August To June; Bringing Life to Palm Beach Schools


copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or

As any Mom or Dad might do on Parent Teacher Conference Day, Amy Valens, the Educator featured in the documentary film August To June, traveled from “classroom to classroom.”  This journey was not a conventional one. Indeed, Amy did not attend a series of Parent Teacher Conferences.  What she did was appear at Palm Beach screenings of her documentary.  The film follows twenty-six [26] third and fourth graders who studied with Amy in her last year of teaching.  The public school open classroom “Brings Life” to education.

After the movie was viewed, Ms Valens and the audiences engaged in conversations. They discussed what they saw and how it might relate to a broader dialogue.  The subjects of Education Reform, Classroom Standards, Teacher Quality, Merit Pay, Student-Rewards for Success, Parent Involvement, and Testing are but a few topics prominent in our national debate.  While the assemblies of viewers varied widely, the results were the same.  Every child, every class, all Teachers, and each parent, tells a unique tale.  Regardless of the individual or group, we see the world, or in this case the film, through our own lens.

Having traveled the country with the movie, in the last ten months, meeting with audiences from every walk of life, Amy had already come to understand that each person has their own perspective.  Each place visited offers unexpected opportunities. The size of the crowd does not give a hint of what will be within.  Nor does the theme of a Conference, such as Save Our Schools or Coalition for Essential Schools, provide insight into what will occur.  The makeup of a community affords no clues.  As any Mother, [Teacher, Filmmaker] Valens experiences as we all do.  When we enter a room, or a situation, when we encounter a child or a school full of students we cannot predict what will come.

Will the experience be pretty? Will it be rich? I share what it appeared to be, at least what appeared to be true for me.

Having attended the one abridged showing, the two full screenings, each of which was followed by a discussion, and having the heard the radio interview, I recognized the theme; behind every door adventure awaits. There are lessons to be learned.  Let us take a look.

Amy’s recent tour began, not in a school, but remotely.  From a National Public Radio studio in Miami, the Host of Topical Currents. Joseph Cooper introduced his guests, Amy and Tom Valens.  The Broadcaster, heard on WLRN, might have been as an Instructor, one who is only remotely familiar with a family.  A physical distance may have played a part in the dynamic.  Amy was a County away, in Palm Beach, Florida.  Only a telephone line connected the two.  Filmmaker Tom Valens sat in his modest bungalow workplace, in the hills of Forest Knolls, California.  Throughout this meeting Mister Cooper asked Amy and Tom Valens questions. He listened for answers.  Then, the Broadcaster extrapolated.  

He pronounced what he believed might be true for the Marin County residents. The radio Journalist mused; the population is not as others.  The theory espoused; the proximity to Silicon Valley and George Lucas Studios must explain the supposed anomaly seen in August To June.  The thought expressed, was the community is unique. Indeed, nothing could be farther from the reality that exists within Amy Valens’ valley.

As is stated in the film, in this open classroom, children come from homes of median and meager means. Many if not most have experienced divorce. Several have been separated from their parents.  The world of drugs, and other abuses, is not unknown to these young ones.  The wealth and wonder that might be seen in the more opulent sphere of the technologically elite, is not real to those who reside in Amy’s classroom.  Nonetheless, for Joseph Cooper, as is true for countless who cannot imagine the educational process that unfolds before their eyes, “Yes, but . . .” lives large.  Thankfully, “Yes; Exactly” and “Yes, well maybe” also thrive.

“Our graduates have gone on to become artists, scientists, house painters, computer programmers helicopter pilots, chefs, ceramists, carpenters, tile setters, lawyers, teachers, politicians, ecologists, gardeners, musicians, security guards, engineers, viticulturists, film makers photographers, actors, dancers, salespeople, drivers, paraprofessionals, airplane attendants, animators, body workers, park rangers, camp counselors, waiters, sculptors, writers, journalists, linguists, small business people, singers, social workers, government workers, brokers, students, furniture makers, set designers, jewelers, composers, paramedics, firefighters, jugglers, loving parents, active community members and so much more.” They are you and me.

Skepticism was voiced several more times throughout the weekend.  People wanted to believe that Amy Valens was the Miracle Worker, or that the dynamics within her small District was the reason an impossible dream came true.  Several stated, only in a rural region or in an open classroom, such as exists in San Geronimo might parents be involved. The thought was, to opt-out of high-stakes tests is a fantasy not permitted in most States.  A few mused Amy could only practice as she does with elementary school age children.  Fortunately, the same sort of contradictory reasoning was heard but once in the next get-together.

I spoke to it then and again in other meetings. Personally, I know what cynics wish to believe is not so.  As someone whose teaching style differs greatly from that of Amy Valens, and as a person who taught solely in urban and suburban standardized systems, I trust much can be done within the common constraints.  My pedagogy mirrors what is seen in August To June.  For Teacher Valens, for me, and for most in the many Palm Beach audiences, the Whole Child concept speaks to our every sensibility.  What parent, Teacher, or community does not believe schools should focus on developing students who are academically proficient, physically and emotionally healthy, respectful, responsible, and caring? Since ancient Greek and Roman times, nearly everyone, if not all do.

Surely, the people assembled at the first screening of the weekend, at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth did.  This gathering may best represent what occurred, endlessly, during Amy’s late October, early November, Palm Beach travels.   From the discussion, it quickly became apparent, attendees embraced the philosophy and principles presented in the documentary without exception.  While rationalizations were rare, the human tendency to relate through our own life experiences was wonderfully evident.

A College Professor saw many correlations to his daily reality. He discovered big public policy issues in regards to testing, privatization, Teacher merit pay, an Instructors’ qualifications, performance, and due process, are discussed in August To June.  The subject of school quality is also explored in the film, just as it is in Faculty meetings and on the floor of Congress.

Another individual, a former Nurse, related to the relevant questions the film raises. This person understood the significance of working with the Whole Child, the whole person, be he or she a pupil or a patient.  The Health Care practitioner mentioned her distress for loss of logic in today’s society. Humans, in every profession, have been reduced to numbers.

Tests in medicine, just as in our schools, are no longer diagnostic tools.  Today, examination scores define a supposed permanent condition rather than identify a situation [or a student] in transition.  Assessments are given as a matter of course. Indeed, these are mandated in traditional medical facilities and in our schools.  Privatization is prominent. Doctors do not make house calls and Teachers, too often, never meet the families . . . that is, in schools not like Amy’s.

With privatization comes reward and punishment.  The last person to speak that evening, addressed this.  A Scholar who sat among us, mentioned his love of teaching and how, as a Social Science Educator, he was told not to engage his students.  History, Administrators said, is not an essential part of the curriculum. After all, it does not appear on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT.]  [The inference being, nothing else matters.] Nonetheless, the Teacher thought it was important to teach.

Having done his job well, Mister M’s students excelled on the high-stakes State exam.  The mentor was rewarded with praise and a pink slip.  He was told his work was excellent.  However, with the term at an end, the school no longer needed to fill a history position.  Months later, an unexpected check arrived in the mailbox at Mister M’s home.  It seems that schools are financially rewarded, as are teachers within the school if the students successfully “achieve.”

Might Mister M’s instruction spurred greater interest in other areas.  Did the methods he employed inspire students to study well.  Could his class or the energy that was born be transferred into an overall interest in academics?  The Palm Beach County Teacher did not know.

Regardless, August To June Educator Amy Valens saw and felt the palpable sense of surprise from others in the room.  She was astounded but not amazed. Amy knew.  She heard many a story this year.  All were identical, and at the same time unique.  Consistently, as Ms Valens treks around the country she discovers that people turn to her for guidance and acumen, and Amy turns to them.  “Yes, but” and “Yes! Exactly,” as well as the reflective “Yes, maybe” are instructive and illustrate what occurs in Parent Teacher Conferences.

I began and embraced a mission in October 2010. My hope was the film August To June and featured Teacher, Amy Valens might help expand the education conversation in South Florida.  This dream has borne fruit.  I have faith that soon, we will further the discussion. Forums are in our future.  We will “Bring Life to School” every August To June in Palm Beach County.

I, Author/Educator, Betsy L. Angert of Empathy And Education, am grateful.  I offer Special Thanks to others who worked to make this tour truly meaningful …With Special Thanks to others who helped make this tour truly meaningful.  Guest Speaker, Author, Educator, esteemed Marion Brady, the Founder-Director of Sunflower Creative Arts, Susan Caruso, Co-Founder of Parents Across America, Rita Solnet.

References and Resources . . .


Primary Teachers and Their Pedagogy


copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or

I offer homage to a Teacher whose pedagogy touched me in a manner invisible to me until this moment.  For scores, I understood what a gift he was to me.  His open and caring ways were as I craved.  However, I had never imagined that this man’s schooling style made the difference in my life.  Today, I invite each of us to look beyond the boundaries or the labels.

