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Mike Rose
Mike Rose is on the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and author of a number of books, including "The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker." His latest book is "Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education"...



The Questions Education Reformers Aren’t Asking

(Page 3)

Part Three: Blinded by Reform

It’s gotten lost in the splashier news, but big things are going on at the U.S. Department of Education.

Following on the unprecedented federal reach of No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration is extending further and putting serious money behind its education initiatives, inviting states and districts to compete for federal dollars. The department wants to increase the community college graduation rate. For K-12, it wants to stimulate the production of better state standards and tests, measure teacher effectiveness, turn around failing schools and increase the number of charter schools. Through a third initiative it wants to spark innovation and scale up the best of local academic programs.

This is a moment of real promise for American education, from kindergarten through college. It has even created the season’s oddest political couple: With the Department of Education’s blessing, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and the Rev. Al Sharpton are about to tour the country for educational reform.

Reform is in the air. But within many of these reforms are the seeds of their undoing.

For example, the Education Department is putting a lot of stock in charter schools as “engines of innovation”—in fact, it will not consider a state’s proposal if the state has a cap on charters. Yet a number of research studies—the most recent from Stanford—demonstrate that charter schools on average are no better or worse than the regular public schools around them. Some charters are sites of fresh ideas and robust education, but so are magnet schools, and career academies, and—we seem to have forgotten this—regular old schools with strong leadership and a critical mass of good teachers. But the reformers’ overvaluation of charter schools seems to dim their view of these varied manifestations of excellence.

Another example is the department’s attempt to link evaluation of teacher quality to student performance. (Merit pay could also follow.) And, again, the department will not consider a state’s proposal if the state outlaws such linkage of evaluation and student performance.

This linkage has a common-sense quality to it, especially what is called “value-added” analysis: that is, the degree to which a class’ test scores improve from the beginning of the school year to the end. Yet among experts in educational testing and measurement, there is a good deal of disagreement over the legitimacy of using these techniques to judge teacher quality. There are a host of factors that can affect scores: the non-random mix of students in a class, the students’ previous teachers, the lobbying of senior teachers for higher-scoring classes or the assignment of such classes to a principal’s favored teachers. There are also technical issues with the analysis of the test data. And there are significant conceptual concerns about exactly what the tests are measuring. In fact, the National Research Council, the prestigious, nonpartisan government agency, has just issued a statement reinforcing all of these concerns.

The Department of Education champions “evidence-based” and “data-driven” practice. Why, then, does the department espouse approaches that warrant scrutiny?

I think there are three interrelated reasons.

Given the immense pressure in politics for a quick result, there is a tendency in social policy toward single-shot, magic-bullet solutions, solutions that are marketable and have rhetorical panache but are simplified responses to complex problems. Charter schools will transform American education, or the linking of student test scores to teacher effectiveness will pressure teachers to change the way they teach and their expectations for what students can achieve.

This magic-bullet thinking is enabled by the paucity of schoolhouse-level knowledge of teaching and learning in the formation of educational policy. Not many policy analysts have taught school and, with few exceptions, those who have taught spent only a youthful year or two in the ranks. More troubling is something I have witnessed over the years: On-the-ground, intimate knowledge of teaching and learning is not valued, and is seen as an imprecise distraction from the consideration of broader economic and management principles that lead to systemic change. It’s like setting up a cardiology clinic without the advice of cardiologists.

The third element involves the rhetoric of reform. The advocates of the current model of test-based accountability have been very successful in depicting their critics as “anti-reform traditionalists,” as “special interests” or, the kiss of death, as members of the “education establishment.” 

There is a lot to say about the accuracy of this depiction, for many who are tarred as establishment traditionalists have a long history of challenging traditional school practice and working to change it. But for now I want to focus on the way this demonizing rhetoric can jeopardize the work of the reformers themselves.

Take, for example, the concern expressed by teachers’ unions about linking student test scores to teacher evaluation. It is easy to characterize these concerns as special-interest pleading, but some of the evidence cited by the unions comes from researchers with no vested interest in teachers’ bread-and-butter issues. (One such researcher is a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.) When legitimate concerns about reform techniques are easily dismissed as “anti-reform,” then you have a closed policy system, one shielded from self-correction. 

It is good news indeed that school reform has become a top national priority, that the ways schools are structured, children are taught and teachers evaluated have become issues worthy of federal attention. But for reforms to be effective and sustained, they need to be grounded on the best we know and examined carefully and from multiple perspectives. 

Continued: 21st Century Skills: Education’s New Cliché
Dig last updated on Mar. 19, 2010

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By Amusedly, June 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm Link to this comment

Shift, you are absolutely right. I’ve worked in two high schools run by P E teachers. I don’t think it’s right to comment publicly about them in particular, but in general I don’t think P E qualifies anyone to lead a school. And neither, apparently, does the ridiculous ‘administrative credential’ they have to get. What do they teach these people when they get that credential?

Having said all that, I surely wouldn’t want to be an administrator. It’s a no-win job—you’re either going to piss off the district, the teachers, or the parents and students.

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By kerryrose, June 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment

Just to let you know…
A teacher may have his certification area in Phys Ed, but to join the administration they must complete years of education for a second degree either MS or doctorate in Administration.

No phys ed teacher without an advanced degree above their certification will be a principle.

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By Shift, June 20, 2010 at 7:52 am Link to this comment

Why do we allow persons with athletic degrees run the academic programs in public schools?  Coaches, whose primary interest is athletics, somehow become assistant principals, then principals, then superintendents.  The administration (management) of the schools is in the hands of people with physical education degrees.  This situation is universal in public education in the United States.  Why?  Can we really expect academic excellence when physical educators are in charge of our public schools?

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By garth, June 19, 2010 at 11:22 am Link to this comment

Hulk2008 says:

“As long as the Indians and Chinese actively seek out and support their best learners with more fervor than their American counterparts, they will have the numerical advantages.  As long as US “experts” search for blame and accountability for lack of supremacy all they will find are the reasons for educational mediocrity - not sources of improvement.”

About ten years ago I proctored an exam for an advanced placement class in Anatomy and Physiology.  A few minutes into the exam, a young Vietnamese student passed in her exam.  I asked if she were having trouble.  She said, “No, I know all this stuff.”
I checked her paper and she was right.

I thought of Mr Kelley and his 11th grade History class.  He treated us like college bound students and covered material that had been incovered in previous history classes.
From grades 1 to 10, History only went as far as the American Revolution.  Ancient History was taught by a part time clothing salesman from Marblehead, MA, the yachting community.  He was active in the social life.

Till Mr. Kelley, History terachers didn’t talk about the Civil War, the Labor Movement, and what led up to the Civil War and it after-effects.  But Kelley did.

Other teachers were from the local teacher’s college and they learned how to fit in back their old alma mater.  Kelley was from BC.

I say: Teach to what you think are the dumbest students and you’ll get reflections of yourself.

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By Hulk2008, June 17, 2010 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment

A recent lengthy article in the local newspaper provided a region-by-region analysis of the high school age sports prospects now coming up.  The research was thorough and in-depth - spelling out possible high performers in multiple sports along with family backgrounds and personal comments of the athletes themselves.
    The topic most often mentioned was that of “scholarships” available to the athletes.  It ocurred to me that much could be learned if the media were as interested in analyzing true scholars rather than athletes.  What if American society was as intersted in its youth becoming scientists and teachers and doctors and researchers?  What if the media focused on ferreting out potential Rhodes scholars or philanthropists? 
    American businesses have a narrow span of interest as does the American electorate.  The US will get what it most wants - what it asks for and strives for. 
    As long as the Indians and Chinese actively seek out and support their best learners with more fervor than their American counterparts, they will have the numerical advantages.  As long as US “experts” search for blame and accountability for lack of supremacy all they will find are the reasons for educational mediocrity - not sources of improvement. 
    Education is NOT a candidate for CEO-style house-cleaning or finger pointing.  Education needs a system wide and cultural wide wake-up.  Rather the American electorate needs to build a groundswell of support for education and improvements.  Until that happens, it’s just a whitewash superficial chat.

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By rico, suave, June 15, 2010 at 11:48 am Link to this comment


OK! And I thought you were a trog.

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By garth, June 15, 2010 at 11:43 am Link to this comment

And that’s part of the problem.  Everyone went to school and everyone was a teacher of sorts.

Teaching and learning are not unique.  But if you want to make your living as a teacher, you must first know what you are talking about and what you are confronted with.

I have taught and I have observed. 

They don’t teach teaching in Schools of Education.  Graduates learn that on thew job.

College professors I’ve talked to hate to teach Freshman level course.  Why is that?

Freshman I’ve talked to want it all laid out in black and white, so they can get back to whatever it was that was of interest to them.  Is this going to be on the test?

Teaching and learning are slippery.

Answere:  Small classes, Socratic method.  Each student can think, outside the normative arguments of the day.


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By rico, suave, June 15, 2010 at 3:47 am Link to this comment


Thanks. Yours is a noble profession and some of you don’t get paid nearly enough.

If I were king…

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By Lovecraft, June 14, 2010 at 6:57 pm Link to this comment

I teach high school, 9th and 10th grade English. Not to digress, but Lovecraft wrote horror short stories, and some fantasy. Many of the horror stories are truly terrifying, and his themes, diction, style, etc., are on a par with Poe, at least in my humble opinion. Speaking of Poe, in 9th and 10th, in my district, we teach “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” respectively. Poe is one of the highlights of the year, because the kids love him, once they get past his sentence structure and vocabulary (that’s where I come in), and a little plot comprehesion sets in. Yes, I do try to “implant” something in their minds, mainly an appreciation for beautiful writing and the great themes that go along with that writing. People who look at the profession from the outside do so through a glass, darkly: they think we, as teachers, sit and profess liberal/socialist propaganda to pupils everyday, and that’s just absurd. One of the themes put forth in this forum is the efficacy of self-education, so, inform yourselves - I strongly urge everyone to make time and go into your local classrooms to see what’s going on-I think you’d be surprised, maybe even pleasantly so, if you did.

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By Shenonymous, June 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm Link to this comment

Lovecraft, mocool.  I would guess you are either middle school or
high school?  In any event, you are most right about needing to
know what you are talking about when teaching kids.  Kids, at least the
ones I’ve known (I’ve taught everything, from pre-K to 12 then last 10
years university teaching teachers) are pretty savvy and they will nail you
if you are even an nth degree off.  They nail you anyway, off or not!  My
favorite school group was 7th grade.  They are the wildest. 

I am not too familiar with scifi Lovecraft.  I’m a WIlliam Gibson -
Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive fan, but not a purist.

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By rico, suave, June 14, 2010 at 10:33 am Link to this comment


Cool name, in any case. Shenonymous thought you were female, I didn’t know.

What age group do you teach?

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By Lovecraft, June 14, 2010 at 10:22 am Link to this comment

rico, suave:
In my opinion, Tea Partiers do not represent true conservative thinking (I do not have the time to give examples, sorry). As Shenonymous said, I never mentioned, nor attacked, Conservatism. I believe in many conservative principles, as I also believe in many middle-road and progressive ideas. The “silliness” I refer to is the hyperbole you use, which seems to be a hallmark of Tea Party and neo-con (pseudo-conservative) philosophy. Again, as far as kids go, yes, they can be, and are, influenced by teachers and anyone else, but you better know what you’re talking about, or they’ll just ignore you. Of course, that changes when they become adults. (BTW, the pseudonym “Lovecraft” comes from one of my favorite writers, H.P. Lovecraft, who was male, like me. grin

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By garth, June 14, 2010 at 8:55 am Link to this comment

Diane Ravitch made an interesting point in a talk about her book.

