Thursday, November 27, 2008

Future plans

A number of posts ago, Mrs. C. asked me when I was going to retire. Well, she asked for it, so she's going to get it.

I have been paying into Minnesota's TRA for more than 34 years now. This state has a rule of 90, so as of last December, I could have hung up the chalk and begun collecting full retirement benefits. The Warroad School District, however has a rather attractive twenty year package, and since I spent my first fifteen years in a different district, last year was only my nineteenth here. This is my twentieth. So that must mean that I'll be hanging it up at the end of this school year, right? Well, not so fast.

My main problem is that I have few hobbies. Warroad is the hunting and fishing capital of the world, but I don't do either of those things. I used to play golf, but I haven't done that in four years. I am a reader, but I don't want to read all day; I am a blogger, but that's not something I want to spend much more time on than I am now; I love sports, but I have trouble sitting still for a full game unless I'm involved in some way.

In fact, my favorite hobby has probably been school. I live one block from the high school, and I've got keys to everything, so whenever I get a little bored, I walk up to the school and start putzing around. The other hobbies that I have--a lot of the reading I do, the blogging--are also related to school. I know people who have retired and loved it, but I've also known people who have been bored stiff. I don't wish to join them. The bottom line is that teaching and coaching have been my life. I've loved doing them, and I don't know what I'd do without them.

Warroad was a great place for my wife and me to bring our kids when they were teenagers, but those days are long gone. Our oldest son lives in the Twin Cities which is six-and-a-half hours away, our youngest lives in Orlando, Florida, and our middle son lives with his wife in Moline, Illinois, and they are at the stage where they are looking to start a family. We would like to be able to see our kids a lot more often than we can now.

After the new year roles around, and as our hockey season begins to wind down, I will begin to look for social studies teaching jobs in the Iowa/Illinois area. I hope you won't think I'm a hypocrite when I say that I would be more than happy to accept a job in a private school--maybe a small Catholic school. Since I would be able to collect my TRA, I wouldn't need a huge salary. It's not that I'm giving up on public schools, but after my experience of moving from Mt. Iron to Warroad, I know how hard it can be to be a first-year teacher in a public school--establishing discipline, establishing a reputation, etc. It ain't easy! If I was in my thirties, that would be one thing, but I'm 57, so I really don't want to go through that again. Teaching at a private school, where they don't have to put up with some of the behaviors that public schools do, sounds pretty good.

As good as that sounds to me, I am painfully aware that schools probably won't be falling all over themselves in competition to hire a 58-year-old social studies guy. That leads to option number two. Minnesota now allows a teacher to collect TRA and earn up to $40 thousand teaching in the state. That means that if my school district was willing to hire me as a four-sevenths teacher, I could teach two less classes, have two fewer preps, and earn more money. That is a very attractive option. In my last post I did a little whining about my workload this year. I think it would be wonderful to teach four hours a day. What a great job a person would be able to do by focusing on fewer classes and fewer kids! This would also enable me to stay in hockey coaching, which would also be a lot more fun because of the lighter teaching load. Since my first year or two in Warroad, I have always felt valued here, and I would not have to adjust to new kids, a new community, new classes, and a new school.

The problem with this plan is that it would have to work out for my school. That is something I will have to talk to my principal and superintendent about. If it's something that can't be worked out, that leads to option number three. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. I guess I can live with that one, too.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Does anyone have cheese to go with my whine?

Prepare to listen to a teacher whine.

I know that there are some teachers who don't work very hard. There are some teachers who never have, but there are others who have burned out, and there is a reason for that. Teachers who want to do a good job sometimes get so much thrown at them that it's tough to keep the fire burning.

I began my teaching career in Mt. Iron, Minnesota, and that school district did it right--at least for high school teachers. I had two classes to prepare for--American History and World History, I had two prep periods (meaning that I had two free periods during the day to prepare for classes, correct papers, etc.), and my classes never contained more than 25 kids. I spent a good deal of time at my job, worked hard, and I had a chance to try to be creative, but I wasn't overwhelmed.

