let’s blame the teachers

Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, started the ball rolling with his comments… Here’s a clip:

…Steve Jobs lambasted teacher unions Friday, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers.

Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs.

“What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn’t get rid of people that they thought weren’t any good?” he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference. “Not really great ones because if you’re really smart you go, ‘I can’t win'”…

“I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way,” Jobs said.

“This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy”…

And then, last night, on Fox New’s “Hannity and Colmes,” right-wing radio personality Neal Boortz asserted that teachers unions are “much more dangerous than al Qaeda.”

Whether you agree or disagree, it seems as though something’s in the air. For whatever reason, it looks like public sentiment may be turning against our teachers. (“Damn those lazy teachers, getting rich on our tax dollars!”)

I know that this is going to lead to a lot of shit in the comments section, but I’m tempted to agree with Jobs. (Boortz is an asshole, but I think that Jobs might be on to something.) I recognize the importance of teachers’ unions, but how can public education excel if underperforming teachers can’t be gotten rid of? I think it’s a fair question. I believe that funding is probably a bigger issue when talking about the quality of public education, but I don’t think that teachers’ unions should be exempted from responsibility just because, historically, they’ve been a force for good.

So, what do you think?

(As long as we’re kind of on the subject of technology’s use in education here, I thought that I should aslo mention that our friend Sam has launched a new blog on the subject. Check it out. It’s pretty cool.)

update: My original post (see above) was admittedly pretty weak. I’d stumbled across two quotes attacking the teachers’ union and I stuck them together without too much thought, kind of wondering out-loud if they perhaps signified the beginning of a trend. The cool thing is, however, those quotes began generating a lot of really great conversations in the comments section, as both teachers and non-teachers began sharing their insights about teacher pay, the use of technology in the classroom, and how we as a culture perceive of our teachers. What follow are a few clips. (Sorry if yours isn’t included, but there really were a lot of great things said.)

Old Man Gordon:

…Good teachers can teach equally well with used books, VCRs and mimeograph machines as they can with DVDs and xerox machines. Bad teachers will always blame the materials and equipment….

Trusty Getto:

…Our current state educational policy (structural deficit aside for the moment) is to spend more to educate children who live an affluent communities and less to educate children who live in less-than-affluent communities. Unless a child fits into a legally-defined category of disability or “at risk” status, there is no significant consideration of the child’s particular needs in allocating tax dollars toward his or her education, other than the value of the tax base of the community in which the child resides…

AMC:

…But there’s another problem, too, and it’s with the teachers themselves. It’s not the bad ones I’m worried about, I’m inclined to believe there aren’t really that many (heinous though the stories may be), it’s the mediocre middle that concerns me. We have tasked teachers with shaping the future of our culture, nation, etc., a heavy weight if ever there was one, but we’ve never been quite sure about what teachers are. Are they mystical guardians of Holy Youth (the story we tell ourselves), or just glorified babysitters (the salary we pay, the training we require).

If the education majors I see every day on EMU’s campus are any indication, the future looks dim, if not dark. Some are exceptional and will change lives. Most are genuine but intellectually incurious, which (as I see it) is incompatible with being educationally inspirational. How do we teach people to be intellectually curious? Well, we need inspiring teachers, and therein lies the Catch-22.

Skinner:

I had lunch recently with a writer who’s researching lightning calculators (people who do math in their head). Most of the champs are Asians who learned their arithmetic on the abacus. It seems that the abacus makes it easier to visualize and retain calculations. Sometimes the cheap tools are the most effective.

Dr Cherry:

The system isn’t about educating anymore, it’s about accrediting.

Dirtgrain:

…Shit. At my school, we have rows and rows of computers. But we have a puny, crappy supply of deteriorated books to use in teaching. I’m not an ignorant teacher on this topic, either–I minored in computer science for teaching, and I’ve followed up with several technology-in-teaching graduate courses. To hell with all you vapid technology pushers. I’ll John Henry my classroom, with a decent supply of books, up against any techno innovator with a classroom full of technology. Bring it. Feh.

