Thursday, March 26, 2009

Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones

I have to give Michael Brindley kudos for reviewing an educational book in The Nashua Telegraph that sounds very intriguing. I will be brave enough, as a Nashua teacher, to say that I will be looking forward to ordering and reading this book. The book is "Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For" by Thomas Newkirk, who is a professor at UNH.

Michael Brindley writes concerning the theme of the book:

"Education has transformed into a warehouse where students are being pushed through scripted, test-driven schools with no room for creativity or imagination from teachers.

Welcome to the machine."

I was a district curriculum meeting today and after I made a light-hearted comment I was called, also in a light-hearted way, a "troublemaker". At the conclusion of the meeting I stated that I am very curious and like to think about what I teach and what I am being asked to teach. I do enjoy being part of the conversation about education, after all it is a major part of my life. I was told that I had been asked to be on the committee because I am a "dissenter". At which point the silly labels were getting a little strange. I always thought I was a nice enough guy, but now I seem to be some type of "bad boy". If I am to be a part of the educational machine, I certainly want things explained to me and I will ask questions to try to get some meaning out of where the educational world is going. I don't think there is anything bad in that. In fact, the asking of questions and ensuing conversations should be valued and not criticized.

I look forward to reading this book, maybe I will find a kindred "dissenter" and "trouble-maker" in Thomas Newkirk. Most importantly, I hope to also find some some serious wisdom that can add to the ongoing conversations about how to best engage and educate our children.

Another review of the book "Rage against the machine, professor tells teachers" quotes Thomas Newkirk...

"‘Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones’ is for every teacher whose good, humane, and sensitive ways of teaching literacy are threatened by rigid, mechanical programs. It is for teachers who feel they are losing control of their daily work."

"What I see happening is the mechanization of teaching. Teachers are told to teach to the test and pay more attention to research results than to their classroom experience. Instead of treating teachers like professionals capable of determining what is best for the individual learning styles of their students, we have created a system in which teachers and students are caught in a machine that they can’t control. Ultimately this is counterproductive because teaching to the test is not learning and it puts kids in the humiliating situation of being in a punitive system."

In the book, Thomas Newkirk presents six ideas worth fighting for:

- Increase the instructional emphasis on writing to reflect the reality that producing text is more important than ever.

- Help students access deep knowledge and expand their thinking through time to write freely.

- Build strong connections between school learning and the real world by teaching with popular culture.

- Propel the development of reading skills by helping students discover the pleasure of reading.

- Provide the time and space for meaningful, long-lasting teaching and learning by uncluttering the curriculum.

- Spark professional growth and avoid stagnation by discussing failure and uncertainty with colleagues.

Notice the last one. Discussion is good! I don't always agree with what I hear, if I hear anything at all, about all the new directions that education is taking. I have a desire to discuss and know more. It is not "trouble-making" to ask for honest conversations. The art of good teaching and the joy of learning can easily get lost in the rush to improve test scores. Particularly if we just follow that path blindly. I look forward to reading the book after reading Michael Brindley's reviews and the editorial reviews on

In checking out the book on Amazon, I noticed another interesting book by Thomas Newkirk. I am ordering this also, so I can get free shipping! It is called "Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture". This sounds like an interesting read about an educational subject close to my heart: the way we teach boys in our elementary schools.

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