Tuesday, May 4, 2021

AV#231 - (Teacher Appreciation) - Excellence: A teacher reminds us of what is possible


The Class - A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids,

and the Most Inventive Classroom in America

By Heather Won Tesoriero

The Class is such a pleasure. Fifty years ago I loved reading about inspiring teachers working in the inner city (36 Children, The Way it Spozed To Be, How Children Fail). To now read of another extraordinary educator—albeit in an entirely different setting, a wealthy suburb in Connecticut—is uplifting. It is not the story of a superman. The ten or so highly motivated teenagers we follow during their academic year, 2016-2017, are also thoroughly human; it is a relief to see they can procrastinate and screw up as well as the rest of us at age 17! And yet what this teacher and the students in his high school science class achieve is nothing short of amazing. I recommend The Class to anyone worried about the teaching profession, and to all who need a reminder of what is possible, in our schools, at their best. 

Andy Bramante is the 50-something teacher. After “two decades as an analytical chemist in corporate America,” he wanted something more rewarding. He became a teacher. By the fall of 2016 he had been teaching high school for over a decade.                                                             

Five moments that especially ring true for this former teacher.

Tesoriero’s account takes us to (the high drama at) a number of these fairs where Bramante’s students compete. The book concludes with a stunning list of their prizes, medals, and scholarships from, to name just a few: Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, International Sustainable World Project, Regeneron Science Talent Search, Google Science Fair, and Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair.

      1.      Bramante’s desire to connect with his students during their year-long investigations, as they prepare for competitive science and engineering fairs.     

“To him, the whole reason he got into the teaching business was to work side by side with kids, to develop the relationships and let the science unfurl in all of its glorious unpredictability. He thrives off the connections and the adventure—for both, he’s willing to go where few would and has put up with a good deal of shit in the process.”*

     [What did we just read? Which is why you must see how the next paragraph begins….]

“Actual shit. Andy has done everything from taking a kid to a sewage treatment facility to collect water samples from a football-field-sized pool of bubbling poop to visit a sludge site in the Bronx….” (127)


*Excerpts from THE CLASS: A LIFE-CHANGING TEACHER, HIS WORLD CHANGING KIDS, AND THE MOST INVENTIVE CLASSROOM IN AMERICA by Heather Won Tesoriero, copyright ©2018 by Heather Won Tesoriero. Used by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

2.      You can be honored for your successes as a teacher, and no rookie, and still experience what teachers across the country complain about: a lack of respect.

   “Is he widely known as a superstar teacher? For sure. But the prior year, there was an incident that for him cast serious doubt on whether the powers that be actually value him, as opposed to the glory his program bestows on the school.” (129)

Later, the remarkable 15-year-old Ethan is writing a paper that he hopes to submit to a scientific journal. Andy and Ethan drive up to New Haven to visit a Yale professor who might oversee Ethan’s work. The Yale prof meets with the two of them. He is clearly impressed by the teenager’s understanding of membrane technology, but turns to Andy and says: “Why are you here?”

   “The exchange produced a sour aftertaste in Andy that hasn’t faded since. [He] sensed that the professor had no interest in or respect for a high school teacher.  Of course, [the prof] likely had no prior knowledge of Andy’s career, but regardless, his apparent disregard for someone teaching high school science bugged the hell out of Andy. While most of the time he can set aside his ego, this kind of disregard inflamed it….” (136)

 [“hasn’t faded since.” At a college reunion a former classmate asked about my job. I said, “I’m teaching high school English.” He walked away. No need to waste networking time, he must have thought, with this loser.]


3.      Tesoriero allows us to see the students mature during her year with this class. By June, a little wiser. More confident. As teachers we are often too much in the moment to see it. In looking back on a year— or even better, on how those once frail 9th graders are now seniors, the young men and women walking across the graduation stage—we are moved, deeply grateful to have played a role in their growth. 

   “Sophia’s never been a bold or supremely confident personality, despite her winning combination of beauty and brains… She tends to fold her body inward when sitting as if she’s trying to make herself as small and discrete as possible. She’s not boisterous and she never, ever brags...”

   “But when she works in the lab, there’s a palpable, visible difference in the way she carries herself. She has presence; she stands taller. She moves carefully, but with no hesitation.”

   “Her parents have noticed. ‘First of all, Andy has brought her out,’ says [her mom]. ‘He gets them to push themselves.’ When [her mom] took Sophia to the Norwalk Science Fair at the end of Sophia’s sophomore year, she was stunned to see her little girl in a suit, about to expound on her complex science project.” (181)


4.      Several parents in the privileged community where Bramante teaches can be unjust, even vindictive, such as when they blame him if their child does not win at one of the competitions. After one fair, when his own high school daughter did not make the cut, he feels responsible. [So many hours spent with his students, not enough time with his own child.] And then he gets a phone call.

   “It was a mother who launched into a bitter tirade about how he had not properly vetted the projects because had he done so he would have seen that her child’s project was too similar to another research kid’s, thereby squashing her child’s chance for a win. He had no capacity to take on the crazy mother. On a good day he was aghast at this kind of entitled behavior. But on a day when he and his kid were hurting badly, he could offer nothing to this woman. He quickly and pointedly told her he had his own problems and hung up.” (214) 

As I said, no superman. But so real.


