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Rough Road for Trailblazing School Programs

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If there's any doubt that educators are heroes, especially in high-poverty neighborhoods, Sharon Otterman's piece in the New York Times will put that to rest.

The article covers an experimental program in a poor Brooklyn neighborhood where 60 students are taught in an open classroom by four teachers -- one "master teacher" and the others beginners. As the writer describes it, "the school stresses student independence over teacher-led lessons, scientific inquiry over rote memorization and freedom and self-expression over strict structure and discipline."

As you can imagine, there have been bumps in the road.

In the first two months of school, a student pulled a chunk of an adult’s hair out, and an ambulance crew was called twice to calm a child. Eight weeks into the year, the only student work visible on the blue-painted walls was a poster with finger-painted hand prints and the words “Hands Are Not for Hitting.”

“Many of the children have already had a year in what I would call a state of nature, when Rousseau spoke about people who live under no civilization,” Mr. Waronker said, referring to the children’s experience in a regular public school kindergarten. Fifteen children still could not recognize letters, and only one-third were at grade level. “This is messy work — this is the front lines.”

It goes to show that growing pains and missteps are inevitable anytime a new program like this is launched. The founder has already decided to hire more experienced teacher next year. But unless someone takes the charge to blaze the trail, how are we to know what could work better than the current system, which by all accounts, is not working?


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