We've replaced accuracy and standards with compassion and emotion

Effective Tools in Education

By —— Bio and Archives--February 16, 2009

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“I don’t know, I’m waiting for you to tell me how I feel.” (Reese stops thinking and becomes the world’s happiest tool) Reese Joins the Army “Malcolm in the Middle”


On EdNews.org , a Mr. John Galt recently posted a response to my commentary, Three Good Reasons to Become a Teacher: June, July and August.

“I became a teacher because I wanted to know I would be secure in retirement. I also happened to like working with kids.”

I found his comment more than slightly disturbing because one would hope that a person would enter the teaching profession based on a desire to teach, not for the pension. As a matter of face, novice teachers who participated in a study about why educators leave the profession expressed reasons for entering the field of teaching, such as; to help young people, share their love of learning, improve society, loved their subject, liked young people and felt responsibility to the next generation. Isn’t it amazingly fortuitous for Mr. Galt that he just happened to like working with kids.

Mr. Galt recalled,

“As a high school English teacher, I hated grading 2 sets of 5 paragraph essays every week for more than 30 years. I relished my time off and have no apologies or regrets.”

In the September 13, 2006 edition of the New York Sun is an article by William Fitzhugh, one of the respected voices in the educational community and the editor of the Concord Review. Mr. Fitzhugh expresses disillusionment with the practice of teachers assigning 5 paragraph essays to high school students. According to a study commissioned by the Concord Review, 95% of teachers praised the value of research papers yet, “most teachers said they simply did not have time to assign, monitor, and read history papers, so they didn’t have their students do them.” Equally problematic, English departments focus on, “fiction, personal and creative writing or the five-paragraph essay. Nonfiction reading and serious research papers are not to be found there.”

This is problematic because according to a 2004 Business Roundtable survey, its member companies were spending “$3,090,943,194 annually on remedial writing courses for their salaried and hourly employees, in about equal numbers.” American College Testing (ACT) determined that, “49% of the high school graduates they tested were unable to read at the level of college freshman texts.” Obviously, English teachers like Galt, who assigned their high school students five paragraph essays at the expense of nonfiction reading and serious research papers, didn’t do society any favors.

Speaking of Galt, he continued,

“If teachers have such a wonderful life I wonderful compensation package and work schedule this author LEFT for another career path? Also wonder why she now remains so angry about the choice? Wonder why more people don’t become teachers? We all make career choices for a reason—to be retailers, lawyers, researchers, teachers etc. based on salary packages, working conditions, and longevity in the field.”

(Yes, this is how his comments appear in his post. Did I mention he was a High School English teacher?)

To answer his first question, a casualty of the politics inherent in the public school system. I was not content to function as a “tool” in the morass of bureaucracy and would not compromise on what I believed best for the kids in my classroom. When my contract was not renewed after I initiated phonics activities in a “4 Blocks Classroom,” I recognized the writing on the wall. After developing a highly effective method of teaching middle grade students—many of whom spoke English as a Second Language or were several grade levels behind academically—how to organize their thoughts and communicate their ideas about a piece of fiction utilizing literary elements or with expository text by using such techniques as definition, description, causation, illustration, process, classification, compare/contrast, and demonstration, my position was eliminated and my contract not renewed. The next year, the school offered Spanish instead of Literacy Skills. However, I did not leave the field of education. I found other avenues to express my passion for teaching and learning. What might seem like long hours to some fly right by because I am using my creative intellect in ways that will ultimately transform the field of education. My end goal has never changed. I continue to help people learn. I just do this on a much larger scale.

It’s ironic that the person who most recently wrote to criticize my commentary and attack me personally had the name of John Galt –if in fact this is his real name. He reveals himself to be the complete opposite of John Galt, a protagonist in the novel Atlas Shrugged. In this compelling piece of fiction, Ayn Rand “portrays a society based on oppressive bureaucratic functionaries and a culture that embraces the stifling mediocrity and egalitarianism of socialistic idealism.” John Galt is an engineer at the Twentieth Century Motor Works who, “designs a revolutionary new motor powered by ambient static electricity with the potential to change the world.” In response to the company’s owners deciding to run the factory by the collectivist maxim, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, Galt persuades employers, inventors, businessmen and industrialists to go on strike against statist laws that violate their rights.” Galt is the “metaphorical Atlas of Greek mythology, holding up the world,” and when he shrugs (withdraws his talents), he is able to stop the motor of the world. The English Teacher, John Galt, enters a profession for the pension. The fictional John Galt, by using his ingenuity has the potential to change or stop the world.

When constructing a researched analysis of any given topic, it is the goal of any good writer to present a well-organized series of arguments and evidence. To be credible, it is important to demonstrate an understanding of the relevant issues, events and facts. In a weak piece of prose, arguments are unorganized, incomplete, or completely lacking in evidence. Lack of credibility is demonstrated when supporting statements offer vague, irrelevant information or no information at all. A patronizing tone or one that emits disrespect will not score any points in a debate.

It’s interesting to read the readers’ responses to my commentary at Ed News. Most would not meet expectations if held to the standards of debate. What Mr. Galt has illustrated is that he is thinking emotionally and not cerebrally. And when dealing with the tasks of teaching critical thinking skills, emotion can’t be the catalyst for judgment. This emotion in judgment is becoming more prevalent in our society as a whole and has aided and abetted a dumbing down of America. We’ve replaced accuracy and standards with compassion and emotion and it has not served our children well. But then again, it’s open to debate whether Mr. Galt would be thinking about that during June, July and August.


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Nancy Salvato -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Nancy Salvato is the President of Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country.

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