Chapter 1 Curtains It's dangerous to think too much about public education. So many things are wrong with it that it's easier simply to go on a search-and-destroy mission and write only about the horror of it all. Those of us who have survived school have plenty of scars. Any person who has taught for more than a few years has met administrators, teachers, parents, and children who, as Mark Twain once remarked, "make a body ashamed of the human race." That's not my mission here. More than anything else, this book is meant to be a reminder of what public education can be. But to understand where we might consider going, it becomes painfully necessary to examine some things that we usually try to avoid. I have one more objective, too: I want to give hope to young teachers who would like to run against the wind but are afraid of the consequences. I am living proof that you can have success as a teacher despite the many forces that are working against you. Like the Founding Fathers, I am a lover of independence, and freethinkers are not fash- ionable in public schools today. Instead, as public schools fail, bureaucrats are attempting to solve serious problems with simplistic solutions. They're afraid to examine the real reasons why our schools are failing, so they use fashion- able words or pretty new textbooks to try and solve the very real problems that are destroying our classrooms. Poverty, greed, and incompetent teaching are just some of the reasons why Johnny not only can't read but has no interest in reading. Using a new reading series or changing the classroom environment isn't going to solve our problems. Most tragic of all, many districts are trying to take charge of education by forcing all teachers to use uniform lesson plans, by which all students will be guided in the same way at the same pace. This may be a comfort to young teachers who aren't sure what to do every day, but I already know the inevitable result of uniform teaching: things will continue to be uniformly terrible. I've never been one of the masses, either as a parent or as a teacher. I will not let advertisers persuade me to see mediocre movies, and I do not watch a television show in order to converse with peers about it the following day. My life is my own. I don't feel I have to buy in to the popular culture in order to be a successful teacher, parent, or person. But there are those to whom fitting in with the majority is important, and I have respect for that path; it's just not the one I can follow, and these people may find the lessons I've learned irrelevant for their journey. However, if you're a young teacher or parent who has often wanted to break from the pack but has been afraid to do so, I can tell you that I've done so and am still standing. I have many scars and bruises, but I have, as Robert Frost tells us, taken the road less traveled. And it's made all the difference. Most teachers who are honest look back on their first years in the classroom through half-closed eyes. Teaching is a tough job at any time, and I've yet to meet anyone who excelled at it from the start. It takes years of experience to develop the wisdom that can lead to being a first-rate teacher. I was definitely a slow learner, and I had an interesting but painful experience when I was student-teaching in UCLA's Graduate School of Education program. I thought I was doing a pretty good job and was vigorously supported by the master teacher who supervised my work in her sixth-grade classroom. She particularly liked the reading program I designed for the students, most of whom spoke Spanish as their primary language. Rather than using the boring school reader assigned by the school district, I'd been reading the classics with these kids, and their reading and enthusiasm for literature increased enormously. For our final project of the year, we read Romeo and Juliet. My plan was to take the kids to the FrancoEsquith, Rafe is the author of 'There Are No Shortcuts', published 2003 under ISBN 9780375422027 and ISBN 0375422021.