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Open Letter 26 May 2012, the Griot Poet An Open Letter to President Barack Obama and his likely

y opponent, Governor Willard Mitt Romney: I am a teacher. At least, I was once one formally. I had the distinct pleasure of passing the combined Math/Physics certification exam for Texas public schools. Since Id been an engineer and physics major, it seemed the fun, right thing to do. I was told they looked for my type, people from industry with real world experiences, that could bring it to the classroom and to problem-solving. I met another new teacher that had been at the same campus one year prior to my matriculation: she had her Masters in Mechanical Engineering and taught Math Models (more on this later). I found out passing a state exam and successfully being hired by a school is not being accepted into an inherently political system that values its own: once, I was called into the assistant principals office at the first high school I taught at. I was asked a very peculiar question: Mr. Goodwin, why are you giving homework to your class? That floored me! UhSo they can master the material, I sheepishly replied. We have to present a united front Mr. Goodwin, my AP continued to lecture. It seems that the other math teachers at my level I taught Algebra I, Math Lab and Pre-Calculus (fun) for a time were not. Everything stemmed from a packaged program the district had purchased handouts that were to be worked on in class only; everything centered on passing the high-stakes state exam. For the school, it meant dollars to the district, divided Darwinian-fashion on levels of Acceptable, Recognized and Outstanding: The less help your district needed, the more money it received; the more help meant bad teachers/principals-close-down-fire-staff-reopen with no adjustment to demographics or life circumstances. Also to my chagrin: I actually tried grading the homework in Pre-Calculus as my own teachers had, trying to understand the students logic, giving notes/pointers and part credit. We were only to give completion grades, meaning their name and a few scribbles qualified the effort as completed! It was only 10% of their total grade, and all exams were open book; open notes. The Algebra I class was no better, as everyone had to have a formula chart for each exam, formulas displayed on the dry erase board (the Law of Exponents?), and of course, calculators. I was eventually removed from teaching the fun class as the teacher Id been hired due to her bought with breast cancer felt strong enough to take her class back. My failure rate was 23%: apparently high, since an acceptable failure rate was 10% or less. I was assigned to the Math Lab kids meaning, the kids that the previous year had failed the state high stakes exam and Credit Recovery, an online curriculum the students clicked through at hyper speed, because lifes answers (as on the state standardized test) HAD to be a, b, c, d or e (all of the above). At my second high school, I was a floater with a laptop, walking with the bell from class-to-class. Id assumed the teacher whom I was competing with to teach Algebra II had passed his certification exam. Think of my surprise when I received the email celebrating his successful completion: IN NOVEMER! 1|Page

Open Letter 26 May 2012, the Griot Poet I taught two Physics classes, and (ta dah!) five classes of Credit Recovery. My failure rate also ~ 23% (ahem: that means 77% were passing). The accepted at this campus was 15% or less. Once I tutored a young man after school from the Philippines and made the off-comment: oh, thats six times seven, you can do that in your head. He replied: no, I cant! My jaw dropped: he did not know his times tables. I found out from a brief conversation with him, and from now two years of experience and observation, they werent required to memorize ANYTHING: times tables, Laws of Exponents, formula et al. Similar formula charts that I passed out in math were constructed for science; a DICTIONARY and THESAURUS was passed out for English Language Arts exams! The school day writ large was designed to pass the state standardized high stakes exam. I definitely found myself old school in my thinking. I bought a slide rule on Amazon. Why? Because I feared the apocalypse of society and history; that if civilization fell in a fortnight of complete idiocy and error of sagging britches and pregnant teenagers, Id at least keep my sanity working this Oughtred Society instrument and maybe an Abacus! My compatriot former-engineer-to-teacher taught Math Models: this to the kids that could not pass Pre-Calculus and had no desire/motivation to take it. This too was done via handouts; all work done in class (no completion grades required). My observation: since we didnt originally major in Education, it was funny how both of us were kind of second-class instructional citizens. To be sure: the alternate certification route I took did NOT prepare me for the psychological blunt force trauma of a generation too distracted by tech to learn the science behind it; more connected to each other through Facebook, Texting, Twitter and million player online games than to what a teacher would actually have to say in front of a classroom. Even though the tech exists that could make any American campus a blocked cell phone free zone, the carriers have successfully lobbied and blocked the deployment of such solutions, the only penalty a teacher can impose: a $15 fine, which the addicted teen will follow you to the office and immediately pay for their electronic binky. I hear the two of you blathering about how youll fix education, and Ive seen the corporate-sponsored commercials stating confidently lets solve this, as if it was a wind-up clock. I am a child born post the Sputnik moment. I witnessed first-hand the moon landing, despite the inane conspiracy theorists that didnt get their Saturday-morning cartoons interrupted by it (and believe everything someone posts on You Tube). My imagination was fueled by Star Trek, The Invaders, The Time Tunnel, Lost in Space; Jonny Quest. I made technology my toys, despite the enormous peer pressure not to do so. I was supported by a loving mother and father that saw the gleam in my eye, and despite our cultural limitations, supported my dreams of working in science. I blog about physics, and now find myself happily back in the semiconductor industry. I now have the unique perspective of seeing what education has produced in the past; what we as a nation should expect to and would like for it to produce in the future:


