Response to Taking Emotions Out of Our Schools NYT 4/20/12

The writer of this column, a teacher, is trying very hard to be nice. We must first remember where “data-driven” comes from: McNamara’s bombing campaign of Hanoi and the rest of Viet-Nam. It was always about the data, not the people, about body-counts, not personal courage and dedication. That’s why we lost.

And we are losing the battle for our schools for the same reason. You cannot reason with data people, the ones I call number-crunchers; they just produce more data showing they are right. The very concept of showing how reading literature does anything except enhance a person as a human being is absurd. The administrator who asked for such “data” should be working on car parts or farm animal feed, not people, and certainly not children. How do we get stuck with these people? Simple: we need the paycheck and they have the money.

The author, Claire Needell Hollander, a teacher in Manhattan, uses a very unfortunate phrase, unfortunate in terms of promoting an intelligent view of education: “ignore their hearts”. Their hearts do not interest the people with the money and it is just such phrasing that they use to show that teachers are not to be trusted with important decisions. Teachers care so much about kids that we cannot be trusted with decisions about money, priorities, national defense and the bottom line; we’re too soft.

The results of handing our children over to the number-crunchers are clear: uneducated or undereducated children living under the pressure of test scores, demoralized teachers, angry and confused parents, and a country completely misled about education. Kids in affluent or even moderate economic circumstances do just fine on international comparisons; no one wants to admit that it is the children of poverty, of color, of immigrants, who have the trouble Hollander describes. The thinking goes: if this kid does not grasp what “the undersigned signatories agree to adhere to and fulfill the attached fiduciary obligations” means, then there is no point in having him read Steinbeck. He needs hundreds of drill sheets, noun sheets, punctuation worksheets, before we can allow him to read anything of substance. It is like the foreign language teachers who insist learners be able to repeat all the grammar rules of the language before they are permitted to read anything in it.

Mechanics are great for cars but not for people. We have handed our children over to mechanics and we need to stop treating the mechanics as if they are educators.

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