The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Another Rant From Joanne

Yes, this is a repeat of a piece I wrote and posted many months ago.  I’m still proud of it and think it is worth while for readers. Mindfulness and all its attachments continue to expand to more schools and states. Yet, to my mind they are just a poor substitute for teaching the things kids really care about in ways that are natural for them as they grow up.


I am sorry to have to say it, but the formalizing of students’ thinking and behavior is a waste of time and just plain ignorance. What I am referring to specifically is the teaching of grit, mindfulness, and resilience, and the move to “personalized learning”, all ofwhich have become popular recently. All human beings, including young children, choose how they behave and what they learn. We adults influence their decisions by our actions, but we cannot control them or teach them directly.

If we want kids to like being in school, value the required schoolwork, and be interested in the content of the curriculum, we’ve got to make all those things meaningful and useful in their eyes. And, we have to recognize that much of what is taught in school now is mastered only temporarily, not for the long run.

Let’s consider for a minute our own school “learning.” Can we still speak or read the foreign languages we studied in high school or college? Can we use algebra to solve complex problems? Do we remember why the War of 1812 was fought and against which foes? What place became our 49th state? Just what are a gerund, a transitive verb, and a reflexive pronoun? *

The lasting things that can be learned or solidified in school are honesty, cooperation, respect for others, self control, self-respect, curiosity, patience, and a deep interest in certain skills, arts, and sources of knowledge. Those are the things that good teachers practice regularly, and by doing so, teach students to do the same.

We have a big problem in this country because the officials advocating for strict and traditional public education do not realize how shallow and ephemeral much of it is — even for the Japanese students who score so well on international tests. Over the past twenty or so years what we have heard from the decision makers at the national or state level, and the critics, is that the standards for American students must be raised. Why? They say, “So we can compete with other countries.” Unfortunately, they don’t mean that we should be giving health care to everyone and free college to all students.

In this blog I have written as often as possible about the good things I see or hear about in schools, and I wish every day that I would hear about more. What I recognize is that most of my readers are realists who know the difference between fads, pipe dreams and the lasting things that can be learned in schools.

*Don’t feel bad; I had to look up most of those things, too.

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Still Searching for Students’ Voices

Today’s post is a supplement to my previous one, giving an explanation of why I –and you–need to hear the voices of students.  It was originally posted four months ago.  Readers, please consider asking students you know to tell you what school means to them: “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

P.S.  My hand is healing.  I will give it a few more days before I order it to write a full page.


Being elsewhere for the past two weeks has given me a new perspective on what should be included in this blog. Up until now I have focused on information about school practices in different places obtained from various news sources, accompanied by my reactions and suggestions. I have also argued for my own beliefs about education and described some of the practices in the schools I worked in or visited after retiring. From time to time, I have also posted essays written by other educators. Yet, important voices and crucial information have been missing entirely. Both readers and I need to know what students of all ages think about their schools today and what changes they would like to see happen.

Although some of the articles I’ve read contain quotes from students-almost always young ones-they are brief and formulaic, telling how much they love their teacher or their new commercial materials. Nowhere have I read what older students think about the Common Core Standards, high stakes testing, the curriculum, the amount of homework, class sizes, technology in the classroom, bullying, or the emphasis or being prepared for college and the workplace. These are the things all teachers, principals, and education decision makers need to know about and consider in making decisions about school structures and practices.

Although I have been and continue to be a supporter of teachers, students, and public schools, I really have no idea of what school life is like today. I retired from my principal’s job in 2000 and stopped supervising student teachers and visiting classrooms of teachers recommended to me in 2014. To do a good job with my chosen role of writing this blog two or three times a week, I need to hear more from the people who are living a good part of their everyday lives in schools today. That means not only students, but teachers, student teachers, aides, and other school employees or volunteers. Although I might ask a contributor for more information or some revision, I will respect the efforts, opinions and anonymity (if requested) of anyone who sends me a submission. Even If you have only a short comment to make, I will find a way to include it. Also, however, I retain the right to reject anything that seems inaccurate, disrespectful of others, or illegal.

Teachers and parents, please consider encouraging students to contribute to “The Treasure Hunter” or contributing yourself. Not only will you be helping to make my blog better and my life easier, but you will also be adding the voices that most need to be heard.

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I Need Your Help to Make Education Better

Dear Readers,

Today I am reposting a piece I wrote four months ago for two reasons: 1. I fell yesterday and injured my hand badly enough that it hurts to write; 2. I have not yet received any of the writing contributions I begged for back then. If you feel sorry for me or guilting about not responding to my request the first time, do it now!

P. S. I expect to recover fully within three or four days. Your contributions would help to speed the process.


After calling for the voices of students on this blog a few days ago, I have given more thought about how to keep everyone safe. Even though I would like teachers to encourage students to write about school experiences that they believe should be changed, I now think it would be best for them to do their writing outside of school. I also think students should sign only their first names on any pieces they submit. I do not want them or their teachers to risk being questioned or punished for something they sent to me. In addition, I assure all contributors that I will not share any information about them unless they specifically say it’s okay to do so.

