The Book of the Week is “Mount Pleasant, My Journey From Creating A Billion-Dollar Company to Teaching at A Struggling Public High School” by Steve Poizner, published in 2010.
In 2002, after helping to manage two successful tech startups and participating in the rigorous White House Fellowship program (in which participants are actually consulted by the American president), the 45 year-old author volunteered to teach at an inner-city public high school in San Jose, California. Only one out of tens of schools agreed to let him try.
The ethnic makeup of the students was ten percent Caucasian, and the rest, Hispanic and Asian. The school– located in a high-crime, gang-ridden area– was dilapidated, and resources were woefully inadequate. The author wrote, “Could anyone at Mount Pleasant stop long enough to reflect on the sad state of affairs when fear coexists so closely with learning?”
The author spent his own personal money to purchase supplies for school projects, hire writing-tutors and rent a bus to take his students on field trips for his one-section American Government class for the 2003 spring semester. Through his contacts, he was able to bring in guest speakers too. Other teachers were not similarly supplied. But he admitted that, although he was able to give his students more real-world learning, he lacked the experience to customize his teaching for each of the thirty-odd students in his class. He couldn’t change their lives as easily as a teacher who’d had years of dealing with dozens of students daily.
The author was an enthusiastic advocate for the charter-school movement in California. His reasoning went: charter schools– which are privately funded and in some cases, partially publicly funded– have the money to address the problems posed by schools’ lack of resources, and make schools affordable for parents. However, charter schools in the United States have been around for decades now, and they have failed to show themselves as a significantly better overall alternative to private and public schools.
The author explained that in California, the charter-school lobby consisted of three factions, one of which was comprised of foundations of ultra-wealthy Americans. Their infighting has led to schools of uneven quality.
One would think, if charter schools were superior, they would have replaced all other kinds of schools by now. Perhaps they haven’t because parents who believe in education will make the necessary sacrifices to give their kids the best opportunities. Other parents won’t, no matter what they are offered. In modern times, in the United States, if it’s important to the parents, they will make the time and effort, as there is ample opportunity to do so. If not, they will make excuses.
The author did concede that “… teachers are in the ultimate position to know what works and what doesn’t for the state’s students” yet educrats who aren’t in a classroom (some of whom have never taught a day in their lives) and software-makers are currently in charge of America’s education policies. Unless a significant number of better schools replace worse ones, (which is another one of those problems that, with enough political backing and funding, can be solved!) the education scene in the United States will remain as embattled, uneven and unfair as ever. As is well known, practically all privileged parents send their kids to private schools, as did the author.
Read the book to learn the specific skill the author really pushed his students to learn, his work history, and the takeaway on his teaching experience.