How My Thinking about School Reform Has Changed over the Decades (Part 1)

A few years ago, Richard Elmore asked me to write a piece about how my ideas have changed over the years. Daily experience in schools as a teacher, administrator, and researcher (and the reflections and writing that I did about those experiences)  altered key ideas I had about the nature of reform and how reform worked its way into districts, schools, and classrooms. He included my piece in a book called I Used to Think… And Now I Think (Harvard Education Press, 2011). I have divided the piece into two parts. Part 1 follows. 

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I used to think that public schools were vehicles for reforming society. And now I think that while good teachers and schools can promote positive intellectual, behavioral, and social change in individual children and youth, schools are (and have been) ineffectual in altering social inequalities.

I began teaching high school in 1955 filled with the passion to teach history to youth and help them find their niche in the world while working toward making a better society. At that time, I believed wholeheartedly in words taken from John Dewey’s “Pedagogic Creed” (1897): “… education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform.”

And I tried to practice those utopian words in my teaching in Cleveland (OH) through the early 1960s. While in retrospect I could easily call this faith in the power of teaching and schooling to make a better life and society naïve or unrealistic, I refuse to do so because that passionate idealism, that innocence, about the complex and conflicted roles that schooling plays in a democratic, market-driven society gave meaning and drive to the long days I worked as a teacher, getting married, starting a family, and taking university classes at night toward a masters degree in history.

That confident belief in the power of schools to reform society took me to Washington, D.C. in 1963 (I arrived on the day of the civil rights March on Washington) to teach returned Peace Corps volunteers how to become teachers at Cardozo High School. I stayed nearly a decade in D.C. teaching and administering school-site and district programs aimed at turning around schools in a largely black city, a virtual billboard for severe inequalities. I taught history to students in two high schools. I worked in programs that trained energetic young teachers to work in low-performing schools, programs that organized residents in impoverished neighborhoods to improve their community, programs that created alternative schools and district-wide professional development programs for teachers and administrators. While well intentioned federal and D.C. policymakers attacked the accumulated neglect that had piled up in schools over decades, they adopted these reform-driven programs haphazardly without much grasp of how to implement them in schools and classrooms.

I have few regrets for what I and many other like-minded individuals did during the 1960s. I take pride in the many teachers and students who participated in these reforms who were rescued from deadly, mismanaged schools, and ill-taught classrooms. But the fact remains that by the early 1970s, with a few notable exceptions, most of these urban school reforms I and others had worked in had become no more than graffiti written in snow. And the social inequalities that we had hoped to reduce, persisted.

Since the early 1970s, a succession of superintendents and elected school boards have descended upon the D.C. public schools determined to fundamentally change that benighted district. Even after reforms aimed at the governance, curriculum, instruction, and organization of schools were adopted, even after the glories of parental choice, charter schools, and market competition have been championed as cure-alls for urban district ills—after decades of unrelenting geysers of reforms, schooling in D.C.—now under mayoral control–and most other urban districts remain educational disaster zones and a blight on a democratic society.

After leaving D.C., my work as a superintendent, professor, and researcher into the history of school reform and teaching led me to see that the relationship between public schools, reform, and society was far more entangled than I had thought. I came to understand that the U.S. has a three-tiered system of schooling based upon performance and socioeconomic status.

Top-tier schools—about 10 percent of all U.S. schools–such as selective urban high schools in New York, Boston, and San Francisco and schools in mostly affluent white suburbs such as New Trier High School (IL), San Ramon Valley (CA), Montgomery County (MD) meet or exceed national and state curriculum standards. They head lists of high-scoring districts in their respective states. These schools send nearly all of their graduates to four-year colleges and universities.

Second-tier schools—about 50 percent of all schools often located in inner-ring suburbs (e.g., T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA; Menlo-Atherton High School in Menlo Park, CA) often meet state standards and send most of their graduating classes to college. But, on occasion, they slip in and out of compliance with federal and state accountability rules, get reprimanded, and continue on their way as second-tier schools.

Then there is the third tier of schools located in big cities such as D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta, and rural areas where large numbers of poor and minority families live. Most schools in these cities are low-performing and frequently on the brink of being shut down because they are on federal and state lists of failing schools. Occasionally, a stellar principal and staff will lift a school into the second tier but staying there is uncommon.

