The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto (Intro + Hour 1 of 5)

Watch on YouTube …

Interesting….. the longer we report on the public school system, the more we tend to agree with Gatto. Read his book, “Weapons of Mass Instruction” and let your mind be opened.

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8 Responses to The Ultimate History Lesson: A Weekend with John Taylor Gatto (Intro + Hour 1 of 5)

  1. Anon says:

    I found the book more “digestible” and very compelling. The You Tube was hard to watch — I think he had a stroke or some other health problem and that may have impacted the recording. Keep in mind that his experience and much of his research is about NYC but it could very easily be about DCSS.

  2. Achelous says:

    Unbelievable. Nice to know that, at the end of constantly working and pouring effort into helping young people open their eyes to the real world around them, of judging myself far more harshly than I ever judge them, of working and toiling into knowledge areas far removed from my chosen subject to help provide what I feel is much needed context, I am merely a robot of an oppressive regime. What a joke.

    IMHO, and I know it will be discounted as all of my posts have been, if there is a teacher that cannot back up the reason for what they do, or their methods for doing it, they should be fired immediately. There are a great many potential teachers out there who are willing to forego the “do what I say and don’t ask questions” approach that that those horrible sacks of useless flesh populating the classrooms mentioned in this piece could be replaced in a day.

    How sad, that this is how many of the parents that read this blog see classroom education. If only you could see those of us that do not fit this horrible mold for what we are, and for what we really do. I think that educators are the most misunderstood caste of people in this country. Many of you have no clue what goes into a quality education in the public setting, and praise our efforts and lack of remuneration while calling us mindless drones the minute our backs are turned. How sad that piece was for you and for us.

  3. We’re sorry you saw it that way, Achelous. We’re also sorry that you feel as though your posts have been discounted here. We disagree, and can assure you that your opinion counts. We can also assure you that we have never deleted one of your comments.

    That said, we see Gatto’s opinions differently. Instead of seeing it as an attack on teachers personally, we see Gatto pointing out the huge flaws in the system and in the bureaucracy known as public schools. His point is basically that the public schools mission has become to create good little workers and citizens. Teach them just enough to survive, but not enough to really think for themselves and succeed. Thus the shallow curricula and the bizarre level of testing. He is very much against the outcomes-based education system and very much for creative, individually-styled learning. Most teachers try their very best to teach the latter, however, the systems that are in place force teachers to adhere to outcomes and test-based learning. Really, how insulting is it for our school administration to hand teachers a script to read or ask them to play a recording of book at story time rather than read it out loud? Teachers creativity has been and continues to be squelched and thus, our students are less and less able to be creative. The tests encourage students to simply regurgitate the random facts and dates they are taught as if playing Trivial Pursuit.

    The arts have suffered the most. Thankfully, most high schools in DeKalb still have wonderful band and music programs, but our elementary schools are lacking a bit. Will the high schools soon follow – due to more ‘budget cuts’? Cuts we now see may actually occur due to too much administrative bloat along with administrative incompetence and (alleged) fraud?

    What happens to our country if creative thinking goes out the window? Will anything new get invented? Will diseases be cured? Gatto tells us that in his meetings with the Chinese education leaders, they expressed concern that they are not teaching creativity and will never be able to invent the gadgets they produce. They recognize the missing link, yet they don’t know how to fix it. Americans have always been world leaders of creativity. Now that we are test-competitors, we are leaving creativity behind as we try to “beat” the Chinese, Indians, etc on test scores. Why? Gatto says, Follow the money. Look at the world order. Think for yourselves.

    Personally, I would take a teacher like you any day for my child. As long as you can write or choose your own curriculum, are given the time and tools to teach in depth and the freedom to evaluate your students’ learning yourself. Standardized tests have a place. But it should be a much, much smaller place than they currently hold. It’s the ‘system’ that does not value teachers. Parents have always valued good teachers and can recognize them very quickly. But good teachers are leaving the profession as they burn out and are replaced with people willing to play by the new rules – or even cheat the rules as the AJC has recently reported as a national problem.

    As an example, read this essay by a Florida teacher on her recent new state-mandated evaluation:

    We’re not against good teachers whatsoever. In fact, by demanding more flexible ‘systems’ and less administrative management, we are placing more of our trust directly in the hands of teachers. We’d also like to see our money go directly to those teachers and their classrooms. That’s what the DSW fight has been all about. Believe us. And thanks for writing so that we could clear the air.

