Just Press the “Dumb” Button

I see so much out on the web and in the news, I just have to post some of it for others to enjoy (I am not sure where I found this, but had to share):

One Secret to Better Test Scores: Make State Reading Tests Easier

By MICHAEL WINERIP
Published: October 5, 2005

PARENTS are delighted when state test scores go up. Obviously, their children are getting smarter and the teachers are doing better. Politicians are ecstatic; their school reforms must be working. Indeed, during his re-election campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has repeatedly cited the rise in the city’s 2005 fourth-grade test results (up 10 percentage points in English to 59 percent at grade level, and up 9 points in math to 77 percent) as proof that his school programs are a success. “Amazing results,” he said, that “should put a smile on the face of everybody in the city.”

However, those in the trenches, the teachers and principals, tend to view the scores differently. While they would rather be cheered than booed, they know how much is out of their control.
Take Frances Rosenstein, a respected veteran principal of Public School 159 in the Bronx. Ms. Rosenstein has every right to brag about her school’s 2005 test scores. The percentage of her fourth graders who were at grade level in English was 40 points higher than in 2004.
How did she do it? New teachers? No, same teachers. New curriculum? No, same dual-language curriculum for a student body that is 96 percent Hispanic and poor (100 percent free lunches). New resources? Same.

So? “The state test was easier,” she said. Ms. Rosenstein, who has been principal 13 years and began teaching in 1974, says the 2005 state English test was unusually easy and the 2004 test unusually hard. “I knew it the minute I opened the test booklets,” she said.

The first reading excerpt in the 2004 test was 451 words. It was about a family traveling west on the Oregon Trail. There were six characters to keep track of (Levi, Austin, Pa, Mr. Morrison, Miss Amelia, Mr. Ezra Zikes). The story was written in 1850’s western vernacular with phrases like “I reckon,” “cut out the oxen from the herd,” “check over the running gear” for the oxen, “set the stock to graze,” “Pa’s claim.”

Ms. Rosenstein said such language was devastating for her urban Hispanic children. “They’re talking about a ‘train’ and they mean wagon train,” she said. “Our kids know the subway. I walked into a class and there was a girl crying. I took the test booklet and read it. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, we’re in trouble.’ ”

In contrast, the first reading in the 2005 test was 188 words about a day in the life of an otter. A typical sentence: “The river otter is a great swimmer.” Ms. Rosenstein said: “The otter story was so easy, it gave our kids confidence. It was a great way for them to start the test.”
She said the pattern continued throughout the two tests. In 2004, on the “hard test,” the second passage was about the Netherlands thanking Canada for its support during World War II by sending 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa. The third story was about a photographer, Joel Sartore, who embedded himself in Madidi National Park in Bolivia to get rare nature shots.

“These were very sophisticated pieces,” Ms. Rosenstein said. “We teach our kids when reading to make a connection to themselves. These stories were foreign to their experience. You didn’t have anything like this on the 2005 test.”

In 2005, on the “easy test,” the second passage was about hummingbirds. The third was about a boy who thought he won a real horse, but it was a china horse. The story was told mainly in dialogue that read like the old Dick and Jane primers:

” ‘What’s going on?’ asked Beth.

‘I just won a horse,’ said Jamie.”

“What a difference from the 2004 test,” Ms. Rosenstein said. “I was so happy for the kids – they felt good after they took the 2005 test.”

In an e-mail message, Jonathan Burman, a state education spokesman, said there was no cultural bias on the 2004 test. He said the 2004 and 2005 tests were extensively field-tested. “We found that the passages could be understood by all students, including urban students,” he wrote.

He acknowledged that the 2004 test was harder but said the state compensated by using a tougher scale to score the 2005 test. “Students had to answer a few more questions correctly in 2005 and get more raw points in order to get the same scaled score as in 2004,” he said. But even if the 2005 test was scaled, scores still soared statewide, with 70.4 percent at grade level, up 8.2 percentage points from 2004 and with several cities – Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester – posting increases even higher than New York City’s.

Ms. Rosenstein does not believe the scaling made the two tests equivalent. “If a child can’t follow the passages, a few points won’t make a difference,” she said. “They give up.”

