Courageous Schools Conference 2011
Holding the Vision in Tough Times
'Education is about preparing young people to make the world better than it is'
Pedro Noguera's speech
at Morningside Center's Courageous Schools Conference
May 21, 2011
I am in the middle of a lot of the debates going on throughout the country about education today. On one hand I am encouraged by the fact that we are focused on learning, although too often I would say that gets translated as a focus on achievement. And they're not quite the same. When you focus on achievement, you focus on test scores and you could miss out on whether or not the kids are actually learning. And we have ample evidence, based on the test scores, that sometimes the kids still aren't learning
Seventy-five percent of the students graduating from New York City schools right now who enroll at CUNY are required to take remedial courses. And so it's clear that something is missing in their education. And often what's missing is that they still can't write, they still can't reason, they still can't think independently. And that raises the question of whether or not we're really focused on the right things.
I know that those of you who are principals are being judged on test scores, and you're under pressure. Because ultimately test scores are what the school report cards are based on, so they determine whether or not you can keep your job. So this is not an issue we can treat lightly. Jobs do depend on it. Kids are being judged on it. But if we only focus on test scores, we miss out on so much more that is important in education.
I try to remind people all the time that if our students get high test scores and get strung out on drugs, we've still failed. If they get high test scores and rob banks-especially because they're the CEO and figured out how to rob it legally-something went wrong. But unfortunately that part of education is not really part of the conversation. We are not focused on what it means to really prepare young people for life in the world that we live in.
Are we preparing students to be leaders or followers?
My friend and colleague Debbie Meier, as many of you may know, was formerly a principal here in NYC, a real pioneer in progressive education; she founded Central Park East. She went on from there to found another school in Boston called Mission Hill Private School. She's been a leading advocate for progressive reform in education for many, many years. I find it interesting right now because those who are advocating merit pay for teachers and charter schools, they have captured the mantle of reform.
There are many of us who have advocated reform for schools for many years but have a very different idea of what it means to reform and improve public education . Debbie's one of them. When I was teaching at Harvard many years ago I asked Debbie to come speak to my students, and one of my students asked her, "What is the purpose of school?" That could be one of those questions that she could spend hours about. I actually heard a great quote yesterday: "If it takes too long to give an answer to a question, you're probably lying."
Debbie was really short and simple. She said, "The purpose of education has always been the same thing, in every country, throughout the world, and that is to prepare young people to become responsible adults."
Wow, how simple. How simple, but as we all know, how complicated. Because preparing to be responsible adults entails many things. And I think if that's what we are really focused on then, we're backwards. If our aim was to prepare our young people to become responsible adults then we would actually approach the work every differently in many cases. First of all we would focus on helping young people to make good decisions. To think and reason, to problem solve, to think critically.
We have to recognize that as adults our students won't just follow directions, they will have to make decisions on their own. It's something that many parents have trouble with, because they often are afraid of what happens as their children get older, and they begin to lose the ability to control who their children's friends are and how they spend their time. And I'd like to say, as a parent myself, that what we should really be after is not control, but influence. Have we laid a foundation in firm values, so when they're not with us they make good decisions? So they know how to figure out right and wrong and have a good grounding to be able to navigate the world? And I would say that schools also play a major role in this.
I'm not against charter schools, let me be clear, I'm in favor of any good school that's good for kids. But some of the charter schools that are being held up as a model believe that their goal is to regiment, to completely control their students. To control how they sit, control their eye contact, control their movements in the hallway. Many of them have silence in the hallway and no talking in the lunch room. John King, the new commissioner of education of New York state, is held up as a real reformer because he founded a very successful charter school in Boston called Roxbury Prep and went on to found a network the called Uncommon Schools. And I would say that academically this school is far out-performing many public schools that are serving the same population of kids. So I would acknowledge that they are doing a much better job. I would also acknowledge that the model they use does not appeal to me.
I've visited this school, and I noticed that children are not allowed to talk in the hall, and they get punished for the most minor infraction. And when I talked with John King afterwards, I said, "I've never seen a school that serves affluent children where they're not allowed to talk in the hall." And he said, "Well, that might be true, but this is the model that works for us, we've found that this is the model that our kids need."
So I asked him, "Are you preparing these kids to be leaders or followers? Because leaders get to talk in the hall. They get to talk over lunch, they get to go to the bathroom, and people can trust them. They don't need surveillance and police officers in the bathroom." And he looked at me like I was talking Latin, because his mindset is that these children couldn't do that.
