Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Words from two wise men

This is from a Boston Globe editorial. The subject was high school dropouts.

Two luminaries of education passed away last week...

Theodore Sizer, who was 77, was involved in education from the ivory tower of Harvard to founding a coalition of small schools that includes several Boston public pilot schools. He likely would have said the retention is possible only if teachers have the chance to make a connection. In 1996, he said to the Christian Science Monitor, “Is there a teacher who knows my youngster well enough to write a good college reference? The answer in a lot of schools is no.’’

In expressing how it was possible to adopt the assumption that all students can succeed against a fatalistic acceptance at the outset of the school year that a certain percentage will fail, he recalled to USA Today in 1996 about the time that he was called upon as a 21-year-old second lieutenant in the Army to train new soldiers how to fire weapons.

“Nobody said, ‘Well, some of them don’t test well,’ ’’ Sizer said. “There wasn’t an assumption that some can’t learn. It was: ‘Lieutenant, I give you an order.’ I watched semiliterate dropouts whose home language wasn’t English take off like rockets and become superb people.’’

....Gerald Bracey, who was 69, probably would have complemented Sizer’s passion for classroom intimacy with a call to stop teaching to the test. The longtime policy critic and former analyst for the National Education Association said of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind, “If 2000 was the year that testing went crazy, 2001 was the year it went stark raving mad . . . What say we take a moment to consider a few of the personal qualities that standardized tests do not measure: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, humor, reliability, enthusiasm, civic-mindedness, self-awareness, self-discipline, empathy, leadership, and compassion.’’

Bracey was also well known in education circles for bipartisan skewering of politicians, including President Obama, and media coverage for painting public schools as so bad that no one wants to actually help them. In one of his last contributions in September to the education policy magazine Phi Delta Kappan, Bracey said, “Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years before Sputnik in 1957.’’

In 1996, Sizer told The Boston Globe that it should be no surprise that students drop out of “big, standardized, mechanized’’ schools. The surprise will be when we stop delivering such schools to the students.

I have a son and a daughter. My daughter went to a small high school where everybody knew each other's business. She flourished under the ability to shine and excel in a smaller fish tank. My son went to one of the larger public high schools in the state. He enjoyed the relative anonymity and the opportunity that provided for concentrating on what interested him. Both were good students who got into good colleges: She went to a smallish college in the mountains and he is currently at a big city university.

What the two of them taught me is that one size does not fit all. In a majoritarian republic, we sometimes forget that.

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