P.S. 159 has just 242 students from kindergarten to fifth, with 28 fourth graders taking the state test in a typical year. As a result, the performance of a handful of students can cause a big scoring swing. P.S. 159’s test results followed the ups and downs statewide; they’re just amplified. For example, on the 2004 “hard test,” 62.2 percent of students statewide scored at grade level, down 2 points from 2003. At P.S. 159, 17.9 percent were at grade level, down 46 points from 2003.

BUT at a small school it’s easier to examine the variables at play. For example, all three years, as scores fluctuated, Yehonela Ortiz taught fourth grade. Her principal called her an outstanding teacher, a nine-year veteran who is bilingual.

Ms. Ortiz said she could not take credit for the big jump this year nor the blame for last year’s big drop. “So many things go into it,” she said. “They’ve had a lot of teachers since pre-K. I feel it’s a collaboration of all the many teachers since.”

A few years ago, 64 percent of her fourth graders scored at grade level in English, her best results. “It wasn’t me,” she said. It was a class that happened to have a large number of Hispanic parents speaking English at home. “They came to me more academic. I don’t think it was anything we did.”

She said that there were yearly fluctuations, but that test scores would generally rise over time because the state has been using the same format for seven years.

“We know the test now,” Ms. Ortiz said. “We start preparing them in September. When I go through a lesson, I always connect it to what’s in the exam. We know there’s always letter-writing, so we give more of that. We know there’s nonfiction, so we make sure we do it before the test.” When she gives a writing assignment, she now sets a timer for 10 minutes, to simulate testing conditions.

Does it mean students are getting smarter and teachers better?

“I don’t know,” said Ms. Ortiz.

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Just Press the “Dumb” Button

I see so much out on the web and in the news, I just have to post some of it for others to enjoy (I am not sure where I found this, but had to share):

One Secret to Better Test Scores: Make State Reading Tests Easier

By MICHAEL WINERIP
Published: October 5, 2005

PARENTS are delighted when state test scores go up. Obviously, their children are getting smarter and the teachers are doing better. Politicians are ecstatic; their school reforms must be working. Indeed, during his re-election campaign, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has repeatedly cited the rise in the city’s 2005 fourth-grade test results (up 10 percentage points in English to 59 percent at grade level, and up 9 points in math to 77 percent) as proof that his school programs are a success. “Amazing results,” he said, that “should put a smile on the face of everybody in the city.”

However, those in the trenches, the teachers and principals, tend to view the scores differently. While they would rather be cheered than booed, they know how much is out of their control.
Take Frances Rosenstein, a respected veteran principal of Public School 159 in the Bronx. Ms. Rosenstein has every right to brag about her school’s 2005 test scores. The percentage of her fourth graders who were at grade level in English was 40 points higher than in 2004.
How did she do it? New teachers? No, same teachers. New curriculum? No, same dual-language curriculum for a student body that is 96 percent Hispanic and poor (100 percent free lunches). New resources? Same.

So? “The state test was easier,” she said. Ms. Rosenstein, who has been principal 13 years and began teaching in 1974, says the 2005 state English test was unusually easy and the 2004 test unusually hard. “I knew it the minute I opened the test booklets,” she said.

The first reading excerpt in the 2004 test was 451 words. It was about a family traveling west on the Oregon Trail. There were six characters to keep track of (Levi, Austin, Pa, Mr. Morrison, Miss Amelia, Mr. Ezra Zikes). The story was written in 1850’s western vernacular with phrases like “I reckon,” “cut out the oxen from the herd,” “check over the running gear” for the oxen, “set the stock to graze,” “Pa’s claim.”

Ms. Rosenstein said such language was devastating for her urban Hispanic children. “They’re talking about a ‘train’ and they mean wagon train,” she said. “Our kids know the subway. I walked into a class and there was a girl crying. I took the test booklet and read it. I thought, ‘Oh, my God, we’re in trouble.’ ”

In contrast, the first reading in the 2005 test was 188 words about a day in the life of an otter. A typical sentence: “The river otter is a great swimmer.” Ms. Rosenstein said: “The otter story was so easy, it gave our kids confidence. It was a great way for them to start the test.”
She said the pattern continued throughout the two tests. In 2004, on the “hard test,” the second passage was about the Netherlands thanking Canada for its support during World War II by sending 100,000 tulip bulbs to Ottawa. The third story was about a photographer, Joel Sartore, who embedded himself in Madidi National Park in Bolivia to get rare nature shots.

