Edward Udel: Pungent odor of phony school directives

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DALTON — Back in the day when I taught full time in the Pittsfield Public Schools, a student would sometimes arrive in my class reeking of marijuana. On those rare occasions, I would extract an invisible ganjanometer from my middle desk drawer, snap an invisible switch to turn it on, cradle the unseen device directly in front of me with both hands and begin a pattern of slow, soft Geiger-counter like pulsating sounds with my voice. I would slowly walk up and down each aisle. As I arrived at the source of the pungency, the pulses sped up and increased in volume. When I pulled the invisible mechanism away, the pulses would become softer and farther apart. After placing the ganjanometer directly above the source, the pulses would reach maximum speed and volume.

This lighthearted approach not only avoided confrontation, but it eliminated the problem. It sent two important messages. Don't underestimate the power of the proboscis and don't show up to class high. My ganjanometer became a rarely used but reliable element in my teaching repertoire but I doubt that the state would identify it as a best practice today. It produced no data, just results.

In 2004, my last year as a teacher at Taconic High School, I made a simple request. I asked for a plaque to be placed directly over the urinal in the faculty bathroom located on the second floor. I frequented that space often, especially after receiving directives from the state department of education. Those directives had the same urological impact on me as dipping my hands into warm water. I had to seek relief immediately. The plaque would have read," Location at which Edward Udel made his greatest contribution to public education." For some inexplicable reason, my request was ignored and as a consequence, the old Taconic was eventually leveled.


Although I have been retired for 16 years, my nose is still especially sensitive and I can sniff out the phony claims made by the MDESE (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) with the help of my most recent invention, the fake-newsonometer. The claim that education reform has brought Massachusetts to the pinnacle of academic success causes my fake-newsonometer to pulsate so shrilly that glass bottles shatter within a two mile radius. If you have recently noticed your glass containers inexplicably blowing apart, you now know why. My fake-newsonometer must have been pulsating in your neighborhood when MDESE was making another hyperbolic claim. This also happens if I accidentally leave the device on while Trump is talking about anything.

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With my fake-newsonometer on alert, I'm not fooled when the state threatens to take over a school and somehow, the only surviving requirement for graduation becomes the production of body heat. I'm not fooled when an implicit school takeover threat results in a dramatic reduction of drop-outs and suspensions. I'm not even fooled when MCAS scores improve after years of concentrated test preparation supported by "best practices" that narrow the curriculum and require the uninterrupted flow of daily MCAS practice "sheets." Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested, "Foolish repetition is the hobgoblin of little minds."

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I'm certainly not fooled when roughly 40 percent of Massachusetts' students attending the commonwealth's four year public colleges and universities require remedial courses before they can fully matriculate. I am most definitely not fooled when 60 percent of junior college students in Massachusetts require the same. Nor am I blind to the damaging impact education reforms and mandates have had on discipline, academic standards and morale in gateway community public schools.

Perhaps it's time to patent my fake-newsonometer and require all bureaucrats to heed its shrill warning. Now that weed is more common than the cold, my ganjanometer has minimal value but perhaps it can be repurposed as a vape-onometer with a few technical adjustments. The new Innovation Center in Pittsfield may be able to play a role.


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Funny thing about claims of progress and success. They may be backed up by all kinds of data. In fact they may be floating on a virtual sea of data. But what looks like success and sounds like success doesn't always smell like success.

Something may stink in Denmark but it most definitely stinks in Massachusetts and I am waiting patiently for educators to activate their sense of smell and for educational bureaucrats to stop mandating policies that weaken academic standards and discipline in the name of accountability. No matter how much data is used to compose it, no brand of air freshener can neutralize the stubborn stench of phony progress.

We must clear the air of the toxic fumes produced by our obsession with data and the intimidating mandates that drive that obsession. Data, data everywhere from sea to shining sea. Data, data everywhere but none of it fools me!

A longtime educator, Edward Udel is an occasional Eagle contributor.


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