Then I moved to Warroad. Before I came here, they didn't have two prep periods, but there had been an understanding that each teacher would have one study hall in addition to their one prep period. Since one generally doesn't have to "teach" during a study hall, this would enable the teacher to do things like correct papers during that time. Four years before I came here a new high school had been built, and the rooms were designed to handle 25 kids in a class.

Somewhere along the line, the study hall understanding went by the wayside. Then there was an understanding that teachers who taught advanced placement classes would have a second prep period for that. Then we started making cuts. That one also went by the wayside, replaced by an understanding that all advanced placement teachers would have a study hall. Guess what happened to that one? Now I have four different classes to prepare for, including an advanced placement class; I have one prep period and no study hall, and I began the year 33, 32, and 31 kids in my regular American History classes so that I am literally tripping over people as I walk through the aisles.

I can do this. Yes, I can do this. I've had to get to school about an hour and a half before classes start, come back every night for about an hour, and spend much of my weekends there, but I can get everything done. The problem is that I feel like Crabby Crabberton so much of the time, and I don't like myself when I feel like that. Some kid comes in and "interrupts" me early in the morning to make up a test while I'm scrambling to stay caught up, and I feel like I'm ready to bite his head off. A parent calls during my cherished prep period to discuss their child, and I feel resentment that they can be "so stupid" as to take me away from what I'm doing. I almost always restrain myself from reacting the way I feel like reacting in those situations, but as I said, I don't like myself very much when I feel that way. But it's tough not to.

Believe it or not, the purpose of this is not to enlist anyone's sympathy. I can read the minds of some who might be reading this (Three months off in the summer!). There are two points, however, that I do want to make. First of all, when school districts decide that there are no consequences to increasing the workloads of teachers, they are wrong. There are things that I would like to do that I can't do. I always feel guilty that I don't have my students write more, but nothing takes more time to evaluate, and when I'm already feeling overwhelmed, there is no way that I'm going to have students doing any more of that than they already are. I would also like to be able to do more to reach out to some of my students who aren't doing well, but there is just no time. There is no question that I could be a better teacher if I didn't have so many classes, and so many preps, and so many kids, and so little in-school time to prepare.

My other point is that while many people have justifiable criticisms of teachers' unions and their insistence that things be written into contracts, there is a reason that teachers turn to them. We do have a union in Warroad, but it is a rather "nice" union, so we have tended to trust our school board and administrators when it came to those "understandings." Besides those "understanding" that have gone by the wayside, in the round of negotiations that were completed last year, teachers in our district received a one-percent raise while our administrators, who negotiated after us, received several times that. Our being nice and our being trusting have gotten us where we are, and besides making us feel like a bunch of saps, I'm not so sure that it's been good for the education that is taking place in our school.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Will a bad economy be good for education?

I have never in my lifetime been as worried about the economy as I am now. I've never seen anything like the financial crisis our nation has run into, and it sounds like there is no question we are in a recession. I wonder just how bad it's going to get. Our unemployment rate is headed toward eight percent, and I'm wondering just how high it will go. I believe it hit 11.3 percent in the early 1980s, and I wonder if we're going to top that. During my lifetime, whenever we've had a recession we've gotten out of it through increased deficit spending by our federal government. But our federal deficit was at $400 billion per year before things got really bad--before the $700 billion bailout of our financial institutions, and before talk of a bailout for the automobile industry, and before unemployment started increasing significantly, which of course will cause federal revenues to decrease and spending to increase even more. I'm wondering just how high our deficit can go. Is there any limit to what we can borrow in a year before our whole house of cards comes tumbling down? It looks like we're about to find out. It really scares me. There might, however, be at least one small silver lining inside this very black cloud. It might be good for education.

If you are wondering what the heck I'm talking about, let me explain. I began my teaching career in Mt. Iron which is in the middle of the Iron Range in Minnesota. At that time, the taconite industry was booming, and it continued to boom for the first few years that I worked there. Kids were graduating from high school, and going right to work in the taconite plants or in construction and making very good money. I remember asking one mediocre student, who I thought had some talent, why he didn't try harder. He turned to me and said, "Why should I? In six months I'll be making more money than you are."

