Friday, March 27, 2009


The key element in teaching success isn't technical skill, or more resources, or smaller classes; the key to success is higher expectations. Teachers will get more if they expect more. The mantra to chant daily is, “Every child can learn.”

That’s the tune that a lot of people are dancing to these days. A remarkably diverse assortment of governors, national and state legislators, educational entrepreneurs, school superintendents and ordinary, right thinking Americans all assert “Every child can learn.” In fact, this overworked and under considered motto is a ubiquitous as dog doo on the public green.

Ignoring definitive research that points to non-school factors as key to school success or failure, those embracing this mindless motto dismiss the idea that “schooling failures" are largely a symptom of social failures. Do they honestly believe that positive thinking can cancel out the educational consequences of a fifth of all U.S. children living in poverty. Do they honestly believe that positive thinking can defeat the problems that cause infants born in US inner cities being less likely to survive than babies born in the “third world.” Do they honestly believe that positive thinking can save the education of hundreds of thousands of U.S. youngsters who literally don’t have a home to do homework in. (On an average night in D.C., for instance, 1,300 youngsters are in shelters for the homeless.)

Any fool can see that such beliefs are humbug. The plain fact is that “every child’s” learning is stifled if they are homeless, abused, malnourished, and way past angry. Sure they can learn to stay away from Mom when she’s high or to keep out of the way of Mom’s boyfriend when he’s looking for someone to abuse. But most kids living in misery can’t, or won’t, learn to do algebra, appreciate Shakespeare or conjugate verbs. Some won’t even learn to read. They’re too busy trying to survive.

Only a numskull really expects quality schoolwork from children in such situations. So let’s quit pretending that positive thinking will make the difference and face the ugly fact that social problems erode school effectiveness all across America.

To further examine these and similar issues, see
Power Failure: Why U.S. School Reform Persistently Misses the Target

--- GKC

1 comment:

Franz said...

I do fully agree what concerns the prerequisites of learning. While it's been said that a full stomach won't learn, an empty one won't probably either. Still I think that while just saying positive thinking is a remedy for everything I think that a teacher can make a hell of a difference if he or she addresses destitute children specifically to give them courage rather than perceiving them as ballast, which I often hear is kind of a norm. It MUST be communicated time and again by teachers that no matter how dire the circumstances there have always been ways to get out of even the deepest hole.