Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The $100,000 Teacher

As a teacher this book’s title has a lot of appeal. Brian Crosby puts forth the thesis that we should pay teachers more, up to $100,000. He asserts, and I agree in large part, that the teaching profession needs to become more professional. He backs up his assertions with research and lots of it.

As it now stands, one gets certified and gets a job and then each year, unless you’re horrible or break the law, you get a little increase. The only chances for promotion are the administration. So there’s no possibility of advancement.

Crosby proposes that teachers start out with a slightly higher salary, that education departments become more selective (if people knew the field offered more challenge down the road and more money, more top students would consider teaching), that teachers are more carefully evaluated. Those who don’t measure up would be phased out of the field. They would not necessarily get a raise every year. As teachers gained experience they could get promoted to a Master Teacher status that would mean a teacher would have greater formal duties of mentoring and teacher training in addition to classroom teaching (fewer classes per year).

He lays out a plan for doing this by trimming other budget areas so that his plan would not require higher taxes for the public.

He also points out areas to empower or show respect to teachers so that they aren’t, as is often the case, in need of basic supplies without appropriate secretarial support.

His book often made me laugh. He makes a lot of comparisons between teachers and lawyers. For example, he asks rhetorically whether readers could imagine a surgeon coming out of surgery and then having to head out to the parking lot to direct drivers to into spaces. (Even say dermatologists, a less rigorous field, don’t have to do much crowd control and grunt work.)

Granted there are some schools where teachers are well paid and work in nice environments with enough supplies, most US schools don’t. I was interested to read that when poor children do attend schools in middle class neighborhoods, they do perform as well or better than those from affluent families.

Reading one can get tired of the amount of complaints Crosby and other quoted teachers have. I could not read it through in a few days due to complaint fatigue. As an educator, most likely changing careers as many do, I knew why teachers feel so overworked and underpaid and simultaneously cheered at common grievances voice, while also feeling overwhelmed by the many hardships cited. While this book, published a few years back, offers a better pay system and better ways of running I suspect there won’t be much change. I think most people feel their school is good enough so while all state schools could be better, there isn’t much will to really seriously change things.

Crosby points out that some teachers are the professions worst enemies. Those who do the minimum, act unprofessionally or less professionally than the parents’ can in their jobs, and those whose relationship to the union resemble a factory worker more than say a doctor relates to the AMA.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The End of America by Naomi Wolf

Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights says of this book, "You will be shocked and disturbed by this book."

I'd say that he's spot on.

The parallels that Wolf draws between our current administration and other Fascist governments of the 20th century are chilling.

Yes, I used the word other in the previous sentence purposefully.

I have long been concerned about things like the suspension of habeas corpus (see Political Theater, Discouraged and America, Love it or Leave it) and the attempt to provide immunity to the telecom companies who acquiesced to the administration's demands for warrantless wiretaps.

Unfortunately, situations like those Wolf describes, while making me angry and incredulous, also make me feel small and powerless.

I do feel compelled to share this book with people.

Be warned, if you are on my gift giving list, you will likely be receiving a copy.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Passing into Light

I’ve been reading a lot of road trip books lately and not on purpose. First there was Blue Highways now I just finished Passing into Light and an in the middle of Donald Miller’s Painted Deserts. Hmmm.

My friend, Sharon Ewell Foster wrote Passing into Light so I’m not unbiased here. It’s the story of a young widow, Shirley who packs up her two kids and heads for a new life in California. Or so she hopes. Against her better judgment she picks up a hitchhiker, Windy, and makes a detour in Texas where she returns to the place and person that were most nurturing for her. This detour forces her to make another and to search for her mother who’d been institutionalized when Shirley was a girl and to find her uncles, who’d been unjustly incarcerated.

As you might guess, the book’s not as light as the Ain’t No River series. But it is moving and thoughtful. It does fit in the Christian fiction genre so readers will find characters using faith, prayer and the Gospel to make sense of their problems.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Boleyn Inheritance

While this book picks up just a bit after The Other Boleyn Girl leaves off, it doesn't manage to carry over the engrossing storytelling.

Whether this is due to a fatigue with the genre/period/family or whether this is due to a lesser quality product is hard to say. I have read 5 other books by this author.

Gregory presents the story of Henry VIII's fourth and fifth wives from the perspective of these two wives and the sister in law of his second wife in alternating chapters.

As always, I found Gregory's work interesting for her take on the internal life of historical characters but I tired of her characters' narration midway through the book. Enough so that I skipped to the final chapters to see where Gregory was taking us.

At this point, I'm not feeling like I'll be reading a 7th book by Ms Gregory . . .

Blue Highways

With a divorce around the corner, when his life seemed empty, William Least Heat-Moon set out on a journey around the perimeter more or less of the U.S. He wanted to see if he could travel around the country using only the highways marked in blue on the map foregoing the interstates. He succeeds and along the way, as you’d expect, he meets character after character, whom he manages to elicit story after story, opinion after (sometimes half-baked) opinion. He gets to the history of each locale through the informal guardians of the past.

The book is beautifully written. He makes you feel like you’re part of each encounter. He adroitly weaves in Native American myth, philosophy, history, geology, poetry and folk lore to illumine his tales. His insights beautifully reveal his motives and his thoughts and questions about them.

Least Heat-Moon reminds us of John Irving’s assertion that there are just two plot lines: 1) a stranger comes to town and 2) a stranger leaves town. Heat-Moon does both. Along the way he’s befriended, suspected, ignored, challenged, and welcomed.
This is probably the best book I read in 2007. As I read, I wanted to tell everyone I met that they MUST read Blue Highways. Now I can’t wait to read his other books on journeys on foot and by water around the U.S.

I’ll give you the first paragraph to whet your appetite:
Beware thoughts that come in the night. They aren’t turned properly they come in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of sources. Take the idea of February 17, a cay of cancelled expectations, the day I learned my job teaching English was finished because of declining enrollment at the college, the day I called my wife from whom I’d been separated for nine months to give here the news, the day she let slip about her “friend” -- Rick or Dick or Chick. Something like that.
Then let’s try the page 69 test. What’s that like?
‘Travelin’ alone! Ever ascared alone?’ I shrugged. ‘Me, I ain’t never aschared,’ he said. ‘Looky here.’ From his left breast pocket, he took a worn bullet: a .22 long rifle. ‘I carried a live forty-five round in the war and never got shot by friend or foe. Always carry me a round over my heart, and ain’t never ascared because I know when I dies it’s agonna be from this. And quick. Lord’ll see to that -- when it’s my time.”

From that I’d say you get a taste of his encounters. Moreover, his reflections are perceptive and articulate. Trust me. Blue Highways did make me homesick, made me think about the various folks I’d meet waiting for a subway in Chicago or living in L.A. God bless America’s characters! They reveal that individualism ain’t all bad.
Remind me not to cruise through the next Wisconsin or Indiana hamlet.

(I'm sure he talked to a few people who weren't colorful, just bland. We all do, don't we?)