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The Cat in the Hat look at Education:

Movies as Social Commentary

Dear Editor:

Sometimes movies make great social commentary. Remember Monty Python’s "The Life of Brian"?

Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me, you don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!

The Crowd (in unison): Yes! We're all individuals!

Brian: You're all different!

The Crowd (in unison): Yes, we are all different!

Man in Crowd: I'm not.

Another Man: Shhh!

YES WE CAN is a movement of "individuals" proclaiming a "grassroots movement" to improve our schools.

I have no sign in my yard. I guess "I’m not" an individual.


If we just think happy thoughts and spend more money we can make our schools "work". And if we just believe hard enough we can also bring Tinker Bell back to life.

Déjà vu all over again as Yogi Berra would say. We went through this in 1992 when a "Back to Basics" group of education traditionalists was steamrollered by those who "had a heart" for education. What has been the result? Nearly twenty more years of affective touchy-feely education and now, years later, we are in the same position we were then only much poorer and with more illiteracy…functional and cultural.

Systematic, intensive, direct and early phonics instruction makes eager young students proficient readers. It takes "Bear Bryant like" teachers, drilling students repetitively in the rules of our language so basic that if they are not proficient by the third grade then they will be handicapped for life. Then they must go past the self-indulgent "journaling" to actually teaching children how to write. Do today’s teachers even know the meaning of conjugating verbs and diagramming sentences as methods to instruct students in the basic rules of grammar?

The March 3rd issue of The Dothan Eagle carried an article describing a middle school "reading coach" dressing her students as characters from the Dr. Seuss books and taking them out of class to interrupt an elementary classroom in order to "help younger students learn to read." The twelve year olds got "jazzed up about being in a leadership roll." One student said the best part was "dressing up".

The failure of our schools lies squarely in the Colleges of Education which have promoted this frivolous masquerade and called it education. That is why we continue to have "reading coaches" in middle school when children should be proficient readers by third grade.

Remember the movie The Music Man? Professor Harold Hill came to town ready to make a buck off the hicks in River City by convincing them that his "think system" was sufficient for teaching children to play band instruments. He romanced the librarian who initially saw through the charlatan and charmed the citizens out of their hard earned dollars for uniforms and instruments. Then he hummed the tunes to his eager students and told them to think about the music. All they had to do was "want" to play those instruments…and then they could play!

Folks, Harold Hill is back in town only this time he comes dressed as the Cat in the Hat and he tells you that the predictability of the texts (guess at those words!) and getting kids jazzed about reading (let’s all have fun!) is going to produce readers.

All you individuals just believe.

But "I’m not" an individual.


Sharman Ramsey

  • Yes, Mrs. Ramsey, Whole Language was an approach that DCS used; however, that was about 19 years ago.  Where have you been?? I read parts of your website.  You have some great ideas, but many of your ideas are the some one that “Yes, We Can” and DCS advocate.
  • "when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck."  Whole Word...Look Say...Whole whatever they call it now that duck is still a duck
  • Mrs. Ramsey, you really should visit any Dothan City School you like and observe what actually goes on there. After looking at your blog, I would like to reassure you that “progressive/whole language” instruction, as you call it, is not what’s going on in Dothan’s schools. Go visit and educate yourself.

    Posted by janna on March 05, 2010 at 10:40 am

    What DCS releases in publicity blurbs is all I need to see to know that nothing has changed...except perhaps the labels.  If I visit I will see hardworking teachers (my friends and neighbors) doing the best they can with the tools they have been given.  Yet, as hard as they work, are there still classes in remedial reading at Wallace Community College.  Are students still dropping out of school because they cannot perform well?  How sad for everyone to be cheerleading a book and reading and still be locked out of the party because you cannot decode the words!

    My argument is with the Colleges of Education and the ideas they have passed off as effective education.  If you step out of the "circle" of wagons you will be fired.  We as teachers are a rather gullible lot.  We want to believe that the tools we have paid good money to acquire and studied hard to master in order to get our diplomas have really been proven effective through replicable research and not affective criteria.  I have been disillusioned time and again when I searched for that replicable research and could not find it.

    Oh, yes...don't rock the boat...tenure is mighty comfortable.  Put blinders on, just believe, and count out the days.

    It is unfortunate that Mrs. Ramsey’s rant fairly drips with contempt for her fellow teachers. She should give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re not stupid and they do truly care about their duty to Dothan’s children. It was not necessary to insult them this way. It is also not clear if Mrs. Ramsey’s primary target is the schools or the Yes We Can movement. Given this ambiguous aim, and the generous use of “scare quotes”, I will assume that Mrs. Ramsey was upset when she wrote this, and perhaps deserves the benefit of the doubt herself.

