Eggers & Calegari: Easy Does It

February 27th, 2006

The idea that every child in America has a right to a quality education -- a notion first propounded by my main man, Ben Franklin -- is a revolutionary one. It implies that the intellectual tools of citizenship should not be restricted to those with the wealth to pay for excellent schooling. And indeed, my parents -- the children of hard-working immigrants -- were able to receive a solid public education all the way through college. Now, with my son attending a terrific public elementary school, I should be confident that he will do the same.

Except that I can't. Because the public schools are under attack, despite the best efforts of heroic teachers, administrators, and parents. The problem is exacerbated in school districts where -- unlike my own -- parents don't have the financial resources to supplement the grossly inadequate funding of their neighborhood schools. I think we all know that public schools in America are in crisis -- even here in California, where the funding (and, not coincidentally, the quality) of public education has slid dramatically from once-lofty levels.

Like everyone I know, I'm mad about this, and frustrated. And scared -- scared about the future of our country when the majority of students are not being adequately prepared to share the democratic responsibilities of self-government. As my late father -- a teacher in public middle schools -- used to point out, kids who move through school without getting a decent education are, in fact, learning something: they're learning that they can't learn. Eventually the beautiful and natural delight in discovering things begins to fade from their eyes. And they enter the adult world knowing that society does not value them -- and perhaps feeling, understandably, that they owe society the same kind of treatment.

So do we just throw up our hands? Well, I admit, that would be my normal inclination. But in my life so far, I've noticed that throwing up my hands doesn't actually change anything (unless I happen to accidentally deflect a Frisbee or something). So thank goodness that -- on this subject, at least -- we have an important new book, Teachers Have It Easy: The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America's Teachers, to offer us information, compassion, and pragmatic advice on how we might make our public schools better. I was thrilled to be able to chat with two of the book's coauthors, Dave Eggers and Nínive Clements Calegari, on the show that airs tonight at 7:30 (and will be repeated on Friday night at 10:30).

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		<p id=Entry Filed under: citizenship,tv episodes


  • 1. Vallerie Hunt  |  February 27th, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    When your paycheck is less than it was from the year before (due to increase health care costs) and you have to purchase your own white paper for math projects, and you have 33, two to three page writing papers to correct, I wonder, “Why, Why am I doing this?” The only reason that the powers that be can get away with the conditions and salaries of teachers is that these teachers are mostly women.

  • 2. Lisa  |  February 27th, 2006 at 9:51 pm

    Working as a volunteer at 826 Valencia and having
    attended the adult seminars (including the one where,
    you Josh, were on the panel), I would like you to present
    more of what 826 Valencia does for the community.
    The special events they have and what wonderful work
    they do. I know of no other organization that works so
    closely with the schools. Dave mentioned no one came
    to the tutoring originally…but he did not mention that now,
    on week days, you can’t even move around because
    there are so many students seeking help.
    Tutors are much needed during school hours, after school,
    and even in the evenings when workshops are given.
    You know all this, and that most of what is done is with a
    small, intensely working Staff and many Volunteers.
    Volunteers…they can never have enough of them.
    And as they said, the teachers need all the help they can
    get…they are a phone call away.
    So please have them on again to talk about their miraculous
    program and all the wonderful books that they publish
    which are written by the children.
    Thanks again…and I enjoy watching your program very much.

  • 3. Julie Bernstein  |  February 27th, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    Hear hear, Josh. My mother has been a middle school teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools for over 20 years. Like your late father, her students love her, but times for most teachers, as well as their students, are tough. My mother once told me that when she was growing up in the fifties, it was a mark of pride to say that your mother was a teacher. Sigh…

    On a totally different topic, I have a couple of suggestions for guests for your show:

    Leo Laporte. He is a local tech expert who hosts an extremely popular podcast, This Week in Tech. He loves doing television also – hosts Call for Help out of Canada – and has an excellent voice, great sense of humor, and is very understandable to non-techies.

    Michael Sullivan from the Mime Troupe. You know him of course, and he has a new show coming out. Actually anyone from the Mime Troupe would be great; maybe you could get Ed and Amos to do a Cheney and Bush schtick. 😉

  • 4. janet anderson  |  February 28th, 2006 at 2:12 pm

    There is another side to the sword of education.
    I would give anything to be a high school english teacher. I wake up pondering ways to bring books to life, coming up with lessons plans. Unfortunately, I make less than the average teacher in the silicon valley (and yes, i have a “white collar” corporate job) and can’t afford the further education to follow my heart’s desire.
    So until a financial miracle happens (or i receive grant/scholarship leads-no loans, payback means food funds!)…i will continue to dream and maybe one day the tree in the backyard will grow money so i can remain poor, but happy, for the remainder of my days.
    Does this mean that money really does make the world go round? and can one buy happiness? hmmm….

  • 5. Daniel Shin  |  March 2nd, 2006 at 1:25 am

    Great show. I did not learn of 826 Valencia until two weeks ago when the sales clerk at Clean Well Lighted Place for Books told me about it. I drove straight there and what a wonderful place.

    I purchased a collection of essays and I hope my two young sons will take some workshops there. Help get the word out–tell your friends about 826 Valencia!

  • 6. Josh Kornbluth  |  March 5th, 2006 at 2:01 am

    Hey, Daniel: I’m so glad you liked the show! And yes, 826 Valencia is amazing (as is A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books — we need to keep supporting our great independent bookstores)! …

    Janet: I really hope you do become a high school English teacher. Perhaps money does make the world go round, but your kind of passion to teach is what brings students around. …

    Julie: I didn’t know you came from a public-school-teaching family, too! Cool. … As for your guest suggestions: Leo LaPorte seems really cool; I’ll learn more about him. And as for Michael Sullivan of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, as well as fellow Troupers Ed Holmes and Amos Glick: well, as you know, I couldn’t be a bigger fan of all of them. I would love to have them on the show someday! …

    Lisa: Thanks for underscoring how wonderful 826 Valencia is — and their need for volunteers! …

    And Vallerie: Thank you so much for the important work you do! I hope that one day soon you and your colleagues will be paid like CEO’s — and that CEO’s will have to buy their own white paper.

  • 7. Christy Conroy-Lucio  |  April 3rd, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    My daughter is a middle school teacher in the East Bay and I couldn’t be prouder of her. But I do worry–I am a Public Defender and I believe her job is just as hard and more dangerous than mine. This semester she received death threats from a former student and the district didn’t really back her up. But, I digress…the real reason for my comment is this: I often tune into your show, Josh, halfway through and then I really enjoy it, but sometimes I can’t figure out exactly the book, show, movie, etc…you are talking about. It would be a great help for you to do a recap at the end–showcasing the book, show–whatever. Today I watched the fabulous interview with Cousteau’s son, however, b/c I tuned in a little late I had to go on line to figure out when the show was going to be on. I don’t always have time for this, so PLEASE can you just recap at the end for busy people like me??? Thanks,
    If I had more time I’d volunteer to be your intern–what a blast!

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