have seen the look before, the focused eye, the stare full of hope.  Years ago, I thought it was fear and for some it was.  However, later many told me it was not for them.  Pupils told me where their minds were in those first moments, what they were thinking as I shared my classroom standards with them. Many said they were focused on my face, my words, and me.  Some stated that in the very first seconds they were scared; they had never heard a voice so certain and firm while still being so calm and caring. They were in awe.

    Shock filled their minds. There was no screaming, yelling, or rage; I was merely resolute.  I offered stories to explain my stance.  I asked if there are questions.  I requested that they participate.  I actively wanted to ensure that there was a complete understanding.  Students have said they appreciated this opportunity, the exchange.  They had heard the “rules” from other instructors; however, mine were different; they provided for choice. For most, my presentation was also unusual.  However, more than the vast majority understood my words.  I knew this by their behavior.

    Today, those gazes caught my attention again.  They continue to fill my mind.

    It has been a long time since I saw those stares.  I was living and working in an oasis.  I had forgotten.  For years, I taught in California, a state that rates low in education.  However, I taught only in exceptional pockets and my purse was full.  I saw students full of life and light.  They were energetic, enthusiastic, empathetic, and seeking enlightenment.  The students in Irvine, for the most part want to learn.  Parents are involved and encouraging.  Yes, there are exceptions; however these are a few and far between.  Those that are lost seem to have a lifetime of reasons to be so.

    I had forgotten. I had long ago accepted Irvine as the “norm.”  Then I moved.  I intentionally did my research.  I chose to live in an affluent community, one that I thought comparable to the Orange County oasis I had lived in for years.  Thus far, it is not.  There are similarities, and stark differences. There are not necessarily evident in a study of demographics or other statistics.

    I intentionally searched for a city with a college or two.  It seems from my observations and experience that youth seeking an education guide a greater community.  The young often have more buying power and influence that the elders, no matter where the locale.  Great minds gravitate to cities with Universities, at least that was my belief.  I saw this in Irvine.  I have yet to witness it here.

    As a child, I lived this.  My Mom always chose to live in cities full of culture.  She investigated, where were the educational institutions.  Each time Berenice decided to move, she would begin her search by asking where the professionals, intellectuals, and academics lived.  I did this too.  Admittedly, the weather was my guidepost; still, the essence of erudition was my mission.  I expected to find this in a population such as this; I have not.

    Today I entered a class. The students had never seen or experienced me before.  This was only my third day teaching in this city.  I began class as I always do; I shared my standards.  The climate in this class differed from my Irvine world, though I knew it would.  As I said this was my third day teaching in this city and in this state.  I am overwhelmed by what is not.

    I have discovered that here, unlike in California, private schools are extremely popular.  Perhaps that is where students similar to those I once knew are. I know not.  I do acknowledge that when I first heard of all the exclusive institutions, I thought this is as it is in California as well.  Now I wonder; is it?  In my neophyte state, wisdom says this is different.  As of this writing, I do not have enough information, though I plan to learn.  I will investigate, ask, read, look, and listen.  However, I digress.

    Today, the numerous looks of anticipation captured my attention. The unspoken thanks, the gratitude expressed by those that welcomed the stillness in the room, and the feeling that my standards were appreciated by those that reflected a desire to learn drew me in.  When there is a great contrast between those wanting knowledge and those lost in a world of whims, an observer can only be struck by those expectant eyes.

    When pupils push for the removal of a distracting and disruptive student, a teacher, a parent, an elder can be moved.  It is refreshing to realize that no mater what the situation, many still have what is too easily lost, the desire to learn.  As I drove home and thought of the day, an ancient song rang in my head.  The title, “Tears of a Clown.”  Granted the song speaks to a lost love; nevertheless, I think when we lose our love of learning, we are lost.  Our greatest love is gone, that pleasure we feel when we are growing greater, strong, and knowledgeable.

    I am glad and grateful; there are those that still hope.  This is good.  It is a pleasure to realize that given the opportunity to study in a focused manner, to be taught more than mere facts, or gain greater knowledge than conventional circumstances provide, students still choose to grab on, even if it is a novel experience.

    Resources that may be of interest . . .

