The Power of their Ideas by Meier
Meier opens her book, The Power of their Ideas, in a fierce defense of public schools. In her mind, without a passion for public education, the future of our country is threatened. Based on her own experience, she believes that all children can and, indeed, must learn to be critical thinkers in order to participate in our democracy. She notes that "there's a radical and wonderful new idea here the idea that every citizen is capable of the kind of intellectual competence previously attained by only a small minority.
Meier’s book is about taking this vision of education and human possibility seriously chapter by chapter. Meier argues for innovation for school choice as a strategy for change, small schools to engage students, teachers, and parents working with each other in ways that would be impossible in larger schools. Beyond these innovations, she also encourages mutual respect among teachers, students, administrators, and parents as a prerequisite for collaboration and collective school ownership.
Meier's book is the story of how the overhaul of the U.S. public education system might be accomplished with a bit of imagination, creativity, determination, and a healthy dose of common sense. As she acknowledges in her preface, "After thirty years of almost daily immersion in my own particular school's life, I now wake up each morning worrying about `other people's' schools, not my own. It's a big shift." And a very useful shift with important implications for educators and policymakers across the United States. At a time when the rhetoric in educational circles is that all children can learn and achieve at high levels, Meier offers us the success story of Central Park East as demonstration of that fact.
Meier calls for the reinvention of teaching, encouraging teachers to change how they view learning itself, develop new habits of mind to go with their new cognitive understanding, and simultaneously develop new habits of work habits that are collegial and public in nature, not solo and private as has been the custom in teaching. (p.140)
In 1974 Deborah Meier founded Central Park East Secondary School, an alternative public school in East Harlem, where she worked for two decades as a teacher and principal. The small school achieved national acclaim not only for its non-traditional approaches (no bells ring, classes are often up to two hours long, and students, addressing their teachers by first names, are encouraged to raise questions about what is being taught), but also because of its results. Over 90 percent of Central Park East's students graduate, and over 90 percent of those graduates go on to college, in a city where, on average, only 50 percent of all public school students even graduate from high school.
Some of Deborah Meier's innovative approaches to education seem almost commonplace today interdisciplinary learning in small groups, real lessons that use the city as the classroom (a...