It’s time to discuss ‘equity’ instead of ‘accountability’

There’s no word that a political candidate could utter in regards to education that causes me to turn into a raving lunatic faster than “accountability.”

Our teachers and schools have been clubbed over our heads with the “accountability bat” by legislators and school board candidates for 10 years in Indiana.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing it.

“Accountability” has been the guiding factor in every single policy decision made in Indiana education in that time, and these policies have only weakened our schools.

The lie that our schools and teachers must be “more accountable” has led to a climate of number crunching, standardization, and educational jargon and endless acronyms that now control our schools and stifle far too much critical thinking and creativity.

“Accountability” has led to an era of fewer educational options for our children. How many Indiana schools have lost their arts programs, electives, and even libraries in this era of tight budgets that are often so strained because our state spends so much money on standardized tests?

Yes, we have replaced the joy of books and music in our schools with the art of filling in a bubble with a Number 2 pencil.

All because we now worship data, most of which is used to prove what we usually already know anyway.

Our public schools have become “accountability factories” in America’s desperate race to prove that every fact, standard, and nugget of knowledge can be fully measured at any given moment.

Educational historian Diane Ravitch says it best in the documentary “Rise Above the Mark,” which reveals the truth about what’s happening in Indiana schools right now.

Ravitch says, “What the standardized test does, over time, is that it rewards conformity, it rewards the people who can pick the right bubble…it punishes divergent thinking, it punishes creativity, it punishes originality. If you think about what that’s going to do to this country over the long haul…we are raising a generation of children who have been taught that there’s only one right answer.”

That’s the true irony of the “accountability movement” in education. The very policies designed to ensure teachers and schools are “accountable” — standardized tests, overly complicated teacher evaluation models, letter-grade labels for high achieving and low performing schools — actually prevent the most essential kind of learning.

Because the truth is that the most valuable kind of learning so often simply cannot be measured.

Certainly, no one would argue against the notion that our schools or teachers should be accountable to ensuring that students are learning.

But far too often legislative and school board candidates use the idea of “accountability” as a convenient catch phrase — it sounds impressive.

However, “accountability” has far too often been used as a weapon against schools by those who are often the least accountable themselves.

So, until we are ready to talk seriously about parental accountability to their children, our legislators’ accountability to their communities, corporate and business accountability to ethics and the truth, and even students’ accountability to themselves, then we need to stop overusing and misusing this concept as a basis to manage our schools and monitor our teachers.

We have seen over 10 years of “accountability” in Indiana education policy.

Those policies have failed. Those who have voted for and supported those policies in the legislature have failed.

It’s time replace “accountability” with “equity.”


Hoosier legislators are anything but conservative when it comes to education

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning to the news that President Obama created a new federal education agency with tax dollars to accompany our current Department of Education.

Let’s give this shiny new hypothetical agency an official name so that it actually sounds different from the Department of Education.

Hmmm. How about the Center for Education and Career Innovation, or CECI?

Let’s, too, grant this new agency a budget almost equal to the Department of Education. In fact, let’s pay several of the top people at CECI as much — in fact, more than — current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Oh, and here’s one more tidbit. Let’s assume that the president created the CECI at taxpayer expense by executive order.

That’s right. No legislative debate in Congress. No public debate. Instead, a brand spanking new federal agency created simply by the stroke of a pen.

Imagine the reaction of small government conservatives everywhere, including here in Indiana.

Why, images of bulging eyes, frothing mouths, and anguished screams of “Socialist!” and “Big government!” would fill our television screens on the nightly news. Surely these outraged proponents of limited government would call upon our Indiana legislators in D.C. to condemn such a move.

And, imagine the righteous fury that would erupt if our U.S. senators and congressmen then remained silent in the face of this big government creation of the CECI.

That’s right. No sound bites on CNN. No press conferences or even press releases. Instead, complete silence.

Now stop imagining and consider this — the scenario I just described actually happened. Only, it was Indiana governor Mike Pence, not Barack Obama, who created the CECI by executive order with no legislative or public debate.

And it was our Indiana state legislators, many of them Republicans now seeking re-election, who remained curiously silent in the face of the creation of an agency at taxpayer expense that serves no real purpose.

Further, for some odd reason, it’s Indiana conservatives who also have remained oddly quiet in the face of their governor’s big government move and their legislators’ utter hypocrisy.

Where is the justifiable concern over the creation of a government agency by executive order? Where are the questions about the disturbing lack of legislative or public debate over the creation of the CECI?

