B. Keller and D. Greene

Rev. Dr. Barbara Austin Lucas often invokes renowned sociologist Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot when she discusses the relationship educators must have with their charges. Lightfoot said, “You can’t educate anyone unless you can see your future in their eyes.”

This means there has to be some connection, some investment, some sense that your future’s success is tied inextricably to the success or failure of the person sitting before you. That is a powerful statement, but more importantly, it is a true statement. You can’t teach “at a distance”. You have to be in the trenches, with your sleeves rolled up, not standing on the sidelines pointing out every mistake or theorizing about what might work. You’ve got to be a problem solver in addition to being the problem finder.

Learned scholars and educational experts contend that a major reason for the lack of academic success of young people today is the failure of others to properly motivate them. Who motivates them to demand the latest (and most expensive) styles? Who motivates them to spend countless hours on video games and texting to girls and guys, but not even 5 minutes on studying or homework? Who motivates them to memorize and learn by rote, (an educational taboo according to the learned educational experts and scholars), the words of meaningless, often disrespectful hip hop or to get up at 5:30 in the morning to stand on line for a pair of basketball shoes that sell for $300 when they cannot find way to get to school on time for a class that starts at 8:30 in the morning?

So who motivates them in class? We expect students to be self motivated, but most need help.

Good teachers and coaches know you have to have trust your students and players. You have to believe they can do what you need done. If you trust them and believe in them, there is nothing they will not do for you. If you don’t trust them and believe in them, you won’t get anything from them at all. If you don’t, they will give you nothing. The New York City DOE and many of the other national reformers do not value, trust, respect or believe in either the teachers or the students who attend their classes.

When reformers say they want to successfully reform education,they really mean teachers and students. But you can’t accomplish that unless unless you value and respect them. You can’t value anything you don’t believe in, respect, or are devoid of a “connection” to. You can’t reform from the outside. You have to get in and move the rocks and the boulders. You have to be willing to do some of the heavy lifting and not just stand on the sidelines and tell everybody else where to move things.

It strikes us that in all of the discussions and conversations about fixes and ways to reform education, little, if anything at all), has been directed towards students. In the end, no matter how great the teachers are or how technologically adept the schools the students attend may be, NOTHING will be accomplished without EFFORT on the part of the students. How do we become more successful at gaining that effort?

A major flaw or inconsistency in the plans to reform schools as it pertains to students is the failure in getting students to focus. Without focus, nothing can be accomplished. In the world students live in today, the concept of focus is virtually nonexistent. They are told they can do many things at one time and their preoccupation with computers and mobile device related activities which last only a few seconds or minutes erode the concept of focus. Think snapchat.

To focus means “to concentrate one’s thoughts on ONE point or purpose.” This means one cannot be “focused” if one is doing or being asked to do several things at one time. Focus provides strength and power as it pertains to a task.

A single ray of light cannot really do anything, but a laser, a focused beam of light, can cut through steel. Focus allows one to put all of his/her effort into one thing, and like the laser, it allows the person to create a better, stronger product.

Focus requires self-discipline, and while reformers talk about “evaluating and assessing teachers more thoroughly” and “raising the level of expectation for teachers”, they rarely speak about HELPING teachers motivate the self-discipline students require in order to focus themselves on the goal of succeeding in school. To reformers, reform is more about testing. For example, reformers demand that teachers maintain passing rates of 85% or better, when the truth be told, the graduation rate in America, with very few exceptions, has historically hovered around the 60-65% mark!

Teachers are expected to be motivated and have focus, but reformers have not only have made many teachers less motivated and focused, they have inadaquately dealt with these issues regarding students. No matter what plans are made to reform education, reform will NEVER occur without the participation of the students and that participation requires motivation and focus on the things that ensure academic success.

It is the students who will suffer the most because of the reforms that place all of the responsibility for student success on someone OTHER than the students.

Motivation must come from within. How many of us have given up on that diet or workout routine because we lost motivation? It must be encouraged, nourished and supported by others, but it ultimately it must be produced by the individual, because no matter what the “experts” claim or say, motivation, plain and simple, is an inside job.

How are education reformers motivating students? They aren’t.

Any successful reform or change, particularly as it pertains to education, must have some sense of humanity, some sense of connection one to the other if it is to work. The educational reforms are lacking in this element. You gotta love the rhetoric; “No Child Left Behind”, “Children First”, “Students First”. The problem is that it’s only rhetoric. It has no humanity, it has no soul. Poets, musicians and artists agree that if the words, music, or image have no humanity, nothing to connect the reader, listener, or viewer to the experience being captured then the they are just words, sounds, or images. They do not move or inspire. They do not motivate. They do not stimulate focus.

The same is true in education. If the changes are just about making the numbers look good or making them fit a particular bottom line or paradigm, then they are devoid of the “connective tissue” that makes them more than just changes or catchy phrases. They do not motivate. They do not stimulate focus. They do not help students become more self-disciplined.

Most reformers do not send their children do not attend public schools that are ravaged by the rhetoric driven reforms. Many of them apparently did not attend public schools, or have forgotten HOW the teachrs in their schools gave them the foundation to be who they are today. Many do not value or respect public schools, nor do they believe in, trust or respect public schools, public school students, or those who work in the public schools.


What do John King, General Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, Dr. Ben Carson, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou and a host of others, including most of you reading this essay have in common? They are all products of public education.

Not one of them succeeded because of common core standards. All of us who went to public school before the Common Core and its associated reforms and tests were created succeeded prior to these reforms.

“Which one of the reformers would send their children to the schools their reforms have created?” Which one of them would send their children to a school that housed 6-8 different schools, with 6-8 different philosophies, that shared one library, auditorium, gymnasium, (that is if they have a gymnasium or library), that promote separation rather than collaboration, (by virtue of the fact that each school inside of each building is encouraged to “brand” its space), that have principals who cannot train teachers or teach them to become better teachers because they have taught only 2-3 years, (if they have taught at all), that have teachers who are 2 year TFA transients?

Which of these reformers send their kids to schools that focus only on students passing tests rather than learning to analyze and critique philosophies and concepts, or schools that do not offer students challenging, competitive classes such as AP classes, honors classes, calculus, physics, trigonometry, etc., (although those same students are theoretically receiving “a world class education”), or schools that use technology as a solution rather as a tool to help students to succeed, or eschew the use of experience and experienced teachers whose methods and philosophies have been tried and tested? Which of them would send their kids to schools tha thave no recess? No art? No music? I am certain beyond any doubt, the answer will be “None.”

If they are not willing to trust this type of school reform with their children, it is criminal to create schools with these constructions for other children. That is just plain wrong.

We believe that teachers teach their students the same way they’d want their children to be taught. We want our children to have diligent teachers who motivate their students to focus, analyze, think for themselves, challenge themselves, and expect more of themselves. That is exactly what we have tried to do in every class we have taught for approximately four decades.

For us the purpose of education is to get students to see their “future in their eyes.”