Such a three-tier system in the U.S., schools cannot remedy national economic, social, and political problems or dissolve persistent inequities. Schools in these tiers cannot be the vanguard for social reform—ever. Public schools, I concluded, are (and have been) institutions for maintaining social stability (and inequalities) yet, and this is a mighty large “yet,” good teachers and schools can promote positive intellectual, behavioral, and social change in many children and youth even in the lowest tier of schools.

The irony, of course, is that many current policymakers from President Obama through local school board presidents and superintendents still mime John Dewey’s words and act as if schools can, indeed, reform society. In President Obama’s 2010 State of the union speech, for example, he said, “in the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education.”

So nearly a half-century of experience in schools and the sustained research I have done have made me allergic to utopian rhetoric. Both my experience and research have changed my mind about the role of schools in society. I have become skeptical of anyone spouting words about schools being in the vanguard of social reform—even from a President I admire. Yet, I must confess that in my heart, I still believe that content-smart and classroom-smart teachers who know their students well can make significant differences in their students’ lives even if they cannot cure societal ills.

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55 Comments

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55 responses to “How My Thinking about School Reform Has Changed over the Decades (Part 1)

  1. This is kind of a depressing thing to read. Not that it isn’t true – just depressing.

    One question I am left with is how teaching can make a difference in individual lives without having an impact on society as a whole. Is society not just a collection of interacting individuals?

    Is it because there just aren’t enough good teachers to have a statistical impact? Do the teachers not have enough autonomy? Too much? Are other social barriers just too much?

    I agree that school functions to stabilize, not disrupt, the existing social structure. Is this inevitable? Perhaps schools must prepare students for the life they will see, not the life we wish they would see.

    Is it possible that there are better ways to classify schools than according to whether they meet curriculum standards?

  2. Public schools are a reflection of the equality in society; they are not the sole or even main generator of such equality. But in theory and in practice, they are supposed to, as a public trust, remain on as ONE of the major players in generating and sustaining equality. They can, they have, and they should.

    Great schools with great teachers under a non-high stakes testing environment can absolutely teach low income children well, and the learning there is resplendent, but this is only done up to a certain threshold with enough resources. Beyond such a threshold and without more wrap-around services, the school alone can almost never go any further.

    One of the reasons why other country’s schools are faring better is that their child poverty rates are dramatically lower than that in the United States. This is something Washington DC refuses to absorb and take seriously in their bought-and-paid for, unfounded fear of what they deem to be “socialism”.

    But with today’s junk science reforms, starving of school budgets with the tax-subsidized wealth of big corporations and uber-rich individuals, and the utter sheer corruption of teachers unions (save for the CTU and Karen Lewis), schools can no longer be considered much of any kind of player of improving inequality.

    The policy makers, most of whom have no background in education, are boh misguided and intentional in seeing the education of children for purposed that not only have little or nothing to do with education, but that work against the civil, social, fiscal, and cognitive rights of such children and their families.

    There is hope, and the hope is growing with more and more backlash from parents who vote and who are tax payers.

    But this will prove to be a very long, protracted and drawn out fight to restore and improve what we once had, and forces outside the school system used to mitigate poverty will have to come into play, such as reforming our military campaigns, our tax codes, and our healthcare system.

    It will have to get worse, if that is imaginable, to get better.

  3. Doesn’t the Finnish experience give us some hope that equity in education can help drive economic equality? After World War II, Finland was suffering from economic and political instability, but used comprehensive education reform to inspire new ways of thinking about common responsibility for children and adults. Finland’s relative homogeneity means that it can be used as a cookie cutter, but I do think there is some hope in the philosophical shift that was inspired by provide the best possible education to every student regardless of SE background.

    In addition, we could start with some basic social reforms that would send more prepared students to our k-12 schools – free universal public preschool and kindergarten, universal health care, expanded nutritional programs.

    No hope to take children from unequal backgrounds and produce graduates with equal opportunity?

    • larrycuban

      Historically, culturally, and socially Finland differs from U.S. Finland has created social safety nets, invested in families, altered tax structures and worked to reduce economic and social inequalities outside of schools; education reflects nicely those efforts and reinforces the equity that the larger society seeks.

      The U.S., compared to other nations in Europe and Asia, has made only baby-moves in that direction.

