by Pat Holt
Thursday, September 26, 2002
KLEIN ON BONUSES FOR NY TEACHERS: GO BACK TO GERMANY, YA BUM
KLEIN ON BONUSES FOR NY TEACHERS: GO BACK TO GERMANY, YA BUM
Honestly, this notion of the New York City school system "partnering" with private business to give bonuses to school administrators and teachers for raising test scores is one of the most cockamamie ideas I've ever heard of.
But that's what former chief executive of Bertelsmann and present NY Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein declared yesterday. "Raising test scores should be the paramount goal of city educators," he told the New York Times.
To prove it, Klein said that "school superintendents will receive bonuses of up to $40,000 - more than a quarter of their base salaries - if test scores in their districts significantly improve this year."
Heavens, this is just a terrible idea, typical of somebody who knows nothing about good education.
Let's all ask Klein: What happened to the idea of teaching the whole child? Hasn't anybody noticed what happens to a classroom when the teacher pushes kids to pass tests rather than to study, discuss and learn basic curriculum?
Oh, sure, "test scores are the only uniform way of measuring student performance," says Klein, but look at that word "uniform."
This is just another way to put the system first, and students last. It undermines the diverse and often unique needs of a wide range of students. And it creates, as Klein admits, "a "system of accountability and reward" that achieves "the kinds of results that we really demand for our children."
Oops. Doesn't he mean "results that we really demand *from* our children"?
And friends, those two-year-olds out there better get into training now. Don't just let 'em play with building blocks - count the blocks, measure the blocks! Compare results each day with your neighbors. Establish a 'hood-wide grid in which managers "partner" with local retailers to underwrite bonuses for parents with the most impressive clipboards (ages 0-2) and Excel spreadsheets (ages 3-4).
One must say this fellow Klein has reached the pinnacle of his talents with this idea. Remember back in February of 2001 when Klein, a former U.S. attorney general, was picked by Bertelsmann as CEO?
My, what an historic act that was (see #213): Klein had been the big "antitrust activist" under Janet Reno, "credited with breaking up Microsoft, blocking Lockheed Martin from acquiring Northrup Grunman, and stopping WorldCom from buying Sprint," the Times reported.
So naturally his job at Bertelsmann, was to do the opposite - to cynically package up the very deals he used to break up at the Department of Justice. Indeed, as David Kirkpatrick of the Times put it, "[Klein] brings a prodigious set of connections at a time when [Bertelsmann] is poised for acquisitions."
Of course, that was the Thomas Middelhoff era, a time when Bertelsmann was aggressively looking to the United States to buy up more companies once Random House caved and needed someone like Klein who would "likely prove a boon to the company's government relations campaign," said the New York Daily News.
So when Middelhoff was forced out and Klein among others got the boot along with him, what did Klein's connections stir up for him but a job merging private business with public education under the reign of his pal, NYC Mayor and private-business worshipper, Michael Bloomberg.
Just to be clear: Wanting "the school system to operate more like a private business" may have merit, but heavens, Joel, not this way! Not by forcing children to act like Stepford Students who must always give the "right" answers on tests that continue to be suspect anyway!
For these are the NY Regents exams we're talking about, including those English literature tests that hit the fan so miserably only a few months ago (see #327). That was the time parents discovered to their horror that literary excerpts in the tests had been "sanitized of virtually any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, even the mildest profanity and just about anything that might offend someone for some reason," according to the New York Times.
We know now it was not teachers who gutted the works of I.B. Singer, Anton Chekhov, William Maxwell and others - teachers, apparently, had heroically tried to keep the excerpted material intact.
No, it was administrators like Klein - bureaucrats who knew nothing about education but thought that test results could be gutted to meet "sensitivity guidelines" approved by the Christian right.
I don't blame Klein specifically for the Regents fiasco, but I do think he is guilty of the worst kind of thinking that comes out of private business, which occurs when companies go after shallow, short-term profits at the expense of the whole kit and kaboodle.
