I have posted about an accidental exchange between teacher John Ogozolek and Professor Laurence Steinberg, and it continued here.
And here is more of the exchange, posted as comments on the blog:
Laurence Steinberg writes:
“I’m the author of the Slate column Diane has critiqued. I think my argument is being mischaracterized both by her and some others.
“The object of my criticism is our schools, not our kids. Nowhere did I say that American teenagers are lazy. What I said is that they aren’t being challenged. That’s very different. As to the claim that the NAEP data aren’t to be believed, I’m willing to buy that, in part. But the data on the high proportion of high school grads who require remedial education in order to handle college, as well as the high proportion who drop out (often, for non-financial reasons, studies say) aren’t made up. And they drain our education budget. Plus, in addition to the NAEP, there are other sources of information that paint a similar picture, including PISA and TIMMS, as well as surveys conducted by Public Agenda and studies by Tom Loveless, John Bishop, and me (all of whom Diane used to commend). (Contrary to what many people think, other PISA participating countries are required to test the full range of students, not just their college-bound ones).
“And as to the anecdotes, that’s exactly what they are. It’s like denying that there’s an obesity epidemic because one knows a couple of thin people, or that there is climate change because it’s been a rough winter in the Northeast and Midwest. Of course there are good teachers, good schools, and good students in the United States. But when 85 percent of American students say they’ve never taken a very difficult class, and when two thirds of American students say school is boring, there clearly is a problem. To pretend otherwise is just plain wrong.
Professor of Psychology
John Ogozalek writes:
“Many years ago (25+) Dr. Steinberg wrote an op-ed piece for the Times comparing attitudes towards schooling in the U.S. versus cultural differences in Japan.. It was a fascinating article and I used the piece for years because my students were invariably insulted by what Dr. Steinberg wrote and it provoked great classroom discussions. (In fact, I used the article when I went for a job interview back in 1993. The upscale suburban school where I was interviewing wanted me to teach a sample class. That Dr. Steinberg lesson was so good that the principal offered me the job right on the spot. Thanks, Doc! Though, I decided not to take that job and ended up staying at my small, rural school, a decision I’ve never regretted.)
“The first time I used that op-ed piece my kids were so interested that I had them write letters to Dr. Steinberg. This was all prior to the advent of e-mail, blogging, and twitter. We’re talking the last century. And, the good doctor very generously replied in writing, making a point very similar to his comments above -that, yes, data does matter. I really appreciated Dr. Steinberg’s willingness to correspond with my class way back then and I vividly remember reading his comments verbatim and using his letter again and again to teach my kids about how social sciences work. Great.
“But then I picked up a copy of Dr. Steinberg’s 1996 book…”Beyond the Classroom” which expanded on that original Times op-ed piece. And, damn, there was my class -my students!- mentioned in a not so nice way.
“The kids had written letters that, in hindsight, I should have had them revise more and proofread. That was my mistake, my sloppiness -a lesson I learned as a new teacher many years ago. But, boy, the reference to my students in that book was sort of nasty and, if I remember right, kind of factually off base, also. Wow. Had Dr. Steinberg been a bit sloppy, too? I remember being pretty mad. I was hurt because our original correspondence had been so positive and friendly. And, these were great kids! But there we were, amid the ocean of data in that book… one of the few islands of real life people.
“I remember writing Dr. Steinberg repeated letters after that book came out hoping he’d revise later editions of his work. I think I had some of the kids write, too. But then I bought another copy and nothing about my class seemed to be changed. I kept writing Dr. Steinberg so much about the book that, if I remember correctly, he eventually threatened to TELL MY PRINCIPAL ON ME! (Which is still really funny because as union president I was such a pain in the ass to my principal back then that when I went to tell him he might be getting a call from a professor down at Temple University, he just sort of shook his head and said nothing. What next!)
“My wonderful wife remembers all the details of the “Dr. Steinberg affair” much better than me, God bless her. We were talking about it yesterday after Diane posted that great piece based on my original letter to her.
“For years, I kept my copies of Beyond the Classroom really WAY beyond my classroom, stored in a derelict farmhouse we have down the road on the family property. But then, we had to clean out that building and the books and most of the other stuff associated with the “Steinberg Affair” got chucked into a trash truck. Actually wheelbarowed in by one of the students I’d hired to help out. How’s that for irony? Sorry, doc.
“I had to move on. I have so many students I need to worry about every day…kids I care about. I barely have enough time to talk to all the wonderful people I see each morning….kids who are happy or scared or bored or just plain missing from my classroom….where are they? The only reason I have time to be writing this right now is that we have yet another snow day off….otherwise I’d be sitting in my classroom at this moment….6:30 a.m…getting ready for another day.
“I can actually laugh about my much younger self, the great and scary times I had as a beginning teacher and the way the world was back then prior to the internet. But here we are, Dr. Steinberg, still on opposite sides of the same divide.
“Data does matter but we’re not just numbers. We’re people and this system is dehumanizing us.
“To that end, Larry, I really would like to bury the hatchet from years ago. I’m sure you’re a fascinating, intelligent, great guy to talk to. I WOULD buy you lunch.
“But Diane Ravitch, as I wrote to her yesterday, deserves dinner at the best restaurant in town!