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Teacher Professionalism: Pedagogy and Politics

Posted: 2010-11-27

This was a featured speech at the NCTE Convention in Orlando, Florida, November 20, 2010.

First I'd like to explain the scarf I'm wearing. I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum in New York and it jumped out at me. The design on the scarf is baed on a 13th century scroll at the Met. Yelu Chucai, a prominent statesman under the Mongol Khans. "Poem of Farewell to Liu Man," 1240, pleads for humanitarian rule and ends with these words: "Despotic officials and shyster underofficials, may they feel ashamed."

Scarf in hand, I walked through Central Park to Bank Street College, where I delivered the Biber Lecture, a lecture that is given at the opening of school every year--to set the tone for the year.

Can you imagine? Me being invited to set the tone for the year.

I like wearing this scarf both because it expresses the theme of my remarks and because it connects with some research conducted by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kevin Rathunde, and Samuel Whalen in Chicago. Using an Experience Sampling Method, they hooked up 9th and 10th graders in accelerated or advanced classes to beepers and beeped them during the school day, asking them to answer questions in a provided booklet, questions which asked what they were thinking about at that time. As it happens, while a teacher lectured 27 students on Genghis Khan's invasion of China and the conquest of Bejing in 1215, only two of those students mentioned China: One was thinking about a meal he'd had the night before in a Chinese restaurant and the other wondered why the men used to wear pigtails. Nobody mention Genghis Khan.

No teacher would be surprised. We can teach and teach and teach but that doesn't mean that students are listening.

I wrote a book against education standards over 10 years ago, One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards. It's more current today than it was then.


Pedagogical Principle:
Lack of Kid-savvy
Is no impediment to Standardisto rules.
When Standardistos speak, dead frogs
fall out of their ouths.

Pedagogical quackery turns princes
Into frogs.
And teachers discover that the arid
Standards desert
Of deficiency and recrimination
Won't save them.

Mediocrity cherishes rules
And when corporate politicos
Ballyhoo for Standards,
Sure as night follows day,
Children lose recesss.

Who decided that men's and women's shirts
Should button different sides
Or that reading had to be taught
Like Stations of the Cross,
Encyclicals sent out from inbred consultants,
A White House committee
Of mischief, minutiae, and aggrandizement?
--When Childhood Collides with NCLB, Susan Ohanian

I'm going to start where I ended with the Bank Street talk. I've told this story many times, but it bears repeating. It comes from the Metropolitan Diary section of the New York Times, where every Monday they offer human interest anecdotes about life in the City. After making an (illegal) right turn on a red light, a woman was pulled over by a traffic cop. He handed back her papers, advising her to drive carefully. She blurted out, "Aren't you going to give me a ticket?"

He looked at her. "You were my first grade teacher."

At Bank Street, there was a universal gasp; women clasped their hearts.

I told them I spent three days listing my students who probably would give me a ticket and those who wouldn't. Forget corporate/politico injunctions to prepare workers for the Global Economy. Teachers should look at every student as a probable future traffic cop.

A couple of nights ago I had a personal crisis, asking myself why I was spending all this money to come to Orlando to deliver a very angry speech that will upset everybody who comes to my session. I came very very close to canceling. I mean, I like telling heart-warming stories about my students, not ranting and railing about the professional organization that has meant so much to me for decades. But here I am-- because NCTE has meant so much to me throughout my professional career. And I'm here because I went to an independent bookstore two days ago and mentioned I might be coming here. The bookstore owner, a former librarian, said, "Give 'em hell!"

Turkey Triage

This time of year there's a lot of hoopla about turkey triage. The Butterball turkey talkline employs more than 50 professional trained home economists and nutritionists to respond to more than 100,000 questions each November and December. For me, the classic was the cook who called the hotline and revealed she'd put the turkey in the oven while still in the plastic wrap--and wondered why it was this funny purple color.

I think the teacher equivalent to the purple turkey might be the time when I went to the grocery store after school. With my cart half-full I had the terrible realization that I'd left Bobby, the kid who sometimes gave himself a timeout, in the cloakroom. I raced back to school and found Bobby asleep--and took him home.

Here are a few other turkey crises:

  • Since it was below 40 degrees, a caller from Colorado stored her turkey outside. Ten inches of snow fell during a storm and she called the hotline to say she couldn't find her turkey.

  • "Your directions say 'roast the turkey' but my oven only has 'bake' and 'broil' settings.

  • A man called to report that his turkey was on fire. He asked, "What should I do?" Answer: Sir, call your local fire department."


  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is statistically the day that sees the most home fires in the US.

    I'm not going to provide my classroom equivalent for each turkey disaster--but I assure you, I could. I think NCTE needs to establish a Teacher Hotline. Teachers need to know that they are not alone, that professional advice and comfort--and support--is available.

    Sticking to the food theme for a moment, Lauren Braun Costello and Russell Reich offer important information in Notes on Cooking:

    Twenty-four cooks assigned to the same mayonnaise recipe--the same bowls, same spoons, same eggs. same mustard, same oil, same whisks, same peppermills, same measuring cups, same room, same time of day, same marching orders--will create twenty-four different mayonnaises.

