Although my mother knows that I read The New York Times online, if she sees an article of interest in her print copy, she cuts it out and sends it to me. Recently, she sent me an article about Brother Brian Carty, founder of the De La Salle Academy, a private middle school for the academically talented but economically underprivileged in Manhattan. She wrote on top, “What do you think?” knowing that I often have strong opinions about education.
I think my mother was curious about my opinion because there are aspects of De La Salle that seem rather draconian. Kids can be expelled for gossip, lip gloss is forbidden, as is dating. I suspect my mother would think I might find these rules over the top. I didn’t. The school is also described as a throwback, eshewing smart boards so kids can learn the fine art of note-taking. Perhaps she wondered if I thought this was too outmoded for today’s world. It may be, but I don’t harbor any judgments toward Brother Carty or his school for their old-fashioned approach to teaching.
I have, instead, only appreciation for an educator like Brother Carty whose passion for teaching and for his students is obvious, who has dedicated his life to giving smart, underprivileged kids a rare opportunity. Do I wish all underprivileged kids had such opportunities? Of course. Do I think this school is some sort of ideal? No. Do I want to see a range of schools with different styles, different foci, different missions proliferate? More than anything.
While I believe that every school should have as part of its mission the goal of graduating solutionaries who are eager to take their place among creative problem-solvers who will forge a healthy, humane and peaceful world through whatever careers they pursue, I also believe that there are many ways to arrive at this goal. There are curricular approaches that suit different children, subject matter that is more relevant to some than others, styles of teaching and learning that fit a diverse audience.
And this is why I am so frustrated by cookie-cutter public education proponents who are often hostile toward charter schools, independent schools, alternative schools, unschooling, schools-within-schools, and so on. I know that there is potential for diluting limited public resources when we invite charter schools into our state, but it saddened me that Brother Carty must spend so much time fundraising in order to give his low-income students a De La Salle education.
President, Institute for Humane Education
Author of The Power and Promise of Humane Education