Hey, everyone. Max Lindenman here. While the lovely and talented Elizabeth prepares for her pilgrimage to Rome, I’ll be guest-blogging for her, or as I like to think of it, acting as her vicar.
I found a fascinating opinion piece in today’s New York Times. Joe Nocera argues that even the best, most dedicated teachers can’t make students learn if their parents are standing in the way:
Instead, González comes across as a skeptic, wary of the enthusiasm for, as the article puts it, “all of the educational experimentation” that took place on Klein’s watch. At its core, the reform movement believes that great teachers and improved teaching methods are all that’s required to improve student performance, so that’s all the reformers focus on. But it takes a lot more than that. Which is where Saquan comes in. His part of the story represents difficult truths that the reform movement has yet to face squarely — and needs to.
Saquan lands at M.S. 223 because his family has been placed in a nearby homeless shelter. (His mother fled Brooklyn out of fear that another son was in danger of being killed.) At first, he is so disruptive that a teacher, Emily Dodd, thinks he might have a mental disability. But working with him one on one, Dodd discovers that Saquan is, to the contrary, unusually intelligent — “brilliant” even.
From that point on, Dodd does everything a school reformer could hope for. She sends him text messages in the mornings, urging him to come to school. She gives him special help. She encourages him at every turn. For awhile, it seems to take.
Meanwhile, other forces are pushing him in another direction. His mother, who works nights and barely has time to see her son, comes across as indifferent to his schooling. Though she manages to move the family back to Brooklyn, the move means that Saquan has an hour-and-a-half commute to M.S. 223. As his grades and attendance slip, Dodd offers to tutor him. To no avail: He finally decides it isn’t worth the effort, and transfers to a school in Brooklyn.
The point is obvious, or at least it should be: Good teaching alone can’t overcome the many obstacles Saquan faces when he is not in school. Nor is he unusual. Mahler recounts how M.S. 223 gives away goodie bags to lure parents to parent association meetings, yet barely a dozen show up. He reports that during the summer, some students fall back a full year in reading comprehension — because they don’t read at home.
Read the rest here:
I confess, I’ve never taught in the inner cities. My only experience teaching was in Mainland China, at a specialty foreign-languages school. My students came from elite families — either the old party nomenklatura, or the new capitalists. (They seemed to get along just dandy.) Slow and tragic they were not; bored and entitled they most certainly were. Their attitude, to sum it up, went: “Our parents brought you all the way over here to help build the new China. Sing the latest from Mr. Big, or we’ll have your legs broken!”
Just goes to show we all have problems.