5.      When we choose to teach later in life. Bramante’s career shift into teaching—in his 40’s—is unusual, but less rare than might be supposed. I have loved meeting folks in Colorado who chose this profession in their 30’s, or even later. The Class sheds light on the transition for Bramante—perhaps many others.

A close high school friend, Vinnie Bucci, had gone on to Brown University for a master’s degree in education and had taught high school English ever since.

   “Teaching has been Vinnie’s life work. He loves it. And it was Vinnie who was the first person to sense that his old pal, Andy Bramante, might be a gifted teacher…” 

       [Each year Vinnie and his wife invite friends to gather. Andy and his wife would attend.] 

   “… For years, Andy had been listening to stories from Vinnie’s teaching friends and colleagues about what they do, and in many cases, the stories culminated in some talk of making a difference in a kid’s life. These accounts seeped into Andy’s brain and stood in sharp contrast to his working life. He had had a good run, sure, but there was nothing in the way of changing anyone’s life.

    “So …knowing his corporate life was looking and feeling bleak, nothing but a dead end staring back, he started to put a plan in motion.” (188) 

No one can predict when or how the shift takes place. When it does, for many, it is a renewal. A second chance. A blessing. Nice, isn’t it, to hear someone say they “found their calling”—at whatever age. 

Bramante reflects on the school year

Bramante has much to be proud of. Tesoriero imagines how he might look back on the school year.

   “What he’ll mostly remember are the moments that happened far from the award stage—the ten P.M. night when Collin’s project came together, working with Romano in the woodshop to saw those windows into his test tubes, that cozy winter day with his hardworking female superstars. He’ll remember some of the tears over the various teenage crises, a clutch last-minute prom date he helped broker, his sense that he may never again have a class like this year’s seniors, with whom he formed an especially tight bond.”

   Tesoriero lets us know that Bramante is trying to figure out his future role in the school. But as she sees it: “… he can’t leave the kids. They are the ticket to his happiness. They’ve become such a central part of his identity, and most critically, they’ve given him that elusive thing so many of us seek: a tangible sense of mattering in this world.” (392)

A special THANK YOU to Ballantine Books for permission to use so many quotes from The Class.


Excerpts from THE CLASS: A LIFE-CHANGING TEACHER, HIS WORLD CHANGING KIDS, AND THE MOST INVENTIVE CLASSROOM IN AMERICA by Heather Won Tesoriero, copyright ©2018 by Heather Won Tesoriero. Used by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 26, 2021

AV#230 - If education is not “training for the workforce,” then what is it? 13 answers


“The Business of Education - is Education” – continued. 

A follow-up to AV#229, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt - cautionary words from 100 years ago

Excerpts and Quotes – on the purpose of education (2018-2021)

Comment on Another View #229: “You can’t just criticize; it’s not enough to whine about the market-based, business-oriented influence on public education’s mission. How about a positive affirmation of our mission?”


I have tried before. See Addendum, page 6, from AV#156 and AV#180. Here is another attempt.

I like to collect statements that offer a compelling vision of what education is for; of why we teach; of all we hope to provide young people in schools and in college. These statements are more traditional and, as I said before, “less monetary and mundane” than what is au courant: “training for the workforce.” I hope the four pages that follow raise our sights. I hope they remind us of time-honored hopes and beliefs. I hope they might even inspire future teachers. It is a noble profession. It is not just about career prep.

Critics will call the affirmations here old-fashioned. Not relevant (a popular charge). Or (warning – this will get a little wordy) TONE DEAF to the completely REASONABLE demand from the business community that education be PRACTICAL, that schools need to wake up (woke up?) to THE REAL WORLD and give students a chance to experience the PLANT/OFFICE/FACTORY before they graduate from high school (even though they will have another 45 YEARS OR MORE TO BE IN THE WORKPLACE AFTER THEY GRADUATE, but never mind, HERE’S A CHANCE TO GET THEM out of school and INTO OUR BUSINESSES ASAP, so that we can TRAIN THEM, so that they will graduate from high school – CAREER READY.  

Most of the arguments, beliefs, and examples that follow probably look familiar. Isn’t this what most of us heard from our elders as we were going through school? I cannot think of one K-12 teacher who talked about the workplace. In college, as an English major who took a number of Religion courses, only in one course (ED 376: Sociology of Education), as I recall, did the curriculum spend a minute on any career.   

Have our fundamental beliefs about the purpose of education changed so much in a generation or two?         



Descriptions of the purpose of education from passages that follow:

“to lead a fulfilled life                   a way to realize individual possibility”              intellectual flexibility”

“better able to function in a democracy”   “classroom experiences that reckon with the purpose of life”

“…the business of liberal education in a democracy is to make free people wise.” 

“… both academic training and preparation to live a meaningful and fulfilled life.”

“…we need knowledgeable, informed citizens who can guide this country in the proper direction.” 

“My students are learning to read, write, and multiply …

because those skills will help them navigate and understand the world.”  

what [parents] really care about … is that their kids are happy, have good lives,

and that they are fulfilled…”


A higher purpose - “Start with Why” (Simon Sinek)


“Kids hear adults describe them as lazy and selfish. I see my students being kind every day,” by Kyle Schwartz, Chalkbeat Colorado, Aug. 22, 2019.


