Eye on the Notebook: Will new bloggers bring balance to the Notebook?



by Christopher Paslay


It appears that Paul Socolar, editor of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, has indeed had a moment of clarity.  After nearly fifteen years of proclaiming to be “an independent voice for parents, educators, students, and friends of Philadelphia public schools,” the Notebook is finally giving our city’s school teachers some badly needed space in their paper.


On Monday, May 11th, the Notebook introduced on their website three of their newest bloggers—all current teachers working in Philadelphia public schools.    


But will these hand-picked teachers truly broaden the scope of the Notebook?  Will they look at the problems and challenges that face public education in Philadelphia through a holistic lens (will they strive to hold parents and the community equally accountable), or will their blogs circumvent tough questions, such as: Why are low-income and minority parents less likely to read to their children?  Or: Why do minority children grow less academically over the summer? 


Here is a breakdown of the Notebook’s three new bloggers:     


Anna Weiss, who is from the Chicago region, came into the Philadelphia school system via Teach for America.  She currently teaches at Mastery Charter, where she’s been for two years.  Her first Notebook blog entry opens with the African proverb Until the lion tells its tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.  Anna seems intent on championing the rights of the little guy, and to tell the stories of the disenfranchised, or “the hunted,” if you will.     


Samuel Reed teaches 6th graders at Beeber Middle School in the Overbrook section of the city.  Reed has served in the Peace Corps, and has worked with both the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows and Teach for America.  He hopes to have his son Kagiso, a student at Mastery Charter School, guest blog with him.  Reed is interested in teaching social justice issues (although he promises not to use his blog for politics).  He is also concerned about educating young African American males, and using hip-hop to engage students. 


Molly Thacker, originally from St. Louis, MO, also came to Philadelphia through Teach for America.  Molly is in her fourth year of teaching in the city, although it was unclear from her blog which school she currently works in.  After reading the book Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol as an 11th grader, she realized she wanted to dedicate her life to urban education.  Molly wants to use her blog to explore the idea of teacher sustenance. 


Although politically unbalanced (I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that all three of these teachers are situated at the same end of the political spectrum), at least the Notebook is finally providing space for teachers. 


Hearing the voices of trained educators who work day-to-day in real classrooms and who experience the district’s problems firsthand will be a nice change of pace.  Credibility doesn’t stop with academia.  It counts in the real world, too.  Simply graduating from a Philadelphia public school (or visiting one on occasion) hardly makes one an expert on education, and those that lack credentials might want to think about who (and what) they criticize from the sidelines. 


Hopefully these new bloggers, being teachers themselves, will refrain from the tactics that have been employed by Notebook writers in the past.  Hopefully they will not suggest Philadelphia school teachers are afraid of the communities they serve, or insinuate that teachers view minority students as criminals; hopefully they will not belittle and humiliate these same teachers by suggesting that ALL of them (not just the failing ones, mind you) be overhauled by their principals and be made to reapply for their jobs; hopefully they will explore the societal root of the achievement gap, and begin to acknowledge that many black children are plagued by serious social ills separate from teachers and schools.


While they’re at it, they could recommend ways immigrant families can shoulder some of the language burden; they could encourage parents to make education a priority in every home; and they could emphasize the fact that the Philadelphia Student Union must strive to hold its peers accountable for contributing to the chaotic nature of schools.


These are just some suggestions to truly keep the Notebook holistic and balanced


But it’s good to have genuine school teachers finally contributing.  I guess my Chalk and Talk blogs, along with my dozen or so correspondences with editor Paul Socolar (both on and off line) must have had an impact. 


Although Paul won’t comment on Chalk and Talk anymore (he says I don’t play fair), I know he’s reading this.  So I’d like to say two things to Paul:  One: Thank you. 


And two: I have my eye on the Notebook. 


9 thoughts on “Eye on the Notebook: Will new bloggers bring balance to the Notebook?

  1. Thank you for having an eye on Notebook Blog. I am excited to share my perspective.

    I am curious to know what science you used to infer my blog mates political perspectives. I guess it will be revealed as we blog more. By the way, I am registered as an Independent.

