Opinion

Opinion and commentary on some of the most controversial education issues including, unions, Latin, and technology. The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any Public School Review.
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Pulished |
Let's Do Something About Violence
How many more shootings in our schools will it take before we do something about violence? Let's start now.
Editorial
 
Yet another horrific shooting. More innocent lives snuffed out. Twenty children sitting in their safe, familiar classroom. Gone.
 
These shootings have become an all too familiar story. I now think twice about visiting public places. I still go. But I am wary. The same defensive mechanism which kicks in when I drive is now present in my thinking. But let me back up a bit and explain my aversion to violence.

As a classicist I am quite familiar with our love of violent spectacles. Chariot races, gladiator contests and mock naval wars are all, as far as I am concerned, precursors of 21st century video games and movies. That does not mean that I like them. Not one bit.
 
My first taste of real violence was during the terrorist activities which took place in the Province of Quebec back in the 60s when I was a teen. I knew nothing of violence prior to that, having been raised in a leafy green English neighborhood in Montreal called Westmount. My family had lived there for several generations. But the French Canadians were tired of feeling oppressed and shackled economically and socially by a minority population, i.e., les Anglais. They started blowing things up. I was out for a walk one day heading north on Roslyn Avenue. I heard what I to this day recall as a thump. Not a bang. A thump. As I turned the corner onto Westmount Avenue I saw a body lying on the pavement. It was a letter carrier....
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Pulished |
Should Latin be Taught?
The benefits of studying a dead language.
Opinion
 
Does a dead language have any place in a 21st century curriculum? Is it useful? Is it relevant? Does it have value as an enrichment to the core curriculum? I think it does and for the following reasons.
 
1. Latin offers young people a glimpse into the life and times of the ancient Romans.
Yes, they can read about ancient Rome and watch the videos. They can learn about expansion of the Roman Empire under Julius Caesar. All that information is readily available. But it is filtered information. The whole point of learning a language is to be able to read source materials. I don't want somebody telling me what Julius Caesar said. I want to read it for myself. I want to understand what Caesar said, why he said it, how he said it - the works.
 
I will disclaim that I learned Latin back in the 50s and 60s when it was taught in the rather old-fashioned way languages were taught back then. You learned endless conjugations and declensions. You struggled with Latin's nuanced sense of tense. Et cetera. It would have been rather dry and dull had it not been for a very gifted teacher. (Isn't that usually the case?) Jack Boyer, a diminutive man with sparkling blue eyes and a rapier wit, made anything in Latin exciting and fascinating for me and the rest of my classmates. Indeed, back then in Westmount High in Montreal, we were streamed as the Latin class or the Science class. Latin was...
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Pulished |
Has Technology Improved Educational Outcomes?
We have spent tens of billions on educational technology since the 1990s. Has all this spending improved educational outcomes?
K-12 educational technology spending is currently running at approximately $30 billion* a year. So the question is a fair one. Has technology in fact improved educational outcomes?

Pros

Technology has freed up administrative time.

Electronic grade books save time for teachers. Electronic tests and quizzes save more time. Software which allows students to master skills in maths, sciences and languages are huge time savers. Email and blogs make communications with parents and administration instantaneous and very efficient. And the tools just keep getting better and better.  The less time a teacher has to spend on administrative tasks, the more time she theoretically can spend on lesson preparation and other purely teaching-related tasks.

Technology has opened new worlds.
iPads and wireless networks have literally liberated teaching. We can teach anywhere, any time. That flexibility is what makes teaching exciting and relevant. Decades ago you livened up your class by taking them outside on a nice day to sit under a tree and teach your lesson. The lesson was usually successful because you had your students' undivided attention. You piqued their interest with the change of venue.  Exposing young people to the world around them both locally, nationally and abroad is an important part of a teacher's job.

Technology performs that function instantly and without creating logistics issues like taking a class outdoors does. Your history lessons come alive as you make virtual visits to places which were probably just names up until then. The pictures and photographs, videos and sound tracks really flatten the world ,...
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Pulished |
Should Teachers Be Unionized?
One of the basic differences between private and public schools is the fact that most public school teachers belong to a union. Should teachers be unionized?
Opinion

One of the basic differences between private and public schools is the fact that most public school teachers belong to a union. Should teachers be unionized? My answer to that question is "Yes" if you teach in a public school and "No" if you teach in a private school. Let me explain why.

Public schools essentially are controlled by government at the local, state and national levels. They are funded by taxpayers at all those levels. So it makes sense for teachers to want and need some protection from those three quarters. That protection is their union.

Private schools are funded by tuition paid by their customers, i.e., the parents of their students. Endowments and fundraising make up the delta between what tuition raises and the actual expenses for the school year. Income and expenses must align. Each private school is an independent corporate entity controlled by school trustees, not governments.

Back to the public school teachers and why their unions are necessary. Public schools are funded to a great extent by local property taxes. So you would think that in reality public schools would operate no differently that private schools. In other words they would not spend more than they take in. But this is where it gets very complicated very quickly. A directive from the state to manage a program which has been put in place may have the highest and best motives. But if the state legislators do not fund the program fully, somebody has to take up the...
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Pulished |
Do Private School Vouchers Exchange Parental Choice for Private School Control?
Private school vouchers are available in one form or another in more than a dozen states. Are schools which accept vouchers sacrificing their independence?
Opinion

Currently eighteen states have enacted laws which provide scholarships for students from low income families so they can attend private school. These scholarships are generally referred to as vouchers. Do private school vouchers give parents' choices while at the same time sacrificing private schools' most cherished feature, namely their independence? In my opinion they do not. With one condition: the state or local government must pay the scholarship directly to the parents.

Most voucher programs have good intentions. But if a private school which is not subject to very many controls accepts public funds, then the voucher program could become a two edged sword. On the other hand if the school merely accepts students without being concerned as to the source of their funding, the school should not have to sacrifice any of its independence. After all, being mostly free of regulations concerning what they can teach and how they teach is what private schools are all about. For the sake of our discussion I am defining a private or independent school which receives its income from tuition and endowments as opposed to a grant from public funds.

In a typical voucher scenario the family lives in a neighborhood with underperforming public schools. There are a couple of private schools in the area which they would like to send their children to but really cannot afford to do so without some financial assistance. The state or local government provides a modest amount of financial assistance to a limited number of low...
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