  • Education Defined…Policy or Pupils Passionately Pursuing By Betsy L. Angert. Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)
  • Classroom Discipline Resources About
  • Improving Students’ Decision Making Skills By Robin S. Gregory and Robert T. Clemen
  • Students As Decision Makers Soundout
  • Inquiring Students Want To Learn, By Kim Howey. Brigham Young University Magazine
  • Parent Involvement in Schools! Education World, Incorporated. February 2, 2006
  • Study Shows Buying Power of Youth. iMedia Connection. September 08,2003
  • School District Demographics System Institute of Education Sciences U.S. Department of Education
  • Best Places To Live 2005 CNN Money
  • How Parents and Families Can Help Their Children Do Better in School. KidSource OnLine
  • Profiles of Private Elementary Day Schools & High Schools
  • Nurturing Children’s Natural Love of Learning By Jan Hunt, M.Sc. The Natural Child Project
  • Watts Revisited. Forty Years Later, Dreams Deferred ©

    “Forty years later, the schools in this part of town are among the lowest achieving anywhere in the city.
    Forty years later, the unemployment rate is the highest of anywhere in the city.”
    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

    August 11, 2005 was the anniversary of the infamous Watts riots.  There were celebrations, an acknowledgment that time had passed.  Yet, for most living in this area, time has stood still.  There was little or nothing to celebrate.  Life in the neighborhood is virtually the same. For those living in this Los Angeles community, some forty years have gone by and little has changed.

    The Watts area, a section of South Central Los Angeles, is still symbolic of life in the “slums” of America.  Poverty leads to greater poverty.

    Conditions today are as they were in August 1965, horrendous.  Then, more than half the residents were unemployed.  One quarter of the households were receiving welfare.  In 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa suggests circumstances are similar.

    Forty years ago, landlords were absent. Property-owners were typically white, well off, and would not want to be seen in such a slum.  Most residents lived in squalor.  Rat and roach invested homes were the “norm.”  Leaking roofs, cracked walls, and poor plumbing were common.  Buildings were not maintained. The idea of repairs, restoration, and renovation were whimsy.  These did not happen.

    Public transportation was not available in this part of town.  Residents were required to walk more than a mile merely to find employment, go to their jobs, or to purchase goods.  Shopkeepers, businessmen, and bankers took advantage of this.  Prices were higher and quality much lower in poverty stricken neighborhoods.  Interest rates were also adjusted; these did not favor a struggling clientele.

    Racial discrimination was rampant.  The police were suspicious of all Black citizens.  Surveillance was strong; law enforcement was always watching and waiting for African-Americans to do wrong. Police brutality was acceptable and occurred frequently.

    For local residents life was a struggle.  Surviving was barely possible; thriving was fantasy.  The Black population could not gain access to capital. Beginning a business venture was next to impossible. Improving one’s station in life was not even a dream.

    People in Watts felt as though they had no control over their own destiny. Resources were limited.  Negro’s were not represented in city government. African-American citizens had no power.  Though the right to vote was finally awarded to Black citizens in 1965, there was no reason to believe that things would different.

    In 2005, there are slight differences; however, life still looks grim!  Look for your self.  Read and reflect upon the following statistics. These numbers come from the Los Angeles Youth Opportunity Movement.

    UNEMPLOYMENT
    • In Watts, 22 percent are unemployed.  In other areas of Los Angeles the percentage is less than 7.
    • Employed residents typically work in low-skilled and low paying positions. In other areas of the city the numbers differ.  Most are gainfully employed in areas that require greater education, expertise, and pay a better wage.
    • 32 percent in the Watts residents work in production, transportation, or material moving occupations. In the city of Los Angeles only 15 percent work in similar circumstances.
    • Service occupations support much of Watts.  Rarely are residents found in professional and specialized stations.

    EDUCATION
    Educational attainment in Watts is lower on average than it is in any other area of Los Angeles. Upward motion and motivation are nil.  In some respects, numbers are declining.
    • The percentage of adults earning at least a Bachelor of Arts degree increased by only one percentage point from 1990 to 2000.
    • As of the 2000 census, 3 percent of adults in Watts have earned a BA degree; in the City of Los Angeles, 26percent of had achieved this feat.
    • 64percent of adults in this community do not have a high school diploma.
    • Nearly 40% of the adults in Watts have less than a 9th grade education.

      This number is 5 percent higher than in years past. Some speculate that this is a reflection of an increase in the immigrant population.

    POPULATION
    • Currently, more than 30 percent of the population is foreign-born.
    • Ten years ago, only 7.5 percent of Watts’ residents were immigrants.
    • 76 percent of immigrants now living in Watts arrived in this country within the past 20 years.
    • The population is no longer predominantly Black.
    • In 1990, the community was 58 percent Black and 43 percent Latino.
    • By 2000, 61 percent of the population was Latino, and 38 percent was Black.

    INCOME AND POVERTY
    • The median household income was $19,600 in 2000.
    • In the city of Los Angeles median household incomes were twice as high.
    • Per capita income in South Central Watts was $6,800 in 2000
    • In the city as a whole, inhabitants earned $20,700.
    • 46 percent of the persons living in Watts reluctantly embraced poverty.
    • Less than 23 percent in the city of Los Angeles, live in poverty.
    • 59 percent of children under 18 live in impoverished circumstances in South Central, Watts.
    •  In Los Angeles proper, the number of children under 18 living in poverty is 31 percent.
    • 24 percent of area households or half of the Watts’ citizenry received public assistance in 2000.

