Standards for Hardscrabble Kids
Note: Just coming from my weekly mentoring meeting with a fifth grade student, I think back to Jack, a student I've written about many times. Here's what I wrote for the Sunday edition of the city newspaper, March 13, 1994. I was a fully licensed city schoolteacher recently named the district's Teacher of the Year assigned to a new alternative school because after a two-week trial I refused to work on the team of the newly hired assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum who wanted me to keep the pencils sharpened for incessant standardized testing.
Please note the date: 1994. This fight against corporate-political standards has been long and hard, and we teachers have been doing it without the help of our unions or our professional organizations. I'd say we're losing but I do mentor in a school that lets hardscrabble kids find some relief for one hour a week.
by Susan Ohanian
Recently I watched the U.S. Senate embrace President Clinton's "Goals 2000" education bill. Those Washington politicos grandly pronounced that by the year 2000 all school will be free of drugs and violence, all children will start school ready to learn, all children will read the classics; all children will make good moral choices.
Does anybody else see anything just a bit whacko about our Washington politicians making pronouncements about intellectual and ethical standards?
Talk is cheap. If our legislators want to know about school standards,the y should rub up against a 15-year-old roughneck I'll call Jack. Jack was one of 40 students attending an alternative high school in Troy, New York, because the courts had insisted, "Go to school or go to jail." The regular high school did not want these students in their halls and had contracted with BOCES to establish a downtown storefront school in an abandoned bank. Our students came from every social and ethnic group. Some parents were on welfare; others taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Our school had standards. We operated on three rules: no drugs, no swearing, and read for half an hour in a non-school book every day. When students wouldn't pick up a book, I started going through three newspapers we subscribed to each day (the city paper, the New York Times, and the New York Daily News) each day, looking for sensational, weird, and intriguing items to tempt the most reluctant reader into a printed page.
Jack caught on to my technique and suggested, "Why don't you just bring in the Enquirer or Star? We'd read that and it would Schools Matter: Standards for Hardscrabble Kids: