Response to Planet Joe


While Dennis Shapiro praises Joe Nathan for his commitment and dedication for the betterment of public education, he manages unfair and untrue statements that I will address.

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By way of background, I have known Nathan since I hired him as a teacher in 1971 for the St. Paul Open School. He was one of the most creative and innovative teachers I have known in my 50+ years in public education. After his teaching and administrative years he became and continues as an advocate for school change along progressive educational lines. We have stayed in touch, occasionally collaborating on a project but haven’t always agreed. It is the advocacy role that Shapiro appears to dislike which of course, is his right. I just want his journalistic writing to be fair.

Shapiro attacked Nathan as not accurate and pretending to be a neutral commentator in public appearances Shapiro also says our local scene provides no countervailing voice to Nathan’s viewpoints.

First the lack of accuracy charge. Nathan has consistently advocated the course of better programs and better schools by conducting research and publishing reports that have drawn praise from professionals and the public. By better schools he means more public school choice for students and staff; working with parent, educator and student involvement in decisions; and, combining classroom work with community service. These are good causes and advocated by nearly all education experts but practiced by few schools with weak results over the past 100 years of public education. Nonetheless, Nathan has achieved success with legislation and individual schools. As to the accuracy charge, Nathan has been sought by numerous organizations and individuals (National Governors Association, numerous legislatures, two presidents, a U.S. senator, a mayor, foundations, prominent citizens and reporters) for advice on education issues. If his reputation were one of distortion he would not continue to be consulted.

As for the second point of no opposition to his views I can comment personally, as well, that there is plenty of opposition to progressive practices or to change in education generally. Shapiro is wrong about no countervailing voice to Nathan. I know from personal experience the weight of status quo and the persistence of conventional practices. The paradigm of the conventional school dominates any discussion of reform. Every attempt at legislative change has been met with quizzical questions by legislators and vigorous opposition from professional associations. Open enrollment and charter schools were rebuffed several times before their passage and even then hamstrung with cautious provisions.

I hope that Shapiro with his considerable experience about education can more fully appreciate the difficulty of school reform and recognize the few people giving their lives and reputations to that effort. Nathan is one of them and deserves our commendation.