    • Sam,

      Thanks for writing. I’m a registered independent as well. I didn’t use any science to infer about you and your blog mates political parties–I just have a gut feeling based on the things I read on the Notebook (hearing things like “social justice” and “the disenfranchised” and “Savage Inequalities” doesn’t bring to mind social conservatism, put it that way).

      But hey, I don’t want to be the jerk who stereotypes, so forgive me for saying that. Good luck blogging for the Notebook, and remember to try to see ALL sides of the equation.

      –Chris Paslay

  2. My question is why are two of the three bloggers Teach for America alumni? I wouldn’t say I am particulary upset about this, but if you are going to have three bloggers, have ones that might have different perspectives. Just a thought.

  3. The Notebook is definately run by controlfreaks. They only put on teachers after much criticism in the blogging posts. It is unsettling that all three bloggers have ties to Teach For America, but not one independent public school teacher is represented with their own blog. One gets tired of Helen Gym talking about her 4 years teaching when it’s been more than a decade ago. They need to put on current teachers, from both sides of the political spectrum. The Notebook leaves far too heavily to the left.

  4. As a non-TFA affiliated teacher who was invited (and declined) to blog for the Notebook, the Notebook has tried to get bloggers from varying backgrounds. I am finishing my 5th year teaching and work about 60 hour weeks to research and create curriculum, plan special events, write lesson plans. Although I feel strongly about expressing my opinions, ideas and experience, it is intimidating to commit to a weekly or even bi-weekly blog and I commend the teachers who can prioritize it and pull it off. I think the Notebook would be extremely open to anyone interested in blogging about an education-related experience if that person is willing to make the commitment – if you know of anyone who’s interested, tell them to contact the Notebook and see what happens.

    • I would highly disagree with the post “the Notebook has tried to get bloggers from varying backgrounds”. How would you know who they have or have not contacted. Their staff and bloggers are definately liberals. Their targets for criticism are redundant and show a myopic view of what issue they think should be covered. I noticed that nobody has answered the other poster’s question as to why all three new teacher bloggers have ties to Teach For America. Like the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm the Notebook is all for equality as long as its their equality. God forbid you should dare to peek behind the curtain at the little man controlling the levers.

  5. Please read posts carefully if you are going to respond to them, Alexander Grand Belle. The very first line of my post states that I was solicited to blog for the Notebook and I DO NOT have any affiliation with Teach for America and from interactions with Notebook staff, I know for a fact that other teachers were solicited and that anyone who is interested in blogging would be considered. The Notebook is very open to criticism of Teach for America as has been recorded on many posts on this site and on the Notebook blogs. I have mixed feelings about Teach for America, but I also know several of the bloggers personally and know that, as one blogger wrote, Teach for America is only part of their experience and identity. They are multi-faceted human beings as are we all and although they are involved with a particular organization, that organization and their involvement with it does not define them or who they are as teachers. If you are a teacher that is interested in blogging for the Notebook, again, I encourage you to contact the Notebook to find out more about the opportunities to express different points of view.

    • Teacher,
      By failing to solict bloggers of “varying backgrounds” has nothing to do with Teach For America. I was referring to the Notebook’s leftleaning stance, not the TFA. You are not associated with Teach For America, but you are not blogging on the Notebook either. However, of three teachers who are, two entered teaching through the program and the third has taught for TFA’s training, I believe.
      Having seen how TFA is used (or misused by administrators) in other cities (New Orleans, for example, where Valls removed 40% of the experienced staff with TFA fodder) I am skeptical of their presence. I’m sure alot of them are nice folk, but a month or two of training is hardly acceptable for a job like teaching. Most teachers will tell you it takes several years to get the hang of how to run a class so you can actually teach.

      The Notebook may allow criticism, but on other subjects they are very closed-minded. I have blogged there, but my conservative views are not what they want in their bloggers.

  6. How funny–I was Googling Arne Duncan’s comments on Mastery Charter School and came across this very post of which I am a subject! The Internet is a small world.

    Thank you for reading! I hope to post more as my schedule settles itself. My summer position didn’t really allow too much free time.

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