For Best Results, Add Color.


Dear James,

You and I are very different. While I appreciate what you said about what happens when you take education into a vacuum and get rid of politics and money, I’m afraid politics and money is where this conversation must go.

As much I hate it, the conversation about education is largely about money.

And No Child Left Behind.

And money.

And student achievement.

And money.

So what do our students need?

1. Boundaries

I start with boundaries because it is something that translates both inside and outside school walls. Part of being a member of school community, it means that 500+ different families are being ‘forced’ to work together, eat together, and essentially, dwell together under one roof for eight hours a day. And that means that there are 500+ different sets of rules that must be pared down to a few that every family would agree with.

And yet, my most difficult students struggle with these boundaries.


Because boundaries are hard. Yet, the world demands them. If we want to raise students who believe in democracy, then we need to raise students who value other voices and opinions.

2. A Supportive Adult Who Knows Them Deeply

James, you covered component number 2 well, so I won’t spend extra time on this.

3. Someone to Look Up To That Looks Like Them

As I walk in our respective hallways, I notice something very distinct: a lack of color.

And if you ask students, about the color of their teachers, they know it and they notice it.  James, our students are no longer at the age where they don’t see the color of their skin. You and I both know that if we ask our students about who is teaching them, it is quite possible that a given student doesn’t have a teacher that looks like them.

I say it quite often with my friends (and I consider you one) and I’ll say it again: By being a black male, I automatically have a particularly distinct voice that other non-minority teachers don’t have. If we want students to ‘make it’, then they must have real-life examples in front of them of people who have ‘made it’ speaking into their life.

4. Help to Plan Their Future

James, you also wrote eloquently on the importance of students needing help with their future. As teachers and caring adults, our job is to help them apply their skills to the ‘real world.’

5. To Be ‘Smart’

The final thing that our students want is to be ‘smart.’ But what does that mean? For me, it seems that students want to be seen by the world as knowledgeable about particular things. This is the reason that I consistently hold to being an essentialist in my teaching philosophy. Students need to know…

the powers of the President, Congress, and the Courts (civics),

who wrote Romeo & Juliet (English),

how companies persuade us to buy their goods and services (marketing),

how to change a recipe if you need more or less of it (math),

why is it that Superstorm Sandy was so devastating (science).

So what is the purpose of education? It is to create an environment of diverse learners and teachers that establish boundaries that imitate society so as to yield the best results in making students ‘smart.