Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici"/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Education is the interaction between two people: teacher and student.
I went to Williams College, where a quote about Mark Hopkins, a professor and eventually president of the college, is often repeated: James Garfield, U.S. president and Williams alum, said that Hopkins was such a good teacher that the ideal university was Hopkins sitting at one end of a log and a student at the other.
My son spent his 2nd grade year at a public elementary school in Houston. This school has a good reputation, based entirely on the test scores of its affluent students. My seven-year-old son said it was easy, “all we do all day is fill in bubbles.” I walked in to volunteer once, to find the teacher doing paperwork at the back of the room while a boy gave a presentation to the class. She looked up only to tell the kids to be quiet. (They had been trying to ask him questions.)
I wanted to shake her.
Particularly because I know that school can be so much better than that. During my son’s kindergarten and first-grade years, at another public school, in New York City, teachers routinely sat in a circle with their kids, guiding the most astonishing discussions. On a field trip to a museum, the kids, encouraged by their teacher, were coming up with such astute observations about the modern art they saw that a man, who had been with an adult tour group, sidled up. “Your group is WAY more interesting,” he said. “How old are these kids?” They were six.
Everything we do to improve education – small class sizes top my list -- should be to support this intense, personal interaction between student and teacher.