    Rant?  Sweetheart, that was not nearly the depth of my feeling.  Our children do not have time to give this curriculum any further "benefit of the doubt."  Guess what?  The schools are not operated for teachers to have jobs.  They operate to educate children. 

    "Scare quotes?"  Those are directly lifted from the article. 

    Upset?  Your lack of understanding of the real problem is truly upsetting. 

    Don't rock the boat, honey.  You've got tenure and a wonderful retirement ahead.  Don't bother your pretty little head about all those illiterate children that will be standing on the street corners as the result of your happy talk and the kumbayah-like YES WE CAN movement. 

    The YES WE CAN movement is led by good hearted people who really want the best for our children.  Unfortunately, they want to believe in this newest push of old ideas now called "Education for the 21st Century" but even if we all believe like we did for Peter Pan when he told us that if we did we could bring Tinker Bell back to won't make these foolish ideas for education least by my standard of effective and I think that is the standard most parents have for effective schools.  I do not trust the vague fancy talk of that movement.   

    Just what are the details...have they actually produced what we want in our schools?   What does preparing students to be "globally prepared for work" mean?  I would hope our standards were higher than those of the Sudan, but maybe not.  Do you know?  Perhaps having twelve year olds march through schools dressed as the Cat in the Hat is sufficient for that standard.  I just know the year I was twelve I asked for and received: Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, Peyton Place, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, and that was after I had read all of the books in my Mother's library (which was extensive).  Of course, I do not recommend those books for every twelve year old and certainly not for the schools to endorse.  But, as I have said repeatedly, the schools should have a higher standard for the books they use.  Censorship at home should be left to a child's parents.  I could read.  And the world was open to me because of it.  I do not want one single child shut out from that wonderful, wonderful opportunity.

    My point is...we Americans once set the highest bar for excellence.  This United Nations movement...Education for the 21st Century dumbs us down.

     I do not think my critical thinking has suffered from not having been taught critical thinking.  And personally, I want my children and grandchildren to be patriotic Americans, not good global citizens (especially if that includes buying trees in the rain forest).  My perception of their version of "critical thinking" is merely to challenge patriotism and established standards of morality, and inculcate a loyalty to the environment and international institutions above our own. 

    I'm sure you made friends in high places with the "courage" of your stand against a white haired (if I didn't dye it) old war horse (some might say battle axe). 

    I am nearly sixty years old.  Will it bother me if you walk on the other side of the road because I dared to challenge the wisdom of a system that continues to fail?   Yes, because I am sure I would really like you...and truth is, you would probably like me.  But I have grown a few callouses since I ran for the school board in 1992 and saw the opponent's campaign run out of the central office.  You and I have a difference of opinion...professionals with ideas...that should warrant debate and not the tyranny of the circle the wagons instinct of DCS...if you're not with're against us. 

    When one's family is a potential client of an institution (and mine is) and one's tax dollars go to support it (I was born here and will be buried here) one should be involved and knowledgeable.  Selecting the teachers for our child's education is like selecting a doctor for our child's physical health.  We should have the opportunity for choice and a second opinion as well when one is unsatisfied with the with medicine.  The health and well-being of our children is the most basic concern of a parent.  Unfortunately we cannot inoculate our children against illiteracy.  And that is why I speak.

    My grandchildren deserve schools that work.  I also "care" about children.  I was motivated to go into education because of the super teachers I had at Dothan High School where I was a cheerleader.  I want to cheer for our schools!  But, I was appalled at the illiteracy I saw in students I taught when I became a teacher.  I watched my own little brother struggle (12 years younger and the recipient of a different philosophy of education that came in during the late 60s)...and I could do nothing to help.  That is why I started studying what was going wrong with education...and why I was so inadequately prepared to deal with it...with two degrees!  I stumbled upon a school that really works in a private school my children attended with the ABEKA curriculum.  Even my hyperactive son learned to read and write with excellence.  I can assure you his critical thinking did not suffer from Mastery of basic skills

    Do I care about children?  Enough to stand up for what I believe in, Honey.  And I will tell you it costs.

    Children are my inspiration.  Eager bright-eyed children with open faces can be changed to hunched shoulders lifted in discouragement and dulled, saddened, confused eyes.  Hurt feelings don't really matter in the scheme of things...mine or yours.  We truly have the same goal..

    But, I challenge you to truly KNOW WHAT YOU ARE SUPPORTING. 

    Copyright 1996  These are my own working genealogy files that I share with you.  The errors are my own.  But, perhaps they will give you a starting point.  All original writing is copyrighted.  Webmaster

    Copyright 1996  These are my own working genealogy files that I share with you.  The errors are my own.  But, perhaps they will give you a starting point.  All original writing is copyrighted.  Webmaster