  4. We are reposting the above-mentioned article as it requires an account to log on at EdWeek and we really want you all to read it. (We strongly encourage our readers to create an account at EdWeek and subscribe to their emails – it’s FREE and they publish an enormous amount of relevant information.)

    Downgraded by Evaluation Reforms
    By Elizabeth Randall

    My reaction to my annual teacher’s evaluation this year was visceral, wrenching, and totally unexpected. I burst into tears. It surprised me as much as it surprised my assistant principal.

    Let me be clear: These were not tears of joy. I received an “effective” rating as opposed to “highly effective,” which would have qualified me for the fantasy of merit pay. (So, too, would a rating of “highly effective plus” but our administration had informed us at the beginning of the year that no one would get that.) I did not get “needs improvement/developing,” or “unsatisfactory,” which are the equivalent of circles of hell in the current education environment.

    I was merely put in purgatory. Thus the tears. They wouldn’t stop. It was embarrassing.

    “It’s a good evaluation,” my AP insisted.

    More accurately, it was the best evaluation she could muster given our district’s new evaluation methodology, crafted to meet Florida legislative mandates. I’m not criticizing the AP personally; in her place, I would have been just as flummoxed. But substantively speaking, it is the worst evaluation I’ve ever received, and I am no slouch when it comes to the evaluative experience on either end of the desk. I was a corporate trainer and a manager for the private sector for 20 years. I’ve taught public school for a total of seven years, the last four at the school where I am now considered just “effective.”

    When I applied for a job at the high school where I now work, I thought teaching adolescents would be a meaningful way to close out my career. My first year back, I felt as though I’d been clobbered over the head every single day; I was so tired rising before dawn, managing three lesson preparations, and floating through the halls with a cart and no classroom of my own. I relied heavily on veteran teachers who were generous and encouraging. Gradually, I came into my own style and method of teaching. I found that I loved the students, and I loved teaching.

    This was a high-maintenance love, entailing 10- to 12-hour days, five or six days a week, and more when I had evenings of ESOL training, an open house, parent conferences, a School Advisory Council meeting, or a student activity to chaperone. I also funneled at least $1,000 of my paltry salary into my classes for needed supplies. I received outstanding evaluations that first year, the next, the next, and the next. There was no favoritism or buddy system to account for these strong results; a different administrator wrote each evaluation. My summers were filled with educational seminars to improve my skills and knowledge.

    ‘A Flawed System’
    But this year, my school’s administration told all teachers that, due to the legislative changes, the latest evaluation was considered a “reset” of all previous years, implying that past evaluations were a mistake and at least outdated. Talk about adding insult to injury.

    To be fair, I have heard through the grapevine that a few teachers at my school did receive “highly effective” ratings this year. One is retiring. The other, who has since moved to a different school, often showed up halfway through first period to unlock the door for her six or seven students. The rest may have deserved their highly effective ratings, but I doubt it was based solely on their skills. The worst rumor I heard is that a 30-year plus veteran teacher with National Board certification and a doctorate got a “needs improvement” because two girls in the back of the room were talking while she was delivering her lesson.

    To me, such examples are evidence of a flawed system. To evaluate teachers under the new requirements, all of the schools in our district found the money to purchase iPads equipped with iObservation software for administrators to use for documenting their “weekly” observations of teachers. (In my case, that amounted to a little more than an hour all year.) In addition, all of the schools are training veteran teachers how to teach from a book by education researcher Robert J. Marzano titled The Art and Science of Teaching. The new evaluation system, based on this book and implemented by the new software on the new iPads, consists of screens and screens of teaching strategies a teacher has to demonstrate during an evaluation (including the use of technology, which my school doesn’t even have the financial resources to provide—for students, that is). The book is subtitled “A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction” when, in my view, it reduces teaching to a series of artificial gestures.

    Marzano endorses plainly evident strategies for effective teaching such as identifying similarities and differences in content, assigning meaningful homework, collaborating with colleagues, and rephrasing questions to enable students to “see the light.” He’s also big on charts, graphs, and scales. Good teachers employ all of Marzano’s methods, of course. The trouble is that, when prescribed as a set regimen—and especially when used as the basis for an evaluation system checklist—they take the organic, fluid, give and take between teacher and student and reduce it to a series of steps that have to be ticked off a chart. My district administrators mark a teacher “needs improvement” if she does not provide evidence of 16 specific strategies during a 40-minute observation of an hour and 40-minute block of instruction. And she can be marked merely “effective” even if she does use all the strategies because the evaluation criteria are so hard to track and to record.

