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?

 

 

Teen Voices: What one book should every person read, and why?

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

Anthem by Ayn Rand. It is short and sweet, so it should hold everyone’s attention (my little brother read it, so everyone else can, too). It has a really great underlying message about individuality and how you should question everything.”

The Book Thief has the most unique narrator of any book I’ve ever read.”

The Book Thief because it’s told from such a unique point of view and it’s beautifully written.”

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green because you could throw it at someone’s face and it still would hurt less than the story.”

Looking for Alaska. It’s a story about life as teenagers and maybe not everyone should read it, but it is my favorite book ever.”

The Fountainhead. The philosophy in this book, whether you agree with it or not, is very complex but accounted in such a way that it starts to sink into the reader’s mind. It really challenges the reader to think.”

The Fountainhead. It really is an enjoyable book. The many different perspectives allow readers to analyze and compare each character, which will lead readers to think.”

“Both The Fountainhead and 1984 teach crucial principles. Let’s create more Howard Roarks. This is the time, more than ever, to question the government.”

1984. It explores what would happen if the rights and abilities we take for granted are taken away.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower because if you read it the right way and deeply enough it will change you.”

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It makes the reader think about what makes humanity the way it is.”

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. This book gives a great perspective on human life.”

Thirteen Reasons Why because it can open a teenager’s eyes to how much teasing and bullying affects others. It also shows that when you commit suicide others will grieve even if you think no one cares.”

To Kill a Mockingbird! First of all, I’m a sucker for father-daughter relationships, and the bond between Scout and Atticus is beautiful. Also, it was written during a time of social turmoil, and it’s a story where a white lawyer defends a black man in a trial in the Jim Crow South. It’s a story of social justice and a story of the American Constitution…It’s a beautiful story with so much social commentary.”

To Kill a Mockingbird. The story provides a unique insight of adult situations through a child’s eyes and allows us to realize that maybe we all need to look at some things as a child. A wonderful story about knowing truth, right, and wrong.”

The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler. It offers valuable insight and top-notch journalistic reporting into a world most Americans try to pretend doesn’t exist. Also, a balanced analysis of the welfare system.”

“I don’t have one book in mind, but everyone should read a book written by someone who is totally different from the reader. Different race, religion, class, nationality, etc. Everyone needs to experience a different perspective.

My View

I’ll cheat and select two books, one fiction and one nonfiction.

First, everyone should read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird because the most heroic character in American literature, Atticus Finch, offers advice to his children that we should all strive to follow today, including this line: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Our world would be a much better place if we all followed the advice of Atticus Finch.

Secondly, I’d urge everyone to read Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. It is an exceptionally well-researched, well-written account of the American education “reform” con. Citizens need to understand the consequences of continuing down the education “reform” path. Ravitch offers insight and commentary on where we went wrong and what we must do as a nation – now – to change course and ensure a quality education for all of our children.

Oh, and based on my students’ recommendations, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is the next book on my to-read list.

Wednesday: What Is Your Generation’s Biggest Challenge?

Teen Voices: What Is the biggest misconception about your generation?

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

“That we’re really self-centered; that may be what gets exposed the most, but it’s not true!”

“Many believe (and make is believe) that we are morally depraved due to the over sexuality and loss of traditional values in society. I believe we are more compassionate than any before us because we do have access to so much information.”

“Everyone perceives us as idiots who are slowly deteriorating, but I feel like we are the smartest generation yet.”

“That we are a generation of technology-obsessed apathetic people. Sure, we fully utilize all the new technology that has been given to us, but that’s the point. We are learning more and more about how to better society via technology, and having a generation that grew up during technological breakthroughs will lead to highly innovative minds.”

“That we are lazy. Some kids are, but a lot of teenagers are very hard working.”

“The biggest misconception is that our generation is comprised of lazy, technology-numbed, apathetic brats who only live off the success of previous generations and are not willing to work hard for anything.”

“That we are all disrespectful, ungrateful, lazy, and unable to enjoy nature because of technology. I go camping, fishing, hiking, and canoeing with my family and I love being outdoors and away from technology a bit.”

“That we’re disconnected from the ‘real world’.” People complain about us being glued to our phones and computers and shutting out the world. But people forget that there is another person on the screen. There are millions of them. Because of technology, we are the most connected generation. We can laugh and cry together even if we’re oceans apart. And I think there’s something valuable in that.”

“We are too narcissistic and shallow to care about the world and its future. Our generation has started countless nonprofits and has already begun trying to make the world better. Just because most of us have lost faith in the political system does not mean we are apathetic. That is your fault. Not ours.”

“Probably the biggest misconception about our generation is that we’re disconnected from life because of technology. I feel the exact opposite is true. Because of things like e-mail, texting, and social media we are in a constant state of communication with each other, and we’re always in touch. The news is at our fingertips, and so are our friends.”

My View

The biggest misconception about today’s teenagers is that they are selfish, that they do not care. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many of today’s teens are selfless and compassionate. They are troubled by the problems impacting the world and desire to make our communities and nation better. They are more technologically connected than any previous generation and will likely use this technology to reach beyond traditional institutions and platforms to solve problems and enhance society. We shouldn’t judge them for this. We should encourage them.

And to the extent that some teens are too self-absorbed? Too lazy? Too unwilling to look beyond their phones or Twitter accounts to empathize with or help others? Well, that’s primarily the fault of parents who have coddled and acquiesced to their child’s every whim rather than actually parent.

Here’s hoping the compassion and ingenuity of today’s teens can overcome that obstacle, too.

Tuesday: What One Book Should Every Person Read, and Why?