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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tilting at Windmills

I wanted to respond to the following comment that appeared on a recent post.

The following authors have been banned in some public school classrooms:

1. Alvin Schwartz
2. Judy Blume
3. Robert Cormier
4. J.K. Rowling
5. Michael Willhoite
6. Katherine Paterson
7. Stephen King8. Maya Angelou
9. R.L. Stine
10. John Steinbeck

If you stick to private schools you will not only be able to teach the classics but be called by your first name!

The list of books is the only part of this comment that I do not take issue with. It comes from the American Library Association, and it is actually the list of challenged authors. According to the ALA, a challenge occurs when a book is recommended for removal, whereas a ban is a successful censoring. I searched their website for a breakdown of public vs. private schools, but they don't separate the data that way.

The distinction seems trivial to me, especially considering the fact that it in no way records books that were never made available in the first place. I suspect that if fewer books are banned in private schools, it is only because private schools give parents much more control in curriculum selection. I found many stories of parents switching to private schools because they had lost a challenge to a book in a public school, and especially considering that most private schools are still religiously affiliated, I am willing to bet that as a group, they offer far less intellectual freedom.

I will assume that the schools referenced in this comment are purely secular. Even so, I have no desire to teach at those institutions. Since I decided to devote myself to education, many people have recommended that I go the private school route. I don't see the point. The types of students that attend private schools are as varied as their reasons why, but they all have one thing in common- parents that care about their education. This is a better predictor of success than any IQ test. Private school students are probably going to succeed in life regardless of how competent the particular school is. To me, it would feel like a fireman rushing to save a baby from a building that isn't burning.

As far as the allegedly superior success rates of private schools, I think the evidence is dubious at best. These schools have the luxury of hand-picking students. Whether specializing in troubled students, gifted students, or religiously conservative ones, the schools get to choose the niche in which they will be most effective. Public schools teach everyone. They turn no one away, and their finished product suffers accordingly.

I am getting into this to make a difference, and the place where I can affect the most change is in the trenches of public education. Sure I could find a school that perfectly compliments my convictions, where my career would be trouble-free, but again, I really don't see the point.


BSB said...


afm said...

Yes, very admirable. I hope that you still feel this way after your first year of teaching and beyond. My only advice is always keep in mind that you are there for your students and not in that classroom by pleasing the administration and/or parental roles. (Of course all situations differ to the next...)

afm said...

one more thing, I don't find you the enemy, I find you another teacher....

Tony said...

said anything about being enemies? Of course we're not enemies. And I hope I still feel as passionate five to ten years from now as well.

afm said...

Correct, I should have written "challenged." Another note about public vs. private curriculum/frameworks is that there is only so much input a teacher has in creating the frameworks for each school in public. But this falls into the whole NCLB act and I don't have enough time to get into that right now.