My brothers and sisters and I were pretty lucky growing up because we had the opportunity to be raised by two people who were good at keeping things simple. One of my mom’s favorite sayings was, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” Basically that means there is more than one way to do anything. This sage piece of wisdom is especially applicable to education reformers who insist their way is the only way to “fix” education. The truth is there is more than one way to make education work, but interestingly enough, for all the different ways to make education work, each of the different ways contain similar, if not the exact same elements
Recently, Augusta Uwanmanzu-Nne made news when she was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools. In point of fact, this was the second student in two years to do this as a young man named Harold Ekeh from the same school accomplished that feat in 2015. According to the article written about her, Augusta was not a genius, nor did the school have only “great teachers”, or Rhodes Scholars or Ph.D candidates. It appears they were simply committed, compassionate teachers, much like many of the people I had the opportunity to work with throughout my 40 year career. In fact, according to the young lady, her success can be credited to supportive parents, her persistence and hard work, and dedicated teachers. I daresay you’d have to add to that list a supportive administrative team that provided whatever assistance and support the committed teachers needed in order to successfully complete their jobs, (as opposed to simply being “managers” or CEO’s).
The more I listen to the “experts” and “reformers” talking about what needs to happen in order to fix education, it strikes me that what they are saying seems to be so complicated and convoluted, and I keep thinking about those simple people I was privileged to have as parents, people who tried to keep things as simple as possible.
What is necessary to make education work has always been necessary, and wherever there has been success, those elements have been present. Until and unless all of the elements necessary- parents, students, teachers, administration, community and government- do their parts and contribute their efforts, no re-configuration, no change in design, no change in curriculum or testing or evaluation, or giving schools names like academies or charters will work or change anything.
The experts talk about “best practices” and tested and “proven” techniques. Well, consider this- education in New York specifically and the United States in general, has produced the likes of President Obama, Michelle Obama, General Colin Powell, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, President Bill Clinton, Dr. Hakim Lucas, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former chancellors Harold Levy and Joel Klein, and millions of others. This means we already possess the knowledge and the answers to fix education.
While I may not have the numbers at my fingertips, (as I am not a big sabermetrics guy), I’m willing to bet you any amount of money that if you look at the people who have succeeded in education, whether we are talking about New York particularly or the United States in general, or whether we are talking about 100 years ago, 40 years ago or last week, for every 100 of them, 99 of them would have at least three, if not all four, of the elements of supportive parents, persistency and hard work, dedicated and committed teachers and a supportive administration.