As K-12 education in America has tumbled in global rankings, states have responded: more focus on math and science, more teacher accountability, more testing, and more standardized lesson plans. But one history teacher's resignation letter, posted two weeks ago on Facebook, reads like a last cry from the old guard. The new system, retiring teacher Gerald Conti writes, "seeks only conformity" and "zombie-like adherence." The profession of teaching, Conti says, "no longer exists."
In his letter, which has already been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook (a printout of it is pictured at right), Conti describes the passion that kept him in teaching for 40 years, 27 of them at Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y. He describes his approach of "teaching heavy," based on immersion, intensive research and obsessive attention to detail. He mentions the two signs that hang in his classroom, reading "Words Matter" and "Ideas Matter." "I have truly attempted to live John Dewey's famous quotation," Conti writes, "... that 'Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.'"
Conti, who is the chair of the school's social studies department, then details the changes that have occurred at Westhill in recent years that he claims have made this mission impossible. He calls out the school board for "selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education," a reference to the company that signed a lucrative contract with the New York Department of Education to design tests for its students, and then came under fire last year when its tests were riddled with errors.
He rues the rise of "draconian" testing systems, the micro-management of teachers, the standardization of curricula, and the over-emphasis on STEM courses -- science, technology, engineering and math. "Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation," Conti writes, "are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill."
New York requires teachers to work 30 years in the state to be eligible for full retirement benefits, but Conti is leaving three years before that time because "to me, it's not worth it," he told AOL Jobs.
"It's the regimentation... [teaching has become] a matter of bookkeeping more than anything else," he said. "It takes time away from independent work... It takes time away from the students."
"My greatest worry is that children will graduate without curiosity," he continued. "... My concern is that we're not going to have literature in English class. I worry that we're going to have this gray, stark world."
The principal of Westhill High School declined a request for comment.
Lament Strikes A Chord
Dozens of colleagues, parents, and former students have commented on the Facebook post of Conti's letter, thanking him for his decades of service and inspiration, and expressing sadness that so many students will never experience his classroom.
As America has fallen in global educational rankings (to 17th in a recent assessment), schools increasingly have relied on testing and measurable goals. The recent recession renewed criticism that American education doesn't hold teachers to account or properly prepare students for the job market, and in the past few years, cities and states across the country have devised ways to evaluate teachers based on the test scores of their students. In his State of the Union speech in February, President Obama emphasized the need to "better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy," and develop more STEM classes.
But these ambitious initiatives leave one question unanswered: is there a place in this new world for a teacher like Mr. Conti?
Firing long-serving employees over email is pretty cowardly and insensitive. But you probably lose an extra 5 trillion karma points if those long-serving employees are soldiers. Due to an alleged "administrative error" several dozen British soldiers, who had each served for over 20 years, including one fighting in Afghanistan, were told that their services, or rather their service, would not longer be required. The email advised the troops to "start planning your resettlement."
Prime Minister David Cameron felt that "the way this has been handled is completely unacceptable," according to a spokesman. Jim Murphy, shadow defense secretary for the opposition Labour Party had stronger words, calling it "callous, cold-hearted, souless."
When a partially nude pic of Miss California Carry Prejean surfaced, Donald Trump stood by her side. "We are in the 21st century. We have determined the pictures taken are fine" and in some cases "lovely," said at a press conference in May 2009. He also defended her answer to a pageant question about same-sex marriage (she's not into it).
Less than a month later, Prejean got a call. It was radio and TV host Billy Bush, and he was wondering whether she had a statement. You know, about her losing her crown and her dreams being dashed in a hugely public and humiliating fall from grace?
"It is so bizarre to me how this has turned out," Prejean told Fox News. "I just couldn't believe it. I was so shocked, I didn't know what to say."
Sarah Silverman was on "Saturday Night Live" for a year, but only one of her sketches actually made it to dress rehearsal, and none got on the air. She claims that she was notified of her dismissal by fax, which isn't very cool now, and still wasn't very cool in 1994. She parodied the experience on "The Larry Sanders Show," in which the chauvinist head writer blackballs her jokes because she's a lady.
Getting fired is a bummer. Getting fired for being tired all the time when you're pregnant is a bigger bummer. Being told that you have to give back your uniform shirts or pay $30 is pretty wounding. And then bumping into your bright-eyed replacement on the way out is like pouring five pounds of salt in that wound.
That's what happened to one woman in East Hartford, Conn., who worked at Bell Foods grocery store. As she writes on her blog, she immediately went to her car, grabbed the dirty work shirts, and threw them on her supervisor's desk. Unfortunately, her supervisor wasn't sitting there. She was giving the new girl a tour.
By the age of 21, Chris Colfer had two Emmy nominations and ranked among Time's 100 most influential people in the world last year for his groundbreaking portrayal of a struggling gay teen on the primetime series "Glee." So he was a little surprised when he discovered that the show had tweeted that next season would be his last on the show. "I don't necessarily want to leave so soon, but I mean, it's fine," he told Access Hollywood. "It's what it is. And all things come to an end."
The show's creator, Ryan Murphy, had a different story. They'd been in talks about it for a while, he said, given that Colfer's character was graduating from high school, and that they were planning a spin-off. Annoyed about Colfer's comments, Murphy said that they were scrapping the spin-off idea. Colfer will be back on the show next season, however, as a high school graduate somehow integrated into high school plotlines with the logic-suspending grace of a truly great sitcom.
Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Taylor weekend job at a cafe called Cookies after she lost a ten-pound note (about $16). She was fired by a manager in a Facebook message riddled with the textspeak abbreviations that might be appropriate for dishing about the cute boy next to you in math class, but a little less appropriate for cutting someone off from their source of income.
"Sorry to send u a message like this but bin tryin to ring u but gettin no joy," she wrote. "I had to tell the owner bout u losin that tenner coz obviously the till was down at the end of the day. she wan't very pleased at all and despite me trying to persuade her otherwise she said I have to let u go. I'm really sorry."
Taylor shrugged it off with a resilient "oki x," but her mom wasn't too pleased, and had a little talk with the Daily Mail.
Back in 2010, Karen Ogilvie, a bartender in Dundee, Scotland, slept in and missed the start of her evening shift. She'd worked 11 hours the day before, four of them spent alone, so she couldn't even go to the bathroom, she claimed. Later that evening, she got a text. Bye-bye. Ogilvie replied with a few texts asking for her job back, but got no reply.
But things turned out rosy for Ogilvie. In October 2010, she was awarded the sum of 14,355 pounds ($22,461) by an employment tribunal, which found that her dismissal was "procedurally and substantively unfair."