“These were very sophisticated pieces,” Ms. Rosenstein said. “We teach our kids when reading to make a connection to themselves. These stories were foreign to their experience. You didn’t have anything like this on the 2005 test.”

In 2005, on the “easy test,” the second passage was about hummingbirds. The third was about a boy who thought he won a real horse, but it was a china horse. The story was told mainly in dialogue that read like the old Dick and Jane primers:

” ‘What’s going on?’ asked Beth.

‘I just won a horse,’ said Jamie.”

“What a difference from the 2004 test,” Ms. Rosenstein said. “I was so happy for the kids – they felt good after they took the 2005 test.”

In an e-mail message, Jonathan Burman, a state education spokesman, said there was no cultural bias on the 2004 test. He said the 2004 and 2005 tests were extensively field-tested. “We found that the passages could be understood by all students, including urban students,” he wrote.

He acknowledged that the 2004 test was harder but said the state compensated by using a tougher scale to score the 2005 test. “Students had to answer a few more questions correctly in 2005 and get more raw points in order to get the same scaled score as in 2004,” he said. But even if the 2005 test was scaled, scores still soared statewide, with 70.4 percent at grade level, up 8.2 percentage points from 2004 and with several cities – Yonkers, Syracuse, Rochester – posting increases even higher than New York City’s.

Ms. Rosenstein does not believe the scaling made the two tests equivalent. “If a child can’t follow the passages, a few points won’t make a difference,” she said. “They give up.”

P.S. 159 has just 242 students from kindergarten to fifth, with 28 fourth graders taking the state test in a typical year. As a result, the performance of a handful of students can cause a big scoring swing. P.S. 159’s test results followed the ups and downs statewide; they’re just amplified. For example, on the 2004 “hard test,” 62.2 percent of students statewide scored at grade level, down 2 points from 2003. At P.S. 159, 17.9 percent were at grade level, down 46 points from 2003.

BUT at a small school it’s easier to examine the variables at play. For example, all three years, as scores fluctuated, Yehonela Ortiz taught fourth grade. Her principal called her an outstanding teacher, a nine-year veteran who is bilingual.

Ms. Ortiz said she could not take credit for the big jump this year nor the blame for last year’s big drop. “So many things go into it,” she said. “They’ve had a lot of teachers since pre-K. I feel it’s a collaboration of all the many teachers since.”

A few years ago, 64 percent of her fourth graders scored at grade level in English, her best results. “It wasn’t me,” she said. It was a class that happened to have a large number of Hispanic parents speaking English at home. “They came to me more academic. I don’t think it was anything we did.”

She said that there were yearly fluctuations, but that test scores would generally rise over time because the state has been using the same format for seven years.

“We know the test now,” Ms. Ortiz said. “We start preparing them in September. When I go through a lesson, I always connect it to what’s in the exam. We know there’s always letter-writing, so we give more of that. We know there’s nonfiction, so we make sure we do it before the test.” When she gives a writing assignment, she now sets a timer for 10 minutes, to simulate testing conditions.

Does it mean students are getting smarter and teachers better?

“I don’t know,” said Ms. Ortiz.

Hold Whose Standards How?

In a funk at the moment, and it is my profession of education that is causing it. Keeping in mind that mutation has provided me with several pair of hands, let’s see if we can get it all out on the table and bring some semblance of order to my funky thoughts. In the end, I don’t really hope in an answer, but the catharsis is still there to be had.

On the one hand, we each teach from our own “place.” We teach what we know, from the person that we are to the people we perceive our students to be. We know that we are teaching the parents behind our students just as much as we are addressing the cherubs themselves. So a major standard for our teaching is ourselves. We must be true to our own selves or crazy we shall become, and that right quickly.

Another hand, and pious one at that, is that we teach according to the standard of Christ and the Scriptures. If we are indeed His disciples, then we are not allowed to divorce our own teaching from His. We set that delightful standard of being as holy with our teaching as He was with His before our eyes continually and then beg for His grace to heal our short fallings. I am not allowed to set aside this discipling standard for any earthly convenience or compromise.

