Putting Exceptional back in America: It’s What Great Schools Do

written by H. Michael Hartoonian

America is an exceptional place. It is exceptional not because of its landscape, the people, or its wealth, but simply because it is an idea. It is an idea sustained through engaged debate by citizens who understand reciprocal duty and who judge others by their morals and manners. It is exceptional because America (can) show the world that it is possible for a people to live as citizens rather than as isolated subjects, and as civil and civic stewards of that idea. Mostly, it is exceptional because the idea demands a deep respect for learning, hard work, thoroughness, patience, honesty, and justice.

America must have little to do with domestic and foreign policies that diminish its moral authority. Hubris, unethical private and public behavior, and distain for learning all destroy the idea – an idea to which so many have given full measure of devotion. This democratic republic needs champions who understand these things. Democracy, indeed, depends on elites to keep the debate dynamic and true. Cultures create elites or professions to protect the culture. The four classical professions are medicine, law, theology, and education. Let us here address the educator as protector or steward of the idea we call the United States of America. Continue reading


The Problem With Boys

written by Todd Beach

What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.[1]


In 1998, Harvard researcher and clinical psychologist William Pollack published the New York Times bestselling book, Real Boys, which revealed his research on what he called this generation’s “silent crisis” concerning the raising of boys in our society.  In his book, Pollack challenges our traditional ideas surrounding masculinity and male identity and how the traditional paradigm fails to address the needs of boys in our changing society.

I found the book to be incredibly interesting and I was especially intrigued by the chapter titled, ‘Schools, The Blackboard Jumble’ where Pollack argues that schools are failing boys as students at record levels and describes a new gender gap in education where boys are over represented in the bottom of their class and in a number of other categories such as dropout rates, special education services, and truancies.  With these findings I anticipated more studies by researchers to help identify how schools could better serve boys and specifically understand how teachers could better engage boys in the classroom, but sadly there are relatively few studies with this aim.

My interest in this topic has been constant in my teaching practice but it is especially peaked each September when I see enrollment numbers for my 9th grade Honors American Government & Citizenship course and my AP European History course.  Traditionally more girls than boys have registered for these challenging courses but this year the numbers are especially skewed with girls outnumbering boys more than 2 to 1.

What are the long term consequences of this continuing phenomenon?  When you consider the emergence of the new knowledge economy, the high number of boys who drop out of school and the outsourcing of semi-skilled labor to developing countries what does this mean for their future and what can schools and teachers do to help curb or reverse the trend? Continue reading

Civic Virtue, School Reform, and the Creation of Real Wealth

written by H. Michael Hartoonian


When the past no longer illuminates the future,
the spirit walks in darkness

Alexis de Tocqueville

Democracy in America

What have we learned by enacting laws against bullying or noncompliance with racial integration; or laws addressing curriculum standards or student assessment, school funding, and the testing of teachers?

Primarily, we have learned the recurring lesson that command and control processes are costly, inefficient, and, for the most part, don’t work. Yet, at great cost, we persevere like Sisyphus getting little pay-back for our efforts, except the rhetorical satisfaction of convincing the uninformed that something is being done to improve our schools.

This fetish with control, however, is by no means unique to education. As a people we seem to believe that more laws and regulations are the answers to a whole array of mistakes and ethical compromises. This is consistent with the father of our Constitution, James Madison, and his thinking about social order, suggesting that if people were angels we wouldn’t need government. We are far from angels, and in need of some oversight and enlightenment. But we should also understand that there exists within our society an inverse relationship between learned levels of rightful behavior and laws that restrict freedoms. It’s a simple proposition: if we don’t act ethically, restrictive laws will be enacted. If people try to escape their ethical responsibilities and rely totally on the rules, they become subjects, even to their own desires. If the ethical is ignored, the legal, however intrusive, will be cumbersome and ineffective. Unless we understand this dynamic between law and ethics we will continue to wear away the moral underpinnings of the nation and force even more laws to be passed. What is altogether true about civic virtue is that one cannot delegate an ethical decision. Not God nor any system or institution can claim your moral duty.  Only ignorance can do that. Continue reading