It would be presumptuous of me to suggest the ideas here reflect the “true” purpose of school and college. See “The Many Purposes of Education”*—listing sevendifferent point(s) of view concerning what education should be all about.” My goal is to encourage readers to consider that we may have taken a detour, to ask if the current WHY isn’t small-minded and short-sighted, and to reflect on what might be a more meaningful purpose than the one that has taken hold of late.  *https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-aim-of-education-8417

   Have you ever asked a child why they are in school? As a third-grade teacher, I ask this question to my students each year. Their answers seem to follow a script. Almost every child will answer confidently that they go to school so they can learn. If you ask a child why they need to learn, many will tell you it’s so they can get good grades. Then, they might add, they will need good grades in order to go to college or so they can get a good job.                                                                         
   This thinking is so prevalent that it is rarely challenged. Workforce training, while certainly a benefit of schooling,  is not the goal of education. My students are learning to read, write, and multiply not so they can ace a test or snag a job, but because those skills will help them navigate and understand the world. I tell my students, “You are not here so you can make money in a decade. You are here so you can make a difference now.” The obligation of the school is to teach, but the obligation of the student is to contribute. 

(Kyle Schwartz is a third-grade teacher at Doull Elementary in Denver. Excerpted from I Wish for Change: Unleashing the Power of Kids to Make a Difference.)  https://co.chalkbeat.org/2019/8/22/21108696/kids-hear-adults-describe-them-as-lazy-and-selfish-i-see-my-students-being-kind-every-day


“Parents . . . Shifted Their Definition of Success” - Summit Schools cofounder Diane Tavenner on the secrets of student happiness, Education Next, Spring 2020. 

Senior editor, Paul E. Peterson, recently interviewed Diane Tavenner, cofounder and chief education officer of Summit Schools, and author of Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life. 

   Believe it or not, not everyone wants to go to Harvard. What’s better is when students find a good fit that matches who they are: for economic reasons, geographic reasons, their future aspirations, all of those things. When you think about what each individual wants and help them drive toward that outcome, versus a single outcome for a select few, you can help everyone succeed. 

I can see that you can persuade students of that, but how about their parents? Their definition of success may be much more competitive than the one you’re describing here. How do you explain your mission to the parents?

    One of the things we have discovered as we’ve shared the Summit model in 40 states through the Summit Learning Program, and in conversation with parents across the country, is that parents actually have shifted their definition of success. It’s still important to them that their kids have economic stability in their adult lives, but [from podcast] “what they really care about in addition to that is that their kids are happy, have good lives, and that they are fulfilled … and have good relationships and all those things.”

   Most parents think other parents have a much more traditional definition of success that’s about status, power, and wealth, so they are quiet about their beliefs because they think they aren’t shared. The primary reason I wrote the book was to help parents realize they’re not alone. In fact, the parents who want their kids to be happy are a majority in this country.     


All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year. Those who forget WHY they were founded show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of to outdo themselves. The pursuit, for those who lose sight of WHY they are running the race, is for the medal to beat someone else.          Start with Why, Simon Sinek

   As parents, we need to be open and vocal about this. We’re hoping to build a movement and let the world know that lots of people believe in this new idea of success and how we should be preparing kids for the future.

This is an edited excerpt from an Education Exchange podcastwhich can be heard here. https://www.educationnext.org/parents-shifted-their-definition-of-success-diane-tavenner-interview/



From “How We Achieve Student Success,” Letter to the Editor, by Andrew Goldin, Chief Program Officer, Summit Learning Program, Education Week, Jan. 16, 2019.

   Our vision is to equip every student to succeed in college and lead a fulfilled life. Our approach to teaching and learning, which we call Summit Learning, is designed to put students on this path by fostering mastery of content knowledge, lifelong problem-solving skills, and habits that lead to success—like goal-setting and perseverance.



“A Progressive Defends Liberal Education,” by Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2019).

   Noonan praises The Assault on American Excellence (2019), by Anthony Kronman, professor and former Dean at Yale Law School. She writes of his “idea that has largely been lost … that higher education is a fundamentally moral enterprise whose purpose is to help students become better human beings. Universities should be devoted not only to the ‘transmission of skills’ but the ‘shaping of souls.’”

   “The vocational approach,” Noonan writes, “involves the idea that life is all about work and the business of higher education is to prepare you for a profession. This approach … has a restricted sense of excellence. It asks, Kronman says, ‘What do I need to learn to be a successful lawyer or computer scientist?’ and ignores the more important, ‘What makes a whole life honorable and fulfilling?’”


“We Can’t Afford to Lose the Liberal Arts,” interview with Fred Beuttler, associate dean of the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies at the University of Chicago, Inside Academe, American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), 2018-19, No. 2.

The purpose of the liberal arts: “Former Dean of the College, F. Champ Ward, who helped oversee the University’s Basic Liberal Education for Adults program, looked at what the purpose of a liberal education is. He said that ‘Humans are born equal, but they are not born wise. Therefore, the business of liberal education in a democracy is to make free people wise.’ And that, to me, is the purpose of what we do. Ward said that in 1946, understanding very clearly the need for education for citizenship, to develop a wise people who are capable of self-governance.”

