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From Herb Niebergall: What is Education? circa 2010

March 31, 2013

WHAT IS EDUCATION? BY HT NIEBERGALL (math teacher at Fremont High since 1966)

Below is a mass letter that Herb sent out shortly after the reconstitution of Fremont was announced.   Herb has taught at Fremont since Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the United States.  The term SLC stands for Small Learning Community. Herb was in the SLC People, Power and Passion which was one of the most successful SLCs at Fremont.  Alas at Fremont the bureaucrats make sure nothing successful lasts for long.  You might be asking yourself,  “How in the world did Herb get rehired at Fremont?”   The answer is simple : fear.  Herb had taught generations of south LA students math and students who are now grandparents  regularly showed up to see him.  In other words, the administration couldn’t afford the  public outcry that would contradict their carefully crafted lie that teachers at Fremont were “failures.”   It was very fortunate for the students at Fremont that Herb was rehired.

To: The Universe (B of E’s, supers, secretaries, all concerned or not)
Re: What is Education?
From: H T Niebergall
Teacher Fremont High School

(SLC P 3)
Looking at the on line New Fremont slide show, the proposed block schedule will make it more difficult than it is now, with our busted up 3 track schedule, to prepare AP Calculus students to pass the national exam.

The outlined plan will emphasize math and English. If we are committed to a useful educated citizenry as founder Thomas Jefferson was, then we need to vastly improve government and history education, not their isolated facts and dates, but their theory and practice, and how they relate to the reality of today.
The outline says everyone is locked into the same “pacing plan” aligned to the “standards”. Who decides what a standard is? Here is an example of what D7 Super had us spend 30 minutes a day on about 12 years ago ( the purpose being to dramatically raise test scores).

1. What was our first president George Washington’s birth year?
A. 1923 B. 1832 C. 1732 D. 1632
“Teachers” were directed to have students eliminate two “obviously wrong” choices then guess from what remained.

What facts does one really need to know? When the bank made a error in my account interest one summer, the experienced loan officer correcting the error involving a 30 and 31 day month, in 365 day year, after many complex calculations she put her calculator down, added by hand and said the bank owed me $117.43. I said I calculated $116.43. She said “Isn’t 8 and 8, 17!? So I lost a dollar.

When an interviewer was surprised when Albert Einstein did not remember a certain physical constant, he replied, “Why should I need to remember what I can look up in books!” (Have you, my readers of these comments, learned the net skills necessary to find what Thomas Jefferson said about the purpose of education, or were only tested on remembering what number he was, and can you then also find Washington’s birth year? I always remember it because it is the 3 place decimal approximation to the square root of 3)

Right now, today, can you calculate the slope of a line from its equation or its graph? That question is on exams from the CAHSEE thru AP Calculus. Many of my former students have become teachers and administrators for LAUSD. 30 years ago they could answer the slope question. But like the bank officer most would make a small error in calculating it today. And none of them had to pass an exit exam or worry about AYP. If they had good grades, they received “free money” to go to college and they graduated to pursue a variety of professions, yet our school then as now ranked low in the state in graduation rate and students going on to higher education. And what they had then and we still have now is a cadre of inspiring teachers, one is now a well known feminist lawyer, and many moved on to be top LAUSD officials.
When I started teaching, an LAUSD math teacher had written a text book (Mathematics A Human Endeavor) followed by a series of books that were used widely through out the district. They contained “Inspiring Math” lessons, many of which I modified and still use. But our new outline has us teaching “Accelerated Math”, which will re-run slope of line until the student will remember it long enough to raise state test scores and that skill then will soon be forgotten, all this at the expense of necessary and useful education (ref. Thomas Jefferson).

Our country does not support education as it did for the 40 years after WW II.
The false Texas “Miracle in Education” along with the text book and test makers corporations helped propel the election of a president that gave us NCLB. Now with “Race To The Top”, we are leaving many behind.

What is more important, the dates of the French Revolution, or the causes, results, and how they relate to events in today’s world? Are we helping our students learn how to find and use information that will stop the “disaster course” the world now finds its self on? If the Secretary Of Education wants to help us, he will advise the “Commander In Chief” to move all our “troops” involved in destructive actions to Haiti, and clear to the rubble in 6 months (not 3 years as now projected) and help rebuild hospitals, schools, and homes in 3 years or less. Hey now, wouldn’t that have the whole world saying WOW!!, look what the old US of A is doing for humanity. Only when other countries stop seeing us as “Economic Terrorists” of the world, will we stop being attacked by the recipients of those actions.

Nazi Germany had a great and successful nation wide educational plan that suited its goals. The world sat back and saw fields of youth in lock step calisthenics and passing all their exams for “The Father Land”. A system of education that developed a generation of rule followers that were given and learned all the “right answers”, and obeyed directions without critical analysis as to where they were being led.

In Summary:
I teach inspiring math, not accelerated math.
As the Teamsters changed from mules to trucks, corporations must re-tool from our present “War Machine” economy to a “Building and Recycle Machine” economy for all. We must “ educate”, not“ train”, our children so they know how to understand and use information to develop solutions to the “greed and injustice mentality” of today that if not stopped is capable of destroying “Space Ship Earth” (ref: Buckminster Fuller)
And finally redo the New Fremont outline to emphasize a broad “relevant” educational foundation that has a world view, an outline that will allow our teachers the freedom to implement their vision of a better world, allow constructive criticism and revision of the plan, and changed procedures to rid the profession of the less than proficient persons.

Myself personally, I am not going to teach students to “stand in line”, memorize answers and follow directions without questioning the reasons why.
I would like to stay at Fremont.
I would like the many excellent teachers now applying to transfer to stay at Fremont.
I would like the People making the changes to use their Power in a Passionate way for the benefit of all involved. ( our P 3 philosophy is forever)
Thank You For Your Consideration,
H T Niebergall

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 28, 2013 12:23 am

    Mr. Niebergall, I am sure you do not remember me, but I do remember you. I taught at Fremont from 2003-05, in the English department, and during my brief time there I learned a great number of things; one being that you are a great teacher, and I am honored to have worked with you. There’s a reason you were asked to be a part of P3, and I am certain this letter reflects that reasoning. Most of the teachers that work at Fremont are dedicated, well-meaning individuals working for children who live in conditions unfathomable to the majority of Americans, let alone lawmakers. You, and other teachers (most of all those P3 teachers) make a difference daily. Thank you!

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