Children are pictured as they attend a lesson in a classroom of a primary school on January 28, 2016.

It’s clear to parents and students alike that good teaching matters, but debates continue to rage over which policies and practices work best in the classroom. Veteran Palo Alto teacher David Cohen has visited classrooms across the state to witness firsthand how over 75 teachers are engaging their students, from mindful breathing exercises between lessons to partnerships with children in Haiti to foster dialogue around earthquakes. We’ll talk with Cohen about the innovation he saw and hear from some of the teachers he met about how they inspire students. And we want your stories: Teachers, students and parents — what do you think sparks learning in the classroom?

Palo Alto Teacher Finds Engagement Across California’s Public Schools 29 December,2016Michael Krasny

Guests:
David B. Cohen, English teacher, Palo Alto High School; author, "Capturing the Spark: Inspired Teachers, Thriving Schools"

  • jakeleone

    Our public schools are great because they are secular and encourage original thinking. Being free from the mental repression of groups that are out to homogenize the world is critical to everything we have in our society and industry.

    • Curious

      Our public schools are failing and American pupils are falling behind internationally.

    • Churbles

      Sarcasm doesn’t work on the internet;)

    • turquoisewaters

      Blanket statements are usually not true. Public schools have great results in great neighborhoods, lousy results in lousy neighborhoods. Parent support and early childhood experiences are crucial for student’s success later in school.
      What the most desperate neighborhoods need is jobs programs, to keep the youth off the streets and with a perspective, as well as quality public preschool and public schools. Why not give “welfare moms” a job to read to disadvantaged kids in the public library? That’s where you can make a difference.

  • Ben Rawner

    What kind of impressions did you get from parents across the state? Dud they want their children to be challenged or were they more worried about getting good grades?

  • Robert Thomas

    What’s most conducive for successful school teaching and for a child’s receptiveness to it is a stable, nurturing, intellectually stimulating home life, filled with a variety of interesting materials and with parents and siblings who engage one another and encourage engagement with the world and inquisitiveness about it. All other advantages are tertiary and pale in comparison.

    • Kevin Skipper

      !!!! Krazny always reads your comments first! I wonder if it has anything to do with them being constructive and devoid of personal ax-grinding.

    • William – SF

      And when family fails there are friends and there is school …or something external to the family. Even the most well intentioned parents can fail at providing what you described. Sometimes it is one teacher or a friend’s parent that sparks the inquisitive juices, or sometimes books are a way to hide from …boredom or worse.

  • Livegreen

    Schools, Please provide more Project Based Learning! The best teachers & classrooms in Oakland did this, especially in 4th and 5th Grade. One of our son’s most demanding teachers did this but it was also his most rewarding experience.

    Oakland Middle Schools need to do more of this, please!

  • Kevin Skipper

    Hey Forum! Good morning. I’m responding as an aspiring teacher and educator. Maybe the critique over public schools has less to do with some dissatisfaction over teachers and their work. Much of what I’ve found disgusting in State-Funded education is the manner in which prevading racism and historical revisionism constantly reinforce a twisted and ultimately schizophrenic collective image. If you’re looking to sidestep the cynicism, perhaps be willing to admit that public schools are part in parcel of a system in dire need of retrofit and even redesign. More and more, students are realizing that the History, Science, and even Mathematics that they are being offered are rife with regressive sociological dogma. Many of the same students trust and believe in their teachers but are looking to them to speak truth to the aggressive and damaging way that out system treats them and those who they are charged to teach.

  • Kevin Skipper

    One more thing….
    Desegregating California’s schools would be really nice too. Kind of hard to limit one’s cynicism in view of an Early 21st Century Jim Crow Revival. I’m just saying….

    • Kevin Skipper

      I remember the program well. It was excellent. Reminds me of the impact of images. Our image of comfortable, tree-lined hillside communites is inextricably tied to the realities of unicorporated, economically elevated, racially ‘covenented’ policies. In the meantime we are working our teachers to death, demanding that they innovate more and more with less and less at their disposal. If children or students from “alternative” backgrounds cannot see themselves in positions of success they are less likely to bring their OWN talents fully to bear. This is of course no accident. We’ve known for a long time that lack of opportunity stymies the growth of both individuals and their respective communities. What we’re seeing now is that the same fatalism and burnout is affecting the teachers as well.

