Woman on a Mission

Fed up with traditional teaching and the educational establishment, Lynn Cherkasky-Davis became the driving force behind the Foundations School—the first public school in Chicago devised and operated by teachers

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This is the eighth in a series of profiles of teacher leaders underwritten by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In 1979, at the age of 30, veteran Chicago kindergarten teacher Lynn Cherkasky-Davis began to suffer the symptoms of burnout. Teaching, once her life’s passion, now had all the allure of a monotonous clock-punching job. She arrived at school at 8:30 a.m. At 2:30 p.m., after the last bell had rung, she fled the building. Perhaps, she considered, 10 years of teaching in an urban school had simply taken their inevitable toll; perhaps a change of scenery was all she needed. Driving home through blocks of empty lots and the rubble of razed buildings, she sometimes thought about teaching in the suburbs, where the salaries were higher, the schools calmer, and the neighborhoods as green and safe as they had been in her hometown of Appleton, Wis.

About her own teaching career, she felt as she had about her recently failed marriage: that she was blowing it, that something she couldn’t quite figure out had gone awry. Of course, she couldn’t discuss her doubts with her principal or fellow teachers; to do so was impolitic at best, a sign of flagrant weakness at worst. Like the other teachers, she kept her classroom door closed; what went on behind that door was no one else’s business.

The strange thing was that, by all conventional measures, Cherkasky-Davis was successful. Her students performed well on work sheets and standardized tests, such as the Metropolitan Reading Readiness Test. And she was well-organized, too. If she planned to have her students on page 13 of their workbooks by Tuesday, then she would make sure they were there, no matter what. Why, then, did she feel her teaching was less than adequate? She could not say.

Then one day, a seemingly minor misunderstanding led to what she would later call an epiphany. She asked an African American child to please bring her a pen. “A what?” the boy asked. “A pen.” “What for?” “A note for your mother,” CherkaskyDavis said. The boy, knowing that his teacher often pinned notes for home to the back of her students’ shirts, went to her desk and brought back a safety pin. “I asked for a pen,” she said with some irritation. “A pen.” The boy looked bewildered, and, suddenly, Cherkasky-Davis had the crucial insight: He could not distinguish between those words with short “e’s” and those with short “i’s,” even though he, like most of his classmates, could do so on standardized tests that required students to match pictured objects with given vowel sounds. The problem, she came to realize, was that knowing enough to circle the right answers on a test did not translate into authentic knowledge; mastering an isolated skill was no guarantee that the skill could be called upon in everyday life.

From that day forward, Cherkasky-Davis could no longer see children as vases to be filled with phonic and spelling rules in the hope that they would somehow be transformed into readers and writers. She began a long journey away from traditional teaching, grounded in basals and drilling, toward a holistic approach that integrated reading, writing, and math. It was a journey that would bring her in contact with teachers who shared her frustrations and hopes, the kind of teachers who would eventually help her in 1992 start the Foundations School—the first public school in Chicago devised and operated by teachers.

Cherkasky-Davis speaks frequently of the importance of teachers acquiring “voice,” and it is apparent at a Monday morning faculty meeting that the Foundations School teachers have voice—if voice means speaking one’s mind without concern for undue diplomatic caution. Disagreement over issues is expressed with both stridency and occasional profanity. The subject that arouses the most ire this morning is lesson plans. Carl Lawson, the principal of Price School, which houses Foundations (Foundations is a school within a school), has asked the teachers to submit them.

“He’s welcome to come into our classrooms to see what the hell we’re doing,” one teacher says. “But we’re not going to make up any lesson plans.”

“I feel that we ought to try to accommodate him on this one,” Cherkasky-Davis says. “Thanks to him, your 3rd graders don’t have to take the Iowa [Test of Basic Skills], and he’s going to take shit for that.”

But the other teachers appear unanimous in their resistance to turning in lesson plans. To them, it represents Big Brother authoritarianism, the kind of administrative fiat that, in part, drove them to start their own school. In contrast to other public schools, Foundations School is a democracy; the teachers make decisions as equal partners. While Cherkasky-Davis is the school’s leader and facilitator—a kind of unofficial principal—she does not pass on mandates to the other teachers. In fact, upon joining Foundations, each teacher agreed that he or she would resign if the others felt that his or her classroom work was less than superior.