    Modest Proposal: Why Doesn't NCTE issue an equivalent statement for teaching? I fear we can find the answer in Martin Luther King, Jr's words:

    Cowardice asks the question--is it safe? Expediency asks the question--is it politic? Vanity asks the question--is it popular? But conscience asks the question--is it right? There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.

    Right now, NCTE leadership is too worried about finding a seat at the corporate/politico table and not worried enough about the survival of the people who pay its dues.

    Central Office at NCTE seems to be dancing with our jailers. You remember "Dancing with our jailers" from Reading Lolita in Tehran. Azar Nafisi says, "The worst crime committed by totalitarian mind-sets is that they force their citizens, including their victims, to become complicit in their crimes. Dancing with your jailer, participating in your own execution, that is an act of utmost brutality."

    While NCTE Central Office encourages us to dance with our jailers, editors of NCTE journals continue to stand tall, publishing subversive articles.

    Example: "What is a teacher to do? Subversion or victimhood." —Edgar Schuster, English Journal, Nov. 2004
    Ed ends with the declaration that a teacher's choice is subversion or victimhood. I think by now it may be revolution or death. Certainly death of the profession.

    And the children.

    My own "On Assessment, Accountability, and Other Things That Go Bump in the Night," Language Arts, May 2009, is very critical of NCTE. I think it is to the editors' credit that they would publish an article containing strong criticism of the organization (of which I'm a longtime member). I doubt the article would have gotten a vote of approval from the NCTE Executive Committee.

    We teachers have to ask ourselves the very difficult question: "Who bears more responsibility: the people who produce the high stakes tests and scripted curricula, the people who demand they be inflicted on children, or the people who use them day in and day out?"
    All I know is if teachers remain silent, they are going to lose their profession. In many cases, the profession is dead: when you're reading a script, you are not a professional. When you engage in test prep, you are not a professional.

    Teaching is a profoundly intellectual activity, and this applies to kindergarten as much as to Advanced Placement Physics. Most people will grant the brain work in physics, but what is neglected is the intellectual chops it takes to teach any subject to any age. —Mike Rose blog, June 4, 2010

    I would just add it's past time for NCTE to declare that teaching is much more like a Chinese lyric painting than a bus schedule.

    Teacher Triage

    traige -- n

    1. (in a hospital) the principle or practice of sorting emergency patients into categories of priority for treatment

    2. the principle or practice of sorting casualties in battle or disaster into categories of priority for treatment

    3. the principal or practice of allocating limited resources, as of food or foreign aid, on a basis of expediency rather than according to moral principles or the needs of the recipients


    Consider these elements of teacher triage in terms of the policy and practice of NCTE, the policy and practice of the US Department of Education, the policy and practice of the unions, state departments of education and so on.

    If NCTE recognized teacher professionalism as being on the edge of catastrophe and if NCTE engaged in triage, what could they do?

    I would remind you that even if you can do only a little, it is no excuse to do nothing. I offer a few examples.

  • Elizabeth Jaeger, one teacher, wrote and paid for the printing of this booklet What Every Parent, Teacher, and Community member Needs to Know About No Child Left Behind. I mailed it out. We asked people to pay only the printing & postage. The Oakland, CA teachers union made it available online. The booklet was translated into Spanish.

    This is not a polemic. It is a straightforward explanation of NCLB. We hoped it would be made available for free in grocery stores, doctors' offices, and other people parents frequent.


  • Longtime Chicago English teacher and editor of Substance, George Schmidt, was sued by the Chicago Board of Education for printing corrupt tests in Substance. He lost his job and is still blackballed throughout the Chicago area. You need to support the only education newspaper that consistently tells the real news about education. I would add that Steve Krashen and I write for it regularly.
    Send $16
    5132 W. Berteau Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60641

  • Don Perl, the 8th grade teacher who stood tall in Greeley, Colorado, refusing to give the abusive state test, established the Coalition for Better Education. It has been both amazing and gratifying to watch this grassroots group grow from a handful of people to an organization that now puts up two billboards a year, urging parents to opt their children out of the state test.

  • The Rouge Forum is interested in teaching and learning for a democratic society. They invite you to join. No fees. Just information.

  • Ken Goodman wrote A Declaration of Professional Conscience for Teachers in 1990. Recently, he updated it. Richard Owen has been generous enough to publish this document--and to make it available to us. Take a copy, study it, talk about it with colleagues. You can order more copies.

    Where's the NCTE booklet explaining

  • Race to the Top?

  • The Blueprint?

  • The Learn legislation?

  • The Common Core Standards?


  • Whining is not the same thing as doing something. Whining is whining. Action is something else.

    Speaking at the NCTE Annual Convention in Nashville in 2006, Richard Allington offered a brilliant strategy of resistance. Dick recommended that every teacher examine the state code of ethics for teachers. Then, when ordered to read a script or to stop reading aloud or to commit some other abusive practice, teachers should say, "Please put it in writing that you want me to violate the state code of professional ethics."

