PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, MAY 20, 2013) — Before we begin with today’s topic, let THE PLANET be the first to tell you that Christine Yon has taken out nomination papers to run for re-election in Ward 1. THE PLANET wishes Yon every good luck in her quest.

And now for something completely different:

The Pittsfield Public Schools’ budget again asks for millions more in dollars and several more in added staff, despite the continued downward movement of both academic quality and performance. If the PPS was a company in the Dreaded Private Sector, it would have gone belly up long ago. In the DPS, customers expect stellar service and added value when the price goes up. In the public schools, however, the opposite happens. Politicians and administrators reward failure with more money.

As THE PLANET has proven time and again, it’s not lack of funding that’s holding back public schools — It’s a lack of competence and courage on the part of school officials. In fact, two of the most effective measures to take to improve the situation would not cost a penny. In fact, both would actually allow reductions in cost. They are (1) taking control of the classrooms away from students and given it to the adults and (2) developing and enforcing a more consequential (that is to say, more presentable) dress code. Today, via a mom’s Letter to the Editor, we consider the first remedy.

If the many ills of the city’s public school department stemmed from a lack of funding, by now, with the countless billions spent, we’d be turning out young Mensa men and Einsteinian lassies. As it is, Pittsfield continues to short-change students, parents, and — most of all — the bedraggled taxpayers, who only have to fund the fetid, steaming lump.

Classrooms Are Out of Control, but Guess What? The Fix Won’t Cost Taxpayers One More Penny

Perhaps the most serious problem affecting learning is the city’s failure to provide classrooms that emphasize learning in a serious, respectful, exciting, and demanding environment. Don’t talk to the administration or school committee members about classrooms. To hear then talk, everything’s moons-in-June. Children sit attentively for the full class period.


Talk to parents and students, though, candidly and off the record, and they’ll reveal the truth. Classrooms combine the chaos of a circus, the intellectual stimulation of a teen-age Twitter tea party, the seriousness of a juvenile delinquent, the excitement of paint drying on grass growing, the respect of neon clown shoes, and all the intellectual demands of bon-bons. Kids are routinely allowed to mouth off, act up, fool around, and get away with all manner of disruption, ruining the educational experience for the majority of students who wish to learn.

Ironically, given the intractable grimness of the classroom’s academic insecurity, the problem remains amenable to an inviting fix, one that will not cost taxpayers one more cent. It simply takes the adults involved to start doing their jobs. Teachers must not let the unruly ruin it for the rest. They must stop the acting out, the gutter language, the in-class texting the moment it starts. The administration must back up the teachers. Parents have to stop blaming the schools and look to themselves to administer tough love.

Obey the Rule or Be Gone, Kids

Taxpayers have every right for teachers and administration — including the school committee — to demand discipline and respect to create classroom environments suitable for learning. As for deadbeat parents, that, of course, is out of our control. As for them, they will have to begin accepting that those students who will not cooperate will be expelled.

One of the most prevalent classroom disrupters is the use of smart phones in the classroom. There’s no way a teacher can control the learning environment when he or she allows kids to sit in class, texting each other and doing who-knows-what on the Internet. This execrable practice goes on every day, and yet the administration, teachers, and parents routinely ignore it.

That must stop.

Here’s a letter THE PLANET received from Varsity Mom that pulls the curtain back on this secret-yet-rampant practice in the classrooms:

—– 00 —–

Dear Mr. Valenti,
I have been reading your blog faithfully, sitting back and taking everything in, school related. I have an interesting, no-cost solution to at least 50% of the problems in the school system today.  I speak only from  experience, as I have one teenager at Taconic and one who graduated already.
Cell phones and ipods are allowed in the classrooms.  The school dept. may deny this, but ask every teenager and parent of a teenager (and possibly all the way down to the elementary level), and they will tell you.  They either use the devices out right, in plain view; they sneak it and the teacher does not care; or it even becomes part of the classroom usage (iPods can do everything a computer can do, thus no need for the school to provide computers).  These devices are not being used for their intended purposes.  The kids play games all day long and text each other goofy, downloaded garbage and the latest gossip or what have you.
If students were not allowed these devices, imagine how much learning could take place!  Currently they are NOT paying attention.  There is no focus in the classroom.   I see this as no different than passing a note in class.  Remember what happened when you got caught?  It was usually embarrassing, and you were in big trouble.
Why can’t teachers have every student hand in their phones at the beginning of the school day and then pick them up at the end?  Why can’t they leave them in their lockers?  Why bring them at all?  Parents will argue,”What if I have to get a hold of my child?”  Well, what happened for the millions of years before cell phones?  What happened in 1976 when your mom had an emergency and needed to get in touch?  The schools have phones.  It’s easy to relay a message.
Then there’s the question of “conflict.”  No teacher wants to deal with conflicet.  It’s much easier to turn your back on your classroom, appreciate that they are “occupied” and “quiet” because you just want your day to go by as non-confrontational as possible.
There you have it.  Simple solution, and it involves absolutely no funding, whatsoever. If the school committee denies this, I would be ecstatic to sit down with them. I would like the school committee to respond to this, and also Dr. Noseworthy, the soon-to-be-leaving interim supt. I would like to know, also: What is the official school policy in Pittsfield for cell phones, smart phones, and other such devices? Also, is this policy enforced? As I say, my daughter and her friends say that in all their classes, they are on their smart phones and nothing is done about it. Thank you for the opportunity to share this information on your website.
 Varsity Mom
—– 00 —–

