Why Is American Teaching So Bad?

Jonathan Zimmerman:

During the buildup to the Iraq invasion in 2003, an Indiana teacher lost her job for telling her class (in response to a student question) that she had driven by an antiwar rally and honked her horn in support. A few years later, an Ohio teacher was dismissed for asking her students to select and read one of the American Library Association’s one hundred most commonly banned books. Most of Green’s examples of great classroom instruction come from math, where teachers are free to pursue a problem wherever it leads. Try doing that in social studies or English, and you might find yourself looking for a new line of work.

Garret Keizer is an English teacher, and a great one at that. In 2010, after a fourteen-year hiatus from the classroom, Keizer returned to the same rural Vermont high school where he had started his teaching career thirty years earlier. He soon put up in his classroom a poster about banned books of the kind that got the Ohio teacher fired. Keizer has more freedom to explore ideas than many other communities allow. But he is hamstrung anyway, not by book-burning censors but by the mind-numbing “accountability” regime that arose in the years following his first period as a teacher. As Goldstein and Green explain, No Child Left Behind and its spin-offs are premised on the grim notion that teachers will work harder—and better—if we can somehow pinpoint their performance and connect it to rewards and punishments.