The liberal arts and citizenship: “If you go back to the purpose that Plato sees in [the liberal arts] in The Republic, it is self-governance. The liberal arts are for one’s own personal self-governance. But in a democracy, it becomes even more essential that citizens are capable of governing themselves and seeing the broad picture—and the best way to do that is through a liberal arts education.”  https://www.goacta.org/wp-content/uploads/ee/download/inside-academe-vol.xxiv-no2_.pdf


“Andrew Delbanco - A professor and foundation leader wants to expand study of humanities and encourage students to consider the purpose of life,” by Emily Borrow, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19-20, 2020.

    “I have this old-fashioned view that the classroom experience can actually give young people a better self-understanding and a greater awareness of the world around them,” [Delbanco] says. When students read great texts together, whether they are wrestling with the difference between love and desire in Shakespeare or considering Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism, they ultimately learn how to think and listen to competing points of view. This makes them better able to function in a democracy, he says, “which, as we are often reminded of now, is a hard thing to do.’”

   As president of the Teagle Foundation, which supports liberal arts education, he is working to revive a humanities-based general education on colleges across the country. Together with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Teagle Foundation is sponsoring a $7 million grant program over five years to expand access to classroom experiences that reckon with the purpose of life.

   “If 2021 has taught us anything,” he says, it’s that “we need to be able to have a reflective, deliberative conversation about who we want to be.”


Clayton M. Christensen (1952-2020) – “Professor Turned His Life Into a Case Study,” Obituary in The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 25-26, 2020.

    In a 2010 article and lecture, “How Will You Measure Your Life?,” … [Christensen] advised business-school students to devote part of their time to creating a strategy for living a good life. Having a clear purpose mattered more than mastering core competence and disruptive innovations, he said.


“The Great Divide,” book review of two books by Edward Fawcett, Conservatism and Liberalism, by William Anthony Hay, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5-6, 2020.

    “The German statesman Wilhelm von Humboldt saw education as a way to realize individual possibility rather than, as tradition would have it, train for an occupation or a social role.”


“Scott Millar on University Governance,” Inside Academe, ACTA, 2018-19, No. 3

What is your view of the future of higher education and what can trustees bring to that?

   “… Higher education is heading in new directions. There are certainly revenue and expenditure challenges on the horizon. But at the end of the day, we need knowledgeable, informed citizens who can guide this country in the proper direction. And higher education is the way to ensure that future generations have the proper knowledge, the proper intellect, the proper analytical ability, and the proper decision-making ability in order to make prudent, good, and reasonable decisions for the future of this Commonwealth and the future of this country.”

(Scott Millar is a member of the Board of Visitors at Christopher Newport University.) https://www.goacta.org/wp-content/uploads/ee/download/inside-academe-vol.xxiv-no3_.pdf


“Featured Donor - Dr. Harold Eickoff,” Inside Academe, ACTA, 2018-19, No. 4.

   “Like ACTA, Dr. Eickhoff emphasizes that a comprehensive education includes both academic training and preparation to live a meaningful and fulfilled life.”    

(Dr. Eickoff was President of The College of New Jersey, 1979-1998) https://www.goacta.org/wp-content/uploads/ee/download/inside-academe-volxxiv-no.4.pdf


“What Happens at College Doesn’t Stay at College, The Current Campus and Its Impact on Society,” Inside Academe, ACTA, 2019-20, No. 1.

   Eugene Hickok, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, opened the panel by outlining how commoditization has ‘removed the soul’ from higher education. Co-driven by both students and institutions, the view of a college education as a consumer product has kept costs high and returns low. https://www.goacta.org/2019/11/inside-academe-vol-xxv-no-1/


“The Most Contrarian College in America,” by Frank Bruni, The New York Times, Sept. 11, 2018.  “What’s the highest calling of higher education? St. John’s College has some enduring answers.”

(My graduate degree is a Master of Arts in Liberal Education, 1990, from St. John’s, Santa Fe, N.M.)

    St. John’s College, which was founded in 1696 in Annapolis, Md., is the third-oldest college in America and, between its campus there and the one here [Santa Fe], has about 775 undergraduates. And I’m drawing attention to it because it’s an increasingly exotic and important holdout against so many developments in higher education — the stress on vocational training, the treatment of students as fickle consumers, the elevation of individualism over a shared heritage — that have gone too far. It’s a necessary tug back in the other direction.

   “Your work and career are a part of your life,” Dean Walter Sterling said when I met with him and the Santa Fe president, Mark Roosevelt. “Education should prepare you for all of your life. It should make you a more thoughtful, reflective, self-possessed and authentic citizen, lover, partner, parent and member of the global economy.”   https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/opinion/contrarian-college-stjohns.html




Published on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 18, 2021 – not long after the storming of the U.S. Capitol. 

“How MLK’s views shaped my personal journey in the field of education,” by Corey Edwards, Your Hub, The Denver Post. Rather than quote MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Edwards points to “lesser-known wisdom” from King—in a piece he wrote as an undergraduate at Morehouse College in 1947. As Edwards puts it:

   “Wisdom that resonates deeply with me because of the career I’ve chosen, and the transformational impact this wisdom has had on my own life and the lives of many other people across the country… I point to a particular passage [from that essay, entitled ‘The Purpose of Education’] that unfortunately is as relevant today as it was when it was published.”

Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

(Edwards only quoted half of this passage; I added the rest of the quote to more fully reflect King’s statement on education’s purpose.) Edwards is the northwestern director for Western Governors University. https://yourhub.denverpost.com/blog/2021/01/how-mlks-views-shaped-one-coloradans-personal-journey-in-the-field-of-education/273029/


From previous issues of Another View – a more inspiring vision for the purpose of education.

     AV #156 - 2071 – Department of Workforce Development – A History – (Jan. 9, 2017)

                                         from Addendum (pages 18-21)

1.      Is education's foremost mission to train the state's workforce?

Steven Fesmire, Letter to the Editor, Education Week, Jan. 20, 2016

2.      Forcing college kids to ignore the liberal arts won't help them in a competitive economy.

Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, Sept. 2, 2016 (excerpts)

3.      For the Sake of Humanity, Teach the Humanities - Liberal arts education is essential to good   citizenship -

Jim Haas, Commentary, Education Week, Nov. 14, 2016 (excerpts)

4.      The big threat on campus - Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg View, Dec. 5, 2016

5.      Bill Ivey's book: Handmaking America - Barry Hessenius, Barry’s Blog, Oct. 14, 2012

6.      Character-Building Beats Out Economy-Building as Goal

Catherine Gewertz, News in Brief, Education Week, Feb. 26, 2014

7.      The Heart of the Matter, a report of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, 

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2013 (excerpts)



AV #180 - Mission statements from 10 high-performing [COLORADO] schools*–education for LIFE                                                                              (June 12, 2018)

Character, Values, Citizenship, and - no surprise - not a word about training for the workplace

*The Classical Academy (Academy 20); DSST: College View; DSST: Stapleton; DSST: Green Valley; KIPP - Northeast Denver Leadership Academy; Liberty Common Charter School (Poudre); Peak to Peak Charter School (Boulder); STRIVE Prep – Rise (DPS); Twin Peaks Charter Academy (St. Vrain); Vanguard School of Colorado Springs (Cheyenne Mountain).

Monday, April 12, 2021

AV #229 - Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt - cautionary words from 100 years ago

“The Business of Education - is Education” – continued.

In a series I called “The Business of Education - is Education” (#171-175, Jan. 2018), Another View examined the way the business community seemed intent on redefining the mission of public education in America. That trend has only accelerated.[i] I offer here nothing original. In fact, the cautionary words about commerce trampling on and revising the purpose of 

“Business pushes an agenda. In 2018, educators must be clear-eyed about the role some business leaders wish to play in advancing career education. Something fundamental has changed these past few years. … educators sense their mission shifting. Which is why we must speak up.”                     AV #172 – Jan. 10, 2018

education come from a book that Sinclair Lewis was writing 100 years ago—published in 1922. If you pick up this classic novel and read it for the first time, as I did this winter, you too might laugh at the ridiculous views expressed by our main character and his peers. But can we laugh at ourselves? What if we realize Lewis is not just poking fun at the attitudes of another time and place, but – almost prophetically – he offers a rebuke to our world. I find Lewis’s criticism all too relevant. I hope to show you why. 

In Babbitt, Lewis, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1925), created a stinging portrait of America in those early post-war years. Forty years after the novel was published, the novelist and scholar Mark Schorer wrote that Babbitt “remains today as the major documentation in literature of American business culture in general.” A century has now passed, but those words may still be true. 

How is that a powerful satire can endure? Lewis was describing a younger America, more naive—pre-Depression, World War II, etc. – hardly the confident superpower of the 21st century. The shibboleths of 1922—for example, Lewis’s “Solid American Citizen”—certainly can’t be prevalent today, can they? 

Typewriting class is now coding 

To be sure, the specifics have changed: Shop class is Career Technical Education (CTE). Business English is now competencies demanded in the labor market. Correspondence courses then; immersive boot camps today—courtesy of the for-profit college industry. But the insistence that public education be, above all, practical, that we not waste time teaching “a lot of camembert,” as Babbitt’s son describes his classes, is much the same. The language used about the purpose of education, careers, even of a good life is revamped, but this (all-too American) philosophy has survived. I agree with Lewis. It still deserves a drubbing. 

The economy prevails. We do not educate, we train. We do not want seniors to graduate with communication skills: reading, writing, listening, speaking—in order to be thoughtful citizens; we want them to be “career ready.” This is how we in “the real world” will get a return on our investment in public education.[ii] We cannot trust school people—“bookworms and impractical theorists”–to develop the curriculum; business must step in to define what is to be studied, so as to best train our future workers. 

In Babbitt, Lewis has fun mocking this shallow, shortsighted view of education. Excerpts here—from just one chapter of his novel—might amuse us. And yet I also present excerpts from articles—all from the past three years (since AV #175)—that provide a mirror to our own foolishness. An invitation to reflect, I hope, on the wisdom of the path we are on.  

Quotes in my next newsletter will offer a richer idea of the purpose of education. In May, a look at attracting good people to the teaching profession. Success there also depends on a higher purpose.


From Babbitt,[iii] by Sinclair Lewis (published 1922)

From a variety of publications (2018-2021)

 Chapter 6, part iii

Babbitt’s teenage son, Ted, is complaining to his parents about his high school classes. 