This letter, mom, nails the problem. Cell phones, Kindles, and smart phones, in the hands of our little darlings, turn into free access to porn, diversion, and activities antithetical to learning. As Varsity Mom reveals and as confirmed by other parents and students with whom THE PLANET has spoken, kids use their phones in class on a routine basis, when they should be paying attention to the teacher and the lesson.

And yet the schools — led by interim superintendent Gordon Noseworthy (a carpetbagger who has no incentive for taking action other than maintaing the corrupt status quo) — ignore their own regulations and allow the kids to rule the classrooms. Taxpayers, be angry … be most angry … because you’re footing the bill for this easily preventable mess.


“Life is a bitter aspic. We are not / At the center of a diamond.”Wallace Stevens, Part X, “Esthetique du Mal” (“Pain is Human”)


  1. Richard Allen
    May 20, 2013 at 3:46 am #

    “As for deadbeat parents, that, of course, is out of our control. As for them, they will have to begin accepting that those students who will not cooperate will be expelled.”
    Well that’s a problem. The law requires that all children be educated…all children. So…what do you do with the “out of control” children and parents? What do you do with the entitled”I don’t have to listen to you” child? What do you do with the parents who dress the same way as their children? The schools cannot expel all these children as the law requires they be educated. It’s a conundrum for sure. It’s not as easy as no ipods and a dress code. It starts in the home and no one seems to want to legislate how parents parent. Most parents are responsible and want the best for their kids…but there are plenty in Pittsfield that are just glad to get their kids out of the house so that they can get to work. There is an epidemic of poverty and “helplessness” in Pittsfield that goes far back to being a complany town wh

    • Wilson
      May 20, 2013 at 6:11 am #

      Reformatory schools.

      • FPR
        May 20, 2013 at 8:24 am #

        You know when I was in college, early on, I tried to make some lame-brained excuse as why I didn’t do my assignment. The professor simply said to me – “Look, you probably still think you are in high school. However, you are paying to be here. In effect, you are paying me to teach you. I don’t care if you don’t do the assignments. You are only hurting yourself. Don’t want to do them, fine, you will simply fail the course.”

        I don’t think he ever realized how profound an effect this had on me. It was like he flipped and switch in my brain and suddenly I understood.

        I don’t think children understand how much goes into their education. All the taxpayers of Pittsfield pay for their education and I don’t they realize it or even care. For many, they feel they are forced to go somewhere they don’t want to be.

        “Reformatory schools” you say.
        Well yes, I guarantee you that incarcerated children are not allowed to have their gadget in class looking at pornography. True, they would receive an education.
        However, do we need to send our children to prison to make them receive a quality education?

        • danvalenti
          May 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

          Wow! Your professor’s speech is nearly identical to the one I give my students on the first day of class. You had a good one!

  2. Richard Allen
    May 20, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    oops..sorry wrong click.. anyway..a company town with no company left. It may take a village to raise a child but the village starts with the people. It the people of Pittsfield are not willing to step up and say “no” to their kids, how do you expect anyone else to? It’s very sad to watch. Im happy to say my daughter just finished her Sophmore year of college and has no plans to stay in Pittsfield. She has her eyes on a prize which sadly, is not here. PPS graduate btw, K-12.

  3. Varsity mom
    May 20, 2013 at 4:56 am #

    In response to Richard Allen, I understand what you are saying, but when a kid was expelled in my day you answered to your parent. And if parents don’t care what happens to you today, they WILL care when Child Services gets involved because your child is not in school. That’s when responsibility of the parent will surely kick in.

