Monday, October 01, 2007

Schools for a Scoundrel

In this morning's NY post the Manhattan Institute's Sol Stern reviews the latest missive from the over-rated Jonathan Kozol-someone who has been writing the same book on America's schools for the past three decades. As Stern points out; "Let me explain: According to his publisher, every Kozol book is a "courageous expose" of racism in America's inner-city public schools, and the PR campaign always paints the author suffering physically alongside the families and children he writes about."

There is no one who has been as egregiously wrong as Kozol about the failures of our schools. And there has been no one who has been as famously rewarded for his misconceptions-precisely because these misconceptions fit so comfortably into a Weltanschauung that our Ed schools dole out like pablum to the uninitiated. It's always about racism and an uncaring political culture, and never about a culture of poverty that sends unprepared and unmotivated kids into the worst schools.

What's always strange is how recent immigrants from certain cultures manage to succeed in the very same schools that others can't seem to navigate. Not to mention the fact that there is often, at least in the middle schools, a culture of disruptive violence that prevents the learning process for those who are motivated.

Now, however, Kozol is campaigning against the No Child Left Behind Act, legislation that is certainly not without flaws. Kozol's complaint addresses the horror of "teaching to the test," something that "creates unbearable pressures in urban classrooms, driving young teachers out of the profession." What an absolute crock!

First of all, as Stern points out, Kozol offers nothing but his own anecdotal evidence for this assertion. Secondly, there has been much research on the teacher drop out rate in the first five years-and the "unbearable pressure" of test teaching isn't even on the list of reasons for early teacher departure. Kozol feels that the testing atmosphere dulls the idealism of our young teachers: "You see, the law mandates annual reading and math tests - which results in a "miserable drill-and-kill curriculum of robotic 'teaching to the test' " - and idealistic, well-educated young teachers just can't take it."

No Jonathan that ain't it. Most of the young teachers who leave do so because they were unprepared for the reality of the urban classroom-and their idealism, when challenged in this way, shrivels and dies. As someone who was forced into such a classroom many years ago, I can say that there was little in the Ed School preparation that prepared me for what I confronted during these five years-disruptive students and disinterested parents who saw the school as an alien environment.

What's really scary here, is that it appears that Kozol is the "expert" advisor that the Ed Schools are leaning on to prepare young teachers. As Stern points out, "And that's a pretty good explanation for why new teachers are left clueless about what they are about to face in the urban classroom."