    HOUSING
    Housing in Watts is more affordable than it is in the city as a whole.
    • The average median rent is just $491 per month, 27 percent less than median rent in the city.
    • Buildings in the area are about the same age as those in the rest of the city, averaging about 42 years old.
    • By HUD definition, homes and apartments are severely overcrowded.
    • 28 percent live in what homes classified as severely overcrowded, 56 percent higher than the city’s rate.
    • The vacancy rate is very high.  This contrast is considered classic in area with slum and blight conditions.
    • Watts is a renter’s community; 64 percent of households rent their residence.
    • Residents of Watts tend to stay.  Upward mobility is not the standard.
    Homeownership rates are low, the population lacks wealth and assets.

    In 1965, circumstances such as these caused great frustration.  Riots were the result.  Is another rebellion possible?  Absolutely.

    Forty years ago, there was a glimmer of hope.  Former President Lyndon Baines Johnson promoted and proposed laws that that would advance the American Dream.  He spoke of creating a “Great Society,” ending poverty, promoting equality, improving education, rejuvenating cities, and protecting the environment. Programs were initiated. However, hope died as the Dream was left behind, as was Watts was left behind.

    Now four decades later, we are asked to believe again.  Novice Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa proposes change.  He presents his dream.  He calls it the South Los Angeles Investment Initiatives project.  He says, “These initiatives will not transform Watts overnight, but what they demonstrate is a commitment to every part of the city, a commitment to a part of the city, Watts, where a dream has been deferred.”

    Can we trust, or will this dream be as the American Dream was, delayed, distilled, and ultimately destroyed. We cannot know with certainty; however, we can hope, again.  We can decide to make a difference.  We can choose to allow this dream to thrive.

    You might enjoy reading references directly, rather than through links.  Please venture forth.
    Los Angeles Youth Opportunity Movement
    Los Angeles Times, A truth buried in the ruins of Watts, by Kay S. Hymowitz
    Los Angeles Times, Renewed Focus on Watts’ Lessons, by Patrick McGreevy and Jessica Gresko
    The Washington Post, Burned, Baby, Burned. Watts and the Tragedy of Black America, by John McWhorter

    Literacy and The Bush Legacy ©

    © copyright 2005 Betsy L. Angert

    I am baffled by the Bush budget, by the Bush family legacy, by Barbara, by Laura, and by the manner in which each of these mesh.

    I remember a time when Barbara Bush was First Lady.  She was outspoken in her strong support of programs that promote literacy.  She was quite concerned for the youth of this country; she feared that many young people were growing up in homes where reading and writing were not habits.  Mrs. Bush was troubled by the realization that parents were not reading to, or with, their offspring.  She concluded that if children did not have literate parents, they were less likely to become literate themselves.  She staunchly suggested that America needed to become academically competent, that this must be a priority, a priority within our homes, and a priority for our Nation.

    Former First Lady Barbara Bush was consumed in her concern, so much so that she decided to publicly promote policies that encouraged families to learn together.  Ultimately, she founded The Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.  Thus, the Bush legacy for literacy began.

    Laura followed Barbara.  Laura Bush is a teacher, a librarian, and a woman committed to the idea of advancing knowledge.  She says her “whole life has been devoted to the advocacy of children.”  Laura looks at reading and writing in manners that seem more expansive than those of her mother-in-law.  For Mrs. Laura Bush the focus on literacy extends beyond the family; our current First Lady speaks of the need to teach reading and writing in our schools.

    This Thursday evening, February 10, 2005, Jim Lehrer of The News Hour interviewed Mrs. Bush.  He and the First Lady discussed her most pressing concern, improving the lives of boys.  Throughout the dialogue, she mentioned that much of what is true for boys is also applicable to girls.

    In sharing her thoughts, Laura Bush stated that today, many parents are not fully literate.  Frequently, parents cannot read or write and therefore they are not able to model these for their children.  She offered that countless numbers of our young Americans live with single parents, working parents, non-English speaking immigrant parents, parents that cannot or do not actively have the time or ability to teach their children erudition.  Mrs. Bush asserted that schools and communities are often a child’s only resource, hence, role models and mentors are, or must be, found outside the home.  It is for this reason Laura looks beyond the family in her desire to facilitate literacy.  Thus, the legacy continues and grows.