      Thanks for the comment, Adam

  4. Bridget

    These are the types of conversations of which we aren’t hearing enough. Many of us who have been in education long enough, but especially also in administration, understand exactly what you mean. Schools are not islands. We receive students who bring with them a myriad of baggage they carry from the environments in which they live. Or in the case of middle or upper SES, the benefits of the environments in which they are raised. Most of us believed, as Larry did, that we could make a difference, and we did. The problem comes when the EdDeformers, who have almost no long term experience actually teaching these students, try to make the public believe public schools are the cause of the failures of public policies enacted by those who thought they could solve these problems easily. If it were so easy, the problems of poverty would have been solved by now.
    Those of us in the trenches have by now, come to the hard reality that it is NOT as simple as we thought it would be. But we keep at it, because as you have stated, we now understand that we do make a difference for individual students and families. And for me, that’s all I can do and it is good enough for now, as long as I keep working to improve the the things I actually have control of in my school. If only those testing mandators from above would get out of my way and let me and my teachers do what we know is needed to improve education for these children in our school. We know that won’t happen though, because it is no longer about improving education, but is actually now about funding the big business of testing, and data collection, and technology companies, at the expense of our children’s future. Why else would we have hedge funders and tech gurus and other billionaire corporate magnates telling us what we need to do to “fix” education. When those of actually in education know that it is poverty that needs “fixing”. Our children who are not in poverty are doing just fine.

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  6. My experiences overseas have caused me to think that “what you know” is not enough for social or economic advancement in many societies. The issue is one we Americans don’t like to talk about: unnamed class structures within society.

    In India, the class structure was apparent. We had a very educated household manager who re-engineered our generator. When we left the country, we tried to get him a job as a maintenance man in a local business. While the company accepted the application, we were pulled aside by HR and told “We don’t hire that kind of people.” I found myself judging a culture I will never fully understand – a culture that comprises people of all classes that I love dearly.

    I saw the same when talking to Chinese from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China.

    In America, we learn that The American Dream is open to all. Australians are careful to not be “tall poppies” because the tall poppy gets whacked down. Yet racism and prejudice and classism exist in both places. To get well-paying jobs, you must know stuff- and you must be able to assimilate into a social structure you may or may not understand. Those coming from backgrounds of poverty fight for survival in way that those of us from non-impoverished backgrounds will never fully understand and our unspoken data-driven, logic-trumps-feelings cultural values are difficult for many to navigate.

    You said that content-smart and classroom smart teachers who know the children they teach are able to make a difference in the lives of those children. You are absolutely right. Those are the teachers who not only know how to help students learn, they meet children ‘where they’re at’ and help them navigate the complex social rules into which they will be expected to assimilate before, during, and after their education is complete.

    I’m not a believer in the utopian rhetoric. I struggle to not despair about a world that wants people to fit into socially-acceptable ‘boxes’. Teachers can positively affect one life at a time and there is tremendous value in that. Great teachers know that content knowledge is only part of the equation.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks very much, Janet, for your comments.

    • Bridget

      Thank you for stating what most people will never understand because they rarely have true, deep, or long term experiences outside of their own social class. The problems faced by our students growing up in poverty go far beyond money. What many of us see as deficits in “others” may actually be assets within certain social classes. What gives me the right to judge what is good or bad? By whose standards am I judging? You see that’s the problem with standards, they create “boxes” that we then try to squeeze everyone into. I have learned to check my judgements at the door, because my high poverty students teach me everyday about resilience, and friendships, and family relationships, and how to find joy in people. The current test driven and Common Standards environment leaves little room for the many levels of creative and artistic modalities that give us a rich and interesting diversity of thought that makes up humanity. Yes we need students to read and do math, but we have narrowed the view of what makes up a great education. It is inhumane though, when we admit, that it affects children in poverty the most. The Ed Reformers seem to focus on what they think is good for “other people’s children”, while their own children seem to be getting something entirely different. If you want to know what a great education looks like, just look at the schools that these Ed Reformers (including Gates and our President) send their own children. It really isn’t rocket science. Remove the testing mandates and we might be able to actually spend the money in the right places, on the children. As we have stated before, Poverty is real the problem.

      • I understand what you are saying, and agree with the point that what we call ‘deficits’ can be strengths from another perspective. However, what schools determine to be strengths and deficits tend to align with what employers call strengths and deficits (e.g., ability to focus on a task that someone else gives you).

        Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may have various strengths, but if employers don’t value those strengths then they will continue in relative poverty.

        I support giving local schools and individual teachers more control over curriculum so that individual strengths can be leveraged and developed. However, the implications for social mobility are not clear to me.