Then there is the third hand (cross referencing my mutated appendages) that states that our employer, the school, determines the standards by which we teach. We have to follow the path of the school’s curricula, or we are soon pushing cholesterol down at the local Mickey D’s. Which means that our standards come from the hodge podge of school board, curriculum committee (if there is one), and adminstrative fiat (I am lucky enough to have the bi-polar convenience of teaching for myself, the headmaster). So let’s see, that is three hands so far.

Then we do have the standard of student orientation. I mean, do I teach what I teach for me? Or does Christ need my teaching? And would a school of itself need anything I might say? Is not part of my teaching “standard” or the measure of my means found within the needs and tenor of my students? Oops, now I have sliced this fourth hand on the sword of relevance. This is a big no no for many educators. There must be a higher standard than student performance. But what if that high standard is the very cause of low performance by a student unable to rise that high, and therefore bereft of any hope that he can attain or succeed with the given “high” standard? Can that standard, no matter its purity and beautiful height then truly produce any education, if its intended target is missed? But that is the students fault, right? Not my problem. Can a teacher think this way? Very tricky, and it is not yet quite as sticky as the next hand…

You see I have yet another hand, and it is most difficult for me. There are these ignorant, paranoid folk who provide me with my students: the parents. And they have standards for their own children that frequently contradict, compromise, or contravene my own ideas of what learning ought to be. And they in many realities pay for my life of learning, leisure, and lecture. And there is no way to teach several students at once without finding that I am too easy for some parents, too demanding for others, proud and haughty in some eyes and a weanie in the eyes of others.

So what is a teacher to do? What are my options? How do I keep it all together and string a few days of consistency together in the classroom? It would seem that none of the following are satisfactory, but at the moment it is all that I see possible. Here is the ongoing conversation of sanity for a teacher…

A. I can forget all standards but my own. After all, I am the teacher and those coming to me for instruction should trust me to do what is right. Certainly I will temper all my decisions and actions by Scripture, but it is not a teaching text, it is the Word of God. Students are too young to know what they need, and parents are too subjective to offer any help. To thy own self be true. Is this the humility of teaching, or its opposite? It removes a lot of the frustrations, but it does tend to make for a lonesome and somewhat bitter life, if my observations are accurate.

B. Take the high road and blame God. God has called me to be a tough teacher and until He tells me different, “here I stand.” Very tough to argue with, but I find this argument lacking in Biblical warrant. Yes, I can view many Old Testament passages from this view, and even find some evidence in the NT and Christ’s own example that He set the bar high and would not let His disciples off the hook, but then wait a moment and look at just that very example. Ultimately, He let His disciples off the biggest hook of all. He is abandoned by them all, betrayed and denied, and yet there He is in the Upper room, risen and forgiving of all their low performance. Did the standards fall? No. But did he not also meet them where they were and graciously give them far more chances than we tend to think is fair? Yes. So my point is that the high road, whatever it might be in God’s eyes, does have both elements of Law and Gospel firmly in the midst of it.

C. Take the team approach and hide behind my school. Its not my standards that are lacking, or too high, or faulty in any way, because I am simply doing what my school has asked me to do. It’s the curricula. It’s my supervisor. It’s the weather. In the end, it’s your teaching, and you have the choice of being an agent of change in your setting, or a martyr. I don’t like to be a martyr because its demand for death is a little tough for me. Sure, plenty of teachers teach in a context of servitude and tight boxes put upon them by their superiors. But either the teacher is seeking to change things, or seeking to change where they are. The living martyr is not impressive.

D. Just listen to the students, for they shall lead us to our paradise. This is defeated shortly after we try it. Seventh graders lead us to X-box and mutant amphibians, not to excellence. We are to be leading them, but from a few feet in front, not six miles off in a cloud of shikinah glory. We bring them further up, and further in, but not by bullhorn from the ivory tower. Students are not left out of the equation, but they are not the only denominator either.