    Put it in writing.

    Four words that could change the world.

    Bill Gates and Arne Duncan & Barack Obama and the Business Roundtable are systematically destroying the profession of teaching, and our professional organization must help us stand up for who we are.
    Duncan and Gates are wrong: The 'best and the brightest' are not the people we need in our schools: We need the savvy, rock steady, dependable, loving, forgiving people who have an enormous capacity for wait time and the psychological equilibrium to be able to enter the classroom every day not holding a grudge for what happened the day before.

    Lest you doubt the triage metaphor, consider Vicki Phillips' recent remarks to the National PTA. Phillips is the Education Director for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


  • So we know master's degrees have almost no value.

  • We know certifications don't make a difference.

  • We know that after three years, seniority doesn’t really matter . . . After year three, teachers usually don't get significantly better or worse.


  • Consider how Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's remarks echo those of the Gates Foundation officer:

    Rethinking policies around seat-time requirements, class size, compensating teachers based on their educational credentials, the use of technology in the classroom, inequitable school financing, the over placement of students in special education. . .
    --Arne Duncan, Nov. 17, 2010

    And this:

    All 12 of the Race to the Top winners--in fact, most states that applied to Race to the Top--put forward a strong plan for linking teacher preparation programs to the student outcomes of their graduates. And that is just a starting point.
    --Arne Duncan, Nov. 16, 2010


    When Arne Duncan's mouthpiece Peter Cunningham showed up at the NCTE convention in Orlando on Nov. 20, 2010, I asked him if he agreed with the Gates Foundation declaration that master's degrees have almost no value, that certification doesn't matter, and that teacher experience doesn't matter, that after three years they don't get any better. Cunningham replied that he does NOT agree that teacher experience after three years doesn't matter. I asked him to repeat it. I asked him if I could quote him. Do you think he'll be getting a phonecall from Vicki?

    Hillary Mantel writes in Wolf Hall, The king has given Wolsey a pardon, but if he was offended once, he can be offended again. If they could think up forty-four charges, then--if fantasy is unconstrained by truth--they can think up forty-four more." This is what teachers face: If they could think up forty-four charges, then--if fantasy is unconstrained by truth--they can think up forty-four more.

    Teachers, You Need to Know This

    Contempt for teachers
    Is deliberate, cerebral, planned, purposeful--
    Part of education in the Global Economy.
    --Susan Ohanian, When Childhood Collides with NCLB


    As Richard Allington observed in Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum, "What seems to be under way is an attempt to portray teaching as a blue-collar job: No special skills are needed. Heck, even intellectual capacity doesn't really matter! Teacher education is portrayed as unnecessary--and even damaging."

    For Duncan, echoing Bill Gates, if standardized test scores aren't the answer, you've asked the wrong question.

    Military Maintenance Law: If it moves, oil it. If it doesn't move, paint it.

    Duncan Reform Law: If it moves, test it. If it doesn't move, test it some more.

    But you need to understand why this is happening: For a history of the Business Roundtable handshake on education policy with Republican and Democrat politicos, dating back to the late 1980ies, I'd recommend you read my book Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools. Race to the Top, like No Child Left Behind is part of this global project to deprofessionalize teaching as an occupation. . . . The thinking is that the biggest expenditure in education is teacher salaries. And they want to cut costs. They want to diminish the amount of money that's put into public education. And that means they have to lower teacher costs. And in order to do that, they have to deprofessionalize teaching.

    In Lois Weiner's words on Democracy Now (9/2/2010), "They have to make teaching a revolving door, in which we're not going to pay teachers very much. They're not going to stay very long. We're going to credential them really fast. We're going to burn them up. They're going to leave in three, four, five years. And that's the model that they want."

    And Henry Giroux on Truthout (May 25, 2010): "Almost all of Duncan's polices come from a market-driven business culture, made legitimate by measurement, efficiency and utility. They value hedge fund managers over teachers, privatization over the public good, management over leadership and training over education. These neoliberal corporate value give us high-stakes testing, charter schools, school-business alliances, merit pay, linking teacher pay to higher test scores, CEO-type school management, abolishing tenure, standardizing the curriculum defining the purpose of schooling as largely job training, the weakening of teacher unions and blaming teachers exclusively for the failure of public schooling.

    And Richard Rothstein, NPR, Jan. 8, 2006: "The health doesn't matter. The housing doesn't matter. The dysfunctional communities don't matter. None of these things matter. The only thing that matters is whether teachers have high expectations of children. I don't think we can make social policy on the basis of a myth."

    There's another telling line in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall: "If we do not know the procedure, I feel sure Thomas Cromwell has a note of it. Give him a year or two and we may all find ourselves superfluous."

    That seems to be the Gates/Obama/Duncan plan: Give them a year or two and all teachers may find themselves superfluous.

    In Homegrown Democrat, Garrison Keillor warns, "When you wage war on the public schools, you're attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You're not a conservative, you're a vandal."

    Where's the professional organization rebuttal to all this? Instead of trying to get grants from Gates and to please the corporate/politicos, the function of a professional organization is to stand in opposition to the vandals and to protect its members.

