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I'm author of The Snipesville Chronicles. I'm also a published academic historian, but don't hold that against me.Oh, and I'm a Brit. I just happen to live in Georgia.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My E-Mail To President-Elect Obama

..or, more accurately, to his campaign staff, sent via Change.gov. I'm expecting my appointment as Secretary of Education any day now.

Merit pay is an extraordinarily bad idea, and the idea stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the teaching profession. I resigned this year from a tenured job in Georgia as a university historian of early America, after 12 years of misery arising from the toxic atmosphere cultivated in large part by merit pay. It rewards cronyism and cynical tactics (such as teaching to tests, no matter how inane), while demoralizing the very creative people we must attract to teaching.
I have talked to many, many K-12 teachers (including as a presenter at the Georgia Council for Social Studies last month), and I have come away convinced that policymakers won't make a difference until they understand some hard truths:
1. Policies like merit pay often seem to be designed around a mythical figure akin to Reagan's welfare queen: Someone who might resemble the Ben Stein character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, who bored his students with the monotone recitation of arcane facts.
But most teachers are women, and they don't go into the profession for the money. They consistently spend their own cash on their job, and otherwise go above and beyond, many of them doing the thankless but crucial work of teaching elementary school, where a love of learning must be cultivated if we are to change anything They are experienced, which matters, and they are rightly pissed off at being blamed for the failures of society, families, idiot administrators and senseless curriculum.
2. Policymakers either don't examine or fail to understand curriculum. Have any of you actually looked at the state curricula in subjects like social studies? Everywhere, it favors the pursuit of trivia that only the die-hard old boys favor--it certainly bears no resemblance to the interests and emphases of professional historians, and it doesn't work in elementary school. Teachers are leaving because--heads up--teaching this nonsense to bored kids for the sole purpose of passing a meaningless test is soul-destroying.
3. Policymakers consult idiot administrators, college of education people, and even union heads. They rarely talk with teachers in the trenches, or with the college faculty who have to somehow try to teach the demoralized and apathetic graduates of our public schools.

1 comment:

Katie said...

Keep sending the new administration those letters... unfortunately, the increasing role of government and decreasing role of parents in the lives of children is destroying their capacity to both think and to attain knowledge.
We need to look back to how children were educated fifty or more years ago to remember the way it must be done in order to be successful. One of THE greatest books I've read on education is "A Thomas Jefferson Education." Learning should NEVER be boring to our children. If you've not read this, put it at the top of your list.
I've had children in both private and public school. I finally brought them home and have since discovered a curriculum designed around the classical model of education called "Classical Conversations.' If our schools could change the way they think about education, our students might once again be competitive with students around the world. I don't have time to wait for government to change...but if teachers and others like yourself will make enough 'noise' perhaps the opportunity for genuine learning will be available for future generations!