Is teaching any easier now?
I wouldn't like to be a young teacher going into the schools. The teachers are overwhelmed — not only with the teaching they have to do but with the clerical work they have to do. Teachers tell me that hasn't eased one bit. Administrations are always remote. They have forms to spew out. They don't know as much as you do. The higher you go in the educational food chain, the less experience of teaching there is, until you get to the chancellor, who usually has none.
How do you feel about [former Chancellor] Rudy Crew?
I like the way he stands his ground with the politicians. I don't think they should have anything to do with education. It's like telling the surgeons how to operate in the surgery room. I knew Rudy would come through against the voucher thing. I think he's solid. But I think we'll lose him because he's good, and the dollar sign will be dangled in front of him and then goodbye, Rudy.
So, you're not for vouchers?
Only if you want to kill public education. That sucking sound you hear is the sound of public schools collapsing with the voucher system.
If you could change anything in the system now, what would it be?
I'd give teachers more of a voice. The union is there and the union is supposed to speak for the teachers, but union officials generally have about as much teaching experience as bureaucrats. Teachers are in touch with the kids every day. Yet they have these people from the union, from the Board of Education, these idiots from think tanks. Everybody's an expert on education, but don't reach into the classroom and bring out John Smith, a teacher who's been teaching for 25 years. Never consult him. It's my dream that teaching become the glamorous profession. The ones who are in the public-school system are heroic. There should be a Teacher Hall of Fame. It should be the biggest event, bigger than the Oscars — "Ms. Smith of P.S. 13 has just made a big breakthrough in teaching the dangling participle. She gets Teacher of the Year!" — with everybody jostling to get near Ms. Smith to shake her hand. "How did you do it, how did you manage to get through to them about the dangling participle?" But as long as the middle class has abandoned the city schools, the schools are going to remain depressed and neglected, because the African-Americans and Hispanics, they don't have the power. All they have is anger, like me when I arrived here.
I posted a Jan. 2008 interview with McCourt at Norm's Notes (Stop Hijacking the Education System with Hijinks) about politicians and education.
Leonie Haimson at Huffington on McCourt and class size:
"If you were named Schools Chancellor what would you do?"
Frank McCourt: "I'd certainly go to Albany and get more money for the teachers' salaries...and I'd cut the school day and certainly cut the size of the classes, because they're monstrous. And I've have a parliament of teachers, no supervisors and certainly no politicians."
John Merrow, who shares the ed deformer agenda (search his name in Ed Notes) is honoring McCourt by running an interview with him. McCourt's views of education obviously had zero impact on Merrow.
In 2000, I got to talk with Frank McCourt on my NPR radio program, The Merrow Report. He read passages from his teaching memoir 'Tis (1999) and shared his thoughts on entering the teaching profession and reflected on what had changed over the years.
We've brought the program out from the archives to honor Frank McCourt's passing—and his life as a remarkable teacher. Listen to him talk about teaching, standardized testing, alternative certification programs and why a teacher can learn more about teaching by hanging out in the school cafeteria than from sitting in a college classroom. Listen to the interview here.