"Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be." -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Marva Collins is an outstanding educator who started Westside Preparatory School in Garfield Park, Chicago, in 1975. You might have heard of her through 60 minutes or the movie The Marva Collins Story (1981).
During the first year of Westside Preparatory School, Marva took in learning disabled, problem children and even one child who had been labeled by Chicago public school authorities as borderline retarded.
Over the years, she continued to take in children labeled as dyslexics and every other kind of learning or behavioral disability. These children were often classified as “hopeless” by other teachers.
But Marva is different; she knew Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s quote.
She was very clear about her mission as an educator: she wants to touch the lives of children. She has an unshakable belief that she could impact the children for good.
She decided that the problem was not the children but they way they were taught. She would say:
"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."
So she attempted a radical method of teaching that would not only be challenging for the students, but it would instill a belief in them.
She threw out all the old books, and taught Shakespeare, Sophocles and other classical literature materials. Nobody believed the kids could understand such deep materials. Frankly even I have difficulty understanding them and I was in high school!
But Marva was determined. She would communicate the lessons passionately, and would constantly engage and challenge the child’s naturally inquisitive mind. Despite the children’s young age, Marva’s students not only understood the material, they loved it and wanted more!
And the results showed for themselves.
The same little girl who had been labeled as border line retarded, graduated Summa Cum Laude from college in 1976. Many of Marva’s graduates went on to the nation’s finest colleges, places like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, to mention just a few.
Marva once wrote, "I have discovered few learning disabled students in my decades of teaching. I have, however, discovered many, many victims of teaching inabilities."
Marva’s story touched the lives of many people. She proved the barriers of education are predominantly self-imposed. She also proved that the potential of young children is essentially unlimited until we place a limit on them.
Other Marva’s Collins quotes:
- "There is a brilliant child locked inside every student."
- "The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another."
- "Once teachers try the Socratic, or direct method of teaching, they will never return to anything that cannot produce the 'magic.'"
- "Success doesn't come to you... you go to it."
- "Excellence is not an act but a habit. The things you do the most are the things you will do best."
- "Trust yourself. Think for yourself. Act for yourself. Speak for yourself. Be yourself. Imitation is suicide."
- "Determination and perseverance move the world; thinking that others will do it for you is a sure way to fail."
- "Character is what you know you are, not what others think you have."