60 Minutes just aired a two-part story that stands in their grand tradition of breathtaking journalism. The report tells the story of Gospel for Teens, a non-profit arts organization created in Harlem, NYC by the radio broadcaster, publisher and theatre producer, Vy Higginsen. Her original goals were modest; teach kids to sing gospel music so that this important African American art form endures. The lessons Ms. Higginsen, the teenagers and the 60 Minutes audience learn are much more profound and life-altering.
First you witness the children’s drive, determination and capacity for intensity (a major theme of my forthcoming book). During their first two-hour class, the kids learn three gospel songs in three-part harmony. Try comparing this accomplishment to the school tasks teachers so mightily struggle to eek out of these kids, or kids just like them. The complexity of this musical feat dwarfs much of what one finds in the school curriculum, especially the curriculum for poor children.
The 60 Minutes report follows the development of these children through two semesters of participation in Gospel for Teens and explores their backgrounds, daily struggles and triumphs. Perhaps you know the challenges urban teens face, but have forgotten, or you are just so focused on raising those damned test scores that you forgot why you became an educator. Every child – yours and mine – is precariously close to being labeled “at-risk.” This is especially true of poor children.
Teaching is as complex and diverse as each learner. Although these kids can sing their pants off, they struggle with the most basic of life skills. Their emotional needs can make academic success impossible, especially because way too few adults give a damn about each kid and do whatever is necessary to connect with them on a human level.
I am sick and tired of hearing about “those kids” and how they are failing! You never know when the slightest gesture of good will, willingness to listen or simple act of kindness can change a young person’s life and enrich us all.
We are all reminded of this lesson over and over again throughout the 60 Minutes piece. As in other constructive environments where children choose to be, there are quite likely no discipline problems at Gospel for Teens.
Teachers really need to do some soul-searching during these challenging times.
Try remembering why you told your parents that you wanted to become an educator. Was it so you could scream at children and control when they get to pee? Was it so you could march kids up and down the hall like POWs? Was it to deliver the curriculum and hold them accountable? Was it to raise f$#king test scores on tests never intended to be used to rank kids or punish teachers, especially when they are hugely expensive and rigged against the very children you serve?
If the answer to all of the above is NO, then wake up every morning and ask yourself, “What can I do to ensure that this is the best 7 hours of each student’s day?” While you’re at it, fight with every ounce of your being to preserve world-class music and art opportunities for every American child! Don’t blame the kids when we won’t do the right thing!
Why not declare every day, “I’m Here for the Kids Day,” and protect them from the corporate and political bullies fighting to make their schools joyless test-prep factories?
Watch the 60 Minutes report:
(the clips may not play inline, but the links above work)
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.