File under: more money than sense

Why I should care about what a guy who went to private school (Lakeside) then dropped out of harvard thinks about public schools eludes me. Bill Gates thinks he can replace dedicated, committed passionate teachers with DVDs? That all kids are motivated and ready to learn from such a sterile medium?

Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch)
10/14/10 9:18 PM
Read this great letter to Bill Gates, by NYC teacher



What if schools/districts could deny service to kids they were unequipped for or just didn’t want to deal with? That boy who can’t stop his mouth, no matter what consequences are applied? Send him home. The girl who never follows any of the instructions and chats with her friends, dragging their performance down as well? Gone.

Now this is obviously a bad idea for all concerned. The children affected by this would be worse off. And parents have an expectation that when their otherwise healthy children reach school age, they’ll be in school.

But are there no expectations, other than an arbitrary number of birthdays, that determine eligibility for school attendance? If a child is interfering with other students’ experience — holding up the whole class for parts of the day, preventing lessons from being taught in an orderly, damaging materials — what recourse does a school or teacher have? At what point does the burden of failure point to the home and the lack of preparation/socialization there? Bearing in mind that students are only in school 6 hours a day, the same kids don’t get to school until they’re five years old. What work has been done to prepare them for

  • working with others
  • taking instruction from someone other than a parent
  • taking care of classroom materials, as opposed to easily-replaced household goods?

I’m not arguing for expulsion of the students who need school most: that would be cruel, both now and down the road. It would have consequences for the rest of their lives. But by the same token, what kind of shared responsibility can be forged between parents and teachers to help those who need it most? No expectations can be put on the students. But what of the parents’ responsibility to their children, to make them ready for the challenges ahead? Who knows them better on that first day? Who knows how they’ll react to the many new stimuli — bells, new routines, room changes, new faces and voices — better than their parents? And how do they pass along that information? I’m sure every teacher loves hearing how special little Johnny is or how Jane is surely gifted and will be moving on to a more challenging classroom/better teacher in no time.

But what practical issues of routine and ritual are shared? What kind of hours does little Johnny keep? Is he accustomed to sleeping til 9 and staying up til 10 or later? Does he eat meals or just graze through the day? How prepared is little Jane, academically: is she reading at all, writing, does she like to sing, does she know her colors or letters (the underlying question here is: how much time have her parents spent on these areas? How much will she be behind the other kids whose parents have done some of this?)?

The idea of a partnership between parents and teachers is one that doesn’t get a lot of attention. I think it should. When I realize my neighbors have declined to show up for curriculum night two years running, I wonder if they know what message that sends to the teachers and their only child? The teachers put a lot of work into their short but dense presentations, on top of a full day’s work, and with the promise of more work via the various online methods available today. We specifically went to see the teachers and get any insight we could into materials and subject matter, grading policy and other expectations. We came away pleased and prepared to work with them. Who wouldn’t want that?


Nothing like it, apparently

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quote of the day

[I]f you set out to raise children, that’s exactly what you end up with — children in adult bodies, with the judgment and mental capacity of elementary-school kids. The goal should be to raise functional adults who will be capable of taking care of themselves when you’re no longer available to do it for them.

[From Making Light: Litchfield means “Graveyard”]

Maybe this is what Warhol meant when he said “Since people are going to be living longer and getting older, they’ll just have to learn how to be babies longer.”