About two years after this incident, the floor fell out from under the taconite industry, and Minnesota's Iron Range has never been the same. Minntac, the plant in Mt. Iron cut their workforce of 4,000 down to 1,500. No longer were high school students bragging to their high school teachers that they'd soon be making more money than they were. In fact, there seemed to be a definite improvement in overall effort and performance of our student body. With so few jobs available, and so much unemployment, it was clear to a lot of our kids that if they ever wanted to be able to make a decent living, education was going to matter. No longer could they count on getting out of high school, going right to work in the taconite plant and making good money.

I must confess that I never grasped the full effect of this until I moved here to Warroad in 1989. After one year in Warroad, it was clear to me that I would have to make adjustments because the effort and performance of the students here was so much worse than what I had gotten accustomed to during my last few years on the Iron Range. The factories in this area are non-union, so they don't pay nearly as well as the plants on the Iron Range did, but there has been full employment during the entire time I've lived here. Kids have always assumed there would be jobs waiting for them once they got out of high school no matter how poorly they've performed.

There is another problem for education, at least at the high school level, that goes hand in hand with the full employment this area has had since I've moved here. That is the large number of high school students who work part-time jobs--sometimes more than one--during the school year. I don't know how many times I've had students tell me that they couldn't do a homework assignment because they had to work.

The effects of our faltering economy haven't really hit this area, yet, but I strongly suspect they will. My understanding is that the orders for Marvin Windows, the major employer in our area, are okay up until about the new year, but then they fall off a cliff. Marvin Windows has always handled slow times by having their employees work 32 hour instead of 40 hour weeks, and as far as I know, they've never laid workers off. But right now, I'm very worried about our community. Right now, I'm very worried about our nation. I hope my fears about our economy turn out to be exaggerated. I hope things don't get too bad, and if they do, I hope it doesn't last very long. But if it does, I actually think it might be a good thing for American education.

At least someone's finally talking about it!

As I went browsing through education blogs the other day, I was surprised to come across a discussion on New Talk on restoring order and respect in public schools. New Talk advertises itself as a place where "experts discuss America's toughest issues," and their discussion included university professors and the like. I'm convinced that improving behavior and motivation in the classroom are the two biggest challenges we have in public education, but I can't remember seeing a discussion on this by "experts" before.

There are a lot of fingers being pointed at administrators in New Talk's discussion. Jeff Abbott, an education professor says this:
I think a lack of order and discipline is more prevalent in the public schools than the public may be aware of, and particularly in urban schools. I know at least one major urban school where the central office has put pressure on principals to not expel minority students, so the school system's minority expulsion rates look low to the public.

However, urban schools are not the only schools suffering from discipline problems. Just this week I visited a rural school and was told by the assistant principal that he had just conferenced with a boy who was tardy 17 times already this year. Both the assistant principal and principal of that school expressed serious concerns about their authority to discipline, and whether they would be supported by the central office and school board when a parent complains about his or her child being disciplined.

Kelly Flynn, an author and columnist, adds parents to the mix. She says:

I agree with Jeff that the lack of order and discipline in public schools is more prevalent than the public realizes. I taught for nearly 20 years in a large suburban-turning-urban district...We had strong, clear, progressive discipline processes in place, but they were regularly overturned if a parent complained loudly enough. That, more than anything else, affected school culture because kids, and their parents, know how to work the system. If we are going to approach the problem of order and respect in our public schools, we need to start with parents.

With all due respect, I think the idea that we should start with parents is a non-starter. It sounds so good, but nothing is going to happen regarding that. Parents are going to do what parents are going to do. Some will be fantastic and supportive, but there will always those that will want to make sure that their little angels are not disciplined. Ms. Flynn actually addresses the central problem when she says this: "An administrator recently told me that in the early years of his career he was threatened with lawsuits once or twice. Now he is threatened with lawsuits once or twice a day."