      The inevitable solution/s to this issue promise to effectively unshackle our collective social development and allow us to fully realize both the American Dream and the ultimate Humanistic Objective possible. Educational harmony could be our most crucial horizon. Actively Realized Mindspace, the Final Frontier.

    • Churbles

      Ah yes, social engineering when the left has already done so much of that in all other areas in the state, with their policy of mass importing the poor from another country with no concern of the effects on the rest of society, because frankly those in power tend to be insulated from the consequences
      It’s very funny when many such liberals live in highly segregated areas like San Francisco, which has purged most of its black population through economics, not that they have many children to begin with.
      Don’t talk about Jim Crow, you guys don’t need a wall, you literally have a moat.

      • Kevin Skipper

        Who is ‘you guys?”

      • Kevin Skipper

        True. Sometimes it helps to keep in mind that a moat can work both ways. Those who have burned the bridges between themselves and their surroundings are suffering greatly in their resulting isolation. Seems that for them technology and “communication” only add to their bondage.
        If we can’t change the system, entropy will change it for us.

  • Kate Sweeney

    The idea that the teachers in our public schools are mostly terrible is just not true. It’s a falsehood that is propagated by people who haven’t spent much time in schools. I am a literacy coach working with teachers in a public school in the bay area. The staff is incredibly hardworking and professional. They are open to change and they work very hard to improve their craft, while being constantly maligned by the media and paid very little for the work that they do. Did you know that San Francisco is working on a housing project for teachers? This is the city’s solution, when what they really should do is pay a salary that is appropriate for professionals and will afford teachers the possibility of buying or renting a home in the city. I applaud the author of this book for actually spending time with teachers but remain troubled by the underlying tone of the overall conversation that these amazing teachers are an exception to the rule.

    • Curious

      Teachers are paid very well for what they do.

      • rhuberry

        Not really. BART station agents are paid considerably more and what exactly do they do all day???

        • Curious

          Not true, but nice try.

        • Kevin Skipper

          BART is a total racket. Trains, in general, really but they really have a special story. I heard about how, in the 70’s, track routes were planned strategically to ensure that certain parts of the Mission and Fillmore(?) were excavated for years on end to disable economic activity in their neighborhood business districts.

      • turquoisewaters

        Math teachers are paid under market value. A math teacher can make more per hour tutoring one student at a time than teaching a whole classroom. You are lucky most teachers are so idealistic that they want to teach all students, not just those whose parents can pay top dollar for tutoring. $10,000 a year for a calculus tutor is the going rate in the Bay Area.

        • Curious

          Math tutors likely don’t enjoy the gold plated benefits that teachers do. And the reason that math tutors are in demand is that teachers are doing such a poor job.

          • turquoisewaters

            No. Private tutors mostly are hired to give kids of wealthy parents an edge to get into a top university. Wealthier parents do value education if it is the education of their own kids and are willing to pay top dollar if it gives their kids an edge. Obviously most students are completely shut out from this. I wish parents and the population in general would be just as willing to value and invest in the education of other people’s children. It’s a moral issue.

          • Curious

            The biggest customers of prep courses etc. come from poorer communities. You are ill-informed.

          • turquoisewaters

            After about 20 years, I know this topic like the back of my hand. I have my own kids and their friends that that went through public high schools and into college. I teach some 200 kids every year. I know who has a tutor or looks for a tutor and what they pay for tutoring. I have heard countless stories from teachers, tutors, and students. It’s what I do. I am also quite aware of the prices for sat prep courses in the bay area.
            Wealthier parents are much more likely to put their students in an expensive summer course so they can advance. This often leads to the need for tutoring because the summer program was not equivalent to a whole school year. Maybe we have a different idea of “wealthy”. For many people, coming up with an extra $1000-$3000 is not easy, coming up with an extra $10,000 per year is out of the question. What has you so well-informed?

    • David

      Kate – regarding your final comment there, it’s a tricky balance. On one hand, we want to celebrate the exceptional to show what’s possible, and on the other hand, not make it seem to rare or out of reach. I probably observed close to 100 teachers overall (a bit hard to quantify because at some schools I moved around a lot). I spent 63 days total “in the field”. Some teachers are more amazing than others, but to your point, I think every teacher I observed had something exceptional about them. So, maybe that helps, the idea that most teachers – the average teacher – excels at some aspect of teaching.

