Monday, August 4, 2008 | There are a great many premises and assertions made within this interview that are quite troubling. The one that bothers me most is the fact that you are asking someone who really seems to have no credentials or experience to give our society advice as to how we should improve education. It reminds me of the John Rocker interview that was published in Sports Illustrated in January of 2000. Speaking about New York City he said “It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you’re riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” John Rocker is not a social historian. To ask John Rocker about our social situation in the United States and to publish his thoughts on the pages of a nationally distributed publication is highly irresponsible. I hold your publishing of this man’s ideas regarding education to be similarly irresponsible.
Mr. Spathas, in a few quick brushstrokes, creates a dire image of our schools. He says that our classrooms look like prisons. My classroom at the Language Academy does not look like a prison. He wants our schools to look like Starbucks. I don’t. Starbucks is currently going through some hard times and is closing down over 600 of its retail outlets.
What troubles me most in his set of responses is where he says, “We’ve got to refresh what we are teaching our kids. Probably less history and more future.” That is just as incendiary as the John Rocker comments. Mr. Spathas apparently has no background in history. I have a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology, a master’s in Latin American studies and wrote a book on the image of the Brazilian indigene as depicted on the pages of a Brazilian journal between 1839 and 1850. You can look it up in the PAC at San Diego State University under my name — Raymond Scott Mullin. I have studied history extensively. History is not about a bunch of factoids. It is about our past, our present, and how the two inform our future.
I have no problem with the fact that Mr. Spathas holds these views. I do have a problem with the fact that a journalist would publish these views in a high-circulation internet news Web site. He characterizes education and, consequently, teachers in the U.S. as people who simply have kids remember a bunch of factoids. Ms. Alpert, I do not teach factoids. Every classroom is about making meaning in the world for children who will hopefully grow up to become critical thinkers and make informed decisions about their community and personal lives. If Mr. Spathas really knew what he was talking about he would be alarmed at lack of history being taught in our schools.
We do need to be aware of details (I like to call them details and not factoids) in order to make sense of our world. Would we want a plumber to come to our home and try to fix our leaky pipes not knowing what tools would work, not paying attention to any details? The plumber comes to your house with a set of tools and a set of conceptual knowledge that allows him to successfully repair what needs to be repaired.
Mr. Spathas is not qualified to make recommendations as to how to repair our educational system. We do not live in a perfect world. Every teacher is doing the best he or she can do with what our society is providing them with.
I hope that in the future you will think long and hard before publishing quick-fix experts like Mr. Spathas. His off-the-cuff remedial advice is not what our society needs. Would you like to interview me about how real estate firms and the banks they work with need to be reformed? Enough of the education bashing. I hope your site does not become another news provider that uses education as society’s whipping boy.
I appreciate your having considered my thoughts. I hope you are more careful in the future with whose ideas you choose to use in creating images of our public school system.
Thank you for all of your reporting on San Diego Unified School District.