A little more from James Herndon

I have this (possibly annoying to the people forced to listen) tendency to be a ‘sneezer’.   A sneezer is someone, according to Seth Godin, author of The Purple Cow, who can be counted on to tell absolutely everyone they know about things they are interested in or enjoy.   Sneezers are great assets to small businesses; they are the epitome of word of mouth advertising.

In my case, I tend to be a sneezer when it comes to books and movies.   It is practically impossible for me to be reading a great book and not tell people about it at length – many times those people are members of my family, who forebear with amazing grace.     In this case, the people are you, dear blog readers.

I’m still reading James Herndon’s How To Survive In Your Native Land, and it just keeps getting better.   He writes so blatantly about the situation in schools, with colorful language and humor and he is just on the money.     Take this excerpt from a chapter entitled, “Jail”:

If kids in America do not go to school, they can be put in jail.  If they are tardy a certain number of times, they may go to jail.  iIf they cut enough, they go to jail.  If their parents do not see that they go to school, the parents may be judged unfit and the kids go to jail.

You go to jail.  All of the talk about motivation or inspiring kids to learn or innovative courses which are relevant is horses#*t.  It is horses#*t because there is no way to know if students really are interested or not.  No matter how bad the school is, it is better than jail.  Everyone knows that, and the school knows it especially.  A teacher comes into the teachers’ room and says happily, i had the greatest lesson today! and goes on to tell the other envious teachers what it was that they hadn’t thought of themselves and says, The kids were all so excited!  It is horses#*t.  The teacher has forgotten (as I forget) that the kids have to be there or they will go to jail.  Perhaps the grand lesson was merely more tolerable than the usual lesson.  Perhaps the kids would have rejected both lessons if they could.

That is why  the school cannot ever learn anything about its students…As long as you can threaten people, you can’t tell whether or not they really want to  do what you are proposing that they do.  You can’t tell if they are inspired by it, you can’t tell if they learn anything from it, you can’t tell if they would keep on doing it if you weren’t threatening them.

You cannot tell.  You cannot tell if the kids want to come to your class or not.  You can’t tell if they are motivated or not.  You can’t tell if they learn anything or not.  All you can tell is, they’d rather come to your class than go to jail.

And my second favorite section – at least for today – is from a chapter titled “No Man”:

I have heard a teacher come into the teachers’ room at report-card time and, after making out grades on those slips of paper, lean back and sigh and then say, for everyone to hear, Just look!  Three-fourths of the students in my class have gotten D’s!

The teacher received a gratifying murmur of sympathy from the rest of the room.  We’ve all had them classes, they seemed to say.  What a job this is!  No one offered to mention how it was that those kids all got those D’s.  The teacher showed no signs at all of remembering that the kids in her class got those D’s precisely because she had just taken her pen and written the letter D on three-fourths of the report cards.

That is the only reason they got D’s.  That is the only reason they became of group of D-getting kids whose teacher ought to be given sympathy.  If she had written down A’s instead, they would have been a group whose teacher deserved congratulations and envy.  Either way, it would still be the teacher who took a pen and wrote down the D or the A on the card.  The card then magically became the kid.  The cards then magically became the group.  I repeat, the teacher took a pen and wrote down D.   Someone, a person, did it.  Took the pen and wrote down D and…

The teacher genuinely does not realize that the class has D’s only because the teacher herself just wrote down D’s with her own hand, with her own pen, in her free period, on slips of paper which are prepared to receive any mark at all.  All she remembers is that this class got D’s, the dumb, recalcitrant s.o.b.’s.

That’s my ‘sneeze’ for today.  Good one, wasn’t it?  If I could be sure that everyone reading this blog would soon be reading Herndon’s book, I might stop talking about it. Probably not – I’d probably just exhort you to send in your comments and start a kind of discussion – kind of an online blog-ish book club.  (Hey, that’s not a bad idea!)  Even if you don’t agree, even if you were/are a teacher and think, based on these excerpts, that Herndon is a psycho,  you should still read his book.  I guarantee you’ll laugh at least once.  (Oh the chapter on teachers attempting to set up the AV equipment!  I had tears rolling down my face!)   And it will make you think – even if what you think is that you don’t agree.

Isn’t that always the best kind of book?

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