    President George W.  Bush may be following Laura or as he said at a recent event, they may actually be walking hand-in-hand. In the text of a speech made by the President and reported in The Washington Post, Mr. Bush stated that he and his wife share “the same passion . . . and that is to put systems in place to encourage every child to learn to read.”  He went on to say, “You cannot achieve in America if you cannot read.  And yet too many of our children cannot read.”  Mr. Bush, along with his wife, and mother, chooses to carry the torch of literacy, and the legacy marches on.

    "Native ability without education is like a tree without fruit."
       
    Aristippus [Founder of Cyrenaic School of Philosophy 430 B. C.]

    Our current President considers himself a champion in the arena of education.  He believes that his program, “No Child Left Behind,” is the shining light of his career; and he desires to expand it, placing the plan in our Nation’s high schools.  His proponents often offer that NCLB is among the thousand “points of light,” those mentioned by his father, Former President Bush.  The intention of this plan is to emphasize school “accountability”; for George W. Bush believes that if schools can prove that they are accountable than we can validate with certainty, that students are learning.

    Says our President, “If you believe every child can learn, then it makes sense to measure to determine whether every child is learning.”  He continues, “That’s called accountability, accountability for results. Accountability is so crucial to achieve our goal for every child learning to read, write, and add and subtract.

    In his efforts to ensure that our Nation’s schools are answerable for student learning and literacy, the President constructed this program [NCLB], one that standardizes education, educational policies, and practices.  He professes that standards will result in proficiency. The plan imposes identical criterion for all schools; measures must be met, or schools will suffer the consequences.  There is little to no consideration for the culture of the community; the variance within a student population does not alter this uniform testing structure.  Rural, urban, suburban, and home schools are all assessed as though they are the same. All are treated equally.

    Schools are expected to improve. There are rewards for increasing tallies and penalties for other results.  Pupils’ test scores determine success. Students’ progress, portfolios, and overall performance are not examined.  This plan and the President’s ponderings do not consider that better test scores do not necessarily give rise to better schools; nor do they guarantee superior student aptitudes. An idea that is lost in the shuffle, the shuffling of paperwork, is that high test-scores do not reap literacy or authentic learning.

    However, this idea is not lost among educators.  In a report titled "No Child Left Behind,” Comments and Concerns, published in October 2002, School Administrators of Iowa addressed this concern.  They stated, “extensive testing doesn’t make students smarter, more knowledgeable, or more likely to succeed.  What it does do is detract from educators’ legitimate efforts to do so.”

    Nonetheless, the President continues in his quest, he is expanding his horizons.  No matter what experts in education present, no matter the volume of dissent from districts, diocese, corporations that deliver instructional services, and even from students, Bush continues to believe that incentives for improving scores are incentives for improving schools.

    Mr. Bush believes that high-test scores do validate student learning. Thus, President Bush is now asking Congress to increase the funding, the breadth, and scope of “No Child Left Behind,” he is also asking to increase spending for many other school initiatives that measure “success.”

    Therefore, my befuddlement; it is my experience that outstanding scores do not truly reflect scholarship and. or literacy. When others share their personal experiences, I discover they are similar to my own.  As I read research and pedagogical presentations, I discern an understanding for my confusion.  There seems to be an agreement, assessing comprehension, and a curriculum is important.  There is also a shared acknowledgement, validating these can be quite a challenge.

    Rachel B. Tompkins, President of the Rural School and Community Trust (Rural Trust) in Washington, wrote, “No one argues with the lofty goals of this legislation.  No one argues that accountability is not a good thing.  What is wrong with the No Child Left Behind Act is that its cookie- cutter approach, like many other well-meaning, one-size-fits-all education policies, will almost certainly leave rural schools, and rural children behind.”

    This opinion is echoed throughout the land; it is not heard only in rural communities, the same distress is voiced in urban, suburban, and home schools.  Students and staffs are among the protestors, each protesting the limitations of this policy.  Yet, their shouts are as silence, they fall on deaf ears.  It seems to me that many of us are so saturated in a world of statistics, that we have become comfortable with the concept of calculating success.  We believe that statistics represent truth.  As adults, we deal with data.  When we deliberate, we state that we want, “Just the facts.”  We forget that what might be fact for one many be fiction for another.

    A concept is stronger than a fact.
    Charlotte P. Gillman [1860-1935, Writer]

    We forget what we once experienced.  We do not vividly recall the struggles we had as a student.  Therefore, I offer the subsequent scenarios in hopes that they will evoke much reflection.  I believe that these tales are ones that we all, or at least most of us, can relate to.  I also provide theory.

    After ruminating on your own experiences of authentic learning and digesting pedagogical principles, please read and review the proposed Bush budget 2006.  Once done, assess for yourself.  If you too experience that “education,” “evaluation,” and “effectiveness,” are all unique entities that they must work together if we are to ensure maximum benefits, if you find it as fascinating as I, that President Bush advocates literacy and learning and then focuses solely on “accountability,” then possibly, you, I, and we as a society can act together; we can choose to truly empower our culture, our classrooms, our communities, and our children.  I hope that we will.

