Sunday, November 25, 2007

Betty Sternberg Gets It

Though she is not telling regular readers of this blog anything that we aren't already onboard for, the commentary in this Sunday's Courant is a breath of fresh air.
We need to direct our efforts toward policies that foster a fundamental shift in the way teachers and students interact, the way teachers and teachers interact and the way teachers and administrators interact. We need to fund mentors/teachers who signal to each youngster that they honor, value and profoundly support them. We need to fund programs that create school leaders (students, teachers and administrators) who collaborate and are, as Pink says, "animated by a different form of thinking ... (who have) the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new."

We don't need more seat time and more tests. We need a fundamentally different structure to foster a different way of thinking.

In this context, I applaud the recommendation that seniors do a yearlong independent study with a teacher or mentor. I just think it isn't enough. Give students four years to do unique, independent work — increasing the amount and complexity each year — to ensure a new kind of interaction with a teacher/mentor and that "different form of thinking" in every high school grade.

Do require at least two years of world languages. But only after first requiring that world language instruction begin in the lower elementary grades when children are "wired" to learn it more easily.

I don't criticize the bulk of these proposals (increasing credits and adding five end-of-course tests) because they might be costly in terms of dollars or dropouts. It may very well be that what I envision — not a harder high school, but a better one — will be more expensive, with its emphasis on more one-on-one interaction between teachers and students and more creativity required of everyone. And I don't believe that students will drop out when much is expected of them that connects with their souls; they will expect much of themselves, and they will succeed.

I once interviewed one of Hartford's success stories, a young man who graduated from the Classical Magnet School and Connecticut College. He recounted with anger his lack of preparation compared with other college students who came from private schools. He told the story of a high school teacher who cared so little for his students that he asked them to fill out old, frayed work sheets as he read the newspaper. When I asked this young man what was the most important thing that could be done to address all the inequities he described, he said, "Hire teachers who care."

Erin Gruwell cared, and her students basked in that care. We should use her example as we transform our high schools into better places for learning.


Anonymous said...

Yes - but where was that philosophy when she was commissioner of education?

The Caretaker said...

Actually, she pleasantly surprised me on a number of occasions. I think Washington has been intimidating and extorting policy initiative from states that know better but cannot afford not to give in to Washington's suffocating stupidities.

Betty will not be the first or last bureaucrat to be rendered helpless by our state's political education complex.

- Krasicki