It's easy for me as a teacher to criticize administrators for not being firm enough, when I'm not the one who has to worry about being sued. I know that I'm sounding like a broken record here, but the root of the problem is the Supreme Court's declaration that education is a property right that can't be taken away without due process of law. That sounded so wonderful, and so many politicians have wanted to jump on that bandwagon, but IT DOESN'T WORK! That is what leads to all these lawsuits as parents protect their little darlings' rights, and that is the major reason that we don't have better order and respect in our public schools today. Sandra Day O'Connor once said that when deciding whether to overturn a previous Court ruling, it has to be determined whether the rule works. Well, this one doesn't.

I do believe it is possible for a public school to have good discipline, and Joshua Phillips gives an example:

I taught for one year at a large urban high school in Boston and experienced many of the things described by both Jeff and Kelly. When my students misbehaved, I would follow the protocols and systems outlined by the school’s administration. However, when I needed the support of the administration regarding a difficult student and/or a challenging family, I was often told to handle the situation myself.

I then taught at a smaller public school in Boston called Roxbury Preparatory Charter School, which had a similar population of students (100% students of color, ~70% eligible for free/reduced price lunch). Roxbury Prep’s Code of Conduct was virtually identical to that of the Boston Public Schools. The major difference was the administration wholeheartedly supported teachers when it came to discipline incidents. In short, the Code of Conduct was enacted...A structured, safe learning environment can be built in a public school as long as all staff members are on the same page and willing to do the work to implement discipline systems each and every day. Roxbury Prep has consistently been the highest-performing urban middle school in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The high expectations regarding discipline and the willingness of the administration to follow through on infractions of the Code of Conduct have enabled Roxbury Prep teachers to focus on what they do best—providing rigorous, engaging lessons for their students.

I think there are a couple of keys to having the kind of discipline Phillips talks about in a public school. First of all, you need one helluva principal. The second thing you need, and Phillips make this point, is for the teachers to all be on the same page. That means the school can't be very big. Three problems with all this are that there are a lot of principals out there who are mediocre at best, there are a lot of teachers who wouldn't buy into a the tough approach that works so well at Roxbury, and finally, I doubt that it's practical to break all the large public schools we have throughout the nation into small ones. So these are the things I think we need to do:

1. There are models out there of public schools and charter schools in inner-cities and other areas that are succeeding. In most of the cases I've read about, one thing they have in common is that they shun much of the progressive crap that is taught in schools of education. Education schools have to get out of their ivory tower-theoretical worlds, get real, and start focusing on methods that actually work. If they want to throw in some progressive methods as options now and then, that would probably be a good thing. But they need to quit acting like anyone who uses traditional, teacher-directed methods is an educational Neanderthal, and they need to focus much more on classroom management and discipline.

2. Improve the way we decide who becomes principals. Right now, too many principals are in their positions because they were teachers who simply wanted to make more money, or worse yet, teachers who weren't very good and wanted to get out of the classroom. We need a system that is designed to recruit principals from the most competent, level-headed teachers that we have in field.

3. Those principals must be given the power to keep their best teachers--the ones who are willing to be on the same page, and get rid of their worst ones. I know there are teachers who hate this idea, because they have no faith in principals. Maybe some sort of independent panel could be set up in a district that a senior teacher could appeal to if he or she believed the termination was unfair.

4. The Supreme Court's decision that education is a property right that can't be taken away without due process of law must be re-visited.

Great ideas, huh? And I said people in education schools are living in ivory towers! Oh well, at least someone's talking about it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Improving education vs. students' rights

A couple of weeks ago, when I hadn't posted for awhile, my oldest son emailed me this article to, as he said, "stir the kettle." The article blasted American schools because kids today are less likely to graduate than their parents. Come on, American schools, what the heck is the matter with you? Why can't you do better?

As I was reading that article, I came across this one about schools trying to enforce dress codes. The article began with this sentence:

It took only an hour for parents in Omaha, Neb., to get in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union.

That article dealt with a school sending kids home who wore tee-shirts memorializing a student who was shot. The school said they were disruptive and possibly gang related, but the ACLU says the school is forcing kids to sacrifice their "free speech rights at the schoolhouse door."