Furthermore, the teachers are philosophically opposed to formal lesson plans as dangerously constrictive. Learning, Foundations teachers believe, means not dictating to students but rather guiding them on a path of their own choosing; discovery, the essence of learning, cannot be charted in advance.

The meeting breaks up indeterminately, and, afterwards, Cherkasky-Davis is somewhat piqued with her colleagues. “To hand Dr. Lawson lesson plans is bullshit, a fictionalized account of what we’re going to do; in the classroom, we have to go with the flow,” she says. “But he’s always supported us—he’s the one who’s enabled us to be here—so my feeling is, let’s do our lesson plans; let’s give him what he needs. But the teachers are thinking, 'We're so autonomous that we don’t have to answer to daddy'—that sort of thing.”

Her conciliatory stance on the lesson plan issue is unusual, for Cherkasky-Davis, a short, dark-haired woman bursting with nervous energy, has built her tough reputation partially on her general unwillingness to compromise. (“She blows the top off of a system dominated by false politeness,” one acquaintance says.) For the most part, she believes that to compromise on key issues—to permit, for instance, intrusive standardized testing—is to undermine the integrity of the program. But she knows it’s vital for her to be on good terms with Lawson, who, as principal of Price, also has certain administrative responsibilities for the Foundations School.

Later in the morning, Cherkasky-Davis calls on the principal and informs him of the teachers’ reluctance to submit lesson plans. Lawson, a cheerful man, perhaps in his mid-40s, is absolutely unfazed. “If I as a principal had to write a lesson plan, I wouldn’t do it,” he says, laughing. “I’d quit.” Then, perhaps thinking over the teachers’ resistance, he comes up with an intriguing analogy. The Foundations teachers, he suggests, are like the early dissenters of the Protestant Reformation, boldly disputing the authority of the established church.

The more one thinks about the history and philosophy of the Foundations School, the more apt Lawson’s analogy seems. Unabashed iconoclasts, the Foundations teachers seem to take an almost impish glee in ruffling the feathers of the educational establishment. “We left a trail,” Foundations teacher Doris Clark says of their reform efforts at Alexander Dumas School, where all of them previously worked. “It pissed off [Dumas teachers and administrators] when we made it work. And they didn’t like the fact that we weren’t docile and didn’t allow the children to be docile either.” Another teacher, Danielle Norman, says she and her reform-minded colleagues endured heavy-handed intimidation tactics from the more traditional teachers. “If I was out of the building during the day for any reason, this one teacher would have the janitor open my room to kids roaming the halls. You can imagine what happened; I was vandalized three times. We were a huge threat, empowering ourselves and others.”

Lawson’s analogy is also apt in that the school has a strong anti-hierarchical disposition; indeed, the faculty is dedicated to erasing certain distinctions between administrators, teachers, parents, and even students. Most students and teachers are on a first-name basis. Furthermore, parent volunteers roam freely about the classrooms, working with the children. “Many administrators,” Cherkasky-Davis says, “see parents as ignorant, but I see them as the primary teachers. Of course, they criticize us sometimes, but that’s no problem if you see yourself as a learner. Either I’ll learn from them, or I’ll explain to them why I’m doing something. Often, they’ll have a good point.”

If Cherkasky-Davis has done things to upset the educational establishment—such as refusing to use textbooks or bringing classroom commotion into school hallways—it was far from her intention to be anything but “traditional” when she first became a teacher. A theater student at Northwestern University—not surprising considering her natural flamboyance—she traveled after graduation in 1971 to Amsterdam, where she performed in USO shows and met her former husband, a jazz musician. The daughter of a demanding surgeon, she had high ambitions as an actress but soon found herself repeatedly passed over for major roles. Unwilling to settle for a “cameo career,” she applied for and received a preschool teaching position at an American school in Wurzburg, West Germany. Immediately, she found herself loving both teaching and children. She also made a quick discovery: No lesson plan, regardless of how well it was conceived, could last for more than six minutes.

Returning in 1973 to Chicago, she worked at a nursery school while studying for a master’s degree in early childhood education. After receiving her degree, she taught kindergarten at Robinson Elementary and then Fuller Elementary, both urban schools with largely African-American populations. While she had increasing doubts about her effectiveness as a teacher, she remained, partially through sheer inertia, a traditional teacher, making regular use of basals, work sheets, and drills. Like many other teachers, she wanted to believe that good practice was simply a matter of screaming louder, of pounding knowledge into her students’ heads. But then, during her “burnout” phase in the late 1970s, she eventually came to realize that she would have to radically change the way she taught if she wanted to remain in the profession; to do otherwise, to continue to accommodate herself to a status quo she now considered ineffective, would be sheer hypocrisy.

