Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Postcard that Demonstrates Everything Wrong with American Education

I've taught lots of different courses.

I started out teaching English to Freshmen and then went on to teach American Lit and British Lit to Juniors and Seniors respectively. For years, I've taught Latin from the Beginner course through both of the AP offerings. In the Fine Arts, I've had the pleasure to teach AP Art History as well as my own course in Digital Audio Production. And this year, I've begun the transition into Social Studies teaching with two sections of Freshmen in West Civ.

I like teaching.

But I get the feeling that my idea of what teaching looks like just ain't what the powers that be think teaching must look like.

Take the College Board.

Today in the mail, I got a postcard invitation to sign up for an AP Summer Institute. That's great. I've often found that I learn a lot -- especially from other teachers -- at these sorts of things. I haven't been to an AP institute, but I have taken part in two institutes run under the NEH and I found each to be an invigorating experience.

So, it's not the idea of taking part in that sort of program that makes me feel weird. Rather, it was the picture on the front of the postcard.

Now, this postcard came from Delaware, so I'm going to assume that it was mailed out to every school in the US Mid-Atlantic that offers AP programs. So, if you are in a high school in Delaware, Maryland, Eastern PA, and the surrounding area, there's a good chance there's one floating around your building. You should track it down and check it out.

Because I think that the picture on this postcard demonstrates everything wrong with American education.

In the center of the postcard stands a smiling teacher pointing and presumably calling on a student. Behind him  hangs a map and a chalkboard. In front of him is a desk cluttered with ring binders and a book. One of the ring binders is open and it appears that this is the text from which he has been lecturing. His students are seated at desks in rows. Nothing is on their desks: no books, no laptops. Two of the students are raising their hands. The teacher is pointing to one of them.

Everything about this scene -- from the roll-up map, to the blackboard, to the teacher's position in the classroom, to his desk at the front, to the ring binders, to the rows of students, to the orderliness of raising your hand to be called on -- screams of static education.

Static education is the bane of my existence.

Static education is the precise thing that progressive educators -- be they heavy on the tech, light on the tech, post-paper, or pro-paperback -- are fighting against.

And here it is presented in all it's glory on the front of a postcard from the College Board emblazoned with the tagline: Improve your school's AP program!

Hey, College Board, I've got an idea for you: can your art director / marketing person and pay a real progressive educator to take a few candid snapshots for you of what dynamic education actually looks like.


  1. Amen and amen. Interactive, creating, involving experiences in larning are what allows the most dynamic thinking/comprehension to be experienced. Students can listen and read on their own, but they can only build on each other's thoughts and experiences in experiences facilitated with others. Teaching, guided by instructors who allow and facilitate involvement in learning, is a powerful thing for all involved.

  2. Just to play devil's advocate, I'm going to give the College Board the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the summer institute is actually very progressive and falsely advertising on purpose! Wouldn't a picture of the kind of classroom we like to see scare away many of the teachers who could benefit most? Ha, or maybe not. Maybe what those teachers would take away is, "Does your classroom look like this disorganized mess? Come see how you can fix it!"

  3. Hey, Shelly...

    My spring break starts on March 4... and my summer starts June 6.... would it be possible for me to come visit your classroom during a window when I'm not in class?

  4. The College Board only endorses the consultants for an AP Summer Institute. The sites that offer the institutes are the ones responsible for their marketing!

  5. Today, I was looking at two photo sites from which I generally find stock pictures to use in our e-publications. I get very frustrated by the stereotypical 'education' photos found on these sites. Chalkboards, piles of books with an apple on top, the somewhat sexist and very stereotypical female teacher with glasses and a stern look on her face, and those rows of desks to which you refer! I often have to go to 'business' pictures to find anything with technology in them. It is a very sad situation...and one photographers need to change! So, don't blame the AP folks... they probably had little say on that picture, but I certainly agree with your view.

  6. @dgende

    If that's the case, the College Board might think about being more vigilant about their representation. But given that they sum up the academic progress and understanding of AP students via bubble tests and anonymously graded essays written by students facing forward sitting in rows, I somehow doubt they'd see the concern.


    With all due respect, this isn't about the relative quality of stock photos. This is about the fundamental lack of imagination and lack of conviction for progressive education of the College Board and the institutes that represent it.

  7. The problem is that everything is about classroom management and control! There is nothing progressive about the AP program. Nothing will change until we stop calling it a classroom. I have been waging a gurrella war for 31 years against this mentality and it continues. It is not about teaching, it is about learning!!!!

  8. This is such a refreshing post to read!


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