John Dorroh

All articles posted on this page have been written by John Dorroh, a Columbus resident who presently works and lives in the St. Louis area. He works as an educational consultant, traveling in the Midwest and Southeast. He writes short stories, essays, and cheesy poetry about people he has met along the way.

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Coddling Kids: “Hollyweird” Silverstone
as a Model for What We’ve Become

Last month, I was traveling for work and stopped for lunch at Panera Bread, in the Summit Shopping Mall, in an affluent section of Birmingham, Alabama.  My server delivered my food, and left me to eat and watch people.

Seated to my left was what appeared to be a young mother, her child, and her parents.  My first thought was that the boy was much too big to be seated in a high chair. But, who am I to decide that? Maybe he’s a special needs child, I thought.

The next thing that caught my attention was the fact that the mother was taking the boy’s sandwich apart, breaking it into bite-size pieces. She pleaded for him to try a piece of the cheese, which she had stripped off of the sandwich and placed on a napkin on the table.

“Come on, darling….try just a small bite,” she coaxed. “This is that bread that you love so much…”

He took a piece of the sandwich out of her outstretched hand. It reminded me of a mother bird feeding its baby.

She continued to dissect the sandwich, feeding him bite by bite. If that wasn’t enough, the grandmother took over to let her daughter take a few bites of her own lunch. The grandfather looked disgusted, but outnumbered. I had a feeling he’d rather be at the park, playing baseball with “Junior”. No chance of that happening, though.

As I ate my lunch, I noticed that other adults were also coddling their kids. It reminded me, in a way, of what we teachers often do with our students. We spoon-feed them. Parents often expect and demand it.

As a high school science teacher, with several years of experience under my belt, I began to expect my students to assume some responsibility of their own learning. At the expense of sounding too New Age, I spent a lot of time creating and facilitating authentic learning situations that encouraged my students to step out of their safety zone, avoid the use of textbook company-prepared worksheets, and start thinking for themselves.

I recall a particular student’s mother blasting me, when her daughter received a C in my Biology II class.

“Not my baby!” she exclaimed. “My baby has always made straight A’s, and now you’ve ruined her college plans.” (She really did say that, she and many others.)

I attempted to help her understand how my classroom was set up for student-centered learning and that there were no worksheets to memorize, no test reviews that covered every detail of the upcoming test. I also asked her why she had not attended either one of the two Open House nights that I had held for my parents, in my classroom. Those were informal events, where I engaged the parents in the types of activities that their children would experience.

“No, I didn’t come to those,” she admitted.

There comes a time when a parent and a teacher must practice “tough love” and demand accountability from their children.  This is not to say that parents and teachers have to be mean and aggressive. On the contrary!

Deep inside, students like limits, and they can have respect for the adults in their lives only when that same respect is modeled for them. Students need structured activities, with guidelines and consequences; they deserve praise, where praise is needed and genuinely given.

All of the “PC” garbage that has infiltrated every aspect of our society, down to the baseball parks, is making us weak. I was in Atlanta, watching some friends’ children play a stepped-up version of t-ball.

I asked one of them, “Who’s winning?”

“Oh, we don’t do scores,” she said.

“Why the hell not?” I was livid.  “How will you know who wins?” I belted out.

“Oh, that’s not important,” said the mother of another player. “We just want each of out little players to feel special,” she explained.

On top of that, each and every kiddo got a special ribbon after the game because they were all special, and they went home thinking that they are really great at modified t-ball, and all is well with the world.

We do the same thing at school, making sure that each child feels special, packing them all into the same death crate, creating little robots who can’t think, can’t read or solve problems, and who can’t identify India or New Mexico on a map. But hey, they sure feel special, and isn’t that what counts?

I could tell by the expressions on the faces of several of the parents at that ball game – fathers, in particular – that they wanted to agree with me. But they sat, spineless, non-verbal, so as not to upset anyone. Just like the bulk of the American public, who has sat through this big giant insular bubble of a disease called Political Correctness. This hideous disease has swept through our country like wildfire, ruining the landscape.

