Monday, July 26, 2010

Author Interview with Hank Warren

Today we're talking with Hank Warren, author of It Simply Must Be Said: A View of American Public Education from the Trenches of Teaching.


FQ: How did this book come to be? When did you decide that “it simply must be said,” and also written down?

Like many teachers, I’ve had the idea of writing a book for most of my career. In education, so many incidents, situations, and events arise on a regular basis that most any veteran teacher could easily have a book’s worth of material after a few years in the classroom. I feel fortunate that I had the wherewithal to start taking notes and saving information well over thirty years ago. As a result, I have boxes of reference files on which to draw. The real fire to complete the task, however, came from years of being subjected to a steady stream of superfluous “school reform” mandates from the educational/legislative bureaucracy. Without exception, every educational initiative, revamping, and overhaul has had little positive effect on conditions in the classroom, but has caused for extraordinary additional demands on teacher time, endless streams of paperwork, and the further expansion of the administrative hierarchy.

FQ: Parents may be surprised and dismayed to find out what is happening in their children’s schools. What advice do you have for parents on how to effect change locally, and also help their children get the most out of their education?

This is an excellent question with no easy answer. A retired high school principal once told me that “the primary purpose of every administrator is self-preservation.” As a result, individuals at every level of the administrative hierarchy become active participants in the selective dissemination of information to the public. Cutting through this “firewall” can be an overwhelmingly daunting task, especially for someone outside of education. Consequently, many complaining parents learn how to play the system to the benefit of their own child, i.e., “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” In addition, the current economic necessity for both parents to be working renders very little time for parents to battle the bureaucracy. Whereas the most plausible way to get an accurate picture is via the classroom teacher, having been inadvertently exposed by well meaning parents a number of times throughout my career, I find that most teachers are very reluctant to speak their minds (we’d also like to keep our jobs). Although it would take a tremendously resourceful and committed effort, the local level is still the most practical avenue for concerned parents to effect meaningful change. I wish more would take the plunge.

FQ: Educational reform initiatives have become a prominent part of President Obama’s agenda, as they also were for President Bush. Why do you think there is so much national attention on educational reform?

After 45 years of bombarding the public with reports and studies cataloguing our supposedly failing public schools, it has become standard operating procedure for politicians to tout the “educational reform” agenda. Akin to the need to transform Washington “politics as usual,” promoting educational reform is a proven public elixir. As long as the steady stream of legislative mandates continues to succeed in manipulating the public into believing there has been meaningful change: Mission Accomplished!

FQ: Where do you imagine that true reform, on the scale that is necessary, would begin? Do you imagine it happening slowly or all at once?

It is happening on a very small scale right now. Unfortunately, every truly innovative school I’ve discovered tends to be privately funded, has a selective enrollment, and operates under a skeletal administrative structure. How does one transfer this to public schools that groan under the weight of governmental legislation, bloated administrative bureaucracies, and unrelenting testing requirements? On top of this, our outlandishly litigious society has virtually every school system in the country tied up with legal issues. When it comes to enacting federal and state educational mandates the sad but true reality is, government legislation sets the policies and lawsuits decide how the policies get implemented. This is perhaps the most telling difference between public and private schools. Not only can private schools weed-out the disruptive, non-academic students but, because they do not receive governmental funding, they are not required to abide by federal and state legislative decrees and case law decisions. Advocates of school vouchers should give this careful consideration: Once public funds are allocated for use at private schools, lawsuits stipulating compliance with governmental directives are sure to follow. The bottom line is this: True public school reform would require a complete restructuring of the entire educational bureaucracy. Despite an unrelenting effort, however, my attempts to get those in power to read my book have been unsuccessful. If one considers U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan’s current “Race to the Top” initiative, it appears that “more of the same” tactics are continuing at full speed.

FQ: Now that you have written the book, what is your next project?

I am amazed how my efforts to promote the book have become almost as time-consuming as the process of writing it. Being unable to afford the up-front expense of a book publicist, I’m doing everything myself (although it would be wonderful to find a publicist who truly believed in the book and was willing to work for a percentage of the profits). That being said, I have an incredible collection of quips, jokes, and humorous stories that I would love to compile into a book. Plus, I have enough material about teaching to easily write another book or two. First, I need to do everything possible to make this one a success. The great reviews I’ve been receiving are most encouraging.

To learn more about It Simply Must Be Said: A View of American Public Education from the Trenches of Teaching please visit our website and read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.