    Dear NCTE

    For many years, you were my professional organization, and I was proud to participate in the annual conventions. . . .

    But you betrayed me. NCTE, by sitting at this table, you have colluded with the very people whose motives are diametrically opposed to what education in a democracy must be. . . . "
    --Cindy Lutenbacher, former NCTE member, 3/12/10


    When professional organizations think their purpose is to get a seat at the corporate-politico table, they become a parliament of whores. Whose good is being served when once-venerable professional organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English are now hawking corporate flimflam called 21st-century skills?

    How is it that NCTE remains silent about Race to the Top and the Common Core while the United Church of Christ is on the forefront of resistance, as they were with NCLB.

    "The 'turnaround' models in the Race to the Top, the Title I School Improvement Grants, and the President's Blueprint for the ESEA reauthorization epitomize thinking that is mechanistic, with the buildings, the principals, the teachers, and the students all just moveable parts that can be switched around without attention to the value of human relationship." --United Church of Christ, July 31, 2010

    I feel shame for the fact that the United Church of Christ speaks out while my professional organization keeps its silence.

    Need to Know

    The fact of the matter is that what you do every day matters more than what you do once-in-a-while. We need to know that we have our professional organization at our back every day.

    Kids and their teachers need to know about General John E. Hull. He was in charge at the American Air Force base at Iwakuni, Japan.

    On a May morning in 1955 when twenty-five Japanese women, badly crippled and disfigured by the atomic blast at Hiroshima, were to begin their trip for medical help in America. They were already aboard the U. S. Air Force plane when an aide dashed up to General Hull with an urgent cable from Washington. Not wishing to risk repercussions should the Hiroshima women encounter medical complications, a committee at the State Department had ordered the flight canceled. For a long moment, General Hull said nothing. Then he handed the cable back to his aide. "Unfortunately, I don't have my reading glasses with me," he said. "Be sure to remind me to read this later." And the plane took off." -- Who's In Charge: A Teacher Speaks Her Mind, Susan Ohanian


    Portrait of a Classroom in the Global Economy

    victim victim victim victim victim victim
    victim victim victim victim victim victim
    victim victimvictim teachervictim victim
    victim victim victim victim victim victim
    victim victim victim victim victim victim

    The victim accommodates to power.
    The victim doesn't want any more trouble.
    She performs Standardisto drudgery,
    Submits to crippling data overload,
    And remains the uncomplaining victim of corporate rapacity.
    And professional organization complicity. . . .

    Grieving in our knowledge
    That doing what
    You're told
    Is not the same as
    Doing what
    You can.
    Or should.

    The center will not hold
    When your head and heart
    Are in different time zones.
    --Susan Ohanian, When Child Collides with NCLB


    Ed Schuster raised this issue in English Journal, Nov. 2004, in an essay titled “On the Necessity for Subversion.” He ends with the declaration that a teacher’s choice is subversion or victimhood. I think by now it may be revolution or death.

    Certainly death of the profession.
    And the intellectual and emotional development of the children

    "What is shared by mass murderers, felony drunk drivers, starving children, head banging laboratory animals, anxious overworked students and all reptiles? . . . They don't play. What do most Nobel Laureates, historically renowned creative artists, successful multi-career entrepreneurs and animals of superior intelligence have in common? . . . They are full of play throughout their lives." —Dr. Stuart Brown, M. D., founder The Institute for Play

    Think about the worksheet-filled, playless kindergarten we now offer children.


    Lorna Leone [a director of school performance for Anne Arundel County] emphasizes uniformity--at quite a detailed level. . . . [She] was concerned that each classroom in each grade didn't have the same number of vocabulary words displayed on their Word Walls. Why aren't they all the same size? Why do some teachers post the words on the wall and some on a flip chart? Why does one fifth-grade teacher have parts of speech on the wall but the other doesn't? . . .

    Leone was also concerned [that] one class read at their desks, another on the carpet. One teacher used a green witch's finger as a pointer to lead children through the story, which Leone thought would be distracting. When she had gotten to third grade, she was pleased to see each of the three classes working on the same BCR at the same time. . . . In fifth grade she was dismayed to find some of Mrs. Williams's students sitting at their desks reading books while others finished a test. She encouraged [the principal] to come up with a school-wide protocol for spending time after completing a test, one that didn't include free reading." —Linda Perlstein, Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade


    Remember Rose in Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist? "Rose had a kitchen that was so completely alphabetized, you'd find the allspice next to the ant poison."

    The first time it was reported that one child vomited on a high stakes test, there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred vomited. But when a thousand vomited, silence.

    "When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable, the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer."
    --Bertolt Brecht


    "Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. " —Russell Baker

    My e-mail is filled with things like this: "This law has turned my sweet, happy classroom into a test-prep mill. " —Monica Hart-Nolan, Half Moon Bay teacher.