Unfortunately what is often driving these high-performing schools is the idea that the kids need to be broken. That the kids' culture needs to be taken away from them and replaced with something else, because they come in with deficits. They come in as damaged goods. And these schools believe that their job is to mold the kids into something else.
And when they succeed, they end up with kids who no longer want to be associated with their own families and their own communities. Because the education they've been given has led them to believe that the goal is to escape. To escape the neighborhood, escape the community, to go someplace else. And so rather than education being a resource to help families and help communities, instead it's being used to cream off those we think have the talent. And let them go someplace else. Meanwhile the community stays exactly as it was and in many cases deteriorates further. That's not the education that I endorse.
I think that when we're focused on preparing young people for life, that we also necessarily need to provide them with an education that helps them see that knowledge can serve as a means to solve real problems in their communities. That it's helpful, that it's real, that it's useful.
Parents are our allies
But that means that educators need to see themselves as part of the community as well. The educators have to have a vision for how knowledge can be used to address some of those problems. And that means the educators need to know that community.
They need to see their parents as allies; not as their clients, or as a bother. I would say that that's hard for a lot of the educators because they don't know those communities, they don't know how to communicate with those parents. They're-they're actually more afraid of the parents than they are of the kids, cause the parents are bigger. And many of the parents come to school with attitude with suspicion, with hostility, because their experiences in school were not good.
And so how do we build trusting relationships with parents? It has to be premised on the understanding that we want the same thing. That we all want to see the kids do well. Good principals-- like Christina Fuentes [at Brooklyn's PS 24] --have been showing us this for years: that your parents can be your best allies. The parents can be a resource for you, if you know how to build a partnership with them that's premised on respect. That's premised on a recognition that both parties have a role to play. The parents need to be able to reinforce at home what's important in school.
But the school needs to treat those children with dignity, and respect, as if they were their own children. And when parents believe that, when the parents know that, you have an ally. When it works well, when you get in trouble in school, you go home, you know what happens? You get in more trouble. That's the old way, but it's the right way. In fact that's the only way.
When school and home are at odds, the kids suffer. The kids suffer because the adults are fighting, there's no reinforcement, there's no "social closure," as James Coleman calls it. Social closure is when we see kids, thriving and developing.
So schools have to be preparing kids for life. Preparing them to think critically. Preparing them to make good judgments. We need allies, we need to understand what their world is like, that they're going to be living in. So we understand that when they leave us they're going to have to make decisions, and hopefully they'll be prepared by the education we've given them.
PS 28: A big vision of education
I was at a school in Bed-Stuy, not far from where I grew up -- I grew up in Brownsville in Tilden Houses. So I visited PS 28, whose principal is Sadie Silver. I was so struck, because this is a full service school. Over 40 percent of the children are homeless. And it's a high performing school. Sadie Silver took me to several classrooms, and every classroom in the school has 3 to 4 adults in it. And the first thing I wondered was, How'd you do that? And she said:
"Well that's a special ed teacher, that's a reading specialist, that's an aide.....Everyone in the school is in a classroom unless they're working individually with a student. No one is in their office doing paperwork, including me. I didn't become a principal to escape the classroom, I became a principal to lead the classrooms. So I'm in classrooms all day long."
So I said "who does all the administrative work?" "My secretary does that, she handles all of the administrative work."
At one point we're in the classroom and we see a little boy. He raises his hand and the teacher just nods. He gets out of his seat to go use the restroom, and I'm curious how they pulled this off. And in a few minutes he's back, and I said, "I'm impressed." She said, "Why?" And I said, "Well, he used the restroom, there were no guards, he came right back." She said, "My kids have to walk on some of the most dangerous streets in New York City. If I can't teach them to use the restroom, what have I done?"
She told me that the school stays open every night until 8:00. Because the shelter doesn't open until 8:00, so she doesn't want the kids out on the street. I asked, "How do you do that?" And she said, "Well. I don't do that, the Y runs the second shift. And the Y provides after-school help, after school programs, the Y provides swimming lessons after school Thursdays, because she believes her kids need a well rounded education, it can't just be focused on test preparation. She explained to me that they offered ESL classes for parents, they offer GED classes for parents, they offer job training classes for parents who will become security guards and nurses aides. I said "Do you do that?" She said, "I don't do that, I have a partner that works with a community development organization. They provide job training for our parents." Because she believes that if the parents are employed and they are educated that they will do a better job with their own children. That's part of her vision.