The idea was that once there was an idea to solve “the problem” in education and it was small “boutique” schools.  Thes schools would cater to the specific educational needs of children in localized areas.
Bill Gates and his foundation jumped on the bandwagon and gave them billions.

So, the schools were built.  However, they were so small and specialized that they didn’t offer what a lot of the children of any locale wanted.  The children who wanted something else were bussed to other schools. 
Needless to say this created a big mess.  Gates abandoned the idea and moved on to other meddling.

Ravitch’s point was that problems in Education have no one solution.  You have to have a shotgun approach rather than that of a sharpshooter.

Ed Demming a social researcher did a famous study for GE and worker productivity, I won’t go into it here, but his conclusion was that when you pay attention with best intentions to any group in a work environment, things get better.

I’d say, in short, that Mrs Ravitch’s point is that it ain’t going to be easy.

Jettison Education’s policy wonks, faith healers, snake charmers, and miracle workers.

Stick to thy lasts.

Don’t forget.  In the end, Education works.

Look at those who try ignorance.

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By Shenonymous, June 14, 2010 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

rico, suave, June 14 11:02 am
Alright, my bad. “Tea Party” then, if you insist. Would you deny that
the Tea Party and conservatism correlate pretty closely? That they’re
pretty interchangeable terms?
Too bad you don’t see into your own fallacies.  A common affliction.
If they were totally conservative Republicans then it is moot to have a
separate entity called the Tea Party.  It would just be dividing up the
party.  It is my understanding that Blue Dog Democrats and
Independents also make up the TeaBaggers.  It is my understanding
that TeaPartiers want Government spending to be minimized and are
against outsourcing of jobs.  I am against sending American jobs
overseas.  The economy is suffering because of it.  As a liberal
Democrat, just over the center line and not as far to the left as the
leftists would like, I too want fiscal responsibility. Republicans spent it
on needless war, Democrats spent it on supporting Wall Street, a war of
a different stripe.  I don’t like Teabagger’s shrieking (yes I know, I am
name-calling) but I don’t disagree with everything they are screaming
about. Nor do I want to see any violence in their movement.  I would
not support any Republican candidate, but might support a blue dog
D.  It depends.  I am for social programs and the federal government
taking care of the country’s infrastructure and military, and insuring
equality in education and at least 13 years of education.  I am not,
however, for saving the Bank’s asses.  Problem with the TeaBag
movement is they reduce things to simple terms in order to sloganize
and it just isn’t simple.  Complexity of issues is what ought to be taught
to students and that is exactly what I do.  I believe Lovecraft does as
well.  As a teacher I would and do, ask students to think about what
kinds of corruption can and does exist in government, then think about
what ought to be done about it.  There is no easy road through any of
it but with rational thinking we might just be able to negotiate the pot

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By rico, suave, June 14, 2010 at 7:02 am Link to this comment

Alright, my bad. “Tea Party” then, if you insist. Would you deny that the Tea Party and conservatism correlate pretty closely? That they’re pretty interchangeable terms?

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By Shenonymous, June 14, 2010 at 6:46 am Link to this comment

“Wait. Lovecraft assumes they would reject conservatism. How is
that assumption any less falacious than mine?”

You wait, rico,suave, where does Lovecraft even mention conservatism?

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By rico, suave, June 14, 2010 at 6:39 am Link to this comment

” Instead of assuming they wouldn’t, which is
your fallacious and intentionally contentious thinking…”

Wait. Lovecraft assumes they would reject conservatism. How is that assumption any less falacious than mine?

And “intentionally contentious”? We can’t have that now can we? No need to muddle these poor students’ understanding of the world with a bunch of outrageous and possibly disturbing second opinions. Best to stick with the reigning orthodoxy, which is Progressivism. Best to keep them “comfortably numb” as Pink Floyd would say.

What age group does Lovecraft teach?

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By Shenonymous, June 14, 2010 at 6:10 am Link to this comment

In what way has Lovecraft made your point, rico,suave?  It is
possible her students would instantly reject Progressive silliness
given examples of it.  Instead of assuming they wouldn’t, which is
your fallacious and intentionally contentious thinking, why not ask
her if she thinks they would?  She obviously is speaking of her
students in general having read their thoughts in the papers they
write and expressed opinions in class.  Your question is unreasonable.
She didn’t say that all her students rejected conservatism.  She didn’t
say even some of them reject conservatism.  She didn’t say anything
about conservatism at all, but it might just be that they would reject
conservatism given a survey that asks them.  By the way, speaking
about Tea Party silliness does not say conservatism is silly.  It might be
that it is but it would have to be shown in what way, even if it would be
an easy thing to do.

While I agree with her for the most part, Lovecraft should give
examples of Tea Party silliness.

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By rico, suave, June 14, 2010 at 5:05 am Link to this comment

“In fact, they’d instantly reject the Tea Party silliness you seemed to have swallowed whole.”

Now, there’s a coincidence. And thanks for making my point. How come they wouldn’t instantly reject Progressive silliness? And are you speaking for ALL of your students? What mental habits of independent critical thinking have been instilled in them that would lead all of your students to reject conservatism? Where would they get the idea that conservatism is “silly”.

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By Lovecraft, June 13, 2010 at 8:19 pm Link to this comment

rico, suave:

How do you know that schools are teaching children “to believe that government is the primary problem solver”? Have you spent any time at all in any classroom? I’ve spent MANY hours, in quite a few classrooms, including my own, and from my experience, you haven’t a clue about what kids are being taught in public schools. I, for one, teach my students to think critically and be open minded about any issue worth thinking about, and to be skeptical and QUESTION everything that’s presented to them as “truth.” I’ve also consistently observed that the same concepts are being taught in my collegues’ classrooms. If you knew anything about kids today, you’d know that you can’t “firmly implant” anything in their “head(s).” They’re too smart to accept anything at face value. In fact, they’d instantly reject the Tea Party silliness you seemed to have swallowed whole.

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By Shenonymous, June 13, 2010 at 7:18 pm Link to this comment

rico, suave, June 13 at 10:49 pm"The purpose of (public) education
today is to train students to believe that government is the primary
problem solver.”

That is not true.

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By rico, suave, June 13, 2010 at 6:49 pm Link to this comment

The purpose of (public) education today is to train students to believe that government is the primary problem solver. Once that idea is firmly implanted in kids’ heads, then no regulation can be too onerous, no tax can be too high, no grievance can be beyond redress, no manufactured right can be challenged. “Freedom”, “liberty” and even “American” will be subversive terms.

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By dihey, June 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment

I live in Texas. I have not the foggiest idea of what “the Texas Miracle” is. Could it be a national record of drop-out rates?
What is education for? The animal world tells me: learn the dangers and opportunities of the world of adults. Who was it again that said: “my playing is my learning”? Ah yes, Maria Montessori.

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By Shenonymous, June 10, 2010 at 5:09 pm Link to this comment

That is awfully nasty of you Conservative Yankee, June 10 7:13pm.
You appear to be committing the same awful act of complaining just
like the ones you are criticizing.  Pot/kettle syndrome.

We, I do believe, none of us, has any finite answers and we are feeling
our way through complex issues.  This has been a rather unusually civil
forum with mutual respect regardless of perspective and we do ‘t really
need your put-down.  If we are boring to you, just take a hike and opt
out of receiving any notices of posts to this forum.  Simple.

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By Conservative Yankee, June 10, 2010 at 3:13 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well, nothing here worth reading.  We’ve become a nation of complainers, without solution, and when someone has the temerity to suggest a solution, or partial solution, there are always hundreds of folks waiting to point out why this won’t work (without ever trying it.) ’

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By Amusedly, June 10, 2010 at 11:22 am Link to this comment

I am a high school English teacher. There is no magic cure to the educational problems in this country, but I would like to share one comment and one suggestion, based on my experience.

It is very difficult for a teacher and a school to overcome bad parenting. Most of my students who perform and/or behave badly do so because their parent(s) do a lousy job of bringing them up. If the parent doesn’t care about their child’s education, the child isn’t going to care.

We spend most of our educational resources on the lowest performing students, many of whom are low performing because of the above-mentioned lack of parenting. We spend some of our resources on the highest performing students, and almost nothing on the average student, who is left to either struggle in an advanced class or suffer in a regular class. If we tracked students into either an academic track or a vocational track, we could be much more effective. Instead of coming to school every day and doing nothing, or worse yet being disruptive, the poor-performing student could learn a trade skill that will get him or her a decent job. These students are not going to college, and we should stop pretending that they will. Then the teachers will have more resources and energy and ability to reach all the students who really do have the potential for college, instead of letting them fall through the cracks. There is no one thing that is a solution to all the problems, but I think this would go a long way to serving the needs of the most number of our students.

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By garth, June 10, 2010 at 10:37 am Link to this comment

Danny Weil and Shenonymous,

I have not been able to get to your links yet, I will try again.

One thing to Danny Weil,

I hope and I am glad that you’ve exposed the attack on public education.  Barney Frank admitted that he has all of his investments in Municipal Bonds.  Education is the largest item in city budgets. Do a little thinking.  They are trying to make us, the property tax payer, their supporter for a lifetime. 

I like it just the way it is.  But, sop attacking teachers. Give them a break.

There is somethng in me that rails against frauds citing fraudulent information claim that the class size has nothing to do with education. 

Please refer to the Education Writer for the Washington Post and the goon that is appearing on C-SPAN or CNN. 

At first, I thought he was wearing a yarmulke low over his forehead.  Then on closer observation, I realized it was his hairline.  He doesn’t have a forehead.  He has a threehead.

Let’s see the study and the data, you morons.

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By weilunion, June 9, 2010 at 11:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Milken is known now for his admirable philanthropic work in medicine and education, but at the time he was a bundle of contradictions: a financial innovator convicted of securities fraud, reborn after prison as a philanthropist. His visit was part of a “principals for a day” program that brought prominent business leaders into schools, so they could see classroom realities firsthand.

No, I don’t think so, Mike.  Milken is hooked up with Bill Bennet the ‘virtue’ czar himself a calamity in the making.  The two of them have launched K12, Inc. a homeschool and virutal school effort to decimate public edducation.

We need standards wedded to critical thinking, not anorexic bulimic learning.

Please see my articles which are extensive as to this issue at  There, by going to Author Posts and click Danny Weil, you can see the criminal conspiracy they now call educational reform, the players, who pays, who wins, how it is done, the gentrification, Walmart internships and the neo-liberal policies of Arne Duncan and what they mean to teachers, students, parents and society at large.

Danny Weil

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By Shenonymous, June 8, 2010 at 5:19 pm Link to this comment

If you have never heard of Ken Robinson, Sir Ken Robinson, and you
are interested in education and creativity, you might want to take about
17 minutes
to watch this TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) video.  He had
a short lecture similar to this in 2006 that is worth looking up as well.
See them at
This second one is about 20 minutes. 

NOTE:  You might have to copy/paste the sites into your browser
because the TD line length is too short to accommodate the length of
the address.  Such is life.

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By Lovecraft, June 4, 2010 at 10:10 am Link to this comment

Portfolios are not THE answer, possibly just a small part of the answer. There’s no rigor in them, and they take a disporportionate amount of time to grade: if you simply glance through them, as most teachers do (think of scoring up to 200 portfolios, in a weekend!), you’re not getting an accurate picture. No, testing is necessary, but the NCLB approach is, like most crap that came out of Bush II, ill-thought out and a tool of the Bush regime special interests, which have, and continue to, ruin this country. I’ve heard good things from those who went through the New York State Regeant Exams-for example, you can’t advance to the next grade level until you pass them; we should probably design something similar for California.  (

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By Conservative Yankee, May 30, 2010 at 8:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Testing is a waste of time and money, and does NOTHING to advance students in their pursuit of knowledge. It is also so 20th Century. 

