Earlier this evening I read an article in Education Next by Joshua Dunn in which he discusses Joel Klein's attempt to close nineteen "demonstrably dreadful" schools. Sadly, Dunn notes, a New York State trial judge has doomed the poor children in those schools to a prolonged internment in buildings where teachers are "inflicting" dreadful education. I've never actually visited any of those nineteen schools (and I presume Dr Dunn hasn't either since he doesn't mention any by name and works in Colorado Springs), but, given his description, I can only assume that students in these schools are routinely strapped into their seats and forced to repeat falsehoods.
"The first president of the United States was P Diddy."
"Carbon is not an essential element to life on earth."
"The quadratic formula is not an alternative to factoring and will not help you solve polynomials. No matter, you'll never learn what any of those things are anyway."
That's really just speculation, though. Because I don't really know what kind of culture, teachers, students, parents, or leadership exist in the schools, I guess I really can't make those assumptions (it's just so tempting when we see a school has been labeled failing). Don't worry, though; I've emailed Dr Dunn and asked him to share with me what he found to be so lacking the nineteen failing schools. Maybe he didn't like the way teachers were teaching. Or maybe it was poor leadership he had a problem with. Or maybe he did a number of parent interviews and found parents were dissatisfied with what students were learning. Because he wrote such a convincing article, I'm sure he'll have a glut of evidence to share with me. We'll discuss, and I'll share on the blog.
In the mean time, Dr Dunn has me fretting about my own abilities as a teacher. Because of my school's model, my students will take the US and Global Regents at the end of the year. That's 100 multiple choice questions (on topics ranging from globalization to the Progressive Era to the Fertile Crescent) and four essays. A sample question for one of the thematic essays asks students to explain the effects of the Warren Court on American politics. An informal survey I gave my students at the beginning of the year taught me that all but one of my students had never heard of Hitler and that none of them knew anything about the following topics: the American/French/Haitian/Industrial Revolutions, the Cold War, South Africa, World War I, or World War II. In fact, many of my sixteen and seventeen-year-olds initially struggled to identify the proper cardinal direction one would need to travel to get to Canada from New York City given a map of North America. On the PSATs, none of my students scored above the 18th percentile in English or Math. Furthermore, when a student answers one of the Regents multiple-choice questions incorrectly, I will hardly know whether it was because they didn't know the answer or they didn't understand the English.
But I don't want to let Dr Dunn down. I can't fail my students. I am, after all, the single biggest factor in my students' educations. I will not inflict dreadful education. So I've decided to redouble my efforts, and I've made a list of everything I need to teach my students before June so they can pass the Regents, and I can get my tenure. (Note the Holocaust isn't on my list because I've yet to find a Regents with more than one question about it. Yes - this is probably the only time my kids will have the opportunity to be exposed to genocide education, but it's not going to help me keep my job so....gotta let it go - not that important, right?) Here's the list - for you, Dr Dunn. I won't let you down.
How to use a map
The English colonizing of the New World
Landmark Supreme Court cases
How the Supreme Court works
The Bill of Rights and its application across our history
American Civil War
Settling the American West
The Gilded Age
The Industrial Revolution
Cause and effects of immigration in the US and globally
The Spanish-American War and American Imperialism generally
World War I
The Roaring 20s
The Great Depression
The New Deal
World War II
The Cold War (Vietnam, Detente, NATO, Warsaw Pact, Korean War, Sputnik, etc...)
The Civil Rights Movement
The Great Society
New World Order
Principles of economics
The Neolithic Revolution
The world's major religions
The Mongol Empire
Age of Exploration
Latin American and African Independence
The Meiji Restoration
The Russian Revolution
The Chinese Communist Revolution
Colonialism and European Imperialism
The Conflict in the Middle East
Apartheid in South Africa
The Collapse of Communism
The effects of technology on society
The ability to read and write English
The ability to read a primary source and write about it
I'm not really sure how to do this, but I think the best way to get them to pass the test will be to give them flashcards and use them to force the kids to memorize the five or six facts about each topic that the Regents focuses on every year. After all, this is what my assistant principal says she did with her kids when she was teaching, and it apparently worked for her. Drill them on the five-paragraph essay and drill them with the facts....that's what I've got to do. If I don't want to inflict on my kids a dreadful education, I better not teach my kids the historical habits of mind or ask them to think critically. Were I to do that, I might become the target of Dr Dunn's ire...
The system is not ridiculous. I am the problem. Time to make flashcards.