You can’t call Christmas vacation, Christmas vacation any longer, because it might be offensive to non-Christians.  You mustn’t call a janitor a janitor because they’re actually environmental technicians. It’s way out of hand, and it’s all tied in with the “don’t-want-to-hurt-little-Johnny’s-ego” bull crap. No Child Left Behind? Wanna bet?

Life is rough, parents; you know this, so why do so many of you continue to over-protect your child like that’s going to insulate him or her from life’s harsh side?  It reminds me of the sickening video that made the news and U-Tube this week. That clip showed the “Hollyweird” actress Alicia Silverstone feeding her child chewed-up food, directly from her mouth to his. Well, folks, that sort of sums it up.

If you missed that clip, look it up, now, and be prepared to be freaked-out and grossed-out for sure. It’s just how that lady was treating her special son at Panera Bread Company, in Birmingham. Parents, quit coddling your kids, and teachers, stop making your students fill out endless worksheets to memorize!  And America, get a grip! It’s time to curtail this “PC” environment, today. You can still be civil without being over-the-top.

John Dorroh is a Columbus resident, who presently works and lives in the St. Louis area. He works as an educational consultant, traveling in the Midwest and Southeast. He writes short stories, essays, and cheesy poetry about people he has met along the way.

Originally Published in the April 4, 2012 Print Edition

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 What Gets Your Goat – Pet Peeves Divulged

    Driving in Columbus, for the most part, makes me wonder how some individuals ever got a driver’s license. They’re driving either well under the speed limit or well over it.  They’ve never heard of a blinker, and they often dare you to have eye contact with them. What’s up with that?

Admittedly it’s not just Columbus. Everywhere I go, someone’s violating the rules of the road, thinking about violating them, or just not thinking at all.

And that reminds me….what kind of energy output does it require to flush a commode? It’s so simple. You conduct your business and then push down on the silver lever on the tank of the toilet. Like magic, water swirls into the bowl and delivers the contents to one of our coffee-colored rivers.

And another thing, who is so darn lazy that he or she can’t put their Wendy’s cups and cigarette, packs into the garbage can, which is usually less than ten feet from where these litterbugs dump their trash? How about the hooligans who toss all of their garbage in one big swoosh into the parking lot and drive off.

I could go on and on, but you might get the idea that I’m nothing more than old curmudgeon. Just felt like sharing some of my pet peeves.

 Some background…

  According to Wikipedia, the first usage of the term “pet peeve” was around 1919. “…The term is a back-formation from the 14th Century involving the word ‘peevish’, meaning ‘omery or ill-tempered.”

Pet peeves often involve specific behaviors of someone close to us, such as a spouse or significant other. They can include behaviors of disrespect, manners, personal hygiene, family issues, and relationships.

An important aspect of pet peeves is that they usually seem acceptable to others as illustrated in the following example.

A supervisor of an office gets upset when workers leave the coffee pot on after 4:00 PM. It also upsets him when workers leave his office, failing to shut the door. He may go ballistic when someone misses a deadline. That same supervisor may not feel annoyed at all when someone has to leave work to tend to a sick child.

The reasons for the development of specific pet peeves vary widely from person to person. One theory suggests that the development has to do with classical conditioning; that people develop their annoyance over time after experiencing repetition of that behavior in a constantly similar environment.

An example is when a worker can’t get to work on time because she  has to rely on someone else for a ride, and then when she gets to the work site, there are ten flights on a slow elevator. When the elevator door finally opens, she spots the receptionist in the lobby in her office, sipping tea and saying, “Ahhhhh” and then making a slurping sound. When the worker hears anyone slurping, even away from the work site, it annoys her to no end.

Another theory is that a pet peeve is a specific annoying behavior that we see in others because subconsciously it reminds us of ourselves.

Your pet peeves?

   I conducted an unofficial, slightly scientific survey of my own, involving about 20 respondents. The only question I asked was, “What are some of your pet peeves?”  Ages varied from 23 to 78.  Median age was 44.  Here is the list in no particular order of importance.