Self-reliance is a major theme with Cherkasky-Davis, who has little sympathy for teachers who wait for others to improve their lot. In the educational arena, she says, there is no white knight. To think there is, is to place oneself in a very passive, subordinate role. “Lynn makes you know that if you stay with what’s not working,” one of her closest teacher friends says, “then you’re simply not the professional you claim you are. You have an obligation to step out and do something different, even if it means receiving low ratings from your principal.”

In any case, Cherkasky-Davis decided to fight the burnout syndrome by educating herself, searching for ways that would make learning more meaningful for herself and others. She also became involved with the Illinois Writing Project through the University of Illinois at Chicago, coming to understand that writing was not, as she had always believed, a rather remote, arcane craft but something accessible to herself and others. Even very young children, she realized, could write stories, or at least purposefully scribble as a kind of emergent literacy. (To demonstrate what she means by “purposeful,” she points to a sheet of what appears to be scribbling and notes that the “writing” moves from left to right, top to bottom.) Soon, much to her principal’s chagrin, she was discarding the basals and presenting her children with authentic literature.

Although Cherkasky-Davis could see that her students were making genuine academic progress—as opposed to the specious progress recorded on standardized tests—she began to feel that merely revitalizing her own classroom teaching was not enough. Changing classroom life on an individual by individual basis was an interminable process; if broader-based change were ever to occur in Chicago’s classrooms, the effort must be collective and teacher-driven. It must be political as well as pedagogical and philosophical.

But many things worked against such an effort. Teachers, Cherkasky-Davis knew, were typically isolated in the classrooms. They were also extremely tentative, fearful of administrative reprisal. If teachers were to catalyze change, they must find a “voice.”

When Cherkasky-Davis uses the word voice—she frequently begins sentences with “When I found my teacher’s voice...”—it seems to have multiple meanings. On one level, it means discovering what one really thinks and believes, no easy matter in a rather paternalistic educational system that expects the teacher to abide by the counsel of everyone from textbook publishers to zealous reformers. On another level—the most literal level—finding one’s voice means a refusal to keep silent. Once teachers have confidence in what they think, they must speak out, even if it means occasional uncomfortable confrontations.

Finally, finding one’s voice means sharing what one has learned with other teachers; teachers must emerge from their often-self-imposed isolation.

Cherkasky-Davis first began to find her voice in the then newly formed Chicago chapter of TAWL (Teachers Applying Whole Language). What appealed to Cherkasky-Davis most about whole language was that it was a movement rather than another series of techniques. Whole language, because it assumes that children have an intrinsic interest in and capacity to learn from a wide range of literature, showed her that she did not have to force-feed her students work sheets and drills. She could set them free, allow them to pursue that which they found naturally fascinating. As time went on, a critical nucleus of teachers in TAWL began to move from school to school, many finally ending up at Alexander Dumas. (“We chose to be together,” Cherkasky-Davis says.)

At Dumas, ostracized by teachers who disapproved of whole language and their holistic perspective, they formed another group, which they dubbed “Teachers Talk.” Initially meeting in restaurants and bars, the group’s early sessions, Cherkasky-Davis remembers, were cathartic and therapeutic. “We had been isolated and frustrated for so long,” she says, “that we’d cry, bitch, and complain. We had an open agenda and could talk about anything.” But over a period of weeks and months, the nature and setting of the meetings changed. Held each Wednesday after school in rotating classrooms, Teachers Talk moved away from complaining and crying toward a more specific professional focus. Topics included assessment, literature, process writing, and so on.

The time Cherkasky-Davis’s group of teachers spent at Dumas was far from agreeable. Most were recruited in 1989-90 by the school’s former principal, Sylvia Peters, who made a serious tactical error when introducing the new teachers to the others. Reports vary, but according to Danielle Norman, Peters said something like: “This group of new teachers is going to turn everything around. You will model them. You have three years to make changes or to get out.” The veteran Dumas teachers, largely traditionalists in their classroom approaches, resented the new teachers; they considered them intruders. The fact that most of the veterans were African American and the new ones white didn’t help. The split, some observers say, acquired an unfortunate racial dimension.