As for unions and bad teachers, it is a tiny problem–not some huge one. The way these ignorant Jobs-type bastards talk about bad teachers, you would think that without unions, public schools would fire half of the teachers. Bullshit. All of the English teachers on my hall kick ass. That said, I know of a few crappy teachers. There is a mechanism in place to go about firing them. It’s too involved for administrators, though. They just don’t have time. They first have to observe the teacher, record problems and things that need to be corrected (our administrators can’t even keep up with this level). Then they have to work with the teacher, pointing out what needs to be improved. Observe some more; meet again. I haven’t looked into all of the steps, but I know that teachers can be fired, and several have in my nine years of teaching. We need more administrators in my district to come close to dealing with the problem (tiny, remember) of bad teachers, but we are up against budget cuts every year it seems. It’s a wonder we get by. By the way, teachers are probationary teacher (no tenure until fifth year) for four years when they start. The can be fired relatively easily in this period, but, again, administrators have difficulty following through because of time constraints. Our administrators are having a hard enough time trying to bring in qualified teachers. They invest a lot of time in these hires. Many new teachers change careers within the first three years of teaching.

So many teachers are teaching because they want to help students become competent, healthy, skilled, critically thinking members of society. Looking at my colleagues, I just don’t get where the mindset comes from that teachers and public schools suck. Note, I am in a suburban school district, and teacher pay is pretty good (until you start a family, that is).

And unions do things for the good of education. They back a lot of initiatives to improve schools. They help teachers when they have problems.

Unfortunately, it is all too often the case that those calling the shots about education know so little about it. If I were to address some of the problems in public schools, I would start with the corruption at the political level. I saw a presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English convention several years ago about a school district in California that implemented scripted teaching. It was so scary to see the teacher-presenters run through one of the scripts (even the praise they gave was scripted). Their district had done poorly on the state’s standardized test. So, the district bought the scripted lessons from the company that makes the state test. Big business reaping profits, just like Jobs has done for so long.

The big business model? See my old blog post that is still up at Blogcritics.org: “Education, Globalization and the Big Business Model.”

Let’s follow in the footsteps of Kenneth Lay and Bernie Ebbers. We can have a system of corrupt, profit-driven schools that lie and cheat to make money (some charter school companies have done this (see the Edison Schools), and Bush’s people did this with public schools in Texas by excluding dropouts from statistics that were use to ‘show’ Bush’s great success with education so he could NCLB us). We can outsource our students, sending the Mexico or China for education. I don’t see big business being all that efficient, and the profit-element would worsen schooling for our children.

Sam:

…(S)chool funding should be equalized NOW!! It is absolutely inexcusable that certain districts in Oakland county are getting upwards of $12,000 per kid while other $7,500. We pay just as much for diesel fuel, and electricity and health care, and spend a lot more on dealing with the issues of underprivileged kids. Also not a single dime of our tax dollars should be going to charter schools run by for-profit companies…

Thank you all so much for contributing to this conversation. I hope that it continues… If you know of a teacher, someone who might be on their way to becoming a teacher, a fellow parent, or just anyone who might be interested, please send along the link to this post. I think they might find it interesting, and I’d like to hear their opinions.

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32 Comments

  1. old man gordon
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    I used to be a high school teacher. I would take Jobs’ first statement ‘no amount of technology…’ in a different direction. If we paid our teachers more, we might attract more skilled teachers and increase competition for those positions. I would rather see a higher salary for teachers with less money spent on technology. Good teachers can teach equally well with used books, VCRs and mimeograph machines as they can with DVDs and xerox machines. Bad teachers will always blame the materials and equipment.

  2. murph
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I’m going to have to side unquestioningly with teachers’ unions on this one, just to cancel out the sheer stupidity of comparing them to al queda. (Let alone comparing them unfavorably…)

    So, woo! Teachers’ unions!

  3. filipiak
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I do agree that unions can be too easily used to protect those that underperform, and I’ve even suggested to my own union, that we look at ways to ease the ability of my employer to get rid of those “bad apples” (no pun intended towards Mr. Jobs). Bad employees give the entire union a tarnished reputation.

    The “problems” with education are bigger than just that. I sold Mr. Jobs’ products to schools for 11 years, and was always frustrated by the barriers to technology adoption and use in classrooms. Those barriers were erected by the State, by the School District Administration, by the School Building Administration, by the Union, and by the Classroom Teachers themselves. Now, that blanket statement isn’t meant to imply that that was the case in each district, building, or classroom, but only that the problems extend throughout.

    My unscientific observations at the local level, are that the school district my son graduated from has done a poor job of incorporating technology into teaching – from the machines that sit unused, to the big brother controls placed upon those machines, to the teachers that simply can’t be bothered to change the way they’ve been teaching for the past 30 years – and my son agrees.

    There are bad teachers, there are bad union restrictions, there are bad building and district policies, and there are bad state regulations – all of which impact things in the classroom in negative ways.

