A Modest Proposal

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This was written by my high school English and Drama teacher in NYS. He is searching for feedback, and I would really appreciate it if you would read through and leave your comments below for me to pass on to him!

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This is my manifesto reposted. I’m in search of a few more comments. Thanks.

A Modest Proposal for Education in the New Millennium

Because I taught for many years and still have opportunities to work with young people, I would like to make a modest proposal on a way of making the high school educational experience more effective. I wouldn’t consider commenting on elementary or middle school education, because I don’t have experience in those areas. . . And, yes, I know that doesn’t stop a lot of people. Still my modest proposal will concern grades 9-12 only. I would also like to make some suggestions about funding education, salary schedules, and teacher contracts at all grade levels.
I am borrowing the term “modest proposal” from Jonathan Swift, author of “Gulliver’s Travels” and a marvelous satirist. The “Modest Proposal” that Swift penned was a method to end the starvation in Ireland due to the potato famine, which had begun in 1847. Swift’s solution? The Irish should eat their babies. Of course, he didn’t mean it. He was being satiric. No sane person accepted this proposal as an actual option. That’s the same thing I know will happen to my “modest proposal.” People will probably considerate it ridiculous or think I’m just kidding. I’m not.
I’m going to try organizing this proposal in a list. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll change it later. So. . .

1. Disband the state education departments completely. Tell the Feds to bug out, too. The only educational function of state and federal government will be the collection and fair distribution of tax money. Stop wasting money on devising “one size fits all ways” to evaluate teachers; they won’t work. Immediately stop requiring any of the ridiculous competency style tests that are now in place; that includes Regents exams. No longer suggest that students take the SAT’s or any other entrance exam. BY DOING THESE THINGS, MOST OF THE PROBLEMS FACED BY MANY DISTRICTS WILL BE IMMEDIATELY RESOLVED AND TEACHERS WILL FINALLY BE ABLE TO TRULY TEACH THEIR CHARGES.

2. Make education a local creation. States cannot innovate. They are big dinosaurs rumbling along, sticking their long necks and big noses into stuff, and knocking everything over in their paths. Innovation needs to come locally. Please, nobody say “It takes a village,” or I’ll beat you about the shoulders with a volume of “Overused and Silly Statements.” This is not an opportunity for special interest groups to try to change curricula. This isn’t about religious or political beliefs. It’s about solid education and the core curricula that exist should remain in place. I suggest that schools be divided by counties. Within a county, each school will have at least one partner school with which to interact and plan. Each community school will have an elected board of education and each county will have a board made up of one person from each school district. The functions of these boards need to be decided by the communities they represent. I would suggest that the county boards of education be in charge of establishing a countywide salary schedule. I further would suggest that county boards work together to establish a statewide salary schedule factoring in cost of living differences in various parts of the state. In other words, a teacher is still going to make more money on Long Island, but it is not going to be ridiculously out of line with the rest of the state. If $50,000 were deemed the state base starting salary, and it was determined that it cost 10% more to live on the island, then base pay at Oceanside or Great Neck would be $55,000.

3. Let’s get this one out of the way now. Eliminate tenure. Teachers love it, but it ticks the rest of the world off, and in 33 years of teaching, I never knew a teacher who needed the protection of tenure. If you’re willing to work hard, you’ll be fine. You might be under-appreciated, but you won’t lose your job. And the elimination of tenure doesn’t have to make it easy for a John Birch Society psycho, who happens to get on the school board by some freak of mis-election, to fire teachers with liberal bents. (It could be a liberal wacko, too, gunning for conservatives.) For a teacher to lose a job, he will have to be deemed incompetent by a committee of four, two teachers and two board members. Termination will only come by a unanimous vote. Two or three votes to terminate will place a teacher on a one year probation, in which he must receive assistance in improving his performance. After the year, he will be reevaluated. It goes without saying that the members of this performance committee must be absolutely committed to top notch instruction in their district, and not be swayed by any outside agendas. The only termination that can be made by administrators alone will be those on moral/criminal grounds.