Listen to this: "The system for awarding principals' bonuses might be flawed, but [Klein] said he liked the underlying philosophy." Well, Mr. Klein, that is so shallow it doesn't deserve the term "underlying philosophy." It's short-term thinking at private business's worst. It denies students the kind of truly rewarding education that is designed to prepare them for the real world.
And it ignores the biggest need in every school system in America - more teachers per classroom; more *better-paid* teachers who know how to attend individual students' needs and help them learn at their own pace. For heaven's sake, let's figure out a way to give a bonus for that.
UPDATE: "MANUSCRIPT EXPRESS"
Thanks to the many book industry folk who responded to the launching in #343 of "Manuscript Express." This is a fast-turnaround niche service for authors that provides direction on editorial goals and, yes, even the dread "marketing plan" so often required by agents and editors alike.
I must say the responses were often as funny as they were informative. For instance:
Editor: "Please issue this small plea from to authors: Stop writing the same completely fictional marketing plan. I'd rather see nothing about marketing than a load of nonsense about how the author is going to phone Oprah personally and turn the book into 'a brand' of some kind. We have a perfectly competent marketing department, and unless the author has something original to contribute, leave the marketing plan out."
Agent: "Although I believe in the less-is-more query letter, I think that there is no point in teaching people how to be too prescriptive about their approach. There is nothing worse than a query letter that sounds like a robot wrote it. After you go within some basic guidelines, the rest involves the quality of the writing - and like falling in love, luck and persistence play a part."
Manuscript consultant: "Because I spent many years as an editor, an important part of what I have to offer as a consultant (in fact, part of my mission) is a behind-the-publishing-house-doors perspective. Helping authors think about the kinds of questions on your list in #343, without prostituting themselves simply to get a publisher, is always an integral part of the work I do. All of which is not to suggest that 'Manuscript Express' isn't a valuable service. It sounds great."
So: The idea behind "Manuscript Express" is to complement the work of all three of the above - to help writers cut out the wheel-spinning, concentrate on what's original, set clear goals and direction for both editorial and marketing components and, and of course, to save time and money for authors as they prepare submissions.
For example, a present client's book is 1,072 pages, which I can't possibly get through for my basic "Manuscript Express" fee of $500. But I've read enough to see where decisions about how to cut and condense, how to fix obvious (to me) weaknesses, how to build on the author's strengths and how to shift hats and create a tailored, workable and valued marketing plan can all be accomplished *before* the author shows the submission to anyone.
People like the manuscript consultant above shouldn't be sought until you as the author pull out the absolute best you have inside you: Once the manuscript consultant does a thorough going-over with an eye to that "behind-the-publishing-house-doors perspective" that I don't have, you are not only going to knock the socks off agents and editors, you are going know, if and when you're asked to make editorial/promotional compromises for commercial reasons, what you can stomach and what you can't.
In part, the purpose of all this today - as opposed to, say 5 or 10 years ago - is to help authors be ready to face the IS IT TRUE? questions underlying the whole mainstream publishing process that is driving everyone nuts.
[These are NOT the questions every author has to answer - see #343 for all 15 of those.)
These are the questions nobody in publishing likes to talk about with authors for obvious reasons. They are:
The answer to each question is yes, it's true *enough* to worry about. It's true enough to learn how to work the system to your advantage. It's true enough to keep yourself from chasing after a system that infantilizes all of us. It's true enough to require you as author to figure out what is true for you - what is your core statement, your best writing; your message to the world, your plan, your goal, your vision.
This is why I've put a marketing component into the "Manuscript Express" package and why I'm offering an additional service (the double-whammy) by bringing in veteran book promoter Peter Handel to brainstorm the commercial aspects of each submission without, we hope, damaging the author's editorial integrity.
I used to think that authors should not even ponder marketing concerns until they finished writing a knockout editorial proposal, but in recent years I've been advising authors that there are SIX THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW to help promote your book, early on in the writing.
See next week for this inspiring (well, it inspires me, anyway) list, or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to know more about "Manuscript Express" (you can go directly to Peter Handel if you want the single whammy at email@example.com).