    There are, though, a good number of classroom teachers doing great things with technology. I plan on seeing 3000+ of them next month, at the annual MACUL conference. Many try to do what they can, with what they have.

  4. edweird
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    This is why I am suffering at home with shingles.

  5. lynne
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Of course there is a flip side to that. Teachers exist in a labor market. Now…let’s just say that you have some nice bright 18 year old about to embark on the road to higher education where they pretty much plan to get an undergrad degree and a masters.

    One has to ask: How many of them would choose to become teachers if they know that they could go through all of that bother and then be at the whim of a school administrator who could fire them just because they are disliked ? And how many more would be willing to enter that profession knowing that there are unions in place to protect them?

  6. Dr. Cherry
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Technology is over-rated. A reasonably intelligent, educated person can pick up computer skills in a relatively short period of time.

    I’ve seen old folks do it, they’re getting pretty easy to use.

    I had the benefit of a very good education with little more than blackboards, chalk, a ditto-machine, and 5-year-old (or older) text books.

  7. amc
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I have very mixed feelings about this issue. Well, that’s not true, I just don’t really agree with anyone. It is definitely true that no one ever went broke underestimating the mediocrity of the public school system. But is this because it is unionized? Competition doesn’t ensure excellence. If you need evidence of this, just look at what the culture industry has been throwing our way for the past 20 years: there is no industry more ruthlessly competitive, there is no product more disgustingly dissatisfying.

    The truth about the tragic failure of public education is much more sobering. Childhood is one of two gods of the American religion (the other being wealth), but we have no concept left of sacrifice — “I’ll be damned if those teacher unions are gonna raise my taxes” is the refrain. We demand more and more from our schools, and while they crumble from neglect we cry for accountability. I’d just as soon cast the money changers (George Bush, Steve Jobs) out of the temple.

    But there’s another problem, too, and it’s with the teachers themselves. It’s not the bad ones I’m worried about, I’m inclined to believe there aren’t really that many (heinous though the stories may be), it’s the mediocre middle that concerns me. We have tasked teachers with shaping the future of our culture, nation, etc., a heavy weight if ever there was one, but we’ve never been quite sure about what teachers are. Are they mystical guardians of Holy Youth (the story we tell ourselves), or just glorified babysitters (the salary we pay, the training we require).

    If the education majors I see every day on EMU’s campus are any indication, the future looks dim, if not dark. Some are exceptional and will change lives. Most are genuine but intellectually incurious, which (as I see it) is incompatible with being educationally inspirational. How do we teach people to be intellectually curious? Well, we need inspiring teachers, and therein lies the Catch-22.

  8. It's Skinner Again
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I had lunch recently with a writer who’s researching lightning calculators (people who do math in their head). Most of the champs are Asians who learned their arithmetic on the abacus. It seems that the abacus makes it easier to visualize and retain calculations. Sometimes the cheap tools are the most effective.

  9. cleo love-paste
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Let’s not forget this example of a bad teacher that is still teaching.

    http://markmaynard.com/index.php/2007/02/03/it_s_like_if_in_the_wake_of_the_rodney_k

  10. sfifeadams
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I agree that there needs to be a way to move bad teachers out of schools. But what I’ve never been able to understand is why the unions themselves don’t enforce quality standards. It’s in the union’s best interest to make sure that, as filipiak notes, the lousy teachers don’t tarnish its reputation. If membership in the union were withdrawn for teachers who fail to meet certain standards, the schools would not be able to employ those teachers any longer.

  11. Dr. Cherry
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Jane Jacobs last book “Dark Age Ahead” discusses what’s happened/happening to our education system.

    The system isn’t about educating anymore, it’s about accrediting. Hopefully this dark age will be shorter than the last.

  12. trusty getto
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Jobs is so fabulously successful and ridiculously wealthy, he lives in a fantasy world. Because of that, he thinks he’s an expert on things he’s obviously not an expert on. I’d suggest he leave education to professional educators, and that he confine his commetns to things about which he can credibly speak, like computers, phones and iPods.

  13. Dirtgrain
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    All the fucking taxpayer that Mr. Jobs stole from public schools, and he points fingers at teachers. Apparently, he realized that we have nothing to show for all the technology investments–hence, blame the teachers. He’s just trying to boost his profits, the whore.

    “Technology is over-rated. A reasonably intelligent, educated person can pick up computer skills in a relatively short period of time.”

    Amen, Dr. Cherry. Keep preaching. Technology is a glittering generality that Big Brother computer companies have lobbied/propagandized into the minds of our politicians and public. For so many years, boob politicians have thrown around the term, as if it is some sacred concept that is essential to our students’ development. Show me the evidence.