4. My next suggestion goes counter to the American Way. Make schools be ONLY ABOUT ACADEMICS. Do away with interscholastic athletics. I didn’t say do away with athletics, though. Each school district needs to develop a community sports/activities program, which can begin functioning at 3:30 in the afternoon. You can still try to beat JD, but your coaching and uniforms and scheduling and officials, etc., will be provided by a community sports group. The school system will still have a role in athletics. They will maintain facilities, gyms, athletic fields, and auditoriums. Those facilities will be in use during the day for physical education. In the evening, they will be taken over by the community sports/activities union. Let me say here, that I love interscholastic sports and have always been a supporter of our school teams. I have been long troubled by the fact, though, that there are people who enter education because they want to coach more than they want to teach. And I am more troubled by the fact that the ability to coach is given great importance in hiring. “We should hire this guy because he’s got his degree, and hey, he really wants to coach!” That’s fine for a phys. ed. candidate, but in the classroom, I want that guy to be hired because he had a great student teaching evaluation, loved it, and can’t wait to work with kids Some people will claim that the removal of athletics from the high school will take away the chance for athletic scholarships. Not so. The college people can still feed on high school athletes through the community sports competitions. Where is it written that high schools should be worrying about being the feeder system for college athletics? Plus, how many people do you know who have gotten athletic scholarships? This isn’t Alabama or Texas. If a kid wants a scholarship then he or she will have a far better chance by working part-time at Wegman’s. Let’s divorce academics from organized athletic competition. I really think that there will be more opportunity for participation in this kind of arrangement. There could be a varsity Chittenango basketball and a varsity Bridgeport basketball team in this scenario, and in other sports, too. Another thing that will annoy some is the need for a “pay to play” clause. The athletic associations must be tax funded, but a part of the bill must also be picked up by the athletes’ families. A 70 year-old on a fixed income should be required to help fund academics, but his funding of athletics and other extracurricular kinds of activities should be partially underwritten by the athletic consumers.

5. Now to the activities side of the community organization. Put drama productions out of the school, too. They can be funded by the same community organization. Although I feel that plays and musicals are academic, for the creation of this education plan, let them be classified with athletics as activities unnecessary within the school day. Music, though, needs to stay as it is. Music is basic to so many fields artistic, scientific, and mathematical, that it needs to stay both as a teaching tool and a form of shared performance.

6. Now to the organization of the academic day in my “ideal” school. Let high school truly be the door to college. As freshman, students with the aid of their parents, will choose a degree path to begin. High school will offer three degree tracks: an Apprentice of Arts, an Apprentice of Science, or an Apprentice of the Practical/Mechanical/Technical. The apprentice of the arts degree will be for students seeking careers in humanities/communication/entertainment/visual arts/foreign language fields and such. The apprentice of science degree for students looking to work in mathematics, engineering, chemistry, medicine, computer science, the environment, and some business fields. The apprentice of the practical/mechanical/technical will be for students who wish to work as electricians, carpenters, plumbers, computer programmers, computer repair, and so on in the service fields that are so necessary for our society to function. The first two years will be similar in each program with writing and literature classes, biology or earth science, algebra and geometry, history and language. Study paths will be made specific depending on a students area of inerest. When one matriculates at the end of the sophomore year, the curriculum he or she faces becomes more specific. In the arts, studies in literature, history, social sciences, music and foreign language. In science, studies aimed at academic knowledge in mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, or computer studies. Those in the practical/technical/mechanical program will have the option of choosing a two year program in general contracting which will focus on construction techniques, particularly, electricity, plumbing, carpentry, and simple architecture or a program in the technical fields including drafting, computer programming, and computer repair. Much of the senior year in all fields, as I envision things, will see those students in the work force or on college campuses, interning or taking college classes for at least half of each day. I have lots of ideas for academic sequences in the arts, but they would take too long to outline. I’d be thrilled to hear the academic sequences that math and science teachers, businesspersons, builders, and contractors could devise. Creating this academic format will put to rest the silly comparisons made between American and European schools. We will no longer force our students who wish practical careers to grind through academic disciplines. This “modestly proposed” school can offer electives which can be taken across the three major academic areas. If a kid who is studying computer science wants to take acting, then he will be allowed to if his schedule can include it. Finally, changing “majors” will be allowed but might require a student to extend his or her senior year for a semester. I have dozens of thoughts on curriculum

7. You can’t make such a drastic change in one summer. Three or four years will be needed to transition from the old to the new. During that transition period new curricula will be written based on faculty/administration/community input. The transition period will also be necessary for those teachers who simply can’t deal with the changes to find new careers or to retire.

8. I have dozens more ideas and suggestions for such a program, but this proposal is getting much too long. I think it also offers many ways to save money, but I’m not going to talk about that now. Let me simply restate my desire to make school an academic place, where you study and learn, be it plumbing or particle physics. Communities will also provide places to play and train and practice for weekends and during hours that school is not open.

9. This is my modest proposal. It does not attempt to deal with elementary education or special education. Feel free to go at it! Actually, I know it could never be achieved!

 

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