E. Then we could simply seek to make the most parents possible happy the most often. Deep magic is needed here. I find the same mom calling me blessed one day and evil the next. I find two parents who agree on what a kid should be learning only to discover one has a first grader in my school and the other’s youngest is 32. They are not married, nor do they share a child, they just happen to agree on standards for the moment, and quite by coincidence. How many times has Dad and Mom met with me, Mom in tears about the baby and all the pain, and sweat, and agony, and for what, a lousy 86%? It must be that I am demanding too much. Then, as they leave (when I have run out of Kleenex), the Dad stays behind for a minute and gives me the ‘ol “you better kick that boy’s ass or I’ll yank him from your class” routine. The tears of his wife are not dry on my desk and he is adding my sweat to the mix. Make all your parents happy and I guarantee you insanity. In fact, I think that is the only explanation for totally happy parents: the one who perceives them to all be happy is insane.

Okay, so all five hands have issues with their solutions. So what is the answer? I don’t think there is one. I said that when I started this diatribe. What I do know is that somewhere in this messy business there is learning, and the higher we can lift our standards together, the better our final end will be. Teacher must give room for parents to be parents, and for headmasters to be ignorant, and for students to be, well, students. And Christ teaches us all to be there, on the beach, with the fire going, and fish on the barbie, and the disillusioned, hungry disciples come and sit, and are brought back to the center: “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

Hold Whose Standards How?

In a funk at the moment, and it is my profession of education that is causing it. Keeping in mind that mutation has provided me with several pair of hands, let’s see if we can get it all out on the table and bring some semblance of order to my funky thoughts. In the end, I don’t really hope in an answer, but the catharsis is still there to be had.

On the one hand, we each teach from our own “place.” We teach what we know, from the person that we are to the people we perceive our students to be. We know that we are teaching the parents behind our students just as much as we are addressing the cherubs themselves. So a major standard for our teaching is ourselves. We must be true to our own selves or crazy we shall become, and that right quickly.

Another hand, and pious one at that, is that we teach according to the standard of Christ and the Scriptures. If we are indeed His disciples, then we are not allowed to divorce our own teaching from His. We set that delightful standard of being as holy with our teaching as He was with His before our eyes continually and then beg for His grace to heal our short fallings. I am not allowed to set aside this discipling standard for any earthly convenience or compromise.

Then there is the third hand (cross referencing my mutated appendages) that states that our employer, the school, determines the standards by which we teach. We have to follow the path of the school’s curricula, or we are soon pushing cholesterol down at the local Mickey D’s. Which means that our standards come from the hodge podge of school board, curriculum committee (if there is one), and adminstrative fiat (I am lucky enough to have the bi-polar convenience of teaching for myself, the headmaster). So let’s see, that is three hands so far.

Then we do have the standard of student orientation. I mean, do I teach what I teach for me? Or does Christ need my teaching? And would a school of itself need anything I might say? Is not part of my teaching “standard” or the measure of my means found within the needs and tenor of my students? Oops, now I have sliced this fourth hand on the sword of relevance. This is a big no no for many educators. There must be a higher standard than student performance. But what if that high standard is the very cause of low performance by a student unable to rise that high, and therefore bereft of any hope that he can attain or succeed with the given “high” standard? Can that standard, no matter its purity and beautiful height then truly produce any education, if its intended target is missed? But that is the students fault, right? Not my problem. Can a teacher think this way? Very tricky, and it is not yet quite as sticky as the next hand…

You see I have yet another hand, and it is most difficult for me. There are these ignorant, paranoid folk who provide me with my students: the parents. And they have standards for their own children that frequently contradict, compromise, or contravene my own ideas of what learning ought to be. And they in many realities pay for my life of learning, leisure, and lecture. And there is no way to teach several students at once without finding that I am too easy for some parents, too demanding for others, proud and haughty in some eyes and a weanie in the eyes of others.

So what is a teacher to do? What are my options? How do I keep it all together and string a few days of consistency together in the classroom? It would seem that none of the following are satisfactory, but at the moment it is all that I see possible. Here is the ongoing conversation of sanity for a teacher…

A. I can forget all standards but my own. After all, I am the teacher and those coming to me for instruction should trust me to do what is right. Certainly I will temper all my decisions and actions by Scripture, but it is not a teaching text, it is the Word of God. Students are too young to know what they need, and parents are too subjective to offer any help. To thy own self be true. Is this the humility of teaching, or its opposite? It removes a lot of the frustrations, but it does tend to make for a lonesome and somewhat bitter life, if my observations are accurate.