Portfolios containing samples of a student’s work, maintained throughout that student’s school years is a far better indicator of progress or lack of same. It is also a better measure of teacher ability.

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By Happy Skeptic, May 29, 2010 at 9:59 am Link to this comment

Testing does serve an important purpose but it can be overdone. When the focus of school falls mainly on testing instead of learning,it fails its most important goal.

Some people don’t test well (like my anxiety-prone daughter).Others,like my son,test so well they don’t even bother to read all the materials and do great on tests.

Testing should serve as an evaluation process to let you know if you are grasping the subject or not.If you have done so,then you can move on,but what if you haven’t? Does more testing alone help you grasp the subject? That is where NCLB failed.

Perhaps the child has a learning disability or the teacher is not good at articulating the subject matter.In some cases,I have found text books so poorly written that even I couldn’t understand what the correct answer was.These are three very significant variables that are not always addressed in the dynamic of education.

Mark Twain once said,“Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” Education doesn’t begin or end in the classroom.Sadly,many people think it does.

An important point to grasp is that perhaps your surgeon was a “C” student.He may not have been at the top of his class and unless you research this,you don’t know if he was at the top,middle or bottom of his class.You only know that he has a certificate to practice medicine.His dedication to his field and his experience are also factors you should consider.

I believe Dr.Salk had only a 102 IQ,which is just slightly above average and lower than my own.Yet, his hard work and dedication made him an outstanding doctor.

There are many factors to learning and education.“Seat time” does not make a person well-educated.My daughter was better read than most of her teachers.She read passionately and enthusiastically on such subjects as Asian history and culture.She impressed adults on these subjects.
Yet,math was of little interest to her.Don’t we all easily learn what interests us?

There is a need for “rote learning” in some areas-math yields to this,but some learning requires more creative thought and integration of subject matter.If we can’t define what we think is a successful education,how can we expect our children to meet that standard?

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By mindful, May 29, 2010 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

I have never understood the resistance to testing.
Now, a person could take a college course as an audit, do none of the readings, assignments or exams, and perhaps fell they had been educated.

Feeling one is competent and proving it to me are quite different things.

How would you like to have a physician who felt they knew medicine but could not pass a basic test in diagnostics. Worse yet a surgeon who could show you a belly botton, but could not tell you what artieries or anatomy were surrounding and in back of.

So, test can be designed that measure the wrong things obviously, but what good is a physics course if the student cannot tell you even in words, Newton’s first Law of motion?

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By garth, May 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment

Thank you Happy Skeptic and Shenonymous for your information and inspiring contributions to this article.  I think that this issue is one of the major prongs that will be used to comepletely change the American experience of a Democratic system.

The arguments for the ideas of a shared experience versus a singular familial one is worth reading.

I can add one thing.  In the 50s and 60s, the military schools relied on the military to eventually pick up the students who were not considered educable.  The draft, they said, made a man out him.

The Army had a simple educational idea.  (1) Tell them, (2) Show them (3) have them do it themselves.  Worked great with an M1.

Education deals with ideas.  It is meant for dissolving or breaking the barrier to ideas that is so human, that barrier to thinking.

I wish I could’ve been a teacher, but I had to admit that I did not like it, and, in the end, I was beginning to dislike the kids.

Shenonymous, may her tribe increase.

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By Conservative Yankee, May 22, 2010 at 8:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here’s a thought for those who wish to think:

Before Public Education Connecticut had a 99.8% literacy rate. Since the imposition of mandatory public education, the rate has never been over 91%today it is 82% Statewide. In the city of Hartford, 27%  in New Haven, 43%; in New London, 50%; and in Bridgeport, 32%; in Waterbury, 44%. 

John Taylor Gatto outlines our educational decline from the imposition of Public education in his book, Intellectual Espionage.  If you are interested, go here;

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By stcfarms, May 21, 2010 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment

The Massai is the tribe, they are far better educated than Americans.

By Eugenio Costa, May 14 at 9:13 am #
Go to Kenya and compare.
Then come back and name the tribe.

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By Happy Skeptic, May 20, 2010 at 8:13 am Link to this comment

This is a review of Diane Ravitch’s new book,“The Death and Life of the Great American School System:How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education”, in The May 13th edition of The New York Review of Books.The review is titled,“How to Save the Schools” by ED Hirsch Jr. for those who may not have the time to read her book or just want an excellent review of it.

There is no single solution to the problem of education in America because the problem is so very complex.Parents and educators need to be part of the process and the solution.The politicians role should be to facilitate the solution.NCLB had too much political influence as well as big business influence.The text book business is a racket that wastes resources and ignores real needs.We should try to address this.

As a homeschooling parent,I learned that the solution to educating my child was to remove obsticles in the process.I made it a priority in my life.Not all parents are this fortunate.

I learned I don’t need expensive buildings,football teams or expensive tutors.I needed the right kind of resources.My daughter had an “elite” education specific to her needs.This isn’t realistic for everyone.It taught me that we could do more with less if we spent our resources wisely.

How do we translate this into a public school system?The answer seems to make teachers with vested interests in their jobs angry.I don’t want to take away your jobs.I think they are necessary but you need to adapt.You carry too many burdens that prohibit you from doing your most important job.
Darwin ,if he is permitted to be mentioned, has the answer.

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By Shenonymous, May 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm Link to this comment

One size does not fit all, and I think that is what Diane Ravitch is also
saying.  I do not know for sure as I am awaiting my copy of her book. 
She is publicly speaking for the teachers which is refreshing in the face
of the excessive criticism they have been dealt, I think unfairly.  Taking
an about face on the NCLB project, she seems to have had an epiphany.

I’ve been in the classroom in one capacity or another for about years.  I
now teach teachers for a teaching college on the East Coast.  I spent
about 3 1/2 years in the Texas school system and before that 15 years
in public school and about 10 in higher education elsewhere.  Texas for
teaching was as restricting as it was provincial in attitude.  They
followed George Bush’s program to a Tee.  After all it is his Home State
and they had, and probably will continue to have a Republican governor
who will uphold the Bush agenda.  I’ve watched many many teachers in
my career and had been one myself. 

Howard Gardner’s research shows there are a variety of learning styles,
at least seven but he also suggests there are more.  Not one style per
person, mind you, as there is lots of overlapping in how people learn. 
And I am not personally suggesting that education be tailor made for
each student, it would be madness.  Public schooling I would say prior
to the 60s and 70s worked well except in the dense poor zones of
innercities.  There are endemic reasons for the horrible conditions in
that part of our society.  But those are not the bulk of students in the
nation.  Without a doubt they are an important part of society and is
where insanities from poverty are bred, such as the drug scene and
other criminal behaviors from ignorance.  Yes teachers need all the
help they can get, shorter work hours is one way because once their
teaching day is over they are required to engage in all kinds of extra
curricular activities, then prep for all the special testing the government
had begun to require 8 or so years ago.  They also have to deal with
neurotic parents, and other non-teaching problems.  At school year’s
end, they are exceedingly tired.  Not that teachers do not need to be
accountable, they most assuredly do. 

Most of the teachers I observed knew their content fairly well, some
more than others.  But they were limited, almost provincial in their
education not being able to bring in the wealth of knowledge that is
there to be had.  From intermediate school on upward, say from 3rd
grade to 12, the teachers become specialized in a particular subject
and it is only the unusual teacher who sought to be more well-rounded
and learned the value of domains of learning than what they had
specialized in are able to provide enjoyable learning experiences for the
students.  Not that there aren’t teachers who are single subject bound
that can provide delightful experiences, but as a rule, not.

I do believe a different attitude within the ranks of teachers would go a
long way to helping the “problem” we seem to sense.  Forcing parents
to be responsible as well would be more than half of the problem, but
that is a tough one to install and maintain.  Electronic media can help
but it takes extraordinary program developers to understand how to
craft courses that actually promote learning and love of learning. 
Interviewed teachers thought teachers in secondary school had an
attitude problem, more imperious than was necessary.  My experience
is that it was a truism.

Could we come up with a model ourselves, right here on this forum
that is feasible in the context of national educational expectations?

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By Happy Skeptic, May 18, 2010 at 1:04 pm Link to this comment

As a liberal,I believe in “conserving” what is worth keeping.I do so out of respect,not sentiment.There are things worth keeping in our school systems but there are some models that don’t serve us well any more.Change is appropriate and necessary in those cases.Otherwise, you just repeat the same mistakes.What is the sense in that?

I studied many teaching models to arrive at what worked best for me.Montessori has many things to recommend it.Rudolf Steiner is worth paying attention to as well.There are many blended models that work well in classrooms.

A very important consideration in teaching is understanding the neurological development in children to assist them in learning more efficiently. I know teachers lean more towards methods but understanding the mind you are trying to teach is very important to your success.Dyslexia and ADD are roadblocks.Children can still learn but its like carrying around a ball and chain.As as ADD adult who wasn’t diagnosed until the college level,I can attest to this.

Studies about the effects of TV on young children’s brains can’t be ignored.You may be trying to teach to a differently wired brain than those encountered 30 years ago.Yes, brains do evolve.

Teachers need all the help they can get in the classroom.Classroom dynamics and income level are just the beginning.Sadly,I have to agree with Diane
Ravitch in her conclusion that many public school teachers are currently ineffective partly because they have been poorly educated themselves.I agree also that we must institute reforms that are soundly based.Charter schools have mixed results.Maybe because those promoting them are more interesting in the money they can make from running them than the results they will have on our children.In Ohio alone a company named “White Hat” was sued and the state won.

Children and teachers can’t have “enlightened” conversations about subjects that haven’t studied.Some children need hands-on methods but there is a point where you just have to buckle down and to build a knowledge base before you can take things to the next level.Math is especially given to concrete skills before advancement is possible.If you can’t add, subtract,multiply or divide, you can’t do algebra.Intervention is vital to bringing students up to speed before they are over-whelmed with failure.

Change is needed,but the right kind of change is needed most.

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By Conservative Yankee, May 17, 2010 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Perhaps the reason this claim is popular in “conservative reform circles” is that such conservatives are not about “reforming” public education at all, but are instead determined to dismantle it. Thus, it becomes critical to their larger strategy to discredit public schools entirely, so they can sweep in with some grand scheme to “privatize” education.”

Another liberal with a theory that conservatives are trying to demolish something and replace it with something new. That my friend is not “conservative.” Liberals destroy so they can recreate, conservatives hold on to things. 

This particular “conservative” would like public education to focus on basics in the primary grades, Cultural realities in Middle school, and more broad-based theory in High school, which should be shortened to two years.

Currently education is attempting to educate, parent, and police young people. (The liberal model) My “conservative” idea is to leave education to the schools, family matters to the families, and law enforcement issues to the police. 

Is this a horrible idea?

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By markpkessinger, May 17, 2010 at 2:08 am Link to this comment

The author writes:

“The characterization of these skills as new implies that they haven’t been taught before. And this characterization plays into the inaccurate claim—popular in some conservative reform circles—that America’s schools have failed on a grand scale.”

Perhaps the reason this claim is popular in “conservative reform circles” is that such conservatives are not about “reforming” public education at all, but are instead determined to dismantle it. Thus, it becomes critical to their larger strategy to discredit public schools entirely, so they can sweep in with some grand scheme to “privatize” education.

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By Happy Skeptic, May 16, 2010 at 8:32 pm Link to this comment

E. Costas is correct in his assessments of homeschooling.I would sum it up as simply,“one-size does not fit all”.Comparing it to a traditional public school is like comparing apples and oranges.Yes, they are fruits but they are not the same.I’ve eaten many apple pies but I’ve never eaten an orange pie.

