By: Hank Warren
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.
Publication Date: December 2009
Reviewed by: Eloise Michael
Review Date: July 23, 2010
In 1983 Ronald Reagan's “National Commission on Educational Excellence” issued a report called A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Author Hank Warren, in his book, It Simply Must Be Said, highlights the parade of reform initiatives, both national and local, that have followed the report, each promising change in schools and higher-performing students. In fact, Warren points out, Educational Reform has become an industry, “an institution unto itself, with extensive studies, reports, assessments, recommendations, lobbying efforts, curriculum developments, and a vast network of in-school workshops, lectures, and teacher training initiatives.” (pg. 57). Reforming schools is profitable for private businesses and for “experts” in the field of education.
Teachers, who are undoubtedly experts in the field, have not been allowed to contribute much to the discussion of reform thus far. It Simply Must Be Said contains the insights, opinions, and teaching stories of one veteran teacher. Warren writes that few people know what really happens inside classrooms, except for the teacher and students, of course. Parents rarely visit classrooms during the school day. Readers may be surprised to learn that school administrators visit classrooms almost never. Warren points out that even a teacher can't really know what happens in the classroom next door. This book gives readers a rare glimpse into public-school classrooms.
We hear that our public schools are “failing” so frequently that few people take the time anymore to question that assertion. Warren describes his own career as a dedicated teacher, as well as the work of several teachers he admires. These teachers, like countless others, work for lower pay than most people with their level of education and no hope for advancement in terms of responsibility or respect. They work long hours, many of which are unpaid, and perform tasks, such as bus duty, lunch duty, or yard duty, which require none of their skills and training. Furthermore, these duties take time away from lesson planning, communicating with students' caregivers, and other work that is essential to good teaching.
Why do teachers do this? Hank Warren makes it clear through the examples he shares that teachers care about their students and hope to make a difference. Readers will know, upon finishing this book, that our schools are not failing. Every day teachers are helping students to learn not only academic skills, but the skills they will need to navigate life as adults.
Warren does see problems with public schools in the United States, however. He describes issues that have remained unchanged for over fifty years, as well as new challenges, such as those that come with mainstreaming students in Special Education, our increasingly litigious culture, and the standardized testing that has commandeered education. Reading It Simply Must Be Said is a little like spending the day in the teachers' lounge. Warren has a rambling style, switching easily between addressing serious issues, griping about administrators, and sharing stories from the classroom. Though Warren has clearly experienced frustration over 34 years as a teacher, he describes the issues with humor.
Also included in the book are anecdotes that illustrate Warren's points, such as this window into the reality of teaching kindergarten. “Say, for example, you pick up a yardstick and ask the class: “Does anyone know what this is?” There will be at least five kids frantically waving their hands. “Yes, Johnny?” Without hesitation, Johnny shouts, I'm going to be Batman for Halloween!” (pg. 100). Warren's examples are often funny. I even laughed out loud a few times. Anyone who has spent time with children will recognize the truth in these stories and will understand that teaching is much more than coming up with academic lessons and grading papers.
Warren uses humor and stories from the classroom to make his critique of school administration an entertaining read. This book is not, however, just a list of complaints punctuated with jokes and stories. Warren has practical suggestions, which he believes would resolve some of the issues he discusses. Most of these ideas are radical in their simplicity. Warren makes a good case for how his ideas could work, and by the end of the book, readers will believe that he knows what he is talking about!
Quill says: A truly constructive criticism of U.S. public schools from an author who knows what he is talking about.
For more information on It Simply Must Be Said: A View of American Public Education from the Trenches of Teaching, please visit the book's website at: www.TrenchesofTeaching.com