    And this: "My son is in a 'good' kindergarten, but they are obsessed with skills. He works so hard at school (for five hours and 45 minutes) to "be good" that by the time he comes home he can't do anything but have temper tantrums!" —Chicago mother

    Race to the Top is a full employment plan for consultants
    The dominant rhetoric
    Of Education Reform
    Is corporatese
    Relieved by flashes of cliché.
    Missing is the
    Rhetoric of virtue,
    Submerged now in subservience to power.
    Missing is the
    Rhetoric of virtue,
    Submerged now in subservience to power.
    --Susan Ohanian, When Childhood Collides with NCLB


    It's a predictable shame when such when market-oriented policies are peddled by Republicans; it’s a tragedy when they're embraced by Democrats.

    Remember this: The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on.-—Joseph Heller

    The enemy is anybody who hurts kids, no matter which side he’s on. . . or which professional organization he represents.

    The guy from Nigeria who promises me millions. All I have to do is give him the number of my bank account. Arne Duncan promises value added. All we have to do is give him our souls.

    The Gates Foundation paid millions for the development of the Common Core Standards and then paid PTA another million to tell everyone the Standards are a good thing. They paid $2 million to promote "Waiting for Superman."

    The Gates Foundation is funding a program called Measures of Effective Teaching. Watch out.


    The corporate-politico education policy called Common Core: The haunting fear that some child, somewhere, may be confident and happy and some teacher, somewhere, may be able to make decisions about what goes on in the classroom.


    The Digital Transformation in Education

    Arne Duncan's remarks at the State Educational Technology Directors Association Education Forum, Nov. 9, 2010

    With $330 million from the Race to the Top program, 44 states are working in two consortia to develop new assessments aligned to the common standards develop by governors and chief state school officers. . . .

    These evaluations can change teaching by delivering real-time results that give teachers, parents, and students themselves specific action plans to guide the academic progress of children based on their individual needs. . . .

    For the first time, teachers will have the state assessments they have longed for: [emphasis added] tests of critical thinking skills and complex student learning that are not just fill-in-the-bubble tests of basic skills but also support great teaching in the classroom.


    Appendix (a) (3)-A of PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) application for the federal grant to align K-12 assessment system with the Common Core State Standards includes this item:

    English/Language Arts Literacy Examples ELA-1 and ELA-2: Focused Literacy, Extended Constructed Response Type, p. 684

    Example #5
    Analyze the concept of mass based on a close reading of Gordon Kane's "The Mystery of Mass" and cite specific textual evidence from the text to answer the question of why particles have mass at all. Students explain important distinctions the author makes regarding the Higgs field and the Higgs boson and their relationship to the concept of mass.


    When he finally stopped laughing, my husband (Ph.D Physics, Princeton) said, "No undergraduate student in physics anywhere in the country can answer this question." I dug up the Scientific American article that hapless students were supposed to read to answer this question. I confess: I could not understand it.


    No matter what happens, just keep shopping.
    --the corporate-politico economic policy

    No matter what happens, just keep testing.
    --the corporate-politico education plan

    The Clean Underwear Theory of Curriculum

    Although Dave Barry insists that the Giant Underground Weirdness Magnet is buried somewhere in South Florida, I think evidence indicates it's alive and well on the 7th floor at 1016 16th Street NW, Washington D. C. the headquarters of the Common Core Mapping Project. They take the Common Cores Standards and make lesson plans.

    P. J. O'Rourke once wrote, "Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it." This seems to be the purpose of the Common Core standards on literature: to ensure that a teacher will look good if he should die in the middle of a lesson. This is a variant on the best justification I ever heard for forcing a teacher to have a set of basal readers in her room was given by an administrator: "In case you drop dead. The substitute will need them."

    Common Core Mapping Project-European Literature: Nineteenth Century—unit 5 poetry memorization

    This is part of a four-week unit in which 12th graders "will read fiction, drama, poetry, biography, and autobiography from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, with particular attention to the relationship between man and nature."

    Isn't it fascinating that with so much worry about Global Warming, the imperative from the Common Core Mapping Project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and designed to implement the Common Core Standards, also funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is for students to memorize verse from Oliver Goldsmith, William Wordsworth, William Blake, John Keats, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Not to mention read Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, The Vicar of Wakefield, Emma, and The Sufferings of Young Werther. Informational text [sic] in the unit includes The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson, and Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads.


    Don't you think that NCTE should take a position on such insanity? Voltaire reminded us that "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

    Again, though, we hear from an NCTE Journal:
    The popular ETS Praxis II test offers extensive testing of literary works by British and American males writing prior to 1950 and grammatical terms that connote a nostalgic charm to today's writers and educators. . . . If tests like the current ETS Praxis II test of literature, language, and composition have the expected impact on curriculum, tomorrow's teachers will be perfectly trained for schools of the nineteenth century.
    —Nancy Mellin McCracken & Hugh Thomas McCracken, English Journal, Sept 2001

    We even hear from a senior official at Educational Test Service:

    [Common Core]standards reinforce the flawed idea that one shared set of goals suits all students. It conflates the idea of higher standards at the high school level with standardization of high school curriculum. We need curriculum opportunities that recognize the diversity of students, how different they are when they enter high school, their different goals, learning modes, and ambitions."
    —Paul Barton, senior assoc, ETS, Education Week, 3/17/10

    An official with ETS can speak out, but NCTE feels it must maintain its silence. The Norton Anthology of English Literature is seventeen hundred pages long. It's a fat and heavy book. It will stop a bullet, but it won't cover your nakedness."
    —Castle Freeman, Jr. My Life and Adventures

    There's worse. Here the official statement from the Common Core:

    Teachers have been a critical voice in the development of the standards. The National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), among other organizations have been instrumental in bringing together teachers to provide specific, constructive feedback on the standards.—www.CoreStandards.org

    Either someone at Achieve and/or the US Department of Education and/or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is lying or. . . NCTE has a lot to answer for.

    I put this up on Twitter: Common Core literacy standards will seriously damage the 15,783,462 high schoolers who have no inclination to become English majors. I rather enjoy the discipline of Twitter, compressing a tendency to verboseness into 140 characters.

    Despite the fact that I hate Facebook, I will be eternally grateful. I have a Facebook page that someone arm-twisted me to put up. And one day it produced a miracle. I've written a lot about Leslie, the deaf child to whom I gave more of my heart than to anyone else. And she returned it in full. Not long ago, she found me on Facebook. She was in my class 29 years ago. And she found me. And the miraculous thin is Leslie remembers our class the same way I do. I mean, she talks about what was important to her--and it's exactly what was important to me.

    We can only teach who we are. The best thing you can offer students stares back at you from the mirror every morning. Truth is


    No matter how paranoid a teacher may be,
    What they're doing to children
    Is far worse than anyone can imagine,
    A pedagogy of submission requires denial
    and emotional bulletproofing.
    —Susan Ohanian, When Childhood Collides with NCLB


    We don't give a damn what the teacher thinks, what the teacher feels. On the teachers' own time they can hate it. We don't care, as long as they do it.
    —Seigfried (Zig) Engelmann, author Direct Instruction materials. I used to cite Englemann's words as outrageous; now this is government policy.

    Don't spent your time worrying about Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin. Rise up against the underlying corporate power structure

    Data Abuse

    The promotion of the data managed school is the truly great swindle of our time. Please consider that classroom management differs from stockyard control or sizing eggs.

    "If you want to get people to believe something really, really stupid, just stick a number on it. Even the silliest absurdities seem plausible the moment that they're expressed in numerical terms."
    --Charles Seife: Proofiness: Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception

    If a pediatrician can’t measure your child's height accurately, what do you suppose the chances are of a standardized test maker measuring his reading skill accurately?

    The New York Times reported on a study finding that only 30 percent
    of height measurements taken in primary care practices were accurate.
    Trained nurses visited 55 pediatric and family practices and compared
    their measurements of 307 children with those taken during regular
    measurements were.
    --John O'Neil, "Evaluations: Measuring the Squirming Baby," New York Times, 2004-05-11

    Medicos recognize this problem. Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine, physicians have called for a major overhaul of medical education. They say that medical students are buried under an avalanche of data, with not enough time to apply it to the needs of individual patients.


    While watching a review of David Berliner's book on C-span, April 28, 2007, I heard this wonderful exchange:

    Question: Your anecdotes. . . .

    Answer: I'd like to call these data." —David Berliner

    We need to follow Berliner's example and insist on telling our stories.

    We need to heed Kurt Vonnegut's warning:


    Scene: Mr. Haycox, a farmer is talking to two real estate agents. They both have PhD's, as is normal for middle class people.

    "Call yourself a doctor, too, do you?" said Mr. Haycox.

    "I think I can say without fear of contradiction that I earned that degree," said Doctor Pond cooly. "My thesis was the third longest in any field in the country that year--eight hundred and ninety-six pages, double-spaced, with narrow margins."

    "Real-estate salesman," said Mr. Haycox. He looked back and forth between Paul and Doctor Pond, waiting for them to say something worth his attention. When they'd failed to rally after twenty seconds, he turned to go. "I'm doctor of cowshit, pigshit, and chickenshit," he said. "When you doctors figure out what you want, you'll find me out in the barn shoveling my thesis."

    --Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, 1952


    Remember the premise of this Vonnegut book as you read on. Recap: In The Piano Player a tiny group of wealthy and powerful managers and engineers run things. Most people, stripped of good jobs, are powerless menials.

    Stephen Krashen observes that the next step is to force farmers like Mr. Haycox to get PhDs. He could write a dissertation on, for example, "The symbolism of dairy farming in Thomas Hardy's Tess: Was Angel Clare a lacto-vegetarian?"

    Now here's a news item from the New York Times:

    She was turned down for a waitress's job at an Applebee's restaurant because she had not finished college, she said, a rejection that still makes her shake her head. "Can you believe they wanted a degree just to wait tables?"
    -- New York Times, "Neediest Cases," Dec. 24, 2009


    Get that? "Some college," the President Obama/Arne Duncan mantra, is not enough. The fact of the matter is that no matter what today's worker does, it will never be enough.

    Never.

    That's how the elites have planned it.