    Shit. At my school, we have rows and rows of computers. But we have a puny, crappy supply of deteriorated books to use in teaching. I’m not an ignorant teacher on this topic, either–I minored in computer science for teaching, and I’ve followed up with several technology-in-teaching graduate courses. To hell with all you vapid technology pushers. I’ll John Henry my classroom, with a decent supply of books, up against any techno innovator with a classroom full of technology. Bring it. Feh.

    As for unions and bad teachers, it is a tiny problem–not some huge one. The way these ignorant Jobs-type bastards talk about bad teachers, you would think that without unions, public schools would fire half of the teachers. Bullshit. All of the English teachers on my hall kick ass. That said, I know of a few crappy teachers. There is a mechanism in place to go about firing them. It’s too involved for administrators, though. They just don’t have time. They first have to observe the teacher, record problems and things that need to be corrected (our administrators can’t even keep up with this level). Then they have to work with the teacher, pointing out what needs to be improved. Observe some more; meet again. I haven’t looked into all of the steps, but I know that teachers can be fired, and several have in my nine years of teaching. We need more administrators in my district to come close to dealing with the problem (tiny, remember) of bad teachers, but we are up against budget cuts every year it seems. It’s a wonder we get by. By the way, teachers are probationary teacher (no tenure until fifth year) for four years when they start. The can be fired relatively easily in this period, but, again, administrators have difficulty following through because of time constraints. Our administrators are having a hard enough time trying to bring in qualified teachers. They invest a lot of time in these hires. Many new teachers change careers within the first three years of teaching.

    So many teachers are teaching because they want to help students become competent, healthy, skilled, critically thinking members of society. Looking at my colleagues, I just don’t get where the mindset comes from that teachers and public schools suck. Note, I am in a suburban school district, and teacher pay is pretty good (until you start a family, that is).

    And unions do things for the good of education. They back a lot of initiatives to improve schools. They help teachers when they have problems.

    Unfortunately, it is all too often the case that those calling the shots about education know so little about it. If I were to address some of the problems in public schools, I would start with the corruption at the political level. I saw a presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English convention several years ago about a school district in California that implemented scripted teaching. It was so scary to see the teacher-presenters run through one of the scripts (even the praise they gave was scripted). Their district had done poorly on the state’s standardized test. So, the district bought the scripted lessons from the company that makes the state test. Big business reaping profits—just like Jobs has done for so long.

    The big business model? See my old blog post that is still up at Blogcritics.org: “Education, Globalization and the Big Business Model,”

    http://blogcritics.org/archives/2003/12/14/191652.php

    Let’s follow in the footsteps of Kenneth Lay and Bernie Ebbers. We can have a system of corrupt, profit-driven schools that lie and cheat to make money (some charter school companies have done this (see the Edison Schools), and Bush’s people did this with public schools in Texas by excluding dropouts from statistics that were use to “show” Bush’s great success with education so he could NCLB us). We can outsource our students, sending the Mexico or China for education. I don’t see big business being all that efficient, and the profit-element would worsen schooling for our children.

  14. Suzie
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    AMC’s comment was interesting to me – one of my best friends recently dropped out of EMU’s education program – she is (in my opinion anyway) “exceptional and will change lives”, “genuine”, “educationally inspirational”, “intellectually curious”, and would be an “inspiring teacher” – but she got so discouraged thinking about the current system and its inflexibility/mandates/etc (or at least how it was presented at EMU) that she’s going to pursue her own ‘road-less-traveled’ route. Which will hopefully involve teaching kids, because she’d be freaking great.

  15. Suzie
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    (to clarify – it wasn’t EMU’s program that was the issue, it was more the k-12 ed system that she was facing in her potential future life.)

  16. robr
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Yeah AMC has a point about mediocrity… I used to work at the old University Microfilms (now Proquest)and my job was to bind reprints of old archived dissertations and such. Sometimes I’d read a bit of them. The most impressive? Anything of a math or science topic, really deep and sharp stuff! The worst written and presented? Those done by education majors… I mean some of these were really bad, misspelled words and such.. I even caught an act of plagiarism, as one person’s work mirrored that of another’s with but a few changes here and there. I wish you could have seen these– Some were that bad!

  17. Dirtgrain
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    In a computer science course for teachers, a teacher-in-training who was majoring in computer science needed my help to operate a Netscape browser and to navigate the internet (ten years ago, but sheesh).