For that matter, where was the concern over Common Core standards when Republicans like Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett and the GOP-controlled State Board of Education — not Barack Obama — brought those standards to Indiana?

And, where is the concern over the fact that, despite incumbents’ claims to the contrary, Indiana school corporations now operate under less local control than ever before?

My point here is simple. When it comes to Indiana education policy, our “conservative” state government is anything but conservative.

From the hefty price tag of more standardized testing, to overly complicated teacher and school evaluation systems, to unnecessary restrictions on how teachers can bargain contracts, to a state-sponsored voucher program that costs Indiana $16 million, to Common Core and legislators’ silence over the governor’s new CECI, one fact emerges — the myth of a conservative state legislature in Indiana is just that — a myth.

We voters have been inundated with quite a few slick campaign cards in our mailboxes over the last few weeks. Some of them play a bit loose with the facts. Some even include scary images of President Obama in an attempt to link a certain local state legislative race to our president.

As we voters head to the polls this week, we would be well served to remember which legislators stood silently by as Mike Pence created his CECI by executive order with no legislative or public debate, and ask ourselves who the real conservatives are, and who really supports big government.

The answer may surprise you.

Imagine that.

Teachers: It’s time to speak to local voters

Two weeks.

We have two weeks until Election Day 2014.

We usually view mid-term or “off year” elections with some apathy, but Indiana teachers know that this year’s election is crucial to our livelihoods, our profession, our school children, and our schools.

We must send a bold, clear message to our governor, legislature, and State Board of Education: Stop!

We are in the midst of one destructive idea after another in regards to Indiana education policy. Our public schools and the profession we love have radically changed in the last five years. We know it. We feel it. And we know that we cannot continue down the same path.

One trusted colleague of mine with almost 40 years of experience as a teacher recently made this observation — she has never seen teachers as upset, as burdened, or as fed up as we are right now.

Another Indiana educator, a fifth-grade teacher who has chosen early retirement and whose story is shared in the documentary Rise Above the Mark, says this:

“I still love what I do, and I loved it up until the end, but I feel like the legislators have beaten us down, and I hope that some way we find a way to fight our way back up to the top.”

Later in the documentary, she adds, “They’ve taken education, the profession that I love, and turned me into a number.”

This is the truth of what is happening in Indiana schools all over the state thanks in part to our current legislature. I won’t rehash the litany of bad ideas here — feel free to explore past posts on this site for more details — but I will say this:

Our mailboxes been inundated with a glossy litany of half-truths and lies from legislators all around the state claiming to have preserved local control of our schools in the last few years.

Teachers know the truth. Teachers know that is simply not true.

Indiana public schools suffer from less local control and more excessive intrusion from our state legislature than ever before.

When it comes to education policy, this current legislature is full of fake conservatives who shackle innovation, stifle creativity, and intrude endlessly into our local schools.

Our daily lives as teachers are burdened with the evidence of less local control — from excessive standardized testing, to the ludicrous flip-flop of standards (Yes, we’ll adopt Common Core. No, wait, no we won’t!), to the fact that the state has changed our evaluation system, to restrictions on how we bargain our contracts, to the reduction in the worth of our advanced and master’s degrees — the list of excessive intrusion into our schools and classrooms from our current state legislature is long and tedious.

So, please know this, voters — any current legislator who claims to have worked tirelessly for the cause of local control of Hoosier schools while supporting and voting for corporate education “reform” scams is either deceitful or delusional.

Or both.

And that is why I am calling on all teachers to talk with voters here. Now. Because we teachers must speak up now.

We must tell voters the truth about how our profession and our schools have changed.

We must tell voters that while we love our profession, our schools, and our students, we will no longer silently tolerate the constant assault of bad legislation that has radically altered our public schools.

We must ask voters to stand with us to restore local control, common sense, and research-based decision making to our schools.

And locally, we must make the case with voters to vote for three outstanding educators and experts — Kevin Sue Bailey, Heidi Sellers, and Chuck Freiberger.

I challenge every teacher to find a way to work with or on behalf of at least one of these pro-education candidates.

Teachers, do not be silent. Do not be passive. There simply is not time.

This is not about political parties or ideology. This is about telling voters the truth about how our current legislature has hurt our schools.

Tell the truth about our schools.

We have two weeks.

Friday trip to Bloomington provides teaching inspiration

On Friday I spent my day in one of my favorite places (Bloomington, Indiana) with some of my favorite people (teachers and former students).

