"It Simply Must Be Said - A View of American Public Education from the Trenches of Teaching by Hank Warren

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"Warren writes so well, his credibility is so incontestable, and the guy is so funny that even when one is not entirely sold on his position, it gives one pause."


"This is an absolute gem of a book. As a teacher of 34 years, it is no surprise that Warren's writing voice is clear, concise, and grammatically correct, but even better, it is easily readable even for the layperson and is full of truth, great ideas, and a surprising amount of wit."


"Warren presents some wonderful ideas that we can only hope will someday be implemented in order to vastly improve the education that our children receive."



. . I was recently monitoring a classroom of children taking our state academic achievement test and couldn't help but marvel at the fact that, just like when I was a kid some 40-plus years ago, they are still seated at desks, in rows, with 25 students in the class. It was as if I was watching an episode of "Little House on the Prairie," except in a more modern environment. When students have instantaneous access to an entire world of information at the touch of a computer keypad, the educational bureaucracy sees fit to mire us in a 19th century classroom format as if our standard text was still McGuffey's Reader. . . (excerpt from page 108)  

                                   TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Would You Care to Speculate On The Assumptions Heard Thus Far   1

2.  Learning to Swim by Drowning                                                  7

3.  Reality Bites                                                                         13

4.  Teacher Shortage                                                                 16

5.  Teacher Longevity                                                                28

6.  Teacher on Teacher                                                              39

7.  Celebrity Musings                                                                  49

8.  The Business of Education                                                      54

9.  How Shit Happens                                                                 61

10.  The Others                                                                         64

11.  The Joys and Perils of Broad Certification                                 99

12.  No Hope of Parole                                                              106

13.  Pretend Education                                                              138

14.  Creative Hydrodynamics                                                      158

15.  The Disconnected                                                              160

16.  Blind-sided                                                                        166

17.  The Most Important Job in the World                                     173

18.  NCLB                                                                               181

19.  Conflict Resolution                                                             185

20.  Let's Get Physical                                                              194

21.  School Survival Skills                                                          200

22.  Why We Don't Brush Teeth In School                                    206

23.  Duties                                                                             208

24.  Lawsuits and Legalities                                                       219

25.  Tales of Misadventure                                                        238

26.  Tools for Living                                                                 245

                                       Complete First Chapter

1.  Would You Care To Speculate On The Assumptions Heard Thus Far?

On November 12, 2001, just two months and one day after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, American Airlines flight 587 went down over Queens, NY. Apparently, the plane started falling apart in midair and pieces ended up over a wide area. Coming so close on the heels of 9/11, the frenzy surrounding this tragedy was extraordinary! Speculation of another terrorist strike splashed across the airwaves. The uproar of semi-information, misinformation and outright babble from both reporters and pundits was prolific. Nobody knew a thing, yet the need to continually fill air-time took precedence over any concern for factual content.

Although this event occurred around 9:00 a.m. eastern time, evidently nothing could be released by American Airlines until their CEO could fly from the west coast to New York to hold the official press conference which finally took place around 5:00 p.m. It quickly became obvious that in the course of eight hours very little of substance had been confirmed. After a brief statement to that effect, the CEO began to field questions from the hundreds of reporters cramming the room. It was truly remarkable how many variations of “I don’t know” this gentleman was able to espouse. Eventually, however, came the coup de grâce. A female reporter asked, “Would you care to speculate on the assumptions heard thus far?” 

It wasn’t until later in the evening, when Jon Stewart began to dissect the day’s insanity on “The Daily Show,” that the absurdity of this statement began to sink in. The reporter was basically asking, “Would you care to make something up about what has already been made up?” In the ensuing days I began to realize how precisely this notion applied to the entire realm of American education. At the time, being well into my 27th year as a teacher, I had long been contemplating the puzzling nature of this unique enterprise we call “teaching.” Because the classroom experience is so insular, the opportunity for misunderstanding and misconception abounds. There is perhaps no other profession so clearly unique as that of a teacher, and the enormity of this truth did not become clear to me until I finally stood in front of a classroom. The simple fact is, there are few experiences that can be so isolated while, at the same time, so extraordinarily public.

