Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fairfield County Weekly Sloppily Busts on a Topic Near and Dear to My Heart

Voice amplication systems have nothing to do with why “Public School Still Sucks”- that’s the title of a not-so-cleverly constructed article in the Fairfield Weekly. The article opens by portraying the horrifying scenario of a Stamford teacher- gasp!- using technology to make it easier for students to hear her:
Newfield Elementary teacher Shelly Romano walks around with something that looks like an electric razor dangling from her neck. It's part of a RedCat amplification system, which booms her voice across her classroom via wireless infrared technology. It's not just for kids with hearing disabilities, principal Miriam Arango told the Stamford Times; it makes all students filter out every sound but Romano's voice. Arango said "the students don't even realize that they are paying more attention."

Um, I had to start using a system like this last year when the daily overuse of my voice almost ended my ten-year teaching career. I know a thing or two about the subject of voice amplification; it saved me after 3 devastating years in which I could not teach effectively, could not go out to restaurants with friends, and could not even read a book to my nephews without severe voice pain.

The article- by the FCW Editorial staff- then goes on to its main argument, which is totally unrelated to voice amp systems:
We bring up this extreme scene from a local school — the Bionic Schoolmarm with the voice in stereo — to show the kind of insanity State Rep. Jason Bartlett (D-Bethel, Redding, Danbury) wants to expose our children to for an extra two years. Bartlett has proposed a bill to increase the age at which Connecticut students can pull themselves out of compulsory education, with a parent's permission, from 16 to 18.

Clearly, if that scene seems “extreme” to the writer, he did not do much research on voice amplification in the classroom. (I recommend this Washington Post article on the subject, which describes how hundreds of DC area classrooms now use VA because of the benefits to students and teachers.) VA systems are not a form of “insanity” that brainwashes kids with a robot voice; it’s about the teacher’s voice being clear as a bell over the constant noise of 25 active little bodies in a large room. I’m sure most parents would rather their child be talked to in a calm voice through a high quality speaker system rather than shouted at by a strained voice that can barely croak at the end of the day.

The FCW author’s hook about the teacher’s mic system makes no sense in the context of his actual topic. If his point is that public school “sucks,” he’s going to need to give a better example of why. It’s not because a teacher is using a microphone to save her voice and communicate more clearly and easily with her students. (I’ll pipe up with a Stamford Talk “DUH” here.)

The article ends with an equally unclever mic tie-in:
We have an idea for a new law: Require all kids to leave school by age 16. That would force schools to drop the cosmetic makeovers and figure out how Dutch and Finnish schools teach everything useful American schools do before students hit puberty. More importantly, it would give our youth two years to do something more productive than sit in a room and stare at some bizarre woman with a blinking gadget tied around her neck.

Dude, just leave out the last line! Stop being such a smarty pants with the whole mic thing! The article would have been so much more coherent without it.
And why is the author calling that teacher "bizarre?" Did he observe her and find her behavior odd? Or did he just read one article in the Stamford Times that mentioned her, and then use its info as if he himself had actually done some research on the use of voice amplification systems?

I left a comment on the article at the FW website. This is what I said:
I don't think voice amplification systems are why "public school still sucks."
Did you interview the "bizarre woman," or did you just read about her in the Stamford Times?
If you knew anything about voice amplification systems in the classroom, you'd have chosen a different and more relevant hook for this article.
I'm not sure why you needed to insult that teacher, and criticize technology you clearly don't understand, to make a point about the required age to stay in school
Bring on the second draft with a different hook and end.

I think the article relished in the idea of insulting a person while making their otherwise perfectly rational point about public education. To call someone else bizarre, someone he probably has not met, is just strange.

I used to really like the Fairfield Weekly, but I notice more and more often that some of the articles are unnecessarily mean-spirited. That bothers me. You shouldn't insult people unless there's a good reason, and the FCW Editorial did not have a good enough reason to insult that teacher. In this case, the unnecessary meanness shows how uninformed the writer of the article is.


Leadhyena Inrandomtan said...

Just read the article and agree to its ludicrous nature. There's no connection to the "cosmetic makeovers" they claim are detracting from the representative's point. Not to mention that MyLeftNutmeg needs a serious overhaul; that blog is back in the stone age. Also, the taxpayers didn't even pay for that voice-amp; it was purchased from funds granted to it from the North Stamford Exchange Club. I couldn't even string together a cogent argument from the pile of words that article seemed to shovel, so I honestly don't know what's got FCW in a huff, and why they'd write so angrily....

Oh wait: I know! Could it be because newspapers are dying and they're trying to drum up any remaining controversy only to bump readership? Gives me more of an excuse to ignore their shoddy journalism. You'd better get in the dole queue before the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, buddy, or find another method of making money.

Anonymous said...

As the parent of a first grader in Stamford Public Schools, I think that a large reason that public schools 'suck', is that a large number of the parents who send their kids to public school, suck.

Whitemist said...

ninetybear, I think you have something there, but have seen the extreme, where a child is punished for bringing home a "B". Lets just get them inteerested in the kids and what they are learning and I think we might be better.

Maura said...

The Fairfield Weekly has gone way downhill since Tom Gogola left as editor late last summer. Under Gogola's watch, FCW was smart, edgy, and political. Now it's just tired and snarky most of the time.

anne said...

Unfortunately, many people mistake snarky for edgy.

Always Home and Uncool said...

Bleeping media!

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