Letters to the Editor for the weekly print issue of September 17, 2012: Many schools no longer teach civics – or even much history – leaving students without the lessons that create informed, engaged citizens. A teacher's goals – shaping human lives, as well as imparting specific knowledge and skills in the process – can't fully be measured by numbers on a year-end test.
The July 30 commentary from Scott Warren, Iris Chen, and Eric Schwarz – "US democracy at risk unless students learn civics" – should be required reading by every state legislator.
Along the way, while making our so-called educational progress, Americans have forgotten to teach the basic lessons that make us better citizens, responsible voters – the guidelines for choosing those to represent us. But since many schools no longer teach civics (or even much history), these tools are not available.
This is a tragedy – one that we are seeing the results of as our government flounders, leaders fail to lead, and fewer and fewer real statesmen and women serve in Congress. Instead we see arrogance and disassociation with the electorate.
It would be shocking (well, maybe not) to learn how many high school students don't know the capital of their own state. But they can tell you who the best-paid basketball player is or which Hollywood actor or actress is getting a divorce.
Regarding the Aug. 13 cover story, "The measure of a teacher:" The comparison between the evaluation of teachers and that of surgeons is fallacious. The goals of surgeons are primarily physical. The goals of teachers are primarily spiritual and moral – shaping human lives, as well as imparting specific knowledge and skills in the process.
The best, most influential teacher I ever had was my sixth-grade public school teacher Frank Murphy. I know from having been in touch with many of his past students over the decades that he molded scores of people from all walks of life who read much and love learning, and who did not realize the unparalleled impact that Mr. Murphy had on them until years after they left his classroom.
I doubt that evaluating his students' standardized test scores would have shown the monumental effect he was having. Judging a teacher's effectiveness mainly on these scores is like evaluating a company based on its earnings in one quarter. It's easy to do, but it does not reveal long-term health nor does it consider the company's or society's well-being.