I don't see why they give us this old-fashioned junk by Milton and Shakespeare and Wordsworth and all these has-beens," he protested. "Oh, I guess I could stand it to see a show by Shakespeare, if they had swell scenery and put on a lot of dog, but to sit down in cold blood and read 'em—These teachers—how do they get that way?" 

Babbitt is eager to see his son go to law school.

"I'll tell you why you have to study Shakespeare and those. It's because they're required for college entrance, and that's all there is to it! Personally, I don't see myself why they stuck 'em into an up-to-date high-school system like we have in this state. Be a good deal better if you took Business English, and learned how to write an ad, or letters that would pull. But there it is, and there's no talk, argument, or discussion about it! Trouble with you, Ted, is you always want to do something different!” 

Ted: "Oh punk. I don't see what's the use of law-school—or even finishing high school. I don't want to go to college 'specially. Honest, there's lot of fellows that have graduated from colleges that don't begin to make as much money as fellows that went to work early. Old Shimmy Peters, that teaches Latin in the High, he's a what-is-it from Columbia and he sits up all night reading a lot of greasy books and he's always spieling about the 'value of languages,' and the poor soak doesn't make but eighteen hundred a year, and no traveling salesman would think of working for that. I know what I'd like to do. I'd like to be an aviator, or own a corking big garage, or else—a fellow was telling me about it yesterday—I'd like to be one of these fellows that the Standard Oil Company sends out to China, and you live in a compound and don't have to do any work… And then I could take up correspondence-courses. That's the real stuff!... Just listen to these! I clipped out the ads of some swell courses."

"He snatched from the back of his geometry half a hundred advertisements of those home-study courses which the energy and foresight of American commerce have contributed to the science of education. The first displayed the portrait of a young man with a pure brow, an iron jaw, silk socks, and hair like patent leather. Standing with one hand in his trousers-pocket and the other extended with chiding forefinger, he was bewitching an audience of men with gray beards, paunches, bald heads, and every other sign of wisdom and prosperity. Above the picture was an inspiring educational symbol—no antiquated lamp or torch or owl of Minerva, but a row of dollar signs."

The samples Ted shows his father are produced by “Shortcut Educational Pub. Co.”

Babbitt is somewhat impressed, but insists his son’s high school can do the job. 

Ted: “Yuh, but Dad, they just teach a lot of old junk that isn't any practical use—except the manual training and typewriting and basketball and dancing—and in these correspondence-courses, gee, you can get all kinds of stuff that would come in handy…"“I just wanted to show how many different kinds of correspondence courses there are instead of all the camembert they teach us in the High.”

"Ted had collected fifty or sixty announcements, from annual reference-books, from Sunday School periodicals, fiction magazines, and journals of discussion."


“Listen to some of these …” 

"The advertisements were truly philanthropic. One of them bore the rousing headline: "Money! Money!! Money!!!" The second announced that "Mr. P. R., formerly making only eighteen a week in a barber shop, writes to us that since taking our course he is now pulling down $5,000 as an Osteo-vitalic Physician;" and the third that "Miss J. L., recently a wrapper in a store, is now getting Ten Real Dollars a day teaching our Hindu System of Vibratory Breathing and Mental Control."

"[Babbitt] listened to the notices of mail-box universities which taught Short-story Writing and Improving the Memory, Motion-picture-acting and Developing the Soul-power, Banking and Spanish, Chiropody and Photography, Electrical Engineering and Window-trimming, Poultry-raising and Chemistry."

"Well—well—" Babbitt sought for adequate expression of his admiration. "I'm a son of a gun! I knew this correspondence-school business had become a mighty profitable game …I didn't realize it'd got to be such a reg'lar key-industry! Must rank right up with groceries and movies. Always figured somebody'd come along with the brains to not leave education to a lot of book-worms and impractical theorists but make a big thing out of it. Yes, I can see how a lot of these courses might interest you."

"I can see what an influence these courses might have on the whole educational works. Course I'd never admit it publicly —fellow like myself, a State U. graduate, it's only decent and patriotic for him to blow his horn and boost the Alma Mater—but smatter of fact, there's a whole lot of valuable time lost even at the U., studying poetry and French and subjects that never brought in anybody a cent. I don't know but what maybe these correspondence-courses might prove to be one of the most important American inventions.”

                                            (Bold mine)

“Teens Feel Ready for College, But Not So Much for Work,”[iv] by Alyson Klein, Education Week, Sept. 25, 2019. 

   “Overwhelmingly, students, parents, and employers surveyed thought high schoolers would be better off learning how to file their taxes than learning about the Pythagorean theorem. At least 82 percent of parents, students, and employers thought schools should focus more on the 1040-EZ form than on that fundamental concept in geometry.

   “And 81% of students said they thought high school should focus most closely on helping students develop real-world skills such as problem-solving and collaboration rather than focusing so much on specific academic-subject-matter expertise.” 


“Price Policy explained,[v] by Elizabeth Hernandez, The Denver Post, Dec. 3, 2020.

   Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education: “The value in higher education at any level is earning a degree that lands its recipient a fulfilling job and maximizes their earning potential.                                                   “‘It’s critical that students get a credential,’ Paccione said. ‘Maybe not a bachelor’s, but you have to get something if you want to contribute to the economy, to the society and to your own livelihood and fulfillment. When you do, you earn a whole lot more money. One million dollars more in a lifetime, research shows.’” 