    • Richard Allen
      May 20, 2013 at 6:01 am #

      If Child Services took kids away for misbehavior then you might have a point. They do not. There are few penalties for poor parenting. I know of children who have missed more than 30 days of school, are on probation and DCF is involved and the child is still in the house. Sad to say, DCF has many more pressing issues than absences and insubordination to deal with.

  4. Mr.G1188
    May 20, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    A couple of things came to mind as I read this. First, to funding and staffing. In the Dread Private Sector, at least in much of the high tech world in which I have worked for years, when a project goes wrong, or starts to fall behind, or isn’t getting done…they take personnel OFF it!! Cuts funding, makes those remaining do more with less and really focus. It’s tried and true and it works. Throwing money at a problem is rarely a solution that works. The swollen administrations and ranks of “specialists” in districts round these parts is shocking and counter-productive. 20 years ago we could cite the “poor educators” as being underpaid for the critical work they do.” No more. They are compensated mostly fairly, with extraordinary benefits and a pension that goes on forever. Get the job done.

    The other problem is knottier. Getting disinterested parents (or drug-addled parents, or parents who just lack the wherewithal) to care about and take an active interest in their kids’ education is a difficult problem. However, I think Varsity Mom hit on the start of a solution…and Dan is right too. Cell phones and all electronics need to be OFF and out of sight during class. That includes the incredibly disrespectful keeping of the ear buds in the ears during class. Unfortunately, there are 2 problems; many classroom teachers have abdicated their responsibility to maintain discipline in class, laying it off instead to a specialist or administrator. And, if the child is under 16 and expelled, the responsibility for educating him/her still falls to the district; a potentially very expensive proposition with tutors and etc. There needs to be a way for schools and Child Services to work together. If the parents remain uninvolved and disinterested after repeated efforts to get them to take responsibility for discipline, or supporting disciplinary efforts by the school, Child Services should get involved in some way. maybe take some support money OFF the table? Who knows. Throwing money at the problems is not the answer. Communication between school, parents and other agencies might be.

  5. FPR
    May 20, 2013 at 5:31 am #


    I had no idea this was allowed. None.

    I’m always astonished that many people today working as cashiers cannot add or subtract and do simple mathematics. Just the fact that kids can graduate today and not be able to read or write is equally mind boggling.

    I received my entire education K-12 in the Pittsfield public school system before there even were computers for personal use. They did have hand-held calculators back then, but we were not permitted to use them. If you did try and use one, the teacher would walk over to your desk, hover over you with their hand out, take your calculator and continue on with their teaching.

    Can you imagine the logistics of taking away all electronic devices at the beginning of the school day each and every day? How far could you go without violating a students 4th amendment rights? Would you have to have a special room equipped with lockers, one for each student and log every confiscated smartphone or tablet computer? If a student wanted a new device, could he or she simply accuse the teacher or administrator of damaging it and make the school pay for it?

    Then at the end of the school day, distribute all the confiscated devices back to the children. How many more staff would be required to institute this procedure while adding absolutely nothing more to the education of “the children”? It would probably take two to three hours of the school day away from the indoctrination of the children.

    If you continue to allow these children to play on their devices while teachers are teaching, there is absolutely no way they are receiving a quality education at any level.

    Given this is going on in the schools today, perhaps its not so astonishing that kids graduate uneducated or with a mediocre education.

  6. Hurdygurdy Man
    May 20, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    Like FPR I had no idea this was allowed. I assumed (my bad) that the schools had a policy against this. Curious to knowif the school dept or sch committee cares to comment.

    • Varsity mom
      May 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

      Oh, there definitely is a policy. It’s just not enforced.

    • danvalenti
      May 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

      HG MAN
      That’s where VARSITY MOM did the entire city a service in revealing this practice.

  7. The Kraken
    May 20, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    Whereas not allowing smart/cell phones or electronics in the classroom is a great idea, enforcing it is not simple and I cannot envision it actually succeeding. Between teachers who think it’s not their job to enforce these types of rules, to a system who does not back up a teacher when they do, it’s probably gone beyond the point of being repairable. The outcry from parents and potential lawsuit threats is a major impediment to even attempting this. In my day teachers could not stop kids from passing notes or sticking gum under the desks – not sure how they could stop covert usage of a hand held device.

    • danvalenti
      May 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

      You may be correct, but I think a ban on personal smart technology in classrooms can be achieved. If you are correct, then the school department and the school committee MUST admit that their policy is a joke.