B. Take the high road and blame God. God has called me to be a tough teacher and until He tells me different, “here I stand.” Very tough to argue with, but I find this argument lacking in Biblical warrant. Yes, I can view many Old Testament passages from this view, and even find some evidence in the NT and Christ’s own example that He set the bar high and would not let His disciples off the hook, but then wait a moment and look at just that very example. Ultimately, He let His disciples off the biggest hook of all. He is abandoned by them all, betrayed and denied, and yet there He is in the Upper room, risen and forgiving of all their low performance. Did the standards fall? No. But did he not also meet them where they were and graciously give them far more chances than we tend to think is fair? Yes. So my point is that the high road, whatever it might be in God’s eyes, does have both elements of Law and Gospel firmly in the midst of it.

C. Take the team approach and hide behind my school. Its not my standards that are lacking, or too high, or faulty in any way, because I am simply doing what my school has asked me to do. It’s the curricula. It’s my supervisor. It’s the weather. In the end, it’s your teaching, and you have the choice of being an agent of change in your setting, or a martyr. I don’t like to be a martyr because its demand for death is a little tough for me. Sure, plenty of teachers teach in a context of servitude and tight boxes put upon them by their superiors. But either the teacher is seeking to change things, or seeking to change where they are. The living martyr is not impressive.

D. Just listen to the students, for they shall lead us to our paradise. This is defeated shortly after we try it. Seventh graders lead us to X-box and mutant amphibians, not to excellence. We are to be leading them, but from a few feet in front, not six miles off in a cloud of shikinah glory. We bring them further up, and further in, but not by bullhorn from the ivory tower. Students are not left out of the equation, but they are not the only denominator either.

E. Then we could simply seek to make the most parents possible happy the most often. Deep magic is needed here. I find the same mom calling me blessed one day and evil the next. I find two parents who agree on what a kid should be learning only to discover one has a first grader in my school and the other’s youngest is 32. They are not married, nor do they share a child, they just happen to agree on standards for the moment, and quite by coincidence. How many times has Dad and Mom met with me, Mom in tears about the baby and all the pain, and sweat, and agony, and for what, a lousy 86%? It must be that I am demanding too much. Then, as they leave (when I have run out of Kleenex), the Dad stays behind for a minute and gives me the ‘ol “you better kick that boy’s ass or I’ll yank him from your class” routine. The tears of his wife are not dry on my desk and he is adding my sweat to the mix. Make all your parents happy and I guarantee you insanity. In fact, I think that is the only explanation for totally happy parents: the one who perceives them to all be happy is insane.

Okay, so all five hands have issues with their solutions. So what is the answer? I don’t think there is one. I said that when I started this diatribe. What I do know is that somewhere in this messy business there is learning, and the higher we can lift our standards together, the better our final end will be. Teacher must give room for parents to be parents, and for headmasters to be ignorant, and for students to be, well, students. And Christ teaches us all to be there, on the beach, with the fire going, and fish on the barbie, and the disillusioned, hungry disciples come and sit, and are brought back to the center: “Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

Hello, Mr. Chips

So why is such an old movie (1939) a recent favorite of mine? Well of course because it’s a teaching movie, of sorts. But more so because it exemplifies the wonderful notion that marriage is redemptive. If you have not seen the movie or read the book, and the book is better, than let me give you some of the highlights without, I hope, ruining it all for you:
A. Young man arrives at old English boarding school.
B. Students give him a roughing up, so he determines he will be firm.
C. Boys respect him, but there is something missing from his relationship with them – there is no real engagement.
D. Chipping, the teacher, heads to the Alps for a holiday, meets his wife to be.
E. Marriage, and most notably the calculating moves of his new wife, change the teacher into “Chips” the likeable and more humorous new form of the old teacher.
F. The twists and turns of life bring him to the end of it as a loved and venerated old master.

