Common Sense?

Every Friday I send out to the entire staff a TGIF email. Usually, they are tongue-in-cheek messages framed around a historical events on the day of the email. I try to bring a little humor and frivolity to our very serious profession… our days are spent attempting to do the difficult, sometimes frustrating, and often thankless job of teaching and driving students to be better learners and citizens. But one Friday, I had a very serious thought I just had to share with the building. Here is the email I scripted on Friday, January 9:

On January 9, 1776, Thomas Paine published his most prized and notable pamphlet, “Common Sense“. (I think Mr. Paine would definitely have been a blogger if he were resurrected today – self produced pamphlets then were equivalent to today’s blogs). His words, thoughts, and ideology served as a call to action for his fellow citizens. In fact, reading his manifesto today can enlighten thoughts about governance and independence.

In 1983 (as some of our esteemed veteran teachers so clearly will recall), Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education (yikes and yuck!) published “A Nation At Risk“; a scathing, brutal “report” that scared Americans and politicians into believing that the public schools were inept, soul-crushing institutions that were intellectually killing our kids and our country. Since 1983, all of us in education have been the pinatas of the public; we can do nothing right, we are hurtful, devious, and incapable of teaching what needs to be taught. Hence, we now have high stakes testing, the ruthless NCLB, mandated PD hours, countless forms, regulations, and severe government oversight. The worst part is that A Nation At Risk is now considered as important and monumental as Paine’s Common Sense was in 1776. But the report, unfortunately, was taken to heart by the most unlikely audience… teachers, educators, and administrators.

Some of you know that I am in the midst of reading Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in the U.S. by Gerald W. Bracey. I consider his book and writings to be the modern Common Sense for anyone in education. He clearly outlines the bias – and commercial industry – wrongly generated from Reagan’s touted A Nation At Risk. Bracey also lets readers know, if very clear terms, that American public education is sound, well designed, and working, and that there is a poorly informed public hearing and reading about the ills of schools while the greatness and goodness is purposefully ignored and unreported. Are schools in need tweaking? Sure, but not the massive calls of reform, redesign, or (as many would like) absolute disassembling. And, most importantly, our teachers need not be so ridiculed and disrespected; they are sought after and heralded in many countries. American teaching and style is in demand in the world.

I’ll share with you more of what I learn from him and his ilk as I dig deeper and unlearn what I was taught – that public education is nearly criminal and and in need of serious reform. And that’s a big shift for me… I am a product of what A Nation At Risk bore. And I am doing all I can to learn and intelligently what I inherently understand – that public education, teachers, and schools are good places and are working. I need look no further than DHS to see this.

So as I go to meetings and symposiums on NJ’s redesigning high school initiative, I’ll think twice and very critically about what Grant Wiggins and Bill Daggett are saying and preaching. After all, I have learned that they are an industry and not prophets or shaman. By the way, Daggett (most famous for his “schools suck and are not challenging” presentations to many educators and politicians) is being vetted by the edu-bloggers and his integrity and truthfulness is under fire and under scrutiny. Google Daggett+lies and see what you get. Lies and falsities get you every time.

If you find yourself doubting the greatness of public education, I implore you to question and dig into those think-tank papers, news reports, international studies, and proposed education reform polices that threaten to undermine our work. Often, they lack common sense.