But perhaps the greatest reason for the division between the two groups involved the issue of discipline. For the veteran teachers, discipline was at the heart of effective schooling; it meant order, control, teaching students the importance of obedience. “Many African-American teachers,” Cherkasky-Davis says, “feel children need more discipline. They’ve been enculturated that way. That’s how I taught for the first eight years of my career. We say, ‘Our kids are failing, so let’s do it louder, stronger.’ But it doesn’t work.”

The newer teachers, on the other hand, felt that discipline, construed as order and control, was usually for the teacher’s benefit, not the students’. While the new teachers occasionally envied the silence of those orderly classrooms, they also felt that the students—typically hunched over work sheets—learned little but a sullen obedience. Of course, children must treat their teachers and one another with mutual respect, but this, they believed, had little to do with overt classroom control. Their classrooms, these teachers freely acknowledge, were noisy, even chaotic, places; the holistic approach, after all, demanded that students have a great deal of latitude to explore and that teachers—particularly of the younger children—understand that work is related to play.

To the veteran teachers this was anarchy. Doris Clark, who taught at Dumas for more than 20 years before becoming a Foundations teacher, says: “They felt we weren’t disciplining appropriately because we weren’t punishing them. The perception was that our children weren’t as quiet and subdued as they would want them to be. I was in that school for over 20 years and went through a whole metamorphosis of not hitting kids, hitting kids, and not hitting kids. I remember when I first came to Dumas, a kid was beaten with a yardstick and dragged down the hall. Some kids are extremely angry about the humiliation they’ve endured.”

Peters left Dumas in 1992, and assistant principal Charlotte Grey, who wanted to install a “back to basics” program, became the acting principal. Having lost their chief supporter, Cherkasky-Davis’s group of teachers made a radical decision: They would create their own school, preferably a school within a school at Dumas. It would be a “choice” school so that the parents would be committed to the program’s philosophy. They sent a proposal to the Quest Center, an offshoot of the Chicago Teachers Union that funded teachers with innovative projects. But there were difficulties from the beginning. For one thing, they needed an endorsement from the principal. “Charlotte Grey wouldn’t even read our proposal, much less sign it,” Cherkasky-Davis claims. “So we sent the proposal back to Quest without the required signature and said, ‘Look at your mission statement. It talks about breaking the mold, transforming classrooms. Now, put your money where your mouth is. Help us find another place to move.’ Because we were the number one proposal, they said they’d support us if we could find a home for our new school.”

This was but one hurdle. For while the teachers won the quick backing of the Board of Education, Ted Kimbrough, then-superintendent of the Chicago schools, was less than enthusiastic about a group of gadfly teachers starting their own school. He couldn’t justify spending money on a new school, especially when he was closing older ones. In the end, however, Kimbrough, like the officials at the Quest Center, said he’d support the teachers if they could find a home for their new school. They had but 24 hours to do so; it was June 24, and they needed to get on the board’s agenda for a meeting the following day. Only half in jest, Cherkasky-Davis talked of getting a job in Marshall Field’s lingerie department.

With only hours remaining, Cherkasky-Davis and several of her supporters drove to the district’s offices, where she buttonholed Lawson. He said his Price School could provide the Foundations School with 10 rooms. In three hours, details were hammered out with Lawson and the local school council, Price’s governing body. Cherkasky-Davis made it to the board meeting with one hour to spare, but there was yet another obstacle. Kimbrough said she hadn’t given the board the 24 hour notice required by the Open Schools Meeting Law. The board wasn’t scheduled to meet again for a month. Then, fate intervened. The board failed to finish its business and had to reconvene in two days, giving Cherkasky-Davis a chance to get her new school on the agenda. At that meeting, the teachers received the board’s stamp of approval, and, on June 30, 1992, Foundations School officially came into existence.

On a hot, humid day, made even hotter because the windows in Cherkasky-Davis’s kindergarten classroom—a former storeroom from which lead and asbestos had to be removed—are painted shut, the children begin the morning, as they do every morning, by reading books they have selected. They are noisy but, for the most part, reading—actually reading with lips moving, not just glancing through the pictures. Some, having obviously read their books before, “read” from memory, recognizing specific words and sentences or understanding them in the illustrative context. Others, when stuck, make an attempt to sound words out; in fact, Cherkasky-Davis occasionally aids them in their attempt. This seems surprising, for whole language teachers are generally regarded as purists who would never deign to sound out a word. But Cherkasky-Davis insists that phonics must be integrated into whole language. “People think there’s a fight between phonics and whole language, but there isn’t,” she says. “Whole language, after all, is about the whole thing. So I teach strategies that will help them read. If the kid’s strategy is to sound out words, that’s OK. What we do must come from the child if it is to be meaningful.”