  • Robert Thomas

    Teachers and public schools in general are scapegoated for the ills of communities because public education is the prominent portal into which the resources of the community are poured.

    Communities need adequate schools and benefit greatly from having good schools. But communities in distress cannot be rescued by having even the finest schools.

    • Kevin Skipper

      Community resources are “poured,” first into commercial resources which themselves provide the impetus for housing resources which, through property taxes, provide the bulk of local funding for public schools.

      As for the limited value of elite education in “distressed communities,” it strikes me as counterintuitive. I would question that assertion based on complete lack of example or existing precedent. The 80’s and 90’s showed America that any community distress could be amplified by dismantling that community’s public schools. To the same token, it seems to me that any community that was not sufficiently distressed or disabled (Oakland), was effectively made so my this same process. In our liberal society, education, access and class are co-defined. I would challenge you to show me a distressed community that, given the option of excellent education, did not see its station improve.

      • Robert Thomas

        When I was in grade school, I had a friend named Vickie whom I used to visit after school. Another classmate lived nearby and we three often visited each others’ homes. Vickie lived in a ramshackle house that her parents rented in a piece of abandoned orchard not far from the school. My friend was a bright and friendly kid and liked school very much. It was also true that her mother put away most of a quart of vodka before school was out at three o’clock. Her father lived at home and I saw him a couple of times. When he got home from work, he immediately locked himself in their detached garage and wasn’t seen again.

        Vickie and I had the same elementary school teacher for a stretch of three years and during that time, I noticed that all three teachers put a lot of effort into giving her extra attention, to the point of buying her clothes and taking her to girl scout functions (she was an enthusiastic member) and even to see doctors and so forth. I know that these efforts were very important. It got her through to middle school, at which time she went to live with relatives elsewhere.

        I can’t name a locale with a high degree of impoverishment that has been graced with wealthily appointed schools and then continued suffering impoverishment. It seems an experiment unlikely to be performed for any longitudinal period. But this anecdote is instructive for me. My school was a good one in a mostly white working class community and it was within the means of the school and her teachers to put forth the extra resources and funds to partially offset my friend’s stressful situation. However, Vickie’s level of need was unusual. If fifty percent or more of my classmates had had similar (or even substantially lesser) home life challenges, a 1,000% increase in resources wouldn’t have sufficed to offset the increased burden.

        From the outside, progressive-minded people often succumb to the illusion that they are attending to their responsibility toward their poorer neighbors merely by increasing and augmenting public school budgets. Public education is the single largest state and local expenditure of public monies and so it is the most obvious lever available with which to effect publicly financed social change. Since the advent of the three United States Supreme Court Serrano v. Priest decisions in the 1970s, mandated revenue sharing in California has provided substantial leveling of Average Daily Attendance expenditure among the state’s regions, most of which subsequently became eligible for this “Revenue Limited” compensation.

        While such assistance is necessary, it’s generally not a sufficient response to impoverishment. When it fails to provide proportional improvement (employment; household income; crime incidence etc.), crucial expenditures are made to look suspicious in the eyes of skeptics.

        • Kevin Skipper

          So, without splitting hairs as to whether the extra “attention” was a reflection of institutional or community based interventions, would you say that the extra assistance did or didn’t help “Vickie?” If so I’d if not, how are you subjectively measuring that help? Is it possible that Vickie’s challenge, like so many others, had nothing whatsoever to do with her educatabilty or her intelligence? It sounds like her situation was affected by mental and emotional health issues, chief of which being alcoholism. The idea of augmented schools suggests that educators would have the tools to intervene on several levels while enjoying the support surrounding systems like health care, social services and broad-based evaluative/diagnostic resources. The central idea is to enable communities to address their own issues as opposed to depending on a generalized approach that has only proven to widen gaps to access and opportunity.

  • Mary F.

    Comment regarding essential component of “love” in the vocation: I’ve been teaching English in the high school classroom for twenty years and STILL wake up every morning excited to go to work. What sustains me is not only love for my students, but also passion for my subject, literature. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world!

  • Christina Jenkins

    I’m curious: How have David’s observations informed his own teaching practice?

