The banner in Rafe Esquiths classroom at Hobart Elementary School reads: There are no shortcuts. And his students are a testament to the power of that philosophy. These are kids who speak English as a second language, fourth--and fifth--graders who go to school in a part of Los Angeles where violence and despair are the norms of the neighborhood.
But the statistics are not what youd expect: Esquiths students score in the countrys top 10 percent on standardized tests and go on to colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, University of Chicago, Swarthmore, Stanford, and UCLA. How do they do it?
Esquiths viewthat learning isnt easy and that it shouldnt beis an increasingly unusual take among educators. Success, he believes, comes from a strong work ethic and from dedication and perseverance on the part of children, teachers, and parents alike. But such ideas prove to be a hard sell to those who believe that hard work and fun must be mutually exclusive. On the other hand, visitors from all over the world have made a pilgrimage to this astonishing classroom.
Esquiths students work hard. They are in the classroom at 6:30 a.m. and stay until 5:00 p.m. They come to school during their vacations. Each year the Hobart Shakespeareans, as Esquiths students are known, perform one of the Bards playsSir Ian McKellen and Hal Holbrook are passionate patrons. These Renaissance children are outstanding mathematicians and scientists; they read Steinbeck and Malcolm X; they are artists; they play classical music and blistering rock 'n' roll. Above all, they are recognized for their impeccable manners, which serve them well as Esquith accompanies them all over the United States. They are, as many observers have commented, the gold standard in American education.
His former students in middle and high school return on Saturdays, where they read Ibsen, Chekhov, and eight Shakespeare plays a year. In their Wake Up with Will program, these eager youngsters travel the world with Esquith and his wife, from London to Paris to colleges all over the country. Its a classroom where the American Dream really does come true.
There have been no shortcuts for Rafe Esquith, either. He had to learn the hard way: dealing with bureaucratic administrators, antagonistic colleagues, and his own impetuous and occasionally tactless, even confrontational, nature. But his history, peppered with funny and painful incidents, and a gallery of incisive portraits--Miss Mothball, Miss Busy-As-a-Bee, Mr. Incompetent--explains his extraordinary success as a teacher.
His scathing yet loving view from the front lines is the most trenchant look at American education to appear
in many years. Its a full-alert warning signal, an inspiration, and a guide for teachers, parents, and all the rest of us who care about our countrys children.show more