This points to a more subtle and insidious threat to teaching and learning in schools like New Dorp: classism. Linguists concerned with issues of social class demonstrated long ago the fallacy of correlating oral language with intelligence, and yet this myth persists and often shapes assumptions educators and others have about working-class and poor students, making them already "known" to be less capable and more culpable for their own failures to succeed.
Learning about both the strengths and struggles of students can help teachers rethink their instruction. By viewing their students as capable learners, it seems New Dorp teachers innovated methods that -- with concerted, consistent, and compassionate support -- led the students to conceive of themselves as writers, particularly of academic prose. The fact that this initiative was taken on as a school-wide effort impressed upon the students and the teachers that what they were doing was important for learning.
"We teach students, not programs," a local administrator recently told Stephanie. If we had to guess, it sounds as if New Dorp High School, as portrayed in Tyre's article, has decided to teach students. Teachers were positioned to use their professional knowledge and experiences to learn about their students, analyze their writing, and be invested in their success.
Despite David Coleman's despicable charge that "people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think" in the real world -- when teachers teach as if they do give a shit about what students feel or think, revolutions like the one at New Dorp take hold. David Coleman is dead wrong about the real world and his advice for teachers is dangerous. Instead, when teachers invest themselves in deep inquiry into their own practice, they gain the intellectual and emotional commitment necessary to teach in ways that are in the best interest of students.
What worries us about most media portrayals of education is the emphasis on results over process. As new teachers enter New Dorp, for example, they might be told to teach this writing "program" without having engaged in the intellectual work of searching for and responding to the most pertinent needs of their student writers.
And it can't be assumed that the students of New Dorp five years from now will be more or less the same as current students and in need of the same kind of instruction. Nothing, given our globalized and technological world, could be less true. Unless attempts are made to replicate the inquiry process and reassess student needs and teacher instruction, then, if we had to guess, the program won't be nearly as successful, and a new crisis will emerge that only committed and empowered teachers will be able to solve.
Desperate educational situations all over the country are emerging out of the ashes of more than a decade of policies that forced schools into narrowing their curriculum and teaching to the test. Should we be surprised that students from under-resourced schools haven't learned to be the strong analytical writers we wish they were? They have spent their entire school careers in the very places where surveillance was the most stringent, teaching the "standards" most scripted, and controlling the pace and content of instruction the most rigid.