Comments and Observations

Program Results

Children as young as 3½ and 4 years of age are admitted to my school, at the beginning of every school year in September. I guarantee that they will ALL be reading by Christmas, three months later. That has been the results since I started my school in 1975.

Results begin with planned standards and a clearly defined program to ensure the desired outcomes. I developed my phonics program to unlock the mystery of reading. A daily recitation reinforces what is being taught and reviews what has already been learned. Effective teaching, I firmly believe, requires “repetition-drill,” “repetition-drill,” “repetition-drill.”

I am an avid gardener. Contrary to the implied message in Jack and The Beanstalk, one cannot plant a seed at night and have beans the next morning. It is foolish to expect anything that hasn’t been planted, nurtured, tended to, fed, and cared for. Teaching children is very much like planting a beautiful garden, whether the outcome is beautiful flowers and plants, or vegetables. As the poem says, “If you want a garden fair, you have to bend and dig…” The payoff is what is obtained after time has passed, and effort has been expended. It is a truism that on the day of victory, nobody is tired. The results I have received in my more than 40 years of teaching include seeing children’s eyes holding wonder like a cup. These returns cannot be obtained from behind a desk with students doing mindless tasks on worksheets. Teachers in my school are not permitted to park themselves behind a desk. They walk from child to child reviewing what is being written, in order to make immediate corrections. It is very much like weeding a garden to prevent the damage caused by too many weeds. Mistakes that are not immediately corrected become ingrained habits that are very difficult to change.
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Recommended Reading

Educational systems have their own, and effective, public relations’programs. The basis of reasoning requires that one examine the other side of the argument. There are many excellent works that present different assessments of what is occurring in our classrooms. Jonathon Kozol, the author of Death at an Early Age, has a new book that I recommend. In The Shame of The Nation, Kozol identifies the re-segregation of American schools as a form of apartheid, a word that is South African and refers to the abomination of an enforced system of racial separation. Whether the system is de facto or de jure is immaterial. The separation is equally effective in destroying the mind and opportunities of the victim.
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Why Can’t Johnny Read?

I travel across the country and everywhere where I go I meet children who, in the 3rd and 4th grades, cannot read at grade level. School systems are confounded by the phenomenon and the solution of choice is to test the child, which eventually leads to labeling. The assumption seems to be that if the child isn’t reading, the problem must be in the child. Perhaps. I certainly don’t want to challenge the experts, but I must confess that I am confused.

Here’s the source of my confusion. At the beginning of each school year in September I have admitted, to my school in Chicago, children as young as 3 ½ years of age. I guarantee that they will all be reading by Christmas. Lest I am accused here of screening my students and accepting only those clearly bound for Rhode Scholar status, I issue this disclaimer: Since the inception of my school in 1975, I have never tested a child for admission purposes. Testing, when done, is for placement purposes only. Moreover, many, if not most, of my students came to me after the Chicago public school experts had labeled the children as “uneducable” for any of a variety of reasons.

Indeed, a strapping young man came to me years ago. He had played basketball for Creighton University for 5 years, at which time he had used up his eligibility to play big-time college sports. Kevin, after 5 years in college could only read at the second grade level. Personally, I taught him and at the end of one year, he was reading at freshman college level. Don’t take my word for it; his plight and its solution has been aired on ESPN and featured in other media on many occasions.

So, why can’t Johnny read by the 3rd or 4th grade? I’m told that an example does not establish a general rule, but, just the other day, my representative, acting as an advocate for an 8-year old boy and his parents, sat in on an “evaluation” session. The psychological evaluation cited that the boy had limited knowledge of phonetic rules. His classroom teacher was asked three questions:
1. How many ways are there to spell the sound “a” [the long vowel sound]? “Four,” responded the teacher.
2. What are the classifications of the different “ch” sounds? “I have no idea,” answered the teacher.
3. What is the significance of the letters “e,” “i,” and “y?” Again, the teacher had no knowledge of the answer.