  8. outfox
    May 20, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Then again, if you look at the school shootings, many kids were able to contact the outside world because they had cellphones with them. I remember watching Colombine unfold and being surprised at how many kids were calling out. Yes, this is an extreme example of why it’s ok to allow students to come to school with cellphones; were I a parent, I’d want my kid to have one at school. Nobody says the phones have to be powered up, though!

    • danvalenti
      May 20, 2013 at 4:51 pm #

      As you say, this is an “extreme example.” Also, the devices did not save any lives at Columbine. I can understand your wanting your child to have a phone at school, but given the pandemic disruption being caused by a lack of policy enforcement, your child would be much better served with an enforced policy that bans these devices from classrooms or even school. Leave the stinking phones at home, kids.

  9. Joe Blow
    May 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    If I was a teacher I would invest in a cell phone jammer……I know they are illegal but how would anyone know you had it.

  10. Charles Trzcinka
    May 20, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    I teach in the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. We will not accept students who cannot focus. It is that simple. Students here of course have smart phones, IPADs and computers. In my class and in most class, they turn them off. If I catch them using any of this, its a lower grade. Occasionally I have a spreadsheet day when they bring their laptops and I show them how to do stuff, but that is not common and I walk around class to see what they’re doing.

    FYI, in 2012, 93% of our 1,346 undergrad seniors had jobs (or were going to grad school) within three months of graduation. The median salary was $55,000. PPS students are doing nothing more than short-changing themselves.

    • danvalenti
      May 20, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

      There’s causality here. The Kelley School’s policy works because it is enforced. I, too, in my classes, require all personal electronic devices to be shut off and out of sight. I am firm about this, and my students, knowing this, have uniformly complied. It’s all about control of the classroom and not tolerating the excuses why this can’t be done.

  11. one of the afflicted
    May 20, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Schools would love to tell students put the thing in your locker and leave it there. Unfortunately, things get stolen out of lockers. My son, in accordance with school rules, left his pod in his locker. It was gone before the day was over.

    A scenario: Student is texting. Teacher asks for device, student creates a scene before either handing over the device and/or getting out of class for behavioral issues. Five minutes of educational time wasted with recalcitrant student, another five minutes is wasted getting everyone else on task. Why would a teacher want a confrontation with a student over an electronic device, especially when the student gets the device back by the end of the school day and the cycle starts over the next day?

    The lack of enforcement of a cell phone policy is symptomatic problems with the system in general.. What ever happened to the attendance policy? What happens to kids caught with marijuana n school property?

    When school administrators are allowed to do their jobs without having to knuckle under to the parent of every special snowflake or when administrators have the courage to do their jobs, things will change. Don’t hold your breath.

    • danvalenti
      May 20, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your comments. THE PLANET has heard from a number of concerned parents on this issue. Tellingly, they wish not to have their names used, because they say the school department “retaliates” on “troublemakers.” That is what the once proud PSD has become — a regime that operates from fear and rules by fear.

  12. tito
    May 21, 2013 at 4:44 am #

    Planet! thought I’d throw in a little chuckle here, check out Pittsfield Furniture Facebook and the ugly couch contest, hilarious stuff.

  13. tito
    May 21, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    It’s gotta go to Joelle.

  14. Terry Kinnas
    May 21, 2013 at 6:02 am #

    Dan, just a little reminder that when the ipads were brought in over my strong objections I gave research articles from MIT and Stanford University (Calif.) as well as the Newsweek articles that you mentioned on the blog in July of last year. I gave examples similar issues to those of “Varsity Mom” as well as what students can transmit from one class to another using cell phones. There was to be an evaluation in January of 13 of the ipad program, but the Chairman never put it on the agenda – secret (Administrative Memorandum) or regular. More on the AM later. The school department does have rules on the use of cell phones. Are they enforced? You could put a signal zapper in a building, some stores have done it to stop price comparison. Some schools have them also

    • danvalenti
      May 21, 2013 at 7:35 am #

      Many thanks. I remember your research on the iPads. The MIT and Stanford research spelled it all out, but once again, the School Department and its apologists Knew Better. Now we have a mess on our hands. You have done great work in your term, and this is one example. Love the idea of a signal zapper. That should be explored.

  15. Giacometti
    May 21, 2013 at 10:18 pm #


    Also if any student is dressed in inappropriate clothing they must wear prison overalls before they are allowed to go to any
    of their classes….

    So the PPS do enforce dress codes and electronic devices in its schools…but only the schools with its most difficult students.

    • danvalenti
      May 22, 2013 at 7:48 am #

      This is a great point. The PPS already employs measures to check the “smart” technology and enforce a dress code. It can easily be extended to all students.