    Here is the first of two scenarios that I am presenting.  Please recall a time when you took a test and failed though you knew the material well.  Were you distracted by our own life?  Were you possibly ill?  Did you not sleep well?  Were you experiencing excessive stresses?  Was the exam written in a manner that was less than compatible with the way that you learn?  Were the directions vague or at least, did they seem so to you?  Was the evaluation or the evaluator objective?  Were there other possibilities that caused you to perform poorly?

    Perhaps, you are among the rare ones that never failed an exam; therefore, you cannot relate to this tale.  If so, I offer another.  I ask you to remember a time when you studied for an exam; you jammed and crammed your skull full of what you might have thought to be meaningless facts, figures, formulas, and findings.  Possibly, you slept with your head on your books; you may have hoped that the data would diffuse into your brain.  As you walked or drove to class, you continued to force-feed your mind. You wanted to meld with the material. Then, you took the test, and you did well; you did very well. You scored a grade of “A+” and yet, minutes, hours, days, months, and years later you can recall little if any of that information.

    The reason: memorization is not learning.  What we commit to memory if not personally real and relevant will not be ours.  We will not and do not retain what we cannot relate to deeply.  We do not incorporate and internalize information that we experience as repetitive, unyielding, or rehearsed.

    It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.
    Alec Bourne, From A Doctor’s Creed, Deputy Director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

    Therefore, I propose that accurate evaluations must consider the process and progression of learning; they must consider that understanding does not occur in an instant.  It is vital to accept that what is effective teaching for one student can be a terrible trauma for another.  There must be awareness for the uniqueness of students, staffs, schools, and subjects.  We must acknowledge that “accountability” is a nice idea in the abstract; however, people and pupils are not abstractions.  They are concrete, complex, and the manner in which they achieve comprehension differs.  We must be willing to admit that competency cannot be determined in a single moment.  Nor can the results of a test or two establish true scholarship.  However, “No Child Left Behind” and other Bush proposals for education in 2006 consider none of these.  They focus on “accountability” rather than literacy or learning.

    Let us look at the limited perspective of our President and his ideas on literacy.  Mr. Bush focuses on a credo of facts and figures; he muses that these must be delivered, and studied with diligence.  He banishes the likelihood that learning is as Benjamin Bloom offered in his Taxonomy: findings and formulas are only a foundation for knowledge.

    A fact in itself is nothing.  It is valuable only for the idea attached to it, or the proof which it furnishes.
    Claude Bernard [1813-1878 Leading French Physiologist]

    To cement these we need to analyze, assimilate, synthesize, and evaluate the material. Then, after engaging in these practices fully, we need to use the information and tools to create anew.  The Bush proposals acknowledge none of this.  As stated earlier, as expressed by the President, and as evident in his plans for education, he only address accountability.  There is no consideration for the stability of scholarship.

    Mr. Bush is correct, the groundwork is important; the need to confirm comprehension is vital.  However, he seems to forget that there are ways to present information and to confirm comprehension that are expansive and flexible.  Can we not choose to adopt forms that are more fluid?  Might we think through all the possibilities and probabilities?  Might we also be cognizant of how individuals differ, how schools differ, how situations differ?  Might we modify our methods, and attend to the differences?  Might we prepare for the uniqueness of pupils, of people, of populations, and acknowledge these in our policies?  Might we accept that learners and learning do not simply fit into a box of “standard,” sub-standard, or superior?

    Academicians and others acknowledge that there are pedagogical principles that speak to the significant difference in students, the difference in their learning styles?  Educators such as Howard Gardner offer his work with Multiple Intelligences.  These theories provide us with possibilities for improving our schools.  Daniel Goleman speaks of Emotional Intelligence; he presents incredible insights into the process of learning.  Then there are the concepts of Authentic Assessment and Portfolio Reviews.  Each of these addresses the truth of literacy and learning.  Literacy is more than merely being able to read, write, and compute at a basic level.  Literacy and learning are substantive concepts and cannot be scored simply.   Accountability is one part of the taxonomy of evaluation.

    I believe that before we assess accountability, we must first, consider our definition and our vision for education.  Do we want to fill the minds of our children with facts, figures, and formulas, those that have little depth and meaning, or would we prefer to cultivate curiosity, creativity, innovation, invention, and imagination?

    Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own. – Confucian text

    In defining education, I wish to offer two thoughts from a man that most of us experience as a genius, Einstein was a great man, a scientist, and a scholar, though notably, he was a poor student.  His grades did not account for his learning.  Many of his teachers assumed that young Albert was therefore not absorbing information; his understanding was not visible in a conventional sense.  Now, in retrospect, we know that he was grasping all that was placed before him.  He captured the concepts of arithmetic, reading, and writing skills.  He also retained his ability to imagine.  This exalted man, in his later years was often heard to say,
    The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education, He also expressed that, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
    Albert Einstein

    I wonder how many of us feel much of what Einstein expressed. How much of what we learned in school was a help, how much a hindrance, how much added to our scholarship and to our success?  Did teachers encourage us to think for ourselves?  Did our schooling foster curiosity, creativity, and a flourishing imagination or were these quelled in favor of following the lead of a mandated curriculum?

    Did we, as Einstein, receive grades that were not reflections of our learning?  How often did we feel that attempts to calculate our competency were inaccurate?  Did our scores properly evaluate all that we learned?  Did our grades truly assess our achievements?  Were our assignments or the tests we took tailored to the manner in which we learn or were they rote and routine.  Did examinations ask us to regurgitate information just as it had been delivered to us?  Were these appraisals offered only in written forms?  Were we ever evaluated on what we said aloud?  Were our creations a substantial consideration? Is anyone able to objectively calculate our capacity or our creativity?  If exams offer only rigid forms of evaluation, will the results really reveal the acquisition of knowledge?

    If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.
    Ignacio Estrada, Administrator, National University of Colombia

    I offer these perspectives and ask each of us, as persons that have been pupils at some time in our lives, and as people that can choose to be either part of the problem or part of the solution, and as voters to consider the possibility that assessing accountability through testing and statistics is extremely limited.  Rarely do these methods accurately determine the quality of scholarship or that of our schools.

    When we evaluate literacy strictly through test scores, we are often estimating the ability of students to memorize, to mock, or mimic their mentors.  I believe that education differs from accountability, just as memorization differs from learning.  The two are not synonymous.

    I believe that means and medians do not genuinely measure learning, nor do scores and statistics authentically evaluate the effectiveness of an educator or the education.  Assessments do not accurately analyze the credibility of a curriculum.  Often they calculate only the strategy a student uses in test taking or their ability to guesstimate, estimate, and merely memorize material for a moment.  Though test taking is a skill, it does not correlate to problem solving in the “real” world.  Therefore, I ask Mr. Bush, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Members of Congress, Barbara, Laura, parents, former, and present pupils to consider the policy that dictates “accountability” and consider one that creates authenticity in learning and in literacy.  I ask them to also think through their wants and the true Bush legacy.

    The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.
    R. M. Hutchins [American Educator, Author, The University of Utopia and The Learning Society, Board Editor for Encyclopedia Britannica]

    I beg of you, please ponder the scenarios that I presented.  Reflect upon your own education, and if you are able, acknowledge that there were times that you “knew your stuff’ and yet received scores that did not show this; if there were times that you tested well and yet, now, you recall little if any of what you “learned,” then look at proposed Bush budget 2006 and consider the contrast.  Spending for 2006 focuses on “accountability,” measurements, and means testing.  Monies for literacy, learning, and imaginative lessons were removed.

    For your review, I offer the specifics of the Bush budget 2006 as it applies to education, literacy, and “accountability.”

    According to the National School Boards Association, in his recent 2006 budget submission, Mr. Bush is requesting $1.5 billion for high school reforms, $1.2 billion to finance a High School Intervention Initiative, and an endowment of $250 million.  These later funds will be used to measure student performances in the areas of reading, language arts, and high school math.  Each of these proposals demonstrates that the President is truly committed to our schools, to literacy, and to the need for greater accountability.

    While Mr. Bush wishes to expand and endorse programs that improve our educational system, he also desires to reduce our Nation’s deficit.  The afore-mentioned endorsements are costly, and therefore, the President feels a need to “consolidate, reduce, or eliminate” other programs, even other educational programs.

    In his effort to balance the books, he intends to merge, moderate, and purge programs such as . . .

  • Vocational Education [$1.19 billion]
  • Upward Bound, Smaller Learning Communities [$94.5 million]
  • Even Start [$225.1 million] literacy grants
  • Safe and Drug Free Schools State Grants [$437.4 million]
  • Education Technology grants [$496 million]
  • Teacher Quality Enhancement [$68.3 million]
  • Comprehensive School Reform [$205.3 million]

    Among the other programs slated for termination is the Title V, plan.  This is a State Grant for Innovative Programs.  For 2006, the President is requesting an allotment of $100 million.  This contrasts with the 2005 distribution of $198.4 million.  The Administration states that this discrepancy is dictated by the need to address priorities that they consider more serious, mainly, the priority of “accountability."  They offer, “The reduced request reflects a decision to redirect funding to higher-priority activities that are better targeted to national needs and have stronger accountability mechanisms.

