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Student-Parent Responsibility for Learning

At a time when the responsibility for learning is placed exclusively on teachers, it's good to hear another side of the story ("Why Students Need to Sit Up and Pay Attention," The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 13).  You don't have to like Eva Moscowitz or her Success Academy network to recognize that she is right about some things.

I'm referring now to Moscowitz's insistence that students from even the most disadvantaged backgrounds can learn if certain rules are adopted.  Specifically, they are told to sit up, keep their hands on the desk, and look at the person speaking.  They are called on randomly to answer a question, and comment on what their classmates say.  These elements constitute what she calls engaged learning.

I'm not saying that these simple rules are magical.  After all, the Success Academy network has a distinct advantage over traditional public schools. It requires parents to abide by certain rules themselves or run the risk of having their children disenrolled.  But I vividly remember that when I was in elementary school, my teachers insisted on the same rules. These worked because they established an attitude toward learning that served me well throughout my entire education. They were reinforced by my parents, who placed great emphasis on education and respect for teachers. Apparently, I'm not the only one who benefited ("Sitting and Concentrating Are Required for Learning," The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 23). 

These simple rules have also helped students learn at the Success Academy network in New York City.  I realize that the posted results are highly controversial.  But even if they are ultimately proven to be less impressive, I think the rules for students can make a big difference in traditional public schools everywhere. I'm not saying that learning can't take place in other classroom settings.  Of course it can. Students learn in different ways. But for many students who have fallen through the cracks so far, the rules can be exactly what they need.  Why not try them?

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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