A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, August 04, 2005

No Excuses.... unless-

So as part of my summer homework I read No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, by Abigail and Stephan Thornstrom. I think I will muse periodically about this, but there are two things I am pondering right now.

All of the successful schools cited as being able to spur minority achievement in the book are charter schools. Hmm, interesting, since most of the charters near me have been spectacular failures-- and before I listen to any howls of protest, let me say that I would like to see charter schools succeed as long as the junk charter schools are allowed to duck are removed from my life as well. My point is, maybe the ones nearby should be run in a professional manner, like the ones in the book, not like a banana republic. It seems to depend upon the local laws, and in our state, someone with a fifth grade education can home-school his kids. (My favorite one was the parent who had the principal ask me to send her ALL of my materials, assignments, quizzes, notes, and tests. She's still waiting, by the way. Up until that point I'd never actually physically alternated between slack-jawed shock at the utter gall and hilarious laughter. The only thing she didn't ask me for was recipes for lunch and toilet paper.)

I am also wondering if all the administrators in my district have read this book. Because one of the big suggestions in No Excuses is adoption of the "Broken Windows" theory of political scientist James Q. Wilson. I like this, and it has always been my policy, as far as I as a lowly cog in the machine can enforce it. But I wonder if the initial terrifying deluge of discipline referrals would be tolerated if we tried to take this seriously, because, there is a hardened -- calcified-- minority of students --and teachers-- which would require some "attitude adjustments," to put it mildly. And, since the taking up of a place in school or a classroom has been termed a "right" without any talk of "responsibility" or "privilege" in American society, what would we do with the kid who just won't get with the program? A charter school can say "Adios!" but the problem is that regular public schools have to take everyone, and people, that covers quite a lot of ground behavior-wise.

In the long run, the Broken Windows theory absolutely works, but when have you really seen teachers and administrators who get the chance to run things look at the long term if it means they have to suffer through some intense but short term unpleasantness?

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