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This Week

Play On!

Louis Roney

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• In most arts organizations, leadership must work constantly to increase membership and to raise funds. Such organizations often come to an end with leadership that has done neither of the above adequately and has depended on the organization’s inertia alone, until things come to a crashing halt.

It amazes me to meet people addicted to seeing their names parked on the boards of organizations, about whose workings they have little knowledge and even less passion.

• “Man is a political animal.” — Aristotle

I have read with interest the comments about teacher merit pay in the Observer. At 90, may I take the liberty to bring my own experience as a distinguished professor at UCF for 24 years to bear upon merit pay?

I believe the concept of merit pay is fraught with unreality and ambiguity, for it implies that someone, somewhere, can see objectively what a teacher does behind closed doors with students who come from today’s families, where intellect and desire to learn may vary widely. In my experience, the brilliant and talented student helps to produce the “meritorious” professor. The old adage, “You can’t teach a pig to sing,” is, alas, an eternal verity. Politicians seem to have the weird inexplicable idea that by promising teachers “more money,” the teachers will somehow manage to make their students smarter than before! (It don’t work that way!)

Merit pay for schoolteachers seems logical and fair but is as corrupt as any other intercourse involving political animals. At best, since “merit” is determined by various evaluations — all of them subjective to some extent — the process is tinged with politics from stem to stern. The presence of inamicability or jealousy in any observer or observers can invalidate any evaluation.

My 24-year professorship got me top marks, I admit, because of factors that cannot reasonably be expected from every teacher. You can’t expect every one teaching music in colleges to come from a performing career in 11 countries or have highly individual language qualifications.

In addition, “A teacher must, customarily, teach whatever walks through the door.” And techniques that are effective with kids of grammar-school age are inappropriate for students in college, on the verge of going out into the cruel, competitive world.

My experience convinces me that a student’s inherited ability, plus unswerving desire, plus the educational level of his home, are of compelling import. Most kids deliver what is expected of them — so expect plenty so that you get all that’s there.

There is a modern tendency to think we can teach anyone to become an Einstein, a Longfellow or a Mozart. Just as some girls’ comely faces end up on movie screens, some students’ “natural smarts” drive them to absorb the benefits of the full educational process.

A higher power shapes much of our destinies, like it — and admit it — or not. As Einstein said: “I didn’t make myself.”

Just as most teachers must accept “what walks through the door,” a teacher who is able to choose only the smartest students is almost assured of high merit pay.

My conclusion: Merit pay makes more sense in a state legislature than in a state university.