I guess I am an “authority” on homeschooling because I homeschooled my daughter for 3 high school years but I also spent many hours teaching her when teachers failed to do so.This puzzled me greatly until I discovered that she and I have similar learning styles.Both of my children attended public schools.My son graduated but my daughter has a GED.

She has also attended college,speaks 2 languages and lived as an exchange student for almost year.
We have many educators in our family from preschool to college level.I have many friends who are teachers.Our homeschooling network had a surprising number of parents who were teachers.

This is not a threat to public school teachers.Its an indicator that something is changing in the way we need to educate our children.My life would have been simpler had I been able to send my daughter to school without the fear of physical or mental harm.

I have created learning objectives,evaluated and amended curricula and I understand the importance of scope and sequence in an educational program.I had spent many hours as a volunteer in public schools.I have tutored and assisted teachers.I have the greatest respect for the difficulties teachers encounter on a daily basis.
I have known teachers who quit because of these difficulties.Some of these teachers don’t think of teaching as a badge of honor but a tale of survival.
What’s wrong with this picture?

Homeschooling is hard work too but maybe because I had vested interest it was very enjoyable.The way you enjoy watching your baby acquire skills throughout her developmental stages.You don’t think about all the hard work,you remember the joy.

I remember putting together a course called “Fitness for Life”.My daughter took marshal arts and loved to jog.I enriched this with a study of nutrition and health.She is still very fit today many years after her course.Can anyone say the same?

Not all homeschooling experiences are the same.Some parents don’t have the time or the dedication that I had.Some parents are undereducated themselves or even lazy.
I believe in accountability and flexibility.Today most Americans do not understand their own form of government.I had to relearn civics to teach it to my daughter and to understand what is wrong with our Congress.We have a right to our own opinions but we have a responsibility to get the facts right.

Failing to heed the warnings of the Great Depression,deep oil exploration, and changes in our climate are not political footballs.They have deadly consequences.

Elitism is alive and well in school systems as well as in homeschooling.Unfortunately, it has crept into our political system as well.Our great experiment in democracy is in great danger if we don’t restore the democratic ethic to our political systems.It is the core reason our schools are failing us.Understanding the philosophy of democracy is the key to understanding our way of governance.I read a terrific article by Duane Smith,“An Introduction to the Political Philosophy of The Constitution” when educating my daughter in Civics.Its located at and is well worth your time to read.

If we fail to “bend” , we will surely break.There is plenty of room for flexibility in our educational system and in our politics.We must learn to treat other ideas with respect and weight them accordingly.

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By Shenonymous, May 15, 2010 at 9:04 pm Link to this comment

I particularly like what the Christian Science Monitor had to say about
her and her book:  “Ravitch’s hopeful vision is of a national curriculum
– she’s had enough of fly-by-night methods and unchallenging
requirements. She’s impatient with education that is not personally
transformative. She believes there is experience and knowledge of art,
literature, history, science, and math that every public school graduate
should have.”  It is in my cart at  Good recommendation,
thanks, garth.  I’ll have to pass the title on to colleagues and
students.  Might use it as a textbook in the fall. We have to start
reshaping somewhere and with new teachers is a good start.  We
probably could get desk copies.  But I want to look at it first to see how
useable it can be within the scope of the class.

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By garth, May 15, 2010 at 8:03 am Link to this comment

I think that “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education” by Diane Ravitch might be a good place to start.

She’s good because she’s difficult to pin down politically.  For example, wikipedia says the following about her:
“She is not easy to characterize politically as she was appointed to public office by both President of the United States George H. W. Bush and his successor Bill Clinton. Secretary of Education Richard Riley appointed her to serve as a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which supervises the National Assessment of Educational Progress; she was a member of NAGB from 1997-2004. In her political views and in her record she has always been nonpartisan and independent.”

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By Lovecraft, May 15, 2010 at 2:09 am Link to this comment

Demagogues use, among other rehetorical devices, ad hominen attacks and oversimplification to back up baseless claims, sciolistic argument techniques perfected by the Soviets and Goebbels, and still used unabashedly by the likes of std farms and Eugenio Costa in this forum. I agree with Shenonymous, back up your opinions with evidence and documentation, otherwise, you’re just blowing smoke. You can’t do that, however, because your teacher- denigrating statements are invalid and subjective. Look, if you haven’t taught in a real public school for at least a few years, you do not know what you’re talking about when issues of education are being discussed. In other words, you’re ignorant when it comes to such issues. Anyway, why is every self-taught crank and home-schooled, home-schooler an expert on this subject? Why don’t you people criticise particle physicists or electrical engineers? What’s that? You don’t know anything about what they do, so you have no critiques of the two professions? Guess what, you haven’t a clue as to what professional, credentialed teachers do every day, day-in and day-out. Stick to constructive criticism of farming and home-schooling and whatever else you do out there in yahoo land: you’ll sound a lot less ridiculous.

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By Shenonymous, May 14, 2010 at 11:28 pm Link to this comment

Your claims Eugenio Costa are negligible without any sources.
Why should your comments be more believed than mine?  If it is
opinion then all opinions are equally valid.  It is a ploy to avoid
substantiating your claims to dismiss “backing up claims” and call
any request as nonsense.  Please provide more information about
elementary schools in “certain” areas of Kenya.  You just saying so
does not make it so. I have no problem if there is any truth to your
claims.  But there would be mitigating circumstances if there is.  Your
examples are a weak attempt, possibly to help yourself to use another
forum’s space to take you usual blast at the United States.

How do you know Cuba has a higher official literacy rate than the US? 
Compare Cuba with Mexico, Mexico has a larger population, but Cuba
is greatly much smaller one than the USA.  I don’t believe you have any
idea what goes on in American schools but believe all the rhetoric that
partisans want to feed the news media who then exaggerate problems
without giving much press to the vast number of schools that are

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 5:17 am Link to this comment

Any claims made about good typing, or proof-reading, especially in a rush, in this or similar boxes are obviously exaggerated.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 5:14 am Link to this comment

corr “But back up claims IS nonsense to those…” etc.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 5:13 am Link to this comment

Cuba, for example, has a higher official literacy rate than the US. So does the Russian Federation.

But it is worse than that because the US literacy rate is actually heavily faked, which neither the Cuban nor Russian is.

But backing up claims and nonsense to those who just wish to deny is worthless.

The elementary schools in certain areas in Kenya, for example, are better than almost anywhere in the US, private or public.

Don’t want to believe that? Your problem. Go to Kenya and compare.

Then come back and name the tribe.

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By Shenonymous, May 14, 2010 at 4:57 am Link to this comment

Your comments are appreciated, but please back up your claims.
  Otherwise it is simply criticism without basis.  Personal opinion
is just that, personal, and everyone’s opinion are just as valid.  Give
the place where education is better than America and examples of it.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 14, 2010 at 2:27 am Link to this comment

The quality of Home schooling varies with the schoolers who do it, and what the curriculum is.
Where it is good and there is access to the right materials, and the direction is good, the ability to pursue a subject to the end, then move on to another one is really the strongest point.

This can be duplicated in a public or private school setting but it cannot be duplicated as a factory system.

Public ad private school is all worthless graded cafeteria menus nowadays.  Everything is prefabricated and regimented for a certain predetermined straw man, and which allows students only to get to a certain point.

The schools and prisons, as Foucault argued, are very much the same type of territory.

Summer vacations are also absurd.

The student masters one year,“passes”, then forgets it all over the summer and has to start all over again.

Vacations should be short but numerous through the year.

In fact the whole school schedule in the US was originally designed for other reasons than education—farming for example.

Now it partly designed as a baby-sitting service for two parents who both have to work to support themselves in the style to which they would like to be accustomed.

But this is only scratching the surface.

The US has among the worst private and public education in the world at all levels and with a few exceptions.  And it is much worse now than it was before the Russians launched Sputnik, which was the cause of a hysterical, disastrous nation wide educational reform.

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By Shenonymous, May 13, 2010 at 11:15 pm Link to this comment

I have the highest regard for your comments garth.  I wonder
if it would not only be promising of some good to have a broad
discussion here on Truthdig about schooling as well as timely given
the huge dialogue in the society today about it.  As long as it does
not descend into rancor or opinionated heated argument.  Debate
is desirable but not of the kind of ranting that is common on these
forums. It is possible we could come up with some useful solutions.

Home schooling has its advantages and disadvantages.  And public
schooling has its virtues in spite of the current habit of denigrating
public school education.

It is said that homeschooled children are more self-directed learners
when they become adults.  That can only be a good thing.  But I
wonder how true it is.  One point that is often made is that
homeschooled students have the choice to study and learn what they
would like to learn without any time limitations.  In thinking about this,
I am not so sure that is such a good thing.  I’d like to hear pros and
cons about this.

Freedom to fit schooling in with other activities seems to be seen as a
good thing.  Again I think a structureless attitude speaks for an
undisciplined mind.  Education is about learning in depth particular
domains of knowledge from the fine arts to higher mathematics
through literary arts.  I am not sure that tailor made education is the
best strategy.  Almost all of the educated people I know were educated
in public school. But I am from the middle class and there simply was
not enough money to pay for private homeschooling as my single mom
had to work.  However, I do know homeschooled adults and they are
astonishingly bright.  There may be many factors at work here.

Another feature of homeschooling considered positive I hear is that the
children are free from emotional terror, peer pressure, competition
boredom and of course, bullies.

I wonder if it is debatably a good thing?.  There is such a thing as
emotional quotient (EQ) just as there is the intelligence quotient (IQ).  It
would seem that cultivating self-reliance and the ability to face
adversity is best conducted in a public school environment where
untold number of experiences would be available.  It seems that is the
strategy for adult life where it is the norm constantly to be faced with
challenges of all kinds.

It is also said of homeschooling that the teenagers shy away from
being rebellious and become closer to the parents and appreciates the
value of family.

This may be just an immediate effect and says nothing about whether
these children do not become highly rebellious as grown ups.  Many of
the homeschooled people I know have actually turned out counter to
what their parents would want, except they deceive their parents to
appear to be exactly what they wanted. 

Problems with homeschooled is that it is the unusual parent who has
the range of skills to provide proper tutelage.  They become the
disciplinarians which is dangerous if their grasp of knowledges are
deficient yet forced to be learned by the child. 

Contemporary living demands full-time employment income for
families to survive decently.  With that as a constriction, budgets
become very tight and stressful if the time spent at an occupation is
spent teaching the families children the ample spectrum of education
that is needed to be a well-educated person.

Cogent and coherent discussion is much needed as to how to make
public school the best possible environment for the general population.

I hear a great number of critics say this or that about the nature and
quality of education but I rarely hear what teachers themselves as a
group say about it all.  This is a study I am making on my own. But I
am most interested in what Truthdiggers have to say.

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By garth, May 13, 2010 at 9:42 am Link to this comment

Shenonymous and Happy Skeptic,

I agree with both of you.

Happy Skeptic might be easier for me to explain.  I wish I could’ve had parental homeschooling, but my parents had 13 children.(They believed in birth control or else they would’ve had 14.) My father worked as a laborer at the GE.  My mother stayed at home, but she was frazzled by the stress of rearing 13 children, and she was in no way capable to homeschool 13.
My father and mother taught me what little they knew about the following: self defense, academics and music, and how to take orders.  My father also did impress upon us the need for “learning a trade.”

One fault I can think of with homeschooling is that it could lead to elitism in a supposedly classless society.  But on the other hand, education aimed at the student, especially, your own child, rather than at some arbitrary point score on a test, I would say would be an enormous improvement.

