NOTE: This letter appeared in the New Republic, November 9, 1992. Look at how relevant it would still be if it had appeared yesterday. Ed deform remains constant.
To the editors:
As a longtime teacher I've seen a lot of loony advice offered up from the media, but "Back to School" (September 28) is definitely my choice for the fruitcake award. You offer the solution to the nation's educational woes: restrict toilet trips by fourth-graders from certain socio-economic areas.an d hire drill sergeants whose sole qualification seems to be organizing desktops and bathroom lines.
For nearly twenty years I have taught the children nobody else wants. It is no picnic. But "control" and "order in the classroom" just aren't the issue, not in the simplistic way you pose them, anyway. The issue is figuring out a curriculum that makes sense to children the socio-politico-economic system has failed. Our educational system is in desperate need of renewal. It isn't going to come from Washington or NCOs who run classroom boot camps or editors whose only information about inner-city classrooms comes from reading other editors.
The Exxon Education Foundation gave me a grant to travel around the country for a year looking at the way math is taught in primary grades. I was in rich schools and poor schools, and as I sat here thinking about your editorial I realized that "control" was not the issue in any of them. When the curriculum is really good, it engages the students, and stupid things such as when the children will go to the bathroom are just never an issue.
Addendum: The book I wrote about my travels in 28 states looking at how primary grade teachers were changing the way they taught math, <i>Garbage Pizza, Patchwork Quilts, and Math Magic </i> (1992), won several awards, including 'best book of year' from Child Magazine, a publication of The New York Times Magazine Group.