Students Learn Why Competence Is An Ethical Duty, The Hard Way: The Case of the Illiterate Principal

Last month, Principal Andrew Buck of  the Middle School for Art and Philosophy in Brooklyn  responded to complaints about the school’s chronic shortage of textbooks by telling eachers and students that textbooks were over-rated. In an e-mail to teachers containing ungrammatical sentences, incorrect punctuation, misspellings and incoherent statements, Buck told his employees that textbooks weren’t essential to the learning process, and noted that some students wouldn’t be able to read the books anyway.

A representative sample from the letter, which you can read in more detail here (it requires registering for Google Docs):

“First, just because student have a text book, doesn’t mean that she or she will be able to read it….Personal experience aside, which surfaces a concern about the potential adverse affects of textbooks to students learning, lets return to the essential question of learning and how it is best achieved…”

Yes, let’s. It is best achieved, perhaps, by having people in charge of it who could pass eighth grade English.

Some accountability, sensitivity and honesty helps, too. When  Buck addressed the problem in a meeting with students, he refused to answer questions and told the students that getting an education was up to them.  “I asked him where are our textbooks were, and he wouldn’t answer the question,” student Mikeada Jeffries told the New York Daily News. “Of course we need textbooks. We don’t have a library or computers. What kind of school is this?”

It’s a lousy one, Mikeada, run by an incompetent principle, hired by a negligent and incompetent local Department of Education.

There is one lesson being taught well in the school, however. It is that incompetent people in important professions cause an incredible amount of harm, expense and suffering every day, and no amount of increased funding can fix an education system that allows characters like Andrew Buck to have any decision-making power in it. A school led by dolts will graduate more dolts. Placing trust in incompetents is a losing proposition, and when administrative bodies like the Department of Education in Brooklyn force parents to entrust their children to schools run by people as inept as Mr. Buck, they have failed to meet their most basic of responsibilities.

8 thoughts on “Students Learn Why Competence Is An Ethical Duty, The Hard Way: The Case of the Illiterate Principal

  1. THIS is why school board elections, often the most neglected ones of all, are so important. Imagine a huge urban school system- with many tens of thousands of students- run by a man who is functionally illiterate. The mind boggles!

  2. “[…]some students wouldn’t be able to read the books anyway”

    In effect, he uses a claim about extremely sub-standard education to justify a further worsening…

    As an aside, the clear superiority of textbooks over classroom education (for at least the brighter and not too young students) is a pet issue of mine: I would strongly urge that those who have the brains to learn from books (Wikipedia, whatnot) are given less classroom education and more opportunity to use books to learn at their own, higher, tempo and in their own way.

  3. I don’t think anyone who has been following public education would be surprised by this. I read the full letter earlier and wasn’t sure what people were upset about. This is about the level of writing, reasoning, and coherence that is acceptable for college graduates today. I would guess that less than half of today’s college graduates are able to write at his level.

    Poorly educated people with an overblown sense of their own accomplishments have very little respect for actual learning or knowledge.

  4. Virtually all of my kids’ teachers have sent home letters full of grammatical, typing, and punctuation errors. At first I was horrified, but eventually I numbed, and decided that the teachers had other gifts. Which indeed they did; we have had fantastic,passionate, dedicated teachers very knowledgeable in their particular subject areas. But I must note that in college, it was always the weakest students majoring in teaching.

    • I would hold that if one is passionate, dedicated and fantastic, as well as knowledgeable in their field, it is also required that one masters the King’s english. In all honesty, if I were ever to receive a letter from one of my children’s teachers that was full of errors, I would unleash a red pen upon it and return to them with a note to urging them to get serious about their chosen profession!

        • My child’s Algebra teacher got confused over a question. Which is the lower temperature, -2 ºF or -8 ºF? The teacher thought it was -2 ºC. When the better students complained vigorously, the teacher took up the tests and said she would consult another teacher about the correct answer. This is an Algebra teacher! (sigh, bang head on desk, sigh again)

          I have as many examples of this as you want. It is normal. You can’t get rid of these teachers because they are now the majority. It is sad to say, but the homeschoolers have a point. Many of them, with very little formal training, can educate their children better in 2 hours/day than the whole host of the education establishment can in 6 hours/day.

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