“Getting Students Future Ready” – Bryan Johnson, Superintendent, Hamilton County Schools, Chattanooga, Tenn., Leaders to Learn From, Education Week, Feb. 19, 2020. 

  “A key piece [in developing a five-year] strategic plan is boosting students’ ‘future readiness,’ which the district defines as preparing them for jobs that pay well and are in demand. Some of those jobs require only short-term training and certification after high school.”


An Untapped Path to Equity Runs Through Career-Technical Education,”[vi] by Susana Cordova (former DPS superintendent, now deputy superintendent in Dallas). “Education Leaders to Learn From,” Education Week, Feb. 17, 2021.

   “In the Conrad graduating class of 2020, 90 percent of the early-college students graduated with associate degrees. And students at Conrad are able to select from five National Academies Foundation-certified academies… all of which are high-wage, high-demand jobsLast year, two Conrad graduates went directly into the workforce in IT, making higher wages than an average first-year teacher… “


“Report Examines Competencies Needed to Succeed in Workforce,”[vii] Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Nov. 20, 2020.

   A new report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) pinpoints the five most in-demand competencies across the labor market…

   “In a nutshell, the report looks at what competencies are demanded in the labor market, as in what is judged as the highest level and most important competency that you need for your job,” said Dr. Megan L. Fasules, assistant research professor and economist at Georgetown University. “But also what competencies are rewarded monetarily, which have labor-market value.”

   “If you want to make money, and that’s not the only reason you go to college, and if you’re thinking in terms of a career you got to think, ‘What does my specific field of study bring? Is it worth something?’” said Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director and research professor at Georgetown, co-author of the report.


“It Pays To Be An Apprentice: 63% More,”[viii] Adedayo Akala, NPR, Oct. 2, 2020. 

   An apprenticeship program that matches employers with community colleges has launched graduates into middle class careers and could be a way to address the flagging fortunes of Americans lacking four-year degrees, according to a study published Monday…  

   The study, released by Opportunity America and the Brookings Institution, found that graduates of the program earned salaries far exceeding their peers at community colleges.  

   Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education [FAME]  graduates earn about $59,164 one year after completing the program — 63% more than non-FAME graduates (others from similar backgrounds who had chosen similar careers), who earn around $36,379. After five years, FAME graduates were earning about $98,000, 86% more than non-FAME participants, who earned about $52,783. 


 “Devos touts administration's education proposals,” Politico, March 5, 2020.

   Trump's budget requests a nearly $900 million increase for career and technical education programs, which the White House has pitched as a way to expand vocational education in high schools. The proposal stands out as an area with potential for bipartisan action given the broad support that career education programs enjoy on Capitol Hill.

   "We know that in too many communities and too many states, career and technical education was sort of put on the back burner for the last two or three decades," DeVos said Wednesday. "That is changing. And the where I've seen the most promise and the most success is in those communities and in those regions where employers get together with educators and they collectively work on what the possibilities are for the students in that region or in that community, and put together relevant curriculums."

[See Addendum A for more on the business community designing curriculum (and cutting time spent in class) for high school students.]


“Nederland Middle/Senior High to offer outdoor career classes,”[ix] by Amy Bounds, Daily Camera, Oct. 7, 2020.

   “Nederland students soon will have class options that include rock climbing, snow science, wilderness ethics and backcountry navigation.”

    Nederland science teacher Daniel Wade “said the work included ‘picking the brains’ of industry contacts to see what skills and certifications students would need.”           

   “A student who wanted to work in ski patrol, for example, would need to know snow science, have avalanche training certifications and have the background to take Emergency Medical Technician community college classes, he said. ‘They could go straight to careers or need to have minimal post-secondary work to get there. It saves kids a ton of money.’”


“The New Reality of Career and Technical Education,”[x] by Kimberly Green, School Administrator, AASA, August 2018.

   “This research also highlighted that students and their parents not involved in CTE want more of the opportunities that CTE has to offer. Eighty-six percent of parents say they want their child to learn more real-world skills in high school, while 82% of those enrolled in CTE report being satisfied with their ability to learn those skills, compared to only 52% of non-CTE students.”


“An illustration of career and technical education,” Politico, Sept 30, 2019.

     “The Education Department released a new interactive data story that illustrates career and technical education in American high schools and outcomes for students who participate in such programs ... Eight years after their expected graduation dates, students who focused on CTE courses in high school had higher median annual earnings than students who did not. 


“Helping Workers Displaced By the Covid-19 Economy,” by Tamar Jacoby, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19-20, 2020. 

   “But there’s also good news: The last decade or so has seen a revolution in how we prepare people—high-school students, college goers, midcareer adults and others—for the labor market. These changes have touched almost every corner of American job-focused education and training…  

  (Jacoby is the president of Opportunity America, a nonprofit.)


“Oxford’s 2020 word of the year?”[xi] by Jennifer Schuessler, The New York Times Co., Nov. 22, 2020. 

   Katherine Connor Martin of the Oxford Languages noted “the most common collocates (as lexicographers call words that appear most frequently together)… This year, Martin said, they were ‘learning,’ ‘working’ and ‘work force.’”



