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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Guest Blog from the Classroom War Zone

John Thompson is a professional historian turned teacher in a very tough Oklahoma city school who contributes to the This Week in Education blog He saw me on TV talking about Race, I saw his post, and we got in touch. Here is the first of two powerful blogs from John — which link together several of the themes that have come up here — the graduation rate challenge, the disruptive boys issue, what NCLB means to schools like John’s:

When my Oklahoma City neighborhood became the epicenter of crack and gangs in the 1980s, I became attached to the kids in the drug houses and became an inner city high school teacher. I would urge anyone who would like to join the civil rights movement of the 21st century to consider the role they can play in public education.

Before volunteering, however, please reread Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. Education is full of Major Majors who demand "tight bombing patterns" because pictures of tight bombing patterns look good on a Look Magazine cover. A coalition of the Left and the Right [if you are interested in the "inside baseball" details, they are called the Educational Equity Project (EEP)] has borrowed the number games and market-oriented values that gave us the financial "bubble" and bust. Using statistical tricks that would have made Heller blush, their "reforms" have produced a bubble in state test scores, even though the more reliable national test scores have remained flat. According to the EEP, if we really have "High Expectations," accept "No Excuses," and break the teachers’ unions, the soaring test scores will someday reflect actual increases achievement of poor students without increasing the dropout rate.
To help create sustainable improvements in the educational lives of poor children, we need the efforts of a full range of caring adults from all professions and with all types of personalities. But the sense of absurdity, as celebrated in Catch 22, can be invaluable. The development of a dark sense of humor may be inevitable. Please remember, though, that Heller’s real-life bomber crews did not use the ridiculous as an excuse to give up. If you make whatever commitment you can to public school students, you will be repaid with a deeper understanding of the diversity of the human comedy. Then after a few years, inner city educators must develop a way to mourn the tragedies that they encounter. I needed a summer to read Russian novels in order to deal the tragedies I had seen, but maybe I can address that issue in a future blog.