The New York Times published a terrific Magazine this Sunday on education. The cover reads: “Teachers just want to teach but the classroom has become a battleground.” I’m not sure that’s exactly “news” this fall but it is absolutely true.
Two of the articles in particular were worth reading and reflecting on as we start our new school year. The first, “Can Good Teaching be Taught?” by Sara Mosle, tells the story of a struggling school and its persistent, hard-working first-year principal Cynthia Gunner. The reporter follows Gunner as she goes classroom-to-classroom to inspire, hold accountable, and assist the teachers in her school. The answer to the opening question is “of course” but the finding is also that it’s much easier said than done. It’s hard not to be fired up by the work of this principal and the importance of her efforts.
The second that caught my attention was “Watch What You Say,” about the (former?) Friends Seminary teacher Ben Frisch who made a Hitler joke last school year. This story, told by Jonathan Mahler, is especially sensitive to Frisch’s position and that of his supporters; the voices of those who initially called for Frisch’s removal — other than that of the Head of School Bo Lauder — are essentially silent. I wonder if those who initially were so upset about the remarks by Frisch have changed their minds, whether they were reluctant to go on the record at this stage, or whether another reason attaches. The hard over-arching question has to do with how to ensure free expression can thrive in schools while also supporting a diverse group of young learners effectively.
It is just these questions that I sought to address in a book last year, Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces: Diversity and Free Expression in Education (free, open access edition here) . I won’t second-guess here the decision of another school, where I don’t know all the facts, but acknowledge instead that these cases are never easy for students, teachers, administrators, and families in close-knit school communities. We do need to get better at figuring out how to resolve them. I was intrigued by the emphasis in the article on the Quaker process.
Both articles in the NYT Magazine demonstrate the importance of deep, long-form journalism to explore tricky issues in-depth.