There are 11 ways to spell the sound long “a”; the three different pronunciations of the combination “ch” are the French (as in champagne), the English (as in church) and the Italian (as in ache) and; the letters “e”, “i” and “y” are vowel signals. Simply stated, these experts wanted to label the child “learning disabled” and they proposed placing him in a special education class. But, how could the boy learn what his teacher did not know? To rephrase, how could the teacher teach what she did not know? Phonics is taught in my school to all children, the very little ones included. Phonics provides the keys that unlock the mystery of reading. How can anyone insist, with a straight face, that this 8 year old has a learning problem for not knowing what he clearly wasn’t, and couldn’t have been, taught? Again, it is impossible to teach what one doesn’t know.

I teach children phonics, and I offer phonics seminars to teachers.

William Ryan wrote a book, Blaming The Victim. If you understand the title, you may not have to read the book, but it is worth reading. The question in my mind remains, and I am even more puzzled because I have taught so many children over many years who had been labeled and considered to be un-teachable. I taught them because I paid no attention to the labels, and you should witness the joy displayed in their eyes when they realized that they, indeed, had learned and became scholars in the process. I don’t look for excuses. I don’t blame the parents, or their economic disadvantages. If a student of mine doesn’t respond to one teaching approach, I’ll try many different ways to get my point across. I’d rather spend time teaching than testing and labeling. The CBS program 60 Minutes, twice featured my school, first in 1980, then in 1996 as I recall it. They documented the case of one student who became a student of mine shortly after the Chicago public school “experts” had labeled her as “borderline retarded, learning disabled, and unable to ever learn to read or write.” Cruelly, the mother was told this with the child sitting right next to her. When 60 Minutes returned to my school after the 16 years passage of time, the child, then a young woman had just graduated from a university in Virginia Summa Cum Laude.

There are some things I know for sure: labels are destructive to children. I cannot possibly teach what I don’t know. And, I know that children have boundless energy and curiosity. I don’t know is why so many Johnnies cannot read at grade level by 3rd or 4th grade. But, I suspect the educational systems’ propensity toward testing and labeling and teacher inabilities may have something to do with it. What is my approach? Instead of focusing on what Johnnie doesn’t know, I teach him. For teachers who truly want to become master teachers, I offer a complete phonics program in my seminars.
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What else do we teach children other than the 3 R’s?

There’s an old saying that children learn more from what do what we do, rather than what we say. If that is true, what lessons do children learn from their teachers? I have a dress code for staff and students in my school. Both are expected to arrive each day dressed like professionals in the one case, and, in the other case, come to school prepared to study and learn and practice the excellence that is required in the world of successful people. Certainly, we should teach children how one dresses for work and how one should carry oneself with pride and dignity.

If we ourselves are not excellent in what we do, if we take shortcuts, even cheat and misrepresent, we deliver a strong message to our students that hard work and dedication to excellence can be disregarded in favor of short cuts and evasions. Cheating and evading are strong charges, but I didn’t make them up. CNN featured a story some months ago in which they alleged cheating by educators and their administrators is widespread across the nation and is done to meet standardized test score goals.

Consider this: Would you want to be operated on (if that were necessary) by a doctor who cheated in medical school? Would you want to fly in an airplane piloted by a captain who took shortcuts when he should have been diligently learning the intricacies of how to handle the aircraft, even in difficult situations? The questions are rhetorical, of course, but the answers are obvious.

Allegations aside, there are educators who have taken shortcuts in misguided attempts to attain public acceptance. Instead of putting in the hard work requisite to learning what they must teach, they rely instead on misrepresenting who they are and what they do, and they use my name to do it. My name has become synonymous with outstanding results, but I never did anything for fame. (Certainly fortune never came my way because of what I have done in the classroom.) I have worked hard to get better at what I do. I am not as good as I want to be, and I constantly strive to improve. In Wisconsin, Ohio, and other places, people claim to be using my methodology of teaching, or my philosophy, or my educational program. Not so. My method of teaching and my educational program are diametrically opposed to the wide spread use of work sheets in the classroom. I use the Socratic method of teaching. My philosophy is summed up by words from a poem I teach children, “If you want a garden fair, you’ve got to bend and dig…”

It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Perhaps that is so. As always, there are two sides to everything. The down side of imitation, as I have learned the hard way, is the cost to my reputation. Fakers have adversely affected the perceived quality of my program. To illustrate, a school superintendent declined to have me share my program with his teachers because he knew a school in a nearby community whose test scores were very poor and that school claimed to use my program. The fact is that school had never had anything to do with me, I had never trained any of its staff, nor had I ever consulted with its administrators or educators. The matter was settled out-of-court in my favor, but the damage had been done, and not publicly corrected. In fact, part of the settlement agreement was a non-disclosure clause.

Children know our character immediately. Have you ever observed how a child will respond differently to different people? A child may hug one person, and shy away from another. What we are is apparent to a child. If we are not honest in what we say or do, the message to the child is that if this person in authority can get by without hard work and integrity, so can I.

I earn credibility with my students at every juncture possible. If I assign a poem to be memorized, I memorize it too. And, if I preach while I teach about the excellent mind and person, I must exude those characteristics all of the time. I never have different rules for the children than those I accept and practice all of the time. I believe passionately that perfection belongs to the Lord. For the rest of us, there is always room for improvement. Excellence is a constant journey, to be sure. It makes no sense at all if we take this detour, then that one. The detour can only take us off our desired path to our goal. I cannot fake excellence in one situation, and deviate from it in another instance. As Ayn Rand, the writer and philosopher, tells us, one is either a creator or a second hand person. The choice is, as always, ours to make. So, if you meet someone who claims to be using my methodology and program, check it out with me before you accept that assertion as gospel truth. That is especially important if you are contemplating enrolling your child in that school.
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To Think, Or Not To Think, That Is The Question

There is presently a group going across the country purporting to bring attention to the plight of the black family. That which we do not resist will persist. There seems to be a great resistance to answer the question: “Why is the black family in trouble?”

James Allen, in his book, As A Man Thinketh, states, “A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth.”

Just as a gardener cultivates his plot, keeping it free from weeds, and growing the flowers and fruits that he requires, so may a man tend the garden of his mind. We send our children to the “Garden” to be seeded, planted, nourished, and cultivated. That “Garden” happens to be our schools. The gardeners happen to be the teachers, experts, and the behemoth of caretakers in our schools. We, however, continue to reap “weeds” rather than “plants.” In fact, we continue to reap perennial weeds.

Just as soil must be cultivated for great crops to grow, our children too, must be placed, figuratively, in fertilized soil if they are to grow. But, as I go across the country I find that students sit militaristically behind worksheets and workbooks that they have never been taught to read. No one can learn to read, comprehend, and reason from worksheets or workbooks. Those are not the tools of a teacher-directed classroom in which the Socratic method prevails.

Could any of us go to a foreign country and be given a workbook, or worksheet and be expected to master the language? Imagine Jesus passing out worksheets and workbooks requiring the participants to check off true and false answers, and to guess at answers that they had never learned to read.

I recently did a training seminar in a southern city with over three hundred educators. I asked for the lowest achieving students, the most incorrigible students, and I asked to be allowed to demonstrate that all children can achieve. I taught the students the passage about the conscience from Richard the III by Shakespeare. Why did I select this treatise? I have found that students begin to really think about right actions when they see where a king, at the end of his life, can suffer so badly from the wrong choices and the evil that he had done during his lifetime.

Of course, teaching is not as simple as drawing milk from a cow. I first extracted all the difficult language from the selection. I taught every student to read the words, to spell the words, to repeat the definitions of each word. I did not begin the selection until we had “Packed” the necessary skills in which to be successful readers. To hand these sheets to students and to say, “Read this,” and then to “test” them on what they could not read is to me ridiculous at best, and quixotic at least. Just as we are what we eat, we are what we learn.

Great poetry, great ideas are almost as unheard of today as seeing a horse and carriage on the freeway. If our students are misbehaving in our schools, perhaps we need to revisit the maxim that says: “An empty wagon makes a lot of noise.” Our children are empty; they are overdrawn; they have insufficient skills with which to be anything other than a victim of illiteracy. I have discovered few learning disabled students in my three decades of teaching. I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities.

