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.