  • Rude people who continue to talk on the phone after you tell them “We’re eating dinner”
  • Drivers who don’t use blinkers
  • Texters who text someone else while you’re talking with them at a restaurant
  • Drivers who pass you, then pull in front of you and slow down
  • People who use poor grammar and punctuation
  • People who don’t listen and then ask questions that were just answered
  • Litterers
  • People who don’t flush
  • People who call you early in the morning and on the week-ends
  • Rude people who walk in front of you while you’re shopping and don’t say “Excuse me.”
  • People who do not hold the door open for you, even though you are just a few feet from you
  • Non-handicapped people who park in handicapped parking   spaces
  • Idiots who leave children and pets in the car on warm or hot days
  • Political phone recordings
  • Reality TV
  • People who talk on cell phones while conducting business
  • Having to wait in a doctor’s office far past the time of your appointment
  • Chronic complainers
  • Liars
  • Pouters
  • Gossips
  • Plan-changers
  • Bigots
  • Deadlines
  • Bad fingernails
  • People on power trips
  • Republicans

With over six billion people on the planet, it stands to reason that someone’s going to annoy you within the next hour.  If you deal with the public, your chances of being annoyed are inevitable.

All of us are guilty, at some time, of being annoyed by others’ behaviors, but we should remember that we’re all guilty of being offensive to others.  Perhaps trying to be more tolerant would help, but if that doesn’t work, then we should try to get away from the situation as quickly as possible.  We might have to run.

Originally Published in March 28, 2012 Print Edition

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 Education Part II: Changing the Course of an Illness

If you haven’t been living under a rock or in a cae, you know that about one-third of our population either has diabetes or is destined to develop it. In the majority of cases, it comes from eating whatever we want, as much as we want, and not exercising.

On top of this, many families seem to harbor the genes that make them likely candidates. But not always. We know too much about nutrition to give up and say, “Well, so many of my kin folks have diabetes, so what can I do about it?  I’m gonna eat whatever I want! It’s the easy way.  I’ll worry about it when my doctor tells me that it’s time.”

The same thing is occurring right before our eyes in education.  The system is sick, and we know it. We’ve been told by the doctor that if we don’t change the way that we educate our children, we are doomed.

A short history

Seth Godin, author of several books about changes in our society, said, “The economy has changed, probably forever. School hasn’t.”

To say that the present system is outdated is an understatement.

Over 150 years ago American factory workers were concerned about child labor, but not in the way that you may think.  The fact is that low-wage child workers were taking away jobs from working adults!

Gradually a transformation occurred, one that took the industrialists a while to grasp. No compulsory education existed until 1918, and that was because there was the realization, part of the aforementioned transformation, that educated children would become more compliant and subsequently more productive workers.

The present widespread system of students sitting in straight rows and following all instructions to the letter was no accident.  It was an investment in the nation’s economic future.  As always, there was a trade-off: short-term child labor pay for longer-term productivity.  It was meant to give students a head start in learning to do exactly what they are told.  It was a mild form of “necessary brainwashing.”

Doomed?

Michael Spence, Nobel Prize-winning economist, tells of two main types of jobs: tradable (doing things that can be done in other places such as building cars, assembling cell phone components, and designing “apps”) and non-tradable jobs such as cooking French fries in a fast-food chain.

Spence reports that between 1990 and 2008 the US economy added only 600,000 tradable jobs. He said, “If you do a job where someone tells you what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it.”

The Big Question is are we going to allow our nation’s schools to continue to practice “safe school” and to keep producing test-weary, desensitized, robot-like graduates who are fit to work in the factory, which in most cases no longer exists?

As long we are willing to allow and accept the practice of mass standardized testing (usually for the benefit of politicians), then we are preventing our students from living up to their potential. As long as we harbor an unnecessary fear of science, we will continue to swim in the cesspool of mediocrity. And as long as we seem to be afraid to teach leadership and free-thinking, we can go ahead and declare ourselves Winners of the Race to the Bottom.

