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February 2013

January 2013

My Thoughts on School Reform

An old belief is now reborn: if you don't have a degree in that subject, then you shouldn't teach that subject. Schools and districts are once again recognizing the importance of subject area knowledge. Of course, this would eliminate a lot of Teach for America candidates with business degrees, and it would stop someone with a communications degree from teaching high school English. But in my opinion, and from what I have witnessed lately, it's a rule worth enforcing.

In Texas, if you can pass the subject area test, then you are allowed to certify for that subject. The tests are not very difficult; I passed all four of mine on the first attempt. So, if I tried to certify to teach math, even though I have no subject area knowledge in that subject, and I miraculously passed the test, then I could become certified. No one analyzes my transcript for subject area background, and  I could immediately start calling myself a math teacher. This is a very faulty system because I should have been required to complete a number of core classes before standing up before students of my own. I should have a very high grade average in the subject I am teaching. 

In urban schools we are inundated with teachers without subject area knowledge. Many of these teachers have never belonged to a formal education program at the university level. Some of them have only had five weeks of serious training via Teach for America. Many others complete their alternative certification through a variety of sources, and almost none of these teachers belong to a professional organization in their teaching field. Those belonging in Kappa Delta Pi, or similar honor society, are likely less than one-percent.

In the very lucrative, for profit, arena of school reform, I suggest a fabulous way to save money: require teachers to know their subject, and carry this proof in their college transcript.

Writing about a Book

Writing a book has always been my dream, and recently I shared this idea with a scholarly friend that knows the story of my life. My friend sat and thought a bit, and then she remarked, "Well, for a book you need characters. Have you got any ideas? You need a well planned plot, and a worthy protagonist. What are you thinking about?" I had to laugh when she started asking about characters, because I have plenty of them. Some have created a constant background noise throughout my life; flat, not well-developed, and in my story, cowardly followers sipping from the same toxic well. Of course, these followers have plenty of dialogue, lots of hysterical ideas, and can move the plot forward just by the sheer force of their insipid arrogance. In a good play, you would see them whispering in ears, and tip-toeing about the stage tripping over their own self righteous, forked tongues, walking a dog, maybe catching a cab. Cowards are in abundance.

My scholar reached across the table for her cheap little eyeglasses, and then she wanted to know more about my supporting roles, and main character.

"The supporting roles are easy," I told her. "My main character is very independent, and this is why she is hated." "Yes," she snapped, "but even supporting characters are not always supportive of the main character. What a ridiculous conversation we are having!"

It is a "ridiculous" conversation, but one I must have, because my life is no longer about me, and neither is my book. Instead, my story should focus on the faults of the flat character: cowardice, ignorance, jealousy, and selfishness. Instead of allowing them to languish around in the background of my story, I should bring them to the light. I should show them to my world, and I should reveal their flaws, and their failure to create a thesis for their life, their inability to understand harmony, rhythm, and the techniques needed to manipulate an empty page. Never mind that flat characters are technically lacking traits both positive and negative, my composition will endeavor to redefine the 'flat' character, and give it dimensions. I shall move one of these cowards up to center stage, and give it a name.

But, that's a bad idea, because I would spend all of my time trying to humanize a character not worth knowing. My story would no longer be about the best of life, but about the filth, and suddenly I understand why this painful story is so hard to tell. My friend and I are back to the beginning. She orders a drink, and I stare out the window…thinking.

"You need a metaphor. Your book must stand for some principle. What is your principle? What symbol will you use?" I laughed again, as I thought of the symbols in my life: the winding white line along the roadway, the quill, a signature dog, and the number seven. None of my symbols were worth a dime, unless I equated a dog turd with the characters in my life; then, maybe, I could go places. "I am dry on symbols," I replied fretfully, as the image of a dog turd floated around in my brain. "I simply have nothing good to say. I see no way to win with so many flat characters."

But, I have to.