Friday, August 30, 2013

The Broken Window Approach to Ed. Reform

Forbes has a column here that suggests we put in place more negative consequences to improve educational outcomes for poorer students.  For example, he suggests that students who drop out of school be denied driver’s licenses, as one consequence that might help keep kids in school.

Mr. Crotty makes a good point, but he oversimplifies.  We don’t just need high expectations as far as civilized behavior and hard work in our schools.  We need schools that mimic the kind of enriched homes that turn kids into avid readers and thoughtful, curious students.

I taught high school English for 37 years, in public, private, and parochial schools.  I know we can’t change the home environment for many of our students, but we can create school environments that support a love of reading, and a love of learning.  With endless testing and drills and negative consequences we may win a few battles, but we will surely lose the war.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Leaving Out Important Details in an Opinion Piece

The NYTimes Motherlode has an column here celebrating allowing your children to take some risks while growing up.  The writer opens the column by describing an auto accident she was in while she was in high school. She gave the keys to a friend of hers, and he crashed the car.  She was not badly hurt, and draws the moral that it was a risk to give up her car keys but she survived okay.  She never tells what happened to the driver, a boy named Pierce Bunting.

What happened to Pearce Bunting?  The author does mention that giving him the keys was a mistake . . . but what happened to him?

This seems to me to be one of those essays that so relentlessly drives the point home (risk is good!) that nuance and complexity--and compassion--are lost.  If he died, then surely the value of risk in this example is outweighed by the tragedy of a young person dying.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Helping with the College Essay

The Wall Street Journal has an essay here by a writer who used to coach high school students on how to write their college essays.  She is critical of the whole process, citing the adults who take over the process, and the entitled students who have nothing worthwhile to write about except their quarterly visits to a nursing home with their  golden retrievers.  Her advice—and the advice of every English teacher I’ve ever known—is that kids write simply about something important to them.   

As a high school English teacher for 37 years, I helped many, many students with their college essays, not having any idea I could be getting twenty dollars a word on the private market.  Where was my union on this?

But I digress.  Here’s the thing:  a student cannot sit down and write a great personal essay when all he has written in the past are tight, boring little five paragraph academic essays.  It takes a lot of practice to develop a voice, a style, and an ability to weave in anecdote and reflection.  It also takes a habit of avid reading, as reading is the input for writing. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Affordibility of Higher Education

USA Today reports here that President Obama is leaving on a two day bus trip to discuss his education and financial plans.  One of the ideas he is showcasing is that of posting a list of colleges and universities based on their affordability.  

All of this is good.  But I still say that if we just turn kids into avid readers the education crisis will take care of itself.  It will even help with the affordability issue since avid readers can understand their school work much more rapidly, leaving them time and energy for good part-time jobs to help with the education expenses.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Wonder of Technology

The New York City NPR station had a piece here this morning by a reporter who was worried that the presence of cell phones and iPads was making hiking the Appalachian Trail less authentic--or something.   

I listened to this piece while driving over to babysit my grandchildren this morning.  I have to say, I was floored.  As someone who spent much of her life unconnected (I got my first cell phone when I was 50) I see cell phones and iPads as an unmitigated blessing.

I feel safe with my cell phone, and much more likely to venture out into new areas.  I can talk with my daughter in Hawaii and my son in L.A. without it costing me a fortune.  I can listen to hundreds of radio stations on my iPhone and iPad mini, and watch movies and TV series.  I can enlarge the print in e-books.

When I was still teaching, e-mail was great.  It was so much easier to answer e-mails from parents than phone calls.  It was so much easier to teach writing with computers.

Really, I marvel everyday at how much better technology has made my life.  It's even easier to be private, as I can see who is calling, and just not answer.  Twenty years ago, I couldn't do any of this.