Friday, June 02, 2006

In the Trenches

My copy of Dennis Fermoyle's book In the Trenches: A Teacher's Defense of Public Education arrived the other day. I began reading the book while on a date to Starbucks with my 7 week old daughter, Tate.

So far, through chapter four of eight, I've found myself enjoying the experienced stories of a veteran educator. Though my agreement with him on so many areas, despite being so green, will only enhance the already present image that I am part of the "good ol' boys club."

The first point that I took notice of, enough to underline in the text, resulted from a recent conversation I had with a teacher at my school. We had been discussing whether or not society ought to make college education compulsory like the K-12. We had admitted that a college education has, in essence, become the equivalent of the high school diploma of 20-30 years ago in terms of the opportunity it presented to the individual. Fermoyle writes, "If college students don't have enough motivation, they'll end up dropping out, and nobody minds. If a high school student isn't motivated and drops out, it's considered a failure on the school's part"(10-11).

I don't think it is in the best interest of a 15 year old to decide education is not for them. But I still do struggle with the idea that writing a five paragraph persuasive essay is all that important to someone who does not have the desire for further education. If Jack or Jill want to become an auto mechanic, the five paragraph essay doesn't help them. Of course they won't be motivated to write one. But if our schools had trade classes, they could begin the process of becoming a top-notch auto mechanic. And, if instead of focusing only on the trade aspect, the student was learning business models, those students could own their own shop instead of working for someone else. My guess is that if done right, they could make more than us as teachers.

My colleague told me of a trade class that focused on house construction. Every year one house would be built by theses students. At the end of the year, the house would be sold, paying for the cost of having such a class. How valuable is that? For those students, immeasurably. You see, my guess is that if those students were interested in and motivated for that class, they would see the value of taking Geometry.

So maybe it is the failure of the school when students drop out. But not in the way that Dennis implies. Maybe our schools are too focused on motivating students to pass our state exams, that to them is meaningless--despite our enthusiasm and dedication to it.

Intersting, I didn't have that end in mind as I wrote. Funny, isn't it, how reading often makes us think, and surprises us where it leads us to.

At this point, I will officially recommend In the Trenches because of the personal stories and clear, honest love for our profession that Dennis shows.


At 6:25 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. McNamar, I am truly honored to have my book featured in a post along with your beautiful new daughter. Congratulations, and thank you!

At 6:06 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excuse me for a moment while I
type "aaaaahhh, what a little darling!!!!"

At 9:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well-said. I think you've about summarized my conflicting sentiments on the matter.

And yet, I'm supposed to be an English teacher. At the very least I want them to be able to read on a deeper level and make themselves understood.

Maybe instead of a 5-paragraph essay, I should have them writing letters of complaint and other things any citizen could use...


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