Often in life we are asked to reflect; who was or were your most profound Teachers.  I shared my stories in a missive or more.  Those Who Can Teach; Life Lessons Learned, Those Who Can Teach; Transformative Teachers, and Why I Write and Write, Then Write Again.  There are myriad sorts of Teachers.  A few are true treasures.  These special souls take a personal interest in us as individuals.  Students are seen as whole beings, not solely a score, or a name to be identified as a number.  Without these rare Teachers we would not soar.

Innumerable Scholars seek to inform rather than interact in a way that inspires.  Academicians, an abundance of these, think to fill a brain full of facts, formulas, and figures, is to teach.  I wonder; do these Educators believe they learn from their students?  I cannot know with certainty. For myriad mentors, their labor is not born out of love, but out of need . . . the need to train students for a test.

Gurus, a few, will sacrifice personal standards.  The belief that it is best to do as was done to them is deep.  Countless more desire to do as expected.  To save oneself, retain face or employment becomes a personal priority.  Few dare to test the system, rock the boat, or retreat from the status quo.  Possibly, less think to do what is different, even if the untried is the truest pinnacle of pedagogy.  A Mom, Dad, Grandparent, or Guardian, can be as classroom Teachers are, entrenched in established traditions.

This has an effect on us all, for some say their Primary Teacher touched them as no other did.  This sage is frequently thought of as Mom or Dad.  A mother or father, or each, teach us how to be and who we might be.  For the fortunate, this relationship is a close one.  Physical proximity usually allows for an experience that envelops everyone involved.  However, there are those such as I who learn from a distance.  It might be, as it was for me, that a corporeal togetherness did not exist, or did so only from an emotional distance.

Absence can make the heart grow fonder.  Often, we want love from the person who is not with us, be it in our life, in our home, or in a heart, his or hers. For others, this feeling is far from reasonable.  People ponder; why would I wish to be with someone who rejects me, abandons me, or is emotionally absent.  Regardless of what might be for you, I suspect that you, as I, feel the person or persons who taught you most were your caregivers.

Some Moms and Dads are superior Teachers; several are less than lovely role models.  Still, even the worse Instructor and instruction teaches.  Each Educator has or had, their own “teaching style.”  Only today did I intellectually evaluate the pedagogies of parents.  Indeed, I wonder if I would have ever thought to do so had it not been for my very, very, very, young 93-years of age cousin and his reflective ways.  Alexander asked of my Dads.  Yes, there were two.

My Daddy, Logan, passed from his Earthly existence only weeks ago.  My natural father, not the same person, departed from the planet decades earlier.  In truth, “Michael,” the man whose genetic makeup made my life possible, fled from my sphere before I was born.  While we shared a house for more than eight years, we were not truly part of each other’s life.  Our experiences, and the individual present at my conception, were profound Professors.  Each taught me tons.  Nevertheless, I feel secure in saying, Daddy taught me more.

My Dad gave me life. He breathed oxygen into my lungs.  Daddy filled my world and taught me the ways in which I might choose to move through time and space.  Logan provided the lessons that became my being.  Forever, I acknowledged this, just not in the way I do today.

Alexander, the reflective truth-seeker that he is, has thought a lot about my Dad in recent days.  While the two knew each other, they have not seen each other in more than two score.  Alex has always felt my Dad hurt my Mom.  Divorce does damage or at least it felt that way to my relative when he first spoke to my Mom immediately after the event that ended my parents’ marriage.  While Mommy believed that the split brought her the best of what was to be her life, Alexander never did.

My cousin admits that, slowly, he has come to appreciate Daddy through our relationship, Alexander’s and mine.  Alexander is an exemplary learner.  As every Teacher has quoted at one time or another, “To teach is to learn twice,” ~ Joseph Joubert.

I speak of Daddy often.  He is a Scholar, a sage, a sensational Instructor.  I recall when he helped me with a fifth grade science project.  Together, Daddy and I built a light.  We cut the wood, stained and lacquered the lumber, created, cut, and snipped the wiring, and voilà, the lamp lit.

Logan also taught me to look, perhaps:  look deeply into the fullness of an idea, a supposed fact, or an idea.  Nothing for Daddy [and for me] is ever “just that simple.”   When I was a child, my Dad would invite me to read the newspaper.  H would peruse one section and offered me another.  I am unsure whether he had an influence on the veracity that comics were of no interest to me.  Nonetheless, I am aware that cartoons were not entertaining for me.  News was my delight.

Logan would hand the front pages to me and the two of us would read our respective sections silently.  When we were ready to switch, Daddy would ask me, “What did you read?”  I would tell him.  Topics were ticked off one-by-one.  Then, Logan would look at me with his piercing eyes and inquire further.  “What did you think?”  He might begin with one story and then probe in depth dependent on my response.  The questions were open-ended.  If I was unsure or did not know an answer, my Dad would suggest that perchance, I missed a portion of the narrative.

He offered that I re-read, or research.  Funny. Daddy never made the request in a way that demanded I do as he thought wise.  Logan’s own excitement in the possibility that the two of us might learn together was a source of excitement for me.  Indeed, I recall the occasions well. I would pose a question to Daddy.  He  would grin, from ear to ear, and then without the least bit of embarrassment say, “I do not know.  Let us look for that answer together.”

With boundless energy, I or we would walk to the books that were our family library.  Oh, think not visions of grandeur.  After my Mom’s divorce from the “sperm donor,” Michael, we were extremely poor.  Daddy was a student in Post-Graduate school at that time. He supported us with the paltry funds secured from a fellowship.  Mommy was not employed in a manner that brought in income.  As is titled today, my Mom was a “Domestic Engineer.”

I would search and search, share the words and wisdom I found.  Then, Daddy might wonder aloud again and thus, I or we were off again.  Just as frequently, Logan would smile.  Our discussion might take us to another topic, or he would tell me about the tales he read.  Once we were ready, we exchanged pages and perused quietly again and again.

There are so many stories to tell, and there always have been.  Over the years, Daddy was still my Dad to me.  We chatted consistently.  Even when we lived States away, we were in touch.  He is, at present, as well.  Even in what most call “death” Daddy lives large in my mortal fiber.  Hours ago, my mentor taught me another lesson.

Alexander asked.  Engaged in a conversation in regards to the roles of men and women, the conventions and the truth, which bears no resemblance to traditional views. Alex spoke of the woman in his life.  Maria is techno-savvy.  At 93, she cannot get enough computer-time.  Facebook is her friend.  She is abundantly connected, as am I. Maria, my cousin’s companion of six plus decades, can fix most any object.  She is skilled manually.  I too can and do much that women are not thought to do.  The men in our lives . . . well some can and many cannot.

Thus, my cousin who knew my natural father far better than he does Daddy asked. “Did I learn to be as I am from Logan?”  I have long known this was true.  However, only this morning did I realize the variance in pedagogy.  Michael, the little he taught, offered exercises in memorization.  Daddy adopted a more eclectic style.  Critical thought, creativity, curiosity were the “subjects” my Dad thought vital.  The curriculum Daddy embraced was not rote; nor was it rigid.

All lessons were unrestricted, undefined; mostly instruction and instructions were not limited by parental parameters.  Logan never told me what to think, say, do, feel, or be.  With him, I was free.  My Dad freed me to learn and develop a love of learning.   Imagine that!?

My primary Teacher, was not one I often thought of as a favorite.  My third-grade Teacher, Mrs Kleefield was great!  I trust she is even still.  Yet, Mrs Kleefield and all she taught me cannot begin to compare with the scads Logan H. Angert bestowed upon my brain and being.  Doctors Murdock, Hartung, Lathrop, and . . . while also exceedingly profound in my life, these Professors are not the Teacher Daddy was for me.

Oh, there are sooo many superior sages who have touched me.  Some with similar styles to that of my Dad.  Still . . . as cousin Alexander articulates, “More is caught than taught.

Logan Angert, Daddy, you cast pearls of wisdom to the wind.  Your manner said to me you expected nothing from me in return.  Free to chose as I might, I cheerfully gathered the clusters as they fell. Your energy empowered me to be curious, to think critically, and to form my own foundations and future. I thank you.


Those Who Can Teach; Transformative Teachers


copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or

In an earlier essay, Those Who Can Teach; Life Lessons Learned thoughts on the ever-present influence of George Bernard Shaw’s philosophy were evaluated.  A personal reflection, perchance, helped advance an analogy.  We each are as the Playwright was.  When young, we learn through our experiences.  Later, we are forever challenged to change our perception. Evolutions and beliefs born in emotionally trying times collide.  Intellectually, we may understand, to learn our minds must be open.  Nonetheless, endeavor as we might, most of us remain closed.  Sill, it is never too late.  Greater awareness can come at anytime, in Elementary, Middle, High School or College.  Let us assess anew as we look through the lens, life in school.  

He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches

~ George Bernard Shaw [Man and Superman, 1903]

“A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw’s adage belies what was the Playwright’s life. The Author, contrary to his own claim, taught and he did.   Indeed, the Dramatist achieved success in each of these endeavors.  In words and through deeds the Writer acted on what he avowed were opposite ambitions. His instruction influenced generations. More than a century after his utterance children are trained to believe as he professed true.  Several ignore the veracity; Shaw’s prolific plays proved that he could successfully and professionally practice in a field as well as serve as the exemplary Educator he was, and is.  Regardless of the misguided reality today crowds continue to chant, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.”

As evidence of this collective less than reflective conviction Americans might merely look at the headlines.  Are Teachers Under Attack?  G.O.P. Governors Take Aim at Teacher Tenure. Public Workers Face Outrage as Budget Crises Grow. Education under Attack: Violence against Students, Teachers and Schools in Armed Conflicts.  Teachers are forever being questioned.  Students receive much wrath.  Schools are vilified.  Yet few consider why these criticisms might be.  

Instead, we repeat the rhetoric and share our own stories.  I have my memories.  Countless tales could have led me to perceive Professors as, George Bernard Shaw did and society does.  Instead, I acknowledged that what, for me, felt good or bad was a blessing.  Persons whose pedagogical practices would never be mine, taught me how, or how not to teach. I offer tales of two Teachers.  Enter Doctor Mac and Miss Z.

I think of my first computer class.  Doctor Mac, a glorious geek who could build a central processing unit [CPU] with ease.  However, to edify the technologically illiterate such as I was . . .  Well that is another story for another day.  I am aware that many thought Doctor Mac was the preferred Professor. For someone as infinitely analytical as I, his more superficial treatment of the subject did not work well for me.  This magnificent master is one of many who were unable to reach me. Quite the contrary was true. His methods and instruction left me feeling lost.  I was more than frustrated.  I was frightened.  I so yearned to learn!

This thought brings Miss Z to mind.  I had been beyond proficient in Math all of my life until this wiz with numbers became my Teacher.  The jocks loved Miss Z and she was fond of them. In class, the Educator and the athletes discussed how their respective teams did.  Scores.  Stats.  “Sports” was a constant topic of conversation.  Proofs, sometimes.  Some Math problems were shared on the board or on displayed by the light of an overhead projector. I was an A+ Math student.  Yet, under the tutelage of Miss Z, nothing made sense to me.

Before, during, and after class, I asked for further instruction.  I sought other sources, my parents, another Professor, and even Miss Z herself.  My Mom and Dad tried to assist to no avail.  Their skills in math lacked luster.  The other Teacher said unless I was enrolled in her class . . . Oh, how my family and I tried to make that dream come true.  Miss Z? Well, she only knew how to teach in the way she always had.  Her manner was incompatible with my learning style.  I would stand at her side, look on and listen.  Ultimately, each time, I left her presence in tears.

Thankfully, Teachers such as Doctor Mac and Miss Z were the exception in my life.  Most Instructors I met once enrolled in an educational institution were glorious.  On occasion, outside of school, and not only in my childhood home, I was confronted with what also might have shaded my reality.  Perchance, you can relate.

I discovered that a stupendous Teacher can also be a disastrous one, dependent on the lesson.  A phenomenal practitioner can be less than fully effective.  Eric had been an exceptional Teacher in my life..  The man who was my beau was also an excellent driver.  I trust he still is.  Eric learned to use a manual transmission early in his own hours on the road.  By the time we were together he was a pro.  Eric could shift gears flawlessly.  He did not bump or grind, nay pop a clutch. This lovely man is in addition a patient professor.  Cheerfully, he chose to teach me. Eric Smythe would move me from automatic to stick shifts, or so he and I believed.

I imagined he would be, as in every other avenue we traveled together, a fine facilitator.   However, this turned out not to be true.  The loving man was thorough in his “lessons.” Too thorough for me!  I felt as if he believed he needed to teach me to steer, turn, and travel the roadways as though I had not done this for years.  

I, who received an A+ grade in Drivers Education, was treated as a neophyte.  While Eric was patient with me, the young Mister Smythe drove me bonkers. He, too carefully, crafted his lesson.  

Eric could do and teach.  Nonetheless, this combination was not enough.  Trained Teachers take the art and science of instruction seriously.  Professors understand the gravity of their performance.  Expert Educators never forget that what a Teacher imparts influences more than a single person.  His or her words and deeds will likely affect generations, perchance all of humanity.  Notes from former and present pupils remind a Teacher at most every turn.  Often a glance from a frustrated student, from one fond of learning, or a gaze off into space during a lecture, tells a tutor in the immediate that every moment matters.

Unlike George Bernard Shaw,  I often say, “Those who can, Teach!”  Education is an art and science. More than hand-eye coordination is required.  Task analysis too is not enough to teach.  Facts, formulas, and figures do not offer focus.  Fellowship must follow.  An instructor is not as a friend, whom students engage with for fun.  He or she, when devoted to excellence in education, is so much more.  

We learn from words.  Actions too deliver a message.  Communications and contact inform us.  When an Author writes, a Performer presents, a relative rants, rages, or roars with laughter, he/she advances awareness.  The intended quality of the instruction does not determine whether a lesson is learned.  Care and compassion count.

The mind is no match with the heart in persuasion; constitutionally is no match for compassion.

~ Everett M. Dirksen [Senate Minority Leader 1959 ~ 1969]

We all have had poor Teachers.  Some are known as Parents others Peers. Even progeny and Playwrights offer instruction.  What separates Teachers from the rest of these Educators is a philosophical preference, awareness for what George Bernard Shaw and society-at large misses.

Several sage scholars have devoted a lifetime of study to pedagogy, patience, and principles that further empathy through education.  These persons practice profound theories that others do not feel they have time let alone tolerance to pursue.  

Educators have lived, learned, and to this day understand, our experience of Teachers is unique.  What is dreadful for one student is delightful for another,  Instructors dare to challenge the myth that lives large in our lexicon.  They brave a collective consciousness and verve that states Shaw’s statements are wise. The thought Teachers cannot do, while our standard, is flawed.  A deeper reflection reveals the dynamism that is on display daily.

Perhaps, as a nation we might ponder the damage done when Parents, policymakers, and pundits posit; Educators are know-nothing, do-nothing. less than motivated individuals. Might we consider how the theme discourages children, let alone Educators?  A young mind could easily question why should I go to school only to sit with a failure?  

Could it be that toddlers and tots are wounded when in a desire to criticize, Moms and Dads mention the maxim in regards to an Instructor.   Might we as a society have given birth to many a self-fulfilling prophecy and a generation of students at risk?

Might we embrace  careers in education and those who take on the identity of Teacher.  

If we had, imagine what society could have been. Instead of a culture that adopts evidentiary erroneous beliefs as our truth, or a country commonly known as a dropout nation, we might have given rise to students who soar.

Possibly, beginning today we will agree, each of us had mentors who were accomplished in their field.  We had and have excellent Educators.  Most of us also had more than our fair share of miserable mentors. “He who can, did, does; and teaches.”  Indeed, we are all great Teachers to someone.   We have no choice; we can do nothing else. For as living, breathing beings, we constantly engage and exchange.  We share ideas and inspire others.  That by definition is education.

References and Resources . . .


Those Who Can Teach; Life Lessons Learned


copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or

He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches

~ George Bernard Shaw [Man and Superman, 1903]

“A fool’s brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.”

~ George Bernard Shaw

I heard the words for as long as I recall. The meaning was intricately  woven into my mind. I, as all little children since George Bernard Shaw scribed his belief, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches,” was taught to believe that Teachers could choose no other career.  Educators, entrusted with children’s lives were indeed, incapable beings.  These individuals had tried and failed to perform well in professions that required intellect and, or dexterity.  Because the incompetent were inept, they fled to schools and identified themselves as “Teachers.”  In classrooms, less than sage scholars could teach with little authentic expertise.  Today, as a culture, Americans choose to prove this erroneous truth.  Grading the Teachers: Value-Added Analysis.

Happily, our fellow citizens dismiss the “scientific” evidence that amasses.  In our stupor we embrace Value-Added Analysis, disregard the research revealed in a 2010 Department of Education report, Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance.  “Consideration of error rates is especially important when evaluating whether and how to use value-added estimates for making high-stakes decisions regarding teachers.”  

