May 28, 2024

Stager’s SLA Manifesto

At last January’s Educon 2.1 Conference I enjoyed the great privilege of serving on a panel discussion about school reform with a number of impressive educators. For eight months I have been carrying around the notes I wrote for my opening with the intent of publishing them online.

The following list is designed to stimulate thought and dialogue. The points are made in no particular order of importance.

I believe…

  • We must not rank or sort children.
  • The teachers and parents within a particular school community should make all curriculum decisions.
  • Every child is entitled to a rich joyous education filled with art, music, drama, computer science, apprenticeship experiences and access to high-interest reading materials during the school day.
  • Teachers must never yell at children.
  • Regardless of factors outside of school – including poverty and other social pathologies – the classroom should be an oasis representing the best 6-7 hours of a child’s day.
  • We must not punish children for the sins of adults.
  • Every child is entitled to a talented, loving, passionate professional teacher who herself continues to learn and grow in a setting free of fear or coercion.
  • It is wrong to be mean to children.
  • It should not be surprising when children are kind or do extraordinary work. It should be expected.*
  • External assessment is always disruptive and interferes with learning.
  • Learning is natural

*new item added when I assembled this post

9 thoughts on “Stager’s SLA Manifesto

  1. Hi Gary
    School reform is a topic my classmates and I have discussed in my grad school class on Educational Leadership. I agree with a lot of what you have said here especially ranking children and giving all students regardless of their socioeconomic status an equal opportunity to learn. The one caveat I have is with parents involvement with their child’s education, granted some parents are highly educated but so many others are not and will need guidance, assurance and support to be part of the curriculum process. I feel that many parents should not only be allowed to be involved in the curriculum planning process but also maybe have an opportunity to take some classes as well so they are better prepared to assist in their child’s education


  2. I agree with most of what you say, and I wish you’d take your own advice. You come off rather “mean” in your presentations, and I think your audiences are “entitled to a talented, loving, passionate professional teacher.”

  3. Mr. Dee,

    Thanks for reading my blog and for commenting. I hope you subscribed.

    As an “aspirational default,” I don’t think we have any choice whatsoever, but to build a school system based on the belief that parents love their children and if given a meaningful, flexible, convenient and non-hostile way to do so would love to contribute to the successful operation of THEIR school.


  4. JD,

    I thought that this message was quite positive. I’m sorry you found it necessary to level a personal critique against me.

    I am passionate about the work I do because there are millions of children’s lives at stake and what we do matters. Children suffer when educators are unwilling or too timid to question the status quo and even risk being called names by anonymous blog commenters.

    More importantly, I am NOT your teacher. In fact, if I am making a public presentation, then I am treating you as a peer.

    I wonder what mean when you say, “I agree with most of what you say” Are there real areas of disagreement or are you just distancing yourself from the opinions stated in the blog?

  5. I’m going to send this to the principal of my daughters’ Middle School. One of my twins has enough processing issues to make school HARD but not enough to qualify for services under the Draconian system at our district. She hates school. She thinks math is stupid. She is ‘ashamed” of the math class she is in and her MAP test scores. When I raise issues around testing or placement, I am looked at like I have NO idea how hard their job is.

    But I’m lucky – I teach a fancy schmancy private school where I try to build my seventh grade classroom around the points in your manifesto:
    Classes must be mixed ability
    I get to decide what we are learning together.
    We try to have fun every day with language and see how it connects to the world around us in music, art, drama, television…
    I am not scary; I am a lighthouse. I am consistent and regular in the way that I react.
    Kids have little control over their schedule outside of school – so we MUST be thoughtful about homework.
    There are no wrong answers in an English class when it comes to talking about books or writers.
    I give no tests on the books that we read. We read interesting books from excellent authors that are challenging (because they are challenging).
    There are almost 1000 high interest books in my classroom library that can be borrowed at any time.

    So thanks for reminding me that these are things worth fighting for, worth making manifest.

  6. I *so* love the idea that locals control what gets taught. Former students remember so much more when we went “off topic.” And why would teachers be mean or yell? That’s just bad personality in the classroom. Go work with inanimate objects.

  7. Gary,
    I vehemently agree with your manifesto and have just one point to add. Point number 2, you state: The teachers and parents within a particular school community should make all curriculum decisions. I totally agree with keeping it local and want you to possibly consider this idea. I think local business should have some say in curricular decision with-in the school as well, to a point. The reason I say this is that I believe local business best know the skills that students need to stay and advance in their organization. I know I don’t have to tell you that in rural areas, such as Northern Pennsylvania and Western New York, we loose many of your students to areas where there are more jobs, which contribute to our regions demise.

    I also see the possibilities where it could be bad for a business to influence schools. It is possible for local business to have profit motives that in the short run have to do with preparing our students but in the long run focus on product sales.

    I love how passionate you are about your work and you are a leader with a great track record and history in our community of practice. The people who criticize and point the finger at you always have 3 fingers pointing back at them. In my own mind I have “pointed the finger” at you and thought “wow, that is controversial.” Then I think a bit harder and deeper about what you said and realized that I think it is controversial because your “controversial statement” is how I am currently teaching and I am offended by the realization that I could be doing much better. I thank you for that and I always realize that what you say is always rooted in your belief for improving our craft, community of practice and the lives of students everywhere.

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