“Hey, I’m Ty,” he said, as he launched himself from the top of the stairwell, a tiny misguided missile hurtling straight at me. I caught him (he wasn’t very large) – and that’s when I learned that the essence of teaching is trust. I had started an after-school program in a Boston inner-city housing project, and Ty – and his less rambunctious twin brother Troy – had just arrived. It was September 1975, and Boston schools were enflamed by the issue of busing to achieve school integration. That era is history now, but the question of how to educate America’s children is no less urgent. A friend sent me a piece on the new Common Core State Standards, the latest national effort to reform our schools. Both teachers and parents are understandably wary of another grand plan. (The opinion of students is rarely solicited. I mean, what do they know?) But after years of a mind-numbing focus on standardized test scores, not as evidence of learning but to make administrators look good, the new standards do two important things: they provide clear goals without dictating how teachers should teach and they encourage critical thinking rather than rote learning. That seems simple, but it requires something that is too often absent from our schools – a deep trust in teachers to teach and in students to learn.
I often wonder what has happened to Ty. Did he find teachers who sough to nurture his exuberance or a system that tried to crush it?