Dear Bill Gates:
I was always sorry you gave up on your small schools project – it would be interesting to know the main reasons for that. Having spent many years being both a student and teacher in small, large and gigantic schools, I have felt that the community made possible by smaller schools is better; or, style the gigantic high schools along the lines of small community colleges so that they look & function less like prisons.
But, to the present:
1) From the letters that were written to you on this blog – the letter from the anonymous teacher in India probably could have been written by any articulate teacher from one of our inner city schools in a crime- ridden area – OR even a wealthy community. When I did my student teaching, it was in a well-heeled district of MD. I actually had an art class of 39 students in a room built for 24. It was at the end of the day, and had all of the school ‘toughs’ in it: The girls’ Hispanic motorcycle gang (that’s how they presented,
I’m not saying they really rode motorcycles) hung out in one corner, the tough guys who escaped from West Side Story were in another corner, and the rest of the rugged individualists were scattered throughout the room. I considered that I had arrived as a teacher when I actually had them all quietly drawing and focused on the task at hand. One day I asked one of the students to do a sitting pose a la “The Thinker”, and was walking around the room giving individual help while the students drew – then – Bang! – it was the slam of a door and I saw that the model had jumped out of his chair and punched out the teeth of a presumed heckler. MORAL: It is just not right to hold a teacher
responsible for everything, particularly the behavior of adolescents in the throes of changing hormones and on the cusp of adulthood.
2) It would be far better to invest in students’ and teachers’ creative gifts instead of testing them to death…our country has succeeded to a large extent on the creative atmosphere that was encouraged during most of the 20th century – we gave GIANTS to the world, and not just in the Sciences: think of Architecture – Frank Lloyd Wright; Music: Jazz; Leonard Bernstein, Lerner & Lowe, Stephen Sondheim, the Gershwins (Composers); the Wyeths, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keefe, Robert Henri, Jackson Pollack, Alexander Calder, Henry Tanner , Frederick Church, Whistler (Artists); Spielberg, Lucas, Hitchcock (film); Martha Graham, Isadora Duncan, Ballanchine (Dance), Robert Frost, Emerson, Maya Angelou, Tennessee Williams, Alice Walker, (Poetry & Literature), Broadway & everyone in Theater………….and that’s just a very short list. Creativity does not happen in a vacuum nor only in a test tube or on a computer; we all stand on the shoulders of the Teachers before us.
3) Few people mention the physical aspect of schools; it is time to make our places of learning – especially for children, – not only comfortable and uncrowded, but beautiful and thoughtful….rooms for dreaming and reflection rather than punishment and discipline. It is a national shame that we wind up incarcerating so many young people that still have promise.
[Comment posted on Valerie Strauss’s blog, The Answer Sheet, Teachers’ Letters To Bill Gates]