Up Close With Dr. E

School choice is growing


As the voices of the audience fade — from a loud ruckus down to a hushed velvet murmur — the lighting inside the vast hall follows suit. It’s as if the illumination produced by the crystal chandeliers possess a form of artificial intelligence: they know that by dimming their lights, something big will happen.

Diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires drink up the last drops of light and glitter back in appreciation for being chosen to adorn the necks of ladies whose evening gowns insist upon plunging necklines. It’s Academy Awards night.

During the Academy Awards, the best of the best, the creme de la creme, competes for the 24 different award categories. A shadow sweeps upon the stage and a spotlight pins down a man dressed in a tuxedo. Say hello to the host.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the AA, where nominees will be awarded with a coveted statuette, just like the one I’m holding — let’s begin by reading the list of nominees for the category: Best First Grade Teacher.” On and on it goes, the “best” in teaching, principals, superintendents, and even “Best School Janitor.”

Since most Americans see a lot of movies, you already know that when an actor is awarded an Oscar, their stellar performance was not enough — on its own — to launch them into the stratosphere of the “best.” Each word uttered by an actor has been painfully designed by the mind of another, the writer, the one who wrote the screenplay or the script. In addition, it took the efforts of the movie director and producer to make a great film.

Here is an example of the point I am making. One of my favorite movies is “Gladiator,” where actor Russell Crowe plays a Roman General who is betrayed by a corrupt emperor. Crowe is sentenced to death, but escapes and returns home. When he discovers that his entire family has been murdered, he abandons all hope and ends up fighting as a gladiator.

Crowe received an AA for this film. But, the script was so powerful that his acting skills were elevated way beyond that of a usual screen performance. Have I lost you? OK, time to put it all together.

I want you to substitute some words: teacher in place of actor; curriculum for script; principal/superintendent for director/producer; and students for audience.

What good is an actor’s performance if the script is so poorly written that it is boring, unimaginative, or worse, written not for the audience, but solely for the approval of the producer/director? In this case, the audience has been left out, so no AA for you.

Translation: What good is a gifted fourth grade teacher if the curriculum not only destroys a child’s love for learning, but is focused solely on teaching kids how to pass a federally mandated test? I’m referring to the 2001 “No Child Left Behind” federal law, which has been scrapped. “This law forced classes to become laboratories for drills designed to improve test scores, rather than to teach (Chicago Tribune, Feb. 10, 2012, Michael Muskal, Page 16).

Give Crowe a script from a bad movie like “Godzilla” or “Blob” and behold, no AA. What needs to happen so that the bad scripts in schools are burned and banished? Allow me to give you this brain-teasing; your job is to guess the word:

1. American armed forces sacrifice lives for it. 2. It is used in grocery stores to select the finest cuts of meat. 3. It has six letters. 4. It is your right to live where you wish, or love who you love.

The answer: Choice.

School choice is growing. What has been feared in the same way a vampire fears sunlight, is now growing: Charter, magnet, virtual, private, religious, secular, home and alternative schools.

In the movie, “Gladiator,” Crowe is seen performing this ritual: bending down, he scoops up a hand full of earth and holds it. What is he thinking? It looks like he is reflecting upon his place in the world and is attempting to clarify his role.

I too have a ritual. Because I work with children, I do a lot of school consultations. When I grip the door handle of the school, I think this: This building was not built for me, or any other adult. It belongs to the children. So, when I am asked, “How can this child be fixed?” I reply, “Can we first look at changes in the classroom, curriculum, teacher or school policy to help this struggling child feel more secure, or more successful as a student?”

You see, in my heart, I carry a great fear: by altering the script of a child’s mind — be it a behavioral, cognitive, or emotional change — what if we inadvertently tinkered with, or erased, a part of the mind of the next Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie or Martin Luther King? School choice means we can now change schools, rather than minds.

The content of this article is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional. The characters in this story are not real. Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column each week to the Journal Review.


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