To Shenonymous,

I’ve “experienced” your level of committment and your willingness to share your ideas and your learning.  Thank you. 
But I haven’t heard the background summary story.  It’s all the more amazing.  Truly American.

Your ability to lead a horse to water and entice him to drink is, in my opinion, inspired.

Your writing is exquisite.  But before I go all ga- ga, I have to admit that my admiration comes from envy.

Education, I’ll add, and as Shenonymous and Happy Skeptic mention, must have many different aspects.  There are many different areas for scholastic learning.

I used to teach chemistry, applied science and anatomy & physiology in a small Catholic high school north of Boston.

My middle year of a three year stint was my most successful, but in that year I decided to work my ass off by making the students write, write, write.  And I graded everything they wrote—everything—homework, lab reports, etc.  Parents complained but I never heard a word from the Sister Superior.

But, to continue, there are also the following subjects of learning: English Literature, Classics, History, Civics, physical education, et cetera.  Surely, all these can’t be bound up in one catch-all approach to learning in the No Child Left Behind legislation.

(Speaking of No Child Left Behind:  This law was left by Teddy Kennedy and GW Bush.  Now, LBJ always left behind a law or a situation that was going to help working people, the people in need of a break.  Ted Kennedy, however, left behind an indescribable mess.  I don’t want to speak ill about the dead, but in this case, and for our own good, we have to come to terms with the character of some of the characters who’ve plagued our past.  Ted Kennedy might be one of those characters along with George Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and in the future we’’ be looking at Mitt Romney.  You see, these are all private-schooled babies who were breast bread on the idea of elitism.)

Getting back to question at hand:  If you teach Gym in the same way you teach History, then what’s the point in going to school.  Just mail every parent the process and the lesson plan.  Skip the Educator.

(Which brings up the latest scam. 
Juan Gonzalez wrote a great piece about this scam which has to do with the construction of school buildings in NY. Behind it all is Barack Omama and Arne Duncan.  It’s the same scam they pulled in Chicago with help of a banker’s son Gianopoulis, or some name similar and a few Chicago-style criminals.) 

Good bye, Education, hello indoctrination.

Education is in the same dilemma that they faced when it was sidetracked in 1957, after Sputnik.  Only this time it is dishonest. 

RI think, real learning is illusive, varied and most of all difficult.

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By Shenonymous, May 12, 2010 at 10:39 am Link to this comment

As a graduate of public schools and both my kids as well, I never
realized in the last fifty or so years that education had sunk so
far into the doldrums.  I am still in the education system and I see
it from a different side.  I see teachers who break their butts to
provide the mandated curriculum, but incessant government
mandated testing does not give them the chance to be real teachers
but must instead be Automatons of the Manual.  The marxist-leninist
theory of pablum education theory, where one-size fits all, the
insidious socialist attitude toward leveling all realms of education to a
bland diet of proficiencies is mind numbing for teachers as well as
students.  Teaching to individual needs is the way to develop a healthy
community, a healthy country.  As a domain there is lots of idle talk
about its importance.  The need for a superlative education system is
absolute given the ignorance of what could be called the parentage of
the masses. 

Because of the size of this country and its diversity of population, it is
up to us to make sure the government does give as much support to
the states, as possible, as it is the sovereign states who have the final
authority of what goes on in the public schools, and to declare broadly
cast standards, or the minimum curriculum a child receives that
includes the arts as well as theoretical thinking.  I know she doesn’t
need to be told, but HappySkeptic is right.  Learning must
become a joy not a tedious distasteful struggle.  That is what is
missing when the contract is to show test scores rather than
demonstrate love of learning which would by default show excellence in
test scores in the final analysis. Learning must become exciting and
enriched with the wealth of depth of literature, the fascination of
science, and simply letting the mind blossom to its fullest.  We must
start with ourselves then our community. If we have children, and that
is a personal choice for the most part, then it is our obligation to
become smitten with knowledge ourselves then impress that on our
children.  Now how to infect the masses with a love of knowledge and a
need for individual excellence (arete)?  That is the question.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 12, 2010 at 9:21 am Link to this comment

Saxon Math is excellent.

At some point,however, it needs to be supplemented by the best mathematician one can find.

Merely by the way, for anyone paying attention, I pushed the “report” button in error.

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By Happy Skeptic, May 12, 2010 at 8:23 am Link to this comment

Confession,I homeschooled my daughter.I took a dive into pedagogy before I did it.I read Holt, Gardner and many others.I looked for successful education models at home and abroad.I looked at state standards for guidance to assure myself that I was giving my child what she needed to know to pass proficiency tests and the GED.Those years in public school weren’t a complete waste but they were something to use as comparison.
As parents, we are our child’s first educator.I read to her every day.She was reading at 4.It came natural.It was for fun.I told my children,“If you learn to read,you will never be bored,unless you want to be.“We spent more time at libraries and bookstores than most people.
She struggled with math,(not my best subject),until I found a great text,Saxon Math,that taught her the way she learned best.I used my own text books to help her with science subjects.It was an adventure in learning.
The goal was to satisfy state standards and to launch my daughter onto a path as a life-long learner.Education doesn’t begin in the classroom.It certainly shouldn’t end there.
I am not an “educator”, I am facilitator.I evaluated her learning style and her interests.I was honest.I told her,I know you are bored with American history but learn what you need to so you can get on to the more interesting things.I used comparison and contrast techniques to make this go down easier.She loved Asian studies, so we contrasted their histories with ours.She read at a college level so it worked out fine.
The politics of education stinks.Children in schools need their basic needs met as well as their educational needs.I watched charter schools and alternative programs suck money from the public schools.NCLB was a scam.Unfunded mandates? Get real.
Don’t let this administration perpetuate any b.s. either.Obama knows better.He may not be able to stop it without our help.Voters just don’t know enough to make these decisions.So educate them.Take politics out of education.
Learning is its own reward.It makes us better citizens.An informed electorate is essential to our democratic way of life.
There are many creative solutions to education.
One thing I learned as a homeschooling parent is that “One size does not fit all”. My two kids are different learners.I respected this and sought ways to address my daughter’s special needs.Even in public schools, I sought out a cooperative relationship with teachers.Some responded.Some did not.Teaching is hard but rewarding work.Money won’t cure all the problems of schools today but it will help.Dedication is the biggest asset.
My biggest asset was realizing that I had “vested interest” in educating my daughter and not every else did.Teachers are demoralized at times.Reach out to them.Even if you don’t have kids in your local school.Volunteer.See what their real needs are.Do they need help on the playground? More supplies? Tutors.Its called “citizen power”. We can change education in America ,one child at a time.There are no magic bullets.Throwing money at schools will only work until you go broke.
Roll up your sleeves.Open your heart.Be genuine and don’t get discouraged.Our kids are worth it.

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By Shenonymous, May 9, 2010 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

Tardy as I am coming to this forum, by a couple of months it
seems! I was distracted elsewhere and did not notice the article. 
I happened upon it this a.m.  However, it is a topic with which I
am completely invested professionally, and care about as much
as anyone on this forum.  Compared with a few education veterans
here I’ve only been in education for 35 years and have taught every
single grade from K through graduates in college (presently and for
about 10 years) as well as special education for the mentally and
physically handicapped.  All that means is I’ve seen the gamut of
students that there are.  My own credentials came very slowly due to
life obligations, which I am sure fits many others who find themselves
getting educated themselves and managing to provide a family life
simultaneously.  For me teaching is the best profession one could
enter.  Being a medical doctor is equal in importance.  Doctors take
care of the body, teachers take care of the mind.  Actually teachers, if
they are intuitive enough, shape the minds of their charges.  And their
responsibility is to shape those minds to think for themselves and to be

I agree that life skills are not only learned in schools, but learning to
be literate, numerate and to be able to make judicious informed
decisions in life is what makes in a most obvious way individuals
contributive to their society as healthy human beings. There would be
no need for education if there was no society.  So it is only in that
context that education rules in importance, even though there is much
to be said for the soul of the individual.  Literature would not exist if
there was no society.  Elementary calculation might be important but
would be self-taught if there were no society.  Everything else is
elementary deduction.

Some sound bites of the history of education in the United States even
if limited might do some good. Thomas Jefferson is credited with the
idea that education is within the province of responsibility of the
government, to be available to all irrespective of their status in society. 
Graduation from high school rose from about 6% in 1900 significantly
to 85% in 1996. Public education is within the scope of sovereign states
who have primary authority.  States also enact and regulate laws of
financing their education needs, hiring school personnel, what
constitutes attendance, and the curriculum that is taught. Local districts
oversee the administration except for licensing and rules concerning
health and safety. Public schools are funded mainly from local property
taxes. Educational values and financial capacities tend to reflect the
communities in which they reside.  In 1940, about 68% of public school
finances were paid from local property taxes, 30% from state
treasuries, 2% from the federal government.  In 1990, 47% came from
local and state authorities, while 53% from the federal revenues. Over
time the federal government was increasingly relied, to where now it
funds so much that controls and regulations and expectations are put
in place because the money is from general coffers. 

The sobering A Nation at Risk report 1983 revealed the fact that
American students were outperformed internationally and showed
embarrassing low achievement.  States then reclaimed their
responsibility, but the fetters of federal funding did not lessen the hold
from national requirements.  Violence, drugs, alcohol, smoking, and
sex-related problems plague the education domain and these are
factors that teachers and administrator also have to deal with besides
curriculum expectations.  It is cultural decay that adds to the chaos of

There have been many things said on this forum that are of great
merit. Those who have been teachers have given very relevant
testimony here so it doesn’t need repeated, but it definitely needs
repeated in public.  There is no easy solution.

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By Eugenio Costa, May 7, 2010 at 6:29 am Link to this comment

Going with the small school model requires two important deletions, “Grades” and “Grades”, both of which need to be got rid of.

Small classes of children of different ages with one teacher and no grading—either by age or with “marks”—work well, with children going at their own pace, and teaching one another.

For elementary school through Grade 6, this may be the best model.

The teacher has to be very accomplished, however, and dearly interested in the children, and the classes cannot be too big—perhaps ten to twelve at most.

The main things be taught at this level are reading, writing and composition, arithmetic and mathematics, art, music.

“Science” as body of “knowledge” is a complete waste of time at this level. It can only be learned by authority at this point, which is antithetical to science.

Observing the natural world, however, and experiments are important and useful.

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By garth, May 5, 2010 at 8:53 am Link to this comment

Dianne Ravith points out in her book I’ve fogotten the title, that the answers to the problems in Education are manifold. To focus on just one leads us back to problem at hand.

I was in high school in the early 60s.  I hated school but loved it whe I got out.
They, the WWII vets and schoolmarms taught us to read and write, despite the emphasis on status in our community.

Good luck.  I just hope you don’t screw it up.  Charter schools and Arne Duncan and Barack Obama are not about education.  They are simnply about paying off the debts of their sponsors through the payment of Municipal bonds.  Namely, your property tax.

And I am willing to bet that they’ll achieve it thought brute force of bribed legislation or through deception.

Since the 70s, I have noticed a growing direspect for teachers.  Where is that coming from? 

The Mindless throng have no will of their own.  It must be coming from somewhere.

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By Valatius, May 3, 2010 at 9:04 pm Link to this comment

Mike Rose, I’ve enjoyed your books, but better teacher education is only part of the answer. People sometimes start out with a great education and the best of intentions but lose their energy and ideals along the way - which might not be so harmful in many careers but is disastrous for a teacher who affects children’s entire lives.

I spent years as a teacher and school administrator and have seen plenty of good, as well as far too many simply mediocre, uninspiring teachers. The worst ones are unhappy every day in their work, but cannot see any financial alternative. One solution might be for states and localities to make it easier for these kind of people (who are not so incompetent that they can be fired) to shift their benefits and pensions to another public sector job, even if at a lower pay rate. I suggested this strategy to one such guy and he became a court officer, which much better suited his personality.