A Call for Spine and Guts

The picture of what’s going on in education in this country is not totally gloomy. There are bright spots, oh yes, many. One is the Harlem Village Academy.  (Yes, Harlem, for those of you who raised an eyebrow.)  Charter, private, public schools, and institutions with a special focus are succeeding in preparing students for problem-solving, logistics, and data management, the types of jobs that are available in the new workplace landscape. The Edison schools as well as the Kahn on-line tutoring program have left their marks in unique ways, becoming “coaches” for their students who, for the most part, become curious, responsible producers.

If you look closely at the people who run these schools you will find individuals who stood up and said, “No more.”  They came from districts where doing things differently was considered mutiny. There were those who smuggled a few progressive strategies here and there into their classrooms, and some who stepped out of the status quo and started their own schools: they had guts. They had backbone and saw the Big Picture. That, my friend, is what it takes.

Just as potential diabetics know what is likely to happen to them down the road, the American education system also knows.  It’s just too easy, though, to ignore our bad habits, to keep doing things the easy way, and to avoid engaging ourselves in some serious exercise.

The doctors say it’s time.

And a final word to the 60 Columbus school teachers who were told a few weeks ago that you will not have a job here next year.  No one likes to hear that their job is gone, but this could be the perfect time for you to become an agent of change.  It you have a voice, some guts, and a dream to help students learn how to read, write, think, argue, solve problems, and become curious responsible producers, then find a place to do that. You may have to move.

If you’re helping make the transformation from the dangerousEasy Wayto educate students, it really doesn’t matter where you teach in theUnited Statesbecause the disease is systemic. Your work and that of your students will become a healing force that our country so desperately needs.

Originally Published in March 21, 2012 Print Edition

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Intimidation in the Friendly City: Let’s Frighten Them, Boys!

Thursday morning (March 1, 2012), I visited Café Aromas to savor a cup of coffee and to check my e-mail. Several acquaintances and friends ventured in, and I got to spend some time catching up on the local news. Some of that news was not so good. I didn’t want to believe what I was hearing, but at the same time, none of it really surprised me.

First of all, it seems that there are dark forces operating in Columbus that emanate from negative, misinformed people.  They can be venomous, hateful, and vengeful. They thrive on manipulation. One doesn’t have to look too closely to realize that Columbus is no longer the “Friendly City”, and, instead should be renamed something such as Gestapo-ville

The last time I checked, Columbus was still part of the United States, and its citizens hadn’t lost most of their rights and freedoms. We are not subject to dictatorship, and we’re still free to express our opinions within the confines of the established law.  Nor should we fear retaliation when we do so.

That is what happened to Brenda Caradine, recently. She received a phone call, a couple of weeks ago, urging her to remove a particular political sign from her yard.  She tried to explain to the caller, to no avail, that the sign was actually in the yard next-door, and had been placed there by her husband. In addition, there was an exchange of viewpoints in the comment section of The Real Story’s website (February 24) about this matter. Then, last Thursday, she received a phone call, indicating that there was a delivery at her side door.  When she went to check, she found a bouquet of dead roses, which had been spray-painted black.  The matter is now under police scrutiny.

As most of you probably know, Brenda is a proponent and supporter of anything that has to do with Columbus-born Tennessee Williams. Whether you like one of the most prolific playwrights or not, he draws international attention to our town.

Night of the Iguana, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Streetcar Named Desire, Orpheus Descending (which, by the way was NOT about an interracial affair), The Glass Menagerie, and Sweet Bird of Youth are some of Williams’ best-known plays. Perhaps you enjoyed Summer and Smoke?

There seems to have been a difference of opinion in the Columbus community, lately, when Orpheus Descending made its debut by a troupe from New York City.  It seems that there were citizens who didn’t want the play to be presented in certain venues due to some of the language, which they deemed inappropriate. Others did not want “that play” to be performed because of Mr. Williams’ sexual orientation.  Whatever.

It just seems typical for such efforts, which are intended to attract national/international attention, to be trumped by lesser concerns. I am glad that Brenda and others did not give up, that they persisted, and that the play was performed.

