A broader approach to helping kids: A call for shared responsibility



by Christopher Paslay


The following is an excerpt from an article written by Jerry Jordan, President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  This article appeared in the May edition of the PFT Reporter.


A child came to class late one morning with a sad, almost weary look on his face, and carrying a small suitcase. When his teacher asked what was wrong, the boy replied: “I didn’t do what my Mommy told me to do this morning, and she got angry and packed my suitcase and yelled at me to get out, to go live with my Dad. She said she didn’t want me there any more.”


The child was six years old.


A PFT member teaching special education in a Philadelphia school shared this story with a PFT staff member a few years ago. The teacher worried aloud, “He was so sad, alone and felt so unloved, and I didn’t know how to help him, and I certainly didn’t know how I could keep him focused on schoolwork with so much turmoil in his life.”


Most PFT members who work with students can tell similar stories, because most of us have known students whose parents have lost their jobs, homes, freedom or lives. We know students who live in homeless shelters and children who move from one foster home to another. . . .


Yet, as teachers, we are held accountable for reaching and teaching all children, regardless of the myriad of factors that influence their academic success or failure. We, and no one else, are held accountable for raising test scores in classes whose sizes we can’t control, in schools that are falling apart, without enough books or computers and too often without the support of families.


Raise test scores, we are told, even with students who miss 20, 40 or 50 school days a year, who don’t have the eyeglasses they need to see and who haven’t a quiet place in which to do homework.


And we dare not talk about the hardships our students face, because then we are accused of making “excuses” for not raising test scores the way a factory might raise production of ball bearings.


Calling for teacher accountability is politically correct. “Excuses” are not. Neither is talking about the “big picture” of our students’ lives, about the undeniable link between student outcomes and the social and economic conditions in which children live.


In the same way that we’ve narrowed the curriculum to focus on preparing for “The Test,” we’ve narrowed the discussion about what kids need to a single place and person: the school and the teacher. . . .


This article by Jerry Jordan is powerful because it examines the concept of holistic education—the idea that it takes an entire village to teach a child.  As Jordan so clearly states, teachers need support from schools, parents and communities, and asking for these resources is by no means “making excuses”. 


The idea of holistic education is nothing new.  The Harlem Children’s Zone, founded by Geoffrey Canada, is based on shared responsibility and is gaining momentum in NYC. 


So is a movement called A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA).  As Jordan spoke about in the May edition of the PFT Reporter, the BBA is an impressive group of educators, legislators, Nobel laureates and foundations from across the country, who are embracing a Broader, Bolder Approach to Education that seeks to reduce the social and economic disadvantages that sabotages achievement.


A Broader, Bolder Approach, or BBA, believes that schools alone cannot “close the entire gap between students from different backgrounds in a substantial, consistent and sustainable manner.”


Philadelphia’s struggling children need the help of everyone—teachers and schools, businesses and the community, parents and politicians.  It is exciting to see Jerry Jordan, as well as BBA’s other noteworthy leaders and legislators, getting on board with a movement that emphasizes teamwork in education.        


Holistic education is the future.  To support the BBA’s focus on synergy and community cooperation, please sign the petition for shared responsibility.      



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