      • Bridget

        You are correct Mike. And it has now become part of what public schools need to address beyond the typical curriculum. It is a paradigm shift that we are currently struggling to adjust to as teachers. Teaching social skills is rarely part of our teacher preparation coursework. I guess that is part of the problem though, when mandates are imposed from above. People who have little or no experience teaching children in poverty always think it much simpler than it actually is. That is my issue with having a Secretary of Education and State Superintendents of Education whose credentials have little to do with any actual classroom experience. It is a much more complicated issue than they are prepared to solve with their misplaced theories on privatization, testing, data, and free market capitalism imposed on public education.

      • Bridget, you are brilliant! You speak for millions . . .

  7. If I understand your idea, it is that sometimes schools/teachers/the-school-system can be effective for individual students, and that it is good to continue to improve our collective ability as a society to do that. A societal ill, however – and now I move into guessing about what societal ills you are thinking about, such as perhaps poverty, gerrymandering, a financial system that rewards the rich – these systems are controlled at a distant and different level than the school system, and that furthermore, success at the level of the school system is not a prescription for, say, reforming political gerrymandering, reforming the financial system such that more and better middle class jobs are created, even if more students emerge ready for these jobs etc.

  8. I enjoyed this piece. Thank you.
    I have always believed that as educators we must first and foremost attend to the factors in the achievement gap over which we have the most control (e.g. curriculum, instruction and environment). Not that societal issues are unimportant; we simply do not have as much control over them.
    In my experience, there is much that can be done to ensure that all students receive high quality instruction and that they profit from said instruction.

  9. Larry Lee

    would like an email address for larry cuban. thanks.

    Larry Lee 334-787-0410

    Education precedes Prosperity

  10. David B. Cohen

    Reblogged this on InterACT and commented:
    How often do you change your mind about something you know well, something you believe deeply? It’s a question of interest to me as an educator, partly because it has to do with learning, and also because advocacy for education is partly about changing people’s minds. I wrote a blog post on the topic a few years ago:
    http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/change-your-mind/
    And I was glad to see Larry Cuban take up the same question in this blog post. If you’re not familiar with Larry Cuban, I encourage you to read up about him. It’s always interesting to see what he thinks about education, and even more interesting in a way to see where his thinking has changed.

  11. Have you read James Herndon?

    • larrycuban

      Yes, Sarah, I have read James Herndon. Few readers, I fear, have not. Why do you raise him in this context?

  12. Deanna

    Corrected
    Always learn when I read this blog and the comments. Thanks to all—found the comments as well as the blog thought provoking. In thinking about first, second and third tier schools, the following thoughts for sharing….
    Unsurprisingly, many schools that achieve Blue Ribbon status and many schools with remarkably high test scores and 90+ percentages of students admitted to colleges and universities receive laudatory listings and acclaim in major national and local publications, awards from their State and local governments, and congratulations from their boards of education and elected officials. Very often these successful schools are part of top-tier systems located in affluent communities. In my community our high schools is ranked Blue Ribbon, and every spring the schools and the district proudly announce their accomplishments.
    My community’s school system, which is certainly in the top ten percent of all U.S. schools, operates using a theory of attainment. Achieving high grades is key. Having large numbers of students taking AP courses is distinguished. Having substantial numbers of students carrying extra courses is desirable. Keeping track of the numbers of elite colleges and universities to which students gain acceptance is considered noteworthy. Many resources and much energy are dedicated to keeping the numbers up by adhering to a theory of operation that is becoming increasingly outmoded.
    What we do not want to leave out in any conversation about school reform and classroom practice is that many award-winning schools are fortunately located in communities where parents can afford to provide tutors/coaches for mathematics, physics, music, art, sports, world languages, essay writing, and SAT preparation, among many other areas of study, thereby helping to keep the numbers up. Parents and families are paying for a flourishing cottage industry of tutorial and coaching services for which the school and the district feel they can accept credit.
    Operating on a theory of performance in which students at all levels engage in learning that focuses on “performing,” which requires that they synthesize their accumulated knowledge and skill to conduct demonstrations, give speeches, complete group experiments and projects, compose in various media, and maintain portfolios. This is the kind of learning that allows students to demonstrate that they understand the interrelatedness of knowledge, often with integrated interdisciplinary and thematic features. More resources and renewed energy need to be provided to prepare students to perform in the century in which they will have to live and compete—the 21st.
    Having served as a teacher, assistant superintendent, and lead person in a charter school district, I have observed teachers who operate in an attainment model and teachers who operate in a performance model in top-tier, second-tier, and third-tier schools. Done well, teaching and learning in a performance model are dynamic and modern. Teaching within the attainment model is too often anemic. Too much of the teaching I observed during my career was unexciting, even tedious, as is too much of the instruction in my hometown school district at this time.
    Yet, I believe that content-rich teachers with classroom savvy and the willingness to work and learn together (not as solo artists) can get students to perform in authentic, truly meaningful ways. In this way they can do much to prepare their students to help cure society’s ills.

