Location: Halstead, Kansas, United States

This is my seventh year at Halstead which is also where I live with my wife and my soon to be two year old daughter.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Forgive Me If This Meanders

Today was the first professional development day of the school year (for all you old school people this is what we used to call in-service days). It was a typical day of meetings, regulations, optimism for a good school year, and reminders of our professional duties. All together, it was not too bad. During the day, we were reminded at least twice that the staff is the most valuable part of the district. This has been said to me and my colleagues many times and I always take it as a genuine comment but at the same time I have never totally agreed with the statement. I never knew why until tonight.

It is always at this time of the year when I seriously think about my job in a conceptual abstract sense. I think of all of the things I know, along with my beliefs, opinions, and visions of what education should be and let them intermingle. During this time I usually do a lot of reading and I have been reading a lot of educational research, history, economics and political science lately. I mention this to set up what I came up with tonight.

I have recently finished Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat. It was a fine book with some interesting concepts and a few excerpts that I will use in my classes but I wanted to read some other reviews of the book. I went to one of my favorite sites, Tech Central Station and searched Friedman’s name. One interesting article pointed this out:

You can thank globalization for our dawning Age of Aquarius. As national economies weave ever deeper into the fabric of international trade, as multi-national corporations source components and manpower from diverse corners of the globe, as cooperation nets more than competition, our glorious dawn sweeps the war-like nations into the dust bin of history.

At least, that's the theory. And it's one that is enjoying a robust hearing of late. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's new book, The World is Flat, is devoted to just such a thesis. If globalization-as-national pacifier sounds familiar, it's because we've heard it before.

In 1913, the British economist Norman Angell published a widely celebrated book arguing that in an age of interconnected international trade and enmeshed national economies, war was quickly becoming an expensive anachronism. Angell reasoned that thanks to deepening economic ties among powers, war would cost the aggressors more than any hoped-for gains. States, appraising this calculus, would conclude that war was not a worthy option. Global peace ensues. The book's title was grimly ironic, The Great Illusion…Two devastating world wars and 50 years of global conflict later, it's easy to laugh at the naïve certitude of Angell's thesis, but at the time such certitude was widely and deeply held.

I found the parallel interesting and the rest of the article was even more fascinating but it did not influence me as much as a reference in another article did. I found this example to have a direct tie to my profession:

"Gourmet's editor, Ruth Reichl, when she was still the restaurant critic of The New York Times, once launched a review of Thomas Keller's Napa Valley restaurant, the French Laundry, with the observation, "The secret of the French Laundry is that Mr. Keller is the first American chef to understand that it takes more than great food and a great location to make a great restaurant: it also takes great customers."

Wow! I have been doing serious thinking of how to make my classes better and more productive and then I read that idea from Ruth Reichl. I had never thought about the need for great customers or students to make my classes better. Currently, Halstead does have great teachers and it is in a solid community. The thing that we need to realize is that the students that enter our building can have observe and appreciate the greatness of the education being offered as the coinsurers of The French Laundry. Once, I can get the students is my classes to see their potential ability and the quality the can support their potential than I think my classes will become that much better. You see, it is not a new teaching technique or piece of technology that will lead to better long run quality; it has got to be an appreciation of the potential of the minds in the classroom.

I was looking at some old history books that our school had around. These were not classical history books but really really bad ones from the late seventies and early eighties. They were so dumbed down that they barely offered any historical knowledge. These books never asked the reader to think let alone challenge any ideas. They basically seemed to say rely on the idea that students did not like school, so let’s try to make it as easy as possible to get through the necessary evil of secondary education. It does not amaze me that education hit a low point at this time. It wasn’t that students couldn’t read, or do any higher level thinking, it was as if educators decided it would be wrong to ask students to such things. So everything got watered down, students became less interested, teachers became unmotivated and education went into a malaise. To be honest, this has happened in my classes from time to time but my goal this year is to fight that idea every day.

I hope to challenge students to constantly demand a purposeful history education and accept nothing less from me. It might lead them to have to do more work but I think there possible gains are impressive. Of course my idealism might totally backfire in which case it will be time to pull out the old worksheetsJ Anyway, Have a good weekend and a great school year.


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