I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything for Our Kids
By Kyle Schwartz
Review by David Wineberg
A simple device has proven itself and grown to mammoth importance. Asking students to complete the sentence “I wish my teacher knew…” leads to unprecedented revelations, insights and catharsis. The book takes off from this experiment and delineates numerous wonderful methods to employ in the classroom. If you can find a way into the insecure mind of a child, many wonderful results are yours to nurture. It is validating and inspirational.
It is also clanging cognitive dissonance. American schools have become all about control and failed discipline. Armed police roam the halls and make arrests, sometimes roughing up children before they handcuff them. Drug sniffing dogs check backpacks. Suspensions have become commonplace, metal detectors a way of life. Students are taught fear, and fined and awarded criminal records as early as age eight.
But in Schwartz’s world, it’s all about the why: why is someone acting up, or withdrawn, or fidgety? A death in the family? A parent moving out? A parent in jail or being deported? Physical abuse? Mental abuse? Sexual abuse? New foster parents? No real nuclear family at all? No breakfast? No warm clothes? Homeless? Fear of rejection? It’s an endless quest, often tilted by the simplest word or innocent question. And the teacher is there, in loco parentis, Sherlock Holmes finding a way out for all of her little charges.
In Schwartz’s Denver elementary school, there appears to be no curriculum and total freedom to inspire participation. She can try anything, and does. In her school, with 51% poverty, all the students are eager learners, their families love to participate in family assignments, students are engaged and totally focused, and enthusiasm is never suppressed for the sake of structure or decorum. It is a fairytale of an elementary school.
I’d like to believe what she says is true, because it is all so uplifting. This is one of those books where I wish the knowledge could be kept alive and passed on, instead of everyone, generation after generation, having to discover it all over again – if they even can. It would be wonderful if all our teachers were Kyle Schwartz. Dream on.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.