To the Editor:
I read Alfie Kohn’s latest Commentary (“Encouraging Courage,” Sept. 18, 2013) with great interest. I’ve worked in education, mainly as an elementary school teacher in several different independent schools, for the past 20-plus years.
Mr. Kohn’s’s new essay continues his legacy of what I would consider “right” thinking in support of students and teachers. I wonder, though, whether it’s courage, exactly, that is lacking in our front offices and classrooms.
In my experience, it hasn’t been a surfeit of Jonathan Kozol’s “abject capitulation to unconscionable dictates,” which Mr. Kohn cites, that has kept the status quo so “status quo-y” as much as a deficit of deep-enough reflection that might reveal to those with the power and ability to make changes that such changes are necessary.
The only thing that matters, in the first instance, is what you really believe about students and education; you have to be not only willing to change what you’ve always known and believed, but actively pursue and cultivate the cognitive dissonance that can lead to transformation. This is the only way to approach a commitment to a lifetime of learning.
So this is how deep the problem is; it goes to the core of what teachers and administrators believe not only about whether something is “doable” (Do we have the courage?), but whether it’s “worth doing” in the first instance (Do we believe in our students?).
There’s no need for courage, quite frankly, if there is no identified problem to solve. We read the articles, and books, and we watch the movies, and it changes our language, perhaps (“cutting-edge,” “21st-century,” “project-based learning”), but what does it do to us at a deeper, intellectual level? If the answer is nothing, then the more apt metaphor is the Scarecrow’s lack of a brain and not the Cowardly Lion’s lack of courage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 2013 edition of Education Week as Perhaps It’s Not Courage That Educators Lack