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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Don't Good Teachers Empower Children?

It certainly seems true that a good teacher would empower children. That is the reason there is so much fussing and fuming about teachers who lack this power, and arguments over whether they should leave the profession to make way for those who have it. But no one teacher will have the magic to enthuse all children. That is the pipe dream that the Chicago Board of Education clings to. The reality of the situation is what keeps teachers' unions on their feet and fighting. Most teachers have chosen the profession because they like children and believe that they can help them learn. Of those who choose to be teachers because they thought teaching would be easy, very few last more than a year or two. So although perhaps there are a few who should go seek other professions, this pogrom to remove teachers who are less than charismatic is unfair to the profession and the children it is trying to serve.

Maybe we should look at the nature of empowerment. Certainly the ability to read should empower a child. And the ability to write. The ability to manipulate numbers can open the door to our monetary system. Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic, the three R's from long ago, are still what we lean on for a child's firm foundation. And yet, there is something we have been missing: the secret of empowerment lies not in the teacher, but in the child. It begins with his curiosity and continues with his freedom to investigate, to probe, to wonder and to learn. A teacher who is expert in instruction may be valued highly by her profession, but the child who initiates his own queries is the only child really empowered by his learning--because he has grasped the secret: the only real learning comes from within. Self initiated learning opens doors into rainbows of possibilities. Yes, teachers can train children to do things, but children who know how to initiate their own education will find lives that follow paths their teachers have never dreamed of.

Montessori education empowers children by freeing them to choose and to investigate. Traditional education informs a child, then tells him what to do with that information. Is it any wonder that half the male students who begin as freshman at Roberto Clemente, in my Chicago neighborhood, never stay to graduate? They say, "School? Jail? What's the difference?"

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