Brenda has spent her own money to travel to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and to New York City to attend Tennessee Williams festivals. She has been an ambassador for the city of Columbus and has done more than her share to help Columbus begin its own traditions

So, it makes me wonder who put the dead bouquet on her property. Why did they do it?  Was there a connection, a way to pay Brenda back for spending her time and money to convince a professional troupe to come to Columbus to put on the play?

This is not the first time that I am aware that Gestapo-like tactics were used to snuff out artistic endeavors in Columbus.  Just a few years ago, Anne and David, owners of the Mississippi Coffeehouse, asked Joe St. John and I to facilitate an Open Mic night. We did this twice, to full houses.

The word that I got from the Columbus Art Council was that having too many Open Mic nights would “lessen the thrill.”  As it turned out, that was certainly not the case. Open Mic nights in Columbus are usually well-attended.

First of all, Anne and David were not trying to compete with the CAC; they merely wanted to augment what was already going on.

A few weeks later, an unidentified member of the CAC paid Anne and David a visit, telling them that if they did not stop offering Open Mic nights, they would make sure that they would have to close their doors. Anne and David would not divulge who the mystery person was. This, my friends, is intimidation at its best. It’s well done by the people who have money and clout here in the Friendly City.

The excuse that was given to complete the “Gestapo sweep” was that Anne and David were violating copyright guidelines. If Anne and David had not been bullied – and frightened – to the point of closing their shop and getting the heck out of Columbus, those issues might have been resolved in a less drastic fashion.

Fellow Columbians, is intimidation the way to go?  Why not have a face-to-face discussion? Why not act like adults; maybe write a Letter to the Editor, rather than resorting to middle-school antics? What will they do next? “Roll” her yard, “key” her car…or worse?

Telling someone to remove a political sign from his or her yard is, in itself, an attempt at censoring another person’s opinion. I have a feeling that this person(s) would have no qualms about censoring art or deciding who should attend their church.

As I walked through the concentration camp at Dachau, I was moved to the point of tears at Hitler’s methodical, evil annihilation of almost six millions Jews. I thought that this surely could never happen in the United States, but in a small way it already has, right here in good ole Columbus, the strange little city whose Special People continue to do exactly what they feel like doing, no matter the cost.

Originally Published in March 7, 2012 Print Edition

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Basic Ed, Part I:  Quit Overspending,
Get Out of the Way, and Let Teachers Teach!

I love it when people ask me, “John, what’s wrong with schools and education today?” And they often do. It gives me a chance to share thoughts and observations about how and why we got where we are.

You may already know where I’m going with this.  If you’re among the baby boomers, you probably remember a time when going to school was uncomplicated, and perhaps fun.

The typical school year ran from early September until the end of May.  Most of us remember that the first day of school took place the Friday before Labor Day. It lasted a half-day, if that long, and gave the students a chance to meet their teachers and get their supply lists. The first full day of school occurred on the Tuesday after Labor Day Monday.

It was an easy, logical way to transition into a new school year. The whole state seemed to use this system and everyone liked it.

However, school administrators began to moving up back the starting dates after the Legislature began to mandate that more school days be added to the calendar.

Accountability raises its ugly head…

I was hired for my first teaching job by Cecil Vaughan, Principal of New Hope High School in January, of 1976. Dr. Paul Rogers, one of our counselors, told us, “Teachers, let me tell you that the new buzz word that’s going to affect you like no other single topic is ‘accountability.’” He was oh-so right!

One of the national studies that came out of California, at that time, concluded that the reason that Johnny can’t read is that the teacher can’t teach. Hmmm. Sounded too simplistic.

How could a classroom teacher be held accountable for circumstances beyond her control, such as the fact that many children live in single-parent households in which that parent has to work late into the evening? Or, that parents sometimes live lifestyles that are not appropriate models for impressionable children? Or that, often, students are tested with questions that contain vocabulary that the student doesn’t know? The list goes on.