FORGET THE ABOVE AND LISTEN TO DOROTHY
I've known for a long time that Dorothy Allison ("Bastard Out of Carolina," "Cavedweller") has built a reputation not only as a serious writer but also as true crack-up as a speaker.
But until the organizers at the Maui Writers Conference (see #343) showed a series of film clips gathered from the last 10 years at MWC, I didn't know how downright riotous Allison could be.
Among the more polite and sometimes goofy clips of celebrity presenters in the 10th-anniversary film, suddenly a closeup of Dorothy Allison's face appeared as she addressed a plenary session of a thousand people (this is a paraphrase):
"I know that some authors write for truth." she said. "I know that others write for justice. And some might even write for love. BUT I'M HERE TO TELL YOU," she added, her voice rising several decibels, "THERE IS ANOTHER REASON AUTHORS WRITE FICTION, AND THAT REASON IS REVENGE."
Well, the explosion of laughter that followed this pronouncement nearly knocked the screen off its hinges. But of course, we hadn't heard anything yet. At the conference the next day, when Dorothy gave her real speech, she talked about her professional life as a very tough, very uplifting teacher of writing, and the character of the authors who come to her.
"It's a product of the kind of material I've written that I often wind up working with young people who have gone through horrific experiences," she said. "They are often survivors of rape, incest, family violence.
"I tell each of these writers, 'I believe in the power of storytelling to give you a shape to your own life that you can stand. I believe in what it means to have no loved version of your life but the one you make. And I believe in writing that allows you to become the hero - not just survivor - of your own experience.'
"Working with young writers who have never had a childhood or adolescence, sometimes I tell them, 'The thing you need to do is write it, then step outside of it and look back at it.'
"This is part of the nuts/bolts section of a writers conference. I believe in writing for revenge and the hope of justice - hell, justice is simply revenge cleaned up - so first write the most raw horrific story you can imagine. Write it to shock your mama, to humiliate that kid in school who looked down on you. Make it the most terrible thing you can.
"Possibly, by writing the most horrible thing they can put down on paper, these young writers will stop that censor inside that wants to make what they write pretty, or understandable, or meaningful; that wants to go directly to the moral of the story.
"No. I say write it as *bad as you possibly can.* Write it again; stretch it out. Then let's say it didn't happen to you but to someone you love. Now write it all over again. Let's say it happened to the child you most adored, your own child maybe, or the brother who died when you were eight, the sister you loved."
Dorothy takes these young writers through several stages of molding and shifting the same material. They write about their childhoods in the tradition of hardboiled detective writers. You can write it, she said, "in that distant, careful, metal-cold language of Ross MacDonald or Mickey Spillane, but write it about that child you love."
To step back even further, she instructs these authors to take the point of view of a reporter from Redbook or Ms. magazine "who comes to interview the relatives in your family, and by some miracle - a couple of them are drunk and one's on drugs - they actually tell you what happened."
The point of all this is to "get them set up for the Big One," Allison said.
"Before I'm done I'm going to make them write this same story in the voice of the person who hurt them most. I'm going to make them look out of the eyes of evil. Why? My mama nature would never allow me to do this to a grown woman or man or child or dog. But I'll do it to someone who wants to be a writer. Because I know no other way to get far enough out of the story - your real, lived experience - and make it over."
This is the place, where a lot of people decide they don't want to be a writer after all, she said. "But sometimes it's the place where that voice cracks - that voice that's always wanted to scream out in outrage. And this is the place where I want my young writers to become angry at me. I am 53; I have watched the people I've loved most in my life die; I have muscle in places you children cannot imagine.
"Get mad at me. Struggle with me. I want them to say, 'you have NO RIGHT to ask me to do that.' And I want them to be so angry they will go back and write it anyway, just to throw it in my face. That's when we begin to do some work."
"To be the immediate person they can visit that anger on is my job when I teach," she said. "I take this extremely seriously, because I want them to bring me strong material. I want to fall on their necks and say, 'Here. *This* sentence is pure. This place, right here on page 2, is the core of your own grief. It is where you have rendered it. It is where you have made something new."
