Since I was first introduced to the principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools in 1993, I have either experienced or pondered virtually every thought and frustration that you express in “The Worst Year” essay. The expectation of academic excellence, the refusal to compromise on certain principles, the feeling of being the only soldier on a battlefield in which your entire regiment is in orderly retreat, the vicious (or should I say “Savage”) conditions which stand in the way of delivering a quality education in an environment seemingly designed to thwart that goal...
You know my professional experience...primarily teaching privileged kids with parents that care with food on the table, clothes on the back and iPhones in hand. I did teach summer school for several years in New Rochelle, not for the money, but to see if my repertoire of pedagogical skills would work in a tougher environment than I was used to. They did.
But I too felt that the commitment to excellence, even in well-funded, “high-achieving” schools was more like a commitment to “pretty good,” or perhaps to the appearance of excellence. Same issue you faced on a different scale with a different zip code. The unwillingness of school administrators to defend high academic or behavioral standards. Permitting functionally illiterate kids to be promoted. Accepting mediocrity or just plain bullshit. Making side deals to allow defiant students with intimidating parents to avoid consequences and thereby learn the one worst lesson they should be taught. And applying the same laissez faire standards and expectations to teachers, as well.
I miss conversations with like-minded professionals like you, seeking to hone our skills until we could actually, literally induce miracles in children. I am heartened that you and I seem to Share similar attitudes when it comes to standards...liberal-minded, open to suggestions and alternatives, but with an inflexible, old-school rigidity when it comes to high standards. A persistent theme of my career has been that my liberal friends and colleagues Likened me to George Patton while my conservative friends thought I was Maria Montessori. It’s rare that i run across another educator who occupies that same schizophrenic pedagogical niche.
Thanks for a great read, Bil. There is a lot of unfinished work to be done and it appears that neither of us has been able to substantively alter the big trajectory of education in our brief time on this planet. But reading your essay and your frustration actually energizes me and inspires me to keep trying. Thanks.
Take it easy, my brother.
What an articulate statement --- a perfect "companion piece" to my essay.
Thanks for sharing and, yes, it can be difficult feeling like that (crazy) "Voice in the Wilderness," but, as I saw it (as you did) what else is there?
I LOVE the George Patton/Maria Montessori polar extreme idea.
Thanks for reading and responding so thoughtfully.
And let's catch a Yankee game this summer!