Americans do as they have done for well over a century; they look to those they love for guidance and validation, be it George Bernard Shaw or the Gates Foundation.   One loosely proclaims Teachers are incapable. The other spends $45-million dollars only to assert what his organization hoped to prove Study supports teacher ratings.  Yet, in truth the findings are extremely flawed.  Thus, is the logic of learning.  As a society rarely do we reflect upon the original source of the “sage” wisdom we subscribe to.

The “Decline Effect” escapes us.  Might it be that ignorance is bliss?  Perchance, in regards to lessons learned, and unlearned, it is.

How Do We Learn or Unlearn?

Let us begin with a look behind the statement that sways the public, the story of George Bernard Shaw. Historical records reveal, the Playwright loathed his primary Professor, his father.  Possibly, this detail supports my own truth, and perchance yours.  A number of those who provided lessons never knew they did.  Moms are mentors.  Dads are guides.  It is why any of us may accurately muse, “more is caught than taught.”  George Bernard Shaw learned from a master he detested.  Thus, as a child, Shaw concluded, those who counsel are not qualified to give advice.

I acknowledge, a few erudite individuals had no idea they taught or that they were my best tutors, even by being the worst.  This is true in homes and equally the case in classrooms.  Even in exchanges with random Educators we meet in life, be they the butcher, the baker, or candlestick maker, some sages teach us in sensationally pleasant ways.  Others offer lessons that are authentically painful to us.  Nonetheless, we learn.  I believe had George Bernard Shaw not been so severely scarred in his childhood home, he too would have acknowledged this wisdom.

Frequently, Mommies and Daddies seem, as Shaw might ascribe, anathema as Teachers.  My biological parents could have been characterized this way, and each was by a sibling or two.  I share.

When I was a toddler, I learned to walk, to talk, and to toilet train myself.   Granted, in the abstract, I had role models.  Concretely? Not so much.  Hence, my guru was my own grit and gumption.  Later, in my youth, I sought a scholar when I wanted to study how to ride a bicycle.  

Mommy and the man who was called father were busy.  They had but minutes a day to help me work on maintaining my balance. The automobile parked safely in the garage had hours to spend.  Therefore, I held the little Rambler’s hand or she held mine.  For days, I devoted much time to circling the car.  With one palm on the vehicle and the other on the handlebars, I went round and round until finally I trusted myself to do other than lean.  Then, I let go.  My Teacher, the red Rambler, released me from what seemed a spell only when she sensed I understood.  

The steel scholar had not pushed me; nor pulled me down.  That sweet metallic body let me be “me.”   Munificence, benevolence, largesse, and the gift of trust are qualities that few have.  I know not if these can be taught.  I do believe that if they are learned, a semester of lessons is not enough.

As a very young child, I realized that no one around me was an authentically patient prospect.  People pretended whilst they profess, they knew the way.  I can; therefore, I will teach is often the stated premise.  In actuality, in my life, the knowledgeable are frequently ill equipped to provide quality instruction.  Less inspire.  However, early on and even today, I do not endorse the conventional wisdom. “Mature” men and women posit, “My mother and father did the best they could.”  I would disagree.

My theory is less than lovely parents teach in manners, perhaps somewhat different, still, similar to those their parents favored.  Teachers do too.  If an Instructor learned to maintain an emotional distance, to lecture, rather than relate to a whole child, he or she will embrace this method.  If statistics, scores, and specific learning strategies spoke to a Teacher when they were a student, the probability is high that techniques that utilize such conventions will be their chosen standard.

I learned from my Mom who transformed before my eyes, this was her truth . . . that is until she realized how her path had hurt her children. Thus, I trust Teachers too can chose to be aware of how they ways work or are less effective for any learner.  Countless do.  Fortunately for me, innumerable gurus  have been my guides, much more so than the musings of George Bernard Shaw ever were.  

I wonder. In the world of teacher evaluation might we examine our beliefs more closely.  Could we not learn from a bit of real life reflection.   Let us not so quickly endorse the data that proves what we came to believe in childhood.   May each of us take a moment to sit with our reveries.  Reason.  Evaluate the history of “decline effects.” Might we ponder the vast body of research results that do not merely restate or support simplistic, long-sanctioned, supposed “solutions.”  Let us hold dear our personal memories and recall, not every Teacher is anathema to the notion of education. I ask you to have faith as I do; those who can do teach!

References for a repeated reality . . .

Arts for Change


copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.

One might inquire; does art imitate life or life imitate art.  Beverly Naidus, Artist, Activist, Educator, and Writer, the author of her third book Arts For Change reflects on this thesis.  Might we muse of what was, is, will be, and how each has been transformed.

The Persian Gulf was ablaze.  George Bush was in the Oval Office.   Talk of a war was everywhere.  Americans were told the conflict would be over quickly.  However, there may be, as there was, collateral damage.  Civilians died.  Soldiers did too.  Throughout the nation, people spoke of how we must “Support Our Troops.”  The President assured us, there was no reason to worry.  The mission would be accomplished.  “We will not fail,” the Commander-In-Chief clamored.  If we were to remain safe in the United States, “massive air and missile attacks on targets in Iraq” would be necessary.  

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared in defense or defiance, dependent on a persons perspective, “The great showdown has begun!  The mother of all battles is under way.”  Indeed, it was.  It was likely the intensity of battle would worsen.

An anxious public monitored Dick Cheney’s movements closely.  Certainly, his decisions would offer a clue.  The public sought to predict what would become of the battle.  When it was rumored that this powerful official, a man who represented the White House, was en route to Saudi Arabia, Americans felt sure.  This was the strongest indication that a ground war was eminent.  The only question was when.  The year was 1991.  I was among many enrolled in a multi-media class, Intermedia: Activist Art, taught by Beverly Naidus.  

Professor Naidus offered an expansive curriculum.  Her mantra was as she mentored artist to do, “Teach Outside the Frame.”  She did not ask students to think as she did or do as she had done.  Ms Naidus only exposed us to infinite information and invited us to ponder what was, and what could be.  We were introduced to Book Art,  Computer-Generated drawings, paintings, and video captured onto memory chips.  Installations were a form of expression most of us never saw before we studied with Beverly.  Performance Art also entered our consciousness under Professor Naidus’ tutelage.  Through her instruction, every medium became a tool for Social Change.  Life was as a prism, clear, while full of color.  Light entered into the awareness students and what was released . . . all wondrous.

Personally, I, Betsy L. Angert created two Book-Art works, ones I would hope to publish one day.  Each was on the Iraq War.  Then yellow, white, and of course, red, and blue ribbons could be seen on every corner.  In one volume, I focused on the silk strands that flourished on every avenue.  In the other tome, authored with Mary Welty, Double Speak was the theme.  Desert Storm offered much fodder.  “Smart bombs,” “surgical strike,” “precision bombing” and “collateral damage,” all are art forms meant for change.  Minds that loathed war, learned to love a clean combat.  

In my own life, Beverly Naidus is the Art that changed me.  She helped me to see and share in ways I had never imagined.  I thank her, and take this opportunity to introduce you to a talent that teaches, and her latest book.  

Please peruse, ponder, and if you choose purchase . . .

For Immediate Release

Title: Arts for Change

Subtitle: Teaching Outside the Frame

Author: Beverly Naidus

ISBN: 978-0-9815593-0-8

Publisher: New Village Press

Distributor: Consortium

Pages: 256

Binding: Trade Paperback

Trim: 6.0 x 9.0 x 0.56

Illustration: 48 B/W Photographs

Release: February 20, 2009

Pub Date: April 2009

Price: $14.95

Contact:  Karen Stewart 510 420-1361

New Village Press to publish Arts for Change: Teaching Outside the Frame by Beverly Naidus

Arts for Change overturns conventional arts pedagogy with an activist’s passion for creating art that matters

Oakland, CA (January 15, 2009) – New Village Press  announces its forthcoming title, Arts for Change, by Beverly Naidus, a provocative, personal look at the motivations and challenges of teaching socially engaged arts. The author offers candid examination of her own university teaching career, weaves in broader social and historical perspectives, and opens readers’ minds to other points of view, including those collected from contemporaries in her field.

Arts for Change intersperses scholarly concerns with intimate, image-rich metaphor in a free-spirited, non-academic prose. The author answers vital questions that students and educators have long been asking: How can polarized groups work together to solve social and environmental problems?  How can art be used to raise consciousness?

Using her personal experiences in the classroom as a template, Naidus guides the reader through a progression of steps to help students observe the world around them and craft artistic responses to what they see. Arts for Change also features interviews with over 30 artist/educators with diverse opinions and strategies for successfully engaging students in what, to them, is most meaningful.

Illustrated with 48 visuals and photographs of student, faculty, and community works, Arts for Change is both inspirational and instructional. It is sure to stimulate new thinking among arts faculty, arts students, and activists of all kinds, as well as anyone who has an inkling of the role the arts can play in responding to critical issues of the day.

