Gamberg: 'We Forget to Listen to Students Who Barely Say a Word'

Southold School District Superintendent says that the values of our society are warping our schools.

This essay on last Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Conn., was written by David Gamberg, Southold School District Superintendent, and was first published on this educational blog: http://dianeravitch.net/2012/12/16/he-barely-said-a-word/. It is reposted on Patch with premission from the author.


“…barely said a word, but earned high marks.”

These are the words of a classmate of Adam Lanza. A very bright educator once told me that no one goes through high school unaffected, and that our job is to realize the impact that we have with all of our students.

The unspeakable horror of the events in Connecticut is beyond both words and comprehension. It is far too early to know the root cause, let alone the reason for such a heinous act of violence against the innocence of beautiful young children. There will undoubtedly be a careful re-examination of how we need to look at gun violence in America. The need for this conversation is long overdue. Others will point to enhancing the security of the schoolhouse, rather than enhancing the awareness of one another.

There will, however, be no way to secure the future of kindergarteners through technical fixes—be that increased security of elementary schools, or ways to measure the outcomes of our students attending our middle and high schools who are being called upon to race to the top of the world. Enhancing civility, and restoring our humanity to the ways we live our lives is not a measurable commodity.

The pervasive and intense focus on testing and accountability in education today comes with a very hidden price—it draws our attention away from the broader agenda for educating our youth, to create the conditions necessary for more than just tolerance; but also the aspiration to build a society of thoughtful, civil citizens who help one another, not because it is part of a rubric, but because it is the right thing to do.

Somewhere in the equation of what we must do to prepare our children for their future is to help them experience a deeper sense of discovery as to who they are, and how we each find a unique pathway into the world, inclusive of but not exclusively through a vigorous academic experience. Caught in the vise of competing against one another to win the competition for the highest score on teacher evaluations and push our student to obtain better results, we forget to take the time to listen to those students who “barely say a word.”

scott russell December 22, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I attended the meeting you reference in your comment. However, my son, who would have been a mere 6 years old at the time, was not with me that evening. Neither of my children attended the meeting. Scott
indy December 22, 2012 at 05:14 PM
A thoughtful productive essay followed by a thoughtless dumb comment.
Benja Schwartz December 22, 2012 at 07:58 PM
Isn't there a video of that presentation? I have a clear memory of Scott with his wife and son in the middle of the audience.
Benja Schwartz December 22, 2012 at 08:00 PM
On the other hand, the point is that children of all present and future ages need to be taken into consideration.
HardWorkingJoe December 25, 2012 at 02:28 AM
Perhaps its time to rethink school, and create an environment(s) that help students identify and outgrow their weaknesses, instead of putting them into classes that accommodate those weaknesses, leaving us with people unable to cope, and unable to cope with being unable to cope.


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