With that one sentence, she said, "you have stepped outside. Now it can be of use to somebody else in the same place."
Gad! I have never in my life heard the entire intention of literature stated so clearly. *One sentence*, she said. If we can write one pure sentence that's "of use" to a reader, we are deserving of the word "literary." We have opened the door to something larger than ourselves, something "of use," something timeless, for posterity.
"And, oh yes," she added, "I'll show them where the first page should just be tossed out completely, and on page 3, I'll show them where they start to backtrack and mealy-mouth and...whine. I hate whinin'." (Read with her South Carolina accent in mind: Ah hite wanin'.)
"But on that one line or those three sentences or that single paragraph on page 2, by God so help me, sometimes I will find a story so powerful, so strong, the only response is to weep and sing.
"Each and everyone one of you know what that's like. Part of why we love books is when we read something that makes us weep and sing. When we are completely devastated but still convinced of the power and joy of life.
"The very best stories - the very best translations of the real - touch that place where we can barely stand it. But when we do stand it, we are taken to a new place, and I as a reader want always to be taken to that new place."
Lord, god, as Dorothy might say. You can even "pitch" that notion in publishing today. It's so good, so universally true, it can never be debased.
If you want to see how Dorothy Allison herself stretched the living heck out of her burgeoning talent as a young writer long before she hit the big time with "Bastard Out Of Carolina," pick up her newly reissued collection of stories, "Trash" (Plume; 219 pages; $13).
Originally published by Firebrand in 1988, this is the first glimpse that Allison's readers got of a mother who was "just a month past 15 when she birthed me" and the kind of poverty "this society finds shameful, contemptible, and somehow oddly deserved."
With a new introduction and "Compassion," a new story, Allison reveals what came before the raw anger she discusses in her lecture. She shows us the isolation and terror that can strangle a young life before the anger rises, the helplessness and fear that well up, day after day, when you live in a town (as in "River of Names") where rape is common and the jokes are cruel: "What's a South Carolina virgin?" men ask. " 'At's a 10-year-old can run fast." "Trash" is still one of the few works of fiction published today that dispels the myth of "the 'good' poor," as Dorothy puts it - "hardworking, ragged but clean, and intrinsically honorable.
"We were the bad poor," she writes in the new introduction. "We were men who drank and couldn't keep a job; women, invariably pregnant before marriage, who quickly became worn, fat, and old from working too many hours and bearing too many children; and children with runny noses, watery eyes, and the wrong attitudes."
Bless Dorothy Allison's persistence in having the "wrong attitudes."
I always thought of "Trash" as one of the bravest steps that Allison ever took as a writer. (The first was to put pen to paper.) If she hadn't written these stories, she probably wouldn't be here today, as we discover in the preface to the original edition, "Deciding to Live."
Some of the stories are of course more successful than others, but very often she hits it - she creates that *one pure sentence* that "renders" lived experience into art. What a joy and an honor it is to watch this author teach us - toughen us - about what to expect from literature, what to demand from writers and how it feels to see a young writer grow in front of our eyes on every page.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Your article about print publishers' "need" to keep every book in the groove is exactly why authors began to sell ebooks. Crossed genres is a no-no in NYC. They are welcomed and selling as ebooks.
As far as promoting one's book, especially on radio talk shows, I would recommend Alex Carroll's book and promotion package for every author. It works! Click to:
Joan Bramsch, founder
Dear Holt Uncensored:
I had to respond to Chris Voll’s letter in this week’s Uncensored. Voll wrote, "Forgive me, but someone's got to point out the obvious: Why, as you put it, would terrorists "suddenly announce themselves" on an airliner?"
Well, I have to point out the obvious too. According to many well-documented accounts, the hijackers on September 11th did in fact announce themselves.
The hijackers tied red bandannas around their heads, stood up and screamed, "Allahu akbar" (that means "Allah is great" in Arabic). Some experts think this was done to surprise and shock people and give the terrorists the edge of surprise.