Beverly Naidus’ warm and serious pedagogic memoir should ring bells with educators everywhere. I have long admired her commitment to an alternative path in teaching art and social justice without contradictions. Her personal and political odyssey, and the thumbnail portraits of her artist colleagues/mentors, offer an illuminating glimpse beyond the academic curtain.

~ Lucy R. Lippard, art critic, activist, curator, author

The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society

Intended Audience

College-level educators and graduate students in arts education, arts, and social change theory, best practices in community-based arts, and history of community arts courses. Faculty and students of critical arts theory and feminist art. Social activists.

About Beverly Naidus

Beverly Naidus, artist, activist, educator, and writer, has had her work exhibited internationally in venues including the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Armand Hammer Museum at UCLA. She is the author of two artist’s books: One Size Does Not Fit All and What Kinda Name is That, and has authored several essays on activist art pedagogy. She is currently co-creating a program at University of Washington, Tacoma on Arts in Community, with a focus on arts for social change within the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Program. She lives on Vashon Island, WA with her husband and son.

About New Village Press

New Village Press is a nonprofit publisher specializing in works about grassroots community building, urban ecology, and community cultural development. Since 2005, the press has been publishing progressive non-fiction that offers useful solutions to social, environmental, and economic challenges.

References for the resource that is Beverly Naidus. . .

“Two Million Minutes” or Where There is a Will

Two Million Minutes

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert

The exceedingly successful Tennessee businessman may have shrieked with excitement when he realized all along he likely knew what would work well in American schools.  “More is best.”  “Too much is never enough.”  For an Entrepreneur these adages are thought accurate.  Bob Compton, founder and head of several technology and medical firms, a man with a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard knows how to tackle a problem and achieve results.  

Inspired during a dinner conversation in Bangalore, India, Mister Compton pondered the profundity of his mealtime companion.  The man from the Far East was bright, brilliant in fact.  He was well versed.  As Bob Compton, Tennessee father of 14- and 16-year-old girls assessed his newfound acquaintance, he marveled.  He became intensely aware of the puzzle he had not considered in depth previously; American children, teens, and adolescents are not well-informed.  Nor are they globally fluent.  

Compton, a successful venture capitalist, was meeting with some of the Indian software engineers he employed.  He soon found himself engaged in “the most interesting conversations I’ve ever had.”

He had expected math and science nerds.  But they also knew more about history, geography, and literature than most Americans he knew.

“I said to them, ‘How’d you get this way?'” he recalled.  “They said, ‘Well, at school.'”

After careful consideration, Bob Compton thought he found the solution to what has troubled many in America for years; how do we better educate our children.  Mister Compton calculated pupils plus time on task with a teacher trained in a specific topic equals overwhelming output.  Certainly, in the marketplace this computation makes sense.  Moguls, such as Bob Compton, often muse; minutes are money.

Thrilled to realize a resolution to the tribulations educators experience in schools today, Bob Compton set off to share the wisdom.  Compton created a documentary and screened the film at his alma mater, Harvard University.

Expert Theorists from the Graduate School of Education gathered to review what Bob Compton thought his finest portfolio, a feature film on Education.  

Through the documentary Professors of pedagogy would learn, in Bangalore, India, Shanghai, China, and Carmel, Indiana, a suburb of Indianapolis, societal expectations vary.  Students in China and India are busily engaged in their education,  Pupils “work” day and night.  In India, “High School” students, those in seventh, eight, and ninth grades, are required to take four years of math, physics, chemistry, biology, English literature, English grammar, civics, world history and Hindi.  Fourteen classes are considered an average course load.  

In contrast, American youth have few requisites.  The basics are small in scope.  Electives are popular.  Rigor, in most classes is scant.  If a pupil enrolls in physics, the study will not last more than one year.  A four-year program in the science of matter, energy, and force is not offered, let alone mandatory.  One year of biology, one year of chemistry; these are thought to be adequate in America.  In his film, Mister Compton features the variance . . .

(T)he voice of Neil Ahrendt, an affable, well-spoken young man and a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, saying: “Occasionally, I do homework.”

Then classmate Brittany Brechbuhl talks about the importance of balancing schoolwork and social life. . . .

Hu Xiaoyuan, one of the Shanghai students, wants to study biology in college but also excels at ballet and violin. Her schoolmate, Jin Ruizhang, is a math whiz who says he began pulling all-nighters in junior high.

One of the Indian students, Apoorva Uppala, is a vivacious girl whose goals are to have a stimulating career in engineering and a happy family life. In the film, she outlines a weekend day, which includes studying with a tutor:

“Yesterday — that was Saturday — I got up in the morning at 5:45, got dressed . . . and then had two hours of tuitions; after that did a bit of math and physics and then went to breakfast with my friends; then after that straight to school, and . . . we had classes for three hours after that — without a break.”

Each of these capsules, Mister Compton explains make his point.  Hard work produces results.  However, Howard Gardner and other educational theorist thought his data and deductions flawed.

Esteemed Harvard Professor Gardner, a man who is often thought to be ahead of his times, offered only disdain for the documentary.  The film may have been a fine composition; nevertheless, the hypothesis was horrific.  Certainly, Howard Gardner chimed, the cure for what ails American students is not found in the simplistic formula Bob Compton offers.  

Gardner, among many prominent educators inquired, “What of the curriculum?” “How are multiple intelligences addressed?” Perhaps most obviously, for Doctor Gardner, without the liberties afforded in America, children cannot possibly be better prepared.  The scholarly mentor suggests the American system is better than those in Asian countries if only for the fact that here in the United States we have freedom of speech.  However, the contention Doctor Gardner offers can be argued.

American students even in low-performing states like Alabama do better on math and science tests than students in most foreign countries, including Italy and Norway, according to a new study released Wednesday.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that students in Singapore and several other Asian countries significantly outperform American students, even those in high-achieving states like Massachusetts, the study found.

“In this case, the bad news trumps the good because our Asian economic competitors are winning the race to prepare students in math and science,” said the study’s author, Gary Phillips, chief scientist at the American Institutes of Research, a nonprofit independent scientific research firm.

The author of Multiple Intelligence huffs and puffs; Compton’s computation will not do.  The two men are engaged as mathematicians might be.  They each offer an equation.  They check the math.  Lines in geometric proofs are read one by one.  Yet, the conclusions they reach are different.

As each affirms, he is correct and the other has miscalculated.  Neither recalls facts, just as human beings, are fluid.  Concepts might be far more comprehensive than lists, linear logic, or logarithms.  In a flat, two-dimensional world a triangle has a total of 360 degrees.  In a three-dimensional space, the number increases.  Few pupils populate a plane without depth.

Children congregate in a classroom; yet, they are not a group.  Granted and gloriously, Howard Gardner attempted to expand the way adults envision how intelligence is expressed.  Nonetheless, he too posits parameters.  Theorist Gardner simplified the structure that is human, just as tycoon Bob Compton does and then rebukes the businessman for his shortsightedness.

Gardner does not appear to take into account what he would wish educators do when they evaluate a prospectus that ignores various ways students communicate or acquire knowledge.  The complexity of any subject or area of study is vast.  There are billions of brains and beautiful beings who want to learn.  No single method or mindset is superlative.  No country or concept is greater than another.  Logician Gardner seems to negate what he knows and espouses.  The youth are as varied as approaches to teach them or test them might be.  

Possibly, the supposition never explored in schools is, where there is a will there is a way.  If a youthful scholar feels the information shared is real, and relevant to him or her, as an individual, interest can be ignited.

If educators, the elders, parents and professional instructors, are to assist the children, each must encourage our offspring.  We must meet our young ones where they live.  Homes and schools may house their bodies; who the children are and what they will become resides in hearts and minds.  Possibly Howard Gardner and Bob Compton might consider intellect, curiosity, and concentration, are stirred.  Education is not limited by the number of hours spent in study.  Likewise, when educators evaluate the means by which a child reaches a standardized set of objectives, they too miss much.

What occurs in the classroom is not only the critical criteria to consider.  Did Mommy and Daddy announce their impending divorce over dinner last evening?  Perhaps, baby brother was ill.  The entire family spent the night in the hospital.  Might a child’s cold, flu, and fever affect an appraisal.  Will a sweet little girl perform well if her course load is increased, she lives in a nation where liberties are not denied; and she is continually distracted by thoughts of how her parents abandoned her.  The scars our children wear are not found on sleeves.  

Time in school and recognition for the type of intelligence they display will not likely yield perfectly balanced pupils.

Still, Howard Gardner speaks on.  He writes of what he concludes is the optimal solution, the seven intelligences.  The celebrated scholar suggests students are better served when characterized and classified by categories.  

