by B. Keller

Bertrand Russell said. “We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side; one in which we preach but do not practice, and one in which we practice, but do not preach.” This quote speaks to the current education issues nationwide and to New York City in particular. The powers that be preach that no child is being left behind and that the changes they are making are ensuring that students are receiving “a world class education”, but what they are practicing is another matter entirely.

For example, what world-class education reduces the access to challenging, higher order thinking courses such as physics, or AP courses, calculus or trigonometry? What world-class education ensures students a passing grade on state authorized exams for answering only one-fourth of the answers on the exam correctly? What world-class education is more concerned with the number of passing students in a cohort, or the success of a cohort than the actual knowledge those students possess? What world-class education values a lack of experience and wisdom more than the expertise borne of experience and practice? What world class education has a high graduation rate at its high school level, the level responsible for preparing students to have success at the college level, yet has a high drop out rate on the next level which is the college level because the students are simply unable to perform at that level?

These examples all speak to the idea of “preaching without practice. You can preach anything you want, but saying that it’s true, doesn’t make it true. “You can call a dog a pig, but you can’t get no bacon from a dog.” Saying that you care about education, about the children who are being “left behind”, about the poor performance levels of school, doesn’t prove anything. It’s what you do that speaks volumes. In my career, I always made it “difficult” to get a grade of ninety in my classes. I was always demanding and challenging and uncompromising. I preached excellence, especially in one’s effort, (which is the only thing a person can truly control). I preached it and I demanded it of my students because I understood that without the will to demand the best from themselves, to challenge themselves and to demand excellence of themselves, their chances for success, (unless one truly believes in luck or serendipity), would be severely limited. What sense does it make to practice or say one thing, but when it comes time to do that thing, you do something totally different?

While the solutions to this problem may not be easy, it is most certainly obfuscated, exacerbated, and blurred by people who “talk a good game” and sound like they know what they are doing, but who really are merely preaching without practice. Our communities, our society, and our country cannot afford the luxury of preaching without practice. In fact, it just might be just the right time to add another type of morality to Russell’s quote, one in which reformers actually practice what they preach.