An Appeal to America's Revolutionary Spirit

I believe our nation's progress and people are being seriously stunted by a conventional wisdom that is counter to our American Revolution.

In 1776, our forefathers formed a revolutionary new nation committed to freedom and equality for every individual.

After 65 years as an American educator --with 50 of those years executing a revolutionary new concept in a network of schools -- I submit that the universal idea that the purpose of education is academic achievement is elitist and not right for America.

This emphasis is counter to our founding principles, particularly failing the less advantaged and our society as a whole.

This system seeks to turn our children into "scholars." Yet no more than 10-15% of them are naturally academically talented, leaving the rest to work hard to overcome their deficiencies. This leads to the system's glaring inequality of privileged vs. disadvantaged backgrounds, because wealth can buy antidotes to academic deficiencies.

Even more, attempting to basically turn children into "scholars" does them a great disservice individually. Every kid has a unique potential. We wouldn't want our children judged by their athletic prowess, creative art or acting talents. Why should American education judge them by their scholarship?

Then this focus on developing "scholars" results in only 40% 0f 25-35 year olds at least graduating from two year colleges. Clearly, success in college requires a much deeper child development than just academic proficiency.

Children must be fully developed as confident, creative and purposeful individuals. At the same time, they must also be developed as citizens capable of guiding and governing America. Scholarship is just one part of this whole.

To serve children and America, my 50-year experience found it means addressing two fundamental needs:
  • Focus on the unique potential, character and attitudes of students.
  • Utilize parents as primary teachers and the family as primary classrooms.

Academic proficiency is simply a subset of character development. Most school character programs to date fail because they are add-ons, and the tail cannot wag the dog. In the student's experience, an intellectual program like academics is dwarfed by the more comprehensive "head-heart-soul" nature of character development.

Note that character is primarily taught by example, not by discourse, so change and growth would be required in those who control the present system.

Once schools learn how to effectively address student growth, they will experience entirely different students who have the confidence, curiosity, motivation and grit to tackle the challenge of academic proficiency. It's a tortoise vs. hare approach.

In our Hyde Charter School in Bronx, NYC for example, we seek--as always-- to develop students' unique potential with a program emphasizing Five Words: Curiosity, Courage, Concern, Leadership, Integrity and Five Principles: Destiny, Humility, Conscience, Truth, Brother's Keeper.

We also seek to work with parents and families to make this program effective.
Our test scores are lower than most other NYC charter schools. But in a district where only 47% graduate from high school, 92% of our 1st graduating class was accepted to college, and two years later, 78% of them were still registered in college, even including those who went to two-year colleges.

Kids seldom flunk out of college because of poor academic preparation. It comes down to character issues--confidence, motivation, effort, resilience, sense of purpose. I remember a Hyde grad saying "Hyde teaches you how to succeed in college, and right now, I need to hit the books."

Education is the life blood of a nation. How well has our system been serving America?
Our schools have problems with cheating and bullying; apathy, and yet hate has made school shootings seem a regular occurrence.

Then this system has produced too many prominent Americans revealed with a lack of character, greed and/or self-interest, a wide loss of public faith in many of our institutions and unpopular presidential campaigns to many Americans.

It's time for change. For those who fear the proposed revolutionary change might lower academic standards: When the GI Bill passed allowing all WWII veterans a college education, a college president warned the GIs would turn colleges into "educational hobo jungles." In reality, the GIs gained great respect for their college performance, and became known as "the greatest generation."

A focus on character would do the same: unify, strengthen and inspire America.