What better place to spend a beautiful fall day?

This school year I have the honor of serving as a member of the IU School of Education Armstrong Teaching Cohort with eight other Hoosier educators from across Indiana. The honor, funded through the Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Fund and the Cook Group, helps teachers collaborate with each other and, perhaps more significantly, mentor teachers-to-be currently in the IU School of Education.

One of the values of working with teaching candidates is that their enthusiasm for education inspires me and reminds me of why I believe in our profession so much.

My day began as a member of a panel discussion with my fellow Armstrong teachers as we discussed the all-important first days of school with an auditorium full of outstanding future teachers. It continued as I met two former students for lunch, one of whom is considering a teaching career himself.

The day was meaningful for me on so many levels, especially since it provided me with the chance to dig myself out from underneath the mounds of papers to grade, RCD units to create, meetings to attend, and emails to respond to long enough to remember what makes teaching so fun — the people.

Our Armstrong Cohort consists of nine teachers from incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences across Indiana. Each of them amazes me. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking, “How did I get selected to spend time with these people?!” Their enthusiasm, talent, compassion, and dedication to their students and our profession inspires me. I hope to share more of their stories here in the coming months. Their stories deserve to be told.

Just as meaningful to me, though, was the chance to interact with future teachers. These young people are the future of our profession. My conversations and interactions with them left me both hopeful for the future and determined to do my part to ensure that teaching remains a viable, worthy profession in Indiana.

I write here often about my dissatisfaction with our current political leadership in Indiana and their lack of understanding of or belief in our teachers and schools. I hope my determination to support my profession in the face of our state’s weak political leadership is never mistaken for negativity. In fact, days like Friday leave me more hopeful about the future of the teaching profession than ever. When I meet so many gifted teachers-to-be — and when one of the best kids I have ever taught joins them in considering a career as a teacher — how can I be anything but hopeful?

Because tomorrow’s teachers will bring more than enough empathy, compassion, tolerance, and competence to their classrooms and communities to heal the damage done by Indiana’s current crop of failing political “leaders.” They may be our greatest teachers, because they knowingly choose to enter a profession devalued by the lies and incompetence of elected officials constitutionally sworn to protect it. That takes incredible courage. That takes real leadership.

That’s the real value of a day like Friday. It reminds me of the value of my profession.



When it comes to education, we need to vote for change in the Indiana legislature

Change is good.

You’ll notice some changes in my blog, beginning with the overall look. In the coming weeks I’ll be tweaking the design more, hopefully adding a more visual appeal through photographs.

You’ll notice, too, a content shift.

When I began writing a few years ago, I had three primary goals in mind based on my life as a high school English and journalism teacher and media adviser. Call them my core values:

  • Explore educational issues
  • Promote literacy and civic engagement
  • Support scholastic journalism

I’ll continue to use these three values to guide my writing here, as each one is close to my heart. However, I have also added a fourth:

  • Advocate for public schools

I am a proud public school teacher. I support strong private schools and educational choices for families as well, but I believe our nation’s greatest resource and hope for the future lies in our public school system. I also believe our public schools are more misunderstood and disrespected than ever before.

That is especially true in Indiana.

We live in a state in which far too many of our current political leaders and legislators do not understand or value our public schools. This includes some of our local legislators. My colleagues and I in all corners of the state — and our students — are impacted negatively by poor policy making in Indianapolis. We feel it every day in our schools and classrooms.

So, as we approach an election that is essential for the survival of Indiana public schools, I’ll use this place to advocate more strongly than ever for our public schools in Indiana, which means also advocating for specific candidates that will support and stand with my colleagues, students, and me.

I hope my words expose the truth about our public schools and enlighten and educate readers about the complexities of the issues and policies that impact our schools.

I hope, too, to explain just how severely recent legislation and policy making have damaged our schools, communities, and pocketbooks.

I hope to persuade you to vote for and support those candidates who support our schools, and to send a clear message to those who do not.

I hope to share some of my own thoughts and insights along the way, too, as I found my views of education have shifted in the last few months. I question my own place and future in a profession that I love but that has changed so drastically so fast. If I am being honest, I am not sure I have a role in what our profession is becoming, as I have realized that change for change’s sake — which is both the intent and effect of Indiana’s recent education “reform” movement — is not good for our students, teachers, schools, or communities.

Indiana public education is the noblest of professions, but it is currently being governed by those who neither understand nor value our profession. And for that reason alone, we must either elect change in our legislature across the state this November or be prepared to accept the consequences in our schools and communities.