    The President is also choosing to eliminate financial support for Teacher Quality Enhancement initiatives.  Currently, these benefits [$68.3 million] are used to “recruit, prepare, license, and support teachers.”  The Administration suggests that the activities initiated within this program can be accomplished through the auspices of other federal programs.

    In total, 150 programs will be impacted.  In a report released by Oxford Analytic report, and published in Forbes.com, “Forty-eight of these are administered by the Education Department.”

    You may wish to read other commentaries on the Bush Budget and its affects on Education.

  • BuzzFlash features, “Bush Budget’s Hit List Includes Children
  • Here’s What’s Left writes of Bush’s Budget Cuts: Education
  • International Reading Association offers a discussion on the Issues in Literacy
  • The Luxury of Learning is Lost

    copyright © 2004 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

    The words said were, “We do not have that luxury anymore.”  The speaker stated that she loved the luxury. The luxury that she was speaking of is that of teaching in a manner that enlivens learning, engages, and ensures that students internalize information. She was referring to her joy for teaching in a manner that creates learning, the learning that lasts for a lifetime. Is it true that teaching in this manner is an indulgence; and that she is no longer able to partake in this possibility?  How sad.  

    Now, to believe that teaching in this fashion is a “luxury” and that it is lost, never to return is a concept that I cannot, or more accurately, wish not to consider. I cannot help but wonder; why does she feel that she no longer has this?  When, why, or how, did she lose what was once the objective in teaching?  How could or would she consider taking the time to guide learning, to give students an opportunity to truly learn, an extravagance?  I wondered why, and yet I knew.

    Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. – Jacques Barzun  

    Days have past and the words still haunt me. The idea saddens me. I no longer wonder, for I knew then and sadly, I must now acknowledge that I do know. I know, for I experience it each and everyday. I read of it in the newspapers, in editorials, in professional journals, and in books. I hear of it from friends, from family, from any, and many that have even the smallest sense of what is going on in our nation’s schools. I speak with instructors, and others that are familiar with “education” as it exists today, and there is much concern. The policies and practices that are present in our schools, throughout this Nation, cause much trepidation.

    Currently, I am employed as a substitute teacher, what some so sweetly call a “guest teacher.”  I have a Master of Arts degree in Education, with a focus on Instructional Systems. I am credentialed in Psychology, Social Science, English, Art, Computer Concepts, and Computer Applications. I taught at the University level, instructing in the Teacher Credentialing programs. After receiving my degrees, my own formal education continues. Therefore, you might guess that education is important to me. It is!

    As an educator, one that has had her own classroom, created her own curriculums, taught those that were training to be come instructors, as one that has recently “visited” classrooms that are not her own, and as one that has been a student, I recognize the need to be sensitive to authentic learning rather than to the appearance of academic achievement. More so than academic achievements, a love of learning is what I would wish to facilitate.  

    I acknowledge that there are achievements today or the appearance of these; some students truly are accelerating academically, though I wonder if they are truly learning. However, on any and many days, I experience, just as other educators do, that students, even in the best of schools, and even the best of students, no longer read the text for meaning; they simply search for answers, short and simplistic answers. I not only experience and observe this; I ask students if this is true. I listen to their admissions. I hear their perplexing sighs when asked of their work and of their learning and their answers concern me.

    Students often share that they can master the art of test taking and yet, they do not fully understand the concepts. They state that they do not know how the information relates to the subject, to their lives, or to the wider world. They express that they can read and recite the words, and yet they do not comprehend the content or the context. Oh, yes, they can answer questions, regurgitate the text; nonetheless, when you ask them to explain these in their own words, even those pupils that seemingly can paraphrase what they read tell me that they do not truly connect to the meaning. When asked to probe more deeply, to present a parallel from their own lives, they express that they are lost!!!

    Teachers also express their own sense of feeling lost. They are lost in imposed schedules and lost in a simplistic stress on standards. They are saturated; they must create a credible trail, one that validates that the subjects are being taught well and that students are learning. The trail, or the trial, is in the test results. Students and teachers are now lost in statistics. Today, in our nation’s schools the focus is on the visible and verifiable. Yet, learning and facilitating growth are neither of these. Nonetheless, in our frenzy to find validation for what we are doing or not, we wok to produce a product, our pupils scores present a pretense of success. Genuine learning and true teaching are also lost. It seems that gaining knowledge and inspiring instruction are now missing from our Nation’s classrooms.



