Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Someone's Child: The Heart of Education

In American education, we do a lot of talking about scores and percentiles and norms. We do a lot of averaging. We standardize and we cluck our tongues when students don't meet a standard. When they don't stack up to other kids, we sometimes "classify" them. Some of this serves a purpose. Much of this is beneficial in helping kids to reach their potential.

But most of the time I look around me and I fall out of the "we" that does all of this. I feel miles from the faculty room talk about "these kids." These kids -- as if they are machine-stamped, consistently flawed duplicates of one another.

One can crunch numbers. One can make "data-driven decisions" about academics. One must. But analysis and policy and curriculum are not the heart of education.

I was reminded of this today, as I was standing in the main hall of our school at dismissal. I watched the energetic crowd of high schoolers flowing around me, happily bound for home. As they passed, I caught sight of a student whose face was unfamiliar to me. We are a small school, so this doesn't happen much.

Angelo Bronzino
I watched this kid walk past me. He was walking by himself. He didn't look either happy or sad. He had a bag full of books over his shoulder. He stopped and waited patiently for the crowd around his locker to finish grabbing their coats. He pulled on his own jacket, shut the locker door without slamming it, picked the heavy book-bag up again and walked past me, out the door.

All I could think was: That's someone's boy. He is the most important thing in someone's life. He's a person whose inner life is every bit as vast as my own.

Call me corny, but every face in the bleachers; every face in the classroom; every kid whose face I see in the crowd for the first time -- every one of those kids is someone's child.

That is the heart of education.

Does any job present such an awesome responsibility? Sometimes, the thought of this overwhelms me.


  1. One of my children spent a few years in an American International School. From what I could gather from American parents, it represented a pretty typical US kind of school. What surprised me was the sense I had that the holy grail was to become a 'straight A student'. There seemed to me no real sense that individuals were quirky, that a child might be brilliant in some areas, uniquely gifted even, but not care about or excel at all (and of course the two things are related) in others. All the same, it was not a bad school and the teachers were very good.

    1. Oy. Don't get me started about the "straight A" mentality, here. One of my jobs is thatI am in charge of the school's academic matters. If I had a dome for every time I heard "Why should my child talk an advanced class if he isn't going to get As?" How tempting it is to say: "Um, so he will, maybe, learn more?" Alas, I can't. You're right about the teachers, though -- they are usually the best thing about the system, here. If we coud just move a little bit away from the "competition" mental;ity in academics in America, we wouild be taking a step in the right direction.