She takes me to meet her guidance counselor. She says, "I have to tell you before you meet him, I got him from the rubber room." "You got him from the rubber room?"
And everyone here knows about the rubber room because that's where you put the people nobody wants! So clearly there are some people there who shouldn't be, and he was one. She said, "Well, I don't know why he was in the rubber room, but he was my counselor in school, and he saved my life, so I knew he was good. So when I found out he was there I requested him for my school." So I go and I meet the counselor who was talking to a boy who was about 8 years old. And I ask the little boy "Why are you here?" and he says, "I'm learning how to be good." And I asked him, "Is it working?" and he said "well I hope so. I'm tired of being sent here-he's a nice man and all, but-- "
What was clear was that this was a conversation about learning how to be good, about learning how to be responsible. What this counselor was not willing to do was to send him home and watch TV under the guise of discipline. He actually thought that the goal of discipline was to help this young person learn how to be responsible for his behavior. He's doing the social and emotional work with this young man.
We're about to leave and she says, "Let me show you one more thing." And she takes me to her office and she shows me the data system. She has ARIS up and running and she's got portfolios for every student's work and she can tell me exactly where every student in her school is, how they're doing, who needs what, and I'm very impressed. I leave there and I e-mail [then DOE chancellor] Joel Klein, and I say "Joel, you need to go visit PS 28 right away, check out what they're doing with their students." Two days later he visits, he comes away also impressed, so he writes about it in the memo that he sends out to all the principals in NYC. Except he only talks about one thing in that memo, the ARIS system. He was so happy he finally found a principal using it, they spent so much money on it. So I wrote back to Joel, "I'm glad you visited, but you missed it. It's not just that data system that makes it work, that's part of it, but it's all those other things."
And that, unfortunately, is what's wrong with New York--what's wrong with many places: The people running the system don't have the vision for what it takes. Schools like PS 28 and PS 24 are working well because of they do have that vision, a vision that includes a strategy to get young people to become responsible adults. It also means that we have an understanding that our kids need social intelligence. They need social capital too.
Social & emotional skills really can be taught
One of the oldest lessons in the field of sociology is the importance of social relationships. We learned a long time ago that people who are isolated, people who are unable to build relationships with others, tend not to do well. According to sociologists they're actually more susceptible to suicide too. Because we're by nature gregarious beings, we need people to survive.
Teaching young people how to work with others, how to problem solve, how to get advice, how to find good mentors, how to present yourself to an employer, so you look like am attractive employee, how to code switch. When is it time to speak proper English? When is it time to pull up your pants? If we don't teach our kids these things, what happens? We will find bright young people who are constantly having obstacles, who have no self awareness, who have no understanding of how they're being read by others.
Sometimes we have to teach our kids to smile. You know, when you scowl all the time it's a turn off. If you want friends you have to be nice sometimes, you have to say thank you and please. You know we call them common courtesies, well they're not that common, and we can't assume our kids have learned them.
I visited a school where the principal assumed that if she wanted her kids to play with blocks she actually had to teach them to play with blocks. Because if you put 5-year-olds in a room with blocks who have no prior experience with them, you're going to get a lot of bumped heads, because blocks become missiles. But guess what? They're so teachable.
They can learn to play blocks, they can learn to use the bathroom. I had another principal who came to me, brand new principal of a middle school in Brooklyn. She told me that every day her students have food fights. She came to me and said, "I don't know what to do about it." I said, "Really?" She said, "Every day they're throwing food at each other. It's disgusting." I said let's go together. I took her to a school a few blocks away where they never had food fights. Never. Kids clean up their lunch trays, sometimes teachers even eat lunch with the kids -- what a radical idea. And she was amazed. She said, "How have they done it?" I said, "Let's talk to them." And [school staff] said, "We actually teach them. We teach them how to eat lunch together. We teach them how to clean up their trays." They actually take the time to teach the kids everything.
And that doesn't mean they're regimented, because the staff at this school actually believe that if they give the kids the guidance and follow up regularly, the kids will learn. Our kids actually want structure. They actually want adults who hold them accountable.
They're looking for it, they're asking for it. And when it doesn't happen, you know what happens? The kids say oh, we must be running this place. If the kids are running the place, then we're all in trouble. Ask the kids. They'll say: you know, this is not a safe place. Kids should not be running this place.
