When to Read, When Not to Read . . . That Is the Question, or Robin Williams Ruined a Generation of Teachers?

From: principal.vanderhaar@bchs.org

Sent: 4/18/2011 10:48 AM

To: wordnerd42@aol.com (Christina Lopez)

Ms. Lopez,

I am wondering if you would be willing to make a presentation for our April 22 in-service. I think you would be the perfect speaker to address how teachers can improve “professionally” by reading in their field while managing the “busy-ness” that comes along with teaching. I am sure your presentation will be “dramatic”! Thanks for your help.

Bentley VanderHaar, Principal of BCHS

From: wordnerd42@aol.com (Christina Lopez)

Sent: 4/18/2011 11:52 PM

To: principal.vanderhaar@bchs.org

Mr. VanderHaar,

Are you “serious”? I am in the busiest part of my season for coaching. I am serving on that ad-hoc committee to plan for accreditation. This is my first year as chair of the English department. I am also serving on tenure committee and the search committee for the new English teacher. And on top of all this, you just informed me last week via e-mail that I am “invited” to take charge of the spring fine arts festival. And now I am given to understand that you are seriously asking me to create an in-service WITH FOUR DAYS OF LEAD TIME? I am sorry. I’ll have to decline.

Ms. Lopez

From: principal.vanderhaar@bchs.org

Sent: 4/19/2011 11:39 AM

To: wordnerd42@aol.com (Christina Lopez)

Excellent. I have always appreciated your sense of humor. I knew I could count on you. The in-service is Friday morning and you can have up to an hour to make your presentation. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Friday 22 April 2011. In-service at Bedlam Christian High School. 9:15 a.m.

Comments by Christina Lopez, Chair, English Department

I have been asked to speak about time management and professional development. I have titled this talk, “Ten Books that Busy Teachers Should Never Bother Reading.”

1. Whole Language Teaching, Whole-Hearted Practice: Looking Back, Looking Forward by Monica Taylor

The reading wars of the eighties and nineties were one of the saddest hoaxes ever perpetrated on an unwitting public. The two opposed ideas—that we have to teach reading exclusively through phonics with no opportunity to read good literature, or that we have to teach reading just through reading books to memorize sight words—are ridiculous. Good teachers have always known that both phonics and reading good books are important. Policy makers that perpetuated this myth ought to be ashamed of themselves. Instead of reading this, read a good novel and think about what a great gift reading is.

2. Frames of Mind by Howard Gardner

In this seminal work, Howard Gardner introduces his theory of multiple intelligences, and in so doing, sets loose decades of ill-informed student assignments that serve no clear purpose. Gardner may well be right about different ways of understanding and expressing what we know, but teachers have abused that knowledge. Multiple intelligence has become the rallying cry behind posters, drawings, and play-acting that reveal little if any sophistication or understanding. Teachers now plan lessons like this: “Hmmm. Let’s do something different. I know, my kids haven’t done a poster for a while. Why don’t I have them draw a picture of something?” And then if a colleague or administrator dares to question the educational integrity of the assignment, we get a diatribe about multiple intelligences. Instead of reading Gardner to justify less rigorous assignments, we might better spend the time thinking about the many different gifts that our students bring to the table and how to use them in legitimate ways.

3. About Behaviorism by B.F. Skinner

I know, I know. You all learned about behaviorism in school, and most of you give lip service to its evils. After all, Skinner reduces human beings to a quivering mass of cells that respond to stimuli in predictable and controllable ways—so much for free will or human dignity or bearing the image of God. As I said, you all know that. But many of you are behaviorists anyway. You give out candy for correct answers. You won’t play review games in class unless the winners get extra credit. You dangle good grades in front of students to motivate them. The last thing any of us need at Bedlam is more Skinner. With the time you would have spent reading this book, think about why Christians think education is important—it isn’t about getting a reward. Avoid this book.

4. Mapping the Big Picture: Integrating Curriculum and Assessment K–12 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs

The idea of curriculum mapping seems very reasonable to me. We should have a unified curriculum that doesn’t overlap or leave gaps. But in the last fifteen years, this single book has resulted in more work for already overcommitted teachers than any other. Here at Bedlam, we were given one in-service day and then told that we had to map everything we taught. To do this to Christian school teachers, who are already underpaid and far more overworked than our public school counterparts, borders on torture. I remember working on my curriculum maps at one in the morning to meet administrative deadlines. And for what? We have never, in five years, used these maps for a single thing. If we wanted to be efficient in our use of time, if we wanted truly to make our classrooms more successful, one of the best things we could have done was to ignore this book.

5. Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath

Remember the Myers-Briggs personality test? You would answer a short list of questions and, based on your responses, your entire personality would be summarized with a series of four traits. Tom Rath seems to have dressed up this old system in new clothes. His test is online and contains more variables. In the end, though, it is still a system for taking any given human being, complex and diverse as God made her, and then pigeonholing her into an unreasonable summary. It might be a useful exercise for the business world (though I sincerely doubt it), but for busy teachers it is just a waste of time.

6. Assertive Discipline by Lee Canter

Anyone who has made it through a teaching program and has spent more than a week teaching in a classroom knows perfectly well everything contained in this book. Speak loudly enough that students must pay attention to what you say. Make your expectations and consequences clear. Follow through. It isn’t that Canter’s advice is unsound—it makes a lot of sense—but it is the sort of book that will take hours to read and, in the end, you won’t know anything more than you did when you first picked it up. If you find everything in it new and surprising and maybe a little confusing, you ought to consider a career other than teaching.

7. Dead Poet’s Society by N.H. Kleinbaum

Most of you have never read the book, a novelization based on the screenplay, and that’s good. I wish I could say the same for the movie—a film that has ruined more potentially good language arts teachers than any other film ever recorded. Although some of protagonist Mr. Keating’s teaching techniques are novel and even effective, Kleinbaum’s overly romanticized portrait of Keating as a renegade literature teacher standing up to a cold and authoritative Welton Academy and equally cold and uncaring parents only bolsters the view of many young teachers that our students’ parents are somehow the enemy. The truth is that the vast majority of parents care far more about their children than their teachers do, and we should be partnering with them, not seeing them as antagonists. Instead of reading this book, set aside some time to talk with parents of your students for a while.

8. The Psychology of the Child by Jean Piaget

Piaget’s groundbreaking investigations of children’s minds and his theories of cognitive understanding have won him international acclaim, with some devoted followers even calling him a god who unlocked the secrets of how the human mind acquires knowledge. I just call him troubling. Besides the fact that his prose is so dense it is nearly unreadable, Piaget has unleashed a favorite excuse of K–8 teachers for their failures in the classroom. Little Jimmy is finishing first grade and still can’t read—he must not be ready developmentally. It will all magically click for him next year in second grade. Suzie can’t do her arithmetic in third grade. Don’t worry about it. She hasn’t reached developmental maturity to handle it. She’ll pick it up next year in fourth grade. And so teachers pass along Jimmy and Suzie and others just like them, blaming neither the student nor themselves for the failure. I guess the problem is society’s for forcing kids to learn too early, or perhaps it’s God’s for developing their brains too late. One thing we know for sure: The problem cannot possibly be underperformance by the classroom teacher.

9. The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child by Ron Clark

In the Old Testament, God gave his people ten rules. They quickly changed that into hundreds and hundreds of rules. Things didn’t work out so well. When Jesus came, he boiled the ten rules down to two. We still want to change God’s two rules into thousands and thousands of rules. Ron Clark believes that posting rules on the walls of his classroom will help his students feel like they are part of a family. While students certainly need structure and discipline, forcing them to stare at rules all day might be the wrong kind of motivation. Maybe we can remind kids that part of living a life of gratitude out of love is not worrying so much about which rules you are or are not breaking, but instead thinking about what lives you could be helping.

10. “Slouching toward Bedlam” by Jan Kaarsvlam

Okay, I admit this isn’t a book, but trust me, you’ll never lay eyes on a pile of tripe like this guy churns out four times every year. The fact that Mr. Kaarsvlam has never been able to hold a steady teaching position (or really a steady job of any kind) tells you all you need to know.

From: principal.vanderhaar@bchs.org

Sent: 4/23/2011 7:52 AM

To: wordnerd42@aol.com (Christina Lopez)


Thanks so much for stepping up to the “plate” yesterday. When we needed a “pinch-hitter”, you were that scrappy little utility infielder every team needs. I have ordered copies of each book for everyone on staff. Next year we will read one every month. It is nice to know for the future that I can consider you my “go-to gal” in situations like this. Thanks again.

Bentley VanderHaar, Principal of BCHS

Jan Karsvlaam teaches physics, psychology, printmaking, pop culture and phys ed at Providence Protestant High School in Preckwinkle, Pennsylvania. He is also working on a masters degree in alliterative living.