    • larrycuban

      Many thanks, Deanna, for your comments about tier one schools–in the attainment model–and where you come out on savvy teachers who work together within the performance model.

  13. Larry,
    Hugely insightful and admirably “collegiate” analysis of educational reality. I’ve often thought what most people know as “The Alcoholics Prayer” ought to be compulsory rote learning for trainee teachers.
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    As someone who has never been impressed by utilitarian educational ideologies, one of the surprisingly upbeat things I’ve seen recently in the UK is the growth of University Technical Colleges, essentially vocational secondary schools. I’m impressed because many of them are clearly both rational and pragmatic in their efforts to align themselves in a highly specialised way with regional businesses and their employment needs. It’s early days. But if they succeed, they will in effect be educating many children from poorer backgrounds directly into employment and even long term careers.
    http://www.utcolleges.org

    • larrycuban

      Ah, the serenity prayer. Thanks, Joe, for reminding me of it. I had not known about the explosive growth of University Technical Colleges. High school career-tech academies are the closest we have and that is not higher education. In the U.S. private vendors have technical vocational education pretty well locked up in higher education. Thanks again, Joe, for educating me about UK developments.

  14. EB

    Wonderful article; looking forward to Part 2. Would add, however, that the educational system we have co-exists with a fair amount of social mobility. Although children from all 5 economic quintiles don’t have equal likelihood of ending up in the higher ones as adults, they do move to other quintiles more often than we realize. For example, only 40% of children from the lowest quintile, end up there as adults. They may be far less likely to end up in the highest quintile than a child who was born there, but they are also statistically unlikely to stay in the lowest quintile. Without a functional public school system, however, this would not be happening. So I would say that our school system does not create equal mobility for everyone; at the same time, it does not really “perpetuate” inequality, as some like to say; it rather fails to create full equality. And why we would expect it to do that, I do not understand. A compressed income scale, such as exists in Japan, would be far more likely to do that.

    • larrycuban

      Nice point, Jane. My recollection, however, is that compared to many European countries, particularly in Scandinavia, the U.S. ranks much lower in social mobility. And if you do not like international comparisons, as I read reports of wealth distribution in the U.S., inequalities have grown worse. Just this week, Congressional inaction has permitted the interest rate on student loans to double which will have impact on low-income high school graduates wanting to enter college. My hunch is that the movement between quintiles that you point out has shrunk in the past quarter-century. Just a hunch. Thanks for the comment.

      • EB

        I think you’re right that movement between quintiles may have decreased, and I surely don’t argue that the US has enough social mobility. I merely think that schools are not keeping that 60% of children in the lower quintile who rise, from making that transition. And, schools are not keeping all of the upper quintile children in that quintile, either. Point being, schools are necessary but not sufficient to make children more mobile. With no schools, upper class kids would get the learning they need, and lower class kids would get none of it.

      • larrycuban

        Your point is clear, Jane. Thanks.

      • Robert Rendo

        Larry, I think income inequality has a direct impact on learning in school. Poverty can almost always be overcome in a public school if the resources are adequate. Schools, as you already know, don’t change a parent’s income, but they can change a child’s life permanently when the resources are there. One of the reasons they are not there is because of income inequality. We are subsidizing tax breaks for very wealthy individuals and corporations . . . .Money no longer trickles down from both the private and public sectors.

        BTW, “The Way it Spozed to Be” by James Herndon is a fascinating and in many ways timeless book. I recommend it to everyone.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for taking the time to comment, Robert.

  15. Louise Kowitch Campbell

    Dear Larry,
    Once again, your training as a historian serves you well as an analyst of education. Thank you for an assessment that resonates with this classroom teacher of 25+ years. . The retrenchment from genuine reform is at odds with the rhetoric of change. My joy as a veteran teachers derives primarily from my efforts to raise the aspirations and performance of my students as individuals, in my classroom. Policy is a chimera because so few administrators and policy “experts” possess the decades of classroom experience that you have.
    Thank you for your blog, as always.
    Louise Kowitch Campbell,
    Farmington High School,
    Farmington, Ct.

