published: July 20, 2004 in The New York Sun http://www2.nysun.com/article/124
The Stepford Teachers
After I read "Education By Smoke and Mirrors," I sadly concluded that a discussion of the problems in the New York City schools has "jumped the shark" [Andrew Wolf, Opinion, July 9, 2004]. In Region 9's "Third Grade Summer Success Academy," the teachers were given a manual that has been adapted from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project 2004.
The Balanced Literacy Program consists of a 95-minute Reading Workshop and a 55-minute Writing Workshop. The components of the program include a read-aloud, independent reading, conferences, shared reading, guided reading, writing minilessons, independent writing, and word work. The 2 1/2-hour block is so micromanaged that it includes prepared dialogue for the instruction of the children. When teachers help students choose a "just-right" nonfiction book, they are told what to say in order to model thinking: "Hmm. Here's a book titled 'My Farm.' I've already read a lot about farms, and I don't want to learn more about farms right now. This is not a just-right book for me. It's not interesting." Then, "Hmm. Here's a book called spiders. I've always been interested in spiders. Let me try reading a page. (Teacher reads page 10 fluently.) I'm used to reading a book with more words on a page and even some harder words. I think I won't learn enough. This is not a just-right book for me. It's too easy."
The teacher goes through a scripted process and then randomly distributes one nonfiction book to each student. She says, "Take a look at the book I just gave you. Decide if it is a just-right book for you by deciding if it's interesting, and checking a page to see that it's not too easy or too hard - a book you can make sense of while you're reading. Then turn and tell your partner what you were thinking. At first glance, the lessons in the summer curriculum may be impressive and seem effectively crafted for successful results. But, experienced traditional teachers would consider this learning model to be a major farce, where education has moved into the surreal world of "The Stepford Wives."
As more time passes, the articles on education seem to have deteriorated into redundant pieces "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." I shake my head in disbelief and I am glad I am retired.
MARJORIE J. LEVINE