Aristotle’s essay views on ethics and Emerson’s Self-Reliance could teach our children more about succeeding, and more about life than all the easy-to-teach-easy-to-read banalities disguised as curriculum. How on earth will a child learn to read by listening to a tape? The Socratic method of asking questions until students, through reasoning and thinking, discover that they had the answer all the time. It simply had to be archeologically uncovered by a caring and determined teacher.

I was in a Florida school last week where one of my charges had kicked the principal, and she was walking with a cane. He had bitten another teacher. When I began the class I said, “I am honored that you would allow me to be your teacher today. Of course, I only know how to teach bright boys and girls; good looking boys and girls, and I can tell that all of you are bright, and you are, emphatically, good looking.” I added, “However, if there happens to be any dumb children in this class, you may leave now. If there are any ugly children in this class, you, too, may leave.” Continuing, I stated, “I only know how to teach bright, wonderful, good-looking boys and girls.” Not one student left the classroom.

The next step was to insist that they sit upright in their seats and look bright, or to fake-it-until-you-make-it. They all complied. Then, I had them repeat: “I am bright, there is nothing that I cannot do. Excellence is my birthright, and I will let nothing get in the way of my pursuit of excellence.”

I was “fertilizing the soil” for the crop to grow. I then placed all of the new vocabulary words from the selection on the chalkboard, and we went over each word. I told them the story of Shakespeare who lived and wrote hundreds of years ago, and today we still read and quote his works. I told them, “I know that you too, will do wonderful things, and hundreds of years from now, people will be quoting and reading your works.”

With this class too, I did the same selection of Richard the III. The student who had kicked the principal and caused such havoc in the school was the first student whose eyes held wonder like a cup. He said to me when I left, “I like me when I am with you; I wish you could be here everyday.”

Parents call me from all across the country weeping and lamenting because their children are being labeled and punished in our schools. Will these students not become part of the plight of the black family? Until we get our schools right, and begin to weed out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts, and begin cultivating the flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts, we shall continue to have what is called “At Risk” students created by “At Risk” teachers in a callous “At Risk Society.”

Plato was right when he said, “Education is cumulative, and it affects the breed.” If we continue to plant “weeds,” why do we expect exotic “flowers?” Perhaps Socrates was onto something in his myth of the metals. Perhaps it is intentional that we still have the bronze, the silver, and the gold categories that represent the levels of a society from rulers down to workers. Perhaps too, Plato’s noble lie is still alive and well today. Is it possible that the experts truly believe our children are inferior, and the noble lie of pretending to educate our children is just that? Or is inferiority cultivated by the process mislabeled “education?”

Our children and parents surrender themselves to those who are identified as protectors, but who actually destroy them. Children come to school to get what they lack, and they are told, instead, all the things they cannot do. We, the educators, should be the hope of our children’s. We should be their insurance against the dark side of failure and mediocrity, and, far too many times we cancel that insurance by labeling them “At Risk students”. They come to be complete and far too many schools split them in halves. We either learn to think critically and analytically, or we become parasites fed by the thoughts of others. Our children can never learn to be creative with “dumbed-down-meaningless-worksheets.” And, of course, it is still true that the creator originates, and the parasite borrows. Until we teach children to believe that “I am, I think, and I will,” the plight of the black family will continue. The gap will continue to widen, and, the gap, of course, will be made permanent if we insist on labeling children as “At Risk” students and place them in classes taught by teachers, in an “At Risk” who are protected by an “At Risk” Teachers’ Union. Beat a man daily then forget to beat him one day, and he will bring the whip and remind us that we forgot to beat him. Our children are what they learn, and we must admit that after all their schooling, they are still labeled as “At Risk” students. When we cease destroying their self-esteem by making them doubt their abilities and leading them to believe that their worth is unimportant and valueless, we shall see the poor student become a good student, and the good student become a superior student. Creating doubt in the mind erases self-esteem and self-value. A mind with too many “holes” in it will always depend on the validation of someone else’s opinion. The present excuses used by far too many educators are, to me, nothing more than a narcotic taken to cover their own inadequacies, if not their guilt.
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