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

Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

It Simply Must Be Said:  A View of American Public Education from the Trenches of Teaching by Hank WarrenWhy do American schools all too often fail to provide students with a quality education, the kind that broadens their minds, makes them think analytically, and be enthusiastic about learning, and which prepares them for the demands of the job market? Whose fault is it that this sad state of affairs has come about–is it that of our teachers, the society we live in, that of the parents of our nation’s students, the media’s, a sense of apathy among today’s youth, or some combination of these potential factors? Also, how do teachers deal with the pressures inherent in their jobs, and still find within themselves the strength to come to work day after day, intent on trying to make a difference for the better in the lives of their students? These are some of the questions raised and topics explored in author Hank Warren’s stimulating and thought-provoking book, It Simply Must Be Said.

There’s definitely more to teaching than teaching. That may sound strange to anyone who has never been a teacher, but I was one, like Hank Warren. The author’s wife is still a high school teacher, also. For instance, in the chapter with the very apt title “Learning to Swim by Drowning,” the author mentions one of the most important factors one needs to succeed as a teacher in an anecdote he relates about a discussion his wife had with a new teacher “who had completed a brief alternative certification program,”– that is, the ability to motivate the students to participate in the learning process. The new teacher complains: “These kids are completely unmotivated! They don’t want to do a thing!”

What is a teacher to do in a situation like this? Warren’s wife points out “that this is our job as teachers; the daily challenge to get students motivated to want to do something, anything, that will vaguely resemble active participation in the educational process.” What was the fate of the new teacher? The author writes that: “By the middle of the next week, he was gone.”

One of the many other points Hank Warren eloquently makes is that of the general public’s misconception of the difficulty of being a teacher. Actors might be asked what profession they might have landed in if they hadn’t become actors, and some say that of teaching. It would be a tremendous reduction in salary, for certain, and the hours a teacher works aren’t just those hours that school is in session, contrary to the views of people who believe teachers have it easy. There’s the long hours after school spent grading papers, making up quizzes and tests, rereading and reviewing the material you’re going to teach the kids the next day, writing up lesson plans, keeping your grade book current, and sometimes being on the phone talking to parents. There are in-service hours you have to log, refresher teacher training classes like PET (Program for Effective Teaching), seminars, and some principals require or strongly advise teachers to show up at school events, like football and basketball games.

Before I possibly give anyone the wrong impression, I want to make it clear that the author has much more to say in his book than I can mention in a review, and I plan on doing an interview with him in which I can get a little more in-depth with some of the topics he writes about and is passionate about. He has ideas for solutions, or ways to at least improve certain aspects of America’s educational system, so the book is not just about complaining about how the system sucks, but tells how to make it better.

One of my favorite chapters of It Simply Must Be Said is the one called NCLB. The initials stand for, if you haven’t already guessed it, “No Child Left Behind.” There are so many things just flat out wrong about this entire plan, that it’s a mystery to me how any sane individuals would want it to have been made the law of the land in the first place. One of the more glaring problems with it is that it’s a misnomer, and in reality causes children to be left behind. This is due to several factors and facets of the act, like that a school having problems with, for example, trying to educate a large number of non-English speaking children, might very well have its funding slashed, when it would really make more sense to provide the school with enough funding to make sure that the children there got every chance possible to succeed despite the language barrier and to not be left behind. There’s nothing wrong about setting high expectations for a school and a district, but in my opinion it would be much better to help schools and districts that are having problems rather than to cut or stop funding and let the schools, the districts, the children, perish as a result.

It Simply Must Be Said should be required reading for anyone concerned with the state of our educational system, and who desperately would like to see it improved. Sadly, almost anything would be an improvement over the way it’s being currently ran. There are plenty of dedicated, hard-working teachers who got in the job desiring to motivate kids and excite them to the possibilities of learning and the doors that can be opened for them by the knowledge they learn. Unfortunately, there are also many in this same group who are tired of what often amounts to banging their heads on a wall, in that though they try their hardest, that alone is sometimes not good enough, or they get so tired of dealing with the everyday reality of making the best of an inherently flawed system that they get burned out and want to quit teaching.

Check out It simply Must Be Said today! It is definitely an eye-opening read that will stay with you a long time. Hopefully, it will also help plant the seeds of positive change in the hearts of its readers, and result in one day us having an educational system we can be proud of, and which will make sure that no child will truly be left behind, by giving our schools, our teachers, and our school districts the help they need instead of the threats and cut funding that is destroying them.

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