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By Myronh, May 1, 2010 at 8:03 am Link to this comment

The solution is simple. Provide a Work-book/Study guide for each Grade. Each Student moves to the next Grade only when they have actually passed the test, which measures how much the Student has learned. It is obvious that some Students may never obtain Grade 12; some may get there in 8-years. A teacher will be responsible for only one Grade. That same teacher of a higher grade may have students vaying in age by several years. This will eliminate the present situation of High-School Graduates that can’t read. The kids might as well learn at an early age that promotion only comes with hard work and ability.

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By Lora Appleton, April 30, 2010 at 11:17 pm Link to this comment

Just what do we want the schools to teach? Again, we must start with the fact that all people are not created equal, either individually or in their groups. Innate ability is important; so is environment and social class. Ideally each child would be taught as a unique individual with his/her own skills, problems, and social situation taken into account.

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By Dogleg, April 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There are those writing to the comments section on two individuals who are espousing ‘experts’ urls, books, etc.I took the time to actually read the major portion of a book made available by the guy named Gatto, for free or purchase hardbound.

You get what you pay for…:)BS.

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By stcfarms, April 20, 2010 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment

It is possible to get a good education in spite of bad teachers and antiquated
school systems. The Encyclopaedia Britannica is probably the best teaching aid
out there and is now available on CD.

If a child becomes interested in learning then there is no limit to what they
can do. Teachers are limited by the dumbest kid in the class but learning by
using the encyclopaedia allows your child to advance at their own rate.

By expat in germany, April 20 at 11:03 am #
(Unregistered commenter)

Bad and lazy teaches, of which there seem to be many, are treated like bad
priests—maybe moved around after numerous complaints, but rarely fired.
The curriculum is ancient, and the teachers are not open to suggestions.
Parental involvement is discouraged. The school day where we live is over at 1:
00 or 2:00, meaning most children need after-school tutoring to learn what
they don’t learn in the classroom.

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By expat in germany, April 20, 2010 at 7:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Part of the reason my husband and I moved our family to Germany was because we thought our children would receive a better education. Many people, both American and German, told us the system is much better here. Unfortunately, that has not been our experience, after three years. Bad and lazy teaches, of which there seem to be many, are treated like bad priests—maybe moved around after numerous complaints, but rarely fired. The curriculum is ancient, and the teachers are not open to suggestions. Parental involvement is discouraged. The school day where we live is over at 1:00 or 2:00, meaning most children need after-school tutoring to learn what they don’t learn in the classroom. Why don’t children have any say in the curriculum, here or the United States? Why not create a curriculum that allows for some student involvement? Because many teachers are lazy and do not want to make the extra effort to create lessons that are truly engaging and fun. (My son’s geography teacher makes games out of many of the lessons, and my son often comes home and mentions them.)
Of course, blame is not the point. A better approach would include the teachers, the parents, and the students, working together.

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By weilunion, April 18, 2010 at 2:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hi, Mike and all readers. A version of this appeared a few months ago in Counterpunch, the written version.  I do have the date but here is the argument.  And it is keeping with yours.


Danny Weil

The Dewey-Lippmann Debates:
Resuscitating the debate over education

    During the early 20th century, not all activists and public policy makers were enthralled with the functionalism proposed and implemented in the early industrial schools.  Prominent progressive educator and philosopher during the early part of the twentieth century, John Dewey proposed a more serious democratic form of education. Dewey argued against reducing schooling to mere functionalism — boring and repetitive tasks designed to prepare students for future work under capitalist relations, just as many educators today argue against standardized testing, Tough Choices or Tough Times and No Child Left Behind (Dewey, J., 1940, 1976). 

    Dewey’s argument against social functionalism maintained that the role and purpose behind education should be to prepare students to live fully in the present, not simply to prepare them for the future.  Dewey argued that for schooling to be merely a preparatory institution for future market needs rendered schools and schooling dehumanizing and denied children the opportunity to find relevancy, identity, and meaning in their lives. Dewey commented:

The ideal of using the present simply to get ready for the future contradicts itself. It omits, and even shuts out, the very conditions by which a person can be prepared for his future. We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the long run amounts to anything. (ibid, 49)

    Walter Lippmann did not agree.  He was a journalist and contemporary of John Dewey, as well as a speech writer for presidents.  In the 1920s, Lippmann was in his mere 20’s while Dewey was much older, in his 60’s.  Dewey was a philosopher at Columbia University at the time while Lippmann remained a distinctive journalist and essayist.  Much like today, as Susan Jacoby argues in her book, The Age of American Unreason, this brief period of time was one in which there was growing belief in human irrationality and unreasonableness (Jacoby, 2008); this could be summed up as the belief that people can and could not govern themselves, that participatory democracy was simply an illusion born out of appearances, not whole cloth, and that if left to his own devices, ‘man’ would simply slide towards demagoguery or mob rule or perhaps even worse, barbarism. Many public debates, not simply here in America, but abroad as well as to whether people could govern themselves or if they would need to be governed by managerial elites, in the case of Germany, Italy and Japan, fascists, was in full force. 


Danny Weil

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By Conservative Yankee, April 18, 2010 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


“Con Yankee,
‘Culling the herd?’  I’m sorry.  I believe that there is a difference between animals and human beings.  Where did you go to school?  There is nothing in Darwin’s work about culling herds.”

As far as your “beliefs” go you are entitled to them. My belief is that their IS a difference between animals and humans in that animals are generally more rational.

I have a masters of education with a special ed endorsement From the University of Maine. Public school/private school mix in New York City for primary grades.

As a fact Darwin was ALL about culling the herd.(survival of the fittest /  natural selection)

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By stcfarms, April 17, 2010 at 5:14 pm Link to this comment

You are a glorified babysitter, not a teacher. If you require proof of my points
you need only come to Osco Illinois and see for yourself. I do not have a
problem with educated people, my girlfriend graduated from Purdue near the
top of her class. She had mastered conceptual thought in grade school and
only went to Purdue to make her father happy.

You make assumptions not in evidence, I did not say that farmers are the
ONLY hard working people, I said that farmers are hard working people. I
made no remark about the other posters on this list being “self-righteous” and
“pompous”, it was merely a response to the erroneous assumptions made
about people that did not finish high school.

Your lack of reading and comprehension skills (not to mention your bad
grammar) does prove that you are indeed an English teacher in the public fool
system. Feel free to bring your students along when you come visit the ‘drop
out’. I will be happy to introduce them to some of the homeless people with
sheepskins from your institutions of higher learning.

By Lovecraft, April 17 at 1:26 pm #


I’m sorry you got stuck in Pappy Yokum Elementary School. However, my
experience in the “public fool” system (as you call it) prepared me to be
skeptical, questioning, analytical, and evaluative. I think your points are that
teachers are so stupid that they “numb” the minds of their pupils, educated
people are equally stupid “corporate drones,” and that farmers are the only
hard working (“sixteen hours a day, seven days a week”) people in this country
(besides yourself, of course). Also, everybody else, especially those
commenting here, are “self-righteous” and “pompous.” Unfortunately, I see
that you offer no evidence to back up your statements. You must’ve missed
that mind-numbing lesson, the one that teaches that you have to back up
statements and opinions with evidence to make valid points. Finally, I must
thank you: your comment is such a prima facie example of hypocrisy (you
accusing others of self-righteousness, pomposity, and being drones, while
you commit the same sins), that it will make a good teaching tool in my
classroom (surprise, I’m one of those mind-numbing English teachers!).

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By Lovecraft, April 17, 2010 at 9:26 am Link to this comment


I’m sorry you got stuck in Pappy Yokum Elementary School. However, my experience in the “public fool” system (as you call it) prepared me to be skeptical, questioning, analytical, and evaluative. I think your points are that teachers are so stupid that they “numb” the minds of their pupils, educated people are equally stupid “corporate drones,” and that farmers are the only hard working (“sixteen hours a day, seven days a week”) people in this country (besides yourself, of course). Also, everybody else, especially those commenting here, are “self-righteous” and “pompous.” Unfortunately, I see that you offer no evidence to back up your statements. You must’ve missed that mind-numbing lesson, the one that teaches that you have to back up statements and opinions with evidence to make valid points. Finally, I must thank you: your comment is such a prima facie example of hypocrisy (you accusing others of self-righteousness, pomposity, and being drones, while you commit the same sins), that it will make a good teaching tool in my classroom (surprise, I’m one of those mind-numbing English teachers!).

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By stcfarms, April 16, 2010 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

I just love pompous corporate drones, their training in the public fool system
makes them experts on every subject. I suffered through nine years of school
listening to the teachers repeat information over and over to make sure the
‘least common denominator’ kids remembered it. By sixth grade I was doing
homework at $5.00 a page for high school seniors that were too stupid to do
their own work. I left school because it was a mind numbing experience.

I live in a farmhouse surrounded by millionaires, they will be shocked to
discover that they live in a slum. They are laboring class though, most farmers
do work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.

I have made my own jobs over the years because the ‘great jobs’ did not offer
a challenge or nearly enough money. I have owned my own home for twenty
years. I paid cash for the house because I was not bright enough to borrow
money at a variable interest rate.

I have excellent health care insurance. I drive a 1973 Javelin race car, own a
motorhome, snowplow and all of the tools for the fifty or so trades that I work
in. Gee, if I had stayed in school I could be losing my home, car and job, in
debt up to my eyeballs and self righteous about higher education.

My secret to learning? Reading.

By John Ellis, March 19 at 6:21 pm #


Over 99% of those in the U.S. who do not have 12 years
of education have several things in common:

(1) All live in laboring class slum neighborhoods.

(2) All are not of the 51% voting majority, great
jobs and those with terrific homes.

(3) None have healthcare insurance.

Now, I know me be just a dumb slow thinker laborer,
but surely gentlemen,  why is all of government and
mass media dead silent on the correlation between
intelligence, education and wealth?

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, April 15, 2010 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Con Yankee,
“Culling the herd”?  I’m sorry.  I believe that there is a difference between animals and human beings.  Where did you go to school?  There is nothing in Darwin’s work about culling herds.

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By Dave Thomas, April 15, 2010 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment

It seems rather odd that education worked fine in this country up until the 1960’s when self-proclaimed experts said children don’t learn from a curriculum. Now we see the results of not using curriculum based teaching for a fifty years and it’s failure folks.

The arguments that curriculum based teaching doesn’t work are simply wrong and always have been.

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By Jack, April 14, 2010 at 7:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rose touched on the problem, but failed to develop the issue. The first question to as is, “What is the purpose of education?”
  Long ago in an agrarian society, the purpose of mass education was primarily to create better citizens better able to participate in the new democracy, and secondly to function in a relatively simple, uncomplicated business world. Only a small minority needed to go beyond this to obtain technical knowledge in specific areas such as law or medicine or science. For the curious among the masses, there was always the way of the autodidact.
    Today, preparation for gainful employment as well as for mere survival in our increasingly complex world have become legitimate and essential purposes. In many instances job preparation has become the primary purpose of education for the masses, whether in public or private schools. Preparation for meaningful participation in our civic life has suffered, and the listlessness of our society shows the result. Critical analysis and critical thinking are essential to right the dangerously listing ship of the United States. Citizens must learn that there is more to life than making more money to buy more things. If they are not taught this at home, it becomes the job of the schools.
  Just what do we want the schools to teach? Again, we must start with the fact that all people are not created equal, either individually or in their groups. Innate ability is important; so is environment and social class. Ideally each child would be taught as a unique individual with his/her own skills, problems, and social situation taken into account.
    But education is a mass production enterprise so we have to have compromises. Using the same textbooks and methods in inner cities and suburbs and elite neighborhoods makes no sense. Having the prodigy in the same classroom with the struggling student-athlete also makes no sense. Making a visual learner sit through (to him/her) boring oral lectures makes no sense. Making the tactile, kinetic learner read and listen will not work. So Rose is right that we need trained educators who are aware of these differences and have learned methods of dealing with and accommodating them; mere skill in the subject matter, while important, is just not enough.
    But first and foremost, we must decide what we want from our educational system, and we need the wise, knowledgeable, critical thinkers, that our current system is so incapable of producing, to do this analysis and planning.