    Creating Pedagogical Confusion
    For the sake of fairness and accuracy, wouldn’t collaboration about the evaluative instrument between administration and faculty during pre-planning make more sense? In our case, teachers had little to no input whatsoever. It was as though we were recalcitrant students and the administration was about to deliver the medicine for our own good. This is not the way professional organizations behave. More importantly, it is not the way to effect reform or improvement. Most of the teachers at my school see the new evaluation method the way a victim would regard a sniper: As a way to pick them off one by one.

    My emotional outburst at the end of my evaluation stemmed largely from a sense of degradation. My hope for a raise was gone. In addition, the school had essentially rescinded its appreciation of my hard work and earlier encouragement of my efforts. This has the opposite effect of motivation.

    As a teacher, I rate this new evaluative process, which I know is similar to others being implemented elsewhere around the country, as “unsatisfactory.” Beyond its effect on teachers’ morale, it has created professional and pedagogical confusion. A special education teacher from a neighboring district whom I recently met expressed this best. “I want to do what’s best for the kids,” she said. “But I don’t even know what that is anymore.”

    The legislature, the districts, and the schools clearly have no idea, either. But that hasn’t stopped them from rating the bulk of dedicated Florida teachers “effective” under the new evaluation system. Effective is a teacher who gets up in the morning, does the bare minimum and leaves. I don’t know many teachers like that. However, I predict that they’re all the public school system will have left when the smoke and mirrors go away.

    Elizabeth Randall is an high school English teacher in Florida. A widely published writer, she is the author of The Floating Teacher: A Guide to Surviving and Thriving.

  5. So Done says:

    I strongly sympathize with Ms. Randall’s experience. But the issue she raises is bigger than education, as important as that is. In essentially all aspects of productive service work, the definition of “quality” is being reduced to checklists, “quantifiable metrics,” and oversight by supervisors far removed from the real work being performed. In a sense, the desire to have “objective” replicable measures of performance is appealing: on the surface it reduces the possibility of favoritism and bias, and provides an outcome that can be tracked over time to show “improvement.” But what all the pushers of these surrogate measures of quality fail to realize is that in service-type work, especially work that involves creativity and human connectedness, we cannot itemize the experience. These types of work are classic examples of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The experience of creativity and human interaction are emergent properties which we simply cannot reduce to a form of linear math. But the managers place great stake in this reductionism, and people whose sense of their own value depends on having the power to judge and oversee the work of others find these reductive methods to be tremendous tools by which to assert their station. This decay of real quality appreciation is fed, moreover, by the digital world, in which spreadsheets and statistical analyses require quantitative data in order to be of use. Qualitative descriptions of quality simply do not compute. Ultimately, this breakdown in the appreciation of true quality stems from the loss of trust in the service professions. No longer are the “mere opinions” of experienced and respected senior members within a profession considered a trustworthy assessment of the quality of someone’s work. Such assessments must be objective and replicable, regardless of the validity with which they measure that which they purport to evaluate. And so we have the situation we face today in so many service professions– where individuality and creativity are stifled, bureaucracy multiplied several fold, and administrative costs explode beyond all reason – all so they the supervisory class can “prove” that everything is being done just the way it “should.”

  6. Anonmom says:

    Vouchers … competition;.. let the market drive the “quality” evaluation and get the government out of the monopoly of education for the billions of dollars they are receiving for the job.

  7. momfromhe11 says:

    Achelous –
    I have not viewed the video – I am responding only to your post. I have worked in the classroom and I have seen brilliant teachers at work. I have seen many different approaches, from pretty much “old school” – including penmanship lessons on fourth grade – to extremely imaginative project-based lessons, and the teachers were both effective and productive. To be there was to see transformations take place. My own children have been fortunate to have had many wonderful teachers.

    I also believe there are teachers in the schools who have bought into the “do what I say and don’t ask questions” approach, either because they have given up what inspiration they had or they never should have gone into teaching to begin with.

    If brilliant teachers were recognized and given permission to teach as they want, we would be better off. If good teachers were encouraged to follow their instincts and given the time and resources to develop their talents we would be better off. If beginning teachers were given sufficient support to become good or sufficient support to leave teaching if they cannot become good teachers, we would be better off. And if we had competent administrators who could tell the difference between someone who should be teaching and someone who shouldn’t and who had he power to move the “shouldn’ts” out. we would be better off.

  8. dekalbschoolwatch says:

    Excellent commentary, So Done.

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