And for that reason, I hope to convince local readers in the coming weeks to ignore political parties and instead vote for several educators and local legislative candidates — Dr. Kevin Sue Bailey, Heidi Sellers, and Chuck Freiberger — who most support and understand education.

I am asking this as a teacher who needs their support. I am asking this as a teacher who needs your support.

So, I am going to ask you to vote for change. It can be uncomfortable sometimes, but that is usually when it is the most needed.

Because change based on our civic responsibility to do what’s best for our schools is both necessary and good. As a proud teacher I hope to do my small part in the coming weeks to convince you of that.





This year my students will help me write well

By Jim Lang

Writing is a funny thing. Sometimes the words pour out of us. Sometimes we hit dry spells.

Perhaps it’s been the hectic schedule of summer, or maybe it’s been the frenzy of the new school year, but I have produced a vast amount of nothing during the last few weeks.

Like most educators and writers (let’s face it – most teachers are writers, too), my inspiration so often comes from my own students. That is the case with me now.

As I write these words, I am surrounded by the sounds of my own student writers — tapping keyboards, scratching pencils, sighs of frustration, the turning of notebook pages. My classroom at this very moment is filled with the oddly active silence of writing.

That’s the commitment we’ve made as writers in my Journalism I class this year – to spend time writing each week, usually on Fridays. This is our time away from the stress of standardized tests, the rapid pace of our hallways and classrooms, the to-do lists that seem to own our lives, and the noise.

We will write here most Fridays. Perhaps we’ll work on our story assignments. This week it’s our personality profiles. Perhaps we’ll work on something unrelated to school. Something unique. Something special. Something not dictated by endless streams of data, standards, or tests. Sometimes “just something” is enough.

We’ll share our writing here, too. We’ll help each other grow as writers through editing and revision. We’ll trust that our love for writing will help us make this classroom a true community of writers.

So, here I am writing. Today I am not their teacher.

I am a fellow writer.

My dry spell is over.

Thank you to the IU School of Journalism

by Jim Lang

Disclaimer: I am wearing my faded gray IU School of Journalism shirt as I write this.

We are so often shaped by the people and places in our lives. Are the special places in our lives made so by the people we meet there? Or, do special places make the people we meet and the experiences we have more meaningful?

Today the Indiana University School of Journalism officially becomes a part of IU’s new Media School, a move that supporters say will help IU continue to be among the nation’s leaders in media, communication, and journalism.

The new Media School, housed in IU’s College of Arts and Sciences, effectively “pulls together” the journalism, telecommunications, and communications and culture departments into a single mega-school. Benefits include a more streamlined approach for journalism and communication majors as they more effectively produce their work across media platforms in renovated, state-of-the-art facilities in IU’s Franklin Hall in 2016.

It’s a bold move that, if implemented correctly, will ensure that IU remains among the nation’s best journalism and media schools.

The IU Media School has the potential to be a special place.

Even as we look toward the future, though, I’d like to take a moment to honor the legacy of another special place – the IU School of Journalism in Ernie Pyle Hall.

For all practical purposes, that place ceased to exist at midnight today. The building still exists – for now. The exceptional faculty, staff, and programs are intact and will be a part of creating the new legacy of the Media School. But the School of Journalism in Ernie Pyle Hall as so many of us know and love it no longer exists in the form that we knew it. And while the future looks shiny, new, and exciting, the past holds the true secret for continuing the legacy of excellence in journalism and media at IU.

The truth is that as I reflect on my many years of association with the IU School of Journalism and Ernie Pyle Hall, I treasure the people, experiences, and small memories more than any technology I used or skills I mastered.

Small moments with great people made Ernie Pyle Hall special to me.

Working late nights with good friends at the copy desk at the Indiana Daily Student. Proudly turning in my journalism law paper after an all-nighter (got an A, too). Scribbling notes on those tiny, carved up brown desks in the old lecture hall – those desk tops recorded history in the names and messages scratched into their surfaces. Sneaking a few minutes of reading – okay, napping – in the J-School library between classes. Laughing and learning with friends. Spending 25 summers teaching, counseling, conducting lights-out, and playing practical jokes as a counselor and instructor at the High School Journalism Institute (to the “victims” of those jokes – I’m still laughing). Learning from and working with the very best journalism educators who always demanded my best, too, and who taught us that journalism (not media – journalism) and education were the noblest of professions. Deciding to become a journalism teacher – yes, I made that decision inside that building. Watching my own students earn scholarships to and attend a school that has always been special to me. Developing lifelong friendships.