  • Jessica

    Get students involved in their curriculum. Project-based learning is the closest thing to solving real problems outside of academia. It teaches kids to:
    – work in teams
    – manage their time
    – research
    – problem-solve
    – present their findings and teach others

    I’m in grad school, now, with a son in first grade. I can say that project-based learning is effective at both levels.

  • Christina

    We’ve definitely experienced the “kindergarten is the new first grade” phenomenon with our kids. It was shocking to see how much playtime has been taken away from kids. As parents, we fully understand that our teachers are mandated to teach more than is reasonable in the time they have and I feel completely helpless watching this. In conversations with our OT teacher, we learned that increasingly, kids aren’t gaining the physical skills they need to write because those motor skills are strengthened through play. It feels impossible to fight against these standards that seem counterproductive to the way kids learn.

    • Curious

      Perversely, academic achievement is plummeting.

    • turquoisewaters

      There is a lot of pressure on public schools to demonstrate they are raising standards, thanks to people that put out alarmist false blanket statements like “academic achievement is plummeting”.

  • Dave

    How about having this wonderful book be the seed for doing a big online site for teachers (and others) which documents/organizes THOUSANDS of these great stories (with text, videos, tools…)

  • Mood_Indigo

    When I started listening to this conversation on my commute, I bet to myself there would be no voice given to the disgruntled parents like myself who thinks that there are some serious problems with public K-12 system that involves both administrators and teachers — with zero accountability to the parents, their customer. I think I won the bet. Krasny will ensconce himself and his guests in their comforting bubble of self-congratulatory banality while sprinkling truisms and feel-good approbations on each other.

    Hey Forum, consider having an hour of discussion with those who think there are problems in public education that can be traced to teaching as unionized labor and a highly-politicized school administrative system overseeing our ineffective but financially rick educational industrial complex. It’s this sort of shutting out opposing views that produces the likes of Trump.

    • Kevin Skipper

      as someone who constantly agrees with the basis of your thinking, I must disagree on a couple subjects. Many people see the problems in public education but at the same time, notice that the conversation has, too often, pitted groups and interests against one another. I do, however like your point about unions and administrative politicization. Not sure what you think about Trump’s likely effect on public education but one thing is for sure, the conversation is sure to be fun! I wonder what curriculum could be directly connected to that individual and his meteoric and slightly satirical rise to power…

      • Mood_Indigo

        Kevin,

        Of course, the thought of Trump as President makes me throw up. But I assign some credit (or blame depending on one’s point of view) to the left Liberals for the emergence of the Trump phenomenon.

        At work, my colleagues and I have analyzed the public school education problem to death over the years. My colleagues span the political spectrum and have graduate degrees in science and engineering from top U.S. schools. However we have our kids to public schools of varying repute. Our general conclusion is that the California K-12 Educational Industrial Complex is so powerful and rich that it is almost impossible to reform it without destroying some of the basic underlying power structure. All the powerful interest groups led by the teacher’s unions have much to gain from status quo. So we just have to live with lousy results by U.S. and world standards.

        Personally, I would abolish the Department of Education, decentralize school curriculum as much as possible, restrict unions’ power only to teacher’s working conditions (no tenure, no seniority-based remuneration, etc.), and change the funding structure away from property tax-based system. The good teachers will flourish and make more than they do now, and the bad teachers will make less. Most importantly, I’d give a strong voice to the parents on school-related decisions. Parents know who the good and bad teachers are in the school. Their should be no automatic promotion to higher grade middle school onward until the student has learned what they need to have learned in that grade.

        • Kevin Skipper

          Sounds like you’re planning to bang on a brick wall. Why not invest in community home schooling and cut out the middle man? The other half of coercive compulsory education is the pretext that there is no alternative. Those of us who recognize the imbalances can connect with other parents and educators to produce, at the very least, supplemental solutions.

          • Mood_Indigo

            No such plans. If I had the dough, my kids would go to private schools. Sure we are supplementing our kids education with separate math and science education at home.