    In teaching, you cannot see the fruit of a day’s work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.
     – Jacques Barzun

    At times, the fruit of “teaching” is invisible for a lifetime. For those that are forced, or feel a need to feed only formulas, facts, and the foundation necessary for gaining knowledge, never create what bares the fruits of learning. This is true even in the best of schools. I experience this in a community that is elite and highly educated. Just as those in schools that are fighting to survive, learners and instructors are coping with the stress of scoring and testing strategies. The level of angst is felt within all districts, dioceses, and in corporations that deliver educational services. I am aware that, now, education is governed by rigid regulations. There are ample frustrations filtered through the fulfillment of learning and teaching. It seems that for many, it is just as Einstein expressed, “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.

    It is for this reason that I am sharing an account of a day in the life of an educator; I wish to advance awareness and to open a discussion for what many experience. I would like to ask each of us to consider what occurs when we concentrate on the concrete. I believe that when we do, we all lose much. Students no longer have the opportunity to truly understand what teachers are attempting to teach; nor do they often love their growth. We have also lessened the opportunities for instructors.

    From my own life history, I believe that if we do not love learning, then we do not choose to develop the habits that create a deep desire to investigate, innovate, or imagine, even on our own. I believe that if we focus on creating a love for learning, a curriculum that demonstrates care for the student, for the subject, and one that is sensitive to the nuances of the process of progression, and then success will be guaranteed.

    The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. – Ralph Waldo Emerson [American Lecturer, Poet, leading exponent of New England Transcendentalism]

    The other day I was teaching in a Social Science classroom. I was working with students that I have worked with often over the last two years. Frequently, their teacher requests that I assist in her absences. She has shared that she values my desire and ability to facilitate understanding. She has had many an occasion to observe me teach. On this day, she asked that I have the class read and discuss seven to ten pages. I was told not to go farther for she, the contracted teacher, would prefer to save the next lesson for another day.

    As we read and discussed, I asked the students to reference a portion and then share, in their own words, the meaning of what they just read. I know for myself and I have verified that this is true for others, many can read aloud and then not know what they read. Therefore, I always ask students to take the time to breathe and begin to internalize the words that they read aloud.

    Many in prosperous and professional communities, such as the one in which I work, can and do this well or so it seems. I realize that appearances can be deceiving. Often, when asked to provide a parallel, or if they understand what the words mean, when asked if they comprehend the ideas and the concepts, the meaning behind the words, students repeatedly admit that they do not understand these. They cannot offer similar concepts; they are unable to relate the material to their own life experiences, nor do they truly grasp the greater significance. Many, most, and often all confess that they can recite and regurgitate as expected or as needed to appear knowledgeable, yet they do not truly understand or internalize the information.

    Therefore, I discuss the readings further, present parallels, share stories that suggest similarities between the lives of the students and the lives of those that they, or we, are studying. These enliven the essence of the lesson. As I do, and did on this day, as I ask questions that assist them in sensing the similarities between themselves and the text, I discover a captive audience, one that cares to learn, asks questions, offers comments, and is engaged. I discover students no longer feel lost. Learning looms large when I take the time to stimulate student learning.

    On this day, as on many others, each of us, the students and I, feel enriched and enlightened. These exchanges are educational; they create a joy in learning. Students often tell me that these discussions, the drawing of parallels, are not only memorable, they help them to truly learn.

    Then it happened, and I learned again, what I would rather forget. In reviewing the day, I mentioned to the students’ teacher that we as a class were energized, the text was meaningful, and the discussion exhilarating. However, we did not finish all of the pages she assigned. She sighed deeply. She expressed her dread for falling behind; the need to complete the curriculum as the calendar dictates, and then she said it, teaching in a manner that stimulates students so that they truly understand, well, “We do not have that luxury anymore.”

    Sadly, the lesson learned is that what I do, what I did, what many educators do, and would prefer to do again, evoking authentic learning through deeper discussions, facilitating learning that lasts a lifetime, creating curriculums that are energizing and enjoyable for all, is a luxury, one that lost. I wonder what have we created.



    Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; but directly involve me, and I’ll make it my own. – Confucian text


    I do not wonder why this teacher, or why do many teachers throughout this nation no longer have, or feel that they have, the luxury to truly teach. I do wonder why it is that now, capital and careers are more than important than learning. I wonder and I ask; I ask those that profess, propose, and then impose policies that stress schedules, simplistic, narrow and naive standards, to please explain this to me.

    I wonder why the rote, routine, rehearsed, and rigid is more reassuring to the masses than real learning is. I wonder why scores, statistics, and strategies have supplanted an interest in our students. I wonder why we settle for “standards” and no longer allow the minds of our students and teachers to soar. I wonder when we will learn and when will our classroom objectives parallel those we have for our future.

    Post Script . . . Not long after my own writing, the Los Angeles Times offered another illustration of how students are shortchanged. I offer this reading for your review. Please review and reflect upon this report from the Sunday, November 28, 2004, Los Angeles Times.“Are Schools Shortchanging Students”