    Where in our world do we not see mediocrity? Have you ever seen a mediocre dentist or doctor? Garbage man? Politician? Office manager? McDonald’s employee? Accountant?

    We see lazy slackers in all fields, and we see mediocrity everywhere, as well. Maybe it’s just the bell curve. Maybe those degrees that people earn don’t mean as much as some think they do.

    I understand the importance that people are putting on education, but with the salaries that teachers make (admittedly not so bad in Southeast Michigan, but try Oklahoma or the Mississippi Delta region), are we supposed to expect excellence across the board?

    That said, I see some teachers who are clearly “mediocre” in their fields–but they still excel as teachers (because they can motivate, connect with students, manage a large group of people, deal with the tough students, etc.).

    I had crappy teachers, mediocre teachers and excellent teachers, and I’m pretty happy about the education that I got and the opportunities that I had–in the Ann Arbor Public Schools. But if we took the Ann Arbor district and transplanted the teachers, administrators and facilities to an equal sized portion of the Detroit school district, what kind of improvement should we expect? Ann Arbor has tried and tried to address the achievement gap–to no avail, I think.

    Our schools’ problems (inner-city and poverty-area schools, particularly) aren’t going to be solved by firing teachers. Much of our problems are cultural, and perhaps economic. I could make huge gains in achievement with my students if I could magically alter their culture: no jobs, limited extra-curricular activities, parents read a lot with many books and texts at home, parents work to get higher education for themselves, limited use of TV and video games and the internet, and so on.

    Could we do anything to see that these changes occur? Absolutely. But our government seemingly will never allocate the money to make it happen. I can just imagine video game lobbyists (do they exist? Well, they would) making a storm. What would our fast food companies do without teenagers to work their counters? That would be a huge economic change.

  18. mark
    Posted February 21, 2007 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    As I think the world is pretty much doomed anyway, I say that we go out with a bang and actually try some bold new initiatives, like severely scaling back the military and pumping that money into our public schools. (And, while we’re at it, let’s take all the money spent on professional athletes and use it to fund public television and the arts.) As others have said in this thread, our teachers deserve to paid much better than they are. And, just as importantly, they should be shown the respect they deserve.

  19. amc
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    trusty getto: well said! The idea that schools, hospitals, NGOs, governments, should be run like stock corporations is one of the biggest mass deceptions of the past 30 years. If the structual/logical differences don’t seem obvious, then the empirical data — e.g. Bush DoE studies showing public schools outperforming “flexible,” non-unionized charter academies — should be damning. And yet the right keep chanting “TINA” like a bunch of lovestruck zombies.

    Dirtgrain: I feel like we are saying pretty much the same thing from different perspectives. I never meant to imply that only education is mediocre (and I’m pretty sure I didn’t say that, either). It is the culture-at-large, which is manifestly uncritical and uncreative. I was lamenting the fact that this will take generations to change, even with the best teachers under the best circumstances. And I guess I was implying, good luck, because look at our track record for thinking long-term. Richard Nixon did a better job of this (supporting the Endangered Species Act, national health care) then any of the current Dem candidates (Kucinich excepted) who can’t see past Iowa and New Hamphshire.

    As far as what to do, I would agree with Jonathan Kozol that, above all else, some semblance of justice should be introduced to the system by equalizing funding. The fact that the state mandates that poorer communities like Detroit, Belleville, or Ypsi can never raise their per-student allocations to match Ann Arbor or Birmingham (even if they had the money to do it) is just beyond wrong.

    As someone who benefited greatly from the Ann Arbor schools it pains me to say this, but I think the state should equalize funding and the ex-rich districts need to figure out a way to live on that budget. A lot would have to be cut, but only then will the burden truly be shared by all, and only then will wealthier communities, which have disproportionate influence on the way government works, understand the crisis we’re really in.

  20. Sam
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I have to say, Steve Jobs has remarkable taste when it comes to industrial design, but if you listen to anyone who has ever worked for the man, he is also a total control freak. Giving administrators carte blanche to fire teachers is not the answer. That will not unless you can guarantee that every administrator is competent, (which is most definitely not the case), this will not ensure that you have good teachers, again witness the case of the teacher preaching creationism in the science class. Mechanisms need to be in place to evaluate teachers performance and dismiss them when needed, no one should be locked into a job for life. But there needs to be due process, even though that seems to be an outdated concept in this country these days.