Open Letter 26 May 2012, the Griot Poet

1. Penalize outsourcing businesses. Education as a societal functionality should prepare the next work force for the previous one nearing retirement age, their wages paying for that well-earned retirement. The problem with outsourcing is that no revenue saved shipping jobs overseas translates to anything other than profits for the companies that practice it. Businesses that either office in the US or started in the US should practice good corporate citizenry without paying less in taxes than a person with breath and a pulse. I do agree companies should become more involved in their local school districts as part of this citizenry without buying it! Which brings me to my next point: 2. Eliminate high-stakes exams. They serve no useful purpose except to enrich testgenerating companies that generate ridiculous tests about rabbits and pineapples, demoralize students, and pressure teachers in class to only teach-to-the-test. a. In The Death and Life of the American School System by Dr. Diane Ravitch, she illustrates Campbells Law, that has us in its vice grip: "The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor." The Atlanta testing scandal, a most recent example. b. Post Sputnik moment; post Brown versus Board of Education, the country was still practicing de facto segregation in many parts of the south. Books and supplies to minority districts were subpar, text books out-of-date, pages missing and/or written in (my own personal experience): yet, we put a man on the moon. c. I call not for a return to this state as if it were Halcyon utopia, but use it to point out not a single school voucher was used; not a single charter school existed. Private schools were a reaction to integration, a backlash to Brown. The engineers and scientists who built the future more likely learned times tables and slide rules in public schools. d. I graduated high school when the only high-stakes exam was the final, not the state test, the end-of-course exam and the final! Thats THREE in each CLASS. Its a wonder the kids arent neurotic. 3. Eliminate ridiculous failure rates. Dude, madam: life is not fair. You will have to master something other than walking, looking cute, sagging britches, video-gangster-fantasiesin-the-suburbs; sex before youre ready and chewing gum. Failure is a choice: you decided that when you didnt pay attention in class, and texting your friend/updating Facebook/Tweeting was more important than listening to your teacher that prepared a dynamite lesson for you during their so-called free time! With the yoke of failure rates removed from her/him, they are empowered to teach you lifes most important lesson: you dont get a medal or paid for just showing up! Youve got to DO something special, not BE special! For the millennialsJust saying 4. Eliminate the libertarian notion of vouchers and for-profit public schools. Thats, erra private school by definition, which can make education exorbitantly expensive, widening the yawning gap between the have nots and the have mores from a chasm to a third-world canyon as the bodies of a dead middle class are tossed in unmarked graves.

Open Letter 26 May 2012, the Griot Poet

5. PAY teachers! If a professional starting wage were attractive, you would get more talented students with a passion for teaching to major in education in college, instead of a desperate second choice when all else fails. Japan pays their teachers far more than us on average; we are far less than Luxembourg. 6. Term limits. I feel especially this year, that the presidential election cycle is flawed as well as the long service time of senators and congresspersons. Senators and members of congress should only serve two consecutive terms; the president only one 6 8 year term. The current system awards freedom to so-called lame-duck incumbents i.e. that can do anything they want without threat of running for reelection, their agenda set until the next president moves into the Executive Mansion. This would be more in line with the Founders vision of involved citizens; too many stars; C-SPAN was our undoing. 7. Citizens United: An oxymoronic term on face value. If corporations are people and money is free speech, can the rest of US move while you and the Court Jester Supremes count crisp bills from billionaires/hedge fund managers/lobbyists in the echo chamber of the Hill? What Ive proposed may take a generation to see its fruition. The president that proposed putting a man on the moon John F. Kennedy sadly never lived to see it. But, it occurred: in our imperfect, black-and-white, Walter Cronkite, pre microwave, preInternet, pre cellphone-app-text-Facebook-Twitter world, we learned patience from teachers that planted seeds literally and figuratively when we were (as I recall) about three. And as children, we gleefully watched our paper cup pinto beans push up through potted soil: a combination of water, sunlight and societal maturity.