Blow the Whole Damn Thing Up

8 02 2007

Book review excerpts by Richard Sorenson:

“It’s worth a chuckle or two, and at the very least, a scratch of the head!”

“Inside the Board Room: Reflections of a Former School Board Member” by Howard Good is an easy-to-read sequel to his first book, “Educated Guess: A School Board Member Reflects.” This hodge-podge compilation of philosophical essays, often in the form of cynical analyses about a series of educational topics, begins with the issue of school reform.

Good readily notes, probably to the dismay of many educational reformers, that school improvement has been nothing more than “one continuous cautionary tale about the futility of searching for quick fixes to complex problems” . . . what he does suggest is that “we blow the whole damn thing up and start over” (p. 9).

Such an assessment is based on his level of expertise which must have culminated, as he describes, “sometime during my second term on the school board [when] I had served long enough by then to finally realize the truth…that the system can’t be rehabilitated, only replaced” . . .

Advertisements

Actions

Information

36 responses

8 02 2007
Deanne

. . . what he does suggest is that “we blow the whole damn thing up and start over” (p. 9).

Can you imagine the ramifications if a STUDENT had made that very same “suggestion”?! LOL

Although I don’t think blowing up buildings is necessary for us to start all over, I agree with the idea that our current “system” of education might be beyond repair.

A friend of my son’s who attends HS, public school student all along, told us today about an essay he had to write. One of his teachers is leaving, which he believes is because she is pregnant and the students “drove her to quit”. So anyway, the essay question posed to the students was why do they think so many teachers are leaving the school (or teaching- I’m not sure). His answer was, “Because the students are so arrogant and unruly, and I’m one of them.”

I know there are teachers who really care about helping students. I know there are students who are better off at school than they are at home. What saddens and aggravates me so much is that they can both be so convinced that they are failures when it is really the system they are a part of that is not working for them.

9 02 2007
misedjj

Favorite Daughter ran into such troubles (of a tired and unproductive system) for the first time this month. She’s been dual-enrolled in community college classes and it’s all been so wonderful, until her history professor this term, whose multiple-choice tests on trivia rather than higher-order thinking made her not want to go to class. (So far she’s had perfect attendance and grades.)

She decided today that she would formally “drop” his class, which was a learning experience in itself but not the one she bargained for, and she blogs the whole thing here.

12 02 2007
Howie Good

Well, I didn’t mean literally blow it up; I meant figuratively rethink what we do in school and how we do it. Anyone who reads the book with an open — that is, less conventional mind than Sorenson — would see that much immediately.

And the book has more than a few chuckles. It’s Sorenson’s who’s the cynic if he can’t laugh at the absurdity of the system that’s evolved.

12 02 2007
misedjj

I got it, just from reading his review, and was laughing already!

School districts differ in NY and FL, I’m sure, but I’ll bet anyone who’s ever worked with any school board anywhere, has seen plenty of the same things to laugh at. . .

My former collegues are surprisingly respectful of my personal epiphany and turn (about face??) toward unschooling after all those years of very public school advocacy and policy work, but I wouldn’t say they quite “get it” even a couple of decades later. It’s not so funny when you’re still deep in the trench, maybe? 🙂

12 02 2007
misedjj

Hey, do you suggest anywhere in either book that we simply take a “compulsion moratorium” for a year or two — as a study, say, like we did with year-round schooling. Suspend it, we know how to do that by now!! (If that doesn’t work, we could paddle it or give it Ritalin?)

It’s a thought experiment. Change that ONE THING all by itself — and what kinds of other things would change, what would happen, do we think? (Other than the end of the world, cats and dogs sleeping together, flaming mountains crumbling into the oceans, four horses of the apocaly . . .well, all that stuff)

12 02 2007
Suspend Force Feeding, Create Compelling Feast « Cocking A Snook!

[…] 12th, 2007 Snookers are invited to join in a new thought experiment that leapt to mind in wee-hour-of-the-morning […]

12 02 2007
Howie Good

I suggest we teach caring and democracy, quit changing the math curriculum every other year, train school board members for their jobs if you want boards that aren’t habitually moronic, treat teachers like professionals or expect to get unprofessional teachers, and quit looking to school sports as a source for moral education. Doing any one of those things would be an improvement; doing them all would be the start of a revolution.

12 02 2007
misedjj

All provocative, mostly unexpected. Especially the last one, about school sports and morals. I am intrigued with how you would approach the first one — “teaching” caring and democracy? Modeling I suppose.
I can vouch for suggestions two and three (math stasis and politician training) having been tried here over time, but not making enough improvement to spit at.

If you keep the compulsion, the truant officers and random inspections, secret personal files on every kid, and zoning and scheduling, control of every friend made and book read and thought thunk day and night for the formative years, I can’t see that it matters much what color the walls are painted.