    On the subject of tech, technology is a tool not a panacea. Kids can learn to read and count without computers. However, they also need to learn how to effectively use tools to communicate ideas in the modern world. Does that mean every kid in every class should have a computer? NO! But there needs to be reasonable access so that they can learn how to do things like effective searches for information, (easier said than done) create presentations, etc.

    The key though is teaching them how to communicate effectively, which does not necessarily mean using Powerpoint of Word. They need to know how to structure a paper, or presentation. Any number of tools can do that and those can be learned fairly readily. So on the YPSD tech committee right now we’re trying to figure out what the kids need to know first, and then determine what tools they need to do that, in the most cost effective manner.

    I’m pushing hard to get away from the idea that the kids need to learn the programs they will use in the workplace, because those tools are evolving and changing and there are lots of options. The kids need to learn what to create, and then select the appropriate tools to achieve that.

    Finally, I agree that school funding should be equalized NOW!! It is absolutely inexcusable that certain districts in Oakland county are getting upwards of $12,000 per kid while other $7,500. We pay just as much for diesel fuel, and electricity and health care, and spend a lot more on dealing with the issues of underprivileged kids. Also not a single dime of our tax dollars should be going to charter schools run by for-profit companies. That’s enough for now.

  21. egpenet
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    The best technology in any area is that which aids in making the task mechanically “automatic” … like the self-oiler invented by McCoy … or simply more humanly “intuitive” … like the Mac.

    Not much needs to be “taught” in eaither case. With Henry Ford’s constant improvements along his assembly line, immigrants from Bucharest could make $5. When the “technology” gets too complicated, it does NOT need to be taught, it needs a process engineer to fix it … or call Edward Demming … or call me.

    Teachers, teacher unions, blah, blah, blah. In everyone’s life, either the synapse in the brain that controls the “I want to know more about this shit” gets turned on and gets repeatedly exercised … so that the person becomes a learner … or it does not. Eventually, the person learns how to learn and becomes a self-teacher.

    I’m 62 and MOST of my teachers were mediocre or worse … public AND private. But I was already “switched on” before I started school. It doesn’t matter when the switch is thrown, but with many kids … many peiople I know … I can look in their eyes and see them STILL struggling to get their minds wrapped around even the simplest (for me) stuff … or watch them fumble with a Mac …

    Wanna talk politics? OK. The Detroit system is totally corrupt (even with Lonnie Bates in jail) and should simply be left to collapse so the people can start over. Perhaps other systems in our cities should also be left to collapse.

    As for No Child Left Behind, my opinion is that it is irrelevant to learning. If the switch is on … etc. If not … etc. It’s a waste of time. The teacher’s job is to flip the switch so the kid “gets it.” It’s the “flipping” part that needs to be taught, NOT the “it” part. Global warming is totally meaningless to a kid in Detroit whose ass if freezing because he doesn’t have a warm coat or winter shoes.

  22. schutzman
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I think it was a silent cry for help, as the technology Steve Jobs was actually referring to was his own- thus he was essentially saying that Macs suck, are totally overrated, and won’t help students learn anymore than an IBM or Linux platform.

    In other breaking news, “Exceedingly wealthy man who has made his fortune on the backs of non-unionized workers issues statement disparaging Unions in general”- film at 11.

  23. dorothy
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    i’m with dr. cherry. my father was the area superintendent of all the schools around my home town. he was of the opinion that if the teacher is good enough, all you need is a log big enough for the student and the teacher to sit comfortably. the good education comes from the teacher, not the classroom doodads. we really need dedicated talented teachers and enough of a salary so that they don’t leave for greener pastures.

  24. trusty getto
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Sam’s hit the nail on the head. Our current state educational policy (structural deficit aside for the moment) is to spend more to educate children who live an affluent communities and less to educate children who live in less-than-affluent communities. Unless a child fits into a legally-defined category of disability or “at risk” status, there is no significant consideration of the child’s particular needs in allocating tax dollars toward his or her education, other than the value of the tax base of the community in which the child resides.

    Until we allocate resources where they are actually needed most, rather than steering them to those with political power and wealth, there won’t be much progress made on this problem.

    See my recent post on this very subject.

  25. egpenet
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    (Choke! Swalloow … cough … sputter … spit!)
    This is hard to say … quoting … ye, gads, Hillary …

    But it DOES take a village. It takes a family. It takes teachers. It takes the entire community to provide the atmosphere for learning and maturation.

    As long as families are not getting the social support they need … within the village … no bunch of average teachers spending their days teaching the tests will make a difference.

