Town Square

Critics say Corte Madera controversy is about teaching style, not technology

Original post made on Mar 22, 2011

Teachers, parents, administrators and others in the Portola Valley School District are sharply criticizing an article in the Almanac's March 16 edition that they say grossly misrepresents the district's classroom technology program.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, March 22, 2011, 11:32 AM


Posted by DL
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Mar 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Both my children who attended Corte Madera and are now in High School and College loved Dr. Davenport's Social Studies class.

Posted by PV Mom
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Mar 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Yet another bunch of GRUMP from the critical parents at Corte Madera. I have had 2 students go through Mr. Davenport's class. Both kids loved the class. Both classes had the same instructional styles, neither found the use of technology cumbersome. Rather Mr. Davenport made them feel like they were taking a college level class. They found it interesting and he stimulated some great dinner conversations. I have two boys and it was nice for them to have a strong minded, well educated teacher as an example of a male in the teaching profession. Actually, Corte Madera has a wonderful mix of teachers from very diverse backgrounds and years of experience. I find it refreshing. Quite frankly, I don't think there has been a single year recently (beginning with the class of 2011) that there hasn't been some level of disgruntled parents complaining loudly. The Yosemite Trip, the Washington DC trip or the methods of Mr. Davenport all have received complaints! These parents have other options. They have the where with all to send their children elsewhere and I wish they'd talk with there feet! Their complaining is pervasive, predictable and annoying! Each complaint takes up valuable administrative time and resources.

Posted by Another PV Mom
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I couldn't agree more with both of these comments. Out of all the teacher's my daughter had at Corte Madera, Dr. D is the one she remembers the most. She loved his class and teaching style and came out of Corte Madera more than well-prepared for high-school social studies. He makes learning fun and gives creative assignments that make the kids think. The knowledge she retained from his class is astounding (which she proves to us every night while beating our butts at Jeopardy!)

Posted by Woodside Mom
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I totally agree with the above comments specially about grumpy over achiever Silicone Valley high powered executives !! my child is a 7th grader in Dr. D's class and is doing fine. In each forum administration and parents constantly talking about "this special area of PORTOLA VALLEY" and it's abundant wealth etc. No regard for the parents present in the Tinsley program . It's a tussle between Dr. D and the administration and their handling of this whole matter in a distasteful way.
The whole issue is getting blown out of proportion. These kids are not doing a PhD in middle school.

Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 22, 2011 at 3:33 pm

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it's the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning." -- Mark Twain

Renee, Dr. D. disputed the district's statement, not refuted.

Posted by Renee Batti
associate editor of The Almanac
on Mar 22, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Renee Batti is a registered user.

Was I just struck by lightening or bitten by the lightening bug? Great Twain quote, PV Parent -- thanks. Was it Twain who said "Haste makes mental waste"? Mea culpa.

Posted by PV Transient
a resident of Corte Madera School
on Mar 23, 2011 at 1:49 am

The complaint is that Dr. D changed his teaching style this year when the one-to-one laptop program for the middle school was started -- it's not saying that his class has always been bad; it's specifically calling out this school year. "..he was told that parents weren't happy with his switch from a traditional lecture-discussion format to a tech-intensive research format".

Posted by Realist
a resident of Corte Madera School
on Mar 23, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Fascinating discussion all around - who knew that the Almanac could actually generate controversy?

Is the story about technology? If so, please read the comments from the teachers and staff who live this day-to-day, and see the community letter - there is much more to discuss here.

Is the story about an unhappy teacher or teaching style dissatisfaction? If so, pretty interesting to lead with technology as the explanation. And note that the teacher can be quoted freely and the administration can't comment because of privacy issues.

Or maybe there is a simpler explanation - bad reporting, followed by a poor attempt to justify the bad reporting. Shame on the Almanac!

Posted by 6th Grade student
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Mar 23, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I would like to note that Dr.D DID NOT TEACH US AT ALL. All he did was give a couple of lectures. Aside from the few lectures, he had us get out our computers, log on, go to his website, and made us reasearch what was on his website. It was very long and boring. He just sat there and looked at his computer doing what? Maybe writing another book? The Technology is not an issue, it was his teaching. Several parents went in to ask him to give more lectures, but what did he do NOTHING, NOTHING AT ALL. Finally, when we said we were done with him and we would move to a different class, he started making his class more fun. The only thing that got him to change, was the addition of a new teacher, which I HAPPILY moved to. He really needs to work on his teaching skills.

Posted by PV Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Mar 23, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Agree with the last comment from the very articulate 6th grader. We've had Dr. D before and he switched to using computers almost exclusively. My child worked alone at her desk on her laptop and was not permitted to collaborate with other students. Dr. D did not really interact with the students except to make occasional comments online. They researched and wrote essays to demonstrate that they had taught themselves the state requirements. then they were asked to self-grade.
I know that many children found his class entertaining when he used to lecture. Many of these students are male and seemed to enjoy some of the inappropriate and gory things that he would share. My daughter is thrilled to be in the new class, where she is learning important skills like note-taking and where she is encouraged to make connections between history and our world today. She finally feels she can ask questions and that her thoughts and ideas are appreciated. I have never been more impressed with our administration than I was when they offered an alternative.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 23, 2011 at 8:44 pm

"Rather Mr. Davenport made them feel like they were taking a college level class." In the seventh grade? Hence the problem. Seventh graders (12 y.o.) are not college students (18-21 y.o.) and therefore, they should not be taught like college students.

