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Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Schoolhouse Rock" Meets "Jailhouse Rock"?: On Trying to Be a Farina-Like Fourth-Grade Teacher These Days

I read the recent article which describes NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina's fourth-grade interactions with the author, Jonathan Lethem.  She was his beloved teacher.

The article is charming.  It goes a long way to show how much our world has changed.  Farina allowed children to read in a well-cushioned and comfortable box.  It was painted as a highly innovative practice.  I'd love to see the eyebrows raised today if a teacher discussed that practice during PD.  It would probably appear as yet another cover story in a local paper chastising teachers.  

Farina also kept a "small collection of 'forbidden books' that included works by Judy Blume that students had to request to borrow."  I would love to see how that would go over today.  Do you remember the Coney-Island principal who ranted against teachers trying to let children sing "Proud to be an American" and carry American flags at a year-end ceremony?  Imagine with such a supervisor today how many letters might be put in a Ms. Farina's file for simply defying authority, whether appropriate or not.
Furthermore, the Chancellor invited students to her home in the Poconos to listen to Elvis records.  Today, this might seem even more satanic than it was in the eyes of some 1950s ultra-conservatives.  It sounds potentially like "Jailhouse Rock" to me.  We are repeatedly warned these days not to establish contact with students outside of school, including even via Facebook.  It is all in the name of preventing potential accusations of professional impropriety or in the worst case scenario, pedophilia.  I understand the concerns and I heed the advice.  I would be stupid or naive not to do so.  We are living in a very different age.  Yet, I sadly realize how much has been lost.  I realize that for teachers today there is the need to prep for tests and a prima facie assumption of guilt, for most anything else could be considered as pedagogical impropriety.  If tenure goes out the door, things will be so much more for the worse. 

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