Dream With Me

Children Are Not the Enemy: Learning with Ira

By Pamela Moran

I just finished reading the Drool Room by Ira Socol. We learn differently. I read fast. Ira writes slow. It took me about 2 hours to finish his book. It took him seven years to write it. His book covers a lot of ground; from his earliest memories of kindergarten, when school held such great promise, to a thousand bleak moments spent negotiating a system failing its young. The easy choice when reading about his life’s journey is to weep. The difficult choice, always for us educators, is to do something. My lifelong mentor once asked me in a tough conversation if I was content to admire a problem or whether I actually wanted to do something about it. Often in education, to do something, anything about the current state, feels just too overwhelming. It’s much easier to maintain the status quo than to take on the challenge of changing the status quo.

To change education as we know it demands a level of sustained commitment that often just doesn’t seem possible- whether blocked by the limitations of time, resources, or people. In the 9/11 Commission Report, executive director Phil Zelikow noted several system failures that led to the catastrophic losses of 2001: failure of imagination, failure of policy, failure of institutional capabilities, and failure of management. When I read the Drool Room, I was reminded of the catastrophic losses we experience on an annual basis in the United States as we drop young people out of our schools, mostly children who are poor, black, Hispanic, Native American. We exit our young people for these reasons and they tell us this is what they need:

· better teachers

· more school alternatives

· schools that offer real-life opportunities

· more help with learning problems

· tutoring

· more school counselors

· summer school

· more supervision

· more school-to-home communication

· better mentoring between students and teachers.

Occasionally, when I have been present in meetings where potential dropouts are being discussed, I feel as if we are talking about the enemy, not our children. Bill Glasser, author of Choice Theory, once said if students are not succeeding, the teacher needs to begin by asking, “What am I doing? And, if it’s not working, what do I choose to do next?” It’s easy for those of us in education who, ourselves, experienced school success beyond Ira’s wildest dreams to forget to ask that question or not have a clue when our young people are telling us the answer to that question in their words and behaviors. Rather, we may frustrate, anger, enable or ignore.

So, when I read Ira’s book, I am reminded that our own educational failures of policy, institutional capabilities, imagination, and management create and sustain a schooling culture in which our most fragile and vulnerable learners become the enemy. Thankfully, I am also reminded through Glasser’s work and my mentor’s long-ago words that we educators have far more choice and power in our actions than we sometimes acknowledge. While we can’t change how other people feel or think, we can make explicit in all we do that the Iras of our world deserve the best we have to offer- a place at the learning table within a community of their peers and committed, thoughtful educators. We can see all our young people through a capacity rather than deficit lens. In Ira’s young world, Alan Shapiro made a critical difference by seeing him, not as the enemy, but as a young person with value. Ira became one of the lucky ones.

Resiliency and survival skills are why some make it and some don’t. Ira lived a life in the balance and made it. Today, he’s living a life dedicated to turning our system’s failures into success stories. He says, “great schools are possible. I’ve seen them. So why aren’t there more?” We all need to be accountable for answering that question. Glad you’re here to ask it, Ira.

*This post originally appeared in Schoolnet. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About Pamela Moran: I am a superintendent in Albemarle County Public Schools. My professional experiences include teaching and admin leadership across elementary, middle, and high schools as well as at the district level. I also have taught instructional and leadership courses as an adjunct instructor for the University of Virginia. I believe that the experience of working at all levels of public schooling has provided me with a deep understanding of both the vertical and horizontal challenges and opportunities being explored by PK-12-16 learning communities today.  

Connecting with other public school educators to make sense of needed transitions in our field as we close in on the second decade of the 21st Century is a passion.  I am energized by conversations with young people who get Daniel Pink’s work, relish emerging technologies as learning and communication tools, and see themselves as contributors to the communities in which they live. 

I believe we educators now find ourselves in a reverse role of needing to listen to and learn from young people so that we can morph towards the kind of educators we need to be, rather than the educators we were. As the latest American Idol recently commented, “enjoy the experience.”

Follow Superintendent Pamela Moran’s blog: http://k12albemarle.wordpress.com/

To find out more about Ira Socol, check out his blog: http://speedchange.blogspot.com/

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