Too many of our schools have a shortage of adults with moral authority. Moral authority is not about your title. It's not about how big and intimidating you are. It's not about the position you hold in the school. It is about the relationship you have with the children. And is interesting because you can ask the kids right now and they'll tell you who in the school has moral authority. They might not know that term, just ask them: Who are the adults you listen to? Who are the adults you respect? Who are the adults who walk in and the kids calm down? And they'll say "Oh okay, it's so and so." And guess what? Sometimes it's the lady in the cafeteria. Sometimes it's the security guard. Sometimes the custodian. Sometimes the teacher. Moral authority shows up in all kinds of shapes and sizes and positions.
It is about a relationship, it's not about a job. It's hard, it's very hard to teach, because very often the people with the titles don't even know moral authority is something they need. That this is part of the job too. And if you rely on intimidation and threats to get kids to behave, that is a very weak threshold. Lawrence Kohlberg, a psychologist at Harvard University who wrote a lot about moral development said: "The goal of discipline is not to teach kids to avoid punishment. The goal of discipline is to teach them to do what's right even when we're not looking."
But what does that entail? It entails students internalizing the values, the ethics on their own, so they know exactly why they don't throw food, they know exactly why they don't wear their hat indoors, they know exactly why they don't bully and harass and tease. And guess what, our kids are capable of all of that.
And all you have to do is go to a school where that's the norm, where those values are what permeate the school. Values, not rules. And what you find is young people who can-who can do it. You see young people work in groups, when you go into classrooms, you see young people who are learning from each other. Yes, there are high-performing teachers-they could be doing headstands. But when you see kids who know how to work together and who are actually learning from each other--that's high-level teaching right there. Because the teachers had to have taught the students how to take control of learning. How to work together. So the students don't have to be watched. They don't have to be monitored all the time. Those teachers exist.
Too many teachers isolated from each other
And what's so sad is that they exist in so many schools and they are working in isolation from their colleagues. I can't tell you how often I go to a school where there's dysfunction throughout the building. And then you'll find one teacher where the kids are on task, it's humming. And no one in the school is learning from that teacher. That teacher could be right next door to a teacher who's out of control. But there's no conversation among the teachers about what they're doing differently.
Think about this. Franklin Lane High School is about to be closed by the [NYC] Department of Education. It's a terrible school. Now I think we should rightfully raise the question, Why did they allow it to get so bad? It's a school where when you go to visit, kids are running around the hallway…it's so bad, it's unsafe. And in the same building is a school called Multicultural High School, whose principal is Altagracia Liciaga. Right upstairs. And it's a high-performing school. It's a school that serves students with interrupted formal education. These are recent immigrants, many of whom only went to school for a year or two. So they're not even literate in their native language. One hundred percent of her 9th graders this year passed the algebra regents. They're in the same building. Now if I were in Franklin Lane, do you think I might want to go upstairs to find out, what're you guys doing up there? How come your kids are learning so much? But those conversations aren't happening, even in the same building--or even the same school.
I asked a student from Franklin Lane, who was fighting against the closure, "What's going on upstairs?" He said, "Well, we're not allowed upstairs." I said, "Why not?" He said, "Because they said we're not allowed to run around upstairs like we do downstairs." I said, "Do the teachers go upstairs?" He said, "No, I don't think so, but I hear from everybody that it's a really good school."
And they're in the same building. There's no learning going on across these schools
So building social capital, building the social intelligence, it's something the adults have to do as well. They have to learn how to work with each other. They have to build relationships with each other across schools, across teachers. Because we find that if we don't do that, the isolation of our teachers is actually furthering the decline of our schools.
We don't produce excellent teachers in grad school. You can graduate from NYU or even Bank Street. But you don't graduate a master teacher. Where do you learn to be a master teacher? In the classroom. And too often through trial and error.
And in too many schools they will take those brand new teachers and give them the most challenging assignments. Now tell me-show me the research to support that strategy. Why would we think it's a good idea to assign the least experienced teachers to the most challenging students to teach? It's the Teach for America model, the Urban Teaching Fellows Program model. The sink or swim model. And it doesn't work.
You see these 23-year-olds, and after a year they look like they're 43. And "What happened to you?" They're harried, they're losing their hair, they've never slept. It's so sad, they come in so fresh, so motivated, so idealistic. And they get beaten up and abused, and not just by the children. Often by the adults. Because there's hazing going on. Oh you're so smart? You can teach those 9th graders who can't read. That's who you've got this year. The ones who hate school. No, let's save that for the pros. Let's save that for the people who actually know what they're doing. Who actually who have demonstrated effectiveness with working with those children. Because those teachers are out there.
