This I Believe

Mike - Lebanon, Ohio
Entered on February 14, 2007

Common Sense in the Urban Classroom

I believe in the potential of every urban child to seize the opportunity for a high quality education and thereby avoid the treacherous pitfalls and punishing obstacles that accompany ignorance and lack of preparation for a fulfilling life, satisfying work, and active citizenry.

I believe this to be true for I have witnessed firsthand the urban child’s sheer joy and thrilled elation of triumphing over his or her circumstances to reach academic goals that once upon a time seemed unreachable and unattainable.

I believe this to be true because I have witnessed firsthand the unrestrained euphoria and tears of pride on the faces of families whose students have prevailed over the odds that that family members themselves could not overcome.

I believe this to be true because I have witnessed firsthand the steely passion of urban school leaders driving their charges, students and teachers alike, with uncompromising diligence and unflagging demands to push on despite the obstacles.

I believe this to be true most of all because I witnessed firsthand the grit and devotion that urban school teachers bring to the classroom each and every day. There are far too few of these remarkable professionals for the children who anxiously await them. The work of the urban teacher is the most important work being done in America today. Yes, I know that that is a bold, perhaps brazen, statement but it is true nonetheless.

And there is a corollary to my belief in every urban child’s ability to seize the opportunity for a high quality education. My corollary states that achieving the essential objective,

creating the opportunity is, at once, sublimely simple and devilishly difficult.

It is sublimely simple because it calls for the fearless application of common sense to situations and circumstances that can seem frustrating or even frightening. Any first rate urban teacher or principal will tell us this. In those urban schools whose students’ scores are off the charts, common sense and the wonders it works are on display every day.

Herewith a brief litany of common sense in the urban classroom: show up on time ready to work, self-discipline and self-reliance are the order of the day, mutual respect, even admiration, builds confidence and brings results quickly, excuses are inexcusable, and mistakes are correctable why else schooling?

Ah, it all sounds so sublimely simple doesn’t it? Common sense is like that. Seductive even.

But here’s the devilishly difficult part, the part that casts common sense aside. It is the endless search for that elusive yet fictitious fix for urban schools.

The fix is erroneously presumed to be somehow tied to, inextricably linked to, things not germaine to school or, more particularly, classrooms.

If the failure to create the opportunity for a high quality education for every urban child is tied to overcoming poverty, pop culture, poor self-esteem, paternal abandonment, or policy paralysis, to name the first few that come to mind, we have the makings for a self-fulfilling prophecy and the see I told you so syndrome.

A visit the belly of the beast, any one of the emerging but still far too few urban school success stories will immediately bring to mind that old Chinese pearl of wisdom that cautions those who say it cannot be done not to interrupt those who are doing it.