This letter came to my mailbox. It says quite a lot about how teaching–and the perception of teachers–has changed in the past decade.

Dear Dr. Ravitch,

Finally, I thought, someone has come forth to tell the truth about the state of education in the United States today. Reign of Error is such an important book. I have been urging everyone I know to read it now. As a retired New Haven, Connecticut high school teacher, I recognized and agreed with all arguments made, but must admit that I was shocked to learn of the extent of the malfeasance in the funding of charter schools with public monies.

I taught in New Haven for twenty-eight years or so, and retired in 2006. Just in time, as it turns out, as I have learned that remaining colleagues are now plagued by endless testing and data paperwork overload. To make matters even more difficult, this is occurring in a school climate of fear and mistrust. Over the years we teachers used to note that every five years or so, someone outside of the classroom would come up with a new plan to “solve” all of the problems of education. Though always “top down” these edicts were often innocuous, and we were still afforded the freedom to create curriculum and plan our classes.

Many of us were able to take advantage of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute which offered a seminar program with senior Yale professors on a variety of subject topics. This was a Godsend for me personally for with a ten year affiliation with the Institute I would develop curriculum that ultimately led to an entire course and also an (unpublished ) book, The Eyes Have It: Exploring Literature and History through the Visual Arts. Most important was the opportunity to work in a collegial way with the likes of Jules Prown (Professor of Art History) and Robin Winks (Professor of History) in a seminar with teachers from various city school and of various subjects. The tentative teacher and writer would become more confident, able and ultimately find the joy of both subject and teaching in the process. Without the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, I’m quite sure I would have floundered and probably would have given up on teaching in New Haven.

As you well understand, teaching in a urban school setting in a place like New Haven is challenging. Teachers often feel that no matter what they do, there are failures and disappointments. We come to recognize that teaching is an on-going experience of learning and improving. In essence, the job is never done totally to our satisfaction. Therefore a teacher must constantly empower herself to believe in continued development both in a pedagogical sense and in our subject areas. A synergy occurs when teachers and students are both learning, and then there is excitement in the classroom. Once again, programs such as the Yale New Haven Teachers Institute replenish teachers in an environment where they find respect and professional status.

Toward the end of my career, I became very aware of the lessening of respect for teachers. Somehow we had become “the other” in the eyes of administrators, central office. It felt as though a two tier class system was at work with the lesser salaried viewed as less in every way. Many of us did not view teaching as a stepping stone to higher paid administrative jobs, but elected to stay in the classroom because we enjoyed our subject areas and the process of teaching. It was disappointing to be seen as less professional because of this choice.

I became a teacher because I was the beneficiary of wonderful teachers both in public and private schools. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Art History during high school and I also remember with great pleasure a middle school literature teacher who brought literature alive through student play adaptations. These were people we and the community respected for their love of subject area and their joy in providing a broadening cultural experience. In our eyes, they represented hope.

If teaching becomes less artful, less personal in an overwhelming climate of regimentation and mistrust, I fear much will be lost, and perhaps education as I knew it will be irrevocable.

Thank you very much for writing Reign of Error. Though we seem to be living in a era of glib sound bites and quick fixes based on very little reflection, I am hopeful that readers of your book will realize: (1) that the issues of education are large and connected to the state of society as a whole, and (2) take steps to convince our leaders to dig deeper and connect with a conscience that recognizes the common goal of equality in education and an abiding respect for all children.

Jane K. Marshall