(Remember the movie My Cousin Vinnie? Marisa Tomei ranting that an innocent deer drinking from the brook won’t care as its head is blown off, what kind of pants the hunter is wearing . . .)

13 02 2007
Howie Good

i take particular issue with the no-smoking, no-drinking, no-etc. pledges that schools make student athletes sign. don’t get me wrong — i’m not in favor of smoking or drug use or underage drinking. but the pledges teach kids to treat promises cynically, for few ever intend to live up to them and sports coaches and school administrators have to know that. and at least in my district when someone is caught breaking the pledge, he or she is often squeezed for info about other violators, thus turning the student into a fink, weasal, rat, snitch (you get the idea). but ultimately and always no one is ever actually punished, which makes athletes a privileged class and gives them a false and dangerous sense of immunity. this can lead to the kind of physical and sexual abuse that took place a couple of years ago at the football camp in pa. that students from mempham hs on long island attended. and i haven’t even mentioned the debilitating effects of competition — rule breaking and other kinds of cheating.

13 02 2007
misedjj

This caught my eye:
“. . .the pledges teach kids to treat promises cynically” not because I disagree but because I see it backward, or upside down or something. I’d say it’s more like moral pledges as symptoms of kids being promised teaching, but then treated cynically. 🙂

13 02 2007
Howie Good

Here’s another funny (as in ironic, not ha ha) thing about sorenson’s review — It’s not my latest book he reviewed — My newest book, Mis-Education in Schools, came out in January. The whole reviewing system is nearly as screwed up as the education system. And I should know. I don’t only write books; I also review them for Teacher Magazine.

13 02 2007
misedjj

Oh, now THAT I have to read, since my ironic online alter-ego for years has been “MisEducation” as in Miss Manners — do you send out review copies? “Mis-Education reviewed by MisEducation” could be a kick for us both. . .
😉

What the Mannerly MisEducation Thinks:

an index to her wild mind fields of secretly saucy ideas and pearl-roped unconvention

13 02 2007
misedjj

A proper introduction then, because MisEducation deserves no less! (dimple)

MisEducation’s Mind Field of the Moment:
School Is A State of Mind

JJ Ross, Ed.D

“Dear MisEducation,

How did you throw off what public schooling taught you? The desire to please external authority, the herd instinct, the belief that Big Brother is your friend who knows what’s best for everybody? . . . What kind of a stick did you get hit with before you learned?”

MisEducation loves to answer a direct question now and then — though seldom with a direct answer!

In the movie, “The Competition”, Lee Remick portrays a world-class piano teacher who tells her curious pupil, “Everyone has a story, and we will NOT hear mine tonight.” And so she remains mysteriously fascinating.

That’s the effect MisEducation was going for, but would just a bit of her story hurt. .?!

MisEducation was originally named Miss Public School. Teacher’s Pet. Straight A’s. Great test scores. She shined (shone?) — so what was there to rebel against?

Even the desegregation wars and the before-her-very-eyes blood riots when she was in high school in the South didn’t intrude on MisEducation’s unexamined belief that public school was life’s universal constant.

And so — supremely confident that she was really good at “school” — MisEducation became a public school professional. And, as some of you know, also an education lobbyist who in the early 80s was instructed by her school board to lobby AGAINST Florida homeschooling statutes. Which she did.

So how did she come to unschooling?

Well, she was never hit with a stick.

(MisEducation chuckled when she read that part of the question, but seriously, there is no worthwhile learning at the receiving end of a stick, not even a metaphorical one. It is one of those irresistible but wrong assumptions, like when test scores go up or down and we attribute it to some new program or social change. Stick-hitting may be present when learning takes place, but this is only classic co-incidence, meaning the two things happened together but without causing each other. )

But we digress.

The question was, what did happen?

That’s easy. Same as most of you.

MisEducation became a parent. . .

14 02 2007
Howie Good

The book is available in paper — cheap! — from Rowman & Littlefield Education. I get three free copies, so don’t have any to spare. Sorry.

14 02 2007
misedjj

Kidding, I was kidding! Well, about getting a review copy, not necessarily about MisEducation writing a review of it though. Still think that’s a fine idea.

I thought it would be nice since we’re chatting, to provide a buyer’s link for Snook readers to your books — click here –and I found something else I want to read:

“Girl Reporter: Gender, Journalism, and the Movies”

Love this title and blurb (we’re all journalism folk here, on top of which Favorite Daughter is quite a film buff.) It looks like journalism is your primary field, when you aren’t sitting on a school board?

