Bill Rhatican spent nine years teaching government and history at West Potomac High School in Fairfax County, Va., before he retired in June. He had been a journalist before that, and learned the power of getting his students’ papers published in some form. Seeing their words in print lent an excitement to their research and writing that they could not get enough of.
But when Rhatican showed off the book full of 20-page high school essays he published each year, some professional educators, victims of the nose-in-the-air education school disease, shrugged off the result as it were just another teacher huckster gimmick. The student-written book was “non-academic,” they said.
Rhatican told this story in an e-mail taking my side in the evenly-divided debate over a column “Learning From the Masters” I wrote for the Washington Post Magazine on Aug. 6. I asked why our education schools did not teach the many practical and effective methods of teaching in the inner city developed by our best instructors. I cited examples from the playbooks of four nationally renowned educators, Rafe Esquith, Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin and Jason Kamras. Each of them had much more experience with low-income kids than the average ed-school professor, and their methods — none of them learned in ed school — had helped produce exceptional gains in student achievement.