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THE MARSHALL MEMO
David Brooks On a School That Develops Community and Character
By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist 02-Dec-15
This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.” ________________________________________________________________________ The article: “Communities of Character” by David Brooks in The New York Times, November 27, 2015, http://nyti.ms/1IwESWd “All over the country there are schools and organizations trying to come up with new ways to cultivate character,” says David Brooks in this New York Times column. “The ones I’ve seen that do it best, so far, are those that cultivate intense, thick community. Most of the time character is not an individual accomplishment. It emerges through joined hearts and souls, and in groups.” He describes a recent visit to the Leaders School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, which has about 300 students speaking 22 languages, 85 percent living in poverty, and is organized on Outward Bound principles. This high school, says Brooks, “is a glowing example of community cohesion.” Here’s what struck him: - Incoming freshmen are assigned to a “crew” of 12-15 students guided by an advisor, and stay together through graduation. Many upperclassmen serve as peer mentors to younger students. - Students’ first experience together is a wilderness adventure in which they learn to cook for each other, deal with outdoor challenges, and go through the sequence of storming, creating norms, and learning to perform together. - Students are given lots of responsibility in real-life social situations and challenged to develop compassion, judgment, sensitivity, and mercy. “If one student writes something nasty about another on social media, then the two get together with two student mediators and together they work out a resolution,” says Brooks. - Students who commit serious infractions meet with a “Harm Circle” and figure out an appropriate act of contrition and restorative justice. - One day in December, all students gather outside the school and cheer the seniors as they march as a unit to mail their college application letters. - Socratic dialogue is the pedagogy used in most classrooms, with students learning to negotiate disagreements through protocols like “Step Up/Step Back.” Students build on each others’ statements and make a point of drawing out shy students. - The school has a broad definition of achievement, with grades for character and leadership as well as academics. In report card conferences, students present their successes, failures, and improvement strategies to parents, observers, and a teacher. - “Most of all,” says Brooks, “I was struck by their kindness toward one another. No student could remember any racial or ethnic conflict… There’s a palpable sense of being cared for.” - Last year, the school’s graduation rate was 89 percent, with average SAT scores of 411 in math and 384 in verbal and all graduates headed for college. Brooks quotes Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound: “It is the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible denial, and above all, compassion.”
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