Consequently, the ground is infinitely fertile for the formation of every conceivable opinion from every possible perspective, with the exception of the most important one––that of the Teacher. It is the one key viewpoint that only comes with the attainment of the position. Because we have all been students at some point, each of us has an opinion on education from that singular perspective. And, since everyone’s experience in school is distinctly personal, there are as many different opinions as there are citizens who have attended school. Therefore, as we become parents, business people, politicians, bosses, workers, and general participants in every walk of life, these experiences shape our perceptions on education. However, because the reality of teaching itself is so unique, none of these perceptions apply to actively “teaching.” They are only the product of having been in the passive position of “student.” As a result, everyone has an opinion about how it should be done, while having absolutely no idea of what it is like to actually do it. In other words, everyone is “speculating on the assumption” that they possess complete understanding.

Perhaps you may recall the huge splash that the movie “Pleasantville” made during the 1990s. By all accounts, the film’s combination of black and white with color imagery was a major technological breakthrough. The plot concerns a squabbling brother and sister who mysteriously find themselves transported through their television set into a “Leave it to Beaver” world in which they are forced to live. Aside from the ever-timely message of needing curiosity and creativity in life, I was most struck by the depiction of the school children sitting at their desks with perfect posture, rapturously absorbed in the classroom lesson.

This image became even more meaningful as I began to contemplate the attitudes towards public school education that pervade our society. Regardless of how any individual behaved or misbehaved, contributed or detracted, achieved or squandered during their high school years, somewhere around the age of thirty this image of sitting quietly at desks, as if they had been sucked through the TV into “Miss Lander’s” class, takes over. On a regular basis there are TV commercials for any number of products portraying the classroom setting as one filled with fresh-faced, eager, cooperative, enthusiastically engaged students. Even if only by wishing it were so, we all seem to want to picture ourselves in that environment. In fact, it is precisely because pop culture plays such a huge role in the public’s perception of teaching, that I will be referencing pertinent films, television shows, etc., throughout this book. In addition, I have included a number of my favorite parodies and anecdotes that I’ve collected through the years. If you happen to be familiar with them, I hope you will enjoy the “modifications” I’ve infused. 

Ultimately, the teacher is in charge of his or her classroom. This is what we call teaching. On the other hand, the teacher has absolutely no control over the abundance of outside forces that so powerfully influence all that occurs in the classroom. Whether it is the extraordinary consequences of the “No Child Left Behind” legislation, right down to if a child has had breakfast; all these elements have a tremendous effect on learning, but are factors over which a teacher holds little sway. Against all odds, the teacher is expected to run an efficient, educationally sound classroom while having virtually no input into the policies that govern the process. Take, for instance, this simple example: An administrative directive goes out that there is to be “no food in the classrooms.” It has been proven time and again that students who are physically comfortable are apt to learn better. Hungry students don’t. While certainly being mindful of healthy nutrition and children with food allergies, if a teacher is okay with having food in class, shouldn’t they be allowed that professional discretion?

I was recently reading an article about the former South African President and Nobel Laureate, Nelson Mandela. He attributed much of his success to attaining a level of comfort with contradiction and expressed a concern about the inclination of Americans to see things strictly in black and white. It was striking how clearly he understood that the world is infinitely nuanced and every problem has many causes. However, in our public discourse there is a tendency to try to identify the one thing that is the cause of all our problems, and public school is a perennial favorite. While all the finger pointing goes on, the truth is, America’s public schools are actually doing more for a more diverse student demographic than ever before in our history. We serve an increasingly varied population: ethnic, socioeconomic, and disabled. But, in our current fast-paced society that expects instantaneous results (quarterly measurements––not long term five to ten year plans), schools simply can’t measure up. 

Compare the overall school population in the 1950s and 60s to today. Each school tended to have a characteristically similar student makeup and, even though grouping was heterogeneous, it was understood that, while there would be some slow kids and a few really smart kids, the vast majority would be “average.” Now we have the severely handicapped, the emotionally/socially disturbed, the mentally disabled, and the special needs. In short, we service students with every conceivable diagnosis, as well as the slow, average and smart ones, all grouped together in the same classroom. In addition, each one is expected to be highly successful, regardless of ability, interest, effort, desire, parental involvement/control/concern, home life, or background; whether or not they speak English, are living in a mansion, a car, or a cardboard box; have two parents, one parent, or no parents; are living with one parent while the other is in jail; have foster parents, are being abused by parents––the list is endless. While in the 50s and 60s it was commonly accepted that some kids would be auto mechanics, a select few would be doctors, and the vast majority would be in the middle, now the expectation is: They are all going to Harvard!

There is an absolutely wonderful sequence in the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” that should be required viewing for anyone interested in gaining even the slightest understanding of the world of teaching. The scene in question occurs directly before the wedding at Swamp Castle when the prince is hiding in his room because he doesn’t want to marry the princess with the “huge tracts of land.” Concerned that the prince may try to escape, the king attempts to instruct two guards to watch the prince until he (the king) returns. However, no matter how many ways the king tries to rephrase the order, one guard just stands there hiccupping while the other keeps misinterpreting the directions in every manner possible. The saintly patience of the king as he repeatedly explains the instruction to the ever-increasingly confused guard is absolutely priceless! Yet, similar to the previous parody where Bartholomew asks “What came after poor?,” this is exactly what teachers confront on a daily basis.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day which stated “Everything is Connected.”  Considering the vast number of interconnected topics related to education, discussing every issue in detail would require volumes. In order to avoid a treatise of encyclopedic proportions, I have tried to adhere to these main topics:

·        Separating the facts from the myths about teaching.

·        Analysis of the chasm between “educating” (teaching) and “education” (the entrenched bureaucracy).

·        Examination of crucial teacher, student and parenting issues.

·        Analysis of the impact of legislation and case law decisions concerning children with disabilities on the school/learning environment.

·        Presentation of five core recommendations to improve American Public Education.  

My ultimate goal is to initiate thoughtful dialogue which hopefully will result in truly meaningful improvements to the educational process. The teachers who previewed this book prior to publication, found it served as a catalyst for sharing additional experiences and ideas. I hope these kinds of discussions abound. Equally encouraging was the enthusiastic response from those outside the field of education. This makes me hopeful that, should both educators and the general public ever unite in common purpose, meaningful change may well see fruition.As this book was nearing completion, it became amusingly apparent that there were at least two dozen places where I had written something to the effect of “This is the honest truth,” or “Believe it or not,” or “I’m honestly not kidding.” In order to avoid this unnecessary repetitiveness, I can emphatically state from the outset (cue “Dragnet” theme):  The stories you are about to hear are true, only the names have been changed to protect the instigators. 

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READ ADDITIONAL EXCERPTS by clicking "Excerpts" link at top

                     Synopsis and Biographical Information                         The need for "educational reform" has once again returned to the forefront of public debate. However, despite many years of national, state and local legislative mandates and school reform initiatives, remarkably few substantive changes have occurred within the standard public school classroom. The time for an honest re-examination of failed "outside-in/top-down" educational reform policies is beyond urgent. We must shift our focus to the requisites of those who do the actual educating: Teachers!

It is from this standpoint that Hank Warren has written It Simply Must Be Said - A View of American Public Education from the Trenches of Teaching. Passionate about the "calling" of teaching, Hank focuses on the issues facing education from the perspective of an active public school teacher via a collection of observations, experiences, stories and recommendations from 34 years in teaching. Throughout the book he addresses serious concerns with humor and relevant tales of actual events. Hank's ultimate goal is to initiate thoughtful dialogue which will hopefully result in truly meaningful improvements to the educational process.

If you have not yet read It Simply Must Be Said, please click on the Exerpts page to read selections from a number of chapters. If you have already read the book, please tell a friend. In addition, all are enthusiastically encouraged to share reactions, thoughts, ideas, etc. You can contact us at our e-mail address: hank@trenchesofteaching.com

During his career, Hank Warren has taught at every level, kindergarten through 12th grade. Consequently, his insights are drawn from the uncommon experience of having worked with students from age five to eighteen. Hank’s innovative teaching methods have resulted in his presenting workshops at local, state and national educators conferences, and publishing articles in educator journals. As Founder, CEO and CFO of a unique community based education program, Hank has organized and led numerous student tours throughout the country. 

Hank has also taken advantage of the opportunity to accompany his wife, who serves on the board of a highly successful credit union, to numerous national and world credit union conferences. This has afforded him the rare chance to interact with educators from an extraordinary number of states and countries. The wealth of information gleaned from these travel experiences have significantly shaped his understanding of the common issues that permeate education.

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