Guest columnist John Thompson, an Oklahoma teacher and writer, has a memory that I think might inspire other teachers to recall the absurd ways that school reform ideas were presented to them. Here is what he sent me. I am going to try to leave the comments on this open for a week or so since I am on vacation. My wife, in a break from her house sale prep labors in Bethesda, Md., will be visiting me, our son and our cats in our temporary rent-free lodgings, my boyhood home in San Mateo, Calif.
By John Thompson
So, teachers, remember when you were first told that “high expectations” and an unflinching focus on instruction would be enough to overcome the effects of poverty and trauma?
Veteran teachers, if you first heard that soundbite before No Child Left Behind, did the administrators who made such claims really believe them or were they just something the central office made them say?
During one of my first encounters with the mantra, a young administrator, let’s call him Jeff, who had only taught in suburban schools, exhorted us social studies teachers: “The high school excuse is to blame the middle school, which blames the elementary school, which blames the home, and then we are saying ...”
White teachers squirmed uncomfortably until a black teacher said, “If you are blaming all these rednecks here, we’re cool, but ...”
The laughter temporarily slowed Jeff’s ardor, but he came back to the same message.
I derailed Jeff with a joke, but the young idealist reminded me of the characters in the climax of “Dr. Strangelove” as they struggled to keep their true feelings from bursting out. Unable to help himself, Jeff repeated the secondary to elementary school to home cycle of blame.
Again it fell to a black teacher to ask, this time in a more serious voice, “Are you calling us racists or incompetents?”
“If the shoe fits!” the central office theorist exploded.
If Jay does not conclude that it is too much truth to handle, I would like to periodically remind educators of what they thought when they first encountered other, equally absurd, silver bullets. In doing so, I would like to introduce non-teachers to some of the weirdest policies that are repeatedly dumped on schools. In doing so, I would like to remind citizens of what would happen if “reformers” got their wish, and educators lost the power to resist the endless stream of quick fixes that policy wonks mandate.
Are there any stories you would like to tell?