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

Dr. Gardner, endeavors to improve the circumstances on this globe.  The Professor of Education poses his intent.  I want my children to understand the world, but not just, because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious.  I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place.

Yet, he does not realize as he might, corporate mogul Bob Compton, also seeks to assist American children make the world a better place.  In spite of shared visions, the two men cannot agree on the means to solve the dilemma.  The data each acquired differs.  Perchance, the initial hypothesis effected the results.  The thinkers, in a desire to be profound do not ponder; science is not exact.  Scientist, scholars, and well-meaning magnates are not as exacting as they endeavor to be.

When humans are the subjects, solutions are not simple.  

The experts agree on the problem and not on the solution.  Parents and teachers are challenged to inspire minds.  Material wealth and money motivate American children.  Young minds, for the most part, in the United States remain stagnant.  The dropout rate is at an all time high.  Critical and creative thought is uncommon.  Pupils in this affluent country look forward to social gatherings.  College is a place where the social skills are honed.  The attitude is, at best to party hardy, or hardly ever in class.  

Each sees a crisis in American classrooms and communities and then builds a box.

American students are “slackers,” or intelligence is not measured adequately.  Indian and Chinese children are diligent, dedicated, and devoted and the way we measure intelligence in American schools is misguided.  Teachers in the East are seen as taskmasters, while educators in the states are not trained in the subjects they teach.  Mentors, Moms, and Dads in the United States are lenient.  Parents abroad expect more from their young.  The theories Mister Compton and Professor Gardner present, while arguably accurate may not address what is within individual learners.

The film quotes Vivek Wadhwa, a tech entrepreneur on sabbatical at Duke University, explaining why American students are slipping behind in math and science.

“The hunger isn’t there; the desire isn’t there,” he says.  Chinese and Indian kids “are a lot more motivated to get into these fields and succeed, because they’re fighting starvation, they’re fighting hunger.”

How to compete with that?  It isn’t easy.

What is not easy is evaluation and execution.  Whether we are educators or entrepreneurs, parents, or Professors, perchance, we must study ourselves and ponder.  What have we learned well and why.  When did we love learning?  The answer may be more instructive than any lesson plan.

When coursework is real and relevant to us, we revel in education.  The hunger, excellent pupils in India and China may feel, likely reaches a place far beyond the belly.  Exceptional learners are as Bob Compton was when he met a true mentor, inspired.  An individual or curriculum that can and does speak to our soul helps us to soar.

Perhaps the concentration on singular solutions such as hard work, or statistics calculated through test scores, or even slots that specify what type of learner a student is, limit us.  If we are to teach creativity, curiosity, and critical thought, the characteristics that truly benefit a child and a culture, then perchance we must act as though we are curious, creative, and can think critically.  

Might Americans, Chinese, and Indians, not merely prepare the progeny to perform as we have in the past might we allow our offspring to be and see beyond our narrow horizons.  Could we best serve the children, and society, if we listen to their concerns.  Learn from them.  Perhaps, we might become acquainted with each child as a person and build not a box, but a curriculum that allows the individual to breathe.  If we attend to what occurs in a young persons life and share with our offspring authentically, then, we may be able to  unlock the will to learn.  

Perhaps the equation that cries out to us is, one pupil plus an empathetic  educator equals excellence.  Please, let the children teach us the way that best meets their needs.

References and Educational Resources . . .

Exit Exams, High School Dropouts; Cause and Effect


copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

In California, students are crushed by the weight of exit exams.  Some feel defeated.  After numerous failures on test after test, pupils presume, rather than make another attempt, it is best to just dropout.  In 2006, 24,000 high school seniors dropped out, about 10,000 more than just four years earlier.

  • Please also peruse Dropout Nation; Communities Can Cure The Silent Student Epidemic.   The causes and effects of “dropping out” are explored in greater detail in that treatise.
  • Nationwide, the number of dropouts is staggering; however, in states that require the ever-popular exit exams the rate rises steadily.

    HighSchool Exit Exams Linked to Higher Dropout Rates, Researchers Find

    By David Glenn

    Since 1979, a growing number of states have required high school students to pass exit examinations before they can receive diplomas.  For nearly as long, scholars and policy makers have debated whether such exams do more harm than good.

    Proponents of exit exams say they improve learning and future employment by giving both students and school districts better incentives to succeed.  Skeptics say the exams needlessly prevent students who have otherwise completed all their course work from receiving diplomas.  They also warn that the exams could prompt some students to drop out of high school as early as the 10th or 11th grade, if they think they will fail the tests.

    The latest battleground over the issue is California . . .

    Now two teams of scholars have written papers that support the more harm than good thesis.  In a recent working paper, Thomas S. Dee, an associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College, and Brian A. Jacob, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard University, reported that students in states with relatively easy exit exams are roughly 4 percent more likely to drop out of high school than similar students in states with no exams.  In states with relatively difficult exit exams, students are 5.5 percent more likely to drop out than their counterparts in states with no exams.

    The effects are stronger among African American men, Mr. Dee and Mr. Jacob found.  In states with easy exit exams, black male students are 5.2 percent more likely to drop out of high school than their counterparts in states with no exit exams.  In states with more rigorous exit exams, they are 7.3 percent more likely to drop out than are their counterparts in states with no exit exams.

    Those that struggle to do well yet miss the mark by a point, two, or twenty must not be college material, or so a disheartened adolescent is led to believe.  Tens of thousands of distraught pupils give up on themselves just as their elders have done.  Young academics that do not measure up on exit exams often conclude they are misfits; they do not seem to fit in a society that demands they meet agreed upon standards, as senseless and biased as these standards might be.

    The force of mandated exams looms large over the heads of want-to-be High School graduates.  Beginning in the sophomore year, young academics are required to test for graduation.  Examinations focus on math, English, and algebra skills.  Formulaic solutions are featured.  There is no need to think deeply when faced with standardized Scantron™ answer forms.  Indeed, if a learner ruminates intensely they may be penalized.  Time is of the utmost importance.  Those that administer the exam remind test-takers you either know the correct answer or you do not.  If uncertain move on.  Your overall score matters most.

    Critical thought can consume minutes, hours, days, and months.  High School curriculums have no time for such an exercise.  Analysis is not crucial if a pupil wishes to advance.  A learner is considered capable if they are able to choose the correct bubble and completely blacken the circle.  Results are recorded for posterity.  Granted, pupils have multiple chances to pass the mandated multiple-choice examinations.  However, if a student cannot deliver after six attempts, they are done. They have “failed”

    Policymakers presume they have given pupils an equal  chance.  They think it irrelevant that the assessment rarely relates to the life of a student or the lessons received in class.  It matters not that individual learning styles are ignored or that a learners language skills are not considered.  When the school determines it is apt, a student is placed in a room and told “Perform.”  

    Administrators’ demand or command excellence.  The date, or the dilemmas that teens cope with daily is not averaged into the grade.  What occurred on that day, at that time, in that year, or within the institution are not considered applicable in calculations.  When it is convenient for the school, students must achieve.  

    Reach for the gold star.  Grab the brass ring.  Success will be yours.  Pencils down.  Pooh!  Failed again.

    Confronted with a curriculum that does not meet the needs of the student population, or of a particular pupil, many young scholars are overwhelmed with fear.  Apprehension alone is enough to affect achievement.  Language barriers also boggle a mind.  

    For a 16-year-old, Iris Padilla’s resume looks pretty good: Not only is she already a senior close to completing all the credits needed to graduate from Richmond High, she’s president of a Latin American culture club and is active in political and religious clubs at school.  Next year, Iris wants to go to college and study psychology.

    But Richmond High might not let her graduate this spring.

    That’s because Iris hasn’t passed the exit exam, and she has only one more chance before graduation day to tackle the two-day test, on March 21-22.

    Iris is one of 73,270 California high school seniors in the same pickle — unable to fulfill a new state law requiring students to pass a test of basic English, math, and algebra to graduate.  That’s 1 in 5 members of the state’s Class of 2006, says the state Department of Education.

    More than half of those who still need to pass — 40,002 students — are like Iris: They don’t speak much English.

    Iris Padilla is a superior student.  Any college would welcome a young woman so dedicated to her education, and to her community.  Perchance, in an institution of higher learning faculty and facilitators understand that, typically it takes seven years to acquire fluency in a foreign language.  A University may give Iris Padilla the opportunity to truly acquire English language skills.  However,, we may never know, for the young woman may not have the chance to apply to one of the many ivory towers, although she has prepared to do so all of her life.

    Iris is a  disciplined scholar as are most in her precarious situation.  The vast majority of teenagers that cannot pass the exit examinations have hopes, dreams, and drive.  

    Her school day begins at 7:30 a.m. with an exit-exam prep class in math.  Then it’s on to geometry, economics, computer graphics, world history, and an English-language class.  She is passing them all.  After school, Iris attends another prep class for the English portion of the test.