As for how to submit a piece of writing, post it in the space labeled “Comments” at the bottom of this page. Only I will see what is written there.

P.S. Parents and teachers are also encouraged to write about current school practices that they feel should be changed. Their contributions will also be posted with first names only.

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To get writers started, here are some of the topics I’d like to hear their opinions about, but they may certainly write to me about anything that concerns them.

What do you think about homework assignments? Are there too many at once, too difficult, a waste of time, or helpful to your learning?

Is bullying rampant at your school? What could teachers, administrators, or you and your friends do to reduce the problem or stop it altogether?

What are your feelings about“high stakes”testing? Were the tests you’ve taken too long, too difficult, or some of the questions unreasonable? Did you give your best efforts on such a test or just the bare minimum?

If you were the principal of your school, what would be the first changes you would make and why did you choose them?

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I send my thanks to all of you who sent me good wishes on my birthday yesterday, and also to all the others who are faithful readers.  You may be as surprised as I am to know that I have  posted 195 pieces since I began in 2015.  Although I did not write all of them, I am proud of being able to send so many messages supporting the good things happening in our public schools and also those attacking the stupidity, greed, and evil that still exists.

Sincerely,

Joanne Yatvin

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The Rights and Responsibilities of Being an American Citizen

Today’s post is more a series of quotes—not mine—than an essay. Reading David Fouse’s* article in the “National Review” convinced me that public education should include much more about the ways that the American government functions in order to help young people become effective citizens. To persuade readers, I will let him make his own argument, omitting only some statements that are repetitious.


David Fouse begins his essay with a quote from Thomas Jefferson that appeared in a letter he wrote in 1816, seven years after his presidency had ended. Although Jefferson’s meaning is not as instantly clear as it should be, it accurately reflects the conditions in many nations where young people get little or no education, and, to some extent also the conditions in our own country where we expect education to be more thorough. Jefferson said,“If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Fouse goes on to cite what he believes all American citizens should know about the workings of our federal government, along with the percentages of educated people who are ignorant in those areas.  I found the numbers hard to accept, especially because Fouse does not cite their source: “Sixty percent of college graduates don’t know any of the steps necessary to ratify a constitutional amendment. Fifty percent don’t know how long the terms of representatives and senators are. Forty percent didn’t know that Congress has the power to declare war. Forty-three percent of Americans don’t know that the First Amendment gives them the right to freedom of speech, and a full third can’t identify a single right it gives them.”

From this point on I will let Fouse speak for himself without any help from me.

As shocking as the above-mentioned statistics are, they represent only the   surface of the problem. What we are facing is not merely a crisis of knowledge, a need to memorize more facts, or a lack of understanding of how to properly engage. What we are really facing is a crisis of worldview.

A government by the people, for the people, and of the people is only as wise, as just, and as free as the people themselves. Ignorance and indifference inevitably erode our freedoms and destroy our republic. It is not without cause that our national discourse in recent years has been so histrionic and hateful.

At its core, true education is more than facts and figures. It engages and enriches the soul. It rightly orients one to understand his or her place in the world, to pursue truth and beauty, and, perhaps most important, to understand why the pursuit of these things matters — not just for occupational production, but to know how to live.

Over the course of the past century, the role of education in government and the role of government in education have become increasingly muddled. Our current education system little resembles the intent of the Founders. For these men, education was a responsibility delegated to the people, not a right provided by the   government. When George Washington petitioned for the creation of a national  university, his request was denied on the grounds that education was not a power outlined in the Constitution. Our current Department of Education, with its expansive regulations and reach, would be incomprehensible and insupportable to the Framers of our Constitution.

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

For the federal government, education is metrics: an increasingly complex set of measurable, quantifiable standards designed to prepare students for productivity (production) in the workforce. It ignores the soul and is anathema to the development of virtue, which is the lifelong process of seeking and loving truth,  and without which no human can live a genuinely satisfying life. Education is fundamentally a spiritual and moral undertaking — and as such, it is well beyond the capabilities of the federal government to teach.

Merely cramming students with facts about our government or commanding them to engage in community service will not make them the kind of virtuous citizens our republic needs. We need citizens who understand liberty and justice, who objectively pursue truth, and who will ardently champion these values in the   public square. Only a holistic form of education that takes the content and the context, the vision and the values, of our Founders into account can create such citizens and preserve their freedom in the generations to come.

I guess I knew about most of the citizen rights and responsibilities that Fouse pointed out, but I confess that I have done little to encourage others to learn and act on them. In the future I will try to emphasize good citizenship in this blog and my personal life for the benefit of our country and all its people.


*After reading this article I wanted to know what Fouse’s educational background and political and connections were. I found out only that he is partner in the Pinkston Group, a public relations company.

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