Hmmm, “The Theory of Oz” looks interesting too; maybe I’ll negotiate a catalog discount with your publisher. 🙂

14 02 2007
Howie Good

Yes, I’m a journalism professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, where we are now under a foot or so of snow. My scholarly writing has been on the portrayal of journalists in popular culture — novels, movies, and memoirs — and more recently on media ethics. Below are a links to some of my stuff:

http://www2.newpaltz.edu/~goodh/
http://www.rowmaneducation.com/Catalog/MultiBook.shtml?command=Search&db=DB/AU.db&eqAuFNamedatarq=Howard&eqAuLNamedatarq=Good&max=10&startat=1
http://www.greenwood.com/catalog/author/G/Howard_-_Good.aspx
http://www.scarecrowpress.com/Catalog/MultiBook.shtml?command=Search&db=DB/AU.db&eqAuFNamedatarq=Howard%20&eqAuLNamedatarq=Good&max=10&startat=1

14 02 2007
misedjj

Husband was investigative and state political reporter for years at the Tampa Tribune, before he went into legal fraud investigation. I was news-editorial grad from University of Florida, senior student of editorial writer Buddy Davis who won a Pulitzer for school desegregation work.

Do you have an opinion on smoking in the movies, and whether it should automatically be rated R for the good of the children?

14 02 2007
misedjj

I heard part of this NPR interview yesterday in the car, which is what made me think of asking.
Provocative stuff . . .

Pop Culture
Smoking and Other Vices in the Movies

Listen to this story…

Morning Edition, February 13, 2007 · Should movies depicting someone smoking get an “R” rating? The American Medical Association says most adults think they should. But there are many other dangers lurking in the movies that young people watch. Steve Inskeep and Morning Edition commentator John Ridley discuss what’s in the movies.

14 02 2007
Howie Good

i worked on the ann arbor news, charlotte observer and grand forks herald before descending to academics.

i’m interested in the ideological content of movies — the consumerism, gender and racial stereotypes, and xenophobia they promote. focusing on smoking isn’t harmful, but it isn’t all that helpful either. what about vicarious media violence? what about sexism? they make cigarettes look like a minor issue.

i believe we ought to teach media literacy in our schools alongside (if not before) the 3 R’s.

14 02 2007
misedjj

“i believe we ought to teach media literacy in our schools alongside (if not before) the 3 R’s.”

YES! With you all the way on this one —

14 02 2007
Howie Good

i devote a chapter — well, part of a chapter — to media literacy in THEORY OF OZ, a book that, fortunately, Sorenson didn’t review.

14 02 2007
misedjj

I just explained our exchange here to my 16-year-old (always unschooled, now at community college) and she thinks it cool that you just showed up as the author of a book linked in a blog. She asked me to link you to something she wrote last year and posted on her own blog.
“Blogs Vs. Newspapers: Shirley Temple Explains It All”

“Isn’t Newspaper-Editor-School where they teach the delights of eating broken glass? I was under the impression that Newspaper Editors were given entire courses in growing impressive moustaches, in which would get caught tiny pieces of reporters they chewed up and spat into the unemployment line. Although, from what I see in 1940s movies, they had to be careful not to set their moustaches afire with their cigars.

Not to say that women can’t be Newspaper Editors. Just that I’ve never seen one in a movie.

But according to the editorial I now clutch in my hot little hands, they are now letting optimists study to be Newspaper Editors. . .”

15 02 2007
Howie Good

I read it and loved it. What energy in her thought and prose. I’ve always agreed with Mencken that “a good phrase is better than a Great Truth.” I’m trying to teach my students to agree with him, too.

The best discussion (I mean besides your daughter’s) of journalistic “objectivity” that I’ve read recently is in Kovach and Rosenthiel’s THE ELEMENTS OF JOURNALISM. They basically ditch the concept for something they call the jorunalism of verification. . . . Like don’t publish until you verify there are WMD’s.

She’s 16? I’ve a 16 year old, too — but she’s a singer, not a writer.

15 02 2007
Howie Good

=I forgot to add she wants to be a high school chorus teacher (to which I responded when she first announced it: “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I have since shortened my reaction to “Oh.”)

15 02 2007
misedjj

(Beaming my mom smile)
Aren’t they just amazing when they’re flowing with what they love?

She just called from campus to say the visiting poet was SO inspiring that she went straight to the computer lab and blogged the experience already. Click here to read what the poet said about this mining our own personal gold, for love instead of money. (Her definition of FREE)
🙂
Instead of using all our powers to find what each child will FAIL at, schooling could focus on helping them shine at whatever makes their own life seem worth living.

(Tell us more about your daughter’s singing? Song and stage are big around here too, musical theatre and light opera, Sondheim –for his intricate lyrics of course!–Kristen Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, crossover musicals back and forth between stage and screen . . .Favorite Daughter was practically weaned on Les Miserables)

15 02 2007
misedjj

LOL to the chorus teacher comment! Just saw it — MisEducation’s Hollow Opus?

