It wasn’t cool to be a “no-excuses,” tough-love teacher for poor minority kids in the 1970s. That was the era of access centered “equity” for one and all, and most educators fretted more about kids struggling in school than about boosting their achievement. So academic standards (to the extent that there were any) were dumbed down, and lots of folks just took for granted the idea that environment was destiny. Kids from tough backgrounds, some thought, couldn’t be expected to do all that well in school.
Marva Collins thought otherwise. She believed—and said—that “kids don’t fail. Teachers fail, school systems fail. The people who teach children that they are failures—they are the problem.”
Then she put her own money and reputation on the line to prove that it didn’t have to be that way. Along with a handful of other education renegades of the era (Jaime Escalante comes immediately to mind), she demonstrated that poor minority kids from inner-city environments could succeed just fine if given the right kinds of expectations, encouragement, and instruction. Today, we have plenty of these “proof points” in programs like KIPP, Achievement First, Success Academy, and many more. Most educators now understand that it is possible to do this, even if it isn’t easy.
Marva Collins was a true pioneer: gutsy, tough, and ahead of her time. That she insisted on doing all this in the private sector and avoiding all government entanglements makes her even more prescient and heroic. May we salute her memory, and may she rest in peace.
– Chester E. Finn, Jr.
This first appeared on Flypaper