These are some of my memories, but each person who spent time in Ernie Pyle Hall carries his or her own unique stories. We need to share these stories. We need to honor those who helped create these stories. After all, that’s what we were taught to do, and that’s how we ensure that the legacy of the IU School of Journalism continues into the hallways and classrooms of the new Media School.

Those of us who learned and laughed in Ernie Pyle Hall feel fiercely protective of the school and its legacy because we know that it was never the physical structure, the curriculum, or the technology that made the IU School of Journalism so exceptional – it was the people.

That special place – and those people – did more than train us for a job or prepare us for a career. In so many ways, they made us who we are. They helped us learn from each other to create learning experiences and bonds that remain with us today. They made us think beyond ourselves. They made us better. They became part of our stories. That’s what great educators – and journalists – do. That’s what great people do.

So, as a proud graduate of the IU School of Journalism, thank you to every faculty and staff member and every friend who made Ernie Pyle Hall a special place of learning for me. Thank you for making me a better writer, storyteller, and teacher. Thank you for making me a better person.

And may the new IU Media School embrace the legacy of the IU School of Journalism — powerful storytelling, ethical journalism, and outstanding teaching — to become a place as special as Ernie Pyle Hall.


Teen Voices: How should we improve our schools?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity. I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“Test students less.”

“Less testing. More focus on promoting the creative habit. Less memorization. More support to the arts.”

“Less emphasis on grades and competition with grades. Not only valuing academic achievement. I don’t understand why being good at math is so much more valued in society than music and creativity and expression.”

“Less testing and have a wide range of classes for everyone to explore new things.”

“Cut out all the testing, man. Teach the power of knowledge, not the power of the GPA (grade-point average).”

“Make teacher reviews more serious. Teacher evaluations seem to be done just as a formality.”

“We need to have a strong public education that students look forward to going to. The schools need to work on being supportive, which is what we students really need.”

“To improve our schools, we must break out of the box we have surrounded education with. We must allow creativity of teachers and students alike to flow naturally. We must find teachers devoted to improving their students’ lives.”

“Well, I would say we should imitate other school systems that are the academic leaders of the world, like Finland, but I know that would never work. We have too many students from too many walks of life. So, how do we fix it? That’s definitely about to be a problem that plagues my generation, so I hope we deal with it by creating an entirely new system that pulls aspects from other systems together to create something unique that works for Americans.

“All I know is the bell system makes me feel like an animal. We can read clocks. We don’t need bells ringing to tell us when to switch classes.”

“Do everything Finland does.”

“Finland. But really: all public education; don’t tie funding to test performance; pay teachers like they deserve to be paid; live in a country where education actually matters.”

“Get rid of standardized testing. Make sure the students learn, not just memorize.”

“Do not give kids who are failing the opportunity to quickly recover the credit with minimal effort. This encourages failure. The kid should have to deal with the consequences or try harder.”

“Some of us are actually curious and intrinsically motivated to learn. Do not destroy that by trying to extrinsically motivate us.”

“Start teaching a foreign language in elementary school. It’s much easier for us to learn it then.”

“Don’t get me started.”

My View

My students researched education as part of a second-semester research project that required them to synthesize information from a variety of sources and propose a solution to a problem in modern education.

It’s interesting that so many of them were compelled to compare American schools to Finnish schools in their responses. Finland offers a very different model to educating students than America. Truthfully, in many areas they are far more successful in educating their children than we are.

Improving American schools, in my view, requires us to commit to all of the following:

  • A recognition that we can only improve schools by first addressing poverty and income inequality, the defining problems of our nation
  • A commitment to hold more fully engage parents in our schools and to more fully hold them accountable for the academic success and behavior of their children
  • A complete rejection of market-place education reforms that have increased standardized testing and have contributed to the inequality hindering our schools and communities while reducing funding, effectiveness, and local control
  • A return to the American principle that our nation’s success depends on the vitality of our public schools (This, by the way, is a conservative principle, contrary to what many narrow-minded, intellectually challenged political “leaders” will tell you).

We have been reforming education for over thirty years. The reform movement has become the status quo, and it hasn’t improved anything.

Only by finally meeting the four challenges listed above can we truly begin to once again ensure that America is the world leader in education.

Teen Voices: What makes a great teacher?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity.

I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too. The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“First and foremost, they know their students and want to help them succeed.”