    • larrycuban

      Thank you, Louise, for your comments.Given your experience and for the decades that we have known each other, your words mean a lot to me.

  16. Larry
    I do not have your depth, having only been in education for nigh on 30 years; nor your breadth, remaining a teacher; not your perspective, having a teaching and research interest primarily focused on the digital. I also have experience in the fours tier of private education that brings into question another dimension of social education. Yet I can only agree wholeheartedly with you assessment. I too remember clearly my reason for choosing school education as an issue of “social benefit”, later engaging with the Dewey focus of a better society through education, and a realization of the political complexities of schooling as a mirror to society’s hopes and aspirations rather than a broken cart awaiting utopian redemption, be it reformation (or those even worse terms revolution or transformation). Yet we stay engaged because in the end education is about hope and if learning is a lifelong journey then is no better place to be to help support intellectual, behavioral and social betterment.
    As always, with thanks
    John

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, John, for your comments.

    • Robert Rendo

      Alas, John, most reformers don’t want any of those elements you mentioned in education today. They have de-intellectualized, de-behavioralized, and de-socialized the journey you describe by creating a high stakes environment that ties nearly every minute to outcomes on standardized testing.

      Who does this really benefit?

      Larry, what do you think? John?

      Most private schools don’t this, and they keep testing down to a dramatically smaller extent because they realize there must be a balance to avoid counter-productivity in a child’s education career.

  17. Big Mac

    Larry – Continuing your theme:
    I used to think….social equality, data driven science, Finnish comparisons. testing mandates, social class structures, common standards, economic mobility should inform my work as a teacher….but i now think, really? This is what good teaching should be concerned with? The problems with schools is they think they can do more than they are actually capable of. If you go to a shoemaker, you expect to get a good pair of shoes not magical ones that by clicking the heels can transform society.

    Let’s face it. The state and federal governments in partnership with the progressive reform elites ruined public education decades ago, for example, by advocating. no demanding, all students should go to college. This was a social panacea pipe dream that somehow teachers were supposed to make happen. Teachers who were already overburdened trying to figure out how to implement the last social utopian scheme.

    Who said schools should be about social engineering not individual learning? I went into teaching to teach history, a discipline, a way of thinking about the past connected to the present and the individual’s place in that, a way to appreciate who you are and understand the culture you came from. End of story. It should be left up to the individual what they want to do or are capable of doing with a body of knowledge and skills. No more, no less.

    Schools are places of building life skills, exploring ideas, tapping creativity, debating values, understanding mores and engagng in intellectual inquiry. They should not set themselves up ( nor should teachers for that matter) as agents of social reform, wealth redistribution or transformative structures. If the latter approaches are why you went into public education, well perhaps social work or the IRS would work better for you. You will always be disappointed. The answer is to continually learn as mush about your discipline, engage kids in the best wonders of it, and teach it damn well. Engage your kids. let a thousand flowers bloom, that is the only worthwhile “social” agenda.

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  20. I truly hope Part Two of this post has a bit more hope!

    I’m disinclined to think that the work that our teachers do makes little difference outside of a few children here or there lucky enough to have good teachers.. If knowledge is socially constructed, than the learning that happens in schools ought to have a social impact.

    I’m equally disinclined to think that, as idealistic as I am, it’s my job as a school leader to ‘fix’ America, or to do anything more than create the best possible school for my classroom of 600 students that I can.

    I’m happy to work in partnership with anyone who wants to join our team of adults helping children learn and grow, and I’m happy to know that in some small part, I’ve done what I can to create a school that achieves social justice. I honestly don’t believe that I have much direct bearing on the outcome of atrocities in Syria, preserving voting rights in the United States, or fair distribution of Legos during indoor recess, but I also know that I can’t do my job if I think that schools can’t serve as vehicles of positive growth and change.

    I’m intrigued to hear what Larry Cuban believes now.

  21. Dear Professor Cuban,
    I read your paper as part of a university course on education policy. I have been teaching for more than 25 years at several different types of schools and find primary school the most rewarding. Reading your conclusions about the centrality of the person who facilitates learning, the teacher was allways my gut feeling. Being one who does not thrive under authoritative systems, and also incourages autonomous learning in my classes, I found your words a relief and giving me energy to keep on going, to do it the best way I know how. Thankyou, Benny Stein

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