    Her teacher, Isidora Martinez-McAfee, has been teaching English to newcomers in the same classroom for 30 years and has seen most of them graduate, and many go on to college.

    “Some have become dentists, hygienists, nurses, psychologists, teachers,” said Martinez-McAfee.

    But now, she fears, students like Iris will stagnate.

    With one month left to go before her final shot at passing the exit exam, Iris still finds an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem on the practice test impenetrable, and word problems in math as clear as Greek.

    Does that mean Iris should be barred from walking across the graduation stage with her classmates, or that she should receive an empty envelope when theirs contains a diploma?

    State Superintendent Jack O’Connell, who wrote the exit exam law in 1999 while a state senator, calls it “immoral” to award diplomas to students who can’t pass the test.

    Time, narrowly-focused-dogmatic-dictatorial bureaucrats, and those that profit from the policies these legislators devise are not on the side of students such as Iris.  American-born Iris Padilla [and others] is punished upon her return to the homeland.  Iris Padilla, for most of her life lived with her Grandmother in Mexico.  She came back to her mother’s home only months before she shared her story with Journalist Nanette Asimov.  Iris may not receive a diploma.  Dependant on the District, she too may be defined as a dropout.  The dropout crisis is, in many ways, contrived.

    To complicate matters, dropout rates do not simply or directly translate to an accurate graduation rate.  Multiple methods and definitions can result in what appears to be conflicting information.  For example, it is possible to have a low rate of dropout based on event or status calculations, and to have a low rate of graduation as well.  The formula and parameters (e.g., age, grade, accountability period) used to determine the rate must be carefully considered and explained . . .

    A focus on measuring graduation rates is conceptually linked to recent increased emphasis on the importance of promoting student engagement to enhance school completion.  However, due to lack of standardized definitions and methods for computing dropout rates and graduation rates, interpretation must be carefully considered.  Until a standard procedure is established and used across districts, states, and national reporting agencies, reports of dropout and graduation rates can be interpreted accurately only when accompanied by explanations of how the numbers were derived.

    Rarely are the numbers reflective of what occurs within a school, a District, or a  State.  While elders stress accountability for students, they, themselves are not held to a rigid standard.  It behooves an educational facility to filter out those that lower the ranking.  No Child Left Behind laws put Administrators in a position to choose.  Punish the student or punish the school.  Most prefer to penalize the youngster.

    Administrators might justify such an act.  After all, America needs an unskilled labor force.  Those without a high school diploma can fill those slots.  Besides, once out of the system they have one more opportunity to take the exit exam.  Thus, there is no reason to worry if students dropout.

    If a pupil cannot pass the exam after five tries while enrolled, then financially, it is better for the institution if that student is no longer counted in the final tally.  Federal officials will not fund underperforming schools.  Sanctions are progressively more punitive each year.  Hence, a school benefits when those registered are able to do well on standardized tests.

    Affluent parents pour millions into test preparation classes.  Online training is also available; however, that too costs money.  Some schools also supplement schedules to accommodate students in need of more guidance.  This helps those that have access to such assistance.  However, sadly many students do not have this luxury.

    A young person that receives no one-on-one instruction at home or at school often feels lost and fears stating this aloud.  Peers can be cruel.  Yet, if parents are absent, away at a one job or another, children are left to fend for themselves.  The economically poor child is poorer still.  A Mom or Dad working multiple jobs cannot give a child the attention instruction demands.  An underprivileged parent is frequently of meager means because they are undereducated.  The two characteristics collide and all in close proximity feel the impact.

    Based on the most careful calculation of graduation rates and the longest time span, this study concluded that exit exams, and particularly the more difficult exams, did reduce high school completion rates by about 2.1 percentage points.  Furthermore, the negative effects of exams were larger in states with high rates of poverty and with more racially and ethically diverse student populations.  This conclusion reinforces results from other studies indicating that test score results and passing rates vary substantially by race, ethnicity and income.

    Young persons without the tools, left alone at home, must rely on teachers to teach them.  Most educators are preoccupied, too many pupils, too many tests.  Thus, a frustrated teenager flits and flitters.  Angst filters through the mind and body of an eager scholar stressed to the limit.  Trepidation coupled with confusion does more than merely aggravate an academic.  Aspiring adolescents in California conclude, it is better to give up, dropout, and forfeit a diploma.

    California Exit Exam Boosts Dropout Numbers

    By Juliet Williams

    Associated Press

    November 8, 2007

    Sacramento, Calif. (AP) – The number of California high school dropouts spiked in 2006, the first year seniors were required to pass an exit exam to graduate, according to a report presented Wednesday to the state Board of Education.

    The analysis found that 24,000 high school seniors dropped out in 2006, about 10,000 more than just four years earlier.

    The information could give ammunition to lawmakers and others who have criticized the exam, as well as those who have lobbied for alternative assessments.


    Currently, politicians and policymakers decide how we might evaluate learning.  These persons are rarely if ever trained professional teachers.  Nor do most recall life as a student.  Superintendents, Commissioners, community leaders ignore or forget what they once knew.  Intelligence and knowledge are fluid.  Statistical calculations are fixed.

    A child develops; wisdom expands.  Under stress, growth is stunted; intelligence wanes.  We struggle to access acumen when placed in a situation that breeds anxiety.

    Children learn well when they are not forced fed.  So too do adults.  Contemplate the myriad of facts you gathered quickly.  When a topic was of interest to you personally, you seized the vital statistics with vigor.  Consider the data you forgot over the years.  Records memorized only to recite back on a test, soon fade from memory.  

    The wonks may want us to believe that instructors can teach to a test and children will learn.  However, when we study, what has no meaning for more than a moment, we internalize little if any of what was placed before us.

    Insight is accrued slowly.  Erudition is a process.  A portfolio of work demonstrates the evolution known as scholarship.  Experts in education understand this.

    The firm that prepared the report, Human Resources Research Organization of Alexandria, Va., made several recommendations to the board, including a suggestion that California explore other ways for high school seniors to demonstrate proficiency.  In Massachusetts and Washington State, for example, students can be judged on a portfolio of their high school work.

    However, in most other regions  enlightenment is delayed.  Emissaries and executives look on from outside the classroom.  They decide what is best for those in schools.  When the voices within educational system dissent, the sound they make is often muffled.  At times, there is a small victory.  Overall, little changes.

    Exit Exam Challenged!

    POOR Magazine Youth intern who didn’t pass the Exit Exam reviews the legal challenges that were recently decided on.

    Antonio William/PNN Youth in Media?

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    “How can they talk about us standing on corners, using drugs, we are hard-working students trying to get an education,” a Latina Richmond High School Student wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke into the corporate media lens.  She was speaking outside a school board hearing in April on the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).

    Earlier this month two major legal challenges to the CAHSEE were heard and adjudicated on in California courts.  The first one: Liliana Valenzuela, et al v. Jack O’Connell, which was fought by attorneys Arturo Gonzalez and Chris Young from Morrison and Foerster on the basis of the educational, due process and equal protection rights afforded to students under the California Constitution.  We won this one.  Alameda County Judge Robert Freedman decided on Friday May 11th to delay diploma denial for the class of 2006.

    When issuing the injunction, Freedman said he was swayed by Gonzalez’s argument that low-income of color students, English language learners in particular attend low-performing schools that do not prepare them adequately for the test.

    Of the 46,700 seniors who have failed the test, 20,600 are designated as limited English learners and 28,300 are very lo-income.  I am one of those 28,300 students.

    Progress is slow, be it in learning, or in policy making.  We accept and expect adult practices to be measured.  As a culture, we believe that change must calculated.  The pace need be unhurried and deliberate.  However, in the area of education, we want assessments to be completed without delay.  The process quick and is dirty.  Children are damaged by the experience.  Still, the need to be saturated with statistics is honored and gratified.

    We have all heard the ancient axiom that discredits educators.  It seems the general public, Boards, Judges, and legislators believe anyone can do what most dare not, enter a classroom full of twenty, thirty, or forty unique, excited, expectant young persons and make a significant difference.  The accepted adage is,  ‘Those that cannot teach.’  Thus, educators have no power to determine the curriculum.  Teachers are trained to oversee tests.  That is the way their superiors like it.

    Jack O’Connell, superintendent of public instruction, has consistently opposed such an [alternative] option.

    Exit exams remain a requisite for High school graduation.  The practice is profitable for publishers and other adult professionals, [not for pupils.]  Mega millions are spent on improving evaluative systems.  

    Hidden Costs Present Challenges

    The costs are considerable for a state, as well as individual school districts, to put in place a high school exit exam and help students meet the standards required by the test.  For example, it costs Indiana, a state with an exit exam of average difficulty, $557 per student to maintain the state’s current level of performance on the exam, according to the Center on Education Policy.

