Theodore Sizer, whose obituary is in the New York Times today, saw a crucial key which unlocks individual education. As the obituary concludes: “He wrote in [his 1997 best seller] Horace’s Compromise, ”Horace Smith and his ablest colleagues may be the key to better high schools, but it is respected adolescents who will shape them.”
Adolescents who are respected are not the kids you find in failing schools and especially in United States inner city black schools. Dumping money on these schools demeans the student body even more. It resonates as failure that speeds a downward cycle of expectations that form of an underclass of can’t do kids. This underclass becomes a growing source of leftish political and union support, casting a deepening shadow on American democracy.
Ted Sizer did great work in creating schools where the adolescents were respected — beginning in the 1980s. It is now becoming much easier for any adolescent to avoid the demeaning expectations. We have a powerful new tool for eliminating the respect problem. The kid who uses his or her smartphone to browse the web connecting to knowledge and assessment options is not judged by its virtual teacher and tester. The mobile source of knowledge in the kid’s pocket does not know if its owner is in South Chicago, South Korea, or Southampton. It does not know if the individual connecting in is male or female, black or asian or white, or what grades school has given this person.
The experience young Sizer had that taught him individual adolescents can achieve is explained in the obituary of this remarkable and extremely insightful and constructive educator. Although in the experience this describes the pressure to achieve was group support, notice that it is the individual who is proven to be able to perform. In the virtual world of learning online, every adolescent is respected.
Theodore Ryland Sizer was born in New Haven on June 23, 1932. His father, also named Theodore, was an art historian at Yale. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale in 1953, the younger Mr. Sizer served as an Army artillery officer, an experience that would set the course of his professional life.
Few of the young soldiers who served under him had completed high school, but when treated as valued members of a cohesive group they learned new skills readily, he found.
“Whatever troops you got had to deliver,” Professor Sizer told Phi Delta Kappan magazine in 1996. “If one person didn’t do it, he put everybody’s life at stake. That made a deep impression.”