Don’t try to fix the students, fix ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior. When our students’ fail, we as teachers, too, have failed. —Marva Collins
If I have any influence over it, ‘our’ history will describe to the world how two African American women were catalysts for America’s 20th century educational revolution.
The first was Milwaukee’s own Annette Polly Williams, the Mother of School Choice. Williams died last year after a distinguished—albeit sometimes tumultuous–career in the state legislature.
Polly, as she was affectionately known, was the author of the school choice initiative, a program that was first suggested by the superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools and his deputy, Robert S. Peterkin and Deborah McGriff, as an option for Black parents who were being failed by the public school system.
The program has become a key component in the national campaign to empower low-income families, and to bring about greater accountability within the public school eduocracy.
Central to Polly’s campaign was the realization that several small Black and Hispanic private schools were able to do what the public schools could, or would not: educate and inspire Black students.
Williams, and Peterkin, were impressed with the success of the second educational revolutionary, Marva Collins.
Williams once called Collins an inspiration and pioneer, and an advocate for Black educational achievement and high expectations. She was all that and more, and her name became a rallying cry for frustrated Black parents, and a thorn in the side of the eduocracy, which was embarrassed by the fiery educator’s ability to accomplish what they were not.
Collins, who could easily have held the title of “The Mother of Black Academic Achievement, “came to national prominence after the Black students in her start-up private school outperformed their public school counterparts.
Many of today’s educational and political leaders would do well to study Collins, who became a catalyst for educational revolutionaries in the 1980s and 90s. Those of us, who grew frustrated with the failure of the educracy, following the so-called School Integration settlement, learned that the best weapon against educational apartheid was providing low-income parents with educational options. In a nutshell, providing them with the resources to find local Marva Collins’-type schools.
Excellence is not an act but a habit. The things you do the most are the thing you will do best—Marva Collins
A former public school teacher who grew disenchanted with the failure of the Chicago public schools to educate its Black charges, Collins took $5,000 out of her retirement fund and started the Westside Preparatory School on the second floor of her home.
She also introduced what has become known as the Collins’ Method, a curriculum that emphasized phonics, and great detail to math, reading and English, particularly the classics.
I’m a teacher A teacher is someone who leads. There is no magic here. I do not walk on water. I do not part the sea. I just love children.
Collins’ school accepted all students but she specialized in Black students categorized by the Chicago district as ‘learning disabled.’ Collins believed most of the students were merely stigmatized because of the inability of teachers to teach them.
“If Abraham Lincoln were enrolled in public schools today, he would probably be in a learning disability program. Lincoln didn’t learn to read until age 14. No one should rule any child out of the educational picture.”—Marva Collins
Collins’ system worked beyond expectations, and her name and teaching methodology were embraced, in whole or part, around the country.
The educator was a frequent visitor to Milwaukee where she campaigned on behalf of Black children who had been failed by the educracy. She and Williams became friends. And several local community schools embraced her teaching methodology, including Harambee and Urban Day. She also helped open a school named after her. The school ultimately changed its name to Milwaukee College Prep, one of the best private academies in Milwaukee.
Collins’ impact on the educational revolution can’t be overstated. A movie about her that starred Cicely Tyson only touched on the greatness of this Black educational activist and brought before the public how educational apartheid doomed millions of Black children to second-class citizenship.
Marva Collins was not about the blame game, but instead advocated that Black parents also beared responsibility for their children’s’ success or failure. If the public school didn’t provide for their needs, it was the parents’ responsibility to challenge the system, or seek options. They must also commit time and energy toward assisting their children in achieving academic success.
“Parents, particularly black parents, have to be willing to make sacrifices to make sure their children are educated properly.”—Marva Collins
Obviously, if we followed Marva Collins’ advise, and words of wisdom, we could finally obtain some of the rocks needed to knock down the walls of educational apartheid in this country.
Following are quotes by Marva Collins, followed by the creed each of her students were required to learn, and recite:
“Trust yourself, Think for yourself, Act for yourself, Speak for yourself. Be yourself Imitation is suicide.
Success doesn’t come to you, you go to it
There is a brilliant child locked inside every student
Character is when you know you are, not what others think you have…
The older you get the more you realize that it isn’t about material things, or pride or ego. It’s about our hearts and who they beat for.
The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious to have one idea spark another.
Determination and perseverance move the world, thinking that others will do it of you is a sure way to fail
THE CREED by Marva N. Collins
Society will draw a circle that shuts me out, but my superior thoughts will draw me in.
I was born to win if I do not spend too much time trying to fail.
I can become a citizen of the world if I do not spend too many energies attempting to become local.
I will ignore the tags and names given me by society since only I know what I have the ability to become.
I will continue to let society predict, but only I can determine what I will, can, or cannot do.
Failure is just as easy to combat as success is to obtain.
Education is painful and not gained by playing games, but I have seen failure too destroy millions with promised hopes and broken dreams.
While I have the opportunity, I shall not sit on the sidelines bitter with despair and wish later that I had become a literate lifter of this world instead of a failing leaner.
I will use each day to the fullest. I promise that each day shall be gained, not lost, used, not thrown away. Yet it is my privilege to destroy myself if that is what I choose to do.
I have the right to fail, but I do not have the right to take my teacher and other people with me.
God made me the captain of only one life, my own. Therefore, if I decide to become a failure, it is my right.
We were all promised a pursuit of happiness, and that is what I must do, pursue happiness and success for myself. No one will give it to me on a proverbial platter, and no one will care as much about me as I must care about myself. But I must be willing to accept the consequences for that failure and I must never think that those who have chosen to work while I played, rested, and slept, will share their bounties with me.
I will wave proudly my flag signifying that I am a failure by choice. But I will never envy those who have selected to wave their unfurled banners announcing their success.
My success and my education can be a companion which no misfortune can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate. No envy or names can hurt me.
Education and success can be a lifetime solace. It guides goodness; it gives at once grace and genius to governments, communities, cities, townships, villages, homes, and palaces.
Without education, what is a man? A splendid slave, a savage, a beast, wandering from here to there believing whatever they are told. God is not some cosmic bellboy who comes at my beckon and call. If I want to achieve, the first step must be my own undertaking. Likewise, if I want to fail, that too is my choice. Time and chance come to us all. Whether I decide to take that time and chance is indeed my own choice.
I can either be hesitant or courageous. Life does indeed maroon the hesitant and inspire the brave.
I can swiftly stand up and shout, “This is my time and place.
I will accept the challenge, or I will let others make my decisions for me.”