I’m laughing with you not at you though — mine wants to be an English professor, after I grew up with professors and know there’s never enough money for books, living that way! (Maybe we should do an exchange program between them –actually FSU has outstanding music prep programs, including choral music. If she’s looking yet? I am SURE New York is on the top of FD’s list of where to study with masters . . .)

15 02 2007
Howie Good

She is a soprano with a classical repertoire — Mozart, Schubert, Old English songs. It’s what she needs for auditions and what her private singing teacher pushes anyway. She’ll be applying — we think — to Westminister Choir College, Hartt School of Music, Ithaca, Hartwick, Providence, and a couple of others. We want to keep her in the Northwest — she’s the youngest of four, and while not the easiest, the hardest to let go of.

Although I teach writing, I still think the best way to learn to write is the way I learned it: sit your butt down and write, write, rewrite.

15 02 2007
Howie Good

I meant keep her in the Northeast — my fingers have Oregon on the brain.

15 02 2007
misedjj

Yep, obviously I agree — with the caveat that one needs to be thinking the whole time. 🙂

Favorite Daughter’s remarkable, experienced (unfortunately almost-ready-to-retire) teacher for the six hours of required composition courses here, concluded that it is the ONLY way, that instruction can actually interfere if it causes a student to follow forms (like the inverted pyramid — do J schools still teach that?- or the five-paragraph standardized test essay format) rather than to tell stories with real meaning for them, and let the form follow the story.

And he made such a good impression on her as her first college professor, this time last year. So good in fact that I looked up what I posted back then on an email list that was the precursor of this blog:

Favorite Daughter Goes to College

Well, we had a FINE day, even considering mom trying to be cool and all.

All three of her new college classes meet Tuesdays and Thursdays, so she was on campus most of the day and then I got the “debriefing” all
at once, over pizza, late this afternoon.

Each of her instructors seems to have impressed her as worth spending the next semester with. I have stories about each one to pass along, all from her point of view of course, and I’ll let them percolate a bit before I try to draw much power of story from them.

For now, I just want to tell you how much I like the new English composition teacher!

He told the class that reading and writing usually are not taught together, but that’s how he does it, because that’s how one reads and writes – together. That if you wanted to become a respiratory therapist, it would be absurd to take one class in inhaling and a separate course in exhaling —

I like that he felt it important enough to tell the kids on the first day, and I love that FD knew how much I’d enjoy hearing it . . . 🙂 JJ

15 02 2007
misedjj

A classical soprano — I am VERY impressed. Have you by any chance given her Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” to read yet? It is about the transcendent magic of a soprano, beyond even her own ability to fully understand or harness–talk about power of story!
More about power of story for beautiful teen daughters — click here.

15 02 2007
Howie Good

She’s reading Gatsby now and loved Lovely Bones. I have been looking around for singing books for her, so thanks for the lead. I checked it out on Amazon; it does look like her kind of dish.

I’m a big on the Socratic method myself. I hardly ever lecture or give tests. It’s funny, though, how hard it is for students to adapt to this open-ended approach to them and our subject9s). They’re just so conditioned to stay in line.

15 02 2007
misedjj

Bel Canto moved me so that I have given away three or four copies already. Oh I hope it speaks to her!

I actually bought Lovely Bones last year, had it in my “on deck” stack and really wanted to read it, then just basically chickened out. Does she think it’s safe, that my heart would bear reading it?

Favorite Daughter loves essay tests where she can think and synthesize ideass and write ’em up her own way, but what you say is so true about schooled kids being conditioned to follow the syllabus specs and resist the open-ended Socratic method as not worth their while because it’s “not on the test” — the upside is that unschooled kids really do go for the Socratic method, and =typically won’t even stick around without it, if they aren’t part of the “knowledge work.” You may well be the kind of professor that Favorite Daughter, for example, lives for!

16 02 2007
Howie Good

On the journalism front, we’re still teaching summary leads, inverted pyramid, etc. A number of us who teach journalism have noticed that the move of newspapers et al to the Internet has sort of revived these old and somewhat moribund forms even as its introduced new ones (slide shows, hyperlinks, and so on).

But I also teach creative nonfiction writing, where I follow the philosophy of favorite daughter’s prof: we read examples and then try to outdo them. The only problem with that class is too many students, usually over 20, which makes editing their stuff a (migraine) headache at times.

21 02 2007
21 02 2007
misedjj

Cool! Thanks, and thanks again for making conversation here and swapping some ideas. I am glad to have met you, hope you stick around as you can. 🙂

19 03 2007
Howie Good

did u ever get a copy of “mis-education”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: