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Social Education

A Teacher's Lament

It's hard to pretend. But, day after day, I put on a smile and do my job. I do my paperwork according to the latest model and set about the business of trying to get kids to pass tests. The thing that set me on this path was believing I can make a difference. Pretending I still believe gets harder every day.

Let's look at the numbers. There are 180 days of school. This year students will take 5 state assessments, 10 major assessments for their report card grades, a pre and post test for teacher assessment in every class, and the week-long rollout of the new PAARC test.

Summer 2014

I hardly know where to begin. It's been a whirlwind of activity for me and for Purplearn. For me, the summer of 2014 will be remembered as days cool enough for me not to melt into my usual uniform of suit and purple tie.
I wore this uniform at the class I taught at Brookdale. I grew up across the reservoir from the college campus and it is still beautiful. In room 101 of the ATEC building my twelve students and I explored game theory and proper cooperative learning techniques. I am already looking forward to my next classes there in the spring.


My grandfather, Hy Schiffman, died in a VA Hospital in Florida. In his later years Hy was your typical jolly fat man and I can't picture him without a smile beneath his thin pencil mustache. As a young man, Hy was very handsome and the lovingly restored black and white wedding photo of him and Nana Tillie made them both look like movie stars. Hy was not an educated man, first laboring at 13 years old to help his family and then drafted into the war, Hy never had formal schooling past the 8th grade but he was always sharp as a tack.

Family Brain Happy Hour

I started teaching in the middle of the war zone that was south central Los Angeles in the late 80's. I was also the assistant director of a Beverly Hills tutoring agency. One thing was the same in both groups of kids. It doesn't matter if the parents are in Europe or in jail, if the parents aren't actively participating in the children's lives then the children have problems. 

This is as true today as it was then. I offer no solutions to the persistent problems of overwork and violence but what about the parents who want to spend time with their children.

Meeting the criteria from United Health Care

We just received a new magazine from United Health Care called Renew. In it there is an article entitled "A-Z Brain Booster". It is not a serious, scientific article, but more of a fluff piece where they assign each letter of the alphabet a word that they feel people should do to help keep their brains healthy.

Out of the 26 different things they highlighted, the Purplearn program meets 11 of them. The one I want to mention here is the one we find most important here at Purplearn - Have fun with friends.

Book continued

The absent-minded science teacher, an old woman long past her usefulness that we are unable to be rid of due to the influence of the teacher’s union, shuffles up to me, begging for my key for the third time this week. Once again I graciously open her door for her and as I stand there with a frozen smile waiting for her to realize that she can go in now, I look around me. Above my head broken or missing ceiling tiles make a checkerboard pattern, and I mentally plug the face of the kid who broke each tile into the proper hole.

The First Paragraph of the Book

I am dancing to the music as I step in a semi-circle to the left and punch my opponent’s face with my right hand, turning my heel and rotating my hip in unison as I strike to impart more force. I pause and center my weight so I use my body more than my arms to throw my limp opponent away. Then as the lovely Ms. Lopez sings the end, “Until it beats no more,” I step to the right and slowly raise my center of gravity, feeling my body expand with my inner energy. My imaginary opponents dispatched and the Tai Chi short form done, three quick, measured steps and a tap of my finger stops the music.


Over the course of my final years as a public school teacher I decided that I would write a book about my experiences and my thoughts about teaching. I have quite a bit of material written now. Maybe one day I will organize it all into that book, but for now I will put some of it up here. Starting with what I thought would be the forward:

I had to write it all down. I’m a writer. When asked about myself recently, I described my writing as an affliction or a disease, as if the words needed to come out of me or I would retch alphabet soup or explode in a cloud of well-worn and yellowed scrabble tiles.

Social Education

As I finish out my service as a public school teacher I have come to several conclusions about the educational system. Even at its best, there is still too much wrong to just fix it. I echo the words of Sir Ken Robinson, "We need to rebuild it from the ground up."

I believe some of those who have already started in new directions have gotten part of it right. Those who are flipping the classroom so content is learned for homework are 100% correct. But I diverge from them about the classwork.

Another snowy Sunday 3/2/14

My thoughts today are of curriculum and how passé it is to teach for content knowledge when facts are a smartphone away. I educate my children in useful skills like fun, passion, compassion, and cooperation. All of us working together for the benefit of all. Give a group like this any task and they will work together to complete it. Wouldn't "school" be a wonderful place if this were the mandate?

But I'm not a politician, just a teacher so I cannot change the world. The irony of that statement surprises me.