            I finally gave up on public K-12 education once I realized the extent of the apathy of the masses. The average parent’s attitude is that “public education has problems, but my school is great” (somewhat like “all politicians are crooked except my representatives”). However, when whining about tech immigrants, the public should realize why the most popular major in college is business with engineering and sciences not in the top-10.
            http://college.usatoday.com/2014/10/26/same-as-it-ever-was-top-10-most-popular-college-majors/

        • turquoisewaters

          I agree with some of what you say, but not all. I do agree that kids should not be passed along from grade to grade if they have not mastered the basics.
          The end result of that are 9th grade classrooms where some students’ skills are on a 3rd grade level. No amount of “differentiation” can do all students in that classroom justice. Not to mention that a 9th grader with 3rd grade skills has issues: learning issues, traumatic life experiences, or both. That student needs serious intervention, and the intervention should have come many years earlier. In my school, teachers have begged for years to be real and place students based on their skills and needs, but the administration always blocked this as discriminatory.
          Teacher’s unions are in my experience much less the problem than school administration. School administration can remove ineffective teachers, and unions will not block that if the case is justified. Unions have never stood in my way to teach the way I saw fit. District administration on the other hand has endless hoops and “reforms” to jump through that eats up an extraordinary amount of time.
          I disagree that getting teaching certification should be simpler. I actually think it should be much harder. Schools of education should be selective, subject matter competence should be very high, but then pay should also be high. How else do you want to attract high caliber people? Instead of taking everybody and then weeding out drastically, only take high caliber people to begin with. Does not private business recruit from the best universities, because they know their graduates are vetted and the chance of getting a lemon is low? They would never dream of taking just anybody with a community college course in PYTHON, and then have to weed out, because that is actually very costly and wasteful.

    • chriswinter

      I’ve heard quite a few comments like yours, with respect to teachers, over the years. I’ve also heard quite a few teachers complaining that when parents complain about a teacher disciplining their child for misbehaving in class, administration sides with the parents. An example would be Randy DeVelbiss, whose reason for leaving the profession was relayed by Edward Luce: “I left teaching because I couldn’t stand it any more,” [deVelbiss] said. “If I failed a child, the parents always complained. If I reprimanded a child, the school would threaten disciplinary action. I figured out there are better things I could do with my life.” (See p. 97 of Time to Start Thinking.)

      I have no idea which type of comment is more common. But I am concerned about any administrator whose default position is that the parents’ complaint is justified. This position does not help in keeping good teachers in the classroom.

      • Mood_Indigo

        Let me clarify. My two kids are in elementary and middle schools in South Bay. They are at the top of their respective class. I have no problem with teachers being strict disciplinarians. I grew up in a different country and my best teachers were not against corporal punishment.

        My main problem with the system (but not the only problem) is that the teachers are not interested in challenging good students. My kids’ schools have students of mixed ability (not in the zip code with highest-priced real estate) and the teachers will exert themselves just enough so that the worst students meet minimum standards. They don’t appear to take any pride in the achievements of their best students. The teachers in my son’s middle school so reason for arranging a teacher-parent meeting because “he gets straight As”. In my meeting with my younger’s teacher, he kept on praising her to an extent that it made me flinch.

        As a result, my kids have great self-esteem and a high opinion of their abilities even as I see them falling behind world standards, especially in math and science. I want my kids to push themselves until they fail, but the teachers smugly say that they are not going assign them any more challenging material beyond what the curriculum dictates. It’s fallen on me to give my kids a reality check on their grasp of math and science in my limited time away from my other duties. Were it not for my wife, my kids would not even know about science and math competitions outside of their curriculum. This is the reason why inequality spreads with motivated parents, even those with limited means, pushing our kids to realize their potential while poorer folks with less time (or less motivation) are unable to do so.

        • turquoisewaters

          This is a valid concern. It is the direct consequence of the unwillingness to pull out and give extra support or retain students below grade level. The teacher ends up with too big a range of grade levels in one classroom and usually ends up teaching to the middle.

    • Curious

      Very true.

    • Robert Thomas

      “Teaching as unionized labor”, in the U.S., largely supplanted teaching as a subsistence charity for destitute female outcasts with education and management skills but few other employment prospects. Around the world, feudal societies still take advantage of teachers in this way.

      In the U.S., the Catch-22 for primary and secondary school teachers is that they work hard for 180-190 days a year while their next-door neighbors – in places like the Bay Area – often spend more than half of a net income gained working 250 days a year on their dwelling costs. Teachers become furious when this fact is broached and will argue that their work year is no different from that of their 250-day neighbor but they fail to convince. No skilled, well-employed person would even get paid three quarters of their 250-day salary for working three quarters of the year.

