, you should examine your own educational past in order to make a larger argument about what you see to be the root problem (or problems) of our educational crises. In pondering your
educational past, you should obviously think about your formal education (schooling). Your purpose in this essay is to convince readers of your view by showing them how the experience(s)
affected you and led you to form a specific view of or opinion about education, and/or an opinion about why, in general, Americans remain happily undereducated or happily poorly educated.
You need to incorporate information from at least two of the sources we’ve read this semester to make your argument (document it, of course), but you will also need to develop evidence by
drawing upon your own experiences, observations, and critical thinking. Unless you get permission from me, you are to use only the assigned texts for your sources, no additional sources. Your
essay should be no shorter than four full, double-spaced pages, excluding the Works Cited page.
I taught for thirty years in some of the worst schools in Manhattan, and in some of the best,
and during that time I became an expert in boredom. Boredom was everywhere in my world,
and if you asked the kids, as I often did, why they felt so bored, they alwa ys gave the same
answers: They said the work was stupid, that it made no sense, that they already knew it.
They said they wanted to be doing something real, not just sitting around. They said teachers
didn’t seem to know much about their subjects and clear ly weren’t interested in learning
more. And the kids were right: their teachers were every bit as bored as they were.
Boredom is the common condition of schoolteachers, and anyone who has spent time in a
teachers’ lounge can vouch for the low energy, the w hining, the dispirited attitudes, to be
found there. When asked why they feel bored, the teachers tend to blame the kids, as you
might expect. Who wouldn’t get bored teaching students who are rude and interested only in
grades? If even that. Of course, teachers are themselves products of the same twelve- year
compulsory school programs that so thoroughly bore their students, and as school personnel
they are trapped inside structures even more rigid than those imposed upon the children.
Who, then, is to blame?
We all are. My grandfather taught me that. One afternoon when I was seven I complained to
him of boredom, and he batted me hard on the head. He told me that I was never to use that
term in his presence again, that if I was bored it was my fault and no one else’s. The
obligation to amuse and instruct myself was entirely my own, and people who didn’t know
that were childish people, to be avoided if possible. Certainly not to be trusted. That episode
cured me of boredom forever, and here and there over the years I was able to pass on the
lesson to some remarkable student. For the most part, however, I found it futile to challenge
the official notion that boredom and childishness were the natural state of affairs in the
classroom. Often I had to defy custom, and even bend the law, to help kids break out of this
The empire struck back, of course; childish adults regularly conflate opposition with
disloyalty. I once returned from a medical leave to discover that all evidence of my having
been granted the leav e had been purposely destroyed, that my job had been terminated, and
that I no longer possessed even a teaching license. After nine months of tormented effort I
was able to retrieve the license when a school secretary testified to witnessing the plot unfold.
In the meantime my family suffered more than I care to remember. By the time I finally
retired in 1991, I had more than enough reason to think of our schools – with their long – term,
cell – block- style, forced confinement of both students and teachers – as virtual factories of
childishness. Yet I honestly could not see why they had to be that way. My own experience
had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to
themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the
old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling.
We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the
capacity for surprising insi ght – simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by
introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or
she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.