Alums Dish on Education Reform

Former History Department teacher Dan Alexander ’49 was a guest speaker on CNN’s show “Parker Spitzer,” co-hosted by Alexander’s former student Elliot Spitzer ’77. In the segment, Spitzer interviewed Alexander about his educational background, teaching philosophy, and opinion of the United States educational system.

The two alums discussed and proposed ideas for improving the public school system. While admitting there is no easy-fix solution, Alexander cited the ability to effectively communicate one’s ideas as a skill he believes is undervalued in education today. “You learn that in school by the interacting in class, by willingness to be a listener, not just a talker, by being required to give speeches,” he said.

“Good teachers motivate students,” Spitzer said to Alexander during the interview. “And yet, in our society, at Horace Mann, I was extraordinarily fortunate to have teachers like you,” he added, “but in so many of our schools these days, we are not somehow getting teachers whom we can say have the excitement and energy that you have. So what can we do to get that?” he asked.

Alexander said that the “stigma attached to teaching” was the reason for a lack of teachers’ enthusiasm. He and Spitzer discussed methods of encouraging intellectuals to pursue a teaching degree, including higher paychecks, more freedom in the classroom, and the issue of merit pay. “I don’t know how you can quantify quality,” Alexander said, concluding that although merit-based pay is an excellent idea in principle, it is hard to pull off effectively.

Discussing his student-teacher relationship with Alexander in an interview with the Record, Spitzer said he “like many other students, thought he was great” as a teacher. “He thought deeply about history and larger trendlines. That energy with which he approached teaching made all the difference.”

On the show, Alexander said he attended Wharton School of Business, joined the Marine Corps, and started a profession in business before becoming a teacher and soccer coach at Horace Mann in 1958. “What motivated me to become a teacher was the interaction with students, the stimulation of dealing with different people in classes every year,” he said. “I like to think I was being a good listener,” he said. “I like to believe we were learning from them while they learned from us.”

Spitzer said “teachers like Dan Alexander got me interested in politics, economics and history.” As a student, he said he was “probably like most of the other kids. I worked pretty hard, was on The Record and the soccer team. I was captain of the tennis team.”

If he could do high school over again, Spitzer said, he would “study a little harder, listen to my teachers a little more, but maybe that’s just the parent in me speaking,” he said. “I know I would appreciate school more, it truly is a wonderful place.”

In the “Parker Spitzer” interview, Spitzer began by jokingly apologizing for his behavior as a student in Mr. Alexander’s classroom. “You may not have known based my performance that you were having that great an impact on me. You know, I didn’t appear to do the homework; I didn’t pay attention, but you did, and I want to thank you for it.”

Rebecca Shaw
Age 16, Grade 10
Horace Mann School
Silver Key

Leave a Reply