“A balance between compassion and mastery of knowledge.”

“I appreciate when you can never tell if the teacher is having a bad day. He/she should be enthusiastic, but also be able to realize that we’re just high schoolers and we don’t know everything you do. Some people are too smart to teach and think we automatically know what they know, even in an AP class. Some teachers, however, teach as if they are learning along with us…”

“Someone who is so enthusiastic and so knowledgeable about what they do that even students who don’t like the subject matter or find it difficult will be able to succeed.”

“A great teacher is simply a teacher that loves the subject and is enthusiastic. A great teacher teaches his or her students for the sake of learning and not just to achieve a standard or get them good grades. A good teacher wants students to question things and truly learn.”

“A person who understands more than what they are required to teach and finds pleasure and enjoyment in educating young minds.”

“A teacher that gets to know students, creates a fun learning environment, and impacts students’ lives in and out of the classroom with their teaching.”

“What makes a great teacher is a unique person. Almost anyone given the right training could be a teacher, but a great teacher is more than that. To be a great teacher, the individual must be compassionate towards children and be able to understand the problems of students. A great teacher understands the importance of their role in the formation of a student’s life and how they can change someone’s life completely in just a year or two.”

“All a teacher really needs is passion to be great. Trust me, the students see and feed off this desire to educate.”

“The willingness to help students with their own individual problems and the ability to accept the fact that sometimes you’re wrong.”

“Enthusiasm. Encouragement. Understanding.”

“A great teacher loves to teach and is passionate about his/her subject.”

“A person who cares about their job, students, and the future of education.”

“A passion for teaching and a desire to help students truly learn the subject material. A great teacher does not teach to tests, but rather focuses on interesting and relevant subject material. A great teacher has a willingness to stay after class and meet with students to help them, or just to talk. A great teacher encourages his or her students to endlessly pursue a gain of knowledge.”

My View

“Enthusiasm” and “passion” were the two words mentioned the most by my students. Interestingly, most of them distinguished between enthusiasm for students and for the subject matter. I love the fact that they see the importance of both.

It is interesting that in a day when teacher training and effectiveness are more focused on curricular knowledge, today’s teens still understand that truly great educators must first have the ability and personality to relate that knowledge to their students.

That’s the art of teaching. In a day when we are so consumed with “standards” and “accountability,” today’s teens understand more than most that a teacher’s love for his or her students and subject – a quality that cannot really be measured – is still the most essential ingredient for greatness.

Friday: How Should We Improve Our Schools?

Teen Voices: What is your generation’s biggest challenge?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity. I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“Getting past the constant pressure and extreme criticism that we have to deal with everyday. Coming to peace with the fact that nobody’s perfect.”

“The previous generations’ mistakes.”

“Growing income inequality and a diminishing middle class.”

“Our generation’s biggest challenge is going to be the reform that most wish to apply to our world. I believe our generation is tiring of hearing about our world’s problems and will attempt to solve many of our world’s largest problems like poverty, hunger, and corruption of government.”

“Living up to the more demanding expectations that no baby boomer truly recognizes. Communicating and meeting people face to face – our social skills are slipping.”

“Dealing with budget cuts to education.”

“Gaining independence. Technology is great, but we are becoming too dependent. We rely on social media to make new friends or dating sites to find the ‘love of my life’.”

“Paying off debt, figuring out where the U.S. economy will fit sustainably, energy efficiency, climate change, actually doing something about the third world. Shall I continue?”

“The biggest challenge is dealing with today’s socioeconomic situation. We experienced an awful recession and now we’re dealing with rising costs such as tuition. This was left behind by the past generations, and it’s our job to fix it for the next ones.”

“Human stupidity. People act without any sense and expect there to be no repercussions.”

My View

Growing income inequality and the damaged political system that created it are the most significant challenges facing today’s teens and tomorrow’s leaders. In short, they must combat selfishness and greed.

The top 1 percent of Americans hold 35 percent of the nation’s net worth, while the bottom 80 percent hold only 11 percent. This kind of discrepancy is unsustainable and only occurs when the system is rigged to benefit those who seek to maintain power. This inequality is the core of virtually all of our nation’s other problems.

Today’s teens will be faced with the challenge of reforming our political and economic system so that it is once again based on hard work, ingenuity, and fairness for all citizens.

Fortunately, from what I see tomorrow’s leaders are far more selfless, moral, and intelligent than today’s leaders are.

Thursday: What Makes a Great Teacher?