ISSUE 31 • AUGUST 2001


“Not a day passes over this earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words and suffer noble sorrows.”
— Charles Reed


Haim Ginott in Teacher and Child, 1972

A story is told about a philosopher who was crossing a big river on a small boat. He asked the boatman, "Do you know philosophy?" "I can’t say I do," answered the man. "You lost one third of your life," said the philosopher. "Do you know any literature?" he persisted. "I can’t say I do," answered the man. "You lost two thirds of your life," proclaimed the philosopher. At that moment the boat hit a rock and started sinking. "Do you know how to swim?" asked the boatman. "No," replied the philosopher. "Then you lost your whole life," said the man.
When crucial problems appear, philosophies often disappear. To a man in a sinking boat, theory is irrelevant. Either he knows how to swim or he drowns. In the midst of classroom crises, all the books in all the libraries are of no help. All the lectures and all the courses are of little value. At the moment of truth, only skill saves.
What counts in education is attitudes expressed in skills. The attitudes that count are known. In fact, teachers are tired of hearing about them again and again at every conference and convention. As one teacher put it: "I already know what a child needs. I know it by heart. He needs to be accepted, respected, liked, and trusted; encouraged, supported, activated, and amused; able to explore, experiment, and achieve. Damn it! He needs too much. All I lack is Solomon’s wisdom, Freud’s insight, Einstein’s knowledge, and Florence Nightingale’s dedication."
In theory, we already know what good education is. We have all the concepts. Unfortunately, one cannot educate children on conceptions alone. Children present problems which do not disappear, even when the teacher believes in democracy, love, respect, acceptance, individual differences, and personal uniqueness. Though magnificent, these concepts are too abstract and too large. They are like a thousand-dollar bill — good currency, but useless in meeting mundane needs such as buying a cup of coffee, taking a cab, or making a phone call. For daily life, one needs coins. For classroom commerce, teachers needs psychological small change. They need specific skills for dealing effectively and humanely with minute-to-minute happenings — the small irritations, the daily conflicts, the sudden crises. All these situations call for helpful and realistic reactions. A teacher’s response has crucial consequences. It creates a climate of compliance or defiance, a mood of contentment or contention, a desire to make amends or to take revenge. It affects the child’s conduct and character for better or for worse.
These are the facts of emotional life which make teaching and learning possible or impossible. At their best, teachers recognize this core truth: Learning is always in the present tense, and it is always personal.


“Well, it figures. If there is artificial intelligence, it
makes sense for there also to be artificial stupidity!”


Getting the system going again
We assume that life is more healing than we are, and that our intervention is an emergency measure, that our goal is not the complete remaking of a child.
What we try to do is to get the child, the family, the school, and the community just enough above the threshold of the requirements of each from the other, so that the whole system has a just-significant margin of probable success over probable failure ... It is possible for a system to work without the necessity of any intrapsychic change in the child at all.

— Nicholas Hobbs in a paper entitled The process of re-education, delivered at the first annual workshop for the staff of Project Re-Ed, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 1964




If you will tell me why the fen
appears impassible. I then
will tell you why I think that I
can get across it if I try.

"I May, I Might, I Must,"
(New York: Macmillan, 1967).