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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Love in education

Alisha Coleman-Kiner is the Principal of Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee. President Obama gave a commencement speech at her school this year, to recognize the impressive gains it made in graduation rates under her leadership.

She wrote a refreshing and inspiring essay reflecting on her experience, where she argues that " ...before we set high expectations for children, we have to love them."

Coleman-Kiner writes that education cannot be separated from other basic needs for children - food, shelter, family happiness. Love, a deep sense of caring, lights the way towards fulfilling all these needs. Education must therefore be built on a foundation of a heartfelt connection between the educators and students. She writes eloquently:
Children cannot eat love, but our love for them directs us to help them find sustenance. Love cannot shelter them, but our love for them directs us to support them by acknowledging the academic challenges that can result from homelessness and, when we can, helping them to secure shelter. Love cannot stand between children and abuse, but it can help them heal.
Success with children who have been cast aside by our society begins with love. Typical reforms may succeed through early adolescence when they depend on technical capacity and behaviorist methods, but by the time children reach adolescence and have fully absorbed the negative messages about their value to the larger society, the only thing that will get through is love. We can try to capture love through lists of characteristics and action steps, but until we delve into the real meaning and value of love in education, we will all be spinning our wheels.
How did I make such massive gains at Booker T. Washington? I loved my children. I hired people who would love my children. And then I did my job.
This essay hits the nail on the head. An educator who does not care deeply for his/her students, and who, avoiding the warm generosity of love, maintains a "professional" detachment at all times, cannot adequately facilitate and support them in their learning, and cannot ultimately inspire them to go beyond that learning.

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