Charles Dunat, the principle actor, and the director, whose name escaped me, work together either accidentally or on purpose to reel me in with Chip’s eyes. At the train station as he first arrives, I see his eyes right away. When he is in the midst of terror his first class, his eyes are the focal point again. And over and over, you see the eyes. Often soft, often far away, all too often with pain over one disappointment or another, but forever returning with life and sparkle.

Yes, its b/w. Yes its old, though it did get the nod for Best Picture that year. Not much action, as modern movies go. Not even perhaps the greatest supporting actors, though the boys ring true more often than not. But a classic, and rightfully so. I must add it to my library soon.

Hello, Mr. Chips

So why is such an old movie (1939) a recent favorite of mine? Well of course because it’s a teaching movie, of sorts. But more so because it exemplifies the wonderful notion that marriage is redemptive. If you have not seen the movie or read the book, and the book is better, than let me give you some of the highlights without, I hope, ruining it all for you:
A. Young man arrives at old English boarding school.
B. Students give him a roughing up, so he determines he will be firm.
C. Boys respect him, but there is something missing from his relationship with them – there is no real engagement.
D. Chipping, the teacher, heads to the Alps for a holiday, meets his wife to be.
E. Marriage, and most notably the calculating moves of his new wife, change the teacher into “Chips” the likeable and more humorous new form of the old teacher.
F. The twists and turns of life bring him to the end of it as a loved and venerated old master.

Charles Dunat, the principle actor, and the director, whose name escaped me, work together either accidentally or on purpose to reel me in with Chip’s eyes. At the train station as he first arrives, I see his eyes right away. When he is in the midst of terror his first class, his eyes are the focal point again. And over and over, you see the eyes. Often soft, often far away, all too often with pain over one disappointment or another, but forever returning with life and sparkle.

Yes, its b/w. Yes its old, though it did get the nod for Best Picture that year. Not much action, as modern movies go. Not even perhaps the greatest supporting actors, though the boys ring true more often than not. But a classic, and rightfully so. I must add it to my library soon.

A Fun Look at the Schoolmaster of old…

The Hoosier Schoolmaster
Edward EgglestonGrosset & Dunlap, 1871, 281 pages
Reviewed by Steve Elliott, June 6, 2005

Here is a treasure of fiction that encompasses some great human themes. The footnotes and careful use of colloquial dialect seem to intimate that the author was seeking to preserve the Hoosier cultural experience. But I enjoyed it for the use of the old schoolmaster setting, its characters, and a nice tight plot.

The pages contain the experiences of a new schoolmaster to “Flat Creek” district of Indiana in about the 1850’s. The author gives you some great pictures and stories to draw you in, but then slowly weaves his plot around several colorful characters. It seems from the intro to my third edition that it was rather well known and a good seller in its day.First let me deal with some things that I did not like. I found the illustrations to be of no use or help in the understanding or meaning of the text. The copy I obtained was old, 1899, so I had to treat it with a lot of care. The footnotes, almost entirely given to explaining the origin of strange dialectical words like, “peart” for pert, or why the word “pail” did not seem to exist in 1850 Indiana, did nothing for me except break up my reading. I would have done more with the central bad guy, Dr. Small, to give him some blackness or at least emotional repulsion. Even at the end of the story, I still did not know him enough to hate him, but rather was baffled by some of his evil actions as the motive seemed lacking.

But all that aside, this was a great story. The schoolmaster, Hartsook, was believable and easily empathized with. The bulldog illustration will stay with me for some time. At moments there was something just shy of a Dickensian flavor to some of the scenes, especially the debtor’s prison. Little Shockey was simply a delight and in my opinion used by the author to give the whole a certain spiritual slant without too much preaching. That of course leads into the interesting plot use of preaching in the story. I would guess Eggleston was enamored with Whitman, Thoureau, et. al. and probably was not the biggest fan of organized religion, but I think this works to make this a stronger story. In the end, it sets up a beautiful messianic vision at the court of law, with truth and justice winning out of hypocrisy, and that all through the establishment of law rather than its acquiescence.

Lovers of American fiction, especially the Twain sort of mystery/comedy will enjoy this text. It has to hit my list of books about teaching simply for the bulldog illustration and the wonderful turning of the tables on the boy trying to dunk his teacher.