Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Good Teacher Sees the Spark

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Good Teacher Sees the Spark

Article excerpt

THE front line of education is the classroom. We forget this. An innovative teacher can convert bare walls and a poverty of materials into a rescue mission for young folk. This should be kept in mind as we review public policy proposals, which set the context for public education.

What would President Bush's new education program for America do for the classroom?

The narrowest piece of it, a research program that would take $465 million in federal money and another $150 million from private industry, could be the most promising. At the least it attests to the potential of schools to reinvent themselves, much as other institutions in society continue to evolve.

Those of us who have taught know the corrosive feeling among faculty that they are caught on a slow escalator. Private industry pays more; it looks more exciting. Community conditions of crime, drugs, guns, divorce, parentlessness, seep into the classroom. Whatever burnout means - and it may simply mean being sick of it all - it would attach to teaching. Politics can be most disillusioning at the local school committee level. Restructuring of the economy, the influx of Asian and Hispanic students, disturb the continuity of school districts and introduce uncertainty.

This inertia and apprehension must be turned around. If Mr. Bush and his new education secretary, Lamar Alexander, can generate a spirit of innovation, they get a vote here.

Their proposals for national achievement testing and use of public money for private or parochial schooling show less promise. This is a curious pairing - national standards and local choice. We want a diploma to mean something. But national testing has a coercive connotation. Under the US constitution, the states are responsible for education. Ideally, local communities take the minimum education requirements set by state legislatures and embellish them with programs of their own choice. In recent years of state budget cutbacks, however, programs have been stripped to the essentials and then some.

The purpose of the testing may be to show how schools shape up overall in America. But it will probably show what we know: that the children in privileged communities, from privileged homes, do better as a group than children from less privileged circumstances. …

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