Marva Collins | The National Endowment for the Humanities

Marva collins

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“All children can learn,” says educator Marva Collins. “For thirty years, we’ve done what other schools declare impossible,” explains Collins, who has trained more than 100,000 teachers, principals, and administrators in the methodology developed and practiced at his West Side High School in Chicago. “I don’t make excuses, I take responsibility. If children fail, it’s about me, not them. I tell my students, if they think excellence is difficult, they don’t want to try failure. “

Collins says the key element is instilling self-esteem and convincing children that they were born to succeed. “Values ​​can be replicated, excellence can be replicated, but it has to start with the idea that it’s all about me, not the other person, and to be proud of my work. Many parents are busy giving everything to their children except a sense of self-esteem and self-worth.”

Each morning, students begin with a recitation known as the creed: twenty-two verses that emphasize positive thinking, responsibility, and achievement as individual choices. “We greet two hundred children every day, each telling us her plan for the day,” says Collins. “They come to lunch and bring a topic that they are going to discuss. Man is the only species born to be intellectual, but today’s children cannot discuss ideas. With my own children, at every dinner they were going to bring a topic to the table.”

His own childhood in Atmore, Alabama, where segregation meant limited resources for black schools and no access to the public library, seems an unlikely training ground for an educator. For Collins, his father made all the difference. he placed a high value on education, self-reliance, and achievement, and he expected his children to succeed. “we were expected to be excellent,” she says, “we had no choice”.

after graduating from clark college in atlanta with a major in secretarial skills, collins returned to alabama where he taught school for two years. Moving to Chicago in 1959, Collins began working as a substitute teacher, eventually spending fourteen years teaching in the city’s public school system. Disenchanted with the education her children received in private schools and her experiences in public schools, Collins opened West Side High School in her downtown Chicago home in 1975.

Collins’ student body was made up of children labeled as troubled or learning disabled, but by the end of the first year all of the children had exceeded their expectations. Her consistent success with students has earned her national recognition, awards, honorary degrees, and a made-for-TV movie about her life starring Cicely Tyson. President Reagan asked her to be Secretary of Education, but she refused and stayed on the West Side. Collins continued to spread her methodology in public schools in Oklahoma, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Today, the West Side High School staff includes her daughter Cynthia, who was five when the school started and is now the principal, and her son Patrick, who teaches teacher training seminars across the country. No longer involved in the day-to-day running of the school, Collins spends her time lecturing and writing books on her methodology.

Collins believes that retraining teachers and changing paradigms is essential to creating a more positive climate in the classroom. her first question to teachers in seminars is “what’s wrong with children and parents?”, to which she receives a litany of responses. his next question is, “what’s wrong with you as a teacher?”

the collins methodology advocates a core curriculum that emphasizes phonics, reading, english, mathematics, and the classics. The students’ reading list includes Sophocles, Homer, Plato, Chaucer, and Tolstoy, something Collins doesn’t find extraordinary. “It’s all about expectations,” she says.

“I read at least twelve or thirteen books a week because I’m passionate about excellence,” says collins. “I’ll start a nine-hundred-page book and won’t stop until it’s done. When students finish their work at our school, they’ll never say ‘I’m done.'” ‘ will take another book off their desk and continue reading.”

all of the students at westside prep go to college, she says. “There are no dropouts, no substitute teachers, and when teachers are absent, students learn on their own. We are an anomaly in a world of negatives. Our children are self-motivated, self-generating, self-propelled.

“Telling me that I ‘can’t’ is very annoying,” says collins. “When you believe in what you do and are passionate about what you do, it’s easy. It’s like climbing a beautiful mountain; it’s hard to get there, but it’s beautiful once you’re there.”

by janis johnson

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