From that article, I went to a video about students and parents who are protesting against a school that is telling it's cheerleaders that they can't wear their very short skirts in school because that violates its dress code. One cheerleader parent said, "It's a big deal, it's crushing."

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a parent who was suing a school for suspending his son who was wearing a tee-shirt that read "Obama is a terrorist's best friend." The school gave the student the option of turning the tee-shirt inside-out after it had caused an altercation at the school, but the kid, apparently with the encouragement of his father, refused. What all of these things have in common is that schools are doing things in an attempt to maintain order and create the best possible learning environment, and they are being challenged for violating students' rights.

As Philip K. Howard said in his book, The Death of Common Sense, the courts' interpretation of students' rights has done more damage to public education than anything else in the last 40 years. (I wonder how many of the Supreme Court justices responsible for making the most important of those decisions sent their kids to public schools.) If we really want to make significant improvement in public education, especially in schools that are doing poorly, we are going to have to re-think the concepts of "the right to an education" and student rights in general.

I am more convinced than ever about this than ever after reading Sweating the Small Stuff. That book is about six inner-city schools that have been completely turned around, but a reader will be hard-pressed to find anything about a concern for student rights. There is, however, plenty of concern about the kids' education. Most of those schools had uniforms, and they didn't even tolerate students having their shirttails out. Even when reading about the one public school discussed in the book, I saw nothing about a student's right to be there. In fact, one student recalled being told by a teacher, "If you're going to behave like that, you won't be able to stay here."

This is one area in which I actually agree with my libertarian friends. Education should not be considered a right. A "right" is something that government should not be able to take away from you, not something government is obligated to give you. As Philip K. Howard says, education is not a right, but a benefit provided by a democratic society. I believe that our democracy should provide education, but there are going to be a lot of places where we can't do it effectively as long as we look at it as a right.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Good feeling!

I am a history teacher, and we have just finished the reasons for the Civil War and are now on the war itself. In our discussion about the causes, we talk a lot about the different views on slavery in the 1800s. I'm 57 years old, and I had a father who insisted on having Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley as regular dinner guests, so I grew up seeing black people being hosed down or having dogs sicced on them because they had the audacity to want to vote, and governors like George Wallace blocking schoolhouse doors to keep blacks from entering.

I voted for Barack Obama, but I would think that even many who voted for John McCain should get a pretty good feeling when they watch African-Americans across the nation celebrating, Colin Powell choking up with emotion, and Jesse Jackson crying uncontrollably with the joy of seeing the election of our first African-American president. Only a fool would suggest that prejudice no longer exists in our nation, but, "We shall overcome!" has never had so much meaning.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Reforms I could learn to love!

As I said in my last post, I took a two week hiatus from my blogging, and I never really intended to take that much time off. I have been busy. I traveled to the Twin Cities for a hockey coaches' clinic, and that meant the extra work of preparing for a substitute before I left, and then catching up after I got back. But being busy wasn't the main reason that I was so quiet. I took so much time off because I've been reading Sweating the Small Stuff. I wanted to do a post on it, and I just couldn't figure out what I wanted to say.

I should say before I go on that I have not turned into a critic of public education, and this certainly isn't meant as an indictment of public schools. I am still convinced that the people in our school district are getting what they want, and that's probably true for most public schools around the country. The kids who want to go to four-year colleges end up going to four-year colleges, the kids who want to go to vo-techs end up going to them, and the kids who just want to graduate from high school and go to work in a factory end up doing that. Nevertheless, I think we can do so much better.

Sweating the Small Stuff is about six inner-city schools that have their kids performing incredibly well. Before I read the book, I thought I'd be writing a "Yeah, but..." post. Yeah, they've got great results in those schools, but it's unfair to compare those schools to normal public schools because.... I do believe it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for most public schools to do the things that even University Park Campus High School, the only semi-regular public school described in the book, is able to do. Nevertheless, while reading the book, I found myself focusing on the admiration and envy I was feeling for the people involved in setting up and operating those schools. I also found myself wondering how public schools like mine could at least move in the direction that the outstanding schools described have taken.