It's so sad. I was asked to speak to a group of new teachers at the University of Chicago. And we were talking about what it takes to build relationships with students. And one teacher raised her hand she said, "You know, I spent my whole first year working on my lesson plans for hours at night, and coming to school and I could not get the kids to listen to me. And I was so worried that they were going to observe me and find out, so I'd try to get the kids to be quiet whenever somebody was coming in. And finally I asked one of the veteran teachers what did she do to keep the kids engaged in a task, and she said, "Start the year by getting to know them." And this new teacher said, "Really?" "Yeah. Get to know them."
So this new teacher say, "And I did, and I'm having such a great year. Why didn't they tell me to do that last year? Why did they wait?"
Is it really a shocker to know that kids learn through relationships? That kids will actually learn more from you if they think you like them? If you care about them? If you get to know who they are and what their interests are Because that's the nature of our students. That's the nature of being human. You learn through relationships.
All of us have seen examples of young people who will be fine in one classroom, but in another classroom, they're out of control, not doing any work. Is the problem the student? Or is the problem the lack of relationship in the other classroom? It's not to say that the students don't bear any responsibility, they do/ But our kids will rise to the level of our expectations. And they will rise to the level that we've actually taught them. We have to actually teach them how to do school. We have to teach them how to work together. We have to show them what excellent work looks like. We have to show them how to take responsibility for their work.
I would say that too many teachers confuse teaching with talking. They think because they've covered it, they taught it. No, no, no, no. Big difference. If they didn't learn it, you didn't teach it. Because teaching and learning are connected, aren't they?
Ask the music teachers. Ask the theater teacher. Ask the coaches. It's not good enough to say "I covered it." Kids get up on stage and they don't know their parts. Well what do we say? We say we need a new theater teacher. Because we shouldn't let those kids go up and perform if they aren't ready. And the theater teacher knows this, so the theater teacher makes them rehearse over and over again. Until they at least know their lines. Because the goal is not to grade them on their performance, the goal is to make sure they get it.
And too many teachers confuse grading with teaching. Grading is not teaching, we have a curve to grade. Teaching is in the revision. Teaching is in getting them to understand what good work looks like. What excellent work looks like. In too many of our schools that's not the strategy. They're covering the material and blaming the kids when they don't get it. They expect the kids to learn the way they teach, rather than teaching the way their students learn. When you teach the way the students learn, you teach differently. And you recognize that social and emotional learning is always a part of it. Because part of what we have to do, especially with our boys, is teach them how to deal with their emotions.
Because we have a masculinity crisis across America, don't we? And all the women say, yes. Yes indeed. Why? Because we had a women's movement in this country. A women's movement that helped to challenge gender roles, challenge our conception of what women could be, what women could do. And while we have a long way to go still, it has had a predominant effect. All you have to do is ask young women today what they want to be and you will rarely find a young women who thinks their only option is to be a secretary or a nurse, or even a teacher.
Young women today think they can be anything. Ask them. They think they can be truck drivers, presidents... Now, class issues are still an obstacle, race is often still an obstacle, but gender roles have begun to change. Just ask the men here: How many of you are doing way more chores at home than your father ever did? And not necessarily because you volunteered, because you know if you want to stay married you have to step up. I have to change this diaper. I have to cook dinner tonight, wash the dishes. Gender roles have changed. Largely because women have insisted upon it. But masculinity, our conception of what it is to be a man, hasn't changed. And so much of what it is to be a man is rooted in being the provider.
The man is supposed to be the provider. But what happens when there's no work, A lot of men can't be the providers. What happens when the man is not the strong father figure in the home because the man is unemployed, and the man doesn't understand what role he can play now within the family, within the household? And because no one has helped that man understand how to build relationships, he doesn't understand how to relate to his children, how to relate to his partner, and before you know it, the man is obsolete. The man is useless.
It's sad, how many useless men we have on our hands. Listen, its not funny how many men now live with their parents. They have to go back to mom because nobody would take them. The women are saying "No, no, I'm not cleaning up the room for you, you gotta go back and let your mama do it. I'm not doing that."
It's a crisis in masculinity, it's not even about race. It permeates our society. In every college, in every state in the country now there are more women than men in college. Women are increasingly outperforming men in the professions as well. Women between 25 and 35 are earning more money than men for the first time now. Somebody's got to make some money.
But I would say so much of this is about our inability to cultivate emotional balance in young men and boys. In too many young men, there is a fear of being vulnerable. And I would say for many young men the only emotions we feel comfortable with are anger and happiness. Anything in between, anything too ambiguous, is very unsettling.
I was talking to my 19 year old son, who lives in Los Angeles now and who is working because he wasn't ready for college. He's working with City Year, and he works in schools as a mentor to kids who don't like school--which he's had some experience with. So he s very good at doing this. And we're talking late at night, and he says "Daddy, when did you stop being angry?" And I knew exactly what he was talking about, and I said "Well, it was probably when I was about 19."
He said, "Really?" Because he's 19. And he says, "I'm starting to be less angry now too." I said, "What's the source of your anger?" He said, "Sometimes I don't even know. I don't even know."
It's confusion. Confusion because we have trouble processing our feelings. Confusion because we don't even know how to be in the world. How can I be in relationships with others when there's so much about me I can't control? I can't control how people see me, I can't control my grades, I can't control anything, so I'm just angry. We see all these angry young men out there, who are so easily slighted, so quick to violence, because they have an inability to control all those feelings pent up inside.
So this work in social emotional intelligence, especially with our boys, is important. Not to say the girls don't need help too. They need lots of help. But our young men clearly are crying for help in this regard. They're struggling. They're struggling with masculinity, with what it means to be a man in the world today, they're struggling with their sexuality, and they're often getting no help at all. And telling them to man up is not helping at all, because they don't understand what it means to be a man today in the world.
Education should make us more human
So we've got to make sure that the education we provide covers all of this. So damn, we don't just need test scores. We just keep piling all these things on. But what happens if we don't do it?
I want to share a quote with you from a young girl who was a Holocaust survivor. She says, "I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by trained physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. I am suspicious of education. My request is, help your students to be come more human, your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human."
And I read that because I think all of us would agree. If we produce young people who are getting high scores but don't know how to live in the world, don't know how to treat other people, something is wrong. And there's clear evidence that something is fundamentally wrong. Because the whole direction our society is going in is to become more inequitable, less concerned about the poor, the disadvantaged, more threatened by people who speak different languages, who come to our borders to do the work we don't want to do.
We're a society with mass incarcerations. Over two million people in this country are behind bars. And it's not even a political issue we talk about much. Even though we know every dollar we spend to incarcerate is a dollar we don't have for education, for health, or for anything else. And even though we know over half the people behind bars are there for substance abuse. We incarcerate people because of their flaws, because of their weaknesses, because we didn't educate them. And that's not even an issue that our society is grappling with.
So I am frustrated. Frustrated by the inability of our politics to address this, but I'm also frustrated by the fact that many of our schools are not focused on this work Because schools always have to be in the business of helping to reshape society. Because that's really what we do. We're preparing young people for the world, but we can't prepare them for the world as it is, we have to prepare them to help make the world better than it is. To come out as problem-solvers. To come out as people who can make a difference. Who have a sense of compassion for others. Who have a sense of dignity, not only for themselves, but for others.
And unless that happens. we will find that all of our efforts to raise scores amount to nothing. We will be more competitive, but we won't be more humane. We won't be any closer to solving the problems that the world has now than we were before. Let me read another quote. This one is from Gandhi. And Gandhi says that "the roots of violence are wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principles."
Now here, he doesn't think that violence is simply about fighting. Some of the most violent people I know, they never touch a weapon. But they rationalize torture. They rationalize wars throughout the world. They rationalize police beatings of children in the streets. There's institutional violence going on. And your children see it. And as adults we have to help them see it and understand that that's not normal, that's not our vision of what we should be.
So we have to be guided by a different kind of vision. The education we provide has to be for a different kind of vision for a society we want to create. And that starts with the kind of young people we want to help produce for the world. So I want to acknowledge that this is not easy work. You as educators have so many expectations piled on you.
I was on a panel awhile ago with Dennis Walcott before he was named [NYC schools] chancellor, and he said, "This is the greatest time to be a principal." And I said, "The only person who would say that is someone who has never been a principal. You clearly have no clue of what our principals are dealing with right now."
I do have a clue. I do understand. And I understand that the work is very, very challenging right now. Because so much around us is falling apart. But I also know that the key is to do this work with a sense of vision, with a sense of what is at stake. Because I know that what is at stake is what kind of nation, what kind of world we'll live in. It's that important.
Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at New York University, is an urban sociologist whose work focuses on how schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment. He is also executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education and the co-director of the Institute for the Study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings. He is author of The Trouble With Black Boys ...And Other Reflections on Race, Equity, and the Future of Public Education.
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