While I seriously doubt that terrorists will try to strike at airlines again anytime soon (until the U.S. loses its vigilance 5-10 years down the road), I’ll certainly have my golf balls ready and remain vigilant while flying.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
RE: "cell phone is interfering with the radar of the plane."
The stewardess was using the excuse of RADAR to make the request more intimidating to the cell user. In reality, they don't interfere with anything on the plane. But they do - inflight - cause a problem for the cell towers on the ground, as they send the signal to multiple ones instead of a single one.
It also reduces AIRPHONE's income, which is important to the airline as they get a cut.
Alex van Luik
Dear Holt Uncensored:
About a year ago, I sent a description of one of my books to Amazon.com. Somehow the author's name appeared wrong when it was posted on the Amazon web site (wrong author entirely - it was the author of another book I publish). I never gave the book description to Barnes & Noble or Wal-Mart, but the book and the inaccurate author name appeared on their web sites as well. (Obviously the book itself lists the correct author.) Hmm. Where are they getting their information? (By the way, when I notified Amazon.com of the mistake, they promptly corrected it.)
Dear Holt Uncensored:
If you haven't heard about: www.freelancewriters.com check it out. This is an evolutionary way of matching international clients needing a writer with a freelancer having corresponding skills and topic expertise.
John F. Harnish Author's Advocate: Register now to attend our Fall Writers and Authors Conference in Valley Forge, PA, October 3 - 6, 2002. Info available at: www.infinitypublishing.com
Dear Holt Uncensored:
A couple of notes about publisher and distributor foulups:
Quite a lot of these errors occur because folks, including those placing the order, don't use the full ISBN, including the check digit, and don't have a routine for testing its accuracy automatically whenever a title goes into the database the first time (any new edition is a new book).
The system is easy, and amazingly accurate. For example, for the book "The Ultimate Hollywood Tour Book," 3rd edition, the ISBN is 0-937813-07-9.
This means that the publisher number is 937812, a somewhat smaller publisher (it starts with a 9 and has six digits; the maximum number of titles is only 100 (only two digits, and the check digit is a 9. Now (ignoring the initial 0) put the numbers 9 through 1 beneath the ISBN, and multiply each pair, like so:
ISBN 0-9 3 7 8 1 3 - 0 7 - 9. 9 8 7 6 5 4 - 3 2 - 1 ------------------------------ 81 24 49 48 05 12 00 14 +Check digit 09 ------ Equals 242 Divided by 11 = 22, with no remainder. A valid number.
The total, when divided by 11, will be an integer, a whole number with no remainder. If not, the ISBN as given is wrong.
The system is 100% accurate for single-digit errors -- a wrong single character. It's 99.9% accurate for double errors (transposing two numbers or getting two characters wrong). It's 99% accurate for triples, and even 90% accurate for quadruples.
(Yes, I know that a lot of people already know this, but an amazing number don't). We found that a surprisingly large number of books carried invalid ISBNs and, therefore, bad bar codes, too. Anyway, if your programmer doesn't have this feature in your publishing data base system, you might want to add it -- both for entering your new titles and for checking customers' orders. Could help stop some of the confusion, anyway. (Of course, if the other party doesn't bother to check -- or doesn't include the check digit in the ISBN of the ordered title -- you'll still be cursed with errors, alas).
Dear Holt Uncensored:
A colleague from my book's Distribution Company (MMB Music and Creative Therapies Books) sent me the posting by William Gordon about his ongoing frustration with Amazon re: his most recent edition not being listed -- while the first was still there on the site, though it was out of print and no longer available.
Your comment at the end of your column stated: "You'd think that Amazon.com would understand the stupidity of advertising an out-of-print, out-of-stock book at the expense of a book that is available, but they do not."
I am writing to add my name & story to the list of those similarly victimized. His is NOT an isolated case!!
My (hardcover) book, "PhotoTherapy Techniques: Exploring the secrets of personal snapshots and family albums" (first published in 1993 by Jossey Bass Publishers) sold out, and I bought back the rights and republished it as a paperback in 1999 under the PhotoTherapy Centre Press' imprint. This second edition, with a new ISBN (096856190X), is sold for about half the price of the first one.