Indeed, following rather than directing the child is at the heart of the Foundations School’s holistic philosophy. The idea is to make each child responsible for his or her learning; should the student breach that responsibility, privileges may be withdrawn. At the morning’s Community Circle, for instance, the children essentially plan the day’s schedule, sequencing index cards with events such as “Story Time” and “Discovery Time” printed on them. This completed, Cherkasky-Davis then says they need to talk about what happened during the last Discovery Time. Without prompting, one student says, “It was a mess.” Another adds, “It was trashed.” Cherkasky-Davis tells the students that on account of the trouble, certain restrictions will be in force during today’s Discovery Time.

During Community Circle, the children argue about various issues, and, for the most part, Cherkasky-Davis lets them sort things out. When the discussion gets out of control, however, she tells a frustrated child to ask another child for something she needs. “I need your attention and respect,” the girl says to the other. This is a phrase that will be repeated—by both teacher and students—perhaps three dozen times during the course of the day.

Discovery Time, which the children clearly love, gives the students an opportunity to visit any of a variety of stations, such as the family living station (which has a model kitchen), transportation station (trucks, trains, airplanes, etc.), manipulative station (blocks and the like), and publishing station (markers, paper, masking tape). On Monday, due perhaps to the presence of a visitor and the heat, Discovery Time was rather chaotic. But today, Tuesday, everything is drastically different. The classroom is noisy, but the children are extremely well-focused; the sense is of a busy and productive office. Two children are in the Story Time area, following the text as they listen to a book on tape. Other children are in the publishing center, working on stories or putting together shopping lists. The writing is uneven and crooked (Cherkasky-Davis shuns lined paper as limiting to free expression) but clearly writing, nevertheless. A girl writes, “Please WrIte Me a letteR,” along with her address. Another girl browses through a stack of magazines, doing “research” on just how a magazine is put together.

Of course, some children choose activities unrelated to reading or writing. Two boys in the transportation center guide toy cars across an expansive road map. These children, Cherkasky-Davis says, have, as yet, expressed little interest in writing, always choosing to play in the transportation center. “So what I do is occasionally situate myself over there,” she says. “We write traffic tickets and maps of buildings. Then I have them tell me a story about something that happened on the highway. At first, they’d dictate to me and then gradually move into writing.”

Hanging around the classroom are children’s illustrations of fish. Some are quite elaborate, even dazzling. “We try to integrate everything,” Cherkasky-Davis explains. “For the fish unit, we went to the Shedd Aquarium. They had to do research and answer a number of questions. What are fish? What isn’t a fish? They later did Japanese fish drawings and paintings of fish. So the unit combined art, math, science, and literature.”

Research—having the children discover and analyze information for themselves—is at the center of even the most routine activities at Foundations. The kindergarten children, for instance, take their own attendance, a boy counting the boys and a girl counting the girls before they tally up the total. There is also a number line around the perimeter of the room, and, as the children calculate how many days they’ve been in school, they walk around the room, trying to identify the correct number.

Because students are assessed on what they can actually do rather than on what they score on an examination, there are no grades at Foundations School. Instead, students are assessed on the basis of portfolios and videotaped performances.

After school, Lindy Butler, a friend of Cherkasky-Davis’s from another Chicago school, stops by the classroom. An elegant, statuesque African-American woman with gray braided hair, Butler is a 23-year teaching veteran and recent recipient of the prestigious Kohl International Teaching Award, for which Cherkasky-Davis—a former winner of the Kohl, as well as many other awards—nominated her. The nomination, though, had to overcome a major obstacle: Butler needed the endorsement of her principal.

“When I nominated Lindy, I called the principal,” CherkaskyDavis says, “but he said he wouldn’t give her an endorsement. He felt threatened by her. She freely invites parents into her classroom; she’s also certified as a principal. I called the Kohl Foundation, and they said that—despite the endorsement of dozens of colleagues—Lindy needed the principal’s endorsement. ‘I guess that’s that,’ Lindy said. I said to her, ‘Wait a minute. To let an administrator stand in your way, for whatever reason, is wrong. You don’t stop; you keep pushing. You send in that application and let them send it back.’ So Lindy sent in the Kohl application minus the administrator section. They called me and said, ‘We can’t do this.’ I said, ‘You can pass up this wonderful teacher, but pass her up because you think she’s not the best of the best; don’t pass her up because somebody in an administrative capacity doesn’t want her to get the award.’ And they listened to me because I had a voice. She got the award without the endorsement.”

