Do you believe?

The passing of Ted Sizer recently reminded me of a time, about fifteen years ago, when I was invited to participate in a sort of think tank with him and many other remarkable educators. We were called "China Breakers," a term meant to suggest we were all somehow doing some "mavericky" thinking and work, though I would not say any of us went so far as to be "goin' rogue."

The first meeting of the first day, Sizer posed a question to the group which he felt was a prerequisite to all subsequent work: Do you believe every kid in a class, in our society can learn? He needed–no, demanded–consensus on this question as a necessary condition for moving ahead.

It took the group, perhaps 25 people and all deeply invested in educational leadership, nearly 45 minutes (as I recall it) to get to this point after a series of "But what about…" and "Well, but not if…." and so on.

After spending the morning giving a keynote and doing a great breakout session with many leaders from California (at the Secondary Level Literacy Summit), most of whom seem challenged and discouraged by these challenges, I am called to reaffirm my faith in each individual's ability to learn what we teach.

But teaching takes time, as much time as it must. Nothing has changed me more than this notion that I must take the time I need to teach what my students need to learn. And we all have those dark days when we doubt our own faith in ourselves to achieve these ends.

Do you believe?

One Response to “Do you believe?”

  1. I have wondered why anyone would think a kid ‘cannot’ learn. This simply makes no sense to me –outside the realm of the severely disabled, perhaps, and those students also can learn, just at different ‘levels’ or in different ‘ways.’
    I worry about the kids in my class who daily refuse to learn; they can–they may or may not know they can, but they do all they can to avoid the learning that is offered. As Adler & Van Doren pointed out many years ago, teaching cannot avail unless there is a reciprocal act of being taught.
    I believe, but I also worry.
    Years ago, a professor ended an e-mail with the reminder to ‘fight for your students.’ I love this sentiment, and I follow the guideline each day I am in the class. But I also fail sometimes, as some of them are fighting against me.
    So I get up and do it again the next day, keep pushing that rock.

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