Addendum A – Let’s “not leave education to a lot of book-worms and impractical theorists”

What are the skills students need? Remember the Colorado Academic Standards? That is so YESTERDAY!

Today’s focus: teach what the market demands.  Ask industry what we should be offering—in order to provide that “talent pipeline.” This is how business can influence what skills – the relevant skills – our students are really learning in that K-12 space.                                                                                         (Bold mine)        


1)     “Introducing the Bill that’s Reimagining High School,” Colorado Succeeds,[xii] SB 21-106 (Feb. 25, 2021)

   “Now is the time for Coloradans to reimagine the high school experience. Through the Successful High School Transitions bill…, Colorado Succeeds and partners are working to make high school more engaging and relevant for students and connect more of them to high quality pathways to career and other postsecondary opportunities, while laying the groundwork for a strong, local talent pool for Colorado’s businesses…

   “Colorado businesses – who were already facing talent pipeline challenges before the crisis – need to find talent solutions that set the economy on the path to recovery. Many employers view career connected learning as critical to their economic recovery to help address the talent pipeline, and this gives them the opportunity to provide a rich learning experience for students…

   “The bill is also a win for talent pipeline development. It encourages business to invest in the training and support of young people. Through career-connected learning experiences, students can develop both the soft and technical skills needed in local industries, while businesses benefit from the new ideas and energy that interns and apprentices bring.” 

2)               “An Education Innovation That Beats Learning Pods,” by Max Eden, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 5-6, 2020.

   The Idaho Legislature “last year expanded the program to provide funding for apprenticeship and workforce development courses. [State Senator Steven] Thayn and his colleagues hope that in the future Idaho will have a Swiss-style education system in which high school students can opt in to a college track or train to acquire a specialized skill that the market demands.”

3)        “Colorado educators and companies team up to attract high schoolers in biotech,” by Jensen Werley, Denver Business Journal, Feb. 28, 2020.

   Meg John is vice president of the Colorado Bioscience Institute. When her CSBI member companies “were struggling with talent gaps in entry-level biotech manufacturing,” according to the article, they came together to explore solutions. “While many talent recruiting efforts for manufacturing are structured around the community college level, it was decided that talent building would be more effective if it started younger. The decision was to do a P-Tech program, which recruits eighth graders to spend high school taking relevant classes…

    “How often do companies really have an opportunity,” said John, “to directly influence what their talent will look like? This is a unique opportunity to establish a relationship and influence what are the skills they’re really learning in that K-12 space. The beauty of P-Tech is it all comes together with all entities working together on what it looks like.” 

4)        "Thriving Work-based Learning Communities"

                                  – from the website for Colorado Workforce Development Council [xiii]

     “Successful WBL initiatives require a community working together to address the evolving needs of businesses and create a labor force with a flexible and continuous approach to developing and upgrading skills. Businesses need to partner with educational entities to design and deliver curriculum …”

5)       “What High School Course Would You Design? - Microsoft, Verizon, and Other Big U.S. Companies Design Their Ideal High School Courses,”[xiv] bMichelle R. Davis, Education Week, Feb. 4, 2020.

   “Today’s classrooms aren’t preparing students for tomorrow’s jobs."

   “… A recent RAND report on reimagining the workforce development pipeline for the 21st century found that … just 33 percent of employers in a recent poll agreed that educational institutions were graduating students with the expertise to meet their needs.

   “Education Week asked some of the biggest and fastest-growing companies in the United States how schools can prepare students to be an essential part of their future workforce.”

   [Among courses imagined by companies, consider this from ServiceNow.[xv] No satire required.]



[i] Last month’s Education Week provides a useful example of this trend. An entire issue devoted to “Equity and the Future of Work.” Main articles: “Thanks to COVID-19, High Schoolers’ Job Prospects Are Bleak,” “The COVID-19 Economy Is Putting Vulnerable Students’ Career Prospects at Risk,” “How Virtual Learning is Falling Short on Preparing Students for Future Careers.” Shall we rename the publication: Economy Week?

[ii] See HB18 -1226 -See How the Colorado legislature expects CDHE to report “costs and outcomes.”  “The act requires the department of higher education (department) to prepare an annual return on investment report of undergraduate degree programs and certificate programs offered at each state institution of higher education.”

[iii] Copyright policy for BabbittWikisource-  https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Babbitt

Dec 31, 2020 — HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926. The author died in 1951, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less.

Chapter six: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Babbitt/Chapter_6

[x]Advance CTE, with support from the Siemens Foundation, commissioned a national survey to explore the attitudes of parents and students currently involved in career and technical education, as well as prospective CTE parents and students.”  http://my.aasa.org/AASA/Resources/SAMag/2018/Aug18/Green.aspx

[xv] “Designing a High School Class.” From Service Now – Cloud Computing, by Tracey Racette Fritcher, global director, HR transformation.

Begins this way: “This class would focus on designing human-centric technologies and applications that will help organizations retain both customers and employees and run their businesses more effectively and efficiently. Students would learn skills critical for succeeding in a digital era from both a business (sales, profit and loss, customer service, workforce enablement) and technology (code development, data analysis, predictive analytics, AI and machine learning) perspective…”