NPR logo August 30th Show

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August 30th Show

Well, it's our last show for the week — and for the month of August — and today's show is quickly coming together. The main topic in our first hour is called "Fixing Broken Schools." This is a segment we planned on airing yesterday, but our guest, Rudy Crew, had the unfortunately common experience of a major flight delay. But today he's safely on the ground, and will talk to us from our NPR studio in New York. He's the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and author of Only Connect: The Way to Save Our Schools. According to Crew, our educational system is in crisis and education should be our number one priority. We'll end that hour with a voice who may be familiar to fans of The Simpsons. Harry Shearer is the voice of Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders — among many others — on the beloved animated series. He'll share his thoughts (as himself, I should add), about the restoration efforts in New Orleans where he's been a part-time resident for the past 11 years.

There is much debate over who should serve as Alberto Gonzales' successor as Attorney General. I wonder how that want ad would read? We'll talk about what makes a good Attorney General in our second hour. After that, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik and Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff are the ringleaders as our "Media Circus" segment takes us inside the latest Senate sex scandal.

Enjoy! And don't forget to share your thoughts!



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It's not my fault. For decades now, public school teachers have been blamed for every societal problem from Johnny's inability to read, to teenage sexual promiscuity. Let me set the record straight: Public school teachers aren't responsible for getting your child to school on time every day. We're not charged with feeding them, keeping them clean, establishing their self esteem, or keeping them from having sex with each other (outside of school, of course). We are not the ones to read to your toddlers, and teach them to desire, and respect education. Teachers can't prevent children from being abused, neglected, or sexually assaulted between the end of one school day, to the beginning of the next,even though we have to deal with those who are, while they're at school. We don't raise your children.

It is expected that teachers prepare every child for college. If 100% of all high school students don't attend college by 2014, whether they want to or not, teachers; not parents, not administrators, not politicians, will be blamed. We are the only country that works on the concept that all children are above average. We have children in high school who, in places such as China, and India, wouldn't even be allowed (in high school). The Chinese system, for example, requires students to pass an entrance exam for high school. Would your child make it?

Public school teachers have to deal with students who come to school hungry, abused, tired. We deal with parents who don't value education. Some don't think their daughters should be in school. I once had a student who's parents thought it was a punishment for crimes committed in a previous life that he had a learning disability, and would regularly punish him for it. I've had a couple of parents come into my classroom and threaten me with physical violence, because I reported my suspicions of drug use, or child abuse, something I'm required to do.

We've established a wonderful public education system; available to all. Our system of public education is respected by everybody but us. People from all over the world move here so that their children can attend our public, and private schools, and universities. This is not to say there aren't problems, but blaming teachers isn't the answer. It costs prospective teachers over $20,000 to complete a credential program in California, and I suspect it's similar in other states. That's after they've completed a Bachelors degree. They have to complete course work, be reviewed by other teachers, and administrators, submit video tapes of their teaching, and for most, work for free as they student teach. Those who go through all this are the very dedicated ? Teachers in the United States are some of the best trained in the world. Yet, the President of the United States, the Governor of California, various news commentators, parents, and others keep trying to blame teachers for problems that are either everybody's fault, or might not even exist.

Blaming teachers is not only wrong, it's counter productive. Unless we are willing to identify the real problems, and their causes, such as school funding inequities, and student achievement gaps, those problems will never be resolved.

Sent by Jack Mootz | 1:58 PM | 8-30-2007

Though I haven't written a book as of this posting, I have been a teacher for over 20 years. Before me, my mother taught in public schools for 35 years. The same issues she faced then, we face today even in excellent public systems like the one I teach in in New Jersey: priority. There is no sense of urgency, no focus. There is politics, and taxes. As one simple example, we have been clearly on the road of investing in our prisons since the emergence of conservatism, and de-investment in our education systems. We will not pay our educators. we will not invest in their education but will spend millions on flawed tests to pretend to quantify competence.

I have a career in a profession wherein the more education I pursue; the more experience I amass the less my chances are of movement within my career. Translation: school districts cannot afford to pay their teachers and so are forced to turn to the least qualified people they can afford to put in front of our children rather than to seek the best and most experienced as a sign of our commitment. I know I want the least experienced lawyer examining my important papers. There is no way I want the most experience heart surgeon tinkering with my ticker. But EVERY year, year after year we listen to a parade of "experts" telling us how it is our entrenched teachers with their self-serving unions and resistance to merit-based systems which drag our systems down. We listen to how we don't need money-resources, but rather a good swift kick in the butt.

