Monday, December 3, 2007


On Friday night I met my blogging friend Steve for the first time at a bar called The Mad Hatter in New York City. This is the third blogger I have shared a drink with after getting knowing them first through the written word. In person Steve, Reya and Ched were pretty much as they portrayed themselves to be on their blogs - but even more charming, fascinating and interesting. Steve and I spoke briefly about the possibility that the persona someone chooses to put forth through a series of blog posts could be altogether misleading but the essence or 'stink of them' (to paraphrase Boy George) generally shines through.

And I think this can be said for the many roles we 'play' in our daily lives. In a sociolinguistics class I took recently we discussed the fact that each of us takes on a different societal role depending on the circumstances of our surroundings. We have rules of behavior or codes of conduct that determine how we interact in a business meeting as opposed to hanging out with mom and dad. But this is only a surface level manifestation of required etiquette. The character of the person underneath all of this determines how a conversation will play out or an interaction will unfold.

We have choices. We make choices all the time.

In education the choices we make can determine if we are part of the problem or part of the solution. And what 'they' say is true. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

The sad truth of the situation is that everyone loves to blame everyone else for failures in education (and in life it seems) while crediting themselves with any successes. In my experience, it is those who point fingers who tend to be the most insecure, unmotivated and dangerous individuals around. The real person underneath is not so charming, fascinating or interesting.

Today we have a situation wherein our president blames teachers for the failure of schools even when it is his doctrines that have brought about the mad testing that keeps learning from happening. The No Child Left Behind legislation seems to be based on money. The testing companies are run by Bush cronies who are raking in the dough. And I naively believed at one point that the heart of NCLB was pure. What an idiot I was.

In Boston the average sixth grade student has only 53 days (out of 180 school days) where they are not being tested in one way or another.

In NYC upper elementary grade students have 24 full days of testing. This means that a whole unit of study is out the window. Teachers may have to put aside a study of poetry because the students are required to fill in little bubbles. Not to mention the time that is necessary to prepare the students for taking the tests. Teaching to the test instead of teaching to the child has become sadly commonplace. And the worst part is that these assessments are not given to plan instruction. They are given to label children and schools.

The blame game is not only reserved for the president. It is also evident on a smaller scale. In schools the third grade teacher blames the second grade teacher, who blames the first grade teacher, who blames the kindergarten teacher, who blames the parents, who blame the doctor, who blames the fetus, who kicks the dog. Oh, wait I got my wires crossed but you know what I mean. In this climate it is no surprise that the weakest teachers would feel threatened and point fingers before someone notices that they are not doing all they could.

Is it human nature to point fingers and shun responsibility?

I think perhaps it is. But I also think that it is the easy way out. And there are many folks who choose to work a little harder, give a little more and take a minute to ask "what can I do to make this better?"

So I remain hopeful even when I am a little disgusted.

That's all for now.


Arielle said...

What a post! Very insightful, Gary. I often think about the roles we all play in our daily lives. It's fascinating really.

On a side note, I noticed you have Christmas in the Big Woods as a great children's book on your sidebar. It IS excellent! I read it and loved it as a kid and still have it. The room that is our future baby's room (whenever that may happen :) is empty except for my computer and TONS of children's books. I have them on shelves, in boxes, you name it. But now I am babbling! Anyway, good choice!

Arielle :)

Ladron de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

I hope we have a chance to meet over a drink at some point as well. I had a nice meet-up over tea with fellow blogger Eva of the Deadbeat Club of Vermont this summer. I think my blog is a mere fraction of who I am, and it shares no or little reflection of my work, romantic, spiritual, political, family lives. However some of those creep in now and again. What's oddest is that I sometimes I think there is a netherworld where I exist as my alter ego "Junk Thief" who lives there with other alter egos. It's not that this is a deception of any kind, just a fraction of the larger picture.

marxsny said...

From a management perspective I have found that people who put effort into speaking badly of their co-workers performance only do so to hide their own incompetence.
As for NCLB, after the Silverado Savings & Loan debacle Neil Bush needed to find a new way to pay for those pricey Thai and Hong Kong hookers. Looks like he found it, on the backs of our children.

d. chedwick bryant said...

I like to think we are all polyhedrons, with many sides.

With some of my friends I can discuss current events, express my thoughts and use blue language--let my Marlon Brando side run free.

With others I must revert to my Doris Day self and just sit quietly. Doris and Marlon are more alike than different anyway. They were born the same year the same day I think--

Both feel equally comfortable, anyway.

I certainly feel that our Prez is a dangerous individual. We all laugh at things he says, but he really isn't funny at all.

"Reya and Ched were pretty" (I choose to read it that way)--and we felt so pretty that day!

kimy said...

excellent post. your advice encouraging each of us to ask of ourself what can we do, is the key!

we are our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and friends and everyone's keeper as they are...

it makes me happy to read that you are remaining hopeful, even if disgusted...