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By Professore, April 11, 2010 at 6:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The central theme that unifies all of these disparate comments is that the responsibillity for the education of the general populace lies solely on the backs of teachers.  Just as a thought experiment, try this on for size: what if students became better students?  What if parents became better parents?  Outragous questions, I know.  Where, you ask, are the teachers in this equation?  Well, I did say it was a thought experiment, didn’t I.  Imagine:  students who try hard, who put the time in, who read books on their own that are not assigned by teachers; parents who make sure that their children keep up with their studying and schoolwork, who actually make sure to have books in the house, and who customarily work from the assumption that the teacher is right, not their little angel, when there is a dispute.  Monstrous, of course—but it’s just a thought experiment.  No one has been hurt in its making.  Now, imagine mediocre teachers.  All mediocre.  None inspiring.  Teachers who just basically get up there and try to teach what they are supposed to in the standard way.  Now for the true outrage: I would be willing to wager that you will get much more results with the formula good students/good parents/mediocre teachers than you will with the present-dispensation, conventional-wisdom formula bad students/bad parents/fire all the bad teachers.  Remember, there are more than four million teachers in the US.  Can all of them be Robin Williams or Mr. Chips or Stand and Deliver Guy?  With that many, must some, nay, many, of them not of necessity inevitably be, despite all your sturm und drang—mediocre.

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By dihey, April 10, 2010 at 11:50 am Link to this comment

For the progressiveanalyst:
I am one of hundreds of millions of living Americans that have spent oodles of time in classrooms….as students. In my case 12 years.
It strikes me as supremely arrogant that only those who have been in classrooms as so-called ‘educators’ are qualified to have opinions about education.
I have been 12 years in Montessori Schools (I loved them!). What I observe of the existing public systems as well as of the currently proposed “improvement” nauseates me. To be clear, the nauseating is not caused by teachers so much as by administrators and politicians although I sometimes wish that all teachers would go on strike until a truly humane and rational educational system is adopted in every one of our states. Regrettably I live in Texas which will undoubtedly become the last holdout.
There was a brief period during the late 60’s and the 70’s when I thought that this change was about to happen and not because the teachers, administrators, and politicians wanted to change but because rebellious students almost overthrew the system.
Indeed, the only sensible alternative is to encourage students to rebel again.
It appears to me that the new objective of the Obama administration is to produce mostly better prepared automatons for commerce, industry, and office work under the false flag of producing more geniuses. I truly pity the kids and their teachers that will have to go through yet another change that will undoubtedly be changed again every four or eight years by new administrations ad nauseam because the intended goals of the previous one were not reached.

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By Conservative Yankee, April 10, 2010 at 9:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Everyone knows that bullying at school has become a nationwide problem”

Geez Where did you go to school, bullying has always been a problem but the problem was left for children to solve… Can’t solve it?  Darwin’s theory of natural culling of the heard (us)

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By Janeane Vigliotti, April 10, 2010 at 6:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I went to truthdig after a year.  Was so happy to see Mike Rose’s writing.  Having been one of the teachers he featured in Possible Lives, I took much of what he espoused into my experience.  I now work in an alternative setting with kids living below the poverty line.  The difference in those who think and those who don’t is connectivity with an adult who cares, takes time to teach, and who examines his own vulnerabilities everyday…to model critical thinking begets such…quality verbal interaction is the result of respect for the student/teacher relationship…I have always said that it would be great if parents were the teachers who inspired greatness but too often that is not what I see.  The inspiration to become a thinking, contributing adult comes from passion, a passion that is learned by witnessing compassion and love of life.  Our youth are hungry for meaning to all of this stuff we call responsibility, duty, asset building…if we don’t feed them, they drop out.  I love what I do and model that every day even when I feel like the whole world has gone nuts.  My students look to me and my sense of meaningful relationships.  They want their teachers to stay connected to them.  When they say they don’t care they are lying.  That’s when we pull them in even closer.  The essence of learning is love of learning.  To inspire that is the pivotal point.

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By theprogressiveanalyst, April 8, 2010 at 9:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a wonderful series of articles by Dr. Rose. I have started working on a book and now I am disappointed I haven’t finished it already as we have a lot of the same ideas. What he calls the magic bullet I call the fad of the year. One of the big problems is that so many people who have the “solution” have spent little or no time in the classroom. I was disappointed to read the background of the Sec. of Education, Arne Duncan—his “teaching experience” is tutoring kids while he was in college. Newsweek recently had a cover story (obviously written by such experts) boiling down the solution to firing all the bad teachers, neglecting to mention how to measure/find them, what impact they have, how many there are, or any other sort of objective measurement. There is so much b.s. written about education and education reform that it is refreshing to read Dr. Rose’s work. I just wonder what prescriptions he supports. I feel, as he obviously does, there are no quick or easy fixes, but some things can and should be done.

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By progwoman, April 6, 2010 at 5:01 am Link to this comment

Just came back to read the many thoughtful posts in this thread. I especially agree with One Little Victory that legislators have no business writing curriculum. Texas is the worst state for this, but all 50 states seem to have the tendency to want to solve the problem of the day (think teenage pregnancy, drug use, credit card debt) with mandates that eat up precious time and resources.

I came of age in the Jim Crow South where the governor decreed that any teacher who uttered the word “integration” in the classroom would be summarily fired, and I thought those days were over, but the right has pretty much grabbed the reins in many states, perpetuating their ideology of dedicated ignorance.

I was hoping that Obama would pick someone for Secretary of Education who would give some serious thought to what it is we want our children to learn besides the ability to pass a standardized test. Kristy is right that we need to look to nations that are successful, but ultimately, we have to decide for ourselves where we will focus and on whom.

We who care about education must insist that science, social studies and the arts are essential to a meaningful education and life. And they’re certainly essential to democracy.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, April 5, 2010 at 9:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I don’t know if this issue has been addressed here but recently there was another teen age suicide due to bullying at school.  One of our local papers also ran a story of a man who’s son committed suicide because of bulling at school several years ago.  Everyone knows that bullying at school has become a nationwide problem so my question is does it not seem that school children today are displaying the same kind of behavior as prison inmates?  Is there a connection between being forced to be in school and the anti-social behavior we are seeing in the schools?

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By Myronh, April 2, 2010 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment

I do not have a technical education, but have had an opportunity to work in an industry, which includes both structural engineering and metallurgy. I have worked closely with many people educated in those two disciplines. Most of them (now retired or dead)willingly shared their expertise, which included formal education enhanced with job-site or factory work apprenticeship. I now find that graduates in the last two decades have little if any practical knowledge and in most cases believe obtaining that knowledge is not their job.If none of the educated develop practical knowledge, who is going to provide the apprenticeship that will avoid the mistakes that are certain to happen?

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By mindful, April 2, 2010 at 11:21 am Link to this comment

I recently watch Front Line which indicates even the best and brightest are not that. They looked at students from Stanford and MIT, although tops in their classes, they garbbed on cell phones and played computer games in lectures.

One, wonders, that’s me, if standards have not dropped, so that thinking and becoming able to think in a linear way, have been compromised?

So the brave new world, even at the top where the children of the elite play, may no longer guarantee someone able to reason and contain all the issues in that process.

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By Hulk2008, April 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm Link to this comment

The comments from the Retired Teacher above contain the essential nugget of truth that public education lacks:  homes where learning is not only encouraged but where it actually occurs.  Poverty area “homes” are places to avoid and suburban homes only provide entertainment and escape. 

At some point in US history, schools took on the task of teaching people quite literally against their will.  People who hated school as kids now have their children and grandchildren in class.  Such parents have an “I-DARE-you-to-teach-me” attitude.  Their kids don’t learn ANYthing at home…. they don’t read, they don’t read to the kids, they ridicule educated people, they believe that teachers are inept, and only blue-collar skills are useful.  And they provide a huge block of maleable voters to whom the right wing liars can pander. 

Charter schools, unlike ordinary public schools, cherry-pick students and require total parental involvement.  Miscreants and those with serious learning disabilities need not apply.  Parochial schools don’t have to keep kids that routinely create trouble - and they bar students whose parents refuse to pay for tuition, books etc.  Public school teachers often subsidize needed materials at their own expense - and do so far beyond any meager $250 tax allowance. 

Maybe the answer to primary education is to make entry based on acceptance and performance.  That would mean a whole new category of schools that are basically and literally glorified day care centers to house the kids who do not wish to learn and the children of parents who could care less about learning ANYthing.

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By skriss, March 30, 2010 at 6:11 am Link to this comment

First of all, why can’t we Americans pull our heads out from our collective behinds and look out at the world and start emulating those systems others are getting right?
healthcare(Switzerland), economy (Brazil), and education (Finland, South Korea)

Second, education Reform must meet the educational needs of the kids:

1.Kids need consistency. Try to keep the kids together rather than splitting them up every new school year. (Finland does this)

2.Kids need to play (a lot) everyday. Give them a break (even if it’s 10 minutes) in between lessons. (Finland does this too)

3. Kids need time for self-directed exploration. How else will they know what they want to do when they grow up?

4. Boys and girls are different. During puberty they all discover this fact and it is very distracting. Kids need to be separated during middle school by gender.

5. Kids need parental involvement in their education (or committed adults in a child’s life). Essential literacy skills are largely gathered during the first 5 years of a child’s life. The more words a child hears, both spoken and read, the better.

6. Each child has different talents and abilities, but each child has a natural inclination for something. Each child’s propensity needs to be nurtured.

Yes, everyone should be adequate in math and reading, however; stripping down the curriculum to the exclusion of everything else will create a country full of mindless robots who can compute, but not contemplate.
That may be tricky to pull off with all of those powerful lobbyists pulling the strings in Washington:

Action without thought is the point of corporate advertising.

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By Lovecraft, March 29, 2010 at 7:05 pm Link to this comment

I’m a fully credentialed/tenured high school English teacher in Southern California, with close to 18 years of experience. I see a major problem, and its consequences, on a daily basis in my school, yet as far as I know, it’s rarely discussed in academia or the media, or even acknowledged. I’m talking about pervasive drug use by students, and it seems to cut across socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity, and academic achievement level. I haven’t done a scientific study, of course, but in 18 years of conducting and overhearing many drug-related discussions, certain things become quite noticable. The drug culture in the schools I’m familiar with (I’ve taught almost exclusively in average schools, i.e., they are neither elite, nor at-risk) includes not just users, but also many young capitalists who have discovered a guick way to make good money by selling everything from pot, to Mom and Dad’s prescription Vicodin/Zanex/Ativan, and beyond, including alcohol. My collegues and I have noticed a definite downward spiral in attention span, interest, curiosity, and academic performance with each new student group that comes in. Also, disciplinary problems more and more frequently center around drug issues. I don’t mean to be simplistic here: while many factors most assuredly play a role in student underachievement and lack of motivation, it seems to me that student drug use plays a large part, and no amount of educational reform, miraculous or not, will fix that problem. A BIG factor here is parents: some new framework has to be developed to strongly encourage them to participate more in the lives of their children, especially in their kid’s educational issues.

