When I was a young boy, a popular song I heard over and over again on the radio was Johnny Mercer's "Accent the Positive, Eliminate the Negative." Good advice for Martin L. Gross and his Conspiracy of Ignorance [see review this issue]. Some of his proposals to improve the public school system are good, but taken as a whole they would lead to pitched battles which would use up limited energy and resources in endless conflict Making the educational establishment out to be the arch-enemy only means war. As Robert Kiley, President of the NYC Partnership, recently said, "Bitter division is the enemy of real change in the schools."
Okay, here are some proposals, which could bring all parties together, I hope, to form a Grand Alliance for Knowledge in the schools and in the nation as a whole.
PROPOSED: Vouchers for poor children to buy books, magazines, educational materials, computer software. Food stamps work well to feed the bodies of the needy. Why not knowledge stamps to nurture the minds of needy youngsters? Teachers would make recommendations to parents and students concerning items to be purchased to improve a student's knowledge and understanding of the world.
PROPOSED: Stipends for high school and college students to tutor youngsters--one on one--needing assistance in the public schools. The program takes place after hours at the school under the guidance of a master teacher. Tutoring would also serve as an entree to teaching for many bright and conscientious students. Add senior citizens to the tutor pool. Expand on the fledgling Experience Corps, which has placed 800 retirees in 70 schools around the country, whoreceive a monthly stipend to read to and tutor students.
PROPOSED: Scholarships for bright college students pledged to teach in urban and rural areas with teacher Shortages, Build on a pilot program now in place: Teach for America, sponsored by AmeriCorps, a form of a domestic peace corps, which recruits young students from campuses nationwide and trains them during a five week orientation program. ROTC programs in college train students for the armed forces. Do the same for education; a Reserve Teacher Corps in all colleges with an obligation to serve at least four years in teaching where needed after.
PROPOSED: Alternative certification to bring professional and trades people into teaching. Work experience would count towards certification to teach in the public schools. Mature workers could learn on the job under the tutelage of a master teacher. Those who would not want full-time jobs could serve part-time. For example, a model program now in operation is Teachers & Writers Collaborative's project which sends writers into the classroom. Extend it to: scientists-in-residence; historians-in-residence; architects-in-residence, computer programmers-in-residence, business managers-in-residence, etc.
PROPOSED: Instead of merit pay, provide mentor pay, extra pay for muster teachers who serve as mentor, to new teachers or teachers who are performing poorly. Develop fair procedures approved by teachers, supervisors, parents, students to select master teachers at each school.
PROPOSED: G.I. Bill for teachers to take content courses to improve their knowledge of subjects they teach. Pay tuition and expenses. Some special courses should stress research in the field of study, so teachers learn more about how knowledge is obtained and evaluated.
PROPOSED: Partnership of schools with corporations and educational institutions. Give generous tax breaks to private industry. Examples: Microsoft, Intel and other companies have developed the program Teach to the Future to train teachers on how to use technology in the classrooms. City University of New York and the NYC Public Schools have a College Now program to prepare students in the secondary schools for college work. Wisconsin Medical College has set up science schools in its area. The Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Ballet Company run arts programs in the schools. The California Fruit Growers Association prepares curriculum material on nutrition for schools nationwide.
PROPOSED: Give federal and state grants to public schools to take students on frequent trips to museums, theaters, historical sites near and far. Knowledge comes alive, and students an inspired to learn more by these educational trips. In New York City, vouchers are given to students to attend plays which are followed by discussions in the theater with the cast and production crew.
PROPOSED: At least one radio station and one television station in every U.S. city be devoted exclusively to broadcasting a University of Knowledge on Air (carried also on the Internet) for teachers and the general public. A consortium of colleges and other educational institutions would broadcast instructions series throughout the day and evening, seven days a week. Background: in the early days of radio, educators believed that the goal of this new medium should be to bring the best of culture to the American public. Radio was to be the great teacher, used to teach history, languages, literature, science, music. Edward R. Murrow called radio "the biggest classroom government in the world." In the 21th Century, with the support of government, let's produce USA Think Radio, USA Think Television, USA Internet. We now have the ability and resources to bring knowledge easily and conveniently into everyone's home.
Are these proposals "pie in the sky"? Maybe some of them are, but all would bring people together and that is the first, essential ingredient needed to reform the public schools.