      Consequently, teachers’ resort to hard-bargaining labor representation in order to barely maintain an income less than one or two sigmas below the community median.

      The answer is a year-around employment regimen, inevitably for fewer K-12 educators. This necessitates that teachers work rotating tracks. Students then still attend for ~180 days, without guarantee that their siblings attend the same track. Parents hate this.

      • turquoisewaters

        Ideally teachers should work another month paid in summer to prepare for the next year. Many do anyway, without getting paid. Currently there is no money for that, so when a “reform” like common core comes along, teachers get trained during the school year because that is cheaper, teachers get pulled out of their regular classes 10 days or so throughout the year, at the expense of students who get to enjoy a teacher that is absent a lot and has not really grasped let alone prepared for the latest curriculum currently taught.
        When I teach a new class, I spend the summer before preparing. That is necessary if you want to do a good job. I teach Calculus. You cannot just BS that without letting down our students who worked very hard to get to this level. It is painful to hear about the supposed 180-190 days a teacher works, because that is not reality for me or most of my colleagues who spend endless hours during evening, weekends, vacations. We get paid fore 180-190 days, but we work so much more. Not all, but most.

        • Curious

          Smarter. Better qualified. Working harder. And earning less than teachers.

          Leslie Thompson earns $40,000 a year working two jobs, but her Albuquerque, N.M., house almost went into foreclosure twice this year.

          Thompson’s trade? She’s a lawyer.

          Lawyers have been struggling for a while now, but it’s gotten even worse: Half of lawyers are now starting at a salary of less than $62,000 a year, according to the National Association for Law Placement.

          Not only that, but starting salaries have fallen 13% over the past six years, down from $72,000 in 2008. At the same time, lawyers’ student debts are piling up. Thompson is carrying over $150,000 in student loans.

          http://money.cnn.com/2014/07/15/pf/jobs/lawyer-salaries/

  • Alison W

    I am a public school middle school English and History teacher who has been teaching in Bay Area for 25 years. I think one reason for the shortage of teachers generally – and perhaps high quality teachers (in some districts) — is the low pay and correspondingly low prestige of the teaching profession in this country. When I was about to graduate from UC Berkeley in 1986 and preparing to apply for a teaching credential program (also at UCB), I asked one of my favorite professors, a world-renowned scholar, for a letter of recommendation. He replied, “Alison, why do you want to waste yourself teaching children?” Although he wrote the letter, I’ve never forgotten his question, because so many of my friends (and even family members) asked me similar questions that were essentially variations on that theme.

    A high school history teacher from Finland spoke to a group of history teachers (the UCB History-Social Science Project) last year about the differences between public education in Finland and the US. One difference is that, in Finland, teaching is a respected profession. Here, it is not. Most people seem to think teachers are either saints (for working with unruly children) or unqualified for anything more demanding (lucrative). That has to change somehow in order for the profession to attract the best and brightest, most creative minds. Until then, gifted teachers may continue to be the exception rather than the rule.

    • Churbles

      Because demographics matter. Finland is still 89% Finnish, 97% white.
      The structure of society has not been shattered yet through “diversity” which as the Putnam studies show create low trust, low cohesion societies.
      It’s funny that saying from the Hillary Clinton book title…”It takes a village”, well the lefts been destroying that village for some time now, no surprise at the results.

      • Alison W

        I agree that comparing Finland and the United States is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. However, I don’t think the demographic discrepancy invalidates the comparison in how the teaching profession is perceived in each country.

        • Churbles

          The more distant the connections, the more broken the social contract becomes.

    • Curious

      Teachers in the US are some of the highest paid in the world. Respect is earned.

      • Alison W

        Please provide evidence to support your assertion. Relative to other professions which require an undergraduate degree and a teaching credential (thus at least five years of higher education), teaching is not a highly-paid profession. Top salary in my school district for a veteran teacher is less than $90,000/year. That’s not a middle-class income in the Bay Area, I’m afraid. My point is that in our society income is an indicator of respect. Teachers will never earn respect until they earn an income that enables them to live more or less as their students’ families do – at least in the affluent district where I teach.

Host

Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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