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By nickelthrower, March 28, 2010 at 9:10 pm Link to this comment


I very much appreciate the comments on this particular story.  It is clear to me that people are very concerned about education and are seriously searching for a solution.  I have two observations of my own that I would like to add.

First, my mother went to school in Italy in an area devastated by fighting (WWII) and in a community that was struggling to rebuild itself.  By her 7th year in school, she was working on a curriculum that Honor Students in 12th grade work on in this country.  She speaks seven languages and is capable of doing advanced math that I did not encounter until much later in college.  Anyway, I once asked her why she and her schoolmates did so well and studied so hard and the response went something like this:

“If you didn’t pass your final exams, then school for you was over and you had to go to work on a farm or in a leather factory.  As long as you passed, you could keep going to school and maybe get a better job or even go to the University.”

Think about that for a moment.  My mother and her peers were strongly motivated to study and learn and pass their final exams.  Oh yeah, a 60% was not considered “passing”.  Lets compare that to our system.

Sadly, I wasted several years of my life teaching High School History and Government.  Now, my students were nothing short of wild animals.  I do not say this to be mean but to state the obvious.  My Seniors, for example, averaged that of a 3rd grader with regards to reading comprehension.  Given that they could not read the material nor understand most of what came out of my mouth, it is no wonder that I found the whole thing frustrating.

Next, it didn’t matter what grade the students earned because the administration would change all “F” grades to passing grades.  That, of course, explains why these young adults could only comprehend like an 8 year old - some other administration passed them along.

If there are no consequences for failure, then why try?  Our kids have figured that one out and act accordingly.

That is the real elephant in the room and until we address that issue, the rest of these suggestions are meaningless.

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By One Little Victory, March 28, 2010 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

Here’s a wild idea - how about using a broader base of society to write educational reforms? This includes government, the colleges and universities that will inherit these students, P-12 administrators and teachers, and private industry.

As someone working in higher education, I can tell you how frustrating it is to watch Congress pass laws regarding areas that I work with, knowing that these laws have been written by special interests. When we ask legislators why they would write such hair-brained legislation, we get startled looks and the inevitable reply, “Wow, I really didn’t think there was anything wrong with this bill.” Legislators don’t do research unless it fits their own agenda, and their staffs are limited in their ability to conduct effective research, based on the number of issues they are working on, as well as their own personal agendas.

I have watched this occur time and again. Thankfully in some cases we have been able to educate the legislators and they have bailed on their sponsorships - in one case I watched a very bad bill never make it out of committee as a result.

Thus, as a relative insider, allow me to suggest there is a reason why we need hearings on issues like educational reform, and to bring a broad base of society into the fold. But it must include educators and educational administrators that know the true lay of the land. I despise the notion that policy must be developed with an inherent mistrust of the people on the front lines. Politicians trying to score political points by generalizing against teachers are repugnant. Most teachers are solid, caring professionals that do good work, and who would likely do better work with less micro-management.

Finally, I think Ann Callaghan hit the nail on the head to some degree… the curriculum is currently focused on adults, and not on children. Different learning styles should be utilized to maximize learning potential, and experiential learning is a critical part of that for many children. Reducing education to standardized tests designed to protect flawed legislation (NCLB) is not in the best interest of our children.

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By TAO Walker, March 24, 2010 at 1:38 pm Link to this comment

Humans are hardly the only Native Organisms whose Young go through a period of ‘learning’ (effectively “life-long,” too) in order to make them fit to sustain the viability of their Kind within our Mother Earth’s Living Arrangement.  That is a characteristic we have in-common with All Our Relations to some extent or another.  The subspecies homo domesticus, however, is the only one that attempts to CONceptualize and institutionalize that process.

What’s more, they persist in doing-so despite the (by-now-ought-to-be-obvious) fact that it is the essential nature of institutions as-such, whatever their supposed purposes to-begin-with, for their aim ultimately to become primarily their own perpetuation….and perpetual ‘growth.’  So the discussion on this “dig” has not-surprisingly gotten stuck in the futile exercise of trying to find ways to make an institutional CONtraption (whose owner/operators are focused mainly on preserving their own standing and status within the apparatus itself) somehow a bit more responsive to the genuine needs of its mostly captive inmate population (the Children), and to quieting the plaintive ‘demands’ of a subject/citizenry required to pay the freight but only marginally able to affect the ‘quality’ of the ‘product’ the machinery is delivering to them.

It doesn’t make things any easier, either (for no-doubt sincere “individuals” such as Mr. Rose and those offering their comments here), that ‘modern’ states generally insist on carrying the (for all the rest of us surviving free wild Peoples) natural and organic process of preparing our Young for Life as they’re likely to enjoy it, as an “expense” on the cooked-books their subject/citizenry is persuaded to believe give the one true reckoning of how they’re faring as peoples.  So they saddle theirselfs with “costs” that only ever increase (regardless of “outcomes”) until they become unbearable….as they have, for-all-intents-and-purposes, here in these latter days.

The failures now overwhelming not just the “school” system but the entire “civilization” of which it is such a large ‘part,’ have their roots in the fundamental pathology of the ‘dominance’ paradigm driving the damned thing.  There is no “fixing” any of it, nor any truly beneficial effects (for All-concerned) to come from more-and-more desperate and ill-informed attempts to keep it going long enough for even the current crop of “role”-players within it to draw their already unaffordable “retirement benefits.”

Once-upon-a-time the CONceit of “education” was that it would enable its recipients to participate in “civilization,” which was itself already a CONtriction upon our Whole Human Nature sufficient to guarantee the failure of the “Western” version of that particular criminal enterprise.  Today the massive system holds-out only an offer to fit the “individual” to serve as a bit of wet-ware in the “global” eCONomy, which is nothing but the ‘operating system’ for the monstrous death-dealing device presently eating them all alive.

So do our tame Sisters and Brothers really want to make the thing more “efficient”?


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By Conservative Yankee, March 24, 2010 at 7:04 am Link to this comment
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By Virginia777, March 23 at 1:40 pm #

Conservative Yankee: “It would be great if educators taught children” They DO teach children!! I call your comment name-calling, directed at teachers.

First of all I am a teacher,

Second, what I really said was:
“It would be great if educators taught children How to think,what good work habits entail,  and the important principles of good work decorum, IE; get thereon time prepared to work, in attire suitable for the job.”

Teachers are constrained as to what they teach by administrations playing to public fears and perceptions. I believe we should FREE teachers to educate children so they will be prepared to enter society as productive citizens.

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By Virginia777, March 23, 2010 at 10:40 am Link to this comment

Conservative Yankee: “It would be great if educators taught children”

They DO teach children!! I call your comment name-calling, directed at teachers.

All of this criticism is undermining the nation’s support of public education, and supporting public education is a lot more important, than criticizing it.

It needs saving, it needs support.

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By Virginia777, March 23, 2010 at 10:38 am Link to this comment

I don’t like charter schools. They take away public money from public education, and don’t pay teachers the same pay. They are union-busters.

Public education is under attack in America. This is no joke. School district are losing billions of dollars. Trolls mine the internet bashing it day and night. Their targets are the poor and people of color and teachers. The Right are manipulating text books.

All this talk of education reform is distracting from the bigger picture, the much more important issue.

The much more important issue is that public education needs saving. It needs to be fought for!

Enough arm-chair critics! What public education needs is mobilization in its support. This is urgent, and this needs to happen now.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, March 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm Link to this comment
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Sorry for the spelling error.  That should by MEDICAL NEMESIS not NEMISIS.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, March 22, 2010 at 3:17 pm Link to this comment
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Ivan Illich’s books are timeless.  He also wrote MEDICAL NEMISIS which is probably out of print but may be available online.  He believed that modern life had become almost completely institutionalized and that two of the most insidious intitutions were public schooling and the medical establisment.  He was one of the first to point out that we have confused schooling with education and health with health care systems as though schools could educate and doctors and hospitals could produce health.

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By HereGoes, March 22, 2010 at 10:45 am Link to this comment

Thank you, nestoffour,  for the link to:

John Taylor Gatto’s “Underground History of American Education” can be read in its entirety for free:

I have only read the first chapter and am enthralled.  It’s a fantastic resource, and I will be sure to pass it along.  It’s like peeling layers of an onion re education - how did we get here? 

The public school model is falling apart - what power structures will fill the void?  There is a 40% high school drop out rate here in Los Angeles - clearly the public system is irrelevant to those young adults.  Society deems them failures - at what cost?  Quite simply, I want to know what to do about this crisis.  And, circling back to the article that got this conversation going, we have to ask the right questions.

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By Conservative Yankee, March 22, 2010 at 8:58 am Link to this comment
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It would be great if educators taught children How to think,what good work habits entail,  and the important principles of good work decorum, IE; get thereon time prepared to work, in attire suitable for the job.

The young people I hire today know none of this. If you show up at my company with obvious pins through your nose, in filthy clothes, and late for the interview, I’m not going to hire you. It has NOTHING to do with “discrimination” it is because my customers are conservative, and they do not like dealing with people like those I just described. 

Schools should be preparing young people for the job market (Unless they are independently wealthy, in which case they are probably not in public school anyway.) no one seems to be doing this.

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By nestoffour, March 22, 2010 at 3:07 am Link to this comment

John Taylor Gatto’s “Underground History of American Education” can be read in its entirety for free:

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By nestoffour, March 22, 2010 at 2:33 am Link to this comment


Great references; I would like to add John Holt to the list (, and also a very resourceful website on unschooling, for those interested:  John Holt progressed from school reform to recognizing that without freedom to choose learning cannot happen.

I was so glad to see your references earlier, as I believe all the talk and theories on “school reform” are misled and, in the end, ineffectual.  The root of the problem lies elsewhere than most people bother to look. I wish I had discovered the works of the aforementioned writers *before* my children were born.

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By gritona, March 21, 2010 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment

Since I first started teaching in public school 50 years ago it has seemed to me that schools are more like child processing plants, always insisting on applying the same standards and curricula and discipline to all the students without regard to individual differences.

Because I started as an art teacher I thought of myself as a kind of guerilla, and my classroom as a liberated zone in the school. I did not have any standards at all, and needed none. I know that this was a special case, and does not really answer any of the problems of how to teach or how to learn the “real” subjects.

From there I moved to teaching English as a second language. It did not seem a whole lot different. You could give tests of a sort, but they still did not mean much. I always insisted that immigrant and refugee children could not be graded on how many questions they could answer, because those results did not depend on either the student’s effort or my teaching since so much was about where the student started, how long they had been in the U.S., what their previous schooling had been, and so on.

So again I could not “evaluate” my students in any way much different from what I had done in art class. And what I can say about all the thousands of kids I have taught is this: They are all good kids, they are each of them unique, and as I never tired of telling them, they are all smart. I always told them that whatever they don’t know is stuff no one has taught them yet, and is not related to intelligence.

I have had ESL students who arrived with no previous schooling at all, unable even to write their names. They were amazing kids,and great students.

What a teacher needs most are two things- the ability to love kids and teaching, and a lot of patience.

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By HWHW, March 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

education should be available to all children, not just the ones with money. save our public education

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By ThaddeusStevens, March 20, 2010 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment

Something else just occurred to me after finishing this series; are children( ages 3-17 years) supposed to always be involved with educational processes that adults find fitting?

Where is the joy of childhood?
Are our schools warm body depots established for one major purpose-so parents may safely park their children’s young bodies in a safe spot, to regiment them, to line them up in safe, orderly rows and and to in short, keep them on a social tether?

Are children better off because they have filled up their day with the recommended daily quota of hours in a classroom?

Our society has set the Education system’s main goal: nothing more than maintaining a day time prison system for your youngsters

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