    Remember: 'Beyond entry-level training and on-the-job training, 70% of United States jobs do not require more than a high school education, 20% require a college education, and only 10% require technical training."
    --Richard Rothstein, CATO Unbound, April 7, 2008.

    But, as I showed in my article in Extra!, the press refuses to cite Rothstein. Who gets to speaks about what schools need? Race to the Top and the Bill Gates Connection, September 2010.

    David Berliner describes the real problem in "Rational Responses to High-Stakes Testing and the Special Case of Narrowing the Curriculum":

    Today may actually be worse for poor children in the US than at any time in the last half century. This is because the lower classes are being kept from the liberal arts and humanities curricula by design. Using the argument that we must get their test scores up, we in the US are designing curriculum for poor children, often poor children of color but certainly, numerically, for poor white children, that will keep them ignorant and provide them with vocational training, at best. Their chance of entrance to college and middle class lives are being diminished, and this is all being done under the banner of "closing the gap," a laudable goal, but one that has produced educational policies with severe and negative side effects.

    But as I found in my close reading of 700 articles, looking for who the press cites as experts on Race to the Top and the Common Core Standards, David Berliner isn't quoted either. Who gets cited as an expert on education policy? Leaders of the Fordham Institute, leaders of the Democrats for Education Reform political PAC, hedge fund operatives promoting charter schools, the head of education at the American Enterprise Institute.

    "T]he rush to get more information faster almost forces people to avoid the act of thinking. Why stop and try to make sense of the information we’ve obtained when we can click on that icon and get still more data? And more."
    --Raphael Kasper, physicist, Super Collider Laboratory Diversion

    Here's a really important truth: "[The] demand for 'standards and accountability' has been a diversion from a campaign for economic and social justice for the children of the poor."
    --George Schmidt, editor, Substance

    Here's Stephen Krashen:

    The feds decide we need standards. So we rush to cooperate, without asking whether this is what the profession should be doing now. The feds decide we need news tests. So we rush to cooperate, without asking whether this is what the profession should be doing now. The conservative elements in education decide that we need a different way of evaluating teachers. We rush to cooperate, without asking whether this is what the profession needs now.

    In each case, the proposals are horrible (impossible standards, massive testing, value-added standardized tests as a basis for teacher evaluation), and we feel we are contributing by making the standards, tests, and teacher evaluation methods less horrible, without asking whether we should be establishing new standards, tests, or teacher evaluation systems at all.

    All of these are weapons of mass distraction, preventing any discussion of the real problem facing American education, poverty, and preventing us from taking steps to protect students from the effects of poverty.


    "Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen."
    --Huey Long (August 30, 1893 – September 10, 1935)


    "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it." --Martin Luther King, Jr. Stride Toward Freedom

    "When children's bodies are invaded, we call it statutory rape. Do we have a tidier phrase for the invasion of their minds?"
    --Penny Coleman, AlterNet, Dec. 19, 2008

    "Closing the school would be better than breaking their hearts."
    --Father O'Malley in Bells of St. Mary's

    I won't support compulsory attendance until schools adopt a Happiness Index. A caring index. How about rating helpfulness, perseverance, patience, ingenuity? Where's the curriculum of caring?

    A favorite Standardisto metaphor is School as a race. How about school as a beehive? A song? A handshake? Possibilities abound.

    School as a Race

    I wonder if you've heard what happened at the Seattle Special Olympics a few years ago? For the 100-yard dash, there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line; and, at the sound of the gun they took off--but one little boy stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard the boy crying. They slowed down, turned around, saw the boy and ran back to him--every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down's Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, "This will make it better." The little boy got up, and he and the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line. They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in the stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long long time. People who were there are still telling the story with obvious delight. And you know why? Because deep down we know that what matters in this life is much more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.
    --Fred Rogers, Middlebury College Commencement, 2001


    In Earthly Pleasures science writer and maple-syrup maker Roger Swain tells us that even where the sap flows best "the drops form one at a time." They also fall one at a time. Even in our present circumstance of instant everything, you can't hurry maple syrup--or third graders. Neither is a project for the impatient. Swain goes on to say that in boiling the sap as well, "the change from colorless sap to a light amber syrup is impressively slow." So, too, the change from an intransigent reluctant reader, the child who only scowls at books, to the boy who insists on copying Peter Rabbit in longhand because he likes "the feel of the words." It doesn't happen overnight or even upon completion of 1,682 workbook pages. We must recognize that children make great intuitive leaps but in-between times things often seem impressively slow.

    When you see a car hurtling toward your child, you push him out of the way before you engage in conversation about Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Until we stop the abusive standardized testing in elementary schools, I refuse to talk about a better kind of test. We must stop harming the children presently in our care. Right now. Today.

    "It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."
    --Samuel Adams

    "If you were in an open field with an angry rhinoceros about to charge at you, the silliest thing you could do would be to imagine you were a rhinoceros too. The outcome would be obvious. What can you do, faced with a rhinoceros, to get the better of it eventually and come away unharmed? What is the only thing; in this case, that is more powerful than a rhinoceros? Why, a swarm of mosquitoes."
    --Manfred Max-Neef, Economy, Humanism and Neoliberalism

    NCTE could marshal a very powerful swarm of mosquitoes. Or how about spiders. Remember the Ethipian proverb: When spiders unite, they can tie down a lion.