The author, David Whitman, describes all six schools as "paternalistic." They treat their students like a very tough but loving father would treat his children. They tolerate no misbehavior, no acts of disrespect toward teachers or other students; they set high standards, and they expect the kids to meet them. Of all the remarkable accomplishments I read about in the book, the one that struck me the most was that of a seventh-grade class at the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland: the entire class had perfect attendance for an entire year. That's thirty kids for 180 days. Since I had five kids absent from my fifth hour class on Friday, perhaps you can understand why that impresses me.

The basic thing all the schools do is to focus from day one on creating a culture in which learning and achievement are valued and disrespect for teachers and peers is not tolerated. Discipline is tough and immediate, and operates according to the "broken windows" theory of James Wilson. The idea of this is that if there is one broken window in a building and it gets repaired quickly, end of problem. On the other hand, if it doesn't get repaired quickly, pretty soon you've got a bunch of broken windows. When it comes to student conduct it means that if there are a few minor conduct problems and they are ignored, pretty soon your school becomes a zoo in which no one can learn. I think public schools have suffered badly from the broken windows theory over the past generation or two. Quite frankly, when I read about the cultures in those inner-city schools described by Whitman, and then see the behavior and attitudes of many of the kids in my own school, it makes me want to cry.

One advantage that all of the schools described in Sweating the Small Stuff have is that the families of the kids have chosen to send their kids to them. That is a huge advantage, and it cannot be dismissed. If we want public schools to improve significantly, however, I'm convinced that we have to try to do some of the things that those schools are doing, even though we have to do it with kids who are basically assigned to our schools. There are a lot of schools around the nation, including mine, that could use some paternalism.

Whitman, like many critics of public education, views our teachers' unions as a major obstacle to improving education. He says that the six schools that did so well either had unions that were meaningless or no unions at all. My question is, does it have to be that way?

As I've said before, I'm grateful for what unions have done for me. There is no question in my mind that my salary would be less, and I would have a much less comfortable lifestyle if it weren't for teachers' unions. But I really believe that our unions have to change. There is no question that they have the potential to be our main instrument to bring about positive change. Other than helping to keep teachers' salaries reasonable, they've done very little in that regard. In fact, our critics are probably right about them being obstacles. It's time for our teachers' unions to start behaving more like professional associations and less like unions.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if our "professional associations" would take the lead in trying to get courts and legislatures to recognize that discipline and order are necessary in schools if learning is going to take place. So much of what the courts and legislatures have done over the last forty years have made good discipline in public schools much more difficult if not impossible. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our "professional associations" would take the lead in getting education schools to quit pushing solely child-centered methods. Maybe they could even urge them to teach more about maintaining discipline and order in classrooms, rather than encouraging teachers to "negotiate" with the kids. Finally, wouldn't it be wonderful if our unions would begin to help schools keep their best teachers and get rid of their worst ones regardless of seniority. Teachers have the power to control our unions and I really believe most teachers would like to see these things happen. If that's not true, then that is an indictment of us all.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Colleges, Manipulation, and Ed. Schools

I haven't posted in two weeks, and have I ever been feeling guilty about that. I guess that's the Catholic in me. There is an explanation, but I won't get into that now. I had actually started working on another post, but then I got a letter from a former student, James Erickson, and he asked that I share the letter with my seniors. James is conservative, and the letter reflects that, but I think it's quite fair and the message is a good one. I told James that I would share it with my seniors, but I would also use it on my blog. Here it is:

Congratulations! If you are reading this, I am going to help you save your mind as you pursue further studies. You are in a world that is attempting daily to manipulate your every thought and deed, and it's about to grow worse. This world wants your personal opinions and beliefs to sink to the bottom of the ocean and share space with the Titanic. Before I throw you a life-vest and save your mind, you should know who and what are grabbing your ankles trying to pull you under.