Posted by 9th grader
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 23, 2011 at 8:47 pm

i attended corte madera and dr. d is the best and was always the best history teacher. he was everyone's favorite class and this article is rediculous. he incrediously found the balance in his classroom to teach kids in a manner that was both fun and effective. i remember every word he taught us in his classroom and i will never believe this garbage.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Woodside High School
on Mar 23, 2011 at 9:16 pm

In response to the above comment, I would like to make a few points. I'm a tenth grader at Woodside High School, I live in East Palo Alto, and I was taught by Dr. D. I am very much in disagreement with your comment about males being the ones who enjoyed his class because of his "inappropriate and gory things he would share." Firstly, is hunting considered gory? Is it inappropriate to talk about hunting with your sons? Even though it is the killing of animals, he expressly speaks of his using ALL of the animal, which does offer an alternatively good message. Secondly, isn't history full of the murder and slaying of millions upon millions of innocents? Would you like your children taught about such events, or is it too gory and inappropriate? Secondly, it's absolutely untrue that males were the majority in the kids who liked his class. In fact, I know of only maybe 5 or 6 children who didn't like his class at my grade level. And out of those, I can say affirmatively that at least 3 or 4 were male. So, in fact, based on my sample of over 85 kids, you could say that both males and females enjoyed and learned from his class equally.
About his teaching style, I acknowledge that it has changed. But the very style he switched to, from what I have heard, is personal research, essay writing, and technology implementation. To me, that sounds like a high school class. That sounds like a college class. That sounds like the class I took as a 6th and 7th grader, albeit with more laptops, and learned a lot from. The fact that the class isn't "fun" is irrelevant. That is a subjective criterium. The fact of the matter is, Dr. D's class is engaging and when students are forced to do their own work as opposed to being spoon-fed the information, with which they can choose to either retain or let slip, they actually learn the information, whether they like it or not. And that's the point of the class.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Woodside High School
on Mar 23, 2011 at 9:20 pm

My above comment was in reference to the comment whose opening sentence was "Agree with the last comment from the very articulate 6th grader." Not the 9th grader actually above me.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I am also a tenth grader at woodide highschool, much as the person before me.

Dr. Davenport was one of the best teacher I have ever had. Just the other day in my AP Modern European History class, all of my classemates from Corte Madera and I were drawing on details about our current topic that he had taiught us way back when, while other students looked at us, surprised with our knowledge.

If this years students are not wise enought to take Dr. Davenports lectures in and actually payt attention, thean they best start, because their complaints are going o get him in trouble. This teacher is one of the best I have ever had. What he is teaching will be useful through out the rest of your students learning careers.

In all honesty, I am worried about the student of the previous grades. Not only are they taking advantage of Corte Maderas excelent teachers. To me, it seems like they are not letting themselves learn in his class. "You can bring a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."

Posted by Another Ninth Grader
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on Mar 23, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Dr. D was one of my favorite teachers at CMS. Beyond just being a great teacher who gave us so much historical information, he was also a caring teacher who actually wanted you to succeed. To an above comment saying he was teaching at a college level, I agree what he taught was advanced but I actually liked that. He challenged us to learn as much as we could even though we were only in sixth grade! To me, it's refreshing to see a middle school teacher who treats his students with the utmost respect.
Another point, although I loved all my teachers at CMS, I can say that Dr. D IN NO WAY would switch to technology just because "he is lazy" or "doesn't care about his students." What he is doing is trying something out, and I think that is perfectly acceptable for any teacher to do.
Instead of students switching over immediately, it would have been much moe admirable if instead they went and talked to Dr. D, the principle, or Ms. Piraino about what they would like to see in his classroom.
I will never forget Dr. D as my sixth grade teacher and would take him again in a hartbeat if I could. His teaching techniques may have changed, but it doesn't mean who he is and what he stands for has changed. And that is much more important in a teacher.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Woodside High School
on Mar 23, 2011 at 9:54 pm

And also, beyond the metaphysical of "who he is," he taught us a lot. The advanced nature perhaps warrants a split of the class into an AS and a mainstream class, but in no way reflects badly upon the teaching style of Dr. D. The class is advanced, which may not be the best for some students, which supports my previous suggestion, but that is the nature of the beast. In anything, not just school, one must grit his or her teeth and stick out the classes they don't enjoy taught by teachers they don't like. By offering an alternative so readily, it sent a message to the students: that if they don't like something, it will be changed. That they don't have to hold their nose to the grindstone and trudge through it. This is far more damaging than having to write research essays. In addition, his acceptance of the 21st Century Technology initiative by the school is admirable, at least. His implementation: pervasive. Dr. D is being prosecuted for change.

