To save education, listen to teachers


I’m fed up with the inefficiency of the judicial system! I’m going to become a judge. I may not be a lawyer, but I’ve been a law-abiding citizen all my life. I mean, how hard could it be? I have 20 years of business experience in the TV industry. When I blow into the courtroom demanding accountability, I am going to shake things up! Who needs legal experience when you understand the bottom line?

Wait — no. I’m going to be Surgeon General. Sure, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen a million of them! You should have seen the pair of “specialists” who nearly killed my grandma. It’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and set some standards. Patients first, dammit!

No, you know what? I think I’m going to be a Rear Admiral in the Navy. I grew up right near Lake Michigan, a large body of water, and with my business experience …

OK, all of these ideas are preposterous. Common sense and business savvy are no substitute for a lifetime of training and expertise. What’s crazy, though, is that in the world of public school education, the opposite view prevails. I cannot think of another profession in which major policies are set by people with little or no experience in the field.

Look at who’s driving education policy these days: Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Wendy Kopp. None of them has ever been a teacher. Three years ago, I participated in a roundtable discussion led by one of the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) deputy secretaries. His years in the classroom? Same as everybody else high up in the DOE: zero. He had an extensive background in . . . improv theater. That was gonna be your next guess, right?

The Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, who is continually testifying that he has evidence that it doesn’t matter how many children you pack into a classroom because an “effective” teacher will just keep raising test scores, has never spent even a single day facing down a classroom of squirmy, perspiring, cranky, hormonal children.

The Broad Residency, which places people with business backgrounds in administrative positions at urban schools and state departments of education, does not require any classroom experience. In our era of rampant teacher layoffs, Teach for America’s entire raison d’etre is based on the belief that an energetic person of no experience from an elite university is better than an experienced teacher who, implicitly, is regarded as burned out and, well, less elite.

And, in case you’ve been under a rock for the last two years, the Common Core standards were developed by a consortium of 60 people that included only one teacher.

Why do teachers have so little voice in our profession? I suspect it’s a relic from pre-feminist days when teachers were young women who took low pay and unprofessional working conditions that most men with post-college degrees would find unacceptable.

The image of teachers is still suffused with a sexist disdain that regards working with children as inherently demeaning. To this day, a surprising amount of a teacher’s labor is menial: photocopying, creating filing systems, mechanical low-level grading, picking up students’ garbage, moving furniture and an absolutely mind-numbing assortment of mechanical procedures that, depending on where you work, may dictate everything from how your students enter your room to how and where you write on your whiteboard.

There is no career path. There is no incentive for receiving an advanced degree in your field. Because of the overwhelming class load, there is no time in the workday for study, reflection or collaboration with colleagues on anything other than how to handle the fallout from the most recent state-mandated change in standards.

Teachers are not victims here. We need to start demanding professional working conditions, professional pay and power in policy decisions. The real work of teaching is creative, challenging and rewarding. It is enormously complex, as complex as every student in the classroom, and teachers need to demand the respect we deserve for mastering this work.

But as a country, we need to treat teachers as people whose experience we trust and whose wisdom we seek. Real education reform starts with valuing teachers. If we want to improve the quality of our nation’s teaching, let’s listen to the seasoned experts who are actually in practice.

Ellie Herman is a teacher and life coach and a former writer for television. Read more of her thoughts at Gatsby in L.A. (gatsbyinla.wordpress.com)

This article is reprinted with permission from LA School Report (laschoolreport.com).

Israel and Saddam Share Long History


Spewing anti-Israel vitriol was one of Saddam Hussein’s
specialties. Of all the leaders in the Arab world, Saddam seemed to have the
most to say against Israel, and he seemed to say it the most often.

Now that he has been captured and faces possible trial,
experts are asking whether the Jewish State will again be his target of choice.

“It will be interesting to see if he chooses to attack Israel
this time, not with Scuds but verbally,” said Martin Kramer, a research fellow
at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center. “Historically, when he found himself up
against the wall, his usual method was to divert and deflect attention to Israel.”

After attacking Israel in the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam became
fond of saying that the Iraqi people represented 22 million missiles against Israel.

It was Saddam’s rhetoric against Israel that “was the main
glue for the Iraqis for developing national Iraqi feelings and remained so
until the very end,” said Ofra Bengio, a professor of Middle East history at Tel
Aviv University. “Hussein wanted to be able to mobilize the population around Israel
as the symbol of evil.”

In 1969, soon after Saddam was appointed Iraq’s vice
president, the government hanged 17 alleged spies, 11 of whom were Jewish, in
what is perceived as Saddam’s first message to Israel that he was a force with
which to be reckoned. The animosity continued in the 1970s, when Israel
provided covert military training and support for Iraqi Kurds in their struggle
against the regime in Baghdad.

The enmity intensified in 1981, with Israel’s air strike on Iraq’s
nuclear facility at Osirak, outside of Baghdad. Israeli officials defended the
strike in the face of worldwide condemnation, arguing that Saddam’s regime was
attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Years later, some of the same voices
that condemned Israel in 1981 said the strike had been the correct move.

Out of all the Iraqi-Israeli recriminations, Saddam was
proudest of Iraq’s firing of Scud missiles at the Jewish state. Casualties and
damage from the attacks were minimal, but the rain of missiles caused Israelis
trauma.

For the first time in the country’s history, Israel did not
strike back when attacked. Instead, the Israelis, many of them survivors of
persecution elsewhere, hid in their sealed rooms with gas masks, while the
government heeded a request by the United States — which was trying to keep
intact its alliance with the Arab world against Saddam — not to counterattack.

Saddam’s power lay in part in his image and forceful
rhetoric, said Bengio, author of “Saddam’s World.” Saddam “managed to put
Israeli society into a panic for more than a decade. There was no basis for
such hysteria, but he managed to do it,” she said.

However, a serious Iraqi military threat never materialized,
she said, because Saddam was on such bad terms with the Syrians and Jordanians
that he was unable to establish a common cause.

Making Israel the focus of his diatribes was politically
profitable for Saddam. Presenting himself as a leader of the Arab world,
Hussein could use anti-Israeli sentiment to rally Arabs behind him.

He was seen by many in the Arab street as a hero for taking
bold stands against Israel and the United States. While other Arab nations
entered into peace talks with Israel and acceded to U.S. pressure, Saddam stood
firm with his belligerent stance.

The Palestinians cheered Saddam for supporting them, even
when the Scuds he fired at Israel endangered them as well. Most recently,
Saddam enraged Israel during the current intifada by sending substantial
monetary rewards to the families of suicide bombers who perpetrated attacks
against Israelis.

There was, however, a brief period in the 1980s, under
Yitzhak Rabin’s government, when high-level contacts took place between Israel
and Iraq. Led by Moshe Shaval, an Iraqi-born Israeli Cabinet minister, the
secret talks aimed at securing minimal relations between the two countries and
permitting return visits to Iraq by Israeli Jews from Iraq. The talks collapsed
shortly after they began. Â