    Kids in affluent neighborhoods are even worse off, because THEY will be your boss someday, and if THEY can’t read or write, add or subtract, or feel, or have healthy emotions … welcome to General Motors!

    Thank the unions for unions that save jobs … but don’t look to the unions or John Diongell to solve social and financial ills of corporate or general society in America. Lyndon took all of that skill with him to the grave.

  26. Dirtgrain
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Egpenet, check it out: “Real education must ultimately be limited to men who insist on knowing–the rest is mere sheep-herding.” – Ezra Loomis Pound (AKA Looney anti-Semite Mussolini supporter—but the quote is cool) .

    While it is to some extent true, it is not a healthy mindset for a teacher. Out of all the educational research, fads and movements that I have studied, the most valuable ideas relate to motivation and helping students develop the mindset of lifelong learners. Without that, attempts to teach can be a waste of time. Sure, some kids maintain intrinsic motivation to learn throughout their schooling, regardless of the teacher. We’ve all likely been in a situation where we have learned despite the teacher’s shortcomings.

    Good teachers can get that motivation and mindset going where it previously did not exist. I welcome self-motivated students, but I don’t dismiss the others. It’s my challenge to turn them on to learning. By the way, it’s no secret that turning on students’ minds is key. Programs in training teachers at both the undergraduate and graduate levels spend a lot of time on this matter. Right now, I am finishing a graduate course on how to instill the “habits of mind” in students: they include persistence, precision of language and thought, managing impulsivity, questioning, flexibility of thinking, using all the senses, checking for accuracy, drawing on past knowledge and experience, listening with understanding and empathy, metacognition, creativity, and wonderment. This seemingly simple stuff is very important.

    Most of the computer skills that I use daily were self-taught. In fact, I think that is in some ways the best way to learn–via exploration. I learned a lot of things at crunch time, when need and urgency were factors. And I despise computer manuals (why the hell do paper-saving computers come with them? For crashes, sure, but they contain so much other information that could be paperless).

    In schools, I think computer courses are most important for students who don’t have computers at home. In my district, this is uncommon, but it still needs to be addressed. The problem with my district and many others is that they purchase all kinds of technology without a specific idea/plan of how to use them. They then make stupid requirements like this: all English teachers will have students write a paper in the computer lab (or something like that). There is no direction for what computer skills the English (or math, social studies, etc.) teacher is supposed to be teaching. Then we have computer requirements for students to graduate (some non-computer courses may substitute–I don’t remember). Many students wind up taking a lame-ass computer class in which they work through a course manual on word processing. I would love to see a study of how capable students were before the class and after. For so many, it seems like a waste of time. Unfortunately, our district’s technology department is spare and is incapable of implementing worthwhile changes to the curriculum.

    In other ways, computers have been detrimental to the education of some students. Frequently, students are copying and pasting essays and research off of the internet, turning them in as assignments. My school won’t invest in a program to check for cheating, and I don’t have the time to check every paper (now and then, I check suspicious ones—but that takes a lot of time). I’ve seen kids copy and past poems they found on the internet and turn them in as their own. Recently, I’ve implemented a rule that all first drafts must be handwritten (in my creative writing class). As for research papers, teachers and schools have been banning Wikipedia as a source. At least this provides the opportunity to teach the evaluation of sources.

    I’m not anti-computer, either. My favorite computer-oriented assignment was a publishing opportunity in creative writing classes where my student worked with university students, getting and giving feedback. I found that the computer lab was a great way to get kids in my Basic English class to read and write, although I had to work like crazy to keep them from farting around with games, music and videos. Still, that was a class full of students who were way below grade level in reading and writing—yet they could use the computers damn well, showing me a thing or two along the way. I know that some of those kids didn’t have computers at home, so that says something in favor of our school’s teaching of technology.

    As amc and Sam have noted, the funding inequity in Michigan are absurd. Years ago under Engler (ten or so years ago. Fifteen?), the current school funding formulas were implemented with the goal of decreasing the gap in funding between the richest and poorest schools in Michigan. I have no idea why it isn’t working–other than it must be a flawed system. In arguments on this topic on other sites, I learned that the funding disparity in schools does not exist in every state. Arizona, years ago, in response to lawsuits in other states about funding inequity, altered its funding system so that schools roughly get the same per-pupil funding all across the state. Unfortunately for them, they did it by bringing down overall funding so that they are now at or near the bottom of all the United States in per-pupil funding.

