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Letter: Get Students Engaged

To the Editor:

Diane Ravitch, education scholar and research professor at NYU, spoke recently at Dartmouth. A strong supporter of public education, Ravitch described what she considers to be the many hoaxes in the current reform movement, and argued forcefully that racism and widespread poverty are at the root of the problems in our schools. In her criticism of current reforms, however, I feel that she gave something of a free pass to school administrators and teachers.

I have taught at the high school level for 49 years and have supervised beginning teachers in a good number of public schools. For anyone interested in school reform, I suggest the following activity. (I have done it several times.)

∎  Shadow a teenage student for a full day, preferably two consecutive days; attend all of his or her classes and school appointments. No coffee breaks. All day.

∎  Clock how many minutes the teacher talks and the student sits. And focus not on the teacher; observe the other students.

∎  After each class and at the end of the day, ask the student, “Why? Why were you there? What was the point of the lesson?” (Expect a lot of blank stares.)

My guess is that you will discover what I have learned during my observations — that in many (not all) of our classrooms, despite the many committed and dedicated teachers, the students are bored out of their minds and the curriculum lacks meaning or relevance. More than boring, the experience can be numbing, both physically and mentally. And sadly, the programs that might really engage students and involve some kind of experiential learning (robotics, music, art, design, drama, sports) are being cut back or eliminated in many schools.

Those of us within schools must more critically assess ourselves and examine our curriculum and the ways in which we seek to engage young people in learning. Only by bringing about change within our curriculum and our profession will students develop the skills and attitudes and gain the knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century.

Let the conversation and the debate continue.

Jim Wilson



A Counter-Reformation On Schools

Monday, October 28, 2013

Diane Ravitch, a prominent figure in the education policy world, was in Hanover last week to talk about a movement she says is endangering public education. Ravitch is probably best known for doing a very public 180-degree turn on her stance toward the school reform movement. As an assistant secretary of education for President George H.W. Bush and as a …

Letter: Making Education Focused and Real

Thursday, October 31, 2013

To the Editor: I applaud Jim Wilson’s recent letter (“Get Students Engaged,” Oct. 29) in which he urged adults to follow a high school student around for a couple of days and witness the boredom of students and the lack of curriculum relevancy. I agree with him that no amount of top-down reform will address this problem, and, despite teachers’ …