It is now 2002; over the past THREE YEARS, I have attempted several times to contact Amazon to let them know that their listing for the book is incorrect, as it shows only the 1993 edition (though they now call it a "paperback"), saying it is "out of print" with the suggestion of purchasing a used copy through their web option for this.
In early February, I wrote once more (about my fifth attempt) expressing my concerns and *begging* for a human being to answer me, and preferably phone me. I received a nice "human being's" message, which at least told me my message was actually read -- "Pete S." replied by email (no phone number attached), with the message below -- which I have pasted in full at the very bottom of this message -- but the two most key paragraphs are:
"We have chosen to display one edition of a title in the initial search results list with an option to click on a link to see the other editions listed. While we understand that a publisher or authors desired edition may not appear as the initial item in a search results list, this search results feature is working in the manner intended by Amazon.com's Development Team.
"We are unable to manually change the initial item that appears in the search results list. The editions that appear are derived automatically by our system. However, please know that the initial item is subject to change over time."
His comment "with an option to click on a link to see the other editions listed" is ludicrous -- as the word only says "more" (and most viewers would have no idea that "more" meant "other choices," since "more" usually means simply more about the thing first listed).
It is my thought that they prefer to sell the more expensive (used) version and/or are not willing to update for the sake of just one single title....
Today I did one last search -- searched "Books" for "PhotoTherapy", which brought up this listing (with no cover image showing, even though it used to be there!):
Out of Print--Limited Availability
(The cost for a NEW second edition is $29.95.)
Only when you click on the actual book-title link (if you decide not to believe the "out of print" line at first), will you then get to a page which has both hard and paper cover listings.
The cover photo shows for the second one, and then it says:
Phototherapy Techniques: Exploring the Secrets of Personal Snapshots and Family Albums (2nd Edition)
There is NO price given for this one -- nowhere on that page at all!
WHY it says "Limited Availability" I have no idea -- my distributor has several hundred copies still in stock and ships immediately upon receipt of orders that come in directly (however, I've been told that Amazon often waits to place orders until they have more than one order, unless you pay them extra for special treatment).
When trying to find the cost of my book (as customers would do), I had to pretend to put it on my "wish list" just in order to find out what it cost. Much to my astonishment, the listing on that "wish list" page says:
1. Phototherapy Techniques: Exploring the Secrets of Personal Snapshots and Family Albums (2nd Edition) by Judy Weiser; Paperback
*WHY* is this item listed as not currently available when this is 100% untrue? I have no idea, but it's enough to drive one CRAZY......
No wonder students and strangers are contacting me via my website in order to complain: "tried to order your book; SO sorry it's not available any more..." And what about those who just saw those words, "currently available" and gave up? Lost sales; lost knowledge-sharing...
I did try one other thing, which was to enter corrections via the "Customer Correction" page on the Amazon.com site (there is a form for this - which they are quick to point out they must "approve" first, before making any changes), but I found that if you don't already have a "customer number" to enter on that form, it won't let you begin to fill it out (i.e., to suggest any corrections) - and I don't have one of those numbers because I have never bought anything from Amazon. So it turns out that if you haven't already bought something from them, you aren't permitted to point out any errors you find. ... I have pasted the emails documenting this other dialogue at the end of this email, after "Pete's."
Thought you might like to have this story of one more baffled & frustrated author (& publisher).
Judy Weiser (See full text of forwarded messages, below*) Director, PhotoTherapy Centre, http://www.phototherapy-centre.com
**HERE'S MY LETTER TO AMAZON.COM AFTER SEVERAL FAILED MESSAGES:
** HERE'S AMAZON.COM'S RESPONSE FROM "PETE S." EIGHT DAYS LATER:
** I ALSO ATTEMPTED TO GO THROUGH CUSTOMER SERVICE BY WRITING THE FOLLOWING:
** HERE IS THE RESPONSE FROM ROBERTA WILLIS AT AMAZON.COM THE NEXT DAY:
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