“This is so true,” Butler says. “I’ve told that story 100 times since I won the Kohl.”

The classroom in which the teachers are talking must be approaching 100 degrees, the sun, slanting through the painted-shut windows, creating brilliant dust motes. It is hard to breathe, so thick is the air. To make matters worse, the telephone, having broken that afternoon, nonsensically rings and rings. No one thinks to unplug it. The teachers are in a conversational groove, swapping stories: There’s a story of a principal trying to keep parents out of a school because they lack documentation of a recent tuberculosis test or parent volunteer forms, which no one can find; a story of an administrator denying a teacher’s request to let her students visit the Adler Planetarium’s mobile Star Lab, even though it is parked out front of the school; and a story of teachers having to make critical personal calls from a pay phone.

Then Butler comes up with an analogy that crystallizes their conversation. “I think we can liken the teachers’ movement to the civil right’s movement,” she says. “For so long, we’ve been hidden, clamped down on, stepped on. It’s hard to step up to someone who has your evaluation in his hands. This is what I’m so thankful to Lynn for. She makes us understand that it has to be our responsibility to make change happen. She empowers us by making us believe that we’re good enough to make change happen. If we don’t stand up and say we’re really good, then all we can do is blame.”

There’s a thoughtful pause in the conversation. The telephone is still jangling, which perhaps reminds Cherkasky-Davis of one last story: the telephone story. “Teachers don’t have phones. You have to go into the office and ask to use it. Well, where I was before I never asked. No one was going to tell me I couldn’t use the phone to call about my son or a student. I mean professionals in other occupations use the phone to call the dentist, while a teacher has to stand in the office begging like a bad girl. Anyhow, when I came here, we wrote a grant for a telecommunications system, and I had a telephone and answering machine installed in my classroom. The principal was leery, afraid that teachers would use the telephone to make personal calls. ‘I ask for forgiveness,’ I told him, ‘not for permission.’ “

At 4 p.m., long after most teachers have gone home, Cherkasky-Davis drives across the city to Pulaski School, where she will conduct a seminar on whole language for elementary teachers. She conducts dozens of seminars, workshops, and training sessions during the course of the year for organizations as diverse as the Illinois Writing Project and the Illinois State Board of Education. While she sometimes receives remuneration as a consultant, some events—such as this one—she does gratis.

With a vita that runs to 10 pages, it’s easy to think of Cherkasky-Davis as a compulsive workaholic. Juggling both teaching and administrative duties, she often seems overextended. At her desk, papers are piled several inches high. Near the top of the heap is a half-buried paycheck stub.

But Cherkasky-Davis insists she will not give up teaching to become a full-time facilitator, consultant, or anything else. Nor will she, at least for the foreseeable future, be content solely as a classroom teacher. For she is a woman on a mission, and that mission, once again, involves the issue of voice. She feels it is her duty to help teachers discover that they can change what they know is wrong. And she wants teachers to know that it is their responsibility to speak out for what they believe.

In the Pulaski library, Cherkasky-Davis asks the teachers a series of questions: Do their students read real literature as opposed to basals? Do they write and publish their own work? Do the older children read to the younger ones? Do the teachers’ classrooms have learning centers?

The teachers respond hesitantly. While some have tried to incorporate whole language into their lessons, there are the familiar problems. Too little planning time. Test scores to worry about. The need to maintain order in the classroom. One teacher sums up the troublesome issues. “We were trained in the old method,” she says. “It’s going to be a long, long haul. The system, after all, doesn’t support whole language, and you have to have the system support you.”

“You have to decide if you want to go out on a limb,” Cherkasky-Davis says.

Another teacher expresses doubts about the entire whole language enterprise. “I don’t think students should always be reading for enjoyment,” she says. She is also a proponent of tracking. “The higher kids,” she maintains, “shouldn’t have to teach the lower kids.”

Cherkasky-Davis doesn’t attempt to refute the woman. Instead, she patiently sets out some of the tenets of the whole language philosophy. She knows that effecting lasting change is a long, arduous process. But she’s in it for the long haul.

Vol. 04, Issue 09, Pages 27-31

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