Posted by Mark
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Dr. D is the best teacher I have ever had. He actually made us think. I think this is ludicrous that there is ay dispute about his teaching styles and maybe look at the students. I graduated last year and to tell you the truth the students below me do/did not take advantage of Dr. D's incredible knowledge. When ever I would walk into his class last year, I would see kids fooling around and not paying attention to his remarkable lectures. Now let me ask you, what would you do if you have a batch of unmotivated, juvenile, and unsophisticated kids? Hmmm... let me think, make them do work that would not require listening and have to work on their own. Please, lets not jab at a great, quality teacher. However, this is just my own personal opinion.

Posted by Nick Brandman
a resident of Woodside High School
on Mar 23, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Although Dr. D has gotten ridiculed and unfairly judged by childish immature comments, it is clouding the fact that Dr. D is not only a great teacher but is open to new ideas. Yes, he may have changed his curriculum somewhat over the years but has society and the way technology is incorporated in every day life not? The issue here is that spoiled kids are upset that "he made us reasearch what was on his website" well not only is Dr. D an experienced teacher he is also and author and a college graduate with multiple masters and a doctorate. What does this 6th grader bring to the table other than a illogical argument backed with no actual knowledge of any higher grade levels or what he needs to know to be successful in his future. The fact that Dr. D is as reputable and distinguished member of the Potola Valley and Corte Madera community who also has his teaching credential makes the obvious point that he most likely knows more than the individuals who have chosen to express their negative opinions of Dr. D in a completely unconventional fashion, without thinking or taking into the fact that Dr. D is not out to spite anyone, and he is doing what he thinks is best for YOU. As well as being an esteemed history teacher he provided me with a very important quality and skill, which is to think for yourself and use critical thinking to obtain the knowledge needed to completely understand history and to relate to it. We do not study history for shit and giggles we study history to understand it and realize that history repeats itself and "those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it" Dr. D has one of the most difficult jobs in the teaching world. History is not like Science or Math there are no rules there are no laws, thats why Dr. D is such a great teacher because he makes it possible for students to really grasp history and to think about it by putting them into a position where it is possible for them to form there own opinions and to understand the human condition to a full extent. He allows students to be successful by being independent and allowing them to absorb the information that the common history teacher may not, that is why Dr. D is a great teacher. If you are to naive to fully understand and appreciate then that is your loss.

Posted by disgruntled
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 25, 2011 at 7:27 am

Since when do newspapers have articles and discussions about one teacher?

Let's have a full complete article about David Boyce and how he does his job. Is he not about 10000 times more "public" ?? Then each of us can have our say and have each one of our statements assumed to be true and valued equally, when no one really knows what our personal issues might be.

Sorry, Mr. Boyce, if this makes you feel uncomfortable, and perhaps like it would be just a bit unfair. Granted... you have "freedom of the press"... and we all have "freedom of speech"... this public airing of personal views it just not civilized.

Would anyone of you like to have a nice public forum on your job performance?

"Do unto others as you would have done unto you." THAT is the CORE rule! Do you need a historical reference? "Let the first among you.... throw the first stone"
Another great thought from history. This American Civilization is developing some very interesting cracks.

Posted by Interested PVSD Parent
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:23 am

Many of the posters seem to miss the fact that this reflects a change in teaching style in the last year. Dr. D does have a track record of being a very engaging, if not completely fact accurate, teacher in the Middle School. From what I understand however, from a number of parents whose children have his class this year, his teaching style changed this year to reflect an increased use of techonlogy. The question is not what kind of teacher he was in the past, but what is happening in his classroom this year.

All that said, as a member of the PVSD community I have faith in the ability of our Superintendent, Principal and Board to handle this situation in an appropriate fashion.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 25, 2011 at 10:12 am



Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 25, 2011 at 6:49 pm


why are you YELLING?

Posted by N. Wagner
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I was very disheartened to learn about the way in which Dr. Davenport has been treated by the Portola Valley School Administration. Our son was a student at Corte Madera and was lucky enough to have Dr. Davenport as his teacher in 6th, 7th and 8th grade - and even back then there were some parents at Corte Madeara who did not appreciate or respect his teaching methodology. There were plenty of parents I knew who more concerned with their students getting easy A's and having their child's self esteem stroked then actually being motivated to excel and reach their full potential. John Davenport is a master teachers who my son credits for his academic success and for his desire to become a teacher himself. Kudos to student Nick Brandman for expressing is dismay over the attacks on a hard working, dedicated and all around excellent teacher like John Davenport who deserves so much better than to be treated by the Portola Valley administration in such a ridiculous way by removing students from his class and kowtowing to parent complaints instead of working with, supporting and respecting Dr. Davenport.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Corte Madera School
on Apr 26, 2011 at 9:39 pm

As a former member of Dr. Davenport's 6th and 7th grade social studies classes, I can wholeheartedly say that he was one of the best, if not the most adept teacher I have ever had. As I continue high school, I am so grateful for Dr. Davenport's unique teaching methods from middle school; his informative and engaging class lectures were a gem and a precious break from the monotonous pencil and paper, book and essay work of nearly every other class. I sincerely thank Dr. Davenport for his comical and personal insight he exerted into his talks, and his bold defiance of an unpopular, but what I perceive as successful, teaching style.