Like an avalanche, states started lengthening the school year, thinking, erroneously, that longer school years would equate to more learning. Unfortunately, pay did not necessarily increase, and teachers in many states, Mississippi for example, actually regressed in pay.  In Mississippi the typical “report-to-school” day for teachers (staff development…that’s another story) is as early as August 1!

More Programs…

There must have been a Program Wizard living in the state Departments of Education because suddenly, starting in the early 1980s, teachers were inundated with new programs that were created to “save the children.”  I recall “Accountability and Instructional Management”, drug education, career education, curriculum mapping, project-based learning, holistic scoring, portfolio assessment, “No Child Left Behind”, and scores of others. Each year, in July, I began dreading the return to school, mainly because I didn’t want to see what new program(s) had been created by the Wizards to save the kids. It got worse each year, becoming more important for teachers to comply with the Wizard than to teach content and how to read, write, think, and solve problems.

Accountability was lucrative for testing companies. School and district report cards were plastered across the front pages of newspapers all over the country.  Text book companies wanted a piece of the pie, too, and started aligning state standards to their books, touting, “Look at us!  Our books have 49 resource sections.”  Suddenly education, somewhat like sports, was a money-making endeavor.  And guess who suffered? Guess who still suffers?

You may be saying, “Well, what’s wrong with accountability? Is it a bad idea to ask teachers to conduct their classes with the success of their students in mind? No, not at all. But, as I previously stated, there are so many factors beyond the control of the classroom teacher, factors that are so often ignored by administrators.  Under the gun to make their districts shine, they demand results, at all costs. It’s all about the tests, and all about keeping their schools’ names off of the failing list. Students become robots, and teachers feel themselves as trainers of test-takers. The “joy level” disappears and students become pawn-like, disconnected, and uninterested.

Something smells like dead fish…

In response to the original questions, “What’s the state of education and how did we get where we are today?” here is my opinion, based on 30 years of classroom experience, working with administrators, serving on a multitude of committees, dealing with the public in general, AND having worked as an educational consultant in at least 10 states.

The state of education is not good.  It stinks! I have heard that schools are barometers of a society – what it values, where it’s been, where it’s headed, its general health. Look at Columbine, Pearl and countless others. Get a copy of the nation’s report card and see what you think.  Is it too big a problem to fix, and if not, what do we do to fix it? And what will be the long-term effects of the latest round of budget cuts and teacher lay-offs?

How did we get in this situation?

  1. Overspending/overpaying.  Just as the housing market came crashing down a few years ago, the rent’s due in many school settings. Most districts have too many high-paying positions, administrators who contribute very little to the good of the big picture. Since teachers are the ones working with the students, cut the fat in the central office. Eliminate the fluff. And stop buying expensive canned programs that generally don’t work. There’s nothing more wasteful and insulting to teachers than paying a motivational speaker $3,000 on the first day of school to try to empower teachers, when the speaker himself hasn’t graced the inside of a classroom since he was a student.
  2. Accountability (or the lack of) for some administrators and parents. When I worked at East Coweta High School, near Newnan, Georgia, parents were required to sit in their child’s classrooms when the child was sent to the office for misbehaving. That was the condition for the student to be readmitted into the class. My administrators caught flack at first, but we all soon realized that it only took one child per class, for this FREE program to work.

As for administrators, I despised it when principals punished the entire faculty for the actions of one or two teachers.  These same principals scolded us for doing that very thing to our students.

  1. Not letting teachers teach.  Good teachers know how to teach. For the most part, it’s in their blood. They learn some methodology and content in college, but they instinctively know how to teach. It’s the administrator’s job to intervene for the incompetent teacher. Ideally, the principal, the “bad teacher,” and at least one other school staff member should collaboratively design an improvement plan.  If, after an agreed-upon period of time the teacher hasn’t improved, then hit the trail. Adios. Go find another line of work.

   (More next week.)

John Dorroh is a Columbus resident who presently works and lives part-time in the St. Louis area. He works as an educational consultant, traveling in the Midwest and Southeast. He writes short stories, essays, and cheesy poetry about people he has met along the way.

Originally Published in February 29, 2012 Print Edition

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