Steve said...

I think a combination of hopefulness and despair or outrage is almost a natural state of mind these days! NCLB is a nightmare, of course, but I like to think there are more people like you out there - motivated by a genuine desire to do well for their students - than people merely obsessed with testing.

Hey Ched: I'M pretty too! :)

d. chedwick bryant said...

I just noticed ...on your profile that you like A Tale of Two Cities... I love that book--You would really enjoy The Old Curiosity Shop if you haven't already read it--I love C.D. I think after Zola, he is my fave author.

Scot said...

Wow. As a kid, I think we had one full day of testing per year. And they were grueling then. ANd that's from someone who's "a good test taker" in that I never had anxiety over the tests, finished in often less than half the alotted time and always scored in the upper 90 percentile.
I wonder who's behind writing these tests and what analysis comes out of them.
From a scientific standpoint, the design of the test is every bit as important as the test itself.

WAT said...

So, what does my personality comes across like in my blog posts huh? HUH?! TELL ME NOW!

You're saying we all have multiple personality disorder right? Sometimes I feel I do. I mean, I gotta act one way at work, another with my friends, another with lovers, etc. In the end, I guess I act as real and as honestly me as possible.


Mikey T said...

makes me feel a little guilty for having left teaching.

Gary said...

Arielle - Those "Little House" books are really fantastic and I like how they have taken short stories from the chapter books to create small picture books as a way to introduce them to younger children. You might want to also stock up on the board books and plastic books (they can take those with them to the tub) for the young ones. They can be rough on books.

Gregg - I am sure we will meet and I hope it includes a viewing of VOTD with Joy and Mark. Now, I did not mean to suggest that a blog could contain all of the splendor that is YOU my friend. I am sure this is just the surface but my point was that it is at least part of you shines through...a bit anyway.

Mark - I agree with you!!!! I wish I could locate that post you sent me about how Bush hired his friends in the testing field and gave them exclusive rights as the only seller of these tests so they could rake in the money. Do you know where that is? I'd like to link to it.

Ched - Yes, that was how that sentence was supposed to read! You were/are pretty. Thanks for steering me towards Ye Old Curiosity Shop. I started reading it several years ago but the timing was not right. This happens sometimes. I started Nicholas Nickelby two times before I was ready and then I could NOT put it down. I truly love Dickens. Not only for his amazing writing but for his advocacy of the poor. He wrote three of my favorite books - but I was not a huge fan of Great Expectations. Go Figure. (Although Miss Havisham is priceless).

Kimy - Thanks for this lovely comment. I love what you wrote and how you wrote it.

Yes Steve you are pretty too!

Scot - You make a good point about the design of a test. It is all so easily misrepresented anyhow. We need to remember to be careful when it comes to stats because they can be altered to fit any situation. The bottom line is...are children learning? I think they are but all of this testing is not bringing us forward.

Wat - Oh, I have created a clear image of you in my mind but I am not sure I want to put it out there. If you really want to know my thoughts I can email you. Of course it is all positive. Your last sentence made me smile - it is very Winnie-the-Pooh in the wording.

Gary said...

Mikey - Your comment came through just as I published this one. :) Come back to teaching you are a natural with fantastic ideas and an amazing energy. You still have time though. Remember I didn't start teaching until I was 32.

Mikey T said...

Great Expectations is my favorite Dickens novel ... we'll have to revisit it so I can share why its so special with you

lettuce said...

great post Gary, i've enjoyed reading and thinking and your comments. Its pretty much the same over here. LG goes to a "performing arts" school, but they seem to do hardly any "performing" and i'm sure its because of the National Curriculum. pah.

also disgusted and struggling to be hopeful.

and I saw the History Boys a couple of weeks ago with Dad. So relevant to this subject - have you seen it?

Reya Mellicker said...

The person who lives in the White House needs a shamanic soul retrieval. That's all I can say about him.

I think the blame game itself is the problem. Some people blame others, some people blame themselves. What's the difference? I wish it were possible for people to let go of our habit of blaming, and instead invest energy into creating solutions when things aren't workiing. Who cares whose fault it is? We waste so much energy blaming that there's rarely any juice left for healing when all the finger pointing ends.

Thanks for the thought provoking post, dear Gary.

As for the stink of bloggers coming through in their blogs, hmmmm ... you're so very different in person than the guy on your blog, at least I think so. I hesitate to say publicly what I noticed was different - I'll send you an email.

I've met a lot of bloggers, after first reading their blogs. I agree that some kind of essential truth about the writers appears in their blogs, but there are always so many other facets to any human in addition to what they put out into the blog realm. Sometimes I'm surprised, sometimes not at all.

It's so interesting isn't it?


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