Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, novelist, artist, poet, and education reformer, Bruce Deitrick Price who is the author of the recently published Saving K-12: What Happened to Our Public Schools? How Do We Fix Them?
Norm: Good day Bruce and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Bruce: I won the literary prize in high school, got Honors in English Literature from Princeton, and after two years in the Army went to Manhattan to be a novelist. I’ve always been self-employed in the arts, which include poetry, graphic design, advertising, painting, digital art, fiction, and nonfiction. I can’t say I was particularly practical. But I was always creative and hard-working.
Norm: What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
Bruce: They are not going anywhere. I hope they won’t become Mandarin endeavors. The big damage done by our public schools is taking literacy (and literature) away from ordinary people. Many surveys have shown that fewer Americans read for pleasure. When educated people like us talk about reading, we think of something effortless and fun. It’s not like that for students who’ve been forced to memorize sight-words, taught to guess, and end up regarding literature as hard work, not entertainment.
Norm: Why have you been drawn to writing about the US education system?
Bruce: When you see something bizarre and counterproductive, you instinctively know the people in charge are not serious about their stated goals. Suppose you see a house with crooked doors and windows. That’s what K-12 is for me. No normal person builds a crooked house.
Mainly, education officials are obsessed with social engineering. They seem to regard reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and such as nuisances. I can remember reading 40 years ago that a teacher in Maryland was suspended because he had dared to tell his more eager students about Machiavelli's The Prince.
The principal insisted that curricula must be “uniform.” I knew at that moment that K-12 had lost its way.
Saving K-12 is a guidebook for returning our schools to a higher level. I believe they have been dumbed down deliberately; and they can be smartened up deliberately.
Norm: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today?
Bruce: To obtain a good education from a system that is not concerned with that goal. Saving K-12 has an article titled A Speech To Teenagers About Their Education, which contains a riff on that point: “When we study American schools, we see a lot of make-believe, of keeping kids busy and making it appear that they are being educated. They are not! You’re not!! Schools used to push students toward excellence. Now they’ll let you drop like a stone toward mediocrity, if you let them.”
Norm: What is the most difficult aspect of teaching today?
Bruce: Traditionally, principal, parents, and community were united in support of teachers. Not anymore. The attrition rate is terrible, for the shocking reason that teachers are left to fend for themselves. Indeed, the system now includes lots of injurious elements: a high level of chaos, unnecessary paperwork, dysfunctional methods that guarantee many students will never be successful no matter what the teacher does, social promotion, and a whole array of inane and damaging practices we need to eliminate. I always say there are three groups of victims in K-12: students, parents, and teachers.
Norm: What are the qualities of an excellent teacher and what skills should they have?
Bruce: You have to qualify what sort of school you’re talking about. A teacher in a private school might have a satisfying life in the classroom. Teachers in a public school must be, first of all, survivors. They have to love teaching immensely, or need their salary immensely, to put up with a lot of abuse.
Norm: What makes a school effective?
Bruce: Everything depends on the people at the top. If they love knowledge and are serious about teaching it, everything will fall into place. There are primitive schools in Third World countries where kids sit on rickety benches and use raggedy textbooks. But I would expect those schools to outperform our million-dollar high schools.
Norm: How would you modify the teaching approach to reach students who are struggling to perform at grade level?
Bruce: All instruction should start with the most elemental pieces of information. One plus two equals three. Every student masters that before going on. Throughout K-12, the Education Establishment violates this rule as much as possible.
New Math, introduced in 1962, actually bragged about teaching subjects to second graders that had heretofore been taught only in high school or college. Matrices, anyone? Base eight? These are crooked houses.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions of Saving K-12: What Happened to Our Public Schools? How Do We Fix Them?, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Bruce: If we don’t save the public schools, we won’t save much else. “Saving K-12” is not just a catchy phrase, it’s the country’s most urgent business. Raising the intellectual level of the education debate is one of my main goals. Most of what you see in the media, for example, is shallow, trivial. The second goal is to draw more people into the arena. Another million people screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore” would turn things around nicely.
Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
Bruce: I asked a few people if they would supply comments. These are editors and publishers whom I know through the Internet, not personally. Much to my surprise, I got 13 enthusiastic comments, which appear in the book. So a lot of smart people have been paying attention to my writing.
Norm: Has there been any reactions to your book? Please elaborate.
Bruce: Bob Sweet, the President of The National Right to Read Foundation, gave this ‘review’ based on his familiarity with my work over the last few years: “Bruce Price’s SAVING K-12 is a MUST read! It is precise, concise and powerful. Action is required…for the sake of our children, our grandchildren and the future of the American Republic!" Otherwise, it’s early. Although maybe I should mention that the friend who helped me with the final edit kept saying, “Bruce, you’re a genius.”
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Bruce; My LITERARY SITE. It contains poetry, information about five novels, and a page on Saving K-12.
Norm: What is next for Bruce Deitrick Price?
Bruce: I finished two novels in the last three years; one of them is the most creative thing I’ve ever written. I’m always pitching three or four books, and plotting the next novel. On the weekend of October 20-21, I gave will give a speech in Milan, Italy on how to reclaim the public schools. This is a great honor as the group, Pensare Oltre, is upscale and sophisticated. Several years ago they were looking for an expert and found my articles on the Internet.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors