If there is a consistent subtext to much of my thinking here, it is that amid all the fervor of change and development taking place in independent schools, we as educators must never lose sight to the human, personal scale on which our every action is taken and felt.
Thus it is that I have been elated over the past couple of days, when I have been re-reading Ted and Nancy Sizer’s classic—an understatement, from my perspective—The Students Are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract. These are educators who are sensitive to each nuance of humanity as it finds expression in our classrooms, faculty rooms, and hallways.
More than a decade ago this book moved our faculty in the direction of articulating a set of core values for our school, values that remain fresh and alive even if we seldom look at the boards on which they are written—that’s as it should be, I think. It’s also one of the books that inspired me to take up the pen on matters educational.
Since my last full re-reading of The Students Are Watching the Crash-like event of 2008 has occurred, with schools reeling in its wake. So too has the revolution in technology that has brought us social media and classrooms where “bring your own device” is increasingly the norm. We’ve often so often pressed by the wobbly economy or so excited by new technologies and new ways to harness them that the idea of schools as loci of a “moral contract” seems sometimes pushed to the margins.
I am here to say, however, that The Students Are Watching is still as profound, provocative, and inspiring a book as it was when I first discovered it—and went to an event at the then-new Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School to hear the authors and have my copy signed, something I had never done before—back in 1999. As I read it again I want to tweet the whole book, sentence by sentence, from start to finish; every phrase carries its own epigrammatic wisdom and power.
In the next couple of posts here I want to drill down into some of the language that the Sizers bring to bear on eternal questions in schools and to reflect on the ways on which their rich, human language might both inform and clarify some of the ways we think about the challenges and opportunities facing schools today. I’ve kvetched here often enough about the over-use of (and low standards applied to) “innovative,” and our use of “problem-solving” has begun to strike me as sometimes glib and reductionist. The Students Are Watching offers another way, a more complex and human way, of talking about these concepts.
Stand by, then, please, for Parts II and III of this series of posts.