“Instead of regimented lessons, she lets children circulate among centers. Instead of suspending or expelling troublemakers, she deploys teachers with counseling expertise to address underlying emotional problems.”
I read this quote today from Vera Triplett, an education entrepreneur who created “Noble Minds”, a new school in New Orleans. I am always thrilled to find an educator who’s values align with mine.
I recently attended an Education conference at Harvard where I was struck by many inspiring educators, and I was especially struck by one professor who said “Today’s children are the last generation who’s classrooms will look like their grandparents.” Effective educators discovered long ago that a “one size fits all” approach to educating children does not work, and having children sit at a desk working on worksheets is not an optimal learning environment. It’s very exciting to see where education is heading–the walls are coming down and the real learning is taking place in an interactive hands-on way.
One of the most inspiring curriculums I have seen at my kids school is the “Clean Cook Stove Project.” For an 8th grade science project, students addressed a real world problem: millions of premature deaths in third world countries caused by ineffective stoves. They collaborated through Skype with children in rural Africa and Brazil with the help of MIT’s D-Lab to create and troubleshoot a clean cook stove. It was a very successful project and actually was chosen to be presented on the United Nations website. This is a great example of educating without walls, desks, or chairs.
Taking learning a step further, Vera Triplett is starting a charter school in New Orleans with the goal of educating every child, regardless of behavioral difficulties using teachers AND psychologists. After years working with juvenile delinquents, she says, “While counseling students in juvenile detention with long histories of school discipline issues, it was really interesting to see how schools and suspensions and expulsions were influencing these kids. There was a lot of this message that ‘you’re a bad kid and you’re unwanted.'”
I agree that expulsion or suspension is not an effective way to teach children appropriate behaviors, (I feel the same way about “time out” for younger children) and certainly makes it impossible to teach them. I heard similar goals from Geoffrey Canada at the Harvard conference. He majored in Psychology and told how his view of children totally changed by studying with professors that believed EVERY child could learn, and if there was difficulty, it was the adult who needed to figure it out, and not the child. I believe the same: it is NEVER the child. If there is an issue, it is ALWAYS the adult who needs to figure out how to reach the child in a positive way.
After the Harvard conference, I told my husband, George, how happy it made me to be surrounded by more than a thousand educators all day who’s values aligned with mine: who’s unbridled love for children and learning overrode everything else, and who never stopped searching for ways to improve education. Put the most obstinate obstacles in the way of these educators and they will research it until they find a solution. Geoffrey Canada created the Harlem Children’s Zone and over 30 years has educated an entire generation and gotten hem through college. In addition, there is an endless stream of educators studying with Canada and creating their own urban education initiative with the same drive and passion. Vera Triplett is creating something similar in another education-trouble area: New Orleans. Their work cuts through the crap straight to the heart of the matter: every child deserves to be surrounded by adults looking out for their best interest, and every child deserves a stellar education.