The Education of Norfolk, Mass.

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Joined: 14 Dec 2004
Posts: 206
Location: Virginia, USA

PostPosted: Tue Aug 01, 2006 3:04 pm
PostPost subject: The Education of Norfolk, Mass.
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An Open Letter to the Citizens of Norfolk, Mass.

Like a lot of people in education, I read about Eric Matez in Edutopia magazine.

If he’s off your mental radar already, Eric is the teacher who was fired by the public school system. You know, we read about all kinds of people getting singled out and punished by school systems. We are so used to that sort of news now. It’s as common as burglaries or traffic accidents.

In Va. we had cookie snatchers thrown off sports teams and out of school. Then there was the girl—a high school senior who conducted (what gall!!) her personal survey of her school's grading practices. How about the widely publicized kid suspended for wearing a Pepsi T-shirt when a visitor from Coke came to the school to present a check?

Eric Matez is a veteran teacher of 20 years. When asked to change his teaching methods, some parents supported him with a petition to the superintendent. When the superintendent told Eric not to speak any further to the public, Eric decided that he could not agree to a requirement that denied him freedom to speak to whomever he wanted. After all, we can’t have people in the system speaking out, speaking their minds, standing up for what they believe. What kind of effect would that have on young people? So the system had to make an example of him.

Doesn’t it seem to you that we are drifting into 1984, a place in time when all of our cherished values and rights—like freedom of speech and intellectual freedom—are caving in to the kind of peer pressure and fear we associate with the McCarthy Era?

I mean do most people in Norfolk really believe that Eric Matez deserved to lose his job? Or do they secretly believe that firing this teacher was wrong? If the belief is held secretly and silently, then that, perhaps, is even a greater wrong than what the system thinks it can do to teachers like Eric.

In instances of organized bullying, whether it is Nazi Germany or Joseph McCarthy, all that’s needed is silence on the part of the population.

I am asking these questions and re-visiting an issue that many people probably thought was gone and forgotten because the issue matters deeply to me—as it should matter to everyone. You see, I am a scientist and a self-made innovator in Education. I show teachers how to use playful communication—and how important play is to the learning process. Teachers like Eric love using my methods, and, by the way, many of my ideas come from other teachers. But in this climate, more and more teachers are apt to get a call from the school principle ‘to just teach’ and forget about the sugar coating.

If you want to know, the people who have actively supported and respected my work are brain scientists who are promoting applied brain science—the science of learning—in hopes that schools all over the world will begin to base teaching on our growing knowledge of the brain.

The success of my work depends on teachers like Eric Matez who instinctively look for models, methodologies, and strategies for reaching not just the easiest kids to work with but the ones who challenge him. To tell you the truth, I deeply resent that big companies can make money off of testing and junk food, while a project like mine that promotes teacher and student communication and creativity is shut out.

As a rule, school systems don’t want creative teachers—teachers who are willing to explore with the kids. They want teachers to be as compliant and well-behaved, just like the kids. Don’t make waves. Don’t question authority. Don’t ask questions that make us uncomfortable. Don’t “talk to the public.” The superintendent told Eric not to talk to people. Can you imagine? What are the implications of such an order coming from a public school official in a so-called free society?

Our schools are supposed to prepare students to question, to be vigilant, to ask tough questions as future citizens. How can we speak about patriotism and loyalty to America and at the same time accept such censorship and abuse of power in our learning culture in the name of academics and school management?

The firing of Eric Matez should remind us that, Socrates, one of the great thinkers of ancient Greece—where democracy was born—was sentenced to death for corrupting the minds of the young. It is one of the greatest lessons in the Western canon. You would think that citizens of the great state of Massachusetts would have protested Mr. Matez’s firing, would have at least demonstrated on his behalf, to confront those who think they are within the law to fire him.

Where was everybody? What were they thinking? Where was the backbone to act and speak out? Where were citizens exercising their right to assembly and free speech? What good are constitutional protections if even a minority chooses not to step forward? Are we truly a nation of sheep? Outrage unexpressed is nothing but silence and tacit acceptance.

Even without the shadow of censure and punishment, teachers are by nature not very adventurous. Few are like Mr. Matez. Most just do their job. Under these circumstances, these days it is actually easier for teachers to just ‘do the job’ than to make an effort to do an excellent job. So when a teacher is fired for going the extra mile, the system is creating a cultural wasteland. It intentionally cuts the buds off the flower. So we are growing schools in which everybody does the same, learns the same, teaches the same, and the individual is subordinated to the norm. Can you believe that this is America? Is this what we want for our children? Is this what we want in our schools? Is this what we do to our best teachers?

I’ve got my hand up. Here in the 3rd row. I’d love some answers to these questions.
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Joined: 27 Nov 2005
Posts: 23
Location: India

PostPosted: Sun Aug 13, 2006 2:09 pm
PostPost subject:
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Quite true. Its difficult to say who is to blame. The parents who do not wish anything more than the ordinary for their children and do not mind paying any amount of money to obtain that...or teachers who do not wish to go that extra mile. This on one hand and on the other there are teachers who make an all out effort to give children what they need best but are not recognised for their efforts. I appreciate those who have broken out of these shackles.
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Joined: 04 Apr 2007
Posts: 8
Location: San Bernardino, CA 92404

PostPosted: Tue Apr 10, 2007 11:55 am
PostPost subject: A Mutant Speaks About the "system"!
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I have called myself a Mutant because I spent my life in education (50 years) fighting the "system" and asking it constantly 'Why are we doing this when it isn't working?" I was able to survive because I always took the most problem kids, took combination classes (even a 3,4,5,6 one) so I made life easier for the principal and staff.
At age 73 I was fired from teaching in a large university because ONE of 55 students complained about a lesson. I was trying to get my Intern teachers to realize that their sexual, religious, and political beliefs impacted their students and they needed to understand and admit (at least to themselves) what they believed. Because they didn't they were either nonresponsive to their students' needs or were responding in ways that were harmful. Most wrote the university president to get me reinstated, but even though I received an apology and several heads rolled, I wasn't rehired. Incidentally, I never had a hearing or had a chance to explain what I was attempting. I discovered that this happens yearly to thousands of teachers.
In TEACHER UNDER a MICROSCOPE (Amazon or Barnes and Noble) I explained in a novel format my struggle to retain my effective program for integrating racially diverse students against some very disturbed district administrators. I was the subject of an ethnographic study by the US Dept. of Ed. in which they recorded EVERYTHING I said and did in my classroom all day, every day for FIVE weeks.
Much of the book is directly from the hundreds of pages of data collected. I won this battle and was even offered a job to travel around the country through the Dept. of Ed teaching my methods, but I wouldn't leave my family.
My constant challenging the status quo as a MUTANT is the reason I feel that my wide ranging experiences enabled me to have experiences few other teachers have had. I hope to be able to help many teachers benefit from them and to work with Jeff in making Puppetools even more valuable.
Dr.Robert Rose
Dr.Rose has spent his life trying new methods, theories, and techniques to improve his and others' teaching. His web site has many free materials, including plays for students.
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