    Here is a piece on Arizona’s school funding system (PDF): http://epsl.asu.edu/aepi/EPSL-0405-114-AEPI.pdf

    Amc, I didn’t mean to color your comments about mediocrity–it was more a response to arguments I’ve had in the past on the topic. Sorry to have gone off on it.

    “Technology, the knack of so arranging the world that we need not experience it.” – Max Frisch

  27. Sam
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    One other thing I neglected in y discussion of technology in the class is teacher training. There were two fatal flaws in the first go around with tech in Ypsi schools, the insistence on one size fits all and a distinct lack of training and support. First not every class needs the same number of computers or the same type. Secondly, all the computers in the world won’t help if the teachers don’t know how to use them effectively to advance the curriculum they are trying to teach.

    The tech committee is aware that we need to bake in more flexibility in any new tech plan so that teachers have access to more machines when they are needed and the equipment is most useful for them. We are discussing a wider range of equipment and what is most suitable for each grade level and course. We want to provide wrenches to those who have to tighten nuts and bolts and hammers to those who need to put in nails.

    We also need to make sure that there is a plan to train teachers in what tools are available and how to use those tools. Many teachers are unaware of the many tools at their disposal. Training happened early before most computers even arrived, and was not ongoing. Without a mechanism to provide tech support, the tech is useless. Given the funding issues we have, it is likely we will have to rely at least in part on volunteers with technical knowledge like myself to come in and help where we can.

  28. egpenet
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    We could talk for hours …

    What the UAW did for my friend from Bucharest who worked for Ford (“at Ford’s”) was provide on-site ESL, reading, and other curriculum classes, technology classes, etc., and give them the time to do it.

    UAW also negotiated health and safety training … and on and on.

    I’m not sure what the teacher unions provide other than bargaining services … but I know most teachers today could use a lot more union support for their classroom efforts.

  29. bobwilk
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    The problem isn’t the unions, the problem is weak principals who won’t take the time to document and fire bad teachers. I was a principal for 26 years and “fired” eight teachers. Each one quit after being encouraged to do so by the union who knew the case was solid. It is very time consuming, but if you care about the kids you have to do it. You should seriously question any administrator who says they can’t fire a teacher.

  30. ol' e cross
    Posted February 22, 2007 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Steve “No Unionized” Jobs isn’t just ticked at his declining market share in school districts and the role some teachers unions have played in it. (E.g., unions in NC and Georgia, among others, lobbied to keep their schools pure PC.) Obviously, the marketing tells us that anyone who doesn’t prefer a Mac isn’t a creative thinker, so I do follow his logic…

    On the chicken-and-egg thing, I sway towards society-creates-teachers not teachers-create-society. Inspirational teachers can step in to fill a void, but only if there’s a void. I had some incredible instructors but they played a tiny role in shaping me compared to the family/friends/peers I’ve known longer and more intimately. If most teachers are “intellectually incurious,” it’s just a reflection on a society that is generally incurious about anything beyond who will get voted off the next episode of 24.

  31. paulg
    Posted February 23, 2007 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    Maybe I’m old school, but I don’t see much use for technology in classrooms, at least before the college level (and I don’t take much stock in what Jobs says. He’s very sensitive to public opinion and blows with the prevailing winds).

    It’s useless and wasteful to give every student his own computer. High schools need computers only for the college-prep type classes- e.g., classes that teach a programming language, or about how a computer works at the hardware level. The other stuff- surfing the internet, learning Microsoft Word, getting the most out of Apple iTunes, etc- can be handled by word of mouth and the “X for Dummies” books. You don’t need school for that.

    Judging by the number of students that would actually go into computers or engineering as a career, I’d guess that maybe a 10% computer-to-student ratio would be appropriate. Only those students that go out of their way to take a computer class should get to use one. When every student has one, then the 90% that are going into other careers will use their computers like a TV, for entertainment.

    Look at myspace to see what a generation that grew up with computers looks like. I went surfing through there one day and the members all seemed like a bunch of zombies. There’s little originality or even written text to be found- the profiles are all just pictures. So are most of the friends’ “comments”. When there is a written word or two, it’s in the cellphone text-message style and expresses only banalities… even the pictures are mostly lifted from other websites. Basically, there isn’t much creativity happening there. I have to think these kids would’ve been better off reading books than playing with computers at school.

    I’m a computer guy BTW.

  32. Erotyka
    Posted November 21, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Demonizing public school teachers is political. They’re a huge union and they vote Democratic. If you can privatize schools, you’ll not only take a huge piece of the middle class away, but these former public school teachers will be too busy trying to save their homes and put food on the table to organize.

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