Maybe if we were to find politicians courageous enough to hold the name: teacher in high esteem like we do: soldier we could find a way to "support our teachers" in a similar way to how we "support our troops"

Sent by Dave Olson | 2:11 PM | 8-30-2007

I am American, now teaching in Thailand, and have been in the education profession for 35 years. In the US, most of my career was teaching in private schools. As Jonathan Kozol pointed out decades ago, quality of schools is related to a willingness to spend the money for the resources, i.e. arts programs, up to date technology, books, materials, salaries sufficient to keep teachers reasonably happy. In Thailand, parents send their boys to private schools, if they can afford it, and leave their girls to struggle in overcrowded and under-resourced public schools.

In America, at least the gender bias is not a major factor and girls have the chance to develop their potential.

The biggest problem I perceived in the US public schools is the variation of parents committment to seeing their child succeed academically. Some push too hard; some show no interest at all. Teachers in public schools deserve kudos and our deep and very grateful respect. It is not an easy job!

Sent by L. Heidi Primo | 6:45 PM | 8-30-2007

I caught part of the interview with Dr. Crew the other day and immediately ordered his book. I've got to admit, I was skeptical when I looked at the cover. (It seems like somebody warned me about judging books by their covers once.) It looked like another "quick fix" solution to the massive problem of public education in America. I'm please to say that my misgivings were unfounded.

I am beginning my third year of full-time teaching this year at the age of 33. I left a potentially lucrative career in the family construction business in order to become a high school Language Arts teacher. Believe it or not, I didn't do it for the money. I made my decision partially because I have children who, at the time, were on the verge of entering the public schools, and I was not happy with what I was seeing. I was also inspired by the events of 9/11. While I know many were ready to take up arms to avenge the wrongs comitted against us, I felt like I needed to make a real, foundation-level comitment to the healing and rebuilding that our nation is undergoing.

I am often distraught by what I see in the rural Illinois high school where I teach - not because education is worse off than it was when I was in high school, but because it is the same. If I were in high school today, I would loathe it as much as I did when I was in it. I'm afraid that we have a cycle of creating teachers out of students who were in that upper crust of "good at school" kids. The sad result that I am seeing is an utter lack of innovation in the classroom. Students who excelled at worksheet packets in high school are more than happy to become teachers who teach through worksheets. If students don't respond to this type of teaching, it must be because the student is "lazy" or "stupid." Those that do well on the worksheets continue to occupy the academic spotlight while the creativity and critical thinking skills of those left in the dark are crushed, a real tragedy for a society plagued by difficult problems.

As mentioned, I am a fledgeling teacher, but I can't help but believe that the succeses I have enjoyed in the classroom have been a result of my enthusiasm for learning (not just my subject matter) and the relationships that I build with my students. I treat them like people. I show them that I, too am a student (though a slightly more experienced one). I encourage them to look beyond what I "teach" them and to share what they have to teach me. My classroom is an environment where both the students and their teacher can safely fall flat on our faces, get up, and try again. We can be totally ridiculous, and we can be frighteningly serious. My hope is not to help my students achieve an arbitrary "academic" goal, but to engage in high-order, real-world critical thinking and problem solving and to develop as learners and members of their communities. It's really not as complicated as it seems. Just throw away those worksheets and be honest with them.

I know I've got a lot to learn and many disappointments to face, but Dr. Crew's book is helping me realize that - rocky though it may be - I am on a good path. I certainly don't agree with all of his views. I fear that programs like AP, especially in smaller schools, can become status-symbols for those who are blessed with a talent for school, keeping that spotlight off of those who may need the attention more. Plus, my classroom benefits from a variety of learning levels and learning styles. (I've found that students will learn more from others than they will from me; let's keep that input as diverse as possible.) On the whole, however, Dr. Crew's book is not a doomsday criticism of teachers or administrator's or parents or even the government; it is a vision of how a great American public school system could function through the efforts of all, and I'm having a hard time putting it down.

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire."
-W.B. Yeats

Sent by Jim Standerfer | 1:45 PM | 9-8-2007