Teachers, here’s the Thing

As a New York City public school teacher for almost three decades, Arthur Goldstein is tired of back-to-school meetings on The Next Big Thing, which teachers must do immediately.

Students need more test prep. Students need less test prep.

Teachers must stand. Teachers must not read aloud. Teachers must sit in rocking chairs and read aloud.

Students must do all writing in class. Students must do all writing at home.

Every year, it’s something new — or something recycled and renamed. An administrator announces the Thing.

 “This is the only Thing that works. We will observe you and pay very close attention to whether or not you do it, because you can’t possibly teach unless you do it every single day without exception. But don’t worry, because it’s the best. After we tell you about it, you’ll break into groups, try it, and report back to us.”

Experienced teachers often disappoint presenters by failing to get sufficiently excited. They ask disrespectful questions, like what happened to last year’s Thing? They are invariably told it’s out. It’s not the Thing anymore.

. . . Teachers are chided. You must move with the times, which are after all a-changing. Once we start doing this Thing we will achieve the active participation that’s forever eluded us.

The Thing may not be bad, he writes. But what works for one teacher may not work for others. And doing the same thing or Thing every day is tedious for his teenage students.

About Joanne


  1. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    I urge everyone who cares about education to read Diane Ravitch’s excellent book “Left Back-A Century of Failed School Reforms”. It’s chock-full of “Things” that come and go. I take comfort in the timeless things that are difficult, but work: hard, repetitive work, self-discipline and delay of gratification. The final wisdom: people are good at different things, and not everyone can or should attend college. Vocational training is as valuable to society as the university. Not exactly rocket science. Alas, wisdom is not in vogue right now.

  2. Florida resident says:

    Here is the book “Bad Students, _not_ Bad Schools” by Robert Weissberg:


    I think it covers the subject (and the title describes situation) correctly.

    With respectful greetings to Joanne Jacobs,
    Your Florida resident

  3. Katie Jones says:

    These book suggestions seem interesting.

  4. I will note that this is beginning to happen on college campuses, as well. We had two days of back-to-school “development” meetings this year. Much of what was promoted was applicable to only a narrow range of disciplines or teaching styles.

  5. Second the nomination of Ravitch’s Left Back. The monsterous presumption of national-level curriculum planners that Ravitch describes will make your hair stand on end. Just whose children do these … people imagine the students are? School policy is the last semi-respectable instance of otherwise discredited industrial policy (State direction of investment). Like all central planning, it must flatten and discount local variations.

    Assent to lunatic fads better serves to certify institutional loyalty than does assent to common sense. 2+2=4 will gain near-universal assent. Assent to Whole Language methods of reading instruction or discovery methods in math instruction identifies the hoop-jumping Party-line loyalist.

    As always, markets and federalism institutionalize humility on the part of government decisionmakers. If a policy dispute involves a difference of values, numerous local policy regimes and competitive markets in goods and services leaves room allows producers to satisfy multiple and varied tastes, while the contest for control over a State-wide monopoly producer will inevitably create unhappy losers (who may comprise the vast majority; imagine the outcome of a nationwide vote on the one size and style of shoes we all must wear). If a policy dispute involves a difference over a matter of fact, where “What works?” is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes and competitive markets in goods and services wil generate more information than will a State-wide monopoly provider. A State-monopoly provider of goods and services is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls, a retarded experimental design.

    A range of options will moderate fads.
    On the broad topic of markets in education services, I recommend:
    1. Chubb and Moe, Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools (Brookings, 1991)
    2. Seuerle, et. al eds, Vouchers and the Provision of Public Services (Brookings , 2000)
    3. Lieberman, Privatization and Educational Choice (St. Martin’s press, 1989)
    4. Tooley, The Beautiful Tree (Cato, 2009).