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The Red Pencil

The Red Pencil: Convictions from Experience in Education

Theodore R. Sizer
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    The Red Pencil
    Book Description:

    This engaging and important book is a critique of American education wrapped in a memoir. Drawing on his fifty years as teacher, principal, researcher, professor, and dean, Theodore R. Sizer identifies three crucial areas in which policy discussion about public education has been dangerously silent. He argues that we must break that silence and rethink how to educate our youth.Sizer discusses our failure to differentiate between teaching and learning, noting that formal schooling must adapt to and confront the powerful influences found outside traditional classrooms. He examines the practical as well as philosophical necessity for sharing policy-making authority among families, schools, and centralized governments. And he denounces our fetish with order, our belief that the familiar routines that have existed for generations are the only way to bring learning to children. Sizer provides alternatives to these failed routines-guidelines for creating a new educational system that would, among other things, break with wasteful traditional practice, utilize agencies and arrangements beyond the school building, and design each child's educational program around his or her particular needs and potential.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12851-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: The Red Pencil
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. 1 Building
    (pp. 1-30)

    Many of my friends work in high schools. Many of these are principals, the people ultimately in charge of their domains. Many of them call themselves “building principals,” and I am so used to this labeling that I take it for granted. What they—and I, for a decade in two places—were responsible for was abuilding, and its precious human occupants. The first word in that compound noun referred to a structure. It was not a gerund, speaking of people who create or constructed schools. Rather, we were the principals of physical places.

    In a subtle but telling...

  5. 2 Authority
    (pp. 31-54)

    “You’re The Man,” I was told by a cheeky kid in our school, probably in a clumsy attempt to flatter me. No ambiguity, no silence here; or none that that young man could fathom.

    As the Acting co-Principal of a four-year-old late twentieth-century public charter school, I did not feel like The Man, the In Charge, the Pedagogue on a White Horse, the Force, the Wise-and-Stern Dispenser of Punishments and Indulgences. Whatever. Nothing at all like that.

    My co-Principal, who happened to be my wife, Nancy, might have been told that she was the Woman. But no (and assuming that...

  6. 3 Order
    (pp. 55-90)

    In a class called “The American School,” which I took from Associate Dean Judson Shaplin at Harvard in the fall of 1956, we were honored by a visit from the then-Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, Frederick Gillis. With confident pride and good humor, he extolled the virtues of his district’s work in a variety of ways, one of which has stuck with me.

    Gillis admired order and predictability, and he proclaimed that it was a school system’s obligation to arrange for it. He told us, for example, that on any morning of any week he knew exactly what every...

  7. 4 Horace Compromised
    (pp. 91-110)

    Horace Smith, a devoted high school English teacher, is my friend.

    After observing him for twenty years, I believe that I know him well. Actually, he does not exist. He is a composite figure, an amalgam drawn of fine secondary school teachers whom I have observed and to whom I have listened over the past two decades. He is at once young and older, male and female, of every race, a blustering city teacher, an ingenious country teacher, a suburban teacher with kindly eyes that can stare down any inappropriately aggressive parent, a quiet person, a noisily colorful person, and...

  8. Epilogue: Dodging Our Duty
    (pp. 111-120)

    Memories of sweaty palms in a 1946 Latin class taught by Joe Barrell mingle at the end of my career with equally intense images.

    In the spring of 2003 I attended a conference involving prominent Massachusetts opinion makers who were generally labeled “neoconservatives,” people similar to those in the 1960s who had been tagged as “liberal Republicans” but who in our time have been right-of-center, powerful advocates for systemic state school reform. Few of the speakers had any personal experience in high school work but all spoke with the confidence of people who felt that their message was correct, that...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 121-124)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 125-131)