    The argument is that if a student is well prepared the cost of remediation will be reduced.  However, there is no need for further instruction after graduation if a child is taught well initially.  Society invests little in schools in poorer neighborhoods, less on quality teachers for impoverished pupils, and even less on the students that sit in inadequate classrooms, and it shows.  Pupils trapped in an inner city ghetto help us to see the stark differentiation between the best of conditions and the worse.  Without well-educated parents to supplement a child’s education at home, the outcome for a student is dire.  Impoverished students suffer the consequences of their birth and station.

    The report’s findings validate the argument that the test is hardest on students who do not have access to good schools or good teachers, said Liz Guillen, director of legislative and community affairs for the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates.  That applies mostly to poor and minority students, she said . . .

    The report also highlights California’s persistent achievement gap and found an even more worrisome problem: Students who are black, Hispanic, poor or learning English did even worse when they were in schools with high concentrations of similar students.

    The disparity between the haves and “have-nots” is daunting.  The separation between the socio-economic classes is broad and widens.  As we assess dropout rates, we can see that city school students are far more likely to drop than suburban scholars are.

    Perhaps, exit exams have a purpose, albeit financial.  Institutions gain when students are encouraged to forfeit a diploma.  If those that struggle to pass the required assessment dropout, the percentage that graduate appears higher.  The books are “legitimately” cooked.  

    Thus, the accountability standards designated by No Child Left Behind are achieved.  Conveniently, children left behind fill the ranks of the lower caste.  American society remains stable; the status quo is preserved.  The haves are served and the have-nots continue to dream the impossible.  

    We may think we are comfortable as long as we, and our progeny, graduate.  However, there are repercussions, not only for the children, but also for society as a whole.  When a nation breeds a poor population, we give rise to generational poverty, people in need of assistance.  This can burden a community, as well as bring about greater resentment, rebellion, and ultimately to increased societal ills, physical, emotional, intellectual.  Welfare is but a singular, isolated, and the smallest consequence of poverty.  

    The community, as a whole, suffers when we do not care for each other. Wages fall.  There is less opportunity to work.  Physical and mental well-beings are threatened.  Poverty is a shared load. It taxes individuals, institutions, and neighborhoods.  The effects of impoverishment may be more evident among the young.  Sadly, the weakest among us, from birth, are lumped together in underperforming schools.  Through them, we might better diagnosis what affects us all.

    [T]he vast majority of underachieving students are concentrated in such [poor] schools [with minority populations.]

    Most students are able to pass the exam in time for graduation, although critics note that as graduation day approaches more students drop out of school and stop being counted.

    Poor and minority students help to remind us what occurs when we ignore or deny sound pedagogical principles.  Children must be taught and tested in a manner that mirrors the way they learn.  The acquisition of knowledge internalized occurs over time.  Elucidation occurs when we meet people where they live.  Attention to learning modalities matters.

    If a pupil acquires best information when active, we must provide them with opportunities to produce.  Then, we can evaluate the product.  Educators must recall the maxim, “Practice makes perfect.'”  One project completed does not equate to scholarship.  The process, the progression affirms full comprehension.  When an individual has a foundation, they are able to create anew.  That is excellence.

    If a child acquires knowledge aurally, that option must also be available.  Appraisals for such a child need to also accommodate this learning modality.  Once more, a young person cannot be accurately evaluated on one occasion.  We each are a mixture of moments.  Any of us may excel in the morning and fade in the afternoon, or vice versa.  We cannot be sure what a day will bring.  We can be certain that if we evaluate a pupil frequently, if a young academic is challenged to grow at their own pace, in a manner that meets their needs ultimately, they will do well.

    Again, a collection of work helps us to understand how a child performs in various conditions.  No one of us is ever the same in every moment.  We may do well with a good night’s rest, with sufficient food in our belly, and if we have had ample and exceptional opportunities to associate ourselves with the material.  However, even all these advantages will not compensate for what occurs on any given day.  Word of a parents’ divorce, a death in the family, or just dread can doom a thinker to failure.

    We all have feelings.  Perchance we, as a society, might realize our emotions often lead us to defeat.  Great angst felt at the prospect of a test, one that could shape our future and cause us to fail.  Indeed, it probably will.

    There’s no doubt that today students are under intense pressure to perform academically, but at what cost?  The Institute of HeartMath® ( and Claremont Graduate University ( released a new study that depicts the high levels of anxiety students are shouldering due to the pressure to excel intellectually.  Nearly two-thirds of the high school students who participated in the study reported being affected by test anxiety.  The study underscores the detrimental impact of test anxiety on academic performance.  Based on their findings, researchers say that students’ high levels of anxiety may jeopardize NCLB assessment validity and could be compromising testing results.

    HeartMath researchers explain that feelings of anxiety drive up the level of “noise” or mental static to such a pitch that it overloads the circuits in the brain needed for paying attention, learning, focusing, and remembering.

    Dr. Rollin McCraty, lead researcher on the study and director of research for the Institute of HeartMath, says, “When students are anxious about their test performance, their brain doesn’t function efficiently.  They can look at a test question and literally not see certain words, become confused, or miss the meaning of a question.  They can even miss seeing entire questions on the page.”

    Hence, I plead.  Policymakers, please understand, if we continue to assess our offspring in manners that befuddle them, threaten their sense of self, and serve only to generate a statistical base, we will alienate those we depend on most, our children.  The young are our future.  Do we really wish to throw them out of the schools and onto the streets?  I hope not.  

    Some may see the poorest among us a disposable, dispensable, or expendable.  They are not.  Those that consider their children a priority and lessen the worth of the poor have yet to do the math.  Compassion aside, we all pay the price for poverty.  

    A community is the sum total of the parts.  If the elite do not invest in the education of impoverished youth, the cost incurred by all will be high.  An unskilled, under-educated laborer is less likely to be secure in their employment.  Wages for manual and menial work is low.  Transitions affect economic stability.  Uneducated employees may not have adequate health care.  Bargaining for benefits is easier when you have an education to stand on.  The shared cost of medical services alone takes a toll on the rates we each pay.  Increased crime is a possibility we must consider.  The effects of emotions expand.  No one can predict with certainly what will become of our High School dropouts.  

    I invite educators and parents alike to advocate for the youth of America.  Put yourself in the place of your progeny.  Please do not be punitive and pedantic.  Provide for our pupils.  Bequeath them equal opportunities to progress over time in a manner that matches who they are.  Let us not endorse artificial proofs of learning.  May we empathize and embrace young minds while they are still in school.  Policymakers, please drop in to our schools and experience the devastation exit exams reap before our children drop out.

    Schools Days, Rigid Rules, and References . . .

  • Dropout Nation: What’s Wrong With America’s High Schools? By Nathan Thornburgh.  Time Magazine. Sunday, April 09, 2006
  • pdf Dropout Nation: What’s Wrong With America’s High Schools? By Nathan Thornburgh.  Time Magazine. Sunday, Apr. 09, 2006
  • High-School Exit Exams Boom, but Students Still May Be Unready for College. The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 6, 2007
  • High School Exit Exams Linked to Higher Dropout Rates, Researchers Find By David Glenn. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2006
  • Exit exam a test of determination, Language barrier adds unfair burden, critics say of requirement.  By Nanette Asimov.  San Francisco Chronicle. SF Gate. Monday, February 27, 2006
  • New analysis finds serious flaws in recommendations for high school exit exams.  The Pennsylvania School Boards Association. 2007
  • How are Dropout Rates Measured? What are Associated Issues? National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET).
  • The Effects of Poverty on Teaching and Learning, The Concept of Being At-Risk.  The Art and Science of Teaching with Technology®
  • Poverty and Community. A New Discussion for the New Millenium. By Jeff Faux.  Economic Policy institute. May 1, 1998
  • Exit Exam Challenged! POOR Magazine Youth intern who didn’t pass the Exit Exam reviews the legal challenges that were recently decided on.  By Antonio William.  PNN Youth in Media.  Poor Magazine. Wednesday, May 24, 2006;
  • Learning Modalities: Pathways to Effective Learning, By Dr. Patricia Hutinger.  Public Brocasting Services Teachers.
  • New Study Raises Concerns about Current Test-Taking Requirements. The Institute of HeartMath® and Claremont Graduate University.
  • Exit exam eludes some, By Fermin Leal, Erica Perez, and Sam Miller.  The Orange County Register. November 28, 2006
  • Overview of Second Language Acquisition.  Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. 2003
  • High school dropouts earn far less money, By Ben Feller.  Boston Globe. September 12, 2006
  • Unemployment level of college grads surpasses that of high-school dropouts. Economic Policy Institute. 2004