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.