Currently you are formulating opinions based off of what you see and hear on TV, what your parents tell you, what your teachers tell you, what you read in newspapers and magazines, what Hollywood's hottest are wearing, and what your peers are doing. What if I told you that some of your opinions aren't even yours? Think about it. When is the last time you heard something on TV and repeated it to a friend as if it was originally your point? When have you done that and your point turned out to be incorrect? This is the danger of allowing what we see and hear to become our opinions without further investigation. Let me ask another question. Do you ever feel frustrated because it seems that everyone else has something or is doing something you aren't doing? Have you ever felt out of the mainstream? Have you ever jumped into the mainstream for the sole purpose of avoiding being in the minority? If so, you are forfeiting your mind. You are becoming a robot, and guess what happens to robots? They sink to the bottom of the ocean and learn how to rust from the Titanic. Guess what fellow robots? The manipulation gets worse.

Chances are that you may be attending college in the near future. College, the land of bountiful opportunities and rigorous challenges, endless parties and last minute cram sessions. College can also be a breeding ground for manipulation if you aren't careful. Alright robots, here are the facts. Upon arriving at college, you will find yourself immersed in a world with seemingly endless possibilities. You will likely feel slightly confused within your first semester as you adjust to college life. At this point, your mind's defenses are down, and from my observations the professors know it. If he hasn't told you already, Mr. Fermoyle will teach you that it is the common belief that the more education one receives, the more liberal that person is likely to become. Why is this? Some compare increased intelligence to liberal tendencies. I, however, will give you the facts. The bottom line is that many college professors are liberal and strongly express their beliefs, both political and otherwise, in their classrooms. They advocate liberal agendas and are not open-minded to other views.

Many of my teachers have pushed their political views on students during lectures, but for the sake of time I will give one example. Last year, I took a global issues class. My professor enjoyed showing movies to our class that correlated with our discussion topics. One day we watched a movie that professed Fox News to be "the Biased Satan" of the media world. After showing this movie, my professor asked us our thoughts on the film. After hearing several of my fellow classmates exclaim how biased Fox News was, I raised my hand. My teacher called on me with reluctance knowing that I wasn't likely to be impressed by this film. I started by acknowledging that Fox is definitely biased. Then, however, I said that the filmmaker's intent was to show only the bias of Fox News. I claimed how easy would have been for me to find an ideologically opposite bias on MSNBC and make an equally manipulative film. I further argued that if the filmmaker had wanted to make his film credible, he should have addressed the bias in ALL of media.

I easily could have bought into my professor's film agenda, but I chose to keep an open mind. This is the life-vest that will keep you afloat. You do not have to become a robot. You do not have to succumb to indoctrination--conservative, liberal, or otherwise. You can save your mind by doing one simple thing--QUESTION EVERYTHING! It is too easy to believe everything that we hear from those we respect. I have seen it happen to many of my classmates. Investigate everything, and express what you feel is right in your mind and in your heart. In fact, I challenge you to investigate and challenge this very letter. Get in that habit. We are the future of the United States of American, and we have to choose whether to sink to the bottom of the ocean, or rise to the top of the mountain. It's your mind. It's your choice.
As I read James's letter, I couldn't help thinking back to a couple of comments on my last post from Michael Mazenko and Physics Teacher about the role of education schools in the problems in our education system. From 1999-2001 I took classes to earn a Masters Degree. Nearly all of the classes promoted so-called progressive, student-centered methods, and quite frankly, I thought a lot of it was crap. What was being promoted did not square with my experience. Since I had been teaching for 25 years, however, I challenged everything, and I was able to get away with it. The overall program was valuable for me because there were some good things mixed in there, and I took everything I was "taught" with a gigantic grain of salt. But what about people who are just going into teaching? They are probably buying everything their professors are telling them, just like James says. But it's not just young kids who have no experience. I don't know how many times I've been to workshops where the same garbage has been hoisted upon us, and I look around and all I see is teachers nodding in agreement. They should know better.

The main reason I haven't posted for so long is that I have been reading Sweating the Small Stuff by David Whitman, a book about six inner-city schools that have had remarkable success. One thing those schools have in common is that they have almost completely shunned "progressive" teaching methods. I am not going to say that those methods can never be of any use, but I do believe that the infatuation that our colleges of education have with them plays a major role in the problems we have in American K-12 education.