Evan Keliher taught in the Detroit public school for 30 years. He watched the educational fads come and go. He participated in team-teaching. He supervised peer-tutoring programs. He struggled with block schedules.
In 2002 he looked back on it all in an editorial for Newsweek. “None of it ever made a discernible difference in my students’ performance,” he said.
Then they broke down the school system into 8 smaller districts – each with its own board of education – so that parents would get more involved and educators would be more responsive to the students’ needs.
“Though both of these things happened,” he said, “the number of those who graduated each year still hadn’t risen to more than half the class. Two thirds of those who did graduate failed the exit exam and received a lesser diploma. We had changed everything but the level of student performance.”
And when the philanthropist Walter Annenberg poured $500 million into various school systems around the country, that didn’t seem to help either. Theodore Sizer, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform was asked by a reporter if he could name a single reform in the previous 15 years that had been successful. Sizer replied, “I don’t think there is one.”
Keliher came out of the woods with this view: “There has never been an innovation or reform that has helped children learn any better, faster or easier than they did prior to the 20th century…The plain truth is we need to return to the method that’s most effective: a teacher in front of a chalkboard and a roomful of willing students. The old way is the best way…
“We have it from no less a figure than Euclid himself (father of geometry). When Ptolemy I, the king of Egypt, said he wanted to learn geometry, Euclid explained that he would have to study long hours and memorize the contents of a fat math book. The pharaoh complained that that would be unseemly and demanded a shortcut. Euclid replied, ‘There is no royal road to geometry.’ ” Despite the blessings of our technology, Keliher has a point.
Peter will make a similar point about our sanctification in his second epistle. The theme of his little letter is about “growing” in our Christian faith and life. Our “justification,” our forgiveness in Christ, is a done deal. Our “sanctification,” our growing in Christian life, is a lifelong process.
The process involves life-long attendance on word and sacrament, living in the Scriptures, constant prayer, patience amid the adversities of life, striving to live a God-pleasing life, etc. Jesus said it this way: “First the blade, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” But there are no fads that can surpass the school of word and sacraments. And there are no shortcuts!