    "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."
    --Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963


    What the education world needs is a few strong administrators and teachers and parents to join together, proclaiming, "Enough is enough"-- people who know how to say, "We're as mad as hell, and we're not going to do this any more."

    Consider Kroptkin's comment on the Russian Revolution: "The hopelesss don't revolt, because revolution is an act of hope." The Latino parents in Chicago offer the hopeful metaphor of our time.
    These parents maintained a 43-day-and-night vigil at La Casita, a school building the Chicago Board of Education planned to demolish. They refused to leave until the board of education promised to build them a school library.

    Consider this: These parents didn't go to their local aldermen, begging for a seat at his table. They made the politicos come to them—-to their vigil at the school site. AND they made one alderman rewrite his letter to the school board voicing his support of their library request four times--until he got it right.

    NCTE could have/should have issued a statement of support to La Casita. They could have/should have teachers and parents from across the country and sent a box of books:

    I pledge allegiance to the children
    and to books that bring them pleasure;
    A library
    in every school
    With joyful, unstandardized reading for all.


    Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip, but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip. —George Orwell

    Learn to say 'No'; it will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin."
    —Charles Haddon Spurgeon

    At least once in your lifetime, take a risk for a principle you believe in--even if it brings you up against your bosses."
    --Daniel Schorr, reflecting, on his 87th birthday, on his life in journalism

    Don't mourn, organize.
    --Mother Jones

    A teacher wrote a poem of advice to students,
    Revolution for the Tested, which begins:

    Write.

    But don't write what they tell you to.
    Don't write formulaic paragraphs
    Counting sentences as you go
    Three-four-five-Done.
    Put your pencil down.

    I challenge teachers to write their own version, Revolution for the Teacher. here's mine:

    Revolution for the Teacher
    Teach.

    But don't teach what they tell you to.
    Don't mouth formulaic phrases
    Counting days till you retire
    Three-four-five-Done.
    Put your red pencil down.

    Don't teach following the script.
    As a weary practitioner not making waves,
    Handing out points for main ideas
    Supported by examples
    From the carefully selected text.

    Teach for your students.
    TEACH-- because until you do,
    They will never understand
    What it means to learn
    Or who they can be.

    And teach for the world.
    Because your voice is important.
    Teach because children are hurting
    Because children are dying
    Because there is injustice
    That will never change if you don’t.
    Teach because it matters.

    And know this.
    They'll tell you it won’t make a difference,
    Tell you not to challenge corporate rules,
    Tell you just to follow their script
    And leave it at that.
    You tell them you know the truth.
    That teaching is powerful.
    What students are taught
    Speaks loudly.
    And not only can a chorus of those informed change the world.
    It is the only thing that ever has. . . .

    And know this.
    They'll say they want what's best for children,
    That data doesn't lie.
    Tell them you know the truth.
    What students have been taught
    Can't be trapped in tiny bubbles.
    It's not about points
    On a chart or a test or points anywhere.
    And it never will be.


    Now, since Walt Whitman is on the Common Core Standards, I'll give him the last word. The Standardistos want students to read "O Captain! My Captain!" I'd like to see a substitution of the preface from Leaves of Grass.

    This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

    Finally, I'd like to close with the lesson I learned from a 9th grader in my first class. It was the most important pedagogical lesson I ever learned. I'd answered an ad in the New York Times. The New York City Board of Education was offering emergency credentials to high school English teachers. So I applied. I had a master's degree in medieval literature and 12 units in education courses. No student teaching. To get the emergency credential I had to pass written and oral exams. The oral exam consisted of delivering a lecture on the difference between comedy and tragedy to the examiner sitting across the table for me.

    I entered teaching in October--quite literally in the middle of someone else's lesson plan. And I had a hard time. I also had a great department chairman who observed my class for a few minutes each week and then offered some suggestions for improvement. When it came time for me to deliver the official show-and-tell lesson for write-up in my personnel folder, he told me I'd done a good job, delivering a lesson on "Julius Caesar."

    "But I was bothered by that girl reading the newspaper in the back of the room. I leaned across the aisle and said to her, 'Don't you think you should put down that paper and listen to your teacher?'

    "She said, 'Who the hell are you? If she wants me to put down the paper, let her tell me.'"

    I took a deep breath and said, "Well, when you think about it, who are you? You come into the class carrying your briefcase. I made a mistake by not introducing you. So you sit there writing notes. They don't know who you are. But more important, you don't know who they are. That girl was truant all first semester. She comes to class now to read The Daily News that I buy for her. I don't plan to leave her only with The Daily News, but it's a place to start."

    I'm proud of the instincts of that young teacher. I'm proud that she had the instincts to stand up for what's important. May we all go forward and say

    Who the hell are you?




    To be a teacher,
    You have to decide who you're
    willing to obey
    And who you're willing to kill.


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